TLDR: is there any reason EA community doesn't actively use wiki approach? Or do I miss something and it does?
Searching for "effective altruism wiki" I mostly meet broken links. Several years ago the announcement was posted that wiki moves to EA Hub. None of the three links posted there works, but EA Hub has Priority Wiki. However Priority Wiki is focused only on cause prioritization and is almost empty know. So I'm wondering, what happened to the old EA Wiki? Were there any reasons for closing it? What happened to the knowledge published there? And, more broadly, why creating a common knowledge base is almost (see below) never mentioned as an impactful contribution?(see below)
During the last half year I was talking a lot with people exploring different EA options (like me), and each of them performed some EA-related research and shared some valuable information with me. So I'm surprised why such kind of knowledge isn't gathered together. Even gathering information about all organizations related to some topic is troubling: there are lots of them with different quality and roles. Definitely, 80k does great job collecting it in the problem profiles. But wouldn't it be more efficient (and effective) to outsource this task to the community? Another example: just today I met two old EA lists (1, 2), which would be nice to have updated and open for contribution.
Indeed, I've found that several years ago Vipul Naik was contributing actively to EA-related articles on wikipedia. And according to his page, he switched to timelines, which are mostly focused on EA. Moreover, Foundational Research Institute also proposes contributing to wikipedia as one of the volunteering activities.
But with all my respect to wikipedia, I think that having a local wiki would allow to focus on more action-related topics instead of some general knowledge. And it would greatly simplify searching for such information and increase chances that the content you write will be read by people with similar goals.
Similarly to EdoArad, I am afraid that without some incentive/gamification structure, there would be a lack of motivation for users to edit an EA wiki. I haven’t read any science on motivations but I want to share my personal point of view. Personally, I don’t feel very motivated to edit the priority wiki because:
Note that none of these problems apply to the EA forum which is why it feels much more motivating to write here.
I used to edit Lithuanian Wikipedia and these things didn’t apply there either because:
I’m not sure if I’m suggesting to have any of these motivation structures for an EA wiki though. It would probably not reach the critical mass where doing some of this stuff would start making sense. If it did reach the critical mass, I’d be afraid to put too many of these motivation structures in place. We don’t want EAs are spending too much time editing an EA wiki instead of doing more direct things to help the world. But maybe there is some middle ground here.
It’s probably obvious but I feel like I should clarify here that I’m not saying that I contribute to the EA forum only to get social status, etc. I do want to make an impact. But it’s difficult to motivate myself every day just by the thought that what I do might make an impact. Hence it’s good to put myself in situations where I care to do the same things that make an impact for other reasons. It’s like going to an exercise class because you know that you will be ashamed to not do exercise there when everyone around you is doing it. It’s not like you do exercise to impress those strangers, you do it to get fit, but it’s difficult to motivate yourself by the thought of getting fit alone. ↩︎
I'm wondering if we can address the problem with the same framework as for having better list of concrete projects? Let's say, we have a list of articles suggested for contribution, like this one, but maybe with some additional info on prioritization. A person picks the article the same way as a project and mark it somehow as "Taken" and then "Done". So we can trace their contribution based on this selection process and assign status points correspondingly. So, essentially, "Writing article" is just a possible type of a project, and the rest workflows are the same. Which suggests that we need to think more about project-based contribution. Perhaps it worth referencing Effective Thesis here as a similar initiative.
And having something slack for wikipedia contributors doesn't seem like a problem at all.
Alternative approach could be adopting MediaWiki and integrating it with existing user rating system. I don't know how backend for EA Forum is organized, but something like OpenID could be a relatively painless solution.
I'm curious to hear more about your concerns with just using Wikipedia. I agree that there will be some topics which are outside the scope of Wikipedia, but it seems like many EA-relevant topics are within the scope of Wikipedia, and do not have very well established pages. For example: there is no page on longtermism, cause neutrality, or the INT framework. Even the page on effective altruism itself is pretty short.
My guess is that someone could pretty easily just go through old Forum posts and copy facts into Wikipedia. E.g. the section on invertebrate sentience is two sentences long, and I would bet that a huge chunk of recent Forum posts on invertebrate sentience could be justifiably included in that Wikipedia article.
In general I have a lot of nervousness about trying to re-create an existing successful product (NIH syndrome), and my guess is that Wikipedia will be more considered trustworthy, get more views, and generally be more influential than a local wiki.
There are only two main concerns. The first was explained in details by @saulius, and I share his vision about motivation. Having something local would allow us to design award system in the way relevant for EA community and infrastructure.
The second is different scopes of relevance between local wiki and Wikipedia. Let's say, "List of annual EA events in Europe" would be relevant for EA community, but not for the others. I'd even expect that it could be harmful for the community to have such info on wikipedia. Moreover, searchability of a local wiki is much higher than for the global one. Though I think that this part can be addressed by having properly organized resource list, open for suggestions.
So, maybe it's better to focus on designing some mechanism to motivate people to contribute to the resources and the global wiki instead of creating the local one. Don't know what would be easier, and perhaps the answer depends very much on how EA Hub is going to organize suggestions.
EDIT: After some more considerations understood that I missed one more important point: knowledge distilling. At the moment, to find the latest ideas on some topic you need to go through dozens of the forum and blog posts, pages of individual organizations, facebook groups, slack channels, etc. Reducing time for such "research" would be very helpful. And I have doubts that it can be properly organized through resource lists, as the knowledge is very spread indeed. And again, because this information is relevant only within the community, I don't think wikipedia is the best place for it.
I'm interested in the answer to this question; I was just discussing it when discussing the EA Forum on a team retreat. I'm interested in the creation of reference documents in general. Something I was thinking about very brainstorm-y, no plans to implement in the near term) was to add a type of post to the EA Forum that allowed either direct editing or inline suggestions by not-the-author.
Like a community wiki on stackexchange? Sounds valuable. (I think suggestions should be a default)
What do you mean by that?
Some questions on Stackoverflow or other sites in SE are marked as community wiki. This means that anyone (above a minimum reputation/Karma) can edit the question or the answers, that there is no "main author" anymore, but instead a mix of authors defined by percentage of contribution, no one gets reputation/Karma on anything.
I think that the loss of authorship is important so that anyone would feel comfortable editing the question/answers to make it a better source of up to date knowledge
I've had a chat at the recent EAGx with Chris Watkins about his experience running Appropedia, a wiki devoted to sustainability, and asked him for some advice. Some points that I gathered:
Chris offers to give more specific advice if we start related wiki projects.
.Appropedia has a page on making new successful wikis
Also, I noticed that the post and comments thus far didn't link to the interesting discussion about the PriorityWiki in this post.
I think collectiven intelligence could be a really promising task Y if the basic structure is designed properly. I'd guess the biggest bottleneck here is funding to build the infrastructure.
The differences between meta-contributors and contributors is probably really important to understand, and may have implications for a lot of different volunteer projects - one failure mode could be if meta-contributors setting up a project and then failing to find the right people to contribute (i.e. finding people like themselves who are motivated by social rather than personal factors)
Thanks for the research links, and the summary!
I'm surprised that you think that the bottleneck is in funding, I guess that means that I overestimate the easiness and desirability of using some existing tools.
Interested in your take on it :)
Perhaps that is misleading - let me rephrase - if the solution really requires creating a new infrastructure then I'd say funding would be a bottle neck (not that funds don't exist, but they aren't always easy to get), but getting the right people to build the infrastructure would probably be a bottleneck too.
What existing tools were you thinking of?
I actually did not give that enough thought. I think using MediaWiki or Wikidot might be fine for start, and I am very fond of Roam. Notion might be great here as well. All of them require getting used to because the syntax is not straightforward, but that suffices for textual edits if there are people who go over and fix design problems. Roam is more difficult because it is... different.. and because it is less mature. Roam being in it's starting phases might actually be a good thing, because it's development can probably shift to the needs of the EA community in this case if the EA Wiki will be hosted there (Roam Research received a grant from the Long Term Future Fund)
That is all to say that I think a basic wiki infrastructure might be fine for start, if there is a good roadmap and support from the community. I assume that markets and fancy prizes can wait for later or be hacked into existence, but maybe that should be in the design from the start 🤷♂️
That's very useful, thanks! Pingbacks especially.
Wow, so we even have some theory on that. And motivation from the paper looks aligned with EA values.
Completely agree. And also really appreciate your science-based approach. We definitely should discuss it if more of us agree that some platform for open contributions is needed.
Yep! We also have such list in EA Denmark though ours is much simpler. And indeed, it was one of the things that pushed me to ask this question.
I was thinking a lot about GitHub-like structures. It's too complicated for general knowledge, but designed pretty well for more complex domains. For example, if a group works on something like OpenPhil Cause Reports, where producing each piece of information takes long time, and also work of the beginners must be validated by more experienced users. In such cases system of branches allows splitting publishing-ready information from work in progress, issues allow to contribute for those who isn't skilled enough to create product, but has enough experience to note a problem. And so on. But that's just one of possibilities.
Not sure about that. Different kind of information requires different types of knowledge bases. And here as an example we can take forums, StackOverflow and wikipedia. As far as I understand, if you want to share information about a topic, where some consensus can be found over time and once found is not expected to be changed quickly, then you want wiki. So, someone writes an article with main ideas about the topic and others polish it up (which is kind of impossible on forums). Another situation is if your domain changes too quickly (such as programming languages). Then there is no reason in having overhead for having nicely written articles about every aspect of it. At maximum you'll need to have some blog posts. And the third popular case is asking for personal opinion: it can be either some tips and hacks (StackOverflow has plenty) or just discussion of some ideas like we do know. And this is impossible on wiki.
My impression is that in EA community we lack well-organized up-to-date information, which would represent some kind of consensus instead of a bunch of personal opinions. Your list "how to do the most good" is one example of a thing, which can't be implemented on forum. For such lists, suggestions to EA Hub resources, which @cafelow mentioned would solve the problem. But in general I wouldn't expect them being as effective as wiki.
Hah, if you have problems with incentives, just add some markets! :)
Re Github-like structures, I think that Google Docs can be sufficient for most cases. Instead of branches, you have non-published docs. And using a wiki page instead of issues might be fine.
I agree with your analysis of knowledge bases, thanks for clarifying that! I take back the suggestion of doubling down on the forum mostly because it seems difficult to properly keep the information updated and to have a clear consensus.
Also, I found that I tend to access Wikipedia mostly as a search result, and sometimes go deeper if there are inner links that interest me. This means that we only need the information to be accessible by search, and to be good at referencing further material. This can be possibly implemented adequately on the forum (but requires better search, better norm for writing information, and a better norm of referencing to other materials, perhaps in the comments).
And this is an interesting experiment in a mechanism designed to improve incentives for collective knowledge production.
(accidentally commented twice)
Re: The old wiki on the EA Hub, I'm afraid the old wiki data got corrupted, it wasn't backed up properly and it was deemed too difficult to restore at the time :(. So it looks like the information in that wiki is now lost to the winds. I'm very sorry about that.
This may or may not fulfil your needs (and isn't _quite_ a wiki), but the EA Hub resources (resources.eahub.org), is a repository for EA links, and we hope to grow the number of resources available. We will soon have a way for people to make suggestions for changes and additions. which will be vetted before loading onto the website.
I think a dump of the wiki is available at https://archive.org/details/wiki-wikieahuborg_w.
Unfortunately, no. The archive there contains only the html with the main page and some logos...
wikieahuborg_w-20180412-history.xmlcontains the dump, which can be imported to a MediaWiki instance.
Hi, as the person who personally generated the wiki dump, I can assure you that the complete content of every edit revision of every article was saved, and the data is saved in an XML format that can be trivially imported into MediaWiki. Additionally, I grabbed it after site activity had already died down, but before the wiki got taken over by spambots, so the dump should be in pretty much perfect condition.
Oh, sorry, didn't figure it out. Thanks for clarification!
Do you by chance know why the old wiki died?
Do you know approximately how many monthly visitors the old wiki had?
Thanks for the answer!
Woh, that's sad. Some thing for us to keep in mind for the future...
Indeed, suggestions would solve many problems! Still, the question is how to make it appealing for contribution. I really like button "Edit" on wikipedia, as it doesn't imply complex underlying revision processes and gives me around as much power as I want...
Can you please share your vision on the optimal knowledge management within EA? @EdoArad provided quite some ideas on how it could be organized, and among other I agree with the vision that if anywhere, the new knowledge base should be kept under EA Hub domain. So if you think it worth discussing, I'd be happy to engage.