I know lots of people who want to write for the Forum, but who struggle to actually get their posts written. I think this is bad - it means that we miss out on useful knowledge and insight, and that Forum posts are skewed towards users who:
- are more self-confident
- have less impostor syndrome
- have more spare time
- feel more comfortable with writing
Below, I share some anecdotes I’ve heard from acquaintances and people on EA Twitter about why they don’t post on the Forum. Then, I make some brief suggestions for things you can do if this post resonates.
So why don’t people post?
All of the stories below are real examples, but with the names and some other details changed for anonymity. Some of these stories come from private conversations; others from Twitter. I also know other specific examples I haven’t described in this post.
I want to zoom out and see the big picture, before diving into examples. Aaron Bergman was kind enough to make this plot of unique authors over time (the big jump is likely due to all the competitions recently). Ideally, I would have liked to talk about Forum stats like the proportion of lurkers to commentors and posters, since the increase in authorship is correlated with a jump in overall activity, but that data was not available.
I think the positive trend could be exciting, but there has also been some discussion about quality of Forum posts dropping recently. Many of the people I write about had ideas that I think would add meaningful ideas to the current discourse, and don't seem to have changed their minds on this in the last few months.
They don’t have time
Many people want to post, but struggle to find the time to write their ideas. Often, these are busy domain experts with valuable ideas and knowledge to share. For example, an acquaintance in the alt-protein industry told me that lots of useful information is not public, because the work on it is happening in the private sector. However, they didn’t have time to write about this themself.
Even if someone does (eventually) post their ideas, delays can be costly. A grantmaker I know wanted to write about the risks of megaprojects. They worried that megaprojects could turn out to be an EA talent sink, drawing people away from more resource-effective (if smaller) projects; but they didn’t have time to write about this. If people are convinced, they might fund or take on fewer megaprojects and avoid the possible harms.
I think that it’s especially important to make it easier for time-poor people to post on the Forum. I’ve had many incredibly informative conversations with experts like this; it’s a shame that their knowledge is not more widely available.
They don’t think they can meet the Forum’s high standards
Some people worry that because standards on the Forum are so high (rightly), they don’t have much to contribute. A Twitter user writes: ‘given the opportunity cost of time and the frequency of high-quality posts on the forum, it seems possibly net negative to post anything that dilutes the quality’. Others say similar things: one felt that ‘the bar is so high for quality and finality’; another believes they’d have to ‘clear a very high bar’.
They feel initimidated, nervous or scared about how their posts will be received (if at all)
Lots of people feel intimidated about posting on the Forum. An acquaintance in the finance industry wanted to make the case for exploring the potential to nudge ESG  criteria to be more EA-aligned, since it influences trillions of dollars of investments. Conversations with friends discouraged them; they felt like they ‘had to write a whole scientific thesis just to not be torn apart.’ (This person was also time poor). Others worry about the opposite - one Twitter user was ‘scared that [they’d] spend a lot of time + effort writing something only for it to get ignored’.
Some people are concerned about how their posts will be received (including me!). A longtermist field builder I know wanted to write about the pitfalls of scaling too fast. They told me they were perfectionist about posting, because they were concerned their posts wouldn't come off the way they intended and convey what they wanted to say, and will be badly received. (This person was also not the strongest writer).
They aren’t strong writers
I spoke to some people who have technical backgrounds that didn’t involve a lot of writing, so writing long posts is outside of their comfort zone. This can be even worse if English is not your first language: even fluent English speakers might not be entirely at-ease with written academic English.
They haven’t thought to write their ideas down
At a recent EA event, I spoke to a person who works in fusion. This person knew the landscape well: the most promising actors, bottlenecks the industry faces, which ones could be addressed by philanthropy, and had thought about specific talent bottlenecks if fusion were to succeed. But he’d never written his ideas down - not on the Forum, but not anywhere else either.
This person was less engaged with the EA community (although they’d been around the movement for years) than most of the people I’ve used as examples in this post. Highly-engaged EAs are usually at least aware that ‘writing a post’ is something that could be impactful (even if they in fact don’t post). But there are many people peripheral to EA whose thoughts would be relevant and interesting to EAs.
Counterexamples: good posters who don’t struggle to post
Some experienced EAs feel comfortable posting often because they’ve always done it. The founder of an EA organization told me that they had always posted on the Forum - even in the early days when few people were reading it - and they’ve just continued to post as the Forum has grown.
Others are comfortable posting because it never occurred to them to be intimidated. When Angela was new to EA, she wrote a well-received post about a geographic diversity. She said that at the time, she didn’t realise that posting on the Forum was a big deal, so she just went ahead and did it.
Ways to overcome these barriers (from easiest to hardest)
Talk to people about your ideas
Talking to people about your ideas (repeatedly) can help them grow from small inchoate notions to fully-formed opinions. I’ve found EA conferences and retreats to be a great place for this - the availability bias in job hunting and what comes after intro fellowships came out of 1-1s at EAGxBoston.
Ask someone for help
You can post early drafts in the EA Editing and Review Facebook group, or share a Google doc with your friends.
Write a Shortform or Question
These are typically more casual and exploratory than full-length posts; if you’re unsure about whether an idea is ready or good enough, consider posting it as a Shortform or a question. This can be particularly useful if you put off posting ideas because you feel like they have to be fully researched and justified.
Remember that you don’t have to respond to every comment
Posting doesn’t have to be a whole thing; you can just post something and never look at it again.
Hire someone to help
I wrote this post with Amber’s help: I talked about my ideas over a call, she wrote a draft, and we edited the draft together. I think this post would have taken a lot longer to publish without her help. (If you’d like to work with Amber, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org, or message her on the Forum).
Post your ideas somewhere else
In my ideal world, everyone would be comfortable posting on the Forum, and it makes me sad that this isn’t the case. But I’d rather ideas be shared in different places than never be shared at all. Instead of posting on the Forum, you could
- post on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media spaces.
- write a minimum viable blog
Personally, I like sharing thoughts on Twitter when they still feel half-baked and new and not quite ready for the Forum yet.
(Aslo: I don't want to suggest a passive activity when I'm suggesting doing but Write on the Forum is a good resource!)
What could the Forum team do?
Note: we asked the Forum team to review this post, and they let us know they’re planning to make subforums to combat the high standards issue
- Make Shortforms more prominent
- Continue encouraging people to post (which they already do)
- Potentially, community posts could make it easier for people to contribute to the creation of shared knowledge without writing an entire post
- Brainstorm ways to get knowledgeable non-EA-identifying people to post
Do you intend to post on the Forum but struggle to actually do it? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.
Thanks to Aaron Bergman for graphs and the Forum team for giving some thoughts and feedback.
Why I wrote this post
Given the tendency for the Forum to be filled with meta, I want to encourage people to think about posting meta comments. Here's a brief justification for writing this post:
- i think posting on the forum is valuable for both the movement and individuals, and if someone is struggling to share their thoughts, it could be helpful to know that that this is common. in the best (but most unliekly) instance, i hope this post could encourage someone to post, in a more realistic world it might be one of many factors
- sharing concrete experiences can make problems more understandable and hopefully more tractable
- since the Forum team has grown a lot in the past year, I feel like they'll be better able to take on more feedback and inputs. hope that people share their own experiences in the comments of this post, and that this might help make the problem more salient and encourage them to do more to experiment in making the forum accessible to folks.
Environmental, Social and Governance
I’ve currently been assigned to send them angry texts if they don’t post a new post about branding in the next few days. Hopefully, me writing about them Forum post might encourage them somewhat - but I think this emotional aspect is really really hard to shake off.