Should MetaTalk be the first choice when trying to find that thread July 31, 2009 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Is this "name that thread" week?

I see 5 posts in just the past 2 days where people are trying to find content posted on MetaFilter.

Which is fine, I guess, but with so much content posted on MetaFilter constantly, if this becomes a trend (which it could), MetaTalk could get filled up pretty quickly, and the arguably more MetaTalk-relevant posts (not that I'm saying this is one, necessarily) might fall off the page prematurely.

As I see it, there are a few options to resolve this issue:
  1. Offer a new and separate forum for identifying old MetaFilter threads.Really, really unlikely to happen. Really specialized need and understandably the MetaFilter staff like to focus on features that are needed and useful to a majority of the MeFites.
  2. Discourage the behavior somewhat through language on the posting page.This would only work if there was something else in place. Otherwise, you're basically saying "This is not the lost and found, sorry" when there isn't a lost and found anywhere.
  3. Better search tools? Or educating people on better search techniques?Kind of hard to change other people's behaviors, but maybe the best way to go. Some of these posts might have been found if there was a better way to filter out posts. For example, you could enter a date range: "Pretty sure it was posted in the past 6 months" or if searches could work across the entire thread, rather than posts *or* comments (since often the key peices of information for a thread query appear in both the posting and the comments).
I admit that my motives are not pure and abstract, nor am I a necessarily examplary MeTa poster. I've posted 20 MeTas in 2 years, which is probably well above the median, and not all of them deserved to be on the gray. But I have to admit being a bit upset when my posts about the MeFi IF contests kept falling off the page as MeTa filled up with a bunch of random posts. Many people I interacted with after the fact, people who followed MeTa fairly regularly, did not know about it because for some reason everyone that week decided to complain about one thing or another.

Maybe this is sour grapes, but I think MeTa posts should count, and I think they should bring up issues relevant to the larger community. I know, I know, let he who is without bad post-itude cast the first plate of beans, but still...
posted by Deathalicious to Etiquette/Policy at 6:44 AM (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Seems like people saw the other questions and realized they could ask that kind of thing on MetaTalk. You need more than two days for a trend.
posted by smackfu at 6:49 AM on July 31, 2009


You forgot another option:

4. Do nothing about this non-problematic coincidence
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:50 AM on July 31, 2009 [9 favorites]


stupidquestions.metafilter.com
posted by shakespeherian at 6:50 AM on July 31, 2009


Honestly, the meetup threads are the waste of space for the 99% of the population they don't apply to.
posted by smackfu at 6:51 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Honestly, the meetup threads are the waste of space for the 99% of the population they don't apply to.

Fair enough, especially when they're not clear on where the meetup actually is (it did say Austin in the title, but on the page it just said White Elephant).

It does sound like meetups.metafilter.com is kinda in the works.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:58 AM on July 31, 2009


This is totally one of those "I know someone's going to say something about this" things. We noticed it to.

I think it's unlikely that it's evidence of anything like a new long term trend—clearly there was a cascade of "help my track down old post thing x" stuff in the last 24 hours but that seems more like a few people getting it out of their system when prompted by the previous posts than anything. I expect the spike will die down pretty quickly.

It's key to note here that, yes, this is something Metatalk is for. It has been used this way periodically for a very long time. We specifically disallow these posts on AskMe because they're site related—there's nowhere else to ask other than the contact form, which is welcome and worth a shot but even with as much of the site as the mods see we don't see or remember everything, so we may say "go ask Meta, maybe?" if we come up short.

1. Offer a new and separate forum for identifying old MetaFilter threads.

Really unlikely. This is not a severe volume problem, rare (relatively-) high-volume spates of search questions or not.

2. Discourage the behavior somewhat through language on the posting page.

Again, this is one of the things that's totally okay to do, so discouraging it doesn't make much sense. We already specifically note the existence of the contact form and encourage people to search; beyond that, there's really not much to add as far as I can see.

3. Better search tools? Or educating people on better search techniques?

Better search tools is something we're slowly constantly working on, and I'm totally for it. User education is cool, though how to accomplish it is more of a question since it's really kind of an opt-in situation—you have to want to learn how to search better before it'll happen, and we can't force people to (and aren't about to spam mefimail with search tips or whatever).

One thing I like when these search threads do come up is when folks explain how they found (or what they tried while failing to find) the thing the poster is looking for. That's a nice slice of directly-applicable example knowledge, so more of that sort of thing (and general search tips) in such metatalk threads is probably a good vector for education.

I'm always interested in other ideas on user education and toolset stuff; if there are good ideas that we haven't considered, we'd definitely like to hear about them.

But I have to admit being a bit upset when my posts about the MeFi IF contests kept falling off the page as MeTa filled up with a bunch of random posts.

You pays you money, you takes you chances. We're not going to tell people not to use Metatalk for one of the things it is specifically traditionally for just because it might have a negative impact on the visibility of other posts likewise made in good faith.

I thought the IF thing was really cool, and am okay with the fact that it had way more exposure than any one-off Metatalk post because it had, you know, multiple posts and some sidebar action and some random plugs from one of the mods. While I can understand your frustration in abstract, but I think this is probably a really poor example.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:00 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Honestly, the meetup threads are the waste of space for the 99% of the population they don't apply to.

Oh my, have we hit peak #636563?!?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:01 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I did actually mean to add
4. Do nothing, and hope it will go away
but forgot it in the final edit. Mea culpa.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:01 AM on July 31, 2009


Does anyone remember a MeTa thread about "name this thread" posts? There were like six posts in one day asking about old threads, and someone got fed up. It was by a Debrahlicious or possibly Deathalirious, in early 2010 or perhaps in 2009. I've tried search, but to no avail. Thanks guys.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:02 AM on July 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


I keep reading this post and reading it, trying to find the part where I can tell you are aware of the joke.
posted by DU at 7:09 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


While I can understand your frustration in abstract, but I think this is probably a really poor example.

Yeah, I know it is. But, really, can you imagine how frustrating it was when people posted to the contest page 2 days before the due date with things like "Why didn't I find out about this earlier?!?" and I was all like, "What else could I have frikken done?!?"

Now that that's out of my system, I do think that google is (and probably will remain, thanks to its millions it spends on its programmers) the best way to search this or any site's content. Google has decided that Metafilter has good timely content, and pages posted to MetaFilter are in google within just a few minutes it seems. So maybe moving the google search link a bit higher up on the search results page might be a good idea. Right now it's at the bottom in smaller, lighter text, and people might be missing it. Not that people don't know about Google, but many people don't know that they might have better luck with it than the built in search engine sometimes.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:11 AM on July 31, 2009


Oh yeah, I always use google to search MetaFilter. It's the only practical way. For instance, one of the MeTa's was about programming challenges. Here's how you find an AskMe about that:

"programming challenges site:ask.metafilter.com" (in link form)

The "site:" part tells it only to look on a particular site. This is my go-to query template for AskMes. Even the tags are worse, because you never know how people have tagged things. (And also, the google results include tag hits as a subset.)
posted by DU at 7:19 AM on July 31, 2009


...but many people don't know that they might have better luck with it than the built in search engine sometimes.

This is so very true. When people search for an exact phrase, we put a big highlighted box at the top of the results that says: "Looks like you're searching for an exact phrase, Google is much better at this, click this link." For every other search we have a link to the search at Google at the bottom of the page. I don't think we need to draw more attention to it.

...if searches could work across the entire thread, rather than posts *or* comments.

We will never beat Google at searching entire pages (or search in general). However, one way we can be helpful in providing a different way of searching is by offering search at the atomic level of posts and comments. When a keyword is matched in the local search engine, we know the exact post or comment, and we know the difference between a post and a comment. So we can be fairly precise returning results. We set up our search in a way that takes advantage of what we can do differently, and we offer links to Google pretty much everywhere so you can use both.
posted by pb (staff) at 7:24 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


We will never beat Google at searching entire pages (or search in general).

Not with that attitude, you won't.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:31 AM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Further to what pb just said, the internal search also serves clearly-labeled results where the matched keyword is within a url in the comment or post, which is something that Google is terrible about.

Internal search also refrains from indexing things like byline cruft that Google happily snarfs up as semantic content, and we allow you to search a specific user's contributions directly, both of which are a tremendous boon to some types of search compared with what google provides.

Which is just to say that both are useful in their own way. Google's quoted-phrase functionality is hugely useful compared to internal search and its whole-page indexing can be handy for those situation where you specifically are interested in byline cruft as well; the internal search does a much better job of including "hidden" content like href contents and organizing indexed content semantically by type. I do probably a lot more mefi search than just about anyone on the planet, I'd bet, and I use both methods a lot.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:32 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


But, really, can you imagine how frustrating it was when people posted to the contest page 2 days before the due date with things like "Why didn't I find out about this earlier?!?" and I was all like, "What else could I have frikken done?!?"

That sucks, but these things are kinda hit and miss. Checking MetaTalk at least twice a day would solve it though. Or perhaps a generic MetaTalk tag such as "Metarelatedfun" which would apply to the contests and swaps and what not, so a person can search that.

But really checking Meta a couple times a day solves this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:33 AM on July 31, 2009


Or just sidebar stuff non-MeTa readers might like to participate in.
posted by DU at 7:37 AM on July 31, 2009


I don't know about you guys, but when it comes to decisions that matter, Anthony Bourdain and I use Bing© as our official search engine. Yes, Bing© gives relevant results that you can actually use, unlike the other search engines. Bing©, simply put, is a better way to search, helping you decide faster - and in some cases making the decision for you. Bing© organizes search results and provides refinement tools that help you overcome information overload, get things done and quickly bring you to the point of using that information to make an informed decision. Remember: Bing© is much more than a search engine. Bing© is a decision engine.

After all, the current state of Internet search left much to be desired until Bing© came along.

Bing©
posted by item at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2009


Stephen Wolfram appears from behind a nearby bush, beats Item senseless with a Mathematica manual, and then fails miserably to answer straightforward questions about the whole thing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:54 AM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Better search tools is something we're slowly constantly working on, and I'm totally for it.

Agreed. Better search doesn't mean better searchers, as much as we might wish that it did.

"Why didn't I find out about this earlier?!?" and I was all like, "What else could I have frikken done?!?"

One of the big rules of internet communities, even more than IRL communities is that there will always be people who are vocal and irritable for no good reason and people who are cheesed off for totally good reasons and people who are irritable for good reasons but irritable totally out of proportion to whatever the reason is (and I'm referring to people who were bugging you about this, not you personally, only you know if you personally fit this description).

I'm sorry you felt crunched about this particular thing, but I think it's a pretty different issue from the "people use MeTa because they're not so great with the search" topic. We did a lot of work helping you publicize the IF contest, more than pretty much any other non-official thing, and I'm sorry it didn't go how you wanted, but I agree with cortex, it's not a great example.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:00 AM on July 31, 2009




only you know if you personally fit this description

Actually, I fit all three descriptions. And yeah, okay, I know. MeFi IF was a lousy example. And I really, really want to thank you guys for all the help you offered on that because it was a lot and it was really appreciated. I hope that my pissing and moaning here doesn't make you feel that I didn't appreciate your help, because I did.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:12 AM on July 31, 2009


I'm looking for a MetaTalk thread where people discuss the glut of "help me find old thread" questions on the grey.

Wait. I meant to post that to the main page.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:14 AM on July 31, 2009


Apropos: Finding, I would suggest better tagging is the way to go. If you look at the most recent queries the tags were deficient. It's sometimes an ex post facto problem and the original poster can't be held responsible. Generally though I'd cite lethargy or laziness.
posted by tellurian at 8:17 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, does anyone remember a comment in a MeTa thread about "name this thread" posts? The thread was about a time when there were like 37 posts in one day asking about old threads, and someone made a big deal out of it. Anyway, the commenter was asking if anybody remembered that thread, or something like that. I think it was from 2011, or maybe late 2010. Oh, and the commenter was goodshoesfortheleftbrain, or something like that. I haven't bothered to try search, cause it's the kind of thing that somebody will surely remember. Thanking you in advance!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:27 AM on July 31, 2009


letmegooglethatforyou.metafilter.com
posted by Mister_A at 8:31 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's time to bring in the the BING for searching.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:36 AM on July 31, 2009


MetaTalk really doesn't have that many topics. I don't see how this is even a problem.

And I understand why people are asking these questions, I search a lot for threads and often times have a very difficult time finding exactly what I'm looking for.
posted by hazyspring at 8:44 AM on July 31, 2009


MetaTalk really doesn't have that many topics.

Well, by design (?), Metatalk shows many fewer posts on the front page.
posted by smackfu at 8:47 AM on July 31, 2009


Well, by design (?), Metatalk shows many fewer posts on the front page.

Hmmm. Why not just double the number of threads visible on the MeTa front page?
posted by cmaxmagee at 8:52 AM on July 31, 2009


Deathalicious: "MetaTalk could get filled up pretty quickly"

We've reached peak MetaTalk. It's all downhill from here, folks.
posted by Plutor at 11:05 AM on July 31, 2009


User education is cool, though how to accomplish it is more of a question since it's really kind of an opt-in situation—you have to want to learn how to search better before it'll happen, and we can't force people to (and aren't about to spam mefimail with search tips or whatever).

There's the option of having more feedback/tips on the search page like the "Looks like you're searching for an exact phrase" thing pb mentions. Here are some related searches that might work for you. People that searched for x also search for y. Here's how to take a wider google search and drill down with exclusions/synonyms etc.

It all adds to the clutter and I'm not advocating for any of those in particular as I'm pretty handy with google, myself, but it's something to consider.

Incidentally re:"Looks like you're searching for an exact phrase", if I have the dropdown set on a subsite and do a quoted phrase, the google link maybe ought to append site:subsite.metafilter.com, but appends site:metafilter.com instead.
posted by juv3nal at 12:47 PM on July 31, 2009


Good catch on the subsite thing, juv3nal. That's probably worth fixing.

I agree about the tips=clutter dilemma. One approach would could take is to put together a really solid shortlist of tips for using the internal search effectively, and stick those on a separate page with a nice little link on the main search page that folks could follow. Not super visible, but possibly useful for beginning power-searchers.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:54 PM on July 31, 2009


juv3nal, I can't reproduce that bug. For example, this search limited to MeFi brings up a link to a Google search that uses www.metafilter.com. If you spot the problem again, please send the link my way so I can take a look.
posted by pb (staff) at 2:17 PM on July 31, 2009


I recently asked for help finding an old post. I used the site search, Google, and even contacted the mods before I posted a Metatalk thread. Someone else found the post by remembering the particular make and model of the car the post referenced, something I didn't remember. So some of us do actually exhaust our options before asking for help.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2009


If you spot the problem again, please send the link my way so I can take a look.

1) Be on this page
2) Put quote marks around the query term
3) Hit search
4) You get redirected to "All Site" results. This may be by design, I guess.
posted by juv3nal at 5:41 PM on July 31, 2009


Oh ho! I think what it is is that the behavior is not specific to quoted phrases; it's more general than that:

Submitting the search form (clicking Search or hitting enter with the cursor in the search text field) will always reset the subsite selection to "All Sites", from whatever specific subsite selection (if any) you were previously on.

So nothing to do with quoted phrases specifically.

I agree that it seems weird; I don't know if we're doing that on purpose for some reason I've forgotten or if it's unintentional behavior, but sticking with the subsite selection does seem like the preferable move if there's not some sensible (or "it would be a pain in the ass" technical) reason not to.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:58 PM on July 31, 2009


aha! Thanks for the details, I just made the subsite selection sticky if you start a new search.
posted by pb (staff) at 9:12 PM on July 31, 2009


« Older Need help locating an askme post on programming...   |   Kind of like cat scan. But not. In any way at all.... Newer »

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