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Idea for New Objectivism Website

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BrandonMV
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Since my third year of high school, I have been studying Objectivism and philosophy through books, articles, lectures, courses, and to a significant extent, the Internet. After reading my first books by Ayn Rand, I had many questions and went on the Internet to find answers. I found that forums were a great place to ask these questions, as they already held an enormous breadth of thorough answers. And I found that Objectivism Online (OO.net) was the best forum to discuss Objectivism, because it seemed to be the most civilized, most closely aligned with the right ideas, and moderated by intelligent and rational people. Much later, I discovered the site One Minute Cases (OMC). OMC is great because it tackles broad issues of philosophy clearly and concisely. OO.net is great because users can ask any question, including those which may come from a personal context or may be very narrow or technical. However, between these, I think there is room for another great website.

I think it would be great for there to be a website that allows users to ask any question concerning Objectivism, like OO.net, that only contains answers which are clear and concise, like OMC. In other words, something like a moderated Q & A Wiki. I think that there would be several advantages. For example: 1) On OO.net, a thread with a question often expands into several tens of pages with only a handful of responses that contain useful answers but may require the context of those previous pages to be fully understood. In other words, one may have to spend an enormous time to find that nugget of gold. With a website such as the one I describe, there would essentially be one answer that can be constantly improved. 2) With the Wiki format, even questions can be improved and made more objectively clear. As a result, it would be easier to avoid duplicate questions and avoid answers that are based on a misunderstanding of the original question. 3) Questions often concern more than one branch of philosophy and do not fit neatly into a single topic such as "Metaphysics" or "Ethics". The Wiki category system can be used to tag questions with all of the relevant topics, which means that they can be better organized and therefore be found more easily. Moreover, questions can be phrased in several ways. And so, searching in a forum, you might not find that your question already answered. But using the category system, you can easily scan the relevant questions. 4) Relevant resources can easily be associated with each question. ~ And I'm sure there are others. Another possibility is using a voting system or points system to reward participation. (See websites such as http://wiki.answers.com/ and http://stackoverflow.com/ .)

Obviously, this would not be a replacement for a forum or discussion, but a helpful supplement for question-answering. Please let me know what you think. Good idea? Bad idea? What else could improve it? Would anyone like to help make this a reality?

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Good idea?
Definitely a good idea. The toughest part will be finding the right people who are also motivated enough to do it.

I was thinking about this recently, and wondered if previously-active OO.net members would be willing to help with something like this. A lot of people join a forum like OO.net and are willing to live with the current noise-and-newbie ratios as long as they are getting a certain value from the forum: both in terms of learning and in terms of making friends.However, over time they migrate much of their OO.net social interaction to Facebook, and they also look for a place less filled with noise-and-newbies for their philosophical discussions as well. Many of these folk are still positive about OO.net, but they have moved on. They might be glad to help with a project like this. I visualize a system where such folk agree to be on call, but do not have to keep track of the forum. Some other person -- the organizer -- monitors the forum for questions that are would make good launching pads for answers. When they find such a question, they send it to one of the people who have signed up, making sure they do not ask more than that person has previously committed (e.g. one answer a month). If the volunteer has the time, he can say he will answer. When he's ready, he can post the Q&A as a new topic in some particular forum, or in a Wiki like you suggest, or some other type of web-site.

Of course, we do have quite a few current members who are clearly able to contribute great answers, but former members could be a great source too.

I think another cool source of volunteers would be OAC students. In fact, if done right, it could be a good learning assignment (for some OAC course) for an OAC student to answer certain questions, and have the answer critiqued by a teacher. Then, if a polished re-draft is created, it would be great to have it posted somewhere. I guess that kind of project is something ARI might want to do and control. OTOH, if they sponsor something like that, they would have to be doubly rigorous about editing and content, whereas merely allowing the Q&A to be published externally would mean far less work for them.

Edited by softwareNerd
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I guess that kind of project is something ARI might want to do and control. OTOH, if they sponsor something like that, they would have to be doubly rigorous about editing and content, whereas merely allowing the Q&A to be published externally would mean far less work for them.

I wonder what the balance would be here, to get the best people involved while maintaining limited "intellectual liability" so as to not burden an organization like ARI too much and allow a volunteer (like myself) to do much of the organizing. Who would be the final decider for site content? Whose name would be on the line? How "oddball" could the questions get? (OO.net has some not-socially-acceptable questions that nonetheless can turn out to be insightful or helpful -- on psychological person-specific issues, sexual weirdness like bestiality, and even intolerable noob-ness like out-there prudent predator- or emergency-situation-type questions.) And then, what would be the purpose of OO.net, given Facebook? Would it just be a noob platform?

I would love to see the nuggets within threads magnified and edited onto another site; those nuggets (users, really) are what keep a major part of the value of the forum going.

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softwareNerd, I strongly agree that participating in such a Q & A would be a good learning exercise. One reason that this idea excites me is that it would give me an opportunity to tackle philosophical questions and work them out for myself. (I can explain why a forum, at least for me, is significantly different.) Others, then, could edit, supplement, or replace my answer. I'm no longer a newbie, but I'm far from an expert. Still, I think I have sufficient knowledge of Objectivism and the reasoning skills to participate. In doing so, I could learn a great deal and I would be helping others learn in the process.

JASKN, I do think that there are several important questions that remain about implementation. But before all the details need to be worked out, I think we need to see that there is enough interest and ability to start, use, and maintain such a project. Of course, I would be happy to volunteer to help make it happen however possible.

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I wonder what the balance would be here, to get the best people involved while maintaining limited "intellectual liability"... ... Who would be the final decider for site content?
Lot's of good questions, but I think they'll mostly need to be addressed over time. A project of a few volunteers from amongst OO.net members, and ex-members has the best chance of getting off the ground.

I would love to see the nuggets within threads magnified and edited onto another site....
Yes, that's another great project as well. Potentially, they can be the same project: where someone is taking existing posts from within a thread, and polishing them into a coherent article.

And then, what would be the purpose of OO.net, given Facebook? Would it just be a noob platform?
Another good question. At the risk of taking this thread off topic, it is unclear to me if a single forum can serve vastly different audiences; more positively, a project like the one proposed may lower the noise-ratio and make the forum a better place for both noobs and experienced folk.

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I currently don't know of anyone with the interest, ability, and time to put the site itself together. If there is anyone out there, please speak up! I have been looking for free and/or open source solutions. So far, the best potential solution I've found is http://area51.stackexchange.com/ , which offers free websites that use an engine that either is or is based on Stack Overflow's engine (which is an extremely useful and successful Q & A oriented website). See the FAQ at http://area51.stackexchange.com/faq for an explanation of the whole process. I created a proposal for Objectivism here. If you like the idea, please Follow this proposal (it needs 60 followers) or add example questions (it needs 5 that are on-topic and 5 that are off-topic) to help move it into the next stage of production. I will keep looking for alternatives as well.

Edited by Enixyle
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Enixyle I would suggest spreading this idea to the other Oist websites on the web as well. I am sure there are plenty of people that are willing to put in some time into this and at least a handful of people that want to be a big part of this (go all the way) and help put the site itself together. There are a lot of Oists around the net and as can be seen, this idea has already sparked a good deal of interest in the short time this thread has been here.

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CapitalistSwine, I'm starting to think that using the StackExchange engine might be a good way to go about it. It uses points, awards, and reputation to reward and encourage participation. It has a great tagging system for categorizing and organizing questions. It has a voting system that can be used to select the best answers (and questions). And as I mentioned, Stack Overflow seems to use the same engine, which has been very successful. And so, unless anyone has any objections or better ideas, I can start publicizing the Objectivism proposal so it can start moving forward.

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I currently don't know of anyone with the interest, ability, and time to put the site itself together. If there is anyone out there, please speak up! I have been looking for free and/or open source solutions.
Have you considered a forum-centric solution. One could have a separate sub-forum for this and have some type of index topic. Not the technologically best solution, but something for which zero extra software-effort would be required. If there are concerns about control of what happens, it should be easy enough to sort out some ground rules and then have the folks organizing this be moderators of that sub-forum.

As for people to write, my suggestion would be to go to the next step: identify people from past threads here and elsewhere who you think would make good contributors. Send out some type of message/email to them asking if they are interested, giving them a brief idea of your expectations.

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You could reduce the noise on here by forcing newbies to post in a newbie forum until they have reached a certain number of posts, or implement the credibility/rating system and control it that way.

Edited by brian0918
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softwareNerd, I hadn't considered a forum-centric solution since I thought the idea was sort of a departure from forums, and forums seem to lack most of the features that I had in mind, but maybe it could be workable. I had similar concerns about control over the StackExchange, since the only way to obtain control (that is, moderation power) is by earning reputation. That could be a good or bad thing. But I don't think it would be a problem if we get it started with the right community, which is what I will work quickly to establish if we decide on that option. And as far as I can see, it is the most workable solution in that it has most of the desired features. Also, I think what you mention is a good idea for finding contributors.

JASKN, since the website would share the same community or parts of it, I'm throwing out ideas here to see what people think of them and to help figure out what the best solution might be. Then to the extent that I can I'd like to help implement it.

Edited by Enixyle
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... StackExchange, since the only way to obtain control (that is, moderation power) is by earning reputation.
Wow! You mean that if you get enough votes you can become a moderator, and that you (Enixyle, the person who started the whole thing) has no way to override and keep God-like control? Dislike, but -- as you say -- it might work.
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Wow! You mean that if you get enough votes you can become a moderator, and that you (Enixyle, the person who started the whole thing) has no way to override and keep God-like control? Dislike, but -- as you say -- it might work.

That's right, but I'd like to clarify that people aren't directly voted to be moderators. My understanding is that degrees of moderator status are achieved once one has achieved a strong reputation by answering questions well. The system seems to have worked very well for other websites, but then again, I haven't seen websites use it for a Q & A concerning a system of philosophy or ideology. That's why I'm asking for thoughts, and I'm still looking into other options.

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Here is a list of open-source alternatives to StackExchange. Shapado appears to be the most promising, as it allows for administrators and is customizable (for example, the boring theme can be changed), so I reserved http://objectivism.shapado.com/ . If a host can be found, then the other open-source engines may work too, but I don't know much about that.
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I think it would be great for there to be a website that allows users to ask any question concerning Objectivism, like OO.net, that only contains answers which are clear and concise, like OMC. In other words, something like a moderated Q & A Wiki.

I would be interested, but really it would all come down to some more specifics of implementation before I really commit myself to anything.

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The wisdom you want, and require, isn't out there. Even basic issues receive controversial disputes from "established" people, on this site, and others. It just isn't a cut-and-dried thing to present and explain Objectivism. What can be done that way has been done.

I wish I weren't at the head of the burst-your-bubble line, but I think your project has about a snow-ball's chance...

-- Mindy

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The wisdom you want, and require, isn't out there. Even basic issues receive controversial disputes from "established" people, on this site, and others. It just isn't a cut-and-dried thing to present and explain Objectivism. What can be done that way has been done.
I wouldn't quite out it that way. Since we're talking about non-experts, it is true that people who are well into Objectivism for years may still have some particular area where they misunderstand it or misrepresent it. However, I don't think that is a show stopper. Rather, whoever starts such a site must consider how they will deal with it.

For starters, the organizer must encourage contributors to contribute on topics where the person thinks he knows the answer well, and is fairly confident that his answer is not controversial among Objectivists. While "answering", contributors could also commit to pointing out any areas where self-proclaimed Objectivist currently debate the particular topic and do not agree with the main viewpoint presented by the contributor. Still, the organizer will need to think a little bit about how to deal with the inevitable controversy and conflict. From my experience with collaborative efforts, within a few months some contributor will object strongly to what some other contributor posts. In some areas, There will probably be accusations and anger etc.; all par for the course, but nothing that should stop the show.

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Mindy, I'm not sure how what you said relates to the project I've described. Forums in part serve the same function of answering questions, and they seem to do fine. My goal is to establish a website which is designed exclusively for that function and to perform it as effectively as possible. I've described several features and explained how they could help do that. Such a site doesn't require cut-and-dried, non-controversial answers from experts alone. Anyone can contribute and everyone can judge what answers are the most useful. The purpose isn't to make a definitive set of answers to any and all questions of philosophy, but to make good answers and leads more accessible. I think that's very valuable. And as softwareNerd pointed out, working out answers to questions is a good learning exercise for philosophically-minded people.

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Shapado seems highly interesting and I think that is the best option so far. I was unaware of the admin issues regarding the original suggestion. This way the system can still hold up but if we have a deviation from proper Objectivist philosophy that somehow becomes "popular" via the system then things can be put back in line by the admin, as should be the case.

The wisdom you want, and require, isn't out there. Even basic issues receive controversial disputes from "established" people, on this site, and others. It just isn't a cut-and-dried thing to present and explain Objectivism. What can be done that way has been done.

I wish I weren't at the head of the burst-your-bubble line, but I think your project has about a snow-ball's chance...

-- Mindy

I would respond to this but Snerd and Enixyle seem to have represented what would otherwise by my own personal input just fine.

In some specific instances this may even be a good way to sort out some of these discrepancies among Objectivists. Enixyle seems to have put a lot of thought into this and as far as I can tell we should have any of these issues covered if we continue with this...as we begin to hammer out the finer details of how it would operate.

There will probably be accusations and anger etc.

Enforced, clear, detailed code of conduct eliminates this except in "blue moon" situation in which case administrative action can nix it. If it works for so many other communities I don't see why it cannot in this case. My gaming clan is a perfect example it is largely run by ex military men and focuses around MMO RPGs and especially, and originally, FPS games and the FPS MMO Planetside, we had proper SOP and code of conduct, and it was held to the letter. As a result we had a moderately sized (50ish people), very highly respected outfit (what a clan was called in that game) that was and is very tight nit with very strong friendships. It is considered a life time clan by most people that join and stay for a reasonable length of time and we often get members that disappeared many years ago coming back whenever we start a new game or even just randomly.

We were also one of the top 5 outfits on the entire server (out of all 3 factions) regarding "outfit points" as well as general effectiveness in battle and strategy. It is all about organization and the proper structures being put into place. The key is that you can't be soft about those rules once they are put up. It is either follow them, or don't. If you don't you get a warning, if you fail to follow them again you are kicked out. The people will know the rules during the joining process, just as is the case anywhere else and is the case with my clan (they had to /sign the SOP etc. as part of the recruiting process). They know about the rules when they join so there is no excuse not to follow them. If you don't want to follow them you shouldn't have joined.

^---I realize I kind of rambled on with that. lol

Edited by CapitalistSwine
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I wish I weren't at the head of the burst-your-bubble line, but I think your project has about a snow-ball's chance...

It has as big a chance as he cares to make.
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CapitalistSwine, I agree. After considering it, I think there definitely needs to be some rules in place about what's fair game (for etiquette and beyond) and moderators to enforce that. Right now, I'm exploring all of the options, including Shapado. I'll post an update when I've come to some firm conclusions about what the best options are and have worked out more of the important details. I appreciate all of the input.

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