The EA Forum is a News Feed

Summary

The EA fo­rum is not a fo­rum in the tra­di­tional sense, and this differ­ence in struc­ture may be limit­ing the spread of good ideas and re­duc­ing the amount of en­gage­ment peo­ple have with EA on­line.

Other Forums

When look­ing at other fo­rums, they usu­ally have quite a differ­ent struc­ture (stu­dent room, fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence, skyscrap­ers). The main differ­ence is hav­ing many sub-fo­rums, each hav­ing differ­ent post­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and top­ics. The EA fo­rum acts more like a news feed, with highly voted con­tent stay­ing visi­ble for a bit be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing.

It may be that there isn’t enough traf­fic to war­rant hav­ing sub-fo­rums but it could also be that the cur­rent de­sign of the EA fo­rum limits the breadth and depth of con­ver­sa­tions that can hap­pen here. This may be why there is quite a lot of EA re­lated dis­cus­sion on Face­book, there are over 300 differ­ent Face­book groups re­lated to differ­ent causes, top­ics and lo­ca­tions.

Problems

TL/​DR bul­let points

  • Hard to find rele­vant groups/​topics

  • Fo­rum can give an un­der­whelming impression

  • Hard to find the cur­rent best knowl­edge about a par­tic­u­lar cause or career

  • Miss­ing out on pos­si­ble connections

  • Can be in­timi­dat­ing to post on the forum

  • Con­ver­sa­tion is forced onto Face­book which limits some peo­ple from engaging

When peo­ple want to see what is go­ing on in EA, it can of­ten be quite hard to nav­i­gate the differ­ent groups and top­ics, and they may be un­aware of differ­ent groups, or the lat­est char­ity and ca­reer recom­men­da­tions for a spe­cific cause.

I have spo­ken to a few peo­ple who have been un­der­whelmed by the fo­rum con­tent, they spend a few min­utes nav­i­gat­ing, check out all posts and see a ran­dom as­sort­ment of top­ics that can usu­ally be quite badly writ­ten with lit­tle en­gage­ment and de­cide not to come back. Also if peo­ple have a par­tic­u­lar ex­per­tise it’s hard for them to know that a rele­vant post was here a month ago and they could con­tribute, if the only way to filter is via two tags.

If in­stead, an ex­am­ple en­g­ineer in­ter­ested in biose­cu­rity, checks out both the “ca­reers->en­g­ineer­ing” sub-fo­rum and the “causes->biose­cu­rity” sub-fo­rum, see the top stick­ied posts which give an up to date land­scape of both ar­eas and scrolls down to see rele­vant con­ver­sa­tions, they may be more in­ter­ested in adding to the knowl­edge base. At the mo­ment it can some­times seem that even good posts can just drop off the news feed and only stick around if peo­ple cre­ate google docs with links or com­mit to their long term mem­ory.

It could limit con­nec­tions be­ing made if peo­ple are un­aware that there is a Schel­ling point space for some­one in their ca­reer and don’t come across the rele­vant Face­book group un­til a few years later or po­ten­tially never.

Peo­ple have also men­tioned that it can be in­timi­dat­ing to post on the EA fo­rum, or that they are wor­ried about get­ting at­tacked in the com­ments. If there were ar­eas where peo­ple could post in a more ca­sual way, it may en­courage more con­ver­sa­tion. At the mo­ment this is only seen in the open thread ev­ery few months rather than a ded­i­cated sub-fo­rum where these kinds of ques­tions could be asked, or an area for new peo­ple to ask ques­tions or in­tro­duce them­selves with­out fear of be­ing rep­ri­manded or wast­ing the time of other users.

Another dis­ad­van­tage of hav­ing lots of con­ver­sa­tion on Face­book is there is a sub­stan­tial minor­ity of peo­ple who don’t use or try to limit their Face­book us­age.

Pos­si­ble Drawbacks

Some pos­si­ble draw­backs of hav­ing a more tra­di­tional style fo­rum could in­clude:-

  • It may be harder to con­nect with some­one else as you can’t just click on their name and add them as a Face­book contact

  • There may not be easy ways to re­strict en­try to cer­tain sub-fo­rums. At the mo­ment there are Face­book groups with peo­ple work­ing in spe­cific ca­reers or lo­ca­tions that can filter new mem­bers with closed groups which ask ques­tions be­fore join­ing. If this wasn’t pos­si­ble it could lead to lower qual­ity dis­cus­sions with peo­ple who don’t know a topic dom­i­nat­ing sub-forums

  • Peo­ple don’t use their real names as much, which may af­fect how peo­ple discuss

  • Peo­ple may check the fo­rum less than Face­book, and con­ver­sa­tion could be slower

  • There may not be enough us­age to jus­tify many sub-forums

  • To cre­ate some­thing like this would take time/​money that could be bet­ter used

  • It may re­duce us­age of Face­book groups which are pro­vid­ing more value in their cur­rent set up, and end up just du­pli­cat­ing what already ex­ists and split­ting conversations

  • There could be more visi­bil­ity of off putting and idle con­ver­sa­tions that hap­pen on Face­book, that new peo­ple may take as rep­re­sent­ing EA

  • The av­er­age post qual­ity would likely be lower

Conclusion

I think it is at least worth spend­ing some time to think about what you would want the EA fo­rum to be if you were to cre­ate it from scratch. What the pur­pose of the fo­rum is, and the best ways of achiev­ing those goals.