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Contributing to open source projects can do good and build visible career capital. It also doesn't require you to be in a specific location or to work on a specific time schedule. And if you make an improvement, it can be used an infinite amount of times, making for a potentially large impact. Contributions can be everything from writing low-level software to marketing.

The archetype of open source is software like Linux, but if you have thoughts about other types of projects such as Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg and open source architecture, please share them.

There's an abundance of projects to choose from, and tools such as First Timers Only exist to help find the right one for you. But it's not at all clear to me what an effective altruist should do. As an example, OpenAI has 76 repositories on GitHub. Do they want help on any of them? What kind of people are they looking for? Which ones are most neglected? It's hard to tell.

This has been discussed a couple of times before:

But these discussions treat open source contributions only in a very general way.

So, how should an effective altruist go about contributing to open source?




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One good option: Contributing to the EA Forum!

Almost all of our code actually comes from the LessWrong codebase. LessWrong is very excited about open-source contributions; here's their guide to helping out, and their Github tag for important issues that seem easy to fix.

Changes made in LessWrong will appear on the Forum in ~2 weeks on average, unless the part of LessWrong you changed isn't something we have on the Forum.

We really appreciate everyone who wants to help; let me know if you have questions, and I'd be happy to direct you to the programmers who can answer them.

That's a good suggestion. Thanks for sharing.

The README contains some useful information, e.g. about the history of the project, and contributing seems pretty straight-forward.

I do, however, miss some high-level information. For example:

  1. Why use this instead of something like Discourse or a subreddit?
  2. Is the project vision written somewhere, or is it "implicit knowledge?"
  3. What major features are planned? (Projects like these is a way to get an overview of the plans.)
  4. What websites are built using the code?
  5. Are there any sponsors?

None of these questions

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Here are posts from the LessWrong developers which might answer some of these questions. From 2017, so possibly outdated at this point... https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/HJDbyFFKf72F52edp/welcome-to-lesswrong-2-0 https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/6XZLexLJgc5ShT4in/lesswrong-2-0-feature-roadmap-and-feature-suggestions https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/rEHLk9nC5TtrNoAKT/lw-2-0-strategic-overview More recent discussions here: https://www.lesswrong.com/meta
Thanks. That's useful.

My background: I've worked around tech recruiting for the last three years.

You should probably try to work on whatever open source project is most exciting to you, rather than one that you think will have a positive impact on the world. In my experience, you learn a lot from trying to code things that interest you, especially if you get excited about the project and think about it a lot. I think that the career capital from such projects is quite large, and so the altruistic impact is relatively unimportant.

The exception here is if you're really excited about projects *because* they're altruistic--in that case you should go ahead with them, especially if they're a project you'll still learn from.

FWIW I think that working on the LessWrong/EA forum software is a pretty good choice if you want to learn frontend web development--it uses some cool modern technologies.

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Some other options, in case someone is particularly interested:

  1. Guesstimate is being used by several EAs, and could use some development help. It's making enough from purchasers to cover basic costs, but not enough for myself to fund significant extra development. It's open source.
  2. I've been working on a new forecasting application written in ReasonML/node/graphql. If that sounds interesting to you, let me know!

Happy to advise and help people contribute to either, though both do have learning curves.

Sweet. What's the forecasting application about?

It's a general platform, not specific to any domain. In a similar vein to the Good Judgement Project's platform, but with other features I think will be useful.

I plan to try it out with some groups in the next few months.

The EA forum doesn't seem like an obvious best choice. Just because it is related to EA does not make it effective, especially considering the existence of discussion software like Reddit, Discourse, and phpBB.

I'd say it mostly depends on what kind of skills and career capital you are aiming for. There are a number of important (scientific) software packages with either zero or one maintainers, which could be useful to work on either upstream or downstream.

Personally, I am presently just doing (easy) fixes for bugs that I run into myself. But I am considering to either start officially maintaining a driver that I keep patching for my own use anyway or to contribute to some decentralized web project.

It might not be super relevant for you specifically, but I do want to plug Google Summer of Code for all university students of 18 years and older as a wonderful opportunity. (application deadline April 9th)

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