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So today on the train into work, I came up with an idea.
May 4, 2001 3:10 PM   Subscribe

So today on the train into work, I came up with an idea. Thoughts? Feedback? Would you write for such a thing if asked?
posted by mathowie to MetaFilter-Related at 3:10 PM (89 comments total)

I really like the idea. There are easily several dozen people here who could do something interesting with that kind of format.
posted by rcade at 3:18 PM on May 4, 2001


Rogers! I forgot to ask you directly (I just emailed about a dozen people that I remembered off the top of my head).

Also - I'd encourage others to volunteer as editors and artists, with full credit for the contributions of course.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:21 PM on May 4, 2001


I like it.

What's good about MeFi is when threads like the recent discussion of "global capitalism" start off polarised, then mutate into something much more rich and strange: it's something this forum does, that I've never really seen on yer Slashdots. Now, within the context of a zine, you have the capacity to create metaphorical "yeast starters", where you get something unleashed upon the community at the point where it's bubbling with possibilities.

(Not that this doesn't already happen, but it's the nature of the site -- instant reaction to links and comments -- that it triggers responses from the gut.)

Which leads me to wonder: is there a place in "issue one" for a to-and-fro on whether the net has revived the concept of discussion?
posted by holgate at 3:33 PM on May 4, 2001


the global capitalism thread was in fact a good one. What would be the best way to revisit that topic? Ask two opposing viewpoints to go back and forth on it? Ask one standout person to write something summarizing it all? Have several authors write pieces, all under the umbrella of that topic?

The internet discussion piece is also a good idea. Perhaps you or I could take that one? Or do it together?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:39 PM on May 4, 2001


Great idea, Matt. I think it's a slam-dunk.

There's some posters that terrify me with their off-the-cuff erudition. I tremble to imagine what it would be like to have them quietly blast your head off given the time to research and craft a magazine-length argument.
posted by Skot at 3:39 PM on May 4, 2001


Would such material be limited only to responding to Metafilter discussions? I think I would find that a bit restrictive, though of course if I had something to say that didn't fit within this format I could always put it on my own site.

Still, I can think of things I could toss into the mix at Metafilter, in depth, as original material. For example, I recently wrote (not here) an explanation of why, based on what I know, a vaccine for HIV is theoretically impossible.

As you know, when I get going sometimes I can write enormous amounts. Would that (significant length) be a problem?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:52 PM on May 4, 2001


I absolutely love the idea. Especially the point / counterpoint incarnation.

But can we please exclude the obvious black holes such as the death penalty? I've become bored to tears with that topic. Sad to say.....
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:00 PM on May 4, 2001


Steven, I don't think length is much of a prob, the point was to write more in this new place. Though, it would be reviewed by someone editing, so the length would have to have a purpose.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:06 PM on May 4, 2001


Great idea, Matt... I nearly wet myself.

I would absolutely love to hear some folks ideas at length (and after a little editing :) A great benefit of this will be the quiet tug on all of us to improve our rhetoric. Very exciting... as for Steven's concern, considering the breadth of topics covered in a month, I can't imagine there won't be something of interest to everyone.

Of course, SDB, the best way to avoid a dearth of interesting material is to make sure that the links you post are of a high caliber... but you do that regularly anyway, so there's nothing to worry about.
posted by silusGROK at 4:15 PM on May 4, 2001


Oh yeah, I almost forgot...

Would you write for such a thing if asked?

You bet I would!
posted by silusGROK at 4:17 PM on May 4, 2001


That's a fantastic idea. I would be interested in writing something. I think the "black hole" discussions would be very interesting to look at in depth. So many times these debates begin with shorthand and information that is perceived as shared knowledge, I can't help but wonder how good these arguments could be writing full explanations instead of cliches and catchphrases?
posted by norm at 4:18 PM on May 4, 2001


Can I do the horoscope?
posted by Doug at 4:50 PM on May 4, 2001


matt, you have the bestest ideas. first the scholarship and now this. i'll make a special "metafilter" font, if you like. if you sketch me something and email it to me i'll make up a font for the site graphics. i'm not much of a writer but i would love to help.
posted by the webmistress at 5:29 PM on May 4, 2001


MetaFiltering MetaFilter, eh? An idea whose time has come.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:58 PM on May 4, 2001


I think this is really fascinating. I remember book marking some individual MeFi thread even before the days when Matt inserted the thread id into the title making book marking in IE easier. I loved some in-depth posts by lagado on languages and anthropology, 70% of anything Dan Hartung posts. SDB's longer posts were fun too. And so were rcade's. Then there were the "community" debates with webchick. These discussions spontaneously lend themselves to the narrative-article form. It would be really neat to have a MeFi-magazine where some of these threads can be reshaped into a cohesive article.

On any given topic, one person can write a digest (complete with links) of the discussion accompanied by two or more articles (written by others) focusing on the various niches of the points made in the thread.

If done right, this can evolve into the mother of all research hubs in the web.

posted by tamim at 5:59 PM on May 4, 2001


Survey says: Yes!

I'm in.
posted by owillis at 6:51 PM on May 4, 2001


May I suggest a name? MetaFocus
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:27 PM on May 4, 2001


It's probably important to create some distance from existing "good threads", as well as the old chestnuts, lest we repeat them without the force or the innovation.

"So, What's The Point Of Doing This?" is a good starting point, I think.

There's a good segment of Slate that I'm thinking of, and which isn't currently running: the Breakfast Table exchange. And there's Josh and Jim's Burning Itch as a model to us all.

And SDB's stuff is always worth giving the time and space, given his capacity to develop and augment an argument. He's not the only one, either. So you get something like "The MeFi Reader", which is not only worth reading in its own right, but is useful as a point of reference when it comes to the main discussion.

Or, think of Michael Sippey's "Just One Question", or the stuff John Brockman does at Edge.org, which would be so much better if it were not just a club for Brockman's mates and clients, and an implicit attempt to stick an extra zero on to that next book deal.

But enough already of the backslappage. (And yes, MetaFocus is a great title.)
posted by holgate at 7:39 PM on May 4, 2001


Where you get these ideas from Matt I'll never know, but goddamn I hope to be able to tap into a similar well someday. Absolutely wonderful, I know I'd love to contribute.
posted by cCranium at 7:48 PM on May 4, 2001


There may also be point/counterpoint articles where two contributors go toe-to-toe about a single issue...

Zeldman v. holloway on Web standards?
...ok, maybe not the most original of notions...

An altogether fascinating idea, anyhow. There's undoubtedly a wealth of thought and talent to be tapped here and its very exciting to imagine the possibilities for such members to be given some freedom to explore a topic in greater depth.


posted by normy at 7:55 PM on May 4, 2001


yes. Zach's on crack. This is MetaOverdose, but it's fun to speculate. Work with me here..

Lemme see if I'm picturing this in my mind's eye correctly.

The main thrust of (what is very tentatively titled) MetaFocus would be a revisit of a topic in-depth by someone who's recently discussed the topic fluently on MetaFilter. After the feature article there'd be a forum where readers could chime in. Very much like the way MeFi threads are now, only the inciting spark wouldn't just be a link and a brief blurb, but a full-blown article that covers the topic in full detail and allows the featured writer to voice their opinion with more bravado and grace. Am I correct in saying this would be the focus of MetaFocus?

Then there'd be other features like a MetaDuel with point and counter point: two people facing off with opposing views of controversial or provacative topics. "Jane you ignorant slut." That sorta thing. Perhaps the two verbal duelists could actually argue it out online in a chat form of some kind. Perhaps a capture of an IRC like transcript. Or perhaps Matt could set up a special weblog-like forum to which only the two verbal duelists have access. They could post their thoughts, read their opponent's thoughts and retaliate back and forth and would be encouraged to back up their opinions with links and quotes and anything they could pull up both on the Web and off. Then there'd be a forum below that where the groundlings could chime in with their own thoughts or just root for their favorite debater. It'd be a separate forum though. The groundling's comments wouldn't appear intermixed with the two verbal combatants. The two debaters would have their words back and forth at the top of the page (differentiated by paragraph alignment, coloration, font or whatever) and at the bottom of the page in a smaller font would be other people's kibitzing. It'd probably be coolest if this were a weekly "contest" with different sparring partners each round. And an archive of past fights.

Then there could be a MetaPosse feature. This would predominantly be like round table staff meeting or "Breakfast Table exchange" like Holgate suggested above. Matt and roughly a dozen hand-picked regulars would be granted special access to a mini-MeFi in which they talk back and forth amongst themselves about whatever subject matter they agree upon, and we mere mortals have the chance to read their intermittent prose. Those chosen would be known for their wit and word wrangling, be of provacative and known stature in the MeFi community, and would have spoken with Matt and understand the nuances and complexities of whatever it was Matt wanted the MetaPosse feature to be. A bunch of injokes? Serious links and 'headsup' blurbs about important issues and upcoming events? Would they only link to MeFi and MeTa posts they especially liked, or comment on things without linking? It'd be up to Matt first and then the posse as a whole. I doubt there'd be a forum below this one for mere underlings to comment on. That might be overkill.

And yeah. Hell yeah this is cliquish. If you wanna be in the posse? You kiss Matt's ass. What's wrong with that?

What I haven't noticed mentioned here, and maybe I overlooked it or misread someone else's posts, or maybe this is just a dumb idea... I'd really like to see the MeFi of historical record to somehow be regurgitated and dissected and rehashed. Perhaps over and over again in different ways as much as possible. A lot of that material back there is very good. Some of it is educational. Some of it is funny. A bit of it is heartwarming. Most of it's just plain crazy trying to scour through it all and look back. It would be interesting to see people write articles where they looked back at some aspect of past threads in MeFi and spoke about the topics discussed with new eyes. Here's a few examples of what I'm trying to convey. Some ideas would work better than others.

MetaFlashback - A writer could take a look at MF threads that were a year ago and write up a piece intended to summarize what that time period was like a year ago not only for MeFi participants but for the world as a whole. Among other things, MeFi is a perpetual time capsule of sorts. Reflections like this would help us understand the recent past and see what was learned, or not learned. Or instead of just "a year ago," someone could choose their own birthday or a date that's of significance to them personally and summarize the threads of that day. Or one could think about some news event of the past couple years and look back to see what was said about the event at the time it happened.

MetaScope - One could write a piece that would focus their attentions on a single regular participant to MeFi. Someone whose words they admire, or someone who they particularly find reprehensible. They could examine a number of that individual's posts over a period of time about many different subjects, and bring out either the best or the worst of that person, or both. Ideally it would be best if an objective and fair critique were accessed by the writer, but there's also the controversial and provacative nature of people ripping other people's words just for the sheer thrill of it. How often does someone contradict themselves? Do they say they're for the death penalty in September 99 but then posted something in July 2000 that sounded against? Do their opinions hold water? Are they right on the money with some topics but obviously have no idea what they're talking about in other areas? There's an endless list of possibilities here, and possible targets are wide and varied as well. Anybody who did this would have to learn how to take what they dished out.

MetaProfile - An interview and or biographical writeup about an individual MeFi regular whose words many fellow peers have read, but maybe they don't know the guy very well. Or some of you do but others don't. This would possibly go hand in hand with the MetaScope pieces, or maybe they'd be completely separate. For MetaProfile and MetaScope, it'd be discouraged for people to write up focuses on their own stuff. Someone else would have to find you worthy to write about. You don't get to sprain your wrist patting yourself on the back.

MetaReplay - Many have noticed there are certain topics that just don't go away. There's subject matter like politics, religion, The X-Files, the death penalty, pokemon... Someone could search out one of these general topics and write up a feature that summarizes not just one particular thread but tries to cover every single utterance of that particular topic in the MeFi archives, and whether or not any conclusions were reached, or amusing anecdotes were said, and otherwise highlight and cover all sides of that given topic. Granted, this won't shut anyone up about it. But if someone starts covering old ground in new MeFi threads, others can just point them to the MetaReplay. So hopefully we'd continue covering old ground in new ways, instead of just rehashing the same thing in daily MeFi threads over and over and over again. Referenced old MeFi threads would be linked within the new article. The Replay would not be intended to replace the original threads, but to complement them. The Replay article would also not be a FAQ or an "end all be all" final word piece about the topic. It'd just be a way of shining the spotlight on some of the best and worst and strangest MeFi has had to over over the last two years, and hopefully for many years more.

MetaSlices - An opportunity for anybody to submit short quotes taken from anywhere in the past archives of MeFi. Recommended suggestions should be no more than fifty words in length, with a link to the original thread and the name of the person who said the words. Categories could be similar to Lance's Dead Letter Office breakdown: words of insight, words of humor, sad words, angry words, and words that are dull or bland but nonetheless noteworthy. Again, no fair quoting yourself.

I'm sure there's a lot of other ways to approach the archives for new material but I'll shut up. Thanks for reading this far. The Focus idea is exciting, but there's so much material to cover in the archives of MeFi, I'd hate for them to be overlooked or not revisited in new and exciting ways.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:03 PM on May 4, 2001


ZachsMind? MattsMind five minutes from now, more like.

> Would you write for such a thing if asked?

Sure, though I doubt I'll be asked. No-one wants a diatribe on ENAJ ;)
posted by holloway at 11:50 PM on May 4, 2001


Kudos to Zach. I definitely like the idea of "MeFi changed our opinion on..." or even a "I was wrong about..." section. Because there are a couple of things (local gun laws, the Elgin marbles) where I'd definitely make a different response today than when I first chimed in.
posted by holgate at 6:04 AM on May 5, 2001


Love the idea! Could this, when done really well, be sellable on dead trees, as an online-to-paper MetaMagazine? And is that something which would be adviceable to do? Such a mag -- if successful, after all -- could help Matt pay his bills from working on MeFi, in addition to being a further publication reward (or carrot-on-a-stick, if you like), or even a financial reward of sorts after a while, for the best of the best MeFi contributors... Just a thought. But one step of the time :-)

Btw: metafocus.com is available
posted by frednorman at 6:24 AM on May 5, 2001


Matt, if I could just figure out to ship it to you, I would bake you a cake.
posted by lia at 7:56 AM on May 5, 2001


actually, i have baked and shipped cakes ;)

you put the baked cake, uniced, in a tin, and pack the icing separately in a plastic baggie or tupperware sort of thing, and put them in a box.

it's a piece of cake.
posted by the webmistress at 9:16 AM on May 5, 2001


Ah, but have you shipped them to another continent, the webmistress? :)

I love MetaFocus as a potential name almost as much as I love the potential of Matt's idea. Like holgate said earlier, I've gotten so much out of MeFi that any extension of it is a welcome thing.
posted by lia at 1:37 PM on May 5, 2001


MetaFocus is a great name, btw, I'll buy it today. Thanks SDB.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:54 PM on May 5, 2001


crap, someone owns it already. The owner registered it through domainbank.com, and they don't seem to offer it for sale. The whois result linked in an earlier thread is weird, now I know why I usually don't trust NetSol's search.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2001


I think it sounds like a fantastic idea. It'd be great to have an way to "invite" someone who posted a poignant bit on a MetaFilter thread to expand their thoughts into an article for MetaFocus (or whatever it ends up being called). Some people really get up there and own that soapbox, and could be called in as "guest contributors" or whatever on a specific subject if they are not regulars.

Whilst humming "Tunuk Tunuk Tun" to myself today at home, I realized how many of the things I've found fun and/or interesting in the past year or so came directly from the Internet, mostly MeFi and a few mailing lists. Tivo comes to mind foremost - a real-world groovy item that has made a change in my life (albeit a shallow one), that I probably would not have if I hadn't seen the post on MeFi and jumped on it. I'm surprised more marketers haven't tried to tap into the buzz found in some of these forums (not that I'm inviting any of that).
posted by kokogiak at 5:59 PM on May 5, 2001


Oh, and yes I'd write/code/create for such a thing if asked, in a heartbeat. It'd be fun and a challenge. As long as it doesn't have to be under 5k - I'm a little tired of that ;)
posted by kokogiak at 6:00 PM on May 5, 2001


focus.metafilter.com would work well.

the only thing i'm thinking about is that limiting the comment on articles would probably do more to preserve a mefi/mefifo differentiation. i'd also like to second the motion for a metaflashback... i had mentioned something similar previously in meta but can't find it. Well, anyway this is so much cooler. that's it; nothing earth shattering.


posted by silusGROK at 6:53 PM on May 5, 2001


Matt may not realize he is turning himself into a newspaper editor. Despite what you may have read in Brill's Content, posting to Metafilter is not unhindered; people are banned from time to time and postings disappear. Matt has the power to suppress writing on Metafilter and uses it.

Now he wants us to endorse a new power: The power to invite favoured Metafiltrons to write extended essays. We will have the honour of adding our comments at the end.

This would make Matt Haughey at least a gatekeeper if not an out-and-out elitist.

If we wanted editorial boards acting as arbiters of what could appear in print, we'd write for newspapers. (Not a hypothetical case. I have written editorials for newspapers.) This is the Internet. We are all supposed to have a voice. And, with very modest limits (e.g., post three replies to a thread before posting a front-page thread), we all have an equal opportunity to contribute here at Metafilter, unless of course Matt bans you or deletes your post.

He wants to be a kingmaker, too. And you're all going along with it. Then again, it is remarkable how no one ever disagrees with Matt, and invariably advances the defense of "It's his site and he can do whatever he wants," a perennial misunderstanding of discussion sites and mailing lists. It isn't Matt's site. It's ours. He brought it into the world, but we keep it alive.

Metafocus, on the other hand, should not be brought into the world.

The unanimous disagreement of every other Metafilter user and the reflex accusation of sour grapes are acknowledged in advance.
posted by joeclark at 8:26 PM on May 5, 2001


OK Joe - point made, and in the spirit of what we're discussing, you made me rethink my position of support. But I do still think it's a good idea.

If MetaFilter is left as-is (relatively unhindered and open) and MetaFocus is merely a companion to it, or an extension of it, or an entirely separate entity, where's the harm in that? Is a newspaper elitist for handpicking contributors? I also didn't get from anything above that the contributors would all be "favoured Metafiltrons", and would hope that just about anyone who is eloquent or interesting would get an opportunity to contribute somehow.

If MetaFilter remains unchanged, I don't see anything negative about focusing in on some subjects by some writers. Yes there will have to be a gatekeeper, but that's the point isn't it? As long as the gatekeeper entity (individual or group) isn't arbitrarily elitist, the end result shouldn't be either.
posted by kokogiak at 9:11 PM on May 5, 2001


Christ Joe, I don't know where to start.

First off, you're hypothesizing all the worst possible things that could happen. You wonder why people go along with my ideas? Could it be that I've never burned anyone? That I've been upfront and open with my decisions in the past? That I've never in my life had some secret, sinister motive? That everything I do here is with the best intentions in mind?

You start out making a big deal about how this site isn't "unhindered." If you summed up all the "editing" I do on MetaFilter, you'd see how miniscule it is. I kill double posts almost daily (maybe 1 a day average, tops), and when links don't work or the discussion is going nowhere (perhaps once a week, if that much). I ban maybe one person a week, and it's only after they've broken the rules in a major way. You bring up the editing and say I have all this power because I've killed your stuff in the past and disabled your account before Joe. You have been hindered by me, so you bring it up. Like I told you before, you broke rule after rule, and after the 2nd or 3rd time you'd do something against the grain, the edits and bans were put in place, and I explained them to you at the time.

As for the claims of elitism, stop it right now. The entire point of this whole thing was anti-elitism.

I want to highlight people that are contributing good things, not in any way limited to my chummy friends in the real world that you like to call elitist at every chance. The entire point of this is to highlight unknowns. Elevate some nobody with a brain from a comment to a column. I'm offering increased exposure for people posting good stuff on metafilter, regardless of who they are. If this project has any effect on metafilter, I could see someone purposely posting lengthy comments in an attempt to get noticed. Would that be bad? Probably not.

If I look over the past couple days for possible material, I'd say this comment and this comment stand out in their respective threads. Do I know either posters personally? No. Have I ever met them in real life? No. Do they both have blogs that get lots of press and hang out in San Francisco, occasionally assembling in top secret meetings to determine how to mess with Joe Clark's life? No.

Tamim and Aladfar are complete unknowns to me. They exist as usernames in a database of thousands, but they know their shit, and I'd like to see them talk more about it. That is the whole point of this project - to get people that never thought of writing for a newspaper, to write for an online one. I'll make it easy to submit, highlight them as contributors, hopefully getting them traffic to their own sites and giving readers here something worth reading.

And if the next assumption someone makes is that I'll only pick "lefty" or "liberal" writers, again, that assumption is false. I'm dying to pick someone to write something that is totally, completely diametrically opposed to my views, to see them fully explain their position. Aaron consistently posts good conservative stuff, and either he or someone like him will be asked to write for the project soon.

I'm still debating whether or not to even allow comments on articles. Since they're based on something that was previously discussed, it might be pointless to invite more discussion. If there is discussion, I would hope it is only a handful of posts asking for clarifications from the author, and not a jumping off point to new discussions.

MetaFocus will be brought into the world, and people can choose whether or not they'd like to participate. It's all voluntary, I'm not putting a gun to anyone's head here, and I'm not looking to add another notch on my web publishing bedpost. I know I'm asking a lot, of people. The project won't be too much work because I won't be doing much writing at all for it. Others will be volunteering a lot of work for it, by writing for it. Other online magazines work this way, like A List Apart. I wrote for them in the past for the hell of it, because I wanted to add something to the site, help Zeldman and Finck out, and perhaps get more experience writing.

MetaFilter the site has links ith discussion. Some of the comments in discussions are worth revisiting. There is a steady stream of contributors that willfully add to discussions, and I'd only be asking them to write in a new venue.

Joe, many of your comments here on localization issues and web accessibility are worthy of full articles. If this project were in place many moons ago, comments like these would have been good enough material to expand on (which I know you did in other venues, but if you weren't *you* and you were just some person without a blog or journalism background you might have considered writing it here).

I'm open to criticism on this project, it's why I posted it here, I wanted to hear all the reasons why this would be a bad idea, but I haven't heard any valid objections yet.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:22 PM on May 5, 2001


Joe, I think you may be having a fundemental misunderstanding here: Matt isn't asking for an endorsement.

This is his system and he can do whatever he wants with it. Also, he's talking about adding something new, and he can also do whatever he wants with that.

What he's asking for is opinions, not permission. I think Matt understands that this would have to be a group effort and that a lot of other people would have to contribute to it, so he's trying to find out if they'll do so. That's completely prudent. But it also doesn't require unanimity -- only quorum.

If Matt wants to take some of the C-listers from MetaFilter and ask them to do additional writing within a separate web page, what is wrong with that? If you don't like it, you could always start your own public forum which has no limits, or invite people you think Matt is neglecting to contribute to a forum of your own.

Get this, and get it straight: You have no rights here. None of us do. What we have is the privilege of using this system which Matt grants us, because he's a nice guy.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:00 PM on May 5, 2001


Hey matt, nice idea..

you mentioned evolt, which kinda suprised me(kinda) and i know i've thrown it out there before, but if you wanna use the code for evolt, you're more than welcome. even though i've been with mefi for a long ass time and never posted a link(i dont really have anything that earth shattering to say after all), this could be a nice thanks for all the help you 've given evolt over the years

i know you're fairly competant in CF and on thesite list, but if you're looking for a quick rollout, the evolt code is fairly good like that since jeff and i have been working on making it useable for others in the past month.

or if you simply want ideas for how to actually write something like that correctly *the first time*, holler :)

again, kudos, hope it works out
posted by djc at 11:27 PM on May 5, 2001


I'm willing to contribute to such an endeavor, if asked.

I think there's room at MetaFilter for both the "publication model" and the "community model" of online forums. The publication model is not inherently inferior; it is merely different. Some of the best forums I've used were explicitly run on a "publication model" -- the moderators were essentially editors and served the job of nudging people back on topic, moving messages from one topic to another when warranted, picking out the best messages for spotlighting, and even deleting messages when that was warranted. Flame wars were stifled within minutes. It was good, so good people paid $6 an hour to participate. Not that that's possible anymore, of course. But I strongly believe there's still room for that model.

I really don't see any reason to criticize Matt for wanting to make a "Salon.com it's okay to like."
posted by kindall at 11:56 PM on May 5, 2001


Joe, just because Matt has nice tasting Kool-Aid doesn't mean you can't go to the supermarket and buy some Kool-aid yourself. I choose to drink Matt's Kool-Aid (as long as there's no grape).

Anyways, this is looking cooler by the minute. Online zine, cool. Be great if this could grow to dead-tree level as well.
posted by owillis at 12:56 AM on May 6, 2001


I'm still debating whether or not to even allow comments on articles. Since they're based on something that was previously discussed, it might be pointless to invite more discussion.

I think these columns are likely to generate new comments, especially when they put a different focus on a subject than the original thread.

This idea reminds me of something the Fort Worth Star-Telegram did with its online newspaper, which began in the early '80s as a BBS-like service. The staff opened up columnist positions to any subscriber who wanted to write, and as a result hundreds of readers contributed to the paper's online edition over the 15 years the program was running. The result was often a lot more lively and personal than the stuff pros were contributing to the paper. It was one of the more gratifying aspects to working for the online paper, and I'm disappointed that no newspapers are doing it today.

The different between that idea and MetaFilter is that we opened up a "column-writing space" to anyone who wanted to write one and published an index of them ordered by date, as opposed to picking specific people to expand their comments into columns.

MetaFocus is likely to be higher quality if the columns are instigated by an editor (or editors), but that's also a lot of work. One other thing to consider -- if Matt picks columns to run as opposed to running all columns, is he at more legal risk if someone libels a company or person?
posted by rcade at 6:41 AM on May 6, 2001


I think the articles themselves are all that need to be included in MetaFocus or whatever it ends up being named. If readers want to comment or start a thread, there is already a good space for that - back on MeFi itself. I think that's one of the more interesting things about the idea - that the MeFi community starts to seed itself. To structure that commentary too much, or to abstract it from the core community space, seems to be less than ideal, since a certain amount of focus could be lost which would possibly blunt the effectiveness of the idea. Commentary on the longer pieces will happen organically, I think - it doesn't necessarily need to be built into the new area.

The obvious exception would be a 1-on-1 debate, which would (eventually, maybe not right away) be an interesting type of long-form content to include in the new section.
posted by mikel at 9:05 AM on May 6, 2001


I think I'll handle the comments feature in a way Derek Powazek and I talked about doing on the ticketstubs site.

When you make an entry as the author, you can choose whether or not to allow comments. You have edit/delete rights on all comments on your thread, and they basically become yours to administer.

I can see the validity of adding new comments, when one point is highlighted that wasn't fleshed out on the thread that sparked the article, but I also want to be careful that this site doesn't dilute the activity on the main site. My hope is that people rush over to the Focus site for a few days after issue launch, read stuff, perhaps leave a comment, then go back to their MetaFilter foraging. Maybe they'd check back on comments a day later, but I'm not going to keep track of last visit status or new comments since last visit, in order to slightly discourage rampant activity over there.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:42 AM on May 6, 2001


Will the articles feature photos or any other kind of illustrations, by the way? Something like how Born Magazine does it would be neat... and I'm sure there are a lot of good artists hanging out here, as well as good writers, who could do it. I myself have illustrated professionally for a magazine myself, for instance, and I'm sure there are others.
posted by frednorman at 11:04 AM on May 6, 2001


This sounds like a great idea, I do think Joe has some points though, he bases them on wrong facts.

This is my opinion, but this should be as much related to metafilter as possible, meaning that submissions shouldn't be taken, eliminating, as Joe has pointed out the gatekeeper part. It's not that I'm say against gatekeeping, but the desire to be included in the ezine would overpower the desire to post great content on mefi. If their focus would turn on mefi, that way people will want to post great things, in hopes of being selected (maybe by other users) to continue the idea as an essay.


posted by tiaka at 2:58 PM on May 6, 2001


I love the idea.

What would be cool for MeFo is if each article had backlinks to related MeFi threads. This'd have to be an exercise left to the author, I imagine; if someone chose to write about the french fry thread, they could dig up links to earlier ones on Fast Food Nation, or the like. That way, discussion is fostered at MeFi on old and new threads alike.

I wouldn't be for comments at MeFo, but if it's up to the author as you've planned, Matt, I'm all for it.

I'd like to see a WAP (maybe Instant WAP?) version for the MeFiFolk who want to read things on the go... or something along those lines.
posted by hijinx at 3:49 PM on May 6, 2001


>>>Ah, but have you shipped them to another continent, the webmistress? :)

lia, no i haven't ;)

but i have an idea. if you can devise a really great cake recipe, email me the list of ingredients and all the directions, and i'll bake it and send it.

together we will, in the cooperative spirit that defines metafilter, bake matt that first elusive cake :)

jo
posted by the webmistress at 7:56 PM on May 6, 2001


just a little accounting:

MeFiFo - Fum! I smell a cake baked by lia's new chum.

MetaFilistines and MeFiFolks.

i think this is a wonderful idea. i would gladly contribute in any way possible.

and thirteen is a boss illustrator.
posted by Sean Meade at 8:26 PM on May 6, 2001


thirteen is a boss illustrator

Agreed, and donkeymon's no slouch either.
posted by sudama at 11:07 PM on May 6, 2001


p2p cake! It's everywhere!
posted by alan at 12:37 AM on May 7, 2001


"Come down to the Big Shark law firm, where we want you to be our chum."
--Colin Mochrie
posted by norm at 7:28 AM on May 7, 2001


This is the Internet. We are all supposed to have a voice.

Absolutely. Agreed one hundred percent.

Speaking of which, Joe, my administrative login to joeclark.org doesn't seem to be working---can you look into it? I have a few posts I've been sitting on for a while now, and my voice is starting to feel stifled here. I know you wouldn't want that.


posted by Sapphireblue at 7:51 AM on May 7, 2001


I think that MetaFocus is a great idea. I should point out, however, that if we have a MeFi and a MeFo, we should really add a MeFee and MeFum to get the whole Jack and the Beanstalk theme working.

But seriously. My opinion is that an online magazine should combine the best features of print magazines with the technological capabilities of the Net. In other words, magazine quality articles that can be published much more quickly.

I favor comments, but not a discussion, on most articles. I don't know whether the current policy is the same, but years ago when I subscribed to Atlantic Monthly, people wrote in with comments, and the author responded once. In this case, giving the author control over the comments space would help ensure limited, on-topic comments.

I'd also favor length limits on articles (I'm aware this may not be a popular suggestion). The limit could vary by topic and type of article, but generally, I find that a limit forces a writer to focus and refine his arguments. And to write better.

I've tried hard, but I can't find much sympathy for joeclark's remarks. This site really is Matt's baby, and it wouldn't work if it weren't. He does a terrific job running it, and he responds well to criticism and different points of view. I find his views on toast unconscionable, but otherwise, if someone has to run a site like this, he's the man.

My worry about Matt's role in all this is that he already does an incredible amount of work around here, and I would hate to see him burn out. I didn't get the impression that he was looking to be an editor. I think we might want to adopt some form of peer editing. If two or three sets of eyes look a piece over, it's much more likely to be clear. And, yes, to avoid misspelled words. I know I'm something of a pest on this matter, but some things (colloquial style or the occasional invented word) are fine in a magazine while others (incorrect spelling and punctuation, and using "less" when you should be using "fewer") are not.
posted by anapestic at 8:29 AM on May 7, 2001


MetaFeed: a site dedicated to p2p cake baking.
MetaFume: We all smell this together!

One thing I'd like were I to write an article would be an editor. Not necessarily Matt, because that would be a lot of work, but someone that could look at my scrawl and say "Rob, you've got a good point here, but then you wander off and talk about crap for 5 whole paragraphs before coming back to this. Shorten or eliminate the tangent."

I'm reasonably certain that there'd be lots of community members (including myself) who'd be more than happy to provide editoral suggestions to people.
posted by cCranium at 10:07 AM on May 7, 2001


Thanks for the kind words, I would love to draw something. Patric King is singlehandedly adding to Wired's page count these days, I can picture something of his next to some text quite easily.
posted by thirteen at 10:47 AM on May 7, 2001


i'm filing sapphireblue's comment under

*i wish i had thought of that*.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
we need to get some matt facts before we do this cake.
allergies, dislikes, favorite flavor, etc.


posted by the webmistress at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2001


I hereby offer my services to anyone who feels they need their piece to be edited before it runs in this new thang o' Matt's. I have done editorial work professionally for three different publications in the computer industry.
posted by kindall at 2:27 PM on May 7, 2001


I, too, have edited professionally, and would be happy to offer my editorial skills to the project.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:36 PM on May 7, 2001


I got here a bit late but let me just say that I love the Metafocus idea, and I'd be happy to help out in any way.

I'm a bit puzzled by joeclark's conception of democratic media. He seems to be conflating democracy with relativism. In a democracy, ideas with the strongest popular support will rise to the top (whereas a relativist would say, perversely, that there is no "top" to rise to in the first place). Defined thus, it seems to me that Metafilter is a clear success story for democratic media. And its success is largely attributable to (a) Matt's hard work and (b) his intuitive understanding of how to run a community site. As a result of (a) and (b), the site has attracted lots of insightful contributors, making it what it is today. Importantly, unlike traditional (nondemocratic, imho) media outlets, money has had no role to play with regard to access, exposure or editorial point of view.

Anyway, the bottom line is that anyone who doesn't like the way Matt runs the site is free to join another community or start their own. To the extent that democracy can be sustained on the internet, poorly run sites will shrink while well run sites like Metafilter will continue to grow. The Metafocus idea, by adding "in house" original content to material hitherto "outsourced" to other outlets, strikes me as a natural and welcome next step. Upward and onward.
posted by johnb at 2:46 PM on May 7, 2001


Anapestic wrote:

I favor comments, but not a discussion, on most articles. I don't know whether the current policy is the same, but years ago when I subscribed to Atlantic Monthly, people wrote in with comments, and the author responded once. In this case, giving the author control over the comments space would help ensure limited, on-topic comments.

I like this a lot... and I see that having a smattering of comments that were responded to (a la "letters to the editor") would keep the interactive focus at MeFi. That said, I would submit that perhaps the _editors_ of the article (or any third party) would be better suited to choosing comments for the author to respond to... that way, there is little temptation to choose only comments that the author has answers to, or is comfortable answering.

Just a thought.
posted by silusGROK at 5:09 PM on May 7, 2001


Gosh, I really ought to get over here to MeTa more often, so many cool things going on . . .

Tamim and Aladfar are complete unknowns to me. They exist as usernames in a database of thousands, but they know their shit, and I'd like to see them talk more about it.

Wow, thanks Matt, I'm honored. The idea of MeFo is compelling. While I haven't had time to go through all of the comments yet, I'd be honored to be involved should the opportunity arise.
posted by aladfar at 1:02 AM on May 8, 2001


That said, I would submit that perhaps the _editors_ of the article (or any third party) would be better suited to choosing comments for the author to respond to... that way, there is little temptation to choose only comments that the author has answers to, or is comfortable answering.

I think makes a lot of sense, Vis10n. I certainly don't think authors should be able to duck the tough questions. I just want to avoid pissing matches. A third party can ensure that the same issue isn't raised in a comment more than once and that comments only deal with the original article, rather than with answers to previous comments, without giving the author a free ride.

posted by anapestic at 8:07 AM on May 8, 2001


Exactly, anapestic... and if the comment period is close-ended, that should also function to keep the dialogue meaningful, as the attention of the editors and writer(s) would be focused and not unduly taxed.
posted by silusGROK at 8:36 AM on May 8, 2001


www.meta-focus.com is still available. I know it isn't as pure with the hyphen tho.

I think I scared lia away with all my talk of cakes ;)

-=jo
posted by the webmistress at 10:04 AM on May 8, 2001


Nope, I was just busy scrolling down 1142, which gets even more impossibly long every time I visit. I'll try and find a suitable recipe for, um, p2p cake and try it out this week, the webmistress. Hey mathowie, do you or Kay have any food allergies?
posted by lia at 10:46 AM on May 8, 2001


I'd just like to thank Joe Clark for being more pessimistic than I normally am. =) People used to give me a hard time for being the rain on everyone's parade. In this case, I think Clark's concerns are largely unfounded. This is NOT our site. Matt made it. He invited us to come and play in his sandbox, but it is ultimately his toy that he shares with the world. The fact he's asking for opinions and is aware that no man is an island is to his credit.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2001


I think metafocus.metafilter.com is the obvious hostname anyway. I think Matt can swing that.
posted by rodii at 7:27 AM on May 9, 2001


I think it sounds like a great idea. Keep me in mind if you need editors, Matt.
posted by skinner at 2:40 PM on May 9, 2001


I'm up for any "highly-paid prima donna" slots that come open.
posted by rodii at 4:28 PM on May 9, 2001


I think a stand-alone url would be a good thing. The concept lends itself to non mefi-ers visiting to read the "articles" or whatever the format would be. Being able to say "Check out the latest at whatever.com" versus "Go to MetaFilter and click on MetaFocus to read this cool thing" seems handy to me...maybe I'm just lazy.

(spell check suggested Nectarous for MetaFocus)
posted by modofo at 4:31 PM on May 9, 2001


I feel like I'm late to the parade, but I think it's a fantastic idea; I'm constantly overwhelmed with the amount that you (Matt) do to make sure that MF is recognized as a community endeavor.

And, to answer the "if asked, would you" question -- of course.
posted by delfuego at 8:31 PM on May 9, 2001


If some one is not specifically asked to write an article, would submissions be considered?
posted by jennyb at 8:56 PM on May 9, 2001


I like the idea okay, but have you considered other mediums? Online is fine, but the first image I conjured up was of a very slick printed piece, an actual Metafilter magazine. This would certainly be hard to start up but I think it would be rewarding
posted by corpse at 9:05 PM on May 9, 2001


jennyb - I'm still considering how to go about things. I figured I'd start out asking people, and see how much material that creates, then go to a submission model with a combination of invites.

corpse - I'd *love* to do this in printed form, but I've never even made a xerox paper zine, much less a full color magazine. I don't know the first thing about printing costs, printing limits, distribution, etc. I figured maybe I could do it online-only for a few months, and have someone with print experience or connections see it and offer to help put it on dead trees.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:45 PM on May 9, 2001


I don't recommend going to printed format and kill trees for this. It becomes a very expensive hobby. Even a small press with no more than a few hundred to a thousand copies made with home-grown distribution just doesn't cut it. You can't even break even and cover costs. Only if you were able to churn out a glossy professional product or work with a major magazine publisher and distributor would it be even remotely plausible.

It'll be online. If someone wants to print it out let them use their own ink and equiptment. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 4:39 AM on May 10, 2001


modofo, you wouldn't have to tell people to click a link to get to metafocus.metafilter.com, people could go straight to it.

I think having it under the metafilter.com umbrella strengthens it's link to MeFi, and that's not a bad thing at all.
posted by cCranium at 7:07 AM on May 10, 2001


I'd volunteer my services as a tech editor for technology-related articles. I'm no slouch at standard grammar, either, but people seem to already have those bases covered. Maybe, depending on the publishing system Matt uses, MeFiFo could have a PDF or eBook or Reader version for luddites and/or bathroom readers.
posted by anildash at 10:42 AM on May 10, 2001


If you're not looking to actually make money from it, post a PDF version that people can print out and leave copies at their local independent bookstores and whatnot.
posted by kindall at 10:19 PM on May 10, 2001


I would be interested in a project like this, if you are still looking for writers....my book deal is dead, and I am aching to write something I would actually enjoy, for a change.

In my writing career, I have always been interested in ligning myself with the most obvious Elitist, Kingmakers, and their undemocratic media. :)
posted by kristin at 9:01 AM on May 11, 2001


I think it's a great idea. I'll help anyway I can.

how often would you publish?

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2001


I would love to help also, although being not quite as illustrious as other posters I would quite understand if you didn't. This has got me really excited. Why didn't I know about MeFi as soon as I went on the web? Who didn't tell me. I demand to know! I've missed so much...
posted by nedrichards at 3:21 PM on May 11, 2001


So long we all are volunteering skills, if you do decide to go the print route, I can lay it out in PageMaker, InDesign, QuarkXPress, in both PC and MAC, and WordPerfect in Linux. [I have never been picky about tools. It's all good.]
posted by tamim at 8:31 PM on May 11, 2001


Kindall wrote:
"If you're not looking to actually make money from it, post a PDF version that people can print out and leave copies at
their local independent bookstores and whatnot."

If the PDF version is made available, I am very willing to distribute. I'll place it right next to this and this. I love grassroots printing and distributing!

Jason
posted by JDC8 at 9:52 PM on May 11, 2001


Like it? Yes?

Write for it? Absolutely

Know what I'd write? I certainly have some ideas, but would be up for anything. I know I have some strong and well formed opinions on the whole dotcom thing, privacy issues, open/closed software, coffee, the adoption of Hawaiian shirts as the national fashion and the evils of ______-filled doughnuts.

Name? This made me think of Metasandbox.com... Hehe

Print? Matt, I think Zach is right. Print means you have to deal with advertising to break even and dealing with getting advertsiers really sucks. I'd only do it if you really know what your in for, which, by your own admission, it doesn't sound like you do. As this thing grows, I can't imagine that it would be hard to get the best picece each month bundled in with some existing magazine. Either you can pick or perhaps a community vote will decide it.

Rebecca asked about frequency. I'd like to see one story per week to start, religiously delievered on the same day . If they are longish and thought provoking, it might be all I could handle. As it grows then maybe once per day, but then I'd certainly have to filter what I read...
posted by fooljay at 11:53 AM on May 13, 2001


The logistics of publishing anything of substantial complexity weekly on a strict schedule can be nightmarish. It's real easy for to not have anything to publish when your deadline rolls around, especially when people aren't being paid for their contributions.

I'd suggest aiming for three or four articles on a monthly basis, to start with. Increase the number of articles per issue when it's practical. At first it sounds like it'd be the same amount of headache since it's the same number of articles, but in fact it's not...
posted by kindall at 11:43 PM on May 13, 2001


If you want to go dead-tree, perhaps you could first make it a printable PDF and make it subscription/mail only if it seems to warrant that. I think just among the group here could cover a printing costs for a subscriber list - then we could evangelize it to people. Thinking out loud...
posted by owillis at 8:17 PM on May 14, 2001


"me too" thinks the idea is great : )
posted by Tara at 2:26 AM on June 11, 2001


A great benefit of this will be the quiet tug on all of us to improve our rhetoric.

Wha?--that quiet tug blew out my eardrums.

But, I heard that. Iwould sign up for the MetaDoofus editorial position. Under the tag Trampledcorpse. If you could Elimidate the teeming horde of competitors.


posted by y2karl at 8:01 AM on November 12, 2001


feelinginspiredagain
posted by feelinglistless at 10:16 AM on November 12, 2001


For archives' sake, this plan did not immediately come to fruition (the victim of an inevitable MeTaScroll, methinks), but it was discussed again in November of 2001, and we are actively pursuing the project now, in June 2002.
posted by Marquis at 12:58 PM on June 13, 2002


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