Hi friends,

I am part of a newly-formed Lab/think-tank whose purpose is to come up with impactful EA ideas, source for funds for them and execute them. Here is one of the ideas we have that needs funding:

 

IDEA: A Dedicated Question & Answer Website for Effective Altruism

Think: Stackexchange or Answers.com for EA

 

Why?

  • Will be especially helpful for people new to the community and EAs needing help and guidance
  • It will act as a crowdsourced FAQ, Support hub and repository for EA knowledge to complement this forum and other resources
  • Will further deepen conversations surrounding EA topics
  • Can become a valuable EA Infrastructure resource i.e a living, perpetually self-updating body of knowledge on EA
  • Nothing similar currently exists

Fund needed: 21,000 USD
Delivery (beta version): 3 Months

I will be happy to provide any more details on request. Any interested donor may DM me or for quicker response email me on effectivelabs@ng4n.com 

New Comment
16 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:45 AM

Welcome to the EA Forum thanks for taking the time to write this short post up. Glad to see you making your first post 😀 

I'd encourage you to make the case for how this is significantly different to the "Question" feature on this forum and why it might live on a place separate to this forum.

I'd also encourage a bit more detail on the budget etc.

As a funder I'd want to see a lot more detail than this before reaching out to request further information.

Thank you for the warm welcome, I'm glad to be here. And thank you for the suggestions.

Before I make my case for why I think this project is necessary (despite the existence of the EA Forum Question Feature),  let me state that some of my points are not meant to belittle the work of the EA forum minders and the entire community. 

I believe that EA Forum is very useful and great at fulfilling a number of purposes, but there are certain use cases where it falls short. In such cases, I believe a dedicated Question and Answer (Q and A) website would be better/more effective and will complement the EA Forum to yield greater efficiency.

 

Now, here are some reasons why a standalone Q and A website for the EA Community is necessary (I have some years experience in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and growing/managing online communities and my experience has shaped some of the points below):

 

1. EA Forum is Not Newbie - Friendly

Generally, EA seems to have a problem of not being very newbie friendly (see this thread where the issue was discussed to get a better appreciation of the matter).

By newbie I mean people who are totally new to EA (from diverse cultural, language and educational backgrounds). 

My experience: I am currently trying to start a local EA group and I have had interactions with a number of people who have never heard about EA but have shown interest in learning more and becoming a part of the community. Initially, I would direct them to EA Forum if they asked me a question I couldn't answer, but the feedback I kept getting from them was that the "ambience" and "vibe" given off by the discussions in EA Forum makes it feel like "a place for intellectuals and very smart people".

Many newbies seem to be too intimidated or too scared to ask questions in the EA Forum because they are afraid of "sounding dumb" in the midst of all the scholarly articles and genius-level discussions taking place.

Unfortunately this same "vibe" is common to many EA online groups and communities.

There doesn't seem to be a generally accepted and recognized place where "non-genius" EAs are not scared but comfortable (even encouraged) to ask apparently "dumb" questions or "silly" questions. Such a place seems to be in demand based on feedback from the newbies I have talked to and from comments I have repeatedly come across in various place online, even here on EA Forum.

This standalone Q and A website will be a less intimidating complement to the EA forum Question feature and would provide a space where EAs especially newbies will not hesitate to ask any questions they might have without fear of "sounding dumb".

Some Newbies will ask questions that you never expect so this will enrich and diversify the conversations and better expose the community leaders to the thought processes and needs of these newbies and the community at large.

This will improve the onboarding (and retention) of new community members and help to keep the community strong.

 

2. To Counter Misleading Narratives about EA (via improved Search Engine Visibility)

Google is by far the largest search engine and most people seeking information online use it.

EA has had / continues to have a lot of bad press from critics and opponents. This is made worse by search results being filled with mostly negative posts regarding EA.

A google search of EA related phrases frequently turns up a plethora of negative and often downright misleading information about EA. 

This seriously hurts the image of the community and can be a turn off for people who are thinking of joining and are doing research to learn more about effective altruism.

From my Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experience, Google appears to prioritize Q and A - type websites for searches that are phrased as questions thereby ranking them higher in the results.

There are also other factors that will favor a dedicated Q and A site in the search rankings therefore by ranking top for most of these common questions, the EA Community will be able to "influence the narrative" and counter this negative image. 

(Results from EA forum also show up frequently but in many cases they are drowned in a sea of negative results.)

Still on EA's image:

The EA forum appears (or seems to appear) to be a place meant for people already part of the community. People outside the EA community typically don't post here. In many (most?) cases, such questions may end up on "non-EA-friendly" websites where they might receive a lot of negativity without any strong pro-EA voice to counterbalance the conversation. Having a Q and A website that encourages anybody (EAs and non-EAs) to ask questions will provide a great place to capture some of these questions (that would have gone to other websites) and counter or clarify false and negative narratives about EA.

 

3. Data and Statistics

For example: What are the most common question newbies in EA have? What are the most frequent challenges EAs generally face, what about those living in a particular country? Being able to provide answers to such questions will help to improve the onboarding process and get new members informed and aligned with the goals and ideals of the EA community. 

This type of data cannot (readily) be obtained from the EA Question system but can easily be obtained with this Q and A website.

This data can also be used to improve EA community building and management processes and procedures for better efficiency. 

The Q and A site can be used as an additional feedback mechanism to gauge the effectiveness of various EA procedures/policies/initiatives/etc by monitoring the types of questions being asked.

 

4. A (Very) Useful Resource for Community Leaders

This will be a really useful resource for many  community leaders trying to onboard new EAs. It will make their jobs easier and save them time because they don't need to repeatedly answer common "dumb" questions from newbies, they can just point them to the Q and A website and EA Forum so that they can ask their question wherever they feel most comfortable asking. This will save community leaders time that can then be used for other important things. Also community leaders will not have to go through my experience described earlier where newbies complained that they were sacred of posting in EA forum.

 


Budget Overview

TOTAL: $21,000 

This budget is meant to cover web hosting costs, software licenses and software services subscriptions and remuneration for the development (dev) team. The project will require hiring one full time developer and one part time developer to make up the dev team.

Breakdown (figures rounded to the nearest hundred):

  • Web hosting + security, CDN etc for two years: $2,900
  • Software/SAAS licenses/subscriptions for three years: $2,200 
  • Full Time Dev Salary ($3,800 per month for three months)
  • Part Time Dev Salary ($1,500 per month for three months)

 

Milestones / Deliverables:

  • End of month one: User Interface prototype wireframes / user flow diagrams
  • End of month two: Demo Alpha version with few rudimentary features
  • End of month three: Complete production-ready Beta version hosted and ready for public Beta test

Beta will last for one month then final launch. 

Ongoing maintenance after the Beta will be handled by unpaid volunteers until we are able to hire a full time admin for the website. 

 

After the Launch, What Next?

If there happens to be any leftover funds it will be used to run online ads to get some traction for the website. But success of the project in the long term will require serious and continuous promotional, marketing and SEO campaigns.

I'm thinking that many of these issues with the forum are fixable directly within the forum:

  • Newbie-friendliness: This is probably the hardest to fix directly, but this seems more related with the EA culture than anything platform-specific.
  • SEO: Nothing about the forum seems to put it at a disadvantage in terms of SEO, and in my experience, Q&A posts already show up in search results.
  • Data and Statistics: I'm not aware of how the analytics system of the EA forum works, but in general, there's no clear limitation on performing makeshift analyses on current forum threads, see this, by example.

Overall, I think it's difficult to justify a new platform, especially considering that splintering the community conveys pretty significant disadvantages. Specifically, creating a new platforms risks creating a new information silo and reducing newbie involvement with the rest of the community (while not allowing a clear path for them to start engaging with the forum).

I agree with you on the issue of this being an EA Culture thing that will be challenging to fix. However, culture is shaped and influenced by many things, including more increasingly (these days of tech advances) the content of websites that appear in search results. While culture-related issues cannot be fixed by one single action, various actions can be taken to help fix or mitigate such.

Unfortunately right now it seems that not a lot of action is being taken to tackle the issue.

So, my small group and I decided to take this up as one of our focal points. We brainstormed and came up with a list of actions in the form of recommended projects, platforms and policies that can be implemented to make EA more newbie friendly. This Q and A website is just one of the items on our list and it is our belief that if we can achieve all the things on the list, the newbie-friendliness issue will be greatly reduced or totally eliminated.

It will not be an easy or a quick journey and many things are still uncertain and experimental but we plan to take a slow and steady approach, one step at a time, starting with this Q and A website. As time goes on we will present the other ideas we have to the community.


On Your other points:

The problem is not with the EA Forum platform software itself but with the actual content i.e the questions and posts contained in the forum. EA Forum has great SEO but does not contain many newbie questions because "newbies are scared to ask".

Also the forum software may be able to generate the type of data you linked to, but that data does not capture the full picture because some/much/most(?) of the newbie questions that probably would have been asked are not included (because they have not been asked). There are also other kinds of data /polling that would be less time and resource intensive to obtain speedily and at scale with a dedicated platform, rather than trying to wrangle it from other data as it appears was done in the post you linked to.

Information Silo: Having a separate standalone platform does not necessary mean it has to be a silo. It all boils down to the way the project is executed and the user interface / user experience (UI/UX).

There are ways to closely link both websites so that there is no siloing or dilution, rather synergy, with each platform complementing the other. For example, the Q and A site could be included officially in EA forum resources as an aditional resource for the newbie EA community, while on our end we funnel visitors back to EA Forum through conspicuous links and prompts and carefully guiding the user journey through thoughtfully planned UX design and testing.

You can picture this Q and A platform like a big broad net to capture a wider swathe of persons interested in EA, and then eventually funnel them to EA Forum as the final authoritative destination for all things EA. Therefore, rather than be a silo, it becomes a useful tool to ensure that newbies are "captured" and led to the right information sources and resources instead of them straying without guidance and possibly ending up getting information from questionable/unreliable/biased/anti-EA sources. This is a commonly used and very effective technique by website owners and community builders/growth hackers to capture more of their market (and potential clients) and I believe it will also be effective in our case.


My general thoughts:

This newbie friendliness issue is an important issue within the EA Community and something concrete needs to be done about it. There's been much discussions and suggestions in various threads but it still feels like a highly neglected problem.

I would argue that this is a problem that really needs to be prioritized.

EA is growing fast (maybe exponentially even). The movement is growing in popularity and an increasing number of new people are coming into EA (or researching more about it). If nothing is done about this problem, there is a risk of alienating a sizeable chunk of newbies in EA.  

Solving or mitigating the newbie-friendliness issue will also make things easier for people in diverse areas trying to start EA groups and onboard new members on their own.

I would understand if this does not feel like a priority to everyone but being in an area with virtually zero EA activity (or hub or official support structure) and trying to create awareness and raise groups there, this is really one of the BIGGEST challenges I am facing. So I do feel it needs to be solved (at least for the sake of others who might be in the same shoes as this poster and I).

I strongly believe that this Q and A platform (and other ideas we have) will go a long way to at least move us towards some kind of fix or mitigation.

Hey!

May I guess you are posting this here because you want feedback?

(If you only want funding - consider applying to EAIF?)

Hello!!!

Actually I am posting here for both reasons: To get feedback and to seek funding - I felt I could get it in front of more funders' eyeballs by posting here and maybe also some suggestions/criticism of the idea. Thank you for the EAIF suggestion,  I will look into it.

TL;DR: Check out this post:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/GHFY6SpLkjML2Ld62/ask-everyone-anything-ea-101-1

They opened a Q&A in, probably, a few minutes, with no code, and focused on questions people care about.

This seems more like The Lean Startup (which I think is great) than, looking at your plan, building something for 3 months and then relying on SEO and marketing to get users (which seems not lean to me). The main advantage of The Lean Startup method as I see it is avoiding building something amazing that nobody wants to use, which is a thing that often happens with software startups if they don't get enough user feedback.

Feel free to push back and tell me I'm wrong!

I think the phrase "questions people care about" is subjective because there is really no way to know for certain what each and every person truly cares about. There is no way to tell if the newbies are still intimidated with that page but a cursory look through the comments on the page still seems like the kind of examples of "intimidating" stuff I've been shown by some of my EA newbie (would-be) mentees.

I understand that you used that page as an example and not as a definite solution but let me first talk about why a one page Q and A format (hence that post) is not the best solution, and then I will talk about why having a solution that is too simplified, too "Lean" or too basic or produced in a rushed way is also not a great way to solve the challenge we are trying to solve.

A one page post like the one you linked to will not scale well. It may work well for a couple tens, maybe hundreds of questions but when it gets to thousands or tens of thousands of questions it becomes unwieldly and lots of questions and great discussions risk being buried in one big jumbled mass of comments and replies.

Moreover a couple of such simple EA Q and A posts and comment threads exist on facebook, twitter, reddit and random places and apps on the internet, yet the newbie-friendliness issue persists. There are Social media groups and threads on EA Q and A dotting the web, but the newbies are still having this challenge.

In the same vein, a platform that is too simplified, too basic or hurriedly put together is not a great idea for something as important as this.

We believe that something as serious as this needs to be feature-rich, robust and well tested. It needs to be be fully developed and not too basic or simplistic and it's features need to be future proof to a great degree.  

It also needs to be able to scale well and be able to handle heavy loads. Hence it is not something that should be rushed too fast.

Considering a long term view, if this works the way we imagine, (i.e turns out to be a very useful and popular resource for EA newbies going forward), the platform has to be able to effectively fulfill its purpose even with the large numbers of visitors it could potentially get.

Having a more-than-basic platform and a thoughtfully designed UI/UX encourages easy searchability, content organization, discoverability, archiving, search indexing, a well developed admin dashboard, advanced admin features and overall a better user experience and efficiency especially when you consider a scale of hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of questions. Such features cannot be created in too much hurry.

It needs to meet certain specific attributes which we have drawn up from our little research and discussions with some of the newbies in our group.

Sure, we could organize a hackathon and cobble up something akin to a solution but there are pitfalls to that approach (e.g poorly planned and poorly tested code) which could lead to devastating consequences (e.g platform/server failure, security breaches etc). Also features may be too basic/minimal and not robust enough.

We already did some internal "testing" among a handful of potential users. Even though the test methods were quite informal and not exactly scientific but it gave us some insights on what features might be useful for our target audience. In a way this testing was kind of our (accelerated) Lean startup phase. What we learnt from the tests is what gives us the confidence to go all out and commit the resources to build something solid with an ability to scale.

To be fair, one (and a half) developers working on a feature-rich implementation for three months is quite reasonably "Lean", even though we are not building from scratch (the plan is to build a number of custom plugins on top of the Wordpress framework). It wouldn't take that long if there were more developers but we had to balance costs and time to completion. We tried to be as reasonable with the costs while still trying to deliver within a reasonable timeframe.

Moreover, not all of the three months would be devoted to actual coding, a good chunk of the third month would be devoted to testing and a private beta during which time we will be making adjustments based on user feedback (still in line with the Lean Startup ideology). Considering what we plan to create, this is like 6 to 9 months development work compressed into three. It could actually be squeezed into two months but that would not allow enough time for proper testing and bug fixing to be carried out.


On Promotion, SEO and Marketing:

After building this Q n A platform, it definitely needs to be promoted (through either free or paid means) majorly in places where one expects to find EA newbies, whether online or offline. It also needs to be "marketed" (via outreach messages) to key EA community members, EA leaders and the entire EA community at large so that they get to know about it).

It would not be a good idea to just launch it and not do any kind of promotion or marketing.

If you don't tell anybody about it, how would they know it exists? That would be like "build it and they will come" which is not always a very good idea.

Having a promotional push at the start of any new and previously unknown website or product/brand is the recommended (and usually the most sensible) thing to do. Sure you could build your website, host it online and then sit back and wait for people to magically start visiting and using it but very likely nobody will come because nobody knows about it but you. And if nobody knows about the website, how will they know to use it?

We don't necessarily plan to "rely on SEO and marketing" forever, just to give it that initial push and then get it to grow and scale faster. That initial push will get it in front of some potential users and then the visitors will start trickling in. This visitor traffic will eventually cause the search engines to pick it up faster after which the website questions might begin to show up more frequently and more prominently in search results.

By the time many people in the EA community know about its existence there will not be much need for continued marketing because by then word-of-mouth would have taken over, leading to organic growth.

At that point we don't need to do any further promoting for the website to continue getting visitors because it will receive regular organic traffic from search engines. With no further promos, the website will still grow over time, but it will grow at a much slower pace than if there were some promotional marketing and SEO actions to boost it further.

Continuous promotion and marketing will speed up the growth process and allow more of the intended users of the website to discover it.

Marketing is always a great (and highly recommended) way to speed up the growth of any project and get more users to know about and use it (and it is something we must do continuously, whether free or paid). Even well known, well established companies and big brands still devote sizeable chunks of their budget to marketing (even Google runs adverts on Facebook and vice versa).

SEO is very important and cannot be overlooked.

For this project, SEO is very very important because much of people the website is targeted at are people searching about EA on Google and other earch engines. Therefore enhancing the SEO is actually one of the most important things to do to make the project successful. 
 

(Hey, sorry, this comment is very long for me and I'm not available to read it)

Hi! One option would be to use the same stack as https://alignment.wiki/, we'd be happy to collaborate.

Alignment.wiki / stampy does look great. Hopefully we can build with it for some other future project. I've already joined the discord and will be keeping an eye on discussions while attempting to learn more about the codebase

Thanks a lot for the offer, although we have already done some of the preliminary code and design drafts but I will take a look at alignment.wiki and see if it flows with what we have in mind.

My prior is that writing your own code for a Q&A would be a bad idea - since many people already built Q&A solutions and you could probably use theirs. What do you think?

I agree with you. We actually checked various solutions to see what best to use and we eventually opted to go with building ontop of Wordpress. Wordpress does have a couple of white label q and A plugins/extensions but none of the ones we found had the features we needed (which are specific and a bit extensive) so we decided it would be better to code our own custom plugins (on top of wordpress) for the features we want instead of trying to customize someone else's code to fit our needs. However if you know of any whitelabel Q and A solutions you could recommend we would be happy to take a look at it, hopefully we might find one we could work with to save on time and costs.

Just saying you didn't change my mind here.

All projects that write their own code have the opinion that they want some extra specific features, and almost all of them are wrong for doing so.

Things that influence my opinion:

  1. I have priors about existing Q&A websites being good
  2. I didn't hear specific examples of what features you lack
  3. I didn't hear about user testing that could even in theory uncover such features. It seems to me like the features you're thinking about came from the founding team? That would, on priors, not be a good source of features, to me

Of course you're the project lead, so your call, just saying how this influenced me

Your project looks great, but you are proposing something qualitatively different than improving EA. According to your project, I imagine a site based on the EA prototype, where newcomers won't be afraid to ask questions because they won't see the same unfriendly atmosphere, as you say. Although, maybe this is my perception problem because I have always had a hard time seeing the line between improvement and complete rebuilding. I mean, if I first build a WordPress site and then turn it into a Magento store, I'm keeping the initial idea just in words. The situation gets even more complicated if someone like https://www.atwix.com/services/magento-maintenance/ manages the site instead of me with this innovation. I hope you get my point with such an abstract comparison. However, I wish you luck.