Curious about megathreads July 22, 2016 12:22 PM   Subscribe

We seem to be having more of them, lately, and I stress that this is not a complaint, they're fine, but I was just wondering what that reflected regarding the userbase, and don't have the infodump skills required to figure it out.

- Are there more? I seem to recall a few years ago, 1000+ comments was vanishingly rare, but now fairly frequent.

- Are they megathreads because there are a 'normal' number of commenters (say, the breadth you get in a 200-or-so comment post) posting much more frequently, or do they have a much larger breadth of commenters?

- Do they require more mod attention on a per-comment basis (i.e. does a 1000-comment thread take 10x the mod time compared to a 100-comment thread, or is it much more, or less, compared to 'normal' threads)?

- Sub-question: do mods log time spent on specific threads resolving issues; is there some sort of dataset that says "mods spend 33% of their time in politics threads, 14% in cat-related threads and 2% in dessert-related threads"?

None of this is critical information to have, but I was wondering, and thought other users might be wondering as well. The more you know!
posted by Shepherd to MetaFilter-Related at 12:22 PM (33 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

The Longest Threads page on the wiki hasn't been updated since 2014, but it should give you an idea of what the trend through the last election was.
posted by zarq at 12:33 PM on July 22, 2016


Definitely some stuff that the data-inclined could dig into via the Infodump, yeah.

But some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts:

Are there more? I seem to recall a few years ago, 1000+ comments was vanishingly rare, but now fairly frequent.

Definitely there's been a trend upward over the last many years, though I don't remember the exact curve. Either pb or users or both have in the past done some crunching there to show that there's a move from very very rare to, at least, stripping the "very"s off of that over time.

Do they require more mod attention on a per-comment basis (i.e. does a 1000-comment thread take 10x the mod time compared to a 100-comment thread, or is it much more, or less, compared to 'normal' threads)?

It depends a lot on the nature of the thread. There's threads that accumulate 1000 comments over the course of a day because of a rapid accumulating in response to e.g. some shocking news, and then there's threads that spend a week or a month accumulating a big bulk of comments from constant ongoing discussion and development of some ongoing phenomenon.

Fast-growing threads basically require full-time mod monitoring during that fast growth phase, but if the reason they're growing fast isn't itself super duper charged then it's more of a "be quick to respond on the off chance something goes sideways" thing than an "expect an awful flareup at basically every moment" thing. The latter makes those constant-watch situations a lot more stressful and wearying for the mod on duty than the former.

Slow-growing megathreads don't require as much of that constant watching but they can, for charged subjects or in cases where there's outright antipathy among cohorts of folks discussing the subject, be a lot of work to keep a handle on just because they persist over a long period and can never really for that period be written off as not a problem, and we end up having to hand off again and again from mod to mod with status updates and current problems at shift changes.

Topic matters there a lot. Nobody was worried about the Bowie obit going off the rails, even though that was a great big thread that stretched on for a month. The Emotional Labor thread required more active mod attention, though most of the heavy lifting there was in the first couple days and the rest of the month it was more of a "be aware" thing than us having to watch it like a hawk. Some of the mid-primaries politics threads were pretty bad in terms of really tedious, repetitive, striking-at-any-moment argument rehashes and such breaking out, though that seems to have gotten somewhat better the last month or two. It really varies.

Basically I wouldn't say a megathread is, comment-per-comment, necessarily more demanding than shorter ones, but they definitely represent some unusual logistical challenges for us and when they go bad they can go bad in uniquely difficult ways.

Sub-question: do mods log time spent on specific threads resolving issues; is there some sort of dataset that says "mods spend 33% of their time in politics threads, 14% in cat-related threads and 2% in dessert-related threads"?

No, we don't do any specific tracking like that. No clear benefit to inventing extra work for ourselves to track the work we're doing, basically. It'd be possible to do some informal speculation based on an internal analysis of flagging data and mod notes left in threads, and that might be interesting to fiddle with some time, but it'd be a fairly rough assessment since lots of other things that take up our time and energy wouldn't be represented. Particularly team discussions on email/Slack and email communication with users.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:37 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


- Are they megathreads because there are a 'normal' number of commenters (say, the breadth you get in a 200-or-so comment post) posting much more frequently, or do they have a much larger breadth of commenters?

This seems like a super interesting question! And could inform community sentiment around the issue, too. Like I know I might feel differently about the RNC-palooza thread series if the data showed that they’re actually drawing out a longer tail of users than usual, vs., say, if it turned out that these threads involved disproportionately few overall commenters.
posted by threeants at 12:38 PM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Current infodumpster query about threads by length
2012-11-06 8218 gerryblog we choose to have an election thread and and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard
2012-09-17 5935 gerryblog my job is is not to worry about those people
2008-08-29 5604 HaloMan Sarah Palin as McCain's running-mate
2013-04-19 5008 Rhaomi Boston in lockdown as hunt for marathon bombers unfolds
2013-04-15 4559 knile Explosions at Boston Marathon Finish Line
2011-05-01 4528 East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 Bin Laden
2016-03-15 4500 mmoncur Election 2016: Rubio and Kasich's last stand
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:12 PM on July 22, 2016


Current infodumpster query about threads by length

So weird to see my username in the top 15, for what started as a simple post about a large earthquake near Japan and sadly turned into so much more.

One of my very favorite FPPs had the bad timing of showing up about 15 minutes after the Bin Ladin post.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:44 PM on July 22, 2016


According to that, 16 of the 48 posts with 2000+ comments are from 2016, and we've still got five months to go. So, yeah, it sure looks like there's been a bit of an uptick. There were just two in 2015.

Curmudgeonly speculation: With rare exception, newsfilter used to be much more strongly discouraged, especially for breaking news. And op-eds were right out. That seems to be the case less and less. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

But also, the main thing is that there's just been a lot of slow-burning stuff this year, and obviously a drawn out situation means a drawn out thread or series of threads. Of those 16 '16 2k+'s, all but one are on the US election cycle, the Oregon standoff, or Brexit. (The other one was on nerdy pop culture mashup t-shirts. Your guess is as good as mine.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:48 PM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


We spent a month growing ourselves a bumper crop of terrible puns in the pop culture mashup thread, is what.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:50 PM on July 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


It looks like the most commented upon not-news post is from 2008, about Violet Blue.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:54 PM on July 22, 2016




One thing that also seems to be a possible explanation for the proliferation of big threads is the rise of computing devices that can handle them so more people can stay in big threads longer without having to tap out because LOLCOMPUTERTOOSLOW

Back in 2008 and 2012 you had those election threads but iirc people were basically having to be on decent laptops or desktops in 2008 and in 2012 you probably had some people willing to brave those threads on iOS and android platforms but the majority of smartphone users had to give up after a time and restrict their commenting on better platforms.

Now it takes a massive thread that is constantly moving to even tax the high end smartphones and while some of the election threads have the occasional comments along the lines of won't someone think of my phone the reality is that metafilter is remarkably sparse and that allows people to keep commenting over and over even if they have bad cell plans. If this was in some fancy-schmancy new stack with all the bells and whistles I think people would be struggling to read and comment on the megathreads. Especially when they have to multitask between metafilter and pokemon go.
posted by vuron at 2:19 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


is this where we vote for more terrible puns threads?

also, while I'm here, #1 quidnunc kid
posted by bologna on wry at 2:51 PM on July 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


So, I've time-teleported back into MetaFilter just as the US election has finished, yes?

{checks front page, sees one convention post per day}
{checks date}

DAMN YOU, FAULTY TIME MACHINE. I WANT MY MONEY BACK, EMMETT BROWN.
posted by Wordshore at 3:03 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yay Wordshore!
posted by billiebee at 3:25 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


We spent a month growing ourselves a bumper crop of terrible puns in the pop culture mashup thread, is what.

FUCK YEAH WE DID.

And the thread closed before I got to use Kangaroo Jack Ruby.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:44 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of it is about the userbase in general - and the wider culture - becoming more aware of horrifying things as a function of smart phones and twitter. There used to be gatekeepers who would decide what was published broadly; now a trending hashtag calls attention to something that previously would have been swept under the rug and everyone responds to it. Add in a cash strapped media mining twitter for content, and you have a bullhorn increasingly used to broadly share things which historically would have been known only to a specific demographic.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:01 PM on July 22, 2016


Not to derail, but does anyone have a link to the post/thread that talked about why the comment textbox slows to an excruciating crawl once there's thousands of comments in a thread?
posted by Yowser at 7:47 PM on July 22, 2016


It seems to be browser specific behavior; it tends to slow down a little in general, but a lot for some browser/device setups, though I don't recall offhand which. (My Chrome on OSX setup does okay; I think I remember having more trouble with Firefox/OSX at one point but that was also a few years back.)

Live preview may I think be the biggest issue there; because it's dynamically updating the preview below the comment box, the browser needs to check for reflowing of text based on the size and content of that chunk of text, which in the worst case can involve essentially reflowing the whole giant page on a regular basis. That shouldn't actually be necessary, but I gather browser also just aren't built with gigaaaaantic pages + dynamic text in mind and so I'm guessing the variation in the decay of performance from one browser/device to the next is mostly revealing how much the developers not designing for this edge case ends up leading to bad user experience.

We have on a few occasions in the past used a sort of emergency Ditch The Niceties mode in very long threads and that's something I could review to see where pb left it; doing things like disabling Live Preview and cutting out some of the other little ajaxy touches could in principle lighten the load of displaying a long thread, but it does involve cutting some of the expected functionality of the thread view which isn't ideal either.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:16 AM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


The fact that the "Memories of Butter" thread has 424 comments so far is AWESOME.
posted by Melismata at 2:11 PM on July 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Going by what the man of twists and turns posted above, it looks like the rate of megathreads have held mostly steady albeit with spikes at regular 4-year intervals following the US election cycle. This cycle has seen more threads with 1000+ comments than the previous one, but mod policy and community expectations have shifted recently to be more in favor of breaking up megathreads into manageable chunks, so while there are more 1000+ threads I bet there are fewer with 2000+.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:56 PM on July 23, 2016


Actually, I think the breaking-up of hyperthreads into a handful of (theoretically) more manageable megathreads might be the main reason why there's a perception that the phenomenon has increased—we see a new one every time there's a major development in the election, and most recently we've been seeing one every day during the RNC. I'd be interested to know how many comments are taking place in threads with 1000+ comments, as a percentage of total comments made on the Blue; that seems to me like the truest measure of whether or not megathreads are becoming a bigger part of the MeFi landscape.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:00 PM on July 23, 2016


Another factor here, on the US election spike side, is that we have been generally pushing fairly hard this year to direct election updates to whichever the current big thread is; it was a new thread every week or two depending on the pace and eventfulness of the primaries with most "and another tidbit" posts axed and redirected thereto, which, subjectively, I feel like we weren't doing so aggressively in 2012 or 2008.

So (if that memory/perception pans out, would be curious to analyze) would lead to larger surviving threads but fewer threads over all. So even if the raw comment footprint of the election on was the same, the footprint on the front page of such threads would be less. And experiences with election-related threads would more frequently be with, specifically, larger threads.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:40 PM on July 23, 2016


the man of twists and turns: "It looks like the most commented upon not-news post is from 2008, about Violet Blue."

Wow, Boing Boing. It used to be such a big source of stories and anger here and now it seems forgotten.
posted by octothorpe at 5:02 PM on July 24, 2016


If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:16 PM on July 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.

That sounds a little familiar from ... somewhere? Is it taken from the MetaFilter Moderators Handbook?
posted by Wordshore at 5:34 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


a lot for some browser/device setups, though I don't recall offhand which.

Chrome on Android is one. Both devices I have plotz on long threads. One is pretty old true, but the other, a Moto G was bought this year.
posted by bonehead at 9:16 PM on July 24, 2016


Wow, Boing Boing. It used to be such a big source of stories and anger here and now it seems forgotten.

Well, since they've turned into SkyMall SkyMall, it's harder to take them seriously.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:12 AM on July 25, 2016


Only 834 days till the 2018 mid-term elections (starts to draft post).
posted by Wordshore at 5:02 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


posted by Wordshore at 8:02 PM

You're back! Welcome back! Great to see y-

Only 834 days till the 2018 mid-term elections (starts to draft post).

YE GODS NO
posted by zarq at 5:08 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Celsius1414: "Wow, Boing Boing. It used to be such a big source of stories and anger here and now it seems forgotten.

Well, since they've turned into SkyMall SkyMall, it's harder to take them seriously.
"

Yeah, I took a look at them for the first time in years and it's all product ads. When did that happen?
posted by octothorpe at 8:40 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's not clearly delineated on BB which posts are ads so it's a bit like getting a pinch of sand in your salad - crunchy crunchy aaaaahhhh ah ah everything is dumped in the compost.
posted by zenon at 7:22 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Another factor here, on the US election spike side, is that we have been generally pushing fairly hard this year to direct election updates to whichever the current big thread is; it was a new thread every week or two depending on the pace and eventfulness of the primaries"

Right now our current elections post is 4 days old and sitting at 2200 comments. By the time a full week's time rolls around it's going to be huge.

Are there any official-ish plans on when we will be guided to the next thread, or encouraged to make another one? I mean not just for this one, but going forward? The way this election is going so far I'll be surprised if there isn't constant running commentary. We just gonna designate Mondays as 'start a new political thread' day or something?
posted by komara at 7:09 AM on August 2, 2016


Are there any official-ish plans on when we will be guided to the next thread, or encouraged to make another one?

I'd also like to see some guidance on when new posts will be allowed to stand. They get pretty broken on my newish mobile device after about a couple thousand comments; I'm sure it's worse for others.
posted by lalex at 8:30 AM on August 2, 2016


The plan such that there is one is to revert to where we were pre-conventions: a new thread when it's needed and justified, the former mostly about sheer size and the latter ideally about there being anything specifically new to post about other than "and the other thread got big".

I'm trying to allow for a little more wiggle room philosophically on the latter to not be a jerk about forcing people to stick with humongous threads, especially when this election season is looking like such a weird roil at times that it's hard to say what The New Concrete Thing Is vs. just This Madness Continues At Breakneck pace. So if someone wants to put together a new thread that's caught up with state of things, I'm okay shrugging and saying Make It So.

That said, I would also like folks to try and be a little restrained in commenting if possible so that the threads are only filling up because shit is occurring, and not just because hey new thread; I feel like that's the sort of thing that will make a difference between seeing a thread get creaky on day 3 vs. day 7.

The convention threads filled up fast daily largely because of the liveblog aspect, which shouldn't be in play for more normal (even busy) threads, but one of my primary misgivings about that daily con thread compromise is that people might sort of carry over some of that feeling as the new baseline normal. I don't think that's a given exactly and I think a look at just how goddam weird the last few days have been in US election land explains the brimming post-DNC thread as well as anything, but as a general phenomenon that is on my mind and I'd love to see people making an active effort to not just fill up a post out of reflexive because-its-there keyboarding.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:42 AM on August 3, 2016


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