Should we change our norms around what makes a good answer in AskMe? February 13, 2017 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Hello fellow MeFites! I'm wondering if we can discuss as a community the possibility of shifting the site norms and policies around what makes a good AskMe answer. Is this something others would be interested in and what would be a good norm/policy for you?

(First off, thanks cortex for beta reading this post for me!)

The recent MeTa on increasing the Ask limit had a sidebar conversation around the amount of AskMe answers that don't really answer the question, are excessively chatty, or are just someone spitballing without any knowledge or expertise. I think these answers usually come from a place of trying to be helpful or share an idea to guide the asker toward what they're trying to find or do, but in reality they can be frustrating for the asker, and also frustrating for me as a reader when I'm interested in the answer to the question. The Best Answer function helps a little but it's disappointing when a really awesome question I'm intensely curious about has ten answers and none of them really address the question.

I'd like to propose that focusing on providing only specific, helpful information in answers makes AskMe much more rewarding to use as an asker and as a reader, and also keeps discussions on topic and avoids chatfilter.

(As a note, I think human relations AskMes are mostly irrelevant here because they are by nature subjective, but some of these topics do intersect, e.g. when a human relations question touches on a legal issue.)

My proposal for a new definition of a "good" AskMe answer is that a good answer:

1. Comes from a place of specific factual knowledge or expertise. So for example, if the question is "What animals are legal to keep as pets in Thunder Bay, Ontario?" a good answer includes the relevant law that is specific to Thunder Bay*.

2. Takes into account ALL of the parameters of the question. So for example, if the question is "Where can I buy a green sweater with an English Bulldog in a women's size US M?" a good answer links to a sweater** that fits ALL of these things.

3. Assumes the answerer has already tried other ways to find the answer or solve the problem like Googling, using a different approach, asking an expert via Twitter, etc.

4. Respects that no experiences or background are universal, even to MeFi. This is admittedly the vaguest point but I think it covers a lot of things like remembering that everything from social norms, physical health, finances, and family background to applicable laws, time zone, language use, and climate vary widely across the group of people using the site. So in this case, a good answer would err on the side of asking a clarifying question when something seems odd about the OP's post, rather than making an assumption.

Basically, if there's one unifying point that covers all of these, I think it's important to operate from a place of good faith on AskMe and assume that the asker phrased the question in a specific way for a reason. So even if there might be a more efficient or feasible way to do what they're trying to do, they really are looking for advice about how to do it in a specific and roundabout way! I think I'd much rather hear "this thing doesn't exist" than an answer that assumes I want a similar thing, and I'd rather hear "this isn't isn't possible to do in the way you specified" than an answer that assumes I didn't know a different way to do it. My impression has been that our community and the moderation policy favors an approach that's more like "all information is good, so more answers = more helpful," but as an asker I'd like to favor an approach that says "I'll only answer this question if I actually know the answer."

So, what do folks think? Do others agree that we could skew more in this direction as a community? Do you have other thoughts on what constitutes a good answer? Would you like to see the mods delete less-helpful answers more often?

*If anyone is now intensely curious, this is a bad example question because it's totally googleable (or at least, you can extrapolate "anything that isn't a Schedule 'A' animal per this doc")!
**I also googled this one and I found a few Christmas sweaters with unisex size M available, which I would consider a borderline good answer (because unisex garments don't always work for everyone--maybe that's a #4 situation i.e. "hey, is unisex S or M ok? because if so...")
posted by capricorn to Etiquette/Policy at 9:33 AM (166 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

3. Assumes the answerer has already tried other ways to find the answer or solve the problem like Googling, using a different approach, asking an expert via Twitter, etc.

In my experience, unless the question specifically states what the asker has already tried, this assumption is often not a helpful one.
posted by zamboni at 9:46 AM on February 13 [81 favorites]


We should also ban all AskMe questions where the questioner will not go to the doctor and is asking for home remedies instead. There's one right now about a fungal infection (cannot be treated by home remedies) and one a while back about what to do for a third-degree burn (some of the answers were things like "put aloe vera on it.")

AskMe is not a substitute for medical care, and 80% of the time the only correct answer is: go to ER immediately.
posted by My Dad at 9:48 AM on February 13 [35 favorites]


I am one hundred thousand percent in favor of encouraging more thoughtful answers based on actual knowledge/experience and also having actually read the question fully. Thank you for posting this!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:52 AM on February 13 [12 favorites]


it's disappointing when a really awesome question I'm intensely curious about has ten answers and none of them really address the question

I don't understand how this is going to increase the quality of the answers. You'd prefer a question with zero answers to a question with ten answers that at least potentially provide some degree of usefulness to the asker?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:53 AM on February 13 [63 favorites]


I don't understand how this is going to increase the quality of the answers. You'd prefer a question with zero answers to a question with ten answers that at least potentially provide some degree of usefulness to the asker?

I can't speak for capricorn but I'd rather have zero answers than multiple responses that aren't helpful. When I've posted a question and gotten people giving me advice I don't need or that is well-meaning but actually unhelpful it's made me frustrated and angry. Also, sometimes there will be like five to ten unhelpful answers that are posted very quickly and then a couple of thoughtful answers later that are less visible. I don't think trying to push back on answers that aren't particularly helpful will increase the absolute number of good responses (although it might as people with actual knowledge and experience feels like there's more space for them to reply) but I do think it will increase the percentage of answers that are helpful.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:02 AM on February 13 [38 favorites]


3. Assumes the answerer has already tried other ways to find the answer or solve the problem like Googling, using a different approach, asking an expert via Twitter, etc.

In my experience, unless the question specifically states what the asker has already tried, this assumption is often not a helpful one.


Here's the thing, though: if your answer is something that you literally just spent 20 seconds Googling yourself with no prior knowledge, it's probably not that good or helpful. Even if people are actually so bizarrely lazy/incompetent that they'd rather spend time typing a whole question into AskMetafilter than Googling it themselves, the solution is not for a bunch of people who've spent less than a minute thinking about the topic themselves to offer their thoughts.
posted by Copronymus at 10:07 AM on February 13 [17 favorites]


I'll add that I have a professional background in a specific field which comes up in an AskMe question every few weeks. The amount of terrible advice by people who literally have no idea what they are talking about is terrifying. I've actually stopped answering those questions because I got too stressed out trying to formulate a response that would a) debunk all the misinformation in the thread, b) establish me as having expertise, and c) give the poster something actionable. I totally feel for the health professionals, attorneys, dentists, accountants, investment professionals, etc. on AskMe.
posted by whitewall at 10:10 AM on February 13 [50 favorites]


If this even just reduces the number of answers from users who have clearly not read the entire question I am ALL FOR IT.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 10:15 AM on February 13 [17 favorites]


Also any answer that begins with "My guess is..." should immediately result in the answerer being catapulted into the sun.
posted by bondcliff at 10:29 AM on February 13 [22 favorites]

AskMe is not a substitute for medical care, and 80% of the time the only correct answer is: go to ER immediately.
We've had metas on this before. The trouble is, for many citizens of the USA, the calculation is "If this turns out to be something I could have handled via home remedy and I lose my job/car/home over this, will going to the ER have been worth it?" I've stayed home with what was probably pneumonia because if it's viral they can't do anything about it with medication, and I had no coverage for a hospital stay.
posted by Karmakaze at 10:33 AM on February 13 [68 favorites]


3. Assumes the answerer has already tried other ways to find the answer or solve the problem like Googling, using a different approach, asking an expert via Twitter, etc.

This sounds like something that they do at my workplace: have you tried the help menu, referred to a job aid and asked a co-worker for help before calling the help desk? Why do I have to ask on Twitter or Facebook or Nextdoor first?
posted by fixedgear at 10:33 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


3. Assumes the answerer has already tried other ways to find the answer or solve the problem like Googling, using a different approach, asking an expert via Twitter, etc.

For #3, maybe we could use this more as a guideline for the question writers to be more clear in what they've already done that hasn't worked, rather than question answerers to be mind readers and know what the asker has already tried?

There's probably a good solution somewhere in the middle, but "assume i've tried the thing you are suggesting even though i've made no mention of what else ive tried" seems like a poor communication style.
posted by softlord at 10:37 AM on February 13 [14 favorites]


As an (admitedly rare) Asker, I don't mind people taking a stab at getting me 75% of the way toward what I need, even if the sweater with the bulldog is blue instead of green. Maybe I'll decide I can live with that, maybe someone else will come along later with a similar question and be happy to find the blue version, I'm cool with that. If I felt otherwise, I would have added something like "Please only answer if you can match this ask 100%, I need something really specific here."

And that does drive me up a wall - the times when someone explicitly says "Please don't focus on X in your response, I provided it for context but I only want responses to Y" and that is not respected in the answers.

So I guess for what it's worth, my take on this is that maybe in concert with a potential norm-shift for answerers, we could also try to be more thorough Ask-ers in terms of pointing out what we've already tried or what is a requirement vs. nice-to-have in the answer, so we can guide people in providing useful answers for us, since "useful" may vary from asker to asker.
posted by Stacey at 10:39 AM on February 13 [30 favorites]


2. Takes into account ALL of the parameters of the question. So for example, if the question is "Where can I buy a green sweater with an English Bulldog in a women's size US M?" a good answer links to a sweater** that fits ALL of these things.

I think Point 3 above contradicts the advice below the AskMe answer box that says "Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer." Say I can provide half the answer, that's help in finding an answer. What OP is proposing is that I provide no answer because I don't have 100% of it?
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:41 AM on February 13 [17 favorites]


Askme is as perfect as it's going to get. Yes, people should google first. Yes, people should be more considerate about reading the question, and not being so quick to say DTMFA or don't eat it. But I don't see how more deletions of questions is going to help in any way whatsoever. You don't like sifting through ten questions to get the one answer you like? There's someone else who is grateful to sift through those ten questions.
posted by Melismata at 10:45 AM on February 13 [64 favorites]


I can't speak for capricorn but I'd rather have zero answers than multiple responses that aren't helpful.

I do agree with this!

I think Point 3 above contradicts the advice below the AskMe answer box that says "Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer." Say I can provide half the answer, that's help in finding an answer.

So maybe one of the things we should talk about here is whether there are mod "nudges" that can help people provide better answers. For me, "help in finding an answer" would just encompass "Here's a sweater search that you can search by animal, color, and size" rather than "here's something similar to your question."

And that, by the way, is a situation that I would say 50% of askers would love, and 50% would feel kinda condescended to, like "why would you assume I don't already know about this? Why would you assume my question is about how to search for things when all I asked for was a sweater?" so maybe that would be more on the Asker to clarify in their question. I've taken some online programming courses and a lot of the time there are messageboard guidelines where in order to ask a question you have to list the other sources you tried including things you googled first. I don't know if I'd necessarily require anything like that in MeFi but again, some norm-shifting that way might be useful.
posted by capricorn at 10:48 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


The only "less than helpful" variant that I'm really opinionated about:

People responding to questions from people having issues with their PC/Windows systems by saying "just get a Mac" should be sent into the sun via trebuchet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on February 13 [30 favorites]


3. Assumes the answerer has already tried other ways to find the answer or solve the problem like Googling, using a different approach, asking an expert via Twitter, etc.

This might be a fine assumption where the question is relatively straightforward and easily available via Googling just a few keywords. But then, if they could have done that and asked anyway, and the answer is obvious from Googling, what assumption are we making again?

Also, assuming that people have already asked an expert via Twitter? Why would we ever assume that? Is that a thing most people should do? Is that a service experts even offer on Twitter?

I google a lot of things for legal questions. I tend to provide relatively bare responses and links to the bylaw/statute in question in order to keep my responses more firmly in the realm of legal information and not legal advice. Does the fact that I'm a law student make that research rather than bad answering? I have an awful lot of best answer ticks that suggest people find my searches helpful, but reading this MeTa makes me think I should just stop because apparently I make people angry by providing them information they could have but apparently did not google themselves.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:53 AM on February 13 [12 favorites]


I am 100% behind encouraging folks to READ THE WHOLE DAMN QUESTION and not just answer stuff to hear themselves talk. But I think, as laid out, these constricts are too restrictive for AskMe answers.

1) I completely agree with zamboni that #3 is a very incorrect assumption (tweet at an expert?). People come to AskMe at different places in their research and that's ok. I think the burden here is on the Asker to say "I've already tried approaches X, Y, and Z; what else should I be thinking about?"

2) I also don't think the range of acceptable answers should be considerably narrowed. Coincidentally, as I was considering my response to this MeTa I came across this answer from today. It does not directly answer the question, but it is a considered response to the Asker's situation, and was noted as helpful by the Asker.

3) AskMe's first purpose is to assist the Asker, but its archives hold considerable value for folks searching for the answers to their own questions. This means that answers that are reasonably targeted to the question, even if they may not be 100% exactly perfectly what the Asker wants, hold value for future readers.
posted by lalex at 10:54 AM on February 13 [51 favorites]


as an asker I'd like to favor an approach that says "I'll only answer this question if I actually know the answer."

I think there's a difference between not knowing the answer, though, and knowing information that might well help someone else get there. Yonks ago, there was a half-remembered film question. I couldn't give the correct answer, but knew it had been discussed on a recent radio programme, which helped another poster get the right answer.

it's disappointing when a really awesome question I'm intensely curious about has ten answers and none of them really address the question.

I don't really get how this can be avoided though. If all the given answers aren't perfect, how is less answers overall going to help?

But then, I don't mind some chatfilter and I think doubles (after a reasonable time) aren't really a problem.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:01 AM on February 13 [8 favorites]


Yeah, "asking an expert on Twitter" is a thing I am never, ever going to do unless it's an expert I know personally, because generally I consider doing so otherwise to be a rude imposition on the expert in question. So it would be a bad move to assume I've done that. (Then again, if your advice would otherwise be "do that", I'm going to ignore it anyway, so I suppose it's a draw whether a norm allowing you to give that answer is useful or not. )

One other thing I noted on reread of the MeTa is: So even if there might be a more efficient or feasible way to do what they're trying to do, they really are looking for advice about how to do it in a specific and roundabout way!

I'm not sure that's usually true. I think (hope?) I'm not the only person in the world who semi-regularly finds I've made something unnecessarily complicated when there was a very easy solution I just didn't know about. If I haven't specifically said "I already tried X", I welcome people suggesting X - maybe it'll help me, maybe it'll help the person who comes after me with a similar question, I don't mind sorting through an extra answer or five offering reasonable solutions that I didn't mention I've already tried.
posted by Stacey at 11:03 AM on February 13 [11 favorites]


I don't have much of an opinion either way about most of it, but I will comment that IME people have widely different levels of Google skill, and different people use pretty widely different search strategies (and have different vocabularies, etc). I often see an answer that was like, "I googled XYZ and found this. Is this what you want?" and the asker replying, "Thanks so much! I googled ABC and didn't come up with anything, I didn't think to try XYZ!".
posted by quaking fajita at 11:08 AM on February 13 [41 favorites]


Adding to my previous thought:

I feel like if the Asker has very strict requirements on what kinds of answers they want, and will be insulted if people try to be helpful in ways they don't actually find helpful, it is up to the Asker to set those limitations in the question. If they want to describe the research they've already done and what they've found -- english bulldog sweaters that are not green, green sweaters with scottish bulldogs, green english bulldog sweaters that are sold out in size Medium -- then they should take the time to put that information in the question, not expect answerers to guess what they have already done.

Then if people are answering without reading the question, that's a different sort of problem, and one for which I fully support virtual slaps up side the head.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:09 AM on February 13 [22 favorites]


When reading AskMe, I sometimes think of the sign that you often see at a mechanic's garage or similar.

Answers: $10
Answers Requiring Thought: $20
Correct Answers: $40

AskMe is a great method of getting Answers, a good method of getting Answers Requiring Thought, and often, but not always, a decent method of getting Correct Answers. If you require a Correct Answer, you may need to think about paying a professional.

If we are going to insist that only Correct Answers are posted on AskMe, I think we will see the number of answers plummet, because as whitewall notes above, it is often hard if not impossible to provide them over the Internet for free.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:09 AM on February 13 [17 favorites]


it is up to the Asker to set those limitations in the question.

This question is a perfect example of an Asker setting requirements.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:25 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Writing an AskMe question, file footage.
posted by griphus at 11:31 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


While I think your desire has merit, I think this would gut some of the soul of askme.

I'd think part of the problem is the idea that the asker shouldn't interact with the answers (threadsitting) and that there is no good way to update a question with additional details or quantifying information. Not without bugging the mods.

My solution is more of a coded fix, but if there could be a way to "sticky" a response from the asker to the top of the answers/below the question - that might be a good way to help some of this. Ideally it could be as simple as

me: *asks questions, finds she's getting questions in response, confusion, or not the answers she was hoping for.*
me: *makes a comment clarifying question. Clicks a button that asks the mods to 'sticky' this comment.*
mods: *have sticky queue, gives a quick once-over that the answer isn't shouting profanities or otherwise is adhering to site rules. Approves sticky*
comment: *now stickied!*
posted by INFJ at 11:36 AM on February 13 [14 favorites]


This question is a perfect example of an Asker setting requirements.

And also a brilliant example of how much good it does, as many of the answers fail the simple criteria, and some even say that they know they fail the criteria but are still being posted. If I had asked that question I would have found much of that incredibly frustrating.
posted by Copronymus at 11:39 AM on February 13 [9 favorites]


I think the problem is that a lot of us come to AskMe when there is no concrete right answer, so there's not always a sharp divide between "helpful" and "unhelpful" answers. The DingoWife and I were talking about this the other day, actually, while we were writing a question seeking input on two cars we were considering buying - sometimes we both get a little salty over all the ways a question might derail or become a congo line of responses giving info we already have, but on the other hand, it's not unreasonable to expect the asker to spend time crafting a question that will get the kinds of answers they need.

I'm not really sure there was a single specific response to our question that provided The One True Answer, but it was still helpful to read a variety of responses, and taken in aggregate we did get the sense that we'd be better of continuing our search - so I think the question was successful despite the lack of a "Best" answer. If people had to follow more stringent rules such as the ones proposed here, I don't think we would have gotten as many viewpoints, so for us the experience would have been less helpful overall.

All of which is to say, I'm all for posts like this to remind us all to stop and really consider whether we have a useful response before posting in AskMe; I'm all for emphasizing the need for responders to read through the WHOLE DANGED QUESTION before answering; I'm all for reminding askers to make sure they've given enough information to get the kinds of answers they need ... but I don't think that more stringent policies would be a net good.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:41 AM on February 13 [8 favorites]


Is this a GuessMe vs. AskMe thing?
posted by tobascodagama at 11:46 AM on February 13 [18 favorites]


Also any answer that begins with "My guess is..." should immediately result in the answerer being catapulted into the sun.

For questions that are not subjective, at the very least wait a bit to see if someone more knowledgeable comes along. There's really no reason for the first answer to be a guess or to be from someone with a vaguely related experience if there is an actual answer to the question.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:46 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Unless I have specifically said in my question that my sweater MUST ONLY be green and DEFINITELY NOT blue, you better damn well believe I want to see the blue bulldog sweater. Oh, you found a green sweater but it's not got a bulldog, it's got a cairn terrier on it? Shit son, I wanna see that, too.

Honestly if you can't find room in your heart or your wardrobe for multiple dog sweaters, you've got problems. And to be perfectly frank, I don't think I want that kind of riffraff mixing here on MeFi.
posted by phunniemee at 11:47 AM on February 13 [42 favorites]


And also a brilliant example of how much good it does, as many of the answers fail the simple criteria, and some even say that they know they fail the criteria but are still being posted. If I had asked that question I would have found much of that incredibly frustrating.

The Asker seems perfectly happy with the answers, though.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:50 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


I'd be happy with responders observing the following:

1. Read the question
2. Don't offer unsolicited advice (unless it's an emergency, eg answering "How can I put out an electrical fire in my house with just water?" with "Get out and call the fire department!" would be OK; answering "How can I get my Bluetooth PCIe card to pair with my headphones?" with "Get a Mac" is not.
3. If you feel the urge to offer opinions on things other than the specific question based on assumptions you make about the poster, you're probably wrong and should move along.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:58 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


I started collecting MeTas about what makes a good/bad answer, and ended up with a MeFi Wiki page:

MeTas about Ask MetaFilter answers

1 General Etiquette
2 Good Answers
3 Bad Answers
3.1 Calling Out Bad Advice
3.2 Deleting Bad Advice
4 Are You Answering The Question?
4.1 Reading the question
4.2 Let Me Google That For You
4.3 Therapy
4.4 Questioning the Premise
4.4.1 Questioning the Premise: Medical Edition
4.5 IANAL, IANAD, etc.
4.6 HomeworkFilter
4.7 Pile Ons
4.8 Chatfilter


Please edit and annotate as required.
posted by zamboni at 12:07 PM on February 13 [22 favorites]


I am fine with answers that are close, but not exact, in the following scenarios:

The answerer has read the whole question.

The answerer is not presenting their best guess as peer-reviewed fact, but instead uses qualifying language to indicate that this is ballpark and not expert advice.

The answer, if wrong, does not risk damage to OP's health (or someone else's), waste tons of money, or enter dicey legal territory.
posted by delight at 12:11 PM on February 13 [11 favorites]


A tricky request, I think. I immediately thought of this question when I read your post.

When I read that question, my inner voice was saying, "HELL NAW" - however I'm neither a psychologist, nor likely to be in the same place as the op, so I didn't write anything, as I don't actually know.

You'll note there's about thirty answers before two of our resident psychologists who are actually qualified to know weigh in; everything else is guess work and personal feelings.

But, do those guesswork answers offer some help to the OP? They certainly establish a consensus that your average mefite would be very uncomfortable with the arrangement. Is that helpful? I dunno. The question is not would you be uncomfortable but rather is it unethical and most of those answers do not cover that.

I guess I'm saying, whilst I agree with you principle, that might be a bigger shift in ask me norms than you might think. I don't know, frankly, if the community is capable of that, nor if the mods would be willing to drive it (eg here is a "clever" yet actually bullshit and unhelpful answer I flagged but is still up. They would have to trim a lot of grass).

Certainly the signal to noise ratio has really reduced the number and type of questions I bring to ask.me these days - I have one right now about running and lifting weights but I honestly don't think anyone informatively will answer it and I'll be left with junk).

But my "strict" version of ask me has never existed except in my head, alas. It is what it is and a lot of people get something out of it.
posted by smoke at 12:15 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


I should note that all three criteria above must be met in order for me to be cool with the answer (not just one).
posted by delight at 12:15 PM on February 13


Maybe we can hive-elect subject experts who get a little star by their name so we know who's worth listening to and who's not?

I'm only being a tiny bit serious. Mostly I'm using this as a way to tell everyone that the only person here whose sartorial advice you can trust is crush-onastick.
posted by phunniemee at 12:22 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I am onside with AskMefi being tightly regulated, but I'm not sure it needs a major change and I'm not clear on the goals of such a change. Is there really an epidemic of nonsense answers?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:23 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


Your problem is that you want to stop stupid wrong people from answering the question. But you strictures will do nothing to diminish the overconfidence of idiots, merely discourage the diffident. Careful, thoughtful, rule-following people will be less inclined to answer knowing that non-expert, not 100% correct answers are shunned. Blithe, cocky slapdash sorts will plow on ahead as always in the perfect certainty that the world is in desperate need of their opinion.

Keeping ask me as welcoming and friendly a spot as possible is the best way to ensure there's wheat there worth seperating from the chaff. It's on the asker to thresh, them's the breaks.
posted by Diablevert at 12:23 PM on February 13 [133 favorites]


Yes - I'd rather have a lively bubble of answers, most of which are well on point and a few of which are questionable, than feeling like you need your MCP cert up to date before you can tell someone how to turn off Metro.

In practice I guess if mods turn their bullshit answer radar up a notch it won't be the end of the world, but I think more answers are nearly always better than fewer.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:29 PM on February 13 [14 favorites]


Yeah, to Diablevert's point, a prerequisite of making a concise and helpful answer is being familiar with the parameters of your own knowledge. Since we all have blind spots, it's helpful to have a hive mind of multiple perspectives, experiences, and expertise in response to a question, provided people don't misrepresent their level of authority and/or suggest risky stuff.
posted by delight at 12:45 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I have asked questions here that are open-ended because I am happy to have a variety of ideas from a lot of respondents. I have asked "what's changed in Washington, D.C. since I was last there" or "how do I carry a bunch of MP3s with me all the time" -- and I didn't expect the One True Answer to these, but instead was hoping that the diverse membership of MeFi would surprise me with stuff I hadn't thought of.

I am a Very Useful Engine when it comes to finding things online, but if I can't think of it then I can't very well search for it. :7) So I for one am uncomfortable restricting answers too much. Mind you, if there was a "weak answer" tick box that would gray out bad comments, as a complement to the "Best Answer" tick box, that might be cool.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:59 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Thank you everyone who has weighed in so far! Reading the thread, it looks like the general consensus is that my restrictions would be too strict for most (though not all) people, but that there is a sense that MeFites would like to see a more heavy-handed deletion policy for answers where the person clearly didn't read the question (or at least appears not to have done so, or deliberately ignores a strongly specified provision). I flag those a lot and they are definitely not deleted all the time. If we narrowed the scope to this, would people be interested in increased deletions here and if so is there a good way to signal this to the mods? (I'm not sure "noise" or "derail" fully covers it but if those are sufficient...)

(Again: really, really not talking human relations here because there are a lot of questions that say "and I will definitely not break up with this person or consider therapy so don't you dare suggest it!" even though the asker's situation seems intractable without a breakup/therapy/whatever.)
posted by capricorn at 12:59 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


IIRC AskMe remains a pretty significant way that people find the site as a by-product of using search engines to answer questions. Some of those people wind up joining the community. To the extent that the site's vibrancy relies on a continuous infusion of new members, is it worth thinking about whether tighter restrictions or broader answers make MetaFilter more visible to potential community members?
posted by carmicha at 1:19 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


I flag those a lot and they are definitely not deleted all the time.

It's possible that other people aren't flagging it. I try and embrace the spirit of the Great Fiámo.

If we narrowed the scope to this, would people be interested in increased deletions here and if so is there a good way to signal this to the mods?

Posting a MeTa about it and hashing it out seems like a pretty good start.

(I'm not sure "noise" or "derail" fully covers it but if those are sufficient...)

Precedent suggests "noise" is just fine, and the contact form is always there for especially problematic or edge cases.
posted by zamboni at 1:23 PM on February 13


There's something very fundamentally metafilter about having a broad answer base.

For instance, going by the suggested answering guidelines here, this thread would have no comments.
posted by phunniemee at 1:44 PM on February 13 [12 favorites]


this thread would have no comments.

nooooooooo why would you remind me of that

posted by lalex at 1:50 PM on February 13 [14 favorites]


Posting a MeTa about it and hashing it out seems like a pretty good start.

Do you mean, like, a SECOND MeTa right after this one, or was that intended as snark?
posted by capricorn at 1:57 PM on February 13


This question is a perfect example of an Asker setting requirements.

yeah, i learned from my medical hair loss question a few years back that the best way to get satisfactory answers in askme is to set very very clear and specific boundaries of what i would consider an acceptable answer. i've been around askme long enough to know exactly which tiresome derails would otherwise come up in that particular question and i think being a little bit aggro about that in the first paragraph was helpful.

the second most useful thing i've learned about asking questions that get me good answers is to specify that i only want answers from people who have personally experienced the thing i am asking about. this ask technique got me amazingly helpful and detailed replies on my acdf surgery question earlier this year, and zero "well i've just googled this right now and here's what i found" replies.

anyway all my hair finally grew back, yay me
posted by poffin boffin at 2:01 PM on February 13 [17 favorites]


Do you mean, like, a SECOND MeTa right after this one, or was that intended as snark?

c) The MeTa we are currently participating in is a perfectly fine way to communicate with the mods. No snark intended.
posted by zamboni at 2:06 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Not sure how to bring this in more naturally, but there's also a thing where people looooooove to participate in AskMe and if all of the reasonable answers are gone with a few scrolls of the page, they go for contrarianism instead. See, for instance, any positively mundane and benign Ask about parenting strategies, and note the inevitable shift from, "Yeah, kids are tough... try this..." to, "Maybe you're a terrible, abusive parent ruining your child's entire life."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:13 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


I think it's entirely possible that they're sincere, and that they really think dropping their fresh hot take in the thread is helpful.

Another possibility that occurs to me is that AskMe wrongness is constant, but early terrible advice is deleted as a derail, while late terrible advice is overlooked amidst the sensible stuff.
posted by zamboni at 2:30 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I really think it should be up to the asker to determine what a good answer is, and produce any criteria to that effect in the ask. If there were more stringent requirements for an answer, I fear less people would answer in general, and I am not sure that'd be a good thing overall.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:32 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]


Your problem is that you want to stop stupid wrong people from answering the question. But you strictures will do nothing to diminish the overconfidence of idiots, merely discourage the diffident. Careful, thoughtful, rule-following people will be less inclined to answer knowing that non-expert, not 100% correct answers are shunned

ya, i mean this is pretty much it. i wasn't able to come up with this response as eloquently but this is the one that tingled for me here. i feel like FIAMO is maybe the solution no? especially for the reason that your very #1 rule actually rules out the librarian/researchers among us who can find things that they don't know first hand. i love research and will occasionally see either a question that gets me interested or one which seems familiar with little or no answers. i will spend some time researching, synthesizing, and crafting a brief answer while NOT meeting your rule 1. maybe i'm part of the problem? i don't know, but i don't think so. i know my quality of answers and "nthing" have gone up and down just from participating and see what really good answers are.

i think a more codified answer set of criteria would just result in less answers or less quality.
posted by chasles at 3:10 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


I think it's important to operate from a place of good faith on AskMe and assume that the asker phrased the question in a specific way for a reason

I agree with this in general, but disagree with it in specific only because we've seen in the past decade of AskMe that some people are precise with their language and some are not. And some people are rule followers (as Diablevert astutely noted) and some are not. And some users seriously do not Google a damned thing.

So while I agree with you generally that I think it's always good to have a refresher heads up on How To Be Useful In AskMe that's only going to reach some people. And the people who care about the rules will try to follow every rule you make for them (and be restricted with additional rules) while the people who do not aren't going to pay attention to more rules if they don't see the ones that are already here now. I am thinking of a few users in particular who are judgers, shamers, overcommenters, or "well I think with absolutely nothing to go on other than my high opinion of myself...." people. But honestly most people in AskMe are lovely and they work for free.

I do feel like I've seen a lot more answers lately that don't read the question fully, or that don't usefully qualify their answers. Maybe, trying to be charitable, it's people posting from phones? Anyhow, what I find helpful in my non-mod opinion is that if people are going to comment outside of these sorts of guidelines (presume Googling, read question, answer question asked, makes normative judgments) that this be qualified. I've seen some good answers that are like "I know you said green but this blue thing really does hit all the other points plus it's cute as hell" And some good questions that are like "If this has not happened to you please do not just give me WAGs. Thanks" (as poffin boffin explains) Some people are so irritated by other people's well-meaning attempts to help them with free advice that they might benefit from some of the OTHER free advice threads on anxiety. I know it helped me.

One of the things we learn in libraries is that people quite often don't know exactly what they want. For some people asking a question is just the first step of an iterative process and for others it's the last step of a "Answer this or GTFO" process. We see a lot of both kinds.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 3:11 PM on February 13 [38 favorites]


I was one of the people who made a comment about people "typing to hear their voice" in the other MetaTalk thread.

My annoyance comes from "Hey, I like TV shows XYZ and ABC and DEF. I didn't like GHI or JKL. What should I watch?" and someone responds "You should totally watch ABC! Or JKL!" Like, basic reading comprehension. I flag them as noise but it's hard to move on.
posted by Lucinda at 3:35 PM on February 13 [16 favorites]


One of the things we learn in libraries is that people quite often don't know exactly what they want.

As a person who answers questions professionally, I do find my students are often in the same boat. I often initiate conversation around my students' questions, because they aren't quite sure what they are trying to get at.

I do feel like I've seen a lot more answers lately that don't read the question fully, or that don't usefully qualify their answers.

I feel very much this way too, and so I have been usually flagging and moving on, although I must admit (guiltily) that sometimes I'm motivated to leave a comment pointing ot answers that don't meet the question criteria at all.

Like, please, if someone needs a size 20 garment, don't recommend your fave brand X that only goes up to size 14. It's really just very rude.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:40 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


Like, please, if someone needs a size 20 garment, don't recommend your fave brand X that only goes up to size 14. It's really just very rude.

This has happened to me nearly every time I have posted an AskMe question - and that's actually stopped me asking further questions because I find it so frustrating.

I have actually flagged answers in my own question because clearly people had not read the question. I honestly think some people just like to answer questions when they're bored, and don't much care if they don't have the answer.
posted by dotgirl at 4:28 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


I promise I won't answer a question that has already been answered, like I did today. I am all done with that phase of my life now.
posted by Oyéah at 4:39 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


And also a brilliant example of how much good it does, as many of the answers fail the simple criteria, and some even say that they know they fail the criteria but are still being posted. If I had asked that question I would have found much of that incredibly frustrating.

I always seem to go back to this question I asked almost ten years ago (holy crap). I felt that I was fairly specific in what I wanted in my original question, but many of the answers didn't come close to my criteria, and even after I went into more detail about what I wanted, I still got answers that (barely) fit only one part of my multi-part criteria.
posted by Lucinda at 4:40 PM on February 13


A lot of forum software allows a single "best answer", chosen by the author of the question, and then that answer gets promoted to show up right under the question asked.

Metafilter allows the author click multiple "best answers."

I think in practice this tends to function more as "Like" rather than "Best Answer."

I wonder if a technical change on that end, so that there is only a single "best answer" and it gets promoted near the top would alter the behavior of answerers in a way that the OP is asking?
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:00 PM on February 13


Ugh. No. Don't do that. Sometimes there isn't a single best answer.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:09 PM on February 13 [22 favorites]


Following up on the "Google first" part of the discussion, I used to be a religious search-online type, but a certain appreciation of my own biases/limitations has made me more of a "Hey lazyweb, wat is...?" person, possibly to the frustration of a few of my WhatsApp friends (no-one's had the gall to bust out lmgtfy.com on me yet though). There are a lot more situations where an actual person's answer rather than some Bing!ed-up approximate solution to something similar is the way to go for me these days.

Guess what I'm saying is, sometimes the glass is half-human, not half-Vulcan.
posted by comealongpole at 5:12 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Aw man, I was hoping the next MeTa about AskMe would be about allowing ChatFilter and this sort of seems like the opposite so now I'm sad. I think our rules are already plenty strict about how you can answer the question. And in fact, one of the things I both love and loathe about AskMe is everyone's ability to cut through the bullshit and see the REAL question, even if sometimes they're a little bit off. I have stopped myself from asking a question many times because after re-reading it, I think, "Oh god MeFi is going to tell me the real problem is this other thing and what if they're right!" For example, once I asked about how to put utensils in the dishwasher (which frankly I am thrilled other people apparently remember) and one person was like, "You should be grateful your boyfriend does dishes and stop arguing about how the silverware goes", and it pissed me off but there was a little bit of truth to their words, too.

Anyway I think this is too many rules and will not enhance my enjoyment of the site, personally.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:27 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


So if we stick to the spirit of both this MeTa and the previous one, we'll:

1) See more questions, perhaps of a chattier variety than what's allowed now (medieval breast pump) ...
2) with fewer answers, because we'll want input from only the handful of members online at that time who have expert knowledge of medieval technology PLUS the science of extracting breastmilk.

It might be good for Google, but kind of boring to read and participate in.
posted by kimberussell at 5:43 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


> I wonder if a technical change on that end, so that there is only a single "best answer" and it gets promoted near the top would alter the behavior of answerers in a way that the OP is asking?

How would this work for questions about book/podcast/movie/recipe/travel destination/etc recommendations? Or name-my-new-kitten/puppy/child? Or "how do I have this hard conversation with a person I care about?" Or "my boyfriend/girfriend is being weird about a thing, should I feel weird about it?" Most of the time, there is no One Best Answer to questions like those, and those questions make up a huge percent of askme. Humans and our messy problems are not software glitches, and even there, sometimes (a lot of the time?) there may be more than one good way to solve a problem.
posted by rtha at 6:06 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


"(eg here is a "clever" yet actually bullshit and unhelpful answer I flagged but is still up. They would have to trim a lot of grass). "

So the problem there was that I was the mod on duty. I saw your flag, clicked through, read the answer, laughed out loud, and said, "That is literally the best advice about running for school board I've ever seen, I'LL ALLOW IT."

Mods with less personal bitter experience of Machiavellian local politics may have differed on its utility. :)

(Then I proceeded to answer the question with more specific and I hope helpful resources from my own experience, so it at least resulted in a good answer!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:20 PM on February 13 [32 favorites]


Many questions are along the lines of "What should I do about problem X?" and by necessity the responses are not going to provide 100% of the full and correct answer. Also making assumptions that people have Googled a thing or otherwise investigated it, or are as wise in the ways of the world and the logic of society as everybody else, is not something that can be usefully or truthfully done. Most answers can only be guideposts, which sometimes is enough.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:25 PM on February 13


Maybe something like, if a person has very specific criteria for their questions where the usual "hey here's my answer off the top of my head" would not be helpful at all, there's a checkbox they can click, and then when someone goes to answer that question, an extra bit comes up that says "hey, this person noted that they have very specific criteria for their answers. Please make sure your answer does that" or something like that.
posted by Lucinda at 6:25 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


capricorn: " it's disappointing when a really awesome question I'm intensely curious about has ten answers and none of them really address the question."

Sometimes the best answer is the result of an iterative back and forth between several answerers and the askee. Not a great example but see this LED flasher question. Rule two would spike that cannon.

Stacey: "And that does drive me up a wall - the times when someone explicitly says "Please don't focus on X in your response, I provided it for context but I only want responses to Y" and that is not respected in the answers."

And sometimes people are asking the wrong question. If the question is "I have rebar and not ground rods. I want to use a #6 piece of rebar as a ground rod but I can't find a ground clamp to fit. What type of hose clamp is best to use to attach the ground wire. Please don't suggest a different ground rod material" the answer is not Stainless gear clamp it's buy an approved ground rod/plate irregardless of the askers demands.

soylent00FF00: "I wonder if a technical change on that end, so that there is only a single "best answer" and it gets promoted near the top would alter the behavior of answerers in a way that the OP is asking?"

This would fundamentally break the basic formatting of the site being chronological.
posted by Mitheral at 6:40 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]


zamboni, a great concept for the askme answers wiki page would be stuff about the XY problem, which I learned about from jessamyn, and I think when a thread derails helpfully it's often because the user has an XY problem and answerers appropriately question the premise.

When a thread derails unhelpfully it's often because the OP has exactly the problem they state but boy do people love questioning the premise and insisting the OP has an XY problem! (see: find issue Y scavenger hunt)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:49 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Maybe a tick-box set above the comment field that would activate it (the field), allowing the prospective answerer to respond only when it's completed?

[ ] I have read the entire question.
[ ] Seriously, I've read the whole question all the way through.
[ ] I swear. All of it.


That might help a little...
posted by tzikeh at 6:59 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


I'll add that I have a professional background in a specific field which comes up in an AskMe question every few weeks. The amount of terrible advice by people who literally have no idea what they are talking about is terrifying. I've actually stopped answering those questions because I got too stressed out trying to formulate a response that would a) debunk all the misinformation in the thread, b) establish me as having expertise, and c) give the poster something actionable. I totally feel for the health professionals, attorneys, dentists, accountants, investment professionals, etc. on AskMe.

I second this. I know the research on best practices pretty intimately in my field (clinical psychology/trauma research), which has real implications for people's health and well-being, but the amount of bad advice on AskMe about it has led me to really reduce my posting. There's real danger in posting bad answers, because pursuing false leads costs time and money, and leads people to think that they can't be fixed. I don't want to be hyperbolic, but in my line of work, this is the kind of thing that leads people to consider harming themselves. I realize there are no one size solutions, but because of this risk, I make recommendations that I know are most likely to work, and work quickly, for the majority of people. It honestly starts to feel frustrating in the same way I find alternative facts frustrating- I have tons of evidence supporting recommendations that I have no personal stake in, but the answers I see getting lots of favorites are anecdata or the appealing-seeming advice of "experts" without real knowledge of the research. I then can't directly rebut their bad advice per guidelines.
posted by quiet coyote at 7:15 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]


Phunniemee, I now have a snippet of the "Facts of Life" theme on repeat in my head and it's all your fault. :(

(I'm of the opinion that AskMe works about as well as is possible.)
posted by moira at 7:36 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I overedit my questions in an attempt to head of derails. It only works about half the time. I would love to have the ability to add a 1-2 line clarification that is appended to my question once the derails begin (like INFJ suggests above). It would need to go to the top of the comments to stick out to new readers, since mid-thread corrections don't usually work.
posted by soelo at 7:47 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


quietcoyote - AFAIK per past metas, while you can't directly rebut an answer, you are free to offer a better/more complete or accurate answer, and probably, to mention your authority or evidence if you feel it would be more persuasive or is necessary to adequately counteract straight up bad advice.

Whether people favourite an actually better answer or not isn't really something that's controllable, though. And I mean. Favourites and answers are anecdata. But if there's a more heavily therapized audience than this one, I can't say I can think of it... I also think it's not completely strange to credit those who've considered their experience with at least that authority. And, with therapy, there is - sorry - sadly, often, a gap between the manualized treatment protocols supported by evidence, and what people often find when they actually visit real-world therapists under the constraints of their real-world insurance. [Per pros I know IRL, and even some of MeFi's own resident pros, if I'm remembering at least one thread correctly. And some evidence, as well.] Beyond that, you have disagreements among your peers (and/or competitors) about what works and doesn't. Different philosophies and sometimes just plain preferences. Plenty will pay lip service to CBT, but end up doing... not CBT. Many don't like to use it at all, for their own reasons. (And to be fair, just because it's the most heavily evidenced doesn't necessarily mean it's the ideal method; it means it has been researched, and there's evidence behind those efforts. It's possible other things are useful, too, they just haven't been evidenced.) Other peers of yours, referring to cross-cultural research, will say it doesn't damn well matter what protocol is used, as long as there's a belief in the authority of the therapist/counsellor. I feel that when people who've been failed by their system or particular therapists (which does happen) want to crowdsource a question relating to therapy, usually, it's for a good reason. (Like, their therapist was gaslighting them. Or selling a product, per above... Sometimes therapists make things actively worse. Ultimately, it's down to two people in a room, often, with no oversight or mechanism for redress if things go wrong. And at the time of therapy, at least one of those people might not be seeing things clearly. If it's both, there's trouble.) And there are also, imo, fair critiques of the field from outside it. I want it to work for everyone, all the time, but sometimes it doesn't, and I think it's ok if people who've experienced it, on one side or another (or sometimes, both), share their views.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:55 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


I'm so glad to see this thread. I feel like the unhelpful question noise is a big problem.

My personal solution to this is I would be happy if mods deleted all the answers I flag as noise in my own question. I know that there are a lot of flags and mods can't get to everything but maybe if an answer is flagged by the poster it could get more weight in your admin interface?

It freaks me out when the first few answers are derails because then it will never get on track again. Most of my questions get about 5 answers so if 4 of those are picking up an erroneous thread in the first answer then it's a giant waste.
posted by bleep at 8:09 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]


Reading the thread, it looks like the general consensus is that my restrictions would be too strict for most (though not all) people, but that there is a sense that MeFites would like to see a more heavy-handed deletion policy for answers where the person clearly didn't read the question (or at least appears not to have done so, or deliberately ignores a strongly specified provision). I flag those a lot and they are definitely not deleted all the time. If we narrowed the scope to this, would people be interested in increased deletions here and if so is there a good way to signal this to the mods?

Ohgawdpleaseno. Here's a personal example of an XY problem: I asked this question on AskMe about scalp infections and dog shampoo, and it was pretty specific about what kind of answers I was looking for. The best answer (didn't mark it, cuz I'm not done trying it) was this one that read my question and provided a useful, helpful answer that totally didn't answer the question I was asking at all. If we start encouraging flagging/deleting answers that don't meet certain criteria, I would have missed out on medical advice for a condition I've been struggling with for years.

Yeah, I agree that it sucks that some people on AskMe really suck at reading questions carefully, but the usefulness/appropriateness of an answer is really something that may only be apparent to the person asking the question.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:13 PM on February 13 [15 favorites]


Ohgawdpleaseno.

Seconded.

When OPs argue against people's answers in the comments, the mods always come in and tell them just to ignore the answers they don't like or don't find helpful. Giving people the ability to delete other people's comments seems like a huge violation of that spirit. Generally I think of AskMe as "for entertainment purposes only" and I don't think I, or anyone, is owed a solution to my problems.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:56 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]


bleep: "My personal solution to this is I would be happy if mods deleted all the answers I flag as noise in my own question."

People ask questions not infrequently apparently only seeking confirmation of their ill advised planned actions. This feature would silence the people advising against those actions. This is probably bad for the asker but would be self inflicted and they probably wouldn't listen to that advice anyways so *shrug*. However it is definitely bad for the reputation of AskMe.
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 PM on February 13 [17 favorites]


That's why I'm saying give them more attention to the mods (as opposed to what I would really like for myself which is the ability to delete noise myself which I know isn't viable for this very reason) Mods can tell when an answer is really nonsense vs. a legit answer the asker doesn't want to hear.
posted by bleep at 9:49 PM on February 13


I answer a lot of fix it/ home improvement questions and I think Capricorn's suggestions would negatively impact finding a solution or putting the asker on the right track. In real life, contractors often can fix things in different ways and ask 3 and you get 3 ideas to fix it - all of them correct, but different approaches. And we don't want to shut out normal homeowners who aren't "experts" but have experience with a similar problem.

I don't want to see Ask tightened up. Sometimes the tangents lead to a good answer.
posted by littlewater at 9:51 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]


I don't want to see Ask tightened up but I do want to see MeFites stop berating people who post questions. Although it happens less often than sloppy/non-helpful answers, it does happen and it crushes my heart a little every time I see it. OP, thanks for this thread. I am definitely too chatty in my answers and will try to tone it down. Also sorry to hear how demoralising it is for the professionals when folks are being advised to take two newts and apply leeches in the morning when the pros know that's super crazy advice. I hope some of you pros will continue to answer Qs anyway on occasion. Thanks, all, for making AskMe a generally helpful place.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:18 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]


Answers: $10
Answers Requiring Thought: $20
Correct Answers: $40


"What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously.
"I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue."
posted by Chrysostom at 10:20 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


Some people want to loosen up question criteria, some answer criteria, some want to tighten up both, some want to ask more questions, some don't.

Based on this I think Ask might be fine as it is.
posted by bongo_x at 10:21 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


can we at least get "did not read the question" as a specific flagging reason?
posted by Lucinda at 10:35 PM on February 13 [37 favorites]


We should also ban all AskMe questions where the questioner will not go to the doctor and is asking for home remedies instead.

While it's OK for people to share experiences of illness and treatment, it's completely unethical for this site to be offering medical advice and it should have been banned long ago.
posted by Segundus at 2:55 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


The answer, if wrong, does not risk damage to OP's health (or someone else's), waste tons of money, or enter dicey legal territory.

This goes for animal-related health questions as well. Please, just don't answer unless you're familiar with that breed of animal. Not every animal has the same medical issues, needs and symptoms or requires the same kind of treatment.

What might work for dogs and cats, for example, will not work for rabbits. If you're not familiar with the particular problems and pitfalls of rabbit veterinary care or when to push back against a vet who isn't rabbit-savvy (and many aren't), you're most likely not qualified to answer. Please understand that you could very well be doing real harm with your "innocent" suggestions.

If nothing else, generic, meaningless platitudes make it harder for the asker to differentiate between nonsensical chatter and quality answers.

Saying, "Well obviously the dog needs his drill bits rotated!" when dogs don't have drill bits and rotating anything that might look like a drill bit would probably kill the dog is not helpful. Saying, "Oh, just listen to your vet when he says your dog has boneitis, we're not vets so how could we really know what's going on?!" when dogs don't get boneitis in the first place is not helpful. Saying that after multiple longtime dog owners have pointed out that dogs don't get boneitis and have backed up their answers with references and citations is not helpful.
posted by i feel possessed at 3:02 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Aw man, I was hoping the next MeTa about AskMe would be about allowing ChatFilter and this sort of seems like the opposite so now I'm sad. I think our rules are already plenty strict about how you can answer the question.


Yes. This. This is my pony request. It should be notes chatfiltery answers only on chatfiltery questions.
posted by chasles at 3:58 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


My mouse software went nuts on this puter a few days ago. I did quite a bit of nosing around online to see what I could find. Found a lot. Still, I came into Ask and put it to those of us here. Because I really respect the minds that hang out here, I've always gotten good advice, and people who really, really do want to help. I've found this with computer issues but with everything else, too; there is a good crew here and we're lucky to be able to tap it. And ten wrong or windy answers don't bother me at all, they often help lead to the right answer, or at least into the right direction.

My take? It ain't broke. So don't fix it.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:22 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


If we allowed chatfilter, there would be a million questions a day and this place would be ruined.
posted by Melismata at 4:27 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


Going back to answerer has already tried other ways to find the answer or solve the problem like Googling , you have no idea how many people asked me to find something that took me literally 45 seconds to get a working link for. Just because someone googled an answer does not mean they knew the best way to get google to answer it for them. How many people forget they can filter out "noise" results by -minusing out terms and domains?

if anything, maybe AskMe should have a (optional) dropdown box with the level of expertise the person asking expects. Something like Advanced/Professionals/Own Experience or something else that may apply to clearly filter out random takes while not looking as passive aggressive as putting "[DOCTORS ONLY PLZ]" on the title.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:59 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Ach, AskMe is grand as it is. It feels like the answerers are 90% well-intentioned, and 10% people who forget there are real people asking questions and they're not actually involved in some kind of online interactive soap opera. The odd person here and there shoehorns in a snippet from their own blog any chance they get, no matter how tangential, and my own profession is something that gets talked about a lot and sometimes in ways that hurts my face, but all in all I think people mean well and do well. The only thing I wish we could enforce, which we can't, is the request to read the damn question. If I could be arsed I'd dig up my favourite example of this where someone asked for recommendations for tv shows or films and the first three replies were "this isn't a film or tv show but here's a great book...". Those ones annoy me, and then generally get "best answer" which annoys me more, but that's my problem so... [insert shrug diagram thing that people do that I don't know how to do]
posted by billiebee at 5:57 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


I've been wanting to do this for so long.
Your post advocates a:
[x] community moderated
[ ] technical
[x] social
[ ] legislative
[ ] economic
[ ] authoritarian
solution to crappy AskMe answers.

I'm afraid it won't work due to:
[ ] the King of the Shitpile problem
[ ] Matt doesn't have time
[ ] the code doesn't work that way
[ ] technology doesn't work that way
[ ] wishing doesn't make things better
[ ] scoreboards don't fix anything
[x] it doesn't prevent bad answers from appearing
[x] nobody ever agrees what a bad answer is
[ ] requiring cooperation from asshats
[x] it would cause new problems for legitimate, un-bad answerers

In summary:
[x] Yours isn't the worst idea I've ever heard, but it's not good.
[ ] That's a pretty dumb thing to do.
[ ] Do you even understand the words you're using?
[ ] Die.
posted by Mayor West at 6:03 AM on February 14 [15 favorites]


People responding to questions from people having issues with their PC/Windows systems by saying "just get a Mac" should be sent into the sun via trebuchet.

A trebuchet launches it's payload into a parabolic arc that could not reach escape velocity, and even considering an archaic war machine in orbit that used mechanical effort to modify the orbit of a PC answerer would not be anything that could be considered a trebuchet (although I'm hoping for an interesting refutation).

But anyway, what jessamyn said, a reminder to be good responsible answerers is well good, so thanks for this grey but most askme's are vastly better than just about any other forum on the web.
posted by sammyo at 6:21 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


If we allowed chatfilter, there would be a million questions a day and this place would be ruined

i don't think so for the simple fact that i don't think we "allow chatfilter" as much as we turn the dial ever so slightly down on the "is this a thing that can be definitively answered or solve a problem in some way"

because, although i read and occasionally respond to the human relations questions, aren't those inherently unsolvable? in some readings nearly EVERY relationship question is essentially chatfilter, especially when you take into account the personal anecdotal nature of the answers to those questions... i just think we could soften say 3.6% on what questions constitute chatfilter and we may end up with some nice useful conversations, ones that would be more topically focused than chat.meta is capable of.

for example, this deleted question, IME, could've stood with the "tweak" i mention. the asker did a good job of laying out parameters and giving examples. in other words, i agree with the deletion before now, but maybe softening this kind of chatfilter deletion does increase quality on askme?
posted by chasles at 6:46 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Refusal to read the entire question is a huge peeve of mine. I find it almost insulting to the asker when they write "I have Problem X. I cannot do Obvious Solution Y" and someone comes in and says "Has it occurred to you to do Obvious Solution Y"? This happened recently and I had to walk away from the computer and it wasn't even my question!

Or the aforementioned "I'm looking for blogs about X. I love The Groundbreaking Guide to X and I'd love more examples along those lines." And four people post "Oh! You would love The Groundbreaking Guide to X!" In a case like that with specific titles, you don't even have to bother to read the question, maybe at least do a two-second keyword search to see if the asker mentioned it.

I think the off-topic answers do cause harm because they derail the thread. Someone might be asking specifically about books, but the first few answerers come in to recommend podcasts, and subsequent answerers figure it's OK to talk about podcasts even though they've read the question and know it's about books.

And putting the onus on the asker to frame the question perfectly is only helpful insofar the answerers actually read the question. Which, the more the asker has to include a bunch of qualifications and explain what research they've already done and exactly how they want the question approached, the longer the question becomes, making it less likely people will read it closely.
posted by mama casserole at 7:05 AM on February 14 [11 favorites]


mama casserole: "In a case like that with specific titles, you don't even have to bother to read the question,"

Note that titles aren't visible to everyone. Essential information should be contained within the question body not in the title.
posted by Mitheral at 7:17 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Note that titles aren't visible to everyone. Essential information should be contained within the question body not in the title.

What I mean are questions where the asker mentions (in the body of the question) the title of a specific work/show/blog/podcast/etc.

Question text: I love zombie shows. I've already watched Ash vs. Evil Dead and The Walking Dead. What should I watch next?

Answer: Oh, give The Walking Dead a try!
posted by mama casserole at 7:27 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


IMO, Ask Me questions, at the very basic level, come in three categories:

1. Help me find this one particular, specific, singular thing (I need a green sweater with a picture of an English bulldog on it in a ladies' size M)

2. Help me find things that fit this particular category (I need sweaters with animals on them/I need green sweaters/I need ladies' size M sweaters)

3. Tell me your experiences with something (I need a sweater, what should I get/99.9% of all relationship-related questions).

When I ask a Type 1 question and I get Type 2 answers, I get annoyed. When I ask a Type 1 question and get Type 3 answers, I get *really* annoyed. But the people who are answering most likely think "I'm giving a piece of the puzzle; I'm really being helpful!"

I know that a lot of people have issues here with Reddit, but one thing I think they do very well is the [serious] tag on /r/askreddit. When people use it, the very first message in the thread reads something like "non-jokey answers only, off-topic posts will be deleted". And people follow it. Could something like that be set up, so people who have a Type 1 question can be spared Type 3 answers?
posted by Lucinda at 7:38 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


zamboni, a great concept for the askme answers wiki page would be stuff about the XY problem, which I learned about from jessamyn, and I think when a thread derails helpfully it's often because the user has an XY problem and answerers appropriately question the premise.

I've started consolidating the various places on the MeFi wiki that give advice about asking and answering questions into How to get the most out of Ask Metafilter. It would be awesome if anyone wants to contribute helpful advice from this thread or elsewhere. XY Problem got a whole page to itself!
posted by zamboni at 7:45 AM on February 14


My personal solution to this is I would be happy if mods deleted all the answers I flag as noise in my own question.

Please god no.

My only input to this stems from my previous thoughts about how people feel the urge to jump in with unhelpful and unnecessary "Go to a doctor" answers at the drop of a hat because god knows why.

I guess what I'm getting at is that while I don't think we should necessarily be flagging or spotlighting answers as 'good' (and doesn't the favorite feature do that relatively well already?) I do think that there's some room to draw attention to answers that are 'bad' or, better yet, 'unhelpful' without resorting to a circular callout/firing squad that sucks all the air out of the room/question.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:50 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Maybe this means I'm part of the problem, but I feel like ask is fine as it is. Yeah, sometimes I get answers that aren't super helpful on my questions. Usually that's because I didn't write the question well enough, so that's on me. When it's because the answerer didn't read the question, I just ignore it. I know that I've done that a couple of times on accident when I was on my phone or something. Mea culpa. I try not to let it happen more than once.

No matter where we ask questions in life, whether it's here, Quora, the family dinner table, or the hardware store, sometimes we get unhelpful answers. I don't think any amount of policy is going to fix that very fundamental human problem.

Also, I feel like with some regularity we see questions around that are either based on faulty fundamental assumptions, or just going too far down the path toward a bad solution before coming here and asking. If someone asks something like "what pressure washer should I use to brush my teeth? I kind of like the Ryobi but it's more expensive than I'd like." I think we should be able to answer that with something along the lines of, "I think you'd be much better off using a toothbrush" even if it doesn't answer the specific question the poster asked. And certainly if I come here and ask a question of this form, I REALLY WANT people to speak up and tell me that. I almost always do a bunch of research and/or thinking before I come here and ask something, so my head is full of ideas and possible solutions. I might not even know if I've gotten a bad one into my head. Telling me about that is a huge help!
posted by primethyme at 7:58 AM on February 14 [13 favorites]


Could there be something like a tag or "flare" that clearly indicates "bad dangerous suggestion, DO NOT FOLLOW" but we are not deleting it because it is "Freaking Hilariousb".
posted by sammyo at 8:45 AM on February 14


Could there be something like a tag or "flare" that clearly indicates "bad dangerous suggestion, DO NOT FOLLOW" but we are not deleting it because it is "Freaking Hilariousb".

When you feel the bit start to come through, stop drilling.
posted by mama casserole at 8:54 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]


I'm not totally sure why we need to point out if advice is bad or dangerous. The people asking and answering are adults, and if someone wants to drill through a shoe while holding it why do we think we ABSOLUTELY MUST point out that's not the best idea? Someone might actually conceivably be capable of figuring that out on their own, or alternatively might be happy to give it a whirl, and frankly it's their hand and their shoe and why are we their Mom?
posted by billiebee at 9:20 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


Seconding billiebee and adding I don't understand why people get so bent out of shape about the medical advice threads. Not everyone has the same access to healthcare as you do, and sometimes a home remedy is all someone can manage. I mean yeah, "I think I'm having a heart attack. I have health insurance but the hospital seems far" can definitely be met with a "We will call 911 for you, but you must go to the doctor now" but overall what is the big deal? I think disallowing those would result in potentially MORE bad outcomes because someone asking my fake question above might not ever have anyone else around to tell them "Hey this is seriously bad, you HAVE TO SEE A DOCTOR."
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:26 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


I've been thinking about many of these issues around AskMe for a while as I let a few questions simmer before posting. I agree that in total, these suggestions might skew AskMe too tight, but overall I think the argument for answerers to be more thoughtful when answering is good. I know just reading the full question isn't always a given, but I echo the sentiments that it's annoying when to carefully craft a question, only to have the answers really miss the mark. At first I thought it was my fault and to frame better next time but now I realize that's just a feature and it makes me less likely to ask some questions.

I mean I get the tendency in human relations questions for answers that don't address the question to stand because they're usually addressing the underlying issue and those questions tend to have some major lede buried in a wall of text. But for questions like, "How can I step up my pour over coffee game?" Getting answers like, "Use the Aeropress!" or "Use a moka pot. They're the best!" are frustrating. I can't tell if it's a reflection of people's tendency to think their way is best regardless if it's appropriate, or if it's tendency for people to offer advice (no matter how tangential) to be helpful.

The only time I find this really annoying and potentially fraught is when it touches on somewhat sensitive issues in little ways. Like when I asked about how to dress butch for a cocktail wedding, getting responses about sparkly blouses and flats reinforced my feelings of alienation for not conforming to gender and fashion norms. I'm used to it, but it's still annoying and stings a bit. It would be great if people could calibrate their answers, but I also know part of getting free advice is sifting through the answers for what makes sense.
posted by kendrak at 9:45 AM on February 14 [13 favorites]


Metafilter: Part of getting free advice is sifting through the answers for what makes sense.
posted by Melismata at 9:53 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


People have been told repeatedly over the years about answering the question, not being chatty, etc, and people continue to do so. It is very hard to change people’s behaviour. So my suggestion is that if you are reading and find “answers” that are not actually real attempts to answer the question, that you Flag It And Move On.
posted by terrapin at 10:44 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I've lots of times thought about posting a question and then didn't because I figured I'd just end up having to explain why the really obvious things didn't work, and it'd be a better use of my time to just experiment or do further research on my own.

People get excited about media and food, so if you ask for recommendations on either of those, you should expect a lot of answers and some that are inappropriate. Also, there was at least one time I read a whole question except for one single 'not' and answered exactly the opposite of the question that was asked. Rather than posting AGAIN off topic to apologize, I just removed the question from my own history so I would not be reminded of it. Resolved!

Personal relationship questions are usually the ones that strike me as sketchy. People get excited about those too, and they project, sometimes a lot. I've seen this pattern multiple times where, on a particularly compelling question, commenters will start speculating early on, and that speculation will become like canon in the answers, and it can pile up with increasingly dramatic interpretations that often go off into a completely different direction from what the asker wanted advice on. And when they're posted anonymously and the asker can't promptly shut down inaccurate speculation, the commenters just kind of end up feeding off of each others' stories sometimes. I'd really like to see that at least discouraged.

That said, if I know 80% of an answer, or have some kind of a lead but not a final answer, such as a term they could use as a keyword or something, I will often post it if its' been up for a little while and nobody's got it yet. I'd be happy to not do that anymore, but I would be very unlikely to bother doing a bunch of extra research for the privilege of trying to help someone figure something out. That's kind of a lot to ask of people who aren't getting paid.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:44 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I find the go to a doctor answers that don't provide any more information kind of frustrating -- moreso than home remedies that might be incorrect. There are a ton of systemic, financial and personal reasons why a doctor may not be someone's first stop for medical information. Not everyone has free and easy access to a doctor they can see quickly. And while it's true that people can't definitively diagnose problems over the internet, it can be helpful to talk to other people who have had similar problems.

So, if the answer to "I have this weird bump on my arm" is "That bump sounds like it might be nothing serious, but it also might be malignant melanoma and you should get yourself to a doctor stat!" that's fine. But if it's just "Go see a doctor" that's not really helpful. And if it's the forty-twelfth unqualified "go see a doctor" in a thread, it is particularly not helpful. As a "favorites=bookmarks" person, I really wish there were separate functions for "I agree with this statement" and "I wish to save this statement for future reference" because I feel like more clicking "I agree" and less duplicating answers would be helpful in some of these situations.

I can imagine doctors find it frustrating to see people speculating about medical conditions and possible available remedies, but honestly -- your patients are having all these conversations with their friends anyway. It's just that when they do it in person, you aren't reading it.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:49 AM on February 14 [12 favorites]


Rather than posting AGAIN off topic to apologize, I just removed the question from my own history so I would not be reminded of it. Resolved!

I'm pretty sure I've self-flagged a few similar comments and the mods removed it.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:56 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


And if it's the forty-twelfth unqualified "go see a doctor" in a thread, it is particularly not helpful.

But having a bunch of answers saying "go see a doctor" is helpful. These are answers to the question, and having a number of these answers should indicate to the OP that they need to get to a doctor, and fast.

With the jock itch question, putting bleach or vinegar on your crotch is not going to solve it. Getting an antifungal will. If you cannot afford a visit to a clinic or the ER, that's one thing. But it's something that you need to do in order to maintain your quality of life.

If you have a third-degree burn (charring of the flesh is considered to be a third-degree burn), being told, by multiple people, to go to the doctor, is helpful.

Being told to put ointment on the burn is not helpful. It's a bad answer. But, given the rules of AskMe, we can't really say "that's a bad answer" (I guess we can, but there are limited way to discuss such a comment, especially when we're talking about healthcare, so it's better not to say "bad answer").

So having a bunch of "go to a doctor" answers is a really good indication to the OP that that's what s/he should do.

If we're talking about treatments for chronic, but non-emergency conditions, such as blood pressure, diabetes, dandruff or plantar fasciitis, I do agree that AskMe is a good resource.

But AskMe should never, ever be regarded as a replacement for primary care. And we, as a community, really really need to emphasize that, because it's not emphasized right now.
posted by My Dad at 11:03 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


While I think 99% of folks on AskMe are well-meaning, I agree that not fully reading the question can result in frustrating and even hurtful answers.

Flagging is an option but, and I don't know how mod-approved this is, I have seen comments to the effect of "Hey y'all, the poster explicitly stated she's allergic to the color blue" have some success in re-railing a thread. I've made a couple myself.
posted by lalex at 11:06 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Being told to put ointment on the burn is not helpful. It's a bad answer. But, given the rules of AskMe, we can't really say "that's a bad answer" (I guess we can, but there are limited way to discuss such a comment, especially when we're talking about healthcare, so it's better not to say "bad answer").

I would generally agree that it should be okay for people to make a not-too-bitchy response to other answers that are potentially dangerous to say "Hey, no, if you put ointment on this, it will definitely not make it better and will quite likely make it worse. Please see a doctor, because you need a prescription for something like X to treat this."
posted by jacquilynne at 11:11 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


> People responding to questions from people having issues with their PC/Windows systems by saying "just get a Mac" should be sent into the sun via trebuchet.

A trebuchet launches it's payload into a parabolic arc that could not reach escape velocity, and even considering an archaic war machine in orbit that used mechanical effort to modify the orbit of a PC answerer would not be anything that could be considered a trebuchet (although I'm hoping for an interesting refutation).


I find this response doubly pleasing -

1. Because you actually took it as a serious suggestion, and
2. Because if you actually tried it it, even if it failed it would still be painful for the person and that is suitable punishment.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:19 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


The mods have said, over and over, that "No, that person is wrong, and here's the reason why, and here's a better answer" is fine.
posted by Etrigan at 11:19 AM on February 14 [16 favorites]


having a bunch of answers saying "go see a doctor" is helpful. These are answers to the question, and having a number of these answers should indicate to the OP that they need to get to a doctor, and fast.

Personally, I often use the favourite button as shorthand for "I endorse this answer". If an answer has lots of favourites I deem that to mean it's a popularly held view, and as an asker and reader I find it much less annoying than a string of people basically typing "Same!" just because they can't bear to let a question pass them by even if loads of people have already said what they were going to. Although God knows I'm sure I've done it myself at some point or another.
posted by billiebee at 11:25 AM on February 14 [13 favorites]


Initial reaction:

(a) I think this is a worthwhile question to ask, but aside from the MetaTalk-reading minority, how are you going to affect the community norm on this? We can all agree on something here, but how will it "leak" into the larger Metafilter-visiting public?

(b) I disagree with #2, because the OP may be willing to settle for a blue English bulldog sweater in a women's size US M, or a size US L and wear it big, rather than get no responses whatsoever.

I think holding answerers to rigid allegiance to the OP's specifics and the OP getting no responses is a bad result when compared to the current status quo, and, importantly, I also believe it greatly decreases the utility of the question-and-answer for future people who may Google and turn up the page for their own question. Ask Metafilter is not just a question-and-answer site -- by its pages being tagged and permanently accessible (requested deletions aside), it also serves the purpose of a useful eclectic reference database on all sorts of matters.

(c) I disagree with #3, because it assumes a certain level of education and technical familiarity, and IMO that simply isn't a reasonable assumption to make of all site visitors.

Right now, we have favorites which I use as an endorsement of an answer -- as it's more space-efficient than a separate post for "me too". It occurs to me that if AskMefi were to ever tread anywhere close to Reddit's upvote/downvote system, the best compromise would be to adopt what Amazon does with their reviews, i.e., the metric of helpfulness -- if you believe a person's answer is helpful, click the button. Reviews then can be ranked by percentage of helpfulness, i.e. "31 of 50 people found this answer helpful".
posted by WCityMike at 11:42 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I can accept that some level of noise in AskMe is always going to exist. Not all questions have black and white answers and sometimes "good enough" is the only answer that exists. But if the number of people talking just to hear themselves talk and starting out answers admitting they 'don't have any knowledge or experience in X but here's a guess anyway' went down it would help my blood pressure a lot. And of course those people are often one and the same, commenting first in the thread and sending the whole damn thing down spiraling into the garbage. Please, there has got to be a way to stop this. I flag as noise when I can but it doesn't seem to end.
posted by misskaz at 11:47 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


Also, programmatically ban use of lmgtfy.com in AskMe.
posted by WCityMike at 11:48 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I am very pro "go to the doctor." I think it is a valid response. There have been two questions I have seen on Ask where the OP waited to go the doctor, and I have a very ominous feeling that those people died. So I will always urge people to go to the doctor.

If the OP has subpar access to medical care or has financial issues, then I would rather help OP work through those hurdles after they have gotten appropriate medical care, rather than saying nothing or providing a remedy that does not have a chance of adequately addressing a serious condition.
posted by delight at 11:57 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


Also, programmatically ban use of lmgtfy.com in AskMe.

I haven't seen that here, but if it's happening, I agree that it should be explicitly prohibited.

I have very frequently seen it show up on technical forums as a snarky answer, and the irony of it is that, by the time I find it by Googling for it, that is the top answer on Google, making it a) recursive, and b) evidence that the people posting lmgtfy don't understand how the internet works.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:32 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]

by the time I find it by Googling for it, that is the top answer on Google, making it a) recursive, and b) evidence that the people posting lmgtfy don't understand how the internet works.
Did you know that when you google recursion, google returns "Did you mean recursion"? It's a google recursion joke!

I don't know. I'm a pretty good googler, if I do say so myself, and I've occasionally managed to google up the answer to a question with an actual unique right answer. I got this one via google. Sometimes you just think of good google search terms that the original poster didn't think to use.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:44 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: " Did you know that when you google recursion, google returns "Did you mean recursion"? It's a google recursion joke!"

You think that's fun, try Googling "askew".
posted by WCityMike at 1:03 PM on February 14 [12 favorites]


lmgtfy has been on the ixnay list for over 8 years. The MeTa about it, LetmeMetathatforyou was posted the day Madoff was arrested.
posted by zamboni at 2:51 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


People responding to questions from people having issues with their PC/Windows systems by saying "just get a Mac" should be sent into the sun via trebuchet.

I suppose that's appropriate, since the name of Microsoft's Trebuchet was inspired by a puzzle question: "Can you make a trebuchet that could launch a person from main [Microsoft] campus to the new consumer campus about a mile away? Mathematically, is it possible and how?" Typeface designer Vincent Connare "thought that would be a great name for a font that launches words across the Internet".

But as sammyo points out, you're likely to run into a lot of technical problems, disappointing launches, and unintended crashes using a Trebuchet from Microsoft. So perhaps a more Mac-friendly way to launch the offenders into the sun? There must be a myriad of ways.
posted by Kabanos at 3:00 PM on February 14


I'll add that I have a professional background in a specific field which comes up in an AskMe question every few weeks. The amount of terrible advice by people who literally have no idea what they are talking about is terrifying. I've actually stopped answering those questions because I got too stressed out trying to formulate a response that would a) debunk all the misinformation in the thread, b) establish me as having expertise, and c) give the poster something actionable.

Good news, whitewall, I have the arcane incantation that will make all your AskMe answering anxieties magically disappear:

"As a person qualified to answer this question in real life, I suggest you find a person qualified to answer this question in real life." (Thank you, once again, melissasaurus!)
posted by The Bellman at 3:42 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Typeface designer Vincent Connare

OF COMIC SANS FAME.

And yeah lmgtfy is against the rules as is most instances of ftfy.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 3:43 PM on February 14


billiebee: "I'm not totally sure why we need to point out if advice is bad or dangerous. The people asking and answering are adults, and if someone wants to drill through a shoe while holding it why do we think we ABSOLUTELY MUST point out that's not the best idea? Someone might actually conceivably be capable of figuring that out on their own, or alternatively might be happy to give it a whirl, and frankly it's their hand and their shoe and why are we their Mom?"

We need to have the ability to point out advice is bad because not all bad advice will look bad to the ignorant. Here's a hypothetical:

Question: My house is for sale and a potential buyer's home inspector said some of my plugs have no ground how do I fix this?

Bad Answer: I had this problem when I sold my old house. You can just pop the bad plugs out and hook a wire between the Silver and Green screws. Turn the Breaker off first!

This is a bad answer in that the "fix" only tricks the plug tester the HI is using; it doesn't address the underlining problem (no bond connection at the receptacle) and in fact creates two new and distinct dangerous situations. And it puts the hidden risks mostly on the shoulders of the buyers to boot. But someone with no or elementary understanding of electricity isn't going to have enough knowledge to identify the danger; they just see free, cheap fix to the problem of selling their house. If I see that sort of answer I'm going to call out the answer as bad while explaining why.
posted by Mitheral at 7:50 PM on February 14 [8 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: ""(eg here is a "clever" yet actually bullshit and unhelpful answer I flagged but is still up. They would have to trim a lot of grass). "

So the problem there was that I was the mod on duty. I saw your flag, clicked through, read the answer, laughed out loud, and said, "That is literally the best advice about running for school board I've ever seen, I'LL ALLOW IT."

Mods with less personal bitter experience of Machiavellian local politics may have differed on its utility. :)

(Then I proceeded to answer the question with more specific and I hope helpful resources from my own experience, so it at least resulted in a good answer!)
"

I am not sure where I fall on the answer to the question about changing the norms. I guess I prefer a strict interpretation because I found this response by a mod troubling. I too answered the question in question. I flagged two comments in that thread, one of which was deleted the other is the snarky Machiavelli answer, not deleted.

I look at that answer differently than EM did. I was off put by it as a sitting Board Member. Maybe I am defensive? My service has been different than EM's, I guess, although certainly not without periods of turmoil. I think EM in her duties as a mod let her own very specific board experience influence her mod decision whereby in another thread, snark would be snark and would be deleted. This is not a reflection on EM. I think she does a terrific job as do all the mods. I think she will tell you being a mod is sort of like being a board member in that it is too often, a thankless job. Rarely do you get the call that all was good today, thanks.

I bring that up only because I think a change is needed. I think what needs to be changed is either the norms or the enforcing of the current norms. We are in a transitional phase right now. The rules of AskMe are sort of changing from a strict enforcement of the rules as stated to a more common law interpretation by the judges (mods). Modding is a subjective job. By coming to consensus on what are the norms, it will help the mods mod in a consistent way.
posted by JSM at 8:16 PM on February 14


What animals are legal to keep as pets in Thunder Bay, Ontario?

But nobody ever asks that. It's more like "Is it legal to keep a shit-gibbon as a pet?"

Because we all live somewhere that has exactly the same laws as the O.P.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:56 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I think the OP points are good but I don't think AskMe is that bad. Maybe I'm less sensitive but also because there's a big category of questions they simply don't apply to beyond "Human Relations."

A lot of time questioners seem to want to get a feel for a consensus. I imagine someone posting a question about buying a house--they probably already have a real estate agent, they aren't looking for just one or two answers from actual real estate agents. They're quite possibly looking to get a sense of "normal" from a lot of people with a little experience.

My other thought is that people who are semi-experts could definitely slow down.

I've certainly jumped in and posted answers that I know something about--say, statistics--during my morning read, when I could have thought for a couple seconds that eventually we'd get a practicing full time statistician chiming in. Honestly, I'd probably feel an urge to post before a real expert so my answer is (IMHO) at least temporarily the best answer, even though that's not the point. But the flip side is if a question is a day old IMHO it probably does fall into a category where partial answers and knowledgeable amateurs are better than nothing. I agree with those who say think, if you don't think partial answers are better than nothing, you should say so in the post.

No idea how any of this is likely to influence people who don't even read the question.
posted by mark k at 9:50 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


The rules of AskMe are sort of changing from a strict enforcement of the rules as stated to a more common law interpretation by the judges (mods). Modding is a subjective job. By coming to consensus on what are the norms, it will help the mods mod in a consistent way.

I respectfully disagree. One of the major reasons why the moderation on MetaFilter is repeatedly touted as among the best on the Internet is because moderation here is always done on a case by case basis, and is done by mods who are true members of the community and are, to some extent, free to use their personal subjective judgement in their decision making process.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:01 AM on February 15 [14 favorites]


This question made me reread the question I asked ages ago about how to find trousers that fit both my body and my genderfeels. I wish I hadn't. It still makes me want to cry, more than four years later. I wish I could delete all the bad answers I got :(
posted by Acheman at 7:05 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


the other is the snarky Machiavelli answer, not deleted.

Sometimes people give snarky pithy answers that might, through some lenses, also be an answer to the question. And it's hard to tell if they're just supposed to be snark or they're supposed to be a legit sincere answer. My feeling as a post-mod is that delete and let the user post again with more context is more appropriate because it sends a clear message to users that lazy drive-by snark and using your words is a better, more helpful way to answer questions. I totally get why EM did what she did (and love what she is doing generally, hi EM) but would have played this one somewhat differently. More like I'm thinking I should have flagged that answer since I, too, didn't like it.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:37 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I've often wished, as an asker, that I could cross out answers that ignored the parameters of the question - leaving them up for all to see, yet with a strikethrough.
posted by xo at 9:04 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I was looking through old slow cooker-related Asks today and there was one that said "Recommend me a slow cooker" and the answers all went "Instant pot!" "Instant pot!" "Instant pot!" and the OP came back and said "I don't want an instant pot I want a slow cooker" and a few answers later someone said "No but really instant pot!" and even though it wasn't my thread I wanted to shake those people to an unhealthy degree. I don't see any way of stopping people being people though, and especially these days it feels like the mods have bigger fires to fight than those kinds of things so I feel bad even flagging them anymore.
posted by billiebee at 9:45 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I look at that answer differently than EM did. I was off put by it as a sitting Board Member. Maybe I am defensive?

I was a couple paragraphs into a detailed response about how to survive on a PTO or schoolboard when I saw the Machiavelli comment and figured that would do since it's hard to hold that battered paperback open while typing. Truly, hell is other parents and they will do all of those things to you if they don't get their way. Maybe yours is a serene republic but I, and maybe Eyebrows, have to deal with people whose children already have a better education than the one that permeates their homes and those parents don't like the questions, the homework, the reading, etcetera and if you try to explain why x is important they start asking about your heritage and politics and wait in the trees by your car in the dark. We also suffered a well-funded attempt to send the school system back to 1952.

Anyway, I think the mods here should have round shoulders from taking so many bows and users who expect absolute consistency need to think about what that place would be like.

I don't Ask much. Last time I did, it devolved in a kind way to what normal people reading that question would wonder about and it was ok even though I had the larger problem under control. Lots of that could have been deleted but it was nice to see concern from internet strangers.

I'd like to unsee some of the weekly relationship questions and unclick some of those profiles that reveal nothing but a downward spiraling smoke-trailing bi-plane and I don't like being asked questions IRL when the asker is leading with parameters and will be crushed by a rational exploration of those parameters. I don't think anything should change on Ask.

And, on preview, what billiebee just said.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:50 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I don't see any way of stopping people being people though, and especially these days it feels like the mods have bigger fires to fight than those kinds of things so I feel bad even flagging them anymore.

That's a good summation billiebee. But I also feel that a lot of the Mefite community prides itself on being thoughtful and considerate, that we should try to be more conscious of that in all walks, not just clearly fraught topics. It's a bit of a pipe dream, but it'd be nice.

I mean, I have a question I would love to ask similar to the question Acheman references above, but I probably won't because I know answers will likely be more alienating than helpful and I don't feel like dealing with it. So I don't really expect the mods to do much more because what can they do? I think this is something we the users need to work on, but it's hard because we all have so many blind spots we probably don't realize it. Closely reading the questions and focused answers will help.
posted by kendrak at 10:10 AM on February 15


Recommend me a slow cooker" and the answers all went "Instant pot!" "Instant pot!" "Instant pot!" and the OP came back and said "I don't want an instant pot I want a slow cooker"

So at least one of those answers should have mentioned that iinstant pots are slow cookers (it's one of their many functions) and why it helped someone who used it as a slow cooker. (I have an electronic pressure cooker that works like an instant pot and it's a great slow cooker.)
posted by Room 641-A at 10:13 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I've often wished, as an asker, that I could cross out answers that ignored the parameters of the question - leaving them up for all to see, yet with a strikethrough.

Maybe for answers that are dangerous or inappropriately hostile or something, but for benign misreadings like someone missing one parameter out of seven, it seems a little harsh to want to publicly shame someone who is trying to help you. Just dock their paycheck.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:34 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


No need for a strikethrough when you can passive-aggressively mark almost everything as best answer.
posted by michaelh at 12:28 PM on February 15 [10 favorites]


It amazes me that people see a recommendation of Machiavelli's The Prince as a help in understanding school systems as in any way inappropriate.

I happened to have a very low level job in the Seattle school system during the turbulent years of the implementation of their desegregation plan, and during a meeting in which the principal of an elementary school was asking me about my experience as a playground supervisor with a 4th grader who, along with his 3rd grader brother, had waylaid a little 3rd grade girl as they were all walking home, held her down, and written obscenities in permanent marker all over her face and arms (but didn't otherwise sexually molest her, apparently), I remarked in passing that if the number of administrators at the central office who had chosen to send their kids to his school was any indication, he must be the most highly regarded elementary principal in the city. He gave me a sharp look, said a few things about the politics of it all, and noted how useful he'd found his Machiavelli over the years.

Later that year, on a field trip to a wildlife park, one of those very parents mentioned to me how valuable Sun Tzu's The Art of War had been to him as a career administrator.
posted by jamjam at 12:40 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


michaelh: "No need for a strikethrough when you can passive-aggressively mark almost everything as best answer."

Wait, that's what that means? *sobs*
posted by Mitheral at 5:47 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


For me Ask is useful when I want a wide variety of ideas and anecdotes. When I ask a question with narrow parameters I'm usually disappointed.

What I really, really don't like are the snide answers and negative assumptions made toward Askers. Not everyone does this, but often the slyly nasty comments have the most favourites. It is not cool to insinuate that someone is asking a stupid question, or to condescend to someone because you assume that they're uneducated or naive or have bad intentions.

As for #4 I've just accepted that that's pretty much impossible. Sometimes I have to take a MeFi break because of it, and I'm just poor and mentally ill. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for others.
posted by Stonkle at 7:35 PM on February 15


Wait, that's what that means? *sobs*

I have at least one question where I marked a ton - maybe even most - of the answers as best, and that totally wasn't what I meant. There were just so many profoundly helpful answers among what were almost universally good and useful answers.

This is why I don't mark best a lot of the time.
posted by moira at 8:46 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I hardly ever mark best answers because it seems kind of unnecessary to me, except to make people feel bad for no reason. If a bunch of people took the time to give thoughtful answers, I don't really see the point of marking any one of them "best." I certainly might think that one is the best, and take that answer to heart more than the others, but I don't see why everything has to be a competition.
posted by holborne at 10:30 AM on February 16


Best answers are most useful for questions that have an actual correct answer, rather than anything where answers could be taken to heart or not. So, they aren't all that useful in human relations questions (other than to identify when the OP has received 98% "stop being a creepy fuck" answers and then best answered the one person who said "no, it's totally okay to follow your barista home after work to ask her out") but in 'how do I fix my computer?' questions, they allow the OP to mark out the answer(s) that actually worked, for the benefit of future readers.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:45 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I think best answers are the best solution to the problem identified in the OP.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:04 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I kind of thought those already were the general guidelines for answering in AskMe. I mean, no set of answers is perfect, and some are better than others, but it's always struck me that most people do a pretty good job of qualifying themselves when their answers are just from their personal experience and could be taken with a grain of salt.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:36 PM on February 16


moira: "I have at least one question where I marked a ton - maybe even most - of the answers as best, and that totally wasn't what I meant."

I don't really worry too much about whether I get a best answer; the use of the feature is just too variable. I've literally had an answer not get a best answer mark while a different (perfectly valid) answer did and then have the OP come back and say "Thanks Mitheral, did what you said and everything is great" (paraphrase). Still no best answer. *shrug*
posted by Mitheral at 6:03 PM on February 16


Totally personal pet peeves, but any response along the lines of:

1. "I absolutely did not read your question and am now going to give you a completely wrong answer," like when someone says please rec any tv show except The Walking Dead and someone says The Walking Dead;

2. "I don't know anything about this particular issue in ANY way but here is my answer;" like people responding to testing a kid for ADHD here and saying they know nothing abut ADHD or kids;

3. Answers that are just really wrong.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:33 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Then again, one such "I didn't necessarily read the question closely" moment lead to a fantastic exchange when Adam Savage posted a question soliciting movies that featured a car-related stunt of some sort, and someone responded with a recommendation that "hey, you may want to check out this show called Mythbusters!"

They took it well when we pointed out the irony, and the mods let that stand.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Then again, one such "I didn't necessarily read the question closely" moment lead to a fantastic exchange when Adam Savage posted a question soliciting movies that featured a car-related stunt of some sort, and someone responded with a recommendation that "hey, you may want to check out this show called Mythbusters!

Yeah, that wasn't one of my finer MeFi moments! In my defense, I read the user name as "a savage" and it never occurred to me that we might have the Adam Savage in our midst. And those episodes I recommended were on point, LOL. But seriously, that episode made me pay more attention to user names, which has made my MetaFilter experience better in all regards.
posted by carmicha at 12:36 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, capricorn. I just posted in another thread on MetaTalk about how I've learned to be a member of an online community through my time on Metafilter, even though I find it really hard because I'm very sensitive. I often have to close the tab of Ask questions where everyone is questioning the premise or didn't read the question or has no idea what they're talking about. I'm always happy about these type of Meta topics because it bothers me so much and I feel a lot less alone reading that other people can't seem to get helpful answers no many how often they clarify what they're looking for — I'm sure sometimes it's on how I phrase things, but I really hope we can keep moving the site less towards arguing with the person asking the question and letting it go if you think they're not asking the right one. (

Like other "experts" (I'm not comfortable calling myself one as if I'm a doctor or something, but I am a graphic designer and I also have firsthand, detailed knowledge of cookware/knives) it can be hard to see wrong answers by amateurs and resist the urge to start with "I know more about this than you could possibly imagine". Often I won't click on questions where I probably am a subject matter expert because I know I will get too heated up about the wrong answers.

This is a very magical pony, but I wish we could ban answers that are, like, less five words. I find it the height of hubris when, after someone goes to the trouble of posting a question looking for advice, a chronic over-answerer leaves a comment that's just "no, this is a bad idea" or "Doctor. NOW." without explaining why or giving any background on why the OP would take their advice. But I totally know there's no way this applies to every case and I also know there's no way to enforce it, this is just me getting it off my chest.

I do support a more pointed flag, FIAMO is a great philosophy but I feel like "noise/derail" is a lot more subjective than just flagging "didn't read the question", which seems like a pretty cut and dried deletion reason.

Also, I felt on the fence about my answer that Lalex linked to above because it contained some unsolicited advice along with an answer to the actual question, I appreciate that it was linked to as being something that didn't totally address the question but was helpful!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:55 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Carmicha, just for the record I hope you don't think that that was a point-and-laugh mocking moment because in all honesty, that is one of my favorite Metatfilter moments ever and is so totally the kind of thing I would do in real life and I wanted to hug your or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:19 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


No one has mentioned yet the differences in the ways that genders perceive expertise, and how that might affect the commentators who feel qualified to answer a question?

I am a chemist, with 10+ years experience in my field. If there were an AskMe about my subfield, I would definitely be qualified to answer the question. But -- if you put in a requirement that an answerer needs to be qualified to answer a question, I would STILL hesitate to give a response, regardless of my level of expertise, just because, odds are, there are more qualified people in the world, and some of them could be on this site.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:22 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Still no best answer. *shrug*

I don't think that's much of a problem as people who make a question and then either say "I'll try that later" (if that, even) and then never follow up on that. I'm sure everyone here had at least one reply they put some thought into, but never got a single reply to know if that worked.

The burden of a "good answer" isn't only on who posts them, it's also on who's making the question. Particularly with questions on "how to do x", you can have the professor of X at MIT, the globally acclaimed performer of X, and the worldwide leading researcher of applied X answering, if nobody is saying "that works" or "that isn't quite what I'm looking for", it's not much better than if we had answers from Trump U graduate of X, someone who did X once 31 years ago and someone who didn't really read the question but tells how to do Y.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:21 AM on February 20


Please don't turn AskMe into another StackOverflow.
posted by gakiko at 5:21 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Please don't turn AskMe into another StackOverflow.

I just read TFA ("The decline of Stack Overflow: How trolls have taken over your favorite programming") and I'm sure you have nothing to worry about. Also: slowclap.gif
posted by Room 641-A at 6:42 AM on February 20


Advice is neither good nor bad; it is useful or it isn't. I don't think guidelines can make responses to any non-fact-based question more useful, and I take it as a matter of faith that all answers come without warranty, express or implied. I think a better way to generate more thoughtful answers would be to give them when you can. Being "giving" in this sense means a lot of failure.

As a matter of personal taste, I love the soapboxes, the chattiness, and even the snark. I think we have a different definition of what constitites "signal" and what constitutes "noise," though. We are two people who don't know each other...much like most people on this website. If what you are talking about boils down to a matter of taste and personal preference, which is the cornerstone of my argument, then I am having a hard time understanding why things should be different. I will listen to anyone who wants to explain their position with an open mind, though.
posted by Mr. Fig at 2:11 PM on February 21


I've been on Metafilter and AskMe for a long time, and I've learned that answers that don't exactly answer the question are often useful to someone, answering a question they didn't even know they had sometimes. But having been here for a while I think there are some threads where the answers are fairly predictable (the most recognizable example being DTMFA) to the point where if I even jump into the thread I find myself scrolling very quickly through it.

In this last year particularly I've noticed that my pattern on Facebook is to block early and block often those profiles that number one enjoy trolling, or number two clearly didn't read the post well enough to participate in a meaningful way. I've found myself frustrated of late that MF offers no such blocking option, even though I know such an option doesn't really jibe with the spirit of the site. But it sounds to me like it's something people might make use of, if they feel the same profiles are repeatedly offering unhelpful non-answers. I don't think I would actually use it here myself, as I would still feel like I was going to miss some enlightening tidbit from someone who I found disagreeable in a different post.
posted by vignettist at 9:14 PM on February 21


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