High Volume AskMe August 4, 2006 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Not a complaint ... but Ask MeFi has pretty much exploded in frequency, and it seems that it's now not unusual to be seeing nearly a hundred questions a day. For those who read it via the RSS feed, that's a helluva lot of questions to sort through. This isn't meant to be precisely a question, but anyone have any thoughts?
posted by WCityMike to MetaFilter-Related at 2:24 PM (115 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Well, you're right, it's pretty popular. I don't think there's much to be done about it though.
posted by danb at 2:30 PM on August 4, 2006

Matt offers $30 to the single best question for the month. Paid from the fines levied against all of the questions that could have been answered with variations on Yahoo! searches.

Not chatfilter questions either, good unasked, ungoogleable questions that inspire a good dialog with the intent of answering the question or solving a problem that end in a nice solid answer and a smarterTM Internet.
posted by togdon at 2:34 PM on August 4, 2006

Read faster.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:38 PM on August 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

show only:

[x] science & nature
[x] travel & transportation
[x] computers & internet
[ ] failed relationships

posted by sergeant sandwich at 2:52 PM on August 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

I think it's time to go to two weeks between questions instead of a week.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:54 PM on August 4, 2006

Also, I think 100 posts a day is stretching it. I think we're running in the 60-80 range right now.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:57 PM on August 4, 2006

Is there a way you could see how much that would drop off the questioning? I don't often see the same names pop up - e.g. I'm not sure that folks are posting every week anyhow.
posted by hoborg at 2:58 PM on August 4, 2006

I think it's time to go to two weeks between questions instead of a week.

Is there really a significant number of people that post a question every week? That's insane. Yeah, bumping it to two weeks sounds like a good idea.
posted by danb at 3:01 PM on August 4, 2006

I think it's time to go to two weeks between questions instead of a week.

I concur.
posted by bob sarabia at 3:10 PM on August 4, 2006

Hey Matt, I almost never ask questions so this will probably never matter to me, but how about two questions per month? That way if someone has a follow-up question they don't end up waiting two weeks to ask it. I'm sure the math is harder, but it seems like it'd be more annoying to wait a full two weeks to get the follow-up type questions answered.
posted by togdon at 3:17 PM on August 4, 2006

I'm curious....is the number of askme questions in proportion to the number of active users the same now as it was, say, prior to the opening of the floodgates?

If so, then, all is well, if not, why might that be?

Two weeks is reasonable... Since I joined (two years in November), I've posted two questions...

Let's make it two weeks and put a google tutorial in the faq!
posted by HuronBob at 3:21 PM on August 4, 2006

My solution to this would be to ruthlessly ban any question resembling "what book was this that I read as a kid?", "what was this obscure movie/TV show that I once saw?", or "help me assemble a playlist about foo". I can't stand those. But I know the chances of this happening are probably nil.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:21 PM on August 4, 2006

Some prior discussion of this topic.
posted by brain_drain at 3:24 PM on August 4, 2006

I DO often see the same names popping up every week, but that could be confirmation bias.
posted by muddgirl at 3:25 PM on August 4, 2006

My solution to this would be to ruthlessly ban any question resembling "what book was this that I read as a kid?", "what was this obscure movie/TV show that I once saw?", or "help me assemble a playlist about foo". I can't stand those. But I know the chances of this happening are probably nil.

Those are actually my favorite.
posted by bob sarabia at 3:47 PM on August 4, 2006

i wonder about the 2 questions a month, deal. I mean, a month from when? from the first question asked? what's the first question? if I ask a question on august first, and another on august 29th, does that mean I can ask a question on september first and another on september second? or does that mean that I can ask a question on september first, and then another on september 30th? would we say two questions in a calendar month? if there's a problem with the same people asking a lot of questions, wouldn't that cause the site to be flooded with questions on the first of every month?

also, I too am interested in knowing how many questions are asked by the same people week after week. If it's a lot, then extending the limit totally seems to be the solution, but that would boggle my mind.
posted by shmegegge at 3:50 PM on August 4, 2006

I did a quick statistical analysis of the potential effects of this policy earlier this month. Predictable conclusion: it would help, but not that much.
posted by gsteff at 3:51 PM on August 4, 2006

I think sergeant sandwich's idea is a strong one: short of finding some way to significantly and permanently reduce the number of questions per day, individual opt-in filtering seems like the sanest way to go. That way, folks who find the bandwidth too great can set (at a per-user level) which categories of posts they'd like to see and cut out the rest.

1. Reading for those folks becomes more focused and pleasant.
2. Answerers who filter their questions will see fewer questions and have more opportunities to answer the sort of question they have a knack for.
3. Askers benefit from the focused answering resulting from (2).
4. Us big-pipe askme vacuums are unaffected if we don't opt in.

If there's some good way to create personalized askme feeds for individual users' filter preferences, that'd seal the deal. Generating X-thousand of those in real time would probably be prohibitive, though -- updating those in a batch once a day might be better.
posted by cortex at 3:58 PM on August 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

(And while I don't see once-every-two-weeks as a big deal, that particular trend of bandwidth management will have diminishing returns if taken further, while having a greater and greater negative impact on askers.)
posted by cortex at 3:59 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

If there's some good way to create personalized askme feeds for individual users' filter preferences, that'd seal the deal. Generating X-thousand of those in real time would probably be prohibitive, though -- updating those in a batch once a day might be better.

Javascript is the obvious solution to this. The content of the personalizable page should be uniform, simply with a buttload of questions included (say 200). Then the filtering is done client side. Easy on the server.
posted by gsteff at 4:17 PM on August 4, 2006

Now I try to stay out of these kind of pie-in-the-sky "hey, I have a daft suggestion for your website sir" discussions, but how about making it so that posting answers allows you to post more questions? So you get one question every two weeks plus one question per best-marked answer.
posted by reklaw at 4:37 PM on August 4, 2006

So you get one question every two weeks plus one question per best-marked answer.

For so many reasons is that a bad idea. The posts marked best answer are often NOT the best answer, they are simply the opinion of the original poster. In addition, AskMeFi isn't a contest, nor should it be. No answer should be, theoretically, more highly valued than any other answer. People should be able to draw their own conclusions about what answers work best for them, without a distinction from an internet stranger.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:43 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I did a quick statistical analysis of the potential effects of this policy earlier this month. Predictable conclusion: it would help, but not that much.

That's what I'd guess. It'll piss people off and will have little effect on the overall volume, as I doubt there's a huge number of people who average more than a question every two weeks anyway.

Being stricter about repeat/easy/stupid/chatfilter questions would help. I see at least 10 (of 50) on the current front page that could easily go.
posted by cillit bang at 4:46 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think it's time to go to two weeks between questions instead of a week.

I think it's time to close freakin' signups.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:03 PM on August 4, 2006

Yes, cillit bang is what I'd like to see. It's a fine line but I would say a vast majority of relationship/sex/flirt issues are so similar they should be deleted. If you can get rid of 50 bad questions at say the expense of getting 1 good question -- I'd accept that false positive rate.

That and if there was some way to get rid of regional questions if they don't pertain to you. That might be a bugger to code but it'd be nice.
posted by geoff. at 5:06 PM on August 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

Starvos has hit something. It looks to me (if I counted correctly) that 17 out of 40 (almost 50%) participate solely on AskMetafilter. About 2-3 appear to have signed up just to answer questions. The source of the surge in questions are those signing up just to ask Metafilter. I do not know if this is bad per se, but the demographics cannot be ignored.
posted by geoff. at 5:11 PM on August 4, 2006

Well 42.5%
posted by geoff. at 5:11 PM on August 4, 2006

Raise the admission fee.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:20 PM on August 4, 2006

I think it's time to go to two weeks between questions instead of a week.

I couldn't disagree with you more. I think it's more a matter of filtering. As others have noted above, people shouldn't have to wade through my post on broadband service in Queens, NY if they're living in England. And I think it's incumbent on users to read carefully and ignore those questions that don't pertain to them.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:42 PM on August 4, 2006

Raise the admission fee.

Folk would easily pay $10 for the lot. Make it $8 for Ask Metafilter alone, everybody's happy.
posted by jack_mo at 5:43 PM on August 4, 2006

I sorta think that opt-in by topic is the way to go, but I lost interest in DIGG when they added the other subjects to the side bar as it seemed like much crappier articles were making it to the front. Then again, I lost most my interest in ask.me when my good queston about belief in god was deleted in the same day that the post on 'how do i gets me some anal sex' generated 150 comments. . .
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 5:58 PM on August 4, 2006

Folk would easily pay $10 for the lot. Make it $8 for Ask Metafilter alone, everybody's happy.

So why is it still at $5? MeFi shareholders are going to be pissed if word gets out of how badly this company is run.
posted by absalom at 6:01 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

show only:

[x] which brand of (common consumer product) should I buy?
[x] where can I buy (thing)? Or is (something else) better?
[x] my computer is making funny noises. Why?
[x] where can I find a good travel agent?
[x] I'm in in (place). What should I do?
[x] my (thing) is (broken|missing|diseased|scratched), how do I (fix|find|get rid of) it?
[x] I'm (bored|lonely|angry|horny|depressed). Anyone else ever feel that way?
[x] Is there any software out there that can take a list of names and sort them alphabetically?
[ ] everything else
posted by sfenders at 6:01 PM on August 4, 2006

Not a complaint. Not whining but hush. You should be gently touching those parts we speak not of in joy that mongs even entertain the concept of a question. Street party for all I say. Ambiguity is elsewhere.
posted by econous at 6:07 PM on August 4, 2006

Why not make it like signups used to be? The first 50 questions every day make it, after that you have to wait until tomorrow.

That's how I got a membership here, these kids today need to learn how tough it was in the old days.

Or charge $1/question (1 free per month).
posted by blue_beetle at 6:20 PM on August 4, 2006

Simple solution:

Don't read every question. Does it really matter if lots of questions are being asked, as long as they're being ansered?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Doesn't that greasemonkey MeFi script filter based on category?
posted by c:\awesome at 6:30 PM on August 4, 2006

As long as we're shouting out the kinds of questions we'd like to see banned, here's my vote for questions along these lines: "Help me figure out a gift to give my friend who's [insert thing friend is doing or experiencing that calls for a unique gift]."
posted by jayder at 6:33 PM on August 4, 2006

I agree with the once-per-fortnight idea, but like others I've noticed a huge number of just-joined-to-ask-questions folk. Not that this is a terrible thing per se, but it is contributing to the question overload.

Also, the relationshipfilter questions drive me nuts. They seem to fail the basic tenet of AskMe: that a question should be answerable. Questions such as "My girlfriend cheated on me are we going to break up?" or "Is he going to leave his wife for me?" are the exact opposite of this rule. Could we either ditch the relationship questions or at least give us an option to filter them out?
posted by blag at 6:35 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

AskMeFi isn't a contest, nor should it be

Paf. Says you.

It's actually a little upsetting that I get more satisfaction from giving a good answer on AskMe versus getting my actual job done. Because I do like my job. And AskMe pays shit.
posted by GuyZero at 6:38 PM on August 4, 2006

questions we'd like to see banned

... and what is it with all these folk with emotional problems? Sheesh, people, get a grip!
posted by mischief at 7:05 PM on August 4, 2006

I'm sitting this one out.
In hell.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:25 PM on August 4, 2006

I'm in favor of

- two posts per month
- no more mixtape questions
- waiting period for new question askers [a month?]
- possibly being a little more strict on chatfilter question removal
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:28 PM on August 4, 2006

No, No, No!

The more questions the better! When I go to answer a question which interests me, I read all previous questions by the poster, all posts and usually some of the answers they have given to other people's questions just in order to have enough of a parallax view to have even a chance of giving a useful answer.

Do not bind the mouths of the kine which tread the grain-- not if you expect any butter for that toast in the morning, buster.
posted by jamjam at 7:35 PM on August 4, 2006

Yeah no limit on the questions, once a week is fine. If someone is going crazy they will get called out. I am okay with someone asking 8 questions a month if they're the best 8 questions a month. When it was a free for all we did have problems but now for me I'll think of something good and if it really is good I'll ask it when my time comes. If it's a passing thing it passes. I really think the limitations is rather asymmetric. It might stop a 2-3 bad questions a month but could prevent 10-15 really good questions.

Also can we pretty please reevaluate a lot of the relationship questions. Like some are valid and to the people asking they may seem incredibly important but I have a very strong feeling that they are more catharsis than anything else. Obviously the ones that are more answerable are good (like the ones with children and divorce) but it seems a lot of the breakup or "who should I choose" should better be done at a bar or over dinner with friends. There are times where everyone wants to go "what should I do?!", and I've probably wanted to ask here until I came to the rational conclusion that there is nothing here that would help me and no one would know the situation -- which is invariable several times more complicated than it should be. Sorry to be so mean to relationship question askers but I would say, seriously 90% are either resolved by the end of the question itself or just kind of stupid. Am I being too harsh in my criticism?
posted by geoff. at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Of all AskMe questioners, what percentage ask at least once every two weeks? What percentage have only asked one question, ever?

I'd accept a lengthened wait between questions, though I'd prefer splitting the questions up somehow...whether filtering or seperate pages, I don't know. What really bugs me now is that good questions that deserve more attention scroll off the bottom of the page before getting a reasonable number of answers.

Alternatively, how about a $1 charge for each question asked, purchasable in $10/10question blocks?
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:11 PM on August 4, 2006

Also discussed here.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:17 PM on August 4, 2006

Not at all, geoff. Many times I read a relationship question and the answer is either i) completely obvious (He has sex with goats? Probably not marriage material), or ii) impossible to answer without knowing the parties involved (Yeah, maybe she's scared of commitment. Maybe she hates you. How am I supposed to know?)

I think the mixtape thing is overstated - we get one, two per week? It's just an easy target to latch onto.
posted by blag at 8:18 PM on August 4, 2006

- waiting period for new question askers [a month?]

This I actually like. This measure would discourage people whose committment to the community might not be any deeper than one (or two) questions. I suspect that might be a bigger problem than people who post every week or every other week.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:48 PM on August 4, 2006

Am I the only person who reads AskMe often enough that I don't have the "too many questions" problem? I just read back until I hit the ones I recognize from my last perusal - clicking the "Older Questions" link is not that hard.

And honestly, I'd rather have too many to read than get bored because I'm OCD about the 'filters. If I miss some, I'm sure one of the other 40,000 members will be able to help out the asker.
posted by ArsncHeart at 8:55 PM on August 4, 2006

I haven't thought this out too well, but how about some sort of rating system for questions, where say, people give a number score to a question (a little bit like Hot or Not) based on its level of intelligence, interestingness etc. The posters who get higher scores get to ask more questions. I don't know how the system would be implemented for anonymous questions though.

Or instead of that, we can just go by the existing "favorites" system; let's say 20 people mark your question as a favorite, you get to ask another one as soon as you'd like, 15 and you get another question the next week, 10: two weeks, 5: three weeks, below 5: one month.
posted by Devils Slide at 9:30 PM on August 4, 2006

Is there really a significant number of people that post a question every week? That's insane.

Call me insane -- or just stupid -- but I've often been into situations where I'm like, "Wow, I bet I could AskMeFi and get an answer to this. But I have to wait two more days. Dammit." So, I don't think once a week is too many.
posted by frogan at 9:34 PM on August 4, 2006

Hey, gsteff: Can you run the numbers using one question a month?

Because six months to a year from now, I'm pretty sure we're going to be discussing the value of a one-question-a-month limit.
posted by mediareport at 9:41 PM on August 4, 2006

or instead of that, we can just go by the existing "favorites" system


Ultimately what that does is promote those who write funnier/ruder questions which does nothing to help those who may not be great writers but have serious questions.

I dunno, but when I answer a question it's not for my own enjoyment (generally), but because I like helping people.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:59 PM on August 4, 2006

I think the best suggestion in here is an enforced waiting period before you can ask your first question.

It's going to have to be something like that, a clampdown on new subscribers (whether that's a fee raise or a total cutoff), or we just have to get used to it.

There's really no good/better interface for a whole bunch of unrelated questions which any user can potentially be interested in, although I suppose there could be an AJAXy live filter system... maybe I'll whip up something like I'm thinking of to demo it. It might suck. It's a long weekend, though, what else am I going to be doing?
posted by blacklite at 11:31 PM on August 4, 2006

when I answer a question it's not for my own enjoyment (generally), but because I like helping people.

Aha, but do you enjoy helping people...

I tend to concur with stavros - it seems to me like a lot of the surge has been driven by people signing up just for AskMe. Click on a lot of user names these days and you find a posting history limited only to questions and a few answers. The other thing I've noticed is a surge in the questions that are answered with a "see here" and a link to a previous question - whether the two are connected, though, I don't know. But perhaps something to incentivise people to search more before they post might work. There are a few that are normally pretty easy to find the answer to on Google or Wikipedia.
posted by greycap at 11:35 PM on August 4, 2006

The tragedy of the commons.
posted by delmoi at 11:51 PM on August 4, 2006

Honestly what I think askme needs are moderators. Mods could try to determine what questions are "hard" and what questions are "easy" and put the easy questions in one section and the hard questions in another.

Or maybe it should be up to the user, one easy question a week, one hard question a month.
posted by delmoi at 11:54 PM on August 4, 2006

I really believe that it will be a mistake to start disallowing some kinds of questions based on the criterion of reducing volume. Go ahead and make any changes you feel appropriate, but do it from a purely editorial standpoint, not as flow control.

And I think that further limits on posting will make such a slight difference that it will hardly be worth it. I think people will panic a bit and actually ask more questions, up to their quota, because they'll feel like it's such a finite resource they need to take advantage of every opportunity, whereas if it stays the same there won't be such a sense of urgency. Plus, with new user signups, many of which are just for askme, and sock accounts... I just don't think that it will go far in reducing the number of new questions.

It seems to me that the only way to make it manageable over the long term is user-side filtering. It would be great if page views were really flexible so that users could choose to filter by category, or by excluding categories. So, for example one could view only tech-related... or view all except relationship and travel, for example. And people who like to see all the questions could still access the current version. It would also be nice to be able to view questions by fewest answers, because I think a lot of people like the challenge of difficult questions.
posted by taz at 1:04 AM on August 5, 2006

My suggestion: remove posts from the Feed and Ask frontpage once a question has been marked as best.

Askers may be less inclined to mark best responses as a consequence of this, but in many posts this never happens anyway as it is.

This doesn't do much for things like relationship posts where there is no right answer and a range of feedback is sought, but it does help a lot for more technical posts which have a single solution.

As an example, this question is a great use of Ask. However, since lekvar's response perfectly answers the question there is no need for it to be on the frontpage or feed anymore.
posted by Olli at 2:31 AM on August 5, 2006

ArsncHeart: I'm the same, but that's probably because I have too much time on my hands.

If anything, I find the relationship questions much more interesting than "I did [blah] to my laptop and now it's doing [blah]. Please hope me!"

That said, I do like the idea of the filter thing sergeant sandwich suggested. It keeps everyone happy!
posted by liquorice at 3:10 AM on August 5, 2006

It seems common to me for people to walk away from forums for a while, return to posting furiously, then disappear again. Extending the time between questions might discourage some posting them at all. There are also a lot of urgent questions. I'd hate to see someone screw themselves because they need health advice, but they can't ask because they wanted to know a week and half ago whether Marilyn Manson is the kid from The Wonder Years.

Since MeFi doesn't "bump" posts to the top based on popularity, I've assumed the ephemeral nature of the posts to be a deliberate move, and have resigned myself to missing a lot of them. When I have time, I scroll to the cryptically named "Older questions" link.
posted by evil holiday magic at 3:24 AM on August 5, 2006

Discourage signing up just to ask a question? Let's look at the first part of that idea: Discourage signing up? That doesn't make sense in my book (it's an economics book). Your commitment here doesn't extend any further than the five dollars you contribute to His MatJessty.

Removing questions with a satisfactory answer would also be a bad idea (and I know something about bad ideas). A big part of AskMe is seeing a question you maybe always wondered but never knew how/who/whatever to ask. I know I love me a good answer to a good question, and, without being able to see these, I think AskMe would lose a lot of its allure.

The biggest issue for me, and apparently several others, is the idea that it is acceptable to vent on AskMe. Yeah, being cheated on hurts, and breaking up leaves you confused, and any other number of issues relating to the opposite sex can be hard to deal with. But we need to comport ourselves with a bit of maturity here. Posting a long rant that is skewed to your opinion with an inane question tacked on in order garner some empathy from a faceless crowd is inconsiderate. The only people who would miss their absence could just as easily vicariously enjoy someone else's plight on grouphug.us or craigslist rants and raves section. Unfortunately, properly doing away with these questions would require them to be taken to the level of taboo with which self-linking FPPs are regarded.

Lastly, maybe taking questions off the main page isn't such a bad idea in the case of easily google-able questions. Perhaps a check-box that allows an answerer to say "all I did was check Google..." that would pull the question from the front page if the response was Best Answered. Just an idea, I wouldn't know the difficulty that would go into implementing that. But it doesn't seem like that ineffective of an idea, as there are plenty of examples where a few responses into the thread the original asker says something to the effect of, "oh, crap. should've checked there first. sorry about all of this."
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 3:37 AM on August 5, 2006

Okay, so, here's the thing I made. I don't know if anyone is watching this thread anymore.

I can't really tell how good the responsiveness is, because the computer I'm using is slow for the weirdest things, but that's basically what I was thinking — all I changed, for those of you who don't feel like going to see, is that there's a toggleable list of categories up near the top that you can use to filter the display questions. No 'save filters', no waiting, quick feedback. In the real world this would also save your choices between visits.

It could be prettier, probably, but it's 5 AM and I should maybe go to sleep now.

(Also, PS, that's not a live mirror or anything, so you can't just decide to use that instead of the real AskMe front page. As much as I'd love to provide public services for no money...)
posted by blacklite at 4:00 AM on August 5, 2006

Oh, yeah, and, (sort of) known issues: it probably breaks in IE, I don't know. It won't work without javascript. Those can be dealt with, though.
posted by blacklite at 4:02 AM on August 5, 2006

Removing questions with a satisfactory answer would also be a bad idea (and I know something about bad ideas). A big part of AskMe is seeing a question you maybe always wondered but never knew how/who/whatever to ask. I know I love me a good answer to a good question, and, without being able to see these, I think AskMe would lose a lot of its allure.

I know what you mean, I've often stumbled across interesting solutions to questions that wouldn't have occurred to me. You wouldn't have to miss out on great answers though:

There is already a page which lists only those questions which have a best answer. If you feel like browsing and learning things you can flip through it.

Alternatively the main page could be left alone, and a new page could be added that just lists questions without best answers, as an opposite to the questions with best answers page.
posted by Olli at 4:10 AM on August 5, 2006

The stumped idea would make sure a higher proportion of questions get an answer, even as volume increases.
posted by cillit bang at 4:21 AM on August 5, 2006

blacklite, that's fantastic.

Similarly, I scraped and parsed 2000 askme questions, along with some basic user data, overnight. I'll try to run some stats on it later today, but if anyone would like a copy of the sqlite db file, email me.
posted by gsteff at 4:36 AM on August 5, 2006

Also, blacklite, I'm on a good machine, but your page is perfectly responsive, and the initial ajax load takes less than half a second. I see why you're loading the questions from xml rather than the normal page, but by examining the href attribute of the category links in each question, it should be possible to find the categories of each question using the normal html, so that the page is still usable in older browsers. A silly point though; that's some impressive speed coding.
posted by gsteff at 4:47 AM on August 5, 2006

What's the point of putting filters on top of the screen? You've already got a nice list of topics on the sidebar. Just add a checkbox next to them and a pretty [Apply Filter] button at the bottom and you're done.

Basically, what sgt. sandwich suggested in the fourth comment of this thread.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:02 AM on August 5, 2006

"Being stricter about repeat/easy/stupid/chatfilter questions would help. I see at least 10 (of 50) on the current front page that could easily go."

Yes. Sometimes there isn't a structural solution, and some things are done better by people. Ignore the bullshit whiners on MeTa who want perfect compliance with immutable axioms and just start whacking more questions.
posted by klangklangston at 7:50 AM on August 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

blacklite's web page crashes Safari reliably. Just goes poof after about 20 seconds of the loading. So watch out for that.
posted by smackfu at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2006

frogan: Your example makes me more in favor of a longer period, not less.

Goose: did you come up with MatJessty? It should be the new black.
posted by absalom at 8:44 AM on August 5, 2006

My solution to this would be to ruthlessly ban any question resembling "what book was this that I read as a kid?", "what was this obscure movie/TV show that I once saw?"

What a stupid idea. Those are among the questions whose answers provide most satisfaction to the asker, and in case you hadn't figured it out, AskMe is about getting answers for people, not entertaining the bystanders.

I don't think there is an answer to this problem as long as Matt doesn't want to restrict membership, but forcing people to wait a good long time before asking a question might help.
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on August 5, 2006

My suggestion: remove posts from the Feed and Ask frontpage once a question has been marked as best.

I definately concur with this. The poster is the one who decides when their question is answered. When that's done, move along, there are more people with questions in the cue.

There is already a page which lists only those questions which have a best answer.

This page serves just about no purpose. On the other hand, a page showing questions that haven't recieved a "best answer" would be a lot more useful. Hell, you could filter it by post comments to only show posts with, say, less than 10 comments.

Man, I'm getting all aggitated thinking about how stupidly obvious all of this is. OK, I'm going blacklite's route--there's no better argument than a working example.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:23 AM on August 5, 2006

"Simple solution:

Don't read every question. Does it really matter if lots of questions are being asked, as long as they're being ansered?"

This is true. I never read AskMe unless I'm specifically linked to a question, and the universe hasn't collapsed in upon itself yet. I wonder what percentage of users have posted more FPPs than AskMes. I'm over the "one AskMe question per FPP or bestanswer" idea, but I still think people should be contributing to MeFi if they're going to put a drain on the community by using AskMe. Maybe along the lines of what Jess suggested in terms of a waiting period, add a clause that you have to have at least attempted an FPP before asking your first question. But that still leads to junk FPPs.

I dunno, I just don't like the idea of people signing up (and paying $5, sure), just to use the knowledge base without contributing. But there's no algorithm I can think of that monitors contributions discourages crap. Giving someone one question per ten answers means you get a bunch of crappy one line noise for answers, because people are greedy for questions. But I do know that I find AskMe unreadable in its present state, so I rarely contribute anymore. Occasionally I'll remember to search for things tagged with keywords pertaining to my specialty, but that's too much work and too narrow a field.
posted by Eideteker at 10:26 AM on August 5, 2006

Actually, I remember a proposal I made once before but can't remember in which thread. I suggested letting users get one question per month, with up to four of those being bankable (you can accrue up to four questions). And if that didn't sound complicated enough to code, you could transfer the questions to a user who had already used theirs for the month (put a "Donate your questions?" link on the profile page or something). Questions asked that are over the asker's monthly limit get put into a waiting list, where donors can review them for urgency (My mom needs a kidney... vs. What wallpaper should I choose?). Questions that don't get bumped off the waiting list simply get posted when the querent's month is up (not on the first of the month; that would be suicidal). Donors might do this out of community spirit, but if not enough people are donating, maybe you could build a system where donors of enough questions (100?) earn points for a free gift membership for a friend or something (you'd also have to code up the gift membership thing). I think that would glut the page, though, and that the small stream of regular donations would be enough for the most urgent and immediate of questions.

It's actually not that complicated, but would require basically rebuilding the system from the ground up. But I figured I'd throw it out there. I like that people who have to ask questions would still be able to, but that frivolous questions would have a higher cost to the asker, reducing their overall frequency (and by the absence of their example, reducing their overall tendency). Questions right now are so "cheap" that they can be asked indiscriminately. I've basically raised the price, but also placed them into a merit-based system (oh, and as an added bonus, you can hide the usernames on the waitlist page so it's not a popularity contest).
posted by Eideteker at 10:52 AM on August 5, 2006

Of course, it's easy for me to say that I like Eideteker's idea, since I wouldn't be paying the immense investment in time necessary to implement it ... but nevertheless, I like Eideteker's idea. :)
posted by WCityMike at 11:10 AM on August 5, 2006

I'm glad you even understand it. Sadly, I'm an ideas guy, not an execution guy. Someone (it might've even been on MeFi) told me I should be a project manager.
posted by Eideteker at 11:28 AM on August 5, 2006

if they're going to put a drain on the community by using AskMe

This makes no sense to me. How are they "a drain on the community"? They're asking a question. If you don't want to answer, don't. If you do, you presumably don't feel drained—at least, I never have after answering, even when I've had to go to some trouble to find an answer. I like answering questions. I think most people do. If you don't.... well, don't do it. I don't see that there's a problem.
posted by languagehat at 11:32 AM on August 5, 2006

It's not so much a drain as a load, like a resistor or a weight. It requires Work (with a capital W) to be resolved, whether that Work is "work" or "fun" is in the mind of the answerer. But it requires some expenditure of effort, and a lot of people feel indebted to try to answer as many questions as they can in return for the answers they've received in the past. It may be freely given help, but it can wear and drag over time. Some people are creatures of habit and may not be entirely in tune with their mental state to the point where they can say, "Hey, keeping up with ask is causing me anxiety. Let me take a few days off." If they're used to checking it daily, they'll keep checking it daily because that's their habit. If there wasn't a problem, we wouldn't have this thread. People are being overwhelmed (or letting themselves be overwhelmed) by AskMe, and if the problem is people who are not members of the rest of the community (sign up to ask questions only then disappear) are part of the problem then that should stop. If it's not, then I've been misinformed; please carry on.
posted by Eideteker at 11:51 AM on August 5, 2006

it should be possible to find the categories of each question using the normal html

That's a good point, gsteff. I get kind of object-happy sometimes. And then maybe it won't crash our friends the Safari users.

that's some impressive speed coding.

Thanks! Obviously it could have been tested some more, though; sorry, smackfu.
posted by blacklite at 12:13 PM on August 5, 2006

I have a suggestion that I'm almost positive no one will like (except me), but in case I'm wrong, I'll go ahead and make it:

1. One free question a month.
2. Unlimited additional questions at cost.

Both of those points are tweakable (maybe it's two free questions a month and four -- instead of unlimited -- additional questions at cost).

Here's my defense: for me, AskMe has become VITAL -- not just fun. I can't quite explain that. Obviously, I was alive and well before AskMe existed. But it's sort of like Google. It has vastly improved the quality of my life, and I wouldn't want to go back to the "dark ages" before it existed. Several times, my life has been improved by the fact that I've gotten quick answers to an important question.

On the other hand, I've sometimes kicked myself, because I used up my weekly question on something interesting but frivolous (and I LOVE those questions and wouldn't want to give them up), only to discover a couple of days later that a more important issue has come up, and now I can't ask about it in time for that project's due date.

(Someone who leads a relatively simple life probably can't understand this, but I always have many balls in the air. I basically work four complex jobs at once, so questions -- with impending deadlines -- always loom. And I know I'm not the only multi-tasker here.)

Bottom line: it sucks to NOT be able to ask a question; it sucks for AskMe to get all clogged up with too many questions.

If people had to pay $1 ($5?) for a question, they could always ask if it was vital, but they might think twice before posting trivial stuff. And the freebie would allow anyone to participate -- even if they were short on funds.

Were it my site, I would allow 1 free question a month, a second for a dollar, a third for $5, and additional ones for $10 each.
posted by grumblebee at 12:36 PM on August 5, 2006

Okay, I incorporated gsteff's suggestion(s), and there's about 80% less code now, and it won't die if you don't have javascript. But Safari might still crash. I have to go Socialize With People now. :)
posted by blacklite at 1:08 PM on August 5, 2006

That's really cool, blacklite. I hope matt adds it, regardless of any other solution (he should make MeFi opensource!). My one suggestion would be an option that allows you to instantly cross out ALL categories, so you can then un-cross out just the one you're interested in.
posted by grumblebee at 1:33 PM on August 5, 2006

I'm not quite out the door yet (people are slow, dammit) so I added that, grumblebee. Although I can't figure out exactly when [all] should be crossed out or not, it seems to work the way one might expect it to...
posted by blacklite at 1:54 PM on August 5, 2006

Now that I think about it, I'd rather it worked the other way around. If I clicked, say, "Technology", I'd like to ONLY see technology questions.

Maybe there could be two radio buttons:

(x) include clicked links
( ) exclude clicked links
posted by grumblebee at 2:09 PM on August 5, 2006

The arguement from those who say there are too many questions to read confuses me - if you go to askme looking to read, say, 40 random questions, why does it matter how many random questions have already scrolled off the page?

The problem as I see it is in maximising utility for Askers, for which the stumped idea gets my vote. I'd be quite happy to wade through the unanswered mysteries, but then I wish there were twice as many questions in the first place.

On the new user problem, how about making a three-month waiting period for posting questions - that would probably discourage anyone signing up just to ask questions, rather than to participate. Or at least maybe they'd just forget they had an account, if they don't answer or comment.
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:19 PM on August 5, 2006

I like the quick and voluntary aspect's of blacklite's example page... but it's a bit slow to load on my crappy dial-up. (Or maybe the server is being pummeled.)

I think voluntary is the key point. Aside from mix tape and angsty relationship questions, there are very few questions I see that, the answer to which, wouldn't have a value to somebody.
posted by evil holiday magic at 2:28 PM on August 5, 2006

MetaMonkey, the only real problem that comes to mind would be for the askers. As the frequency of new questions increases, there is a possible reduction in attention to individual questions. During peak times, when a question would get the most exposure, it is also more likely to be driven to the next page by other questions.
posted by evil holiday magic at 2:38 PM on August 5, 2006

That is awesome, blacklite. (And it works perfectly in Safari.)
posted by smackfu at 3:15 PM on August 5, 2006

My solution to this would be to ruthlessly ban any question resembling "what book was this that I read as a kid?", "what was this obscure movie/TV show that I once saw?"

That's among favourite categories of questions. I'm not usually interested in knowing the answer, but these are questions that are usually not answerable in any other easy way, and asking metafilter works quite well. This form of question can show up in almost any category, which illustrates why filtering by at least the existing categories is ineffectual for finding good and/or interesting questions. The ones I find interesting are questions to which the answer isn't obvious, easily found, or entirely a matter of opinion and taste. And unix shell script questions of any kind. It would be difficul to design a system of categorization to catch them.

I couldn't care less about the quantity of questions, but anything that could be done to improve their quality would be good. Limiting people to one question per two weeks couldn't hurt. It's a rare genius who can come up with more than one good question a month.
posted by sfenders at 3:26 PM on August 5, 2006

AskMefi is a repository of information. As such, the opinion of the person who asked the question as to what qualifies as best answer is not necessarily relevant. So using that as a criterion for question removal from the stream is not a smart way to reduce the traffic.

I don't know how traffic could be better reduced or corralled. It doesn't worry me particularly.

Perhaps some sort of question:answer:time ratio cutoff rule per user might help. Statistically speaking, where are all the questions coming from? That seems like a major crunch just to understand it all bit better. What % from new users per day? What % from people with less than 50 answers? What % from >30,000 user number? What % per category? And etc - there are a lot of ways to view it all and without having a better handle on the spread, it' hard to know what is worth attacking.
posted by peacay at 4:18 PM on August 5, 2006

I always thought it'd be great to have an option to hide questions on the main page. If we're able to maintain a favorite system, I see no reason why you can't have a "bury this" box right next to the favorites box.

I can quickly skim down the front of the green and determine which questions I a) will never look into or b) have already read and don't care about continued contributions to.

Having the ability to hide these would let the system operate more like a feed reader does, which sorta comes back to how the site is managed through RSS. (To which I say: meh.)

As far as the following issues are concerned, I know that this site is somewhat democratic so I'll post my thoughts:

Extending the period to two weeks:
On the surface, please don't. The "it won't help that much" consideration is my prime concern, because there are times where two questions come to me and I would LOVE to nail them, but other times where I lull and have no need for my questions.


Eideteker's solution for bankable questions:
Yes, a million times, yes. This is the best solution, because you could easily tweak how many could be banked or what have you, so that if a user goes through a question every two weeks like clockwork, that's tough. But if they haven't asked in ages, and have two to kick out the door, they're able to.

Charging for additional questions:
Please don't. I understand the finances involved in this and blah, blah. But this system a) be quickly abused by spammers, b) open up headaches from people who "want their money back" and c) cheapen the AskMeFi experience.

If I'm going to pay for a question, I'm going to ask Google Answers.

Limiting the "type" of questions to "non-mixtape-questions:
Bullshit. Maybe more granularity in the categories are needed, or a way to filter out specific tags, but please don't disallow people from using this site for all heretofore-accepted-questions. If it becomes all about the mechanics of dwarf stars and mortgages, I might die a little inside.

Hide questions once they've been marked as best.
This is a MISERABLE idea. I oftentimes will read a question just because I know that the OP has found an answer to it, and that I can jump in and see the answer that suited them at a glance. If you incorporate this, please make it optional.

Altering the editorial structure/policies of the site as it exists:
I think that Matt and Jess are definitely a bit overwhelmed (which, itself, might be a gross understatement) and that the additional admin idea might be one to consider, but I know the many issues we've heard about that.

I'd argue strongly against altering the editorial policies of the site, though. I think what we have in place is balanced, fair, and for the betterance of the site as a whole. When you start to bring things into a "please no mixtapes" ideal, you start to get far too subjective. And, let's just say it: bourgeois.

In summary: I'd love to be able to hide entries selectively off the main page. I could just quickly travel down the list and tick them away, laughing maniacally. Raising the entry rate is something terribly easy to advocate now that we're all in, but $5.00 is beautiful in its balance. $10 could probably pull it off just as well, though.

No one has brought up rewarding questions on a number-of-answers-marked-best basis, I've noticed. That could be interesting. A way to reward the best contributors on the site would be interesting. Lots of things would be interesting, but if you make a few poor editorial decisions, you'll start to see the site turn in a nasty way.

I think the balance works right now. We just need a better way to sort through it all. This is the internet. Anything is possible.
posted by disillusioned at 10:12 PM on August 5, 2006

IMO: Make an FAQ that lists these:
  • The mixtape questions: there are sites dedicated to them.
  • The relationship questions should maybe go to Dear Abby or something... they are getting REALLY annoying.
  • The "what (brand name of gadget) should I buy" questions should go to consumer review sites, either comprehensive ones like Consumer Reports, or item-specific ones like iLounge.
  • Perhaps the "is there a freeware application to do this" should go to freeware forums.
  • The "I'm going to (location) for 5 days... what are the must-see sights?" should go to travel forums.
Honestly, half the time I can find a more appropriate place to ask a question than AskMe. Think before you post and you could do the same! The above could either reduce the most repetitive questions, or it could backfire and delete all of AskMe (okay, I'm exaggerating.) Adding filtering on the user level is my second choice.

If this place ever starts looking a quarter as annoying as Yahoo Answers, I'm outta here. (In other words, since we're all still here, AskMe is doing something right.)
posted by IndigoRain at 10:41 PM on August 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

OK, here's my quick hack-up. This is off my own webserver, so don't expect the rip-rocking performance of ColdFusion on a hamster wheel that you're used to here.

Two important things:

1. Filters are non-obtrusive, intuitive, and saved per-user.

2. UNANSWERED COMMENTS. For Christ's-fucking-sake, this is the easiest goddamned thing to implement, but instead we get friggin' MeMusic ponies and "view questions that have already gotten perfectly good answers to them."

And I'm doing this without the benefit of a database with all the fields. I can't even begin to tell you how hackish it is to scrape from the AskMe site, but properly implemented you wouldn't have to do any of the AJAX stuff you see on that page. And no, I couldn't use the XML feed, because Matt doesn't encode the "best answer" into the feed (nor should he, I'm just complaining).

Also, keep in mind that what you're seeing is the latest 120 AskMe posts. That's three pages of posts. When you click on the "view unanswered questions" link, notice how reduced-down the page is? Very manageable.

Notice something else? While it's "manageable", there are still shitloads of questions--buried deep under page 1--that aren't properly answered, and probably never will be. Let me tell you, from the mindset of someone who enjoys helping others, I'd rather be able to filter out the "what should I name my pony" questions that already have 75 comments and 35 best-answers and get to the folks that still need help. I can't be the only one.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:51 AM on August 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

Easy, easy solution that mobilizes the best resource available, metafilter's users:

Based on disillusioned's idea, if individual readers were able to click a "Bury This Question" button, for each question on the site, then their personal view will be restricted to only what is interesting to them. This is great for several reasons:

As part of the resource at AskMe, I can only be useful to the extent that I can help someone with their particular question. If I don't know the answer, I filter this question in my mind, and skim over it when reading. And yet, nothing has replaced this question in my view of the AskMe page. The total number of questions I'm able to see has dropped, effectively.

If I had a "Bury This" button that, when pressed, eliminated the question from view and, additionally, brought another question back from the dead and added it to the end of the page, I'm now that much more effective of a resource.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the volume of questions, because I frequently find myself reading the same questions over and over again. However, I do have a problem with people asking questions that fall off the front page too quickly to get proper exposure and thus, effective use of the AskMe resource.

So, as such, the volume of questions is only a problem insofar as the front page limitation.
posted by odinsdream at 11:17 AM on August 6, 2006

Civil_Disobedient's solution is great for the same reason as the Bury This idea. It mobilizes individual users to be more effective as individual resources. Any sitewide change can only be so effective, but allowing users to filter the site to match their own level of interest is the best way to get questions answered; which, of course, is what this is all about.
posted by odinsdream at 11:22 AM on August 6, 2006

Better categories I say!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:27 AM on August 6, 2006

'IMO: Make an FAQ that lists these'

I agree with IndigoRain on this to an extent, it might be a good idea to raise awareness of other sites that could, at least, be tried first/instead of askmi. If I have a Firefox question, for example, it's probably better posted on the mozilla message boards for example.

On the other hand it's nice to see the mix of questions, so there's not an easy answer. The issue as I see it is that the faster questions scroll off the front page the less users will see them and (potentially) answer them (although answers don't seem to be in short supply). I'm thinking of posting a question at the moment (on what model of gadget to buy-sorry Indigo!) and if I do I'll try and post it US am so more users see it.

I've got no problem with increasing the wait between questions and the amount of time before a new user can post their first question.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 3:54 PM on August 6, 2006

That's very nice, CD. Checkboxes are much less intrusive that the crap I was doing, but I just wanted to show what I meant quickly.

Maybe we should set up a ... lens site. Which is a bullshit term I just made up that means a website designed to view another, existing website, differently. It'd be pretty goddamn hacky, though doable. Iframes.
posted by blacklite at 4:42 PM on August 6, 2006

blacklite, in case you didn't notice, that's what my site does. It scrapes the current content off AskMe ever time you visit the page.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:48 PM on August 6, 2006

And you can't do it through IFRAMES because of cross-site domain restrictions. You can do it through severe abuse of the SCRIPT tag, but I prefer to just set up a fake proxy to grab the content and dump it to the client.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:49 PM on August 6, 2006

Yeah, but I meant a complete site, and without as much dynamic loading, so as to let everyone use it, even if they're using a crap browser. Also, I think you can have read-only iframes. But it's sort of a ridiculous idea anyway.

Matt, if you ever get down to the bottom of this thread again, I am sure I (and/or CD, although I can't speak for him of course) would love to help you set up any of this stuff.
posted by blacklite at 5:47 PM on August 6, 2006

and without as much dynamic loading

Unfortunately, as I don't have access to the database, it was my only option. I would have just used the RSS feed, but I'm adamant about the "unanswered questions" thing, and the feed doesn't show best-answered threads.

Also, I think you can have read-only iframes.

Nope. Not cross-domain. There are ways to get around this (lower your security settings in IE, add a few lines of JS in Mozilla), but as you say, it's sort of a ridiculous idea, anyway. This is just proof-of-concept stuff... the real thing would have access to the DAO and thus wouldn't be anything more complicated than a few lines of javascript that could degrade nicely to non-JS enabled browsers via a [apply filters] form submit.

And I'm sure Matt knows I'd love to help out, but I'm sure he also knows that I'd also like him to ditch ColdFusion entirely and go with a more streamlined LAMP implementation. Sites like this are perfect use-cases for PHP + MySQL (/sqllite). His server would thank him for it, too... though I have to admit it's been very well-behaved for the past few months.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:13 PM on August 6, 2006

I'm right with you. Oh well.
posted by blacklite at 11:35 PM on August 6, 2006

Howzabout an RSS feed of only askme questions flagged "fantastic"?
posted by jewzilla at 9:43 PM on August 7, 2006

YAY! I owe you 20 minutes a day :)
posted by jewzilla at 10:32 AM on August 8, 2006

No, but seriously. FPPs on the blue get criticized if they're mundane. AskMe needs some mechanism for community policing.

I don't want to call out any particular threads, but I did quickly find half a dozen that were so inane I was almost willing to alienate six people.

I don't think the issue is quantity so much as quality. Can we somehow discourage posts that are better answered by placing a quick call to the company, flipping open the yellow pages, going to the place you would buy the object and looking around, using CNet.com or Consumer Reports...?
posted by beatrice at 6:58 PM on August 8, 2006

This has been an interesting thread to read. As a relative newcomer I have some thoughts.

First, after reading the kinds of questions assorted people would like banned from AskMeFi, I went looking for the site FAQ to see if it had any guidelines about questions. It doesn't, and it took me a really long time to find that tiny "FAQ" link way down in the deep right hand corner of the page, so even if it had given useful "types of questions that are the purpose of Ask MetaFilter" guidelines, I'd probably never have seen them unless I were really committed to looking.

Second, that being true, my developing sense of what is appropriate to ask is based on what is asked and answered. I've based my own questions--both actual and ones I have considered and not asked--on the kinds of things I have seen on the site. IndigoRain's list above would eliminate so much content from AskMetaFilter that it left me wondering just what kinds of questions oldtimers think are appropriate?
posted by not that girl at 10:44 PM on August 9, 2006

IndigoRain's list above would eliminate so much content from AskMetaFilter that it left me wondering just what kinds of questions oldtimers think are appropriate?

IndigoRain's list does not indicate "what kinds of questions oldtimers think are appropriate" (for one thing, IndigoRain is not an oldtimer); it indicates nothing but IndigoRain's personal crankiness. We all have our personal lists of AskMe questions we don't care for; the difference between some of us and others of us is that some of us just ignore the ones we don't like, whereas others feel compelled to constantly come whining to MeTa asking Matt to make it so they never have to look at them again, and screw people who actually find the answers helpful. I leave it to you to decide which of these is the more appropriate response.
posted by languagehat at 5:15 AM on August 10, 2006

I hate to sound like a broken record, but with filters you could simply not see the categories you're uninterested in.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:31 PM on August 10, 2006

Languagehat, I've been here over a year, so I'm not a newbie... and those are not my "personal crankiness"es. The only ones I listed that annoy me are the relationship filters. I was trying to make an example using questions that can easily find another home, and questions that other users have mentioned that annoy them.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:57 AM on August 12, 2006

I didn't say you were a newbie, I said you weren't an oldtimer. I don't imagine you'd call yourself one, at least in public. And whichever ones are your personal peeves, my advice is to ignore them. The others? My advice to those whose peeves they are is to ignore them. There, wasn't that easy?
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on August 12, 2006

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