Ponies for everyone!
December 10, 2012 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Pony clydesdale request: a community-edited list of recommendations for AskMe questions that aggregate the answers in the discussoin thread and put them together in one place along with relevant links.

Here is a question that would benefit from it as an example, but basically any AskMe question centered around recommendations would be appropriate, and there are a whole lot of them.

I would love to see a list somewhere on these questions' pages that has the following structure, or something similar to it:

[link to product page, wikipedia, whatever]title/name/label of the recommendation[/link] - recommended by [link to user page]user[/link] - [link to comment where it was recommended]short pull quote for context cut off after 20 words or so, similar to the best post list on the home page...[/link]

The list would be curated by the membership, with everyone having full control over adding, editing, and removing items, and a flagging system to report abuse.

This does a few good things:
  1. Provides an overview of responses, allowing for posters too eager to read the whole thread to know what has already been covered. You may argue that everyone should read the whole thread regardless, but we all know that will never happen consistently, and this will make things better. Even for people who read everything consistently, I contend that this would be a godsend.
  2. Ensures sure all recommendations have an appropriate link. It is, in fact, too much work to google something yourself. Hyperlinks make the web work. If there is a product that is being mentioned, a link should go to where you can purchase that product or view reviews (or both). If the responses are about historical figures, say, there should be a link to interviews, wikipedia, or some other resource about the figure, and so on.
  3. Increases the potential for affiliate payments in an organic way that doesn't abuse the community's trust.
  4. Makes AskMe much more useful for many kinds of extremely popular questions.
  5. Extends the relevance of old posts, as link rot in the list could be fixed by site members whenever it is noticed.
This would be a major extension to the site functionality, and likely a pain to implement wisely. But I think it's worth it. The internet needs links, dammit, and far too often, responses to questions don't include any. Having access to the collected responses all in one place might also encourage a diversity of responses, as people can more easily notice what is missing or gaps in the recommendations.

And it will probably lower taxes, too.
posted by jsturgill to Feature Requests at 4:03 PM (14 comments total)

We have had an idea for a curated lists sort of thing that we've been kicking around the back room. I think we're unlikely to do anything that involves decontextualizing comments [i.e. taking them out of order] but some sort of auto-collation of all recommendations would not be a bad idea. So, short term (i.e. before the end of '12) unlikely but early 2013 I could give you a definite maybe on at least something similar. I agree, it's a natural next step to all these awesome recommendations/suggestions that we have on that part of the site.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:15 PM on December 10, 2012


Yeah, I think this is an interesting idea. Conversations are messy, and it would helpful once in a while to pull out specific pieces and look at them in a different way.

I guess my hesitation is "if we build it will they come?" Often when we're thinking about new subsites or new features, we want to take advantage of behaviors that are happening even without the tools present. Take IRL for example. People were organizing meetups in MetaTalk for years even though this was intended as a space to discuss issues and bugs. So the behavior was there even though the tools weren't.

We've seen organization of threads by topic on the wiki, and a few examples of book recommendations pulled out of specific threads. (Those were based on links to Amazon which are fairly easily to parse.) But pulling products out of threads regardless of links isn't something I've seen yet. So if we were to build these complicated tools, there's no guarantee of use. I agree that it would be interesting, but an offsite effort or a few concrete examples of this happening would help us decide to make it an official feature.
posted by pb (staff) at 4:16 PM on December 10, 2012


With the exception of the flagging functionality, this seem like exactly like the wiki pages we keep in the lab at work.

How specifically does your Clydesdale differ from a wiki?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:44 PM on December 10, 2012


I support this if it means we can see an end to those questions. I mean, I'm as drawn to them as anyone, but there have been a lot of pretty similar ones.
posted by crabintheocean at 4:52 PM on December 10, 2012


What if you could (by means of a toggle button or something) opt to post a Recommendation instead of a Comment? It would then pop up an input box with a variety of fields to fill in, and once you post it, it gets nicely formatted as both an in-thread comment and also in a more list-like format in a sidebar. This would also allow for pulling recommendations from a variety of threads for even more centralized aggregation.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:20 PM on December 10, 2012


I've done something similar by hand/grep before. (No. 2 in a series.)

Any automated solution would have to be careful to not devalue the conversational comments that make AskMe awesome. What you recommend is important, the why doubly so.
posted by zamboni at 5:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have just one word for you all: recipes
posted by Scientist at 8:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this not one of the things the existing wiki is for, or could house?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 AM on December 11, 2012


I'd love a "how to" page, based on really good, authoritative answers to specific questions.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:54 AM on December 11, 2012


How specifically does your Clydesdale differ from a wiki?
Is this not one of the things the existing wiki is for, or could house?

I'm asking for embedded and limited wiki functionality on AskMe questions. Right there on the page.

The external wiki is fine for housing a master-list of responses to multiple similar questions, maybe, but it doesn't address the need for a master list of responses to this particular question, on the same page of the question. I suspect huge numbers of members don't use or know of the wiki, nor do any of the visitors sent here by the googles.

I have just one word for you all: recipes

I would love to have an implementation flexible enough to include recipes, but I wouldn't mind if that were a "maybe eventually" extension of an initial push...

We've seen organization of threads by topic on the wiki, and a few examples of book recommendations pulled out of specific threads. (Those were based on links to Amazon which are fairly easily to parse.) But pulling products out of threads regardless of links isn't something I've seen yet. So if we were to build these complicated tools, there's no guarantee of use. I agree that it would be interesting, but an offsite effort or a few concrete examples of this happening would help us decide to make it an official feature.

I think it can be a trap to limit yourself to only extending the site in ways that are already proven.

I'd love to see a test run of this. It doesn't have to scale or be particularly performant to handle duties for a week, or a month even, in order to give you an idea as to how the community is reacting. If you announce the test run in meta and make it clear there and on the askme pages that the lists will disappear after the test while the results are considered, I think everyone who is interested would still participate.

An in-memory key value store, an interface the mods and possibly the community have had input on, and then a test implementation that doesn't have wiki-like features, such as tracking changes, but does support basic CRUD functionality, might not be much of a strain. It would let you know if there is interest or support for it.

Wait for Google's Summer of Code to come around and have an intern set it up, maybe...

I think we're unlikely to do anything that involves decontextualizing comments [i.e. taking them out of order] but some sort of auto-collation of all recommendations would not be a bad idea.

I think any automated tool would be extremely limited compared to one that relied on human input. Part of the reason the community editable list concept is so attractive to me is that it allows for additional, valuable information (primarily in the form of relevant links) to be added; automated tools wouldn't be able to do that in a sane way, I'm guessing. Also, how are you going to pick out recommendations or responses in plain text that aren't part of links or even marked as special with, say, em tags? Has natural language processing advanced enough to make that sort of magic happen here?

Any automated solution would have to be careful to not devalue the conversational comments that make AskMe awesome. What you recommend is important, the why doubly so.

Again, I would hate to see an automated approach to this, or at least a solely automated approach. I think it would be doomed to uselessness.

As for the effects on the thread, the mods already devalue conversational comments in AskMe. The overriding rule is answer the damn question already, not "have a conversation." This would certainly help to answer the question... while still allowing for important contextual information in-thread. Relationship questions, health questions, and other such questions would be 100% unaffected, as they do not follow the "list of recommendations/resources" format.

All that said, I think the thread and the full comments will still tend to dominate most users' interactions. It's just that each thread (with a relevant question and answer format) would have a handy-dandy reference index to itself right there on the page.
posted by jsturgill at 9:40 AM on December 11, 2012


I think it can be a trap to limit yourself to only extending the site in ways that are already proven.

Possibly. But it's also limiting to say that features can only exist on the site. There have been numerous spinoff sites of MetaFilter, and the wiki is very useful. There is a lot of human-powered work in this idea. I don't think it's unfair to question whether or not people will volunteer to put in that work before we spend our limited development hours putting something together—even a prototype takes work.

This could work on the wiki. Or maybe on another wiki that someone sets up somewhere. If there's momentum, if people enjoy the summaries, and if people are willing to put in the work to write them—it's something we could consider folding into the site. It's also something we can keep in mind for the future as we're thinking about ideas for the site.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:05 AM on December 11, 2012


This could work on the wiki. Or maybe on another wiki that someone sets up somewhere. If there's momentum, if people enjoy the summaries, and if people are willing to put in the work to write them—it's something we could consider folding into the site. It's also something we can keep in mind for the future as we're thinking about ideas for the site.

I just don't see how we can have embedded, widely available, group-editable wiki-like content on the site without the site providing infrastructure for it. I also don't see how off-site listing of responses informs on-site, same-page lists... The contextual immediacy and relevance is what gives the idea legs.

It seems to me as though this idea simply cannot happen organically, and for the same reason, nothing that currently exists outside the bounds of AskMe is relevant in providing insight as to how the experiment might turn out.
posted by jsturgill at 10:29 AM on December 11, 2012


Sometimes ideas can start smaller and iterate. So maybe you won't have the embedded, widely available part at the wiki. But you could start gauging interest and working out how it might be formatted. There's a lot of legwork involved with adding features to a site. The idea is part of it, but there's also a lot of gruntwork, testing, design, and experimentation involved. This is an interesting idea, as I've said, but to me it feels pretty far from implementation in its current form.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:39 AM on December 11, 2012


As an alternative suggestion, what about creating a new option like RecommendMe to filter those questions out of AskMe? Then you could encourage always having a link as part of the informal community guidelines, similar to how AskMe discourages chatfilter and so on.

I think there are more than enough recommendation questions in AskMe now to fill up another section, and it might make searching for those questions easier, and some people might prefer them separated from the regular Ask questions. A possible drawback is that it might see less traffic than AskMe, or alternatively might draw traffic away, since those questions are often very popular.
posted by randomnity at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2012


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