No Comment September 24, 2013 2:26 PM   Subscribe

"The Web forum MetaFilter, for instance, which is known for a positive commenting flavor, depends on a 24/7 team of moderators. “People come to us all the time and say, ‘Here’s a problem with people behaving badly, we want a tech solution,’ ” says Paul Bausch, a MetaFilter developer. “We tell them that human problems require human judgment.” MetaFilter's own pb quoted in a New York Times Magazine piece on the evolution of online commentary.
posted by Miko to MetaFilter-Related at 2:26 PM (99 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

And frankly, he's absolutely right.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:37 PM on September 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Nah, I reckon we should try a few days with inhuman judgement. Under the baleful stare of the kraken, for example, or taking secret instructions from the lizard people. Shake us all up a bit.
posted by metaBugs at 2:46 PM on September 24, 2013 [30 favorites]


I have been hanging around here for ages and have seen the name plenty of times and this is the first time that it struck me that pb are his initials and he is not just really fond of peanut butter.
posted by Sequence at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2013 [47 favorites]


As I established a few threads back, elizardbits is a black widow spider. Fortunately, she's not in charge. YET.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I established a few threads back, elizardbits is a black widow spider. Fortunately, she's not in charge. YET.

I think you misspelled unfortunately.
posted by juv3nal at 2:57 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: It's people! It's made of people!
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:03 PM on September 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


24/7

It just occurred to me that this expression is meant to signify "round the clock" but is quite possibly the worst approximation of pi EVAR.
posted by comealongpole at 3:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


quite possibly the worst approximation of pi EVAR.

Was all set to be like "Not quite!" but then I looked it up. You are totally right. We are lucky to have pb, he is terrific.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:20 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


And pie is something I want all day, every day. So it sorta goes full circle.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:21 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


The new(?) profile picture is good and makes pb look like a missing REM member.
posted by boo_radley at 3:31 PM on September 24, 2013


I prefer my pi with positive commenting flavor.
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2013


That's me in the corner

That's me in the spotlight

Losing my commenting privileges.
posted by The Whelk at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


I prefer to render it as TWENTY-FOUR STEVEN like there's just two dozen guys named Steven who take turns throughout the week to keep something under control.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:37 PM on September 24, 2013 [23 favorites]


TWENTY FOUR STEVEN sounds like an awful improv troop.
posted by The Whelk at 3:38 PM on September 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


TWENTY FOUR STEVENS agree.
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:49 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know of any other website of this size that so actively entertains requests for feature/tech changes. Ask here and you get an answer which may be 'no' but is thoughtfully considered.
posted by vapidave at 4:06 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


TWENTY FOUR STEVEN sounds like an awful improv troop.

Or a long-time fan favorite electric guitar orchestra.
posted by Fuka at 4:10 PM on September 24, 2013


this site is moderated?
posted by philip-random at 4:28 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, once more the whistful attempt to come up with a technological solution for a purely human problem based on the demented idea that pay money for hardware is somehow a better plan than paying money for people.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:39 PM on September 24, 2013


this site is moderated?

Yeah, but fortunately the moderators are silenced all their lives by the endless weight of MeTa posts, so you can hardly tell.
posted by ambrosen at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2013


I prefer to render it as TWENTY-FOUR STEVEN like there's just two dozen guys named Steven who take turns throughout the week to keep something under control.

And then they are all EVEN SEVEN at the end if they all put in the same amount of work at the end of the week.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:52 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


the demented idea that pay money for hardware is somehow a better plan than paying money for people.

I think the theory is that the hardware can be cheaper in the long run because it requires less whiskey.
posted by aubilenon at 4:52 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: Welcome to Positive Commenting FLAVORTOWN
posted by desjardins at 5:35 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


What flavor would metafilter be?

I vote hummus.
posted by winna at 5:57 PM on September 24, 2013


I'm thinking a sort of bitter orange with overtones of chocolate.

Why yes, I am preparing a dessert right now, how did you know?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:02 PM on September 24, 2013


I am finding myself overly fond of the phrase which NYT has used to describe the kind of dickish comments you find on other sites: "Acid yawps".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I kind of knew pb stood for his initials, but until I checked his profile to see this rogue REM member photo, I did not know pb ever was on any of the subsites but MetaTalk. He has asked questions on AskMe! He has given answers to non-technical site questions! He has almost a 100 answers on the blue! He votes on projects! He is alive! Oh my.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:21 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just went back and read the article in a not-on-my-phone way and looked at the linked article by their community manager. A few interesting things jumped out at me.

1. There's a big difference, to me, between online communities and "places with comments sections" and this article doesn't quite outline that. Like here on MeFi the mods are all longtime users who people know, for the most part, and are also commenting. Same was true with Slashdot. The same is NOT true with the NY Times, to the best of my knowledge and not true with most other places that just have a "comments section" I haven't checked out Boingboing since they moved to Discourse, but the mods used to interact there also.

2. A lot of people don't want to tell you how their stuff works. If you go to the NYTimes blog thing that is linked on the sidebar, he says "The overwhelming majority of comments on nytimes.com are moderated by hand. We do employ an algorithm to moderate a small portion of comments on a small number of articles." and that's it. An algorithm. I wonder what it checks for? I wonder how it works? I wonder why they don't tell us... but really I sort of don't because it's probably something boring like auto-deleting comments that use racial slurs. We've always been really upfront about how all our tech works because it's NOT the tech that is doing any of the actual moderating. I have not seen this sort of transparency with any other places that moderates stuff.

3. He's really politic about their users. And they flat out say that they don't even open comments on articles that they think will turn into fights. And this bit: "a developing crime story for which there are no solid details beyond a preliminary casualty count can’t possibly lead to a well-informed, urbane discussion." is sort of the opposite of how we do things here (though it can sometimes be a problem) because people's comments actually inform the unfolding story.

As per usual, pb did us proud, but it's nice to see places delving more into what makes successful communities successful and less about what makes the failures fail (even though both are important).
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:23 PM on September 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


Worth noting here that Nick Denton over at Gawker is making yet another high-profile push to redefine online commenting with more tweaks to Kinja: Gawker Wants to Encourage More Voices Online, but With Less Yelling.

I get that Denton saw his pageviews from comments slipping away to Facebook and Twitter and wanted to stop the bleeding, but the way he's going about creating a moderated environment just seems weirdly confusing and unnecessary, a classic case of "your elbow is right there why are you going around your asshole to get to it?"

Anyway, I'm probably just old but I keep reading these memos from Denton about how Kinja will change the way humanity does journalism and articles about his Brand New Vision For Online Commenting that will alter the landscape forever and I keep not getting how that's supposed to work. At all.
posted by mediareport at 6:56 PM on September 24, 2013


Nah, I reckon we should try a few days with inhuman judgement. Under the baleful stare of the kraken, for example, or taking secret instructions from the lizard people.
posted by metaBugs

Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?
posted by Room 641-A at 7:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The same is NOT true with the NY Times

I agree with your general critiques, but as a Times reader, the comments section(s) are actually sort of an online community. Not with user-developed norms and the "we're all here to be part of this community" ethos, but in the sense that personalities are familiar and somewhat predictable, user patterns are noticeable, etc. I have no idea how the moderation works because it's not transparent, and yeah, they exist to be a news site with comment functionality rather than a comment/community site with news functionality, so it is different, but maybe not as different as it might seem right away.

I think it's interesting, in that linked piece, that they think about whether comments will be potentially interesting for other lurker/readers to read, as well as satisfying for the commenters to contribute.

And I love this:
I don’t see how you can claim to respect your readers and allow their well-considered thoughts to live side by side with comments from people who write countless posts every day to satisfy a perverse craving for causing conflict among humans. The Internet is a big place, and there are a lot of spaces where you can say whatever you please, but nytimes.com is not the rest of the Internet. It’s a news Web site where the news is discussed in ways that don’t make you feel like you need to shower afterward.
posted by Miko at 7:31 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Acid yawps"

The brown acid yawps are specifically not too good.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:33 PM on September 24, 2013


is sort of the opposite of how we do things here (though it can sometimes be a problem) because people's comments actually inform the unfolding story.

But even here, we've seen such dramatic examples of the opposite of informing, most recently and painfully with the mess of the Boston bombing thread(s). Real-time and wide participation was not the friend of good information, for the most part. I understand why the Times doesn't want to give a home to the kind of irresponsible hasty concluding and sheer misinformation that goes on at those sorts of times.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


as a Times reader, the comments section(s) are actually sort of an online community.

Sorry I didn't mean they were not a community as much as the mods don't (to the best of my knowledge) comment and the writers of the pieces commented on (to the best of my knowledge) never comment.

I understand why the Times doesn't want to give a home to the kind of irresponsible hasty concluding and sheer misinformation that goes on at those sorts of times.

We are very lucky in that we are not a news site and it's clear that we're not a news site so we have a lot more leeway about what happens in our comments section. As much as I found it interesting to have a place that collected links to reporting of what was going on during all the Boston stuff (along with a lot of the odd and off the mark stuff) and I enjoyed discussing things with people here, it was definitely a good news/bad news situation and really unfun to moderate.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Barbaric yawps, on the other hand, are entirely welcome.
posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am finding myself overly fond of the phrase which NYT has used to describe the kind of dickish comments you find on other sites: "Acid yawps".

...especially because it sounds good preceded by "a nasty case of the."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:54 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Having just read the spider thread, I'm firmly in favor of disabling comments forever.
posted by schmod at 8:43 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was very active as a commenter at Slate early on, one of their first ten "starred" commenters, and eventually interviewed for the Fray editor position when the first editor moved on. I have Many Strong Opinions on this topic as it relates to newspapers and particularly web magazines (and in contrast to places like MetaFilter).

For example, I think that "community" can be counterproductive for sites like newspapers or web magazines. Not all varieties of evolving reader community, but the kind that appropriates the commenting/discussion area as its own to use for its own purposes. At the time, I also frequently read Salon's Table Talk discussion area, too, though I rarely participated, and it had formed a community that became entirely disjunct from the web magazine content. At that point, its only value to Salon was its contribution to pageview counts, but doing so with a vastly increased devotion of resources, both computing and human, to maintain it, relative to the rest of the site.

Meanwhile, at that time Slate had experimented with selecting a few exceptionally thoughtful or well-written comments to be featured prominently immediately at the end of the article. Really right there at the end, not offset with other things in between; and they were presented with some editorial framing by the editor that provided a sort of "glue" between the main content and the user-contributed content.

I felt that this was a Very Good Thing because it placed the commenting directly in the context of the magazine's specific content, encouraged and made more likely author/reader interaction (because generally the last thing most writers want to do is read the comments to their pieces, and for good reason), and contributed quite a bit to leveraging what an online magazine can do that a printed magazine cannot — be more responsive and timely, and close the loop between the magazine and its readers.

Community is important and productive when it's community that's anchored to the content. When it's divorced from the content, it's destructive.

And in any case, the crappy, disruptive, and plain hateful and ugly comments work against productive user-contributed content within the context of the site but, tellingly, aren't as harmful to the commenting sections-as-independent-entities that exist mostly for people to express themselves (or are perceived as such). The latter is what the disruptive elements are looking for — they don't want to be limited by relevance to a particular topic.

But there's two distinct things that cause j-school, old media types to have a tendency to push comments away from their content and into ugly swamps that they can mostly ignore, but utilize in their pageview counts.

The first is an actual bit of modern folklore that's common in traditional publishing outlets like newspapers and magazines. It's the false claim that exercising any editorial control of user commenting then makes the publisher legally responsible in every respect for the content of all of those comments. This originated from a misunderstanding of a particular court decision, but it resulted in it being official policy at many newspapers that they couldn't exercise any control over specific comments for content — that commenting was either on or off.

The second is just the prejudice against the idea that readers could really have anything useful to contribute, as mentioned in the linked NYT piece.

So there's a lot of institutional and individual impetus to just relegate commenting to a necessary-but-pustulent backwater that is mostly ignored. And if it needed some oversight, it's better if it's something technological.

In Slate's case, I thought that there were a number of technological things that could be implemented to deal with the sewage, but mostly in terms of monitoring tools and not anything that actually automatically moderated the content. That would still require a lot of editorial oversight and activity, there's really no avoiding this. And you can see this formula here at MeFi: as the site has grown, they've increasingly implemented and relied upon a suite of monitoring functions ... which facilitates their Real Live Human moderator discretion.

The only commenting at NYT that I'm familiar with are the comments to Paul Krugman's blog, which I read regularly. As in, every blog post he makes, every day, usually shortly after he makes them, and then often (but not always) many of the comments. And it's interesting because Krugman does much of the monitoring and moderating himself. I think there's someone who will check for the things that violate the whole NYT-wide standards, such as racial epithets or whatever, but moderating the more subtle trolls and such who target writers they disagree with for ideological reasons ... that takes work. And Krugman's mentioned that he does this work, he reads the comments, and he will respond to them generally fairly frequently and specifically occasionally. He closes that loop between himself and his readers, and his blog tends to be much more technical than his op-eds, and so with the careful pruning, his commenters form a little community and do offer some added value to his blog.

That could be the sort of thing that was true of all newspapers and their stories and magazine writers. The writer of the linked piece talks about those early hopes like this in the late nineties. But the thing is, it really isn't unrealistic or naive. It just requires, as this writer makes clear, a willingness to do both things: to bring user content and site content much closer together, and then to put a lot of resources into developing the quality of that user content in the form of moderation and encouraging certain kinds of community. There's no substitute for this investment in resources and hard work.

Which is another part of the problem, really. I do think it's true to a limited degree to think of user-contributed content as work product that people are basically giving away for free. But even though they're not demanding to be paid for it, it's absolutely not the case that there's no cost associated with it. The cost is in the resources that are necessary to cultivating and protecting the value of that user contributed content. But publishers sort of want both to keep it at arm's length while also wanting to take advantage of the fact that readers will invest a lot of effort all on their own. Effort that, at the very least, results in an increase in pageviews. They predictably want to think that they can basically get something for nothing but what actually happens is that this fantasy of something for nothing results in a reality of getting something less-than-nothing at a non-negligible cost. It becomes a waste of money.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:45 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


I reckon we should try a few days with inhuman judgement.

I thought that was the original intent for hiring cortex.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:05 PM on September 24, 2013


Medium is doing interesting things with commenting -- semi-verified identity, as comments must be linked to Twitter accounts, and in-line comments that allow conversation about different elements of a story or article.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:48 PM on September 24, 2013


schmod: "Having just read the spider thread, I'm firmly in favor of disabling comments forever."

Oh, c'mon. That post was a lot of fun.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:52 PM on September 24, 2013


This was a good read.

Also can we have images back? Please?
posted by Justinian at 10:08 PM on September 24, 2013


I'm glad to see the corner turning on the comments-mean-reader-engagement-means-success ethic on the news sites if for no other reason than the end of the "What do you think?" at the end of every article.

Really folks. I'm reading your article because I believe you have done research or have expertise in something. If I wanted to ask a random person I'd do that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:23 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am hopeful we're reaching the point "Everyone is entitled to their opinion" no longer means "And also a free audience."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:37 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure this'll hit the blue soon from someone smarter than me, but YouTube/Google just announced major changes to comments:

YouTube’s comments section, that notorious bastion of hostility toward women, people of color, rational thought, empathy, and the English language, is finally getting a makeover.

It looks like closer integration between YouTube and Google+ means registered Google+ users will be able to moderate comments, including creating Blocked and Approved user lists and banning comments containing specific keywords. Comments will be threaded and sorted by relevance, not by timestamp, so better comments will float to the top, and users will be able to limit who sees their comments to specific Google+ circles.

It's not clear to me how many of the changes will only be available to folks with Google+ accounts and how many will eventually be usable by other YouTube users. A CNN article has this: "YouTube says the majority of YouTube commenter accounts are already linked to Google+ identities, which should minimize backlash," but I find that really surprising, if not impossible to believe. Most of the shits making racist/sexist comments on YouTube already have Google+ accounts? Really?

Anyway, the Verge article implies that folks who aren't Google+ users won't be able to comment at all - "YouTube risks alienating some users by requiring them to use their Google+ identity to comment on the site" - but reading other articles I'm not sure that's the case. Maybe that'll become more clear as the story develops.
posted by mediareport at 11:21 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most of the shits making racist/sexist comments on YouTube already have Google+ accounts? Really?

Google sent hate mail to my YouTube account the other day.

Well not actually hate mail but rather an invitation to link my YouTube account to Google+ or to have a Google+ account created automatically for me.

Terrorist threat. That's the phrase I was looking for.

In any case I would say that very shortly there will be no distinction between your YouTube and Google+ account.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:40 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every fourth or fifth time I logged into YouTube it asked if I wanted to change my account to my real name. Finally I said yes and they said that I now had a Google+ account. Never seen it, but supposedly it's out there in the cloud. That's probably what happened to most YouTube users, they might not even realize they're now on Google+ as well.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:03 AM on September 25, 2013


Every fourth or fifth time I logged into YouTube it asked if I wanted to change my account to my real name.

It's been doing that to me for a few months. I've found that closing the YouTube tab and going and doing something else works well.

Fastmail is looking better and better the more I use it.
posted by flabdablet at 12:29 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I believe repeated prompts to sign up for G+ sent to everyone with a Gmail account or a YouTube account is how G+ is inflating their numbers.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:12 AM on September 25, 2013


TWENTY FOUR STEVENS, BAKED INTO A PI
posted by chavenet at 1:27 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


TIL that pb isn't just a fan of lead.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:23 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


> I believe repeated prompts to sign up for G+ sent to everyone with a Gmail account or a YouTube account is how G+ is inflating their numbers.

I'm pretty sure Google is trying to impose a single sign-in policy for all Google properties: Less a matter of making every Gmail user also a Google Plus account holder, more a matter of making every Google account holder a YouTube, Gmail, G+, Docs Drive, Blogger, Wallet... user. When you're signed in with your G+-compatible account, there's a persistent bar at the top of every page pushing other things you could be using your Google account for as well.

The long game is much more about keeping people within Google-operated properties all the time, rather than about making G+ seem a lot more popular than it is. Google clearly wants to push G+ down everybody's throat but the point is to get eyeballs and ad clicks, and if at some future date Google determines they can increase ad revenue by 10% by shitcanning G+, they wouldn't hesitate to do that.
posted by ardgedee at 5:36 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I keep forgetting that YouTube has a comment section - I've had their comments blanked out with Stylish for so long that I never remember they even exist. For those interested, the custom style is below and makes the whole YT experience approximately a zillion times better.
@-moz-document domain('youtube.com') {
  div#watch-discussion {
    display:none;
  }
}
posted by ZsigE at 6:01 AM on September 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I believe repeated prompts to sign up for G+ sent to everyone with a Gmail account or a YouTube account is how G+ is inflating their numbers.

Ok, that makes sense, and fits Google's past history of playing fast and loose with "active user" when talking about G+ numbers.

The long game is much more about keeping people within Google-operated properties all the time, rather than about making G+ seem a lot more popular than it is.

For now, anyway, those two things seem to be overlapping.
posted by mediareport at 6:09 AM on September 25, 2013


I wouldn't count G+ out. It seems to be gaining traction in my little corner of the world, which I wouldn't have bet on a year ago. Especially for professional discussion. You don't have that Facebook problem of it being so difficult to manage the difference between your professional groups and the entire rest of your life.

I noticed a new thing in my Chrome window recently - it's "Apps" at the top left of my bookmarks bar. Just popped up. Can't seem to move it. That and the new email labels you can't remove: makes me crazy. Customization was supposed to be your gig, Google...
posted by Miko at 6:37 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh my God, Chrome gave me that same update last night - and it gave my computer indigestion. Every so often, while I was browsing last night, things would just take a long time loading and it would make my whole system temporarily freeze up for about 40 seconds. I've been trying to figure out what's causing the holdup so I can kill it with fire.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I didn't link the two, but I had the same hangup experiences. Bleah.
posted by Miko at 7:08 AM on September 25, 2013


Miko - just found this on a Chrome support page; it's one thing I hadn't tried, and I'm trying it when I get home -
Out-of-date software programs that you've downloaded on to your computer can sometimes conflict with Chrome. These conflicts might cause Chrome to crash, hang, or stop rendering webpages (you may see blank pages or “Aw, snap!” errors).

If you are seeing these symptoms, type chrome://conflicts into your address bar. If you see any programs listed on this screen, please make sure to update those programs to their latest versions.
If there's still issues it says to go to Google Forums, though, which from the few times I've looked always seem to be entirely comprised of people who are having problems and saying Google sucks, so ymmv.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I believe if you attempt to use the Google support forums, it automatically creates a G+ account for you.

I keed! I keed!
posted by slogger at 7:23 AM on September 25, 2013


Just coming in to share a comment in an AskMe which illustrates another reason why mods, and Metafilter in general, are all awesome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: not the venue for a debate on the logistics of commercializing whale milk.
posted by Naberius at 8:06 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've told people a million times that the five-buck entry fee is the smartest, simplest troll-avoidance maneuver I have ever seen.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:12 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Naberius: "Metafilter: not the venue for a debate on the logistics of commercializing whale milk."

The list so far of topics that we should avoid on Metafilter:
  • Scientology
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Israel/Palestine
  • Declawing kittens
  • Circumcision
  • Obesity
  • The logistics of commercializing whale milk
posted by schmod at 8:22 AM on September 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Just got this sent to me over twitter. PopSci: Why We're Shutting Off Our Comments
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:26 AM on September 25, 2013


Amanda Palmer never really goes too well either.
posted by inigo2 at 8:48 AM on September 25, 2013


Says who!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:50 AM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: Welcome to Positive Commenting FLAVORTOWN

Guy Fieri is doing Rolaids ads now, WTF? (Sorry, that's a bit off topic, but I've been burning to mention it and it's not spicy enough for a post...)
posted by Jahaza at 9:08 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Popular Science article is frustrating. They're blaming trolls and spambots for the shutdown: "It wasn't a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter."

Then why not invest the resources required for hosting the kind of debate you want to foster? Maybe there was a financial component. Maybe they just don't have the expertise required. But it seems strange to frame it as trolls shut us down.
posted by pb (staff) at 9:13 AM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe there was a financial component.

I assume there was. That's the main reason why the YouTube comments have been a cesspool for nearly forever. Moderation isn't impossible but it does take some resources to do right.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]




cortex, the best part of that photo is that you are wearing a shirt that says vague individual, and the photo is out of focus so you are a... vague individual.

Puns are the best!
posted by ocherdraco at 10:19 AM on September 25, 2013


PopSci is almost completely web-clueless in general; no surprise to me at all that they're moderation-clueless in particular.
posted by flabdablet at 10:43 AM on September 25, 2013


Metafilter should IPO now. We can all be shareholders, LOL.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2013


I will take my dividends in beans please.
posted by arcticseal at 11:52 AM on September 25, 2013


Btw, congratulations to Mr. Bausch and MetaFilter for making it into the New York Times! And for being consulted as an expert on moderation, which is super cool.

You folks really are the best.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:31 PM on September 25, 2013


Kevin Street: "Btw, congratulations to Mr. Bausch and MetaFilter for making it into the New York Times!"

Again. :)
posted by zarq at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to diminish your compliment, Kevin Street. I just love that slideshow.
posted by zarq at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2013


It is pretty awesome! So many names have faces now...
posted by Kevin Street at 12:48 PM on September 25, 2013


I love the slideshow too, but New York Times "Style and Fashion" in cargo shorts? I suspect that faces were palmed over that. Or were cargo shorts semi-cool for 15 minutes in 2007?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:17 PM on September 25, 2013


I like to think that getting cargo shorts into the style section is a neat hack.
posted by pb (staff) at 1:50 PM on September 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


"Just got this sent to me over twitter. PopSci: Why We're Shutting Off Our Comments"

Am I the only one who read the article and then scrolled down to read the reaction comments?
posted by Room 641-A at 1:56 PM on September 25, 2013


Metafilter: Why We're Shouting Out Our Comments!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:55 PM on September 25, 2013


The Popular Science article is frustrating.

You an I read that piece differently.

I don't think it's a matter of only trolls, but also of fostering misinformation. By allowing debate your get some people who come in and challenge what's written. Some say that's how science is supposed to work, but it should be a peer with understanding of the subject, but now everyone is an expert. So I get to be the guy at the party that thinks his opinion of string theory is relevant and suddenly people get done reading some PHD talk about vitamin consumption and I come along and say, "Well the real problem here is the author wasn't taking enough E to balance his increase in A." I'm not trolling, I'm not off topic, I'm just an ignorant idiot. Suddenly my opinion is as valid as the climate change denier. And I get to do it on that page where I get to subvert the audience. Suddenly we're debating the age of the Earth and other established scientific facts. It's the fair and balanced quandary. When you have to present both side of an argument, even if one side is drastically wrong, by presenting both sides you are lending legitimacy to the quacks and charlatans.

In their case I don't think moderation would work. What might work is a combination of moderation and account verification and credential verification, but I don't see that being worth the time or scaling, so it's easier to shut off comments.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:05 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I hear you. And I don't want to drag discussion away from the existing MetaFilter thread, but it is related.

And I get to do it on that page where I get to subvert the audience.

Whose fault is that? Popular Science, a private company, is providing the space for conversations. They get to decide what shows up in that space. They also aren't Elite Science. Their mission is to educate. If someone comes in subverting the message they could view it as an opportunity to educate. That takes time and money and maybe they don't have enough to do that effectively. Maybe their commenting community didn't care about correcting misinformation. The presence of someone wrong on the Internet alone shouldn't be enough to scrap the entire concept of people having discussions around science news. I was frustrated at their "because trolls" reasoning. That's part of the story, but I feel like we're missing some important pieces.
posted by pb (staff) at 3:46 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


And frankly, he's absolutely right. Again.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:07 PM on September 25, 2013


Wonderful, please regale us with tales of those who have sought to emulate this fantastic model of moderation, lauded the world over.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:57 PM on September 25, 2013


Stack Overflow took some of their practices from things that have worked here. A lot of us provided input on the beta version of Discourse that they built. Some of the MeFi spinoff sites have similar moderation styles, others don't. Facebook tried to hire me and I said no. The big deal is that it's the combination of the human moderators, the fact that we're staffed round the clock, and the homegrown tools we have that allow us to run a lean operation.

But also the scale of MetaFilter is not popular to places that need to grow their audiences and basically achieve incredible economies of scale. You get economies of scale by paring down (or outsourcing) your human staff as much as possible. Instead we have six full time folks here with good jobs (and two part-timers with decent wages) who are happy healthy people in the world, doing good things even outside of work because we have decent, regular hours. This sort of thing is rarely cost-effective but it is effective in other ways.

More to the point, it's possible to do moderation well which is mostly what we keep saying as proof of concept. I know that mathowie and pb and cortex and I have talked to other businesses about this at various times in the past and it all comes down to how much you can build in house (for most places, very little) and how much you are prepared to be attentive to your community. We publish our deletion ratios and you can get basically every other stat from us with the exception of some of the flagging details. I think more places should be doing that, so every place can learn to moderate their communities well. Not all places will moderate the same, obviously, but at least they won't just throw up their hands.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:14 PM on September 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


PopSci is almost completely web-clueless in general; no surprise to me at all that they're moderation-clueless in particular.

A site being able to say (internally, if not externally) that "comments are not something we do well" is the first flowering of clue.

The next stage is to say "what needs to change to make comments something we do passably well?" (again, the MeFi mods' consulting rates should be in the gajillions) and the stage after that is "is it worth making that change?" (perhaps the mods should give them a gajillion or so discount).
posted by holgate at 7:09 PM on September 25, 2013


I recently had a comment deleted by the nytimes moderators. In it, I criticized the reasoning—more like anti-reasoning—of another person's highly "Recommended" comment, and also mildly criticized the moderators for highlighting that comment in their "Picks"; this was because, on that day, I felt it had to be called out as offensive bullshit, in the context of the news item. From this I learned that the quality of allowed comments is subject to the staff's politics. Dissent and disagreement is possible, but I concluded that I would have to consciously use diplomatic and witty rhetoric if the information I want to convey might be perceived as threatening in that environment. I can understand the need for a "high" bar for polite discourse, but part of me feels there something unfair and perverse about arbitrarily allowing some moron's popular comment to stand, but not mine.
posted by polymodus at 8:15 PM on September 25, 2013



Moderation will never be flawless.

In my view, the mods' strength resides in their professional approach. They talk to one another and share a certain version (of how the site should be) that I find consistent. Another strong point is that they sometimes disagree on a particular comment. This is an instance where the gray comes in handy. Sunlight ends up killing germs. I do resent it, sometimes, when my witty and thoughtful discourse doesn't seem to draw as much attention as the gratuitous pandering I see offered by those who shall remain nameless.

I used to inhabit a veteran's site dealing with PTSD issues. We did good work there for several years, but it wasn't moderated, and eventually the posts grew so toxic that the owner shut it down. By good work, I mean that useful things came out of it, as opposed to just watching kitties crawl into paper bags.

People have asked me about my memoires, whether I'll write them. I will, I do. A lot of it happens here.

So, yay MeFi.
posted by mule98J at 8:21 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slate's big redesign just relegated its comments to an overlay silo: they're still there, and they're still pretty awful, but they're no longer competing with the original pieces. That's likely to be emulated: instead of spending the time, effort and money on better comments, invest in design work that turns the comments facility into a fume cupboard.
posted by holgate at 7:43 AM on September 26, 2013


invest in design work that turns the comments facility into a fume cupboard.

I don't know what a fume cupboard is so I don't understand this metaphor. Could you explain it another way?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:59 AM on September 26, 2013


Fume hood. Where toxic stuff can be stored and worked with, without allowing the nastiness to contaminate the rest of your nice clean working environment.
posted by metaBugs at 8:38 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh. I just went along to the BoingBoing comments to see what they're like these days. Now even when you click through to see a full story, you have to click again to see the comments on a separate page. Is that a deliberate choice to hide their comments, or just a clunky bit of design? It's a long time since I've spent time in their comments section, but I remember them as a bit tinfoil hat-ish at worst, nothing I'd think needed to be hidden away.
posted by metaBugs at 9:56 AM on September 26, 2013


Yeah: the intent is to shove it off into a corner and make sure it doesn't leak its nastiness onto the page. Everything points in that direction: for instance, real-time badges on the number of Twitter or Facebook references, but not for comment count.

BoingBoing's switch to its Discourse-based BBS has similar structural intent, but there's a bit less of the sense that they'd rather not have any kind of commenting on-site, but feel obliged to provide it because pageviews and godknowswhat. [On preview, metaBugs was looking in the same direction.]

Obviously, I'd rather see places invest in smart moderation and cultivate a decent community, but I suspect the fume cupboard approach is going to be an attractive alternative, especially on general-interest sites with lots of drive-by traffic.
posted by holgate at 10:01 AM on September 26, 2013


boingboing has gone through at least three, possibly four, comment iterations since I've been paying attention to it. Wikipedia points to some other ones that I didn't even know about. When I first started reading it, they had an offsite ubb-style commenting forum (sort of like how the Straight Dope does) then they moved to in-house comments moderated by Teresa at Federated Media (and I think other bb-ers?) and they used Movable Type, then she left (which is its own story - both her arrival and departure) and they did in-house stuff with their own mods, then they moved to Discourse.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:09 AM on September 26, 2013


The PTSD website I mentioned created a link called "Free Fire Zone" where folks could do whatever they wanted. The aim was to keep PTSD issue separate from freewheeling bullshit. But Trolls and bad-faith posters don't play well with others, so, except for a very short break in the flames, this solution didn't work.

The only way to actually keep a site "clean" is to have moderators review every post before they are published to the website. Some PTSD sites to this. I don't see that system working where ideas are encouraged, and civil discourse is featured. Also, I can't imagine a system that monitors for bad behavior which doesn't routinely piss somebody off. Anything with regulations will illustrate the tension between freedom and control. Without that boundary, neither concept makes any sense. Discussions regarding that boundary are always interesting, if not always fruitful.

One example I've seen here is the discussion that helps me deal with casual anonymity. It seems useful for some people to have their identities masked from the general public. I'm not one of those who want to do that, but I understand some of the reasoning, and I'm okay dealing with the sort of semi-anonymity here on MeFi. Posers are not an issue. We are our screen identities to that extent, and our actual selves to whatever extent we wish to share (it) with the rest of the community.

No way exists for a bot to sort out flamers, and trolling is an art that can't always be defeated. Moderators do the job of guiding discourse where machine solutions would fail us. Even in their errors, moderators here impel us toward our ideal bb. We get to disagree with them as long as we do it in a civil way. They get to tell us to go fuck ourselves if we don't want to obey the rules, but they seem to have agreed (among themselves) to be polite about it.

It's up to us to defeat the biases of the moderators, but using reason, not neeners. Okay, neeners often are okay in the gray, sometimes in the blue, almost never in the green. I get a little dizzy dealing with it, but I'm about to catch on.
posted by mule98J at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2013


The presence of someone wrong on the Internet alone shouldn't be enough to scrap the entire concept of people having discussions around science news.

I don't know that I agree with you.

Popular Science's primary mission has never been to enable people to have discussions about science -- for many years before this the only way for readers to interact was via well-written letters to the editor. Comment sections were an opportunistic add-on that came with the internet.

It turns out that comments sections require more work than anticipated, but why put any more resources into them? Popular Science is not a discussion site. They tried it out and it didn't work for them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:06 PM on September 27, 2013


I'm all the fume cupboard with the tin lining and matching motifs.
posted by clavdivs at 6:54 AM on September 28, 2013


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