Old media eyes comely site 150 years its junior; sparks fly February 4, 2010 11:07 AM   Subscribe

"What I wish I could do is take our tens of thousands of nice registered subscribers and offer them a Metafilter-style community." --Paywalls, Blogs, Comments, Editing and Magazines: A Conversation with Paul Ford, Web Editor of Harper's Magazine
posted by kittyprecious to MetaFilter-Related at 11:07 AM (76 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I like the second comment:
When I got to the Harper's metafilter thing my brain kind of exploded.
Posted on 02/03/10 at 5:45 pm
posted by iamkimiam at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


See, here's the thing. Someone did that already. They called it Metafilter. If you wanted something like that, instead of waiting years and hoping that it'd magically happen, maybe you should have invested in a plan to create such a project and help turn it into what you wanted.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:14 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


/me waves at RJ Reynolds, one of my first MeFi mancrushes.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Choire: I mean, what incentive do people to pay that kind of money! What do they even GET for that! (Annnd… end sarcasm.)

Annnd that was where I stopped reading
posted by Damn That Television at 11:19 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


...something where they could create the content and talk and interact (with editors) and then we could promote the most interesting stuff to the home page.

Actually, this sounds more like Open Salon than Metafilter.
posted by Iridic at 11:23 AM on February 4, 2010


I love those guys. They are funny like the McSweeney's people, but not insufferable like them.

Also I keep reading Paul's sentence "advertising would like HUGE TRAFFIC" as

advertising would like HUG TRAFFIC

and I'm like "Sure, who wouldn't?"

In summary,

MetaFilter: I have charts.

yr most obed' & faithfull Servant,

jessamyn
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:24 AM on February 4, 2010 [21 favorites]


Very next clause:

something where they could create the content and talk and interact (with editors) and then we could promote the most interesting stuff to the home page.

Is this even an accurate description?
posted by box at 11:26 AM on February 4, 2010


Or, uh, what Iridic said.
posted by box at 11:26 AM on February 4, 2010


HUG TRAFFIC... tried that. Got run over by a Toyota with a stuck accelerator.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:44 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


God, I hate the term "old media." This interview is about the Harper's website--that's not old media.

I think that instead of "old" and "new" media, people should use "media that thinks writers should be paid" and "media that doesn't give a shit."
posted by neroli at 11:48 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


God, I hate the term "old media."

B-b-but bloging saved journalism and democracy!
posted by Burhanistan at 11:51 AM on February 4, 2010


Ye Olde Media = Blogs running on blogger or wordpress.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would have an apartment with doors.

Oh, man. I remember doors! Doors were awesome.

Also, Harpers people, if you're reading this — that ad about being content-free that you're running everywhere? Not really as awesome as I think you think it is. It's a little bitter and desperate. Kind of a guy-at-the-bar-at-2-in-the-afternoon-ranting-about-his-ex-wife vibe.
posted by enn at 12:02 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


HUG TRAFFIC - STEVE WINWOOD IS LONELY.
posted by mintcake! at 12:15 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


neroli: God, I hate the term "old media."

That interview makes me miss old media. Posting a chatlog between two friends as an interview is ridiculous. This was hard to follow for me at times and I grew up on IRC and ICQ and all that, so it's not like I'm unfamiliar with the conventions. Between the Paul and Choire's shared references and the way internetchats tend to go all over the place, it was difficult to keep track, I had to go back all the time to figure out what or wo was being referred to.
posted by Kattullus at 12:20 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reading that just made me think of what MetaFilter will be like when there are 150 years worth of archives. I mean, imagine all the site history and lore that will have collected by then.

I also sometimes fantasize about what other sites would be like in the far future. But then I get to the part where I'm showing my great-grandkids my vintage 2005 youtube account and they won't even believe that we had computers that long ago, and I'm snapped right out of the fantasy.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:23 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Posting a chatlog between two friends as an interview is ridiculous.

Interesting. I really enjoyed it, I just didn't think of it as a I Ask/You Answer sort of formal thing. It seems appropriate to The Awl which I think is a blog. So... makes sense given the format. The thing that makes this all interesting to me is that, besides the fact that Choire and Paul are both MeFites, that they're friends and so talking informally. Paul's got a certain amount of responsibility for 160 years of cultural content and instead of being a stodgy old pain about it, he's explaining why access that that content is set up the way that it is. That sort of thing is interesting to people like me who try to figure out how to give access to content like that to people like my library patrons and/or MeFites or whatever. The more we understand how and why people are making the decisions they make, the easier it will be for us to have a say or some sort of input into those decisions, maybe.

It's just a pipe dream at some level. But people who run magazines would kill for the sort of community we have here. And most people that run community blogs would kill for the sort of income that magazines [still] make, relative to what most blogs make. So we sort of meet in the middle and talk about it. And it's an interesting conversation.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:26 PM on February 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Between the Paul and Choire's shared references and the way internetchats tend to go all over the place, it was difficult to keep track, I had to go back all the time to figure out what or wo was being referred to.
posted by Kattullus


If you can't follow it, I'm not even going to try.
posted by jamjam at 12:49 PM on February 4, 2010


Metafilter: The Metafilter of the Harpers of the Internet
posted by ardgedee at 12:54 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


MORE SUBS

{///////////////////////}
posted by Juicy Avenger at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rhomboid: "Reading that just made me think of what MetaFilter will be like when there are 150 years worth of archives. I mean, imagine all the site history and lore that will have collected by then."

Dear MetaFilter Anthropologists of the 2160s:

It is true, the stories you have heard. I wear a solid platinum codpiece inset with the teeth of my enemies. My skin is bulletproof and my mind is as quick as a whip. My exploits are numerous and legendary, but I never repeat them myself. (My modesty, as you see, is the subject of much scholarly research.) I have a harem that numbers in the dozens. The paintings and inventions in my notebooks are centuries ahead of their time. I am not immortal, but I do not expect to die for eons. I am standing right behind you.
posted by Plutor at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2010 [21 favorites]


If you wanted something like that, instead of waiting years and hoping that it'd magically happen, maybe you should have invested in a plan to create such a project and help turn it into what you wanted.

Or just buy Plastic.com.
posted by qvantamon at 1:25 PM on February 4, 2010


Paul Ford is possibly my favorite writer-on-the-internet and I love him.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:29 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and want to eat his liver to somehow gain his secret powers.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:30 PM on February 4, 2010


Some of the threads on ta-nishi coates page at the atlantic are quite good - here are a few examples 1, 2, 3. Again the key seems to be some reasonably active moderation plus people having relationships over time, they don't have as strong identities as the people here do, but you see the same participants over and over. It also helps that hes a thoughtful, serous, generous-minded guy.
posted by shothotbot at 1:33 PM on February 4, 2010


Annnd that was where I stopped reading

Funny, thats exactly the point where I decided I was going to read the whole thing. People writing as they actually talk? Two intelligent guys geeking out over what they love to do? Thats pretty much what I want to see more of-- more people using writing and the internet as real reflections of their personality and conveying ideas. Bonus points if they actually know what they are talking about.

If we're going to go into a "old" vs "new" media boxing match I'd put this IM conversation over any helmet haired, glassy eyed CNN news reader.
posted by fontophilic at 1:38 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]




jessamyn: Interesting. I really enjoyed it, I just didn't think of it as a I Ask/You Answer sort of formal thing. It seems appropriate to The Awl which I think is a blog. So... makes sense given the format.

jamjam: If you can't follow it, I'm not even going to try.

So I may have had my grumpypants on when I wrote my comment. In fact, looking down, I notice that my legs are hidden from view by 33% cotton, 67% grump.
posted by Kattullus at 1:45 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Our readers are intense and have very many things to say!
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:57 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


He wants this without flameouts and call outs and sockpuppets and criticism and banhammers and astroturfing.
posted by anniecat at 1:57 PM on February 4, 2010


Also, I can't read anything with a white background anymore. White backgrounds hurt my eyes.
posted by anniecat at 2:08 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


anniecat: Also, I can't read anything with a white background anymore. White backgrounds hurt my eyes.

I used to have light sensitivity issues and I found that highlighting the text I was reading would make things better.
posted by Kattullus at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2010


Anyone else notice they temporarily disabled the comments over at Engadget on Tuesday? The civility, such as it is, that we have here seems the result of a lot of thought, good design, and some really smart moderators and members. The five dollars probably doesn't hurt either.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:29 PM on February 4, 2010


My point was that MetaFilter is one of the best communities on the web and that if comments are about community, and not just about traffic, then as a nat'l magazine Harper's would be well-served to emulate the blue, and maybe the green and the gray too.

Is this true? I don't know. I doubt I have time to build it this year.

The thing that always strikes me about MetaFilter is that it's a real editorial success. I've now spent nearly a decade (judging from the sign-up date of my first sock puppet, in the 300s) watching editorial norms emerge here. It's not the same kind of editing that is done at a magazine--sometimes, sure, posts are killed or edited or helped along, but the goal is not necessarily to make every post better but rather to make the community better. It's sort of like editing a river. Have you ever tried to edit a river? It's hard, and the moderators here are genius. They have an art and a craft and a discipline. They keep the community working, and that attracts the right kind of people. It's an amazing loop. It has much to teach me.

In the future I wonder if there isn't a way for the different kinds of editing to combine. Could that be good for the web AND for magazines/radio/etc.? Interesting, useful communities where many people share a common sensibility, connected to--but not utterly dependent upon--more traditional media (like articles, or stories, and so forth).

AND THAT WAS MY POINT. I have no wish to take away any MetaFilters.
posted by ftrain at 2:32 PM on February 4, 2010 [29 favorites]


And once again, Metafilter is held up as a shining example of how "something can be done right".

Completely in spite of my presence here. Come on! Am I invisible? What does a guy have to do to give a place a bad reputation?

Know this: I peed on the rug.

And in the sink.

posted by quin at 2:33 PM on February 4, 2010


Man, that rug brought the whole site together.
posted by scrump at 2:39 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's sort of like editing a river. Have you ever tried to edit a river?

I KNOW MORE ABOUT EDITING RIVERS THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND.
posted by shmegegge at 2:45 PM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


on a serious note, i'm more surprised than I probably should be that we're apparently snarking about this. it seems to me like Mr. Ford has a right proper head on his shoulders, and he wants good things for his publication, which is, y'know, a good thing.
posted by shmegegge at 2:46 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have no wish to take away any MetaFilters.

Heh. Hugs!
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:53 PM on February 4, 2010


This:

It's hard, and the moderators here are genius. They have an art and a craft and a discipline. They keep the community working, and that attracts the right kind of people. It's an amazing loop.

is true.
posted by ericost at 3:05 PM on February 4, 2010


You cannot edit the same river twice.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:07 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


watch me.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:09 PM on February 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


HUG TRAFFIC DOES NOT STOP.
posted by boo_radley at 3:16 PM on February 4, 2010


That was great and I really heart Paul ftrain Ford.
posted by kingbenny at 3:21 PM on February 4, 2010


Old media: one person who has little-to-no professional experience with his topic talks to a bunch of people he's identified as (i) having professional experience with the topic and (ii) willing to talk with him. This person then takes all of their opinions, swirls them around in his/her head, carefully constructs a piece of writing that frames the issues in the way that s/he understands them. S/he then has an editor either (i) change the 'their's to 'there's and/or (ii) changes the meaning of the piece.

alternate Old media: one person with professional experience on a topic submits article to editor of magazine with little professional experience on the topic, thereby presenting article as objective truth, while providing few-to-no counterarguments from others with professional experience on the topic, but who disagree with author.

Metafilter: Somebody finds one or a few of these articles on a particular topic, shares them. A bunch of people with little-to-no professional experience read none/some/all of the articles, opine about what they believe is true. Occasionally, a person with professional experience in the topic opines about what he/she believes is true. Sometimes, the person who wrote the article (i.e. spoke to a bunch of people with professional experience in the topic) opines about what s/he believe is true.

Fusion: A forum where the majority of people participating in conversation on a topic have professional experience in same?

alternate Fusion: There is no truth. We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
posted by one_bean at 3:28 PM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Misissipp Missysip

Damn.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2010


i'm more surprised than I probably should be that we're apparently snarking about this

You're surprised that someone is snarking.

On MetaFilter.
posted by grouse at 3:36 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


A bunch of people with little-to-no professional experience read none/some/all of the articles, opine about what they believe is true.

They may have little-to-no professional experience with that particular topic, but in aggregate there are actually quite a few people with real world experience on just about any topic on this site. That's kind of the beauty of a site that's all-inclusive and doesn't present any obstacles to join. Other sites have tried the approach of only letting certified experts comment on any given topic and it hasn't gone very well; there was a post just last month about the hilariously crazy John Gabriel who has hijacked a Knol page to serve as his own little personal effluent of nutbaggery.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:43 PM on February 4, 2010


Know this: I peed on the rug. And in the sink.
posted by quin


Sink? Kitchen or bathroom? I NEED TO KNOW!
posted by snsranch at 3:53 PM on February 4, 2010


Misissipp Missysip

Damn.


No, Ubu, the thing you use to edit a river is spelled DAM.
posted by qvantamon at 4:07 PM on February 4, 2010


radical dikes may beg to differ.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:34 PM on February 4, 2010


It also helps that hes (Ta Nehisi Coates) a thoughtful, serous, generous-minded guy.

It also helps that he moderates pretty heavily- more so than I think is feasible here. He's only got a few threads going at a time, for instance. I really do enjoy reading his posts and the comment threads though- they do some difficult topics well, IMO.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:47 PM on February 4, 2010


"In the future I wonder if there isn't a way for the different kinds of editing to combine. Could that be good for the web AND for magazines/radio/etc.? Interesting, useful communities where many people share a common sensibility, connected to--but not utterly dependent upon--more traditional media (like articles, or stories, and so forth)."

I think one of the key things that attracts people to Metafilter is the churn. There's something fresh posted here every day, so you can keep coming back to talk about new things. (Or old things from new angles.) Magazines are great, but by necessity they have a limited amount of content, and it only changes once a month or so. That isn't enough turnover to get people going there on a regular enough basis to become invested in the community.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:54 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's sort of like editing a river. Have you ever tried to edit a river?

Yes. Some people call them "dams." Beavers do it all the time.

That's what she said. HEY OH. ZING.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:57 PM on February 4, 2010


I’m sure everyone here does, but I think about how Metafilter works as a community a lot. I work at a university in scholarly publishing and a bunch of my colleagues suspect that publishing, as we know it, is almost over. What it looks like next is anyone’s guess, but none of the expensive, print heavy models we’re currently using are likely to survive. When I think about what from the current process absolutely needs to be preserved, the foremost thing on my mind is peer review. All scholarship requires it. It practically defines what the advancement of scholarship is. And in looking around the Web for viable models that employ both good editing and peer review, Metafilter is the most intriguing to me. If I were to build a publishing and peer review process for an Open Access, electronic, publishing program I would probably use many of the elements and most of the philosophy behind this site.

You know one of the figures in the recent global warming “conspiracy” fiasco was a professor here at Penn State named Michael Mann. It’s been a (no pun intended) hot topic in these parts, really not so much for any supposed evidence of conspiracy, but for the tone of the emails that these supposed colleagues sent to each other. It didn’t quite reach the level of 4chan, but it got rough. I wonder if those discussions were born public, if they’d be so cavalier. Scholarly communication comes in many forms—both reader's reports on articles or manuscripts, as well as emails about the meaning of our research qualify. I think if the academic community adapted some of the social constructs that makes the Metafilter community a relatively civil and productive place, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

My biggest concern in trying this experiment is how much of what makes this kind of discussion so profitable, intellectually, is the moderators. I think Matt did the hard governance and design work and that might be replicable, but I wonder if the rarity of all of them makes this kind of a model something that can’t really be applied anywhere else. Yeah, there are plenty of great editors out there, but how many are also excellent community builders? How many are able to keep the broader mission of such a large group so effectively protected?

I think I learn a lot from this site, and though occasionally it's about three toed sloths, mostly I learn about effective ways to get along and still move forward at an exceptional rate. This is a very productive community.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:07 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Know this: I peed on the rug. And in the sink.

Cool! One more ingredient and my homunculus is complete.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:55 PM on February 4, 2010


I haven't been around long enough to know for sure, but it seems like metafilter's initial design worked out by good luck and guesses not expert design. From there it's evolved to what's going on now. But at about the same time metafilter was starting, so was kuro5hin and fark and livejournal and something awful. So '99 was a pretty fruitful year for starting web communities of different sorts.
posted by garlic at 8:33 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


And plastic.com!
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:52 PM on February 4, 2010


Cool! One more ingredient and my homunculus is complete.

Yeah, but then you have to bury it in a dungheap all winter, and dungheaps are not so common any more.
posted by winna at 9:20 PM on February 4, 2010


something where they could create the content and talk and interact (with editors) and then we could promote the most interesting stuff to the home page.

Is this even an accurate description?


I think what they are saying there is that they'd like to replace their home page with the Metafilter sidebar.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2010


Beavers, and fluvial geo-morphographers.
posted by robotot at 9:47 PM on February 4, 2010


I think what they are saying there is that they'd like to replace their home page with the Metafilter sidebar.

So, in other words, there's no discernable methodology behind it at all...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:56 PM on February 4, 2010


Mississippi

FTFY HTH HAND
posted by double block and bleed at 10:40 PM on February 4, 2010

Choire: I would imagine that your data shows your average reader is a deep reader there though.
Paul: Subscribers are; visitors poke around archive content
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WOULD YOU GUYS PLEASE UNLOCK 'THE SLOW, COSTLY DEATH OF MRS K_'? I'VE BEEN WAITING LIKE 26 YEARS.
posted by Ritchie at 10:56 PM on February 4, 2010


'Go hug a river' is my new favorite insult.
posted by item at 11:03 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'ld jump the life to come
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:14 AM on February 5, 2010


Yeah, but then you have to bury it in a dungheap all winter, and dungheaps are not so common any more.

Tell that to the army of feral cats who live in my back yard.
posted by Splunge at 5:58 AM on February 5, 2010


Funny, thats exactly the point where I decided I was going to read the whole thing. People writing as they actually talk? Two intelligent guys geeking out over what they love to do?

I love it when people write like they talk, and when people show they're genuinely interested in the topic at hand. I'm teaching some online classes at the moment, and I try not to self-edit too much, I like my teaching materials to be as close to what you'd get if I was there in person. So one of my handouts yesterday said "A lot of people don't like to [activity related to class that's kind of crucial for our purposes]. Hell, I don't like to [activity]. [But here's why you should...]"

My students thought that was about the funniest, coolest thing ever...which threw me for a bit of a loop. Are standard learning system SO boring that just saying 'hell' conversationally equals hilarious? Man.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:33 AM on February 5, 2010


I should probably mention that I put in many months of effort into essentially forcing Typophile to adopt certain MetaFilter-like conventions, foundational among them a MetaTalk-like forum just for bugs and metadiscussion. It is in general not going well (just as it didn’t go well at that other discussion site), but, like Harper’s, I have attempted to spread what is known to work, that is, MetaFilter “best practices.”
posted by joeclark at 9:38 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know you're busy but you should find time to build it this year because I love Harper's and magazines need help and I don't want to see you disappear.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is the $5 bar, which Typophile is missing, one of the “best practices”?
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:42 AM on February 5, 2010


dungheaps are not so common any more.

That would, I expect, be why my neighbors look at me so funny as they roll past.
posted by stet at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2010


I am convinced memberships need to be constrained on popular sites. In Typophile’s case, we had months of spammers – which, oddly, I was always first to spot, not the ill-named “moderators.” Students showing up to ask us to do their homework for them are another irritant.

On the whole, Typophile is not interested in implementing a suggestion if I’m the one suggesting it even if I didn’t come up with the idea and it’s proven to work somewhere else.
posted by joeclark at 1:33 PM on February 5, 2010


Anyone else notice they temporarily disabled the comments over at Engadget on Tuesday? The civility, such as it is, that we have here seems the result of a lot of thought, good design, and some really smart moderators and members.

I assume that was mainly over iPad stuff, which MeFi didn't do any better, to be honest. Luckily this isn't a tech site so it really only ruined one post here.
posted by smackfu at 8:54 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I assume that was mainly over iPad stuff, which MeFi didn't do any better, to be honest.

Heh.
posted by delmoi at 3:25 PM on February 7, 2010


it seems like metafilter's initial design worked out by good luck and guesses not expert design.

And because the early adopters came to it in the context of a proto-bloggy web environment that encouraged a degree of candour and civility and willingness to engage and embrace the web as this still pretty-damn-amazing thing -- and yeah, to snark as well -- thanks to sites like Paul Ford's ftrain.com.
posted by holgate at 11:45 AM on February 11, 2010


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