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Some things are damned hard to communicate — especially in a text medium, where there’s no quick feedback on people’s facial expressions. I’m thinking of emotional states; sensitive information; mild disagreement; degrees of uncertainty.

It can be especially hard to broach complex or emotionally charged topics without committing a big chunk of your time to elaborating on what you meant, responding to questions and disagreements, etc. Which, I worry, causes many people to stay quiet about small-scale disagreements and emotional dissonance; which makes me poorly-calibrated about all but the most intense and confident reactions to what I say, even though a thousand instances of mild [emotion] can matter more than one instance of moderate [emotion].

Here are some experiments with solving these problems by installing new communication norms.


– Thought-rating

You can reply to anything I post, including external links to things other people have said, with a number between 1 and 5.

5 = agreement, without much uncertainty.

4 = significant uncertainty, but leaning toward agreement.

3 = uncertainty, without a clear inclination toward accepting or rejecting the claim.

2 = significant uncertainty, but leaning toward disagreement.

1 = disagreement, without much uncertainty.

You’re welcome to elaborate on this number if you want — e.g., by quoting the specific sentence or paragraph of mine you’re assigning the number to, if I said a bunch of different things. However, you incur no obligation to defend or explain the number you chose, or to otherwise participate in the thread. Other people can say “I’m curious about why you gave this a 3!”, and you can respond, but it’s also fine if the discussion ends there.


– Emoticons

Use emoticons more. They’re silly, but who cares? Text isn’t designed for casual conversation, and now that we’re using it that way, we’ll need to adopt new ways to make it more expressive. Which, once they’re common enough for long enough, will stop looking silly/informal.

In addition to standard emoticons, we can allow more nuanced emotional expression by declaring by fiat that obscure emoticons have a specific meaning. E.g., for expressing different kinds of love, you can copy-paste from this list:

❤ = willfully ambiguous love
💙 = humanistic love / deep warm affection
💛 = hedonistic love / exultant joyous approval
❣ = cosmic transcendent love
ౡ = fierce brutal crazy love
💚 = intellectual love / interest / curiosity
💜 = physical love / cuddliness
💝 = sexual love / desire / arousal
💟 = romantic love
♥ = crush-NOS
💞 = compersion
💗 = higher-order love
❤ = easy simple love
൱ = goofy playful love
♡ = friendly platonic love
💕 = loving sympathy/commiseration
ෆ = vulnerable love
💓 = wiggly love
ಞ = hungry love
❥ = orange love
ග = Kierkegaardian love of infinite resignation
💖 = wizard space love


– Contacting me

You can e-mail me at, or use my feedback form: The latter also allows anonymous messages, which can be helpful when you want to participate in a discussion while incurring less social risk.