The EA Hub is suspending new feature development (with plans to retire)

post by Vaidehi Agarwalla (vaidehi_agarwalla) · 2022-02-27T22:02:56.772Z · EA · GW · 10 comments

Contents

  Key Takeaways
  Context
  2021 in Review
  Our reasons for suspending development and plans to retire the Hub
  Looking forward
  What does this mean for Hub users?
None
10 comments

Key Takeaways

Context

The EA Hub is one of the oldest volunteer projects in the EA ecosystem. The first version of the EA Hub was started by the Local Effective Altruism Network [? · GW] (LEAN) in 2015, to provide an online platform for EAs to connect with each other as well as with EA groups, projects, and helpful resources. In 2015 the Hub had EA profiles and groups (and maps), a donation registry, links to actions for EAs to take, a nascent wiki, and hosted the results of the EA Survey. There has been limited interest from other meta organisations to do work in this space. The codebase was deprecated and the EA Hub was relaunched [EA · GW] in 2019 with a new codebase and team. 

A new leadership team [EA · GW] (Vaidehi, Victor & Seb) started work in Fall 2020. Starting in 2020 the Hub was fiscally sponsored by, but otherwise independent from, Rethink Charity. Our vision for the EA Hub was to be “an online platform that enables collaboration and facilitates connections between people in the Effective Altruism movement to make it easier to learn, network, collaborate on projects, and find career opportunities.” We believe that improving community infrastructure for projects, individuals, and groups will help initiatives build traction more effectively. Read more [EA · GW] about our team’s plans. 

2021 in Review

Our goals for 2021 included securing funding, developing new features [EA · GW], maintaining the existing platform, and improving our volunteer capacity. We also developed our strategy and coordinated with stakeholders.   

We applied to the EA Infrastructure Fund for the funds needed to reach the level of professionalism appropriate for this project. As we explain below, EAIF rejected us because they felt it would be less valuable because of similar work planned by CEA. 

After learning about CEA’s plans, we deliberated and decided to suspend further work on the EA Hub. 

Our reasons for suspending development and plans to retire the Hub

The main reason for our decision is that we found out that the CEA Online Team plans to introduce features on the EA Forum that would be similar to the EA Hub’s. 

Background: The new Hub team (Vaidehi, Seb, and Victor) started work in Fall 2020 and were in contact with various staff at CEA from that point on to get feedback, coordinate, and share progress.

We generally think competition is good, but in the case of community services, we believe centralization is very important to reap network effects and potentially create a better user experience. Initially, we had planned to work closely with CEA to integrate the Hub and Forum (e.g. through a Single Sign On) to create a more integrated experience. 

Since CEA has changed their strategy to be more closely aligned to the Hub’s vision, we think that it is better to have one platform. We also feel that CEA is better positioned (in terms of their funding, position in the community, and time) to maintain and develop such a platform. 

You can see a brief statement summarising CEA’s online plans (as of Feb 2022) written by Ben West from CEA below: 

A fundamental problem facing any platform which attempts to connect its users is what is sometimes called the “cold start problem”: nobody is going to use your platform if other people aren’t on it, but other people aren’t going to be on your platform because they also are waiting for others to join.

CEA is fortunate to have several online products with existing user bases, e.g. this Forum. Our hope is to integrate connection-building features with these existing properties, thereby avoiding the cold start problem. E.g. Users who are browsing this forum for interesting articles might also be interested in browsing for events.

We have already released a few products related to online connection building:

  1. Our Virtual Programs [? · GW], which have in total brought a couple of thousand people together to discuss EA topics through 8 week fellowship programs.
  2. A new events page [? · GW], including hiring a data entry firm to crosspost events from a long list of Facebook groups, mailing lists, etc., making it a relatively comprehensive listing of all EA events.
  3. A new version of effectivealtruism.org, which better points people to our Virtual Programs. VP enrollment increased 50% the month after it was released.
  4. We released and made a bunch of improvements to the community page [? · GW]. We are planning to release an even newer version of this in the next couple weeks from when I am writing this, so it might be available when you are reading this.

We have written more about our future plans to support connections via the forum here [EA · GW]. Feedback on either our general strategy or specific use cases is always appreciated!

Looking forward

We believe the ultimate goal of the EA Hub — to improve coordination in the global EA community — is very valuable (that’s why we were working on it!). We are happy that CEA is also focusing on this, and have shared our work to date with them. 

We would be excited to see the following features developed on the Forum and other online products in the near future:

We think it’s important for the community to take an active role in helping develop community infrastructure and encourage you to share your suggestions for new features or services you would benefit from on CEA’s recent forum post [EA · GW] or the Forum features suggestion thread [EA · GW]. 

What does this mean for Hub users?

For the foreseeable future, the EA Hub will remain live, but we will no longer be actively developing it. When we make the decision to shut down the Hub, we will notify users via email at least 1 month before it goes down. We will post updates about any changes to the current status of the Hub to the Forum (both editing this post & creating new top-level posts when needed) as well.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post, or email us at contact@eahub.org. Thank you to all the volunteers over the past several years who have worked on making the Hub possible. 


 

10 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Ula · 2022-02-28T10:17:32.340Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"CEA told us that they are unsure if they will pursue any of those specific ideas." I think the huge value of EA Hub is that tons of EA people have a profile there and that I can search through their interests,  experience, and try to contact them with relevant opportunities or connect. Would be great if this was kept alive since it's very valuable. It would be terrible if e.g. the site stopped working and there would be no alternative for it. As I understand it, you will keep it going until there is a strong alternative. So maybe another 2 years? I think things go very slow in the EA space, so just maybe worth taking this into account, and making sure the hub stays alive. Also in this transition period, I would be afraid that people will be discouraged to add their profiles to EA Hub, with no alternative to it really. And that would be a loss I think. 

Replies from: vaidehi_agarwalla, Ben_West
comment by Vaidehi Agarwalla (vaidehi_agarwalla) · 2022-02-28T17:11:09.466Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ula, 

Thanks for your comment. We also agree that the Profiles on the Hub are valuable (that's why we were working on them). This decision was not an easy one to make. 

I think things go very slow in the EA space, so just maybe worth taking this into account, and making sure the hub stays alive.

As mentioned in our post [EA · GW], the Hub will still be up and running, and we have plans to maintain it until there is a viable alternative. We will provide advance notice on any changes to the Hub's existing functionality. 

I would be afraid that people will be discouraged to add their profiles to EA Hub, with no alternative to it

This is a reasonable concern, and we are also concerned about this and factored this into our decision-making. Unfortunately, we still did not feel like it was worth continuing work on the Hub with limited time and resources. 

comment by Ben_West · 2022-03-03T14:00:02.188Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think the huge value of EA Hub is that tons of EA people have a profile there and that I can search through their interests,  experience, and try to contact them with relevant opportunities or connect

Would you be able to elaborate more on the specific use cases you have? E.g. are you trying to contact people to offer them jobs? Or looking for mentorship? Understanding these use cases better would really help us (CEA) make a more useful set of features.

PS: if anyone reading this wants to help development go faster, CEA is hiring for multiple positions :)

Replies from: Ula
comment by Ula · 2022-03-03T15:54:10.244Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Basically, I would just copy the EA Hub if you want to create something useful. 
For me, the filter system is extremely important. The ability to contact people via LinkedIn (where everyone is), via direct message.
I mean one can be using EA Hub for everything: contacting potential mentors, contacting experts in the given area for research purposes, contacting people "open to job offers", contacting people who can advise you. I mean there is no other place, where we can see what people's interests are and reach out to them based on that. 
Let's look at the filters - maybe I am looking for an editor in the UK time zone - I can filter through "open to job offers", "interested in communications", "interested in specific cause area". I mean isn't this amazing? Everyone should be there. It's the easiest way to connect for useful, impactful stuff. 

The most impactful thing is that EA Hub is open. I know that different orgs have huge people databases but because they collect their data for the organization, they can't share it under GDPR. EA Hub, therefore, is extremely important, it allows the connections that are not facilitated anywhere else. 

Why you just don't take over the management of EA Hub if the current team can't afford to run it any longer? I mean building a similar system will take you ages, no? Like, people are already there. Are you going to ask each person to come to your new system? Are you going to transfer people's profiles to the new system? As I understand it, it took a very long time (years) to build the EA hub and its functionalities. I can't imagine you will be able to create a whole, equally useful thing, fast. 

I would consider just buying/taking over and promoting creating accounts there. Treating it like LinkedIn for EAs. 

You can just create one bigger page like EA community, part of this page will be the forum, part of the page will be EA Hub, and part of the page will be EA Work e.g.
If you will have a skilled full-stack developer, they can probably nicely put this stuff together.

It's very common in the startup world that each new developer hates working on other developers' code, and says: oh I will better build something new. But it's very common later for them to underdeliver or take ages. It would be sad if all this work that is already done, and the database of amazing people that signed up, just vanished or was stopped from developing. 

Maybe there is a third way to go about it? What do you think?
 

Replies from: rime, Ben_West, brb243, Ben_West
comment by Rémi T (rime) · 2022-03-03T22:46:49.049Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would consider just buying/taking over and promoting creating accounts [on EA hub]. Treating it like LinkedIn for EAs.

This is also what I think would be the best option. I like that EA hub and the Forum are two separate things, because they have different functions.

EA hub feels much more friendly to me, probably because of pictures, control over profile visibility, and how the profiles are conceived.

I feel quite intimidated on the Forum because of how serious and public it is.

comment by Ben_West · 2022-03-08T13:49:45.587Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The EA Forum (and other CEA sites like EA.org) get a lot of traffic. [1] This traffic will naturally make any connection-oriented features more valuable than if they were on a standalone site without as much traffic. (I think this was part of why the Hub team thinks CEA is better placed to develop these features, though I don't want to speak for  them.)

I like the idea of code reuse in general, but if we want to move these features to the Forum, I expect code reuse to not be very helpful. The Hub was written in a different language, uses a different database management system, etc. We could in theory write translators between these different systems, but I expect that to be more complicated than a native implementation.

I am more excited about reusing the "intellectual property" of the Hub. The Hub team has been awesome, sharing their design and research documents etc., and I expect this to be quite helpful in our work.

  1. ^

    At least they get a lot of traffic for an EA site. Not a lot relative to something like Google, of course.

comment by brb243 · 2022-03-03T20:45:40.819Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

By the way I was contacted by Ula via LinkedIn in a way that was promoting CE's opportunities not extensively related to my profile and written in the tone of 'help us achieve our objectives' way, which I suggested that is avoided due to the reputational loss risk of limited consideration of supporting persons in pursuing their objectives, quite the opposite (I briefly discussed this with Ula).

Nevertheless, there is a great potential value in the EA Hub database of asks and offers in enabling persons to find others with similar interests or complementary asks-offers. I would even add some fields, to enable more informed search. For example:

  • Path to impact
  • Transferrable skills / skill level matrix
  • Skills interested in developing
  • Cause area expertise / expertise nature and level matrix
  • Cause area expertise interested in developing

Originally, this was an idea following up on the Common App post [EA(p) · GW(p)]that also included current and past employment information, language skills, logistics preferences, professional profile, organization and role-specific questions and tasks, and engagement preferences. This would be more relevant to job / applicant / colleague / discussant / complementary thinker / volunteer opportunity / feedback or resources sharing etc search.

comment by Ben_West · 2022-03-07T14:27:15.454Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's very common in the startup world that each new developer hates working on other developers' code, and says: oh I will better build something new. But it's very common later for them to underdeliver or take ages.

Thanks  Ula, I agree that code reuse is good, so it might be helpful to discuss a bit more about my background model here.

In general, I think tech projects usually fail not because they fail to build what they are trying to build, but because they successfully build something people don't want. I think this is a fairly mainstream view in the tech world (see e.g. Lean Startup, four steps to the Epiphany, etc.). I.e. I agree that "code reuse" is a pretty good answer to the question "how can we ship features XYZ as quickly as possible" but think "how can we ship features XYZ as quickly as possible" is usually not the right question to ask.

As an example: the first use case from my post about creating connections [EA · GW] online is "new person has new person questions" and I don't think that new people who have basic questions about EA want a filterable list of EA's but rather something more similar to the Virtual Programs slack.

I appreciate the feedback on use cases, and would love to see more, either here or on the connections post!

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-02-28T12:40:09.082Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your and the team's work  on the Hub. I'm glad this important work was done and I hope it is continued.

In particular I was glad to see connection between the Hub and the forum and I hope that the future platform will either be the forum or will integrate well with it. Likewise, if there are every other EA forums with different user bases, I hope the users of those platforms can easily access this information.

I would love to see a polis-style exercise across EA platforms to ask EAs and EA orgs what information they'd like to give/see and how they expect to interact with it. 

Replies from: vaidehi_agarwalla
comment by Vaidehi Agarwalla (vaidehi_agarwalla) · 2022-02-28T17:14:33.979Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that Single Sign On between different EA platforms would be really great  - we were about to implement this on the Hub before we made the decision to halt development. 

I would love to see a polis-style exercise across EA platforms to ask EAs and EA orgs what information they'd like to give/see and how they expect to interact with it. 

Agreed, we tried to do this at the Hub. This is why I strongly recommend people reading this, especially  if you don't usually provide feedback, to share your suggestions for new features or services you would benefit from on CEA’s recent forum post [EA · GW] or the Forum features suggestion thread [EA · GW].