Sharing my experience on the EA forum

post by nonzerosum · 2019-03-19T00:00:32.716Z · score: 50 (46 votes) · EA · GW · 10 comments

On Saturday I submitted something to the forum. I think this post here can be read without knowing what the original submission was, but if not feel free to go to my profile to find the submission in question.

I posted the thread on Saturday. It got a few votes, and I think was at something like 8 net votes on Sat, from 8 votes.

The post is now at 4 net votes from 14 votes, so presumably majority downvotes. I just know that it's been downvoted by most, and I'm not confident as to why. I think it's easier to accept downvotes when you understand the reason, so that you know how to avoid being substantially downvoted in the future.

I've studied animal training in the past, and one of the most powerful concepts is positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. This experience felt negatively reinforcing: I was somewhat hesitant to post something, I spent time writing and revising my post, then I posted it, and then it got some upvotes, then a number of downvotes came through, for reasons that I don't confidently understand.

I don't really know if this (helping new contributors get more constructive comments vs downvotes) is something worth addressing, but I think the EA community is good at getting useful information from data points. So I wanted to offer this data point in case it's useful to people in the EA community.

Perhaps an idea could be that if the user hasn't contributed much on the EA forum, e.g. less than 10 of whatever type of thing it is (post or comment), then the downvote button could be preceded by a notification like "hey, this person hasn't posted much, can you please consider writing a comment offering constructive criticism in addition to downvoting, or ideally, instead of downvoting?" That's just a thought. Maybe this isn't a problem worth addressing or maybe it is not a problem at all - I don't feel I know enough to have a sense of that.

Thanks, all!

10 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2019-03-19T13:07:23.786Z · score: 24 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Please try to not take the negative feedback personally. I hope it will not discourage you from contributing in the future.

My best guess what happened with your previous post was that a lot of people either disliked the proposal, or disliked the fact the you seem to set on creating something "hard to abandon" without seeking much input from the community before. Downvoting the post is cheap way to express such feeling.

I agree that if people collectively downvote, in particular strong downvote, without explaining why, the result of the collective action is bad. (On the other hand it is easy to see why: explanations are costly. I explained why I don't like the proposal, but that may mean I will bear more of the social costs of disagreement or conflict.)

comment by aarongertler · 2019-03-19T23:34:33.304Z · score: 22 (11 votes) · EA · GW

It looks like Jan's comment on your other post was heavily upvoted, indicating general agreement with his concerns, but I'd hope that people with other concerns would have written about them.

I've recommended before [EA · GW] that people try to avoid downvoting without either explaining their reasoning or upvoting a response that matched their views. I've been happy to see how common this is, though there's still room for improvement.

Please keep posting and sharing your ideas -- one of the Forum's core purposes is "helping new people with ideas get feedback", and no one entered the EA community with only good ideas to share. (As far as "initial experience with forum use" goes, you're still doing a lot better than GiveWell's Holden Karnofsky circa 2007.)

comment by AviNorowitz (AviN) · 2019-03-19T13:24:26.130Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Perhaps a prompt to give optional anonymous, private, and/or brief constructive feedback after each upvote/downvote could help posters learn what was good/bad about the post while avoiding most of the costs of posting a lengthy comment.

comment by aarongertler · 2019-03-19T23:37:14.504Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I don't love the idea (suggested by one comment here) of having separate anonymous feedback, for these reasons:

  • Public feedback allows people to upvote comments if they agree (very efficient for checking on how popular a view is)
  • Public feedback makes it easier for the author to respond
  • Most importantly, public feedback generally strengthens our norm of "it's okay to criticize and to be criticized, because no one is perfect and we're all working together to improve our ideas".

Of course, these factors have to be balanced against the likelihood that anonymous feedback mechanisms will allow for more and more honest feedback, which is a considerable upside. But I'd hope that the EA community, of all groups, can find a way to thrive under a norm of transparent feedback.

comment by Gregory_Lewis · 2019-03-20T01:22:31.567Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Beyond the 'silent downvote -> anon feedback' substitution (good, even if 'public comment' is even better) substitution, there could also be a 'public comment --> anon feedback' one (less good).

That said, I'm in favour of an anon feedback option: I see karma mostly serving as a barometer of community sentiment (so I'm chary of disincentivizing downvotes as this probably impairs resolution). It isn't a good way of providing feedback to the author (a vote is only a bit or two of information). Text is better - although for me, the main reasons I don't 'explain my downvotes' are mostly time, but occasionally social considerations. An anon option at least removes the latter disincentive.

comment by Max_Daniel · 2019-03-20T17:05:02.582Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

What about feedback that's anonymous but public? This has some other downsides (e.g. misuse potential) but seems to avoid the first two problems you've pointed out.

comment by aarongertler · 2019-03-21T01:55:51.911Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that this doesn't run into the first two problems, though it could make giving anonymous feedback even more tempting. More practically, it seems like it would be pretty annoying to code, and provide less value than similarly tech-intensive features that are being worked on now. If I hear a lot of other calls for an "anonymous feedback" option, I may consider it more seriously, but in the meantime, I'll keep pushing for open, honest criticism.

I haven't read every comment on every post, but so far, I've seen barely any posts or comments on the new version of the Forum where someone was criticized and reacted very negatively. Mostly, reactions were like this post (asking for more details) or showed someone updating their views/adding detail and nuance to their arguments.

comment by Max_Daniel · 2019-03-19T15:15:14.100Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

My initial reaction is to really like the idea of being prompted to give anonymous feedback. I think there probably are also reasons against this, but maybe it's at least worth thinking about.

(One reason why I like this is that it would be helpful for authors and mitigate problems such as the one expressed by the OP. Another reason is that it might change the patterns of downvotes in ways that are beneficial. For example, I currently almost never downvote something that's not spam, but quite possibly it wouldn't be optimal if everyone used downvotes as narrowly [though I'm not sure and feel confused about the proper role of downvotes in general]. At the same time, I often feel like the threshold for explaining my disagreement in a non-anonymous comment would be too high. I anticipate that the opportunity to add anonymous feedback to a downvote would sometimes make me express useful concerns or disagreements I currently don't express.)

comment by Holocron · 2019-03-20T20:36:44.787Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I am personally not a fan of the strong upvote and strong downvote system. I think problems with that system may be coming into play here. I'm not sure how the algorithm actually works, but it seems like a small number of voters can dramatically reduce the total vote count of a comment or post, and that scenario reflects that minority's opinion much more than it may reflect overall perceptions. Highly penalizing posts that are generally perceived as fine by many but perceived as problematic by a few is a serious concern to take into account.

I liked the old system better where votes were weighted equally, and the proportion of positive and negative votes was transparently disclosed to everyone. Anyone who disagrees strongly with a position can simply write a comment, and if that comment is more upvoted than the original post, that typically reflects the strength of the opposing argument. Strong downvotes might reduce the incentive to have informed discussion in favor of blind disagreement.

comment by Brendon_Wong · 2019-03-19T08:09:06.785Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I feel similarly! I like your idea of a prompt before downvoting new users. Perhaps in general there could be a message with no user action required that appears whenever a downvote is made to encourage people to downvote with an explanatory comment in the event the reason for downvoting isn't obvious (i.e. it hasn't already been expressed in a comment).