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Responses from SSC — Less Wrong Survey

Responses from SSC

My feedback on the new LessWrong website: nope nope nope.

I personally like “old-school” websites which are 99% made of HTML+CSS, with as little JS as you can afford. In non technical terms, website where there’s a bunch of text, the text is in boxes, the boxes are in bigger boxes, and ideally it’s all vaguely aesthetically pleasing, with nice colors and a consistent theme.

I hate modern websites with an avalanche of JS, menu UI that scrolls with you, expanding menus, and zoomed content intended to be read on a phone; and the whole thing usually takes way more time to load because of all the bundled minified scripts and the associated spyware.

LessWrong 2 doesn’t have all these things (which already puts them above the average media website), but it has some of them. The new black-on-white theme is very boring compared to the old green-and-gray; the chat widget keeps changing the title back and forth to attract my attention which is *extremely* annoying when I’m reading something else.

Also, I’m puzzled that 2 of the 3 elements the website focuses on are “Rationality A-Z” (the abridged sequences) and HP:MoR (the third being this blog). I though LW wanted to move away from being seen as EZ’s blog, and be more of a community thing? Has that changed?

The whole thing seems overdesigned.

Is the site designed to be difficult to read and navigate on purpose, as a sort of a barrier to entry / IQ test ?

I also found it difficult to read, and asked about the small font and gray-on-gray text (actually, an alpha setting of 0.55, making the half transparent). The response cited Google’s material design and general aesthetic preferences.

I guess this is where I inject my lament about Usenet where anybody could simply switch client to get an acceptable presentation (including text-only and braille readers, as well as killfiles, author scoring, offline functionality, notification of unread messages, global replication, global search, wholesale catching up…pretty basic stuff, but mostly unavailable in web forums). But those days are long gone, and usability has been replaced by “user experience” – which as far as I can tell, is pretty much the opposite.

The change in UX is an enormous barrier to me. I find it awful compared to old LW, which was my favorite way of reading threaded conversations.

Yeah, I don’t like it. The font size and choice look like they’re optimized for short-form content, and my eyes glaze over trying to read anything long-form on it (which covers most of the site). The contrast also looks uncomfortably low to me, and given that the last time I did UI work I found I was relatively insensitive to contrast, that probably makes it unreadable for the other side of the bell curve. Comments are cramped and ugly and blend together, making threading hard to follow, and feel like an afterthought compared to top-level content. All the headers are way too damn big. Navigation is weird.

The geological map motif is attractive, but that’s not nearly enough to save it.

It might be better on mobile, but if a site wants me to read long-form content on my phone as a first resort, I’ll find another site.

Also, this might be more of a personal preference thing, but I really don’t think we ought to be pointing to HPMoR as a resource. MoR is fundamentally an evangelical text — it’s optimized for showing off all the cool stuff you can do if you’re sufficiently rational, not for actually showing you how to be rational. (Rationality doesn’t really deliver on the cool stuff, but that’s another issue.) It won’t age well as Harry Potter moves out of the public consciousness, which it has already started doing. Also, it’s very divisive: half the people I’ve shown it to have reacted like a Baptist that just got handed a stack of Slayer albums, including some that later handled Scott’s work quite well.

I haven’t actively participated in Lesswrong for a long time. When I stopped, it seemed like it was becoming a magnet for culture warriors, misfits, and intellectual narcissists who wanted to pretend to superior rationality in order to bolster their arguments. Also, it seemed like a lot of the more interesting posters were drifting away. Last, somebody karma-killed me and it seemed like the mods were making up excuses not to do anything about it but instead were enforcing the rules selectively. Not that I cared that much about karma points, I just found it irritating that they made an issue out of mass downvoting but refused to rectify the mass downvoting I had received.

In the early days, I really enjoyed Lesswrong and learned a lot of useful things on it. But I think the glory days are long past. It’s just really difficult to have a nice open venue with mostly intelligent, thoughtful people.