Metafilter front page filter October 4, 2001 12:23 AM   Subscribe

OK, there were 40 front-page posts yesterday. Just for laffs, here's a MetaFilter front page filter. Change the number after the ? in the URL to change the highest numbered user whose posts you'll see. Old school!

(Here's the source.)

I'll make this filter private soon, 'cause I just wrote it to support this suggestion: I think something like this should be a MetaFilter preference. Anyone else?

posted by nicwolff to Feature Requests at 12:23 AM (33 comments total)

And, while it's not too sound statistically, the fact that it was user #44 who posted the Mahnamahna MPEG is enough to make me think I'd have gotten the best of the last few days even with my user # cutoff set at 50.
posted by nicwolff at 12:29 AM on October 4, 2001


another idea would be to create a allow/deny ability, similar to the .htaccess files used by apache. for example, you might set metafilter to allow all posts, but choose not to see posts by Wet Wednesday; likewise, you may choose to not see any posts, except for a few people whose postings you like. (and maybe choose to look at all the posts you have chosen not to see, initially -- how else will you know if anyone new has interesting links to post?)
posted by moz at 8:18 AM on October 4, 2001

Much as I hate to say it, it works for me.
I can now read a few front-page posts in my lunch hour with a better than average chance of finding something interesting.
Before anyone accuses me of low user number elitism, it's not that I don't value the contribution of many high user number members, but coming to MeFi used to be like walking into a party and eavesdropping on a few hushed conversations. It's now like walking into a gym full of people all shouting their opinions at each other at the top of their voices.
This filter turns down the volume a bit is all.
I used to find cool links, now I find news. Without getting into whether that is a good or a bad thing (that horse is so flogged it's turned to leather), the filter allows me to see MeFi the way i used to see it, some cool links and a smattering of news links with discussion.

And to be honest, what I don't see I won't miss.
posted by Markb at 8:30 AM on October 4, 2001

You folks are ridiculous. Who's to say that newer users are less worthwhile than the old ones? Metafilter has been around for nearly two years--you don't think that people who joined in January don't have the hang of it yet, or that they have nothing good to add to the discussion?

As I write this there are fun/worthwhile/high-comment posts on the Metafilter home page from users 10751, 11487, 7861, and 5081. And that's just in the last 24 hours or so.

Get real.

(Note that I am old-school user 395, thankyouverymuch.)
posted by werty at 9:12 AM on October 4, 2001

Sounds like a lot of work! I just want a Metafilter Way-Back Machine that shows me how the front page would look today if Matt had closed the membership at some point.

(Of course, I mean some point after I joined!)
posted by nicwolff at 9:21 AM on October 4, 2001

Who's to say that newer users are less worthwhile than the old ones?

Me. New users are much more likely to treat the place like FreeRepublic than old users. Look at the number of people who showed up after Sept. 11 and think this is a free-for-all newsblog.

However, filtering by number is not foolproof. I'm a relatively long-time user and I treated the place like FreeRepublic a couple times, and every day at least one or two new users posts a great link.
posted by rcade at 9:56 AM on October 4, 2001

Erm ... being new I probably don't have anything worthwhile to contribute, but I can't help thinking some of the problems mentioned here could be solved by having a MetaNews, just like MetaTalk but ... different.

The way-back machine sounds kinda funky too ... but aren'y you really pining for some kind of karma system?

Personally the lack of one is what differentiates MeFi from somewhere like Plastic.

posted by walrus at 10:15 AM on October 4, 2001

nicwollf: How about posting a script that does the reverse, displaying posts from users above a specific number?
posted by rcade at 10:20 AM on October 4, 2001

if you want a private club, why not just start your own site with closed membership? What does this have to do with MeFi?

I realize you're (mostly) just having fun with this, but it is also hurtful to a large number of people who care about this site. If Matt wants to restrict membership so as to restore qualities he likes to what is his site, that's cool, and personally I'd be happy for him (if that's what he decides he wants). And the low quality of many posts is definitely a problem, and is related to the sheer size of the community now, but this isn't the way to find a solution.

For one group of people here to say, hey, wouldn't it be cool if we could ignore or get rid of some of Matt's other guests -- and post that remark on MeTa -- that's just wrong.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:43 AM on October 4, 2001

walrus is right, i think: though it's been discussed 10000 times before, i think metanews is the answer. we could end up being really elitist about postings, or we could simply file the news/discussion stuff to another nook of the site.
posted by moz at 10:52 AM on October 4, 2001

I've been playing with this for thirty or forty seconds, and there seems to be a 'sweet spot' right around the number 407.
posted by sudama at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2001

Just a note:

With this filter today (Oct. 3) there are 4 posts and 3 are WTC related.

I will agree that there are far to many stories by new posters (there are a ton today). Again, why not raise the threshold for posting? Make it like a month and 40 messages.
posted by phatboy at 11:42 AM on October 4, 2001

I'd like to point out that I'm a new-ish user. I've been lurking around here since about April, and actually registered in August. I don't post a whole lot, mainly because other folks say what I'd like to say a heck of a lot better than I could most of the time, and I've never posted to the front page.

That said, it really bothers me that people aren't going to take anything I have to say seriously because I have a high user number. I'd rather be judged by my words instead of by something as arbitrary as a user number.
posted by eilatan at 11:58 AM on October 4, 2001

I have to go with eilatan on this . . . I'd been hanging around here, reading and enjoying MeFi, for at least a year, before finally realizing that . . . whoa! Once in a while *I* might have something to say! And I'd have to . . . what? Register? To post comments? Oh my.

And while I do agree that far too many of the newer users are mistreating the privileges of MeFi usership, I can't support a system that would exclude only newer people. Now, if we could somehow figure out how to rate people's common sense and higher intelligence . . .

posted by po at 1:39 PM on October 4, 2001

po: if there were a way to automatically detect and exclude stupid people, then USENET would still work! It has to be done either autocratically, democratically, or arbitrarily. I'll agree that the last of these is worst, but since the other two aren't happening...

moz: yes, a simple kill-file would be much better than this — hard to implement as a filter, though! Shared kill-files would be even better, and then you've got a simplified web-of-trust system that might evolve into something better than karma.

mattpfeff: would it still seem mean if it weren't arbitrary?

mattpfeff and eilatan: the filter doesn't ignore anyone completely; your replies to front-page posts are still seen. It just pretends that only older users can start threads. Does that change your feeling about it?

rcade: I linked to the source — it's just a one-character change!
posted by nicwolff at 2:11 PM on October 4, 2001

Not particularly. Because, what if I actually find something I'd like to link, and think it would be worthwhile to the community (not likely, but we can pretend ), and there's such a filter in place, or a policy that only people with user numbers lower than X can post? Do I need to then find someone with a lower user number to post my link? It strikes me as incredibly exclusionary.

I can completely understand the frustration here--I'm a member of another 'net community which is going through similar growing pains (but in that case I'm one of the first 10 members out of about 775), but the way we've chosen to deal with it is to try to have moderators/old members privately mentor newbies who seem to be having problems adhering to our community standards. On the whole, that seems to have worked for us. I doubt that such a system would work for MeFi, as it's so much larger, though.

I don't have any good solutions--maybe a longer time limit/number of comments before being allowed to post to the front page would be a good stop-gap solution to the problem, in addition to required fields in the registration (like an email address, with an option for that to remain private). If the link is worthy, it can wait until all the hoops have been jumped through.
posted by eilatan at 3:09 PM on October 4, 2001

I realize you're (mostly) just having fun with this, but it is also hurtful to a large number of people who care about this site.

Look, this happened with LambdaMOO in the membership rush after Julian Dibbell's "A Rape In Cyberspace". The result: a ballot to implement managed population growth. It's a long document, but here's one excerpt that sums up the Current Situation here.

I don't think that the current crop of newbies are of intrinsically lower quality. I think that their training (experience, whatever) on LambdaMOO as it is today is way inferior to the training that happens when the newbie percentage is way smaller than 60%, and that this negatively impacts (a lot!) their current and eventual socialization into the MOO, and this directly changes society for the worse. So, yes, I think "our newbies are worse now", but that's only because they don't get a chance to be better. It's kind of like, you take a smart kid and throw him in the ghetto, he turns into a drug dealer. You throw him into an upper class school, he turns into a doctor. People are products of their environment. And the environment sucks.

plus ça change.
posted by holgate at 3:27 PM on October 4, 2001

nic, just to clarify. I don't think it's mean. I definitely agree that there are too many posts by too many posters and that too many of them just plain suck. And I definitely acknowledge that a smaller (posting) community is more likely to find a good groove that more of its member will enjoy.

I'm just tired of people trying to solve problems with MeFi by pretending that they own the community and that they can choose who to include and exclude -- and then discussing it here in MeTa, which doesn't belong to just them, but to everyone. If you want to go discuss this amongst yourselves, fine -- you're entitled to form any little club you want. But this isn't your club. What makes you think that you and those who happened to have registered among the first X thousand are welcome to co-opt the site (or any part of it) for your own satisfaction and to the exclusion of others?

Like I say, if Matt decides he only wants the first 10000 to post, or whatever, that's cool -- it's his party. If he wants only the second 10000, that's fine too (or do you not agree?). But for any one group of us to use his site to discuss getting rid of any other group, that's just not cool in my book.

holgate: agreed, completely. And I have no complaints whatsoever about suggesting anything (however draconian) that would actually improve the quality of posts, or to Matt doing anything that he would prefer to the current openness. But the suggestion here is, hey, let's lock people out -- people who already are here and participate and give a fuck -- and not consider their contributions.

The more they stay the same, indeed.
posted by mattpfeff at 3:51 PM on October 4, 2001

(nic, i should say, I do think your MetaFilter filter is cool -- I think some of this ongoing debate just got to me.)
posted by mattpfeff at 4:08 PM on October 4, 2001

nicwolff: I tried to set it up, but CPAN scares me.
posted by rcade at 4:13 PM on October 4, 2001

I think this filter is based on a misunderstanding of what the problem is with all the new people. It's not that the newer users are less likely to be good than older users--if they were, then filtering them out would generally improve the quality of the front page, even if it did also block some good posts. But the real problem is that, with a crowd this big, the tone of the whole place changes, and old and new users alike feel less pressure to maintain high quality (and have less of a sense of what a quality post is). So yes, the speed at which MeFi is growing is a problem, but it's not going to be solved by ignoring new users.

As for USENET--it does still work. Sure, some groups out there are on topics so popular that the volume is unmanageable, but a lot of groups are just fine if you killfile liberally. Hell, I don't know how I'd get through the day without my dose of t.b. It's all just a matter of remembering the magic word:

* * * plonk * * *
posted by moss at 4:50 PM on October 4, 2001

eliatan: with a filter like mine in place, you'd stilll be able to post front-page links freely; I just wouldn't see them. If they were good links, then that's my loss, but it's a loss I'd be accepting as a compromise to avoid having to read through 40 terrible links posted by nitwits.

This doesn't mean I think you're a nitwit; you're obviously a thoughtful, intelligent, and modest person. But if you are not prevented from posting a link, and I am not forced to read it, where's the harm?

mattpfeff: I'm not pretending to "own the community" — any more than I claim to own Slate or Boondocks just because I filter them. All I've done is propose that some kind of filtering mechanism be made available, and demonstrate one. I don't mean to be hurtful, and of course what I want is for the good new members to be heard; the bad ones to become good ones; and the irredeemable to be filtered out. But I don't have a plan for that — I'm just a Perl hacker, and this is what I can propose.

rcade: CPAN's easy! Just type "perl -MCPAN -e 'install LWP'" at the Unix root prompt.
posted by nicwolff at 5:27 PM on October 4, 2001

nic, perhaps the overall tone over here at MeFi/MeTa has finally gotten to me: I've read a number of posts deploring the current crop of newbies and trying to figure out how to get rid of them--which, as mattpfeff said, seems like an inappropriate use of this system.

The biggest reason I've not yet posted any links to the front page is that I'm still not sure what a good link is--with all the complaining, I don't know what's good and what sucks, necessarily (well, I know which ones suck, it's the good that I'm having issues with). There are threads I find personally interesting, and ones I don't--and I have fairly eclectic tastes.

I know one solution proposed has been for Matt to post on the sideblog threads/links he thinks are good--and I think that's a great idea. But why can't that be taken a step further? Why not have a page devoted to Greatest Threads Ever/Worst Threads Ever, so people could see what was and was not expected of them? Not everyone is going to bother with it, but I'd think the people who are interested in making a real contribution would take the time.

And here I go again, rattling on. Just call me Miss Verbosity.
posted by eilatan at 6:06 PM on October 4, 2001

For the record: I'm one of the people who has been deploring the current state of MeFi for a while. I have never, ever deplored "the newbies". I don't know why people cast this as a newbie/oldbie thing. For a while, I was pissed that people kept acting as if the debate was over *bie status, because no one (as I saw it) was making that the issue.

Apparently I was wrong.

It's the boneheads that are the problem, and the volume, and the gradual mission drift. I think, of all the many solutions that have been proposed, ignoring some database-query-defined group of users has to be the worst.
posted by rodii at 7:35 PM on October 4, 2001

And yet, rodii, that's proved the only practical solution for the bonehead problem in e-mail and USENET and on Slashdot: filtering by user.

You're certainly right that boneheads, volume, and mission drift are the problems; if filtering by user solves them for me, in what sense is it a bad solution?
posted by nicwolff at 9:06 PM on October 4, 2001

I guess the question is how you want to define the quality issue. I just don't think defining it by order of registration here is a good idea. Nic, if you mean this just for you and those interested, of course that's your prerogative. But if you intend it as a general solution to MeFi's generally acknowledged woes, then I beg to differ, and I hope we can all work to find a better solution, one that will truly raise the standard of posts here and not exclude people who care about this place and genuinely want to contribute.

I do apologize for intimating that you yourself pretend to own MeFi, I was more frustrated by what seems to be a pattern of thought among some users. Although I do still think this sort of divisiveness is hurtful, whether you mean it to be or not. It certainly makes me feel like a lesser member of the community. (I mean, that seems to be exactly the point -- newer members are lesser members, here's how to ignore them. Why would anyone want to ignore them otherwise? I can't figure it any other way.)

I'm encouraged to hear you do want good new members to be heard, though. These days it seems that that's important to say.
posted by mattpfeff at 12:06 AM on October 5, 2001

werty - I wasn't saying that newer users were any less valuable, just that there are too many posts for me to follow - this filter cuts them down and turns down the volume. The posts also happen to be from people whose online personalities I have learned from the first year or so of my membership which means I can further filter them based on what I know about the poster. You might think that's ridiculous, I find it the only way to get my daily MeFi fix without wading through dozens of posts. At no point did I say newer users were any less intelligent, interesting or worthy of posting threads, I just can't cope with the volume.
eilatan - Fortunately for the future of MeFi you are one of the increasingly low percentage of newer users who thinks and cares about the place. I don't check user numbers to decide if I read a comment and I don't automatically associate a high user number with a bad poster. Here at least, what you say is more important than who you are, and I'm sure I would be missing out on some intelligent posts by you and many others if I were able to use this filter regularly.

posted by Markb at 3:59 AM on October 5, 2001

You're certainly right that boneheads, volume, and mission drift are the problems; if filtering by user solves them for me, in what sense is it a bad solution?

I guess it depends on what you mean by "solves," Nic. I would hate to see it as any sort of general solution for MeFi, because it fragments the community. If everybody only sees and respinds to a subset of users, then conversations become impossible. User A sees C, E, and G; user B sees C, D, and E, and so B sees C responding to comments he's never seen by A, or repeating what A says, etc. and the system scales up the problem just explodes.*

I agree killfiles and karma filtering have been the closest thing to a solution for a pretty intractable problem. But those solutions are at least based on some notion of quality. With a killfile you're using your personal experience of a poster; with karma the community as a whole is evaluating posters. But user number? What does that have to do with anything? If there's a correlation between user number and quality I'd like to see someone spell it out explicitly, and expect to see it disputed.

Experiment: make a list of every 100th user (usernumber 100, 200, etc.). Rate them on some measure of "good poster"ness on a scale of 1 to 10. See if there's a correlation between the user number and the rating. I bet it's pretty low.

To be clear, I'm not trying to denigrate what you're doing, Nic. I just don't see it as a general solution. Whatever works for you is fine for you, though.

*I would argue that killfiles are as much a cause of the madness of Usenet as they are a solution to it. But that's a more academic discussion, to be had somewhere else.
posted by rodii at 8:31 AM on October 5, 2001

How about a similar system for MetaTalk? But instead, you filter out all posts by users *below* a certain value. That way, we don't have to see people whining about 'how great MeFi was', or 'how newbies are ruining everything'.
posted by skwm at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2001

rodii: You've misunderstood. This filter can't fragment anything, because it only determines whose front-page posts you see. You'll still see everyone's replies in any post's detail view.

skwm, mattpfeff, rodii: The first thousand members here post better links than the last thousand; I don't need to test that hypothesis. This isn't a judgement on the newbies' quality as people, but a natural result of their recent arrival into a much bigger and increasingly less consistent community. When user 13000 gets here and sees front-page posts with poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation that link to CNN and the Times, they can't know that MetaFilter was ever better than that.

Besides, as witness the last few days, MeFi's at its server-load and bandwidth limit (at least until it's rewritten in mod_perl, heh heh) and new member signup is disabled right now. Where's the crime in disenfranchising recent members when current lurkers are already shut out?
posted by nicwolff at 1:45 PM on October 5, 2001

The first thousand members here post better links than the last thousand;

I don't deny that that's plausible, but I don't know that it's true.

Point taken on the threads vs. comments issue.
posted by rodii at 2:27 PM on October 5, 2001

Where's the crime in disenfranchising recent members when current lurkers are already shut out?

And yet you claimed just yesterday this wasn't an old-timer versus newbie issue:

I don't mean to be hurtful, and of course what I want is for the good new members to be heard; the bad ones to become good ones; and the irredeemable to be filtered out.

And your system here isn't a filter-by-user system, it's a filter-by-user-number system, which is completely different. It is making the implicit claim that those who have been around MeFi longer are somehow more worthy to make contributions than people who haven't been around as long.

I agree, there have been a good number of crap posts lately, but I don't think a filter-by-user-number solution is the way to go. And I'm not saying that just because I have a high user number, either.

posted by eilatan at 5:42 PM on October 5, 2001

eilatan: I didn't claim that at all. What I said I want is the same thing I wanted on Usenet when September never ended. I didn't get it then either, and I think it's a chimera. There's an optimal rate of growth for each online community, at which new users learn the local standards by example faster than they can change them. You could call that an old-timer versus newbie issue.

As to my system: right, the little CGI I hacked out in ten minutes is not the way to go; but, as I said in the thread-hed, I'd like to see something like it offered as an option here. Please, everyone: I know it's not a good solution — please suggest a better one!
posted by nicwolff at 7:36 PM on October 5, 2001

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