Splitting Some of the Categories? December 17, 2008 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Just wanted to float an idea about Ask Mefi categories.

I was looking at the categories and some of them are quite large.

I figured perhaps it might be worth it to float a proposal to split up a few of the "megacategories."

My own suggestions would be as follows:
  • computers & internet (into) windows, mac, linux, internet
  • media & arts (into) visual arts, music (maybe split latter into separate categories for music-as-a-player and music-as-a-listener, except I can't figure out short ways of saying that)
  • work & money (into) work, money
  • travel & transportation (into) travel, autos, bikes
  • food & drink (into) food, spirits
Current question count off the Ask Mefi front page:
  • computers & internet = 426
  • media & arts = 229
  • human relations = 173
  • work & money = 166
  • health & fitness = 157
  • travel & transportation = 153
  • technology = 150
  • food & drink = 123
  • home & garden = 113
  • shopping = 94
  • grab bag = 91
  • writing & language = 83
  • sports, hobbies, & recreation = 72
  • clothing, beauty, & fashion = 68
  • education = 65
  • society & culture = 64
  • law & government = 63
  • science & nature = 44
  • pets & animals = 40
  • religion & philosophy = 22
At the very least, it's probably at least worth it to consider splitting the 'Net/computer category since it's so comparatively huge — although I think the other splits would be worth considering ...
posted by WCityMike to MetaFilter-Related at 6:40 PM (29 comments total)

If you are suggesting this to make searches easier, isn't that what tags are for?

I think the broad categories work just fine.
posted by necessitas at 6:57 PM on December 17, 2008

I think what we need instead is a better search mechanism. Really if we split categories now we have to deal with all the questions up until now that are in the merged category and what to do with them? Not that that's an impossible task but really the catgories are supposed to be big buckets to split up all the types of questions and tags are really what we expect people to use to see if there are similar questions etc. The categories are going to get big eventually no matter how many times we split them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:59 PM on December 17, 2008

There's been a lot I've written before about the categories. There are barely more than a dozen and they are broad specifically so that they could cover as much ground as possible while still being simple to understand. The last thing we want people to do is feel like adding details about their questions is too much work.

There's another aspect to picking the specificity of categories and that's creating more specific or more numerous (in general) categories says that those niches are not only welcome but here's a permanent home for them, please leave more. For computer questions, I think everyone kind of understands the need to have them (even I've asked my share of a few) and they are definitely the most numerous, but they're almost like background noise. "My wifi doesn't work, here's the model number." followed by "Did you try resetting it?" and ending with "wow, thanks!" doesn't really create the most broadly useful nor interesting questions and answers. I tend to think splitting the general computer category in 4-5 sub-categories would just encourage more computer questions and I don't think we gain much from that.

I don't know if we gain much of anything from the suggestions above. What problem do you see it solving besides having an equal number of questions in every category (which you admittedly just made up as a metric for this question)?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:00 PM on December 17, 2008

In all honesty, it came from a selfish point of interest: I have been trying to reduce the number of inbound items in my My Ask Metafilter RSS feed. I was looking at the categories, and realized that I oft had an interest in one "word" of a category but not with any of the others, and that some of those categories had a high number of inbound items. For example, I am interested in "money" but not "work", and "hobbies" but not "sports", and so on.

If I thought I would be the only one benefitting from splitting some of the categories up, I'd not have brought it up, but it occurred to me that some of the categories appeared to have a large enough flow-through that splitting them up might help people target their interests and contributions better -- sort of fine-tuning the ability to fine-tune that the My Ask Metafilter feature lets users do now.
posted by WCityMike at 7:11 PM on December 17, 2008

I am interested in "money" but not "work"

Ha. Boy, did I leave myself open on that one ...
posted by WCityMike at 7:15 PM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

What's wrong with subscribing to the MyAsk feed?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:15 PM on December 17, 2008

Even with the categories as broad as they currently are, I've had trouble a couple times deciding which category to put my question in. It would be even harder to choose a category if they became more specific. If we did end up having more categories like this, I would request/suggest that an asker be able to check boxes for all the categories their question fits into, rather than forcing them to choose one. That way a question about "What are some excellent mixed-drink/appetizer pairings?" (to coin a simplistic example) would be seen by people who are watching the food category as well as by people who are watching the spirits category. Of course that messes up the display of the questions on the front of AskMe, and would probably require an extra table in the database...
posted by vytae at 7:18 PM on December 17, 2008

No, I do subscribe to the RSS feed ... I'm just saying that if people are interested in reading or answering "money" questions but not reading or answering "work" questions -- since the subject areas are kind of different -- then you're left to relying upon good tagging, which doesn't appear to oft be the case ... ditto with Windows/Linux/Mac splits, and so on.

Although I admit the idea came to me as a result of something involving self-interest, I promise I'm not doing so out of that self-interest ... it was just occurring to me that, as it was put earlier, the buckets are so big, and I'm not so sure the tagging is allowing people to sift through the buckets as best it could.
posted by WCityMike at 7:20 PM on December 17, 2008

... I promise I'm not doing so (solely) out of that self-interest ...
posted by WCityMike at 7:21 PM on December 17, 2008

The reason I brought this up was really because if, say, you wanted to just focus on the "money" of a "work & money" category, you have to sort of do semantic guesswork on every variation of the concept of money you can think of ... and the ideas are really somewhat different in nature. Granted, work produces money, and employment problems can encompass financial problems (and vice versa), but the two are different in nature.
posted by WCityMike at 7:37 PM on December 17, 2008

No, I do subscribe to the RSS feed ..

jessamyn was saying the MyAsk feed, not the main general one. The "MyAsk" version is customizable, to exclude categories you don't want to see.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:37 PM on December 17, 2008

jessamyn was saying the MyAsk feed, not the main general one. The "MyAsk" version is customizable, to exclude categories you don't want to see.

Right ... and I actually do subscribe to my MyAsk feed. I'm just saying ... let's say you're Joe User. And Joe User feels that they can contribute to money questions (say they're a daytrader or something). Right now, they can either check the "work & money" checkbox and have a lot of items going through that feed, and skip past a lot of non-money items per day, or leave it unchecked and try some semantic guesswork as to putting every "money" tag variant that they can think of into the tag box, since how people tag their questions is a little haphazard. But work and money are kind of different subjects ... employment is different than finance. (Or sports from other hobbies. Or visual arts from music. Etc.)
posted by WCityMike at 7:44 PM on December 17, 2008

Dude. Just follow the money tag in MyAsk and your problem is solved. Sorry about Joe User. And no, we're not adding any more categories.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:00 PM on December 17, 2008

Yeah, Matt, but people don't tag their money problems with "money." They tag them "paycheck". And "salary." And "dough." And "bankrupt." And etc., etc., etc. All the while not including the tag "money."

I mean, look at this Ask Mefi. It's about weight, but it doesn't even have a "weight" tag. And that's one of a lot of examples.
posted by WCityMike at 8:05 PM on December 17, 2008

See, that was the point I was trying to make — and I'm sorry, I have a hell of a cold, if I wasn't clear when I first laid it out. People don't tag their questions with consistent enough classification that tags can be relied upon to properly ladle questions out of the big category buckets.
posted by WCityMike at 8:20 PM on December 17, 2008

And I think our point is that messing with the categories -- which has a lot of brokenness that comes along with it particularly what to do with all the pre-split posts -- is a Big Deal and we're actually okay if maybe someone who can't keep up with the site misses a post or two in AskMe because someone's not tagging well. We don't have problems with questions going unanswered because people can't find them We don't have people getting crappy answers because people aren't seeing questions in their subject areas.

I'm sure there's an open question whether people would be getting better answers, potentially, if there were more specificity in category splits, but I think that the downsides -- massive mess with all the old categories -- is a much bigger deal than the potential upsides -- more people can find more questions in their interest areas to answer.

Put another way, even though we're thrilled at how useful and popular AskMe is, it's primarily there to help people get answers to questions, not to provide an outlet for people who really really want to answer questions.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:30 PM on December 17, 2008

Fair enough.
posted by WCityMike at 8:34 PM on December 17, 2008

mathowie: Just follow the money tag in MyAsk and your problem is solved.

I've probably been reading too much Dashiell Hammett, but this is precisely the sort of thing I'd expect to find scribbled hastily on a smudged note that's shoved hastily under the door of my fifth-floor tenement just after a mysterious scream rings out and just before I hear a shot from down the hall.
posted by koeselitz at 8:37 PM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by koeselitz at 8:38 PM on December 17, 2008

*casts Hastega on koeselitz*
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:23 PM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

ah think they shuld be less catergorees an it shuld be: questions what i no tha ansirs to, questions i aint no tha ansirs to an dont care none, an questions what i wants to no tha ansirs to but duzint
posted by Eideteker at 9:48 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tags work great for finding stuff you might be interested in. They suck for finding everything you might be interested in.
posted by kindall at 10:12 PM on December 17, 2008

WCityMike, you might want to check out Yahoo Pipes. It is sometimes easier to start excluding tags you are not interested in than including all of the ones you are interested in.
posted by grouse at 10:58 PM on December 17, 2008

I'm interested in cooking computerized pets as a hobby.

posted by blue_beetle at 11:30 PM on December 17, 2008

The problem restated is that the top level categories are too broad to aid in searching, and the bottom-up tags are too idiosyncratic. How does one solve the "bank", "loan" and "payments" tag problem, for example? This is very amenable to something like clustering or factor analysis. Searches could pull up suggested or related tags (precomputed) if the searcher doesn't know the term to look for.

It wouldn't need to be exact, nor I wouldn't expect tag structures to change very quickly either. Running the computation for cluster weights weekly would probably be overkill. Crudely, then you could pull the weighting factors out of the tag matrix and chop off at some predetermined neighbour distance.

Eg: user puts "banking" in a box and hits the "look for related tags" button. Up comes questions tagged with "bank", "loan", "interest", etc.., but not "shoes", "shopping", or "macbook". Should the "money" tag be included? That's a question of how far up the cluster tree you think it's wise to climb. This would take some fiddling.
posted by bonehead at 8:16 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

What, you people don't read every single question? I need another hobby.
posted by desjardins at 8:26 AM on December 18, 2008

You should try cooking computerized pets.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2008

Interesting idea, bonehead. I would love to see the network of tag interconnections. A graph in which each tag that occurs at least n times (start with 2) is a node, and every tag it co-occurs with gets an edge.
posted by grouse at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2008

Perhaps a simpler way to encourage people to use useful tags would be to list the most common tags used in a category, after the asker selects a category. Or possibly an admin-chosen set of tags which are chosen to cleanly subdivide the category.
posted by hattifattener at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2008

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