In my opinion, organizations may do best to avoid officially endorsing anything other than the most central content that they produce in order to reduce these PR headaches, regarding both
what’s said in the endorsed articles and
which articles were or weren’t chosen to begin with (the debate over the EA Handbook comes to mind).
As an alternative, maybe individual people could create their own non-CEA-endorsed lists of recommended content, and these could be made available somewhere. Having many such lists would allow for diversity based on interests and values. (For example, “The best global poverty articles”, “The best career articles”, “The best articles for suffering-focused altruists”, etc.)
I haven’t yet finished thinking about how the EA Forum Team should go about doing this, given their particular relationship to the site’s members, but here’s a few thoughts.
I think, for a platform to be able to incentivise long-term intellectual progress in a community, it’s important that there are individuals trusted on the platform to promote the best content to a place on the site that is both lasting and clearly more important than other content, like I and others have done on the AI Alignment Forum and LessWrong. Otherwise the site devolves into a news site, with a culture that depends on who turns up that particular month.
I do think the previous incarnation of the EA Forum was much more of a news site, where the most activity occurred when people turned up to debate the latest controversy posted there, and that the majority of posts and discussion on the new Forum are much more interested in discussion of the principles and practice of EA, rather than conflict in the community.
(Note that, while it is not the only or biggest difference, LessWrong and Hacker News both have the same sorting algorithm on their posts list, yet LW has the best content shown above the recent content, and thus is more clearly a site that rewards the best content over the most recent content.)
It’s okay to later build slower and more deliberative processes for figuring out what gets promoted (although you must move much more quickly than the present day academic journal system, and with more feedback between researchers and evaluators). I think the Forum’s monthly prize system is a good way to incentivise good content, but it crucially doesn’t ensure that the rewarded content will continue to be read by newcomers 5 years after it was written. (Added: And similarlycurrent new EAs on the Forum are not reading the best EA content of the past 10 years, just the most recent content.)
I agree it’s good for members of the community to be able to curate content themselves. Right now anyone can build a sequence on LessWrong, then the LW team moves some of them up into a curated section which later get highlighted on the front page (see the library page, which will become more prominent on the site after our new frontpage rework). I can imagine this being an automatic process based on voting, but I have an intuition that it’s good for humans to be in the loop. One reason is that when humans make decisions, you can ask why, but when 50 people vote, it’s hard to interrogate that system as to the reason behind its decision, and improve its reasoning the next time.
(Thanks for your comment Brian, and please don’t feel any obligation to respond. I just noticed that I didn’t intuitively agree with the thrust of your suggestion, and wanted to offer some models pointing in a different direction.)
It crucially doesn’t ensure that the rewarded content will continue to be read by newcomers 5 years after it was written… New EAs on the Forum are not reading the best EA content of the past 10 years, just the most recent content.
This sentence deserves a strong upvote all by itself, it is exactly the key issue. There is so much good stuff out there, I’ve read pretty widely on EA topics but continue to find excellent material that I’ve never seen before, scattered across a range of blogs. Gathering that together seems vital as the movement gets older and it gets harder and harder to actually find and read everything.
I can imagine this being an automatic process based on voting, but I have an intuition that it’s good for humans to be in the loop. One reason is that when humans make decisions, you can ask why, but when 50 people vote, it’s hard to interrogate that system as to the reason behind its decision, and improve its reasoning the next time.
I think that’s true when there are moderators who are able to spend a lot of time and effort thinking about what to curate, like you do for Less Wrong. But right now it seems like the EA forum staff are very time-constrained, and in addition are worried about endorsing things. So in addition to the value of decentralising the work involved, there’s an additional benefit of voting in that it’s easier for CEA to disclaim endorsement.
Given that, I don’t have a strong opinion about whether it’s better for community members to be able to propose and vote on sequences, or whether it’s better for CEA to take a strong stance that they’re going to curate sequences with interesting content without necessarily endorsing it, and ensure that there’s enough staff time available to do that. The former currently seems more plausible (although I have no inside knowledge about what CEA are planning).
The thing I would like not to happen is for the EA forum to remain a news site because CEA is too worried about endorsing the wrong things to put up the really good content that already exists, or sets such a high bar for doing so that in practice you get only a couple of sequences. EA is a question, not a set of fixed endorsed beliefs, and I think the ability to move fast and engage with a variety of material is the lifeblood of an intellectual community.