Response to a point about the best way to answer an AskMe. March 7, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Response to a point about the best way to answer an AskMe.

I answered an AskMe about travel and visa problems by saying that although I wasn't familiar with the country in particular, in the worst case scenario the traveler in question could go to a U.S. embassy or consulate. I said something jokey about trying to live in the lobby of the embassy such that the embassy staff would try to get the visa renewed.

I was called out by alidarbac saying my response was "…so completely uninformed that it's at the very least extremely counterproductive and the worst will get the [traveler] in a whole lot of trouble."

I was further called out by vacapinta who said that mentioning I wasn't familiar with Vietnam in particular was "…the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter."

vacapinta, mind you, had previously responded by saying that if you try to leave Vietnam with an expired visa "…based on my experience, nobody will throw you in jail." I don't know whether this is true or not, but by the context of the response his statement seems to be based on having tried to do this once.

To make a long story even longer and more uninteresting to the uninvolved, I want to respond to vacapinta by saying that on the contrary, I think it's best to explicitly state the scope and limits of your knowledge in answering an AskMe. And whether or not it's unaesthetic it's good form to put such a disclaimer out there before you make any assertions about the question at hand. The only reason to avoid admitting partial ignorance or limited knowledge is if you want to look smart to the OP or people reading the thread.

I would have done this in the thread itself but jessamyn thought it best to take it to MeTa. (Or there were other responses I didn't get to see before they were deleted.) Thanks for not deleting my other responses to the callouts within the thread.

People who understandably do not care at all about this situation may amuse themselves by imagining that the above six paragraphs are just a long, undulating "meeeeeeeeeeeh…"
posted by XMLicious to Etiquette/Policy at 12:40 PM (72 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

And whether or not it's unaesthetic it's good form to put such a disclaimer out there before you make any assertions about the question at hand.

No, it's good form to only answer questions you know the answer to.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:46 PM on March 7, 2008 [11 favorites]


To make a long story even longer and more uninteresting to the uninvolved, I want to respond to vacapinta by saying that on the contrary, I think it's best to explicitly state the scope and limits of your knowledge in answering an AskMe.

To make a long story even shorter, if you have to start an answer with any version of "I have no experience with this sort of...", don't post it. You don't have to comment in every post. It's not a game or a race.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:48 PM on March 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


Apparently, you should not answer an AskMe unless you know the exact answer. Don't even worry about the subtleties of life.

Let's limit AskMes to yes, no, and math questions, hm? Too much darn...interpretation going on around these parts.

Sheesh.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 12:51 PM on March 7, 2008


Have you even been to an American embassy or consulate in a foreign country?

Just curious.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:54 PM on March 7, 2008


I don't think it's useful or correct to post an answer like that when it's more of a jokey tangent than something that really helps solve the problem and addresses the poster's concern in a constructive way. That being said, "the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter" is a bit hyperbolic and over-the-top.
posted by dhammond at 12:56 PM on March 7, 2008


What would be the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter? I'm guessing something along the lines of, "May the Lord God Jesus have mercy on your soul, sinner!"
posted by mr_roboto at 12:58 PM on March 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


..his statement seems to be based on having tried to do this once.

Guilty. The OP was asking what happened if he was in Vietnam with an expired visa. I related my experience with being in Vietnam with an expired visa. But, yes, it was only once.
posted by vacapinta at 12:59 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not a game..

but if it were, posting an answer like that is rolling a natural 1 on a d20.
posted by dubold at 1:00 PM on March 7, 2008


What would be the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter?

"God, your question gets me hard."
posted by Greg Nog at 1:08 PM on March 7, 2008 [10 favorites]


I thought this answer was fine, if not particularly helpful. XMLicious should be commended for explicitly stating the limits of his/her knowledge in this particular case, and for appropriately hedging by saying that this was simply something that seemed like it might work, but might not.

Answers that clearly state their own limitations and are framed as suggestions are not a problem - unlike ones that falsely imply authority when they are simply uninformed opinion or anecdote.
posted by googly at 1:11 PM on March 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


Good grief. You gave a bad answer. Bad because it was 1) uninformed 2) not helpful and was 3) quite possibly counterproductive. It is a great idea to state the scope your your experience when answering an askmetafilter question. But if you have ZERO experience with said situation, putting forward a guess and then joking about it is not a good use of AskMe. I don't see why you can't grasp this without calling yourself out on Metatalk; perhaps you're just a glutton for punishment.
posted by Happydaz at 1:12 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


So your point is that you gave an (at best) mediocre answer with a side of smart-ass and people were mean to you, but not vacapinta.

Personally I don't have a problem with answers that are a variation on "I can't help you do X but you might consider Y or Z" or "If you're going to try to do this, you should be aware of possible pitfall Q." Others do not agree, but absent perfect and complete information I think that's a valid way to be helpful.

You didn't do that, however. You suggested a course of action that's not practical, apparently not based on any practical or first-hand experience, and snarked about it. Vacapinta, on the other hand, offered up

a) A personal anecdote, complete with resolution
b) and said resolution was directly pertinent to what could be done
c) and the based-on-one experience that you take issue with is directly pertinent to the last part of the question.

You were wrong and some people said so, politely. Get over it.
posted by phearlez at 1:16 PM on March 7, 2008


What would be the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter?

"I'm sure you didn't mean for your question to suggest that you dreamed of having rough sex with Hitler's corpse while eating the aborted fetuses of rape victims, but..."

[As I read that, I wonder what the fuck is wrong with me that those words came from my head...]
posted by quin at 1:21 PM on March 7, 2008


"What would be the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter? "

"Fuck you."
posted by klangklangston at 1:26 PM on March 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


I said something jokey

BZZZZZ! I'm sorry, that answer is incorrect.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:32 PM on March 7, 2008


What would be the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter?


Dear Jodie:

There is definitely a possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to answer your question. It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now.

As you well know by now I love you very much. Over the past seven months I've left you dozens of poems, letters and snarky comments in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the grey a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself. Besides my shyness, I honestly did not wish to bother you with my constant presence. I know the many messages left at your door and in your MeMailbox were a nuisance, but I felt that it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you.

I feel very good about the fact that you at least know my username and how I feel about you. And by hanging around your dormitory, I've come to realize that I'm the topic of more than a little conversation, however full of ridicule it may be. At least you know that I'll always love you. Jodie, I would abandon the idea of answering your question in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you, whether it be in total obscurity or whatever.

I will admit to you that the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt to answer your question now is because I cannot wait any longer to impress you. I've got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I'm doing all of this for your sake! By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me. This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel. Jodie, I'm asking you to please look into your heart and at least give the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your love and respect."
posted by dubold at 1:34 PM on March 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


The best way to write an AskMe answer is by having some sort of direct experience or expertise that addresses the question asked, and applying that knowledge to the question asked.

Keep in mind that most Ask posters have already engaged in abstract speculation, and are coming here for the next step: finding people who have actually gone through what they're asking about, and can provide some guidance.

Abstract theorizing is useless except as an academic exercise, and this is not the academy. I realize that most people who write things that begin with "I haven't done this myself, but speculation" think they're being helpful.

You're not. You're just adding noise, because answerers with actual experience then find it necessary to not only answer the question but debunk any outright dangerous or misguided information that's been provided by guessers.

There's an easier way for me to make this point, by quoting van Moltke the elder:
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.
A great theory is as nothing against actual experience, and if all you have to offer is theory, you are hurting, not helping. Stop paving the road to hell and wait for an answer on which you have some expertise.
posted by scrump at 1:46 PM on March 7, 2008


I answered an AskMe about travel and visa problems by saying that although I wasn't familiar with the country in particular, in the worst case scenario the traveler in question could go to a U.S. embassy or consulate. I said something jokey about trying to live in the lobby of the embassy such that the embassy staff would try to get the visa renewed.

Vague, useless AskMe answers are not useful in this context. You got called out. Get over it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:47 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Have you even been to an American embassy or consulate in a foreign country?

I have, actually. Though I wasn't claiming to have any experience with it. I was basically claiming to have read some of the documents that came along with my passport when I got it. If there had been any challenges to what I'd said I would have dug up references.

I'm still puzzled by the people who think that my initial response was noise, tangential, useless, uninformed, or counterproductive. I mean, isn't it important to note that if you get into some sort of trouble overseas - and worst-case-scenario visa trouble counts - an American embassy, consulate, or military base would be a safe place to be?

The "experienced" people responding later on did not mention this and alidarbac actually seemed to think that the traveler would get in trouble for going to an American embassy in that situation.

I knew that my response was not a direct answer to the question - that's why I laid out disclaimers and a bit of levity - but it sure as hell was not useless or merely tangential information. To make an analogy it would be like mentioning how to deal with an asthma attack if the question is saying the OP has just been diagnosed with asthma and asks how to treat it long-term. (And I don't know anything about that, I don't have asthma, that's just an analogy.)

Where are my hugs!?!? It says I get them right down here!!!11
posted by XMLicious at 2:18 PM on March 7, 2008


(On the other hand, I appreciate it that people are at least hanging back from accusing me of misleading the OP's friend into trying to use the U.S. embassy as a hotel, as alidarbac did.)
posted by XMLicious at 2:25 PM on March 7, 2008


No offense to any particular posters, but in browsing AskMe fairly regularly, it does seem like some users jump on a question if they have even a minuscule amount of tangentially-related information to add. Not to say that you should only answer when you are absolutely, 100% sure you are providing the right response, but really, a good number of responses can (charitably) be called completely speculative. I'm not sure the utility of a single anecdotal experience justifies sharing them: it just adds noise to a thread and may present conflicting information that may detract from other, more accurate information being posted.
posted by Pontius Pilate at 2:54 PM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


To make an analogy it would be like mentioning how to deal with an asthma attack if the question is saying the OP has just been diagnosed with asthma and asks how to treat it long-term.

I think a better analogy would be if someone asked what they should do when they have an asthma attack and your answer was "I don't have asthma or know anything about it, but in general when you have a medical emergency you should call 911".

Basically, if you think that other people are going to have better advice about a topic than you, don't jump in and give the first answer. If you had stopped and waited for the first 10 answers, and nobody had mentioned hiding out at the embassy, then you could mention it.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:01 PM on March 7, 2008


Jesus, this call-out is annoying.
posted by cior at 3:14 PM on March 7, 2008


If you had stopped and waited for the first 10 answers, and nobody had mentioned hiding out at the embassy, then you could mention it.

It has to do with the order people prefer to read answers in? Sheesh.

I have to imagine that if I had simply told the OP's friend what to think: "Don't panic, whatever happens you can be safe at a U.S. embassy and there will be people on your side with Vietnamese immigration. And I'm a totally super-experienced international traveler, btw" (which I am) some of the haters here would be arching their eyebrows and nodding sagely.

Well, a compromise then: if in the future I'm going to give a partial or supplementary answer on AskMe, I will be sure to arrive fashionably late to the party. I wouldn't want to rock the boat by "jumping in" when I know perfectly well that the OP probably can't handle out-of-order answers. But feel free to answer questions I post in any order whatsoever - it'll be tough but I'll struggle through.

(This is all the more hilarious to me because I actually have OCD/OCPD.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:30 PM on March 7, 2008


AskMe would be sooooooooooooooooooo much better if people refrained from "I don't really know, but" type answers. No one is forcing you to answer these questions except yourself.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:31 PM on March 7, 2008


The worst way to begin an answer in AskMe is "The worst way to begin an answer in AskMe is [...]"
posted by loiseau at 3:33 PM on March 7, 2008


I don't really know, but I can imagine some pretty good answers starting with "I don't really know."

For instance, "I don't really know, but I think you'd likely drown even if you could actually accommodate the dolphin; and yes, the drowning sensation might indeed be akin to autoerotic asphyxiation," probably answers a particular question very well.
posted by breezeway at 4:05 PM on March 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Metafilter....jokey tangent.
posted by fire&wings at 4:06 PM on March 7, 2008


What would be the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter?

"Your girlfriend is acting a lot like my cat..."
posted by smackfu at 4:15 PM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think people underestimate the number of questions with only a few responses and with only answers of the "here's my best guess" variety. I think the best guess answers are better than none in those cases. If you only pay attention to the contentious questions the guess answers are annoying but I think their utility for sparsely answered questions is an important contribution to the site.
posted by metaname at 4:24 PM on March 7, 2008


Sys Rq: "BZZZZZ! I'm sorry, that answer is incorrect."

This seems like a grey area to me. It's not that humor is forbidden so much that not helping is forbidden.

And I think requiring direct experience of the exact circumstances is just asking for less traffic to AskMe. There are lots of really-answered weird relationshipfilter threads, and should we expect that every single one of those people has slept with their blind girlfriends' sisters?

Also, meeeeeeeeeeeh..
posted by Plutor at 4:32 PM on March 7, 2008


So when did Ask Metafilter become Ask Only Professionals?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:42 PM on March 7, 2008


No offense to any particular posters, but in browsing AskMe fairly regularly, it does seem like some users jump on a question if they have even a minuscule amount of tangentially-related information to add.

Yup.

And I think requiring direct experience of the exact circumstances is just asking for less traffic to AskMe.


OMG! Less traffic to AskMe!! How would we survive???

So when did Ask Metafilter become Ask Only Professionals?

Give me a break. Nobody's talking about professionals; the point is that uninformed guesses don't help the poster. People don't give them to be helpful, they give them to hear themselves talk (and maybe up their ratio of A's to Q's, in case they've fallen for that "you don't get to be helped unless you earn it by contributing" bullshit), and I wish they'd knock it off. If you know, or have a good/informed guess, great; if you don't but are interested in the topic, bookmark the thread and wait to see what actual information turns up. There are tens of thousands of members; we're not dependent on the lint rustling around in your particular brain.
posted by languagehat at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


languagehat wins.
posted by Happydaz at 5:26 PM on March 7, 2008


I'm still puzzled by the people who think that my initial response was noise, tangential, useless, uninformed, or counterproductive. I mean, isn't it important to note that if you get into some sort of trouble overseas - and worst-case-scenario visa trouble counts - an American embassy, consulate, or military base would be a safe place to be?


I think it's time to stop now. You're just embarrassing yourself.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:30 PM on March 7, 2008


If you know, or have a good/informed guess, great; if you don't but are interested in the topic, bookmark the thread and wait to see what actual information turns up.

I suppose this has probably been brought up a million times before; but if the person who wants to give a supplemental or "tangential" answer can be expected to just pass by, why can't you cranky thread readers be expected to? If I can go to the effort to mark my post with an "I'm not directly answering this post, but…" then you can go to the effort to just not fucking read it and remain in your own happy little appropriate-answer-reading world.

Just the same way my perspective on the question might not really be useful depending on the actual circumstances, guess what - your perspective in dismissing my response might not be, either.

Quite predictably, that thread filled up with people suggesting that you bribe Vietnamese customs officials, a mention of being thrown in a foreign prison, and assertions that once a single Vietnamese person gets annoyed with you all of Vietnam is going to come down on you and gang-rape you up the ass. Just in case in the face of all that doomsaying the traveler didn't know or remember - which is quite possible - that horrible travel disasters are one reason why help is available through an embassy, consulate, or just about any large, organized group of U.S. citizens for that matter, it is entirely apropos to mention that.

Now telling the guy he might get in trouble for seeking help that way - that is the uninformed and counterproductive comment here.

I have read about and seen first-hand on a couple of occasions people do incredibly stupid things that might have been averted or at least minimized if they had been thinking in the terms that this sort of help or fallback is available.

I think part of what caused this whole problem is that I didn't swagger into the thread like I was a professional or expert and behave as if my every statement was infallible.

In this MeTa thread there are several representatives of the sort of person who is going to judge an AskMe answer not by the information that's actually provided, but by the way the answerer portrays themselves. (Anonymously. On the internet.) This is pretty well demonstrated that almost no one here is calling out vacapinta's anecdotal answer or the "Yeah, you can totally bribe immigration officials! Worked fer me!" as uninformed, counterproductive, or dangerous. But me answering first, and saying U.S. embassies are a safe place - outrageous, arrogant, impudent! Useless!

I'm sorry if it makes your eyeballs bleed or something. But seriously, just develop some selective reading skills and focus on those fabulous "bribe your way out" responses.
posted by XMLicious at 6:00 PM on March 7, 2008


I would also point out that technically you didn't come close to answering the OP's questions. They were essentially:

1. how can a person cheaply extend a Vietnamese visa
2. if a person overstays a visa, what penalties/ fines may arise

However your reply (get thee to a US embassy) misreads the questions to be: I am in Vietnam and I am in trouble - what should I do? Which was not the question at all. Giving the first reply only emphasized the disconnect between the OP's questions and your answer. Hence the fall out of call-outs.
posted by kitkatcathy at 6:00 PM on March 7, 2008


You know what another thing I just realized is: some of the people in the AskMe thread and some of the people here are probably interpreting "in a worst-case scenario" to mean "the worst that could happen is" and that's perhaps why alidarbac thought I might actually be able to convince someone to try to use an embassy or a military base as a hotel. And I guess that it has actually taken on a meaning like that, languagehat can tell us all about it I'm sure.

I suppose I'll have to come up with a new phrase that means "worst-case scenario".
posted by XMLicious at 6:14 PM on March 7, 2008


All of the complaints about XMLicious' answer could be extended so much moreso to the "OMG bribe the immigration officials!" answers. Seriously, what is with you guys?
posted by roll truck roll at 6:15 PM on March 7, 2008


I would also point out that technically you didn't come close to answering the OP's questions.

Thanks. I thought I kind of made that obvious in the post itself by not talking about how to renew a visa or bribe your way through immigration.

However your reply (get thee to a US embassy) misreads the questions to be

I did not misread the question and I did not tell the traveler to simply go to a US embassy. I said that in a worst-case scenario he could do X, which for some crazy reason, through the use of a superlative, I thought might convey that following one or more of the forthcoming responses was going to be a better scenario.
posted by XMLicious at 6:20 PM on March 7, 2008


On the other hand, the best way to begin an AskMe answer is with a long, undulating "meeeeeeeeeeeh." Preferably one where you also ululate while you undulate.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:52 PM on March 7, 2008


the embassy staff would try to get the visa renewed

You do know that it's not your embassy that issues visas right? It's the immigration department (or equivalent name) of the country your are in or going to visit. Your embassy only comes into it if there's a problem with your passport. The question as it was laid out had nothing to do with the passport; it was a visa problem, pure and simple. I thought what you wrote was noise.
posted by peacay at 7:31 PM on March 7, 2008


Personally, (obviously) whenever I ask a question here, past or future, I want people to say whatever they have on their minds. Sometimes an answer is cut-and-dried, often it's not. I can adapt yr answer or not, it takes me seconds to read it. If someone has a problem with how others reply to a question, that someone has issues that probably require medication. So if I ask a question, throw the kitchen sink at me and thanks for taking time to read and respond.
of course as I (ack) grow older I realize how weird I am and how trivial most on-line personas are so this is probably just an awkward non sequitur. at ease, gentlemen.
posted by dawson at 7:48 PM on March 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


You do know that it's not your embassy that issues visas right? It's the immigration department (or equivalent name) of the country your are in or going to visit. Your embassy only comes into it if there's a problem with your passport. The question as it was laid out had nothing to do with the passport; it was a visa problem, pure and simple.

Yep, I know that. Nothing I have written is inconsistent with or incompatible with that.

I'm sure you can see that the staff of a U.S. embassy is at least going to have some knowledge of the Vietnamese visa process, right? Several people have already pointed out that a U.S. embassy would be able to give a U.S. citizen the address of the Vietnamese immigration service and march them straight back out the door.

So in addition to being a safe place to be, and helping in the case of something seriously going wrong - like a passport problem, good point! - in the sort of scenario one might call "worst case", perhaps? - an embassy would also be able to give the guy very basic guidance in how to get his visa renewed, what to do if it had already expired, what to do if it had expired and he had already gotten into trouble for it somehow, etc.

Don't you think that, if I believed that the embassy is the place to renew visas, I would have said something like "go to the embassy to renew your visa" instead of talking about the embassy being the safe place to be in a worst-case scenario?

It blows my mind that I'm having to explain in such detail the wide variety of non-idiotic meanings that those two sentences may have, especially next to the other stuff in that thread. But sure, anyone who is really determined to see them as witless crap is going to be able to.

I thought what you wrote was noise.

Is it really because you can't imagine any meaningful content whatsoever invested in what I said? Or is it because you've got this mental image of me being like someone who cuts to the front of the line in a supermarket checkout, because you think who posts first in a thread is really important?
posted by XMLicious at 8:03 PM on March 7, 2008


XMLicious... for the love of god, give up. You are never going to win this conversation. You'll never be satisfied with the responses you get. Accept that there is a wide variety of opinions on what's a useful answer (probably somewhere around 65,000 of them) and that every comment you make is probably frowned upon by someone reading it. And that the moderators are the only three people who decide what stays and what goes.

Really. I say this for your mental health: Remove From Activity.
posted by loiseau at 8:10 PM on March 7, 2008


XMLicious, unplug and go for a walk.
posted by peacay at 8:10 PM on March 7, 2008


I like half-answers and educated guesses as long as they are clearly prefaced as being such.

Something along the form of:

I don't know the exact answer to your question, but I've done some thinking about it, and possible solution x comes to mind because of the following reasons.

If nobody comes along with a better answer later, then at least you've got something. Particularly with problems involving computers, there are problems that require pretty specific skill sets for the exact answer, but can be solved by following some general principles which people who know about computers can guess at. Often someone suggesting that I consider some possibility or try some things didn't directly solve my problem but allowed me to solve it on my now.

I'm not an international traveller, but suggesting that someone contact the consulate or embassy is good general advice for travel problems, and in the absence of specific, detailed information would have been better than nothing.
posted by empath at 8:22 PM on March 7, 2008


loiseau: Accept that there is a wide variety of opinions on what's a useful answer (probably somewhere around 65,000 of them) and that every comment you make is probably frowned upon by someone reading it.

Didn't I just say that? "But sure, anyone who is really determined to see them as witless crap is going to be able to."

If someone makes me out to be an idiot, I find it better for my mental health to point out that I'm not... of course I'm not satisfied with some of the responses I get, that's why I'm replying. It's like whack-a-mole. Like I said, OCPD. Everyone else is not as much like you as you imagine them to be.

Why do you come into threads like this and urge people to give up posting in it? Or you, peacay? If I were more of the psychoanalyzing type I'm sure I could come up with all sorts of entertaining theories. (But actually, if you find that an interesting question, I would really be curious as to any theories you might have yourselves as to why you or other people do that. It seems to me that it happens on MeFi more than other places I've been.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:31 PM on March 7, 2008


Why do you come into threads like this and urge people to give up posting in it?

Because we care: for your mental health

There's nothing to psychoanalyse. You seem overinvested in this discussion. I'm urging you to leave it alone and relax. As I now shall. Promise.
posted by peacay at 8:37 PM on March 7, 2008


You seem overinvested in this discussion.

Overinvested in a discussion about me? (I think I can say it's about me without any hubris, can't I?) That's pretty impressive, I didn't know I could do that. ;^)

I'm urging you to leave it alone and relax. As I now shall. Promise.

Well I thank you for your charity and concern, I really do. But feel free to continue posting, or not, as you wish.

(I'm actually probably more relaxed while participating in a thread or face-to-face conversation like this one than I would be otherwise. So don't fear that you've done any harm.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 PM on March 7, 2008


XMLicious - you had posted four times in a row in that thread by the time I checked it out. It's okay to not have THE perfect answer but I guess what we're generally aiming for is "do I have more info than either 1) the OP 2) anyone else in the thread 3) an average person considering this question for the first time?" If the answer is "Nah, I guess not" then added answering fills up the thread with no-better-than-random guesswork and gets in the way of the OP getting his or her question answered. I don't think you did anythign wrong per se, but it's just usually better if there's a decent chance of the OP getting an informed answer, to not just interject random uninformed ones.

Generally speaking if everyone's got an "I don't know the answer but I'd like to say..." answer, then AskMe quickly fills up with answers by people who like to give those sorts of answers and not good answers to the question. We'd like to keep the signal ratio up some.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:16 PM on March 7, 2008


For what it's worth, as a MetaTalk lurker and AskMe question-asker, I had noticed XMLicious' answer in that thread and had mentally placed it into that borderline realm of responses that exist between vaguely annoying and completely forgivable in that "probably pointless but if it has to be uninformed at least that's acknowledged" category ... had that been the end of the story I probably would have thought no more of it, there are plenty of AskMe answers like that (and I'm sure I'm guilty of having posted a few myself!) - but now having read through this whole call-out, I think I might be putting the poster into that special category of users whose AskMe answers I'll be disregarding in the future ... the thing is, people ask these questions to get help, not to make you feel good about posting a response, and if you don't know the answer and SAY you don't know the answer and nevertheless answer ... well, okay, maybe it could still be useful - but to come over to the grey to complain about it after someone with EXPERIENCE has deflated your speculation ... well, it just makes me wonder what it is you're trying to achieve with your answer in the first place - I mean, you do know there's no prize for being "right," right?

I dunno ... making a callout to complain about people calling you out on your admittedly-uninformed, speculative answer in a thread ... just makes me think you're not really looking to help the question-asker so much as make your voice heard in the first place. (Or in other words: mehhhhhhh ...)
posted by zeph at 10:19 PM on March 7, 2008


jessamyn, why don't you and the other mods delete "pulled out of the butt" answers the way you delete snarks and jokes? Every question I look at seems to have a half dozen of them.
posted by timeistight at 10:28 PM on March 7, 2008


Fuckin' AskMe. You're killing the verdant dream, people!!!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:56 PM on March 7, 2008


Well, like I've said above, I still don't see why anyone regards what I said there as speculative. But jess, if you really do think that was throwing the signal to noise ratio, I definitely take your opinion as pretty near objective and so thanks for commenting.

Also, sorry for the four posts in a row, I kind of crossed my wires trying to reply to both vacapinta and alidarbac at the same time. If not for what appeared to me as claims that I was speaking dangerous arrogant nonsense, when from my point of view I'd been saying something that was practically due diligence for the question in pretty self-effacing terms, I would have been content with that one two-sentence post.

I actually didn't make this MeTa post with the intention of a call-out or complaint, I was really simply trying to say that fifth paragraph in the post to vacapinta (which had been one of the deleted comments) and wrote the rest for context. I was kind of surprised that anyone was interested enough to respond, it all seemed pretty straightforward to me. And obviously once people started voicing opinion I had too much fun responding, to the point of making people suspicious that I'm mentally unbalanced! Thanks to everyone who posted here, I apologize if I was overly self-indulgent.
posted by XMLicious at 11:00 PM on March 7, 2008


It's okay if people don't like you all the time, XMLicious. (not being snarky, it's just inevitable that not everyone is going to care about your justifications.)
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:53 PM on March 7, 2008


cowbellemoo: Yes, I'm in fact completely uninterested in striking a pose or putting on a likeability campaign. I expected people to not care about my justifications or this topic in general - I thought I made this clear in the MeTa post.
posted by XMLicious at 5:44 AM on March 8, 2008


A few thoughts about what has occurred in this thread and why:
  1. This thread is a consequence of the community rule that if a dispute breaks out in an AskMe thread, due to the purpose of AskMe that dispute can't be allowed to widen and completely overwhelm the thread. So, at a certain point, a neutral observer (jessamyn in this case) has to call a stop to it and direct that any further discussion of that sort be moved to MeTa.
  2. Everyone who reads MeTa knows this.
  3. So: I was the subject of a character attack in the AskMe thread. Besides a bunch of other stuff that went down, vacapinta claimed that I'm so incredibly bad at answering AskMes that the way I answered the question was the worst possible way to answer. My response to this was deleted - perfectly appropriate, jessamyn doing her job well and acting as a sort of pressure regulator on the thread.
  4. So the only way for me to respond to vacapinta was to do so in a MeTa thread. Everyone knows this, everyone knows the rules and, with a link to look through the thread can see that the only way for me to respond to the assertion that I'm the "worst answerer evar" is to take it to MeTa - as in fact jessamyn explicitly suggests when she skims off comments that are wandering too far from home. (Like Little Bo Peep, except that she kills all the sheep who are out of line. ;^) No disrespect or disparagement meant jessamyn, that delightfully gory metaphor just came to mind. You are awesome.)
  5. Now since most of the people reading the MeTa thread are going to be 3rd parties to the discussion I don't want my MeTa thread to be written to try to exclude them. So, I carefully articulate the context of my response to vacapinta so someone doesn't have to read and analyze the whole thread to know what's going on. (My summary is biased towards me, of course - but hey, what the heck, I'm the one writing it. Anyone else from the AskMe thread could have made a MeTa post too.) I also emphasize a topic that can be discussed neutrally in the MeTa thread if anyone should so desire - what the worst possible way to answer an AskMe is (which many people decided to take up, all to hilarious effect - even the ones still critical of me personally, I would say.)
  6. A large number of people reading the MeTa thread, understanding the community rule and knowing that I had to take my response to vacapinta to MeTa, decide that instead of remaining as third parties to the dispute and discussing the AskMe thread in general, or discussing what the worst possible way to answer an AskMe thread is, they're also going to come up with a character attack against me. In fact, the subject of the MeTa thread becomes whether or not the character attack against me is valid. To emphasize that - through no design of mine, the topic of this thread became me, personally.
  7. I of course respond to all of those character attacks as I would if they had suddenly appeared in the AskMe thread. I'm not going to let some of them slide just because a whole bunch of people are doing it at the same time. This doesn't stress me out or make me uncontrollably enraged - in fact, because it seems to me that I have a basically ironclad position and did not engage in any scurrilous behavior whatsoever, responding to the personal attacks feels like shooting ducks in a pond and is actually somewhat enjoyable. This evidently makes me appear overbearing or arrogant and opens me up to further accusations of being wierdly obsessed with this thread. Some feel I should be more contrite and ashamed of the fact I "jumped in" instead of showing up fashionably late to the AskMe thread. My general response to this: also meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh, cry me a river. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. If you have chosen a silly and indefensible position from which to engage in a personal attack - even a mass personal attack that a whole bunch of people are going to pile onto at once - expect to get torn down, regardless of the weight of the crowd pressing forward.

posted by XMLicious at 5:52 AM on March 8, 2008


if in the future I'm going to give a partial or supplementary answer on AskMe, I will be sure to arrive fashionably late to the party.

This is a very good idea, and you should stick to your promise to do it. Early answers often set the tone for a thread; if you only have a partial or supplementary answer, you should wait.

Good thought.
posted by mediareport at 6:07 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


jessamyn, why don't you and the other mods delete "pulled out of the butt" answers the way you delete snarks and jokes? Every question I look at seems to have a half dozen of them.

Anything that seems like a likely answer stays. Basically if it's a good faith response we try to leave it. Early-to-the-thread pulled out of butt answers often do get removed, but otherwise all I can say is "flag 'em" and we'll try to take care of them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:29 AM on March 8, 2008


So the only way for me to respond to vacapinta was to do so in a MeTa thread.

Well, there's also MeFiMail.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:05 AM on March 8, 2008


...the only way for me to respond to the assertion that I'm the "worst answerer evar" is to take it to MeTa - ...

I questioned the answer not the answerer. I'm sure you're a good guy but Ask Metafilter has become increasingly crowded with uninformed, speculative answers.

In isolation, your answer is not harmful and perhaps even mildly useful but that type of answer ends up creating background noise in threads and thus hiding some of the more direct and relevant answers.

That one should retreat to an embassy when in trouble in a foreign country is a generally useful maxim, sure. But the OP was asking about a specific situation in a specific country. Rather than jump in and answer first, why not wait to see if others can provide more relevant information? As you later admit yourself, not only have you never been to Vietnam, you have never even been to a country that requires a Visa of any kind.

I often see language questions that go like this "How do you say X in Spanish?" and then all these people chime in with "Well, I may be wrong, but from what I remember from Spanish class from 15 years ago..."

Later of course, actual native Spanish speakers chime in. Those first answers are noise. Sometimes they're even sort of right but they are making the mistake that every Ask Metafilter question is personally asking *YOU* to help answer the question. They are not. They are asking the community. If you have the specific knowledge to answer the question (or if the question itself is so general knowledge that you know your answer is probably as good as it will be) then go ahead and answer. But if you suspect that others out there may have the answer the poster is looking for, then hang back a bit. Relax.

My perhaps over-reaction to your answer was indeed based upon that qualification of "I have no idea about this specific situation but here's my general speculation." There's too many of those already in Ask Metafilter. And its placement at the beginning of the thread was important. It implied that you saw the question and felt a compulsion to chime in. Had it appeared later in the thread it might have had more the appearance of a gentle reminder: "And don't forget, if things start to go really south, go find your nearest embassy" Still to my mind, the equivalent of posting "And dont forget about 911 if you're really worried" in every health question. Not wrong, mostly harmless advice, but so generic as to veer into the realm of noise.
posted by vacapinta at 8:21 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Disclaimer: haven't read the actual AskMe as do not care about how this went down.
XMLicious said: "I suppose this has probably been brought up a million times before; but if the person who wants to give a supplemental or "tangential" answer can be expected to just pass by, why can't you cranky thread readers be expected to? If I can go to the effort to mark my post with an "I'm not directly answering this post, but…" then you can go to the effort to just not fucking read it and remain in your own happy little appropriate-answer-reading world.

Just the same way my perspective on the question might not really be useful depending on the actual circumstances, guess what - your perspective in dismissing my response might not be, either.

...I'm sorry if it makes your eyeballs bleed or something. But seriously, just develop some selective reading skills and focus on those fabulous "bribe your way out" responses.
"
This is bad. First, "don't post a comment that doesn't answer the question" does create a need for self-discipline, but that's nowhere near a legitimate parallel to "'cranky' thread readers should develop selective reading skills to skip bad answers."

Second, appropriate answers should be the goal of AskMe. Period. Speculation, "tangential," "supplemental," whatever you want to call it, those should be a last resort, not a first response. I agree with TPS: if in the interest of fair disclosure one has to begin one's comment with "I don't really know, but," that's the appropriate time to pass the thread by... and feel free to check back later to see if people with actual concrete knowledge have weighed in.

Lastly, in any MetaFilter conflict, there comes a point of diminishing return. I'm sorry to say, XMLicious, that no matter how well-reasoned and carefree your defenses might be at this time, you appear to a lot of readers of this thread to have passed that point. "Overinvested" seemed the correct word; it's time to let it go. It's the weekend, no one's online, this will all be forgotten in minutes. This too shall pass.
posted by pineapple at 8:57 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


XMLicious, I wasn't even talking to you. As everyone else has said, you're way too involved in this thread. Take a walk and forget all about it for a while. You may find you don't actually need to write six paragraphs in response to everything everyone else says.
posted by languagehat at 10:02 AM on March 8, 2008


What would be the worst way to begin an answer in Ask Metafilter?

"Thank you for taking my call..."
posted by langedon at 10:39 AM on March 8, 2008


languagehat: You may find you don't actually need to write six paragraphs in response to everything everyone else says.

Of course, I might still do it simply because I find it enjoyable - or if it puts this behavior in a more understandable light because you wouldn't do so yourself call it for my "mental health". Or because I consider making sharply disagreeing one or two-sentence responses to be sniping, so I try to avoid doing it.

Like I said, I'm sorry if I make your eyeballs bleed, either with my supplemental or tangential AskMe responses or my six-paragraph MeTa responses. But I really seriously think, if people find those sorts of responses aesthetically unpleasing or if they are not the sort of responses you would make in the same situation, the best thing is to simply overlook them and read the sorts of posts that you want to read. Skipping over voluminous posts is even easier than skipping one that begins with a disclaimer - I do this myself all the time.

jessamyn pointed out that one of the criteria here is good faith. I did not make my AskMe response in bad faith - for all the talk of it somehow being speculative, no one has yet come up with an explanation of how that two-sentence post was speculation (or untrue, which is what calling it speculation would imply). I wasn't making a guess about what embassies are for or whether they're safe or if they have a part in a worst-case travel scenario.

Here in MeTa, in a case like this, I think it's my prerogative to respond to personal attacks and personal criticism as I see fit. Especially if I'm making sure to address in detail how it relates to the mechanics and culture of MetaFilter - the purpose of MetaTalk.

pineapple: This is bad. First, "don't post a comment that doesn't answer the question" does create a need for self-discipline, but that's nowhere near a legitimate parallel to "'cranky' thread readers should develop selective reading skills to skip bad answers."

Unless those cranky thread readers take it upon themselves to make (erroneous and misleading) claims that the information in such an answer is dangerous and counterproductive, as a couple cranky thread readers in that AskMe did. That way of acting out aesthetic distaste is much worse IMO than two-sentence "tangential" answers. Even had my answer really been completely tangential, making untrue counterclaims, particularly because you've gotten all excitied because you think you knew what the answerer was thinking is even worse.

Lastly, in any MetaFilter conflict, there comes a point of diminishing return.

Return on what, though? If someone is posting out of a desire to shape their public image in particular, I can certainly see that returns could diminish. But not everyone is like that and I think people have different perceptions of why a thread ends up in MetaTalk or what ought to happen once it's here. Again, if this isn't the way you would react to it, or if you feel a need to regard me as a craven or scurrilous person for reacting this way, I'm genuinely sorry if it makes your MeFi experience unpleasant, but so be it.

I'm sorry to say, XMLicious, that no matter how well-reasoned and carefree your defenses might be at this time, you appear to a lot of readers of this thread to have passed that point. "Overinvested" seemed the correct word; it's time to let it go. It's the weekend, no one's online, this will all be forgotten in minutes. This too shall pass.

I agree that this will be forgotten in minutes (apart of course from people who find behaving in a thread this way so alien that they construe it as a black mark against me). "This too shall pass" is a reason to react to this in whatever way I choose; again, I'm sorry if you find it unpleasant.

vacapinta: Still to my mind, the equivalent of posting "And dont forget about 911 if you're really worried" in every health question. Not wrong, mostly harmless advice, but so generic as to veer into the realm of noise.

If the knowledge of what embassies and consulates are for and what help is available there was as well-known and present in the minds of Americans travelling overseas as is the knowledge of the reason to dial 911, yes. But in my experience it has not been.

Point taken about the possible real impact of the position of such a note in the thread, though; context is part of communication too, I'm realizing, and I think this thread is helping me to understand better how other people interpret the context of comment positioning.

So as mediareport noted, I do think that the "show up late with less direct answers" makes sense and I was serious that I'm going to do so in the future.

Thanks again to everyone who has posted in this thread.
posted by XMLicious at 6:49 PM on March 8, 2008


Jesus christ. Go write a novel.
posted by smackfu at 7:11 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, the answer may not be an answer, but what a lame fucking use of AskMe

My friend (an American) has booked a plane out of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam that would require overstaying his Vietnamese visa by 5 days. Is there any way to extend it with minimal costs? What penalties/fines does he face if he overstays it?

Is the friend so gormeless that they can't ring the Vietnamese consulate/American Emassy to find out?

I would love to see them being detained at the airport...

"No No, it's a mistake, the consensus of opinion on ask.metafilter.com said it would be fine."
posted by mattoxic at 11:46 PM on March 8, 2008


XMLicious said: "But I really seriously think, if people find those sorts of responses aesthetically unpleasing or if they are not the sort of responses you would make in the same situation, the best thing is to simply overlook them and read the sorts of posts that you want to read. Skipping over voluminous posts is even easier than skipping one that begins with a disclaimer - I do this myself all the time.

Okay... yes and no. Suggesting skipping over a post for length is a bit of a red herring if the issue that has been questioned is not quantity but quality. Also, how does one determine the "sort of posts one wants to read," without reading them?

Unless those cranky thread readers take it upon themselves to make (erroneous and misleading) claims that the information in such an answer is dangerous and counterproductive, as a couple cranky thread readers in that AskMe did. That way of acting out aesthetic distaste is much worse IMO than two-sentence "tangential" answers. Even had my answer really been completely tangential, making untrue counterclaims, particularly because you've gotten all excitied because you think you knew what the answerer was thinking is even worse.

Aren't you doing the exact same though, if you say, "Those cranky readers weren't objecting to the information I provided, actually -- they were objecting merely to the aesthetics, and hiding behind the 'quality of answer' argument."? Aren't you claiming now to know what the objector was truly thinking?

If someone is posting out of a desire to shape their public image in particular, I can certainly see that returns could diminish. But not everyone is like that and I think people have different perceptions of why a thread ends up in MetaTalk or what ought to happen once it's here. Again, if this isn't the way you would react to it, or if you feel a need to regard me as a craven or scurrilous person for reacting this way, I'm genuinely sorry if it makes your MeFi experience unpleasant, but so be it.

I don't regard you as craven or scurrilous (overly dramatic, maybe). Nor are you affecting my MeFi experience. But just as you have the right to defend your position, others have the right to say, "I didn't feel your contribution to AskMe was helpful." And I have the right to say that I don't agree that MetaTalk is any one user's personal soap box, to defend whatever he or she likes, to whatever extent he or she finds most fulfilling.

All I find unpleasant is when people aren't using the site to its highest potential -- like putting vague or unhelpful answers into AskMe, or cluttering up MeTa with "Waah, my answer wasn't liked by everyone in the thread." I'm not accusing you of either one, XMLicious -- but I think that you do have an obligation to consider that some people do think that you did those things.

And for what it's worth, it appears to me that you have considered that, and I also think you've handled yourself fairly well in this thread. There wasn't even any flaming out.
posted by pineapple at 10:05 AM on March 10, 2008


Okay... yes and no. Suggesting skipping over a post for length is a bit of a red herring if the issue that has been questioned is not quantity but quality. Also, how does one determine the "sort of posts one wants to read," without reading them?

I intentionally began that AskMe post with "I don't know anything about Vietnamese visas" which immediately signals to the reader that it's not a direct answer to the question. This is one reason why, contrary to what vacapinta said in that thread, I think that's a good way to begin an answer to an AskMe; because it allows any reader who wants to (including the OP) to easily filter out non-direct answers.

Another thing I'd say about indirect or supplementary answers is that they should be quick and to the point. I find that the OP usually will ask for more detail if a supplementary answer is providing the sort of thing that he or she needs to know.

Aren't you doing the exact same though, if you say, "Those cranky readers weren't objecting to the information I provided, actually -- they were objecting merely to the aesthetics, and hiding behind the 'quality of answer' argument."? Aren't you claiming now to know what the objector was truly thinking?

Yes, you're correct, that's doing the same thing. Which is why I waited to this very late point to suggest the guys in the AskMe thread were doing such a thing, after they and about twenty people who voiced objections to the quality of the answer have been unable to articulate what about the information in it was speculative or inappropriate to a worst case scenario visa problem.


Thank you for a charitable appraisal of my MeTa performance, pineapple. For someone like me, constructing arguments is like doing a crossword puzzle or a sudoku or something, so directly responding to almost every critic was no sweat. I had no intention to silence people, simply to respond thoroughly and give no quarter to implicit or imputed arguments that I had said something dangerous or untruthful or answered with an ulterior motive. On that count it's been quite gratifying that no one apart from you (and props to vacapinta) has responded to me. Thanks for being articulate and having good etiquette.
posted by XMLicious at 12:03 PM on March 10, 2008


Nice preen; nice smarm.
posted by breezeway at 8:17 AM on March 11, 2008


It's hard to imagine how you could be a bigger baby about this whole thing.
posted by phearlez at 12:06 PM on March 11, 2008


« Older I can has [more inside] indicator on the user...   |   Reply link inline w/ comments? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments