What is the story of Metafilter? August 12, 2008 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Imho this question didn't feel like it was "askMefi" so here goes. I'm observing how groups/communities form organically or virally online around common values/goals/whatever and I wonder if there's ever been a discussion, thread, study etc done on Metafilter's beginnings, how it grew etc? Any thoughts, stories, anecdotes?
posted by infini to MetaFilter-Related at 7:57 AM (73 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

It was a dark and stormy night. The rain lashed the mountains and tongues of lightning illuminated the doorway of an old and disreputable tavern on an old disreputable hill....
posted by Jofus at 8:08 AM on August 12, 2008


For what it's worth, I had thought about analyzing Metafilter from a Community of Practice (CofP) perspective for a grad school sociolinguistics project last semester. I ran it by Jessamyn and others, and there was no appropriate way to data collect for this, so I wrote my paper about surfers instead (I got an A = stoked!) In doing my research however, I kept mentally applying the CofP principles to the Metafilter community. I learned a lot about both. I plan on writing other sociolinguistic papers about Metafilter in the near future, when I can do so in a way that isn't invasive or infringe on copyrights of its members (I don't want to be quoting and thereby obtaining permission from everybody to use what they wrote).
posted by iamkimiam at 8:08 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not exactly what you're looking for, but why don't you look for

Capital and Stratification within Virtual Community:
A Case Study of Metafilter.com

by Paul Lawton.
posted by Mister_A at 8:10 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a broader thread on related topics:
http://ask.metafilter.com/85646/Looking-for-documentaries-about-online-culture
posted by Mister_A at 8:11 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because of SDB, came the one post and one post only per day rule. With the best of intentions, Spoon unintentionally lost colored fonts for us all. I was first to mention torches and pitchfork in the context of MetaTalk flameouts...
posted by y2karl at 8:26 AM on August 12, 2008


A couple years back I started a blog called ReFi with the idea of sort of skimming through every single early Metafilter post to try and get a feel for what the foundational era of the site was like. It fell by the wayside when I got distracted by other projects and adminhood, but I did several writeups of blocks of posts ending with thread ids 100, 200 (guest post: antifreez), 300, 400 (guest post: dios), 600, and 800. (500 and 700 were assigned to guest writers who backed out. Shame! Shaaaaame! Etc.)

It's not exactly hard-hitting analysis, but the entries do grab little flickers of what was going on in those threads and in the budding community at the same time. My biggest regret with ReFi is not getting around to the approach Launch Of Metatalk, becuase I suspect the early days of that, starting in March 2000, is probably as good a view as any into the nascent metafilter community itself. I heartily recommend some archives surfing, on that front. I like to think I'll eventually get around to a Metatalk: Year One writeup, but I like to think a lot of things.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:34 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


the initial impetus was a small group of perverse hobbyists who liked shoving cats into photocopying machines and scanners - it just grew from there
posted by pyramid termite at 8:48 AM on August 12, 2008


The thesis Mister_A is talking about is posted here.

And iamkimiam is awesome.
posted by Pronoiac at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I wondered something like this as well. i was interested in how long people read the site before joining. I'd read it about a year before someone said something I just had to comment on. So off went $5.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:19 AM on August 12, 2008


It felt a bit odd in a recent Metatalk thread when people kept proclaiming that everyone had paid $5 to be here. And everyone agreed, as if it was the most obvious of things.

Of course thats not true. The $5 thing feels fairly recent to me. But it was late 2004!
posted by vacapinta at 9:25 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd read it about a year before someone said something I just had to comment on. So off went $5.

I think that happened a lot; I lurked for a while back in 2000/2001 before just signing up (pre-$5) one day because of something or other.

I keep an eye on comments from new users (part of our daily Watch For Hinky Spammer Kids routine) and there's probably not more than a day or two that goes by without seeing someone explicitly acknoweldge that the finally joined just to comment on this or that. It's neat.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:28 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, more and more the "I didn't pay a cent" thing is starting to feel like oldy moldy personal-lawn-management territory. You don't hear quite as much (nonetheless still wholly, unquestionably justified) bitching about 17kers these days, either.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:30 AM on August 12, 2008


Metafilter was thrust into the world on the edge of the great collapse. Screaming and blood follows it everywhere. That is all there is to tell.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:31 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because of SDB, came the one post and one post only per day rule. With the best of intentions, Spoon unintentionally lost colored fonts for us all. I was first to mention torches and pitchfork in the context of MetaTalk flameouts...

Moift's (benign demonstration? explanation to Mathowie?) of cross-site scripting lead to the end of the img tag.

Some other security stuff:

Stynxno's blink-html-inside-a-tag lead to the filtration of HTML within tags

Ethereal Bligh's "quonsar" account lead to the filtration of Unicode from the username submission page.

My "mat<u></u>howie" account (which displayed as "mathowie") lead to the filtration of HTML within usernames.

I could swear it was the dictionary attack on the passwords of old user accounts a friend of someone in #mefi ran that lead to the Captcha implementation, but I could be wrong.

Most of the 14Kers, myself included, had to break into the site (or beg Mathowie) via 2 or 3 backdoors back when it was closed to new signups. The effort required is probably the reason there have been so many notable users (good and bad) with a 14K user number. I think eventually one of the backdoors became public knowledge and they were all closed.
posted by Ryvar at 9:34 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I thought I was one of those users who joined because someone said something and I just had to comment. Then I went back and looked at my first posts and it turns out I only joined to self-link to a shitty gag on a site I edited at the time.

There. I said it. And I feel better.
posted by Jofus at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2008


I could swear it was the dictionary attack on the passwords of old user accounts a friend of someone in #mefi ran that lead to the Captcha implementation, but I could be wrong.

That was something (peripherally) to do with cilitbang, wasn't it? His flatmate being a douchebag or somesuch.
posted by Jofus at 9:37 AM on August 12, 2008


I wondered something like this as well. i was interested in how long people read the site before joining. I'd read it about a year before someone said something I just had to comment on. So off went $5.

I held off on getting an account for a year and a half (thereby missing open signups). What finally broke me was the sheer amount of misinformation in two or three posts on the "scariness" of .50cal sniping hobbyists, all within the span of a week or two.

Which is kind of weird since I haven't fired a gun since boyscouts, the debate just bothered me until I put in the three hours necessary to find one of the backdoors into the user signups.
posted by Ryvar at 9:38 AM on August 12, 2008


That was something (peripherally) to do with cilitbang, wasn't it? His flatmate being a douchebag or somesuch.

Pretty sure it was a friend of ciphermonkey, who runs with an extremely security-savvy crowd.
posted by Ryvar at 9:40 AM on August 12, 2008


Metafilter's beginnings, how it grew etc? Any thoughts, stories, anecdotes?

I've been slowly mining this page (big) from the bottom up, towards a better understanding of The Decline of MetaFilter:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

I've only been through 6/02, so I imagine there are quite a few examples yet to be documented. So far, however, the consensus seems to be that things ain't what they used to be. I feel shaaaame, shame! but hope to contribute in other ways. The 600 block was boring, anyway.
posted by carsonb at 9:44 AM on August 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


I feel shaaaame, shame! but hope to contribute in other ways. The 600 block was boring, anyway.

It's okay. The whole format was kind of Quixotic anyway. Gimme a hug, you.

posted by cortex (staff) at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2008


It felt a bit odd in a recent Metatalk thread when people kept proclaiming that everyone had paid $5 to be here. And everyone agreed, as if it was the most obvious of things.

Of course thats not true. The $5 thing feels fairly recent to me.


Me too. I typed up a comment about "five-dollar noobs" for that thread but deleted it on the grounds of excessive curmudgeonliness.
posted by timeistight at 9:55 AM on August 12, 2008


"A couple years back I started a blog called ReFi"

Put that $5 on a credit card? Paying Matt a nickel a month, hoping to have your account in eight more years?

Sign up for MeFi ReFi and start commenting today!
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm observing how groups/communities form organically or virally online around common values/goals/whatever and I wonder if there's ever been a discussion, thread, study etc done on Metafilter's beginnings, how it grew etc? Any thoughts, stories, anecdotes?

yew tawk funny.
posted by quonsar at 10:25 AM on August 12, 2008


iamkimiam: You are welcome to quote verbatim any of my deathless prose as long as you describe me as erudite and gorgeous. Your work will be fiction, right?
posted by Cranberry at 10:29 AM on August 12, 2008


Only if she quotes you verbatim.
posted by Ryvar at 10:31 AM on August 12, 2008


*gives cortex the asked-for hug, points out that another variation of "becuase" is "becasue", and suggests that he devote his analysis skills to charting prevalence of $5.00 noobs over dwindling presence of grumpy pre-11-18-04 freeloaders*
posted by Cranberry at 10:38 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


as a $5 noob, who btw recalls the blather around the "new pay to get in system" since i joined early 2005, I thank you all kindly for these wonderful wonderful comments. Enough to get me started digging for hours

thank you iamkimiam

cortex, *i take off hat and bow slowly and deeply in reverence*

quonsar, whatevah dude, it's my third language

and just fyi, its an early stage framing of principles (if any) of sharing of value whether tangible or intangible leading to an eventual open source sharing document that y'all can come and chime in on. being underwritten by a corporation whose name y'all who have heard of but i ain't got the permission yet cos i've barely begun wrapping my head around teh sharing aspects enough to articulate nothing



/ back to biz english ;p
posted by infini at 11:26 AM on August 12, 2008


ps. its not paid work but pure research in case that is an ethical issue
posted by infini at 11:31 AM on August 12, 2008


You might also want to spend some quality time with the wiki; it covers a lot of different ground, and unevenly since the content is all opt-in and mostly whim-driven, but there's some good historical documentation and leads to be found. The Timeline is a good jumping off point for a lot of notable moments, and there's some historical cites available in the In Jokes article.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:34 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, you now have me deeply curious about this thing. Acknowledging that there are apparently aspects that you can't talk about it, can you talk about it a little more?
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:36 AM on August 12, 2008


If you turn this into a tv show I would like to play the part of cortex, as long as eating monstrously large donuts on a regular basis could somehow be worked into the script. Like, that could be my thing...eating monstrously large donuts for laughs. Which you will provide for me. For free.


my favorite flavor is chocolate
posted by iconomy at 11:50 AM on August 12, 2008


I started the whole "this post, it vibrates" meme. quonsar stole from me the whole "fish in the pants" thing. That was my rabbit with the pancake on it's head. I supplied the marshmallows at the first flame-out. mathowie did something with cats in scanners. jessamyn is the librarian, she helps us find things. cortex wrote some songs about this stuff, and that pretty much brings us up to today!
posted by marxchivist at 11:52 AM on August 12, 2008


That was something (peripherally) to do with cilitbang

Pretty_Generic got IP banned at one point which wound up somehow affecting cilitbang who lived up the road from him, iirc.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:54 AM on August 12, 2008


I was the first person to post to MetaTalk who was not mathowie. The first meetup thread was posted the second day of MetaTalk. Hopping back through old MeTa threads is pretty darned fun.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:10 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was the first person to post to MetaTalk who was not mathowie.

So, about those threaded comments...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2008


cortex, sent you mefimail

jessamyn thank you for your unique perspective, btw, while I'm thanking up here on the oscar's stage (self snark) may I please also publicly appreciate your patience over the years teaching me how to post properly?
posted by infini at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2008


please change the background color

It's nice to know some things never change!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, about those threaded comments...

orange orange orange!
posted by carsonb at 12:16 PM on August 12, 2008


Oh man. I just went back and looked at my first I'M HELPING metatalk post. There's some sort of weird Impertinent Requests of the Pre-Mods thing going on here. See also vacapinta on foofilter in 2004.

pb totally cheated by waiting until he had admin powers to start posting to metatalk.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:22 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's missing from the wiki timeline is the Kaycee Nicole story, which is what got me interested in the site.

Also, and this will appear in a future wiki update, on July 14, 2009 it will be revealed that delmoi and loquacious are actually the same person-- meaning that 64% of Mefi's total comments have been generated by one user. source: Minutes of the Cabal Meeting February 29, 2002.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:27 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I liked the thesis about the beans.
posted by trip and a half at 12:37 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


What was once a jokey broken link in my metatalk post is now just a functioning link to a thread. Did I not believe that mefi would get to post 31337? Did I just think the whole thing would be forgotten by the time it mattered? What was my motivation?

What's missing from the wiki timeline is the Kaycee Nicole story, which is what got me interested in the site.

Ooh, true. Maybe I'll go add that later. There are a lot of things that could go on the timeline, really.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2008


my first I'M HELPING metatalk post

You spelled my name wrong!

In my initial spelunking, I found a comment of mine complaining about the 404 page as well. Maybe that's the cabal?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2008


You spelled my name wrong!

Somebody mentioned "that Jasmeen woman" I work with in conversation the other day, re: metafilter. They're not a regular reader, but, heh.

In my initial spelunking, I found a comment of mine complaining about the 404 page as well. Maybe that's the cabal?

We are unearthing things never meant to be known by man, here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:13 PM on August 12, 2008


please change the background color

EFADER! Man, that takes me back to my lurk days.
posted by Skot at 1:27 PM on August 12, 2008


I think the first 404 for the server was "not found, yo" on a blank white page, and it came up when anything went wrong so yeah it was unhelpful and kind of annoying.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:28 PM on August 12, 2008


cortexAdmin: "Oh man. I just went back and looked at my first I'M HELPING metatalk post."

Whatever, Todd Lokken.
posted by sveskemus at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2008


Man, this site was dorksville before I got here.
posted by Mister_A at 1:33 PM on August 12, 2008


Oh Jesus how could we get this far into the thread and forget JRun? Now *there* was a character. I won't miss him, but he stood out far more than anybody else in the early days.
posted by Ryvar at 1:47 PM on August 12, 2008


Not only did cortex SIGN HIS POST, he did the "first post, be gentle" thing.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA
posted by yhbc at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was 22, unemployed, living in my parents' basement, and probably mildly (but un-self-reflectively) depressed. It was a time of magic and self-discovery.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:04 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Did you move to the city on a mission of self-discovery?
posted by Mister_A at 2:07 PM on August 12, 2008


It was a time of magic and self-discovery.

Self-discover, self-abuse, what's the difference?
posted by Ryvar at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2008


We are unearthing things never meant to be known by man, here.
posted by cortex at 1:13 PM on August 12 [+] [!]


luckily, i'm a woman

anyhoo, was just wondering if I could throw out another question, particularly to the early birds and user #1 of course, was is ever meant to be a revenue generator or did that just happen? and if so, is simply a maintenance cost coverage kind of thing or now your key income source? just curious
posted by infini at 2:17 PM on August 12, 2008


Self-discover, self-abuse, what's the difference?

That was essentially my reply when I was turned down for grant money on a proposed six-month study titled "The Effect of Neverwinter Nights on the Male Refractory Period".

posted by cortex (staff) at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


was is ever meant to be a revenue generator or did that just happen? and if so, is simply a maintenance cost coverage kind of thing or now your key income source?

This is the sort of thing that's probably 1) better handled in an email to the only person who can actually answer your question, and 2) been answered in various forms here and elsewhere.

If you look at some of the presentations mathowie's done, you can get an idea of where he's coming from, but generally speaking MeFi now has a few employees (I don't know specifics of anyone else, but it's a full time-ish job for me) and we don't generally go into money details in MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:46 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


thanks for the explanation, will do. sounds similar in flavor to craiglist, core77 etc
posted by infini at 2:47 PM on August 12, 2008


infini: was is ever meant to be a revenue generator or did that just happen? and if so, is simply a maintenance cost coverage kind of thing or now your key income source?

jessamyn: (I don't know specifics of anyone else, but it's a full time-ish job for me) and we don't generally go into money details in MetaTalk.


All my work here is on a purely voluntary basis, but I know that some of the other staff are paid. Maybe not the fairest arrangement, but such is life eh?
posted by Meatbomb at 4:00 PM on August 12, 2008


Unlike the non-astral mods, Meatbomb's work here is a little hard to quantify, though it is of very high quality.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:08 PM on August 12, 2008


The Japanese rabbit with the pancake on his head! I had forgotten about our mascot and now I'm sad again.

I'm curious though, what were the backdoors during the ban on new sign ups?
posted by tksh at 7:12 PM on August 12, 2008


There was at one point a contest in which aspiring webdesigners tried to do the best webpage in under (if I remember correctly) 5,128 KB - the 5K contest. People signed up at www.5kcontest.org (since expired) and a lot of people who did so apparently never knew they were also signing up for www. metafilter.com (since, again I suppose, built both sites). That's why there are a lot of null MeFi users from that period (the real webdesigners) and a few pushy folks who figured out how to make it work the other way.
posted by yhbc at 8:18 PM on August 12, 2008


Whoops. Please read "since, again I suppose, Matt built both sites".
posted by yhbc at 8:19 PM on August 12, 2008


Jeebus. Also, the old, expired, site was "http://www.the5k.org/". I don't know where I came up with that other thing.
posted by yhbc at 8:21 PM on August 12, 2008


yhbc: right, that was one backdoor. The other one, the one I used, was that Matt had blanked out http://www.metafilter.com/newuser1.cfm to read "sorry, no new signups"

"Well," I thought to myself after poking around fruitlessly for a couple of hours, "the existence of a newuser1.cfm implies a newuser2.cfm"

So I tried it. Voila! Account.
posted by Ryvar at 8:31 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


heh heh

k, sounds like a CL + Core77 mashup, at least community wize - cl's 'unknown' random numbered forums for 'secret' conversations/threads etc just like the backdoors here and the core77's some are paid to post 5 times a day, some of us just grind away for 'free' out of pure love and goodness - i hear ya meatbomb ;p - but the bottomline seems to be a strong core community, such as all of you, for whom this space in blue is a bit of breather to come and hang out in and see wassup during such moments of the hard working day where you can grab a 'brainbreak', yah? and for that 'playing ground' - so sorely needed - you'll 'fight' to keep it going on its original 'principles' or 'rules of Mefi playing'

seems like instead of looking at the $$ aspect, that's the wrong direction/focus, I should instead reorient the focus on how and where the original principles of MeFi i.e. the guidelines came from? that's the real value of Mefi, its adherence to its guidelines - which may have evolved - but keep the spirit of the 'best of the web' i.e. 'filter'

yah, not very clear english here just trying to grasp the info after having been up half the night on this ;p
posted by infini at 8:44 PM on August 12, 2008


If you look at some of the presentations mathowie's done, you can get an idea of where he's coming from, but generally speaking MeFi now has a few employees (I don't know specifics of anyone else, but it's a full time-ish job for me) and we don't generally go into money details in MetaTalk.

All I know is that cortex frequently busts out the Cristal, and Jessamyn's rolling in the Benjamins, but apart from that I think it's a fairly low-key setup. Oh, apart from mathowie's Maybach, but I hear he's trading that in.
posted by djgh at 8:54 PM on August 12, 2008


cortex: "I like to think I'll eventually get around to a Metatalk: Year One writeup, but I like to think a lot of things."

I had a Frank Miller moment there. "What, are you STUPID? Are you RETARDED or something? I'm the goddamn Mathowie."

Actually, I guess that would be All-Star Mathowie and Jessamyn, now that I think about it.

And then we can think about a world in which Mathowie carries around a steampunk virus in a ring to expose a pumped-up uber-patriotic Cory Doctorow to, along with big huge metal DRM Fists of Doom ...

Okay, I'm putting way too much thought into this. Me go now.
posted by WCityMike at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2008


I was looking for something similar on a more practical level (trying to help another online community) not too long ago.

* MeTa question looking for 2007 essay (I self-link because there's some other interesting stuff there, including a book reference)

* article by mathowie from 2001 (so, before the closing of new accounts, the $5 rule, etc. IIRC, I joined in part because of this article.)
posted by epersonae at 2:41 PM on August 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


matthowie's beliefs, advice and writing have been truly helpful to read. He points out the key issues that many others, writing in a far more 'hyped oooh lets blog or create a community', tend to overlook. I've sent select links and snippets, particularly the "are you ready to commit to the time adn energy required" bits to others in the team who are getting carried away and think that one can set up something like this as an 'experiment' and walk away after 8 weeks. I mean communities are people and when we lose our 'boards' we lose a 'home' online adn our friends and neighbours. Those who've never been part of online communities in any committed way just don't get that aspect of it. People's feelings are not to be toyed with.
posted by infini at 10:05 PM on August 13, 2008


Also, found the link to the whole document,

Capital and Stratification within Virtual Community:
A Case Study of Metafilter.com


by Paul Lawton.
posted by Mister_A at 8:10 AM on August 12


Superb abstract and right on the button to help my research direction.
posted by infini at 10:11 PM on August 13, 2008


*cough*
posted by Pronoiac at 10:50 AM on August 14, 2008


Yes, I would encourage all visitors to download from Pronoiac's first link; comment #8 for all you greasemonkeyers.

I have my reasons.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:31 AM on August 14, 2008


*cough*
posted by Pronoiac at 10:50 AM on August 14


sorry, too many late nights, coffees, and general blurriness, mea culpa
posted by infini at 7:42 PM on August 14, 2008


« Older Georgia update   |   One more question Newer »

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