Trolling Via Questioned Assumptions August 23, 2009 12:08 PM   Subscribe

"I question the very basis of your question/the assumptions behind your question!!"

Forgive me if this has been discussed before...if it's an evergreen, feel free to ignore me.

There's a subtle form of trolling on AskMeFI....I think of it as "questioned assumptions" trolling. Someone asks a question, and posters, in lieu of answering the question posed, question the basis of the question.

It's subtle, because sometimes assumptions are truly faulty and really ought to be questioned. But the practice is vastly more common than that. Sometimes it feels like no question is immune, and, while, again, it's subtle, I do think it's trolling. Three reasons why:

1. ANGER. The questioning of assumptions is almost always slightly contemptuous in tone.

2. LOOPHOLE EXPLOITED. Every community has trolls, though AskMeFi is less vulnerable, by virtue of the narrowness of its mission. It's hard to troll an AskMeFi, but by zooming a discussion to underlying assumptions, there's a lot more juicy meat...and it can be gotten at without going O.T. (risking deletion).

3. PUSHING BACK ENCOURAGES THEM: recently, I've taken to nearly begging for people to answer my questions as-is, and not derail by picking away at the question. Interestingly, this seems to actually bring on more of this sort of thing.

Is there a way to fight this? The problem is that trolls love to exploit a slippery slope. Obviously, a mere dab of such activity can't possibly be moderated, so there's an undrawably fine line. But all troll moderation involves trying to draw undrawable lines, I suppose....
posted by jimmyjimjim to Etiquette/Policy at 12:08 PM (311 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Could you point to an example of this?
posted by Forktine at 12:17 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone asks a question, and posters, in lieu of answering the question posed, question the basis of the question.

Do you have any examples of what you're talking about? Other than this comment, I mean.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:18 PM on August 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


recently, I've taken to nearly begging for people to answer my questions as-is

When asking such politically charged questions as this (which you posted today, so it's clearly the subject of this MeTa, whether you'd care to admit it or not), you have to accept a certain amount of movement away from the original question.

It's not a straight-forward question, per se, and there's certainly no one right answer to it in any case.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:25 PM on August 23, 2009


I think the premise of this post is questionable.

But I'm not angry.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:26 PM on August 23, 2009


The League Against Tedium put it best: "Suppose conventional wisdom to be a forest. I am chainsaw. You are squirrels."

We are all somebody's squirrels.
posted by meehawl at 12:35 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Looks like you're trying to moderate the answers to your question into a specific discussion, and you want a real moderator to say this is okay. Is that how AskMe is supposed to work?

I would suggest a link-rich Metafilter post, if it's discussion you want. But you wouldn't get to moderate that either.
posted by breezeway at 12:37 PM on August 23, 2009


I'm not angry, I just wish someone had a newsletter I could subscribe to.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:38 PM on August 23, 2009


I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is why I think it's less likely that people are trolling (that is, intentionally answering in bad faith) and more likely that they're questioning the premises of your question.
posted by box at 12:44 PM on August 23, 2009


I'm not 100% sure I know what you're talking about BUT I have an idea and an example to throw out there.

A while back ago I asked this question. Basically I asked for suggestions on what I could do for a friend while she was out having her baby. I had the keys to her house. We're quite close, so doing something nice for her while she was gone, was not an out there thing. However, some of the answers made me feel like I was doing something wrong or that I hadn't considered stuff like honoring their privacy.

My question was "What can I do to rock out my neighbor's house" It was not, "Is this a good idea?"

This is just a mild example - most of the answers were quite positive, but I've had quite a few questions "answered" in a manner where I came out of it feeling like I was mentally challenged and hadn't considered other angles or like I hadn't done my homework and was therefore looking to be shot down.

Like I said, it doesn't happen often, but often enough that it irks me.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:44 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


It can be difficult to sit back and just let MetaFilter happen, especially when things aren't going according to how you imagined when you posted. But eventually, people will ask a clarifying question or give you the wisdom you are looking for. I've found, outside of direct questioning, the best thing is to post and then forget about trying to respond for about 12 hours. If more information is needed, sincerely and not in a trolling kind of way, it will become apparent. Otherwise, patience is a virtue.
posted by hippybear at 12:47 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you're an overly sensitive snowflake, it's probably not a great idea to solicit the opinions of the great unwashed. They'll invariably answer in ways that you'd prefer that they didn't.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:49 PM on August 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


If you're an overly sensitive snowflake, it's probably not a great idea to solicit the opinions of the great unwashed. They'll invariably answer in ways that you'd prefer that they didn't.

I agree. Firstly, some premises need questioning. Secondly, from memory, and not speaking of the OP here, the people who get in a big tizzy about people not answering the question are often enough pretty seriously invested in getting one kind of answer, and their angry objections to alleged premise-questioning reflect this. Thirdly, AskMe is a community of humans giving their time for free to grapple with whatever topic you've raised, not a machine that you own that you damn well have a right to expect a specific answer to your damn question from goddammit, so I think the benefit of the doubt should always be with answerers.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:56 PM on August 23, 2009 [14 favorites]


It's frustrating, yeah, but usually the "bad answers" thing usually sorts itself out after a few comments. See, the folks who are gonna give you a thoughtful response are the folks who are gonna read the question over a couple times and give it some consideration - this takes longer to do than a mere reflexive rejection of your question's premise. Give the thread time and you'll usually find an upper layer of near-useless responses followed by a nougaty center of thoughtful answers that take your question at face value. However, trying to referee or "nearly beg" answerers to stick to your preferred parameters almost universally guarantees you won't get the answers you're looking for.

TOP TIP: Post your question and walk away, trusting AskMe to work its magic. Leave the house if you have to.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:57 PM on August 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


jimmyjimjim: ""Someone asks a question, and posters, in lieu of answering the question posed, question the basis of the question."

Forktine: "Could you point to an example of this?"

I see what you did there.
posted by WCityMike at 12:58 PM on August 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


Even without an example given, I think I know what jimmyjimjim is talking about, and it's one of the reasons I always hesitate to post anything to AskMeFi; I think someone is going to jump down my throat or derail over something completely odd and unforeseen.

Here's a question I asked a while ago, where wfrgms jumped in with something completely stupid. I wanted history books that are organized in a certain way, and he said that I didn't understand the point of learning history and maybe I had a dissociative disorder. Of course, that's wfrgms, and he's gone now, but other people -- no one person in particular stands out -- do the same sort of thing. Like jimmyjimjim, I agree that often enough the assumptions of a post do need to be questioned -- especially messy social questions -- but I have noticed it happen in instances even odder than my question. I tend to just FIAMO so my own question is the only one that stuck in my mind well enough to retrieve a link, but I have a general sense of it happening often enough that it gives me pause when I want to ask anything.

Here's an imagined example that nearly kept me from posting yesterday. When I posted this question, I seriously had in the back of my head that someone was going to go off on me and say any of the following: the Mayans and Incans are completely different and I'm somehow racist or ignorant, even though it's obvious I'm looking broadly for inspiration and it doesn't matter if they're very different; it's stupid/uncreative to base stuff in a fiction book off other stuff, even though it'll hardly bare any resemblance once I'm done; I'm an uneducated ADD whelp for not wanting to read some dry, in-depth account when I'm simply not interested enough to do it; I'm ignorant for asking that it not be more recent than the past four hundred because of XYZ society, etc. The common thread is basically just a bunch of assumptions about why I should want the information compared to something else, or that if I get it, I'll misuse it in some imagined grievous way. Also, there's a lack of attention paid to the question, which is something I see happen constantly with others' questions. (For example, someone will show obvious humility in the wording of their question when they've done something wrong, but people will still go off on them as if they didn't.) When none of that happened I was surprised.

Some context, since that alone could be taken as paranoia: when I first starting posting to AskMeFi, I didn't have those qualms, and when I do post now, the qualm isn't that people will think I'm stupid or something, but that it will be more hassle than it's worth to ask the question. On preview, Sassyfras's example is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about; taking something innocuous and trying to convince the poster they're doing something Horribly Wrong. The moderators do a good job of cleaning up once things start heading that way, but still, it would be helpful if this MetaTalk could encourage just a few more people to check themselves before deviating from the question asked. I'm sure this sort of thing has discouraged others from posting.
posted by Nattie at 12:59 PM on August 23, 2009 [15 favorites]


Yeah, people do this crap all the time. Along with the throw-away "see a therapist" answer (well, gee, if they were going to do that, why would they be here?), it's part of a certain class of responses that can never be technically wrong, and thus show up pretty much like clockwork. So yeah, it's annoying. But AskMe isn't meant to be perfect, and it's still good enough to be useful most of the time.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:02 PM on August 23, 2009


This happens because Ask Metafilter functions by soliciting and collating people's opinions on what the answer to whatever your posed question is. While egregiously outside-the-lines behavior is usually controlled by moderators, as are complete derails, threads are still at heart simply a by-product of the expression of people's opinions, and that can be fenced in only to a certain extent. You ask what people think simply by virtue of asking the question, and while people's responses may not be what you view as helpful, nor on point, they are nonetheless the opinions you originally asked for. And if trends are seen in thinking, while to some extent that could sometimes be attributable to groupthink, it's also likely that such trends can reveal the Truth to the matter, capitalization intended.
posted by WCityMike at 1:04 PM on August 23, 2009


Some people seem to see AskMe as a contest, where you get points for telling the OP that they're a fucking idiot/can't run their own life/rude/unable to type

A classic was the question about whether someone was overly cold in her relationships where multiple people criticized her posting style, said there were no questions, called her shrill and unlikable, etc.
posted by kathrineg at 1:19 PM on August 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


I kind of know what you're talking about, but I think there's a danger in any policy other than just ignoring it.

I sometimes see a question where it looks like a person is trying to decide between plan A or B, but is not completely satisfied with either option. I'll often ask whether they've considered C, D or maybe E, or if something they haven't told us rules these other options out. When I do this I'm just throwing out ideas which they might not have considered or trying to get more information about the situation.

That's not going to apply to all types of Ask Mefi questions, but there you go.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:20 PM on August 23, 2009


Lest I come off as holier-than-thou, I am not immune to sometimes wanting to shake the OP and yell WTF ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE so I understand the impulse
posted by kathrineg at 1:21 PM on August 23, 2009


Oh, and my other favorite is when people ask a question because they don't know a lot about a topic and people respond with "DUH, you'd never even need to ASK this question if you were using this technique/tool that you've probably never heard of, so this question is POINTLESS"
posted by kathrineg at 1:22 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


The questioning of assumptions is almost always slightly contemptuous in tone

You do not know this.

Always assume good faith.

Only assume trolling after you have honestly answered their question and/or have spent sufficient time talking with this person. Your time is yours, and you have better things to do.

Here's a question I asked a while ago, where wfrgms jumped in with something completely stupid.

Case in point, and you can see why (s)he's gone.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:23 PM on August 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is not unknown to me.
posted by adipocere at 1:26 PM on August 23, 2009


This is not trolling, it is just people with opinions or points of view different from your own.

I personally would rather that people would avoid the tut-tut kind of "what a bad/stupid person you are" answers, but I assume that even these people are answering in good faith.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:31 PM on August 23, 2009


But the practice is vastly more common than that.

Then point out some examples or you're talking out of your ass.

You may have a point here, but it's so nebulous and vague and open to interpretation that I'm not sure you're going to get anywhere.

recently, I've taken to nearly begging for people to answer my questions as-is, and not derail by picking away at the question.

I think there's a unspoken understanding when you use AskMe in that you're throwing your question to the wind and anybody, no seriously ANYBODY, with all the decades of life and/or work experience be it good or bad, can choose to answer your question, as long as they have $5, a computer, an internet connection and at least 30 seconds worth of time. That's just a fact and you gotta be able to roll with it when your assumptions are challenged.

Of course people should be polite and respectful when answering questions on AskMe, but challenging the assumptions of those questions is damn fine feature, not a bug so put that insecticide down and open your mind. You've got the world at your feet, asking a question you can't answer. Listen and learn.

Now, I'm going to gently point out that one of your previous MetaTalk posts started with this sentence: "Let's establish first of all that I'm a complete moron. "
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:46 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I like to jump into asks in which the poster has made an out-of-context reference to alcohol and tell them they've got a problem. Let's say:
Q. I saw these wine glasses on my favourite sitcom the other night and want to buy myself a set. Does anyone know what they're called or where I can get them?
Then I:
A. If all you do when you're watching TV is look at people's wine glasses you really need to examine your relationship to alcohol. Work on that problem first.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:51 PM on August 23, 2009 [15 favorites]



Then point out some examples or you're talking out of your ass.


He's not talking out of his ass and neither is Nattie. It's not unusual. Sometimes people act like bullies in AskMe, or they'll use it as an opportunity to disparage someone while disingenuously pretending to help them.

Challenging people's assumptions is a fine feature, but often that's not what people are doing and it's a sneaky way to get around the letter of the law. Some people do it as a trick, like they'll answer the question, technically, but say something like 'you're a dick and a big fat moron and here's how you get rid of the ants in your bathroom. Dumbass.'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:56 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


No one is trying to game AskMe or troll because they question a premise. Instead, they are logically applying an inductive method of reasoning to the question in recognition that all possible answers are not confined to the intent or semantic choices of the asker.

I often see this expansion of the question as a feature of the system, and when it turns into a bug, there are skilled and professional moderators to intervene. If this doesn't work for an entitled-feeling AskeMe user, I recommend this service, which while not free, will certainly not make them feel like they aren't getting a direct answer.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:03 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I personally feel that AskMe has matured a lot over the last few years rather than gone the other way, but I am also awfully suspicious of "good old days" talk more generally.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:07 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


when you use AskMe in that you're throwing your question to the wind and anybody, no seriously ANYBODY, with all the decades of life and/or work experience be it good or bad, can choose to answer your question, as long as they have $5, a computer, an internet connection and at least 30 seconds worth of time. That's just a fact and you gotta be able to roll with it when your assumptions are challenged.

That's partly true: Yeah, anyone can reply, YMMV, etc., but there's a reason why AskMe is the most actively moderated part of the community. I agree with Afroblanco that it's a weasel move. I flag 'em when I see 'em.

I'm going to gently point out that one of your previous MetaTalk posts started with this sentence: "Let's establish first of all that I'm a complete moron. "

The guy was soliciting help finding/using MeMail, don't be a shitheel.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:10 PM on August 23, 2009


Well, there was that whole "how do we stop our boy being a little monster" thread, though z lot of that spilled over into the resultant crappy call out.
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on August 23, 2009


He's not talking out of his ass

Then it would be nice if he could point out some examples.

The guy was soliciting help finding/using MeMail, don't be a shitheel.

Relax, it was meant as mild joke.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:14 PM on August 23, 2009


Some of the examples linked, more information would have helped. Saying "I don't want x, y, or z" as part of the question without saying why these aren't options leaves a hole. Going into the reasons you don't want those as options will help anyone answering to come up with something that will work for you.
posted by kellyblah at 2:16 PM on August 23, 2009


WCityMike: "jimmyjimjim: ""Someone asks a question, and posters, in lieu of answering the question posed, question the basis of the question."

Forktine: "Could you point to an example of this?"

I see what you did there.
"

I see what you did there, good job pointing out a totally appropriate follow up question to a statement.
posted by Science! at 2:16 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nthing the nature-of-the-beast thoughts, those that the percentage of worthwhile answers is good and those that the moderation is almost always real good.

Always gonna be people for whom a question touches a raw, maybe-twisted nerve (a thought I think holds some water:things people find frustrating in others can be things they realize consciously or otherwise are their own shortcomings); someone having a crappy day; and some people are passive-aggressive, mean-spirited, lacking in self-awareness.

I did have experience with this, with a light-hearted question. A certain mythbuster answered at length with "I think what you're saying...," and "To read between the lines... ."

It did come across as making assumptions and arrogant, kinda like, "Famous Person will tell non-Famous People how to conduct themselves around Famous People."

I also realized that while I started it with "Just a fun one," I could have added more information that would have made my thinking/perspective more clear. We'll never know if that would have resulted in a different answer.
posted by ambient2 at 2:34 PM on August 23, 2009


Here's a question I asked a while ago, where wfrgms jumped in with something completely stupid.

That's kinda what he does, from what I've seen on AskMe anyway. I wouldn't take it personally.

I confine my AskMe material to technical issues that I haven't or couldn't get answered through Google. I don't think my feelings are going to be hurt through cue splitter recommendations. If you want to go with a more personal question, there's always going anonymous.

In essence you have to separate the wheat from the chaff, the know-it-alls from the people who know what they're talking about. The difference is easy to make.

As to the phenomenon jimmyjimjim describes, I'd rather give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they don't get where you're coming from instead of assuming they're trolling.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:46 PM on August 23, 2009


I definitely know what you're talking about. That's why when I post, I find myself wanting to be exceedingly specific so I don't have to answer these, "But you haven't considered X," or "Why didn't you think of Y?" comments, when I actually have, but just didn't want to go into gross detail. Now I end up including so much info that I end up needing to go back and pare it down so my question isn't TOO detailed.
Back when I used Livejournal, I would go to my city's Livejournal community for info/advice on where to find things in my city, and it was so. much. worse there. It was unbearable how assholish people would get, even when someone asked the most innocuous of questions. Insane. Metafilter is nowhere as bad.
posted by ishotjr at 2:47 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or what kellyblah said. The question I posted today only has 2 answers, both by the same person, so maybe being so specific narrowed my possible answers down to nothing.
posted by ishotjr at 2:48 PM on August 23, 2009


Examples? This happened to my most recent question and it is intensly frustrating. I wasn't asking for relationship advice or anything I thought would be controversial. I did not put in any open ended questions or leave loopholes for general discussion. I asked for an alternative to swimming and got a bunch of people telling me to go swimming. Swimming is not an alternative to swimming. I don't like swimming. Turns out some people here love swimming and can't stand the idea that someone would want to do something else. Even after I asked that people answer the question I got answers about how I'm broken and therefore must keep swimming. I put in probably too much detail yet was still told the derail was because I didn't put enough in, this is a game that can't be won.

The problem? Answers which blatently do not answer the question (to the point of even saying they aren't answering the question) are supposed to be deleted yet there they still are, in my thread and in other people's (in particular the answer from ActingTheGoat should not have lasted five minutes). Either the moderators think this behaviour is OK or the site has got so busy that only things with lots of flags get looked at (meaning, by the way, you can post whatever you like in low activity threads - just as a tip to anyone looking for a place to take a dump). Leaving this stuff in there sends a strong signal that it's OK and it often derails the question by giving permission to others to post more of the same shit, and all in all reduces the chances of getting an answer to the actual question asked. This is an ongoing problem, has been for years, it's been called out in metatalk before and I see it on a regular basis on the site. It kind of feels to me like it's increased recently which I assume is confirmation bias, but that doesn't mean the issue isn't real.

Most people don't post ask metafilter questions to open up a life discussion, they post because they have an actual question that needs to be answered. Answering that question shows some degree of respect and reading comprehension and is what we're supposed to be doing. Just as I don't need to discuss what's so wonderful about swimming, I just need to find something else to do so I can stop torturing myself with an activity I hate.
posted by shelleycat at 2:49 PM on August 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


This isn't trolling. Seriously, it's not. Your question was touchy from the get go and you seemed not to be prepared for getting responses from people that diverged from your - touchy - question.

The thing that I see happen a lot, and apologies if your question was not what you were referring to, is that someone who is het up about something asks a question. People respond in various ways the way people do. The question asker, who is already het up, now focuses that het-uppedness towards the people they perceive as not being helpful and basically gives "thanks for nothing" answers. Mods, trying to salvage the situation and yet usually not wanting to delete responses form the question asker, dither over these responses. Answerers tell the OP that the answers are worth what they paid for them. Bitchiness and MetaTalk ensues.

Just because someone does not agree with you does not make them a troll. The way to make this stop is to stop the cycle.

Better: "Thanks to those who got the jist of my question. I guess it didn't occur to me that there might be this level of nuance in what I'm asking, so I'd really like to focus on ________"
Worse: "Thanks for nothing, those of you who automatically assumed I had an axe to grind. I suppose that just because I'm even talking about this means that I must be some sort of terrorist according to you guys, huh?"

There are some people on MeFi who do this literally all the time. Any time anyone challenges them, they defend themselves as if they were in a snark-off to the death. It's terrible to watch and generally not necessary. We're mostly friends here. We're all nerds here, for chrisssake!

Put another way, MetaFilter has a higher than average quotient of irritable people. This goes hand in hand, to me, with a higher than average quotient of smart people and vaguely OCD-like people who can't let something that is irritating them just BE. So when these sorts of people ask and answer questions, they have a tendency to ruffle feathers. Assuming good faith as a general principle works for me. Ignoring people who are jerks also works. Lastly, you can bring stuff to our attention and often we'll take care of it.

The community is really good, often, at answering questions but if you're not prepared to take the crunchy with the smooth, you may not want to keep asking questions.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:50 PM on August 23, 2009 [17 favorites]


Wow, an actual chance to use "begging the question" correctly and it goes by unnoticed. =(
posted by Eideteker at 2:52 PM on August 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


You ask what people think simply by virtue of asking the question, and while people's responses may not be what you view as helpful, nor on point, they are nonetheless the opinions you originally asked for.

Yes but we're not asking for everything people think about a general topic but what they think the answer is to a specific question. The other crap is, well, crap. If I wanted a conversation I'd go talk to my friends. I go to ask when I want information. Except I've been feeling more and more like Nattie, it's too much hassle for too little payoff.

Another one sticks in my mind where someone asked for a specific type of exercise DVD. The first few answers said to buy a gaming type system (like DDR), the poster came back and said they specifically did not want a gaming system but a DVD yet something like two thirds or more of the remaining answers were about gaming systems to buy. There ended up being only a small number of useful answers in there, which has got to be annoying for the poor person asking the question.
posted by shelleycat at 2:55 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


You're occasionally going to get those "Should rewire my house with string or should I use spaghetti?" questions. Answering them with anything other than "Are you sure you're qualified to rewire your house?" is silly. I'd say it's often fine to challenge the assumptions behind an AskMe question. But that only applies if your intention is to help someone find a way to an answer that will be genuinely useful to them. You don't get the right to make judgements about the poster that weren't asked for, or to push some agenda peripherally related to the question.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:55 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Either the moderators think this behaviour is OK or the site has got so busy that only things with lots of flags get looked at

We look at literally every flag in AskMe, fwiw.

I did not think most of the answers were that far off base though, but yeah a lot of them were like "well is there another way you could swim?". I think they were sincere answers and I think they were trying to be helpful.

Different people problem solve with different levels of premises up for grabs and I think people have differing levels of comfort with that. My example is all the DTMFA answers when people are asking about difficult relationship issues. For some people DTMFA is always an option. For some people it's never an option. For many people it's somewhere in between. This goes for askers and answerers and there's definitely a culture clash there. There needs to be a word for this, and no "trolling" isn't it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:57 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


But they weren't helpful. If I wanted to swim I'd ask about swimming. The question was very specifically for an alternative. That's not a hard word, it has the same meaning in all kinds of English out there, you should all know what it means. I didn't want to moderate my thread because I konw that pisses people off (see point number three in the post up there) but after two off topic answers I mentioned that actually, I'm looking for an alternative and yet the crap still came. I thought I'd flagged it but maybe not, by that point I was swamped with work and too frazzled to write an email that wasn't filled with swearwords.

But I remember the day that flagging wasn't necessary, Jessamyn read every thread and everything was looked at. I guess I assumed that still happened, a but I've realised it clearly doesn't.

Trying to be helpful should not be the bar we measure by. Trying to answer the question should be.
posted by shelleycat at 3:05 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Another one sticks in my mind...

What sticks in my mind is that I read dozens of AskMe posts every day and I see this pretty rarely, like on the order of once in hundreds of posts. Personally, if I get less-than-useful answers back (which I hardly ever do), I assume that the community does not have answers to give, not that it's broken. As for the "crap," confirming the existence of a phenomenon does not confirm its ubiquity.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:08 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Lest I come off as holier-than-thou, I am not immune to sometimes wanting to shake the OP and yell WTF ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE so I understand the impulse

Yeah, that kind of comment will definitely be deleted.

Trust me on this.

Other random thought on the matter:

I am operating today on the assumption that answering a question about how to make shark fin soup with a reply about the cruelty of shark finning would be considered a de-rail. I think that the comment needs to be made on a thread like that , but don't feel like being deleted today. The impulse to address the underlying issues is very hard to resist.

I suppose if all a person wants is an answer that is 100% responsive then we need to have a scantron style answer format. Otherwise, people are going to respond conversationally and impulsively, and that is the beauty of AskMe. How to walk the lines between responsiveness, humor, arrogance, butt kicking is up to the mods.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:18 PM on August 23, 2009


I asked for an alternative to swimming and got a bunch of people telling me to go swimming.

Not to pick on you, shelleycat, but the gist of the original question reads as though you enjoy swimming, so it's understandable, IMO, that people suggested ways you could possibly keep on swimming.

And frankly, unless a lot of comments were deleted, there's only one or two that offered other suggestions before you plainly stated "No, I don't like swimming at all" which totally changes what kind of answer to give.

AskMe, especially anonymous, questions can be somewhat hard to write because you're trying to explain what the problem is, but being human you sometimes live out some little detail which can totally change the tone of the question. Multiple that by all the people reading the question and it's easy to see how misunderstandings occur. When it happens, it's best just to clarify and not take it hard or personally when people are doing their best to help you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:23 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


This goes for askers and answerers and there's definitely a culture clash there. There needs to be a word for this, and no "trolling" isn't it.

Clolling? cultilling? Narrowfiltering?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:28 PM on August 23, 2009


Wow, shelleycat, you shouldn't use that example, really, it makes you seem mentally over-committed.
posted by breezeway at 3:28 PM on August 23, 2009


I have done a lot of AskMe lurking, but have only asked two questions. Unfortunately, I think you just have to accept that this will happen, and decide if you still want to post your question. My most recent question was a very emotional one, and I debated long and hard before posting it because I knew I would get an answer that encouraged me to reconsider my decision instead of answering what I actually asked. Sure enough, there was such an answer posted, and it sent me into quite an emotional tailspin that day. But I don't consider the answer trolling. It just happens, and you can't expect perfection in your answers when it's humans doing the answering.
posted by misskaz at 3:36 PM on August 23, 2009


But I remember the day that flagging wasn't necessary, Jessamyn read every thread and everything was looked at. I guess I assumed that still happened, a but I've realised it clearly doesn't.

That day didn't really exist. Flagging came into being early in 2005 because it was already needed as a way to deal with extant moderation challenges on the site. Askme's volume has been on the order of like two thousand questions and forty thousand comments a month for years now. That's something like two million words a month just in askme comments.

It's a safe guess that nobody reads all of it, or anything close to that. Certainly it's unrealistic to think that doing so would be (or would have been, four years ago) a sane approach to moderation. The flagging system is what we rely on to be made aware of (and usually pretty promptly, at that) problem stuff on the parts of the site that we don't between us happen to read on any given day.

I don't mean to be combative about it, I just want to be clear that this isn't something that's changed with the site or with how moderation has worked for the last several years. We can't see everything, but we especially can't hope to see stuff that doesn't get flagged, and even if it does get flagged there are some things that we are going to decide to leave up depending on what's going on in the thread.

I am operating today on the assumption that answering a question about how to make shark fin soup with a reply about the cruelty of shark finning would be considered a de-rail.

Very likely, yes. I know I removed one comment from that thread today because it was nothing but a "way to be responsible for killing these creatures off" driveby. I wouldn't have a problem with someone who is actually answering the question introducing that issue in a civil and respectful way in the process as an aside, but throwing in an answer solely to stake out an advocacy position tangential to the question is pushing into no-go territory.

But that comes back to the core thing here: there will always, always be answers that fall onto the borderland between precisely and dutifully answering only the literal question asked and commenting in complete defiance of the question asked. The former is basically always okay, the latter is basically never okay, but what is and isn't okay in the hazy zone between is going to come down to judgment calls sometimes, and different people have different personal takes on how any given one of those calls should be made.

Having a personal or emotional stake in the subject can make it harder for someone to maintain some objective distance about the subject, and so people are bound to end up feeling burned sometimes.

And I respect that, it's part of the process of being here and interacting as an asker or an answerer. Trying to get a more detailed look at specific instances that are troubling you, whether via metatalk or by contact the mods directly with either a "heads up, this looks like it's going badly" or a "why did/didn't this thing happen in my question/to my answers/re: my flags?" email is totally fine. But it's hard to answer a general theory-of-behavior thing like this metatalk thread, because everybody is going to look at it through a somewhat different lens based on largely-uncited personal histories with the site. There's no real answer to what's being asked here or to individual riffs on it, because it's too broad and muddy once we're talking about everyone's overlapping personal takes on general assertions.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:43 PM on August 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've only asked a very few questions. The reason is this phenomenon, which plays out in all sorts of questions written in all sorts of ways.
posted by vincele at 3:50 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes but we're not asking for everything people think about a general topic but what they think the answer is to a specific question. The other crap is, well, crap. If I wanted a conversation I'd go talk to my friends. I go to ask when I want information. Except I've been feeling more and more like Nattie, it's too much hassle for too little payoff.

Sorry, but the hassle is entirely self-inflicted. Even if this phenomenon of questioning premises were a widespread terrible and destructive issue on AskMe, which it isn't, the worst that could happen is that you would spend a few minutes typing a question and get a completely useless set of replies. Sort of like Yahoo Answers.

That would be a shame, no question about it, but if you're letting it frazzle and frustrate you and have you on the edge of making swearword-filled comments, that really isn't AskMe's fault.

As I said upthread, while people who take the piss definitely need to be brought into line, the benefit of the doubt should start out massively in favor of the people who are giving their time for free to help you get an answer to a question. Stop treating them like paid staff.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:09 PM on August 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


There's a subtle form of trolling on AskMeFI....I think of it as "questioned assumptions" trolling. Someone asks a question, and posters, in lieu of answering the question posed, question the basis of the question.

Some might call this not giving in on what question is for debate. Posing questions that imply answers gives a false sense of the reader "figuring it out on his/her own." You can't convince someone who was tricked into assuming that they came up with their own answer to the question.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:24 PM on August 23, 2009


Even without an example given, I think I know what jimmyjimjim is talking about, and it's one of the reasons I always hesitate to post anything to AskMeFi; I think someone is going to jump down my throat or derail over something completely odd and unforeseen.

Seen at the core of most AskMe human relations questions--things odd and unforseen.

The answers are just suggestions. You really don't have to go with anything they say. The majority does not win. But it is good to think about why they might suggest what they do.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:29 PM on August 23, 2009


I have to admit I notice this all the time, and find it pretty obnoxious. That said, it's the internet, fer chrissake, and the level of obnoxious here is so heavily outweighed by the level of awesome that it's worth it to me to ask the question whatever it might be, and self-filter the answers I find annoying or off-point. That said, I am now a lot more wary about the information I include in questions and tend to steer away from back-story that could open up cans o' worms that will detract from the question I actually need answered. So yeah. Like all advice, take Askme with a grain of salt, I guess. Apply salt more/less liberally through the thread as needed, I think.
posted by t0astie at 4:41 PM on August 23, 2009


I've never done this to anybody ever.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:42 PM on August 23, 2009


So, if someone asks for a number greater than 7, and less than 6, the correct response is that there should be no responses whatsoever?
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:44 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd be pleased if people could resist the urge to chime in on translation questions with their high school language skills and their handy Google machine texts. This has been literally the case more than once in the last short while.

It isn't helpful, it's just noise.
posted by Wolof at 4:45 PM on August 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


shelley cat. shelley cat. it's not your faaaaault.
posted by water bear at 4:56 PM on August 23, 2009


MetaFilter: a higher than average quotient of irritable people
posted by oinopaponton at 5:07 PM on August 23, 2009


I saw this in a post asking about surnames. It began right off with the first response and spiraled around, and somehow, the OP received a few answers worth marking as favorites.
posted by Atreides at 5:08 PM on August 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


> I'd be pleased if people could resist the urge to chime in on translation questions with their high school language skills and their handy Google machine texts.

Pleased? I'd be ecstatic. If I could wave a wand and change one thing about AskMe, it would be this. Trust me: someone will come along who actually knows the answer. You do not have to wade in with your well-intentioned guess.

Also, what's with everybody wanting shit translated into Latin? You've got your own language—use it!
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Latin has a certain gravitas.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:16 PM on August 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


Latin is the new Kanji.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:25 PM on August 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Latin is the old High Elvish
posted by kathrineg at 5:30 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, what's with everybody wanting shit translated into Latin?

De gustibus non est disputandum, languagehat.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:35 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Latin is the break dancing of languages. Yes, it's impressive that you can master it, but you can't really use it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:35 PM on August 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


I saw this in a post asking about surnames.

You don't think that was a flawed premise?
posted by smackfu at 5:44 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can't really use it unless you want to get laid, you mean
posted by kathrineg at 5:46 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be more specific, I think that was a case where a questioner was sabotaged by their overly broad outside question, because people just answered the question that was asked.
posted by smackfu at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2009


I'm cautious about asking this, but: how does Latin get you laid?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2009


I asked a question and my premises were questioned. My premises were dumb. So it was cool.
posted by little e at 5:49 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I definitely see knee-jerk premise-questioning very regularly and, while it doesn't usually get detract from AskMe's utility, there is a trollishness to it. Perhaps not in the intention, which is usually genuine helpfulness, but in its ability to derail threads.

Often it's a lot easier to nitpick the backstory than it is to attempt to engage with a genuinely difficult problem.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:52 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just as I don't need to discuss what's so wonderful about swimming, I just need to find something else to do so I can stop torturing myself with an activity I hate.

I just read that question, and it is completely impossible to know that you hate swimming from the way it was originally asked. It sounded a lot more like a logistics-at-your-pool issue than a hatred-of-swimming issue. It seems a bit unfair to complain that people tried to help with that bit of your question- if it wasn't relevant that your pool management changed things up, don't mention it in the first place. If you had said "I hate swimming, what else can I do that gives me the same benefits?" chances are people wouldn't have suggested you find other pools in Auckland. So yeah, people go off topic in answers, but sometimes it is not entirely their fault.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:00 PM on August 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


shelleycat, if I'd come upon your swimming thread and had some advice I thought might be helpful, I'd never have posted it, because I'd be afraid of getting my head bitten off because you'd decided it wasn't exactly what you wanted. I think your interventions were unfairly irritable, given the information you included and omitted.
posted by palliser at 6:13 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not trying to be combative either, just to be clear. I had assumptions about how things were dealt with re: flagging which was wrong and it's been changed. I think this is a good thing. I also didn't follow up with the mods or post a meta or whatever because I clearly can't be objective about this right now and I know my question writing skills aren't perfect, but people were asking for examples, the original post rang true for me (although I don't think it's trolling in any way), so I gave one. As I said, this has been called out in meta before* so I don't think it's something we just decided to be annoyed about this week.

(*I'm sure people will ask for examples, I couldn't find any on a quick search and I don't have time to look more right now)
posted by shelleycat at 6:16 PM on August 23, 2009


posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing I'm cautious about asking this, but: how does Latin get you laid?

I was at a party and I met this totally hot Latin major, so I said, "My name is languagehat on MetaFilter!" and we spent the rest of the night at her place, pledging our love to each other in ways that only God can understand. Quad erat demonstrandum, baby!
posted by mattdidthat at 6:29 PM on August 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm cautious about asking this, but: how does Latin get you laid?
I think your premise is flawed.
posted by Floydd at 6:36 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm cautious about asking this, but: how does Latin get you laid? (Marisa Stole the Precious Thing)

An ex-boyfriend of mine was a grad student (now professor) of the Classics, and he taught a course on Latin love poetry. I mean, damn.

De gustibus non est disputandum, languagehat. (Fiasco da Gama)

Perhaps this should be "De gustibus non est disputandum, lingua petasat(us/a/um)"? (I am not so hot with the Latin myself. Hence having fallen for someone who was.)
posted by ocherdraco at 6:38 PM on August 23, 2009


Though I suppose that is more "language who wears the traveling cap" rather than "language hat."
posted by ocherdraco at 6:39 PM on August 23, 2009


These premises are alarmed.
posted by Abiezer at 6:46 PM on August 23, 2009


I'm cautious about asking this, but: how does Latin get you laid?

Well, you take your o-stem noun and your supine ablative and

oh fuck it I'm learning too much for this joke
posted by kathrineg at 6:57 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's really annoying when people act like they know more about your life than you do, so this is always going to be a problem on askme. Just like it is when you ask for advice in real life.
posted by kathrineg at 6:58 PM on August 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is seriously my biggest problem with AskMe, and the reason I've generally kept away from that part of the site more than I'd ideally like to.

Personally, I don't agree that it's trolling, but I think it's a very unfortunate result of AskMe being the type of site which draws smart people who like demonstrating that they are smart. In general this is a good thing, of course, but the slag from that is that a lot of times (and I'm sure I've done it myself) the easiest way to show off how smart you are is to question premises, which then often does have the effect of derailing the conversation, especially if it happens in the first five answers.

And god help you, of course, if your question was anonymous. In that case, this activity essentially makes the question worthless.

I realize that AskMe is, as my spouse said, basically throwing your question to the wind, but I feel like when people post a question, most of them are genuinely looking for goos answers from a group that they trust about something that concerns them enough that they asked, and then this comes along and suddenly their audience is the stoned undergrads at the coffeehouse who think that "but what if the cat is actually your master and you need to get de-nailed?" is the pinnacle of discussion. I think we can all have enough respect for each other as to stay away from questions that we can't answer on their merits.

The exception, of course, is for questions that require technical expertise of any kind. If someone's knowledge is such that they can tell where the OP's premises went awry and still offer help, that's grand. This generally precludes doing the same to relationship questions and the like.

Then again, about a year ago, I asked a question about explaining to me (a layman) why the idea of the LHC destroying the world was ridiculous, so I could respond to the nonsense about it all around me. I got one answer which was based in religion, and another which basically yelled at me for being so shitty as to hope that I could understand it without a physics degree. The former became a kind of MeTa controversy, and the latter stayed. Then again, I never flagged either one, so I'm not parsing blame, just saying that this happens a lot, and while it's not necessarily "trolling" it is insidious and hurtful to AskMe, I think.

While I doubt there should be any official mod solution to this, I think we can all be better about not practicing this shit, is I guess what I'm saying.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:06 PM on August 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Just like it is when you ask for advice in real life.

Or when you don't ask for advice, for that matter. I run into plenty of people who honestly believe they know much better than you do what's good for you. I can make any sort of innocuous conversational remark in passing and get, "Now what'd you want to go and do a thing like that for? What you should do is. . . ."

Example: at a holiday dinner thing with friends, people were talking about the kinds of lotion or skin cream or whatever they use, and I stupidly said, "I don't use lotion. Scented stuff plugs up my sinuses, and even unscented stuff makes me itch -- and besides, my skin isn't dry 98% of the time."

So a couple of weeks later, I'm almost literally running down the hall at work away from one of these people, who is brandishing a bottle of lotion and trying to pour it on me [insert your own Ted Levine joke], insisting, "No, you'll really like this, you'll see!"

Life is in some respects just an endless succession of premise-questioning trolls.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:37 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jessamyn:There needs to be a word for this, and no "trolling" isn't it.

From the Barbelith community, let me introduce thread rot:

What is Thread Rot?

Threadrot is a term that refers to anything added into a topic that may derail the thread or lead discussion within the thread to go off-topic.

Threadrot tends to make idea-based topics (or "threads") veer into personal commentary. For instance, a topic about a protest in Soho might suddenly veer into a discussion of this really great Indian restaurant just a couple blocks away, and from there into a discourse on the relative merits of various vindaloo vendors.

There are some Conversation threads that are entirely (and rightly) made up of threadrot, while in the Revolution forums (you know... all of the serious ones), threadrot is generally frowned upon - even if it is occasionally inescapable.

posted by bigmusic at 7:38 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a "mark as best answer" option because not everything is going to answer your question. If no one answers it, maybe no one has an answer? That's always a possibility -- maybe because your premise needs to be questioned, maybe because no one reading it has the insight you are looking for. A moratorium on questioning an asker's premise would drastically reduce the utility of AskMe because not everyone understands the problem they are trying to solve that well to begin with. A bunch of unhelpful answers won't affect your chances of getting a good one, it's not like there's a response limit.

I think it's a good idea to clarify your position if there was a problem with how you formulated the question, but getting all aggro about it is a bizarre over-reaction, and characterizing them as trolls (intentionally trying to cause trouble) is a really bad faith interpretation of people who are, in my experience, just trying to be helpful.

Also that one (guy?) isn't a great example. He was a total asshole and got banned for it. I don't see anyone being an asshole in, for example, the swimming thread. Just, no one had any ideas. So it goes.
posted by cj_ at 7:41 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


My favorite is when people tell me my question is wrong because I didn't ask the question they want to answer. Or even weirder, I should forget about my question and embrace their answer to a question I didn't ask.

I asked about apples. You are answering questions about oranges. Please shut up about the oranges.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:41 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I asked about apples. You are answering questions about oranges. Please shut up about the oranges.

But oranges are sweet and juicy and full of Vitamin C! I don't think you should rule out the Orange option.
posted by not that girl at 7:45 PM on August 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I asked about apples. You are answering questions about oranges. Please shut up about the oranges.

Ahh, yes. The "instain mother" response.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:50 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I asked about apples. You are answering questions about oranges. Please shut up about the oranges.

But what you are missing is that they are both fruit, and since you are living in a climate where it's easier to grow oranges and other citrus rather than apples, I would hope you would want to do the environmentally conscious thing and raise your own. What, do you hate the Earth or something?
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:53 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I wanted to swim I'd ask about swimming. The question was very specifically for an alternative.

Shelleycat, I feel your pain but you're wrong about what your question was about. There's no extraneous details in an Ask question: if you mention something, anything, in an AskMe there's someone who's going to take that thing as the topic of the question. In your case, you went on for several sentences about the management of your local pool, thus opening it as a topic of discussion. If it's not essential to the question, then don't put it in the question.

Hell, I won't lie to you. Even if you'd asked "What exercises, aside from swimming, can I do that will [your exercise goals]" someone might still have said "swimming." It's Chinatown, Jake.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:55 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is Thread Rot?

On the blue and the grey it's the cornerstone of most of the best threads, also most of the worst ones.
posted by Artw at 8:00 PM on August 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sometimes the premises need questioning. Sometimes they don't, and some premises are only questioned because the commenter is feeling dickish, but seriously, answering the question that is asked without thinking outside of the box at all would lead to a lot of very, very bad advice being given on AskMe. And, to be honest, there are entire classes of people who were raised or trained to question assumptions and premises when a problem arises. These folks are invaluable in life and in AskMe. (except to posters who posted hoping to get one particular answer, but to hell with those people)

Where that line gets drawn between what premises need to be questioned and which don't, though, isn't black and white, and what premises one person thinks need to be questioned might not be the same as the ones another person does.

This difference is actually a side-effect of what makes AskMe so useful. The diverse backgrounds and thinking of the members provide a view from many different angles on the question that the poster might not be able to see. If everyone robotically thought the same thing or followed a lot of super-restrictive rules or norms in their answering, a lot of great answers and "ah ha" moments would be missed.

So, yeah, I guess the best advice is to assume that some answers to questions will be terrible (in your opinion) and then either provide a better option (for the OP)/question (for the answerers) or get over it (or both).
posted by toomuchpete at 8:01 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


A moratorium on questioning an asker's premise would drastically reduce the utility of AskMe because not everyone understands the problem they are trying to solve that well to begin with. A bunch of unhelpful answers won't affect your chances of getting a good one, it's not like there's a response limit.

I agree.

Almost any time you ask a question, you're going to get a range of responses. Some will be useful, direct, and practical. Others will meander, misunderstand, make suggestions you just don't prefer, or even question your premise. You, the Asker, are not bound in any way to follow any commenter's advice, to follow up on what anyone has said, even to dignify their response with a response of your own. Your reaction to the answers that appear are entirely within your, the Asker's, control, whereas the answers offered to you are not. This is one of those situations where the best idea is to focus on what you do have control over - the details of your question, and the clarifications you can provide in followup, if any - and let go what you don't, which includes the responses of others as long as they are within general guidelines.

I do agree very much that sometimes a premise is well worthy of questioning. Quite often people become curious about something but don't actually have enough information to formulate a good question. The "end of surnames" question is a great example - that premise is flawed; we are still creating surnames. By the metric some are suggesting here, the only acceptable answer would be something like "1847," with an argument supporting that, or no answer at all. What would have been learned? Little, except the arguments of the 1847ers. Meanwhile, those who dared to say "We ARE still creating surnames" very likely expanded the OP's awareness that surnames are always being creative, and may I note that even the people whose answers ended up being marked as best were actually rephrasing and answering a separate question, which the OP didn't ask, but only implied. Much of the discussion in the thread involves people trying to help the OP define what it is, actually, that he's asking. It turns out that even the 'best' answers are not completely viewable as 'correct' because they're incomplete: they're specific to certain political structures and times, but they aren't definitive, cross-cultural answers - they're merely pieces of a much larger picture, a picture the OP couldn't even perceive the breadth of when he began with a single curious inquiry.

People really don't always know what they're trying to ask, and they also are often blindered as to the factors involved in their own puzzles. If I think I'm having a problem with my birth control pill and need a non-pill form of borth control, someone may note that it's a problem often associated only with that brand of pill, and that there are studies showing my problem has been ameliorated in other women when they switched brands. I want to know that - even though my question was too narrow to ask that directly. There are entire professional fields based on the understanding that people are often not as good at problem definition as at problem solving - teacher, reference librarian, indexer, psychotherapist, physical trainer -- it would be foolish to cut yourself off from potential sources of wisdom just because you think you have your problem perfectly defined.

Sometimes you might cover every base and eliminate every red herring and properly scale and phrase your question so that it is crystal clear that you have considered all possible factors in defining your problem - and you might still get unhelpful answers. You probably will.But even then, you have the ultimate power: suss it out for the unhelpful answer that it is, and then ignore it.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on August 23, 2009 [14 favorites]


I sort of love this comment from a recent AskMe, while we're on this topic.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:34 PM on August 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm cautious about asking this, but: how does Latin get you laid?

In flagrante delicto, mostly.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:44 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a tough issue. I agree that it can be a serious problem, but I also I agree that sometimes, though, premises do need to be questioned. I do think that "trolling" is the wrong word for the bad-faith variety of this problem. I'm not sure it needs a moniker, but I do think people ought to take a breath before premise-questioning. I've been guilty of doing it needlessly in the past myself, so I've been trying harder not to do it except where it's manifestly justified.

One thing I try to do with my own questions is offer background about alternatives I've considered, or alternatives I don't wish to consider. Admittedly, this does not always work. One time, I was trying to deal with what turned out to be a failing hard drive. I asked, "Is there any way to fix this problem without reinstalling Windows?" One of the first responses I got was, "How about reinstalling Windows?" (Fortunately, many of the other answers were very helpful.)

That said, I do think it's helpful to let people know where you're coming from, whether it's a "How do I flash my EEPROM" question or a "How do I deal with my overbearing mother-in-law" question. You want to avoid wall-of-textish sagas, but some background details are usually good.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:53 PM on August 23, 2009


re: the shark fin soup. here's another scenario:

"i like to put jack daniels in my baby's bottle doesn't like it because it's too stong. what can i mix it with to make it more palatable?"

the obvious answer to a question like that would be considered a derail by the same standard. it is possible that the shark fin poster has no idea about the environmental ramifications of shark fin soup, and a helpful pointer wouldn't be out of line.
posted by klanawa at 9:03 PM on August 23, 2009


The "end of surnames" question is a great example - that premise is flawed
As I argued at tedious length in the thread, it isn't (let's go round again), and despite what you write I certainly didn't have to rephrase any part of the question to answer it. I quote the salient part in one of my responses there. Shame my initial answer (off by the odd few hundred years :D) was nowhere near as good as verstegan's or mhum's, but really to me the social history is the far more interesting than the various subsequent anomalies - it's indicative of a major change in the relationships between a population and the state.
Also seems a tad patronising to assume we've greatly expanded the OPs horizons; they recognised themselves in the question it's not stopped altogether, even if they didn't make an exhaustive list of the possible ways. Of course you're right about the cross-cultural aspects, and I thought the other answers from the point of view I disagreed with were interesting and informative too, and would have appreciated them if I'd asked the question even if it wasn't what I was after. So in conclusion, it's not broke and why can't we all just get along?
posted by Abiezer at 9:03 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


*but he*
posted by klanawa at 9:04 PM on August 23, 2009


Meatbomb: "65Latin has a certain gravitas."

hmmm. Odd indeed.
posted by Gravitus at 9:07 PM on August 23, 2009


I can't really agree, Abiezer. The question you answered was "[Is there] a reasonably identifiable point in history for various Western nations where the bulk of the non-gentry population (they had them already) acquired fixed surnames for the first time and ninety-nine percent of 'em (I exaggerate) and their descendants stuck with these.[?]"

When the asker asked:

"is there a point at which the current surnames being passed down through the generations more or less settled where they are now? When did we stop creating new ones?"

In other words, you put this question through a process of refinement before you offered your answer, and you disregarded other potential (and perhaps more complete/accurate) answers in order to do so.

really to me the social history is the far more interesting than the various subsequent anomalies

A case in point - you answered the question you were "far more" interested in, not the one the OP stated he was.

I do think we can all get along, and I think it was a very interesting thread from which I learned a few things. Most of the contributions shed light on an ill-defined problem, and the "anomalies" which disprove the question's premise were, to me, equally interesting.

The function of AskMe in not only ansering an Asker's question, but providing a useful resource to future searchers, is always in the back of my mind as well.
posted by Miko at 9:12 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And nor can I agree, esteemed Miko - I submit that the process of refinement I undoubtedly engaged in was to identify the pint of the question and discard those parts that were merely leading up to it.
As to your second point, you're faulting me through semantics on a polite formulation in my previous post - it was the question the OP was interested in, and they marked the answers that addressed it accordingly.
Perhaps we must settle this with pit-a-pat at twenty paces?
posted by Abiezer at 9:17 PM on August 23, 2009


a helpful pointer wouldn't be out of line.

I agree and don't agree with this.

Pretty much every AskMe thread about relationships and sex has someone popping in with a "USE CONDOMS" comment, it seems. This is for questions not about birth control, or STDs or "what can I inflate for the surprise party that is starting here in 15 minutes?" So on the one hand, I totally know where you're coming from. It's quite possible the OP doesn't know there's a negative environmental impact to sharks' fin soup. On the other hand, it's possible they

- know and don't care
- know and do care but have some other mitigating circumstance leading them to ask for recipes
- hate sharks

or something else. So, we have to be sort of careful that every AskMe doesn't turn into a thread hectoring the OP about the ramifications of whatever it is they want. Which is also another side-reason why questions about warez, revenge and suicide aren't okay. There are the obvious reasons but also the "these questions always go badly here" reason because of this sort of response thing that people do.

So, we're in a quandary. Usually we'd like people to also be answering the question if they're going to also add stuff like that. If all you'd have to add is "hey there's a negative impact to the planet with the meal you're planning on making" it's a slippery slope to that being true about many (or most) other food related AskMes. I know the shark's fin thing is on a different scale than that, but these are the issues we try to manage over on AskMe.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:17 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I submit that the process of refinement I undoubtedly engaged in was to identify the pint of the question and discard those parts that were merely leading up to it.

Right, and that process is the one I'm defending here as a necessary part of the process of arriving at a more complete answer. I'm arguing against those who don't think you should be able to refine, reinterpret, question, or discard components of the question.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on August 23, 2009


I get your point (spell it right this time) and agree with it as general policy. I am arguing a bit more than that in the specific example in question though - that despite the repeat of the 'stopped making new surnames' phrasing, it is fairly clear that the bit I answered is the meat of it, not just my interpretation or reinterpretation. I'm sticking to my guns here not out of cussedness or pedantry (honest), but because I also think that in many instances even if the phrasing isn't ideal we can find the key question if we work off the assumption the questioner knows what they're asking, and that if we can, that's by far the most helpful thing to do.
posted by Abiezer at 9:37 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wish there were an animal they I ate not out of hunger or tastiness, but sheer guttural spite. I think that'd make me feel a little more alive, in some way.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:38 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm cautious about asking this, but: how does Latin get you laid?

If an old aquaintence who teaches Classics at a local private boys' high school is to believed, it's the perfect venue to explore your budding homosexuality by joining the 6th form class and meeting all the other gay schoolboys.

And then spending the school ball ignoring the young ladies from the local private girls' school while your chaperone does her best to not see her class sneaking off to fuck in the bushes.

And, to be honest, there are entire classes of people who were raised or trained to question assumptions and premises when a problem arises.

Unfortunately the set of people who can judge when it is appropriate to do this with a degree of accuracy, and form their comments in a useful fashion is much, much, much smaller than the number of people who merely believe they can.
posted by rodgerd at 9:38 PM on August 23, 2009


jessamyn said:

This isn't trolling. Seriously, it's not. Your question was touchy from the get go and you seemed not to be prepared for getting responses from people that diverged from your - touchy - question.
-------------

Er....if you're referring to my latest thread, about the Libyan prisoner, I saw none of the sort of activity I'm describing here. In fact, I was extremely happy with the thread, and I'm not sure what makes you think I was unprepared for the responses I get, given that I was positively florid in my thanks and praise. I also dispute that it was a touchy question. I think it was an awesome question, and a lot of people were unquestionably educated by the response. I know I was. it's just the sort of smart info this crowd is good at. I wish all AskMeFi threads could be as on-the-ball.

Look, what I'm describing here is just the observations of one guy. If I need to give examples, then this clearly isn't a problem MeFi should be fixing...cuz it damned well oughtn't be fixed just to please me!
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:41 PM on August 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Where is this shark fin soup question? It sounds delicious. I don't want to harm the environment, though, so I will substitute cute fuzzy baby kittens for the shark.
posted by little e at 9:43 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish there were an animal they I ate not out of hunger or tastiness, but sheer guttural spite. I think that'd make me feel a little more alive, in some way.

Also, I like to go to the zoo and taunt the big cats because nah nah nah, I'm free and you're not! You can't eat me! Then I do the You Can't Eat Me Cause You're In a Cage Dance. It is life affirming.
posted by little e at 9:50 PM on August 23, 2009


I wish there were an animal they I ate not out of hunger or tastiness, but sheer guttural spite.

Spiders! Everybody hates 'em.
posted by Artw at 9:52 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have to agree. It's particularly difficult too because often posters leave out extraneous details which bolster up the basic assumption of the question and for a variety of reason (often just to shorten the question) they leave these details out. I know I have. Nothing is more annoying than to have posters go off on a tangent about something in no way related to your issue and you have to come back with, "no as I said that is not an option. It is not an option because of X, Y, and Z...."

Granted sometimes the parameters of a question are ridiculous, but I do think the parameters and assumptions made by the OP in an Askme should be respected a lot more. Especially since self moderating a question is frowned upon.
posted by whoaali at 10:02 PM on August 23, 2009


I don't want to harm the environment, though, so I will substitute cute fuzzy baby kittens for the shark.

I wouldn't recommend that.

Not only do kittens hate water; even worse, they'd almost certainly drown.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:04 PM on August 23, 2009


I don't see this as a weakness in the system but a strength

from what i see, AskMe isn't the place to get a single answer to a direct question -
rather it's opening up the situation to discussion by the whole community.
And the commensurate wealth of information generated by this process cannot be achieved without the examination of the entire scenario from a multitude of viewpoints (and subsequent filtering through the hive-mind) - including questioning the premise or veracity of the question itself.

it may be aggravating sometimes, but that is what it does to be so effective in the end.
posted by sloe at 10:18 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The surname thread frustrated me. I felt bad for the asker, imagining them reading the first answer and thinking "oh yeah, oops, of course people still invent surnames." But then they had to see versions of that same answer another ten or twenty times.
posted by gubo at 10:39 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I, personally, feel a chilling effect as a result of this behavior. I come up with a question every week that I think, "Hey, I should ask MeFi", and then I stop and think, "But it would turn into a long snarly thread full of non-answers".

I debated for a long time before I posted my last question. And I even included an invitation at the bottom for people to memail me with their premise-questioning arguments. And yet, of course, nearly the whole thread (in word volume) was full of people telling me not to feed the raccoons.

However, I think there're really two different phenomena we're discussing:

1) Refuting the premise because that's the answer - As in the recent surname thread, the premise is objectively flawed, and that is the answer to the question. This happens all the time, and is the right thing to do. The answer to the question is that you're asking the wrong question.

2) Refuting the premise because the commenter subjectively disagrees with it - As happened in my raccoon puzzle question, the question can be answered, but the commenters choose instead to rant about how it's a bad idea without also answering the question. This is the wrong thing to do.

The fundamental difference between (1) and (2) is that questions of type (1) cannot be answered. "How did the Axis win WWII?" cannot be answered; the Axis didn't win, and so there's no way to answer. Questions of type (2) can be answered. "How do I circumsize myself?" has a host of factual and correct answers. Whether or not you think it's a good idea is not a helpful or informative answer. It's chat.

I don't have a problem with a commenter taking the time to answer a type (2) question and then including a suggestion that the activity in question is a bad idea. In fact, I did it right here: I answered the question (1 xanax plus some booze = a good time), and then also mentioned that she was courting dependence. But if the totality of my answer had been "Man, you're gonna get addicted", I would not have provided the asker with the information she sought.
posted by Netzapper at 10:43 PM on August 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


"How do I circumsize myself?"

Dude. Chainsaw.

Duh.
posted by Artw at 10:44 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, gubo, it was pretty much like that. We'd been having a very interesting discussion over drinks, which canvassed many of the things that posters alluded to in the thread (continuing evolution of names, people inventing their own, marriage, immigration etc). But there was a sense, possibly misplaced, that at some point in history there had been some sort of intervening factor (taxation, probably), that had "settled" the main surnames where they were. I'll admit that after a few wines, I didn't phrase the question in the best way. I shouldn't have paraphrased with the "when did we stop" language, as I clearly knew (and mentioned in the question) that we hadn't. Then I went to bed.

I was absolutely staggered to wake up and find the tenor of some of the comments,which felt a bit like, "duh! How stupid are you, of course we haven't!"

I appreciated Abiezer's efforts to try and keep it on track, and then I avoided getting involved myself and just marked the useful interesting responses as best answers. But it wasn't my most enjoyable AskMefi experience.
posted by szechuan at 10:53 PM on August 23, 2009


"I agree. Firstly, some premises need questioning. Secondly, from memory, and not speaking of the OP here, the people who get in a big tizzy about people not answering the question are often enough pretty seriously invested in getting one kind of answer, and their angry objections to alleged premise-questioning reflect this. Thirdly, AskMe is a community of humans giving their time for free to grapple with whatever topic you've raised, not a machine that you own that you damn well have a right to expect a specific answer to your damn question from goddammit, so I think the benefit of the doubt should always be with answerers."

I agree that some premises need questioning, but I don't see that very often. For example, to a question "How do I drive from Los Angeles to Tokyo", the premise that it's possible needs to be questioned. However, most people don't question the premise, they question the advisability, so you get "premise-questioning" on stuff like "How can I drive from Los Angeles to Seattle?" People ask why you would want to, aren't airplanes faster, Seattle isn't as cool as its cracked up to be, etc...none of which are premises of the question itself.

Second: sure, the people who get in a tizzy are the ones seriously invested, but that doesn't mean they're the only ones annoyed, they're just the ones annoyed enough to bring it to MeTa. There's others of us who get annoyed by "premise-questioning" in other peoples' AskMe's all the time, and just don't MeTa it because it's not clear trolling or clear evil.

Third, AskMe isn't a community of humans giving their time for free to grapple with whatever topic you've raised, it's a community of humans giving their time for free to answer your questions. That's why it's "Ask Metafilter" instead of "Discuss Metafilter". If someone can't answer the question, they shouldn't be there. Sure, it's their free time, but if you're freely giving your time to be unconstructive, wouldn't it be better if you freely used your time to do something else?

Don't get me wrong. There has to be some leeway. Make AskMe too draconian and people will avoid it. But "it's free, so enjoy whatever I give you" is a bad policy. Yahoo Answers is free, too, but I doubt most MeFites would enjoy the answers they would get there.

"I suppose if all a person wants is an answer that is 100% responsive then we need to have a scantron style answer format. Otherwise, people are going to respond conversationally and impulsively, and that is the beauty of AskMe."

No, the beauty of AskMe is getting answers to questions which you don't know the answers to. If "being conversational and impulsive" is the beauty you're after, IRC or the like is much more beautiful.

All that said, this isn't a trolling problem. It's a problem of people not knowing the difference between (less charitable version) "I have something to say about this question" and "I have an answer to this question". Or (more charitable version) not knowing the difference between "I have a question that will help this person get answers" and "I have a question that will hinder this person from getting answers".
posted by Bugbread at 11:06 PM on August 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


I was kidding about the chainsaw BTW. The correct answer is a length of string, an anvil and a tall building.
posted by Artw at 11:46 PM on August 23, 2009



re: the shark fin soup. here's another scenario:

"i like to put jack daniels in my baby's bottle doesn't like it because it's too stong. what can i mix it with to make it more palatable?"

the obvious answer to a question like that would be considered a derail by the same standard. it is possible that the shark fin poster has no idea about the environmental ramifications of shark fin soup, and a helpful pointer wouldn't be out of line.


This analogy doesn't hold though because your hypothetical example is blatantly illegal, which is clearly off-limits in AskMe. Questions that happen to offend your personal values and ethics are not. A more applicable analogy would be someone asking for a recommendation of a reputable abortion doctor in the Phoenix area, and having someone respond with an answer detailing the immorality of abortion and offering alternatives to the procedure ("I know you didn't ask about this, but have you considered adoption?"), which I think we all agree would and should be properly removed as an unhelpful non-answer.

It seems a bit patronizing to assume AskMe users are these confused ignoramuses who need us to enlighten them on aspects of their questions they never asked about in the first place.
posted by The Gooch at 11:54 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was kidding about the chainsaw BTW. The correct answer is a length of string, an anvil and a tall building.

But what if the OP is already circumcised?
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:05 AM on August 24, 2009


I'm just here to add my voice to the chorus of those that find this phenomenon annoying at best, and truly off-putting at worst. I've taken to trying to anticipate the ways people will question my assumptions and spell out why I've considered and rejected alternative ways of seeing the problem when I write my question. Still, there's always one or two people who completely ignore this and go off on their own tangent. Ideally, I just FIAMO or ignore but it's not unusual for these comments to totally derail the thread. In my last anonymous question, there was so much of this going on that I've basically decided that enduring the baseless accusations from people who didn't bother to read what I was saying isn't worth the effort. Yes, I'm probably being overly sensitive but it does have the effect of discouraging participation in AskMe.

And it's true there are certain Mefites that do this all the time.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:31 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like to jump into asks in which the poster has made an out-of-context reference to alcohol and tell them they've got a problem.

I think the fact that you spend this much time thinking about alcohol indicates that you have a huge problem.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:34 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Swimming and cheesecake. For some reason those are two things that I've had people get very serious about encouraging me to partake of. Er, in real life, not AskMe. Even though I'd try to explain that I don't like swimming (with very poor vision losing a contact lens makes for stress, and I've had that happen more than once) I'd still get a Joy of Swimming peptalk. Same with cheesecake - don't much care for the stuff, but if I dare let that slip someone will immediately say "ah, but you haven't had the local cheesecake!" - and they'll get a gleam in their eye, and I know that soon I'll be sampling cheesecake, no matter what I try and say next.
I've learned not to mention swimming or cheesecake in conversations.
And I'll probably never mention either in AskMe, just to be safe.
posted by batgrlHG at 1:11 AM on August 24, 2009


Someone asks a question, and posters, in lieu of answering the question posed, question the basis of the question.

A worse problem is that people just don't read the damn question, half the time.

If I ask for answers that aren't anecdotal speculation, please don't contribute anecdotal speculation. If I am very clearly not asking for lectures about a particular subject matter, don't lecture me.

If I put these warnings into the very question itself, they get ignored. If I flag these answers, the flag gets ignored and the answer remains.

To me, these problems are worse than subtle answers, which require a more nuanced interpretation of motive on the part of the answerer, and are more directly solvable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:27 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think I will post more questions not to get answers, but because I need people to tell me I'm wrong.* My best brutally honest friends all live far away now so, as someone who is occasionally a dumbass, I don't get verbal smackdowns as often as I deserve.

I would also appreciate if you tell me when 1) I need a haircut 2) my clothes are unintentionally dorky 3) I am not as funny as I think I am and need to be quiet for awhile. TIA.

*However, if I'm driving and I say we aren't lost, we aren't lost. I promise. But if you get bossy about it, to prove it, I will follow your directions instead of arguing, then we will end up the wrong place and it will be all your fault.
posted by little e at 1:27 AM on August 24, 2009


If I put these warnings into the very question itself, they get ignored. If I flag these answers, the flag gets ignored and the answer remains.

In general I wholeheartedly support the mod policies on this site. It's the reason I stay here while ignoring nearly the rest of the social internet.

But you have a very valid point.

There does seem to be a definite sense that "fostering discussion" trumps useful answers. The result being that there appears to be very little recourse for answers that derail the discourse, but that do include a couple of the keywords of the subject.

What's more, if you threadsit and try to steer the direction of discourse, you discourage people from answering.

The near complete inability of the OP to direct the course of conversation, because of a combination of light-handed mod policies and hide-bound etiquette, drastically reduces the utility of ask.me. The early answers in a thread often set the tone of the rest of the discussion. One eloquent argument of "well, have you considered adoption?" often turns the whole damn thread into an argument over the validity of a comment without ever discussing the question.

[I believe the early-comments-set-tone problem is big enough that I sometimes think that ask.me would benefit from a feature whereby the thread is invisible to you until you've either submitted your answer or waived any right to answer.]

The comparison to Yahoo! Answers above rings true for me. While we do have a higher level of grammar here, and much smarter people, the discourse is often about as on-target as Y!A.

But maybe I'm just bitter because my ask.me questions almost never result in the sort of spirited and imaginative answers that I see in other threads. And it certainly annoys me that RelationshipFilter is the only thing that consistently gets heartfelt and considered answers.
posted by Netzapper at 2:59 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


What really annoys me is when the asker doesn't get it.
posted by orthogonality at 3:25 AM on August 24, 2009


I used to flag non-answers, but there are just so many these days, especially on anonymous questions. It's frustrating because there really truly used to be a "just answer the question" culture on AskMe, but the culture has changed, and the old one isn't coming back. Just gotta deal with it, I guess.
posted by equalpants at 3:44 AM on August 24, 2009


i herd russia was invadin georgia but i live in atlanta an i dont see any tanks wats goin on
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:45 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Netzapper: The near complete inability of the OP to direct the course of conversation, because of a combination of light-handed mod policies and hide-bound etiquette, drastically reduces the utility of ask.me.

I believe the exact opposite is the case.

ask.metafilter works fantastically because it's analogous to the open-source model. The whole open-source licensing thing makes no intuitive sense to lots of companies who have been standing around dumbfounded staring at the GNU general license for decades and saying: but this limits us, not our customers! We wanted a license that gave us power and limited the people we sold things to! What's the point of giving up power? The point, as many of the companies know who are now actually making money in tech (preeminently Google, for example) is that limiting yourself buys you credibility within a community that can provide real help.

In the same way, ask.metafilter doesn't limit answerers much beyond requiring that they be answering in good faith; the limits are placed on the people who ask the questions. This is, I think, as it should be; there's enough good will in the community to offer good answers to nearly any question so long as it's asked well, and the askers, by submitting to the rules and trying to lay out their questions correctly, demonstrate to the community that they're a credible and good-faith asker, worthy of the good faith they're getting in return through their answers.

To be a little more blunt: you're missing something fundamental about the nature of asking for advice. The scary thing about asking people a question is: they can answer it however they choose. If you consistently don't like the answers you get, then it seems to me that you have two options: either quit asking questions, or learn to appreciate the views of others and to try to see some benefit to them.

I believe the early-comments-set-tone problem is big enough that I sometimes think that ask.me would benefit from a feature whereby the thread is invisible to you until you've either submitted your answer or waived any right to answer.

And it seems to me in accord with the evidence to say that a larger problem than the 'early-comments-set-tone problem' is the 'actual-question-itself-sets-wrong-tone problem.' Your solution would be a disaster, because early threads are often where the answerers are fumbling through and discovering what the question was actually about and moving on form there; make that invisible, and everybody has to start from scratch. And, yes, it occurs to me that you might just recommend that the asker's responses be visible; but it you actually look at ask.metafilter, you'll see pretty clearly that askers hardly ever follow-up.

The comparison to Yahoo! Answers above rings true for me. While we do have a higher level of grammar here, and much smarter people, the discourse is often about as on-target as Y!A... But maybe I'm just bitter because my ask.me questions almost never result in the sort of spirited and imaginative answers that I see in other threads. And it certainly annoys me that RelationshipFilter is the only thing that consistently gets heartfelt and considered answers.

Something tells me you're being a bit dishonest, considering that you've asked 14 questions in the last year, more than one a month, which is surely above average around here. Is there really nothing you get out of these questions and answers? Is there really nothing you hear back from respondents that isn't as simple and stupid as what you'd hear on yahoo? Did you ask that many questions on yahoo last year?

And if you're disappointed by how certain questions go - say, for example, your raccoon question - maybe you should think about how you can phrase them in a way that's less condescending. The pretty obvious condescension at the end of the question was what led to the derails in the raccoon thread, frankly, and if it hadn't been there, the question probably would've gone over fine. A question like "what kinds of games do raccoons like?" and "what kinds of games could I build for raccoons?" might've gone over just fine if you'd simply implied that you'd never do such a thing or said that this was purely theoretical; but you pretty much put a match to the whole thing when you gave in to the temptation to end your question with

And if you came in here to tell me not to feed the raccoons: I'll accept reasoned arguments to that effect via email, so long as you don't feed any wildlife either (including birds).

which is basically the same thing as

And if you came in here to tell me not to feed the raccoons: I'm right, you're wrong, and I won't even discuss it with you because I think you're a hypocrite, so you'd better not waste my time in this thread.

Basically: if you don't like the answers you get, then don't ask. This truth which holds in many realms of life stems from the fact that we can't control other people or force them to answer questions the exact way we'd like them to. That's the risk you're taking when you ask a question here - people could say anything, and you will almost certainly get an answer you didn't anticipate. If you're open to that possibility, then you're much more likely to get something out of it than you are if you spend most of your time in ask.metafilter asking questions with very specific answers in mind and little patience for responses that fall outside the lines.
posted by koeselitz at 4:26 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was absolutely staggered to wake up and find the tenor of some of the comments,which felt a bit like, "duh! How stupid are you, of course we haven't!"

The common complaint from myself and personal friends of mine who have used Ask.Me is that, well, everyone talks to you as if you're a moron. It seems as if in order to avoid this you'd have to dump into the question your entire thoughts on the matter and context. But that can get you into trouble too.

This recent question from my friend lucia, for example. She was just asking where to find live snails. She, unfortunately, left out that she's been picking and cooking and eating snails her entire life. So, people chimed in with all sorts of warnings and patronizing advice. Its fine, she followed up and added more info later.

Or, some one will ask about general trends and receive a list of exceptions which they didnt ask for. The surname thread is a good example. Or when someone asks "When did full-service start dissapearing in gas stations?" I can see how a thread like that goes. All sorts chime in to say "Well, at my gas station in ruralville they still have full-service so the answer is never!" And people chime in to fill the thread with anecdotes.

I understand that advice is free in Ask Metafilter but if you should consider the goodwill of all the people who are taking a few moments to help you answer your question, well, that needs to be balanced with the questionable goodwill of many people who have just spotted a chance to chat and relate some tangentially related anecdote of theirs - thus cluttering up your thread - and the very questionable goodwill of people just looking for a chance to talk down to you.
posted by vacapinta at 4:27 AM on August 24, 2009 [7 favorites]


Or, to put it more simply:

Letting the original posters of questions run the discussion would be a mistake because they're the ones asking the question, so - as long as they're asking honestly - they don't know. The answerers - again, as long as they're answering in good faith - are the ones who know. And it should be in their hands to answer as they see fit, for better or for worse; otherwise, we're not talking about people answering questions, we're talking about machines chattering when they're commanded to.
posted by koeselitz at 4:30 AM on August 24, 2009


Netzapper: But if the totality of my answer had been "Man, you're gonna get addicted", I would not have provided the asker with the information she sought.

There are cases in which that's the only well-intentioned response you can give. Questions aren't lists of commands to be followed by the people who answer them; they're just queries, and being non-machines, we can think creatively about queries and give responses which we believe will help in a given circumstance.
posted by koeselitz at 4:33 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


No really, it's ok to challenge the premise of the question, if done so in a positive manner.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I come up with a question every week that I think, "Hey, I should ask MeFi", and then I stop and think, "But it would turn into a long snarly thread full of non-answers".

It's just a question. I think you're overthinking this. The worst that can happen is that you need to ask again next week. The answers on your question are not a personal judgment of you.
posted by smackfu at 5:51 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Same with cheesecake - don't much care for the stuff, but if I dare let that slip someone will immediately say "ah, but you haven't had the local cheesecake!" - and they'll get a gleam in their eye, and I know that soon I'll be sampling cheesecake, no matter what I try and say next.

I get this all the time with tofu. "But you haven't had _my_ tofu!"
posted by not that girl at 6:16 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I quite like that jimmyjimjim's recent Lockerbie thread has the assumption-questioners' answers marked as the best ones.
posted by Dysk at 6:42 AM on August 24, 2009


batgrlHG: Swimming and cheesecake. For some reason those are two things that I've had people get very serious about encouraging me to partake of. Er, in real life, not AskMe. Even though I'd try to explain that I don't like swimming (with very poor vision losing a contact lens makes for stress, and I've had that happen more than once) I'd still get a Joy of Swimming peptalk. Same with cheesecake - don't much care for the stuff, but if I dare let that slip someone will immediately say "ah, but you haven't had the local cheesecake!" - and they'll get a gleam in their eye, and I know that soon I'll be sampling cheesecake, no matter what I try and say next. I've learned not to mention swimming or cheesecake in conversations.

I've heard lots of people say the same thing... before they tried my famous swimming cheesecake.

Seriously, let me fish one out of the tank for you - I swear it'll change your mind.
posted by koeselitz at 7:07 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think what we have here isn't a case of "people trolling AskMe," but rather a case of "human nature being human nature." If you ask a question in public, and solicit advice, a percentage of that advice is going to be pointless, is not going to be germane to the question, and is going to make you wonder if the people were even listening.

Fortunately, disregarding that advice is always an option. Flagging it if you really think it's bad or harmful also works (to wit: I keep on seeing someone posting the same "it's all in your head" advice in every single last question that deals with muscle pain, but it doesn't stay there long).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:10 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I quite like that jimmyjimjim's recent Lockerbie thread has the assumption-questioners' answers marked as the best ones."

Then you are misunderstanding what I'm talking about here. This problem did not occur on the Lockerbie thread at all. I thought it was an awesome great thread.

Anyway...

There are clearly a large number of people here who seem to share my feeling. And many of those who don't haven't read real carefully (I said, after all, that "sometimes assumptions are truly faulty and really ought to be questioned", so arguing back, as more than a few did, with the observation that, uh, sometimes assumptions are truly faulty and really ought to be questioned doesn't really take the discussion very far). But there's one point I forgot to make. For those who think this is about whiny weenie OPs insisting that their threads play out exactly as they'd like, and being way too oversensitive about random and non-useful replies, the reason this is a problem is that when a critical mass of assumption questioning takes place, the thread can very easily be hijacked by that......for reasons explained in my OP (there's a lot more meaty juice to get things all stirred up in the assumptions than there are in the questions).

And let me say it again for the less clueful: sometimes assumptions are so obviously and perilously wrong that the thread must swing around to be about the assumptions. But I'd say that sort of tough love is required only very rarely. People come here to get their questions answered, and unless they're phenomenally dumb questions, those without help to offer, who just want to pick apart the questions and the questioner (without actually answering the question), are TROLLING. Sorry, there's no other word for it.

If you're the withering asshole sort, most questions contain specks of dumbness (or one can snarkily maneuver to cast stuff in a dumb light) and picking at them is irresistible (it's happened right here, in fact....e.g. Withering Asshole Brandon Blatcher, your "joke" was just hilarious!) It's exactly the same impulse that propels grammar and spelling nazis.

But, um, unless I'm really missing something fundamental about AskMeFi, I feel like the purpose is answering questions, not picking at questions and questioners. Trolls love to pick. The sort of participant OPs come hope to see don't have that impulse. They just want to help. That's why I'm creating a distinction and posting about it here. But seems TPTB don't mind it. And I respect that this place should have the flavor they're aiming for, not me. It's still a great resource.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 7:50 AM on August 24, 2009


People come here to get their questions answered, and unless they're phenomenally dumb questions, those without help to offer, who just want to pick apart the questions and the questioner (without actually answering the question), are TROLLING. Sorry, there's no other word for it.

Sorry, you don't seem to understand what "trolling" is.
posted by grouse at 8:13 AM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


People come here to get their questions answered, and unless they're phenomenally dumb questions, those without help to offer, who just want to pick apart the questions and the questioner (without actually answering the question), are TROLLING.

No. "trolling" is what you call someone being deliberately inflammatory for its own sake, expressly to get an argument going, because you get your rocks off that way. You don't necessarily believe the things you're saying, you're just stirring up shit because you think it's funny.

People who offer alternate opinions of the questions, or pick apart the questioner, may be rude, but they're not trolling.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


in many instances even if the phrasing isn't ideal we can find the key question

I think that we think we can find the key question, but that's often open to interpretation. You were able to perceive the key question where others weren't - but that others were not is not all that surprising, given that a complex question with clauses and parameters was superseded by following it with a simple, unisyllabic question that read as much more powerful, as though everything leading up to it were, in fact, the premise of the question "When did we stop creating surnames?" And even the OP acknowledges that the phrasing could create confusion. But there are other instances where people think they have perceived a key question, but they're wrong, at least as the OP conceives of it. The swimming question is a good example of that. Count me among those who read the question and thought "The OP loves the benefits of swimming but is having trouble with her pool management company and the expense of switching pools" not "The OP wants to stop swimming." It was easy to get an incorrect read in that question, too.

The near complete inability of the OP to direct the course of conversation, because of a combination of light-handed mod policies and hide-bound etiquette, drastically reduces the utility of ask.me.


This confused me, too. There's no "near complete inability" with the single exception of anonymous questions (and even then you can clarify through a mod). I've jumped in my own threads to clarify, and so do others. It's common and I'm not aware of policies against clarification. Light-handed moderation would only allow this, not prohibit it. And what hide-bound etiquette? The etiquette is against hectoring your thread by responding to every single comment and cluttering the field, not against refocusing the question when things go off track.

This really is a question about dealing with human beings. As someone said above, we're not machines - we're trying to communicate, and it's a multidirectional process. It's also an open-ended process. There are no guarantees that AskMe will answer your question - you don't get your money back if you don't receive a good answer. And there are no guarantees that even if you get fifty specific answers to the exact question you asked and they're all in perfect agreement, that those are actually the correct answers or the best answers. This format offers a query of human minds and individual thoughts, not a definitive research process.

It makes me feel a little sad that some people would prefer not to use a useful tool rather than learn to manage the tool - as if we would rather just gnaw on whole pieces of meat rather than learn to safely use knives to cut it. One of the first rules of tool usage is: know what tool is best for your job, and know what the tool can and can't do well. AskMe can give you a range of responses to a practical or moral dilemma from a variety of people of different ages, professions, and geographical backgrounds. It can't provide you a complete and definitive answer every time, especially for more open-ended and debatable questions. And you can't control each and every person's reading of your question: all you can do is ask it as best you can, and facilitate understanding of your question when it turns out that that understanding is absent.
posted by Miko at 8:20 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: We Would Rather Just Gnaw on Whole Pieces of Meat.
posted by Mister_A at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I keep on seeing someone posting the same "it's all in your head" advice in every single last question that deals with muscle pain, but it doesn't stay there long).

Maybe he can start a club with the person* who posts in every single mental illness question to tell the OP to grow up/relax because mental illness doesn't exist



*there is actually more than one person who does this
posted by kathrineg at 8:37 AM on August 24, 2009


People come here to get their questions answered, and unless they're phenomenally dumb questions, those without help to offer, who just want to pick apart the questions and the questioner (without actually answering the question), are TROLLING

Trolling really isn't a great word for this phenomenon. The situation is complicated by the ongoing dilution and expansion of what the word means over time, but insofar as it has any fairly specific domain of meaning it is talking about something that happens very rarely on askme, even from folks who aren't doing a great job of focusing on answering the question.

I agree with you that the behavior of people letting themselves jump in to sort of correct-or-kvetch about some detail of the question exists. I agree with you that less of it would be good. We delete a lot of that stuff when we see it—people flagging it when they see it helps us do that, too—but it's again a situation where there's a big spectrum of responsiveness and not everything that could potentially annoy an asker or a reader is going to be removed.

But, regardless, yes: "trolling" isn't a great word to use to try to characterize it. That summons in most people's minds a fairly specific and fairly extreme style of behavior that just doesn't manifest much (and doesn't live long when it does) in AskMe. Folks are arguing with you about that word not because they don't believe the behavior you object to exists but because the word you're using to describe it is not apt.

What Miko just said about tool use and askme-as-human-resource captures a lot of what I think the strengths and the weaknesses of askme amount to: you have to go in knowing you're canvassing a crowd, that you're rolling the dice and getting a random sampling of what is collectively an awesome userbase but which in any given random trial may not be as awesome as you want. I'd love it if every question was asked awesomely and got awesome answers, but it's a mistake to expect that or to think that that was ever, ever the case here.

(to wit: I keep on seeing someone posting the same "it's all in your head" advice in every single last question that deals with muscle pain, but it doesn't stay there long)

Those disappear so quickly because they're not actually ever posted, it's all in your head. Google Dr. Sean Jerno!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dear AskMe,

My mistress has an old cat, and every time I slip around for a booty call, the damn thing jumps on my back and starts clawing the hell out of me. Now, I know how you all feel about declawing cats -- that's a no-no, right? But this cat just doesn't deserve to live.

I'm not a monster -- I want to dispatch the cat humanely. I'm not going to just slip the thing into a bag, tie up the bag and drop it into the river. But my concubine isn't going to go with a trip to the vets, or the RSPCA to have it done there. She'd just get all emotional and pissed off.

So I'm looking for a surreptitious and relatively painless way to do the deed. I'm thinking probably some sort of poison? If I could lay my hands on some Nembutal or another barbiturate, that would probably work fine, but most sleepers these days are benzodiazapine and they seem pretty safe in respect of causing overdose. And it doesn't have to be completely painless, but I'd like to minimize unnecessary suffering?

So, I'm throwing myself on the mercy of the Hive Mind. Someone out there must have experience of murdering moggies in a moderately? I can't be the only person who's ever been in this situation, so surely some of you who have been through this or a similar situation can help a fellow adulterer out?

I mean, I like to think I'm a tolerant and liberal kind of guy, but these claw marks are just too much. Every time I go home, I take off my shirt and my wife keeps accusing me of having sex with other women because of the scratch marks. I keep on telling her that it's a cat in the bar around the corner from the office, but she's not buying it.

Answerer doesn't have to be gender or animal specific either. If there are women out there who've put an end to a paramour's pooch that wouldn't get it's nose out of your crotch, I'd like to hear from you as well.

Signed,
Anonymous.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:40 AM on August 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


But, um, unless I'm really missing something fundamental about AskMeFi, I feel like the purpose is answering questions, not picking at questions and questioners.

The two are not as mutually exclusive as you seem to be implying. As others have noted, there's nothing inherently wrong with looking at the assumptions behind the question, lord knows I had to deal with that in my last AskMe question. It's ok though, because it makes a person and ultimately they don't have to do a damn thing that AskMe suggests.

it's happened right here, in fact....e.g. Withering Asshole Brandon Blatcher, your "joke" was just hilarious!)

Then allow me to apologize. It was meant as gentle ribbing, but in retrospect it could have been better stated or simply left out. No harm was meant and I hope you can forgive me for being thoughtless in writing that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:42 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now Blatcher has joined the huggists? What the hell?
posted by Mister_A at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2009


Those who do not directly answer a question should probably do that AND provide their off-topic feedback. This may cut down on derails and make it easiermore difficult for mods to do their jobs.
posted by kalessin at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2009


Now Blatcher has joined the huggists? What the hell?

He's been mellowing ever since he spoused me. I'm a good influence.
posted by not that girl at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2009


Withering Asshole Brandon Blatcher

Don't talk about my spouse that way!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:18 AM on August 24, 2009


Catfight!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:25 AM on August 24, 2009


Bringing the laser pointer to the last meetup was a bad idea
posted by kathrineg at 10:26 AM on August 24, 2009


Yeah, if I was in a room with my multiple spouses and I noticed a red dot dancing around on my chest, my asshole would wither as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:37 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Now Blatcher has joined the huggists? What the hell?

Good health benefits so I'm stuck here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:43 AM on August 24, 2009


Is this the same thing as "willful misunderstanding"?
posted by i'm being pummeled very heavily at 11:14 AM on August 24, 2009


There are a few different problems at work here.

Already mentioned: the know-it-alls. Example: translation questions. This may not be due to attitude that the person in fact knows it all, but they just can’t refrain from submitting their guess.

Also mentioned: the half-read question. I’m looking for a web site that allows you to post photos and comments other than Flickr, because I hate that goddamned interface.
-Hey, have you tried Flickr?

Then there's the personally offended derail. I’m looking for a web site that allows you to post photos and comments other than Flickr, because I hate that goddamned interface.
- Flickr is awesome! I don’t know what you’re on about. You know what? Flickr is probably better off without your crappy pictures. You don't *deserve* Flickr!

Note that relationship questions often draw this kind of fire. Thinking of dumping someone? Expect to hear from a half dozen people who have been dumped and want to have some words with you (which could be ok, but not when they’re more interested in glossing over (or “questioning”) the details you’ve provided so as to be able to vent about their own experience. This is where gender bias tends to come in, too. Thinking of dumping him? He probably deserved it! Thinking of dumping her? You should be thankful to have a shot with her at all you bastard!

Obviously not as black and white as this, but sure, this happens. In lesser shades it happens a lot. That being said, yeah, you're almost always going to get a range of answers. If you're personally invested in your question, steel yourself for the bad answers you know you're going to have to skip over (but see) and take what good there is.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:16 AM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, the less someone knows about a subject, the more they overestimate their knowledge about that subject.
posted by kathrineg at 11:18 AM on August 24, 2009


Unfortunately, the less someone knows about a subject, the more they overestimate their knowledge about that subject.

That's so very true.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, the less someone knows about a subject, the more they overestimate their knowledge about that subject.

Dunning-Kruger Effect. It's SCIENCE!
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:31 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


But, um, unless I'm really missing something fundamental about AskMeFi

I think you are missing something fundamental, and my apoligies if someone has already pointed this out upthread...

AskMe is a public utility, not a private one. You ask your answers in public, and they are responded to in public, not to humiliate or agrivate you, but so that in the future the question and answer pages can be viewed by the public. AskMe should not be seen as a way to get your personal questions answered, but rather as a way to create a question/answer resource that can then be used by everyone else who ever has the same question. Even anonymous, highly personal relationship questions can be helpful to strangers with similar issues. I strongly believe you should try to think of AskMe in this way. Every question you ask should be for the benefit of the internet as much as for yourself.

Yes, this might reduce the efficiency of AskMe to a small degree, but it increases the utility of AskMe immeasurably.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 11:36 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, the less someone knows about a subject, the more they overestimate their knowledge about that subject.

my mother wrote that on the cake at my grad party.
posted by Think_Long at 11:38 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Uh, "You ask your answers questions in public", not your answers. Sorry.

Although a Jeopardy style reverse of AskMe might make for a fun April Fools Joke. Best Answers on the outside, questions inside.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 11:38 AM on August 24, 2009


"Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own
Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments"

I feel like reading and understanding this paper should be a prerequisite for every single intro college class ever. Especially in the humanities and social sciences.
posted by kathrineg at 11:46 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, sometimes learning about psychology is like looking at pictures of yourself when you thought you were looking really awesome but just, no
posted by kathrineg at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Note that relationship questions often draw this kind of fire. Thinking of dumping someone? Expect to hear from a half dozen people who have been dumped and want to have some words with you (which could be ok, but not when they’re more interested in glossing over (or “questioning”) the details you’ve provided so as to be able to vent about their own experience.

*raises hand guiltily* I know I've done this in real life, if that's a data point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on August 24, 2009


Unfortunately, the less someone knows about a subject, the more they overestimate their knowledge about that subject.

Very true, but were you implying that this is a problem limited to question-answerers? It's sadly just as common among askers.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:01 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, not really, although it's much more annoying when it comes in the form of an answer
posted by kathrineg at 12:15 PM on August 24, 2009


the know-it-alls. Example: translation questions. This may not be due to attitude that the person in fact knows it all, but they just can’t refrain from submitting their guess.

But notice that this is the same fuel that AskMe runs on: people really, really do want to answer, or try to answer. If no one cared to submit what they [think they] know, there would be no answers.

And what a wonderful thing happens when people make a guess, even an uninformed guess, and later in the thread someone with more authoritative information shows up. The person with the wrong guess learns something (even if it's only more information about where the limits of their knowledge lie) and everyone else learns something, as well.

The fact that there are erroneous guesses already present (a) does nothing to diminish the power of a more correct answer and (b) may even motivate the more correct answerer putting more attention and information into crafting the answer, so as to clear up misconceptions the imperfect answers may create.

No harm done by guesses. Everyone learns something. And if the more authoritative person never shows up, they would not have shown up anyway, leaving the question unanswered.

Guesses increase the likelihood of more complete, better answers.
posted by Miko at 12:16 PM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


The problem is when the asker does not have the capacity or knowledge to evaluate the answers, and someone answers with a confident wrong answer.
posted by kathrineg at 12:19 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem is when the asker does not have the capacity or knowledge to evaluate the answers, and someone answers with a confident wrong answer.

That's what's great about a public forum; we can hope that someone will stumble into the conversation and set the record straight, unlike, say when we ask our unqualified friends to give us relationship advice in real life.

I stand by what I said about this topic in the last meTa where it came up, incidentally. The more open to a variety of answers you are, the better answers you'll get. It might bother you that people on the internet think they know about everything, including your own life, but if you aren't reasonably confident that there are people who knew the answers better than you do, why ask the internet in the first place?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:34 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


And what a wonderful thing happens when people make a guess, even an uninformed guess, and later in the thread someone with more authoritative information shows up. The person with the wrong guess learns something (even if it's only more information about where the limits of their knowledge lie) and everyone else learns something, as well.

Also, I can't be the only one who thinks languagehat secretly (or not so secretly?) LOVES it when five people post some random speculative bullshit about the origin of a word, so that he can suavely step in and school them. It's a symbiotic relationship.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:35 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I say this as someone whose first ask question (now anonymous) featured plenty of people who told me that I was wrong about my own sexuality. Sure, I still disagree with those people, but I really believe that they gave those answers in good faith, not to be twerps.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:36 PM on August 24, 2009


The problem is when the asker does not have the capacity or knowledge to evaluate the answers, and someone answers with a confident wrong answer

Only if the asker doesn't wait for the natural self-correcting nature of the hive mind to kick in, which it will.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:37 PM on August 24, 2009


I hope so; there is no real way to keep people from being people.
posted by kathrineg at 12:40 PM on August 24, 2009


I don't mind the guesses so much, myself. But I understand it can be frustrating to those who ask technical questions, or specifically ask for those with first-hand experience with something.

The bottom line is that there is always going to be some wheat/chaff mix. You don't go to AskMe looking for the pure product. But then, where are you going to find that? Your friends? Parents? Lover? Therapist? It ain't gonna happen.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:41 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even when the asker can't properly evaluate the answers (which happens more often than one would wish, but there you go) in what way are they worse off for asking? Are they worse off than if they had not asked at all and gotten no answers?

What about when the Asker can't identify the best answer, but the majority of readers easily can? What is the cumulative benefit of the question's being asked? Is it greater than if the question had not been asked?
posted by Miko at 12:43 PM on August 24, 2009


Getting the wrong answers and being encouraged to act on them is sometimes worse then getting no answers. I doubt we have the ability to measure when and how often this occurs. I notice it most in threads for legal advice. There are a lot of people who don't understand that different states (and municipalities) have different laws.

What about when the Asker can't identify the best answer, but the majority of readers easily can?

This leads to the most frustrating situation on AskMe, where the asker accepts an obviously incorrect answer out of ignorance. C'est la vie.

What is the cumulative benefit of the question's being asked? Is it greater than if the question had not been asked?

We really have no way of knowing that, even for those questions which are asked and answered perfectly.
posted by kathrineg at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2009


Getting the wrong answers and being encouraged to act on them is sometimes worse then getting no answers.

Really? Where is the Asker's responsibility here? Are we to say that the answerers are responsible for actions the Asker takes after recieving answers?

It's really hard for me to imagine a situation in which more information, which includes bad information, is better than no information.
posted by Miko at 12:59 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Q: What should I do in this delicate roommate situation? I live in New York.
A: Change the locks and put his stuff on the street, it's perfectly legal
posted by kathrineg at 1:04 PM on August 24, 2009


I agree with you that that is a bad answer. The questions I'm asking are:

1. How common is it that that would be the only answer given in a thread?

2. If the Asker follows this advice, is the answerer giving the bad advice the one at fault? Or the Asker who actually took the action without confirming its legality?

3. Because there exists a possibility, however rare, of this occurring, is it worth shutting down the resource of Ask Me to prevent the occurence of this single rare negative outcome, or is there arguably cumulative benefit to the resource that is greater than the cumulative harm?

4. Isn't the presence of this bad answer in itself likelier to incite a good answer than a thread in which there are no answers at all? (I behaved that way myself last night in a thread about someone who kept falling asleep in classes and found it was harming their academic success. There were many answers about diet, caffeine, habits, etc, but not enough answerers had suggested a medical cause. It was the precise lack of that answer that caused me to weigh in on a question I would normally not have commented on.) In other words, if you see this question hanging out there with only the bad answer, aren't your more likely to jump in and say "Do check the laws in your state by calling your public advocate [link] or a reference desk [link]! This might not be legal there."
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on August 24, 2009


Also, you've got to weigh up the consequences of people acting on wrong information that they've got on AskMe, with the consequences of acting on wrong information that they get elsewhere.

Personally, I've always regarded AskMe as a starting point -- a place where people can point me in the right direction, rather than a place where I'll find a final definitive answer. And if there's a serious risk associated with the consequences of getting it wrong, then I'm definitely not relying solely on the input from AskMe -- I'm going to pay for expert advice. But AskMe might point me in the right direction for finding that expert advice, or equip me with the right questions to ask when I'm spending my limited resources on buying that expertise.

Ultimately, if you're smart, you're going to exercise due diligence with free advice received over the internet. And if you're a bonehead, whether it's good advice or bad advice, your boneheadedness is eventually going to cause problems for you.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:19 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


1. I have no idea, I doubt it's that common; I imagine it's more common that there is only one incorrect type of answer given in a thread because there are only a few people floating around the site who are actually capable of ascertaining what type of answer is appropriate

2. I think that they are both somewhat at fault, although I'd be hard-pressed to be upset with people who are trying their best as long as they're doing it with a good attitude and in good faith

3. I don't think that shutting down AskMe is in any way a solution to the problems that we've been discussing, most of which stem from humans being humans. I think that we should all accept the possibility that our answers have a real capability to do harm, in the same way that all of our actions have the capability to do harm. That means that we should think before we type, clarify our level of expertise when we answer, and avoid misleading others, etc.

There is no way that we can know whether AskMe is a cumulative benefit or a cumulative harm based on the information we have now. We just don't have enough data. We do have enough data to know that sometimes people irritate us and MetaTalk is a good place to bitch about it.

4. I don't know that to be the case, but my completely subjective feeling is that people will weigh in on those threads as long as they feel those threads lack their particular perspective/answer. I popped into that same thread to talk about ADD, not because the other answers were bad but because ADD had not yet been mentioned. I would have done the same in an empty thread. Of course my experience is not generalizable*. Bad answers actually tend to lower the quality of my answers, I think, because when they are particularly bad I get angry and that lowers the overall quality of my answer.



*holy shit, is this really a word?
posted by kathrineg at 1:32 PM on August 24, 2009


There is no way that we can know whether AskMe is a cumulative benefit or a cumulative harm based on the information we have now. We just don't have enough data. We do have enough data to know that sometimes people irritate us and MetaTalk is a good place to bitch about it.

I think this is the root of any disagreement I might have with your statements, since I generally agree with you. But I am strongly biased toward more information. It seems to me nearly irrefutable that more information, which includes bad information, is always better than no information. When no one asks, and no one answers, there can be no information offered. My bias is toward an abundance of information and a range of answers. The quality of answer (some) to emerge from that is much better than the quality of answer (null set) to a question never asked and never answered.
posted by Miko at 1:44 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have to say that I am probably really frequently guilty of this in AskMe, although not deliberately. And, when it is sincere and rational, I hope people bring this approach to answering questions I might post!

For example, if I posted a question asking whether it was best to take either I95 or the PA Turnpike to get to UPenn hospital for my doc appointment on Wednesday, given the ongoing construction on the South Street exit, I would be THRILLED if someone suggested a different route that I might not be aware of. Nor would I be remotely offended by someone suggesting I should avoid the whole issue by taking Septa. (No, I am not trying to sneak in a question. I've already decided to take Septa so I can hang out and get drunk downtown after without having to worry about driving home.)

I think AskMe, as a resource, would be far LESS useful if people felt shamed out of offering those extra tidbits. Of course, sometimes people might say "I've considered the train but I live 30 minutes from the nearest station so it's no good, need driving directions only" and get umpteen suggestions to take the train anyway. That - not so good. But frankly, I am SCARED to answer any question shelleycat might ask - the level of anger shown if I might suggest something that wasn't what she wanted sort of would make me look over my shoulder in dark alleys at night. For me, unless someone has specifically said they've already ruled out a third option, I will suggest it if it makes the most sense. And as echoed above with the rewiring with string v spaghetti analogy, if the already-discounted option is really the only one that makes sense, I might even defend it against the OPs wishes. Again, all with sincerity and the intention of submitting a "real" answer.

I considered asking an odd question on AskMe recently, and because it had some potential self-link characteristics I ran it by Jessamyn first. I am really glad I did, because she warned me that although the question was okay, I might not like the answers I would get. She was RIGHT. I didn't ask the question - later I reworked it and got the help I needed using AskMe in a smarter way. So, I think if people are really intent in only wanting certain answers or will be really tragically upset by receiving alternate suggestions, they might want to think about getting some mod input/assistance.

I hate the feeling that AskMe would exist only to mirror the thoughts an OP already had - that I should either agree with them, or zip it. I always endeavor to answer in good faith, but I will frequently deviate within reason or question the premise if doing so makes sense and can be done with reasonable civility.
posted by bunnycup at 1:44 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


3. I don't think that shutting down AskMe is in any way a solution to the problems that we've been discussing, most of which stem from humans being humans. I think that we should all accept the possibility that our answers have a real capability to do harm, in the same way that all of our actions have the capability to do harm. That means that we should think before we type, clarify our level of expertise when we answer, and avoid misleading others, etc.

My basic point is that I think this is the general status quo at present. In the cases where it's not in evidence, I'm unsure that "should" statements in MeTa are going to solve it. Ideally everyone would behave this way. In reality, we know that they do not. Therefore, the 'caveat Asker' principle is always in effect, and adding more good information will help to reduce the impact of bad information.
posted by Miko at 1:48 PM on August 24, 2009


> It seems to me nearly irrefutable that more information, which includes bad information, is always better than no information.

Man, I usually agree with you, Miko, but this seems to me not just wrong but utterly and bizarrely wrong. "Bad information" is not information, it's noise. The only thing I can think is that you're conflating fuzzy relationship-style questions that don't have actual answers with fact-based questions that do. It may not do any harm to tell someone to DTMFA or see a lawyer, but if they ask the second type of question and get a bad answer, no, that's not "better than no information," it's quite the reverse. If someone asks "How do you say 'I'm embarrassed' in Spanish?" and some idiot with vague memories of high school Spanish says "Estoy embarazada," that's not helpful, because embarazada means 'pregnant.' And if you're going to say "Well, someone will come along and correct it," you don't know that. I'm absolutely positive there are lots of AskMe threads sitting there with false and uncorrected "answers."

I say again, if you don't actually know the answer (in a fact-based question), shut up and let somebody who does provide it.
posted by languagehat at 1:53 PM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yes, I think we generally agree on most points.

I don't think that more information (regardless of quality) is necessarily better than no information. My hunch is that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. I think it's a question that could be answered with systematic research, which is cool to think about.

My personal bias is towards more information, good and bad, because I generally have the capacity to confirm or refute the information and because I like reading stuff.
posted by kathrineg at 1:55 PM on August 24, 2009


some idiot with vague memories of high school Spanish

At least those people are acting in good faith, and probably think they are correct.

The absolutely unacceptable answers are from someone who googled "Spanish translation" and typed in the question, then say "I don't know Spanish but..." You can fake it with Wikipedia and Google on a lot of subjects, but language translation is not one of them.
posted by smackfu at 2:01 PM on August 24, 2009


I'm actually astounded that some of you think that more information which includes bad information is better than no information.

I agree with you that it's not as good as only accurate information, but in this environment, we can never expect only accurate information.

I say again, if you don't actually know the answer (in a fact-based question), shut up and let somebody who does provide it.

Again, this would certainly be ideal, but we don't have a way to enforce it or to make people behave this way. Behaviorally, the overwhelming evidence is that they won't. So I'd rather see you answer the Spanish question authoritatively, in a thread with a lot of bad answers, and explain how those answers are bad. That's actually a better answer than an answer which simply and directly gives the correct response, because it not only gives the correct answer but explains why other, perhaps more common, answers are wrong, and establishes greater authority for you, further legitimizing your next answers on language questions.

And again, if someone does choose to DTMFA or forego a lawyer, AskMe can't bear the responsibility for that decision. At best, AskMe is in advising capacity. It does not make decisions for people.

My personal bias is towards more information, good and bad, because I generally have the capacity to confirm or refute the information and because I like reading stuff.


That's my bias, too. I prefer to collect more information, a range of responses good and bad, and assume the Asker has the mental resources to evaluate the information than to presume they are incapable of this evaluation and discourage people from offering what help they can, as long as it's delivered in good faith with a sincere belief in its helpful spirit.
posted by Miko at 2:09 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the related point: I think we're wrong in imagining AskMe is providing the only answers in the world for people asking. A wrong answer in AskMe is one piece of information (in the sense of data), but it stands in a world full of information, correct and incorrect, available from friends, libraries, Google, AskYahoo, opinion writers, blogs, message boards, and so on and so on. As Peter McDermott said, when evaluating the usefulness of ASkMe it's important to put its responses in the context of where else the Asker may be simultaneously pulling information.
posted by Miko at 2:12 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]



I'm actually astounded that some of you think that more information which includes bad information is better than no information.

Heh - make that don't think.
posted by Miko at 2:16 PM on August 24, 2009


That's my bias, too. I prefer to collect more information, a range of responses good and bad, and assume the Asker has the mental resources to evaluate the information than to presume they are incapable of this evaluation and discourage people from offering what help they can, as long as it's delivered in good faith with a sincere belief in its helpful spirit.

I particularly agree within the context of this MeTa. To my mind, many here are criticing NOT "wrong answers" but more "answers that go beyond, revamp or challenge the question asked." In that particular context, MORE answers (given sincerely and in good faith) are always better than less.
posted by bunnycup at 2:44 PM on August 24, 2009


I recently had an AskMe experience that I think nicely encapsulates what we're talking about here. I was surprised to find out that coconut milk has as much saturated fat as it does, and it made me realize that I know very little about the various types of fats we run across in our diets -- which are good for you, which are bad for you, which should be consumed in very small amounts and which, if any, could be consumed a bit more often in an otherwise healthy and well-balanced diet. So I went to AskMe.

As I admit in the thread itself, I asked the question poorly, focusing on how fattening coconut milk is, as opposed asking about to the benefits and drawbacks of various types of fats, and how coconut milk should fit into a grander scheme of fat intake. I was happy to get this great answer from lunasol, which sort of answered my question, but more importantly, helped me get a better framework for the kind of information I was looking for -- and my subsequent clarification yielded great results. So I was glad there were answers in there that questioned me a bit and thus helped me refine my overall question.

But of course, I also got some fairly snotty answers like "If you eat more calories than you burn, you get fat. This is pretty basic." And "You seem to want to be told that because these are vegetables they are 'healthy' despite containing a lot of calories and saturated fats." This was pretty annoying; the commenters may have meant well, but their wording was pretty condescending.

So the answer to this isn't moderation, I think, but self-moderation -- largely because there's going to be such a huge variety of answers that technically don't answer the question but which manage to range from "very helpful despite not being a direct empirical piece of data" to "useless snark camouflaged as participation." That's so hard to moderate that it's probably easiest just to delete the super-flagged stuff and let the asker separate the wheat from the chaff of what's left. Answerers should take a few extra minutes to figure out why they're answering -- Is it because they think they have something to contribute, or because they have something to prove?

For my sake, I'm kind of done with AskMe for the time being, partially because the experience I mention left a bad taste in my mouth, but moreso because of the moralistic drubbing that jules1651 received as a result of a perfectly innocent question about delivery mistakes. I see where you're coming from, Miko, and maybe I'm being too negative, but right now AskMe isn't a useful enough tool for me to continue using, particularly if it's going to take such a long time to word my question as carefully as possible so as to avoid a bevy of snark.
posted by hifiparasol at 2:47 PM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ha! That's an innocent question?
posted by smackfu at 2:59 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've taken to trying to anticipate the ways people will question my assumptions and spell out why I've considered and rejected alternative ways of seeing the problem when I write my question.

Personally, I have also done this and I think this is one of the greatest benefits I've received from AskMe - like it's teaching me critical thinking, and reminding me to look at my own situation from other perspectives!
posted by jacalata at 3:22 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


That's what you get when you use AskMeFi. When I want meaningful useful answers that don't question my premises, my sexuality, or my worthiness as a human being, I post my questions as a "vlog" on youtube.
posted by qvantamon at 3:27 PM on August 24, 2009


> So I'd rather see you answer the Spanish question authoritatively, in a thread with a lot of bad answers, and explain how those answers are bad.

You are assuming that as a matter of course someone who knows the correct answer will come along and provide it. As I said above, this is wrong, and I am staggered by the amount of optimism it takes to maintain that position.
posted by languagehat at 3:41 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ha! That's an innocent question?

It sure is. She had pretty much already done what everyone insisted was "the right thing to do," and was specifically asking a question about the legality of her situation (and, more to the point, asked us all to put "ethical issues aside," which is a perfectly fine thing to request of everyone when you have already done the right thing). And she wasn't asking if it was legal to steal; she was asking if it was legal to take advantage of a company's snafu rather than letting that same company use her apartment as a warehouse for a week while they got their shit together.

It was absolutely an innocent question, and a bunch of people jumped down her throat for it.

I'll copy part of applemeat's response to the kerfluffle, because I think it seems particularly salient here:

Part of what makes AskMe so fascinating is that it is a rare place where generally thoughtful and interesting people can find, share, and celebrate facts—any facts, even ugly facts--for facts's sake. Further, the finger-wagging, absolutist responses in this thread are uninstructive when everyone knows that it is wrong to keep something that's not yours. Who needs AskMe to learn that?
posted by hifiparasol at 3:41 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


useful answers that don't question my premises, my sexuality, or my worthiness as a human being... on youtube

Wait, really? Are you being ironic? Sorry, I really can't tell.
posted by hifiparasol at 3:44 PM on August 24, 2009


lol fag
posted by dersins at 3:45 PM on August 24, 2009


(Which is to say, I strongly suspect qvantamon was being ironic.)
posted by dersins at 3:46 PM on August 24, 2009


From the question you referred to, hifiparasol

"We called and now they will come back and give us our crappy one and take this beautiful one back, and now we are overcome with remorse."

One of the things about AskMe is that

- many people don't detect tone well
- almost everyone reads top to bottom

So the OP mentioned much later in the thread that their "overcome with remorse" statement was tongue in cheek and a lot of people missed it. I was a little surprised by how that thread turned out, personally, but I also could see ways it could have gone much better with some more carefful wording. I can't remember now what sort of thread moderation we had to do there.

I'm also of the "more information is better" school with the caveat about factual versus information gathering threads. That said, people don't really self-moderate much as far as when to NOT answer a question and we definitely have some habitual "well I don't know but..." answerers which is a problem.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2009


It was absolutely an innocent question

Absolutely innocent questions don't usually contain the phrase "ethical issues aside".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:52 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was absolutely an innocent question, and a bunch of people jumped down her throat for it.

IMHO, if someone is "overcome with remorse" for doing the right thing and asking "Should we have just kept the nicer one?", their unstated question is really: "could we have got away with this if we hadn't told anyone?"

But I guess "innocent" is in the eye of the beholder.
posted by smackfu at 3:53 PM on August 24, 2009


Hypotheticals are innocent
posted by kathrineg at 3:54 PM on August 24, 2009


MetaFilter: it could have gone much better with some more carefful wording.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:06 PM on August 24, 2009


Hypotheticals are innocent

This. There were a whole bunch of posters in that thread that managed not to adopt a paternal, lecturing tone. Sometimes it seems like we're willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt but the person asking the question.

And even if you grant that the "overcome with remorse" phrasing was enough to allow people to run moral roughshod over her, they were still calling her a thief after she clarified her question -- and getting favorites for it.
posted by hifiparasol at 4:10 PM on August 24, 2009


IMHO, if someone is "overcome with remorse" for doing the right thing and asking "Should we have just kept the nicer one?", their unstated question is really: "could we have got away with this if we hadn't told anyone?"

The purpose of Askme isn't for us to use our power of intuition to guess at what the asker's "unstated" question really is and then offer him or her condescending admonishments in response. It is to answer the question he or she actually asked.

The question that user brought to AskMe was a completely legitimate one, some responders cynical assumptions notwithstanding: "An online retailer made a significant error in processing our order, would we have been within our legal rights to have taken a different course of action in response than the one we chose?" The responses that user received are a quintessential example of this call out in action.
posted by The Gooch at 4:30 PM on August 24, 2009


hifiparasol: For my sake, I'm kind of done with AskMe for the time being, partially because the experience I mention left a bad taste in my mouth, but moreso because of the moralistic drubbing that jules1651 received as a result of a perfectly innocent question about delivery mistakes. I see where you're coming from, Miko, and maybe I'm being too negative, but right now AskMe isn't a useful enough tool for me to continue using, particularly if it's going to take such a long time to word my question as carefully as possible so as to avoid a bevy of snark.

smackfu: Ha! That's an innocent question?

hifiparasol: It sure is. She had pretty much already done what everyone insisted was "the right thing to do," and was specifically asking a question about the legality of her situation (and, more to the point, asked us all to put "ethical issues aside," which is a perfectly fine thing to request of everyone when you have already done the right thing). And she wasn't asking if it was legal to steal; she was asking if it was legal to take advantage of a company's snafu rather than letting that same company use her apartment as a warehouse for a week while they got their shit together.

No, you're utterly misreading the question. Look at it again:

jules1651: We just bought a television from a reputable online retailer. It was delivered today via a freight carrier, but it was the wrong one and had another customer's name on it. However, it is MUCH nicer. Ours was $1000, this is $3500. We called and now they will come back and give us our crappy one and take this beautiful one back, and now we are overcome with remorse. The kicker is the swap won't happen for a week so we need to stare at this big ass box for 7 days. Should we have just kept the nicer one? Ethical issues aside, would we have had a legal right (we are in the US) to keep it? Do we now?

There are clearly three different questions:

(1) Should we have kept the nicer one?
(2) Ethical issues aside, would we have had a legal right?
(3) Do we now?

She didn't ask us to "put ethical issues aside;" it's only that a small part of the question was "also, aside from those ethical issues, what are the legal implications?" There's nothing in that question that asks that answerers leave out the ethical side, and nothing to indicate that that's what the asker intended.
posted by koeselitz at 4:42 PM on August 24, 2009


...and, for what it's worth, hifiparasol, I think you read that thread through a particular lens; I don't really see a "moralistic drubbing" there, and the only followup from the poster was pretty gracious and even-keeled. Maybe you can point to something, but is it possible you're reading into the answers a tone that isn't really there? I've seen judgemental answers before, and those don't really seem that bad to me.
posted by koeselitz at 4:52 PM on August 24, 2009


The responses that user received are a quintessential example of this call out in action.

Heh?

This callout is about attempts to read motivations into AskMe questions and whether or not that constitutes (or can constitute) trolling.

What motivations do you suppose people are reading in to "Can I keep the tv I didn't pay for?"
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:59 PM on August 24, 2009


There's nothing in that question that asks that answerers leave out the ethical side, and nothing to indicate that that's what the asker intended.

I'm really not trying to be flippant here, but I honestly haven't the first clue how you can admit that the phrasing of the question features the words "ethical issues aside," yet does not ask that answerers put ethical issues aside.

I don't want to get into an argument over what is and isn't judgmental -- I think I've made my case about the specific answers I think are too harsh, and if you don't agree, fine. There were a few people in the thread who seemed to agree with my assessment -- not that that means I'm definitely 100 percent right, but it lends me a bit of credence. I'll concede my "jumped down her throat" wording may have had a bit more sturm and drang than is useful to this conversation, but I'm not seeing anything through a "lens," as you say.

the only followup from the poster was pretty gracious and even-keeled

I never claimed otherwise.
posted by hifiparasol at 5:03 PM on August 24, 2009


I think I've made my case about the specific answers I think are too harsh, and if you don't agree, fine.

Sorry, I was referring here to a comment that I composed but never posted (because, oddly enough, I didn't want to get bogged down in this argument when I have a ton of shit to do this week). Didn't mean to confuse things.

Here it is, for completeness' sake:

Even if her question was poorly worded -- and honestly, I thought the tongue-in-cheek nature of "overcome with remorse" was pretty clear -- what good did it do for blue_beetle to suggest that she would be a "pretty lousy person" for doing what she never actually did? Or for bricoleur to suggest that engaging in a hypothetical discussion makes her somehow less than human? How were these comments anything but unhelpful (at best, and insulting at worst)?

These are not answers that are designed to help anyone.

IMHO, if someone is "overcome with remorse" for doing the right thing and asking "Should we have just kept the nicer one?", their unstated question is really: "could we have got away with this if we hadn't told anyone?"

And what's wrong with that? All she did was ask a question. It's not like she ever actually stole the TV .
posted by hifiparasol at 5:13 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, I probably waded in and personalized this too much. I guess I only mean:

Regardless of the poster's intention, it seems like the question is ambiguous. Either the poster is asking one question, a single question, and the phrase "ethical issues aside" means "I don't want to talk about ethical issues at all" - or (and this seems like an equally justified reading) the question has something more like three specific queries, and the poster wants to know both whether they ought to have kept the TV and whether, "ethical issues aside", they would have been legally supported if they'd decided to keep it.

It just seems like a weird working if they're really trying to ask people not to give ethical issues consideration at all. If I asked

I wanted to paint my house blue, but I didn't. Should I have painted it blue? Color issues aside, would blue have been a cheap type of paint for me to use? Should I use it now?

then I certainly would not have expected people not to discuss at all whether blue is a nice color for a house; I only would have wanted to know in addition whether it was an affordable color.

Maybe I'm off; that's just how the question reads to me.
posted by koeselitz at 5:31 PM on August 24, 2009


weird wording, or word weirding if you prefer
posted by koeselitz at 5:32 PM on August 24, 2009



I've taken to trying to anticipate the ways people will question my assumptions and spell out why I've considered and rejected alternative ways of seeing the problem when I write my question.

Personally, I have also done this and I think this is one of the greatest benefits I've received from AskMe - like it's teaching me critical thinking, and reminding me to look at my own situation from other perspectives!


Well, yes, except even when I do this some asshole still finds a way to point out how I'm a clueless noob/insensitive clod/possible criminal when ALL I WANTED TO KNOW WAS HOW TO COOK SWEET POTATOES/BREAK UP WITH SOMEONE GENTLY/REMOVE THE DRM FROM MY MP3s.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:59 PM on August 24, 2009


So, if someone asks for a number greater than 7, and less than 6, the correct response is that there should be no responses whatsoever?

If the question was for an integer greater than 7 but less than 6 then the correct response would be no response unless you knew of an integer that answered the question. OR, if you were somewhat an expert in math and happen to know of the mathematical proof that proves there is no integer that fits the criteria, and you give a friendly link to the proof.

Example of an unacceptable answer: There are none that fit your criteria.

This is incredibly unhelpful, because not only does it question the premise of the question, but it provides nothing to inform the poster of why they are operating from a flawed premise. It may be obvious to the answerer, but if it was obvious to the asker, they wouldn't have posed the question.

Count me with the people who find this phenomenon annoying.
posted by forforf at 6:12 PM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh well. This discussion has fragmented into a generalized Andy Rooneyesque thread on the sorts of posting behavior folks dislike.

Seems like a lot of people expressed agreement with my original observations before the thread exploded. But.......shrug. I certainly get my five bucks worth here, regardless.

Seems like the problem I cited is getting worse. Maybe at some point it'll start bugging enough people that the issue will need to be reconsidered.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 6:49 PM on August 24, 2009


Example of an unacceptable answer: There are none that fit your criteria.

OK, we have reached the official endpoint of this thread. You have just posted, apparently in all seriousness, that if somebody asks for a number greater than 7 but less than 6, it is "unacceptable" to point out on AskMe that there isn't one. Even by the most stringent interpretations of how an AskMe ought to be answered, this is spectacularly insane.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:52 PM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


You are assuming that as a matter of course someone who knows the correct answer will come along and provide it.

Oh, no no no, I'm not assuming that. Sometimes that doesn't happen. I'm definitely assuming that some threads will have all bad answers, some will have bad to mediocre answers, and some will have bad to excellent answers. The rarest of threads will have all excellent answers (anyone ever seen one?) My position is that the more answers that are accumulated, the higher the likelihood that an excellent answer will emerge from those responses, given of course the foundational stipulation that everyone posting sincerely believes they have a useful answer to offer (and is not just intentionally creating noise).

Yes, more people believe they have a useful answer than really have a useful answer. But that's what ppwers this enterprise: the belief that social capital can be built through the sharing of knowledge, and/or the simple desire to be of help. Just as Wikipedia depends upon the frothy eagerness of people to voluntarily edit its entries, AskMe depends upon an eagerness of people to be helpful or to share what they know or establish themselves as someone who knows a lot. I can't picture what sort of mechanism could simultaneously allow this eagerness and damp down the less-useful responses - other than the mechanism currently in place, continuing to hold the standard of 'usefulness' paramount and, theoretically, requiring an attempt at that in answers.

The worst case scenario is that an Asker gets a thread full of bad answers to a question and has to ask again or seek another source, probably a more professional source, in order to get an excellent answer. I don't see that as a terrible tragedy, since I personally believe AskMe is an excellent filter that produces much better-than-average results than any other general query service on the internet. If they didn't ask here, where could they have asked, on the internet, that would have produced a better response? If the answer is 'nowhere,' then I think AskMe is the best place to ask. I think it's be best to refrain from catastrophizing the possible results of a single bad answer. People's lives are filled with bad answers and bad advice; though we should be accountable for what we have said, and given that moderation is in place, the ultimate responsibility for decision on a course of action, including how many sources one seeks when making decisions, rests with the asker.
posted by Miko at 7:09 PM on August 24, 2009


OR, if you were somewhat an expert in math and happen to know of the mathematical proof that proves there is no integer that fits the criteria, and you give a friendly link to the proof.

How would that not be questioning the premise?!
posted by Miko at 7:10 PM on August 24, 2009


"OR, if you were somewhat an expert in math and happen to know of the mathematical proof that proves there is no integer that fits the criteria, and you give a friendly link to the proof.

How would that not be questioning the premise?!"


There are two things being discussed when we talk about "questioning the premise". One is "the premise that the question is answerable". Questions like "What's a number greater than 7 but less than 6?", "How can I be a married bachelor?", "How can I drive my Yugo from Houston to Australia?". I think we can all agree that that kind of premise questioning is acceptable.

The other is "the premise that what you want an answer to should be answered". Questions like "What games can I play with raccoons?" (with people "questioning your premise" that you should even play with raccoons...which is another way of saying "There are answers to your question, but I disagree that you should have them, because I disagree that what you want to do should be done"), "What user friendly computer should I use (note: not Macs)?" (with people "questioning the premise" that you should discount Macs...which is another way of saying "There are answers to your question, but I disagree that you should have them, because I disagree that you should discount the option you have discounted"). These are the premise-questionings which are the point of contention here.
posted by Bugbread at 9:37 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Say what?
posted by smackfu at 9:39 PM on August 24, 2009


Initially, this issue seemed to be a case of making mountains out of molehills, but clearly it bothers some people. I'm sure everyone can agree some premises need to be challenged; but there's this edge-case where someone is abusing that to chide the asker in subtle ways where it's not deserved or appropriate. I don't see this very often, but AskMe is high-traffic and I only have time to read questions that interest me.

Yeah, if someone is using the premise of the question to grind their axe at the expense of the poster, that's not cool. I don't know what the word for this should be. I don't think "troll" is accurate because that implies a level of detachment and consciously trying to get a rise out of people that doesn't ring true to me. When you ask a group of random strangers about some problem you're having, inevitably someone is going to be touchy about it because of whatever baggage they're toting. Maybe they'll fly off the handle a bit or say something unhelpful. My gut feeling is: people should recognize the loophole that allows this is the same one that makes AskMe work so well, and try to not take it so personally. It doesn't strike me as being in the best interest of the site to expect policy to change in this regard, or even the pattern of behavior. Call out individual people if their behavior is egregious if you must, flag stuff and move on if you can, or.. just ignore it if it wasn't helpful.

Alos, I just want to say, I reject the premise (heh) that a derail in your question will reduce the chance of you getting a good answer. If there's anyone who understands your question, they will answer it, bullshit derail or not. If anything, contentious high-traffic threads get more answers and thus a higher chance of something useful coming out of them. I think people are applying the principle that thread-shitting comments in regular discussion threads tend to ruin the tone/quality for subsequent comments, but it's like comparing apples to oranges. Presumably you're not looking for an interesting thread (*cough* chatfilter) but rather a useful answer, and no manner of noise will devalue or reduce the liklihood of receiving that answer.
posted by cj_ at 12:33 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


jimmyjimjim: Seems like the problem I cited is getting worse. Maybe at some point it'll start bugging enough people that the issue will need to be reconsidered.

Y'know, I've been holding back on saying this, but here goes:

You've asked 41 questions in your slightly more than two years of being here. You have almost no comment activity elsewhere on the site; all you do, apparently, is ask questions and follow up on the questions you've asked.

I don't want it to seem like I'm digging up dirt on you, and honestly I'm not; you paid your five bucks, and you're damned well entitled to use this place however you want to - and your questions are clearly good questions asked in good faith.

However, I'd like to gently suggest that, since your experience of ask.metafilter is largely from that singular perspective, maybe it would help you see the site more broadly if you, say, stopped asking questions for three or four months, just to see what it's like when you're only doing the answering. You may feel as though you're not getting exactly the answers you want, but that may well be because you're just so used to asking questions that you've honed your idea of the perfect down to something unrealistic. Step on the other side of the glass for a while and try it on for size; the fact is that ask.metafilter isn't primarily a service so much as a discussion forum, and, as I've been trying (hamfistedly) to say, I don't think an overdeveloped concern for results really helps us along as much as an emphasis on creativity and openness.
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 AM on August 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


And if I'm totally off-base, sorry - I don't mean to cause insult -
posted by koeselitz at 3:19 AM on August 25, 2009


Game Warden: You have just posted, apparently in all seriousness, that if somebody asks for a number greater than 7 but less than 6, it is "unacceptable" to point out on AskMe that there isn't one.

Miko: How would that not be questioning the premise?!

Hundreds of people will read a typical ask me question. If you can't be bothered to provide a thoughtful response that supports your answer other than just saying 'You're Wrong!!', then you are not being helpful, if fact it is quite unhelpful. Of course in the contrived example above everyone would naturally question the premise. My point is that you should only answer the question if you *know* the premise if faulty and have supporting facts on *why* the premise is faulty. And this is why I actually like this quite simple, but contrived example. I imagine only a small percentatage of people can mathematically explain why there are no numbers that match the criteria given. Yet lots of people seem perfectly willing to jump in to this hypothetical question with no more than a "Obviously you're premise is completely wrong, you can't have a number less than 6 and greater than 7". As I said before, this type of answer doesn't give the poster a frame of reference to adjust their underlying premise.

So I'm NOT saying it's wrong to question the premise of the question. I'm saying it's wrong unless you have the basic information to illustrate why the premise of the question is should be questioned.

Using the feeding the raccoon example:

Bad: It's not a good idea to feed raccoons.
Good: It may not be a good idea to feed raccoons, they are one of the more prevalent rabies carriers.
Best: I hear raccoons love peanut butter, but it's also not unknown for them to have rabies, so if you do need to feed them, be careful.

See the difference? The Best answer ANSWERED THE QUESTION, while also questioning a shaky premise.
posted by forforf at 5:34 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I need to give examples, then this clearly isn't a problem MeFi should be fixing...

No, I think you need to give examples so we can specificily see what you think problems are so the community can better access where you're coming from.

For example, shelleycat's example of this problem highlighted a plain truth: there's more than one view going on when answering questions and due to variety of human opinion, what some see as problem may not be to others.

Instead, you've made several comments like this:

There are clearly a large number of people here who seem to share my feeling. And many of those who don't haven't read real carefully...

Where you've steadfastly refused to consider other opinions, cited the nebulous "large number of people" as proof that there's a problem and then swept under the rug "many of those" who disagreed by saying they haven't "read real carefully". So yeah, regarding this issue you've brought up, I'll agree that it can be a problem at times, but frankly the problem may not be solely on those who are answering questions.

Do you have any specific examples, that haven't been cited in this thread already, of where this problem occurred?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:08 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you can't be bothered to provide a thoughtful response that supports your answer other than just saying 'You're Wrong!!', then you are not being helpful,

At no point have I been an advocate of "just saying 'You're Wrong!!'.

Bad: It's not a good idea to feed raccoons.
Good: It may not be a good idea to feed raccoons, they are one of the more prevalent rabies carriers.
Best: I hear raccoons love peanut butter, but it's also not unknown for them to have rabies, so if you do need to feed them, be careful.

See the difference? The Best answer ANSWERED THE QUESTION, while also questioning a shaky premise.


Of course I see the difference, and I wouldn't challenge the idea that among those three, that is the best answer because it includes information specifically requested by the asker. Our working principle is that answers should always be intended to be useful and helpful. So I am assuming in what I'm saying that an answer is intended to help, i.e., to provide an answer to the question specifically asked by the OP.

What I think the OP is asking in his callout is that (a) we not think of the "Good" answer as "good" at all, but equally as "bad" as "It's not a good idea to feed raccoons," and (b) that the caution about rabies be completely left out of the "best" answer. His argument is that that caution automatically turns it into a "bad" answer. My argument is that including that information makes it not only the "best" answer because it answers the question itself, but also the best answer because it provides additional information which the OP and others reading the thread will find helpful and perhaps aid them in avoiding a negative outcome to their experimentation with raccoons, even though they may not have known to ask about raccoons being potential rabies vectors, and that that is something they might want to know.

My argument is that that kind of answer, the kind you give as "best," is not to be discouraged or condemned.

Because of the insistence on helpfulness and actually answering that we currently collectively maintain, the situation we presently have, as I see it, is that everyone knows they are supposed to answer the question, but often are in the thread just to deliver the caution against the premise, so they tack on a flimsy, lukewarm answer in order to justify delivering the caution "You do know raccoons carry rabies, right? Rabies requires a series of painful injections and monitoring for a year afterward. Most authorities recommend staying away from raccoons and not encouraging them to see humans as sources of food. By feeding them you endanger yourself and others and the very fabric of society. ...BUT I SPOSE if you must feed them they would probably like fresh fruit." I'm guilty of it myself, as are others here, and I see it all the time, but I think it's something we can and should live with because it demonstrates an awareness of the principle and an attempt to observe it, at least the letter of it, while also ensuring that answerers are responding with a full range of information, observation, and knowledge.
posted by Miko at 6:37 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've just reread the original question, and I notice that he said this:

Someone asks a question, and posters, in lieu of answering the question posed, question the basis of the question.


So I'm wrong to suggest that he has an issue with the caution + tacked-on answer, or an answer containing premise-questioning. He seems to just have a problem with answers that contain no direct response to the specific request made by the OP.
posted by Miko at 6:43 AM on August 25, 2009


Miko, there's a big difference between saying "There are bound to be bad answers in AskMe because people are people, and there's no use getting overly exercised about it because it's not going to change"—which seems to be your main point and with which I am in agreement—and saying bad information is better than no information, which you've said a couple of times now. I can only repeat what seems to me to be obvious: "Bad information" is not information, it's noise. Again, we're not talking about better or worse suggestions in relationship questions, we're talking about questions that have a real and verifiable answer. If someone asks "What's 2 + 2?" it is not providing information to say "5," it is adding useless and potentially harmful noise. It is not out of line to ask people to stop doing it, even if realistically the problem is not going to go away; if even a few people think twice about shooting off their mouths without knowing actual facts, it will improve the situation.
posted by languagehat at 7:10 AM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Isn't "uninformed noise" a different problem from "questioning the premises"? The premise-questioner on the raccoon question could be, for instance, a ranger with a Ph.D. in forest management, and it would still be questioning the premises.

Personally, I think the informed premise-questioners are especially valuable for future readers of the thread, who might come upon it based on interest in the topic more generally, even if they're a bit annoying to the OP. And they often do help to get the OP to focus the question.
posted by palliser at 7:34 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is not out of line to ask people to stop doing it, even if realistically the problem is not going to go away; if even a few people think twice about shooting off their mouths without knowing actual facts, it will improve the situation.

I don't see much behavior that's quite that egregious. I am just wary of anything that discourages people making an attempt to answer if they have a sincere belief that they are offering something helpful. And I'm not saying that "bad information is better than no information," I'm saying "the broadest range of information is better than an insistence that only experts respond," at the same time recognizing that the existence of some bad information is an inevitable fallout of maintaining that general principle.

we're not talking about better or worse suggestions in relationship questions, we're talking about questions that have a real and verifiable answer.

I'm not that clear that that's the kind of thing we're really talking about here. It doesn't seem like it; it seems like we're discussing the more subjective questions, and we're confusing that issue by choosing reductive examples like the 6/7 question, which does have a definitive answer. But even when there is a definitive answer, I believe that if there are 20 people who offer false information in good faith, and one person who delivers an excellent answer, that the purpose has been achieved. I don't want people to stop answering as long as they believe they are offering something useful, even if they are wrong. I believe in the principle that given a range of responses, the best response will make itself clear - sometimes by virtue of the commenter's own authority or credibility, sometimes through the use of supporting citations, sometimes through corroboration by others, and sometimes through conflict with others in the thread. I believe this process is important and necessary to the quality of AskMe. I accept that sometimes it will produce bad responses. I think that some bad responses are the price to pay for the generally high traffic and high interest that makes it more likely that good responses will emerge.

The thing that I think we're sticking on is that I'm taking as a given that posters aren't just responding with any old word string or half-remembered errata for shits and giggles. I'm focusing only on instances where the person does believe they know something about the topic, or can find information on the topic, and thus has something to offer. We've all been in that position, even if we'd rather not think about it. I simply place trust in the process, in the same way in which lawyers believe that if prosecution and defense both do their jobs as well as they can, the jury will more often than not make the appropriate decision. So I agree with most of you that knowingly ignorant responses are already disqualified by the insistence on "usefulness," and that knowingly ignorant answers are indeed noise. I'm speaking about the other class of answers, where someone has incomplete or inaccurate information but believes it to be useful at some level.
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on August 25, 2009


Isn't "uninformed noise" a different problem from "questioning the premises"? The premise-questioner on the raccoon question could be, for instance, a ranger with a Ph.D. in forest management, and it would still be questioning the premises.

It is, we're definitely talking about two different topics, but for me they are connected by the "broadest range" principle.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on August 25, 2009


When did you guys stop beating your wives?
posted by electroboy at 7:53 AM on August 25, 2009


You've making a lot of assumptions about us being guys.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:46 AM on August 25, 2009


Six and a half.
posted by box at 8:47 AM on August 25, 2009


Then when did your husband stop beating you, BB?
posted by electroboy at 8:53 AM on August 25, 2009


It is not out of line to ask people to stop doing it, even if realistically the problem is not going to go away; if even a few people think twice about shooting off their mouths without knowing actual facts, it will improve the situation.

I think this bears repeating for the people who are bristling at (at least) the spirit of jimmyjimjim's post; at the end of the day, all many of us are really saying is "try to be nice." I think a lot of AskMe commenters simply aren't being polite, and instead of questioning the premises (which isn't so bad in about 7 cases out of 10) are questioning the premises in a way that almost seems designed to do nothing more than make themselves feel superior to the person who posted the question. And while I realize that asking mefites to please try not to act too superior is like asking polar bears to please try not to be so white, I don't think it's too much to ask that people work a little harder to check their egos in AskMe, where posters have to let themselves be a little more vulnerable than elsewhere on Metafilter.

I am just wary of anything that discourages people making an attempt to answer if they have a sincere belief that they are offering something helpful.

So am I. I would just like some folks to do a bit more of an examination-of-conscience before answering, and if this discussion makes a handful of people search their souls a little harder when they're on the green, then I think it's worth it. It might be a pipe dream, but I'm the kind of guy who fills out the surveys on his Target receipts in hopes of winning the $5,000 gift card.
posted by hifiparasol at 9:05 AM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


247 comments. Upshot: "Try to be nice!"

No argument from me there.
posted by Miko at 9:39 AM on August 25, 2009


I apologize for the tone of my previous post, I hadn't had my morning caffeine.
Also, I generally agree with Miko's post here as long as the question's answered in a non-judgemental/non-condescending way.
posted by forforf at 9:59 AM on August 25, 2009


As I interpret the disagreement between Miko and languagehat here, LH is saying that bad information is worse than no information. Whereas Miko's saying that a climate that discourages people from posting information in good faith when they're not 100% certain it's totally accurate is ultimately going to make AskMe a less useful resource than one where people acting in good faith feel free to make imperfect contributions. Both of these positions can be right at the same time — LH's position is obviously correct, almost by definition — but as a practical matter of what kind of climate to foster on AskMe, I can't possibly see how anyone could really disagree with Miko.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:25 AM on August 25, 2009


Then when did your husband stop beating you, BB?

I don't have a spouse.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:07 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, checking our egos is always a good thing
posted by kathrineg at 11:10 AM on August 25, 2009


I don't have a spouse.

* dies laughing *
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:14 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


When did you stop killing jessamyn with funny
posted by kathrineg at 11:21 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, after reading this thread through again, I almost feel like I want a greasemonkey script that I can use to mark users whose questions I never want to get involved with. It's not that I take the criticisms here of people responding to questions personally; it is just that I'd rather not respond to people who take their own question and its responses so personally. jimmyjimjim, you've been coy to the point of being manipulative as far as concrete examples of what you incorrectly call "trolling". Several comments here thought you were referring to your own recent question until you chimed in 90 comments later to say it wasn't. Yet you never have actually pointed out a real example This is exactly the type of behavior that has people making assumptions and trying to discern motives. It's is especially strange to avoid pointing out your several other AskMe's in which this seems to have been a problem for you. I have to say, it seems to be sort of a hallmark of your posting style. Even when your initial question is as vague as can anyone offer advice?, you seem to think it is the commenters' fault they aren't going where you want. In fact, the issue of questioning assumptions has been brought up by you several times in your AskMes, so I find it doubly strange that you refuse to post examples of something you seem overly fixated on. You seem to want validation that people agree with you without giving any information that might undermine your argument or "question your premises". I heartily suggest laying off AskMe for awhile if this is really that much of a problem for you. Instead of seeing every response you don't agree with as a personal affront, cultivate a little distance. Seriously. These are people on the internet trying to answer your question. Some people are trying harder than others, sure. But when you go into AskMe looking for any evidence of people "questioning your assumptions" I think that is exactly what you are going to find when you are throwing your question to the wind. All sorts of people are going to be trying to parse your question and answer it, and there will naturally be a spectrum of responses. That's the way the site works. If that is something you find irksome, you really should not be using AskMe.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:41 AM on August 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


* dies laughing *

So you guys are hiring, right?
You got healthcare plan?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:54 PM on August 25, 2009


Re Miko v. Languagehat:

"Bad information" is not information, it's noise."

This begs the question.

Further, you're arguing absolutes—it is entirely possible to have an answer satisfy a question while still containing noise. It's not as ideal as an answer that contains no noise, but it's easy to construct a situation in which this is true, especially given different levels of precision required by an asker. "I'm in a Chiapas gas station and need to piss. How do I ask where the bathroom is?"

An answer of "¿Donde esta la baño?" is incorrect both orthographically and grammatically, but it's good enough. If someone said that they needed a professional translation of the phrase so they could stamp it on the new US dollar coin, there would be a higher requirement for accuracy. But not all "bad information" is equally bad, and in the hypothetical, I'd rather have fast, reasonably correct information than no information at all because people were afraid of getting a lecture on the gender of Spanish nouns.
posted by klangklangston at 1:58 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


This begs the question.

Actually, the whole issue is about begging the question, isn't it?

That is, if the asker is proceeding from a premise that's unfounded.

Challenging the basis of the assumptions behind the question is, in fact, an exercise in countering this begging of the question.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:38 PM on August 25, 2009


Blazecock Pileon writes "A worse problem is that people just don't read the damn question, half the time. "

I really doubt it rises anywhere near 50% of comments are from people who didn't read the question.

hifiparasol writes "For my sake, I'm kind of done with AskMe for the time being, partially because the experience I mention left a bad taste in my mouth, but moreso because of the moralistic drubbing that jules1651 received as a result of a perfectly innocent question about delivery mistakes. I see where you're coming from, Miko, and maybe I'm being too negative, but right now AskMe isn't a useful enough tool for me to continue using, particularly if it's going to take such a long time to word my question as carefully as possible so as to avoid a bevy of snark."

That thread was just crazy. I'm almost surprised the OP didn't find a bunny in their soup pot. How the hell does that thread live on the same site whose most famous question is how to dispose of an inconvenient body?

languagehat writes "Again, we're not talking about better or worse suggestions in relationship questions, we're talking about questions that have a real and verifiable answer. If someone asks 'What's 2 + 2?' it is not providing information to say '5,' it is adding useless and potentially harmful noise. It is not out of line to ask people to stop doing it, even if realistically the problem is not going to go away; if even a few people think twice about shooting off their mouths without knowing actual facts, it will improve the situation."

If you give people the benefit of the doubt that they are posting answers they believe are correct then I can't see how you can ask this. Theyonly people who would be able to answer factual questions would be experts in the field. Infallible experts at that. Despite the wide range of expertise on AskMe there would be tumbleweeds blowing through a lot of posts.

And this applies even in the case of translations. Is it really so horrible that someone who may have learned basic ungrammatical Cree from their grandmother would hazard a guess about how to say good morning in Cree? I don't this het up about people giving dangerous electrical advise, which happens all the time BTW, and in that case people could actually die rather than just looking like an ignorant idiot.

oneirodynia writes "You know, after reading this thread through again, I almost feel like I want a greasemonkey script that I can use to mark users whose questions I never want to get involved with. It's not that I take the criticisms here of people responding to questions personally; it is just that I'd rather not respond to people who take their own question and its responses so personally."

I use the UserNotes Script for a similar purpose (avoiding answering questions from people whose only Metafilter activity is question asking and never even answer clarification questions or post updates or check best answers. I'm convinced a large percentage of these people are sockpuppets and the lack of activity is because logging in and out to maintain two personas is too much trouble).
posted by Mitheral at 6:14 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Blazecock Pileon writes "A worse problem is that people just don't read the damn question, half the time. "

Mitheral responds: "I really doubt it rises anywhere near 50% of comments are from people who didn't read the question."

No, no—half the time it's a worse problem when people don't just read the damn question. But the other half of the time, like when I do it, it works out fine.

Also, has shelleycat tried swimming? It's really quite a good work out.
posted by klangklangston at 7:05 PM on August 25, 2009


work a little harder to check their egos in AskMe

Son, you don't own AskMe, mathowie does! Your ego's writing checks your body can't cash! You've been busted, you lost your qualifications as section leader three times, put in hack twice by jessamyn, with a history of high speed passes over five air control towers, and one mod's daughter!
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:14 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


oneirodynia, I didn't provide examples because, as I said, if my complaint didn't instantly jar recognition and agreement for a reasonably large group of users, then it clearly isn't a problem. Who cares what just *I* think?

And, sure enough, a large number of people seem to agree quite adamantly with what I've said (which strikes me, and perhaps me alone, as significant)....while a bunch more just picked at my OP.

I also won't give examples because I'm uninterested in a pick-fest at the examples.

Oh, and thanks tons for your critique of my posting style and your deep analysis of my psychological processes and needs. I'm so much the better for it. Also, the irony delights.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:07 PM on August 25, 2009


koeselitz said:

"You've asked 41 questions in your slightly more than two years of being here. You have almost no comment activity elsewhere on the site; all you do, apparently, is ask questions and follow up on the questions you've asked.....I don't want it to seem like I'm digging up dirt on you, and honestly I'm not; you paid your five bucks, and you're damned well entitled to use this place however you want to - and your questions are clearly good questions asked in good faith."


Actually, I've done a bunch of answering...just not lately. And my answers have tended to be favorited very highly. It's easy enough for you to take a look.

Look, I may be the worst MeFi user on the planet. And I might be a "sensitive snowflake" who is "talking out of his ass". I may be an utter dipshit in how I approach this site and everything else in my life. I concede the point. I concede everything. Spastic arrogant geniuses: I surrender.

But are Sassyfras, Nattie, Afroblanco, kathrineg, A Terrible Llama, ishotjr, shelleycat, t0astie, Busy Old Fool, Navelgazer, y6y6y6, Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell, whoaali, Netzapper, Slarty Bartfast, equalpants, vacapinta, hifiparasol, qvantamon, The Gooch, and forforf -- all of whom, in various ways and to various extents, corroborate re: the problem I describe -- equally dipshitty? Cuz, if not, maybe there's a problem here.

Be that as it may, by all means, let's definitely keep probing my personal conduct relentlessly. Because it's never about what a person's trying to say....it's the stupid stupid stupid assumptions behind it. Even here!
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:43 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also won't give examples

I will. The people attempting to answer this question, for instance, are really, really not trolling -- to the point where I feel like this MeTa post is itself a subtle troll. Neither are the people answering this question, either. The fact that you got some people to "adamantly" agree with a very, very vague claim without giving specifics doesn't mean anything -- I mean, who does like to have their assumptions questioned?
posted by advil at 8:44 PM on August 25, 2009


"And, sure enough, a large number of people seem to agree quite adamantly with what I've said (which strikes me, and perhaps me alone, as significant)....while a bunch more just picked at my OP."

Those people who "picked at" your post implicitly disagreed, Jimmyjimjimjimmeroonie. A "large number of people" therefore disagreed. We can leave aside the sampling error here (voluntary response from power MeFi users) and your confirmation bias, Jimmyjimjamjackiejormpjomp, and point out that fundamentally, the people who disagreed with you (that you petulantly dismiss as pickers) were more right regarding this question and thus discredit your thesis.

So maybe you can knock off your smug "irony" bullshit, shut the fuck up for a moment, and take a moment to realize that those "questioning your premises" have raised some valid fucking points—most notably the meta-point that you're an ass judge of what a correct answer is.
posted by klangklangston at 8:44 PM on August 25, 2009


jimmyjimjim: Be that as it may, by all means, let's definitely keep probing my personal conduct relentlessly. Because it's never about what a person's trying to say....it's the stupid stupid stupid assumptions behind it. Even here!

Yeah, I regretted that even as I posted it - hence the pre-emptive apology tacked on just below it. Consider that apology amplified.
posted by koeselitz at 9:02 PM on August 25, 2009


advil, re: specifics, there are two sorts of people in this thread. The ones who say "yep, this is a problem and it sucks", and ones who testily insist on examples they can proceed to pick apart.

My dad used to rave and scream at everyone, and then be amazed that people deemed him an angry lout. He thought he was just responding appropriately to the crazy stupid goings on around him. Sometimes, when pressed, he'd ask for an example of an instance where he failed to respond in a genteel and respectful manner. He'd always ask this with such derisive, arrogant hostility that my sisters and I would throw our hands up in futility. You just can't talk to bullies about bullying without being bullied by them. Speaking of which....

Klangklangston, very good, yes, I'll shut the fuck up stop being a stupid fucking asshole and realize I'm fucking wrong and you're fucking right and stop fucking annoying you fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck FUCK. Thanks for clearing the air.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:04 PM on August 25, 2009


Actually, that first wasn't true. There are those two types of people in this thread, but also a whole lot of people totally digressing, and a few offering interesting, intelligent insight that I happen to disagree with.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:05 PM on August 25, 2009


The ones who say "yep, this is a problem and it sucks", and ones who testily insist on examples they can proceed to pick apart.

That's a little one-sided. The other way to look at it is "ones who say"yep, this is a problem and it sucks", and ones who say "I don't believe there is a serious problem; can you please show us an example of the problem which will show us that it's happening often and it's deleterious?"

You've called this phenomenon out on MeTa. It seems kind of nutty not to point to some examples, especially at this late point in the thread. If it were so pervasive and problematic, it should be pretty obvious, right?

I think the thing we all agree on is that answers that don't address the OP with a helpful response of any kind are wasteful and annoying. On that we are all clearly agreed.

So what's left? People who disagree on whether challenging a question's premise, either as part of a helpful, good-faith answer, or as the sole attempt at a helpful, good-faith answer, is a permissible response to a question.

If you'd like everyone to agree that there is a lot of intentionally trolling premise-challenging in bad faith going on, then it really is probably necessary to show some of it. I think we would be all be able to recognize a clear example of such. I think the problem really is that it's not all that easy to find clear examples of intentionally trolling, bad-faith responses, because they're pretty rare and fall under the present moderation guidelines, so they get caught pretty fast.
posted by Miko at 9:14 PM on August 25, 2009


advil, re: specifics, there are two sorts of people in this thread. The ones who say "yep, this is a problem and it sucks", and ones who testily insist on examples they can proceed to pick apart.

My dad used to rave and scream at everyone, and then be amazed that people deemed him an angry lout. He thought he was just responding appropriately to the crazy stupid goings on around him. Sometimes, when pressed, he'd ask for an example of an instance where he failed to respond in a genteel and respectful manner. He'd always ask this with such derisive, arrogant hostility that my sisters and I would throw our hands up in futility. You just can't talk to bullies about bullying without being bullied by them. Speaking of which....


Wow, I'm having a hard time seeing how to respond to this...except to say that normal, reasonable people in all kinds of situations ask for and discuss examples of problems that they see, without being...well, whatever you are accusing me of being. (a bully? a proxy for your abusive father? I don't know.)
posted by advil at 9:24 PM on August 25, 2009


advil, re: specifics, there are two sorts of people in this thread. The ones who say "yep, this is a problem and it sucks", and ones who testily insist on examples they can proceed to pick apart.

How about the third category: people who asked for an example because they had no earthly idea what the hell you were talking about and were hoping you could provide an illustrative example?

True, others have done so on your behalf in this thread -- but perhaps the people who are "picking at you" are just frustrated that you didn't just provide such an example yourself in the first place rather than making us all jump through hoops for it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 PM on August 25, 2009


"So what's left?"

My suggestion:

Try to answer the question. Really. I mean...remember that that's what we're here for. If you don't have an answer to the question as posed, don't pick away at the OP. AskMeFi is a resource for getting answers, not judging questions (much less psychoanalysis and castigation). If an OP is quite misguided, fine, say something (without sneering). But if they're asking for something directly, either answer the question straight-on or let someone else.

This is especially the case if the OP has honed his question to try to narrow the conversation, ala "I definitely don't want to do X,Y, or Z". Currently, saying "I don't want to do X,Y, or Z" makes for irresistible bait for some AskMeFi users to come back even more strongly advocating X, Y and Z. As several posters here have said, there's a stressful feeling that no matter how sharply one phrases the question, someone's always going to do an end run.

Again, while some noise is tolerable and expected (I'm not trying to ensure squeaky cleaness, that'd be horrible), the problem is when a critical mass of end-runners hijacks the thread. When there's a piling on re: underlying issues and assumptions, to the point where the question gets lost, please, mods, consider that a derail. And also mod the more obvious, egregious cases of picking at the question rather than answering.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:40 PM on August 25, 2009


And, yes, there will be situations where people wouldn't answer a question absolutely DEAD-ON, yet the OP would be well-served.

I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about times when respondents willfully steamroll past the question to zero in on the motives, assumptions, moral failings, and overall idiocy of the questioner. If you don't want to call it trolling, fine. I don't care what you call it.

Lots of people know exactly what I mean. I don't expect willful steamrollers to grok it, even if I were to give a thousand examples. The best this discussion can do would be to maybe incite a flash of recognition making them think twice next time they do this (likely, they'd do it anyway). But if the mods and masses are more conscious of this problem, maybe it'll somehow help...
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:50 PM on August 25, 2009


Oh, and advil, sorry, I wasn't talking to you directly with that example, but to the testier voices in the thread. I should have made that transition more clear, sorry.

And, koeselitz, no prob.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:52 PM on August 25, 2009


Aye, well, sometimes X, Y and Z are the only possible responses. I defy you, for instance, to answer this sort of question in accordance with the asker's expectations.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:54 PM on August 25, 2009


"re: specifics, there are two sorts of people in this thread. The ones who say "yep, this is a problem and it sucks", and ones who testily insist on examples they can proceed to pick apart."

There are two types of responses from you in this thread—Ones where you coyly try to avoid supporting your argument, and ones where you impugn folks who disagree with you.

"My dad used to rave and scream at everyone, and then be amazed that people deemed him an angry lout. He thought he was just responding appropriately to the crazy stupid goings on around him. Sometimes, when pressed, he'd ask for an example of an instance where he failed to respond in a genteel and respectful manner. He'd always ask this with such derisive, arrogant hostility that my sisters and I would throw our hands up in futility. You just can't talk to bullies about bullying without being bullied by them. Speaking of which...."

So, wait, this is about your childhood issues? And of course, your father was never justified, and even if he wasn't, no one else is ever justified in being frustrated with your communication skills nor apparent attitude because your super powers only work in an absence of swearing and criticism?

"Try to answer the question. Really. I mean...remember that that's what we're here for."

You'd think that someone who posted such condescending obviousness would, you know, spend some time answering other people's questions. OH NO I AM PICKING AGAIN

(But Christ, you're like a scab.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:58 PM on August 25, 2009


jimmy, you're killing me with this. There's a "tolling" situation you claim is happening frequently in AskMe. You seem to have a really definite idea of the parameters of the situation. Almost three hundred comments in and you still haven't given any concrete examples, just complained of a nebulous trend. I get that you're frustrated, but I don't think what you're talking about here counts as "trolling." Matter of fact, in a couple of my AskMes, responses that ran counter to my premise/assumptions wound up being quite useful answers indeed! This one here, for instance.

If I could have a look at some of the threads where you say this is a problem, maybe I'd realize I was wrong. In a MeTa thread, especially a callout like this, I reckon the burden of proof is on the OP. At the moment, I'm of the opinion that what you're complaining of can be a feature at times, not a bug, but I ain't so married to that point of view that I wouldn't consider some evidence.

I don't expect willful steamrollers to grok it, even if I were to give a thousand examples.

How about you start with two? One, even.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:18 PM on August 25, 2009


klangklangston, what a joy to hear again from you.

Yes, I'm indeed like a scab begging to be picked. The mushy-minded positively beg for your lash, just by being the fuckheads we are. I understand. In time, we'll learn to lap it up.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 10:19 PM on August 25, 2009


EatTheWeak, I'm glad your use of AskMeFi doesn't leave you feeling as I (and some others) do. I'm certainly not trying to sour you on the service, or give you new things to feel discontent about! So I don't feel the need to bring you around to my way of seeing things. I'm not trying to make people feel fed up! So stay with your positive feeling!

I posted to see if others felt the same. They do (without my providing examples). Not everyone, though. But that's to be expected. I wouldn't expect everyone to feel the same about anything!

I also posted hoping that it might make at least a few of the more aggressive steamrollerish types think twice before judging OPs rather than answering questions. Who knows, it might work a little.

I also was hoping the mods might choose to be a little more sensitive in looking out for this. But it's totally their call. If they don't see a problem, and there's no huge groundswell, hey...I'm ok with my complaint dissolving into the ether. As I've repeatedly said above, there is absolutely no need for AskMeFi to change in any way to personally please me! And, as I've also said, while I find this noise unpleasant, I've definitely gotten my five bucks worth.

So if I seem not to be working hard enough to persuade, that's why. Persuasion isn't the goal.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 10:32 PM on August 25, 2009


"Yes, I'm indeed like a scab begging to be picked. The mushy-minded positively beg for your lash, just by being the fuckheads we are. I understand. In time, we'll learn to lap it up."

Still working on those daddy issues, I see.
posted by klangklangston at 10:59 PM on August 25, 2009


Man, you guys.

Take it easy.

Re. the examples thing -- and I'm hesitant to weigh in here because I feel like I'll be picked apart by piranhas, so BE NICE I just woke up--examples are sometimes used as an excellent way to dismiss someone's argument. It's a death by a thousand cuts.

She says. I feel like you don't do as much around the house as I do. He says give me an example. She says, you didn't help me clean up after dinner. He says, I took the trash out, give me another example. She says, I cleaned the house all day Saturday -- you didn't do anything. He says, well, I had to take Little Timmy to speech therapy because he talks like he has an egg roll in his mouth. She says, I am the person who does all the laundry and puts it all away. He says, well, my clothes are mostly dry clean only. Or, well, you're better at it. Or, I'd do the laundry if you gave me a chance -- you always do it before I get to it.

The other part of giving examples, is it's a terrible idea when you're part of a community you'd like to remain a part of because your example by definition has to target a specfic person or incident. You've basically just created a grievance history between yourself and that person.

Anyway, I just wanted to add the thing about the death by a thousand cuts, because it's a technique my ex-husband was highly skilled at employing. Also, getting really mad to cover up lies.

Next up we'll be discussing my daddy issues.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:33 AM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Re. the examples thing -- and I'm hesitant to weigh in here because I feel like I'll be picked apart by piranhas, so BE NICE I just woke up--examples are sometimes used as an excellent way to dismiss someone's argument. It's a death by a thousand cuts.

I think this is a case of two different types of people, like Ask vs Guess culture. To some people, myself included, asking questions about the question being asked is extremely important as it gives background information and fills out the story and gives a fuller picture. To me, asking these questions is almost necessary because how can you really give advice unless you get into the details and understand the relationships and people.

For instance, there was a recent AskMe where a guy's long time friend had banned the guy's wife from the friend's house, only to turn around later and ask teh guy for some advice. The guy didn't want to give the reason why his wife was banned from his friend's house, he just wanted advice on how to ask politely respond to the friend's request for help. To me, it's fairly insane to ignore why the banning took place and the reasoning behind it, because it's the crux of the issue. Was it a bullshit reason or not? Was the wife at fault, had she been asked not to do a certain thing repeatedly and then do it? Was the friend some sort of asshole or did he just have particular quirk, say that no one open the rare books on the library shelf and then going nuts when the wife forget and did it? These questions matter, they set the backdrop for issue of the question, i.e. what sort of reply the guy should give to his friend and can go in several different directions based on the answers to questions about why the wife was banned.

To others, those sorts of questions are seen as dismissive or off track, unimportant to the matter at hand. The issue is only X, i.e. what they specifically asked and nothing more. Don't really understand that view so I can't speak to it, but that seems to be what's going on here. Some have made up their mind about what the issue, while others don't see the issue as just X. If that's the case, then misunderstandings are bound to occur.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 AM on August 26, 2009


I love the Ask V. Guess thing; as a concept it's really filled in some communication questions. It's interesting to watch it in the workplace.

I think, though, that this is one of those threads where there are several different conversations going on and people are speaking to different things. One, is the question -- is it disrespectful or inappropriate to question the asker about alternative ideas, or to fill in more information -- and personally, I don't think it's inappropriate or a derail.

What I'm talking about, and what I think some others are talking about, is the accompanying tone of "you seem like a real moron."

So, for myself, it's the tone that's bothersome.

I can't say I've read this whole thread, but I think there's a side discussion going on about whether the OP of an AskMe should accept as a normal course of human events some non-answers, additional questions, and pleas from the answerers to reconsider X. I don't have a problem with that or even with people's occasional failure to read the question carefully (in part, because on occasion, I have failed to read the question carefully and answered "grapefruit" when someone asks, "Please recommend a citrus fruit that's not grapefruit.")

I have a problem with meanness, though, for the sake of meanness, because it's the internet and it's easy to be mean, like flipping off someone who cuts you off in traffic. What are they going to do, come to your house?

This was my hypothetical example from above (I'm recycling).
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:06 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also was hoping the mods might choose to be a little more sensitive in looking out for this.

I sort of feel that our combined responses have been

- hey this is something we already look out for but it's a problem that sometimes happens, yeah
- we're not totally sure if there's an example that you're referring to or even a type of question you're referring to where this sort of thing happens a lot
- it's hard to define edge cases for this but we'd like it if people who are questioning the premises of a question would do so with tact and care- we assert that it's okay to question the premise of a question and that many people here sort of figure out what their question truly is via the question and answer process in AskMe
- generally speaking, being nice to the OP even if they've said or done something that bothers you is a good idea and good for the community
- if what the OP has said or done bothers you, you can still answer the question but you should, as we say "check yourself before you wreck yourself" and be very very careful
- flag and move on, otherwise

As moderators, we deal with some generalities but mostly specifics. So we can explain why we deleted or left a specific comment pretty well but it's a lot harder to explain policies for larger ideas except to say "it mostly happens like this and we can talk more when we see it"

Also, and this isn't directed at you jimmyjimjim but I don't think we've mentioned it much here before... there is this thing that happens here. That thing is that someone uses the site -- asks a question, makes a comment, sumbits a project, whatever -- and for some reason that goes badly. Maybe they got a comment deleted, maybe someone was rude to them in their question, maybe their project got some weird feedback. That bad experience seems to translate into some bad energy that then becomes a MetaTalk thread, even if it's on something completely different.

This is a trend we've seen here since forever. If someone's coming in to MeTa to complain about something that is not specific, there's a 90% chance that they just had a bad experience somewhere else on the site. So, it's helpful for us to pay attention to not just what they're saying, but also to look into what else might be going on. Your recent AskMe question was not entirely dissimilar from this phenomenon you're explaining here, so it's not off-topic to ask about it. And yeah people shouldn't be such jerks about it, but almost no one is. They're scratching their heads about it.

I'm not really that psyched about the "two types of people" ways of looking at this. There's an issue you've raised and we've sort of explained our way of looking at it as mods and the community has said what they think. My personal assertion is that it's a pain when it happens, but I don't see it happening very often the way you describe [i.e. where a person is making a bad faith contribution just because they're annoyed at the OP] and I think things are mostly working okay.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:11 AM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Trying to judge the 'tone' of text is difficult and dangerous. Something that's written quickly and is very to-the-point and precise can be read as incredibly condescending and sneering, when in fact it was just intended to give the necessary information without any extraneous bullshit, or the poster was in a slight hurry or whatever.

Obviously, there is occasionally blatant rudeness, but much of what gets people's heckles up was never intended in that way, and would never have been taken that way had it been communicated in speech (where the teller, not the listener, defines and decides the tone).
posted by Dysk at 6:13 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think things are mostly working okay.

I do, too.

FWIW
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:16 AM on August 26, 2009


I think things are mostly working okay.

Thirded.
posted by Miko at 7:27 AM on August 26, 2009


I think things are mostly working okay.

Except when they're not, and even then it's just a bunch of nerds arguing about their personal preferences on the internets.
posted by electroboy at 7:35 AM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jessamyn, makes sense. Communities, as you know, are complex organisms. I'm not talking about those sort of moving feuds.....and I know you know that....but you're right, sometimes this phenomenon can be explained by that. I'm very much looking forward to klangklangston's nurturing, temperate replies to my future AskMeFis, for example! He's definitely a "keeper", btw.

And Brother Dysk, yep, we often forget, it's Internet 101 that online tone's hard to judge. But the corollary is that sometimes people's pent-up anger really does burst through unintentionally, and is palpable. That was why I gave the example of my father, who would rant and rave, blasting with an entirely inappropriate dynamic range, at stuff he deemed stupid or crazy, not ever realizing that, people don't lap that sort of thing up (he was always puzzled at their rebellious response to his public service-oriented attempts to straighten them out).

There's a lot of that going on here: arrogant people who are constitutionally annoyed by what they perceive as The Stupidity Out There (see "Confederacy of Dunces"), who, in an online, anonymous setting, don't try quite as hard as they might in real world circumstances to veil their irritated contempt. When confronted, they arrogantly and contemptuously insist they weren't being contemptuous at all....were just clearing stuff up for the mow-ron who'd got it wrong.

My point isn't that people should be gentler and kinder when they straighten out the Bad Thinking, it's that people come to AskMeFi for pragmatic answers rather than to be straightened out. And unless their assumptions are just absolutely, fatally, irretrievably bonzo - in which case straighten away! - they shouldn't be confronted with that ilk of tough love, because, really, it's O.T. (as well as inappropriate and annoying).

Thanks, all.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 7:36 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nay, things are excellent.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:41 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, not excellent. Too many posters are bugged by the syndrome I'm talking about, several of whom say they've stopped using AskMeFi because of it.

But things are, indeed, good, at least.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 7:53 AM on August 26, 2009


No, not excellent. Too many posters are bugged by the syndrome I'm talking about, several of whom say they've stopped using AskMeFi because of it. But things are, indeed, good, at least.

I'm finding you exasperating. For every single issue on MeFi there are some people who dislike it and some people who think it's a feature. You have hit upon one of those points. At some level we-as-mods have only a short list of ways to repond

- yes we see that and it needs changing [i.e. a new policy or approach]
- yes we see that and it doesn't need changing [i.e. sorry]
- we don't really see what you mean, could you explain further?
- no we don't see that, we're not changing anything
- no we dont really see that, but if it exists that's a real problem and could you explain further?

The community has more ways to repond. However for behavior that people think is transgressive it's pretty hard to get people to sign on to a "less of this sort of thing!" agreement since transgressive folks don't go for that sort of thing.

I've been spending a lot of time typing here and trying to explain and understand where you're coming from and I have to say that I still don't totally know. This may be a miscommunication thing between the way you view the site and the way I view the site, but as someone who is sincerely trying to understand this, your brand of sarcastic (or are they?) replies don't appear, again to me, to be a good faith effort to involve or engage the community to help solve the problem.

In the past, we've identified people who really do seem to thrive on this sort of shitty aggro response in AskMe and we've banned at least one person (mostly) because of it. Are there others? Could they be named by name? (email is okay) Are there people who have left AskMe because of this who have a case study that we all agree was an example of this? Is this something we think is detrimental to the site?

The whole special snowflake thing is that in an online community people have to, to a certain extent, surrender just a bit of their individuality to work towards getting along with other people. For some people, this is more than for others. For some people, it's too much. For others, it's not. Everyone's unique and special problems do not constitute something that is plaguing the community necessarily.

However, if there's a trend, something we've noticed, something users have noticed or something where we or others can point and say "this is getting worse, not better" then we'll start with our dogged fllow chart approach and say "okay how do we think we can fix it?" Just pointing the finger sort of vaguely and saying "Eh, I don't like this" isn't, to my mind, helpful. Put another way, you tagged this thread "moderation" What do you think would be a useful way to change the moderation approach to this sort of thing?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:11 AM on August 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


But things are, indeed, good, at least.

I wish everything I paid $5 for was this good.
posted by Miko at 8:22 AM on August 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Jessamyn, I'm equally exasperated. Actually, maybe a tad more than you. So I'll leave it right there.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:42 AM on August 26, 2009


I'm equally exasperated.

Then perhaps you should quit making such definitive statements, such as this:

Too many posters are bugged by the syndrome I'm talking about, several of whom say they've stopped using AskMeFi because of it.

If you're going to insist that your view is the correct one, then you should probably expect push back, especially when you refuse to cite any examples.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:53 AM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jimmyjimjim,

What you are doing here in MeTa is a pretty classic example of effective trolling. You are not responding productively to a single post in this thread and I'm beginning to suspect that you are your own biggest problem on this site (like I now know that Shelleycat is).
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:56 AM on August 26, 2009


Jessamyn, I'm equally exasperated.

Be glad I'm not Jessamyn. If I'd just put in the effort that she's put in to repeatedly try to explain the moderators position, genuinely understand where it is that you're coming from and explain that if you can show how this is really is a problem, the mods will look at how they can resolve it and I got a dismissive response like that, I'd ban your trolling ass in a wink.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:38 AM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow. Lotta Sheldons in this thread, not really enough Leonards.

jimmyjimjim: As I mentioned above, I definitely know what you're talking about here. I'm one of the people you mention who doesn't need examples because I think the problem is pretty obvious -- I think there are plenty of people who don't approach AskMe in good faith; there's a rude way and a polite way to point out what you may perceive as a poorly-thought-out aspect of someone's question, and while I see a clear majority of people contributing to AskMe in a positive and helpful manner, there's no shortage of people who clearly need help in learning to interact with people. Tone is definitely hard to detect on the Internet, but there are plenty of times when it isn't that hard.

But here's the thing: As I also mentioned, my approach -- which has been good for me and, probably, for Metafilter -- has been to stay off of AskMe for a while. The thing I tell myself when I get wound up is: Even if I'm going to choose to believe that I'm right and every other Mefite is wrong, it doesn't do me any good to keep hanging out with 30,000 wrong people. So I remove myself from the situation for a while. I suspect that, for the sake of your sanity, that's what you may need to do in this case.
posted by hifiparasol at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2009


I'm one of the people you mention who doesn't need examples because I think the problem is pretty obvious -- I think there are plenty of people who don't approach AskMe in good faith; there's a rude way and a polite way to point out what you may perceive as a poorly-thought-out aspect of someone's question, and while I see a clear majority of people contributing to AskMe in a positive and helpful manner, there's no shortage of people who clearly need help in learning to interact with people.

So what you're saying is that a clear majority of people on AskMe respond in helpful way, but there's still plenty of people who don't approach AskMe in good faith.

I want to know how you got your telepathic powers which allow you to not only assume but know how people are approaching AskMe. I'd also like to know what the difference between a "clear majority of of people" and "plenty of people" is.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:12 AM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


jimmyjimjim: Jessamyn, I'm equally exasperated. Actually, maybe a tad more than you. So I'll leave it right there.

Yes. Let's play the "who's been wronged more" game. I'm so more exasperated than any of you!
posted by Dysk at 11:20 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


And are you saying, hifiparasol, that there's a whole pile of this 'easily detectable rudeness' that's getting flagged on AskMe, but the mods are ignoring it?

Because I'm not seeing that at all. My experience has been that when stuff is obviously rude, it gets rapidly flagged and deleted.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:20 AM on August 26, 2009


I'm saying it doesn't matter. I'm saying jimmy should drop out of AskMe for a while if he has a problem with the way things are done there. It's a useful tool, but honestly, if it's causing this much angst, maybe he should just leave it alone. I came to the same conclusions myself, and decided to stop using it. You may disagree with me; that's fine.

I don't drive a Ford Focus because it's not the car for me. It may be the car for you. Great.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:38 AM on August 26, 2009


An interesting example, where someone pointed out some inconsistencies of a questioner, then they clarified, then a mod deleted the original questioning.
posted by smackfu at 11:40 AM on August 26, 2009


(I went looking for that to give it as an example of someone being relatively rude / brusque, but the person taking it well. Someone else might have taken that as "why are they attacking me?")
posted by smackfu at 11:43 AM on August 26, 2009


An interesting example, where someone pointed out some inconsistencies of a questioner, then they clarified, then a mod deleted the original questioning.

Yep, edge case and rare. We figured it was better to leave the OPs reply but take out the somewhat grounchy-seeming "wtf are you talking about exactly?" question out of there. It's an imperfect world.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:44 AM on August 26, 2009


And, if I was not clear, the deleted comment was removed a bit before the OP responded, but people often leave a tab open as they compose replies and don't see changes. In fact, this also happened in jimmyjimjim's most recent question but I emailed him and gave him an option to amend his reply to not include the now-deleted comment and that's what he did.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:50 AM on August 26, 2009


It's an imperfect world.

Now you tell me!
posted by timeistight at 12:12 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I came to the same conclusions myself, and decided to stop using it. You may disagree with me; that's fine.

I don't completely disagree with you. For example, I tend to find many of the relationship questions provoke responses that are judgemental and grounded in a sense of morality that's very different to my own. And so while I wouldn't respond in the way that some of the people there respond because I'd consider it rude to do so, I'm conscious that my own expectations may be unreasonable and so yeah, I don't read or post over there as often as I might either.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:22 PM on August 26, 2009


In lieu of posting an anonymous thousand word question summarizing the past nine years of my life, while simultaneously including too much and not enough information, yet not asking an actual question, I am going to ask questions here. I will be disappointed if you do not question my premises.

1. Can we get back to discussing our issues with our parents and exes? Because I thought I'd made my peace with them, but I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I'm pissed again but for new reasons.

2. When I lived in Kentucky, I got excited about beer not available in Kentucky. Now I live in Virginia, and I get excited about beer not distributed in Virginia, and am indifferent to the beer that used to excite me. Does this reveal something meaningful about my psyche? Or have I simply realized that while others are infatuations whose charm fades with familiarity, bourbon ale will remain true and my favorite beer for life?

3. This is a fucking urban place. Why aren't the grocery stores open all night? (More importantly, why isn't the farmers market open all night? Because what I really wanted was awesome peaches, plus going to the farmers market in the dark with flashlights would be super fun, if not optimal for produce selection.)

4. Was (redacted) a good idea? Never mind I know this one it wasn't.

5. If I drink the bourbon ale stocked in my fridge from a recent pilgramage, will I finally be able to stop overanalyzing the last nine years (Especially August-September 2000, March of 2007-June 2008 and March 2009-present. Actually never mind, March of 2007 was pretty fun except for that one night in Atlanta I'd prefer not to discuss, also 2004 can go fuck itself) and go to sleep? Please say yes.
posted by little e at 2:20 AM on August 27, 2009


pilgrimage, damn it
posted by little e at 2:22 AM on August 27, 2009


that might have been a poem, little e
posted by kathrineg at 5:25 PM on August 27, 2009


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