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I wonder whether I should write more comments pointing out what I liked in a post even if I don't have anything to criticise instead of just silently upvoting.

- Denise Melchin

I've heard this question quite a few times, and the answer is: Yes! Absolutely yes! Tell authors when you like something they've written!

Imaginary case study

Consider the experience of a Forum author who writes a post most readers like, in a world where people only comment if they have a critique. 

They go to the Forum and see a string of comments:

  • "You're wrong about A."
  • "You're wrong about B."
  • "Why didn't you mention C?"

The post could have dozens of upvotes, but if it looks like anyone who closely engaged with it found something to criticize, the author may not feel great about their work. 

(This doesn't mean that criticism isn't valuable: If you find something to criticize, you should also probably tell the author.)

In a world where people share what they like about posts, the comments might be:

  • "You're wrong about A."
    • "I see what the above poster means about point A1, but I thought point A2 was actually an interesting take, and could be correct under assumption Q."
  • "I hadn't read this post you linked to — thanks for the reference!"
  • "You're wrong about B."
  • "I really liked your discussion of B!"
  • "Why didn't you mention C?"
  • "Your points about D and E were really helpful for a project I'm working on."

The criticism still exists, but I'd expect the author to feel better about responding if they know the post was valuable to some readers.

Also, positive reactions are useful feedback in their own right!

Frequently asked questions

What if my positive comment is just "thanks, I enjoyed this?" 

Still good! Even a generic nice comment will be much more salient to most authors than a silent upvote.

What if my positive comment just takes up space in a way that distracts from more important critical discussion and intellectual progress and whatnot?

This is paraphrased from things I've actually heard when talking to Forum users. 

While I understand the concern, I must emphasize that the Forum exists on the Internet, a system of interconnected computer networks where space is effectively unlimited. We also offer the "scrollbar," a feature people can use to skip over comments they don't want to read or discuss. 

If someone finds your positive comment distracting, they can scroll past it. But there's at least one person who probably won't find it distracting — the author.


If you like a post, tell the author!

If you don't like a post, it's also fine to tell the author!

But at the very least, let's try to make sure authors don't get a negatively-skewed view of how people think about their posts.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

I am supportive of this. May I also suggest that there's more than one way to tell the author?

  • I have occasionally received a comment at the bottom of the post, saying something like "I liked this post", or "this was really interesting, thank you!". I have liked these comments.
  • Occasionally, people have taken the effort send a message via the EA Forum's messaging mechanism to tell me how much they like a post. This has been really lovely.

Thank you for this post! I appreciate these kind of posts with suggestions about how to use the forum.

On the specific point, I appreciate the positivity of people posting that they like a particular article, and feel it makes it seem more appealing to write articles. Also, I often find it a bit tough to tell when I write something whether people find it useful, what they find it useful for, and what parts seem particularly useful. So I really appreciate people who find posts useful not just upvoting (which might just be a sign they found it a pleasant read), but actually commenting with some more information.

This is my favorite part:"While I understand the concern, I must emphasize that the Forum exists on the Internet, a system of interconnected computer networks where space is effectively unlimited."

I think this is in fact a very useful reminder. And it made me laugh, and read it again and laugh again. Thank you :)

(I like this post.)

This this this! As a PhD student in economics, I'm always pushing for the same thing in academia. People usually think saying nice job is useless, because it doesn't help people improve. It's important for people to know what they're doing right, though. It's also important for people to get positive reinforcement to keep going down a path, so if you want someone to keep persevering (which I hope we generally do), it's good to give them a boost when they do a good job.

Yeah exactly, that's how facebook/twitter/reddit works, positive feedback

In accordance with the post: I thought this was useful. As an old time forum hack I often have people say they feel too scared to post here because all you seem to get is people trying to destroy your ideas. It shouldn't be the case that the only people brave enough to post here are those types who score low in agreeableness (such as yours truly).

Also on this, how to we get engagement from people who are not in general well read? (Such as me truly)

Thank you for writing this, Aaron. I'd be much more excited about participating in a forum with this cultural norm :) <3

This post is great!

As an author, this is SO TRUE.

Honestly the "people only comment to criticize" pattern incentivizes authors to be edgy to get any feedback on their ideas at all.

This is a good suggestion, one I'll keep in mind as I read posts that I find valuable. As someone who appreciates how hard it is to write a complex essay, I can say that it's encouraging to see positive responses alongside critiques. Positive responses register more clearly than an upvote and often include useful information as well.

(It's easier when you're told to do it directly, but I figure if I don't do it now, I probably won't later, and I'd like to start doing this, so...)

I really like this post! I also like to remember that complainy people are more likely to leave reviews, when I'm reading reviews for a product or something. Helps me take the negative ones with a grain of salt.

I like the general idea here, but personally I dislike comments that don't tell the the reader new information, so just saying the equivalent of "yay" without adding something is likely to get a downvote from me if the comment is upvoted, especially if it gets upvoted above more substantial comments.

I think one or two positive posts are fine. I'd agree if every post were like that. But that's true of all post types.

I guess I think there is new information to the author which is, "someone like my post enough to specifically say so". You could argue that's included in the post karma, but emotionally, I don't think they are the same.

hey, thanks for this post! I find it quite nice.

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