What Are Your Software Needs?

post by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-20T13:29:14.412Z · EA · GW · 41 comments

This is a question post.

TL;DR: Please comment with pain points you have or know about that might be solved by software developers.

Have a low bar: If it's related to EA or LessWrong, and someone would probably pay $100 to solve it, please write it. For example, maybe there's an annoying task you'd like to automate? Or a Twitter bot you wish existed?

No need to repost job openings that already exist in the 80000 hours job board or in impact colabs, but if I forgot another board, I'd be happy if you add it too.



Why I'm asking: I wonder if there are existing needs in our community, but there's no easy way to surface them. I hope that commenting here will be easy and inviting enough to bridge some of that gap. On the other side I think there are software developers who might help.  

Inspiration: Ambitious Altruistic Software Engineering Efforts: Opportunities and Benefits [EA · GW] by Ozzie Gooen, EA Communication Project Ideas [EA · GW] by Ben West.


answer by --alex-- · 2021-11-20T14:46:41.712Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A seamless way to pull in all communications from all the services I'm on:

  • 20+ Slack Groups
  • 10+ Telegram Groups and Conversations
  • 30+ WhatsApp Converstions
  • 20+ Signal Conversations
  • 50+ SMS Converstations
  • Email
  • LinkedIn
  • Keybase
  • Discord
  • SwapCard
  • Patron
  • Whatever else I'm missing...

Perhaps there's already something like this, but I'm hesitant because it seems overwhelming and likely that it means I have yet another service to check...

comment by Lorenzo Buonanno · 2021-11-28T21:18:58.239Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A friend uses https://tryshift.com/ 

Downsides: it's $99.99 per year, it uses a lot of RAM and I don't think it supports SMS

Replies from: Charles He
comment by Charles He · 2021-11-29T01:49:18.322Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Eh, I did some work for the director who started Shift and I know the owner of the parent company (Shift is one in their family of products).

If there is demand for Shift (at least 10 people will use it), I can probably get a deal, and we can fund it through the infrastructure fund or something (modulo some sort of conflict of interest thing on my end).



Just so you know, you can think of Shift like tabs in chrome, but the tabs are accounts from all of your various apps, Slacks, and you can run multiple accounts, and it should be setup pretty smoothly.

It's not a panacea but if it something like a "one-stop shop" is what you need, Shift could work.

it uses a lot of RAM and I don't think it supports SMS

Yup, it's built in Electron (or a related backend, they changed it a few times), which is cross platform and so is ram hungry. I think it's pretty smooth on any modern machine.


By the way, Shift and Redbrick are great people, pretty much the best culture you can get in tech.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2021-11-20T15:01:33.462Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think "matrix" is the keyword you want to search?

Replies from: --alex--
comment by --alex-- · 2021-11-21T14:02:22.798Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

...I think the matrix is already searching for me...

comment by Jannika Seybold · 2021-11-26T15:53:46.570Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Not sure if it covers all of your needs but I think franz can cover quite a lot.

Downside: it's 6€ per month if you want to add an infinite amount of services. The free version only covers three.

I personally have not used it but the people I know who use it seem to be quite happy with it. If you have any concerns about privacy: sorry I can't help you there because I don't use it and have therefore not looked into how it works :)

answer by --alex-- · 2021-11-20T14:32:14.184Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Automated Networking Calls for EAs:

- EAs with calendly sign up for weekly random networking 

- the system randomly pairs based on calendly availability match

- the system leverages calendly to book meetings 

- EAs have meetings and if they find them useful, tell other EAs to sign up!

Once we have this working for EAs (for free or a nominal cost), we could roll out a paid, profit-maximizing version. If you build it, I'm happy to shill it far and wide and pitch it to investors!

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-11-24T11:09:11.600Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A non-automated version of this existed for a time: EA Pen Pals [EA · GW]. I used it a couple of times and enjoyed it. Might be worth talking to the people behind that project to learn about their experiences.

comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-20T14:50:08.415Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sounds like Lunchclub, do you know it?

Replies from: --alex--
comment by --alex-- · 2021-11-21T14:01:00.669Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Lunchclub sucks. Their matching is terrible. I tried it a few times and quit. They have focused too much on monetization and not enough on a good user experience. 

Calendly + EAs provide a good platform and community to build on. Feel free to use my calendly and LinkedIn and manually book meetings with other EAs who also have calendly, per Paul Graham -- http://paulgraham.com/ds.html

answer by Nathan Young · 2021-11-20T13:49:26.971Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A forecasting twitter bot

A bot you can call which notes a forecast and will remind you when it's up and ask if it resolved positive or negative. It screenshots the tweet and stores it in a list of your forecasts. When the time is up it asks you if you were right or wrong and records this too.

If asked by someone else it will give your calibration. If people lie about their forecasts that will be very easy to find. 

Nuño Sempere and I both came up with this idea and he's currently applying for funding.   https://twitter.com/metaforecast/status/1459606291169652743?s=20

answer by Nathan Young · 2021-11-20T13:30:48.672Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The two EA/Rationalist friend matchmaking apps should work together. 

https://www.reciprocity.io/ does facebook

https://tweetledee.xyz/ does twitter

Both are built by EAs. There should be a single app that lets one put in their facebook and twitter details and matches friends or anyone mutually present on twitter lists.

More frienships/relationships = good.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2021-11-20T13:32:04.185Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As a stretch you could add this forum in (without the dating option if that's too controversial) often it's just good to flag you'd like to have a call with someone without much friction.

Key idea: reducing friction is important. Every extra click will reduce the amount of people who use a service. Having to go to someone's account and message them a calendly link reduces possible connections significantly.

comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-20T13:47:53.571Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'll comment [very much for the sake of making conversation] that I agree they should know about each other if somehow they don't, but also that there are advantages in keeping them as competitors

Replies from: nathan
comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2021-11-20T14:13:50.092Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think both were passion projects and lack continued development. 

answer by NunoSempere · 2021-11-25T11:19:09.938Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would appreciate a code review of Metaforecast (front-end, back-end).

answer by --alex-- · 2021-11-20T14:39:54.200Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Easy, Two-Way Opt-in Intros for Match-makers:
-a web service where I enter the e-mail addresses for 2 EAs I think should meet (to collaborate on similar ideas; it's not a dating app!)
-each EA receives a personalized email saying that I think they should meet the other and why
-recipients can accept, decline, ignore or opt-out completely
-only if both recipients accept in a reasonable time frame (say 1 week), does the system generate an automated email to connect them (and possibly auto-schedule if they both have calendly -- see above)

As the match-maker, I get feedback based on who is accepting/declining the requests. I know who in my network thinks my intros are actually worthwhile. I also save lots of time and avoid missed connections from email overload

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2021-11-20T15:02:28.232Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

 I like the idea but would like it to function over email, facebook, twitter and this forum.

Replies from: --alex--
comment by --alex-- · 2021-11-21T14:03:37.347Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes! Let's build it for email first, this forum next and FB (sorry, Meta) and Twitter never :p

answer by Hazelfire · 2021-11-23T22:13:16.934Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's quite a few opportunities I see from looking around in EA. I am doing direct technical work for EA right now.

EA CoLabs

EA CoLabs itself can be framed as a technical problem. It's the problem of optimally matching different skillsets to different projects to maximise utility. You could definitely tackle it from a fun technical perspective (say, using the Hungarian Algorithm for matching, and using the Australian Skills Classification to describe skills). These however are just my ideas. I may be currently too busy with other things to properly investigate whether this is feasible.

Certificates of Impact and EA Economies

There are a lot of interesting ideas in creating economies around EA. For instance, having people sell products where all proceeds go to charity. I have a friend who wishes to look into using technologies such as blockchain to track coins that can be used to purchase good where the profits end up to Effective Charities.

Improving Infrastructure around Cost Effectiveness Analysis

This is what I'm currently doing as direct work. Cost Effectiveness Analysis are not really done to a very high quality in EA spaces as yet, and it would be nice to see more analysis so that we can make more informed decisions. I see this as a major tooling opportunity, as the state of the art in this area uses excel and a lot of time. This may include improving on technologies like Guesstimate, or building entirely new technologies.

Improving Infrastructure around epistemics and forecasting

The next area I would highlight is that there needs to be better evaluations of things like Cost Effectiveness Analysis, or really any other important calculations or predictions. These evaluations often aren't really done, and I would love to see proper evaluations say for parameters in GiveWell's Cost Effectiveness Analysis.

If you are interested in any of these. Please reply/get in contact.

comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-23T23:15:12.806Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(Strong upvote!) (Feel free to split up your reply into separate comments if you want)

EA Colabs

 I'm part of the team there and I have a lot of thoughts around it, perhaps commenting here wouldn't be the best place

"having people sell products where all proceeds go to charity" / "the profits end up to Effective Charities" 

How is this different from earning to give? (Or founders' pledge)

Improving Infrastructure around Cost Effectiveness Analysis

Hearing things like this is why I posted this in the first place!! :D :D 

Could you tell me much more? Who has these needs? What do they look like?

Would you like collaborators? (And if so, do you have some bar for their skill?

Improving Infrastructure around epistemics and forecasting

Same thing! Do you know of needs here? 

Replies from: Hazelfire, Hazelfire, Hazelfire
comment by Hazelfire · 2021-11-24T20:29:10.191Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

For Improving Infrastructure around Cost Effectiveness Analysis, my current project is pedant.

Pedant is a math DSL that's designed to make it easier to write cost effectiveness analysis. It checks the calculations for things like dimensional violations, and hopefully in the future allows you to calculate with uncertainties and explore cost effectiveness calculations more graphically.

I wouldn't say that there are people who are asking for cost effectiveness analysis, and more that they simply aren't done or are of low quality to large amounts of EA causes. For instance, even GiveWell's work that we consider to be the gold standard does not properly account for uncertainty in parameters (although Cole Haus [EA · GW] has done so in the forum), there is controversy [EA · GW] around the accuracy of ALLFED's guesstimate Cost Effectiveness Model, which may be systematically optimistic about their parameters, and these are some of the best ones out there! I don't believe ACE uses explicit cost effectiveness calculations, let alone smaller EA organisations. In conversions with Ozzie and Michael Aird I believe that they seem to share a similar sentiment.

I mainly just assumed that this problem could be because these calculations are quite difficult to do, take a lot of time, and can be very difficult to get right. So as a developer I just thought tooling. I'm not particularly creative.

I would be interested in collaborators. Help I would need includes:

  • Actual coding of pedant. Mainly you would need to be familiar with Haskell to the extent that you can code basic parsers.
  • Feedback on development. I'm always on the lookout for people who can tell me when I'm wrong and should work on something else. I've currently got two sources of feedback. I would be more than willing to have a third.
  • Testing and usage. I'd love to see someone use pedant to do a variety of cost effectiveness analysis just to see what types of features are most needed in the language. I've currently got a CEA for GiveDirectly and the Against Malaria Foundation, and would appreciate help on writing the rest of GiveWell's charities out, and maybe even other calculations such as ALLFED's CEAs or Nuno's Shallow Evaluations of Longtermist Organizations [EA · GW]. You need a lot of patience to do this, it does take a while, and you are doing really simple transformation from one format to another.
  • Documentation and recommendations. It would be lovely to get a list of recommendations and best practices for writing cost effectiveness calculations based on what say GiveWell has done. Currently, the only documentation for pedant is the README file on the main page.

Really, if you or anyone else is interested, probably best to just contact me directly.

comment by Hazelfire · 2021-11-24T19:56:14.163Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"having people sell products where all proceeds go to charity" is different from simply earning to give as it uses this fact to market to a buyer. The idea is that I may be more willing to purchase a second hand book from someone else if I know that the proceeds go to an effective charity (although I find that this is a surprisingly weak motivator, in my experience people don't purchase things even if they know the money goes to an effective charity...).

I run a bookstore to this end that is currently not that successful, that I really want to see become a larger thing. Although this is likely mainly because I'm not that good at running shopify stores.


I have a friend who's interested in much more ambitious ideas than this.

comment by Hazelfire · 2021-11-24T20:45:21.748Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

For Improving Infrastructure around epistemics and forecasting, Ozzie or Nuno would likely be the best to answer this, so here I'm just trying to put myself in their mind. These ideas are a mixture of mine + a discussion with Ozzie.

I would say a clear opportunity would be to investigate looking into writing prediction functions, rather than just predictions. Say for instance "If SpaceX has a press release about an innovation to be released before 2025, then I estimate SpaceX to become a trillion dollar company 5 years earlier". Having such a fidelity makes it possible to understand the best forecasting techniques better and aids in computer systems being able to answer these types of questions. As for as I know, this doesn't exist.

As a side note, I think this type of forecasting platform would be awesome for policy evaluation. "If this policy is implemented in X way I predict that the policy will create a decrease in the unemployment rate by Y%". The applications of the proper application of this idea are endless.

Another would be creating a platform that allows you to properly calibrate parameters for a Cost Effectiveness Calculation using forecasting, or evaluate outcomes of business decisions using forecasting.

I'm not a pro in this area, but that's currently what I see.

answer by peterhartree · 2021-11-21T14:28:42.088Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Personally I'm looking for someone to help me build a simple plugin for the Obsidian note taking app.

The plugin should generate a list of links to notes that match criteria I specify.

Spec here. If you'd enjoy getting paid to make this for me, please send me a DM.

answer by Nathan Young · 2021-11-20T15:16:26.697Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Bounty system for stuff like this.

A website with findable bounties for EA goals. If you do the goal you get the bounty.

answer by Nathan Young · 2021-11-20T13:44:29.637Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Filter the forum articles which get sent to me by email from the EA forum.

Just as the forum front page can be sorted by subtag, it would be great if newsletters could too. Ideally if RSS worked too.

answer by Nathan Young · 2021-11-20T13:32:25.045Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Using the EA forum to aggregate and prioritise jobs from twitter/80k.

Twitter + 80k -> forum -> twitter + email/RSS

All 80k jobs and jobs tagged with @effective_jobs get scraped and posted to the forum (hidden). You can hear about specific jobs from the forum with an email or RSS.  The bot then posts all the ones that receive a certain amount of karma back to twitter.

I've written a much simpler Minimal Viable Product here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/uxfWrFNH7jSSGhkkS/unofficial-pr-faq-posting-more-jobs-to-the-forum [EA · GW]

answer by Nathan Young · 2021-11-20T14:03:53.431Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A fake fund which is decided using this forum the scored by an actual fund 

Users have some impact standard and score projects. Any projects then get scored by one of the actual funds. How good were those suggested by the forum alone?

The crowd picks higher variance options when the greenlight plays (see below). If that's true for funding, the gains will far outweight the losses. Have we tested if this is the case?

answer by j_bernardi · 2021-11-24T21:48:07.783Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A scheduling service that works across multiple timezones.

Specifically for organising seminar series with 100s of participants and 10s of facilitators. We need to:

  • Take in facilitator & participants' availabilities, submitted by them in their timezone
  • See, for each participant, which facilitators are available at this time. (So that we can match appropriate facilitators to the knowledge status of each participant, constrained on availability.)
  • Preferably some adjustment for upcoming daylight savings, but that's a stretch.

Current solutions: when2meet doesn't sync across timezones for Mon-Sun availabilty (only specific dates). Lettucemeet has weird overflow errors around midnight, and does not work in India (+4.5 hours, I believe).

This problem is known to some people, and I don't know the status of solving it at time of writing the comment (I expect the work has not been started though). Do get in touch if you're interested in this problem before going ahead with anything, all the same!


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2021-11-20T13:36:01.925Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If Ozzie doesn't add all his ideas in a day or two I'm going to. 

Replies from: hibukki, oagr
comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-20T13:44:56.013Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I linked to his post Ambitious Altruistic Software Engineering Efforts: Opportunities and Benefits [EA · GW] as inspiration :)

I edited my post to make that more clear

Replies from: nathan
comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2021-11-20T14:14:13.529Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

But I think there should be a single canonical list.

comment by Ozzie Gooen (oagr) · 2021-11-20T14:29:19.158Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm happy with others doing it, but it's a whole lot of ideas, so it feels to me like it would get messy. Maybe there's some way to use a more formal survey or identify some other software solution.

I also would very much want others to suggest ideas. (Like in this post!) I wasn't trying to make any sort of definitive list, just a generative one.

Replies from: oagr
comment by Ozzie Gooen (oagr) · 2021-11-20T14:30:14.600Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe it could be it's own post? Like, we write a Question post, and write all of the options as answers. We could do that after this one is live for a few days, and include the top ideas in it.

Replies from: hibukki, nathan
comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-20T14:55:02.821Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think I understood: 

  1. This is already a question post (thanks to Nathan for suggesting it)
  2. Do you want to pick what to work on based on upvotes? I don't think I'd do it that way (or maybe I didn't understand you?)
Replies from: oagr
comment by Ozzie Gooen (oagr) · 2021-11-20T15:03:53.870Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sigh... sorry;

This is a question post, but it's more specific than my post. It's asking groups what their needs are, which will result in different answers than the sorts of ideas I provided.

The ideas I gave weren't ones that were explicitly asked for. They were instead ones I've noticed, and, having spent a while investigate, think they would be good bets. Many are more technical/abstract than I'd expect people would understand, especially when thinking "what are my software needs"

In my experience, this is one nice way of coming up with ideas, but it's definitely not the only way.

I think this might be getting into the weeds though. The TLDR is that I expect that this question will be useful for surfacing a subset of ideas from the community, but it doesn't seem like the be-all-end-all of feedback for software projects.

Replies from: hibukki
comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-20T19:53:43.990Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree, this is only an attempt to surface a subset of needs that (I'm guessing) don't currently have a good way to surface.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2021-11-20T14:36:18.475Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Why not just put them here and allow a straight comparison? I prefer one list to two.

Unless you dislike the framing of this question?

Replies from: hibukki
comment by Yonatan Cale (hibukki) · 2021-11-20T19:56:03.018Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Answering for myself: This post is supposed to optimize for collecting new information, not for filtering/sorting/handling the information. At least that was my intent