Ideas for Future Effective Altruism Conferences: Open Thread

by Ozzie Gooen13th Aug 201683 comments

2

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First, I wanted to thank all of the Effective Altruism Global organizers and participants.  I found it to be very valuable and overall well put together.  There was obviously a ton of work put into it, most by conference organizers who I don't believe will get that much credit for it, and I very much commend their work.

That said, there's always a lot of room for new ideas, and I find I often get a bunch of ideas at and after these conferences.  Because of the EAGx events, ideas described now may be able to be put into action somewhat soon and experimented with.

As may be expected, I recommend that people make all of their ideas be independent comments, then upvote the ideas that they think would be the most useful.

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Honesty, because community norms

The conference itself was incredible, specifically the best weekend I can remember. Dishonest elements in the marketing beforehand seemed destructive to long-term coordination. Less important short-term effects included

  • I switched from 'trust everyone at CEA except...' to 'distrust everyone at CEA except...', which is a wasteful position to have to take

  • dodgy emails convinced approximately -1 of the 12 people I nominated to attend, and now some of my friends who were interested in EA associate it with deception

I believe we should be truly honest when feasible, but at the very least we should not lie outside of extreme circumstances.

[Clarification: I still think it's correct to assign higher default credence to the claims of CEA staff than those of most people, just not the extremely high credence I would like to use. I used the term 'distrust' in an idiosyncratic fashion, which was dumb, and I apologise for not picking this up earlier. 'Be sceptical' would have been more appropriate.]

3Ben Pace5yI'm surprised, I never saw anything like dishonesty. I'm interested to hear a concrete example?

Hi Benito, Howie -- sure, some highlights I'd recommend all EAs avoid in the future:

  • Sending emails 'from' other people. Friends I recommended received emails with 'from' name 'Kit Surname via EAG'. Given that I did not create the content of these emails, this seemed somewhat creepy, and harmed outreach.

  • Untruths, e.g. fake deadlines, 'we trust Kit's judgement', 'I was looking through our attendee database', etc. (My vanity fooled me for a solid few seconds, by the way!)

I can believe that whoever designed the strategy believed this the right thing to do, because the second bullet point are standard marketing tricks. However, the willingness to say things which are not true is evidence for... a willingness to say things which are not true. That's annoying for anyone who wants to collaborate.

One counter-consideration: perhaps many donors and collaborators have a much better feel for the lines which people will or won't cross, hence would still assume complete trustworthiness on bigger issues. Conversely, people less familiar than myself might assume this behavour pervades EA.

4Kerry_Vaughan5yHey Kit. I was in charge of marketing for EAG this year so I can explain what we did and why. I'm very sorry you felt like we were being deceptive. On my end, there's a difficult line to walk between using the copy that best accomplishes our goals and using copy that is maximally clear. Feedback on whether we've made the right calls will be helpful for better calibration in the future. For some context here, when a person is nominated we put them into an automated Mailchimp flow. If the person applied or clicked a link in an email they were removed from the automation. If they did neither of these we sent them 3 emails asking them to apply. The email you're referring to was the last of three emails. Julia and I actually thought quite a bit about the message and concluded that it wasn't deceptive for a few reasons: 1) The from line included "via EAG" 2) the email address the message came from was "hello@eaglobal.org [hello@eaglobal.org] ." 3) The email itself seems to be clearly from us and not the nominator. For example, the first paragraph is "If you want to use the nomination [fname] [lname] gave you for Effective altruism Global 2016 you need to do it by the end of today." 4) The email copy contains an unsubscribe link. 5) The email copy contains CEA's name and address. I'm interested in whether you think it's deceptive given this information. Over the course of marketing EAG we found that deadlines were effective in getting people to apply for EA Global. Yet, it's also very important for us that a large percentage of people apply before we have to do things like order shirts, send the headcount to the caterer, etc. To try to get some of the power of deadlines without encouraging a ton of last-minute applications, we set rolling application review deadlines. For most applications, we promised a two-week turnaround to hear back. The rolling application deadlines were dates where we promised a faster turnaround time if you applied by a particular date. After
3Kerry_Vaughan5yedit: I accidentally retracted this without meaning to. The comment has been reposted below. Hey Kit. I was in charge of marketing for EAG this year so I can explain what we did and why. I'm very sorry you felt like we were being deceptive. On my end, there's a difficult line to walk between using the copy that best accomplishes our goals and using copy that is maximally clear. Feedback on whether we've made the right calls will be helpful for better calibration in the future. For some context here, when a person is nominated we put them into an automated Mailchimp flow. If the person applied or clicked a link in an email they were removed from the automation. If they did neither of these we sent them 3 emails asking them to apply. The email you're referring to was the last of three emails. Julia and I actually thought quite a bit about the message and concluded that it wasn't deceptive for a few reasons: 1) The from line included "via EAG" 2) the email address the message came from was "hello@eaglobal.org [hello@eaglobal.org] ." 3) The email itself seems to be clearly from us and not the nominator. For example, the first paragraph is "If you want to use the nomination [fname] [lname] gave you for Effective altruism Global 2016 you need to do it by the end of today." 4) The email copy contains an unsubscribe link. 5) The email copy contains CEA's name and address. I'm interested in whether you think it's deceptive given this information. Over the course of marketing EAG we found that deadlines were effective in getting people to apply for EA Global. Yet, it's also very important for us that a large percentage of people apply before we have to do things like order shirts, send the headcount to the caterer, etc. To try to get some of the power of deadlines without encouraging a ton of last-minute applications, we set rolling application review deadlines. For most applications, we promised a two-week turnaround to hear back. The rolling application deadlines were

Hi Kerry! Congratulations again for the exceptional conference, and thanks for adding detail.

Updates I've made:

  • while in my tiny sample of 13 the emails with 'from' names like 'Kit Surname via EAG' worked out badly, it looks like you produced the most reasonable emails of that form possible without the benefit of hindsight. In answer to your question, I call this dishonest primarily because it gives the appearance of endorsement of content which I do not endorse. I would still not do this.

  • the deadlines at first appeared to be mainly to generate haste, but some or all had operational function. My blanket terming 'fake deadlines' was therefore wrong.

  • aside from 'we trust Kit's judgement', I see that most/all other statements made in the campaign were true in a technical sense. However, I maintain that this is insufficient. 'I was looking through our attendee database' is a great example, precisely because the whole message implies specificity to the recipient, while it appears that the looking could have been replaced by a single filter for people who hadn't bought tickets. Likewise for 'ideal participant'. At the very least, I'd bin these along with the "you're a cool perso

... (read more)
9HowieL5yReally appreciate the response here, Kerry. Adding some extra feedback for calibration. Apologies in advance that I'm realizing I'm struggling to balance the strength of my opinion with my knowledge that this was well-intended. Just to be clear, my views only here, not my employer's. I didn't end up nominating anybody because I'd rather reach out to people myself. The "via EAG" thing makes me really relieved that I made this choice and will prevent me from nominating people in the future. I'm actually a bit surprised at the strength of my reaction but this would've felt like a major violation to me. I really dislike the idea of feeling accountable for words that I didn't endorse. Just for example, I could plausibly have invited work contacts who I'm not super close with and whom I would be very sensitive to being perceived as spamming. After your explanation the practice still does seem (very) deceptive to me. At the very least, I'd expect a lot of people to click on the email because they think it's coming from me and then to realize that it came from someone else. If I received this email, I'm sure I'd eventually figure out it wasn't from the person in the "from" line but I'd be confused for a bit and might assume that they approved it even if they didn't write it. Moreover, if I wanted to not only nominate someone but also send them an email advising them to attend, I could easily do so. Some people may even have done that so their nominees would have felt like they received multiple unsolicited pings from the same person. I know it would have a lower yield but I feel like EAG should have emailed [Firstname at Lastname] and asked them to ping their nominee instead of spoofing their identity in the "from" line and taking this decision out of their hands. I'd acknowledge that most of the other practices on this thread seem like basically standard marketing techniques. They seem off-putting according to my personal taste and I'd guess they're counter-productive
6Gregory_Lewis5y[Edited for some corrections and conciseness.] I was unfortunately unable to go to EAG this year due to work commitments. By all accounts I missed out - additionally, I had less exposure to the EAG marketing than others - I mostly ignored the promotional material as I knew I was unavailable. I confess I find these practices pretty shady, and I am unpleasantly surprised that EAG made what I view to be a fairly large error of judgement on appropriate marketing tactics. (I am pleasantly unsurprised in the straightforward and open manner with which this criticism has been received). On the issues raised by Kit above. If I recommended (e.g.) Kit to EAG and he doesn't reply a couple of times, he gets an email 'from Greg via EAG', despite: 1) I'm not sending it, 2) none of the content is written by me, 3) I'm not asked whether I consent to this message being sent 'on my behalf', and 4) I'm not told it happens unless the recipient gets back to me. Although uncharitable, this looks like ventriloquism or arrogation - and such an impression may well occur in cases where do not read the body of the message. Perhaps the most accurate account is: 'Greg's social tie with Kit is leveraged (without Greg's knowledge and consent) in a misleading subject line to get Kit to click on the last ditch sales pitch', which I think should be avoided. Especially given in this case Kit is receiving emails he did not solicit on Greg's say so. I might think Kit might value knowing about the opportunity, but I might also have a sufficiently high view of his powers of judgement that he can decide after the first email whether he's interested or not. When he gets a third such email, ostensibly with my approbation and/or involvement, he might start feeling irritation towards me. If I really want Kit to attend EAG so much I'd send him multiple emails, I can send these myself; if instead I think the costs of 'pushing it' to whatever social tie we have outweigh the increased likelihood of another em
3HowieL5yAgree with most of what you said here. But I had a different interpretation of the facts with respect to the "via EAG" issue than you did. Your impression is that: My impression is that "Greg Lewis (via EAG)" would appear in the "from" line. (In the way that email clients often replace the sender's email address with their name. If I understand correctly then the practice strikes me as much more likely to deceive a recipient.
3HowieL5y@Kerry_Vaughan: It'd be helpful if you could clear this up. If I was confused and you actually just put "Greetings from FirstName LastName" in the subject line or some such, I'd have a substantially weaker reaction.
4Kerry_Vaughan5yThe third email has the sender name of "[fname] [lname] via EAG" but with hello@eaglobal.org [hello@eaglobal.org] as the email address.
0HowieL5yThanks. That's what I thought.
0Gregory_Lewis5yThanks for the correction, Howie and Kerry - I'll edit my original comment.
2Kerry_Vaughan5yHey Greg, Thanks for the note. I've responded to some aspects of it below. I've updated away from sending messages of this type in the future. But, I do think you're representing the decision as a clear violation whereas I think it's less clear. I think we disagree on two things: 1) does the third email cause people to think that you send it and 2) what did people consent to when filling out the nomination form. With regards to 1), I don't think there's any realistic risk that nominees walked away from the third email thinking that the nominator sent it. They might wonder whether this is the case initially, but I think it's pretty clear that the email was a template send by EA Global. With regards to 2) I think the relevant question seems to be what nominators expected would happen after entering someone's contact information. I think it's reasonable to expect that we wouldn't attempt to cause the recipient to think the email came directly from you. It would be a clear breach if the email address, name, and copy all appeared to be sent directly from you. However, I also think it would be unreasonable to expect that we wouldn't mention you at all in the email. For example, if the body of the email said that [fname] [lname] nominated you, that seems uncontroversial to me. The relevant question is where in between those extremes is OK and where is not OK. My current sense is that email body mentions are OK, and subject line mentions are probably OK, but other tactics are not OK unless we explicitly asked for consent before doing it. Do you have a different take? This worry doesn't seem to apply to the expedited application review version of the rolling deadline. That is, if the deadline is one to apply and hear back quick then attendees can simply not apply for that deadline if they need additional information. Does this claim entail that one should always choose candor over efficacy? If so, that would seem to me to be a very difficult claim to justify.
3Gregory_Lewis5yKerry, many thanks for your reply. On the matters you remark upon: The email 'from X via EAG' Re. the risk to 'mistaken identity of sender', I think a lot of this depends on whether people read the message body or not. I doubt I'm the only person who deletes emails based on the top-line of subject, sender, etc. Perhaps savvier people would realize the 'X via Y (and with Y's email address)' always means a sort of mass-mailing approach that X didn't have a huge amount to do with, but I doubt that applies to everyone. It doesn't seem crazy to interpret this as 'Y is sending this email from X to me' before they read the message body. If they just delete the email before doing so, it seems likely they will maintain this impression. Re. Nominator consent, I agree that if you recommend X to 'pitch' at Y, I don't think one can be too aghast to find X uses your recommendation as part of their pitch - I agree mentioning it in the message body or the subject is fine, and also agree the other approach you say is inappropriate is inappropriate. I still think what actually happened falls on the wrong side of the line. The problem is not so much 'where do you use X's name in the pitch', but the manner of its use. If I nominate Kit to go to EAG, it just isn't the case that the pitch for EAG is sent 'from me via EAG' - especially in the present case where I have no hand in the content of the pitch email. It is not being sent from me in any sense. I think uses along these lines should demand explicit consent. Rolling deadlines Sounds fine to me. Forgive my misunderstanding. Candour/efficacy trade-off Not always (hence the 'all but' lexical priority) but something like, 'barring very exceptional circumstances'. I think having this sort of high bar is justifiable on grounds of community norms and overall brand equity: judging from Kit's remarks, this behaviour has considerably damaged his trust in CEA; judging by the number of upvotes, he may not be the only one. Naturally,
1Owen_Cotton-Barratt5yMy read is that this is correct, with the additional caveat that it depends on the wording of the mentions in the body and the subject line. Saying "X nominated you" is fine; implying something stronger probably wouldn't be.
1Kerry_Vaughan5yHey HowieL and Kit, I find it difficult to think about this issue in a principled way. Not using standard marketing tactics is not costless. We used the language we used because it was the most effective. Using different language would have caused a decrease in EAG attendees and a decrease in the total value of the conference. For the sake of argument, let's assume that some kinds of off-putting language are more effective at getting people to attend. How would you model the tradeoff between generating extra value at EA Global on the one hand and the harm of off-putting language on the other? Suppose the off-putting but more effective language causes an additional 100 people to attend EA Global. Suppose also that in expectation a marginal EAG attendee is worth $4,200 in donations to effective charities. Would you be willing to use off-putting but more effective language if it generated $420,000 in donations to effective charities? If not, is there a different number where you'd be willing to switch? This discussion is really valuable by the way and I appreciate the time you've both put into it.
9Owen_Cotton-Barratt5yMy take is that there's a trade-off here between being most effective for short-term value (getting more attendees at EA global) and most effective building a powerful and supported long-term brand. We have better data on what's effective for the short-term value, because the feedback loops are tighter. This could mean that it should get more weight (because we actually know what we're doing), but there's a danger that it means we swing too far towards it. The off-putting messaging could in some low-grade ways lower a whole lot of people's opinions towards EA/CEA/EAG. For a movement that trades so much on intellectual leadership this worries me. Here's one guesstimate. Take with a vast amount of salt, and I don't even really believe the framework I'm using, I just want to show how you might get going with these comparisons: Damage to brand = 0.1% of brand value; brand value = ~$1B; so would be willing to switch if generating >$1M [Also of course it's not binary. We can probably look for compromise solutions which get a lot of the marketing value and a lot of the long-term brand value] There's even a case that at the margin we should prefer more consolidation over more growth (of EA community generally and EAG specifically), in which case it would be good to have emails which are differentially attractive to people (like Howie and Kit) who are/could become high-value community members, rather than differentially off-putting to them.
2Kit5yI think a stronger argument can be made in favour of the chosen marketing methods. It would probably conclude with something like 'the huge value of a small number of extra links formed between otherwise-disjoint groups outweighed the minor weakening of cooperation standards across the community'. Owen's comment shows that the numbers can be big on the other side too, but valuing brands is a notoriously hard problem. In the hope that people refer back to this discussion when considering future strategies, here is an explicit estimate of one component of the value of avoiding minor harm to trust, for this specific case. It works by assuming that anyone put off from CEA simply shifts collaboration from one organisation to another, causing efficiency loss from wasting comparative advantages, not total loss. It also recognises that I made an unusually large update, and the average will be much smaller. Bracketed items are multiplied together to give an italicised item in the next line. (present value of a GWWC pledge, $73,292 x number of pledges next year, 856) x size of CEA compared to GWWC proxied by headcount, 2.45 x (my unusually large update to engagement with CEA, 30% x perceived relative strength of other affected people's reactions, 17.5%) x relative advantage of CEA over competition, 17% x proportion of people with negative reactions, 48% = (value realised by GWWC next year, $62,737,952 x size of CEA compared to GWWC proxied by headcount, 2.45) x (average affected person's shift from CEA to elsewhere, 5.25% x relative advantage of CEA over competition, 17%) x proportion of people with negative reactions, 48% = value realised by CEA next year, $153,707,982 x (inefficiency from one affected person's shift, 0.88% x proportion of people with negative reactions, 48%) = (value realised by CEA next year, $153,707,982 x proportion of CEA value lost 0.42%) = value of one year of CEA minor reputation preservation, $638,849 This model does not incorporate the effec
1Kerry_Vaughan5yI realized I never indicated what I thought after the discussion. I now endorse the position Kit suggests: Thank for the very valuable discussion!
1Kerry_Vaughan5yThanks for this. Very helpful.
3Richard_Batty5yI'm not sure if this discussion has changed your view on using deceptive marketing for EA Global, but if it has, what do you plan to do to avoid it happening in future work by EA Outreach? Also, it's easy for EAs with mainly consequentialist ethics to justify deception and non-transparency for the greater good, without considering consequences like the ones discussed here about trust and cooperation. Would it be worth EAO attempting to prevent future deception by promoting the idea that we should be honest and transparent in our communications?
1RomeoStevens5yI agree with this. One frame is that the marginal move towards 'effective marketing tactics' is also capturing marginal attendees. This seems like it could be tested against data in the long term: attendees at a conference vs active in the community X months later.
1MichaelPlant5yDo you mean the automated "you're a cool person, come to EA" emails or something else? FWIW I thought those were pretty childish.
0Kit5yHi Michael – please see my reply to Benito’s question for easier-to-explain suggestions. I don’t have informed views on automated flattery in general.
0HowieL5yI'd also be interested in examples of this.

Split at least one day of the conference into streams:

  1. Policy
  2. Business
  3. Charity

People who are lobbying on policy have a lot in common whether they are working in animal rights or xrisk so this could bring separate strands of the movement together. This would also help bring together startup founders and successful businesspeople who want to run their companies more effectively (and otherwise might not meet each other because they're obscured by heaps of students). The charity segment would discuss public outreach, fundraising, and some impact evaluation.

Everyone would spend more time with the people who can help them do better at their jobs, and there's more likelihood of collaboration. It seems like a big win.

3MichaelDickens5yI agree with the principle of splitting things by type of work rather than by cause.

Lots of small discussion sessions with 6-20 people.

I personally get the most value of conferences from talking to people. One thing I've found works well at unconferences is that there's more socializing during the 'talks'. There have been some small discussion groups; I think these were quite useful, but I feel they often wandered more than they should have and quality decreased over time.

I'd propose something more like there be 20-minute or 30-minute specific discussion groups led by one person, scheduled back-to-back in 5-30 rooms. Maybe some could be exclusive to specific sets of people (VCs, entrepreneurs).

1MarkBao5yThis is a great idea. There were some tables for animal welfare, XRisk, etc. in the main hall at EAG, and a few ad-hoc discussion groups were put together from the email list in the EAG Connect spreadsheet, but formalizing this a bit more and maybe adding a loose agenda to them would be a good idea. One idea is to do the same thing as this year with EAG Connect, but then let people choose one cause to be in a discussion group about, for which one time slot during the conference is reserved for 20-person groups (maybe 10-15 will show up) to discuss the cause. I think that could be very valuable and maybe a more specific way for people to meet people who care about the cause they're interested in.
0RomeoStevens5yStrongly agree about creating schelling points for specific types of conversations (specific 'topics' might be too narrowing). Simply having signs up in the common area could probably have accomplished most of the benefit for minimal cost.
2Owen_Cotton-Barratt5yThere actually were signs up for different broad topics in the common area.

A guarantee that all the talks/panels will be recorded.

The booklet this year stated that "almost" all the talks would be recorded, which left me worried that, if I missed a talk, I wouldn't be able to watch it in the future (this might just be me). I probably would have skipped more talks and talked to more people if I had a guarantee that all the talks would be recorded.

Also, it would be nice to have a set schedule that didn't change so much during the conference. The online schedule was pretty convenient and was (for the most part) up to date, but people using the physical booklet may have been confused.

Personal effectiveness discussions

In a more ideal world, most effective altruists wouldn't have to know much about cause selection. They would trust the group best at deciding, then spend their time being more effective.

As such, there's a difference between aspect of these conferences aimed at people interested in cause selection, and people interested in being effective, effective altruists. I would bet that discussions on 'effective study habits', 'effective networking', 'leveling up in software engineering', and similar would provide more decision value than ones on cause topics.

2HowieL5yI don't have a take on these specific suggestions but I wanted to mention that I really like your effort to think about how the EA community can be relevant to people who aren't actively thinking about cause selection at a given time. I think this is going to be incredibly important if people at different stages in their careers are going to affiliate with the community.

Walking groups?

This would probably not be super easy, but I do like walking meetings a lot, and conferences are typically in pretty areas. It could be interesting to schedule very small (2-5 people) discussions or something, have them in walking sessions. Maybe a GPS could track them or something so others could join in.

A list of the main benefits (and costs?) of the event

Conferences are complicated things. I'd be curious to understand as a community what exactly we want to get out of them. The better an understanding there is, the more I imagine it could be optimized.

Some ideas:

  • Meeting new people (for future collaboration)
  • Introductions to Effective Altruism to those outside the movement
  • Staying in touch with people (this should be broken down)
  • Having the 'experts' discuss ideas with each other
  • Having new ideas proposed & evaluated
  • Skill-building for members
  • Enco
... (read more)
2HowieL5yI agree that thinking explicitly about the goals of the conference would be good. Fwiw, though, my instinct is that trying to quantify it into an EV estimate would be a bit of a distraction from the main benefits.
0Ozzie Gooen5yIn my experience, in the cases where there are EV calcs, few people will pay attention to them anyway, though the ones that do seem to find them interesting & useful. It could be a distraction to the people who make it, but I don't see it being harmful to more than 10 people (in the worst 10th percentile).
4HowieL5ySorry - I was unclear. I think it'd be a distraction to the EAG organizers themselves. Trying to come up with an explicit EV can increase the amount of work it takes to put something like this together by a lot and I think most of the benefits would come from just thinking hard about priorities.
5Owen_Cotton-Barratt5yThere are also a reputation issues associated with presenting EV calculations which make your thing look good but whose numbers are extremely uncertain. Even with all the appropriate caveats, they can be read as taking more weight than they really deserve, and this can look self-serving.
1Ozzie Gooen5yFor that matter, it could be interesting to have the participants just send a list in advance of what their main problems are, then the conference organizers try to figure out how to spend that three day period doing whatever necessary to solve those problems.

A public list of ways people could give/take help.

Many people may be looking for specific things at the conference, or able to offer things. I imagine having a big list of these somewhere may help for organizing.

Badges with kinds of info on what you do (not just your name)

Names don't reveal much about people. It would be useful to have a little bit about a person's background on their badge, so you don't need to keep on asking for that.

Better yet, maybe they would have a numeric ID on their badge (832), which could be searched on the app/website to learn a lot more about them (via mobile app)

5MichaelDickens5yIf you can look people up by numeric ID, why not just look people up by name? People are better at remembering names and associating them with people.
0Ozzie Gooen5yIt's a fair point, for whatever reason I didn't think of that. That said, sometimes names are quite long and multiple people have the same name.
2MichaelDickens5yBadges appear very small to someone standing a normal distance away so they can only fit a very small amount of writing. But there's probably enough room for name + occupation.
1Patrick5yIt was simpler in the old days, when Bakers were bakers and Farmers were farmers.
0Ozzie Gooen5yThere could be things like color coding of dots to indicate what you are looking for. Plus, much of the benefit could be to people very close to them (who they are talking to)
-1pku5yPerhaps we can have badges with QR codes that you can scan with the app on your phone to immediately add the person's contact info to your address book. Or with precise enough GPS locations (that we'll have because of the walking meeting idea) we can have an algorithm automatically determine which people you (probably) talked to during the conference based on proximity, setting, context, and length of contact. This could also be done with simpler sensors that just detect proximity.

Find better ways of helping people meet other people they'd want to meet.

Probably the most useful part of conferences is meeting other people who are relevant to you and your work. However, this is surprisingly hard to do: even if you go to a talk in your area(s), it's still hard to meet the other audience members. Networking is basically random, which isn't very satisfying.

Potential solutions and there may be others out there:

-1 minute pitches where people can say who they are, what they're working on and what sort of people they want to speak to ("I... (read more)

2MichaelDickens5yYour bullet points aren't separated by newlines. They will be formatted automatically if you put spaces after the hyphens.

A minimalist theme

I think the branding of Effective Altruism has never really been figured out. I'm going to propose a general design schema that's very minimalist, which I think fits into a stoic nature that I associate with Effective Altruism.

This was some of the inspiration for the .impact brand. http://dotimpact.im/

0HowieL5yHuh. I don't know anything at all about design or branding but I thought the EAG website made a step toward minimalism this year. The about page seems pretty minimalist at least. http://eaglobal.org/about [http://eaglobal.org/about] If it's easy to describe, I'd be curious about what aspects of the page were not minimalist. Is it primarily the pictures?
1Ozzie Gooen5yFor one thing, minimalism isn't normal and this isn't a criticism but just a suggestion. Very few brands are minimalist, and with reason. This is less about specific picture choices, more about the use of color and the presence of pictures. You're right that that one page is somewhat minimalist, but other pages and design elements are less so. (like the home page, and others with maps and globes and the universe in the background). The banners and logos definitely didn't seem particularly minimalist. These guys have something I would consider a minimalist brand (which is fitting for them):http://www.theminimalists.com/ [http://www.theminimalists.com/]
1Habryka5yAmong other things I was the person who designed the website, so am really happy about feedback on this. When it comes to classifying the design-language that I used for EA Global, I think minimalist fits quite well. I don't think using basic background imagery, especially if it's the only visual element on the page and is clearly related to the brand identity, would count much against a minimalist style. In general the usage of images is limited, and the whole style is monochromatic (with some very exceptions) to put full focus on the UI elements. In particular, if you scroll down on any of the content pages, you will find a complete minimalist style, with a complete absence of distracting elements and a strong focus on content. Is there actually anything that you would change about the website? In particular the comparison with .impact doesn't really work, since that page doesn't really have much content, and also kind-of fails in its navigation because of the absence of a navbar or any other classical navigation element (e.g. I definitely didn't expect the team link to actually go somewhere on the .impact page, but expected it to be an external link, since the page itself communicated a one-page design without any hierarchical structure. This is added to by the absence of breadcrumbs or other hierarchical context element on the teams page and other sub-pages. I feel like in this case someone took the minimalist idea too far and actually removed important UI elements from the page.)
0HowieL5yThanks. That helps. I think I agree with you. I didn't take your post as a criticism of the website but thanks for clarifying!

A bias for expected value calculations in (most) talks

I (somewhat obviously) have a large preference for numeric estimates. I strongly prefer when people presenting their organizations give cost effectiveness numbers in their talks. That said, for the few talks I have seen at EA conferences, I haven't seen this that much (still much more than other conferences, but that's not saying that much.)

I would find it very interesting if there could be a standard for most talks proposing or discussing some program to end their talk with some cost effectiveness values or standard types of quantifications.

1BenMillwood5yI think there's a risk that explicit computations might lead both your audience and yourself to overestimate your own confidence. Moreover, doing them in a way that's well-calibrated to potential sources of risk and error is a skill, and I wouldn't want to suggest to people giving presentations either that they should make something well out of their field of expertise an important part of their talk, or that they shouldn't give a talk if they're unable to accurately compute EVs for the things they suggest.
0MichaelPlant5yI cautiously like this idea. I wonder if it's potentially a distraction where people end up spending lots of time trying to prove, or defend, their estimates, rather than give their talks. Also tricky is the fact expected value estimates require you to take explicit stands of values that might not be very productive. i.e.you get this estimate for the Against Malaria Foundation if you think future people are X important, this is you think death is Y bad, etc.
0Ozzie Gooen5yI think we as a society (or intellectual circle) have a long way to go in terms of understanding EV calcs, but would say here that EV calcs don't have to be relative to total utility. They could instead be split up into parts in cases where there is uncertainty in how to resolve it from there. For instance, saying that this intervention 'saves 1 life per 10k to 30k dollars in region X' seems fine to me, if it's a fair interval/estimate. If there are multiple things, maybe, "Every 10k dollars saves 10-30 QALYS in the next 3 years, and separately seems to decrease the long term risks by Y factor"

EA Org Update Sessions

There are a bunch of nonprofits/orgs involved in the movement. This has happened a bit before, but I think it could be quite nice to have a long panel or two where lots of EA orgs go up for 5-15 min each to explain how the last year went for them and to answer questions.

Automatic meeting booking

I've found meeting specific people to be a bit painful, there were a lot of coordination issues. I imagine some kind of 'speed dating', where you choose / are matched up with a bunch of specific people before the conference, then during there's a specific time periods where people are assigned to meet each other at specific locations.

Recorded talks pre-conference

I prefer watching the talks at 2x speed, so don't like watching them at 1x speed at the conference. I imagine it would be interesting to assign people 'homework' and have some talks available before the event. Then at the event there would be discussion meetings about those talks instead.

Period of office hours that isn't in competition with any (or few) talks near the end of the conference.

While I know that this year's EAG had office hours with different organizations scattered throughout the weekend, I thought that this aspect of the conference was actually handled better in 2015.

Office hours seem to be done better when they have their own time allotted to them that isn't in competition with any other talk. People new to EA seem to routinely not take advantage of the benefits of meeting the leaders of EA Orgs at EAG, both because they un... (read more)

Quick feedback forms for workshops/discussion groups would be nice; I think most of the workshops I attended didn't allow any opportunity for feedback, and I would have had comments for them.

Panel on ways that lightning talk members could be more effective.

Imagine there are 2-5 'experts', then 4 to 15 people would publicly come up to them and discuss their challenges or efforts. Then the experts brainstorm ways for those individuals/groups to be more effective.

Doesn't have to be public.

Public Giving What We Can Pledges

Someone else mentioned this, and a few conferences do this, but maybe more could.

Basically, have some time for people to publicly make the GWWC pledge or similar.

Not having the group photo.

The group photo always seems to take 20 minutes or so. It's kind of fun, but times the number of participants, (1k?), that's ~300 hours, or around $10k of value. Is it worth it? I'm skeptical, but could see it.

2kbog5yI wasn't there but I'd suspect that people are just talking and socializing during most of that hour, and many of them would be doing so anyway. So the real cost is a lot less than $10k.
2Ben Pace5yPretty sure that more than pays for itself in the marketing power it has. Brochures for sponsors, advertisements for next year, etc.
3MichaelDickens5yI expect that marginal group photos have rapidly diminishing utility. If we kept using the photo from EAG 2015, the people for whom group photos have marketing power wouldn't know it's an old photo or it wouldn't matter.
2Paul_Crowley5yI strongly suspect that the group photo is of very high value in getting people to go, making them feel good about having gone, and making others feel good about the conference. However, it sounds like trying to optimize to shave a few minutes off would be pretty high value.
1Patrick5yI felt that the group photo was a waste of my time because I wasn't visible to the camera. But if I hadn't participated I suppose someone else might've gotten my bad spot.
1Ozzie Gooen5yAs a reductionist I'd be equally satisfied with a photoshopped image of everyone's online face cropped together, but realize that most others probably don't feel that way :)
1Kerry_Vaughan5yThe counterfactual to the photo is people talking to each other at the conference. Since people talk on the way to the photo and right up until it's taken, the per-person value lost is not 20 minutes, but far less. Also, I'd gladly pay $10K for the photo even if that's what it cost. I think we easily make that up by increasing marginal EAG attendees for next year.

A ban on misused words like 'need' (in talks)

I'm watching a few EAG videos now and repeatedly witness the word 'need' get used for things. Like, "our industry needs people to research topic X", or "we need more money to field X".

I'm still not sure what need actually means, but have found that when it's used it's often essentially a logical fallacy. For instance, compare the phrase, "we need people to research topic X", with the phrase, "we believe there's a level of cost-effective opportunity for research topic X".... (read more)

0SoerenMind5yWait, where do you watch the EAG videos? They're old ones I presume?
1Ozzie Gooen5yA few are on fora.tv http://library.fora.tv/2016/08/07/past_present_and_future_of_ea [http://library.fora.tv/2016/08/07/past_present_and_future_of_ea]
0Ozzie Gooen5yI could also imagine one way of dealing with this ban while also not requiring revisions by people with standard talks, would be to have different classes of talks. Talks given by EAs, and talks given by people who do not agree with the main set of EA principles. At least this would make it obvious and get the same point across.