Meta: How can we bring in new members?

As far as I’ve been able to find, there is nothing else like Gradient Descent on the Internet. That’s why I created it. If there were another forum like this one, I would have just joined that, instead of putting money, time, and effort into this site.

What else exists:

There are some old dead forums. Some active communities like r/SelfDrivingCars or the “Autonomous” subforum on UberPeople just serve as aggregators for news articles on self-driving cars.

There are at least two Slack communities for students taking online courses on autonomous cars. These are the closest to what I aspire to with Gradient Descent, but 1) there is understandably a focus on course work and 2) Slack doesn’t provide the same functionality as a forum (e.g. there are channels or chat rooms rather than threads, and on the free tier old messages disappear forever).

The Autonomous Vehicles subforum on Tesla Motors Club potentially could have been (and maybe still could be) a great resource, but after years of going without any moderation, it is rife with harassment, abuse, trolling, snark, and hostility. It isn’t a good place or a fun place to learn. As a subforum of a Tesla fan club, it obviously has a pro-Tesla bias, which is also attractive to people with a strong anti-Tesla bias who want to argue with Tesla fans (or just call them stupid). Mixed in with that is Tesla owners complaining about Autopilot or software price changes or whatever, and other owners arguing with them. It ends up being a lot of discussion about Tesla stuff that isn’t directly related to the details of autonomous driving technology. So, the quality and civility of discussion is not great.

The public service that Gradient Descent can provide:

The ideal behind Gradient Descent is a learning community for people who are curious about the technical details of self-driving cars, and who want to discuss them with other people. An individual can learn a lot on their own, but two heads are better than one, and four heads are better than two. Other people can answer questions, offer good, thoughtful criticism of ideas, and share information and ideas of their own. Plus, having people to talk to about a subject makes learning a lot more fun.

The three guidelines of Gradient Descent are:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Be open-minded.
  3. Advance the discussion.

That means the two main purposes of the forum are to learn and to teach (without being mean or condescending about it). The purpose is not to score points, “win” arguments, make salty quips, express moral condemnation, or “inform” others of their intellectual inferiority. Patience, kindness, generosity — that’s the atmosphere I want to cultivate. A safe learning environment. That’s something unique.

The open problem:

I think there are a lot of people out there who would genuinely enjoy this forum. Even some who are already looking for something like this. The question is: how can we reach them?

One idea I just had is to sponsor a relevant YouTube channel or podcast. But this might be exorbitantly expensive. For a podcast, the going rate is $15 for a 10-second spot on a podcast per 1,000 average listeners. To be affordable, it would have to be a very small podcast or YouTube channel (assuming the rate for YouTube is similar).

Any other ideas?

Expand the scope of the site to everything ML and A.I. We can talk about hackathons and maybe form teams here.

I’ve given your suggestion some thought, Dan. I think the problem is there are already multiple high-quality machine learning forums out there, like r/MachineLearning, the deeplearning.ai forum, the fast.ai forum, and the Kaggle forum.

I created Gradient Descent because there is nothing else like it out there. There is no high-quality, well-moderated forum dedicated specifically to technical discussion of autonomous cars. Just this one.

I would like to grow the community. Just not sure how.

A bit more PR in /r/SelfDriving/Cars wouldn’t hurt, I only noticed this site in a query about other forums. There’s some reasonable folks there.

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This probably isn’t a useful comment if you want to build a big forum, but my best experiences have been with smallish forums where people were invited into the forum. Of course, these have been private, but it seems like the critical factor was not the privacy, but rather than people were discovered in other fora and then invited to come participate. It’s a fairly selective input filter that makes for a good community.

In the end you have less overall participation than what comes from a big, public forum. But the interaction quality ends up being pretty high so the noise level is low. Personally I find it less burdensome and more satisfying but YMMV.

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The forum’s topic area is so niche I don’t think it will ever be big. I just want to achieve a critical mass of active users so the forum doesn’t die. I think the nature of the discussions here sort of by itself is a filter. Plus I’ll moderate strictly to maintain quality and civility.

I just joined today. Have been lurking for a couple weeks but figured I would sign up to show support at the very least. I don’t know how much I can or will contribute because AI and self-driving technology is not my area of expertise. I’m just trying to learn more because I find the topic fascinating and I’ve enjoyed the discussions in this forum so far.

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I’m not an expert either. The whole idea is that we’re learning together because this is a topic area we’re interested in. I would love for experts to join the forum of course, but mainly I think it’s going to be enthusiasts and hobbyists.

By the way, thank you @Samuel_Murphy and @misfitshlb for joining! It’s good to have you.

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Ah! I may not have expressed myself very well.

My intention was to say that high quality members are often recruited by direct invitation.

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Good suggestion. If you come across anyone on Reddit, Twitter, or other forums who seems like a good fit, please invite them! I will do the same.

I have some ideas on this related to 1) Distribution 2) Content 3) Positioning

Distribution: I think the normal way to do this is to create content that can be shared on facebook/linkedin that come back to hear and get people to join the group. Some of the content here is very esoteric and maybe not suitable for normal social media channels, but there are a lof of people who monitor everything and so will find this. I think I probably got here by following your pre-autonomy day post for tesla autonomy investor day as well as your post-autonomy day post, which was on some other site.

Content: It’s worth noting that type of information revealed here on this site, is going to be what determines the direction of a trillion dollar industry.

To put it more specifically, the key question in front of the industry is: Is Elon’s technical strategy and timeline for autonomy correct and accurate? If it is, then a lot of the other questions become moot.

There is no where where that is cohesively discussed anywhere else, so there should be a very high level of interest in this topic. Fundamentally the ratio of the value of the information vs. the current distribution of the information might be higher here than anywhere else on the internet.

Positioning
I’d also suggest augmenting the name of the forum to explain what it’s about. (i.e. “gradient descent: the race to self-driving”)

Beyond this, you want to make it understood that this is the place for information on what’s working and what’s not.

I appreciate the compliment!