Is EA Growing? EA Growth Metrics for 2018

by Peter_Hurford 5mo2nd Jun 201939 comments

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Is EA growing? Rather than speculating from anecdotes, I decided to collect some data. This is a continuation of the analysis started last year. For each trend, I collected the raw data and also highlighted in green where the highest point was reached (though this may be different from the period with the largest growth depending on which derivative you are looking at). You can download the raw data behind these tables here.







Implications

This year, I decided to separate growth stats into a few different categories, looking at how growth changes when we talk about people learning about EA through reading; increasing their commitment through joining a newsletter, joining a Facebook group, joining the EA Forum, or subscribing to a podcast; increasing engagement by committing -- self-identifying as EA on the EA Survey and/or taking a pledge; and having an impact by doing something, like donating or changing their careers[33].

When looking at this, it appears that there has been a decline of people searching and looking for EA (at least in the ways we track), with the exception of 80,000 Hours pageviews and EA Reddit page subscriptions which continued to grow but at a much lower pace. When we look at the rate of change, we can see a fairly clear decline across all metrics:

We can also see that when it comes to driving initial EA readership and engagement, 80,000 Hours is very clearly leading the pack while other sources of learning about EA are declining a bit:

In fact, the two sources of learning about EA that seem to best represent natural search -- Google interest and Wikipedia pageviews -- appear somewhat correlated and are now both declining together.

However, there are more people consuming EA in closer ways (what I termed “joining”) -- while growth rate in the EA Newsletter and 80K Newsletter has slowed down, the EA FB is more active, the EA Reddit and total engagement from 80K continues to grow, and new avenues like Vox's Future Perfect and 80K's podcast have opened up. However, this view of growth can change depending on which derivative you look at. Looking at the next derivative makes clear that there was a large explosion of interest in 2017 in the EA Reddit and the EA Newsletter that wasn’t repeated in 2018:

Additionally, Founder's Pledge continues to grow and OFTW has had explosive growth, though GWWC has stalled out a bit. The EA Survey has also recovered from a sluggish 2017 to break records in 2018. Looking at the rate of change shows Founder's Pledge clearly increasing, GWWC decreasing, and OFTW’s having fairly rapid growth in 2018 after a slowdown in 2017.


Lastly, the part we care about most seems to be doing the strongest -- while tracking the actual impact of the EA movement is really hard and very sensitive to outliers, nearly every doing/impact metric we do track was at its strongest in either 2017 or 2018, with only GiveWell and 80K seeing a slight decline in 2018 relative to 2017. However, looking at the actual rate of change shows a bleaker picture that we may be approaching a plateau.


Conclusion

Like last year, it still remains a bit difficult to infer broad trends given that a decline for one year might be the start of a true plateau or decline (as appears to be the case for GWWC) or may just be a one-time blip prior to a bounce back (as appears to be the case for the EA Survey[34]).

Overall, the decline in people first discovering EA (reading) and the growth of donations / career changes (doing) makes sense, as it is likely the result of the intentional effort across several groups and individuals in EA over the past few years to focus on high-fidelity messaging and growing the impact of pre-existing EAs and deliberate decisions to stop mass marketing, Facebook advertising, etc. The hope is that while this may bring in fewer total people, the people it does bring in will be much higher quality on average. Based on this, while EA is maybe not growing as fast as it could if we optimized for short-run growth, I’d provisionally conclude that EA is growing in exactly the one would expect and intend for it to do so. Additionally, clear growth in pledges and money raised from Founders Pledge, Effective Giving, and One For The World show a potentially new promising path for future growth that could lead to many more donations in the future.

However, I don’t think we should take this at face value to assume the EA movement is safe from decline -- if fewer people are initially discovering EA, this could lead to much slower or reduced growth in impact a few years down the line as fewer people are growing the overall pie of EAs who can be counted on to have an impact in later years. Indeed, looking at the rate of change in these metrics shows a bleaker picture, with EA having gone through a critical acceleration period that has now mostly ended, potentially bringing about a future plateau in some of these statistics.

We’ll continue to monitor and see if these trends hold up in future years or if there emerge causes for concern. Also please feel free to mention other metrics we should consider adding for next year[35].


Corrections

3 June 2019 - Founders Pledge information was originally given in thousands when it should be in millions. Additionally, totals given were slightly off (especially for 2015) and have now been corrected. This has now been corrected in the table, graphs, and downloadable CSV. This made the rate of change for Founders Pledge to be clearly positive and as such I added a bit of optimism to the conclusion. Additionally, I amended F18 to attribute Callum for new data and explain lumpiness in the estimations.

3 June 2019 - FN13 specifying the EA Newsletter was updated with info from Aaron's comment. I also updated the conclusion slightly to explicitly mention discontinuing advertising campaigns as a deliberate reason for lower growth.

4 June 2019 - The highlighting for GiveWell's monthly unique visitors (excluding adwords) incorrectly identified 2016 as the year with the most visitors. That has been corrected to show 2015 as the year with the most visitors. (The underlying data was not wrong, just the highlighting.)

4 June 2019 - Corrected stats for the 80,000 Hours podcast using new data from Rob.

12 July 2019 - Fixed a typo in FN35 and FN34.


Endnotes

[1]: See Google Trends data. These numbers are not search volumes -- they’re the mean relative “score” for that year, relative to the search volume for the highest day between January 2004 and the end of December 2018. Each volume number is the number as of the last day of December of the reported year.

[2]: See WikipediaViews.org data. These are desktop pageviews for the “Effective altruism” Wikipedia article. See some more wiki data here and here.

[3]: From 80K stats collected here with modifications from Rob's comment. Note that the 80,000 Hours podcast didn't start until halfway through 2017.

[4]: Data from 2016 and earlier was collected by Vipul Naik. Data for 2017 and after is available but I am told that it would take too long to collect, so in the interest of publishing this post in a remotely timely manner, I will save collecting this data to next year.

[5] Vipul’s data only has data starting mid-September 2014, so it seems most accurate to not count this year.

[6]: These data come from the moderator panel for the Reddit. I was able to collect these data as I am a moderator. This panel is unfortunately not accessible to non-moderators. It also unfortunately only goes back one year at a time.

[7]: Due to the limitations of the Reddit moderator panel only going back one year at a time, I have to use old data that is of the time range September 2016 to August 2017 as the estimate for 2017.

[8]: These data is only slightly off - it actually represents Jan 5, 2018 to Jan 4, 2019.

[9]: These data comes from asking Jon Behar.

[10]: From GiveWell’s metrics spreadsheet.

[11]: These data comes from asking Kelsey Piper, Vox Future Perfect staff writer.

[12]: Both r/EffectiveAltruism and r/smartgiving have been simultaneous EA subreddits since September 2012. r/smartgiving was the default EA subreddit until an intentional migration on 28 Feb 2016. I will use r/smartgiving numbers for the 2014-2015 period and r/effectivealtruism numbers for all periods after that, to reflect the transition. Note that this growth will therefore involve some inherent double-counting as people who were subscribed on r/smartgiving re-subscribe on r/effectivealtruism. Pageviews for reddit were calculated via http://redditmetrics.com/.

[13]: Data after 2016 comes from asking Aaron Gertler and is more reliable. Data from before 2016 comes from accessing archived data from Rethink Charity that is much more approximate. It should be noted that heavy growth in 2017 came from a heavy Facebook advertising campaign that was not continued into 2018.

[14]: As I’m a moderator of the EA Facebook group, I was able to collect these data from the moderator panel that comes with Facebook. This panel is unfortunately not accessible to non-moderators. Unfortunately, I only have data going back to July 2017, where there were 8629 active users. At the end of 2018, there were 9104 active users.

[15]: Data was only available going back to July 2017, so I fudge here by just doubling the number.

[16]: These data come from asking Julia Wise.

[17]: These data comes from Steve Hindi. Note that these data are for school years (thus the “2014” period here represents July 2013 to Jun 2014, etc.).

[18] These data come from asking Marie Paglinghi and Callum Calvert. Note that pledge totals may be a bit jumpy as they can be sensitive to small changes in larger donors.

[19]: Represents the total 2014 donations, as recorded in the 2015 EA Survey.

[20]: Both 2015 and 2016 donations were recorded as of the 2017 EA Survey (as no EA Survey was run in 2016). This means that 2015 donations could be artificially low due to survivorship bias, if some donors didn’t fill out the EA survey two years later. (Not to mention the fact that there are likely many donors who don’t fill out the EA survey even one month later.)

[21]: These data will be recorded in the forthcoming 2019 EA Survey.

[22]: From GiveWell's 2015 metrics report

[23]: From GiveWell’s 2016 metrics report

[24]: From GiveWell’s 2017 metrics report

[25]: From GiveWell’s 2014 Top Charity Report

[26]: $44.4M for top charities (see GiveWell 2015 Top Charity Report) plus a special $25M donation to scaling GiveDirectly.

[27]: From GiveWell’s 2016 Top Charity Report

[28]: This data collected via Vipul Naik. Data is preliminary and has not been completely vetted and normalized. Money from the Open Philanthropy Project is counted for the year in which the grant is announced, which may be different from the year the grant is decided or the year the grant money is actually dispersed. Note that this might make 2018 artificially lower, as some 2018 grants may not yet be announced (or may have been announced but not recorded) as of the time of this writing.

[29]: Note that, according to Julia, 2017 was the last year when a staff member sent repeated emails to people reminding them to record their donations and Julia suspects the lower number in 2018 is a result of that. Julia notes that in Spring 2019, they will resume recontacting people, so they will see if this increases reported 2018 donations.

[30]: From https://animalcharityevaluators.org/about/impact/giving-metrics/

[31]: From https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds

[32]: This value is not finalized yet.

[33]: Note that this is separation mainly for illustrative purposes. While it may be tempting to arrange this into some sort of EA funnel, it is not quite that as we don’t have any evidence to back up this categorization. In fact, reading the EA Forum may actually signify fairly deep engagement despite being reading, whereas being in the EA Survey panel is seen as committing but could just be a person who reads the EA Newsletter. Getting better metrics on EA engagement as well as putting more effort into figuring out what the EA Funnel may actually empirically consist of is an ongoing project of the EA Survey.

[34]: However, it appears that the large growth in 2018 EA Survey takers was primarily driven by more people taking the EA Survey from the EA Newsletter, where the EA Survey was placed a lot more prominently (receiving a dedicated email) than in prior years and where the EA Newsletter itself had just undergone large growth the year before (between the 2017 and 2018 EA Surveys). This would suggest that the EA Survey growth might stagnate or decline in the future as sources of people finding out about the EA Survey also stagnate.

[35]: We’re considering adding data around growth at pledges secured by Effective Giving, total pledge counts (not money) from Founders Pledge, total OpenPhil grants (amount + number of grants, and to more than just GiveWell), growth at the EA Hub, growth in traffic at effectivealtruism.org, sales of various EA books (e.g., Doing Good Better), metrics for the EA Forum (such as page views, total accounts, active users, total posts, total comments, total upvotes), and metrics around local groups.


Credits

This essay is a project of Rethink Priorities. It was written by Peter Hurford with graphs by Neil Dullaghan. Thanks to David Moss, Neil Dullaghan, Michael Trzesimiech, and Marcus A. Davis for comments. Thanks to Michael Trzesimiech for compiling the table into a downloadable CSV. Also, additional thanks to everyone who helped provide the underlying data collected for this post. If you like our work, please consider subscribing to our newsletter. You can see all our work to date here.

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