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Plea for editorial discretion when deleting AskMe comments
February 19, 2005 8:45 AM   Subscribe

YA plea for editorial discretion/benevolent neglect. [greater within]
posted by kenko to Feature Requests at 8:45 AM (90 comments total)

My immediate prompt is the deletion of some of Pretty_Generic's comments from Kwantsar's most recent AskMe post (to one of which this comment is an undeleted response), and the discussion in the Cat Fight Club rules metatalk thread.

It's clear that AskMe is useful insofar as the questions asked actually get answered, and the rule at the bottom of every page--"Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Wisecracks don't help people find answers. Thanks."--is clearly a good one. But there's rules and there's rules, y'know? I would like to suggest that there can be comments that are obviously of no help in finding an answer, that are, if not necessarily wisecracks (a word which to me carries a negative connotation) but are jokey or otherwise off-topic, but which nevertheless do not merit deletion. Pretty_Generic's first comment in Kwantsar's thread was a single sentence (IIRC) about Kwantsar's boldness in posting nymously overshadowing his own. Not of help in finding an answer, but it didn't affect the rest of the thread. Similarly with the Cat Fight Club rules. Those comments were not disrupting the threads.

Now, I'm not suggesting that it be the official policy to allow off-topic or jokey posts in AskMe. I think that, giving the impossibility of articulating what's an acceptable off-topic comment, and the impracticality of stating outright that borderline cases will be given the benefit of the doubt, or something like that (since official recognition of the border only has the effect of expanding the border), the rule as it stands--absolutely no off-topic comments, absolutely no snarks, no wisecracks--should be preserved as it is. I just think it more discretion should come into play in actually enforcing it. Pretty please?

(All the more so since even a comment which seems non-serious or like a wisecrack may have been intended sincerely.)
posted by kenko at 8:45 AM on February 19, 2005


Just as a general comment, I much prefer it around here when the touch is light; all the closed threads/deleted comments stuff seriously rubs me the wrong way.
posted by mdn at 8:52 AM on February 19, 2005


"YA"? Whatchamean?
posted by mischief at 8:53 AM on February 19, 2005


Yet Another.
posted by kenko at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2005


I second kenko, mdn, and plenty of others.
posted by odinsdream at 9:02 AM on February 19, 2005


Does it occur to you that anything that begins with "yet another" has already been said many times? Why do we need another thread full of the same people saying the same things?
posted by anapestic at 9:05 AM on February 19, 2005


How many times to we have to go over this ground?

Why is so bloody hard to stay on topic?

There have been a number of times I wanted to post something jokey to Askme, and you know what? Between typing it out, hitting preview, and hitting post, I somehow managed to stop myself.

Why is it too much to ask that one part of metafilter not be destroyed by jokes, attacks, and snide remarks?

I usually roll my eyes when someone makes a "slippery slope" argument, but when it comes to Mefi, it has proven to be true. If a few news posts pass, it get's picked up and becomes a normal part of the site. If people are allowed to become abusive once or twice, it's suddenly a free-speech issue. If a couple of meta threads get filled with jokes, again, it becomes a regular part of the culture. And the thing is, it's nice that exceptional news events were allowed through, or an important argument, or a good joke--but the example encourages imitation, and over time so much noise develops that there's no more signal worth digging for.

You're saying a few jokes won't ruin Askme. History has already proven you wrong, unless you want Askme to become an exercise in wading through off-topic crap to get to actual answers. Personally, I'll be very sad if that day comes.
posted by frykitty at 9:16 AM on February 19, 2005


I'll also point out that this very same discussion is still going on in the thread about the Cat Fight Club rules deletion. That thread just now vanished from the front page, but only because of four or five (at least) extremely weak MeTa posts pushing it off.
posted by anapestic at 9:18 AM on February 19, 2005


I completely agree with kenko and mdn.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:24 AM on February 19, 2005


Why do we need another thread full of the same people saying the same things?

To those of us for whom this is an important issue, it's hard to just stand by and let things go on without voicing opinions. If our opinions are in the minority, or if it turns out not to matter much whether we're a minority or a majority, then we will probably just fall away and metafilter will go on, in its new direction, without us or with less input from us, the way users fall away all the time.

It just seems like over the last few months, a lot has changed, and many consistent posters have faded out. If things keep going as they are, even more of us will probably show up less & less.

Why is it too much to ask that one part of metafilter not be destroyed by jokes, attacks, and snide remarks?

well, it all comes down to disparate visions, I guess. I don't see how a few jokes "destroy" askme. To me, it is much more destructive to return to a thread and find several innocuous comments mysteriously gone; it impedes the organic, conversational nature of the site, and just feels creepy.
posted by mdn at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2005


You're saying a few jokes won't ruin Askme. History has already proven you wrong

For this statement to be true, it would have to be the case that every question in askme in which a joke has been made in the comments has been ruined. You'll forgive me for being skeptical.
posted by kenko at 10:09 AM on February 19, 2005


Censorship sucks. If I post something stupid, I deserve the heat I get. I don't deserve to have someone else clean up my mistakes for me. The "posted by" line means that my statement reflects on me, not Metafilter as a whole. [FN2]

And what everyone else said, &c, &c. Further thoughts:

(1) I think that Matt is taking too seriously the idea of Ask Metafilter as a valuable resource in archived form. For example, he thinks that if I have an IPod question a year from now, I should be able to search the archives and find my "answer." In theory, this is great. In practice, nobody does this. The value of AskMe, to me, is the conversation that proceeds from the question. These threads lose much of their value after they have scrolled off the main page. Precisely because I try to read threads in "real time," deletions and changes are disruptive and distracting. This may be my own unique spin on why I don't like the editorial hand, or it may be something that lots of others have articulated or want to articulate, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

(2) I continue to strenuously object to the "closed thread" approach, because it allows mathowie ultimate control as to when an issue raised on Metatalk is "resolved." In practice, mathowie closes the thread after he has the last word on the subject. I find this especially distasteful; there have been numerous times where I disagreed with (or was merely confused by) the premise on which he resolved the issue raised by the original poster. The Suicide Girls incident is a prime example: closing the thread after agreeing to take down the ad was an abuse of editorial discretion because many of the concerns raised in that thread went ignored and were certainly not mooted by the removal of the ads.

(3) Silly jokes are nonsubstantive contributions to the site, to be sure. But they are not ghastly abominations. If we are supposed to keep to the straight and narrow here, then we should be able to attend business meetings and social functions without having to make banal comments about the weather. Small talk is part of the reality of life; as Mefites, we can't totally divorce ourselves from "IRL" concepts.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:33 AM on February 19, 2005


Sorry about the stray footnote. I should have cleaned that up in layout.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:34 AM on February 19, 2005


I'm with mdn, et. al.
posted by spaghetti at 10:48 AM on February 19, 2005


I think that Matt is taking too seriously the idea of Ask Metafilter as a valuable resource in archived form. For example, he thinks that if I have an IPod question a year from now, I should be able to search the archives and find my "answer." In theory, this is great. In practice, nobody does this.

I do this. I also bookmark useful threads for future reference.

Also, what frykitty said.
posted by jeffmshaw at 10:52 AM on February 19, 2005


Why do we need another thread full of the same people saying the same things?

In case it hasn't been made clear in the other answers that came after this question: Because it is still going on.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:54 AM on February 19, 2005


Deletions wouldn't be necessary if people followed the posting guidelines in the first place. You do not have a right to say or write whatever you please wherever you like. Censorship is saying that something can't be said anywhere; editing is saying that it won't be said here. I don't understand the mentality that feels that once something has been posted here it's suddenly holy and inviolable, especially when that thing contravenes the published guidelines. Perhaps the no-censorship-ever crowd would feel better if all submissions had to be vetted before they got posted. Would that drive home the point that this space doesn't belong to you and that if you want to participate here, you should follow the rules?

In case it hasn't been made clear in the other answers that came after this question: Because it is still going on.

And do you really think you can stop it by continued whining? That is the mentality of a spoiled child. The belief that there should be no moderation, or even that the current moderation is excessive, is far from universal here. You've made your point, and then you've made it again, and then you've made it six more times, and your view didn't carry the day. Leave well enough alone.
posted by anapestic at 11:01 AM on February 19, 2005


I agree that the increasing comment deletions have gone from confusing to bothersome to just plain creepy. Aside from some extreme cases, I'd much rather see the poster removed (or otherwise dealt with) than the post.

This doesn't mean that off-topic comments are appropriate in AskMe; I don't think they are. However, now that questions can be marked as answered, I'm not sure any harm can be claimed from less-than on-point comments after the question has been marked as answered.
posted by obloquy at 11:01 AM on February 19, 2005


I'm with mdn et al as well. I'd like to add that there is a connection between this sort of argument and the fact that new user signups are still on.

If anyone can join (or rejoin, or multi-join) at any time, then the level of personal accountability goes down, the meaning of 'community' becomes less clear, and naturally there are going to be more people abusing the system. That means that the admin(s) are going to be motivated to crack down harder and with more sweeping gestures. Since those who get cracked down upon can either re-join or were short-timers to begin with, the cracking down accomplishes very little in the long term. More new people who don't know, or don't care about, both the official rules and the history that comes with them, will join, break the rules, get their comments deleted, not know why (or not care), not spend much time in metatalk because they feel no personal connection to the site, and leave (or rejoin).

mathowie has said that he's looking for a way to live off of metafilter full-time. While that is no doubt a goal worth pursuing, I would like to suggest that leaving memberships on is not the way to go. I for one would pay a periodic membership fee in order to keep the doors closed the majority of the time.

Keeping membership relatively stable and quantifiable is the only way for meta callouts to be effective. I thought that's what the 'meta' in 'metafilter' referred to. This is/was a self-policing community. Standards used to get enforced not because offenders were banned (mostly), but because they felt so much pressure from the community to change that they either changed, or quit (and/or the community made a sort of collective decision over time that their contributions were worth their flaws, and they were accommodated anyway). All this is what was so cool about metafilter when I first found it.

If anyone can join, or rejoin, or multi-join, then none of the rules or callouts mean anything anyway.
posted by bingo at 11:13 AM on February 19, 2005


I'm just going to give my completely subjective feeling about this: The deleted and closed threads thing, for me, is like going to someone's home where all the furniture is covered with plastic protectors. I just don't feel comfortable there, and wouldn't want to hang out.

Another feeling I'm getting is like browsing in a shop, when suddenly you realize that you are being carefully watched because it seems that for some reason the salesperson appears to think you're going to steal something.

These are just my personal impressions. I understand that it's very difficult to deal with this many people, and that no matter what choices Matt makes somebody will be critical, so I can empathise. For me, though, a "nanny-site" is just never going to be a good fit.
posted by taz at 11:18 AM on February 19, 2005


I like the jokes. I miss the jokes when they're gone. I spent several years unable to sign up for an account and the fact that all aspects of Mefi included so many different types of posts and responses is precisely what kept me as a regular reader.

The Mefiverse is useful, but it is also many other things. It is the fact that this community has so many different sides–that we can laugh with each other, fight with each other, help each other–that makes this place so great for so many of us.

Things are different now than when I was merely an observer. While there have been many discussions about how things are different, I'm not sure anyone has really hit on the fact that the community has changed. Things are not the way they were before the election and sign-ups, and they will probably never be that way again.

These changes are difficult and there are a lot of people grumbling about a lot of things, Matt included. We just have to figure out our new dynamic here, and get back into a flow. As we work out the kinks, I'm sure Matt & Jess will be doing less moderation and more of the behind the scenes stuff. When all of us show Matt that we're not pushing this place in an awful direction, he'll probably stop trying to steer the ship so much.

So be good for now, stick to the rules and don't be a jerk. Most of us have been involved with this place in one way or another for quite a while and this stuff will pass.
posted by spaghetti at 11:20 AM on February 19, 2005


You've made your point, and then you've made it again, and then you've made it six more times

pot, kettle...just sayin'

...and what taz and others have said.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:26 AM on February 19, 2005


Shoot, I'll add a voice to the small contingent that appreciates threads that are pruned to be on topic in AskMeTa. It says right there as you post, "Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer." Jokes and snarks are amusing, and also outside the scope of what AskMeTa is for.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:55 AM on February 19, 2005


Hmmm.

It strikes me that those who find the new, more visible moderation creepy (people like mdn, taz, madamjujujive) are also posters who contribute at a high level and whose comments would rarely if ever get deleted.

The tougher moderation makes me a bit uncomfortable too. The best analogy is that of being at a large party. You are talking in a small circle of people. Someone in the circle says something stupid, inoffensive or inappropriate. Now imagine that at that moment the party host swoops in and says "Oh please excuse me. I dont want that kind of discourse at my party" and then leads that person away.

The immediate reaction is one of "yes that was stupid. But, thank you, we can take care of ourselves. We are capable of dealing with or ignoring this person"

I'll admit that at times I love it when jessamyn or matt deletes a particularly egregious comment. But on the other hand it needs to be kept light otherwise the impression is that we are being babied and are incapable of dealing with this ourselves, of having a social solution to the problem.

Too heavy a hand makes it feel that ask.me is not "ours" really but is being prettied up for somebody else, that "community" does not belong there.
posted by vacapinta at 12:04 PM on February 19, 2005


If I knew the editorial review process was going to become so rampant, I never would have donated 5 bucks to this effort. I agree with taz and Saucy Intruder particularly.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 12:09 PM on February 19, 2005


Too heavy a hand makes it feel that ask.me is not "ours" really but is being prettied up for somebody else, that "community" does not belong there.

I agree; it's as if the site is being groomed to be more utile and accessible to non-members at the expense of members' autonomy and community.
posted by obloquy at 12:12 PM on February 19, 2005


It seems we've been hearing many people say that they avoid MetaFilter and have migrated to Ask MetaFilter because it lacks the snark, pointless arguments and general ugliness we often see in the blue. I have to wonder if they still want the chattiness of MetaFilter in Ask MetaFilter because they miss being able to yak and Ask MetaFilter is a safe place to do so, despite the fact that it's not the point of the site. Even the loudest assholes in MetaFilter are usually somewhat more civilised when posting in Ask MetaFilter.

I understand this feeling to a degree, but I have to disagree strongly with Saucy Intruder who said that no one uses Ask MetaFilter as a serious reference tool. I use it all the time for this purpose. The answers might not always possess scientific accuracy, but they're often enough to point me in the right direction. I admire Matt's vision for the site and don't mind his clearing of the cruft.

MetaFilter is the where the babble and jokes and sermons go. Ask MetaFilter is an extension of MetaFilter. If it wasn't, it wouldn't have the name 'MetaFilter' attached to it. Call me unsentimental, but there are a million chatty internet communities out there and frankly it's a lot more worthwhile an endeavour to try and make something useful out of one in a million, rather than let it be diluted with blather like so many others.
posted by picea at 12:17 PM on February 19, 2005


In another thread Jess pointed out that we've effectively gone from having half a moderator to having two. That's the basic problem, I think. We're not used to moderation here.

Even though oldMeFi was a lightly moderated place it was still decent and worthwhile. Was there any crying need for rampant moderation and deletion? Arguably there was during the election, but we survived that almost intact.

Yet, regardless, without there being any "more deletions! more moderation!" calls we now have two people stalking the threads, ever ready to remove a comment or reshape a discussion nearer to their hearts' desire.

The reason this keeps coming up, anapestic, is that while none of us are forced to stay here, we liked what we had before. AskMe stayed generally on topic, MeTa sometimes rambled and the blue was the blue. If we're forced to leave by leaden and humorless editing, we'll be unhappy and may not find a site that captures what oldMeFi had. This makes us sad. So we're grousing about it.
posted by bonaldi at 12:18 PM on February 19, 2005


I suppose I shouldn't have asked why people keep complaining when I know why you're grousing. I am probably guilty of a rhetorical question when I should have just said "please cut it out." Regardless, I get what people are upset about. But what I also get is that even before I joined MeFi, people were missing what MeFi had once been. The sprawling unmoderated mess is merely one of the later incarnations of something that used to be much friendlier and much less loud.

I believe this is what frykitty (who's been here longer than I have) was referring to. When newsfilter started, people didn't like it, but nobody really stepped in to stem the tide, and it became the norm here. What was once really a best-of-the-web site turned into a political discussion site, one that was often not very polite.

People can and still do joke a lot in MetaFilter proper and in MetaTalk. I do it myself from time to time, but I don't do it in AskMetaFilter because the rules are not to do it. When you insist on leaving everything that's posted up and turn AskMe into another version of MeFi or MeTa, you are making over the whole site into what you think it ought to be, but you are crowding out the people who disagree and who used to enjoy this site when it was something very different. The difference is that those people, for the most part, leave quietly instead of whining.

I'm not sure the party analogy is apt here. You only invite people you like to a party to begin with, and if someone's abusive, you ask them to leave, or you put up with them for the evening, but you don't invite them again. It's not a question of whether your guests can take care of themselves, but of your responsibilities as a host and of not wanting such people in your house. That options's not especially possible here without large-scale banning, and you should here the kvetching when even the most obnoxious posters get banned.

Anyway, grouse away if you must, but please keep in mind that when this thread was started, there was another open thread on the front page, with people still grousing about the same thing. Some of those same people are posting the same things again in here. Is the complaint any more valid just because it's in a different thread? There are probably a lot of worthwhile things to discuss about MeFi these days, but all of those things get crowded off by pointless MeTa threads.

And, yes, I'm guilty of restating my position ad nauseam, too, but at least I'm not starting new threads about it all the time. People seem to get the idea that the more loudly they complain, the more people will listen to them. That's what I meant about the "spoiled child" mentality. I have children, and when they whine, I just tune them out. When they were younger, I sometimes had to tune them out for a long time, and sometimes I just said "don't whine," and after a while, they got the idea. If they don't agree with me, they will still give me a hell of an argument sometimes, but they don't keep repeating the same old things once I've made a decision.
posted by anapestic at 12:38 PM on February 19, 2005


The idea (alluded to here) that multiple similar answers will be deleted really bothers me. The more people that say the same thing, the more I or anyone else would know that answer works. Why stifle that?

AskMeFi was my favorite part of the site. It is becoming less enjoyable every day, between the deletions and the "best answers". These do not feel community-enhancing, but often community-detracting. I want AskMeFi to be useful, of course! but I don't want it to be a machine picking our collective brains. I am compelled to post to be helpful to the person asking a question and to contribute to the community, not to get gold stars in a database.

The deletions feel very arbitrary. There are only two real guidelines ("try to ask a real question, not a polling/chat question" and "try to limit your comments to answering the question, not cracking wise") yet both have been violated numerous times without reaction - or even praised by the admins themselves. That was okay when deletions were saved for the most extreme cases. It's not okay when every hint of "crossing the line" - a constantly shifting line - is being pruned.

I censor myself quite heavily before posting anything. Most of the time I just decide not to post. The possibility of a community smack-down or nitpicker sniping is already daunting enough without worrying about administrative whim. Guidelines are friendly and make us equals working together; enforcing invisible rules do not (where does it say "we will delete any comment that is not an answer"?). At least giving us a list of rules would be honest, and less nailbiting or occasion for argument when the moderation swoops in.
posted by Melinika at 12:44 PM on February 19, 2005


You are making over the whole site into what you think it ought to be

Isn't that the crux of this? It used to be that we all decided what the site ought to be, here in MeTa. It was widely acknowledged in the early days of AskMe that snarking and wisecracking wouldn't be useful, there were callouts of the worst examples, the warning was added to the comment box ... job done.

Now, people who agree with and respect the behave-in-AskMe creed are complaining about deletions because they're excessive and humourless. They've gone beyond what the community originally decided.

Effectively, Matt and Jess are "making over the site into what they think it should be". It used to be, pretty much, in the community's control -- with Matt as casting vote -- and now it isn't.

These threads keep coming up because this a hot button issue and I don't think it's been effectively addressed yet. We've had three or four threads on it, but the Matt and Jess responses have all been about specific issues or particular complaints. As far as I can tell, Matt hasn't even acknowledged the new direction that's obvious to everyone else. There hasn't been a wideranging and nonspecific discussion about the site's new direction and what we think of it. Judging from responses in the threads, the "we're not convinced by the deletions but maybe Matt knows best" crowd are very, very crowded out by the "woah, steady!" lot. There are so few posts absolutely approving that they're statistically insignificant.

Oh, yes: the people who are "crowded out" have as much right to a MeTa post as the rest of us.
posted by bonaldi at 12:54 PM on February 19, 2005


I'll admit that at times I love it when jessamyn or matt deletes a particularly egregious comment.
Others of us wonder why some egregious comments stay and others go--we don't see rhyme or reason in it.
posted by amberglow at 12:54 PM on February 19, 2005


anapestic, the open MetaTalk thread you reference with much of the same grousing didn't start out specific to the topic of deletions, as this one did-- it only asked for a copy of a deleted post. Perhaps the same points are not more valid in this thread, but they are more appropriate.
posted by obloquy at 12:55 PM on February 19, 2005


But what I also get is that even before I joined MeFi, people were missing what MeFi had once been.

see, right there, that's mythology. apparently people were missing "what MeFi had been" on day 2, sometime in 1999.
posted by quonsar at 12:56 PM on February 19, 2005


People seem to get the idea that the more loudly they complain, the more people will listen to them. That's what I meant about the "spoiled child" mentality.

It's a bad analogy. The truth is that most of the time, adults who complain get listened to. They may not get what they want, but it's much more likely to happen than if they keep silent. I hope for your children's sake that the whining you ignore consistently is not over anything legitimate. But if you start to notice that you're hearing exactly the same complaint over and over for month after month, on a daily basis, and the child complaining is consistently unaffected in this regard by both punishment and indifference, it may begin to ever so gradually dawn on you that the child might be complaining for a good reason.

We are not a bunch of 'whiny' kids upset because we can't bring our magic markers to bed with us. We are adults with specific and rational greivances. The goal is not to get your attention or a hug, the goal is to get the problem solved.
posted by bingo at 1:06 PM on February 19, 2005


Now, people who agree with and respect the behave-in-AskMe creed are complaining about deletions because they're excessive and humourless.

I think this is worth pulling out even beyond the bolding (er, stronging) bonaldi already applied.

Remember, Ask Metafilter is your all-purpose smartest friend, not your all-purpose best reference desk at the library. I hasten to add that the library reference isn't meant to be a dig at jessamyn; it's just a reference to the air of extra-seriousness that seems to be part of AskMe lately--no talking, people are trying to get work done in here.
posted by kenko at 1:22 PM on February 19, 2005


The other day I posted a question about how contagious colds and flus are, and for how long. The first batch of answers I got basically amounted to "very contagious for quite a while." I posted a sort of "thanks for the answers" type comment, which said:

"So, I guess it's all bad news, huh?"

The next morning I get email from Jessamyn, saying she deleted my comment. Apparently, she killed it before realizing that it was indeed me commenting in my own question. Apparently, that would have been okay with her, because she invited me to come re-submit the comment if I wanted.

This was no big skin off my nose, but it does go to show how trigger-happy the admin policy is around here. I also found it vaguely incompetent that there is no way to undo a mistaken deletion.

I just can't shake the feeling that this place is being groomed for sale.
posted by scarabic at 2:00 PM on February 19, 2005


There hasn't been a wideranging and nonspecific discussion about the site's new direction and what we think of it.

Honestly I think that's because Matt doesn't know what he thinks of it either. Several comments in this thread indicate that he continues to just make a series of judgement calls on-demand, has no formal strategies for admin, and isn't interested in talking about it.
posted by scarabic at 2:07 PM on February 19, 2005


I use AskMetafilter a lot, and agree with just about everything Melinka said. I'm a bit more ambivalent than she about the best answer feature; there are some threads where it's obviously on point, others where it's not.

I have a lot of sympathy for Matt and Jessamyn; there are many, many instances where it's tough to discern pointless meanness from a lighthearted joke. And there can be a lot of pointless meanness and threads that turn into dogpiles and insultfests, especially here in MetaTalk. This is as good a time as any to thank taz for alll the many times she's intervened in such a thread to advocate for proportion and basic civility. That's the kind of self-policing that's invaluable, and I'd hate to see that kind of natural self-correction fade away in favor of heavy-handed moderation. But ultimately, if we don't put the kibosh on that sort of thing ourselves, and stop trying to justify pure asshatism in a callout or question we dislike in the name of teaching someone a lesson or letting off some steam, we're forcing Matt and Jessamyn into that heavy-handed role. Sucks for them, and for us.
posted by melissa may at 2:15 PM on February 19, 2005


Wow, scarabic, that's insane. Not just that your own comment was deleted, but that such an innocuous comment was deleted at all.
posted by kenko at 2:17 PM on February 19, 2005


Yeah. Whacked.

I do think it's worth noting that we, as a community, are sending the two of them incredibly mixed signals. On the one hand, there are daily cries for a return to the light touch of yesteryear. On the other, people are freaking over and calling one another (or even themselves) out for punctuation mistakes, very mild banter, and even using features as designed.

Maybe if we back away from whinge-happy freakouts over every little fart and tremble, we won't be iron-fisted around so much.
posted by scarabic at 2:46 PM on February 19, 2005


Now, people who agree with and respect the behave-in-AskMe creed are complaining about deletions because they're excessive and humourless. They've gone beyond what the community originally decided.

I agree with this so much that I'll highlight it too. Good, solid, long-time contributors to this community are increasingly aware that the moderating style around here has become arbitrary at best, and downright mercurial and heavy-handed at worst. Such moderation is not the solution to problems like this, which is part of what I'm assuming is driving (at least in part) the recent spate of deletions.

The type of self-policing that Melissa May refers to above, I believe, is still a viable possibility/solution the vast majority of the time -- but now, the pruning shears seem to be brought out more and more as a first line of defense, rather than a back-up resort. (I'm not referring to egregious trolling, of course, which I'm fine with being nipped in the bud.)

Scarabic's anecdote is a good illustration of how increasingly trigger-happy many of these deletions are. I, too, feel like I've always tried to be genuinely sympathetic and supportive of the herculean task of moderating this site, but shit like deleting scarabic's own comment (and an innocuous one at that) in his own thread evidently without even noticing the context is pretty indefensible. Delete now, ask questions later? Come on. Most of us are still grown-ups around here; I think we'd like to still be treated that way.
posted by scody at 3:10 PM on February 19, 2005


Perhaps we need to get Jess and Matt to agree not to delete comments unless two people or more complain. All this jumping in and deleting stuff that nobody is complaining about-- that indeed people find completely inoffensive-- is what is making us crabby.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:15 PM on February 19, 2005


One thing we might consider is for one member to start documenting this sort of needless deletion so that we can present overwhelming evidence that there is too much of it going on. (I was going to say: so that we prove Jessamyn is too trigger happy but I am really uncomfortable in what would appear to be a witch hunt.)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:19 PM on February 19, 2005


we need to get Jess and Matt to agree not to delete comments unless two people or more complain

Most admins for large community sites don't just poke around their site and read it, they work on a queue of things that have been *flagged* for them. There's way too much here for M&J to read everything and delete everything bad. This is why their treatment of the site is so inconsistent overall. They simply can't read it all, so how can they treat it all effectively?

It isn't difficult to add a "flag this for an admin" entry field or button, and it would spare them the hurculean first-pass over everything. Honestly, nothing objectionable is going to get by without being flagged by somebody around here (at a minimum, the thread/question poster). If something does go by without being flagged by anybody as objectionable, then maybe it isn't, in fact, objectionable. If such a flagging queue could incorporate more than one flag per problem comment/thread, then we'd begin to see something like democracy reflected in the admin queue. If I were in their position in such a system, I'd be very trigger happy with comments that had 175 flags.
posted by scarabic at 3:27 PM on February 19, 2005


I'm nodding my head vigorously in agreement over here, especially with Saucy Intruder.

I'm also absolutely floored at scarabic's story.

WHAT.
THE.
FUCK.
JESSAMYN?

Secret Life of Gravy - What if we use the wiki for documenting Jessamyn's deletions?
posted by bshort at 3:37 PM on February 19, 2005


I'd like to mention that a few times [in response to rushmc's frequent calls for "guidelines, any guidelines!" before he took a hiatus] I've invited people to work with me on actually working on some guideline-type lists for the Wiki, I've gotten absolutely no takers. Here are the balances that I try to make, based on requests that I've gotten:

- more slack vs. less chattiness/jokiness in AskMe
- more hard and fast rules vs. a more laissez-faire attitude [arbitrary deletions yes or no? understandable but disagreeable deletions yes or no? judgement calls on deletions yes or no?]
- more consistent moderation vs. a return to hit-or-miss moderating [complaining about a double post being up for eight hours, or a chatfilter askme post says to me "more moderation please" for example]
- more tolerance vs. more freedom [i.e. kill the rape haiku and retard jokes or not]
- more accountability within threads vs. more accountability to moderators [in a delete/ban sort of way]

People come down strongly on both sides of all of these questions. I've gotten some really nasty email, and I'm not used to the sudden "we hate what you are doing!" popularity. scarabic, that delete was an accident, as I told you, and I emailed you as soon as I realized it. I know it doesn't necessarily solve anyone's problems to say "yeah I'm listening to you" but barring going down to the pub together to hoist a few, there's no easy way to smooth things over for everyone. I figured being on hand to at least be accountable was a good start.

agree not to delete comments unless two people or more complain.

I'd love a flagging system honestly, one that went right into an RSS feed someplace. I think three things would need to happen to make that work properly 1) people would need to not goof with the flags [almost everyone didn't goof with the tags, but some did, and it was a headache to clean up] 2) people would need to accept the deletion of flagged comments/posts somewhat more than they currently accept deletions, otherwise we have a flagging system to deal with and the same amount of pissed off people 3) tracking so that people who are generating high numbers of the posts that are flagged/deleted get some sort of temporary time-out or whatever. This gets you accountability from the community and to the community which I think is important.

Letting in umpteen thousand new users and going from only a little moderation to more moderation is a real change of pace all around. Feel free to go on a wiki-listing deleted comments witch hunt if you must. I think you'll be surprised how little winds up there.
posted by jessamyn at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2005


scarabic, that delete was an accident, as I told you, and I emailed you as soon as I realized it.

Unless you're saying it was a complete misclick, you're missing the point, Jessamyn. Many of us, myself included, have NO IDEA why the community would need to be protected from a comment like that, no matter WHO wrote it.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 4:25 PM on February 19, 2005


How about skipping 1) & 2) and jumping ahead to 3)? Admonish the speaker; don't ban the speech.
posted by obloquy at 4:28 PM on February 19, 2005


Yes, I see how a flagging system could spawn its own nightmares; it would probably be about five minutes before #mefi decided to bomb some poor unsuspecting poster, and then there's the whole political ideology question — posts flagged simply because they don't conform to some standard, right or left.

Still, as opoosed to the way things are at the moment, I guess I would take my chances there, at least to see how it worked. Given my 'druthers, though, I guess I would really like some form of the sort of "benevolent neglect" kenko refers to.
posted by taz at 4:32 PM on February 19, 2005


Many of us, myself included, have NO IDEA why the community would need to be protected from a comment like that, no matter WHO wrote it.

It was in AskMe remember?
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:35 PM on February 19, 2005


how trigger-happy the admin policy is around here
*bam* *bam* *bam* *bam*
.."Wait, anyone hear what the perp was trying to say?"

As long as this is a continual topic...
What does "." mean?
Can I post an AskMe once every Sun-Sat, or once every 7 days since the last time I posted?
Can I get more AskMes?
This post sucks. Fix it.
posted by graventy at 5:04 PM on February 19, 2005


[mumbles about seeing everyone good over at Uncensored BBS]
posted by five fresh fish at 5:16 PM on February 19, 2005


Good, solid, long-time contributors to this community are increasingly aware that the moderating style around here has become arbitrary at best, and downright mercurial and heavy-handed at worst.

Yes. Exactly.

Many of us, myself included, have NO IDEA why the community would need to be protected from a comment like that, no matter WHO wrote it.

It was in AskMe remember?

The major disconnect here is not between people who are saying "the moderation is good" and "the moderation is bad," but between people who believe in the spirit of the law and those who only believe in the letter.

I believe in the spirit of the law — Ask should not be a place for chit-chat and snarks. But I also believe that — before this recent spate of overmoderation — the community was doing just fine self-policing. Except for a few threads that were brought to MeTa periodically, I have found Ask to be helpful and on-topic. Importantly, I also found it entertaining.

On the other side of the fence we seem to have a fair amount of users who care about the guidelines-as-written and nothing else at all. Maybe you can't understand why the rest of us think jokes and asides build community — but we honestly have no idea why you guys think the guidelines should be carved in stone and enforced with an iron fist.

Ask is a helpful resource, but it is helpful because it gets readers and commenters. I read Ask daily because I find it to be informative and entertaining. I post answers not out of general benevolence but because of communal affinity. The less entertainment, the less I will read. The less sense of community, the less I will post. The moderation is out-of-hand. It threatens to hurt AskMe in a big way.
posted by rafter at 5:17 PM on February 19, 2005


Yes. Yes.
posted by taz at 5:23 PM on February 19, 2005


I've gotten some really nasty email. . .

Real nice, people. What the fuck is the problem? Strongly held opinions can (and should) be expressed in a polite way.
posted by mlis at 5:42 PM on February 19, 2005


It's good to see there are a lot of us on the same page about this - many of the comments in this thread express my own concerns exactly.

I will say that I have to agree with bingo, though, that the root of the problem is probably in the open sign ups, as he described it so well above.
posted by mdn at 5:54 PM on February 19, 2005


If anyone can join, or rejoin, or multi-join, then none of the rules or callouts mean anything anyway.

bingo makes sense until he says that. Although heavy-handedness in terms of moderation is not entirely a bad thing, and I'm unconvinced that what we're seeing actually is heavyhanded, Metatalk discussion of rules and 'callouts' (much as I hate that word, and what it implies) are essential to maintain an even keel and visibility of community standards, even as they are dynamically evolving.

I'll agree with reservation that sockpuppet accounts are a bad thing, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:57 PM on February 19, 2005


complaining about a double post being up for eight hours [...] says to me "more moderation please" for example

Jessamyn, if you're referring to my comment here, I'm afraid you missed my point. I wasn't complaining about the double-Bugs Bunny post per se (personally, I think the fuss that gets raised in general about double-posts is overblown); I was trying to contrast a double post (which was called out several times in the thread itself) being left up all day vs. minor conversational asides that are deleted rapidly and without regard to context.

In other words, I was trying to illustrate how moderation appears to be increasingly concerned with picayune infractions in the Green while an obvious double-post -- a widely-accepted no-no -- apparently goes unnoticed in the Blue. Do you not see what's wrong with that picture?

Just to be clear: I am not asking for more moderation, I am asking for less moderation. Or more accurately, a return to moderation that doesn't appear to miss the MetaForest for the AskTrees.
posted by scody at 8:25 PM on February 19, 2005


I knew I was losing interest in AskMe when my comment in this thread was deleted. I guessed that J or M thought it was a joke (Tell her you can't live without your heart and to bring it back to you right away), but it wasn't intended that way - except from the poster to his beloved.

We've discussed (and mostly agreed on) the issue of ChatFilter threads, and yet they remain.

Moderation without guidelines sucks. Deletions without notice/reason sucks. AskMe? Starting to make sucking sounds.

On preview: scody nails it for me.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:37 PM on February 19, 2005


Sorry, I meant 'without reservation' above.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:39 PM on February 19, 2005


I have to disagree with stav, on this one. I dislike the suggestion from a handful of people that memberships should be closed. I take this to mean a rejection of me, as a new member. bingo and stav, maybe this is where the lack of community is coming from? Your refusal to accept the newest members of this community.
posted by Jim Jones at 9:02 PM on February 19, 2005


Your refusal to accept the newest members of this community.

What the holy hell are you talking about, Jim Jones? I think it's fantastic that membership is open again, and has been for a while, even with the inevitable rockiness that that has brought.

What I don't like is sockpuppet accounts -- in other words, members with more than one login, so they can use anonymity to just play havoc and be smartasses or whatever.

Perhaps I was unclear.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:29 PM on February 19, 2005


While that is no doubt a goal worth pursuing, I would like to suggest that leaving memberships on is not the way to go.

I liked it better when Matt would spring open memberships at random times. But he gives a lot of his time and money to the site that should now probably be going to something (someone) else. Ergo, he has to make some cash.

I am reminded of the story of the farmer and the goose that layed the golden eggs.

Metafilter: Self policing, 1999-2005. R.I.P.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:34 PM on February 19, 2005


If anyone can join (or rejoin, or multi-join) at any time, then the level of personal accountability goes down, the meaning of 'community' becomes less clear, and naturally there are going to be more people abusing the system... More new people who don't know, or don't care about, both the official rules and the history that comes with them, will join, break the rules, get their comments deleted, not know why (or not care), not spend much time in metatalk because they feel no personal connection to the site, and leave (or rejoin).
posted by bingo at 11:13 AM PST on February 19

I'll agree with[out] reservation that sockpuppet accounts are a bad thing, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:57 PM PST on February 19


I have seen the idea come up a lot, lately, that user signups should be closed and it rubs me the wrong way, that's all. How would sockpuppet accounts be eliminated except by closing new user signups or upping the membership fee? Also, when signsups were arbitrary, there were still people with multiple accounts.
posted by Jim Jones at 9:47 PM on February 19, 2005


How would sockpuppet accounts be eliminated except by closing new user signups or upping the membership fee?

I don't know, nor do I care. Not my problem. I'm just saying that they are, in my opinion, a bad thing. Perhaps if it were something that most other people felt as well, and vocalized, it might dissuade people from making them. Not that they do very much anyway, I don't think.

Mate, I'm speaking a descriptive manner, and you're speaking in a prescriptive manner. I tend to try to avoid telling Matt what he should do with his site, but not to shy away from being entirely too free with my opinions about it.

Your quote from bingo does not imply that memberships should be closed, in my reading (although I'll let him speak for himself on that matter). It is merely describing, to me, the inevitable consequences of opening the door, consequences that should be known and understood. I trust that Matt knew very well what the consequences would be when he opened the door. I am not entirely certain he's dealt with them the absolute best way he could have, but he certainly hasn't done what I would describe as a bad job.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:56 PM on February 19, 2005


Sorry Stavros, I was just lumping you in with bingo, indiscriminately, because you agreed with him.

I just saw the comments as the continuation of a pattern of blaming new users for everything that bothers the old-timers about the recent changes. Am I the only one who sees this? Really? Well, guess I need a hobby, then.
posted by Jim Jones at 10:02 PM on February 19, 2005


I have a theory: increased deletion is leading to an increase in comments that should/do (I'll leave that debate for the rest of you) get deleted. My rationale is that it's far easier to leave a stupid, snarky, or unhelpful answer when you know it's going to be deleted right after you post it. It lets people use posting as an escape valve.

I think that saving deletion for only the most egregious of transgressions makes people less likely to post stupid things, as their stupid comment will be seen by more people, it will come up on their comment history forever, and people will be less likely to take them seriously. I know that when I see someone repeatedly posting nothing but crap, I take them a little less seriously.

Is that a good enough reason for more restraint in moderation? I'm not sure if my initial assumptions (i.e. there are more 'silly' comments these days) are correct because I'm not a moderator, but I'd wager I'm not far off the mark.
posted by pikachulolita at 10:06 PM on February 19, 2005


I think you're absolutely right, pikachulolita. It's a brutal catch-22 situation, though, which is why I for one am having so much trouble figuring out exactly where I stand on it.

I think a '5-strikes and you're out that'll be 5 bucks sucka', no-comment-deletions regime might be a better thing, maybe.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:13 PM on February 19, 2005


I just can't shake the feeling that this place is being groomed for sale.

Complete and utter bullshit. I wish you'd stop repeating this little conspiracy theory of yours. I've already said many times this place is a money pit to anyone thinking of buying it and the chances are slim to none that it ever leaves my hands. Jessamyn and I aren't deleting stupid comments so that the site would sell, we were trying to make the place easier to read.

I explained the upcoming changes to the moderation in the crash davis thread above this one.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:21 PM on February 19, 2005


Matt, please give anapestic's and frykitty's comments above as much weight as you give the loud and repetitive complainers.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:11 PM on February 19, 2005


Matt, please give anapestic's and frykitty's comments above as much weight

It doesn't add anything to say I agree with their comments entirely, which I do. I was just tired of seeing scarabic repeat his pet theory. A post claiming that I'm "grooming to sell" does nothing but get the natives all riled up that maybe this imagined situation is yet another reasont to hate me now, as if I'm plotting an evil plan to sell everyone off like cattle to the slaughterhouse.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:23 PM on February 19, 2005


Matt, you'll never take me alive.
posted by Vidiot at 11:27 PM on February 19, 2005


Mmmm, cattle.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:35 PM on February 19, 2005


maybe this imagined situation is yet another reasont to hate me now, as if I'm plotting an evil plan to sell everyone off like cattle to the slaughterhouse.


Why Mr. Haughey, you made me laugh! I like it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:36 PM on February 19, 2005


Metafilter: We're what's for dinner.
posted by scody at 11:42 PM on February 19, 2005


MetaFilter: the other white meat.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:44 PM on February 19, 2005


SO DO BOTH.

Some people (Mathowie, frykitty, anapestic) don't want to wade through jokes to get to the meaty real answers on askMefi. This is reasonable.

Some people (kenko, odinsdream, Pretty_Generic) like to make and read jokes in AskMefi. Also reasonable.

Some people (me) pretty much only read AskMefi for the jokes.

And sometimes comments that are not answers need to be made, especially asking for clarification of the question,


So how about this: add a checkbox to the submit box in AskMefi: "This comment does not directly answer the question. It's off-topic or a joke or something."

Then on displaying an AskMefi post, display only the real answers, with a button that can be pressed to "Show all comments, even those that are not answers."

Mathowie can then delete all non-answers that were not submitted with the box checked, and the poster can't really complain (or Mathowie could just set the "not a real answer property" for that qustion."

THIS WILL MAKE EVERYBODY HAPPY, NO?

And I'll put my money where my mouth is: I'll be glad to write the code to make this happen, gratis, if Mathowie wants to implement this.

(OK, not entirely gratis: if I do this I want my five dollars back.)
posted by orthogonality at 12:06 AM on February 20, 2005


To borrow your posting style for a minute : why not just leave out the fucking joking around in AskMe? Jesus H Christ on a dusty popsicle stick, orthogonality, it's not rocket science!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:10 AM on February 20, 2005


Some people (me) pretty much only read AskMefi for the jokes.

What is it like to open 99% of the questions and be disappointed?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:24 AM on February 20, 2005


scarabic, that delete was an accident, as I told you, and I emailed you as soon as I realized it.


I wasn't trying to rake you over the coals by relating the incident here. It wasn't a big deal, as I said, but it seemed germaine to this conversation. I hope you agree I represented what happened truthfully and fairly.

I just can't shake the feeling that this place is being groomed for sale.

Complete and utter bullshit. I wish you'd stop repeating this little conspiracy theory of yours.


#1, when I say I get that feeling, it's because of the crackdown. I know you've said many times you're not going to sell or haven't had offers, etc. and I believe you. I'm not advancing any conspiracy theory, thank you very much. I'm saying that the heavy hand has given me the creepy feeling of being judged, on display, held to some new standard I don't understand. That feeling remains - and every now and then I realize it feels just like knowing you're on the block. THAT'S ALL. I think you've misinterpreted me as busting your balls again, but if you read the thread again, you'll see that many folks have noticed an up-tick in the crackdown around here.

Thanks for taking the suggestion on the flagging thing.
posted by scarabic at 1:49 AM on February 20, 2005


In other words: I know the house isn't for sale, but it still feels like it sometimes.
posted by scarabic at 2:00 AM on February 20, 2005


The "uptick in the crackdown" is simple. It didn't really change in Ask MetaFilter as I've always wanted that to be a useful place free of jokes (why there is a message telling everyone commenting that very thing). People keep saying that Ask MeFi is suddenly for outside eyes or something and I just wanted to keep it useful for me. I added tags and categories and titles to make the site more useful for me, and to make the archives useful for me. I don't care if LifeHacker or Kevin Kelly or anyone else points at Ask MeFi. It's nice to see the site be used by others but that's not why I want the site to remain as useful as possible. Jessamyn helped moderate and that probably led to a change in tone because she was more proactive on stopping stuff in Ask Mefi.

As for a general crackdown in MetaTalk, I've just sort of grown tired of the bullshit in MetaTalk. Again, not for the sake of sale, but after looking at the 1000th thread where someone asked me to fix something, and I did, then a dozen folks posted yuk-yuk jokes, I thought closing threads that were done was a good idea and would help me keep my sanity.

I know the house isn't for sale, but it still feels like it sometimes.

I've given you perfectly sane explanations why anything has changed. Let the feeling go.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:03 AM on February 20, 2005


orthogonality, I wish you wouldn't simplify things so much, it gives the false impression that the nuances can be safely ignored when, in fact, they're the entire crux of this argument, at least for me. Example: I don't joke around in askme, nor do I go to askme to read jokes. I do, however, feel that there is no reason to delete jokes or quips in askme that aren't grotesquely offensive, or derailing an entire thread. There's a stark difference in my mind, and I just wanted to be sure I expressed this clearly.

So, what I'd like to see? I'd like to see a self-policing askme, which I think can happen. There are far more people who appreciate a sane experience in askme than want to make it into a peanut gallery. I think people can keep eachother in line. If someone makes a joke that just crosses the line, well, I personally think they'll find out very quickly where that line is exactly.
posted by odinsdream at 8:27 AM on February 20, 2005


I think that you accidently made MetaFilter a success in the past, Matt. You started it up, got it off the ground, and then got busy with Real Life and left MeFi to more or less sort itself out.

The end result was a resounding success. Left to their own devices, MeFi members were able to develop a thriving community.

Now that you're back to paying much more attention to the site, you're seeing things you hadn't wanted, and you're trying to fix it.

I don't think that is going to work. It runs counter to what made the place successful.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:30 AM on February 20, 2005


I agree with fff.

mathowie might not think "Why do your people hate America?" is a good first date conversation starter, but it is not called AskMathowie. Members and lurkers I've discussed this with, who have travelled extensively around the world, feel it is a good conversation starter. Many conversations start with a quip. In my years abroad, I frequently had this conversation and generally made a friend by the end of the discussion. And animal sounds is a guaranteed conversation starter.

Matt, you've said you get more shit than praise. I understand that, and I think you've got a great site here. I like your personal blog too. But when you try to shape a community site into your ideal site, I suggest neither you nor the community will be satisfied. Please don't take my user feedback in way but as intended -- user feedback. And thank you.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 9:10 AM on February 20, 2005


People keep saying that Ask MeFi is suddenly for outside eyes

Yes, that is kind of what I meant. The fact that my first association with this is "groomed for sale" is my own deal. I'll try to just keep in mind that quality is job #1 around here. And it's good to know you're not pandering to outside forces of whatever kind.
posted by scarabic at 9:13 AM on February 20, 2005


Jim Jones: I have nothing against you personally, nor against new users per se. I just don't think that signups should be consistently and indefinitely open.

Every once in a while, new people should be let in to keep things fresh, and that's how it was being done before. There were occasional periods of turning signups on, and there was also a steady trickle of new users let in for specific reasons (e.g. there was a thread about them).

I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone's membership be revoked. Even if signups were turned off tomorrow, the huge crowd we have now would eventually distill itself back into into something more recognizable as a community.
posted by bingo at 12:46 PM on February 20, 2005


posted by five fresh fish at 8:30 AM PST on February 20 [!]
...click!....
Pick a Reason:
Fantastic post/comment
...click!....
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 3:49 PM on February 20, 2005


I think that Matt is taking too seriously the idea of Ask Metafilter as a valuable resource in archived form. For example, he thinks that if I have an IPod question a year from now, I should be able to search the archives and find my "answer." In theory, this is great. In practice, nobody does this.

I do. I've looked at a couple of AskMe threads over a year old within the past week.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2005


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