Tag Archives: Conversation

Comment Requested

Sometimes I’d like a particular person to comment on a particular thing I say. And maybe these particular people sometimes find themselves in similar situations. Could we make a deal here, wherein I reply to them in trade for them replying to me? And can we set up a system to lower the trouble and cost of arranging for such deals? 

In this post, I outline a simple design for such a system built on top of Twitter. It doesn’t need official support from Twitter, though they might have an advantage in setting it up to function well.

Let’s say you have N followers on Twitter. You can at anytime toggle a public bit that says you are willing to respond to one comment. Any account with least N credits in the system, and which you have not blocked, can then officially request that you comment on a particular tweet, within D days. This request comes to you via a tweet or direct message. If you block the account of the requestor or tweet, the request is cancelled (or never happens).

If you reply to (or retweet) that tweet with your tweet containing at least X commenting characters, their account goes down by N credits, and yours goes up by N. If system credits are public, observers can check that the accounting is being done right. If you neither block nor respond within D days, their request is cancelled and your participation in this system is frozen until you go through some trouble to unfreeze it.

And that’s the basic system. Yes, people might “comment” with text that basically says “No comment”, but informal social shaming seems sufficient to deal with that, and the requestor could at least publicly show that they had nothing more substantial to say. Yes, it might get tedious to keep blocking accounts to which you don’t want to respond, but hey why not just respond to one and be done with it? 

Yes, the system needs to start with some folks holding some credits. It probably makes sense to take the initial Facebook strategy of starting the system by endowing a few social elites with credits. Then it would at first be a prestige thing to have credits in the system, as you can’t get them until some insider asks you to comment on them. Later we probably need a way to add more credits to ensure trading liquidity; might a monetary expert weigh on on how best to do this? 

Instead of having to request comment from a particular person, you might prefer to pick a whole set of accounts, and request that one of them comment. (First one gets it.) But then we’d have to notify that whole set of this request, and that might bother people with too many notifications. As I’m not sure how to fix this, I’d start the system with only direct requests to one person. 

So, might this work? Do you see bugs & fixes? Anyone want to set this up?

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Skip Value Signals

Consider the following two polls I recently held on Twitter:

As writers, these respondents think that readers won’t engage their arguments for factual claims on a policy relevant topics unless shown that the author shares the values of their particular political faction. But as readers they think they need no signal of shared values to convince them to engage such an argument. If these readers and writers are the same group, then they believe themselves to be hypocritical. They uphold an ideal that value signals should not be needed, but they do not live up to this ideal.

This seems to me part of a larger ideal worth supporting. The ideal is of a community of conversation where everything is open for discussion, people write directly and literally, and people respond mostly analytically to the direct and literal meanings of what people say. People make direct claims and explicit arguments, and refer to dictionaries for disputes about words mean. There’s little need for or acceptance of discussion of what people really meant, and any such claims are backed up by direct explicit arguments based on what people actually and directly said. Even when you believe there is subtext, your text should respond to their text, not to their subtext. Autists may be especially at home in such a community, but many others can find a congenial home there.

A simple way to promote these norms is to skip value signals. Just make your claims, but avoid adding extra signals of shared values. If people who respond leap to the conclusion that you must hold opposing values, calmly correct them, pointing out that you neither said nor implied such a thing. Have your future behavior remain consistent with that specific claim, and with the larger claim that you follow these norms. Within a context, the more who do this, and the more who support them, then the more reluctant others will become to publicly accuse people of saying things that they did not directly say. Especially due to missing value signals.

Of course this is unlikely to become the norm in all human conversation. But it can be the norm within particular intellectual communities. Being a tenured professor who has and needs little in the way of grants or other institutional support, I am in an especially strong position to take such a stance, to promote these norms in my conversation contexts. To make it a bit easier for others to follow. And so I do. You are welcome.

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