By Ryan Carey
Since September 10, a new site for discussing effective altruism has gone online. Over the last three weeks, we have gathered dozens of awesome new articles and comments about how to do good in the world. If you like reading about effective altruism as much as I suspect that you do, then this may be incentive enough to visit the site. You can find it at effective-altruism.com. If you have not yet visited the forum but would like to hear more about it, here are ten great reasons to explore it.
1. It looks great. Mihai Badic has done a professional design job that makes the site a pleasure to view.
2. It’s easy to use. The site is built from the codebase of LessWrong, which is a well-tested system that houses thousands of users. Just as on LessWrong, new users at the Effective Altruism Forum can sign up and participate within seconds. The new interface is stripped back to make navigation a little easier and more intuitive.
3. Comments are threaded. In comment threads on the Effective Altruism Forum, unlike in Facebook, users can discuss lots of different topics at the same time without interrupting each other. Comments are laid out hierarchically, rather than in one long line. This helps not only with analysis but also with all kinds of discussion. For instance, now you can tell a joke without worrying about derailing the conversation.
4. Contributions are archived. Now if you want more background on an idea, you can search past articles and comments to get up to speed. If you really like one author, you can also easily traverse their writings. This incentivises users to make helpful and timeless contributions and, like threaded commenting, should make us excited to see higher quality comments.
5. Contributions are rated by usefulness. If your writing helps other users, they will vote it up, and conversely if your comments are seen as unhelpful, they will be voted down, and eventually hidden. Top users are showcased in the sidebar each month. This also incentivises people to write awesome content. One potential problem with such a karma system, as pointed out by user Robby Bensinger, is that it can lead to groupthink: people can be inclined to vote “I liked this” when they agree with a comment, and “I disliked this” when they disagree, no matter how well argued that comment might be. To guard against this, we have labelled the voting buttons “I found this helpful” and “I didn’t find this helpful” according to Robby’s awesome suggestion.
6. The back catalogue is awesome. The older version of our Effective Altruism Forum had over one hundred articles, thanks to wonderful past contributions that had been ported across from the older Effective Altruism Blog. These classics, including Do Unto Others and Preventing Human Extinction can all be viewed on the new site.
7. The new articles are numerous and content-rich. In these three short weeks, the Effective Altruism Forum has attracted 36 new posts. In contrast, the old effective altruism blog had an average of 0.1 posts per week. The top pieces so far are Effective altruism as the most exciting cause in the world, Supportive scepticism and Cosmopolitanism, all of which make great reading.
8. There are links to other effective altruism sites. You can keep up-to-date with many popular effective altruism blogs by visiting the Effective Altruism Forum. On the right sidebar, recent posts are aggregated from GiveWell, 80,000 Hours, Jeff Kauffman, Julia Wise and others. The Effective Altruism landing page already links users to the effective altruism forum to read more. It is now being redesigned, with a view that its static content will make a good complement to the more dynamic content of the Effective Altruism Forum. Over time, there will be more opportunities to link into other projects by the Effective Altruism Hub like the Map of Effective Altruists and other Dot Impact projects like the Effective Altruism Gratipay.
9. The Effective Altruism Forum can improve. Possibly most excitingly, Trike Apps, who have developed the site, have shared its code on GitHub, so that more programmers can help it continue to improve.
10. It’ll soon be easier to contribute content. You can now comment on articles right away. Once you attract ten karma, you will also be able to write articles on the front page. The reason I’m writing this piece here for the Life You Can Save blog is so even more people will come to read and comment - the more the merrier.
I’m optimistic that current online effective altruist discussion can be better - clearer and more fun. Previously, discussion has been very fragmented. It has been difficult to get to speed on an issue, to understand others’ perspectives, to write enduring comments and to get feedback from others. Based on the amount of activity that the Effective Altruism Forum has already seen, it seems to be playing a part in changing this. With your help, it will have an even brighter future!
Ryan Carey is a medical doctor from Melbourne Australia who is now studying for a Masters in Bioinformatics at Imperial College London. He is the administrator of the Effective Altruism Forum and likes to volunteer for the Centre for Study of Existential Risk.