Roadmap: New features being planned

At the moment, I’m the sole developer and contributor to the Debate Map platform — a website aimed at improving the efficiency of discussion and debate, by enabling tree-based mapping of beliefs, arguments, and evidence.

This solitude can be tiring, because it means there’s no outside source of thought or motivation. Everything that’s done, I do myself, so there’s no inflow of activity to kick-start the “team mentality” that traditionally helps people get things done.

It’s a challenge that will likely be with me for many months, but I’m intent on pushing through it in the long term, because it’s just too important of a project to drop. The inefficiencies currently present in discussions on religion, politics, and social issues are so poor that it often increases hostilities rather than the reverse. There are certainly exceptions to this, but a structural change is what’s fundamentally needed if we’re to make rational analysis of arguments more accessible, persistent, and easy to construct.

Goal: Increase user count and engagement

So how would one go about this? Advertising is too expensive at this point. I don’t have an existing platform with a substantial audience, and I don’t know anyone who does. (at least, no one I’d be comfortable with asking) So what options are left?

One approach is to contact various websites in your field and make some sort of agreement. A fair number will link to your site if you simply agree to do the same (or so I’ve heard). This could probably work to a limited extent, but I have doubts about its potential for sustained organic growth — which is far preferable when you have to balance time between development and outreach.

A better approach, I think, is to engage directly with writers who already have a large audience, and could be interested in using the tool. The reason? If you can convince one of these people that your tool is worth using to analyze and clarify arguments, it has the potential to convert them into a long-term user and evangelist. Not only would they be linking to pages on your platform, they would also be creating new content, providing feedback, and publicizing the tool through word of mouth, within an existing community.

There’s another reason: People are motivated to engage with content by various means, and one of those means is outrage.

If you can find existing discussions where people are already in hot debate with each other, you can then use your tool to map out the arguments those people have made, and in doing so tap into their activated engagement. You also demonstrate first-hand that your tool is useful, by bringing clarity to the debate that they’re already in.

Optimizing the outreach process

We want to make the outreach process efficient, however, so we’ll need to do some optimization work.

Stage 1: Find active discussions with highly-engaged users.

Stage 2: Create a clear, attractive mapping of all the arguments made.

Stage 3: Link them to it (without looking spammy), and make a nice intro layer which displays for people first visiting the website.

Stage 1: Find active discussions with highly-engaged users.

How can Stage 1 be optimized? For starters, find a website with engaged users, high quality content, and a permissive license so that content on the website can be mapped without copyright concerns.

✔ Done: is a great place to start.

However, we also need a way to find those “heated discussions” which we’ve talked about. For this, we turn to scripting. Basically, we need to code a tool which will help us sift through discussions to find ones with high engagement.

Now this is, of course, a process which requires fine-tuning to maximize its usefulness, but I’ve begin the process by creating a simple Chrome extension, which activates when visiting Quora pages. What it does is add a “Show chains” button to answer boxes. After clicking the button, it searches through the comments for “chains” of responses, and displays the depth of the “deepest chain” for that answer. It’s pretty simple, but I expect it to already speed up the process by a good 30% or so, by letting me quickly pass over answers which do not have high engagement. In the future, I will integrate term searching, with preferences for various words which correlate with outrage and frustration. 💢

Stage 2: Create a clear, attractive mapping of all the arguments made.

It’s not perfect, but this is already mostly done with the existing tools and layout present on the website. The tree structure lets you examine the various argument chains, and the “layers” feature lets you see who said what in which post. Obligatory screenshot:

In any case, Stage 1 and 3 need more work at this point, so we can leave this be for now.

Stage 3: Link them to it (without looking spammy), and make a nice intro layer which displays for people first visiting the website.

So this is where it gets interesting. While the tree structure above works well for analyzing the persistent argument chains, it can be a little confusing to a person first visiting. We need some way to “bridge” between the regular thread-based discussions that people are used to, to Debate Map’s tree-based layout.

So how do I plan to do this? By implementing a “timeline” feature.

Basically, the user follows the link, and is greeted by a friendly intro overlay, which gives a brief description of the website’s goals. It then proceeds to display the first comment in the original discussion. That comment will then “float down”, transform into a thesis or argument node (as seen in the screenshot), and attach to the new and empty argument tree.

The second comment will then display, float down, and attach underneath it. And so on — basically displaying graphically how each person’s comment is converted into its logical form, and connected to the rest of the thoughts already mapped. Controls will also display letting the user pause, or move forward/backward a step.

My hope is that this will make it easier to understand what the tree structure’s purpose is, and to highlight the significance of the mapping to the active discussion: each time a comment is added, it will be added to the tree/map, with its logical connections explicitly displayed and easy to explore.


It will take a while to implement, but I’m hoping that the changes above will be enough to kick-start some activity on the website — if not through creating content, then at least in exploring some of its features, by pre-engaged users who are curious about how their conversation looks in a new format. The eventual goal is for users to then move onto the site and continue their discussion there, but for now we’ll settle for a friendly visit. 😄

If you’d like to see the website for yourself, you’re very welcome to it!

Debate Map: Tree-based mapping of beliefs, arguments, and evidence

Thanks for reading!