Pony - link to active threads no longer on the first page January 17, 2019 3:44 PM   Subscribe

As a frequent reader and occasional commentator on the Brexit threads, it's always seemed odd to me that we have a sidebar dedicated to US politics threads - and who would be masochistic enough to want to read the megathread from three iterations ago?? - but we don't have this functionality for other similar, comment-heavy threads that run on beyond their time on the front page. Could we change the US politics sidebar to instead reflect all threads with a longer lifespan?

How I imagine this working: the current US politics sidebar is replaced by a sidebar that lists posts which are no longer on the front page, yet are still open and have still received comments within the last 24 hr (or 30 min, or 6 hr, or 7 days, or whatever time window is suitable). Essentially a "recent activity" for the site beyond the front page, similar to either the "recent comments" or "watercooler" models in FanFare.

It goes without saying that the megathread would still feature prominently.

To head off some potential criticisms:
  • I know that these posts are often newsfiltery, and we don't like newsfilter. I'm not sure that putting barriers to make them harder to find is the solution though. Those of us who are determined to discuss Brexit here are probably going to, even if they have to use search, etc - see next point.
  • I know about recent activity, and search, and I know how to use bookmarks in my browser. However, all of these solutions could be used by megathread users, too. I don't get the argument for having a US politics-specific sidebar that doesn't also apply to other long-running threads. (I also don't understand why we have a "click here for megathread" button if we're trying to lighten mod workload and encourage users to look at other parts of the site, but that's perhaps a separate argument.)
  • I know that a lot of people think that the links should be the point, not the comments, and that this would be a further step in the wrong direction. This isn't how I've ever used metafilter myself, although I think I'm at least at the median level of actually reading and engaging with the links. I'm here for the community and the comments as much as I'm here for the neat stuff I wouldn't have otherwise heard of.
  • I get that US politics is quarantined in this sidebar, along with a convenient button to disappear it all. But do we have US politics threads more frequently than other recurring topics (like computer games or music posts) that users may or may not want to engage with? Do enough users want to read a closed megathread so badly that they need a special, highly prominent link? And for discussions of specific candidates, races, scandals, etc that get their own thread - why are these privileged over other topics of medium- to high-interest on the site?
I suppose that, in writing this post, I've come to realise that I see a double standard here: (1) why are megathreads privileged over other, similar threads? And (2) why is the topic of US politics so privileged at all? Why are we using some of the site's most valuable real estate [I think this spot is where The Deck's ads were?] for US politics, when it's apparently a topic of discussion that many users and the mods aren't actually super keen on. Surely we could do something more useful with that space, whether it's my suggestion for long-running threads (woo!), or a link to the criminally underused FanFare, or a library of users' cat pics, or or or?
posted by chappell, ambrose to Feature Requests at 3:44 PM (14 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I like this pony. I'm a frequent-enough browser of the brexit tag such that it autocompletes in various browsers I use.
posted by exogenous at 3:53 PM on January 17, 2019 [10 favorites]

Sorry for a bit of unscheduled delay today getting this through, chappell, ambrose; been busy on the site and it fell through the cracks for a few hours.

Up front I'll mention that there is something in the way of a general tool for this sort of thing: the Recent Comments tab on the front page of MetaFilter goes to a page that sorts threads by most recent commenting activity, so post that have rolled off the page but are still getting active comments will bubble back up. It's not a curated list, just a natural view of where activity is, but it may substantially address the basic idea with an existing site tool.

I'll dig in a little more on thoughts below.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:54 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that the sidebar of US politics megathreads isn't a privilege, but a way to prevent additional threads from being created. It's a vaccine, a quarantine, a corral, not an advertisement.

Highlighting other active threads there might have some merit, but would drive additional traffic there, increasing mod workload, and interfere with the natural life cycle of the wild MeFi post.
posted by zamboni at 3:58 PM on January 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

For me, the politics sidebar is below the ad and Contact activity.

Couple of things about the current Carbon ads:
  • On the modern theme, it's possible to remove them by hitting the [x], but I don't see a way to restore them without futzing with cookies.
  • The FAQ still refers to The Deck.
posted by zamboni at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2019

Some background on the US politics sidebar widget: the rationale when we built it out was two-fold:

1. to make it possible to track discussion threads after they've scrolled off the page, including but in principle not limited to or even primarily just the catch-all threads themselves;
2. to make it possible for folks to with one click totally hide tagged US politics from the front page.

The goal wasn't in particular to highlight US politics or elevate the catch-all threads so much as to provide an immediate opt-out for the subject and provide a quick reference while we were at it.

I think it's ended up being overall useful on both fronts, though on the list-of-threads side how much additional non-catch-all content has been on the thread list has varied over time. And the threads listed are added manually by moderators, not pulled algorithmically from the site contents.

But the motivation there was definitely based in part of the possibility for US politics discussion to be a many-headed monster, not just to generally solve the problem of threads that stay active for more than a day or two. The hectic state of US politics discussion on the site (as a reaction to the, uh, hectic state of US politics) drove the development of the tool, rather than the tool being designed to encourage said discussion. Our strategy has been to an extent one of needed containment, with some manual indexing on the side.

By comparison, the Brexit threads have been more reasonable in their number and pace; there was no sustained period of there being a lot of separate threads on the front page and the core Brexit threads we've seen over time to follow the more or less serial mode of the US politics catch-alls have nonetheless been of more manageable size and pace. Busy and long-lived to be sure but not outlier messes. That tends likewise to be the case with the odd non-political long-lived thread that comes along.

So I am disinclined to look at this through the view of ditching the US politics sidebar widget in favor of some alternate, content-neutral "busy threads" view; I think there's some specific challenges in managing and allowing people to one-click filter out US politics stuff above and beyond the general question of seeing where on-going busy threads are.

That said, I don't mind talking about more the idea of some other supplemental approach to the general question; whether that would mean revisiting how the Recent Comments page mentioned above works or considering some additional sidebar widget, I dunno! Happy to brainstorm, though. Making it easier in general to find active but out of view stuff is something I've been thinking about a fair bit off and on over the last couple years.

We can also talk about whether there'd be some value in specifically providing a quick reference to the current Brexit thread, as a long-lived thing that folks get similar value out of to the US politics catch-alls.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

On the modern theme, it's possible to remove them by hitting the [x], but I don't see a way to restore them without futzing with cookies.

That's by design, as it was with same ad unit for Deck. "I'd rather not see ads" is a much more important use-case for us to handle than "I feel like turning ads off and back on again sometimes", so we chose to just make it a one-click, forget about it thing.

The FAQ still refers to The Deck.

Whoops! Fixed, thanks.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:14 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Up front I'll mention that there is something in the way of a general tool for this sort of thing: the Recent Comments tab on the front page of MetaFilter goes to a page that sorts threads by most recent commenting activity, so post that have rolled off the page but are still getting active comments will bubble back up. It's not a curated list, just a natural view of where activity is, but it may substantially address the basic idea with an existing site tool.

Thanks! Despite my caveat that “I know how to use X, Y, Z”... er, this is something I’ve never used. I will in future!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 7:41 PM on January 17, 2019

As someone who largely missed reading the emotional labor thread while it was happening because I didn't realize it had become A Thing, I like this pony. In general, finding more ways to highlight "here's where the cool stuff is happening on the site right now" (as opposed to "here's where something happened a while ago," like bestof used to be) would be a great, realizing that the brexit thread is only cool for certain very specific definitions of cool.
posted by zachlipton at 11:42 PM on January 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

I gotta say the recent activity link has been a godsend for browsing the Megathread. I just add the new ones to my activity and read the ten comments that show as my window to the thread, figuring that anything of major importance is going to continue to show up in the moving window, while the lesser things fall by the wayside, so anything I miss, isn't, well, missed.

(I mean I glance at other sources for news too and have on occasion clicked a comment in the megathread to look back and see what was being responded to, but I haven't felt like I've missed anything really significant.)
posted by gusottertrout at 5:35 AM on January 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really like this idea of highlighting threads where there is ongoing activity even after they've scrolled off the front page.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:53 AM on January 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

I also like the idea of highlighting long-running threads.

While I understand that the US-politics-sidebar is a sidebar only in name, and done mostly for purposes of containment instead of exposure, it's still a sidebar nonetheless. And it kind of makes it look like US politics are the only politics that the site talks about. (Please note, I do NOT think that this is true, but only that the design makes it look so.)

Could we use that box for "Longboat bookmarks" and include things like the Brexit thread, threads commenting on long-developing situations, major ground-shifting discussions like the EL thread, and only the most recent US politics thread? We might lose the functionality of being able to ignore US politics completely, and that's a thing to consider.

I also honestly do not see any reason to include megathreads which are closed, because why highlight them if we're trying to corral activity into only the current active megathread?
posted by Liesl at 8:16 AM on January 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'd prefer it if instead of incremental changes -- adding sidebar boxes etc -- we instead considered a full redesign of the Metafilter front page to make it more useful to both members and non-members.

The front page is our shop window; it should be surfacing more of what's good across the entire site. (Where "good" could be an algorithmic combination of recent / busy / popular. We have lots of data for this: pageviews, comments, favorites, fantastic flags.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:03 PM on January 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Where "good" could be an algorithmic combination

Lemme stop you right there, Facebook/Twitter.

I'm joking with the wording, but seriously, no. Chronological order. Those other things might be cool in a separate index.
posted by ctmf at 12:58 AM on January 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

> the Recent Comments tab

Huh! Can't believe I've never clocked that before.
posted by lucidium at 6:26 AM on January 19, 2019

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