We're adding a soft warning for long above-the-fold text on the blue July 15, 2015 11:58 AM   Subscribe

We’re adding a heads-up note to the posting process on the front page when previewing a long-above-the-fold post, to help provide folks with preemptive feedback about post length. It’s not enforced—your post won’t be truncated by the posting process or anything like that—but we’re hoping it’ll help folks think about how they’re framing stuff in terms of how much vertical space it might occupy.

This is the same general idea as the soft warning we added to Ask Metafilter after some discussion of the idea last year, and it seems to have helped there. We’re hoping this will similarly help reduce the number of conspicuously long posts we have to grapple with after the fact. (And it’s something that’s come up regarding the blue a few times before, most recently in March of this year.)

This specifically applies just to the above the fold text of a post; we’re not looking at what goes in the More Inside, which has zero impact on the readability of Metafilter’s front page.

In general we don’t want to enforce a hard mechanical limit on posting style, because it’s nice to have a bit of variety and the odd justified outlier can make sense as part of the mix. But as a general issue, we’ve seen a fair number of posts over the years that end up seeming far too long for the front page, and a larger body of posts that are at best pushing it and sometimes pushing pretty hard.

And in cases where a mod specifically notices it and can find a clean natural edit point midway through the post’s framing, we’ll often tuck some of the post text under the fold in a way that doesn’t involve any restructuring of the order of the post. But depending on how the post is constructed, that may not be really doable, and leaves us in a pickle where either we delete the post for length (difficult to justify when it’s just sort of pushing it) or leave it up (and thus have a too-long post on the front page and encourage by example similar framing in the future).

So the hope here is to get away from that rock-and-a-hard-place situation a bit by prompting folks to stop and reframe their post prior to putting it through if the above-the-fold bit is getting long, to move some of that to the More Inside section where it’s not competing for vertical space on the front page.

Of which, there’s a few different things that contribute to longer-than-ideal posts:

1. Just a whole lot of text. Very long quotes or descriptions spanning into five, six, seven lines of text on a reasonably wide desktop browser is where we tend to start seriously eyeing a post for a potential edit point.

2. Using hard breaks to add vertical whitespace. We strip out carriage returns above the fold, but do allow folks to insert explicit <br> tags at their own discretion; however, that adds length to a post and discretion is the key word here. If your post doesn’t need that extra space, consider eliding it.

3. Using the <blockquote> tag. As above, this is something we allow folks to use, but it adds a lot of extra vertical space between the padding above, the padding below, and the narrower column of text within. That extra padding can turn a quote that might otherwise be okay as the above-the-fold text of a post into something effectively much larger and conspicuous, especially when accompanied by additional text/links outside the blockquote. Using a much shorter quote for the blockquoted bit can help; electing to just use simple quotation or italics to mark up a quote instead can do likewise.

Thanks for being conscientious about this stuff. Again, it’s not a hard limit; using good judgement to decide when and if to do something a little unusual on the front page is something we trust folks to run with in general. But we’re hoping we can reduce the number of situations we encounter with posts that are long enough to cause friction and require a mod call after the fact, and to keep the front page from sprawling too much.
posted by cortex to MetaFilter-Related at 11:58 AM (62 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

...in light of recent events on the interwebs, I'm trying to imagine how this post would go over on reddit. There must be a way to compare this to Nazis, right?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:11 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
posted by lalex at 12:11 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


tl;dr Just save space by converting any multisyllabic words and complex thoughts to emojis.

An example: ⛪😣🌈, 💁💒🌈👌
posted by phunniemee at 12:24 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Did I miss it or did you not mention how much text (or is it 'how many lines') triggers the warning?
posted by zarq at 12:33 PM on July 15, 2015


tl;dr Just save space by converting any multisyllabic words and complex thoughts to emojis.

Plus they'll be unreadable to people using certain browsers, so win-win. ;)
posted by zarq at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2015


You had a chance to put all of that text above the fold, just for the humor factor. You really dropped the ball there, cortex.
posted by Plutor at 12:39 PM on July 15, 2015 [35 favorites]


omg, it's a rarely-seen plutor.
posted by boo_radley at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, just an fyi, "We strip out carriage returns above the fold, but do allow folks to insert explicit <br> tags at their own discretion;" is not uniform for all sites. You can't use line breaks on fanfare, for example.
posted by zarq at 12:47 PM on July 15, 2015


Did I miss it or did you not mention how much text (or is it 'how many lines') triggers the warning?

You didn't miss it; there's no specific magic number here, and the warning is triggered by a heuristic that accounts roughly for the whitespace that <br> and <blockquote> tags add along with the (non-HTML) raw character count of the post text.

We set the numbers in the heuristic by skimming visually through the archives to identify a crop of long-ish and of really-quite-long-indeed posts, and then experimenting until we found something that did a pretty good job of catching all of the latter while not necessarily triggering on the former. So it's a relatively generous, and inherently hard to specify, threshold. We'd rather people just adjust by feel when and if it does come up than approach this with ruler and compass.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:47 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


tl;dr Just save space by converting any multisyllabic words and complex thoughts to emojis.

💣 & ✌️ (much much much much more inside)
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, that's really interesting, cortex! Cool.

I try to keep above-the-fold lengths at no more than 5 lines of text if at all possible, because walls of text on the front page aren't great. But I've used line breaks and blockquote above the fold over the years on different posts, and wonder if posts like this or this would trigger the warning. Not a lot of text, but there are a few line breaks.

Time to experiment with preview. :)
posted by zarq at 12:54 PM on July 15, 2015


Just in case anyone else wants to see the dire warning in preview, inputting a random (okay, Westphalian) Treaty earned me the following stern rebuke:

Please Note: Your Description is fairly long for the front page. Please consider moving some to the Extended Description section.

Not exactly Here There Be Dragons or Forsake All Hope Ye Who Enter Here, but I suppose it makes the point well enough.
posted by yhbc at 1:02 PM on July 15, 2015


I'm definitely a repeat offender when it comes to using above-the-fold blockquotes because I've always had it in my head that blockquotes are what should be used when you're quoting from the original source/link while quotation marks and italics are reserved exclusively for quoting other MeFites, but I'll be changing my tune from here on out.

Thanks for the reminder, sorry for clogging up the front page!
posted by divined by radio at 1:03 PM on July 15, 2015


I was actually feeling a little guilty about my last post (about the wonderfully silly SUPER EPIC CATS videos) being too long for the front page, but I wanted to avoid the 'more inside' because the best of the videos (for me) was the last one, and I wanted to lead up to it, narratively. So, I edited myself more than I usually do (the descriptive stuff I omitted would've been hilarious, I hope). I'm sure all the professional editors I dealt with in the past are saying "SEE WHAT WE HAD TO PUT UP WITH?"
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Forsake All Hope Ye Who Enter Here
posted by nubs at 1:57 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seems to me there could be some bad consequences for discussion to #3's discouraging of blockquoting, since using blockquotes is if not the only, then at least by far the most effective (IME) way to get people to realize HEY, THIS THING YOU'RE READING IS AN EXCERPT FROM A LONGER TEXT before they dive into an FPP to disagree or nitpick or whatever in response to the keywords they skim-read from it. Might it be possible to modify the CSS for blockquotes so they take up a bit less space on the front page, instead of discouraging their use? I really think the alternatives are not generally as effective at the task of getting people to stop and read better before sounding off.
posted by RogerB at 2:42 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Should I be concerned about free speech? Will it quarantine too much written content to a lesser seen area of the main page? I worry that sort of censorship is a slippery slope to more top quality moderation in the future.

Just kidding, it's a great idea.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:54 PM on July 15, 2015


using blockquotes is if not the only, then at least by far the most effective (IME) way to get people to realize HEY, THIS THING YOU'RE READING IS AN EXCERPT FROM A LONGER TEXT

Folks have used italics for that purpose in posts for a very long time, to I think really significant effect. Quotation marks can work well too, though I think they're clearer in some context than others and so I personally prefer italics for my own posts when it comes up. But generally, people have not historically had difficulty telling what was intended to be a quote and what was not using either of those methods, and have pretty consistently reacted with flags or notes of concern (or, less ideally, comments in-thread) specifically to cases where neither of those markups were present on an ambiguously first-person quote, said flags and notes ceasing basically immediately once a mod got to it to add some quotation markup.

Blockquote use above the fold is relatively johnny-come-lately by volume and its notable uptick over the last couple years has been part of what's made this more of an issue. If it were a major issue in terms of clarity, that would have been obvious a long time ago and involved a concomitant cessation in quotation-related confusion in the last couple years. That hasn't been what I've seen.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:56 PM on July 15, 2015


If your intent is not to discourage their use, but to improve the way they are used, you could alter the way blockquotes are displayed on MeFi... keep the indentation but lose the blank lines above and below... or even make the block of text monospaced or smaller or both. Then again, often any change intended to not discourage will encourage and that's not what you want.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:46 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Soft Warning" sounds like some kinda sexual synth rock kinda '80s band. Maybe Billy Idol could be in it.
posted by ignignokt at 3:52 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Seems to me there could be some bad consequences for discussion

Beats the hell out of "WTF IS ALL THIS BULLSHIT TEXT" comments that need to be deleted.

One of my least favorite MeFi act-outs is posting with HUGE blockquotes as if, somehow, you don't trust the userbase to actually read the whole damned thing. And, sure, the userbase sometimes doesn't read the whole damned thing, but having a discussion based on one quote they did read is, to me, worse than having light discussion because people didn't read the article.

[this is good]
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 4:54 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Block quotes make me sad, because they're so overused here.
posted by Aranquis at 5:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eesh, I'm another blockquote abuser. I usually limit it to a few sentences and then link to the headline (like a pull quote) but I also make short lists that take up space. Like, today. I have a print design background so it's just habit to think about layout but I'll use much more discretion from now on. Mods, please let me know if it's an ongoing problem!
posted by Room 641-A at 6:20 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Soft Warning" sounds like some kinda sexual synth rock kinda '80s band.

I would have guessed a late-70's jazz/prog-rock, like "Jack Bruce meets Brand X", sort of a thing.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:57 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


omg, it's a rarely-seen plutor.


It does take New Horizons like 10 years to get close enough for a picture.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:10 PM on July 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Metafilter : You really dropped the ball there, cortex.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:03 PM on July 15, 2015


Good idea. Need more room for the titles.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:05 PM on July 15, 2015


Titles?
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:18 PM on July 15, 2015


like "VP of Logistics" or "World Heavyweight Champion" etc
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:23 PM on July 15, 2015


Aranquis:
Block quotes make me sad, because they're so overused here.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:25 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


like "VP of Logistics" or "World Heavyweight Champion" etc.

Or "Vile Usurper".
j/k man you know I love ya
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:33 PM on July 15, 2015


This is a great idea & a good Meta and you should feel good cortex.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:32 PM on July 15, 2015


may I reserve the title "Majordomo of Minor Threats"?
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:47 PM on July 15, 2015


One of my least favorite MeFi act-outs is posting with HUGE blockquotes as if, somehow, you don't trust the userbase to actually read the whole damned thing. And, sure, the userbase sometimes doesn't read the whole damned thing, but having a discussion based on one quote they did read is, to me, worse than having light discussion because people didn't read the article.

Unfortunately, as you know, that discussion isn't always light. People who have not read a linked article sometimes leave drive-by, threadshitting comments (or simply ask obvious questions that they could easily have answered themselves,) that disrupt conversations and leave the rest of us needing to clean up afterwards. In good cases, we can leave comments that say, "It's mentioned in the article. It's all over the article. Read the article." Which tend to shut down derails. Sometimes. But in other cases a pointless diversion extends for many comments.

This is an unsolveable complaint that's been raised quite a bit in MetaTalk, and people who can't be bothered to click through to links and speak knowledgably in threads are a serious bone of contention for some of us who are frequent posters. I know the man of twists and turns has complained about it often. And honestly, there's not much we can do to force people to read articles except to make them sound as interesting as possible. Or to divert potential derails by raising points in the FPP we think might be raised by drive-bys.

Defensive verbosity works. Far more often than not.
posted by zarq at 11:31 PM on July 15, 2015


Defensive verbosity works. Far more often than not.

At least... I think it does. That's the impression I've gotten over the years.

But I admit it's possible that's confirmation bias on my part.
posted by zarq at 11:44 PM on July 15, 2015


These kinds of posts have been around as long as I can remember on MetaFilter. Though they were never much used, except by certain users. In fact I still think of posts with blockquotes above the fold as 'y2karl posts'. I feel they're one of these features of MetaFilter that drew me in way back in the day. And to be honest I still much prefer when people put everything above the fold. I'm much more bothered by lengthy below-the-cut text than a seven-line blockquote.
posted by Kattullus at 1:21 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love soft warnings. They leave my skin so silky and smooth.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:47 AM on July 16, 2015


And honestly, there's not much we can do to force people to read articles except to make them sound as interesting as possible.

Well that's the question, isn't it? Is the goal to force people to read the article? Or is it to try to incent people to only comment in threads where they're interested enough in the topic to go read the article based on context that isn't the most salacious part of the article tossed above the fold? And which leads to better conversations? I don't think there's one answer for the site, just that many people have personal answers that they think work for them.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 6:57 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is the goal to force people to read the article? Or is it to try to incent people to only comment in threads where they're interested enough in the topic to go read the article based on context that isn't the most salacious part of the article tossed above the fold? And which leads to better conversations?

*nod* The latter, I think.

This may sound strange, but lately I've been pretty relieved when my posts don't receive a lot of comments. In fact, around half of my last 50 posts had fewer than 20 comments. (I just counted.) I'd almost rather see a post spark no conversation at all than turn into an angry argument. Choosing post topics/content more carefully has helped and so has more careful framing.
posted by zarq at 7:44 AM on July 16, 2015


"Soft Warning" sounds like some kinda sexual synth rock kinda '80s band. Maybe Billy Idol could be in it.

More like a louche Marc Almond spin-off project, IYAM.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:07 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


"We'd rather people just adjust by feel when and if it does come up than approach this with ruler and compass."

I really like this general principle (which I think permeates the site) and I think it makes a big difference to the culture of this place. It's hard to do, but worth it.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:27 AM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would prefer a nicely crisp, frozen warning than soft. But alas, I think we're all out of snowflakes this year, aren't we?

Is it too late to request the warning use marquee code?
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 8:27 AM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is the goal to force people to read the article? Or is it to try to incent people to only comment in threads where they're interested enough in the topic to go read the article based on context that isn't the most salacious part of the article tossed above the fold? And which leads to better conversations?

Yeah, that's something I find myself thinking about a lot when I look at pullquotes and such for posts, and more broadly about what posts I click into because I'm excited/curious about the topic vs those I click into (or, in a lot of cases, decline to click into) because the feeling I get is more one of trying to guess what the larger context of some provocative or depressing or outrageous or angry featured detail is. I think it's easy to, in a totally non-malicious way, frame a post more around hooking people with a sharp poke in the rib than with the message, "here is an interesting thing worth reading more about", and I (totally unscientifically) suspect that if you took a look at posts with longer and more argumentative comment threads there'd be a correlation there.

There's definitely some tension there between the goal of putting interesting stuff on the web in front of people, and putting people's reactions inside of a comment thread, and I think the way post framing (and the resultant thread) plays out often reflects that tension.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


"We'd rather people just adjust by feel when and if it does come up than approach this with ruler and compass."

I really like this general principle (which I think permeates the site) and I think it makes a big difference to the culture of this place. It's hard to do, but worth it.


fwiw, i have always felt slightly uncomfortable here because of this. it's like there's this "shared culture" which seems to be middle / upper class white east coast american, and the rest of us have to guess what it means while it's just "obvious" to those in the group. part of it is being relentlessly polite.

i have no idea how middle / upper class east coast american implies a certain idea about the number of lines in a post. but still, that's how it feels.

until recently i had no way to describe it. but returning from a long absence in the middle of discussions about privilege, that's what it feels like. same with quora. while reddit, in its defense, doesn't have this, as far as i can tell.

as i said, i can't see the connection in any direct sense. it's just this idea that there's an "obvious" culture. sorry.
posted by andrewcooke at 8:47 AM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


sorry, i guess i am just stating the obvious, but in a slanted way with additional random assumptions.
posted by andrewcooke at 8:53 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


i guess it's the same issue as "the immigrants". do you pick "a culture", in which case well, it's just going to be whatever is dominant. or do you face chaos? and the latter gives you reddit, which omg it's disgusting and offensive, etc, while the former gives you metafilter. i just wish - along, i suppose, with everyone else who finds themselves even marginally (for those that don't know - i'm white, upper / middle class male...) outside of inside at some point - that there were a middle ground.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:04 AM on July 16, 2015


keep the indentation but lose the blank lines above and below... or even make the block of text monospaced or smaller or both

But this is a thread about making the front page of Metafilter easier to read, and both of those suggestions would make the front page of Metafilter harder to read.
posted by Mothlight at 9:04 AM on July 16, 2015


*looks at the post I made yesterday*

*looks at the huge blockquote*

*cringes*
posted by imnotasquirrel at 10:17 AM on July 16, 2015


Folks have used italics for that purpose in posts for a very long time, to I think really significant effect.

For me, I strongly prefer to use blockquotes (and prefer when others use blockquotes) because I find blocks of italic text very hard to read. I seem to remember there being a decent body of work on how italics are more difficult and/or less pleasant for people to read, especially on screens and especially when it's whole paragraphs of text, and that is definitely true for me. If an italic quote is more than 2-3 desktop lines, for me it starts to look cluttered, way too tightly spaced, and tough to read. I also really appreciate the indentation of a blockquote, so that it breaks the flow of the comment/post and the reader can tell that the quote is probably from the OP/article and not from another commenter. The indentation provides another piece of information.

Anyway, nthing that I would love it if the padding around blockquotes were decreased so that it would be less disruptive, both in posts and in comments. It seems like a fairly low-cost thing to do so that people could keep using a feature that really does a lot to increase readability for some folks.
posted by dialetheia at 10:21 AM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


(I don't like italics, either. YMMV, obviously.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:25 AM on July 16, 2015


imnotasquirrel, don't think you tipped this over the edge; we've been discussing for a while! :)
posted by taz (staff) at 11:46 AM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


ie: uncringe!
posted by taz (staff) at 11:49 AM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


imnotasquirrel: *looks at the post I made yesterday*

*looks at the huge blockquote*

*cringes*


This is how I feel about how you framed your post.
posted by Kattullus at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, it was fine and I flagged it as fantastic - hope to see more of your posts!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:40 PM on July 16, 2015


"You didn't miss it; there's no specific magic number here, and the warning is triggered by a heuristic that accounts roughly for the whitespace that <br> and <blockquote> tags add along with the (non-HTML) raw character count of the post text."

if ur not doing this by em-length ur pretty much hitler

More like a louche Marc Almond spin-off project, IYAM."

Already exists: Marc and the Mambas.
posted by klangklangston at 12:50 PM on July 16, 2015


It's okay, this thread serves as a good way to nip my nascent blockquote-abusing tendencies in the bud! Because I would have gone there eventually.

This is how I feel about how you framed your post.

I'm absolutely positive that that lion mauled the man after that gif ended, so what exactly are you implying?
posted by imnotasquirrel at 1:34 PM on July 16, 2015


I'm absolutely positive that that lion mauled the man after that gif ended, so what exactly are you implying?

You were also delicious? :D
posted by zarq at 1:40 PM on July 16, 2015


imnotasquirrel: I'm absolutely positive that that lion mauled the man after that gif ended

That's what's so brilliant about gifs; they never end, just repeat.
posted by Kattullus at 2:11 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nietzsche.gif
posted by klangklangston at 2:13 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Soft Warning" sounds like some kinda sexual synth rock kinda '80s band.

It made me think of a bunny gently putting its little paw on my shoulder and slowly shaking its head and whispering "don't"
posted by Greg Nog at 2:41 PM on July 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Did I miss it or did you not mention how much text (or is it 'how many lines') triggers the warning?

Oh that's easy; just like a Youtube video description or a comment anywhere on the web it will intelligently
[more]
posted by sylvanshine at 6:01 PM on July 16, 2015


I like blockquotes and will continue to use them.
posted by y2karl at 9:58 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


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