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October 5, 2010 12:47 AM   Subscribe

Can we get some sweet back-titling action to fix the Mefi posts up to #189?

Post #190 and onward have their own titles, but the older mefi posts don't have a title. The amount of posts isn't enormous, but I think it would be nice to give them the titles they deserve. In many cases the link name, or the name of the site being linked to can be used, and in the other cases it shouldn't be too hard to come up with a suitable title.

I don't know if the community could help with this or if it would be more work to involve community help compared to the mods to take care of it on their own, but I'll gladly help if help is wanted.
posted by bjrn to Feature Requests at 12:47 AM (55 comments total)

Illuminate the updated pb signal!
posted by Rumple at 1:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Seems like it ought to take 2 seconds with an sql script to copy the link text into the title field for 189 posts, or about an hour manually.
posted by crunchland at 3:10 AM on October 5, 2010


Can we talk about James Kachalka? Cuz he's awesome. And from Vermont. (I've never seen he and Jessamyn in the same room at the same time, either.)
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:20 AM on October 5, 2010


Leave pb alone for a while! He has a new baby!
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:17 AM on October 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Not sure what it would entail, but I'd be willing to do 'em by hand. Wouldn't take long at all.
posted by zarq at 5:50 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Leave pb alone for a while! He has a new baby!

pb could handily program a baby to back title.
posted by lizjohn at 6:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think we should auction off the titling rights.
posted by Plutor at 6:52 AM on October 5, 2010


Titles aren't like tags, which are an affordance for searching and organization. Backtagging was a good idea because it made the site more usable. I think we should leave these posts as an artifact of what the site used to be, since backtitling doesn't actually make MetaFilter easier to use.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:58 AM on October 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


Looking at those shows that standards for posting were quite a bit lower back then.
posted by smackfu at 6:59 AM on October 5, 2010


I agree with Riki tiki. We're so cautious about making any edits to anything -- the last thing we should be altering is the very first posts. The historical value of "This is what the website was like at the very beginning" is more important than any practical value you might get from adding titles (which would be close to zero).
posted by John Cohen at 7:04 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't rewrite history.
posted by Dasein at 7:06 AM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Don't any of the various caching internet time machines take care of the history aspect of this?
posted by kingbenny at 7:09 AM on October 5, 2010


I think it would be nice to give them the titles they deserve. In many cases the link name, or the name of the site being linked to can be used, and in the other cases it shouldn't be too hard to come up with a suitable title.

How will doing this make the site better? How does NOT doing this make the site worse?
posted by 23skidoo at 7:11 AM on October 5, 2010


Don't any of the various caching internet time machines take care of the history aspect of this?

So what?
posted by John Cohen at 7:16 AM on October 5, 2010


Wouldn't this turn Metafilter into Special Edition Metafilter? But, now with new titles! I assume Matt will be able to, in a few years, release a version of Metafilter that has, as a special feature (a setting in your Setup menu--er, Profile), Original Metafilter. It won't have the titles for the early posts. But it will be a poor copy from archive.org that mangled some CSS calls, so it won't look perfect. But we'll still all use the Original Edition Metafilter, even for the extra $5 since that's what we grew up with.
posted by skynxnex at 7:23 AM on October 5, 2010


Matt will replace the police brutality posts with walkie talkies.
posted by smackfu at 7:26 AM on October 5, 2010 [9 favorites]


How will doing this make the site better? How does NOT doing this make the site worse?

Search engines use page titles as part of how they determine relevancy, so there'd be a small boost to searching via Google and the like. And there's that hobgoblin of little minds everywhere, consistency.
posted by jedicus at 7:30 AM on October 5, 2010


Sometimes, you just gotta let database entries be database entries.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:32 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we count on the "caching internet time machines" to do something that we can be doing ourselves? Should we?
posted by k8lin at 7:32 AM on October 5, 2010


Search engines use page titles as part of how they determine relevancy, so there'd be a small boost to searching via Google and the like.

If we want bring in more traffic from Google, we could do this more effectively by changing the title of my latest FPP from "What's wrong with classical music?" to: "Why don't Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and Christine O'Donnell listen to more classical music?"
posted by John Cohen at 7:35 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hate to break any hearts on this, but the "should we back-title stuff" decision was made a good while back and there's been a ton of backtitling done already—Metatalk got that treatment along with the backtagging, and it's possible askme did too but I'd have to check to be sure.

And there's more than 180 untitled threads on the blue; pb just mentioned the other day that it's about 3600. Our main thought was to call up the backtagging squad and get it done fairly quickly that way.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2010


If we want bring in more traffic from Google, we could do this more effectively by changing the title of my latest FPP from "What's wrong with classical music?" to: "Why don't Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and Christine O'Donnell listen to more classical music?"

I wasn't framing it as a way to bring in more traffic, rather as a way to make Google searches for Metafilter-related stuff more useful. But I don't really care either way; I was just pointing out that there is a good faith argument to be made for back titling.
posted by jedicus at 7:43 AM on October 5, 2010


Well that shut me up.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:46 AM on October 5, 2010


rather as a way to make Google searches for Metafilter-related stuff more useful

Is it actually useful, though? How many of the earliest few MeFi posts have any content that'd be relevant now other than to a Mefite who's rummaging through the archives?

But now that cortex has commented, I defer to the mods -- I didn't realize there's already been backtitling.
posted by John Cohen at 7:47 AM on October 5, 2010


I wasn't framing it as a way to bring in more traffic, rather as a way to make Google searches for Metafilter-related stuff more useful.

Yep, exactly. Having searches for things threads are nominally about match up with those threads is a good thing. Titling is a contributing factor on that front. Aside from that, it provides a little more direction for someone navigating the archives or old threads and normalizes somewhat the presentation of the site.

I have the archivist bent as well, and have little notes in a couple places about what the original state of this or that part of the site was and how it changed when it changed. If anybody feels likewise that desire to have an explicit record of the slow evolution of the site over time, I'd recommend taking a hand in expanding or updating the mefi wiki with whatever kind of detail you feel like contributing.

I try to make sure major changes hit the Timeline and also tend to add little data- or feature-inconsistency details to the Infodump page over there, partly because it helps makes sense of some of the irregularities that infodump diving tends to turn up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:50 AM on October 5, 2010


...sweet back-titling action...

This sounds kinky. I'll bring bean dip and a HD camera.
posted by nomadicink at 7:57 AM on October 5, 2010


This would be especially useful in the infodump where there's no access to the post body itself.

I suspect you'd automatically get good enough results just by taking the text up to the first bit of punctuation with some min/max length fudge factor. That technique also minimizes the extent to which anything is being altered. For instance, here are all the untitled posts with favorites from 1999:

Any red-blooded American who has taken high school chemistry in the last fifteen years or so,

I've never heard of James Kochalka until a weblog pointed at his stuff.

As if you couldn't get enough of the JenniCam,

Why go all the way down to your local police auction to pick those great seized property bargins,

Can't remember what that font was on your last project?
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 8:09 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The phrase sweet back-titling action is definitely titillating, but it would feel incomplete without front-titling action.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:25 AM on October 5, 2010


If anybody feels likewise that desire to have an explicit record of the slow evolution of the site over time, I'd recommend taking a hand in expanding or updating the mefi wiki with whatever kind of detail you feel like contributing.

That's not really what I'm concerned about. This is similar to the suggestion about the Wayback Machine or some other website cache the original version.

My concern isn't for a record of the original to exist somewhere. To me the only real issue is whether the original is right there in its original place.

For instance, I have a blog; I've gone back and altered some old blog posts of mine. But I do this only when it's really useful, because I admit I am altering the history of my blog. If I were to keep a cache of the original somewhere else, that wouldn't be the same, because that's not where 99.99% of people are going to look to find my blog's content -- they're going to look on my blog. And people are going to look at metafilter.com to see Metafilter's content.

As I said, I defer to the mods since they've already made the call that backtitling is worth it based on their weighing of the pros and cons. That's obviously more important than my weighing of the pros and cons.
posted by John Cohen at 8:25 AM on October 5, 2010


Oh, pb already auto-backtitled thousands of posts the other day, based on whatever the URL description was set to, for the rest, we might just grab the first x characters in a post to apply as the titles, but we had something like 20,000 MeFi posts without titles and we brought it down to about 3,000 by auto titling, but yeah we have a few left in the end to do by hand if we choose to.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:26 AM on October 5, 2010


> And people are going to look at metafilter.com to see Metafilter's content.

Oh no! They're going to retcon the apocrypha! Er, yeah.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:27 AM on October 5, 2010


My concern isn't for a record of the original to exist somewhere. To me the only real issue is whether the original is right there in its original place.

The original will still, in fact, be there in its original place. I'd have a much bigger problem with editing titles than with adding them; introducing extra metadata into the system is different from destructively editing existing data.

Presentationally, the site is fairly static but it's not actually static; dozens of little things have changed here or there over the years, new metadata has been introduced in probably three or four places when features supporting that data have been introduced, the actual basic presentation of e.g. the front page of Metatalk shifted significantly in its early years, the sidebar on the front page had at least two incarnations different from what is there now. The site is eleven years old, small things are going to change.

And, again, I sort of feel you on the "but history!" sensibility, but practically speaking that's an exhortation that needs to motivate taking some personal effort to preserve the stuff you think is interesting, not something that justifies not keeping a site itself up to date on the off chance that someone would prefer to see how it looked previously instead of how the guy who built the place actually wants it to look.

So: we add titles to posts, suddenly posts that had not titles have titles. Someone who is interested in historical mefi knowledge checks wayback if they're curious what the changes were, or checks the wiki to see if there are details there about it. Someone who wants to make that wiki content exist in the first place can pick my brain about it or use wayback to check for material differences and help preserve the record of what came before. That's a pragmatic way to approach the fact that most websites will not remain utterly static over time. Mefi shifts very slowly, but it's not hewn from sacred stone.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:33 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think you should write a script that goes through and changes the name of any untitled post to Sidney. Because that's a nice name. That, or Sir Bodworth Rugglesby III, which is the name of my monocle-wearing pug.
posted by jbickers at 8:41 AM on October 5, 2010


If anyone needs a spare hand to help backtitling, I have... one.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:43 AM on October 5, 2010


> Mefi shifts very slowly, but it's not hewn from sacred stone.

I remember when it was hewn from sacred stone, goddammit. Then Matt got cheap.
posted by languagehat at 8:57 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree with the cautious notes of warning above: Do we really want our posts having back-tits?
posted by DU at 9:02 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


That, or Sir Bodworth Rugglesby III, which is the name of my monocle-wearing pug

Yeah, but then someone will definitely try to stop a train with it.
posted by inigo2 at 9:38 AM on October 5, 2010


This ones called "we hate you, please die" .
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2010


"Can we talk about James Kachalka? Cuz he's awesome. And from Vermont. (I've never seen he and Jessamyn in the same room at the same time, either."
--These Premises Are Alarmed

[[shiver]]
posted by not_on_display at 10:05 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My concern isn't for a record of the original to exist somewhere. To me the only real issue is whether the original is right there in its original place.

The original will still, in fact, be there in its original place.


Of course, that's not what I meant by "the original." Adding a title to something is altering it.

Presentationally, the site is fairly static but it's not actually static; dozens of little things have changed here or there over the years, new metadata has been introduced in probably three or four places when features supporting that data have been introduced, the actual basic presentation of e.g. the front page of Metatalk shifted significantly in its early years, the sidebar on the front page had at least two incarnations different from what is there now. The site is eleven years old, small things are going to change.

None of those examples has to do with the immediately visible content of a specific post. Your either talking about metadata (which is, well, metadata) or you're talking about the overall template. I am not saying there should be no changes to the template ever, i.e. that the whole look of the site must remain the way it was in 1999. I'm saying individual posts from 1999 should, all other things being equal, have the same substantive content as they did in 1999. This isn't absolute, which is why I say "all other things being equal." In the case of tags, they're useful and unobtrusive enough to be worth adding.

taking some personal effort to preserve the stuff you think is interesting

I think you know that that's really unrealistic. I am not going to try to anticipate how the authors of my favorite blogs (Metafilter is a blog) might change the content and archive it in advance of those changes. And even if I, John, somehow did take that initiative, I'm one user. If everyone reading this thread does it, that's still a negligible number. I don't know why this is even controversial: people look at the site by looking at the site. The number of people who look at the site in some other way -- by looking at something in the Wiki, or the Wayback Machine, or making a personal archive on their hard drive -- is negligible.

As I said, I'm no longer trying to make the case against this happening, but I do think there's a valid concern.
posted by John Cohen at 10:24 AM on October 5, 2010


None of those examples has to do with the immediately visible content of a specific post.

Except that they do. Tags that didn't exist at post creation time were added after the fact, in almost all cases by a volunteer who was not the post author. Same for titles on older Metatalk threads. Same for categories on old metatalk threads. These are all presentation/metadata elements specific to individual posts. They're also, all of them, non-destructive additions to, not alterations of, the existing pre-feature content of those posts.

Posts from 1999 still have substantially the same content they had in 1999. If you feel very strongly about the usefulness of making the from-1999 view of those posts available to other readers, you can write up a custom stylesheet or a greasemonkey script that elides titles and tags from posts that predate the user-side posting-time inclusion of those features. That's one user realistically accomplishing a goal for a whole bunch of other people should those people in fact turn out to exist.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:34 AM on October 5, 2010


If we're adding a title then how about tacking on a sponsor byline to generate a little income?

Reform of the House of Lords
Brought to you by Murray's house of pork. "We're the porkiest!"
posted by ODiV at 11:10 AM on October 5, 2010


Post #73 is a title. Just saying.
posted by bonehead at 11:12 AM on October 5, 2010


Couldn't we auction off naming titling rights?
posted by blue_beetle at 3:04 PM on October 5, 2010


Verizon Presents: A Broken Link To What Was Apparently A Local News Affiliate Story About Cats And Linux Or Something
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:06 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Leave pb alone for a while! He has a new baby!

pb could handily program a baby to back title.


Actually, I believe the baby is genetically able to program back titling from birth. Knows SQL too.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:40 PM on October 5, 2010


Trippy, in 1999 I was half a decade away from hearing of Metafilter, but I knew Kochalka personally. duuuuuuuuude
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 3:56 PM on October 5, 2010


I took a summer course at the Center for Cartoon Studies and James Kochalka guest taught for one day. He did a little spiel on diary cartooning, walked around as we drew our own diary comics and then ended up singing some songs as we drew and ate pizza and it was wonderful. The next day, a friend and I found ourselves undoubtedly in his comic, with him standing over my shoulder yelling "DRAW FASTER!" and then a panel of him eating pizza, frothing at the mouth saying something like "I could get used to this teaching thing." Or at least that's my memory of it. I really need to find a copy of the book it's in so I can post it on my wall and say "THERE! THAT'S ME! YOU CAN TELL BY THE SHAGGY HAIR! NO, SRSLY, OF COURSE IT'S ME WHATDJA MEAN IT'S NOT ME?! you didn't know me back then..."
posted by Corduroy at 8:43 PM on October 5, 2010


Oh, I found the strip! I didn't realize his archives are now free; they used to be subscription based. I'm in the first panel, and my friend is in the last panel. I guess my memory of the strip was not quite perfect.
posted by Corduroy at 9:35 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


pb could handily program a baby to back title.

easily one of the funniest things I've ever read on this site.
posted by mannequito at 11:22 PM on October 5, 2010


Backtaggers represent!
posted by Pronoiac at 12:44 PM on October 6, 2010


>>pb could handily program a baby to back title.

I'd like to see Google translate parse that one...
posted by sagwalla at 1:36 PM on October 6, 2010


I propose we set up a website to handle this. How about backtit.ly?
posted by chavenet at 2:28 PM on October 6, 2010


I would also love to further my backtagging superstarity. I still don't feel like I've quite earned that sparkly little badge.
posted by lauranesson at 1:03 PM on October 7, 2010


Verizon Presents: A Broken Link To What Was Apparently A Local News Affiliate Story About Cats And Linux Or Something

Oh yeah, and while you're in there, wouldja please fix all the broken links?

Smooches,
posted by msalt at 9:30 PM on October 12, 2010


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