Summary: I posit the effective altruism community still greatly undervalues the potential impact of high-quality blog posts, and that it should be a lot easier to produce them than it is now. I claim directly paying community members to write blog posts we want to see, not only as a one-off commission, but as a long-term strategy, could be an easy way to accomplish this. I discuss a couple examples of how I might personally do this in the near future to illustrate what I mean.
Note: here I discuss”commissioning” a blog post. This would entail contracting a specific individual to write a blog post, and a payment arrangement that would start during the production of the blog post, and conclude with the completion of the blog post. For my purposes, commissioning blog posts is the way I expect to go. However, all the advantages of privately commissioning blog posts can also be gained by running contests and prizes, which are also a great way to go.
That something is a “blog post” makes it sound as though we can’t expect it to be high impact. For people who’ve been in the EA community for a long time, I expect them to see past this skepticism of the value of blogs. The movement owes its existence to blogs. People also seem to underestimate how blog posts generate value in EA. If a blog post isn’t so exciting and ground-breaking it gets hundreds of likes, shares, clicks, or upvotes, what’s the point?
Well, I can tell you there are lots of blog posts on the EA Forum, which gets relatively little traffic as is, that don’t have that many upvotes. However, it’s often what we don’t see that counts. If one of the upvotes for the in-depth coverage of an obscure topic from the EA Forum came from an Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil) program officer, and it changes their decision-making process for their focus area, that post is probably worth more than a Facebook post garnering likes from one thousand effective altruists, but which that program officer missed. This isn’t hypothetical. Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching the talks from EA Global San Francisco 2017, and multiple times Open Phil staff have mentioned EA Forum posts which have led to shifts in their thinking. This should be a big deal to everyone in the community. It doesn’t matter what looks like is happening on the EA Forum, or what someone else tells you about it. If the individuals who can move 1000x more money than anyone else in the EA community for their own focus area get their updates from the community through the EA Forum, everyone needs to dramatically update on the value of generating high-quality posts on the EA Forum.
So, high-impact blog posts happen. How do we reliably produce them though? By finding good bloggers and paying them money to write on a topic. I am talking about, if necessary, literally transferring cash I earned into the bank accounts of private individuals on the completion of a blog post at my request. I don’t know why more effective altruists don’t do this. A friend said they’re worried if the current heavy hitters in the rationality blogosphere don’t post to LessWrong 2.0 it won’t take off. Here is the chain of thought I immediately reacted with.
- “The relaunch of LW2.0 is obviously very valuable.”
- “Talking about how much we’re not going to do anything doesn’t seem productive.”
- “By the time LW2.0 is in full swing, I will have enough money to motivate other aspiring rationalists to blog on LW2.0”
This isn’t something I’m thinking about abstractly. If within a couple weeks of the LW2.0 open beta if it doesn’t look like there’s enough quality activity on the site, I am strongly considering unilaterally and privately incentivize such by paying people to blog. Maybe they’re an underemployed rationalist who blogs because they’ve got nothing better to do, and the idea of getting paid to do it is the bee’s knees. Maybe they’re a software engineer or entrepreneur who is between projects or jobs right now, has a higher net worth than me, but has too much of an ugh field around blogging on LW2.0. In that case, I’ll overcome their lack of intrinsic motivation to blog with an extrinsic motivation via cash injection.
Another example of what kinds of blog posts I might commission: posts aiming at posing solutions to issues of diversity in the EA community. Diversity is a hard issue to talk about. I think effective altruism does a better job than most communities, but I still see us only pointing out diversity problems exist, suggesting why the problem might exist, and talking about all the ways more diversity would be great. What we should strive to do is hold off on proposing solutions to diversity issues in EA until we’ve discussed the problems. Because intersectionality, each axis of diversity might require it’s own solution. Talking about diversity issues is always hard, so it’s probably best to start a big conversation about these topics with a great blog post that sets the standard for the discussion well. After those discussions, we can focus on producing more blog posts that propose solutions. Race, class, gender, LGBTQ+, disability and nationality might each demand multiple blog posts to tackle.
I’m counting at least a dozen blog posts to really do justice to the full scope of diversity issues and social dynamics in the EA community. Would I write them all myself? Am I even qualified? How many dozens or hundreds of hours of other material might I have to read to treat these complex issues with the sensitivity, respect and dignity they deserve?
Instead of answering those questions myself, there are lots of people who’ve already done the work to answer those questions for themselves, and have a comparative advantage in doing it. What’s more, I can take an executive role over the project of blog sequence management. Writing a whole series of blog posts can be difficult. But if I pay one person to write one blog post and then they run out of spoons for the next one, I can hire and direct a different person to take over the series.
Finally, another advantage for effective altruists in paying for blog posts they want is they can use price discrimination. If you want to pay a Ph.D. already working at multiple think tanks to do a shallow review or deep dive into a cause, you probably can’t afford them. But at any given time there are hundreds if not thousands of undergrads who can do work which accomplishes the same goal for a fraction of the price. If I or someone else streamlined the sorts of processes I’ve described above, we’d reach economies of scale in blogging not seen since the heyday of LessWrong.
In reading this, I hope you get the gist of how commissioning blog posts could be an effective giving choice. Please make other suggestions for topics/causes/issues you’d like to see blog posts commissioned for, and which effective altruist you think could do it best. There’s a good chance I’ll pay them to do it.