"How Google is Killing the Best Site on the Internet" June 2, 2014 6:01 PM   Subscribe

MeFi is the subject of today's TLDR podcast from NPR's "On the Media".

A couple weeks ago, Matt Haughey, the founder of TLDR's favorite website, Metafilter, announced that his website is dying. And he says it's because Google algorithmically stopped directing traffic to the site over a year ago. Alex tries to figure out what you do when Google's algorithm decides it no longer likes you.
posted by ryanshepard to MetaFilter-Related at 6:01 PM (102 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

I liked how this turned out, though I sound harsher about SEO stuff than I actually am. I was ranting on bad SEO, and the people that came out of the woodwork to say that MeFi needs a dedicated SEO staff and strategy, etc and it is so much snake oil and BS that it annoyed me so I went off on that. The Danny Sullivan bit came across as if I was swearing off SEO entirely when I really don't like the direct gaming of Google and having to read the wacky SEO forums where people make guesses as to what Google currently wants.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:15 PM on June 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really wish Google would say something. This silence doesn't really seem to be protecting anything other than their reputation, and it's not really doing a great job at that. Instead it comes off as a bit arrogant and indifferent to something they shouldn't be indifferent about. The very kind of thing that, if it wasn't actually them being the problem, they'd be pretty vocal about fixing.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:26 PM on June 2, 2014 [13 favorites]


Matt, is there any news on the "Google folks are talking to Metafilter about the problem" front?
posted by mediareport at 6:29 PM on June 2, 2014


Google never comments on any specific site or situation, so yeah, I just got vague maybe it'll get better someday, but no guarantee sort of messages.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:46 PM on June 2, 2014


I thought this was an interesting take and fair summary of the issue. Nice work.

I imagine the Google Algorithm is a very large greebled monolith that has a lot of moving parts. There is probably interest in this from within Google just from the standpoint of trying to get helpful results to searchers but it's a big company with many different goals - some probably competing in many respects - at this point. Who knows.
posted by sockermom at 6:54 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I emailed them about this and Alex actually wrote me back and said they'd cover it in the podcast!
posted by Aizkolari at 6:55 PM on June 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


Google never comments on any specific site or situation, so yeah, I just got vague maybe it'll get better someday, but no guarantee sort of messages.

Which, really, is in everyone's best interests. As much as I'd like for MetaFilter to be highly funded by Google (or anyone else), if they put out any sort of "Here's how to get in our good graces" information, it will almost immediately get used by people who aren't as forthright as this place (via imitation of anything nonstandard, not because mathowie will sell the secrets to spammers for way more money than the ads would bring in HINT HINT).
posted by Etrigan at 6:56 PM on June 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


From MeFi's own Alex Goldman and WStraub.
posted by unliteral at 7:14 PM on June 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Are there free services out there that can monitor specific search queries? Maybe we could cobble together a corpus of searches that ought to find AskMe ranking relatively well and see how the positioning varies over time.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:17 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I believe we need to cobble up $185,000 for a .mefi domain.
posted by boo_radley at 7:19 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I believe we need to cobble up $185,000 for a .mefi domain.

Lets save the money. I got a $7.50 promo for a domain on godaddy.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:26 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


How do I get a job at NPR?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:07 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


How do I get a job at NPR?
Here.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:14 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


How do I get a job at NPR?
Here.
posted by hal_c_on


And here.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:27 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see this getting more publicity. Hope it results in a good outcome.
posted by arcticseal at 9:15 PM on June 2, 2014


I liked it and hope this will bring more attention to the issue.

I think the point Sullivan misses is that Google is not at all transparent about their algorithms and is not able to respond to people who are dragged down by unintended side-effects, even if they make every effort to be "good citizens." The whole SEO industry exists primarily because of this mysterious formula that constantly changes, but which is ultimately unknown and subject to debate and differences of opinion. The system Google created is not at all friendly to paying customers or users, so there is no good remedy to problems that inevitably surface. Hiring SEO is tantamount to rolling the dice and hoping they guessed correctly.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:18 PM on June 2, 2014




Hiring SEO is tantamount to rolling the dice and hoping they guessed correctly.

And that their guess stays correct down the line. See: all the link removal requests that were mentioned in some of the previous articles.
posted by immlass at 10:15 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


The whole SEO industry exists primarily because of this mysterious formula that constantly changes, but which is ultimately unknown and subject to debate and differences of opinion.

No, it's the other way around. Google has good reason to keep its formula secret and change it regularly, because otherwise the first thousand hits on any search would be perfectly optimized spam. Keeping their formula secret is creepy and harms honest users but it's hard to see how google can do otherwise.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:20 PM on June 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


The fact that the massive computational resources available to Google, plus the combined efforts of the most skilled software engineers available programming those, still can't distinguish Metafilter from a spam farm? That tells me all I need to know about just how far we remain from anything like The Singularity.

The fact that Google has manual means for down-ranking selected sites to override The Algorithm's approval? That tells me the folks in charge of Google's ranking policy know the same thing, which is why I have such difficulty believing than they don't have similar means for up-ranking sites that some human within Google approves of more than The Algorithm does.

So it seems to me that the only reasonable conclusion is that Google is allowing Metafilter, which actually is the Best of the Web in every category applicable to it, to languish as a matter of deliberate policy. To which the best and only response is not "how may I better serve you, O mighty master?" but a resounding FUCK YOU.

I am quite interested in finding out whether the idea that MeFi punches above its weight is a mere conceit, so I have started using DuckDuckGo as a Google search replacement and recommending it to everybody I know. Let's see whether anything interesting happens if significant numbers of us start doing the same thing.
posted by flabdablet at 12:21 AM on June 3, 2014 [18 favorites]


announced that his website is dying

Call me Pollyanna but in the long run I think moving away from a model dependent on advertising traffic to AskMefi is probably a positive rebalancing. Sad to lose people, but the place will survive lighter modding well enough.
posted by Segundus at 2:07 AM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Just asking: did Google have ethical issues about amateurs offering advice on health and relationship issues?
posted by Segundus at 2:11 AM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Having watched the Lego Movie the other day I'm visualising this as Google being President Business who wants to force websites to do exactly what they want. The Algorithm is the Kragle. I guess that makes mathowie Emmet, the hero who must discover his powers as a Master SEOer? And Jessamyn is WyldStyle and Cortex is Benny.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:28 AM on June 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


And pb is Batman.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:31 AM on June 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Google has so much instrumentation and stores so many metrics. For example, they have all the data to know about user behavior when Ask Metafilter results are highly-ranked: if the user clicks on the page, how long the user stays at AskMe (hello Google Analytics), if the user repeats their search after coming to AskMe. All of those signals could easily create an overwhelming feedback cycle, and even if they make a small adjustment to push Metafilter back up the stack, legitimate user behavior might be working against Metafilter.

I think Matt's got the right stance that SEO is a sucker's game, but that's easy for me to say, as it's not my mortgage and my employees on the line.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:16 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think the problem is that Google is suddenly ranking Metafilter badly, and the solution that Google will make an adjustment specifically for Metafilter and all is well again. The fact that Metafilter is ranking worse now is a symptom, not the problem itself. The problem itself seems to be (based on previous threads where people linked to forums that got hit at the same time) that Google is devaluing forum and other user generated content in general. That seems like a huge loss, and way bigger than Metafilter. I have often wondered for the past year why suddenly Google was useless, why I can't find anything on the internet anymore. Often when I used to have a problem with a computer program, I'd just google it because I could count on somebody having asked it on a forum before. But now, it is way harder to find that information. I used to blame Facebook and Twitter, figuring forums don't exist anymore, but it appears that that's not the only problem. Google actively down valuing forums is a real shame. I remember when dejanews shut down and how big of a deal that was, and then Google brought it back and that was something, and now it seems like we're back a few years again when finding that kind of content is getting harder again.
posted by blub at 4:29 AM on June 3, 2014 [53 favorites]


I've been waiting to hear this! I knew OTM were 'fans' of MeFi and was so was waiting to hear their take.

Though, really, the topic has more to do with the way Google works and the impact its monopoly is having on the whole biology of the web/internet than any directly 'media' related topic, unless you broaden your definition of 'media' to include the internet, which I think is a long time coming.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:44 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


The problem itself seems to be (based on previous threads where people linked to forums that got hit at the same time) that Google is devaluing forum and other user generated content in general.

That was my take away from the earlier discussion as well, and if it's true it represents a huge change in at least how I've personally understood what is important online.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:40 AM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just asking: did Google have ethical issues about amateurs offering advice on health and relationship issues?

Yes, which is why the answers on ask.com and yahoo answers now rank above metafilter. You can trust those answers!
posted by cjorgensen at 5:58 AM on June 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


Having watched the Lego Movie the other day I'm visualising this as Google being President Business who wants to force websites to do exactly what they want.

SPOILER ALERT
posted by norm at 6:20 AM on June 3, 2014


HOW IS THAT A SPOILER IT'S IN THE TRAILER
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:39 AM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]




And yet, Yahoo! Answers regularly shows up in my Google search results.

Project idea: a website featuring side-by-side comparisons of google searches within the Ask Metafilter domain and Yahoo! Answers domain, and listing the Google page ranking of each result.
posted by duffell at 6:58 AM on June 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Obvs the only real answer is pegging all hopes to Bing
posted by waraw at 8:12 AM on June 3, 2014


I guess that makes mathowie Emmet, the hero who must discover his powers as a Master SEOer? And Jessamyn is WyldStyle and Cortex is Benny.

I've switched over to the black on white metafilter foreground/background. I prefer doing all of my work only in black, or possibly a very dark gray.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:21 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


So it seems to me that the only reasonable conclusion is that Google is allowing Metafilter, which actually is the Best of the Web in every category applicable to it, to languish as a matter of deliberate policy. To which the best and only response is not "how may I better serve you, O mighty master?" but a resounding FUCK YOU.

You vastly overestimate the importance of Metafilter. MeFi punches above its weight online because many smartypants media types like it. It's a gnat on the ass of the elephant that is google. If they make some change to The Algorythmn that improves search result by 0.01 percent for the billions of searches they get a day, that's them doing their job right, even if a site like metafilter which gets however many millions of searches a day gets wiped off the map because of it. And no, they're not going to go on the record saying "you are way too small of a thing for us to give a fuck about."
posted by Diablevert at 8:22 AM on June 3, 2014 [15 favorites]


I'm sure its not, or maybe they were both sampled from somewhere else, but the first 10 seconds of the podcast (the music) - sounds very similar to the opening seconds of Eminem's Under the Influence. I'm just going to pretend that was deliberate and laugh about it :)
posted by ish__ at 8:42 AM on June 3, 2014


I'm sure its not, or maybe they were both sampled from somewhere else, but the first 10 seconds of the podcast (the music) - sounds very similar to the opening seconds of Eminem's Under the Influence yt

For whatever it's worth, that's the regular TL;DR theme song, which can be heard in its entirety here, by Breakmaster Cylinder.
posted by aught at 8:59 AM on June 3, 2014


For whatever it's worth, that's the regular TL;DR theme song

Ahh indeed. Well I'm still going to laugh about it.
posted by ish__ at 9:04 AM on June 3, 2014


in "the mouse that roared", the duchy of grand fenwick declared war on the united states, as part of a convoluted plot to get foreign aid. any way metafilter can borrow a page from this book?
posted by bruce at 9:15 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there any particular reason to not implement robots.txt to direct search engines to *not* index parts of the site, in order to avoid a penalty for duplicate content?

I'm genuinely curious why this was not implemented sooner. Is it a philosophical issue, or is it a "best practice" arbitrarily set by Google's search algorithm?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 AM on June 3, 2014


That's already been done for ages. Look at the source to one of the tags pages or archive pages, and you'll see:
<meta name="ROBOTS" content="NOINDEX,FOLLOW">
posted by Rhomboid at 9:23 AM on June 3, 2014


Is that something that Google explicitly states somewhere or is it just "best practice" according to "experts"? Because it seems like there's a ton of suggestions out there, many of which have already been tried by MeFi.

The lack of any immediate feedback on your changes has got to make this hugely frustrating. You probably don't want to make too many (or too few!) changes before the next Google algorithm update. And don't forget that a lot of the advice out there that's "obvious" is contradicted by other advice.

But yeah, having read all of these threads, I think that specific change is something that MeFi has implemented, at least partially (afaik at least directing search engines to not index exlibris).
posted by ODiV at 9:23 AM on June 3, 2014


> the only real answer is pegging all hopes to Bing

Bing is the sound of pegging?
posted by planetesimal at 9:25 AM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Bing it on Google, you'll get your answer.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:45 AM on June 3, 2014


The infuriating thing is that Google seems to have no problem working straightforwardly with arrogant SEO-gaming sleazebags to explain their violation and get their rankings swiftly restored... as long as they're backed with millions of dollars in VC funding:
Previously on “Rap Genius’ SEO blunders”, the startup had raised $15 million from Andreessen Horowitz to annotate the web. It’s site hosts lyrics, religious texts, legal documents, poems, and news and allows users to add explanations of what they mean. The Rap Genius founders are known as braggadocious rabble-rousers, and they showed off their ridiculousness on stage in an interview with me at TechCrunch Disrupt New York embedded below. There they discussed doing study drugs like Adderall while naked to make sure the stayed home and focused on building the site. [...]

But in a sketchy failed attempt at growth hacking, Rap Genius started the “Rap Genius Blog Affiliate” program where it would promote anyone’s blog post through social media in exchange for the blogger inserting sets of links to Rap Genius lyrics into their posts. [...]

Despite an apology from Rap Genius, we detailed how Google destroyed Rap Genius’ search engine result page rankings, burying them on the fifth or sixth page of results for lyric searches and even searches for “Rap Genius” where they used to rank high. The punishment dealt out on Christmas had a devastating impact on Rap Genius’ traffic since a signficant amount of it comes from Google searches. Quantcast says Rap Genius fell from around 700,000 uniques a day to around 100,000.

At the time, Rap Genius told TechCrunch “We are working with Google right now to resolve this….We’re working on it as fast as we can, and expect to be back on Google very soon.”

Negotiations appear to have panned out well, as today Rap Genius announced “Rap Genius is back on Google. It takes a few days for things to return to normal, but we’re officially back! First of all, we owe a big thanks to Google for being fair and transparent and allowing us back onto their results pages.” [...]

Rap Genius goes on to detail how it got back on Google. The search engine had handed down a “manual action” where it directly manipulated search results to push down Rap Genius URLs as punishment. The reason was for “Unnatural links to your site” that Google explains as “a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site.”

To fix this, Rap Genius had to either have all the spammy links removed, tagged as “nofollow”, or disavowed. But there were hundreds of thousands of these links scattered around the web. So Rap Genius contacted the webmasters it knew, and built a scraper to find the rest of the links. Those it couldn’t have removed or tagged “nofollow” were fed into Google’s Disavow tool that prevents them from influencing search result rankings. [...]

Of course, it likely didn’t hurt that Rap Genius is funded by Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most powerful and well-connected venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. A bootstrapped company without such advantages might not have gotten off as easy, which some could construe as Google playing favorites.

raaaaaaaage
posted by Rhaomi at 10:05 AM on June 3, 2014 [20 favorites]


I guess this makes me want to have ads from members with products/services/etc. even more, really. It seems to work out well for other sites that do this.

But, having worked in ad operations, I also know that managing even 100 advertisers and appropriately portioning space with fair trafficking can be a huge headache, especially if you're trying to run the rest of your business with a light crew.

Just seems like there should be an easier way to get revenue for supplying willing eyeballs that are largely self-sorted and eminently targetable.
posted by batmonkey at 10:06 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another great TLDR. Thanks to Alex and PJ for bringing this to the attention of their listeners.

As a side note, I just saw that Alex's only AskMe probably directly contributed to a really interesting episode.
posted by radioamy at 10:08 AM on June 3, 2014


I guess this makes me want to have ads from members with products/services/etc. even more, really. It seems to work out well for other sites that do this.

I mean, that's basically what the Deck is, right? And I think they are very careful not to overpromise, keep rates flat for both buyers and displayers, etc.

But good luck competing with Google there. That's their core competency, way more than search or webmail or analytics - making money selling ads.

Maybe you could compete with the Deck by targeting a slightly different, broader demographic (not "CREATIVE, WEB AND DESIGN CULTURE") while maintaing the simplicity and transparency. If everything sold at list price, that would be 33 * $8900 * 12 = $3.5m for annual revenue. That's tiny enough that Google wouldn't notice. I have to assume that this has been tried many times before with limited success.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:25 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

But in a sketchy failed attempt at growth hacking, Rap Genius started the “Rap Genius Blog Affiliate” program where it would promote anyone’s blog post through social media in exchange for the blogger inserting sets of links to Rap Genius lyrics into their posts. [...] Despite an apology from Rap Genius, we detailed how Google destroyed Rap Genius’ search engine result page rankings, burying them on the fifth or sixth page of results for lyric searches and even searches for “Rap Genius” where they used to rank high.
See, it is Google's behavior that seems odd to me here. It's like when Google started they revealed to the world that they had this new awesome approach to search that involved analyzing how many times a page was linked to, so website owners said "hm, I guess I should get some more inbound links out there," and Google responded by saying "GRAR NO, they must be the right KIND of links, I SMITE YOU."

Just... what?? If the widespread adoption of your search approach results in knock-on effects that reduce its efficacy, maybe that means your approach isn't really the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe you should re-think your approach rather than trying to bash the rest of the world into conforming to your vision.

To be clear, I don't have any particular sympathy for SEO consultants or link spammers, but the punishment here just seems weird. What on earth makes it a good idea to suppress rapgenius.com in response to searches for "rap genius" specifically? The people who search for that, Google's ostensible customers, are obviously looking for that website - Marc Andreessen is not the only one being punished here.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:53 AM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I really love TL;DR, and I was glad for this episode.

I think the real takeaway was that google has become such a monopoly that minor decisions on their part become life and death for people's entire careers. That's a brittle system.

That being said, if I could game this system to help mefi, I would game the crap out of it.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:04 AM on June 3, 2014


Google is killing TimeCube?
posted by michaelh at 11:13 AM on June 3, 2014


Google IS Timecube
posted by edgeways at 11:23 AM on June 3, 2014


Today, we are all TimeCube.
posted by Mister_A at 11:28 AM on June 3, 2014


The problem itself seems to be (based on previous threads where people linked to forums that got hit at the same time) that Google is devaluing forum and other user generated content in general.

Yeah, I used to find the most interesting material as potential answers to my queries in bulletin boards (is that even a thing these days?)... but Google search results have become so boring I find myself down in the 10th or 11th page of results, where I'm starting to get truncated returns to my search (We've not shown you all these similar results! Are you okay with that?)... and still I don't have anything that is actually INTERESTING.

Because the good answers to a search query aren't always the ones which exactly answer what you were searching for, but the ones which are slightly sideway from your search but which open a new vista for you into what you were curious about, and give you fresh pathways and knowledge to explore.

Google is failing at that, and has been since, um... I guess about November 2012. Searching hasn't been actually FUN for a while, and maybe that was the cutoff date.
posted by hippybear at 11:37 AM on June 3, 2014 [15 favorites]


That's already been done for ages. Look at the source to one of the tags pages or archive pages, and you'll see:

Has it though? As I recall (sorry don't have time at the moment to dig through the old thread) several fixes were suggested to pb that were implemented as recently as last week.

It would be good to hear pb weigh in here!
posted by KokuRyu at 11:57 AM on June 3, 2014


Google is failing at that, and has been since, um... I guess about November 2012.

Things are only a problem when they affect us...
posted by hal_c_on at 12:15 PM on June 3, 2014


Did NPR really call MetaFilter the best site on the Internet? How cool.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:23 PM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Technically, we're not NPR - we're a production of WNYC. Our parent show, On the Media, is also a production of WNYC, but it's distributed by NPR. And this is just one little ol' public radio producer's opinion. But yeah, Metafilter owns. Thanks for listening, guys.
posted by Alex Goldman at 12:28 PM on June 3, 2014 [49 favorites]


Alex Goldman: "NPR...'s opinion[:] Metafilter owns."

That's a confirmation.
posted by Etrigan at 12:35 PM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Thank you for listening, WNYC.
posted by phaedon at 12:53 PM on June 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Isn't November 2012 pretty close to when Titles showed up on Mefi? I want to say tat was early 2013. And Matt said around that time is when the numbers changed, right?

So were Titles introduced as a reaction to the new Google algorithm that downlisted Metafilter?
posted by misha at 1:57 PM on June 3, 2014


Am I the only one who, despite using and respecting AskMe, sees it as a subsiduary off-shoot of the 'real' Metafilter? As someone who came to the site via the blue and for some time that was the only page I read, I am kind of surprised that AskMe is actually how most people seem to interact with Metafilter.
posted by Megami at 2:08 PM on June 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


The problem itself seems to be (based on previous threads where people linked to forums that got hit at the same time) that Google is devaluing forum and other user generated content in general.

And yet, Yahoo! Answers regularly shows up in my Google search results.

Lord, these two comments fit perfectly with a scenario that occurred to me when the Slate article was first linked here, but which I decided not to post.

When I read that the AskMe fall off had occurred very abruptly In October 2012, I went back to nose around for something in the news around then which could account for it, looked at in just the right way.

And I found what I thought was a promising candidate: Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo! in mid-July 2012.

But in order to even seriously consider the possibility that Google had changed its algorithm to favor Yahoo! Answers, I needed some indication other Yahoo! competitors had taken a hit, and some indication Yahoo! Answers had not.

And it would have been nice to be able to point to a motive on Google's part which went beyond a desire to help a beloved colleague succeed in a new job.

I did find a Business Insider article which claimed that a Yahoo! insider had it all but sewn up when the job very suddenly went to Mayer, and that her hiring came primarily at the instigation of a board member who had only gained his seat by way of a "bloody proxy fight," and whose major goal seemed to be to increase the value of his Yahoo! stock, and it crossed my mind that if Mayer were to be able to spruce things up a bit at Yahoo! and demonstrate that it was a viable organization in the right hands, Google could conceivably address its social media problems simply by purchasing it.
posted by jamjam at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whether or not you’re right jamjam, I like the way you think.

I too have wondered where the traffic has ended up. Unless there are fewer total searches being performed, there must have been winners as well as losers. I understand that MeFi itself is a pinprick, but if the traffic drop off is for all of certain kinds of forum/user generated content then the numbers are quite possibly no longer trivial. I don’t think that Google is likely to be targeting (or even care about) MeFi itself, but I can certainly see them encouraging traffic in directions that will ultimately shape the web in ways that favor their business interests, irrespective of whether it is in the best interests of casual users of search.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 3:22 PM on June 3, 2014


misha: "Isn't November 2012 pretty close to when Titles showed up on Mefi? I want to say tat was early 2013. And Matt said around that time is when the numbers changed, right?"

Titles were added to the front page on Jan 7, 2013.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:25 PM on June 3, 2014


It's pretty obvious in hindsight they were a reaction to the drop in ad revenue from Google's changes. But it's also obvious that they were unnecessary and didn't help matters. That said I certainly wouldn't have argued against trying titles if we'd known the situation at the time, though I still think they are unnecessary and annoying.
posted by Justinian at 3:42 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Justinian, you're kidding, right?
posted by nangar at 4:00 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm kind of surprised that there wasn't any mention of the user base's spontaneous voluntary subscription/donation reaction, given its (relative) scale.
posted by Flunkie at 4:11 PM on June 3, 2014


There was an unsigned editorial about us in the Guardian:
It deserves praise, as well as money, as a place which embodies the democratic and enquiring spirit that made America – and the web – so hopeful.
posted by nangar at 4:14 PM on June 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Is it pure coincidence that the day the traffic died, November 17th 2012, is also the date that Mr. Goldman joined Metafilter?
posted by Cold Lurkey at 4:26 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


t's pretty obvious in hindsight they were a reaction to the drop in ad revenue from Google's changes.

Is this an actual and true thing?
posted by dotgirl at 4:55 PM on June 3, 2014


What, that a pretty radical change to the site which we had never even, so far as I am aware, discussed before just happened to take place a few months after a drastic drop in google's rankings of AskMetafilter content? If people don't think those two things are related I would like to sell you a bridge!

Again; I'm not criticizing trying that, I said flat out that if we had known at the time what was going on with ad revenue I think every single person would have been on-board rather than it being a very controversial decision. Still, it obviously didn't help. Unfortunately.
posted by Justinian at 5:02 PM on June 3, 2014


If people don't think those two things are related I would like to sell you a bridge!

Can I get a picture of the bridge? I do need a bridge, but my last deal fell through very suddenly.

(In seriousness, I'd love if Mathowie would weigh in on this.)
posted by dotgirl at 5:06 PM on June 3, 2014


Not playing gotcha, but here is a statement from that thread that did not stand the test of time.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:10 PM on June 3, 2014


We didn't add titles in response to anything. It was a big UI change, but one I had been meaning to do since 2007, when they were first added to the posting page.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:25 PM on June 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


BOOOOOOOOOOOO.
posted by Justinian at 5:33 PM on June 3, 2014


The great tragedy of Metafilter: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact
posted by Chrysostom at 5:49 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter posts have always had titles. Previously they were only visible when you clicked "more inside" and in recent activity. I don't see how making titles optionally visible on the front page could possibly affect search results.

(Google does sometimes return search results where the search term isn't visible on the page but does occur in the html somewhere.)
posted by nangar at 5:53 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was skeptical of titles at first, but I think they've worked out quite well.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:55 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is it pure coincidence that the day the traffic died, November 17th 2012

An "internet" long time ago
I can still remember how that traffic used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my choice
That I could give those people voice
And maybe they'd be Meta for a while

But then November made me shiver
With every webpage I'd deliver
Bad news on the search page
I couldn't feel more outrage

I can't remember if I cried
When I saw the click-throughs did subside
But something touched me deep inside
The day the traffic died

[Chorus]
So bye-bye, Google AdSense dough pie
All the browsing was arousing 'til the PalPal ran dry
And them top ten results now are found on page five
Thinkin' "Please don't let this site die.
Please don't let MeFi die."

[Wow, this song is long, that's all I have ambition for.]
posted by hippybear at 6:07 PM on June 3, 2014 [11 favorites]


nangar: "MetaFilter posts have always had titles. "

Actually, they were added Nov 12, 2002.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:37 PM on June 3, 2014


I didn't see the need for titles myself, until I started using a mobile device. They are very convenient for that.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:24 PM on June 3, 2014


I think the Rap Genius comparison is misplaced. From the text:
The search engine had handed down a “manual action” where it directly manipulated search results to push down Rap Genius URLs as punishment. The reason was for “Unnatural links to your site” that Google explains as “a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site.”
RG had a manual action applied to it. That's something Google was happy to disclose. No such thing (from my reading of the situation) has been applied to Metafilter, so no disclosure.

If the issue is that MeFi fell through a hole in Google's algorithm, they're not going to say boo — though they might quietly work on changing it. If the issue is that MeFi, and sites like it, are intentionally given lower PageRank in their new algorithm … they're also not going to say boo.

Generally I agree that Google isn't doing enough to explain the situation. But I don't think that Metafilter's situation and Rap Genius's situation are analogous.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:54 PM on June 3, 2014


Is there any indication that Google actually worked with Rapgenius? From the article that was quoted here I get impression that when Rapgenius said "we're working with Google" they just meant "we're using the tools that Google makes available for everyone". As wemayfreeze said, it was a totally different situation, and one that actually has a known solution (use the "disavow" tool).
posted by blub at 1:41 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Even though I'm in a very limited market (hello, readers of MetaFilter in Japan!), I'd be interested in hearing about any possibility of members' business based advertising. I'd much rather see ads from people here, for whatever business they're involved with, if that's at all feasible. Just like wanting to support the site itself, I imagine a good number of people would be happy to patronize other members, too. Obviously, this brings up questions of people joining just to promote their site, and it raises issues of self-link/spam, but it might be worth a look.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:03 AM on June 4, 2014


Heh, I always assumed if metafilter allowed ads that I would not be able to afford one. I've run ads on sites I like before, usually to support the site, only a little to promote my sites. It's a weird duck since people tend to overvalue ads on their sites. I ran a banner ad on a site that gets fairly good traffic, but that doesn't mean you get good click-throughs or that you hit the right audience (or that they "convert"). I paid $600 and my ad ran for a month. I think I got about 60 clicks a day, so in the end it was fairly expensive (it was a while back so these numbers are made up).

I run a few sites. One has decent traffic for a one man show. For clicks and giggles I created a few ads for friends' sites and put in a redirect so I could track the clicks in my weblogs. There may be smarter ways to do this, but I had the ad load a page that instantly redirected you to the site. Then I could see how many times that page was loaded. Anyway, my site gets about 6,000 views a day with about a third being unique visitors. My average site visit is like 2.5 pages. Anyway, I generated about 10 clicks a month for people.

I came to the conclusion I couldn't ethically charge for an ad. Granted, I refuse to have "above the fold" ads and I refuse to have more than a couple small ones, but even if I tried to make the site ad-friendly (at the expense of making it reader-friendly) I don't think I could charge enough to buy my morning coffee.

Metafilter has a bit more traffic than I do, but my point remains the same. I bet a banner ad or a sidebar "badge" wouldn't generate enough traffic to make it worth dealing with ads, and it would open a huge can of worms to deal with. If it did generate value, then the cost would be prohibitively high for your average user.

I also see some really odd problems. Let's say you run a nice knitting company. Are you going to want your ad on every thread? What if it's content you object to? You going to be happy if your Bob's Burgers ad appears in a Peta thread? (Are the thread readers going to be happy about the burger ad?). Etc.

What if Matt takes an ad for a Democratic cause. Does he have to take them for Republicans? Tea Party people? We talk about diversity and encouraging welcoming opposing viewpoints, but to me that wouldn't extend to ads on a personal site. I actually stopped putting google ads on my sites because google would put up Sarah Palin ads and I didn't want to promote her. I also stopped because they were making me $100 a year, and it was too difficult to manage the ads.

Do ads appear to logged in members, because if no, then you just eliminated the demographic most advertisers actually want.

Personally, I think there should be ads on the site open to anyone that Matt is fine working with. Then subscribers don't see the ads, but everyone else does. (This is also how I think newspaper sites should be run.)

Does Matt hire a full-time ad manager? If no, then you are asking him to do a pretty sucky job. Even pimping friends' projects gets tiresome.

Anyway, it's an interesting idea, but I see it creating more problems than it's worth.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:32 AM on June 4, 2014


Metafilter used to have custom textads. I have no idea how annoying they were for Matt to manage, but they were cute.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, and it's interesting to think that those textads used to be the way people promoted projects to the metafilter community. Now they can post to the Projects page for free.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:18 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember the text ads on K5 back in the go-go early 2000s? I honestly paid $5 to promote a K5 diary.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2014


Meaningful headings (visible titles) as SEO-fu-tactic is a thing (predating 2012) but I don't question the origin story not being due to SEO . Maybe letting people manipulate the fonts has repercussions in how they appear in css. Crap now I'm a speculator
posted by aydeejones at 4:01 PM on June 4, 2014


Metafilter's textads! I had totally forgotten. How lovely.

Edit: Yes, they were a hassle for Matt.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:10 PM on June 4, 2014


Metafilter: an interesting idea, but I see it creating more problems than it's worth.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:33 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Right now at personaldemocracy.com Metafilter is being discussed. Come see the livestream.
posted by k8t at 3:24 PM on June 5, 2014


Re: "best site on the internet" ...

Tonight I followed a link to this article on The Atlantic:
How Comments Shape Perceptions of Sites' Quality—and Affect Traffic
. It's not all that noteworthy, I only mention it here because the final paragraph contains a compliment to MetaFilter:

"There are good options for encouraging reader feedback: nice moderated comment sections, forums that build community, quick exchanges on Twitter, or lengthy feedback over email. But unmoderated comments appear to have a small, but real deleterious effect on readers' perception of the sites on which they appear."

I've underlined what are actually links and just wanted to point out that "forums that build community" links to MetaFilter. Nice.
posted by valetta at 5:26 AM on June 6, 2014


The thing that bothers me about this whole episode is that the quality of content on Metafilter and AskMe has clearly not declined at all. If anything, it has gotten larger and more diverse. And the people on hand to help you with any number of urgent dilemmas is impressive.

I used to make my living crafting technical solutions to some of the most obscure and insane technical problems one could possibly imagine, often saddled by extreme logistical problems such as remote location, war, disease, or lack of funds. Because so few people ever have to face such problems, or saw need to document them, there were rarely any quick and easy sources for finding answers. Out of necessity, I became extremely good at internet research. Much of the best information was gleaned from searching through places such as obscure expert specialist or geek-type forums, an extremely tedious process with a high likelihood of finding bad information amongst the gems. (These places are peer-reviewed, sort of, but as the old saying goes: On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog")

Never in my career have could I have ever imagined consulting things like Yahoo Answers for anything, no matter how mundane. I regard them as a kind of silly joke. Yet as of late, they almost always seem to be very high in my search results. I quickly glance past them as if they are a flaming paper bag left on my doorstep by teenagers.

When I recently was desperate for help on getting time-sensitive cancer and life insurance advice, there was no question where I would turn to for this. In a few short hours, calmer, experienced heads on AskMe responded with helpful, calming, reassuring messages. It was a supremely satisfying experience. There were even moderators on hand at all hours of the day or night to quickly parse and anonymize my question. I'm even impressed when people post medical questions to AskMe, and a resident Mefite specialist doctor will chime in. Astonishing.

If anything, the database of threads and discussions has gotten larger and more relevant than ever. It is unconscionable that Google is penalizing it for one reason or another. The bottom line, as I see it, is that Google itself has gotten worse, becoming much less relevant and useful to me, and more likely to return my search with a field of results littered with flaming bags of dog crap. It also bothers me to no end that part of me thinks ideas like Raomi's might be right" Perhaps Google saw no harm in having "the algorithm" neutralize any highly successful communities such as Metafilter, worrying it was taking too much traffic away from getting their execrable "social media" products off the ground.
posted by MacChimpman at 12:17 AM on June 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


"That's already been done for ages. Look at the source to one of the tags pages or archive pages, and you'll see:


posted by Rhomboid at 12:23 PM on June 3"

A look at the Wayback Machine shows that this change (the addition of the noindex wasn't made for tag pages until recently - within the past few months).

Using one of Google's special search operators - the "site" search shows that a very large number of tags pages were indexed by Google.

Google's Head of Webspam produced a video on the dangers of tag clouds, and how Google might treat them as if they were keyword stuffing (web spam):

Do tag clouds help or hinder SEO?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYPX_ZmhLqg

The hundreds of thousands of /tags/ pages on Metafilter domains could have resulted in the kind of penalty that Metafilter has been operating under.

The intent behind tag pages at Metafilter probably wasn't to attract traffic from Google, but as noted in Matt Cutt's video, it's possible that Google may have interpreted them that way.

The impact of the "noindex" meta robots element that was added to tag pages may possibly lead to all of those tag pages being removed from Google's index (once they are recrawled again). That could have the impact of having the Google penalty lifted from the site. At this point, it becomes somewhat of a waiting game.
posted by bragadocchio at 4:32 PM on June 7, 2014


Google itself has gotten worse, becoming much less relevant and useful to me, and more likely to return my search with a field of results littered with flaming bags of dog crap.

This. Like many others, I've been through ups and downs with confidence in Google in recent years, mainly due to privacy-related concerns. But this kind of outcome - deprecating AskMe results and returning Yahoo Answers results instead - makes Google just pointless. I was worried about privacy before, but at least I felt confident that I was getting relevant results. Now there's not even that.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 11:35 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Google Image Search has gotten worse even faster than the rest of Google. Which is a shame because the interface is light-years ahead of Bing Image Search. I mean... "small, medium, large, wallpaper" for sizes? What the hell, Bing?
posted by Justinian at 1:43 PM on June 8, 2014


Some recent-ish news: Matt Cutts went on the record in some detail regarding Metafilter at the June 11th SMX Seattle conference. There isn't video of the full talk I can find, but here's coverage of his remarks from various places:

Google’s Matt Cutts: MetaFilter Hit By Previously Undisclosed Algorithm Filter
Last night, at SMX Advanced, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search quality, confirmed MetaFilter was indeed hit by a previously undisclosed algorithm filter or “update,” as they are often called. Such filters aim to prevent a wide range of sites from ranking well on Google. [...]

Cutts said that Google is working on its side for a solution that will help MetaFilter and other false-positives caught by this algorithm. Google has not been working with MetaFilter directly on this but rather doing the work on its own, in reaction to the issue MetaFilter’s situation raises.

Cutts also said in a tweet that a solution might come in the coming “weeks or months” and stressed that MetaFilter received no “special advice.”
You&A With Matt Cutts at SMX Advanced 2014
Matt unequivocally stated that MetaFilter was not hit by Panda. Matt said that MetaFilter is a typical high quality site, though he did notate that it was a typical high quality site with an outdated design/UI.

He then reiterated that not only was MetaFilter not affected by Panda, but that it was also not affected by Penguin. He added “there’s a lot of different algorithms we launch”. He mentioned that when MetaFilter did their post about their traffic loss, one of the things they suspected was that Google may have viewed them as spam as a result of an email they received where Google had supposedly cited a link from them to a webmaster as an example of a “bad link”.

Matt said they “checked their records” and that in fact, they’d never cited MetaFilter as a spam link to anyone – someone had taken the Google template and inserted the MetaFilter link on their own.

Matt seemed to imply that MetaFilter was not getting any manual help with their traffic hit but that instead Google was looking at what went wrong that they hit a quality site in the first place and instead planned to fix that algorithmically.
Matt Cutts You & A at SMX Advanced LIVE Google+ "Blog"
Danny: What happened to metafilter (like Digg before Digg)? Looked like he got hit by Panda, but Google said there was none at the time.

Matt: Was not Panda. I have a ton of respect for Matt (the owner). Affected by an algorithmic update, but not Panda or Penguin. Owner's report was good feedback for their engineers. They've been in touch with him. Haven't yet found signals that could help, but they're working on it. Owner was concerned about all the link removal requests he was getting. Cutts said that was not the problem. Google had not told anyone that the MetaFilter site was a problem for their links.
SMX Liveblog: You & A with Matt Cutts
Danny: What happened to the MetaFilter site? Was it Panda?

Matt: It wasn’t Panda. What happened is that it was affected by an algo update that wasn’t Panda or Penguin. Even though the site is slightly out of date, it’s a good quality site. Google is working to figure out how to improve the algo based on this incident. Google does not think that MetaFilter is spammy or has spammy links. Google had never sent a notification saying that MetaFilter was spammy.
Danny Sullivan’s Questions for Matt Cutts
Q1: Meta Filter – What really happened?

Cutts: It wasn’t Panda, nor was it Penguin. In fact, it was a different algorithm that undeservedly punished Meta Filter. We’re always on the lookout to improve our algorithms, and this is on our radar. It’s not due to link disavow requests.
[sorry for the cross-posts, but there are a lot of relevant threads]
posted by Rhaomi at 7:31 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Out of date"? Surely not. Probably just a mispronunciation - a mispronunciation of "Sensible, straightforward, uncluttered, user-friendly".
posted by valetta at 9:15 AM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sensible, straightforward, uncluttered, user-friendly

Yeah. Out of date. Needs more Big Data.
posted by flabdablet at 9:28 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


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