Length limit for MeFi posts? March 14, 2015 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I wanted to ask MeFites and the mods if there is any interest in having some sort of length limit for MetaFilter posts.

I find long posts (often those with block quotes and multiple line breaks) are sort of tedious to scroll through on mobile devices and it also feels like they crowd out shorter posts.

LM helpfully pointed me to a couple of threads that are maybe the most recent discussions about this issue, but I thought it was worth revisiting in light of the design changes at MeFi and the fact that more and more of us are accessing the site on mobile devices with smaller screens.

What do folks think?
posted by lalex to Feature Requests at 10:02 AM (68 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

noooooooooooooooooooo
posted by Rhaomi at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2015 [53 favorites]


I concur with no.
posted by pwally at 10:09 AM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


it also feels like they crowd out shorter posts.

I don't see how that can be possible when the main page part is already size limited.
posted by Brockles at 10:12 AM on March 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Are you saying there's too much on the front page? Currently there are a couple of posts that might benefit from an earlier [more inside] jump, but I don't see it as a pervasive problem.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Just to clarify, soft length limits on above-the-fold stuff are fine and have been enforced before on most stuff that strays beyond ~10 lines (on my screen anyway), but limiting [more inside] content is bad news!)
posted by Rhaomi at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


As I see it there are two issues here that contribute to vertical length of a post (i.e., scrolling distance) -- number of characters, and formatting that introduces extra whitespace, like linebreaks and blockquotes.

Historically, people are pretty free to format their posts as they like, with only a very few exceptions. As for number of characters, we will occasionally tuck some below the fold if it's really egregious, especially in AskMe if it seems like the person maybe didn't understand there's a below the fold section, but mostly people keep it under the threshold of what I'd consider truly egregious.

(All this from a mod perspective, even though at a personal level, I'm a twitchy reader who prefers posts to be uniformish above-the-fold for easy visual scanning.)

I'm interested to hear if people are feeling differently about these vertical-length issues with the Modern template and with reading on smaller/varied devices.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:14 AM on March 14, 2015


A "skip to comments" link on mobile might address this, although I suspect this isn't going to get a lot of traction. I've occasionally thought the "[FOO] comments" link from the front page of the site or subsite should take you straight to the first comment in the thread, similarly to how the new comments link works.
posted by figurant at 10:15 AM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Scrolling through the front page and back a few more pages worth of posts, I'm not seeing any posts that stand out as particularly long. A limit would either be for really strong outliers and or would be affecting a pretty large number of posts. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but it would seem likely to have a pretty significant impact on quite a few people's posting styles.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Brockles is right - regardless of either side of this debate, it would be a lot more difficult than limiting post length. Back before [more inside] was hard-wired, a lot of us would just have a massive comment or two ready to post immediately after hitting the submit button.

So - this would probably also require preventing the poster from commenting right away after submitting a post. Or limiting comment sizes, maybe. Is that something we want to do?
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 AM on March 14, 2015


Respectfully disagree. It takes an extra second to scroll past a long post I don't care about then it's gone. 100% success rate, even on my phone.
posted by mintcake! at 10:20 AM on March 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, another vote for no. It'll only hit a few posts, and I'm not sure it'll solve anyone's problems - if we have a moderately-long post with looooots of comments, that will also be long to scroll through. Kind of how Mefi works?

I kind of agree with figurant - the "x comments" should go to the first comment rather than the more inside. You can already click on the post title (if enabled) or the "[more inside]" to get to the rest of the post.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:30 AM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm another 'no' vote. Some of the most remarkable posts have been those long link-filled deep dives into all kinds of things.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:33 AM on March 14, 2015


I feel like this post is subliminally asking for me to finish writing that megapost about my favorite band.
posted by rorgy at 10:34 AM on March 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


To quickly clarify, I meant the above the fold part that appears on the front page.
posted by lalex at 10:37 AM on March 14, 2015


I kind of agree with figurant - the "x comments" should go to the first comment rather than the more inside. You can already click on the post title (if enabled) or the "[more inside]" to get to the rest of the post.

I disagree, because I think people are already not bothering to read the links most of the time, and I'd hate for people to stop reading the entire posts either. I do agree that it's a bit clunky that the "x comments" link does go to the "more inside," but I think it's a helpful clunkiness.
posted by jaguar at 10:40 AM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I personally would love a hard word limit on front page post, to make it easier to scroll through. If you can't get my interest in 100-200 words or so, move along! There's plenty of room on the inside people to post that long quote or what have you.

But it's doubtful this will ever be officially implemented and that's fine too. I'll just have to find a way to live with that annoyance.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:40 AM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am in favor of this pony.
posted by grouse at 11:00 AM on March 14, 2015


MetaFilter: I'll just have to find a way to live with that annoyance.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:00 AM on March 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm okay with lengthy, link-heavy posts, although I've grown less impressed by them as the years have gone by. It's much harder to cull stuff out and edit your own need to make a link-heavy post.

On a different topic, there seems to be an awfully lot of text-heavy posts with little linkage lately. I have personal distaste for this, as it seems more like a personal blog post, I suppose, or a newspaper if big blocks of text are quoted. It doesn't seem very Metafiltery.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:04 AM on March 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: It doesn't seem very Metafiltery.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:11 AM on March 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


lalex: "To quickly clarify, I meant the above the fold part that appears on the front page."

Uh - then I guess this is just a misunderstanding, because we already have that. There is a length limit on above-the-fold posts already.

Maybe your request could be converted to asking that it be shortened?
posted by koeselitz at 11:11 AM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


On a different topic, there seems to be an awfully lot of text-heavy posts with little linkage lately. I have personal distaste for this, as it seems more like a personal blog post, I suppose, or a newspaper if big blocks of text are quoted. It doesn't seem very Metafiltery.

I think this is probably partly just a knock-on effect of encouraging people to start posting or post more; folks unlimbering on the whole posting workflow often I think tend to have a little bit more of a bloggy/expository/personal approach to how they construct a post because it's an, I dunno, naturalistic approach to the whole thing. Mix of growing pains and just something that bears a little gentle community guidance, I think. If you feel like you're seeing it as a pattern from a given user in particular, maybe toss the mods a heads up and we can touch base with them in a no-big-deal post framing advice sort of capacity.

I do generally agree with the preference for more link density (whether as short one-linkers or as more link-rich posts where if there's another paragraph it's because there's another meaty link or two which the paragraph is specifically introducing), though to some extent this is just de gustibus territory and a variety of approaches are okay and expected and part of the weird wonderful tapestry that is the front page. As long as someone not e.g. going way off the rails in terms of style + posting volume, I think there's always gonna be stuff that's both annoying to some people's preferences and totally fine in terms of site guidelines and expectations.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:20 AM on March 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


There is a length limit on above-the-fold posts already.

I don't think this is true, actually. We do have a soft warning on AskMes, suggesting but not requiring that people move more inside. We've talked about it a few times over the years, but I don't think we have an actual hard limit in either space. (Though pb may possibly correct me on this.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:30 AM on March 14, 2015


Yeah, I was just testing and realized there doesn't seem to be – it doesn't throw an error on 5,598 characters, though that should be plenty. It's weird largely because I know mods editing posts to move big chunks down to [more inside] is, if not routine, at least not uncommon.

Odd. And I know that Matt was talking about soft limits all the way back in 2002. I guess the soft limit (the little suggestion on the post page to "keep it to a paragraph") and the stripping out of linebreaks is all he ever ended up doing.
posted by koeselitz at 11:33 AM on March 14, 2015


(I guess there might actually be a hard limit, but it doesn't show up in preview, and I'm not really willing to click "Post" to try it at that stage. But I would think that wouldn't be how a hard limit would work.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:35 AM on March 14, 2015


A soft limit above-the-fold-only would be OK. I'm definitely against a hard limit based on number of characters. There's a reason I'm posting something to Metafilter instead of Twitter.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:35 AM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe when the poster gets to the soft limit, it can start playing the "wrap it up" music they use at the Academy Awards.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:37 AM on March 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Keyboard cat, obviously.
posted by jaguar at 11:40 AM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, I kinda feel like a limit up around 1000 or 2000 characters or something wouldn't be exactly crazy. That's a long paragraph. And there's always more space in [more inside] and comments – so this wouldn't constitute too much of a restraint, I don't think.

Somebody could probably run data. Just a few years ago in one of the threads mentioned in this post, Matt said that there were fewer and fewer huge posts. I'm not sure that's still the case. But I do wonder how many really huge-ass posts there are. That would probably help us think about how much to cut posts down if we want to make the front page less cluttered – or whether we really think it's a problem.
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


No.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:44 AM on March 14, 2015


Well, I kinda feel like a limit up around 1000 or 2000 characters or something wouldn't be exactly crazy. That's a long paragraph. And there's always more space in [more inside] and comments – so this wouldn't constitute too much of a restraint, I don't think.

This is exactly my feeling. Make posts as long as you like, but toss them in the more inside part once they're too long.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:48 AM on March 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's weird largely because I know mods editing posts to move big chunks down to [more inside] is, if not routine, at least not uncommon.

It's not super uncommon but we don't have to do it too often these days, actually. I don't know if folks have gotten better on average, or if people (mods and users alike) have gotten a little more chill or shruggo about slightly longer posts, or some combination of the two, though it'd be possible to do some number-crunching on post text length to actually figure out if there's been drift.

Make posts as long as you like, but toss them in the more inside part once they're too long.

Yeah, which is pretty much what the abiding standard's been; just try to keep the above-the-fold bits from getting out of hand in terms of either pure wordcount or linebreak/formatting hijinks.

I should check with pb about whether we have any data for tracking the invocation of the soft-limit warning on Ask since we started that; my guess is no, but would be sort of neat to see some numbers there. And we could consider trying the same thing out on mefi itself; I'm more in favor of having it be a "hey, this is getting long" nudge than an actual hard limit as far as that goes since I think folks are generally pretty responsive to nudging and it's not usually tricky for us to edit it manually on odd cases where someone doesn't.

One thing that's more of an issue with Mefi posts than with Ask questions there is the idea of character count: that's the easiest/fasted method but also problematic when a lot of the characters in a post are non-displaying href attributes, especially for posts with a lot of links. But that's a small technical thing, not an insurmountable obstacle.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:08 PM on March 14, 2015


I'm gonna drop in here to beg people to stop linking every word in the post. Pick a few words or a short sentence, link them, and leave the rest of the prose undecorated.

On handheld devices screen-filling one-link posts are easy to accidentally click when you're meaning to scroll past 'em.

Not many people build their posts that way, fortunately, but the gotchas are annoying. Especially at 6 AM when the coffee's not brewed yet and I'm killing five minutes while the work computer's booting up and my motor skills aren't at their peak.
posted by ardgedee at 12:08 PM on March 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


If this is about my latest post, I'm sorry - in my defense, it looked shorter in preview.
posted by corb at 12:25 PM on March 14, 2015


I have no problem with people putting a ton of text above the fold, as long as they wrap it in a half dozen <small> tags.
posted by aubilenon at 12:52 PM on March 14, 2015


If we removed the titles from the front page that would remove some of the scrolling.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:12 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


As for number of characters, we will occasionally tuck some below the fold if it's really egregious

Speaking about pet peeves about post formats, I wish, like in the Techniker post today, people would learn not to hide a solitary secondary link below the fold because that always promises more than it delivers.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:34 PM on March 14, 2015


So you're saying "tl;dr" ?
posted by mrbill at 3:49 PM on March 14, 2015


On my phone especially I dislike too much above the fold text, which makes scrolling the front page a pain. I tend to skip the mega posts but unless they become much more common I wouldn't want to put limits on the "more inside" section.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:39 PM on March 14, 2015


This is a special accommodation request. Well, hey, I read MeFi on a watch, so limit posts to 16 characters! I have a monochrome screen, no color cat pix please! I'm allergic to vowels, n mr vwls!

Wnt t fx th prblms n MF? Gt vr yr wn slf.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:40 PM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


A lot more people read on small screens these days, so it seemed worthwhile to revisit this question now.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:17 PM on March 14, 2015


I do not support this idea. What if I want to make a really big FPP, and this makes me have to take something out of it? That would be CRUEL SILENCING!
posted by oceanjesse at 5:28 PM on March 14, 2015


If this is about my latest post, I'm sorry - in my defense, it looked shorter in preview.

Oh, this definitely wasn't directed at you, or anyone in particular, at all. I felt like I was seeing more and more posts that were taking up a couple screens on my cell phone, or generally a bit annoying to scroll through on my mobile devices, and I found that I was accidentally skipping shorter, one-line posts, so I thought I'd bring it up to the community.

Anyway, it seems like I'm in the clear minority on this one, but I appreciate the discussion. Thanks all!
posted by lalex at 5:57 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


If a MeFi post is too long/detailed to effectively scroll on my phone, I postpone reading it until I'm at my desktop/laptop. "Small screen means small reading," I always say, except for comment threads.
posted by rhizome at 5:58 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I kind of agree with figurant - the "x comments" should go to the first comment rather than the more inside.

That was my most recent pony request and folks had a bunch of good reasons for disliking it. Batting 0 for 2!
posted by lalex at 6:00 PM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


My vote (advisory only, not expected to be actually counted) is no.

Maybe some examples would make this seem more pressing, but my sense from scanning the front page is that things are fine; not many people are really pushing the "that's too much text" limit.

(At the same time, I would like to encourage people to be mindful about what they link to. Personally, if the first link in an FPP is to a Wikipedia link, I kind of side-eye the post. And the every-word-a-link (much less every-letter-a-link) with no indication of which ones are more relevant/important than the others makes me want to close the tab without clicking through on any of them.)
posted by Lexica at 6:54 PM on March 14, 2015


I think the phone browsing/posting thing is fundamentally a technical problem, which means it's best solved by a technical solution, not an editorial one. A length rule would have deprived us all of this treasure. I think its existence alone is a sufficient counter-argument.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 7:35 PM on March 14, 2015


I think the phone browsing/posting thing is fundamentally a technical problem, which means it's best solved by a technical solution, not an editorial one. A length rule would have deprived us all of this treasure.

So I don't want to threadsit, but I think I wasn't very clear about my proposal.

I was speaking specifically about the part of posts that are above the fold, i.e. appear on the front page. I would never want to limit the length of posts like the one you are using as an example; that one only had one sentence appearing on the blue.
posted by lalex at 7:49 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I vote no. And not just because I could never have posted Alice's Restaurant, but because the free-form format serves us well and is rarely abused. I'm down with an above-the-fold limit, but not a cap on total post length. If it's too long to read, you don't have to.
posted by Miko at 9:01 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, I really phrased this badly.

I'm down with an above-the-fold limit

is the only thing I was asking for; I would never want to limit below-the-fold posts.
posted by lalex at 9:05 PM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


In case it helps people skimming, I'll repeat that:

The question is about limiting just the above-the-fold part of posts -- just the part that appears on the MeFi front page.

The full post, the below-the-fold, would still be unlimited.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:11 PM on March 14, 2015


Yeah, it kinda sounds like there's broad agreement that limiting above-the-fold text would be a good idea. Does anybody have any objections to that? And again, by "that" we mean a hard limit on above-the-fold text, so you'd have to put the rest in [more inside], which would still be unlimited.

Does that sound good to people? Bad? How do we feel about it?
posted by koeselitz at 7:24 AM on March 15, 2015


It's a good idea. A thousand or so visible characters should be enough to get the gist across. I don't know how much mana pb would have to use up to distinguish visible characters from markup, so maybe the actual limit would have to be higher, but a gentle "Omit needless words!" message for above-the-fold text >=1000 might do the job all by itself.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:42 AM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also think putting a hard limit on the visible non-markup above-the-fold part of FPPs is a good idea.
posted by jaguar at 7:47 AM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ah, that's a good idea – only limiting the non-markup part, if that's possible.
posted by koeselitz at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This may not be feasible from a tech perspective, but I wonder if it would be possible to give users an option under "preferences" where you could set a limit for how many characters are displayed above the fold, and then if something is cut off, there could be a way to click on it to show the rest of the above the fold part (which would be a separate option from "more inside" and wouldn't take you away from the main page).

That idea may be more trouble than it's worth, and I have to say that I alway read on my laptop so this doesn't really bother me that much, although I do have a slight preference for shorter "above the fold" sections because it makes skimming the front page easier.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:08 AM on March 15, 2015


long posts (often those with block quotes and multiple line breaks) are sort of tedious to scroll through on mobile devices

That says more about mobile devices than it does about long posts.

Doctor, it hurts when I do this...
posted by flabdablet at 10:44 AM on March 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think the phone browsing/posting thing is fundamentally a technical problem

I think it's a social problem, derived from the same impulse that makes people ride around the streets with their knees around their ears on tiny little stunt bicycles completely unsuited to the purpose.

Mobile phone? Stick to Twitter. I do not want my MeFi experience chopped into sound bites just to pander to the whims of folks who insist on using the wrong tools for the job.
posted by flabdablet at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read MeFi through an antique iPod exclusively. Don't come 'round me with your "oh, my device has such a small screen" whining. This thing is damn close to being a teletype level of interface. And I still don't see a need to "fix" MeFi.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:22 AM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel like this post is subliminally asking for me to finish writing that megapost about my favorite band.

Which sucks.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2015


I'm not a fan of hard character limits just because of the unpredictability of line breaks, blockquotes, YouTube play buttons, long URLs and/or hovertext annotations, lots of links (which makes text bold), different fonts, browser sizes, screen resolutions, etc. etc. etc. The current practice of mods culling excessive posts by an informal eyeballing of length works fine imho, and most people seem to self-edit.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I vote no. Especially not if the character limit will be unable to distinguish between HTML code (formatting/urls) and words. The mods edit posts where necessary and that's good enough for me.

The title character limit still pisses me off no end.
posted by zarq at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


flabdablet: "Mobile phone? Stick to Twitter. I do not want my MeFi experience chopped into sound bites just to pander to the whims of folks who insist on using the wrong tools for the job."

Still a lot of presumption here. First of all, we've been talking about front-page limits since at least 2002, and have instituted several of them (most notably the stripping of double line breaks, which I think is good). Second of all, it's insane to call a thousand characters "a sound bite," and neither you nor anyone else has even demonstrated that this would change the front page much at all.

Not saying you're necessarily totally wrong. I'm still open to arguments. But this is a clear mischaracterization of what we're talking about, isn't it?
posted by koeselitz at 2:44 PM on March 15, 2015


I disagree, because I think people are already not bothering to read the links most of the time, and I'd hate for people to stop reading the entire posts either.

My reaction to most, maybe all, mega-posts is "well, that's a lot of links; [member] put a lot of time into that." Then I close the page and read something else. I don't think mega-posts should go away -- MetaFilter is a big tent, and Every Post It's Reader and all, but who can be expected to go through all those links? It's like RTFIDY (Read The Fucker, I Dare You).
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:00 PM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read a lot on a smallsmall screen (iphone 4), and I haven't been provoked or irritated by too much front-page/above the fold text (but I'm one of the titles-at-zero, classic interface obstinate refusers, and maybe that makes a difference). While I prefer the status quo as long as it's not an issue that bothers the mods, I suppose I wouldn't mind a koeselitzy-sized limit just as a check on the rare behemoth. Although now that I look, there are a few posts on the front page now that are at or over a thousand words and they seem well within normal/acceptable/eyeball-pleasing to me, so I suppose I'd want the limit at the 2k+ end of things if it has to be a hard limit.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:19 PM on March 15, 2015


It's like RTFIDY (Read The Fucker, I Dare You).

This is my new Motto.
posted by zarq at 3:39 PM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am totally in favour of a little thing that comes up if you put too many characters above the fold

hello, your post is rather long, maybe you should shift some of it to More Inside

but I'm against a hard limit on it if only because it'll stop any edge cases frustrating people and given it hasn't been abused yet i don't imagine it's going to be again
posted by solarion at 9:53 PM on March 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


What Rhaomi saaaaaaaaaaaaaid.
posted by y2karl at 7:55 AM on March 16, 2015


« Older A sort-of-wake for Terry Pratchett   |   MeFi Fantasy Baseball 2015 Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments