Why do we close AskMetafilter threads after one year? September 18, 2010 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Why do we close AskMetafilter threads after one year?

No, seriously. I frequently hit old AskMetafilter threads when I am Googling questions from several years ago. Often there is very useful information in the thread, but occasionally it is out of date, or worse, wrong. Today, I noticed this thread when searching for iTunes custom tags.

It turns out that I need the scripts for the OS X version of iTunes that were linked in the thread, which is awesome. Unfortunately, the original poster was requesting Windows-based scripts for doing the same, and their question was never answered. It turns out that Windows-based scripts for this sort of thing do exist. It would have been great if I could have added this information to the page, but questions close after 1 year, so I couldn't.

This isn't the first time that this has happened to me. I am wondering if it happens to anybody else, and if the added benefits of keeping AskMe threads open longer are outweighed by the potential risks (spammers inserting their comments into long-dead but highly-ranked threads?).

As an alternative proposal, I can imagine that with a little bit of back-end work the admins could give users the ability to 'renew' a closed thread for one year, allowing it again on the top of the new question queue or in a separate queue for revisited questions. I can't even begin to imagine the policy for limiting the number of renews or valid reasons for reopening threads aside from "this thread from 2005 has out of date information and it would be great if we could append some new advice".
posted by onalark to Feature Requests at 9:00 AM (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

We don't leave them open indefinitely because they turn into spam traps.

We've got the year threshold as a compromise solution: it's a decent window for longish-term updates for almost all questions that might merit something more than a week-later "this is what I did/bought" quickturn followup, but it means there's a much smaller collection of threads we have to do spam cleanup on at any given time. I remove driveby crap from old threads daily even as it is.

I'm not personally totally against some sort of "this is a genuinely useful update to a long-closed thread" idea, but the scarcity of such cases vs. the potential work that'd have to be done to make it possible does put it in something other than slam-dunk territory.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:10 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the renewing thing -- that sounds like a bad idea -- but it would be nice if at least the OP could add to a closed thread. I finally found out how to hang posters on an adobe wall (take a small nail and run it through a bar of soap, then tap it in!), but I can't add it to the thread.

The world will never know!
posted by vorfeed at 9:14 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


It would be neat if the original poster could still post to the thread even after one year.
posted by smackfu at 9:16 AM on September 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I think smackfu's idea is good, and was wishing for something like this myself recently. I posted this question almost 2 years ago and this week finally got around to actually buying an instrument. I'd like to be able to post an update with what I learned with my research, and where I ended up buying from, as I think that would be useful for anyone coming across the question in the future.
posted by valleys at 9:22 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that's been proposed before, and people feel like it's a problem to have a thread that's open to only one person.
posted by John Cohen at 9:22 AM on September 18, 2010


Spam traps, primarily. I could see "hey I am the OP and I'd like to add a follow-up to a now dead/closed thread" idea, but I like the idea less someone else being like "hey the advice given in that thread is WRONG, please add this follow-up, for truth's sake!" and I am concerned with one we'd get the other.

As it is now, we've got a "straggling threads" tool that shows us just comments on threads that are several weeks after the last ones and we see a lot of people trying to tuck SEO douchebag stuff into old threads.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 AM on September 18, 2010


The one year life span was imposed after a bloody off site mutiny by Nexus-6 AskMe's.
posted by nomadicink at 9:24 AM on September 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


I've spammed things you people wouldn't believe. http://attack-ships-on-fire-off-the-should.er/of/Orion/ . I hatched SEO schemes littered in the archives near the tanning booth question. All that linkfarming will be lost in time, like comments on youtube.

Time to get banned.

posted by cortex (staff) at 9:37 AM on September 18, 2010 [27 favorites]


I want more pagerank, fucker.
posted by Babblesort at 9:42 AM on September 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Describe, in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your moderator.
posted by nomadicink at 9:49 AM on September 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just curious, but how do they become spam traps? Don't you have to be a member to post anything?
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:12 AM on September 18, 2010


People sign up with the sole intention of adding links to their crappy linkfarms or whatever it is. So you'd have a thread about ... I don't know, someone who is worried about violating probation and the thread takes its course and then two months later someone posts

"I see what you mean Vermont Bail Bonds have helped me"

Of course we delete these links when we see them and ban the accounts, but this is more spam in terms of crappy non-relevant advertising, not blanket saturation of advertising. And we ban someone for doing this maybe every ... week or so, but they keep signing up and we keep banning them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:17 AM on September 18, 2010


People sign up with the sole intention of adding links to their crappy linkfarms or whatever it is.

And a few years ago, they would mostly get away with it, because (a) Recent Activity wasn't as much of an all-seeing eye as it is now and (b) we didn't have any tools in place to look for this stuff easily ourselves. So spam would drop, no one would usually see it, and goooo shitheels.

Looking through my email, it looks like that changed around the end of 2007 when I asked pb about the possibility of a "Late Update" tool to look specifically for comments made after a month or so had gone by. And man did we ever find a pile of accumulated spam when that went live.

And so these days we keep the stuff from sticking around for very long at all, which is satisfying, but we still have to deal with the going and looking and deleting and banning and dealing with the occasional whinging bottom-dweller who writes us bullshitty "i don't understand what happened" email or tries to report Matt to Paypal. Inviting more of that into our day to day routine is absolutely not an attractive notion.

We've actually hacked a question or two closed as a one-off when it became clear that it was a honeypot sort of thing—it's not something we have any elegant toolset for, but after you ban the third late-spamming chucklehead from an old WoW Goldfarming or Cash Gifting question it starts to look like the smart move.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:29 AM on September 18, 2010


I sure wish that the "this is what old people are like" question would stay open, because I'm bound to have some things to add when I become an old person.
posted by found missing at 10:57 AM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I absolutely trust the opinions of the moderators, but I am going to play Devil's Advocate here since I posed the original question.

The current argument against leaving questions open is that they are at risk from being spam-baited. It sounds to me like this is a risk in open threads too, and that the only difference is that it's not as obvious when it happens in an active open thread. Should we be relying on the Metafilter community more for this sort of thing?

Again, I can imagine that there might be a separate feed for recent comments in older questions (obviously, you can already track recent activity in a thread you posted or favorited). It would be easier to catch SPAMy/offtopicy-comments with more eyeballs on the pot, so to speak.

Anyway, the primary purpose of my question was to find out how big of a concern this is for other members of the Metafilter community, and so far it sounds like "not much of one".
posted by onalark at 11:38 AM on September 18, 2010


The current argument against leaving questions open is that they are at risk from being spam-baited. It sounds to me like this is a risk in open threads too, and that the only difference is that it's not as obvious when it happens in an active open thread. Should we be relying on the Metafilter community more for this sort of thing?

Well, more to the point, the reason questions are open for a year and not for either forever or for only a month is we wanted to find a decent balance between utility and annoying bullshit. A year seems to work pretty well on that front—it's long enough for anything but very-long-term developments to get posted if the asker wants to; the frequency of updates goes down sharply after the short term (it'd be interesting to look at the specific numbers for this, actually); and the rolling year window means that only a fraction of the existing archives is vulnerable to the linkfarming stuff we see being proportionally more of the later-on activity in dormant threads.

Chasing the spam isn't really a the-community-should-do-more thing—people definitely do let us know when they see some spam that we haven't gotten to, which is great, but our toolset for specifically looking for the stuff is pretty solid at this point so most of it disappears before anyone would have a reasonable chance of noticing it. It's seriously maybe the second thing I do every morning if there's not some more crazy pressing issue on the site to deal with.

But like I said above, there's a certain incremental unit of bullshit that comes with every bit of work we have to do on that front, so we don't want to invite more spam indirectly even if we're capable of dealing with it fairly quickly and cleanly most of the time.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:53 AM on September 18, 2010


Also to be a bit of a contrarian, if the "straggling threads" tool works well, couldn't open threads be considered a revenue source? After all, if some spammer has to fork up $5 to post the crap, and then shortly after that they get deleted and then banned - isn't that $5 mostly profit? I.E. if it takes you maybe a couple of minutes to check the "straggler" queue, delete the SEO posts and wield the mighty ban-hammer, they're paying you to delete themselves, plus some extra cash for more site beneficial (and perhaps increased moderator salary) purposes.
posted by birdsquared at 12:23 PM on September 18, 2010


Sounds like a good idea to me. Being one of an overinflated sense of self worth, I've often thought "You know what this now closed thread needs? Me." Please, I have a lot to add. It's for the greater good.
posted by Biru at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2010


Just a data point, but I've never seen a single SPAM of the type in question here. Either it is uncommon, or the mods are amazing, or both. But if it is that uncommon, given the amount of deleting of doubles, self links, trolling, noise, derails, etc, overall, is this a weighty enough reason against a proposal which may have merit?

Speaking of mods, I sure get the impression they are a little overworked these days. Maybe its time, if finances allow, to hire another full time mod, especially one from a North American night time zone. I know there is vacapinta, but it seems like he is (by intention) not engaged at the same level as c & j.
posted by Rumple at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2010


Also to be a bit of a contrarian, if the "straggling threads" tool works well, couldn't open threads be considered a revenue source? After all, if some spammer has to fork up $5 to post the crap, and then shortly after that they get deleted and then banned - isn't that $5 mostly profit?

And then that spammer may be a prick who (a) demands his $5 back on pain of paypal complaint or (b) just skips straight to the paypal complaint. Regardless of the spuriousness of that complaint, paypal's going to give us trouble about it, not the prick. And we get to deal with the shitty emails sucking up our time and energy in any case.

The notional extra bit of cash would not be worth the extra headache, at all. I would gladly take a paycut for twice the revenue we'd lose if we were able to magically prevent spammers from ever signing up in the first place. The cost of dealing with that crap is not a straight-across dollar-for-dollar proposition.

Speaking of mods, I sure get the impression they are a little overworked these days.

It's been kind of a bumpy week and in my feeling a bumpy month. I remain pretty happy with the balance we have going at this point, frustrating day here or there and all.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:38 PM on September 18, 2010


The notional extra bit of cash would not be worth the extra headache, at all. I would gladly take a paycut for twice the revenue we'd lose if we were able to magically prevent spammers from ever signing up in the first place. The cost of dealing with that crap is not a straight-across dollar-for-dollar proposition.

Fair enough. Thanks for the clarification.

Not knowing anywhere near enough about the nuts and bolts of the site, is it at all feasible to remove the ability to post active links in threads over a certain age?
posted by birdsquared at 12:51 PM on September 18, 2010


How about a "stay-open after x-amount of time" check box on the question.
posted by philosophistry at 12:56 PM on September 18, 2010


And then that spammer may be a prick who (a) demands his $5 back on pain of paypal complaint or (b) just skips straight to the paypal complaint. Regardless of the spuriousness of that complaint, paypal's going to give us trouble about it, not the prick. And we get to deal with the shitty emails sucking up our time and energy in any case.


Not to tell you guys how to run your business or anything, but wouldn't a very big "We reserve the right to cancel your Metafilter account for any reason" in the newuser.mefi on the link to the PayPal purchase pre-signup give the administrators a little more authority in swinging the banhammer and PayPal less reason to chase complaints? Because the way it reads now, it IS open to interpretation on whether paying $5 gives you the right to leave your permanent mark on Metafilteria. I would not consider the following:

"If you sign up an account to pimp your product, act like an ass, or generally just do things that break the guidelines you will be booted and there will be no refunds."

to be good legalese.
posted by onalark at 1:04 PM on September 18, 2010


Ooh ooh - just thought of this - how's about AskMe threads close after some shorter period of time than a year (when could be determined by some analysis of typical thread update timelines), but rather than saying "This post is now closed to new comments" it would say, "This post is closed to unmoderated comments - click here to request an addition", where "here" would be a link to email the suggested addition to a queue (akin to the anonymous question one) that would be posted to the thread by one of the moderators checking that there is no spam in it.

Is it reasonable to think that the increased work for the mods in being the conduit for additions to dated (AskMe only) threads would be counteracted by the (hopefully) significant decrease in spam activity that would be prevented?
posted by birdsquared at 1:09 PM on September 18, 2010


a very big "We reserve the right to cancel your Metafilter account for any reason" in the newuser.mefi

I'm guessing that when we eventually someday have a real live TOS, that'll be covered pretty well there.

I would love to see AskMe questions and even MetaFilter threads stay open longer; in practice, most of them would probably still tend to die off when the thread scrolls off the front page, but yeah, without at least one more mod to keep an eye out for spam, I can see where things could get time-consuming.
posted by Gator at 1:22 PM on September 18, 2010


How about: Don't allow newer users to post in extended-life threads? IIRC there's precedent for this already, you can't make FPP's until some threshold of participation has been satisfied.
posted by cj_ at 2:02 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about added ReCaptcha to thread comments after one year, and keeping them open?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:12 PM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not to tell you guys how to run your business or anything, but wouldn't a very big "We reserve the right to cancel your Metafilter account for any reason" in the newuser.mefi on the link to the PayPal purchase pre-signup give the administrators a little more authority in swinging the banhammer and PayPal less reason to chase complaints?

A proper Terms of Service that makes some of this stuff more blatantly specific is definitely something we want to put out, ideally on the sooner side. That said, the people we have to deal with over fuckerdom on this subject are not people reading the signup and guidelines stuff in good faith, so the fundamental problem of people paying their five bucks and then complaining when they get banned for spamming (or, less nefariously maybe but equally What The Fuck, paying their five bucks then immediately reversing/disputing the charge, which happens now again as well and we just ban them when it does) remains.

The name of the site could be YouWillBeBannedForSpammingHere.com and we'd still get stupid $5 spammer signups if the google juice was flowing.

Beyond which, and Matt can answer this more definitively than I can, but my impression of paypal is that they are not exactly great about dumping a lot of effort into researching the grounds of a payment dispute/complaint for merits before turning an angry eye to someone generating customer complaints. So it might put us in a better position if it came down to disputing something like a lock on the account, but at that point we've already been put in a shitty and annoying position by spammers who, I don't know how to emphasize this enough, generally don't give a flying fuck.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:12 PM on September 18, 2010


Mmm...googlejuice.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:30 PM on September 18, 2010


And while I dig the brainstorming and can certainly go point-by-point on some of the suggestions for at least my personal first-blush take on pros and cons, I kind of want to underscore that we feel like for the most part this really isn't a big problem crying out for a solution. There are a variety of things we could indeed try if we wanted to mitigate the new problems that changing how things work might introduce, but we could also just not change things and I feel like we'd be in pretty okay shape.

That it's a little bit of a bummer that on those odd occasions where someone has a years-later update can't stick it in the thread, totally granted. Whether that's something that we're going to put dev and maintenance and mod time into solving in a robust fashion, I'm not so sure.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:36 PM on September 18, 2010


Why not "threads close after x amount of inactivity"?
posted by Biru at 2:37 PM on September 18, 2010


Why not "threads close after x amount of inactivity"?

Because the whole point of leaving them open for a fixed window is that we have folks putting in legitimate late updates on occasion. It's also simple and straightforward, which makes explaining how that little bit of the site functions easier.

Again: the year window is a compromise that seems to work pretty well as a balance point between cutting people off too soon (I think it was originally one month, like on the blue and the grey, before we extended it at some point) and leaving things open forever (as the site did for threads on the blue in the early days) and incurring lots more spam for few very-late updates.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:43 PM on September 18, 2010


We could give the original poster a sequence of numbers that they had to type in every few days or so to keep it open. Like 4 8 15 16 23 42 or something.
posted by Big_B at 2:55 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why not "threads close after x amount of inactivity"?

Because we need a very basic rule that can be explained in about five seconds and doesn't have some complicated algorithm behind it. I really like the elegance of some of the other options, but we need something that makes immediate sense, that isn't very gameable, and that no one feels is unfair.

Creepy spammer people are going to be dicks no matter what rules we put in place. We have a check box, as we've said before, that appears when you make your first FPP, that says that the person posting the link understands that they will be BANNED if they post something they're involved with, and people still do it [and fight with us about it afterwards] pretty much weekly.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:08 PM on September 18, 2010


Just curious, but how do they become spam traps? Don't you have to be a member to post anything?

Thanks for explaining the intricacies of this. It hadn't occurred to me that people would sign up to spam in such an obvious way.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 5:29 PM on September 18, 2010


blue_beetle: "How about added ReCaptcha to thread comments after one year, and keeping them open?"

ReCaptcha's not going to work if these are actual people paying $5 to get into the site.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:48 PM on September 18, 2010


Thanks for explaining the intricacies of this. It hadn't occurred to me that people would sign up to spam in such an obvious way.

Yeah, it's kind of nuts. My main theory of behavior for this stuff is two-pronged:

1. The degree to which we are vigilant about keeping spam and linkfarming and self-promotion off of metafilter far exceeds the norm for the internet—many sites lack either the toolset, the awareness of or nose for the stuff, or even the basic proscription against linkfarming and astroturfing that we have. They don't know the problem exists, don't consider it a problem (traffic is traffic, link exchanges are links, why not), or the don't really know how to deal with the problem elegantly, if they have the resources to do so at all.

And so spammers accustomed to the relative ease of dropping bullshit comments wherever they go don't necessarily expect to get promptly caught and undone and banned here. They see $5 as an apparently worthwhile investment in some presumed high-ranking links planted in threads that get on the first page of results for some given search result they want to parley into traffic for themselves or for their client.

2. Many spammers are deeply stupid or deeply ignorant people, which is how they ended up taking up spamming as a vocation in the first place.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:30 PM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Funny how the same category of request can have such different refusal.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:57 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


And so spammers accustomed to the relative ease of dropping bullshit comments wherever they go don't necessarily expect to get promptly caught and undone and banned here.

No one expects the Modish Inquisition.
posted by zarq at 9:43 PM on September 18, 2010


Or should that be "Modish Intercession"? :)
posted by zarq at 9:44 PM on September 18, 2010


Funny how the same category of request can have such different refusal.

Not sure there's really that much difference between the two, though this thread's certainly been a bit chattier. That said, I guess I never read that one at all because this is the first I've seen of weapons-grade pandemonium's fake-me comment in there. I'm guessing there was some context for the weirdness, but it doesn't ring a bell.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:19 PM on September 18, 2010


I like birdsquared's suggestion - the idea of allowing moderated comments on old thread. Earlier this year, I came across a helpful thread about couch-buying. My wife and I bought a couch from one of the stores recommended in thread (great couch, great experience) and wanted to just toss that data point in. Unfortunately, the thread was too old. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, of course.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:58 PM on September 18, 2010


heh, this comment:

We could give the original poster a sequence of numbers that they had to type in every few days or so to keep it open. Like 4 8 15 16 23 42 or something.

just made me do such a double-take
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:12 AM on September 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


also - I love reading threads like this one, I'm always imrpessed with the care and thought that you guys put into running this place.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:14 AM on September 19, 2010


Perhaps, like smackfu's suggestion, the original poster could be allowed to update a post even after 1 year, and when that happens, the post is automatically re-opened for 1 month? Then if you really want to reply to an old post, you could memail the author and he or she could choose to reopen access.
posted by fings at 7:59 AM on September 19, 2010


I really like fings' idea. There are multiple times when the best question has already been asked, and I feel weird reasking it basically just to add my experience, but the thread is closed. Cue frustration.

However, if doing that possible one month reopening would cause MORE frustration for the mods, then okay. I understand.

But I still want the pony of the OP being able to post to closed threads.
posted by saveyoursanity at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2010


And we ban someone for doing this maybe every ... week or so, but they keep signing up and we keep banning them.

That seems like a pretty easy five bucks to me.
posted by EarBucket at 12:58 PM on September 20, 2010


That seems like a pretty easy five bucks to me.

Well, it's not the same someone. Tracking down spammers is a little more labor-intensive than the other things we do and so while the idea of a spammer honeypot that generated $5 bills is appealing in one way it also seems like a one way ticket to a lot more nastygram email than I feel like reading.

For every five spammers that slink away, we get maybe two who want to argue the case in a jerk way or plead their case in a "hey I'm really a nice guy" way which usually turns into the jerk way when we say "no seriously, you are staying banned" I feel lucky that we haven't had one totally off the rails spammer call us or show up at our homes yet, though I guess you have to really be able to do this sort of jerkwad stuff in bulk to see any return from it and crazy aggression rarely scales so maybe we're safe.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2010


Yeah. I mean, I don't know if there's a good way to convey this, beyond what we've said already. I'm straining for a metaphor that isn't silly, but, okay:

Imagine you run a bar. Nice place, lots of happy regulars. You've got a cover charge at the door. And a few times a week, someone just drops trou and takes a shit in the middle of the dance floor. You kick 'em out, you clean up the shit, the whole thing doesn't last very long, and you got $5 out of the deal.

Proposal: try to find a way to encourage more floor-shitters to drop by.

It feels about like that. It's really not something where it's remotely worth contemplating. There are far better ways to make $5.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:16 PM on September 20, 2010


If I throw metaphorical saw dust on the floor of your metaphorical dance floor, can I have a cut of the metaphorical shit-cleaning money?
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:03 AM on September 21, 2010


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