What sorts of questions of good for AskMefi? December 29, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

What would you say is the general culture of the AskMefi community? What sorts of questions get positive, supportive responses, and what sorts typically get negative responses?

I study social web culture, and this is just a question that popped into my mind, just out of curiosity. In my experience, I've had overwhelming support in certain questions, and constant attacks in others. I still think out of all the online ask forums, this is one of the best, with the most mature and thought out responses, but I suspect they skew toward certain biases. I'm not going to mention my hypotheses to not seed any ideas, but I wanted to know:

What do you think of the community? What sorts of questions get useful answers and what sorts just get bombarded with attacks, even when the asker was well intentioned and articulate? What biases do you think the community has? It'd be helpful if you could support your answer with specific examples (not necessarily links, but just descriptions of what you observed).

I'm limiting this to AskMefi, since I have not explored the rest of the site much. Also, though I am mostly focused on AskMefi, if you are regularly part of other forums (ie Reddit), how does this compare? I am mostly interested in the human relations section, since that is the most controversial with the most personal biases (also what I have explored the most). Not too many interesting observations go into questions identifying mushrooms and such, though I could be wrong.

Thanks for your time!
posted by lacedcoffee to MetaFilter-Related at 10:30 AM (239 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

I work here. I'll also limit my comments early in the process but to a large extent I think AskMe is what you make it and I see a lot of people's feelings about AskMe reflecting, to some degree, their participation there. I have a list of Question Types that Go Badly that I put in a comment once that I refer back to frequently.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:34 AM on December 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Thanks Jessamyn, that was a useful list. I am particularly interested in:

"You have grievously misread the room and are presuming people will side with you when they, in fact, will not. You take offense at this"

How do you know you misread the room? What kind of culture is the room? I've seen questions that I didn't feel was particularly controversial and people just want to know the correct course of action, and they get bombarded with basically "You are the problem and a jerk" (to paraphrase), when I think people read too much into the tone or instill a tone themselves based on their own biases and experiences.

**Also, Jessamyn, since your mail is disabled, I wanted to know, is there a way to get access to the demographics of the site (ie country, education, occupation, participation, and socioeconomic status)? This my be a long-shot. Thanks! Also, if nobody answers, I'd love to hear your complete thoughts on this later.
posted by lacedcoffee at 10:39 AM on December 29, 2013


Off the top of my head: people who ask relationship questions which assume Men And Women Are Fundamentally Different usually get chewed out a bit.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:44 AM on December 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


people who ask relationship questions which assume Men And Women Are Fundamentally Different usually get chewed out a bit.

Or, as a corollary, that all men or all women are the same rather than individuals.
posted by LionIndex at 10:47 AM on December 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


"You are the problem and a jerk" (to paraphrase)

I know answers feel this way. I know people give answers that could be significantly more empathetic and tactful. At the same time, we often say that MeFi generally is "a social network for non-friends" which is to say if you ask a question in a certain way and using a certain tone or certain words, it can be helpful to know how nearly-total strangers might perceive that question or that concern. It may be that those people are wrong, have misread you and/or the situation, or are playing out some drama from their own life and using your question as proxy. It may also be that you are too close to the topic to see what is plain to anyone else who is not stuck within it.

You know you misread the room when you make what you think is a joke and a lot of people tell you that you are not funny.
You know you misread the room when you think you are just asking for help in working on something in your relationship and people tell you that there is something possibly irreparably wrong with the relationship
You know you misread the room when your question basically ends with some version of AMIRITE and people let you know that you are not, in fact, right
You know you midread the room when you realize that the premises that you thought were held in common between you and the answerers of AskMe are not, in fact, held in common.

We have many members whose lives have been helped by therapy, medication, AA, leaving their terrible relationship, not leaving their difficult relationship, no-contact with their parents, staying in contact with their parents, speaking their mind, staying quiet, taking the safe path, taking the challenging path, exercise, weight loss, health at any size, yoga, team sports and quiet contemplation. I think it's tough to draw generalizations except that people who ask crabby-sounding questions tend to evoke crabbier responses (and are, often, crabbier in their follow-ups to commenters). If I ask a question and someone tells me I am wrong and a jerk, all it means is that someone thinks I am wrong and a jerk (or possibly they are having a terrible day). It does not mean I am wrong. It does not mean I am a jerk. I have to make my own decisions at the end of the day in any case.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:48 AM on December 29, 2013 [31 favorites]


This has been said here on MetaTalk many times before, but: In my experience, people are much less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt when you ask a question anonymously. They're also more likely to make (uninformed) assumptions about you and your situation. I try not to post very many anon questions for this reason -- when I'm posting anonymously, it's because the subject is a delicate one for myself or for someone else, and it sucks that much more to end up under a pile-on. The last time I posted one it concerned children, and many responses were based on the assumption I was an entitled young man with no sympathy or understanding for the problems women face. Which taught me to specify my gender next time, certainly, but wow! That was not fun. It's like, if you're anonymous, many people just fill in the gaps in the least generous way possible. Having been on the receiving end a few times, I'm now much more careful about how I answer such questions myself.

I've also noticed that people tend to be less patient with questions from users who're obviously new to the site and don't know the culture very well. Which is understandable -- I think there's a sense of people signing up for an account just to ask their question, without any interest in participating in the site further, and some of us prefer for MeFi to be a community that has continuity and a distinct culture. But sometimes it can be a little hard to watch, and I wish people would just leave those questions be instead of answering them snarkily.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


At very basic level, I would say the crowd tends to skew politically liberal, non-religious, college-educated or above, and middle class, though of course there's a range of users in every category. Questions on conservative politics or religious practices don't go poorly (as least from what I've seen?), but this probably isn't the place to go to get the most comprehensive answers on those subjects.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:51 AM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Questions that go badly tend to involve situations in which the OP has omitted a vital piece of information, which only comes out after several fighty exchanges with responders.

See also: questions which are not actually solvable questions but are instead the OP wanting validation for their side of an IRL argument. In many of these cases, the OP is the party that most outside observers feel is actually in the wrong.
posted by elizardbits at 10:51 AM on December 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


What biases do you think the community has?

It's not quite what you mean, but a pretty good chunk of these are on display on a weekly basis. Fundamental attribution error and negativity effect are especially common in human relations questions that have a ton of DTMFA responses (though that may still be a good answer).
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:05 AM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Most of the above has to do with questions about social issues.

Technical questions generally go quite well, and usually end up with good answers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:06 AM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Questions that contain all the important pieces of information and actually ask a question tend to go better-- this is especially true for relationships but also for questions where budget/size/area are an issue. Questions that have four paragraphs and no tl;dr or where the tl;dr should have replaced their exposition tend to go poorly.

I can also confirm that one of the questions I asked anonymously went in a weird, kind of aggressive direction that kept ignoring the updates I posted through the mods. It wasn't a great or helpful experience and I honestly don't know how I could have reworked it.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:09 AM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Travel questions looking for tips and recommendations about specific places always go great. People like to think about fun places to go and locals take pride in talking about where they live. They are genuinely helpful to the prospective traveler as well and people sometimes even meet.
posted by Roger Dodger at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm limiting this to AskMefi, since I have not explored the rest of the site much.

in MetaTalk, there have been several posts about surveys of, studies on, and papers about MetaFilter and its denizens.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


On reading the room:
1. Write your question.
2. Read your question for grammatical errors.
3. Wait 30 minutes.
4. Reread your question.
4a. Does what you say sound like you are painting someone or somebody in a negative light?
4b. Does your question contain anything that could be misconstrued as sexist?
4c. Does your question contain anything that could be misconstrued as racist?
4d. Is your question a trigger question a subject that is going to polarize people immediately?
4e. Is your question expressing a bias toward action?
4f. If you took an obvious action taken in the question, would it solve problems before you asked the question?
4g. Are you ready to potentially do something that you've avoided doing?
5. How would you write the question if you were writing it from a different perspective (maybe the subject of your question)?
5a. If you were reading what you wrote and had never met you, would you think this person is a sleazy stalker?
5b. If you were reading what you wrote, would you think this person is name dropping?
5c. If you were reading what you wrote, would you think this person thinks they are better than the people they are asking assistance from?
5d. If you were reading what you wrote, would you think that the person is ready to look for help?
5e. If you were reading what you wrote, would you want to help the person in real life if they were your friend asking this question?
5f. If you were reading what you wrote, would you be friends with this person?
6. Read the question one last time.
7. Post it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


Questions about non-pharmaceutical approaches to health concerns often go badly here. For many MeFites, either a treatment has been validated in large clinical trials or it is bullshit quackery worthy of derision.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:12 AM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Aside from human relations questions, I've had trouble with questions where a lot of people can think of a plausible answer but few people have personally confirmed an answer. Which isn't even necessarily a bad thing as long as they say "I don't know for sure but you could try X" rather than "X."
posted by Jeanne at 11:19 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Please don't tell me to do X" when X is clearly the only reasonable answer are my favorite.
posted by empath at 11:21 AM on December 29, 2013 [43 favorites]


Questions in which the asker is coy or not explicit annoy the hell out of me.
posted by dfriedman at 11:21 AM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Similar to leaving out details, questions where the asker's description is somehow ambiguous and can accomodate multiple interpretations often result in early answerers responding to different interpretations of the issue, then arguing with different understandings of what it is they're talking about or disputing which interpretation is what the question is actually referring to.
posted by XMLicious at 11:34 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my own experience, I get the most useful answers when my questions are neither too narrow nor too broad. It's a sweet spot that takes a little practice to find. Examples from my own posting history- I think "What fun Christmas activities can we do in NYC this December?" would have gone a lot better than "What can a group of these specific people do on this date during these hours in NYC that are Christmas-y?" I posted a super-specific "what car should I buy" question once. In retrospect, I should have been more flexible on the requirements so people would feel more free to guide me in different directions that might have been a better fit for me than I thought. I think there are a lot of situations when you can be more flexible than you think you can and you preclude a lot of good answers. Too narrow.

I've also posted a couple questions that boil down to "I HATE THIS PERSON/THING HOW CAN I DEAL." I didn't get the greatest advice from those questions because I didn't know what the hell I wanted other than validation. Too broad. Also too much AMIRITE hate-y-ness.

I also have a bunch of vague and biased ideas about AskMe's site biases, but I don't think they're necessarily true or borne out by the evidence. They're just my vague impressions. I think, in general, that AskMe leans towards interpersonal independence rather than interdependence. I see a strong tendency towards keeping yourself financially independent from others, especially parents or nuclear family members (that includes not borrowing or taking money or resources from family and also not giving them money or resources). There are also a lot of answers that say "You don't owe anyone, even parents, visits/attention/emotional support." That is totally contrary to my personal family culture where both monetary and emotional resources are pooled and shared according to need and different people make sacrifices at different times for other members of the family.

I don't think AskMe's way of proscribing those things are wrong, just that it's something I notice that is different from my personal family culture. I have also learned from AskMe that many more people than I ever would have guessed have parents with emotional or mental health problems that preclude that kind of shared resources culture and even being in contact with their parents. So again, I don't see it as bad or good. Just different from my own upbringing.

In a similar way, when I first started reading the site, I noticed a difference between AskMe on debt, which I perceived to be, basically, "Well, you are the one who ran up the credit card, so you have to pay it off" and Metafilter proper's stance which seemed to acknowledge that credit card companies were eeeevil. I think that has shifted in the past few years as the economy has tanked and we've all gotten poorer. AskMe seems to have gotten nicer about consumer debt.

None of this is scientific and it is all informed by my own damage.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:34 AM on December 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


Good questions are those which can have good answers.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:37 AM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Honestly? Good questions have a specific answer or answers and the asker is willing to listen.

I'd also say people looking for...I don't want to say conservative in the political sense, but maybe traditional?...anyway, those kind of answers where it would be "pray" or "go to church" or "well the woman has to defer to the man, that's what the Bible says" are obviously not going to get what they expect.

And the questions that are obviously slanted towards the asker always tend to backfire hilariously, sometimes they're so breathtakingly lacking in self-awareness.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:46 AM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suspect that some people remember usernames more than other people do, and that people sometimes carry their previously formed opinion of a user over into that user's Askme question. I also think that when a question is emotionally loaded, responses can be a little sheep-like. Several times (for example) I've seen an apparent consensus for answer A, followed finally by a particularly persuasive commenter providing answer B, followed by everyone chiming in favour of answer B.

A combination of these two effects means that if you make an ass of yourself in whatever fashion somewhere on the site, and then later ask an ambiguous or difficult question, the result can be this very odd looking pile-on where a question that's reasonable on the face of it gets a heap of quite negative answers.

I also wonder whether the sheep effect means that one person who just got out of bed on the wrong side can cause the same kind of cascade of weirdness.
posted by emilyw at 11:53 AM on December 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


Questions that have preallocated answers in the posters heads don't seem to go do well here; like if a person is asking what car to buy, but already has a car that they are set on buying, or if a person doesn't get along will with another person, but they want to feel like their relationship exists in a vacuum, that kind of thing.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:53 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wall-of-text relationship questions, for fairly predictable reasons including:

1) You are turning off a certain segment of readers who just won't bother, thus limiting the pool of answers;

2) It becomes too easy for readers to overlook or even forget certain important details, which makes their answers less accurate;

3) Complex narratives make it easier for the reader to project their own issues into the question;

4) The question is really more of stream-of-consciousness rant which doesn't accurately portray the question that needs answering.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:57 AM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What biases do you think the community has?

When it comes to all sorts of human relations/lifestyle questions, I honestly think AskMetafilter tends a bit towards the wet-blanket side of things. For example, in a dealing-with-neighbors question, I think AskMe is a lot more likely to come down on the side of the Neighbor Who Is Annoyed By Sound then they are the Neighbor Who Is Constantly Told They Are Making Too Much Noise (when, in fact, the same situation might easily call for a "your neighbor is making unreasonable demands" type of response). Similarly, I think folks are likely to come down hard on people that they think Drink Too Much or are in other ways acting less than what some might consider Adult (this question and its responses comes immediately to mind for me).
posted by likeatoaster at 12:04 PM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


What sorts of questions get useful answers and what sorts just get bombarded with attacks, even when the asker was well intentioned and articulate? What biases do you think the community has?

Sometimes if you ask a question that approaches someone's philosophical hobbyhorse, they are COMPELLED to tell you about it. This is most noticeable if you ask a question about anything related to the supernatural; in this question asking about documentation for Gary Spivey, people posted a bunch of useless comments (some of which were later deleted) that assured me that he was DEFINITELY NOT PSYCHIC. and I was all okay thanks dudes
posted by Greg Nog at 12:08 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


What sorts of questions get useful answers and what sorts just get bombarded with attacks, even when the asker was well intentioned and articulate? What biases do you think the community has?

I think a woman asking how to get to know/ask out a man or another woman, OR a man who wants to know how to ask out another man receive much more balanced answers on AskMe than a man who wants to ask a woman out.

There is also a "you don't owe your family anything" voice here that is louder than I see on other sites, even in cases where there is no past abuse.
posted by kimberussell at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


I've seen questions that I didn't feel was particularly controversial and people just want to know the correct course of action, and they get bombarded with basically "You are the problem and a jerk" (to paraphrase), when I think people read too much into the tone or instill a tone themselves based on their own biases and experiences.

Just to get sorta meta about this MeTa, I'd suggest that possibly the reason you don't think certain questions are particularly controversial is because of your own set of biases and cultural upbringing and experiences.

Which is to say, if you're confused about why some questions (whether your own or others') seem to get an inexplicably hostile or agitated response, it might be worth taking a mental step back and thinking about why you think the question is uncontroversial and the "correct" answer should be relatively straightforward.

I'd think this need to be somewhat dispassionate would be especially true in the context of researching social web culture, since I've seen it said that one of the weaknesses of a lot of social science research is that the researchers let their own assumptions and biases affect not only their conclusions, but also the initial parameters of their research.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:18 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd suggest that possibly the reason you don't think certain questions are particularly controversial is because of your own set of biases and cultural upbringing and experiences.

Hoo boy, did reading AskMeFi over the years teach me a lot about myself.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:31 PM on December 29, 2013 [23 favorites]


If you're looking for the best way to reformat your hard drive or the best place to pick apples in Michigan, it's a really good resource. I don't read the personal relationship questions anymore because they are very much like watching a fiery car wreck in slow motion. Some people seem to derive a great deal of entertainment from that sort of thing. I don't.
posted by double block and bleed at 1:42 PM on December 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


There's a certain attitude in human relations threads, I guess I would call it the Perfect World attitude. Sometimes advice given assumes the world is perfect and/or you're on a mission to make the world perfect. I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to always do what's right but sometimes I think the general body of advice might lead askers astray from the things people actually do. For example, in this thread, several people give the OP a hard time for only wanting to get to know this woman if she's single. You should want to get to know her either way! Well, yes, if the world were perfect and we all had unlimited energy, I guess that's right. In the real world, we all make choices like that, and I think most people are OK with that. I hate to think that we are giving vulnerable people unrealistic advice that's more snark-food than helpful. I'm sure I've been guilty of giving advice like that; I now strive to be sympathetic and balance advice on what a person should do with advice on what a person actually could do.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:01 PM on December 29, 2013 [28 favorites]


The questions which receive the most positive response are stupid questions like "name my cat". Dumb questions which break the guidelinessuggestions but are allowed to stand anyway for historical reasons.

The questions which receive the most negative responses are those in which the asker already has an action or opinion in mind (and is usually WRONG about it) and is looking for validation rather than information. When they do not get validation they often become fighty. Or they mark as best answer the one answer out of dozens which conforms to their pre-judged solution or idea.

Another type which is received poorly, though less poorly than the above, are relationship questions in which someone is asking what they should do about a bad relationship when they have already asked about the same bad relationship previously and ignored all the advice telling them to break up. Because it is wasting everyone's time.
posted by Justinian at 2:04 PM on December 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure how to define this question, because it is not a 'technical ' question per se, but I once asked a question about why people don't pick up the phone, (Something like 'you don't pick up your phone. I want to know why') because in my adulthood I found myself shunning the phone. I got a host of great answers of people sharing their experience that really addressed what was consciously and unconsciously going on for me, including feeling interrupted with cell phones, other modes of communication being preferable, and even that the technology of phones-particularly cell phones - really made the phone experience unpleasant.

It was really very enlightening, and it made me feel less weird and less guilty. I think ask metafilter does these kind of questions well.
posted by anitanita at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, and I think we do 'I'm going to be at x destination for y days. Where should I eat?/What should I definately see?' questions pretty well as well.
posted by anitanita at 2:21 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the responses so far.

The last time I posted one it concerned children, and many responses were based on the assumption I was an entitled young man with no sympathy or understanding for the problems women face. Which taught me to specify my gender next time, certainly, but wow!\

I have noticed this, too, though why should it have mattered if the poster was male or female? I recall a man posting a question about family life (can't find the link now), where there was a pile on of "Have you considered how hard your wife has it?" when there was no mention that the man wasn't aware, or didn't help with the housework, etc. I felt those responses were particularly unfair and frustrating that I had to turn away.

I understand the questions with specific answers that doesn't pull on people's emotional biases get good responses (ie technical questions, what's a good restaurant, what to name my cat). I'm particularly interested in the human relations question that have gray areas, which I feel sometimes commenters answer as black/white or infuse their own experiences that were not mentioned by OP (and not because they were being vague either).

Also, I feel people tend to be excessively harsh/rude in those comments (or perhaps that's just the internet in general).
posted by lacedcoffee at 2:39 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The ones that stick out in my mind are human relations questions in which the asker is clearly leaving out something important, and may or may not even be aware of what they're leaving out. It's usually a crap shoot how that goes. Sometimes, the hole in their story may be obvious, and sometimes it may not.

In particular, this comes up with dating questions where someone asks something along the lines of, "I was involved with this person in some way and they did some things that seem clearly irrational and totally out of left-field and not in the usual left-field irrational kind of way, what could I have done differently?"

To make up an example out of the air - and I am not thinking of any question in particular, so if there's one like this, I apologize - let's say it's a bunch of ultimately irrelevant backstory and then, "This guy seemed kind of interested when we were talking online and we went to dinner and conversation was going great but then the food arrived and he suddenly turned really cold on me and shortly after finishing his meal, he made his excuses and paid the bill and left in a hurry shortly after now he's not responding to any of my messages. Can you help me understand his behavior?"

And there's a tendency - and I don't think this is a bad thing that happens, it's a perfectly understandable and human thing - to reaffirm that the asker did nothing wrong, is a caring soul with a wonderful heart who was just too awesome for this crazy guy who was probably gaslighting her or whatever. Like I say, it's a human thing - we bring our experiences to the table and usually in the long irrelevant backstory we can find something to confirm our expectations. We see patterns. It's what we do.

So there'll be a lot of affirmation (which I also don't object to - even if it's not useful for solving the problem, it's still helpful in terms of their feelings), and it kind of sets the tone for the thread a bit and you need to figure out a tactful way to tease out some more details and figure out the whole story.*

And it's tough, because you can't very well ask, "What's going on here that you don't know about?"

So I'd say that threads where someone is trying to understand another person's left-field reaction seem to receive supportive responses, for better or worse. To be absolutely clear, I also think that it's not an impossibly rare occurrence that the other person really did just go absolutely nuts, but I try to let my reasoned response lead over whatever emotional one I might be having if I can help it.

Which is to say,

What biases do you think the community has?

I think the community tends to take the side of the person who's actually standing in front of them, so to speak, and tends to accept that person's story a bit more uncritically than they would if they were hearing it second- or third-hand. I think AskMetafilter shares this particular bias with literally the entire rest of the human race.

* Turn your monitor upside down for the secret answer!
---
˙ʞɔnɟ sɐ ssoɹƃ s,ʇᴉ puɐ ʎlpnol ʎllɐǝɹ uǝdo ɥʇnoɯ ɹǝɥ ɥʇᴉʍ sʍǝɥɔ ǝɥS
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:49 PM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh, and as observed above, the community tends to either ignore or find ways to circumvent provisos given by the asker which attempt to preclude any answers containing whatever the asker doesn't want to hear ("I am in an irretrievably broken relationship with someone who is awful to me and shows no interest in changing. What should I do? Breaking up is not an option"). I consider this a feature, not a bug.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:54 PM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ironically many of the things we are listing as what we see as community biases (yes myself included) are tending to be slightly closer to our own personal biases instead.
posted by elizardbits at 2:54 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've found that the worst examples of AskMe often involve the answerers making assumptions about the asker and often about what assumptions s/he is making as well.

As an example, because you asked, I think the AskMe questions that I posted that got some of the responses that felt most like attacks was this one about how to throw out tampons. I've always assumed you just flush them but it turns out nope!

What was challenging about this was that a lot of people assumed stuff about me based on my asking this, even though I felt like I was asking a pretty basic question. For example, some people figured that because I was planning to make a sign asking that the trash be used it meant I was too "dainty" or squeamish to talk about menstruation in person. Other people reminded me that some male-bodied persons menstruate so I had to make sure I told EVERYONE about tampons. It was frustrating because the EXACT REASON I WAS MAKING THE SIGN was so that I didn't make assumptions about people! I know that this can be a tricky issue -- maybe you are a transman and don't want to be reminded that your body behaves this way. Maybe you are a transwoman and you don't want to be reminded that your body DOESN'T behave this way. Maybe you're going through menopause and are conflicted about it. Maybe you're unexpectedly pregnant and don't want to talk about your period with strangers. Maybe if I DON'T put up a sign and I tell you every time you come into my house about tampons you'll get sick of hearing it. There are many options!

The issue here is that in fact I had considered all of these things and made my decision based on them, but people made a lot of assumptions about me that didn't really answer the question. It ended up being helpful, but it was frustrating that instead of answering my question, people jumped in to question assumptions they thought I held that in fact I didn't.

In case anyone wonders, I did end up making a sign!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2013 [22 favorites]


Someone mentioned this, I think, in another Metatalk thread, but there seems to be a tendency, especially in personal relations questions, for commenters to want to ferret out some seemingly-hidden nugget of truth lurking in either the question itself, or through omission, or in the asker's previous questions...or even in attempting to link one anon post to another anon post.

On the one hand, this is sometimes a legitimate thing to do in figuring out the source of the Asker's problem, but it seems to have reached a chronic state of GOTCHA on the site that is often not helpful, and sometimes turns into weird little displays of social dominance that are mostly for the entertainment of those reading, and less for the benefit of the OP. "Tough love" answers seem to sometimes be a way of signaling dominance or status, and people tend to favourite those answers a lot, which I think is a bit concerning. I think there is a mostly-unconscious tendency for humans to want to side with the dominant party in an exchange, and I think that happens in text communities online just as much as it happens in person, in politics, at work, etc.

People are mentioning some stuff about gender and sexism-related pile-ons, and I think those happen because sexism is a really touchy (and serious) problem, and because I think Metafilter as a community has actually struggled with it for years. Do a search on Metatalk for posts about sexism, misogyny, "Boy Zone," misandry, etc., and you'll see what I'm talking about. In that vein, I have witnessed what I perceived to be dog-whistle or just-under-the-radar sexist stuff, and it bothered me enough to make me want to participate less, particularly in human relations questions. Things seem to be changing a bit lately, which makes me more apt to participate (for better or worse.)

In my experience, anon human relations questions about a conflict with one's spouse seem to go really poorly, because commenters seem to take on one side of the issue based on their own history and experiences, and may project a lot of things that aren't actually there, or might even completely lose sight of the actual question being asked in their zeal to defend the party they most identify with in the situation.
posted by Ouisch at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


relationship questions in which someone is asking what they should do about a bad relationship when they have already asked about the same bad relationship previously and ignored all the advice telling them to break up

If I had one single wish for 2014 it would be to have the power to post that gif from Moonstruck where Cher slaps Nic Cage and yells SNAP OUT OF IT on every one of those questions.
posted by elizardbits at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2013 [26 favorites]


I should clarify, for mine, in terms of the idea of "misreading the room", I misread the room by thinking about tampons and their disposal in a certain way and, perhaps, by assuming this was an ickier subject than other people did, but answerers often misread the asker too.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:58 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not too many interesting observations go into questions identifying mushrooms and such, though I could be wrong.
You could be.

What would you say is the general culture of the AskMefi community?
There is a question up right now, where the poster has given minimal details, to the point of hobbling their own chance of receiving any useful answers. That question still has a wealth of people attempting to give some kind of help... Any kind of help. I think this says something about the good nature of the community in attempting to solve a problem. It is genuinely heart-warming at times.

if you are regularly part of other forums (ie Reddit), how does this compare?
Less noisy, less erratic, marginally less cats.
posted by 0 answers at 2:58 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think ask metafilter does these kind of questions well.

I remember that question and it was fun to answer and to read the other answers. It was nice because it didn't turn into some sort of "You're wrong because..." pile-on and you, as the asker, didn't have a bunch of preconceived stuff built into the question that people felt that they had to fight against. There was another question, a much older one that was similar. Something like "You are a late person. Why are you late? Can you explain this to me?" and it was as non-judgey as a question like that could be, just a sort of plain "I truly do not understand this, can you help me get it?" and I learned a lot about why people are late and what is and is not effective dealing with people who aren't prompt. Compare and contrast this to the question about taking shoes off in the house which, for whatever reason, turned into this constant "No, your way is wrong BECAUSE...." and had a lot of concern trolling in it, people making arguments for other people without saying that they may or may not have been representing their own opinion. (like "Why don't you think about the broke people who have socks with holes and are ashamed. A shoes-off policy is unfair to poor people!") and then you wind up with people arguing with other people's straw man arguments which turn into the worst sort of internet slap fights.

oh god, that tampon question
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:59 PM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


why should it have mattered if the poster was male or female?

I once had a male MeFite tell me "I couldn't wrap my head around the way women were treated" vis-à-vis a particular situation. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and figured he just assumed I was a man and that he wasn't "mansplaining"; I had to assume that if he'd clicked through to my profile and saw I was a woman he would have responded differently. Sometimes people have knee-jerk, if well-meaning, reactions to certain topics.

On preview, the cooking question that's up now should have been a slam dunk.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:04 PM on December 29, 2013


oh god, that tampon question

Yeah, I'm really sorry! That was interesting to me because I actually thought I was posting something pretty non-controversial. Definitely learned to question my assumptions there!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2013


As for the best possible questions for all sides, I really enjoy (although at the same time loathe because they are often grotendous) the questions in which the situation described by the OP is wildly egregiously incorrect to outsiders yet totally mundane and normal to the OP, and the OP is uncertain if they should be outraged/horrified/disgusted/etc or not. These are the times that the rare Mefi Answer Consensus is achieved, and the OP learns that a thing they have put up with for a long time is actually a thing about which they are 100% right to say I WANT NO MORE OF THIS THING.

most of these questions involve the personal hygiene of the OP's partner and are upsetting to recall
posted by elizardbits at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


most of these questions involve the personal hygiene of the OP's partner

It's funny though because AskMe has a lot of people who are super fastidious/tidy (and possibly germ-phobic or OCD) as well as people who are super slobbish (and possibly hoarders or grappling with depression-related hygiene stuff) so if you're getting agreement on something like that, in either direction, things are definitely way over the edge.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:19 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Relationship questions often go badly here.

A number of Mefites are estranged from their parents or families and are quick off the bat to suggest breaking ties rather than communicating or attempting to mend fences.

There are also those who carry personal relationship issues into each thread about dating and marriage, who see potential abuse in every point of conflict. If your partner raises their voice, does not communicate well or does something wrong, it is not because they may be mixed up or hurting as well, but must be part of a calculated system of abuse designed to take you down. That cynicism gets very wearying and can make you want to avoid relationship AskMes after a while.

As far as other communities go, I would say that Reddit feels like teenagers just hanging out together, while Metafilter skews more like graduate students defending their dissertations.

You get all the silly, stupid and crass humor on Reddit, but everyone is basically welcome and there's equal parts camaraderie and support to balance out the uglier stuff. Redditors are more fickle and trendy and into memes and popular media tropes. These means they are also less sensitive to issues like racism and sexism; the default is NOT serious discussion but having fun on the internet.

Metafilter, on the other hand, is more intimidating to new members; there is an expectation that you will be up-to-date on the latest socioeconomic and political ideologies and that your comments reflect an awareness of more academic standards of discourse. Humor is deprecated here because most subjects are considered too serious for casual barbs, though turning the tables to poke fun at societal ills is pretty much okay. Members can both be more earnest in their beliefs and more judgmental of those who don't share them, and often hold grudges. Real and imagined slights take on great significance and can become personal vendettas. If you consistently read the room correctly, though, you may be accepted as one of the community.
posted by misha at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


Couple of things I've noticed:

Trying to be gender neutral when asking an anonymous questions never works because people will give you one anyway. Personally, I usually assume that anons are female. But I can't recall a question where I was thinking "I have no idea what this person's sex is" after reading it.

If someone asks a question about a friend or family member doing something questionable, sketchy, or just annoying, and they want advice on it, there will be responses with the tone "What? You actually have concerns about and maybe want to change the behavior of someone close to you. How Dare You?? That's crazy talk. Mind your own damn business, asshat."
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Please don't tell me to do X" when X is clearly the only reasonable answer are my favorite.

I read these questions as "Is there something other than X that I can do here?" and see nothing wrong with this question. I read it as "if you do not know of something other than X, please don't answer". In the ideal case, if there is no alternative to X, the question will simply go unanswered, but unfortunately the thread turns into a pileon of people insisting that there is only X and there's something the matter with the asker.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:38 PM on December 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


I understand the questions with specific answers that doesn't pull on people's emotional biases get good responses (ie technical questions, what's a good restaurant, what to name my cat).

You said you're more interested in the human relations stuff, so this may be an incidental point, but I don't think this piece is exactly right. First, because restaurants and cat names do involve preferences that people get emotional about ("Olive Garden sucks," "Pets shouldn't have people names," etc). Second and more key to your overall question, AskMe works as a general-knowledge resource. There are exceptions: the membership has a high concentration of IT workers, so a very technical IT question might get great answers. But in many cases, a question that's too specialized will not get any useful answers.
posted by cribcage at 3:43 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love questions that elicit cultural insights about tribes I know nothing about. I love questions with life hacks. I love cooking questions and recipe questions! I love questions about "the best ____ from around the globe". I love questions that seek to unravel a mystery. I love questions that get people reminiscing about their childhoods or their hometowns. I love all the book/movie/music questions because I get better-filtered recommendations. I love the fashion questions -- contrary to the ostensible crunchy-techy vibe, there are some unapologetic fashionistas in the community.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:23 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


What do you think of the community?

It is a community. Sometimes it's breathtakingly good. Sometimes it's having a bad day or had a nerve touched. Sometimes it's hilarious. Sometimes it's downright bizarre. Often it'll be all of things within a single question.

What sorts of questions get useful answers and what sorts just get bombarded with attacks, even when the asker was well intentioned and articulate?

Technical questions tend to get good answers. They're straightforward and usually have black and white answers.

What biases do you think the community has?

The community is pro individual with a strong of responsibility to greater society and a moral obligation to be honest and kind to others. You can do whatever you want, but you have to be honest and straightforward with others and lying and manipulation is rarely tolerated. Open marriages are fine if that's your thing and it works for others, but God help if you're cheating. It's ok to dump anyone for any reason. You are not responsible for another person's feelings after you've dumped them. Complete separation after a breakup is mandatory, maybe later you can be friends after all the wounds have healed. Sex is great, all long as everyone is onboard with the specific acts. Talk a lot, communicate with people. Children are great, but you don't have to have them. Honor and respect your parents and family, as long as they honor and respect you, otherwise fuck'em.

Make delicious food. The Republican party is currently full of assholes who are wrecking the country. The Democratic isn't that much better. Apple products are awesome, except when they're not. Don't disparage people, unless they're being an asshole, then it's ok to go town on their sorry ass. The best mod is pb, because he's the person who doesn't deletes stuff, he just fixes stuff. Your job is not your family, it's just a business arrangement. Puppies are better than cats.

It'd be helpful if you could support your answer with specific examples (not necessarily links, but just descriptions of what you observed).

That sounds like a lot of work you want people to do for a question that just popped into your head.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 PM on December 29, 2013 [31 favorites]


Questions don't go well when readers get the impression that the asker is being selfish; that tends to bring out the "tough love." An example would be the recent question by someone who thought their SO wasn't being supportive enough about a death in the asker's family. I didn't think the asker was being insensitive to the SO, but a lot of people did and let him or her know it.

I do think that the emphasis here on a certain level of individualism tends to sometimes make answers unhelpful for askers who are from different cultures. When someone from a more communal culture has a question like "how do I deal with family members in my business," it may not be realistic or helpful to tell them to just do what they want and forget about their families.

questions in which the situation described by the OP is wildly egregiously incorrect to outsiders yet totally mundane and normal to the OP

The one I remember was the person who tried unsuccessfully to kill a mouse, then decided to keep it as a pet. I was genuinely horrified and wrote a knee-jerk comment that was (correctly) deleted.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


As much as I love answering and reading human relations questions, there's no way I'd ever ask a relationshipfilter question unless I really, really wanted tough love. And usually, I don't. I just want validation.

Especially bad seems to be any question where a partner has snooped to discover infidelity. People here seem to get really, really upset about snooping--more than seems to be the norm in general society in my experience. Similarly: jealousies about same sex friends. It's not that I think the answers to these questions are bad, but usually I can tell from the questions alone precisely the answer the asker will get from the majority of those answering, which, if you've been here long enough, kinda seems like it does away with the need to even ask? That's my sense, at least.

Aside from that, I've had a few questions where the answers didn't quite address the question I thought I was asking, though it's almost always been because I didn't ask carefully enough or wasn't entirely sure what I was asking (after this question, I realized the commonality between the examples of the stuff I wanted: it's about becoming a parent as a positive rather than already being one. But it took a lot of musing to figure out why few of the answers hit the spot for me).

This question was frustrating, but I guess I could have left out a lot of the detail about the cat. I get that people just want to solve your kitty problems, because I usually do, too, but the chair I ended up buying was super easy to clean the one or two times kitty did pee on it which actually seemed to help with the peeing problem generally (no pee smell soaking through cushions reduces impulse to pee, I guess.)

I've had the best luck with TV recs, writing advice, and relocation questions. Metafilter is really, really good at those.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:16 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


A general problem with AskMe I have noticed is that, if you are pretty specific about your question, maybe a third of the responses still give you suggestions that are maybe tangentially related. If you are at all vague (especially in a relationship question), responders are likely to see your question as a mirror and give you answers that are a bit more like playing out their own drama than addressing your need. So, relationship-OPs -- you need to be both succinct and very specific.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:35 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, I got excellent kitten advice on AskMe, so there is that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


People also tend to react strongly to "how do I get this person to do X" questions. There was a question not too long ago from a man who wrote about, among other things, criticizing the way his girlfriend dresses. He got some pretty harsh responses.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 5:39 PM on December 29, 2013


Some of the most enjoyable, noncontroversial AskMes are "I enjoy [Thing X]. Please help me find more things like [Thing X]."

I try to help in relationship AskMes, from time to time, as a sort of MeFi analogue to doing jury duty, but I find it hard, because so often I find myself struggling to find new, interesting, and empathetic ways of saying, "You are clearly in a shitty relationship in which the two of you don't really like each other. DTMFA." While this may sound hand-wavey and dismissive, I actually think it's important for young people to hear, even to the point of repetition. Sensitive, well-meaning people without a lot of relationship experience are waaaaaaay too slow to cut the cord. Certainly, I needed to go through that/hear that a half dozen times before I got the picture.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:45 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I find myself going, "GAH!" I close it and walk away and think about it. Then I go back and read it again. Much, much later.

If it's something I think I could help with, I also walk away and think about it. Sometimes I write out an answer and then delete it.

Most often, other people answer relationship questions (and purse questions! Wow, so many purses in the world) far better than I can, and I only pipe in if I think my personal experience is pertinent. Which isn't often.

I try for empathy rather than being critical. I don't feel people in highly emotional situations respond well to criticism. And maybe they already know the answer but are just looking for validation.

I really love "identify this plant" or other types of "solve it" questions. Those are great.

I wish I were more confident in my answers, but honestly I'm not. It's more what I would tell my kids or maybe something I have personal experience with, or if it might help that I know a little about it and my answer might tip the scales (like, call your insurance company) or whatever.

I mean, unless someone is being physically harmed, what can you say? They have to come to the realization themselves, whether they want to continue or not. It may be serving them right now and then later, much later than we think they should be lasting, they DTMFA. It takes a while sometimes to process that stuff. So I try to only give examples as relates to the question and not be accusing because it often backfires when you tell someone to stop it, but then maybe they can let it sink in and later on it might help them in a future situation -- as other people who gave me advice did for me.

Don't we all want to be in love and be loved by somebody? And if it's not working out, maybe it can, or maybe it can't, but it's a fluid process, not a cookie cutter process. All we can do is try to help, but in the end, it's up to the Asker to work it out for themselves. I wish everyone could have a good relationship with all of the people in their lives, all the time, plus kittens and puppies and cookies to boot. But at least we have a pool of people with real world experience, who care enough to answer without the awful snark that is present on the rest of the internet, so in terms of online communities, this is the best, and I thank you all for being here and Matt for creating it and the mods for modding with the light touch and hope we have a wicked good New Year with lots of chocolate.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:48 PM on December 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'll also just mention (hoping that the mere mention isn't enough to derail) but there's also a depressing tendency for AskMes written by females that ask "How do I deal with this creepy guy?" to get overrun with indignant dudes pontificating on whether ostensibly "creepy" dudes are really just misunderstood and blahblahblah...

So that's gross and happens sometimes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:52 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would be interested in you pointing out a few examples of that happening on the green, DOT. Because I don't think it is the case.
posted by Justinian at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can recall it happening with just a few users but it's regular enough that it seems like more of a deluge of them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with Ouisch that there seems to be a trend towards more and more gotcha-ism, where answerers are treating the question like a game where if they just figure out the right trick they get to advance to the next level. I know it can be satisfying to figure out the "real" answer but in all but the most obvious HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS situations I wish answers would stick to the actual question a little more closely.

I also think that AskMe as a community is very, very harsh on cheating, snooping, and other forms of dishonesty. If you have done something wrong, you better come grovelling sufficiently or this community will not help you find your way out. It's unfortunate at times, deserved "tough love" at others. As PhoB points out, heaven forbid you ever admit to feeling jealousy. This place can feel really judgmental about dating and relationships.

To be clear, I don't think the individual answerers intend to make people feel so harshly judged. I think it's just part of what happens with a site like this. The people who feel strongly enough to answer a difficult human relationship question are people who think they have The Answer. So that certainty or assuredness can come across as judgment, especially if answers tend to agree or pile on.

I've never asked a human relations question here because I don't think I could handle the answers. I am not a perfect enough person by AskMe's standards. In fact, I have had to work on forgiving myself for mistakes/regrets/poor decisions because I internalized how AskMe as a community answers other people's questions. The number of times my therapist said "Why do you judge yourself so harshly?" and I've answered "Well i read a lot of advice columns [meaning askme] I guess..." Oy. On the other hand, the whole reason I had a therapist, who helped me so much, is because of seeing it recommended so often in the green.
posted by misskaz at 6:25 PM on December 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


I've certainly seen that on the blue, but rarely on the green in my recollection, but then my memory can be spotty.
posted by misha at 6:26 PM on December 29, 2013


I've also noticed a lot of answers that start with "Okay" or "Look" or "Listen" and those really put me off -- they seem to be saying to be saying "Prepare for some tough love because I will Tell You How It Is" or "Everyone is misguided but me so, okay, I'll help you out here". I find it really grating and unpleasant (and hopefully have not done it myself).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:31 PM on December 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think threads with potential abuse are rough for the reasons outlined above. It's less about being cynical, though, I think - rather it's that many survivors know that they hid almost all the details of their awful situations even when asking anonymous questions on this very site. Victims of abuse aren't even being honest with themselves about what is going on, let alone telling others what is really happening. So a red flag detail or two, I know from personal experience, may cause me to mention abuse when it seems out-of-left-field for many people, particularly (but not always) anyone who hasn't been there themselves. It's a type one error, but in a potential abuse situation I think that's better than a type two error.

In situations where it is clearly abuse, though, I think the threads that go best here contain measured, thoughtful responses that enforce the poster's agency. A bunch of comments piled on saying RUN AWAY... well, the poster isn't going to listen to that. As obvious as it is, they're always getting yelled at anyhow, or being beaten down, and being told "You are an idiot for staying with an abusive person" is basically just more of the same - as well-intentioned as it is, it isn't particularly effective. It's much more effective to see calm, reasonable, logical advice, I think.
posted by sockermom at 6:41 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree with Ouisch that there seems to be a trend towards more and more gotcha-ism, where answerers are treating the question like a game where if they just figure out the right trick they get to advance to the next level. I know it can be satisfying to figure out the "real" answer but in all but the most obvious HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS situations I wish answers would stick to the actual question a little more closely.

Sometimes it feels like people are here to figure out the "real" hidden story behind questions, which apparently lurk between sentences or in little unconscious peculiarities of word choice. I've done this myself, I admit, where you become so enamored of your reading of a situation that you don't let much human complexity or nuance in. I think there's value in questioning the premise sometimes but I've sort of been working on taking off my Encyclopedia Brown hat and instead dealing with the question as asked. It feels much more likely to help, at the very least.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:48 PM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've also noticed a lot of answers that start with "Okay" or "Look" or "Listen" and those really put me off

Answers that begin with "Ok, take a deep breath", "breath", or some variation thereof are near the top of my shit list.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:10 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, Tanizaki, I hear you, but that's just their style. I can often tell who is answering just by their style at the beginning of an answer. I may or may not be irritated by it, but that's just who they are. It doesn't mean the rest of their advice isn't valid, however. You yourself are more succinct, and that is your style, but I never read anything nefarious into it, I just figure that's who you are.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:17 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


what sorts typically get negative responses?

I lurk on AskMeFi and respond only occasionally.

The strict moderation keeps most threads from becoming what I would call "negative." There are threads where the asker gets critical responses, but anything severe is either self-censored or censored by the mods. I think most answerers are aware that what they can say is pretty circumscribed, so even if they feel you need a swift kick, they will try to phrase it in a "diplomatic" way.

I think that the most negative threads I've witnessed fall into a couple of categories:

(a) The asker seems to be seeking permission for a course of action they know--or should know--is unwise

(b) The asker seems to be misrepresenting the situation, blowing something out of proportion, looking for a reason to be offended, being unconciously very self-centered, dwelling on something minor, etc

(c) The asker seems to be either clueless or careless about the negative effects that their actions could have on other people

But still, answers usually take the form of advice even if part of that advice is calling the asker out on the unexamined bit the answerer thinks need to be examined. I think that in general, people respond better to askers who show some awareness of their issues (am I blowing this out of proportion) than those who seem to want to air a grievance (how dare she do this tiny thing that irritated me).

These are threads that I think result in some criticism of the asker, rather than criticism of just the question. Many times the premises of a question will get criticized without being really critical of the poster personally.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:38 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Regarding the alleged tendency to pile onto askers, it's my can't-point-to-any-figures-or-details impression that if somebody writes something in their question like "I'm feeling completely disoriented and fragile about this; please no tough love" the people posting answers tend to respect that.
posted by Lexica at 8:08 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've also noticed a lot of answers that start with "Okay" or "Look" or "Listen"

*pulls up chair and sits down*
posted by elizardbits at 9:22 PM on December 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


"oh honey" bothers me, because to me it reads basically "oh you poor fragile little brainless child." But, hopefully, the people who say it do not mean it that way.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:26 PM on December 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


Feeling super self-conscious now that I've posted a new Ask, though I'm pretty sure therapy won't solve kitchen ennui and I really don't want to dump my kitchen as it's substantially in a better league than me. (Salmon lasagna is not on the menu. Ever.) Has anyone ever given constructive criticism to someone about their Asks, either in-thread or separately? Have there been previous Ask-based MetaTalk threads?
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:47 PM on December 29, 2013


"Oh honey!" to me is "I empathize with you so strongly I have become inarticulate, and would just give you a hug if I could." At least, that's how I always read it.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:07 PM on December 29, 2013 [39 favorites]


"Oh honey!" to me is "I empathize with you so strongly I have become inarticulate, and would just give you a hug if I could." At least, that's how I always read it.

I tend to side with showbiz_liz on this point. Depending on the context, "oh honey..." often reads to me like "oh bless your heart...", so get ready to be condescended to.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:30 PM on December 29, 2013


I have used the "oh honey!" construction, and I mean it exactly as pH Indicating Socks describes. But I know it rubs many people the wrong way, and so I try not to use it. I feel confident that if you heard me SAY it, my lack of condescension would be clear -- I can absolutely hear it in a condescending tone of voice, but that's not how I'm saying it. But until we can have autoplaying *.wav files in AskMe answers*, the text is all we have.

*this will only happen when the seals of the apocalypse start breaking, I hope to Hell
posted by KathrynT at 11:30 PM on December 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I am an 'Oh Honey'-er. That really is just the way I talk.

I realize that tone in text is very different from tone in speech, and like everything else in my life, I've got room for improvement. But I'd rather bite my tongue off than condescend or bless anyone's heart; and any advice I give on AskMe comes from a place of having been there and not wanting somebody else to do that.

Now to my ear what sounds condescending (hauls baggage into the room) is what I mentally call 'Have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?' I think AskMe works better when we give the OP the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they have thought of the first five obvious things or they wouldn't be wasting a question asking us.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:49 PM on December 29, 2013


"Oh honey!" to me is "I empathize with you so strongly I have become inarticulate, and would just give you a hug if I could." At least, that's how I always read it.

I picked up "Oh honey" from my co-workers in Texas, and that's usually how it's meant. I know it doesn't seem that way to everyone, so I don't use it often with people I don't know.

I also have a friend who is an excessive user of "oh honey" or "oh you poor dear!" or occasionally (I KNOW RIGHT) "Poor little lamby!" and she is a sweet person with a good heart who means well but even as someone who knows her well it seems a bit precious.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:39 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


On personal questions, people (quite rightly in principle) tend to share their own experiences; but given the brevity of the OPs description they often misidentify and end up talking irrelevantly or unhelpfully about themselves. At worst they interpret the OP as the equivalent of a person they've had problems with and give answers that amount to 'stop being a shit or curl up and die'.

Because people feel more comfortable expanding on a view that's already been expressed, there's sometimes a malign echo chamber effect which produces weird and undeserved pile-ons.

Many answers are bad or just based on radically insufficient knowledge. Frankly I think AskMefi as it stands is probably unethical, though that's rank hypocrisy given how often I throw in my own crappy and potentially damaging nonsense.

So the personal stuff is problematic.

Questions about software get excellent answers; well-informed, to the point, and succinct.
posted by Segundus at 1:45 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Justinian: I would be interested in you pointing out a few examples of that happening on the green, DOT. Because I don't think it is the case.

Here's one.
posted by cairdeas at 3:34 AM on December 30, 2013


I find the culture of ask.me is sometimes like a Dutch Uncle - your question framing assumes you are going to do something unwise and rather than getting "here is how to best do this unwise thing" answers, you instead get "Don't do this." The more the asker tries to steer the conversation, the more they get back "Don't do this." Paraphrasing some extreme examples, "I'm not a runner, but want to do a marathon in six weeks, how do I get ready?"; "I have a degree in poetry but want to go into a PhD program in the one of the hard sciences"; "I have a windfall; I don't know anything about investing, how can I invest it in the stock market and make a big return?"; or "I don't have any experience with sailing but want to sail across the Atlantic in winter." There are of course, plenty of milder variants of this, and a lot of relationship questions seem to fall into this bucket.

Jessamyn had a great list of questions that don't go well, but I think the "don't do this" is a special case: if twenty strangers on the internet all tell you not to do something, you should take a hard second look. I wouldn't consider the answers to be "negative", but rather "site works as designed."
posted by kovacs at 4:04 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


here is how to best do this unwise thing" answers, you instead get "Don't do this."

See the "Should I hook up with this battered woman?" question as an example.
posted by empath at 4:06 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


What sorts of questions get positive, supportive responses, and what sorts typically get negative responses?

Here's a thread that went in a kind of negative/not entirely helpful way that irked me, but I have a few ideas why that happened.

- I think the question was laid out in kind of a disorganized and rambling way. When that happens I feel like people miss details or focus on random bits of it.

- The question included a lot of extraneous information, a mistake because when you do that, a lot of people focus on the extraneous information and just talk about that instead of what you wanted them to talk about. This happens a lot.

- Even though the girl in the question sounded to me like she had legitimate issues, the OP also sounded a bit unfairly judgmental of her in some regards. And I think people here really react in a strongly negative way to questions where it seems like the OP is harming or potentially harming a child and not realizing it or not caring enough.

- The question expressed negative judgment about things that a lot of people here identify with or relate to. That can get you a lot of negative responses and WAY more so if it's about a delicate topic. Like if you criticize people who parent in a certain way, oftentimes people who parent that way are going to get really defensive in their answers. If you criticize someone's gender conformity then people who are against the idea of enforcing gender conformity will get really pissed, etc.
posted by cairdeas at 4:06 AM on December 30, 2013


I think the community tends to take the side of the person who's actually standing in front of them, so to speak, and tends to accept that person's story a bit more uncritically than they would if they were hearing it second- or third-hand.

Mostly, but there have been a couple of examples recently that surprised me by not being entirely sympathetic to the asker, whereas unless the OP is being an obvious asshat I'm automatically on their side (the other people in the story can post their own AskMes if they want). This one annoyed me to the point of having a little rant to a mod, as the person was upset that she had lost her house in a disaster and her close friends hadn't contacted her to see if she was ok. A lot of answers seemed to be of the "empathise with why your friends found it hard to contact you", "it's Ask v Guess culture" variety, rather than empathising with how upset the OP was that she felt abandoned. This one was from someone who was giving up her childhood room in her parents' house for someone in need, and despite having several parts to the question, the main one seeming to be how to interact with a relative stranger who had been through a tragedy, some of the answers were kind of, you're a big girl now so just deal with giving up your room and it's overdue anyway. Then of course there was this one, the first comment of which really took me by surprise in its harshness and, as others have said "Gotcha!"-ness.

But mainly I think people are kind, and non-judgemental, although there are a few topics which people get a bit self-righteous about, but maybe that's about individuals rather than the community as such, which is to be expected in any group of people. I'd been on other question forums which frankly scared the bejeesus out of me, where people took obvious delight in tearing the asker to shreds, whereas here the bias is definitely towards offering genuinely-meant help.
posted by billiebee at 4:55 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing I’ve noticed is that there can be a lot of compassion here for people struggling with unusual problems, the sort of problems that might draw a lot of scorn in the real world or other forums. I remember one thread in which the OP described having a serious problem with personal hygiene, not wanting to shower, brush teeth or comb hair for weeks on end to the point that it was having severe repercussions in their daily life. They got tons of kind, helpful answers offering practical advice for making it easier to keep clean, dealing with sensory issues involved with showering/bathing, dealing with emotional issues regarding personal hygiene, etc. It was really heartwarming to see so many answers that were truly caring and empathetic.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:03 AM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Questions about non-pharmaceutical approaches to health concerns often go badly here. For many MeFites, either a treatment has been validated in large clinical trials or it is bullshit quackery worthy of derision.
posted by Wordwoman


I strongly dispute this. When I weigh in against "non-pharmaceutical" approaches (the phrase itself is exceptionally disingenuous) it's not because there are no "large clinical trials" in favor of some bullshit "alternative" quackery. It's because there are trials or other clear scientific reasons that support the claim that the proposed "approach" is useless or dangerous or both.

Can you give an example of an "approach" to "health concerns" that has been dissed on AskMe for which there is no good evidence one way or the other? Be specific. Do you mean homeopathy? Nutritional supplements? Chiroquackery? Ear candling? In each case there are dozens (often more) of studies showing they *don't* work as claimed, as well as (usually) no rational scientific reason why they would work.

Defend anecdotal self-confirming placebo medicine all you want, but don't make a straw man argument in its favor.
posted by spitbull at 5:15 AM on December 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


A type of question that goes poorly is where the asker keeps popping into the thread to shoot down every possible answer to their problem, yet continues to wail that they need help until at some point there is nothing left to do for them except throw your hands up in defeat, thinking (but not saying) “Well, I guess you’re just fucked then!” Relationship questions are sometimes like this, or questions about situations such as crappy jobs or shitty living situations.

Sometimes in life there are situations in which a person is, at least temporarily, just fucked and there really aren't any good answers to give them. But I give AskMefites credit for really trying... these threads often go on for a hundred comments or more before we run out of ideas. We're nothing if not tenacious.

Other cases are due to the OP not wanting to make the difficult but obvious choice, and those often go on for a hundred comments or more as well before patience wears thin. Even tenaciousness has its limits, I guess.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:40 AM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


spitbull, how kind of you to illustrate Wordwoman's point!
Question: What sort of question is good for AskMe?
Answer: Questions about non-pharmaceutical approaches to health concerns often go badly here. For many MeFites, either a treatment has been validated in large clinical trials or it is bullshit quackery worthy of derision.
In a real Ask Me, substitute this for a MeFite asking about/appearing to recommend something vaguely woo-ish.

Somewhere in the distance, a tincture bottle is silhouetted against the night sky... Someone races in to not answer the question asked, but rather to furiously defend against the very idea that unnamed (don't worry, they'll name them for you!) "approaches" be allowed to stand.

You're right, that's exactly how it works. Why, it would have been perfect had you only but used the actual word "quackery"... Oh my mistake, you smuggled it into "Chiroquackery". Excellent.
posted by billiebee at 5:49 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can you give an example of an "approach" to "health concerns" that has been dissed on AskMe for which there is no good evidence one way or the other?

I've actually been surprised at how many anxious OPs with the "therapy/medication not an option" caveats are given the sensible advice to exercise, get a lot of rest/hydration, pay close attention to their diet (coffee especially) and consider meditation/yoga or some other relaxation techniques. I presume this is because those things actually reduce anxiety. And sometimes when your anxiety is lower you can reflect more sensibly on your options and determine if this sort of thing is enough or determine if maybe you should reconsider therapy/medication or not. People grappling with depression often don't get as much of a measured response usually because people are afraid that people dealing with really bad depression may become suicidal or other lesser forms of non-functional (usually as a result of the commenters having been there or had a close friend or loved one having been there) and people can sometime get strident.

It should be fine to suggest "woo" types of therapies/options. It should also be fine to point out cases where these therapies have been clinically proven to not work for the large majority of people. Then the back and forth about that option should stop and not turn into some sort of GRAR back and forth. This is my ideal AskMe world, not the one I always get.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:55 AM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Questions about depression/anxiety are actually really good examples of when AskMe is at it's best, I think. There seems to be a lot of experience of it here, and as someone who has had periods of depression I've got a lot of help just reading answers to other people's questions. There isn't the kind of "just buck up and get on with things" attitude that happens in other places, on both the internet and real life. There is genuine compassion here for people with all kinds of mental health issues which I think is still quite rare in society.
posted by billiebee at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Wow, this is one of the most thoughtful, respectful, insightful Metas ever.
posted by Melismata at 7:05 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


"oh honey" bothers me, because to me it reads basically "oh you poor fragile little brainless child." But, hopefully, the people who say it do not mean it that way.

My answers are often informational rather than emotional. But on rare occasions a question will strike me as being posted by someone who's hurting so hard -- and an "Oh, honey" is my shorthand for "You are in a lot of pain here, and you have my empathy, and before I even try to give you a single piece of advice, I want to convey that I am on your side, because ouch, it sounds like you're in a tough place."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:48 AM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think for the most part, ask metafilter as a whole is trying to skew towards EMACS, however it seems to me that we imagine ourselves role-playing VI, but at the end of the day we're pretty much all PICO in terms of sophistication and nuance.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:50 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]




Yes, I have found that if I mentioned my depression in the slightest, people are much more compassionate on the site. However, if I mention that someone else basically called me out for being an ass, even if I don't think it's true and it maybe be the other person's fault, people tend to treat what was said of me as truth, and often condescendingly tells me that I might reconsider I AM an ass (which I usually have considered, and deemed it a gray-zone, hence the AskMe). This is not true if you are female and a male calls you that, or you are the child and the parent calls you that. I really see a lot, as mentioned, of a a fuck-the-parents and you-are-being-abused attitude, or a poor-you-with-depression-see-a-therapist type of answer human relation questions, but that's just me experience.
posted by lacedcoffee at 7:58 AM on December 30, 2013


there have been a couple of examples recently that surprised me by not being entirely sympathetic to the asker

One observation I've had is that if a question indicates that the asker or someone close to him or her holds a viewpoint which runs counter to the generally accepted progressive Mefi position, the quality of the answers will inevitably suffer, since the question will become about that instead of whatever they asked (even if it is incidental to the overall question).

Some examples that jump immediately to mind:

- A question where an member asked what the appropriate etiquette is in online dating if you realize immediately upon meeting someone that you are not physically attracted to them at all (and to explain why he wouldn't have known this ahead of time , he mentioned that the photo included in the woman's online profile was one where she was considerably lighter than she was at the time of their date). Watching that question play out, it was pretty amazing the level of benefit of the doubt given to the anonymous woman in the question (lots of people falling all over themselves to explain why someone would include a photo that was not accurately representative of their current appearance, even though that wasn't the question being asked), while very little of the same was given to the member who was accused of being shallow, superficial, fat-hating, cruel. And of course you had a lot of attempts to "GOTCHA" and shame the asker with increasingly ridiculous hypotheticals, ("What is she said in her profile she was a natural blond but it turned out her hair was bleached, I bet you wouldn't care about that, huh, huh, HUH?). The question hit too many Mefi sensitive areas (fat hate, positive body image at any size. societal pressure for women to be thin) for the user to get practical advice to what in essence was a fairly straightforward question

- A question from an engaged Mefite whose (lesbian) Maid of Honor was spoiling the wedding planning process, because the MOH had such an intense dislike of the asker's husband-to-be, due to him holding less than progressive views about gay marriage. This question was just doomed out of the gate since the vast majority of Mefites (including myself) fall on the pro-gay marriage side of the aisle, so it became difficult for most people to simply answer the question in good faith, since they saw the fiance as an evil antagonist and the MOH as the hero. Most of the answers did not seem particularly interested in giving useful advice to the asker but seemed more about "punishing" her for picking such a lame fiancee (and actually went so far as to include a decent amount of subtle and not-so-subtle DTMFA advice, even though that was never part of the question).
posted by The Gooch at 7:59 AM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]




Questions about non-pharmaceutical approaches to health concerns often go badly here. For many MeFites, either a treatment has been validated in large clinical trials or it is bullshit quackery worthy of derision.
posted by Wordwoman

I strongly dispute this. When I weigh in against "non-pharmaceutical" approaches (the phrase itself is exceptionally disingenuous) it's not because there are no "large clinical trials" in favor of some bullshit "alternative" quackery. It's because there are trials or other clear scientific reasons that support the claim that the proposed "approach" is useless or dangerous or both.

It's great that you don't do that but I don't think Wordwoman's comment was personally about you and what you do or don't do. Also, there was nothing about her use of the word "non-pharmaceutical" that was disingenous.

In each case there are dozens (often more) of studies showing they *don't* work as claimed, as well as (usually) no rational scientific reason why they would work.

This attitude is a huge pet peeve of one of my best friends. He is a research physicist at a R1 institution working on problems with biological applications. His pet peeve is that "people act like science is their new religion." He constantly says, "People should realize simply by looking at the history of science that science gets things wrong all the time." He has an immense amount of admiration for the supervisor of his PhD, who, he says, was the most skeptical scientist he ever met. His supervisor never outrightly believed anything that anyone published and worked from an assumption that it was all probably wrong in many ways.

So to bring it back to the topic of this thread, I think it is true that on this site you will find an attitude that SCIENCE knows best and if "science" is currently saying something then it's probably right. Which is actually an attitude that many scientists don't have.

P.S.: That same friend just made a myrrh tincture for me to sooth my sore throat a few days ago. It was great.
posted by cairdeas at 8:20 AM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


AskMe does well with food and cooking. I'm always amazed with the creative answers people manage to dredge up even when the questions kind of repeat.
posted by threeants at 8:24 AM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


In a way, all human relationship AskMe posts are responded to as if each were a morality play, heroes and villains are identified at the outset and the narrative is hashed out in the responses.

Which is rarely how actual human relationships really are. I mean, we see them this way, that's why AskMe sees them this way. But questions of right and wrong and responsibility are always, always murky and subject to much dispute by the people directly involved ... that's why there are human relationships problems. If the heroes and villains and responsibilities and solutions were all so self-evident, no one would have problems for very long and they'd certainly never need to ask strangers for advice about them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:33 AM on December 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


My experience is that relationship questions (and etiquette questions and how-do-I-get-over-this-hangup questions and so on) can actually go really well — and that what helps the most is framing the question as an invitation to brainstorm and offer ideas.

"What are some things I might try in this situation?" often leads to creative suggestions, even when This Situation is a fraught and complicated interpersonal morass. You get less of the morality play effect that Ivan Fyodorovich is talking about, and sometimes you get really insightful answers, like Miko's Famous Breakup Checklist.

"Should I do X or not?" is more likely to bog down into a back-and-forth of polemics from pro-X-doing and anti-X-doing posters.

Likewise "Is X rude?" or "Is X normal?" don't tend to go well, whereas "X bugs me, how might I respond?" sometimes does.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:37 AM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


His pet peeve is that "people act like science is their new religion." He constantly says, "People should realize simply by looking at the history of science that science gets things wrong all the time."

Completely accurate statements by your friend. However, the takeaway from such statements is not, "since science gets it wrong all the time, I can safely believe whatever I want and act as if it comports with reality because what do those eggheads know, anyway?" The fact that the scientific method is conducted by fallible humans does not mean that nothing can be ascertained. Does he really think, "well, the earth could be billions of years old, or it could be 6,000 years old. Who's to say?" If you should ever have cancer, are you going to receive chemotherapy (or whatever a medical doctor prescribes) or are you going to drink myrrh?

Science is not a body of knowledge but a process for acquiring knowledge. If someone wishes to claim that ultra-diluted solutions that claim purity beyond USP water can someone treat medical ailments because they contain "vibrations" (i.e. homeopathy), that is a claim that is eminently testable through the scientific method. In fact, that claim has been tested, and when tested, that claim has failed. Every single time.

So yeah, if someone were to say, "take some sodium bicarbonate for heartburn", no one would bat an eye because that has been tested about a billion times. If your answer is, "I shot cosmic energy out of my hands to heal my friend so maybe you could try that", you'd better have some support for this remarkable new phenomenon.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:38 AM on December 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


Responding to Ivan F's comment above: While that's true, one thing that that process can do is simplify these situations by suggesting a coherent narrative lens that is not obvious to the OP who is in the weeds of the situation and suffering from an inability to achieve perspective. This is something that therapy does, as well (not that MeFites are skilled therapists). But often when one is in the throes of a difficult interpersonal situation, everything about it seems terribly unique, specific, and idiosyncratically complicated. It can be a useful exercise to have people read it back to you in the simplest terms, and think about whether or not it resonates as potentially a mostly-correct distillation. It doesn't mean that AskMe is always right when it reads these as simple tales with clear characters, but it does mean that a narrative or set of narratives emerges which can be tested against reality.
posted by Miko at 8:39 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


However, the takeaway from such statements is not, "since science gets it wrong all the time, I can safely believe whatever I want and act as if it comports with reality because what do those eggheads know, anyway?" The fact that the scientific method is conducted by fallible humans does not mean that nothing can be ascertained.

It appears that you have completely misunderstood the point. The point is not that nothing can be ascertained. The point is simply that this "method for obtaining information" is far from foolproof and is frequently wrong. Not that it is ALWAYS wrong and NO information obtained by that method is reliable.

In fact, that claim has been tested, and when tested, that claim has failed. Every single time.

Here is a jarring example of a claim that was tested again and again, and failed Every. Single. Time.

The point is not that scientific results are meaningless, the point is simply that they are not universally infallible, even when they are the same Every Single Time, which should be obvious.
posted by cairdeas at 8:53 AM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


The point is simply that this "method for obtaining information" is far from foolproof and is frequently wrong.

Actually, it is an excellent method. It is such an excellent method that it allows us to have this discussion through electrons and microcircuits and electromagnetic waves rather than smoke signals.

Krakauer's side of the story doesn't jar me in the slightest. First he blamed the seeds, but when seeds from that areas were taken, no toxin was found. Then he revised his hypothesis (which is the scientific thing to do) and said it was mold, but no mold was found in McCandless's seed bags. See more here. Krakauer simply has a hobby horse that McCandless didn't starve so it must be poison and so help him, he will find that poison one day. (if I seem to be inordinately familiar with the McCandless story, it is because until Adam Richman's rise to fame, he was the most famous Emory alum of my approximate age)

The reason that the method is fallible is because we don't know all the rules yet, as opposed to mathematics. (this why we can do proofs in math but not science). It is conceivable that one day, we will discover all of physics, for example. In any event, despite the fallibility of humans, it is by far the best method available for describing the physical universe. When I flip a light switch, boil water, or fry an egg, I don't think magic made it happen. If I drop my phone, I don't expect it to fly up rather than fall down. When I look at a skyscraper, I don't think it was made by lucky guessing and the first 100 versions of it collapsed in an expensive trial-and-error process. But, I guess a lot of people do or else I wouldn't see people spending billions of dollars on woo each year.

People are free to believe whatever they want, although I don't understand what people get out of adhering to a belief that is demonstrably false. My original comment stands. If you wish to make an extraordinary claim, like you shot cosmic energy out of the palms of your hands to heal pain (I have read this claim made in an AskMeFi answer), you should have some extraordinary evidence to support it, more especially when you are suggesting that another person expend their time, money, and perhaps even their health upon it. Of course, if the OP says "woo answers welcome", I won't complain if people recommend magnets or the juice of monkey glands to treat migraine headaches.

BTW, how old is the earth? Please remember that science is "far from foolproof and frequently wrong".
posted by Tanizaki at 9:38 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Again, you've written a long screed arguing against a point of view that is very far from what I'm saying.
posted by cairdeas at 9:46 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let's stop it with the side debate on scientific inquiry and non-pharmaceutical medicine, shall we? If you must continue, please start another thread.
posted by lacedcoffee at 9:48 AM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's Melismata's fault, lacedcoffee. I don't have many superstitions in this life, but I do feel very strongly, down to my very bones, that "Gee, this thread is going well!" comments are a misguided, terrible jinx that can only bring pain and chaos.

I'm kidding about blaming Melismata, who made a nice comment. I'm only half kidding about my superstition about thread jinxing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:56 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is indeed awfully tedious.
posted by elizardbits at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


oh metatalk, dear, what winding roads you are inclined to take...
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2013


AskMe does really well with "give me examples of X" -- Give me other books that meet these criteria, give me examples of this TV Trope, give me historical examples of this sort of strategy happening in a war, give me ideas of foods for a Great Gatsby tea -- since they draw on the hivey-ness of the hive mind, where lots of people have one or two ideas and in a thread you can then get 20 or 30 or 100 ideas.

One of my first AskMes that went badly was a hot-button issue that I didn't realize was a hot-button issue and I clearly didn't give enough context, so people just reacted to the hot-button. I should have either given more context, or framed the question as "FOR MY NOVEL, how would I have a character go about doing Thing That Ask Really Hates in a realistic manner?" Because, boy, "for my novel" is magic framing that makes people engage with questions that would otherwise draw massive moral judgment.

My most recent Ask went slightly wrong in the other direction; since that early bad Ask I've been careful to try to include a lot of context, but this time I would have been a lot better off if I'd just asked "What do you think about when you jog? I am dwelling too much on negative thoughts and need to get in a better headspace." Instead I included a bunch of information about my workout routine, in case it was relevant, because I am diligent about including context now, and so about 25% of the answers answered the question about the mental part of jogging and the other 75% told me about how I was jogging wrong. It was only moderately aggravating because this is not an emotional issue and I got plenty of good answers, but it was a little annoying.

I would like to ask AskMe a question about my sinuses, but I'm certain that no matter how I put in the question "I DO NOT WANT A NETI POT," 50% of the answers will be "But really, try a neti pot!" :)

--

With respect to human relations asks, I think people who have escaped bad relationships or upbringings are (of course) hyper-alert to those things, and while they have done a wonderful job of recognizing how dysfunctional those relationships were and healing from them, they don't have a lot of frame of reference for FUNCTIONAL relationships with normal bumps and bobbles. This isn't a bad or wrong thing, but I think it contributes to what a couple people have pointed out about Ask being quick on the DTMFA/cut off your family buttons. In the context of a healthy and happy relationship of long duration, sometimes people are going to yell when they shouldn't, or say hurtful things they should not have, or break the rules of good arguing, or whatever. If you were in a verbally abusive relationship, avoiding relationships with any yelling at all is smart and self-protective; but in the universe of functional relationships, a lot of them have occasional yelling and it's not necessarily a DTMFA sign. I also notice some people who had dysfunctional parents have a really difficult time with questions about appropriate limits for a teenager in a functional family setting.

I don't think those are super-big problems -- to me personally, it makes the human relations asks more interesting to read, to see the variety of backgrounds and experiences and emotions that people bring to their answers -- but I do notice that's a particular way that certain questions get possibly-skewed feedback.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:06 AM on December 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


BTW, how old is the earth?

Why do you do that? You know this is a sensitive topic, as the other planets always tease Earth about its age. Just drop it, ok?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on December 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I would like to ask AskMe a question about my sinuses, but I'm certain that no matter how I put in the question "I DO NOT WANT A NETI POT," 50% of the answers will be "But really, try a neti pot!" :)

I've grappled with a similar problem, and I've finally stumbled on an ingenious solution. Just post the question, then immediately post an answer to yourself like "Hey, try a neti pot", then reply to your answer with "Ok, I'll take that under consideration. Any other suggestions?"
posted by Jpfed at 10:26 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


But really: try a neti pot.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:30 AM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Why do you do that? You know this is a sensitive topic, as the other planets always tease Earth about its age. Just drop it, ok?

If the earth were to ask a dating AskMe, you can bet your bottom dollar it would be told to date planets its own age and shamed for pursuing dwarf planets or other bodies less than three billion years old.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:33 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would like to ask AskMe a question about my sinuses, but I'm certain that no matter how I put in the question "I DO NOT WANT A NETI POT," 50% of the answers will be "But really, try a neti pot!" :)

A neti pot is actually very useful in formulating AskMe answers (plus it badly confuses the cat to watch you using one). You should try it!

Nah, I've learned that a bunch of the answers will always miss the criteria, so you just have to filter them. It seems to be a roughly equal divide between "no, really, try a neti pot even though you've said you don't want to," "I didn't read the question past the first use of the word 'sinus," therefore 'neti pot'," and "I really want to participate and be helpful, so I will try to suggest something on the edge, because that's what I have to offer." Mostly not ill-meant, but it can be kind of wearing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:34 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


If the earth were to ask a dating AskMe, you can bet your bottom dollar it would be told to date planets its own age and shamed for pursuing dwarf planets or other bodies less than three billion years old.

Now, now, the Earth can date any celestial body that is at least 2,270,000,007 years old and not be creepy. Don't exaggerate.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:36 AM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't think questions in which there is a specific cultural context go very well. For example, in many US immigrant cultures (not just non white, although they get the stereotype most often) parents view their children as still needing parenting of some sort well into adulthood. It's not a "you're 18, you're on your own" situation.

Usually AskMe answers to questions like, "how do I get my parents to back off" when framed in this context get answers like, "you're still acting like a child so your parents treat you like one," which is really off.

Understood that some of these are about verbal abuse (which again in context, some cultures do not view certain behaviors are abuse, just caring parenting - which is problematic and creates a culture clash, but it's not a simple fix) but not all. For example, I'm looking for a new dining table, and my parents, who have been to my apartment but live hundreds of miles away, asked me 500x over the course of my Christmas visit if the table is the right sort of table and will it fit, despite my explanations of how I measured the table dimensions, how I researched other tables and this one seems to have the best reviews for the price, etc. Doesn't matter, they must parentsplain this issue into oblivion.

This is because from their perspective 1) They have been buying furniture for much longer than I have 2) They have furniture in good shape from the 70s, despite kids and pets and etc, 3) My dad is an architect and interior designer so Knows Things 4) I am their child forever and ever and so they need to give me advice 500x about everything because if it gets messed up and I'm upset they will feel like they didn't advise me enough. It doesn't mean I act like a child, or they don't respect me or love me or anything. It took a while for me to figure that out because I had friends who did the whole "Your parents treat you like a child and you need to stop it etc."

It's just...if you don't know these cultural things (which the OPs have pointed out even) then be careful when you answer? Yes, even if you have tons of friends who are kids of Indian/Chinese/Dominican immigrant parents. That doesn't make you an expert. At all.
posted by sweetkid at 10:52 AM on December 30, 2013 [23 favorites]


sweetkid, are you talking about this post? Your comment seems to be specifically about that--I haven't seen it as a wider pattern, really. I actually think that the OP got a lot of good advice in there, though there was some tough love stuff mixed in, too. The cultural context makes it a bit more complex (but, hell, my own abusive parent comes from a cultural context where overbearing mothering, guilt trips, and other emotional manipulations are common enough to be seen as a comedic stereotype), but the level of anxiety she's feeling really calls for some distance and self-protective mechanisms, even if her parents mean well and she loves them.

Also no matter the cultural context, I think it's always hard to label emotional and verbal abuse as abuse because there's often a certain degree of gaslighting and anxiety and shame that's gone on for decades. The fear of being disloyal or not sufficiently acknowledging your parents' hardships or good intentions. I dunno. Mostly I wanted to give that girl a big hug, because it's really super hard, especially if you know that you can't--for whatever reason--go no contact, which is what metafilter often seems to want for people in that situation.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:17 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


(to the OP) I'd give this advice :

1) Any topic that's divisive on the Blue will be divisive on the Green. So if your question touches on a topic that would be controversial on the Blue, expect a lot of noise in your AskMe thread. That's not a reason to avoid asking those questions. Just realize you'll have to skip over a lot of anger/noise/moralizing to get to the solid advice.

2) The more subjective your question is, the more bad advice you'll get. You'll also get good advice. But you'll get plenty of responses that are incredibly off-the-mark, simply because people are all really different.

3) People will tell you to see a therapist, no matter what your question is. I'm sure someone's asked where to buy a new power adapter for their Macintosh and been told to see a therapist. Doesn't mean you actually need to see a therapist.

4) People will add their own details to your story. People will read things into your situation that just plain aren't there. You'll ask yourself, "This person doesn't know me! Why do they think they know me so well?" The answer is they don't. They've been in a situation that was similar to yours in some way, and they're sticking details from their own life story into yours. This can be really frustrating, but there's really nothing to be done about it.

5) Remember that you are, ultimately, asking for advice from a bunch of random strangers on the internet. A lot of people in the community are super-knowledgeable on a vast array of subjects, so it's a good place to ask questions. Nonetheless, keep in mind that the only qualification for answering questions here is a $5 membership fee. Some people can be remarkably insightful on some subjects but completely biased on others, while others don't seem to have much insight on any subject at all. Take every answer with a grain of salt. We're all just people here, as weird and flawed as you'll find anywhere else.
posted by evil otto at 11:17 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's pretty obvious but one way to greatly reduce your number of quality answers is to wait until your post has almost slid off the front page to reveal some key technical detail like that your car is a diesel, you're dealing with the Canadian postal service, or that you live in a place that's less temperate than the average mefite. I find myself asking "when you say X, what, exactly, do you mean?" type questions a lot.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:18 AM on December 30, 2013


"What biases do you think the community has? "

Have you considered buying a macbook?
posted by klangklangston at 11:21 AM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


People will tell you to see a therapist, no matter what your question is.

The type of questions you ask do matter a great deal tho! I've asked around 50 questions since 2004 (including AnonyQ's) and as far as I remember the only time anyone's ever brought up therapy was when I raised the topic first.
posted by zarq at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2013



sweetkid, are you talking about this post?

That post was closest to my mind, but yeah I think it's a wider trend where people make a lot of cultural assumptions, mostly based on been-here-for-generations American culture.

Again, I'm not saying that situations with cultural differences can't be abuse because CULTURE, but the first comment out of the gate on that one was "stop acting like a child" which I thought was off, plus other ones that said "you should be cooking, not pining for your mom's cooking," which, what?

Also I've seen a lot of threads go off the grid as soon as someone mentions Indian parents, because there's this huge weight of "your family must be really rigid and would hate if you brought home your white girlfriend and also misogyny," which I have been close to starting MeTas about.
posted by sweetkid at 11:27 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Again, I'm not saying that situations with cultural differences can't be abuse because CULTURE, but the first comment out of the gate on that one was "stop acting like a child" which I thought was off, plus other ones that said "you should be cooking, not pining for your mom's cooking," which, what?

Ah, yeah, I thought that was weird but generally I think that there are some on metafilter who treat difficult and/or abusive family situations as largely indistinguishable from difficult and/or abusive dating situations, and I'm not sure it's entirely culturally dependent. Like people should just dump their mother fucking mothers already when . . . yeah, it's complex particularly when you're young and still grappling with your independence in your own mind. But I can see what you're saying about cultural blind spots too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:35 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the earth were to ask a dating AskMe, you can bet your bottom dollar it would be told to date planets its own age and shamed for pursuing dwarf planets or other bodies less than three billion years old.

Bless your heart, I believe you meant 'little planets.'
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:45 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nanukthedog, any insight into that Rob Lowe poster?
posted by Tanizaki at 11:51 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bless your heart, I believe you meant 'little planets.'

I think they prefer to be called Planets of Limited Volume.
posted by Grangousier at 12:01 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"oh honey" bothers me, because to me it reads basically "oh you poor fragile little brainless child." But, hopefully, the people who say it do not mean it that way.

I've used "oh honey" very rarely in askme responses, but always in response to questions that hit me in the gut, so to speak, as a way to say "I know you're in a lot of pain and I sympathize and you deserve a hug right now." It's weird, because I don't tend to use terms of endearment with people, and I do find it patronizing when strangers or acquaintances or coworkers use them with me. This is something I will probably avoid doing in future askme answers.
posted by inertia at 12:38 PM on December 30, 2013


New type of thing metafilter is about to show it can't do well: Reasons to be optimistic.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:42 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it helps to imagine that "oh honey" is e.g. being said by Connie Britton in a consoling moment from an episode of Friday Night Lights.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:43 PM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


(I have not read all the comments above so I'm not sure if someone's said this already, sorry.)

As someone who likes answering AskMes, one thing I have a hard time with is someone asking a hypothetical question, or a question that makes it sound like they are asking about someone else's behavior, but turns out is actually about them. It's sort of related to what Narrative Priorities said above about people being less inclined to give someone anonymous the benefit of the doubt (or what elizardbits said about people leaving out vital info from their questions). I am much likelier to respond kindly and empathetically if I know that the asker is sincerely concerned about their own actions/situation. I know I should really be kind in all my answers, but that's definitely something that starts me off on the wrong foot.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:44 PM on December 30, 2013


I find that it helps to imagine that everything is being said by Connie Britton in any moment from an episode of Friday Night Lights.
posted by Etrigan at 12:46 PM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't think AskMe is good at handling questions about interdependence. Questions about how to manage a difficult situation/relationship/person seem to me to get overwhelmed by answers telling the Asker to forget trying to manage it and just leave. A lot of those answers seem heartfelt, and are based on the answerer's own experiences, and at any given time that could be the best answer, who knows! So I'm not trying to call anybody out. It's not any one individual answerer/post that I think is the problem or has a problematic bias, it's the way the DTMF answer so frequently overwhelms threads (for what it's worth I'm thinking mostly of the answers telling people to cut off family, not SOs or friends, though the same thing seems to happen to an certain extent in threads in which the OP is asking about how to manage things with his/her SO or friends). I do think the frequent avalanche of DTMF reveals an overall bias on the site toward independence at all costs, and I think that bias means questions asking about how to manage interdependence (or even how to take care of/help a loved one) almost always end up going badly.

Personally, I often end up feeling frustrated when reading threads like that, because, to me, the overwhelming chorus of DTMF answers ends up feeling unrealistic (and at times naive), callous (and at times selfish), and also a subtle call-out of the Asker's good faith, given that, if she hasn't already at least considered washing her hands of the whole thing already she probably isn't desperate enough to turn to an internet forum for help, since just giving up and getting out is the most obvious (non-)solution. I also think there are many cases where that response doesn't answer the question -- sometimes DTMF is on the table, but sometimes it isn't (for whatever health/financial/cultural/logistical/etc reason(s) that the Asker may or may not have cared to include). If DTMF isn't on the table, how is a pile-on of answers telling the OP to DTMF appropriate? Again, if any given person thinks that DTMF is the answer to a particular question, then more power to that individual poster/answer, but the DTMF pile-ons seem like evidence of a certain bias. Personally, I think that bias ends up precluding "how do I manage this situation/person/relationship" questions from getting practicable (let alone empathetic) answers.

For what it's worth, I also had a problem with the thread that sweetkid brought up. The Asker specifically said she wanted help managing the situation, that she wasn't interested in "this is abuse, DTMF" answers, and wanted "tips" on how to deal. And then there was a chorus of answers saying she should just leave already. How is that a "tip"? To be honest, I wrote up a long post giving what I consider to be tips on how to manage things day to day, but I ended up feeling too uncomfortable to post it (though apparently not too uncomfortable to bring it up here *shrug*) because the other answers ran so heavily toward "just get out!" "you're childish for not getting out" "parents give children roots and wings" etc. My view is probably skewed, personal baggage, personal bias, etc -- but I also do think that the overall bias is large/pervasive enough that it impacts how people interact with those threads, which in turn impacts the ability of the site as a whole to answer questions about interdependence altogether.
posted by rue72 at 12:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]



I find that it helps to imagine that everything is being said by Connie Britton in any moment from an episode of Friday Night Lights.


This is genius and probably a new go-to AskMe answer.
posted by sweetkid at 12:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tried the Neti Pot, it gave me a headache.

That said, I probably do need therapy.
posted by radioamy at 12:55 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


New type of thing metafilter is about to show it can't do well: Reasons to be optimistic.

"Pepsi Blue" is an old complaint. And a lot of Mefites seem to viscerally dislike the public relations industry.
posted by zarq at 1:09 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


And a lot of Mefites seem to viscerally dislike the public relations industry.

Also advertising and marketing. Which is ridiculous because almost no one has a job in which advertising/marketing/PR does not benefit/promote your business in some way, even if you don't do the icky thing yourself.
posted by sweetkid at 1:29 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think that affects AskMe as much as Metafilter though, so it might be a bit off the plot in regards to this question.
posted by sweetkid at 1:30 PM on December 30, 2013


Eh, one time I mentioned in an askme question that I had decided not to work in advertising after getting a degree in it, and I got one or two people saying "good! Advertising is evil and if you had done it you would be a bad person!"
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:37 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


the only response to that is to fry them with your space laser while cackling a mad supervillain laugh from deep inside your volcano lair
posted by elizardbits at 2:15 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eh, that's your solution to everything, elizardbits.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:19 PM on December 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Besides, our market research shows that volcano lairs are totally out. Teens in our demo only care about abandoned asylums.
posted by Think_Long at 2:23 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought elizardbits' solution to everything was a wicker man or maybe pugs.
posted by sweetkid at 2:23 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I just wanted to echo that there is a pretty evident knowledge gap in answers between Parent Problems questions and Old Country Parent Problem questions. And I've seen quite a bit of trying to answer the later through the lens of the former, and, well, even if it is sound objective advice, you have to realize it won't work.

I think what a lot of people don't realize is what when someone asks an Old Country Parent Problem questions about their parents acting in a certain shitty way, there's generations upon generations of culture behind those actions, telling said parent that they're completely correct and that not doing the shitty thing would make them bad parents. So a lot of advice that involves actually communicating problems to these parents isn't very helpful because you can't have a Come To Jesus moment if there ain't a Jesus to Come To.

But I mean, that's one of the unavoidable pitfalls of having this general interest sort of website and it's not like those occasionally unhelpful perspectives aren't being explicitly asked for by virtue of the question being posted on a general interest site.
posted by griphus at 2:26 PM on December 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


Also I just pictured one of those Skull Mountain villain lairs except instead of a skull it is the face of a particularly sad-looking pug and now I know what I want from this world.
posted by griphus at 2:28 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


(I have not read all the comments above so I'm not sure if someone's said this already, sorry.)

Not to pick on you specifically, but I feel like this causes a lot of problems in AskMe. I recall asking a question awhile ago along the lines of, "I just got a student email address and found out I can get Amazon Prime for free with it. What else can I get for free?" and I think the first ten answers straight out of the gate were "get Amazon Prime for free!" before one of the mods deleted most of them and left a note.

The other problem I see from a response point of view is "Dr. Wikipedia, PhD" - I Have Spent Five Minutes With Google and am Now An Expert. Maybe not actively negative to the asker, but definitely destructive in a derail sort of way especially if two of them show up with slightly different Google results.

Finally, the response that there is One True Answer and if you do not follow my advice you are Wrong how could you be more Wrong Wrong Wrong. Most problems have multiple solutions and just because you found one answer does not mean that other, equally valid ones do not exist. I dislike this quite a lot, especially when coupled with the Google Expert.

I really think the best thing someone can do either from an asking or an answering standpoint is to give people the benefit of the doubt and be nice. There's a good chance you might meet these people in real life, do you really want the first impression of yourself to be a know-it-all with a stick up your ass? says the know-it-all with the stick up his ass
posted by backseatpilot at 2:29 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Heck, there's a problem with people not even reading the whole post before replying, not just the preceding comments.

I won't be too snotty about that, since I've jumped the gun a few times myself. It is maddening, though, when you ask, "How do I solve Problem A? Bear in mind, I've already tried Techniques X & Y and I'm not a fan of Product Z" and half of the first dozen replies are "Hey, have you tried X/Y?" or "Product Z is the answer!"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:58 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"'Dr. Wikipedia, PhD' - I Have Spent Five Minutes With Google and am Now An Expert."

If any part of answering a fact-dependent question involves googling, you shouldn't be answering the question. Not to mention that to the degree to which this even works, you shouldn't be asking the question.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:00 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If any part of answering a fact-dependent question involves googling, you shouldn't be answering the question.

I'm not sure that is always the case. I Google up a lot of answers or at least supports to answers. Some people are just not great at Googling.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:03 PM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think the Dr. Wikipedia folks mean well. They're just really wanting to help and they convince themselves that their Google Fu is so strong, it can tackle anything.

I did a bit of that early on in my time on MeFi. As I've spent longer here, I've realized that when it comes to Google Fu, we're practically a guild of black belts here, so I try to limit myself to stuff I have personal hands on knowledge of or experience with.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:04 PM on December 30, 2013


If any part of answering a fact-dependent question involves googling, you shouldn't be answering the question.

Eh, my day job involves digging through codes of law to send emails to people plastered with THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE PAY AN ACTUAL LAWYER IF YOU WANT LEGAL ADVICE disclaimers and I've done that on AskMe plenty. Usually involving the NYC building and tenancy codes and usually involving telling someone that the answers they're getting are wrong and possibly illegal.
posted by griphus at 3:06 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If any part of answering a fact-dependent question involves googling, you shouldn't be answering the question.

I understand the impulse that would drive you to want this to be a rule, but it's completely wrong. People with real expertise use search to find details they don't remember, and to locate resources that they judge are likely to be useful even if they weren't aware of the specific resource before they searched.

A subject expert's filtered mediation of search results will often be very useful to a non-expert. Asking people to be aware that five minutes on Wikipedia and Google don't make you an expert if you weren't already one is a totally separate issue.
posted by RogerB at 3:08 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Good point, RogerB. For instance, if someone is asking about cheap HTPC options, it's one thing for someone to say here are some things they found on Amazon and NewEgg and another thing entirely for a committed hobbyist to do some checking to make sure they are offering the latest recommendations.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:14 PM on December 30, 2013


If any part of answering a fact-dependent question involves googling, you shouldn't be answering the question.

My very favorite questions are the ones that are like "identify this thing that I have a picture of", or "where was the picture on this vintage post card taken?". I can spend hours happily googling away on a topic I know nothing about, hoping I find the right google-image vein and strike it rich.
posted by Think_Long at 3:23 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think that "Identify this" questions are one thing, Googling-wise, and "Offer advice on this" questions are something else entirely.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:26 PM on December 30, 2013


Some best answers I've arrived at by googling: Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe (although what made me think I could find it was a vague but accurate recollection I'd heard it in the 80s), The Cookie Monster (again, I had definitely read it when it was nominated for a Hugo, but upon setting out to answer, I had just a notion that I'd be able to find it), 1601 (yet another case of needing Google's help to remember something I once encountered), Les maîtres fous (I had never actually seen this, but the OP's mention of older documentary film from Africa made me think of Jean Rouch), The Important Thing About (this isn't the only case where Bookfinder.com was actually key to a title search, but I had to use Google to go further and eventually find the right thing), Cartoon versions of literary classics (I once had a related FPP, and thinking about it spurred childhood memories that led to a useful set of Google terms), etc., etc.

But I agree with Think_Long that some of the most enjoyable are just absurdly ambiguous questions you could google all day--they're fun, and why not?
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:27 PM on December 30, 2013


"Usually involving the NYC building and tenancy codes and usually involving telling someone that the answers they're getting are wrong and possibly illegal."

Oh, well ... okay then.

"I Google up a lot of answers or at least supports to answers. Some people are just not great at Googling."

You're a librarian, you got skillz, man.

People suck at googling, that's very true. But the people who Slightly Less Suck At Googling think they've found the answer because they've found an answer and that's not the same thing as helpfully answering the question.

I love Wikipedia and I love using the web for research. I'm totally not one of those people who sneers at information gleaned from the internet. But if I don't really know enough about something outside my sphere of expertise that I need to google it to answer a question, then I don't know enough to be reliable when I pass that information along to someone else. When it's for my own purposes, I at least know that I didn't know much about it before I looked it up and I know what and where I looked up what I learned. Someone else can't tell much difference between someone with legitimate expertise and someone pretending to it because they're quoting from Wikipedia.

I included that "outside my sphere of expertise" bit because when something's within my expertise, but I still need to look up some details or clarify something, I'll know enough to have a sense of how reliable the source is and how reliable my own understanding of the source is, as well as having a similar sense of whether I'm competent enough to be acting as an authority to someone else who can't tell if I'm actually an authority. Looking up stuff then is okay.

Pretty much when I write an information dense comment on MeFi, I'm doing it entirely extemporaneously and without referencing any sources. That's not great, I admit, because if I were really responsible, I'd be double-checking everything I write with that veneer or authority. But I mention this because speaking from experience, when I do look things up and include them in fact-filled comments, which is rare, it's invariably on topics that I'm really not that competent in. The ones where I can just dash off lots of actually substantial stuff extemporaneously are really when I can be trusted. Looking things up, not as much.

And I think that's generally true about everyone. About having knowledge competency, but also about having comprehension competency. The truism about discovering whether you truly know something by attempting to teach it is, I think, extremely correct. If you need to look things up, it should be to verify what you pretty much know, anyway. If you have some general knowledge so that you know where to look something up but not what it is you're looking up, then you probably don't have the competency to be speaking authoritatively about it.

But again, I think that librarians are the exceptions to this. Maybe a few other trained specialties. There's specific training in how to be reliable when helping people learn things that you, yourself, don't already know much about. It's not something that the rest of us can be reliably counted upon to be able to do, regardless of how smart or knowledgeable or well-intentioned we are.

On preview:

"I understand the impulse that would drive you to want this to be a rule, but it's completely wrong. People with real expertise use search to find details they don't remember, and to locate resources that they judge are likely to be useful even if they weren't aware of the specific resource before they searched.

A subject expert's filtered mediation of search results will often be very useful to a non-expert."


Yeah, I agree with this completely and I should have made that clear in my previous comment. I think I make it clear in this one, though.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:31 PM on December 30, 2013


For me, the key isn't to discourage people from Googling for answers. It's encouraging people to explain how they came by the answer they're giving. Thus, if someone asks about what HVAC unit they should get, it may be useful to hear what other people have, to hear the research someone else who just bought did, tips someone found online, and/or to get a rec from an HVAC pro. As long as all of these answers are identified as such, I don't see any harm in any of them. It's up to the asker to weight them and evaluate them.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:32 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I really didn't have in mind very specific fact-finding type of questions. The narrower and more specified the search domain is, the less need there is for any skill other than being able to locate a source within which to find the answer (i.e., mad google skilz). But there's so many other kinds of questions that require some knowledge and comprehension before you can understand what sources to trust and how to differentiate a good answer from a bad answer.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:35 PM on December 30, 2013


I would be happier if community norms were more disapproving of Googling for answers, because of questions like this one. I doubt anyone answers solely to look smart, but if you're straining to answer a question about a subject where your expertise is… limited, that's the impression you're creating.
posted by Nomyte at 3:47 PM on December 30, 2013


The best "identify this" question was this one.

Something I didn't think to mention in the thread is that if you don't count compilations of Asimov's short stories, it's the only sci-fi novel I've ever read, so it's not like there was a huge selection of possible sci-fi books I loved as a kid. Just the one. And my existence was validated by someone trying to remember it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:52 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


But there's so many other kinds of questions that require some knowledge and comprehension before you can understand what sources to trust and how to differentiate a good answer from a bad answer.

Hm. When I answer questions related to cultural anthropology, I'm tossing out stuff based on ~19 years of study and teaching, and it's evident to me that most (not all) of the other answers are based on rumor, googling, or maybe a happy experience in an undergrad class. But usually the other answers don't go wildly wrong, plus it's not like I'm writing a book for the OP, plus it's a big field in which no one knows everything, plus it's not like I haven't moved on to other things, plus how many cultural anthropologists are available to answer random questions, plus the stakes are really, really, really low. To any of you who're just curious about those topics and want to help an OP, my suggestion is google away--you're fine.

I think if you want to ask an expert, you should ask an expert, not hope that non-experts will keep out of a general forum.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's specific training in how to be reliable when helping people learn things that you, yourself, don't already know much about. It's not something that the rest of us can be reliably counted upon to be able to do, regardless of how smart or knowledgeable or well-intentioned we are.

I think this is learnable stuff for anyone, but genuinely hard — much harder than many other components of search skills. IMO what we talk about as "search skills" are often really almost a black box, a big messy jumble of smaller units, skills and heuristics and tricks and approaches to searching that we vary haphazardly according to what gets results at a given moment — but it's certainly true that self-awareness about the limitations of instant knowledge is an under-taught and key piece of using the other skills. The lack of that awareness is what we're talking about, I think, when we complain about "Dr. Wikipedia," or as I call it, Internet Expert Syndrome. It's important to know not to stop searching too early, to know you don't know everything about a subject (and might be missing many really important things) after reading the Wikipedia article about it, to know to keep looking and collate and contrast different sources rather than stopping with the first one, to know there might be important information that isn't in the top Google search results or indeed on the Internet at all. It's important to think about, and assess, how people who know much more than you about a given subject are likely to sound, and think about whether to defer to them. I think the typical Internet Expert is someone who comes up short in most of these kinds of knowledge even if they may be fairly smart by other measures, and possess many of the other components of "search skills."

I never wave my credentials at people on the Internet, because it'd be so childish to think they were some kind of trump card, but it has happened (places like Reddit, not here that I can recall), when I've been talking about the subject of my Ph.D., that I've literally been "corrected" based on Wikipedia articles that I wrote by Internet strangers. It's an amusing experience, on some level, but also a deeply aggravating one because by the time you get to that point, there's just no way out other than to walk away and just have a laugh with an offline friend about it. That "well, actually..." ego-reward, the feeling of being in the right and well-informed, is so powerful that I don't think we'll ever get rid of Internet Expert Syndrome, but I really would like if there were a way to curtail it more than just asking everyone in the world to be more careful and introspective.
posted by RogerB at 3:56 PM on December 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


...usually involving telling someone that the answers they're getting are wrong and possibly illegal.

There is so much bad, wrong, and potentially harmful (usually low-risk and in small ways, but nevertheless) legal advice dished out on AskMe that—speaking as a lawyer, and one who knows nothing about medicine—I completely, totally understand the mindset of a doctor who says, "You know what, fuck this" and quits the site. It's similar to Wikipedia in that respect. I get why experts avoid participating there, too.

I remind myself that AskMe is basically a local coffee shop where townies chat. Sometimes they're helpful, and that's awesome. I would totally ask a townie to recommend a bookstore or a recipe for sandwich bread. Other times they don't know what they're talking about, but that won't stop them. I would never ask a townie a legal or medical question. And of course, every town has its culture and politics, topics you shouldn't bring up or questions that will always get a chorused answer.

That's AskMetaFilter. It's great when the site exceeds that, as it sometimes does. And I don't mean any user(s) in particular. But from an aerial/crowd perspective, that's the baseline. That's the expectation you should begin with.

I think if you want to ask an expert, you should ask an expert, not hope that non-experts will keep out of a general forum.

Yes. The reason this feels wrong to many people is that AskMe's pool does have experts of many stripes, so theoretically if the peanut gallery would just pipe down and wait ninety minutes, the question might get answered well. But that's at odds with how the site actually works. The optimal result is that you'll get both, the informed answer along with the amateurish speculation. Because again, nobody "pipes down" at the townie breakfast spot. That's the whole reason they're all there at eight in the morning.
posted by cribcage at 4:03 PM on December 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


There is so much bad, wrong, and potentially harmful (usually low-risk and in small ways, but nevertheless) legal advice dished out on AskMe that—speaking as a lawyer, and one who knows nothing about medicine—I completely, totally understand the mindset of a doctor who says, "You know what, fuck this" and quits the site. It's similar to Wikipedia in that respect. I get why experts avoid participating there, too.

Be the change you want to see! Clearly, if AskMeta answers to questions pertaining to legal affairs are suboptimal, you should consider giving out authoritative, high-quality legal advice. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
posted by Nomyte at 4:08 PM on December 30, 2013


There is so much bad, wrong, and potentially harmful (usually low-risk and in small ways, but nevertheless) legal advice dished out on AskMe that—speaking as a lawyer, and one who knows nothing about medicine—I completely, totally understand the mindset of a doctor who says, "You know what, fuck this" and quits the site. It's similar to Wikipedia in that respect. I get why experts avoid participating there, too.

I guess I get the impulse as a professional, especially in medicine, to not legitimate quack-ish comments by posting in the same question with your educated medical advice. Basically, though, I think the forum obviates the danger. The asker knows they aren't asking a doctor, or even some doctor-specific online forum where you have to submit your medical license before you post. They're asking the members of a general-interest discussion site, where people post out of their asses along the lines of "I have literally no experience in the thing you are asking about but my cousin's high school boyfriend once did something tangentially similar and he needed a permit from the county" often enough that it's a regular topic of discussion. I think most people know that they are just getting vague pointers in a particular direction, and not an expert medical diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:30 PM on December 30, 2013


I agree with rue72. My working theory is that the overexuberance for DTMFA thing stems from many answerers who speak from an idealised perspective of themselves. A question's story ticks a particular box and the response is as the answerer would like to think they would respond. These often ignore any of the messiness of real life. I can see this might sometimes have value in terms of cutting through bullshit, wood from trees etc but often it does not. It's perhaps not dissimilar to the rote answers to hot button topics.

Sometimes the melon farmer needs dumping of course.
posted by biffa at 4:34 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really like and am impressed with both RogerB's and cribcage's comments.

When the doctor saying to hell with this and quitting the site thing happened, well, I wasn't here. But before that happened, I was here for some very heated discussion on MeTa about this topic involving these folks and both at the time and now, I do disagree with the position that there should be moderation of some sort against potentially harmful non-expert questions and the more general idea that non-experts shouldn't be answering questions.

I think it's totally reasonable to use AskMe the way you'd use any social group to ask people questions that they may or may not have the expertise to answer.

Which seems at odds with my comments here, but I guess what I want is a much stronger community ethos that, on the answerers' side, does what cribcage mentions, which is where people first wait for people with actual expertise to speak up and just generally have some more hesitancy against answering questions when one doesn't have real, solid competency and information helpful to the asker; and then on the askers' side, an increased awareness of the responsibility to evaluate answers and be aware of how variable answerers' competency really can be even when they sound authoritative.

It is unrealistic and sort of unfriendly to expect the mods to try to adjudicate and for the site to tilt toward explicit credentialism. This isn't AskACertifiedExpertFilter, it's a community blog with smart and knowledgeable people who are helpful and generally kind, like in general the sort of people we trust. Individually, not necessarily. Collectively, in general, sure. Quite a bit. And it's totally okay to operate on that basis.

But there are, er, tendencies, in individual people and subgroups of people and, over time, larger groups of people that slowly can be increasingly reflected in the larger community's values that I think should be strongly resisted. Answering questions shouldn't be an activity that one primarily does for one's own benefit (such as enjoyment). The first question should always be: is my answer truly going to be helpful to the asker? Would I think so were I someone else reading the answer I'm about to give?

Frankly, I think there's a general human phenomenon where people do altruistic things but for some wrong reasons or with insufficient self-awareness and they actually do more harm than good. When I did rape crisis, there was a subset of volunteer who really saw everything from a pitying perspective, all their interactions with survivors was drenched in all sorts of subtextual messages that were doing the survivor as much damage as anything else the volunteer was doing to help.

You can see this with totally practical things! Like, hey, I'll come over and help you replace your back deck next week! Sometimes help isn't help, even when it's well-intentioned. It also needs to be mindful of the entire interaction and context.

I look askance at answering AskMes because it's fun to do, not because there's anything wrong with enjoying being helpful because that's awesome! It's totally fine to enjoy being helpful and feeling useful. But when that's a really big part of how you approach and think about it, then it's much easier to slowly lose sight of the bottom line of whether or not you're actually helping someone. Or, worse, you might miss that you're being hurtful. I think a lot of volunteer work suffers from this problem; my sense is that the professional coordinators and supervisors who manage volunteers end up spending a lot of time and effort trying to keep this tendency under control.

Also, I think that when attempting to be directly, actively helpful, responding to a specific person with a specific problem, it becomes very important to have a sense of responsibility. For me, this is a big part of why I don't answer questions in general and especially don't answer human relationship questions because I acutely feel a sense of responsibility about such things. When family and friends talk to me about such problems, I find myself in a very, very different mindset than I usually am in, where I am even more skeptical about my own judgments and more cautious in expressing them. Specific people with specific problems require a kind of humility in a helper, I think. Not so much that you're frozen into indecision and ambiguity and generally infuriatingly unhelpful. But ... cautious.

So, for me, the Instant Internet Expert who has apparently a part-time job answering AskMe questions exemplifies some things that are not, in that particularly person's instance, actually bad or wrong, but just that they point in a direction that the more people do it, the more people will do it, and the more likely some significant portion of it will Actually Be Bad.

Bottom line, I guess that I feel like AskMe would be, over time, even more helpful than it is, actually much more helpful than it already is, with a noticeably strengthened community ethos toward caution, self-awareness, humility. Because, for example, the other such internet sites which are notoriously unhelpful and plain horrible pretty much have answerers and answers that are precisely the opposite of those three things.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:18 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just wanted to echo that there is a pretty evident knowledge gap in answers between Parent Problems questions and Old Country Parent Problem questions. And I've seen quite a bit of trying to answer the later through the lens of the former, and, well, even if it is sound objective advice, you have to realize it won't work.

This is pretty much the issue I see in a lot of family relationships questions, in a nutshell. But I also think there's a sort of broader bias on the site toward idealism. Strategies meant to finish off the problem completely seem to me to get offered more than tactics that the OP can use to mitigate it for now. Maybe it's a bias against ambiguity or for working within less-than-ideal situations, a bias toward the perfect as opposed to the pragmatic? (In a way, I think it's an offshoot of the bias toward straightforward communication that someone mentioned far up-thread).

In that thread that sweetkid linked to earlier, for example, I thought that some of the responses were tone deaf given that the OP had specifically asked people to tailor their answers to be culturally relevant to her parents and had provided a link to guide people. But another issue that came up in that thread, at least in my perspective, was in how people handled the time frame. There was a lot of discussion about what the OP could be doing off in the future and long-term, and a lot of all-encompassing solutions, but not a whole lot of discussion (though there was some, like a suggestion to rent a car) about what she could do in the here and now to work within the situation as given. I don't know if that's a bias on AskMe in particular, though, or if I'm just out of step with how people think generally.

In that same vein, I feel like a lot of threads tend to dismiss the practicalities of a situation, including pragmatic but not ideal solutions. Some of the legal questions go over that ground, in my opinion -- there are lots of issues where the letter of the law and what people have the actual ability/tendency to do are not the same, and in those cases, I personally think it's useful to hear how actual people have dealt with the issue. Maybe that's because I'm not a lawyer and so I don't really care what the law is, I care about getting what I want -- so while legal advice can be useful, it can also be beside the point for my purposes as a layman. Issues with landlords, employers, people who haven't fulfilled business contracts, people who owe each other money -- there's the letter of the law which outlines what you're legally entitled to do or allowed to do, and there's also what's likely to happen or what the most pragmatic way of getting a given outcome would be. As a layman, I care more about the most pragmatic way of getting my chosen outcome, which might mean informal channels rather than legal ones even if the question is "legal" -- but I think the site tends actually to lean more toward "letter of the law" perspectives on those issues, in keeping with what I see as a tendency to lean toward the ideal/perfect world take instead of (what I see as) the realistic, "given the situation..." take.

Likewise, I definitely agree that there are culture clashes because of Old World v. New World norms but there are also culture clashes because of logistical realities. If your family has only a handful of relatives on the same continent as you, or if your relatives have issues communicating in the local language that you can/do help with, or if you have a vastly different earning potential than many/all of your relatives, or any of a ton of other logistical issues that are pretty run of the mill for families new to a country or even for families generally in which most/all of the relatives live outside of the mainstream local culture for whatever reason, then DTMF has very different ramifications than it would for a family in which most or all of the relatives can be expected to survive independently as members of mainstream society. I don't feel that that's taken into account a whole lot of the time, which, like griphus says, is par for the course to a certain extent -- but when the OP tries to highlight the cultural issues at play and takes a lot of care in defining the question, I do find it frustrating nonetheless. I guess that goes along with people getting frustrated at people answering without reading the whole question or thread or not having enough humility/caution in general? That's where I start feeling like the answers are a edging toward (I assume inadvertently) disrespectful, anyway, and where I start feeling like those kind of interpersonal/interdependence-related questions might just be pointless to ask in AskMe.

Along with that, this is probably me taking things too seriously and being too sensitive, because in reality the stakes for giving/getting advice online are probably pretty low, but something that bothers me in particular in some of those DTMF pile-ons is that, in some of the contexts given, if the person or family actually does get "dumped," that person/family will lose a vital component of his/its support system, and it seems doubtful that he/it will be able to survive without it (in a practical, as opposed to emotional sense). To me, that's such an enormous deal that to just condemn the person or family with a DTMF pile-on seems shocking. Here's an example that bothered me (and isn't actually about a culture clash).

My working theory is that the overexuberance for DTMFA thing stems from many answerers who speak from an idealised perspective of themselves. A question's story ticks a particular box and the response is as the answerer would like to think they would respond. These often ignore any of the messiness of real life.

I do think that people talk a big game sometimes, but I think part of that isn't just that the people are talking about their ideals as opposed to what they'd actually do, but also that the people joining in the discussion are often disproportionately the people who took a risk that *turned out well.* If someone says, "I DTMF and it worked for me! Try it!" I believe them, and believe in their good faith -- but I also suspect that for each one of them writing that, there are a few people who tried to DTMF and fell flat on their face but don't want to air their dirty laundry on a public forum. But I could be wrong, considering that the more aggressive posts tend to get a lot of favorites, even from lurkers *shrug.*
posted by rue72 at 5:59 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


(Yeah, sorry, backseatpilot, I did go back and read this whole thread later, as it turned out. But I thought it might be better to offer a perspective when I was unsure if I would have time to read a 100+ comment thread all the way through, since someone had asked. Maybe not though. FWIW, I do read through in AskMe virtually all the time before replying, particularly with questions that are more fact-based, less relationship-based, like the student-email one, and I do often find it frustrating when people don't.)
posted by mlle valentine at 6:33 PM on December 30, 2013


I never wave my credentials at people on the Internet, because it'd be so childish to think they were some kind of trump card, but it has happened (places like Reddit, not here that I can recall), when I've been talking about the subject of my Ph.D., that I've literally been "corrected" based on Wikipedia articles that I wrote by Internet strangers. It's an amusing experience, on some level, but also a deeply aggravating one because by the time you get to that point, there's just no way out other than to walk away and just have a laugh with an offline friend about it. That "well, actually..." ego-reward, the feeling of being in the right and well-informed, is so powerful that I don't think we'll ever get rid of Internet Expert Syndrome, but I really would like if there were a way to curtail it more than just asking everyone in the world to be more careful and introspective.

I mostly lurk on AskMe. But on the very, very rare occasions when I speak from professional experience, I am upfront about that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying, "I work in the field, and my experience has been...." or "I did my PhD on this subject and here's my understanding...." I appreciate it when other people do, because depending on the question being asked, those answers should probably be given greater consideration by the OP.
posted by zarq at 10:06 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


For future reference, here are my areas of true expertise:

Barkeeper's Friend
Magnesium supplements
Heattech

Um
posted by HotToddy at 10:39 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


"But really: try a neti pot" is the new DTMFA and I will be using it in answer to all relationship questions. I know it seems weird but it really works!
posted by bongo_x at 10:47 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


"I've also noticed a lot of answers that start with "Okay" or "Look" or "Listen" and those really put me off -- they seem to be saying to be saying "Prepare for some tough love because I will Tell You How It Is" or "Everyone is misguided but me so, okay, I'll help you out here". I find it really grating and unpleasant (and hopefully have not done it myself)."

Heh. Usually when I do that, I mean either, "OP, I hear you, let me try to answer something that the rest of these idiots ignored," or, "Look [the rest of these answers are moronic bullshit from people talking out their asses about something they don't understand], so let me try to be helpful without arguing directly with them.

For me, this most frequently happens in the "Let me give you my Los Angeles travel advice based on my cousin's trip in 1986 — Norm's is the best breakfast money can buy."

So then it's, "Look, OP, you could go to Norm's if you wanted, but it's an upscale Denny's. Try these places instead: …"
posted by klangklangston at 11:04 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Heck, there's a problem with people not even reading the whole post before replying, not just the preceding comments... It is maddening, though, when you ask, "How do I solve Problem A? Bear in mind, I've already tried Techniques X & Y and I'm not a fan of Product Z" and half of the first dozen replies are "Hey, have you tried X/Y?" or "Product Z is the answer!"

This just happened to me last week. It is pretty maddening, indeed.

Worse, not only did the answerer not even read my question, he or she clearly did not even read what they pulled up through Google.

It is getting harder and harder to ask technical questions here. I'm not sure what a good solution would be, but I'm debating the use of boldface, italics and the blink tag to point huge metaphorical arrows at the details, just to help the skimmers. But then it becomes so much work that I wonder if it is worth the bother and if I should just look elsewhere for answers...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:18 AM on December 31, 2013


Neti pots are how people get infected with deadly brain-eating amoebae.

Just sayin'. Stick with sterile saline bottles and sudafed.
posted by spitbull at 3:19 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Worse, not only did the answerer not even read my question, he or she clearly did not even read what they pulled up through Google.

I totally acknowledge that this can be a problem, but are you 100% certain that in this instance the premise of your question was correct? I don't feel qualified to answer that question myself, not being a Logic person. But from my experiences with digital audio recording, it seems to me that the point of aggregating devices is not to sum their inputs, but to make the signals (however many they are) from multiple devices available to an application that would otherwise perhaps not support multiple devices. I.e. if I understand correctly you could take 10 of those mics and have them appear as a single, 10-input audio interface, but their discrete, unmixed signals would still be available.

This is not the venue to go over this in detail of course but purely as a matter of AskMe efficacy I think that maybe this one might be easier to answer if you talked a bit about what happens when you e.g. create two mono tracks and try to select different inputs from your single aggregate device for them.

I'm debating the use of boldface, italics and the blink tag to point huge metaphorical arrows at the details, just to help the skimmers.

Needless to say, but I don't think this is a good idea.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 3:57 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stick with sterile saline bottles and sudafed

Pfft. This is all you need.
posted by billiebee at 4:00 AM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Neti pots are how people get infected with deadly brain-eating amoebae.

For those too congested to click the link: it does not support this claim. billiebee's spell is also known to be effective for the common cold - you should start seeing results within three or four days.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 4:04 AM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Needless to say, but I don't think this is a good idea.

I'm honestly open to suggestions. Maybe repeating details twice? I'm not joking — it's a problem. Technical questions should be easier to answer, but only if people bother to read the question in the first place.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:25 AM on December 31, 2013


I think it's a mixed bag. With "computer not doing what I want" questions you're essentially someone who finds themselves in the middle of an undocumented support procedure, so to speak. So I'd try to document it. That is, not only include "I've tried this and it doesn't work" but also back up and describe the problem as if you were someone encountering it for the first time - often you're not just looking for the one nugget of wisdom that fixes your conundrum but also a fresh perspective, because you may have in the process gotten bogged down on some kind of tangent. At least that what tends to happen with me. So that ties in with what jessamyn says about googling - if you knew what to google for you might not have posted the question in the first place. And like I said, try to make sure your premise is correct. Of course this isn't always possible or foolproof. But I do think the "how would I have described this disaster had I documented it" approach can be helpful, because it reminds you to include potentially relevant details, and it tends to produce a more "formal" or clinical description of the problem and prevent the reader from being led down the same garden path down which the OP got stuck in the first place.

Not saying this all applies here - but regardless of how the separate vs. summed audio inputs thing figures into your example, I do think it can never hurt to include a short rundown of things you have tried. Realistically there are still going to be instances where people misread or manage not to catch an important point. I do this at times. I can see how that can be frustrating but I can only imagine they are posting with the intent of helping you. Using extended bold type etc. never reads as very friendly to me, except in rare circumstances where something can be reasonably expected to be so easily misread that it is probably better to really make it stand out.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:31 AM on December 31, 2013


Neti pots are how people get infected with deadly brain-eating amoebae.

In two cases in one part of Louisiana.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:47 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


"But really: try a neti pot" is the new DTMFA and I will be using it in answer to all relationship questions. I know it seems weird but it really works!

TANPA will be the acronym!

To be fair, suddenly deploying a neti pot (either on yourself or your partner) during an argument is an efficient way to bring the relationship to an end.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:53 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or everybody just calm down, sit back and have a nice cup of coffee.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:56 AM on December 31, 2013


Happy New Year!
posted by h00py at 6:00 AM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or everybody just calm down, sit back and have a nice cup of coffee

I'd never actually heard of a neti pot before this thread. That's how you use those things? What the hell is the matter with you people?! I'd rather just directly inject brain-eating amoebae.
posted by billiebee at 6:29 AM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not too many interesting observations go into questions identifying mushrooms and such, though I could be wrong.

You might be surprised! One of my favorite Ask threads ever had a number of us on a "what's this bird I heard" quest, but the sound turned out to be coming from a tree frog!

Anyhoo, as occasional thing-identifier, I'll throw my .02 here as the human relations stuff seems to be pretty well covered already.

If you are using AskMefi to identify a plant, bird or bug, please tell us where you found, heard. or saw the thing.

In the woods is not useful.
In some woods in the southeastern US is useful.
posted by jquinby at 6:30 AM on December 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


In two cases in one part of Louisiana.

Seriously. Use distilled water, don't overuse them, they can provide relief in some circumstances and some people find them very helpful. If they don't work for you for whatever reason, you can still use AskMe to ask about your sinuses, it's just worth explaining "Why no neti" the same way you might explain why therapy is not an option.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:32 AM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Eeek, just teasing you neti-nuts, sorry!
posted by spitbull at 6:38 AM on December 31, 2013


That's how you use those things? What the hell is the matter with you people?! I'd rather just directly inject brain-eating amoebae.

Yes, but with saline, not coffee (or amoebae).
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:42 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eeek, just teasing you neti-nuts, sorry!

Please, neti-nauts.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:04 AM on December 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


I tried the neti pot thing after seeing them praised up and down here. It was sorta helpful. I got better results when I invested in a massive, six gallon, whole house humidifier. That thing changed my life.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:21 AM on December 31, 2013


I'd never actually heard of a neti pot before this thread. That's how you use those things? What the hell is the matter with you people?! I'd rather just directly inject brain-eating amoebae.

Neti pots are disgusting and horrible. I use a much more civilized sinus rinse, which is also disgusting and horrible.

I also like to think my ENT was basically my askmetafilter for a while.
ENT: I recommend that you use a sinus rinse
Me: Um, ew. NO THANKS.
-next appointment-
ENT: Use this sinus rinse, I'm giving you one.
Me: But it's grooooosssssss.
-next appointment-
ENT: Are you using the sinus rinse?
Me: .....um...
-next appointment-
Me: Okay, finally using the sinus rinse.
ENT: and is it helping?
Me: ....yes.

Also for a few years my sinus/nasal regime consisted of saline sprays, sinus rinse, sudafed, antihistamines, humidifiers, steroid nasal sprays, antihistamine nasal sprays, AND magic spells!

Also you want to know my other sinus clearing secret? Take a massager and put it on your face. IT WORKS.
posted by inertia at 8:38 AM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man, this has me wanting to dig out my sinucleans. I have a cold and it sure would feel good to get some water sloshing around in there.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:51 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can even use Neti Pots to set world records!
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:12 AM on December 31, 2013


Also you want to know my other sinus clearing secret? Take a massager and put it on your face. IT WORKS.

Please tell me how this is done. What kind of massager and do you use it like a mechanical facehugger?

I can't see how it would work, but my sinuses are bad enough I will try anything four or five times.

NETI POT 4 LYFE
posted by winna at 9:47 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few years ago I had to stop using Flonase due to rampant and random nosebleeds, but before I stopped I experienced what was to me a wonderful and long lost sense: smell. Interestingly I still have an interesting and complex sense of taste. I won't go into that as it's all theory.

Anyhow, Neti Pots don't currently work for me because I am all stuffed up. But when I can, I will try one.

Also, I learned from a fellow Nasal Polyps sufferer that Flonase can be used in a way that greatly minimizes nosebleeds, so I'm going to try to go back on that and try that again, even though I dislike the rosewater taste it has for me.

So yeah. Sinuses, right?
posted by kalessin at 9:51 AM on December 31, 2013


Please tell me how this is done. What kind of massager and do you use it like a mechanical facehugger?

I can't see how it would work, but my sinuses are bad enough I will try anything four or five times.


Generally, ones designed for shall we say, personal use. You could try anything you have though. I don't leave it on there, just a good 10-20 seconds per spot, under my eyes, forehead, tip of the nose.

kalessin--you can also try using a saline spray (or a saline gel spray) just before using Flonase. Seems to help prevent the nosebleeds and the bad taste!

Sorry guys, I could talk about sinuses and boogers all day.
posted by inertia at 9:54 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I could use my electric toothbrush because they're sort of the same shape.

Also I'm glad I'm not the only person who hates the Flonase taste.
posted by winna at 10:00 AM on December 31, 2013


This is the sinus massage description that helped me somewhat.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:05 AM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


The method I heard from my sinus friend for Flonase, in case anyone needs it is not to shoot directly up into the sinuses every single time but rather to shoot to the sides of the nostril/nasal passage in roughly four cardinal directions, rotating one quarter of the way around the passage on each squirt delivery.

Note I have not tested this myself but she promises good things. I'll try this pre-Flonase treatment too, tanks inertia!
posted by kalessin at 10:12 AM on December 31, 2013


I feel like this thread has become an AskMe on sinus issues....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:14 AM on December 31, 2013


I'm really annoyed that the solution to my problem ("why does the inside of my nose smell grotendously fucked up?") is going to be the horrors of sinus rinsing. I hate that shit.

Also re: neti pots - sometimes you need to be really really specific with people over the things that it is unwise to put in your body. I had to violently wrestle a neti pot out of my cousin's hand in China one winter when he went to fill it with tap water, which at that time was so polluted that people gave even their pets and plants bottled water. WHY WOULD YOU EVER.
posted by elizardbits at 10:15 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eeek, just teasing you neti-nuts, sorry!

The ancient neti code prescribes only one punishment for mockery of our proud traditions. Servants, release the brain-amoebas!
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:20 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Liquify your mucus with grape juice! You can thank me later.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:22 AM on December 31, 2013


If you have a tuning fork and you strike it and then put it on the bone near the sinus in question, it's supposed to work similarly to the massager thing. I have not tried it myself but I have seen people dramatically going "AH! ACK! MY BOOGERS!" when they do it to themselves.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:23 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee, I've had doctors put a tuning fork to my head and ask me if I can hear the sound evenly in both ears.

Apparently, there's a whole array of tuning fork tests!

I think this is just proof that askme does sinus issues very well. Also that we all have lots of boogers.
posted by inertia at 10:45 AM on December 31, 2013


If we didn't have lots of boogers, there'd be something seriously wrong with us.

I want to link to the video of Beakman's World with the Nasal Passage, but unfortunately I am unable to locate it.
posted by kalessin at 11:32 AM on December 31, 2013


I have really bad problems with my sinuses and, actually, I think one of the biggest reasons is that I have a deviated septum and that's totally correctable and will make a big difference.

But, otherwise, after doing a lot of research and reading about some big surveys of treatments for chronic sinusitis, what I learned is that right now, the only thing that is even moderately effective long-term is a comprehensive approach involving regular rinsing, correcting things like deviated septums, and pretty far-reaching lifestyle changes in the home including controlling humidity and very strict regulation of allergens. And the problem with all that is that many people aren't willing to do all that stuff and those that do, don't maintain it. For all other treatments, the vast majority of patients have eventual recurrence of chronic sinusitis.

Also, your PCP or even most ENTs aren't reliable authorities in treating chronic sinusitis because there's a lot of received folk wisdom in the medical community about what the causes are and different physicians subscribe to different theories and will just regularly use one particular approach. There's also the "chronic condition that's not well-understood that patients demand treatment for, so just give them something that will at least have a placebo effect and get them out of the office" thing going on.

Basically, no one really has much of a clue about what is going on with chronic sinusitis. Research opinion is trending toward a complex interaction between allergens, infection, and eventual auto-immune involvement. That is, it gets started and then it gets all out-of-whack and then the immune system also gets out-of-whack and it's just a big clusterfuck and that's why there's basically no one treatment that reliably works.

That's not to say that individual people might not have idiosyncratic cases of chronic sinusitis where one particular treatment might reliably work over the long-term for them. Like I mentioned about myself, a deviated septum is actually one specific thing that causes trouble that can be corrected because it badly interferes with aeration and clearance and stuff. So it's not as if those of you who have had reliable results from a specific treatment really haven't — of course you have. But for people looking for treatment, it's most likely not going to be that simple.

With chronic conditions in general, and specifically poorly understood ones, you really need to be pretty active as a patient and do some research about finding a good physician and then actually visiting more than one until you find someone who has a good handle on it. One of the things I read indicated that, in practice, ENTs are the least likely to be on-top of research on treatment for chronic sinusitis and will be more likely to rely upon a few things, particularly surgical treatments that, sadly, don't have good records of effectiveness and are far from trivial, medically and monetarily (ask me sometimes about my friend's "total frontal sinus obliteration"), and that allergists are more likely to be more up-to-date and comprehensive in treating chronic sinusitis.

But I want to repeat that patient education and involvement and effort is key. You can't expect to go to one doctor, your primary care physician or an ENT someone recommends to you, and get a successful and reliable treatment over the long-term. You have to work for this in several ways. This is very often true about medicine in general, and something I harp on a lot (as someone with a lifetime of being a patient for a serious chronic condition), but this is particularly true for chronic conditions that are poorly understood.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:07 PM on December 31, 2013


Yes. And it was only recently that I was personally able to connect the dots and realize that taking a general anti-inflammatory helps me with my issues immensely as well. And I'm frickin' 45 years old.
posted by kalessin at 12:16 PM on December 31, 2013


I don't understand why no one is thanking me.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:19 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


When they figure out a neti pot that doesn't feel like drowning, I'll finally give in. I am also completely aware this is totally user error, but still. DROWNING.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:35 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


kalessin, what kind of anti-inflammatory? Like Aleve?
posted by HotToddy at 12:44 PM on December 31, 2013


You might be surprised! One of my favorite Ask threads ever had a number of us on a "what's this bird I heard" quest, but the sound turned out to be coming from a tree frog!

WHAT! I gasped out loud when I read that. It was a TREE FROG all along!!!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:52 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sigh, leave it to the neti-mafia to make a thread all about their sinuses, again.
posted by Think_Long at 12:59 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


NETI-NAUTS
posted by sweetkid at 1:06 PM on December 31, 2013


I run two hepa air filters in my bedroom every night all night. The roar of the filters makes it sounds like I am sleeping in Mission Control, but my allergies are so much more manageable and also I can pretend I am on a spaceship so it's a win-win.
posted by winna at 1:07 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I use Ibuprofen for the anti-inflammatory.
posted by kalessin at 1:13 PM on December 31, 2013


I had terrible sinus problems with associated terrible vertigo from June of 2010 until just about a year ago. I thought I was going to need surgery, which as a professional singer, I really, really badly wanted to avoid. But my whiz-bang ENT surgeon decided instead to try me on a system of medicated nasal lavage, administered with, yes, a neti pot -- budesonide and mupirocin. It didn't solve the problem, but it knocked it back to about 1/10th of what it was. I just do a couple of days of that whenever I get a cold, and the horrible problems I used to get all the time just never manifest. I haven't lost my voice in a year, when I used to lose it every 3-4 months. Neti pot for the win!
posted by KathrynT at 1:19 PM on December 31, 2013


I had terrible sinus problems with associated terrible vertigo from June of 2010 until just about a year ago.

That's interesting, KathrynT, Kristin Chenoweth apparently has similar problems, but hers go all the way to Meniere's:
Chenoweth suffers from Ménière's disease, an inner-ear disorder that can cause vertigo, headaches and nausea, among other symptoms. She has said that during some performances she has had to lean on her co-stars to keep her balance and that it has caused her to miss performances.[11]
I think something odd is going on with you singers, especially among sopranos.
posted by jamjam at 1:51 PM on December 31, 2013


Yeah, I don't have Meniere's, thank god. It's a bit of a puzzle, because really the only two things that are known to cause vertigo with sinus congestion are meniere's and superior canal dehiscence syndrome, which I also don't have. But if I keep the sinuses under control, then the vertigo stays at bay, so good enough for me!
posted by KathrynT at 2:29 PM on December 31, 2013


Am I the only person on Metafilter who has no sinus problems at all?
posted by double block and bleed at 2:37 PM on December 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


the only two things that are known to cause vertigo with sinus congestion are meniere's and superior canal dehiscence syndrome, which I also don't have.

Wait, what? I also occasionally get mild vertigo if my sinus congestion gets bad - it kind of feels like that spinny-room feeling you get when you're drunk. But I only chalked that up to super-bad congestion combined with some tiny quirk of anatomy. So are you saying that I may need to get myself checked out for those things?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:47 PM on December 31, 2013


Empress, check yer memail! (important summary for readers at home: mild vertigo without hearing loss is probably not a big deal.)
posted by KathrynT at 2:59 PM on December 31, 2013


But if it is SDCS then THEY GO INTO YOUR HEAD AND MOVE YOUR BRAIN AROUND it's so creepy
posted by elizardbits at 3:20 PM on December 31, 2013


i mean it almost certainly is not BUT IF IT IS! brain movins
posted by elizardbits at 3:21 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


All my vertigo troubles are in my right ear, which makes sense because it is my right sinus which is nasty, but when I had my temporal bone CT scan my right superior canal is solid as a rock. The left one has a possible dehiscence, though -- but that is apparently a complete coincidence!!
posted by KathrynT at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2013


I use saline nasal spray and the tapping method for my sinus issues.

There is no way I'm going to willingly put water in my nasal passages. Water immediately goes down my throat and then I cough and spasm like I'm drowning and this happens in the shower by accident, why the hell would I do that on purpose? No thanks. I'll just keep rubbing the bridge of my nose until it crumbles.
posted by sm1tten at 4:10 PM on December 31, 2013


In totally unrelated news, my dog just barked so hard she farted. I just really wanted to share that.
posted by sm1tten at 4:11 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


In similarly unrelated news, my dad and I are installing a garbage disposal and my 3 year old picked up one of the discarded pieces of pipe and said "Oh hey, long holes!" and I cannot stop giggling about it.
posted by KathrynT at 4:23 PM on December 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


The internet is a series of long holes.
posted by Justinian at 6:16 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


In totally unrelated news, my dog just barked so hard she farted.

I have done this.
posted by bongo_x at 11:45 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've had doctors put a tuning fork to my head and ask me if I can hear the sound evenly in both ears.

I'd be in ASMR heaven.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:23 AM on January 2, 2014


Hey! In a contemplative mood at this turn of the year? Milestone birthday coming up in 2014? In middle age and worried about, well, being middle aged? Or approaching that time, hearing people say loaded things such as "The wrong side of 40" and thinking things will get worse?

Stop!

Hammer time

In this truly splendid thread on AskMeFi, the hivemind of MetaFilter give the bright side of being, arguably, on the right side of 40.
posted by Wordshore at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


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