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This post is a mix of

  • shameless explicit self-promotion
  • trying to explain some subtleties about what kind of "LessOnline" actually is.

Shameless self promotion portion bit:

LessOnline is in 3 weeks (May 31 – June 2). It's "a festival of writers who are wrong on the internet (by try to be less so)", celebrating truthseeking and blogging.

Early ticket prices end this Monday (aka 3 days from now as of me posting this).

Writers attending include Scott AlexanderZvi MowshowitzEliezer YudkowskyPatrick McKenzieAgnes CallardKatja GraceKevin SimlerAndy MatuschakCremieux RecueilDuncan SabienJoe CarlsmithAellaClara CollierAlexander WalesSarah Constantin, and more.

It'll be a weekend filled with talks, workshops, puzzle-hunts, dance parties, and late-night conversations around the fireside. There's also on-site housing and childcare available for purchase. Tickets for LessOnline are $400, but the price is going up to $500 on May 13th. If you only want to stop by for 1 day, then you can just buy a day-pass instead.

Okay, now for "explaining some subtleties"

  • The vibe: preserving cozy/spaciousness of a small retreat at a larger festival
  • The audience: "Reunion for the The Extended Family Blogosphere, both readers and writers."
  • Manifest, and Summer Camp


I. The Vibe

I've been trying to explain the vibe I expect and it's tricksy. I think the vibe will be something like "CFAR Reunion meets Manifest."

But a lot of people haven't been to a CFAR Reunion or to Manifest.

I might also describe it like "the thing the very first EA Summit (before EA Global) was like, before it became EA Global and got big." But very few people went to that either.

Basically: I think this will do a pretty decent job of having the feel of a smaller (~60 person), cozy retreat, but while being more like 200 - 400 people. Lightcone has run several ~60 person private retreats, which succeeded being a really spacious intellectual environment, with a pretty high hit rate for meeting new people who you might want to end up having a several hour conversation with.

Realistically, with a larger event there'll be at least some loss of "cozy/spaciousness", and a somewhat lower hit rate for people you want to talk to with the open invites. But, I think Lightcone has learned a lot about how to create a really nice vibe. We've built our venue, Lighthaven, with "warm, delightful, focused intellectual conversation" as a primary priority. Whiteboards everywhere, lots of nooks and a fractal layout that makes it often feel like you're in a seclude private conversation by a firepit, even though hundreds of other people are nearby (often at another secluded private conversation with _their_ own firepit!)

(It's sort of weird that this kind of venue is extremely rare. Many events are hotels, which feel vaguely stifling and corporate. And the nice spacious retreat centers we've used don't score well on the whiteboard front, and surprisingly not even that well on "lots of nooks")


Large events tend to use "Swap Card" for causing people to meet each other. I do find Swap Card really good for nailing down a lot of short meetings. But it somehow ends up with a vibe of ruthless efficiency – lots of back-to-back 30 minute meetings, instead of a feeling of organic discovery. The profile feels like a "job fair professional" sort of thing.

Instead we're having a "Names, Faces, and Conversations" document, where people write in a giant google doc about what questions and ideas are currently alive for them. People are encouraged to comment inline if they have thoughts, and +1 if they'd be into chatting about it. Some of this hopefully turns into 1-1 conversations, and if more people are interested it can organically grow into "hey let's hold a small impromptu group discussion about that in the Garden Nook"


We'll also have a bunch of stuff that's just plain fun. We're planning a puzzle hunt that spans the event, and a dance concert led by the Fooming Shoggoths, with many songs that didn't make it onto their April 1st album. And the venue itself just lends itself to a feeling of whimsy and discovery.


Another thing we're doing is encouraging people to bring their kids, and providing a day care to make that easier. I want this event to feel like something you can bring your whole life/self to. By default these sorts of events tend to not be very kid friendly.




II. The Audience

So that was a lot of words about The Vibe™. The second question is "who actually is this conference for?"

It's called "LessOnline", and it's a fairly obvious thing for this to be "The LessWrong conference." We're aiming for a somewhat different thing than that (I personally think it was a mistake to call it LessOnline, but, naming is hard and I don't actually have a better idea offhand)

What different thing _are_ we aiming for? A few angles:

1. This isn't meant to be about "the rationalist social scene." It's meant to be about "people who are earnestly doing the rationality thing, whichever social scenes they do or don't participate in." i.e. people who are earnestly trying to figure out true things and explain them. People aiming to achieve a unified world model, and/or to develop the artform of doing so.

2. We're interested in people attending who are interested in tackling the same sorts of questions that the LessWrong community tends to tackle, but through different approaches or angles.

A metaphor that I like:

Recently my family had a Family Reunion. My mom hosted a concert in honor her mother. She invited a lot of different people – my grandma's other children and their families, friends that my grandma new, people who were involved with her church or community.

My mother was the one hosting it, and my mom's particular aesthetic and family connections were salient during the one-woman concert she performed. But, it was a concert for everyone.

Back when LessWrong was founded, there was an online intellectual zeitgeist surrounding it. There were econbloggers and New Atheists and polymaths and science bloggers. LessWrong was born from that context.

LessOnline is something like "a family reunion for the Blogosphere That Spawned It", which includes various descendants who went off in different directions. (i.e. you might go up the tree to "the parent science or econbloggers of yore", and then back down the tree to their other intellectual descendants.")

I'm not sure if this metaphor will turn out to be quite accurate in describing the audience who in fact shows up. But, like, I'm excited to have Andy Matuschak coming, who's developed a lot of neat Tools for Thought, even though he hasn't been closely involved with LessWrong. David Chapman can't come, but I had a nice long chat with him about his current takes on rationality and I think it'd have been cool if he came. (My model of Chapman is that he set out to solve many of the same problems Eliezer set out to solve, but he called the resulting thing 'metarationality' instead of 'rationality', with a somewhat different vibe)




III. Manifest, and Summer Camp

The original generator for this event was:

Last year, Manifold held their first conference, Manifest, at Lighthaven. It was really fun. It made me feel wholesome and excited in a way that other conferences hadn't in a long time.

Part of it was that Manifest wasn't really trying to take itself too seriously. They weren't pitching themselves as "the conference for people effectively doing good or saving the world". They're unifying theme was "we like making predictions and seeing how they go and hopefully making (imaginary?) money off them", but apart from that, any topic was fair game. It ended up having a lot of whimsy as well as seriousness.

This year they approached us about running it again, with the idea of having a Summer Camp period before or afterwards. We ended up deciding it would be cool if Lightcone hosted a related conference the week before, and filled the weekend in between a laid back sleeper summer camp season.

Both Manifest and LessOnline are pretty casual conferences. Summer Camp will be even more casual. It'll mostly be whatever people make of it, but I'm pretty confident that people will bring a lot of great ideas to it.

I'm personally planning to host some rationality workshops there based on my current projects, and running some experimental Solstice ideas. I think Ricki Heicklen is looking into "Trade School" where she teaches the art of making profitable trades.

But I'm pretty excited at experimenting with a weeklong "festival season", with multiple peaks, lots of rooms to experiment and to see what a high-density-popup campus community can look like.




Anyway those are some thoughts. Hope to see you there. :)





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