I want to be more Plastic June 4, 2002 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Since the proverbial "MeTa seal" has been broken, and posts are flowing freely again, I have a request for management. I frequent Plastic, and their commenting structure intrigues me. You have the ability to comment to a specific comment within the thread, or create a free-standing comment. Is it possible for MeFi to have the same/similar structure? That way, when a poster would like to comment specifically to another poster, there's no need to search the entire thread for responses.
posted by BlueTrain to Feature Requests at 12:20 PM (42 comments total)

Bah. I can't stand that. I like to be able to see an entire thread without having to click on the titles of little itty bitty comments throughout. If anything, linking to comments within a thread is preferable to me.
posted by adampsyche at 12:33 PM on June 4, 2002

I'll just mention one reason I'm not in favor: with threaded discussion (where thread refers to a Slashdot/Plastic-style sub-thread), each thread becomes its own mini-space, with its own sub-audience. Posters become less shy about writing essentially content-less posts, since who does it hurt?

When you're writing a MetaFilter comment, you know (imagine) that it'll be read by everyone reading the discussion, so you feel a little more pressure to write something worthwhille. I like that.

Also, check the MetaTalk archives; this suggestion is ancient. Slashdot was around before MeFi; Matt decided to go with a different strategy.
posted by lbergstr at 12:34 PM on June 4, 2002

this has been discussed and rejected in the past. if it's worth anything, i much prefer flat comments to deeply threaded comments. if only because mefi is still a place where flat comments are not impractical.
posted by moz at 12:35 PM on June 4, 2002

Ditto in support of flat comments. A continuous, organized, and thematic conversation is maintained when you use the linear format where all comments are displayed on one page. It means less clicks, easier browsing, and maximum interaction.

Btw, can anyone tell me the difference between "threaded" and "non-threaded" in message board lingo? MeFi is technically non-threaded, right?
posted by brownpau at 12:47 PM on June 4, 2002

Btw, can anyone tell me the difference between "threaded" and "non-threaded" in message board lingo?
Non-threaded, or Flat - probably one of those.

Threaded seems like a broken concept, and also like imposing structure for the sake of it. You can only respond to one comment at a time. Threads let, even encourage people to bicker in the corner because they think they have their own pace and topics (often repeated elsewhere - it's rare that there are distinct threads per topic). You can't just flatten a threaded discussion either because each part was moving at it's own pace and it reads like nonsense. I like that in threaded I can see who's responded to me, that's nice.

Flat means that the conversation moves at a pace. You don't get as much duplication. And I'm late for a very important date.
posted by holloway at 1:05 PM on June 4, 2002


"Threaded" is actual old, old lingo -- e-mail and usenet, ferexample -- basically meaning that, yes, sub-topics within a forum (in MeFi or Slashdot's case, a story/FPP/whatever) get grouped together (usually by subject line, or by some internal parent/child data management voodoo) as their own branch/line/thread of conversation.

Threaded conversation begets branching trees of conversation. MeFi's non-threaded flat-page style keeps everything as a single, unbranching line.

Which is good. It'd make me feel nice to go into all the reasons I like MeFi being flat, but like lbergstr said, it's an old conversation; I'm positive several people have already said it better than I can.

on preview: holloway, I wouldn't say threading is a broken concept outright, just not well-suited to current webbrowser/interface paradigms. Threaded e-mail is the only way to go, IMHO, and usenet without a threaded newsreader is, I'm pretty sure, illegal in most states. :)
posted by cortex at 1:09 PM on June 4, 2002

Not in favor.
There has been a lot of talk about the Fark-ization of MeFi, but every significant complaint is about content, and etiquette
I say, don't mess with MeFi structure -- it can kick Plastic's ass every day of the week (even if sometimes Plastic content is actually more interesting, but this kind of problem is the community's fault, and this criticism starts with myself)

When you're writing a MetaFilter comment, you know (imagine) that it'll be read by everyone reading the discussion, so you feel a little more pressure to write something worthwhille

posted by matteo at 1:12 PM on June 4, 2002

I find threaded conversation damn near impossible to read, and I don't visit sites that are set up that way. Sheer personal preference, of course, as such worth considerably less than the standard two cents.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:26 PM on June 4, 2002

Threaded conversations are antithetical to the idea of a weblog. They're like that redheaded cousin nobody wants to talk about (you know, the one that married his sister).

In summary, threads != blogs, and MetaFilter > Slashdot.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:35 PM on June 4, 2002

I'm a fan of threaded comments when they are in text-based systems (e.g. BBSs, old-school CompuServe forums, trn, etc.) where one can hop from thread to thread very quickly via the keyboard.
posted by gluechunk at 1:50 PM on June 4, 2002

I used to think I would prefer MeFi threaded (or nested which is my preferred /. style reading format), but I've since changed my feeling on that. It has its benefits in some cases, but it does seem to change the way threads evolve in a negative way.

on preview gluechunk - you may like dynamic threading. I think it's mouse based still, but there's probably a way to enable a keybord control.
posted by willnot at 1:53 PM on June 4, 2002

I want an offline reader. Can Metafilter support QWK packs?
posted by crunchland at 1:54 PM on June 4, 2002

no, my friend, it's all about bluewave.
posted by fishfucker at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2002

Maybe someone better at searching for minutia like this(Tamim?) can find it, but I know I've seen Matt state pretty clearly and strongly that he will not do threading.
posted by Su at 2:25 PM on June 4, 2002

No for threaded comments at MeFi. The flow is part of what sets MeFi apart, and threading would be the instant death of that.
posted by NortonDC at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2002

(Seeing the words "QWK" and "Bluewave" give me major deja vu.)
posted by brownpau at 2:35 PM on June 4, 2002

"I haven't heard a call for threading in over a year now, and after looking at slashdot and the userland discussions, I'm glad I never went with threading. Sometimes it's exhausting to have to click down into threads over and over, and you can miss good side discussions."

--Mr. Owie
posted by Skot at 2:37 PM on June 4, 2002

Threaded comments = bypassed and ignored threads. Surely what is wanted is to facilitate communication, not fragment it?
posted by rushmc at 2:44 PM on June 4, 2002

For more on Matt's decision to choose flat over threaded, you can read his reasoning and rationale in the book.
posted by anildash at 3:04 PM on June 4, 2002

Here's a thought (albeit an unformed, unconsidered thought) - maybe there is a way to do a hybrid where the site is designed to be read flat like it currently is, but the threads contained metadata that could be sorted with anchor tags and a side-bar - sort of cross between the MeFi front page side bar and the way groups.google.com sorts their archived usenet threads. (and of course the obligatory evenutal XML client).

That way if you wanted you could bounce up and down the page within specific conversation themes (which do happen on the site despite the flatness of the interface). It would a kind of automatic scroll to here kind of thing.

It might be too much hassle for Matt to want to bother with. I'm not even 100% sure how it would work, but for power users it might provide enhanced reading choices.
posted by willnot at 3:04 PM on June 4, 2002

I like threaded conversations in the context of Slashdot, where some fairly odd side conversations and distractions can make the entire thread too weighty, but I wouldn't like to see MetaFilter go that route...for much of the same reasons already elucidated above. :)
posted by dejah420 at 3:37 PM on June 4, 2002

You know, as a weekend project, I might just be persuaded to put together a rudimentary QWK packet MetaFilter scraper (after I finish getting the naughty, naughty XML stream to actually parse properly -- one project at a time, please)... anybody know where I might find some kind of libqwk to do the heavy lifting for me?

You folks'd be on your own as to what to do with reply packets. Ask the sysop *coughcough* to donate some of his Copious Free Time, I guess.
posted by majick at 4:00 PM on June 4, 2002

(Seeing the words "QWK" and "Bluewave" give me major deja vu.)

Wow, I felt it too. It took me back to a specific place and time and mindset. I thought only songs or smells could do this but I guess words have their own distinct power.

posted by vacapinta at 4:31 PM on June 4, 2002


Oh, damn, I guess I woke up delfuego instead.
posted by dhartung at 4:37 PM on June 4, 2002

I like threads. I like dynamic threads best of all, but any kind of threading is acceptable. I take such a near-heretical view because of the simple obvious fact that people talk to each other in threaded form. You say something, I respond to it, then someone else responds to it, then I respond to them, then someone else responds to me responding to them, then that weird guy in the hat responds to what I said about it the first time, and so on. Conversation is threaded. I like having conversations.

Flat comments do encourage greater topicality and help control drift, but on the other hand, they greatly discourage conversation. Instead, most MeFi threads end up being a big Opinionatrium, where each person stands up in turn and proclaims his or her thoughts on the post, then moves on. Conversations do happen, but they're awkward, stlted, and hard to follow, and I've never had one last more than one or two back-and-forths. It's hard to keep up with them, and there's no incentive to respond when someone speaks directly to you.

It's perfectly legitimate to like this style of posting better. It seems to be hugely preferred here. But I find it frustrating, lonely, and alienating, and it overall encourages me not to post here much.

Having proclaimed my opinion, I will now move on to something else...
posted by rusty at 4:46 PM on June 4, 2002

I take such a near-heretical view because of the simple obvious fact that people talk to each other in threaded form.

Not without time travel, they don't.
posted by kindall at 4:52 PM on June 4, 2002

I am very much in favour of 'flatness' (and I'm pretty sure that that's going to continue to be the format here, so to some extent I'm whistling in a windstorm, but).

It annoys me when interfaces intrude, and I think this is a personal preference based on the way my brain works, when it works at all. I prefer to gather all the input I can, and then let the little guy behind the console back of my forehead sort through it in batch mode.

Threading (as an example), although rusty may have a point about conversation, imposes a structure that goes against the way that I (and it's all about me, lest we forget) naturally process information. So me no like.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:35 PM on June 4, 2002

Personally I can't read Slash/Scoop-based sites in any mode other than 'nested'. I want to see all the responses on one page without having to wait for headers/ads/miscellaneous crap to load on each comment's page. Easy readability of 'flatness' + the visual organization of threads = best of both worlds.
posted by darukaru at 6:47 PM on June 4, 2002

(Of course, to keep topics from turning into a morass of tables, you have to set your Slash comment threshold at +4, but...)
posted by darukaru at 6:48 PM on June 4, 2002

Easy readability of 'flatness' + the visual organization of threads = best of both worlds.

Actually, darukaru, that's how i read Plastic. All comments on one page, but they're all organized. And that's the suggesting I was alluding to. I don't want a complete reformat, just an adjustment.
posted by BlueTrain at 6:49 PM on June 4, 2002

MeFi threads end up being a big Opinionatrium, where each person stands up in turn and proclaims his or her thoughts on the post, then moves on.

i disagree, and i think that actually happens more on plastic and k5. i visit all three regularly, but i think they have strengths and weaknesses. i think flat comments make people respond more to what other people have said. if bob says he has x position, on mefi repeating the same position below as if bob hadn't said anything would be weird, and immediately noticed. on k5 or plastic is happens all the time. top level comments are often repetitive, and the best ones are rewarded.

i like mefi because every FPP is one conversation, people are nearly forced to respond to the people before them, because you pretty much have to read all the comments if you don't want to look dumb. i like having to read what people said before. in threading if you decide to post a top-level comment it doesn't matter at all if you don't read what other people have said; and if someone says something dumb and it's refuted 3 levels down, oh well, you don't see it.

i'm not saying k5 should go flat, clearly, an op-ed story on the front page now has over 600 comments, but we don't have 600 comments on mefi. there is no reason to make sacrifices in the flow of conversation.

oh, here is a link where this was talked about before
posted by rhyax at 8:38 PM on June 4, 2002

Matt mentions his reasoning behind the flat comment structure in his part of the usability book. Enter and win a copy and you'll understand.

As it's Finals time for most of the college students reading MeTa, I'll sum it up in multiple choice:

Metafilter is not:

A) Plastic
B) Slashdot
D) All of the above
posted by SpecialK at 8:40 PM on June 4, 2002

It's a blog, people! Blogs don't DO threads. And this is a minimal issue, most front page posts do not get more than 30 comments, it's not exactly a huge chore to navigate unless we are talking about multipage Buffy polemics (not that its a bad thing), which are few and far between.

Moderation is getting mentioned too. To hell with that, we already have moderation. People can ignore trolls, or respond to them, or take them to MetaTalk for a meta-spanking.

If we get threads and moderation, there are going to be even more asinine posts.

... what an 3L33T Beowulf cluster -

I couldn't find the right ones, but whenever there is some stupid homebrew computer featured on /., there are always 50 comments about 'a whole beowulf cluster of those would be l337!' One of them always seems to get a high score, so such things are encouraged.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:10 PM on June 4, 2002

I'm not saying MeFi should have threads. It should be what it is, and what people want it to be. I'm just saying I like threads better than flat. And, in my case anyway, by "threads" I mean either nested view, or my current favorite, which is K5's dynamic minimal mode. I wouldn't be shedding any tears if MeFi gained a threaded mode, but I won't be if it stays the way it is either.
posted by rusty at 9:37 PM on June 4, 2002

Um, I was sort of kidding about wanting the offline QWK reader... though I sometimes wouldn't mind having the twit filter feature of one. In any case, please don't anyone undertake any programming projects on my account. Thanks!

posted by crunchland at 9:43 PM on June 4, 2002

"please don't anyone undertake any programming projects on my account."

Pshaw, any excuse to write pointless software! Besides, if I do it once for the minimal case, it'll be easier to do again when I really want to do a discussion area for my site.

Don't worry, I was only sort of kidding about writing a MetaFilter to QWK gateway. (The state management between downloads would be a bitch for an untrusted third party with no access to the real database reading the site anonymously, and "untrusted" is the very definition of me!)

In any case, threading and flatness both have a place. While I've yet to see threading done really well on the web (k5's "dynamic" mode comes somewhat close), mail lists and Usenet would be hopeless without decent threading. A conversation with reasonably high volume in a community that tends to wander from topic and has long discussion life is deeply in need of threading. MetaFilter is none of those things: relatively few comments per post, a strong tenancy to stay on topic, and discussions which peter out within a day or two of being started. There's no place for threading here. A more community-like community would need it as a matter of preserving sanity, but the narrow focus and comparative sterility of the discussions make it a pretty bad idea here.
posted by majick at 6:53 AM on June 5, 2002

Don't worry, I was only sort of kidding about writing a MetaFilter to QWK gateway. (The state management between downloads would be a bitch for an untrusted third party with no access to the real database reading the site anonymously, and "untrusted" is the very definition of me!)

damn you -- i was seriously salivating about being able to read mefi threads on the potty.

now i'm going to have to shell out for wireless.

posted by fishfucker at 12:30 PM on June 5, 2002

This site's structure is a large part of it's identity.
Toying with it seems like a mistake. Simplicity is best.
posted by dong_resin at 12:59 PM on June 5, 2002

Two words, ff: "Longer Cord"

(There's no guarantee I won't actually go ahead and implement something this insane, but I can't make any promises. Given a choice between fiddling with my nearly-finished Amiga and cranking out a useless script, it's a tough call which will actually get my attention. But I'm still sort of kidding. Sort of. Kinda.)
posted by majick at 1:37 PM on June 5, 2002

I don't see how real life conversations were threaded. Unless in real life you whisper responses to friend A so that friend B may not hear it, then begin holding separate conversations simultaneously with both of them... To me, flat discussion is more natural: everyone's in the same room, they hear what everyone else says.

I also don't believe blogs and threading are antithetical - slashdot is a weblog. Also, I could be wrong, but doesn't Greymatter allow threading?
posted by D at 2:25 PM on June 5, 2002

Seems to me that real live conversations can be either flat or threaded in nature, just like it is online. Flatness lends itself well to having one big context with few tangents: good for something like MetaFilter which is very one-to-many -- broadcasty, if you will -- in nature. It's more like sitting in on a classroom discussion. Threadiness encourages the opposite: tangents pool up in little eddies, whole back-and-forth sequences launch off in new directions, new voices appearing. Conversation forks into a few major paths and several littler, flatter places. It's more casual and conversational. We can try a party analogy here.

If you think of threads as being like Slashdot, you're a bit off in the wrong direction. Good threading is very, very hard to do on the web. Threaded web discussion tends to require lots of digging into obscure places, lots of hunt and click. Nobody has invented a genuinely pleasant web UI for threads. Think instead of your favorite newsreader, something like tin or Agent (or a decent MUA like mutt), where structure appears alongside or alternately to the conversation. Interface matters a lot more when threading. Google's news UI is the closest we've come, and that needs icky frames to work even somewhat well.

For what it's worth, a vast majority of the discussion interfaces out there are flat, dating all the way back to Citadel, CoSy, WWIV, and the like.
posted by majick at 7:53 PM on June 5, 2002

Here is what I am opposed to: Threading monoculture. I have said before that MeFi resembles the Unix bbs family called 'picospan', which I spent a lot of time on years ago -- and so I find it very natural. (I suspect it might work slightly better with a smaller user-base.) I also found Usenet's threading usable, but haven't yet, pace rusty, found a web interface to threaded discussions that is anywhere near as usable as the simplicity of trn. How can you beat thumbing the space bar bang bang bang? Don't like the direction of this branch -- hit 'comma'. So I tend to get annoyed with all the interfaceyness of places like k5. But obviously, other people like that -- so hurrah! We all have choices.
posted by dhartung at 9:27 PM on June 5, 2002

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