How to find EA documents on a particular topic

post by Jc_Mourrat · 2019-11-19T02:41:51.319Z · EA · GW · 7 comments

I’ve often found it very difficult to find EA documents on a particular topic. I had an epiphany a couple of days ago when I realized that, well… you can just ask Google to do this for you. Since there may be other people who, like my previous self, have not yet realized this, I will explain here how it works. It is very simple: if you want, say, to learn about bees, you just type in the Google search bar something like[1]

bees site:effectivealtruism.org OR site:80000hours.org

The point is that you can specify a set of websites to restrict the search. On the example above the search is restricted to two websites, but more can be added, for instance:

bees site:effectivealtruism.org OR site:80000hours.org OR site:eaglobal.org OR site:openphilanthropy.org OR site:givewell.org OR site:animalcharityevaluators.org OR site:globalprioritiesinstitute.org

The list of websites can of course be expanded further. I now have a long list of websites including those above which I copy-paste to the search bar each time I want to look for something in the EA sphere. All the other standard tools to optimize a Google search remain available, such as restricting the time range (using the “Tools” menu), imposing a file type (by writing, for instance, “filetype:pdf”), excluding a word (by preceding it with a minus sign), looking for images or videos only, etc.

Let me add to this that there are also very useful curated lists of EA documents sorted by topic at resources.eahub.org.

I think it would be really valuable if a website such as eahub.org included a search form which would do some version of this. (In my opinion, the list of included websites should be quite long by default, with an option that allows to restrict the search to a subset of websites chosen by the user.)


  1. A direct link to this search query can be created like this. ↩︎

7 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by cafelow · 2019-11-19T20:50:38.492Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Jc! The Hub team has been thinking about having an "Search all of EA" button for a while, but it never quite bubbled up to the top of our to do list. Your explanation of how it could work, as well as John Maxwell's description, make it seem more doable than I previously thought. I'll be discussing this with the rest of the team.

comment by VPetukhov · 2019-12-09T09:54:49.273Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yep, this feature would be extremely useful! Indeed, for some programming languages such customized google engines exist and works reasonably well. Don't know how they did that, but here are two examples: https://rseek.org/ and http://steampiano.net/julia-search/index.html .

comment by Jc_Mourrat · 2019-11-19T23:20:12.746Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Awesome, I hope it will work out!

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2019-11-19T02:56:43.091Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I assembled a huge list of domains like this and created a custom search engine using this tool from Google. Unfortunately despite it being Google, the search results are really terrible, so I never posted it. (Example: a search for "capacity-building" returns 5 results, none of which are this page. I know it's picking up concepts.effectivealtruism.org because when I search for "moral uncertainty" the #2 result is from concepts.effectivealtruism.org. BTW, I included quite a number of domains in the search engine, not all the results are necessarily EA-related.)

https://searchstack.co is a nice little tool which makes use of the site:A OR site:B mechanism, but unfortunately I believe Google caps the number of distinct domains you can search using that trick? But maybe we could use multiple searchstacks for different EA subtopics. I think if there are search companies that actually do a good job of allowing you to create a custom search engine, that would be the ideal solution, even if it requires paying a monthly fee. If someone else wants to take initiative on this, I'd love to collaborate.

It'd be especially cool if a search engine could search Facebook group archives, since there's so much EA discussion in those.

comment by Jc_Mourrat · 2019-11-19T11:57:38.208Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

When I search for capacity building as suggested in the post, it seems to me that the results are ok: I get about 600 results, and the first result is actually the page you mentioned. It's surprising that one cannot get the custom search engine to reproduce this. (And it's good to know that we can get around this by just generating Google queries as in the link above!) Thanks for pointing out searchstack.co, it looks very interesting!

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2019-11-19T11:50:36.792Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The search box on eablogs.net will run a search restricted to all and only those domains tracked by that website. Google Custom Search, however, doesn't work well, and results will only include a tiny subset of all occurrences of a given search term (John reports [EA(p) · GW(p)] a similarly frustrating experience with this service). If anyone has suggestions for alternatives, please let me know.

comment by Jemma · 2019-11-19T08:33:00.900Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is also a fantastic lifehack for searching for information on websites whose own search bar functionality is... subpar.