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Changes to the EA Forum

Over the last several years, the EA Forum has been run on a volunteer-led basis. Given how much the EA community has grown, the volunteers who have been running the Forum have decided to transition primary responsibility for the  EA Forum to the Centre for Effective Altruism. In practice, this should mean that things run much as they have done, but means that volunteers no longer have to be responsible for coordinating the technical maintenance of the Forum.

 

In the near term, we plan to maintain the Forum largely as-is. One change we do plan to make is to change the primary domain from effective-altruism.com to forum.effectivealtruism.org for more consistency across the websites that make up the effective altruism ecosystem. However, we’ll ensure that the old domain continues to work and that all existing links are redirected, as don’t want anything about this transition to disrupt the functioning of the Forum.

 

Who’s doing what

Trike Apps set up the Forum and will continue to provide free hosting for the Forum we thank them for providing this!

 

Thanks to Ryan Carey for founding, managing, and moderating the Forum! Thanks to Rethink Charity (formerly .impact), including Tom Ash, Peter Hurford, Patrick Brinich-Langlois and many others, for maintaining and improving the Forum over the years. Going forward, volunteers from Rethink Charity will continue helping with tech maintenance.

 

Thanks to outgoing moderators Rebecca Raible and Alison Woodman for moderating over the past years! Larissa Hesketh-Rowe and I are coming on as the new moderators. We’d like to have more than two moderators, and especially moderators who aren’t CEA staff. If you’d like to volunteer or nominate someone, please let us know at forum@effectivealtruism.org.

 

We look forward to helping the Forum continue its role as a key place for original content and discussion!

Comments (17)

Comment author: MichaelPlant 02 July 2017 10:39:32PM 1 point [-]

Could you say what forum volunteering involves and how much time you spend each week doing it?

Comment author: Julia_Wise 04 July 2017 12:45:31PM 4 points [-]

I'm not sure about tech volunteering, I think that's pretty ad hoc.

Moderating involves generally staying aware of what's being posted, removing spam, deciding with other moderators what to do about posts or comments that other users have reported as inappropriate, and sometimes giving feedback to users about how they could improve their posts. Currently it takes less than an hour a week, but if the Forum gets used more I'd expect that to increase.

Comment author: RandomEA 03 July 2017 01:17:06AM 0 points [-]

Once you make the domain change, both effectivealtruism.com and effective-altruism.com will redirect to effectivealtruism.org. Have you considered purchasing effective-altruism.org and redirecting it to effectivealtruism.org to avoid any confusion?

Comment author: SamDeere 03 July 2017 06:50:53PM 1 point [-]

Yep, this is already in place! Try going to www.effective-altruism.org

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 03 July 2017 02:41:30AM 7 points [-]

Can you speak to any plans on the horizon other than changing the domain name, even if long term?

Comment author: SamDeere 04 July 2017 03:26:18AM *  3 points [-]

Short-medium term: some minor UI changes, to bring branding more into line with the rest of effectivealtruism.org

Longer term ideas (caveat — these are just at the thought bubble stage at the moment and it's not clear whether they'd be valuable changes):

  • I think there's appetite for a discussion space that's both content aggregation as well as original content. This might take the form of getting a more active subreddit (for example) happening, but plausibly this could be something specifically built-for-purpose that either integrates with or complements the existing forum.

  • We've thought about integrating logins between the webapp on EffectiveAltruism.org (what is currently just EA Funds) and the forum to avoid the need to manage multiple accounts when doing various EA things online

  • We've also thought a bit about integrating commenting systems so that discussion that happens on various EA blogs is mirrored on the forum (to avoid splitting discussions when cross-posting).

If there are things that you think would be useful (especially if you've been able to give this more thought than I have) that'd be great to know, with the caveat that we're pretty restricted by developer time on this, and the priority is ensuring ongoing maintenance of the existing infrastructure, rather than building out new features.

[eta spaces between dot points]

Comment author: ThomasSittler 04 July 2017 01:40:52PM *  2 points [-]

Other changes you might consider:

(1) Creating more than one category for posts (e.g. research, outreach, announcements, chat).

A first advantage is you can group by topic. The second big advantage I see from this is that different norms can develop for different categories. The threshold for posting in the EA forum is currently (perceived to be) too high for drafts or off-the-cuff ideas. So these either don't happen or move to Facebook (where discoverability is much worse). On the other hand, the prestige of posting, and the quality of discussion, is too low, so the most influential and busy EAs may not see it as a good use of their time. A way to improve this may be to have a very strictly moderated high-prestige section, and a more loosely moderated low-prestige section.

(2) Allowing markdown in the post composer

Comment author: Nekoinentr 07 July 2017 11:50:14PM 0 points [-]

Another change:

(3) Tagging users so they get notifications. I tried tagging "Tee", who posted here about moving up to the Executive Director role at .impact, in my previous comment. But I couldn't find a character like @ that allowed me to do this.

(Is there a place to post feature suggestions like this?)

Comment author: Nekoinentr 07 July 2017 11:47:33PM 0 points [-]

I presume CEA tech staff will make the branding changes, but is the plan for them also to make the longer term changes, or would that continue to be the .impact community? I don't understand what roles CEA has taken on as of this announcement and what role .impact continues to have? It sounds from the first paragraph like .impact has decided to transition primary responsibility for forum maintenance and improvements to CEA, but the third last paragraph suggest otherwise - could someone from that community comment?

Comment author: Jeff_Kaufman 10 July 2017 04:06:39PM 1 point [-]

We've also thought a bit about integrating commenting systems so that discussion that happens on various EA blogs is mirrored on the forum (to avoid splitting discussions when cross-posting).

I've thought a bunch about this; let me know if you want to talk.

Comment author: ThomasSittler 22 August 2017 07:20:56PM *  1 point [-]

From CEA's funding prospectus:

We have big plans for effectivealtruism.org over the next year, including the following:

Launch a chapter portal with resources for local groups (90% confident this will happen)

Launch a community portal with a layered discussion forum and aggregated effective altruism-relevant content from the web (70%)

Publish a series of long-form essays that methodically explain the foundations of effective altruism (50%)

Comment author: RyanCarey 03 July 2017 03:56:54AM *  12 points [-]

Thanks Julia!

I would like to add my thanks to Ali Woodman and Rebecca Raible, who did much of the moderation over the last couple of years, as well as Dot Impact, Trike and the rest of the previous moderators. My perspective is that since I've moved toward research and CEA has grown, it no-longer makes sense for me to dedicate my time to continuing to manage the forum. So I'm grateful for CEA's takeover. Of course, I'm still happy to consult if you need help understanding how the forum has run, or thinking about its strategy.

Thanks all and long live effective altruism! ;)

Ryan

Comment author: vipulnaik 04 July 2017 07:00:00AM 3 points [-]

Do you foresee any changes being made to the moderation guidelines on the forum? Now that CEA's brand name is associated with it, do you think that could mean forbidding the posting of content that is deemed "not helpful" to the movement, similar to what we see on the Effective Altruists Facebook group?

If there are no anticipated changes to the moderation guidelines, how do you anticipate CEA navigating reputational risks from controversial content posted to the forum?

Comment author: Julia_Wise 04 July 2017 12:34:16PM 8 points [-]

The main reason moderation on the Facebook group works the way it does is that the group has 13000+ members and no ability to downvote, so the ratio of signal to noise would be pretty sad if there were no screening. It's very rare that the Facebook group moderators screen out a post for being harmful - almost everything that we screen out is because it's not relevant enough.

With the Forum, everyone can upvote and downvote, so content that readers find most interesting and relevant gets sorted up to the top that way. There's also a karma threshold to make a post (though we can help newcomers with that if they ask.) So I don't have the same worry about the front page becoming mostly noise.

We still expect to enforce the standards of discussion on the Forum, described in the FAQ ("Spam, abuse and materials advocating major harm or illegal activities are deleted.") But in general we expect that people don't take everything posted on the Forum to represent CEA's view.

Comment author: joshjacobson  (EA Profile) 04 July 2017 10:58:04PM *  10 points [-]

EDIT: It's been over a week, and it seems particularly important that CEA answer this.


I see some significant disadvantages to this, to the point that it should be reconsidered.

EffectiveAltruism.org is designed around making EA welcoming and appealing to newcomers. The EA Forum is quite the opposite... it is in depth, can involve controversial ideas and discussions, and can sometimes have a less welcoming tone in the content and comments.

They're really polar opposites in terms of EA, and by bringing the two together in the same domain and with the same front-end you're closely associating them. This violates Marketing 101, bringing two things together that are positioned so differently.

By sharing the same domain, they two will be closely associated in search, and by changing the front-end the association will be much stronger.

Is the intention for the forum to have more newcomers on it? I fear it will become like the Effective Altruism Facebook page in depth of content and usefulness.

Or alternatively if the forum content doesn't change, it will turn off newcomers and detract from the utility of the main EffectiveAltruism.org site.

I'd like to further understand the plan for bringing these quite different things together, and how you might mitigate the dilution of the forum.


Small side note: Forum.effectivealtruism.org has some SEO disadvantages (v. EffectiveAltruism.org/forum), and the way you implement this transition from a technical standpoint will also affect SEO significantly, so I urge you to consult with somebody about proper ways to do so.

Comment author: SamDeere 14 July 2017 09:00:45PM 2 points [-]

Hey Josh, thanks for the comment and sorry for the wait on a response.

The TL;DR is that I think that the branding changes provide a small amount of upside in terms of consistency, and have low risk of downside, because I don't expect that they'll significantly change discoverability, forum composition, or that they'll counterfactually change people's impressions of the different parts of the EA online space.

Our primary motivation is to reduce the proliferation of very similar domain names that all correspond to different things (e.g. effective-altruism.com is the Forum, previously effectivealtruism.com was the Doing Good Better site etc). From our perspective it seems useful to consolidate community assets under the same domain, both from the perspective of users seeing them as part of a broadly unified whole, and in the longer term, from a technical perspective (e.g. easier to share logins between different sites on the same domain). I agree that it's probably good to keep some branding differentiation between the Forum and the front page of EffectiveAltruism.org, however I think it's disingenuous for us to pretend that there's no overlap.

Perhaps a good analogy is YCombinator/Hacker News — the front page presents a more welcoming, informative front, whereas Hacker News has a pretty intense community and may not always be welcoming to newcomers. However, I think people are generally pretty good at understanding that the organization and the user-generated content are different things, while understanding them to be part of the same broad sphere.

I wholeheartedly agree that the Forum is a more advanced part of the community, and it's certainly not our intention to try to dilute the quality of conversation or flood it with newcomers who may lack the context to meaningfully contribute to some of the more in-depth discussions or may find the tone unwelcoming. However, this seems like an issue of discoverability. The Forum is already pretty discoverable (fourth result for 'effective altruism' on Google), so if someone totally new is doing a wide survey of what the EA online space is like, they'll find it (and it already has 'Effective Altruism' in the name...). However, we're not planning on adding additional links to it from the www domain, or changing how we market it in other channels — I don't expect this change to significantly change the composition of people posting on the forum, nor do I expect that it significantly changes how people will view the broad idea of 'effective altruism' (especially not relative to the status quo).

Given that there's already a strong association between EA and the EA Forum, I don't think the exact domain matters that much. If we didn't want there to be any association, we should probably take the words 'effective altruism' out of the title and have a completely different domain. This isn't something we're currently considering.

I'd prefer to use a subdomain rather than a nested route because it's a significantly simpler DNS/server setup. I think the SEO point is a bit counter to the other points. I agree that it will have some SEO implications, but if the issue is discoverability, then actually making the Forum less discoverable in a random search seems to work more to your purposes (as above, currently the Forum is the fourth result on Google). In terms of implementation, we're planning to rewrite the old domain to the new one (using 301 redirects and keeping the old domain active to prevent broken links). I'd also planned to advise Google of the domain change using Search Console. I'd be very happy to hear from you if there are additional steps that you think are important here.

Comment author: Austen_Forrester 04 July 2017 11:52:50PM -1 points [-]

I really respect the moderators of this forum for allowing me to advocate for public safety (ie. criticize NUE) and removing comments that could endanger public safety (ie. advocating suicide)!