Thoughts on the REACH Patreon

post by Raemon · 2018-04-30T20:51:11.407Z · score: 81 (20 votes) · LW · GW · 21 comments

Contents

      Table of Contents
    Ray’s Opinionated Conception of Meetups
    Mechanics of Berkeley Meetup Brain Drain
      Competing Opportunities
      Motivations and Social Pressures
    Enter REACH
  Frameworks of Funding
      How much money do you have?
      How well do you get along with the social clusters that are most involved with REACH? (although note that different events and coworking days-of-week tend to attract different people)
      How often do you visit Berkeley?
      How close do you live to REACH?
      Would you benefit from a coworking environment?
    Effective Altruism vs Paying for Nice Things
    Nice Things and Homemade Prices
      Local Charity
      How much is a community center worth?
      Check that it’s worth it
      Dangers of overcommitment
      Bringing the Party
    Okay, but is this the right Nice Thing?
    The Case for Impact
  Measuring Intangibles
    The Agency Ladder
    Water Coolers and Campuses
    Matching Funds
  So… In Closing…
None
23 comments

I moved from NY to the Bay several months ago.

In many senses, the Berkeley community is much bigger than NYC. There's a few hundred members instead of around 30. I had several friends in the Bay before moving here, and have made more since arriving.

But, it didn't actually feel like home to me until a couple weeks ago, at one of the weekly meetups at the new community center.

These are my thoughts about the REACH (Rationality and Effective Altruism Community Hub) space, and what considerations I think are relevant for funding it. It has a Patreon which is currently hitting the "juuust enough money that it might possibly work so long as other things go right" threshold. But it doesn't really have enough funding to reliably break even, let alone thrive.

tldr: I think there are lot of reasons you might want to help fund REACH, both from an effective altruism perspective, and from a "just buy some nice things for yourself" perspective.

...

Epistemic Status: I'm pretty biased in favor of REACH, and much of my reasoning was at least a bit motivated. I expect to make a lot of use of the infrastructure there, so my thoughts here are a bit self-serving.

I’ve attempted to account for this in my writing of this, and am still fairly confident that there’s something important going on here.

...

Table of Contents

  1. Ray’s Opinionated Conception of Meetups
  2. Mechanics of Berkeley Meetup Brain Drain
  3. Enter REACH
  4. Frameworks of Funding
    1. Buying Nice Things vs Effective Altruism
    2. Nice Things and Homemade Prices
    3. Okay, but is this the right nice thing?
    4. The Case for Impact
  5. Measuring Intangibles
    1. Agency Ladder
    2. Water Coolers and Campuses
  6. Matching Funds
  7. In Closing...

Ray’s Opinionated Conception of Meetups

In NYC, meetup means "someone runs an hour long presentation, moderated discussion or workshop." Every week, you can show up to a public meetup. There will be content to learn or practice, and people you can hangout with. It's structured such that if you're shy, or if not as many good conversationalists show up that week, or if you just prefer structure, there's something to learn and engage you.

Meanwhile, if you care more about hanging out with the regulars than listening to a talk, you're free to just arrive later in the evening.

Moreover, there’s a palpable sense that this is a community, more than a circle of friends. There’s a social entity greater than the sum of its parts, and there’s a way for newcomers to get involved.

I think the nearby San Francisco and South Bay Communities have meetups closer to that format (I haven't been yet), but in Berkeley, meetups generally take the form of freeform socialization.

And on one hand, in NYC the freeform socializing is very much the point. Hanging out and making friends is the valuable part, moreso than the presentation or workshop. But the presentation/workshop is what gives that conversation energy and a sense of culture/purpose.

In Berkeley, there’s a weird combination of circumstances where there’s lots of content-driven social events happening, but much of that content is happening in hard-to-find silos. Occasional big tentpole events like Solstice or EA Global happen, you might come to Berkeley at that time and get excited but then a few weeks later you’re looking around and thinking “okay… what next…?”.

NY LessWrong is a small community. Berkeley Rationality/EA is like a village. You’ll walk to the deli and run into a rationalist on the way. There’s roughly a dunbar number of people interacting, and if you get yourself socially networked in it feels quite thriving. But if you’re not networked in, you have this weird sense that something is happening but you can’t tell where.

If you’re on outside, this may look like weird social games and popularity contests. Not gonna lie – I think it’s at least a bit of that. But I think a lot of it is just being stuck in a particular equilibrium, and if we all coordinated to build some infrastructure (physical and social) we could get to a much better one.

Mechanics of Berkeley Meetup Brain Drain

Competing Opportunities

In NYC, if you’re an agenty rationalist who wants to contribute to the community, there’s only one obvious place to put your energy: the meetup itself, much of which is public facing.

In Berkeley, there’s a host of organizations you can volunteer at, focused on rationality training, x-risk, effective altruism research, startups, and all kinds of small-to-medium projects.

Organizing meetups is hard, skilled labor. If you’re the sort of person who’s willing to put in the effort, there’s a long list of competing things, each of which make a credible case for being important and rewarding.

On the flipside: if you’ve just arrived and you’re not socially connected, it may take longer to find those competing opportunities. The public-facing community dearth is an obvious thing to focus on. But if you do, you’ll likely find in the process of doing so that you’ll gain confidence and skills, and you’ll meet people working on other projects.

Soon after, you may have a cluster of friends who you know well, who are interested in the things you’re interested in. I know a couple people who briefly tried organizing meetups and then found there were other things that felt more exciting to them.

Public meetups tend to be a grab bag of people with varying interests. Even just showing up once a week is something that competes with having conversations with roommates and friends and coworkers, whose interests may more directly relate to your own.

Motivations and Social Pressures

It seems like the only people who focus on it are those intrinsically motivated to welcome newcomers into the fold. And not only is that rare, but various things subtly punish that. The social fabric rewards people who can tell an exciting story about how what they’re doing is Saving The World somehow, and “I’m making this a nice home to help newcomers” is a bit harder to do that with.

Meanwhile the rationality community attracts the sort of person who is... well... slightly socially and environmentally oblivious sometimes, which makes it less intrinsically rewarding to provide a community hub. The people who show up are smart and friendly but perhaps less likely to help take out the trash [LW · GW], which can add another layer of frustration.

So, year by year, you have a community of 300 people that somehow has no high quality public-facing way to get involved.

I think this is a problem worth coordinating on, but it’s a problem that has to actually be solved while realistically accepting the people’s incentives and goals.

Right now we have a rare confluence of personal motivation, real estate and… for lack of a better word “community magic”, that makes me feel more optimistic that this problem is solvable.

Enter REACH

For the past year or so, Sarah has been exploring options for a community center in Berkeley.

This is something I’ve heard various people talk about for while. Some group houses aspire to be community center-esque things, but run into issues like “the people in the house actually want to live their lives which sometimes means they don’t feel like hosting travelers or meetups.”

The CFAR office has made some effort to be this. But it’s not really optimizing for it, and the building’s security system creates a bizarre set of trivial inconveniences you have to overcome to get in. (literal barriers to entry :P)

(This seems like it shouldn’t matter, but totally matters). It’s also a bit out of the way if you live in southern Berkeley.

The problem is, community centers require lots of startup capital, and it’s a vague endeavor with fuzzy benefits that aren’t obviously worth $60,000+ a year.

But Sarah said “this seems important enough to just do it,” spent a bunch of her own money renting out a cafe near an existing rationalist house, and hoped the project would prove it’s value. The Rationality and Effective Altruism Community Hub (REACH) was born.

There’s a list of official things REACH is aiming to provide a space for:

On paper, these look potentially valuable, but I think a reasonable person might be skeptical you can actually achieve them.

I’m excited about REACH because I’ve been to the weekly meetups, and… got a deep sense that the place felt like home.

I admit I’m a bit biased here – there was a bunch of nostalgia feeding into my experience and I’m not sure how universal it is. But… finally, there was an actual god damn meetup – a workshop run by a community member (we were practicing Gendlin’s Focusing), a dozen people helping each other learn a technique and navigating our internal emotional blocks. And afterwards, freeform discussion, people bouncing ideas around.

A couple weeks later I went to a second meetup, just as vibrant, twice as many people, run by a different community member. And I got a strong sense that there’s a surplus of pent-up organizational energy in Berkeley – lots of people who would totally step up to run events if they were given the affordance to.

Meanwhile, perhaps most importantly, were people in the aftermath bouncing ideas around, discussing their projects, thinking about how to collaborate.

I think REACH has the potential to solve the Public Meetup Brain Drain problem, via:

Frameworks of Funding

Renting the REACH space is fairly expensive. $60k+ is nothing to sneeze at. Should it be funded? Who should fund it?

I think this is a legitimate question. What are reasonable frameworks for deciding whether and how to fund a community space? I’m biased in favor of the REACH center, but think it’s important to get this question right.

Ben Hoffman noted the hazards of forcing people to sell a narrative around impact in order to get funded [LW · GW]. It forces people to lie, or warp their vision to satisfy a funder’s goals (or worse, warp it into an abomination trying to satisfy multiple funders goals, and in all likelihood failing to satisfy anyone).

Ben also argued that if you advocate a strategy that includes recruiting people to the Bay, you have an obligation to actually take care of those people once they get here, and part of that includes giving humans a space to be.

I think both these arguments are important. But aren’t quite the frame I’d approach this with.

People spend money for different reasons. I decided to frame this post as advice I’d give to alternate versions of myself. People who shared my general values, but might vary along axes like:

How much money do you have?

How well do you get along with the social clusters that are most involved with REACH? (although note that different events and coworking days-of-week tend to attract different people)

How often do you visit Berkeley?

How close do you live to REACH?

Would you benefit from a coworking environment?

Effective Altruism vs Paying for Nice Things

There’s basically two reasons I’d personally give people money:

One reason is effective altruism – helping people as much as I can with the resources available to me (this can include investing in my own future capabilities, or funding projects that seem like they will have good impacts even if it’s not necessarily their mission statement).

That’s great and all. But, much more common than altruism is that I like having nice things.

Sometimes I just want to go see a movie. Or have a nice place to live. Or art supplies or video games. Getting these things involves paying people.

Notably, having Nice Things includes buying things for my friends because they make me happy. It also includes engaging in positive sum trades, and one boxing in Newcomb-like-problems so that people will reliably model me as the sort of person they can trust with good opportunities.

Both EA and NiceThings perspectives sometimes involve symbolic value – doing small token things to remind people (or myself!) what I care about. If I’m doing it right (which I don’t always), the token is obviously a token (i.e. not deceiving myself or others), but just as obviously representative of something real that will pay off later.

If I’m poor right now, I might donate small bits of money, to remind myself that I’m the sort of person who will put his money where his mouth is, so that later on when I can afford it, I’m in the habit of actually doing that.

I think there’s an Effective Altruist case to be made for REACH. (I think you can make that case without contorting people into weird compromises over their vision). But before we get into the realm of EA, let’s just ask straightforwardly:

Does a community center sound like something you’d benefit from?

This is not a rhetorical question. Maybe the answer is no. But if you would benefit from meetups, or coworking, or periodically get crash space in Berkeley for cheap… maybe you and others should just pay for that because it’s nice and you’d benefit from it.

This’d be harder (though not impossible) in most cities – even other places in the Bay, because there are only so many rationalists and community centers are expensive. But one of the uniquely promising things about REACH is that it’s located within walking distance of a village-worth of rationalists and EA folk.

If you find yourself in a village, it’s quite reasonable to ask yourself “do I want my village to be a place with nice things?”. What sort of nice things would you like? How much are you willing to pay for them? [LW · GW]

Nice Things and Homemade Prices

Quoth Zvi:

What is the price of nice things? The first price, attention to detail. The quest for nice things is a sacred quest. Creation of them, even more so. It requires effort, focus, sacrifice. You have to care.
Otherwise, we can’t have nice things. Because you didn’t make them.

Quoth me, in more detail, in Melting Gold [LW · GW]:

It costs more to build something yourself than to buy it factory made. Things you make yourself are often able to be more unique and special than things mass-produced by capitalism. They can cater to niche interests without enough demand to develop mass production.
“Homemade” may trigger bad associations, because there was a weird followup step where Capitalism noticed that people had noticed that homemade things took more time and were worth more. And enterprising entrepreneurs saw free money and learned to slap a "homemade" label on products for a quick buck.
Is an artisanal hand-crafted coffee mug really worth more than a mass produced version on Amazon?
But... when the homemade thing is unique, when you literally can't get it anywhere else, and you are getting important social or cultural value from it... then... well, if you want that thing, the only way to get it is to pay homemade prices for it.
You may not be able to pay for them with money. They are usually labors of love. If there was enough demand for them for someone to do them full-time, you'd probably be able to mass produce them more cheaply anyway.
It's unlikely the people making them could actually more easily produce them if they were paid more. Or, the amount of money would be dramatically more than what seems obvious. It's not enough to cover costs. It has to be enough to quit your day job, and then not worry about quitting your day job turning out to be a horrible idea.
This means if you want to pay for a rare, precious thing that you want to keep existing, it is quite likely that the only ways to guarantee its continued existence is to put in sweat and sacrifice. If things are well organized it shouldn't need to be a major sacrifice, but it may mean serious time and attention that you were spending on other things you cared about too.
I don't mean to say any of this in a moralizing way. This is not an essay about what you "should" do. This is just a description of what is in fact necessary for certain things to happen, if they are things that matter to you.

Or, sometimes, you just plain need both a lot of sweat and effort and literal dollars.

Local Charity

There’s a saying: "Charity starts at home." Most people’s default orientation to altruism is “find nice projects nearby that make me feel good and donate there.”

I don’t think this mode of altruism is wrong. But I think it’s been warped by the rise of modernity. A modern city has millions of people nearby, and you don’t actually have more connection to them than you do to drowning strangers in Africa or far-future-civilizations. Whereas in The Before Times, the impulse to help people around you directly led to a world where you had more opportunities, were more trusted or respected by your peers, and felt more fulfilled.

Naive application of traditional charity results in a worst-of-both-worlds, where you aren’t really getting much out of it, and you aren’t helping people very well.

I think it’s very good that the rational/EA-sphere spends attention on helping far away or future people, even if they won’t return the favor. Part of living in the present era can and should include noticing that you have a lot of power, and the opportunity to use that power to help people at scale.

But, while money is the unit of caring [LW · GW], there’s plenty of things to care about other than far away people.

Freethinker-esque communities don’t just have trouble cooperating [LW · GW] for grand altruistic projects. They struggle to cooperate to just buy themselves some god damn nice things.

I’m of the opinion people do not spend nearly enough money investing in their own communities.

How much is a community center worth?

If I didn’t have a job, or were otherwise struggling, I wouldn’t donate more than a token amount. I think it is far more important to get yourself to a position of abundance and strength, so that you can help people for real.

If I had money but didn’t live close to REACH, I’d probably direct my Nice Thing budget towards more local events. (Oddly enough, I suspect it makes more sense to fund REACH if you live in South Bay than in San Francisco, since in South Bay you get the benefit of reliable crash space when you visit).

But given that I live nearby, and I’m in a financial state where I’d pay $15 for occasional movies, dinners or outings, it seems to me that the lower bound for the value of a good meetup is something like $10.

If 20 people are coming to a meetup each week, and 15 of them can afford small luxuries, it seems like a reasonable lower bound on the meetup’s value is (15 people x 4 weeks x $10 = $600/month), with each person chipping in $40.

If you’re getting value from connections, opportunities, and fulfillment, then I think a good meetup can easily be worth more than a $15 movie.

The function of “how valuable is it?” might not line up with “how much can I realistically pay?”. But this brings up an additional question:

If you’re someone who did get a lot of value from meetups (when you were new to a city, didn’t have a job and were struggling to make ends meet) but now are a programmer making a 6 figure salary… I think it is quite reasonable to put in something extra from a “pay it forward” standpoint, even if by now you’re spending more of your time with particular friends rather than the public-facing meetups.

Check that it’s worth it

There’s an important counter-viewpoint here:

If you’re not getting value out of meetups – if you showed up and hoped some magic would happen but it seriously just didn’t – then please do not let yourself feel pressured to give out of a vague pro-social-guilt. I am arguing about why you should be willing to pay for nice things for yourself, not nice things for other people.

Maybe you don’t get along with the organizers. Maybe the sort of people a space attracts aren’t that interesting to you.

Only you know what things are actually nice.

Dangers of overcommitment

Fun fact: I initially pledged $100/month to REACH. Then I walked that pledge back to $50.

REACH is easily worth $100/month to me. But. There’s a bunch of other things in the same reference class that are also worthwhile.

Summer Solstice, EA Global, the CFAR Reunion and other major events are coming up. These events tend to barely scrape by with funding (and often, the organizers just lose thousands of dollars). I want to make sure I can afford to support a healthy, diverse social landscape.

There are also other meetups nearby, which you might want to support doing more ambitious projects.

I want to engage in fundraising strategies that will work for the long term, allowing other community members to get new projects funded – next year’s version of something-weird-the-way-Solstice-2011-was-weird.

Part of this means being careful with the public resource of “discourse around fundraising”, and not getting people to overcommit so that they can’t afford the next aspiring project.

(Also, since I spend a lot of time at REACH, I wanted to reserve some money to just spontaneously buy specific nice things for it that I particularly want, like the coffee table I just ordered. Spontaneously buying presents for myself and my friends is nice. See Robby Bensinger’s Chaos Altruism.)

Bringing the Party

One source of value that REACH brings is making it salient that you can hold more events, or bring your own value to the weekly meetup.

Oftentimes, I want to try something out – a new exercise, a weird event, a new way of looking at the world that I think is interesting but want to sanity check. Sometimes these seem valuable from an EA lens (more on that later), and sometimes they’re just weird and fun.

Having an existing community infrastructure drastically lowers the activation-energy needed to try something like this out.

Okay, but is this the right Nice Thing?

I’m highly confident that we should be willing to spend a bunch on community infrastructure. I think it’s reasonable to debate whether this is the right Nice Thing to spend a bunch on, within the Nice Things paradigm.

[Note: it’s a bit fraught to ask “is this the best thing to spend money on?” That way leads endless decision paralysis. But before we converge on “spend a bunch on this particular thing” it seems reasonable to look at some alternatives. Is this at least a reasonable contender for expensive thing to coordinate on funding?]

Is the physical space important? Is it more important than having a fulltime person doing the meta-organizing? Is Sarah the right person for the job? Is the current approach the best approach? Is the current venue the best venue?

Instead of a venue, you could hire two full-time people who didn’t manage a space but who did coordinate public events (potentially in different cities).

Ben Hoffman asks that we take care of the people we recruit [LW · GW]. From this perspective, is a community-center shaped thing more important than, say, hiring a full time therapist, mediator, Berkeley-bureaucracy-specialist, other support role that the community could use filling?

I think that question is important, and I’d tie that back to the “don’t overcommit your resources” issue. It seems obvious to me that something community-center-shaped would be valuable, and just as obvious that other things would be valuable. My sense is that most of the alternatives to a community-center-shaped-thing are harder to execute.

I’m not sure how to think about that. Meanwhile I’d say something like: If you think you’d commit resources to other community-focused projects conditional on them looking viable, maybe...

  1. If making recurring donations (a la Patreon), maybe donate in proportion to how much you’d want to support the community center in particular, if you were also donating to other community-focused projects that you considered higher priority.
  2. Meanwhile, if you have additional income now that you’d like to spend on community infrastructure (but no current projects to give it to), maybe make an additional one-time donation.

    Since REACH is still in the “getting set up” stage, there’s a lot of things they could use an influx of cash for, like “get a real shower/bath set up”.

My overall thoughts here:

A. There’s been vague gesturing in the direction of REACH for years, with no one actually making it happen. If you’re worried about the exact execution, I think it makes more sense to frame objections in the form of “how do we take the momentum we currently have and optimize it?” rather than “should we even have this momentum right now?”

The rationalsphere has hit a point where I think agency and good ideas are more precious than money, and I’m wary of accidentally killing that momentum.

B. Ultimately, my reason for supporting the idea basically as-is is because it’s working, and I don’t want to mess with it too much.

C. Re: the “if you want to take care of people, is this the best way?” question: There are a bunch of other roles and infrastructure that the local community could use, which I’d tie back to my “danger of overcommitment” point in the previous section.

I also think having a centralized community center will be make those things easier to coordinate on. (I think this is also an explicit part of Sarah’s plan, although I think it’s good not to overpromise on a new initiative SOLVING ALL THE PROBLEMS, and focus initially on just doing one thing well).

D. It seems extremely rare (not just among rationalists but generally) to have the opportunity to build a good village. The central Berkeley Rationalist/EA world pretty closely resembles the sort of community-shaped-hole that I think much of modern America has been missing.

There’s around 50 people I know and (I think?) another 50 that I don’t who live within walking distance of each other. Having come so close, sort of by-accident, I really want to see what a rationalist village can do when given the resources necessary to thrive.

Infrastructure seems valuable. In-person community spaces seem valuable for people to thrive.

Epistemic Status: Speculative and all that, but it seems real important for villages to have a community center.

The Case for Impact

People buying themselves nice things only gets you so far. Many of the people who would most benefit from the nice things are people new to the area who haven’t gotten jobs yet.

There are literally billions of dollars floating around in the EA sphere.

Is REACH a reasonable donation target from an EA paradigm?

This requires a more careful answer than the “buy ourselves nice things” perspective. When buying nice things, it’s important not to overthink it too much. Choices are bad [LW · GW] and can interfere with the having-of-your-nice things.

When trying to save lives and bring about the best possible longterm future, it matters a lot more whether your strategy is good. You should be at least a little suspicious if the question “what’s the most good you can do?” outputs “buy your community some nice things.”

But underconfidence is just as real a sin as overconfidence. And by 2018, the sheer track record of meetups clearly indicates that community infrastructure is a contender for “serious EA cause”.

Quoth Mingyuan in What Are Meetups Actually Trying To Accomplish [LW · GW]:

> I don’t work on meetups just because I want people to have friends (although that’s definitely a nice side-effect); I work on them because it seems that they have historically been able to produce people and outputs that have maybe marginally contributed to us being less likely to go extinct within the next couple of decades. So let’s try to figure that out.

At the very least, meetups are a weird black-box that outputs agenty people and projects. And just like you might want to keep funding basic-physics-research because it seems to output cool shit without a clear case for the impact, I think we want to keep pouring effort into local communities.

But I do think we can get more specific than this.

Measuring Intangibles

The most saliently high-impact output of meetups I’m aware of:

More generally, meetups seem to :

There are two particular aspects of this I’d like to dive into:

The Agency Ladder

Agency – the ability to look at a situation, notice things that could be improved, and that proactively set out to do those things on purpose – is a muscle that can be trained. And it’s easier to train with a smooth difficulty curve, with stakes just high enough to be meaningful but not so high as to be paralyzingly intimidating.

Weird fact: a lot of people I know (myself included) gained a bunch of agency from running meetups.

When I arrived in the NYC community, I noticed an opportunity for some kind of winter holiday. I held the first Solstice. The only stakes were 20 people possibly having a bad time. The next year, I planned a larger event that people traveled from nearby cities to attend, which required me to learn some logistics as well as to improve at ritual design. The third year I was able to run a major event with a couple hundred attendees. At each point I felt challenged but not overwhelmed. I made mistakes, but not ones that ruined anything longterm or important.

In the Bay, there are many organizations, some of which are looking for volunteers. But there are only so many volunteers an organization can productively make use of (and often, even those positions require skills that a newcomer may lack, especially if they’re young).

There isn’t enough surface area for newcomer-molecules to bind with and start building their skills and network. One of the most important services I think REACH can provide is being optimized for providing agency-ladder opportunities to newcomers, in a scalable way.

Water Coolers and Campuses

I’ve talked a lot about the meetup-aspect of REACH, because historically I’ve been a meetup-oriented guy and I have a lot of opinions about it. I also hadn’t really seen the coworking aspect of REACH start to bear fruit until recently.

But I’ve lately come to believe this is extremely important.

There’s a campus based model of innovation I’ve been chatting about with Oliver and others. There’s a reason Google tries to get all its engineers to spend a lot of time at Google Campus, providing for all kinds of physical and social needs. It keeps engineers from different departments bumping into each other. It makes for an environment where people can slowly come to know each other in an organic fashion, bounce ideas off each other (casually at first, then perhaps more seriously).

It means that if you want to know something about someone’s project, you can just ask someone the next time you see them at lunch, without the vaguely obligation-shaped variant where you send them an email and they have to get around to responding.

Water Cooler talk is an important aspect of innovation.

I think the coworking aspect of REACH can be very valuable for this. In theory, CFAR offers this, but in practice CFAR is far enough away (and again with the trivial inconveniences of their security system), that I wouldn’t visit the office nearly as often as I’d visit REACH.

Recently, Katja Grace started experimenting with an “People working on independent AI projects get together to co-work” thing sometimes at REACH, inspired by a similar thought process.

This is the sort of thing a community center can facilitate.

Matching Funds

From an EA grantmaking perspective, I don’t think REACH should be at the top of the list of things you’d want to give money to. But I do think it should be somewhere on the list. This is a case where the relevant question is “are you more money constrained, or shovel-ready-project constrained?”

If you’re an Earning-to-Give person who has non-trivial but limited amounts of money, another important consideration is that, with OpenPhil and BERI funding many of the most obvious, credibly high-impact-projects, most of the value of being a mid-level donor is in using your local knowledge to seed-fund early stage, fuzzier projects.

From both perspectives, I think it may have been fair to not want to fund the project before it had any track record. I think I probably roughly agree with CEA’s decision (at the time) to not give a grant – at that point it was hard to tell what was going to happen, and it was fairly expensive as far as community projects go.

But I think a reasonable way to evaluate this sort of project is a matching-grants paradigm. The fact that individuals have put forward $2500/month on Patreon by now is pretty strong “put money where your mouth is” evidence that REACH is providing the value it aspired to.

So… In Closing…

I think REACH is pretty good.

If you’re considering donating from the “buy ourselves nice things” perspective but aren’t yet sold… well, just come on by and check it out. Weekly meetups are on Wednesday at 7pm. Coworking is every weekday (and hopefully soon on weekends once we work out some kinks).

If you get value out of it, I think it makes sense to pay for a nice thing.

If not, no worries.

If you’re considering it from an EA/impact perspective and think it’s promising but have some specific concerns, it’s probably at least worth a chat with Sarah to see if those concerns can be addressed. As noted earlier, I think it’s important for projects not to be too beholden to funders, but I do think there’s room for an earnest exchange of ideas.

If you’re living in some other geographic area, think REACH sounds great and wish you had one in your area… you might want to think about how to make that happen. Different cities may have different constraints, but I suspect it will often be achievable. There’s a range of possibilities between “group house functioning as de-facto community hub” and “full fledged center.”

The Berkeley REACH Patreon Page is here.

If you’d like to make a one-time donation, you can do so here.

21 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-05-01T05:17:44.481Z · score: 40 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I really like a lot of the points you've made here. In general I'm very in favor of the project of making sure Berkeley isn't a social hellscape that slowly destroys everyone's souls, although I haven't managed to check out REACH in particular.

(Unrelated, but if you add the Berkeley to the rest of the name, the acronym becomes BREACH, which is slightly foreboding.)

And I got a strong sense that there’s a surplus of pent-up organizational energy in Berkeley – lots of people who would totally step up to run events if they were given the affordance to.

At the recent CFAR mentorship workshop we ran doom circles, and during and afterwards I got a strong sense which is tricky to summarize in words but goes something like the following: everybody at this workshop could have been a tribal leader in the ancestral environment. They could've led a group of people with dignity and wisdom. Instead, they're here, and they're... waiting for someone to give them permission to lead? To be powerful?

It was like there wasn't enough status to go around relative to how much everyone was actually capable of, and so there was all this pent-up wisdom and power that I only got to see through an activity like doom circles.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-05-01T14:59:56.253Z · score: 16 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is actually a fairly powerful intuition that I hadn't considered before. In case it might help others:

Keep in mind that a Dunbar-sized tribe of 300 people or so is going to have more than 1 'leader' (and 300 is the upper limit on tribe size). Generally you're looking at a small suite of leaders. Lets say there are a dozen of them. In that case we should naively expect the level of personal fitness required to 'lead a tribe' to be somewhere in the 1-in-30 range, you meet people that would have been leaders in the ancestral environment quite literally every day, multiple times a day even.

Reconcile this with what you actually observe in your life.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2019-10-03T12:11:08.080Z · score: 17 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant to my earlier comment is a fascinating essay by sociologist Theda Skocpol, called “The Narrowing of Civic Life” (h/t The Scholar’s Stage):

To understand the changes wrought by this sweeping civic reorganization, it is useful to consider the significant role these membership groups played in American life dating back at least a century. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, countless churches and voluntary groups of all sizes needed volunteer leaders. Indeed, the country’s largest nation-spanning voluntary federations could have as many as 15,000 to 17,000 local chapters, each of which might need at least a dozen officers and committee leaders each year. Looking at the nation’s 20 largest voluntary federations alone in 1955, my colleagues and I estimate that some 3 percent to 5 percent of the adult population was serving in leadership roles—and that additional recruits would be needed each year.

[…]

This exposure to democracy in action wasn’t reserved for the elite alone. Many such organizations mixed social classes. There were plenty of opportunities for men and women from blue-collar and lower-level white-collar occupations to participate. And within the world of volunteerism, upward mobility was possible, as local activists got on leadership ladders toward responsibilities at district, state, and national levels.

Here we see a very strong confirmation of the intuition discussed in this comment thread—that “leadership qualities” are quite common, far more common than is, today, usually supposed. 3 to 5 percent of American adults were serving in leadership roles! Contemplate this amazing statistic—and then consider that this was not in any “ancestral environment”, but within living memory!

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-01T16:17:22.525Z · score: 15 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is consistent with my experience.

To elaborate… as with so many things, World of Warcraft makes[1] a good case study here.

In WoW, opportunities for leadership are legion. One may lead groups of 5 people, or raids of 10, 15, or 25 (and once upon a time, even 40).

Of course, not every 5-man group will end up with a good leader, nor every 10-man group. But decent, or even good, group/raid leaders are common enough to lead groups through a variety of challenges of varying difficulty. Conversing with some of one’s fellow players inevitably reveals that most of the folks who make good group or raid leaders are, in their “real” lives, programmers, actuaries, artists, salespeople, students, secretaries, unemployed loafers, lawyers… in short, they come from a variety of backgrounds and professions, with no particular pattern to be discerned among them. But give them a small group of people, a mutual goal, and challenges—and they will lead, and people will follow, and the goal will be achieved.

A game like World of Warcraft simply couldn’t work if “leadership qualities” were as rare as CEOs and entrepreneurs.

[1] Well, made. Things are different now, and less interesting—though perhaps we may observe many of these dynamics again, once WoW Classic is released. Consider my comments to apply to the WoW of then, not the WoW of now.

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-01T19:44:34.747Z · score: 12 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, this is a pretty neat point.

The organization I know of that's most similar-in-shape to many existing LW meetups, that seems to do a good job of scaling the tribal leadership thing in a systematic way, is Toastmasters, which I think people have talked about here before. The structure is such that there are multiple roles to give people as they get involved, designed to scale as a local group grows (and eventually bud off into a new group).

(Though I don't have the sense that Toastmasters quite fosters what I think Qiaochu was seeing at the CFAR mentorship workshop.)

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-01T23:43:23.616Z · score: 38 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, this is a pretty neat point.

In that case, here are some more thoughts on World of Warcraft as a case study in “leadership”:

(1) The “amount of leadership” required for a group to succeed is roughtly proportional both to the size of the group, and to the difficulty of the challenge.

Corollaries:

  • Smaller groups require less “leadership”, and are self-organizing to a large degree.
    • This is partly, though not entirely, because challenges appropriate for smaller groups are (ceteris paribus) correspondingly less complex (they have fewer moving parts—because the cognitive capacity of individual group members does not scale with group size). This is an artifact of the game’s designed nature, but it does (IMO) map to certain real-world properties of projects, though imperfectly.
    • However, much of the “extra leadership” (i.e., effort expended on leading × competence of leader) required to effectively lead a larger group is required due to social/coordination issues (which are of the greatest variety, ranging from issues of communication and timing during execution of the collective effort, to scheduling, to the acquisition of necessary resources, to differences in communication/cognitive styles, to clashes of personality, etc.).
  • A fixed “quantity” of leadership (by which, again, I mean effort × competence) suffices to overcome challenges of greater difficulty in a small-group context than in a large-group context.
    • This also means that a smaller group with more resources, or some other “effectiveness booster”, requires “less leadership” to accomplish a given objective than a larger group does to accomplish the same objective.

(2) A critical part of what “leadership” involves is making decisions concerning the apportioning of rewards from successful task completion.

Corollaries:

  • The self-organizing nature of groups (even those composed entirely of very competent individuals) tapers off much more quickly (as group size increases, and as task difficulty increases) when it comes to reward distribution than when it comes to task execution. (In other words, even in cases where only minimal “leadership” is required to successfully complete the task, apportioning the rewards by spontaneous consensus is almost impossible to achieve, and quite perilous to try.)
    • The reason for this is as follows. Even when there are multiple possible approaches or strategies to completing the task, there is nonetheless always a clear way to evaluate those approaches, and thus there is a strong sense in which there are right and wrong ways to do it—so competent/experienced group members can, and will, to a large degree, simply do what needs to be done, without having to be instructed to do it, or having to have their job explained to them. In contrast, there is no objectively correct way to apportion rewards. (This is because the interests of group members are aligned when it comes to task execution—everyone wants to make sure the task is completed successfully, as it is a prerequisite to anyone receiving any rewards[1]—whereas, when it comes to apportioning rewards, the interests of group members are either imperfectly aligned, or not aligned at all.[2])

Puzzle:

Suppose a group performs some task which is not a one-off, but iterated (or performs tasks sufficiently similar to some previous tasks). Practice makes perfect (in various ways which needn’t be enumerated here), and thus the “amount of leadership” required to complete the task will decrease over time. Will the “amount of leadership” required to apportion rewards also decrease over time? Why or why not?


[1] Careful readers may note that this may not always be true (either in WoW or in reality). Puzzling out the consequences of this condition failing to hold is left as an exercise for the reader.

[2] What circumstances determine whether the interests of group members are aligned at all, in the context of apportioning of rewards? Two conditions must hold. First, the group must not be a “one-off” coming-together of disparate individuals, but must be a persistent institution composed of a largely fixed set of members, who expect to cooperate on tasks in the future. Second, the rewards being apportioned must affect group members’ expected performance on future cooperative tasks to be attempted by this persistent group. In this case, it will be in the interest of each group member that not only he, but all group members, get their “fair share” (where “fair”, however, is defined not according to some general principles of justice, but rather means “whatever will most effectively guarantee a member’s continued participation and optimum performance in future cooperative endeavors”).

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-02T00:02:02.775Z · score: 20 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Addendum I

In larger groups, the leader must devote more effort to leading than to participating in the task execution per se.

This is necessary because the “amount of leadership” required for the successful completion of large-group tasks is greater than that required for the succesful completion of small-group tasks.

This is viable because larger groups can more easily “pick up the slack” from a leader who must devote much of his effort to leading (compared to small groups, where everyone must contribute substantial effort to task execution, else the group fails to achieve its goal).

Nevertheless, when the tasks a large group faces become more challenging, and thus require more of group members in order to ensure success, it becomes increasingly important that the leadership role be taken up by someone whose contribution to the group effort aside from leading it, is least important (relative to the contributions of other group members).

(Delegation of leadership responsibilities can alleviate this somewhat, but ultimately it only delays this effect; at some point in the task difficulty curve, these concerns return in full force despite any amount of delegation—which, in any case, will also be necessary.)

(None of these insights are new, of course—these points have been noted before, in the context of, e.g., startups. It is, in any case, interesting to see them arise in this very different context.)

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-02T19:30:24.523Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First, this is a generally excellent comment, esp. with puzzle at the end. I think it'd make for a pretty good post in a revamped sequence of running meetups.

My own answer:

Vs lbh'ir qbar lbhe yrnqrefuvc *evtug*, gura lbh fubhyq unir orra rfgnoyvfuvat n cnenqvtz bs ubj gb nccbegvba erjneqf gung crbcyr unir obhtug vagb.

Yrnqrefuvc erdhverq gb nccbegvba gur erjneqf jba'g qebc gb mreb (lbh cebonoyl arrq gb chg fbzr punevfzn/cbzc/prerzbal/rzcngul vagb gur erjneqf sbe gurz gb jbex). Ohg lbh (be rira nygreangr yrnqref jub ner ebgngvat) fubhyq "bayl" unir gb chg va gur rssbeg sbe gur erjneq vgfrys. Gur cebprff bs rinyhngvat crbcyr fubhyq orpbzr eryngviryl fgnaqneqvmrq nf crbcyr funer vaghvgvbaf ba jung'f inyhnoyr, naq gur ohl-va sbe gur erjneq fgehpgher fubhyq fgnovyvmr.

Bs pbhefr, guvf nffhzrf gur yrnqre(f) *qvq* rfgnoyvfu nalguvat fgnaqneqvmrq (vs ebgngvat yrnqref punatr gur erjneq fgehpgher nyy gur gvzr, vg zvtug rira orpbzr uneqre)

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-02T21:53:58.080Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. This is an interesting answer… I can’t quite say it’s wrong, because there are a whole lot of assumptions and frameworks lurking behind it, some of which I recognize only dimly. However, I do recognize some of what I see clearly enough to say that in my experience, running “task groups” (like WoW raid groups/guilds) in this way is… unstable, and not really reliably workable. (The reasons for this are related to the “corrective” vs. “selective” dichotomy which I have obliquely mentioned in the past, and also parallel certain real-world political dichotomies.)

I don’t know how much further it’s appropriate to take this comment thread, as we’ve sort of digressed from the OP, but this particular subtopic (i.e., what I say in the preceding paragraph, as well as your answer to the puzzle) is, IMO, an important and potentially quite fruitful one to explore.

But all of that aside, this part is definitely correct:

Bs pbhefr, guvf nffhzrf gur yrnqre(f) qvq rfgnoyvfu nalguvat fgnaqneqvmrq (vs ebgngvat yrnqref punatr gur erjneq fgehpgher nyy gur gvzr, vg zvtug rira orpbzr uneqre)

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-02T22:34:53.061Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · LW · GW
but this particular subtopic (i.e., what I say in the preceding paragraph, as well as your answer to the puzzle) is, IMO, an important and potentially quite fruitful one to explore.

I think I'm fine with the conversation continuing, but preferably in a way that ties it back to the original context (i.e. meetups and local rationalist communities), if that's possible. (That said, as noted, I think these comments could be reworked into a top level post).

I'm not actually sure what you mean by "running a group in this way", since I don't think I really specified a way. Any kind of doling out awards seems like it'd congeal into a status quo if you did it roughly the same way each time.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-03T15:07:05.370Z · score: 11 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think I’m fine with the conversation continuing, but preferably in a way that ties it back to the original context (i.e. meetups and local rationalist communities), if that’s possible.

It certainly is possible, and in fact I’ve already had a few discussions (outside of LessWrong) of precisely this application of what I’ve learned from my WoW experiences.

I’m not actually sure what you mean by “running a group in this way”, since I don’t think I really specified a way.

Indeed, you didn’t, which is why it’s tricky to tease out the (apparent-to-me) divergence in our views. It’s not that you specified a way of running a group, but rather that what you said encodes certain assumptions about how a group will, necessarily, be run.

That’s cryptic, I know; I’d like to make my meaning very explicit, but doing so will require a diversion into some more actually-talking-about-WoW, and also many more words. I actually started writing out my answer as a comment, but it got very long very quickly. So I think I’m going to take your suggestion, and try to write this up as a top-level post or two (at which point, I hope, we’ll either come to agree, or at least our disagreement will be clarified completely).

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-02T13:03:45.344Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Addendum II

In some cases, “leadership” also consists, in part, of being a Schelling point at which key individuals come together to collectively undertake a difficult task.

Some tasks are so challenging that they require the participation of multiple very competent individuals—all of whom, however, have other things that they could be doing with their time. Such a task may involve substantial investment on the part of each member (which may be simply an investment of time, or it may also require an investment of material resources of some sort).

It would be wholly intolerable, in such a case, for an individual, who is qualified to participate in an attack on such a difficult objective, to lend his participation, to expend his resources—only to see that expenditure wasted, on account of some or all of the other participants lacking a similar level of competence. Similarly, such an individual has little interest, no doubt, in personally going around and attempting to round up other qualified folks, to enlist them in a collective attack on the objective—he has better things to do with his time.

The leader, in this case, is one who can, and does, say: “Alice, come do a 45-minute Baron run with us.” “Do you have a good group,” Alice asks—meaning, of course, “can you promise me that the three other members of the group that you assemble will be at least as competent as you and I are?” The good leader is the one who can credibly answer “Yes” to that question. She (the leader) then goes to Bob, and invites him, and fields the same question, and gives the same answer, and then Carol, and Dave, and now leader+Alice+Bob+Carol+Dave go and do the thing.

Thus the leader manages to put together an unusually effective task group, by virtue of being able to bring together several unusually competent (and suitable) individuals.

This requires some (very basic) “project management” (i.e. scheduling, etc.) skills, and some (slightly less basic) communication/persuasion/personnel-management skills, but most importantly, it requires personal competence and the ability to judge competence in others. The latter is absolutely critical, because when the leader says “I have [or can get] a good group”, each prospective group member must be able to trust that the leader can convince each other prospective group member to participate—which is perhaps not trivial, but more or less surmountable—and that the leader can properly select prospective group members. Note that a failure of the latter skill is far more catastrophic than a failure of the former! If the leader can’t get prospective group members to participate, well—hopes are dashed, a bit of preparation time is wasted, perhaps opportunities to do other things have been unnecessarily turned down, but… it’s not the end of the world. If the leader has misjudged the competence of the group members, then the project proceeds and fails, which is a much greater waste, much more frustrating, etc.

A leader who has this skill set—that of bringing together unusually competent individuals (all of whom are in high demand) to successfully tackle an unusually challenging task—can rack up a very impressive record of accomplishing many very difficult things. It is thus a much more valuable skill set than it might, at first glance, appear to be.

comment by vedrfolnir · 2018-05-02T20:13:27.626Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Suppose a group performs some task which is not a one-off, but iterated (or performs tasks sufficiently similar to some previous tasks). Practice makes perfect (in various ways which needn’t be enumerated here), and thus the “amount of leadership” required to complete the task will decrease over time. Will the “amount of leadership” required to apportion rewards also decrease over time? Why or why not?

V'q thrff gung vg qbrf. Vs abguvat ryfr, cerprqrag graqf gb pneel abamreb jrvtug.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-02T21:09:43.197Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good; but—jung pbafgvghgrf cerprqrag? Vf “nalguvat gung guvf tebhc unf rire qbar orsber” gur nccebcevngr pngrtbel, be vf vg fbzrguvat ryfr?

comment by vedrfolnir · 2018-05-02T20:09:33.979Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My day job is, essentially, "grunt". I work with about 30 other people. I can immediately think of two leader-types among the grunts -- three if I count someone who recently quit. I used to work a different shift, and there were no leader-types among the grunts there. There are a few more people who I'm pretty sure could be leader-types if they wanted to, but don't want to.

Small sample size, I know, but one ought to test these things against daily life, and by that test 1/30 seems to be in the right ballpark.

That said, things like grunt jobs and (I assume; I've never played any) MMORPGs probably lend themselves more easily to leadership opportunities than things like rationality -- there are different sorts of leadership called for.

In the one case, there are concrete and well-defined goals to be met, and there's domain-specific knowledge accumulated mostly through experience that needs to be applied in order to meet those goals, and leadership entails being generally recognized as 1) having a sufficient accumulation of domain-specific knowledge to know what has to be done to meet those goals, know what to do in most situations that will arise, and probably be able to figure something out in most of the rest of the situations, 2) not a prick.

In the other case... I'm not really sure what leadership in the ratsphere calls for, but it's probably not that. For one thing, we don't have concrete and well-defined operational goals; for another thing, we don't even have much general agreement on _strategic_ goals, although there are subsets of the ratsphere that do.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2019-10-03T12:10:01.507Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant to my earlier comment is a fascinating essay by sociologist Theda Skocpol, called “The Narrowing of Civic Life” (h/t The Scholar’s Stage):

To understand the changes wrought by this sweeping civic reorganization, it is useful to consider the significant role these membership groups played in American life dating back at least a century. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, countless churches and voluntary groups of all sizes needed volunteer leaders. Indeed, the country’s largest nation-spanning voluntary federations could have as many as 15,000 to 17,000 local chapters, each of which might need at least a dozen officers and committee leaders each year. Looking at the nation’s 20 largest voluntary federations alone in 1955, my colleagues and I estimate that some 3 percent to 5 percent of the adult population was serving in leadership roles—and that additional recruits would be needed each year.

[…]

This exposure to democracy in action wasn’t reserved for the elite alone. Many such organizations mixed social classes. There were plenty of opportunities for men and women from blue-collar and lower-level white-collar occupations to participate. And within the world of volunteerism, upward mobility was possible, as local activists got on leadership ladders toward responsibilities at district, state, and national levels.

Here we see a very strong confirmation of the intuition discussed in this comment thread—that “leadership qualities” are quite common, far more common than is, today, usually supposed. 3 to 5 percent of American adults were serving in leadership roles! Contemplate this amazing statistic—and then consider that this was not in any “ancestral environment”, but within living memory!

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2019-10-03T12:09:30.108Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant to my earlier comment is a fascinating essay by sociologist Theda Skocpol, called “The Narrowing of Civic Life” (h/t The Scholar’s Stage):

To understand the changes wrought by this sweeping civic reorganization, it is useful to consider the significant role these membership groups played in American life dating back at least a century. From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, countless churches and voluntary groups of all sizes needed volunteer leaders. Indeed, the country’s largest nation-spanning voluntary federations could have as many as 15,000 to 17,000 local chapters, each of which might need at least a dozen officers and committee leaders each year. Looking at the nation’s 20 largest voluntary federations alone in 1955, my colleagues and I estimate that some 3 percent to 5 percent of the adult population was serving in leadership roles—and that additional recruits would be needed each year.

[…]

This exposure to democracy in action wasn’t reserved for the elite alone. Many such organizations mixed social classes. There were plenty of opportunities for men and women from blue-collar and lower-level white-collar occupations to participate. And within the world of volunteerism, upward mobility was possible, as local activists got on leadership ladders toward responsibilities at district, state, and national levels.

Here we see a very strong confirmation of the intuition discussed in this comment thread—that “leadership qualities” are quite common, far more common than is, today, usually supposed. 3 to 5 percent of American adults were serving in leadership roles! Contemplate this amazing statistic—and then consider that this was not in any “ancestral environment”, but within living memory!

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-01T08:02:13.321Z · score: -4 (7 votes) · LW · GW

And we're particularly vicious with each other about this. The hypothesis "Brent could have been a tribal leader" does not often feel endorsed by my community, when I actually try to be one.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-05-01T14:51:01.173Z · score: 26 (7 votes) · LW · GW

As a note, when you make a discussion in the abstract about yourself that exposes your identity to more of the fallout from it. It also forces other people to consider you personally in their response, which also sets you up as being a proxy target for the idea itself. Unless you're a particularly charismatic, high-status person this ends up mostly just being a way to consistently clobber yourself from a strategy perspective.

comment by Raemon · 2018-04-30T23:38:11.236Z · score: 24 (7 votes) · LW · GW

TLDR on Ray's advice to Ray-shaped-people for funding community projects similar to REACH:

  • REACH seems to be actually doing the thing that a lot of Berkeley community folk have been vaguely wanting for years. It's providing infrastructure and coordination capacity that has already proven valuable, and I expect to continue to be more valuable.
    • The Wednesday night meetups are real good. (See first 1/4th of the OP for why that is)
    • Coworking benefits I've gotten have varied (some days it's just 0-2 people, sometimes it's a whole crowd, and the crowd varies), but I expect this to become very valuable from a "water-cooler cross-pollination" perspective.
    • If you haven't been to REACH yet, or just visited once on what turned out to be a kinda off-day, mostly I recommend checking it out.
  • Two reasons to fund things that apply here: Effective Altruism, and Buying Nice Things Because You Want Them.
  • From the Nice Things perspective
    • a reasonable lower bound on how valuable REACH is to you is "how much would it cost to be doing this thing from a professional market?". Going to a meetup should at least be comparable to A Night On the Town, between $10 and $20. Coworking should be comparable to at least however many coffees you'd have to buy to feel reasonable if hanging out in Starbucks a commensurate time.
    • I think the upper bound is much higher – there's all kinds of subtle chemistry going on at meetups and community centers that aren't going on at generic coffeeshops and nights-on-the-town. This caches out in new friends, cross-pollination of ideas, new opportunities. If you either expect to benefit from that (and can afford it), or previously benefited from such a thing, I think it's worth paying-it-forward.
      • (That said, if you've tried going to meetup or participating in various community stuff and feel like you're not getting that magical chemistry out of it, I don't think you should be donating out of a vague obligation-shaped impulse. My whole point here is about buying nice things for yourself).
    • If you don't have much money, I wouldn't worry about donating much (although probably donate at least a little to build the habit of actually putting your money where you mouth is, so when you do have money you'll do so more easily)
    • I think it'd be bad to consciously think about "spending extra money" every time you go to reach. But I think it's good to "think seriously about how valuable this is to you, and how much it costs to run, and then set up a monthly patreon accordingly."
  • From the EA perspective
    • Blackbox Basic Research paradigm – One way or another, meetups have provided demonstrably large amounts of value in the form of incubating impactful people and projects. If you care about incubation about the sorts of people and projects that the rationality and EA spheres cause, funding community infrastructure should at least be on your radar. The mechanics of this seem to be:
      • Agency Ladder – Meetups and community projects provide a mechanism for people with small amounts of agency to start leveling themselves up at Agency, and getting them to a position where they're ready to provide serious value to professional organizations. If done well, communities are structured in a scalable way that helps people at various stages of the ladder help level up the people coming in behind them, receive help from the people further along.
      • Water Cooler Effect – Having people bump into each other in an unstructured by regular fashion is pretty important for forming friendships and partnerships, as well as for bouncing ideas around. I think this has led to many projects that are valuable both for their direct outputs, for continuing the agency ladder into the "make big things happen on the global scale" level, and other knock-on effects.
    • I expect REACH-like projects to not be at the top of the list of EA things to fund, but they should be on the list, and whether it makes sense for you to fund them depends on whether you seem more short on money or on shovel-ready-projects that could use seed funding.
    • If you are a Earn To Give type person, I think it's worth considering that most causes that are demonstratably high impact are going to be getting a lot of funding from Big Time Donors, and part of the value you can provide is to use superior local knowledge to give seed funding to things that would otherwise be neglected
    • If you're a major funder who's willing to fund community-infrastructure-type projects but hesitant about proactively funding something like REACH, I think a pretty reasonable take is to do something akin to matching funding. In the world where there weren't anywhere near enough people paying for REACH out of their Nice Things budget, that would be mild evidence that there wasn't enough demand for REACH for it to be worth the expense. But in the World That Is, we do now have a fair number of locals putting their money where their mouth is, and (I claim) a credible demonstration that the kind of community magic that's worth funding.
comment by Regex · 2018-08-01T17:18:30.952Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There is one pretty big problem with using patreon as their fundraising platform: It eats a little less than 8% of the money you put in. That is money simply lost from the community. This makes patreon an unacceptable medium for transactions.

Now, about 3% of that is from credit card fees. Are there alternatives to that? I am unsure how much the one time donation takes, but I suspect it is only the credit card fees. We're losing 5% to the convenience of not pressing a button to donate every month.

As of this writing they're making $5,464/month. I presume that's pre-fee. I'll also assume everyone actually pays every month.

They lose $163/month to the credit card fees, and from the remaining another $265/month for a total of $428/month lost all due to the medium of monetary transfer.

That's about half of what I spend each month to live, so the inefficiency here is costing us 50% of one person's living situation. Minimum wage is about $8/hour. So a more concrete measure is we're losing ~60 minimum wage hours a month. We should be willing to pay someone that much to fix this transaction problem.

And that's just for this one project.

I presume they're using patreon because people know it and are willing to use it, but this is a coordination problem, and a rather serious one at that should this medium become more popular.

comment by Raemon · 2018-08-01T19:13:39.903Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is certainly worth considering. But in counterpoint – building an alternative platform (one that *in particular* solves the problem of 'people can donate each month without having to pay attention _and_ people know is reasonably bug free and works smoothly') is a nontrivial undertaking.

This isn't to say it's not worth it, but it actually matters how much time it'd take. If something quick can be thrown together in 5-10 hours, it's definitely worth it (each hour providing about $500 worth of value for one year of REACH. If it's 40 hours, probably still worth it but less overwhelmingly so.

I think doing this well enough to succeed not just for REACH but also for all analogous projects in the future would require not just a bare-bones working project, but an actual quality platform that would end up being more like "build a competitor for Patreon" than anything quick (which would most likely end up charging as well).

I do agree someone should look into this but I'm not as confident it'll turn out to be a quick project.

I will say that if anyone wants to build this, I recommend using Plaid (a service partnered with stripe) which uses ACH payments instead of credit cards, for much smaller fees (at least for larger donations).

comment by Regex · 2018-08-01T20:34:41.768Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Found a big list of crowd funding options. Don't have to set up our own, just need to find one that is both low fee and trustworthy.

https://wiki.snowdrift.coop/market-research/other-crowdfunding

Finding a superior option seems doable in 5-10 hours?