As always, we’re also interested in feedback on these changes. We’d be really grateful if you filled out this (very quick) survey on the redesign that might help give us a sense of what people are thinking. You can also comment on this post with your thoughts or reach out to email@example.com.
Results of the Community-Frontpage test & more thoughts on community posts
We’ve gotten a lot of feedback; we believe that the change was an improvement, so we’re planning on keeping it for the near future, with some modifications. We might still make some changes like switching from a section to tabs, especially depending on new feedback and on how related projects go.
Information we gathered
- We sourced user feedback from different places:
- User interviews with people at EA Global and elsewhere (at least 20 interviews, different people doing the interviewing)
- Responses to a quick survey on how we can improve discussions on the Forum (45 responses)
- Metrics (mostly used as sanity checks)
- Engagement with the Forum overall (engagement on the Forum is 7% lower than the previous month, which is within the bounds we set ourselves and there’s a lot of fluctuation, so we’re just going to keep monitoring this)
- Engagement with Community posts (it dropped 8%, which may just be tracking overall engagement, and again, we’re going to keep monitoring it)
- There are still important & useful Community posts every week (subjective assessment)(there are)
- The team’s experience with the section, and whether we thought the change was positive overall
Outcomes and themes:
The responses we got were overwhelmingly positive about the change. People told us directly (in user interviews and in passing) that the change was improving their experience on the Forum. We also personally thought that the change had gone very well — likely better than we’d expected as a ~70% best outcome.
And here are the results from the survey:
The metrics we're tracking (listed above) were within the bounds we’d set, and we were mostly using them as sanity checks.
There were, of course, some concerns, and critical or constructive feedback.
Confusion about what “Community” means
Not everyone was clear on which posts should actually go in the section; the outline I gave before was unclear. I’ve updated the guidance I had originally given to Forum facilitators and moderators (based on their feedback and just sitting down and trying to get a more systematic categorization), and I’m sharing the updated version here.
Concerns that important conversations would be missed
Some people expressed a worry that having a section like this would hide discussions that the community needs to have, like processing the FTX collapse and what we should learn from it, or how we can create a more welcoming environment for different groups of people. We were also pretty worried about this; I think this was the thing that I thought was most likely going to get us to reverse the change.
However, the worry doesn’t seem to be realizing. It looks like engagement hasn’t fallen significantly on Community posts relative to other posts, and important conversations have been continuing. Some recent posts on difficult community topics have had lots of comments (the discussion of the recent TIME article currently has 159 comments), and Community posts have been pretty consistently the top-viewed posts on the Forum. I also tentatively think that the discussion on Community posts has generally been somewhat better since we added the separate section.
I do think that “important conversations haven’t been hampered by the change” is a low bar, though, and I’m excited about trying to proactively make those happen or help them go better. I hope to write more about this soon.
Missing posts from specific categories that often intersect with Community
Some people worry that they’ll miss relevant announcements (like this one) if they keep the default settings on the Frontpage (which show Community posts only in the Community section). Others worry that they’ll miss things like retrospectives on community-building projects, or EA meta organizations’ updates.
And unfortunately, I think we’ll always have posts that some people would like to see outside of the Community section — people don’t agree on where the line should be. I endorse the current classification because it makes sense (in that it doesn’t seem significantly gerrymandered or overfitted to the feedback that we’re getting or to our experience on specific posts, it tracks this dynamic, and seems like a mostly “real” category). But we might modify it somewhat in the future. (There were also issues with all the other proposals we considered. E.g. we considered excluding some update-style posts from the Community classification, but we worried that this would create an asymmetry between posts by organizations and posts criticizing the organizations, and we did not want to do that.)
Implementation suggestions or requests
We got a lot of pretty specific feedback on how the Community section currently works, like suggestions that we should:
- Add a “load more” button on the Community section
- Some people on the team (including me) agree that this is something we should have, but we’re currently not prioritizing it.
- Display more posts in the section
- We currently think that 3 is the right number of posts, but we might reconsider.
- Develop some customization options for users, like the option of hiding the section entirely and possibly the option of setting a specific number of posts to see in that section
- For hiding the section: for now, we’ve decided to make the section collapsible, and the Forum should remember the setting you left it on. We’ll keep tracking this, though, in case people still feel like they find themselves engaging in Community discussions against their better judgement. (The section will be collapsed to start with — more on this below.)
- Very few people end up using customization options like this, so we haven’t prioritized this, although we might get to some of these options at some point — it’ll somewhat depend on where other projects go.
- Assorted other suggestions
- We really appreciated all the feedback, and will continue to consider it as we work on the section.
We’re viewing the Community section as a sort of bandaid on some of the issues with the Forum right now. It seems to be an effective bandaid, so we’re keeping it for now (potentially with some changes), but we’re also trying to investigate the causes of the broader problems and see what we can do about them.
Some of the broader problems include:
- Quality of discussion not being what we want it to be
- Users don’t always see the content that is most useful for them
- New users are disoriented and put off
- People feel stressed and bad after using the Forum
We’re exploring a fairly wide range of changes to the site and to Forum support/facilitation/moderation to try to address sub-problems of the above, and we’ll likely be testing some soon.
Depending on how all that goes, we might modify the current setup with the Community section.
The site’s design was (and continues to be) imperfect in various ways:
- The Forum can be disorienting to new users; it’s hard to navigate, know what people are talking about, and understand how things like voting work.
- People sometimes discover a hidden feature that they wish they’d known about sooner, which could be a failure of how we organize the site.
- We’d like to give people the information they need to decide what content to engage with.
- People have trouble identifying which posts will be relevant for them, and keeping up with the topics or discussions they’re interested in.
- It’s often hard to use the Forum on mobile devices.
- The design is inconsistent and pretty outdated in some ways.
- And more.
So we’ve made an update to the design of the Forum, which we hadn’t changed in a while.
The redesign didn’t solve all the issues above, and we don’t think it’s final. We expect to keep iterating on the design based on feedback and data we get about how people use the different features. (For instance, it may turn out that a feature whose prominence we just increased based on (2) above isn’t getting significantly more use, in which case we’d hide it again.)
What are the changes?
1. Topic tabs on the Frontpage
You can now visit tabs on the Frontpage that let you see only the posts that have been tagged with that core topic.
We hope that this will help semi-regular users get quick overviews of what’s been happening in their fields of interest (and avoid missing posts that would have been useful for them), and that it will help people new to EA go deeper on topics relevant to them.
2. The Community section on the Frontpage is collapsible/expandable (and collapsed to start with)
Some people have asked for a way to hide the Community section entirely from the Frontpage, and we know that some people worry that they’re getting sucked into Community discussions they don’t endorse engaging with. We’ve made the section collapsible/expandable; the site will remember whether you last left the section collapsed or expanded, and keep it like that for the next time you visit.
By default, we’ve chosen to collapse the section. This is largely because of the “getting sucked in” dynamics described above, and because discussions in the Community section seem like they’d be less relevant to people who are less involved with the community and those who are newer to the Forum (we think a large portion of Forum users — especially people who are logged out — aren’t involved with the EA community). We might reverse this if we see a noticeable drop in engagement with that section and depending on the feedback we get.
3. New information on posts on the Frontpage and other changes in the information displayed in various places (by default)
A quick list:
- The Frontpage list of posts now displays reading time (and we made bookmarking more prominent).
- We’ve changed what we include in the left sidebar.
4. We changed fonts and styles in various places
Most of this is about usability and consistency.
Assorted other changes
- We displayed side-comments on posts for a while (comments that were responding to a particular excerpt were displayed next to the post itself). We’ve reverted that, as it seemed to be distracting and confusing users.
- You can now hide Community posts from the All Posts page. Community posts often get a lot of karma, so sorting by “Top” or “Top (inflation-adjusted)” showed a lot of Community posts and seemed to give people an incorrect understanding of what the EA community cares about (see here).
- We fixed the Events page so that events properly appear based on the user’s location.
Other things we’re working on or are considering working on
We’ve been gathering more data on how people are using the Forum and what they’d like to change about that (you may have seen a survey about this).
In brief, we’re looking into things like:
- Making versions of the Frontpage sorting algorithm that work better for users who visit the Forum more or less frequently
- Exploring changes to karma
- Developing a “card” view to give people previews of posts
- Seeing if language models can improve discussions
- Improving shortform discussions
- Differentiating between different types of posts (threads, blog posts, opportunity announcements, etc.)
- Developing and better-featuring recommendations for content Forum users should engage with, based on their activity on the Forum
This isn’t an exhaustive list (and it focuses primarily on future product changes), but I wanted to share it in case it gives people a sense for what we’re working on. As always, feel free to suggest features here.
This post was mostly written by Lizka (and then reviewed by others on the team), but most of the work was not done by me! Agnes is the Forum's designer, and a lot of the people on the team worked on the changes we're talking about. Thanks to @Clifford for work on the Community section, to @Sharang Phadke for work on the redesign, and @Ollie Etherington and @Sarah Cheng for implementing the UI .
I wish we’d made some concrete predictions here, but oh well.
There’s also a scrappy quiz that I made for people to get calibrated. I don’t want to share it entirely publicly, as it’s got serious flaws and I don’t want to spend more time improving it right now, but you can reach out and I’ll try to share a version with you.
Have I mentioned that I wish we had made some concrete predictions?
(The existence of the Forum user manual is also a result of this failure.)
We considered adding it as an option in site customization settings, but unfortunately, very few people use customization options like this, so we didn’t think that would be a good solution. Making the section visibly collapsible solves this problem (and it’s a common interface on many websites).