In April this year, ChangeAView.com was launched (in beta) after almost a year of development. My name is Kal Turnbull (proof) and I decided to put together a team in May 2018 to make this happen after growing and moderating r/changemyview, a subreddit I started in 2013.
I’m posting here today because both projects exist to address an important problem that I’m passionate about solving, one laid out by Stephen Fry in ChangeAView’s animated intro video: the world is increasingly polarized and social media plays a large part in driving this. We need to be having more productive discussions with those who have different perspectives.
I’m excited to answer your questions! CAV co-founder & CTO Jon Halliday is also happy to address any you have for him specifically. Some more background:
Edit: Thanks for the great questions so far. I'll be back to answer more later today!
How have your perspectives changed through this work? Have many people changed your mind since you've been so close to so many conversations?
Reading countless discussions between people far smarter than me for almost 7 years now has been a bit of a blur, to be honest. I have definitely learned things as a result, particularly on issues outside of the UK, and I know that I've become better at withholding judgment and asking the right questions too. But to pinpoint my view changes is difficult. The reason is exactly why our delta system exists: it's easy to forget or absorb changes, as if you've always felt that way, unless you make an effort to explicitly acknowledge them. Due to my policy of keeping my personal views separate, I haven't participated in the delta system.
Congratulations on the site and overall success of your idea!
I am curious as to why you decided to start a stand-alone website? From a quick look, it's obvious the site doesn't get nearly as much traffic as the sub on reddit. The appeal of your subreddit, at least to me, is that it's a great place for healthy discussion, on a site that users already use.
Why would people visit your website, when they have the same content with more users (meaning more discussion) on reddit?
I have not seen ads on your website, but are there plans to monetize it in the future?
I just don't see this move as a smart decision, more of a forced departure to be able to say "I have my own website, brand, etc."
Change my mind :)
Great questions and I appreciate the opportunity to answer them.
On one hand, there are some big format changes, and on the other, there are many subtleties that will become more noticeable as you use ChangeAView.com. Years of ideas have become a reality due to the complete freedom that comes with creating a new platform from scratch.
Examples include: how post ranking works, showing top responses on the homepage, removing the downvote button (which is often just an 'I disagree' button) and replacing it with a 'shine-level' system, weekly digest emails, the ability to quote sentences with a button and see quote responses in-line, improved moderation processes—the list continues and is growing, all of which adds up to a better user experience for our specific purpose.
Features and design aside, there's also the freedom to take this in new directions. For example: college professors have used the subreddit in their courses before (and for the first time at CAV a few weeks ago), and I think there's a lot of potential for further integration with education. But this is a business decision that volunteer moderators of a subreddit can't make.
We plan to create a sustainable business by offering additional services and features to paying users, hopefully avoiding the need to display ads (which often changes how a business operates).
What sort of people have you found to be your main audience? How do you intend to reach those that may be less inclined to use a service such as this?
Thanks for your question. Our most frequent contributors are clearly very curious people, both when they put a view forward to be challenged and when challenging others.
I've said before that ChangeAView is a place for intellectual curiosity, but it has to be one where the mostly curious aren't deterred by the mostly intellectual.
That's just a fancy way of saying that we're keen to make the idea of having your views challenged less intimidating. It's a necessary process in order to fully understand an issue, but when you've grown up in a culture that treats being right and wrong as winning and losing, then there can be some reluctance and over-defensiveness that we hope to break down over time. Doing so will require effective communication of our rules, culture, and improving the format as necessary.
What has been your favorite interaction on r/changemyview since you first started it? Also, how long did it take for the sub to gain traction?
I skimmed both the website and the subreddit a few times, and my lasting impression was that it's pseudo-discourse for the dunning-kruger set, you could restate it as "respond to overgeneralizations." I also don't really see how it's different than Quora or responding to people in context of Reddit posts.
That is to say, the "views" expressed are bottomlined/summarized statements that split the discourse IMMEDIATELY via not starting with a common vocabulary.
Let's see, just from skimming it today:
The wealthy are just fine with open borders because they have the most to gain and the least to lose.
How do you "change this view?" The person is overgeneralizing (who are the wealthy?) and blanket categorizing (what kind of wealth? liquid assets? holdings?).
What does "just fine" mean?
Define "open borders?" This is a weasel phrase because open borders sounds like "no laws regarding immigration" and not "possible to legally immigrate."
most to gain / least to lose is again an exaggeration based on a hyperbolized valuation. What if they (again, a mysterious fiction of demographic) were the most to the gain but the 3rd most to lose? Is that enough of a view change?
And, as I had skimmed over and over again, people try to restate or actually dig into the prose/narrative presented to figure out a "changeable view."
It seems like there needs to be an editor role that acts as traffic cop to separate out "semantic definition" from "topical discourse."
It's like saying "When a tree falls in the forest and nobody's around to hear it, it doesn't make a sound." And then you find out that it is because I believe "a sound" is something that requires an ear drum, *sad trombone*
I find the small userbase on the website to have a very narrow set of views (and view-changers) which is an argument towards leaving this sort of thing on reddit because of passers-by. Quora incentivizes you by a tie-in to search results, unfortunately this has a lot of bad faith "flagging" and "merging as similar" happening.
Anyway, my first question is do you have any ideas regarding actually making this a feasible, useful dataset? I basically have problems with those who take concepts/ideas and maybe have some momentum regarding PR or visibility but then not expand or correct the key issues with the premise.
The problem I see with discourse in the US due to two-party system, is one party dilutes itself by having discourse and the other is a tribal agreement where that level of discourse is avoided because the strength in numbers will get everyone in the tribe closer to their goals.
10 individuals all voting individually loses out to 1 group of 10 who don't publicize semantic differentiation as much.
Second question: if you split the demographic of "people willing to debate things" are you not removing the important problem of polarization from the equation?
At some point it devolves into "which facts do you believe," and instead of change my view it would be "reveal your source."
Your questions in the paragraphs that follow your quote seem like helpful points to make to someone who may not realize they are being reductive. Same goes for definitions—two people disagreeing because of different understandings of a word or phrase is worth addressing. This is something I've become more aware of throughout this entire process—it's often at the very core of the hottest topics.
If you simply don't find such discussions interesting despite their necessity, that's another thing. But I would encourage you to look past these as there have been many substantial discussions since our launch, and over time I believe those will rise to the top more often.
Hi Kal! Thanks for the AMA. What prompted you to create an entirely new website, as opposed to continuing to hone and grow your successful subreddit? Furthermore, what kind of benefits does your created platform offer that reddit does not?
Are you at all concerned that more conservative/right wing views are not going to participate, or that the environment will become too homogeneous in terms of beliefs? What steps have you taken to combat this?
We definitely want to make sure that CAV doesn't become homogeneous. The concept really doesn't work if everyone agrees or has similar views/backgrounds.
One approach we've taken to highlight diversity is displaying top challenges alongside the original view on the homepage. We've also added post tags that can be unsubscribed or blocked so that the most popular interests don't overwhelm your experience of the site. We will also be mindful of this issue in future marketing efforts.
How did Stephen Fry get involved?
I'm interested to hear if you have any ideas on the best way to correct blatant misinformation that someone believes wholeheartedly.
Obviously, a lot of differences in opinions come from what things are accepted as fact. If someone truly believes a demonstrable falsehood as the premise for a belief, then trying to get them to change that belief is almost impossible without disproving the falsehood. However, a lot of extremist opinions seem to be based in the idea that information from sources we consider objective are themselves subjective because they're from the media/government/big business/scientists/doctors/politicians/lawyers/etc.
So if someone comes at me with "I don't believe September 11 ever happened": well, how do you even start? They know about media coverage, they know about the museum and the site, etc. they just don't believe it. So how can someone approaching this kind of conversation 'break through' that blatant disbelief? Or, more precisely: CAN someone break through that kind of disbelief? Another example which springs to mind is that of anti-vaccination campaigners who refuse to accept scientific literature because they believe it's all part of a campaign by 'big pharma'. How can you ever disprove the premise of their beliefs when they have already decided that every source you could reference is biased?
Changing the views of a conspiracy theorist is hard, no doubt about that. I think it's vital that our website is built to highlight challenges—e.g. quote responses shown in-line—meaning: even if the recipient of your debunking isn't convinced, many who read it could be. However, OPs displaying egregiously stubborn behavior break Rule C.
How does it feel like to create a subreddit and have a good number of people on it?
I'm very proud of the subreddit and the team that now runs it—I stepped down after launching ChangeAView in order to focus on my increasing workload and remove any conflict of interest. -Kal
Is the new site going to follow the same tight formatting rules?
Quite a few times CMV viewpoints get put forward but the automod rejects them for some, what seems, arcane reason.
What is the effect you hope your website will have had on the country and/or world 20 years from now?
Great question. My hope is that this does something to elevate our collective critical thinking and communication skills, even if it's more of a ripple effect over many decades. More listening, more understanding, less shouting past each other.
Hi Kal. Given the recent release of Dr. Sleep, how many jokes have you received about "the shine"?
Hi there, unfortunately your comment has been downvoted by people who don't get the joke about our shine system, but I appreciated it! The answer is none, however.
are you planning on implementing a category system so people can discuss subjects they are knowledgeable at rather than just whatever is on the first few "pages"?