Arbital should put design and engineering effort into better ways to structure discussions, such as defining terms, adding evidence for or against a claim, declaring cruxes, proposing tests, and posting challenges (e.g. “how might we…”). These structures will improve the quality of discussion and can plug together for collaborative truth-seeking.
I see three structures of community-created content out on the Interwebs today:
- Blogs and articles (long-ish form usually written by one author, permanent but sinks out of awareness quickly.)
- Discussions that flow quickly (threaded discussions like reddit or Q&A sites like StackExchange), and
- Wikis (permanent but appearing static and the evolution is hidden).
What’s missing is multi-user collaboration about a permanent topic, seeking to arrive at a high-quality, trusted, and agreed upon statement of truth.
Reasoned disagreements driven by data, insights, and rationale help the group to test and refine the accuracy of arguments and decisions. Hashing out a complex problem like this demands diverse viewpoints and sources of knowledge.
But coming to that agreement is hard because you have to keep track of a complex and nested web of points and counterpoints, some that really matter and some that are nit-picks.
Which leaves people within a group feeling either that their point was missed and ignored and a bad decision was made, or that the group takes too long to come to agreement.
A truth-seeking platform can help groups:
- focus on specific claims or questions,
- track how they want to decide (decomposing cases and flagging crux arguments)
- track evidence for and against different claims,
- support nested evidence about whether each piece of evidence is true or not.
Some claims will not be decided absolutely but will have evidence weighted more on one side or another.
Software can integrate the quality of the evidence (perhaps measured by reputation-based votes) across the collected evidence to provide an “estimated epistemic strength.”
How does this relate to other discussion features?
In trying to create algorithmic ways to surface the best content, contemporary discussion platforms have focused on measures of positive reader engagement (often up or down votes) and calculating writer reputation based on that engagement.
For a collaborative truth-seeking platform, the voting and reputation system are necessary. But it’s demonstrably not enough to shift a forum from being a casual watering hole to being a community that develops lasting agreement. In the face of tribal allegiances and confirmation bias, simple voting has little leverage to improve the quality of a complex and intricate debate. See Scalable ways to associate evidence (pro or con) with claims will be more valuable in elevating accuracy than complex voting and reputation systems
One question I posed was “Without argument structuring features, how is Arbital different than Reddit or Stack Exchange?”
In reply, Eric Bruylent wrote:
Reddit's reputation system gives new arrivals equal weight to long-standing highly trusted members of the community, and does not include priors about content quality based on poster's history. It's the simplest thing which could barely work, and does not allow for high quality discussion to scale without relying heavily on moderators or other social things not present in all communities and not able to resist certain forms of attack. It also lacks adequate indexing and browsing by topic, making discussions temporary rather than able to produce lasting artifacts and be continued easily.
SE's reputation system is a little better (you need to prove to the system you can productively engage with the topic before your votes have any weight), but it's very focused on QA, which is not a great format for extended truth-seeking discussion.
Cool argument structuring seems like an optional bonus (still great to have, but not necessary for the thing to work), but features that give users reason to expect their high-quality content gets more eyeballs (particularly the eyeballs which most need that specific content) seem core and essential.
Perhaps what I’m proposing is to combine Stack Exchange’s robust reputation system with a format that’s better than QA. How can we make extended truth-seeking discussion easier?
How not to do this: TruthSift
- UI is WAY too heavy and slow
- Writing and reading have to be the core enjoyable task. The system can’t get in the way of laying out a clear and interesting case. (OK, maybe posts are central)
- Visual webs of information have long been dreamt of and yet never succeeded.