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Repetitions in AskMe
February 1, 2006 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Is it just me, or are the AskMe topics getting more repetitive?

Even if the questions are not repeats, they're slight variations on existing questions, where a huge number of the answers are either identical or extremely similar.

I'm not sure how many more times I can rephrase my answer on what non-stick cookware to buy, or hear another question about whether some 18-year old who got married too early should explore polyamory on a trial basis, or engage in a heated discussion about how to extend the life of laptop batteries. Presumably, this happens more often than just the ones I notice.

The questions are interesting even the first few times. But it does get old and I feel like my will to be helpful is being sapped as I repeat myself. Obviously, people aren't reading the archives, or not finding the previous posts that quite obviously apply to them. Anyone else feel this way?

We've built up quite a knowledge base here, but it seems to me that the knowledge of where the knowledge is is still concentrated at the edges. The search isn't doing it, or people aren't using it. (The fact that the search results can't be ordered by date probably contributes.)

As a secondary concern, I'd also like to be able to better find those historical questions that do apply to me.

Thoughts?
posted by Caviar to Etiquette/Policy at 11:36 AM (65 comments total)

I think we should first post a question to MetaTalk... Then navelgaze... Then maybe someone will post a snarky comment... Then someone else will post an image macro... Rinse, repeat...

Thoughts?
posted by keswick at 11:38 AM on February 1, 2006


There are a ton of questions that could be added to the relevant wiki page.
posted by jjg at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2006


swish-e. available for windows.
posted by quonsar at 11:43 AM on February 1, 2006


I changed the Post A New Question page last week, to help curtail some of this.

Before you can answer a question, there's a big fat search box that directs to Yahoo. I tested out a bunch of recent repeat questions, and if someone just did one quick search for a single keyword, they would have found the old questions.

Obviously that won't catch all repeats, but I hope it helps. A tag search might help too, as well as a past question search for exact keywords.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:45 AM on February 1, 2006


So, I shouldn't ask my question about battery-powered, nonstick polyamory, then?


Damn.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:49 AM on February 1, 2006


What about FORCING a search, before being able to post a new question?
posted by Witty at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2006


there's a big fat search box that directs to Yahoo

Yahoo?
posted by anastasiav at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2006


If I notice a duplicate, I post a link to the original. I figure I have better luck finding it than the questioner, since I know it exists.
posted by smackfu at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2006


New information, perspectives, etc., do get added to the discussions by keeping them "fresh," though.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2006


i demand google for all metafilter related searching.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:01 PM on February 1, 2006


What if links to older related threads (based on tags) were automatically added to a new posted question... like the top three threads or something.
posted by Witty at 12:02 PM on February 1, 2006


Thoughts?

Less spacing in metatalk posts! ;)
posted by The God Complex at 12:06 PM on February 1, 2006


No one is forced to go over there, you know. If you find it repetitive that is a sign that it's time to go do something else.

Look at it this way-even if questions are similar chances are it is a different subset of Mefites reading the question at any given point-more brains to mine, so to speak. Knowledge is not static these days, either. Something that is good advice one day may turn out to be second rate a month or so later.

If you truly find a question redundant then YOU are probably not the person to be posting an answer anyway.
posted by konolia at 12:12 PM on February 1, 2006



there's a big fat search box that directs to Yahoo

Yahoo?


Yahoo!
posted by rxrfrx at 12:16 PM on February 1, 2006


Thoughts?

You are apparently suffering from AskMe burnout. I suggest you take a long vacation, at least from answering questions on AskMe.

One thing I've learned in my many, many years of dealing with computer forums is that each and every lame joke, every silly webpage, every thought that anyone has ever had, has been written about before, but it's always new to someone, and that someone has posting privileges.

And as you get older and older, you get buried up to your neck in perpetual repe-repe-repe-repe-repe-repetition, and your only joy will be the sweet release of death.
posted by crunchland at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2006


Hey Caviar, since prt of this seems to be directed at me...Let me suggest that you might not find the posts so repetitive if you read them.

For example, in my question on cookware, where you posted the not-so-helpful comment "Check the cookware tag", I in fact had checked the cookware tag before posting. And while I didn't say "I checked the cookware tag" in the post, I did point out that I had done some searches and read the answers.

I also specifically said that I did not want non-stick cookware, and that the quesitons I had found in the search had been about non-stick cookware, and thus not helpful to me.

The responses in thread were helpful to me (the ones actually answering my question) and I'm currently still weighing my options, but I'll post an update when I pick something out.
posted by duck at 12:22 PM on February 1, 2006


Didn't we just talk about this?
posted by Gamblor at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2006


maybe somewhere on the question where related questions could be displayed when viewing the thread, either entered by the user, admin, or automagically, or maybe even suggested by askme users? (assuming no element of surprise)
posted by blue_beetle at 12:27 PM on February 1, 2006


PonyRequest: The ability to flag questions as "Related To: X" where X may or may not be a previous ask me question.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:28 PM on February 1, 2006


I proposed to catagorize AskMe ages ago.

If I had the skills I'd be interested in setting up the nodeballs for an Everything engine (ala everything2.com) and scraping AskMe for data to populate it with.

Though, that swish-e program looks pretty damn clean.

The crux of the matter is that the linear-thread and time-sensitive nature of AskMe's code or engine and interface is terrible for a question and answer database or expert system.

And I mean terrible. It's not just a square peg in a round hole terrible - its like some hyperdimensional tesseract peg trying to get shoved into flatland terrible.

The thread system is nice everywhere else. Clean and elegant. But hardly a useable repository for AskMe.
posted by loquacious at 12:29 PM on February 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm specifically not counting new knowledge for the same question as a problem.

More along the lines of "we already had this discussion in exactly this form, and the fact that the only people who can find it are the ones who remember participating in the first place is perhaps a problem".

I don't think it's burnout - I'm still happy to answer new questions, or even answer the same questions in new ways, if things have changed significantly. But I put a lot of time and thought into my answers most of the time, and it takes a fair amount of energy. Perhaps we can find a solution for this rather than give up and say if you've been around for a while you should go somewhere else where they're not asking the same questions over and over again.

Matt, I think the tag search is pretty useful, for those posts that have useful tags. Maybe integrating those results with the regular search in some way would help?

Have you considered allowing/encouraging responders to add tags, or perhaps tagging of individual answers?

Another idea is a second verification screen that says "you're just submitted your question. Here are the three best matches based on your tags. Are you sure this doesn't answer your question?"
posted by Caviar at 12:31 PM on February 1, 2006


CrazyPonyRequest: Instead of 1 question/week, how about 1 question/2weeks with the ability to "bump" a previous question back to the front page, marked as "Wanting new info/missing an answer/whatever". So that instead of asking a new question we could revisit an old one?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:31 PM on February 1, 2006


maybe somewhere on the question where related questions could be displayed when viewing the thread, either entered by the user, admin, or automagically, or maybe even suggested by askme users? (assuming no element of surprise)

That's a fantastic idea.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2006


You know, though, when I've had (computer/software related) questions recently it's totally helped me to have multiple AskMe threads that vary only slightly. Oftentimes the answer to my particular problem is found by combining several different answers to meet my particular needs.
posted by redsparkler at 12:34 PM on February 1, 2006


maybe somewhere on the question where related questions could be displayed when viewing the thread, either entered by the user, admin, or automagically, or maybe even suggested by askme users?

I think it's great too.

*Hoping agreeing with Matt makes up for snarky tone upthread*
posted by duck at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2006


loquacious, "It's not just a square peg in a round hole terrible - its like some hyperdimensional tesseract peg trying to get shoved into flatland terrible." was one of the best analogies I've ever read. Thank you.
posted by Godbert at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2006


The vast sums of money earned by Metafilter from Amazon links should be spent on paying the Curating and Tagging Committee to correctly curate and Tag AskMe answers so that search works. (Perhaps using Amazon's Mechanical Turk thing). Then repeat AskMes can be linked to the correct tag combination, and closed to further posts other than those made by the Snark Committee and the Pileon Committee.

On preview: wait, konolia has it. There are so many AskMes these days that the chance of any given one being seen by any particular Mefite are low; anybody who reads all the questions has no experience of real life and their answer can't be trusted. This of course means that to increase the chances of getting good answer to your question, you need to sign up several sock puppet accounts and post variations of your question at intervals. This means more $5 signups to pay the Curation and Tagging Committee and everyone wins!
posted by nowonmai at 12:39 PM on February 1, 2006


duck, since you brought it up, the responses to these two threads (http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/30268 and http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/26974 were specifically about general cookware and directly applicable to your question about alternatives to teflon.

Perhaps it's not obvious from the titles. Maybe that's another problem that compounds my point.
posted by Caviar at 12:40 PM on February 1, 2006


maybe somewhere on the question where related questions could be displayed when viewing the thread, either entered by the user, admin, or automagically, or maybe even suggested by askme users?
Brilliant. Have it suggestable by the member base.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 12:43 PM on February 1, 2006


duck, since you brought it up, the responses to these two threads (http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/30268 and http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/26974 were specifically about general cookware and directly applicable to your question about alternatives to teflon.

Hmm..you're right...and you're also right that I based my dismissal of them on the titles. So thanks for pointing them out and I will read through them before picking out my cookware. I think if I had read them first, I still would have posted though, I'm not sure my full spoiled-brat criteria were addressed in those posts, but I still would have liked to read them first.

So let's get that related-questions pony.
posted by duck at 12:48 PM on February 1, 2006


Even better, while the FPP poster is typing in keywords, do an ajaxy web2.0-enhanced seizure-inducing live update that shows recent threads using those same keywords. So the act of asking could become the act of finding an answer in itself.
posted by adamrice at 12:49 PM on February 1, 2006


Yes, duck, but now you have ventured out of the relative safety of Snark County and into the hazy, brownish zone of the Sycophancers. Quickly now, you must insult Matt and/or the site so that you can pass safely to the next area: Grumbly Oldbetton.

Of course, since your user id has five digits, you cannot actually become a grumbling oldbie; the force of your prompt expulsion from that hallowed township will thus send you off at high speed along an oblique angle, which leaves you at...yes...oh bloody good:

Mornington Crescent!

posted by cortex at 12:56 PM on February 1, 2006


Yes, duck, but now you have ventured out of the relative safety of Snark County and into the hazy, brownish zone of the Sycophancers. Quickly now, you must insult Matt and/or the site so that you can pass safely to the next area: Grumbly Oldbetton.

I pointed out a non-existant bug today. Surely that counts.
posted by duck at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2006


Did you remember to point out that THIS IS HIS FUCKING JOB? If not, you're not keeping up.
posted by cortex at 1:08 PM on February 1, 2006


Did you remember to point out that THIS IS HIS FUCKING JOB? If not, you're not keeping up.

*sigh* No....I'll try to find another bug and do better next time.
posted by duck at 1:12 PM on February 1, 2006


Funny you bring this up. Someone made the same comment as a response to my question. Although his question was worded the same as mine, it didn't come up when I did an AskMe search. (Possibly because the writer didn't use tags?)

Since the guy didn't mark a best answer, the original question wasn't helpful anyway.
posted by luneray at 1:22 PM on February 1, 2006


*waits for crunchlands sweet release*
posted by quonsar at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2006


Metafilter: your only joy will be the sweet release of death
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:24 PM on February 1, 2006


Hey, chin up. I'm only giving you such a hard time because you've got promise, kiddo. I see big things for you. Bunnyfire things. quonsar things. Minya things.

Heck, one day you might turn yourself into a genuinely intolerable, miserable, unsatisfiable hanger-on. You'll be able to sit around all day, every day, chewing on a blade of wheat and squinting into the sun and grousing unironically about how miserable and intolerable and unsatisfying this place is. And if you feel like it you can lay the bulk of the blame at the feet of those goddammed 100Kers.

And that's the way you'll like it, too.
posted by cortex at 1:24 PM on February 1, 2006


I think this is just the nature of the beast. Dupes and deviations exist in the far more edited blue. Sometimes the more personal relationship-filter questions are more community therapy than actual questions. Sure, good advice from one thread about marriage is good advice from another similiar thread. But whose to say? Iffy semi-chatfilter questions will always be unique.

Ideally, a dupe should be immediatly closed when someone finds the same previously answered question and posts the URL, but thats a lot of work for the two admins here. Maybe a dupe tag could be used and automatically close the question after its been tagged 10 times or something.
posted by skallas at 1:25 PM on February 1, 2006


My dog is acting weird. He keeps posting the same question to AskMe. Does anyone know why he does this?
posted by matildaben at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2006


Have you tried asking him?
posted by keswick at 1:33 PM on February 1, 2006


therein lies a tail.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2006


I like the idea above, where past questions can be made visible in the thread upon user suggestion.

I also wish there was an AskMe library, organized by topic and displaying each question within that topic, where you could just go to browse to learn interesting information. I think tagging was supposed to basically accomplish that purpose, but not enough people use the tagging feature, or use it correctly, and almost none of the posts from the first year of AskMe are tagged.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:36 PM on February 1, 2006


Tag searches are good. Unfortunately, the link to all tags used is on the archives page, not the tags page, and it redirects to the popular tags page instead of displaying all tags used. Help!
posted by amber_dale at 1:47 PM on February 1, 2006


You've got 10 years and 200 hundred pounds on me, Quonsar. Don't hold your breath. Better yet, do.
posted by crunchland at 2:14 PM on February 1, 2006


Perhaps the default view should be "recently updated", so that if people have new angles on a question they can bump the original thread up to the top.

(There could be a "new questions" page to show only new ones).
posted by bonaldi at 2:18 PM on February 1, 2006


buuuuuurn
posted by cortex at 2:19 PM on February 1, 2006


buuuuuurn

he wasn't talking to me. he was talking to that big Q guy.
posted by quonsar at 2:53 PM on February 1, 2006


You guys are funny. Except crunchland. He says things like:

And as you get older and older, you get buried up to your neck in perpetual repe-repe-repe-repe-repe-repetition, and your only joy will be the sweet release of death.

That's not funny.




But it's true.
posted by languagehat at 3:05 PM on February 1, 2006


And as you get older and older, you get buried up to your neck in perpetual repe-repe-repe-repe-repe-repetition, and your only joy will be the sweet release of death.

Think of the implications for reincarnationists. Poor bastards.
posted by cortex at 3:23 PM on February 1, 2006


I'll trot out my favorite silver bullet fix: FREEZE THE TAGS! Infinite tags means infinite categories means nobody can find anything. How many more tags do we possibly need? Don't you think we've already covered most everything with tags that are general enough that they can cover most everything in the future? For the rare instances where a new tag is needed, we could have a "suggest a new tag" box.
posted by Mid at 3:47 PM on February 1, 2006


Didn't we just talk about this?
posted by loquacious at 3:49 PM on February 1, 2006


i demand google for all metafilter related searching.

Then use it. But it has been shown fairly conclusively that Yahoo indexes Metafilter better than Google does. Perhaps the upcoming Big BrotherDaddy rev of the Google algorithms will change that. We'll see.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:54 PM on February 1, 2006


What we need to do is try to catagorize the questions and answers. Simple tagging really isn't sufficent, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 4:05 PM on February 1, 2006


I agree with delmoi.
posted by onlyconnect at 4:18 PM on February 1, 2006


Baby_Balrog: "i demand google for all metafilter related searching."

why?
posted by kcm at 4:29 PM on February 1, 2006


Infinite tags means infinite categories means nobody can find anything. How many more tags do we possibly need?

Tags are the same thing as categories. People don't like to admit this (particularly bloggers), but they're the same thing, except worse. If you've ever worked with databases you know why. Imagine a free-form telephone field, for example. In a week you'll end up with ten duplicate numbers that no one picked up because one person entered 1 first, another person used parenthesis, another person tried to be trendy and use periods instead of dashes... a royal mess--that's what tags are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:01 PM on February 1, 2006


All I want is a way to access tags that aren't in the top 50. Is there any easy way to do this, besides searching for the topics and hoping they're tagged properly?
posted by graventy at 5:15 PM on February 1, 2006


I really, really like how everything2.com "organizes" things - as to opposed to how Wikis organize things.

Though, there's a lot of room for improvement in the Everything engine, how it handles catagories, and more. It's a messy, confusing beast, but one well suited to short attention span knowledge sponges.

Though in the link I included above to my MeTa about the AskMe mess I use the word "Wiki" repeatedly, I'm not really hoping for a wiki.

What I'd love to see is an old school catagory tree where all of the questions get grouped into catagories and subcatagories - along with some more new-fangled indexing tools like tags, crosslinks (E2's softlinks and hardlinks, or Wiki's internal links) and more.

It should be both searchable and browseable.

That is, it should lend itself to being able to home in - drill down - on a specific topic very quickly just as easily as it would be to randomly browse and traipse through the overall database - making leaps from related topic to related topic, and even from unrelated topic to unrelated topic.


But it should certainly not be a time sensitive, thread based, top down discussion system.

It needs to be more like a sticky web, luminous pearls of dew strung along the web's interstitials and nodes waiting to capture more answers and answer more questions.
posted by loquacious at 5:30 PM on February 1, 2006


1. You know how when you post a link to the blue that's already been posted, MeFi tells you automagically? It would be nice, if on preview of the AskMe questions, you can see a list of relevant posts with similar tags, etc.

2. My most fruitful searches of AskMe (site:ask.metafilter.com on Yahoo or Google) always lead me from the search page to some tag page, often of a tag i didn't think of. Tag results (and related tags to the search results) should be integrated and displayed with any search, pre-post or whatever.

3. Furthermore, every entry, ever, needs tags. It would be nice to kindly remind whomever asks a question to tag it before submitting, and also a profile/login reminder that they have untagged questions. Encourage tagging.

4. More importantly, whoever proposed a tag committee is dead on. For example, there could be two relevant threads about Citizen Kane, and one could be tagged "CitizenKane" and "film" and the other could be tagged "Citizen" and "Kane" and "films" and clicking on a tag in either will not help users find the related thread. A committee could standardize these tags and retroactively edit them. They could publish a monthly changelog, even, if that would quell conspiracy nuts. They could also tag untagged posts, exclusively in AskMe.

4. And if it can't be changed to be more 'sticky' as loquacious suggested, then a set of admins should be added with editing rights only on AskMe to help manage it now, manually reduce double-posts, and improve the current signal to noise ratio.

5. Best answers are another good way for searchers to prioritize which threads they look at. A bajillion questions are unmarked, and only a fraction of those probably can't be marked 'best answer'. It would be nice for there to be a notice on a user's profile page (or top of AskMe next to your signed in info) that says 'You have not yet chosen a best answer for 3 questions'

6. Categories, in addition to tags, would be swell. It would also let people who specialize in answering certain questions more efficiently find questions they can help with. Honestly, categories can't be that hard to do, they exist in MetaTalk.

7. Finally, and this is just a pony: It would be nice if we could 'sponsor' or bring back unanswered questions to the front page. Say I ask a question a year ago that didn't get satisfactorily answered, if there was a way i could 'flag' that thread, and once approved by an admin, it could live on the sidebar of AskMe for a while with other lonely, unanswered questions. It would be nice and some might enjoy the challenge of finding an answer to a stumper. Due to the sheer volume of questions asked per day, it's easy for some questions not to get proper attention.

In conclusion, thank you to Matt and especially all the users who make AskMetaFilter what it already is, I find it extremely valuable, but there is much room for improvement.
posted by tweak at 8:10 PM on February 1, 2006


it has been shown fairly conclusively that Yahoo indexes Metafilter better than Google does.

In case anyone doubts that, here's a relevant MeTa thread about the merits of Yahoo and Google searches. I did a simple test here, which, like all other tests I've seen here over the past year, still heavily favors Yahoo.
posted by mediareport at 8:26 PM on February 1, 2006


What I'd love to see is an old school catagory tree where all of the questions get grouped into catagories and subcatagories...

I'd love to see this as well. However, building a controlled vocabulary that covers the scope of Ask.Me questions is a decidedly non-trivial notion. You're look at something on the magnitude of the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Follow the link and search for some of the tags used today. It's not easy to apply the metadata correctly or usefully.

The nice thing about uncontrolled systems like tagging and folksonomies is that they don't require a centralized master list of terms and can be applied in an ad hoc fashion by the end user. However, as we see everytime this question comes up about Ask.Me, folksonomies just don't work that well.

Del.ico.us is trying to address this problem by suggesting indexing terms that other users have applied to the page being tagged. This is intended to allow a thesaurus of terms to be arrived at through consensus. It might even be working. Metafilter tags con't be controlled in that fashion because many users don't tag the same thread.

In short, there's probably no ideal solution to Ask.Me metadata until the $5 fees can pay a trained indexer to have a crack at the questions.
posted by stet at 9:23 PM on February 1, 2006


This is an excellent article on the ways in which folksonomies are better and worse than a traditional classification.
posted by stet at 9:33 PM on February 1, 2006


Furthermore, every entry, ever, needs tags. It would be nice to kindly remind whomever asks a question to tag it before submitting, and also a profile/login reminder that they have untagged questions. Encourage tagging.

Definitely. When you make a post to the Blue, if you neglect to add a Post Title, you get a little message saying so, "Please fix this." There should be a similar message for posts where no tags have been included: "Please add at least one or two descriptive tags before posting so that your post/question can be more easily found by others."
posted by Gator at 5:23 AM on February 2, 2006


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