Overcoming Bias After One Year

The first Overcoming Bias post was one year ago today.   Since then we have had a half million distinct reader visits, over twelve thousand comments, and a bit over two posts per day.  Technorati puts us at rank 7,946 among all blogs with 2,281 blog reactions.

I’ve been wondering for a while if I should be blogging.  Blogging is less of a conversation than I’d hoped, even among blog coauthors.  It feels great to quickly put an idea "out there" in an accessible form, but I’m not sure such ideas have much chance to be built on by others.  And it does take time. 

So I’ve decided to split the difference and switch from six to three posts per week.  Eliezer will still probably keep posting daily, at least for a while. 

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  • kc

    I enjoy this blog very much and it often alters my perception in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. (Unfortunately, as I have come to understand and internalize the logic of signaling, self-deception, and systematic error, the marginal utility of the posts are decreasing. But ultimately this is a happy problem.)

    Anyhow, I realize now that by not commenting when I have something useful to say, I am free-riding. I suspect that there are many like me–lurkers–who could add useful things to the discussion. Maybe we are naturally quiet types. Maybe we are in basic agreement and somehow do not perceive that it is worth the effort to pipe up and add that one small refinement which could add to the discussion.

    Whatever the case, I resolve to quit free-riding and add a little more to the blog.

    What sort of incentive(s) (structure) might encourage the manufacture of more valuable blog comments while not raising *total* comments that include unhelpful comments, trolls, repetitive/naive remarks, etc?

  • Stuart

    Robin, I for one will miss your frequent input. I have a question, though: there is an impressive list of contributors in the sidebar on the right side of the OB page. Why aren’t we seeing a larger volume of posts from this impressive list? You and EY provide great content, but you shouldn’t have to carry this site on your own when there are so many other terrific contributors.

  • Mason

    How about a voluntary payment blog, like those musicians did? From what I read it didn’t work so well for them, any reason to suspect better success here? How about a subscription blog, if people have to pay to get in, would they free-ride less?

    What about an elitist blog? Where one must pass a test in the related field before you can post.

    Robin when you say it is less like a conversation that you hoped, do you mean (1) you find people talking at cross purposes, each going on about their own thing and not talking to each other. (2) Or is it that there simply isn’t enough talking. (3) Or are their plenty of people all talking to each other, but at a level somewhat below yours; no need to be modest you are ridiculously smart.

    I think 1 and 2 might be manageable but 3 probably means that there is little hope (best bet, go have lots of babies w/ a smart chick and hope that some of them are worth talking to one day).

    Final word, keep bloging full force, I think you are underestimating the positive externalities you create (maybe I underestimate your costs).

  • roger

    Robin,

    I love your blog. I only just discovered it recently, and it’s amazing. I actually wanted to tell you how much I loved it at the Halloween party, but never had the opportunity.

    I do think that you set your expectations up a bit high on the conversational side of blogging though. A better metric for ‘success’ might be consistent readership. There are a whole host of difficult to quantify effects that blogs produce, and none of them have anything to do with who leaves comments. I know I talk about this blog more than any of the several hundred others that I read by an extremely large margin. You’re not seeing the conversations that you produce outside of the realm of the website you maintain.

    Just to reiterate, I love reading what you and Eliezer put out, it’s the highlight of my day, please keep it up!

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    I’ll want to eventually cut back to four posts per week and coordinate with Robin, but right now, there’s just too much to say. I’d wanted to say all the really important things, the thoughts that have been festering in my head for years, by the end of 2007 – but that’s approaching and I wonder if I’m even halfway there. That’s one reason some of my recent posts have been getting longer – I feel like if I don’t write longer essays, I’ll never get everything said.

  • Kevin

    I too have been free riding by thoroughly enjoying the posts but not commenting. Part of it is because your posts are usually well thought out enough so that I can often simulate how you would respond to my comments. That doesn’t mean that your posts don’t stimulate my thought processes in valuable ways.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    To be clear, I’m not complaining about the quality of comments here; far from it.

    Stuart, I see no reason to pick on the other contributors any more than the other six billion folks who post even less.

    Eliezer, I suspect “all the really important things” could take years of posts.

  • Nominull

    I am sorry! I will comment more! Please don’t leave me. 🙁

  • Nominull

    Although having to go through the CAPTCHA every time makes it harder to get enthusiastic about commenting. But for you, I’ll try!

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    I don’t think CAPTCHAs are a problem. If the effort needed to respond to a CAPTCHA exceeds the effort you invested in your comment, then that comment shouldn’t be posted.

    I find it fascinating that Eliezer has so many interesting things to say and that his posts continue to be interesting regardless of how frequently he writes them. I think that’s a marvel in and of itself, which must reflect either the effort he has been putting into his studies over the years, or his superior Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence. 😉 *grin*

    I gladly read Robin’s posts too, but I think the best guideline for any author is to write as much as he or she wants to write, where and when she feels like writing it. There’s no sense trying to come up with new posts with a frequency goal G when your natural tendency to post is T

  • Andrew

    Please realize that your blog is valuable! I am one of many (for the most part) silent readers of your blog and many others. I usually do not comment because I feel that blog discussions are frequently unproductive. I’m confident we will discover better methods of keeping discussion more focused in the future.

    This blog helps me to develop my own, personal thinking skills (I hope) and provides an easily accessible window to the kind of open, rational discussion that I miss so much from my university experience.

    These blogging efforts are the best kind of charity, they help society in fundamental way (by encouraging thinking and discussion). You are carrying on the great tradition of the ancient Diadacts, giving away knowledge. May your names live forever!

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    Duh. My previous comment was cut at the first lower-than sign that was misinterpreted as an XML delimiting character.

    There’s no sense trying to come up with new posts with a frequency goal G when your natural tendency to post is T

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    Nope. Someone should make it possible to express the less-than sign through this here broken thing.

  • http://denisbider.blogspot.com denis bider

    Better structuring of blog comments as illustrated under this LtU article may help facilitate more productive and focussed discussions by naturally separating a core thread from its spinoffs:

    http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/node/2515

  • Unknown

    I hope Robin’s reduction to three posts a week also means that his book is coming out twice as soon.

  • Doug S.

    I like commenting, and I often do it when I don’t have that much to say. 😉

    On another note, should we have a forum?

  • Kat

    Though I can see why you’d do it, I’ll be sorry to see the lighter schedule — reading your posts is often the highlight of my morning. (And I too am an infrequent commenter, sadly; for what it’s worth, it’s often because I haven’t thought about the topic enough to have something worth adding to the thread until long after it’s posted…)

    I don’t like the blog+comments format for real conversation either, though the “recent comments” bit on the sidebar is an improvement over most, and think something more forumlike might suit that purpose better.

    Thanks to you and Eliezer both for your efforts here — reading this has had a positive impact on my thinking.

  • Doug Colkitt

    Robin,

    There’s a potential source of bias. Why is it that it took the one year anniversary for you to re-examine the outcome of your blogging. At the margin shouldn’t the impetus to change habits be the same yesterday as it is today, even if today does mark a “momentous occasion”?

  • Gray Area

    Robin, have you considered augmenting this blog with a wiki to be used for collaborative research? It sounds like that’s more of what you had in mind.

  • http://michaelgr.com/ Michael G.R.

    Nothing much to add except ‘congrats’ to all those involved in making this blog happen. It’s truly a great resource and one of my favorite corner of the ‘net.

  • Doug S.

    To make a less than sign in appear in an HTML comment, like this – < - you need to type "& l t ;" without the spaces or quotes. A greater than sign is "& g t ;".

  • http://www.marketingandinnovation.blogspot.com Hernan Bruno

    I really admire the productivity of the contributors here. How can they write so much every day and keep their jobs? I think that 3 post a week is still a very decent production.

    Happy Birthday!

  • Michael Sullivan

    I’d wanted to say all the really important things, the thoughts that have been festering in my head for years, by the end of 2007

    Far better to say it clearly and well than to merely meet a deadline, though I understand that deadlines help to focus.

  • Steve

    I have been reading this blog for about four months now. I look forward to how ever many posts and comments there may be in the future.
    Thank you all for your efforts, now, then and before.

  • Patri Friedman

    I think it’s pretty difficult to tell how much you are affecting the meme pool in a year. The sea changes in thought on a topic usually take more like decades.

    That said, if your goal is active conversations and that isn’t being met, that is something you’ve gotten immediate feedback on.

    Presumably you’ll be dropping the lowest utility posts, so 3x / week is still pretty great :).

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Congratulations on a successful first year!

  • John

    As a blog reader, comments often feel like a duty to read. As a contributor, you probably love reading comments on what you’ve written. (That’s how I am, heh.)

    I just wish Eliezer could write a book or something. That way I’d have a more structured way of learning this stuff. kc mentioned that the marginal utility of each post was decreasing. A book could easily solve this problem. The trouble with blogs is that everything has to be short-form.

    Eliezer’s current way of referring to “follow-up” posts and linking to old posts in the middle of the text is annoying for two reasons. First of all, sometimes he’ll write something with a really intriguing title, and then say it’s a followup to something that looks boring that I haven’t read. Then I go to the thing I haven’t read and it’s a followup to something else I haven’t read. I got to that thing and start reading it, and there are a bunch of text links referring to older posts. I don’t really know whether I’m supposed to be reading those or not; the only thing I’m sure of is that I won’t be reading the post with the really intriguing title any time soon.

  • John

    By the way, I second Andrew’s comment.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Sullivan: Far better to say it clearly and well than to merely meet a deadline, though I understand that deadlines help to focus.

    I’m a slow writer. If I broke my rule of one post per day, you’d be getting one post per month.

    John: Eliezer’s current way of referring to “follow-up” posts and linking to old posts in the middle of the text is annoying for two reasons…

    No, it’s your fault for not reading Overcoming Bias since the start of the year.

    Just kidding. Believe me, I understand the problem.

    Right now, though, it feels like I’m writing so hard, probably higher than my maximum sustainable output, that I don’t have any spare energy left to collect my posts into an organized list of surveys or a guide to the dependencies.

    I’m not sure the basic task is avoidable – all these ideas are linked, and the best I can do is write in an order that respects their dependencies.

    John: I just wish Eliezer could write a book or something.

    See this post. (Yes, I’m being deliberately ironic here.)

  • Unknown

    John, I would recommend what I did when I discovered this blog… go back to the post “How to Join” and read all the way through the archives until reaching the present. I was reluctant to do this because I always felt inclined to read today’s post; but this is a bias to be overcome, since the date of the post should not make any particular objective difference to the reader.

    In the end I found this a very profitable way to spend my time.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/nanobug/ Michael Richards

    I also am a frequent lurker but have never added comments. I find many of the posts insightful, a few idealistic, but all very thought-provoking. I have missed many posts and will now systematically go back and start from the beginning as suggested by the last commenter. Since you are requesting more comments as well I will try to add my humble contributions – at the rate you are posting and the rate I am reading this means of course that I will never catch up to the most recent post.

    Another commenter suggested a wiki of some sort related specifically to this blog – this might be very useful to allow us to organize the chronological postings into logical groupings, which would help us see categories of bias that had not been covered in much detail yet, as well as those that had received an abundance of coverage. This may stimulate Robin, Eliezer, and/or the other several dozen contributors to add postings filling in any missing gaps across the range of possible biases and self-deceptions.

  • http://www.eastonspointcapital.com tim straus

    I have just spent the past hour or so reading the input on this Blog, 1) I find it all, for the most part, extremely interesting and intellectually stimulating, I would hope that actually there was a mechanism to expand it and add contributors–as I am sure there is a large pool of academics and others interested in the subjects presented..as you may see from some of the more active ( financially realted blog sites) there is a mechanism for a “tip” that might allow more time, not less to this blog’s sponsors and others to contribute—this meaningful discourse and hope it can be expanded, nationally and globally as the topics are of considerable import to a wide field of us seeking insights into intrinsic human behavioral traits…more not less!

  • Chris

    Happy Birthday, belatedly, and thanks to EY and BH. Yes your creativity is appreciated, at whatever rhythm suits you. Intelligence is a wonderful thing, not many natural phenomena are self correcting.