LtU: blog not forum!

Hi all,
During recent weeks LtU changed its behaviour so much that I can hardly recognize it. Instead of focusing on the high quality items chosen by the contributing editors and posted to the homepage, most activity is in the forum which is starting to resemble comp.lang.misc. This change is partly the result of a couple of new and prolific members, but it seems many regulars enjoy these long threads, which to me seem rather pointless, and indeed want LtU to be more like USENET than like a group blog. I mentioned my concern in the specific threads I found problematic, so you can take a look and see the specific items I think are problematic for LtU.

As a recent message here said bluntly, LtU was created initially by me, but belongs to the entire community. This is not just true today: From early days I made sure LtU was a community site, and not my own personal playground. Thus, I feel reluctant to step in and end the threads that seem to me to be un-LtU like. I urge members to read our previous discussions about LtU's style and goals, including the suggestion that members publicly raise their concerns about items that seem inappropriate for LtU.

Due to my feelings regarding the current situation and similar concerns raised by others we are considering instituting several new measures.

One specific measure which we are considering adopting is that new forum topics posted by new members will be held for approval by moderators. The moderators could include the existing Contributing Editors, but we could also invite other respected LtU members to act as moderators, if it proves necessary. Note that this refers to items created using the "(new topic)" option. At this point we are not suggesting moderating comments on existing threads and homepage items. Members repeatedely violating our regular guidelines will be expelled or put on probation in the same way the happens today (a measure we adopted after the last round of etiquette discussions). This is an extreme measure and happens very rarely.

There's also a need for more explicit site policies, to help make it clear what is and isn't appropriate. This will help in ongoing moderation efforts, since in cases where a discussion is going off track, it is easier if an attempt at moderation can simply point to a specific, documented site policy. Any suggestions for site policies from LtU regulars are more than welcome, of course.

One policy which clearly seems needed is that we should try to avoid ungrounded discussions: discussions in which someone defends an idea that they haven't clearly described, and for which there are no existing references. We should not be playing "twenty questions" with people who haven't taken the trouble to express themselves clearly - it's unproductive, and tends to reduce the quality of discussion. LtU is best used to discuss ideas that were published and argued elsewhere. It is not usually a good place for design discussions and the like.

I'd like to hear what other members think. If long time members agree with me, and with the couple of other people who emailed their concern, I think it should be possible to return to the high quality of discussions we've come to expect on LtU. If, however, most members prefer the current situation, we will need to think carefully about the future direction and organization of the site.


I remind readers that it is possible to simply read the homepage (I do it via RSS), and skip the LtU forum entirely.

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My take

I really don't mind the discussion threads. But it would probably be nice not to allow brand spanking new members to post things - as those seem to cause the most concerns (drive by postings). So if'n it were up to me the permission hierarchy would run something along the lines of:

  1. Front page story contributers
  2. Forum topic contributers
  3. Thread contributors
Currently, the only breakdown is the Contributing Editors and those that have been uninvited. It'd probably be nice to have some editorial control over those that can contribute forum topics (instead of okaying individual topics, just have a method to grant that right to persons who've shown thoughtfulness and responsibility - probably grandfathering in all the current members).

I guess what I consider the most aggravating is people who've been here all of 5 minutes starting a forum topic. Of course, putting them in a probation still won't prevent them from ruining already started threads, but usually a thread will stall out by itself eventually.

As always, I'll go with whatever decision you come up with. But there has always been a tension between the posting of stories and the discussion forums. I take it that you dislike the current balance, and I can't say that I'm comfortable with the current direction. But ultimately the experience will hinge on both the ability of high quality stories to be posted and the willingness of the people to discuss the implications of those ideas.

Anyhow, my vote is cast for (a) a topic post by a new member requires approval; (b) creating an access right for members in good standing to create a topic without approval.

I take it that you dislike

I take it that you dislike the current balance

That's the understatement of the year...

a) a topic post by a new member requires approval; (b) creating an access right for members in good standing to create a topic without approval.

I am not sure I understand. Aren't these two things the one and the same?

Trying to make life easier for the site administrators

Think of rights like contributing editors. You don't really want to approve every story that we post for the front page - so you have a trust model in place that basically grants the contributing editors the right to post stories without you having to approve each and every one (though some of my stories in the past probably should have gone through editorial controls).

Well, obviously you have some control in place for front page stories, but you don't have a similar trust model for (a) posting new topics; or (b) posting a response within a thread to a topic. But I think it would get old for the site administrator to have to approve every story or post - and the users that can be trusted would likely get frustrated with the delay inherent in any approval process.

So what I'm proposing is that users be grouped into classes (a) those that can post stories to the front page; (b) those that can post new topics to the forums; and (c) those that can post a response to a current story/topic. This would prevent users appearing out of no where and starting a flame-fest topic (i.e. the post would be staged for approval). But it would also mean that those who acted responsibly over time would not be penalized by a bureaucracy (they have been granted a trusted status). It would work the other way around where a trusted member that violates the norm could be downgraded to a probationary status (until such time as the trust is built back up).

Of course, I don't know how well any scheme will scale. There is probably an optimum size for LtU wrt to audience quantity versus story and discussion quality. Don't know if we've exceeded that quotient just yet, but there is always that danger.

Another vote

Anyhow, my vote is cast for (a) a topic post by a new member requires approval; (b) creating an access right for members in good standing to create a topic without approval.

The original proposal, "new forum topics posted by new members will be held for approval by moderators", corresponds to (a), but is also supposed to imply (b), i.e. that "non-new" (trusted) members will still have the ability to create topics without approval.

I support this proposal too. While I completely agree with the sentiment expressed by Niels elsewhere in the thread, that the community should help guide newcomers, I don't think it's reasonable to expect perfect behavior from the community at all times. Allowing newcomers to post material without limits has led to unnecessary provocation on a number of occasions.

In a previous round of discussion of such issues, Bryan Turner posted an interesting comment entitled Pay your Dues. I think Bryan correctly identified an important issue. Moderating new forum posts by new users is one of the most benign steps in this direction that we can take.

Sounds good to me...

...I was just trying to hash out the idea in my own mind - just my ramblings trying to figure out the implications.

Short of anything else, this should prevent any further spam topics cropping up (though spammers tend to be creative in their destruction).

I agree

I agree that avoiding ungrounded discussion would be a good policy to adopt. Similarly, while I'm not sure if moderating new forum topics will necessarily help to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, I can't see that it'd hurt to have some moderation.

As for explicit site policies: Wikipedia has a policy of avoiding "personal attacks" on their discussion pages. People who violate this policy can end up being blocked from posting. I've seen one or two threads here in the last week or so where the "conversation" definitely became more personal than technical, and might have benefited from the application of a "no personal attacks" policy.

I think I know which

I think I know which personal attacks you refer to, but if you can email me the links you have in mind I'd be obliged.

I can't see that it'd hurt

I can't see that it'd hurt to have some moderation.

It adds more work for the LtU team, so if it's not going to help we shouldn't adopt this policy.

It may not help

As Chris has already pointed out, problematic posters can sidetrack existing threads. Unfortunately, I can't see moderation of forum topics helping that situation. Poor forum topics can simply be ignored, but a disruptive thread can clutter up an otherwise interesting story or topic.


Have posts by old staff approved automatically, those by individual who *ahem* asked for it rejected and the rest moderated manually.

With all due respect, the

With all due respect, the topic of concurrency and how low level control hinders this is a subject that I thought would be quite valuable in regards programming languages. I realise you disagree and thought I was playing 20 questions. My question was clear. "Is there anything out there that doesn't use low level construct as I had described them?" A simple "no" would have sufficed. Instead, people jumped on me because I said it was possible to solve this issue. I did not know saying such a thing would cause such an uproar. It was not my intention. It was my belief that work had been done, but had not surfaced or that perhaps certain members knew of details that were unaware to me. If someone said, "No, there's nothing like that anyone is aware of", it would have ended there. But people did mention papers and did have interesting things to say. So I was not alone in finding the topic valuable.

Don't worry. I waited 9 months to make sure I had an appropriate topic for this site and did research for that amount of time, but came out empty handed, hence the creation of a topic here. Now that I've come here, I regret it. You do not have to worry about me ever posting here again execpt perhaps to follow up in the topic I created for anyone who is interested.

Secondly, perhaps if people were genuinely informed, this kind of thing would not happen. I realise that anyone can be mistaken about different subjects. But half were willing to discuss in a serious manner and did understand what I was talking about. The others were obsessed with implementation details which are irrelevant. This was not my idea and I apologise for the other members that forced my hand.
Certain people here believe that the fact that something out there exists, that it's old hat and are quickly dismissive. Anything that happened here is a result of a few members that cannot see the forest because they want to inspect each tree individually. I never forced anyone to accept my ideas and I most certainly did not play 20 questions. But maybe, just maybe, when you combine things together, you can achieve things that are greater than the sum of their parts. Then again, I've been shown by you and others how ignorant I truly am for wanting to discuss and learn about these issues.

I am truly sorry for any disruption I may have caused.

I am quite sad that things

I am quite sad that things has to come to the point where I offend people who post here. You should know that the thread you started is not the most problematic, and is not the reason of my admin post (which was planned before you posted your message). I do hope you will be able to enjoy LtU.

It might have made more sense if you mentioned at some point exactly what research you conducted and came up empty handed, and tried to answer the questions people posed to you.

We agree that our policies are unclear - I wrote this myself in the original post. The reason is that LtU grew and many things that were clear to the "founding fathers" need to be put in writing. We are working on fixing that. I am sorry if until this is done people get burned, and I do try to be as gentle as possible. A big part of the current situation is that old time members apparently disagreed with me, and hence disregarded my gentle rebukes about several threads, leading to an unnaceptable situation by my standards. It's not you who should shoulder the blame.

Strange that you [Ehud] should apologise

Vorlath's original post was clearly inflammatory and inappropriate (style, not topic) for LtU. You can't blame the community for reacting the way it did -- it is just human nature and no amount of chastising will get a community to ignore inflammatory posts. Even now this new user doesn't see what he did wrong. The problem isn't LtU's; the problem is that this user lacks common social etiquette.

I think the "First X messages are moderated." from the Pay Your Dues post that Anton linked to is the best solution. It definitely would have helped here. It will also help newbies who may be mistaken about the nature of LtU. If all contributing editors can moderate the burden should be small.

As for myself, I'd gladly volunteer for any coding that might be needed. I'm part of that "new wave" of non-academics, so I don't contribute much in terms of comments, and I generally try to lurk more than post. However, I gain a lot from LtU, and if I can pay back the site in other ways I'd be happy to.

Respect is an earned thing

The problem is not that concurrency and distribution are not valid topics for LtU. The problem rather is that it is brought up in a manner that has no reference point (a newsworthy story as Ehud would like). So instead of discussing the matter in an intelligent fashion, it quickly goes awry.

Or put differently, the problem is not the ideas that you espouse, but rather in the lack of structure in the discussion of those ideas.

Your phrasing in your first

Your phrasing in your first post was inflammatory. You claimed a number of things that're incorrect, while suggesting that language designers (and many posters on LtU at least dabble) "can't see the solution" or else "refuse to move forward".

This is not generally conducive to polite conversation and a lack of uproar.

Etiquette once more

Ehud, today I noticed the forum topic Why Are ALL Programming Languages So Low Level? and saw you're comment about trolling. Like you, I found the tone and line of the conversation inappropriate for Ltu. I love the politeness I associate with Ltu. At the same time, I found an aspect of this contribution interesting. So instead of trying to kill the conversation, calling someone a troll, I decided to rephrase the idea behind this contribution into something that at least to me sounded interesting. Of course we can debate as to what is interesting and what not, but I think that would lead to a discussion at least the size of dynamic vs. static typing.
I'm not sure if you agree with me on this, but I think it would be much better if regular members of Ltu take it as their civic duty to inform newcomers on expected tone and if necessary help them uphold a certain standard and if really necessary guide the other contributors into giving proper responses. Today's gentlemen for sure started off in a totally inappropriate way, but the first few responses did nothing to counter that. Instead no one addressed the question behind this particular contribution, which lead to someone not feeling understood. I think a good community shows people how to behave properly instead of banging on someone’s bad behaviour.

I think it would be much

I think it would be much better if regular members of Ltu take it as their civic duty to inform newcomers on expected tone

Sure. I agree with your entire argument. In fact, as previous discussions show, we agreed that regulars should do this. This is partly the reason why I am so bothered by what happened in the last couple of days.

Simple Suggestion

I remember reading somewhere that accounts without real names on them are discouraged. Perhaps one of the reasons that discussions on Lambda tend to be so polite is that most people are not hiding behind the mask of a pseudonym as on so many other sites. It may add to the level of discussion if this policy were enforced a little more - perhaps even asking people with pseudonyms to change the name of their account?

I did try to address part of

I did try to address part of the question, albeit in a rather grumpy manner. I probably shouldn't have picked the subject line I did either.

Not that bad

Hm, I just followed that link to the Low-level post, but I don't really find it that offending, personally, nor exceptional.

In the recent months there have been lots of posts on LtU that weren't too interesting, some of them trolling discussions (static/dynamic typing), others posts from real newbies without too much of a clue.

But I wouldn't say any of this is bad. I simply avoid the beginners' posts when I don't have / want to take the time, and they don't ever end up on the front page RSS feed, so that's fine.

I agree that obvious trolls should be banned (maybe after warning them; sometimes a post might sound more offensive than is intended, if the poster doesn't know English too well), but in general LtU is still doing fine, I'd say, with the exception of some newbie posts, but they too will learn with time...

A few tweaks

As structured the site mingles stories with forum posts. You could provide an area where recent story posts are sumarised similarly to the 'recent posts' facility and another for purely 'forum' topics (I'm guessing this is how most people use the site). In essence ltu is structured as both a blog and a forum, as it has story posts from editors with discussion in addition to non-editor user topics.

Perhaps cleanly separating the two aspects would help filter out noise. It may be possible then to have a meta category of topics moderated 'up' by editors in a sense that aren't stories but are interesting discussions which the editor feels may interest readers. Not sure how feasable this is with drupal tho.

I think maybe a little reorganisation and ui tweaks (including navigation enhancements) would help here, plus locking threads which deteriorate into slanging matches would go a long way to helping here and more drastic measures should be considered only if this fails. I would like to see an area which only contains topic titles and a link to the most recent post as well as the number of new posts in the topic in a compact form (on the same line perhaps). This might not seem relevant but it would help filter out threads which no longer interest people as it is compact (at present LtU 'recent posts' is quite verbose).

Please also consider this piece before making any decisions.

My 2 cents

Couple things I would like:

  • Editor (or group consensus) being able to freeze or yank inappropriate threads. "Why are ALL programming langauges..." is a good example.
  • Limiting the number of posts by new members. Its difficult to have more than 2-3 good posts a day, and its next to impossible for a new member to make 2-3 quality posts a day with out understanding the LtU tone and format. More liberally, limit the number of posts per thread per day.
  • Make the personal email under the user settings public (or give users the option to make contact information available). I prefer to give feedback re: the appropriateness of a post off the forum.
  • New members: do not use a psuedonym. Editors, maybe this should be emphasized on the user account registration page?

To me, there's not much in the forums

I stopped frequenting LtU when I noticed that the front page stories had no discussion associated with them and the forum was brimming with not-so-decent discussion. My general rule of thumb is that if the thread has more than twenty comments, it was a waste of my time to read it. Otherwise, it became like reading Slashdot: I spent so much time filtering irrelevant points of discussion (or topics) that it became easier to just not bother.

I didn't/don't usually add much to any discussion, but that's usually because by the time I get to a topic, the important stuff has been said and my points are superfluous. I also tried to follow the adage that you can be silent and look the fool or open your mouth and remove all doubt. I would lurk and try to learn things. Lately, I feel, it's been slim pickings for learning.

I still come here (obviously), but I would welcome edited/moderated content, even if it meant community voting in some manner. The aimless forums topics do brings up some interesting points, but -- and this has been expressed already -- they are rarely well-written and lack grounding which tend to lead to discussions on par with most stuff on USENET.

Deleting posts?

Perhaps people should be able to nominate comments and/or entire topics for deletion. Truly value-less posts could then be quietly removed rather than degrading the quality of the site. Or you could allow only contributing editors to delete a post -- then you wouldn't need to vote on it. If you do decide to do this, it should be relatively easy to undelete a post, just in case someone decides they were overly rash.

Precedent for this kind of policy can be found in numerous moderated discussion groups, most wikis, physical bulletin boards, etc. It generally seems to work well.

We've discussed this before: split LtU in high and low parts.

The high part would be a place that only knowledgable and old members of LtU would be allowed to post. It would be a place for academics, mathematicians and generally people with scientific background to discuss programming languages (i.e. type systems)*...People would be allowed to enter the high part only if they have a long stream of high quality posts that truly contribute to the discussion. New topics in this part would be under review before being published.

The low part is were new members would start from, duking it out like mr Vorlath. There are many programmers and professionals out there who either do not possess the knowledge and skill to speak scientifically about programming languages or they deliberately do not want to play the role of a high profile academic but are interested in programming languages.


Re: split LtU in high and low part

I'm not a fan of splitting LtU into "high" and "low" parts. There are already many other "low" forums people can use. Many of the interesting posters here are /not/ academics and scientists but pragmatic programmers and engineers. I'm afraid limiting people to a "low" category hurts the breadth of readers, doesn't encourage people to stick around long enough to make it to "high", and lowers the LtU standards.

I agree.

I agree with you, Ethan.

There are already many

There are already many other "low" forums people can use.

But those forums are not related to LtU. My suggestion implies that the "low" part will directly be related to the "high" part.

Many of the interesting posters here are /not/ academics and scientists but pragmatic programmers and engineers.

But I did not say that only academics and scientists would be allowed in the high part. What I meant is that those people that have the skills to reply on a level close to a computer languages scientist should probably belong to the high forum, and those that are not knowledgable enough should be part of the low forum, until they are educated enough to be part of the high forum.

I'm afraid limiting people to a "low" category hurts the breadth of readers, doesn't encourage people to stick around long enough to make it to "high"

I think otherwise: a person that sincerely wants to contribute but does not know enough about programming languages will try to educate himself in order to be able to participate. It's extra motivation.

Take a recent example: someone said that there is no programming language which is really high level. Obviously, the person saying so has not done his homework when it comes to languages like Haskell. It would not be possible to "litter" the high forums with such a thread if there was a separation between "high" and "low".

My opinion: disposition is the key factor

People whose knowledge of PLs is not expansive can still make valuable contributions (at least, I like to think so since I happen to fall in that category). OTOH, a person can be a genuine PL wonk, but have a personality that is overbearing and disruptive. Generally speaking, smart people are more cognizant of their limitations in knowledge (even though they possess more), but this can lead either to a sense of humility for the subject or on the other extreme an impatience with those that aren't on the same plateau.

Anyhow, register me as one that believes that the source of problems is social in nature, rather than technical (of course, experience teaches us that more often than not, the lack of technical and social skills collude with one another, causing the most problems).

Isn't it that already?

I thought that was the distinction between the front page and the forums? If not, then I apologize for mis-using your wonderful site here, which's single-handedly inspired me to being working on my own language project.

Speaking as a low-level guy who still can't get his head some of the "basic" type-theory things, I'd be just fine with being relegated to the low-end bucket, as long as the high-end guys are willing to chime in to help out with my occasional stupid questions. I'm fascinated by PL's, but have no illusions that I've anything new to add to the "real" discussions. How bout the two-level system, plus let me reply to the high-end posts via a moderator who sanity checks that I'm not either trolling or so woefully ignorant as to distract from what's really there?

Another option (which I don't know if drupal supports) would be the equivalent of "ok, let's take that discussion offline to a separate conversation". Any kind of "spawn child" moderation option? Perhaps run/adjudicated by licensed moderators and/or the post-owners?

death penalty

The only way to improve the quality of discussions is to filter out the bozos. Don't moderate postings; moderate people.

For me, read-only access to "old LtU" would be more pleasant than read-write access to "new LtU". In other words: I don't think bans are "extreme", my vote is for a lot more bans, and I wouldn't mind being banned myself if this improves the signal-to-noise ratio :-)

Being the author of this the

Being the author of this the linked to comment, and having it emphasize the community. I'm not sure how exactly it should be gone about, but I agree it is people that cause problems not threads. Most of the long-time members will self-moderate themselves or their threads when they get out of hand or respond to prodding from the community, and usually they do not start such (sub)threads in the first place.

My Take

There are several excellent and well behaved discussion groups out there, this game development industry list is one such example. It manages (for the most part) to avoid all the usual problems that plague certain discussion sites, such as typing before thinking, putting across a point without grounding, making inflammatory remarks, etc..

It is inevitable that the occasional problem will arise when a public discussion group gains popularity. I believe its best to resolve these issues as soon as possible with a gentle but firm warning from "The Elders" with a pointer to a page containing a solid set of LtU ideals. I find this post a good example.

As an aside, it's a shame that the poster of "Why are ALL Programming languages so low level" approached LtU in the direction he chose as his blog contains some valid (if perhaps slightly angry!) thoughts.

It would be a shame to discourage "new blood" from LtU, as I believe that occasionally a less formal view can shed fresh light on entrenched ideas, or at least spark an interesting discussion.

Most of us are "newbies" in some field or other, for example I have been in the industry for over ten years studying the "Dark Side" of imperative programming, but have only recently started exploring functionalism and language design (beyond what I picked up at university), and I find the combined IQ of LtU users invaluable.

I agree with the above poster that it might be a good idea to discourage pseudonyms on the sign up page. Although I feel abbreviations are valid, since some people do not wish to leave a permanent trail across the internet.

I find this post a good

I find this post a good example.

Indeed it is. The trouble is, it didn't achieve the desired result. The issue at hand is what to do in such cases.

When possible, civil rebukes and suggestions are of course better - I think everyone on this thread agrred to this as a general rule.

time limits?

Hello all,

I've been reading LtU for a few months now and noticed the same change in the signal-to-noise ratio as several other people did. I like this site - it has plenty of useful information and references that a beginner like me can look up and study. But that advantage decreases somewhat when I have to scroll through a long and wandering thread to get information about the topic at hand.

However, I do not think moderation is the answer to "drive-by postings". I think that puts more stress on the moderators.

So, how about this: create a time limit for forum postings. If people could post new forum topics just once a week, it would certainly force them to think carefully about what they are asking or proposing. Contributing editors and select others would be exempt. And new members would be prohibited from posting new topics immediately - they would have to wait a week, just like everyone else. Perhaps this way people will only sign up if they are serious about discussion.

Also the ability to flag posts or topics as noise/spam would be useful. After a certain threshold (X members) the moderators would be sent an email. This is what many other sites do, I'm not sure if that has been implemented here yet.

create a time limit for

create a time limit for forum postings

This is one of the ideas we considered implementing. I'd like to hear what others think about it.

Voting/Ranking system

How about letting people vote whether they like particular posts or not. The higher rankings a person would get, the more often that person would be allowed to post (edit: as well as vote). The ranking should have exponential decay emphasizing the most recent posts by a person.

Well, howabout just letting

Well, howabout just letting people vote whether they like particular posts or not and display the results next to the post after some preset amount of votes (e.g. after 5 votes) have been given. This would allow people to express dislike of inflammatory posts without actually having to start a flamewar.

small interface suggestion + a contrary comment

add a third menu to the right-hand column (at the top) which lists the most recent front page items only. this will give a stronger emphasis to those items - it's easy for a "quiet" front page topic to slip off the existing menus.

i'm not sure there's a terrible problem. there have been times when this place has been too academic. if someone has a lot to learn they're going to sound pretty stupid, but that doesn't mean that they won't learn.

i'm not sure there's a

i'm not sure there's a terrible problem. there have been times when this place has been too academic. if someone has a lot to learn they're going to sound pretty stupid, but that doesn't mean that they won't learn.

Just to clarify my position: I have no problem with newcomers, nor with non-academic interest in programming languages. Andrew of course knows this well, since we discussed it here over the years many times.

My problem was with pissing matches, non civility, and a marked unwillingness to learn which to me is a clearn sign of no real interest in the subject.


I think it's best when a community does its own self-policing. By giving members the option of ignoring other members, and telling those members "you are being ignored by X members", it may be enough to give people a reality-check.


This helps the community, but is too harsh (IMHO) to misguided newbies. We could have both, the first N moderated posts and /ignore for other cases (e.g. trolls). Also it could be optional to ignore the answers to their posts, because sometimes it's amusing and instructive to read the answers, specially when there are interesting linked articles in the answer.


I've seen a few of Ehud's "What do we do about the falling quality of LtU?" posts in my time here. Every time I read them, and walk away a little confused.

I'm never quite sure what the problem is. That is, I can identify some posts of dubious value, but never enough that it appears to me to actually be a problem.

Part of the issue is probably that I'm dumber than the target LtU audience.

In any case, I always end up wondering exactly what to make of LtU. Please, make your policies explicit. You say you will do this each time this discussion comes up, and it never happens. You cannot possibly expect people to follow policies if they don't know what they are. For instance, I would gladly have used my full name if when I signed up for LtU I had the slightest idea that anyone gave a crap.

You can change your username

For instance, I would gladly have used my full name if when I signed up for LtU I had the slightest idea that anyone gave a crap.

You can change your username on the 'my account' page. But you are right, things like this should be made more explicit. For this particular issue there could be a note on the page for registering new users.

Yes, polcieis should be made

Yes, policies should be made explicit. However, this is hard work, and it seems most members don't want to help with this or other aspects of running the site (many do, and they are the real members of the community, of course). This is why these things take time. Personally, I think you should offer help not criticism.

More to the point, you have been a member for close to a year. I expect that anyone following the site for that long would know by now what LtU is and what its goals are. Indeed, it seems most other members know. Notice how many people here mentioned that the community should educate newcomers about the site and its unwritten style and policies. Now maybe written policies are important for newcomers, but after a year? I think the burden is on you.

Personally, I think you

Personally, I think you should offer help not criticism.

I would be glad to help if I thought I had the knowledge necessary.

I expect that anyone following the site for that long would know by now what LtU is and what its goals are.

I don't know. I see articles and discussions, some of which I don't have the background to understand, some of which I find interesting, and a very few of which are just stupid. Sometimes I see a comment from you or something indicating that you don't approve of it, but in general, I don't know if you approve or not. From your original post: "but it seems many regulars enjoy these long threads, which to me seem rather pointless, and indeed want LtU to be more like USENET than like a group blog." I suspect that some of the stuff I like is stuff you wish would go away. But I just don't know.

Indeed, it seems most other members know.

I thought the whole problem that prompted this post was that members appear NOT to understand what LtU is and what its goals are.

I think what it boils down to for me is that I'm just not sure if I and people like me are welcome here or not. I am very aware that the target LtU audience is a lot more informed than I am, but I like to think that I can participate by reading and making an occasional comment. After I read one of these posts I start to think that maybe you wish people without a very strong educational background just wouldn't post or comment, that you discourage the slightest amount of off-topicness so much that the environment is oppressive, and that you wish the plebians would just go away.

I would actually understand that, if I knew for certain that's what the issue was. But I really just don't know.

It has nothing to do with

It has nothing to do with the amount of education, as I explained many times. It is all about being sincere and wanting to learn - whether you are a newcomer or an expert.

Everyone is welcome. The fact that a couple of people recently made the forum less informative and civil shoudln't imply that other members aren't welcome.

Freedom of speech => duty to accept criticism

I usually try to stay out of administrative matters here because (firstly, I have not posted for a long time, but secondly because) I can be fairly heavy-handed, and moreover have the sense that I am so biased in the academic direction that my decisions would alienate a lot of users. But I will give myself license to speak on this occasion because mostly what I have to say is, I think, not biased in the expected direction.

Personally, I view LtU more as a forum than a group weblog, and have always done so. To me it is rather clear that there are two persons in charge, and the rest of us, although we can submit stories, are users rather than administrators. That isn't a bad thing, in my mind; it's just the way I look at it.

Maybe as a consequence, I don't really mind if some people start forum threads which, to me, seem pointless or ill-informed. If I don't care to, I don't have to follow that sort of thread, and, so far, I have not noticed this happen to threads of the front-page stories. (But I haven't followed them very closely recently, so I could be wrong.)

OTOH, I did in some ways prefer LtU the way it was a year or so ago, when there were only maybe 15 active posters, nearly all of whom were thoughtful, competent and interested in learning and teaching. When I see a lot of "bad" messages, I start to think it reflects badly on LtU; but image is not substance, and the way to improve things is, I think, not to muzzle them but to confront them.

So, to me, the flip-side of freedom of speech in the forums is that if I (or someone else, but frankly it has often been I :) go in there and write, "this is bullshit because A, B and C...," then they will not accuse me of being unsociable.

Of course, some people are impossible. But, I have noticed that often those people will leave of their own accord after they get fed up with being called on every time to support their claims with facts or to write coherently. Also, these sorts of problem people tend to take everything personally. (Sometimes, I grant you, it is my fault for being too abrasive, but frankly I also think it relates to the fact that their egos depend on being accepted as correct, rather than actually being correct.)

It is not that I think we should drive people off, but rather that I think that anyone who wants to exercise their freedom to speak also must accept a concomittant duty to listen. What they do after that is their own business. If they still disagree, they can storm off, or they can stay around and continue arguing until other people lose interest.

As for pseudonyms, I don't really care either. I do think remarks should be judged on their content, not who made them, and certainly not on the name of who made them. OTOH, it is hard to deny that "pseudonymous" remarks lack some of the moral conviction that normal ones do, and personally in a place like this I think pseudonyms look kind of immature and amateurish. Well, that is a prejudice of my own, but undoubtedly shared by others; if you are willing to live with it, by all means, use a pseudonym.

So, in conclusion, I favor the status quo because I think democracy enables both innovation (not the right word — uh, I mean the freedom to say something insightful) among individuals and criticism between peers. As long as we exercise both, I think we will be OK. Of course, if disk space or bandwidth is an issue, then maybe democracy won't work. :)

Update: You can interpret "listen" in many ways, and that is where the authoritarian judgements start.

A few days ago, I wrote something which could be taken as insulting, though I didn't point any fingers. Somebody responded and called me (specifically) some names, which I found annoying. But, OK, what I wrote was controversial, and it's no skin off my back if they disagree with me; so I looked the other way. If it happens a few more times, maybe I would get nasty back. But I think my remarks stand on their own, so I don't need to turn it into a pissing match every time someone criticizes me. So I think I was fulfilling my duty to "listen", and that's the sort of thing I'm talking about.

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Update: On second thought, maybe that wasn't such a good example... :) Apologies for being so pompous.


I've already implemented a couple of the suggestions that came up in this thread.

1. I updated the FAQ to make the goal of the site clearer as well as to point to the previous etiquette discussion.

2. I added a notice to the signup page urging people to use thier real names, or at leart give enoguh identifying information in their profiles.

Strawman orientation language

"LtU is for high quality information and discussion of programming language design and research. Use academic or professional standards of civility, clarity, and commitment to learning. There are people here who know much more than you do. You are welcome, and welcome to contribute, but please observe our purpose and the social context. This is not a loud hand-waving hallway discussion at an ACM conference. This is certainly not a "everyone has something worth saying" user group. A comment rated 5 on Slashdot may or may not be appropriate here. Few comp.lang.misc threads are. Picture yourself as standing in a quiet room with 50 people. There is a high-power core, including people who have created major languages. Most of everyone's time is spent listening. When someone clears their throat and offers up a comment or question, it is clear time and effort went into the thought and its clear expression. Thoughts are regularly set aside for days to gel. The signal to noise ratio is very high. This is our objective. Please exercise discretion in your decisions on when, whether, and how you post. With the explosive growth in LtU guests, it requires everyones' efforts to maintain quality and clip excursions. Thank you, and welcome."

Great stuff

Thanks, very useful. If anyone has anything to add to this, please do. We'll be incorporating the feedback and useful comments into improved orientation and policy pages.

Perhaps it would be

Perhaps it would be instructive to include links to specific (sub)threads/topics that have been considered inappropriate as examples? In a policy page I mean, e.g. the FAQ.

This might be a good idea,

This might be a good idea, thanks.

you know it wasn't always

you know it wasn't always like this, right? there was a time when it was largely chris and i exploring things that were new to us, but probably way too basic to get approved according to this?

you have a few people (one, two?) who don't get the cultural vibes here. your response is to post something so extreme, off-putting and, frankly, arrogant, that you will lose many others who could, in time, be useful contributors.

you are cutting off your nose to spite your face.

It's great to hear what you

It's great to hear what you think, Andrew. For those who don't know, Andrew is LtU's second user/contributor ever...

We may indeed be overreacting, and we should be careful not to sound too arrogant and off-putting.

The reason I emphasized sincerity is that I think the problems we are trying to address isn't caused by being uninformed, or an outsider to the field, but rather by being smug, a know it all, and an unwilling to learn.

I want to make it absolutely clear that in my mind LtU should always welcome "newbies", and should cater to people with diverse backgrounds. I, perhaps naively, think that you can do this without giving up on quality and civility. The only proof I can offer that this is indeed possible is LtU itself. For me that's proof enough.

I've arrived here while

I've arrived here while searching for this fabled ethos of LtU. I found myself wondering:

"Ehud keeps on posting front-page articles complaining about lack of quality home page articles, declining discussion quality, bad threads not worth reading etc. Am I also to blame? Were my recent postings problematic?"

So off I go, and I find out you've been moaning about this for years :) It certainly does come off as a little arrogant and disparaging of newbies - I've been a member for years and still feel like a newbie.

Anyhow, I've been appropriately chastened, and will refrain from posting again for some time.

Location, location, location...

It seems to me that one aspect common to several of the inappropriate threads has to do with people discussing their own personal insights into PL design, and even their own personal PL projects. I think the personal nature of the topic contributes to the negative tone that some posters have used in responses to criticism, even the constructive criticism offered here.

Perhaps it would be helpful to have some links to forums where these (very) informal discussions are more appropriate.

Eric D.

[Edit: If I had looked a little closer, I would have noticed the link to the LtU etiquette message, which already brings this up. Never mind.]

This is a good point. We

This is a good point. We should include a link to comp.lang.misc in the policies page. More link suggestions?

Yahoo group "langsmiths"

Re: Elitarian

This is a response to a comment in another thread, here.

With that kind of argument, we never were supposed to ask questions about the purpose of something we have not studied yet. How do you know what's worth studying then?

Part of where I was coming from is that FP is not really the point. If the question is "why should I study FP", my answer, and the answer that I think makes sense on LtU, is "don't study FP, study programming languages, which will naturally include studying the principles underlying FP". This is the kind of study that this site is about.

I think the OP's question is perfectly valid, despite the fact that it turns out to be problematic in practice.

I think it's only problematic because it tends to take time and careful thought to explain, to someone unfamiliar with a large and complex topic, why they should care about it. Even then, success is far from assured. After all, the original question was prompted by a long article which apparently didn't do the trick. Most responses to such a question will not be nearly as thorough. The best response is probably to point to articles such as Why functional programming matters, which Ehud recently linked from the Getting Started thread.

That strikes as a very elitarian position.

As we try to improve the focus of discussions here, this may be a concern. However, this site is aimed at people who are interested in studying programming languages, so there's a certain degree of good faith that's expected from someone who posts a new topic here, namely that they're making some sincere attempt to study programming languages. Personally, I think that obligation goes beyond just learning new languages, and means that they should be reading at least some of the books on our Getting Started page, if they're not already familiar with that sort of material. Otherwise, they'll be limited in their ability to contribute to discussions here.

We're going to be publishing a new policy document soon, and if anyone thinks we're being too elitist, I hope they'll let us know.

Learning by doing

I think there's another angle to this. It is prefectly valid to ask "why should I spend time on learning FP" (or anything else for that matter). A good answer is "beacuse many people (see X,Y, Z) think it is interesting beacuse of A, B and C". What is impossible, in general, is to explain in a short (or even long) LtU thread why A, B and C really make sense and what they really mean in practice. The only way I know of leanring these things is by reading about them and playing with them (i.e., programming). You cannot learn swimming by debating the color or shape of pools.

What we can, and should, do is to help finding good resources, help with specific questions etc. But other than that, you really have to get your hands dirty.

This was the gist of my post

This was the gist of my post Bah. Plus providing some motivation why one should put out the effort no matter what the outcome.

New Technology?

If we had some voting and a system for gradually improving people's voting power, then lesser threads or comments could be downmodded; maybe they become a darker and darker shade of red as they earn more and more disapproval. A visually indicator for "wandering off charter" would set expectations well for all involved.

Mod parent up

I do accept responsibility for trickling this space with unintelligible comments. I agree a slashdot-like mod-up, mod-down, voting system where everything below a user-given treshhold is not shown would be nice.