Use someone else's words March 28, 2008 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Call for discussion: Many posts to MeFi have had their link description copied from the linked to article or site. That's fine and I do it when I post, but often both new and older posters don't distinguish that the description is not their own words by using quotes, italics, or otherwise marking it as such. Would it be useful for a small blurb to be inserted on the New Post page to Metafilter advising of the usefulness distinguishing the poster's own words from those of the linked-to piece?

It's not anything that major, and usually can be discovered fairly soon after actually reading the link (gasp!) but it could help avoid confusion.
posted by Burhanistan to Etiquette/Policy at 8:54 AM (26 comments total)

I definitely personally prefer that folks do something (italics, quotes, other attributional markup) to indicate that a quote from the source is, in fact, a quote and not their own words, at least in cases where there's any chance of confusion.

But it's a matter of personal style; cases of genuine confusion seem to be fairly rare; and so it's probably not something significant enough as a concern that we want to clutter up the New Post page with a blurb just for that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:57 AM on March 28, 2008


It would be nice if people were more diligent about it, yeah, but I agree with cortex that it's not major enough of a problem to warrant cluttering up the new post page.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:10 AM on March 28, 2008


I'm glad you brought this up as a point for discussion because it quietly bugs me (and probably plenty of pedantic academics like me who are all persnickety about ethical use of source material) every time I see it. Maybe this thread will serve as a reminder to people to exercise a little care and not just copy-paste quotation-chunks without some basic quote indicator.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2008


Recent example. Funny, because someone thought it mischaracterized the article, and it was part of the article.
posted by smackfu at 9:29 AM on March 28, 2008


distinguishing the poster's own words from those of the linked-to piece?

Part of the problem is that there's about a zillion and one ways people choose to do this. Sometimes it's as subtle as making sure the pull quote comes from the first link and is visible above the fold, or I've seen (and put) attributions in obscure mouse-overs. Then again, I've seen people torn new assholes (one for each elbow) for using <blockquote> and <small> to set others' words apart from their own on the front page. Staying confusion-free is something each of us has to work for every minute of every day, and there's never gonna be enough widgets or notes or signs from God for all the ways all the peoples get all mixed up. Anyhow, small blurbs ain't fer shit. Something like this needs a screaming siren and dancing santas AND direct retinal tattooing via laser beams before folks'll pick it up from the new post page. You read the guidelines, right?!
posted by carsonb at 9:44 AM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dancing Santas or direct_retinal_tattooing_via_laser_beams would be good sock puppet names.

Just sayin'

But then, so would be Just Sayin'...
posted by y2karl at 10:17 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]




and usually can be discovered fairly soon after actually reading the link (gasp!)

I think this is the bigger problem actually: too many people rushing to make a snarky comment without actually RTFA.

But since there's no way to really prevent that, you're right that posters should probably make more of an effort to make it clear that they're quoting.
posted by LeeJay at 11:00 AM on March 28, 2008


Burhanistan: "Would it be useful for a small blurb to be inserted on the New Post page to Metafilter advising of the usefulness distinguishing the poster's own words from those of the linked-to piece?"

Unspoken assumption: The kind of people who don't think "This is a quote, I should use quotes" will be diligent enough to read what's on the New Post page.

I'd like to make a comment with a pissing against the wind metaphor, but it's just not working for me today. Metaphorizing. Pissing is working fine.
posted by Plutor at 11:09 AM on March 28, 2008


Unspoken assumption: The kind of people who don't think "This is a quote, I should use quotes" will be diligent enough to read what's on the New Post page.

Unspoken assumption: People who don't respect old standards in a new medium aren't diligent.
posted by carsonb at 11:41 AM on March 28, 2008


Do you think that quotation marks themselves are old standards? Or that marking a quotation as such in any way at all is an old standard?

Note that the browser on my phone (Opera Mini) doesn't show italic font. It does show quotation marks.
posted by Plutor at 11:46 AM on March 28, 2008


Do you think that quotation marks themselves are old standards?

Yes, that. HTML provides the opportunity to develop alternatives to old print standards. I think that quotation marks are an admirable choice to leave by the wayside. Let me know when your mobile web browser comes with a phone.
posted by carsonb at 12:18 PM on March 28, 2008


It's hard enough getting people to make posts that even vaguely describe what they are linking to, so I don't think this is a winner.
posted by Artw at 12:28 PM on March 28, 2008


Unspoken assumption: People who don't respect old standards in a new medium aren't diligent.

As long as we're having this argument, and keeping in mind that while I've got my druthers I don't (as noted above) feel terribly strongly about this in practice, let me try a reworking of Plutor's reply:

Do you think that any sign whatsoever of attribution is an old standard that doesn't apply in the new medium? Not quotes, specifically, but any. The objection here in general is to the lack of attributing formatting, not just to the lack of one or another of a set of specifically old-school, pre-internet standards. That HTML provides the opportunity to develop alternative new standards (true!) is kind of beside the question of diligence unless you consider failing-to-indicate-attribution as a new, HTML-based standard that demonstrates diligence.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:34 PM on March 28, 2008


I hope no one is suggesting that failure-to-indicate-attribution should be the new standard, because that sucks for all of the writers (and a lot of them are Metafilter's own) who are putting out new, insightful commentary on the internet, frequently without any compensation.
posted by misha at 2:17 PM on March 28, 2008


I'd say in most cases attribution is implicit when a quote is linked. The question is whether it's apparent that the quote a quote from the fact that it's linked - which can depend on how it's linked and how it's formatted, but no examples come to mind of where it's been completely unclear.
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on March 28, 2008


cortex: Do you think that any sign whatsoever of attribution is an old standard that doesn't apply in the new medium?

No I do not, which I tried to indicate in my mocking repetition of Plutor's comment by attributing it to him using HTML. I was just bristling at his wording, I suppose, which I honestly believe contains the unspoken assumption that people who don't think, "This is a quote, I should use quotes" aren't diligent. That specific phrase rarely, if ever crosses my brain when I'm dithering around on the 'net—yet I am a firm believer in and practicer of attribution. If he'd typed, "This is a quote, I should attribute it" instead, I'd have no beef. I agree that those who don't think, "This is a quote, I should attribute it" probably aren't analyzing the New Post page in depth before making a link.

As to the larger issue at hand, nay to clutter, hooray for attribution.

Sorry for the delay; hooray also for springtime vacation afternoon nappy nap naps.
posted by carsonb at 4:58 PM on March 28, 2008


I read his as being a metaphorical, and not a literal, "...'I should use quotes'", deployed as such as a representative, rather than the sole proper, example of what they should yet did not think. Hence my own rebuke to your response to his statement.

Naps! Hugs!
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:12 PM on March 28, 2008


Plutor's point is an excellent one, which I rediscover whenever I write up comprehensive directions for my students. Writing directions that amount to "be more conscientious about presentation" is a fool's errand in which I engage frequently, but still.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:41 PM on March 28, 2008


Please forgive me. I was voicing a pet peeve and only doing a sorta-okay job at saying what I meant. I am a web developer for a medium-small technology company, and I have to deal with internal "customers" (co-workers) all day and 90% of the time the answer to questions is: "Did you actually read the error message? It tells you how to fix it." Or, "there, in the documentation you copy and pasted the argument from, it says 'do not just copy and paste this, it is just an example'".

Users don't read text. In fact, the likelihood that text will be read is inversely proportional to the amount of text is on the page. The more stuff gets added to the New Post page, the less of it will be read.
posted by Plutor at 7:42 PM on March 28, 2008


I'd like to see references in APA format, in a seperate bibliography page, full annotated, double spaced, with screenshots of the orginal source material to preserve for eternity.

And SOX compliance.

That is all.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:12 PM on March 28, 2008


Last year I made a team of auditors giggle when I wrote "SOX SUX!" on a sticky and put it on the window to the team room they were stashed in.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:30 PM on March 28, 2008


As probably already apparent, I support more attribution, not less. In the banking FPP the problem wasn't so much one of people misunderstanding the article, as it was the fact that, by not indicating it was a pull quote, the front-page text made it appear like the poster was editorializing.

And I know I can remember at least one occasion in the last year where a whole MeTa was posted to bestow admiration on the poster of a similarly offending FPP, for how beautifully crafted and generally awesome the FPP was... when all the poster had done was pull-quote and link, no commentary, no attribution. It was very awkward. The MeTa poster got soundly called out, accused of not reading the article... a lot of other people came out and said, "Oh, shit, I didn't know that [FPP poster] didn't write it either, I favorited it and everything."

I'm not saying there's a problem with that style of FPP (an unvarnished quote and a link). But I the Viewer should be given the courtesy of knowing whose words I'm reading... especially since there is essentially a by-line underneath the post already.

LeeJay said: ""and usually can be discovered fairly soon after actually reading the link (gasp!)" -- I think this is the bigger problem actually: too many people rushing to make a snarky comment without actually RTFA."

I don't believe that this solves, nor accounts for how the site is designed to be used. I shouldn't have to read the whole linked article merely to understand the FPP. Plenty of people read the teaser text on the front page of MeFi proper, and from there, make a decision about whether to go into the actual thread and engage further. That's why it can be just teaser text, and why there's "more inside," and why there are tags inside, and so on -- what's on the front page is not necessarily the complete post. Therefore, what's on the front page should be self-contained -- right down to the two extra keystrokes letting me know whether the poster or someone else is the author. Sure, I should read the linked article(s) before commenting in the thread, but that's not the same thing.

I also disagree with the whole "it doesn't have to be quotation marks, it could be anything we want, HTML is the new standard." I think that MetaFilter should care about properly indicating attribution in some consistent way, and I think that quotation marks is still a world-wide attribution standard. That we use italics or bold or blockquote or small text in-thread, among ourselves, to quote each other is all well and good... but I don't go around my job writing press releases that "quote" people in boldface, because there are standards Out There. It's fine for us to have an internal modification of the standard, in the interest of visual convenience (i.e. if you're reading a long thread of comments, it's hard to visually distinguish quotation marks, etc.), but in my mind, that doesn't make a proper case for how we handle external parties.

I believe an attribution standard would be a solid indicator that the community cares about good content. If we are going to argue that the link is more important than the comments? That finding the best of other people's web offerings is our raison d'etre? Then we should care about how we credit those people. The front page of the blue is our public face to the world, so to speak (blah blah, AskMe, but quotes aren't at issue there), and I think we should care about how we present ourselves.

But, I also get why this would be a human error not worthy of a systemic solution.

So, I intend to just make a statement about it in-thread in the places where I notice it and find it egregious and confusing. "Self-policing," and all.
posted by pineapple at 8:59 AM on March 29, 2008


By coincidence I put up a FPP post earlier today that has a quote from the link and I put it in quote marks without even thinking about it.
Oh and I want to make it clear I did this off my own initiative... not because of this post or anything else. I'm a rebel, my own man; any rules I follow are the ones I create myself! Oh yes!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:03 AM on March 29, 2008


But what about people who "don't" understand "how" to use quotation "marks"?
posted by signal at 8:08 PM on March 30, 2008


Those people get disappeared. Along with apostrophe abusers. You shouldn't speak of it publicly, and also, if you don't see me around MetaFilter in the next couple of weeks, it won't be because I pushed the Big Red Button, if you know what I mean. Sometimes, "weird things" just happen "out of nowhere" if you talk abou
posted by pineapple at 8:33 AM on March 31, 2008


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