Kottke Critiques Online Discussion June 21, 2000 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Kottke offers a good critique of online discussions (like MeFi), and he makes some excellent suggestions on how to improve them. He quotes an unnamed source: "The problem with online forums is that those who have very little to contribute participate the most while those with valuable information to share participate the least." Now, let's try to keep the conversation cordial...
posted by ericost to Etiquette/Policy at 8:44 PM (44 comments total)

wow. first off, I have to say thanks to jason for putting so much thought and effort into helping this community sustain.

Most of that could easily be cut and paste straight into the about and guidelines pages.

As for the posting limit on the front page, I could consider adding it, but I don't know what the limit should be. Maybe we should discuss that one point here.

Regarding the other points, I'm coding the feature to search for the identical URL in a post, to combat repeat posts. I'm coding a moderation system into the ticketstubs site, so I could easily add that here. That would enable sort by scores, total user karma, and ignore filters
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:55 PM on June 21, 2000

I like the idea of "user karma". People can get karma rated, and then you could filter out anyone below a certain karma level.

I'd also like to see an inability to link to a url set in your User ID. Harsh, but fair.
posted by Neale at 9:02 PM on June 21, 2000

I totally agree with Jason, but my reaction to it has been decidedly less constructive: I've simply stopped coming here. And if I do, it's only to peruse briefly. It usually only takes a few minutes before I find myself experiencing many of the things Jason mentions. I used to stop by several times a day, now I find I rarely check in, unless someone tells me there's an interesting thread. And that bums me out, a lot, because I feel like I'm missing some good things. Frankly, I just don't have the patience or time to wade through all the posts and private conversations.

So what can be done about it? Calebos suggests posting a modified version of Jason's post on the About page. That seems reasonable. What about making the posting guidelines more apparent, like linking them from the nav? Or making them more explicit? One thing I think really works at the {fray} is the question you respond to at the end. If you can't answer the question, you really don't have a reason to post. Why not ask some questions on the Post a Link page, e.g. Has this post appeared on MF already? Is this something someone's likely to have read elsewhere? Does this link provide fodder for an engaging conversation? etc. People who can't answer yes to these questions should reconsider their urge to post.

Another thought: what about restricting who can post to the front page? I know that changes what this site is, but perhaps the time has come to redefine Metafilter? Perhaps a community of 1138+ members is too large to all have the same level of posting permissions?
posted by megnut at 9:12 PM on June 21, 2000

Calebos wrote:
>I advise everyone to ignore the quote entirly and read
the rest of Jason's post.

I am not trying to incite anything or anybody here, but the quote absolutely gets to the heart of the matter, Calebos! The bad front page links are easy enough to wade through, but the silly private conversations that happen in the discussion threads (with the same people involved most of the time) destroy the conversation flow, and really make the forum a much less attractive place for those who wish to discuss the topic intelligently.

Look at the disintegration of the off topic MetaTalk discussion (of all things) if you need an example. Start at the bottom and see how far up you have to read to find a relevant comment.

Kottke's suggestions regarding self-censorship are excellent, but I fear they offer no real solution, because uninsightful, unfunny people are unable to recognize those traits in themselves.

I guess karma makes the most sense in this situation, though it seems so complicated. One of the wonderful things about MeFi is its simplicity, and I hate the thought of cluttering it up. Perhaps I am wrong and people can learn to control themselves a bit... I hope so.
posted by ericost at 9:28 PM on June 21, 2000

Open submission moderation seems to be working over at Kuro5hin.

I think it could be implemented better, but it seems to keep out self-serving links and reposts.
posted by perplexed at 10:03 PM on June 21, 2000

<<red faced>>
You have to be logged in to see it. Sorry.

Basically when you submit a link, it goes into a queue where every other user has a chance to vote whether it's worth showing up on the main page. Once the submission gets a predetermined number of votes, it appears on the front page.

posted by perplexed at 10:07 PM on June 21, 2000

(Speaking as someone who's founded and run a number of mailing lists over the last 6-7 years....)

What Kottke has to say is worth consideration, but his critique directly contradicts itself in ways that I think highlight a reality not everyone is comfortable with: The problems he mentions cannot be solved with simple rules changes. Indeed, it raises questions of whether any problem exists at all.

>>I advise everyone to ignore the quote entirely and read the rest of Jason's post.<<

You can't really ignore the quote. As Ericost notes above, the quote is his argument boiled down to its essence. (Or, if you like, boiled down to a "one-liner," heh.) Yet Kottke later says, "If you think you truly have something worthwhile to share, share it, dammit! Don't be one of those with lots of information to share and then not share it."

The problem here is that only Kottke knows what qualifies as "valuable information worth sharing"to Kottke. Each person will have different criteria, which means nobody can truly be satisfied that only The Right Posts are getting through. And the only outcome is that you end up in debates over the content that never really end.

>>I just hope Metafilter can stay in stage 4 without too much stage 5 nastiness.<<

If you actually read the piece he's referencing, you see that he's contradicting himself again:

a) The critique is itself "stage 5 nastiness," where "people start complaining about the signal-to-noise ratio" because "the number of messages increases dramatically ... (and) not every thread is fascinating to every reader."

b) Included in "stage 4," which is Kottke's preferential state, are some of the very things he (and others, such as Megnut) are now complaining about: "Lots of threads, some more relevant than others ... friendships develop ... people tease each other."

(ObSidenote: In my experience the first sign that an online discussion group is hitting that "stage 4/stage 5" problem is that someone posts/references "The Natural Life Cycle of Mailing Lists." But anyway...)

Basically, what it comes down to is You Can't Win This Argument. Any good online community idea (such as MeFi) will eventually become popular and busier, generate a clique or two, and cause some of the founding members to become annoyed by the inevitable changes such popularity brings. And yes, some of the Old Guard will leave as a result. But if the ideas and beliefs guiding the community are truly worthwhile, they'll be replaced by other equally-interesting people, and it will all work out in the end as a stable "state 6.2" community.

However, if you start to try to tweak the rules in order to favor those original posters over the newbies, the community's risking doom, because it indicates that the community was probably never meant to appeal beyond a tiny self-selecting group in the first place.

posted by aaron at 10:31 PM on June 21, 2000

(Urf, forgot a couple of lines...) And yes, I do think that a "user karma" rating would be inherently favorable to people with lower UserID numbers; one only naturally gravitate towards posts from names already known and already liked.
posted by aaron at 10:35 PM on June 21, 2000

I don't know that technology is the answer here. I don't think that there's anything wrong with Metafilter that needs fixing. Mainly, what I was trying to communicate is what makes good communities good is eternal vigilance by its members. We all live here and we owe it to our neighbors to be good.** This is not some decree from on high, although some folks will take it as such...I'm just your neighbor, trying to do my little part to keep things tidy.

**Good is a relative term, of course. I'm not against stirring shit up because communities need that too. There's a distinction between good "misbehavior" and bad "misbehavior" that I think is relevant here, but I don't know that I can adequately explain it. Still working it out...maybe someone can help?
posted by jkottke at 10:54 PM on June 21, 2000

On the ALA mailing list, we ask people to express themselves clearly (edit before posting), avoid flaming others, turn off MIME and post in ASCII, use real SUBJECT lines, and avoid quoting an entire post when responding to it.

Most people do that. A few don't understand, a few don't get it, a few don't bother reading the guidelines. The digest is edited before it's published, so bad posts don't make it in. Though sometimes, in a generous mood, when free time is abundant, we will edit a member's post per the guidelines if they had something worth saying but unfortunately posted it in MIME, or quoted an entire previous message.

Point is, the only way you can CONTROL a community is by doing what we do with that mailing list. This makes the digest worth reading for many. But probably upsets a few people whose posts don't get in.

What ALA digest doesn't offer is the immediacy of live conversation such as we have at Metafilter.

I love Metafilter, just the way it is. Karma points, pre-editing, all those types of suggestions would be fiendishly difficult to implement; would probably be implemented in ways that some people considered unfair; and might well have a chilling effect on the conversation.

(That's the second time I've used that phrase today.)

These proposals could lead to elitism - could kill the spark of the site - could lead to factionalism and division.

So not every post is a gem. Not every article in the newspaper catches my interest, either. So what?

I don't think there is a problem.

At the same time, I think what Jason has done is a good thing. I think messages like that are useful for course correction. A lot of people will read what he's written, think about it, and perhaps post a bit differently. Others won't. Others may go out of their way to rebel against the idea. So be it. This is a community. Dissent comes with the turf.

And what you consider boring, or childish, or juvenile, may be what makes another MeFi member's day.

Metafilter is what it is. It's live, baby. And anyone can play. And that means not everyone will like everything they see. To me, what Jason wrote was enough. Putting it - or something like it - in places where people can see it may help set a higher tone. And that should be the extent of it, in my opinion.
posted by Zeldman at 11:10 PM on June 21, 2000

Aaron, excellent comments. One of the things I regret about my post is that I didn't explore both sides of the coin. I knew when I posted it, I was contradicting the hell out of myself, but I wanted to get my comments out there and have people respond to them. I'm probably being naive here, but I want to believe that There's A Way To Win This Argument. I think there's a collective sense of "valuable information worth sharing"...it's not just me and my sense but there's a community sense.

I dunno....Still digging!
posted by jkottke at 11:12 PM on June 21, 2000

> you start to try to tweak the rules in order to favor those original posters over the newbies, the community's risking doom...

I agree, why would anyone want to join a stagnant community? Anything that discourages newbies obviously discourages growth. But asking people to think through a few questions before posting wouldn't do that. And I don't believe meritocratic front page posting privileges would do that either. It certainly hasn't discouraged the growth of Slashdot.
posted by megnut at 11:19 PM on June 21, 2000

All & all, some great stuff Brother Kottke said on his log tonight... and I threw in my two cents about Matt's proposed posting limits. And everyone's being really gracious here and avoiding the focus of your post.

I'm not trying to start trouble here, but ericost...what is the problem??? I understand you've stated your disgust at the crowd getting unruly after post #40, many times. Like Zeldman said "Some like it and some don't". (for example) Some posts bore me to hell, but I wouldn't think of being rude and post my disgust at it. More often than not we all post serious answers to the topics at hand. If you see a topic with over 60 posts...odds are it's spiralled out of control by a bunch of folks in high-stress situations blowing off steam. Avoid it...

Come on man, live and let live...please?
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 12:41 AM on June 22, 2000

As a recent lurker-turned-tentative-poster, this is interesting stuff. I've seen the same discussion - or variants thereof - time and again in Usenet groups and mailing lists that find themselves suddenly overrun after a mention in a Wired magazine: "Who are all these newless cluebies clogging up our drain?!" You have build a community and with wider readership and posting, your discover your quality measures aren't the same as everybody else's...

One avenue you have available to you here that other venues (usually) do not might be some type of community "editing by proxy." In addition to allowing the posting of comments in a thread-like fashion, allow some type of "This is noise, not signal" option; being tagged as "noise" by some predetermined number of people would result in... being moved to some secondary page? some type of formatting that clearly indicates that the number of MetaFilterians thinking the post is crap has been reached?

The net effect of that type of thing is to allow everybody to continue to participate: people post original messages, according to the current set of posting rules and hard-core MetaFilterians have clear visual clues with regard to community-based measures of quality.
posted by m.polo at 4:58 AM on June 22, 2000

The only reason I suggested ignoring the quote was that it did contradict Jason's later comments (as has been pointed out several times before). There seems to be a tendancy for people to jump all over some of the more well-known people in the community for their "decrees from on high." For that reason, the quote, for whatever value it has, seemed like flamebait. Since the rest of Jason's post had good points, I was just asking people to focus on that rather then the quote.

Karma, trust metrics, whatever you want to call it, is the way to go, IMHO. Moderation is a plus as well. I only find Slashdot is tolerable with a threshold set to 3 or 4. However, this kind of moderation take a lot of effort to implement and maintain.

The lack of threaded discussion here makes it difficult for conversation threads to expand and die off. They all kinda get lumped together, making longer threads hard to follow. I know a lot of people prefer the flat format. Personally, it only works if the number of replies is kept small.

I would really, really like to see, as Meg has suggested, posts to the main page limited to a group of people rather then a free for all. Matt picks the initial group, then adds/removes people as he sees fit. Yes, this would change the nature of metafilter, but I think it is necessary. There is just too much noise.

Doing this woudl change metafilter into a team blog with built in discuss group functionality. Which, incidentally, is why I thought Matt signed up with Pyra: to eventually integrate this kind of functionality into Blogger. Maybe Metafilter could be the proof of concept?
posted by Calebos at 6:43 AM on June 22, 2000

Bah. Perhaps I'm in a mood, but I agree with Zeldman. Short of the Lost Tribe mailing list taking over Metafilter, it's more important to have the dialogue and hopefully have some people think some than institute karma or some kind of moderation.

And Mr. Zeldman, sir, my idol, please, out of courtesy to me, in the future, just stop reading my mind and posting my exact opinion for me. I can do it myself. Honest. Thanks.
posted by mrmorgan at 6:52 AM on June 22, 2000

Reminds me of this article.
posted by camworld at 7:03 AM on June 22, 2000

I believe etiquette should be a key word. This community is pretty good at bringing up other appropriate behavioral hints (like "you shouldn't link to yourself") every time someone forgets it. So let's try to promote awareness of more of these strong suggestions for self-censorship, like that list of guidelines by Jason.

    Still people should feel free to post whatever they truly find of interest, or funny, or irritating, anything. If anyone were to be silenced by some self-appointed elite, this community would die quickly.

    It's impossible to control what others do or say, and dumb to try. The fact that we don't like everything others bring up, is the very reason for Jason having sensible thoughts and for our brains doing some extra work today. We should be thankful.
posted by tremendo at 7:35 AM on June 22, 2000

I think Aaron said it quite well, actually. I don't believe that restricting the set of users allowed to post on the front page is the solution; as has been noted, that would change the fundamental nature of Meta, and I don't think that's a good thing.

Are there correlations which can be used now by the people who are unhappy to filter out the stuff they don't want to see? Yes there are, and they're fairly good ones.

It's not especially difficult to see when a thread starts circling the drain, and at that point, as an adult, you have two choices: stay and watch the fun, or turn the damn channel. Bitching later really is not an option, as far as I can see.

I have yet to add anyone to my "I won't read this thread because it from *him*" list, personally. I skip threads based on content, but not on poster, per se.

And why would I? If there's a discussion going on, unless it's obviously being overpowered by someone with whom I don't get along, I haven't any especial reason to avoid it.

Except maybe available time, and you know what? That's not anyone else's fault, either. "I don't have enough free time in my life to read everything else I want to read, *and* MetaFilter (because it's gotten too busy) is not *MetaFilter's* fault, nor that of it's posters.

But that's ok. The world just works like that. There's a fine line between concerns everyone would agree are legitimate, and ones that many think are "just the complainer's own problem"... but careful evaluation seems called for before using the data to support fundamental change.

Oh, and Jason?

There May Be A Way To Win This Argument...

...but emulating Dave isn't it!

posted by baylink at 7:45 AM on June 22, 2000

Interesting stuff about user karma - if the problem is that you'll only see a small number of posts by the same people (because you'll never read the posts by newbies with low karma), then there's a possible solution. In David Brin's 'Earth', he envisaged a system where people would be exposed to randomly selected posts.

Perhaps we could do the same here - 90% of the posts you read might be karma-screened, but you'd automatically get lower karma posts that you wouldn't have to read (you could just skip over them, I suppose) but it'd give the newbies a chance to be read.

Taking this a little further, the random posts you read wouldn't truly be random - you wouldn't have to read any universally-agreed troll posts.
posted by adrianhon at 7:54 AM on June 22, 2000

If anybody wants to start their own DG with karma, moderation, editorial control of the main page, etc. there's always Slashcode (although I personally tend to believe that the cure has been worse than the disease on /.). On the other hand, I do think there is a desire, on the parts of many users, for the kind of free-wheeling community that MetaFilter has grown into. I'd be disappointed to see that spirit reined in by a technological "fix".
posted by harmful at 8:07 AM on June 22, 2000

The whole karma/moderation thing inevitably leads us to consider Slashdot. Is the quality of conversation high there? No way. IMO it wasn't especially high even back before it became the open source poster child site.

Moderation has a distorting effect on conversation. For one thing, it inevitably breaks down discourse because some of the conversation is "missing"-- moderated down. Someone may have made a dumb remark that got mod'd down, but another person might respond to it in a really insightful way. Problem is, the insightful response would make no sense to you if you didn't see the dumb remark.

Moderation also causes even more small-m metatalk than MeFi is currently experiencing. Read Slashdot posts-- around ten percent of them explicitly mention moderation (feel free to mod this down, mod this up please), and many of them appear to be written with a specific moderation category in mind (posts trying to be "insightful" are humorless, posts trying to be "funny" are totally devoted to jokes). Plus, on Slashdot people feel free to post as much noise as they like, confident that it will be mod'd down. Overall it really drags a conversation down. I go to /. and set moderation to "five" and I still don't see the kind of thoughtfulness and quality that regularly shows up in the discussions here.

Self-policing seems like a better approach... I especially like Megnut's idea for questions that appear on the link posting page, reminding everyone what's relevant for MeFi. I think questions like that would have stopped me from posting a few of the links that I put on the front page when I started coming here.

I think overall there's a good balance here at MeFi... I've noticed that there's usually one thread per day that's really active and thriving with a lot of interesting conversation. Sometimes the active topic is a holdover from the day before.

In a way we already moderate MeFi just by picking and choosing which link posts to comment on. It's a subtler policing effect but IMO that's part of what makes it superior to Slashdot.
posted by wiremommy at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2000

It's funny - most of the discussions here in this thread focus around the specific nature of Metafilter (limit the number/content of frontpage posts) while ignoring the key problem facing online communities: place.

I've read a hundred different posts, essays and book-length works talking about online community, and the thing they all touch on but nobody seems to get right is that the first thing an online community needs to do is establish a sense of place. Everything else will follow from this, and everything else must either support this or recede into the background.

I've heard that a set of rules tailored to the particular list|board|group will help (I know it has at webdesign-l) but keeping out HTML or richtext or V-Cards - while a great way to keep the annoyance factor low - only serves to remind participants that they are here rather than somewhere else. The signal to noise ratio is a great determinant: (am I in the right place? I don't remember (metafilter|webdesign-l|slashdot|alt.pave.the.earth) being so noisy...) as is the other "branding" (you're not likely to forget that you're on slashdot, or metafilter). This is harder to do on plaintext mailing lists, which become largely a question of moderating the format rather than the content.

An interesting problem arises when your community allows for too much customization, or suffers from too many redesigns. :) The sense of place is disrupted, which I think is one reason for the recent uproar about Salon: the content didn't change much, but people felt like they were at the wrong site. I know I feel that way about the Industry Standard since their redesign... An interesting question is whether everyone can have their own customized view of a community and still possess a similar sense of the place.

I've read that communities need strong leaders. I've tried to be one in all the forae I moderate or participate in, but again it's not that people crave a pushy moderator, it's that the moderator needs to establish a tone, and keep to it, until others pick up on it and start to form a core group around which most discussions can happen. Someone needs to play the bad guy from time to time, but too much punishment is boring, especially if it seems arbitrary. More important, to me, is the stuff that goes on behind the scenes: supporting people who need help, being quick to perform admin tasks (sub|unsub|manage options) or provide a way for people to do so themselves. The tone also goes towards establishing the sense of place: people recognize a place based on its tone and other branding. I'd love to do a full-length survey of the different roles people play within a community online: (leader, scapegoat, devil's advocate, unwitting goad, newbie, outsider, insider, etc.)

Two other factors that affect communities and their ability to keep focused: size and selection. I've tried to grow webdesign-l naturally, by word of mouth. With almost no promotion, it's now almost a thousand strong after three years, mostly people who've told a trusted friend - which is how I wanted it to grow. If it were a moderated list, I'd care less about the size, as the moderator(s) would be able to weed out the chaff, but it's not. The word of mouth factor also helped, IMHO, to keep the list free from disruptive punks (though we've had our share over the years, whose tenures are often mercifully short). One other factor which is probably the most controversial, but is probably the primary reason for the good quality of discussions, is that I use majordomo, don't provide easy signup Web forms, bounce replies that don't bother to trim previous messages, don't allow HTML/richtext/etc., and so forth. If you can't or won't figure out how to use your mailer in a responsible manner, you don't have a right to speak. If you can't figure out how to subscribe, you can't join. If you can't follow instructions, you're booted. It's worked wonders over the years. And people can tell the difference when they're reading, which helps to establish that elusive sense of place. And, of course, anyone can read once they master the arcana that is majordomo's subscription command.

It sort of goes without saying that communities need fixtures, like Norm at Cheers. Walk into a strange bar? See Norm? It must be Cheers. Again, it's all about place.

Every group will establish its own rules (regardless of the rules set forth by the moderator(s) or founder(s)...) that will help govern the everyday functioning of a community. From simple self-regulation to styles of posting or response to conventions and mores regarding offlist contact or where to bring up troublesome issues, these also help to establish the sense of place.

One of the worst (because risky) and best (because potentially fruitful) things that can happen to a community online is for it to question its basic assumptions: why are we here? who brought us together? for what reason? why do we stay? is it right? what can we do differently? Often, this sort of discussion is needed if the community's core foundations aren't well laid. But you risk breaking the community into fragments, which may or may not be strong enough to stand on their own. You risk ruining the thing or things that keep people coming back.

Anyway, once the foundation has been established, all of the points that Jason raised are almost second nature. You're going to have newbies breaking the rules, unless you set up restrictions (as some lists have: newbies have to lurk for two weeks before posting, for example; their first five posts are moderated; etc.) You're going to have the occasional lapse, some of which will be entertaining. Tools like karma are helpful, but don't start to kick in until a critical mass of judgements has been entered for/against the participants, and really work better in large groups. If you recognize 90% of the users, but you have a low karma score, you're going to feel hurt, judged by your peers behind your back. If there are a hundred thousand users, it's more anonymous. It all depends on the makeup and size of the community.

Oh, and I hate weblogs. ;) Sorry, had to get it in there. Seriously, it's been fun watching people's level of participation in my community drop, or at least vary, as they go off to other communities or forms of expression. I think I've finally come to terms with the fact that the whole will be stronger for it in the long run, and that there are valuable lessons to be learned from experiments like Metafilter or Blogger or the fray. (Sorry if you think this remark is disrespectful for referring to the Metafilter community as an experiment; I also think of this experiment as a community :)

posted by schampeo at 8:56 AM on June 22, 2000

Aaron wrote:
> However, if you start to try to tweak the rules in order to favor
> those original posters over the newbies, the community's risking
> doom, because it indicates that the community was probably
> never meant to appeal beyond a tiny self-selecting group in the
> first place.

I couldn't agree more. But I ask: what's wrong with a community that only appeals to a tiny self-selecting group? Your definition of "tiny" matters a great deal here...

posted by schampeo at 9:11 AM on June 22, 2000

I have to add another thing...

Self moderation -vs- "Something important to add...ADD IT!" -vs- Signal to noise

For example: Baylink has a discussion about Stile Project. Someone just remarked that it won a webby for this weird stuff... I want to comment about that. My comment, while it holds a valid point, runs the risk of the discussion side-tracking. So I chose *not* to post that one to keep the grumpy "rules & regulations" faction happy.

I seriously resent that, but I don't know which one of those three categories it falls in. Is *that* the way you want things done here ericost? We have to think of every comment as a domino effect? Will that make MetaFilter a better place (*cough* for you *cough*)? I'm just asking a questions here. With a twist of bitter sarcasm, but a valid question nonetheless.
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 9:15 AM on June 22, 2000

Let me say first of all that I think the BEST idea is to leave MeFi the way it is.

However, if it must change, here are a few things to think about: a lot of you obviously feel that metafilter is more than just a weblog--it's a community, and you have strong feelings (as any community members naturally will) about this community changing.

There is a lot of research about communities and groups, and most of it suggests that when a community has more than 200 members, it loses its identity. (Which is one of the reasons why crowded public schools are such a problem. But with 200 or fewer students, everyone can know everyone else by name).

One possibility would be to split MeFi up into a bunch of mini-MeFis, each one could have a max of 200 members. (Again, using the model of a public school, this technique has worked wonders in some huge schools in which each floor has been given a kind of autonomy and allowed to become its own little school within the big school.)

Here's one way this could work. Imagine 10 mini-MeFis. You can only join one, and you have posting rights only on the one you choose to join. But you have READING rights on all of them.

If you want to post on another one, you will have to quit the one you currently belong to and join the one you want to post to--kind of like moving from New York to Chicago.

If you read an interesting topic on a MeFi that you're not part of, you can, of course, post a similar topic on your MeFi.

I can think of some objections to this idea, but I will it up to others to express them.

Another "community" worth looking into is the one on the Edge and its sister site Feed. Only invited members can post on the Edge, but anyone can comment and discuss Edge issues on Feed.

Something similar could be instituted on MeFi--but with more elasticity. Here's how I imagine it working: When you first sign up, you have the right to comment only, and you can only post ONE comment per thread. This will cause people to think a little before they post, because they won't want to waste their one chance.

After a couple of weeks, they will be given the right to post multiple comments, but not the right to create new threads.

After another couple of weeks, they will be allowed to add one new thread per day.

Finally, after another couple of weeks, they will be granted full posting rights.

This system will allow new users to slowly learn the ways of the community. Perhaps the moderator will have the right to demote people who abuse the system. A "full rights" user you posts 400 threads in one day might be demoted to a "one thread a day" user. He will then have to work his way back up to being a "full rights" user again.

I think it is important that you can regain your rights. It we create a system where there are permanent punishments--"you're banished forever"--we just encourage people to be sneaky (posting under another name, etc.).
posted by grumblebee at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2000

If anybody wants to start their own DG with karma, moderation, editorial control of the main page, etc. there's always Slashcode (although I personally tend to believe that the cure has been worse than the disease on /.).
Slashcode, however, is unwieldy as hell. (I speak from experience.) I really admire the way that MeFi invites new users to jump in; adding the complexity of karma/moderation detracts from that. I've come to believe that it certainly wasn't the way to go for the site that I've used it on. Is the added complexity worth it for the moderate benefit of weeding out a few off-topic posts? On Slashdot, I find something around 80% of posts useless; are we that far gone on MeFi?
posted by snarkout at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2000

I had something to say about all this, but in my opinion Brendan, while talking about something else, says what I feel about this topic better than I can.

Basically, I'm always a bit dubious when someone starts setting limits to corral the people who don't want to act or think like them. But that's just me. I obviously don't have the experience or understanding others do. I mean, thank God the senate has such a complex web of rules as to who can speak, when they can speak, and so forth. That's really helped them maintain a civil, informative dialogue.

I'd better get my notepad out. "Posted something to MetaTalk...must wait five days to post again." There. Now I'll remember. Thankfully, wiser heads have prevailed. Huzzah.
posted by Ezrael at 10:32 AM on June 22, 2000

snarkout wrote:
> On Slashdot, I find something around 80% of posts
>useless; are we that far gone on MeFi?

Since I have been a vocal critic, I will jump in here to say NO WAY. There are still great conversations here every day IMO.

ericbrooksdotcom wrote:
>We have to think of every comment as a domino effect?

Well, yeah I would say that is a decent way to think of it. But really, there is a big difference between "off-topic" and "completely irrelevant." And honestly, I don't think that the off-topic comments would even be an issue if there weren't so many completely irrelevant ones.

But instead of worrying about the domino effect, I suggest we use a variant of the golden rule to govern our behavior:

Write unto MetaFilter as you would have others write unto Metafilter.

And you have to be honest when evaluating that; don't post silly, irrelevant thoughts and rationalize it with "I wish MORE people would write in silly things". This is a community of 1100 people; if everyone wrote in with their asides and in-jokes, I'm sure you agree the conversation would be destroyed; I suggest that means that no one should do it.

I realize people are having fun with their private conversations on MetaFilter, and that I seem like king killjoy, but I'm really just asking a minority of the community to abide by some common sense standards like the majority already are. Kottke's original post is an excellent effort to describe what those standards should be.
posted by ericost at 11:02 AM on June 22, 2000

Very small idea until I have time to write all that I want to say. I want to comment on more of the ideas here, but wanted to throw this out for consideration in the mean time...

Not moderation, but what if we had a choice as to how to catogorize a link on the main page? Like when you submit, you also pick from a list of choices like - politics, blogging, relationships, bizarre, adult, etc. So when the link goes on the front page, you can quickly see the TYPE of discussion it is. So if you're not interested in politics, you just skip that discussion entirely.
posted by thinkdink at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2000

You may hate frames, Flash, or JavaScript, but they're here and you can't turn back the clock.

You may wish MetaFilter was a small community of just "the right" people (ie., your friends) but you can't turn back the clock.

Metafilter lets every member post topics. That is surely one reason its membership has grown. You may wish that Matt would decide "only xyz people can post new topics" - and of course, Matt COULD decide to do that - but you can't turn back the clock. If the rules were to change that drastically, you'd not only lose a lot of members, you'd get a lot of bad word-of-mouth.

Perhaps some people wouldn't mind that mass defection and negative word-of-mouth, but many would. Matt among them, I suspect.

There are sites that allow certain preselected people to post topics. k10k, designiskinky, digital-web come to mind. Nobody complains because that is how those sites were set up. But here, all members know they have the "right" to post topics. You can't remove "rights" without looking wrong.

Let's imagine this idea goes forward anyway. Matt could ask a few trusted friends to be the postees. Imagine the resentments of friends who are not invited to post. Imagine the feelings of the rest of the members.

Suppose Matt decides not to ask his friends. Does he throw it open to the community? Ask people to vote on the 1000+ members? That would be a nightmare.

In order to act impartially, does Matt develop a set of criteria, and then invite only those who meet these criteria to post? The criteria will be criticized.

I think this idea is well-intended, and I understand that some people feel MeFi is "slipping" (I just think it's growing) but I believe that any efforts in this direction will be perceived as elitist - and that would kill this place. This place is this place. You can't turn back the clock.
posted by Zeldman at 11:33 AM on June 22, 2000

The quote seems to be from an old Alertbox: Community is Dead; Long Live Mega-Collaboration:

"A few users contribute the overwhelming majority of the content, while most users either post very rarely or not at all."
posted by tomalak at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2000

I remember waaay back when MeFi was just getting started and Matt had just started promoting the site. There were about 30-40 members at the time and the discussion about "who was allowed to post" was brought up by none other than Kottke himself. Even back then Jason was voicing his concerns about MeFi's potential growth and the signal to noise ratio. The discussion was batted back and forth between only allowing a select few post to the front-page or letting the front-page remain an open forum for all members. Elitism Vs. Open Community if you will. The discussion was ended and a decision was made. Matt chose to leave the MeFi front-page open to all the members. I attribute MeFi's growth and popularity to that decision.

Yes I agree that having an open community as large as MeFi will mean that small interest groups may suffer from a lack of post that are geared towards them specifically but if I remember correctly MeFi was never intended for small interest groups anyways. MeFi will continue to grow and with it the diversity of its members. Not all threads and comments will be of interest to every single member. In my opinion, this should be a given for any online community of this size.

If members don't feel like Meta-Filtering through the threads for what they may consider an interesting post...then perhaps they should start looking for a smaller online community that targets their specific individual interest?

posted by dangerman at 2:03 PM on June 22, 2000

>But I ask: what's wrong with a community that only appeals to a tiny self-selecting group?

Nothing at all. But from all Matt's posts I've ever read on here, I've gotten the impression that it wasn't his intention to limit MeFi to just the small original group.

posted by aaron at 2:15 PM on June 22, 2000

There have been a few interesting posts that really define what it means to say that MeFi is a community. Before I got to them, I was wondering what the hell people were talking about, because I certainly don't feel like a member of any particular community as it relates to MeFi.

I've posted a couple of things to the front page that were interesting to me and sometimes interesting to a couple of others, but otherwise I haven't felt free to speak up much (and arguably havenn't had much to say).

I am beginning to think that the filter that will really strain MeFi is the community of interest. I am interested in a general way in much of the content here, but have nothing to contribute, as I am neither a web designer nor a web celeb, nor even particularly loquacious. I've just been watching the medium for years and MeFi is kind of the latest place to go watch the natives behave as they will online.

That isn't meant to be condescending, but rather to point out the voyeuristic nature of being here at MeFi; after all, one of the natives is me, and lurking is a valid online behavior. Over 1100 members, but it's the same 15-18 people posting regularly. To a certain extent, that might be why I don't feel like a part of the community, but maybe it's more because of the participant-observer status that I take on in my whole life.

What am I trying to say? (see, I'm engaging in a rhetorical strategy to make a point based on megnut's suggestion). I am saying that MeFi is not a community to me, it's a place where I read stuff that might otherwise not come to my attention; occasionally I post things. There is nothing in those transactions that automatically implies community to me. It's a filter. It says so in the name.

If that is true for others as well, that might be one source of the so-called signal-to-noise problem.
posted by elgoose at 3:20 PM on June 22, 2000

I so agree with Steve.

Way back when MeFi was starting, I tried to take a different role (ie strong leader guy or cranky guy or intelligent guy), but I'm not suited to it. I even mentioned to Matt at one point that I was not posting much because I was trying to meet this "other" criteria that I thought he expected of me. As it turns out, Matt was fine with me being the Village Idiot. It's what I do, and to the extent that I do anything well, it's that. Some community fixtures (ie Cranky Guy or Mr Uptight Guy) dont' feel the role of VI (or GVI - the title I have historically preferred) is a legitimate or necessary one - which is not suprising because the general task of the (G)VI is to police the cranky/uptight/takethemselvestooserious types, through ridicule and hyperbole. IMO, that makes it as valid* as the Strong Leader (who sets the structure/shows the way) and the Cranky Guy (who tries to keep people to a more rigid conduct/structure standard by telling them they're misbehaving). The most important role is that of Content Deliverer - which (hopefully) overlaps with the other roles.
The problem with most (all?) of the moderation options being suggested is that I think they interfere with the C-D's job. MeFi is big. Lots bigger than when I got here. The signal-noise ratio has changed, but the overall signal has increased - meaning that at the beginning the s/n was maybe 95/5, but that was for 3 threads a day and a dozen or so comments. Now lets say it's 40/60 with 15 new threads and 150 comments. That's still 6 good threads a day, which is 200% bettern than what is was back in the good old days. In my book, that's a win. Now granted, I've logged a lot of hours in usenet, so I've learned how to skip threads that don't interest me and ignore posters I find annoying, so YMMV.

Bear in mind that my input should probably be taken with a grain of salt, because I'm probably not as smart or funny or interesting or insightful as (you think) I think I am. HTH.

* Valid for communities like MeFi, not necessarily webdesign-l, to which I subscribe but seldom contribute, because I think that technical lists get plenty of idiocy without idiocy of the "Village" variety.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 4:10 PM on June 22, 2000

I love you Uncle Joe & and Uncle Jeffrey !
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 4:24 PM on June 22, 2000

Perhaps the real thing is that in any open forum there are people that don't get along. Rather then try and stifle people we give users more control of what they see. Moderation doesn't always work, but people know who they don't want to listen to. What if each user could filter other users posts?

I'm thinking that when the orginal post is expanded you see the posted order of responses. For those users that you filtered, you only see their name and maybe a link to their response. Nothing else.

Of course, these filter lists should be private, but I think that the user should be able to see how many people are filtering him/her out. It might inspire them to change their posting habits.

I used to run a BBS back in the eighties and it's strange to see how everything old is new again. Pimpwars, message bases, and what have you. All these things live in cycles.
posted by john at 4:49 PM on June 22, 2000

I think things are working well. I wouldn't want to be here if it was all serious, on topic discussion. I'm still waiting for someone here to point to a thread that was killed by off-topic posts.

The two threads that have been referenced in this context both went over 100 posts, and in both cases the issue was well covered before things got silly.

So..... We have a forum where things get a little silly after 30-40 posts? What's wrong with that? Are we really going to try and get so serious about things that this won't be allowed?

Someone compared it to sitting around the table with friends, talking over some beers. So do we really want to get rid of the beer? Do we really want to start glaring at anyone who tells a joke?

In the future we might have too many members. Someday things will get to the point where a non-threaded, non-filtered forum just won't work. I kind of like the idea of having the option of tagging my own posts as "off-topic" or "funny". I don't want to filter that stuff out, but I guess some people do.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:03 PM on June 22, 2000

Regarding the recent perceived slips and slides in s/n ratio, and everything Steve said, I think there's two main problems that are squarely on my shoulders.

1) Why are we here? This was asked early on, back when there were only a couple dozen weblogs, but I never really answered the question beyond "find cool shit on the web and talk about it." I figured the 30 or so other weblogs at the time were grappling with the same problem and if aligning with a topic was something everyone was going to do, I was going to eventually do it.

But I never did.

I had a conversation with a long-time member last month, and he contended that metafilter was a newspaper to him, and that he rarely checked CNN or news.yahoo.com, unless a story was mentioned here. I never thought this was a newspaper, but I couldn't really say exactly what it was. And I still can't.

I kind of wish I picked a topic early on, like "this is all about web designy things" or "this is a topical place to discuss political issues of the day." But without a strong focus, it became both. When the site covers every topic, it's never going to be 100% useful to all. The web designers will like the technology posts, while the political nuts will love the pro- or anti-gun posts.

So what I guess I'm saying is there never was a strong focus, and I don't see there being one in the future beyond: post things worth discussing. Although I've recently seen some great links that have gotten 0 responses (not because they weren't interesting or useful to anyone, but because they were posted in a way that didn't encourage discussion), the best things here are the ones that have conversations that follow them.

I can remember the first time I started ending posts with a question mark. I purposely snaked that from Derek's work at the {fray}. Everything there starts with a question, so I started doing it, and the comments came pouring in. It was great, I finally felt like the site had a point. I even went so far as to thank Derek for the {fray} and all the things it taught me about community.

So in promoting this angle, Meg's suggestions to urge people posting to think before they post and try to phrase their posts in the forms of questions is A Good Thing, and something I'll be adding in some form.

Dang, I never got to the other thing.

2) Strong Moderator setting the tone/Site carrying on the Moderator's voice.

I think I had this well under control until maybe March of this year. Back then I had a boring job with lots of free time, so naturally I could sit at my desk and code or post to metafilter for hours. Since I started at Pyra, I have had little time to even check in during the day, and I try to read most of a day's post each evening, but there's already far too many comments to keep up on.

So now that I've been fairly hands-off here for the past couple months, whatever moderation control I had in the past is almost non-existent now, and a small group have taken some of the reins, to try and keep people in line. And that's quite alright, since I don't have the time to fill that void.

What I find most unsettling about this lack of moderation and slip in quality is that I've realized that running a popular, open forum site by yourself, in your free time, is pretty much impossible. This site has grown into at least 3 or 4 hours of work each day, if I were to really do things right. And as it grows beyond a few thousand, I could see that number growing, and unless the moderator is in the position of spending that much time on a site (either having no job, or making enough money off the site to support themselves), it's bound to either spiral out of control, or come under the control of a group sharing the moderation chores. I guess I'll be expanding the admin duties to more people I trust, but it still runs the risk of empowering the wrong people, or a moderator making a decision I don't agree with.

Overall, I think there's still a lot to like here, and with some combination of self-policing, new guidelines, posting control, and moderation sharing, it can continue without completely going down the drain.

And thanks everyone for all your thoughts, every opinion matters and it's good to know what everyone thinks about the community here.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:42 PM on June 22, 2000

If this helps anyone with their posts, I just realized something. I tend to gravitate and respond to posts that are...well, "No brainers" (I just left myself wide open, I realize that).

The ones that link to a lengthy article, chances are I read it, go "oh", and move on without answering the post. The ones like Matt's Charlie's Angels one contained simple answers I can rattle of the top of my head. I answered.

I don't know if anyone else here is like that, but that's just me. Those are the kinds of posts that work for me. Hope I helped.
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2000

"post things worth discussing"

duly noted.

No offense to.. well whoever may take offense to this, but those four words from Matthew make a lot more sense to me than ...well most of the critiques I've read here and elsewhere about online discussion forums.

Post what you think is worth discussing. Things you personally would want to discuss. Respond to others with something that you believe will further the discussion. It has a twinge of the Golden Rule to it, eh? "Post to others as you would have them post to you." Keep it simple, stupid. An it harm none, so mote it be.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:05 AM on June 24, 2000

One other suggestion to help along the idea of self-moderation (or at least to help us all filter) on top of what thinkdink suggested. The main page already lists how many responses an entry has gotten. How about adding a listing of how many people made those responses? For example, the dreaded 60 response thread could be worth checking out if you knew it was made by, say, 47 users... a lot of folks are pitching in their two cents, and it might be worth it to sift through it all. If a thread of 60 responses is made by only 6 users, then you know it's a few comments that may be worth reading, followed most likely by a lot of going back and forth between 2 or 3 folks that you could probably safely skip altogether (but if that's your thing, then you know to check in and see what's up).

A kind of monitoring device without censoring or ranking anyone.
posted by jason at 5:03 PM on June 27, 2000

60 responses by 6 users????

Jeez *I'm* not even that bad Jason! :0)
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 1:07 AM on June 28, 2000

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