What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Discussion for all topics (until the forum becomes large enough to justify splitting things up this will be where all topics go)
greenrd
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 10:17 pm

What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by greenrd » Fri May 12, 2017 9:33 pm

Well, I think it's time to ask the tough questions. What's the role of this forum going to be in the rationalist community? We already have a plethora of very specific forums (in the general sense, i.e. "places to have discussions") on e.g. Reddit and Facebook, for everything from effective altruism (and even subgroups such as Effective Altruists Discuss Politics) to AI risk / the control problem. We already have several more general forums, such as SSC, Less Wrong (for those who like that sort of thing), SSC open threads, the SSC reddit, the various public and private Discords and IRC chatrooms. And then there are blogs (including Tumblr). And now there's this. The "market" is quite crowded.

Of course this is slightly more long-form than IRC or Discord. For as long as it remains low-volume, it will be good for people who don't like SSC comment threads because of their high volume. It's good for people who don't like Facebook because of privacy or other concerns, but I'm not sure there are actually that many such people, and I'm also not sure that "not liking Facebook" necessarily implies "will like forums", or PHPBB in particular. And there are plenty of alternatives to Facebook groups out there in the community, as listed above. I'm sure that there are many people who don't like Tumblr (or have never heard of it), but again, they're not necessarily going to like posting on a forum like this either. It's good for bloggers who don't blog much because no-one reads their blog, because here they can at least have an audience... but I'm not sure that's a great selling point, when you think about the implications.

Isn't there then the risk that this forum will become a forum for the miscellaneous, the flakey, the ill-thought-out, and the things that are so out-there that people don't dare post them on more "mainstream" rationalist sites? Or conversely that people will fail to post much interesting, for fear of being criticised for posting to "the wrong venue", not thinking through their arguments enough, or for fear of being criticised by one political/social-justice/cultural/subcultural faction or another, because it's such a broadly-scoped site?

There are two common "failure modes" for reasonably populous online communities. One is to have so few social norms (and/or so few technological filter mechanisms) that the low-quality posts (e.g. woo, fascist propaganda, or unfunny in-jokey memes) completely overwhelm everything else, and drive out "normies". I hear 4chan is a good example of that. The other is to have so many norms, or the "wrong" kind of norms, that what could have been a great community is stifled and never gets off the ground. So do we need to start thinking about community norms sooner rather than later?

I think there's also a third, less common failure mode worth mentioning in this context. I don't know very much about LessWrong or its history, so I'm not going to say LessWrong is exactly an example of this - because I genuinely don't know - but I think communities can also falter by becoming so extremely technical and divorced from ordinary people's lives and frames of reference that newcomers just look at them and think "what on earth is that?" because they see no bridge from where they are to the rareified intellectual heights that the highly technical community exhibits. (Compare the Blub Effect or Jonathan Livingston Seagull.) I think we should also consciously try to avoid this kind of outcome.

(I hope it's clear that I care about the potential of this site and I come to raise important questions - possibly even overthink things - but not to concern troll. I guess this post could go on a "meta" subforum if/when this single forum is split up into subforums.)

cactus head
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 06, 2017 3:37 pm

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by cactus head » Fri May 12, 2017 10:28 pm

I'll admit that the main draw of this forum for me is that it's the rationalist forum with the web 1.0 nostalgia of PHP bulletin boards. That's why I hope it gets off the ground. I see myself as belonging to several groups of people you list in your second paragraph--I like things to be a little slower-moving than SSC, I like more private PHPBBs rather than facebook, and tumblr just sucks (the only way I interact with the site is to read backlogs of individual peoples' tumblrs, screw the dashboard).

A different appeal of the PHPBB, not mentioned yet, is the greater feeling of permanence relative to reddit or facebook or imageboards plus the ease of actually digging through the archives (just click page 2 in the thread list!). The SSC comments and LessWrong's discussion threads are comparable to PHPBBs in this aspect.
Isn't there then the risk that this forum will become a forum for the miscellaneous, the flakey, the ill-thought-out, and the things that are so out-there that people don't dare post them on more "mainstream" rationalist sites? Or conversely that people will fail to post much interesting, for fear of being criticised for posting to "the wrong venue", not thinking through their arguments enough, or for fear of being criticised by one political/social-justice/cultural/subcultural faction or another, because it's such a broadly-scoped site?
I think the slatestarcodex subreddit is already like the former, with shades of the criticism-by-one-faction-or-another thing. My impression is that it's like this because 1) the SSC subreddit is linked from SSC regularly and it seems to be the place where SSC commenters who are a little more 'out-there' can comment freely, and 2) it's on reddit, so there's a r/neoreaction and a r/FULLCOMMUNISM etc. all next door, figuratively speaking, and their users can float around and cross-comment if they're so inclined.

Slightly offtopic, but on 4chan it was the other way around in the end, the normies drove out the old guard. The latter are now fragmented and posting on 8chan and a load of much smaller chans, and everyone and their mother remembers when 4chan /b/ was good (inb4 /b/ was never good).

Despite all of these concerns I still feel optimistic about this particular forum and I'm inclined to just keep posting and find out what niche the forum fills only after it's already filled it.

Scott Alexander
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri May 12, 2017 4:01 am

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by Scott Alexander » Fri May 12, 2017 11:29 pm

My hope is that some SSC discussion moves here. Nobody likes the open threads because they're so busy and fill up so quickly and if you're not the first person to post then your comment is buried ten screens down. The subreddit is good but for some reason a lot of people don't like Reddit and refuse to use it. I keep looking for ways to relieve the discussion pressure on the open thread and I'm hopeful this will finally be what works.

dsp
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 11:24 pm

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by dsp » Fri May 12, 2017 11:55 pm

One extremely excellent reason to prefer this forum to others is that I am here and not at those other places. More directly to the point, this seems to be a type, since other people are expressing similar preferences to be here and not other places, so "dislikes those other places" and "will like forums" probably have enough overlap to sustain interest here.

As to social norms and issues of 4chan, I've found that it's actually really effective to have no official social norms beyond "no obvious spamming" and let the users police the discussion naturally. People say it can't work, but I've seen it work. It's heavier moderation styles that tend to get captured by factionalism.

chel_of_the_sea
Posts: 27
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 9:39 am

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by chel_of_the_sea » Sat May 13, 2017 3:27 am

There's also just the archipelago effect - the mere existence of another forum provides another opportunity for social-group-formation.
:arrow: TL;DR: 27, trans woman, M.A. in math, Seattle area. Tutor by current trade, but in a bit of professional limbo (if you know anyone hiring, let me know!).

phaedrus
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 4:01 pm

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by phaedrus » Sun May 14, 2017 8:35 pm

Agency inheres in scenes, not in people. CS Lewis and Tolkien didn't write in a vacuum; they had the Inklings. Most genres of music developed out of localized scenes: Norwegian black metal, for example, was based around Helvete, Euronymous's record store. This is probably also why the tech industry is centered on San Francisco -- you might think that tech could be geographically distributed, since people can code from anywhere and communicate with Skype or Slack or whatever, but the tech scene is a scene, and scenes need a central meeting point.

Internet scenes are probably less effective at creating things than IRL scenes, but they can still be effective. Less Wrong isn't a central example of an internet scene, since it's always(?) had an IRL extension in SF, but there's 'Weird Twitter' (which incubated on the Something Awful subforum Fuck You And Die), the indie game scene (tigsource etc.), Frog Twitter (My Posting Career and Salo Forum), and so on.

Social media appears to be useful for networking within already-established scenes, but not so much for incubating new scenes. I'm not aware of any scenes that incubated on social media. The same applies to blog comment sections: the blogger is the only person there with a platform, and the commenters are only dragged along by the blogger.

I'm not sure why forums are the optimal structure for incubating internet-based scenes, but this does seem to be the case, so a forum is a desirable thing to have, especially since Less Wrong is dead and unlikely to revive itself.

Guest

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by Guest » Tue May 16, 2017 6:25 am

Scott Alexander wrote:
Fri May 12, 2017 11:29 pm
My hope is that some SSC discussion moves here. Nobody likes the open threads because they're so busy and fill up so quickly and if you're not the first person to post then your comment is buried ten screens down. The subreddit is good but for some reason a lot of people don't like Reddit and refuse to use it. I keep looking for ways to relieve the discussion pressure on the open thread and I'm hopeful this will finally be what works.
"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." --Yogi Berra

Raininginsanity
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue May 23, 2017 4:50 am

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by Raininginsanity » Tue May 23, 2017 5:27 am

I just prefer this format over everything else. More organized, less crowded, more focused, easier to catch up on topics one is interested in. Forums are good for community building, and level the playing field more the blogosphere allows.

archon
Posts: 59
Joined: Thu May 25, 2017 11:02 am

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by archon » Thu May 25, 2017 11:28 am

Yeah, I think the Forum format is better organised, and makes discussion easier, especially, specific discussion. Facebook's is just evil, SCC comments are overcrowded, and chat services like IRC are unrewarding to use unless you put a lot of effort into keeping up. (also, I don't know if it is my timezone or something, but in the two or three times I have been there, I have never seen something said on the SCC IRC).

Forums make it easy to have several discussions at once, and to catch up if you missed something. And a new thing is always good (and I feel more able to contribute meaningfully on something small and new, even if it is a outgrowth of something which is, by internet community standards, big and old.)
"Don't be silly -- if we were meant to evolve naturally, why would God have given us subdermal implants?"

cactus head
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 06, 2017 3:37 pm

Re: What role for another general forum when we have so many subject-specific groups AND general fora?

Post by cactus head » Thu May 25, 2017 1:04 pm

archon wrote:
Thu May 25, 2017 11:28 am
(also, I don't know if it is my timezone or something, but in the two or three times I have been there, I have never seen something said on the SCC IRC).
It's common for IRC chat rooms to have dead periods hours long even if it seems like there should be many people in the room. I think most people who use IRC end up staying in a large number of channels out of inertia while only being active on one, and they keep their computers powered on continuously or they use a bouncer service to stay in the chat rooms 24/7.

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