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remmelt comments on Open Thread #40 - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: remmelt  (EA Profile) 08 July 2018 08:24:24PM *  17 points [-]

The EA Forum Needs More Sub-Forums

EDIT: please go to the recent announcement post on the new EA Forum to comment

The traditional discussion forum has sub-forums and sub-sub-forums where people in communities can discuss areas that they’re particularly interested in. The EA Forum doesn’t have these and this make it hard to filter for what you’re looking for.

On Facebook on the other hand, there are hundreds of groups based around different cause areas, local groups and organisations, and subpopulations. Here it’s also hard to start rigorous discussions around certain topics because many groups are inactive and moderated poorly.

Then there are lots of other small communication platforms launched by organisations that range in their accessibility, quality standards, and moderation. It all kind of works but it’s messy and hard to sort through.

It’s hard to start productive conversations on specialised niche topics with international people because

  • 1) Relevant people won’t find you easily within the mass of posts

  • 2) You’ll contribute to that mass and thus distract everyone else.

Perhaps this a reason why some posts on specific topics only get a few comments even though the quality of the insights and writing seems high.

Examples of posts that we’re missing out on now:

  • Local group organiser Kate tried X career workshop format X times and found that it underperformed other formats

  • Private donor Bob dug into the documents of start-up vaccination charity X and wants to share preliminary findings with other donors in the global poverty space

  • Machine learning student Jenna would like to ask some specific questions on how the deep reinforcement learning algorithm of AlphaGo functions

  • The leader of animal welfare advocacy org X would like to share some local engagement statistics on vegan flyering, 3D headset demos, before sending them off in a more polished form to ACE.

Interested in any other examples you have. :-)

What to do about it?

I don’t have any clear solutions in mind for this (perhaps this could be made a key focus in the transition to using the forum architecture of LessWrong 2.0). Just want to plant a flag here that given how much the community has grown vs. 3 years ago, people should start specialising more in the work they do, and that our current platforms are woefully behind for facilitating discussions around that.

It would be impossible for one forum to handle all this adequately and it seems useful for people to experiment with different interfaces, communication processes and guidelines. Nevertheless, our current state seems far from optimal. I think some people should consider tracking down and paying for additional thoughtful, capable web developers to adjust the forum to our changing needs.

UPDATE: After reading @John Maxwell IV's comments below, I've changed my mind from a naive 'we should overhaul the entire system' view to 'we should tinker with it in ways we expect would facilitate better interactions, and then see if they actually do' view.

Comment author: MarekDuda 11 July 2018 03:08:14PM 5 points [-]

As Julia mentions below, over the last few months we have been been putting a lot of thought into how to improve the Forum ahead of its re-launch later this year. The ‘sub-forum model’ was what we also arrived at as a desirable potential vision.

Due to hoping to relaunch the Forum in a relatively short timeframe, and the availability of the LW2 codebase for us to work with, our initial goal is to release a direct clone of LW2 rebranded for use as the EA Forum 2.0. The LW2 format already addresses some of the issues and feedback we have had about the current functionality. However, over the medium term (after we release the new version in the next few months) we expect to do further work on implementing various functionality improvements, including investigating the viability of a sub-forum model.

We will be publishing an official announcement regarding the EA Forum relaunch in the next few days, and I would hope we could use the comments section there to serve as the main schelling point for user feedback and ideas on what we should focus on after the initial release.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 13 July 2018 10:02:35AM *  4 points [-]

This sounds like it might be a bad idea to me. I just wrote a long comment about the difficulty the EA community has in establishing Schelling points. This forum strikes me as one of the few successful Schelling points in EA. I worry that if subforums are done in a careless way, dividing a single reasonably high-traffic forum into lots of smaller low-traffic ones, one of the few Schelling points we have will be destroyed.

Comment author: remmelt  (EA Profile) 17 July 2018 10:58:44AM *  1 point [-]

Another problem would be when creating extra sub-forums would result in people splitting their conversations up more between those and the Facebook and Google groups. Reminds me of the XKCD comic on the problem of creating a new universal standard.

I think you made a great point in your comment on that people need to do ‘intensive networking and find compromises’ before attempting to establish new Schelling points.

Comment author: remmelt  (EA Profile) 17 July 2018 10:32:57AM *  0 points [-]

Hmm, would you think Schelling points would still be destroyed if it was just clearer where people could meet to discuss certain specific topics besides a ‘common space’ where people could post on topics that are relevant to many people?

I find the comment you link to really insightful but I doubt whether it neatly applies here. Personally, I see a problem with that we should have more well-defined Schelling points as the community grows but that currently the EA Forum is a vague place to go to ‘to read and write posts on EA’. Other places for gathering to talk about more specific topics are widely dispersed over the internet – they’re both hard to find and disconnected from each other (i.e. it’s hard to zoom in and out of topics as well as explore parallel topics that once can work on and discuss).

I think you’re right that you don’t want to accidentally kill off a communication platform that actually kind of works. So perhaps a way of dealing with this is to maintain the current EA Forum structure but then also test giving groups of people the ability to start sub-forums where they can coordinate around more specific Schelling points on ethical views, problem areas, interventions, projects, roles, etc. – conversations that would add noise for others if they did it on the main forum instead.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 17 July 2018 10:43:12PM *  4 points [-]

Yeah. I feel like the EA community already has a discussion platform with very granular topic divisions in Facebook, and yet here were are. I'm not exactly sure why the EA forum seems to me like it's working better than Facebook, but I figure if it's not broken don't fix it. Also, I think something like the EA Forum is inherently a bit more fragile than Facebook... any Facebook group is going to benefit from Facebook's ubiquity as a communication tool/online distraction.

You made a list of posts that we’re missing out on now... those kinda seem like the sort of posts I see on EA facebook groups, but maybe you disagree?

Comment author: remmelt  (EA Profile) 18 July 2018 09:39:56PM *  0 points [-]

Could you give a few reasons why you the EA Forum seems to works better than the Facebook groups in your view?

The example posts I gave are on the extreme end of the kind of granularity I'd personally like to see more of (I deliberately made them extra specific to make a clear case). I agree those kinds of posts tend to show up more in the Facebook groups (though the writing tends to be short there). Then there seems to be stuff in the middle that might not fit well anywhere.

I feel now that the sub-forum approach should be explored much more carefully than I did when I wrote the comment at the top. In my opinion, we (or rather, Marek :-) should definitely still run contained experiments on this because on our current platform it's too hard to gather around topics narrower than being generally interested in EA work (maybe even test a hybrid model that allows for crossover between the forum and the Facebook groups).

So I've changed my mind from a naive 'we should overhaul the entire system' view to 'we should tinker with it in ways we expect would facilitate better interactions, and then see if they actually do' view.

Thanks for your points!

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 20 July 2018 02:48:53AM 1 point [-]

Could you give a few reasons why you the EA Forum seems to works better than the Facebook groups in your view?

Lol, like I said, I'm not completely sure. Posts & comments seem to go into greater depth, posts sometimes get referenced long after they are written?

I'm not certain subfora are a terrible idea, I just wanted this risk to be on peoples' radar. One possible compromise is to let people tag their posts (perhaps restricted to a set of tags chosen by moderators) and allow users to subscribe to RSS feeds associated with particular tags.

Comment author: Julia_Wise  (EA Profile) 10 July 2018 03:34:40PM 4 points [-]

CEA is thinking along these same lines for the new version of the Forum! The project manager is planning to reply with more detail in the next day or so.

Comment author: remmelt  (EA Profile) 10 July 2018 04:59:51PM 0 points [-]

Wow, nice! Would love to learn more.

Comment author: saulius  (EA Profile) 08 July 2018 11:25:32PM *  2 points [-]

It seems that what we need in this forum is categories/subforums. What we currently have is one subreddit. Conceptually, there’s little difference between https://www.reddit.com/r/EffectiveAltruism/ and this forum, people just use them differently. What I think we need is a whole new website like https://www.reddit.com/ that would have subreddits like “AI policy” and “Community building”. Your homepage would be customised based on subreddits you subscribed to. Maybe there could even be subreddits like "Newcomer questions" and "Editing & Review" at the same website that do not contain novel thoughts like posts on this forum. And there would be a subreddit “Old EA forum” that would contain all posts in the current forum but no new posts. Perhaps that is too complicated, maybe we just need few categories that you could filter by (and webpage would remember you user’s filter). I haven’t thought much about this, these are just my first thoughts.

Comment author: Denkenberger 11 July 2018 01:46:23PM 3 points [-]

I like that the forum is not sorted so one can keep abreast of the major developments and debates in all of EA. I don't think there is so much content as to be overwhelming.