Our plans for hosting an EA wiki on the Forum

We are in the process of implementing a major project on the Forum — turning our current system of tags into a full-fledged “EA wiki”.

Under this system, many of the tags used for posts will also serve as articles in the wiki. Many articles in the Wiki will also serve as tags that can be applied to articles.

However, there are exceptions in both directions. Some tags don’t make sense as wiki articles (for example, “EA London Update”). And some articles are too narrow to be useful tags (for example, Abhijit Banerjee). These will be marked as “wiki only” — they can be found with the Forum’s search engine, but can’t be used to tag posts.

The project is made possible by the work of Pablo Stafforini, who received an EA Infrastructure Fund grant to create an initial set of articles.

Why is an EA wiki useful?

EA content mostly takes the form of essays, videos, research papers, and other long-form content. If you want to find a simple definition of a term, or a brief summary of a cause area, you often have to find a particular blog post from 2012 or ask someone in the community.

A wiki can serve as a collection of definitions and brief explanations that help people efficiently develop their understanding of EA’s ideas and community.

It can also host more detailed articles that wouldn’t have a reason to exist elsewhere. Even if no one person wants to e.g. summarize all the major arguments to give now vs. later, ten people can each contribute a small portion of an article and get the same result.

CEA tried to do some of this with EA Concepts, a proto-wiki with well-written articles on a range of topics. But the project was deprioritized at one point and never picked back up — mostly because it takes a lot of time and energy to create and maintain anything close to a complete list of important concepts in effective altruism.

The EA Forum seems like a better way to do this, for a few reasons.

Why host this on the EA Forum?

There have been multiple attempts to create an EA wiki before, including EA Concepts, but none have really taken off. It’s hard to get the necessary volume of volunteer work to compile a strong encyclopedia on a topic as broad and complex as effective altruism.

Building a new wiki on the EA Forum has a few advantages over using a separate website:

  • Constant attention: Hundreds of people visit the Forum every day. While tag pages don’t get many edits now, we’ll be doing a lot of work to promote them over the next few months. Anyone who visits the Forum will be prompted to contribute; if even a small number decide to help, I think we’ll have a larger collection of volunteers than any past EA wiki project.

  • Strong SEO: The effectivealtruism.org domain gets a lot of traffic, which means it tends to show up in search engines for relevant terms. Once we’ve set up a collection of heavily cross-linked wiki articles, I expect that the articles will begin to draw a lot of new visitors to the site.

  • Automatic updates through tagging: While the whole “articles are tags” thing can feel weird at times, it also means that many articles will be attached to an ever-growing list of relevant posts.

  • Professional support: The Forum is run by CEA and draws from the technical work of developers from both CEA and LessWrong. We constantly add new features, and if something breaks, we have the resources to fix it. CEA’s resources also allow us to provide incentives for Wiki editing (more news on that soon, but not in this post).

What are the next steps?

Pablo’s approach involves setting up as many relatively short articles as possible, to give editors something to work from. He started by creating ~150 “stubs”, or one-sentence articles, that he expects to develop in the coming months (he has begun to expand some already). He will continue to add more content for the foreseeable future, but all of his articles are open for editing — he plans to incorporate editors’ efforts as he goes, and appreciates the help (the project is too big for any one person).

We’re still in the process of setting up everything we’ll need for what I plan to call “the festival” — a time of intense tagging and editing where the community gets together and really kicks things into gear. The festival will include prizes for the most helpful editors, and perhaps other treats. (Update: A previous version of this post mentioned the use of a progress bar to track tagging, but we’re already at 80+% of posts with 25+ karma having tags, so there isn’t much progress left to make; we’ll skip the bar.)

That said, we’ll still be keeping track of edits and tagging efforts before then! If you want to help out, don’t wait for the festival — there’s a lot of good work to be done, and you can get a head start on winning a cool prize :-)

You can see all of our tags on the Tags Portal, and many of our “wiki only” articles on this page (I’m still adding the last few — check back in a day or two).

Within the next month, we plan to have a single page which includes every tag, sorted by category (likely similar to LessWrong’s portal).

Note that we’ll be merging a lot of tags in cases where Pablo’s additions overlap with existing tags (e.g. “Meat Alternatives” and “Animal Product Alternatives”). However, we’ll combine material from both tags in the process, so good edits will be kept whatever happens.

Start your edits!

We’re really excited about the potential of the Forum’s wiki, and we hope to see lots of edits — this is a great way to make a visible contribution to the community in just a few minutes.

Some types of edits that can be valuable:

  • Adding more details about the topic

  • Adding links to other related tags

  • Adding references to material people can use to learn more about the topic

Try to take the perspective of someone who doesn’t know much about the topic and just stumbled across it. What should that person know? Can you explain that in a way that doesn’t require specialized knowledge of other EA topics? What other things might they want to read if this topic interests them?

Other ways to contribute:

  1. Tagging. This whole project will work much better if posts are reliably linked to relevant tags. This doesn’t just mean adding a tag for the first time — upvoting tags you think fit a post especially well is also helpful!

    1. An easy first step is to make sure your own posts are well-tagged.

    2. To steal from LessWrong’s excellent guide to tags:

      1. “Think of tagging as creating a curated list of material on a topic that someone interested in that topic would want to find. If a post touches on a topic but extremely tangentially, it might not be worth tagging it. If a post is low quality but technically discusses a topic, it isn’t necessary to tag it either.”

  2. Tag creation. If a term doesn’t come up as a tag when you search for it, it doesn’t exist on the Forum. If you think it should, create it!

    1. More from LessWrong: “A good heuristic is that a tag ought to have three high-quality posts, preferably written by two or more authors.”

  3. Tag suggestion. If you think some tags should be merged, notice a duplicate tag, etc., you can leave a comment on this post, or send me a private message on the Forum (if you comment on the tag itself, we may not see it for a while).

    1. Keep in mind that the wiki is very much “under construction” — if you notice something obvious that should be fixed, assume that you are correct and that we’re unlikely to object. We appreciate your help!

    2. If you want to suggest that we add a tag, but don’t want to create it yourself, you should share your idea on Michael Aird’s tag suggestion post, where others might see it and offer feedback.

Any questions?

If you have ideas for features that could improve the tagging system or the Wiki, please let us know in the comments.

Note that you can see a further-along version of the system at LessWrong (FAQ). If you see something on that site, assume it’s possible for us, though we may not have it set up yet.