Post titles need improving January 16, 2006 8:33 PM   Subscribe

"Title of Post:
(for RSS and page titles)"
That's what it says next to a key field on the MeFi link submission form. But it's a part of posting that seems not to get the same level of craft and care as the link and body. This is a call (from a recent RSS convert) for more attention to making good titles. [more inside]
posted by scarabic to Etiquette/Policy at 8:33 PM (16 comments total)

Recently I started subscribing to MeFi via my RSS reader (I've played with My Yahoo!, Thunderbird, and the seductively-titled Google Customized Home). It's definitely a different way to experience the site.

Right now, this is what I see in my RSS reader for MetaFilter. If you've never used RSS, bear in mind that this is ALL I see, and each line is linked to the FPP page. Would you click on any of the following?

1) Spare some WiFi for Indian Food
2) Christian challenge to Christian Zionism
3) 1up!
4) You Can Run, but You Can't Hide.
5) Get back here with my hat!
6) Nikon to discontinue some 35mm camera models
7) How do you pronounce 'Kaf-ka-esque'?
8) Jack Bauer in Japan
9) Treasures from the kingdom of fungi

Most days when I look at it it's just random garbage and I have no interest in clicking any of the links. I find the front page a fine interface, as always, but it would be nice to be able to integrate MeFi into my RSS reader. It works great for AskMe, incidentally. You see a list of questions and they're all linked, it's good stuff. But the MeFi feed is mostly cruft, it seems, because people aren't doing their best to make good titles.

This is odd, because most folks do a good job of crafting posts. I just don't think that many of them are accustomed to thinking about RSS clients and few seem to lend the "post title" any importance. If you want to sacrifice RSS users and count on your audience to use the main site, okay. People often object to having to summarize their grand creation in a few words, and I can understand that.

But if you're skimping on the title out of inattention, may I humbly request a little more consideration of it? It can be very useful for users who use RSS, and as I understand, the page title is considered a highly relevant string by search engines when indexing the page.

It makes sense all around to put solid, useful information in the title that serves a "headline" for your post. It's useful for two main reasons:
1) it's a chance to advertise what's within and give people a sense of the subject matter so they can decide whether they're interested
2) it's also a chance to introduce a "teaser" and suck in the reader interested if they weren't interested already.

With apologies to the authors, I've used this random sample as a dartboard and made some comments on the titles I see in RSS right now. I hope this encourages more thought around titles.

1) intriguing - I might click to find out what this means, though it's certainly mysterious
2) straightforward - gives you some sense of the subject matter
3) cypher - I have no clue what this post is about
4) vague - could mean anything
5) opaque but suggesting humor
6) very clear - textbook headline
7) a question at least engages the reader and pulls in interest
8) I don't know who Jack Bauer is - perhaps if I did this would be a good headline to me
9) pretty good - makes a promise of treasures within AND gives you a sense of the subject matter **WINNER**
posted by scarabic at 8:34 PM on January 16, 2006

Your RSS client could show you the whole post. It's in the feed.
posted by smackfu at 9:02 PM on January 16, 2006

How about a heading/subheading convention?

Eg. type in "How do you pronounce 'Kaf-ka-esque'?! · Muslim Charged with Spurious Crime".

Or, "o noes!11 » Gamer Dies of Dehydration playing Warcraft".
posted by Firas at 9:03 PM on January 16, 2006

Or just delete the "Title of Post" field and use "Link Title" for it.

But then you lose a little more of the MetaFilter quirkiness.
posted by smackfu at 9:06 PM on January 16, 2006

Yeah, I've done it with and without full body, smackfu (although Google's client doesn't support anything but titles, which is pretty weak). Generally, though, I like to stick to just title because it keeps things brief and lets me get more out of my feed-reader setup. That's kinda the idea of the thing. I just get the impression that for most of us, the title is kind of an afterthought and could use more deliberation. I haven't always made good titles either, often because I think: "what's this, anyway? Oh! it shows up at the top of the browser window when you click through, but nowhere else. So I guess this is for people who are already in the thread." But trying to read the feed changes that.
posted by scarabic at 9:53 PM on January 16, 2006

I think descriptive titles are boring. I enjoy the little out of context quotes and in-jokes and all of that. I am usually drawn to posts by wanting to know what the hell the title is supposed to mean. I have yet to read the Nikon post because its title tells me all I would take away from the article, near as I can tell. I will probably never read it.
posted by shmegegge at 10:27 PM on January 16, 2006

I use bloglines, and I have it show me the whole post. Generally, I don't even go to the blue (or green) unless I want to comment on a link, or am curious about what other people may have said.

You might decide that a feed reader is for use to point you to interesting posts on a site... for me, a feed reader is to let me read all of my stuff in one convenient location, without having to go to 100 different sites every day. I love the humourous titles that people put on posts, personally.
posted by antifuse at 3:23 AM on January 17, 2006

I don't think trying to change conventions and societal norms are going to cut it any better than IraqFilter moritoriums did. The problem is that (a rough guess here) 75% of posters don't think about RSS feeds. And since the "title" isn't displayed on-page, just in the title, it's seen as an Easter Egg-y opportunity. The most effective solutions, I think, would be technological.

1. Get rid of the title.
1a. ..and use something like what the My Comments page uses (Up to the first period, exclamation, or question-mark.)
1b. ..or use the "link title" like smackfu suggests, although since the link title isn't a required field, this wouldn't be sufficient.
2. Display the title on the post's page, or better yet on the front page.
3. Live with it like smackfu suggests, or learn to love it like shmegegge does.
posted by Plutor at 5:28 AM on January 17, 2006

Yeah, I guess 3 isn't technological, but neither is it really a solution.
posted by Plutor at 5:29 AM on January 17, 2006

Matt has already said he likes quirky titles that don't necessarily reveal the subject of the post. And no matter how many people you convince by your arguments (five? ten?) the vast majority of post titles are never going to satisfy you. But you got it off your chest, and I guess that's a good thing. (Not snarking: unlike so many MeTa posts lately, this is not actively detrimental to the site. I've gotten inured to seeing half a dozen new MeTa posts a day; all I ask is that they not be childish bullshit.)
posted by languagehat at 6:10 AM on January 17, 2006

Just another random piece of information: The "Recent MeFi posts by Metachat users" in the Metachat sidebar also uses the titles.
posted by matildaben at 8:28 AM on January 17, 2006

Just to reiterate... I do give a good deal of thought to the title, but I don't care a whit whether it helps someone out on the other side of an RSS feed. The title is for the page, for the enjoyment of the people who are already looking at the page. RSS is a convenience to some users, which is fine, but I'm not going to change anything to make it more convenient for you.

That said, I would gladly put a brief useful summary in a separate "RSS title" field - perhaps the problem here is that one field is being used for two rather different purposes.
posted by soyjoy at 8:30 AM on January 17, 2006

scarabic writes "few seem to lend the 'post title' any importance."

It's not that we don't think the title is unimportant, the opposite is true in many cases I'd bet. I've often spent more time trying to come up with a witty title than I have composing the post. Probably because most good posts require a couple sentences of explanation and an HREF and so don't require long bouts of composition.
posted by Mitheral at 10:16 AM on January 17, 2006

Forget the titles, I'd settle for more descriptive posts.
posted by mischief at 11:26 AM on January 17, 2006

People can keep on doing as they please, obviously, and Matt can encourage as he sees fit. I just wanted to voice the position of the random RSS user and hopefully make it clear that that field actually does something for someone somehwere. Cheers, all.
posted by scarabic at 11:01 PM on January 17, 2006

Well, maybe a suggested rewrite of the descriptive text for that field on the posting page would be useful. (Although it's pretty clear now and people ignore it.)
posted by smackfu at 6:17 AM on January 18, 2006

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