MoneyFilter for MetaFilter February 21, 2002 11:44 AM   Subscribe

MoFi4MeFi (MoneyFilter for MetaFilter): Last September, Matt asked the following: What if I killed [MeFi] sometime in the future, and brought it back, but you had to pay a small membership fee or some other 'high' barrier to entry? That'd keep the crowd small, manageable, and only those that really cared to discuss things would contribute. Would that make things better? Worse?

The discussion that followed did not necessarily address the question (a few positively responded to a subscriber-based MeFi). Maybe, this idea needs to be reviewed again. [more inside]
posted by jacknose to MetaFilter-Related at 11:44 AM (46 comments total)

I can imagine a MeFi 30 Plan ($30 a year gives you posting and commenting privileges and a free set of textads). Matt could put a cap on the number of members--let's say 5000--which would give him a budget of $150,000 a year (minus taxes). People could still visit the site for links, and those who wanted to troll would have to pay for the privilege. Pros? Cons? Would you pay? (These numbers are just my measly suggestions and not so important to the discussion; it could be a MeFi 20, 40, 50 Plan without any kind of cap, or whatever Matt would want.)
posted by jacknose at 11:45 AM on February 21, 2002

I've gone on the record saying I would pay for MeFi if Matt decided to go that way, and I'll affirm that now. I think it would address a lot of the problems with the site. I recognize that it would cause some other problems, such as a (not unreasonable) sense of entitlement along the lines of "well I don't care if it doesn't fit in with your little vision of the site, Haughey, I paid my dues and I can do what I want." But this is, of course, avoidable.

posted by Hildago at 12:00 PM on February 21, 2002

I once posted about this issue myself. Most of the replies were "Would" or "Would Not" based on the amount. I suggest that people not respond to whether or not they would want to pay 30$ a year, but rather what sort of payment plan (if any) would be of benefit to MeFi and how.

For myself - I think that 10 dollars a year for the ten thousand members would be more than reasonable, and probably encourage new people to lurk a bit longer before joining. Also, I think that paying for the right to post would encourage members to be a little more circumspect about their comments. At the very least, I don't think it would hurt MeFi. In the long run it would probably pay for new features, etc. that would make the site better.

Its been pointed out that anyone can contribute money to MeFi through donations. That's fine - but is it equitable?

Is there something wrong with a MetaFilter that makes money?

posted by xammerboy at 12:10 PM on February 21, 2002

While I'm not opposed to the idea of paying for MeFi/MeFee/MoFi, I'd worry that it would eliminate one of the things I like the most: the random, in-depth, expert (or faux-expert) comment from a lurker, or someone who normally doesn't comment and probably wouldn't subscribe. They might not have the trove of posts logged in their heads like some of us, but that might be a good thing (unless they start linking to Get Your War On or stick figure kung fu or some recurring quintuple posted page). The casual MeFi'er is as valuable as the die hards, methinks.

How about a pledge drive instead? :)
posted by thebigpoop at 12:20 PM on February 21, 2002

You know I think was a good idea, people who pay their subscription get access to it, while the non-paying crowd continues to do what they are doing right now (although perhaps the frequency of posting a new thread could be changed). This way we won't alienate the average MeFi member, and the subscribers pick up the tab.
posted by riffola at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2002

I would pay too, but I think Hildago has a very good point above about entitlement. Part of what makes MeFi so cool, part of the Meta-Filter in the literal sense of what the title actually means, is the fact that, apart from Matt's banning power, there is a self-policing aspect of the thing that has developed more or less organically, and works for free. I think that if everyone was paying to get in, the experience would become less collaborative, and people's motivations to contribute would actually decrease...I don't think I'd be able to help feeling like a "customer" and not a "member."

When I actually have a discretionary income, MeFi is high on my list for a place to put some of it voluntarily.
posted by bingo at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2002


What about a tiered membership plan? Your membership is free up to ten posts? I don't think your random lurker makes many more posts than that. That would really encourage people who haven't decided to become a pay-member to think carefully about whether or not they want to post.

Also, I wonder if the situation you describe doesn't already exist, since there are too many memberships right now for new people to join.
posted by xammerboy at 12:37 PM on February 21, 2002

I think having a subscriber-based MetaFilter is not simply about making Matt some money, but filtering out the noise on MetaFilter. I'm not a mega-MeFite (a highly active member), and I don't have track record of exceptional posts or comments, but based on the growing number of complaints and concerns regarding the quality of MeFi, I think having some kind of "barrier" would be beneficial to MetaFilter. To be honest, I don't know if I would even pay to be a member, but I would continue to visit the site. Whatever the decision (MiFee or not), it will be Faustian bargain. Something will be gained but something will also be lost. It's a matter of which bargain you want.
posted by jacknose at 12:40 PM on February 21, 2002

oops, MeFee.
posted by jacknose at 12:41 PM on February 21, 2002

I dunno, guys... if you can get it done, far out. But there's a serious red flag going up here in my head.

1) Metafilter exists and flourishes by its content.

2) With 13,603 members now all capable of posting, we have averaged about 25 posts per day (based on the last 2 days - no rocket science)

3) Even with 13,603 members (theoretically) searching, we still hear about the poor quality of front page posts.

4) When you put a price on posting, you are essentially asking an author to pay you for the privlege of appearing in your magazine. You're asking for two things from the author - first, the content that keeps the site popular, and second, a monetary kickback.

5) When you put a price on posting, you put an additional pressure on those who Will pay to 1) find and present a daily range of links, plus 2) participate in a daily discussion in each link. Inevitably, you're going to end up with a legion of low quality links, and scads of empty or near-empty comment threads.

In this pay-per model, you've beaver-dammed your own content stream; don't be surprised if the river runs dry in a couple of months and people leave town. What's left is simply a circle-jerk for the folks who paid for the use of the hall. I suspect that would get tired awfully quickly, even for the participants.

Totally my opinion - I know that there are some sites - well, at least one: 'Something Awful' - that manages to live on paid subscriptions. But I couldn't tell you how it is; it's not my party, so I've never been there.
posted by Perigee at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2002

i have a question, since this topic's been brought up many times: why do you think a subscription model will filter out the noise here? maybe fewer participants will imply less noise, but it won't necessarily improve the signal:noise ratio.
posted by moz at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2002

Kill it and bring it back fee-based?


You know, that's what crack dealers do. They give you a taste for free.


And then you have to pay.


Or so I'm told.

Seriously, I think it's a great idea, I'd certainly pony up for it. Toss in some added value in whatever-form-that-will-take (like maybe the ability to see threads you're currently posting in arranged just so), and I think it would work well.
posted by ebarker at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2002


I don't see why the same rules wouldn't apply. Matt would still be able to kick people out, and the self-policing would continue.

As for the money, I understand what you mean. I have no job right now, but would still be willing to spend a nominal amount.
posted by xammerboy at 12:49 PM on February 21, 2002

My guess is, out of 13,000+ members only a few thousand (3000?) actually post and comment. (I have no data to back that up.) If that's the case, you wouldn't see much of a change regarding the flow/amount of content.

maybe fewer participants will imply less noise, but it won't necessarily improve the signal:noise ratio.

moz, that's true. ("life is like a box of . . .") However, you are likely to filter out someone who has joined MeFi simply to wreak havoc. It's the difference between borrowing something or owning something; you're more likely to care about something you own.

$10/10000 members would be a tempting plan for me.
posted by jacknose at 12:59 PM on February 21, 2002

I think a subscribers-only MeFi would be worthwhile. It would be important to incorporate xammerboy's point about having x "free" posts/comments for non-paying members.

I think it's also important that a system of 'scholarships' of sorts be offered, so that those who can't afford to join still have a shot of obtaining membership.
posted by Marquis at 1:03 PM on February 21, 2002

3) Even with 13,603 members (theoretically) searching, we still hear about the poor quality of front page posts.

Perigee -- some would argue (and I would tend to agree) that the poor quality of front page posts and comments is not in spite of, but rather due to the 13,603 members. Well, to be fair, let's just say it's a contributing factor.
posted by Hildago at 1:09 PM on February 21, 2002

Although a subscription based system might help create better posts, the opposite could also happen. People who pay for a service could get the attitude of "hey, I'm paying for this, I'm going to post what I god damn want to".

I subscribed to Blogger Pro, mostly to support the site, partially for the added features. I do find myself a little peeved when the servers bog down or don't post. When the service was free I didn't care so much. I wonder wht the equivalent would be with MeFi.
posted by jonah at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2002

But hasn't somebody already brought up this point in the past - paying for something implies a certain amount of demand on the service. If people are paying "x" for a subscription, they're going to be far less willing to shrug off server outages and potential "crappy" links.

Of course, the real question is what Matt wants to do. If he's interested in having "The Metafiler Network" become his fulltime career, I'm sure he could do that. Many people have commented in the past that they'd be willing to contribute in some form or another.

But keep in mind that you will end up alienating a big chunk of people. Not because of their cashflow, but because a lot of people have vowed to never pay for anything on the Net. One other thing to think about is exchange rates. $30US converted to various country's currency could end up being a big bite. Must remember to think globally!
posted by cyniczny at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2002

Hey jacknose and xammerboy, why don't you start your own blogs and make up whatever rules you want to have for them instead of trying to make policy here?
posted by Lynsey at 1:44 PM on February 21, 2002

As I recall, the idea was that Matt would, when he had time/resources, develop a MetaFilter pro that included things like thread tracking, possibly even filters of some kind etc.

He would then charge for those additional power user features while leaving MeFi proper to continue as it currently did.

Things preventing that as I understand them include:
  • Setting up some kind of e-commerce structure to allow for the collection of money. This may have since been solved since he's obviously able to charge for the text ads.
  • Getting the server to where it can handle the load - it seems to be on the breaking point without all the additional whiz bang stuff
  • Getting the time/motivation to do it.
Looking to subscriptions to improve the quality of posts seems like a flawed idea. Of course I could be totally remembering wrong as well.
posted by willnot at 1:46 PM on February 21, 2002


I think the reason for having MetaTalk went over your head.


I guess the question is whether or not one thinks that raised expectations would be a good thing. Personally, I do.

Also: More money may mean more free time for Matt - not less, and charges could be tiered internationally. For example: Brits could be charged ten pounds instead of dollars. Whatever the solution, I don't believe that thinking globally kills the fee based membership idea.

posted by xammerboy at 1:50 PM on February 21, 2002

I'm with you, Hildago; completely. In fact, that's kind of my point. A net of 13,000 people casts pretty wide; a net of 500 (my optimistic estimate of those who might actually pay out cash for MeFi) is going to be a whole lot smaller, therefore less likely to find some of the more bizarre links out here that make the site worthwhile.

Good links don't come cheap out here; I myself haven't posted any Front Page Links in dogs years, because I just haven't seen anything noteworthy and new to pass on. And as it is, it's become a private sport of mine to see how many stories that arrive here lately come via regular news sources or are simply making the Fark/ slashdot rounds. That's why I value the number of users we have - fewer users= fewer opportunities for one of those original 'gold strike' Front posts.

I'm gonna be horrible about this, but here goes:

xammer has made 3 front page posts; one, less than a month ago, that was simply a poll on this very subject. One was a post to CNN. One was a very cool link to the Defense deaprtment. Xammer, absolutely NO disrespect intended, but you're one for three in my book.

Hildy, you've done 6 in the last year, 3 of which were news links. You're batting about .500 in my book; but I LOVED the "fake or photo" link.

Now, this is NOT to tear anybody down - my link-outs Never caught the world on fire. But I think it does point out that none of us are sure-fire perfect 'front page post' machines, and that it's probably a good thing we've got a large usership to seek, fetch and find. Were Matt to close the membership to the small portion of people willing to pay, and you'll find that genuine gold posts are gonna get a lot fewer and far between.
posted by Perigee at 2:53 PM on February 21, 2002

Maybe a variation on what willnot said: a Metafilter DeeLux, perhaps by invite only, with fee. Totally separated from Metafilter regular, or built as a throughway. New members introduced by recommendation, vetted by a current member, who have done time in MefiReg and shown they are worth bothering with. They get personally approved by Matt (or even a vote of the current membership), pay their $10, and are welcomed into DeeLux status. MefiReg would stay pretty much the same and could serve as a proving ground for potential recruits. AND DeeLux members could/would participate fully in Regular as much or as little as they wanted, of course. DeeLux, since the membership would consist of those folks whom Matt/the current membership has/have personally chosen/approved, could have far less strict FPP rules, because people would already know what's worth posting and Matt could eject abusers with impunity ("... and I'm keeping your $10 too!")

Elitist? You betcha. Would I want in? Absolutely.
posted by UncleFes at 3:05 PM on February 21, 2002

I'm beginning to wonder if the quality of posts has less to do with those who post and more to do with depleting quality of content on the Internet. You can only dip into the well so many times. It makes sense that two and a half years later (900 days/20 posts a day), the number of new and interesting posts would be waning (thus the increase of double-posts and news posts).
posted by jacknose at 3:24 PM on February 21, 2002

I know the idea of a mod system has been kicked around to death in here, but I just don't like the idea myself. I like the controlled chaos that through group policing seems to produce a more or less interesting front page everyday.

I like MetaFilter the way it is. Am I in the minority? Or has coming to MetaTalk everyday made me think so? If it was a question of subscribing to the site because Matt need the $$ to run it, then sure, I'd be on board (I'm already a Text-Add buyer). If it's a question of charging a fee for the sole purpose of changing the site to something that it isn't, I'm not so sure I'd be jumping at it.

Yes, I can hear the response to that... then you get left behind, as much as I enjoy this site now, that might be the case. Maybe I'd fall in the first time around, but I don't know if I'd be down for the renewal. I certainly wouldn't pay for /. or Plastic merely because of the fact that mob opinion does not make +1 Funny funny or +1 Interesting interesting [though -1 Troll is usually dead on]. I know that this site has more discerning and varied tastes than those two examples, but so does K5 and I still come here way way way more because it feels less like a place where I'm instajudged© on what I say and more like a community. I'd rather have a MeFite tell me I'm full of shit than anonymously rank my comment or thread.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:55 PM on February 21, 2002

From a commented out post at
Metafilter has been so much more enjoyable and easier to read since Matt added some new features for a few of us to play with (he must have had little to do over the holiday break).

The new feature set includes the ability to approve posts to the front page (a page, actually), rate fellow MeFi users (from "I love this person" on down to "I never want to see anything from this idiot"), change the look and feel (again, on, a more robust search mechanism, statistics (most popular links clicked on, most popular poster, least popular poster), and the ability to sort posts chronologically, by poster rating, by most comments, by most recent comments, and by most recently commented on by me. Metafilter is readable again....thanks, Matt.
Now who wouldn't pay for all that? :)
P.S: I think this was a joke played on us by Jason and Matt.
posted by riffola at 3:58 PM on February 21, 2002

the number of new and interesting posts would be waning (thus the increase of double-posts and news posts). -jacknose

I agree. While the internet is not really rapidly expanding, it seems that +the only websites being produced are porn sites and blogs (and sometimes blogs about porn sites). I guess you could call this the Law of MetaFilter© (or maybe Haughey's First Law), where the number of MetaFilter posts per day outpaces the expansion of the world wide web*, and after the number of posts reach a certain threshold, they become redundant or news related by a factor of 10. Or something like that.

* Meaning new, interesting sites and content.

posted by insomnyuk at 4:28 PM on February 21, 2002

Again with this?

And regarding moderation schemes, and whatnot: If I remember correctly, Matt has said several times that he doesn't like the idea and has no intention of implementing it.
posted by Su at 4:54 PM on February 21, 2002

One need only look at Salon to see how well charging for content will go over. What did they get, half a percent of their readership signing up for premium service?
posted by MegoSteve at 5:18 PM on February 21, 2002


By that logic, /dot and Fark would be much better blogs, as they have much larger audiences. The thing that draws me to MeFi is not the slamdunk, goldmine links, but the well thought out dialogue between members.

I really do like MeFi the way it is now. I wouldn't want it changed if that meant destroying what it is, but I don't think trying a fee based model does that.

I wonder if the link quality dipping has anything to do with the general populace's perception that the internet was really a sham that wasn't capable of producing anything that people really valued, or, at least were willing to shell out a couple bucks for - other than porn and gambling.

posted by xammerboy at 5:36 PM on February 21, 2002

One need look further, I think. How about The Well? I'm only aware of it peripherally, as I have never been a member, but I think it would be a better comparison to MetaFilter than Salon..

posted by Hildago at 5:37 PM on February 21, 2002

xammerboy, just a note. If Brits are charged £10 and Americans are charged $10 then I will cry foul given that the exchange rate is roughly $1.5 to the £ it should be about £7.50 (plus the usual international fulfilment costs).

and for my 2pence. It's got to be the MeFi Pro system, blocking off free and easy access to the majority will stultify the community in the medium/long term.
posted by nedrichards at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2002

Now, this is NOT to tear anybody down - my link-outs Never caught the world on fire. But I think it does point out that none of us are sure-fire perfect 'front page post' machines, and that it's probably a good thing we've got a large usership to seek, fetch and find. Were Matt to close the membership to the small portion of people willing to pay, and you'll find that genuine gold posts are gonna get a lot fewer and far between. -- Perigee

No offense taken. I thought about the same thing when I was posting my reply to you, and when I realized that I suck as a front page poster, I went back and added a mention about the quality of comments. There are a lot of us like that, for sure. Personally, I get almost all my links from Metafilter anyway, as I don't have much time to surf on my own.

But I try to contribute to the community by way of participating as best I can in the discussion of posts, which in my vanity I like to think of as of some importance. :)

And this works pretty well, all in all.. the people who are good at finding links find links, and the rest of us just bitch about them. That is the nature of the beast, and I think that sort of system would persist no matter how large or small the community became. So, I guess that by saying the quality of metafilter as a whole would probably go up with fewer but more dedicated users, I am committed to saying that that quality isn't necessarily related to the number of good front page posts.. which seems intuitively correct to me, but I will have to think about it some more.
posted by Hildago at 5:50 PM on February 21, 2002

Please, no. Paid subscription kills diversity. Students, teenagers, the unemployed, pensioners, people without credit cards - all unable to join this proposed fee-based site.

Donations, yes. Mefi pro, yes. Diversity good.
posted by kv at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2002

kv, I doubt the subscription fee we are all boldly hypothesizing would not be something so restrictive that anyone could not afford to pay once a year. The real hindrance, I think, would be willingness to pay, but we shouldn't confuse that with ability to pay.
posted by Hildago at 7:28 PM on February 21, 2002

Well, not speaking for the conversations, xammer, but Slashdot and Fark are some of the main fodder-streams for Metafilter Front Page Posts, along with the news services; which really goes to prove my point a bit.

I tend to frequent Fark quite a bit; probably as much as here, but not as vocal. And I watch the morning posts there and try to guess which ones will get trucked over here by the end of the evening. Usually, they do. ("Teddybears to watch you", for example, was on Fark this morning...) I only occasionally see a Metafilter find ported to Fark. Slashdot I can only assume; there's not enough hours in the day. But it is often credited as the founder of the link within a Front Page Post, so I assume it must also be a source of quickly-mined wit, wisdom and wonder.

So, to a point, Slashdot and Fark both could be pointed to as being successful in mining material because of the size of their audience. The quality of banter is another question entirely; I don't think this august Mefi gathering is likely to go on a 'boobies' spree anytime soon. ~Grin~
posted by Perigee at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2002

"I don't think this august Mefi gathering is likely to go on a 'boobies' spree anytime soon."

I wish we would. I don't see nearly enough boobies on the Web any more.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:50 PM on February 21, 2002

Hildago, it's not just an issue of the price - it's being able to pay it, as well. I'm from Australia and I didn't get a credit card til I was 23. Before then, it was impossible to pay US-based sites for subscription services.
posted by kv at 8:08 PM on February 21, 2002

what kv said (first time). I see five issues with the crassly stated MoFi4MeFi proposal. First issue: It's not a price issue, unless it were a ridiculous price, of course. That being said, here's the second issue. I don't have a credit card and probably never will. What would people like me do, send Matt a check? Third issue: from what we've seen happen on the internet, subscriptions for formerly free things seem to lead to the slippage, and ultimately, to the demise of good sites/services (like Napster or Salon, for two examples). Fourth issue: I agree with what eyeballkid said, too: "I like MetaFilter the way it is." Fifth issue: why is it other people crying poormouth at Metafilter? Isn't that up to Matt?
posted by Lynsey at 9:17 PM on February 21, 2002

Add me to the "no credit card, no need for one" group.

I've yet to see a web site improved by a paid subscription scheme.

posted by Mars Saxman at 9:01 AM on February 22, 2002

I like MetaFilter the way it is. Am I in the minority?

I'd say in the vast majority, eyeballkid. The truth is we all keep coming here and apart from one or two exceptions we'd prefer everybody to stay here - including the interesting lurkers who pop in once a year with words of gold.

I say everybody on the assumption that everybody who comes here likes MetaFilter too - at least enough. If you start charging members, only the fanatics - and the richer fanatics at that - will stay.

A two-tier system, as cleverly proposed by UncleFes, would also create an unhealthy, awkward feeling. User numbers, newbies and veterans, A-listers and journeymen, bloggers and non-bloggers, liberals and conservatives, smokers and non-smokers, San Franciscans and New Yorkers, Americans and caetera...are more than enough to keep it interesting without having a further divide between the deeluxers and the proles.

Donations, textads and licensing agreements really are the only way, IMO.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2002

Yeah, what Miguel said, but less windy and with more dick jokes.
posted by dong_resin at 10:50 AM on February 22, 2002

God I'm lazy.
posted by dong_resin at 10:51 AM on February 22, 2002

*adds Mars to the "no credit card, no need for one" group*

posted by rodii at 12:50 PM on February 22, 2002

It would be nice if there were a couple more self-sustaining models on the internet (other than gambling and porn). What I'm hearing is that this site cannot be self-sustaining and good at the same time. None of us really know the answer to that question, but I think it's a worthwhile thing to find out.
posted by xammerboy at 1:04 PM on February 22, 2002

Just incidentally.. you don't need a credit card to pay for online transactions. I don't have one, for instance, and never have.
posted by Hildago at 3:50 PM on February 22, 2002

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