Tagging Open Call /​ Discussion Thread

You’ve listened to the LessWrong team talk about our new tag­ging fea­ture for months. First a steady drip of we’re work­ing on it, then an­nounce­ments of var­i­ous mile­stones like you can now filter Coron­avirus in or out and any­one can cre­ate tags. Well, now, it’s an open call for tag­gers.

We’ve suffi­ciently val­i­dated the core idea and de­vel­oped enough tech that we’re ready to turn to the com­mu­nity in helping us gain com­plete tag cov­er­age of LessWrongs’ 10-year cor­pus.

That means:

  1. en­sur­ing all the im­por­tant con­cepts have been cap­tured in high-qual­ity tags

  2. all posts have been tagged with rele­vant tags

The new Con­cepts page

Why is tag­ging valuable?

Skip this sec­tion if you just want to know the how!

Mul­ti­ple rea­sons, but I’m go­ing to fo­cus on one that is very dear to me.

One of the ma­jor goals of LessWrong is in­tel­lec­tual progress on im­por­tant prob­lems. As far as I have seen, all ma­jor hu­man break­throughs built upon other break­throughs. Later thinkers built upon ear­lier ones, or bet­ter yet, great thinkers built upon each oth­ers ideas. It’s a com­mon story, but one ex­am­ple from my quest to an­swer Why wasn’t sci­ence in­vented in China?: Fran­cis Ba­con didn’t in­vent the mod­ern sci­en­tific method from nowhere. Aris­to­tle, Gros­seteste, and Roger Ba­con were all part of the tra­di­tion be­fore him.

I like to frame this cu­mu­la­tive way that progress is made as a “sus­tained con­ver­sa­tion” that thinkers main­tain over time. Over decades or cen­turies, some thinkers fo­cus on the same ideas and pass knowl­edge be­tween them, thereby push­ing the fron­tier of what’s col­lec­tively known so that more progress can be made.

How­ever, this re­quires a medium of con­ver­sa­tion. There has to ex­ist some way for the thinkers to find each other and say things to each other. And for new peo­ple to catch up and join in on the con­ver­sa­tion.

It’s easy to have a brief con­ver­sa­tion in a given time or place. It’s much harder to sus­tain a con­ver­sa­tion around the globe and over years. It would seem that great progress can sud­denly hap­pen if a new medium of con­ver­sa­tion is pro­vided. For ex­am­ple, the meet­ings and jour­nal of the Royal So­ciety al­lowed top sci­en­tists of Europe to con­verse through­out the 17th and 18th cen­turies to great effect. In the 150 years af­ter the found­ing of the Royal So­ciety, more than half of the sci­en­tists who made ma­jor sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies in that pe­riod were mem­bers. Causal­ity is hard to prove in this case, but it seems linked.

You can see where this is go­ing. Tag­ging is a way to sus­tain con­ver­sa­tions over time. Right now, it’s easy to have con­ver­sa­tions on LessWrong about posts and top­ics be­ing dis­cussed this week. If a post is on the Front­page, 1) you’re much more likely to find it and there­fore be able to build upon it, and 2) if you com­ment on it, peo­ple are likely to see your com­ments and re­ply.

Sup­pose, how­ever, that you’re in­ter­ested in an­throp­ics. There hasn’t been a LessWrong post on an­throp­ics in the last four months, yet, over 11 years LessWrong has ac­crued 81 posts on that topic, some of them which are pretty darn good!

The point of tag­ging is that peo­ple can con­tribute knowl­edge to LessWrong’s cor­pus, and have in­ter­ested oth­ers find their con­tri­bu­tions weeks, months, or years later. We want that when peo­ple con­tribute to LessWrong, they know they’re con­tribut­ing to some­thing last­ing. This isn’t a news or en­ter­tain­ment site where posts are just part of a weekly cy­cle, they get some limelight, then are for­got­ten to the world. No. We’re try­ing to build a god­damn ed­ifice here.

Let’s sus­tain some con­ver­sa­tions.

How do I help tag?

Op­tion 1: Dive right in!

Though we have some guidelines, it’s to­tally great to just go to post pages and start tag­ging them with what feels like the right tags. You can even cre­ate yet-to-ex­ists tags with­out wor­ry­ing too much. Bet­ter you dive in and we do some clean-up than you don’t get started be­cause it’s too much work to get started.

Op­tion 2: Some helpful hints

We’ve worked to pre­pare an­swers to all the ques­tions we’ve en­coun­tered so far in the Tag­ging FAQ. It cov­ers and when and when not to tag, guidelines for cre­at­ing tags, and some notes on tag vot­ing. Ul­ti­mately, we’ll aim to fix up all tags to be in-line with the style guide de­scribed there.

Feel free to com­ment there with any ques­tions not yet cov­ered.

Good places to start

It’s a good idea to start by be­com­ing fa­mil­iar with LessWrong’s ex­ist­ing tags. You can see them on the new Con­cepts page. Then are a cou­ple of tag­ging strate­gies:



  • Look at the list of high-karma posts here that don’t yet have tags. See if they fit any ex­ist­ing ones, or whether we’re miss­ing a tag for a real cluster, then make it. This spread­sheet is a differ­ent lens on high karma posts. It dis­plays tags cur­rently ap­plied and lets you ig­nore Core Tags that are less in­for­ma­tive.

  • Alter­na­tively, we have an au­to­mat­i­cally up­dat­ing spread­sheet (ev­ery 5 min) that tracks the tags on the most viewed posts ac­cord­ing to our data and their cur­rent tags. Caus­ing those to have good tags is a high-lev­er­age due to the high traf­fic.

  • If you’re an au­thor, check that all your own posts are ap­pro­pri­ately tagged.

You might find that you end up iter­at­ing be­tween the two ap­proaches.

Grow­ing a community

We’d like to build a small com­mu­nity around tag­gers – the peo­ple who main­tain the on­tol­ogy of LessWrong’s library en­sur­ing that de­sired in­for­ma­tion can always be found.

Soon we’ll have Dis­cus­sions Pages for ev­ery tag, but in the mean­time, if you want to con­nect with oth­ers about tag­ging, please com­ment on this post.

If you have any ques­tions what­so­ever, please com­ment here, DM me (or the rest of the team), or email us at ruby@less­wrong.com or team@less­wrong.com