How to use the Forum

by Julia_Wise, Aaron Gertler7 min read5th Sep 201820 comments

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EA Forum (Meta)
Frontpage

If any information on this page seems inaccurate, or you think we should add something that isn't here, please let us know. Thanks!


Effective altruism is a joint effort. Our goal is to make the EA Forum the central place for collaborative discussion about how to do the most good we can.

What we're aiming for

What we encourage

  • Writing that is accurate, kind, and relevant to the discussion at hand.
  • Scout mindset: "The drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but to see what's there as honestly and accurately as you can."
  • Clarity about what you believe, your reasons for believing it, and what would cause you to change your mind.
  • Making concrete predictions where possible.
    • For example, instead of saying "we should fund X," you might say "I think funding X would lead to Y or Z, as long as Q doesn't happen."
    • Even if you're highly uncertain, making a prediction lets you add nuance to your views and gives people a better sense of how to interpret your claims.
  • Including a summary at the top of your post so that readers can easily understand your main points.
    • We like this example of how to format brief highlights and this example of a longer summary.
    • Summaries become more useful the longer your post is, and aren’t very important for posts that can be read within a few minutes.
  • Emphasizing any action items to increase the chance that your post has the intended impact.
    • For example, if you want people to take a survey, link it at the beginning of your post in addition to the end.

What we don't worry about

  • Polish: We'd rather see an idea presented imperfectly than not see it at all.
    • If a post is especially rough, brief, or exploratory, consider making it a Shortform post.
    • You can help people understand how you feel about an idea by using an "epistemic status" — that is, noting how certain/serious you are at the beginning. See Gwern's confidence tags for an example of this.

What we discourage (and may delete)

  • Unnecessary rudeness or offensiveness
  • Materials advocating major harm or illegal activities
  • Spam
  • Other behavior that interferes with good discourse

Other pointers:

  • When you disagree with someone, approach it with curiosity: try to work out why they think what they think, and what you can learn from each other.
  • When you criticize someone's point, consider doing so supportively.
  • Keep an eye out for ways you might be biased --- ideologies, people, or causes that you're particularly attached to.
  • Try to focus on important questions, and the important parts of important questions to keep content useful and to the point.
  • You can flag material that you think is inappropriate for the site, and the moderators will take a look.

Why you — yes, you — should post on the Forum

Many new Forum users, and even longtime readers, report feeling nervous about publishing a post or writing a comment. The EA community has a lot of sharp writers and thinkers, and it can be daunting to submit your work alongside theirs.

In our experience, most people overestimate how strict the Forum is. A wide range of ideas could be the basis for a good post. And as we noted above, unpolished ideas are welcome!

Want to start small? Consider writing a Shortform post or leaving a comment in our latest Open Thread. You could also start by telling someone you liked their post; friendly comments are always welcome!

For more on how to come up with post ideas and get feedback, check out this talk by Aaron Gertler, the Forum's lead moderator.

Finding content

All posts

Access every post in the Forum's history, with lots of ways to filter and sort.

Frontpage posts

Most posts will appear in this section, which resides on the front page of the Forum (hence the name). Those which don't were either held back by their authors or didn't have a clear link to EA (in the eyes of the moderators).

If you don't want one of your posts to appear on the front page, un-check the box marked "Moderators may promote..." before you publish.

Community posts

Posts that focus on the EA community itself are given a "community" tag. By default, these posts will have a weighting of "-25" on the Forum's front page (see below), appearing only if they have a lot of upvotes. You can change how these posts are displayed by using...

Tag filters

You can choose to weight certain tags on the front page. If you give a tag a positive weighting, posts with that tag will show up more prominently, and vice-versa if you give a negative weighting. You can also totally hide all posts with a given tag.

Personal Blog posts

Posts with no direct relevance to effective altruism are designated as "Personal Blog," and will be hidden from the front page by default. You can remove the hidden-by-default filter as you could any other filter. 

Following users

Love someone's work? Click their username and you'll see the option to "subscribe to this user's posts." You'll then see their new posts in your notification area.

Prizewinning posts

The EA Forum Prize is awarded to posts and comments that exemplify the kind of content we most want to see on the Forum. If you want to see some of the Forum’s best content, this is a good place to start!

Writing content

You can make a new post by clicking on your username in the upper right and selecting “New Post.”

You can use posts to jot quick ideas, to publish polished research, or anything in between.

Posts appear higher up on the front page the newer they are and the more karma they have.

Getting your first post or comment approved

Your first post or comment won't show up right away. As an anti-spam measure, one of the Forum's moderators will check the first post or comment from each new user before automatically approving their future posts and comments.

If more than 24 hours pass and you still don't see your post or comment, please contact Aaron Gertler (aaron@centreforeffectivealtruism.org).

Personal blog posts

By default, your posts will be published to your “personal blog” on your profile page. Other users can follow your page to see notifications when you post.

Link posts

We encourage you to post links to content from other sites. You can do this by selecting the link icon when you go to make a new post. 

When you post links, please either quote or write a summary of the content to get discussion going.

Shortform posts

Do you have an idea that seems so uncertain, or so strange, that you’re not sure whether to post about it? Do you have something to share, but not the time to write about it in detail?

Shortform posts are meant to be used in cases like these — to quote the Shortform homepage, they represent “exploratory, draft-stage, rough, and off-the-cuff thoughts.” They let you shove an idea out into the world with minimal fuss. (If you’re still confused, that homepage has lots of examples.)

If you select “New Shortform” rather than “New Post,” you’ll create a Shortform post that will be visible on your personal Shortform page (and the Shortform homepage), but won’t appear in the main list of posts on the front page of the Forum.

Question posts

You can select "Ask Question" from the main menu to create a "question post." These have a slightly different format which separates answers from discussion about the post. They work for any question, but we hope they'll be especially useful to people who are new to effective altruism and want to learn more.

(It's totally fine to ask basic questions about EA concepts, even if you think they might have simple answers! The Forum is meant to be a resource for the whole community, including people at any level of experience.)

Getting help and feedback on your writing

You can get feedback on drafts you've written, or ideas you’ve had for a post, from Aaron Gertler (the Forum’s lead moderator and CEA’s Content Specialist). 

You can also submit your post to the Effective Altruism Editing and Review group on Facebook to get feedback from more people.

Using the content editor

Choosing an editor

The Forum currently offers three ways to create and format a post. You can select your editor in the menu at the bottom of the “New Post” text box:

  1. EA Forum Docs
    • While this editor is technically in beta, we recommend it.
    • If you don’t see this editor available, go to your User Profile, click “Edit Account,” and select “Opt into experimental features.”
  2. Markdown
    • Allows for more advanced custom formatting than the EA Forum Docs editor (and is, for now, the only way to add linked footnotes to a post).
    • If you don’t see this editor available, go to your User Profile, click “Edit Account,” and select “Activate Markdown Editor.”
  3. Draft-JS
    • This was the Forum’s initial editor. It offers fewer features than the EA Forum Docs editor, and we don’t recommend using it unless you’ve experienced a bug with EA Forum Docs.

Features of the EA Forum Docs editor

  • The editor plays well with GDocs and Word; you should be able to copy a document from either of those editors into a post without trouble.
    • One exception; you’ll need to use Markdown to add footnotes.
    • There are many online Markdown converters available for different “starting points” (Word/GDocs, the Forum). You can convert the rest of your post, then add footnotes at the end.
  • You can highlight text to apply formatting, including three levels of header sizing, a quote block, a code block, or LaTeX for rendering math.
  • Click the “Edit block” button to the left of the text box to add an image, a table, a horizontal line, or a math block.

Adding co-authors to a post

If you want to add one or more co-authors to your post, you’ll need to contact Aaron Gertler (aaron@centreforeffectivealtruism.org). Please send him the URL for your post and the Forum usernames of the co-authors you’d like to add.

Karma

When you vote on posts and comments, you give their authors karma points (or remove points if you downvote). By default, higher-rated posts are more visible. 

For content you think is especially good or bad, you can give a “strong upvote” or “strong downvote” by clicking and holding (or double-tapping on mobile). 

As you get more karma, your votes will begin to award more karma.

You don’t need any karma to post, comment, or vote.

Voting norms

We encourage you to leave constructive feedback about what was helpful or unhelpful about the material you’re voting on:

“That example helped clear things up for me.”

“I didn’t find this relevant.”

“Mass voting” on large portions of a user’s content simply because it belongs to that user is not permitted. Please judge each post or comment on its own merits.

Aside from mass voting, you can vote using any other criteria you choose. If it helps, you could consider these recommendations from a forum which uses the same voting system. Here’s an edited excerpt:

Conversational Flow (normal votes): Use normal votes when you like (or dislike) the effect a comment has on a conversation.

  • “Ah, good point.” (+)
  • “Hmm. This gives me something to think about.” (+)
  • “Thanks for citing your sources!” (+)
  • “I think this contains an error.” (-)
  • “This is technically fine, but annoying to read.” (-)
  • “I don’t think you’re being very charitable.” (-)

Important Content (strong votes): Use strong votes when you think other people should go out of their way to read something (or definitely avoid it).

  • “I learned something new and useful.” (++)
  • “The argumentation or thought process here improved the way I think.” (++)
  • “This contains many factual errors or a lot of bad reasoning.” (--)
  • “This is literally spam.” (--)

Your profile

Consider writing a Forum bio

Your bio lets other users know more about you. To edit it, click your username in the upper right and select “User Profile.” See this post for ideas on writing a bio.

Rules for pseudonymous and multiple accounts

You don’t have to share information about yourself, and it’s fine to make a pseudonymous account if you wish to remain anonymous. However, we don’t permit impersonating other people, voting  multiple times on the same material, or using multiple accounts to express the same opinion multiple times. 

(We also encourage you to use your real name if you don’t strongly prefer anonymity; we think it helps with community bonding if people know who they’re talking to.)

Moderators

The current moderators (as of May 2020) are Aaron Gertler, Julia Wise, Edo Arad, Vaidehi Agarwalla, and JP Addison. The moderation team uses the email address forum-moderation@effectivealtruism.org. Please feel free to contact us with questions or feedback.

Moderators can access:

  • The IP address a post/comment came from
  • The voting history of users
  • The identity of voters on any given post/comment

This information will only be used to identify behavior such as "sockpuppet" accounts and mass downvoting. The moderators will not view or use this information for any other purpose.

Support

If you notice a bug, have a question about using the Forum, or want to offer a suggestion, you can reach our support team using Intercom (the blue chat box on your screen). You can also email the team at forum-support@effectivealtruism.org.

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