Peter_Hurford comments on Announcing PriorityWiki: A Cause Prioritization Wiki - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 19 June 2018 07:53:39PM 4 points [-]

Good question. The answer is that I'm not sure yet how to handle that.

I agree I don't want there to be five different prioritization wikis, but I also don't want the fact that one person has done the project at one point to mean that no one can ever do the project again. It's hard to strike the right balance there.

We mainly chose to go with a different wiki software to improve the editing experience (especially editing without creating an account) to remove barriers to contribution. We could potentially start migrating content whichever way makes sense.

Comment author: riceissa  (EA Profile) 20 June 2018 06:22:12AM *  5 points [-]

(Context: I host the Cause Prioritization Wiki.)

I think there might be a misunderstanding here, so I would like to clarify a couple of things.

I also don't want the fact that one person has done the project at one point to mean that no one can ever do the project again.

I assume this is referring to me, and that Peter is saying the Cause Prioritization Wiki is dead. It's true that the wiki was inactive for about two years, but more recently I've been adding more content to it; there is an edit history graph showing activity for the past year.

But even assuming the wiki is dead, I'm not sure starting essentially from scratch is better than reviving the existing project.

We mainly chose to go with a different wiki software to improve the editing experience (especially editing without creating an account) to remove barriers to contribution.

The choices of wiki software and of allowing anonymous edits are not unchangeable. For the former, I've actually been pondering for a while whether switching to MediaWiki would be a good idea (I haven't looked into Wiki.js, which is what PriorityWiki uses), as I've gotten more experience with editing on MediaWiki wikis since the time when I started the Cause Prioritization Wiki. For the latter, my thinking has been that I don't want to spend a lot of time moderating the wiki, which is why I chose to restrict account creation and disable anonymous edits. But if there is enough energy to moderate the wiki, I would be fine with allowing more open editing.

Some thoughts I had about competition while thinking about this situation (I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this topic):

  • In general I think competition benefits end users.
  • There are four existing wikis about bitcoin that I know of, which might be an interesting case study:
  • With free software, forking is often difficult (existing codebase too complicated to understand, written for a different OS, written in a language that one is unfamiliar with) so there's a proliferation of similar applications. This seems to be less of a problem for prose.
  • Again with free software, different software projects focus on different (sometimes incompatible) things, like speed, feature-richness, memory use, portability. With a wiki, there is still some of that (one can trade off along formal vs informal language, background knowledge assumed, audience's goals) but I think it's less strong.
  • Again for software, there is also the issue of getting stuck in local optima (think how horrible LaTeX is but people are forced to use it). I think Wikipedia is similarly a local optimum for a generic encyclopedia, but this seems mostly problematic because of its deletionism.
  • For products that are sold there is also competition along price.
  • For textbooks, I think it's good that there are a bunch of them for each (topic, level) combination, because exposition style/difficulty can vary significantly. I think for general reference works there is a lot less of that, and even less for inclusionist electronic wikis.
Comment author: casebash 21 June 2018 12:03:30PM 7 points [-]

I suspect that competition isn't especially healthy at the stage where the struggle is just to obtain critical mass. Multiple projects have failed to generate enough momentum to sustain them, if the community divides its attention between multiple such projects, success is less likely.

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 20 June 2018 11:02:22AM 2 points [-]

I’m against it. ;-)

Just kidding. I think monopolies and competition are bundles of advantages and disadvantages that we can also combine differently. Competition comes with duplication of effort, sometimes sabotaging the other rather than improving oneself, and some other problems. A monopoly would come with the local optima problem you mentioned. But we can also acknowledge (as we do in many other fields) that we don’t know how to run the best wiki, and have different projects that try out different plausible strategies while not being self-interested by being interested in the value of information from the experiment. So they can work together, automatically synchronize any content that can be synchronized, etc. We’ll first need meaningful differences between the projects that it’ll be worthwhile to test out, e.g., restrictive access vs. open access.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 20 June 2018 07:59:10AM *  1 point [-]

I don't think Bitcoin became popular on the strength of its wikis. I also do think that free software projects cannibalizing one another can be harmful, e.g. there was a period where Python had a bunch of serious web frameworks whereas Ruby just had one or two, and I think that was good for the Ruby side because the ecosystem that built up around those one or two was deeper.

Gwern wrote this essay about why non-Wikipedia wikis have a hard time competing with Wikipedia. He recommends using Wikipedia when possible and only falling back on specialized wikis for things Wikipedia won't allow. So that might be a path forwards.

Comment author: gwern 22 June 2018 02:33:10AM *  6 points [-]

Bitcoin definitely didn't become popular because of its wiki. Early on I wanted to contribute to the wiki (I think as part of my DNM work) and I went to register and... you had to pay bitcoins to register. -_- I never did register or edit it, IIRC. And certainly people didn't use it too much aside from early on use of the FAQ.

An EA wiki would be sensible. In this case, while EAers probably spend too little time adding standard factual material to Wikipedia, material like 'cause prioritization' would be poor fits for Wikipedia articles because they necessarily involve lots of Original Research, a specific EA POV, coverage of non-Notable topics and interventions (because if they were already Notable, then they might not be a good use of resources for EA!), etc.

My preference for special-purpose wikis is to try to adopt a two-tier structure where all the factual standard material gets put into Wikipedia, benefiting from the fully-built-out set of encyclopedia articles & editing community & tools & traffic, and then the more controversial, idiosyncratic stuff building on that foundation appears on a special-purpose wiki. But I admit I have no proof that this strategy works in general or would be suitable for a cause-prioritization wiki. (At least one problem is that people won't read the relevant WP article while reading the individual special-purpose wiki, because of the context switch.)

Comment author: TimotheeChauvin 30 July 2018 05:15:40PM *  2 points [-]

I am strongly in favor of migrating content into a unique wiki.

As for the editing experience, I prefer the Cause Prioritization Wiki for several reasons, partly because it looks closer to Wikipedia and because it is possible to view the edit history in a convenient way. In short, I feel more in control there and I believe it is easier to spot and revert vandalism.

In the case of an EA wiki, I would argue that the barriers to contribution are not the creation of an account or the use of the wiki syntax. Instead, they are the trouble becoming aware that the wiki exists, and the lack of trust in the stability and notoriousness of the wiki.

Therefore, and as pointed out in other comments, I would be glad if:

  • the priority wiki and the cause prioritization wiki were merged into a single wiki that is as close as possible to Wikipedia in its style;
  • this wiki was linked to from the EA Forum, the EA Facebook group, effectivealtruism.org, etc, so it looks like the official EA wiki;
  • a critical mass of content was attained quickly so that readers trust its stability and notoriousness and consider editing (I am willing to volunteer for this phase);
  • (the EA wiki on wiki.eahub.org was deleted, because it is indeed filled with bot spam and, although most of it is certainly quite entertaining, it makes it look like EA is dead).

I'm convinced that with this early work we can have a functional, regularly edited and notorious wiki, and that would be amazing!

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 13 July 2018 09:46:32AM 0 points [-]

If you're interested, I wrote some thoughts here about why projects of this type seem to have so much trouble getting off the ground.