Excessive Navel Gazing: A Report on the Vancouver Rationality/LessWrong Meetup (Group(s))

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Evan

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Oct 21, 2014, 5:20:19 AM10/21/14
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Background Information
I'm Evan Gaensbauer, and I was introduced to Less Wrong by my friend Eric Chisholm in 2011. I didn't become a regular attendee of the meetups until late 2012. Originally, the meetup was founded by Michael Keenan. Keenan, Wolf, Shminux and Andrew Grieve were the primary meetup organizers from 2011-12, I believe. From 2012-13, the meetup was organized by Wolf, Andrew McKnight, Eric Chisholm, Daniel Satanove, and myself. As Keenan and Grieve became busier, they've interacted with the meetup less. Wolf still presently organizes meetups, but with less frequency. As of 2013-14, meetups are primarily organized by Chisholm, McKnight, Satanove, Kenneth, Dee, Max, and myself.

Abstract/Takeaways
The Vancouver meetup looks a lot different than it did in 2011. This report is about what's new to the meetup that wasn't part of its details a few years ago.

Takeaways
  • Here's some advice: go to Benny's Bagels (2505 W Broadway) at 1500 hours ANY/EVERY SUNDAY YOU FEEL LIKE. Do this assuming this others will do this. That won't work perfectly, but it increases the chances that there is a meetup at Benny's to, like, a 45% chance on any Sunday afternoon when you don't have something better to do. This is way better average for having a good time just by randomly going to other coffee shops in Vancouver.
  • Check the Google and/or Facebook groups for meetup announcements. Other sites aren't reliable for these announcements.
  • Vancouver Rationality/LessWrong meetups happen with less frequency when they would overlap with other events some of us regularly attend. These include swing dancing events, Skeptics at the Pub, or meetups organized by local effective altruism or transhumanism groups. If any of those interest you, contact Eric Chisholm, Andrew McKnight, or Evan Gaensbauer to find out more about these other outside events.

Introduction
Over the last several years, sprouting out of Less Wrong, several global cities have supported meetups which are quite substantial in their numbers, and influence within the community. Cities typically cited as having big, vibrant, active rationalist communities include several in California, D.C., Seattle, Boston, New York, Melbourne, London, Oxford, and Ottawa. There are several more outside the English-speaking world, but I can't recall them all. This information can be found on Less Wrong. Several individuals from this meetup have integrated with the broader rationalist community, attended CFAR workshops, and are prominent figures ourselves in overlapping subcultures (e.g., neoreaction, effective altruism, etc.). Additionally, I believe there are more people attending rationality meetups in Vancouver, or participating in online discussions together, then many of us realized.

When I met Keenan at the CFAR alumni reunion in Berkeley this last summer, he mentioned that he can't believe that one meetup group he started three years ago in Vancouver, a city that wasn't his home for all too long, became this independent thing, with so many awesome people doing awesome things. This reaction surprised me, but I was glad. I told Keenan how many people the meetup now reaches out to online, and how many people often attend, and he was very surprised. Putting all this information together, I think lots of us might be surprised what's going on in Vancouver with rationality. As someone who pays attention to all this information/data, I am now trying to answer the question: how big and awesome, or not, is what we are, and have been, doing in Vancouver?

Review of Literature
The closest thing to 'literature' is several of us sitting around Benny's Bagels pondering 'why aren't we as awesome, and doing as awesome things, as those guys in the Bay Area, or New York?' This netted no better answers than 'aw man, we suck at this'. Sometimes we now discuss that we don't totally suck at this, and some of us are doing, like, one thing that is awesome, but it doesn't feel like this meetup is the most exciting community we could make it, and we don't know why. This report exists to give us more information to fuel the pondering of these questions.

Methodology
As someone who has coordinated the meetups across multiple online domains, and for multiple local venues, (maybe more than anyone else) over the last 16 months, I centrally receive information on it more than others. So, I summarize it all for all of you to know what the meetup has looked like recently.

Also, I counted memberships of online groups, and compared that with how many people from each group I'm aware has attended a meetup, or I've been in touch with regarding rationality meetups in and around Vancouver. 'Physical Meetup Attendees' are people I'm aware have attended a scheduled meetup in meatspace in the last 12 months. 'People I've Encountered' are people who I've been in touch with about the fact that there is a meetup, as people ask me about this stuff because I routinely broadcast I organize this meetup they may want to try attending. This communication can either be online, or offline, and has also occurred within the last 12 months. On the bases of these numbers, I've formed ratios. I don't know what to do with them yet, but I figured it was important to somehow include numbers if possible.

I estimate that about 15% of each group are who I would classify as 'absents'. That is, people who nobody from the meetup has much communicated with in the last 2 years, and/or people who follow the mailing list while living outside of B.C. (most of the time). There are also 13 people in the Facebook group who are also in the Google group, about 2/3 of whom I estimate attend one meetup at least once every 2 months.

Note that this information is taken from my own perspective. Especially for the numbers, it's who I counted as being active either here and/or on Facebook, cross-referenced with everyone I can recall myself or another current meetup organizer interacting with. This information is my observation of meetup activity as a proxy for meetup activity as a whole. I expect, and hope, others will share information that would falsify, or complement, my observations.

Results
Numerical

Google Group, Present
Number of Members: 74
Number of Physical Meetup Attendees: 19/74; approx. 26%
Number of People I've Encountered: 22/74; approx. 30%
 

Facebook Group, Present
Number of Members: 56
Number of Physical Meetup Attendees: 32/56; 8/14, approx. 57%
Number of People I've Encountered: 32/56; 8/14, approx. 57%

Qualitative

  • On average, there are about two meetups per month. Typically, they've been at Benny's Bagels. Within the last year, more of them have been hosted at a host's home, typically Wolf or I. Hosting the meetups at a personal home facilitates greater attendance, and longer and deeper conversations.
  • Andrew, Wolf, Eric, and I have thrown parties in the last year that acted as 'de facto' social gatherings for meetups, and like-minded folk. 'like-minded folk' include people from communities which overlap the Less Wrong memespace, including: skeptics, transhumanism, crypto-/hacking enthusiasts, effective altruism, and neoreaction. More of the membership is active undergraduate university students, so more of us are bringing people under age 25 we meet at/around UBC and SFU.
  • I've observed that the academic/professional clusters that members tend to be from are: engineering/CS, info-tech/web-design/BigData, psychology/neuroscience, economics, mathematics, and philosophy/CogSci. This is pretty much what anyone would have expected.
  • The Google Group has less activity than it did a year ago, but still remains useful. The Facebook group was started just over a year ago, and is primarily where discussions, and meetup announcements, are posted these days. The meetup.com group was shut down, as we didn't find it useful, though a new one may be started if somebody feels like it. Sometimes Wolf, Kenneth, or I post meetups in Vancouver to Less Wrong itself, but we tend to neglect that because frankly none of us can remember the last time somebody attended the meetup because it was posted on Less Wrong, who wouldn't have already gotten wind of it through word of mouth, the Google Group, or the Facebook group.
  • If you are only part of the Google Group, and you're thinking' oh jeez, should I get Facebook to be notified about meetups, even though I don't want Facebook', my recommendation is that it's not worth it to get Facebook. Dee, Kenneth, Andrew, Daniel, Eric, and I have a good track record of cross-posting meetups to both sites, and I'll personally work to reinforce this norm in the future.
  • Andrew met the BC Lifespan Society, which led to him meeting the Vancouver cryptoculture hub, decentral.bangtown, and other meetups. Over the last eight months in particular, we haven't bothered to plan as many rationality meetups because we've made new non-rationalist friends who have an amazing venue where they host film screenings, presentations, and discussions about the Singularity, futurism, transhumanism, cryptocurrencies, other cryptoculture stuff, and generally contrarian things. They are amazing, and we don't know why one group hasn't subsumed the other yet, even though that might be a great idea.

Conclusion and Discussion
The meetup isn't dead. One year ago, I thought the meetup might be dying. Today, it's disorganized, but more alive than ever.

Schelling Point
If you don't know what to do on a Sunday, and you want to hang out with rationalists, go to Benny's Bagels (2505 W Broadway) at 1500 hours on LITERALLY ANY SUNDAY. Historically, there is at least a 1/3 chance that another rationalist will be there, even if nobody said anything about a meetup. If someone asked about a meetup, but nothing was officially announced, the chances jump to like 2/5.

Here's some advice: go to Benny's Bagels (2505 W Broadway) at 1500 hours ANY/EVERY SUNDAY YOU FEEL LIKE. Do this assuming this others will do this. That won't work perfectly, but it increases the chances that there is a meetup at Benny's to, like, a 45% chance on any Sunday afternoon when you don't have something better to do. This is way better average for having a good time just by randomly going to other coffee shops in Vancouver.

List of Heroes
If this meetup was a person, here are the people to which it would owe a debt of gratitude over the last year.
  • Wolf Tivy: From 2012-2014, there was a period of at least 18 months when he might have been trying to keep the meetup alive. At some point Wolf got busier, and it was difficult enough caring about other people caring about him organizing the meetup, because he was the only one who did care. As someone who has himself felt this way sometimes, I empathize with Wolf that it can be mentally taxing, perhaps frustrating, to remember this thing that people rely upon you for, even though what you're doing is primarily for their sake. If Vancouver ever becomes a floating city, and its rationalist community a paragon, Wolf's name should be in a Hall of Fame for decades to come up alongside the name of Michael Keenan.
  • Evan, Max, Satanove, McKnight: meetup organizers who plan meetups when nobody else is doing so by default.
  • Kenneth, Dee, McKnight, Chisholm: meetup organizers who bring lots of new faces to the meetups.
  •  Hirad, Shmi Nux, Dylan, Carmen, James Wright: these are people who have enthusiastically and routinely engaging with the meetup within the last year, without planning it. Their fresh faces and interesting ideas are what motivates us to keep trying.
  • Heartline, and, Eclectic Dr. Cockerham, D.D.S.: Heartline manages decentral.bangtown downtown, this hackspace with couches and hardware and a projector and all sorts of comforts. He hosts meetups there every week. Eclectic is the President of the B.C. Lifespan Society, which brings together transhumanists under the sun with lots of interesting people. Dr. Cockerham helps organize meetups for both these other groups, in addition to more groups. He is perhaps the greatest meetup organizer I know. What we've learned from these 3 informs us in improving our own meetups.

Things to Do
  • Benny's Bagels only works as a Schelling point for people in and around UBC/Vancouver. Schelling points should be established downtown, at SFU, or on the East Side for people who are more distant from Kitsalino.
  • I'm hoping to start hosting more focused and topical meetups at my house on weeknights, as Wolf once did at his home. In the coming months, I hope to skew meetups towards being smaller groups that meet with greater frequency, perhaps every (other) week.
  • The meetup group is big, distributed across multiple platforms, and spread thin across the Lower Mainland. In the last year, it was a priority to increase the size of the meetup. I believe this has worked with mixed success. I would like to prioritize consolidating the meetup with a stronger community, and better organization, than growing it faster. I would like combine the planned greater diversity of meetups with the proposed Schelling point installations to have maybe 1 or 2 smaller meets around Vancouver that people can make it to if they can't make it out on Sundays.
  • Suggestions for others: if you have a friend you've thought of inviting, but haven't, try doing so next time you attend. If you're thinking of telling everyone you know about this meetup, I don't think it's necessary to do so to keep the meetup alive. More ballooning and decentralization at this point may make organizing the meetup more difficult.




Evan

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Oct 21, 2014, 5:29:04 AM10/21/14
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Another Interesting Statistic:

I'd estimate in 2012 that a normal meetup was 4 people, and a big meetup was 8. I'd estimate in 2014 that a normal meetup is 6-8 people, and a big meetup 12-16. So, meetup has increased 75% absolutely since its inception. However, the rotation of people who attend has likely increased 2 to 3 times since 2012 (from 10-15 people, to 20-40 people).

Kenneth

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Oct 21, 2014, 4:56:49 PM10/21/14
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I read through this because I think your efforts should be commended, even though the text looked intimidating at first. You definitely put things into perspective: hearing Keenan's feedback surprised me too, but now I think that we've been doing OK all things considered. Vancouver is a tough place to maintain an active community and we've been inexperienced in the matter.

I guess the important question is "what next"? It seems like our interests have sublimated into different parts.

I'll note that it was well written, although it may have been good in two installments rather than one long post, or one thread split into two posts. This is just for the sake of putting our attention into pre-digested chunks - roughly speaking history and demographic data.

Andrew McKnight

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Oct 22, 2014, 6:07:18 PM10/22/14
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This is a great summary, but some of the lifespan and decentral details aren't quite right.

Luke Cockerham is president of Lifespan and Carrie is executive director. The meetups that Luke organized at decentral were actually lifespan meetups. I don't think Luke organizes anything for decentral.

Otherwise this seems about right. Nice summary.


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