Temporary commenting lockout for bad behavior in AskMe? March 19, 2008 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Temporary commenting lockout for bad behavior in AskMe? Details and thoughts inside.

This MetaTalk thread got me thinking about ways to discourage people from providing "noise" answers in AskMe. It's been previously established that AskMe works because people enjoy answering questions- they enjoy helping somebody solve a problem, sharing their knowledge and/or experience, or they just enjoy sounding smart. All of these are perfectly valid reasons for posting answers and contribute greatly to the helpful and informative atmosphere of AskMe.

That said, the MeTa linked above got me thinking- why do people post the types of answers that the poster knows the mods will delete, and which the mods are obviously growing frustrated with cleaning up after?
There are, to my mind, 3 different types of answers that qualify as such:
  1. Answer that is generally unhelpful or non-topical
  2. Answer that is inflammatory/constitutes a personal attack on the OP or another commenter
  3. Answer that is obviously a throw-away joke which the poster expects will be deleted
Looking at the categories above, the reason people post such noise answers is because they know there's no penalty for doing so. It's a cheap thrill- I'm breaking the guidelines! And there's no consequence!- and while I realize that repeat offenders get "reached out to" by the mods, it seems like there isn't any real deterrent. This results in an excess of noise and clean-up work for the mods.

My solution, then, given the motivations for participating in AskMe listed above, is to temporarily remove someone's ability to post in the Green when an answer qualifying as (2) or (3) above is deleted. Ideally the lockout would be progressively longer with repeat offenses- starting with one day, then escalating as necessary from there. The system could be designed to MeFi Mail the offender when they get a lockout, and could be designed so that a prolonged period between warnings would take them back down the scale (example: 2 warnings in one week results in 2-day lockout, but if the poster goes a year without a lockout they'd be back to a 1-day for the next offense instead of a 3-day). Note that this system would only pertain to (2) and (3) above, as answers qualifying as (1) are usually benign and are not ill-intended.

Now I realize that the MetaFilter community is ideally self-policing, and that community pressure is the preferred method of discouraging bad behavior, but the real question there is: does community pressure scale well enough to the size of the community? At a certain point, introducing stronger moderation to AskMe (the era of jessamyn and then cortex) was completely necessary as, when the community reached a certain point, community pressure and standards couldn't keep up with people's basic propensity to misbehave. I would argue that somewhere out there in AskMe's future there is a point at which a formal negative sanction will be necessary to discourage this kind of behavior. I've considered the benefits and detriments of such a system, or a similar one, but this post is long enough and I'll leave it to you all to debate it.
posted by baphomet to Etiquette/Policy at 8:37 AM (130 comments total)

My solution...is to temporarily remove someone's ability to post in the Green...

I think they can already do this. Can't they already do this? I'm pretty sure they can already do this.
posted by Jofus at 8:52 AM on March 19, 2008


When I first arrived at MeFi, I was so stoopid I didn't even know that AskMe existed!
Elated at my belated discovery, one day I tossed around some jokey responses to a couple of AskMe threads.
Jess very kindly wrote me a polite but firm e-mail educating me on what was appropriate.
I remember feeling 1) so grateful that she was gentle in her admonitions, and 2) SO EMBARRASSED that I was such a fool.
Never did that again.
Years later I was snarky on the blue one morning and I wrote to Cortex to apologize.
He response was kind as well.
So, yes, baphomet, I'm a big believer in (self)self-policing.
We're all in this together.
posted by Dizzy at 8:53 AM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Obvious throwaway reply.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:54 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


you're askin' for a bannin'
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:54 AM on March 19, 2008


I like it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:54 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the resulting bitching and moaning (and of course second-guessing) would result in more work for the moderators, not less.
posted by tkolar at 9:06 AM on March 19, 2008


Less unhelpfully, the idea of spiraling penalties has seen some successful use in an IRC uniqueness filter implemented by Randall Munroe of xkcd.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:08 AM on March 19, 2008


1 Answer that is generally unhelpful or non-topical
2 Answer that is inflammatory/constitutes a personal attack on the OP or another commenter
3 Answer that is obviously a throw-away joke which the poster expects will be deleted


It might cut down on #3, but there is SO much gray area on what constitutes breaking #1 and #2 that banning people would cause more headaches than it would solve.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:13 AM on March 19, 2008


I've mentioned this before too.

Ultimately, I imagine it comes down to the moderators just weighing opportunity costs. It'd definitely be a notable headache for them short-term (unless they're masochists, I guess, and do the job for the abuse)--and they have to (and probably have, really) weigh that against the headache of askme-shitting remaining an ongoing weeding problem. There's no negative consequences for engaging in it, so it'll keep on keeping on. And it may be a problem that only looks large from isolated more severe flare-ups, and is a pretty low-key only mildly-irritating administrative task otherwise. In which case, the short-term headache probably isn't worth it.
posted by Drastic at 9:13 AM on March 19, 2008


It seems to me that the resulting bitching and moaning (and of course second-guessing) would result in more work for the moderators, not less.

My username is jessamyn and I support this message. That said, this is the crux of it for me. Deleting comments already brings in its share of "you're out of line" emails to the mods which require back and forth discussions that don't even make it to the Big Table here at MeTa. I'd be concerned that if comment deletion came along with a timeout -- which, remember, would either need to include notification OR lack of notification and then someone figures it out when they try to post/comment and gets pissed -- it would make things worse not better, agitationwise. It would also not let the OP follow-up in MetaTalk which could be a problem as far as redress of grievances goes.

I'm more concerned with obvious thread-shitting [either stupid jokes with no helpful information, or slagging on a commenter/poster] than I am with the unhelpful but earnest answers we see a lot that I think aren't really a major problem.

Right now, also there is no way to do anything like "disallow poster from commenting in the green" and let them still interact with all the other parts of the site. There's also no mechanism for auto-timeout (which is good, imo) or any sort of graduated or increasing penalties. So, if we're thinking of building anything -- and we're not right now, but for the sake of argument -- we'd have to think about what this would look like, keeping in mind that xkcd is working with 250 people and we're looking at about 20 times that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:21 AM on March 19, 2008


1)The mods do a wonderful job here judging each case in it's context, as does the community as a whole.
2) It's pretty much impossible, at this point in time, to replace sound human judgment with programmatic logic.
3) MetaFilter has always placed a premium on free expression.
D) Why do people keep insisting on automatic timeouts? I just don't get it.
posted by danOstuporStar at 9:23 AM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Although I've never had an AskMe answer of mine deleted (that I know of at least), I still like that AskMe has "guidelines" instead of rules. I like the flag system and the way that the mods use their judgement to delete things that should be deleted. I like that the mods send people little notes when necessary rather than relying on some sort of automated timeout machine.

I can understand if it becomes so much of a problem that the mods need to put something like this in, but as long as they can handle the workload I like things the way they are.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2008


When I first started here, I made a comment on AskMe and then whined about it when it was deleted. Now, of course, I cringe at the thought, and wish I had the time machine from the thread below this one to delete the whole embarrassing interlude form my past content. The point being that sometimes, as Dizzy noted above, sometimes these comments occur as part of the learning process, and a little leeway is not such a bad thing. Having an automatic timeout might help, but it might also cause new posters to give up before they became valuable contributors*.

*Yes, I know that I am not there yet, but I'm getting closer.
posted by misha at 9:28 AM on March 19, 2008


Deleting comments already brings in its share of "you're out of line" emails to the mods which require back and forth discussions that don't even make it to the Big Table here at MeTa.

Easy. "/dev/null"
posted by Dave Faris at 9:44 AM on March 19, 2008


I agree that the mods are doing a great job of things as they are, and that a system like this isn't necessary right now per se- my assertion is that it might be necessary at some point, so it would be good to get a dialog going now.

Right now, also there is no way to do anything like "disallow poster from commenting in the green" and let them still interact with all the other parts of the site.

So that's a technical limitation. I agree that a blanket lockout for this is a bad idea, it would have to be AskMe specific. I also agree that (1) answers aren't especially problematic or worthy of moderation, unless they happen to be exceptionally bad and/or misleading (IE "using a condom is more likely to increase your exposure to HIV")

tkolar, that is indeed the biggest drawback to my proposal.

D) Why do people keep insisting on automatic timeouts? I just don't get it.

Show me where in the OP I insisted on anything and you'll get the answer to your question.
posted by baphomet at 9:45 AM on March 19, 2008


Setting aside the merits of the specific suggestions baphomet is making, I would just like to note that this is a model MeTa post format-wise. It identifies a problem, proposes a solution, and gives a rationale in support of the solution. Too often MeTa posts (other than bugs, feature requests, and fun stuff) reduce down to "this annoys me," "this should be banned," "x user is out of line," etc., so it's refreshing to see a coherent etiquette/policy proposal like this one.
posted by brain_drain at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, baphomet, 'insisting' was a bit of an exaggeration. I also had in mind other folk's previous comments, some which were in the thread you MeTa linked.
posted by danOstuporStar at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2008


My solution, then, given the motivations for participating in AskMe listed above, is to temporarily remove someone's ability to post in the Green when an answer qualifying as (2) or (3) above is deleted.

A simpler suggestion: jessamyn and cortex could consider giving people timeouts more frequently, especially for regulars who should know better. (Given the latest run of asshattery, I'm sure they're already thinking about it!)

To jessamyn and cortex: thanks once again for moderating the site, especially AskMe. Don't let the bastards get you down!
posted by russilwvong at 10:02 AM on March 19, 2008


It seems to me that the resulting bitching and moaning (and of course second-guessing) would result in more work for the moderators, not less.

I'd like to expand on this a bit more (and then I'll stop railroading...promise). I agree that there will be an initial pushback that could potentially be unpleasant for the mods, but I think that after the initial flare-up period while people adjust to the system, it would reduce the mod's workload overall because you'd see less of the kind of activity that would necessitate using the system. The reason I say this is because this feature forces people, before posting a questionable answer, to ask themselves- is this really worth it? I imagine that, given a well-defined and reasonable consequence, they'll more often than not decide that no, it really isn't. Since answers that would give one pause are of questionable use to the OP in the first place, this would improve the overall tone and discourse of AskMe. As it stands, people more than likely don't give a second thought to posting a junk answer because of course it's "worth it"- they don't have any real reason not to.

brain_drain- thanks!

danO- no worries, I know some people can be pretty pushy when it comes to MeTa stuff.
posted by baphomet at 10:06 AM on March 19, 2008


Easy. "/dev/null"

As soon as we start being non-responsive to people who have problems with the site and the way we run it we may as well just all go away forever and let the place run itself and see how long that lasts. I have /dev/null-ed exactly two MeFi members in the history of working here and I still feel bad about it.

Just because someone is pissed off that their comment was deleted doesn't mean that we're not still the go-to people for them if something else happens to them on the site. I may be just patting myself and cortex and mathowie on the back here, but that fact that people can get responses to email/MeMail/MeTa queries about moderator activities is one of the big things that sets this site apart from other communities of similar size.

I'm personally not interested in automating anything, but maybe a subtle policy shift where if you crap in the green you take the night off might not be a terrible thing.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:06 AM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


The system could be designed

You can't design a Matt, Jess or Cortex. I'd defer to their judgement, which has never been and never will be perfect, but on the whole, it's gold. Don't mess with that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:07 AM on March 19, 2008


I really don't think this is the right approach. Part of what makes MeFi so fantastic is the way we are all treated like adults and expected to take responsibility for our actions. That is accountability, built right into the system, with no overhead (unless you consider people communicating with each other to learn how to interact better socially as a material cost).

I guess in general my philosophy is that it's somewhat ineffective to create rules or obstacles to dictate behavior. They just don't work, 'cause the good people don't need 'em and the bad people don't heed 'em.

It reminds me of this news story I read a while back about a church that was so tired of people's cell phones going off during service that they spent their money in cell-phone-blocking paint. They repainted the whole church, thereby solving the problem, and allowing them to continue services peacefully. This story brought up a lot of questions in my mind:
1. What did the clergy teach the churchgoers about values and behavior, by their example?
2. What did the church members learn from this situation about respecting others and how to conduct themselves in public?
3. Who ultimately paid for the paint, and how could that money have been better spent?
4. What happens when new technologies arise, allowing for stronger cell phones, and necessitating tougher paint?

Do you see how ineffective the paint is? The churchgoers now have even less incentive to turn off their cell phones, because the paint will take care of it for them. They may even be willing to donate directly to this cause, because they like the idea of not having to worry about controlling their noise, when something else can be put in place to think of it for them (paying to play). You've solved a moral problem (taking responsibility for the noise pollution you create and preventing it) with an economic solution (purchasing paint to prevent noise, thereby removing the onus on the noisemaker to consider his contribution to the overall static). They may even be less aware of the state of their cell phone in general, since they don't have to think about it anymore...they've been unburdened of their responsibility. This will eventually cause problems in other establishments, where the patrons are used to the carefree thinking that goes on in their church. These other establishments will now consider purchasing paint, because that is now the precedent that has been set. Now read question #4 again.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


why do people post the types of answers that the poster knows the mods will delete

For one thing, there's always the hope that the comment will fly under the radar and stay. But the main reason, or so I'm thinking, is that some people really just cannot control themselves. Even fully well knowing that it's not cool to do, they have thought a think, and they cannot stop themselves from sharing their little think with the rest of us. I see the same people posting off-topic comments, jokey comments, and "it had to be said and if I didn't say it someone else would have" type comments over and over and over. It must be so frustrating to mod.

Tangentially related - I know I've said this before, but using the small tag doesn't make your chatty AskMe comment exempt from stupidity or from being off-topic. It's still going to be read and it's still going to annoy and it's still going to be deleted. Stop being cute. u kant haz smalltagz.
posted by iconomy at 10:12 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


but maybe a subtle policy shift where if you crap in the green you take the night off might not be a terrible thing.

I'd say 3 days at least and week might be better.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2008


Time-based bans from AskMe would encourage some people to make stupid comments, especially if they don't post there frequently. If I've got a great zinger, but I know I won't be able to post again for a week then I might think it's worth it.

Currently if I post a zinger in AskMe, I get attacked by the community, and face unknown consequences upto and including banning, name calling, terrorist attacks, and nuclear wedgies.

The current system has enough disincentive.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:16 AM on March 19, 2008


Don't forget the wet towel snaps. Everyone hates that.
posted by iconomy at 10:19 AM on March 19, 2008


As someone who occasionally has an askme answer deleted b/c of the seriousness rule, this thread raises at least one important question for me: There is cell-phone-blocking paint??
posted by found missing at 10:20 AM on March 19, 2008


maybe a subtle policy shift where if you crap in the green you take the night off might not be a terrible thing.

I like this, a lot. There are just enough of those "you are a douchebag" posts, often followed with a "ha ha I couldn't help myself," that a more vigorous approach would be nice. Giving those a short time out might help people help themselves, as it were, especially as it sometimes seems like there are a small set of routine offenders doing most of the crapping.

I don't think the grey-area stuff (snark buried within helpful answers, or someone genuinely trying to be helpful but giving poor information) is a major problem, and certainly doesn't deserve the banhammer of doom moderation approach. Even the occasional meltdown that involves someone's head exploding and some name-calling may not need this. But certainly the worst of the poor behavior, assholishness for assholishness' sake, deserves more than just a comment deletion.
posted by Forktine at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


How about allowing the OP to lockout commenters based on a flag of one of their comments but give the mods the ability to override the lockout if it seems arbitrary? I would guess the OP is often in the best position to determine if something is noise or deliberately avoids answering the question.
posted by tommasz at 10:35 AM on March 19, 2008


If I've got a great zinger, but I know I won't be able to post again for a week then I might think it's worth it.

In either case, your zinger will get deleted.

As soon as we start being non-responsive to people who have problems with the site and the way we run it we may as well just all go away forever and let the place run itself and see how long that lasts.


Sorry. Forgot the <glib> tag.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:36 AM on March 19, 2008


Have you guys ever thought of out-sourcing the moderation?

I can give you 24/365 moderation service for an extremely low price. It would include call center support and a live chat function for mefites to ask a member of our highly trained moderator staff a question, plus multi-language support.

I think I can put together an extremely attractive value package for you. We can also outsource all of the commenting, if need be.
posted by popechunk at 10:38 AM on March 19, 2008


why do people post the types of answers that the poster knows the mods will delete

That certainly does happen (folks, if you have to apologize for or predict the deletion of your comment in the comment itself, don't post it), and a good bit of the noise on askme comes from people who are least semi-regulars; but another thing to keep in mind here is that a lot of the askme commentary comes from a long tail of infrequent commenters, folks who aren't going to be explicitly familiar with the guidelines (I mean, who reads the manual first, amirite) and so who don't realize that they're out of line until we actually see them misbehave, delete there comment, and (hopefully, if time permits) touch base with them to let them know what's up.

And that sort of issue—of new or infrequent or poorly informed users not so much disregarding the guidelines of the site as much as merely not knowing them well enough to avoid transgressing—is another reason why auto-timeouts (or even aggressive human-driven quasi-auto-timeouts according to some schedule or system of punishment) isn't really attractive.

As jessamyn says, we could look at shifting towards somewhat more frequent timeouts for repeated problematic behavior. Lowering the threshold a bit is worth considering. But that threshold needs to stay well above the water line for one-off dalliances or new-user education or were shooting ourselves in the foot. And one of the costs that comes with timing folks out is figuring out how to deal with informing them of it; more timeouts means more time and energy spent on handling that, which is another we'd have to account for.

Although I've never had an AskMe answer of mine deleted (that I know of at least)

I have a disease where any time someone says something like that I have to check. So, sit down, burnmp3s:

You actually have had four comments deleted. Two of them were well-meaning attempts to help (with a gmail issue; with an Excel problem) that failed to take into account some detail specified in the question. The other two were comments acknowledging your respective mistakes and apologizing.

You are so banned.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:40 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I may be just patting myself and cortex and mathowie on the back here, but that fact that people can get responses to email/MeMail/MeTa queries about moderator activities is one of the big things that sets this site apart from other communities of similar size.

It's a well deserved pat.
posted by tkolar at 10:43 AM on March 19, 2008


You actually have had four comments deleted.

I distinctly remember someone telling me when I was in school that there was no such thing as your "permanent record," and how liberating that was.

Apparently I was misinformed.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:45 AM on March 19, 2008


oooh! new pony: deleted comment tally on the profile page.
posted by cowbellemoo at 10:52 AM on March 19, 2008


How about allowing the OP...

Oh Hell no.
posted by ODiV at 10:54 AM on March 19, 2008


New MeFiMail to:ALL functionality.
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on March 19, 2008


Apparently I was misinformed.

That, and kind of distracted in Indo-European Geopolitical Philosophy, from the looks of this report card. Also, you're still not flossing enough.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


As someone who occasionally has an askme answer deleted b/c of the seriousness rule, this thread raises at least one important question for me: There is cell-phone-blocking paint??

yeah, how does that work? enough copper particles to make a faraday cage, I'd guess.

also: I agree that baphomet's suggestion is really well phrased, but I don't think there is enough of a need to bypass good ol' human interaction/decision making.
posted by dubold at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2008


And what ODiV said. Pandora's box, right there; neither the mod team nor the userbase needs that kind of headache.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2008


The greatest trick the Permanent Record ever pulled was convincing the world it didn't exist.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:15 AM on March 19, 2008


maybe a subtle policy shift where if you crap in the green you take the night off might not be a terrible thing.

Indeed, I suspect it might well not.
posted by languagehat at 11:17 AM on March 19, 2008


ooh, ooh, cortex, do me! I think I've had one comment deleted... do I have more? (I was actually wondering about this yesterday.)
posted by taz at 11:25 AM on March 19, 2008


I made a joke in AskMe once, knowing it would be deleted, because I hoped whoever deleted it would get a little laugh out of it. Just after posting, I realized what an asshole I was for doing so. I refreshed and my comment was gone, so I replaced it with a real answer to the question. Since then I've resisted the temptation to crack wise in the green.

Cutting up in class or joking around in a business meeting is different: someone might actually think you're cool. There's nothing cool about fucking around in AskMe. It's just more work for the mods and more noise for the readers.

Automatic lockouts might make the mods' job easier in some regards, but the point for me is that shitting in AskMe causes the mods problems they have to solve. Even if they like my joke they still have to clean it up and decide what to do with me. Make it automatic, and I'd feel less guilty because I'd be causing less trouble.

I think the mods do a good job on a case-by-case basis. Their discretion is just fine. It really depends on the discretion of others.
posted by breezeway at 11:26 AM on March 19, 2008


taz, your deletion history is a roadmap of pain.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:27 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a lurker, and infrequent poster, I do think that a little more vigorous zapping and time outs might also raise the discourse level of the site - it's amazing how quickly people can get really nasty when it seems like a thread is mutating into Can I Be Snarkier Than Thou. People will feel less intimidated to post on the Blue or the Green when they feel that the community has had it with the nastiness we've had here and there of late.
posted by canine epigram at 11:30 AM on March 19, 2008


I think I had one AskMe comment deleted that was a sincere answer but too pithy; when I reposted it in little more verbose form it stayed. Also one that was purely a joke - at the time I wondered if the joke even registered or it just looked like a completely out of the blue. I apologize. I'll go take a time-out now.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2008


Actualllllllly, what I meant to say is that I'm pretty sure I've had no comments deleted at all. None, goose egg. Zip. Not only that, but moderators seem to have put many of my comments in hot pink and bold, with little sparkles and hearts around them.
posted by taz at 11:39 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your browser's got the MetaChat stylesheet cached, is what's happening there.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I clicked on fantabulous timewaster's link to Randall Munroe of xkcd to see what his solution was and found a reference to Dunbar's number. I read until this caught my imagination
"this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size".
Here was a condition to give any MeFite pause: a neocortex! Will cortex eventually mutate? Will the mutation, the neocortex, be a true duplicate of the original or might neocortex be terse and brusque, unable to write snappy deletion reasons or multi-paragraph comments? In order to control group size, might neocortex ruthlessly ban errant MeFites?
And what of the others? Will there some day be a neomathowie, a neojessamyn, a neodb?
Those who want to instigate change must tread carefully. There may be unforeseen consequences.
posted by Cranberry at 11:46 AM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


omg, Wolfdog!
posted by taz at 11:48 AM on March 19, 2008


wtf, taz! m i doin this rite?
posted by Wolfdog at 11:52 AM on March 19, 2008


neocortex!

I put on my robe black leather trenchcoat and wizard hat sunglasses.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:52 AM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


But mostly you'd just say "Whoa" a lot.
posted by brain_drain at 12:03 PM on March 19, 2008


I know google-fu.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:08 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll stop trotting this out soon, I promise. But first, please allow me to run the gag into the ground. Thanks.

Your post advocates a:
[ ] community moderated
[X] technical
[ ] social
[ ] legislative
[ ] economic
[X] authoritarian
[ ] free-for-all
solution to crappy Ask MetaFilter comments.

I'm afraid it won't work due to:
[ ] the King of the Shitpile problem
[ ] the "It's only a web site" problem
[ ] it's been tried and it doesn't work
[ ] people who practice willful ignorance
[ ] MetaFilter should be less like Slashdot, not more
[ ] Digg actually sucks a lot
[ ] The Kuro5hin model didn't work at Kuro5hin either
[X] Matt doesn't have time
[X] there aren't enough hours in the day to police that
[ ] the code doesn't work that way
[ ] technology doesn't work that way
[ ] MetaFilter runs on very limited hardware
[ ] wishing doesn't make things better
[X] asshats don't respond well to finger-wagging
[ ] scoreboards don't fix anything, they just get gamed
[ ] overestimating the intelligence of people
[X] five bucks isn't real money to some people
[X] it doesn't prevent shitty posts from appearing
[ ] it will let too much crap get through anyway
[X] nobody ever agrees what a shitty post is
[ ] requiring cooperation from asshats
[ ] most people don't take tags seriously
[ ] when you outlaw shit posts, only outlaws will post shit
[ ] the word "deletion" doesn't mean what you think it means
[ ] it makes life harder, not easier

Furthermore it seems you might not realize:
[ ] Removal of stupid posts is a good thing
[ ] User numbers don't consume bandwidth or CPU time
[X] Matt, jessamyn, and cortex actually know what they're doing
[ ] If an algorithm existed to do that, everyone would already be using it
[ ] There is a small but loud contingent that thinks such crap is "good"
[ ] Some people think "important" means "postworthy"

In summary:
[X] Yours isn't the worst idea I've ever heard, but it's not good.
[ ] That's a pretty dumb thing to do.
[ ] Do you even understand the words you're using?
[ ] Die.

posted by majick at 12:09 PM on March 19, 2008 [14 favorites]


gosh I laugh at that every time.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:18 PM on March 19, 2008


Thanks, majick. I'll take your profile blurb to heart on that one.
posted by baphomet at 12:21 PM on March 19, 2008


It's for the best.
posted by majick at 12:24 PM on March 19, 2008


i think it's funny
posted by brain_drain at 12:25 PM on March 19, 2008


AskMe ain't broke, don't try and fix it.
posted by dg at 1:57 PM on March 19, 2008


I've had AskMe comments deleted for a wide swath of reasons. I've also been given a timeout because of a over-the-line-jokey FPP I did. I don't agree with the decision, but I respect that it came after a bit of thought on someone's part and not some itchy trigger finger.

The solution to every problem (and I'm not even sure there is one here) isn't more rules.
posted by mkultra at 2:22 PM on March 19, 2008


May I suggest instead an auto-notification system via MefiMail to the persons whose comments have been deleted. Maybe give a little extra work to the mods as they check off a general reason for deletion, but leave an option for them to write out something when more needs to be said (and I think you know when it does). But automate a "You have had X comments deleted in the last day/week/month" that the mod can also see to determine if further action may be needed.
posted by wendell at 2:28 PM on March 19, 2008


May I suggest instead an auto-notification system via MefiMail to the persons whose comments have been deleted.

With respect, this would not just amount to a little extra work. Or rather, it would only be a little if people never contested these deletions or if they never MeMailed back to say "hey thanks for letting me know!" The amount of stuff that gets pruned from AskMe on a weekly basis make this impossible with the amount of time/attention we have now.

We've administratively "touched" maybe 30 posts/users/comments since midnight last night. This can be anything from deleting a post to fixing some HTML to removing a comment to unbanning a user. Maybe 2/5 of that today is pure AskMe. Yesterday we touched maybe 78 things of which over half was AskMe. Adding even 20 more MeFi emails to the regular multiple inboxen of stuff is a big step up workloadwise. This is in addition to our regular presence here in MeTa. I made about 20 comment to MeTa yesterday -- a somewhat high number -- and that's despite the fact that I was travelling from Michigan to Vermont for a big chunk of the day.

If people decide to MeMail back about that sort of thing, we can't start side discussions with all of them and we don't want to. The more stuff that gets shunted to MeMail, the less discussion happens out in the open here. Also MeMail is by nature between one mod and one user as opposed to the contact form which goes to me, cortex and mathowie. Tying stuff up in MeMail is not a good idea for a lot of reasons.

We MeMail/email people who we think won't understand, who are new, or who may have an issue that needs moderator attention or the suggestion of a MeTa thread. There are a few users who email or MeMail us back about deletions, edits or account status in a given day already. This may be my own personal lens here but I feel that more automated email is overkill and depersonalizing and is less optimal than considered personal contact and responses from us and aboveboard discussions in MeTa.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:56 PM on March 19, 2008


I want to post my entire deleted comment history in my profile. That would be so awesome.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:01 PM on March 19, 2008


Perhaps all the deleted comments can be compiled somewhere and hosted as some kind of anti-ask metafilter. It would be interesting to see if that would be worse than yahoo answers.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:11 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Always with the rules and the punishments, feh. I like a nice guideline.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:24 PM on March 19, 2008


I made a joke in AskMe once, knowing it would be deleted, because I hoped whoever deleted it would get a little laugh out of it. Just after posting, I realized what an asshole I was for doing so.

I've done it on occasion, checked back, joke gone, system worked, slept well.

Posting a joke in AskMe does not bestow asshole[sic] status.
posted by mattoxic at 7:26 PM on March 19, 2008


Yes to timeouts. No to more work for the mods. That's probably not worth 2 cents, maybe more like .5ish.
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:39 PM on March 19, 2008


I've done it on occasion

Where by "on occasion" you mean TODAY.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:47 PM on March 19, 2008


...maybe a subtle policy shift where if you crap in the green you take the night off might not be a terrible thing.

The above approach seems like such a no-brainer to me. It also doesn't make a lot of sense to me that all of the moderators complain about users' behavior, when there is very little disincentive for users to stop the behavior. It's also amazing to me that so many users know that their behavior is annoying and undesirable, but obviously don't care.

Why is it necessary to have all of this discussion and hand-wringing about this? Implement the policy and move on....otherwise, stop complaining about user behavior.
posted by garypratt at 7:50 PM on March 19, 2008


Posting a joke in AskMe does not bestow asshole[sic] status.

Why shouldn't it? You know it's against the guidelines and annoys the moderators, but you insist on doing it anyway.
posted by garypratt at 7:53 PM on March 19, 2008


"I've done it on occasion, checked back, joke gone, system worked, made more work for someone, slept well."

The system worked, sure, but the question is: Why exercise it unnecessarily?

HEY EVERYONE!!!!
"CLEAN UP" AFTER YOURSELFS
ESPECIALLY THE MICROWAVE "AREA"
YOUR MOTHER DOESN'T WORK HERE!!!
posted by majick at 8:33 PM on March 19, 2008


Posting a joke in AskMe does not bestow asshole[sic] status.

It certainly bestows Knowingly Being a Pain in the Ass status. Being a drain on limited resources when you know better is kind of a crappy way to proceed.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:44 PM on March 19, 2008


But, but . . . he paid five dollars!
posted by brain_drain at 8:48 PM on March 19, 2008


asshole[sic]

Hey, what's with the [sic]? If I'm being twitted, I wanna know; I'll go in guns blazing and worry about apologizing for being a royal arse later.
posted by breezeway at 9:17 PM on March 19, 2008


Why shouldn't it? You know it's against the guidelines and annoys the moderators, but you insist on doing it anyway.

Insist? I don't think I'm insisting on anything. I'm saying the system works as it is.

Is it really much work for the mods? True, they have to put their hand on the mouse, move it aaaallllll the way over there to the delete button, then click the delete button/link.

And, the most grueling part of the whole exercise, is they get paid for it.

Whew, I got a sweat up just typing that. Imaging what it would be like doing it for real.

If you want banning- go and become traffic wardens or security guards or something.
posted by mattoxic at 9:27 PM on March 19, 2008


asshole[sic]

An ass is a cross between a donkey and a horse, they may have holes, I don't know, I've not been close enough to tell- I'm into poultry.
posted by mattoxic at 9:30 PM on March 19, 2008


Is it really much work for the mods?

Moderation is something that we do because the system doesn't always run smoothly unattended. It's a given that things are going to break down, that folks are going to venture outside of the guidelines. It's also generally charitably assumed that they're doing so by accident or by some moment of clouded judgement or passionate foolishness—that, in short, they're not so contemptuous of us or of the site that they're misbehaving on purpose out of some sense of entitlement to have their messes cleaned up for them.

I love that I work here. It's a fun, weird, wonderful job and I don't begrudge any of the thousands of users who are just here doing their thing benignly and in good faith, even when that occasionally creates a mess or a great big headache. It's part of the job, and I'm fine with that. But that I'm okay with the inevitable headaches and dalliances and mopwork that comes with the position doesn't mean I'm remotely happy with the attitude that willfully making more work for me is somehow just a cool-beans, hunky-dorey way to go. I don't go around trying to make anybody's job harder just because I expect they'll do their job anyway, and it seems lousy of you to argue that that sort of thing is okay to do to us.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:58 PM on March 19, 2008


*takes mattoxic aside*

Listen dude, you can stop this thing getting waaay worse by just shutting up now, OK? You might think that your retorts are all clever and shit, but you are starting to sound like an arsehole. Some fights you just can't win, you know - this is one of them. Sometimes it's better to let it go just to avoid unnecessary angst for everyone but, in this case, it's because you're in the wrong. Just chill and all will be well. Dude
posted by dg at 10:02 PM on March 19, 2008


An ass is a cross between a donkey and a horse

Some words have more than one definition.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:13 PM on March 19, 2008


Cortex, deleting the odd comment is hardly onerous. I'm sure that 99% of the askme threads go off with no moderation at all.

I'm saying that an odd joke here and there is not the act of an arsehole- it will always happen, and it's not worthy of banning- unless obviously it's serial, offensive etc
posted by mattoxic at 10:18 PM on March 19, 2008


Hey, what's with the [sic]?

It's because you misspelled arsehole. For some reason that one just really grates (for me anyway), asshole is such a wussy sounding copout version.

timeouts for repeated problematic behavior

I think this is key. It has to be someone doing it more than once and with some evidence that they're doing it on purpose. Giving someone a timeout for a single throwaway comment is draconian, and assuming that every off topic comment is done with bad intentions is overly cynical (and, I think, unjustified). Neither will work or is necessary. But when there's a clear pattern of behaviour then sure, give the perpetrator a sterner message than just deletion.
posted by shelleycat at 10:29 PM on March 19, 2008


An ass is a cross between a donkey and a horse, they may have holes, I don't know, I've not been close enough to tell- I'm into poultry.

Is this an example of the sort of sparkling wit you've been pooping out in AskMe? Because ouch, I'm embarrassed for you. Please don't share.
posted by taz at 10:34 PM on March 19, 2008


*takes mattoxic aside*

thanks dg, you're gold man, gold.

But you don't seem to be picking up what I'm putting down- dig?

People are arguing for banning based on some arbitrary ruling- ie inappropriate/misplaced comment. It's bullshit. if someone is a serial offender, an email from a mod, or a meta callout- sure. But a banning? No way dude, NO WAY.

Thanks dg, I'll let you get back to the book burning- and stay close ok?
posted by mattoxic at 10:36 PM on March 19, 2008


You're defending a false premise. No one is suggesting a ban. The suggestion is a time-out, or a brief respite from being able to post on Ask Metafilter.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:40 PM on March 19, 2008


*shrugs*
Don't say I didn't warn you.
posted by dg at 10:43 PM on March 19, 2008


I have decided I'm not even going to offer my Valuable Internet Opinion on this, because after like a year-long tear talking my tits off about the subject in Metatalk, I'm back to not being sure what to think about it.

You may thank me for shutting the hell up about it with delicious beverages, at your leisure.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:45 PM on March 19, 2008


No one is suggesting a ban. The suggestion is a time-out, or a brief respite from being able to post on Ask Metafilter.

It the same thing. For repeat offenders, yeah sure go crazy.
posted by mattoxic at 10:51 PM on March 19, 2008




For fuck's sake. 30-40% of AskMe replies are noise, I know all mine are.

Well you should desist.

Oh, unless that was um.... wit.
posted by mattoxic at 11:39 PM on March 19, 2008


It's because you misspelled arsehole. For some reason that one just really grates (for me anyway), asshole is such a wussy sounding copout version.

It comes across the other way around in America, probably because of the way we pronounce it (with the hard A instead of the soft).
posted by concrete at 12:39 AM on March 20, 2008


I prefer the American spelling of most things, though 'Asshole' always struck me as curious as it seems so wrong. But then again the north American meaning of "fanny' is so so wrong.
posted by mattoxic at 3:23 AM on March 20, 2008


Even after living in Britain for 4.5 years, arsehole seems really odd to me.
posted by grouse at 3:48 AM on March 20, 2008


Perhaps all the deleted comments can be compiled somewhere and hosted as some kind of anti-ask metafilter. It would be interesting to see if that would be worse than yahoo answers.

It couldn't possibly be worse.
posted by klausness at 5:30 AM on March 20, 2008


It's because you misspelled arsehole. For some reason that one just really grates (for me anyway), asshole is such a wussy sounding copout version.

It comes across the other way around in America, probably because of the way we pronounce it (with the hard A instead of the soft).


I don't know if it's the pronounciation, but I agree that the perception is the other way around in the US. In the US, "arsehole" actually comes across as a more polite version of "asshole" (perhaps because of stereotypes about British politeness).
posted by klausness at 5:36 AM on March 20, 2008


Cortex, deleting the odd comment is hardly onerous.

Once again, you miss the point entirely. No single incident that generates a single task in any job is by itself onerous. Mopping up a spill from a dropped jar at the grocery store? A few minutes work. The guy with the mop knows and acknowledges this, okay.

So do an experiment for me: go to the grocery store. Grab a jar of mayonnaise. Find a staffer, look them in the eye, and throw the jar at the floor so it shatters. Then smile at them and explain to them that cleaning it up is hardly onerous.

I don't know what your motivation is for justifying knowing, intentional crapping in askme, but your argument seems kind of absurd when it's you standing there telling me that I shouldn't mind when you intentionally screw with this place. That is the "For repeat offenders, yeah sure go crazy." situation. You are willfully being abusive to the site and shrugging it off.

Incidental, accidental jokes/barbs/weirdness from people on askme who are new enough not to know better? Sure, we expect it and take it in stride. But most of them learn their lesson from it and start showing something resembling respect for the guidelines and for what we do around here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:37 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


I support the general concept, though I'd lobby that #3 be given slack for truly brilliant replies. Specifically, I recall one chap was asking about a strange hole in his head and noting that he had stuck a paperclip in to see how deep it was.
If any of you read the comment in question, you will undoubtedly recall the punchline and will giggle along with me on it.
Comedy, while unhelpful, can still be enjoyable.
posted by GoingToShopping at 6:45 AM on March 20, 2008


It's because you misspelled arsehole.

You misspelled "misspelt." Let's have some fucking consistency.
posted by breezeway at 8:08 AM on March 20, 2008


they have to put their hand on the mouse, move it aaaallllll the way over there to the delete button, then click the delete button/link.

read flags
click through to thread
read entire thread
read comment
determine if comment is problematic in context
delete comment
read thread again to see if it still makes sense w/o comment
delete comments following up to jokey comment if necc.
check user profile to see if email needs to be sent or timeout needs to be given
delete flag(s) from flag queue
reply to any email/MeFiMail that comment generated
wait to see if deleted comment generates a MeTa thread

I'm not bitching about doing it, I'm with cortex that working here rarely feels like work. However if we're not cleaning up crap in AskMe, there's a lot of other things we can do like working on the backtagging project, emailing Happy Birthday to users, keeping up with stuff in MeTa, actually getting to read/enjoy the site, talking to the mod team about features we'd like to build etc.

It used to be when the site was small enough, we could read every thread and we'd notice if things were askance somehow. Now the flag queue directs our attention a lot of times. People get grouchy about people crapping in AskMe and tend to sometimes overflag so there is a bit of discretion in the "should I remove this" decision or not and while it's not any sort of fine art, trying to do it with a minimum of disruption does take some finesse. Also there are now two of us mainly doing it, so a little back and forth with cortex is often part of the whole process. This happens with every deleted comment. So maybe 30-50 times a day on a busy day?

I'm sure that 99% of the askme threads go off with no moderation at all.

Incorrect. Maybe cortex can run the numbers on this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:13 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


The paperclip comment.
posted by unSane at 9:15 AM on March 20, 2008


If the paperclip comment wouldn't survive today's zero tolerance policy because it is "crapping" in the thread, well then the policy is an ass.
posted by found missing at 9:34 AM on March 20, 2008


Or that policy is designed to promote something other than paperclip comments in AskMe. It's a very funny comment, but it's making no effort to help with the one thing that AskMe is actually there for: helping people get answers to their questions, find solutions to their problems.

I've chuckled at things and then deleted them plenty of times in the past, and will keep on doing it in the future; while I totally understand the "aw, but it was funny" feeling, that's really, really beside the point. The green is not the blue; it's not a free-for-all, it's not an open mic standup joint. It's not about providing a space for people to tell jokes, even if the jokes are funny.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:48 AM on March 20, 2008


My solution, then, given the motivations for participating in AskMe listed above, is to temporarily remove someone's ability to post in the Green when an answer qualifying as (2) or (3) above is deleted. Ideally the lockout would be progressively longer with repeat offenses- starting with one day, then escalating as necessary from there.

Um, the site is already moderated. Not to sound antagonistic, seriously, but why is the proposal of a "solution" needed when users can already be given timeouts for repeated bad behavior?

Hey, it's nice that you're looking out for mathowie/cortex/jessamyn's workload, and most of us here support not making this Metafilter gig suck for them, but your proposed system of assessing comments qualitatively and quantitatively with variable-time-timeouts seems a little missing the forest for the trees-like.
posted by desuetude at 10:24 AM on March 20, 2008


I've done it on occasion, checked back, joke gone, system worked, slept well.
Posting a joke in AskMe does not bestow asshole[sic] status.

I'm saying that an odd joke here and there is not the act of an arsehole- it will always happen, and it's not worthy of banning- unless obviously it's serial, offensive etc


This guy is the poster child for obliviously assholic behavior in AskMe and is a clear example of someone who needs a timeout to teach him not to smash jars in the grocery aisle for the fun of it.
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've done it on occasion, checked back, joke gone, system worked, slept well.

Posting a joke in AskMe does not bestow asshole[sic] status.


That's like saying "Why that can't be asshole behavior! That would mean that I'M being an asshole!"

Surprise, surprise. You're being an asshole. Just because you could try harder and be a BIGGER one doesn't mean that it's okay.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:06 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


desuetude: Alright, I admit it, I framed the question to heavily around my own solution. But the problem essentially is this: right now with regards to codifying good behavior in AskMe, we have plenty of carrots but few sticks. We used to have all carrots and no sticks, but that didn't work, so out came the sticks.

Now the sticks, as they are, work great, and are very nominal and behind the scenes. But at some future point they may need to be escalated. Another example of a proposed solution to facilitate this was the discussion regarding a "midnight mod" a while back. So my question really is, how will we know when the sticks are needed and what might they look like? I think it's better to be prepared for this and think about it in advance than to wait until it's actually a problem.

So when you look at a comment like majick's above, I challenge you or anybody else (especially majick) to come up with a solution to this potential problem that wouldn't result in all of those boxes being checked. The thing is, the problems he identifies are not problems with my solution, they're problems with MetaFilter in general that are byproducts of the system here and that will eventually lead to much larger problems for the community, if the community gets large enough. Take any proposed solution to this problem and majick can just whip out that dumbass post and everybody will think it's brilliantly witty, when all it does is dismiss a serious examination of the issue, because it lends itself to such a "case closed" reception.
posted by baphomet at 1:11 PM on March 20, 2008


We used to have all carrots and no sticks, but that didn't work, so out came the sticks.

This is an utter sidetrack, but I am fascinated with idiomatic references to carrots and sticks (poss. from a previous mefi interaction? poss. elsewhere?) and would very much like it, baphomet, if you would take a couple minutes to summarize how you use the carrots and sticks metaphorically; what the represent (in general and in this instance) and how they interact with each other if at all.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2008


Your world is going to be rocked when you find out about carrot sticks.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


(They are at the same time carrots and sticks.)
posted by Wolfdog at 1:32 PM on March 20, 2008


They are irresistibly drawn ever forward to beat themselves.
posted by tkolar at 1:46 PM on March 20, 2008


I'm guessing my previous carrot/stick conversation wasn't on mefi, based on a search of my own comment history. But I did find this episode of mild nerdly outrage.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:49 PM on March 20, 2008


"...it lends itself to such a "case closed" reception."

Half-baked technical fixes to address fundamentally social problems are just about the most perfect example of something to put a picture of next to the definition of "case closed."

PROBLEM: Being a dick isn't good for Ask Metafilter.
PROPOSED SOLUTION: Make explaining that to users -- after the fact, no less -- the job of three people. Over and over and over. Furthermore, encode a general heuristic for social response into a constrained algorithm for the underlying system.
ANALYSIS: The proposed solution is worse than the problem.

Listen, I can't force you to learn systemic thinking. The closest I can do is make a backhanded comment about your lack of it. But since your desire to help improve the place seems hat-handedly sincere you might want to try.

"come up with a solution to this potential problem"

PROBLEM: Being a dick isn't good for Ask Metafilter.
PROPOSED SOLUTION: Show your disapproval for people being dicks, and ask for help when they're consistent about it. Meanwhile educate the unstemmed tide of new users about how not to be dicks. Study the possibility of hitting people with harder Timeout Sticks when their primary purpose appears to be posting for yucks.
ANALYSIS: The proposed solution is already in place and functioning. Areas for improvement include improving the means for new users to learn how not to be dicks, as well as educating existing users on the reasons why being a dick has not been and is not currently a commonly-welcomed practice.
posted by majick at 1:50 PM on March 20, 2008


They are irresistibly drawn ever forward to beat themselves.
Dude. Wow. It's like, that's a metaphor... it's an image... in the end it is a story we all share.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:55 PM on March 20, 2008


cortex: Just for context, I've been visiting MetaFilter since around 2002, and my account is an 11/18/04, so I've seen the site develop a lot and grown to appreciate it more at every turn.

So when I refer to carrots and sticks, my feeling is this. I guess I use the term because I'm an officer (guild leader) in a World of Warcraft high-level raiding guild, which for the uninitiated entails moderate personnel management. When discussing a policy issue, the other officers and I use the terms "carrot" and "sticks" as sort of a shorthand for incentives and disincentives associated with a particular problem or behavior. Example: people aren't showing for a run up on time. Carrot: showing up on time guarantees you have a spot. Stick: If you don't show up on time you get warned, if you receive enough warnings you get booted. The behavior in question- raid attendance- has both an incentive and a disincentive.

So with that in mind, the behavior in question is the user's answer, and the "carrots" in an AskMe context are favorites, best answers, positive feedback from OP, and moreover the recognition that comes from receiving those. If you're a consistently helpful user, you might even get recognized as a near-messianic AskMe superstar! Now the "sticks" in an AskMe context are callouts, flags, comment deletions, and perhaps being contacted by a mod, which may or may not escalate depending on the user's reaction. What's tricky about this is that is, unless something slips by a mod long enough that a callout is generated, there's no recognition on the part of the greater community. Getting your comments deleted frequently results in people, like Dizzy and myself, deciding to moderate their behavior and change their approach to AskMe. Some people, on the other hand (mattoxic) continue to do so and don't feel bad about it. If the biggest incentive for good answers is community recognition, the corollary for bad answers doesn't exist unless something goes wrong (the thread is unmoderated for long enough that somebody brings it up in MeTa).

To tie it back to the (admittedly dubious) WoW example, if people always showed up on time we wouldn't need carrots or sticks. The whole thing would just run fine and dandy. Similarly with AskMe, if people didn't shit in threads matt wouldn't have needed additional mods in the first place, yet there you are. Naturally I wouldn't presume to tell you how to do your jobs here, because I certainly couldn't do it as well as you do, I'm just trying to point out the potential problem of scaling and how that might affect the community as a whole later on down the line.


Half-baked technical fixes to address fundamentally social problems are just about the most perfect example of something to put a picture of next to the definition of "case closed."


I guess you only read the parts of that comment that you could snidely deride.

Show your disapproval for people being dicks, and ask for help when they're consistent about it.

Right, flag it and move on, but the current system does make it difficult for any given user to establish if another user is being consistently unhelpful.

ANALYSIS: The proposed solution is already in place and functioning. Areas for improvement include improving the means for new users to learn how not to be dicks, as well as educating existing users on the reasons why being a dick has not been and is not currently a commonly-welcomed practice.


I disagree, you seem to be practicing it quite actively.
posted by baphomet at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2008


(practicing and encouraging)
posted by baphomet at 3:04 PM on March 20, 2008


Thanks for the carrot/stick explication. You're using it the way I thought you were, and the way at least one other person I've talked to uses it; it stands out for me because it's not how I learned the idiom, though I didn't want to throw my usage out ahead of time and potentially prime your response.

I associate the idea of carrots and sticks with the metaphorical notion of a carrot on a stick—the canonical image for this being the donkey pursuing endlessly a carrot being dangled inches in front of its mouth by a string tied at one end to said carrot and at the other to a stick being held out by the donkey's rider. The carrot is the incentive; the stick is not a disincentive of any sort in function, it's just the lever from which the carrot is hung. The rider is the tempter, the donkey the tempted, and the carrot the irresistable but unreachable temptation, always just out of reach, always being striven for until at last the donkey grows disenchanted or the rider relents.

Now, my impression is that the version I describe above is the common and historical one, but I can't back that up offhand. One of these days I should try and get a real answer. Regardless, it's certainly the only meaning I'd ever encountered for it growing up, but as I said you're not the first person using carrot/stick as a matched pair of incentives and disincentives, reward vs. threat (rather than reward purposefully denied). I'm inclined to say that the on-a-stick version has a little more conceptual "sensibility" to it than the carrots vs. sticks version, but that could be merely familiarity speaking and idioms are often conceptually opaque regardless.

So it's a pretty interesting to me; I know it's usually hopeless to remember where you first picked up an idiom, but if you can recall any of your conceptual development of the idea of carrots and sticks, I'd love to hear about it. (And "and" may be a key part of how these divergent analyses came about: "carrot on a stick" and "carrot and a stick" are so phonologically similar, especially in quick/informal speech and probably even more so in some regional dialects, that someone could say one and have the other person hear the other; and then acquisition from context would do the rest of the work.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:22 PM on March 20, 2008


You misspelled "misspelt." Let's have some fucking consistency.

My Oxford English dictionary says both are correct and gives them identical definitions. It's a pretty authoritative source and I tend to believe it.
posted by shelleycat at 3:25 PM on March 20, 2008


And if I do manage to make some progress against what appears to be (as some quick googling suggests) an otherwise pretty dearthish and unsettled question of and/or vs on-a usage and history, I might finally register a Wikipedia account just so I can edit the hell out of this anemic crapstain of an article.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:38 PM on March 20, 2008


I associate the idea of carrots and sticks with the metaphorical notion of a carrot on a stick

As you can probably tell from my earlier response, I mix the two potential meanings with joyous inconsistency. The stick is being used to hold the carrot out in front while simultaneously being used to beat the mule. It is a heisenstick. It exists neither as tool nor weapon, neither separator from pleasure nor source of pain.

Sometimes I hit the box I keep on my counter with it, to see if the I can get a cat to come or not. Other times I treat it as a particle and see if it will wave at me.

Me and my heisenstick are inseparable.
posted by tkolar at 3:38 PM on March 20, 2008


Am I in trouble?
posted by Dizzy at 3:39 PM on March 20, 2008


Gesundheit.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:41 PM on March 20, 2008


Your interpretation of the idiom is interesting and it never really occurred to me. I guess I picked up using the phrase from the other officers in my guild, they were apparently using it long before I even joined. Being that they're all from the south I'd imagine it's a regional usage. My interpretation was more along the lines of you dangle a carrot in front of the horse you encourage it to move in the right direction, but if that doesn't work you smack it on the ass with a stick (presumably a different one than the carrot is being hung from, although I'm not sure how you'd continue to hold the reins in this metaphor as I'm not much of an equestrian myself) to give it a little more motivation.


And if I do manage to make some progress against what appears to be (as some quick googling suggests) an otherwise pretty dearthish and unsettled question of and/or vs on-a usage and history,


Surely Yahoo! Answers will know.
posted by baphomet at 3:46 PM on March 20, 2008


Touche!

And it's interesting; I've never really considered that the hybrid "tempt it with carrot, beat it if it doesn't move" interpretation existed, but its reasonable enough—again, no more opaque than the other two, I suppose. Feels sort of messy and overloaded to me, though; I'd like to imagine the complicated nature of that version suggests it some latter-day, post hoc justification for and melding of the two distinct and simpler readings, but that's pretty damned speculative on my part.

I also wonder if there's something to the notion that my favored version has such a visual identity for me—the image (moving, or still frame) of the fishingpoled carrot and the lumbering beast is very clear in my mind and I am sure I have seen it in at least a few cartoons as well (editorial and otherwise). I don't know how one would express the incentive/disincentive of carrot vs. stick clearly and without context in a single graphical frame, by comparison—what would match the clear (and clearly futile) yearing of the pack mule for the reward it cannot understand will remain always just out of reach, suspended as it is from the stick in the rider's hand?

Also, in a sense the hybrid version is the most cruel of the bunch; whereas the carrot vs. stick version suggests the possibility of pure incentives, and my on-a-stick temptation model suggests merely psychological gamesmanship, the hybrid form suggests the psyche-out gambit with physical violence as a fallback if the sucker stops being a sucker. Ouch.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2008


My first interpretation of carrots & sticks - and the way I see it used most often - is in the simple "rewards & punishments" sense. But if I think harder about the carrot as a reward I get quickly to the donkey-tempted-by-carrot-on-stick-out-of-reach image. Which leads to the inevitable idea that the donkey will eventually be thwacked by that stick as well. (It is cruel, because the carrot is never a real reward, but the stick is a real punishment.) The weird thing is that in my mind Teddy Roosevelt is mixed up in all this as well.
posted by yarrow at 4:47 PM on March 20, 2008


I associate the idea of carrots and sticks with the metaphorical notion of a carrot on a stick—the canonical image for this being the donkey pursuing endlessly a carrot being dangled inches in front of its mouth by a string tied at one end to said carrot and at the other to a stick being held out by the donkey's rider. The carrot is the incentive; the stick is not a disincentive of any sort in function, it's just the lever from which the carrot is hung. The rider is the tempter, the donkey the tempted, and the carrot the irresistable but unreachable temptation, always just out of reach, always being striven for until at last the donkey grows disenchanted or the rider relents.

Now, my impression is that the version I describe above is the common and historical one


That's the way I learned it as well, and I'm reasonably sure it's the historical (original) one; whether it's as common as baphomet's in these degenerate times (joke! language change is inevitable and necessary!), I cannot say.
posted by languagehat at 5:51 PM on March 20, 2008


I've never really considered that the hybrid "tempt it with carrot, beat it if it doesn't move" interpretation existed, ... I'd like to imagine the complicated nature of that version suggests it some latter-day, post hoc justification for and melding of the two distinct and simpler readings

Have you never watched someone work a donkey or a mule in a real (meaning, non-SPCA-approved setting)? Incentives are applied at one end of the animal, disincentives at the other; the disincentives can be pretty vigorous. I've never seen the carrot-on-a-stick outside of a Warner Bros cartoon, but perhaps it is an image derived from real life, I don't know. But the image of a donkey/ox/horse/mule/goat/dog/etc being fed a treat for working, and getting beaten for not working goes back as far as those animals have been domesticated and put to work.

I suspect that the cartoon image is itself a hybrid, created for dramatic purposes and to avoid too much horse-beating in the cartoons. (As a practical issue, I suspect that a perpetually-unavailable treat would quickly turn into a source of frustration for the animal, becoming a disincentive rather than an incentive. Certainly that is the case for dogs; I've never tried to train a horse and don't know much about how their training works.)
posted by Forktine at 6:12 PM on March 20, 2008


Have you never watched someone work a donkey or a mule in a real (meaning, non-SPCA-approved setting)?

I have never watched someone work a donkey or a mule in a real (meaning, non-SPCA-approved) setting. I have also never seen an actual Australian perched in an actual gum tree, however, nor have I seen anyone who was in such fine athletic health that they resembled a violin, so I'm basically hopelessly unworldly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:23 PM on March 20, 2008


And while we're talking idioms, I found majick's use of the phrase "hat-handedly" so striking this afternoon that I went and wrote up some googlery on the subject on ye old blog. High five, man.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:38 PM on March 20, 2008


*strokes chin*

Interesting. I have never heard of the carrot/stick thing being used to mean the carrot on a stick thing, but always as opposite methods of encouragement - either the carrot or the stick at any given time. I always thought that the carrot on a stick was just a cartoon cliche.
posted by dg at 4:57 AM on March 21, 2008


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