Arbital: Do what works

by Eric Bruylant Aug 8 2016 updated Aug 8 2016

When deciding things on Arbital, think about the real goals, and move towards them.

WIP / Proposed policy

An important principle on Arbital: When deciding what policies and guidelines to create or follow, make sure you're moving towards at least one fundamentally valuable goal.

You don't, in general, need to read policies or guidelines on Arbital before contributing or participating. Just keep the goals on this page in mind, and consider whether the thing you are doing furthers or hinders them. And, if you find a policy or guideline which seems to conflict with an important goal, bring it up.

However, if someone links you to a specific page it's a strong hint that you would benefit from reading it. And, if you're replying to and helping other editors it's a good idea to be aware of at least [arbital_policy core policies].


The core goal here is for Arbital to have content which causes as many readers as possible to learn everything they want to. The importance of all content-related guidelines flows through this (e.g. making pages engaging, encouraging writers to help each other out, writing for multiple audiences), and exceptions should be made to any guideline where they genuinely hinder more than help.

This is not an invitation to ignore advice from more experienced editors. If someone asks why you did not follow a guideline, you do need to explain why you should get an exception. And since you don't [arbital_owning_pages own public pages you create], you won't automatically win.


Causing the community to be 'healthy' %%note: Attributes of "healthy community" include: Lots of productive collaboration, learning from each other, detecting and listening to real expertise, norms which cause debates to converge on truth and good policy, being open and inviting to new participants (especially where they make Arbital more awesome), being focused on valuable tasks rather than bureaucratic systems or politics, and friendly relations between different subgroups (including staff). Minimal destructive/personal conflict, and rapid, effective dispute resolution.%% is the aim here. Lots of general principles are important, like [arbital_assume_good_faith assuming good faith], being aware that [arbital_other_norms others have different norms], and treating discussions as [arbital_collaborative_truthseeking collaborative truthseeking] rather than conflict. But, again, each of these is only valuable inasmuch as they lead to a more healthy community, and that is worth keeping that in mind when deciding how to weigh up edge cases.

[comment: hopefully we won't need this part, but: This is not meant to open the door to various kinds of incivility. Community norms are usually there for good reasons, and violating them is generally harmful (not least because it sets a bad example).]

General principles


Eric Bruylant

This is a rough jumble of thoughts explaining some of the reasoning behind the proposed policy.

Do what works is an attempt to create a firm but flexible foundation for Arbital policy, make it (hopefully) a bit self-correcting by causing people to flag bad policy, and make sure that everything ties back to what actually matters, while avoiding pitfalls of other community founding rules I've observed. It takes inspiration from Wikipedia's Ignore all rules and Eliezer's Nameless Virtue.

One important thing to note: The kind of user who badly violates guidelines of any kind tends not to be the kind of user who reads policy pages. It is pointless to attempt to guard against them with strongly worded policy %note: And harmful/discouraging to another class of user, those careful enough to check the rules. And staff checking for what tone they should use towards users.%%, instead, it's important to give whichever systems are in place to prevent obviously harmful activity freedom to act quickly, enough training to tell obvious from non-obvious cases, a playbook of well-thought-out responses to different classes of situation, and a way to easily check with others doing the same job.

Attempting to codify exactly what content should conform to seems like a fool's errand, especially since we don't know. Explicitly encouraging people to do what works (aka. create the version of the page which is good for readers) rather than pointing them at dozens of pages of guidelines they won't read should cause them to optimize for something closer to the right thing. We should, of course, offer guidelines and advice for those who genuinely want it, and link to it heavily. Just, not elevate it to required reading.

Lots of sites try to create an elaborate web of rules outlawing specific harmful patterns of behavior, and task people in positions of power (often the most productive early contributors) with the work of implementing the rules in a consistent and fair way.

No humanly readable set of rules can adequately capture and regulate the complexities of human interaction, and there are always awkward edge cases.

So there are people who are disruptive, and those with authority/responsibility to deal with it have a strict and hard to change rulebook, and complex, slow, tiring processes. This often goes badly, setting up all sorts of tensions, tying the hands of staff, causing people to be acted against too strongly and too weakly in different cases, both of which harm the community. There is a place for careful, deliberative, systems, but it should not be the first line.

By tying the community rules to "do the thing which makes more healthy community" there's significantly more freedom on the part of staff to act, and significantly more keeping them pointed at what matters (so long as the group self-polices well, which needs to be designed for socially).