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