Tl;dr: I created an example discussion space on Kialo for claims/ideas about EA community building, with the idea being that community builders could share ideas and arguments via such structured discussion platforms. This could include monthly "epistemic jam sessions." Does this seem like something that could be valuable? Are there better alternatives?
While reading this post early last month I wondered: would it be helpful if there were some kind of virtual space for sharing claims and ideas about community organizing in a structured way—as well as arguments for/against those claims and ideas?
This could include claims or recommendations such as:
- “University organizers should be prepared to directly appeal to existential/catastrophic risk reduction before trying to push longtermism or even EA (as opposed to following the more-traditional pitch/pathway of ‘EA => longtermism => existential risk reduction’)”
- “University organizers should prioritize running fellowships that require applications over open-to-anyone reading groups and other ad-hoc events.”
- “Intro groups/fellowships at universities should not have "required readings"”
Toy example on Kialo
I went ahead and created a toy example of what such a structured discussion could look like on Kialo, with some example claims and a few arguments for/against those claims (although nothing in as much depth as I would expect); I’d be very interested to get people’s initial impressions.
Briefly: why I like structured discussion (e.g., Kialo)
In short, my support for platforms/methods such as Kialo is largely driven by how I believe they do a better job of aggregating, summarizing, and organizing claims and arguments from a group of people compared to e.g., comment sections with their messier linear nesting system and lack of emphasis on “one block/thread = one claim/argument” (or similar forms of concept itemization).
Thus, I suspect that structured discussions would make it (1) easier for readers to discover relevant ideas/considerations and (2) easier for observers to contribute (in part because of the benefits from (1) but also because it is easier or more acceptable to make one-off contributions to a specific portion of the debate).
It is also possible provide a sense of community/crowd evaluation and argument importance through voting (similar to karma systems but with more granularity since you can see the distribution of 0–4 ratings rather than just the summary statistic), but voting on Kialo can be turned off or restricted to certain participants if people deemed it to be unhelpful.
Optionally: “Epistemic jam sessions”?
Building on this idea, I also wondered if it might be good to designate some 1–3 day period each month as a focal/Schelling point for community organizer participation. This could also come with some non-binding/optional goals laid out in advance (e.g., “multiple organizers have sought to get a better sense of how to improve outreach/success at lower-prestige universities,” “the head organizers at X and Y universities want to hear about others’ experiences/advice regarding outreach to STEM groups”), although this would not be necessary. Perhaps you could call these “epistemic jam sessions”—although I’m totally open to accepting better name ideas. Regardless, these discussions would presumably be open to contributions at any time, it’s just that certain days in a month and/or topics could be emphasized to improve coordination.
“Wouldn’t this require moderators”?
The short answer is “I would recommend having moderators, but this shouldn’t be a serious constraint”: beyond obvious spam/trolling moderation, moderators on Kialo play an important role in organizing arguments (e.g., grouping similar arguments), removing or merging duplicative arguments, cross-linking arguments where applicable, flagging claims that need clarification or support/sources, etc.
Once people become familiar with Kialo the amount of moderation and structure requirements should decrease on a per-participant basis, but there will still tend to be new people and opportunities for optimization. In fact, one of the additional strengths (in my view) of Kialo is the partial division of labor between “people who know a lot about the subject” and “moderators who know how to organize/structure contributions (and remove duplicates).” (Consider for comparison the funded contest for AI safety argument “distillation”)
Ultimately, I would have to think more deeply to give an estimate I’m more comfortable with, but in broad terms, I definitely don’t expect that moderation constraints would be a major issue. I would happily spend at least 5–10 hours a week moderating if I thought such work was valuable, and depending on the quantity and quality of the crowd contributions, 3–15 hours of moderation per week should be sufficient.
Ultimately, platforms/formats such as Kialo tend to strike me as a potential way of meaningfully improving discussions between groups of people relative to traditional formats such as forum posts and their comment sections. Additionally, there seems to be some decent agreement that community building is really important (especially now while EA faces talent constraints in areas such as AI safety). Thus, I’d love to hear your thoughts:
- Is there actually a problem that needs solving when it comes to improving idea sharing and discussion among community organizers?
- What tools/approaches are already being used to engage in such discussions? (Is it primarily just informal media like the EA Forum, Slack channels, and direct conversations?)
- Does something like Kialo seem like it would be effective for improving idea sharing and discussion among community organizers?
- Do you have any recommendations for alternative platforms or methods (i.e., that are not currently in use, aside from Kialo)?
- Does something like this valuable for discussions outside of community organizing (e.g., AI safety/governance debates)?
Caveat: this would be subject to change depending on my combined employment and academic enrollment status, which currently is well below full-time equivalent. I would probably still happily contribute at least 5 hours if my status changed to full-time equivalent, provided that I viewed my contributions as helpful.
In hindsight, I think that a substantial portion of my time and frustration in moderating on Kialo in college was from a few disruptive trolls/conspiratorialists, perhaps even following something like a power law or 80-20 distribution (% of time spent on % of participants). Crucially, I think that the EA community will probably have far fewer of these people.
I do strongly recommend, however, that the moderation is done via multiple people, so that there is some diversity of thought and the ability to get second or third opinions on some decisions. For example, there could be 2 head moderators who each spend ~3 hours per week moderating, and ~3 assistant moderators that each spend 1–2 hours per week moderating.