State of the Site, July 2019 update July 10, 2019 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Hey, folks. It's been about a year since our last State of the Site update, and I want to let you know where things are at and where we're headed. The site turns 20 years old in a few days, which is a hell of an internet milestone. Financially, I wish I had better news: our ad revenue has dropped significantly again, and we're running at a significant monthly shortfall. This has underscored for me the need to seriously push toward the goal of making MetaFilter a fully community-funded site. Come inside and I'll talk more about our revenue picture, our short- and long-term fundraising goals, and some of where the site and community and mods are at more generally as we head on into the future.

I’m gonna continue to embrace the desire for transparency about where money comes from and where it goes on the site, so this post includes a lot of details on that. But the very short version is: we need more revenue from member subscriptions in order to meet our monthly operating costs. If you’d like to start or increase a subscription, you can do that from the funding page. Thank you.

~ Our revenue goals ~

1. Short-term: Getting back to a stable break-even point

We have a significant shortfall to try to cover, about $7K/mo right now. If we can, through fundraising and other new revenue, get our monthly budget up to about $33K/mo, that will stabilize things and give us more flexibility to work immediately on long-term funding/revenue projects. $35K/mo would mean building back some savings as well. If we can close some fraction of that gap, it will at least give us more breathing room while we figure out how ultimately to deal with the shortfall or adjust to a permanently reduced budget and different staffing arrangements.

2. On-going: covering new spending

If we're able to stabilize finances and reach a point of steady month-to-month net income, there are several things we'd like to put most of that spare cash into:

- Hiring additional mod staff (especially re: recent discussions about working toward a more diverse MeFi staff)
- Professional development/consulting for existing staff and site processes (likewise see recent discussions)
- New focused site development (paying frimble for more work; paying outside contractors for supplemental dev work)

3. Long term: becoming a fully community-funded site

I've talked before about it being increasingly clear that community funding is what will make MetaFilter work financially in the long run; the last year only underscores that. If we're going to avoid these recurring ad revenue setbacks, we need to move from where we have been, of looking at community funding as a major supplement to the site's traditional ad-based revenue, to looking at the site as a fundamentally community-funded operation independent of the ad market.

The baseline goal there for full financial independence from the ad market would be reaching $35K/mo in recurring community funding. It's a big step up from where we are now; whether and how quickly it'll be possible to reach that threshold, I don't know. But that's the goal we're setting our sights on for the long term.


~ Where we're at with monthly revenue ~

What's changed since this time last year:

Mid-late 2018, our monthly revenue looked about like this:
- Google Adsense: $14.2K/mo
- Amazon affiliate: $4.2K/mo
- Paypal contributions: $12.0K/mo
- Stripe contributions: $4.5K/mo

Currently, it looks like this:
- Google Adsense: $7.8K/mo
- Amazon affiliate: $3.1/mo
- Paypal contributions: $10.1K/mo
- Stripe contributions: $3.9K/mo
- Carbon Ads: $1.0K/mo

There's some month-to-month noise in those figures, but the general picture is correct: a drop from roughly $35K/mo to $26K/mo. I reduced my salary some last year and have kept it at that lower level since, and we managed to cut some incidental costs along the way, but there's also been some increase in insurance premiums vs. 2018. What it comes down to is we're running about $7K/mo short of break-even right now.

The Adsense drop is by far the biggest thing, out of proportion with any dropoff in total site traffic. Amazon's falloff is also frustrating but they're a much smaller chunk of our revenue these days. Both PayPal and Stripe falloff are within what feels like normal attrition levels without us having done specific pushes to re-up or check in on funding since last year. I'll talk more about fundraising stuff below.

The new Carbon income is welcome if a pretty small share of the picture. Those ads have felt like an okay compromise where they're running on the site; I'd be curious to hear any new thoughts, concerns, etc. about them now that we've had them running for several months.


~ What cuts are planned if we stay at this revenue level ~

MetaFilter operates as a 24/7 moderation team + part time tech/dev person, with good living wages if not remotely "tech" wages. Almost all of our monthly budget goes to payroll for seven people: me, LobsterMitten, restless_nomad, taz, goodnewsfortheinsane, Eyebrows McGee, and frimble. The level of budget I've tried to maintain for us the last few years is enough to keep pay levels steady, though with incremental bits of belt-tightening along the way.

Right now we're in a similar place to middle of last year: several thousand a month in shortfall and a few months before our savings (built up again some through community funding last summer, thank you all again because it means we have some time at all here) draws down to the point where we'd be operating at a critical threshold where our cash on hand isn't more than our monthly costs.

So if we need to cut costs to get back to, or at least much closer to, a monthly break-even, there's a couple major cuts we can make without letting anyone go:

1. Eliminating company-paid benefits costs. If we move those costs from company to employee responsibility, that'd reduce our total payroll costs by about $4K/mo.

2. Across the board pay cuts. If we further cut pay proportionally for all staff by about 12%, that'd save us another $3K/mo.

Whether those cuts are sustainable for anyone or everyone on staff long-term is a whole separate question, but in the short term we've discussed it as a team as a way to stop the bleeding and give us longer to plan for whatever comes next, if we're not able to close this current revenue gap.


~ New revenue possibilities ~

There's some ad strategies and ad products we haven't pursued on MetaFilter before. I'm revisiting some of those, as well as looking again at variations on some of the ad stuff we have been using. If there was easy and ethically palatable money out there we'd be on it already, but it's possible some of the stuff I've preferred to avoid would be okay enough to experiment with some and get community feedback on. I'll update folks about any such possibilities with MetaTalk announcements. If folks have additional ideas or particular things from past discussions they’d like to re-up, let us know.

We've also talked before about outside fundraising, aiming for folks beyond just those who already follow MetaFilter closely and who will put up with our home-rolled funding pages. I'm going to revisit some of that. One big disappointment for me this last year on that front is a crowd-funding platform that was in development by some XOXO community folks; I'd hoped to try a MeFi page on it once it launched, but they ended up shutting the project down before launch because they weren't satisfied that it could be profitable in an ethical way. Hard decision by good folks trying to do the web well, which boy does that resonate.


~ Mission-specific fundraising ~

In the last month we've talked again about the possibility of hiring new staff to help build a more diverse MetaFilter team, specifically bringing on people of color. Folks have asked about the idea of doing fundraising specifically toward that goal, and I think that's a reasonable notion. We don't have a structure right now for doing any kind of partitioned giving, but we can talk about how that might work best, and I can have frimble look into what might work technically to support it as well.

In thinking about this, we need to be conscious of:

1. Durability of funding - We’d need to be able to offer a potential hire a job that will last, not just disappear or get a sharp pay cut after a few months. That'd mean something on the order of $2500/mo in new ongoing funding for a part-time position, more for full-time. It's important to me that we not hire someone without being able to assure them of some job stability.

2. Stability of site situation - The site needs enough baseline stability to make it feel like we’re bringing a new person into a reasonably good situation. If we're making major cuts and returning to 60+ hour work weeks as the norm, that’s not a great situation to put someone new into, on top of the training and stresses any new mod faces.

But those are concerns, not show-stoppers. They're addressable, and I would like to talk it out more with folks especially as we see where we are over the next days and weeks.


~ Scheduled financial updates ~

I apologize for letting things go as long as they have without a formal update on site finances. We carried through the rest of 2018 in pretty good shape after last year's update and fundraising; this year started out alright but has seen significant ad money downturn in the last few months. I talked last year about wanting to make more regular updates. I didn't get that done.

It's a theme with recent MetaTalk discussions that the mounting stresses and difficulties of the last few years have led to us, and to me, being so busy putting out fires that we've gotten distracted from some larger site goals, and more frequent financial updates was one of those goals. I'm sorry that it fell by the wayside this last year.

So I'm committing to us having a financial update at least quarterly. October 15, January 15, April 15, July 15, repeating. There may be other updates in the spaces between as necessary or useful, but I want to set that explicit expectation as a minimum starting now. Y'all should know how things are going, even if the news is just "pretty steady still" but especially if there's any inkling of trouble or downturn. Regular updates will also almost certainly help cut back on incidental recurring payment losses (people's cards expire, etc).


~ Mod hours & resources ~

We haven't given a thorough overview of what mod schedules are like in a while, so I want to sketch out how this stuff breaks down, what's being paid for, and how staffing levels plays into what additional work we're able to get done in any given period.

We have four mods working full-time schedules (me, LobsterMitten, restless_nomad, and taz), and two mods working part-time (goodnewsfortheinsane and Eyebrows McGee). frimble doesn't do any traditional mod work, and works a part-time schedule doing web development and maintanence work.

The full-time schedules involve 32 hours of scheduled active moderation time weekly in 8-hour shifts, but in practice 40+ hours of actual work: a lot of non-schedule work following and contributing to email and slack discussions, giving second opinions to the on-schedule mod if something tricky comes up, having one-on-one discussions with users, and discussing ongoing metatalk threads, site development and strategy issues, plus weekly team meetings.

The part-time mods have 2 standard 8-hour shifts a week, plus those various extra things above, and sometimes take extra paid shifts to relieve schedule stress when a full-timer needs a day or partial day off.

frimble as the part-time dev person does necessary weekly/monthly/yearly maintenance tasks, and then in what time they have available after that does development work on bug fixes, new site features, site text/template updates, fixing/updating code that interacts with external APIs and services, responding to questions and requests in MetaTalk and at the contact form, and whatever else comes up.

The full-time folks are all on flat monthly salaries; the part timers have a base salary for the standard scheduled shifts / maintenance needs, plus some monthly slush hours to cover predictable non-schedule work, and then extra hourly compensation for whatever additional work they end up doing that month.

We don't have the size of staff that allows for more typical at-will vacation scheduling. Those are things we manage together as a team, working out shift swaps for incidental days off, fill-in shifts from gnfti and Eyebrows (and jessamyn and vacapinta every now and then) for things like multi-day trips or sudden health/family/etc. emergencies. Our 168 hours/week scheduling needs complicates that process. For more significant schedule disruptions or someone needing extended time off, we all just work extra shifts to cover the gap.

Ultimately, with our current staffing levels, this all...works. It's better now than before we brought EM on to get rid of our 16-hour weekend shifts. It's not great but it's a level at which we're able to operate with reasonable weekly workloads, and schedule wrangling is, if not ideal, at least manageable.

It's been important to me to try and maintain this level of staffing because it's just about exactly the threshold where that's all true. If we have to find at some point a way to manage MeFi with fewer hands, we'll accomplish it somehow but not without reworking some significant assumptions about the base level of moderation energy available and what kind of beyond-the-bare-minimum stuff can get done.

But even at that, one of the difficulties that comes from having just-enough scheduled labor is that major initiatives or extra pushes on projects or site stuff are drawing an already taut wire. It's the sort of thing that we can handle in short spates—let's tackle x intensively for a week, let's spend this month trying to rework y—but isn't generally sustainable over the long term. We have to pace long-haul projects carefully to make sure they're slow and steady, not long sprints. So we'll need to continue to look at what things on the site are sustainable and which are drawing more resources than we can manage and need to be reworked to improve the balance of time and labor on the site. That's stuff we'll talk through more in the coming weeks as we start additional MetaTalk posts to follow up on some of the recent site discussions the mods and the community have been having.


~ Subscription management tools ~

We're doing some more work building up MeFi's subscription payment mechanisms, and in tandem with that we're going to do more work building up the presentation of community funding as an integral part of MetaFilter as a site. I want to do everything we can to support that process, to make it painless, and to make it a visible and well-understood part of how the community operates. I wish we had gotten more work done on this in the last year; it's something we're going to reprioritize.

We've just rolled out some improved Stripe functionality; logged-in users should now be able to manage their Stripe subscriptions directly from the site instead of needing to reach out to the contact form, which is a really important improvement. We've got more polish to do on that particular bit, and we're aiming to develop that overall subscription management interface further as well and explore additional payment processing options.


~ Fundraising details ~

I outlined our current funding goals above. Right now, the most common recurring contribution levels are $5/mo and $10/mo; many in the $1-3/mo range, a significant number at $20/mo and some higher. There's roughly 2500 recurring subscriptions right now between PayPal and Stripe, at about $5/mo average.

That totals to about $14K/mo total right now. To put that into specific monthly subscription context:

If everyone currently contributing increased their subscription by 50%, that'd eliminate our current shortfall. If everyone doubled their subscription, that would leave us with several thousand dollars a month of new net income to put into new spending and building savings.

If 700 new people started contributing $10/mo it'd eliminate the shortfall. If 1000 new folks started $20/mo, from that alone we'd be very close to outright financial independence.

Those are big numbers, but if we're going to aim to make MetaFilter wholly community-funded in the long run those are the kind of numbers we'll need to aim for. I think it's time we start going for it.

Now: it's essential to me that MeFi is a place where people can participate because they love it here, regardless of financial means. Contributions to the site will never be mandatory, or tied to access to site features. I am serious about pushing for community funding, but I will never consider financial contributions a qualifying factor of someone's membership here. Period. If you're here because you want to be here, that's always enough.

But for the folks who are able to do some. For the folks able to do some more. For the folks who've spent time here, reading, writing, sharing, learning new things, gaining new perspectives, making new friends: if you are able to help keep MetaFilter standing, to ensure that this place that has been so important to all of us can march confidently past the 20 year mark and on toward the future, then, hey, this is where we are. Your embrace and support of the idea of community-funded online spaces is ultimately what today's MetaFilter depends on.

Thank you for supporting the site with your contributions.


~ What next ~

The site turns 20 on Sunday. I'll be making a post that day about where the site's been, where we're at, and where I hope to see it go in the years to come.

I'll make an update post on financial stuff within the next couple of weeks, to reassess where we are after this fundraising push and talk about next steps and recap anything that comes out of discussion in here.

This post is coming amid an unusually intense period of intracommunity discussion, and we're planning a lot of additional MetaTalk discussions over the next few months to talk more about how MetaFilter can grow and improve as a community, and how we can catch up on some of the things where we have, in a twenty year run on the web, fallen behind. Ordinarily a post like this one would be kind of all-consuming of my attention; right now, as important as it is, it's just one thing in among a whole stack. And on the one hand that's a challenge. It's a lot of plates to keep spinning at once.

But I don't think the MetaFilter community has ever done poorly by its busiest periods of self-reflection. Whatever else we're doing here, whatever the prevailing conditions in the world and on the web, this is a community of people who are fundamentally trying to do good things and make a good place. When we're at our best, this site can be pretty extraordinary, and that's what keeps us coming back. That's worth pushing for. So if it's time to lower a shoulder and lean in extra hard, I'm glad you're all here pushing with me.
posted by cortex to MetaFilter-Related at 12:11 PM (1236 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

Doubled up on my monthly. Metafilter is worth it. I'm sure if I ran the numbers on my daily/monthly activity, it'd put every other site to shame.
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:37 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Doubled, with thanks.
posted by penguin pie at 12:41 PM on July 10


Subscribed. Gotta pay a LITTLE rent for my home on the internet, right?

Thanks for your thoughtfulness and hard work -- mods and everybody here.
posted by rue72 at 12:42 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


It would be super useful if the contributions page
  1. reflected a user's current contribution level, if they're a contributor and
  2. for current contributors, allowed a chance in contribution level that is reflected in the next 'billing' cycle, instead of 'today'

posted by hanov3r at 12:46 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


I wonder if it would be possible to adopt a public radio-like twice yearly fund drive with matching funds from outside sponsors, etc.? In any case, I am doubling my monthly payment.
posted by jjray at 12:46 PM on July 10 [13 favorites]


I definitely let my subscription lapse and forgot about it entirely. Renewed at the $20 / mo level - that takes us down to 999 for that target. This place is the most important website in existence to me - total no brainer to kick in some dough.

In general, and for folks that are (like me) easily put off by even small amounts of friction in Doing A Thing, the Stripe payment was easy as hell. You don't have to leave MetaFilter to do it, it literally took me about 30 seconds to renew. Actually kind of amazing how painless that was.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:47 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


Wait, so, if we did the PayPal monthly subscription before, should we put in the new amount we want to pay or the additional amount?
posted by jjray at 12:48 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Agreed, hanov3r. I'm glad we were able to get the start on on-site subscription management that we have, but we're definitely aiming to beef that whole interface up more over time.

Wait, so, if we did the PayPal monthly subscription before, should we put in the new amount we want to pay or the additional amount?

If you set up a PayPal subscription from the funding page, that'll start up a new subscription at that level without modifying any existing subscription.

So if you want to modify an existing PayPal subscription in place, you'd need to log in to PayPal directly to do that. I'm not sure how flexible they currently are about modifying contribution levels even there; nixing your current one from their site and then heading back to our funding page and starting up a new single subscription at the new total amount may be the cleanest solution.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:52 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


In order for me to increase my monthly PayPal contribution I had to cancel my existing one and start a new one at the higher monthly amount—it took a few minutes to figure out that I apparently couldn’t change only the amount, so I went about it that way instead.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:57 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


Yeah, deleting and starting over looks like the best bet. It's kind of buried, but for anyone else who's not done this before:

Log into Paypal, and click on the gear symbol.
Click on the Payments Tab at the bottom of the blue menu bar across the top of the screen.
Click Manage Automatic Payments button (it should be the first 'chunk' under the Payments tab)
Metafilter should be an entry on the list on the left of your screen. Click on the 'Metafilter' text.
Click the Cancel button.
posted by kalimac at 12:58 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


Subscribed!

Your update with stats does help explain the need, could we/do we have a page with the current stats/charts be a good thing to send people to?

My online bank has some great charts that illustrate my spending vs income that always make it easy to grok at a glance.

----
btw:

Paypal redirected me to:
This thanks page

it has a broken link for 'Click here to return to the funding page' and tries to take me to https://funding.cfm/

I found my way back, of course.

That page would also be a great place to link to /show those charts about the State of the Blue.
posted by dreamling at 12:59 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Ack! We'll get that link fixed, thanks for the report.

And yes, I'd like us to get a more at-a-glance financial picture tool in place as we build this stuff out. Periodic reports are important but letting folks see regular graphic snapshots would fill a big gap in the overall accessibility of this info.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:02 PM on July 10


Yeah, deleting and starting a new subscription worked fine.
posted by jjray at 1:03 PM on July 10


There's gotta be a way to boost that affiliate revenue -- maybe some way -- hopefully mostly automated -- to highlight MeFites' product recommendations and nudges (which is what's driving that revenue now, but it's scattered all over the place). When I'm looking for product recs, I habitually type "[product] thewirecutter" in my DDG bar and really I should be typing "[product] metafilter".

A subsite? MeFi Commerce? Green's already taken, so maybe "Filthy"?
posted by notyou at 1:04 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


@cortex it's dumb, but true, we all love charts, charts and powerpoints with charts :P

Like with public radio, are there organizations/sites/people from ye ole internet that might want to match funds? Or to donate to get banners that note that they 'support mefi'?

Would it hurt to ask?
posted by dreamling at 1:07 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Forgive my ignorance, but how does amazon product affiliate revenue work? Do members have to do something to make it happen? Or does metafilter get a cut whenever I link to amazon?
posted by mai at 1:11 PM on July 10


Back on at $20 a month-it's a lot easier for me to commit to now that I'm working a W-2 job again. Thanks for the comprehensive transparency as usual, cortex.
posted by Kwine at 1:11 PM on July 10


I have a big beef with the world: Fundraising campaigns usually depict the amount raised using a red-dyed alcohol thermometer, but Mercury is the god of commerce and financial gain. C'mon, people!
posted by aubilenon at 1:14 PM on July 10 [15 favorites]


(Also I'm still funding metafilter, but am not in a position to up my contribution. Thanks for running the great site, and thanks for the transparency)
posted by aubilenon at 1:15 PM on July 10


I have donated in the past. I will be happy to donate again once there is at least one PoC mod on the active staff (whether that means one of the 7 current (white) mods stepping down, or definite hiring of an additional PoC mod).

Until then, I will not be donating to Metafilter anymore.
posted by aielen at 1:16 PM on July 10 [13 favorites]


I think it's time we start going for it.

It was time five years ago when we had this thread, all the suggestions about fundraising structures, membership and governance many of us made then were pooh-poohed, and now the site is pretty much where those folks predicted it would be without some real management changes and restructuring. This might be too little too late.

I don't have any confidence in this plan. It's at best wishful thinking. This reflects no long-term strategy for thriving or even truly surviving. If analogues are any guide, a dwindling core of users can continue to bail this place out for a long time by upping their donations while the pyramid's base shrinks, so at times it may look like things are going ok, but it will be hollowing out until no new subscription rate can float the most minimal budget. This cycle ends with a small, committed insider club keeping the thing on life support for their own enjoyment. It could limp along for decades like that, but it won't be the same kind of community.

That's setting aside the cart-before-the-horse proposal "give us more money so we can fix our inclusion issues" - it's really the other way around: fix your inclusion issues so more people are motivated to stay and give money because they feel heard and see that they are included. Why would anyone make this investment now, when any number of calls for it in the past were not listened to? When there are so many alternative spaces they could invest in?

My only suggestion at this point, feeling pretty disinvested as I do, is that cortex, you take the step of getting some business training and consultation on long-term strategic planning (I've said it a million times, it's still needed). It seems like you're struggling to cover basic activities and make budget every month which is a crapshoot, revenue streams are drying up and you're asking to get user contributions to more than double from $15K a month. You need to spend more money than you've budgeted on some inclusion training and diversification of your staff. Meanwhile, you've got a frustrated userbase and declining participation, so are they gonna do that? How do people feeling alienated find the incentive to support?

Seems unrealistic, and a big leap to make, especially making this announcement at the point of a deepening crisis, without any planning of a campaign and the state of the site already in kind of disarray with a long to-do list of un-done things. This formula just isn't looking good.
posted by Miko at 1:17 PM on July 10 [120 favorites]


Frankly I'm astonished that there are already 2500 recurring contributions: according to elgilito's numbers from last month, that's about 60% of all active Metafilter users. I think it will be difficult to substantially increase that number (though not impossible to increase the amount given by those users).

I continue to be disappointed that these updates ignore the elephant in the room: namely, the continued and unabated decline in the number of active Metafilter users, which elgilito's comment from last month amply demonstrates. The site needs to confront that problem head-on in a way I don't see demonstrated in this post.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:18 PM on July 10 [59 favorites]


Is there a preferred subscription method that is the lowest in fees for the site? I'm not sure if Stripe or PayPal charge fees, and if so, which is the lower. I don't care which place does my subscription, so if there's a method that is the best bang for the buck, I'd use that one.
posted by msbutah at 1:19 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


"red-dyed alcohol thermometer"
Red Mercury.
RED. MERCURY.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:21 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Forgive my ignorance, but how does amazon product affiliate revenue work? Do members have to do something to make it happen? Or does metafilter get a cut whenever I link to amazon?

We automatically ad affiliate code to Amazon links in Ask MetaFilter (where the overwhelming majority of Amazon links tend to show up); you don't have to do anything other than follow one of those to the site for us to get a small affiliate cut for any purchases you then make in that shopping session, even if it's not the same thing you first linked on.

It's also possible to visit Amazon directly through a general affiliate link. We used to have those listed, for various international regions, on the funding page, but Amazon felt that violated their guidelines so we removed that from that page. I need to find a way to provide that info that won't generate friction from them.

Is there a preferred subscription method that is the lowest in fees for the site? I'm not sure if Stripe or PayPal charge fees, and if so, which is the lower. I don't care which place does my subscription, so if there's a method that is the best bang for the buck, I'd use that one.

They're just about identical, so you can use whichever you prefer. Fees in the transaction industry are about $0.30 + 3% for everybody providing this sort of service.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:21 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


The site needs to confront that problem head-on in a way I don't see demonstrated in this post.

Trust me, I'm as concerned about that aspect as anyone. But we can't do everything at once, and we can't do everything in one post. A lot of the other discussions we've been having on the site the last month, and that we have planned for the next several weeks, are focused on revisiting what the site's doing, how it can be more welcoming and engaging, and how we can refocus some moderation resources to things that help make this place interesting and fun and accessible.

I don't know if we can reach the long-term funding goals I outlined in the post, or how long it will take to get there if we can. But I do know that given the choice of trying to vs. not trying to, I'm absolutely going to try. And, absolutely, working as a community to build up all the other things that will help this place grow and thrive as part of that goal is going to have to be part of it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:27 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


I don't post much, but I lurk pretty much all day at work. Just bumped my monthly contribution up from $3 to $10. I hope you guys are able to address some of the issues you acknowledged in your post and elsewhere on metatalk, and keep this site going for years to come. It has problems, true, but this is still my favorite community on the internet, and I would be crushed if it went away.
posted by Roommate at 1:29 PM on July 10 [11 favorites]


Well, I went ahead and BNDed and added some to the donation bucket. I'm gloomy about the long term prospects but I do still read the site daily, so... Here's hoping and helping.
posted by They're Waiting For You, Gordon at 1:29 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Anything substantive I could have brought to this discussion was just said by Miko in a much better way than I would have expressed it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:38 PM on July 10 [11 favorites]


I love Metafilter. I hated reading this and even thinking about the mods going without job-provided benefits, when so many of us here are strong proponents of what employees deserve from employers. But Miko’s comment strongly resonated with me and I remember Miko’s past comments on this topic over the years, and at the time I didn’t always understand them or though they might have been somewhat pessimistic, but they turned out to be right.
posted by sallybrown at 1:39 PM on July 10 [33 favorites]


Doesn't anybody here work at Google? Can anything be done to fix that situation? I think since we first got financial updates, the biggest drop has consistently been from Google (and their opaque algorithms, I guess).
posted by JenMarie at 1:44 PM on July 10


Google is famously tightlipped about this stuff. I've talked with their ad and search support people a couple times, who were friendly and walked through stuff with me with the conclusion that we're not doing anything "wrong", but, yeah, neither their search algorithm nor their ad rates are things we can control.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:47 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


What about merchandise? Is the profit from that negligible?
Would a medium sized markup in something small be (like enamel pins) generate enough profit so the juice is worth the squeeze?
posted by Faintdreams at 1:50 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Also, I am 100 % against the amount of funding each individual member provides being part of a persons profile unless there is an option to turn that feature OFF.

If and how much I support Metafilter is between me and my wallet.
posted by Faintdreams at 1:52 PM on July 10 [51 favorites]


Also quick n.b. about PayPal receipts: don't worry if you see Matt Haughey or his email address mentioned. It's the correct account, Matt no longer has anything to do with it; just a holdover from when the account was created.

It's been a long-standing frustration that we've been unable to change the listed contact info on that PayPal account; we may finally be making progress on fixing it once and for all but that will probably be a few days yet even in the best case scenario, so for now that weird bit of legacy continues.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:53 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


Faintdreams: the profile-page message never shows the amount, it's just a star and "I help fund Metafilter". And you can turn it off: on your Preferences page, under "Contact / Privacy" settings, uncheck the box next to "Display funding message?"
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:57 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Could we possibly also keep what you share under wraps in here? I don't need to know what any member contributes.
posted by agregoli at 1:58 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


What about merchandise? Is the profit from that negligible?

Pretty much, yes. Merch is fun and we'll keep trying to put out new stuff periodically, but short of moving to an explicitly merch-based business targeting a much broader audience and a huge monthly volume, it'd be difficult to make it into any meaningful source of revenue. It's a $25 contribution directly to the site vs. a $3 skim off $25 to buy and ship a quality shirt.

So I like providing merch for folks who want it for its own sake (and we do have some, shirts and mugs and totes and stickers and more shirts), but it's not an obvious fix for funding the site itself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:58 PM on July 10


Also, I am 100 % against the amount of funding each individual member provides being part of a persons profile unless there is an option to turn that feature OFF.

We will never disclose anyone's subscription or contribution levels to anyone, ever, period. I think someone was asking up thread about being able to review their own in a private view on the site, which is a fine notion (with Stripe payments you can do that now from the new subscription management page), but that'll never be anyone else's business.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:59 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


Aha apologies I thought the person upthread was suggestion that an amount be added to the existing “I help support Metafilter” badge/statement option on the profile pages.

Sorry for the confusion.
posted by Faintdreams at 2:02 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


Miko may have a point about how the site has been managed in the past, I don't really pay enough attention to know. I certainly think taking those criticisms/suggestions seriously is worthwhile.

However, I also believe that metafilter is a place worth supporting even if it's not been perfectly managed.

Is it really true that the active userbase of the site is shrinking? Is that true in terms of pageviews and/or number of members who post/comment monthly? And if so, on what timescale has that shrinkage been happening?
posted by mai at 2:11 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


A user posted this in projects recently. I am not a statistician but it's food for thought.
posted by They're Waiting For You, Gordon at 2:16 PM on July 10 [25 favorites]


Like with public radio, are there organizations/sites/people from ye ole internet that might want to match funds? Or to donate to get banners that note that they 'support mefi'?

Would it hurt to ask?
posted by dreamling at 4:07 PM

Go with that. Also, some extranets exposure of MetaFilter, don't seek it but, some form of exposure would help. The kicker is wave the fee...like a trial subscription, then pay 5$. Open the gates and yes, disruption could ensue but with mod watch and community reinforcement of already established codes of conduct...This would great for non usaer'.

I also propose posts in languages other then English. Ball of wax there. But making mefi more global seems long overdue.
posted by clavdivs at 2:16 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


The continued decline in the ad market is a bummer, and shifting to community funding is a worthy idea. But any discussion of sustainability and the future of the site needs to address the situation illustrated by the stats from this recent Projects post. All measures of posts, comments, unique users, and new sign-ups are trending downward, and without any proactive push to encourage growth any community-funded model is doomed to failure as the community shrinks.

Last year's thread saw myriad suggestions for targeted advertising, new tools for sharing MeFi content on social media, design improvements to better showcase subsites to newcomers, organizational changes, etc. -- I had a number of ideas myself. But there haven't been any real initiatives beyond flag-with-note, loosening friend-linking rules, tweaking the FanFare homepage, and some merch -- and those only affect current users, and don't do much to attract new ones.

In addition to fundraising, there has to be a community-wide push with site support for spreading awareness about the site and its highlights to people not already here -- the in-depth posts, the commentary, Ask, Chat, the podcast, the Best-Of blog, Music, FanFare, meetups, the whole nine yards. There's a lot of good here, enough for thousands of people to give money on a regular basis -- it should be far easier to share that good stuff with the broader web in a frictionless way.

To recap some long-standing, relatively easy-to-implement ideas I think would go a long way to attracting and retaining new people:
  • Branding: Return to colored backgrounds for non-members. It was a powerful, memorable branding choice where the default black-on-white is more generic and forgettable for drive-by users.
  • Sharing: Add the text of posts/comments to their favorited-by pages in big serif blockquoted style, with a prominent link back to the thread with comment/favorite count to illustrate community engagement. Add a Pullquote-like social sharing button that can take a screenshotted excerpt of this with a big MetaFilter logo and blast it out to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Imgur, Pinterest, etc. Let a million colorful screenshots bloom. (Bonus: adding content to the "favorited by" pages could improve search rankings.)
  • Front page: Make the Blue its own subsite, and turn the main homepage into a mix of recent posts from all the subsites (plus popular highlights, resolved AskMe's, sidebar posts, etc.), to better showcase the depth and breadth of content and activity across the entire community. Add a prominent welcome/FAQ panel for non-members briefly describing the site and linking to the sign-up page.
  • Search: Include "sort by favorites" as a search option, to help new users exploring the site find popular content.
  • Podcast: Replace the hourlong monthly podcast with shorter weekly podcasts, possibly mirrored on Twitch. Shorter, more frequent highlights on more platforms = more avenues for people to hear about good stuff on the site.
  • Advertising: Targeted advertising on popular podcasts like MBMBAM and the Crooked Media network, and select healthy subreddits in MeFi's wheelhouse like TwoXChromosomes, TrueReddit, DepthHub, Books, etc.
  • Micropayments: Let users pay a buck to add a gold star to fantastic posts and comments, Reddit-style. All proceeds go to support the site. Slap a daily/weekly/monthly donation meter on the front page for that period's funding goal, to both showcase the community funding ethos to newcomers and remind/encourage people to fund the site in this way on a regular basis.
Also, cortex demurred on doing this recently, but I still believe that expanding FanFare clubs into full-fledged Groups about any topic would add a lot of value to the site and help retain users in the long run.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:19 PM on July 10 [124 favorites]


(Also, now would be a great time for anybody with media connections to pitch a story on MeFi's 20th anniversary! News coverage of the site has historically been the quickest route to gaining new members.)
posted by Rhaomi at 2:20 PM on July 10 [36 favorites]


Faintdreams, if you're referring to my comment, cortex has it right. I'd like to be able to go to my private subscription page and see what I'm contributing, rather than go through the (hyperbole ahead) ONEROUS TASK (/end hyperbole) of digging up my PayPal receipts from email.
posted by hanov3r at 2:23 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


I like clavdivs idea of eliminating the five dollar sign-up fee, at least for a trial period.

If that's too radical of a change, then maybe make it possible for ordinary MeFites to generate gift subscriptions without having to pay. Being able to invite people to join would be fun.
posted by Kattullus at 2:24 PM on July 10 [12 favorites]


Free to join, $5 to post or comment?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:27 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


Restarted my subscription. I love you, cortex.
posted by youarenothere at 2:33 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I agree with eliminating the $5 signup and with removing roadblocks to joining — no more maze of twisty passages to thread through in order to register for the site.

Cortex, you should also take some of the revenue generated by this appeal to pay a top-notch SEO consultant for an analysis, with an eye towards driving more organic search traffic to the huge Ask content database, which in turn will drive signups.

I also strongly agree with turning the individual subsites dark colors again for non-logged-in users. Metafilter used to look like nothing else on the Web. Now it just looks generic.

In the early days this place was a proto-Reddit with pissing elephants and lots of drama. Now it’s a community of thoughtful grownups. That’s a harder sell to much of the Internet than Reddit- and Imgur-style meme-y stupidity, but there’s still lots of room for Metafilter to grow if we can get new eyeballs to the site.
posted by killdevil at 2:42 PM on July 10 [18 favorites]


Front page: Make the Blue its own subsite, and turn the main homepage into a mix of recent posts from all the subsites

That's brilliant. Though I kind of like Mefi's cutting-edge-of-1998 style, a friendly portal would be a really nice change. If it was just one post from each subsite, plus signup info, a MOTD, and an ad, it surely wouldn't be hard to do.
posted by zompist at 2:45 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


Kudos to the people who are donating, and Rhaomi's suggestions about how to address the fact that MetaFilter's appeal is becoming more selective. Overall, I think that Miko's assessment is right on the money and has been for years. I like MetaFilter but it doesn't seem to be on a sustainable track.

Now it just looks generic.

I believe the term is "professional white background."
posted by snofoam at 2:47 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


If that's too radical of a change, then maybe make it possible for ordinary MeFites to generate gift subscriptions without having to pay. Being able to invite people to join would be fun.

I really like this idea, since it still would still prevent spammers but make it easier to talk people into joining. I know you can gift memberships but even offering that seems like it's creating more of an obligation that people get kind of awkward about.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:47 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


Front landing page that highlights the "best of the best" from all subsites, culled from "fantastic" flags would bring in a lot of folks, I think.
posted by agregoli at 2:50 PM on July 10 [16 favorites]


I would hate to see the $5 signup go away. I think it has served its purpose well for us quite well. Eliminating the fee, to me, would invite an invasion of the sort of people who would like nothing more than to turn MeFi into a vile swamp. Certainly, the mods would end up putting in double overtime putting out myriad dumpster fires and attempts at brigading.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:56 PM on July 10 [85 favorites]


It would also be a mark of pride to be featured on, knowing you had reached some threshold of fantastic flags. That could in turn drive more and better posts.
posted by thoroughburro at 2:56 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


So, this comment turned into more thoughts than where it started. But here's where it started:

Is it really true that the active userbase of the site is shrinking? Is that true in terms of pageviews and/or number of members who post/comment monthly? And if so, on what timescale has that shrinkage been happening?

Both traffic and user activity peaked around the turn of the decade and have fallen off since.

There's an aspect of google search visibility there: Adsense, once by far the primary source of income for the site, peaked in late 2011 and then fell sharply through early 2013 and has had periods of decline, plateau, decline ever since, and while part of that is a fall in overall ad pricing and changes in the kinds of ads available, a lot of that is reflected in just far less search traffic being directed to the site as Google has changed their black-box priorities on what qualifies as good content on the web. Less search visibility could lead directly to fewer new users joining up from chance discovery.

But there's also the rise of large-scale social media over the last ten years in a way that has destabilized what used to be The Blogosphere and pulled a lot of folks away from smaller or more ad hoc social spaces toward the centralized web/app stuff like twitter, facebook, tumblr. Slicker, lower-engagement, faster-feedback sites and apps can serve a lot of casual internet time needs for folks who might previously have spent more time on individual blogs and smaller forums. A big shift over the years to mobile apps and less text-heavy mobile interactions plays into that too. It's hard to overstate how drastic a long-term effect all that has had on the busyness of old-school sites, MetaFilter included; in a lot of cases, those sites just don't exist anymore at all.

We're unusual as a place that managed to pull together enough community support to more or less stabilize things for the last few years. Part of that is I think the sense that this is more than just a convenient passing forum, that there is value for a lot of folks still in spending time here for more than just an abstract "I need a social media space" purpose.

Staring down the externalities involved in this is an easy way to get really dispirited. If I fixed my eyes on 2011 MetaFilter as my model for what the site being successful is, I'd have had to pack up and go home a long time ago. That confluence of easy ad money, a less centralized/corporatized web, and lower expectations for what was enough to make a good space, isn't coming back.

So: I'm focusing on where MeFi is now, and where we can try to be in a couple years or in five years, and how to keep making this place work. Literal growth would be a good thing, and I agree that for a sustainable long-term community funding initiative it's a necessary thing to put work into. There's a lot of things that will need to go into that, especially in the face of those external forces we're pushing against.

But if in the end MeFi ends up being a smaller space, with a smaller bottom line and fewer staff, it'll still be MeFi and it'll still be what I'm trying to keep in place as its own unique chunk of the web. Because it being smaller doesn't mean it has less value. In some concrete ways we're a much better community than we were ten years ago, through hard work by the mods and by the community to get better, even as some of the most visible parts of the web have gotten loudly and distinctly worse and the expectation has become one of major corporate social media sites that aren't even trying to grapple with basic, fundamental issues of safety and social justice or any kind of business or ethical transparency. And we've gotten better in the face of those adverse trends.

I care about this place more than I can say. No, I'm not a trained business person. No, I'm not an organizational or administrative expert. I have been learning as I go, scrapping hard in public and private to keep this thing I love and care about going under adverse conditions, and it's a matter of sheer effort and inconsistent progress. I know that is not enough, or fast enough, or formal enough for some folks. I accept that this may not be the place that they want it to be, or the place they want to be period, and that's okay. It's a big web. But it's the place I want to be, and I'm gonna keep kicking hard to help it keep going and keep improving, no matter what happens with revenue or user metrics.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:57 PM on July 10 [107 favorites]


Part of me is "let's just shut it down Sunday and call it a day after 20 years."

The conversations of the last month-plus left me feeling like maybe MeFi has run its course. This is nothing against cortex or the mods, more just... there's the reality of the world we want to see represented here versus the willingness we have as a community to invest in making that world so on MeFi. Everyone wants a mod who is a person of color. No one wants to fire a mod. Everyone wants cortex to solve it so they don't have to. Everyone is too busy so it's easier to cancel MeFi than it is to fix it.

Community ownership isn't a one-time thing. It's a constant, ongoing struggle where you're fighting one another for the world you want -- all while trying to keep newbies feeling welcome and No Seriously This Really Is Fun You Should Get Involved.

The phrase I've come to use in my UX work is "tending the garden." You have to keep things weeded, seeded, watered, growing, and changing. If you want roses, you have to plant roses. If the soil isn't good for roses, you have to work it until it is. Without "garden tending," systems fall into disrepair, obscurity, and eventually failure.

Financial ownership is one thing. Co-operative investment is something else entirely.

Part of me, of course, wants to see MeFi respond, evolve, change, and create a community for the next 20 years. For all my pessimism I see cortex and co. asking the right questions right now, starting with the epic MeTa threads of the last few months. At some point, though, if this is truly going to be "community owned," we're going to have to own it. And a financial stake isn't enough. It's about making the time and effort into making this community better than it was yesterday.

I waver back and forth. Some days there are some stellar threads and comments. Some days I feel like we're Reddit with a Professional White Background (hi Anil). Most days I just glance through, sometimes get pained by another obituary, and move on to Twitter and Slack. But most days I ask, were I to pick up a rake or a shovel and start tending this garden... would anyone else? Does anyone still care enough to do that work? Does anyone still care enough to want to do it together? Does anyone want to do it in spite of the wide range of levels of privilege, wokeness, background, gender expression, etc etc etc etc?

I really don't know. And I say that as a friend of so many people behind the curtain here, people I've watched struggle with the finances and the ongoing tensions within this place. I love them, I love this place, and I'll be putting my money into keeping MeFi a going concern. But... until we all figure out how to make the effort, the idea that there's a sustainable community here is far from reality. And only a sustainable, vibrant, evolving community will last another year, much less another 20.
posted by dw at 3:06 PM on July 10 [34 favorites]


cortex: "But there's also the rise of large-scale social media over the last ten years in a way that has destabilized what used to be The Blogosphere and pulled a lot of folks away from smaller or more ad hoc social spaces toward the centralized web/app stuff like twitter, facebook, tumblr. Slicker, lower-engagement, faster-feedback sites and apps can serve a lot of casual internet time needs for folks who might previously have spent more time on individual blogs and smaller forums."

All the more reason to make it easy to share MeFi content on these networks in a visually appealing way. The only social media I use with any regularity is Reddit, but I'm still pretty up-to-date on viral memes and trends from Tumblr, Twitter, etc. because they make it so easy to embed posts on other pages and share screenshots widely. The site should have a simple, built-in way to generate tweets like this, for instance, and they should link to a page with just that content (with a contextual link back) that can be easily shared on any site.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:12 PM on July 10 [32 favorites]


I like clavdivs idea of eliminating the five dollar sign-up fee, at least for a trial period.

Finally! Zero-Dollar Newbs to close the door and fetch the coffee.
posted by notyou at 3:15 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


STRIPE NOTE: Their service appears to be having some API issues as of the last hour, and especially in the last little bit, which seems to be affecting (among a ton of other stuff on the web) our subscription management page. If you're having trouble viewing existing subscriptions, or setting up new subscriptions or contributions, that's the likely issue; feel free to check in on the contact form if you have any questions. I'll update when I see the problem's resolved.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:16 PM on July 10


I run a subscription-funded service and it's a never-ending fight to keep things going. A forum like Metafilter is very different from what I do, but what I can say is that everything gets easier if you have more money. Everything – staffing, stress, security.

Clearly I don't mean that you should compromise the ideals of this site for money, but I do think it should be even more of a priority. As we've learned from countless Mefi threads, if you're stressing about money, your mental space shrinks and it affects the decisions you make.

There are a lot of people on and off Metafilter who would be able to help, not necessarily just me. Even with ~1500 unique commenters per week, I imagine the site still has tens of thousands of monthly active users who aren't commenting, and possibly many more non-logged in regular readers. That is definitely enough to get to $35k in monthly recurring revenue. Not to say it's easy, but it is doable.

Anyway, I'll be doing my part and doubling my subscription.
posted by adrianhon at 3:17 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


Rhaomi: Hey, that's me! Yes, I would definitely share more Mefi comments if there was an easier way of doing it. The Instapaper app has a great way to generate "text shots" that can also provide full credit and link back to the comment.
posted by adrianhon at 3:20 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


I had let my subscription go because ... struggle. This is a good reminder to re up now that I am in a slightly better place.
posted by one4themoment at 3:47 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Building on dw's comment: what would the process look like if Mefi did decide to shut down?
posted by divabat at 3:49 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Why are we even talking about a Mefi shutdown? just thinking about it is really upsetting, I thought the point of the Meta was transparency and discussion of fundraising and financial site sustainability.??
posted by Faintdreams at 3:56 PM on July 10 [37 favorites]


divabat
posted by adamvasco at 4:14 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


It's a fundamental misunderstanding of how I feel about this place to discuss shutting it down.

MetaFilter is (a) a business entity and (b) a community, an idea, a concept. And those two things are interrelated because [*gesturing in the direction of capitalism*], but they aren't the same thing at all.

I care about the viability of the business entity only because it keeps a staff paid who do work that helps the community exist, and the existence of this community is one of the most important things in my life.

That's all. That's the entire point of MetaFilter Network Inc. as it exists under my ownership. That's the only reason it needs to exist. If it ends up with a smaller budget, that's an awful blow for the team because this is what we do for a living, but that's a business issue. If I have to figure out how to make the site run with a smaller staff, I'll do that. If I have to figure out how to make the site run by myself, I'll do that. If I have to just raise enough every month to pay for server and hosting costs and have frimble install patches every now and then while I coordinate some kind of volunteer moderation crew in my spare time from whatever else I have to do for paid work instead, I'll do that.

The only thing that would shut MetaFilter down is the outright collapse of the idea of MetaFilter. And as difficult as some of the things we navigate here are sometimes, as frustrating as the financial picture has been the last decade, as much as this place that I love and care about exhausts me sometimes, I don't see that happening. There are too many people who care about and believe in this place, who carry a piece of it around in their hearts, who even through misgivings and disappointments look at MetaFilter as a thing that matters, for that idea to just go up in smoke.

MeFi might have to scale down in all sorts of ways in the future. I hope not, and I'm starting a push here to avoid it, but I've been prepared for the possibility from the moment I accepted more responsibility for this place years ago. But MeFi isn't going to shut itself down.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:14 PM on July 10 [109 favorites]


+100000 On more frequent updates. You're going to go loopy if you keep waiting until you're ( checks notes 7k/month in the red) People forget. Go with the Public Radio method, hit us up with fund drives sooner than later.

Also I know ya only do one podcast a month, but can you run an ad from MeUndies or something?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:15 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


I definitely feel like Metafilter has become a lot better over the years, but overall trends (ad revenue, social media, etc.) are working against it. One thing I took from this status update is that mod needs are strongly tied to coverage. Like, even if we had half the users/posts/comments, there would still be the same number of hours in the week. And right now we are at the minimum comfortable staffing to cover those hours and be sustainable. Increasing revenue seems like the only long-term solution. I think this in turn will require increasing the userbase. Even if it is possible to fund things now with the existing userbase, it will eventually become impossible if the number of users continues to decline.

More specifically, it also means needing to attract users who want to participate, and I think there is some potential as people continue to realize how toxic a lot of social media and other sites are. Rhaomi's suggestion about pitching the media about MetaFilter is actually maybe one of the best suggestions I've seen in this thread. Not just for the 20th anniversary, but on an ongoing basis to try to attract people looking for a well managed place to share and discuss. I also think advertising to certain target audiences (podcasts, etc) may also be a good idea.

Changing the organization or visual appeal of the site in the hopes that random visitors are going to fall in love don't strike me as things that are likely to make a big difference. The same with sharing. When I did more social media I might have shared cool things I found here, but I definitely didn't share mefi discussions really. But, whatever, at least they are thinks oriented towards getting more users.

MetaFilter could make more drastic changes like become a nonprofit and seek funding that way or move away from paid moderation, or whatever. But in its current form I don't really see an option besides increasing the number of users. If there is ambivalence about that, then I don't think it bodes well.
posted by snofoam at 4:16 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


UPDATE TO THE STRIPE UPDATE: They are now reporting the API issue is resolved. If you were having trouble with the subscription tools earlier, try again now. If you have any trouble or questions, hit the contact form and we'll take a look.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:18 PM on July 10


Thanks for improving our ability to update subscriptions without needing to use the contact form. I'm mostly a lurker, and I've sent one-off contributions before—but this is one of my favorite parts of the internet, and it's time that I did more to support it. I've just moved to a monthly subscription.

(By the way, on the Stripe "Thank You" page, the "Click here to return to the funding page" link seems to be broken; it directed me to https://funding.cfm/.)
posted by cellar door at 4:18 PM on July 10


Doesn't look like AskMetafilter has any JSON-LD structured data for its pages.

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/qapage

It's not hard to implement. Might help search visibility.
posted by yonega at 4:26 PM on July 10 [20 favorites]


But MeFi isn't going to shut itself down.

If we just need to bridge the funding gap until the MeFi AI can do all the posting, commenting and moderation then we should be fine. ;)
posted by snofoam at 4:28 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


I care about the viability of the business entity only because it keeps a staff paid who do work that helps the community exist, and the existence of this community is one of the most important things in my life.

That's all. That's the entire point of MetaFilter Network Inc. as it exists under my ownership. That's the only reason it needs to exist. If it ends up with a smaller budget, that's an awful blow for the team because this is what we do for a living, but that's a business issue. If I have to figure out how to make the site run with a smaller staff, I'll do that. If I have to figure out how to make the site run by myself, I'll do that. If I have to just raise enough every month to pay for server and hosting costs and have frimble install patches every now and then while I coordinate some kind of volunteer moderation crew in my spare time from whatever else I have to do for paid work instead, I'll do that.


This is incredibly reassuring in one of those "I didn't know I needed to hear that, but I did." sort of ways. I hope we can all work together to prevent things from getting to any of those breakpoints. I'm optimistic about MetaFilter flourishing one day - I think there can be a confluence of the site getting better at attracting users / monetizing in non-shitty ways, and I think there is a swing-back of degrees in the works. Not back to blogs like it used to be, but something. Some third space between text heavy ancients and dopamine hit endless scrollers.

I've been thinking a lot about Rhaomi's suggestions regarding social media share-ability and I think they are on the money (so to speak) here. I cannot count the number of times when, either on Slack or Twitter or email or whatever, I've done some amalgamation of:

- write some prose explaining that there is a discussion happening on this cool site about *thing*
- copy pasted text from a post or comment that I wanted to share about *thing*
- dropped in a link to the thing after the copypasta

So. Many. Times. Having a way to easily share stuff here would be great for me personally, but also (I think) in terms of visibility along the lines of what Rhaomi said. The important second step of that would be to have some kind of subtle or not-subtle call to action associated with the linked content in some way that would give interested folks the chance to learn that MetaFilter is a place you can join. Maybe down a 2 or 3 click path.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:46 PM on July 10 [25 favorites]


cortex you can't do everything on your own.
You can and have identified various items which have to be addressed.
You now need to have some experts to help you fix these items from either within or without the site.
Metafilter is full of experts, real ones not just self proclaimed ones. Engage with them please.
If they personally cannot assist they will be able to point you in the right direction. This is very much the same as I said five years ago. You didn't then as far as I know and so here we are now. Miko gives good solid, well meaning advise. Listen up.
Experts cost money, some will discount, waive or trade their fees. Find them.
Rethink some of what you think is cast in stone. It isn't.
You need revenue and as pointed out upthread that will make a whole bunch of other stuff easier.
Metafilter has a lot of friends in a lot of places. Friends help. Ask them, not for cash but you can do that as well; but for their expertise to assist you get out of this hole.
posted by adamvasco at 4:56 PM on July 10 [61 favorites]


I'd love to see "best of metafilter" expand to Instagram! I often screens hot great comments and post them there.

Why don't we do the metafilter version of AMAs, where we invite authors or whatever to interact w the community on a given topic? Could start with the many resident authors.

Love the thought of making the blue a subsite and having a home page that pulls from all sites.

And YES PLEASE LET'S RUN ADDS FOE THIS PLACE!
posted by rebent at 4:58 PM on July 10 [14 favorites]


> yonega:
"Doesn't look like AskMetafilter has any JSON-LD structured data for its pages."

Yes, absolutely. In fact it's kinda shocking that this wasn't implemented years ago. Further evidence that the site should seek out some SEO help.
posted by crazy with stars at 5:01 PM on July 10 [17 favorites]


Small comment just to add to requests upthread, but these really do need to be more frequent. Cortex's commitment to a quarterly update is good, but some kind of more frequent chart page is needed. And, some reminders or something. I didn't realize my donation had lapsed or what I had going. New credit card? I dunno. But, back in--and now at the SAIT per month level.
posted by Gotanda at 5:04 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Building on dw's comment: what would the process look like if Mefi did decide to shut down?

I think if that's the takeaway from what I've said, then my point didn't come through.

To make this place better, you have to invest. Cortex has invested an immense amount in keeping this place going. But if the community itself is unwilling to step up and do the hard work it's going to take to make this community vibrant, then cortex and the mods are just investing in something that will eventually burn them through.

That means not being a Monday morning quarterback about what happens around here. That means fully engaging in good faith and pitching in when needed. We all need to do more of that.
posted by dw at 5:45 PM on July 10 [15 favorites]


I'm not sure why I'm being sent a picture of a bunny with a waffle on its head - it's cute, but possibly reads as passive-aggressive.

I mention shutting down because I'm coming from the world of arts and media where a lot of places have had to shut down due to lack of funding and/or engagement. Hell I was part of a site that did that not too long ago - we recognised that the site has run its course and it was better to leave on a mid-high note. People are now having to seriously think about exit strategies, when sustainability ends up not being a healthy option anymore. Even the PoC thread had some discussion about moving on elsewhere, if this space is no longer viable for our continued participation.

It's not a bad idea to aim for continued sustainability, but I don't think it's necessarily that awful to consider a plan for the worst-case scenario, so that if it does happen, it's not entirely an emergency and can be sorted out with grace and dignity.
posted by divabat at 6:09 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


And these were spaces where so many people put in a LOT of investment of time, energy, money. People were fully engaging in good faith. They tried so hard. But in the end, the cost-benefit analysis wasn't in their favour.

There were some spaces I know whose shutdown frustrated me, because had they put in some extra steps earlier to mitigate against the certainty of a capricious funding system (oy, Australian arts/non-profits), they could have lasted longer. But they didn't and it cost them. But there have also been other spaces where they recognised that even their best efforts wasn't going to be worth it in the long run. It's tricky and complicated and emotionally fraught but it's also not avoidable.
posted by divabat at 6:13 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


Oh my god I'm so embarrassed. I had no idea there was a possibility of monthly donations. I paid my $5 years ago, and then never looked at the funding page until today. This site has been so much a part of my daily routine when I'm on the train or taking a break on the computer. I enjoy reading and laughing and raging over all the posts and comments people make on here! I've made a larger one time contribution and started a monthly subscription. Jesus Christ!!!
posted by extramundane at 6:17 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


I really like the idea of a targeted shareable message about the 20th anniversary of the best of the web. I’d repost it. How many of our collective contacts are ex-MeFis who just need to be reminded we are still here?

I’m also 3 or 4 (possibly more) drinks in, but - crazy idea - wasn’t there like $6.5b spent on the last US election cycle? Given we have a highly active political discussion in the megathreads, and moderated and relatively chaos-free forums, is there someway we could add functionality to capitalize on that. Like a Politics Fanfare where candidates could buy access to run discussions in moderated forums, or people could pay to open a thread on a candidate or issue they want to discuss, or run political advertising directly within the scope of the threads on that sub site.

tl;drMetafilter: Best of the political web.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 6:18 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


Right, UK MeFite here (this is relevant). Got the push from work so I've been eating mostly savings and my Brexit cupboard for a couple of months, but have found suitable employment again (touch wood). Restored my sub at a slightly higher level than before.

I know it's A Thing that "PayPal takes their cut" but when I first subbed I probably set it lower through subconsciously comparing it to Patreon where e.g. a $5 subscription costs that plus another dollar converted at a quasi-random exchange rate between 1.2000 and 1.3000 plus a 13p non-Sterling transaction fee. Effectively five quid. Skimming through old statements as a quick sanity check before putting MeFi back on, I see I was getting none of that using PayPal because it happens at their end not mine in the form of the aforementioned "their cut" which I knew, knew, knew but obviously didn't grok. Annoyed I didn't more closely check my assumptions or statements sooner.

tl;dr - kinda obvious thing to say, but if you're a non-US supporter and maybe a sloppy moppet like me, then it might be worth double-checking that what you think is going towards MetaFilter in GBP or Your Local Currency is roughly what you thought/want/intended (be that higher or lower tbh, no-one's made of money).
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 6:38 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


It was time five years ago when we had this thread, all the suggestions about fundraising structures, membership and governance many of us made then were pooh-poohed, and now the site is pretty much where those folks predicted it would be without some real management changes and restructuring.

Wow, that brings back some memories.

Miko's comment really resonated for me. Without strategic thinking and new approaches, there isn't going to magically be a different outcome. But rereading that previous discussion was a reminder that all of this has been discussed multiple times, without much change happening.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:38 PM on July 10 [14 favorites]


I'll double my monthly subscription. I hope it's enough.

I'll reiterate the suggestion for a financial status page. If we are going to be completely community-funded we need more transparency. I don't think that non-profit status is going to be worthwhile to immediately pursue, but I think we do need to incorporate some aspects of non-profit governance.

1. Regular financial statements - updated at least quarterly, available at all times to users.
2. Volunteerism - I know there are issues around the ethics of volunteer labor, but we need to work through those issues and find a way to let people contribute, especially in the areas of design, moderation, and web development.
3. Community Advisory Board - a mix of appointed and elected(?) MeFites that can provide both expertise and a new mode of communication between users and the site.

As long as www.metafilter.com resolves, I'll be here. I have seen first hand the ways this community has grown over the years, and I know it will continue to do so.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:41 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


I know I've said this a thousand times, but GET RID OF THE MEGATHREADS. They are bleeding the site dry in every way. I don't even think about them anymore, but they're still there, still sucking the energy from everywhere else, day after day. The message it sends is that it's more important to cater to a subset of politics wonks than to everyone else, and it's no mystery to me why users keep leaving, let alone why new users aren't signing up. Now the discussion turns to how best to address systemic issues with limited resources, as if there isn't this huge drain at all times.

This tweet captures how I feel about money talk with this huge thing looming over us.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:09 PM on July 10 [119 favorites]


jjray: "I wonder if it would be possible to adopt a public radio-like twice yearly fund drive with matching funds from outside sponsors, etc.?"

Yeah, I think it might make sense to look at how Radiotopia handles its yearly fund drive. MeFi has to have at least as much ambient goodwill as Roman Mars et al.
posted by signal at 7:27 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Oh jeez, where to start. Cortex you dog, you mighty moderator, you leader of teams: you have lost perspective and need to regain it.

You are the business owner of a failing business. You need to admit that to yourself and to others, because just like any problem, admitting you have it is the first step in fixing it. I think you're most of the way there, but you really need to latch on to the concept that the site is dying. Slowly, yes, but it's dying. Those charts tell that story very, very well.

The ONLY way to fix this is to put someone on the job of fixing that problem, and that someone can only be, there can be only one - you.

Your one, sole responsibility is to work the problem- how can this company generate more revenue?

Delegate everything else away until the problem has been worked all the way through. For that period of time, you are not a moderator. You are not a paypal processor guy. You are not a paperwork shuffler guy. You are not a "boss". Your job for probably the next year is to get and build revenue generation streams for Metafilter. That's it.

I suggest you take a quick vacation from the site itself, grab your best friend or other people you trust, and go away for a week of nothing but re-orienting your thinking, identifying the problem, and picking a direction to go in solving it.

For one thing - there is this thing called "opportunity cost" and you need to be aware of your own opportunity cost and what it's costing the site for you to, for example, take a shift as a moderator, when that time you are on shift is much better utilized by you working the "failing business" problem. So if you have to take a shift, great - but realize that it probably costs the site less to pay a fellow moderator to take that shift instead.

THAT is how you need to be thinking, sir. This fundraising effort is a short term, disaster-laden quick fix. It is, in all practical sense, a price hike. Ask any brick and mortar business owner how well raising prices to cover costs works - it doesn't except in rare occasions and done very, very carefully. The answer is more revenue from more members and more revenue streams.

Where are they? How do you get them? That's the job. No distractions, no other responsibilities for a while.

So: grab your best thinker friends, go away, think about how you will approach this, and come back with some direction for yourself and a better view on your priorities.
posted by disclaimer at 7:29 PM on July 10 [106 favorites]


(all of that from a business owner with not one, but two failed businesses behind him before getting it right: keep your eye on the business FIRST).
posted by disclaimer at 7:32 PM on July 10 [11 favorites]


It's a fundamental misunderstanding of how I feel about this place to discuss shutting it down.

MetaFilter is (a) a business entity and (b) a community, an idea, a concept. And those two things are interrelated because [*gesturing in the direction of capitalism*], but they aren't the same thing at all.


Yep, and within that conundrum, you have to figure out how (a) is working in the service of (b).

It was once put thusly:

Flanders [to Marge]: Well, my family and I can't live in good intentions, Marge!

I was thinking about this:

Right now we're in a similar place to middle of last year

So what's been given a year to work itself out hasn't really worked out. That's fine. Good intentions.

No, I'm not a trained business person. No, I'm not an organizational or administrative expert. I have been learning as I go, scrapping hard in public and private to keep this thing I love and care about going under adverse conditions, and it's a matter of sheer effort and inconsistent progress. I know that is not enough, or fast enough, or formal enough for some folks.

Look, what people are saying is that help is out there to deal with some of the long-term strategic planning stuff, which - it's pretty clear - needs to happen. It's not about making the site about something it's not, and it's not about impugning your abilities or skill set, and it sure as shit isn't about questioning your commitment to the underlying principles that are keeping you keeping on keeping this thing going. It's about making sure that the "(b)" you identified above can continue being a reality, and making sure that it isn't unsustainable - stress-wise or money-wise - in the bargain.

All of which is to say I'm very much in agreement with what Miko and adamvasco said upthread.

In some concrete ways we're a much better community than we were ten years ago, through hard work by the mods and by the community to get better, even as some of the most visible parts of the web have gotten loudly and distinctly worse and the expectation has become one of major corporate social media sites that aren't even trying to grapple with basic, fundamental issues of safety and social justice or any kind of business or ethical transparency.

I mean, fuck yes. That's why it's worth keeping and why it requires some help of the sort Miko has suggested.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:34 PM on July 10 [27 favorites]


No more US politics megathreads until January 2020 at the earliest.

Oh, look, I just freed up all the mods from having to deal with a firehouse of entirely irrelevant fecal matter for the next 6 months. You can use that time and energy to train the POC mod that you should hire within the next two months.

Members have already said that if you can accept donations on a dedicated project basis they will donate towards outside consultancy and staff training for diversity and inclusion. The fact that you didn't lead off the post with "Here are the rates we've been quoted, and so I want to raise a certain amount of money for this purpose and this purpose alone" tells me you either didn't believe them or don't take them seriously.

The idea that you want Metafilter to be more welcoming and inclusive is at direct odds with your apparent plan to appeal to your narrow base of majority-white users for increased donations towards unspecified goals. Sure, they get a greater sense of ownership... wasn't that the problem in the first place?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:52 PM on July 10 [40 favorites]


adamvasco "Metafilter has a lot of friends in a lot of places. Friends help. Ask them, not for cash but you can do that as well; but for their expertise to assist you get out of this hole."

adrianhon "There are a lot of people on and off Metafilter who would be able to help, not necessarily just me. "

Rock Steady "3. Community Advisory Board - a mix of appointed and elected(?) MeFites that can provide both expertise and a new mode of communication between users and the site."

That's three reliable Mefites telling us the same thing.

Yes, even if Metafilter can't or doesn't need to go full on 501(c)3 right now, a CAB, Board of Directors, (cabal?) is needed. Boards like this are a way of bringing in the skills and energy of people who care. And Boards often do fundraising. There are issues around volunteer labor that need to be taken into account in several ways (not just the discussed elsewhere relying on POC to do certain work that white people should be doing, but also the imbalance of participants because of who is privileged enough to have time and resources). I am certain there are plenty of Mefites out there who have done this and would be willing to help, or just to help get this set up.
posted by Gotanda at 7:53 PM on July 10 [26 favorites]


It's worth remembering all of the winding paths that MetaFilter didn't take that would have ended in failure years ago. How many of the smaller (yet recognizable) ultimately-for-venture-profit-type web sites circa 2008 or 2013 are going concerns now? About zero? There have been all kinds of external factors that basically guaranteed, if MeFi stayed true to its basic format, the site's partial decline in terms of various numbers, no matter how it is or was managed. It's niche. It's a miracle it exists.

Can you add advertising for logged-in users? I have no idea if this would add up to anything. I recently whitelisted Carbon to try to support the site in the meagerest way (obv) but still I don't get any Carbon ads. Show us the ads, and let logged-in users who don't like them turn them off in preferences. This is about the one site where I would put up with internet-trash-advertising if it helped the site.

I really like the idea of keeping the $5 fee from applying until the user wants to post for the first time. It encourages people to at least make accounts, which makes them feel closer to the site. In the meantime, they could still contribute via favorites (in conjunction with overall user number caps) and add stuff to the various "My" tabs.

In fact, nobody can know how much the $5 thing is preventing positive turnover of the userbase from occurring. I feel it's probably huge. The site is probably losing thousands of younger, progressive and diverse people because they just say "nah" to the fee. Let's remember that there is a young generation with next to no money out there.

And tap the practically free well of marketing that you must have, after tens of thousands of well-networked people have been through here. Use those people to comp new accounts to their network with codes or whatever. Alternately an account creation jubilee, something that would be much easier to manage socially if a Code of Conduct existed. The $5 thing is basically a weird way to take the desired "show of good faith" and turn it into an economic barrier when what you want is for people to agree to a style of conduct and fit in with the community, without ever saying (as far as I know) in what that consists.

Or instead of the fee, have new users write a paragraph about why they want to join. They just read the soon-to-exist Code of Conduct--what does it mean to them? "We take our code of conduct seriously. We are generally not here to argue about things. Tell us about your interests and how you would like to contribute." If poorer user responses are anything like the replies I get to my local classified stuff, I can tell who I want to follow up with at a glance. (For people who find this bureaucratic or something, it's meant to be just the opposite: this is a text-oriented site; you truly don't care about "onboarding" people who will not interact with the code of conduct meaningfully, or who cannot write a comprehensible paragraph about their desire to join.) This requires mod work, of course, which is why the applications are limited to x per month. Apologies for the long comment. I know people are probably laughing at me now, it's brainstorming. Some of the above could be intermingled in different ways for overall control of the user base and mod workload.

An account creation jubilee in time for the 20th anniversary is probably too late. :-( I think it's obvious you want a user cap no matter how new users are "onboarded" but surely that cap is larger than now.
posted by sylvanshine at 7:58 PM on July 10 [15 favorites]


If it were up to me to make Metafilter sustainable (and I know it isn't, but this is just my two cents) I would work on three things right now:

1. Ask for money. Which is what is happening right now. It will start helping immediately and buy time.

2. Implement anything reasonably doable that might help Adwords revenue, like adding structure data. There is a ton of content here, so if there's a chance to leverage it, that could be a win. Ideally someone from Metafilter might be able to assist in making recommendations. I think this would be worth prioritizing versus non-revenue related ponies. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but if it costs a few thousand dollars in time or money it is probably worth a shot.

3. Implement a plan to bring in new members. It could be a combination of PR, advertising, etc. If we have 10,000 active members in 2018 and about 25% are donating $5 monthly, there could be a target based on how many new members it would take to be self-sufficient. For example, 1,000 new members at current participation rates would be 250 new monthly donors at $5. That's $15k/year. If it cost $3k to get the new members then there's still a revenue increase of $1k/month. 7,000 new members at that rate covers the shortfall and brings Metafilter back to the number of active users in 2011. Targeted ads on websites or podcasts aren't going to be huge lump sum investments so there should be a chance to find out what works. Possibly members can help with this, too.

Easier said than done, of course, but Metafilter is a special place, so I don't think it wouldn't work. Any gains in search visibility and membership should also create a positive cycle of more content and more involvement.

(On preview: what Gotanda said about bringing in help is applicable to all three of these initiatives.)
posted by snofoam at 7:58 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


I forgot to add:

4. ???
5. Profit!
posted by snofoam at 8:03 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Just to note that cortex has said there's an upcoming MeTa thread about "whither megathreads?" so we can probably avoid starting that discussion in this particular thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:04 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


I look forward to that with some trepidation -- as much as I love the megathreads, it's pretty clear that some sharp declines in participation started in mid-2016. How much of that is due to the megathreads and how much on general depression/malaise isn't clear, but it's worth talking about for sure.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:08 PM on July 10 [15 favorites]


Just going to repost what I said in this thread last year, because it still seems relevant and important.

1) A weekly digest of curated "best-of" content would be an immediate subscribe for me. This site is sitting on a so much amazing content, but since I don't have the time to read a hundred posts a week, so much of it ends up lost to me. Start from something like the popular favorites, choose a dozen of the best posts, covering a variety of topics, then craft a blog/email, highlighting those posts along with a small amount of context. (Think something along the lines of a weekly NextDraft). If done well (with tact and humor, minimizing inside jokes, etc), then I think you'd be surprised at the reach that could have, even among non-members.

(Meta-MetaFilter would be the obvious title, but "Best of the Web" would work too!)

2) The twitter account could be put to much better use. Crafting tweets with more context, humor, etc could probably generate a substantial number of retweets and traffic.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:18 PM on July 10 [26 favorites]


I have a big beef with the world: Fundraising campaigns usually depict the amount raised using a red-dyed alcohol thermometer, but Mercury is the god of commerce and financial gain. C'mon, people!

I'm way ahead of you. Two years or so ago when this was discussed I recommended the following and still stand by it as a way to keep folks aware of the funding scenario:

Make an infographic of a tree*, place it somewhere semi-inconspicously on the site with "X% of ___ goal met", the tree lives, grows, or dies based on the weekly/monthly/yearly pledge drive numbers. Profit. *Bonus points if you put a bird on it.

posted by RolandOfEld at 8:26 PM on July 10 [12 favorites]


A new paywalled and (mostly) unmodded subsite where people can re-litigate the 2016 primaries and write Pelosi fanfics or w/e to their hearts content
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 8:30 PM on July 10 [16 favorites]


Yeah, we'll talk in detail about the megathread situation soon. I originally had a few paragraphs related to that in this post but I wanted to trim for length (by my standards at least) and it is its whole own discussion. But it definitely falls into the category of things draining outsized mod resources and having negative knock-on effects on the site's vibe, even as I recognize the value in that thing. So we'll need to talk about ways to keep most of the value while eliminating most of the drain. We'll dig in on it in the next few weeks.

In terms of external systemic stuff affecting the site, it's also just hard to overstate the effect of 2016, in general, on everything. That's bigger than MetaFilter but it's impossible to not factor in the kind of overwhelming psychic blow that that ugly fucking campaign season and Trump's election and Brexit and the general upsurge in fascism and populism worldwide had on everybody and everything, this site and its membership included.

I think a lot about MetaFilter both in terms of the kind of good it can do in being a place for support and solidarity in the face of shitty stuff in the world, and in terms of being the kind of fun and comforting and joyful place that I like going to to have some relief from all of that. Those two things don't have to be in conflict but navigating the tension between them is a challenge here as much as anywhere. I'm not gonna pretend that the world isn't shitty and hard, and lots of things about that are worth talking about here. Folks will come here to process hard stuff when hard stuff is what they need to sort through, and when we do that right we do that well.

But I've always thought of MeFi as, in among it all, a joyful place to be. And I think that sense of joy is one of the harder things to regularly find these days. And I'd like to make that easier to find here, for everybody, to reassert the importance of that as one of the central goals of this place, so this can consistently be a place to come to feel good too when what you need is somewhere to feel that. We should be here for worse and for better.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:31 PM on July 10 [35 favorites]


The site is probably losing thousands of younger, progressive and diverse people because they just say "nah" to the fee.

The fee can be waived and cortex has previously said it could be waived for people who would fit that "progressive and diverse" category (this topic has come up previously in PoC-related MeTas). Problem is, many of those wouldbe members look at the site's content, the way it treats its pre-existing members/commenters from diverse/marginalized/minority groups, and compare it with other online communities out there that are more progressive and much less alienating to minorities - and those young progressive diverse people don't want to join Metafilter.

The fee isn't the problem. These same young progressive people would readily pay $5 or more (and they do) towards a cause or membership of a community that espouses beliefs that are inclusive of them. Relative to quite a number of other online spaces, especially the younger progressive spaces - Metafilter is behind in its community beliefs/actions/policies and the way it treats marginalized groups.
posted by aielen at 8:34 PM on July 10 [15 favorites]


Young people go where other young people are. Mefi is what you read when procrastinating on booking that prostate exam rather than studying for bio midterms.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 8:46 PM on July 10 [26 favorites]


After you make a Stripe payment, the link on "funding-stripe.mefi" that links back to the funding page seems broken -- it links to the nonexistent "//funding.cfm" but it seems like it should link to "/funding.mefi".

(Oops, feel free to delete this, I see that someone reported it above.)
posted by value of information at 8:46 PM on July 10


Ask them, not for cash but you can do that as well; but for their expertise to assist you get out of this hole.

I get that there's a whole gig economy and free-labor-as-a-problematic-thing aspect to this as well but gawddamn do I agree with adamvasco (and others who also said it) on this.

Put in a more practical sense, I can think of no less than two times that I've, after doing a gut check with the mods at the time, used the geographic location information of active mefite users to, in a sense, spam memails out to between a dozen or two dozen people asking them if they could provide any help with an issue I was having.

One of those cases was when the wife was applying to try to get into her PhD internship and, with her adviser being a gutless coward paternalistic asshole who has no friends left in his professional circles to help his students out with the match process not that he would help them anyway, I was literally looking for anything that might help my wife out with her interviews in various cities around the country as she flew to interviews while 7 months pregnant. The other case was when we were moving to a city for said internship that was 12 hours drive away with a 1 month old that basically prevented us from any apartment searching in person, nor did we have cash to pay for any sort of premium placement service.

I went to memail with hat in hand asking for help from users that went above and beyond knowledge about a obscure topic or discussion about some dead comedian. And I wasn't disappointed: people helped, apologized, or took my invite for them to ignore me with great equanimity.

Anyway, I'm taking the long way around the world to say that I think that friends of the site that have expertise or experience or connections to the same and are offering it repeatedly, and loudly should be leveraged like the valuable tools they are for keeping this community that, again is important enough for them to be making said offer, afloat.

It's a fine line between abuse and a friend helping out but this community is thoughtful enough to handle that without tying it's own hands behinds it back as the walls feel like they're closing in a bit.

If I can be of help outside of donations, which I plan to re-up shortly, then I hope I can use my skills, even if it's just as a lay person involved in a membership drive via my own social media channels or targeted links to people who I think would make good future members, for the betterment of this wonderful place that knows how to properly spell, capitalize, and use punctuation, not to mention knowing the basics of how to treat other humans in a text based exchange... or at least we all try anyway... and that's what matters. We try.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:52 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


Seconding that, cortex, to draw upon resources here.

Also: new members is an important thing, but it shouldn't happen at the expense of community. Thinking that Metafilter is like any other business and trying to increase members willynilly will be ultimately counterproductive. Doing what Metafilter does best, but even more of it, seems to me the way to go.

I think a better onboarding page - perhaps with pull quotes from members describing What Metafilter Is, a general overview of the history of Metafilter, might be good. I've described Metafilter to friends, and in general they have a "I'm not sure what this place is" vibe. Maybe a splash banner that slides down that say "Hi! Is this your first time here? Let me tell you about Metafilter."

Are there any UX designers / web analytics people who can analyze the signup onboarding process?
posted by suedehead at 9:08 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


I keep wanting to say "Bring Back Webrings", because even though they aren't an answer and can't be an answer, something which links similarly-minded (by whatever metric) small sites seems like it could perhaps be useful in terms of exposure. Plus the brief, free "It's All Gone 1.0! Webrings Are Back!" promo spike.

Me, I'd have fixed-pixel sized banners at the bottom of every page and indulge the whole retro bit, but I think it's impossible to do now, literally because sharing a ring with a site in 2019 (or frankly back in the day) does read as an endorsement and no matter how good the sites are we're one dodgy elsewhere-posted forum topic away from seemingly okaying insert anything beyond the pale here.

But, something like...!
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 9:18 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Young people go where other young people are.

Hello! That's me! I am the new user you are trying to attract. I'm 22 and joined last year. I talk about MetaFilter sometimes to my friends, but it is a hard sell. There's no quick pitch where I can say "MetaFilter is for ___" or easy way to highlight cool things from here. If you scroll down the main page it just looks like a content aggregator, and the internet already has too much of those. I like the Twitter or Instagram widget idea, and the Best of the Web newsletter, and the AMA idea. Groups would also help because then you could go "the writer's group is fantastic" or "the Asian-American group is so much better than Reddit".

Another thing is that as incomprehensible as Snapchat etc. might be to people who are into Web 1.0, Metafilter and Dreamwidth etc. are equally incomprehensible to people who grew up on Web 2.0. Honestly, part of the reason I joined MetaFilter is that I got on the internet fast enough that I had a couple years of LJ and got used to comment culture first. (The main reason is that at the time I had a job with a lot of downtime and a laptop). A quick introductory guide would make posting and commenting feel a lot less intimidating.

Honestly, there are young people who'd be into MeFi's thing, but for a lot of us the idea of a non-toxic comment culture is almost unthinkable. If we managed to reach the people who tried out new ethical social networks like Mastodon and Imzy, the people who use Reddit but don't like how alt-right it is, the people trying to use Facebook groups to have thoughtful political discussions, or people who want indie cred ("Oh, my favorite social network started in 1999. You probably haven't heard of it.") we'd probably be able to rope a lot of them in.
posted by storytam at 10:10 PM on July 10 [141 favorites]


One of the reasons the site is losing thousands of potential people because the learning curve to participate here has become impossible.

Hundreds of users have spent enormous amounts of time and energy over the years trying to share this with site administration, which has responded by spending increasing amounts of time trying to tamp down on normal patterns of human conversation and discussion paths, even limiting use of the part of the site where we used to be able to talk openly about site issues.

Beyond that, folks have offered tons of suggestions about management, fundraising, structure, engagement, the FAQ, etc., for years. (I don't blame Miko for being frustrated.)

It has felt for a long time almost like Metafilter is actively trying to narrow its userbase. For myself, I was kind of falling off the site a bit around 2016 because of the constant curatorial, conflict-averse moderation. Then I found renewed interest and community in the political megathreads, which lasted until I had a fairly frustrating exchange with a mod widely known for being rude and condescending in their style. So I just kind of...left?

Metafilter people are still a big part of my meatspace and online life, we've just migrated elsewhere to chat. There is a time when I would have been devastated to read this post, and now I'm actually really sad that I'm not. Good luck, sincerely.
posted by lalex at 10:26 PM on July 10 [84 favorites]


I have said this many ways but I have no idea who I would even be without all of you incredibly beautiful people.

So many of us have grown so much over the last two decades, together.

And as cortex so rightfully put it, this place has been about joy from the beginning. I can feel and see how thin that joy is sometimes spread these days because things are stupid and it's a dumpster fire nearly everywhere we look and there are many valid reasons to be concerned, upset and even alarmed.

I want to put on a silly hat or do something stupid to make someone laugh, but I kind of have a toothache and I'm cranky. I wish I had more awesome to share. Maybe some warmth, instead.

I am listening to birds and squirrels right now and I can smell wet forest and everything is quiet. There's the gentle whisper of raindrops all around me. I can actually smell the thimbleberries behind me.

I volunteered at the food bank today even though I didn't want to because toothache and cranky and weird. I walked in and they were understaffed and they were all happy to see me because they were also cranky and weird and I thought "Oh, no." because I was wondering if I had it in me today at all. And I did and a few minutes later I was in the thick of it. I helped everyone I met smile more when they left then when we first met. I gave out some blankets and socks and made sure everyone had enough to eat.

People can get weird and anxious about visiting food banks, they're almost all hungry and not all there and naturally can get distracted or just want to get it over with, so it takes a lot of focus to help and to remember to offer enough things and it is one of the more intense volunteer experiences I've ever had - especially when you might also be hungry and distracted yourself.

Yep, I'm doing my thing where I talk about something entirely unrelated to get to an oblique point. I might be more intentional about this than you might think. I do sometimes write sigils and servitors into MetaFilter and share the deep, good things about life because: Joy.

And because maybe I know I don't have have a lot of other currency to offer. One of my favorite phrases is that "trust is the only real currency" and that describes a whole lot of MetaFilter.

Somewhere in my childhood I took the children's book Frederick very seriously as a philosophy, and I have been feeling like I've been doing a lot of storing up for some kind of winter, lately.

I do these things like volunteer at food banks or doing what I can in my community because of you. Yes, you.

All of your many voices that I've heard. All of the things I've learned. All of the support I've felt and had. I can't even begin to describe how far this home has carried me, affirmed me and kept me going through seriously dark times and how much real joy and health I've experienced because of my involvement here.


I wish it was as easy to apply these community skills directly to support MetaFilter, that I could volunteer for too many shifts at a counter as a barista and get all sweaty and frazzled for the cause.


Here comes that oblique point! I am doing those things. It just doesn't pay in capitalist terms in MeFi's coffers and pay the actual bills. Your kind words and involvement in giving me a supportive home has helped directly make that happen.

There are many, many small important things like this that come from here, from you.

It's... the best of the web.

Know that when you donate and support this beautiful place that you're helping support small things like this.

You're helping grow people like me who try to do good things and make the world better despite adversity.
posted by loquacious at 10:31 PM on July 10 [46 favorites]


Tonight I was driving home in the dark after a good but long day at work and I saw a juvenile bunny playing with a a juvenile skunk. I slowed down and let them get out of the road.They were adorable.

Metafilter is like that. I'll be refunding pronto.

Idea probably mentioned upthread- INTERN. Free mod who gets to spend 20 hours a week gaining unique weblog sills. Also find wealthy person who loves site to create million dollar foundation.

I'll also reach out to a journalist I know to see if they might do a story on the 20th.

Mefi can change, but it can never go away! Not at least until after I die so I can see MY obit thread on the grey!
posted by vrakatar at 10:47 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


Hello! That's me! I am the new user you are trying to attract. I'm 22 and joined last year.

Hi! Welcome! I already like your words. Please, bring it!

I think the idea of direct invitations that bypass the signup fee and invite people - especially younger people interested in the idea of a low or non-toxic space - but anyone who is a good fit is a really good idea. We're not that special and don't need to be this insular. There are many millions and millions if not billions of amazing people out there that aren't toxic jerks.

Frankly, most of us aren't. Most of the people on the planet are pretty good - but MeFi struggles with diversity of culture, economics and race even as it strives to be inclusive of it and it's been a long, slow acknowledgement of these issues for many of us.

There's a need for this kind of space for younger people and many are clamoring for it and fighting algorithms and dealing with coping strategies on more commercial media to do so, and I find myself wondering if we've pulled up the ladder behind us as a coping mechanism, if not diversity issue.

I personally know some really amazing young adults with good ideas who can write and think dizzy circles around most of us gen Xers and net 1.0 generation and I know they have valuable things to say.

And I'm going to bow out before I get even more emotional. My roommate has been feeding me scotch and doobies because: Toothache and cranky and I'm getting wobbly and it's probably bedtime.

I love you people so fucking much you have no idea. It's overwhelming sometimes. I can't believe it's been twenty years.

posted by loquacious at 10:50 PM on July 10 [25 favorites]


I don't think we need young users per se, but we do need new "generations" of users. Every online community, no matter how great, is going to experience attrition through burnout, drifting away, changing interests, life circumstances, even death, and that's totally normal. But if there aren't enough new users coming in to offset the losses, the community inevitably shrinks.

Tbh, short of a broad-base revolt against the big social networks in favor of bespoke communities (god willing), MeFi will likely never appeal to Gen Z and younger because the culture here is so firmly rooted in the 00s blogosphere. But the pool of potential users from college-age on up is not exactly small. Heck, ResetEra, a gaming/discussion board I've talked up elsewhere for its thriving community and progressive culture, was surprised recently to find that most of its readers are north of 30, which sounds weird to those who grew up with forum culture as a teen/20s domain... until you realize 15+ years have passed since the glory days of Web 2.0 and all those folks are nearing middle age now.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:59 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


People aren't a monolith. Get MetaFilters name out there to the audiences you think will be into it. I'm a professional marketer so I would chat with a mod or whoever about which audiences could be sent targeted ads for relatively cheap. I don't think that's bad because if someone told me MetaFilter existed, I'd be like uhm, awesome, thanks.

But it does lead into the question of who you're advertising to and considering the recent MetaTalk threads, I'd be sensitive to advertising to a diverse group not just rich tech bros. Regardless, that's the internet now. I can target you based on who you follow on twitter, things you're interested in, geography, a billion way weirder things.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:08 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


I think the idea of direct invitations that bypass the signup fee and invite people - especially younger people interested in the idea of a low or non-toxic space - but anyone who is a good fit is a really good idea.

Oooh. I like this pony.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:16 PM on July 10 [17 favorites]


I wholeheartedly agree with what Miko and others have said above, summed it up real nicely here:

"at the point of a deepening crisis, without any planning of a campaign and the state of the site already in kind of disarray with a long to-do list of un-done things."


I'd like to focus on the last part a bit, because that is equally as important as the larger, strategic planning. This place has a staggering amount of technical and UX debt, which if not managed, will grind the entire machine to a halt (or demise). All the signs are present; the idea is even being floated by users, which is unsuprising and telling.

Technical debt isn't about updated code for code's sake. It's the ability to respond and adapt to user needs. The part-time dev right now has their hands full bucketing water out of the boat and that's all there is time for. To a meaningful degree, they can't be redesigning site landing pages or focussed on dev fixes for SEO/CRO and signups or especially any of the million unanswered features and fixes big and small related to community inclusion, accessibility and usability.

Study after study show that retaining users is more profitable and less costly than new user acquisition. Related studies show that design and planning is more profitable and less costly than quick fixes and ad hoc solutions.

There is absolutely NO WAY WHATSOEVER that MetaFilter can successfully implement any of the improvements to the culture and community without a plan, a roadmap and the equivalent of at least one full-time developer/designer devoted to this.

Please ask for expert help to come up with a plan for how MetaFilter will respond to community needs. Users like myself are the easiest path to supporting this community and keeping it going, yet I will not throw money at this finance problem (for all the reasons Miko and others have stated above). I will however invest in a plan for improving this community and keeping it going.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:44 PM on July 10 [71 favorites]


I love the idea of a weekly or fortnightly "best of Metafilter" newsletter! I'm a frequent visitor but there are still some posts and many excellent comments I miss, even though I'm subscribed to the "Popular Posts/Comments" RSS feed (there are dozens of us, dozens!).

It'd be a fantastic way to:

- Highlight the best of the site to infrequent visitors and non-Mefites
- Provide a good way for non-Mefites to get exposed to Mefi
- Encourage people to support the site

I thought about doing it myself in the past, but I didn't think I had the breadth of coverage across the site to do it justice. If there were a plan to do try this out, I'd be happy to help and to provide some startup funding.
posted by adrianhon at 1:42 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


the site is losing thousands of potential people because the learning curve to participate here has become impossible.

This is an important point and one that will torpedo any efforts to promote MeFi elsewhere. When we’ve had this discussion previously, many of us have said that we wouldn’t even recommend the site to people we know at the moment for this reason. We will struggle to attract strangers if we can’t even make a sound case for trying it out to our friends.

I don’t think there’s a simple fix for this, it’s not a “less moderation!” or “more moderation!” issue. But it’s a Thing and it is only going to become more of a Thing as the userbase shrinks further.
posted by Catseye at 3:05 AM on July 11 [25 favorites]


Yes to the learning curve being daunting and insular. I personally took close to a decade to gather the courage to start posting rather than just reading, because it felt so "advanced level" especially for a non-American whose first language isn't English - people seemed to be getting swatted down right and left for transgressing norms that I couldn't decipher at all.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 4:04 AM on July 11 [37 favorites]


I've never been in a position to contribute regularly before. I'm now in a position to contribute.

However, the Stripe contributions are entirely in US Dollars. My bank charges me a conversion fee of around £1.25 for transactions in a foreign currency, which if I'm donating $5 a month is a big chunk on top.

I know my bank's policies aren't a problem for MetaFilter, but would it be possible to allow users to select from a range of common currencies (at least USD, CAD, GBP and EUR?) for donations? Is this possible under the Stripe system?
posted by winterhill at 4:28 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


I'm about as native English speaking and writing as it gets and it still took me from '01 to '09 to actually sign up - I read it almost daily for eight years before I felt the need to leave a comment. Nthing that the norms and standards here are not exactly high so much as wildly unlike nearly everywhere else. I'm not saying that we have to change these things, since a lot of them in aggregate are what makes Mefi so low key wonderful for so many of us. But I think they really need to be explicitly defined, stated, and also examined for, like, usefulness.

Because there's a lot of things that are outdated and therefor quaint, but also totally not part of something that one should have to understand and execute to gain a feeling of community here. And there are a lot of things that are vital for that but also really difficult to put into exact words, like a bunch of the more recent social justice and interpersonal respect stuff, or just the core idea of what makes a good post, that's going to have to be better defined by preexisting members and mods before the majority of new members will make that $5 push.

I wish I could get all my fandom friends from now-dead Tumblr to come over to Fanfare to talk about all manner of geeky IPs. But the only people there who I've been able to link to Mefi and not had it fall completely flat have turned out to already be members.
posted by Mizu at 4:29 AM on July 11 [21 favorites]


I have to agree with both Miko and Lalex - I've been around a couple of other times for short stints and, though this is home for a number of people, there's a distinct message sent to new users that you are letting a room in a house with a lot of long-existing tenants. One way this shows up when people get told some variant "we've had that discussion before" or "metafilter doesn't do X well" - as though nothing ever changes and no new voices matter.

You can see a small example of the bar to entry above when a long-time user drops a near 20-year-old joke about an animal with a pancake on its head with no context and a more recent user doesn't know what that is and takes it as potentially passive aggressive. Mods should consider the user experience for a new user and how to reduce the steep climb it takes to become part of the community around here. One such thing I have noticed in good real-life church communities is somebody reaches out to you when you've been coming for a little bit and says hi, thanks for being here. I'm not a fan of the religion but that's as clear a sign that you're welcome. What can Metafilter say it does to welcome people here?

A big concern though is, in 2018 when the big state of the site stuff happened, a lot of users (Miko I know was a prominent voice in there too) suggested a number of governance instruments to deal with the strategic direction and not just the reactionary needs of the site. All that feedback was not actioned and here we are again at a near-crisis point trying to react again.

You look at that, along with the last month and PoC around here, and it becomes clear that Metafilter needs a board of directors to provide strategic guidance in the worst way - you look at some of the strategic directions this site has taken over the years:
- taking images away while the entire web moved towards more image-based communication
- putting a 7-day moratorium on new users asking AskMe questions while Q & A web was blowing up and limiting people's first experience with the site
- doing a retro-fit version of the mobile experience vs. designing the site around mobile users when the entire web was shifting
- not hiring a PoC mod, or at a minimum having a diversity and inclusion plan for the community, years after even the private-sector has considered and actioned these things

And the conclusion I come to is - the default thinking here is preservation of the community and needs to be challenged if the goal is to grow the user and revenue base. This is why strategic advisory boards exist - to help you predict what is coming and proactively plan for it.

This reminds me a little of the small community I grew up in and how, for years, they worried about all the young people leaving. Meanwhile, they opposed every food truck, climate change rally, new development, and voted in city council after city council of old white guys who would shun new people for trying to have conversations they'd already had years before. At some point, I and the young people who were organizing in that town concluded that the town didn't actually want us, just our labor and someone to fund their pensions.

Sometimes the feeling that I get around here is Metafilter doesn't really want new users or to allow for what growth actually means, they just want sign-up fees and donations to support the community that is already here. I imagine that's not an explicit goal, but I look at the above strategic directions and think they've very much been in line with that kind of thing and an outside perspective to both predict what the next one would be and to plan for it would help greatly.
posted by vermouth at 4:30 AM on July 11 [120 favorites]


You can see a small example of the bar to entry above when a long-time user drops a near 20-year-old joke about an animal with a pancake on its head with no context and a more recent user doesn't know what that is and takes it as potentially passive aggressive.

I'm not that new - I joined in 2005 and was reading Mefi since 2004, so about 15 years. But that probably proves your point - so many unspoken norms that become invisible barriers to entry, and a sitewide resistance to moving forward.
posted by divabat at 4:42 AM on July 11 [25 favorites]


> vermouth: Mods should consider the user experience for a new user and how to reduce the steep climb it takes to become part of the community around here. One such thing I have noticed in good real-life church communities is somebody reaches out to you when you've been coming for a little bit and says hi, thanks for being here. I'm not a fan of the religion but that's as clear a sign that you're welcome. What can Metafilter say it does to welcome people here?

This is very good, and I feel like something some web-savvy users could kitbash together without mod involvement:
1. Monitor the site for new user pages
2. Monitor those new pages for either more than 3 or 4 comments or for adding a certain number of characters to their About section
3. Notify a small group of volunteers who serve as a "Welcome Wagon" about those pages
4. One volunteer sends a largely pre-written "Hi, Thanks for being here" MeMail and email with maybe an encouraging note about one of their comments, or a post they might particularly enjoy or whatever
5. That volunteer checks in with the new user 1 month and again 6 months down the road to see if they are still enjoying MeFi and if they have any questions or concerns

If someone who knows something about monitoring websites can put together steps 1 and 2, I will start organizing the volunteers for steps 3-5.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:44 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


You can see a small example of the bar to entry above when a long-time user drops a near 20-year-old joke about an animal with a pancake on its head with no context and a more recent user doesn't know what that is and takes it as potentially passive aggressive.

that "long-time user" (15 years) has been with Metafilter only 1 year more than the "more recent user" (14 years) if you go by the dates of registration.
I joined the same time as the "long-time user" and I too had no idea what the animal-pancake reference meant when I saw it in this thread.
so yeah, like divabat says, this basically just confirms that there are a lot of unspoken norms and expectations as to what a "typical longtime Mefite" looks/sounds like (which are also tied to class/culture/the US/race etc).
posted by aielen at 5:07 AM on July 11 [15 favorites]


"If someone who knows something about monitoring websites can put together steps 1 and 2"

I do have the skills to do that and have actually scraped Mefi before, long ago, for a userscript which inserted "Metafilter: [out of context quote]" taglines to the top of pages.

It's some labor, though, and I'd want to really know it'll be useful and supported. A buy-in by the mods, maybe? I'm worried it could be potentially creepy for random members to contact new users, essentially saying "we've been watching you, and we like what we see" or whatever. If it were coming from the mod team, or an officially-sanctioned Welcome Committee, that might be better.
posted by thoroughburro at 5:22 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


If you charged us $1 every time we wrote "Biden" "Trump" "Pelosi" or "President" you could fill out the moderator staff and administer the site from your new vacation house in the Bahamas.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:24 AM on July 11 [28 favorites]


In general, I'm a capable web developer with strong design skills and do more general-purpose programming as a hobby.

I'm also long-term unemployed, but I would be willing to volunteer for my Internet home if I felt like the work would be genuinely useful to and desired by cortex and the mods. It's generally seemed like they avoid this sort of volunteerism. I can't afford to give away labor on only the chance that it will be used.
posted by thoroughburro at 5:29 AM on July 11 [9 favorites]


The fee can be waived and cortex has previously said it could be waived for people who would fit that "progressive and diverse" category (this topic has come up previously in PoC-related MeTas)

That is not particularly clear to anyone signing up, and when you are thinking about who is most likely to have the confidence to walk up and ask, young and diverse people are least likely to be on that list. Particularly when there is no obvious definition of what financial hardship entails. I have no notion of whether I'd count, today, and I've literally set up multiple discussions here to try and allow people to work out how to compare financial and class situations because I find that many people have no idea where on that scale they sit. Marginalized and young people are less likely to boldly quantify themselves as worthy of "special" treatment. Period.

I am so heavily in favor of being able to extend free invitations to specific people I could spit. I'm 28, so I'm not as young as I used to be, but I still have access to some of the communities mentioned upthread that are looking for a less toxic place to be and hang out. I used to frequently rec MeFi to my friends, but eventually gave up: that sign up fee is too much of a barrier to too many people. There needs to be a way to invite people behind the fence to be invested in this space, without sacrificing the investment in the community, in order to allow that community to grow.

Let me repeat: that signup fee is the biggest barrier I have to sharing this site and getting people invested. I don't think it should be totally removed but I absolutely think we as community members need to be able to offer those waivers to specific people as part of encouraging friends and family to sign up. I would look at the Archive of Our Own's invites process as my model.

I also agree that it needs to be easier to share MeFi conversation chunks on other social media sites. I'm on Twitter and Tumblr: I would share more if I could highlight a comment or comments and make up a quick social media post to highlight something I care about.

I've been on a break, but I do care about this community. That being said, I'm tired of trying to share it with people my age and younger and having them bounce off that $5 fee, and I can't really afford to pay it myself. I am, frankly, broke. There's a lot of interest in new and less toxic community spaces among the young uns, but I have a hard time encouraging people to give this a try when that big barrier to joining exists. Work with me here.

And for the love of Pete, quit assuming everyone on this site is ancient, because it's really fucking obnoxious and alienating to be a younger user and deal with that kind of "everyone here is the same age/race/class as me" bullshit. You want to attract more diversity? Stop fucking assuming shit. No one wants to feel like a token, and that goes for age, too.
posted by sciatrix at 5:32 AM on July 11 [62 favorites]


I like the idea of a $5 surcharge every time someone writes the word “Pelosi.” Either metafilter would get rich or it would get much better.
posted by spitbull at 5:36 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I totally agree with sciatrix here. A referral system that bypasses the $5 is essential. Another referral model is LearnedLeague, where you must be referred by an existing member, and then after your first season, you can decide to join as a paying member, and they appear to be growing like gangbusters. Perhaps for referred members there could be an automated message at some point after signup that asks them to consider a donation/subscription going forward.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:40 AM on July 11 [17 favorites]


Also: mods, I know you do not want to get into the habit of relying on unpaid labor, but we are in crunch mode. Please accept some goddamn help from the user base in the form of volunteer labor. Not all of us are in the position to donate money, but that doesn't mean that poor and broke MeFites don't have skills and a desire to help.

Let people donate designs for merch. Let people donate coding time. Let people volunteer, and treat their labor as a donation on the same par as money. Because if this is going to be a community - funded site where we all need to pitch in, it can't also be a private business that operates on the principle of paying people for everything it does because profiting off of volunteers is unethical.

Are you a business or a community, cortex? Figure it out. Paying people for all contributed work is indeed the ethical position for a business. It is not necessarily the ethical position for a community, especially a community struggling to keep financially afloat that intends to support itself on donations of money from its constituents.
posted by sciatrix at 5:45 AM on July 11 [44 favorites]


Let people volunteer, and treat their labor as a donation on the same par as money.

Exactly. Donating expertise should be just as okay as donating funds. That doesn’t mean you have to accept all the expertise (I’m sure there are plenty of bad ideas out there or just ones that aren’t a good fit for Metafilter) but it shouldn’t be off the table. Especially when contributing to the site by posting is its own form of labor, and the site wouldn’t exist without all the writing we all do for free and for pleasure.

I get that it’s complicated. Part of the reason I’m here is that I don’t like a lot of the other sites that are better geared toward attracting users. I think Twitter is unpleasant. But you also look at Twitter and see how sites like Ask a Manager or some of the Reddit relationship problems sites are able to get a lot of eyeballs using Twitter, as are trusted Twitter users who aggregate a wide variety of news stories and make pithy comments (like Yashar Ali). In some ways Metafilter is a large scale version of the “something for everyone” Twitter feeds that are taking off, including the way Nicole Cliffe’s prompts attract so many replies. But then I also mistrust this and think it might be the downfall of society. But am I just an old goat resistant to all change? But is it better to stay “pure,” go out of business, and have twenty years of writing vanish? Maybe that’s healthy, maybe that’s terrible and a tragedy. Maybe that’s both.

I also just really hate the idea of the mods cutting their own pay and benefits and suffering to keep the site going, even though they are adults and it’s their choice. It makes me feel like a robber baron and the whole thing seem exploitative. Especially when there are very smart business people here who understand long-term strategic planning (not me).
posted by sallybrown at 5:59 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


If we extrapolate member activity from the current linear trend, the site (the Blue part at least) will be dead by 2029. Of course, unless Cortex pulls the plug before that, user activity will probably plateau at some point and the site may very well chug along for another decade with a small core of aficionados and a couple of volunteer mods. But is this what we want? So the question is: what could make MetaFilter no just attractive, but more attractive than the competition (Reddit, Facebook, etc.)? Otherwise we're just rearranging the proverbial deck chairs. Yes, we can make the site more inclusive, or even remove the $5 fee, but in the end people will need strong reasons to stay here instead of going elsewhere, in places that are already more inclusive and that are already free. The "July by woman" initiative of July 2015 was followed by a surge in sign-ups, but that was just a blip on the downward trend.

So what could make Metafilter different in a way that's not just comfortable to long-time users, but immediately perceptible and attractive to casual visitors? What is its SWOT matrix? Many of the Weaknesses and Threats have been identified, but what are the Strengths and Opportunities? I can't help thinking that we need innovation, something that's not abstract, something that's highly visible, something that does not exist (or is poorly implemented) elsewhere and could make people think "I want to be part of that".
posted by elgilito at 6:07 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the updates, cortex.

Sometimes it feels like the relevant community, to you, is the mods, and the rest of us are sort of bratty younger siblings who got invited along but who are not entirely welcome. So, you know. It has been getting a bit better in the last 6mo+ or so, but, like, we're not a pain in the neck, we are the site.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:14 AM on July 11 [30 favorites]


I can't help thinking that we need innovation, something that's not abstract, something that's highly visible, something that does not exist (or is poorly implemented) elsewhere and could make people think "I want to be part of that".

It used to be metatalk and the huge role users played in the management and direction of the site. That was what set metafilter apart from any number of blogs with good and heavily moderated comments. JMO, IMO.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:15 AM on July 11 [15 favorites]


taking images away while the entire web moved towards more image-based communication

This is one thing I never understood. I joined after images were banned and I get it was people abusing the privilege or something? But I keep waiting for that to be reversed because it makes zero sense to me in 2019. It’s a small thing, and I know the wall-of-text is a big MeFi hallmark, but in terms of what the site looks like when recommending it to other people I think it makes it such a harder sell. Just my tuppence worth.

I realise there are much bigger, long term, and strategic decisions that need to be made. I stopped my subscription a while ago for financial reasons. In a few months I might be able to start them up again, but money is tight and I don’t like the thought of pouring water into a leaking vessel. I’d rather it was made watertight first through a solid business plan, even if that plan is to sustain a smaller but better community rather than expanding it. I watched a close family member continue to invest personal money in their struggling business to the point where they lost their house. They restarted the business eventually on a much, much smaller scale, and that has been successful, and it was just a waste of years and money and stress that they didn’t take that approach in the first place. But it seemed too scary to do that when the business was their baby, which I understand, and I get how much you personally care about this place cortex. And I do appreciate how hard you and the mods work to keep this place alive. But sometimes you can be too close to something and it’s hard to listen to outside voices giving you advice when you think you know better because you love it more. Sometimes people know better because they have the necessary detachment.

Personally I’d rather metafilter had a more diverse and invested population who could be invited for free, that was sustainable and didn’t have the stress of “we need more money to keep going” every couple of years, than a massive population explosion of new people who threw in $5 with no real site ability to manage the impact of thousands of new commenters or hold on to that revenue. I don’t know how to make that happen, but by all accounts plenty of people here do, so please take up all the offers that weren’t taken up before, for whatever reason.
posted by billiebee at 6:21 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


Following on some of the comments here, I suggest testing policy changes that would increase signups. Waiving the membership fee or the 7 day waiting period to post a first question on AskMe, for example. These tests hopefully wouldn't be a huge amount of work and they could be reversed at any time. If the impact is not good, turn it off. If it is manageable, then maybe it is possible to grow the user base without taking other measures. You can gather data during the test and see if it is working. Maybe these are tools that could help maintain an equilibrium or target number of users by turning things on or off periodically.

If an initial test works, then it could make sense to implement other measures to smooth things out, like a code of conduct at signup or whatever.

I would imagine it is a scary idea to some, but to me it is less scary than running out of money to operate.
posted by snofoam at 6:22 AM on July 11 [6 favorites]


Also, politicsfilter could be done in a way that would draw members but you'd need much different structure and different moderation. Some thoughts from places where it has worked well:

1) You let people argue about the same stuff, they just have to do it in a separate place. So if you want to relitigate the primaries, have at it, in the "relitigating the primaries" thread, and/or the "everyone fight" thread in which conflict is not moderated away (people LIKE arguing!).

2) You give people "safe spaces" when there are identifiable communities who don't play well together but who can do a lot of interesting stuff if they can avoid 101 arguments. On here, you would give leftists their own space and liberals their own space. This allows people to talk with people who agree with them and does a lot to keep people from leaving the site because they feel isolated / attacked. You don't delete that much in here because people will self-mod quite a bit. You do ban comments about the "other" threads so there's not a brigading thing going on.

3) You have a big "everyone in" discussion where people can't argue about the same stuff over and over. This is fairly heavily modded although less deletion, more "go to fight thread if you want to fight" so people don't feel like their hard work is getting deleted.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:25 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


> billiebee: This is one thing I never understood. I joined after images were banned and I get it was people abusing the privilege or something? But I keep waiting for that to be reversed because it makes zero sense to me in 2019. It’s a small thing, and I know the wall-of-text is a big MeFi hallmark, but in terms of what the site looks like when recommending it to other people I think it makes it such a harder sell. Just my tuppence worth.

So, if I remember correctly, the issue was in the way that MeFi handled images on the technical end meant that there were some potential malware vulnerabilities to users. I assume that there must be some way to remedy that, since just about every other site out there makes it work somehow, but I actually think at this point that it is a selling point for MetaFilter, something that differentiates us from other places. I would say that it is worth an experiment to see what allowing images does - maybe in FanFare, maybe only on certain MetaTalk threads (like the weekend chatty ones, for example).
posted by Rock Steady at 6:30 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


My impression was that it was also a moderation issue. We all remember goatse and yeah. So with 24/7 moderation it might be doable in certain threads (ideally on the main site).

I feel 50/50 about images here; memes are so great but I like to read so idk idk
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:34 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


Doubled my contribution. Thank you to all the mods for all the hard work you do.
posted by Amy NM at 6:38 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


One of the really visible ways the lack of any strategic direction or prioritization is showing up is that we currently have three large, complicated, and overlapping MeTa discussions about site status and change (this one, the short term one, and the medium term one), and there is soon to be a fourth (on politics megathreads) that will likely be larger and more contentious. Each of these will last for a full month, and at least a couple will likely lead to follow-on discussions. Just aggregating, never mind synthesizing or evaluating (or for that matter, following up on), all the various concepts and suggestions in each thread would be a major endeavor.

I think there is actually a fairly clear hierarchy of actions here, albeit hidden by the overlapping discussions. An actual organizational change and growth expert (consultant or volunteer) could do this better, but the critical path here is something like:

1. Stem the immediate financial crisis with some combination of fundraising and budget trimming. (Resolving the time-suck of the megathreads is part of this step, since those are currently creating such a major resource constraint.)
2. Implement immediate actions to a) increase retention of existing members and b) attract more new members (this step has to happen for any viable financial future).
3. Implement strategic planning/organizing about site governance, structure, growth, etc, so that there is a clear pathway and metrics for actions and change. This includes the diversity and inclusion aspects, obviously, as well as all the UX and other aspects people have brought up.
4. Implement adaptive management of the changes (ie, monitor outcomes and adjust approaches based on metrics previously identified) to prevent returning to reactive/crisis-motivated management.

Looking at how the same suggestions have been made multiple times over the years with zero follow-through, I am honestly kind of pessimistic about this. I'm not sure if there is just a lack of a commitment to change (or rather, there is a commitment to not change), or if there are embedded reasons in the ownership/governance structure that preclude implementing change, but the pattern to date has been very clear. But I'm also optimistic -- while it is unfortunate that the same suggestions still need to be made, there are also significant offers being made of technical resources and new approaches that look promising.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:41 AM on July 11 [23 favorites]


I joined after images were banned and I get it was people abusing the privilege or something?
Images posed a security threat, which is mainly why they were removed from the site. Here is the thread where the security problem was discovered and images were banned; I remember it causing a big thread on the blue at the time to basically break, because everyone was still attempting to post images. There was also definitely consternation about the use of (and abuse of) images, as well, so it was not purely a technical problem or a social problem, but a combination.

I think iamkimiam's point about Metafilter having a "staggering amount of technical and UX debt" is a really good one. Planning and design should really be the focus here, and I use design broadly, to encompass design of systems--like the social system that is this site--and not just user interface design.
posted by sockermom at 6:46 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


> internet fraud detective squad, station number 9: My impression was that it was also a moderation issue. We all remember goatse and yeah. So with 24/7 moderation it might be doable in certain threads (ideally on the main site).

Yeah, I think the final straw was the security issue, but there were problems with them in terms of moderation and from a site culture perspective as well.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:46 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Thanks for those links, sockermom.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:47 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


There was an issue with certain persons posting a particular picture of an extremity entering a chicken carcass. This was the height of humor apparently at the time.
posted by They're Waiting For You, Gordon at 6:49 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


3. Implement strategic planning/organizing about site governance, structure, growth, etc, so that there is a clear pathway and metrics for actions and change. This includes the diversity and inclusion aspects, obviously, as well as all the UX and other aspects people have brought up.

This is so important. Even with only a few thousand typical users, so many of us have business-/project-planning experience and there are absolutely ways for this kind of planning to be inclusive, realistic and lead to positive outcomes.

Please ask us to help, Cortex.
posted by mdonley at 6:50 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


(this was also 2006, I remember because I had a thread open at work and almost got fired. Joy)
posted by They're Waiting For You, Gordon at 6:50 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the XSS vulnerability issues with images that came up way back aren't as far as I can tell a worry for anyone these days. The no-images approach has been primarily philosophical for a long time, though there's a whole pile of technical and moderative issues that come into it to and significant implications for hosting costs and page load speed, especially with longer threads and mobile devices. It's also a whole kind of clusterfuck for accessibility that even explicitly image-centric platforms haven't done a consistently good job on. For a site that does better than average on that front because of our focus on text, undercutting that'd feel like a step backward.

Which...this is a metonymy for a lot of ideas that I understand the motive for and have put some genuine "okay, but what if we did?" thought into over the years. I don't think the idea is crazy; I don't think we're done thinking about it. But it's also easier to say "be bold, why aren't we doing x!" than to sort through all the implications of that and figure out if what it's going to do is materially improve MetaFilter or just create some visible change to prove that we're changing.

I don't want to cling to tradition for tradition's sake or to hold onto aspects of the site that have outlived any usefulness just for the sake of a sense of unchanging site identity. But I also don't want to lose sight of a sense of identity to this place, how at a basic level it works and feel, what kinds of things it prioritizes.

And to be clear, the things folks have been talking about in here are all over the spectrum there, and some of them in complicated ways. I'm not saying this to say "no, actually, we can't change things"; we've been trying to do just that, step by step, and a bunch of the stuff being reraised here is on the todo list because I already agreed with the notion a year ago, or two or three years ago. There's stuff that's been In Progress for a while and we haven't had as much focus on pushing it through as we'd hoped. So I both appreciate the spirit of the suggestions and the frustration that more of it hasn't happened.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:51 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


One thing that I feel like members could easily do, but which I have a gut feeling would be against some kind of unstated loosey-goosey site policy, would be for whoever composes the political megathreads to include a link to the site donation page. Maybe right at the top of the cut, even.
posted by Mizu at 6:51 AM on July 11 [15 favorites]


Relying on free help is never a great idea. People may have the best of intentions and initial enthusiasm but the follow through is almost never there. Getting help on small things that aren't load-bearing, sure, that's fine, but anything bigger than that should be approached with wariness. Life always gets in the way and the things you are working hard on for no money are things that are going to get dropped first.

I think MeFi does need to change things up, to become more inviting, but let's not act like some of the structures in place that may make the site seem uninviting don't also help define it. I think there has to be a speed bump to registration of some kind, even if it's not financial. I personally like the absence of images. If threads became a wall of dumb gifs, then, well, it'd start becoming Facebook.

And for god's sake, let's keep this place from becoming Facebook.
posted by picea at 6:57 AM on July 11 [19 favorites]


Seconding that, Mizu. Y'all in the politics megathreads are expensive. Folks who love them should disproportionately be donating to the site.
posted by sciatrix at 6:58 AM on July 11 [19 favorites]


"Relying on free help is never a great idea"

Well damn, shut down almost every charity, church, and non-profit then, huh?
posted by thoroughburro at 7:01 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


I assume that there must be some way to remedy that, since just about every other site out there makes it work somehow, but I actually think at this point that it is a selling point for MetaFilter, something that differentiates us from other places.

Every single other site does not allow arbitrary inline images in comment threads. Any time you're dealing with untrusted input, it's a security risk. Metafilter is not Twitter, Metafilter is not Facebook - it does not have the technical resources to safely implement a feature like that. Above and beyond that, I don't think bringing back inline images will do anything to drive user adoption or increase revenue.

Yeah, the XSS vulnerability issues with images that came up way back aren't as far as I can tell a worry for anyone these days.

They are absolutely still an issue. There are a million ways to evade XSS filters.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 7:03 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


Reddit doesn't provide for inline images either, not that this place should be more like Reddit, but I think they might have some decent traffic.

I've always disliked their threaded conversations and preferred the free-for-all here, but I've come to realize it allows for digressions into silliness without threadjacking and overmoderating, which contributes to a sense of fun. (At least on the threads where I visit, which are fairly free of the assholes many think to be on Reddit)
posted by scrowdid at 7:04 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Sorry, I mean that it's not a worry on account of folks having moved to alternate solutions to displaying images than the then-rife practice of willy-nilly hotlinking. If MeFi were to move to using images more on the site, we'd be directly hosting them in some capacity, in part to step around all the problems with random inlining.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:08 AM on July 11


What (if any) actual demographic data is available about the existing metafilter community/userbase?

Because if we need to attract new members it would seem logical that we first need to figure out who the members are now and if we want to attract more of the same, different types, or just qualitatively more members.
posted by Faintdreams at 7:13 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Reviewed my subscription and I can do a little more. Monthly contribution bumped up!
posted by merriment at 7:14 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


So, question: is there a reason why we haven't done a full on 'what are you all doing?' post in a while? The Fucking Fuck and the Hyucking Hyuck threads have continued, and there was one about 'what can we do about the concentration camps' not that long ago, but I really like being able to scroll through and see how other folks are making a positive impact (and maybe there are ways I can help out too).

I like talking politics on here and reading about politics here - but I haven't participated in the main politics megaposts in a while, because it seemed like the same fights over and over again. But there are a lot of amazing people on here that are doing great things, and even being able to link that thread and say 'here's stuff that people are doing to make the world a better place' would be a good advertisement.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:18 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


ok sorry about the images thing I just love a meme

mybad.gif
posted by billiebee at 7:26 AM on July 11 [9 favorites]


In terms of new users, I do like the idea of the volunteer outreach for new users, but I also think that different parts of the site have different levels of difficulty for newbie engagement. Fanfare is what, five years old, and still doesn't have very much in the way of site conventions - even heavy users are still figuring things out. Ask Metafilter has more, but it still seems a lot less intimidating than the blue. Making it easier for new folk to find the parts of the site that are less intimidating might be the best way to get more people to join without too much impact on our current community.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:34 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Someone upthread mentioned the idea of a landing page and more clearly introduces people to each of the main parts of the site rather than privileging the blue, and I have to say that I really love that idea. It has the potential to really drive engagement to different parts of the site. It might not change how established users interact with the site -- they might still click through to the individual pages for Ask, FanFare, etc -- but it would provide much higher visibility for different subsites to new users.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:47 AM on July 11 [14 favorites]


I would bounce very hard off a site with a Welcome Wagon-esque situation. Which isn't to say that we shouldn't do it - I think it's a very kind and welcoming gesture and I'm sure many people would be into it! - but more to suggest that if we do end up going down that road, follow-ups should maybe somehow be opt-in, or only sent to those who respond positively to the first contact, or whatever. Details to be hammered out at that point.

More importantly: thank you for the updates, Cortex. I agree with everyone above who's said that it would be really useful to hear them more often than Once A Year When Things Are Dire, and I'm glad you intend to do that. I also really like the suggestion that you either stop modding altogether for a significant chunk of time to focus on this big picture stuff, or at *least* mod less often for a while, if it's at all possible to scrape together coverage to make that happen. There's so much good and important work to be done and it needs to be someone's primary responsibility for the foreseeable future, if it's going to get done. (Which is relatable, not a dig of any kind - god knows I need to block out specific time for the big picture stuff of my own or I don't get to it.)

All of that said, the main thing is thank you for the updates, thank you for keeping the site going, there's a lot of work to be done but I hope that it can be done and I hope that you'll let the community help you do it. I've bumped up my contribution and I hope it helps take a little bit of the edge off the immediate financial woes.
posted by Stacey at 7:51 AM on July 11 [12 favorites]


Since everyone is suggesting things that are probably not going to be implemented, I'll add one more to the pile: Give Fanfare more protagonism. It's one of the less "weblog"-era things in the site (especially with an improved version of the new layout) and I'd guess it'd be one of the more attractive features (and easier to interact with) for someone new.
posted by Memo at 7:58 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Y'all in the politics megathreads are expensive.

I find this sentiment pretty off-putting and exclusionary to folks who like to talk about politics but might not be in a position to donate.

It is literally the job of management to assess the resources being used by those threads and adjust accordingly. We were repeatedly told that a metatalk about the megathreads was coming in January? February? by the mods, and that never happened.
posted by lalex at 8:13 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


Whew, finally finished the thread (so far). So much to process, but I have to say this: If images are reintroduced that will be the end of my (minimal) participation. I don't like them for many reasons, but accessibility is a big one. How can we so quickly go from having discussions about inclusivity and then advocate for images which will be a challenge for people with accessibility challenges?

Also, I get why people want to get rid of the $5 membership, but I think it may be necessary to charge a nominal monthly fee to continue the site. Last night turtlegirl and I discussed this, and our idea was a monthly $2-3 subscription, and members would have the opportunity to "sponsor" people who may not be able to afford that cost. Not directly per person. Something like:

* I would like to sponsor 2 members. I realise that will cost me an additional _$X per month.

The challenge I see with this method is if the sponsor closes their account.

As for welcoming new members that is a big need and a big challenge. I am not sure if this programmable, but maybe randomly assign a "buddy" from a list of volunteers. When the new person signs up they are given the profile for their buddy, and their buddy gets a MeMail alerting them. The new person can ask questions of their buddy, and their buddy can help them.

tl;dr: Mostly, I agree with Miko and adamvasco.
posted by terrapin at 8:22 AM on July 11 [6 favorites]


So, question: is there a reason why we haven't done a full on 'what are you all doing?' post in a while?

Having thrown up one or two of those myself, the reason is probably that it hasn't occurred to anyone to volunteer one recently. These kinds of posts are generally not an "official" thing, and they happen when someone thinks to themselves "Huh, I think this would be great" and then submits something. They're generally in my experience quickly approved as a general-good kind of MeTa, and they usually go great. There's actually a more specific one up right now on the concentration camps at the border; props to Glinn for posting it.

This is also something I think of as volunteer labor, because it's not solicited by mods but serves to make communities better, usually initiated by someone who thinks "We should have this!" and then just does it. Fizz has been a rockstar about it. The MetaCocktail threads are an official thing Eyebrows does, but I heavily suspect that she might have started routinely doing those whether or not she was being paid to do it--and Eyebrows, correct me if I'm wrong on that--although she might not have kept at it as consistently and reliably as someone who was volunteering. Big Metafilter Institutions like secret quonsar are also volunteer labor, and despite not being paid or compensated, the people who invest in them think they are important enough that they are executed successfully every year.

I agree that volunteer labor isn't as reliable as paid labor, but what I object to is mods frequently rejecting offers from people who say "I have a thought about how to make things better for you, and I'm willing to execute it for free. Can I do this thing?" It's come up with merch designs, for example, with people being explicitly discouraged from contributing free designs for additional merch items with all proceeds going to the site; it's come up with coding in the sense of people saying "I could make this kind of sharable bookmarklet" and the site going "okay, but we're not going to link to it or in any way promote it, this is just you and your useful tool," and it's come up in other ways in the past.

I'm actually not suggesting MeFi come to rely totally on volunteer labor, although this can and has been done--look at the Organization for Transformative Fanworks and the Archive of Our Own, which is run purely on volunteer labor. What I am suggesting is that cortex be willing to accept volunteer labor for self-contained projects as an actual part of the site instead of waffling and shuffling feet and insisting that it's only valuable if he pays money for it, money the site does not have to spend. I'm suggesting that this labor be treated as if it is valuable, because it is.
posted by sciatrix at 8:24 AM on July 11 [18 favorites]


Yeah, for the welcome wagon situation, I wouldn't want it to be more than just an introductory email and an offer to email a real live person who will answer your questions about the site. Or maybe a check box upon signup.

And maybe - definitely would like input from those who would be applicable whether this is a good idea or not - give the new people the option to request a PoC or non-American volunteer? I could imagine this being a lot less fraught if it feels like they're not the only X in the room, or can ask questions to non-Americans about why Americans are like this.

I'm ambivalent about recommending the site out right now, because I recognize that Metafilter does need to grow and change, and I can't guarantee right now that it is headed in that direction. But I've also been on the site for half of my life - the entirety of my adult life. The first time I try to join was before $5 signups, then didn't join because I was in high school and didn't have a debit card - I think I might have reserved operafloozy somewhere a long the way. I don't know who I would be without metafilter, and would really like to see it continue on.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:29 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Among all of the long-term, sustainable forum communities I'm a member of, all (except Mefi itself) are run entirely or in part by volunteer labor. Metafilter is the odd one out, here, and historically admirably so... but it ceases to be admirable if it costs us the community in the long run.

It's weird to suggest volunteer labor doesn't work for online communities. In my experience, it's literally the only thing that does.
posted by thoroughburro at 8:35 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


sciatrix: "what I object to is mods frequently rejecting offers from people who say "I have a thought about how to make things better for you, and I'm willing to execute it for free."

Honestly, it's extremely difficult and time-consuming to manage this kind of labor.

Volunteerism also tends to massively skew the demographics of the folks who are volunteering, which is also a thing that needs to be considered before taking on any sort of volunteer effort.

My $0.02 is that we may need to think hard about dialing back some aspects of the site that require intensive human labor. Unpaid labor seems like it opens up a lot of new issues, and we can't afford our current staff. There are no good options here.
posted by schmod at 8:40 AM on July 11 [16 favorites]


I have two overhead related suggestions.

Stop feeling shy about asking for money or help.
There should be a permanent, prominent, and polite ask for donations at the top of each subsite that is not a wee tiny 20px tall bar. It should not be able to be turned off permanently. Maybe just hidden for the duration of a visit/session. This will make some people feel badly for not being able to donate (don't!), but that shouldn't be MeFi's burden to bear.

Put a one-year moratorium on pony requests/requests for new features.
This way, staff (ok, frimble) could concentrate on implementing larger changes that will help the site in the long run -- like easier sharing of posts/comments to social media, code revamps, that JSON-LD/SEO optimization data, etc. Maybe even look at the userscripts that are useful and implement them. After the year, all pony requests could be submitted on a feature request subsite that will let members up/down vote them without comment.

Tangentially, this is the only website I can think of that builds in ways to allow users to subvert change.

"Here's a change to our navigation that we're proud of, and we've coded in a way to hide that change because some people won't like it. Here's a new look, but we're also going to maintain all of the the old looks because people are really attached to them. Here's a way to send us money, and then here's ANOTHER way to send us money because some people don't like company 1's ethics. Here is a tiny ad to help generate revenue, and we've coded in a way to hide that. "

Obviously those aren't actual quotes, but this has to be both time consuming and expensive from a staffing standpoint. If you're not going to use volunteer labor, you need to reset expectations.
posted by kimberussell at 8:41 AM on July 11 [22 favorites]


Question: is it feasible, and palatable, to send out "exit surveys" to MeFites who haven't been active in a while? If it's possible, I imagine something like this:

Hello, we notice you haven't been active on MetaFilter in a while. As we come to our 20th year anniversary, we're reviewing how we've grown and changed, and we wondered if you would have a few minutes to answer questions why you haven't been active on the site in a while.

Options:
* I don't spend as much time online
* I've moved onto other communities
* The website doesn't work on my as well as I'd like it to [option for elaboration]
* The tone of discussions don't make me comfortable in commenting or posting

We could then consider trying to "win" back folks who have gone away, or if we should accept that the internet has changed in ways that doesn't make MetaFilter appeal to some former members.

And if this survey was sent out, whoever does should ensure they're not trying to contact MeFites who we know are deceased.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:46 AM on July 11 [30 favorites]


>I care about this place more than I can say. No, I'm not a trained business person. No, I'm not an organizational or administrative expert. I have been learning as I go, scrapping hard in public and private to keep this thing I love and care about going under adverse conditions, and it's a matter of sheer effort and inconsistent progress. I know that is not enough, or fast enough, or formal enough for some folks.

If Metafilter means as much to you as you say it does then this shouldn't be enough, fast enough, or formal enough for you.
posted by edeezy at 8:46 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


I accept that this may not be the place that they want it to be, or the place they want to be period, and that's okay. It's a big web. But it's the place I want to be, and I'm gonna keep kicking hard to help it keep going and keep improving, no matter what happens with revenue or user metrics.

Trust me, there is no need to spell out how little you care about whether the site appeals to anyone but yourself—it's been very clear for years that you see most of the userbase as nothing more than a money stream, whose presence is barely tolerated and whose desire to have any input into the site in exchange for funding it is wholly rejected.

These threads remind me of the recent begpacking article. You want member money to keep the lights on at the clubhouse for you and your buddies but you've spent years and years dismissing any and all calls for member oversight or accountability or governance. More than that, you've spent those years actively working to shut down the limited mechanisms for member accountability that used to exist (the old MetaTalk). And the whole time you've been making the same empty promises you are making in this thread—that you're working on it, that these things take time, blah blah blah. For years now. Why people continue to buy this I can't begin to imagine.
posted by enn at 8:59 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


enn, what achievable goal are you interested in?
posted by Jpfed at 9:07 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


Trust me, there is no need to spell out how little you care about whether the site appeals to anyone but yourself—it's been very clear for years that you see most of the userbase as nothing more than a money stream, whose presence is barely tolerated and whose desire to have any input into the site in exchange for funding it is wholly rejected.

Wow, this seems incredibly harsh and unfair. Frankly, if cortex thought of Metafilter as a "money stream" he would need his head examined - did you look at those revenue numbers up there? There are plenty of ways to get money that would be accompanied with a whole lot less angst. We may disagree with the direction the site is going in, or think that suggestions from members should have been implemented earlier, without jumping to insults of that kind.
posted by peacheater at 9:09 AM on July 11 [65 favorites]


As a data point: I came to the site through AskMe -- I would Google random questions (mostly for shits and giggles) and AskMe kept coming up in the results, and the questions/answers there were so consistently interesting that I ended up just searching through AskMe for fun more and more, eventually became an "official" lurker...and the rest is history. Getting AskMe back into Google results should be a priority, I think -- it's a great way for new people to discover the site. Invites and welcome wagons kind of freak me out, because that stuff pressures the newbie to make a commitment to being part of the site/community before they're necessarily ready. I think it's (ironically) more welcoming to let people move at their own pace. And similarly, I like the Blue now, but it's not something that would be especially fun for someone right off the bat. People will migrate from subsite to subsite (including the Blue) over time, and that's OK. In my opinion, AskMe has the lowest barrier to entry (less need for background knowledge, more focused conversation, more explicit rules), so I think that for now, it's the subsite most worth highlighting in terms of drawing engagement.

Also, I think that politics discussion on this site could be a really major draw -- except that it's currently corralled into the unwieldy and frankly unwelcoming Megathreads. I love talking politics, I'm politically and civically involved in my meatspace life and all that (as many people here are and many people in the world are!) -- and it's a subject that people of all ages and life experiences are deeply interested in right now. It's also something that I want to talk about here on Metafilter in particular, because a group of thoughtful strangers from all over the world discussing things at length, earnestly and in good-faith, is hard to find online in today's tightly curated internet! I sincerely wish there were more ways to talk politics, civics, all of that on this site. But I can't handle the Megathreads anymore, so I don't. I really think that a political subsite would be popular. I can already think of questions I would ask and discussions that I'd like to have (about local political action, for example), and I'd love if there were more of a stable venue for political/civics discussion beyond just US politics, too. I think that politics are something that we can and have talked about with more depth and heart here than is possible on other places on the internet -- those discussions are something special that we can offer here, and I think we should try harder to offer them to the internet at large in a truly accessible way. Which in my mind, means a navigable and friendly subsite.

I know we're going to talk about the Megathreads later, but I really think that any solution to the funding and engagement issues here needs to take into account that they are not working as is, in a way that's creating a massive problem for the site as a whole. And I personally think that making political discussion more accessible, more inclusive, more workable, would be good for the site, because massive political interest and engagement is just where the zeitgeist is. Shutting out or shutting down people who are preoccupied by politics right now is bound to hobble any growth or engagement here.

Anyhow, I want to say that Metafilter has introduced me to many cool people, opened up my mind immensely, and has enriched my life. Regardless of any frustrations I have, as we all do, I really value it and hope that we can find ways to make participating here even more fun and interesting than it already is.
posted by rue72 at 9:09 AM on July 11 [40 favorites]


I do think that a separate PoliticsFilter should be really considered. I say this as someone who doesn't really want to engage with that, or only wants to engage with it when I really need to (it's just overwhelming mentally).

I know it creates this whole other host of issues related to moderation, but I feel like it would be good to have this space carved out for those who want it and also for those who want to actively avoid it. That's my take on that specific issue.
posted by Fizz at 9:15 AM on July 11 [26 favorites]


People have made some compelling arguments that whatever's proposed now might not be enough to keep metafilter running in the long run. So what, in the long run we are all dead. All things have to come to an end, but I'd rather metafilter's be a bit later rather than sooner. I subscribed the instant I saw the link on twitter.

Lots of the things suggested seem worth a try, and if the spirit of the times end up being against the site anyway, so be it. (I have to agree that joy is a bit harder to come by in these days than it used to, and I'm not sure a more welcoming landing page can fix that). I'll be grateful for every additional year you'll keep the site running.
posted by sohalt at 9:15 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


The wikipedia nag message is clear, polite and lets you close it if you don't want to see it, and provides instant visual call to action buttons for payment.

Example:
Picture of Wikipedia fund-ask

It wouldn't be a bad idea to use here, for people who visit X times a week/month. It's almost certain that the majority of site users didn't see your tweet(as I did), and may also ignore the alert stripe at the top of the page.

It's easy to forget that the majority of site users don't engage the same way that more active commenters do. (ie, vocal minority) it doesn't mean that the more engaged users are wrong, but it's easy to overlook that many people drive or even read daily without logging in or commenting, for years.

(I tried to make myself remember this fact when I was in charge of a large music remix website, lots of users, but only a few engaged in comments/forum, while the rest made and shared music with no interactions with moderators/owners, ect. )

They can feel just as attached to the site as the rest of us do. :D Make it easy for them to help too.
posted by dreamling at 9:23 AM on July 11 [18 favorites]


I’m bummed that this thread has apparently felt like an invitation for a few folks to show up and grind whatever long-standing axe they’ve got about how things work around here. MetaFilter isn’t perfect and can improve on many fronts but it is also amazing, unique, and special and I have so much gratitude for it, even though I’ve been a less active participant. My overall feeling is that I certainly get $x/mo value out of MetaFilter and because right now I have the means to send $x/mo, I’m going to keep doubt that regardless of any questions I have about its longer term viability, the areas where it can use significant improvement, or any other concerns. Bottom line for me is it’s a place I get value out of and I’m glad I’m in a place to do a small part to keep things going here as long as is possible.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:24 AM on July 11 [46 favorites]


I do think that a separate PoliticsFilter should be really considered.

I feel that this has been requested as long as I’ve been here, and it’s the kind of thing that’s frustrating: people asking for something over and over and being told no, when actually a)it seems a perfectly good idea and b)if people are being asked to pay for the site in a sense shouldn’t they have more of a say over the direction?

I’d also put in another suggestion for a ChatFilter subsite. I know there’s an off-site chat portal but that’s realtime and, I don’t know, not the same. I was briefly a member of Mumsnet but I left because the transphobia was horrendous, but one thing I did enjoy was the ability to post a random topic rather than having to hang it on a link, and often those threads were very silly and fun or really engaged or interesting or whatever, with lots of comments, and I think could generate s load of interesting content without them having to be “about” something in the way FPPs are.
posted by billiebee at 9:29 AM on July 11 [24 favorites]


what achievable goal are you interested in?
Complaint itself can be a goal. This article by Sara Ahmed on complaint as diversity work is particularly useful for understanding the function of complaint in a discussion like this. A complaint is a record of what is wearing, it is a mark of exhaustion of process, and it is a method of assessing institutional orientation. Complaints and how they are handled tell us very useful things about how our institutions operate.

I've always thought of MeFi as, in among it all, a joyful place to be.
This struck me, possibly because I was also reading The Cancer Journals yesterday. In it, Audre Lorde is discussing her recovery from her mastectomy; she stresses that it was important for her to affirm herself, to recast her image of herself as a fighter and not as a passive, suffering victim: "But a clear distinction must be made between this affirmation of self and the superficial farce of 'looking on the bright side of things.'" She goes on to say:
The acceptance of illusion and appearance as reality is another symptom of this same refusal to examine the realities of our lives. Let us seek 'joy' rather than real food and clean air and a saner future on a liveable earth! As if happiness alone can protect us from the results of profit-madness.... The only really happy people I have ever met are those of us who work against these deaths [nb - she has just recounted a litany of horrors about life in america] with all the energy of our living, recognizing the deep and fundamental unhappiness with which we are surrounded, at the same time as we fight to keep from being submerged by it" (Lorde, 1980).
Complaint is an effective way of working against, of pushing on the idea that joy is attainable in an inequitable world, or that joy is worthy, or even moral. So: I don't think the complaints are axe-grinding. Complaints are not a function of ungrateful people. The complaints I see here seem to largely stem from people, in one way or another, noticing that (1) prior complaints were not heard--the process was exhausted, and continues to be exhausted, even as it appears to move forward; and, (2) maybe joy as a goal is problematic, and that maybe keeping that as the priority--especially when it's accompanied by the same behaviors we've seen for quite a long time, now, whenever these questions and concerns rise up--needs to be seriously re-thought.
posted by sockermom at 9:39 AM on July 11 [36 favorites]


I find this sentiment pretty off-putting and exclusionary to folks who like to talk about politics but might not be in a position to donate.


I mean, if someone dislikes the politics megathreads and it feels like they are a big part of what's killing the site, it feels very justified to ask the users who like them to pony up.
posted by Memo at 9:44 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


terrapin: If images are reintroduced that will be the end of my (minimal) participation. I don't like them for many reasons, but accessibility is a big one. How can we so quickly go from having discussions about inclusivity and then advocate for images which will be a challenge for people with accessibility challenges?

One of the features of Metafilter is that it's (by and large accidentally, AFAIK) accessible by default for screen reader users.

And I think the wall o' text makes it unique as well. Like the point Rhaomi made about the front page:

Branding: Return to colored backgrounds for non-members. It was a powerful, memorable branding choice where the default black-on-white is more generic and forgettable for drive-by users.

...I'd argue that the non-image based nature of the site is also unique and appealing. YMMV.

The move toward an image-based web, while useful for certain things, has given us "Instagram influencers," so caveat emptor.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:49 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


how is it justified to ask people who like something to pay money they might not be able to afford just because you don't like them liking that thing.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:50 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


it's like the polar opposite of justified. it creates antimatter.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:51 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Has anyone mentioned the Wiki yet? The Official Wiki seems woefully out of date and might be adding to new users or potential new users finding the site norms and ettiqute as Opaque as mud.
posted by Faintdreams at 9:51 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Is it manageable to have three large and important MeTa threads going at once? I am wondering what the rationale was on the close spacing with these.
posted by delight at 9:53 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


I am wondering what the rationale was on the close spacing with these.

Our list is SO LONG. It's gonna be a busy summer.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:53 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


+1 to getting the ball rolling. The previous "This is on our backburner and we'll get to it eventually" thing doesn't seem to have worked well for us in the past.

Relatedly, I just want to mention my appreciation for Cortex's commitment to posting quarterly reports on a fixed schedule.
posted by schmod at 9:58 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


I am sad that this is somewhat evolving into an axe-grindy thread.
posted by Faintdreams at 10:02 AM on July 11 [16 favorites]


I feel like it was established in the state of the site that becoming user-sustained was the goal and I think that makes sense. It's clearly a better strategy than depending on ad revenue (trying to get more ad revenue does seem worthwhile, but totally does not seem reliable as a funding strategy). What I don't really understand is why gaining new members isn't the clear priority being articulated by cortex. The community has been consistently shrinking for years, so reversing that trend is the only long term solution. Any other option is just prolonging the decline and delaying the end.

If we come out of this thread without a clear plan to boost membership, I would feel very pessimistic about the site. On the flip side, boosting membership is a pretty clear cut goal and there are clear ways to do it (gift membership program, waiving the $5, advertising/PR). If there was a plan to increase by X,000 members before 2020 by doing X, Y and Z and targeting a userbase big enough to cover all expenses by DATE, I would feel much more optimistic. I would also be very understanding if this came with the caveat that other improvements to the site (except a couple big problem areas where changes have already been promised) would be put on hold to focus on adding and integrating new users.

The site is actually in a pretty strong position in that it could almost surely start growing right away if the $5 was waived. (I'm not saying that is the only way to do it, but it is a tool that hasn't been used at all as far as I know.) Shrinking is not an inevitable reality, it is 100% a choice right now.

Of course, there may be growing pains and I don't want to underestimate the effort involved in growing Metafilter. But I feel like those pains have to be less bad than just letting it die out.
posted by snofoam at 10:08 AM on July 11 [14 favorites]


I think Metafilter has a severe identity crisis in terms of what it wants to be and what it wants to offer users. Is it politics? Is it news? Is it social justice and activism? Is it question and answers? Is it media and fandom discussions? Is it links to cute animal videos? Is it all that and more?

I don't think the site really has a cohesive identity anymore. It's really several different communities spread out over a couple verticals (main page, ask, fandom) that clash with each other. The politics megathread had exacerbated this situation and now there are all sorts of arbitrary rules around what belongs in the megathread and what should be it's own thread, which just seem to exist to make the moderators lives easier (which I can totally understand) but it's confusing for existing users, never mind new ones.

I think often when policy decisions are made around here and there are two groups of people who want generally opposite things, the policy ends up trying to have it both ways. The megathread is a perfect example of that - one vocal subset of users wants to talk politics while another vocal subset never wants to see anything about politics. Instead of just siding with one approach or the other, you try and sort of 'split the baby in two' and end up with the worst of both worlds that no one is really happy with. The megathreads don't work on a cultural level and they don't work on a technical level. How can you even begin to recommend Metafilter to other people when something like the politics thread can't even be rendered on a brand new phone because it's got 2000 comments in it? I think you need to bite the bullet and either create a new politics vertical or just make a decision to discuss politics less and deemphasize it; the half-measures are not effective.

I think some hard decisions need to be made and there needs to be an understanding that not everyone will be OK with those decisions, but they may be critical for growth and longevity.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 10:09 AM on July 11 [42 favorites]


I don't have much to add except to suggest taking a look at all the websites started in 1999, 2004, and hell 2009 that were being run as people are suggesting MetaFilter must be if it wants to survive. How are those sites doing today? If they're still around are they recognizable, are they places you want to visit?
posted by ODiV at 10:10 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


I’m with Miko, adamvasco, and others who are urging you, cortex, to dramatically re-think your apparent unwillingness to solicit the advice and assistance of well-meaning MeFites. You need professional business consulting advice, the input of a volunteer board of directors, a willingness to accept offers of assistance, and a massive infusion of cash. Not necessarily in that order.

Low-hanging fruit: consider asking members to pony up another $5 (or $10 or $15 or $20...) on their anniversary dates of joining the site. With appropriate waivers for members who cannot afford that cost, of course.

Structurally, you need a paid employee other than frimble who has no moderating responsibility whatsoever. Someone to help with finances, expense management, and everything else that isn’t related to moderation.

I’m frankly aghast at the level of unpaid work and connectedness expected of the moderators, and I cannot see how moderation is a viable job for the long haul for anyone without shorter hours.

I’ll offer myself as an example of someone who could assist. Let’s say your board or your consultant decides to convert MetaFilter into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. I have extensive experience in soliciting and closing planned gifts, including bequests, to nonprofits. I could approach older members, terminally ill members, and others who are interested in including MetaFilter in their estate plans. An annual infusion of cash from the estates of deceased members and friends could be a reliable contribution to the bottom line.

How many other MeFites out there have similarly obscure but potentially useful skill sets like mine? What other sources of revenue generation are we missing out on? I don’t know, but neither do you, cortex, and your inability or unwillingness to get help from others when it comes to business planning is a source of puzzlement and frustration to me and, it would appear, to many others.

I hope this doesn’t come across as “axe-grindy” or whiny or whatever. Your vision and hard work are what has kept the site viable since you bought it. I think you do an amazing job of providing structure for this fantastic but sometimes fractious community, and I’m grateful for your hard work. But you need our help. And I, for one, won’t be donating again to the site until and unless there is a specific plan to make MetaFilter financially viable.

cortex, what can we do to help?
posted by cheapskatebay at 10:12 AM on July 11 [52 favorites]


One of the features of Metafilter is that it's (by and large accidentally, AFAIK) accessible by default for screen reader users.

Accident in the early days, intentional maintenance and development concern in the long run. pb did some work over the later bits of his tenure cleaning up some older problems; frimble came on board with specific experience and interest in accessibility issues, and so when we roll out new things that's something that gets an extra eyeball.

There's still some lingering accessibility issues I'd like to deal with (the current Music player's a bit of a mess for screenreader contexts, for one), but it's something we've tried to be deliberate about over time.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:20 AM on July 11 [15 favorites]


Trust me, there is no need to spell out how little you care about whether the site appeals to anyone but yourself—it's been very clear for years that you see most of the userbase as nothing more than a money stream, whose presence is barely tolerated and whose desire to have any input into the site in exchange for funding it is wholly rejected.

This is such incredibly, ridiculously insulting garbage that I find it hard to believe this is anything other than trolling.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:20 AM on July 11 [51 favorites]


billiebee: I’d also put in another suggestion for a ChatFilter subsite.

And I'll highlight that there are now five types of recurring MeTa threads that have become defacto chat threads: Fizz's weekly random topic, the mods' weekly random topic threads, the monthly fucking fuck and hyucking hyuck (political) riffing/ranting threads, plus occasional holiday/ seasonal threads. And that's not counting the "checking in during [disaster/ weather event]" threads.

FanFare was created to talk about media, to re-focus the main page and reduce the number of "fig leaf" posts about media that people wanted to discuss. So I'll echo support for PoliticsFilter and ChatFilter, to better organize the site and create areas with different norms (and potentially different operations*).

* I think PF and CF would be ideal places for volunteer mods to serve as the "front line" admins, where the paid mods get


Faintdreams: I am sad that this is somewhat evolving into an axe-grindy thread.

In addition to the "hearing" thread, perhaps this site is overdue for a general "airing of grievances"? Perhaps that's the purpose of this and the prior two threads, as long as the grievances are paired with potential solutions, and generally, they have been.


Fidel Cashflow: Is it all that and more?

In my eyes, yes. MetaFilter is the broad umbrella under which many discussions are had by many people. Narrowing it now would be to reduce the scale and scope of what makes MetaFilter so interesting, to me. And given the diminishing number of active members, it seems that narrowing the scope of the site (not that I've seen anyone seriously mention that, besides banishing politics megathreads) would only speed its demise.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:21 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]

Many of the Weaknesses and Threats have been identified, but what are the Strengths and Opportunities? I can't help thinking that we need innovation, something that's not abstract, something that's highly visible, something that does not exist (or is poorly implemented) elsewhere and could make people think "I want to be part of that".
Re: Attracting new users, this is the way to go; Lead with your strengths.   What brought you here in the first place?   What keeps you here?

One way to set direction for future marketing to new users is to poll your current active userbase on what they see as the top ten strengths of the site.   Then ask those here with marketing experience (or hire a consultant) to narrow it down to the top five that would work well in campaigns, and go from there.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:25 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter isn’t perfect and can improve on many fronts but it is also amazing, unique, and special

So I'm an axe grinder (mea culpa!). My feeling is this: the reason that it is amazing, unique, and special is largely because of a lot of people who care a lot about how this place is run. We grind because we care! The implication that we are not also deeply invested in the success of the site is not accurate, I don't think.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:27 AM on July 11 [19 favorites]


Ah, somehow my subscription had lapsed, so I've reinstated and increased my monthly amount.

One thing that I think we struggle with is that Mefi is so rich and multifaceted, it's hard to pin down into a one-sentence blurb about what it is. When I evangelize about this place to my non-Mefi friends, it takes a while to explain the concept, and about 15 sec in I lose their interest. If there was a quick one-page cheat sheet about what the different parts of the site are, what you'll find there, and how it all works, it might be helpful. The "About" page is sorta some of that, but the advice is "Just poke around and read things, figure it out yourself". I'm thinking a very short description, like a sentence or two about each of the subsites. This might lower the bar to entry.

Anyway. I'm rooting for us, I'm here to help in any capacity, and I'm sending everyone hugs.
posted by Fig at 10:38 AM on July 11 [9 favorites]


Asking cortex a question that to this point I have not seen asked:

You have some part-time mods, some full-time mods, and frimble on tech.

....Is there any reason that you do not have a bookkeeper or a CFO?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on July 11 [22 favorites]


ODiV: I don't have much to add except to suggest taking a look at all the websites started in 1999, 2004, and hell 2009 that were being run as people are suggesting MetaFilter must be if it wants to survive.

Sites that I've frequented that are similar community sites are all music-related. Discogs (launched Nov. 2000) was my internet home before MetaFilter, but my transition was after mass oggercide, when the role of volunteer release data "moderators" was significantly diminished, and all proposed edits were posted live, with minimal flagging for "this release isn't 'approved' yet." The problem with Discogs was that it was pretty much the project of one guy, and he rarely talked to the front-line content moderators, who up to that point, had ensured that information was more-or-less accurate as presented. Discogs survives as a marketplace for music-related media, and gets a cut of each sale (and it has some ads), and because it's still one of the biggest public music information databases online (Musicbrainz is the other one, though I still can't understand its formatting), it's chugging along happily, even after the sole owner pissed off a lot of the volunteers who had made the site what it was.

What to learn from Discogs: though there are definitely areas for improvement, MetaFilter is a much better community site, with more transparency in operations and decision-making, which is to be celebrated. But MetaFilter isn't a sales hub, so we'll need revenue from something else.


restless_nomad: Our list is SO LONG. It's gonna be a busy summer.

cheapskatebay: cortex [and others], what can we do to help?

At this point, I think developing a board of directors, and creating sub-committees to address and improve the site sounds like a rather logical next step. There are plenty here who are dedicated to the site, and have "volunteered" countless hours already to identify what they see as problems and listing potential solutions, and I'm sure there are people who are able and capable of implementing said solutions.

It seems that there's no way to eat the elephant that is MetaFilter's To Do list with the current staff, because the elephant keeps growing, and funds are diminishing.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:42 AM on July 11 [14 favorites]


If offering our help is an option, would it be ok to start a google sheet (or similar) where we can pop our username in and the area we're happy to offer help/expertise?
posted by iamkimiam at 10:47 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


I think there is some very low-hanging fruit for volunteer site members to become involved in. Trusted members / long time members / whomever could:

1. Post to the "new and notable" section
2. Run the twitter account; run an instagram account
3. Run any other social media accounts
4. Run fundraising and publicizing efforts, including via their own networks
5. Do low level modding chores such as deleting SPAM
6. As mentioned, serve on a "board of directors" or equivalent
posted by Rumple at 10:49 AM on July 11 [12 favorites]


An idea: with the annual state of the site updates, could we see a prioritized list of pending projects, and a list of prior suggestions that were declined, with their justifications? I'm imagining something broken down into topic areas, and this could provide transparency for MeFites who want to know what's being planned, when it might come out, and why prior requests were declined, in case they could be brought up for re-consideration.

This could clarify the site's direction, give a heads-up for things like the FanFare draft re-design, and remind folks why something wasn't on the list, despite community support, and possibly head off a bunch of the ground-level questions (but could open next-level questions).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:49 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Stop feeling shy about asking for money or help.

This.

One thing that sticks out from a political fundraising seminar many lifetimes ago is being told that if you don't ask for funds, regularly, you won't get them.

Yes, there's periodically a small notice at the top of the screen, but there could be more without being obnoxious or seeming desperate.
posted by jgirl at 10:53 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


There is an Ask/Guess aspect to asking for money that makes it difficult to make up the shortfall and to brainstorm other ideas for raising funds. The site is running on a shortfall, so it needs to be able to be less subtle or polite about saying “please god give me some damn money.” But it’s understandable that users who don’t want to give or (more importantly) can’t give feel bad about saying Nope. Because the funding need is so important, though, I don’t think that should stop the site from asking pretty relentlessly, and those of us who can’t give or who have reasons why we don’t want to give need to try to feel more okay about declining. I realize that’s hard and also feels alienating, especially if you’re more of a Guess person. But I don’t think it should offend anyone to say “if the politics megathreads take up a lot of resources, maybe we should have a campaign targeting the users of that thread for funding.” Or something like “Maybe we should put a tip jar link or suggested donation link on the page every time someone is crafting a new post or a new Ask.”
posted by sallybrown at 10:55 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


An idea: with the annual state of the site updates, could we see a prioritized list of pending projects, and a list of prior suggestions that were declined, with their justifications?

I've been wondering for a long time about the viability/feasibility/helpfulness of a MetaFilter subsite for feature requests. Something like the issues board in Gitlab, but MetaFilter style.

This way, features can be tracked, tagged, voted on, prioritised, organised, filtered(!), updated, searched, grouped and more. This would provide a much-needed level of transparency about the community's priorities and progress.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:57 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


What percentage of members and visitors here block ads on MetaFilter? What would happen if you put up one of those "Turn off your ad blocker or you can't come in" things? Any significant difference in revenue one way or the other?
posted by pracowity at 10:59 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


> snofoam:
"What I don't really understand is why gaining new members isn't the clear priority being articulated by cortex."

Well, in a similar thread last year, cortex said a decline in activity is not a problem:
"Ultimately I think that as a community MetaFilter can tolerate a pretty wide range of activity, and so a quieter site on average isn't inherently a problem."
I cannot say how wrong I think this is. With the current, very stable trends, Metafilter will cease to have any active users in about 10 years (Apr. 2029). The decline in activity is an existential threat to the site.

Cortex even prefers a smaller site. In one telling moment from 2015 he implicitly compared Metafilter to Reddit:
"It would do Reddit enormous good to raze the terrible stuff and set new standards in place.. it would require hiring some high-level moderation management staff... all the easy metrics would drop—you'd lose traffic from racists. You'd lose traffic from misogynists... Reddit could end up just being a smaller site, with fewer tens of millions of active users and nothing like an upward-trending graph to show shareholders. It might be a stronger, tighter, kinder, more empathetic, and far, far better place, but numbers would go down.
I worry that the organizers of this site, in their heart of hearts, see the decline in activity as an inevitable part of the increase in standards since the bro-zone days. I think this is wrong -- we live in an era where many sites explicitly framed around social justice issues are thriving (Jezebel, Feminist Mormon Housewives, many parts of Slate, etc.). But it may be a comforting thing to believe.

As I speculated 2.5 years ago in a similar thread, sometimes I wonder if the incentives for the owners and organizers of this site are all wrong. Cortex et al. see themselves fundamentally as *mods* -- that is, as corralling and channeling the conversation on the site. But if you see yourself basically as a mod, your job is easier if there is less activity on the site. An active thread is just a lot of work for you. But the site desperately needs activity.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:02 AM on July 11 [36 favorites]


I just want to say that accepting volunteers is an issue that's come up at some of my previous jobs, and it's nowhere near as straightforward as you might think. There are a bunch of legal issues in play, and we'd need to do some consulting with a lawyer before we set anything up.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:02 AM on July 11 [22 favorites]


cortez, thank you for this post, for the details, for the promise of the quarterly updates, and for being clear about what your hard limits are and what you and the mods are open to.

cortex said: A lot of the other discussions we've been having on the site the last month, and that we have planned for the next several weeks, are focused on revisiting what the site's doing, how it can be more welcoming and engaging, and how we can refocus some moderation resources to things that help make this place interesting and fun and accessible.

Rock Steady and others have been discussing the possibility of a "Welcome Wagon" or similar effort and I'm glad we're discussing how to systematically be more hospitable to new members! Mods: is this a discussion that maybe will fit into one of your planned near-future MetaTalk posts?

I recommend that anyone interested in working on this particular component of hospitality (gracefully-appropriately-and-systematically welcoming those new members who want to initially build relationships and learn norms before diving into public discussions) take a look at the Teahouse, a many-to-many support space for new English Wikipedia editors. There's a summary on its About page:
The Teahouse is a populated, user-friendly help space that organizes experienced editors to actively reach out to new users in a many-to-many setting and provides on-wiki answers, encouragement and peer support to promising new editors to promote increased engagement and retention.
That page further discusses the Teahouse's goals, rationale and approach, and has a bunch of lessons learned from the past several years: engagement tips, research on outcomes, and so on.
posted by brainwane at 11:04 AM on July 11 [16 favorites]


Also, I do think the political megathreads have sucked some of the energy out of the site, but can't be the only things responsible. For one thing, they seem to have slowed down enormously of late. And for me, I can add them to my activity and vaguely keep up on the shitshow to the south without needing to immerse myself in other media, which is good for mental health. So they are important to me beyond merely being a member here.

The graphs that were presented are quite concerning and I don't have much insight into that generally. For me, I am not taking much part in the site of late for reasons that don't have much to do with the site itself. I read the POC thread with interest and that was "best of the web" in its own way. I think a few things I would change would be:

- not have the mods say things like "put together a great post and it might stand" for newsy stuff. The community wants to talk about stuff. This is a discussion site as much as, or more of, a links site. How many people read all the links in any multi-link post? Do multi-link contentious threads go better than single link ones? I think we should explicitly encourage single-link FPPs.

- have a "say hi to new members" on the sidebar, where older members could send memail to new ones just to say hi and maybe draw them into the community. Some sort of opt-in, volunteer run, "welcome to the community" program

- get rid of chat. For one, it is cliquey as fuck. For two, when I do go there I see tons of members who I never see on the site anymore. For three, the ephemeral/transient nature of chat is completely at odds with the rest of the site ethos. Replace it with a regular open chat thread for community building via undirected bullshitting, this needs to be on the Blue not hidden on the Grey.

- emphasize that this is an international site and not a U.S.-American one. This runs alongside, though lesser than the POC concerns, but comments like "what did you expect for a reaction this is a site based in the USA" should be nuked immediately.
posted by Rumple at 11:05 AM on July 11 [14 favorites]


Is it manageable to have three large and important MeTa threads going at once? I am wondering what the rationale was on the close spacing with these.

The previous two threads about PoC experiences came along organically at the beginning of June; we were discussing budget plans and this sort of State of the Site / funding post at the same time. We were trying very hard to be responsive to the desire for those other discussions to get some time and breathing room. It felt unworkable to make this the sudden intervening topic during that. So we deferred this a bit until after we could start in on that followup. But it's also not something we can defer on indefinitely, for obvious reasons, or something I'd feel okay about just letting quietly slip under the radar of the 20th anniversary as a looming issue.

Like I said in the post, this is an unusually complicated moment on the site, and this is not how I'd have paced things if I had full control over the universe. Sometimes the timing just sucks, though.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:06 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


At this point, I think developing a board of directors, and creating sub-committees to address and improve the site sounds like a rather logical next step.

I think this is not a correct approach. Metafilter is not a large non-profit, it's a small business. It's a handful of full-time and part-time employees with a single owner. Adding layers of middle management and oversight for what is essentially a mom-and-pop operation doesn't make a lot of sense. Instead what should happen is someone needs to be running the business end of this site full-time and looking for growth opportunities.

I just want to say that accepting volunteers is an issue that's come up at some of my previous jobs, and it's nowhere near as straightforward as you might think. There are a bunch of legal issues in play, and we'd need to do some consulting with a lawyer before we set anything up.

This is too true. Volunteering sounds great, but still needs to be managed and that takes a lot of time and effort. It's does not come for free.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 11:10 AM on July 11 [19 favorites]


- why gaining new members isn't the clear priority

Just a quick comment here: we absolutely recognize gaining new members as a definite need. We don't think declining activity is good. There are a bunch of things we need to work on to improve our new member appeal and retention.

-Attracting new users, this is the way to go; Lead with your strengths. What brought you here in the first place? What keeps you here?
-it's hard to pin down into a one-sentence blurb about what it is

And this is a good starting point, to talk about the site's strengths and what works, what's good about the place, why a new person might want to try it out, how we can improve the new member's ability to quickly find those good things. Several of the upcoming Metatalks we're planning have to do with this stuff, resetting a bit to think about new members -- big picture, how we can make this a place where you could refer a friend, expecting that person will be able to understand what we have to offer, join and participate and understand the norms and have a good experience.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:10 AM on July 11 [12 favorites]


Forgive me, I'm at work and can't deep-dive into the massive number of responses in this thread. I imagine what I'm about to say has already been said.

But I have to respectfully reiterate a strong prior suggestion that if Metafilter is in the financial situation you suggest, it can't afford to ignore social media any longer.

It's now generational. There are generations for whom the majority, the Internet is not the Internet, but is Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter. They don't know how to type in a URL.

As someone who was on BBSes in the '80s, that rubs me entirely the wrong way. Trust me. So I get the opposing viewpoint.

But if Metafilter was syndicating Metafilter and Fanfare posts to Facebook to Twitter; automatically making daily summary Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Stories off its daily content; etc. -- the number of eyeballs seeing its content, and possibly contributing, would be massively increased.

The reason why Metafilter is financially suffering is because its way of existing is aging out. Like many people, I am very much not happy with that loss of skillset/generational shift, but it simply cannot be denied by a website that wants to be self-sustaining and remain afloat.

My two cents. Take it for what you will.
posted by WCityMike at 11:11 AM on July 11 [92 favorites]


I just want to say that accepting volunteers is an issue that's come up at some of my previous jobs, and it's nowhere near as straightforward as you might think. There are a bunch of legal issues in play, and we'd need to do some consulting with a lawyer before we set anything up.

That’s a valid point and entirely reasonable to say, but consulting attorneys for advice is what viable organizations actually do! Soliciting pro bono legal advice flies in the face of this entire idea, but surely someone has a lead for a paid attorney who could assist. We shouldn’t let a relatively minor issue like this impede the implementation of a good idea. As others have suggested, there might even be a willingness for some to contribute to targeted expenses like this as part of a larger plan of action.
posted by cheapskatebay at 11:11 AM on July 11 [17 favorites]


I've been wondering for a long time about the viability/feasibility/helpfulness of a MetaFilter subsite for feature requests. Something like the issues board in Gitlab, but MetaFilter style.

We've been talking about that a bit in the last year, yeah. The site's todo list years ago was "what Matt's thinking about" and then eventually a little more concrete as "what pb's working on"; these days we have a todo channel in the company slack for aggregating ideas and frimble keeps a Trello of active and upcoming tasks that we work from for concrete tasks.

Finding a way to translate that to a public-facing, regularly updated priorities/todo roster would be a nice next step.

If offering our help is an option, would it be ok to start a google sheet (or similar) where we can pop our username in and the area we're happy to offer help/expertise?

I don't object to that, though I'll nod to what r_n just said as a matter of setting expectations: there's the welcome spirit of volunteerism and then there's the legal implications of employment law and the two may not in all cases line up as neatly as folks would otherwise hope.

So folks documenting available skills and whatnot is welcome, and doing it in an organized place is a good notion, but I don't want that to translate in turn to an expectation that if it's on a spreadsheet the only thing stopping it from turning into action is an unwillingness to accept help. Organizing volunteer labor, and doing so ethically and legally, can be a little more work than just saying yes, so anything like that would have to be just a start in a process.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:15 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


The back tagging effort is, to me, a good model for easy use of members as volunteers. Some change was made to the site code to allow members to do something they couldn't normally do (tag other peoples' posts). Even having a cadre of "taggers" who could improve the often-inadequate tags on FPPs in the present would be a tiny improvement to the site, and one with precedence.

Anyway, as was already noted, saying "we need to talk to a lawyer about volunteers" is not the same as actually talking to a lawyer.
posted by Rumple at 11:21 AM on July 11 [16 favorites]


I recommend that anyone interested in working on this particular component of hospitality (gracefully-appropriately-and-systematically welcoming those new members who want to initially build relationships and learn norms before diving into public discussions) take a look at the Teahouse,

Ravelry had the unofficial (but officially blessed, to my recollection) Welcome Wagon (link will only work if you are a member, probably) since retired, that had volunteers reach out to all new members with a welcome letter in their on-site inbox, pointing them around the site and offering to answer questions. They had sort of a standard email that volunteers would then adapt if they wanted to make it sound more like themselves, and send out to new members who joined with different volunteers covering usernames that started with different letters.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:22 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


This website is demanding and labor-intensive in a way most people don’t expect from most comment-based websites—from text-only comments that are longer than you'll find elsewhere, to the expectation that you've read every unthreaded comment before joining the conversation, to the expectation that you've also read last month's thread before participating in today's, etc. This is a website for people who make this website a priority.

Maybe some users genuinely want to change that—as opposed to aspirationally wanting change but without sacrificing X or Y or Z—but that group is offset by inertia and by others who actually want the pendulum to swing further. And that nature of MetaFilter precludes quick significant growth, which means any financial problem needs to be solved by existing members contributing dollars or labor that immediately yields dollars. Otherwise, absent some kind of unpredictable external change with AdSense etc, MetaFilter will make do with less money.

There are a bunch of legal issues in play, and we'd need to do some consulting with a lawyer before we set anything up.

I assume MetaFilter has lawyers it works with regularly. I'm not one of those, and I'm not looking to be. But speaking as a lawyer and hypothetically, if I were asked for an initial consultation by a corporation that was considering using free labor to help a budget crisis, one of my first questions would be whether the corporation had done its financial homework to be confident this free labor could translate immediately to dollars. Because if the net benefit isn't significant, then why do you want to pay my fee?
posted by cribcage at 11:43 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


I want to focus on one small part of the conversation that's happening here, which is how to help new users become engaged. Over the last couple of years I've become more active on math.stackexchange, a Q&A site focused on mathematics that is one of the many many subsites of stackexchange. One of the things I really like about math.SE is a surprisingly consistent culture of friendliness and respect of community norms. To illustrate briefly, one of the major challenges of a math Q&A site is obviously students who just want someone to do their homework for them. Official math.SE policy, hashed out through a meta forum (!), is to help users who make those kinds of posts understand why they will get a bad reception by leaving helpful comments on their posts. There are two main mechanisms by which this is accomplished:

First, there is a tour which helps orient new users to site policy and tells them what to expect.

Second, there's a thing the site does to help orient new users which I think would work really well here, and feels very much like the 'welcome wagon' others are suggesting above: First post queues. When somebody makes their first post on the site, either as a new question or an answer to a question, it gets thrown to a queue where members with high reputation have the option to review and make helpful friendly suggestions, point the user toward resources, or just explain why they're getting downvoted. Again, many of the details don't carry across in a one-to-one way, but the central idea of a 'first few posts' queue that experienced users / mods could monitor might be a nice way to help new users feel simultaneously welcome and not too overwhelmed by learning site norms.

I have been consistently impressed at how well math.SE integrates new users into the site, and how resilient it has been, so maybe we could learn a little from their success?
posted by dbx at 11:44 AM on July 11 [16 favorites]


I just want to say that accepting volunteers is an issue that's come up at some of my previous jobs, and it's nowhere near as straightforward as you might think. There are a bunch of legal issues in play, and we'd need to do some consulting with a lawyer before we set anything up.

Hindsight being 20/20 part: it's almost as if more attention should have been given to navigating the very real complexities in previous years when things weren't as crisis-ful but it could be seen coming.

Here's the foresight part: using the very real complexities to navigate as an excuse to not proceed beyond a vague "we'll keep an eye on it maybe possibly in an informal non-tracked to-do list" will lead to its own hindsight moments when the crisis worsens.
posted by Drastic at 11:44 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


@ restless_nomad "I just want to say that accepting volunteers is an issue that's come up at some of my previous jobs, and it's nowhere near as straightforward as you might think. There are a bunch of legal issues in play, and we'd need to do some consulting with a lawyer before we set anything up."

This is 100 correct. I have a long history in volunteer administration. Volunteers can do wonderful things for organizations. I believe in strong, ongoing volunteer engagement. Finding and vetting volunteers is one thing. Being able to turn over a piece of a project requires a great deal of ground work. Developing the scope of work is very difficult with "professional" volunteers. Their time is valuable and thus their gift of time is too. However, if you are unprepared to receive this gift, you can squander and opportunity and merit some pretty bad PR. Managing volunteers who are delivering any part of finished work product is a management environment that most people have not encountered.

I do not say this in dismissal of the idea. I do think that there are valuable contributions but the forethought of project management would be the driver to know if the volunteer path is viable.

Additionally: I do love Metafilter and want to see it adapt and flourish. I have been super active in the past, less so, not at all and now a daily reader and commenter. The pallor that hangs over my country and much of the world, over the past two years, has made everything 25% worse. Everything. I have dropped Facebook because I saw the fatigue, despair and hate. I couldn't handle it anymore. I returned here and found a place I remembered. Some issues remain, some are new and some are gone. Overall: an interesting and engaging place.

I came looking for what I remembered which is great for me. Those who are new and "find us" are not looking backwards though. They are in this moment. What makes them come and what makes them stay? Open questions. I have read above that Ask MeFi has brought people, which is great. I am no digital marketer. No SEO or SEM background, but I wonder where new members come from? What was the digital hopscotch to get them here. I think the notion of a well moderated site is a appealing but is it to them? Are they looking for such an experience? Do they know an experience like that really exists?

The willingness to "do the work", emphasized in this thread and in the threads dealing with diversity is noted. I will hazard to say that Reddit won't venture into those waters. Starting anything in a community is sloppy at first. The language is coarse and general. In time, things coalesce, language is better and points articulated more easily. To continue is to look ahead and work. I appreciate this approach.

Thanks @cortex for posting this update. There is a lot of brain-power sloshing around in this thread. I am following this thread.
posted by zerobyproxy at 11:44 AM on July 11 [13 favorites]


Metafilter is not a large non-profit, it's a small business. It's a handful of full-time and part-time employees with a single owner. Adding layers of middle management and oversight for what is essentially a mom-and-pop operation doesn't make a lot of sense. Instead what should happen is someone needs to be running the business end of this site full-time and looking for growth opportunities.

I think a lot of what the divide between volunteers/not and structure/not comes down to whether people see this as a business or a community. In a business, you are correct that leaner is better, however if what you are doing is trying to create an engaged community, then allowing people the space to create officially-sanctioned pieces of the community that they can have some ownership over is absolutely best practice.
posted by vermouth at 11:55 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


I would not be unhappy if the site decided to just shut down gracefully and with dignity. Set a date and let people know in advance. In the meantime, everybody anxious to volunteer should create their own projects instead. Get rid of the self-links rule and let everybody share and talk up their new stuff in the blue. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
posted by spudsilo at 11:58 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Just a quick comment here: we absolutely recognize gaining new members as a definite need. We don't think declining activity is good. There are a bunch of things we need to work on to improve our new member appeal and retention.

I appreciate the response. But if I am understanding you correctly, this is functionally kind of the exact opposite of what I was suggesting. I was suggesting that creating and implementing a plan to take new action to get new users is a fundamental necessity, and the most important task at hand. I was suggesting setting new member targets based on financial needs, and trying multiple new things in order to meet those targets. I was also suggesting setting aside other site improvements as necessary to focus on and achieve user targets. What I am getting from your comment is that mefi management wants to make site tweaks in the hope that those improvements increase membership by increasing the general appeal of the site. To me that seems like the status quo of making lots of little changes to the site instead of taking direct action to solve a looming problem. I think based on membership/activity declines we have seen that this is not a solution.

Apologies if I am misinterpreting what you meant.
posted by snofoam at 12:02 PM on July 11 [12 favorites]


I mean, I think we need to change some things on the site before it will be worth doing a big coordinated push offsite to draw new people... because if we draw them but they bounce off e.g. the sorta-unintuitive front page of Fanfare, or the hard to understand norms of the blue, then we haven't spent our recruitment resources well. We've got some UI/new-user-process stuff to work on, and some culture stuff to work on. (Because of the way the site is, we need to do all that stuff iteratively with a bunch of community input, but it's going to need to be a faster timeline than changes like this have happened in the past, hence the summer of many Metatalks.) I see these as precursors to successful advertising or referral or press-coverage drives.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:10 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


Yeah, my background is almost entirely in subscription-based business models, and getting your New User Experience(TM) on point before you do a big marketing push is absolutely essential. It's a process of the site that hasn't changed in, uh, let's just say some of that documentation can be dated in geologic time, and working on that really *needs* to happen first.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:13 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


> cortex: Organizing volunteer labor, and doing so ethically and legally, can be a little more work than just saying yes, so anything like that would have to be just a start in a process.

I am of the opinion that the best time to start that process would have been shortly after the original State of MetaFilter post in 2014. The second best time is now.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:13 PM on July 11 [14 favorites]


Just to pop back in for a quick follow-up on my prior comment.

There is such a large amount of people nowadays who don't know how to use the Internet as it was during Metafilter's original era. They are the ones who go to Google and type 'Facebook' in the search bar and click on the first result. They start on nowadays Instagram or Snapchat, and slightly older generations start from Facebook or Twitter. They click on stories and from there go to other sites. Or they go to places through their apps. This are the generations that motivated Apple to only show the domain in Mobile Safari, and made Chrome contemplate the same move on their desktop version.

It's easy to look down on them, and I admit there's a snob inside of me that goes "'yeah, I can just see Mefi filled with 'LOL typ der msgs lik OMG this is so derpy!!!'", but if it's a question of site survival ... plus, it is simply the UX that people are used to, and hopefully people would upgrade their language to the "cultural norm" of the site.

But for these people, Metafilter doesn't actually exist: it has no presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, and doesn't have an iPhone or Android app.

That means, for a very large percentage of these people, it doesn't exist -- there's nothing that will take them to it, nothing for their friends to share to them, nothing to catch their attention. That's not hyperbole, as much as I wish it were. It's real. Should it be that way? Hell no. Is that the way it is? Hell yes.

There are freebie things to aid in that syndication, such as IFTTT. From what I understand there are stronger services such as Buffer and Zapier that help in that syndication. (Facebook did make it somewhat harder last year when it cut off most of the third-party posting mechanisms.) You can basically work off the sites' RSS feeds. (Just to clarify, I'm not for a moment talking about Ask -- although that is the source of some amazing stuff, autosyndicating that to social media would run the highest risk of exposing someone's private problems to the world. We're talking Metafilter and I think Fanfare as well, perhaps Projects.)

Have one of these services post at least to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Study a little bit on what tags the various social media websites need to generate pleasant thumbnails. Put a non-obnoxious tagline on supporting the site on each story page.

Since all the sites are now more heavily promoting their variants of Stories, do a daily summary post that cycles through the Metafilter and Fanfare posts of that day.
posted by WCityMike at 12:14 PM on July 11 [36 favorites]


Basically open up the Sidebar into a space that is shared with social media. It would help with making MetaFilter into more of a known thing. That is one issue I've always had with trying to "share" MetaFilter with other people around me. They've never heard of it, they look at it and think it's kind of old-fashioned, and they're already plugged into too many other places so it's hard to consider adding another. It's very hard to "sell" MetaFilter to my other friends.

It's almost always referred to as "Oh that site you're always on."
posted by Fizz at 12:21 PM on July 11 [12 favorites]


Thanks for clarifying, LM and RN! It is helpful to know where staff is on this, even if it is the exact opposite of what I think is necessary for the site to survive.

One counterpoint to the "fix the site first" approach is that there are a bunch of people who love the site already, despite its flaws. New people might like it too. And we need new people STAT.
posted by snofoam at 12:24 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I'm genuinely confused by the handwringing over volunteer help. The vast majority of web communities supplement a small paid staff with an army of volunteers -- think subreddit mods, Wikipedia admins, Sporcle curators, userscript uploaders, guest bloggers, etc. What's the fear here, that somebody might care enough to contribute pro bono code or advice and then turn around and sue for back pay?
posted by Rhaomi at 12:32 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


Yeah, snofoam, I mean I definitely hear where you're coming from on that and appreciate your thoughts and advice. It's a totally reasonable perspective, and we can certainly be doing things simultaneously like trying to make it easier to share stuff on social media. I'm more thinking of, if we're spending a bunch of money or one-time resources like calling up a reporter and saying "hey do a big story on us", I'd rather we wait a month or so if it allowed us to increase the new member yield from those big one-time things.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:35 PM on July 11


Yeah, so to elaborate, before I worked here I spent five-ish years working in MMOs (online games, almost all monthly-subscription-based.) I've done launches, expansion packs (big new-content rollouts) and just general pushes for new members in, hell, if you count the short-term gigs about ten different products by five or so companies (and watched at least that many from close range.) The biggest takeaway in all of these was that you get one shot with a given customer. If you send out invites to a hundred thousand people early in beta testing when the product is still rough, and ninety thousand of them decide not to tough it out, the vast majority of those ninety thousand are never coming back. *Never*. You didn't meet their need, they went and got it met somewhere else.

We're not aiming to become the sort of public utility that Facebook or Twitter are. There is a finite pool of potential users whose needs Metafilter might meet. If we seek them out and invite them, we damn well better be putting our best foot forward, because if we lose them, we've most likely lost them for good. That's a tremendous waste of whatever resources were put into the push in the first place. We're not in danger of keeling over like a poorly-planned Steam Early Access product, but there's no point in not taking a few months to get the best bang for our buck, and a bang ideally not in the general direction of our own lower limbs.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:35 PM on July 11 [19 favorites]


Yeah, facebook and twitter have gotten a ton of new users during the time that metafilter's use base has declined. In the case of facebook, the interface is buggy as hell and the culture is super weird. In the case of twitter, the interface makes almost no sense and the culture is often actively toxic. I'm not saying we should model ourselves off those sites, but I am saying that we don't need to perfect our interface or culture before we begin reaching out to new users.

What both of those sites have going for them is that they are highly connected to the rest of the internet. In facebook's case, they have taken various steps to make it more of a walled garden, but they are still more connected than metafilter is.

I really agree with commenters here who are saying that making metafilter posts and comments more broadly shareable is an important step.
posted by mai at 12:37 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


The vast majority of web communities supplement a small paid staff with an army of volunteers -- think subreddit mods, Wikipedia admins, Sporcle curators, userscript uploaders, guest bloggers, etc.

It may be that different people have different kinds of volunteer work in mind, and that's resulting in some talking past one another. Some volunteer work can be relatively hands-off and easily parallelized. Other volunteer work may require more oversight, individual attention, or other work to coordinate/integrate. So, for example, I'm a developer and keenly interested in helping, but evaluating and accepting pull requests from me would be much more work on the admin side than if I wanted to go add some tags to some posts or something.
posted by Jpfed at 12:41 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


I have a lot of thoughts, most of them too vague and unfocused to put into words right now, but the bit I keep coming back to right now is "best of the web." MetaFilter is hard to explain, but "best of the web" isn't. It's a simple explanation that fits well with telling new users why they should come here, PR and marketing efforts, social media, and so on: MetaFilter is the place you go to get the best of the web.

But part of that also means a renewed community commitment to actually being the place that has the best of the web. Posts/day are way down, and many of the posts we do have are made by a small group of awesome mefites who post frequently (I average less than 2/year since I've been a member, so I'm not helping that either). We've done great initiatives in the past to encourage posting and support posters, and those have been successful, but the overall trend is bleak.

But to build on r_n's point about only getting one shot, we only get one shot at showing someone new that we have the best of the web.

So I don't know. Maybe "best of the web" is meaningless now given how much the internet has changed and the diminishing importance of "the web" in a world of platforms. A lot of the stuff that used to be the best of the web doesn't exist on the internet so much anymore. As internet culture becomes mainstream culture and journalism is replaced with editors mining social media for free content, "the best of the web" is increasingly something people find from every news organization. So maybe it's time to re-examine what that means for us.

But if we're not going to strive to be the best of the web and embrace that label, then there's a broader question of what are we doing, what purpose is any of this serving, to define what this community even is before we ask new people to join.
posted by zachlipton at 12:42 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


I found out about Ask Metafilter via the weekly (?) Ask Metafilter Roundup on Lifehacker, around 2006 or 2007. (Talk about a site that’s fallen apart...). It was years before I figured out that MetaFilter proper was a site that I was interested in, and a couple more years before I finally joined.

Some sort of digest or link/partnership in a higher-visibility site that actually exists and is useful to people (so, maybe not Lifehacker) might bring some traffic back in.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:47 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


Nobody makes good web pages anymore is the problem. So much of the blue is just fighting over extruded content product. That's the worst of the web, folks.

Kill the blue and keep the other subsites.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:48 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter is hard to explain, but "best of the web" isn't.

In the back of my mind, I think of it as "MetaFilter: Read the Comments" because of all the places where you can't read the comments.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:51 PM on July 11 [45 favorites]


Also, recent comments have reminded of two more suggestions;

Mobile App: The existing mobile design is excellent, but more and more people are becoming accustomed to accessing the web through apps. How difficult would it be to port the mobile version into a very basic iOS/Android "app wrapper for a website" sort of thing with a custom onboarding page for new users? Even if it's just a glorified homescreen bookmark, it will make people more likely to revisit if it's on their device with other frequently-used apps versus having to remember going to a specific URL in their browser like it's 2004.

Images: I know going back to the old "anybody can hotlink random inline images" probably won't work, but what about limited support for single images in posts? Having a front page with small illustrative thumbnails would really freshen up the look, and including a bigger version inside, like Wikipedia does for leading images, would be really nice. Requiring a mod approval and caching images in some AWS back-end would take care of most trolling concerns. It would be cool to immediately put faces to names in people-based posts -- not to mention AskMe posts paying the pet tax right up front!
posted by Rhaomi at 12:51 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


I agree that a lack of social media presence and way to share MeFi is probably hurting the site most. I don't know what that looks like to build, but we should have shareable links and an Instagram, etc. It's an ugly truth but I really do think it could help.
posted by agregoli at 12:52 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


I think a lot of what the divide between volunteers/not and structure/not comes down to whether people see this as a business or a community. In a business, you are correct that leaner is better, however if what you are doing is trying to create an engaged community, then allowing people the space to create officially-sanctioned pieces of the community that they can have some ownership over is absolutely best practice.

I think we shouldn't try and pretend Metafilter is something it's not. Fundamentally it's a business - it's got revenue coming in from advertising, affiliate linking and quasi-subscription fees. It has to make payroll and pay for hosting. It provides healthcare to it's employees and files taxes as a business. I understand that people want to come together and feel some ownership in this site and it's direction, but ultimately I'm of the opinion that will end up hastening the decline. The site does not need a volunteer board of directors, it needs one owner who knows what the community wants and has the means and will to make those things happen.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 1:02 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


I just doubled my small contribution, in loquacious' name.
posted by QuakerMel at 1:07 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Rhaomi: Images: I know going back to the old "anybody can hotlink random inline images" probably won't work

It would change the feel of MetaFilter, but to a degree, people are already sharing images, and there's at least one plugin to show images inline.

Which is to say, what would it be like if links to images defaulted to embedded image links for non-logged in users, and images were "on" by default for new users? To cater to the youth, ya see.


Two asides: I find it mildly amusing that Beset Of MetaFilter includes images with the summaries ;)

Also amusing to me: some admin abuses to include embedded images are now dead image links or worse, domain ads in place of original images.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:09 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


If we're having all of these conversations at once, I'm going to vote for opening up the discussion about the megathreads now.

It's the elephant in the room. We can't talk about the state of the site without talking about the megathreads.
posted by schmod at 1:09 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Of the top all time favorited posts on Metafilter, there are none in the top 25 that are younger than 2015. Of those top 25, 2 are about subjects one might consider to be overtly political.

Of the top favorited posts in the last 12 Months, 5 of the top 10 are political in nature.

Metafilter is becoming a political weblog. Now, whether the precipitous shedding of members and participation rates are a symptom or merely a coincidence, I leave to those with better analytical skills. It feels like the site is trending to fewer, louder, and more engaged users, which may be good news in terms of baseline site health, but is certainly not going to attract or endear us to the new user base many in this thread seem to think will save us.
posted by Chrischris at 1:10 PM on July 11 [15 favorites]


I like jacquilynne's tag so much, here is my humble attempt at plussing it:

MetaFilter: Don't Read The Comments
posted by adrianhon at 1:11 PM on July 11 [18 favorites]


LM & RN, I am pretty clear on where you are coming from. I fundamentally have a different perspective and that's fine. Saying that we're not optimized for a big ad spend is neither here nor there, we could supply everyone with gift memberships or make signup free for a week and test the impact right away without spending lots of money. We don't want to try to get new users yet is a valid point of view and you are entitled to it. Heck, you are the ones who will be losing your job, hours or benefits or whatever if things don't turn around, I just lose a website I go to.

I hope that doesn't happen. And maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps someday we will look back fondly on the UI tweak that saved Metafilter and I will look like a fool. If Metafilter is thriving 10 years from now I will be happy regardless of how we got there.
posted by snofoam at 1:12 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Lacking ideas, I have upped my subscription amount. This place has been formative for me since at least 2000. Those graphs are really troubling, but no surprise--the slowdown on the blue has been casually evident.

I hope this and the coincidentally-timed PoC threads prove to be a salutary inflection point, and will remain attentive for ways in which I can help.
posted by salt grass at 1:15 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


People upthread keep discussing the possibility of reintroducing some way for users to use/add inline or thumbnail images in comments.

I am curious if images are somehow reintroduced, and megathreads still organically happen, wont the addition of images make megathreads even MORE of a tech/mod headache than they already are?

Note:
Also I am firmly against the reintroduction of images due to accessibility/security/gui streamlining reasons, but if the choice is images in Comments or a shuttered Mefi, I'll just swallow images, thanks.
posted by Faintdreams at 1:20 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


I'm for permitting images. This is 2019, not 1999. But only for members at some premium level. I suggest creating a variety of membership tiers — get rid of the $5 entrance fee, but allow non-paying members very limited posting ability, like 3 comments per month and no posts or questions. Then create 3-4 membership tiers at various price points that provide added benefits. The top tier would permit posting pictures, an ad-free experience, unlimited posting and commenting, and maybe some free hats and teeshirts.
posted by beagle at 1:27 PM on July 11


I am, alas, not in a place where I can up my monthly subscription, but I can and will keep it going at current levels. There's a lot to digest here and a lot of good ideas - I am going to toss mine into the ring.

Get rid of IRL and bring the meetups back to MetaTalk. I feel like we've lost a lot of the community feeling since that switch happened. I know IRL is only a click away, but I forget it's there: I only check my own current city and don't know about what's going on anywhere else. I don't look at IRL every day - I do look at MetaTalk and I can hardly be alone in that. IIRC, the switch happened because there were too many people and too many meetups and MeTa got overwhelmed. It is hardly going to be overwhelmed now, sigh, and I think there is real value in seeing our community in action on MeTa.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:29 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


I'm kind of agnostic on the inline images thing, but I'm curious whether this is something that people feel is holding back thousands of potential new users or more along the lines of something that people have always wanted and feel that this is a time to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

I'll admit that I'm pretty skeptical that it's actually a significant user retention issue.
posted by Copronymus at 1:29 PM on July 11 [16 favorites]


I have greatly reduced my interaction ("engagement") with MetaFilter since 2016. This is in part because I find the space for genuine good-faith discussion on the Internet has shrunk considerably, and MeFi is part of that phenomenon. The stakes are a lot higher than they were in, say, 2006. There are fewer things on which reasonable people can disagree, and the social media/clickbait business model is rapidly decreasing those few.

Online discourse has become fucking toxic. Even in really, really good communities like MeFi.

It's also increasingly frustrating to engage with online communities as a user, and to have no meaningful power. We have no democratic model for online community building, moderation, and governance. Every platform is fundamentally private property, and the users' options are limited to "stay" or "go." MetaFilter is better than a lot of other sites because there is a system for feedback, but I don't think this can be enough anymore. A nonprofit corporation would have more governance structures for oversight, accountability and decision making, but maybe there's something even better.

In any case, I would like for there to be SOME online space where the users "own the means of production" somehow.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:31 PM on July 11 [17 favorites]


As a curmudgeon who hates the idea of images here but accepts the possibility of their return, I would be okay with them if: an image description were required to be included, that description would be displayed below the image - perhaps inside something like square brackets, and there was a toggle available to always hide images for members if they so chose - perhaps with a pop up window like happens with video links now. But, I honestly don't think that the lack of images is what's keeping the site from thriving. There are so many other things to address first.
posted by Mizu at 1:35 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Doubled.
posted by beagle at 1:35 PM on July 11


I honestly don't think that the lack of images is what's keeping the site from thriving.

I honestly think it does. Any site these days that displays nothing but a sea of text has trouble thriving.
posted by beagle at 1:39 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I think it would be easy, free and quick to establish a MetaFilter Twitter account, and that's probably the social media site that would get the most eyeballs. What if there was a widget or a team of humans who, every time a single-link FPP was posted, put a link on Twitter that said "Discussion about [Name of Article] on Metafilter" and tagged the author of the article/creator of the content? Probably better if there was a widget that could highlight good comments or portions of comments, but you could definitely do the same thing just with screenshots & MeMails for permission to share.

This works in two ways:

1) People do search for article or short story names on Twitter to try and find discussion. There is a demand!
2) Writers are vain and will search for their own names or article names on Twitter (source: myself, a writer). Outlets will search for article discussion as part of their social media presence. If they like the content of the Metafilter thread or comment screenshot, they might retweet it.

Seriously, I would do this as a volunteer with an unofficial account.
posted by storytam at 1:41 PM on July 11 [12 favorites]


restless_nomad and cortex are, if anything, understating the “legal issues” with volunteering for a for-profit company. This isn’t a matter of having the right forms or documentation - it’s essentially illegal except in an extremely narrow set of circumstances. Similarly, MetaFilter would likely not meet the requirements for a nonprofit organization. (“Being a community” is in no way equivalent to providing a community service.) The path to sustainability can’t rely on either of these options.
posted by capricorn at 1:43 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


How does Reddit survive on the back of its volunteer moderation, then? Facebook groups, as well? Are all of the forums I'm a member of operating illegally? They're definitely not non-profits, but they are nearly all owned by one person who makes (a little) money off the site, and actually run almost entirely by volunteers.

I'm not really doubting that the legal hurdles aren't real... I'm just having a ton of trouble squaring that with how communities on the Internet actually work.
posted by thoroughburro at 1:49 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


Kill the blue and keep the other subsites.

Speaking as a datapoint of 1, killing the blue would kill my interest in continuing to be a member, period.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:50 PM on July 11 [35 favorites]


How are Red Hat, Ubuntu, or indeed Google Chrome allowed to accept volunteer contributions to their open source projects while still profiting off of them? If Metafilter wanted to use my engineering skills, couldn't they simply open source the component I would be working on (and it needn't be a copyleft license) and accept me as all these other for-profit companies do?

Something isn't right with saying most volunteerism is illegal for for-profits to take advantage of. What am I not getting?
posted by thoroughburro at 1:57 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Reddit and Facebook are platforms that allow users to create and manage individual groups/subs -- they're not volunteers for Facebook and Reddit, they're users of Facebook and Reddit who happen to be using the groups/subs features of the site to do their own thing. That's legally different from a single media property choosing to ask users to volunteer as moderators.

I do think some people are overstating the legal hurdles to allowing volunteers to engage in some level of moderation or participate in a user engagement panel on a site that already allows users to submit content, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:58 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


mygothlaundry: Get rid of IRL and bring the meetups back to MetaTalk.

Counter suggestion: roll IRL into a chat subsite, or rather, re-brand IRL as Chat, keeping the IRL features but expanding the ability to just post random things and thoughts in new threads (sorry MetaChat!).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:00 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


awwwww metachat.org! ~~~feels~~~
posted by salt grass at 2:02 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Well, in the case of MeFi, our moderators are paid, so that’s actually a bright-line issue: it’s definitely, 100% illegal to use volunteers for work that the same or other people at a company do for pay. (Falsely classified “interns” are starting to win their suits around this too.)

I was talking more about volunteer SEO, engineering, etc. though, and I do think open source might be one way around it to some extent. Open source software is a public resource after all, though admittedly my understanding of the issues there isn’t as strong. But yeah, we’re not Wikimedia or the Organization for Transformative Works - we don’t have a specific educational, cultural, or advocacy mission. I know that some may object that we should have such a mission, but in my opinion this would fundamentally change what MetaFilter is. We can’t destroy MetaFilter to save MetaFilter.
posted by capricorn at 2:07 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


thoroughburro: "How are Red Hat, Ubuntu, or indeed Google Chrome allowed to accept volunteer contributions to their open source projects while still profiting off of them?"

This is turning into a bit of a derail, but generally speaking, Commerical Open-Source projects don't have a great track-record for accepting outside contributions, and typically employ a small army of paid developers to do the hard work.

Every large volunteer organization tends to also have a fairly substantial paid staff, or has the ability to draw from a base of skilled talent that doesn't mind working for minimal/no pay (ie. people who are extremely wealthy or retired).
posted by schmod at 2:07 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


The legality of volunteer work is a red herring. The site is losing $7,000 per month. What's the volunteer work that will add that amount to the budget? Are we talking about using volunteer moderators and then cutting $7,000 worth of hours from the current mods? If you can't draw a line connecting the finances, then you don't need to worry about legality because the idea is a dead end.

And allowing images isn't a solution. First, let's be honest that we're not talking about charts and graphs that will inform and elevate conversation. We are talking about memes and GIFs. It would be a fundamental change in MetaFilter's text-based culture. Second, unless it's part of a sweeping effort to make MetaFilter more like those other discussion sites, I don't see how allowing images adds $7,000 to the budget. I want a block feature, and I think it's absurd we don't have one, but I don't think its absence is what's keeping the crowds away.
posted by cribcage at 2:09 PM on July 11 [45 favorites]


"How are Red Hat, Ubuntu, or indeed Google Chrome allowed to accept volunteer contributions to their open source projects while still profiting off of them?"

They don't sell the software, the sell support, hosting, consulting and professional services. They also make everyone sign CLAs.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 2:12 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I was motivated to write about my relationship with Metafilter over the 19.5 years I've been a member and what I'd do to turn things around (publicly ask members for more money, improve sharing to social media, start a newsletter)...
posted by adrianhon at 2:14 PM on July 11 [46 favorites]


> If we're having all of these conversations at once, I'm going to vote for opening up the discussion about the megathreads now.

It's the elephant in the room. We can't talk about the state of the site without talking about the megathreads.


Seconded. They have come up more than once in nearly every one of the recent MeTas, save for the weekly conversational ones. It's gotten to the point where the seething contempt so many community members feel about the existence of the megathreads is starting to look a lot like seething contempt for the members who participate in those threads. Once thing are at that point, it's counterproductive to try to keep a lid on that discussion -- it's going to come out one way or another. Best to do so in a thread dedicated to that purpose rather than giving advantage to those who take the first shot, which tends to reinforce the dominant narrative.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:18 PM on July 11 [14 favorites]


Images could be put on a subsite. I think I would enjoy seeing both original pics from mefites and random stuff they thought was funny, kind of like Imgur but more filtered. I know I enjoy following people from here on tumblr, flickr and mlkshake.
posted by soelo at 2:33 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


> I was motivated to write about my relationship with Metafilter over the 19.5 years I've been a member and what I'd do to turn things around (publicly ask members for more money, improve sharing to social media, start a newsletter)...

Holy hell, you did Zombies, Run. I am fanboy-ing here more than a bit. (And, having read your suggestions, I think they're all fairly excellent.)

(And, now that I'm typing the italics above ... not that it'll generate money, but changing the text editor to Markdown from HTML would reduce the entry barrier a tiny bit for new people. Markdown's in widespread usage by now ... HTML coding is still something a lot of people don't know.)
posted by WCityMike at 2:36 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]

(And, now that I'm typing the italics above ... not that it'll generate money, but changing the text editor to Markdown from HTML would reduce the entry barrier a tiny bit for new people. Markdown's in widespread usage by now ... HTML coding is still something a lot of people don't know.)
I use the Markdown for MeFi Firefox extension.
posted by winterhill at 3:16 PM on July 11


I can't decide if this is tangential or at the heart of things, but: sockermom, while I don't disagree with you about the importance of listening to complaints (even harsh ones), I have to say that I find this --

Complaint is an effective way of working against, of pushing on the idea that joy is attainable in an inequitable world, or that joy is worthy, or even moral.

-- incredibly alienating. I'd expound on why but I could never say it as well as Rosa Luxemburg (bread and roses) or Emma Goldman ("If I can't dance, it's not my revolution"). Joy is in spite of the world. It's indispensable.
posted by aws17576 at 3:36 PM on July 11 [26 favorites]


Regarding megathreads, maybe it’s time to move politics to its own section. Personally, I find them informative, but they can be so fighty and stressful, that I absolutely get why people wouldn’t want them around. And they are so clearly unlike the other posts on the blue that I can imagine newcomers getting a skewed first impression of the site if they accidentally stumble into one...

Meanwhile, I’ll up my contribution, although it will entail cutbacks to my lunchtime food truck habit. But it is very clear from those graphs that Metafilter needs to take decisive action to grow the user base, or this cycle of funding crises will continue until nothing’s left.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:59 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


My household has been struggling to stay in the black for the last few years thanks to COL in SF where we live, but I hope some day soon if we could both be gainfully employed for some prolonged period of time, I could re-up my giving.

In the meantime, my day job is management consulting on Organizational Effectiveness with a specialization in lean process optimization. I'd be happy to provide as many gratis hours of my skills as could be helpful to you with the professional development/consulting for existing staff and site processes. I also do a lot of large scale technical project management for my clients which typically includes complex financial forecasting and budgeting, if I could be of help in analyzing and providing recommendations there, but I'm guessing there are better financial advisors than me on MeFi that we could leverage in that regard.

There's a lot of wisdom and energy in this community and I hope you guys can find a way to offset some of the financial gap with services and some volunteerism from folks like me who love and rely on MeFi even if they don't have discretionary income to donate at the moment (or ever). Please think hard (within reason) about how you can leverage the user base's resources beyond just financial! Consultative, legal, HR, IT, marketing, SEO, etc. - I'm sure you have a relative expert for all of these spaces and more here.

Also, I haven't read the whole thread yet so I hope I'm just repeating what others have already affirmed: all of you work hard at what I'm sure are sometimes thankless jobs. You absolutely deserve living wages and health and retirement benefits, working for an organization that is making enough of a surplus to be contributing to rainy day funds and diversifying it's risk in the market. I for one am confident that together we could make Metafilter just that.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:01 PM on July 11 [23 favorites]


(please memail me if you'd like to discuss my offer of services further)
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:02 PM on July 11


Cortex, here's a radical suggestion that will go nowhere:

1) Let the mods go with severance and replace them with volunteers now. You and I both know there are plenty of people (including POC) who are just hankering for the opportunity to be unpaid mods. Furthermore, this is a choice you will have to make in the next year or two anyway.
2) Use the money saved to hire a PR/social media person, a full-time developer/SEO optimizer, and a strategic planner, perhaps from or recommended by the Metafilter community.

You may very well disagree with this proposal. But now is the time for more drastic change to try to save the site. It is heartbreaking to go back to threads five or six years ago and see good suggestions that have been completely ignored. We still have no solid information, just anecdotes, on why people join and why people leave or go silent. We still don't know what Metafilter's strengths and opportunities are that elgilito points to. We still have no solid plan for the future other than foolhardy optimism.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:14 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


Speaking of offers of help/volunteering/expertise, a couple people mentioned wanting a Google Sheets for that so here's one. Anyone should be able to make edits as needed.
posted by storytam at 4:15 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


The suggestion of firing the mods and replacing them with volunteers will go nowhere because it deserves to go nowhere. Moderating a community like Metafilter is a serious, full-time job. It is not a job that should be unpaid and it cannot be done properly if unpaid. Moreover, if a goal is to increase the diversity of the mod team, relying on volunteers will have the opposite result.
posted by adrianhon at 4:19 PM on July 11 [74 favorites]


The paid moderation is part of why this site has/is made of comment threads that are actually discourse, and not toxic flamebait. Moderation is not easy, it is stressful, never-ending pretty thankless, and so easily can burn you out.

On top of that, this site has a lot of history, miles of past moderation, and culture that the moderators understand, and can use to weigh their actions. Very few volunteers would be able to get up to speed fast enough to be able to preserve and process the amount of data that needs thoughtful moderation every day.

Or current mods are heroes. keep up the great work.
posted by dreamling at 4:28 PM on July 11 [24 favorites]


I want to echo the suggestion that Metafilter become a nonprofit. If it's not making a profit and relying on community support, the most appropriate structure really is a membership-based nonprofit. Having a Board of Directors could go a long way toward greater community ownership and enhance efforts to think about the strategic direction.

I'm bummed that some of the earlier suggestions along this line are linked with criticism of the mods or staff. To me, this recommendation doesn't come from You're Doing It Wrong but about creating a structure that embodies and better carries out the spirit of MetaFilter, which is basically bringing together a bunch of smart people and trusting that the hive mind is smarter than any individual.

If set up well, the Board can be great support for staff, bring in new ideas and best practices from other spheres of the world, and be a base for volunteerism and fundraising. They become the core volunteers and/or* donors who coordinate other volunteers and donors. (*Any given person doesn't have to be both, but both should be represented on the Board.) cortex's time could go not toward figuring out how to do more with fewer dollars but toward leveraging the talents of others here. Just re-read cheapskatebay's offer above, as one example! (And I'd bet someone here has run a membership fundraising campaign.) I love the ambition in this post and I'd love to make sure staff is getting the support necessary for the site to meet its targets.
posted by slidell at 4:34 PM on July 11 [13 favorites]


The suggestion of firing the mods and replacing them with volunteers will go nowhere because it deserves to go nowhere.

Any suggestion that doesn't address the dwindling user base is a controlled shutdown. I think there's a decent argument that the site has been in a controlled shutdown mode for years, it just hasn't been recognized or acknowledged explicitly.
posted by snofoam at 4:38 PM on July 11 [17 favorites]


I don't think firing the mods and replacing them with unpaid volunteers is the answer either. I get that having full-time staff moderators is a huge expense but it's a price worth paying. Boosting contributions is a good short-term strategy to make up the shortfalls but it's only a short-term solution. Metafilter has been steadily shrinking for years and there's no sign of it stopping any time soon. It's reasonable to expect community size and community contributions to continue trending downward in the future, while staffing expenses will stay fairly constant. Trying to make Metafilter fully community funded is not a long-term solution.

This is why I, like many others in this thread, think Metafilter's problem is one of sales. As a business, Metafilter's product is its community. This is both in the sense of selling community involvement to members and selling eyeballs to advertisers. There have already been a lot of great examples of ways to improve how Metafilter sells its community so I need not dive into that. We can talk about how the quality of the community itself isn't always perfect, but improving that quality isn't going to fix Metafilter's financial woes the way getting the word out and boosting the size of the community will.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:38 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


I do think that a PoliticsFilter subsite is worth considering. Given how valuable some people have found the megathreads in the past, I can imagine it becoming a place many people would welcome. If you will pardon the mixed metaphor, the world is politically on fire, and I think this is another tide that Metafilter could catch in terms of increasing its user base as well as the value it gives to users.

Since the mods probably blanch at the thought of moderating an entire subsite devoted to global politics when they are already overstretched, I think it might actually be possible for the moderation not to increase in proportion to the number of new politics threads with careful planning. It appears to me that moderating the megathread takes up a lot of energy simply to keep it in control as a thread on the Blue. This need would be reduced on the Grim (or whatever the colour is). Other subsite-specific changes that might include posts made only with mod approval, clubs or a 'talk' section for political organising, and a far lower threshold for timeouts than in other parts of the site. Possibly even something like a short online training for selected users following which their flags would come to the front of the queue for mod attention, reducing the need for mod vigilance.
posted by tavegyl at 4:39 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


There are a lot of contradictory opinions here. One thing to help with that would be a user survey— has Mefi done one lately? Surveys are pretty easy to set up and could give you a lot of info about what users want and don't want, and maybe info you don't yet know. A special survey for newer users could be a good idea too.

For images, I'd suggest a test on Ask Mefi. There's already a need for it: people want to ask "what is this thing/relic/bug I found", etc. Let the poster but not commenters add an image. If that doesn't make civilization crumble, try the same thing on the blue.

I'd also like to second the idea of waiving the $5 fee. When usage is slipping is not the time to hang onto exclusionary measures. Again, if you don't have survey info or other data, you can't know how many good people vs. bad people bounce off the fee.
posted by zompist at 4:49 PM on July 11 [12 favorites]


The suggestion of firing the mods and replacing them with volunteers will go nowhere because it deserves to go nowhere. Moderating a community like Metafilter is a serious, full-time job.

it boils down to what can be controlled and what can't be controlled

the number of people who are going to join can't be controlled - influenced, encouraged, etc but not controlled

the number of people who leave can't be controlled

the number of people who pay money, the ad dollars coming in, the amount of money spent in hardware and internet fees, all have minimum control

that leaves the moderation budget, which can be controlled

the simple truth is the budget isn't balancing - do you try to influence the things that are not within your control, knowing you might fail, or do you take the certain route of reducing the moderation budget and replacing it with volunteer work? - (certain in the sense it would balance the budget, not in the sense that it would result in better moderation, which is debatable)

you have to start from what you have control over and then work on what you might be able to influence - and the suggestion that metafilter get a promotional presence on facebook and twitter is a good start

i'll admit that i've had my differences over moderation so this might not seem objective - but the fact remains that this site isn't paying for itself and the biggest controllable expense is moderation

for those who say this is a sales and promotion problem, i can only say that's got to be proven with tangible money making ideas that involve increasing the userbase - and aside from using social media accounts, i would also say that this site can't be all things to all people and a certain accommodation to general discussion and a broad but not deep subject list is necessary - the idea that someone has to read this thread, and that thread and the other thread to participate is a non-seller

if people were able to keep public diaries here and choose who would be able to participate in the discussion, would that be an interesting feature? - letting people have a little miniblog to moderate themselves? tricky and very different and certainly not a priority, but it might be worth a look at someday and might attract people

we need out of the box thinking

and i've suggested putting the megathread of politics in its own lightly moderated sandbox before ... roll it over when it gets to long and don't worry over it
posted by pyramid termite at 4:56 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


For images, I'd suggest a test on Ask Mefi. There's already a need for it: people want to ask "what is this thing/relic/bug I found", etc. Let the poster but not commenters add an image.

I've been sitting around grumbling about how sweet the new MetaFilter bikeshed is going to look through most of this thread but this is a fantastic suggestion.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:58 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


I'd also like to second the idea of waiving the $5 fee. When usage is slipping is not the time to hang onto exclusionary measures.

....So...you propose that one solution to the loss of revenue is....cutting out one of the revenue sources?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:58 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


the number of people who are going to join can't be controlled

This is not even being tried and it feedback here seems to indicate it is not even on the table in the immediate future, but there are absolutely ways to increase users. More importantly, if it truly can't be controlled, then there is zero hope.

....So...you propose that one solution to the loss of revenue is....cutting out one of the revenue sources?

It is primarily a deliberate barrier to entry, not a significant revenue source. Cortex didn't even bother to include it in the figures above.
posted by snofoam at 5:05 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


if people were able to keep public diaries here and choose who would be able to participate in the discussion, would that be an interesting feature? - letting people have a little miniblog to moderate themselves? tricky and very different and certainly not a priority, but it might be worth a look at someday and might attract people

I once suggested that we allow MeFites to create their own Filters that would be unmoderated and live in a "Labs" or "Experimental" section. If they became popular or interesting they could eventually be upgraded to official status.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:08 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the $5 fee hasn't been a significant source of revenue in a very long time; that's just not an argument for or against it.

Zapping the fee entirely is something we've talked about a few times, and as radical changes to MeFi's traditional processes it's one I'm actually fairly inclined toward despite the complications and new challenges it implies.

My main idea on that front, that I think I mentioned before in the last year or two and someone echoed or mentioned independently upthread, has been moving from a fiver to a micro-essay question ("why do you want to join MetaFilter?") and then hand-approving the accounts that don't immediately fail the smell test and monitoring new users a little more closely than we have before.

Whether that would translate to a lot of new good users, or a lot of new spammers and griefers, or a hearty stew of both, or not much change in volume of signups, I don't know. It'd be pretty damned experimental by MeFi standards and might turn out immediately to look like a bad idea.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:22 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


If anything is a non-starter, it's incredibly time-consuming and costly new features that fundamentally reshape the way the site works. These ideas are cool and good, but they're not what is going to fix the problem at hand.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:23 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


I’m personally really uncomfortable with sweeping “just fire some mods”-type statements (no-one’s literal words). They’re not just “mods”, they’re fellow MeFites too, and reading a thread where people casually talk about taking your livelihood from you must feel pretty damn shite. Having worked in places with real job anxiety due to funding threats, which is not fun at all, I’d prefer if we didn’t casually add to that for actual real-life human beings in our midst. Spitball suggestions for sure but if you’re going to spitball firing a person who is reading the bloody thread maybe try and couch it in just the tiniest bit of empathy?
posted by billiebee at 5:30 PM on July 11 [58 favorites]


Upped to 20 bucks a month. You all are my online fam I’m here.
posted by nikaspark at 5:41 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


This thread is so dismaying. I feel like last time there was a "we need funds" post, the vast majority response was an outpouring of love for this place, eagerness to support it, and by the way, lots of ideas for how to help. This time, it feels like we're circling the drain and many of the ideas being offered up are steeped in bitterness that competes with their helpfulness. I didn't know that site participation and ad revenue had plummeted so much. I hadn't thought about the wholesale shift away from this style of site and other societal factors that make those trends nearly impossible to reverse, despite the good ideas folks have posted above.

Which isn't to say we shouldn't try -- I particularly like the prior ideas of:
- Quick-click sharing of posts and comments to social networks
- Invitations that avoid or defer a $5 signup charge
- Attracting users based on our differentiation of non-toxic online interpersonal interaction -- I hadn't thought about that being a key, broadly compelling offer to a wide range of ages and demographics, and I bet it is
- Anything that would get us back into google search results
- Shifting some less sensitive, first-line aspects of modding away from paid staff, freeing the paid mods up to concentrate their considerable talents where they're needed most
- Implementing a better solution than megathreads for politics
- Ensuring that fiscal matters are someone's primary responsibility (E.g., I'm another one whose subscription has lapsed, I'm sure I was never alerted, and if I had been, I'd have re-upped immediately. Watching the money needs to be somebody's job so we don't leave money we need on the table.)

I really don't want this place to go away. The straight-line projections folks have cited showing that, at this rate, it'll be gone in 10 years ignore that there's a critical mass and a cliff once we're below it, wherever that is. Thank you to cortex, the staff, and everyone in the community who cares about keeping that from happening. I hope we find a way to succeed.
posted by daisyace at 5:42 PM on July 11 [17 favorites]


I have an idea. It's probably a bad idea and will go over like a fart in church, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway.

Push all members through a subscription form. One of the options will be $0, and another would be "already supporting the site" but the idea is to make not supporting the site financially an active decision, just like supporting the site is an active decision now. No guilt tripping pop ups or any of that crap we see on other sites, just a simple form that every member has to go through to log in. Maybe set up it so we all see the form quarterly or 2X a year.

If it's going to be a 100% member supported community then I'm ok with the fund-raising being a little bit more in our face to get us there and keep us there.

And now I'm off to Paypal to up my monthly contribution a bit.
posted by COD at 5:44 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


I hadn't thought about the wholesale shift away from this style of site and other societal factors that make those trends nearly impossible to reverse, despite the good ideas folks have posted above.

On the plus side, we haven't come close to establishing it is impossible to reverse. We haven't seriously tried to reverse it at all. And a self-sustaining membership at current spending levels and donation levels would require adding maybe 5,000 users/ a couple thousand who are active monthly. Imagine a relatively small number of new people, it's easy if you try.
posted by snofoam at 5:59 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I would never have joined I had to write a justification for it. Maybe I’m the bad element you want to keep out tho.
posted by rodlymight at 6:03 PM on July 11 [25 favorites]


Push all members through a subscription form.

Yes, every time there is one of these threads a lot of users report that their contributions had ended without their knowledge, either because of a technical issue or a credit card expiration or whatever. Making it easier to see you're contribution status would help to alleviate this. Like maybe it should be on the login screen, or should appear as a **private** element of the user's profile page. Maybe the "Fund Metafilter" widget should show how much you're funding, for logged in users.
posted by chrchr at 6:07 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I would never have joined I had to write a justification for it. Maybe I’m the bad element you want to keep out tho.

Yes, I think an admittance essay is an enormous hurdle. I probably wouldn't have ever had the nerve to turn something like that in.

I think requirements that lean heavily on new members understanding implicit site (cultural) norms and "being a good fit" -- things like admittance essays, having first posts workshopped by "trusted members," being heavily guided in initial participation by "trusted members," recruiting via private invitation, etc -- are not going to make the site more inclusive. Those are all things that undermine inclusivity.

Really, those are methods for making the site more homogeneous. It makes the process of joining the site sound like trying to get into a country club or something. I don't think that's what the site is like now and I don't think that's the direction that most people want to go in.
posted by rue72 at 6:20 PM on July 11 [66 favorites]


I think a lot of the "cortex needs to accept the help he's been and is being offered" had, when it was being mentioned for the first time in this thread, a context in which the help talked about wasn't programming labor or site moderation, but instead was about offering guidance and planning on how to get from where MetaFilter is now to where it needs to be if it's going to survive.

And those roles have been mentioned repeatedly in this thread: Membership Board Of Advisors or Steering Committee, Financial guidance and planning, Legal advice, a whole raft of things I'm not remembering but none of them were about actually doing daily work on the site, but instead helping to provide experience and context and insight about specific matters in which the staff of MetaFilter (cortex, mods, frimble) have no experience or real knowledge and in which they seem to truly need advice on how to proceed.

These are all matters in which a committee or advice team can be assembled and have some meetings and ask for feedback and come up with a plan which the existing (and possibly slightly expanded) staff can execute.

Not having a CFO or some kind of professional management staff which has specialization in various, well, specialized topics or subjects of business is something which would have to be handled by hiring someone or some entity, probably not full time and possibly just as simple as being an accountant/advisor for whom MetaFilter is just one client.

But there's a lot of people here on MetaFilter who want to help, who have knowledge/insight/expertise, who are willing to donate time, and who can help steer this ship through this difficult course and perhaps into more peaceful waters.

Focussing on the idea of "getting help from volunteers" as somehow looking for volunteer mod staff or ad hoc programming or whatever is ignoring what the context was when this was originally brought up in this thread, and is going to end up discounting a lot of help that MetaFilter could be getting by throwing out the "we need advice and guidance which people can give us" baby with the "we can't take on free labor because of legal issues" bathwater.
posted by hippybear at 6:21 PM on July 11 [20 favorites]


And I'll say pretty strongly, along with that, that if we're going to tasked for money, there needs to be a Membership Board Of Advisors which serves maybe 2 year terms and is term limited and is selected somehow (not sure how we'd run elections, really, but maybe another way) and which is an equal seat at the table when it comes to how the site is run and what policies are created and what progress is to be expected as far as improvements to the site. The fact that we don't have this already, after 20 years, is astounding.

The old MetaChat served this function. We no longer have that. We need it back.
posted by hippybear at 6:27 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


adrianhon: I was motivated to write about my relationship with Metafilter over the 19.5 years I've been a member and what I'd do to turn things around (publicly ask members for more money, improve sharing to social media, start a newsletter)...

I'd like to go on record as an enthusiastic supporter of what adrianhon recommended in the newsletter linked above. I'm not a heavy contributor to MeFi, but I'm a devoted community member and long-term reader (I joined in 2008, and had been reading for a few years before joining). I'm also a business owner with a post-bac in accounting, for whatever that's worth.

Those graphs showing the long-term decline in MeFi usage are truly alarming. Until I saw them, I was completely unaware of how much site participation has dwindled. At the moment I'm not in a position to support the site financially, but even if I were, I'd hold off on doing so until those downward trends are addressed with a realistic and sustainable plan to increase revenues and "engagement." Without a viable long-term business plan, MeFi will eventually cease to be a "going concern," as accountants say.

adrianhon suggests starting a MeFi newsletter, and makes some important points:

"The problem a lot of sites face is reminding people they still exist. It’s easy to fall out of the habit of visiting, especially now that RSS has died. That’s why so many sites rely on social media to share articles (hence point 2). It’s also why people like me are creating newsletters, so we can “push” things to your inbox.

"Metafilter should do a biweekly roundup of the best posts and comments. Nothing too long, just the highlights. The good thing? It can politely ask people to consider subscribing."


Unlike in the early days of MeFi, my attention is stretched paper-thin these days, and some of that is simply because there are so many more blogs/newsletters/tweets/etc. competing for my attention. Even as someone who's in the habit of visiting MeFi every day or two, I would love a biweekly newsletter roundup of notable posts and comments, as I know I miss out on a lot of great stuff. And a newsletter would be a great way to reach less-active but still-appreciative members and politely offer them a paid subscription to support the site.

I'd also like to suggest Substack as a platform for such a newsletter, as it would enable MeFi to offer two subscription tiers: free and paid (minimum $5/mo). Substack handles the subscription payments through connecting to the newsletter publisher's Stripe account. They also have a basic search feature that could attract new readers to a MeFi newsletter through keyword searches.

(Full disclosure: I've been a happy Substack customer for over a year; I publish a music newsletter there. I'm impressed with their business model for a long list of reasons. No one is paying me to say this. I just love subscription newsletters.)

If MeFi ever does start such a newsletter, I'll be among the first to subscribe.
posted by velvet winter at 6:28 PM on July 11 [19 favorites]


If we ever actually have elections, you realize everyone will simply vote #1 quidnunc kid.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:33 PM on July 11 [34 favorites]


Yes, I think an admittance essay is an enormous hurdle.

Just to clarify, maybe "micro-essay" still reads more serious or onerous than I meant for it to. My notion is more like this: you get to where the signup process would normally say okay, there's a $5 dollar paypal fee, click here to do that bit, and instead it says e.g. "Great! By the way, what made you want to sign up? Don't worry, there's no wrong answer." and a smallish text box. The sort of thing that suggests a sentence, maybe two max.

Right now the $5 fee does two things: prevents driveby jerks from signing up, and provides a little bit of a check on stuff like spammers whose paypal details tell on themselves. Ditching the fee means needing to think about some other form of gating to prevent random driveby flooding or brigading, which manual approval accomplishes; if we're doing manual approval anyway, asking for a snippet of text in the process feels like a very small bump and a good chance to both (a) understand where good folks are coming from and (b) spot the more obvious cases of sketchy stuff.

Not that we need to hash this out right now, just want to provide a clearer sense of the form and rationale. I wouldn't be comfortable presenting folks with a quiz or a challenge to justify themselves, for sure.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:40 PM on July 11 [14 favorites]


I am dismayed to be getting a sense of "why don't you just do X?" from many of the comments here.

I feel like we've gotten a lot better recently at not leaping into threads about things that are hard - losing weight, fighting your way out of poverty, battling addiction - with "why don't you just X?" comments. I feel like we've gotten much better at recognizing that the person going through the difficulty is likely to be the expert on it, and that most people really do explore all their options and weigh them as realistically as they can while trying to plot the best course of action.

So it saddens me to pick up that sense of "we know what's best for you" in so many of these comments.

Cortex offers more transparency into site finances and site thought processes than any other web community I know, but I'm sure there are many questions he's grappled with that he hasn't detailed for us here. For one thing, his fingers would fall off from all the typing.

I'm glad so many people want so much to help - it's a wonderful thing! I just wonder if we could consider that Cortex has thought about all these issues, and all these solutions, extensively, and it seems likely to me that he's aware of a lot of nuances and tradeoffs that, well, certainly wouldn't occur to me right away, as I haven't been intimately involved with running the site for years.

Cortex, and everyone on the staff side: I would like to thank you for choosing to be so open about things, and for trying to find solutions that feel like good fits for the soul of the site and the community. Thank you for offering one clear step some of us can take, now, to provide for the site, and thank you for everything you've done over the years to create a space that so many people want to support.
posted by kristi at 6:41 PM on July 11 [50 favorites]


Almost every Facebook group that I've joined lately has asked me to either answer some questions or write a paragraph about why I want to join and what I expect to get out of the group.
posted by octothorpe at 6:45 PM on July 11 [12 favorites]


There seems to be no reason why the metafilter twitter account shouldn’t have 100k followers or more rather than the 3500 or so it has now. I see this as a key place that volunteers could start contributing almost right away. Maybe post everything but half an hour after it goes up (right now it is only “popular posts” which is self defeating) so there are likely to be some comments, and possibly make it a group effort with other interesting links and comments and jokes and whatnot. That is, a living account and not so much the semi-bot like character it is now :)

Also it doesn’t follow anyone, I don’t know if a bot could be made to auto follow all MeFites with twitter in their social media forms but it’d be a start perhaps.

And get it a blue check mark.

I know click throughs are low from twitter but it’d be something to get going on at least.
posted by Rumple at 6:52 PM on July 11 [20 favorites]


Hmmm, this thread is a little depressing to me, because it's identical to the first one that was ever posted, essentially. (This post is focused on mefi as a business, not a community)

When you first talked about huge revenue issues like what 5 years ago, and every year since then, 3 key issues emerged.

1. Plunging revenue from ads, specifically Google
2. Steady decline of user base and user activity
3. Increasing staffing and moderation costs

Since that time, there's been a lot of talk and consideration, but Cortex, I think you've gotten a bit lost in your role as moderator and community manager, and perhaps not focused on your role as CEO enough.

The only solution that has been tested, piloted, and executed in that time is rattling the tin cup (maaaybe adding fanfare?). With a declining user base this strategy will become less and less effective. It already has and it's only going to get worse unless you can address the above. Asking for more money is a dead end, stop going back to the well in an unstructured way. The fact you abandoned the promised update schedule on financials is a telling indicator of misaligned priorities I think.

I'm not like Mr Agile, Mr Lean etc, but I do think listening to some thoughts from qualified and experienced experts like iamkimian and allkindsoftime is very important. Because I feel that metafilter as a business has some prioritisation problems. There is a reason why Agile, lean, six sigma etc have taken off in the business world, it's cause they work. All three methodologies are strong at identifying breakpoints, standardising workflow, and adding structured testing and evaluation. I feel, from the outside looking in, that Mefi could use some of this. You need a business consultant man, do you even have a business plan?

All the faffing around with layouts and stuff should really be secondary unless they are directly connected to increasing google traffic and user activity, or reducing resourcing. If you're uncertain whether they are connected - then you test and learn. Metafilter community and business both is very conservative in the literal sense of the word, and I think that has to change if you want to keep this business as a going concern. Staying the course will destroy this site as we know in much less than nine years. I'd give you another 3 or so.

This is a not call to upend everything, but for example I think the rollout of a new fanfare page was managed poorly - and managing the reaction to it was managed poorly, from a resourcing perspective. It was very ad hoc and reactive, not a good use of your time (unlike iamkimian and allkindsoftime, I work in an adjacent field of organisational change management, so stuff like that is my bread and butter)

People threatening to quit because of faves or some shit? Let's measure and see if it's true. Do you need a "mefi labs" pilot space or something? I'm not sure. Spitballing solutions in a long thread is good for idea generation, but terrible for prioritisation and planning.

Focus on those top three goals. Come up with some solutions. Do some scoping/t-shirt sizing/whatever you want to call it. Create a backlog. Share with the community as an fyi, direct feedback through controlled channels. Implement, test, and learn. If work you're doing is not increasing google traffic, expanding the communiy, or reducing spend/resources stop doing it right now. I mean, this is serious, people's jobs are on the line. Excuse the French but why are you fucking around with fanfare or something when your twitter and facebook presence is a poor joke? Put some work into that, shit delegate to users (guests hosts), and see if it increases activity.

It seems crazy to me, with the resourcing, that you have been growing expenses and expanding moderation whilst revenue and customer base is shrinking. This is not a ding on our lovely moderators, or the fabulous work they do and the ways they've improved the community. But as a business, increasing expenses whilst revenue is going down is nuts and literally the opposite of what you should be doing.

I'm not going to give you more money with my subscription. It's not because I don't love you - I do! I love the shit out of this site and community - it's because you have not used the money I already give you effectively, to build a sustainable business. I don't think giving you more will help you do that, at this point in time. I am totally willing to increase my subscription in the future, if I feel the site is trying to move towards a sustainable business model.

Best of luck, will be following this thread with interest..
posted by smoke at 6:56 PM on July 11 [84 favorites]


It's not within my means to add yet another subscription, but I'm hesitant anyway because the PoC thread made it clear that we've up to this point have been yelling at a brick wall. And honestly? I've gotten more abuse here than I have on many other social networks. When I first became an FPP here (for a post about Ello), despite going viral damn near everywhere, Mefi was the only place I got horrid vitriol from.

I've gotten a lot of good out of Mefi, sure, but I've also gotten significant bad to be wary about supporting the site further.
posted by divabat at 7:03 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


It seems crazy to me, with the resourcing, that you have been growing expenses and expanding moderation whilst revenue and customer base is shrinking.

I take your overall argument, but to be clear on this point: we have done nothing but reduce overall expenses in the last three years. The biggest expansion in moderation to happen since Matt finally made public that precipitating crisis in 2014 was hiring some of the people who got laid off back on. We hired EM on part time at a point where we'd had steady-to-bullish ad revenue for months and a solid buffer of savings; that was the last time we had anything like discretionary income. The only costs that have gone up are insurance market premium rates on existing benefits, and even at that the team's worked out reductions in plan costs where possible to offset it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:06 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


So I may be a huge outlier here, but I really loathe the idea of trying to spread/syndicate Metafilter to other platforms more broadly than it already is. And possibily tying into that, in terms of a sense of privacycustomization, there are two things that most other social media platforms offer that I think are increasingly essential for Metafilter to also adopt, even if it changes some longtime traditions (see also: make this place more visually appealing):

1) the ability to completely delete ones' presence, beyond just buttoning and BND cycles. Like, I'm increasingly creeped out that TwoStride will be here forever even if/when I move on, and it's making me increasingly less inclined to participate.

2). the official ability to block other users. It helps keep the peace.
posted by TwoStride at 7:10 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


kristi: "I am dismayed to be getting a sense of "why don't you just do X?" from many of the comments here.

I feel like we've gotten a lot better recently at not leaping into threads about things that are hard - losing weight, fighting your way out of poverty, battling addiction - with "why don't you just X?" comments.
"

I think a lot of the "tough love" sentiment is coming from folks who enthusiastically participated in the last big round of "let's all pull together gang and help save the site!" and are dismayed that (1) the concrete ideas and advice about growth they were invited to give went almost entirely unimplemented while (2) continued ad market and userbase decline more than cancelled out all the money that was raised. If that cycle of business-as-usual continues, the site won't die, but there won't be enough revenue to pay for the level of moderation people value. So there's a strong sense of, "We love you, man, but this trend isn't sustainable and we actually need to Do Something this time instead of just tweaking things at the margins."

Heck, I'm still a little irked that my simplest idea of returning to colored background for branding/recognition reasons was never acted on despite a big positive response and cortex saying he "thinks about this regularly. Regularly."... more than a year ago. Like I'm no web designer, but it seems like something that can be done with a metaphorical flip of the switch, and even basic A/B testing to determine how it might affect bounce rate one way or the other shouldn't be that complicated. (Plus, "dark mode" design is increasingly popular now for UX and neurological reasons -- all the more reason to go for it!) If even small stuff like that is resistant to change, then bigger stuff like social media pushes or an ad campaign or organizational reform needs to be really agitated for.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:21 PM on July 11 [42 favorites]


Just to clarify, maybe "micro-essay" still reads more serious or onerous than I meant for it to. My notion is more like this: you get to where the signup process would normally say okay, there's a $5 dollar paypal fee, click here to do that bit, and instead it says e.g. "Great! By the way, what made you want to sign up? Don't worry, there's no wrong answer." and a smallish text box. The sort of thing that suggests a sentence, maybe two max.

I do this with the Meetup I run/host, and I do want to caution you that the "Don't worry, there's no wrong answer" thing is absolutely essential or many people will just stare at it in alarm or otherwise feel judged. Seriously. I think mine is something like "what does X mean to you?" and we had to add similar text to that, too. Also, some people will do things like put X in which will be nigh incomprehensible; in at least one one case, this was a screen reader/accessibility issue. Which was fine, just--thinking out loud about troubleshooting that.

Are we really getting so few sign-ups that mods can manually review each one without that being a major strain on mod efforts? Wow. If this is the plan, what will happen if we do suddenly get more sign-ups without the $5 fee? Will this plan scale up with numbers? What's the return on investment for that?

Re: volunteering, note that I am less suggesting that we should rely on volunteer labor--I don't think for example that modding should be outsourced to volunteers right now--and more suggesting that volunteer-run projects be given some official support and advertising, so that it's easier for people to tell where they are and use them, and easier to help coordinate folks who want to help on specific projects. For example, Rumple's Twitter suggestion there upthread is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. We used to have an unofficial best of mefi twitter that was curated by someone who just kept sharing comments and threads she liked; I think it was a good thing to have, and it was a useful thing to share and retweet. I don't think it exists anymore that I've seen.
posted by sciatrix at 7:22 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Are we really getting so few sign-ups that mods can manually review each one without that being a major strain on mod efforts? Wow. If this is the plan, what will happen if we do suddenly get more sign-ups without the $5 fee? Will this plan scale up with numbers? What's the return on investment for that?

We have a couple of completed signups a day, give or take; the moderation load of checking on that is indeed pretty minimal right now. Even in the site's heyday the daily turnover was never huge, low two digits was a healthy pace.

So where we are now we could handle ten-fold increase in daily signups without having to think too hard about the actual processing of those new accounts. Any real growing pains would have more to do with the overlapping period of onboarding for those new folks. If it became an actual pacing problem, we'd want to throttle signups a bit. But in the context of talking about user growth, that'd be a good problem to have.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:27 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


And, yes, I'm with Rhaomi--I don't necessarily feel like things will change on any of these efforts on the mod end of things. It took what, three years to get flags with a comment box? And y'all are constantly exhausted and tired and stretched thin, but there's no mechanism to help with any of the work needed to try new things, and there's no discussion about what can and should be cut, and even merch takes a long time with people saying "can I donate fully-set up designs?" and that being rebuffed, and and and.

I increasingly believe in the axiom, "if you want something, pay for it." Well, all right; where is the moderator time budget allocated for implementing some of these ideas? It sounds like almost all of your collective time is going into actively boots-on-the-ground moderating and sharing the communication that comes into that moderation. That sounds exhausting! It must be really hard to take the time to focus on figuring out different ad streams or setting up a new coding base or putting out a thousand little fires when you're also stepping in to yell at Imaginary User 948 for litigating Bernie Vs Hillary Round Eighty Bajillion every moment you're on the job. Do you have time set aside for on the clock someone to sit down, breathe, and tackle this kind of stuff without interruption?
posted by sciatrix at 7:33 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


Cortex, out of curiosity, from the dozens of suggestions you received in the last financials thread about boosting engagement, increasing revenue, reducing resource load on everyone - how many of them has the team actioned?

If you did action some suggestions, have they been tracked and then reviewed to see if they met goals? Did they? Can they be stopped if they didn't help? Can they be strengthened if they did?

If you didn't action suggestions, what were the blockers to that?
What can be done to overcome those blockers?

These are the questions that need to be asked, before asking for money, I feel. Asking for more money is one action; you tracked it, it hasn't worked to the level it needs. So things need to change.
posted by smoke at 7:36 PM on July 11 [20 favorites]


I know cortex likes recursion for its own sake but this is a serious suggestion: post a question to AskMefi along the lines of “how could Metafilter be improved/gain new members/etc?” I bet you would access a whole different user base slice there than here. Maybe sticky that question for a week.
posted by Rumple at 7:41 PM on July 11 [63 favorites]


I do this with the Meetup I run/host, and I do want to caution you that the "Don't worry, there's no wrong answer" thing is absolutely essential or many people will just stare at it in alarm or otherwise feel judged.

I would still feel judged. I mean, it’s obviously a lie, if there were really no wrong answers then no answer would do just as well. But you want something you can judge.
posted by rodlymight at 7:41 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Like I'm no web designer, but it seems like something that can be done with a metaphorical flip of the switch

Speaking as both a long-time UX designer and previously a long-time web designer, that's the sort of logical fallacy that's resulted in so, so, so many bad events I've seen in my career.

I mean, it COULD be, but... never think this stuff is easy. Be pleasantly surprised when it's easy, because everything interconnects and there are dependencies you would never expect to see.

(Honestly, that's good advice for all the ideas played out here.)
posted by dw at 7:43 PM on July 11 [12 favorites]


We have a couple of completed signups a day, give or take; the moderation load of checking on that is indeed pretty minimal right now.

I would be very curious to know how many people reach the signup page each day.
posted by snofoam at 7:44 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


> the concrete ideas and advice about growth they were invited to give went almost entirely unimplemented while (2) continued ad market and userbase decline more than cancelled out all the money that was raised.

Yeah. I really have to agree with Rhaomi here – that's why I phrased my own thoughts as I did. I mean, the last time, it was kind of treated like, "Hey, Mefi's about to disappear." Everyone was like, "Hell, no!" And then ... it's here again. People are kind of going ... "Okay, so ... why was nothing changed?"

There's a general tendency to respect the admins here. That comes from the days of Matt and Jessamyn and Cortex and pb. I don't mean a reference to the old guard to show any disrespect to existing newer admins; it's just that I have not been directly exposed to them enough to gain a good sense of them as people to have gained a natural respect for their wisdom.

And I've met Josh in person at a Billy Goat meetup and he's a freakin' genius, an idea man like nobody's business, so my first strong tendency is to not question him.

But man, while I mean no disrespect, I really feel the question has to be at this point – if business as usual is taking the site all the way down, then why are we still doing business as usual? If you see a tree directly in the middle of your car's path, you don't start making minor tweaks to the navigation. Those graphs are freakin' scary.

(On an emotional note, I think some of the site's problems have to do with the fact that everyone in the world is just damn tired. There's so much conflict, so much unhappiness, that we as the human species all kind of seem tired of each other.)

There's a hell of a lot of ideas here, and frankly, I suggest that they be sorted out into both a non-binding survey directed to all existing Metafilter users (so as to get a clearer sense of trends of decisions), and also that, now that a lot of this has been talked out, separate MeTa threads be created to discuss some of the ideas.

(In terms of my own suggestions, I don't want two things to be conflated. There's easier sharing of links – an idea in many ways already implemented, actually – and there's an official Metafilter presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I can sympathize with the Mefite above who's extremely against that, but I think that the site eventually won't continue to exist without it.)
posted by WCityMike at 7:44 PM on July 11 [30 favorites]


I would still feel judged. I mean, it’s obviously a lie, if there were really no wrong answers then no answer would do just as well. But you want something you can judge.

I mean, it doesn't have to be either/or, right? You can have a signup page that says "we try to weed out scammers and trolls with our signup process, you can answer a quick question or skip all that and pay $5.". Anyone who's intimidated by the q & a process can then opt out.
posted by storytam at 7:45 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


> Heck, I'm still a little irked that my simplest idea of returning to colored background for branding/recognition reasons was never acted on despite a big positive response and cortex saying he "thinks about this regularly. Regularly."... more than a year ago.

Seems like this would be a great thing to do as a quick and dirty gesture of good faith, and to break the cycle of what seems to be paralysis by analysis. Just go and do this one simple thing, even if it's not done perfectly, just to show that you're taking user suggestions seriously and not just collecting an endless backlog to stare at and occasionally re-prioritize.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:56 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


Also, RSS has not died. RSS is simply a distribution format. It's how all your podcast subscriptions work. Find an RSS program you like (sorry Google was an asshole) and RSS yourself into a frenzy.

If you mean that RSS for MetaFilter has died, that's something handled in-site and has nothing to do with RSS as being a thing that exists.
posted by hippybear at 8:08 PM on July 11


I took that to mean that RSS never really took off in a serious way (previously on MetaFilter) except among hardcore nerds, not that it was no longer in use or available on MetaFilter (which, of course, it is.)
posted by tonycpsu at 8:16 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Our list is SO LONG. It's gonna be a busy summer.

So this was a while back, but seriously? As an organizational response to a set of urgent issues, spending the summer have a series of long, involved, and repetitive discussions seems like about the worst use of scarce resources possible.

You guys know how to direct and moderate conversations, and most everyone will defer to your expertise on that front. However, you are hearing some pretty consistent things here from people who know how to manage organizational change, budgets, and institutional growth and governance, but I don't know how much listening is happening.

Smoke's comment above about actions and outcomes is great, and I hope is taken to heart.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:22 PM on July 11 [19 favorites]


I read Adrian as saying, basically, "they fuckin' killed Reader". RSS isn't dead, neither is gopher, but there was an inflection point in the infrastructure of the blogosphere when Google made that particular decision and "deathblow" is a phrase I've heard from bloggy folks more than once about it. Yes, our RSS feeds still operate and I'm glad folks get regular use out of them.

Heck, I'm still a little irked that my simplest idea of returning to colored background for branding/recognition reasons was never acted on

It's...I dunno. It's been a long year. It's been a long year after a few long years before it. I agree that we didn't get as much stuff done as we wanted, as we ought to have; we got a lot of planning and initial work done on stuff that didn't get over the finish line for one reason or another. I'm in a weird place right now where I'm a little too fried to sit down and dig through what stuff did get done in the last year to produce a list to rattle off what got done, what got started, what the blockers were, etc. In any case "hey, we actually did get x/y/z done and a/b/c started" doesn't make any difference to the idea that it wasn't enough if things are bad anyway. But I appreciate the notion that doing that would itself be useful in a lot of ways. More generally tracking works in progress publicly would be good.

The colors thing is a weird one because it's actually pretty emotionally resonant for me. I meant what I said then and haven't stopped meaning it or thinking about it. And so I've had a couple conversations with frimble about it in the last year, we've looked at what the scope of changing it would be, established that a simple version would be quick but would break a couple knock-on things with templates, and a complex version should be doable but would take a little work. I folded that into a larger plan to have some theme maintenance done by the guy who did the original design work for the Modern theme years ago, then had bad scheduling luck with him a couple times as he had significant contracting gigs take up several month of his time at a stretch. Finally looped back with him earlier this year, then another gig came up, and when he was free up again we were looking at growing monthly deficit and paying for polish tweaks had to be postponed until we got this stuff at least sorted out.

So at this point, switching the colors back on is back to a me-and-frimble thing, and I've talked with them in the last week about trying to get back to it, because it's something I've wanted to do for the 20th, as a little symbolic return to MetaFilter's identity as I've always seen it. Hopefully we can knock out the tricky bits in the course of some other template stuff we're already messing with over the next couple days and get that in good shape by Sunday; we'll see, I hope so.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:41 PM on July 11 [21 favorites]


It's been a long year after a few long years before it. I agree that we didn't get as much stuff done as we wanted, as we ought to have; we got a lot of planning and initial work done on stuff that didn't get over the finish line for one reason or another. I'm in a weird place right now where I'm a little too fried to sit down and dig through what stuff did get done in the last year to produce a list to rattle off what got done, what got started, what the blockers were, etc. In any case "hey, we actually did get x/y/z done and a/b/c started" doesn't make any difference to the idea that it wasn't enough if things are bad anyway.

This right here is why you need to expand your team to include volunteer planning and advisory boards who have expertise in various areas in which you are lacking. You are trying to do too much and too much of what you are trying to do lies outside of your background training outside of MetaFilter and you don't know what you don't know.
posted by hippybear at 8:48 PM on July 11 [26 favorites]


I was part of a forum/community blog about 15 years ago that allowed new members to join via member-generated invitation links. If you invited someone who got banned, you couldn’t invite more people without talking to the owner. It was just enough to help people share their invitation links prudently. I think that could work here.
posted by michaelh at 8:55 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Thanks for the background on that, cortex, and I'm sorry if I made it sound like you did less work overall than actually happened behind the scenes -- that list in my first comment here was based off scanning the last year of your MetaTalk posts, which include the big announcements but not prep work stuff like this.

(Incidentally, I'm surprised to hear any such change would be so complicated -- I always thought that since even non-members can toggle it on and off via the front page, that changing the default look would be as simple as reversing what the cookie for it signifies, or something along those lines. But the nearest experience I have with that kind of thing is futzing with CSS templates on Reddit, and even that has plenty of unexpected hitches. Clearly dw knew what he was talking about!)
posted by Rhaomi at 8:59 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I think we should all just get way more courageous about posting shit here and driving IRL a lot more. It seems like an FPP feels like this huge thing to do, it would be cool if an FPP felt like making a tweet, I dunno something decidedly more than shitposting but also making it okay to share things that aren’t so...important? I dunno
posted by nikaspark at 9:17 PM on July 11 [24 favorites]


In any case "hey, we actually did get x/y/z done and a/b/c started" doesn't make any difference to the idea that it wasn't enough if things are bad anyway

This is somewhat destructive thinking. I wasn't asking you those questions so I could scold you, or judge you for not doing enough etc. I can understand the pessimism, and I'll admit, I am a bit jaded because there were no updates, there hasn't been visible actions, so I think it's natural to assume there was no action or appropriate prioritisation.

The real reason to get info like this, though, is so you can evaluate where you're spending time and resource, and if it's in the right areas. If the same blockers keep coming up, you can formulate plans to deal with those blockers. If the experiments are failing, but taking a lot of work, then you think about reducing the workload of experiments.

From what I have seen - and we've seen little, maybe there's a lot more happening! That... is on you, I'm afraid - there isn't necessarily this level of analysis, prioritisation, planning, and post-implentation review going on. It sounds like a lot, but mapping this stuff out at a high level can be done surprisingly quickly.

Like, even this thread. Is it increasing our google results? No. Is it increasing new members and members activity? Maaaaaaaaaaaybe the latter, not by much. Is it costing staff and mod resources? Hell yes. Then is it a good use of time?

For the temporary revenue boost, yes, it's worth it. Next question is how much resource is required for that revenue boost? The post, yes. Engaging with all the comments... well, if you're not actually going to use any of the content to address the 3 goals, all mod work outside of the initial post, from a mod perspective, is a waste of resource.

That's why you ask these questions. If you had asked them 6 weeks after the last post that was basically identical to this one, maybe this one would have been different in terms of the content, the call to action, the responses you're getting, and how you tackled it. But it seems like the tape is on replay, and there's no point repeating the same behaviour expecting a different goal (if you just expected a temporary revenue burst, then that's fine, you should call it out as such, and consider if there are better/other ways of getting that). You guys aren't closing the loop.
posted by smoke at 9:40 PM on July 11 [26 favorites]


I think we should all just get way more courageous about posting shit here

I post shit most days and most of what I post is not contentious bullshit (well, Bob Dylan... but still...) and if more people posted most days and if most of it wasn't "this is awful look at this" or "hey here's a thing to argue/be upset about", this place would be a lot more fun.

It's gotten a lot better over the last few months, I will specifically admit. I've taken to looking at the content of the front page and sorting things into two categories, entirely subjective but also linked to reading the articles and threads, and there's a different balance now in what is, IMO, the positive direction.

When I first discovered MetaFilter... okay, literally, my partner who is way more Internet than I am (and I am fairly Internet but not as much as he) showed me the cat scan post.... but I didn't start reading it until maybe the mid 2000s on a regular basis, and I joined on whatever date my profile page shows I joined on... which was long enough ago... but when I joined... the posts were more.. they felt more like they were side quests on a road through a magic forest. There were bursts of magic and sudden side-steps unforeseen and that thing there that needed to be confronted, but it wasn't The Entire United States Cultural Structure Since Before The Declaration Of Independence.

It all feels like it's either fluffy or it's DIRE. And I'm even going to say it's a post that demands response due to an Outrage. Because there used to be so much more in-between. And I see it happening, and it's happening more, but the ratio... I feel like it continues to be so tilted...

It used to feel like fun to look at the Blue. Now, even now in our "it's more fun than it was" days, it feels, to me, like, it's work to sort through the page and decide how deeply to engage, either with the links or with the thread.

This is a community issue, really. If the community wants the site to be alarming, then you're doing great. It's less alarming now, but I still find it a thing where I go "yeah, I'll read the article and skim the comments but I won't participate in the thread" because I've been here long enough to know how the conversation will proceed (conservative with a small c is the core of MetaFilter).

I found the site when it was young and fun and weird. And maybe it's still that at its core. It has a lot of long-time members who are still active who I see appear here and there... Are those people not finding cool and interesting and weird and "this is worth experiencing" websites anymore?

Also, younger users, are you finding websites (probably phone-sites at this point) that are cool and can be shared on MetaFilter? Like, of any kind? Informational, educational, specialist video sites?

Like, there's a lot out there, and the only way any of us can hope to explore the entire forest is for us all to report back what we've each found on our explorations.

Make MetaFilter what you want it to be. Post the shit you think is cool. Just because you found it doesn't mean others have. Post frequently, post clumsily (I once required 8 corrections to a post), but post! MetaFilter is literally YOURS! If the front page isn't what you want it to be, then post! If it is, then also post! Also, post things you think maybe shouldn't be on the front page but are interesting to you. Others will be interested, I promise.

Also, if you make a post that gets zero comments and 2 favorites. Think how many non-members might have read that post! Think also... 2 favorites. I've had posts with zero favorites.

Okay, that's my "just make posts", my time is up.
posted by hippybear at 9:56 PM on July 11 [30 favorites]


This entire site sometimes feels like it is stuck in one of my anxiety spirals. Well, actually Cortex you do. It's ok to take an action without having the outcome predicted. Sometimes you gotta just jump.

Also I think one of the problems that comes up is that there is no way to give feedback without it sounding like we are "grr I hate that f**". Probably because of this site growing up with cortex being a member and mods coming from the site. Which I agree is the way to do things but it can make it hard for users to bring up issues that they see from their perspective.

Now I'm just a white trash redneck from a small logging town with only a high school education that is certifiably insane (too crazy for mental health people to treat) but some of the feedback and negative emotions in this thread are because we love this site and we can see that we've been spinning in circles about this for ages. Something has to change. I would like this site to make one of these changes in a dedicated period so we can all (including the mods and cortex) some positive feelings that change is possible.

I don't share this site with anyone as it's highly classist, very US focused, and the 101 work just isn't being done by the leadership. Also it's heavily guarded. Metafilter is scary for a new user especially a marganilzed one. I have to read tons of past threads to get in jokes or see what some people are referring. There's all this mystery about how certain users are doing this and ones are doing that that is buried in decades long grievances. It's like the old guard are holding tightly to things while other things are literally burning on fire. It's intimidating.

But a welcome wagon would scare me off and a posting buddy would tell me that I'm to be watched to see if I'm the right kind of mefite.

I don't really feel like getting into why I love the place. I assume no one knows who I am and it won't matter.
posted by kanata at 9:58 PM on July 11 [19 favorites]


I will point out a single link did get posted and then was deleted which spawned the POC thread. Maybe ban deletions on eh this is kind of thin could help. And encourage it.
posted by kanata at 10:00 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


This right here is why you need to expand your team to include volunteer planning and advisory boards who have expertise in various areas in which you are lacking.

Exactly what hippybear said. It's understandable that mods end up focused on the day to day rather than having a lot of mental space for long term planning. It's clear how hard everyone is working and how much heart goes into the work. The idea of a board or steering committee is to carve out space for the longer-range conversations and to bring in people who have expertise and energy that can help.

But to all those saying "my advice wasn't taken before so I'm not helping more now," I think that's misguided. You're asking cortex to spend a lot more time on board formation and management, or to go to training, or to consult management experts, or to put together a business plan. Any or all of that is going to take time! It seems to me that it should be a priority to get site funding to a level that cortex could leave the day to day moderation to others and then work in a focused way with some subset of users to put together a plan to address this situation. (I don't know if that's something you'd be even open to, cortex. Maybe the daily mod work is what you really like doing, IDK.)

I'd be interested to hear (whenever, it doesn't have to be right away) what your thoughts are on this idea of forming a Steering Committee.

I would also question some of this thinking like "we just have to get colors turned on" or images or whatever. I feel like all of that should tier off of a strategy, not done just to prove that there's a willingness to change. To me one display change isn't really "change." If we want the mods to do more thinking about how to deal with long term change (even if that's primarily just building community support behind the idea put forward in this post and creating a bit more of an action plan to get there), we have to create space for that by not expecting various ponies that will just run in different directions.
posted by slidell at 10:28 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


I'm both a five dollar noob and someone who isn't around much anymore - a disasters and memorials Mefite, as it were. I'm going to go ahead and throw my thoughts in, since a few people upthread mentioned wanting to hear from people who have mostly left.

The internet has changed a lot since I joined and Mefi has not. In 2005 getting online was a whole thing: you fix yourself a drink, you load up a few good websites (I had a daily reads folder, didn't you?) and you settle in for a couple of hours. I'd go online the way people settled in to watch TV, and I'm sure that's not unusual for this user base. This site, at the time, was a perfect site for hours of online time.

Mefi is built for deep dives. The internet isn't, anymore.

People get online on their phones while waiting at the grocery store checkout. They bounce from one social media to another, send a text, get all the news they need from a trending topic, and they're done in the time it takes to read a comprehensive FPP.

I'll skip the editorializing about whether any of this change is good or bad. It just is, and it's something Cortex et al ought to take into account, going forward.

Don't get me wrong - the site and content would suffer if it was chopped into 280-character morsels. It's not a social media site and shouldn't be. That isn't the competition unless we all start sharing photos of our lunches, and thanks but no. (I would not mind a HerpFilter for reptile keepers; facebook is full of so many kids that need to get off my lawn, though they are good on husbandry. I digress.)

Metafilter is the exact opposite of social media: a deep dive site. It always has been. Advertise that. Use it. "Here's a tweet/FB post/whatever with a quick overview. Wanna know more? Follow the link."

The internet can still do in-depth content, but it doesn't pretend to be something it isn't. Longreads is a thing and Mefi has been doing its thing even longer. How are they thriving when we're floundering? Figure that out and then figure out how to use it here.

So how did I find out about this thread, even? Through Twitter. Don't think of it as social media if you're allergic to the term; think of it as a new form of content aggregator, and then wonder why it's not being used to benefit this site.

I've met so many people and learned so many things from this Web Zero Point Five behemoth, this beloved blue dinosaur, this relic of a bygone internet age. It's like going back to your childhood house and finding that everything is the same, that there's always a place to come back to. (And a bunch of people in the kitchen yelling about the president -- but that was normal for me, as a kid.)

I'm not going to say evolve or die: I'll suggest, adapt or stagnate. Right now it's stagnating. I don't think it has to.

And since that's my comment quota for the past three years topped up... good luck, we're all counting on you.
posted by cmyk at 10:35 PM on July 11 [51 favorites]


Maybe ban deletions on eh this is kind of thin could help. And encourage it.

Single-link posts are pretty common (viz. the crap I post), and mostly interesting. "Outragefilter" was the stated reason for deleting the post you mention, and I think that's being addressed. I agree with you and nikaspark that people should make simple posts that are amusing or interesting, not just Informative or Important. Even though it's easy to find stuff like this on social media, not everybody will run across it so why not make a post here to brighten up someone's day? There are other people who enjoy making substantive posts. To each their own.

MetaFilter: Just Post It
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:41 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


cmyk: Hey, nice to see you again.
posted by hippybear at 10:46 PM on July 11 [7 favorites]


some people were talking earlier about how there aren't a lot of "old internet" sites still standing. Kingdom of Loathing is an interesting example. it's a game, so things are slightly different, but they reached a similar financial crisis point a few years ago and i think a lot of the things they did to stop the bleeding would work just as well for metafilter. if we're having trouble knowing where to start, this is a model of things that worked on a site from the same era with a similar audience, and some of this stuff can be done in the short term while we figure out more long term solutions.

-reminder emails to people who hadn't logged on in over a year. the emails were funny, because it's Kingdom of Loathing, and more importantly detailed new features that had been added to the game in the years since the person had logged on. (so if you hadn't logged on since 2008, there would be a section detailing 2009, then 2010, then 2011, etc) in metafilter's case, you could talk about one landmark post from each year since the person had been on the site, and maybe throw in some big site news like the introduction of fanfare. importantly, the email they sent ended with something along the lines of "and don't worry, if you decide not to log back in you'll never hear from us again". if we're going to have an official mefi newsletter as some have suggested, tying that into this email would be good too (something like "if you can't log in right now but want to keep up with the site, click this link and we'll send you our monthly digest of the best posts and comments.") this would reduce the barrier of entry from "come log on to the site" to literally just "click this link". after the initial email wave, continue sending this same email in the future to every member who goes inactive for a year.

-coincidentally KoL's financial troubles also occurred near a milestone, the game's 10th anniversary. they sent out press releases to every major gaming site. even if we miss the actual date, it's not too late to bill it as "this summer marks metafilter's 20th anniversary". write up a press release about the site (or pay to have one written up) and note major milestones and great posts from the last few years. send it to every major tech and nerd culture site on the internet. it seems like an absolute no brainer that sites like boing boing or kottke would be willing to write about the site on its anniversary, but maybe you could get an editor from the verge or polygon or wired interested in doing a larger story? metafilter is a community that has been running strong for 20 years, which is a rarity online. leverage that.

-people have really been hammering this, but social media integration. in KoL's case they basically allowed people to auto-generate forum signatures detailing their character information. this did not work as well for them as they hoped, but i think as people have indicated, having some way to auto generate images of good posts and comments to share to social media is essential.

-lastly, people really do like when they get something in return for their money. there are always going to be people who can't justify a donation but can justify a purchase. i think there are plenty of ways to tackle this that won't harm the site's culture. KoL allows you to donate $10 every month to get a new item with unique mechanics and writing, obviously that doesn't apply here. i think you can look at sites like reddit or twitch.tv here. someone above suggested letting people pay $5 to "gold star" other peoples posts and comments, this is what reddit does and i think it's something we honestly should have had years ago. consider it a way for people to publicly flag as fantastic.

on twitch, you can subscribe to a streamer in order to get access to a set of emotes, maybe we can have some custom emoji made that people who are actively funding metafilter can use (like, say, a plate of beans, a bottle of pepsi blue, etc). since apple has opened up the emoji floodgates a few years ago it won't seem that foreign to see people use them.

this is my biggest suggestion: charge people to post images. $5 per image, one per comment, $10 to use one (below the fold) in a post (i also do love the idea presented above of letting ask users post an image for free in their initial question). there will be people willing to pay for this, and anyone who isn't will just have the same mefi posting experience they currently have. i know there is a contingent of people here who never want to see images on the site, but if seeing images means keeping the site running it will probably be an easier pill to swallow. all of these ideas may seem foreign to metafilter, but i don't think any of them would hurt the site's culture in the long run, and we're going to have to try some new things if we want to metafilter to survive and thrive.
posted by JimBennett at 10:57 PM on July 11 [27 favorites]


How about trying to focus on the lurkers we already have? Put up a note on all the pages saying we want to hear from people reading why they haven't joined and offer an anon email account. We have people already here not joining up. Ask them why?
posted by kanata at 11:12 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


A few of the messages that are coming through from this thread:

- Some people are willing to donate, but only to specific initiatives where they see some kind of “return” (consultant on PoC issues, long term strategy, etc)
- Some people have something to offer in terms of specific expertise (lots of examples) and appear willing to share that
- But! There are myriad practical and legal issues surrounding volunteer labour

Why not deal with the above as follows: identify professionals willing to work with MetaFilter on priority areas, agree a rate for that work (people may very well be willing to accept below-market-rate, if they’re offering to volunteer anyway...) then do funding drives from the existing community that are ear-marked for those services?
posted by chappell, ambrose at 11:28 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


cmyk: Metafilter is the exact opposite of social media: a deep dive site. It always has been. Advertise that. Use it. "Here's a tweet/FB post/whatever with a quick overview. Wanna know more? Follow the link."

Yes. MeFi is a deep-dive, community-driven site that caters to nerds who love the written word. That's why I joined, and that's why I'm still here. That's why, when I tell friends about the site, I describe it affectionately as "an online Overthinkers Anyonymous meeting." Any plan to increase engagement and reach new readers should highlight this strength, because it's one of the ways MeFi really shines.
posted by velvet winter at 11:28 PM on July 11 [21 favorites]


I do think that a PoliticsFilter subsite is worth considering.

That won't fix the toxicity of the megathreads overflowing into other subsites.

I had a few paragraphs about why...but...it's not worth it. Here's my datapoint:

I'm pretty much done with Metafilter. I used to visit multiple times per day (in fact, back around 2004, I had a manager at a new job forward methe acceptable internet use policy because he saw me reading MeFi), but now, maybe a couple times a week--that's just to scan the blue to see if there's something that's not about how shitty and on-fire the world is--and I'm working to decrease even that.

I'm not contributing because, at this point--for me, it would be throwing good money after bad: I mentally (and physically) cannot deal with the constant stream of angst and shit on the front page and that which leaks to the subsites (for instance, the tankie who, in a GoT fanfare thread, posted "Stalin was right to send tanks into Hungary in 1956" -- I flagged it but...still there). I pay $325 a week to deal with my OCD and anxiety-related issues--I'm not going to donate more to a source of that anxiety. I've laid awake at night ruminating over bullshit posted on this site (see above tankie); I've taken clonazepam (prescribed) in order to quiet my head enough to sleep because of this type of crap. It's just no longer worth it for me.

But, hey, maybe I'm just one "old school, white folks....So be it." 🤷.

(BTW, whiskey and probably clonazepam, again, after this thread, yea 🎉.)

Edit: And it's 40/60 that I'll read any comments/follow up to this. FYI.
posted by MikeKD at 11:35 PM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Not to detract from your comment, MikeKD, but I think that particular line was a potshot aimed at GoT's weak endgame writing made with tongue firmly in cheek, not least because Stalin died in 1953.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:08 AM on July 12 [15 favorites]


I like storytams perspective as a 22 yr old. If we want to attract more, younger, people I think it would be a good idea to have a small group of younger users who share their onboarding impressions with the mod team.
posted by jouke at 12:16 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


1. Getting a couple of volunteers with experience in social media to commit to boosting the site's active presence on Twitter seems like a fairly easy, immediately useful thing to do to help MeFi through this difficulty. Same with Instagram.

It could start with a phone call to a lawyer Monday morning to reassure yourselves about any complex legal issues you think this kind of assistance might involve. Then ask for volunteers already on those platforms to email you, pick a few you trust, and go.

2. Is there still a 7-day wait for posting a question to AskMe? At this point that seems really counter-productive. I have a vague memory it was done away with a while ago, but no?

3. Also, can someone please explain the JSON stuff in layfolk terms? Seen here:

> yonega:
"Doesn't look like AskMetafilter has any JSON-LD structured data for its pages."

Yes, absolutely. In fact it's kinda shocking that this wasn't implemented years ago. Further evidence that the site should seek out some SEO help.
posted by crazy with stars

posted by mediareport at 1:55 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


I am a relatively young user who has been reading for a long time and participating for less. I like reading Metafilter, because I learn a lot from the comments here, but I personally perceive something that drastically curtails my participation:

If there is a thread about some thing, my understanding is, you are sort of not supposed to personally take up too much space in the thread, and in fact the amount you should comment is sort of proportional to the amount you agree with everyone else, because the thing that other people are least interested in, is reading an argument about some weird belief that only you personally have. So, like, if there is some thread where Metafilter basically has a consensus on a topic, to the extent that I disagree with that consensus, it's considered rude for me to go and make multiple comments involving my disagreement. I can make one or two, but that's about it. I can't actually have a discussion in any depth about the thing. To the extent that I agree with the consensus, I can post some comments agreeing with it or contributing information I have, but that was in most cases not a very interesting discussion to me, either.

So I find that for most of the conversations I want to have, there's not really a place to have them here. There are threads about ethics and politics and life and economics and culture and work and emotions, and those threads have a comment box, but instead I go talk about those things in places that have different norms and affordances. I don't know if that's intentional? The culture on Metafilter certainly results in threads that are useful and fun to read in their own way, and maybe "comments are mostly about sharing information you have, not having discussions" is in line with a "curating the best of the web for others to enjoy" design, so I don't really have a suggestion, but I felt like it was the right place to bring this up.
posted by value of information at 1:58 AM on July 12 [68 favorites]


Interesting timing. I just had a note on my calendar to send my annual check to MeFi. But the new Stripe thing is so easy (including being easy to cancel if I ever needed to do that for financial reasons) that I just set up a monthly payment there — at twice the level I was paying with my annual check.

I've barely been on MetaFilter over the past year, but that's because of stuff going on with me, not because of the site. It's still a very special place to me.
posted by jeri at 2:26 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I'm another one whose subscription has lapsed, I'm sure I was never alerted, and if I had been, I'd have re-upped immediately.

Yow. If that's really happening, making sure every member who currently funds the site gets an email reminder when their subscription lapses should be a top priority for next week. Also maybe have the mods divide the task of emailing every user whose subscription has lapsed in the past year or so to ask if they'd like to re-up? Both of those seem very do-able, very immediately useful tasks.
posted by mediareport at 2:28 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


Well, this made me realize my subscription had lapsed a while back so I fixed that.
I don't want to get involved in your financials.

In my opinion:

Volunteers seems fraught with peril as it implies ownership, not something the site needs more of.

One of the reasons the site is losing thousands of potential people because the learning curve to participate here has become impossible.


The main problem. I've said over the years the problem is conflicting goals. The urge to make the place comfortable for everyone and avoid all conflict not only doesn't work, it just makes this world smaller.

And honestly? I've gotten more abuse here than I have on many other social networks.

Case in point. I feel the same, and feel people I've seen it apply to others. It's not more civil, it's more passive/aggresive, and in many cases downright aggressive. Fighting in the name of civility isn't making the site more civil, it's making it more confusing and claustrophobic. This isn't unique to MF. Instead of being twitter or reddit it's more like a small old school bulletin board, and nearly every one of those I've seen ends up being overrun with a handful of vocal members bullying everyone else with rules lawyering.

I post shit most days and most of what I post is not contentious bullshit (well, Bob Dylan... but still...) and if more people posted most days and if most of it wasn't "this is awful look at this" or "hey here's a thing to argue/be upset about", this place would be a lot more fun.
---------

So I find that for most of the conversations I want to have, there's not really a place to have them here. There are threads about ethics and politics and life and economics and culture and work and emotions, and those threads have a comment box, but instead I go talk about those things in places that have different norms and affordances.


Here's the thing: The posts lean heavily toward politics, social activism, and bad shit happening. But it's not a good place to have those conversations at all for most people. I do that elsewhere now, even though I'm nearly completely in line with the prevailing opinions and attitudes here. So that's just another confusing thing for potential new members. The site presents itself, and people like to talk about it, as a place for serious conversation, but then they jump in and realize that's not the case, and they have no idea what's going on.

So what are you trying to do here?

Yes to PoliticsFilter. Shit or get off the pot.
Maybe the same with ChatFilter.
Fix FanFare and go all in on it. That could be huge. That could be one of the biggest draws of the site. Right now it's confusing.


Question: is it feasible, and palatable, to send out "exit surveys" to MeFites who haven't been active in a while?

This seems like a great idea. Try to get people that have already been here to come back. Why did they leave? I think you'd learn a lot there.
posted by bongo_x at 2:45 AM on July 12 [19 favorites]


I joined in september 2000 and most of my interaction is typing long comments in the comment box, reading them on preview and then not actually posting them.
Metafilter is a community i care a lot about, mods, past and present members. Big hugs to all of you.

Thank you cortex for the financial update. Even if the situation is not great, as a member it's good to know where the site stands.

I think there are a lot of good suggestions in this thread, but the only one that can bring in more/significant revenue in the short term is asking members to donate/up their donation. Whether via email like adrianhon's suggested or by having more banners on the site.

On the new features/new things that have been proposed :
- I am a 100% on board and would pay money for a MeFi newsletter
- Better sharing would be good, but I don't feel text-based sites have had great sharing features so far. Most reddit/forum posts I see are shared as screenshots.
- I like the idea of existing users "sponsoring" new signups for free, it feels like an organic way to grow the active userbase
- More mod work visibility would help I think in making everyone more empathic to mods - most mod work is largely invisible, and it's hard to appreciate how much is done on a daily basis to make the site function. Not sure of how it would look, but maybe a monthly post on mod activity on metatalk with some data could be a start
- And as an extra pony, I would love for a metafilter API to exist. I don't think it's feasible for the current team to build a mobile client, or new experiences, but with a basic API members may be able to experiment and who knows what could come out of that

I also think it's worth considering each of the Mefi subsites:
- I like suggestions to de-emphasize the blue. I feel it's the least accessible community commenting wise, with levels of chatty-ness that vary per thread, and I also think it's doing two things right now: commentary on current events and link sharing and the two feel somewhat distinct to me.
- I wonder if fanfare couldn't have its own path to monetization through better SEO and maybe ads/affiliate links related to the shows/books/etc ? Like if a company or an etsy shop or whomever is doing cool merch about a particular franchise, they could buy ads for these posts ? I also think it's worth promoting fanfare more to newcomers as it has a lower barrier of entry for commenting/ is more chatty
- I'm seeing more and more roundups of advice columns or relationships questions on newsletters or twitter (say like Nicole Cliffe does) - these almost never have excerpts from ask metafilter and I wonder if it would make sense to reach out to them, or give more visibility to these advice questions on social media so new people are made aware of ask as a destination for their advice questions. I also like the suggestion of allowing a single image in askmefi post for people asking : "what is this thing?" kind of posts.
- I'm actually enjoying a lot the Metatalktail posts, and maybe getting more people over to metatalk would also help foster a sense of community ?

Times are tough for Mefi right now, and posts like these tend to focus on what's wrong. Here's hoping that for the twentieth anniversary, we can all celebrate what's good about it.
posted by motdiem2 at 2:48 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


I told myself I would post once, but... I want to explore further the entry fee as particularly exclusionary. I am responding to the idea that this site is too US-centric. I have no idea how easy it is to transfer ~~five United States dollars~~ to MetaFilter if you are in the "Global South" (for example) using one of the accepted payment services. I have no idea what kind of exorbitant currency exchange is involved for people in those places, if they can access the payment services. And I also have no idea how much five US dollars with exchange fees is, in terms of paying for local stuff, to folks outside of the US, UK, Canada, etc.

I am trying to suggest that proving user intent by economic methods is probably counter to the community-acknowledged goal of increasing global participation. If these are all solved problems in global e-commerce and in local economies I'm sorry for taking up the space. (Aside on the incidental "convenience" of this gating mechanism moved to my profile and other blabbing.)
----
Revenue sources. These have been mentioned in earlier threads or this one. I think they're good ideas, especially when marginal dollars are important, and worth collecting again. I would be surprised if they didn't raise more revenue than the abolished $5 entrance fee (which we're now putting at $300 per month?).

* Ability to buy another AskMe (as one per week is presently allowed; mentioned in previous threads). This also increases the generation of content in the site's most "profitable" subsite.

* Ability to buy public "Flag as Fantastic" 🦄 tokens. Maybe give each user one per month. It puts the image of a star or a pony beside comments that someone looooooooved. (A variation of this was mentioned above, but I can't find it.)
----
cortex, I am a random person who has spent five hours reading this thread (plus lots of other MeTa) and I'm not sure why I think I should come in here and pontificate. This thread is great for feedback but how can you do it? By the time it's done it could be two business days of your time. For every idea in this thread beyond overarching advice, there is another person who would quit if the idea was implemented. How do you do it?! Unfiltered community input must be killing your management time.
posted by sylvanshine at 3:12 AM on July 12 [17 favorites]


I think another thing that makes contributing difficult, especially for younger/newer members, is that posting on mobile is not a good experience.

I think this is especially true given the expectation we've built up that both posts and comments should be longform and carefully worded. These things are not necessarily bad, but hard to accomplish on mobile.

My number one suggestion is to make it possible to draft and save drafts of both comments and posts, so that uses can take their time to put them together well. This is already a pain on desktop, where it's pretty much obligatory to draft a post in a text editor and copy and paste it into your browser. Trying to get people to do this on mobile is probably going to drive them away. On the flip side, composing your long message on a website that could go away if you lose mobile data is not really a good idea either.

Secondarily, we've been talking about backgrounding the Blue compared to other subsites. I would like to propose a new subsites where single link posts to interesting things are the norm, and leave the Blue for the more longform and "serious" posts that make MetaFilter unique. By all means advertise the Blue to new users, but don't make it the default.
posted by thegears at 3:21 AM on July 12 [19 favorites]


I know this thread isn’t where specific site changes are going to be decided, but I just wanted to say I’m massively not in favour of members being able to buy extra privileges. That totally tilts some kind of “premier” level of engagement towards people with more money and excludes others, and that’s really contrary to the kind of site I think this is.
posted by billiebee at 3:34 AM on July 12 [27 favorites]


storytam: There's no quick pitch where I can say "MetaFilter is for ___"

I tend to say 'I've found out where the smart US Americans hang out'. That intrigues people over here. No offence intended.

Chrischris: Metafilter is becoming a political weblog

A US American political weblog. Let's call a shovel a shovel.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:46 AM on July 12 [19 favorites]


It's...I dunno. It's been a long year. It's been a long year after a few long years before it. I agree that we didn't get as much stuff done as we wanted, as we ought to have; we got a lot of planning and initial work done on stuff that didn't get over the finish line for one reason or another. I'm in a weird place right now where I'm a little too fried to sit down and dig through what stuff did get done in the last year to produce a list to rattle off what got done, what got started, what the blockers were, etc. In any case "hey, we actually did get x/y/z done and a/b/c started" doesn't make any difference to the idea that it wasn't enough if things are bad anyway. But I appreciate the notion that doing that would itself be useful in a lot of ways. More generally tracking works in progress publicly would be good.

I just want to say - this resonates as someone who has run several organizations who had not enough resources and too many things it wanted to accomplish. This feeling of an endless treadmill of to-dos, things that get started all the time but never completed, and the weight of all of this leading to constant stress and being at a point where even getting organized feel exhausting. It is a point that I have been at - and it is the point where you need to ask for help to build structure.

The reality is - yes, the financials are dismal, but if getting volunteer help is a "we need to look into it more" type of thing which is going to get added to the list of other things not getting done, then you need to invest a little money in someone to consult with you, the staff, and your community on strategic priorities, advise on how to put the resources in place to get those priorities completed (i.e., can a mod be peeled off duty to work specifically on progressive movement of the site, can the resources from the mega-threads be diverted to moving site priorities forward), and help build you tracking mechanisms for works-in-progress that will let this not feel so overwhelming.

Hoping things will change is not a strategy. You need a strategy. You're not the first, nor the last, person to end up here but from personal experience doubling down on caring and quarterly updates and the like without dealing with the systemic issues is a path to burnout. The first quarterly update promised will weigh on you because 3 months is not a lot of time and, unless the system changes, the to-do list won't get shorter.
posted by vermouth at 3:52 AM on July 12 [26 favorites]


Yeah, that was overdue anyway, thanks for the reminder! (insert gif of dollar signs slowly floating by here)
posted by Namlit at 3:54 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Yo can you please move the labs page that has recent Amazon links to a much more prominent location, I like browsing the page, I'm sure other people would like browsing the page if they had the slightest clue it existed, and navigating to it is a pain in the neck.

Secondly, in the past (as indicated on labs page) there was a "most frequently recommended Amazon links" page. I would love this to be updated. And made prominent.

Metafilter recommendations carry a lot of weight with me, I am positive I'm not alone in this given how consistently recommendation threads rack up favorites, highlighting recs more prominently could hopefully boost affiliate link income a bit.

---

Metafilter has been badly hit by changes to Google's algorithm that have penalized the site to an absurd level, especially in proportion to its actual quality.

I wonder if it's possible to do anything to fix this? All previous discussion of the matter seems to mostly be in terms of fatalistic resignation. Is there some SEO management that would help? The fact is, this is a high quality website regularly relegated to much, much lower on the search results page than annoying useless linkgblarghs like, ugh, pinterest (can't see anything without a pop-up prompting you to log in! Ridiculously annoying to navigate to the actual site being linked to!) and to blogs clearly managed by people with a lot more experience in marketing themselves.
posted by Cozybee at 4:11 AM on July 12 [16 favorites]


I'd like to request that some back-of-an-envelope calculations are done on what proportion of moderator time is spent on politics megathreads and the dollar result included in the forthcoming MetaTalk thread on the topic.

I am not implying some quick fix and suggesting that because they account for a large proportion of expenses the megathreads should be stopped and two now-superfluous moderators made redundant and it's problem solved. But, unlike other aspects of the site which are fundamental to its character, megathreads are a relatively recent hack which no one has ever really seen as ideal.

The site needs radical solutions to its problems and this seems like a good place to start with that new approach. Even if the megathreads are not simply ended, how can the moderation load be cut by at least 75%? Can new models of generating income be piloted on those threads? Is there a way to keep their value while cutting their length dramatically? If a large amount of staff time could be freed up, is there then a clear plan for how that would be used to help save the business?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:14 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


I've been reading and thinking, and have a few points which may or may not be useful. Please don't beat yourself(ves) up for not being perfect. You sound exhausted, but you still get points from me for being tired and still trying to tackle the difficult issues.

I believe you have really great potential for the future and not just the past, and there are clearly still people out there who prefer to work in text and not in images all the time. You just need to find a way to reach those people. I really like the tagline "MetaFilter: Read the Comments!" mentioned above.

Short Term:

You need to drive more subscribers to close the gap as well as whatever other methods you need to take to stop the bleed. Fair point above about wanting to feel ready and maybe now is not the time for a full court media press on the anniversary, but I think you really need to take a "Perfect is the Enemy of the Good" approach and start reaching out. Are there podcasts or blogs where you can exchange links or advertising?

Get some good SEO advice to help address your Google ranking.

Allowing users to buy 5$ invitations to send to friends would be a good first way to encourage new users I think. If that can be managed technically, I think from reading through the posts it would be a lot more appealing than general donations. This because it clearly helps you reach one of your KPIs (new subscribers) and it postpones a bit the question of dropping it altogether.

I think working on the issues on addressing site tone and privilege are the right thing to do now. No good adding new subscribers if they leave because we can't get the new terms of respectful engagement better articulated.

I've bought many many books referred by MetaFilter in the past, but I've noticed lately that increasingly people link to Goodreads rather than Amazon directly. I don't know how many people are doing that out of principle, and how many out of ease. But even though Goodreads is owned by Amazon I don't think you get the affiliate money if people link to Goodreads instead (happy if I am wrong). Obviously people who aren't comfy using Amazon should not be forced to do so, but a gentle reminder that affiliate money also supports the site would be a Good Thing if done respectfully.

Medium Term:

I would reach out to the kinds of communities which aren't really well suited by (fi) Facebook or Twitter. I've said this before, but I think the book community would be worth some investment in time as a separate thing. Book people LOVE walls of text. I don't like Goodreads myself, so belong to several book groups on FB but it would be so much better to move those talks to MetaFilter. I realise this is technically more complex, but if you would allow people to set up and minimod their own groups here and on FanFare (agree to keep it away from the Blue & the Green) you might be able to expand your base without the moderation cost expanding equally quickly. Perhaps offering a Group Mod certification. (Groups were raised above, and I think you could gradually expand into this in a good way. At least I believe you should consider the idea.)

Long Term:

Community supported is good, but I miss a bit of the thinking about what that means. Subscription like a newspaper? Turn the site into a non-profit? What would good look like, specifically, in this case? Without this idea in your head very clearly, you will have a very difficult time helping place all the good energy and ideas into a context.

This is meant as helpful and not as a rebuke. Thanks for your hard work.
posted by frumiousb at 4:17 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


I just learned my job is being eliminated but I have a few months severence before I need to worry.

I'd like to volunteer to be on an advisory group, think tank, design thinking sprint, etc. I can help sort through all the comments posted, group similar ones, and create a list. Then, we could assess each one based on impact/viability. From that, a roadmap emerges.
posted by rebent at 4:54 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


So, like, if there is some thread where Metafilter basically has a consensus on a topic, to the extent that I disagree with that consensus, it's considered rude for me to go and make multiple comments involving my disagreement. I can make one or two, but that's about it. I can't actually have a discussion in any depth about the thing. To the extent that I agree with the consensus, I can post some comments agreeing with it or contributing information I have, but that was in most cases not a very interesting discussion to me, either.

Here's the thing: The posts lean heavily toward politics, social activism, and bad shit happening. But it's not a good place to have those conversations at all for most people.

Yup. This has honestly gotten a little better over the last 3+ months or so but...yeah. It's a shame. Every time there will be an interesting conversation started, at some point the mods will come and tell people to cut it out. I get that there are different tolerances for arguing vs. debate vs. discussion. But at this point the moderation is so heavy handed it's hard to see what the point is for a lot of topics. The chances of getting something interesting, polite, but mildly divergent from thread consensus deleted is way too high.

In general, if you need contributions and you need members, the moderation has to stop being so delete-heavy. And the mods need to be basically polite to members. I've been here for a long time and I used to be a much bigger pain in the ass and yet the mods treated me with basic respect. That needs to be the standard.

I say all of this as a preface to saying that I would happily recommend this place with referral links! That seems like an awesome idea! But I need to be fairly assured that my friends are going to be treated with respect and kindness and not get all their shit deleted.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:24 AM on July 12 [36 favorites]


I'm another one whose subscription has lapsed, I'm sure I was never alerted, and if I had been, I'd have re-upped immediately.

> Yow. If that's really happening...


To be fair, I realized after commenting that my subscription was an edge-case — I’d wanted a different amount than the standard ones offered, and pb had customized it for me. So, maybe regular subscriptions do trigger alerts and just mine didn’t.
posted by daisyace at 5:44 AM on July 12


In general, if you need contributions and you need members, the moderation has to stop being so delete-heavy.

This is just one MeFiite's opinion, but I think exactly the opposite is true.

I think the amount of infighting and going around in circles that happens in long threads is one of the biggest reasons I don't comment here as much as I used to. In a non-threaded conversation, the heated back and forth takes all the air out of the room for users who aren't looking to spend all their emotional energy just reading through to find the things they're actually interested in reading about.

I don't think that deleting a comment constitutes disrespect, and I think that, often letting comments stand privileges those with more time, more emotional energy, and more investment in the site, and silences those with different backgrounds, other things in their lives to attend to, and for whom MF is not their primary means of interacting with the Internet.
posted by thegears at 5:53 AM on July 12 [16 favorites]


That is an interesting perspective, thanks for sharing it.

To be clear, I don't find deletions inherently disrespectful, so I'm sorry that my sloppy writing conflated them. I find that the tone of moderator interactions with users had, in the last 4-5 years, shifted towards being outright rude/disrespectful. This has been improving for sure, which is great, and I hope it keeps improving, at which point I'd be more than happy to point people here and/or send free referral links.

I get that the mods are burnt out and dealing with a lot! I get that it's scary to have something so important facing so many challenges. I get it! At the same time, there's a certain level of...professionalism by moderators that needs to be the consistent standard. This has been something I have been seeing more of lately, and hope continues to improve.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:10 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


I certainly wouldn't draw any conclusions around moderation from the unrepresentative dogmatists like myself who rock up in meta regularly.

That being said I've been here for yonks and would estimate I've had no more than thirty comments deleted, if that. And I disagree with people all the time. The bar is not that high, and if someone is failing to clear it regularly, they are probably being rude or overbearing.

I like the fact that snide comments are regularly removed. It stops some of the in group bullying that has been a mainstay of this place for years. And I feel like that's a conscious decision cortex et al made about the kind of community they want this place to be.

There's plenty of members who are okay or indifferent about that, let's go for them. Make an octagon subsite for those who want combat, I certainly don't want it polluting the regular threads.
posted by smoke at 6:14 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Ah I saw your follow up, I too was conflating what you said with the "free speech" advocacy that often pops up.
posted by smoke at 6:17 AM on July 12


I like the fact that snide comments are regularly removed. It stops some of the in group bullying that has been a mainstay of this place for years. And I feel like that's a conscious decision cortex et al made about the kind of community they want this place to be.

TBH I'm a big softie about most stuff and mostly agree. I can occasionally lose my temper and be snippy so I'm not perfect on this score and generally know when I'm legitimately out of line (and will self-flag!). But I'm not talking about snideness or meanness as much as just straight-up, respectful difference of opinion. I'm not at all saying we should go back to the days where we had to go on a months-long campaign to get someone clearly and virulently misogynistic banned.

That all said, there are edge cases when it comes to derails and similar (vs. active nastiness), and I think that given that engagement is dropping, the default needs to be much more firmly on the side of letting conversations happen.

The reason that is connected with moderator respectfulness is because, in my fairly disorganized brain, I feel like there are legitimate tradeoffs in terms of things being "interesting" vs. "nice" . But it's hard for me to understand that tradeoff when the moderators themselves are being rude (again, has much improved over the last 3-6mos on that score). And I also feel like the mods set the tone and that legitimately interesting discussions that don't need to lead to snarkiness or fighting are helped along by a general culture of respectfulness.

I hope this is more clear. I'm undercoffee-d. And I really do want to say that things have been improving a lot on this score, from my perspective, which I appreciate.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:30 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


One more thing to throw on top of this large pile of conflicting advice:

cortex, you sound incredibly burnt out (understandably). Very few people can make large-scale strategic decisions in that state. While this is a community site, you are the Big Cheese. I would suggest something counterintuitive, like you taking a month off to think. Develop a list of big-picture goals for the site that you are confident in and committed in (not what concrete steps to take, but what you want this site to be). Come back and use your time, instead of day-to-day moderation, to power through the suggestions in this thread and elsewhere and consult with experts in the various relevant fields (tech, SEO, PR, business, whatever). Then make an authoritative post about what big steps the site will be taking and why. Some people might disagree, some people might leave, some people might tell you you don’t know what you’re doing, but you’ve put the work in by strategic thinking and consulting experts, so, full steam ahead. You are the leader of the site.

Right now we are drifting down a river toward oblivion for the site. We are trying to pilot ourselves through it but not trying to get out of the river, it feels like, in part because we’re focused on things like “oh my raft is leaking” or “we’re going to hit that branch, move it” or “damn there’s a water snake!” What we need is a Person in Charge to say “everyone else pipe down, this is what we’re going to get out of the river. You disagree? That’s fine, but I’ve thought this through and we’re doing it my way.”

You are a brilliant person, if you weren’t I doubt this thing would still be a going concern. All your energy is going toward daily problems, not existential ones. What we lack right now is commitment to a big picture idea to solve the larger crisis for the site, and someone in charge to direct us there. I know taking time off to think will feel like ignoring work and may be stressful (“why am I just sitting on my ass when I should be doing XYZ”). But in my (admittedly very different) job, the biggest breakthroughs I’ve made in my career have come from sitting around for way longer than I should have, putting off the things I have to do, and thinking, thinking, thinking. Or even procrastinating and letting my subconscious sort some issues out and push the answer to the surface (what I’m doing literally right now). And then trusting in, committing to, and acting on my idea.
posted by sallybrown at 6:35 AM on July 12 [56 favorites]


I feel like mod deletions used to be more for things that were bad or disrespectful. Today there is a lot more I don’t think this is topical or this is not the discussion we want to have. For sure there’s a fine line.
posted by snofoam at 6:39 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Cortex should go to Rancho Relaxo
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:40 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


Let me frame this by telling you I invest in fucked up companies betting they can fix themselves for a living. I have no operational expertise, and tend to think micromanaging the management of the businesses we own is a mistake. I ultimately think there are lots of well meaning suggestions, but ultimately that Cortex needs to develop his own plan for dealing with the issues. Forgive me if some of the things I'm going to say here are obvious/redundant. Pedantry is not my intent. One thing I want to get across to Cortex is that this is a crisis. It might not feel like it yet, but I look at that user graph and I'm telling you it is a crisis, and the way that crisis ultimately ends is not as linear as you think. Costs are (broadly) fixed, revenues are not. You need to internalize that this is a crisis and act with appropriate intent and speed. I can't really tell if you get this.

I have a frame or scaffolding for thinking about these issues. Problem one is identifying the controversy. It is extremely clear to me the issue is revenues, not costs.

If I looked at a business that had flat nominal costs ex-insurance premiums I'd say that was a pretty solid result. I'm sure there is some optimization that could be done around labor hours and what not, but fundamentally that's not the issue. If anything I think we've been underinvesting in business itself.

So the issue is revenues - and really revenues come from two sources - advertising and "Donations" but lets call that subscriptions. Ultimately both those items will come down to engaged users.

Advertising I really don't know how that works, but I would ask you if you have a hypothesis for what is going on (seems like some combination of pricing and volume), and most importantly if you have some kind of plan for at worst stabilizing those revenues.

Donations and Users are more inextricably linked, and the impression I get is that you feel you have more control over this. I'd point out that a big problem you have is that your attachment rate of engaged users is already really high, so your problem isn't getting people who should be paying to pay, its getting people who are already paying to pay more which is much harder, and when you consider your monthly average relative to what other places on the web ask, you aren't super low. Indeed if I doubled what I paid you would be my most expensive media subscription. So your problem is you need to grow engaged users, and the best way to do that is to grow users and let the intrinsic quality of the site turn them into engaged users who will pay. So what's the plan to grow new users or re-engage users who have walked away. It can't be a build it and they will come approach. You need to spend time and resources to figure out what the person who should be commenting here or used to comment here is keeping them from finding us or staying with us and commenting. I have no idea what that is, but I just seem to see vague hand wavey thoughts rather than something tangible. Lots of hypotheses, but no testing. You need to figure this out and execute on this. This will cost money. You need to figure out how you will fund this. You need to figure out how to tap into people here who are willing to fund the site through pay-in-kind work. Also - think really carefully about some of the expenses you've been thinking about incurring - will they really ultimately drive revenues? Be honest with yourself about that. While I think the POC projects are well meaning and ultimately necessary, consider how much they might cost to implement in terms of time and money and decide if now is the right time for that because that will drive revenue, or if you are better placed holding off on some of those costs until the site is stabilized. I HAVE NO IDEA if this is the case, but I wouldn't move forward without some kind of empirical evidence that suggests it will drive engagement.

As far as the acute money needs - I really am not interested in upping my monthly donation. I don't think it helps address the urgency of this problem. It just kicks the can down the road On the flip side I would be open to making a much larger donation if it were to a specific project that you felt, and had made the case for, would drive engaged user growth. Being a 501c3 would also make this a much cleaner process for me. It would also allow me to use some of matching grant from work, essentially doubling my donation. Either that or you need to think about taking on investors from the community - people who recognize it will be a zero return investment, and are OK with that. But both these options will also require the development of a real business plan. Don't equate a business plan with profit/capital, etc.

I suspect the biggest problem isn't bridging the operating gap, its that you require a bunch more money than that to determine what investments are required to stabilize or grow the revenue base sustainably, and execute on those plans. You should figure out what that is and then tell us about it.

Or you decide to allow the site to slowly decline - but ultimately that ends paid professional moderation - which just accelerates the decline. Which is fine - but I would also expect your current revenue decline to accelerate if you choose that route.
posted by JPD at 6:43 AM on July 12 [58 favorites]


Or you decide to allow the site to slowly decline - but ultimately that ends paid professional moderation - which just accelerates the decline. Which is fine - but I would also expect your current revenue decline to accelerate if you choose that route.

And if this is the case, it needs to be a choice you actively make and disclose to the site, rather than a continued lack of larger action that just ends up that way.
posted by sallybrown at 6:54 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


I absolutely do not trust the mods as far as deletions go these days, so I don’t contribute as much.

And yes, that renders the megathreads worthless as well as being a stupid resource draining idea to begin with. Get rid of the fuckers already.

And yes I’ve brought this up previously and basically been told to shut up, which is TBH not a thing that increases trust or goodwill either.

Honestly I should probably just stop donating and button already, all the good Mefites are elsewhere.
posted by Artw at 6:57 AM on July 12 [10 favorites]


It's fine to want more or fewer deletions. It is less fine to respond to people talking about their deletion experiences by saying, "Nah, that doesn't happen." If you haven't had many comments deleted, then it would seem you're in a position to learn something from people who have.

The remark above—"I need to be fairly assured that my friends are going to be treated with respect and kindness and not get all their shit deleted"—rings very true with me. Based on my own experiences on MetaFilter, I wouldn't refer a friend or colleague here for exactly those three reasons. I don't trust MetaFilter to treat people with respect, or kindness, or not to delete their contributions. In a conversation about increasing subscriptions, it's relevant if people feel this way.
posted by cribcage at 6:59 AM on July 12 [21 favorites]


I too feel the pain of increased moderation. I can be an asshole, and where that line gets drawn here has changed over time. What I don't know, and I suspect you don't know - is if that increased moderation has driven down engaged users. I personally agree with you, and as such would like to believe that's the case. But I legit have no idea at all if its true. But the real problem is that I don't know if Cortex does either.
posted by JPD at 7:04 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


cmyk: "Mefi is built for deep dives. The internet isn't, anymore."

Two small proposed features that could address part of this:

1) An ability to mark an FPP as a "short link." Presumably, these would have a character-limit, and wouldn't allow Extended Descriptions (but I'd be okay allowing more than one <a> tag per entry). Also, build a special view of the FPP that only shows these links. This would be particularly easy to optimize for mobile users, and you'd end up with something like Kottke's Quick Links or waxpancake's links blog.

2) A specially-designed page for browsing all of our SLYT posts, playlist-style.

Both of these would presumably be a relatively light lift from a development standpoint, and wouldn't require us to reinvent the site. It'd just be a somewhat-special treatment for short-form content.

(A distant third feature I'd like to see would be more social features in FanFare, such as an ability for users to document their recommendations (a la GoodReads) and also do things like share Spotify Playlists and other easily-consumable media recommendations. This is a much bigger ask, but I really do feel like FanFare has fallen far short of its potential.)
posted by schmod at 7:04 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


That every FPP be a short essay to justify itself submitted for for critique rather than, say, a link to an interesting thing on the internet to discuss is very much a later development . It’s fucking obnoxious and it’s why I’ve given up on doing FPPs.
posted by Artw at 7:07 AM on July 12 [30 favorites]


One thing I want to get across to Cortex is that this is a crisis. It might not feel like it yet, but I look at that user graph and I'm telling you it is a crisis, and the way that crisis ultimately ends is not as linear as you think.

You should seriously listen to JPD and take their advice. I see constant talk about hiring consultants within the community and paying them, yet I haven't seen a single person post a comment 1/10th as insightful as that one as to the reality of this situation. I wish I could some how pay money to gild it.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 7:09 AM on July 12 [30 favorites]


While I think the POC projects are well meaning and ultimately necessary, consider how much they might cost to implement in terms of time and money and decide if now is the right time for that because that will drive revenue, or if you are better placed holding off on some of those costs until the site is stabilized.

I would argue that the falling user numbers/engagement is a sign that training and consultation with an expert on how to make the website more inclusive and diverse is desperately needed, and a very good bet for being able to quickly justify itself financially. Aside from marketing, that is exactly how we grow the user base here -- by being inclusive and accessible to a broader swath of people.

Questions like how to keep some gate-keeping aspect to who becomes a user here (whether that's via a fee, a micro-essay, or something else) in a way that promotes rather than undermines inclusivity is exactly what an expert on diversity in online communities would be prepared to answer.

It seems to me that the goals of the POC "projects" and the goals of increasing user numbers and engagement dovetail very well.
posted by rue72 at 7:17 AM on July 12 [23 favorites]


Questions like how to keep some gate-keeping aspect to who becomes a user here (whether that's via a fee, a micro-essay, or something else) in a way that promotes rather than undermines inclusivity is exactly what an expert on diversity in online communities would be prepared to answer.

Gate-keeping new user sign ups when your user base is in decline is a terrible idea. The entire reason the gate was put up in the first place is that the site was getting too many new users to handle. Keeping that gate up will not help the site survive.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 7:21 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Gate-keeping new user sign ups when your user base is in decline is a terrible idea.

That gate isn't there to dissuade users -- it's there to keep the spammers at bay.
posted by notyou at 7:32 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


It seems to me that the goals of the POC "projects" and the goals of increasing user numbers and engagement dovetail very well.

You miss my point. I have no idea if that's actually true, and neither do you. You need actual evidence to support that. Just because you want to do something doesn't mean its the right thing to do. For every comment "do this" in this thread there is a "don't do this" - which just tells me we have no idea.

If we lived a world of infinite human resources and capital for the site you don't need to answer this question, but we don't live in that world.
posted by JPD at 7:33 AM on July 12 [14 favorites]


That being said, I'm tired of trying to share it with people my age and younger and having them bounce off that $5 fee, and I can't really afford to pay it myself.

Hmmm - what about an invitation that is a membership gift, for those who can afford another $5 and know someone who is a candidate. And the $5 is not contingent on the invitee actually creating an account - MeFi gets the $5 either way. (Similar to how Reddit can gift someone "Gold", no?)

I feel 50/50 about images here; memes are so great but I like to read so idk idk

What about a separate sub-domain/blog for just images? Like Ask, FanFare - ensure it has ALL the links/requisites for sharing those posts to the big social media sites. Maybe even a mobile "app" for that...

(And still no images in comments - just the post)
posted by jkaczor at 7:35 AM on July 12


Fidel Cashflow: The entire reason the gate was put up in the first place is that the site was getting too many new users to handle.

No. Removing any any gatekeeping introduces a flood of spammers and scammers, many of them automated. The $5 barrier did remarkably well for years prior to captchas and reCaptchas and blacklists, etc. in keeping the userbase a genuine one and filtering out a great deal of the spammers.
posted by WCityMike at 7:37 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


Too-Ticky: I tend to say 'I've found out where the smart US Americans hang out'. That intrigues people over here. No offence intended.

I've been thinking on this very topic, particularly in light of the recent threads to discuss how to make the site more open and welcoming to non-white people. I don't know any (easy/ quick/ reliable) solution, but I think that shifting the site to be more welcoming to non-white people could be a significant boon, especially if linked to increased site promotion via social media platforms.


thegears: Secondarily, we've been talking about backgrounding the Blue compared to other subsites. I would like to propose a new subsites where single link posts to interesting things are the norm, and leave the Blue for the more longform and "serious" posts that make MetaFilter unique. By all means advertise the Blue to new users, but don't make it the default.

This is a very interesting idea! I like the idea of longform.metafilter.com being where longer posts go. Given that long posts take longer to read, having fewer new posts there would keep more eyes on them, while the new.metafilter.com could have shorter posts and "fluffier" topics (dogs and cats and such).

I think this could work well, if paired with Rhaomi's idea to change the front page into a collection of "the best of MetaFilter", which could be auto-aggregated from comments and/or favorites from other sites, or an expanded "best of" with updates multiple times a day, to keep it fresh (and include pictures, as "best of" does now).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:37 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


notyou: "
That gate isn't there to dissuade users -- it's there to keep the spammers at bay.
"

Keeping in line with the motivation to keep the signup process as simple as possible, it wouldn't be a bad idea to call this out directly on whatever solution we settle with.

"Don't worry, there's no wrong answer. We're only asking to confirm that you're human."
posted by schmod at 7:38 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


That gate isn't there to dissuade users -- it's there to keep the spammers at bay.

The gate was totally put up to lower the volume of user signups. It was implemented after signups were completely disabled for a while because the site could not handle the volume. There are more effective ways to fight spam and users with bad intent than charging 5 dollars.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 7:40 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


The gate was totally put up to lower the volume of user signups.

We'll have to agree to disagree then.
posted by WCityMike at 7:41 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Also, FWIW, I specifically like that everything gets put onto the FPP by default (even though I do like the idea of filters to separate longform and shortform content).

I don't want this to turn into a site where some users' contributions are showcased more than others, and our current difficulties with inclusivity and welcoming newcomers to the site suggest that this is a specifically bad time to try something like that.
posted by schmod at 7:41 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


That every FPP be a short essay to justify itself submitted for for critique rather than, say, a link to an interesting thing on the internet to discuss is very much a later development.

It might be a touch on the "get your own blog" side of things, but I just posted an FPP about the guide I used over the past few weekends to build a weather satellite image receiver. It hadn't even crossed my mind to post because there's no, like, think piece attached to the guide, you know? It's just a dry technical article with code snippets to copy and paste.

But we've all been talking about posting more links to random interesting things so I gave it a try.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:44 AM on July 12 [22 favorites]


I feel like most of the deletions happen in the megathreads, and are frankly warranted because people are either getting shitty or rehashing a debate that's happened a million times and is going nowhere. I've definitely had comments deleted and I can't blame the mods for doing it. And I totally admit I could just be missing all the good deleted comments, but, well, when I've seen comments deleted they really weren't contributing much except negativity.
posted by schroedinger at 7:46 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I have noticed the megathreads are moderated a lot more tightly than they used to be. They're also less of an infighting shitshow. I think these are related.
posted by schroedinger at 7:49 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


We'll have to agree to disagree then.

Matt's own historical review of user fees in 2006 confirms that yes, it was done to slow down user signups, not for spam. There was a mix of server load issues, financial pressures, and in Matt's own words the intended effect of "limit signups to a small amount making it easier to manage."
posted by vermouth at 7:52 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


I think the megathreads are getting fightier now as the primary season ramps up. The collective shock of the election had a pretty noticeable calming effect on squabbling.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:53 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Made my way through most of the comments..

Votes:

1. Yes to having a survey and actually getting a sense of what people want, and also yes to reaching out to former members and asking why they left, yes in general to anything which provides more information and knowledge about what is driving current trends.
2. Yes to allowing existing members to invite people for free, no to eliminating joining barriers entirely.
3. Strong yes to getting the backend code of the website updated to be SEO friendly, like many people I found this site via Google and AskMe and these days I don't think AskMe shows up nearly as prominently
4. Strong yes to increasing social media presence. As a corollary, yes to making things shareable in an easy and attractive way
5. Yes to experimental politicsFilter and yes to killing the megathreads. PoliticsFilter should only allow one topic per thread, rather than vast sprawling monsters. Possibly politicsFilter should have some additional rate limiting.
6. Yes to allowing new users to post in AskMe immediately, yes to increasing allowed numbers of Asks, and also yes to making submitting to the blue less intimidating to help increase activity there.
7. No to images
8. Too labor intensive to be a priority but just want to the record to note I love the idea of members being able to make little subFilters of their own in labs.
posted by Cozybee at 7:55 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Tiering off of another suggestion from Rhaomi: Branding: Return to colored backgrounds for non-members. It was a powerful, memorable branding choice where the default black-on-white is more generic and forgettable for drive-by users.

Also: change the URL bar color to match brand colors for mobile browsers -- this is a 3 year old article from The Marketing Technologist, one of many sites to discuss what appears to be a pretty basic HTML meta tag (Github list of other possibly helpful/ useful HTML meta tags).



Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug: But we've all been talking about posting more links to random interesting things so I gave it a try.

Thanks for that post, it sounds super interesting! There are already 13 new FPPs today, compared to 17 from all of yesterday, and many of the new ones are rather short posts. Seems like a positive trend, particularly if it lasts!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:57 AM on July 12 [15 favorites]


It seems to me that the goals of the POC "projects" and the goals of increasing user numbers and engagement dovetail very well.

You miss my point. I have no idea if that's actually true, and neither do you. You need actual evidence to support that. Just because you want to do something doesn't mean its the right thing to do. For every comment "do this" in this thread there is a "don't do this" - which just tells me we have no idea.


That's not really a good argument for the status quo, though, since we don't have evidence that the current way is attracting users either. Anecdotes aren't data, but we do have a large number of current users explaining why they don't feel comfortable participating on the site. Listening to their concerns is an appropriate action to try not to lose even more users.
posted by thegears at 7:57 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


My only criticism of the comment deletion process is that there's often no notification. Wandering back into a thread to see how it's evolved and sometimes I'm all, "hey didn't I leave a great quip here? I thought so? A terrific zinger. My mind, it's going already and me still so young."
posted by notyou at 7:58 AM on July 12 [15 favorites]


schroedinger: I have noticed the megathreads are moderated a lot more tightly than they used to be. They're also less of an infighting shitshow. I think these are related.

There was a push some while back to make the U.S. Politics threads less of discussions and more of locations to collect current news about U.S. politics. Members (myself included) were good for a while, posting fewer links to politics in other countries (I did it to remind people that there's good and bad news coming form other political institutions, but I realize that was also adding length to already long-running threads) and jokey stuff (offloaded to Hyucking Hyuck). Mods said they'd be regulating the threads more heavily, though there are still a lot of back-and-forth, re-arguing some much-tread territory.

I appreciate the U.S. politics mega-threads, because I don't generally go to news sites (to avoid the click-bait outrage stories), and I don't follow anyone on Twitter, but others do and aggregate news there. I generally browse those threads with GraphFi bookmarklet, so I can skim the most favorite comments and follow linked discussions with ease (desktop only, I think).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Thanks for that post, it sounds super interesting! There are already 13 new FPPs today, compared to 17 from all of yesterday, and many of the new ones are rather short posts. Seems like a positive trend, particularly if it lasts!

Yeah, I was just going to comment that the front page looks more interesting and busy than it has in a while.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:59 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


We'll have to agree to disagree then.

- 2001-2002ish I would turn off signups whenever the server was maxing out or big press was coming down. At some point in late 2002, I turned off new user signups for a while, intending to only turn them back on when things stabilized and I had more technical and time cycles to dedicate to it.

It's a fact. The site disabled new user sign ups for a couple years because Matt didn't have the time to deal with the volume.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 8:00 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


4. Strong yes to increasing social media presence. As a corollary, yes to making things shareable in an easy and attractive way
...
7. No to images


Wouldn’t images at least in the main post (not in comments) be necessary to make things shareable on social media in a more attractive way? I mean, to get Twitter and Facebook cards with images, not just the link with the big Metafilter icon as it is now.
posted by bitteschoen at 8:03 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


rehashing a debate that's happened a million times and is going nowhere

For you - for long-term members and participants. Not necessary for 10,000 people per day in the US alone...

That's the challenge with inclusiveness - you have to include people who are new, learning and not part of the long-term membership and culture. I dunno - if you think a debate has happened a million times, quietly leave and let other people participate if they want (you don't have to reply) - that will probably lead to some toxic threads, hopefully moderated - but hopefully people will actually learn and change their perspectives.

Personally - I have been smacked-down many times in comment threads over the years I have been here - and you know what? I was wrong, those participants helped me change my perspective and grow as a person.

If the entire discussion was shut-down because "we don't do it well" or "we have been here before", I would not have grown as a person. Did I button-up and leave? I also learned that my perspective is not always relevant (it is not always an 'abstract, logical, thought-experiment' conversation - or a proper place to drop a zinger/quip or joke), and often I can participate just by reading a comment thread, without posting a single response.
posted by jkaczor at 8:03 AM on July 12 [12 favorites]


There are already 13 new FPPs today, compared to 17 from all of yesterday, and many of the new ones are rather short posts. Seems like a positive trend, particularly if it lasts!

Yup, I decided one small thing I can do in addition to my donation is try to make some damn posts. So I posted some cool moths. I doubt the cool moths are going to save Metafilter, but you know, maybe if EVERYONE posts cool moths* it'll all work out. Set myself a weekly-ish reminder to try to make more posts. We'll see how it goes.

*Pls define "cool moth" as whatever your own personal interesting thing is. Maybe not actually cool moths. Could be hard to do a big publicity push on MeFi's 20th Anniversary: We're All Cool Moths All The Time Now.
posted by Stacey at 8:10 AM on July 12 [14 favorites]


That's not really a good argument for the status quo, though, since we don't have evidence that the current way is attracting users either. Anecdotes aren't data, but we do have a large number of current users explaining why they don't feel comfortable participating on the site. Listening to their concerns is an appropriate action to try not to lose even more users.

I'm not arguing for the status quo. I'm arguing for a process driven approach to prioritizing which projects to prioritize. Again - I have no idea why engagement is down. The only thing I know is that we are very very limited from an implementation resource perspective.

If you ran through the list of things people say "we need to do" not only would you end up with twenty different things, you would also end up with ten of them being diametrically opposed. I assure you it would be trivially easy for me to find multiple people who have left because they dislike the changes to the tenor of the site over the last x years. And I can find that for x=18 months or x=18 years. That also doesn't mean they are right. Hell I can even point to the active users number declining as the community has become more inclusive and argue thats the problem. I'm not arguing that AT ALL I'm just saying we don't know.
posted by JPD at 8:12 AM on July 12 [15 favorites]


A lot to chew on in this thread.

Takeaways so far:
New Revenue
New Users
Pricing
Site Structure and Architecture Possibilities
Volunteer Assistance Committees
New User Experience vs Existing User Experience
Metafilter Long Term Viability
Marketing

Sharing Via Other Platforms
Cortex vacation :)

A sidebar question: what sort of business is Metafilter? LLC, C Corp, etc. Based on what that answer is, are there paths of inquiry to follow, models to replicate?
posted by zerobyproxy at 8:15 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


I get the urge to discuss or read about politics on metafilter about once per week. But the megathreads are just too much work to read. So I don't discuss politics on metafilter.

So count me as another vote for ending the megathreads, and if the way to do that is to have a politics subsite so that each topic can get its own post and I can have a conversation about the thing I want to have a conversation about, rather than wading through 5,000 comments about Trump, then I am in favor it doing that.
posted by mai at 8:16 AM on July 12 [18 favorites]


Yeah, if we're talking about images we need to make clear whether we mean images in posts, or images in comments. Personally I would like to see images in posts, and I would not be happy about images in comments.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:17 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


Yo can you please move the labs page that has recent Amazon links to a much more prominent location, I like browsing the page, I'm sure other people would like browsing the page if they had the slightest clue it existed, and navigating to it is a pain in the neck.

Sorry, but this is the sort of thing that SHOULDN'T be done. This is the sort of thing others have addressed above where resources are used for things that can be accomplished by end users. If you find a page useful, BOOKMARK it. Don't ask to have the site reorganised for you. This site and user experience is fractured enough as it is.

Reminds me of building websites in the late 90s where all my bosses used newspaper terminology and kept telling me that this, that and the other thing HAD to be ABOVE THE FOLD... when only a small percentage of people had screen resolutions above 800x600.
posted by terrapin at 8:17 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


I wonder if the lack of posts has to do with the idea that every post has to have the ability to generate a good discussion - as opposed to a 'hey, this is a neat thing', which other mefites might have a substantial important conversation over, but maybe not.

Not all posts have to be fantastic multi-link posts, and not all posts have to have 100+ comment discussions. The tone of the place might change if we encourage people to post more neat things without worrying about thinness.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:17 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


A sidebar question: what sort of business is Metafilter? LLC, C Corp, etc. Based on what that answer is, are there paths of inquiry to follow, models to replicate?

Metafilter is an Oregon-based corporation - 'Metafilter Network, Inc'.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 8:19 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


filthy light thief: Mods said they'd be regulating the threads more heavily, though there are still a lot of back-and-forth, re-arguing some much-tread territory.

Following up on my own comment -- I just saw that LobsterMitten handed out two one-day bans yesterday. Yes, the U.S. politics threads are being more heavily moderated.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:20 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Wouldn’t images at least in the main post (not in comments) be necessary to make things shareable on social media in a more attractive way? I mean, to get Twitter and Facebook cards with images, not just the link with the big Metafilter icon as it is now.

I've seen enough screenshots of tumblr text threads on facebook and instagram to believe it is possible to make text appealingly shareable.
posted by Cozybee at 8:21 AM on July 12 [10 favorites]


that will probably lead to some toxic threads, hopefully moderated - but hopefully people will actually learn and change their perspectives.

Hmmm - pony thought - so, while I absolutely *love* the flat comment thread style MeFi uses - it would really be useful to have a link on existing comments, that lets one "reply" to that comment - even though it will show replies in the same visual "flat" manner - this is about data-linking...

Why? Because, if a moderator culls the originating comment, all of the responses could be culled easily as well...

But, not necessarily always having to be done in "real-time", this would allow moderation to occur in a "pruning" fashion (i.e. "tending the garden"). So - if someone posts something very toxic and many people jump on to engage that comment, only to have it disappear later, we wouldn't get into a situations where people have replies to something that doesn't exist and only confuses later participants.
posted by jkaczor at 8:25 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Anecdotes aren't data, but we do have a large number of current users explaining why they don't feel comfortable participating on the site.

You're right, anecdotes aren't data. The problem is you don't know what users who are leaving the site who aren't posting in Metatalk threads think. Posting in Metatalk can be exhausting, only the most dedicated will do it. There are also surely people who are leaving for reasons other than ones strictly related to diversity.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 8:28 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


I think MeTa in general is a carryover from the old days that mostly serves to reinforce organizational paralysis now.
posted by prize bull octorok at 8:34 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


So, one thing that I'm confused about is that everybody's talking about needing to drive up user engagement to make more money from advertising revenue. Aren't ads only shown to non-members? I apologize if I'm totally misunderstanding the situation, but I believe I only see ads when I'm not logged in. I would be totally willing to see ads as a member (and whitelist metafilter on my ad blocker) if it would help with site finances.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:54 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


I've seen enough screenshots of tumblr text threads on facebook and instagram to believe it is possible to make text appealingly shareable.

Ah ok I hadn’t thought about that, that sounds cool too. But only text screenshots for all tweets? that would be a bit boring, maybe?
I was thinking more like taking one image (or video) that’s part of the content linked to by the post, posting it as embedded in the post on Metafilter like you’d post it on Reddit, so that by sharing a Metafilter link on Twitter you’d automatically get something like Reddit’s timeline rather than Metafilter’s - you can instantly see which is more appealing there.
OR you could do that manually for each tweet too, of course. Just a thought. It’s a small thing but whichever way, the social media presence needs to be stronger if you want to get more users, for sure.
posted by bitteschoen at 8:56 AM on July 12


I think MeTa in general is a carryover from the old days that mostly serves to reinforce organizational paralysis now.

It's not a carryover from the old days at all, in my opinion. The only thing the MeTa of today has in common with the MeTa of the old days is the background color. 90% of pre-queue MetaTalk threads—the threads where site policy and practices were hashed out and actually changed sometimes—would not have made it through the queue now. The MeTa threads in the past month have been exceptional in terms of MeTa norms of the past few years in actually substantively discussing the site instead of just being places for random chat.

People have talked about changes in deletion practices but nobody has mentioned what to me is the most obvious one: the moderators are far less tolerant of any disagreement with or criticism of moderator decisions than they were years ago. MeTa posts disagreeing with moderator actions or policies are not approved and any comments elsewhere on the site which even mention such actions or policies—even as a tiny aside in a longer comment—are deleted more consistently than any other type of comment, including racist, sexist, and homophobic comments. Matt and (especially) Jessamyn were willing to engage with good-faith disagreement in a way that the current moderators flat-out are not. (Indeed, the impression that I get is that the current management and moderators are unable to conceive that anyone who disagrees with them could possibly be doing so in good faith, and so treat any disagreement as equivalent to trolling or shit-stirring.) This level of defensiveness from site management is why I have no faith in them to make any substantive changes of the kind that would be necessary to turn this into a site that is inclusive, open, and growing.
posted by enn at 8:58 AM on July 12 [23 favorites]


I doubled my contribution. Special thanks to kalimac for the detailed directions.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:58 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


My two cents as a relatively new member, compared to many of you:

I like Metafilter, mostly. I wouldn't be here if I didn't. I hardly ever post in these types of threads (I think this will be my fifth comment in MetaTalk in over 4 years--I joined in January 2015.)

There is no way I would ever financially contribute to the site, I just don't care that much, because what reason have I been given to care? This is a place I come to dick around online for a bit every day. I don't feel any sense of "community" here and in fact I'm actually confused by the idea of it.

I'll probably get jumped on, but it's how I feel. I bet there are a lot of active users like me out there.
posted by Automocar at 8:59 AM on July 12 [18 favorites]


I definitely think that the emotional labor of reading to/tending this thread is probably not a good use of cortex's energy at this point - and agree with various suggestions that cortex step back from daily modding and focus on the big picture/new user crisis. I think that this thread should run its course and then someone can summarize it for cortex later and pull out all the actionable ideas for disposition.

I wouldn't want MeFi to morph into an image-based site or lose it's deep-dive (even if into a shallow pool of cat videos) or text-based, sentence-based character. But I suspect that enabling some convenient, branded/traceable way for the social media folks to share/promote/entwine MetaFilter into the overall zeitgeist would help with attracting new users.

And I think that a Politics Subsite is overdue - specifically as a user retention/subscriber attraction item. I would only dip into it, at best, but I think that we have two problems with the current handling of politics:
- allow (mostly US) politics to sprawl all over the blue, which many users loathe --> sequester it!
- the megathreads, even in their pruned/reined in current state, are unwieldy behemoths that are terrible for user experience (because huge) and terrible for having an actual conversation (because omnibus) --> go back to single topic threads (sequestered) that maybe will have dozens or hundreds of comments instead of thousands. We know what the problems are in those threads -- make flag categories for the specific failure modes in politics discussions, let the users help more. Close the Politics subsite threads after a week or 10 days instead of 30.

I guess what my feedback boils down to is: longboats are offputting. Let's engineer them out of existence.

And then let's advertise to get more users. With a friendlier user experience (signups, longboats, inclusiveness), I'm sure there are MeFi-adjacent places we could find more subscribers. I'm thinking of ads on Reply All or Judge John Hodgman -- these folks are MeFites and their audiences probably contain more potential MeFites...
posted by janell at 9:00 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


hmmm?

Big thread, pivotal topic. I haven't read the whole thing. I started randomly about halfway through (yesterday evening) and have now stumbled to the end realizing that the last thing required are any of my ideas. Because ideas are easy (particularly in a community of smart people), implementation isn't. How to choose from a myriad of options what to focus on, then how to implement that choice -- that's the challenge at hand.

I will speak to the problem of the mega-threads. I'm not a fan. Not because I haven't found them at least occasionally fascinating, fun even (I have), but over time, I've found my experience of the site ticks to the negative the more time I spend in them. But who cares really about my particular experience? I'm also profoundly unenthused about cat threads. But if you're looking for something that mirrors the decline of Metafilter (in terms of membership etc), I think you'd have to be willfully blind to not at least consider the megathreads. They garner the most comments, the most favorites, the most energy, the most everything.

When they were first instituted, it felt like a decent attempt to deal with what was clearly becoming a problem. But sitting back now, and no doubt way oversimplifying things, I can't help but see them as a massive, nth-dimensional energy suck. They've not only come to demand more of the site's moderation/management resources, they also seem to have absorbed more and more of the users time-enthusiasm-passion ... and all toward what!?!? I must wonder, beyond what I would call the mass delusion that there is somehow a political solution to the vast and complex socio-economic-technological mess in which we, the greater culture, find ourselves. They say the Law is an Ass -- always fumbling along way behind the actual culture. Well, I'm fast coming to conclusion that Politics is a Snail, even slower than an Ass, and expecting anything more of it is like expecting it not to rain in November in Vancouver.

Anyway, this comment could go on and on. The TLDR is probably, you want to fix what's wrong with Metafilter, fix the megathreads. This probably means deciding to get rid of them, but maybe not in one vast swipe. But maybe yeah, one vast swipe. That's how nature does it sometimes. A population gets too big, too greedy, too much of a suck on the ecosystem's limited resources (it may seem healthy but it is in fact the opposite) -- sometimes a disease hits and that entire population dies, at which point the greater ecosystem recovers, possibly even flourishes ...
posted by philip-random at 9:05 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


the site disabled new user sign ups for a couple years because Matt didn't have the time to deal with the volume.
posted by Fidel Cashflow


And I think all the armchair experts really need to let that sink in for a moment before lobbing more grenades at cortex for his lack of business acumen or whatever. Back in the day, the Google ad money was a fucking torrent and mathowie didn't have to give one shit about it. Ad money just came in and he lived large off of it. Now you have all sorts of mismatched expectations about revenue and site goals. It's so tiresome.

Also, eponysterical.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:06 AM on July 12 [13 favorites]


A great comment above from sallybrown:

cortex, you sound incredibly burnt out (understandably). Very few people can make large-scale strategic decisions in that state. While this is a community site, you are the Big Cheese. I would suggest something counterintuitive, like you taking a month off to think. Develop a list of big-picture goals for the site that you are confident in and committed in (not what concrete steps to take, but what you want this site to be). Come back and use your time, instead of day-to-day moderation, to power through the suggestions in this thread and elsewhere and consult with experts in the various relevant fields (tech, SEO, PR, business, whatever). Then make an authoritative post about what big steps the site will be taking and why. Some people might disagree, some people might leave, some people might tell you you don’t know what you’re doing, but you’ve put the work in by strategic thinking and consulting experts, so, full steam ahead. You are the leader of the site.

Great idea to take some time away from the moderation and the daily To Do list, step back from the list of site improvements, and put together a strategic plan for dealing with some of these headwinds.
posted by slidell at 9:12 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Back in the day, the Google ad money was a fucking torrent and mathowie didn't have to give one shit about it. Ad money just came in and he lived large off of it.

Yeah, no, or at least not during the time period when signups were disabled (2001-2004). Matt also had a full-time job at that point and there were no paid mods yet, so, that's kind of an apples-to-oranges comparison. In the same comment, Matt says that by 2004: "Running two remote servers cost me about $700/mo at the start and I needed something to offset that (I wasn't making that much in ads each month)." Not really a torrent.
posted by enn at 9:13 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


Burhanistan: Back in the day, the Google ad money was a fucking torrent and mathowie didn't have to give one shit about it. Ad money just came in and he lived large off of it.

Given that Mathowie appears to have been a ball of stress and anxiety the entire time he ran the site, “lived large” isn’t quite the way I’d put it either. And enn is right - hosting & compute costs were /enormous/ by comparison with today in the early 00s.
posted by pharm at 9:15 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


I see ads when I am logged in on my phone.

Metafilter is a social system. The way that it operates defies quantification. This is true of all social systems. To be more precise, Metafilter is a sociotechnical system--an assemblage of people, artifacts, technologies, values--and because of this, it is easier for us to think of it in quantifiable terms. I mean, as a "place" itself, it only exists as code. But codes are imbued with values. It is no accident that the problem of whiteness is replicated here, because the problem of whiteness is baked into the code. This is not a Metafilter-specific problem, and we see it instantiating out all over the web. Two good books on this topic are: Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble, and Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruha Benjamin.

If we forgo inclusion now, we are going to continue feeding a system that we know is broken. The problem of inclusion and the crisis the site is in are the same problem. I recognize that some people do not believe that qualitative data is real, that it is "just anecdote" and therefore worthy of dismissal, but that is an epistemological shortcoming. We have so. much. data. already. about what is going on here. Moreover, to quote Baldwin, "How much time do you want for your progress?" The argument that we need to wait to address equity and inclusion until the site has sufficient capital is a bit strange to me, because while we are waiting and building capital we are doing so as a direct result of an inequitable system. Resulting profits come from harm in this case, and here, the joy of Metafilter has a nasty undercurrent. And I think that is why I was pushing on joy a bit above: I had said that perhaps striving for joy is an immoral goal, and aws17576 made a wonderful counterpoint: "Joy is in spite of the world. It's indispensable." And I had to sit back and think on that, because whew--it's so true! But while joy is indispensable and is not necessarily problematic or immoral, I do believe that joy achieved through subjugation of others--either consciously or unconsciously--is, in fact, immoral. And if we wait for inclusion and we wait for equity here, that is exactly what we will be doing: we will be reinforcing a social system that demonstrably harms some people as a direct result of the pursuit of joy for others. And that may result in profit, but it will not result in a healthy, thriving Metafilter. So I'd caution us on saying "let's wait on diversity," unless the goal is to quickly build an express lane in the opposite direction.

I also think cortex needs a vacation; in fact, I texted a friend to that effect in... 2017, according to my phone. It's time to take a step back and to really think and digest, and then come back with a fresh head, talk to some experts, and figure out your new direction. This is a crisis, and dramatic things can happen in a crisis. Maybe it's time to turn the site off for a weekend or two this summer (you can time this so that users outside of american time zones are not disproportionally impacted) so that you can all regroup, take a moderator retreat (and this could be held virtually), and actually work out an actionable plan for the future of the site.
posted by sockermom at 9:24 AM on July 12 [23 favorites]


I know this is way way way down here so not sure how much this'll be checked at this point, but because I just thought of it: Reworking Jobs a bit might be a way to both leverage the community a bit more, and I mean, a lot of job boards do charge to post positions, so potentially a revenue source? But if it were more heavily utilized, like, Mefites in better employment situations would be Mefites with more ability to give back. I know part of why I'm donating is that I associate Metafilter not just with social community but with information and support that actually helped me make some rather large changes to my life that are precisely why I'm actually able to afford to do it. More encouragement to mutual support in more concrete ways seems like it would be a net benefit.

I just happened to notice when looking at it that most of the posted people available for work are in fact postings from years and years ago, and it seems like a thing that could be doing more than it is.
posted by Sequence at 9:27 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


I'm just a small-town janitor, but anyway. $5 sign-ups have never been about revenue, they've been about gatekeeping. Siteads don't make much money, MeFi's partnered with at least 2-3 banner companies already. Historically 'the community' was never a revenue stream, it was MeFi's largest expense in the form of community management staffing. Members generated content, mainly AskMes, which drew eyeballs which made the Google money until 2013-2014, when Google did their thing and revenue dropped to 2007 levels. At the risk of not checking infodump, I am going to assume that user activity, specifically the AskMes that made the Google money, has been in long decline (The most recent data I can find is from 2015, which shows AskMe peaked 2009/10). Increased sign-ups and user activity will not make money the old way, Google turned off the tap three years after its apex. I assume there was some hope FanFare would function in a similar way, but I don't get the impression it has, and the content does't strike me as having the same utility as AskMe. The Google money's not coming back, or at least cannot be considered a reliable revenue source for the site as it currently exists. Will advertising/SEO strategies mitigate this or even pay for itself in this environment?

Can MeFi attract enough new members capable and willing to buy in and cover the Google money shortfall and further declines? My shitty math ($14k/6k donors=$2.33/mo) says that would be difficult. The number of sign-ups needed for even a small percentage of those new members to be converted to donors would be unprecedented and the social disruption would put even more strain on staff resources. So, new people cannot be considered a viable revenue source; important for replacing members lost to attrition, but they're not joining in numbers needed to reverse this trend (And no, I'm not suggesting any steps taken to increase inclusivity are pointless because the financial return is negligible; inclusivity is inherently valuable).

So that leaves the site and its current, consistently dwindling, number of participants. Some here have said they've increased their donations. Some have explained why they won't donate. Some have articulated what would encourage them to donate. It seems to me that the best, most cost-effective strategy would be to do a survey of member attitudes, positions, and what it would take to get or increase their donations. You can't trust MeTa responses because they are ridiculously self-selecting (Even this one!). At this point hiring consultants or creating a board (!) is spending money you don't have or rearranging deck chairs.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:29 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


I check all of Mefi several times a day.
I unashamedly love this space.
I know it’s not perfect.
It’s the first place online I check after waking up and the last before I go to bed.

All that said, I would wholeheartedly support a site hiatus to new posts/interactions if it means staff (particularly cortex) can take a break, and reassess the myriad of problems that have been stated/uncovered in this MeTa.

Running on fumes, and continual firefighting with no rest is just another route to a slow - possibly permanent - decline.
posted by Faintdreams at 9:32 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


Given that Mathowie appears to have been a ball of stress and anxiety the entire time he ran the site, “lived large” isn’t quite the way I’d put it either. And enn is right - hosting & compute costs were /enormous/ by comparison with today in the early 00s.

The point isn't really about money, it's about scaling. Matt didn't have the resources or desire to scale Metafilter, so he put yokes on it's growth. Now those same yokes still exist, but growth is not a problem. You gotta take the yokes off.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 9:34 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Automocar: I just don't care that much, because what reason have I been given to care? This is a place I come to dick around online for a bit every day. I don't feel any sense of "community" here and in fact I'm actually confused by the idea of it. I'll probably get jumped on, but it's how I feel. I bet there are a lot of active users like me out there.

To try to explain, since you say you're confused -- Metafilter was around very long ago, when social media was nowhere near as big or around. But it served the same function that social media does nowadays, but before social media in most respects. Nowadays, if you read an article and want your friends to react, what do you do? You share it to the social media network wherever most of your friends are (SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) and then your friends react to it.

That's what Metafilter was back then. Here's where we all reacted, live, to 9/11 as it happened. Consider it a huge "comment section" to that era's version of a Facebook post, except with people watching that comment section to try to make sure things didn't go batfuck like they often do in other, unmoderated forums.

Hope that explains why many people feel as if there's a community here they want to protect or preserve.

You might feel your community is elsewhere. That's cool. There are people here who are likely ready to be either friendly or your friend – I like to think most of Metafilter's userbase are good eggs – but that's my effort to try to explain "the idea" of Metafilter community.
posted by WCityMike at 9:40 AM on July 12 [18 favorites]


All that said, I would wholeheartedly support a site hiatus to new posts/interactions if it means staff (particularly cortex) can take a break, and reassess the myriad of problems that have been stated/uncovered in this MeTa.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Honestly, Cortex, I love this place, love y'all – but the bit about feeling fried worried me a bit. You're a good dude and frankly if you guys want to put up a webpage sitewide that says:

GONE FISHIN'
BACK ON JULY 31, 2019

And use the time to defrazzle, get some walks in, do some long-term thinking, figure out how to make not only the site sustainable but how to make the act of moderating the site sustainable in all of your lives -- yeah, that's something I could definitely understand.
posted by WCityMike at 9:44 AM on July 12 [17 favorites]


It's possible to calculate the comment deletion rate by comparing the "comments" value in the postdata_mefi file and the actual number of comments (summed by post) in the commentdata file: here are the deletion rates for comments from 2005 to 2019. The deletion rate has indeed grown over the years, from a small 0.2% in 2005 to a solid 3.8% in 2019. In fact it's almost doubled in the past 2 years, so the general feeling that moderation has become more stricter is supported by the data. This increase is not explained by the removal of comment spam as deletion rate for posts has actually gone down (from 9-10% in 2006-2012 to about 3-4% since 2017). It is, however, explained by the megathreads (>= 2000 comments, 82% of the megathreads happened in 2016-2019), which are agressively pruned since December 2017 with 10% comments deleted on average (winner thread: 17%). I'm not sure what changed in December 2017: megathreads before that had regular deletion rates (about 2%), which is the deletion rate in other threads (which has gone up in recent years, but not to that extent).

So the megathreads are indeed a big ugly drain on mod resources. However: for 2018, the 30 megathreads (out of 6663 posts) accounted for 22% of the total comments (67354 out of 309739). In 2017, 51 longboats (out of 6783 posts) accounted for 36% of the comments. Like it or not, they have become a major reason for engagement on the site. People may hate them, for good reasons, but the fact is that they are really attractive.
posted by elgilito at 9:45 AM on July 12 [24 favorites]


So, allow them to move to their own subsite, with varied threads instead of a single, rotating, massive, browser-busting thread, and market that subsite aggressively to people who want to have genuine political discussions away from the toxic troll-filled swamps that exist elsewhere.
posted by billiebee at 9:52 AM on July 12 [20 favorites]


1) JPD's framework/scaffolding is the only approach I've ever seen make real progress in analogous situations.

2) I wasn't aware of the site history of limiting user sign-ups. Combine that with the intentional/unintentional engineering to reduce mod burden through site norms of only worthwhile posts or comments (therefore less posts/comments to moderate) and - while I don't have the data - that dynamic appears to at least have some contribution to declining participation. The notion of too many users or too much user generated content to deal with was baked into the place from the start. This isn't a question of whether or not such an approach works - clearly it does.

The problem is that it worked too well. So now people are afraid to join or post or comment. On preview:

The point isn't really about money, it's about scaling. Matt didn't have the resources or desire to scale Metafilter, so he put yokes on it's growth. Now those same yokes still exist, but growth is not a problem. You gotta take the yokes off.

...is exactly correct.

This is really an exercise in letting go and trusting your userbase to do some work (from strategy to fully converting favorites/flags from proxy upvotes/downvotes to actual upvotes/downvotes) and make some decisions for you (via committee, or boards, or whatever). As opposed to mainly thinking of your userbase as merely a source of donations or generators of yet more inconvenient content that needs to be moderated by hand.

Phrased differently: what's the plan to leverage the resources you've got? What's the plan to leverage the userbase you've got? Maybe moderation by hand should be reserved for low traffic topics, while big unwieldy threads get the full reddit treatment. Actually, that comparison is useful. Reddit doesn't handle small scale discussions all that well, but its large scale, multi-thousand comment threads are much more digestible than megathreads here, despite even the largest MeFi megathreads being one order of magnitude or more smaller than what would be a big thread on reddit.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:53 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


If the megathreads account for a large proportion of site activity, that doesn't necessarily mean that activity wouldn't exist without them. Alternatively, engagement is down in other parts of the site because members are spending all their energy in megathreads.
posted by thoroughburro at 9:54 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


WCityMike, I understand why long-standing members might feel a sense of community here. But Metafilter won't survive if everyone that joined after a certain date is like "community? what community?" Like, what I'm saying is: the Metafilter I have come to know since I joined in 2015 is... whatever. And that's a problem, if I'm reading this thread correctly.

Because at some point Metafilter will shut down, because the people who feel compelled to support the site financially are not going to be adequate, and the people that joined later who feel no reason to support the site financially are going to shrug and migrate somewhere else.
posted by Automocar at 9:55 AM on July 12 [12 favorites]


People have talked about changes in deletion practices but nobody has mentioned what to me is the most obvious one: the moderators are far less tolerant of any disagreement with or criticism of moderator decisions than they were years ago.

Years ago trolling was different.

Years ago there wasn't a Gamergate.

Years ago there wasn't a Black Lives Matter.

Years ago the internet was a monoculture driven by white guys who thought a libertarian approach towards speech would serve well.

Years ago LGBTQ folk were still finding their voice in the broader web community and working towards making that voice known.

Years ago we tolerated edgelords and shitlords generally. Years ago there was no alt-right weaponizing edgelord and shitlord behavior.

Years ago people didn't come to the internet spoiling for a fight to "own" a political opponent or "shut down" someone they opposed, much less post clickbait about how someone did those things.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I'd love for the internet of 1999 to come back. But it's not. It's not, because the decisions we (and I am including myself as a 25+ year resident of "The Cyber") made years ago have played out to horrendous consequences that have hurt real people. And they've created noise that's turned what was a thriving albeit monolithic community of "in people" into a cacophony of anger, baiting, and a need to self-soothe while the capitalists of Silicon Valley harvest that data to sell.

So moderation has to change, partially to overcome those mistakes, partially because no one wants to spend 1000 comments rehashing them all over again. I am fine with the tight leash on moderation because the world we live in now needs that tight leash just to keep us from spiraling into a place where it's too toxic for the good things to survive. And if that means each of us has to decide if we want to evolve with it, and if that means some of us decide to walk away rather than evolving, well, so be it. To quote a video game, "The world is changing... we must prepare and adapt."

MeFi was never for everyone, no matter how we wanted it to be. And that's OK, honestly. I don't like Indian food. That's a personal judgment based on my experience. I don't oppose people opening a curry house or enjoying lamb vindaloo with a side of saag paneer. It's just not for me. And that's OK. I'll get something else.

The old days aren't coming back. The question is how MeFi evolves to take on this new world we live in.
posted by dw at 10:01 AM on July 12 [37 favorites]


Well, just chiming in again to re-iterate that I think a little Mefi-management retreat is a good idea.
Take all the stuff these fine folks in this here thread (and the other threads too) have posted, pack em all in a big duffel bag with your best friend or business mentor, take time away from here, and ponder them at the side of a fire or
a lake. Take the time you need to decide, without interference from the shouting crowds, what YOU want, prioritize and sift and organize, and build yourself a plan.
posted by disclaimer at 10:08 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


The comment by dw is disingenuous. We're not talking about the old internet coming back, we are talking about moderators deleting and dismissing criticism out of hand. Not trolling comments, criticism.

I love this website, and am really sad about how little I use it anymore. The politics longboats are terrible. The shift in the way people use the website isn't great. I'm sad about how little time I spend here, but there is almost nothing that makes me want to spend much time here. I love the friends I've made through this website, and that's just about it anymore. My friends (many of whom no longer participate) and quonsar are about all that keep me around.
posted by bibliogrrl at 10:25 AM on July 12 [28 favorites]


A lot of the moderation here seems to come from a curatorial point of view - as though the mods have internalized the ridiculous idea that MeFi is some sort of historical resource and have decided to prune threads to produce the perfect informational artifacts for transmission to a better future.
"Look!" The robed sages of that post communist Utopia will say. "See how this site so thoroughly anticipated the truth of the Thoughtplex! See how their cognitive hygiene was as good as could be expected for such a barbarous time! Let us name one of the glass spired cities on Mars after them!"
Not going to happen.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:26 AM on July 12 [17 favorites]


thatwhichfalls: IMO that's basically just a straight insult wrapped up in a metaphorical short-short story.
posted by WCityMike at 10:31 AM on July 12 [12 favorites]


That’s entirely the bullshit mindset that drives half the bad moderation on the politics threads, the other half being “Someone is disagreeing with my friends/Nancy Pelosi”.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I don't feel any sense of "community" here and in fact I'm actually confused by the idea of it.

Well - I don't want to you to think I am jumping on you - but the fact that you are actually responding, right here in this MeTa thread shows that you are part of the community - and care enough to post.
posted by jkaczor at 10:36 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


If 3.8% of comments (1 in 25) are being deleted (with a much higher ratio in political threads), I'm now concerned that nobody really has a good picture of what the community consensus on this site looks like.

That's a lot of steering, most of which is happening invisibly behind the scenes.

This isn't even remotely healthy or sustainable.
posted by schmod at 10:40 AM on July 12 [28 favorites]


I think we're all going to have different answers for the million dollar question: what, exactly, is Metafilter?

I see so many different people prioritizing different parts of the site: fanfare, Ask, international focus, US centric politics, old school best of the web, more nuanced discussions: all of this usually at the detriment of some other part. We need more longboat threads. We need to axe them. We need a politics filter. We need a... what? What does the site need to be, that it isn't already - or what was it that isn't serving member needs anymore - or what is it becoming that needs to be brought into focus?

For me, the draw is what I said above: deep dive discussion. There's an old school permanence here that is the opposite of ephemeral social media posts. That's a good thing.

I like the idea of a Reddit style central feed as a main landing page, perhaps customizable for members. (Provided users can turn it off if desired, because dog knows we hate change around here and everyone will yell bloody murder about it until they decide they like it.)

Overall though, Metafilter doesn't have the scale or scope of Reddit and I wouldn't expect it to. I think some people are hoping for that, and I'm not sure it's currently feasible - or needed. This is a specialized discussion site and thus far has survived pretty well doing exactly that: make it an easier / better place to discuss things.
posted by cmyk at 10:41 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


...that's basically just a straight insult wrapped up in a metaphorical short-short story.
Yeah, old school Metatalk.
I'm bringing it back.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:42 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Hey so while we’re all throwing out random ideas, here’s a probably-bad one:

You know how people used to say “Get your own blog”? And how we kick questions off of Ask for being to chatty? What if Metafilter could host my blog, in exchange for a defined mandatory subscription?

Posts are text with 1-2 pictures, and/or music, but basically look like FPP’s. You have to subscribe to post, but any members can comment. Basically fold in Projects and maybe Music to this, with a similar ability for someone else to post to the front page. If your subscription lapses, you can’t post until you re-subscribe. You can take down your own posts if you want.

Metafilter is based on sharing web links, but the only way you find these nowadays is on other social media. But to blog you still kinda have to roll your own hosting and domain. This would be like yourownblog.metafilter.com/HuffyPuffy or something.

Moderation would be with a similar flagging system, and posts would close...eventually. And you guys could close them if you need to.

It increases engagement, it comes with a guaranteed fixed revenue stream, and it probably doesn’t add much overhead. If you wanted to, you could kick the politics stuff over there too.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:43 AM on July 12 [12 favorites]


> That’s entirely the bullshit mindset that drives half the bad moderation on the politics threads, the other half being “Someone is disagreeing with my friends/Nancy Pelosi”.

Or maybe you, I, and the rest of the community has a very limited window into what actually drives the moderation, making it quite counterproductive to assume bad faith.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:44 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


If, as elgilito's data seems to indicate, the political megathreads are the source of a disproportionate resource drain, even as they stay popular overall, the solution would seem to be to create a politafilter subsite with tiered participation costs--free to read, free to comment x (say 10) number of times per week, thereafter, a nominal subscription fee to comment more often. Those that are here for the politics can still get their fill, while those whose comment rate and level of commitment exceed the basic tier can put their money where their mouth is and help support the level of modification that makes the megathreads even remotely bearable. Either way, the outcomes (fewer megathread, less political rawr to mod, same level with more $ to help pay for moderation) seem ok...
posted by Chrischris at 10:46 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


So if you have more money you get to talk more? I don’t want that for this site. It’s bad enough that it’s how the world works in general.
posted by billiebee at 10:50 AM on July 12 [28 favorites]


If 3.8% of comments (1 in 25) are being deleted (with a much higher ratio in political threads), I'm now concerned that nobody really has a good picture of what the community consensus on this site looks like.


Holy cow, really? Anyone know what the deletion ratio was 10 years back? Because I feel like the moderation has definitely changed since then, and not in a way I particularly like or agree with. And yet I sorta understand what the mods are trying to curate, but only because I've been here long enough to know generally what MeFi feels like. I don't know if site conventions are clear for newbies and that's going to make it tough to sustain new engagement going forward. (I most often see it in AskMe, where people who are clearly more used to Reddit are shushed and deleted for doing the back-and-forth that We Don't Do Here.)
posted by phatkitten at 10:50 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I perceive having to pay for participation in a megathread as more like “if you want to engage in this resource-intensive area of the site, please contribute to paying for those resources”.
posted by disclaimer at 10:53 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


phatkitten: "Anyone know what the deletion ratio was 10 years back?"

0.2%. It's in elgilito's original comment upthread.
posted by schmod at 10:53 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


phatkitten: "Anyone know what the deletion ratio was 10 years back?"

It's in elgilito's comment, which is the source for the data point:

elgilito: "The deletion rate has indeed grown over the years, from a small 0.2% in 2005 to a solid 3.8% in 2019."
posted by crazy with stars at 10:53 AM on July 12


Thanks, can't keep up with this thread!
posted by phatkitten at 10:54 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


It's probably relevant to remind folks, if we're comparing numbers, that we didn't have consistent night-and-weekend coverage until 2011, so that changed the deletion rate proportionally.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:54 AM on July 12 [16 favorites]


0.2%, sure, but that's also because a lot of crap was allowed to stay which shouldn't have been.

y'know, outright bigoted posts, comments, and rants, for example.
posted by anem0ne at 10:55 AM on July 12 [24 favorites]


I don't think mod coverage has increased twentyfold.
posted by schmod at 10:55 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


If, as elgilito's data seems to indicate, the political megathreads are the source of a disproportionate resource drain, even as they stay popular overall, the solution would seem to be to create a politafilter subsite with tiered participation costs--free to read, free to comment x (say 10) number of times per week, thereafter, a nominal subscription fee to comment more often.

I have collected some data about participation in megathreads that I was waiting to post until the megathread MeTa. In terms of charging users to comment a lot in megathreads, currently 50% of the content (words and comments) posted to the megathreads are posted by 10-15 folks (more when there's Big News). Maybe charging them more would cause a more equal distribution of comments among commenters. I don't know how much more of this discussion should wait until the megathread MeTa.
posted by Jpfed at 10:56 AM on July 12 [14 favorites]


I perceive having to pay for participation in a megathread as more like “if you want to engage in this resource-intensive area of the site, please contribute to paying for those resources.”

But what if you want to participate but your economic status means you can’t afford to? It takes us even further away from inclusivity, especially of marginalised members, than we are now.
posted by billiebee at 10:56 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


It's a fact. The site disabled new user sign ups for a couple years because Matt didn't have the time to deal with the volume.

And cortex said this here in this thread:
"Right now the $5 fee does two things: prevents driveby jerks from signing up, and provides a little bit of a check on stuff like spammers whose paypal details tell on themselves."
posted by terrapin at 10:59 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


the deletion rates for comments from 2005 to 2019

This is something I was wondering about but didn't want to touch on without data - plus, it might seem indelicate, axegrindy, or mean, which is absolutely not my intention. If comments indicate user activity, it has dropped by 50% from its peak, yet staffing remains at similar levels, and the perception, if only in my own mind, is that staff have never been under such stress. This is not remotely sustainable financially or emotionally and a solution should and can be implemented sooner rather than later.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:05 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


While I think the POC projects are well meaning and ultimately necessary, consider how much they might cost to implement in terms of time and money and decide if now is the right time for that because that will drive revenue, or if you are better placed holding off on some of those costs until the site is stabilized. I HAVE NO IDEA if this is the case, but I wouldn't move forward without some kind of empirical evidence that suggests it will drive engagement.

marginalized folk are always asked to hold off, to wait for a better time, because right now isn't the right time. this mindset enables it to never be the right time.

i can tell you that right now there seems to be a brief flowering of posts on the blue that highlight some more diverse points of view; i don't know how long it will last, but there's a sense that there might be a slight sea change in how people feel.

not actually continuing the momentum on the "poc projects" would just be a return to the previous status quo, and prove once more to pretty much everyone who was in the poc thread that there's no backbone, no real serious intent there.

if this isn't the right time for it, then when? some hopeful moment in the future when everything is stable? will there even be enough of a critical mass of non-white posters at that point to care? will mefi even have a reputation of being welcoming to non-white posters at that time, or will that deferred action just lead to the cementing in the minds of many that it's a bastion of very white liberalism?

i don't have empirical evidence that it'll drive engagement. i do know that judging by the temperature in the poc thread, the ice is so, so very thin, and not doing that work might well drive engagement down even further among a subset of visitors.
posted by anem0ne at 11:08 AM on July 12 [63 favorites]


But I need to be fairly assured that my friends are going to be treated with respect and kindness and not get all their shit deleted.

yeah. People have been trying to communicate for quite some time now that comment deletions are not costless at all; they are in fact a major deterrent to participation. The (general and megathread-specific) deletion rates indicated in elgito's comment are wild.
posted by lalex at 11:11 AM on July 12 [12 favorites]


I am a proponent of cutting back basically all site changes/improvements in order to spend time getting new users, but I do think progress needs to be made on improving things for PoC. Not necessarily because it will help the site grow in the near term, but because it has been promised.
posted by snofoam at 11:14 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


not actually continuing the momentum on the "poc projects" would just be a return to the previous status quo, and prove once more to pretty much everyone who was in the poc thread that there's no backbone, no real serious intent there.

a zero is a zero is a zero. You can only go to zero once. A zero with a back bone is still a zero
posted by JPD at 11:14 AM on July 12


Here is a comment from 2015 that gets into some of the reasons why users asked for more deletions over a period of years.
The EL thread is actually a great example; literally the very first response to the post (now deleted) was a snarky one-liner responding to the fpp as if the section quoted in my framing was a serious proposal on the part of the author. (It wasn't; for the record, it's clear in the piece that monetizing emotional labor is proposed more as a thought exercise asking the audience to agree that emotional labor is actual work than as a desire to make you fork over $5 before your mom tells you she loves you.) It's very difficult to frame threads like this to hook people in and encourage a discussion without also drawing people who respond to the hook directly, especially when you frame a post around a question.

And in the EL thread, the system worked and the deletion didn't have a chance to poison the thread! Once those kinds of comments are left in the discussion, especially early in a post, they really derail the discussion and also increase the grar quotient quite a bit, which makes it harder to have the really nuanced discussions as people batten down to avoid further criticism.

I've had luck shutting those clearly-didn't-read-it comments down before by answering the question bluntly and referring to the actual text, but I... actually, huh, I think I need to just flag them more and faster before they have a chance to derail a discussion. (Because it does work better when mods remove them before anyone has a chance to respond!)
It's true that deletions have a cost, but leaving things up has a cost, too.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:15 AM on July 12 [17 favorites]


I'm not going to stick around if some subset of the changes mooted in the PoC threads doesn't happen. This site can't keep doing what it's been doing.
posted by salt grass at 11:16 AM on July 12 [12 favorites]


It's true that deletions have a cost, but leaving things up has a cost, too.

I hear that. I think that moderation exists on a spectrum and that the moderation here hit "suffocating" quite some time ago.

When you're routinely deleting 10% of comments on a particular topic it is time to step back and ask what effect this is having on people who come here for discussion, how you can better communicate the guidelines for commenting, or even if the (increasingly complicated and insular) guidelines for commenting should be changed.
posted by lalex at 11:23 AM on July 12 [13 favorites]


JPD said: While I think the POC projects are well meaning and ultimately necessary, consider how much they might cost to implement in terms of time and money and decide if now is the right time for that because that will drive revenue, or if you are better placed holding off on some of those costs until the site is stabilized. I HAVE NO IDEA if this is the case, but I wouldn't move forward without some kind of empirical evidence that suggests it will drive engagement.

What would empirical evidence look like that suggests working on "POC projects" will increase engagement/revenue at Metafilter? I'm not really understanding how empirical evidence about this could even be collected.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:24 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


And cortex said this here in this thread:
"Right now the $5 fee does two things: prevents driveby jerks from signing up, and provides a little bit of a check on stuff like spammers whose paypal details tell on themselves."


No offense to Cortex, but I don't think he has any idea if it's an effective anti-spam or anti-jerk technique since he's never changed the policy from the one that Matt originally implemented and described himself as a way to throttle back new user signups. Metafilter doesn't seem to be a really 'juicy' target for spam, since spam relies on volume and lack of moderation to be effective.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 11:25 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Metafilter doesn't seem to be a really 'juicy' target for spam, since spam relies on volume and lack of moderation to be effective.

That's largely because our tools are good enough that spam doesn't live long enough to be visible. We can definitely look at scaling back some things that are affecting real users in a negative way, but our nets do catch a lot of suspiciously pork-smelling fish.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:26 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


a zero is a zero is a zero. You can only go to zero once. A zero with a back bone is still a zero.

That doesn't seem to be explicitly true, since we've been seeing zero for a long time now.
posted by anem0ne at 11:28 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


What would empirical evidence look like that suggests working on "POC projects" will increase engagement/revenue at Metafilter? I'm not really understanding how empirical evidence about this could even be collected.

Lots of ways. Survey work for one.

"Please arrange on this line what are your priorities for remaining engaged with the site"
"Which of the following reasons led you to reduce your participation on MetaFilter"


etc. etc. You need to sample the user base including people who stopped being active participants - actually especially those folks. That should be the easiest pool to win back because you don't have to make them aware of the site.
posted by JPD at 11:29 AM on July 12 [6 favorites]


That doesn't seem to be explicitly true, since we've been seeing zero for a long time now.
a zero means a dead site. A dead business. This is a dead business walking. That's what these numbers say. I don't know when it dies, but it dies.
posted by JPD at 11:30 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


So is your current counsel to put poc concerns on the back burner, as your comment suggests? Because that's what it certainly sounds like.

And you're right, a dead site does no one favors. Is it worth it to have a site with a monchromatic monoculture, though?
posted by anem0ne at 11:33 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


JPD said: Lots of ways. Survey work for one.

"Please arrange on this line what are your priorities for remaining engaged with the site"
"Which of the following reasons led you to reduce your participation on MetaFilter"


etc. etc. You need to sample the user base including people who stopped being active participants - actually especially those folks. That should be the easiest pool to win back because you don't have to make them aware of the site.


What you described sounds like it would result in horribly unuseful information, as the survey sounds like it would be opt-in and self-selected and the people who you're most interested in hearing from (people who stopped being active participants) will be very hard to get information out of since they're not actively participating.

Do you have other ideas for collecting empirical evidence? Surveys doesn't seem like a good way to me.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:38 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


I set up a new monthly contribution. Happy to do it!
posted by oulipian at 11:38 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Cortex HAS to think about RoI on any project. Its not a question of "is this a good project", its a question of "relative to my other projects and the resources available to me (time and money), this one (or these) appears to have the highest potential to reinvigorate the site. " Its an optimization exercise. Doubtless there would be people for whom certain projects are super important to them, and if they aren't execute on them they will leave, but if the project that was executed on grosses 1.25 people who either don't leave or might have, or who come back - then that was the right decision.

The job right now is to identify and scale those projects, and only then can you determine priority. I literally have no idea what that will end up telling us. Its possible or even probable that the PoC project is priority 1 and if it is then lets do as fast as possible.
posted by JPD at 11:38 AM on July 12 [5 favorites]


Honestly, JPD, it's beginning to feel like you are not arguing in good faith. I made a substantive comment above about the epistemological shortcomings of using quantitative data as a way to make this problem somehow more real, and there were also several discussions about this in the other large threads that have happened this month. Have you read those threads?
posted by sockermom at 11:39 AM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Surveys and direct interviews are generally the way you do it. Perhaps there is some way to parse data that's been collected over time, but that's my not world.
posted by JPD at 11:39 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Honestly, JPD, it's beginning to feel like you are not arguing in good faith

This sort of BS is so tiring and turns people off. You're not a faith detective, stop trying to judge if someone is being genuine. JPD is giving great advice.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 11:43 AM on July 12 [29 favorites]


Honestly, JPD, it's beginning to feel like you are not arguing in good faith. I made a substantive comment above about the epistemological shortcomings of using quantitative data as a way to make this problem somehow more real, and there were also several discussions about this in the other large threads that have happened this month. Have you read those threads?

Honestly the only conclusion I can arrive at is that you aren't arguing in good faith. I'm not saying don't do the project. I'm saying you need to line up all of the possible projects and determine which is the best RoI - because the site is short resources.

Neither you nor I have any idea what that answer is, and I don't believe anyone has done any work around that.
posted by JPD at 11:43 AM on July 12 [11 favorites]


>What would empirical evidence look like that suggests working on "POC projects" will increase engagement/revenue at Metafilter? I'm not really understanding how empirical evidence about this could even be collected.

>>Lots of ways. Survey work for one.


Or, find studies that have already been done of similar organizations/corporations that increased (or decreased) their diversity/PoC-related efforts. From there, you could compare and analyze those findings accordingly, see how much might apply to Metafilter, and draw your own conclusions.

There has been ample evidence and studies done though, that show an increased focus and attention to diversity (and a bit relatedly, CSR) does ultimately financially benefit organizations. This argument that diversity is not profitable is a strawman argument, an old argument, and one that's been trotted out many times before by people who were just more comfortable maintaining the status quo.
posted by aielen at 11:45 AM on July 12 [21 favorites]


Okay, if surveys and direct interviews are your ideas, I don't think that much empirical evidence will come from those surveys and direct interviews, as there's no good way to get surveys and direct interviews from people who have already made the decision to stop using Metafilter.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:46 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]


The vast majority of users now and in the past have not been people of color. I do not for one instant believe any sort of diversity issue will rank highly in any such survey, and, as usual, the marginalized would remain marginalized, told to wait their turn.

And then that minority will shrink further.

This is how places lose their diversity, and how they drift into becoming monocultures. This is how they die.
posted by anem0ne at 11:46 AM on July 12 [31 favorites]


(NOTE: Shoot, that above comment of mine was to JPD, but aielen's comment snuck in while I was writing mine.)
posted by 23skidoo at 11:47 AM on July 12


I literally just came out from under a mountain this afternoon.

We're now coming up to 500 comments on the thread where the funding shortfall of Metafilter is the topic.

In order for threads like this to continue, I went ahead and upped my monthly contribution, since that was the most concrete act I could take to ensure that the people who keep this place running can be paid and so then the good ideas and improvements everyone has been talking about can actually have a chance to go into effect.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:47 AM on July 12 [8 favorites]


This might be a good time for cortex to jump in and outline how previous ROI calculations have been done for other significant changes to MetaFilter, or at least place them on the spectrum spanning "gut feeling", "back of napkin math", and "peer-reviewed statistical model."
posted by tonycpsu at 11:48 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


...which is to say: if there is suddenly an increased demand for more methodological rigor about making decisions when (a) the site is in a very dire resource shortage, and (b) a group of users who has been, by the site owner's own admission, kind of shat on for a long time is asking for changes to be made, well, it might not look like an even-handed request for more data, particularly given that collecting that data has a cost of its own.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:50 AM on July 12 [10 favorites]


Yeah, it seems to me that the POC project does not even require and in many cases would not rather have too much input from mods atm, so like... maybe wait to assign it a priority number until we actually see what the community conclusions are?

I think people understandably dislike the POC project being used as an example of a project that should be evaluated and judged by a white audience right now. There are other projects, like updating the wiki for new members (personally I think nobody is going to read a wiki and we should just have the sign-up page take you directly to a single screen's worth of introductory info), a social media push, figuring out how to drive engagement, figuring out what to do about politics threads, etc. that are all here to be judged!
posted by storytam at 11:51 AM on July 12 [19 favorites]


There have been a series of extensive threads over the past couple months detailing the concerns of non-white members. After all that work has been done, forcing members of color to do more work to prove that those concerns are worth addressing is bullshit. Deciding to deprioritize everything that has been discussed and promised in those threads at this point would be a glaring signal of institutional racism that this site would never be able to get out from under.
posted by parallellines at 12:05 PM on July 12 [54 favorites]


Neither you nor I have any idea what that answer is, and I don't believe anyone has done any work around that.
A lot of people have done work on understanding how online communities function. This research is housed in the general field of human-computer interaction, where I am a professor. My area of expertise is online communities. So this is a bit difficult, because your feeling that no one has done work around this does not match the research that I conduct or have read, at all. Metafilter is a social system and it is functionally not possible to "line up all the possible projects and determine which is the best ROI" in the sense that you describe. That assumes an individuated model where each "project" is siloed and dealt with separately in a linear order. The reason that inclusion, diversity, and equity should be centered in future actions towards building a healthy, sustainable Metafilter is that those are meta-level problems that have already been identified and elucidated (not fully; our understanding will evolve over time). The problem is a systemic problem, so the solution needs to be aimed at tackling a systemic issue on the site. That this is a problem not just at Metafilter but more widely throughout social platforms online is also of note.

What I think is really going on here is that the way you think about the world and the way that I think about the world are so fundamentally different that we will never agree in our understanding of it. I apologize for saying that it felt like you were not arguing on good faith: you have made a lot of really, really good points, and I so wanted to favorite your first comment! But when you started questioning the ROI and the value of diversity work, the argument lost me. The reason it felt like you weren't arguing in good faith, to me, was because it seemed like you didn't read or hear my earlier comment. But now I think you perhaps did not understand where I was coming from. I unfortunately do not know very well how to actually bridge epistemic divides like this one, how to actually convince you that no, interviews and surveys are not "generally how it is done," and when surveys and structured interviews are the preferred mode of data collection we essentially lose essential data about the phenomenon in question.

For a sociological phenomenon such as this one a quantitative method will not suffice. At least, that's what I believe, based on my understanding of these problems. I recognize that you are coming at this with a different set of experiences and expertise and that is likely at the root of what you believe to be true about the necessity of gathering quantifiable data in this situation.
posted by sockermom at 12:08 PM on July 12 [80 favorites]


This is something I was wondering about but didn't want to touch on without data - plus, it might seem indelicate, axegrindy, or mean, which is absolutely not my intention. If comments indicate user activity, it has dropped by 50% from its peak, yet staffing remains at similar levels, and the perception, if only in my own mind, is that staff have never been under such stress. This is not remotely sustainable financially or emotionally and a solution should and can be implemented sooner rather than later.

Let's call a spade a spade. Participation is down. Deletion rates are up. If mod staffing is basically the same, then what's happening here is either mods have changed their threshold for deletion or MeFi is evolving to be a significantly worse place that consequently requires many more deletions on less content.

We just had several long threads pointing out MeFi hasn't made progress along certain axes but has, in fact, made significant progress along others. Since MeFi is clearly mostly in a better place overall compared to ancient history, all we're left with is mods have changed their deletion thresholds over time. That leaves several questions:

1) How much did this more active moderation style actually contribute to what progress MeFi has made? If we say lots, then while the moderation change is credited for progress forward, it must also be at fault for lack of progress in other areas. How did other places or institutions make progress along these same axes without the kind of moderation we see here? Cause they definitely have.

2) How much did this more active moderation style contribute to the decline in participation?

Bluntly: there's a lot more work being done here in terms of moderation. It's not clear that's actually helping. It's also really troubling (but frankly not surprising) that more active moderation and less participation seem to track one another. You all really need to connect those dots.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:09 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


What if Metafilter could host my blog, in exchange for a defined mandatory subscription?

I would easily pay $30-40/month for a Metafilter blog - as long as it had social media sharing links and made it easy to cross-link to things that were posted in the other sites. Darn tooting. Myself, I have never start a blog - because most never felt like a "community", just a bunch of disparate websites.

As per the $5 being a key barrier to entry - then make a free referral system to allow existing members to invite others - or, allow them to gift a $5 membership. Frankly - the only reason I have felt that MeFi is more of a community than other social media sites I have been a member of, is that there has been higher-level of communication here than elsewhere, maybe it's the $5 fee, maybe it's the "wall-of-text".

What is the sign-up ratio for new members? How many per month on average? If it is already low, wouldn't it be worth testing a period of time when membership was free?

Sigh - so, right now MeFi is a private entity that does try to listen to it's members. However, based on the sheer amount of input in this thread and change that is wanted, members have alot of emotional buy-in to the site - they feel they "own" it as much as anyone.

Perhaps it is time to really think about it as a non-profit/cooperative type of organization. That would allow for volunteering - charitable donations that are tax write-offs (and make it better for other types of sponsorship and fundraising... lotteries/contests/draws...), member-driven governance, direct voting on policies/initiatives, etc. But, then again - that is my radical, left-thinking liberal viewpoint - because it doesn't seem to be a viable "for profit" business...
posted by jkaczor at 12:10 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


It sounds like sockermom already got to this but I have some cultural competence in both sockermom's and JPD's universes and for what it's worth, I think they/you are both talking in good faith but in different languages. (And I think that JPD's language tends to be more privileged and seen unfairly as more "rational," which is not JPD's fault but which is worth noting.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:12 PM on July 12 [42 favorites]


I've been holding back on commenting on this thread for a long time, but here goes.

Metafilter is very important to my life and I read this site daily. It's strange to me that I'm even coming on 9 years as sign-up because I've been lurking for a long time before even then ponying up the $5. So who knows how long I've actually been reading words here.

While I've always navigated mostly white American spaces because of my hobbies, let me tell you it was a pleasure to see Asian-American voices and posts slowly rise up more often. I AM HERE FOR IT. But the PoC threads are a slog. I also work in tech so I'm already burnt out from there trying to improve diversity across the board.

After initially seeing this post I was like, wow I should finally subscribe and contribute. I consume this site more than Netflix and I pay for that. Why not give back. However. I'm a Mefite so I read all the comments. I really didn't realize how bad things were going. Many smarter folks have highlighted the main points and I'm nodding along. It's difficult for me to throw money only to keep things limping along. This community (even as mostly a reader) is invaluable to me. However I'd like to see Metafilter for another 20 years. Or ideally, forever.

With that said, I'm going to be another voice in that I will happily throw money at a campaign. I would throw more money at a campaign vs what I would have done as monthly subscriber. And I bet other folks are on the same boat as I am.

I see a Kickstarter-like campaign with different levels, updates and live charts of how much we have raised. $10 gets you a MF sticker, $50 a MF hat, with levels like X gets a PoC mod or Y gets fanfare update, etc. Stretch goals. I think this would work out incredibly well. Unfortunately I know the realities that you need someone to manage this whole process. You need to first figure out what your goals are. But I'm just shaking my head because there are SO MANY RESOURCES at the doorstep of this community that the admins have access to that only other orgs/businesses/non-profits can only fantasize about.

You got experts in so many fields that would happily discount their services to a near volunteer level. It would be a real shame to not tap into that.

But take that vacation. Retreat. I can live without MF for a day, a few days, even a week. Businesses do this all the time just for maintenance. But MF really is in a financial crisis that will come much sooner than we think unless we take action.
posted by xtine at 12:13 PM on July 12 [19 favorites]


ugh - I linked to the wrong "co-op" - I was trying to link to the farming/retail chain, not an energy distributor. heh.
posted by jkaczor at 12:16 PM on July 12


There have been a series of extensive threads over the past couple months detailing the concerns of non-white members. After all that work has been done, forcing members of color to do more work to prove that those concerns are worth addressing is bullshit. Deciding to deprioritize everything that has been discussed and promised in those threads at this point would be a glaring signal of institutional racism that this site would never be able to get out from under.

Part of why so many D&I initiatives fail or lack the support that they need to survive, thrive, and change cultures for the better, is that for a vast majority of people who are privileged, those initiatives are viewed as luxuries. They are seen as a kind of virtue signaling as well as a way of flaunting 'wealth', which is why it's so easy for those things to be deprioritized or dumped entirely when times are lean. It's also why those organizations that do deprioritize them have such a hard time keeping what little diversity they have.

I obviously don't think it's a luxury, but then again, I'm in the minority. It's never going to be a luxury for a person like me.

I do know that a place that views those types of initiatives as a luxury doesn't deserve my money. And often, they end up not having my time, either.
posted by anem0ne at 12:21 PM on July 12 [36 favorites]


While we're talking about mod deletion rates a thought just occurred to me that I don't think has been discussed here yet. We've been talking about users financially supporting the site, and some of us just gave $5 up front and nothing more, and some are donating money every month, totaling $50-$60 every year at the least. Now the plea has gone out again to save the site by upping the donation rates, and some have already done that.

Do mods... see this information? Do they have access to it? (I suppose cortex necessarily must have access, right?) I can't help but wonder that if my five-dollar-flat self* is in a heated disagreement with someone whose donation totals $100/year or more, and the mods know this, then how can that not have an effect on their moderation when margins are so slim? What's my assurance that the folks who are generously keeping the server lights on aren't buying themselves more leeway with cortex and the mods, even on a subconscious level?

Again, this is the hole the site digs itself into when all the financial pleas are centered on "Give us more money to keep doing what we're doing". In the PoC-centered discussion threads there was constant talk about fundraising for purpose-centered initiatives, where did those ideas go?

*OK, I bought the blue_beetle T-shirt too.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 12:46 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


I love this site and I've visited it almost daily for 15 years.

The issues the site is facing and the changes being discussed are big, difficult things. It's going to be impossible to solve all the problems in ways that please everybody. For some of these things, there are no good answers. The world is a darker place in some ways than it was 20 years ago and it casts a shadow on everything; being immersed in US politics (as you must be to moderate the political threads) is dreadful and depressing. At the same time, expectations for the site and the community are continuing to increase, and while that's a good thing, it's not easy.

Cortex, I know you love the site and value the community and it shows and is appreciated. I know in your shoes I would be an emotional wreck; being responsible for all of this must seem like a nightmare sometimes. I hope you are prioritizing your mental health and not letting this job eat you alive.
posted by beandip at 12:47 PM on July 12 [12 favorites]


Do mods... see this information? Do they have access to it? (I suppose cortex necessarily must have access, right?)

Not in any way that would come up short of going digging on third-party sites, and even then, cortex has been the only person with a login. (As of last month, I have a login too, because part of the issue with getting stuff done is Matt's old solo act is not really sustainable, so delegation is happening!) It's totally out of the moderation decision loop, on par with the identities behind anonymous questions (which is also a process of hand-correlating data in two different databases, one of which only two people have access to.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:50 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Again, this is the hole the site digs itself into when all the financial pleas are centered on "Give us more money to keep doing what we're doing". In the PoC-centered discussion threads there was constant talk about fundraising for purpose-centered initiatives, where did those ideas go?

The thing I don't get is what happens in the hypothetical case that there's a bunch of money raised for a purpose-centered initiative while the general fund is not sufficient to make payroll.
posted by Jpfed at 12:53 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


I think the most effective thing volunteers--people who want to put energy into helping but don't have a particular skill set, like law or consulting or whatever, like a few people in this thread, have offered--could do to help Metafilter gain and retain new members would be to update the wiki.

It is very easy to accidentally wander into a thread on a topic which has a lot of history on this site, not be aware of that history, say something that many MeFites believe has been covered ad nauseum already in previous threads, and to have a half dozen or more people jump down your throat. But there's no way to know that might happen unless you spend a lot of time lurking before trying to participate. There's no easy list, that I know of, of discussions we've had previously about these things. I've looked around the wiki before trying to find this sort of thing and I can't.

Hell, even if you're a long-time user, there are certain topics that if you say the wrong thing about, many people will jump down your throat. It is far more intimidating to comment in threads here than it was when I joined 12 years ago. I had someone accuse me of a derail the other day, and when I (very mildly, I believed) replied to point out that by the standards of the person accusing me, the comment I was replying to was also a derail, my reply was deleted, but the comment jumping down my throat was left up. I honestly considered buttoning for the first time ever.

Instead, I decided that I wasn't allowed to mildly defend my previous comment, I'd rather it not be there at all, so I flagged it and asked for it to be deleted, which happened, and that made me feel a little better. But the experience did nothing to help me feel less like I need to put a college assignment's worth of energy and time into any comment I make about anything vaguely serious (which is most of the posts on the Blue anymore), and has me really considering how healthy my relationship is to this site. I've been on it for most of my adult life, and I feel like it's done a lot to help me grow as a person, particularly in empathy, but after that exchange, I'm wondering if the negative impact on my self-esteem--I really struggle to feel like I can contribute any useful thoughts or ideas to this site anymore--is worth it. Being here has always done a little bit to make me feel dumb--so many people on here are so smart, insightful, funny, and talented--but more and more it also feels like no matter how much I try and educate myself, no matter how much energy I put into reading and learning about issues of social justice, no matter how much I myself feel alienated by mainstream American culture, I'm always going to be seen as part of the problem by many users here because I don't have enough marginalized aspects to my identity.

There's a lot of anger at structural problems in many MeFites, and that anger seems to frequently get vented at people representative of those problems, or who seem like they are, whether that's because they really are, or because they chose their words without enough care. When this happens to new users, which I see not infrequently, I would not be surprised to learn they just don't come back like 95% of the time. Probably in half those cases that's for the best, but... I dunno. I don't have a conclusion. I don't think this place is very welcoming to anyone new anymore, no matter what sort of person they might be. Obviously, we don't want to be welcoming to Nazis and GamerGaters, but if I've been here since 2007 and I'm feeling like I'm not good enough to contribute to this site and being scared to make comments or posts about many topics because I'm afraid they won't come off as acceptably progressive even though I consider myself a dedicated progressive, largely because of the many threads and conversations I've read on this site in the past, means the current atmosphere could probably use a little work?

I can't believe I wanted Eyebrows' mod job at the time. She's like a million times smarter than me. I'm so glad I wasn't considered.
posted by Caduceus at 12:54 PM on July 12 [40 favorites]


HI ALL THE WAY DOWN HERE I JUST QUADRUPLED MY $5 SUB
posted by ersatzkat at 12:57 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


The problem is you don't know what users who are leaving the site who aren't posting in Metatalk threads think. Posting in Metatalk can be exhausting, only the most dedicated will do it.

Exactly. I think this is a huge part of what I'm talking about, assuming the voices you hear the most here are the majority opinion. This is what happens to small discussion sites.

Of the people leaving the site I would bet most people don't tip the table over and stomp out, they sneak out the back door. Ask those people why they left.

This is like a restaurant that keeps losing customers. The food is good, but the music is too loud, the waitstaff is in your space, the orders are wrong with no explanation, etc. There are less people showing up every night. People here keep saying things like "ask the few remaining customers if the music should be even louder" "Is it better for the waitstaff to sit on your lap or rub your shoulders?" That's not the answer. Find out why people leave and don't come back. Don't expect to find the answers in the suggestion box.
posted by bongo_x at 1:01 PM on July 12 [18 favorites]


but more and more it also feels like no matter how much I try and educate myself, no matter how much energy I put into reading and learning about issues of social justice, no matter how much I myself feel alienated by mainstream American culture, I'm always going to be seen as part of the problem by many users here because I don't have enough marginalized aspects to my identity.

Have users here said or implied that you were a problem because you don't have enough marginalized aspects to your identity?
posted by 23skidoo at 1:08 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


In the two threads right below this one (among others) there are lots of people saying that POC are underrepresented both as users and in terms of engagement. I don't see anyone even disputing that. I guess we can go on some vast data mining expedition to confirm it, but honestly, THAT is what seems like a poor ROI to me. So isn't it obvious what the group of potential and current users to reach out to in order to increase member count and member engagement is? I mean, the one that's explicitly underrepresented seems like a good bet lol.

From a cynical point of view, it sort of looks like as soon as people start saying, OK, how do we bring in more POC users and how do we make engagement on the site easier for them (for the good of the site, ffs!) there's all this push back, like, "hold on, let's not be so hasty"?

Obviously there are lots of reasons to try and be more inclusive, more diverse, more accessible. But let's not pretend like it's not ALSO good for business.
posted by rue72 at 1:28 PM on July 12 [15 favorites]


As of last month, I have a login too,

I know you intend that to be calming, but what you're actually saying is that 2 out of 7, or roughly 28% of the mod team, has access to this info. And you may already know the usernames of the top donors without having to look it up, notwithstanding the people announcing their increased contributions in this very thread.

what happens in the hypothetical case that there's a bunch of money raised for a purpose-centered initiative while the general fund is not sufficient to make payroll.

Not to sound like an asshole, but that would mean someone on payroll would have to be let go. See above for my comment on reducing mod load by ending megathreads. And what you're describing isn't a question that's unique to this site, but anyplace that relies on user donations to keep operating. My local NPR station raises funds earmarked for capital initiatives like building a new studio, for local projects like funding student audio projects, and also an emergency fund for reporters stationed abroad who are in physical danger. Some projects are designated as "important" and worth spending company time to finish. End results are never guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that avoiding that work hasn't helped anything thus far.

What's a little galling to me is that despite lots of commenters already doing the work in the PoC-centered MeTa threads, users like sockermom are still being obligated to re-explain and justify why diversity and inclusion drives up membership.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 1:36 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


I know you intend that to be calming, but what you're actually saying is that 2 out of 7, or roughly 28% of the mod team, has access to this info. And you may already know the usernames of the top donors without having to look it up, notwithstanding the people announcing their increased contributions in this very thread.

Well, yes, more than one person in the business has access to the financials. It isn't sorted by username, though, so I really would have to cross-correlate - I absolutely have no idea who the top donors are because I don't track people by email address.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:38 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


But the experience did nothing to help me feel less like I need to put a college assignment's worth of energy and time into any comment I make about anything vaguely serious (which is most of the posts on the Blue anymore), and has me really considering how healthy my relationship is to this site. I've been on it for most of my adult life, and I feel like it's done a lot to help me grow as a person, particularly in empathy, but after that exchange, I'm wondering if the negative impact on my self-esteem--I really struggle to feel like I can contribute any useful thoughts or ideas to this site anymore--is worth it.

It might also be useful to go back and look at what some of the threads were like five, ten, fifteen years ago. It's easy to forget how shitty, dramatic, and offensive some of the stuff was back then until you look at it again. Metafilter has gotten better is a lot of ways! This is not to say that there isn't need for improvement or change, but when saying that things seemed a lot more free twelve years ago, it might be worth thinking about whether or not they were actually better.

That feeling of anxiety sucks, I know, and sometimes we learn that neat thing is actually problematic. It can also be hard to learn how to like problematic things without coming off as too defensive of them, and maybe it's better to do research or leave certain topics alone. None of this is really a reflection on you, other than maybe not being the best person who knows all thing things ever (sorry, none of us are).

One of the things I've learned from Metafilter is when to be quiet and listen*, when to apologize, and when to just walk away - here's a place where I'm not likely to be the expert in the room. It might be the sort of thing that does alienate some new users, but I think it's worth thinking about what sort of community we want.

*yes, I realize I fail sometimes
posted by dinty_moore at 1:38 PM on July 12 [17 favorites]


Also, there's nothing wrong with posting about silly inconsequential shit. Not every post has to be super serious or intellectual! We could use more not-serious things these days.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:46 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


Also, another game industry anecdote - the first game I worked on had a *huge* bad-actor problem. Accounts were set up en masse to do things that were both against the Terms of Service and immensely disruptive to the rest of the playerbase. There were an awful lot of them, too. The first six months of my tenure consisted of the players ranting about how we were doing nothing about it, our team ranting to upper management that we needed to do something about it, and upper management saying "But our revenue!"

Finally - FINALLY - we got authorization to do a one-time ban of 5000 accounts. (This was not all of the identified bad-actor accounts, by a long stretch.) This meant a loss of around $7500/mo in revenue, which was why the suits were so against it. We did it anyway.

Our subscribers went *up*.

We got authorization to do it again. Our subscribers went up again. Our userbase was heartened, got more engaged, felt more supported. We set up a monthly system. Revenue hit unprecedented heights, well after what was expected to be the peak. Internally we changed some minds; externally we looked like lesser assholes than everyone had assumed we were. (...We were two years late doing this, from a player perspective. We were still assholes.)

I am not, and never will be, concerned with protecting bad actors in a community for the sake of the bottom line. Not out of principle (although, that too) but because it doesn't work that way. Somebody gives us $500 a month and figures that entitles them to do whatever the fuck they want? They're gonna be real surprised when the banhammer lands.

And yeah, this absolutely applies, to my mind, to diversity stuff too. Straight-up running the financial numbers on community management actions doesn't always work like you'd think it would, from a business perspective. A healthy community is a thriving community.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:51 PM on July 12 [47 favorites]


Finally - FINALLY - we got authorization to do a one-time ban of 5000 accounts. (This was not all of the identified bad-actor accounts, by a long stretch.) This meant a loss of around $7500/mo in revenue, which was why the suits were so against it. We did it anyway.

Shoot, might as well ask: Is something like that appropriate for Metafilter at this point, in your opinion? I mean, obviously, not like 5000 accounts, but is there some (much much) lower number of accounts that might be appropriate to ban at Metafilter right now? (I'm not even really pushing for that as an idea, just curious if you think this kind of idea is something that might work at Metafilter.)
posted by 23skidoo at 2:00 PM on July 12


I strongly suspect they don't have a list of troublemakers they'd like to ban, but haven't yet, if that's your question.
posted by ODiV at 2:01 PM on July 12


Shoot, might as well ask: Is something like that appropriate for Metafilter at this point, in your opinion? I

Nah, we made that call after the initial round of layoffs - we weren't doing the Endless Second Chance thing any more. It has, I think, helped a lot in some specific ways.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:03 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


When Sockermom and JPB accused each other of bad faith, I thought it was going to turn into an example of what's wrong with this site. Then Sockermom posted a deeply insightful post, putting her finger on the difference in perspectives at the root of the disagreement, and it suddenly became an example of what's still right about Metafilter. A debate that could have dissolved into invective ended up being a credit to the two thoughtful people who had it.

I know there's a lot of long-term fixes that need to be considered. But if any of us are looking for something we can do right now to make the site more welcoming, I think "Assume good faith" is a pretty good starting point.
posted by yankeefog at 2:04 PM on July 12 [34 favorites]


update the wiki.

The problem is that very few people in communities read wikis or related information... especially before an issue kicks off. It's easier (and frankly, much more common) to either a) ask the people talking right here, or b) feel awkward and silent and a little unwelcome, and let the whole thing kick on. The solution to inaccessible community norms is not to write up a huge dossier and dump it on the doorstep of every single new person. It's to work out how to shift community norms so that they are more accessible, and more importantly, so that people who accidentally violate them while trying to good-faith participate don't feel like they are unwelcome.

We talk a lot about minimizing negativity in threads like this, but I wonder if there's a way to increase the level of positive interactions for folks, too. Is there a way, for example, to tag first-time posts whether or not a person is bold enough to mark them as new? In relationships, often the thing that destroys a relationship is not the level of negative interactions but the level of small positive interactions; many small positive interactions strengthen the relationship and prevent people from feeling catastrophically left out when they inevitably fuck something up and wind up in a point of friction.

How do we make it easy for people to get little positive jolts of support and interactions for participating here? What makes people feel good about this place versus other places? For my money favorites are one of them, and a flagged-as-fantastic mark that actually becomes visible to anyone but the mod staff would be an even stronger one: people generally feel good about seeing that lots of other people are listening and appreciating involvement. The social MeTas and the Hugging Hug threads and the joke threads, those also are places to increase the likelihood of positive social interactions. What else can we do?
posted by sciatrix at 2:06 PM on July 12 [18 favorites]


restless_nomad: "I am not, and never will be, concerned with protecting bad actors in a community for the sake of the bottom line. Not out of principle (although, that too) but because it doesn't work that way."

I find this anecdote pretty telling of the mindset of Metafilter's managers. This is basically an anecdote about getting rid of people -- which is exactly the opposite of Metafilter's problem for the last eight years. The managers need to think less about shutting down undesirable people and behavior and more about enabling positive activity from a wide range of individuals: less moderation and more community organizing.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:11 PM on July 12 [11 favorites]


restless_nomad: the Endless Second Chance thing

That's an... interesting way of putting it. I mean, by its very nature, there can only ever be one Second Chance. The one after that is the Third Chance, and so on.
Right?
So I'm not really seeing how (and more importantly: why) Endless Second Chances have ever been a Thing.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:14 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


What's my assurance that the folks who are generously keeping the server lights on aren't buying themselves more leeway with cortex and the mods, even on a subconscious level?

The fact that I find the idea of that being a factor anathema. restless_nomad touched on it above, but, yes: this is stuff we have deliberately and thoroughly kept detached from any part of the moderation interface. I have a passing awareness of someone's current contribution levels when they specifically ask me to look at or do something with it, and then I'm not looking at it anymore an hour later and have forgotten it entirely.

I find the idea of basing anyone's access to or treatment on the site on the question of whether or how much they're spending here absolutely abhorrent. It's something I've been very consistent about when the topic comes up. Possibly a stick in the mud, even, but it's a pretty important stick imho.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:17 PM on July 12 [20 favorites]


It is very admirable IMO <3
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:19 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


That's an... interesting way of putting it.

I picked that phrasing because, for a long time, there was no real progression. Someone would do something problematic, they'd have some kind of mod interaction, they'd do it again, they'd have the same mod interaction, etc. From the outside it looked like we didn't care about the problematic behavior, because while we might intervene in the moment, it'd happen again, and again, and again. We nominally had a path that led to banning, but there was a lot of resistance to ever moving along it.

When our staffing changed drastically, it was clear that managing the same negative interactions with users who had no intention of ever stopping that behavior was not something we could afford the man-hours for. And I have always been of the opinion that the community could never afford the fallout from leaving shitty behavior to recur endlessly.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:19 PM on July 12 [7 favorites]


And, yes, to be clear: any proposal that the solution to all this is to consider just shrugging and giving up on the PoC-specific stuff we've been talking about? Non-starter.

I think people have made (and re-made) a lot of good suggestions and observations about things we should prioritize in the work we're gonna be doing on the site more broadly, and I appreciate that, but this isn't a "vote on whether that stuff really matters" discussion. It matters, it's not a point of debate.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:20 PM on July 12 [30 favorites]


I find this anecdote pretty telling of the mindset of Metafilter's managers. This is basically an anecdote about getting rid of people -- which is exactly the opposite of Metafilter's problem for the last eight years.

It's an anecdote about getting rid of the people making no effort to improve in the face of ongoing feedback about crappy behavior. We can talk about growing the userbase but we're not gonna talk about filling it up with bad actors just to get numbers up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:23 PM on July 12 [21 favorites]


It's an anecdote about a company newly adopting a policy that MetaFilter has been enforcing for years. That company gained traffic. MetaFilter has been losing traffic. Maybe there's a lesson about how that deceptively simple policy ("don't protect bad actors") is being executed.
posted by cribcage at 2:27 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


It's an anecdote about a company newly adopting a policy that MetaFilter has been enforcing for years.

It's an anecdote in response to an accusation about how we view users-as-revenue-sources, very specifically.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:29 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


if we're not the product being sold, what is?
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:32 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Have users here said or implied that you were a problem because you don't have enough marginalized aspects to your identity?

No. Not directly. See, even that sentence I still didn't think out well enough. The problem is almost definitely more in my head than I'm finding it hard to not infer that sense based on how many conversations around here go. It's definitely more in my head than it is other users, but it's not not other users.

Honestly, I was talking around my issue because I am conflict-averse and the issue itself stems at least partially from conflict aversion and I don't know how to say it without it coming off as more provocative or fightier than I want it to (again tapping into my issue where I feel like I'm not good enough, like a better, smarter MeFite wouldn't be struggling as much to articulate what they mean without offending anyone or would be able to quickly find a bunch of comments to illustrate what I'm talking about and make sure it is not, in fact, all it my head, but I'm not that MeFite). I feel like there are a number of consensuses on this website that we've reached through many years of discussion around a number of topics that are more progressive than typical for the Internet. I agree with most of these consensuses, I think they are good ones, but even so, in threads about those topics, any comments that don't fall in line with Metafilter's consensus on the subject can get jumped on with a lot of aggression, particularly when there are a long history of fighty threads on the subject, in a way that, if I were a new user, would definitely make me not come back here if it happened to me. I see it happen regularly.

Again, a lot of the time the person in question seems to be arguing in bad faith, but not always; a lot of the time it's just someone new who doesn't really understand the culture or know the history here, and that is the point I was really trying to make. There's a lot of history here, but it's not apparent or easy to access. I think the Wiki really needs an update, with an eye towards explaining our culture and the sorts of things that might start fights because we've talked about them a lot already. Oh! Threads on emotional labor are the easiest example to point to, I just realized. Users who have never entered an emotional labor thread before, whether because they're a new user or because they've just failed to catch the past ones, have a tendency to make a lot of 098 Remedial comments on the subject, and this tends to get fighty quick and require moderation, often resulting in the user's comments getting deleted. This is what I mean by "not welcoming," If we had we had a wiki page of links to the emotional labor threads, here's a FAQ and a FMC (Frequently Made Comments) section on the subject, we might be able to link users who make ignorant comments in good faith to resources that could prevent them from accidentally getting into fights trying to defend themselves.

It might also be useful to go back and look at what some of the threads were like five, ten, fifteen years ago. It's easy to forget how shitty, dramatic, and offensive some of the stuff was back then until you look at it again. Metafilter has gotten better is a lot of ways! This is not to say that there isn't need for improvement or change, but when saying that things seemed a lot more free twelve years ago, it might be worth thinking about whether or not they were actually better.

I feel like I really fucked up in conveying what I mean and I can't figure out how to do better. Let me try this.

I feel like I have been enormously enriched by the 12ish years I've spent on Metafilter. The 24-year-old-me that joined this site initially as the 2008 campaign season was getting going was, while well-intentioned, a Nice Guy(TM) dipshit. I was vaguely a Democrat at the time, very against Bush and the war, but not super self-reflective with all kinds of blind spots in my world view. I was the sort of kid who in college completely glossed over things like Women's Studies classes because, well, that so obviously wasn't for me I never considered to think about why I felt that way.

I think that the process of Metafilter getting better, as much as anything, dragged me along with it, because I was open to it. I've learned so much over the past 12 years. I have a much stronger sense of empathy and justice. Because of Metafilter, I try very hard to interrogate my biases and actions so as to, as much as possible, not trigger or hurt marginalized people in my day to day.

But, in this world of Reactionary Fascists radicalizing young people on YouTube and 4chan, I worry that if 24-year-old dipshit me joined today and got jumped on the way we do these days for saying something ignorant and unthinking despite his good intentions, he would probably just fuck off to reddit instead to sticking around. That's why I'm trying to talk about the wiki and it needing updating. That history, those good discussions are part of the fabric of the site and the way we now interact with each other, and they're still there, even, but they're not easily accessible, and they're completely invisible to anyone who hasn't been here for a long time. The history is not going away obviously, and it's not going to be any less irritating to long time members to have the same sort of 101 or worse questions left by new folk, but I don't think our current approach to that irritation is working well. I think it probably is contributing to the site's decline. We need a way to help people who are good-intentioned but maybe just behind catch up quickly, particularly if they're young.

One of the things I've learned from Metafilter is when to be quiet and listen*, when to apologize, and when to just walk away - here's a place where I'm not likely to be the expert in the room. It might be the sort of thing that does alienate some new users, but I think it's worth thinking about what sort of community we want.

This is one of the not-welcoming sort of things we do even to long time members. I mean, I already said I've been here 12 years. I have fewer comments on the Blue and have given out many, many more favorites than you. I've spent a lot of time lurking and not talking, and I have a fair number of apologies in my comment history, I think. Maybe a short lecture on knowing when to shut up to a person who has been here only one year or so less than you, in response to a comment they left about not feeling good enough to contribute to the site, in a thread where we're talking about how to increase site participation, among other things, isn't the way to go.

(I haven't read anything past r_n's comment on posting this; if anyone has addressed my previous comment after that in a way that requires a response I'll be looking at that now. I'm already anxious about it, because I anticipate having thoughtlessly embarrassed myself a few other ways with that comment.)
posted by Caduceus at 2:32 PM on July 12 [31 favorites]


if we're not the product being sold, what is?

The site and services being paid for, which, to me, seems much healthier.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:35 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


Sorry, let me back up and reframe that comment without the "it's an anecdote about" framing. I'm catching up on the thread and maybe trying to hard to catch a chain of references there as being about what we do here vs. what RN's company did then, or whose anecdote we're talking about.

It has been an unambiguous good for Metafilter to make the change to more consistently and promptly getting rid of the people making no effort to improve in the face of ongoing feedback about crappy behavior.

That the site just sort of let assholes keep being assholes for a very long time out of a vague principle of banning being a huge bright line decision, vs. just saying "hey, you're doing a shitty job of being on this website, stop being on this website now", sucked. It was bad for the community. We moved away from that because moving away from that, and to closing people's accounts if they couldn't sort their shit out after a reasonable amount of feedback, was a good thing.

I want to work with people to fix a problem if it's a problem they're actually willing to recognize and work on, but fuck me if I'm going to just do that dance indefinitely any more.

The userbase hasn't been shrinking on the strength of people being banned en masse; there is a whole tangle of systemic issues we can put it to, but the volume involved just isn't there. Partly because the kind of folks who have ended up getting banned instead of given nth and nth+1 chances are few and far between. Most people aren't irredeemable assholes or wholly without impulse control. But a few assholes can make an outsized mess, and deciding that they do have to go after all is part of tending for a community.

If we're talking about focusing on user growth, let's talk about it in terms of finding ways to bring new folks on who want to be here and want to be good community members. That we ban folks who can't manage to hold up their end of a bargain in a community space is beside the point, not in opposition to it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:38 PM on July 12 [15 favorites]


if we're not the product being sold, what is?

Really? Last I checked, MeFi was the ONE place on the internet that I could pretty much trust that is not re-selling our information, usage patterns, etc. There are ads, keyword driven, but I doubt they are targeted at specific demographics based on big-data analysis of specific user posting details

Typically, you are the product when something is "free" - people pay their $5 and more here.
posted by jkaczor at 2:46 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


I think Metafilter is doomed given the way the web has changed. If Mefi stays broadly as it is, the decline will continue. We’ve seen other smaller sites go down the plughole that way. To avert that would require some really challenging and revolutionary transformation - but if that succeeded it wouldn’t really be Mefi any more, so that's another kind of doom.

So relax and enjoy it while it lasts. Nothing lasts forever. There will come a time to talk about shutting down gracefully, but it’s not here yet.
posted by Segundus at 2:54 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


We talk a lot about minimizing negativity in threads like this, but I wonder if there's a way to increase the level of positive interactions for folks, too. Is there a way, for example, to tag first-time posts whether or not a person is bold enough to mark them as new? In relationships, often the thing that destroys a relationship is not the level of negative interactions but the level of small positive interactions; many small positive interactions strengthen the relationship and prevent people from feeling catastrophically left out when they inevitably fuck something up and wind up in a point of friction.

I want to say this about my last comment since I'm still not sure I was clear: I think that 24-year-old dipshit me was looking for a way to learn about other people and grow as a person, which is why he glommed onto Metafilter and stuck around. But he didn't realize it, not consciously. And I think that right now, aggressive interactions on the Blue that result from both years of history with these discussions and also the general political climate are more likely to drive away open-minded but ignorant people now than they were 12 years ago. I don't know how to square that circle. (I, personally, probably wouldn't even be very good at distinguishing between people who are actually good-intentioned and people who are JAQ-ing off, which is a major issue with the easiest solution to the problem I feel like I am identifying here.)

Throwing wiki pages at people is my best idea, because my only other suggestion is "hey maybe stop with the broad sweeping statements about how awful white men are and then dogpiling on anyone who responds negatively to that and or just deleting all their comments, and maybe stop snapping that we've discussed this stuff over and over again when someone says something ignorant about something we've discussed over and over again, these might help user retention," and these sorts of suggestions have also gotten a lot of aggressive pushback since the Trump era began.

Like there's a lot of discussion on this site about how men need to be the ones to make progress on patriarchal bullshit. That requires getting more men on-board with the idea that it needs addressing, but I feel like this place has gotten a lot worse at responding to new people in a way that might get them on board with our community and its world-view than it used to be. There's a lot of discussion in this thread about getting new people to join Metafilter, and while there's some discussion about how aggressive this place can be, I feel like it wasn't getting at the root of why it can get aggressive, and that built-up history is part of why. I think. I'm just one guy, take everything I've said as my viewpoint and opinion.

I'm going to make a comment on where to look for new members now, which I think might be best served to be separated from these thoughts.
posted by Caduceus at 2:55 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


Have users here said or implied that you were a problem because you don't have enough marginalized aspects to your identity?


Anecdotally, yes this has happened to me. I am an old white guy. It’s happened at least twice, both times in threads about LGBTQ issues. I’m gay but apparently that was cancelled out by the “old and white” part.
posted by disclaimer at 2:58 PM on July 12 [21 favorites]


but if that succeeded it wouldn’t really be Mefi any more, so that's another kind of doom

The complete cynic in me says; create a separate site that is image-post heavy, tied to social media sharing with an accompanying app and monetize the heck outta it - but use those funds to keep MeFi going...

But, then the temptation would be to shared user information for 'single sign-on' and boom, we are all being sold to big data...
posted by jkaczor at 3:00 PM on July 12


sciatrix: "The problem is that very few people in communities read wikis or related information"

And therein lies the rub. A lot of the work that needs to be done on the site is low-visibility, thankless work, exactly like updating the wiki.

In my mind, sweating small details is incredibly important for a community, but it's also virtually impossible to coordinate a volunteer workforce to address those kinds of issues.
posted by schmod at 3:02 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


I think the MaximumFun podcast network would be a good place to look for new MeFites. I found out about MaxFun in the first place from Metafilter when it was just JJGo and The Sound of Young America. They've grown like gangbusters now, though, and probably have more listeners than Metafilter has users (maybe?). They work hard at having a pretty diverse set of podcasts, and they're user-supported, so if we're pushing Metafilter in that direction that's something most MaxFun listeners are used to.

And trying to reach out to Polygon, which by and large seems to be the anti-Gamergate, pro-talking-about-social-justice-in-gaming-and-culture video game website for people who care about those things, to do a story about the site. Both organizations seem like they have audience members who would fit in well and care about the things we largely care about here.
posted by Caduceus at 3:04 PM on July 12 [13 favorites]


Have users here said or implied that you were a problem because you don't have enough marginalized aspects to your identity?

Well - my special unique white snowflake problem is that, while I am a privileged/CIS/old/white/man, I have both children (and other family members) who are POC/female/(pan)sexual and so on. Therefore, sometimes I do feel the need to participate in discussions on those topics, because I feel I have "some" perspective or emotional involvement.

And in those cases, yes - I have been told my participation was a problem. Stepping back, reviewing my posting behavior - sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn't - but I did learn from the callouts.

Now - because I have been here for a long-time, I value this community (it's still my internet Callahan's) - but if I was new? "newish?", then I would probably button-up and leave, never to return.
posted by jkaczor at 3:09 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


I think we are the product. The services -- the moderation -- may be necessary, but it's not what makes people sign up here or keep visiting day after day. You don't go to Olive Garden because the staff that cleans up at night does a really fantastic job, you go there for the fucking breadsticks.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:10 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


but if we are the product, we are also, mutually, the customers. I come here to read and (occasionally) make posts and comments. The site would be of little use to me without all of you "products".
posted by salt grass at 3:15 PM on July 12 [6 favorites]


I think we are the product.

Well - we are the community that makes up the place, our participation creates the value - but in the end, no one is making bank off us - we are selling our product (ourselves) to ourselves...
posted by jkaczor at 3:16 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I'm honestly surprised to learn there are people who don't think we're the product. That's the point of the maxim. It's also the joke underlying the discussion about volunteer work: this entire site is volunteer work. We create the content. Yes, there's a sense in which we're also customers, especially the subscribers, but without us MetaFilter is a bunch of data fields.
posted by cribcage at 3:20 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


And therein lies the rub. A lot of the work that needs to be done on the site is low-visibility, thankless work, exactly like updating the wiki.

Well, my point there isn't actually about updating the wiki, it's about the utility of the wiki as a tool. No one is going to read it unless we, both users and mods, make using it a regular part of interacting and having conversations on the site. In the absence of that commitment, editing the wiki is not only low-visibility and thankless but also not necessarily helpful for the problem of connecting new people to community.

I'm not entirely sure whether Caduceus' suggestion of having someone (a mod?) respond with a wiki link instead of just deleting 090-level derail-style comments would make people feel more positively included into the community as opposed to shoved out the door; a big part of the problem is that the folks making those comments are really not anticipating being told that they are, effectively, being boring and making it harder to have an interesting discussion for big swathes of the room, and they tend to dig in and entrench if not deleted. On the other hand, it's hard to have a conversation that is more interesting if people are constantly wandering in and derailing it to something they like better, and privilege dynamics really amplify that issue. I don't know to resolve that issue. I really don't.

If I was going to sell MeFi to folks, I'd be targeting the younger Tumblr-savvy and fandom-oriented/queer-oriented set, the folks who startups like Imzy and Pillowfort have been targeting. Those places have been struggling largely because the people trying to kick them up aren't experienced with community management and/or don't have clear business plans, but there's a ton of desire for a place where you can have inclusive discussions that steer away from toxicity. That's why I came here in the first place in 2014, because I missed that kind of conversation and space; Tumblr is where folks are, but it's got a really toxic culture and no ability to moderate any kind of space whatsoever.

But the initial paywall made it almost impossible for me to convince other folks who were looking for something like that to give MeFi a try. FanLore could serve as a powerful draw to that kind of community, especially those corners who are interested in meta-analysis of topics they're fannish about, but no one knows about it and it's very hard to subscribe to series automatically, so unless you're committed to focusing on Fanlore as you consume media and get in the habit of checking it can be hard to see. In the meantime, people are slowly migrating to Discord to avoid toxicity, which is relatively hard to get access to new spaces and meet new people on, or else experimenting with a variety of public spaces to poke at.

(FWIW, Caduceus, there's a ton of crossover between the general demographic I'm thinking of and the Polygon/MaxFun listeners you're thinking of--the McElboys are pretty popular in those spaces, too, and there's a big and active and very friendly Adventure Zone corner I'd totally think about trying to market to. The How Stuff Works podcast audience too, for that matter.)

If I was going to try to encourage folks from those parts of my networks here, I would absolutely want to know that we were focusing on those POC-aimed projects on the radar, just fyi. This space has a definite tendency to make assumptions about who the folks on the other end of the screen are, and initiatives that shake that set of assumptions up are really, really important to making people feel welcome here. That's another thing that works against me talking to my friends and trying to encourage folks to give it a shot: my networks are considerably younger than much of MeFi thinks MeFi as a whole is, and it gets pretty irritating to be going "hi, I am a Young" when I'm creeping up on thirty.
posted by sciatrix at 4:05 PM on July 12 [20 favorites]


Re: Caduceus's suggestion, what if we had a post or posts where people could have those 090-level discussions? That might feel friendlier than a wiki, and there we could have people work out their "but WHY" or "I didn't mean it that way" feelings in a way that doesn't take over 201-level discussions.

I'm sympathetic to those feelings. I've had them myself: it's hard to admit you've said something wrong and change without feeling awkward and ashamed and well, fragile. But at the same time if we had to pause the conversation to deal with fragility every time someone had fragility we'd never get anything done. Plus, it's easy to get frustrated when people are met with 090-level questions every time they try to talk about the 201, even if it's a different 090 person each time.

This isn't about coddling bigots, but about how we're all swimming in the toxic ash lake of societal prejudice, and everyone has places where they're uninformed. I've been there! We've all been there! If we had spaces for people to work their shit out, and allies who've passed the 090 level were willing to help put in the labor to talk them through the feelings, that might be a way to build better members and a better community.
posted by storytam at 4:28 PM on July 12 [10 favorites]


Anecdotally, yes this has happened to me. I am an old white guy. It’s happened at least twice, both times in threads about LGBTQ issues. I’m gay but apparently that was cancelled out by the “old and white” part.

Yeah, gatekeeping is definitely a thing here. Much more than it needs to be.

Here's the thing. We're throwing around vague phrases like "bad actors." Or "good community members." Or "problematic behavior requiring mod intervention." We have data showing that mod intervention has actually increased over time. On fewer users. On fewer posts. On fewer comments.

If the userbase were a garden, at some point I would expect that all this "tending" would result in a bigger, more lush garden. And yet here we are. Again.

MeFi is not a thriving community, which means it's not a healthy community, either. That's a nice story about the gaming industry. I'm not sure what that has to do with this place at all as the timeline is MeFi didn't ban people, and then they did. Well, was user activity higher or lower before banning became a more regular occurrence?

There is a finite pool of potential users whose needs Metafilter might meet.

I don't even know what to do with this. What is that number, exactly? Is it, like, 2x the current active userbase? Is it 10x? Is it just enough to keep the lights on?

Maybe we should define exactly who gets to be in this finite pool. Doubling down on the "we only want the right kind of people to join" angle is a baffling stance to take for a site that extrapolates to a historical artifact in a finite, and small, amount of time. Who are the right people? Do they, like, only go to a certain set of schools or something? Or do they have to listen to the right bands to be part of the club?

This reminds me a little of the small community I grew up in and how, for years, they worried about all the young people leaving. Meanwhile, they opposed every food truck, climate change rally, new development, and voted in city council after city council of old white guys who would shun new people for trying to have conversations they'd already had years before. At some point, I and the young people who were organizing in that town concluded that the town didn't actually want us, just our labor and someone to fund their pensions.

Needs to be said. Again. Cause I don't think this was heard in the slightest.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 4:34 PM on July 12 [28 favorites]


I'm not entirely sure whether Caduceus' suggestion of having someone (a mod?) respond with a wiki link instead of just deleting 090-level derail-style comments would make people feel more positively included into the community as opposed to shoved out the door; a big part of the problem is that the folks making those comments are really not anticipating being told that they are, effectively, being boring and making it harder to have an interesting discussion for big swathes of the room, and they tend to dig in and entrench if not deleted. On the other hand, it's hard to have a conversation that is more interesting if people are constantly wandering in and derailing it to something they like better, and privilege dynamics really amplify that issue. I don't know to resolve that issue. I really don't. And I think this post is too far down to be likely to fix that thing, because the folks in here are not a representative subsection of the site.

Yeah, I don't know either. I just don't have any other ideas. I know if I were to encounter this place for the first time now, I'd try to do more research on it, and there's a link to the Wiki in several places, so I would probably click that and find a pretty out-of-date Wiki that doesn't really reflect us where we are as a community now. That's the long and short of what I was trying to say, when it comes right down to it; not even that there's a danger of sticking your foot in your mouth around here, I guess, it's that there's no clear way to quickly and easily figure out the norms even for people who want to try and do that research, other than just lurking for a long time and not participating. I don't know an updated Wiki is the best thing to point new people at to access our history or if there's some better way. And yeah, it took me most of yesterday and this morning to wrangle my thoughts enough to make these posts, but unfortunately that means we're pretty deep in the post. Such is life.

I mean, if we're trying to get better about being inclusive, maybe the answer isn't to make people comprehend our history at all, but to just find more people who are already where we want to be with regards to conversational level and progressive, inclusionary attitudes.

If I was going to sell MeFi to folks, I'd be targeting the younger Tumblr-savvy and fandom-oriented/queer-oriented set, the folks who startups like Imzy and Pillowfort have been targeting. Those places have been struggling largely because the people trying to kick them up aren't experienced with community management and/or don't have clear business plans, but there's a ton of desire for a place where you can have inclusive discussions that steer away from toxicity. That's why I came here in the first place in 2014, because I missed that kind of conversation and space; Tumblr is where folks are, but it's got a really toxic culture and no ability to moderate any kind of space whatsoever.

[...]

(FWIW, Caduceus, there's a ton of crossover between the general demographic I'm thinking of and the Polygon/MaxFun listeners you're thinking of--the McElboys are pretty popular in those spaces, too, and there's a big and active and very friendly Adventure Zone corner I'd totally think about trying to market to. The How Stuff Works podcast audience too, for that matter.)


Yes, I agree with this exactly! I'm a touch older than the Tumblr fandom set, but I like looking at art online and the kind of art I like to look at tends to be made by/popular with this set, and Tumblr was a good place to find good artists for a long time (most of them only post on Instagram now, which I like so much less), so I've had a lot of peripheral exposure to it, and it absolutely is the sort of people we want to be bringing in. And I enjoy this sort of fandom stuff when I can manage to generate interest in anything. I used to read a lot of fanfic and even write a little, though I was not good at it and now am definitely better at writing about my OCs, to use the vernacular. (I'm so old.) (To the extent I have a target audience beyond myself and my wife for my fiction, it is probably MeFites who like YA first and this Tumblr set a close second. Someday I'll finish writing coherent AskMes about how to better accomplish this.)
posted by Caduceus at 4:38 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I just pondered "how would I feel if Metafilter went away?" and then quadrupled my monthly subscription. This is my Internet home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:45 PM on July 12 [16 favorites]


This is one of the not-welcoming sort of things we do even to long time members. I mean, I already said I've been here 12 years. I have fewer comments on the Blue and have given out many, many more favorites than you. I've spent a lot of time lurking and not talking, and I have a fair number of apologies in my comment history, I think. Maybe a short lecture on knowing when to shut up to a person who has been here only one year or so less than you, in response to a comment they left about not feeling good enough to contribute to the site, in a thread where we're talking about how to increase site participation, among other things, isn't the way to go.

I think my comment might have come across more patronizing and aggressive than I meant it to - sorry. That part of the comment wasn't really directed towards you, and I should have made that clearer. Also, I swear I did a pass so I didn't come across as Too Much.

When I talk about the value of metafilter has for me, I seriously do say 'it's the place that taught me to shut the fuck up and admit I'm wrong sometimes' (sometimes! this is a huge development! pity the jerks who had to deal with me before, say, 2012, I was fucking insufferable). It's a valuable lesson, and hey, I have actually caught myself a few times before embarrassing myself. It's entirely possible this is not a lesson you've needed to learn, but I certainly did.

In terms of making new users comfortable, though, I think it's more important to center those that are currently underrepresented. And sometimes that really is telling the straight people, the white people, Americans, ect to maybe think for a second of what demands you're putting on others. There have been times where I have been absolutely horrified at the comments Americans have left on posts that were on other countries - I've had to flag things with 'I'm worried about family members dying, can we please not to this' on at least one comment in recent memory. And if it comes down to two hypothetical new members - one who is making clueless comments and one who is adversely affected by them, I would hope that we could find a way to address the concerns that help the affected person feel seen while explaining what the issue is.

Would that correction seem like too much still? Maybe - probably, even. Learning is hard, and it's easier to leave. Sometimes you can't put something soft enough for it to work. I'd like to put some value in attracting people who are willing to listen.

Again, this isn't to say that I'm happy with how moderation is going now - there are clear issues with it, and plenty of people more affected and better at this writing thing than I am have explained it. Honestly, if the same few people are participating in the politics megaposts and the same few people are also the bulk of the deletions, this, unsurprisingly, suggests an issue with the politics megaposts.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:52 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


By the way, if people want to make the wiki more useful, and update things, and change things, there is literally no authorization*, coordination, permission, etc. required. You can just go and do it. People have in fact started doing so already!

♫ the wonderful thing about the wiki is that anyone can edit it. ♫

* You do have to make an account on the wiki, but that's it.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:05 PM on July 12 [5 favorites]


I stopped reading each and every comment around 80% of the way down when I had enough patterns clustered. Voluntary or not, imma gonna do what i do best, step back and take the big picture read of the thread.

1. Longtime highly engaged members - especially those who have always participated in the long grey threads of the past 15 years that I've been an active member - are conveying an irk with Cortex and the way the business of Metafilter has been run since the last funding drive. They are the core of your so called community that you want to preserve and protect with your life.

This should not be ignored.

iamkimiam said in bold, and I'll bold it again:

Study after study show that retaining users is more profitable and less costly than new user acquisition. Related studies show that design and planning is more profitable and less costly than quick fixes and ad hoc solutions.


I'll add my 2 rupees worth - this site runs on user generated content. this has been forgotten somewhere along the line. Highly engaged users who create content tend to be a minuscule percentage of the content consuming community. you are losing the respect of your highly engaged user segment, most of whom do not feel like throwing money at you anymore.

I feel the same way right now and have sent you hundreds in the past 5 years, unasked for, whenever I had a surplus, this community got my support. I don't feel like doing that anymore because we are in a hamster wheel

2. Moderation, then and now - I have said this before in the other important site thread and I'll say it again here, megathread are toxic sludge. The difference is that this time instead of pushback which made me button out the last time, there's a significant number of people piping up with the cost of maintaining the megathreads - in this fiscally challenged time - versus the returns. Moderation has been strongly influenced by the norms of the megathreads which are NOT and NEVER have been the norms of the blue much less the grey. The entire site's moderation has changed to manage the black hole of the megathreads.


Go to smoke's comments and note them down in your learning how to business management notebook. Here's is a relevant snippet:

I'm not going to give you more money with my subscription. It's not because I don't love you - I do! I love the shit out of this site and community - it's because you have not used the money I already give you effectively, to build a sustainable business. I don't think giving you more will help you do that, at this point in time. I am totally willing to increase my subscription in the future, if I feel the site is trying to move towards a sustainable business model.

You are not only embittering highly engaged long term members but frittering their generosity.

3. Complaints and the change of tone: Two comments stood out for me and capture the essence of these two threads of content running through this metatalk.

This thread is so dismaying. I feel like last time there was a "we need funds" post, the vast majority response was an outpouring of love for this place, eagerness to support it, and by the way, lots of ideas for how to help. This time, it feels like we're circling the drain and many of the ideas being offered up are steeped in bitterness that competes with their helpfulness. I didn't know that site participation and ad revenue had plummeted so much. I hadn't thought about the wholesale shift away from this style of site and other societal factors that make those trends nearly impossible to reverse, despite the good ideas folks have posted above.


The complaints I see here seem to largely stem from people, in one way or another, noticing that (1) prior complaints were not heard--the process was exhausted, and continues to be exhausted, even as it appears to move forward; and, (2) maybe joy as a goal is problematic, and that maybe keeping that as the priority--especially when it's accompanied by the same behaviors we've seen for quite a long time, now, whenever these questions and concerns rise up--needs to be seriously re-thought.


4. America first/International/global/PoC and the front page - Metafilter *was* improving its global worldview until your election of that thing in power. The FPP has been noted to be not fun anymore and if your goal is to have metafilter the place to have fun, to joy, to see the best of the web, then beyond filthy light thief and man of twists and turns, there's little out on the page that captures my attention beyond what hippybear calls fluff or doom. This needs fixing fast since user generated content and the first impression of the website are what either will engage us or send us away elsewhere. I don't think the front page issues are unseparate from the PoC issues.

What nobody else has said and I'm saying because I have nothing to lose here anymore as I realized reading all this today is that moderators group themselves need to be looked over by a third party specialized in assessing their ideological and racial prejudices since we're all assuming that the mod team is wonderful at inclusivity and have no fragility and whatnot but that is not the case and that is also chasing people out the door.

======================

Last year I would have come in here, wept a tear, and sent you another check for $250, hang the currency conversion charges.

This year, I recognize myself in aielen's words, miko's words, adamvasco's words, divabat's words, smoke's words, lalex's words, iamkimiam and allkindsoftime, and everyone whose names I've been seeing here in the grey forever holding community together.

But there's no community left is there if it starts seeming like just the words and no action.

I certainly don't want my nostalgic memory of going online and hanging out in metafilter to fade away and die.

But as I think of what this has become now, its a crisis for you, Cortex and you need to be treating it as such. Here's another quote from the comments, in bold

I'm telling you it is a crisis, and the way that crisis ultimately ends is not as linear as you think. Costs are (broadly) fixed, revenues are not. You need to internalize that this is a crisis and act with appropriate intent and speed. I can't really tell if you get this.
posted by Mrs Potato at 5:07 PM on July 12 [50 favorites]


I’ve been finding a lot of hope in this thread, and in MetaFilter lately. For the last couple of years it’s felt like the community was growing more insular and inward-looking, but now it really seems like people are looking towards the horizon again. MetaFilter has always been a place for curious people, in both senses of the word, but that wasn’t as much in evidence lately. But things are changing for the better.

However, the endless back and forth about whether MetaFilter should be a non-profit, with its references to American tax codes and legal issues, makes me feel very much on the outside as an Icelander living in another European country. That’s an alienating feeling for me, as this community is the only place I’ve been able to call home continuously for the last couple of decades. The idea of MetaFilter ceasing to exist fills me with fear.

One of my worries about MetaFilter going the non-profit route is that it will be even more dominated by Americans and American issues than it already is. I am as fully certain as I can be of anything that adopting a governance structure based on American tax law will not make this community more open and responsive to its existing non-American membership, let alone potential new users.

Right now there’s one mod who comes from and lives in a non-English speaking country. Whatever the board of directors will end up being, it won’t be any better in that regard, and I suspect it will be worse. MetaTalk allows for every voice to be heard, but a board of directors is by its nature exclusive, and whichever groups end up on the outside, it’s definitely not going to be Americans.

Yes, MetaFilter is an American company, which needs to be taken into account, but the company and the community aren’t the same thing. Reading through this behemoth of a thread it seems clear to me that the two root issues are a downswing in advertising revenues and a lack of community renewal. I’ll let more informed people than me talk about advertising, but I want to make a point about the community.

Our community has been international from the very beginning. Finding solutions to a community problem can’t be exclusively rooted in an American context. That way the message to non-Americans is: “Be quiet and let us American sort it out.” Frankly, then I’ll just be a guest in what I have considered my home for nearly two decades
posted by Kattullus at 5:08 PM on July 12 [31 favorites]


A little more bloviating about my own main point.

I got worried that I'm doing too much projecting, that I must have gotten some pushback on some thoughtless stuff and get into some fights back when I first joined, and it must have just made me go "Oh, okay, then I want to do better." Maybe projecting my current overly-sensitive frame of mind back on my younger self is doing him and other people like him a disservice. But at the same time, my current sensitivity is a product of it being now. Not just now on Metafilter, but now in the world. Maybe hypothetical young me would similarly more sensitive.

Maybe hypothetical young me isn't a very good perspective to be thinking about this from, but I am because that's why Metafilter is so important to me. The members of this site, present and past, have helped shape me into someone who really cares about being decent and fair and equitable, about defending and supporting and listening to marginalized people, about making a more just society. I want other people who are basically good intentioned and have the potential to get interested in learning more about how to be better, about being more tolerant and learning to take hurting people's lived experiences as true and valuable and important, about how to break down systemic barriers to justice, about how and why patriarchy and kyriarchy are real awful and need to be dismantled, to get that experience from this place too. Because that stuff is not obvious in our culture, to so many people. Metafilter taught me this stuff, and I really worry we're no longer accepting students.

I think my comment might have come across more patronizing and aggressive than I meant it to - sorry. That part of the comment wasn't really directed towards you, and I should have made that clearer. Also, I swear I did a pass so I didn't come across as Too Much.

When I talk about the value of metafilter has for me, I seriously do say 'it's the place that taught me to shut the fuck up and admit I'm wrong sometimes' (sometimes! this is a huge development! pity the jerks who had to deal with me before, say, 2012, I was fucking insufferable). It's a valuable lesson, and hey, I have actually caught myself a few times before embarrassing myself. It's entirely possible this is not a lesson you've needed to learn, but I certainly did.


Oh, I definitely needed to learn it! I wrote everything above this quote of your comment before I read said comment. But you're right, it felt a little patronizing, and a lot of my concern is, well, laid out above.

In terms of making new users comfortable, though, I think it's more important to center those that are currently underrepresented. And sometimes that really is telling the straight people, the white people, Americans, ect to maybe think for a second of what demands you're putting on others. There have been times where I have been absolutely horrified at the comments Americans have left on posts that were on other countries - I've had to flag things with 'I'm worried about family members dying, can we please not to this' on at least one comment in recent memory. And if it comes down to two hypothetical new members - one who is making clueless comments and one who is adversely affected by them, I would hope that we could find a way to address the concerns that help the affected person feel seen while explaining what the issue is.

Would that correction seem like too much still? Maybe - probably, even. Learning is hard, and it's easier to leave. Sometimes you can't put something soft enough for it to work. I'd like to put some value in attracting people who are willing to listen.


I agree with all of this too. My perspective is pretty selfish in some ways, wanting to make things good for other people like me in the way they were for me. I also really want everyone in the PoC threads to stick around. I crave their insight, that's why I'm here, with the value of "their" being everyone with less privilege than me. But also 24-year-old dipshits like former me are currently turning into neo-Nazis with alarming regularity these days, and I want to think that Metafilter could be a counter-force against that.

(3 new comments I haven't showed yet.)
posted by Caduceus at 5:11 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


You're awake too, huh?
posted by Mrs Potato at 5:15 PM on July 12


Is this the thread where I should ask if there's a MeFi android app? one that could generate additional funds through ads maybe? perhaps that could be developed through volunteer efforts? (so generous of me to volunteer other people's time. I suppose I could try to resurrect my creaky software development skills)

(mostly I access this site through my phone nowadays and just had a frustrating experience posting a long comment with links that I partially lost the first time because I accidentally navigated away. tools for making heavy text comments easier on smartphones might be helpful if other people have also moved away from desktops with keyboards to type these things out. I suppose even the save draft comment feature that I thought I saw suggested in one of these recent meta threads might be an improvement. I sometimes find myself starting a long comment and then cutting and pasting and moving into a draft on my email app and never getting back to post it.)

(I didn't even know how long this comment would look until I hit preview, ugh sorry)
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 5:18 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Honestly I should probably just stop donating and button already, all the good Mefites are elsewhere.

There are old Mefites, and there are bold Mefites...
posted by um at 5:40 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the $5 fee hasn't been a significant source of revenue in a very long time; that's just not an argument for or against it.

Zapping the fee entirely is something we've talked about a few times, and as radical changes to MeFi's traditional processes it's one I'm actually fairly inclined toward despite the complications and new challenges it implies.


I know this was waaay upthread & I have 24 hrs of catching up to do here, so excuse me if it’s redundant, but it’s worth considering site history here.

Metafilter did not initially have an entry fee. People just signed up, & the membership grew. At some point in what— 2002? new signups were so rampantly out of control & the site was growing so fast that Matt shut them down entirely because the growth was on an unmanageable curve. The site existed without any substantial growth for the next couple of years until he put the $5.00 entry fee up specifically As a means of controlling growth. For several more years, the site still grew at a steady pace because people were coming in large enough droves that the 5 bucks merely kept the hordes at bay.

This is no longer the case. The hordes are not beating at the ramparts. The $5.00 fee is not generating any meaningful revenue & growth obviously does not need the control it imposed, if only 2 or 3 people are paying it per day.

Ditch it immediately and posthaste, then proceed with all your other tangible & or inchoate ideas in various stages of formulation about how to improve finances over the next few months & to make the site sustainable in the long-term.

It seems like the simplest, easiest first step to start driving new memberships. All the other rules of membership would still apply, and if your looking to grow membership by whatever means anyway, the increased workload of new members is just going to be a fact of the life of a moderator, as it was (too much so) for Matt when he was doing this by himself.

Open the door all the way back up. Make the barrier to entry as simple as it was for the people who signed up in 2000. You could probably be done with that by tomorrow morning.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:47 PM on July 12 [22 favorites]


When people talk about "You used to do X; well, since the site membership is going down, X didn't exactly work, did it?", that seems like an oversimplification. Because the site is doing X, and Y, and Z; X might be good for membership while Y and Z are bad. The mere fact of the decline in membership is not enough to prove that any one practice or feature of Metafilter's is contributing to that.

Making inferences like this is even harder when people use the same words to refer to things that are, in practice, made up of several facets with possibly conflicting effects. When people talk about the heavy hand of moderation possibly contributing to the decline of the site, there are several factors that are all wrapped up together in that term, and different people may be referring to different things. RN may be thinking about not giving trolls and overt racists infinite redos. Others are thinking about pruning derails. The former probably helps the site. Maybe the latter hurts it; an argument could be made. But I think it makes sense to be specific about what we're talking about if we want to make causal inferences.
posted by Jpfed at 5:59 PM on July 12 [7 favorites]


I also really want everyone in the PoC threads to stick around. I crave their insight, that's why I'm here, with the value of "their" being everyone with less privilege than me.

While Poc in America might have less privilege than you, it is not true for peoples who are first class citizens in their own continents and countries. over privileging is also a problem, as is assuming privilege where there isn't any.
posted by Mrs Potato at 6:00 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


You're absolutely right, I apologize.
posted by Caduceus at 6:04 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


I am not liking the direction of comments that are essentially "if you don't spend time educating clueless white men they will turn into Nazis".

I was in an Uberpool yesterday with a Proud Boy. He was ranting to our (Nigerian) driver about antifa, I spoke up, he tried to suss out if I was antifa or not, then claimed he didn't like people who were "shouting about politics". Before he left, he tried to intimidate me by giving me a Proud Boys flyer and that's when I realised what was going on. I refused, told the driver what his deal was, and we had a great conversation about racism and colonialism and white supremacy.

A conversation that couldn't really happen with that Proud Boy in there, even though he didn't overtly reveal himself to us (the driver didn't even see the flyer). A conversation that could have gotten us in danger if he was in there because who knows what he would have done to either one of us PoC in the car. If we tried to be gentle and education-y to him while he was in the car with us, it could have backfired horribly.

Part of the comments being deleted are comments by minorities responding to bigotry, because there's a policy now of deleting every comment responding to a deleted comment. The PoC thread had discussions about how we didn't like this because it took away all the emotional and intellectual labour we had put in. The kind of educational work y'all wish we were doing to stop you from joining the Nazis, except you wouldn't listen to it unless we painstakingly told you, PERSONALLY, even though it would literally be the exact same content. I've had people make those demands on me and it is exhausting.

You complain that you don't get enough education in the threads when you're being a clueless cis/het/white/abled/US/guy? Read the thread. The education you seek is likely already there, even if it doesn't come with your username attached.
posted by divabat at 6:06 PM on July 12 [42 favorites]


(Also? "If you don't educate us we'll turn into Nazis" is a hell of a guilt trip and a threat. It's your responsibility to not be a Nazi, not ours to save you from yourself.)
posted by divabat at 6:15 PM on July 12 [22 favorites]


Gods, fine, fuck it. I spent so many words and all day trying to just make it clear that I was just talking about my perspective and how much value I found in listening to to other people's perspectives, and how I think that Metafilter is/can be a force for good in the world and how part of that is that we need more ways to quickly get new members who might be like me onboard with this perspective of valuing everyone's contributions and making space for marginalized voices so that this can become a thriving diverse community again and that I've spent a lot of time lurking and just listening and I don't even know else what to say. I'm really really sorry that it all came across as a guilt trip worth comparing to an encounter with a Proud Boy. I'll see myself out.
posted by Caduceus at 6:21 PM on July 12 [21 favorites]


The, "but whites who get their feelings hurt will turn into Nazis!" issue came up in the Outragefilter meta, as well, in ways that got some pushback.
posted by TwoStride at 6:27 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


The perfect really is the enemy of the good, isn’t it?
posted by disclaimer at 6:53 PM on July 12 [28 favorites]


Not sure anyone is reading anymore, but a few thoughts:

1. I found metafilter via google many years ago, and lurked in ask me for a long time. It seems that the site has disappeared from google entirely, which is especially bad for Ask Me. Could you hire an SEO expert? It seems unlikely you haven’t done that, but I have not seen it mentioned as a tactic you have used. Quora is useless and is all over google.

2. I read the mega threads religiously, it’s my politics go to and I would spend a lot less time on the site without them (I’m honestly not that interested in a lot of the other posts, more about that in #3). That said, politics filter would make me happy, the mega thread format is unwieldy. I like the smart commentary, factual info, and left leaning politics, which are hard to find elsewhere on the internet.

3. Other than politics, the content on this site is less and less interesting. Ask Me is like a graveyard when it used to be very active. Until I saw the graphs of the declining users I didn’t really understand why, but it think we will enter a spiral of decline if the users continue to decline. Less users = less content = less engagement. We need more users, and I agree with everyone who says that is priority number 1.

4. Lots of good suggestions about how to format the site, make changes etc., but I agree with smoke and JPD who outlined the key business skills that are crucial. I agree diversity is is imperative, but also agree that we don’t actually know anything about how to improve reach and engagement for this site without collecting data. Personally, I would prioritize getting a more diverse mod staff ASAP, even if it means reducing hours, using volunteers, etc.

PS: get rid of the $5 stat, until someone pointed it out it didn’t even occur to me how US centric it is. We could diversity globally immediately by getting rid of it.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:57 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


Can we reframe the conversation away from the utility to privileged people of access to diverse discussions and maybe shift it to "how do we make it possible and where possible, welcoming to people from widely diverse backgrounds to have conversations with one another?" Because the thing is, that isn't a simple question, and it isn't one that has a clear answer.

Earlier today, I typed up and subsequently deleted a whole tangential response to disclaimer about horizontal tensions here inside the LGBTQ community between different groups. I had a bit about the additional tension of everyone's knowledge that this is a place where an awful lot of straight cis people are, who might comment and derail conversations around things that are most interesting to them, or who might take away arguments that can be used to harm the wider LGBTQ community. And I had a bit about age, and intergenerational tensions, and the way that our communities are not always good at passing down connections from older people to younger people. And then I deleted all of it because that comment was already getting pretty damn long.

The thing is, I approach an awful lot of things, these discussions included, from a lens of accessibility. People have a whole range of different abilities and backgrounds, and a lack of familiarity with the specific argot and method of discussing thing doesn't mean that that person is necessarily a clueless person with nothing to offer to a community, whether on other topics or on specific perspectives. Generational divides in the LGBTQ community are perfect examples of these kinds of divides.

How do we make space for conversations with people who know how to listen to each other and how to spark thoughtful discussions? How do we balance the need to not have deeper, more thoughtful conversations derailed by repetitive demands for education against the need for any community to provide the ability to teach one another and pull in new people?
posted by sciatrix at 7:00 PM on July 12 [19 favorites]


MetaFilter: It's exhausting

That pretty much sums it up - people are checking out, new users have no interest in it, fewer and fewer participants year over year. And it is unwelcoming and alienates just about every demographic at this point. It's all in the numbers, right?

And hey - the people who do discuss how MetaFilter has made a positive impact on their personal growth through participation in this community are equated to people at risk of becoming Nazi's.

Yeah, it's exhausting.
posted by jkaczor at 7:02 PM on July 12 [24 favorites]


Being a geek/technologist/former-programmer, I am always still thinking about technical solutions...

So - this common complaint about derails, or having to lower-oneself down to level-101 discussions and educate the clueless participants could be solved fairly simply...

Just add some 'command characters' beside a user name that allows you to ignore all comments/posts from that user; 'Ignore in this Post' and 'Ignore Everywhere'. (Similar to how flagging or favorites work)

Put the 'filter' into MetaFilter...

Or - if multiple people flag a comment, then it is pretty obvious that it should be automatically hidden or removed, without necessarily involving a moderator, no? (Test various threshold values until one "works" for the majority of the community)
posted by jkaczor at 7:23 PM on July 12


The PoC and Outragefilter threats pointed out that this can - and has - been gamed by White people flagging comments by PoC for being too "fighty" and the mods erring on the side of deletion because they don't have the nuanced lived experience to tell what's actually going on.

Honestly, people should be reading those two threads first because so much discussion about moderation and diversity has been hashed out there already.
posted by divabat at 7:27 PM on July 12 [26 favorites]


Katullus, I hope I can set your mind at ease regarding this concern. "One of my worries about MetaFilter going the non-profit route is that it will be even more dominated by Americans and American issues than it already is."

Since Mefi is incorporated in America we have to follow those laws rules. But that does not mean we have to become more American (says the American, I know.) For instance, I'm on the Board of a Japanese NPO that has set up a companion 501(c)3 in the US because laws and taxes. But the overall membership of the organization's leadership, advisory boards, etc. is strikingly non-American. No reason why the Mefi User Advisory Board can't be largely POC/International/People with perspective and experience outside white, middle-class America (and every reason why it should be those things).
posted by Gotanda at 7:31 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


Can we reframe the conversation away from the utility to privileged people of access to diverse discussions and maybe shift it to "how do we make it possible and where possible, welcoming to people from widely diverse backgrounds to have conversations with one another?"

Thank you. This is a discussion site. It’s not helpful to be afraid of making mistakes when the purpose of a site is conversation. It’s ok to make a mistake, it’s ok for another user to point out a mistake you made, it’s ok to learn from the mistake, or feel like it was an unfair characterization, or reject it, or agree to disagree. Sometimes you’re going to make a post or a comment that turns out to be bad or idiotic or hurtful even if you aren’t intending it. That shouldn’t make you feel like now you’re ruined forever or everyone hates you. That’s life. Wanting an experience where every comment you make is welcomed and supported is not realistic.
posted by sallybrown at 7:34 PM on July 12 [34 favorites]


(side note: I find it funny that management is balking at volunteer strategic planning labour when these threads are, pretty much, volunteer strategic planning labour)
posted by divabat at 7:36 PM on July 12 [20 favorites]


And hey - the people who do discuss how MetaFilter has made a positive impact on their personal growth through participation in this community are equated to people at risk of becoming Nazi's.

Yeah, this is exactly what has been cited, over and over again, in every iteration of this discussion, as being toxic to anyone who isn't white.

Someone says something off-putting to you about how you said something kinda dumb? Take the fucking hit and understand that you have just suffered a tiny fraction of the agita that that person has suffered, and the violence they have done to you by saying "Nah, bro" isn't actual violence. It's not even a microaggression.

I see that sallybrown has said this nicer.
posted by Etrigan at 7:37 PM on July 12 [29 favorites]


And to put my money where my mouth, I recently posted this FPP about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, which I knew nothing about, and which is turns out is viewed as crazy and ridiculous by people who actually know anything about the topic. Did I feel like an idiot? YES!!! Guess what? I lived. I’m alive and still using Metafilter and I actually got a great book recommendation out of it.
posted by sallybrown at 7:39 PM on July 12 [25 favorites]


And hey - the people who do discuss how MetaFilter has made a positive impact on their personal growth through participation in this community are equated to people at risk of becoming Nazi's.

i don't think that's quite what happened, though it does seem like people just talked past each other.

so, like, here:
I feel like I have been enormously enriched by the 12ish years I've spent on Metafilter. The 24-year-old-me that joined this site initially as the 2008 campaign season was getting going was, while well-intentioned, a Nice Guy(TM) dipshit. ...

I think that the process of Metafilter getting better, as much as anything, dragged me along with it, because I was open to it. I've learned so much over the past 12 years. I have a much stronger sense of empathy and justice. Because of Metafilter, I try very hard to interrogate my biases and actions so as to, as much as possible, not trigger or hurt marginalized people in my day to day.
this seems nice! but in that same comment:
But, in this world of Reactionary Fascists radicalizing young people on YouTube and 4chan, I worry that if 24-year-old dipshit me joined today and got jumped on the way we do these days for saying something ignorant and unthinking despite his good intentions, he would probably just fuck off to reddit instead to sticking around. That's why I'm trying to talk about the wiki and it needing updating. That history, those good discussions are part of the fabric of the site and the way we now interact with each other, and they're still there, even, but they're not easily accessible, and they're completely invisible to anyone who hasn't been here for a long time. The history is not going away obviously, and it's not going to be any less irritating to long time members to have the same sort of 101 or worse questions left by new folk, but I don't think our current approach to that irritation is working well. I think it probably is contributing to the site's decline. We need a way to help people who are good-intentioned but maybe just behind catch up quickly, particularly if they're young.
the thrust of this is that work and investment has to be put in to new users, which, on face, makes sense...

but who does the work? well, other posters on metafilter:
The members of this site, present and past, have helped shape me into someone who really cares about being decent and fair and equitable, about defending and supporting and listening to marginalized people, about making a more just society. I want other people who are basically good intentioned and have the potential to get interested in learning more about how to be better, about being more tolerant and learning to take hurting people's lived experiences as true and valuable and important, about how to break down systemic barriers to justice, about how and why patriarchy and kyriarchy are real awful and need to be dismantled, to get that experience from this place too. Because that stuff is not obvious in our culture, to so many people. Metafilter taught me this stuff, and I really worry we're no longer accepting students.
which, let's be real, is a lot of emotional labor, to borrow that term from another mefi thread. it's draining.

so when the next graph has this:
I also really want everyone in the PoC threads to stick around. I crave their insight, that's why I'm here, with the value of "their" being everyone with less privilege than me. But also 24-year-old dipshits like former me are currently turning into neo-Nazis with alarming regularity these days, and I want to think that Metafilter could be a counter-force against that.
it does read noble, but it's asking the poc to stick around and help do more of that emotional labor, because other 24-year-old dipshits are getting radicalized.

and so when someone who is a poc, who is marginalized along multiple axes and isn't american, to boot, pushes back on this unstated almost-expectation that marginalized folk are here to help the privileged better themselves rather than to participate in an inclusive community sharing neat things, well:
The kind of educational work y'all wish we were doing to stop you from joining the Nazis, except you wouldn't listen to it unless we painstakingly told you, PERSONALLY, even though it would literally be the exact same content. I've had people make those demands on me and it is exhausting.
it is exhausting. it happens so often, in the small things, like in the durian thread trying to push back on the "durian is gross haha", or pushing back on the disdain/horror at the idea of an "underground mall" in the kbo thread, or conflagration that popped up in the gutenberg thread, or the repeated explanations in the begpackers thread... and these are just the ones i've seen recently, i know there are more. and of course, the bigger things, which...

so there's that pushback, and then the retort 'the perfect is the enemy of the good' gets bandied about to dismiss and disagree, what message do you think that sends to others like them? it's disheartening--the onus shouldn't be on the marginalized to prove our humanity, it should be self-evident--and in a perfect world, we wouldn't have to do that sort of education.

but is it a 'good' world where we do? constantly? repetitively, like sisyphus, over and over and over again to encounter the same thing again and again? groundhog day without a real release? especially because it is unpaid, especially because so much of the burden involves being told how to do it: be civil! don't be hostile! be like nixon and go to china!

so much of the time we have to do it in person, too. smile and be polite and gently call in "hey, my pronouns are she, not he," or "i know you didn't intend to be offensive, but i'd be careful using the idiom 'open the kimono'," and now if we don't do it online too some dumb 24-year-old kid is gonna fuck off and become a nazi and somehow it's our fault?

i don't know if i'd accept the blame for that. i don't know if that's actually "good being the enemy of perfect". i don't know if the "good" is actually good so much as it is not awful.
posted by anem0ne at 7:44 PM on July 12 [61 favorites]


Adding emphasis on MetaFilter Network Inc. requiring the services of outside consultants for advice on planning and reorganization. At this point doing without such seems to me like appearing in court pro se.

This whole ambiguous for-profit/non-profit thing is not going to work, I think. Big thing to consult on.

What seems to be proposed as the worst case scenario is something like "try things, they don't work, so Cortex gets a regular job and reduce the site to donations paying the hosting bill with volunteer mods" - I don't think that's the worst plausible endpoint, I think "try things, they don't work" could have a world of hell in there even if that is the endpoint, and I think if that is to be the endpoint you get there much more smoothly with the aforementioned professional advice.

A final point is it seems probably too late to me to be trying things in order to see if they work - not enough tries left - time to plan changes that are planned and expected to work, or plan to reduce the site, or plan to shut it down.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:48 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


threaDs not threaTs jfc

To comment on other things: I agree that making Mefi more mobile-friendly, even if not an app, should be a priority. I like the idea of Markdown, esp since other platforms like Reddit, Slack, Tumblr, and Squarespace are using it. Getting a link in is tricky because while there is a link button, you still have to make sure you don't accidentally move the cursor past the a href brackets - good luck moving it back to the right place! I would have expected at least 2 steps: paste link in, then write link text.

As I'm typing this on my phone (a newish Pixel 3), i see my text lagging soooooo hard. Which makes issues like the cursor moving thing extra tricky. I remember past discussions about pagination of comments, is that still an option? The "X New Comments" function works well as a bookmark, or maybe we can set our own?

I also like the idea of a blogging subsite - not sure I could afford $30 a month (unless I'm misremembering the comment, sorry) but it's funny to have the ethos of "get your own blog" when those are less common now! I often do long posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr but they're tricky - with Twitter you have to carefully space out content, Facebook doesn't do a lot of formatting, and Tumblr culture is not fond of long posts for some reason. There's Dreamwidth and such, sure, but I think the Projects-like functionality of reposting stuff on the Blue would be a great selling point, especially now that we've relaxed the rules on friends-linking. It could also hold some of the functions of the Groups talked about earlier, just on a more individual level.

I think the ability to craft longform link-heavy posts with a captive audience could be a really good draw. Medium's the only other option I can think of, but their weird commercialisation thing (if you want to get selected for the Partner program and get wider distribution, you can't put any links to Patreon or other income sources in your post) and the comments setup is very limiting. We've got the bones for it - pretty much just combine Blue and Projects.
posted by divabat at 7:50 PM on July 12 [4 favorites]


On preview, this, from sciatrix:
Can we reframe the conversation away from the utility to privileged people of access to diverse discussions and maybe shift it to "how do we make it possible and where possible, welcoming to people from widely diverse backgrounds to have conversations with one another?"

i 100% wholly agree with wanting to change the framing here. because framing it like this:
I also really want everyone in the PoC threads to stick around. I crave their insight, that's why I'm here, with the value of "their" being everyone with less privilege than me.
while the intent is nice, and positive, and good, it is quite othering, and demanding.

again, the intent is great! we all learn things when we share. but, like. don't want me around because i might have less privilege than you and could teach you something, want me around because you think i'm interesting.
posted by anem0ne at 7:51 PM on July 12 [29 favorites]


When I talk about educating and 101 spaces I'm not saying "if you don't spend time educating clueless white men they will turn into Nazis", I'm saying that nobody's born woke. When I first discovered Metafilter I wouldn't even have known about the issues of my own community.

Again: being an Asian-American didn't make me immediately woke about Asian-American issues, I had to learn that slowly as well. I didn't grow up knowing what the words 'Orientalism' or 'model minority' meant, I didn't even think being a model minority was a bad thing until I learned about the pitfalls in high school. And many people don't learn about race in high school (or sexuality, or gender, etc. etc. etc.). I also don't want to pretend that access to education about diversity and inclusion has nothing to do with privilege.

We need to decide if we will be a community that is welcoming to people who have cleared the "don't actively be prejudiced/hateful" bar but not the "can cite nuances of 201-level theory" bar. I think we should be. I'm not 201 myself on many things: American privilege, the racial dynamics of anywhere other than the US and some specific parts of East Asia, ageism or fatphobia or disability. I'm trying to be, and I try not to take up space in discussions about things I'm not informed about, but my point is that we all have places where we can learn.
posted by storytam at 7:52 PM on July 12 [24 favorites]


Sorry Caduceus. We want you to stick around too. I haven't read the entire thread but I think that was an unfair characterization of your comment.
posted by mundo at 7:57 PM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Thank you anem0ne for outlining exactly what I was getting at.
posted by divabat at 8:00 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


To be clear, I don't think POC should have to take on the labor of educating people ignorant on POC issues. I kind of think that white people should talk to each other about it, like I don't think it's too much to expect a white person to go "oh hey actually it's not great to assume durian is gross just because you're not from somewhere people eat durian, a lot of people not from the West think cheese is gross and smelly! every culture has different standards! here's a link about colonialism!", but like, have kind of given up hope on that, so.

But I don't think we should only accept people who are woke in the exact same way the majority of MeFites are woke, because in doing so we would not just exclude people who could benefit from the space but also people who have knowledge and competencies in places that we don't (see: Sciatrix's point about lateral tensions in the LGBTQIA community).
posted by storytam at 8:05 PM on July 12 [17 favorites]


When I talk about educating and 101 spaces I'm not saying "if you don't spend time educating clueless white men they will turn into Nazis", I'm saying that nobody's born woke. When I first discovered Metafilter I wouldn't even have known about the issues of my own community.

i'd agree with this 100%. i don't stand behind some of the comments i made under my previous account for that same reason.

at the same time, i didn't sign on to this site to teach people how to be woke; i signed up because it seemed like an interesting place to read other people's thoughts and posts. i don't want there to be an expectation that i, and other marginalized folk, are expected to do that education, especially when it's all there.

i like that there's a discussion about the wiki, and maybe a code of conduct, and ways of pointing people to those wikis and such.
posted by anem0ne at 8:06 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


What is welcoming?

For some people who are conflict-averse, another user taking issue with their comment in any way is going to feel unwelcoming. But given the nature of Metafilter, it’s not realistic to outlaw that.

On the other extreme, a member being incredibly hostile in response to a comment (like “fuck you, die in a fire”) is definitely not welcoming and is very clearly not allowed here, and will get deleted right quick.

Lately, we’ve been talking about a third category of stuff that makes Metafilter feel unwelcoming to new people—in-jokes or insider terms like “outragefilter.” The mods are phasing this out of their own use, and maybe it’s something other users can work on too.

But there’s lot of other stuff that falls outside of those buckets. The issue is that broadly, categories of people have been shaped by our culture into tolerating different levels of “welcoming.” This was part of the outragefilter discussion—that users of color are tired of having to couch their interactions on the site to tiptoe around “white fragility.” Some users take any disagreement or correction as hostile and unwelcoming. But again, this is a discussion site, I don’t think it’s feasible to say “please don’t point out racist stuff or disagree with a poster and give background on an issue because he might feel you’re being hostile.” I think there has to be some tolerance here, especially on the part of users who might not be used to getting corrected or outright disagreed with in daily life because of privilege, for somewhat uncomfortable discussion.

Learning new stuff is one of the best parts of Metafilter. And being afraid to have honest (polite, but honest) discussions here because we’re worried about welcoming new members or driving away current members would fundamentally change the site.
posted by sallybrown at 8:06 PM on July 12 [17 favorites]


sallybrown: But again, this is a discussion site, I don’t think it’s feasible to say “please don’t point out racist stuff or disagree with a poster and give background on an issue because he might feel you’re being hostile.” I think there has to be some tolerance here, especially on the part of users who might not be used to getting corrected or outright disagreed with in daily life because of privilege, for somewhat uncomfortable discussion.

Yeah exactly. I don't have a lot of patience for "conflict averse" being offered up as a response to criticism (which I hear all the time), because:

1. It's been used even when the person doing the criticism is being gentle and welcoming about it - the sheer fact that it's not a thorough agreement is what sets people off

2. We don't get the option to be conflict averse! I'm not a fan of conflict either, particularly when it could compromise my safety (like whenever I get harassed on public transport). But at the same time I'm just trying to speak up for myself - and doing so leads me to a lot of pushback and conflict, even (especially) from the conflict-averse folk. It ends up being a weapon.
posted by divabat at 8:16 PM on July 12 [26 favorites]


(This is not in response to any particular commenter, just all the ones talking about how exhausting MetaFilter is lately. I've been a marginalized member of MetaFilter and I've been busting ass this entire time - almost 2 decades - to help steer this giant cruise ship around some holy-shit-that's-big social and political icebergs.)

It's the epitome of privileged fragility to quit because exhausting. Buck up. Marginalized folks have been exhausted all our lives. If you've gotta excuse your quitting, maybe consider time and place, and just say you're leaving because you're personally tired of being held accountable to responsible, respectful dialog.
posted by kalessin at 8:17 PM on July 12 [25 favorites]


. these threads are, pretty much, volunteer strategic planning labour

You know I disagree about this. They are most emphatically not strategic, and I think planning and labour is pretty arguable, too, honestly.

I think the historic tendency to frame them as such has contributed to paralysis from cortex et al, as navigating the tsunami of often conflicting ideas is all but impossible, and the usual suspects (including me!) are too visible and the users that aren't engaging are not.

Like mefi as a whole, I think threads like this often have self proclaimed experts universalising their limited experiences, and experience as community members into business prescriptions.

We will only know what works with experimenting, testing, learning, iterating. That is why it's so important to:

1. Write up a list of ideas
2. Tag those ideas with:
- whether it will improve ad revenue/google
- whether it will increase member activity
- whether it will reduce resource

3. Then tag those ideas with whether the impact will be:
- high
- medium
- low

4. Then tag those ideas with whether the resource/cost/time to deliver will be
- high
- medium
- low

4. Then you start sorting those ideas into a priority based order of impact.

5. Then you look at those high impact tickets, which ones have the lowest resource cost? These form your first priorities

6. Then look at medium impact, if there are any there with low to very low resource cost and them in, too.

7. Low impact activities get junked unless the resource is practically nothing. These go in the backlog for future consideration.

8. Medium impact ideas with high cost needed to be worked until impact is high or resource is low. Otherwise they go in backlog.

9. High cost, high impact. You can pick like one of these a month, if the impact is critical.

10. Now you have a stack of ideas that you believe will have an impact, and an achievable resource cost. Now is time to get a bit more granular about estimated time and resource cost. Flesh them out a bit more. Interrogate projected impacts.

11. Now you start prioritising. What are you gonna action this month? Who will action it? How will you test if its working? What are your success metrics?

12. Put those ideas in order of priority, start assigning them. Ensure you don't have any one person doing too much (you can give ideas "points" or just say no one can have more than one high resource and two medium for example, it doesn't really matter you are just estimating workload).

13. Now people go off and break those ideas down into tasks and workflow, specific steps to take. Ideas are then assessed to make sure everyone still agrees with impact and resource cost.

14. Now you start actioning.

That's what actual strategic planning looks like. It can be done in a couple of hours for something like this and it would be more beneficial than the majority of this thread, I kinda feel.
posted by smoke at 8:35 PM on July 12 [69 favorites]


Just upped my monthly pledge. Metafilter still feels like my home on the web, even with the flaws I see more and more clearly every day.

Funnily enough, one of the early comments in this thread linked to the discussion about CSS that was one of the reasons for killing images. The linked discussion included a lot of commentary from a (former?) member who also used to run a BBS in the DC area that I used to consider home. The BBS became a website, and that website closed a decade ago.

I dunno if that anecdote means anything, but it felt important.
posted by hanov3r at 8:39 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Cortex, my dude, you seem massively burned out and suffering from analysis paralysis because there are 100 things you want the site to be and it can't possibly be all of them. And because, frankly, people are going to bitch and moan no matter what you do, and who wants that? You're going to have to be some kind of benevolent dictator because decisions need to be made, which will result in some friction and losing some people.

I've been on team "just make a PoliticsFilter!" for ages so I'm biased, but if the megathreads are the resource sink they seem to be, maybe taking them to a nice farm upstate to run and play and be free would cut down on some of the friction even if it means upsetting people. Or maybe that's where the signup fee and gating needs to be. Since it's a source of labor, let it finance itself somewhat. Or maybe that's a bonus for signing up along with asking more Ask questions or whatever.

On the other hand, lots of people don't want this to be a site where people share cool stuff. They want it to be a site where they can say "Look at THIS outrageous thing! LET'S BE ANGRY TOGETHER!" Which the mods try to studiously avoid, but that creates friction between "Just post cool stuff" crowd and "This is IMPORTANT!" crowd. At some point, you have to choose what it's going to be, because the center isn't holding.

Likewise, there's a crowd that wants to be social justice friendly and very inclusive and it's a noble goal, but you're going to deter new contributors if they don't know the norms and don't have the social justice experience to analyze things eight ways from Tuesday to determine it's offensive. A post of mine was called classist because the writer mentioned not liking the taste of energy drinks. Still haven't figured that one out, to be honest. But I'm definitely disinclined to post any cool stuff I read since then, because I don't have time to do college-level sociology analysis on an article I read in case I haven't kept up with social justice rhetoric and miss something. Maybe there needs to be "casualFilter" and "SeriousFilter". (Obviously I'm not advocating posting racist stuff or anything, but making a FPP feels like a massive commitment/investment anymore)

But that's all high-level decisionmaking. There are a LOT of relatively easy wins that might prop up traffic and engagement without requiring philosophical discussions.

For example:

-Trying to read a long thread on my phone is likely to be unreadable once the thread hits an event horizon
-Even if it doesn't, the site doesn't keep track of what I've read and where I left off, so even if I want to keep up with something, I have to scroll down for ages every time
-Mobile app. It's time. Even if it's just a wrapper.
-I've been here for ages and still don't know what some of the subsites are and who goes there and why I'd want to go there. That's a navigation/UI issue but it's also a discoverability issue.
-If you want community to grow, you've got to let it grow. Like I get Nicole Cliffe's newsletter (and they used to do this on The Toast), and every Friday she does an open thread to talk about whatever you want, and I really look forward to it to kind of vent or talk to the people that usually post, or see what happened with this person's job interview or that person's breakup. It'd be dismissed here as Chatfilter, but that's also how you create those sticky community bonds. Again, maybe there needs to be a SeriousFilter and a CasualFilter or something along those lines.
-There also needs to be an official chat that's not its own weird thing. Make a Discord or Slack that everyone knows how to use where everyone can hang out and BS and break it into different channels if need be. It doesn't need to be a custom program that doesn't have a mobile app or its own desktop app or requires you do a lot of maintenance. Like I play a text MUD that's pretty much an antique and I hang out in the Discord and log in when there's cool stuff going on because it's low friction for me because it's one more Discord channel not its own weird web app.
-The newsletter is a great idea just because it's a way to get people coming back. The content is there to be used! Use it!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:40 PM on July 12 [16 favorites]


I think as users we are suffering from lack of direction from the leader. Ultimately I think cortex has to decide what he wants his site to be. He has to make the decision and then we can as users figure out how we can respond. I think and I mean this respectfully that cortex hasn't really realized he is no longer a mod and member but a owner. I know he loves this site but ownership has to have an idea where it is going. Where he wants to take his business. And until that happens I think we will go around in circles with suggestions. He needs to sit down and figure out where he would like to go and then put that in action. Ultimately he controls the power.
posted by kanata at 8:43 PM on July 12 [8 favorites]


I think and I mean this respectfully that cortex hasn't really realized he is no longer a mod and member but a owner. I know he loves this site but ownership has to have an idea where it is going. Where he wants to take his business.

Sounds like a full-time job to me. Cut down on mod-power-draining resources to where cortex can focus on owning and running the business and not devote only his off-time to it.
posted by hippybear at 8:48 PM on July 12 [3 favorites]


And one more thing: I know this is gonna give some of you hives, but the site back-end is 20 years of kludges and making do. Maybe it's time to look at the CMSes out there and see if they could do what you want to do without everything requiring a huge technical effort and a lot of custom coding. Maybe Classic Metafilter serves as the archives and is its own thing so you don't have to spend a ton of time porting 20 years of kludges over, but if Joomla or Typo3 or WordPress (okay I know Wordpress is a terrible idea but still) gets you 80% of the way there and you only have to code a plugin for something instead of going elbows-deep in the guts of the site every time, it'd make your lives much easier and do a lot of the stuff people are asking for.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:50 PM on July 12 [7 favorites]


While I did quip: "MetaFilter: It's exhausting", I wasn't the one to bring that up in the first place.

and just say you're leaving because you're personally tired of being held accountable to responsible, respectful dialog.

The same thing goes for those who are exhausted by participating in something they find tedious with too much emotional labour. Don't participate, but then complain that having a respectful dialog is impossible, or the participants are not woke-enough for you.

Personally - I was not complaining about being exhausted* - the community here is amazing, the comments are invigorating, it is a good place. How many others like it exist?
*(Other than it is after midnight and well, it's time to actually get some sleep)

As I have said many times in this thread - personally, I have been held accountable for things I have said here - and I learned from those experiences. Might drop out of a thread for awhile - or for good if I see the error of my ways, but leaving the site? Yeah, no. Show me something better, I don't think you can.

But, apparently - learning from posts here is now a bad thing and has always been onerous and exhausting to the people I was communicating with (who were willingly participating - on a voluntary basis), because based on their textual names (in conjunction with their comments), I am supposed to automatically know that they are white/PoC/insert-specific-brand-of-religion/LGBTQ/differently-abled/young/elderly...

This is a discussion site that is textual in nature - unless someone "outs" themselves directly within their profile, their post, their comments or via their name, the only thing that any of us have to go on is accepting what they say in "good faith".

I completely agree that it must be exhausting educating commentators about micro aggression being real, the weight of emotional labour, privilege, the fact that different foods are going to be loved by different people.

I *thought* that I had seen a community of people here stepping-up directly - because, if I see someone correcting someone else in a comment thread, all I see is their textual post and their username. That doesn't tell me "who" they are - it could be another white/old/man stepping-up for all I know. Is it always a POC/LGBTQ person? Every single time, in every single case?

Heck - there is no "real name" policy here either, even if people "out" themselves and do post pictures and names on their profile, their entire persona could be a complete fabrication.

It's a real dilemma - users are drying-up, so newcomers are needed - but the math pretty much guarantee's that they will not meet the current standards and expectations of the MeFi woke community on every single diverse topic, without an ever constant stream of emotional labour.
posted by jkaczor at 9:12 PM on July 12 [21 favorites]


A lot of people are saying they were unaware that funding was an option or that their funding had lapsed. Before doing anything else, fix this. You can't raise money if people don't know they can give it to you.

Some suggestions:
1. Increase the size of the banner used for funding drives.
2. Alert users whose funding has lapsed through a personalized banner.
3. Create regular funding banner campaigns.
4. Consider site area specific funding campaigns (e.g. the mega-threads).
5. Send funding memails with info about where money is going (not everyone reads MetaTalk)
6. Pin a regularly scheduled funding thread to the top of the main page.
7. Online auctions for user submitted goods and services?
9. Online sign-ups for user sponsored funding events?

If you're set on funding the site through user donations, I think you'll need to be up front about it and clear about what the money is paying for. Most importantly, though, is that users need to know the option exists. I barely look at the right column, hardly see the banner, and almost never visit MetaTalk. I am not a fan of Wikipedia's page long funding banners, but at least I see them.
posted by xammerboy at 9:18 PM on July 12 [7 favorites]


Also, I'm not sure where the link is to give a kickback to Amazon when I buy stuff there. I just tried to find it and failed.

The space by the Preview button for comments would be a great place for a "Help Fund Metafilter" link.
posted by xammerboy at 9:33 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Here's cortex's answer regarding Amazon linking.
posted by mundo at 10:51 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


divabat: The "X New Comments" function works well as a bookmark, or maybe we can set our own?

Ghostride The Whip: the site doesn't keep track of what I've read and where I left off, so even if I want to keep up with something, I have to scroll down for ages every time

A comment's timestamp is a link which can be saved for later jumping straight back to it.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:57 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


Quick sidebar thought: people have been generally in favor of striking the $5 charge to encourage sign-ups, and it does sound like a no-brainer. But one of the benefits of charging a nominal fee is that the mods have a real name verifiably tied to each account, which helps a lot for detecting self-links and enforcing permabans. IP addresses are similar but hardly foolproof.

If sign-ups were free, might we see a wave of trolls and spammers repeatedly signing up with throwaway emails after being banned? And would that trouble be worth the userbase growth?
posted by Rhaomi at 11:02 PM on July 12 [9 favorites]


I hardly participate anymore, though I follow along a little via rss. Part of it is natural evolution of interests and aging, but a lot of it has to do with the reduced passion I feel (and sense[d] on the site) as a consequence of the heavy-handed moderation that began in about 2011.

Instead of crafting a comment in the moment, on the topic, charged by vim and enthusiasm, the situation changed to meeting criteria, being good and toeing a line. I was never an arsehole particularly, but peer pressure and referring to meta to modify behavioural outliers was more exciting and made it seem that it was a user-mediated experience.

Anyway, that's just my own feedback. I'm not trying to advocate/agitate for anything in particular. It's probably true to say I'm ambivalent overall now, but mefi will always own a little piece of my heart and I hope things improve, amen.
posted by peacay at 11:25 PM on July 12 [14 favorites]


Assuming the worst that dropping the fee means putting up with the occasional 4chan raid, how much damage is that likely to inflict?
posted by um at 11:25 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


This is a complicated thread with the business and community side of things being mixed and discussed together. I don't understand enough about the business side to comment, but I really appreciate the input, even somewhat harsh input, from the members who do.

On the community side, though, I think the recent FPP on small social networks was a great read and inspiration for thinking about some of the issues Metafilter is dealing with right now. Cortex, if you take that short sabbatical that others recommended above, I hope this is on your list of idea-generators to consider.

Darius Kazemi argues for the idea of the online neighborhood, with groups of more closely-knit communities joining together because of common values and compatibility, even if their interests, focuses, and specific practices may differ. Metafilter has the seeds of a sort of proto-version of this idea already embedded in it, with subsites like Ask, FanFare, and Music serving more specific elements of the larger community. There are also more informal subsets of the community that share the same space on the Blue but have slightly different expectations and values, even if those values are generally compatible.

There are for example the politics junkies who hang out in the US Politics and Brexit threads; there are social justice activists who want to boost the signal about injustices and provide a place for commiseration and planning; there are comfort-and-joy-seekers who share content about adorable animals to give solace in an often bleak-seeming world. All of these and more are part of Metafilter, and share basically compatible values and world views. And most of us belong to more than one of these categories, or may move between them at different times.

But right now all of these groups are mostly crammed under the same roof, and it's kind of like a book club and a live music show having the same venue at the same time. Metafilter should be a neighborhood. Much of what's currently lumped under the Blue should be formally given their own spaces within that neighborhood, not forced into the same common space.

I believe the following ideas would help improve the community, including both member retention and recruitment, and therefore revenue:
  1. US Politics, Brexit, and "Newsfilter" more generally should have a dedicated subsite. Metafilter needs currentevents.metafilter.com.
  2. We need spaces for both 101-level and higher-level conversations about difficult topics. One or more subsites dedicated to discussions about social justice, where it will be expected that members have done the work to inform themselves before participating, would seriously help relieve the tension that has been discussed on this topic, and allow those members who are interested in helping less informed on these issues do so in other places on the site without stepping on the discussions that more sophisticated members want to have.
  3. Just in general, more, and more specialized, subsites, proposed by interested Mefites. This doesn't have to be like Reddit with a million subreddits, but having a clear, navigable path for one or a few individuals to follow to submit an idea for a subsite and have it approved will create more spaces for more kinds of conversations, with slightly but importantly different commenting cultures. All of these should still be subject to standard Metafilter norms, of course; these are spaces within the same neighborhood, not different cities.
  4. Paid personal blog hosting, moderated only for high-level infractions (spam, hate speech, trolling/harassment, etc). This is a luxury good, set the price accordingly as a moneymaker for the site. Several people have expressed in the past that they would willingly pay for the prestige of a URL like getyourownblog.metafilter.com/biogeo with classy Metafilter styling. Allow sponsorships for members who want a personal blog but can't afford the cost.
  5. Slowly let the Blue shift towards being the general commons space for the community, where the best ideas from the subsites are shared and random discussions that don't quite fit anywhere else still occur. Shift the "bestof" curation onto the community more broadly and merge it back into the Blue.
This may feel like a major overhaul of what Metafilter is and how it works, but much of it I think is actually about formally recognizing the subcommunities that already exist within our larger community, and giving each of them space to breathe and grow.
posted by biogeo at 11:57 PM on July 12 [32 favorites]


might we see a wave of trolls and spammers repeatedly signing up with throwaway emails after being banned? And would that trouble be worth the userbase growth?
posted by Rhaomi


Trolls will need to be dealt with the way they always have, which, if signups increased by a factor of 10, would still be a minor load. Yeah, while signing up with a throwaway email & no real username makes it easier for trolls to jump in, the throwaway emails should also make them pretty easy to identify, & the rules for chucking them overboard will remain intact. I’d think this would be less of a burden than it was in 2001 because we now have flagging, which helps the user base take some load off of the mod team in terms of troll discoverability.

Spammers will always make themselves obvious in the same way - three throwaway comments randomly injected into threads, followed by a spammy post. Pretty easy to spot from a great distance away to even the casual reader, & again, the flagging mechanism makes this less of a burden than it was pre $5.00 noob signup reinstatement. Zapping a spammer’s post & account (I may be wrong) doesn’t seem like a huge endeavor if the flags pile up. Spammers are unlikely to persist as this is not fertile ground for them. Adsense dollars are dwindling for them too, & registering to get 10 hits before being banned is not going to seem worth the effort for the 4 or 5 cents it may earn them. I hope.

Yes, it will create a bit more mod friction, but anything done to substantially grow the user base is going to create some additional mod friction just by virtue of growth being a thing again. Not doing a thing because of “what if” worst-case scenarios seems like a worse stance considering the situation at hand.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:42 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]


jkaczor: Don't participate, but then complain that having a respectful dialog is impossible, or the participants are not woke-enough for you. ... the math pretty much guarantee's that they will not meet the current standards and expectations of the MeFi woke community on every single diverse topic, without an ever constant stream of emotional labour.


Okay, stop. You should read what you wrote. You’re dangerously close to saying “PoC should leave if they don’t like it”. I’m going to assume that you are not saying that.

See, you’ve got it wrong. It’s not that things aren’t woke enough. It’s that discussions about race are racist, and they’re not ‘not racist’ enough.

It sounds like you’re saying, “how much more wokeness do you want! We’re already trying!” I get this from some white friends. It seems like:: you think that trying to be woke is a good thing, so that you’re wanting your positive points to be acknowledged.

The way I see it, discussions about race with white people start at a negative. It’s like: discussions start at a default “minus 10”. Metafilter is pretty good, so discussions about race are at like a “minus 5”. You want your five ‘points’ of wokeness to be acknowledged. I want to be at a neutral zero. I want to have an interesting and important conversation about race without being tripped up at every point.

It’s wild if you think about it. We have a community of users who is literally saying that we want the conversation to be more inclusive. And then we have people saying the equivalent of “we can’t be inclusive enough, so let’s bring in more people even if those people might not be that inclusive, since this place will never be inclusive enough.”

This is 2019. Nobody, white or PoC or not, is going to join a community that isn’t inclusive. Honestly I still feel pretty positive towards metafilter, and will continue my monthly donation. Not many spaces can hold a good solid honest discussion about race, especially when they’re white spaces.

The moment it stops is when users think that ‘wokeness’ or correcting for racism is a cumbersome barrier, or an impediment to the site. Don’t go there.
posted by suedehead at 1:20 AM on July 13 [52 favorites]


The same thing goes for those who are exhausted by participating in something they find tedious with too much emotional labour. Don't participate, but then complain that having a respectful dialog is impossible, or the participants are not woke-enough for you.

This seems super passive-aggressive. I'm not sure where this is coming from. I stopped, personally, complaining and moved on to just acting like I wished I could act, regardless of ambient levels of woken-ness, a few weeks ago. And I've seen a number of other poc members move on from complaining to acting. That's what a lot of the outragefilter and first poc threads seemed to represent, to me.

I also never claimed impossibility of respectful dialog. In fact, I've been pursuing respectful dialog for a couple of decades, on and off of MetaFilter, and the number of white friends I still possess proves respectful dialog and exchange is indeed quite possible.

This ascribing some weird over-attachment to the "woke-enough" characteristic seems like some weird kind of sour grapes response to the idea that it's just too hard to be respectful or something. I'm not sure where it comes from, but I wish it would stop. It's a very difficult misrepresentation of my personal goals and priorities. I'm still here, after a lot of trying (and apparently failing?) to make diplomatic solutions work between white folks and poc, despite a lot of pushback like this, which is very difficult to take in good faith, that the intent is good.

I think part of the respect I'm looking for is the ability for poc members to say, "Hey, I've been here, and I'm still here, trying to find a way through this." but also to say, "Hey, I think maybe white people need to try harder." That's how we get diplomatic solutions to difficult problems of ownership, responsibility, and amends-making. We need to be present for the solutions and the process, and need to respect the parties and the process itself. I don't think "woke-enough" really helps anyone. But at the same time, I don't think it's healthy for poc to accept so much contrition that we can't say, "Hey, I don't think this is a fair proportion of labor assigned to me and mine."

We can't continue to accept the role of doormat in this process. And I think asking for our silence or our absence when we don't feel like white folks are accepting enough of the work is not helping the situation.
posted by kalessin at 1:25 AM on July 13 [28 favorites]


suedehead: Nobody, white or PoC or not, is going to join a community that isn’t inclusive.

I wish I could believe that. But I honestly can't. I think there are plenty of people who don't care whether a community is inclusive as long as it caters to them.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:37 AM on July 13 [15 favorites]


On spammers... over at MefightClub we had a bunch of spammers sign up several hundred accounts. They'd leave them dormant awhile, then activate one and start a-spammin'. (They're not hard to squash, but it's annoying.)

The point being, spammers do try to overwhelm defenses with numbers. On a phpBB board I run, if I left registrations open they'd create a dozen accounts in minutes. Now I require an e-mail for an account; that stops 'em.

It sucks, but there needs to be some sort of speedbump. But it doesn't need to be monetary. (I also don't think it should be a mini-essay; but "write a sentence to show you're not a spammer" is not too hard I think.)
posted by zompist at 2:18 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


The ~600 comments so far have been really enlightening and they collectively show the enormous challenges in running Metafilter in this year of 2019.

People want a business plan. They want to get Metafilter LLC to at least a break even point, which requires one or more of a: strategy plan, SWOT analysis, prioritised list of tasks, cost-benefit analysis of each task, a fundraising plan, volunteer and paid consultants, existing and new user research, surveys, site UI and UX overhauls, new site features, a new mobile app, quarterly reports, and a new non-profit or charity status.

People also want moral leadership. They want courage in dealing with diversity and inclusion problems, a more diverse and international group of moderators. Things that can’t and often shouldn’t be quantified. They want a vision that’s worth staying and fighting for.

It is, to put it lightly, really hard to do just one of these things, let alone both. Normally it isn’t necessary because when times are good, you can ignore them. But times aren’t good. So we aren’t all going to get what we want out of this. Just look at that list!

Anyway, my point here is that as someone who’s been in similar positions before, please have some sympathy for the people who run this site. That’s not to say they can’t be questioned or that they’re perfect, but that they have an exceptionally difficult job.

There is a reason why there are so few places like Metafilter left, and it’s not because the people who run them are uniquely incompetent or bad people. It’s because the world and the internet is structurally biased against allowing these sites to exist.

You don’t need to give Cortex a cookie if you don’t want to, but no-one here seriously expects Reddit, Facebook, Google, or Microsoft - or even Wikipedia - to do the right and ethical thing for their community and the world. We’re resigned to the fact that they have near unlimited financial and political power, and will do anything to make more money, whether it’s violating users’ privacy or de-facto helping fascists or making spammy, addictive apps.

But we do expect Metafilter to be different, and that doesn’t make life easier. It makes it harder. It’s like fighting a giant with both hands tied behind your back. Yeah, you can go to bed feeling good about yourself, but your bed is in a shack with a leaking roof and through the hole you can see the penthouses of millionaires from Facebook, people working less hard for more money. Please remember that.
posted by adrianhon at 2:43 AM on July 13 [59 favorites]


Accepting bitcoin for $5 would open up new membership from lots of far flung continents like Africa. Credit cards and paypal are barriers, I know this. Money is not the problem. Lack of a fintech pipeline is.
posted by Mrs Potato at 2:54 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]


As someone who doesn't participate in discussions here, I thought I'd throw in my two cents on why that is, as there appears to be some interest in finding out why lurkers don't participate. Essentially, it's because the culture here is completely insular, governed by a myriad of unwritten rules that must be followed but that are completely opaque to anyone who hasn't been here for years, and rooted in a single worldview: that of a certain subgroup of American liberals/leftists. I'll give a few examples to show what I mean:

- A link to an article on Cuban, Ukrainian, and Egyptian perspectives on the Obama presidency - When I saw this, I thought it might be nice to post a comment about Egyptian opinions of Obama, and started formulating something in my head. But then I saw that right away, the discussion pivoted to Republican obstructionism to Obama and devolved into the same old boring rehash of the standard American liberal opinion on that. No one showed even the slightest interest in the perspectives of anyone outside the US, and one commenter literally said, "Obama isn't the President of Cuba, Egypt or Ukraine, and his approval there is irrelevant" - i.e. who cares what anyone outside the US thinks? I lost all interest in contributing to the discussion and closed out that tab.

- The fact that there's a de facto ban on posts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but of course this isn't written down anywhere. So if a newbie came in and made a post on this topic, then saw it was deleted with the ludicrous "Metafilter doesn't do this well" note - why on earth would they stick around?

- The ridiculously inconsistently applied ban on "outragefilter." Again, not a ban that's explicitly stated anywhere, at least not anywhere obvious - I checked the FAQ, and I just clicked the "New post" link on Metafilter to see if it might be stated there, but saw that I'm not allowed to make a new post since my only site comments have been on AskMe, not Metafilter. Another unwelcoming thing for newbies - why not allow Metafilter posts from anyone who's posted a comment anywhere on any Metafilter subsite?

But back to my point - what are the horrible US politics megathreads if not endless, endless outragefilter? Yet those are allowed to suck all the air out of the room while posts like the one by jj's.mama get deleted. I know there's already been extensive discussion about that topic elsewhere, but it's just another example of the unwritten (yet inconsistently enforced) site rules that must be followed, or else.

The megathreads themselves exemplify the insular site culture I'm talking about; I checked one out once, saw a very "in-group"-y discussion that was clearly rooted in a bunch of previous discussion I knew nothing about, along with a stream of small-text moderator comments about deletions because topics X, Y, and Z were not allowed, and backed right out.

- The rule against threadsitting on AskMe. Another unwritten rule newbies would have no clue about. It just comes across as so unwelcoming to anyone who's used to the kind of normal back-and-forth that takes place literally everywhere else on the internet. I've seen more than one AskMe post from someone clearly unfamiliar with the site culture, who posts followup comments - not arguments with commenters, just followup clarifications and additional info - that get deleted as threadsitting. It would really surprise me if those people feel very inclined to stick around or if they feel at all included as part of the "community" here.

- The unwritten rule against chatfilter on AskMe. If the site wants increased engagement, isn't this rule counterproductive? If you want to prevent an inundation of chatty questions, then perhaps chatfilter questions could be limited to a particular day of the week, or each user could be limited to posting one chatfilter question once every two weeks, or something like that. Or you could have a single open thread for chatfilter questions on AskMe once a week. There are plenty of options here. But if the no chatfilter rule stays, then it - and all the other unwritten rules - should at least be explicitly stated somewhere obvious, like on the new question/post page.

- This AskMe question on whether Mohamed Morsi recited the credo of the Muslim Brotherhood during his presidential campaign - The first responses confidently declared, from a standpoint of total ignorance, "No, of course he didn't" and "Probably a hoax." This made me want to rip my hair out, so (under another account) I posted a response pointing out that he did, in fact, say that, and linked to the video documenting it. This whole thread just highlighted for me the blinkered, insular nature of the commentariat here - American liberals who are so arrogant and so wedded to their ideology that they literally reject even the possibility of reality conflicting with their beliefs. There is no way I could or would want to engage in a discussion with people like this.

All the ideas about getting rid of the $5 fee, adding images, sub-sites, etc. are really interesting and might be helpful to some degree. But to me, all that is the proverbial re-arranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. No amount of fiddling with site features will make a difference when the site culture is this insular and offputting to anyone coming from outside that one particular worldview.

To make an effort to provide constructive suggestions, I'll just add that there's a reason my (limited) activity here has been confined to AskMe. It's because the barrier to entry is so much lower, and the threads, while sometimes irritating, aren't usually as obviously anchored in the site monoculture - though I still think the questions/answers are so US-centric that it severely limits the utility of the site for anyone from outside that context.

But at least, as someone who mostly grew up in the US and lives there today, I can just go to AskMe, easily follow the threads without needing extensive background knowledge of previous discussions, and make a comment without feeling that I'm intruding on a clique or treading on a minefield. (After seeing the defensiveness towards any criticism displayed by various users upthread, I feel nervous even just making this comment!)

So I'd suggest focusing on driving new traffic and activity to AskMe and making it more welcoming to newbies by loosening up on things like threadsitting and chatfilter. AskMe has historically had higher activity/engagement than Metafilter itself anyway, and people love asking and answering questions; just look at all the advice columns out there, all the question-asking subs on Reddit, and stuff like Quora. So if you can build on that (perhaps with resources freed up by getting rid of the megathreads?), that might be a pretty good way to increase user engagement.
posted by LNM at 4:33 AM on July 13 [117 favorites]


I know we have two MeTas linked in the topmost announcement banner ("Followup post about recent...") and I'm not sure how to balance it, but it feels like it'd be more important than ever to have a "Hey we need money please donate thanks also here's a thread about why" somewhere very visible.
posted by KTamas at 4:55 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


It is, to put it lightly, really hard to do just one of these things, let alone both. Normally it isn’t necessary because when times are good, you can ignore them. But times aren’t good. So we aren’t all going to get what we want out of this. Just look at that list!

As was pointed out waaay upthread, a whole year has elapsed since the last time we had one of these threads and nothing has changed. What's become clear is that Metafilter is happy to take your money, but your advice? that gets tossed in the 'under consideration' bucket. And sure, everyone feels bad about the bucket, and how full it is and how difficult life is with this bucket constantly being present, but that doesn't empty the bucket. No-one needs to hear any more Chidi-esque handwringing. Running a business implies being comfortable with a certain level of risk.

And if we get to December and we're still talking around the same stuff, then I'm out for good. And that's okay it's not like I'm important. But before then for the love of all that is holy make at least one fucking decision that matters. Megathreads? Either decide to keep them as-is, or make them into PoliticsFilter, or axe them completely, but make a fucking decision. Diversity issues? Announce you'll do nothing, or hire a POC mod or diversity consultant, but make a fucking decision. New signups? Announce the fee stays, or get rid of it, or make the site invite-only, but make a fucking decision. Goodwill is a finite resource and Metafilter is burning through it fast. It is not fair to treat members this way. It is super not fair to treat staff this way.
posted by um at 5:00 AM on July 13 [31 favorites]


What can I say? From what I recall, finances were stable for some time as subscriptions ramped up and advertising income stabilised. Now it seems like they’ve gone down.

Yes, I wish more had been done over the last year. And I agree they need to make a decision. But again - look at this thread. Opening up subscriptions is going to piss some people off. Redesigning the site is going to piss some people off. I’m not surprised they’re finding this difficult, even if I don’t agree with how things have proceeded.

My point was that Metafilter is both a business and a community. That’s the tension. Businesses can and do throw large swathes of the world and even their customers under the bus. What I’m hearing in this thread is the not-unreasonable expectation that it is unacceptable for practically anyone at all, existing or potential new members, to be deprioritised, even if other more profitable actions exist. And that if anyone is thrown under the bus, that might as well be the end of Metafilter.

Perhaps that’s a heightened take but it highlights the tension in running a place that was once a place to chat about webpages and has now taken on a much great symbolism online and importance in some people’s lives.

Finally, I get that people are angry. I’m disappointed as well. But I don’t think that continually berating and swearing at Cortex and the mods will achieve what you think it will. They already know people are unhappy and pissed off.
posted by adrianhon at 5:31 AM on July 13 [15 favorites]


I think you're right, Adrian. And I think this tension between business and community has long troubled mefi almost from inception.

I think cortex and the whole team have focused closely on community, even if there is always room for improvement they've been working at it and thinking about it and trying. But it's come at the expense of business, the pendulum needed to swing back some time ago.

Conducting basically zero outreach when membership has been falling for over ten years is pretty regrettable, for example. The plaintive howls of metatalk must be put in context I think, in a productive way. Status quo has not been working for years. Changes will piss people off no doubt (look at the fanfare upgrade, crikey the portal is only a few years old) but changes, some radical I think, will be required to survive.
posted by smoke at 5:47 AM on July 13 [12 favorites]


But, apparently - learning from posts here is now a bad thing and has always been onerous and exhausting to the people I was communicating with (who were willingly participating - on a voluntary basis), because based on their textual names (in conjunction with their comments), I am supposed to automatically know that they are white/PoC/insert-specific-brand-of-religion/LGBTQ/differently-abled/young/elderly...

This is a grotesquely uncharitable reading of what's being said by marginalized folk, and a perfect example of why it's so draining to put in any effort.
posted by anem0ne at 6:30 AM on July 13 [50 favorites]


I’m all for killing the megathreads. I read them sometimes. They can be useful as a stream of very up-to-date news interspersed with helpful bits of clarification and context, but I think a well-curated Twitter list can accomplish that better. They’re also loaded with comments by a small group of regulars who repetitively rant about the same topics. I could do without it.

Do we have a sense of how we would eliminate megathreads and if it would help? Currently there’s an open thread every two weeks headed by a collaboratively generated link dump. Presumably the mods would ban new posts about current politics that were overly broad, but wouldn’t we still have posts about the latest outrageous thing our president did? Wouldn’t those require mod intervention the same way the megathreads do? It seems to me that people will still want to talk about current politics here, and it’s not clear to me that eliminating megathreads will really eliminate the problems of megathreads, at least not without a broader cracking down on politics as a topic.
posted by chrchr at 6:40 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Whew, that was a lot of reading.

I feel for cortex. This must be a gut punch of a thread loaded with bewildering and internally conflicting animus, ideas, suggestions, and complaints. It's a lot to take. I'm sorry and I know from personal experience it's hard and irritating. In the life of an organization, sometimes everything that's hiding in a mixed bag tensions left unaddressed for a long time just come rushing out - the "lancing of a boil" in the usual parlance - because finally there is a willingness to talk about them. It sucks to be the target of so much intense feedback at once from a cacophony of stakeholders. But - that's leadership, too.

Many people have spoken here from their personal experience in managing organizations, running businesses, or investing in business. Mine comes from a 30-year career working in 5 organizations with a nonprofit structure, serving as the ED of another nonprofit , and being on the board of a third. Along the way I have been fortunate to receive a lot of professional development in management and organizational leadership, and through the work itself, picked up a lot of practical knowledge. Though I am not by career an expert in nonprofit leadership and management, I am very good at governance and strategic planning. That is why I have been able to take a long enough view to predict this crisis, and also, why the organizational failures I have seen have made me so frustrated at watching MeFi walk down the same pitfall-ridden paths those did. There is a need for some humility and listening ability to understand the message the user base is sending and start taking action on it. No one person can address all the needs and problems articulated here. That's just impossible. I repeat, no one person, however smart, can solve these issues.

To return to the "fundamental tension" question, it was summed up in this exchange:

if we're not the product being sold, what is?

The site and services being paid for, which, to me, seems much healthier


A view of MeFi as a functional "service," a platform if you will in the form of the site, which users happen to use, is one in which users have no participation. This seems "much healthier" because it neatly snips out any serious involvement of the userbase in leadership and strategy, or ultimately in the existence of the site which becomes a decision of the owner, and makes the relationship a transactional one.

The tension then is that the user community does not consider itself just a collection of consumers using a "site and services" in the way that an affinity group "uses" reddit as a place to have subject-specific conversations, or the way we "use" Poshmark to sell clothing, or "use" Venmo to exchange cash. These are two diametrically opposed views of what MetaFilter is. Understanding it as a set of functions and a transactional relationship has been the "business" view. I am arguing that that view is a very bad fit for what the product of MetaFilter actually is - a place for rich discussion among a coherent user community.

What JPD says about prioritization is true. But there is a first decision to be made, and it's critical: business or nonprofit?

As I've thought for a long time, a corporation is a bad model for something like this because:
1. Fitness for purpose. Sole proprietorship sets up an inevitable tension when the business is actually a community, and when the users/consumers of the product also create the product and have done so for two decades. The way the users who actually built this community conceive of it is somewhat at odds with the stated business purposes that only keep users "in mind." If MeFi were a small business that just created a platform and let people use it in a hands-on manner, that would be one thing, and decline in customers could happen and the ownership would just fold and cash out as with many web companies. It's ...fundamentally not like that, but its incorporation as a business never recognized that - it was inherited as a structure from what Matt put in place early in the life of web companies and subject to his own influences at the time. There's nothing written in stone that that was the right decision, then or now. But we know a lot more now than we did then, and if it were starting today it would probably not be started as a for-profit.
2. Limitations. It is a maxim of leadership that an organization reflects both the best and least developed skills of its leader. Any one person, be it Matt, Cortex or someone else, is going to produce a business that is strong in the areas they are strong, and weak, sometimes fatally weak, in the areas they are weak. If they don't or can't take the time to shore themselves up in those skill areas, and/or seek formal and structured support and advise from others who can inform their plans and choices, the product itself will share those weaknesses, and sometimes be brought down by them if they overcome its strengths. Which is a horizon we may be at.
3. Viability. As the numbers show, as a business, MetaFilter is simply not viable, and never really has been. It can't generate enough revenue to maintain the quality of the product. Prospects for any changes that would bring enough revenue to address payroll, technical backlog, and new projects to build subsections or develop better inclusion tools require an expanded budget, not a break-even budget. And all indicators are that expanded revenues through business approaches are not forthcoming.

So why would a nonprofit model be better?

1. Community Governance - A nonprofit is still a business, but it is a business incorporated to a wider governance structure. That nonprofit governance structure is designed to reflect and enact the values and priorities of its constituency. The organization is chartered, or fiscally entrusted to, a board of directors, nominated and approved by a transparent process. The size and membership of that board can be defined and changed over time. The members of that board are nominated with a view toward their particular skills which lend a diversity of wisdom from various fields of knowledge (finance, business planning, development/fundraising, legal, communications, diversity/inclusion come to mind as a few specialty areas we need representation from) to the site. This board has ultimate responsibility for the success/failure of the organization and uses its skills to contribute to its support and thriving for an indefinite time into the future.
2. Expanded fundraising - A nonprofit can not run in the red on a regular basis. But nonprofit structure allows fundraising and as JPD pointed out above, qualifies MeFi for things like voluntary corporate matching gifts, and perhaps grants (though no one should get too excited about how much grant money is out there because it's not a lot). What it means, though, is that formal and active donation campaigns and subscription models can be run openly, and be run in a way that does not have to make a case for cash return to contributors, and be run with the advising of experienced community fundraising specialists on a volunteer basis.
3. Increased Transparency. Nonprofit finances are public information, they are audited, and they are reported to the board and at least annually to the public/constituency, so the community doesn't sit around for a year in the dark not realizing the ship is sinking and the leadership sees what's happening before it's just about too late to fix. Only one person having access to financials could NEVER happen because it's highly risky in a lot of ways and bad practice. Had we had a board in place by a couple of years ago, we would not be in the position we are in now, because through regular reporting, the red flags would have been seen and addressed much earlier.
4. Voluntarism - to clear up some of the handwavey hearsay about this, nonprofits can accept volunteer labor. The governing law comes the Department of Labor under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and all the basics you need to know about it is in those links. The main thing is you need to run the checklist on job descriptions for volunteers vs. staff, and be sure you can make a viable case for who you decide to pay and who is not paid. The availability of volunteer labor means not just the potential of moderating assistance, but having working groups set to tasks regarding inclusion projects, research, creating new resources, or clearing up the tech backlog. There is total freedom in how amny and what type of working groups/standing committees could be set up, and it's a great place to channel user energy around topics people care about. Since voluntarism in some or many forms seems critical to MeFi's having a future, it would be advantageous to have the incorporation structure in which it is legal. It is not legal for a private corp.
5. Resources - as a business, you get certain kinds of resources from the public sector. As a nonprofit, you get a lot more. The state of Oregon and various nonprofit centers exist to assist with legal aid, board development, planning, fundraising, and everything else a nonprofit needs. These organizations recognize that their recipients are often small, variable, and unique. THey can help. For free.
6. Community Investment and Self-Determination - As people in this thread have testified over and over, whether MetaFilter is formally a business or not, people don't think of it, participate with it, or treat it as a business (If Poshmark went belly up, I'd shrug and drop my shit at the local thrift store. If MeFi went belly up, that looks different). The relationship users have with the site is not transactional, and it goes far beyond its "services" as a platform. It is about meaningful, varied, and content-rich discussion of current events and ideas with a diversity of participants. We have fundraised as a community, celebrated births and marriages and mourned deaths as a community, struggled through difficult social changes as a community, and contributed our time, skills, and thoughts through the work of writing as a community. It doesn't make much sense to treat it as a profit generator.

So...what next? Action. I am going to suggest a road map for getting from here to there.

Job 1: Leadership/governance
Cortex and the MeFi team are burnt out. In this state it's near impossible to rise above and find solutions. Time away is required in this instance. Advising is also required. If the format of the site's incorporation is not dealt with soon, the die will have been cast by inaction. So it's time to sit down and work out how the site will be governed, and the role of the user community and expert advising, in that.
1. Shut the site down for a defined period. In this case I would recommend a month.
2. Take a week off for just rest.
3. On return, convene a planning process - likely a virtual retreat - inviting no more than 8 key advisory people, at least half from the site, but at least 2-3 from outside.
4. The purpose of the virtual retreat will be to determine the form of governance going forward, and to form a strategic plan. This is a high-level plan containing no more than 3-5 goals that will see MeFi through the coming critical years, I would say it should be no more than a 5-year plan at this point focused on transitioning the org's governance and achieving fiscal sustainability. What I say next talks about transitioning to an NFP. If this retreat group makes the choice to stay a business, that takes a different pathway so I'm not going to talk about that. I'll stay with the area I know best and lay out how it would move forward as an NFP.

Strategic Plan
First, let's distinguish between strategy and tactics. About 85% of what's being suggested in this thread is tactical. The color of the background, the Wiki, the signup page, advertising, social media, etc. - all tactics. Beginning with tactics is a huge mistake. The first step is creating a clear definition of where the site needs to go. There is plenty here on which to base the strategic plan, the issues are clear, so it's really down to wordsmithing and prioritization. There should be no more than 3-5 goals because any more than that means one or two will be sacrificed as a priority. Once the direction is clear, you select some tactics that are likelier to move in that direction, and table the others. Getting dragged into the weeds of a tactical discussion at this stage is a recipe for recreating the mess.

So a strategic plan for MeFi under NFP governance would address all the major areas users care about broadly, stated positively, and would come out looking something like:
1. Create a strong fiscal foundation to achieve a balanced budget and $XXX goal in savings within 5 years
2. Generate growth and diversity in the user community (could set targets for both)
3. Determine goals for site design and technical function and develop plans for realizing them
4. Steward the community through shared understandings of moderation policy and inclusive practice

Tactical Plan
Once the strategic plan is in place, the leadership can create a tactical plan. This is often done as part of an annual process in conjunction with creating a budget. The tactical plan can include the specifics about what is being done toward each goal that year. So it would read like
Goal 1: Strong fiscal foundation
A. Transition MeFi to nonprofit governance. Incorporate a 501(c)3, raise funds for purchase, purchase site and all its components from cortex, nominate and elect initial board, transfer decisionmaking to board process.
B. Launch fundraising campaign
C. Balance budget by end of 2019
D. Plan balanced budget for FY20
...and so on for each of the other 3-5 goals.

As for a survey: People often want a survey because it seems like that'll point toward a clear direction. But it's usually the opposite. Survey data is going to be complex, there is the minority/majority effect, and sometimes the right solutions are mentioned by no one in a survey. Any survey process also needs an analysis process that will sift through messy data and identify viable directions. It doesn't solve everything. And it is a lot of work, so applying surveying judiciously is important. Knowing that, there are two potential best places to do a survey. One is before strategic planning, to inform and reinforce it, and that would be about high level/future vision things about what the site should be. Not about details. If I were designing it I would group all the myriad wish list items into categories and force respondents to prioritize the categories. This would be called a "formative evaluation" and would help those analyzing it understand the priorities of the user base. However, it would need to be analyzed with a view toward the minority effect - knowing that a lot of people would throw diversity and inclusion under the bus, results need to be balanced by what the wisdom of the strategic leadership can add. The second place to potentially survey would be after strategy has already been set. It would be to determine which among the possible tactics should be prioritized. That would be a much more functional survey, designed to test things like reasonable giving levels, whither megathreads, colors of background, interest in serving on a working group, preferences on potential feature implementation, etc. That's down the road. That stuff is a hell of a lot less important than strategy. And it's a lot more cut and dried type of surveying to do.

None of this is mysterious or impossible. A lot, a lot of organizations have done this. The main obstacles to getting on a firmer foundation are lack of familiarization and lack of will. But if the will for MeFi to survive does exist, it's all doable. As someone pointed out above, though, it's work. It means all the people saying "I'd like to help!" would actually have to step up, volunteer for positions, dial in to meetings, read documents, take responsibility for areas, etc. COmmunity management is just that - more work on the community to manage. I think MeFi's pretty much eager enough to do that, but we'd need that board, especially, to have pretty strong commitment and focus particularly in the formative few years. You can do all this but not without shared leadership. Anyway, that's a pretty full template for a road map.
posted by Miko at 7:41 AM on July 13 [143 favorites]




To step back from specifics (even though I was plenty guilty myself!), in terms of “why don’t people sign up?”, the biggest problem I see in a larger philosophical sense on both the parts of mods and the users is no presumption of good faith. If someone makes an FPP that doesn’t fit with the culture for any of a hundred obscure reasons, it’s deleted because it may cause problems. If someone makes a flippant remark or aren’t read up on the latest social justice theory, they get drive out of town for being a pro to-Nazi come to infiltrate the site. (And I do get the need to relieve the oppressed people from the emotional labor of educating clueless white guys). We can’t do X and Y because there might be marketers or campaign shills or spammers coming to get us. We can’t do this or that because people might abuse it.

For example, there’s a really interesting article over on Slate right now about the research on trigger warnings and their effectiveness but i’d Never share it here because it would make people so angry or get me side eye because I obviously must have a larger agenda rather than sharing an interesting article on research in a field of social science that’s relevant to a lot of people here.

Which is, I think, a result of a site culture where everyone on all sides is hurt and angry and ready to pounce. And there’s a lot of good reason to be hurt and angry and ready to pounce. But if you’re wanting to get new people in, this place needs to not feel like a cocked gun waiting to go off at the first opportunity.

But again, to circle back to my first post in this thread, that’s a decision about what the site wants to be. Does it want to be a heavily leftist/liberal/social justice space where you need to do your reading before participating? Great, but that’s also going to lose people and be a much smaller site than a general chatty linksharing site. (And going that route may alienate the hardcore progressives that want this to be a safer and inclusive space and lose some members).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:54 AM on July 13 [26 favorites]


Okay, stop. You should read what you wrote. You’re dangerously close to saying “PoC should leave if they don’t like it”. I’m going to assume that you are not saying that.

Thanks - people wouldn't have to assume the worst, if they "read the thread".

Especially my comments where I mentioned that I have PoC children - and a partner (and an ex-partner), and inlaws. So, I am fairly certain that I am not a bigot/racist/fascist - nor am I now, or ever have been at risk of becoming one. What do you think happens when a mixed PoC family encounters racists/bigots/fascists in the wild? Do you think the white person "gets a free pass"? Or doesn't actually experience the (micro)aggression, racism and bigotry directly?

(BTW, I was questioned earlier here if I had read OutrageFilter and the PoC threads - I have, it took days, it was worth it, it was eye-opening to see how PoC feel this community does not include them, and I hope things can turn around)

Next - I am sick of people escalating intentions - "You’re dangerously close to saying “PoC should leave if they don’t like it”.

I said - "if a comment thread involves too much emotional labour, then don't participate" - that doesn't mean leave the site. It means perhaps take a break from that discussion, let someone else "carry the load".

When I talk about my journey of understanding at MetaFilter - it had nothing to do with saving me from becoming a bigot/racist/fascist - there are more issues than that - inclusiveness covers more than PoC issues, right?

Personally, it was participating in comment threads on MetaFilter that helped me understand emotional labour, gender dynamics in relationships, issues of patriarchy/misogyny and gain more empathy.
posted by jkaczor at 8:06 AM on July 13 [12 favorites]


grotesquely uncharitable reading

Yeah - well, it was also grotesquely uncharitable to equate myself and another poster with Nazi's and Proud Boys.
posted by jkaczor at 8:09 AM on July 13 [7 favorites]


it was also grotesquely uncharitable to equate myself and another poster with Nazi's and Proud Boys.

You continue to misrepresent what this was about, as has already been pointed out. And having POC children in no way guarantees that one is free from bias, and, sorry, Metafilter, your POC kid/spouse/friend is not your "get out of saying something problematic" card.

This. This is why metafilter is exhausting, why I don't recruit anyone to join it, and, why, when I want fun tv reading, I'm spending time at Primetimer rather than Fanfare because Primetimer offers simply organized ways of discussing all kinds of current tv in a way that Fanfare can't seem to keep going in any way.
posted by TwoStride at 8:16 AM on July 13 [40 favorites]


I'm still in the same situation as last time so I'll have to keep my contribution the same. I love this place, just as I did when I first really got it and had my brother pay my $5 to sign up and make comments (sometimes reading the first page on my comment history has an irresistibly awful fascination). I confess that I'm not quite as a constant a refresher (the tab is always open) but I always check in. I go through phases with my commenting - I'm currently mostly in fallow mode.

I agree with the SEO suggestion. Comes a time. Definitely something worth exploring.

It's painful to see so much negative venting but hey, this is the venue for it so I guess I'll add my mite. I absolutely love the fact that people are paid to look after this place and I'd like to continue funding that. I'm not from the USA so yeah, sometimes it feels a little in-house and I blame this place for my unhealthy interest in US politics and all the attendant fucking drama, but then it's all the same shit in a different location because Australia is just shitting the bed all over the place and we're plagued with backlash and Rupert Murdoch tightening the leash more and more on any hope of progressive policies in the near future so I'm feeling the same pain, you guys.

It does often feel like people don't give others the benefit of the doubt anywhere near as much as is necessary for there not to be a feeling of tension. As a community we really need to work on that. It doesn't mean that we have to put up with nonsense, I just think we should try not immediately assuming that other people are uncaring arseholes. That's up to us, the mods are herding cats if we don't keep a lid on being arseholes ourselves in response. It's a fine line, I guess.

Anyway, I hate any idea of this place failing and I'm all in favour of promotion and lowering the bars to access whilst still maintaining the ideal of progressiveness and inclusivity. Monetising that whilst still remaining Metafilter is the challenge, I guess.
posted by h00py at 8:23 AM on July 13 [10 favorites]


1. Shut the site down for a defined period. In this case I would recommend a month.
2. Take a week off for just rest.

3. On return, convene a planning process - likely a virtual retreat - inviting no more than 8 key advisory people, at least half from the site, but at least 2-3 from outside.
4. The purpose of the virtual retreat will be to determine the form of governance going forward, and to form a strategic plan. This is a high-level plan containing no more than 3-5 goals that will see MeFi through the coming critical years, I would say it should be no more than a 5-year plan at this point focused on transitioning the org's governance and achieving fiscal sustainability. What I say next talks about transitioning to an NFP. If this retreat group makes the choice to stay a business, that takes a different pathway so I'm not going to talk about that. I'll stay with the area I know best and lay out how it would move forward as an NFP.


nthing this. Take a 20th anniversary vacation.
posted by Mrs Potato at 8:24 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


And having POC children in no way guarantees that one is free from bias, and, sorry, Metafilter, your POC kid/spouse/friend is not your "get out of saying something problematic" card.

So - to post here, no one can not have any form of bias, and there is no hope of changing or growth based on participation in threads?

Good luck with growing the userbase and keeping the place going, people are right, the place isn’t inclusive or welcoming, it’s exhausting for everyone.
posted by jkaczor at 8:31 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


Especially my comments where I mentioned that I have PoC children - and a partner (and an ex-partner), and inlaws. So, I am fairly certain that I am not a bigot/racist/fascist - nor am I now, or ever have been at risk of becoming one.

jkaczor, I am an Asian American who has been in longterm relationships with white Americans and this comment sets off prickly uncomfortable feelings for me. But given how this thread is going, I am not sure how to explain or whether I want to even try to explain. I am not sure I want to expose this vulnerability on such a public website, either. I'm questioning even posting this much about me. And I have things to do and places to be, and the cat really wants breakfast.

To step back - how would you want this conversation to play out? Or would you not want this conversation to play out at all - you say your piece, that's the last word, I'm the one who sits with my uncomfortable feelings left unstated, and the conversation moves on?
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 8:33 AM on July 13 [30 favorites]


Especially my comments where I mentioned that I have PoC children - and a partner (and an ex-partner), and inlaws. So, I am fairly certain that I am not a bigot/racist/fascist

This is a fundamentally flawed statement of how white supremacy culture works in our world, and in case that reflects a fundamentally flawed understanding rather than a poor choice of words, I'd encourage you to read up on it (SURJ has some really great starter resources). I bet you'd find it gives you even more tools to add to all the support and love you already give the PoC in your family.

I'm mostly here though to cosign pretty much all of what Miko said re structure. cortex thinks the best move is for the site to be fully community funded. Ok, fine, maybe that's the right move. But as long as you keep treating this as "I need you to give us more money, and that will give me the space to keep solving the problems" then you are sending a clear message that MeFi is a moderator-owned service provider. If you really believe the community is the more important aspect, then you should really interrogate why all the solutions you pursue start from that other place, and to start really thinking about what a user-owned (not just funded) site would look like.
posted by solotoro at 8:34 AM on July 13 [38 favorites]


Especially my comments where I mentioned that I have PoC children - and a partner (and an ex-partner), and inlaws. So, I am fairly certain that I am not a bigot/racist/fascist - nor am I now, or ever have been at risk of becoming one.

I mean, that's not at all how bigotry/racism/fascism works. Tons of people with POC children, partners and inlaws are bigots, racists, and fascists. I'm not saying you're definitely a bigot or a racist or a fascist, but "having POC children, partners and inlaws" isn't enough to definitely make sure you're not a bigot or a racist.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:37 AM on July 13 [19 favorites]


Miko:

Strategic Plan
First, let's distinguish between strategy and tactics. About 85% of what's being suggested in this thread is tactical. The color of the background, the Wiki, the signup page, advertising, social media, etc. - all tactics. Beginning with tactics is a huge mistake. The first step is creating a clear definition of where the site needs to go. There is plenty here on which to base the strategic plan, the issues are clear, so it's really down to wordsmithing and prioritization. There should be no more than 3-5 goals because any more than that means one or two will be sacrificed as a priority. Once the direction is clear, you select some tactics that are likelier to move in that direction, and table the others. Getting dragged into the weeds of a tactical discussion at this stage is a recipe for recreating the mess.

I feel that this point cannot be amplified enough.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:38 AM on July 13 [26 favorites]


how would you want this conversation to play out?

Good question - apparently I am now a bigot/racist/fascist.

This comes as some surprise to me, but hey - thanks for including me in the discussion here, I have much to think about.
posted by jkaczor at 8:41 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


I love miko's thinking and going non-profit could be a great thing. It would definitely change my thinking vis-a-vis donating. At the same time, I think that increasing revenue/users is the urgent need and I think there are other options for doing that, so I would only prioritize changing to non-profit if that seemed like the best way based on at least some research/evaluation of options.

I don't think we know the viability of different options, but there could be some research in parallel on them: identifying grant funding opportunities that might be available with a status change to nonprofit, testing a week of free signups to estimate how that would change user growth, doing an analysis of advertising options to see if anything has the potential to make a significant difference. There might be people with expertise who could help with this. I think having a strategic plan is 100% necessary, but I think it would be much more effective if there was some data to make decisions.

I do think that shutting the site down for a month seems like a really bad idea and I could imagine that being the nudge that gets a lot of people to find alternate places to go. It is also not obvious to me that the moderation staff are the right people to do strategic planning for the business. This is not a dis to the mods, but the two things are entirely different, so I think it would basically just be chance if a mod happened to have skills at both.
posted by snofoam at 8:42 AM on July 13 [9 favorites]


jkaczor said: Good question - apparently I am now a bigot/racist/fascist.

Literally-literally nobody called you any of those words.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:44 AM on July 13 [29 favorites]


Literally-literally nobody called you any of those words.

So this is a thing as a sure we have to figure out how we handle, and I think cortex could stand to be clearer about how we handle.

"Being a racist" and "saying a bigoted thing" are not synonymous.

I think this is another why where USA culture colors the site so much: we tend to assume that the only people who say racist things are horrible racist people. We also assume that if a person is a "good person" they will not say racist things.

Obviously these two things are not true, but they lead to huge amounts of white fragility.

Do mods need to say "you are not a racist but that was a racist thing you said" so as to not cause people to assume they're being called a racist?
posted by thegears at 8:53 AM on July 13 [21 favorites]


apparently I am now a ...racist

white person, here: this is racism 101 stuff. If you are a white person living in the United States, you have been socialized since you were a kid to have racist beliefs, conscious or not. You having family members of color doesn't enter into it. Racism, in this context, isn't something you do--it's a structure we're all a part of.
posted by salt grass at 8:55 AM on July 13 [49 favorites]


I just can't even. In the most charitable, generous, gentle way I can possibly say this: jkaczor and Cadecus...just...step back a minute, realize that no one is saying YOU PERSONALLY are a bigot or a racist or a terrible horrible monster of a person. It's okay if people talk in generalizations; if those things don't apply to you, they don't apply to you and you don't have to defend yourself. You really, really don't.

I'm going to amplify what sallybrown said above, because as an anxious, people-pleasing person, this was something I had to learn, and it's definitely worth repeating:

This is a discussion site. It’s not helpful to be afraid of making mistakes when the purpose of a site is conversation. It’s ok to make a mistake, it’s ok for another user to point out a mistake you made, it’s ok to learn from the mistake, or feel like it was an unfair characterization, or reject it, or agree to disagree. Sometimes you’re going to make a post or a comment that turns out to be bad or idiotic or hurtful even if you aren’t intending it. That shouldn’t make you feel like now you’re ruined forever or everyone hates you. That’s life.
posted by cooker girl at 8:55 AM on July 13 [31 favorites]


Can we please not turn yet another MetaTalk thread into assuaging white people's feelings about how they're not that bad?

Please?

Just one?
posted by Etrigan at 8:59 AM on July 13 [62 favorites]


Please let's back up to general points.

Trying to be more inclusive isn't a binary choice between PoC-specific needs and "everybody" needs. It's both.

We need to be able to do both. We need to improve things for PoC, so people feel comfortable staying and inviting new friends here, and at the same time make it so people are extending benefit of the doubt, so there's less uncharitable reading, less likelihood of getting jumped on for not quite saying something right, again so a wide range of people feel comfortable staying and inviting friends.

We can't conceive of these as opposed, they have to go hand-in-hand.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:01 AM on July 13 [28 favorites]


Well, we don't have to. Flag it and move on, as they say.
posted by h00py at 9:01 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


A temporary shutdown seems unwise to me. It seems guaranteed to increase attrition and to get Metafilter out of the the routine of regular users.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:05 AM on July 13 [25 favorites]


it’s exhausting for everyone.

If only these four words could somehow magically float into view whenever someone/anyone from any side of any political/social/cultural divide finds themselves reaching a point of what the Brits so eloquently call "the red mist"

Speaking of which ...

Which is, I think, a result of a site culture where everyone on all sides is hurt and angry and ready to pounce. And there’s a lot of good reason to be hurt and angry and ready to pounce. But if you’re wanting to get new people in, this place needs to not feel like a cocked gun waiting to go off at the first opportunity.

Here's a perhaps rash and probably impossible suggestion. Why not just put a temporary ban on all "controversial topics", certainly to the front page? And police it hard from a moderation perspective. This would, of course, mean the temporary end of the mega-threads, and pretty much all of what we used to call outrage-filter. And it would, on the short term, probably feel like a massive amount of air had gone from the proverbial sails that move this place.

But maybe what would happen as more and more friendly, beautiful, abstract, weird, funny (trivial even) posts piled up is that we'd start to get reminded of what we do have in common. Obviously, we'd lose some users, perhaps many. But we'd also be tilting toward this place evolving into a zone where ... ?

Well, I don't know where it would lead. I've already said my bit about how I feel politics isn't so much The Problem with not just Metafilter but so much of the culture, but that the belief that politics might somehow be the solution is a huge part of the problem. That's a fallacy. Politics almost never leads a culture, it fumbles stubbornly along in back like a truckload of lead.

So what is the solution? Well, I'm an artist-type, a cultural player who's been at it for all of my adult life. And what's at the heart of all great art? I'd say communication of the sort of essential human stuff that there aren't really agreed upon words or concepts for, the opposite of politics, I suppose -- mystery and wonder and great eruptions of astonishing and beautiful confusion.

Whatever it is, I'd love to see it all that rise up and become the collective heart of this place. Which it may already be. Problem is, the collective "brain" of this place has been ignoring it, overriding it, resenting it ... and the evidence is so all encompassing, it's hard to even see.

TLDR: I think it's all in a Rascals song from 1968 -- People Got To Be Free
posted by philip-random at 9:27 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


I like the idea of a temporary shutdown, but not for a month.

Maybe a week. Or a couple of weekends. Set the site to read only, stick a banner at the top “metafilter is on a break! Come back on ‘x’” Mods get some time off, cortex gets some time to breathe, frimble gets some time to make some changes.
posted by disclaimer at 9:29 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Why not just put a temporary ban on all "controversial topics", certainly to the front page?

See, the thing is that some people's lives experiences are "controversial". Should trans people not be able to post about trans topics because some people wish they didn't exist?
posted by thegears at 9:32 AM on July 13 [45 favorites]


Right. What counts as controversial? Would an article about a marginalized artist where they talk about having faced prejudice be controversial because it mentions the existence of prejudice? I think what you're trying to get at is primarily to not talk about the shit going on in the White House/Congress but the problem with catch-all banning politics is well, a lot of people's lives are affected by politics just based on who they are. If we do have such a ban, it would probably be better to screen out "current events" rather than "politics."
posted by storytam at 9:35 AM on July 13 [18 favorites]


Mods get some time off, cortex gets some time to breathe, frimble gets some time to make some changes

in the background the sound of frimble weeping
posted by billiebee at 9:39 AM on July 13 [20 favorites]


Well I didn’t say they had to work the WHOLE week lol
posted by disclaimer at 9:47 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


If we do have such a ban, it would probably be better to screen out "current events" rather than "politics."

a better way of wording it than I managed. Thank you. And to be clear, I did say "temporary", and for what it's worth, I've come to use Metafilter as one of my main news sources, so it's not as if I wouldn't miss the current events stuff. But right now, it feels entirely possible that it's hurting the overall culture here more than helping it.
posted by philip-random at 9:55 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Length of shutdown is less important than enabling the planning process which - no matter what path - is entirely necessary and (for community funding under any governance scenario) cannot be only staff- driven. Let’s focus on need for planning. How long the shutdown is, or whether time and thinking space can be made for planning in some other way, is a practical choice. The need for a planning process is life or death. It is impossible to plan long term while swatting flies on an hourly basis.
posted by Miko at 10:02 AM on July 13 [11 favorites]


Man, I'll start dancing every time I hear that Rascals song, but seems to me / we gotta solve it individually is precisely the problem. The idea that controversy and politics are somehow things that we can neatly remove from our lives, and moreover that this impossible process will happen if we are all simply individually "nice" to one another, is an unfortunate lie propagated by those with power.

I'm not really sure if we are even using the same definition of politics. Politics will be part of the solution because everything is political! All the choices that we make and all the things that we do are political choices, both on an individual level and a social level. Politics are simply about governing relations, especially as that governance relates to power dynamics. All communication is politics, because all communication is mediated by relations that are governed by norms, rules, language, etc. So if communications is at the heart of this, politics is also necessarily at the heart of this.

I also think that the mods need a retreat, and I think a break is necessary. Anything longer than a week seems like it will result in a lot of attrition, but I don't really have any reason for thinking this other than my gut. I feel like taking off a few different weekends and maybe one full week would work better than shutting down for an entire month in one go.
posted by sockermom at 10:04 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Politics will be part of the solution because everything is political!

everything?

I do agree with pretty much everything else you say. And even if yeah, everything is ultimately political, there's still the problem that politics is so often dragging in the rear view, way behind where the culture is actually going, so to fix focus on it is not unlike being depressed where you give way too much weight to the negatives your thoughts are presenting to you, letting them blind you to what's really going on.




we gotta solve it individually is precisely the problem

unless you interpret it as each of us having our own uniquely problematic filters through which we view the world. Everybody's racist, I keep hearing. Yeah, I guess, but in varying degrees, in all kinds of different ways

posted by philip-random at 10:15 AM on July 13


no one can not have any form of bias

Yes, nobody is completely unbiased. Everyone's biased. We swim in cultures that hammer biases into us. Not being biased is a lifelong process that requires a lot of education and introspection. Yes, you have biases. I have biases. Everyone in this thread has biases. It's shitty for the people we're biased against. It also doesn't mean you're automatically a horrible, irredeemable person. It just means you've got shit to work on. It's part of being human. We just have to acknowledge biases when they're pointed out, listen, and do better.
posted by schroedinger at 10:17 AM on July 13 [12 favorites]


Wow, I'm just awed by Miko's summary. It really does seem like NFP makes a lot of sense. We are the product, and Google isn't buying anymore--we're left selling ourselves to ourselves.

I'd vote for Miko for board president.

I once almost had the opportunity to buy a book publishing company. I would've been in over my head and destroyed the thing, though it would've been a labor of love. Cortex, you grabbed the opportunity to take over (and "save") a thing you love, but you need help. The MetaFilter you love is not a thing you can own, and if you can turn over stewardship to the community in order to keep it going long-term, your leadership will have led to something great!
posted by rikschell at 10:25 AM on July 13 [21 favorites]


I do appreciate Miko being the adult in the room. Your experience & ability to articulate an outline of a plan of action in the most useful contribution to this thread.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:35 AM on July 13 [20 favorites]


Not sure if people are still reading at the end of this long thread, but:

It's not just that people are leaving. It's that people who are still here are posting and commenting less. Fewer words on the site means the site is smaller, there's less to see, we offer less to potential new members.

Since I've been here a long time, and over the course of time have posted and commented a lot, and since and I post and comment a lot less than I used to, I feel like I should have some insight into why this is. But I really don't. I still read MetaFilter every day. I read the long threads about the future of the site all the way through. But I just don't post or comment that much. Why?

I'm pretty sure:

It's not because of the megathreads (I don't like them, but I never look at them and they've ceased to be a part of my experience of the Blue now that I've trained myself to recognize them and not click.)

It's not because the site is too "woke"

It's not because the site isn't "woke" enough

It's not because the mods delete too many comments or posts (I occasionally get one deleted, and each time it's happened, I can grasp the reason why)

I do think, some part of it is because of social media: I started on Twitter in 2013 and that provides a much more low-effort way to scratch the itch of "this thing on the web is cool and I would like to show it to people," which used to be something I could only do on MetaFilter.

And yet I'm not sure I would welcome a MetaFilter where posting was lower effort and looked more like Twitter.

I wish I knew what I could tell cortex to do that would make me inclined to post once a month like I used to. But I don't know!
posted by escabeche at 10:35 AM on July 13 [21 favorites]


1) What impact if any would a shutdown have on revenue? Would that mean staff would see a reduction in pay, however temporarily?

2) Presumably reoccurring donors are already mostly active users, people familiar with the site and its present situation. The little ticker at the bottom's gone up by about 50ish people (For whatever that's worth) since this MeTa and maybe 30ish people have mentioned upping their donations in this thread. There has to be a ceiling on donors, and the argument can be made that this is existentialest of MetaFilter's existential crises. Where does the donor pool top out? Would adopting a non-profit model flip enough non-donor users in sufficient numbers to make that change worthwhile? Is there a way to gauge its potential benefits? Has management ever explicitly said that's an option on the table?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:42 AM on July 13


More random ideas to toss on the heaping pile of suggestions:

There's been talk about catering to millenials, but what about an older demographic? Are there site design and outreach that could increase the number of older users we have?

In addition to advertising or cross-linking with Polygon, Atlas Obscura is another like-minded site, and I'm sure other members could name a dozen or two more sites with similar ethos, who might be willing to cross-link, or we could send articles to re-post.

On the topic of volunteers, there seems to be a range of types, from people who would duplicate work of currently paid staff (volunteer moderators, coding) and work that is often paid (legal support, SEO experts, business management), and work that could be paid or unpaid (drafting community standards, social media outreach). I'm not a lawyer and I don't have experience with formally managing volunteers, but I imagine the latter would be less problematic from legal and business standpoints, and could benefit the site in the near-term, with less oversight. I think both could be done once general structure and expectations are agreed upon, and then the volunteers could go at it.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:45 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


To me the most incredible thing about Mefi is that it's humbling. It's humbling to read the front page and realize how many things are posted, seemingly every day, that I knew very little about. It's humbling to go deep into a post, even one I know something about, and realize that I'm nowhere near the "smartest person in the room". It's humbling to have one's worldview challenged by the thoughtful labor of other members of the community; and it's humbling to realize how much more there is to learn.

I want to thank you all for this place. I am grateful to learn and be humbled. I am grateful for a refuge from the outer world, even when that refuge becomes embroiled, as the megathreads do, in the tensions of that world; even when that refuge tells me that, for a time, I need to stop and listen only, as in the PoC threads; even when that refuge struggles with its own identity and direction, as in this current thread.

I know what I love about MeFi. I love the deep dives, the comments and links. I have loved the megathreads, but have not read them in a long long time because even though they can be a wonderful source for information, they are a depressing and do suck the life out of, well, lots fo things. I love that this community has helped me to be a better ally to marginalized people, and continues to inspire me to work harder at it. I love that AskMe offers me a place where i really can be the expert from time to time.

I know that MeFi can never be all things to all people, but each of us comes here because it is something of value in some way. I sincerely hope that we can say the same for another 20 years.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:51 AM on July 13 [19 favorites]


Tactical suggestion, noting for the record:

Metafilter's code base would benefit from being open-sourced, with a github (or similar) repository that our many developer members could issue pull requests against. This would also enable long-term planning for the codebase itself. So there could be large projects (transitioning from an ancient operating system, say, or writing an Android app) to small ones (fixing the lack of favicons on some subsites, say).

You'd be able to easily tap the big pool of help that is potentially available, and use the wiki there to talk code philosophy, norms, etc., etc. Having a place to lodge bugs or feature requests would be nice, too.

If Miko's excellent suggestion of turning this place into a 501(c)3 non-profit was followed, there would be a metafilter CTO, and that person ultimately would make calls about merging pulls, but there could also be a technical advisory committee to make sure accessibility, diversity, future-proofing, etc was being thought of as well.
posted by maxwelton at 10:52 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


Cortex on non-profit.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:05 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


There were something like 45 posts on the blue yesterday. They averaged ~13 comments each, max 64. In total, that's well less than the 600+ comments in just this one thread. Maybe that's exactly the MeFi you want. Quiet. Clubby. Everyone has done the work (really?). No problematic comments at all (I wouldn't bet on it). And dying.

LNM - and many others - have effectively laid out exactly how to lower the barriers so that more people would want to participate - and why. Miko has donated what is effectively thousands of dollar worth of free consulting labor laying out a comprehensive game plan.

There is no sustainable solution here without growth, and there is no growth without the hassle of people new and old saying or doing stuff you might not like. I'm not saying let's become 4chan. I'm saying we've done the experiment. The current approaches by both mods and users in response to people saying or doing stuff they don't like simply has not and will not result in a thriving community.

The bad news is there's been a lot of hard work put in to build a structure that neither fully achieves its goals nor supports its own weight. The sooner we accept that the current site norms and unspoken rules and userbase behavior are actively contributing to the site dying, the sooner we can move on to something better. At a minimum, maybe it can get to the supporting its own weight bit. The alternative is MeFi's gravestone reading something like "MeFi: when keeping it real goes wrong." I don't know, maybe sticking to one's guns until the end is the goal.

What's most alarming is the apparent complete lack of willingness to prioritize growth. For example:

1) We can talk about growing the userbase but we're not gonna talk about filling it up with bad actors just to get numbers up.

2) Several of the upcoming Metatalks we're planning have to do with this stuff, resetting a bit to think about new members -- big picture, how we can make this a place where you could refer a friend, expecting that person will be able to understand what we have to offer, join and participate and understand the norms and have a good experience.

There are multiple examples of people who've been on the site for years saying they don't even know how to participate any more. New users don't have a hope in hell of figuring this place out in the current state. And it's not a doc bug. A clearer wiki to describe the norms doesn't solve this. Your userbase and lack of userbase is telling you that the norms themselves are wrong - but you're not hearing it.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:20 AM on July 13 [37 favorites]


...resetting a bit to think about new members -- big picture, how we can make this a place....

Right, I'm talking about resetting norms.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:28 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


NoRelationToLea said:There were something like 45 posts on the blue yesterday. They averaged ~13 comments each, max 64. In total, that's well less than the 600+ comments in just this one thread. Maybe that's exactly the MeFi you want. Quiet. Clubby.

I mean, are those averages low compared to the number of comments made in the first day for a post made in mid-July? (Anyone want to crunch that number?) And then I guess a related follow-up would be- what average number of comments made on the first day for a post made in mid-July* would suggest that Metafilter had enough users to support itself financially?

*Or whichever month
posted by 23skidoo at 11:38 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Would it be possible for frimble to set up a survey mechanism on MetaFilter? Regular CMSes have modules for that, but what about Metafilter? How many people would recommend (or have recommended etc.) Metafilter to their friends? What are the top 5 qualities/strengths of Metafilter? What are its top 5 weaknesses? We really lack hard data on many of the things discussed here. We don't even have basic demographics! The debate about the political megathreads shows the importance of data: people here say that hate them, for good reasons, but the figures for 2018 paint a different picture, with 25% of active users participating in them. Hating is not in direct contradiction to Participating, but, if I were a business person, I'd be wary of getting rid of one unique feature driving such a high level of engagement.

But the infodump only goes so far. Threads such as this one are informative but they are are dominated by people with strong opinions, well-trained in public debating, which makes participation stressful for those with more nuanced views, less debating experience, and a lesser mastery of the Metafilter dialect of English. Metafilter, as whole, is driven by a subset of high volume participants: 3-4% of active members (yearly basis; less than 240 members currently, 370 at peak Mefi in 2011) make 50% of the comments, and that percentage has been stable (give or take 0.5%) for the past 15 years. We know very little about the rest of the members are what they actually think, except that they've been steadily leaving the site - voting with ther feet indeed - since 2011.
posted by elgilito at 11:44 AM on July 13 [14 favorites]


are those averages low compared to the number of comments made in the first day for a post made in mid-July?

I don't think you need to compre the numbers to anything to agree that they are extremely low numbers for a site with a monthly burn rate of $33k.
posted by Soi-hah at 11:46 AM on July 13 [13 favorites]


I really don't want to push that the high number of posts with a low number of comments on the blue is a bad thing, especially with other people saying that yesterday's post explosion made folks excited about Metafilter (and maybe coming back to metafilter) for the first time in a while.

The comments from a lot of members is that the site seemed insular, aggravating, too serious, too intimidating. Encouraging people to share content that's weird or different and new (even if people don't have much to say about it, just think that it's neat) seems like a good first step to making metafilter a place where people want to be.

(I also don't take comments or even favorites as a good test of who is reading - there are plenty of posts where I'll read the links, read the comments, and not favorite or leave my own comment because I didn't know anything about the topic and have nothing to say)
posted by dinty_moore at 11:51 AM on July 13 [11 favorites]


Just to note, modern CMSs are comparatively "easy" mostly because they focus on excellent defaults and easy theming. If your needs are very specific, niche, or otherwise not covered by existing themes and plugins, you're quickly in a place where it's unlikely that you'll see many gains by converting a legacy code base.

Metafilter is not a simple blog. WordPress, Ghost, and etc would be woefully inadequate. You'd need something like Drupal, which is itself pretty warty, or more likely you'd wind up rolling your own in Django, Rails, or whatever.

Cold Fusion is old, but that doesn't make it imperative to move to something else. Without knowing much about the Metafilter codebase, granted, I would be very surprised if trying to reinvent it would be anything but a straight loss in usability and productivity. Not to mention it would take multiple years of engineering effort.
posted by thoroughburro at 11:52 AM on July 13 [12 favorites]


Yes. We've looked before at the idea of migrating the code base before, and never found a good argument to move on it, because the site is conceptually simple (I mean, it's just posts and comments and some CSS, really, right?) and also enormously complex at a detail level.

Kicking up a forum or CMS install to do basically the core kinds of things MeFi does in terms of posting and commenting wouldn't be a lot of work. People have done just that a number of times over the years for experimental spinoff sites. In some contrived apocalypse scenario where somehow this particular site's data and code got wiped out in a flood, I figure that's probably something a lot of folks here would in fact do.

But actually moving MeFi as the complicated, featureful, idiosyncratic beast of a software project that it is to a different framework, or rebuilding it from scratch in a new one, would be a huge undertaking. There are so many little details, so many subtle parts of the user tools we've built in over the years.

It's a thing worth considering, for sure, and a more blase existential crisis of code like CF support going away entirely could motivate looking hard at it again. But it's a thing worth considering that we've actively looked at and considered in the past and found it didn't make sense to move on.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:08 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


elgilito: threads such as this one are informative but they are are dominated by people with strong opinions, well-trained in public debating, which makes participation stressful for those with more nuanced views, less debating experience, and a lesser mastery of the Metafilter dialect of English.

That's part of why I faded here. The site sometimes can feel like an advanced experience, where everyone is smarter and better educated and knows each other and has more time to spend here, and all I can think to say is, "so, you like.. stuff?"

User X has a hair trigger temper about Issue Y and User Z and User A have never got along while User B has a professional background in this fascinating topic you thought you knew about until they started posting and -- yep, I'm the dumbest one in the room, I'm gonna go chill on Twitter where the stakes are lower and I know the people.

It's not always like that. But a good chunk of the time, it is.

I can see how that would be super intimidating to newcomers, to the point where they'd rather not engage. It was when I was one.

I have no idea if this is a me problem or a site culture problem, and if it's the latter where to begin to address it. I'm just throwing this out as a data point.
posted by cmyk at 12:24 PM on July 13 [34 favorites]


Yes. We've looked before at the idea of migrating the code base before, and never found a good argument to move on it, because the site is conceptually simple (I mean, it's just posts and comments and some CSS, really, right?) and also enormously complex at a detail level.

Again, as someone who's dealt with years-long migration projects and million-plus page sites, this is exactly the problem some people around here seem to be missing. Things of the scale and magnitude of moving MetaFilter to an entirely new codebase is not a "frimble does it in a month and we're done hooray" sort of thing. Everything about MetaFilter is organic and bespoke; it was mostly built before the rise of modular, dependency-heavy codebases.

I mean, I'm literally watching a project I've been trying to shepherd from design to delivered feature since last fall release weeks late with less than the expected functionality because of how many engineers thought "oh, this must be easy." I pushed the teams to take a pessimistic view -- underpromise, overdeliver -- on dates and payloads, and even with those we still missed... because no one thought to ask if it was truly as easy as they thought it was.

I'll extend that as well to converting from LLC to NFP/501c3. It's not "easy." It's not a panacea. It requires massive cultural and organizational changes. And there's a good chance the promises you think it'll provide will never come to fruition simply because people never took the time to ask if this is truly as easy (or right) as they thought it would.

None. Of. This. Is. Easy. "It has to be easy" has been a constant bugaboo in my design career because it never, ever is, certainly not at the scale MeFi is at. One weird trick won't make anything better, one weird trick won't magically double the size of the MeFi staff to be everything to everyone. Scale is a beast, whether it's design, codebase, or users. I've seen people with the best degrees from the best schools get humbled by that lesson.
posted by dw at 12:31 PM on July 13 [13 favorites]


My vote is site thing. I mean, I've been here for 9 years and then another 2 before that under another name and I still consider myself a newcomer. Still feel like I'm having one conversation and other people are having one that has decades long meanings. Still don't know why we don't do certain topics. Still don't know why some users seem to be favourites and some not. Still don't get this quindoc thing???? The voting guy. Like I still find the cabal jokes off putting. Metafilter saved my life and I love it a lot but it is very insular and unaware of itself.
posted by kanata at 12:32 PM on July 13 [28 favorites]


firstly, Miko has patiently said the same thing over and over again for years. I think her comment has a lot of good advice. I hope some action can be taken based on her advice.

on the topic of volunteers / volunteer mods: wasn't vacapinta a "volunteer mod" that was unpaid? (I was looking at previous MeTas and that seems to be how he was often characterized in those threads.) If he was, doesn't this mean (among other things) that Metafilter does have some history and precedence of using volunteer mod labor?

(I believe this took place starting mid-2008, when Metafilter had already been incorporated for years and other mods were drawing fulltime salaries alongside vacapinta who was considered a sort of part-time "volunteer" unpaid mod.)
Not sure if I have all this completely correct or understand this - would appreciate some clarification on this.

some mentions of the volunteer mod role here, here, here, and here.
posted by aielen at 12:45 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


I’ve lurked here since the early days, but only registered as a user a couple of years ago. This site provides a valuable service not just to me, but to the world as a whole. As of today, I help fund Metafilter.
posted by notoriety public at 1:05 PM on July 13 [9 favorites]


You'd have to ask Matt about any pre-2015 arrangements with vacapinta; prior to that Matt was with very few exceptions the only one on the MetaFilter team who knew what was happening with any money stuff, to say nothing of the community at large. My opinions about that are a whole other discussion.

But every time since I've had responsibility for scheduling and I've worked with vacapinta to fill in a shift, it's been intentionally a stripped down, bare-minimum thing where I don't expect him to do most of the things moderation involves. He watches the flag queue for disaster comments and nixes them. He very occasionally leaves a note. He doesn't monitor or answer the contact form, wrangle MetaTalk, read up on ongoing mod concerns. He just keeps a very basic eye out so we don't wake up to an eight-hour-long shitstorm on a night when both taz and gnfti aren't available. He also has no regular schedule and no obligation to show up when called.

I've never been totally comfortable not tossing him a stipend for it, but I'm also not going to wrestle him for it and he has always insisted to me on just doing it to do it. But it's also not something that would scale to more than literally the once or twice a year "hey, can you keep an eye on flags tonight?" scenarios where it actually happens, or one where he was being asked to do substantially what the on-staff mod team is paid to do.

I feel like there is a kind of binary that has come out of some of the discussion here where folks have ended up looking at it through a frame where either (a) volunteering in any sense is legally impossible or (b) volunteering is basically entirely unproblematic. The truth is a messy space in between, and what sort of things are or are not a problem depends a lot on the details, on the scope of what's being done, on what's being paid for vs. not.

So I hear the call for volunteerism and I appreciate where it's coming from, and some of that stuff may be stuff we can run with without much worry. Some of it may be stuff we can run with after paying for additional legal consultation on the subject. Some of it may be just inherently problematic. It's a swamp of complicated stuff.

And that doesn't mean it isn't worth wading through to figure out what things we can say yes (or a qualified yes) to. I appreciate both the direct offers and the brainstorming, and we're trying to take it all under consideration. But it does mean it's far easier to declare with confidence that it's just a matter of choosing to say yes than it is to actually make that answer legal and ethical.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:08 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


One of the easiest and least expensive things we can do to make Metafilter a better, more sustainable place, is for us to post the best of the web instead of "news I want to argue about." It requires less modding and the cool, unusual stuff is why many people made accounts in the first place.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:54 PM on July 13 [22 favorites]


I say this as someone who always reads every comment on "news I want to argue about" but suspect it's not good for me.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:55 PM on July 13 [10 favorites]


Today someone posted an FPP about a funny deepfake video showing Keanu Reeves stopping a robbery. The first goddamn comment was about the US election. It took five minutes. You're not wrong but it's naive to think the problem is that simple.
posted by cribcage at 2:03 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


Oofa doofa. vacapinta was brought up in the "outragefilter" thread as a gotcha that, in fact, we have had a PoC mod. I was encouraged about that, and everyone was very apologetic for accidentally erasing him.

And it turns out that not only has he not had the full authority or responsibility of a mod, but is in fact the only one unpaid? That was probably worth mentioning when it was brought up as a deflection.
posted by thoroughburro at 2:05 PM on July 13 [17 favorites]


I totally understand the value of looking at monthly revenue vs monthly expenses. I was wondering if we could get approximate yearly revenue vs yearly expenses for 2018? Or maybe January 2019 to June 2019? A few people such as myself prefer yearly or one-off contributions. These one-off contributions are most likely not reflected in the monthly numbers. I feel these yearly numbers would look slightly better than the monthly. I could be wrong but it would be nice information to have (even if it takes a month or so to calculate the numbers).
posted by mundo at 2:09 PM on July 13


(And I appreciate that vacapinta is a volunteer, even despite cortex wanting to give him an honorarium, and I actually think that's great. But it's also definitely relevant when brought up as a defense against criticism of a lack of representation in the staff.)
posted by thoroughburro at 2:10 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Oofa doofa. vacapinta was brought up in the "outragefilter" thread as a gotcha that, in fact, we have had a PoC mod. I was encouraged about that, and everyone was very apologetic for accidentally erasing him.

And it turns out that not only has he not had the full authority or responsibility of a mod, but is in fact the only one unpaid? That was probably worth mentioning when it was brought up as a deflection.


are you fucking kidding me?

seriously, the way he was used as a fucking gotcha and then he had to post himself about how he was poc

how can there be good faith regarding racial shit when you have reveals like that?
posted by anem0ne at 2:13 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


As much as I thought the casual erasure of vacapinta's identity was shitty, none of the active mod team brought it up as a gotcha or dug in on it, and vacapinta himself responded at the time and talked about what he has done here.

He's not a gotcha, indeed, and I'm honestly pretty fucking uncomfortable that people are using him as a prop in another discussion now.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:14 PM on July 13 [24 favorites]


It wasn't a mod who used him as a gotcha, agreed, it was a user trying to claim that there was already plenty of diversity among the staff, including a PoC. It turns out that wasn't true. They are an unpaid volunteer, and not responsible for full moderation duties.

That's fine, but it was something that should have been made clear.
posted by thoroughburro at 2:25 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


He's not a gotcha, indeed, and I'm honestly pretty fucking uncomfortable that people are using him as a prop in another discussion now.

I'm also uncomfortable with this extended discussion potentially making him feel put on the spot (again). (Although, I think the two discussions (unpaid volunteer mods/volunteer labor, PoC unpaid volunteer labor) are related.)
cortex, I think this can be curtailed (and could have been avoided) if you could clarify once and for all the site's history with hiring/engaging labor (paid, unpaid) - and also specifically if you could clarify the site's history with hiring/engaging PoC labor (paid, unpaid). I think many people here are unclear on Metafilter's history and precedents regarding staffing/volunteers.

I know you inherited the site from Matt, and that previous hiring/volunteer engagement decisions up until 2015 were not your responsibility. I wish Matt could also fill us in on the details. I feel like knowing this is important for us as a community, and in order for us to move forward.
posted by aielen at 3:04 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Hi, I'm the one who mentioned vacapinta (obliquely) in the other thread. The extent of my knowledge of his role was that he was "the midnight mod wot mods at midnight" who came in to help watch US overnight hours part-time around the same time I joined, and some parts of his biography he talked about in a podcast interview from around that time. Beyond that, I wasn't privy to his role or pay status. I included him with the other mods based on the first question in the FAQ.

I talked about the background of the mods in that comment because the thread felt like it was pessimistically exaggerating the lack of diversity in the team, like they were all straight white American dudes incapable of change. I knew they *used* to be that monolithic back when I first found the site, but that subsequent hires were significantly more diverse along axes like gender identity and nationality. So I pointed out the improvements that had already happened for anybody who wasn't already familiar with them, both to correct any false impressions about it and to express my faith that they were capable of further improvement. Never said that the existing diversity was sufficient or "plenty" or that people thus had no right to complain -- explicitly said that we did need increased PoC representation, in fact -- and the characterization of it as a "fucking gotcha" or "deflection" is exactly the kind of assumption-of-bad-faith reading that people talked about upthread as feeling pretty alienating.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:04 PM on July 13 [11 favorites]


I really love the idea of splitting the blue into a few different sub sites including a PoliticsFilter, and also having the landing page no longer be the blue but rather top posts from all the sub sites. If this is relatively easy coding work, yay, do it. If it's months of work, maybe other things are a bigger priority.

I also am in favor of relaxing restrictions on chatfilter and threadsitting in AskMe, which I agree stifle participation and, imo, do not add value to the site but are just norms that have been legacied forward. This requires zero coding work and less mod activity, so... Not seeing a downside.

I still think that it is bad that the response to a catastrophic drop in Google rankings was to reach out to some engineers at Google, get non-answers, and then do nothing. It is clearly possible to do something about it-- if horrible sites like quora and pinterest can be ranked so high, so can metafilter. This should have been dealt with years ago, but it still should be dealt with now. Do a membership drive, give everyone 5 invites to give to friends, advertise on maximum fun, whatever, but at the end of the day, eventually this site needs to be back on Google or it's dead.

How does getting new members help if the site culture is so unwelcoming they leave? I don't know. I also don't know how to make the site culture welcoming. And it isn't. I've been here a few years and still mostly feel like an invisible newbie and I'm someone with a reasonable amount of confidence and I've done fpps and whatever, but I'm pretty confident I could disappear tomorrow and no one would notice...

And I also get the walking on eggshells feeling people have been describing. I try not to let it stop me from participating but, again, I'm a relatively high confidence person. Don't feel comfortable recommending this site to anyone I know, because it's too high a barrier to participation and too scary.

As for what I love about this site, well, it is full of wisdom. It feels more mature than a lot of the web. I joined because the advice on askme was deeper, thoughtful, more nuanced than anything else I found when googling around about a relationships issue I was struggling with.
posted by Cozybee at 3:06 PM on July 13 [17 favorites]


I'm a seldom-user of AskMe. But I do use it on occasion. And my work is such that have no access for most hours weekdays, but on weekends I'm around a lot. And at least twice, using my very rare AskMe, with a question that has involved a lot of people in the thread asking me for clarification or conversation about what I mean, I've been told to stop threadsitting. Even while I'm engaged in useful dialog.

I have absolutely zero cares about this because 1) I don't use AskMe much and 2) I've been trained to only post an AskMe before I go to work on a weekday and then to not respond much during my off hours even if others are asking me questions about my condition.

If that's the lessons I've been meant to learn about what it means to ask a question and hope for an answer that applies to me, then Success!
posted by hippybear at 3:11 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


"pessimistically exaggerating the lack of diversity"

If that's not an implicit dismissal of the complaints in that thread, what is?

Nobody was saying it's all straight, white men. The people in that thread are more familiar with Metafilter than that. They were complaining about the lack of that PoC representation among the mods. Marginalized people aren't interchangeable.
posted by thoroughburro at 3:12 PM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Yes. ChatFilter and PoliticsFilter. Yes to this.
posted by Fizz at 3:12 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


In fact, thinking about it, the apathy that I've been taught toward anything I'm given in AskMe has gotten to where I ask a question and I never mark anything best answer or favorited, and I never do the followup that I'm MeMailed about.

I've been here for a decade at this point.

I used to enjoy AskMe even when I didn't use it a lot. Now... It is something I only turn to as a form of questioning the peanut gallery, not as a resource for helping me solve my particular problem. Being accused of threadsitting while in conversation during the very few hours I am actually available to use MetaFilter at all...
posted by hippybear at 3:14 PM on July 13


I'm going to bow out. I need to make dinner, and I'm not sure of my footing here anyway. To me, it feels like an oversight not to have clarified vacapinta's involvement. That's all.
posted by thoroughburro at 3:15 PM on July 13


cortex, I think this can