Hello! We’re the team behind the EA Forum. The EA Forum is a platform for open discussion, and we’d like to be open about the way we make it. This is the first of a two-post series. Today, we’ll talk about who we are and how we work. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how we think about the Forum, what we’ve done, and what we plan to do next.
JP Addison is basically the only developer on the project. Sam Deere and Ben West occasionally review EA Forum-specific code or help through pair programming. Most of the code (including most new changes) are developed by the LessWrong team and JP ports them over to the EA Forum. We are grateful to the team for supporting some of our modifications and answering our questions.
Aaron Gertler is the other half of the Forum duumvirate. He’s concerned with the part of the Forum you’re actually here for: the content. That includes running the Forum Prize, heading the moderation team, commenting on lots and lots of posts, editing posts before publication, helping people and organizations cross-post their content. He and JP both report to Ben West.
CEA gives pretty wide discretion to project leads, so we end up making most of the calls about what we’re prioritizing.
The Forum’s moderation team consists of Aaron Gertler and Julia Wise. Aaron is the de facto head of it by virtue of the amount of attentiveness he gives it. The moderation team very rarely uses any moderation powers against users, unless they only signed up so they could share links to pirated movies. The karma system does most of that work. You can sometimes see Aaron expressing disapproval to users, but it’s generally done publicly and without his mod hat on. Most of the moderation workload comes from a) categorizing posts, and b) approving new users (or banning them if they’re spammers).
JP occasionally contributes by banning spammers or categorizing clear-cut posts, because he is a morning lark while Aaron is a night owl.
While this post was being drafted, Denise Melchin decided to step down as a moderator. Given the low moderation workload, we may not decide to look for a new moderator. Look for an update from us if we do. If we don’t, but a compelling candidate in a non-American time zone (for categorization timing purposes) came forward, we might be interested. Email email@example.com if that sounds like you!
How the Forum collaborates with LessWrong
On the technical side, the code for the EA Forum is a fork (a copy of the code with some modifications) of the LessWrong codebase. The LessWrong team has more developers than we do (2.5-3.5 vs 1, depending on how you count). They develop many features we want, and we keep our fork of the codebase (relatively) up to date with their changes.
We sometimes make changes to our fork that we don’t submit upstream. This was really common during the initial setup and is the easiest way to get our features to behave exactly how we want them to. However, it’s really expensive to maintain those differences. Every time we merge in the new changes to the LW codebase, those differences are the bane of JP’s existence.
So we prefer to make changes that are also useful to LW. That way, their changes are built on top of ours.
You can see us collaborate by looking at the open source codebases. Here’s the EA Forum fork and the LessWrong original. The closed Pull Requests on the LW codebase are where you’ll find a record of our changes that we push upstream.
Who’s really behind the Forum
It’s a little silly to say this, but we should emphasize that the Forum is a community effort. Aaron and I are a very small percentage of the total number of posts on the Forum. A well-made, but empty Forum would be a boring Forum. If you remember an interesting post you liked, consider leaving a comment thanking the author!
Anyway, that’s who we are. We have a post queued for tomorrow (now posted) to discuss our thoughts and plans for the Forum’s future. In case you’re wondering, these posts were mostly written by JP.
Thanks for the introductions, and for your work to coordinate knowledge sharing in the community!
I have one or two ideas on how to make the forum even better, are you interested in feedback? If you are, what would be the best way to submit feedback?
80,000 hours uses this feedback forum powered by Uservoice, which seems useful to not only receive suggestions but also prioritize them based on user votes. Would it make sense to use something similar for the EA Forum? Else, I can also just put my ideas in an email or not share them at all (in case you're too busy to look into it) - as you prefer!
Absolutely. You can:
I would like to use something like Uservoice or Changemap, they seem pretty cool. However, they seem like a bit high overhead for a one-dev shop. My guess is the best solution for a public record is to find a two way link between my beloved asana project and our public github issues.
Once again, definitely interested in feedback, it's very action-guiding, and suggestions are one of the best ways to generate ideas.
Agree a clearer feedback policy and way to provide feedback would be helpful, as would some way of objectively aggregating feedback among users. :-)
Exist.io (a quantified self service I use) use Changemap, which seems to serve a similar purpose.