this is the TITLE box, isn't it? November 12, 2007 7:58 AM   Subscribe

How are people putting their main question in the title box in AskMe so often? Is something wrong with the form?

About two or three times a week I see a question that makes no sense on AskMe. When I click through, I realize that the OP has put the question in the Title area of the form and put the more inside part of the question in the box where the question is supposed to go. I fix these. So, you see something like this

Title: Do I buy a Toyota or a Honda?
Question: Which is better for what I want? I like the styling of one but the performance of the other.

Question appears on AskMe: Which is better for what I want? I like the styling of one but the performance of the other.

I've looked at the "post a new question" form and it looks pretty obvious to me but I feel that I'm missing something if a few users a week continually get it wrong the same way. The preview doesn't even show the title. Can someone help me figure this out? Is this some Greasemonkey thing that I don't know about? Is there wording that would make this even clearer or are some people just going to get it wrong no matter what?
posted by jessamyn to Bugs at 7:58 AM (142 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I reckon (1) that's what people who read primarily through RSS see as "the main thing", and (2) some people are just going to get it wrong no matter what.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:02 AM on November 12, 2007


We've changed the layout several times and I think the way it is now makes it as obvious as possible. We put the title at the very end so if people are still doing it, I don't know what's wrong with them.

I could see the mistake being made when we asked for the title first, but the way it is now doesn't seem to be contributing to that.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:03 AM on November 12, 2007


You can't get 100% compliance for users, no matter how much you simplify. As long as there are any dicisions to make, a few people are going to mess up because they're too excited/nervous/careless. And I ought to know, because I'm one of them. Your current setup is just fine. It's users, not the site.

That said, I wish I could share some of the questions about use that arrive in my inbox.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:09 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, it's simply a case of people rushing things and not looking over their question or not fully reading the New Question page. I've been guilty of posting my headline in the "Search Previous Questions" box when I'm sloppy (hooray preview!)

On the other hand, the headline/title box is incredibly non-obvious what that field is intended for. Maybe a short description of what the field's used for would be useful...

"Give a short, descriptive title. Please boil your question down to a single sentence (example: "How to get an iPod to work in my car?")"

Huh? Where does what field show up in relation to the question I've already entered above? Does it show up on the RSS, somewhere on the front pager, or...?
posted by jmd82 at 8:13 AM on November 12, 2007


How about renaming the title box something more specifically RSS related - like "headline for RSS readers" or something, to make it a little more clear that it will not appear on the main AskMe page.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:17 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


(I was going to say just put it at the bottom, after they have already composed their question, but if that's already been done and they are still doing it, there may be no hope.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:18 AM on November 12, 2007


Jess, I used to work on human interfaces. We had too aphorisms:

1. You can't make anything totally foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.

2. Every time you make something foolproof, they invent a better fool.

As others have said, no matter what gets done to that entry form, someone will find a way of screwing it up.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:18 AM on November 12, 2007 [6 favorites]


...we had two aphorisms...

(And I just proved my own point.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:19 AM on November 12, 2007


Well, the form doesn't give an "example" for either the main question box or the extended explanation box. It does give an "example" for the title box, and that example is a question, along with the instruction "Please boil your question down to a single sentence." So I could certainly imagine someone writing their question there as a single sentence, and not understanding that they're supposed to ask the question *again* in the main question box.

I think giving an example for all the input fields, not just some of them, would help.
posted by bac at 8:19 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's mislabeled. I'd call it 'rss headline' or something.
posted by signal at 8:24 AM on November 12, 2007


To be clear: I know that some people will always get it wrong. I just feel that if we have something that a lot of people are getting wrong the same way over and over we might be able to make the process easier to understand for a wider range of people. I htink the idea of examples for all the fields may be a workable improvement.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:25 AM on November 12, 2007


I have noticed a lot of this lately too.

Maybe you could add a line to the effect of "Many people will never see this part of your question" or "People need to be able to understand the question without reading the title." (Needs help with the phrasing, but you get the gist.)

Because I look at the front page and then I read the more inside, but I rarely look at the title of the web page. Or if I do, it's as an after-thought.
posted by veggieboy at 8:25 AM on November 12, 2007


Get rid of "Title" altogether, make the "Question" shorter and let the "Question" fulfill both roles.
posted by timeistight at 8:27 AM on November 12, 2007 [9 favorites]


Put the words "This will NOT appear anywhere on the AskMe front page so do NOT use it as part of your main question" next to the words "Headline/Title" - but do it at the same size as the words "Headline/Title." The explanatory bits on the post page are too small to do any good for the few folks who still aren't getting it.
posted by mediareport at 8:28 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Get rid of "Title" altogether, make the "Question" shorter and let the "Question" fulfill both roles.

I agree. This also forces the long-winded among us to boil things down better.
posted by nasreddin at 8:29 AM on November 12, 2007


Some people don't know what an RSS reader is. I've never used RSS, but I have some vague sense of what it is from reading MeTa. (Sort of like hearing blind men describing an elephant, I imagine.)

How about
"Give a short, descriptive title. Please summarize your question with a single sentence (example: "How to get an iPod to work in my car?"

or restate, condense, shorten, sum up, etc.

Another tactic would be to hold off on the title field until the asker gets to the preview page.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:31 AM on November 12, 2007


Sounds like a job for the blink tag.
posted by breezeway at 8:31 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Most people don't think in terms of HTML, so when they see the word "title", this means what comes at the start of the "document" (question), not the header of the browser window.

You might draw a diagram with a browser window and a boilerplate question, perhaps, with arrows pointing to where fields translate to content.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:31 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I royally screwed my front page question up last week, I didn't understand (and still don't) why there needs to be so many boxes anyway*.

Title/summary box (keep it brief)

Second, bigger box.

Done?


*Although it has occurred to me that it is to do with making links for people that don;t know how to, maybe?
posted by Brockles at 8:32 AM on November 12, 2007


Get rid of "Title" altogether, make the "Question" shorter and let the "Question" fulfill both roles.

Brilliant.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:33 AM on November 12, 2007


Another tactic would be to hold off on the title field until the asker gets to the preview page.

Ooh, nice. That seems about as close to a foolproof solution as you're gonna find.
posted by mediareport at 8:33 AM on November 12, 2007


Agreed about the "title/headline" thing potentially being misleading to people. Maybe call it "Summary" and add "sum up your question for the browser title bar/RSS readers"?
posted by ClarissaWAM at 8:37 AM on November 12, 2007


people are confused by your misuse of the title. this is how it should work:

QUESTION: appears on front page, and IN THE BODY at top of thread page, and as the lead in rss.

MORE INSIDE: does not appear on front page, appears under the question which appears at the top of the thread page.

TITLE: appears IN THE TITLE BAR of the window containing the thread page, and nowhere else. label should be "wacky pun or other silly non-essential crap you want in the title bar of the thread page".
posted by quonsar at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Posters are just very hung up in their own question. They assume the boiled down part is obvious, "Like duh, what else could I be asking a styling v performance question about?" When they need to create a title, they are prodded to come at the question from a new direction, and sometimes new details come out.

At least that's my theory. Statistics on frequency and type of unclear/malformed question would obviously inform this a lot, so..
posted by Chuckles at 8:40 AM on November 12, 2007


ECBUMA!

End Confusion By Using More Acronyms
posted by 31d1 at 8:42 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Would a graphic of an example be helpful in this situation?
posted by 23skidoo at 8:43 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Titles aren't RSS/browser title-only. You also see the title in Recent Activity, All Activity, Popular Favorites, and probably several other places. Titles serve a useful purpose beyond the front page, so I don't think axing them is a good option.
posted by pb (staff) at 8:43 AM on November 12, 2007


The Title's not a title; retitle the Title.
posted by Reggie Digest at 8:52 AM on November 12, 2007


I think the concept of a title for a question is inherently a bit confusing. I agree with timeistight's suggestion to get rid of the title field altogether, although I would suggest truncating the front page question text to make the page title if necessary rather than reducing the length of that field.
posted by teleskiving at 8:53 AM on November 12, 2007


Titles aren't RSS/browser title-only. You also see the title in Recent Activity, All Activity, Popular Favorites, and probably several other places. Titles serve a useful purpose beyond the front page, so I don't think axing them is a good option

Agree. Lots of titles are quite creative. I have often wondered why they are put in all of those places but not on the front page. This whole confusion problem would be solved if the titles appeared above the posts on the front pages, in both the blue and the green, just as they appear on the "inside" pages.
posted by beagle at 8:55 AM on November 12, 2007


The Headline/Title box describes it as:
Give a short, descriptive title. Please boil your question down to a single sentence (example: "How to get an iPod to work in my car?")


This wording is awkward because it equates the Headline and Title AND Question and assumes the user realizes this, while not taking into account that user already asked a question. Plus it gives more emphasis to the question by mentioning it twice and letting it be the last thing a user reads.

I'd say ditch the Headline/Title field, limit the character count in the Question field and make that appear wherever it needs to appear.

It always struck me as odd that a user would have to type in the question and then retype but boil it down to a single field.

On preview:
I like Clarrisa's suggestion of changing the Headline/Title text to "Summary" as it seems a bit clearer on what it's meant to do.

A graphic is overkill IMO. Yeah, Metafilter has one, but I found that confusing at first as well. If you need to illustrate what each field does, maybe it's too complex.

Also, leaving the Headline/Title field for another screen seems like hell. People want to just ask their question, not cycle through various fields to ensure everything is in its proper place.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:56 AM on November 12, 2007


MetaTalk: If people are still doing it, I don't know what's wrong with them
posted by Plutor at 8:57 AM on November 12, 2007


I think beagle just said this, and if so I'm just seconding, but: Why not have the questions appear on the main AskMe page as:

TITLE. Front page info. [more inside]

?

If people are using the title as their question, then move the title to the spot on the AskMe page where it works as the question.
posted by occhiblu at 9:00 AM on November 12, 2007


occhiblu/beagle: currently about 1-3% of the questions we see show the title-used-as-question error. If we decide to say that's NOT an error and retool, then 97-99% of people will be doing it wrong and/or have to relearn the posting form. I'm looking for subtle changes that might help encourage people to use the form correctly, not for a paradigm shift in how AskMe looks or operates.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:06 AM on November 12, 2007


yep, it's the name. Call it a label or précis or something. Only people who write HTML will get the reference.
posted by bonaldi at 9:12 AM on November 12, 2007


Yeah, it would also require moving the "Title" box to the top of the AskMe posting page, but that doesn't seem like a huge shift, does it?

It might, I don't know, I don't post that many questions.
posted by occhiblu at 9:12 AM on November 12, 2007


I've never asked a question so just looked at the posting form for the first time. It seems perfectly clear and I imagine any technical fix would throw up a similar error rate if perhaps in some different way. Or is this a new phenomenon traceable to some interface re-jig?
On preview: I actually wondered if the Title box had just been moved down the bottom in the light of this discussion, as I imagine only the determinedly wrong-headed could be saving their question for that late in the game. Particularly when there's a gurt box above labelled "Your Question."
posted by Abiezer at 9:19 AM on November 12, 2007


Look for a "?" in the title field and display a warning to the user: "Looks like you typed your question in the title field. Nobody will see the title. Did you really want to do that? You should put your question in the field marked 'question'."
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:22 AM on November 12, 2007


The example provided for title might be working against the overall form logic:

Give a short, descriptive title. Please boil your question down to a single sentence (example: "How to get an iPod to work in my car?"

I suggest giving one example throughout, using each form element, so people can see how it all fits together. I've only submitted one question, but when I got to that final bit I did take a moment to ponder if I'd put the question in the wrong place by putting it in "your question." And yes I realize the thought is funny. But true. My brain loves to be ironic.
posted by Tehanu at 9:33 AM on November 12, 2007


Removing the Title entirely would be a bad move in my opinion, and limiting question size an even worse one.
I'd hazard a guess that 80% of the problem would be gone if the example title given did not end in a question mark.
posted by the number 17 at 9:33 AM on November 12, 2007


In an attempt to be clearer, when that is the only example text, and it instructs you about writing a concise question, it makes it seem like the question goes there. I understand why it doesn't. But it threw me for a moment anyway. So including an example for the actual question and description would counter that. You also might change the wording "boil your question down" to "boil your title down" in the title example I quoted above.
posted by Tehanu at 9:37 AM on November 12, 2007


I think holding the title until the preview page is the best option presented so far.
posted by oaf at 9:39 AM on November 12, 2007


Nthing that the Title isn't a title.
posted by desuetude at 9:45 AM on November 12, 2007


I think holding the title until the preview page is the best option presented so far.

Amen, seriously. Easy and effective. No major change in how the questions work, just a simple force to make the poster complete their question before adding a title. Your best bet, by far.
posted by mediareport at 9:47 AM on November 12, 2007


Has anyone put forth the theory that people are just goddamned idiots?
posted by jonson at 9:54 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not intuitive. I almost get fooled every time I post a question. Part of the problem may be in the preview pane—it'd be nice to see the form mimic the hierarchy of how the question will actually show up, as well as those parts being labelled as such (ie. This text will show up on the front page, as well as at the top of your [more inside] question page.) If I recall correctly, some of the text fields are labelled similarly, but it's not consistently done for all of them...leading people to mentally fill in the blanks of "oh then this must end up here". Not a hard thing to do really, except when you're hyper focused on the content of your AskMe question...then it seems slightly stressful and disorganized, when it doesn't need to be (and really isn't all that stressful or disorganized in reality).
posted by iamkimiam at 9:55 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


On preview, quonsar has it.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:59 AM on November 12, 2007


At the risk of reducing the amount of funny titles, I'm going to also support the suggestion of renaming Title to Question, and using that both on the front page and on the RSS feeds.
posted by odinsdream at 10:00 AM on November 12, 2007


Ugh. How does one get a link in a thread to load at the particular comment you'd like it to load at?
posted by iamkimiam at 10:00 AM on November 12, 2007


Ugh. How does one get a link in a thread to load at the particular comment you'd like it to load at?

- click the timestamp
- copy the URL
- don't link to quonsar's allcaps blow job rejoinders
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:04 AM on November 12, 2007


Ban people who do it wrong. The problem will solve itself.
posted by klangklangston at 10:34 AM on November 12, 2007


Remove the title, automatically parse the question to make a haiku, put that in the rss title field.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:34 AM on November 12, 2007


We need to upgrade these goddam fuckin users is what it is!!!
posted by Mister_A at 10:35 AM on November 12, 2007


Haha. Thanks.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:36 AM on November 12, 2007


We should just put the title on the front page when you think about it.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:41 AM on November 12, 2007


We should just put the title on the front page when you think about it.

Why? You don't really need two separate fields to ask the question, and you certainly don't need both on the front page.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 10:43 AM on November 12, 2007


quonsar's allcaps blow job rejoinders

i'm so renaming my vox blog.
posted by quonsar at 10:47 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well the fact that it's not on the front page means that AskMe doesn't work like most other blogs out there. I'm pretty used to the way the site works now and might lament the extra clutter but it does make some degree of sense. That said, people sometimes put jokey nonsense or thinly veiled insults in the titles that we generally leave alone becasue they don't show up on the front page, that might have to be adjusted.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:49 AM on November 12, 2007


Why? You don't really need two separate fields to ask the question, and you certainly don't need both on the front page.

I think it'd be nice to have

One-sentence question (on front page)
Additional information (on front page)
Background info, if necessary (inside)

I think it would force people to structure their questions a bit better.
posted by occhiblu at 10:49 AM on November 12, 2007


Yeah, why have two fields show up on the front page when you could have just one if you make the question field the RSS headline? The only downside would be to shorten the question field, but I see that as an advantage. Or, as someone said above, just make it so the question shows up as the RSS headline, truncated if necessary. (I'd prefer staccato short questions on the main AskMe page but I'm probably in the minority on that.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:54 AM on November 12, 2007


We should just put the title on the front page when you think about it.

I agree. It doesn't make the Recent Activity page any less readable.

currently about 1-3% of the questions we see show the title-used-as-question error. If we decide to say that's NOT an error and retool, then 97-99% of people will be doing it wrong and/or have to relearn the posting form.

I don't see why they can't keep using it the same way. You don't have to use the title as the question.
posted by solotoro at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2007


Ban people who do it wrong. The problem will solve itself.
I agree with the sentiment, but the problem won't solve itself, since there's an unlimited supply of new AskMeatheads.

We should just put the title on the front page when you think about it.
What? No. I thought about it, and no.

I think it would force people to structure their questions a bit better.
That's optimistic.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2007


That's optimistic.

I live a life of hope.
posted by occhiblu at 11:11 AM on November 12, 2007


If the title goes on the front page (and isn't optional), and my question is really simple, what do I do? Say my question is "Who was the first American President?"

If I put the same thing in both fields, we'd get:

Who was the first American President? Who was the first American President?

Or I could do something useless like:

Presidentfliter: Who was the first American President?

I vote for title = question (and title/question just shown once on the front page) or at least making that an option. If the question is too long for an RSS title, the RSS could be the first few words of the question + "..."
posted by grumblebee at 11:23 AM on November 12, 2007


I can live with 1-3% of questions being fucked up.
posted by mullacc at 11:45 AM on November 12, 2007


Call the 'title "HEADER", and make it clear it's a page header, RSS header, etc - it helps skim readers to categorise. People understand that concept from WP and from blogging. Make it clear that it is an introduction to their question, NOT the question itself.

Header: My old Ford needs a new exhaust, where's good in Devonsetshire for that?

Question: Kwik-Fit just keep ripping me off. My Mondeo is 10 years old, I ain't spending loads on it, where can I get a decent exhaust for less than £100 this week?

More inside: By the way, they have to guarantee the job, they got to take cards and I prefer independent outfits to chain stores. Anywhere within 10 miles of Thamesmouth is good.
posted by dash_slot- at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2007


Call the 'title "HEADER", and make it clear it's a page header, RSS header, etc - it helps skim readers to categorise.

So, your saying that calling the questions title header is more easily understood than calling it title?
posted by Chuckles at 11:55 AM on November 12, 2007


I can live with 1-3% of questions being fucked up.

I'm inclined to agree. It's a bit of work for us to de-munge the weird questions, but the system seems to work pretty well a shockingly high percentage of the time. I'd say as few failures as we see is a good sign, really, and changing things around may not help that appreciably.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:04 PM on November 12, 2007


Cortex, you don't subscribe to the "If it's maybe mildly broken, have a go at completely fucking it up" philosophy?
posted by Wolfdog at 12:11 PM on November 12, 2007 [4 favorites]


I'm one of those conservatives you hear about so much on the news.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2007


While we're doing this, can we make all AskMes multiple choice?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


what say we get a drinky and find some brown people to oppress.
posted by quonsar at 12:17 PM on November 12, 2007


If we're just going to be like all the other crappy blogs out there FIRST!
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on November 12, 2007


what say we get a drinky and find some brown people to oppress.

Dave Chapelle said that he knew people who were so rich that they had white people working for them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:24 PM on November 12, 2007


"Please boil your question down to a single sentence" is confusing and doesn't belong with the TITLE box. It makes it sound like this is where you put your one-sentence question, and the other boxes must therefore be where you don't put your one-sentence question.

We really want that one-sentence question; we'd prefer that the one-sentence question be what showed up on the front page of AskMe, of course, with more inside. Therefore, "Please boil your question down to a single sentence" should be associated with that text box.

The entry in the title box is used in the window's title bar, the RSS title, and the URL. So maybe a better question for that text-box would be "Please enter a short descriptive phrase that will be used as a title for your question in RSS feeds, the question's URL, and the browser's title bar." Putting a hard character limit of 40-50 characters or so on only this text box (but not the other ones) would help make it even more clear what's to be put in that box.

Examples of what belongs in the entry field are always excellent and should be used. It is much easier to work from a set of examples than it is to figure out a bunch of obtuse instructions that make you look under the hood of AskMe.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:26 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


People need to see how the title field is used before it'll make sense to them. You've pretty much corrected the symptom by moving the title to the end, but I'd guess that the people who don't use RSS still have no idea what the title actually does. They're just crossing their fingers and praying.

Incorporating the title onto the front page and then putting the fields in the correct order (title back to the top) on the new question page makes it more clear. Once people see a one-to-one mapping between the fields and the front page it should eliminate confusion (though the transition might be rough).

Incorporating the title would look no more redundant than it does on the RSS feed, and less redundant as people start to grok the new design.

Also, as an aside... the absence of a linked title for questions on the front page has confused the people I've tried to introduce to the site (mostly other interface designers). They can't figure out how to actually read a question without some coaching. They're looking for a headline to click and they see a link to the answers, but not to the question itself.
posted by Jeff Howard at 12:30 PM on November 12, 2007


The AskMe form is pretty much perfect, and a huge improvement over previous, more ambiguous versions. The only refinement I can think of is 30 pt text next to the box for the question saying "Type your question in this box here. Assume that this is the only part of the post that anyone will ever read. Please make sure that what you type in this box contains your question, because it is the question box.".
posted by nowonmai at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2007


@nowonmai: What? This is the answer thingy?
posted by Mister_A at 12:40 PM on November 12, 2007


Questions on AskMe are largely provided by people that can't, or aren't willing to, figure anything out by themselves. How many contortions, you have to ask yourself, are you willing to go through to accommodate that sort of clientele?
posted by Wolfdog at 12:48 PM on November 12, 2007


You know what, forcing the people to actually put their question in the title and making it show up on the main page is a good idea. Why? A problem that's much more common than putting the question in the title is not putting anything resembling a question in the main question field. They'll put something like "Computer help needed! Please!" and then put the question in the [more inside]. I'm not going to waste my time clicking on every "Help me fix my Mac!" question to see if I know how to help.
posted by zsazsa at 12:55 PM on November 12, 2007


Admins didn't actually want your help; were just foolin'
posted by tehloki at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2007


Everyone's been waiting for you to vote for the best ideas using what's left of today's favorites, tehloki.
posted by Tehanu at 1:20 PM on November 12, 2007


Questions on AskMe are largely provided by people that can't, or aren't willing to, figure anything out by themselves.

What utter nonsense. I can and do figure out a lot of things by myself, including how to work the freaking AskMe interface. When I find that I would benefit from the advice of the AskMe community, I ask a question on AskMe. I think the same could be said of most AskMe users; why would you want to make it hard for them?
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:26 PM on November 12, 2007


ikkyu2, the archetypal, representative AskMe user. You're exactly who I had in mind.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:29 PM on November 12, 2007


You can downgrade "largely" to "frequently", if you like, but otherwise I'm standing by it.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2007


There are still favorites left??
posted by Mister_A at 1:34 PM on November 12, 2007


Only onion favorites, Mister_A. They ran out of blueberry. :(
posted by Kwine at 1:48 PM on November 12, 2007


Anything that reduces the tendency to have jokey titles is a good thing for AskMetafilter, I think.
posted by achmorrison at 1:50 PM on November 12, 2007


Questions on AskMe are largely provided by people that can't, or aren't willing to, figure anything out by themselves.


Not tue, I smarzt!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:50 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


The entry in the title box is used in the window's title bar, the RSS title, and the URL

Why does everyone forget that it shows up in giant text on the comment thread where the answers come up (a page everyone uses, I would think). The titles show up everywhere except the front page, basically.

As to the "combine question and title into one!" comments: the difference between a short title and someone's basic question was too great to wedge into a single field. There are lots of good questions that require one or two sentences to explain on the front page. Forcing that down to a single sentence of a max length feels too limiting.

I really think if we added the titles to the Front page, put the title field first up on the question form, the problems would basically go away.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:52 PM on November 12, 2007


I can live with 1-3% of questions being fucked up.

Yeah, 1-3% of people are idiots who will get something wrong anyway. I think we're over-beaning this thought of plates. Or something.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:53 PM on November 12, 2007


I really think if we added the titles to the Front page, put the title field first up on the question form, the problems would basically go away.

Really? The idiotic redundancy on the front page that would result from questions like this wouldn't bug you? I mean, the fraction of total questions that do that is a much bigger percentage than 1-3%, I'm sure.

If that's your solution, please just leave it the way it is.
posted by mediareport at 3:04 PM on November 12, 2007


Agreed. There would be way too many doubled titles and questions. And if the question really is as simple as "who was the first US president," is the person supposed to ask it two different ways?
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2007


The title doesn't have to be a question. It can be a synopsis. "Primary Pre-existing Presidential Paradox", for example.
posted by tehloki at 3:34 PM on November 12, 2007


Neil Armstrong
posted by Plutor at 3:36 PM on November 12, 2007


I wouldn't care to dismiss the issue as trivial based on the "1-3% of people are idiots" theory without knowing more about the distribution of the error. I mean, if 5-10% of first-time question askers screw this up, but there are few repeat offenders, that would still suggest that something's wrong with the UI.
posted by bac at 3:42 PM on November 12, 2007


And just because many people get it right doesn't mean that it's not confusing.

Much like that last sentence, actually.</small
posted by occhiblu at 3:52 PM on November 12, 2007


Get rid of "Title" altogether, make the "Question" shorter and let the "Question" fulfill both roles.

I've always wondered why there is a title box, but I am one who is guilty of asking a question on the FP that isn't really a question until you go "inside". But, hey, I'm learning...
posted by wafaa at 3:53 PM on November 12, 2007


Whatever happens: please put examples next to each box.

Explain next to each box whether the contents of that box will show up on the main page, and what that means. ("This is all that will show up on the main AskMetafilter page. People will decide, based only on this text, whether they can answer your question." vs. "This additional text will show up for people who click on your question.")
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:56 PM on November 12, 2007


Just a thought: If this is really happening 2 or 3 times a week, and AskMe currently gets between 70 and 90 questions a day (educated guess), that's 2 or 3 times out of 500-600 questions each week. That's a failure rate of somewhere around 0.3 to 0.5%.

Is something over 99.5% of users get right something that needs to be changed? Or are the numbers off?
posted by mediareport at 4:01 PM on November 12, 2007


I really think if we added the titles to the Front page, put the title field first up on the question form, the problems would basically go away.
That would make it twice the effort to skim the page looking for questions that might be interesting. Or if not twice the effort, just annoyingly repetitive.
There is already the problem that people already often fail to put their question in the right place, hiding it in the 'more inside' section instead of on the front page. I've seen at least one person refer to the main question part of the post as "the teaser", implying that they think the real question belongs in the 'more inside' section, not on the front page. If the question now has two distinct sections on the front page in addition to one below the fold, there's no telling where people will hide the bit where they actually say what they are asking about. I don't think things will be improved.
If you go to the effort of reorganizing the format, I would suggest having two input boxes: "ask your question in one sentence" and "ask your question in full (optional)". The former would go in the URL, title and on the front page, as well as inside posts (perhaps only if the second box is not used).
posted by nowonmai at 4:01 PM on November 12, 2007


If this is really happening 2 or 3 times a week, and AskMe currently gets between 70 and 90 questions a day (educated guess), that's 2 or 3 times out of 500-600 questions each week. That's a failure rate of somewhere around 0.3 to 0.5%.

My assumption, which may be wrong, is that if I was fixing this many, then cortex and mathowie might be also. Nine per week leads to what, 1.5%? In any case, I'm not suggesting changing anything substantive -- though it's good to talk about -- I'm looking for ways to make the form serve the function that it's supposed to. Watching people make the same mistake over and over again seems to imply that maybe we could do better. I've gotten some good ideas in the thread how that might happen, and I appreciate everyone's input.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:07 PM on November 12, 2007


nowonmai has a better instruction set. An elaboration, for the current three-part set-up:

1. Ask your question in one sentence.
This sentence is the only part of your question that will show up on the main page.
Example: How do I connect my iPod to my car stereo?

2. Ask your question in full/with more details if needed.
The detailed version of the question will only show up for people who click on your question from box 1.
Example: My iPod is a nano from 2005; my car is a Honda Civic from 2001. I don't know much about electronics so please keep the instructions simple.

3. Short blurb for your question.
In most cases it makes sense to just repeat your question from box 1 here. The blurb is used for the page title and for RSS readers.
Example: Connecting an iPod to a car stereo
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:17 PM on November 12, 2007


Except that sequence of events really doesn't make any sense. It's asking users to contort themselves to fit the technology (RSS feeds), rather than using the technology to make the experience better for the users.
posted by occhiblu at 4:23 PM on November 12, 2007


mediareport, the idea is that by changing the form and making the correlation between the form and the front page more clear it would tend to change people's behavior and reduce the "idiotic redundancy," not increase it.

I use the RSS feed for Ask Metafilter instead of the front page most of the time just so I can quickly scan the titles. For me, that benefit far outweighs any redundancy.
posted by Jeff Howard at 4:33 PM on November 12, 2007


occhiblu:
I have no druthers one way or another, except that there be clearer labelling on the boxes. I am a read-all-instructions type and I found the form confusing the first few times through. The fact that the clearest example of a question is next to the "title" box is the confusing thing, I think.

The virtue of the three part sequence I outlined is simply that it only needs the existing boxes to get re-labeled, rather than redesigning things more deeply.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:35 PM on November 12, 2007


LobsterMitten: Yeah, I agree that what you're saying is a good band-aid solution. I just basically think the form is so counter-intuitive that it should be rearranged and rethought, rather than just re-explained.
posted by occhiblu at 4:36 PM on November 12, 2007


But killing the separate title would have the benefit of reducing the number of threads called "askme.com/33333/I-hate-the-title-box-what-is-it-for-anyway".
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:37 PM on November 12, 2007


Cheers to a redesign that eliminates that, so godspeed occhiblu.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2007


the idea is that by changing the form and making the correlation between the form and the front page more clear it would tend to change people's behavior and reduce the "idiotic redundancy," not increase it.

I think we're talking past one another. Matt's suggestion was to add the Title to the front page. If you're saying you have a way to ensure that simple questions don't result in repeated phrases in the Title and question, both visible on the front page, I'd love to hear it.
posted by mediareport at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2007


Asking questions is difficult. You'd think it would be simple, but it's not: if we knew what we wanted to know explicitly enough to summarize it, we'd be able to google the answers ourselves.

Some people spend a lot of time laying out their problem in the first two boxes. It's like therapy: by the time you're done summarizing all your problems, you realize what the foundational problem actually is. It's only after the askers do all that discursive work that they realize that there's a simple, clear question in this confusing morass, and that goes in the title. This isn't a design flaw, it's a feature.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:56 PM on November 12, 2007


Well thanks for the left-handed compliment, Wolfdog, but I'm not sure I'd throw the rest of AskMe under the bus. Most of the people who use it seem relatively bright; until recently I hadn't seen an AskMe question written in "leetspeak."
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:03 PM on November 12, 2007


I know that matthowie seems to be down on the idea, but I also vote in favor of combining the question and title fields into one thing (called, say, "brief description of your question") that has a character limit. (The character limit could be generous enough to allow for most questions, say 150 characters. The page header could be a truncated version of that, say, the first 75 characters.) This would make the form more intuitive, and it would make the front page of AskMe more readable. If a question takes three or four sentences to properly state, then one could always go with something like: "Complicated question about disposing of dead bodies". [more inside]
posted by epimorph at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2007


My point is that right now the redundacy arises accidently from the outcome of an equation that people don't quite understand. They fill in some boxes and BANG, their input gets rejiggered in a way they didn't anticipate.

By putting the title right on the front page and matching that layout to the form you make the potential for redundancy obvious. By showing a clear relationship between input and output it gives people of good will a fighting chance to craft their question in a way that doesn't look redundant.

It doesn't ensure it. But it ensures that people will realize that what they're typing is redundant and hopefully change their behavior.
posted by Jeff Howard at 5:13 PM on November 12, 2007


How about renaming the title box something more specifically RSS related - like "headline for RSS readers" or something, to make it a little more clear that it will not appear on the main AskMe page.

But that wouldn't be accurate. I see the titles, and I'm not using an RSS reader.
posted by jejune at 5:33 PM on November 12, 2007


Ideas:

a) Live Preview for posts. Show people what it looks like on the front page.

b) Eliminate "title." Use question as title.

c) Delete all users.
posted by blacklite at 5:37 PM on November 12, 2007


Epimorph: how about the Primary question field auto populates the title field, in the truncated 75 character limit form. It gives you an idea of what should be there (something related to your question, but only in 75 characters or less). However it goes one way.

So:

Question: I had a long bender this weekend, and now I have 5 large bags I need to dispose of. Where is the best place I can drop off these empty cases of beer and pizza boxes in seattle?

Auto generates the title as:

I had a long bender this weekend, and now I have 5 large bags I need to di

Of course the forced limit may make folks start deleting spaces, but I think it shows that the question and title should be linked, but not necessarily identical. In short, it demonstrates that the title should be a short summary of your question.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:41 PM on November 12, 2007


(but that your question has to be in the "question" field) And for lazy people, atleast we get the first 75 characters of their question.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:43 PM on November 12, 2007


The title, like tagging, is metadata. In this case, it's the title of a microdocument: the question. The problem is that there are just enough people out there who simply won't conceptualize their question as a microdocument in need of metadata. For them, it's a question. They're asking something. Personally, I agree with them.

The fundamental error here is that the application -- Ask -- depends functionally on the metadata. It shouldn't. Metadata should be optional on public interfaces.

(And screw RSS. It's a wrongheaded approach that imposes an idealized title-body structure that doesn't represent how people really communicate. Bending over backwards to deal with the shortcomings of the protocol is exactly the opposite of correct behavior, but I'm done channeling Jorn now and will slink back under my bridge.)
posted by majick at 8:36 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


The title, like tagging, is metadata. In this case, it's the title of a microdocument: the question. The problem is that there are just enough people out there who simply won't conceptualize their question as a microdocument in need of metadata. For them, it's a question. They're asking something. Personally, I agree with them.

This is so true, and it's why none of my emails have subject lines.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:46 PM on November 12, 2007


Just delete the goddamn malformatted questions with an automated message that if they can't figure it out, they're not smart enough to play and they can try again next week, (with embedded youlose wahhh-wahh-wah trumpet sound to soften the sting). They'll start doing it properly right quick. Coddling the incompetent ensmallens us all.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:46 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Coddling the incompetent ensmallens us all.

I think I'm gonna get that tattooed on my chest.
posted by Kwine at 10:36 PM on November 12, 2007


So we should remove functionality from the site, and put limits on everybody, to try to make sure a tiny fraction of the people won't get it wrong when they're not paying attention?

Let's do it, it sounds like an excellent idea.

If a question is so simple it won't benefit from having a title, it probably can be answered by google and doesn't need to be on AskMe. I didn't think asking for the names of presidents and dates of battles is what AskMe is for.

I really enjoy beans for breakfast
posted by the number 17 at 11:04 PM on November 12, 2007


I was only kidding. Kind of.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:44 PM on November 12, 2007


Not talking about that, that was a great suggestion. I'm all for that
posted by the number 17 at 11:51 PM on November 12, 2007


I like LobsterMitten's suggestion (from nowonmai) for two reasons.

1) It has numbers. That way, you know what you should do next. First comes 1, then comes 2. It guides the asker through the proper steps in the proper order, in a clear way. Writing the question is a process, and here is how to complete that process.

2) It just makes more sense than the bunch-of-text-on-a-page that the New Question page kind of looks like now. It lacks structure.

I'd say, step 0 is searching for any previous questions, then continue as LobsterMitten describes.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:18 AM on November 13, 2007


Just put:

This will not appear on the front page of AskMetafilter so please ensure that the "Your question" field above is comprehensible without it.


next to the title box? Heck, put it next to the more inside as well. People who put their question there are annoying too.
posted by juv3nal at 12:20 AM on November 13, 2007


I should mention that I lean towards the "this is a solution in search of a problem" crowd though. There will always be some subset of people that just don't read the directions/instructions; they'll read just enough of the text to get their question posted.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:32 AM on November 13, 2007


jonson: "Has anyone put forth the theory that people are just goddamned idiots?"
Only every fucking day. Now maybe someone will listen.

stavrosthewonderchicken: "Coddling the incompetent ensmallens us all."
Bears repeating.
posted by dg at 2:04 AM on November 13, 2007


There are two main issues here, IMHO:

1 - the user interface for entering questions is confusing
2 - the title is largely ignored, until you realize there is some missing info and go looking for it

I don't see the point of allowing the user to enter the title, especially given #2. We are not doing web layout here, all we need is a summary question and more inside. Blaming the user for mis-using the form is a red herring. If the incorrect usage of the form is not willful, and it happens frequently, then see #1.

There are many reasons the title is ignored in applications. In most applications it doesn't contain useful information, but also consider that it is outside of the main viewport that the rest of the page is rendered in, and that it is usually separated from the content by several rows of buttons.

When we do look at the title bar, it is often for things like "What is the document I am viewing/editing right now?", or, "Did I save this yet?" These are user-initiated actions that follow from some confusion - this is not the state you want people (esp. moderators) to be in when reading AskMe.
posted by SNACKeR at 5:26 AM on November 13, 2007


Uh, do you ever read AskMe? I was under the impression the title is the larger-sized text just above the timestamp on the comments page.
posted by the number 17 at 5:52 AM on November 13, 2007


the incompetent

itym the incompetastic!
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:43 AM on November 13, 2007


There will always be some subset of people that just don't read the directions/instructions; they'll read just enough of the text to get their question posted.

Yeah, which is part of the reason to redesign a form that needs so much explanatory text.

That page is a bit of a mess, and I would imagine that almost no one reads all the instructions, because there are entirely too many of them. Which, like I said, tends to indicate counter-intuitive design.
posted by occhiblu at 7:48 AM on November 13, 2007


The problem isn't in the label for the textbox, it's in the directions underneath. The gray text should be changed to something like:

Give a short, descriptive title for the question you wrote above (example: "Getting an iPod to work in my car").

This way there is no ambiguity that the question should be completely contained in the question textarea and this textbox is for a title only. I also changed the example title to something that reads more like a title and less like the question itself.
posted by junesix at 7:58 AM on November 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


I agree with junesix.
posted by languagehat at 8:05 AM on November 13, 2007


I agree with junesix too.
posted by nowonmai at 9:43 AM on November 13, 2007


Good. That will be an easy change to make. Thanks everyone.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:26 AM on November 13, 2007


Sounds good. Along those lines, I think you could change the text under the "Your question" area:
Assume this is all that people will see. This is the question which will appear on the front page. Try to summarize your entire question while keeping it to a paragraph or so (if you must go on longer, use the optional extended explanation area, and put a summary here).
Feel free to continue the editing :P


On the more technological side.. What if we get people to specify category first, and then give category specific hints about what information Askers had better include. I'm not sure what I think about this myself, because it is a bit too much hand holding for me, but I wonder if it might improve questions a bit.
posted by Chuckles at 11:42 AM on November 13, 2007


Waste of time? Or solid investment?
posted by timeistight at 3:36 PM on November 13, 2007


See? I fixed it, that's two this week.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:06 PM on November 13, 2007


Did you notice he says, "I seem to have muddled my original questions (again!)"? Perhaps someone should take ian1977 aside and walk him through the process.
posted by mediareport at 8:27 PM on November 13, 2007


Here's another one.
posted by timeistight at 2:31 AM on November 15, 2007


« Older I'm doing a game show in San Francisco   |   iCal support for Meetups Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments