Is EA Growing? EA Growth Metrics for 2018

Is EA grow­ing? Rather than spec­u­lat­ing from anec­dotes, I de­cided to col­lect some data. This is a con­tinu­a­tion of the anal­y­sis started last year. For each trend, I col­lected the raw data and also high­lighted in green where the high­est point was reached (though this may be differ­ent from the pe­riod with the largest growth de­pend­ing on which deriva­tive you are look­ing at). You can down­load the raw data be­hind these ta­bles here.







Implications

This year, I de­cided to sep­a­rate growth stats into a few differ­ent cat­e­gories, look­ing at how growth changes when we talk about peo­ple learn­ing about EA through read­ing; in­creas­ing their com­mit­ment through join­ing a newslet­ter, join­ing a Face­book group, join­ing the EA Fo­rum, or sub­scribing to a pod­cast; in­creas­ing en­gage­ment by com­mit­ting—self-iden­ti­fy­ing as EA on the EA Sur­vey and/​or tak­ing a pledge; and hav­ing an im­pact by do­ing some­thing, like donat­ing or chang­ing their ca­reers[33].

When look­ing at this, it ap­pears that there has been a de­cline of peo­ple search­ing and look­ing for EA (at least in the ways we track), with the ex­cep­tion of 80,000 Hours pageviews and EA Red­dit page sub­scrip­tions which con­tinued to grow but at a much lower pace. When we look at the rate of change, we can see a fairly clear de­cline across all met­rics:

We can also see that when it comes to driv­ing ini­tial EA read­er­ship and en­gage­ment, 80,000 Hours is very clearly lead­ing the pack while other sources of learn­ing about EA are de­clin­ing a bit:

In fact, the two sources of learn­ing about EA that seem to best rep­re­sent nat­u­ral search—Google in­ter­est and Wikipe­dia pageviews—ap­pear some­what cor­re­lated and are now both de­clin­ing to­gether.

How­ever, there are more peo­ple con­sum­ing EA in closer ways (what I termed “join­ing”) -- while growth rate in the EA Newslet­ter and 80K Newslet­ter has slowed down, the EA FB is more ac­tive, the EA Red­dit and to­tal en­gage­ment from 80K con­tinues to grow, and new av­enues like Vox’s Fu­ture Perfect and 80K’s pod­cast have opened up. How­ever, this view of growth can change de­pend­ing on which deriva­tive you look at. Look­ing at the next deriva­tive makes clear that there was a large ex­plo­sion of in­ter­est in 2017 in the EA Red­dit and the EA Newslet­ter that wasn’t re­peated in 2018:

Ad­di­tion­ally, Founder’s Pledge con­tinues to grow and OFTW has had ex­plo­sive growth, though GWWC has stalled out a bit. The EA Sur­vey has also re­cov­ered from a slug­gish 2017 to break records in 2018. Look­ing at the rate of change shows Founder’s Pledge clearly in­creas­ing, GWWC de­creas­ing, and OFTW’s hav­ing fairly rapid growth in 2018 af­ter a slow­down in 2017.


Lastly, the part we care about most seems to be do­ing the strongest—while track­ing the ac­tual im­pact of the EA move­ment is re­ally hard and very sen­si­tive to out­liers, nearly ev­ery do­ing/​im­pact met­ric we do track was at its strongest in ei­ther 2017 or 2018, with only GiveWell and 80K see­ing a slight de­cline in 2018 rel­a­tive to 2017. How­ever, look­ing at the ac­tual rate of change shows a bleaker pic­ture that we may be ap­proach­ing a plateau.


Conclusion

Like last year, it still re­mains a bit difficult to in­fer broad trends given that a de­cline for one year might be the start of a true plateau or de­cline (as ap­pears to be the case for GWWC) or may just be a one-time blip prior to a bounce back (as ap­pears to be the case for the EA Sur­vey[34]).

Over­all, the de­cline in peo­ple first dis­cov­er­ing EA (read­ing) and the growth of dona­tions /​ ca­reer changes (do­ing) makes sense, as it is likely the re­sult of the in­ten­tional effort across sev­eral groups and in­di­vi­d­u­als in EA over the past few years to fo­cus on high-fidelity mes­sag­ing and grow­ing the im­pact of pre-ex­ist­ing EAs and de­liber­ate de­ci­sions to stop mass mar­ket­ing, Face­book ad­ver­tis­ing, etc. The hope is that while this may bring in fewer to­tal peo­ple, the peo­ple it does bring in will be much higher qual­ity on av­er­age. Based on this, while EA is maybe not grow­ing as fast as it could if we op­ti­mized for short-run growth, I’d pro­vi­sion­ally con­clude that EA is grow­ing in ex­actly the one would ex­pect and in­tend for it to do so. Ad­di­tion­ally, clear growth in pledges and money raised from Founders Pledge, Effec­tive Giv­ing, and One For The World show a po­ten­tially new promis­ing path for fu­ture growth that could lead to many more dona­tions in the fu­ture.

How­ever, I don’t think we should take this at face value to as­sume the EA move­ment is safe from de­cline—if fewer peo­ple are ini­tially dis­cov­er­ing EA, this could lead to much slower or re­duced growth in im­pact a few years down the line as fewer peo­ple are grow­ing the over­all pie of EAs who can be counted on to have an im­pact in later years. In­deed, look­ing at the rate of change in these met­rics shows a bleaker pic­ture, with EA hav­ing gone through a crit­i­cal ac­cel­er­a­tion pe­riod that has now mostly ended, po­ten­tially bring­ing about a fu­ture plateau in some of these statis­tics.

We’ll con­tinue to mon­i­tor and see if these trends hold up in fu­ture years or if there emerge causes for con­cern. Also please feel free to men­tion other met­rics we should con­sider adding for next year[35].


Corrections

3 June 2019 - Founders Pledge in­for­ma­tion was origi­nally given in thou­sands when it should be in mil­lions. Ad­di­tion­ally, to­tals given were slightly off (es­pe­cially for 2015) and have now been cor­rected. This has now been cor­rected in the table, graphs, and down­load­able CSV. This made the rate of change for Founders Pledge to be clearly pos­i­tive and as such I added a bit of op­ti­mism to the con­clu­sion. Ad­di­tion­ally, I amended F18 to at­tribute Cal­lum for new data and ex­plain lump­iness in the es­ti­ma­tions.

3 June 2019 - FN13 spec­i­fy­ing the EA Newslet­ter was up­dated with info from Aaron’s com­ment. I also up­dated the con­clu­sion slightly to ex­plic­itly men­tion dis­con­tin­u­ing ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns as a de­liber­ate rea­son for lower growth.

4 June 2019 - The high­light­ing for GiveWell’s monthly unique vis­i­tors (ex­clud­ing ad­words) in­cor­rectly iden­ti­fied 2016 as the year with the most vis­i­tors. That has been cor­rected to show 2015 as the year with the most vis­i­tors. (The un­der­ly­ing data was not wrong, just the high­light­ing.)

4 June 2019 - Cor­rected stats for the 80,000 Hours pod­cast us­ing new data from Rob.

12 July 2019 - Fixed a typo in FN35 and FN34.


Endnotes

[1]: See Google Trends data. Th­ese num­bers are not search vol­umes—they’re the mean rel­a­tive “score” for that year, rel­a­tive to the search vol­ume for the high­est day be­tween Jan­uary 2004 and the end of De­cem­ber 2018. Each vol­ume num­ber is the num­ber as of the last day of De­cem­ber of the re­ported year.

[2]: See Wikipe­di­aViews.org data. Th­ese are desk­top pageviews for the “Effec­tive al­tru­ism” Wikipe­dia ar­ti­cle. See some more wiki data here and here.

[3]: From 80K stats col­lected here with mod­ifi­ca­tions from Rob’s com­ment. Note that the 80,000 Hours pod­cast didn’t start un­til halfway through 2017.

[4]: Data from 2016 and ear­lier was col­lected by Vipul Naik. Data for 2017 and af­ter is available but I am told that it would take too long to col­lect, so in the in­ter­est of pub­lish­ing this post in a re­motely timely man­ner, I will save col­lect­ing this data to next year.

[5] Vipul’s data only has data start­ing mid-Septem­ber 2014, so it seems most ac­cu­rate to not count this year.

[6]: Th­ese data come from the mod­er­a­tor panel for the Red­dit. I was able to col­lect these data as I am a mod­er­a­tor. This panel is un­for­tu­nately not ac­cessible to non-mod­er­a­tors. It also un­for­tu­nately only goes back one year at a time.

[7]: Due to the limi­ta­tions of the Red­dit mod­er­a­tor panel only go­ing back one year at a time, I have to use old data that is of the time range Septem­ber 2016 to Au­gust 2017 as the es­ti­mate for 2017.

[8]: Th­ese data is only slightly off—it ac­tu­ally rep­re­sents Jan 5, 2018 to Jan 4, 2019.

[9]: Th­ese data comes from ask­ing Jon Be­har.

[10]: From GiveWell’s met­rics spread­sheet.

[11]: Th­ese data comes from ask­ing Kel­sey Piper, Vox Fu­ture Perfect staff writer.

[12]: Both r/​Effec­tiveAltru­ism and r/​smart­giv­ing have been si­mul­ta­neous EA sub­red­dits since Septem­ber 2012. r/​smart­giv­ing was the de­fault EA sub­red­dit un­til an in­ten­tional mi­gra­tion on 28 Feb 2016. I will use r/​smart­giv­ing num­bers for the 2014-2015 pe­riod and r/​effec­tivealtru­ism num­bers for all pe­ri­ods af­ter that, to re­flect the tran­si­tion. Note that this growth will there­fore in­volve some in­her­ent dou­ble-count­ing as peo­ple who were sub­scribed on r/​smart­giv­ing re-sub­scribe on r/​effec­tivealtru­ism. Pageviews for red­dit were calcu­lated via http://​​red­dit­met­rics.com/​​.

[13]: Data af­ter 2016 comes from ask­ing Aaron Gertler and is more re­li­able. Data from be­fore 2016 comes from ac­cess­ing archived data from Re­think Char­ity that is much more ap­prox­i­mate. It should be noted that heavy growth in 2017 came from a heavy Face­book ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign that was not con­tinued into 2018.

[14]: As I’m a mod­er­a­tor of the EA Face­book group, I was able to col­lect these data from the mod­er­a­tor panel that comes with Face­book. This panel is un­for­tu­nately not ac­cessible to non-mod­er­a­tors. Un­for­tu­nately, I only have data go­ing back to July 2017, where there were 8629 ac­tive users. At the end of 2018, there were 9104 ac­tive users.

[15]: Data was only available go­ing back to July 2017, so I fudge here by just dou­bling the num­ber.

[16]: Th­ese data come from ask­ing Ju­lia Wise.

[17]: Th­ese data comes from Steve Hindi. Note that these data are for school years (thus the “2014” pe­riod here rep­re­sents July 2013 to Jun 2014, etc.).

[18] Th­ese data come from ask­ing Marie Paglinghi and Cal­lum Calvert. Note that pledge to­tals may be a bit jumpy as they can be sen­si­tive to small changes in larger donors.

[19]: Rep­re­sents the to­tal 2014 dona­tions, as recorded in the 2015 EA Sur­vey.

[20]: Both 2015 and 2016 dona­tions were recorded as of the 2017 EA Sur­vey (as no EA Sur­vey was run in 2016). This means that 2015 dona­tions could be ar­tifi­cially low due to sur­vivor­ship bias, if some donors didn’t fill out the EA sur­vey two years later. (Not to men­tion the fact that there are likely many donors who don’t fill out the EA sur­vey even one month later.)

[21]: Th­ese data will be recorded in the forth­com­ing 2019 EA Sur­vey.

[22]: From GiveWell’s 2015 met­rics report

[23]: From GiveWell’s 2016 met­rics report

[24]: From GiveWell’s 2017 met­rics report

[25]: From GiveWell’s 2014 Top Char­ity Report

[26]: $44.4M for top char­i­ties (see GiveWell 2015 Top Char­ity Re­port) plus a spe­cial $25M dona­tion to scal­ing GiveDirectly.

[27]: From GiveWell’s 2016 Top Char­ity Report

[28]: This data col­lected via Vipul Naik. Data is pre­limi­nary and has not been com­pletely vet­ted and nor­mal­ized. Money from the Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject is counted for the year in which the grant is an­nounced, which may be differ­ent from the year the grant is de­cided or the year the grant money is ac­tu­ally dis­persed. Note that this might make 2018 ar­tifi­cially lower, as some 2018 grants may not yet be an­nounced (or may have been an­nounced but not recorded) as of the time of this writ­ing.

[29]: Note that, ac­cord­ing to Ju­lia, 2017 was the last year when a staff mem­ber sent re­peated emails to peo­ple re­mind­ing them to record their dona­tions and Ju­lia sus­pects the lower num­ber in 2018 is a re­sult of that. Ju­lia notes that in Spring 2019, they will re­sume re­con­tact­ing peo­ple, so they will see if this in­creases re­ported 2018 dona­tions.

[30]: From https://​​an­i­malchar­i­tye­val­u­a­tors.org/​​about/​​im­pact/​​giv­ing-met­rics/​​

[31]: From https://​​app.effec­tivealtru­ism.org/​​funds

[32]: This value is not fi­nal­ized yet.

[33]: Note that this is sep­a­ra­tion mainly for illus­tra­tive pur­poses. While it may be tempt­ing to ar­range this into some sort of EA fun­nel, it is not quite that as we don’t have any ev­i­dence to back up this cat­e­go­riza­tion. In fact, read­ing the EA Fo­rum may ac­tu­ally sig­nify fairly deep en­gage­ment de­spite be­ing read­ing, whereas be­ing in the EA Sur­vey panel is seen as com­mit­ting but could just be a per­son who reads the EA Newslet­ter. Get­ting bet­ter met­rics on EA en­gage­ment as well as putting more effort into figur­ing out what the EA Fun­nel may ac­tu­ally em­piri­cally con­sist of is an on­go­ing pro­ject of the EA Sur­vey.

[34]: How­ever, it ap­pears that the large growth in 2018 EA Sur­vey tak­ers was pri­mar­ily driven by more peo­ple tak­ing the EA Sur­vey from the EA Newslet­ter, where the EA Sur­vey was placed a lot more promi­nently (re­ceiv­ing a ded­i­cated email) than in prior years and where the EA Newslet­ter it­self had just un­der­gone large growth the year be­fore (be­tween the 2017 and 2018 EA Sur­veys). This would sug­gest that the EA Sur­vey growth might stag­nate or de­cline in the fu­ture as sources of peo­ple find­ing out about the EA Sur­vey also stag­nate.

[35]: We’re con­sid­er­ing adding data around growth at pledges se­cured by Effec­tive Giv­ing, to­tal pledge counts (not money) from Founders Pledge, to­tal OpenPhil grants (amount + num­ber of grants, and to more than just GiveWell), growth at the EA Hub, growth in traf­fic at effec­tivealtru­ism.org, sales of var­i­ous EA books (e.g., Do­ing Good Bet­ter), met­rics for the EA Fo­rum (such as page views, to­tal ac­counts, ac­tive users, to­tal posts, to­tal com­ments, to­tal up­votes), and met­rics around lo­cal groups.


Credits

This es­say is a pro­ject of Re­think Pri­ori­ties. It was writ­ten by Peter Hur­ford with graphs by Neil Dul­laghan. Thanks to David Moss, Neil Dul­laghan, Michael Trzes­imiech, and Mar­cus A. Davis for com­ments. Thanks to Michael Trzes­imiech for com­piling the table into a down­load­able CSV. Also, ad­di­tional thanks to ev­ery­one who helped provide the un­der­ly­ing data col­lected for this post. If you like our work, please con­sider sub­scribing to our newslet­ter. You can see all our work to date here.