TL;DR: We’re kicking off a test where “Community” posts don’t go on the Frontpage with other posts but have their own section below the fold. We’re also closing subforums and focusing on improving “core topic” pages to let people go deeper on specific sub-fields in EA. And we’re sharing a few other updates.
More detailed summary:
- We’re running a test: “Community” posts have a separate section on the Frontpage ⬇️
- We’re shutting down subforums, and pivoting to “core topics” ⬇️
- Other changes ⬇️
“Community” posts have a separate section on the Frontpage — a test
We recently shared that we might test separating community discussion from posts on other topics, and outlined two approaches we might try. Based on the feedback we got and other considerations, we’re going forward with version 2: a section for “Community” posts on the Frontpage.
What this means
- Posts that are primarily impactful via the EA community as a phenomenon (posts that aren’t significantly relevant to a non-meta organization, field of research, etc., including posts about the community) get the “Community” tag (as before), which moves them off the top of the Frontpage and into a “Community” section below the fold (on the same page).
- Moderators and Forum facilitators will be applying and monitoring this tag. Other users cannot modify the tag.
- Readers can change this by modifying their tag filters (e.g. to still include "Community" posts).
- Discussions on “Community” posts will also not be showing up in the “Recent Discussion” section. (Readers can change this back by going to their account settings and looking in the "Site customizations" section.)
- We will run this test for around a month, and track engagement with different kinds of posts, feedback we get, subjective evaluations of how discussions go, and more.
- If you have any feedback on this change (or any others), we’d love to hear it. You can comment on this post or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can see how this works by scrolling through the Frontpage right now.
Why we're doing this
You can see our full reasoning here (and in the comments). In brief, we are worried about a way in which the voting structure on the Forum leads to more engagement with “Community” posts than users endorse, we’ve been hearing user feedback on related issues for a long time, and we’ve been having lots of conversations on hypotheses that we’d like to test.
Transitioning from subforums to “core topics”
Very short TL;DR: we’re closing the subforums that we were testing, and pivoting to developing more polished and easy-to-use topic pages that help readers explore those topics.
Slightly less brief:
- We were testing hosting subforums on the Forum. We launched subforums for Effective Giving, Bioethics, Software Development, and Forecasting & Estimation.
- We faced some issues with the subforums and decided to discontinue that project (at least for the near future — we might revisit subforums). (See more on what we learned.) The existing subforums are closing (and most will become “core topic” pages).
- Content from the subforums — discussion threads, posts, etc. — will still be available on the Forum. (Posts on the topic pages, discussions in the "Posts" tab.)
- We still want to build better topic-specific spaces on the Forum, and are developing “core topic” pages that we hope will let people keep up with content on those topics or go deeper into topic-specific content.
- (We also hope to support better systems for having more informal conversations on the Forum; see what we're doing with shortform discussions below.)
What will “core topics” look like?
You can see where we’re starting with core topics now: the animal welfare topic page is one example. It has a “Posts” tab and a “Wiki” tab; the first shows recent and upvoted posts about the topic, while the second shows the wiki description of the topic and posts that are voted most relevant (by default — you can change this sorting).
You can sort and view the posts on both of these tabs in different ways. Most notably, on the post tab, you can choose different sorting mechanisms and also choose whether to see posts in expanded or list form.
To change this, click on the grey “Sorted by Magic (New & Upvoted), Posts Expanded” text in the upper right-hand corner to expand and modify these settings.
Where will "core topics" show up?
You can access the “core topic” pages in a few different ways:
- We’re now featuring links to all the core topics in the Forum sidebar (if you can’t see the sidebar, click on three little lines in the top-left corner of your screen).
- The All Topics page is now prominently displaying the core topics at the top.
- The core topics also do the things regular topic pages do — if you click on a tag for a core topic on a post (e.g. “Community” on this post), you’ll end up on the page.
We might feature the core topics more in the future. We’ll also be trying to improve the content, images, and general structure/styles of the core topic pages in the near future to make them easier to use, better resources for people who want to learn more about the topics, etc. And we might extend some of the features listed here to all topic pages, not just the core topics.
How did we choose the list of “core topics”?
To choose “core topics,” we looked at clusters of popular tags and selected groupings that made sense given what we’re trying to do (in particular, let people keep up with content in specific sub-fields in EA, and explore those sub-fields deeper).
(We referred to an analysis from SEADS on tag clusters and looked at how other EA websites organize topics. We're really grateful to the folks at SEADS for doing this analysis!)
What we learned from working on subforums
We wanted to help users engage with the content that is most relevant and helpful to them, so we began piloting subforums last October. Over the last few months, we’ve tried a few different iterations of subforums and launched subforums on Effective Giving, Bioethics, Software Development, and Forecasting & Estimation. What we learned:
- Subforums were just not used very much; most things that were posted in subforums were also posted to the Frontpage, and internal-to-subforums discussions didn’t happen very much.
- We had hoped that people would start informal discussions in subforums more; we featured “start a discussion” (or “thread”) options, and we thought that the fact that fewer people would see the content (exclusively subforum members and people exploring the subforum) would encourage people to share thoughts that didn’t merit a full post, etc. This didn’t really happen. People were pretty confused about the feature, and we think it might also not have fit neatly into users’ mental models of what the Forum is for. We’ll be trying out different ways of working on this with the shortform feature (see below).
- Users seemed confused by the idea of joining a small subforum on a platform that’s already relatively small (we estimate the Forum has a little less than 10,000 monthly users, of whom around 1,000-3,000 comment or post).
Some things we think might have happened, although we’re not sure:
- We were just wrong about the need for subforums.
- We just haven’t made subforums good enough.
- Users didn’t have a recurring reminder or burning desire to visit subforums, so discussions in subforums would die out.
So we’re closing down the subforums pilot, although we might revisit something like subforums in the future.
Notifying users by mentioning them
If you write “@” and then someone’s username, you can now notify that person. We might set up some barriers for this feature to avoid causing spam-like notifications. Please note that you can also customize your notification settings by going to account settings.
Tagging shortform posts
When you write a shortform post (for instance, by going to the Shortform page), you will now see tag options at the bottom of the post (called “Shortform topic”).
If you select one or more of these, the shortform will have the tag on it when others read it, and will appear on the related core topic page. I tagged an old shortform of mine with the “Career choice” topic as an example — you can see it at the bottom of the page here if you use the "posts collapsed" view.
You can also create a shortform post that’s specifically related to a core topic by going to the topic page (the posts tab — here’s an example) and clicking on “New Shortform.”
We’re hoping to develop the shortform feature more, as we think it might be useful for sharing ideas that don’t need a full post or less-polished writing.
Uploading social previews
In the past, when you shared posts from the Forum on social media, the default preview mostly showed the light bulb logo or the first image in a post. You can now upload an image specifically for the social preview, and the featured text will be the first lines of the post.
This option is available on the draft page; when you’re editing a draft of a post, you’ll see the “Edit Link Preview” section near the bottom.
We added a custom preview image (quickly made!) to this post.
Coauthors can edit posts (fixing a bug)
Previously, only the first author of a post could edit it. All coauthors can now edit posts.
If you have any feedback, please share it!
You can comment on this post, or get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
Thanks so much to the folks who worked on these projects, to everyone who helped with the pilot subforums, to those who gave input on the community-Frontpage test, and to many others.
Great change guys, working better than I expected. Just observing myself I feel pretty liberated. I think removing the comments from the scroll-feed is a key step.
One quick suggestion: should users have the ability to tag their own posts 'Community' when they write them? Without this it seems like all posts will be frontpage for a few hours before a mod notices. (Ideally but probably not viably you would offer users some incentive for correctly tagging their posts as 'Community' to offset the loss of frontpage visibility for an initial few hours.)
Huge fan of the rapid iteration you folks are doing!
The difference between "building effective altruism" and "community" could use some clarification.
Agreed. I think the same also goes for "criticism of effective altruism", I'm not sure it's a good look for the forum if, assuming there's a fair amount of overlap between the two topics, to be automatically be granting criticisms of whatever form second-class status
For tagging, how do I tag someone whose username contains a space? I want to be able to tag ‘Amber Dawn’ without tagging ‘Amber’.
Looks like this was either fixed, or I was on mobile before and am now on desktop
Give Community Posts and Recommendations a "load more" button to expand them on the frontpage.
I like the community section change more than I expected to. I especially like that it only displays 3 posts. It feels like my attention is more where I want it and that feels good.
Personally I'd probably expand the community section to maybe 5 posts. Currently the 3 slots are occupied by posts from the last 3 days, so I expect there will be more recent discussion that I might be interested in, and to see those I have to open a new page which feels a little cumbersome. With 5 posts I imagine that I wouldn't feel the need to see whether I missed some interesting post.
Very happy to see these experiments, thank you!
If others are really interested in seeing "building effective altruism" on their frontpage, but don't want to see all "community" posts there, I'm setting "building effective altruism" posts to +1100 and "community" posts to -1000 on mine
But I go to https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/topics/community and see years-old posts; I want the feed to show recent posts... (they appear to be sorted by "Community"-tag relevance, but should be sorted the same way as the frontpage)
Thanks for reporting the bug! I just deployed a fix, so the "Magic" default sorting should be properly applied now.
While the forum team fixes it, you can go to https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/topics/community?sortedBy=magic (or click on "Sorted by" and select "magic", even if it's already selected)
That definitely looks like a bug; thank you for catching and flagging it! We'll work on fixing it asap.
FWIW several people I spoke to just weren't aware subforums existed, during the time they were being piloted.
This change seems net-positive for me, thanks.
An option-I-wish-existed / thing-I-would-opt-into-if-I-could: displaying the top 8 or 10 "Community" posts on forum.effectivealtruism.org rather than the top 3.
(Edit: and/or a "load more" option, like there is for non-community posts.)
I think the separate Community tab is a great idea, thanks for implementing that!
Not about the current changes, but a bit of unrelated site feedback: The "library" button at the bottom of mobile leads to what seem to be a set of curated essays and sequences, which is good, but the sequences listed at the top are overwhelmingly on the topic of AI safety, which seems pretty unbalanced -- I'd like to see this tab contain a mix of curated reading recommendations on global poverty, animal welfare, biorisk, AI safety, and other cause areas.
It seems to me that the new Community section is more like what a traditional subforum would look like on a forum.
For the other subforums to have succeeded they probably should have been on topics that are getting lots of posts/comments already.
I feel mixed about this.
On one hand, I log on to the forum and sometimes think "I'd rather not read about more drama", or indeed "I keep getting sucked in by drama rather than cause prioritisation". Really I just want to learn more rather than get sucked into debates about polycules and stuff.
On the other, if people are gravitating towards posts and discussion about the community, that's telling you something about what matters to people and what is soaking up a lot of mental energy among the community. It means there's an opportunity for (hopefully) progress to be made, when messages can land better, when it's more acceptable to dissent; in large part spurred on by FTX fraud fallout.
I feel like this experiment is maybe not the best response to increased visceral dialogue about the community; it feels more like trying to package certain conversations in another space because XYZ reasons. I say XYZ reasons because the reasons themselves aren't the important part; the important part is that the message latent in people's behaviour isn't being paid attention to.
It's a human response, and it's typically the response of very cerebral / less emotional people when there has been emotional trauma in a small group setting. But it isn't necessarily the response which leads to the best results, as others feel silenced or that the opportunity for changing things for the better is being taken away.
Also I find the rationale here for removing community posts because they are intrinsically ones that everyone can grapple with wildly counterintuitive.
While I like the change I think it papers over the cracks of us not being great at community sensemaking. I sense we agree.
I'm curious about the down-voting with out explanations as well, keen to hear why people disagree.
The decision on community posts looks like a good compromise :)
One reason I think the subforums didn't work well is that there isn't a big difference between having that feature and just customizing your front page to see more of the topics you like.
I was confused about what Core Topics are after reading this and how they differ from tags/what problem they are supposed to address. Is it that a post can be included in a core topic by having one of a number of relevant tags?
Regarding subforums, the pitch as I see it ( = as JP told me in the software subforum, I think, but I don't know how to find that link now) is:
I think for this to work well it's worth while communicating that this (the 3 bullets) is the intent. I'd for example be happy to ask people from the spaces that I admin to try posting in the subforum and reading from the subforum for a month (post the same things, look for the same content) as an experiment.
I hope this would solve "not enough people post" and "people aren't sure what to post" together with some other problems like "get a critical mass of posters+readers" and "people will know what they want from the subforum, so they'll know to 'complain' if certain are missing (as opposed to having a vibe of trying to understand what the developers meant)".
Eh, reading what I wrote, this isn't so tidy. Feel free to ask questions if you'd like me to clarify
Probably some of this is my own opinion which I mixed in with what JP said, but I can't remember what
I wouldn't close the existing space, and I'd do other things like "give people an opportunity to push back if they think it's stupid" (I don't want to be a dictator and I do want people to compete if they think there's a reason to do so as opposed to by accident), but I would be happy to nudge and make a pitch to why this is a good idea
Hi there, sorry for the late reply. Regarding your comments on subforums, we really did go back and forth on this, but ultimately felt like we were unlikely to displace slacks and discord groups across the board for "discussion". We felt like the Forum's core competency is longform posts and comments on those posts, and the number of features we'd have to build well to displace these other platforms was really large. So for now, we decided to reduce the goals of "subforums" and just focus on topic views that are more coherent than the current wiki.
This doesn't mean subforums are off the table forever, but we'd like to focus on some other things that we think are higher impact righ tnow.
If you change your mind, I'll be on board (unless something changes?) and I'd be happy to post the pitch in the EA Software groups specifically
A bit off topic:
I'm currently trying to have discussions about AI Safety and the community seems to be split up into an uncountable (to me) amount of slacks-and-stuff. I keep discovering more and more of them. This is a pain point for me, as a user, since I want lots of feedback on what I write. Any chance you have thoughts/advice on this, since you thought about the subforum problem (which seems similar)?
("no" is totally valid)
I'd be curious to hear how forum usage trends have moved since this change was introduced. It seems pretty clear that community post engagement has gone down significantly. How has engagement with other posts trended in that time? I could imagine it going either way.
Is there any way I can remove the "community posts" section from my front page? I used to have the "community" tag blocked completely, so now I'm seeing a lot more community posts than I'd like.