On April 1, Reddit released r/Place, a collaborative art project consisting of a large empty canvas where each Reddit user could place a single colored pixel every five minutes. After several false starts, a group of 160 EAs collaborated to make the following image:
In this post-mortem, we’d like to go over our method, what we should have done differently, and show off some interesting looking timelapses of both our failed and ultimately successful efforts.
Several of us did not initially appreciate just how difficult it would be to create and maintain an image on r/Place. Harrison Durland and Caleb Biddulph started off with high ambitions, suggesting that we might be able to take up a moderately large space, but these initial efforts were aborted early on. The first real attempt was by Jelle Donders and Gruffydd Gozali, who were able to organize a number of redditors in the r/EffectiveAltruism subreddit and create a temporary discord server to help direct users on where to place pixels.
Before long, it became clear that the only way to keep an image up was to do outreach to neighboring groups. Via this method, we attempted negotiations for space several times, sometimes successfully with multiple neighbors — but without agreements with all neighbors, we found ourselves failing twice more. You can see a timelapse of these false starts (and our eventual place) below.
A Secured Spot
When we finally found our final place on r/Place, it was in the newly blank area at the bottom of the canvas. It was through a renewed sense of camaraderie and shared fun that we were able to paint this new area, and it was through successful early negotiations that we were able to keep the area until the end of r/Place.
Our strongest alliance was with the neighboring My Little Pony community, which has supported effective altruism charities several times in the past, particularly through Bronies for Good. Thanks to Lorelei in our discord server, we were able to convince them to generously include us as a part of their template, which meant a large number of their users (and a fair number of their bots) would defend not just their artwork, but also the Effective Altruism logo on r/Place.
Was This Effective?
No. But it nevertheless felt worthwhile.
While the return on investment in terms of communications value versus how much effort we put into this collaborative art project is quite low, the sheer amount of fun from socializing with fellow EAs in this endeavor ended up being unexpectedly significant. I do not think we should overlook the benefits that come from increasing the social interconnectedness of the EA community.
If we prevented some EAs from doing more worthwhile work, then perhaps the social value may not have been significant enough to override that. But, from the conversations I had with people in our discord channels, my sense is that people only participated during time that they otherwise would have spent on nothing particularly high value. People seemed to view this as a fun socialization event that they took advantage of in their off hours.
- Early on, we tried to be somewhat conservative in advertising the discord server where we worked on our art project. In part, this was because we didn’t feel that many in the non-reddit EA community would have the time nor drive to work on this. We were surprised to learn that a large number of EAs came to us organically after reading about various people talking about us beyond the subreddit, including from the EA Forum, the EA Facebook community, and the EA Creatives & Communicators slack channel. Given the social event value of a one-time event like this, we actually believe that we should have organized EAs more effectively earlier than we did.
- It is now clear to us that attempting to secure an area of any worthwhile size on r/Place will require either an unsustainable number of EAs or a significant number of bots. If we were to attempt this again, we would be well advised to either provide our own bots or ally with a community like MLP in order to create and maintain a logo of sufficient size.
- Unfortunately, much of the fun and team spirit occurred when no bots were used. If we were trying this again, I would recommend that the use of bots should be limited to maintaining a large EA logo and url, while users could be involved with creating and maintaining smaller EA organization logos and phrases elsewhere on the canvas.
- We would have found an Effective Altruism-branded URL shortening service quite valuable, as many potential urls were just too long for the space provided.
Final Notes & Appreciation
For those interested in learning more about r/Place, I recommend checking out the 2022 r/Place Atlas to see all the communities that participated. You may also want to view r/Place.space, which provided the raw data so that I could put together some of the timelapses in this post with help from gislerro on github and Katherine Hess.
Thanks go to Gruffydd Gozali, Eric Herboso, Benjamin Brown, Jelle Donders, horu, & Lorelei, who all helped considerably in both the EA r/Place Discussion discord server and on the subreddit.
Special thanks goes to the My Little Pony Manechat discord server for including us in their template, to SPNATI for memorializing our alliance with a collectible image in their video game, and to the Jurassic Park community for repeatedly helping us rebuild our logo.
And to any and all EAs that helped place a pixel: thank you as well. It was a lot of fun coordinating with all of you. (c:
This is great - thank you both! This entire experience got me to sign up here, on the EA Forum (which I barely even knew about before) - and I definitely connected with other EA people far more than ever before. I really appreciated that aspect of the project. Thanks again for this write up. And the youtube videos are awesome!
This is absurdly awesome and it's wonderful to read about this comradery! As Ben Brown alludes to, I believe it has a disproportionately large positive effect compared to what many might think from its strict output. So really a good job to you all!
Good to work with you Eric :)
Although my own opinion is that securing a piece of r/Place isn't a worthwhile use of time, I think that this serves really well as a training exercise.
An opportunity arises, we have not prepared for it and we didn't have a plan of action ready. It requires internal collaboration as well as a certain amount of external communication. There is no clear leader, because the opportunity is not within a particular team/organization/company. Learning how to collaborate and manage a project like this seems like a valuable skill. Much in the same way that militaries run wargames, aspiring programmers join hackathons, I think that there might be some value (in terms of capacity building) in running some type of training program.
Note that I have spent a total of about 2 minutes thinking through this. This is a very rough idea.
I was quite glad to see this went through. I would have probably helped more, but it came at a pretty inconvenient time (EAGx Boston), so I wasn’t able to contribute to the final location (although I added some to the first location).
(Also, it’s not very important but I wouldn’t say my original plans were ambitious; I never even offered a template)