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Are drive-by questioners becoming a problem?
November 23, 2011 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Are drive-by questioners good, bad, or indifferent? I've noticed a recent increase (I'm going to avoid specific links since this is more about policy than specific examples) of people who ONLY ask questions and don't otherwise contribute to MeFi or AskMe. Is this a problem or not?

Some people have asked MANY questions and never contributed to any other part of the site, while others seem to sign up for a single question. On the one hand, they're paying their $5, which helps keep the lights on. On the other hand, I question whether they're good for a sense of community. People do enjoy answering questions, so maybe this isn't a problem at all, but I've personally always thought AskMe works so well because of a real sense of community (and because of excellent moderation as needed), and that community comes from a give-and-take.

If drive-by questions are deemed to be a problem, I would humbly propose adding something to the signup about expecting members to contribute more than just questions to the community and seeing if this is sufficient to resolve things. (A second line of response might be the require some answers before people post a question (a la The Blue), but this does risk creating crap comments.

Of course, I might be part of a small minority in finding this usage of AskMe distasteful, in which case, I'm happy to acquiesce to the greater will of the community.
posted by JMOZ to Etiquette/Policy at 5:47 AM (124 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I think that asking an interesting question by itself is contributing to the community.
posted by empath at 5:56 AM on November 23, 2011 [91 favorites]


I'm voting for 'not a problem'.
posted by nangar at 5:58 AM on November 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


By using words like "drive-by" and "don't contribute" and "question whether they're good for the community" you've certainly front-loaded a lot of opinion into this question.

What I say is: Why not you having a policy of not helping people you don't know, if that's what you want to do. Then the "drive-by" questioners will get slightly worse answers than if they'd been "contributing".

If it really is a problem, it fixes itself.
posted by DU at 5:59 AM on November 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


I used to worry about this, but from spending time looking at other Q&A sites, I have come to realise that a supply of good questions is needed to keep such a site alive and should be encouraged.

Were there a shortage of answerers, this might be an issue, but as it is, questions here generally get answered in minutes, suggesting that there is no danger of a lack of response.

Finally, there are plenty of people who just aren't suited to answering a lot of questions, due to temperament, time constraints or life experience. I'd far rather they stayed quiet, rather than polluting the answer space with poorly-thought-out or plain inaccurate responses, just because there's an expectation that everyone should do some answering.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:59 AM on November 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


I can't say it ever occurred to me to look at a user's posting history before answering a question. And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't hold it against the person posting the question; one person is as good as another when it comes to receiving my crappy answers.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:59 AM on November 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Also, people have sock puppets.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:01 AM on November 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


People interact with this site in many different ways. You can't force people to comment!
posted by h00py at 6:06 AM on November 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


i don't see "drive by" posters as taking advantage of the system. they pay their $5 and have the right to ask their question. there are many reasons why folks do not answer questions (not wanting to give a "wrong" or "bad" answer, seeing other people already saying the same thing) - and even if it's because they only want a one-shot deal, i don't really see it as a problem. if they are that in need of advice, i'm happy to give it (if i can).
posted by anya32 at 6:07 AM on November 23, 2011


This leads to a slippery slope, and I don't like a world in which I'd be required to "contribute" to (or even look at) the blue in order to keep on enjoying the green and grey.
posted by Grither at 6:08 AM on November 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


If there were an absolute avalanche of AskMe questions such that something stayed on the top page of AskMe for minutes rather than the better part of a day that it currently takes, and lots of questions go no answers, then that would be a problem.

Is there infodump data on this? Say average number of questions per day and answers per question over time?

Either way, as has been stated, most "Ve have vays of making you engage!" criterion end up driving TEH SUCK pretty hard.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:10 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this a problem or not?

Not.

I answer questions over then green somewhat regularly, but have yet to ask any, which is sort of the opposite usage profile than the one you're pointing out. It doesn't bother me at all that there are accounts with only questions and no answers.

One of the ways AskMe is very useful is being able to search for and read answers to previously asked questions. So just asking a question is helping to build up that base of answers, and that's a type of contribution to the community.

Not that I think any account should be required to demonstrate contribution to AskMe before asking a question. And I use the word account instead of user or person because, as has been pointed out, there is not always a 1:1 relationship between accounts and people.
posted by FishBike at 6:16 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't mind so much if someone pays $5 and only ever asks one question. Maybe they really, really needed an answer.

I'm more bothered by people who have had accounts for years and have only ever asked questions without otherwise engaging the community. That's a lot of take and no give. But, as has been said, I guess they could be sock puppets and every question builds the knowledge base.

What is the reasoning behind having a contribution requirement before first posts to the blue but no contribution requirement for first questions to the green? It does seem odd to have different rules for the different sub-sites but I'm assuming there is a historical reason. Just curious.
posted by pixlboi at 6:22 AM on November 23, 2011


Let's imagine a system where you had to post 5 comments a year or pony up another $5 to stay a member. What would this do? People would either a) forget about it, lose their membership, and be pissed when they came back (likely denying us another question to answer) or b) post 5 inane comments a year to maintain their posting privileges. Neither seems like a really desirable outcome compared to the current model. Different people use the site in different ways.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not only is it not a problem, but it's actually a bit rude to frame the issue the way you have.
posted by mediareport at 6:24 AM on November 23, 2011 [25 favorites]


On the other hand, I question whether they're good for a sense of community. People do enjoy answering questions, so maybe this isn't a problem at all, but I've personally always thought AskMe works so well because of a real sense of community (and because of excellent moderation as needed), and that community comes from a give-and-take.

I've always thought that AskMe worked so well because it wasn't bogged down with participation requirements. Forcing people to both ask AND answer questions will make AskMe a crappier q-and-a site (because it will decrease the variety of questions by scaring away some people, or it will encourage people to give shitty answers just to get their question answered.)
posted by 23skidoo at 6:26 AM on November 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's less of a problem than many people who are "answering" things.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:27 AM on November 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


I hang out far more on the green than the blue (well, I read the blue thoroughly, but I comment far less often) or the grey, and I can honestly say that I never look at the name of the questioner unless I'm trying to determine their specific location, or gender, or age, or something that might help answer the question.
posted by xingcat at 6:29 AM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, and "sponges" is a shitty tag to describe people who ask questions but never give answers. They are contributing questions, which are a necessary component to a question and answer site. The point of AskMe is not "to interact with people on the internet so we can all get a better sense of community", it's "to ask questions, and provide answers to those questions".
posted by 23skidoo at 6:31 AM on November 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


Ask Metafilter is used in so many different ways. Some people only answer and never ask, some only ask, most do both, some only answer certain sorts of questions, etc., and that mix seems to work really well. If you are shy or uncertain, you don't have to force yourself to dive in and answer.

But, by far, most people answer a lot more questions than they ask, so since we have no shortage of answerers, I don't imagine there would be any benefit to forcing people to answer questions in order to use the site. For any who were convinced to view it more as a community as a result of such a requirement, I'm sure there would also be those who would feel exactly the opposite, and whose participation would reflect that.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:36 AM on November 23, 2011


I live in a town and I pretty much stick to the same three pubs. One of them I only go to on Wednesday nights because I like their pub quiz and nothing else. The rest of the time I stay home, because I'm an antisocial homebody and I like it. It's a tourist town and the presence of wandering, street-clogging non-locals sometimes leads me to fantasize about me and my bike as a katamari damacy ball. But hey, I'm relatively new here, so I don't have a whole lot of room to plan my vengeance. Plus, it's not nice.

I'm not terribly bothered by how everybody around here is representing the community though.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:37 AM on November 23, 2011


I don't like it when people post a question and then don't respond to answerers' follow-up questions, requests for clarification, etc. Totally drives me nuts.

But when people just ask questions and don't answer other people's? If it's okay with them, I suppose it's okay with me.
posted by box at 6:39 AM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


OK, all, thanks for your opinions. I'm clearly in the minority in this opinion. I don't think there should be hard-and-fast requirements (and if you read my [more inside], I didn't propose requirements. Merely a suggestion on the sign-up page. I'm not suggesting anything be enforced. I realize people answer questions differently and might not be able to answer many, but if you can ask dozens of questions, you probably have opinions on a few things and might be able to answer a few.

I understand the majority opinions differ from my own, but I would appreciate not (here or anywhere else) being quoted out of context. (e.g. "don't contribute" is an unfair quoting of "don't contribute in other ways.")

As for the "sponge" tag, I've removed that. When I entered it, it was "sponge?", which is not supported by the tagging system, and the lack of a question mark changes the meaning in an unpleasant way.

As for the comment that my comment/question is rude- really? I really don't think I called anyone a bad person. I merely suggested that one usage model might be less good for the community than others.

Anyhow, thanks for the alternative points-of-view!
posted by JMOZ at 6:40 AM on November 23, 2011


As long as the questions are good. There's probably some overlap with "does not google first" and "does not check archive". Maybe they're just waiting for a question that they're really qualified for. It's not like there's a shortage of YOU MENTION PANTS; I LIKE PANTS answers.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:40 AM on November 23, 2011


I'd rather have people post questions but no answers than post pointless, filler comments in order to meet some arbitrary quota.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:43 AM on November 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


In theory, people asking but not answering kind of bothers me, but in practice I don't care enough to keep tabs on anyone, much less everyone. Also, as others have pointed out, a question-and-answer site would be useless without a steady influx of questions to be answered.

It also occurs to me that the majority of my interaction with the site is drive-by or jokey one-line comments, and that may get on other people's nerves. I don't want them telling me how I'm allowed to use the site, so I don't see it as my place to tell a user who asks but never/rarely answers how they should use the site.
posted by owtytrof at 6:54 AM on November 23, 2011


Here's a Youtube video of the Fisher-Price Little People Ferris wheel.
posted by box at 6:56 AM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


JMOZ, it kind of bothers me, too. Not as much as it does you (and I agree that your framing could have been better), but as a frequent ask.me participant, there often seems to be a correlation with those who don't participate in the site more widely and those whose questions indicate a lack of knowledge of the site culture.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:06 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, yeah, I totally agree with that. And just based on my own biased reading, I think that folks who only seem to post and comment in their own questions are far more likely to post doubles and near-doubles.
posted by box at 7:10 AM on November 23, 2011


I was just thinking about this -- not from the angle of whether it was a problem -- just odd that some folks tend to use one specific area of the site exclusively.

That said, I just checked my own stats, and see that it was 6 years after I joined before I ever posted to ask or talk. As I recall, I dont think I even clicked on them before that. No reason, just never did.
posted by timsteil at 7:12 AM on November 23, 2011


Also, people have sock puppets.

This is what I think most of the time when I see a many-question no-answer account. If you have a sock puppet that is just for asking questions that aren't associated with your username and adding the occasional non-associated comment, we're fine with that and in fact happier than we would be if you were using two accounts at the same time all over the site.

But yeah I don't see it as much of a problem as long as the questions seem like real questions and not an endless stream of "just wondering..." sorts of things that are a lot of heat and very little light. But that's just my personal, not modly, bias. Same thing with what people have said above, asking and not following up, or even asking without adding enough details for the question to be answerable. We try to think, sometimes, about whether there's a way to nudge people more in that direction without making the question-asking process totally onerous.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:17 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

If you've got more answers than questions, be glad of that.
posted by drlith at 7:19 AM on November 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


Doesn't AskMe drive most of the eyeballs (and hence advertising revenue) to the site? So from that point of view, so long as the questions being asked are interesting it doesn't really matter what the ask/answer ratio is for a particular user.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you've got more answers than questions, be glad of that.

I've got all kinds of answers. The problem is, I don't know what questions most of them go with. I was just tidying up my office a bit, and I found an x=597 under some papers. That's probably really useful information to somebody out there, but I have no idea how to find that person.
posted by FishBike at 7:25 AM on November 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


x=597?

What a great name for my kitten!
posted by box at 7:28 AM on November 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Is there infodump data on this? Say average number of questions per day and answers per question over time?

That data is totally in the infodump, yeah, in raw form. If someone wanted to do a little datawankery it'd be easy enough to put together a chart of average questions and answers per unit time; a little more ambitious would be to put together a metric for write-only type accounts if someone really wanted to investigate any trends in that.

My gut feeling is that there hasn't been any real change in that recently; folks who ask but don't answer much or at all, whether as a one-off or serially, have always been part of the mix here. But it'd be neat to look at it quantitatively in any case.

What is the reasoning behind having a contribution requirement before first posts to the blue but no contribution requirement for first questions to the green? It does seem odd to have different rules for the different sub-sites but I'm assuming there is a historical reason. Just curious.

Two things:

1. Spam on the blue. The blue is for whatever reason a much, much more popular target for spammers and shills. The three comment requirement was put there as much as anything to try and undercut that by throwing a bit of friction into the process, and it also works a bit as an early-warning system since driveby spammers tend to have distinctively subpar commenting sensibilities. I keep an eye on all comments from users in their first week and most spammers are just night and freakin' day.

2. No chaff answers, please. We don't want to incentivize throwaway answers on the green, where a "I need to meet my answer quota" requirement would lead not just to dumb comments (not great on the blue but no real harm) but dumb answers (which we explicitly don't want to encourage on the green, where utility matters).

On this, actually, we recently decided to try making that "you need three comments on the blue to post to the blue" requirement more flexible, as "you need three comments anywhere on the site to post to the blue", since we have a lot of long-time members who are basically askme only but eventually get interested in making a post to the blue and are stymied by a requirement that is, in that context, pretty counter-intuitive.

The result is that we've had a few first posts now from folks with established histories on the green but not so much on the blue. And it's been interesting to me to try and figure if I'm seeing actual bits of culture clash in some of the bumpier first posts from askme people or if it's just confirmation bias since I went into this whole thing curious about how it would play out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:28 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Keep the site as it is. We can use the extra $5 without corresponding server requirements.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2011


Is this a problem or not?

Rhetorical question for the morning: How or why could it be a problem and what signs of it being a problem are evident on the site?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:58 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


This isn't a problem.

Now, people who only use Ask and never Mefi proper? Worse than scabies.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:03 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


And it's been interesting to me to try and figure if I'm seeing actual bits of culture clash in some of the bumpier first posts from askme people or if it's just confirmation bias since I went into this whole thing curious about how it would play out.

Ooh, would it be unkind to request an example or two? (in MeMail if not in public?)
posted by nobody at 8:24 AM on November 23, 2011


Eh, I'd rather not. There's nothing really crazy standout about any of it, first posts have always been a mix of well done and not so well done. I'm not even convinced that there's anything going on there, don't really want to put anyone in a weird spot even sort of indirectly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:31 AM on November 23, 2011


I'm sure good questions are valuable even beyond their ability to interest and engage the site's userbase. I see AskMe questions in Google results all the time. They're working away to bring traffic to the site, to help drive ad revenue, and maybe even to hook new members into the community. As with so much on Metafilter, it's the quality of the contributions and the consistent, quality moderation that makes it stand apart.

At a slight tangent, I get the feeling sometimes the green is seen as another world from the blue, and sometimes maybe slightly less interesting or important (not saying that's what this question implies). But I see both as equally vibrant, creative parts of MeFi and I don't think you need to be equally active in both to be a valuable member of the community.
posted by londonmark at 8:52 AM on November 23, 2011


70%+ of site traffic is to AskMe, from this 2010 infographic. Majority of traffic from logged-in members is to MetaFilter proper however. 75%+ of non-member traffic is to AskMe, presumably driven by the high ranking in Google (I guess referrer logs would tell confirm this.)
posted by SyntacticSugar at 8:59 AM on November 23, 2011


So, yeah, what londonmark said; for members Metafilter is more important, for non-members AskMe.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 9:00 AM on November 23, 2011


Well, I think it's more that for a lot of members, especially long-time members, Mefi proper is the organizing principle of the whole site, which AskMe grew out of; how important one or the other is to any given person varies a lot, and there are significant chunks of the userbase who are primarily interested in spending time on one or the other as well as lots of folks who spend a lot of time on both.

This is what logged-in subsite visits looks like, for a given month— you've got significant chunks of logged-in folks who visited only the green or the blue, a larger segment who visited both, and larger segment still (nearly half of all users who showed up that month) who visited both the blue and the green as well as they grey.

This is just measuring minimal activity, of course; an analysis that looks more at some minimal threshold of activity to separate out lurker-type activity from active interaction might look a bit different proportionally. But the basic idea is there: interest in one subsite or the other is something that can be looked at in terms of clusters or spectra of activity more than any sort of monolithic "this is what mefites take interest in" sort of reduction.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:11 AM on November 23, 2011


The only ones that really bother me are the ones that are vague with lots of incomplete sentences. Like they think they're asking a machine rather than people. But it amuses me to imagine the asker is posting while clinging to the undercarriage of a helicopter like James Bond.

NEED PHILLIPS HEAD SCRWDRIVER

Need Phillips head screw driver. Needs to be tough enough to handle drops from high places. Can't get to a Home Depot right now.

posted by katillathehun at 9:12 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it requires a lot of trust in the community on the part of people asking to ask many of the questions I've seen here over the years, and that people who ask a long series of questions are virtually laying out their lives in front of the rest of us, and make themselves extremely vulnerable.

That this level of trust persists the way it has, and the fact that it's betrayed as infrequently as it is, are for me the most important confirmation that Metafilter remains vital, healthy, and a good place to be.

Asking good questions and a lot of them seems like the best contribution a member can make to me.
posted by jamjam at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suppose if you run a hot dog stand, and you typically serve a lot of regulars, you should still feel good about serving people who come by once and never come back again; even if they don't become part of the community, they help keep the lights on and perhaps they don't come back because they live elsewhere, or don't really like hot dogs, but they might tell others who then come for a visit (and perhaps become members of the community.)

After all, this isn't a little in-group, it's a business. It doesn't exist for the community, and the community doesn't exist for it; it's just a roller rink where some folks have decided they enjoy gathering.
posted by davejay at 9:34 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would much rather folks asked great questions than gave a ton of crappy answers.
posted by smirkette at 9:35 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would humbly propose adding something to the signup about expecting members to contribute more than just questions to the community and seeing if this is sufficient to resolve things.

Here's what I said (with a different username) when the same topic and proposal were brought up in MetaTalk in the past:

You'd get a lot of:

computer problem --> "Try restarting."

relationship issues --> "Communicate."

dating advice --> "Be yourself."

personal problems --> "Therapy."

music recommendations --> "Try using Pandora."

recipe question --> "Try Tastespotting."

food question --> "Should be OK to eat unless it looks/smells/tastes weird."

trying to find something online --> "Try Googling it."

Not that these are necessarily bad. I've given answers like these myself sometimes. But I don't think we particularly need more of them.

Another thought. The number of answers I've given in AskMe is just over 100 times my number of questions. I'm happy with the fact that I mainly answer and rarely ask. But I do it because I like to. I have no desire to create a sense of obligation for anyone who doesn't already want to do this, even if they frequently post questions.

Just about every day on the site, we see at least one question from someone dealing with very, very heavy issues in their life. Sometimes they're openly desperate. We hear from people struggling with trauma, disease, death, abuse, unemployment, poverty, depression. Often it's an ongoing issue or cluster of issues that leads to numerous AskMe questions.

Of course, many of these people are also regular commenters, but I'm sure some of them aren't. I don't really see what difference it makes. If they have these issues, good for them for seeking help. If they don't feel they're particular adept at the niche skill of answering strangers' question in plain text, or even if they're frankly uninterested in doing so, that really doesn't bother me at all.

The site already costs $5, and the occasional question-asker who hasn't commented and seems out of step with the community will be discouraged either through the comments or deletions or a ban if necessary. I wouldn't want people to feel they had to cross any additional threshold before posting a question. We should simply be glad they turn to us for caring advice.
posted by John Cohen at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


There are a lot more people who would make the green a better place if they posted fewer answers than ones who would if they posted fewer questions.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:45 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, yeah, what londonmark said; for members Metafilter is more important, for non-members AskMe.

No.

it's a big site, and people are going to use it and relate to it in different ways. I really am turned off by snobbery about the Blue being important or more valid than the other areas.

I have AskMe in my RSS feed and check the updates multiple times per day. I check the Mefi home page once every one or two days and open a small handful of posts on those occasions. I have zero interest in most FPPs. I've had ideas for FPPs and even started a few, but I am never going to make one because of the automatic thread-shitting as sport in that area.

I feel much more comfortable in AskMe with the very clearly defined rules for commenting, but I have never asked a question there. Not interested - I am very private. I prefer to read and give advice on the very few things I know anything about.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


for members Metafilter is more important, for non-members AskMe.

Then I must be a non-member, whatever that means.
posted by John Cohen at 9:49 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


katillathehun: "The only ones that really bother amuse me are the ones that are vague with lots of incomplete sentences. Like they think they're asking a machine rather than people. But it amuses me to imagine the asker is posting while clinging to the undercarriage of a helicopter like James Bond. "

FTFM
posted by Grither at 9:50 AM on November 23, 2011


I read and post mostly in AskMe because I like the focused, friendly nature of most of the threads. I like that AskMe is organized around helping people, and isn't really about arguing with each other. I find MeFi threads sort of off-putting- there's so much arguing and accusations of bad faith and people sharing their half-baked ideas without reading the links or knowing anything about the topic of the thread. For me, that makes it a not fun place to be most of the time. I'm glad that most people here don't seem to be in favor of making AskMe people participate more on the blue.
posted by MadamM at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


Are drive-by questioners good, bad, or indifferent? I've noticed a recent increase

I'm far more annoyed by the usage of "hope me" and "special snowflake", which it's worth noting, I haven't been noticing as much lately.
posted by philip-random at 10:25 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


* special. Sorry philip-random, but you must have known this would happen
posted by Cranberry at 10:34 AM on November 23, 2011


Without these people I would have to resort to accosting random pedestrians with 'helpful' suggestions.

So really, they're doing a public service and should be applauded!
posted by HFSH at 11:01 AM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


this is the overthought beanplate of threads.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Drive-bys are notoriously inefficient.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2011


Hey hive do YOU THINK I should dump my boyfriend?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


real questions and not an endless stream of "just wondering..." sorts of things that are a lot of heat and very little light.

Could you elaborate on this a bit? I don't quite follow what the problem is with questions asked for curiosity. (In particular, I'm getting nothing at all from the heat/light metaphor.)

But that's just my personal, not modly, bias.

Understood.
posted by stebulus at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2011


A tidbit from last July.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:31 AM on November 23, 2011


I find MeFi threads sort of off-putting- there's so much arguing and accusations of bad faith and people sharing their half-baked ideas without reading the links or knowing anything about the topic of the thread.

That is off-putting, but at least it's largely (mutually) masturbatory. It doesn't often have any real-world effect whatsoever. If MeFites get an issue terribly wrong, oh well.

I say this because when I got to "without reading the links" I instantly thought of all the AskMeFites who are just so gosh darned enthusiastic about wanting to help, they can't more than glance at your problem's description on the very page, nevermind linked material, before weighing in. Which, silver lining, is usually obvious and should be to the op. But it's so much more grar-inducing to see because of that context.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:42 AM on November 23, 2011


I would much rather folks asked great questions than gave a ton of crappy answers.

Ditto. Given some of the lack of life experience demonstrated on some of the askmes, I'm pretty sure we do not need every, most, or even many mefites to chime in on a particular question.

We just a need just a handful of wise or knowledgable respondents.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:48 AM on November 23, 2011


And perhaps relevant: I think there's a piece on This American Life about how advice givers usually feel much better after giving advice, but the asker usually feels WORSE.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:50 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


What a great name for my kitten!

I used to have a fish named Secret Agent X9.

So long as the questions are adding to our collective database of knowledge, they're helpful to people with substantially the same questions down the line, so asking, especially things that can be answered and resolved, is a pretty substantial contribution in and of itself.

It does seem to me though that AskMe is the shallower & wider end of the pool here overall, in regards to total contribution across the site. That's okay, I suppose -- the more heavily-invested members tend to spend time on all the subsites, and least from what I see by casual observation. It also seems like people who only frequent Ask are somewhat less likely to flesh out their profiles to any degree. I don't think this means anything good or bad in particular, though. Just observation. If someone's going to partake in only one of the subsites, it appears most likely to be Ask. (of course, refutations are encouraged if that's really not true -- this is just general observation, likely tinged by some sort of bias)
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:54 AM on November 23, 2011


Mefi = Google, AskMe = Yahoo
Mefi = Myspace, AskMe = Coca Cola's webpage circa 1995
Mefi = Spotify, AskMe = goatse.cx
Mefi = Geocities, AskMe = cruel.com
Mefi = Fark, AskMe = Mefi
Mefi = item, AskMe = the helicopter that's slowly circling item's house oh gods its getting lower and lower and is that a ladder they just dropped? oh crap it's a ladder.
posted by item at 12:02 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


ok, phew, the helicopter left.
posted by item at 12:04 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Feature not a bug. The more money they contribute without cluttering up the place with their silly thoughts and opinions the better.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 12:07 PM on November 23, 2011


Could you elaborate on this a bit?

Sure. I think there are a lot of people who view the "one question per week" as more of an allotment as opposed to an upper limit. So they ask a lot of questions that are sort of "Well it's time for my question, so I guess I'll ask..." or you get people who have clearly ongoing unsettling things in their lives and so they'll ask "Okay here's what has happened since my last question last week, now what?" questions or the "Name my _______" questions. All of those are technically okay, but I find they're sort of questions that any collection of people could answer and don't seem to be specific to this site or this group of people so I find them less interesting. And the naming questions get a LOT of answers and the relationship disasters do too, so there's the "heat but no light" because at the end of it I don't really think anyone has learned anything.

And this is me being somewhat snooty probably, but I think this community is special and has really done some great things for people [and not in just the high profile questions but in hundreds of questions every month, someone gets to improve their lives] and I like to see it used by people who appreciate and care about and for it and some sorts of questions seem more like that, to me, than others.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:16 PM on November 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


I defined a "High question/Low answer" (HQLA) user as someone with more questions than answers on the green.

The best I can figure from the infodump, there's about 885 HQLA users. That's just about 3.5% of all users who have had any activity in Ask.

Those HQLA users have asked something like 8141 questions, which is about 4% of all questions.

So it doesn't seem like over the course of AskMe that HQLA users have asked a disproportionate (or even a significant number) of questions. Also, there's really no way of ruling out sockpuppets.

This is just looking at activity on the green. I'll try looking tonight at users who use Ask without contributing to other subsites.

I'll also try looking to see if this kind of behaviour has changed over time, but I'm not sure how to quantify that yet. Maybe just looking at registration date is good enough.

Disclaimer: using this as an exercise to learn DB skillz. All numbers may be wrong
posted by auto-correct at 12:40 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who are those two dozen people who only visit the Grey?

Also, I love the naming questions, I don't think I've ever asked them but I use them as resources to grab character names for stories. I guess it'd be bad if they really took over, and I can see them being a bit chatfiltery, but I like them. I like playlist ones too though.
posted by NoraReed at 12:40 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Should've previewed: I know it'd be impossible to calculate, but I bet a lot of the HQLA users are sockpuppets. I know I have a sock that's prolly in that 3.5%.
posted by NoraReed at 12:42 PM on November 23, 2011


Who are those two dozen people who only visit the Grey?

One-off jokey sockpuppets, I assume.

I love one-off jokey sockpuppets.
posted by griphus at 12:43 PM on November 23, 2011


I think questions motivated by curiosity have been one of the great strengths of AskMe in the past, and that the recent push against them has reduced the vibrancy of AskMe, and made it resemble a combination of Ann Landers and Hints from Heloise more than is good for it or us.
posted by jamjam at 1:14 PM on November 23, 2011


Ask MeFi is absolutely without peer on the internet. It is THE place to ask general questions and get answers that might actually be correct.

It didn't become this way by having a core group of MeFites asking each other questions; it did it because there are a LOT of people who are happy to pay $5 to avoid the bullshit one finds on Yahoo Answers.

Don't overestimate the interest in the general population to join a community -- a lot of people just want to get an answer and move on. I'd agree with those above: Every one of these people have contributed as much (or more) than those of us who have stuck around.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:16 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think questions motivated by curiosity have been one of the great strengths of AskMe in the past, and that the recent push against them

What recent push are you talking about?
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:24 PM on November 23, 2011


I would put the watershed moment-- if it exists at all-- at about 2 years ago, cortex, but I have not done the detailed comparisons which would support or undermine such a claim.

Are you saying you don't think there has been a move against questions motivated by curiosity, rather than a specific problem to be solved?
posted by jamjam at 1:49 PM on November 23, 2011


I think there was a push, but it happened over the course of 2004 and 2005, as the subsite made the transition from experimental infancy to a more established part of the site with solidified guidelines and more well-settled community expectations. The explicit "don't do this here" line on chatfilter is five or six years old at this point, and I don't think we've been particularly pushing that line any harder recently, no.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:53 PM on November 23, 2011


Yeah this is my feeling as well. The chatfilter line hasn't really moved much at all. If anything we thought we could be a little more restrictive about mixtape and "Name my ______" questions than we've been able to be and we've loosened up over time about these. I'm not saying that you're wrong, just that there definitely has been no concerted effort on our part to curtail chatty questions after the initial outlining of the rules back in 2005-ish.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:58 PM on November 23, 2011


Thank you for those responses.

I'll keep my powder dry until and unless I have more specific information.
posted by jamjam at 2:05 PM on November 23, 2011


People who use the site differently from you are not worse than you. They've paid their five dollars, they can use it how they like.
posted by joannemullen at 2:17 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, the culture and etiquette of asking [or answering] questions is easier to navigate than a Metafilter post.
I hope y'all don't mind too much.
posted by calgirl at 2:36 PM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I always picture folks who have posted 27 questions to AskMe without ever visiting other parts of the site as having at least like 7 cats. Why? Who can say. But they have lots of cats.
posted by Justinian at 2:55 PM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


GenjiandProust: "People would either a) forget about it, lose their membership, and be pissed when they came back (likely denying us another question to answer) or b) post 5 inane comments a year to maintain their posting privileges"

For a nominal fee, I, an experienced poster of inane comments, would gladly (and punctually) compose inane comments on your behalf.
posted by idiopath at 3:01 PM on November 23, 2011


People who use the site differently from you are not worse than you.

Well, some of them probably are. Though I guess somebody's got to be the worst person on the site.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:11 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The best I can figure from the infodump, there's about 885 HQLA users.

Hooray! A new datawank!

I'll also try looking to see if this kind of behaviour has changed over time, but I'm not sure how to quantify that yet. Maybe just looking at registration date is good enough.

For AskMe you can derive the total number of comments by each user from commentdata_askme.txt1, then run through postdata_askme.txt posters by date checking against their total comments. One or two years of data at one week intervals gives a pretty good view IMHO.

That technique will miss people who only were officially HQLA when they made their post, but this is arguably desirable as there will always be a small startup period when people may have asked a question but before they started answering them.

Enjoy!


1 Don't forget to account for 0 comment users, who will not appear in commentdata_askme.txt
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:15 PM on November 23, 2011


People whose only contributions to the site are $5 and a fresh plea for help every 7 days and 1 minute don't get any answers from me. Others can do what they want, of course, but that's my AskMe philosophy.
posted by Daddy-O at 3:26 PM on November 23, 2011


People whose only contributions to the site are $5 and a fresh plea for help every 7 days and 1 minute don't get any answers from me. Others can do what they want, of course, but that's my AskMe philosophy.

That philosophy seems limiting, as AskMe is ranked fairly high in Google and many (if not most) people who benefit from answers don't make any contribution to the site at all. If you want to limit your answers by site contribution, you shouldn't be answering anything.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:37 PM on November 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


community comes from a give-and-take

I don't think so.

I think community comes from a give-and-give.

I think a community built on an expectation of reciprocity will be a far less stable and healthy place than one whose underlying motivation and expectation is generosity.

I think generosity, as a fundamental motivation, is far more resilient to knocks and challenges and setbacks than is an expectation of reciprocity; it's much easier for the latter to degrade into fuck-you-bastards-I-got-mine (see also: Atlas Shrugged).
posted by flabdablet at 3:54 PM on November 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


As for the comment that my comment/question is rude- really? I really don't think I called anyone a bad person. I merely suggested that one usage model might be less good for the community than others.

I'll try to clarify why I said you were "a bit" rude, JMOZ, but I don't mean to start an argument and will happily give you the last word: 1) your assumption that Ask-only accounts were all new people seemed thoughtless and incorrect, 2) the phrase "I question whether they're good for a sense of community" did (and does) seem close to claiming those accounts are behaving badly, and 3) the "sponge" tag struck me as needlessly insulting (a "?" at the end wouldn't have helped with that, btw).

*shrug*

Anyway, I'm ok with folks asking the question; it comes up regularly. I do get a teeny bit sad when some view AskMe in what I see as a kind of pinched way, but hey, we're all different. I just thought how you raised the issue was less than ideal. I'm glad you now have a better sense of how most of MeFi thinks of AskMe, though. That's a good outcome.
posted by mediareport at 3:56 PM on November 23, 2011


I say no one is allowed to ask questions anymore. Lousy leeches!

Answers are fine, but no questions.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:04 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been itching to ask a question but just can't think of one. Would it be ok to ask, er well, what to ask? I mean, that's just stupid, but it is 'meta'.
posted by sammyo at 5:47 PM on November 23, 2011


That's okay, the answer would just be "See a therapist" anyway.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:49 PM on November 23, 2011


I go through phases of asking questions more frequently. When I do I try to be extra diligent about answering questions.
posted by shothotbot at 7:06 PM on November 23, 2011


you get people who have clearly ongoing unsettling things in their lives and so they'll ask "Okay here's what has happened since my last question last week, now what?"

This is the one thing that bothers me so much. I don't think people should be using AskMe as their personal therapy, not good for us or them.
posted by sweetkid at 7:29 PM on November 23, 2011


STOP LISTENING TO SINGLE TRACKS I RECORDED IT AS AN ALBUM YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:33 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suspect the stats are skewed by a significant number of Askers who only ever "Answer" in their own questions.
posted by spitbull at 7:50 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mefi = Google, AskMe = Yahoo

So not true. Have you actually visited Yahoo! Answers? It is so very, very much worse than you are implying here, from a quality-of-audience perspective.
posted by davejay at 8:14 PM on November 23, 2011


I guess this makes me a drive-by answer?

Personally, I'm ok with people using the site in very different ways, even if some of then irk me. I do wish that there was a way to enforce followups in some of the most tantalizing situations, but that's obviously impractical.
posted by Forktine at 8:37 PM on November 23, 2011


These sort of threads raise interesting questions about the very nature of MeFi and AskMe.

At the end of the day, anybody who asks a question or posts an answer in AskMe or participates in Mefi proper is an unpaid freelance writer for the site (in fact, most of us paid for the privilege of contributing).

The only reason this site still exists is because it makes enough money to support matt and his staff. It would be surprising if there isn't some level of monitoring of search engine traffic and the way the site is working in order to protect that income stream (this is not a secret by any means, various site changes have been announced as things that would improve google rankings/indexing)

The $5 cover charge is mainly meant to keep out the riffraff, not pay for salaries and giant donuts.

Want to help matt and co? Figure out what some high ranking keywords are and ask (legit) questions about them. They'll get answers and bring in that magic google juice.
posted by davey_darling at 8:47 PM on November 23, 2011


From now on, my answer to all baby-name questions will be 'Mesothelioma.'
posted by box at 8:54 PM on November 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


So we need to ask questions about bacon sex?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:55 PM on November 23, 2011


Oooh somebody 'Shop Pepper-spraying Cop spraying a "drive-by Asker."
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:00 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


From now on, my answer to all baby-name questions will be 'Mesothelioma.'

You joke, but is there a good asbestos related question in the AskMe archives? Should there be? Should grizzled AskMe vets be gathering in smoky backrooms to hammer out the perfect AskMe question?

Or maybe the whole thing falls apart if it's not completely organic..
posted by davey_darling at 9:01 PM on November 23, 2011


Please do not contrive to ask questions for the sake of keyword baiting. Ask questions that you need to ask because askme seems like the right place to ask them, and we're all happy.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:03 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


From now on my answer to questions about lung cancer will be "Anything but Jayden."
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:16 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I probably don't qualify for you as a drive-by Asker, but I definitely feel guilty sometimes because I feel like I'm getting way way more out of the site than I'm putting in. Someone said once that before they answer a question, they check to make sure that the asker has 10 times more answers than questions. I can't remember if it was a joke or not, but I was really bothered by that. I'm from a place that literally no one ever asks about. I've never had a real job, I've never been in love, I've never lived on my own, I've never had kids, I have zero legal expertise, and I only rarely eat things that might be risky. So I comment in maybe one out of every 300 threads that I read, and you know, I'm starting to realize it's actually not such a bad thing. Would it really be better if I started spouting unfounded medical advice solely to legitimize the questions I need ask?

And there are questions I need to ask Metafilter, because they're about things too embarrassing or obscure to ask my friends and family. I love that there's such a vast range of backgrounds on this site so that the answers are coming from people separated from me by two continents or four decades or any number of different experiences. I love the perspectives here, perspectives you get from reading questions as well as answers. If there were a limited number of questions allowed daily for everyone, yeah, I probably wouldn't ask as many because I'd be worried about being selfish. But good news, it's the Internet! where there is still plenty of space! So I'm not taking anything away from the rest of the community, and my questions may even be helpful to others poking around the site or on search engines. Plus, you guys get to show off how knowledgable you are and measurably improve my life! Let's be real, games where everyone wins normally suck, but AskMe is definitely an exception.
posted by estlin at 10:19 PM on November 23, 2011 [18 favorites]


I feel like I'm getting way way more out of the site than I'm putting in.

We all feel like that.
posted by box at 10:22 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's just people. No need to formulate your contribution factor or whatever.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:27 PM on November 23, 2011


I feel like I'm getting way way more out of the site than I'm putting in.

We all feel like that.


Oh great, now synergy guilt is a thing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:40 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Synergy guilt is a opt-in option on your preferences page; you can totally ignore it and do an isolated guilt thing, but it's handy for when you do want some community guilt vibe, especially over the holidays.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:54 PM on November 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh feel free to post bad medical advice, estlin. Everyone else does!

(aside: my only gripe)
posted by spitbull at 3:25 AM on November 24, 2011


First, thanks to everyone for your thoughtful replies. Second, I apologize to whoever was offended, disappointed, miffed, etc. by the artless wording of my initial post. It did not read the way I intended it. (The "sponge?" tag, for instance, was an ill-conceived jokey comment.)

Thanks to those who hit the nail on its head; there is a correlation between those who ask questions without answering any (or, from the looks of it, reading any) and poorly-conceived questions that sound more like ask yahoo than AskMe. In my mind, these people don't understand what AskMe is, though the comments here clearly indicate that my conception differs from many others'.

This correlation is, of course, by no means universal, and I think I may have fallen victim to a confirmation bias; I generally only look at a questioner's posting history if I need more info to answer the question. A lot of the "bad" questions* are written by people who only contribute by asking. I really don't know if the converse is true.

I suppose I just wish everyone would read some questions before asking one (if nothing ele, this increases the odds of writing a question that receives helpful responses), and I assumed someone who read questions might end up having a few answers.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments, clarifications, and corrections.

* Anyone who tells you there is no such thing as a bad question has never taught. As in the classroom, the best response is probably to answer as earnestly as possible, which is what AskMe seems to do en masse.
posted by JMOZ at 4:47 AM on November 24, 2011


* Anyone who tells you there is no such thing as a bad question has never taught. As in the classroom, the best response is probably to answer as earnestly as possible, which is what AskMe seems to do en masse.

In the library world we say there is no such thing as a bad question, just bad question askers.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:59 AM on November 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


i enjoy & get more out of the green than the blue. the blue has many interesting things, but i find i often avoid the comments because people treat each other so shabbily there so often. and too, i don't have the time in my day-to-day to really engage with the good conversations (i'm continually amazed by how so many folks here have the time to do so). i actually usually visit the blue when i'm not logged in, specifically to give myself a moment to think (having to log in) before engaging with any comment threads there - both for wanting to really offer something of value & to avoid tempting my often snarky & combative self.

and the green has so many interesting things! i have learned so much there, much more than what i've learned in the blue. and i like how people respond & engage with each other there: helping each other, being sympathetic, really listening, offering support - it reminds me to be the better person i know i can be.

so, i'm completely in favor of folks using their memberships here to ask questions and nothing else. and want to offer mad props to all to truly excellent answers & the people who offered them.

also: i like curiosity questions!

/2cents
posted by jammy at 6:23 AM on November 24, 2011


People whose only contributions to the site are $5 and a fresh plea for help every 7 days and 1 minute don't get any answers from me. Others can do what they want, of course, but that's my AskMe philosophy. posted by Daddy-O

That philosophy seems limiting, as AskMe is ranked fairly high in Google and many (if not most) people who benefit from answers don't make any contribution to the site at all. If you want to limit your answers by site contribution, you shouldn't be answering anything. posted by Tell Me No Lies

Sometimes my written thoughts are a bit terse, and sound more stern than my in-person countenance would be. To flesh out my opinion a bit more fully, let me say that I believe that the privilege of asking for other MeFites for help with YOUR questions or problems comes with the implicit responsibility of helping other MeFites with THEIR questions or problems.

If everyone only asked questions and contributed no answers, AskMe would be useless. If everyone only posted answers and opinions, the site would be nothing more than the comments section of The Huffington Post. It's the contributions on both sides of the equation that make AskMe special and useful, and it's MeFites who contribute on both sides of the equation who get the encouragement of my answers to their questions.

To address the point you made, there's a difference between googling the internet for information and asking people to stop what they're doing and help you with a problem.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:48 AM on November 24, 2011


To address the point you made, there's a difference between googling the internet for information and asking people to stop what they're doing and help you with a problem.

There's also a difference between asking people to stop what they're doing to help you and asking a question on a question-and-answer site where sitting around answering people's questions is what people are already, in fact, electing to do. Askme isn't a personal imposition on the answerers; if it was, it would have dried up years ago. People, generally speaking, like answering each other's questions.

It's totally fine for you to have whatever personal metric for answering that you want, just as the same is fine for everybody else. I personally feel like the priority should be on "do I have a good answer to this question" rather than "does this person deserve my answer", since I don't feel like one-on-one passive shunning of people who don't answer enough is going to have any good systemic effect on the site and seems like it only adds to the answer-management workload of the answerer, but there's room for a lot of different philosophies here and the work is a product of that aggregate of approaches.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:02 AM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


If everyone only asked questions and contributed no answers, ... . If everyone only posted answers and opinions, ... it's MeFites who contribute on both sides of the equation who get the encouragement of my answers to their questions.

This seems like a stance against specialization of all kinds.
posted by stebulus at 9:31 AM on November 24, 2011


>> implicit responsibility of helping other MeFites with THEIR questions or problems.

I answer if I can help.
I stay quiet if I can't.
I review a user's history first (sometimes) so I have a better idea of what they may want.
I don't have a blanket rule about what, to whom or when I answer.

Nobody has an obligation to the site to answer questions if they have had their question answered in the past or expect to have one answered in the future. That is just silly.
posted by lampshade at 11:24 AM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd suggest that those 75% of visitors who are visiting ask.mefi, are also a significant chunk of the potential new users.

I use the site differently to how I did before I had an account, and therefore I still keep that in mind.
It came up again, and again, in google queries, until it started being the place I came to as part of initial search to get a feel for a topic.

I'm happy answering questions up to a year old, if there is some piece of information missing from the existing thread, because I know from how I formerly used the site, and that most of the people getting benefit from it, are not even users on the site, let alone askers.

Finally, I would show up on the 'blue' stats monthly, but only because every so often I linked there from 'Popular'.
posted by Elysum at 1:48 PM on November 24, 2011


Oh feel free to post bad medical advice, estlin. Everyone else does!

Tic Tacs are an effective substitute for Warfarin!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:23 PM on November 24, 2011


Am I asking a question... now?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:30 AM on November 25, 2011


My comments and answers are often based on how far the bus is from my stop, or how long my computer is going to be processing something. This makes me a bad person, but not the worst.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:47 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


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