Forum Topics and Story

Hi Elder Citizens of LtU,

I'm a new user to LtU. I noticed that there are two types of posts in LtU: the Forum Topics and the Story. At the moment, I can only see the link to post new forum topics, but I don't see the link to post a story.

Is it because I'm a new user? What are the criteria for a user to be qualified to post a Story?

I looked throw the FAQ and many other documents on the site. But not able to found any guideline on this issue.

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The way I heard it...

Stories are supposed to be like a group of academics gathered in a circle outside of the room where a talk was just presented, whereas forum topics are more like a group of hobos gathered outside the venue, arguing over who can make the most impressive noise by cranking his arm with his hand cupped to his armpit.

Stories vs. Forum topics

Stories are always posted directly to the front page. Stories can only be posted by contributing editors. To become a contributing editor, you simply e-mail Ehud Lamm asking to be one. Ehud loves to say, paraphrasing, "We need contributing editors to contribute content, or LtU will whither and die."

As a general rule of thumb, editors shouldn't use their status to push their own research, and shouldn't post stories that are off-topic. Ideally, contributing editors pay attention to what is topical in (a) current major LtU-related academic and/or industry conferences (b) the LtU forums (c) mailing lists related to programming language design and research.

In terms of how the community sees things:

Some users only check the stories news feed, while others subscribe to the whole feed. Only the Stories news feed is posted to the ltu twitter account.

Forum topics can be promoted to Stories. For example, a graduate student finishes his thesis and wants to tell LtU about it and why it is relevant. He does so by creating a LtU forum topic. Ehud then realizes a lot of people find that topic to be the bee's knees, so he pushes it to the front page.

Thanks for the explanation.

Thanks for the explanation. Just hope the useful information can be documented somewhere in the LtU FAQ page or in the policy page.

These are probably the best

These are probably the best explanations ever. Though to my taste stories should often be less high-brow than Matt implies. We should certainly explain this in the docs more clearly.

Low-brow posting

Wish I had time to bring back a more low-brow series of front page stories. As it is, I've ceded second place on all time posts. One of these days I might I have to test whether I still have rights to post to the front page. :-)

Did manage to update the index of LtU posts for those interested. Glad to see that LtU is still thriving.

I was wondering if it would

I was wondering if it would be useful for someone to start a PL sub-reddit? Not to detract from LtU and I've kicked this horse before, but I still think it would be interesting to see what could be done with crowd-sourced community moderation. On the other hand, LtU is low-volume enough that it might not be very useful.


How would you name it? "Programming language research", "Programming language theory" (too 'high-brow'?), "programming languages" (too vague?)?

how about

how about

I don't really see the point

I don't really see the point of a separate venue.

I think more people should post to the front page and forum, instead. Maybe we should encourage this more explicitly.

[OTOH: If it gets more people to submit interesting stuff, I'm for it.]

I'm getting most of my PL

I'm getting most of my PL news and commentary from reedit and ycombinator these days. These are definitely "bigger tents" in that they attract a wider range of people, and the PL news is of a different variety than LtU, but still...

My feeling is that LtU is

My feeling is that LtU is dying, or at least decaying. As was said above, the solution is more (active) C-Es...

The Future of PL

Well, there does seem to be a steady trickle of new users who are signing up, but most of them don't ever post. Although this fact might not be particularly unusual. I don't really have any feel for how the rates of account creation and resulting participation have varied over time.

Much of the community believes that Functional Programming is the future "right default" for most programming tasks. It seems that the world has more-or-less come to this view as well, with widespread adoption of many functional features in JavaScript, C#, Python, etc. and increasing appreciation of functional techniques among mainstream developers. To some degree, the future has finally arrived.

As a result I guess I feel I don't have as much to talk about as I have in years past, and unfortunately I don't really know what the next step after FP is.

Dependently typed languages seem like a plausible candidate for the next step. But at the same time, that seems far from clear. And it seems we don't have a critical mass of people who know enough about them to have regular, high-quality conversations about them on LtU.

There seems to be increasing interest in revisiting low-level systems programming languages. I'm not so optimistic that this will turn into a hot topic, as creating a viable alternative to C/C++ that people will use is a monumental undertaking with a remote chance of success. I mean, look at all the effort that's gone into creating an alternative to Fortran: in the end, it seems that Python, R, and Matlab seem to have something of a leg up here.

Maybe it's time for one of those gently chastising messages from Ehud we haven't had in a while. I dunno.

As a self-described OO

As a self-described OO weenie, I claim there is a lot more to PL than lambda. The next big leap will be in accessibility and expanding what is meant by programming. Dependent types are not simple, for them to become mainstream a lot of work needs to be done (I talked to an F* researcher about this a few weeks ago).

I detest OO... But that

I detest OO... But that don't mean I think we reached the "end of history" as far as PLs are concerned once FP becomes mainstream. There's a lot more that needs to be done. And anyway, the "paradigms" are really not a very good classificatory system.


I think LtU should not just aspire to present the state-of-the-art (Research/Bleeding Edge, etc), but should seek to mine history (where we've been and how we got to this point). Kind of a pedagogic philosophy as well, that helps make sense of the world of PLs.

As an analogy: if we were a physics community, we should not just concentrate on Quantum Mechanics and String Theory, but also revisit the well worn territory of Newtonian Mechanics.

Anywhow, just a thought from a contributing editor that has been derelict in his duties.



Types and Accessibility

Yes, I'm actually not a type weenie; I definitely see the value of dynamically typed languages in some situations, and question the marginal utility/complexity tradeoff of fancy types in others. That's why I think dependent types as the "next step" is far from clear.

And I didn't mean to suggest that FP is the only thing to PL, just the "next step" in the sense that OO was the "next step" in the mid-to-late 80s and early nineties. And of course there was significant differences among OO languages just as there are among FP languages.

I'm curious what you mean by "accessibility". Do you mean making easier for people to learn topic X if you don't already know it? In this sense, Haskell was a pretty inaccessible language when I first picked it up. Knowing only imperative programming, I started out on a copy of the Gentle Introduction to Haskell and a book on SML. It took me a good year and a half to get even vaguely good at FP, and another year and a half for my FP skills to surpass my imperative skills.

The quality of error messages would be another common stumbling block to accessibility, if this is what you mean.


LtU isn't dying, it's just *not growing* while other discussion services are for the very same topics that LtU ought to serve. I think you ought to check out some of the newer options and see what they're offering to change the social dynamic - other than the obvious "that's where the eyeballs are" explanation.


I like LtU's minimal interface but it would be really nice if it could somehow get up to date with the current state of the art. The thread-like bulletin board feels nice but I miss the linking with google, or other, profiles and avatars. Plus the fact that you can't post pictures, video's, or other goodies. Or browsing PDF's directly and commenting on specific parts? (I now even see Ehud posting +1's ;0) )

It may be that the young are just not attracted anymore to the old-style interface of the current system. (Yeah, I know, it's difficult to maintain a complex site. Guess this will have to do.)

A terse interface for a rigourous discussion

Frankly, I don't think we would have much to win by using a fancier interface. Pictures very infrequently carry much content in LtU-related topics -- though we all had a good laugh with the "programmers of language X as seen by programmers of language Y" matrix; and I don't like to use video to consume technical information, as it's much slower to "glance over" and get the interesting bits than with text, with the current tools at least.

Collaborative annotation/discussion of PDFs may be an interesting feature; that would favor more down-to-the-detail discussions that we have now.


God, I agree with you. But a simple system for flagging the most important remarks on a discussion would already be a big boost, imo.

The problem is not one of

The problem is not one of "growth", and is not that the young aren't attracted. In fact, it is more like the opposite: the established experts are voting with their feet. (Which is precisely one reason why I resist suggestions to makes the site more snazzy. In fact, making it less so might help.)

The established experts do

The established experts do post on reddit, ycombinator or stackoverflow when they want. My feeling is that experts are willing to spend time on comments that attract a larger audience vs. the niche audience of LtU, so that's why they can be there and not here. None of these sites are very snazzy, in many ways they are more minimalistic than LtU.

LtU could use some more stickiness to attract a larger base, which will then attract the experts. I'm not really sure what form the stickiness should take, but taking some inspiration from the crowd sourcing and social features of competitors isn't a bad place to start.

Re: LtU isn't dying, it's just *not growing*

LtU isn't dying, it's just *not growing* while other discussion services are for the very same topics that LtU ought to serve.

This is a very good point, I think. I wonder how much our current new user policy is contributing to this: after somebody registers for an account, they can't log in or post comments until an administrator activates the account. We do try hard to activate anybody who is not a spammer. Usually this happens within 12-24 hours, but we aren't perfect and occasionally it takes longer.

This policy has eliminated our visible spam problem; I don't think we've published a single spam comment since we've instituted this new policy. On the other hand the process is not as streamlined as I'd like, and I don't doubt this has reduced participation on the part of new users.

It would be nice to allow new users to log in and immediately post comments, but that they wouldn't become visible until an admin activates the account. In addition (or as an alternative) sending new users an automated email that their new account has been activated would be nice. Either/both minimizes the chances that a new user would forget (or not bother) to come back later and participate.

And of course there are aspects of this process that could be streamlined from the administrators' point of view, too.

I seriously doubt this is the sole reason LtU is stagnating, but I also don't doubt that it's part of the reason. And I would also say that we probably don't want to be as big as Stack Overflow or /r/programming: we just need to be big enough (but not too big) to attract genuine experts and have good discussions.

Re: LtU isn't dying, it's just *not growing*

I don't doubt this has reduced participation on the part of new users

I've been reading LtU for about 4 years and signed up for an account about 2 years ago. This is my first post but that's not because of any administrative problems with the site. But of course I'm just one data point.

we just need to be big enough (but not too big) to attract genuine experts and have good discussions

This is what dissuades me. I sometimes feel that in computer science "expert" means "academic" and those of us who design programming languages and implement compilers in industry (or as a hobby) are considered to be "amateurs". Perhaps this is just my paranoid inferiority complex kicking in. Or perhaps it's just more that LtU is heavily slanted towards theory rather than practice. But it does leave me wondering how someone like myself can usefully contribute to the site. I'd certainly like to be an active member and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

(...and I apologise for jumping on your use of the word "expert" as I'm sure you didn't mean it in a negative sense!)

Don't Agree

I don't think I agree to that. It seems to me that LtU tilted into the other (industrial) direction the last few years.

Being a mix of both an execrable academic and an execrable compiler implementor, I think I know both worlds somewhat. I think we need more academics here, like a Wadler (who posted occasionally) or a Van Rossum. Although I don't blame them for having better things to do.

Thing is, I think LtU is just experiencing more competition because more people post on their own blogs. By now, it would make sense to (also) just be a news scraper site like Slashdot is, for scraping together blog posts by professionals.

LtU decay

At a recent conference, a number of LtU old-timers were discussing its apparent decay. Everyone seemed to agree that the principal issue was that the content/noise ratio is no longer acceptable. Everyone I talked to still reads LtU -- for the headline papers on Stories.

Personally I think that what changed is that, in the comments, knowledgeable people's voices got drowned out by people with strong opinions and apparently infinite time to voice them. I know I owe a debt to LtU, as I learned a huge amount from those 'knowledgeable people' who used to post here quite regularly, but are now seldom seen. I learned from their posting answers grounded in specific examples and/or specific research papers.

While I enjoy a good BS session on PL as much as many here, I rather tend to do that at conferences, in the presence of experts (and budding experts too). But I admit that I am rather less keen to have such free-for-alls on a web forum, especially as I don't know who is an expert, and who is just opinionated [opinionated experts are fine with me...]. I prefer my forum discussions to have more tangible content. I must admit that I have thus spent more time on MathOverflow and CSTheory (the TCS stack-exchange with a reasonable number of PL people) than here. I would be perfectly happy to come back to LtU, if I felt that it was worth my time to do so.

I agree with this analysis.

I agree with this analysis. To repeat myself: The ratio that changed, and gets progressively worse, is between the number contributing editors (who post stories on the home page), and the number of members.

Contributing editors

I feel that the 'contributing editor' distinction seems elitist, and doesn't scale well. There are a few here who have expressed the opinion that, on principle, would never ask to become one. I certainly feel that way, even though I have contributed about three forum topics that I thought would make good front-page material (and have read many more).

It might be time for you to look for new social mechanism, such as an approach for community members (other than the initial editor) to alter a forum topic into front-page material (i.e. fixing links, perhaps separate community-controlled text for the 'abstract' separate from comments of the contributor), and vote it onto the front page.


Personally I think that what changed is that, in the comments, knowledgeable people's voices got drowned out by people with strong opinions and apparently infinite time to voice them.

That is precisely my perception as well, and that of a number of other people I know. I just don't know what can be done about it.

The usual answer is to hide

The usual answer is to hide discussion sub-threads at a given depth (perhaps chosen by the client), or use community moderation to isolate the more interesting tidbits and topics. (Paragraph-level moderation would be neat.)

There is no fundamental reason you cannot accommodate both the people with strong opinions willing to take time to voice them (like me) and the casual lurkers.

I would abandon LtU in a hurry if it tried to steal my voice, though. Discussions in this community are the only thing here that interest me, and I view stories as props for discussion.

Discussion yes, but with who?

Back in the day, LtU was a discussion site, largely frequented by PL "professionals" (in a broad sense). Over the years, that's changed, and it's now a discussion site mostly frequented by PL "amateurs". I think it's unsurprising that two groups don't find the same site congenial to their interests. The same is true for virtually every human endeavor -- chess, or sailing, or guitar playing would be the similar.

The 'golden years' of LtU

The 'golden years' of LtU were apparently over a few years before I joined, during a time I was just learning that, yes, there is something more than C++ and Java out there, and it isn't just Perl.

If the problem is that new community members often need an 'education', that doesn't seem like something we should be complaining about. It's an opportunity. One should consider technological pressures towards education of the community. An LtU wiki might be appropriate. It may be useful to associate quizzes with each paper, for the right to discuss (or extra 'moderation/post' points or something - gamification).

The scaling issues associated with 'communication' in general are something one should consider for any community. Even if Ehud had his way and we increased the ratio of 'contributing developers', we'd just flood the front page - and that wouldn't be any better.

The 'golden years' of LtU

The 'golden years' of LtU were apparently over a few years before I joined

Since the complete history of "New style LtU" is not only archieved but immediately accessible from Recent Posts/Last Page everyone can easily check if people of former ages had bigger brains and longer academic track records ( published articles in reputed journals ) or were mostly students, hobbyists, professionals with a PhD and mavericks. I do not mind private mythologies and nostalgia. They are signs of our own aging, which also happens collectively, as a culture, which may entirely mystify us because we can't read them as symptoms of our own changes, our boredom and saturation.

The sentimentality of "old timers" aside, the most observable and objective change might be the frequency by which Ehud posted front page stories. He was incredibly eager at that time. Over the years he often expressed the wish that contributing editors would publish more. This didn't happen as desired. I do understand the disappointment.

The issue is not that people

The issue is not that people aren't educated enough. Think about the other examples I gave. If you're a professional chess player, you probably will want to hang out with other professionals, and not primarily because amateurs are insufficiently educated.

gamification - Please don't do it

Re: dmbarbour: It may be useful to associate quizzes with each paper, for the right to discuss (or extra 'moderation/post' points or something - gamification)

I followed the "Gamification" link.

If your suggestion means what Wikipedia says in that article:

achievement "badges" or levels;
"leader boards";
progress bar for encouraged tasks;
awarding, redeeming, trading, gifting, and otherwise exchanging points;
challenges between users

then I hope it will never happen.

I found these one of the worst features of the new web / social media / whatever it will be called next year.

David, I followed your contributions since Wiki, several years ago.
I found your notes very interesting and useful in stimulating my own thinking.
I don't think your style of contribution would thrive in any forum that does "gamification". (I hope it's clear that it's not a judgment on you, but on that kind of forum.)

Not about me

I don't think your style of contribution would thrive in any forum that does "gamification".

I get the impression that my style of contribution is exactly what the nostalgic folks here are complaining about.

Noise in one place can be structure in another

Not being an old-timer myself, I wouldn't make any judgement on what "they" are complaining about.

I still think that your contributions are of varying relevance. The volume is always important -- I'm not synthetic myself -- but sometimes it feels like it's directly prompted by a question of an interested reader, and sometimes it rather feels like you're bringing back an arbitrary thread of conversation to your own points of interests.

I'm confident you won't feel offended by this remark; as Alex, I generally found these lengthy contributions interesting, but they sometimes feel a bit repetitive. While I don't have any general idea to improve LtU, I think that regarding your own contributions, you could:
- try to limit divergences on topics that are not directly related to partition tolerance, on-demand programming, sensor networks, etc.
- move your content from an LtU post to your blog when it is growing above a certain size; a small post giving a link and some teaser will then be enough and perhaps improve the LtU reading experience

To give some examples :
- I think that this post on the "The Trouble with Erlang" could have been left out, or maybe summed up to "Most languages that are usually considered general purpose suck in my own problem domain" without the mention on 'data-fusion, orchestration, hard real-time, graceful degradation' and other dmbarbuzzwords
- On the contrary, in this discussion on asynchronous programming, your expertise on concurrency models was welcome and provided a good starting point for the discussion
- This post on your blog will surely be easier to read, bookmark, and refer to later than the deep quite-off-topic post in the Opa discussion; more generally, I have the feeling that most of your blog posts come from LtU discussion, and I think they're often better expressed on the blog

Finally, but this is more general as it applies to all discussion participants, I think we should make our best to avoid lengthy adversarial two-person discussions, such as the one you had with Brendan Eich recently, or with Bakul Shah in the "asynchronous" thread above. They rarely end up with a constructive agreement, get rather boring to the outsiders quite quickly, and could easily be moved to an e-mail¹ discussion outside LtU. I think that after three or four posts all disagreeing with the previous one, people should just stop -- though I know it's hard when both sides are convinced of having rational justifications of their positions, and most frequently have.

¹: LtU doesn't make it easy to get one's email adress. This could/should be improved.

You make some good points. I

You make some good points. I shall consider them.

Still, I prefer technological structure and pressures, if administrators aren't willing to butt into the conversations. Even if it was just hiding a subthread and related '***' updates on a per-viewer basis, that would probably serve most people. A soft limit on post depth or post rate might also provide some subtle pressures to push people to e-mail and other media where appropriate (e.g. must wait 40 minutes to respond to a depth-4 post, or the response only shows up after 40 minutes and can be edited in the mean-time).


What is saddest (to me) is that there not seem to be a viable alternative. I would love it if the "professionals" could co-exist with the "amateurs". On some sites (like MathOverflow), this is done via up/down voting, and seems to have been quite effective. [Although there is also the non-trivial effect of]

One of the paradoxical

One of the paradoxical effects of attention control through indices generated by "crowd wisdom" on sites like reddit is that the most downvoted posts often have the most children. This somehow restores my belief in healthy instincts over social engineering.

Maybe LtU suffers most from the fact that the linked articles don't have good readers, who are committed to transmit their insights in the public. Everything becomes immediately tangential, off topic or gets ignored. That's better on Q/A sites like X-Overflow because only the initial question has to be read and understood, which fits well with a web-culture of quick reading and quick posting. In some sense LtU has failed, not as a site but as a format. No one has copied the idea and launched similar sites for other topics.

A mechanism for pushing FRP

A mechanism for pushing FRP tangents out of the thread would be great :)


Nuff said.

Academics are highbrow?

Ehud: I have seen (and joined) groups of academics gathered outside a room after a talk on many occasions. "High-brow" isn't usually the first term that comes to mind for those conversations.:-)

True enough. I've even be

True enough. I've even be part of such groups :-)

Identity crisis

I think communities need to discuss their identity and ethos from time to time, so I always view threads such as this one as normal and productive, not signs of trouble. That said, I think two big issues are on the table. First, from the start LtU was open to academics and practitioners, experts and novices alike. Not everyone is a fan of this approach, but we know that it can work relatively well. Ironically, some non-experts feel unwelcome, while some experts feel too many non-experts reduce the signal-to-noise ratio. I think both things can be true, but that neither is a necessary result of a diverse membership. What might help is more active community policing -- polite and respectful indication to posters if they are too highbrow or too uninformed (or are just being too obtuse).

The second issue boils down to what Jacques described as knowledgeable people's voices got drowned out by people with strong opinions and apparently infinite time to voice them. LtU was never an "opinion" site. If you claim something, you'd better link to research, examples, standards, etc. if you want to be taken seriously (unless you are a recognized authority, reporting based on your personal knowledge of things, e.g. as the designer of a language being discussed, as a participant in a panel etc.).[1] I think, again, that as a community we need to be more vigilant, and call people up on this. It's not always fun to do, and we shouldn't pick on any one member, but surely, if this description sounds to close to home, please re-consider your posting style.

Personally, I don't really believe technical solutions such as up-voting comments, hiding them etc. is a long term solution to social issues. But I may be wrong about this. In the short term, I know some people developed 'kill file' apps for LTU, and I am sure they'll share them with others who really would prefer to stop reading specific kinds of comments.

[1] It's worth mentioning that the sole role of contributing editors as such is to link to interesting and important stuff.

Ehud, how is a kill file app

Ehud, how is a kill file app different from moderation/karma? There are completely tested technical solutions to this problem. A troll will get down voted, a recognized authority will get up voted, a well-argued no one will eventually earn enough karma and be someone to other people. Kill files are blunt instruments and is actually less social than karma-based solutions. Right now, the community is small enough that none of this is really necessary (still easy to filter out manually), but it is a problem one would like to have.

Technology is becoming as such that you can have a big tent and small tent at the same time; you can attract mass and emphasize quality at the same time. The best idea is to align your interest with a group of people, having content emphasized that is liked by that group (the facebook solution), essentially building smaller communities in larger ones (and of course, the smaller communities can overlap).

My experience with Scala tells me that this is actually incredibly relevant to PL: how do you build a PL community that gains enough mass to continue forward while allowing elite smaller communities to thrive.

There's quite a difference

There's quite a difference between someone personally filtering out messages, invisible to the poster and other members, and a social infrastructure for filtering and reputation.


With feedback, the poster can learn.

Mood Killer

Well, I don't want to kill everyone's mood, but I think the truth is that at some point LtU will be probably be 'replaced' with another social media application which just works better for most people. It might be something on top of Facebook, Google+, or an academia discussion board. This place, LtU, will probably become something for dinosaurs, like usenet's comp.compilers. All the evolution we know of proceeds from the vague to the definite, there's no stopping it.

(Not that you cannot strive for an optimal LtU, of course.)