Why is my cat doing $weirdthing? March 26, 2012 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Ask Metafilter is becoming less useful as the site grows.

As the site has grown in popularity and more people join just to ask questions, the ratio between people who are knowlegeable and people who ask questions has fallen. This means that the questions on AskMe are coming in so thick and heavy that questions are buried before they can get answered properly.

I don't really know what the solution here is, except that it would be nice if there were some way to slow down the flow of questions so that each question can have its time in the sun.

Potential ideas:
-Upping the time limit between posts from one to two weeks
-Requiring good faith participation on the rest of the site to be able to ask questions
-Somehow discouraging questions where a simple Google search would suffice

All of these could have adverse side-effects, but I think this is a conversation we should be having.
posted by dunkadunc to Etiquette/Policy at 4:44 PM (129 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

This'll be interesting.
posted by dfriedman at 4:45 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


This means that the questions on AskMe are coming in so thick and heavy that questions are buried before they can get answered properly.

Examples?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:48 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


As the site has grown in popularity and more people join just to ask questions, the ratio between people who are knowlegeable and people who ask questions has fallen.

I'm not sure this follows, on a couple of points:

- We've had steady growth in total users over time but not remotely explosive growth, with the total number of minimally active users in any given month being on par with what it was several years ago. So in terms of sheer size we're not in some new ballpark.

- There's no compelling reason that I can see to assume that there's a specific significant difference in the knowledgeability of folks who've joined more recently vs. those who have been around longer as far as question and answer domains; with an effectively basically steady userbase size and no obvious cohort effect there, it's not clear why folks asking now would be worse off than folks asking a few years ago.

Maybe there is something more specific you have in mind for seeing this; feel free to elaborate, I might be misunderstanding you. But on the face of it it doesn't feel like there's an obvious reason to believe that the stated issue is actually an issue.

As far as user activity and volume of askme question/answer activity, much of that can be looked at quantitatively using the Infodump if you're interested in testing any activity volume assumptions for this.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:51 PM on March 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


I haven't noticed this, but I'm always up for an improvement in quality wherever it can be found.
posted by rhizome at 4:51 PM on March 26, 2012


Or to put it differently, I only answer questions that I am interested in and have time to answer. So it doesn't matter if there are tons of questions, I'm simply sticking to what I can and want to do.

If anything, tthere are more questions these days that I personally am not interested in answering, but I don't perceive that as a site problem, just a shift in one person's interests.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:53 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


But according to your reasoning, there are also more people to answer each of the questions. So each question still has loads of people available to answer it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:53 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can you give some examples of questions that aren't being answered properly? An example?

Because without that this complaint is baffling.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:54 PM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I joined recently. Therefore, the answers are better than ever. QED.
posted by michaelh at 4:54 PM on March 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm not seeing the effect you're talking about. If I scroll back for the past four or five days, each day seems to consist of two pages (not screens, but pages, from the top to the "older posts" bottom link). I can't perceive that I am reading fewer questions, or answering fewer.

I sort of enjoy the greater variety of questions.
posted by HuronBob at 4:55 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, good faith participation is already required, as far as I know.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:55 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a typo on the about page of your website.
posted by grog at 4:55 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't really think this is happening, but if it was, the next logical step wouldn't be to slow down questions, but instead to change the front page to be more to your liking. We have the My Ask feature to try and show you the questions you would be interested in, but we could do more with it.

But again, that's only if we identified this over asking as a real issue, which so far I haven't seen it be a real problem.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:56 PM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I understand your position, dunkadunc, but I disagree, and think AskMe's growth is a net good. I actually like the dynamic as it exists, because I think enough people are around AskMe to prevent most decently-phrased questions from falling through the cracks.

Two-week limits would prevent time-sensitive questions in a whole bunch of cases.

Requiring good faith participation on the rest of the site to be able to ask questions? You mean forcing people to participate on the blue? That's a recipe for disaster right there.

Stiffer moderation of questions would kill all the fun instances of "Suggest me a movie about X".

No fun. No fun at all.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 4:59 PM on March 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


And to address the specific idea bullet points, because I get where you're coming from on these but they aren't things we're going to make changes on:

-Upping the time limit between posts from one to two weeks

We tried this once upon a time. It caused only a small fractional reduction in the overall pace of questions while stressing a whole lot of people out. It turns out that most folks don't ask that often in the first place, but they're really kind of bothered when the rare back-to-back question need comes up about a week apart and they can't ask again.

-Requiring good faith participation on the rest of the site to be able to ask questions

Folks are welcome to participate on multiple parts of the site (and I think it's the best way to go because this place is interesting as a whole and as a sum of its parts), but it's not something we're going to require, because if folks don't want to spend time on the blue or the grey there's nothing to be gained for them or for the site in forcing them to fake it. Some folks are pretty much Ask-only, just like some folks are pretty much Mefi-only. That's okay.

-Somehow discouraging questions where a simple Google search would suffice

To a degree, this is a matter of flagging questions that have that problem. That said, it's rare that we see something that unambiguously hits that level of Google Thisness, and it's not something that I've seen any kind of increase in recently. Sometimes people have sort of basic questions; that's always been the case and always will be, but if it's a basic but well-formed question that isn't literally trivia, it's pretty much okay to ask.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:02 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the site has grown in popularity and more people join just to ask questions, the ratio between people who are knowlegeable and people who ask questions has fallen.

No it hasn't. As the site has grown more in popularity, you have also grown wiser with age and are realizing that anybody has the ability to answer anything on the internet. Its just that it might just be bullshit. Same as it ever was. Congrats on the wisdom.
posted by karathrace at 5:04 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, that's what you mean by good faith participation in the rest of the site? I thought you meant just don't be a jackass all the time.

As I read your your question again, you seem to be implying something about the people who joined after you did. Are we somehow not as knowledgeable or as useful as you would like us to be?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:07 PM on March 26, 2012


My last four questions had fantastic and very helpful answers. Is that not the norm anymore? (Am really asking, not trying to be sarcastic.) I guess I'd also like to see some examples of what you're describing, duncadunc.

Interestingly enough, 81 questions have the unresolved tag. It's added by the user, so that's not really representative of anything.

I remember there used to be a way to search the site for AskMe questions without answers, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to do it anymore.
posted by zarq at 5:07 PM on March 26, 2012


The first two suggestions are pretty much nonstarters, but is there something to be explored with the third? Could some mechanism be added to the askme posting process that would automatically drop the tags on a question into a Google search in another tab before the question gets posted? Could that possibly cut down on static? I know very little about how this site or any other site is built, but isn't there an automatic site search in place here to cut down on double posts?
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:10 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only thing worse than all the horrible new people and their dumb questions are the horrible old people and their superior attitudes. Let's just close up the entire thing and start over.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:10 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Requiring good faith participation on the rest of the site to be able to ask questions

The problem is that a few people seem to elect themselves arbiters of what is good faith participation, while themselves frequently acting in bad faith when they have the safety of a mob behind them. I could name several people who are bullies in that respect, but even I don't think they should be disqualified from Ask Metafilter. It is pretty much it's own site, and I hope it stays that way for a long time to come.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:11 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought this was what My Ask was for, maybe people don't know it's there?
posted by The Whelk at 5:12 PM on March 26, 2012


I remember there used to be a way to search the site for AskMe questions without answers, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to do it anymore.

I know a website where you can get the answer to that question.
posted by scalefree at 5:16 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not really related to the current discussion, but since this is the current AskMeFi meta, I'd just like to take the opportunity to say that it took a significant amount of willpower to not answer the squeaky cheese Ask with: "Mice?"

That is all.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:19 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember there used to be a way to search the site for AskMe questions without answers

Click on the "Unanswered" tab on the front page of the green.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:20 PM on March 26, 2012


Ah! Thanks, cortex.
posted by zarq at 5:39 PM on March 26, 2012


Are there more questions and more answers than there used to be? That hasn't really been my experience.

I certainly could've used a few more wild guesses on this question.
posted by Kattullus at 5:45 PM on March 26, 2012


level of Google Thisness.
Measured in units of googlability.
posted by bru at 5:51 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The questions-zooming-by thing is something that's been bugging me for a while, but it was this question that finally led me to post this MeTa. I asked the question this afternoon, but people didn't read the whole question so I had to reiterate what I needed help with. By that time, it was already more than halfway down the page with only one useful answer.

To be honest, a lot of the questions I ask are pretty niche and require someone who's pretty knowlegable about things- minimal italo disco, synesthetic music, or flashing PRLs without bricking a phone.

I get the impression that questions that require some back-and-forth (IE: answerers didn't read the whole question/further details needed) don't get properly answered because they get buried. I think there's a certain lack of depth, as if the volume of things is making questions just a little too ephemeral.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:53 PM on March 26, 2012


Come on! This is a great suggestion! I think this would be an awesome six-sigma project. We could even kaizen week the snot out of this.

Wait... someone slap me. Work is eating my brain with process improvement. Maybe a two week ban on metatalk comments between comments would help.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:57 PM on March 26, 2012


I answer fewer questions than I used to.

There's your quality drop right there.
posted by Trurl at 5:58 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Huh, really fascinating to see which questions go unanswered! I totally understand nobody knowing the answer to "I saw a woodcut, no maybe it was a movie, somewhere in Europe in the 1960s, and I think it was about a Turkish labor activist who fell in love with his brother's wife, or maybe his accountant?, and there was a scene with caves and a baked potato or something like that. Actually now that I think about it this may have been a prog-rock instrumental, possibly by Beatrix Potter or a similar children's author." But searching for a divorce lawyer in Los Angeles? A capoeira blog? THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED THESE PEOPLE :{
posted by threeants at 6:02 PM on March 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


i find that if i mark a best answer within the first couple of hours, i get less answers. maybe this is more about how you ask questions/interact in the question/mark best answers? you're still on the front page, barely a scroll down, and the day is still young. you haven't even gotten to the users who don't hit ask.me until after the kids are in bed.
posted by nadawi at 6:06 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I get the impression that questions that require some back-and-forth (IE: answerers didn't read the whole question/further details needed) don't get properly answered because they get buried.

That back and forth dynamic has worked quite well on numerous occasions in relationship AskMes.

Regarding this MeTa, it seems as though AskMe isn't working for you. Perhaps there's something different you could be doing when asking?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:08 PM on March 26, 2012


On the topic of your specific askme, I'd suggest walking it over to Music Talk and asking there as well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:17 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


To be honest, a lot of the questions I ask are pretty niche and require someone who's pretty knowlegable about things

Well, not to state the obvious, but doesn't this mean that a music forum might serve your interests better? It seems to me that if there aren't many responses, it's likely because few people know how or want to answer your questions.
posted by peripathetic at 6:20 PM on March 26, 2012


The imminent death of AskMe has been predicted ever since it started existing. So yeah, nothing new here. That's not to say it hasn't changed, rather it hasn't changed in the way you're talking about.

Although I have noticed that my ratio of deleted answers vs. non-deleted answers has increased in proportion to the number of site moderators.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:21 PM on March 26, 2012


I get the impression that questions that require some back-and-forth (IE: answerers didn't read the whole question/further details needed) don't get properly answered because they get buried.

I'm with the fellas in thinking I haven't felt like I've been seeing this much, but maybe I haven't been looking. I know there are a lot of high volume answerers/readers who do stick to MyAsk so they may miss some of the other types of questions and I know that I trawl the stumped/unanswered questions when I'm feeling like I need a challenge.

But yeah the two week thing was tried and discarded. We seem to have fewer people who are really the "ask a question whether you need to or not" types which I think has been helpful and in the anon queue, one of the reasons for not approving something is because it's easily Googleable and the OP hasn't even bothered to mention if they Googled it already or not. Otherwise I feel like culture takes care of some of that. It might be worth running some numbers to see if the impression of this sort of thing is actually borne out by the data. I know I'd be curious to know.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:22 PM on March 26, 2012


Would one solution (if this is a problem) be to require a certain number of questions answered before you can ask a new one?
posted by mannequito at 6:23 PM on March 26, 2012


Would one solution (if this is a problem) be to require a certain number of questions answered before you can ask a new one?

Well, again, we don't want people faking it to satisfy a quota. Subpar answers that someone wouldn't leave on their own already are not answers we want to encourage, and requiring forced answering behavior would do just that. It's a nice idea with bad hidden incentives.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:26 PM on March 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


Would one solution (if this is a problem) be to require a certain number of questions answered before you can ask a new one?

You may have heard of something called "gaming the stats".
posted by Trurl at 6:26 PM on March 26, 2012


i don't like that solution, because that encourages bad answers. you already see this in some capacity for FPP on the blue, people sometimes get their requisite whatever number of comments by saying things like "this is great, thanks for sharing!" fine on the blue, maybe more annoying on the green.
posted by nadawi at 6:27 PM on March 26, 2012


or you know, i could preview and just let cortex answer it better than i did.
posted by nadawi at 6:27 PM on March 26, 2012


We'll I'm glad I'm (by your standard) one of the old guys who know everything.

by four days
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:37 PM on March 26, 2012


I asked the question this afternoon, but people didn't read the whole question so I had to reiterate what I needed help with. By that time, it was already more than halfway down the page with only one useful answer.

I can't say for sure that this is your problem (or mine all the time) because I apparently fail to recognize it sometimes, but this happens to some of my AskMes and I chalk it up to a poorly written and/or too-broad question.
posted by cmoj at 6:45 PM on March 26, 2012


or you know, i could preview and just let cortex answer it better than i did.

Yes, but then you wouldn't have an answer that could count as good faith participation if you did that.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:46 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember when this sam issue came up back in '06. I'll just cut'n paste:

My first instinct is to say that some sort of categorization or subaskmetafication would help. This point has already been made.

But thinking a bit harder makes me wonder if that's true. The "problem" is that questions are moving too quickly from the front page and presumably not being answered because they aren't noticed.

One way to see if this is the case is to see how the number of questions relates to the number of answers. If the number of answers doesn't scale linearly with the number of questions then that must mean there are questions being missed that could be answered.

So I did a quick and dirty analysis and here is a plot of Questions vs Answers (N=12).

It looks to me that even though the number of questions increase, the number of people answering questions increases as well. What bothers people is that there are too many questions for them to individually examine all of them. But that isn't a problem with respect to getting questions answered. Plenty of people are seeing the question, just in a shorter amount of time.

I still would go for some kind of web 2.0ish solution. Coloring questions by category might make it easier to scan the page. Or how about making the font size inversely related to the number of answers?
posted by euphorb at 7:20 PM on March 26, 2012


I'm not seeing this problem. All of my questions so far this year have gotten fantastic answers.
posted by cairdeas at 7:22 PM on March 26, 2012


The Whelk: "I thought this was what My Ask was for, maybe people don't know it's there?"

Huh, I never noticed that tab before, how long has it been there? That actually looks useful, I tend not to look at AskMefi because there's just too many questions to weed through. Having a way to filter them down to the stuff that I might actually know something about seems like a good thing.
posted by octothorpe at 7:27 PM on March 26, 2012


Back in the day, I used to be fairly active in AskMeFi (from an answering perspective). There are certain "wheelhouses" that I can usually answer questions (economics, banking, consumer finance, coffee, some other categories) and can be of use to the community. What I find difficult now (and back then) is that it's really tough for me to spend time reading every question to see if I can be useful. It was tough back then, and now that my life has gotten busier, it's much tougher now.

I think one solution could be to create weekly MeFi Mails that send me questions based on certain keywords or tags, so I know they're around and can get to them quickly, without having to do a search. Make it an optional system, but one where certain subject matter experts can quickly get a filtered list of fresh questions on a regular basis, which makes it easier for said experts to give great, relatively timely answers.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:28 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


octothorpe: "The Whelk: "Having a way to filter them down to the stuff that I might actually know something about seems like a good thing."

I tried that once, but no questions appeared :-(
posted by dg at 7:45 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


cortex writes "with an effectively basically steady userbase size and no obvious cohort effect there, it's not clear why folks asking now would be worse off than folks asking a few years ago"

Well obviously it's the smaller userid numbers. The overwhelming mental pressure of a 6 digit userid is affecting those user's answer ability.

the questions-zooming-by thing is something that's been bugging me for a while, but it was this question that finally led me to post this MeTa."

That's a really narrow expertise question and you narrowed the number of people who'd read it right off the bat by calling on music nerds.
posted by Mitheral at 7:47 PM on March 26, 2012


In a Venn diagram, the set of people who would have been able to answer that question would have been solidly inside the "Music Nerds" circle.

Also, I'm not saying that people with high user numbers are dumb or something. Metafilter has traditionally been a nerd haven, which is something that has really made it shine. Nerds are really good at helping out with questions pertaining to stuff like niche music genres or Unix administration or Marxist philosophy. I think newer users just tend to be more normal, because the nerds were more likely to know about the site.

I guess this makes mathowie the Nerd Pope?
posted by dunkadunc at 8:06 PM on March 26, 2012


*more likely to have already known about the site.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:07 PM on March 26, 2012


Also, I'm not saying that people with high user numbers are dumb or something. Metafilter has traditionally been a nerd haven, which is something that has really made it shine. Nerds are really good at helping out with questions pertaining to stuff like niche music genres or Unix administration or Marxist philosophy. I think newer users just tend to be more normal, because the nerds were more likely to know about the site.

Confirmation bias, m'dear.
posted by desuetude at 8:11 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Knowing about the site != becoming a member != posting answers to AskMe.

"More normal." Oh, Mom will be so proud.
posted by likeso at 8:22 PM on March 26, 2012


Just as a data point: I've always felt like my questions got satisfactorily answered (except for a couple where what I learned was that I'd already made up my mind/set an impossible goal/was looking for something non-existent) and I've also given about seven times as many answers as I've asked questions though I'm working on giving fewer, higher-quality answers rather than just answering whenever I feel like I have something to say.

If anything, I feel like having a larger userbase ought to improve the chances of one's strange niche question getting answered. I haven't perceived the userbase becoming any more mainstream/stupid/un-nerdy of late, I feel like there are tons of people who are out there giving great answers to all kinds of questions every day. It's just the nature of the site that if you have an especially obscure question or are looking for something and have super-specific requirements for it, you might not be able to get a satisfactory answer. But then again, it's surprising how often you do get one, even to questions that you thought were unanswerable! That's still as true now as ever, I think.
posted by Scientist at 8:23 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


If anything, I feel like having a larger userbase ought to improve the chances of one's strange niche question getting answered.

I think there's some truth to that, if someone can answer the question right off the bat. However, the front AskMe page is about twice as large as it was when I joined in 2008. This makes it harder to wade through and makes people less likely to scroll down and check out stuff from 10 hours ago- meaning that questions that stumped the daytime readers are much less likely to be seen by people who get off work late, and more likely to just get sloppy kneejerk responses. The real problem is that there's more questions competing in the same browser space.

Sometimes I think Metafilter ought to be split into Metafilter A and Metafilter 1, based on odd and even user numbers. I kid, I kid.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:35 PM on March 26, 2012


You can also subscribe to tags as RSS feeds (click on the tag and it's right there under "View popular tags"). It is a pretty nice way to filter for/be reminded of your favorite subjects.
posted by soelo at 8:39 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Things are sucker over at Amber Universe Metafilter but not as bad as Silver Future Metafilter.
posted by The Whelk at 8:39 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I asked the question this afternoon, but people didn't read the whole question so I had to reiterate what I needed help with.

I have found that it's helpful to start with a simple, one-sentence distillation of your question above the fold. The key word is "simple." Subject, verb. Go nuts with details on the [more inside] but use that first field for the elevator-pitch version of your question.

I'm not saying that people with high user numbers are dumb or something. ... I think newer users just tend to be more normal

I honestly can't tell what you are trying to say about newer users. You seem to be saying that older users are more likely to be nerds, and that nerds are more likely to have limited and niche interests. If we grant both of those (just for argument's sake), then doesn't that mean newer users would be a good resource? We would already have a surplus of people who can answer questions about IT issues, and it would seem beneficial to expand our base with people who can contribute from different spheres. No? Sorry if I'm misunderstanding, I'm honestly having difficulty parsing that argument.
posted by cribcage at 8:40 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kitties are awesome.
posted by Artw at 9:09 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh, I never noticed that tab before, how long has it been there?

We added the My Ask MeFi tab in April 2008.
posted by pb (staff) at 9:12 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The real problem with AskMe is insufficient soft-ball Chinese translation questions for me to show off in, a situation only exacerbated by the presence of several genuinely bilingual users who answer the few ones we do get better than I ever would, the bastards. 杯具!
posted by Abiezer at 9:22 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Some infodumper once did a questions/day and answers/question analysis and graph. It'd be cool to see that again, updated.
posted by mediareport at 9:30 PM on March 26, 2012


I never knew about the My Ask MeFi tab either. I thought there was an overabundance of dating/relationship questions, but that tab solves my problem.
posted by bongo_x at 9:31 PM on March 26, 2012


The real problem is that there's more questions competing in the same browser space.

Are there really that many people who just read the first bunch of questions, and ignore the ones that were posted overnight?
posted by smackfu at 9:32 PM on March 26, 2012


I think there's some truth to that, if someone can answer the question right off the bat. However, the front AskMe page is about twice as large as it was when I joined in 2008.

This is manifestly not so. There were just about 30,612 questions (give or take) asked in 2008, and just about 30,051 asked in 2011. As I said, we're basically at a steady state with this for the last few years; that new users keep joining is largely balanced by old users slacking off or wandering off (and more to the point it's normalized a lot by a good percentage of users never being more than occasional-at-most askers and answerers in the first place).

Insofar as there are enough questions daily to scroll a question off the front page before a day has gone by, that's been the case for a very long time. Plenty of folks who are the daily-reader types use RSS or just click through to page two to catch up with the stuff since they last looked; folks who don't read the site that thoroughly are and always have been a crapshoot as far as whether they'll happen to see your question, though previous datawankery has shown that even then the expected number of answers to a question is almost totally uncorrelated to the time at which it was asked.

No one question will be seen by everyone. Every question will be at least glanced at by a whole lot of people. Niche questions will be glanced at by fewer folks likely to be able to answer because the knowledge domain involved is narrower, so those tend to get less of a response, which makes sense. Luck is a factor in any case, and sometimes you get just the perfect answer and other times you get a bit of a ghosttown.

A site with a tenth the userbase and a tenth of the questions would more evenly distribute a much smaller pool of knowledge, which is pretty much a wash at best for a generalist site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:06 PM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Questions do seem to come pretty quickly but only at certain times of the day. A little like a typical highway. Lots of cars during rush hour. Deserted at 3am.

Slowing down the stream doesn't necessarily require increasing time limits on individual members. Probably not even the current one week timeout. It's not the member input that's a problem; it's the site output that needs to be restricted, if indeed it's a problem. The flow of new questions can be limited in the same way that the flow of new registrations was once limited here at MetaFilter.

Simply lock the "new question" page whenever there are too many questions being posted and unlock it whenever traffic is light. Just like the solo traffic lights for an onramp, introducing cars onto the highway bit by bit. Actually, you don't even really need to lock the posting form. Let anyone submit a question whenever they like and then queue up the publication for later (notifying the member). This approach would require some more communication up front and some consideration for time-sensitive questions but it's not prohibitively complex.

The basic observation is that members shouldn't need to care about timing their posts to reduce congestion. It's hard to optimize that type of thing individually and it's not always in the interest of the individual to post at certain times of day. Why not let the site handle the timing for the benefit of the community?
posted by Jeff Howard at 10:41 PM on March 26, 2012


Again, the time of day during which a question is asked has basically zero quantitative correlation to the average number of answers the question gets. The site has something resembling a 24-hour heartbeat in terms of aggregate answerer behavior; a question posted at noon server time and one posted at three in the morning are both likely to get somewhere around thirteen answers on average.

Variation between individual questions (for any number of reasons including presentation, topic, specificity, and sheer luck) dwarfs variation based on time of posting.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:55 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, the site operates across the globe, therefore in all time zones. There is no 3:00 am on MetaFilter.

Or, if you like to be contrary, it's always 3:00 am. Either way, there's no reliable way to put a clock on questions.
posted by dg at 11:12 PM on March 26, 2012


ALL of my questions get interesting answers. Actually I suppose the government sending people to my house is more of a reply than an answer. Still interesting though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:37 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would be surprised if membership or even readership were distributed equally across the globe (though I'm aware that it's indeed distributed). I haven't run the numbers but there's a pretty noticeable drop in the frequency of new threads being posted and new questions being posted during the middle of the night in the US. I'm sure there would be a reliable way to put a clock on questions.

And the average number of answers a question gets isn't the only consideration from a community perspective (though it's high on the list from the point of view of the individual who posted the question). The perception of both frequency and manageability is itself valuable. To illustrate, imagine holding the total throughput of MetaFilter from 2011 stable, but posting it only on March 27th, 2012. Things might eventually even out (but probably not) and in any event the experience would be sub par. The sitation the OP is describing is only a difference in degree.

This isn't my particular hobby horse. But it's an interesting system design problem and it resonated with me since I've been burning the midnight oil of late.
posted by Jeff Howard at 11:42 PM on March 26, 2012


We could hire a team of assassins to eliminate all of the dumber users.

Though I suppose the more appropriate and cost-saving approach would be to plant fake questions with advice that would lead them to accidentally kill themselves.
posted by XMLicious at 12:04 AM on March 27, 2012


I'm sure there would be a reliable way to put a clock on questions.

This sort of change to the interface would piss off a lot of users and would probably result in less people reading Askme. Why hit refresh if the page is locked?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:21 AM on March 27, 2012


The thing that's stopped me asking the most questions on stackoverflow.com is the instant search feature. Whilst you're typing your question in, it looks through previous questions, and shows any that match based on either tags or keywords.
posted by zoo at 12:59 AM on March 27, 2012


Questions do seem to come pretty quickly but only at certain times of the day. A little like a typical highway. Lots of cars during rush hour. Deserted at 3am.

There are more people asking questions at certain times of the day, and also more people online to answer questions at those times, so it balances out.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:03 AM on March 27, 2012


We could hire a team of assassins to eliminate all of the dumber users.

If we are hiring assassins, there are people way higher on the list than any MeFi users.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:07 AM on March 27, 2012


SEE? That's the kind of esprit de corp we like to see around here!
posted by taz (staff) at 2:36 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


This sort of change to the interface would piss off a lot of users.

You may be right, Brandon. The comment you quoted was specifically in regard to dg's comment asserting some mathematic problem with distributing X number of questions across 24 hours.

People react negatively to pretty much any change. But in this case (and the previous attempt to decrease the frequency of posts) the readers are unaffected and ideally their situation should actually improve. It's the fraction of people posting questions who stand to be annoyed. In any event, it doesn't follow that the readership would decline. And queueing publication could eliminate the refresh problem entirely.

This isn't meant to be a fully designed solution, only an illustration that other possibilities exist beyond the status quo and beyond possibilities that have already failed.

My primary reason for jumping in is to address the following contradiction:

The previous attempt to increase the lockout from one week to two weeks in 2006 was designed to achieve "an overall reduction in new question load" using the posts/user ratio as a point of intervention. The overall reduction was the only measure. And because new changes are never undertaken lightly, presumably the 2006-era rate of questions was seen as a problem that merited the friction of introducing a change to the interface. And indeed, a wide range of problems associated with the question load were articulated in that thread, and other MetaTalk threads. The two week design change failed to reduce the volume enough to offset the anxiety it created. But if the 2006-era rates were equal to or lower than the 2008 stats that cortex posted above, then that should mean that the core unresolved situation still exists. Despite the stasis, the mods no longer seem to perceive the volume of questions to be a problem.

It's possible that the original diagnosis was in error and the problem wasn't really a problem in the first place. It's also possible that related design changes such as segmented viewing (MyAsk, etc) have ameliorated the problem enough to be manageable (though this thread argues against that). Or it's possible that the problem has resolved itself in the past six years (though the metrics argue against that). But if we've simply learned to live with it because we're out of ideas, then we need some new ideas that involve levers other than the interval between questions for individual members. Assassins, etc.

The previous attempt failed because the reduction was only incremental. If there is a broad agreement on the ideal number of questions per hour then it is certainly possible to enforce that limit and, if the limit is low enough, to hit the target precisely, 24 hours per day. Then find ways to manage the social costs.
posted by Jeff Howard at 3:02 AM on March 27, 2012


oh hai i'm new here but not so new there aren't now a bunch of other people who came after me i can blame for ruining the site which was just happened to reach peak awesomeness right as i joined but has been going downhill ever since now give me a pony i drew pictures of the one i want and i assure you nobody has ever ever ever drawn any ponies that look remotely similar in the history of the site
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:25 AM on March 27, 2012


Oh, hey, I didn't know you could do RSS subscription of tags. Very cool.

Any chance we could have RSS feeds for each of the ask categories, sort of like an RSS version of the myask? (Or do we already have these and I missed it?)
posted by rmd1023 at 4:47 AM on March 27, 2012


And because new changes are never undertaken lightly, presumably the 2006-era rate of questions was seen as a problem that merited the friction of introducing a change to the interface.

The problem in 2006 wasn't the questions, it was users complaining in metatalk about their questions not being answered and attributing it to some systematic problem. But now that we have better tracking tools it turns out that those people were wrong then and are probably still wrong now (which can be definitevely measured and probably will be soon enough). When users complain about a sitewide problem it often ends up being actually a specific problem for that user, just like here where a lack of answers to one question has prompted dunkadunc put forward a whole bunch of other changes.

The downside of this site being so responsive to users feedback is that a relatively small number of people complaining publically can make it look like a problem is widespread and thus trigger a disproportionate response. I'm really pleased we have the info dump etc now to balance this out. It shows us when those vocal few user's perception of what is going on is just wrong and it helps us actually fix the problem when they are right.

In any event, it doesn't follow that the readership would decline.

I'd leave metafilter altogether if such a pointless, arbitrary change was made, aggravating users just to fix a non-existant problem, and I imagine I'm not the only one. But I'd also be hella surprised because the people running this place generally do a good job of understanding the system they have and only changing things which really need changing.
posted by shelleycat at 5:12 AM on March 27, 2012


Unanswered factual questions are an oddly frustrating thing these days.
For a long time now, I've been measuring the growth of the internet in terms of things I can't find on it. For instance, at the beginning of the century it was very difficult to find anything online about my favourite artist, Pavel Nicolayevich Filonov. Then over the next five years the information became less and less sparse; I would look around for what was available every so often, and it felt like watching the indexing of human knowledge roll out before my eyes. After a while, it outran my field of vision. I did a quick google just now and got over 250,000 results. Loads of images. I can't watch that growing any more.
Then I would look around for more things I couldn't find. A few years ago, it still wasn't possible to get plot summaries for all the books I read as a child. Some were there, some weren't. Every so often I look back. They're almost all there somewhere now - sometimes behind pages and pages of reviews and secondhand listings. More and more, my memories are externally retrievable.
Meanwhile, I still can't find the book I posted an AskMe about. It's a harder ask, but I'm uncomfortable with the fact that I can't retrieve the information. Every so often, I check again. Ultimately, I find it difficult to believe that I won't someday find it. It'll have to turn up, appropriately tagged or described, on some library catalogue or second-hand bookseller's site or flickr album of random bookscans. I'll track the damn thing down. I can't believe I won't. But it reminds me that there are still patches of darkness out there.
When I say it like that, it sounds like I'm philosophical about it. But really, I'm not. It drives me absolutely up the wall. I'm so used to being able to retrieve things that it chews me the hell up to be unable to.
Which - I am realising only as I write this - is a really long-winded way of saying please, for the love of God, if you know the answer to my question, let me know. It's still driving me quietly crazy.
posted by Acheman at 5:26 AM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I guess the question is "Does it have to be a popular AskMe with rapid addition of answers - like the meat and pastry one for eg or some human relations ones to be worth of being considered "successful" or does the question/dilemma get answered/resolved and walk away feeling the Ask Metafilter rocks and so on and so forth?"

What is the metric of success by which we're evaluating this rise or drop in quality?

My annual AskMe might have entirely restructured my life and which continent I end up spending a lot of it on...
posted by infini at 6:23 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some AskMe questions get answered in 6 minutes and are resolved while others may never quite reach this point of "resolution"...
posted by infini at 6:24 AM on March 27, 2012


Meanwhile, I still can't find the book I posted an AskMe about.

I think that's a pretty good example of a really hard question. You can search for it, but no one else really can because there aren't many concrete details to check against. So you need someone who actually already knows this esoteric book, which is just bad random chance. Maybe there's no one on MeFi who can answer the question, even if you made every single user read it...
posted by smackfu at 6:43 AM on March 27, 2012


Meanwhile, I still can't find the book I posted an AskMe about.

On the other hand, someone was able to identify my wanted children's Bible story book from the 80s mainly by my description that it was wider than it was tall, so count me as pleased with the general level of esoteric knowledge around here.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:51 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then find ways to manage the social costs.

The social costs around making that sort of a change are high, however, and social good is basically the only thing this site generates that maintains the community and pageviews and all the other stuff that keep the doors open. I think one of the things that isn't addressed in this scenario is the importance of a question being asked when the OP is around to address follow-up questions and the like.

As much as we discourage threadsitting there are a lot of cases where the OP left out some important piece of data, or follows up with a useful bit of information. I feel that it's important that the OP be around when their question goes live [we could run the numbers on the amount of time that goes by before the OP comments in their own thread in situations where there is an OP follow-up] and having this be some random time some indeterminate length in the future is suboptimal for the way the site currently operates. We see this in action with the anon threads which do go live at some random point in time in the future and I feel like there is some friction there in that the OP doesn't always know when their question is live and so can't follow up. Of course, this sort of thing could be mitigated by other mechanisms certainly, but I'm not sure it's worth the time/effort.

Add to this the anxiety factor which we already see a lot [people agitated because their question is in a queue, needing us to edit their queued question, needing us to delete a queued question, wanting us to hurry-up their queued question] and I think the social costs are not insignificant in a situation where you're addressing a problem that we're not entirely sure exists as a thing-needing-remedy in the first place. We take changes to the interface or the mechanics of the way the site works very seriously and this is an expectation that, for better or worse, the userbase now has about the site works. We don't tweak much.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:04 AM on March 27, 2012


rmd1023, the RSS feed for categories is in roughly the same place as the one for tags once you open the category page.
posted by soelo at 7:21 AM on March 27, 2012


The perception of both frequency and manageability is itself valuable. To illustrate, imagine holding the total throughput of MetaFilter from 2011 stable, but posting it only on March 27th, 2012. Things might eventually even out (but probably not) and in any event the experience would be sub par. The situation the OP is describing is only a difference in degree.

In the sense that a papercut is a situation that differs only in degree from a shiv to the aorta, yes. Exploding an issue to ridiculous proportions like that is not illuminating, and the proposed situation would not be "subpar", it'd be ruinous.

But in this case (and the previous attempt to decrease the frequency of posts) the readers are unaffected and ideally their situation should actually improve. It's the fraction of people posting questions who stand to be annoyed.

That fraction of people being the core, highly-engaged userbase of the site. Complicating or otherwise interfering significantly with the currently pretty darned straightforward asking-and-answering rubric on the site for the sake of less-engaged readers is a devil's bargain.

Like jessamyn said, the social costs are significant in a way that in many cases makes otherwise interesting ideas non-viable. On a very different site, or on a site with very different priorities, putting even time-distribution of question posting as something like Step One might totally make sense, but here it absolutely does not.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:50 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that's a pretty good example of a really hard question.
Oh, I totally agree. But what I find interesting is that questions which shouldn't really be answerable (Like this one of mine, I mean really) now somehow are. And if all the books in the world, ever had been fully catalogued and tagged, I would probably have found my book by now. My expectation is that time goes forward we will gradually approach something resembling that point.
posted by Acheman at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2012


Nerds are really good at helping out with questions pertaining to stuff like niche music genres or Unix administration or Marxist philosophy

I can pretty firmly say that I am a hardcore nerd, and I would have no idea how to even approach your questions, and I'd get sort of indignant if you said that an inability to approach your question was somehow indicative of people not being nerdy enough.

You would have been a lot better off looking for answers at a niche forum specifically devoted to your music genre.
posted by deanc at 8:30 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


What percentage of people uses (or visited in the last X days) the My Ask tab? I ask because I probably set it up in 2008 and managed to forget about it until now. I like reading all of AskMeFi but being able to filter is nice.

It's a great idea but even in this thread there are people who have never heard of it. I wonder if a global notification (a top bar?) telling people about it (and the My MeFi tab which I just discovered) would work to increase awareness of the feature.
posted by Memo at 8:50 AM on March 27, 2012


Alternately, we could just have the message prominently displayed across the site on an opening screen or banner as you log in and then you get to choose soon before MetaFilter switches over to this new design like yesterday or keep dismissing these helpful hints and get on with your own preferred site experience.

Are you listening Google?
posted by infini at 8:57 AM on March 27, 2012


I've had on occasion this vague dreamy notion of a Weekly Metafilter Tip or something that would be a sort of lightweight and ideally fairly visible way to disseminate awareness of some of the useful not-super-visible features of the site. Haven't ever really come up with a specific model for that that I like, though.

My concern with the idea of using the top bar for that is that we keep the top bar as a usually-off thing on the front pages so that it's more notable when there is something up there (to announce upcoming downtime, to announce a really big event or major feature addition or whatever). So using it for "here's a tip" stuff might be counterproductive for what the top bar is for.

One obvious idea that we're just not hot on would be an occasional mass mefimail; it'd be reasonably high-visibility but we're really not wanting to have mefimail be stuff you get without specifically expecting it, and the folks most able to opt in to something like that are the folks who are already the most engaged with the site as is, whereas a lot of casual users won't even know they HAVE mefimail. (Ironically, a good Weekly Tip would be that mefimail exists.)

So I dunno. It's one of those ideas that I like but haven't ever gotten out of half-baked state. Maybe something for us to jabber about a little on Team Mod.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:58 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


One obvious idea that we're just not hot on would be an occasional mass mefimail;

1. Put a Mefimail link down at the bottom under Features.

2. Put a Weekly Mefi Tip link in the top or bottom bar.

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:07 AM on March 27, 2012


Oooh! Thanks soelo!

*happydance*
posted by rmd1023 at 9:21 AM on March 27, 2012


What percentage of people uses (or visited in the last X days) the My Ask tab? I ask because I probably set it up in 2008 and managed to forget about it until now. I like reading all of AskMeFi but being able to filter is nice.

I also set mine up awhile ago and forgot about it until about three months ago. Now I use it fairly often.
posted by patheral at 9:21 AM on March 27, 2012


...the next logical step wouldn't be to slow down questions, but instead to change the front page to be more to your liking. We have the My Ask feature...

I use the My Ask customized with a lot of tags to achieve this, and that works very well.

The only tricky part is figuring out what tags to specify, as that means both knowing at the tag level of detail what topics I want to see, and also figuring out what tags people actually use to describe those topics on Mefi.

I did that manually by looking at tags I use on Pinboard and looking at a sample of tags that people use on Mefi for things I've favorited.

There could probably be a not-too-hard way to automate that and discover the tags that any given user is especially interested in.
posted by philipy at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2012


What percentage of people uses (or visited in the last X days) the My Ask tab?

We're not tracking that right now, but we do track overall views. Compared with the home page the My Ask tab gets a fraction of a percentage of the views. In the last 30 days the ratio was something like 254 to 1. We also know that around 2,000 users ever have made tag and category selections for Ask MeFi. That's fairly small compared with the 21,000+ members who have ever contributed an answer to Ask MeFi since April 2008 when My Ask was added.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:02 AM on March 27, 2012


So sick of reading "I'm moving to NYC..." questions. Seriously? Seriously?
posted by OsoMeaty at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2012


"Sometimes things are not relevant or of interest to me personally, and yet I don't find that upsetting. Am I normal?"
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


euphorb had an interesting suggestion along the lines of color-coding the categories. It could be helpful to some folks. I like it.

I dunno otherwise. the past week or so, I haven't seen any AskMe's that I've had any remote desire to try and answer.. though some times there are a host in a day. Though questions like "what gardening book would be great?" I feel are somewhat blah kind of AskMe's, since you can just look for the highest rated books on Amazon for practically the same answer. I find them lazy.

Same with questions about "should I get an Acer or a Levono?" computer type questions. But I may just be biased there - but there is plenty of web info on how to evaluate a computer brand. Maybe for more specialty components - but even then, when I was looking for a graphics card for my son, I dove in and did the research myself instead of bothering the lot here with what, to me, seemed like a lazy question on my part.

Those kinds of things seem to be somewhat basic commodity items. Versus questions asking for actual experiences of living or vacationing in a specific location, more technical coding or settings questions (like if I was trying to overclock a graphics card, following the directions, and it just didn't seem to be working), innovative ideas, personal issues (how to deal with a unique job/relationship/whatever situation) or a product that is somewhat off the beaten path or harder to find (honest/accurate) information on, and so forth...

Now, on preview, yes - "I'm moving to (insert common place here)" questions - if the same question was asked within the past couple of months - c'mon people, places don't change *that* rapidly. So there is a level of laziness in questions sometimes.

But, I'm not sure if it's increased much over the past year.. I think there is just a cyclical nature of questions that any one user is going to find interesting or that they can help on.

Oh, and lower user number totally indicate a higher level of knowledge. I'm totally on board with supporting that. (smirk)
posted by rich at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2012


So sick of reading "I'm moving to NYC..." questions. Seriously? Seriously?

There has certainly been an uptick lately, hasn't there? And none seem to have read any previous questions on the topic.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:13 AM on March 27, 2012


There could probably be a not-too-hard way to automate that and discover the tags that any given user is especially interested in.

The main limiting factor there is user info to work with. It is easier to guess at a user's interests when they've been more active, by looking at the tags on posts they answer or ask or discuss on the blue, though even at that it's more of a guess (and sometimes quite right, sometimes quite wrong) than a really reliable guide.

If you go check out My Ask for the first time, it'll actually have a list of suggested tags I think.

On my pie-in-the-sky todo list is some sort of robust tag exploration interface that would let people really play around with the network of tags on the site above and beyond the popular tag stuff we already have on e.g. the askme tag page. But it's a skypie partly because I don't have a specific sense of how I'd want to present that stuff.

But I may just be biased there - but there is plenty of web info on how to evaluate a computer brand.

Not that you are obliged to do this at all, but one way to try and sort of make a positive contributional spin on these "why are you asking this here?" situations is to go ahead and put a constructive "here's a really great resource/here's a couple places that would be ideal for doing some research" answer into the thread, which may help the asker out and may also help model resourcefulness for other users/readers and thus encourage that kind of pre-asking tool use in the future.

It's important to make sure that it reads more like "here is a thing that may help you here" and less like "let me google that for you", is the only real caveat there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:32 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


at this rate we can make Astoria a Majority Mefite neighborhood in 5 years.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


...followed by a take over of local politics, then borough politics, then city politics, until we're a massive bloc of voting power.
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


On another note, I don't think there are too many questions overall. In fact I've been thinking: "Maybe I should join Stack Exchange so I can find more questions that I might like answering..."
posted by philipy at 11:14 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


at this rate we can make Astoria a Majority Mefite neighborhood in 5 years.

...followed by a take over of local politics, then borough politics, then city politics, until we're a massive bloc of voting power.


And live in Queens? You must be joking.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:34 PM on March 27, 2012


cortex: I've had on occasion this vague dreamy notion of a Weekly Metafilter Tip or something that would be a sort of lightweight and ideally fairly visible way to disseminate awareness of some of the useful not-super-visible features of the site.

I really like that idea. That bar at the top of the front page that's sometimes put up is really inobtrusive. To have it run a Weekend Tip for MetaFilter (WTMF has a certain ring to it, no?) on Saturdays and Sundays seems like it would be a good thing. Heaven knows there are features that you have to have been reading MetaTalk for years to have even an inkling exist. And every once in a while some feature gets mentioned that I had completely forgotten existed.
posted by Kattullus at 3:00 PM on March 27, 2012


My brain just went to a Corperate style training video, Metafilter, Uses, and You.
posted by The Whelk at 3:01 PM on March 27, 2012



The problem is that a few people seem to elect themselves arbiters of what is good faith participation, while themselves frequently acting in bad faith when they have the safety of a mob behind them.


This is the mods you're talking about, right ? Because they're the only mob handed bunch of people here.

There were just about 30,612 questions (give or take) asked in 2008, and just about 30,051 asked in 2011. As I said, we're basically at a steady state with this for the last few years; that new users keep joining is largely balanced by old users slacking off or wandering off


Hmmm denying what the op said whilst affirming it at the same time - that's quite a stunt, however appropriate it may or may not be for a site that needs users to have short, clear and concise answers to policy questions - which matt seems to still have the knack of.

So, what has happened since 2008 that has allowed the site to stagnate and the quality of the answers to depreciate ? Because people have clearly not "slacked" or "wandered off" into some internet outback - but what a completely odd way to frame it, as though medical experts on the site suddenly decided to head for the hills on a whim.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:55 PM on March 27, 2012


What is your deal, sgt.? You've been genuinely shitty to me and to Jessamyn a number of times lately; you hang out in Metatalk taking weird potshots or making sideways personal remarks at us. If you think there's some sort of fundamental problem with our moderation work, state your issue coherently and without all the "hmm, what do you suppose" nuttery, or maybe just take it up with Matt directly over email, but cut this oblique bullshit out already.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:02 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


you hang out in Metatalk taking weird potshots or making sideways personal remarks at us.

Crikey, you're not wrong.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2012


I'm baffled. How does "about 600 more questions were asked in 2008" mean the same thing as "askmefi has increased in volumn so the quality has gone down"? They seem kind of opposite.

Am I missing something?
posted by Deoridhe at 4:30 PM on March 27, 2012


cortex: "What is your deal, sgt.? "

He's a troll, pure and simple. Always has been, most likely always will be. I don't myself claim to be any pillar of the community, but this guy makes me look like a saint.
posted by dg at 4:58 PM on March 27, 2012


Cortex, jess + matt: thanks for coming in and giving your view on things!

I was basing my 2008 question rates based on scrolling way back, and it does seem that questions were flowing past a lot slower back then (sometimes only one per day!). The number of answers per question seem to be about the same, though.

I'm starting to think answer quality has remained constant. Still, the heavier question flow makes things harder for questions that have required clarification, at least the relatively boring ones that aren't "Should I leave my S.O.? Special snowflake- I am a cat" affairs that get everyone excited.

I think there might not be an easy fix for this.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:27 PM on March 27, 2012


I was basing my 2008 question rates based on scrolling way back, and it does seem that questions were flowing past a lot slower back then (sometimes only one per day!).

This may explain some of the confusion; I don't know what exactly is going on with the archives there but there's some really, really weird pagination going on. Page 2000 looks fine for me (a whole bunch of May 16, 2008 and a bit of May 15), but when I navigate over to page 1999 there's a weird jumping back and forth between May 16 and May 17 multiple times within the span of the page.

When you're seeing a single question on one day, that's some seriously weird archive bug, not an actual case of there having been only one question that day. I'll ask pb to check it out.

To reiterate, the actual rate of questions in 2011 was basically identical to 2008. There's not a significant difference; it's been very steady for years now. There's no heavier question flow.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:38 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Cortex!
posted by dunkadunc at 5:43 PM on March 27, 2012


Taking a closer look, I think I see the bug, too: the one-a-day questions are old-style anonymous questions floating in a sea of otherwise normally chronological questions.

It used to be that when you submitted an anonymous question, it got a threadid assigned at submission time. So if the current thread on the front page of askme was 91625 and then you went and submitted an anonymous question, that would reserve the next available thread id, 91626. Then the next non-anony thread would be 91627.

Then the anony question 91626 would sit in the queue until it was approved. At that point, it'd be timestamped for the moment it was approved, and show up on the front page of askme in chronological order, probably somewhere a good bit higher on the page than 91627 even though it had a lower threadid.

For whatever reason (probably because it's kind of the obvious thing to do if there's not a reason not to), the archives are doing threadid order instead of chronological order by timestamp. Which works fine these days, because we assign anony questions a threadid at approval time instead of submission time, but back then it worked sort of wonkily, and hence that bug.

We can probably fix this in the archives by just changing sort order, though I don't know if there's any weird issues in db performance paging stuff into the thousands of pages where chron sorting would be a headache.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:47 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


which matt seems to still have the knack of.

Feel free to drop him a note and complain and let us know what he says. Your ongoing nasty complaints in MeTa are never clear enough for us to actually address them in any substantive way. If you'd like to see something specific happen you are more than welcome to open your own MeTa thread or talk to mathowie or comment in a way that makes it clear that you have some sort of real issue that isn't just terminal churlishness. As it is it just seems like you despise us personally for unclear reasons and yet still want to hang out here and bitch which seems like an odd set of choices. It would be nice if you'd maybe either step up or step off.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:48 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


cortex writes "We can probably fix this in the archives by just changing sort order"

Maybe easier would be to just change the posting date. The exact order probably doesn't matter now and you avoid special cases and strange DB hits.
posted by Mitheral at 6:14 PM on March 27, 2012


Nthing "use the My Ask" feature as a solution to this problem, if it is actually a problem.
posted by asnider at 8:55 PM on March 27, 2012


Exploding an issue to ridiculous proportions like that is not illuminating.

Yep, that was dumb. My apologies.

Looks like the OP is satisfied. I want to reiterate that I don't particularly care about posting frequency as a pet issue, or have anything invested in the concept of queued posting.

My interest is in the problem solving strategies at play. I hate to see people try and fail to solve a problem only to throw up their hands and conclude that the problem is unsolvable. It sounds to me like that's what happened here six years ago. Because the mods all clearly articulated the problem and its components at the time. But that argument is a half decade too late, now. Circumstances have proven that Ask Metafilter is in no immediate danger of crashing under the load. So, in that sense, jessamyn may be right to classify it as a problem that "we're not entirely sure exists as a thing-needing-remedy in the first place."

There are some other interesting ideas upstream and I'd encourage you to keep exploring the issue. I don't believe any problem (in this realm of problems) is unsolvable.
posted by Jeff Howard at 10:57 PM on March 27, 2012


I hear you, and I really don't have a problem with spitballing on stuff (I do plenty of it myself), but I guess I feel like I need to make it clear here that we don't really look at a problem once, declare it unsolvable, and then decline to think about it thenceforth. This is all stuff we basically think about constantly, and we've had a bunch of discussions both in Metatalk and privately as a team over email over the years about askme load, question distribution, pacing, volume of questions from high- vs low-engagement users, etc.

We're constantly revisiting this stuff. We're just not constantly translating that into socially-expensive disruptive experiments with how the site functions for users; that's a very different level of event, and one that requires a pretty serious commitment to an idea on our end to be willing to subject the userbase to an upsetting of their expectations about how the site functions.

I dig enthusiasm for problem-solving, but it bears keeping in mind that this isn't stuff we're just feeling idle and hopeless about or haven't considered; we think about these things all the time, it's something we take very seriously as a mod team. Usually when we don't actively make a change, it's because we've thought about the problem a whole bunch and decided that making a change is not the best path, not because we never considered making a change a possibility.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:57 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity, I made a graph of the number of questions asked per month in AskMe, since it started. It's been relatively level since 2008.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:40 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since I had a workflow going, I busted out some graphs I was curious about:
* a graph of the number of songs posted to Mefi per Month.
* Mefi, AskMe, Metatalk, & Music on the same graph, then on a log scale for more detail on MeTa & Music.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:19 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Argh, I really missed a trick by not using the colors: the blue, the green, the grey, the black...
posted by Pronoiac at 12:58 AM on April 5, 2012


Neat! And yeah, color coding by subsite is always swank, but you have to be loose with the color values if you do that; using the actual hues for the backgrounds provides surprisingly little pop in a lot of contexts I've found. Mid-dark grey and mid-dark green and mid-dark blue all sort of look the same as thin lines on a graph constrasted against a white background, basically.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:23 AM on April 5, 2012


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