Concrete Ways You Can Help Make the Community Better

There is a TLDR at the bottom

Lots of peo­ple re­ally value the less­wrong com­mu­nity but aren’t sure how to con­tribute. The ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity can be in­timi­dat­ing. We have a lot of very smart peo­ple and the stan­dards can be high. Nonethe­less there are lots of con­crete ways a nor­mal ra­tio­nal­ist can help im­prove the com­mu­nity. I will fo­cus on two ar­eas—en­gag­ing with con­tent and a list of shovel ready pro­jects you can get in­volved in. I will also briefly men­tion some more spec­u­la­tive ideas at the end of the post.

1) En­gag­ing with Con­tent:

I have spo­ken to many peo­ple I con­sider great con­tent cre­ators (ex: Zvi, Pu­tanu­monit, tris­tanm). It’s very com­mon to wish their ar­ti­cles got more com­ments and en­gage­ment. The eas­iest thing you can do is make a less­wrong ac­count and use the up­vote but­ton. See­ing up­votes re­ally does mo­ti­vate good writ­ers. This only works for less­wrong/​red­dit but it makes a differ­ence. I can think of sev­eral lw ar­ti­cles with less up­votes than peo­ple who have per­son­ally told me the ar­ti­cle was great (ex: norm-one-prin­ci­ple by tris­tanm [1]).

Good com­ments tend to be even more ap­pre­ci­ated than up­votes, and com­ments can be left on blog posts. If a post has few com­ments, then al­most any de­cent qual­ity com­ment is likely to be ap­pre­ci­ated by the au­thor. If you have a ques­tion or con­cern, just ask. Many great au­thors read all their com­ments, at least those left in the first few days, and of­ten re­spond to them. Lots of read­ers com­ment very rarely, if at all. 95.1% of peo­ple who took the SSC sur­vey com­ment less than once a month and 73.6% never com­ment at all [2]. The sur­vey showed that sur­vey tak­ers were a highly en­gaged group who had read lots of posts. If a blog has very few com­ments I think you should up­date heav­ily to­wards “it’s a good idea for me to post my com­ment”.

How­ever, what is most lack­ing in the ra­tio­nal-sphere is pos­i­tive en­gage­ment with non-con­tro­ver­sial con­tent you en­joyed. Re­cently the SSC sub-red­dit found that about 95% of re­cent con­tent was ei­ther in the cul­ture-war thread or con­tained in a few threads the com­mu­nity con­sid­ered low qual­ity (based on vote counts) [3]. You can see a similar effect on less­wrong by con­sid­er­ing the Dragon Army post [4]. Most good ar­ti­cles posted re­cently to less­wrong get around 10 com­ments or less. The Dragon Army post got over 550. I am ex­plic­itly not ask­ing peo­ple to avoid post­ing in con­tro­ver­sial threads; do­ing so would be ask­ing a lot of peo­ple. But “en­gage­ment” is an im­por­tant re­ward mechanism for con­tent cre­ators. I do think we should re­ward more of the writ­ers we find valuable by re­spond­ing to them with pos­i­tive en­gage­ment.

It’s of­ten difficult to write a com­ment on a post that you agree with that isn’t just “+1 nice post.” Here are some strate­gies I have found use­ful:

- If the post is some­what the­o­ret­i­cal try to ap­ply it in a con­crete case. Talk about what difficul­ties you run into and what seems to work well.

- Talk about how the ideas in the post have helped you per­son­ally. For ex­am­ple you can say that never un­der­stood con­cept X un­til you read the post.

- Con­nect the post to other ar­ti­cles or es­says. It’s usu­ally not op­ti­mal to just post a link. Either sum­ma­rize the other ar­ti­cle or in­clude a rele­vant, pos­si­bly ex­tended, quote. Read­ing ar­ti­cles takes time.

- Spec­u­late a lit­tle on how the ideas in the ar­ti­cle could be ex­tended fur­ther.

It’s not just ar­ti­cle writ­ers who en­joy peo­ple en­gag­ing with their work. Peo­ple who write com­ments also ap­pre­ci­ate get­ting good re­sponses. Post­ing high qual­ity com­ments, in­clud­ing re­sponses to other com­ments, en­courages other peo­ple to en­gage more. You can per­son­ally help get a vir­tu­ous cy­cle go­ing. As a side note I am un­sure about the rel­a­tive val­ues of post­ing a com­ment di­rectly on a blog vs re­post­ing the blog­post to less­wrong and com­ment­ing there. Cur­rently less­wrong is not that in­un­dated with re­posts but it could get more crowded in the fu­ture. In ad­di­tion, I think ar­ti­cle au­thors are less likely to read less­wrong com­ments about their post, but I am not con­fi­dent in the effect size.

2) Shovel Ready Pro­jects:

-- Set up an on­line Less­wrong gam­ing group/​server, ideally for a pop­u­lar game. I have talked to peo­ple and Over­watch seems to have a lot of in­ter­est. Peo­ple seemed to think it would re­ally be a blast to play Over­watch with four other ra­tio­nal­ists. Another pop­u­lar idea is Dun­geons and Dragons. I am not a gam­ing ex­pert and lots of games could prob­a­bly work but I wanted to share the feed­back I got. Notably there is already a fac­to­rio server [5].

-- Help ‘ag­gre­gate’ a best of ra­tio­nal­ist_tum­blr effort posts. Rat_Tum­blr is very big and hard to fol­low. Effort posts are mixed in with lots of ran­dom things. One could also in­clude the best re­sponses. There is no need to do this on a daily ba­sis. You could just have a blog that only re­blogs high-qual­ity effort posts. I would per­son­ally fol­low this blog and would be will­ing to co­op­er­ate in what­ever ways I could. I also think this blog would bring some “equal­ity” to rat_Tumb. The struc­ture of tum­blr im­plies that it’s very hard to get read­ers un­less a pop­u­lar blog in­ter­acts with you. Peo­ple re­port get­ting a “year’s worth of ac­tivity in a day” when some­one like Eliezer or Ozy sig­nal boosts them. An ag­gre­ga­tor would be a use­ful way for less well known blogs to get at­ten­tion.

-- Help the less­wrong wiki. Cur­rently a de­cent frac­tion of lw-wiki posts are fairly out of date. In gen­eral the wiki could be do­ing some ex­cit­ing thing such as: a dis­til­la­tion of Less­wrong. Fully in­dex­ing the di­as­pora. A list of com­mu­ni­ties. Spread­ing ra­tio­nal­ist ideas. Ra­tion­al­ist Re­search. There is cur­rently a pro­ject to mod­ern­ize the wiki [6]. Even if you don’t get in­volved in the more am­bi­tious parts of the wiki you could re-write an ar­ti­cle. Re-writ­ing an ar­ti­cle doesn’t re­quire much com­mit­ment and would provide a con­crete benefit to the com­mu­nity. The wiki is promi­nently linked and the com­mu­nity would get a lot of good PR from a pol­ished wiki.

-- Get in­volved with effec­tive al­tru­ism. The Cen­ter for Effec­tive Altru­ism re­cent posted a very high qual­ity in­volve­ment guide [7]. It’s a huge list of con­crete ac­tions you can take to get in­volved. Every ac­tion has a brief de­scrip­tion and a link to an ar­ti­cle. Each ar­ti­cle rates the ac­tion on time com­mit­ment, du­ra­tion, fa­mil­iar­ity and oc­cu­pa­tion. Very well put to­gether.

-- Get more in­volved in your lo­cal irl ra­tio­nal­ist group. Many group lead­ers (ex: Vanier) have sug­gested that it can be very hard to get mem­bers to lead things. If you are in­ter­ested in lead­er­ship and have a de­cent rep­u­ta­tion your lo­cal com­mu­nity might need your help.

I would be very in­ter­ested in com­ments sug­gest­ing other pro­jects/​ac­tivi­ties ra­tio­nal­ists can get in­volved with.

3) Con­clu­sion

As a brief aside I want to men­tion that I con­sid­ered writ­ing about out­reach. But I don’t have tons of ex­pe­rience at out­reach and I couldn’t re­ally pro­cess the data on effec­tive out­reach. The sub­ject seems quite com­pli­cated. Per­haps some­one else has already worked through the ev­i­dence. I will how­ever recom­mend this old ar­ti­cle by Paul Chris­ti­ano (now at open AI) [8]. Notably the camp dis­cussed in this pos did come even­tu­ally come into be­ing. It’s not a com­pre­hen­sive ar­ti­cle but it has some good ideas. This guide to “How to Run a Suc­cess­ful Less Wrong Meetup” [9] is ex­tremely pol­ished and has some in­ter­est­ing ma­te­rial re­lated to out­reach and at­tract­ing new mem­bers.

It’s easy to think your ac­tions can’t make a differ­ence in the com­mu­nity, but they can. A sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of peo­ple see com­ments on less­wrong or r/​SSC. Good com­ments are highly ap­pre­ci­ated. The per­son you befriend and con­vince to stick around on less­wrong might be the next Scott Alexan­der. Un­for­tu­nately, a lot of the time grat­i­tude and ap­pre­ci­a­tion never gets ex­pressed; I am per­son­ally very guilty on this met­ric. But we are all in this to­gether and this ar­ti­cle only cov­ers a small sam­ple of the ways you can help make the com­mu­nity bet­ter.

If you have feed­back or want any ad­vice/​help and don’t want to post in pub­lic I would be su­per happy to get your pri­vate mes­sages.

4) TLDR

- Write more com­ments on blog posts and non-con­tro­ver­sial posts on lw and r/​SSC

- Espe­cially con­sider com­ment­ing on posts you agree with

- Peo­ple are more likely to com­ment if other peo­ple are post­ing high qual­ity com­ments.

- Pro­jects: Gam­ing Server, ag­gre­gate tum­blr effort-posts, im­prove less­wrong wiki, lead­er­ship lo­cal ra­tio­nal­ist group

5) Refer­ences:

[1] http://​​less­wrong.com/​​r/​​dis­cus­sion/​​lw/​​p3f/​​mode_col­lapse_and_the_norm_one_prin­ci­ple/​​

[2] http://​​slat­estar­codex.com/​​2017/​​03/​​17/​​ssc-sur­vey-2017-re­sults/​​

[3] https://​​www.red­dit.com/​​r/​​slat­estar­codex/​​com­ments/​​6gc7k8/​​what_can_be_done_to_make_the_cul­ture_war_thread/​​

[4] http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​p23/​​dragon_army_the­ory_char­ter_30min_read/​​

[5] fac­to­rio.cypren.net:34197 . Mod­pack: http://​​fac­to­rio.cypren.net/​​files/​​cur­rent-mod­pack.zip

[6] http://​​less­wrong.com/​​r/​​dis­cus­sion/​​lw/​​p4y/​​the_ra­tio­nal­ist­sphere_and_the_less_wrong_wiki/​​

[7] https://​​www.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​get-in­volved/​​

[8] http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​4v5/​​effec­tive_ra­tio­nal­ity_out­reach/​​

[9] http://​​less­wrong.com/​​lw/​​crs/​​how_to_run_a_suc­cess­ful_less_wrong_meetup/​​