New Greasemonkey hack for MeFi and other sites June 15, 2009 12:02 PM   Subscribe

This is a kinda cool concept applied to MeFi: background bars for posts and comments (based on favorites)

I'm not much of a greasemonkey user (I find it makes firefox crashy), but I've tried quite a few MeFi favorites highlighter type hacks, but this one does it in a less obtrusive way -- the longer the background bar on a poster's name, the more favorites it has garnered.

It's an easy way to spot the popular/good stuff without the massive highlights some other scripts do.
posted by mathowie to MetaFilter-Related at 12:02 PM (76 comments total)

I think it uses the number of comments rather than the number of favorites. But yeah, interesting way to see where conversation is happening at a glance.
posted by pb (staff) at 12:04 PM on June 15, 2009


Is this horrible or awesome? Stay tuned to find out!
posted by brain_drain at 12:06 PM on June 15, 2009


Not working for me. Do I need to restart firefox to make it start?
posted by inigo2 at 12:10 PM on June 15, 2009


Man, that's a healthy, um... back bar you're sporting there. Respect.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:10 PM on June 15, 2009


I think it uses the number of comments rather than the number of favorites.

Both actually.
posted by smackfu at 12:13 PM on June 15, 2009


Also, FYI, if it doesn't work for you, it's probably because you have the "Mefi deleted posts" script installed and it appears to conflict.
posted by smackfu at 12:16 PM on June 15, 2009


smackfu: Also, FYI, if it doesn't work for you, it's probably because you have the "Mefi deleted posts" script installed and it appears to conflict.

That explains it. Uninstalled.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:17 PM on June 15, 2009


Finally, a way to enable the herd mentality!
posted by DU at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2009


it uses the number of comments rather than the number of favorites. But yeah, interesting way to see where conversation is happening at a glance.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this functionality already exists on the front page of metafilter. This script sounds like something that's only really useful to people who have difficulty ascertaining whether "82 comments (63 New)" is bigger than " 13 comments (11 new)".
posted by dersins at 12:25 PM on June 15, 2009


Also, FYI, if it doesn't work for you, it's probably because you have the "Mefi deleted posts" script installed and it appears to conflict.

Gracias.
posted by inigo2 at 12:26 PM on June 15, 2009


Also, if you use the more professional white background, the bars are DARK colors and make reading who the post is by difficult.
posted by Grither at 12:27 PM on June 15, 2009


Can this be altered such that it uses the number of favorites, as opposed to comments, then represents the background as a number of green dollar signs?

Finally, favorites are currency!
posted by adipocere at 12:29 PM on June 15, 2009


Doesn't work on any of the subsites (only metafilter.com), and if you're using metafilter in SUPER-ULTRA-TURBO-AWESOME-MODE (aka white background) it looks kinda nasty.

Good idea though.... maybe the bars could be on the right side of the page, as to not overlay too much information?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:31 PM on June 15, 2009


So now can you finally turn off favorites for public consumption, which has made this site devolve into even more of a popularity contest/mob mentality? People who judge comments by large favorites have their tool, so maybe the rest can get back to focusing on content.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:37 PM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


This doesn't seem to work for me once you're inside a post, only on the MeFi front page. Is that how its supposed to work? Or do I have another conflict, besides Deleted posts (which I deleted)?
posted by iamkimiam at 12:48 PM on June 15, 2009


People who judge comments by large favorites have their tool, so maybe the rest can get back to focusing on content.

That would be different from today how?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:50 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh wait, comments, not favorites. I get it now. It's working right.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:50 PM on June 15, 2009


That would be different from today how?

Wait - that sounded snarkier than intended. I honestly don't understand how anyone who doesn't judge comments by large favorites is affected by them if those who do can - which is how things are now.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:51 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The theory is that people alter their posting style to win favorites.
posted by smackfu at 1:17 PM on June 15, 2009


(With the implication that if we got rid of favorites, everyone would change back to nice happy posters or something.)
posted by smackfu at 1:18 PM on June 15, 2009


This doesn't work in IE7 or 8.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2009


That script does really weird things to the activity page. ,,,,,,,
posted by iamkimiam at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2009


In addition to what smackfu said, favorites alter a discussion because it's the equivalent of having "x" number of people silently nodding in agreement, without actually engaging the conversation (and adding value). It allows for silent bullying, and it creates the perception that since many agree (favorite a post), it's inherently more valuable to the conversation (as Matt implied in his post here), which is just wrong (because mass agreement does not equal correct/valuable/intelligent. It further connotes a numerical value (where no value exists). Kinda like someone's salary: a higher salary connotes value (though we can all think of examples where that's patently untrue).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 1:29 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Weird. It was working earlier (downloaded it when I saw it on Waxy's site) but after a FireFox update it isn't. Wonder if it's conflicting with the Mefi Navigator script somehow.

*shrug*

Was neat while it lasted.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:34 PM on June 15, 2009


Great idea. However, this doesn't work too well with the plain theme.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:38 PM on June 15, 2009


To expand on that comment, the background bars hide the text, when one's profile is set to use the plain theme.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2009


And we now default to our regularly scheduled discussion of Why Favorites Are Bad.
posted by adipocere at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


What would be really cool is if you could have it apply some additional math to what it's doing; where a high number of comments + a high number of favorites would make the bar one color (popular topic generating conversation) and a high number of comments + very few favorites would be a different color (contentious topic).

This would be a fantastic tool for knowing which threads to read cover-to-cover as opposed to the ones I want to avoid like they were on fire.
posted by quin at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2009


He asked, I answered. Feel free to ignore me; or better yet, favorite him as a sign that you disagree with me, without actally engaging me.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 1:42 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


That would be different from today how?

Reinforcing favourite-seeking is less than ideal. In its extreme form, it's trolling.
posted by bonehead at 1:48 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I understand the arguments against favorites, although I don't really agree with them. I think people who use them the way you dislike probably aren't going to modify their behavior in a way that you would appreciate just because favorites disappear. We'd just go back to "winning threads," "quoted for truths," and other Metooisms, and the silent nodding majority will probably still silently nod.

What I don't understand is your suggestion that this new tool in question - which counts and weighs favorites - could lead to a system that does anything more than add to the alleged problem. You can't count and weigh favorites without... favorites. Those who are moved to use them in a way you diapprove of will still do so. Those who are above the fray, will still be above. Like I said above - not really different from today.

Unless you are asking for the option to opt out of (hide) the favoriting features. Which I doubt would make any difference either, because by definition, the only people affected by the favoriting system are those who use it, either directly, or through observation bias. These people would be the least likely to choose to disable the feature, and therefore the benefit would be moot. You wouldn't have to see it, but it would still be there behind the scenes prompting exactly the same behavior.

Or that's my 2-minute armchair analysis, anyway. Don't really have the time to overthink this too much today.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:50 PM on June 15, 2009


And we now default to our regularly scheduled discussion of Why Favorites Are Bad.

It would be awesome if we could just once skip that subject, given how it's been hashed to death. People on either side can't possibly convince each other, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 PM on June 15, 2009


Very well.

Sometimes, a favorite might be better than "actively engaging" a conversation because the person doing the favoriting has nothing particularly fascinating to contribute and knows it, and would rather avoid the "me too" phenomenon. Minor changes in style exist and variations occur, but it seems an exercise in paraphrasing which some would rather avoid. Like this conversation about favorites — little new can be said, much less will be said. The greatest benefit from it might be the reenactment of the same conversation for any folks new to the site.

I suppose everyone has to see The Nutcracker for the first time.
posted by adipocere at 1:51 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Finally, a way to enable the herd mentality!

I read that as 'nerd mentality'.
posted by Elmore at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2009


Favourites to me are like raised eyebrows or a smile while talking to someone you don't know very well in a noisy pub. But, I really do want to see that graphed.
posted by Elmore at 1:55 PM on June 15, 2009


It's Raining, where we disagree is that this tool would only be used by diehards who need to view threads that use favorites as a value judgment. The rest ( IMHO vast majority) would no longer be subject to the negative externalites of favorites that I mention above.

I think you make a good point about "winning threads", though I think that was just a fad.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 1:58 PM on June 15, 2009


I just removed Metafilter.com from that script, and then installed the "Metafilter Heavy Discussion Count" userscript. Now everything works great, and heavy commented-on posts look like heavily favorited comments (using Metafilter Multifavorited Multiwidth.) I'm really really happy now. I even installed the Metafilter New Live Comments...and whoa, there's one now!

I'm beyond giddy.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:01 PM on June 15, 2009


diehards who need to view threads that use favorites as a value judgment

1. Who are these users?

2. How do you know that?

3. What injury are they causing you?
posted by brain_drain at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2009


The rest ( IMHO vast majority) would no longer be subject to the negative externalites of favorites that I mention above.

Why wouldn't they be? If the negatives are behavioral, as you suggest, then those who opt in will still behave the same way. Their comments will be the same, their posting will be the same. The only thing that would change, so far as I can imagine, is that those who are personally offended by the idea wouldn't have to go to the trouble of ignoring the actual numbers. Or am I just being dense?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:06 PM on June 15, 2009


Um. No thanks. Kind of turns MeFi into a popularity race. And it's very messy looking. If you enact it, please provide an option for memebrs to disable it.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:09 PM on June 15, 2009


The negative externalities would no longer influence the "vast majority" that would no longer be subject to public favorites. The diehard favorite users (and their behavior) are beyond my scope.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2009


It allows for silent bullying, and it creates the perception that since many agree (favorite a post),

OTOH, laying the smack down (whether by a bitingly snarky response or by a detailed logical refutation) on a comment that has 23 favorites is 24 times as satisfying as doing the same to a comment with no favorites, because you're implictly snarking at or refuting 24 people instead of one. I'd say that cuts both ways.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2009


Whoa. You guys use favorites way differently than I do. For the most part, I'm like, "oh YAAY, this really thick black bar next to this comment means that I am likely to laugh if I read it. Or learn something." And conversely, if somebody favorited me..."YAY, I made somebody smile!" Call me naive. Actually, I usually find it pretty disappointing when a heavily favorited comment turns out to be a smackdown. It's like a plastic table turd. And I wanted a cookie.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


This script really helps Stack Overflow.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:28 PM on June 15, 2009


Hmm. The only way I can really see that maybe working, SeizeTheDay, would be if favorites was opt-in rather than opt-out, and if a majority of users agreed with you, didn't know they could opt-in, or were too lazy to bother. That might make for an interesting experiment (no - I'm not recommending that), but I don't have the faith that it would turn out the way you'd like. The biggest limitation to half-assing favorites (in my mind) would be that if people are really using favorites the way you say to the extent that you suggest, then they probably find them tempting or useful enough to opt-in to. I just don't see any way to realistically put this particular genie back in the bottle unless you plan to smash the bottle and kill the genie. Which is, as has been pointed out, a much debated subject already, and not one I really have an interest in rehashing today. Thanks for clarifying, though. I just wasn't quite following what you were getting at.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:30 PM on June 15, 2009


Fuckin' thing candyhammered my browser.
posted by gman at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2009


It took me two or three rereadings to realize this was posted by Matt.

This thing looks interesting.

The derail looks less so. More like a plate of leftover hash.
posted by Night_owl at 2:42 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like leftover hash.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:44 PM on June 15, 2009


Assuming you mean hash made from leftovers. 'Cause if you meant hash that is left over - who am I kidding? I've never not finshed a plate of hash.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:45 PM on June 15, 2009


People on either side can't possibly convince each other, anyway.

Au contraire, I recently changed affiliation from a very mild "favorites are okay" to a very mild "maybe favorites aren't so okay" after reading an old thread linked during the "User X's ish is tired because this is her second Brand New Day (Round 1)" portion of the holocaust MeTa.

I'm probably wrong, but I suspect that the reasoned (one one side, at least) arguments presented were all the more effective by not having a secondary meter of popularity attached.
posted by SpiffyRob at 2:52 PM on June 15, 2009


This improves delicious in a subtle and useful way. Trying once more to rail this thing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:09 PM on June 15, 2009


*empties refrigerator, scrapes mold off aged food, grinds same, invites IRFH to dinner*
posted by Cranberry at 3:09 PM on June 15, 2009


There was another Greasemonkey script that did something similar with favorites.
posted by archagon at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2009


A cool codename for this script would be "Barrabas."
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2009


A fairly simple solution for the favorite hating people would be to write a Greasemonkey script that hides favorites. It won't change the herd mentality they think it induces, but it might stop them from crying about it all the time.
posted by stavrogin at 9:03 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The "derail" is no such thing. Favourites, along with the decision to name them that and not, say, bookmarks, changed the nature of the site. Widespread adoption of this greasemonkey script would also change the nature of the site. (I'm not saying either makes it better or worse, just different). This is a well trodden path, but I don't remember anyone announcing a victory for one side or the other, or any ruling that we are forbidden from discussing it when it comes up. And it has come up.

The guy who built the site has drawn our attention to a greasemonkey script that makes "favourites" affect the UI. How can we expect that in discussing this, the issue of how favourites influence the general vibe around here will not arise? (The post clearly talks about the script being used on MeFi, not the other sites).
posted by GeckoDundee at 9:06 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've tried quite a few MeFi favorites highlighter type hacks, but this one does it in a less obtrusive way

I beg your pardon. Obtrusive?!? Moi?!?

My favorites highlighter hack Metafilter MultiFavorited Multiwidth
does nothing more than add a bar to the left of the post. This one actually chops out the comment count (although maybe it's just the latest version and will be debugged).

iamkimiam, glad you found my scripts useful. I too generally prefer cookies to smackdowns. However, sometimes it is fun to see someone skillfully cut another down to size, especially when they deserve it (I was tried to search for strongly favorited comments where I was cut down to size for an example... goodness knows there are plenty -- but apparently people don't necessarily address you by name when they're about to rip you a new one).
posted by Deathalicious at 9:46 PM on June 15, 2009


My brain went off on a tangent when I read "backbar". I thought it setup some backchannel discussion area - a MetaMetafilterFilter, if your will. That would be kind of cool, too - literally reading in between the lines for the chatter.

Hmm..it looks like it breaks looking at your Favorited By Others link - on multiple favorites, it shows the first username, followed by empty comma-separated fields (it's fun to see Greasemonkey's processing speed - the names last a full second before Greasemonkey gets its hands on it, then *poof*). (I think it's happening in line 85 of the script).

Eh..it makes the front page look kind of ugly anyway.
posted by zerokey at 10:14 PM on June 15, 2009


We'd just go back to "winning threads," "quoted for truths," and other Metooisms, and the silent nodding majority will probably still silently nod.

This.

*Punches self in the mouth, hard*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:19 PM on June 15, 2009


Well, the founder and owner of the site is now on record as stating that favorites are an "easy way to spot the 'good stuff'". To me, that explains a lot about how favorites are currently implemented and treated by admins and the favoriting crowd.

I consider public favorites, and have considered them since the roll-out, a general move towards the voting Diggnation of MetaFilter, for want of a more descriptive and universally recognized term. The effects of favoriting have been hashed out here ad nauseum, with more than a few refusing to believe there are any negative consequences due to the way favorites are now supported and used.

More's the pity, but there are many sites out there which don't behave that way, and I think MetaFilter has, does and will lose some unknowable percentage of traffic to them. Perhaps an attention gain from those who like the current favorite implementation exceeds the loss. Matt presumably has better motivation and statistical information on shaping traffic and revenue than anyone else here.

Good luck with your favorites choice Matt, I hope it continues to serve you well.
posted by mdevore at 10:36 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's Raining, where we disagree is that this tool would only be used by diehards who need to view threads that use favorites as a value judgment.

This GreaseMonkey script, as with every GM script, works by scraping information from the page. Which is to say, unless the string "n favorites" shows up on the page, there is no way for this script to work.

Okay, so technically favorites could be embedded somehow as, say, an attribute of a <div> tag or something, or if you really wanted to go overboard GM now supports Ajax calls, so Matt could make some kind of mini-webservice available that returned the number of favorites in JSON format ... but why on Earth would he do that?!?

For this reason, keeping the "n favorites" is necessary but a very successful work around would be to use a GM script that blocked displays of favorites. Unfavorite for metafilter.com by jepler works fine, but if you really want to do the whole The-Only-Way-To-Win-the-Game-Is-Not-To-Play, I've whipped up a modification of jepler's script called Destroy MetaFilter Favorites that blocks favorites entirely, so you can't add them or view them. It also blocks: popular, popular favorites, my favorites, recent favorites, and the "Favorites" and "Favorited By" links on user pages.

In my opinion, favorites aren't necessarily popularity votes, although they sometimes pan out that way. Instead, I think they're sort of like an EKG of a thread. If you use plutor's Thread Highlights script in heavily discussed forums, you'll see that the most favorited comments often represent the general consensus of the group on the topic being discussed, and in particular reactions to points made during the discusssion (for example, if someone makes a foolish argument, and is expertly chastised, that chastisement is usually well favorited). I like to go into a heavy thread with highlights on, and then trace the discussion backwards and outwards. Also, the well favorited are often the outstanding comments in the thread, as opposed to comments which simply 2nd someone else's comment. Favorites also help to avoid the "what s/he said" syndrome. There's been many times I've gone into a thread, seen someone has already posted what I was thinking, and simply favorited it and moved on.

The argument that people should comment rather than "vote" -- that somehow the existence of the favorite stifles dialogue because people can simply express their opinion by favoriting rather than explaining their point of view -- would really only be valid in a forum where we could vote someone down as well. "I think A." followed by "I think B, and here's why." is a lot more interesting than "I think A." followed by "I just came in here to agree with Person 1 that Aaaaaaaaa." For those of you who are despairing of MetaFilter's discourse, I invite you to compare with digg or youtube to see what else you could be dealing with.

Well, the founder and owner of the site is now on record as stating that favorites are an "easy way to spot the 'good stuff'". To me, that explains a lot about how favorites are currently implemented and treated by admins and the favoriting crowd.

Also? This is patently true. Favorites are an easy way to spot the good stuff. They are not the only way, maybe not the best way, but they are the easiest way. I suppose the "best" way would be to carefully read each comment in the thread, watching out for nuance, sarcasm, poignancy, and so on. If you don't have time, an easy way to find good stuff is looking for favorites. If you believe that the comments currently being favorited are not actually the "good stuff" in a thread, seems to me you have two options: wring your hands and complain about voting, or vote for the comments that you think are better.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:50 PM on June 15, 2009


La la la, they are just bookmarks, I can't hear you.
posted by smackfu at 10:52 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also? This is patently true

No, it is not. Favorites are an easy way to spot the popular stuff.

For all its countercultural acclamations, many people here seem to believe "popular" and "good" are practically synonymous. Not all would agree.
posted by mdevore at 11:10 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, it is not. Favorites are an easy way to spot the popular stuff.

Okay, you know what? Let's just nip this right in the bud: just because it is cool to say that a band you liked sucks as soon as people know about them, that does not mean it is necessarily true.

Popularity is not always a determinant of "goodness" (which is pretty subjective anyway), but why would something be popular if it were really crappy? or boring? or not good?

When I favorite something on MetaFilter, it is because I think it is good. Or because I want to read it again or in more detail (because it is good). Or because it made me laugh (which is good) or because it answered the question (which is good). I almost never favorite a comment because I have a crush on it, or because the comment is wearing designer clothing, or because it just tore into the school parking lot in a shiny red convertible.

Soooo....let's run over this again, shall we? Comments that are favorited a lot are comments that a lot of people liked (because they thought they were good). Therefore, an easy metric for comments that are good are comments that a lot of people favorited because they thought they were good. Q. E. FUCKING. D.

Now, it is entirely possible that a really favorited comment was, in fact, shitty. In which case, you glance at it, realize in horror that though it has many favorites, it is shitty shitty shitty, and so you simply stop reading it, and move the heck on.

Here are some other alternatives to "easy ways to find the 'good stuff'":
  • Pay someone in India or China $2/hour to read all the comments for you and highlight the best ones (but beware, they may miss pop references, slang, and sarcasm)
  • Spend decades designing a highly intelligent neural-network based system that has at best a 50% success rate at identifying "good" comments
  • uh, maybe beat your dog until it learns to read
Or, you can go the hard way and read every single comment (don't make the mistake of judging a comment's worth by its length -- and while some people cringe at bad spelling or grammar, using this as a rubric is also a mistake because some of the most moving comments I've read on the site were by people who were either clumsy with a typewriter or the English language). I'd recommend this, actually, for short threads. And sometimes in long threads it's worth it too.

But you know what? Sometimes I want an easy way to find the good stuff, and favorites do this very well.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:10 AM on June 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


Seriously, this again?

I kinda like favourites. I kinda like thinking something I said on MeFi made a difference to someone, especially when it comes to AskMe. I don't think a desire for feedback in a system designed for linear conversation rather than dialogue necessarily makes me an attention whore. I choose to believe the same of the majority of MeFites.
posted by Phire at 1:24 AM on June 16, 2009


Let's just nip this right in the bud: just because it is cool to say that a band you liked sucks as soon as people know about them, that does not mean it is necessarily true.

Which has nothing to do with the favorites == good issue, so if you could just leave the coolness cred, anti-cred, anti-anti-cred, and anti-cred backlash remarks at the door, that would be great, thanks.

Why would something be popular if it were really crappy? Umm? I don't know, have you noticed many things which are popular in the world which fall short of your "goodness" threshold? I kind of bet you have. I bet not only have you noticed them, you've bitched about them, more than once. You'd be a pretty rare bird if you didn't.

So what are you claiming them? Apparently, MetaFilter exceptionalism. That the large population of 40K or 50K users here is so smart, so discerning, so unlike the general populace, and most importantly, so compatible with your tastes and views that what they select as popular is a good thing.

I'm not going to get into a long discussion here on how belief in exceptionalism rises in almost any group if it exists long enough; there is ample research on the topic for anyone to find with casual searching. I see a belief in exceptionalism posted frequently here (and on Wikipedia, Yahoo groups, miscellaneous forums, and even the Mafia Wars group I'm on in Facebook. Woo hoo! We're the best Mafia group evah!).

I'm also not going to tell you how to read things here; we all make our own way in life, liberty, and the pursuit of cool links. But if you want a suggestion that doesn't poison the well with ridiculous alternatives, such as beating a dog, I suggest you pick people who post what you like or find provocative, and follow their post/favorite activity when you're pressed for reading time. Simple and basic intelligent filtering, not neural networks, can help quickly lead you to what you think is good. Hell, it's why MetaFilter was invented. And I'll bet you a virtual dollar you'll get higher goodness quickie hits by following individuals than following the crowd favorites. Even if you think all the crowd is exceptional, not counting me of course.

Then maybe you could have a chat with Matt about weighted favorites for users based on who marked the favorite, or "your buddy suggests this" flagging, and put actual directed intelligence in your quick-read selection criteria. Coolness all around, with no suckage to be found.
posted by mdevore at 1:27 AM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


That the large population of 40K or 50K users here is so smart, so discerning, so unlike the general populace, and most importantly, so compatible with your tastes and views that what they select as popular is a good thing.

Well, that is why I'm here. If I didn't think that I'd hang out somewhere else. I'm not saying that this makes MetaFilter exceptional in any way -- I'm sure there are other communities out there that I would be pretty compatible with, but I've never been to them.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:23 AM on June 16, 2009


weighted favorites

Actually, giving your contacts' favorites extra weight is a neat idea, and would serve to minimize the "attention whore" aspect of favorites, since everyone would see a different number of favorites for the same comment/post.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:25 AM on June 16, 2009


For all its countercultural acclamations, many people here seem to believe "popular" and "good" are practically synonymous.

I'd say that many people here (myself included) believe that popular and good are correlated, which is different than "practically synonymous."

Not all would agree.

Such people are free to ignore favorite counts.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:23 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


but why would something be popular if it were really crappy? or boring? or not good?

50,456,002 voted for George W. Bush in 2000.
62,040,610 voted for him in 2004.

QED
posted by dersins at 8:42 AM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Such people are free to ignore favorite counts.

Too difficult.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:19 AM on June 16, 2009


Well, the founder and owner of the site is now on record as stating that favorites are an "easy way to spot the 'good stuff'".

I'm going to go out on a limb and put words in Matt's mouth here, because this seems like a narrow but important distinction:

Favorites are one way to find some good stuff. I'll agree with you readily on the notion that it's not in any definite and holistic sense the way to find the good stuff, but I'm not sure anyone, ever, has made that particular claim here and I certainly don't think a narrow reading of Matt's offhand description in the post here as meaning that is really that sensible in the context of more nuanced discussions about it in the past.

The things function well in aggregate as a pointer to interesting or noteworthy or clever or impressive comments and posts, and function individually however whoever uses them chooses to use them. The argument that they do or don't have some subtle effect on the overall site dynamic is unfortunately pretty much unprovable as far as I can reckon (though I'm always interested in novel quantitative ideas, here), so we're probably just stuck forever disagreeing on the question.

But, and I'm not sure if this needs saying but I'll say it anyway, from an admin perspective we wouldn't be down with keeping favorites in place if we thought it was a net loss to the community. Bugger all on the revenue front, it's not something that even factors into it.

To me, that explains a lot about how favorites are currently implemented and treated by admins and the favoriting crowd.

The favoriting crowd is as far as I can tell not a homogeneous lump, but I can't speak for them in any case. But from the admin side, we "treat" favorites basically not at all other than individually using them however we personally choose to (I'm one of those nutty bookmark people, actually) and sometimes referring to them come podcast time to recall some of the big noticeable things that happened on the site in the last few weeks that we might not remember off the top of our heads.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:03 PM on June 16, 2009


I certainly don't think a narrow reading of Matt's offhand description in the post here as meaning that is really that sensible in the context of more nuanced discussions

I don't believe the "narrow" and "offhand" description fits for the creation of a new topic pertaining to the point in contention. Distilled: here is a script that lets you easily find good stuff using favorites. That reads quite straightforward to me.

In any case, you have side-stepped a critical point: Matt is sui generis. On MetaFilter, Matt's posts are not uncommonly referenced as rules to follow. Followed by readers and quoted by media, he represents MetaFilter to a measure that no one else will ever achieve. Given his status as founder and owner, this is not a terribly surprising circumstance. Consequently, no one should be so naive as to believe that large numbers of users are neither influenced by nor act upon what he posts. Perhaps more importantly, what Matt himself believes will always affect site operations and design, even when the accuracy of a belief is questionable and its implementation damaging.

This is also why the "just ignore favorites if you don't like them" remarks read as particularly uninformed whenever the topic comes up.

I envision people furiously typing away to the effect that if anyone has the right to their own opinions about MetaFilter, it is Matt Haughey. Damn straight he does, but along the way to building what he has here, he has irretrievably lost the ability to publicly hold opinions about MetaFilter without those opinions affecting user behavior, site ops, and design. Even as a admin, you know you need post more cautiously than you did before your status elevation.

As side note, I got no problem with the script. I am strongly on record that people own their local view of site data, regardless of how they alter that data. As a second side note, I have never said favorites should be eliminated, I have said, and do say, that the way they are implemented is flawed, with unintended consequences and bad conclusions drawn.
posted by mdevore at 1:06 AM on June 17, 2009


I don't believe the "narrow" and "offhand" description fits for the creation of a new topic pertaining to the point in contention. Distilled: here is a script that lets you easily find good stuff using favorites. That reads quite straightforward to me.

In any case, you have side-stepped a critical point: Matt is sui generis. On MetaFilter, Matt's posts are not uncommonly referenced as rules to follow.


Really, I'm side-stepping saying something mildly impolite about Matt's post: he spends less time in pitched battles of fine parsing these days than Jessamyn and I do, and so in my humble feels less incentive to consistently choose his words in metatalk with extreme care, maybe forgetting that people will e.g. laser in on something like "the good stuff" rather than merely "good stuff" and make of it a firm policy statement rather than just lazy writing.

Consequently, no one should be so naive as to believe that large numbers of users are neither influenced by nor act upon what he posts.

We're talking here about a sentence below the fold in an unremarkable metatalk post, not an essay on his blog or an interview in Wired. The folks most likely to encounter this particular statement are Metatalk regulars, who are also probably the most likely people around to have already begun grappling with and identifying their own position on mefi UI features.

I don't think it's naivety to see this specific situation as shrugworthy, nor do I think it's particularly realistic to imagine that a bunch of mefites are going to be converted in their feelings on the subject by Matt's use of "the" instead of "some", etc. Yes, he's #1 and people note what he says out of proportion with a comment by John Q. Mefite, but I don't think this is a very good example at all of a situation where "large numbers of users" will be "influenced by" and "act upon" what he posts; your announcement that he had Gone On The Record seemed like the most overt reaction along those lines in the whole thread, and I commented on it because I thought it was overselling the case.

Again, most of this roots back to something we just plain disagree mostly agreeably about, I don't really want to keep hashing it out with you just for hashing's sake. I hear where you're coming from but have not drawn the same conclusions about this stuff, and remain deeply but probably futilely interested in the possibility of someone coming up with an interesting way to look at the problem quantitatively.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:59 AM on June 17, 2009


your announcement that he had Gone On The Record seemed like the most overt reaction along those lines in the whole thread, and I commented on it because I thought it was overselling the case

I don't buy into the "Ahh, tweren't nothing, Matt was just talking about something he personally liked with a few of his friends" interpretation that you seem sold on, but OK, maybe we can divide the difference between harmless bagatelle and an official policy announcement (an extreme not claimed). Due to the poster, and I must say due to your spirited support, the comment remains a key point in the long and contentious history of favorites discussion and debate. It is a milestone alone that path, a clear indication of how deep and high the perception of favorite popularity implies good post likelihood goes, even and perhaps especially made in "offhand" comments, a belief expressed by your boss and the guy who ultimately flips the switches here.

You look at it as me saying "Wow! Matt just made an official announcement". No, it's "Wow!As captain of the fleet, Matt just showed how far the Good Ship MetaFilter has travelled in the Sea of Favorites. Don't miss the scenic Bay of Snark to the portside." Of course the subsequent discussion is here in a MetaTalk. Do you think most of the nonregular users of the site are going to read, let alone contribute, to an extended discussion on how certain design features may affect the site? Good grief, stated that way, the idea makes my own eyes glaze over.

Although you occasionally act as if I were, I am not alone in stating my opposition to favorites as currently implemented, whenever the topic arises. But I shall not speak for others. For a variety of reasons, but partly due to the way I perceive attitudes and behaviors here have changed with favorites voting, MetaFilter captures an increasingly smaller portion of my attention. Were it not for AskMe, with its strict posting policies that attenuate the negative effect of favorites, the site's utility to me would fall into the noise threshold of other forums. There's a data point for you.

No matter, I just finished adding the final functionality to my first iPhone app and now begin readying it for release. Compared to that happy milestone, this is all a tempest in a teapot, consuming more of our attention than it is worth. So rejoice, absent extreme duress, I shall not post in future topics about favorites. The battle against is lost, the design is set. It will not be unset. You can read my comments as either a failed last-ditch effort to change that design, or as a requiem for conduct before popular ratings.
posted by mdevore at 4:05 AM on June 18, 2009


I don't buy into the "Ahh, tweren't nothing, Matt was just talking about something he personally liked with a few of his friends" interpretation that you seem sold on

I can't force you to buy it, but having worked for/with Matt for a couple of years now I'm pretty comfortable with the assessment. This is exactly the sort of thing we might chuck into an email instead of onto the site, as a "oh, huh, look at this metafilter-related thing", and in that context there wouldn't be the same interpretive stakes involved.

I don't expect people to be psychic and to automatically get that or anything, but I also don't think there's anything that implausible about me being on pretty firm ground when I explicitly comment on it. You're welcome to your skepticism, I just don't know what's prompting it.

It is a milestone alone that path, a clear indication of how deep and high the perception of favorite popularity implies good post likelihood goes

Didn't most people collectively find their way down that path within a few months of its launch, though? I understand the various concerns about and objections to favorites, but even in the context of that criticism the notions that favorites can function in aggregate as a pointer to some (not all) good stuff seems pretty uncontroversial on the face of it. You walk out on the street and see twenty people all looking at the same thing, there's a pretty good chance that it's interesting in one respect or another. That's a pretty straightforward notion, I figure.

Although you occasionally act as if I were, I am not alone in stating my opposition to favorites as currently implemented, whenever the topic arises.

I didn't at all mean to imply you were, and again I think it's a weird reading to think that I would be given how many of these discussions with all kinds of people I've taken part in. The favorites thing is famously contentious, people joke when it comes specifically because it's such a long-recurring, unsettleable issue.

I don't think favorites are some perfect tool handed down from Olympus and I even agree with the old argument that they could have been named something else entirely in a different, slightly better alternate universe. I don't think it's a flawless feature, and I recognize the proposed dangers of e.g. Diggification and what not. We've spent a lot of time thinking about such stuff and talking about it in metatalk and behind the scenes.

The thing is that I don't think the net effect of favorites on the site is negative. That's, I think, the crux of my disagreement with anti-favorites folks. And I can understand that it's basically a locked-in-stone disagreement as far as that goes, since the arguments on either end are essentially assertions of personal belief ("My gut says it's a net positive" vs "I think it's been detrimental to the site").

You look at it as me saying "Wow! Matt just made an official announcement". No, it's "Wow!As captain of the fleet, Matt just showed how far the Good Ship MetaFilter has travelled in the Sea of Favorites. Don't miss the scenic Bay of Snark to the portside."

I got the feeling that you were using a specific and in my opinion overly strong reading of a portion of one of his sentences as ammunition in this old argument. If that was a bad read on my part, my apologies.

Your formulation of him as being "now on record" on the subject is weird if you're just noting that he thinks it's useful for this, because that's been the case for awfully long time. It is plainly, obviously useful for this. I never got the impression that arguments about the feature were materially about that but rather about substantially different aspects of the feature and it's potential effect (or not) on the community. So it struck me as odd that you put it that way, emphasize it like some sort of revelation or whatever. But I may be reading too much into your phrasing, yeah, so there we go.

Of course the subsequent discussion is here in a MetaTalk. Do you think most of the nonregular users of the site are going to read, let alone contribute, to an extended discussion on how certain design features may affect the site? Good grief, stated that way, the idea makes my own eyes glaze over.

That's why I mentioned the issue of where and how it was said. This isn't an announcement in the sidebar or the new message replacing the Tenth announcement up in the header. It's just a throwaway sentence in a random metatalk post, one that if I could see the future and control Matt's brain I would have left on the drawing table just to avoid the potential recurrence of this particular eye-glazery when there's not anything new really introduced to the topic.

I'd argue that it's a pretty minimal subset of mefites who are going to (a) read Metatalk regularly, (b) click through into this post, (c) read Matt's post, (d) accept it as literal gospel, (e) not give the subject of favorites another thought, and (f) steadfastly ignore everything else in the thread and prior and future threads on faves, is how I'm looking at the impact of it. But, again, I may be arguing with something you didn't mean to say, so I'll let it lie at that.

For a variety of reasons, but partly due to the way I perceive attitudes and behaviors here have changed with favorites voting, MetaFilter captures an increasingly smaller portion of my attention. Were it not for AskMe, with its strict posting policies that attenuate the negative effect of favorites, the site's utility to me would fall into the noise threshold of other forums. There's a data point for you.

I hear you, and I respect your opinion on the subject.

My perception is that what has changed around here over the last few years has been subtle and in a lot of ways positive growth and diversification of the voices here, that fundamentally Mefi 2009 doesn't look a lot different than Mefi 2005, and that the sub-role favorites have had since their inception is a relatively minimal one in what changes have occurred.

Whether we're disagreeing about what's there to perceive or just perceiving the same things and valuing or digesting them differently, I don't know. I care a lot about this place, I have gotten the impression over the years that you do to, and it's likely difficult for either of us to completely divest our personal/emotional models of the site from our respective thinking about this kind of thing. Which may make it harder to find a place of agreement, but at least prompts some worthwhile debate, and I appreciate that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:02 AM on June 18, 2009


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