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What percentage of FPP links get clicked?
December 22, 2011 4:01 PM   Subscribe

What percentage of FPP links get clicked?
posted by Trurl to MetaFilter-Related at 4:01 PM (57 comments total)

I'm pretty sure we have no way of measuring that. We don't force outbound links through an intermediary link (because we are not horrible people), so the only record of a click on an external link is in the logs of the respective external web server.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:03 PM on December 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


That makes sense.

Shame though. I assume it's a number that would be of more than casual interest from a mod perspective.
posted by Trurl at 4:14 PM on December 22, 2011


What percentage of FPPs in the past year received no comments?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:15 PM on December 22, 2011


Less than received no clicks, knowing you lot.
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on December 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why would it be of more than casual interest to the mods?
posted by ericost at 4:30 PM on December 22, 2011


Shame though. I assume it's a number that would be of more than casual interest from a mod perspective.

Not really? Seems like you only need this information if you're in the click-bait business or the gotcha business. We already know the number is "less than all of them" and beyond that it seems like a statistic that would be more likely to be used by some people against other people and that means my interest is at the casual interest or less level.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:32 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can conjecture if you like. Memail me.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:34 PM on December 22, 2011


(No evidence or knowledge.)
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:34 PM on December 22, 2011


It depends on the post, I imagine. If the post has one link, that will garner a lot of clicks, and if there are multiple links, some of them will get much fewer. I imagine that in posts with dozens of links some will get only a few clicks. I worry about that when I make posts. If I think a supporting link will be the focus of a post by someone else in the future, I'll cut it out of my post.

Likewise posts where every link is on the front page and not below the cut, individual links will probably garner more clicks. Links in the 'more inside' section will probably be clicked on less.

It's pretty clear that the first link is generally the one most clicked on and my feeling is that the last link is the second most clicked link. The ones in between often seem to be jumped over.
posted by Kattullus at 4:36 PM on December 22, 2011


Seems like you only need this information if you're in the click-bait business or the gotcha business.

Or if you're in the business of providing people with links worth clicking on?

The site is in the position of being a food kitchen that has no idea of how many meals it is serving.
posted by Trurl at 4:38 PM on December 22, 2011


That nobody actually bothers with audio links was news to me...
posted by Artw at 4:39 PM on December 22, 2011


Or if you're in the business of providing people with links worth clicking on?

We are not in the business of deleting posts or pressuring posting habits on the basis of whether or not we think the links are getting clicked enough, so as a metric it's a bit off in the weeds. We like people to try and make posts they, and the rest of the community, enjoy.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:41 PM on December 22, 2011


The site is in the position of being a food kitchen that has no idea of how many meals it is serving

Cortex, how are those fries coming?! I've been waiting for at least 30, 40 seconds.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:41 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, when is this place going to start serving alcohol? I'm tired of having to bring my own or steal some from someone else.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:43 PM on December 22, 2011


Or if you're in the business of providing people with links worth clicking on?

As I said, we're not in the click-bait business. Generally speaking our "product" isn't the posts on the site, so much anyhow. People come here and interact for the community. The links are sometimes unique and sometimes not, but as individual "did you click this?" discrete units of meaning they're not the most salient point of the site. The "post" as a discrete unit is more useful to us and we can tell which posts people are checking out and interacting with and commenting in. People come here from Google mainly for AskMe stuff.

We are not in a situation where doing metrics on our outbound links solves any site problem for us, your odd metaphor nonwithstanding. If a food kitchen can stay in business without having to quantify anything other than "people who walked through the door and ate/worked" that seems like a totally decent thing. You have to talk about how many meals you're serving to justify stuff to FUNDERS, not to people who are hungry and not to people who want to feed them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:45 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The site is in the position of being a food kitchen that has no idea of how many meals it is serving.
and the good part of that is we don't have people bringing spam to the table to feed us.
posted by episodic at 4:45 PM on December 22, 2011


As I said, we're not in the click-bait business

To clarify, I meant "business" in the sense of "raison d'etre" - not in the sense of "paying the hosting bills". The mod interest I assumed wasn't financial in nature.

The About page sez:

After becoming a member, check out some of the links and think about leaving a comment or two.

So presumably the mods would like the percentage of clickthroughs to be more rather than less, all else being equal. Even if only in the sense of a host hoping their guests try the clam dip.
posted by Trurl at 5:02 PM on December 22, 2011


the mods would like the percentage of clickthroughs to be more rather than less

We'd like people to read the links, sure. They definitely should consider reading some of the links before commenting. That said, some people don't and it's fine and we all muddle on together. I want people to like the posts here, at a personal level. I literally do not care at all about the percentage of clickthroughs of individual links. I'm not sure how much more clear I can make this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:08 PM on December 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


some people don't and it's fine and we all muddle on together

This reads as if responding to a challenge or criticism that I don't believe has been expressed - my having had none.
posted by Trurl at 5:22 PM on December 22, 2011


I gotta think there is a way to track this without intermediary links and forwards.

How bout fire off an XMLHTTPrequest in the OnClick of ourbound links?
posted by Ad hominem at 5:26 PM on December 22, 2011


This reads as if responding to a challenge or criticism that I don't believe has been expressed

Well we keep saying that no we don't track this and no this isn't a metric that concerns us and that seems to be something you're having a hard time with. You talk about what our "business" is and you presume what we might care about and our heads are just in different places then where you think they are or might be. No big deal, just explaining how it looks from our/my side.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:41 PM on December 22, 2011


that seems to be something you're having a hard time with

Actually, no, I haven't the least difficulty with comprehending or accepting your position.

Though I am failing to see what in my comments can be reasonably construed as giving the offense you seem to have taken from them.
posted by Trurl at 5:49 PM on December 22, 2011


I am not taking offense, you are misreading me.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:49 PM on December 22, 2011


You two should have a sitcom.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 PM on December 22, 2011


Yeah, I'm not reading offense from jessamyn or taking it myself but I share her fundamental "and?" reaction to your questions so I think this may just be a mutual misread thing here. I guess it feels a little like you're framing what I gather here is just idle brainstorming as some sort of "but you are or should be caring about this metric" thing even though that's not what you intended? I dunno.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:59 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


it feels a little like you're framing what I gather here is just idle brainstorming as some sort of "but you are or should be caring about this metric" thing

I give you my word: I am 100% OK with the mods caring 0% about the metric. Really.

Everything is fine. I love MetaFilter.
posted by Trurl at 6:22 PM on December 22, 2011


They worry about the upstream, not the downstream. Without adding google-like tracking gobbledy-goop, they can only track the links that send people here, not in the links that send people away from here.
posted by crunchland at 7:46 PM on December 22, 2011


Trurl, it comes off like maybe you have a particular axe to grind? Maybe something about people posting comments without actually clicking on links?

In any case, I'd assume there are far more people following any particular link on the blue than there are posting comments (or even clicking into the thread?).
posted by nobody at 7:48 PM on December 22, 2011


Trurl, it comes off like maybe you have a particular axe to grind? Maybe something about people posting comments without actually clicking on links?

With all due respect, I have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.

I asked what percentage of links get clicked. Period. For the life of me, I can not understand why people seem determined to be offended by this question.

I have stated as flatly as possible that I have zero complaint to make about any aspect of the subject under discussion. If you think I'm lying about that, I guess that's too bad.
posted by Trurl at 8:28 PM on December 22, 2011


This seems like a bit of an unfortunate interaction, here. But then, I'm inclined toward the direction I think that Trurl's coming from in this.

"We'd like people to read the links, sure. They definitely should consider reading some of the links before commenting. That said, some people don't and it's fine and we all muddle on together. I want people to like the posts here, at a personal level. I literally do not care at all about the percentage of clickthroughs of individual links. I'm not sure how much more clear I can make this."

"Clickthrough" seems like an awfully loaded word. And my sense isn't that Trurl is asking this from a site etiquette point-of-view (people should read links before commenting), but from the "how good are the posts, on average" point-of-view.

I think it was kind of getting off on the wrong foot for Trurl to present this as the admins wanting to know how many people read the linked articles in posts. Because, really, I think his question and concern ("concern" isn't the right word, though; it's loaded, too) is more about the poster, first and foremost, wanting to know if people are reading the linked articles. And then, related to this, the admins and the rest of the community.

The analogy of a restaurant was imperfect. Instead, think of it as a sort of community kitchen set up specifically so that people can come in and cook for the entire community. But we don't actually know—because unlike a restaurant, we can't simply see it—how many people are eating the food they're being served or, if not, just coming in and hanging out.

And this does matter. Of course it matters—if it didn't matter, then no one—not the community or the admins—would care about the content of posts at all (excluding stuff like deliberately being offensive). But we do care. While there's not much in the way of official guidelines for posts (though there's certainly one or two things), there's a fair amount of conventional and agreed upon ideas about what's good and bad and what the community "wants".

But...we really don't have any way to directly know if posts are giving people what they want. We can only infer it from secondary stuff—like MeTa discussions, or a few people who explicitly reporting their happiness about posts, or how much activity there is in threads (a very imperfect and often misleading measure), or how much people talk specifically about the linked stuff or otherwise prove in the threads they followed the links. And it's not as if whether and how much people actually read linked stuff from posts isn't a topic of discussion and concern here, because it is. So it's completely natural to wonder if this is, or could be, measured directly.

And with regard to the admins caring...well, again, it's not as if the administrative stance on posts is "hey, whatever makes people happy as measured by discussion or whatever", because it's not. Matt had and has at least a vague idea about what posts should be like, and I have the strong impression that's true for the mods, as well.

Finally, and more to the substance of this and away from defending Trurl's question, it seems to me that it very much does matter whether people follow the links in posts because while, sure, community interaction and general happiness are not directly dependent upon it (and, yeah, I can certainly see why MeFi's community nature is really primary and should be primary and not some ossified, rigid, "best of the web" criterion), it seems to me that these things are very much indirectly dependent upon it because without this being moored somehow, the whole thing could float off in any old direction and, before you know it, leave behind something essential to why people had been coming here for so long in the first place.

Well, sure, I would argue this because my years reading MeFi have bred into me a very strong emotional investment in the idea that it's the quality of the posts, dammit. Yeah, I admit that this isn't really true even for me—like most everyone else, it's the community and the discussion. But, even so, without quality posts I can say with certainty that I would stop coming here. I love a lot of the folks here, and I find myself lately amazed all over again by this community and the discussion and all that...but, still, in the last five months I've been very, very strongly reminded on a daily basis of just how much great stuff on the web I've been missing for four years because I'd not been reading MetaFilter. And it's all these great posts, the content of the linked sites, that forms the invaluable bedrock foundation for what this site is. No, not independently of the people, not at all. It's some alchemy of the great posts and the great people. But I feel certain that if you lose the great posts, you lose a big chunk of everything that makes this community so special.

And people craft these posts. Why would they do this if they didn't think people were going to actually follow those links? Not everyone puts great effort into posts; but enough people do such that MeFi is a treasure chest, day in and day out. And that will only continue so long as it matters to the community that people are actually following those links. And it will necessarily matter less and less to the community whether people are actually following those links if and when it matters less and less to the administrators. You guys are the final authorities, the gatekeepers.

So I have a hard time understanding why the admin response to Trurl's question is "nah, we don't really care if people follow the links—it's better in some sense, but it's not the point of the site". That surprises me. Of course, it's not fair for me to put words in anyone's mouths. But that's sure pretty close to how I understand the response.

But...I do think there's been some communicative mishap going on here. Because, yeah, if the question is framed as "clickthroughs" and worrying about "clickthroughs" as if they are the be-all and end-all of MeFi, then of course that's not the point. But the way I read Trurl's question, it boils down to asking if there's a way to tell if the community is actually getting from posts what it says it wants from posts—that is, stuff worth hearing about. Stuff worth the trouble of following those links and reading those sites. Or, really, stuff that makes us happy and delighted that someone took the trouble to tell us about it.

Repeating a bit of jessamyn's quote: "I want people to like the posts here, at a personal level. I literally do not care at all about the percentage of clickthroughs of individual links. I'm not sure how much more clear I can make this." That could be clearer because I'm not sure if when you say "posts" you mean the post itself, or what the post points to. People could, and would, and do like the posts at a personal level for merely being an opportunity to make funny jokes in a thread or snark. There's a difference between a post as a sort of convenient excuse for a shared good time and a post that is a good time in itself.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:29 PM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


But the way I read Trurl's question, it boils down to asking if there's a way to tell if the community is actually getting from posts what it says it wants from posts—that is, stuff worth hearing about.

Well, I'm definitely finding stuff worth hearing about from Trurl's posts, because they're consistently excellent.

Seriously, Trurl, keep up the good work. Your posts are great.
posted by homunculus at 8:54 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The question was about clicking, and numbers. I think there's a larger discussion to be had about whether people are reading, enjoying, engaging with and appreciating links, and which ones, and how and why and all that, but the only thing you learn from clicking is that clicking has happened which to me isn't an interesting statistic of all the stats that people ask about here. You can infer a lot, but you know very little.

nah, we don't really care if people follow the links

Absolutely not what we said. People who tend to talk about clicking (as opposed to many other ways of measuring engagement) are people who are trying to sell you something. Not saying anything about Trurl, just saying that's who usually asks about clicking in my prior experience. This is a six word MeTa question. Not bothersome, just brief, asking about clicking and not anything else.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:54 PM on December 22, 2011


So I have a hard time understanding why the admin response to Trurl's question is "nah, we don't really care if people follow the links—it's better in some sense, but it's not the point of the site".

That's not what either of us was saying, though. We were saying that we are not interested in tracking rate of clickthrough on links—literally, as in the entire content of the original metatalk post, the rate at which or proportion by which links in posts get clicked—as an explicit metric. The actual question originally asked, and it was totally fine to ask it, has an answer of "we don't know and don't really see a need to know". That's all.

We care that people follow the links in the general sense that hopefully posts are made out of interesting links worth following and that people will engage with the content of those links in the spirit of the post. People generally do do that. Maybe not as consistently as would be ideal in some cases or kinds of posts, and as a general behavioral thing that's worth talking about, but not in terms of measuring percentages of links followed or anything as granular as that. It's not a numbers issue.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:14 PM on December 22, 2011


Or what she said.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:14 PM on December 22, 2011


Hey, where'd my martini go?

*looks pointedly at Brandon*
posted by arcticseal at 11:23 PM on December 22, 2011


The site is in the position of being a food kitchen that has no idea of how many meals it is serving.
posted by Trurl at 4:38 PM

The idea of MetaFilter is that everybody brings 'food'. Te mods do not provide it.
posted by Cranberry at 11:34 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


where the h did that h go?
posted by Cranberry at 11:35 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I looked through some of my recent posts for YouTube links. I have no idea how the metrics on the 'video statistics' thing work, but from what I've found so far it backs up my feeling that not many people click on links in the middle of posts. A Wisconsin travelogue from the middle of this post got a little more than a 100 views from MetaFilter clicks. This concert video from the middle of my last post got 35 views. On the other hand, this Modest Mouse concert video which was the only link in this post got a little shy of 500 views directly from MetaFilter.

That's generally my feeling with posts. We're generally talking about a few hundred people that engage with the material and a few dozen that go through everything in a long post. Of course, the longer the post, the more links there are, fewer links get engaged with.

The subjects of very popular posts get considerably more views. For instance, this cover of a Neko Case song which was the first link in this popular post got almost 2500 views from MetaFilter. That said, things posted on MetaFilter start spreading elsewhere, on Facebook, blogs and such, so a link that gets posted on MetaFilter spreads to other places where people share cool things they've found on the web.

The caveat to all this is that I have no idea how accurate these YouTube statistics are or even how they work exactly (e.g. when they count a video as viewed and if they count multiple visits from the same IP address only once).
posted by Kattullus at 2:13 AM on December 23, 2011


I'm pretty sure we have no way of measuring that. We don't force outbound links through an intermediary link (because we are not horrible people)

Does this really require some sort of evil manipulation? Wordpress seems to do it automatically, which is weird because I don't really care if people click through or not, either, but it's there in the site stats that come with Jetpack so every so often I look. (I am a total noob at that side of blogging, but I like all the charts. They're pretty.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:59 AM on December 23, 2011


So, how many clicks does it take to get to the creamy center of a FPP? Or doesn't anyone care anymore?
posted by Splunge at 4:22 AM on December 23, 2011


Does this really require some sort of evil manipulation?

There are probably clever lower-impact ways to do it—like Ad Hominem suggests, you could probably do some just-in-time logging of outgoing clicks with a javascript hook or something—and I was joking a little about the evil thing anyway since there's probably cases where there's some totally neutral-to-okayish reasons someone might use an intermediary page to process outgoing links. But it's one of those "give me a reason to do this" rather than "...to not do this" things and not something we'd be doing just for vague stats kicks so it's never been a serious point of discussion.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:25 AM on December 23, 2011


me (unfortunately): Trurl, it comes off like maybe you have a particular axe to grind? Maybe something about people posting comments without actually clicking on links?

Trurl: With all due respect, I have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.

Genuinely sorry! By "axe to grind" I had really meant "a point to make." And I guess I'm still interested in what you were originally thinking, but if it was just idle curiosity then that's cool.
posted by nobody at 6:37 AM on December 23, 2011


Hey, where'd my martini go?

*looks pointedly at Brandon*



I run a Home for Orphaned Martinis. It's a safe, warm place, surrounded by other martinis.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's got an olive pit they can play in, a big shaker for jumping around...
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:16 AM on December 23, 2011


The site is in the position of being a food kitchen that has no idea of how many meals it is serving.

See, I've always seen it as more like a coffee house: you've got some people that always get about 3 lattes when they show up, and the longer they hang out the more pastries they eat. But then you also have the people that just come to get one coffee and they nurse it for three hours. And then you have the people that get the one coffee on the way to work. And the people who come by for a full-on lunch some days, just a cappucino on others, and then some days they come in and see something funky on the menu and say "ooh, let me try that!"

But they all come, so it's all good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 AM on December 23, 2011


I think the potential reason to do this would be to give mods another way to get a feel for posts. Say for example the mod interface gave you a best guess of how many commenters clicked a link in this post before commenting, or the average time between clicking and commenting. Maybe you start noticing a connection between posts where no one reads the links and posts that go wrong after 20 comments, and once you know that you get a better feel for the kind of links that no one clicks and keep an eye on those posts. Or maybe you notice that posts on a particular big-news topic aren't getting read much anymore, so you look a little more carefully at whether there's anything new to discuss or we're just rehashing the same fights. Or maybe a post has a crazy-low time between clicking and commenting, and you learn ... whatever it is you would learn.

I mean, maybe it turns out you're already inferring whatever new you would learn. But adding another feeler to your Spidey-sense seems all to the good.

(Giving posters access to the data is where you'd start to get into click-bait territory. That way lies madness.)
posted by jhc at 7:37 AM on December 23, 2011


Having typed that out, I have trouble imagining that it would be worth the Javascript and database overhead. But it would still be pretty neat.
posted by jhc at 7:47 AM on December 23, 2011


Yeah, I hear you jhc; I feel like it's a situation where we are already inferring a lot of that based on the shape of discussions in threads, and maybe more to the point it's a thing where I think the soft inferences (what is obviously visible as trends in kind-of-post or kind-of-link that lead to discussion of the general subject rather than the specific link a lot in problematic ways) are as valuable to us as any hard data would be, since the numbers going for or against the general inference doesn't really do anything to change the observable behavior.

Like, I don't really care if obnoxious discussion derail class A involves 20% less primary-link clickthrough than equally obnoxious discussion derail class B; the derailing stuff is the problem, not the link type, except insofar as if we see a kind of post being generally more of a problem we'll eye that sort of post in more closely in general when weighing deletion/moderation decisions.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:54 AM on December 23, 2011


I guess I'm still interested in what you were originally thinking

Let me begin by repeating that I do not think the site has any kind of "people aren't clicking the links enough" problem. Even if I did, I would be in no position to point fingers. I routinely favorite mega-link posts without clicking any of them.

If a commenter in one of my posts does something that shows they haven't clicked the links, I'll haz a sad - since I chose them with such care. But again, this is not a problem for anyone or anything but my wounded narcissism.

My interest in this area derives from the fact that, for most of my posts, the links are an excuse for the subject. I try to make them a sufficiently good excuse, of course. To my mind, being able to watch Do The Right Thing in its entirety for free and read its screenplay are definitely "the best of the web". But had I omitted those links - or if no one had clicked them, which would amount to the same thing - it would have been fundamentally the same "What a great movie. Discuss" kind of post.

Now I've generally felt a little guilty about posting this way. I'm haunted by an old comment in someone else's FPP along the lines of "Just because you really like this record doesn't mean that it deserved a post". So jessamyn's comment here was actually quite reassuring, if I'm reading it correctly.

As I understand her, the posts and the links comprising them are both subsidiary to the community created by the interesting commenters they attract. Perhaps even only a means to an end. Which would perfectly explain why the rate of link-clicking is of no importance to the site at all.

But so is "What is the shortest post ever made?" - or the other demonstrations of statistical curiosity that show up here occasionally. The person asking it should not be assumed to have an axe to grind - or point to make - about post length.
posted by Trurl at 8:42 AM on December 23, 2011


Trurl, I think maybe the disconnect here is: the people who were asking you all confused "why do you care about the links" were already under the impression that the community was the "point" of this site in the first place. So to them, perhaps, your question was coming across as being a question about something the site wasn't about anyway, which may explain the baffled, "why would we want to track this stuff?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on December 23, 2011


the people who were asking you all confused "why do you care about the links" were already under the impression that the community was the "point" of this site in the first place

Yes, that had not been my operating assumption before the jessamyn comment I mentioned. (Though again, the grey has previously hosted without controversy statistical curiosity questions about which no one - even the questioner - would necessarily "care".)

And yet, to use the Do The Right Thing post as an example again, had I put just a single link to the IMDb page, it would have gotten deleted for being too thin. So the links do matter to some extent - even if only as community attractors.
posted by Trurl at 9:00 AM on December 23, 2011


I don't think anyone's saying that the links "don't matter", only that there's no real reason to track numeric statistics about them. If it's a good link, you'll be able to tell by the quality of the discussion, likewise if it's a bad one.

I doubt the mods would let a DIY cat declawing link stand even if they knew it had the most clickthroughs of Metafilter History, in other words.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 AM on December 23, 2011


I can't speak for Trurl, but for my part I like the kind of question he asked (and ask that kind sometimes myself) because I am a nerd and I like collecting information without a particular purpose. Most of the time the knowledge gained is trivia, but sometimes it's useful. I understand what jessamyn meant about the "gotcha" part.
posted by zomg at 9:22 AM on December 23, 2011


Yeah, to be clear I have no problem with the question being asked. The answer in this case is quick and boring, but data is fun when it does exist.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2011


"As I understand her, the posts and the links comprising them are both subsidiary to the community created by the interesting commenters they attract. Perhaps even only a means to an end. Which would perfectly explain why the rate of link-clicking is of no importance to the site at all."

Well, if so, I think that sucks. I absolutely do not think that creating posts is the means to the end of making a place for people to have a conversation. If this is what MetaFilter is now, then it's kind of amazing that there are very many good posts at all, anymore. And, if this is so, I don't think that will continue to be the case indefinitely.

Really, that this conversation has this theme is a huge surprise to me. It means that something has changed in both the community's and admin's sensibilities in the last four years because I'm certain that, even in 2008, writing posts that actually contain links to things worth going and looking at and/or reading would have been almost universally said to be the primary point of the existence of MetaFilter. Secondarily, it would be the great discussion about those linked sites (not merely the general topic) and the community that organically exists by virtue of this.

Now, apparently, that this is a place for certain kinds of people to shoot the shit is the whole point.

And, now that I think about it, those great posts pointing me to great stuff I wouldn't have seen otherwise, while hugely valued by me and—as I wrote before—I regret now not at least lurking the site the last four years because I've therefore missed out on a whole bunch of great stuff on the web that I would have seen...well, those are the six to ten posts and threads I read each day out of the, what?, twenty or more that are posted, of which probably half are links to some big-to-medium news story or op-ed or well-known political commentator's blog post or a YouTube funny video that's already been on BoingBoing and trending on Google and everywhere else. So, yeah, now that I think about it, a lot becomes clearer. MetaFilter's a lot closer to being just another discussion site than it used to be.

There are probably twice the active members than there were in 2008, and for most of them, apparently, this is just a web discussion forum where the posts are just excuses for people to talk about, mostly, current events and some shared interests.

That's sad, to me. I could look through my browser history for the last four months and list a whole bunch of things that came to my attention only because of MeFi posts that have, in their way, improved my quality of life.

I'd never heard of Smersh before yesterday, just to pick one example off the top of my head. Or Alex Honnold...or would have approximately doubled from one set of links my entire total awareness and knowledge of free solo climbing. Or seen those great photographs of NYC cops from the 70s. Or learned more about the pole dancing trend, about which I am very ambivalent. Or read Ian Carey's pronouncement that jazz is dead. I probably would have come across Homeland anyway, but it was because of the post here that I started watching it. I learned the history of Daniel Schectman's discovery of quasi-crystals and Pauling's ridicule of him from MeFi's link. I thoroughly enjoyed the BBC documentary about the jazz releases of 1959. I bet I never forget, for the rest of my life, the story of the Tifton Mill orphans. And these are just the posts that jump out at me from the threads where I've commented. I'd guess that about four to six times more often I follow the links and don't comment...which doesn't necessarily reflect my judgment of the links at all, because while sometimes this is because I was disappointed, sometimes it's just because I don't have anything to say about them even when I think they were great and I'm better for having followed them.

80% of the time, if I comment in a thread, I've followed the links and read all or most of what I found. (Relatedly, I don't comment without reading all the comments that preceded mine—I doubt I violate that rule more than one time in twenty, if that much.)

I'm verbose and when I do participate, I participate quite a bit. And I've met, online and in-person, people I'm fortunate to have met via MeFi and I've read things in comments and had interactions that have greatly improved my life. Discussion and community matter a lot to me, and I absolutely am not saying that these things aren't essential to what makes MeFi what it is and what makes it so valuable and wonderful. Because they are essential. But so are the linked sites in the posts. MetaFilter has, in the past, and in the present, served the function of filtering the best of the web, and it's done it very well. It's the freaking name of the site.

Personally—and here I recognize this is a matter of taste because this serves the same "value added" function as quality discussion and community—I think the trend that began in the early 00s of people crafting posts to be something impressive, something that draws attention to themselves as posts and not as pointers to other things which are valuable and worthy in themselves, was bad for MeFi. It made it about the post qua post, and the poster, and about mefites showing off. That's not bad, inherently—after all, the same can be said of the linked sites. But it began that unmoored drifting I mentioned previously, and I think a lot of bad things that have increased over the years has a direct relationship to this change.

And, you know, this is true of me, personally. For example, I'm proud of myself, and a little surprised about it, to find that I'm well-versed enough about the financial crisis and the related macroeconomic situation to write several long comments in different threads, entirely extemporaneously, that are information-rich and for which I get a lot of positive feedback, via numerous channels. I'm actually doing something that increases knowledge and understanding to the world about stuff that matters. But...I don't think that's what MetaFilter is for, in itself directly, and ultimately I think that if those comments are actually good, then I should be writing them elsewhere. If they're good, then maybe I ought to be writing a blog and someone could link to it on...MetaFilter. Because that's the deepest and truest purpose that MeFi serves. Community and discussion are great. But we have discussions and have come together as a community about stuff that is external to us; it's not about us, it's about the world outside MetaFilter.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:05 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I understand her, the posts and the links comprising them are both subsidiary to the community created by the interesting commenters they attract. Perhaps even only a means to an end. Which would perfectly explain why the rate of link-clicking is of no importance to the site at all.

The links are absolutely the main part of the post/thread and on balance across MeFi, they're not subsidiary to the community. But we've seen posts with thin links that turn into great threads, and posts with strong links that sort of didn't go anywhere. I still feel like you are searching for a reason why we don't care about this metric that suits some internal question or concern that you have.

Well, if so, I think that sucks.

It's not. The way people interpret what the mods say is more of a Rorshach for their own internal view of the site than stated policy. I'd prefer if people made posts with links that they wanted people to talk about. I'd prefer if people didn't just find a few random links on a topic because they wanted to talk about a topic. If a few people do that sometimes, it's not a big deal. If the site starts to be a lot of "let's just talk about X" with shitty links, that's no good.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:21 AM on December 23, 2011


I still feel like you are searching for a reason why we don't care about this metric that suits some internal question or concern that you have.

Then you are misreading me.

If "100% OK" does not satisfy you, I must say that you seem determined not be satisfied.
posted by Trurl at 10:40 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


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