Regional Metafilters? November 10, 2000 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Matt started it when he mentioned the possibility of regional metafilters, but now discussion has spread around the net, particularly to Europe-based webloggers [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7], who are debating European/English metafilters, non-metafilter sites and ideas for added features to metafilter central.

Basically, the current best suggestion that I have heard is based on a conversation between Nikolai Nolan and myself, which I have stuck on, but which reads as follows:

"I had an incredibly interesting conversation with Nikolai. He started off suggesting that a European Metafilter might get over the language problems by having a place in the preferences for each user where they could specify what languages they would want to see and which ones they would want to post in.

"The main problem for this from my point of view is that it still causes problems about reading about other countries. Would an Italian writing in English really be something that people in Helsinki would be interested in reading, let alone people in the UK? So then it came to us in a blinding flash. Maybe what we need is not more regional metafilters, but a more evolved filtering mechanism on thet metafilter we've already got! With options in the preferences for reading posts filtered according to language and country, then there is no real need for separate metafilters at all.

"You could be an Frenchman, living in the US, interested in reading posts about France and America but only if they are in French. Or an Englishman living in Holland, interested in reading posts about both countries in both English or Dutch. It's just a question of showing or hiding posts. Whether or not it's technically possible of course, is another matter entirely..."
posted by barbelith to Feature Requests at 11:38 AM (23 comments total)

"With options in the preferences for reading posts filtered according to language and country, then there is no real need for separate metafilters at all."

Ack! I seriously have no idea how to even begin building something like this. I could do timezones for each user, but that's about the limits of internationalisation I'm capable of. As far as I know, there are no freely available language translator objects I could tap into. Honestly, this is way beyond my means (and probably beyond every content management system out there except perhaps for the ACS).

The regional metafilter thing was something mentioned over beer somewhere, I'm not out to setup a worldwide publishing empire just yet.

The original thought was it'd be nice to build a lower traffic, more highly focused version of MetaFilter, and one of the obvious applications would be localized by city (or it could be done by topic, like "gaming metafilter" or "politics metafilter").

There's plenty of local news where I live worth discussing, so Steve came up with the idea of offering US city versions, and asking people with portals in those cities to pay for, or fund the building of a regional metafilter.

I don't know how it is in the UK or Europe, but in the US, there are tons of local hub sites for each city, and every site wants to become the leader in each market and be synonymous with that city. So naturally, an instance of MetaFilter is suddenly attractive. It's a community, plenty of page views and users, and could be something valuable to both users and site owners.

But, I'm just one guy with a pile of programming I did, I have no sales force, so I doubt the above scenario happens. I could just dish off local version to whoever wants to. The current plans are to have the guys behind do a spanish-language version of metafilter at I'll have no idea if they're doing things right because I can't actually read spanish, but they asked and I said sure.

I could do a local bayarea version for my local market, and invite current SF-area metafilter users to participate. After that is deemed somewhat of a success (as opposed to failure), I'd be willing to setup more.

Now, if that's or is up to you guys over there. But I think it'd have to be in english, or completely in french or dutch, or whatever to work, I don't think I could ever get a mixed language version to work.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:55 AM on November 10, 2000

It's a traditional American misconception to regard "Europe" as this homogeneous entity. But there's a fair bit of overlap... which leads me to my point:

The best filter isn't computational: it's linguistic. When Prol, for instance, makes specifically Dutch comments on her blog, she writes them in Dutch. And non-Dutch speakers skip them in a fraction of a second: they route around it.

So you post your link and initial comment in the language that you want the discussion to proceed in, and that works better than any attempt to set variables. Yes, there's a decision to be made about the basic UI, but MeFi's simple enough, I think, to cope with an English framework. The arrogance of the lingua franca, perhaps, but I get the feeling that I could work my way through the MeFi interface even if it were in Japanese.
posted by holgate at 1:01 PM on November 10, 2000

Hmm, Matt, we don't seem to be on the same wavelength here. Translation wasn't part of the plan, just options. For instance, if you were posting something, you would encounter drop down boxes that say something like this:

This post is in {English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Swahili, etc.}
This post pertains to {All areas, United States, USA-Chicago, USA-New York, USA-San Francisco, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, Zambia, etc.}

(The number of options would depend on demand.)

And in user preferences, there would be checkboxes to choose which langages and areas you want to see.
posted by Nikolai at 7:04 PM on November 10, 2000

Well, that clears things up Nikolai, but I don't see how those settings could help someone read a post in french, on an english site, when they're in finland and prefer finnish (going off Tom's original ideas as I interpretted them).

I could see how these settings would help, and allow for more filtered, customized versions, but I don't see how it could possibly help out non-members (unfiltered). Take a look at today (Friday, November 10th). There are 32 posts in one day, far too many for the average person to wade through if they visited once a day or even a few times a day. Now imagine if the site supported loads of localized news, and in several languages. Would the unfiltered version display 60-100 threads a day? How useful would that be? I just don't see the current interface scaling all that well. Would all local news post to a different page for that specific local news, and be added to the main metafilter site if you set your preferences so? That might work.

It seems the next logical thing to do is add categories to all threads, so people that don't want to see gaming news can filter it out, or those that like politics can see a politics-only version. I've had categories in the database design since day one, but didn't use them at the start, as there was little content and categorization seemed like overkill.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:08 AM on November 11, 2000

"Well, that clears things up Nikolai, but I don't see how those settings could help someone read a post in french, on an english site, when they're in finland and prefer finnish (going off Tom's original ideas as I interpretted them)."

No translation at all, as Nikolai says. The trick would be that someone who can read both French and English, but wants to hear news about Finland would simply use preferences-style form elements to choose SHOW ME POSTS IN "FRENCH" AND "ENGLISH" (drop down or tick boxes) ABOUT "FINLAND".

Now as pertains to the new user, there must be a browser-parsable field for which language group the computer is using. Or perhaps IP resolution might be a possibility. Or (possibly more plausible), the homepage could default to all posts in English, with a link to internal pages (accessible by drop-down) that have filtered content by language or country.
posted by barbelith at 1:47 AM on November 11, 2000

Sorry - quick follow up - the posts could be "tagged" as being "French", "English" and / or "Finnish" by the preferences of the person who posted them initially. For example: "When I post I tend to use {French / English / Dutch} - I am based in {England / France / Holland}". Two fields next to the posting box would then automatically default to these, but allowing people the possibility of altering them on the fly for individual posts...
posted by barbelith at 1:50 AM on November 11, 2000

Although for that suggestion, I would suggest not having a default post location based on your location, but having it default to "All areas" (or have the post preference have an option for "my posts usually don't pertain to one locality"). Just because you're from Sweden doesn't mean your MetaFilter posts are usually about Sweden.

I like Matt's idea of having local posts on separate pages for unregistered users; they could be linked from a box like the links box on the home page.

Categories are also a good idea. How I would love to uncheck "Politics."

Or even an old-school MetaFilter option: "Only show posts by mathowie." :)
posted by Nikolai at 1:11 PM on November 11, 2000

you know, I think it's great that there's such enthusiasm fo r the metafilter brand throughout the community, but I really don't feel right about putting undue pressure on matt to introduce such a time-intensive project into his life.

it's his spare-time project, after all.

posted by rebeccablood at 3:46 PM on November 11, 2000

I have to agree. After sucking Matt into a political-oriented project which I didn't think he'd be interested in. He has a phenomenal amount of pull on his time and we need to give him a chance to figure out what he wants to do.

....or we could extract the MeFi portions of his brain and figure out how to set them up ourselves. Perhaps Matt can develop some sort of "Make your own MeFi" guide...then he can sell it on Amazon and make up for all the free work he's done on MeFi and other sites.

Give the man a break - and more credit for his amazing work.
posted by bkdelong at 3:53 PM on November 11, 2000

joeclark wrote:
"Regional MetaFilters desperately needed. The concentration of extremely detailed U.S. election postings on MetaFilter clarifies the need for regional subpages here. Not everyone is American or even particularly cares to pretend he or she is. itself should not assume American origins; there should be specific us., canada., europe., oz., uk., nl., and other related regional MetaFilter pages. should be expressly limited to links that cosmopolitan visitors would find of interest, without assuming an American origin. Many U.S. entries would still make the cut, but a dozen links on ballot design wouldn't. It may be very hard for American participants to accept that a U.S. bias is at work or is even anything worth noting. "
Desperately needed?

Should not assume American origins?

US-centric mindsets?

Has the whole world gone crazy? Where is it written that I have gobs of free time to launch my publishing empire? Why the sudden need for everyone to come out of the woodwork telling me what I should be doing with this site?

If this site weren't some garage project, and an actual business, I could see the push for new features, but I'm getting a tad sick of all the pressure on me to code my nights away for the next few months.

Can anyone suggest how all these regional metafilters could help prolong the site, and not dilute the brand (and voice/purpose/vision)? Can anyone suggest how I could support myself on this new empire of worldwide interest metafilters, and set aside the proper resources to get it going and maintain it?

I'm getting tired of everything and everyone. I think I'm going to walk away from my computer for a while, and play some video games.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:56 PM on November 11, 2000

Just to clarify my last post, I fully acknowledge the recent problems with all the election posts, I'm sick of them too. I think for now, the next thing is to add categorization, and it's probably about 4 hours of work. Hopefully, I can get it done this weekend. I'll do my best. I have four other projects, and my employers work to do, so bear with me.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:59 PM on November 11, 2000

Rebecca makes a really good point. There's only so much time in a day, and considering the amount of attention that metafilter gets, and the amount of effort there must be involved in administrating/deleting junk/etc..., creating these massive filtering/language/location options would be a pretty big project.

I can see how this entire discussion is stemming from the increaced traffic on MetaFilter lately. Granted, the majority of content on here is intelligent and well thought out, it's growing day by day. With every public-access-type system comes people who want attention. Look at IRC. It started out with a few people in the netherlands and some others at MIT, and now it's a word wide network of people, a good portion of them who troll around with loud colors and advertisers just because they can. Obviously MetaFilter is nowhere near this stage, and the level of maturity is infinitely higher, but still. I don't doubt there's a few people out there who post because they can, and post election related news because it's something to post. Personally, I've stopped reading MetaFilter over the past few weeks and will probably return after the election is sorted out. I just couldn't take the constant barrage of Vote Gore, Nader Is God, GW is a moron [repeat cycle].

I remember sparse discussions a while back about implementing some sort of access restrictions on posting, or wider administration, and I think as MetaFilter moves closer and closer to needing some form of this, the current discussion and others like it are stemming from that.

In the future, I hope that a solution to the barriers between MetaFilter users is one that still keeps everyone unified in some way, and one that works well. The whole idea behind this wonderful site is that everyone contributes to creating something worthwhile, and I hope that it stays that way.
posted by tomorama at 4:09 PM on November 11, 2000

Matt, though the urgency with which we demand new functionality doesn't indicate it, I'm sure others will agree with me when I say both thank you for all the work you have and continue to put into something that is an important part of my day. I'm sorry we take you for granted at times, and just want you to know that you do damn good work.

We aren't intentionally burdoning you, either, it's just easy to slip into a demanding stance when we're hit with what we think is a great idea. You're at work on a saturday afternoon when you should be out biking the park or enjoying the day, implementing changes for MeFi can wait. Try to enjoy some slack time, we can wait.
posted by cCranium at 4:12 PM on November 11, 2000

And I can 100% sympathize with the way Matt feels after reading things like what came from Mr. joeclark. Like I said, there's only so much time in a day.
posted by tomorama at 4:13 PM on November 11, 2000

I'm not trying to burden Matt either; I just saw Tom and Caroline's posts and thought I'd get a word in before any progress was made on the regional MetaFilter idea. It's just a suggestion; I don't see the urgency that Joe Clark mentions anywhere in this thread.
posted by Nikolai at 11:20 PM on November 11, 2000

I don't think anyone wants to put pressure on Matt. I run a few sites of various levels of success myself, and I know that I don't have time to fulfil all the requests that are placed on me.

I think basically, people were developing an idea about how metafilter should extend itself regionally - responding to Matt's own post on the subject. All of us have something invested in metafilter's future, to a greater or lesser extent (and certainly to a lesser extent than Matt does). But generating ideas is not the same as demanding their implementation - and I don't think any of us would want to feel that we had done that.

I think that we should be thankful that people care enough about Metafilter to suggest these ideas as ways of enhancing something they respect rather than wandering off and setting up something in opposition. I think that speaks buckets about the sense of community, integrity and the amount of respect that we all feel for what Matt has accomplished.

Finally, personally, I DO see the possibility of a commercial future for the site should that be the way people wanted to go. You might very well have something that borders on the next kind of Yahoo! here - a community project that provides people with daily links and commentary on any issue that they care about from anywhere in the world.
posted by barbelith at 5:23 AM on November 13, 2000

First off, I've been overworked and stressed out, and after seeing Joe Clark's post, and some others (like this one), I was tired of the "hurry up Matt, chop, chop, get it done already" attitude. So I kind of freaked out, and I'm sorry about that.

Tom, there's a lot of things that new metafilters entail, let me go over just a few things that don't seem easy to solve.

- metafilter voice/purpose/vision/brand - I personally check metafilter on average at least once an hour, every hour, since the site's been up. I delete a lot of posts, and edit html errors around the clock. If there were suddenly 5 or 10 new instances of metafilter, I don't know if I could either a) handle the additional workload, or b) trust that whoever did lead another metafilter, would admin in a way I agree with.

If new metafilters spring up, they obviously benefit from the "brand" and traffic that MetaFilter currently receives, but will many metafilters continue to build on that, or take away from that? I could imagine two scenarios, one where multiple metafilters make the entire site/url/brand/whatever something much greater than it already is, but another scenario could be "the europe one is plagued by infighting, the san francisco one is too touchy-feely, and the new york one is mean and evil."

- multiple admins - I built the site with myself as the sole admin, and I've only trusted two other people to do admin duties before, so building new infrastructure to support multiple admins as well as "letting go" enough to let others admin is a big step. I'd have to determine criteria for screening admins.

- problems - if a regional metafilter doesn't go as planned, either by power-hungry admin or crazy psycho members posting, what exactly are the steps to solving problems, steering things back on topic, or do I just throw up my hands and say "oh well, the australia metafilter really sucks, there's nothing I can do and it doesn't affect me." The possibility of problems escalating exponentially doesn't appeal to me at all.

- infrastructure - growing the physical size of the database and site traffic exponentially can't possibly bode well for performance on the server.

- money - if the root of all evil were plentiful, all the bad parts of expanding the site would be offset (not to mention cost of hardware and bandwidth). If I somehow got a couple thousand dollars a month from MetaFilter, staying up nights coding new features or being an admin on 12 different sites wouldn't feel so bad. But there's little to no chance of that ever happening. If someone, anyone can devise a way to make money off this, by all means suggest away, because I'm all ears.

Overall, I feel like I've been digging my own grave lately. Every new feature required a significant input of my time and I don't want this site to feel like a job instead of it being done for fun. I have no problem with other people building similar sites, or reverse-engineering this one, I never set out to conquer the world with this site, I just wanted to get people talking.

Again, sorry to all for the friday night freakout, it had just gotten to be too much.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:03 PM on November 13, 2000 [1 favorite]

The bitch-reflex is in full effect. The posting has a natural ebb and flow. I don't see why people have such a problem skipping posts they don't care about. Having the initial post delivering a good idea of the content is a skill that takes a bit of practice. Are we all a little short of patience these days?
posted by john at 4:48 PM on November 13, 2000

geez folks, lest we forget, our dear matt's a newlywed and probably wants a bit of real life time outside of metafilter. not to mention the pressures of being an a-list blogger and all...
posted by judith at 10:44 PM on November 13, 2000

Oh no! Let's not bring up the A-list blogging thing... I'm getting enough flack from being a B-minus list - god knows what everyone else gets... ;-) (smiley offensive, but necessary to convey tone).

As to the other issues Matt raises. Again - my apologies. RE: incoming money - if you didn't think it would result in brand dilution, then the standard e-commerce and affiliate revenue would still bring money in. At low-level effort, a few basic Amazon-esque links wouldn't upset people, I think, if done properly. At the higher-effort level, you could start a book discussion area, in exactly the same lines as Metafilter, where one of the submittable fields is an ISBN or Amazon ASIN, which would then code up behind the scenes as an affiliate link.

I know from personal experience that engaging in these activities feels like some kind of selling-out, but I also know that people understand that even running these sites involves a personal cost which people are all to happy to help one offset. When the Barbelith Underground was under threat of closure after I received excess bandwidth costs of $750, people were literally sending me cheques through the post to keep it going... And that's for a site which is AVOWEDLY anti-corporate.

Anyway - this is all completely off the point, which is that we all love the site, use it regularly and hope that it continues (in whatever form you think best) for a long time to come...
posted by barbelith at 6:24 AM on November 14, 2000


I'm glad you didn't go under. I havn't really browsed the majority of your site. I found your site initially based on your Invisibles section, an absolute gem.
posted by john at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2000

Good lord... so *this* is why I got my head bit off about the New York Times.

See what I get for not following MT as closely as I follow MF?
posted by baylink at 8:46 AM on November 16, 2000

Matt already knows it: me and a friend of mine have almost finished developing our own Italian version of a simil-metafilter site. We've used a different server-side scripting language and our overall structure is quite different from this one but the concept is the same.

So, IMHO, it's better to leave the other countries create their own metafilters, if they need them. Here in Italy the weblog phenomenon has started to gain more and more attention, until we decided to create a "community blog". So we started developing a multi-user php based weblog and that was it. Now we're in beta testing but we're quite close to the final release :)
posted by cavedoni at 5:41 AM on November 18, 2000

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