Shortform Beta Launch

We’ve had un­offi­cial ex­per­i­ments with short­form for over a year. More and more peo­ple have been try­ing it out and find­ing it use­ful. Now, we’re push­ing short­form into an offi­cially sup­ported fea­ture.

My de­scrip­tion of short­form, in­spired by pat­tern’s com­ment, is:

Writ­ing that is short in length, or writ­ten in a short amount of time. In­cludes off-the-cuff thoughts and brain­storm­ing.

Why short­form?

Some­times shorter is better

I’ve no­ticed when I write a Face­book post… it ends up ex­actly as long as it’s sup­posed to be. I write 3-5 para­graphs that nicely en­cap­su­late my idea, and then it looks about the right length, and I click sub­mit and have a nice, clear dis­cus­sion.

When I start writ­ing a LessWrong post, some­times I look at the beau­tiful serif text on the nice blank white page and… I dunno, it feels like I’m sup­posed to write a 3 page es­say, so I do. But my idea would have been bet­ter if I ex­pressed it in 3 para­graphs.

Some­times off-the-cuff is better

I also of­ten want to brain­storm early stage ideas in way that isn’t (nec­es­sar­ily) op­ti­mized for oth­ers to read – figur­ing out how to ex­plain some­thing well might be hard, and I’m not even sure the idea is good yet. But, peo­ple who’ve been fol­low­ing along with my thought pro­cess and un­der­stand what I’m ges­tur­ing at can still chime in with ideas.

Some­times I just wanna start writ­ing with­out wor­ry­ing about what sort of thing I’m writ­ing yet.

There’s also an im­por­tant in-be­tween case, where maybe I’m writ­ing some­thing off-the-cuff and brain­stormy, and maybe I’m ac­tu­ally writ­ing a full trea­tise on some­thing im­por­tant. And I just… don’t want to spend cy­cles figur­ing that out. I want my ed­i­tor to feel un­opinionated, and I want to be able to click ‘sub­mit’ at the end with­out stress­ing out about whether I’m sub­mit­ting ‘good enough con­tent’.

Some­times, this re­sults in an ini­tial short­form com­ment even­tu­ally get­ting re­vamped into a ma­jor post.

For all of these rea­sons, and more, it seems use­ful to have a part of less­wrong op­ti­mized for shorter writ­ing.

New Fea­tures, fo­cus­ing on Visibility

Short­form is cre­ated in the form of com­ments (at­tached to an au­to­mat­i­cally gen­er­ated short­form post). The new fea­tures mostly aim to:

  • Au­to­mate a lot of work. In­stead of hav­ing to man­u­ally cre­ate a post called “So-and-so’s short­form”, you just start writ­ing a com­ment, click sub­mit, and then that post is au­to­mat­i­cally cre­ated for you

  • Im­prove visi­bil­ity. Part of the point of short­form (in some cases) is to be a bit less visi­ble. But so far it’s been ex­tremely un-visi­ble, ap­pear­ing only in the Re­cent Dis­cus­sion sec­tion of the front­page, usu­ally only for a cou­ple hours.

Fea­tures in­clude:

New /​short­form page

If you’re in the mood to en­gage speci­fi­cally with short­form con­tent (as an au­thor or reader), you can go to less­wrong.com/​short­fom. There you can:

  • Read the lat­est short­form con­tent. Cur­rently, these are sorted by “most re­cently replied to”, with the 3 lat­est replies shown un­der­neath.

    • If a short­form item has more than 3 replies, there’ll be a “N ad­di­tional com­ments” but­ton you can click to load more, and the re­ply with have a lit­tle “show par­ent” icon to in­di­cate that there’s con­ver­sa­tion miss­ing.

  • Start writ­ing a short­form com­ment. When you click the “sub­mit” but­ton, you’ll au­to­mat­i­cally gen­er­ate a short­form post, and your com­ment will be added to that post. The com­ment will ap­pear be­low in the stream of con­tent.

It looks like this:

All Posts page visibility

If you’re us­ing the All Posts daily view, the top 5 short­form com­ments from that day will be visi­ble (and you can click “load more”)

Click­ing on a short­form item will ex­pand it and load replies.

Up­com­ing Features

This is all just the min­i­mum vi­able product to get things rol­ling. There are some ob­vi­ous fea­tures to add, such as:

  • Let­ting users sub­scribe to in­di­vi­d­ual peo­ple’s shortform

  • Mak­ing it eas­ier to perma­l­ink to short­form content

  • Mak­ing it eas­ier to con­vert a short­form com­ment into a full post

Let us know if you have other sug­ges­tions or feedback