META: List Focus

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sat Oct 06 2001 - 04:21:18 MDT

I did an informal experiment yesterday: I refrained from posting on the
extropians list (in order not to distort the experiment), and simply
categorized every post for how relevant to extropianism or transhumanism
it was.

My sample was 117 posts.

Of these *9* were unequivocally extropian. They expressed concepts and
values consistent with the principles.

22 were somewhat related, dealing with cool technology, advances in
science, economics in a rapidly changing world, social interactions
between transhumanists and ways of treating motion sickness.

That leaves 83 posts, 70.1%. These dealt with mainly with politics,
terrorism, religion, semantics, technical details and a sizeable
fraction of banter. While I think there has to be a connection between
extropianism and politics, the views expressed in these posts were in
practically all cases just traditional views, exactly similar to what
you would hear on any other mailing list. No applying of extropian ideas
to current situations, no deeper analysis of how the situation affects
the extropian project beyond traditional narratives.

My categorization might have been biased, and not posting myself might
have distorted the results since I am a prolific poster. The current
world situation might have been a somewhat biasing factor. But it is an
easily replicable experiment which I urge people to try out for
themselves - or perform in the list archives.

My conclusions:

The extropians list has no problem with list quality, because that only
becomes an issue when you try to discuss a particular field. If the
discussion doesn't have any focus it becomes pointless to ask for list
quality since there is no way of measuring it - the quality is a measure
of how well the focus is achieved. The discussions here does not appear
to focus on extropianism very much. If I had just looked at the emails I
would have thought this was a social list for the employees at some big
tech company like IBM. No higher goal than the pleasure of interacting
with other people through discussion.

Is there a problem here? I think so. The social interaction part is
important, without it extropians would just be an ordinary SIG. But when
the actual extropian content becomes so small (the core posts were just
7.7%) the list becomes just an ordinary forum in any case. That means
that developing new extropian ideas and concepts is not best done here.
Sure, there is a fairly positive audience here, but the total brainpower
is directed at everyday issues rather than extropian issues, and the
real extropian discussion never gets off the ground. It is a bit like
the critical mass problem with mailing lists: a too small list,
regardless of how good it is, will not sustain itself. Here we have a
small extropians list embedded in a big noisy forum.

I personally hate the eternal list quality discussion - it has recurred
since the Golden Days and will likely continue until the omega point.
But I think this is more serious than just people flaming each other or
saying stupid things: it is about a lack of focus that is undermining
the development of transhumanist ideas at a cruicial point in time.

I find it worrying that many of the most extropian posts were re-posts
from elsewhere. Jaron Lanier's post today would definitely have made it
into my "really extropian" category, and he is one of our main critics!
If we don't produce any good ideas ourselves, others will do it instead.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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