Site finance snapshot, August 2019 August 19, 2019 9:49 AM   Subscribe

It's a little over a month since the State of the Site post where I talked about our current revenue shortfall, and as part of a goal of moving toward more regular financial updates I wanted to give a quick snapshot of where we are now.

Key numbers:

- Adsense has been up about $1K/mo the last several weeks from the low in May, but no ongoing upward trend
- recurring Paypal + Stripe are up about $2K/mo from where they were before last month's announcement
- Amazon, Carbon both basically steady where they were before
- Supporters also made several thousand dollars in one-time contributions since the announcement
- We're scaling back benefits compensation to reduce our monthly cost there by about $2K/mo

What that adds up to: we're not out of the woods, but we're closer to steady shape than we were at the start of July. $3K/mo in improved revenue has cut some of the gap immediately; reduced costs from the benefits will cut that by another $2K/mo when the new benefit year starts soon.

That leaves us still looking at ~$2K/mo short of the baseline minimum I talked about in the last post, which we need to continue to work to close, and which long-term I'd like us to move significantly past to start building up cash again. But it's a much less yawning gap and I really appreciate the significant role that renewed and new member contributions have played in that. Our burn rate is lower, so we have more time to work on this than we had, more time to try and build revenue instead of making further cuts. The additional one-time contributions have bought us extra time as well.

We'll have a scheduled financial update around October 15; I mentioned in the previous post aiming to do those quarterly, that'd be the first of those.

Community funding continues to be the most immediate path to helping close the funding gap; if you're able to help out with a new or increased recurring subscription, the funding page is here. Thank you, everyone who has been able and willing to help. We've added funding prompts to the front page of various subsites; we'll be doing more to highlight this need across the site in the near future.

There's a lot going on on the site, and a bunch of ongoing mod work on a bunch of non-revenue fronts as well. But I want to make this kind of snapshot easier to produce regularly and not be a big production, so I'm going to keep this post short and simple, and ask that folks keep whatever conversation is needed in here to just productive questions/suggestions about finance stuff and save other discussion for other threads. Thanks, everybody.
posted by cortex to MetaFilter-Related at 9:49 AM (232 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

A couple of Q's:
1. Did you make any site changes that prompted the increased adsense revenue? Or is it a random fluctuation?

2. The site made a really major change since the last finance update: we got rid of megathreads. How has overall site traffic changed since that decision was announced? Are pageviews up, down, or steady? What about number of active monthly members?

2b. Also, how do you feel that getting rid of the megathreads has affected the moderation load? Has it been a worthwhile shift in terms of making moderation more sustainable at current staffing levels?
posted by mai at 10:17 AM on August 19 [7 favorites]


"2b. Also, how do you feel that getting rid of the megathreads has affected the moderation load? Has it been a worthwhile shift in terms of making moderation more sustainable at current staffing levels?"

As a user I kind-of miss the megathreads, but as a mod? SO SO SO SO SO SO SO much more sustainable. We've been able to devote a lot of attention to a backlog of needed tasks and to forward-looking planning (all that to come in later posts, I don't want to start a derail!) and we just don't feel beaten down and discouraged at the end of every shift. I'm excited to start my shift again, which I hadn't been for a year -- it was so emotionally exhausting, and I was starting to approach shifts with a sense of dread because I knew how shitty I'd feel by the end of them. I'm honestly even sleeping better, especially on nights I have shifts. Other mods have expressed similar sentiments.

And while it hasn't all been sunshine and roses, we can give more focused and nuanced attention to other moderation-requiring fires on the site, and it feels like we've been able to nip problems in the bud earlier and handle problems a little more carefully. There's also been a noticeable decrease in users furious at each other and/or at our moderation, because a huge percentage of those came from the megathreads. People are still arguing in politics threads, but with them more focused, we're not getting these freewheeling political arguments about All The Things that seemed to end in mutual hatred; now people are more like "Well, we disagree about this and I don't want to talk about it any more" and moving on with their lives.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:34 AM on August 19 [78 favorites]


Oh and also I've read like four novels since the end of the megathreads, because I'm not reading 500 pages of political commentary a week or whatever it was when we did the math and left with no energy for outside reading. Yay books!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:37 AM on August 19 [65 favorites]


1. Random fluctuation as far as I can see. The Adsense graph is noisy enough day to day that it's hard to read much into any small changes over a shorter timespan than a month or so; if anything it looks like Google just adjusted something in early mid-June, in a positive direction for once in terms of incoming traffic to Ask in particular, corresponding to incoming search traffic revenue being up.

2. Overall traffic patterns have been pretty steady on either side of the announcement of the megathread decomissioning and the actual closure of those threads. Ask search traffic bump above notwithstanding, the traffic patterns on the blue have been pretty darn steady the last several weeks. We'll look closer at overall patterns of user activity on the blue and on the site in general as we settle in more to the post-megathread normal; right now it's all recent enough of a change that it'd be jumping the gun to read into too much.

2b. It's had a pretty immediate and obvious impact on us as a team; we've had a couple check-in conversations about it in the last couple weeks, and, man. We've been slow-boiling ourselves in this pot and finally hopped out. There's plenty of stuff going on on the site, and behind the scenes mod work to attend to, so it's not something where anybody's been feeling idle exactly, but there's...breathing room now. That place to pause between things that need dealing with is there again. It's good.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:43 AM on August 19 [28 favorites]


We're scaling back benefits compensation to reduce our monthly cost there by about $2K/mo

So the staff are collectively donating $2K month? I'm gonna have to give that a little side-eye for sure.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:05 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


So the staff are collectively donating $2K month? I'm gonna have to give that a little side-eye for sure.

It sounds like you hoped they would solve the shortfall differently. Would you like to talk more about that?
posted by Jpfed at 12:11 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


What are your preferred solutions for the shortfall?

That's a great question and I don't have an answer. What do companies typically do when they need to cut expenses but cutting payroll isn't one of the options (serious question, I'm sure it happens often enough).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:16 PM on August 19


So the staff are collectively donating $2K month? I'm gonna have to give that a little side-eye for sure.

When I worked here, I watched my salary drop 25% while Matt didn't talk to anyone about the belt-tightening he was doing behind the scenes and refused to ask for community support (until he did, after I left). It was absolutely terrible for morale, and I think in some senses I'm a little #stillmad, so I'll be brief.

cortex is in a bind because it would be a ton easier to make these changes, tell the staff to suck it up, and tell no one. But it's not a great way to be a boss in a site that tries to be as transparent as possible. He's explaining what he's doing, he's making regular check-ins, and he's trying to find other options. I'm hoping that a post-megathread MeFi gives the whole mod team some more bandwidth so that they can, with community input, continue to work on this budget shortfall.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:17 PM on August 19 [109 favorites]


What do companies typically do when they need to cut expenses but cutting payroll isn't one of the options

A site like this doesn't really have many other expenses, I suspect. I would imagine their hosting costs are pretty fixed and other than that, what is there? It's not like they can scale back on business travel or ask people to work from home to save on real estate costs, you know?
posted by jacquilynne at 12:24 PM on August 19 [8 favorites]


What do companies typically do when they need to cut expenses but cutting payroll isn't one of the options (serious question, I'm sure it happens often enough).

Layoffs.

On some level cutting payroll is always an option.
posted by GuyZero at 12:40 PM on August 19 [13 favorites]


Yeah, to reiterate MeFi's monthly expenses (there's more detail outlined in the previous post):

Non-payroll stuff (servers, hosting, service fees): ~ $2K/mo
Payroll: everything else we're spending.

We haven't had anything like discretionary spending money in a long time. Things we could cut without affecting the site or the employees have already been cut; MeFi's monthly spending is a lot lower today than it was when Matt ran the site and we're operating about as lean as possible.

So we could cut a couple grand by (a) literally not having a website anymore or (b) by cutting some aspect of payroll. The former's a non-starter, so the latter is the only other option available. Finding ways to not lay anybody off is pretty important to me, and as a team we've managed to work out that scaling way back on company-paid health insurance premiums is as doable and equitable an option as we've got there for making a significant new cut, so we're starting there.

It sucks! It really sucks. For me very much included, at a personal and not just managerial level. It sucks further that health premiums are through the fuckin' rough again this year. But nobody's gotten laid off or had the availability of their existing health plan yanked away from them unilaterally, and I'll take that for now.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:59 PM on August 19 [24 favorites]


(For what it's worth, my experience of the site has gotten noticeably better since the megathread went away. I hadn't even connected the two until this thread — I'd just had a sort of background feeling that moderation had been faster and mellower and more attentive lately. But so yeah, if you're feeling like you're more able to do your jobs now, I feel that way too, and it's made me want to go back to participating in the site more.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:04 PM on August 19 [27 favorites]


"premiums are through the fuckin' rough"

I can't tell if this is a semantic, phonetic, orthographic or even Freudian slip, but it is amazing.

Sorry not sorry for this small derail
posted by iamkimiam at 1:07 PM on August 19 [20 favorites]


it's like the guy in the bar with the talking dog, asking what the texture of sandpaper is
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:21 PM on August 19 [23 favorites]


Great post and update. I remain sorry about the health care change and that's something I can get behind contributing to more. I think that you are a valuable and valued team. I like the new funding asks on the site and look forward to their expansion, because I, like many people, am pretty lazy about paying for content and I need the prompts.

Given that revenue comes from ads and members (whether upping donations, or more new members who then hopefully become contributors) I would myself think that increasing traffic and engagement would be a goal. Not sure if that is the discussion you want in this thread, though. Is it? Do you want brainstorming about revenue streams? Or just to hold off for future posts?
posted by warriorqueen at 1:23 PM on August 19


Upping engagement is a big focus for the future, yeah. A lot of the behind the scenes work we're doing right now is getting an interdependent set of things in good shape: modernized, clearer documentation of what that site is, how it works, what it's cultural goals and guidelines are; a shorter, more contemporary greeting/explanation for new users; better/easier tools for inviting folks to the site; working on social sharing tools; etc. No great surprises in there, just stuff we've talked about in the last couple months in among other things.

There's a certain amount of that we want to get done before trying to more explicitly or visibly push for new members, since if there's stuff we can improve in short-ish order that will make this place feel more welcoming to new folks it's better to do that first and then say "come on in!" than to do it the other way around and keep saying sorry about the mess. But I'm hoping we can show off some new stuff there pretty soon as some of these interlocking bits of documentation and implementation come together.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:30 PM on August 19 [7 favorites]


I can't tell if this is a semantic, phonetic, orthographic or even Freudian slip, but it is amazing.

I WAS ALSO JUST SQUEEING OVER THIS TO A FRIEND, that like I'm pretty sure this typo tells me which vowel cortex normally has in "roof" and that's awesome. Linguist high five!

posted by nebulawindphone at 1:57 PM on August 19 [14 favorites]


Thanks for the update cortex.
posted by smoke at 2:05 PM on August 19


I admit I’m a little bummed about the benefits but have no solution. Wish I did though. Glad for the update.
posted by one4themoment at 2:17 PM on August 19


Really pleased to see this update, cortex! And a big thank you to you and the other mods for all the sacrifices you're making and the hard work you're putting into this site. It'll pay off more and more; keep the updates comin'.

I know that cortex's TRAP vowel is quite high, nearly merging with the DRESS vowel (e.g., his pronunciation of 'dragon', 'bag' but that's only in certain contexts, such as before a 'g' sound). So it makes me wonder if his nearby STRUT vowel is also higher. Or if it's orthographic, owing to the spelling of 'ough' in 'through' a few words before. Note that there is also a vowel before a 'g' there but it is a letter, not a sound. My hypothesis is that it's a fearless mix of all these things — he borrowed the sound of 'through' and took the spelling along for the ride, aided and abetted by the meaning of 'rough' and under the influence of the heightened state of nearby vowels. Oh cortex, you linguistic dreadnought, you.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:10 PM on August 19 [19 favorites]


what's a drayednutt?
posted by fleacircus at 3:37 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


$20SAIT
posted by cgc373 at 3:49 PM on August 19 [32 favorites]


IIRC there were several offers of non-cash professional services help (mine included) that could meet some of the needs described in the State of the Site (some of which might have had revenue impacts, some not I spose?). Just wondering if you are planning on utilizing any of those? No skin off my back if not, but it seems if your needs match up with expertise already on site it could be helpful.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:03 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I was going to post a metatalk with a modest proposal, but I'll put it here instead: Would there be interest in a mefi "swap space", for free and low cost items we want to find new homes for but don't want to deal with CL weirdos in order to do so? (My local thrift stores are surprisingly picky, so my alternative for a fair amount of it would be the landfill.)

"Sellers" would have the option that instead of "free", they can assign a donation to metafilter as the purchase price of the item(s). "Donate $10 to MF and you can have this working but old skilsaw" or "donate $50 to MF and you can have this mountain bike". No cash sales--if you want to use the venue, it's either free or buyer makes a MF donation in lieu of cash.

The idea is we are all part of a community, and hence can trust each other to at least a modest extent. That would hopefully avoid exposing ourselves to the weirdos attracted to free CL listings like moths to flame...and help fund MF as well. Have no idea if the infrastructure required would be worth amount potentially brought in.

Anyway. Lots of potential details to work out, but might be another arrow in the funding quiver. If anyone thinks this idea has merit, and cortex thinks it's not silly--or simply not possible--I can post a separate metatalk.

I have at least a dozen, if not two, separate things which would immediately hit such a site, ranging from power tools, a bike, electronics, art supplies, furniture, garden stuff, coat hangers, my soul...
posted by maxwelton at 4:12 PM on August 19 [38 favorites]


Oh interesting, I went in a different direction and figured he was one of the people who have the FOOT vowel in "roof" — which doesn't make it a homophone with "rough," but at least makes it a shorter phonological hop from one to the other.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:25 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Would there be interest in a mefi "swap space"

I wouldn't benefit from it these days since I'm rarely physically located anywhere near other Mefites, but if I were in London I would be very happy with it as I've been burned in the past by Freecycle, Freegle, and other variants. Of course I have no idea about the implementation, but maybe it could be calved off the Jobs subsite? Might it also make for regular fundraising drives, eg on Buy Nothing Day or two annual spring cleaning weeks centred on the spring equinox in each hemisphere?
posted by tavegyl at 4:32 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Finding ways to not lay anybody off is pretty important to me, and as a team we've managed to work out that scaling way back on company-paid health insurance premiums is as doable and equitable an option as we've got there for making a significant new cut, so we're starting there.

The solution is obvious: Move the whole kit and caboodle to Canada or some other sane healthcare location. Easy Peasy.

Joking

Mostly

I realize immigrating is a long drawn out process that can't be done on a whim
posted by Mitheral at 5:13 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


plus they’d have to change the name to Metafiltre
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:16 PM on August 19 [75 favorites]


You say that like it's a bad thing
posted by Mitheral at 5:34 PM on August 19 [9 favorites]


IIRC there were several offers of non-cash professional services help (mine included) that could meet some of the needs described in the State of the Site (some of which might have had revenue impacts, some not I spose?). Just wondering if you are planning on utilizing any of those?

Yeah, I'm keeping those in mind, and trying to reach out bit by bit when I'm able. I got a few mefimails from folks directly as well. I appreciate all the offers to help and as much as it hasn't been How We've Done Things so much in the last several years it's something I do want to make an effort to take folks up on. Just pacing myself in this as in all things, something I've been realizing I need to do more deliberately than I sometimes have in the past so it doesn't end up being all one blast of energy and then a long ebb.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:34 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Upping engagement is a big focus for the future, yeah

I assume there are cookies for people not logged in? If so, is it possible to show some sort of not-terrible-obtrusive ad to people who have visited repeatedly via google within X time period that basically says "Hey, we notice you end up here a lot. Want to learn more about the site?"

And then do one of those funnels where you give them a free e-book or webinar and then make them give $400 if they want your "10 best-kept secrets for getting favourites" or whatever.

Ok, maybe the second half needs some tweaking.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:18 PM on August 19 [9 favorites]

I assume there are cookies for people not logged in? If so, is it possible to show some sort of not-terrible-obtrusive ad to people who have visited repeatedly via google within X time period that basically says "Hey, we notice you end up here a lot. Want to learn more about the site?"
Or, much more simply, get rid of the sign-up fee.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:02 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Or, much more simply, get rid of the sign-up fee.

Yeah 'cause what we want to make sure to do right now is cut even a tiny source of revenue.

What thread are you in?
posted by tzikeh at 12:39 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


They are in a thread whose predecessor thread has the manager saying "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".
posted by sylvanshine at 1:25 AM on August 20 [12 favorites]


Yikes, I don't think anyone ever thought the $5 was a money-maker. I think the question really is, is that $5 really that discouraging to good people signing up, or is it the only speed bump keeping all the griefers out? (or both)

I kind of feel like the defining features of mefi, stripped down to its essence, is (1) the moderation, (2) the all-text, use-your-words experience, and (3) the $5. Without any of the 3, mefi would be... different, and not in a cosmetic way.
posted by ctmf at 2:21 AM on August 20 [24 favorites]


Removing the $5 barrier would be a help in encouraging younger and/or lower income people to sign up.
It would also be catnip to spammers who want backlinks from a 20-year-old domain.

So if we're discussing removing the $5 to encourage signups, we would still need a vetting process for new members.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:35 AM on August 20 [6 favorites]


There's something I'm not following here. As a logged-in user, I don't see the ads. So -- setting aside for now the issue of increased mod load to deal with spammers/griefers/trolls -- how would increasing the userbase by dropping the $5 fee be a net win, revenue-wise?

(I suspect there's something about how ad revenue is calculated that I don't understand.)
posted by Westringia F. at 4:25 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


I kind of hope we can get this thread away from "if only cortex would do this one simple thing..." That was the last thread. And, let's be honest, it's vanishingly unlikely that there's some magic bullet that only you have thought of.
posted by hoyland at 4:58 AM on August 20 [34 favorites]


The user base is declining. Eventually the money won't matter because people will have stopped coming. cortex will be able to moderate the few hundred comments the site is getting over breakfast everyday. That's long term.

In the short term declining user base means declining content, which means declining advertising revenue. Which means fewer subscriptions. Also means fewer outbound links and fewer inbound links. Every 1% decline in the user base means a defacto 1% decline in "advertising" on places like twitter and facebook because that 1% has stopped sharing links.

I think we should go with no-fee light. Give proven users (time and activity based) free invites. If people have been here 3 months, has loaded one of the landing pages a few hundred times, has made at least a few comments then allowing them to invite one person a month or something for free would be a way of vetting new users without the money speed bump.
posted by Mitheral at 6:18 AM on August 20 [8 favorites]


I think we should go with no-fee light. Give proven users (time and activity based) free invites. If people have been here 3 months, has loaded one of the landing pages a few hundred times, has made at least a few comments then allowing them to invite one person a month or something for free would be a way of vetting new users without the money speed bump.

hmm...might I suggest an additional caveat: the banhammering of one of your invites may cause you to lose your invite priviliges. There are already people who make their 3 comments so they can self-link in an FPP. Do we want people making 10 or 50 useless comments so they can start inviting themselves on as spammers on separate accounts?

Also, would we want to explicitly ban using these invites to create sockpuppets? Also on penalty of losing your invite privileges?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:34 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


This site is a treasure, and it's definitely an older style model of website, and capitalism sucks donkey balls, and destroys treasures in search of the next quid all the time. It's really important to keep this site and its style of discourse alive. If this were in the UK I would refound the thing as a social enterprise or a community interest company, and start applying for grants. Because this website is a social good, and should qualify for philanthropy. There might be similar organisational models in the US that would allow the site to make a profit/amass reserves but still be eligible for grants.
posted by Mistress at 6:43 AM on August 20 [10 favorites]


For the former I don't think we need a policy besides "invitees getting banned might result in loss of invitee privileges or banning" leaving the exact threshold fuzzy and up to the mod team with consideration of the input of the inviter.

On the sockpuppet thing IDK. It's open to abuse but then the same avenue is available for anyone with $20 today. This wouldn't be an actual problem for months if invites are throttled. Personally I'd leave restrictions to be reactionary in this edge case. IE: a policy can be enacted if it turns out to be a problem.
posted by Mitheral at 6:55 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


So...

What about all the racism?
posted by yaymukund at 7:22 AM on August 20 [32 favorites]


On the racism discussions: we're doing the things we said we would in our initial followup posts, and we'll be following up on those in the next month or two.

On invites and sign-up fee: yes to experimenting with different invite and signup fee models, including removing the fee. For the last few weeks we've had a clearer note up saying that the fee can be waived -- so far we've been granting that to anyone who asks, and we've had a few actual people, and a lot of spammers. So we're trying out the first stage of no-fee and thinking about how it goes. More options for invite-a-friend are coming too.

On increasing membership/activity: it's to counteract declines as well as just generally keep the place healthier. It's not that more members = more ad revenue; ideally it's more members = more subscriptions and activity. The plan we're in the middle of is, moving away from megathreads frees up a little extra space for mods to work on other site priorities, including addressing racism, reinforcing the better aspects of site climate so people feel comfortable inviting friends and new members will stick around, and reworking new member welcome process. We're now making slow steady progress on these goals, which is a lot better than we've been able to do the last few years.

But -- this thread is meant to be just about the one narrow thing: updating people on where we're at money-wise after the recent fundraising. People have wanted a followup update on the money stuff, and we're going to try to give more regular updates on that. As cortex said, to make it realistic to be more regular with that type of update, we need to restrict the scope of snapshot/money-update threads so they don't become discussions about other important site issues.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:40 AM on August 20 [11 favorites]


That's what I thought upon reading the initial post, but then you started talking about the megathreads and moderator duties more broadly so I was confused. Anyway, it seems I was mistaken.

*goes back into hibernation*
posted by yaymukund at 8:50 AM on August 20


(Sorry, not you, LobsterMitten, but Eyebrows McGee upthread.)
posted by yaymukund at 8:52 AM on August 20


The user base is declining. Eventually the money won't matter because people will have stopped coming. cortex will be able to moderate the few hundred comments the site is getting over breakfast everyday. That's long term.

the future isn't written, and if it is, and you've got access, I want NFL betting tips now.
posted by philip-random at 8:53 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Mods - Any thoughts on the grant funding idea above ?

(And strictly as an aside - With reference to the neurodiversity thread, one of the things that keeps me shut-up mostly about site stuff is the fear of my direct and respectful questions and ideas being ignored. It happens to me in a lot of human engagement situations - like my words just slide off the fabric of the universe like water off a duck’s back. It’s potentially one of those little sometimes-unconscious microaggressions that just makes me want to hide from the world, when this happens. I’m aware everyone is busy and maybe mods didn’t read my comment or didn’t see it as looking for engagement, but I would be very grateful for your thoughts - and I am very nervous about the little bit of push-back inherent in *this* comment, so apologies if I’m just human-ing wrong)
posted by Mistress at 8:57 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


I have no strong preference on keeping / waiving the $5 fee, but in the interests of clarity:

LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:40 AM: For the last few weeks we've had a clearer note up saying that the fee can be waived

When I use an anon window, click to the front page, and click on Sign up -> So you want to become a new member, this is the first mention of the fee:
Due to the bursting size of the community, its use of resources, and the cost of running the servers, all new users have a one-time $5 charge, to help defray these costs. If you sign up an account to promote your product, act like an ass, or generally just do things that break the guidelines you will be booted and there will be no refunds.

Still want in? Go ahead and sign up for an account here. At the end of the process you'll be directed towards Paypal, and upon your return, you should be able to login and post away.
Again, I don't know enough to have an opinion on this, but if I'm a random new visitor, I'm not seeing that a fee waiver is a possibility at this point. If $5 was a significant issue for me - or if I didn't want to touch Paypal - I wouldn't click any further.

(Yes, there's "I want an account but I don't want to use PayPal. What do I do?" in the FAQ. Only grizzled internet veterans read the FAQ.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:01 AM on August 20 [9 favorites]


That also kind of explains why a lot of people might feel that the fee was a revenue source ("to help defray these costs").
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:05 AM on August 20 [17 favorites]


On invites and sign-up fee: yes to experimenting with different invite and signup fee models, including removing the fee. For the last few weeks we've had a clearer note up saying that the fee can be waived -- so far we've been granting that to anyone who asks, and we've had a few actual people, and a lot of spammers.

The $5 remains the best combination spam filter and troll blocker I've seen on the 'net. I'm unfortunately not surprised that spammers are already trying to abuse the fee waiver, and eliminating it entirely will only mean orders of magnitude more pounding on the site's doors. The vast majority of web forums and social networks continue to labor under the broken assumption that "free" is the only effective way to grow a user base—at the expense of functional community *cough*Facebook*cough*Twitter*cough*. While I hope the MeFi team continues to experiment with flexibility on this policy and clarifying it for new sign-ups, I sincerely wish that we don't lose sight of how successful it's been in establishing this community—one of the best of the web.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:08 AM on August 20 [27 favorites]


When I use an anon window, click to the front page, and click on Sign up

Yes! The signup page is one of many documents under revision, because it's long and old and hoary. The new "first thing you see" info will be shorter and more focused than the kind of old-school ramblings and 15+ years of small accreted additions that the current signup page represents.

The change we made already is specifically to a later, much briefer page where the prompt for the $5 fee happens; that page now has a very clear offer to waive the fee on it, where it's going to matter most. While I'm doing the "so-so" thing with my hand about the ratio of earnest folks to seeming spammers, that change has brought in a small steady stream of waiver requests since we made it, which is heartening. It's definitely making a small but measurable difference just at that.

And, yeah, the chunk of spammers in there underscores the need for an active vetting process to be in place for any kind of no-fee change to the signup process. I'm confident we can make a go of replacing $5 with a human speedbump of some sort; what the actual volume of earnest humans vs. spammers and dinguses hitting that speedbump will be remains to be seen and would need some live field-testing to really assess.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:10 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


"Mods - Any thoughts on the grant funding idea?"

The short version is that US corporate structures make this difficult for us at the present time, but it's something we're keeping an eye on as various states and the federal government experiment with allowing different corporate structures (including ones much like the UK's social enterprises). Cortex has talked to lawyers about the specifics of our case, and at present there's not a good fit for us, but we're hopeful there might be some time in the future.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:12 AM on August 20 [8 favorites]


wish that we don't lose sight of how successful it's been in establishing this community—one of the best of the web.

It was a well established community before the fee was ever implemented, though. I would like to see a working solution to eliminate the fee entirely.
posted by agregoli at 9:31 AM on August 20


And, yeah, the chunk of spammers in there underscores the need for an active vetting process to be in place for any kind of no-fee change to the signup process. I'm confident we can make a go of replacing $5 with a human speedbump of some sort

I'd also like to note that the $5 sign-up fee, the equivalent of a cover charge, reinforces the idea that Metafilter has inherent worth as a venue. Asking people to take that small decision of putting cash on the barrel psychologically prepares new users for committing to the site. Making it free means risking people taking it for granted or undervaluing it.

It was a well established community before the fee was ever implemented, though.

One that periodically had to freeze sign-ups in order to artificially keep the community to a manageable size.

Incidentally, when the $5 sign-up policy was instituted, that amount is the equivalent of $3.26 in 2019 dollars adjusted for inflation, so if anything, MetaFilter is an even better bargain.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:38 AM on August 20 [13 favorites]


Right, which is why some gate gate keeping is needed. I don't believe $5 is it. I would have never joined back in the day if the site had a sign up fee. I know many people like me who wouldn't pay up front for an account but could still be a good part of the community.
posted by agregoli at 9:41 AM on August 20


how many new users sign up in a typical week?

how many site visitors navigate to the sign-up page but don't sign up?
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:42 AM on August 20 [5 favorites]


Right, which is why some gate gate keeping is needed. I don't believe $5 is it. I would have never joined back in the day if the site had a sign up fee.

I don't think that the $5 sign-up should be an ironclad policy. For instance, it could be waived in cases of members referring friends to the site, and maybe such referrals could be a bonus for people who fund the site. But people have become habituated to not paying for websites, especially spammers and trolls. The former wish to maximize their profit off a minuscule investment—free e-mail turned out to be the worst thing that ever happened to e-mail—and the latter just want to waste everyone's time, which isn't the kind of hobby they're willing to spend money on. All that degrades the average person's willingness to pay for the 'net while lowering the quality of free websites. Imagine what Facebook and Twitter would be like if they had instituted a one-time $1 sign-up fee. They'd be smaller, of course, but arguably better communities.
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:00 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


It was a well established community before the fee was ever implemented, though

In, like, 2000 which is like 2 years before someone proposed to use Bayesian filtering to filter email spam. A lifetime ago.

It's a very different world now than the pre-$5 days and I get that it's a barrier to some people, but there needs to be some sort of speed bump in the signup process to keep it too much hassle for spammers to bother. There should be clearer wording for the $5 waiver, but overall the fee does a lot of good things for the site.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Ok, well, I put in my two cents. Continue to discuss amongst yourselves. This is why I don't comment much these days, so much disagreement.
posted by agregoli at 10:26 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


If the $5 fee serves a purpose, but Metafilter wants to attract more non-white members, what about dropping the fee for IP addresses from Latin America, Africa and Asia? The fee must be bigger barrier to potential foreign users than Americans.

That would still open the site up to spam, but IMO spam originating from Africa is much more entertaining than American spam.
posted by riruro at 10:29 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


Very broad generalization: maybe around 20-30 new signups a week, although it varies a lot and that doesn't include gift and waiver signups. We don't know who visits and then leaves, because we don't track people. We don't have a lot of the data people imagine a modern website must have, because we explicitly don't do a lot of the things websites standardly do, like tracking people as they browse, watching what they click, demographically profiling people, etc. We could probably do a bit more in that direction without getting too creepy.

On the idea of changing/removing fees, I totally get where the "what if" apprehension is coming from. But right now the signup numbers are small enough to be manageable and it's not going to turn into runaway growth without us having a chance to put the brakes on. We can try experimenting and then we'll know more about the effects. (So far, the experiment of putting a more prominent "you can ask for a waiver" note has shown me there are definitely spammers who are being held off by the fee. It still might be worth dropping the fee if we get good new actual members from it, and we'll just have to try it and see.)

On waiving the fee for non-US signups, much of our spam comes from non-US countries, so I think a selective waiver would yield the same issues as just waiving it for everyone. One way or the other we'll have to deal with spammers, which is annoying, but we have reasonably good tools for that.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:54 AM on August 20 [7 favorites]


thanks for the response, I feel like it's hard to discuss the effects of tweaking the signup fee and process without a better understanding of how many people are trying to join and what percentage succeeds, to some extent, at integrating themselves into the user base vs how many sign up and fail to undergo full mefitization.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:01 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


20-30 paid sign-ups a week results in $450-650 of gross revenue per month. If $2K/mo is considered a large swing in revenue, then I think that $450-650/mo is at least material.

Meaning, if or when fee elimination occurs, there needs to be a plan to simultaneously decrease expenses or increase revenue (from some other stream) on the order of $450-650/mo.

Just something to factor in while planning.
posted by rue72 at 11:16 AM on August 20 [11 favorites]


Also, the membership fee is essentially a one-time, $5 donation. As in, every donation isn't a membership fee, but every membership fee is a donation.

I get the feeling that you're accounting for membership fees differently than you do donations, or at least thinking of them differently -- but I would argue that that's a counterproductive distinction.
posted by rue72 at 11:26 AM on August 20


Cortex, I'd like to thank you for providing the update and for somehow always maintaining a cordial tone. I've been avoiding these MeTa threads about the site lately because they've been so damn negative - it feels like every time you post something it's immediately picked apart by people who are relentless in their criticism and second-guessing.

I'm not saying there aren't issues to be fixed around here, but you are clearly trying to do something about them and it would be great if our community members could give you a bit more benefit of the doubt to let some of your ideas and actions actually bear fruit. Things take longer than expected, and not all problems can be tackled at once. Sometimes the first solution doesn't work and it's back to the drawing board to try to make a more perfect union. But I'd love for people to remember that this place is amazing overall. For so many of us, even for mostly-lurkers like me, this is our home on the web and part of our daily lives. Excluding the mods, no one has to log on to MeFi - we are literally here because we like it here. I wish we acted like it a bit more sometimes.

All this to say - thank you Cortex and team; we appreciate your hard work.
posted by widdershins at 11:46 AM on August 20 [72 favorites]


Hey, I have a question--and I'm not caught up, but I'd like to circle back to a suggestion from last thread.

What's the current thought on removing the $5 sign-up fee in some respect? I'm lumping together several approaches to doing that which have been discussed: getting rid of it altogether; allowing members to pass out free sign-ups to friends (with or without limitations); optionally replacing it with a short paragraph explaining why the user wants to join; any of those things.

I ask because I think that one of the most important things we could do here is to grow the user base and thereby increase the potential donor base. But after my experiences trying to encourage folks to come out here but get stuck on that fee over and over again, I'm not really committing to trying to lure more people over here from my younger, broker circles. I'm not talking up a site when someone is going to look at the sign-up, wince, and not even try.

Is reducing that barrier to new user growth something that's being actively considered, or is it on a back burner?
posted by sciatrix at 11:53 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


> I'm not caught up, but I'd like to circle back to a suggestion from last thread.
What's the current thought on removing the $5 sign-up fee in some respect?
... Three tomatoes are walking down the street — a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, and squishes him... and says, 'Catch up.'
(LM at 11:40 US/ET)
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:58 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


sciatrix, yeah, that's something we're open to and there's some discussion of it in this thread.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:59 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


....upon catching up, yeah, we are talking about that.

I gotta say, I am very emphatic that if you're looking at 30-40 new sign-ups each week, your big problem is not holding the spammer floodgates back, it's attrition. If you're looking at trying to keep that human investment in the site as a valuable aspect of the site, I think you could do worse by replacing the $5 sign-up fee with a waiver from a friend.

A friend is less scary to ask, and much, much harder for spammers to find at those volumes. You make the gatekeeping a function of the community as a whole, not for the mods, and you increase the accessibility for actual humans. And you can keep the $5 fee for people joining without an invite from an existing member. What if we tried that idea for a limited period and saw how it worked?
posted by sciatrix at 12:00 PM on August 20 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I'm sorry for any brusqueness -- I'm not trying to give anyone a hard time! Thanks so much for the thought and effort that have gone into managing the site's financials and transparency. It's really appreciated.

I work in accounting and that's the perspective I'm coming from when I talk about things like whether a source of revenue is material or whether one source of revenue is distinct from another. Just hoping to be a helpful resource to the site in the small way that I can.
posted by rue72 at 12:01 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


I swear to god I read halfway down the thread before commenting, ashfghl
posted by sciatrix at 12:01 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


The flip-side of the lost revenue on signups is that if even an order of magnitude fewer folks who are currently signing up end up hanging around and signing up for a $5/mo subscription for a year, that's already break even; fewer yet at $10/mo or $20/mo, or if they keep it going for longer than a year. And if more folks are signing up in the first place with a free account, the fraction of them that'd need to make regular voluntary contributions gets even smaller to hit that breakeven.

So it's a speculative tradeoff to ditch the fee, and I'm not sneezing at any particular dollar amount of monthly revenue, but it's ideally not a straight loss but rather a switch from one small revenue stream to an alternate one.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:04 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Also, as far as experimenting with removing the fee, I want to say that I'm past the "argue about whether it should even happen" stage on this. Whether when we do try it it turns out to feel manageable and successful, we'll see, but it's something we've talked over a bunch already and are making plans to try in action later this year.

Like LM said, I appreciate the fundamental care and concern behind the "but what if..." pushback on the idea. I know how much the $5 fee is tied symbolically to MeFi's identity over the years, and the mechanical things it accomplishes for us. But I guarantee you I have spent more time thinking about the pros and cons and implementational and cultural challenges of ditching the fee than literally anybody on this site, followed close by the rest of the mod team. It's not a snap of the finger thing with no complexities, or we'd have done it before now, but it's something we've thought through in a ton of detail over the course of years. We're firmly in "let's sort out the details and give it a shot" territory at this point.

So for that topic I'd rather folks shift their thinking to the "let's see how it goes when we try it" stage at this point, since feedback on how it's feeling in action will be a lot more useful than starting the whether-or-not argument over from scratch yet again.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:13 PM on August 20 [8 favorites]


Two sites that I pay for have really different models and both seem to work decently. My nerdy trivia site has what is basically a "free season" and then if you like it, there's an annual fee that has a sliding scale (though I should note, the low end is still not that low). MLTSHP has annual memberships and they basically come at two levels $3/year (basically pay for us to have a record of you) and $24/year (supporting, you get a few small perks but not many). We'll waive fees for anyone but aren't that pro-active about it and maybe we should be.

One of the things that isn't really talked about much here is that the PayPal fee is a speed bump to spammers not just because it's money, but because it's harder to make a ton of PayPal accounts and each account comes with a small bit of personal information. IIRC, that information isn't really used by the mods for any purpose (which is how it should be) but can be accessed by them in the event that they're trying to determine if user is a bad-faith spammer. It's not so much about the $5 as what the $5 payment will get you from a site admin level. Totally get why it could be a barrier for people and I appreciate the mod team being willing to work to change that.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:16 PM on August 20 [19 favorites]


I really appreciate that news, cortex, and I'm really excited about it. Thanks for the heads up that this will be something we're trying out; I will be thinking about how to share the community out more frequently in response as a result, and how I can lure folks who would really enjoy the discussions here to come and give it a try.

Which might mean more cool discussions to read and more connections--!
posted by sciatrix at 12:19 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


(I should add to my previous comment, about fee waivers for non-US users: I left that suggestion above because I felt like the core suggestion is a fair one that should be addressed, both because we'd like to attract more non-US users, and because a USD fee is more of a burden to non-US users so it's very reasonable to talk about targeting a waiver there.

But some of the background assumptions in the way the original comment is phrased aren't great so just to be clear: not all US users are white; not all African, Asian, Latin American users are non-white; and generalizing about spam from different places being distinctively funny is a point where it's worth stopping and reconsidering whether one's accidentally being racist. We don't need to get into a side discussion here, but I'm seeing a couple of flags and for avoidance of doubt it's worth addressing those aspects directly rather than just focusing on the fair-suggestion part.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:24 PM on August 20 [21 favorites]


Have you guys thought about approaching a major donor who could take care of the site in perpetuity? Surely there is someone out there who would be willing to fund this place. I am assuming there are at least some rich Mefites out there.
posted by all about eevee at 12:33 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


As someone who does this for a living, if someone came to me and asked how to increase revenue:

1. Sell user information / analytics to third party advertisers.
2. Reduce efforts on diversity initiatives and make sure they aren't a hard cost on labor. The hard fact is from a revenue perspective increasing diversity isn't something advertisers actually care about.
3. Bring back megathreads and controversial political threads, put all kinds of ads in the comments whether you're signed in or not.
4. Link user info to Facebook/Google.
5. Paywall (or authenticate gate) content on AskMetafilter.
6. Don't pay mods, use community volunteers.

All these would increase revenue and also destroy Metafilter.
posted by geoff. at 1:14 PM on August 20 [12 favorites]


I dropped some cash. In 2019 MeFi continues to be the incredible sort of thing I thought the whole Internet would be full of some day.

I want MetaFilter to be a place where people are good, and kind, and smart, and excited to see what they can learn about the world and about each other

That such an un-2019 ideal actually works here make me happy. It's the best of the web in so many ways.

/hug
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:17 PM on August 20 [12 favorites]


This might be problematic to implement from a computing perspective, but right now presumably people who are logged out don't see comment. boxes. What if people who logged out but visited frequently or several times or whatever saw comment boxes. When they went to comment -- before they could type anything out, no need to be a jerk -- they got info on how to join with several options: pay your $5, have a friend invite you,...?

I mean the problem here is that with this method there needs to be a method for people without connections to mefites to sign up free. Otherwise, this is basically "oh you want to comment? pay up!" in weird yucky way.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:18 PM on August 20 [4 favorites]


This might be problematic to implement from a computing perspective, but right now presumably people who are logged out don't see comment. boxes. What if people who logged out but visited frequently or several times or whatever saw comment boxes. When they went to comment -- before they could type anything out, no need to be a jerk -- they got info on how to join with several options: pay your $5, have a friend invite you,...?

I like this a lot. Click in the comment box as a user without an account and get join options displayed from there. Many other sites prompt you for registration when you try to comment; what works for them, presumably would work here.
posted by killdevil at 2:21 PM on August 20 [5 favorites]


(Just piping up to comment that I'm a U.S. user who's not white. We're out here! Posting amongst you, reading your comments, and even sharing in certain 90's American tv nostalgia, ha.

Speaking of which, I appreciated seeing LobsterMitten's comment above - massive relief to see that a mod has already stepped in to directly address the earlier assumptions about U.S. & non-U.S. MeFite demographics, reducing the perhaps self-imposed pressure to wonder if I should take it upon myself (as a living data point) to be the first/only person to speak up about it.)
posted by rather be jorting at 2:22 PM on August 20 [36 favorites]


I'd like to be able to give out 5 invitations per some length of time (a month? 12 a year?) and that lets people sign up without the fee, but they only get a free year. The next year they owe $5 to continue.
posted by odinsdream at 2:35 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


A data point re $5
When I joined I lived in California and $5 was just that $5
When I came to Brazil $5 was about BR$12
and that would buy you a cheap lunch.
Today $5 is BR$20 which is 2 cheap lunches.
You aren't going to get many 3rd world members.
If the sign up dropped to $2 there is still the hoop to go through to keep the spammers at bay and I would get to eat lunch tomorrow.
posted by adamvasco at 3:44 PM on August 20 [21 favorites]


Two sites that I pay for have really different models and both seem to work decently. My nerdy trivia site has what is basically a "free season" and then if you like it, there's an annual fee that has a sliding scale

I love the idea of invites! More than that, I love the idea of fee-free invites much like Learned League does, with a request to pay up after 4-6mo.
posted by tapir-whorf at 7:11 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


A number of people previously commented that they weren't going to commit to a monthly subscription until they were satisfied that action had been taken to tackle racism on the site. While I didn't comment at the time, I am in that boat. In the meantime, I've made a one-off donation to help cover the costs of running the site while you plan how to address this issue. But I will wait for the update in a month or so before deciding how (or if) I want to support the site in the long term.

For me, the issue of how race is treated on the site is bound up with concerns about the less-than-ideal treatment of non-US folks more generally, where we often appear to be aside in site communications and engagement plans (or specially singled out in 'oh, and you over there with your weird back-to-front seasons and time zones and currencies that don't play nicely with our systems!' ways that can feel pretty condescending/othering). I haven't been super satisfied with the response to past MeTas on this topic (where a lot of member responses boil down to 'you're in the minority here, so suck it up', and staff responses are sometimes dismissive and your promises about addressing these concerns don't always translate to actions).

I don't intend this to be taken as some kind of weird 'holding the site to ransom' note - I believe that the team are genuinely engaged with making improvements; and I feel a strong desire to support the site and staff, as I truly value much of what Metafilter does and stands for - but I want to be honest about the fact that I'm waiting to see how far progress is made, before I decide what funds I want to keep contributing. I wanted to highlight these feelings in this discussion of site finances, as I think others are likely thinking the same, and it will be instructive to see if/how subscription revenues change when the official reponse to racism at Metafilter comes out in a month or two.
posted by brushtailedphascogale at 7:23 PM on August 20 [20 favorites]


Oh yeah, invites allowing free join for a selected few. 5 invites per active registered user, replenished on some sensible schedule if they're used up.
posted by killdevil at 7:45 PM on August 20


Is there a reason MF doesn't run ads for logged-in users? I never see them (at least on mobile) and I'd be fine with them as I've never paid anything other than my one-time US$5. Speaking for myself, I paid so I could comment and change the theme, not because I think paying $5 once entitles me to an ad-free service. Perhaps people with recurring donations could hide the ads.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:09 PM on August 20 [4 favorites]


I'm a bit confused about wanting to attract more people. Is the intended funnel "new user registers > donates after enough time passes that they have an attachment to the site"? Because that looks like a somewhat long-term plan that wouldn't immediately solve the funding gap, and even in the long run it's not a sure thing.
posted by Memo at 8:56 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Under the assumption that there's a desire to keep some kind of "speedbump" in the signup process to reduce spammers / increase investment:

I think a lot of people join MetaFilter after lurking for a long time first. I know I lurked for years, reading the site almost every day, before I finally paid my $5 to make an account, and there were several times before then I almost joined. And I've seen a lot of people comment that they had a similar experience. Arguably I think lurkers are great potential Mefites, as they're already likely to have some form of investment in the site as regular readers, and they're also likely to have already started getting a sense of the site culture and norms.

What if we made regular lurking a path to getting an account? Set a cookie in the visitor's browser, if the same browser visits sufficiently frequently (daily?) for a sufficiently long period (a month?) they get a little notification saying something like "Hey, it looks like you like MetaFilter. We'd like to have you be part of our community! If you'd like to join, you're already cleared. No $5, no questions, no invite needed." Almost like the opposite of the big newspapers' websites' paywalls.

Of course this idea is moot of the plan is to remove any barriers to signup at all. But if there is to remain some kind of thing to keep the spammers in check, maybe there should be multiple paths to an account. $5 for sockpuppets and joke accounts; invitation-by-friend for those handpicked by current Mefites; short essay for those who feel comfortable answering those sorts of things; invitation-by-browser-habits for long-term lurkers; etc.
posted by biogeo at 10:06 PM on August 20 [23 favorites]


Is there a reason MF doesn't run ads for logged-in users?

We currently run Carbon ads on the front page for everyone; we may do more or a greater variety of user-facing ads in the future. There's a tradeoff in how much ad performance we get from logged in users vs. the larger share of search-driven non-user traffic, though; people who see the same ads a lot tend to get blind to them, and making a smaller number of people look at ads all the time to bump up revenue a small amount is a worse user experience tradeoff than having folks visiting the site once in larger numbers seeing them.

Short version: I don't want to wallpaper members' experience here with ads just to chase very diminishing revenue returns. So it's unlikely we'll move to "everybody sees all the ads all the time no matter what" as a model.

I'm a bit confused about wanting to attract more people. Is the intended funnel "new user registers > donates after enough time passes that they have an attachment to the site"? Because that looks like a somewhat long-term plan that wouldn't immediately solve the funding gap, and even in the long run it's not a sure thing.

It's absolutely a long-term plan, yeah, and one that may or may not translate into significant revenue. But it's a long-term plan worth moving on sooner rather than later. Beyond the possible revenue aspect, it wouldn't do any harm to the site in terms of a sense of being a busy, active place, though; I have said before that I see a smaller, quieter MeFi as an acceptable outcome if that's the way things inevitably go, but I don't feel a need to aim for that and MeFi never even at it's busiest got so busy that it was a problem in and of itself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:06 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Wow, I like biogeo's reverse paywall idea. The apprentice method of membership. The Discourse system does something like that, where frequent readers get some restrictions lifted automatically. It's easily gamed if you care that much, but overall it tends to make sure people have some effort invested (and therefore wasted if they start acting up and get banned) before giving them the keys.
posted by ctmf at 10:42 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


like the guy in the bar with the talking dog, asking what the texture of sandpaper is

Does anyone else know the version where the punchline is the dog saying “was it Ty Cobb?”
posted by spitbull at 3:50 AM on August 21 [2 favorites]


What if we made regular lurking a path to getting an account? Set a cookie in the visitor's browser, if the same browser visits sufficiently frequently (daily?) for a sufficiently long period (a month?) they get a little notification saying something like "Hey, it looks like you like MetaFilter. We'd like to have you be part of our community! If you'd like to join, you're already cleared. No $5, no questions, no invite needed." Almost like the opposite of the big newspapers' websites' paywalls.

I like this idea a lot. I wonder if it would be relatively simple to implement a trial run more or less immediately. I imagine there are back end data attached to the cookies. Can frimble take the top 5% (2%, whatever feels like it makes sense) lurkers as defined by having visited recently and then sorted by frequency of visits and time spent and just start displaying the option and see how it goes?

You could report on the both the uptake after say 2 months of having the option and also on wait say 6 months and see how active the former lurkers are.

Also, add the requirement that they be arriving via bookmark, direct type, or if google by searching for "metafilter" (weird that some people do that, but I know people who get everywhere they go by typing the name of the site they want into Google). That way they're lurkers who are coming here, not just ending up here.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:38 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


...And we could help that along by continuing to develop a whole site culture of being more welcoming to new members, too.

Member engagement needs happen more often from within the member base when we see new names joining us -- when you first get started here, it's easy to feel like you're just hurling comments into the thread! -- so that means positively engaging newbies more often when they comment in the threads, clicking the + on new users' comments whenever we see whatever comments that we typically click the + for, sending memails where appropriate, promoting events like SQ, etc. Small gestures of welcome really do help.

For example: I felt pretty daunted here for my first five (six? seven? nine?) years or so! But then a more established member here said something kind in a MeTa about my AskMe responses, and another generously offered to help me compose a FPP (someday, I promise!), and so on, and eventually I felt more free to engage. Stuff like secret quonsar, mail club, holiday card exchanges, the metatalktails, etc. IMO have really made it easier to get to know people and participate here more often.

And because I feel like part of the community, I'm happy to contribute via subscription to support the site. Having an online community like this one is more than worth it to me, and the internet would be a much colder place without Metafilter. And I like that the model is currently pay as/if you can, because so many vital voices here aren't in an easy position to contribute financially, but they contribute more than their share in perspective.

I really love the ideas of the comment box with a prompt to join (I joined in part because I wanted to answer a specific Ask), and cookies for the lurkers! I think I started an account about five times before I actually did, and perhaps a little leg up like these might have made me do it sooner. I also stumbled a bit on my username -- it seems like not a big deal, but it took a little while for me to settle on one, so I delayed joining up. Maybe on the sign-up page we could link to a username generator, just to help anxious people like me get that tiny barrier out of the way?
posted by mochapickle at 8:32 AM on August 21 [11 favorites]


Do people generally notice new people at all? I don't mean that in a negative way, like old-hats are ignoring newbies, but I feel like the MeFi user base is large enough that I'd have no idea if a post I was reading was from a new person. I know the usernames of some really prominent (read: high volume) old posters, especially those who post on MeTa, but I don't necessarily recognize a lot of the usernames that post in any given thread. If we want people to lend a helping hand to newbies, we might need to do something to make it clear who they are.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:44 AM on August 21 [30 favorites]


Do people generally notice new people at all? I don't mean that in a negative way, like old-hats are ignoring newbies, but I feel like the MeFi user base is large enough that I'd have no idea if a post I was reading was from a new person.

How about having ambassadors? T

he basic idea is people who are designated/volunteer etc. to engage newbies. These could rotate so you'd be on for a month or whatever. And they're just regular but frequent users who get this role from mods and who during their time in the role see a "newbie" tag when people post or comment. The newbie tag would be visible only to ambassadors*. Ambassadors would make a little extra effort to generally be nice when they see a newbie (e.g. Comment on their FPP if they make one or whatever.)

The newbie tag could go away after say 100 comments or 6 months, whichever comes first (or whatever makes sense to people who know the usage data).

*Just so newbies don't feel singled out or feel like they're being graded (i.e. some forums put "newbie" "experienced user" "old soul" or whatever next to everyone's name and that kind of makes you feel like you're not really a member if you're a newbie)
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:53 AM on August 21 [7 favorites]


A thought for restructuring, rather than getting rid of, the $5 entrance fee so as to create more revenue.

Present the following options on the signup landing page:

1. One-time fee of $25 — gets you a perpetual basic membership, which permits unlimited commenting, but no posting.
2. One-time fee of $50 — gets you a perpetual unlimited membership, which permits unlimited commenting AND posting.
3. Monthly supporting membership plan: $5 per month, makes you a supporting member, permits unlimited commenting and posting (and perhaps some other perk like a tee shirt and monthly newsletter). Cancel anytime.
4. Contributing membership: $10, 15 or $20 per month, or you choose the amount — same as supporting membership but maybe some more perks. Cancel anytime.
5. One-time posting access: $10 flat fee. Lets you make one post only, plus OP commenting on that post.
6. One-time commenting access: $5 flat fee. Let's you comment on one post only, multiple comments permitted.

The one-size-fits all $5 fee leaves money on the table; a structure like the above seeks to capture that money. All those cost levels can be tinkered with, of course. But basically this means you can still get in for $5 (sign up for #3 and cancel before the end of the month) if all you want to do is make a single post or comment, but you have the opportunity on day one to join at a level that matches the value you place on the site.

You can test this for a month or two to see if it improves on the $5 free revenue from the current 30-40 new signups per week mentioned upthread.

Couple this with stronger promotion of signups — for example the pop-up suggested upthread that hits repeat non-member visitors with a suggestion that they join up. And pitch enhanced membership levels to members who have never gone beyond the original $5. In other words, aggressively build membership revenue, because advertising will never sustain the site.
posted by beagle at 9:14 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


I like the comment box sign-up prompt idea as well - the impulse to respond to things online can be very strong, and the temptation to fill in a visible text field could be just the extra encouragement a lurker/casual reader needs to make the next step of signing up.
posted by rather be jorting at 9:15 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


I strongly oppose any kind of tiered system where more money = more privileges.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:17 AM on August 21 [93 favorites]


Do people generally notice new people at all? I don't mean that in a negative way, like old-hats are ignoring newbies, but I feel like the MeFi user base is large enough that I'd have no idea if a post I was reading was from a new person.

Maybe I'm weird, but I have a sort of sense for how familiar a name is and I sometimes notice that person X has an unfamiliar name but is posting a lot, suggesting that they either have an old but rarely used account that is now increasing in activity or are a BND account. But if I just see one post by a name I don't remember, I don't automatically think "that's a first-time poster! To the ambassadorphone!"; I don't assume that I have a handle on every active user or anything.
posted by Jpfed at 9:45 AM on August 21 [6 favorites]


Re: tiered memberships mentioned above—
I absolutely would never have joined if the signup fee was over $5, was limited to one comment, or was a recurring fee. At the time, that $5 fee seemed like a very low and reasonable hurdle to jump over to be able to fully participate on a site that seemed fun, informative, and unique. Anything beyond that would have been a hard pass for me.
posted by bookmammal at 10:01 AM on August 21 [22 favorites]


It's absolutely a long-term plan, yeah, and one that may or may not translate into significant revenue. But it's a long-term plan worth moving on sooner rather than later.

This casual, shrug-y attitude toward revenue makes me extremely worried for MeFi as a going concern. It's valid to eliminate membership fees, that's not the point. It's the decision-making process and how disconnected it seems to be from the site's financial realities that feels like a bucket of cold water. The truth is that the site's revenue is depressed and precarious right now, so it's crucial to the site's and (more importantly) the staff's well-being to consider -- and forecast as realistically as possible -- what impacts your decisions will have on revenue, how exactly you will offset any further decreases in revenue, and how/when exactly those decisions will start increasing revenue. I mean forecasting specific amounts to be received in specific months, tracking actuals, analyzing any variances between what's forecasted and what's actually received, and then using that analysis as a significant factor in further decision-making. The site does not currently have the luxury of winging it and hoping for the best, because it's running in the red with low reserves.

I'm not saying, "wait on this initiative" or "wait on that change." You can and should do the work that you think is best for the site, and I believe you when you say that these are investments that will also pay off financially in the long-term. I'm just asking that you really drill into the financial implications of your decisions and changes so that you've got a reliable, realistic idea of what the results will be at various points in the timeline, how best to offset any obstacles, and how best to capitalize on any successes. *From a financial standpoint specifically.*

There will not be a long-term unless the site manages to get through the short- and medium-term first, and given the site's current untenable financial position, that's not a given. Telling yourself that it's a given, that you'll somehow make it a given, is a fantasy and just a way of hiding from the problem in the hopes that it'll go away on its own. Which it won't. You've got to face the revenue generation issue directly and at a granular level, and prioritize solutions that address it directly and immediately.

I know that you've all been working yourselves to the bone trying to do what's best for the site. You're giving your all, you're making a ton of sacrifices. It's genuinely appreciated. I feel pretty awful about posting this because I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings or make you feel like your work isn't valued. It is valued! But I feel like I have to say something because MeFi and everyone on its payroll can't afford to hand-wave financially impactful decisions as "we'll do good work and the money will follow."

The alarm bells are blaring "there's not enough money coming in! there's not enough money coming in!" and it's very difficult to stand by and watch while people try so valiantly to ignore them. This thread feels like that cartoon with the dog sitting at the dining table with his apartment all on fire around him, saying, "this is fine." It's not fine. We can maybe make it fine, but if we just ignore it or fantasize about waking up one day to find everything having come up roses in our absence and suddenly money is pouring from somewhere (i.e., hypothetical ever-multiplying donations) into MeFi's coffers, then we've essentially doomed the site with our own inaction.

Anyhow, if you want any help with financial analysis, feel free to contact me, I'd be happy to help. I'm sure that there are many other people here in this community who work in accounting and/or finance and would also be happy to help with financial analysis and strategic planning.
posted by rue72 at 10:11 AM on August 21 [28 favorites]


Maybe I'm weird, but I have a sort of sense for how familiar a name is and I sometimes notice that person X has an unfamiliar name but is posting a lot, suggesting that they either have an old but rarely used account that is now increasing in activity or are a BND account.

Yep, same for me. Every so often I'll notice an unfamiliar name commenting and take notice, and then click on their profile. I really love the ambassador idea from If only I had a penguin...., which could do a world of good, even if it came down to a quick personal welcome memail or two.

I'm also curious about where new members will come from, as we're kind of a self-selected bunch. Is it mostly personal referrals? People who stumble across us on Google? It seems like Buzzfeed and the like are always posting roundups of comments in reddit topics, and I think some writer from Lifehacker(?) used to collect highlights from mefi threads here and make articles out of them -- would more of that type of thing send more people our way?

Re: tiered memberships mentioned above—

Agreed... I think that this might be a good model for a more specialized site (for specific professions or hobbies or high-tier networking, for example), but the idea that anyone can join up for $5 (or have it waived) makes metafilter more approachable and lots more interesting as a result. I never would have joined up had it been a pay for access model.
posted by mochapickle at 10:12 AM on August 21


I think it was touched on in the previous thread, but what about a significant social media plan? The landscape for where people spend their time online has changed radically since the early MeFi days and we haven't kept up. Let me say first that I personally have been stepping further and further away from the big platforms (FB, Tw, Instagram) but most of the eyeballs are still there. Coming up with a (largely automated?) plan for surfacing interesting threads, comments, AskMeFi questions I think could have an outsized impact on traffic and revenue compared to some of the other heavy lifting discussed above-- like even just some simple ways for existing users to quote and share (with links back here) might be effective. TBH, these changes would not be about changing or growing the community, just traffic and ad revenue, but that's what we're talking about here-- having a plan for long term financial stability.
posted by gwint at 10:13 AM on August 21 [5 favorites]


I think separating commenting and posting privileges is a bad idea. If anything, I would like to see more people post random things that take their fancy.

$5 for perpetual access to MF is a steal - I would rather see that raised then create some sort of tiered system.
posted by AndrewStephens at 10:15 AM on August 21 [2 favorites]


And just a quick note about AskMeFi: I'm constantly annoyed at how often sites like Quora get higher search rankings for questions that MeFi has existing better answers for. There's got to be a (non-evil) SEO opportunity there.
posted by gwint at 10:16 AM on August 21 [26 favorites]


How about having ambassadors?

I've played games that did something like this for new people -- it definitely can work. It's helpful to flag people in both directions -- newbies to the ambassadors, ambassadors to the newbies.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:28 AM on August 21 [1 favorite]


Long after I have completely burned out on the blue I will probably still be killing time on AskMe, aka generating content for free. It's the banana stand of MetaFilter. Find some way to get the money out of it instead of crafting a signup fee policy that needs a thirty-page PDF to explain it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:34 AM on August 21 [29 favorites]


We're never gonna charge people more to be here or charge for privileges. It's not the MeFi I believe in. I get the structural thinking behind it, but it's an absolute non-starter.

How about having ambassadors?

It's a nice idea! We'd need to think about what that might look like; there was some brainstorming previously about labeling new folks with a visible "new person" tag of some sort that I'm not totally comfortable with personally, but some more sort of selective visibility for a low-stakes ambassadorial group of users might be an interesting middle-ground. Right now mods do some of this, watching for first posts and keeping an eye out for new user interactions, but even for us that's a pretty informal process currently.

The alarm bells are blaring "there's not enough money coming in! there's not enough money coming in!" and it's very difficult to stand by and watch while people try so valiantly to ignore them. This thread feels like that cartoon with the dog sitting at the dining table with his apartment all on fire around him, saying, "this is fine." It's not fine.

Honestly, I both get where you're coming from and find this kind of characterization pretty ungenerous to the point of being hurtful. You raised a point up-thread that I've already thought about plenty over the years; I answered it with the thinking I've done about it. That's not shrugging, that's just disagreeing with a specific idea that I've already wrestled with, and trying to do so in non-confrontational way.

We are struggling. I just had to cut benefits for myself and staff. I'm trying very hard not to have to let anyone go, and still don't know if we'll manage it. This isn't fine, and as much as I am making an effort to get info to people on a regular basis and be transparent and available while also not spilling over emotionally into MetaTalk when I talk about stuff, some of the tendency to tell me what I'm feeling and thinking in these discussions is honestly as wearying and dispiriting as anything else.

I appreciate the desire to help. I appreciate that folks other than me are concerned about the situation; I wouldn't expect anything else from this place. I'm going to continue to listen to folks and to reach out on offers to help us with this stuff. But it's pretty genuinely upsetting, every single time, to be mischaracterized or mind-read in the process. I can do a lot more with folks saying "here's what I am hoping to see" than with "here's what you're thinking or feeling or do/don't care about or..."
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:46 AM on August 21 [55 favorites]


The more the long-term financial stability of the site becomes donation-based, the more people will see themselves as stakeholders, leading to the kind of interactions you are finding dispiriting.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:02 PM on August 21 [35 favorites]


And just a quick note about AskMeFi: I'm constantly annoyed at how often sites like Quora get higher search rankings for questions that MeFi has existing better answers for. There's got to be a (non-evil) SEO opportunity there.

Somewhat related - chrome for android has related articles/suggested pages for me on its homepage, and at this point it's honestly a pretty good reflection of what I read online - there's an article from Tor about the Hugos, there's a couple of articles about Sleater-Kinney, there's something about using microsoft planner better, the newest 99 percent invisible episode, something on the Saga compendium that's out today . . . except Metafilter is never listed. Reddit will come up from time to time, along with more esoteric sites, but not Metafilter.

I know you've talked to Google before and they haven't been able to tell you much, but it might be worth asking about that specific case - especially since this is something slightly different than straight search results.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:09 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


The more the long-term financial stability of the site becomes donation-based, the more people will see themselves as stakeholders

I think that's more of a personal attitude than a given, though you're probably not alone in feeling that way. I personally donate because of all the reasons I already appreciate this site and the efforts being made to keep it going. I don't feel any more of a "stakeholder" for having done so, nor do I want more say in how it's run. And no amount of money gives me the right to decide what someone else is feeling or thinking.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:21 PM on August 21 [10 favorites]


GuyZero: In, like, 2000 which is like 2 years before someone proposed to use Bayesian filtering to filter email spam. A lifetime ago.

More like two years after.
posted by hanov3r at 12:21 PM on August 21


people want a plan. it's been two months since the POC thread and a month since the state of the site thread. both of those threads were filled with suggestions and people willing to volunteer their professional services. the website is burning both cash and goodwill from it's most vulnerable users. what suggestions are the staff looking into, which are you ignoring, and why? what is the plan? if the plan isn't ready yet, why not, and when will it be? there were people in the SOTS thread willing to help you convert to a nonprofit, or to put together a business plan to continue operating under the current structure. have you used those resources? if not, why not? people expressed that it would be difficult to turn the site's finances around while cortex is working full-time as a mod, have you taken that into consideration at all? if you feel like you're capable of doing it alone, then, again, what is the plan?

if it feels like people are ascribing motivations to you unfairly, it is because we don't have any sense of what's happening behind the scenes at all. cortex said earlier that he needs to approach these issues slowly so he doesn't burn out, and i think people can appreciate that. that's what the plan is for: to say to the users of this site, "here is our plan of action, and a timetable for how long it's going to take." then it doesn't feel like we're all siting in a room on fire. it feels like we're all working to put the fire out while also taking breaks to make sure our firefighters don't pass out from smoke inhalation (not sure this metaphor works but let's just go with it).
posted by JimBennett at 12:40 PM on August 21 [27 favorites]


One of the things that isn't really talked about much here is that the PayPal fee is a speed bump to spammers not just because it's money, but because it's harder to make a ton of PayPal accounts and each account comes with a small bit of personal information.

Also, PayPal does not accept accounts from the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Monaco, Moldova, Montenegro, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Saint Lucia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Timor-Leste, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

As such, using PayPal as the processor for the $5 sign-up fee prevents many from the Middle East, and elsewhere, joining.

Might it be possible to use another provider? Stripe is apparently more open
posted by Ahmad Khani at 1:10 PM on August 21 [4 favorites]


We are already set up to accept payments from both Paypal and Stripe.
posted by ktkt at 2:22 PM on August 21


I think Ahmad Khani means just the $5 on the signup page, not the more general funding page. Stripe as an alternative payment form there may make sense if we find ourselves sticking with the fee long-term, yeah. At the moment the explicit waiver prompt is a simpler placeholder.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:29 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


Also, PayPal does not accept accounts from the following countries

Yeah, this definitely delayed my joining up from Pakistan. Eventually I got in touch with the mods and asked if I could get a friend visiting the US to send $5 by post instead as I don't like asking for waivers when I don't actually need them.

Even countries where Paypal seems to exist (eg Malaysia) there are enough hurdles in the way that I once made a Paypal account and closed it out of despair.
posted by tavegyl at 3:24 PM on August 21 [6 favorites]


You raised a point up-thread that I've already thought about plenty over the years

So many things here get plenty of thought, for years. Meanwhile, over those years, the site has kept losing people. It may be upsetting to hear that, but it's not untrue, and it's not unfair, given that these points have been brought up again and again, by many different users.

To be specific, it's clear that you guys are and have been doing a lot of thinking about the decline in revenue and membership, but I think it's fair to say that the lackluster initiative to address these problems in a structural manner doesn't signal a sense of urgency. Frankly one of cortex' comments in the most recent State of the Site thread just left me baffled: "I'm gonna keep kicking hard to help it keep going and keep improving, no matter what happens with revenue or user metrics". These are precisely the things that people have been telling you that matter.

But it's pretty genuinely upsetting, every single time, to be mischaracterized or mind-read in the process

I do think this is an important reason why people leave Metafilter.
posted by dmh at 5:08 PM on August 21 [12 favorites]


I would have gone with "Welcome to MetaFilter!" dmh, but you kinda stole my thunder
posted by some loser at 5:28 PM on August 21


Frankly one of cortex' comments in the most recent State of the Site thread just left me baffled: "I'm gonna keep kicking hard to help it keep going and keep improving, no matter what happens with revenue or user metrics". These are precisely the things that people have been telling you that matter.

Of course those things matter. I acknowledge that specifically in that thread several times, including in the same comment you're pulling that sentence out of.

But I don't have absolute control over the externalities affecting the site. We can try and push back against those externalities, we can make changes and push for growth and attempt to improve revenue, and we're in the process of doing those things. But I don't get to decide what the world is like, or what the ad market trends are, or what people's internet use is like. So we'll do what we can but it's an uphill battle with no easy certain outcome. I won't pretend otherwise.

The comment you're quoting is me talking about being dedicated to MetaFilter in the face of that uncertainty. Of saying I don't know how it's going to play out, but I'm going to try to keep maintaining and caring for this place whether it grows or shrinks. That shouldn't be baffling, and it shouldn't be taken as defeatist: I recognize that I don't have control over the world and I'm prepared to help MeFi be whatever it is in the face of that unknowability, even as I'm pushing to turn trends around. It's saying I'm going to try, and I'm not going to stop caring about this place if trying isn't enough to turn those metrics around.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:53 PM on August 21 [19 favorites]


It would be a big change in site norms, but I might consider turning comments off for posts like this, cortex. I'm not sure the comments really help you or the community.
posted by smoke at 6:11 PM on August 21 [38 favorites]


It would be a big change in site norms, but I might consider turning comments off for posts like this, cortex. I'm not sure the comments really help you or the community.

I agree with this -- there is a time and place for interactive (possibly even confrontational) discussion, and there is a time and place for no-drama announcements. I really appreciate how you are reversing the previous patterns of non-communication, but there might need to be a different balance point.

But also, I was struck by this: But it's pretty genuinely upsetting, every single time, to be mischaracterized or mind-read in the process (emphasis mine). In a couple of the previous discussions, lots of people were urging you to take a break, have a retreat, and get some breathing room. It doesn't sound like that has been possible, and that frustration is showing.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:10 PM on August 21 [9 favorites]


Do people generally notice new people at all? I don't mean that in a negative way, like old-hats are ignoring newbies

One of the most annoying things about this website is how ridiculously invested people are in whether a user has been around for a long time or not. Who fucking cares? Ambassadors? Are you kidding me? Why on earth would any new user need an “ambassador” to comment on a fucking community blog? How precious do you people think you are?

That, along with the whole “We want new users to pay us money but not actually participate” where people are brainstorming ways to attract, like, 12 new users of the ideal global demographic, while worrying outrageously about spammers...that’s really putting the cart before the horse.

Go buy a Facebook ad. Advertise Metafilter. Worry about spammers when there are enough people coming here to actually make spam a problem. What was the post deletion rate—like one a DAY? Spam is not your problem, a declining userbase is your problem. Getting over yourself is a pretty big problem. When all these supposed new users show up, the site is going to look very different and interact in a different way. If that isn’t okay, then sit down and think real hard about why.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:20 PM on August 21 [50 favorites]


what suggestions are the staff looking into, which are you ignoring, and why? what is the plan? if the plan isn't ready yet, why not, and when will it be?

I think these are useful questions and it would be a shame if they were lost in the shuffle.

if it feels like people are ascribing motivations to you unfairly, it is because we don't have any sense of what's happening behind the scenes at all.

This is a good thing to make explicit. I think the mindreading is regrettable and hope commenters can keep it under control, but to the extent that the questions quoted at the top of this comment aren't answered, maybe it's just one of those predictable things that communities do irrespective of whether it's beneficial.
posted by Jpfed at 8:24 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


“Oh, but we need more people to join us, but they have to have money first.”

“Yes, but will they be the right people?”

“Of course they will be! The money proves it! We’ll just make sure to take them aside and give them elaborate instructions on how to be one of us.”

Is this a website or a country club?
posted by Autumnheart at 8:41 PM on August 21 [23 favorites]


Ambassadors? Are you kidding me? Why on earth would any new user need an “ambassador” to comment on a fucking community blog? How precious do you people think you are?

So a thing I see happen at everything from meetups to conferences is folks who like a thing in principle, but aren't really feeling confident about interacting with the social context of that thing. They managed to get up the gumption to show up, but beyond that they're operating on a pretty provisional level of social comfort, feeling vulnerable, feeling uncertain.

And ideally what they encounter as they make those first efforts to become part of the social interactions is a sense that they're welcome, that they're wanted. That the folks already hanging around see a new person and want to bring them into the fold, welcome them into a conversation. That when you show up feeling nervous, the first thing you hear is "hey, I like your button/shirt/comment/post" and not like "uh, you're obviously new here..."

And I don't think that's necessarily either here or there as far as a notion of capital-a Ambassadors go, but I think thinking about what people's early experiences on the site is like is important. Recognizing that needing to get people to sign up leads directly to needing to get those folks to not nope right the fuck out again afterward when the thing they signed up for turns out to be e.g. immediate sarcasm or dismissiveness or mockery.

It's easy from a point of long-standing membership to universalize a degree of old-school toughness or love-it-or-leave it familiarity with MeFi as something that should apply to everyone, but folks who haven't had the time invested here to put up with rough edges don't have any particular reason to be interested in those rough edges being what they run into when they first show up. Thinking about what new folks experience when they get here, and how to make that a positive thing, is absolutely worthwhile and describing it as precious feels explicitly counter-productive to the idea of helping MeFi grow and thrive as a community in the long-term.

We're working on updating the documentation people see when signing up, when first exploring the site, when looking for guidance on how to be here and what the culture is, but a big part of the community project before us is folks embracing the idea that we all have a responsibility to make MeFi feel like a place people want to be. And that's gonna be a whole project itself because the mods can't personally manage every social interaction on the site. Nor can we make new people feel good about bad first experiences.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:45 PM on August 21 [20 favorites]


Why on earth would any new user need an “ambassador” to comment on a fucking community blog?

We've had people in this *very thread* - not to mention pretty much every "whither Metafilter?" thread ever - say they felt intimidated about signing up, intimidated about commenting, intimidated about making a post. Maybe you think that's dumb, but it seems to be a real thing, and if we can help people not feel that way, it sure seems like a positive.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:57 PM on August 21 [32 favorites]


Metafilter isn’t a meet-up, or a conference. It’s a website, where people read posts about stuff that links off to other locations online, and then comment. This is not only not unique on the internet, it is absurdly common. Strangers manage to post and comment literally everywhere else online by the billions without a psychological struggle.

That when you show up feeling nervous, the first thing you hear is "hey, I like your button/shirt/comment/post" and not like "uh, you're obviously new here..."

Why would anyone show up feeling nervous?

Why would “Uh, you’re obviously new here” even stand as a post, much less be considered a valid point?

folks who haven't had the time invested here to put up with rough edges don't have any particular reason to be interested in those rough edges being what they run into when they first show up.

And by “rough edges” we mean the snotty hierarchy that is specifically preserved, because some users are protected at the expense of others, and it takes a while for users to figure out that this is a country club and not a corner pub.

but a big part of the community project before us is folks embracing the idea that we all have a responsibility to make MeFi feel like a place people want to be.

As long as they pay their $5, pass the background check, and have their butts sniffed to a sufficient degree to know that this is a very cultured place for cultured people who understand that even paying your $5 and participating on the site will make you a user, but never make you a member?

Not only is there a massive amount of Dunning-Kruger in play where people seem utterly convinced that posting a comment is insanely difficult, even though people do it every day on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook, and last time I checked, those sites were not hurting for audience participation. But there’s also a disgusting exclusivity that “the community” seems desperate to preserve, instead of understanding that it’s the biggest barrier to these supposed “goals”.

You want new users to financially prop up your club of pals.

I probably don’t have to point out that that isn’t a sustainable business model.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:06 PM on August 21 [22 favorites]


You'll be missed, I'm sure.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:12 PM on August 21 [23 favorites]


We've had people in this *very thread* - not to mention pretty much every "whither Metafilter?" thread ever - say they felt intimidated about signing up, intimidated about commenting, intimidated about making a post.

Yeah, because people are dicks! And the rules for posting are a mile long and completely arbitrary anyway! Someone will delete your post just because they don’t want to bother moderating it, even when it only has 6 comments in an entire day. And instead of, you know, having a consistently enforced set of rules that everyone can understand, instead you just encourage people to spend months, even YEARS lurking until they’ve internalized exactly who does and doesn’t get to say what. And even then, EVERY post, user and comment is lauded not for its quality or relevance, but whether the person who posted it has been here for however many years. It’s nuts.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:14 PM on August 21 [13 favorites]


As long as they pay their $5, pass the background check, and have their butts sniffed to a sufficient degree to know that this is a very cultured place for cultured people who understand that even paying your $5 and participating on the site will make you a user, but never make you a member?

This characterization is in direct contradiction of pretty much everything I've had to say about what I want this place to be for years. I don't know what to tell you there: I think the thing you're describing would be a pretty shitty position to take indeed, but it also has zero to do with my actual position and presenting it as the actual goal or motivation here is really weird and unkind.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:19 PM on August 21 [27 favorites]


Blah, blah, blah, blah. In the timeframe that I personally have seen you repeat these platitudes, you could’ve completed an MBA. Instead, literally nothing has changed. This is exactly the same conversation on repeat.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:23 PM on August 21 [3 favorites]


Nothing says "I'm not invested in all this" like 5 het-up name-calling comments
posted by GuyZero at 9:57 PM on August 21 [20 favorites]


Jesus fucking christ Autumnheart, give it a rest. This site isn't your personal punching bag.
posted by desuetude at 10:02 PM on August 21 [49 favorites]


Why would anyone show up feeling nervous?

Maybe because they've been lurking for a while, and they've read people posting shit like your comments here and are afraid they'll receive the same?

We want new users to pay us money but not actually participate

What the hell are you talking about? I can't even see how this is a bad-faith reading of anyone's ideas, statements, or positions. It's just weird.

Autumnheart, I know at least one person who quit Metafilter in part because of your hostile, nasty comments in several threads. You were not the only person whose behavior convinced her the site was no longer worth her engaging with, but you were one of them. People are attentive to whether they've seen an individual person's name on the site before because people remember and notice patterns of behavior. And if they see the same individuals repeatedly engaging in the same hostile, bad-faith behavior, they realize that those individuals are going to continue doing that.

This thing you're doing right now? This is at least one thing that keeps new users from deciding to join, or from staying if they have already joined. If you hate the other people in this place so much, I don't understand why you're here.
posted by biogeo at 10:21 PM on August 21 [33 favorites]


I just want to +1 Autumnheart after edging slowly away from this site for years because of the stultifying degree of professional middle class whining.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:55 PM on August 21 [8 favorites]


Money discussions seem to always bring out some people’s worse angels.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:01 PM on August 21 [3 favorites]


I've never understood how people seem to know so much about other members' class or other background. Is there a list posted on the wiki somewhere? If so, mine might have some mistakes.
posted by biogeo at 11:25 PM on August 21 [8 favorites]


Hey gang! Sorry I'm late to the thread! Did I miss anyth-- oh no.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:37 PM on August 21 [17 favorites]


So I see we've reached the part of a MeTa thread where the Brave Speakers of Truth to Power do their Ritual Airing of Grievances.

I'm going to go back and read the first couple of those, from 2000.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:41 PM on August 21 [33 favorites]


But I don't have absolute control over the externalities affecting the site. We can try and push back against those externalities, we can make changes and push for growth and attempt to improve revenue, and we're in the process of doing those things. But I don't get to decide what the world is like, or what the ad market trends are, or what people's internet use is like. So we'll do what we can but it's an uphill battle with no easy certain outcome. I won't pretend otherwise.

I get that. This site has been around for something like 20 years. That's no small feat; a testament to the efforts of the staff and the users alike. I've been reading Mefi on and off for all of those years and it remains a place where I get valuable insights and interesting links. I hope that continues for a good while into the future.

But when you say something like (thing I quoted), to me that sounds like "I'm going to keep this ship afloat, no matter where it goes!". When in fact, as captain, you may or may not keep the ship afloat — after all, like you say, you can't control the weather — but you have to set a course.

I hope that the budgetary tweaks and the fact you guys are no longer having to deal with the megathreads gives some breathing room to figure out an actual plan (i.e. as rue72 said, something with forecasts and actuals on a month-by-month basis) for where this site wants to go and how to go about it. Peace.
posted by dmh at 12:20 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]


How about trial accounts. Is the entry fee overly constraining new user participation, because people today have access so many free general/sig forums? Seemed obvious to ask about, given major news sites always pestering readers with their paywalls after reading the 10th article of the month. And lots of online games offer limited trial accounts as well. Which is not to say that mefi is a game or a newspaper, nor whether trial accounts are effective. And of course the obvious issue is spam and fake accounts. But, things like fees and accounts are often thought to be a source of engagement inertia/hurdle for web users.
posted by polymodus at 1:18 AM on August 22


I've been a member for 8 years, lurking for a few months to a year before that. I have lived and worked in Poland my entire life and so part of the appeal of this site, at least at first, was to get a peek at the world outside my country. Though I seldom comment, I visit the site several times per day and consider it my internet home.

I am de-lurking now to say that I am truly grateful for all the work that the mods and cortex are doing and that I hope we can have a discussion that is both on-topic and friendly. We all have faults but the tone of discussion matters and I think it's possible to reword critique in a way that is kind and not personal.

To comment on the entry fee... I have truly mixed feelings there. I still remember, as a Polish teenager in the 1990s, when my parents would bring home 20 bucks per month combined. I never knew about Metafilter until my country changed so much that paying up a 5 buck entry fee was not a problem any more but I also know I would have been too proud and/or embarrassed to ask for the entry fee to be waived for me unless it was framed in a very inviting way. Like "If you are not able to pay the 5 bucks for technical or other reasons, just write to us so that we know you are not a robot and we will waive the fee".
But for example "Apply here if you want us to waive this fee and tell us why" or similar would not work for me - I would just turn away.

I have a monthly contribution to Metafilter set up because I can now afford it and because I feel really invested in the site's existence and success. However, I would feel very unhappy with any sort of tier system or any increase in the membership fee. I think it would be *maybe* not off-putting if the system were set up to show a yearly reminder (that was clearly a system message and not personal) or message encouraging a new donation like "in order to keep Metafilter free to use for everyone, we encourage people who are able to contribute $suggested amount$ per year to do so". But I am not sure how it's different from the current system of recurrent banners.
posted by M. at 2:51 AM on August 22 [48 favorites]


The challenge for Metafilter is that a lot of the good proposals people have made will require a lot of developer time to implement, and developers are expensive. Even ideas that sound relatively simple, like granting long-time lurkers free membership, would take a real chunk of time to design, implement, and test. It would be hard enough to roll out these features on a clean and tidy codebase, but I suspect Metafilter's unique code makes it difficult to develop on quickly, and that there's probably quite a bit of ongoing maintenance to be done to keep everything reliable and secure. So it's not like the existing dev is able to spend all their time on new features.

That's why I think a lot of the behind-the-scenes work lately has been around documentation and guidelines – while there's only one developer, there are multiple people who are good at writing, and so they're helping in the best way they can.

To be honest, it's extraordinary that Metafilter has been able to get away with not adding significant new features to improve engagement and social sharing for so long. It's a testament to the strength of the community that it's still as popular as it is. But let's remember – when Metafilter was founded, you had one person who was a combined developer and mod; now the balance is much more towards mods. If Metafilter had more developers, it would be much easier to experiment with all the ideas people have suggested here and in previous threads. Even better, those developers would have been around for years.

But all of that takes money, and it's clear the site is not in a position to spend another ~$5-8k/month on another dev without a lot more cash. The only way to get around this is by raising a bunch of capital. Unfortunately, fundraising is really hard and stressful – just look at this thread! You need to create a plan and defend it, and you hope to god you can execute it well because you're playing with a lot of people's money here. It wouldn't just change the website, it'd change the feeling and culture of the organisation – both via the new staff and new ways in which decisions would have to be made, and the fact that some funders would want changes in how the organisation is governed.

So I sympathise with potential funders who are pressing for a plan that could see Metafilter grow (I'm one of them!) – but I also sympathise and understand the predicament Cortex is in. I've been in that place before, when my company transformed from a work-for-hire shop to a place that made its own direct-to-consumer products. It needed a whole new set of skills and experience and it was a brutal change.

Even if the steps forward sound simple – make a plan, raise some funds, hire some people, change the organisation – even if they're necessary for survival, that doesn't make them easy to do. Berating the staff is cathartic but it's not helpful. Yeah, it might shock them into action, but it can equally dishearten them and even make people give up. That's not what we want.

I'll continue to advocate for a plan to raise funds for new features that'll grow the site. I personally think that's the best way forward. But I'm under no illusions that it's easy to do given Metafilter's current situation, so in the meantime I'll continue to support the site in the best ways I can myself, through donations and by making new posts and sharing them online.
posted by adrianhon at 3:28 AM on August 22 [25 favorites]


I'm going to agree with Autumnheart and think it is time for Metafilter to change. Cortex is doing an amazing job and shouldn't be disheartened by this spirited discussion, even though that's easier to say then do. Let people sign up, deal with spammers while realizing they will get through, make tough choices on the cost-benefit for being globally inclusive vs the economic realities. I've seen Metafilter change character a dozen times over twenty years and it always worked out. People stomp their feet and leave, but that's the way the world is.

This site used to have gifs of elephants pooping and solving fake internet crimes. That was fun.
posted by geoff. at 4:46 AM on August 22 [9 favorites]


I want to just second adrianhon's insight into the chicken-and-egg problem with some of the potential ways forward and how that relates to revenue. This is part of that cliff problem some of us have expressed concern about. The revenue drops, so you have to drop staff or advertise/market/create partnerships less (not something in the budget currently I think), so then you don't have enough staff to fix problems and you can't really ask them to do more, and then the spiral goes down from there.

Boy I do not like discussing people's livelihoods and hard work in public. But that's a big part of the cliff on the business end.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:55 AM on August 22 [7 favorites]


Metafilter can't and shouldn't try to compete with Facebook or Twitter, doing that is the end of the site as it would lose whatever value it still has for people for not being Twitter and Facebook and can't possibly offer anything of like fashion that would make people leave those sites for Metafilter.

Metafilter is a niche site where, yes, there is a premium placed on long form discussion and the kinds of interests and history that would make that appealing to people. There isn't much else that differentiates Metafilter from so, so many other sites on the web except the history that the site has and the manner of interaction it favors. There can certainly be changes around the margins, but Metafilter will have to live or die by what it is and what it's always been. It's old school and that might not appeal to a lot of younger potential users, but there isn't much way around that absent some truly new application that no one else has developed. If someone's got that billion buck idea, cool! Otherwise the site is what it is, which is why people who like it are so damned loyal to it.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:55 AM on August 22 [6 favorites]


I subscribed today. I genuinely believe in this place. It’s helped me through some shitty times, and given me uproarious joy. I’m glad that cortex and the mod team are working to make this a better place, and I’m also glad that the team are human and willing to try to fix things. Things will go wrong. The internet of 2019 is a vastly different place to the internet of 1999, and even 2009.

The one thing that remains the same is that shouting and griping and being an arsehole is a big neon sign that says “I am being an arsehole”. So don’t be an arsehole. It makes people less inclined to listen to you even if you have a point to make.
posted by prismatic7 at 5:56 AM on August 22 [17 favorites]


people seem utterly convinced that posting a comment is insanely difficult, even though people do it every day on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook,

Comments here tend to much long than those platforms. Cripes Twitter and Facebook require an external editor to insert a paragraph break. Anyone who has spent anytime lurking at all is going to see that the norm for commenting is at a higher level than those other platforms. And yes, we expect people ro have read enough to not be Todd Lokken it up.

I'm a little surprised anyone would stumble across a community and start commenting immediately. Everyplace that isn't shouting into the void has some sort of community norms that it's polite to adhere to. Maybe I'm too much of an introvert but I couldn't just walk in and start commenting.

Also it's pretty obvious that we don't actually care if members have money. In the first place all the real old members you accuse of being numberist never paid anything to get their account. The site has always handed out free accounts in a limited form, even after the introduction of the $5 fee when Matt was the whole staff. We've even been open to alternative payment methods (EG:Jessamyn used to accept stamps in lieu of pay pal payment). And in the 15+ years we've been charging a fee it hasn't increased. If we cared about money the fee would have been outstripping inflation and would be annual not lifetime.
posted by Mitheral at 6:11 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Maybe the friction/transaction costs would be too high, but one way to eliminate the fee while retaining its spam-stopper qualities might be to charge the $5 and then rebate it after some metric was reached, e.g., interval of time, number of comments, first post, or whatever. Spammers wouldn't make it that far and their fees would be kept. This setup would also encourage newcomers to participate from the start (without being overly burdensome if they chose to refrain) which, IMHO, would be a good thing. The fee rebate could come with a nudge to let Metafilter keep it or make a one-time or recurring donation.
posted by carmicha at 6:42 AM on August 22


If a one-time large infusion of cash would enable a significant large change and that change were a visible thing with concrete benefits for users*, maybe there's a kickstarter in there somewhere? I'm thinking the benefit would be raising money + exposure via kickstarter=new users.

However, for that it would have to be something with visible/concrete benefits because no one is going to want to kickstart "let's hire someone to tidy up the code on the back end, in a way that's invisible to users but will make it much easier to implement any changes we want to make in the future."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:24 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


There's been frequent calls/suggestions for various merch options (that drew the usual non-committal we'll-think-about-that-too-folks-definitely-maybe-sometime that likely drives a lot of the more intense bursts of frustration here). It got pointed out that actual revenue from such things isn't much--but a kickstarter/whatever style campaign with limited edition shirts and mugs and various merch of that type tied to pledge levels probably has the potential to pull in more.
posted by Drastic at 7:43 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


I'm torn on the benefit of ambassadorship type stuff: on the one hand, it can come off as a pretty elitist kind of thing, and on the other hand, commenting here definitely can be intimidating. I tend to fall on the side of thinking that structural ways to make commenting or posting more inviting and less scary, like increasing the number of discussions on relatively friendly subjects or hosting encouragements to post to the front page, are much more effective than singling out a subset of users to go up to new folks and try to forcibly initiate conversation. A lot of people look at that sort of thing, freeze, and feel less comfortable in a new space than they might have if their entry into that space was less remarked upon.

Incidentally, it is not remotely obvious that MeFi does not care if members have money. I've been here five years, or just about, and I've tried to start up a number of discussions about class here. MeFi's 'point of view' skews noticeably upper-middle-class and noticeably older than many other places on the Anglophone internet. While that is not the case for everyone in the room here by a long shot, it does shape the way that class is perceived. I can tell you that the $5 sign-up fee was a huge flag for my working-class spouse that this is an online community that says that you ought to have money to pay to join, even if it's just enough money that you can blow $5 on something without thinking about what else you could buy with that $5. If you can like, go out and buy a coffee at a shop without actually thinking about the potential impacts of spending that $5, you are in a very different financial situation from me. Assuming that $5 is nothing is, uh, a pretty good indicator of your income status.

If we switched to a $5/year model, you might lose me. I would be pretty sad about that, but I've cut almost all of my paid subscriptions to Internet apps and services this year because I'm in a tough financial crunch thanks to insurance bullshit over the most recent flood. I kick in money when I can, and I actually do have a standing $3/month donation I hope to increase when I one day have some cash flow, but the requirement to pony up cash lands very differently from saying "we are dealing with financial need, if this place is going to survive, we need people to chip in." This place and Dreamwidth are first on my mental list when it comes to donations for my internet social media, and Dreamwidth is doing pretty well as another little place on the internet for long-form discussion supported by user donations rather than by ads. (I don't think they have ads at all, actually. But they also don't do their own moderation, so trade-offs happen.)

Asking is one thing, and MeFi really should ask and talk about money more, and this post is a great move in the right direction for that. The more folks you ask, the more will go "okay, okay, let me see if I can help--I want to be part of the group of people who helps keep this space running, if I can!" and that is especially true if you don't make people feel shitty for not being able to chip in more. The mods are actually really good about this in their messaging, I should add--that stands out to me. But user demands to change site structure to demand financial investment from users also have a cost, and that cost may actually decrease buy-in and investment in the community from users without a ton of cash flow.

More to the point, people without a ton of cash flow have a lot to offer the site in terms of commentary and the kind of discussions that really make the site more valuable as a place to read and interact. Making this place easier for people who don't have $5 to spare to come in and build the community means that you can help attract other people who maybe do have $5 to spare on a monthly basis.
posted by sciatrix at 7:46 AM on August 22 [28 favorites]


With respect to merch: cortex, do you have more thoughts on the possibility of allowing folks on the community to donate art that can be used for print-on-demand dropshipped merch? It seems like the kind of donation that a) is self-contained, b) requires little to no no further management, moderation, or oversight on the part of paid staff, and c) would meet a demand that is frequently requested in revenue-building threads for witty merchandise that can be used to start conversations about Metafilter.

I can think of a couple of different ways that something like that could be done, but if it's a non-starter, brainstorming those seems like a waste of time.
posted by sciatrix at 7:49 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


I looked at the Sign Up page for the first time in probably 13 years and…wow, it needs to be revamped yesterday. The ‘Trust’ section in particular strikes me as creepy and off-putting. Who is this person talking to me? Why do I care that they are granting me this awesome power to post on a web site?

My suggestion is to stick a big “Click here to sign up” button at the top of that page and cut out 90% of the rest. “You want to become a member? Great! You’ll be able to comment right away and create new posts / questions in a week. We can ban you for any reason with no refund. Don’t be a dick. Here are a few links if you want more info about the site.”

How about a pay-what-you-want donation at sign up with $5 being the suggested amount but making it clear that any amount, including $0, is fine? Additional payment options beyond Paypal would be great too.
posted by Diskeater at 8:03 AM on August 22 [20 favorites]


So much of this reads like MeFi is a video game that launched essentially in beta and everyone is pissed it wasn't 100% launched with a working business model and 100% of the features expected, so all the threads are filled with angry games and spitballing people.

Of course, this isn't a video game that was oversold -- this is a website that's been going for 20 years. It's not the feature set has changed; the "table stakes" have changed. In a sense, it's design debt, and it's been incurring since mathowie's days.

Personally, I keep thinking these conversations are trying to solve new problems with old solutions. Not to dismiss doing a Kickstarter, but Kickstarters are entirely about raising capital, not creating ongoing revenue, and I've seen a lot of places confuse capital and operating expenses when they launch Kickstarters. By the same token, a Patreon could work, but here you end up creating a donor class you have to service first and can easily just go "fuck it" and drop their contribution because Someone Hurt My Fee-Fees On MeTa.

I'll say it this way: If you want MeFi to do all these things for you and you want MeFi to be sustaining over time, you need a much larger infusion of capital than selling t-shirts will give you. And that infusion of capital will be just like venture capital -- it will create the sort of donor class certain people on here don't want.

And I'll also say this: If MeFi were to be "run like a business" or "run like a non-profit," MeTa would be just as full of people using the comments as their personal outhouse of grievance, perhaps worse because the sense of entitlement might go up.

You want to solve all these problems? Figure out how to bring in the capital to do the site improvements while figuring out how to make a business plan that will sustain the org for the 3-5 years it'll take to get it back on its feet. And to be clear, having an MBA will do NOTHING to solve that. This is the problem of every org caught in inertia created by the rapid progress of expectations the internet brought us. I'll say the people with the worst ideas in the room for those moments are people with MBAs. (I've been in a few of those rooms the last decade.)

I get it. I want to help, too. But even now I'm wondering if shouting advice is really the right way to fix what in the end is a problem a lot of places of this vintage are having. I feel like it's climate change and we're yelling at each other to not use plastic straws while the Amazon is getting set alight by corrupt governments and megacorps out to add a penny a share to their stock price. Maybe, just maybe, we should be thinking big and systematically about the situation.

I'm sorry, I'm just really frustrated with the circular arguing, spitballing, and the general sense of I Alone Can Fix MeFi For I Alone Have Perfect Information these threads give off. I would not want to be in cortex's shoes, and by no means is cortex perfect or without fault, but all things considered, I'd rather him in those shoes than some MBA wielding denizen of Sand Hill Road trying to figure out how to "make this place better for users" while also trying to position MeFi for a big enough sale that he can buy another boat and/or give Peter Thiel a little more walking-around-and-suing-people money.
posted by dw at 8:19 AM on August 22 [23 favorites]


I'm a little surprised anyone would stumble across a community and start commenting immediately. Everyplace that isn't shouting into the void has some sort of community norms that it's polite to adhere to. Maybe I'm too much of an introvert but I couldn't just walk in and start commenting.

yes, I suspect I'm not an outlier insofar as my finally moving from lurker to paid up member was driven by a desire (need?) to finally join the conversation. I think that took about a year and a half of reading, thinking, observing, getting a sense of the norms.

Though it's worth noting, there was a lot I hadn't picked up from lurking, that didn't exactly land with me until I started conversing. Because I don't think you can really grasp grasp a community until you throw (ease?) yourself into it. And yes, I'm going to argue rather fiercely that Metafilter is a community ... when it's functioning, when it's amounting to something more than the sum of its very many parts and pieces. And I worry if someone's a regular contributor here and yet somehow not seeing (feeling?) this synergy at least some of the time.
posted by philip-random at 8:30 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


In framing this post, cortex said:

There's a lot going on on the site, and a bunch of ongoing mod work on a bunch of non-revenue fronts as well. But I want to make this kind of snapshot easier to produce regularly and not be a big production, so I'm going to keep this post short and simple, and ask that folks keep whatever conversation is needed in here to just productive questions/suggestions about finance stuff and save other discussion for other threads.

So I think it would be great for us to have a different space to talk about structural efforts to make the site and community more welcoming to new contributors ("welcome wagon", "ambassadors", etc.), especially as related topics have come up a lot in the MetaTalk about neuroatypicality. And as I mentioned in a previous thread, 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 (more details in my original comment).
posted by brainwane at 8:54 AM on August 22 [3 favorites]


METAFILTER: it's climate change and we're yelling at each other to not use plastic straws while the Amazon is getting set alight by corrupt governments and megacorps out to add a penny a share to their stock price




... but seriously. Actually, that's quite serious. This is serious. Yet I see this particular comment in its entirety as an elaborate example of the lead phrasing of ole Webster's official definition of PROBLEM.

ie: a question proposed for solution.

Which somehow calms me down a bit. I suppose, because it's nothing we humans haven't been doing since pretty much forever. Existence is nothing if not a litany, a complexity, a carousel of problems proposed for solution, and now here we are dealing with another one, which is itself a litany, a complexity, a carousel of smaller problems. Though the big one seems to be that the current Metafilter model is not sustainable on either fiscal or human terms, so what are we gonna do about it?

I've personally tried anger, panic, despair, sarcasm, indifference, blaming others and a bunch of other stuff and yet none of these have worked. So now, I suppose I'm doing my own small version of fixing on the narrow band of stuff I can actually do whilst having some faith that others are doing the same, bringing their own unique talents and insights to the battle. Meanwhile, yes, the Amazon keeps burning, but though this may inform some of my urgency, I know there's nothing I can really do about it, not in any short term direct way. And if it ends up being the part of what finally wipes us all out, so be it. But meanwhile, I'm gonna remain invested in the aforementioned unwritten future, the one I hope we're currently writing ... where Metafilter obviously doesn't last forever, but it does resolve this current PROBLEM, not without suffering a few wounds, but these soon become scars and sometimes scar tissue is far tougher than the stuff it's grown to replace.

And so on.
posted by philip-random at 9:04 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


The $5 fee should be available in the local currency for people outside of the US. This retains its ability to serve as a token barrier while avoiding exchange rate issues where $5 USD is a lot of money but $5 local currency is manageable.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:23 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Just make it "pay what you can" and suggest that the cost of a local lunch is what's expected.
posted by odinsdream at 9:32 AM on August 22 [12 favorites]


Also, I strongly feel that running mefi as a co-op like in a socialist sense or B-Corp sense should be seriously considered.
posted by odinsdream at 9:35 AM on August 22 [8 favorites]


The $5 fee should be available in the local currency for people outside of the US.

Can you explain what you mean by this?

I put euros into my PayPal account, and MeFi receives dollars from that same PayPal account. I don't think it's a problem that the fee is commonly calculated in USD; the problems are
1) payment options, and
2) differences in living standards. The equivalent of $5 is a lot of money for some of us no matter in which currency it's expressed. For some people, $5 is a cup of coffee; for others, it's a week of food.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:55 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I've never understood how people seem to know so much about other members' class or other background.

The career section of AskMe says it all!
posted by stoneandstar at 10:27 AM on August 22 [3 favorites]


smoke: It would be a big change in site norms, but I might consider turning comments off for posts like this, cortex. I'm not sure the comments really help you or the community.

Serious suggestion: why not make State of the Site an email?* Do you see an influx of new users, potentially de-lurking to pay the $5 cover? If not, an email sent out, stating "We Will Not Read Replies To This Email Address," and sent from an address that is set up to delete all incoming emails, could distribute information to MeFites. As a bonus, it would also probably get to people who have also gone away from MetaFilter. Include a link or directions on how to not get system emails, instead of an "unsubscribe" button.

After reading smoke's suggestion, I was wondering "what's the intent of these posts?" If it's simple information distribution, use email.

*If that's a problem with opt-in requirement of GDPR, shouldn't the Contact / Privacy Preferences all be "Opt-In" instead of "Opt-Out"?

But if you want a discussion, it could help for you to include more content, either in this post or a separate post, about what has been done since prior thread(s) where people suggested solutions. It could be as simple as a bulleted list of suggestions, filed under ongoing, pending investigation, and and not currently feasible. Naturally, whatever information you did provide would be questioned and discussed, but it would be a way to directly address questions and concerns about actions taken since the immediate actions and planning and medium and long-term work MeTa threads, which are now closed.


Drastic: There's been frequent calls/suggestions for various merch options (that drew the usual non-committal we'll-think-about-that-too-folks-definitely-maybe-sometime that likely drives a lot of the more intense bursts of frustration here). It got pointed out that actual revenue from such things isn't much

Thinking on this, why not significantly increase the cost of goods? Thinking of fundraisers, you can donate or "subscribe" to NPR or PBS and pay $120, and get a labeled tote bag, or $160 and get a sweatshirt. While you might be able to buy those items in a managed store for $30 and $40 respectively, supporters recognize that the good is a small part of what they're paying for in that instance. The item is a token, the donation is the intent.

But recognizing that MeFites live around the world, and even if there's a regional production and distribution system behind an online shop, the fundraising cost of the good may be out of reach for the majority of people in certain areas, due to finances like those mentioned by adamvasco and M., fundraising items could be listed either at two price-points (standard and fundraising-edition, with a bonus sticker or something, for 4x the cost of standard), or a base price and the option to pay more. Bandcamp comes to mind for the latter, but that's for music, and I'm not sure if any international print-on-demand platforms have that allowance.

Final thought on this fundraising tangent: I also recognize that shipping can significantly add to the cost of an item for some users, but I also know that there are MeFites who travel to and from a range of places. In fact, a few MeFites offered to help me get an inexpensive book to New Zealand, and I didn't know any of them before posting that question. In other words, is there a problem if MeFites schlep merch to different countries, where it can then be shipped at a lower cost, potentially allowing MetaFilter to get more of the total cost?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:13 AM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Lot of unkindness and rough edges in here. Some days I wonder if negativity and bad faith aren't as much a threat to the site's future as financial pressure. Maybe it's just where we are as a society in 2019.

Re the idea of ambassadors, this seems like a generally good idea with a lot of ways to go wrong. What if we focused less on the idea of newbie vs experienced user and more on just helping people get connected? To wit:
  • when people sign up, give them the option to identify some of their interests, maybe by just showing the top x tags and letting them check a few boxes
  • they then get a 'welcome to metafilter' page that says, hey here are some recent posts that you might be interested in, and also here are some mefites that frequently post about these things that you're interested in
  • also here are some people with questions about the things you're interested in, over here at askme, maybe you can help?
  • also here are some mefites near you geographically, and here's the next meetup, or here's where you could propose one if you'd like to meet some people
  • and if you have questions or problems, here's the link to contact us, and maybe here's a (randomized) handful of mefites who have opted in to being responsive to memail to answer any questions or help somebody new get settled in
To really do the second one properly, I would want to add a 'stuff I talk about' tag cloud to profiles, that would reflect not just the tags people post about but also the tags on the threads where people tend to spend their time. I.e., I very rarely post FPPs but the things I tend to comment on include: social justice, US politics, games, art, and Portland. Seems like it wouldn't be too hard to figure that out based on the tags on the threads that I comment in, and that would be a better tool for connecting people with similar interests than relying on posts alone.

Just throwing around ideas. Obviously there'd be an opt-out if people did not want to be included, but even as socially inept as I am I'd be happy to help get new folks settled, and that's much easier if we can connect on similar interests. And if growing the userbase is part of the solution to the current site crisis, then it should be not just about getting people in the door but also about getting them connected to the community.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:22 AM on August 22 [7 favorites]


How is $5 classism? Jesus Christ a single ride on the subway is $3. Metafilter swings wildly from suggesting the most expensive neighborhoods in the most expensive cities to being boho chic.
posted by geoff. at 11:24 AM on August 22 [3 favorites]


geoff. -- which subway? See adamvasco's comment upthread:

A data point re $5
When I joined I lived in California and $5 was just that $5
When I came to Brazil $5 was about BR$12
and that would buy you a cheap lunch.
Today $5 is BR$20 which is 2 cheap lunches.
You aren't going to get many 3rd world members.
If the sign up dropped to $2 there is still the hoop to go through to keep the spammers at bay and I would get to eat lunch tomorrow.

posted by filthy light thief at 11:29 AM on August 22 [13 favorites]


It's almost like there's a wide user base here and for some people it's not "boho chic" and thinking of things in terms of subways but instead "Do I spend what I've budgeted for food today?"; while other people live comfortably enough to recommend expensive neighborhoods in expensive cities because that's what they think fits the question parameters the best & fits their familiarity.

So making blanket statements of "it's just $5 USD" when we've already had people pop in with "Oh hey, Paypal sanctions block me from sending that in" and "yeah, this has been an actual budgetary strain", combined with wanting to be less exclusionary of people who aren't from WEIRD countries/classes/demographics, is less than helpful.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:31 AM on August 22 [27 favorites]


How is $5 classism? Jesus Christ a single ride on the subway is $3.

You know there are people who walk to avoid paying that $3, right?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:36 AM on August 22 [33 favorites]


Just make it "pay what you can"

This may be another idea to explore rather than doing away with the sign-up fee entirely. Pay What You Can/Pay What You Want systems turn out to work well when coupled with a suggested minimum. Although PWYW isn't as effective in some areas of the service industry, such as restaurants, it has proved successful in others, such as Paste Magazine's subscription drive or Gumroad's digital sales platform. Since MeFi isn't relying on sign-up fees too heavily for revenue, there's less risk involved in experimenting with it (and people overestimate the risk of PWYW pricing to begin with). It would likely need something like a promotional campaign to popularize it, however, since people are pretty used to the $5 fee.

Some days I wonder if negativity and bad faith aren't as much a threat to the site's future as financial pressure. Maybe it's just where we are as a society in 2019.

2019 is pretty bloody awful. Since climate change, the alt-right, Trump, Putin, Brexit, Fox News, Facebook, Twitter, etc., etc., all seem beyond our ability to control* MetaFilter receives extra attention—and extra anxiety.

* Or so they may seem. Nil desperandum.
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:45 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]


Assuming that $5 is nothing is, uh, a pretty good indicator of your income status.

I didn't assume $5 is nothing, believe me I know what a burden that can be. I said that saying the site was about how much money you have is wrong because the foundation of the place was laid without any money gate-keeping at all (aside from having access to the internet and I'm not sure that is a dodgable requirement). When I joined I couldn't have paid the $5 buck fee if it had been in place. Lack of access to a credit card is how I know Jessamyn took stamps. I've been sharpening the axe of free referral memberships for a long time for precisely that reason.

PWYW might be a great way to keep an eye on potential spammers; can't see any of those guys paying more than they need too. However does Paypal charge Metafilter even if the transaction amount is $0?
posted by Mitheral at 12:01 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


I like the idea of pay what you can with a suggestion of "cost of a breakfast or lunch in your locality" to set expectations at a good level.
posted by janell at 1:00 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Something that hasn't been discussed here is that people - maybe especially new members, or potential new members - have different mental models of sites or platforms that charge subscriptions, ask for donations, charge membership fees and don't have direct charges. Just for example, I tend to subscribe to things that have content that I want: Medium, Netflix, Spotify. I pay my monthly or annual fees to get the content, and don't think about it the rest of the time. But I try hard to avoid any kind of sign-up fee, whether it's money, time, or personal information: to me, that's a barrier that I usually want to (and can) avoid, and a test I don't much care if I pass. I think that for websites like Facebook or Twitter, I'm the product, not the audience, and try to avoid those as well.

I wonder if it's worth thinking about potential mental models as part of the thoughts about ways to raise funds, grow the userbase, and keep the spammers away.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:31 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Re: nervousness and comparing MeFi to twitter/facebook... one thing that's been a blocking point for me in terms of making FPPs (more so in the past than now, I suppose; I just don't see as much interesting things now) is the different in broadcast range. FB and Twitter, if I post something there is a *chance* that *some* of my "friends" will have it on their "front page"/main view once or twice. While a FPP on MetaFilter is there for everyone for days potentially. Maybe above the fold for *hours*. There's not that many sites left, that are at least as big, (although maybe I just don't know them) that let all users post things to the front page by default and they stay there for a long time.

It's a very different way of thinking about a *post* in particular and even in terms of comments, there's still more of an idea that "everyone" might see it compare to FB hiding all but like, 3 comments. Or reddit's ordering by votes and stuff. Now I'm old so maybe newer generations don't feel that as often and I may be a real outlier even amongst my cohorts.

I signed up during the "20 signups a day released at particular time" period and it was a weird goof but I'm glad nobody has suggested going back to *that* :).
posted by skynxnex at 2:11 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


The goal is "a wholly community-funded model," but I don't think that's viable. This place isn't a nonprofit. Fundraisers/subscriptions/t-shirts/tote bags/other merchandise/angel donors will not make up the ongoing shortfall. The site has to regularly generate revenue to pay staff, benefits, and other operational costs, and make that happen in some automatic, mindless way because we always zero in on the sign-up fee (which initially helped deter spammers and trolls from derailing threads and straining mod bandwidth -- no idea how much of a problem that is lately, because the moderators mod so moddin' well), subscriptions and possible subscription levels, whether paying x for y added feature creates a de facto hegemon, and so on. (I love everyone in this crunchy, nerdy, peculiar bar.)

These are all voluntary, and relatively small, amounts of money. (The free-referral plan is great, for users who would happily distribute the links. I'd never want my meatspace kith and kin to know the things I tell you people.)

MetaFilter could pinch our collective nose closed and exploit whatever oleaginous-capitalist affliate schemes we can. Monetize AskMe in some kind of set-it-and-forget-it way, because that's the point-of-entry to the site for most people. Somebody posts a travel-related question? An auto-generated message from the site, "Note: kayak.com is a MetaFilter advertiser; both this message and following the link generate revenue for the site and keeps Ask MetaFilter running. (Remember to clear your cookies, folks.)" If moving to a nonprofit business model isn't in the cards, the users who are advertising professionals, who have volunteered their expertise in previous threads on site financial matters, should be taken up on their offers.

[I still use a bookmarked Amazon-affiliate link when I do buy from the evil empire, without knowing if it works to the site's benefit. And I 'subscribe' by auto-sending a miniscule monthly bank check; PayPal discontinued my previous regular auto-payment, which took me too long to discover, and I didn't like that they were getting a cut of the donation, anyway. The memo section of the check reads Thanks in Advance, because there's always some Sturm und Drang looming. I appreciate what every member of this community does to keep the joint shipshape -- many thanks to all of you, too.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:29 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Proposed: MetaFilter Patreon, wherein members can pledge to back any new user who requests that the signup fee be waived. Make it a big and prominent option on the signup page: $5 as an offer of good faith to show you're not here to shill for discount Viagra, OR contact the mods to ask for a waiver, trusting the mods can spot a bad-faith actor from a mile away, and with the mods' time reviewing applications subsidized by users who think it's important not to gate signup behind financial burden.

I have no idea what the volume of waiver requests would be, but count me in for the Patreon.
posted by Mayor West at 3:02 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Regarding the costs and potential benefits of feature development, I can't help but think, given the userbase here, that if Metafilter development became a community-run process there would be a lot of programmers willing to volunteer and work on it a little.

(Maybe I'm underestimating how unappealing it is to work on a ColdFusion web app from 2000? But many useful features seem small and could be perhaps implemented in the front end.)
posted by value of information at 3:29 PM on August 22


Nothing useful to say, but I hope this site survives. It is good and cortex is good.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:43 PM on August 22 [11 favorites]


Somebody in another thread was just told to "keep moving" because they tried to give useful financial advice instead of performing class solidarity. The sickness at the heart of MetaFilter is not the signup fee, it's the shitty ways we've accultured ourselves to treat each other. IMO it has been getting worse over time and it has changed the way I feel about this place. I hope everybody has good ideas to bring to the table about how to fix it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:51 PM on August 22 [25 favorites]


has been getting worse over time

It was far worse.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:01 PM on August 22 [13 favorites]


My suggestion is to stick a big “Click here to sign up” button at the top of that page and cut out 90% of the rest. “You want to become a member? Great! You’ll be able to comment right away and create new posts / questions in a week. We can ban you for any reason with no refund. Don’t be a dick. Here are a few links if you want more info about the site.”

I agree. All of the existing documentation needs to be replaced with three or four basic guidelines, each of which can be stated clearly in one sentence. Personally, I'd be happy with one "don't be an ass" rule that the mods interpret as they go along. Now it is too complicated.

Likewise, the suggested ambassador program is really out of sync with how people use social media and many of the remaining, thriving message boards today. It also signals that preserving the site's culture is more important than letting it evolve with whatever new members bring. Change can be good. There's a tendency for all online communities to think that they are unique and impenetrable, but people join them all the time and become part of them. Metafilter should be no different.

Whatever the case, things need to be simplified to attract new members and to lure back old members like myself who no longer read Metafilter daily.
posted by CtrlAltD at 4:33 PM on August 22 [14 favorites]


I've started reading MF daily again, partly because it's become a better combination of serious and trivial and Hey did you see this? after the longtrumpthread ban, but also because people seem to be making more of an effort to notice interesting stuff that isn't Trump.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:44 PM on August 22 [11 favorites]


Maybe I'm underestimating how unappealing it is to work on a ColdFusion web app from 2000?

I think you are. I'm a web developer, and I would love to volunteer my time working on MetaFilter. But I don't know how to work in Cold Fusion, and it's not a particularly useful skill for me to pick up.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:53 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


The hard part about having a volunteer developer base, or any volunteering, is that relying on volunteers...

- requires that you have very generous deadlines, since volunteer work usually comes after paying-the-bills type work

- places a burden on people managing the project, since how much can you really complain about volunteer work if it’s substandard/flawed/unfinished or abandoned?

- requires lots of pre-work documentation and-or process creation to ensure that any work done conforms to standards set by the boss/project manager, and I’m not sure the codebase here is up to a level where its well documented, easy to fork or merge, or even version.

Volunteer work is great, don’t get me wrong - but I don’t personally feel like having volunteers write code for metafilter is a good way forward.

I volunteer frequently at a historical society, archiving and dealing with data issues. There are long-standing procedures we use to ensure that all volunteers adhere to our standards.

However, any IT related work, or work I do that’s not covered by procedures I do for them? I insist that the society pay me for that work, because paying me gives them the right to complain if I do it wrong or don’t finish it, or whatever.
posted by disclaimer at 7:19 PM on August 22 [7 favorites]


rue72: "This casual, shrug-y attitude toward revenue makes me extremely worried for MeFi as a going concern. "

re:this and a few other comments sounding alarm bells about the site's finances -- while I agree that site revenue is a serious problem, we shouldn't catastrophize about it, either. The monthly shortfalls cortex has described doesn't mean the site is at risk of going offline, just that the current payroll may not be sustainable.

The mods do stressful, thankless, and difficult work. I'm not trying to minimize their worth here at all. But the sad truth is that it's pretty rare for people in their line of work to be paid anything at all, much less a living wage with full benefits. Most sites in MeFi's wheelhouse get by with volunteer mods, or crowdsourced voting/report buttons, or automated filters. And even when a company is profitable enough to pay for mod work, it's typically a pittance spent on an anonymous cubicle farm of interchangeable cogs carrying out a rote script. The only exceptions that come to mind are high-level "community liaison" types at big gaming and media companies that are more like in-house brand ambassadors than people who deal with the daily grind of moderation work themselves.

I'm proud of our mods, how their tireless work helps sustain the site, and the fact that we value them enough to pay them accordingly when so many other sites don't. We absolutely should explore every avenue to maintain the revenue necessary to continue doing that for as long as we can. But if the ad crunch continues to worsen, it won't mean the end of MetaFilter -- just the end of a MetaFilter prosperous enough to afford multiple full-time mods with professional-grade wages and benefits, which hasn't always been the case here. Continued revenue downturns may force commensurate pay-cuts and/or lay-offs, but the site will continue to exist long after that, even if moderation ends up being more of a side-gig with a glorified stipend rather than a full-fledged career. Obviously, downgrading or downsizing the staff would have knock-on effects on coverage, quality, and especially morale, and would be a really crappy thing all around, but that's not the same as bankruptcy and immediate shutdown.

(As far as existential threats go, the long-term decline in membership is the most concerning, IMHO, as it inevitably leads to either not enough revenue to keep the servers running or not enough activity on-site to make them worth running. But it's closely related to the revenue problem, and hopefully measures that improve one will help improve the other and vice-versa, which will in turn help sustain payroll for the team.)
posted by Rhaomi at 7:21 PM on August 22 [8 favorites]


(Of course, the place I volunteer is very cash strained, so often my payment is in the form of “you want to pay me for this, so somebody make me a pie and we will call it good”).
posted by disclaimer at 7:22 PM on August 22


Is there a plan yet, to get out of this hole? Or a plan for a plan? As it stands it sounds more like you're still triaging.

I'd feel a lot better about things if there was a concrete plan being developed. I've seen so many good sites fold after months of mods or owners claiming everything was fine until it irreparably wasn't. They were always vaguely hopeful until they were definitively shutting down. I don't want to see that here.

And we don't need to make joining the site more difficult. Mefi can be opaque and cliquish already; we don't need to make that worse with some kind of enforced buddy system. Grant new users the benefit of the doubt, just a little. They know what they're signing up for.
posted by cmyk at 7:51 PM on August 22 [13 favorites]


What about picking up some sort of sponsor, ala how NPR does it? Maybe a link in the top nav that goes to "sponsors", a page where companies, trusts, people, etc., can donate a significant amount, just for the cred of sponsoring the site? Podcasts have proven it to be at least a sustainable, albeit not super enriching, model. Perhaps we could find a way to leverage the same modality?

It's been literally decades since I've done sales, but I would absolutely volunteer to start making phone calls to the vertical markets we'd be comfortable having sponsor the site; maybe places like Nolo, and museums, think tanks, the MacArthur, that sort of thing.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:03 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


i don't want to be rude, but since we're having this same conversation again... there are over 1200 comments in the original state of the site thread. basically every idea you or i could think of for the future of the site is present in that thread. at this point it's truly up to cortex and the staff, and until a plan is presented there is nothing anyone else can do.
posted by JimBennett at 8:13 PM on August 22 [28 favorites]


It is infuriating to see how much of this discussion is consumed by talk of attracting new users. Again.

That is by far the hardest, most costly and ineffective strategy. Focussing on retention is easier, uses what we already have and know, is a far better predictor of success and meets both the site's short and long term goals.

This is uncontroversial and extremely well-supported. Here's a decent round-up of stats linking to other articles but even a basic google search of 'retention versus new user acquisition' will bring up more research than you can ever read.

Let's talk less about how to build an amazing revolving door and more on the reasons people are leaving this place and what we can do about it. In this post, from the view of the finance room.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:47 PM on August 22 [16 favorites]


museums

I don't mean to be derisive, but museums categorically do not have money for this. The underwriting plan works for museums and NPR outlets because no cash is exchanged - museum partnerships with NPR are typically media trades, and geographically bounded anyway. It's rare for a museum, or any nonprofit of any kind, to have a marketing budget that would be at all meaningful to MeFi.

there are over 1200 comments in the original state of the site thread. basically every idea you or i could think of for the future of the site is present in that thread.

Absolutely true. Further brainstorming is totally a circular activity. Long-term planning is what's needed, and users can't further that at all at this point.
posted by Miko at 5:51 AM on August 23 [17 favorites]


for these simpler snapshot financial threads, wide-ranging fighty discussions of 30 topics don't seem like they are very helpful for anyone or anything. would recommend not having comments on these jawns, there's plenty of space in the bigger ones to have bigger convos and whatnot.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:54 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


+n for Autumnheart's comments. They may not have been what anyone wanted to hear; they may not have been put as tactfully as anyone wanted to hear them; they may have descended into what sounded like aggrevatedly frustrated griping.

But they weren't wrong.
"We've had people in this *very thread* - not to mention pretty much every "whither Metafilter?" thread ever - say they felt intimidated about signing up, intimidated about commenting, intimidated about making a post. Maybe you think that's dumb …"
Let me put it this way: I lurked for years. Looking back, I probably started lurking while the original open signup free-for-all was open - I think I came here from a mention on Halfbakery - but didn't consider actually joining until just after it'd closed. I lurked through the Sept 11, 2001 thread(s) - and nearly nope'd away at the horrific displays of American Exceptionalist surprised-butthurt on display. I lurked through the occasional limited-signups openings, because (a) that behaviour still horrified me and I was pretty sure I wanted no part of it, and (b) they were all at ungodly hours of the night for me. I ended up joining years later at a sensible hour in the first rush of $5 noobs in, what, 2004? I figured I'd try participating for a while, and if I wasn't happy I could walk away without losing anything but $5.

Yes, I was intimidated about signing up. Yes, despite all that lurking and foreknowledge and understanding of site culture, I was intimidated about commenting and posting. Still am, honestly - in all that time I've made only ~ a dozen posts (actually, just looked & its 16, which is more than I thought), and a few thousand comments. That's a drop in the site's ocean compared to some who've been here a fraction of the time. Its not that I fear posting/commenting, or the judgement of other members, or whatever. I just have my own hangups which means I'm uncomfortable with that sort of participation, and I mostly avoid it.

(Actually thought about that a lot in the last few months, as I spend more and more time on a curated handful of reddit subs where I'm not shy about posting or commenting. I think it's because I expect little of reddit and, although I always try to make thoughtful or insightful or enlightening comments, I can treat each comment as a brand new day & completely ignore what went before in a way I just can't do here. There, I don't care about being misinterpreted or misunderstood and having to re-explain or justify myself to anyone of bad faith or who is intent on misinterpreting me - they can accept it, think about, or reject it, and I've moved on…)

But no, I don't think that's dumb. It's just that my personal worries and fears and hang-ups about that are different to those of other (most?) people. Not better or smarter, not worse or dumber - just different. I've been like that for a long time, I'm comfortable with it, and - despite having learnt a hell of a lot about people and myself from Mefi - I'm probably not going to change much in that respect.

-----

Re: Ambassadorships (which, as brought up here, sound less like ambassadorships and more like guides, or mentors, or some sort of creepy looking-over-your-sholder-and-correcting-you thing).

Fuck, what?!. I mean, what. the. actual. fuck?!. Do you have any fucking idea how fucking patronising and gatekeeping that sounds - even to me, who's steeped in site culture after reading and participating here near-daily for the best part of 20 years?

The comments about this place being a country club are right. The only difference is that the lines between who Mefites want to let in and who Mefites want to exclude are drawn in different places. The justifications for drawing those lines are essentially the same, though.

Mefi strives to be inclusive - but doesn't want to let the riff-raff in. It wants to be a place that demonstrates tolerance and understanding - but doesn't want members who need any great educating on on those subjects, because it'd mean work for everybody, mods and members alike. It wants to be a welcoming place - but it wants to be choosy about who it welcomes.

Ain't gonna work. Mefi's going to have to adapt to match new members, much more than you can expect new members to match Mefi. They, after all, have plenty of other options, sub-optimal as you may consider them. Mefi doesn't.

It Mefi keeps going as it is it's going to gatekeep itself into oblivion. It will however, by its own lights, die pure though…
posted by Pinback at 6:36 AM on August 23 [30 favorites]


That is by far the hardest, most costly and ineffective strategy. Focussing on retention is easier, uses what we already have and know, is a far better predictor of success and meets both the site's short and long term goals.

This kind of advice is exactly the kind of "MBA madness" referenced in a comment above. Easily said and a great soundbite to impress the funders/board with, might work in the food industry or the hotel industry, but may or may not be actually true when you have access to the bigger picture, or to actual stats and rates for an individual business.

It depends where you are at as an organization and what the industry standard is. If your retention rates have been steady, but your acquisition rates are going down, you probably need to put some time into that.

Also...to be incredibly generalizing about Internet sites, there are at least three distinct phases The first was the period of time on the 'net when people were actively seeking out all the cool content they could, and people were creating new quirky content like mad and the economics were all very shaky...the era that ultimately brought people web rings and RSS feeds. That was a period of explosive growth (I remember the day AOL turned on the greater Internet, whoa.)

The next phase was kind of the monetization of the net, and the rise of Google and Google ads and SEO. Content was king at that time, first good content and then people gamed the system and then the algorithm changed and then people gamed that, etc.

The third wave is the dominance of social media/social shares and also the rise of paid promotion, largely via social shares. These last two phases have gutted whole industries -- and print was very very good at retention and re-acquisition back in the days before everyone had more content on their phone in line at the bank than they could deal with. Retention was absolutely not enough.

We know from the stats that have been shared over the past couple of years that MetaFilter is losing in this world of social shares and that previously, it was benefiting from the quality content phase.

So if MetaFilter was being sustained previously by new members and casual traffic, partly because ad rates were different, and that's no longer the case, it's great to talk about retention being 5 times cheaper than acquisition, but in general terms the online content and community industry does not sustain itself by member/subscriber retention alone.

Also there's the question of goals. If retention is your only goal, and your most engaged members are all UMC white men, then you can continue to offer a service that makes them feel appreciated and connected. But if you have diversity as a goal, you may have to plan for a period of time where you manage a transition. This is why there needs to be a 3-5 year strategy as well as a short-term strategy.

Additionally, I work in an organization where our month over month retention averages in the high 90s, and you can bet we still have to work to attract new customers, all the time. We definitely go by the rule you cited, it is a lot easier for us to keep the customers we have...but it doesn't mean we don't need an acquisition strategy as well.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:40 AM on August 23 [15 favorites]


Re: Ambassadorships (which, as brought up here, sound less like ambassadorships and more like guides, or mentors, or some sort of creepy looking-over-your-sholder-and-correcting-you thing).

The discussion as it happened previously was a lot less aggressive than the way you're describing it? Have either a checkbox on signup or maybe one introductory email that says 'hey, I'm a non-intimidating actual human, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line'. If said new user doesn't want any help, they don't have to reach out. This is not all that uncommon when signing up with a new tech service or joining a new community.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:00 AM on August 23 [8 favorites]


This is not all that uncommon when signing up with a new tech service or joining a new community.

I'm not disbelieving you, but it is not something that I have ever seen personally.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:02 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


It's definitely a thing - I've seen it in various kinds of communities, along with the less-personal designated New User space. There used to be a lot more frustrating threads (pre-queue) in MetaTalk from brand-new users asking confused questions and getting uncharitable responses from people whose expectations of MetaTalk were that it was a no-holds-barred Advanced Level Metafilter. (These questions are now handled personally by the mods, which is better than previous, but possibly less good than a space for people who *want* to help out and orient new users to do so.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:08 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


Re: Ambassadorships (which, as brought up here, sound less like ambassadorships and more like guides, or mentors, or some sort of creepy looking-over-your-sholder-and-correcting-you thing).

The discussion as it happened previously was a lot less aggressive than the way you're describing it? Have either a checkbox on signup or maybe one introductory email that says 'hey, I'm a non-intimidating actual human, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line'. If said new user doesn't want any help, they don't have to reach out. This is not all that uncommon when signing up with a new tech service or joining a new community.

I'm the one who brought up ambassadorships in this post and I wasn't really thinking of either of those things. I was more thinking of ambassadors being extra aware of new users and showing small gestures of welcomingness/kindness -- respond to their comments, make useful comments in their posts, stick up for them/encourage others to give them the benefit of the doubt a little if things seem to be going badly, that sort of things.

You know how when you're at a party and a group of people who know each other are talking and someone new starts hovering at the edges of the conversation circle? If the group has any social sense, people move apart to make room for the new person, add some explanation or whatever ("Joe was just talking about his sister's crazy new roommate" or whatever), and try to bring them into the conversation if they seem a little shy ("Do you have any roommates?). Sort of a metafilter version of that. Be extra conscious that the newbies feel like they're being included.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:11 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


What about a regular (monthly?) ‘Post Your Questions Here’ Meta thread? Encourage anyone to ask whatever random questions they may have about the site.
posted by Diskeater at 7:13 AM on August 23 [6 favorites]


This is uncontroversial and extremely well-supported.
50% of the Metafilter's revenue comes from advertisers, who pay to get eyeballs, and eyeballs exist because of content. The other 50% come from subscribers who have a vested interest in the site having new content. Dwindling user engagement (since 2011) means less new content, less eyeballs and less ad money. Improving customer retention (where customers = advertisers + subscribers) is indeed the goal, but that won't happen until there's more people generating content. Since user engagement on Mefi follows a Pareto distribution (20% of users make 80% of the content), increasing content requires getting lots of new users on board.
posted by elgilito at 7:17 AM on August 23 [15 favorites]


You know how when you're at a party and a group of people who know each other are talking and someone new starts hovering at the edges of the conversation circle? If the group has any social sense, people move apart to make room for the new person, add some explanation or whatever ("Joe was just talking about his sister's crazy new roommate" or whatever), and try to bring them into the conversation if they seem a little shy ("Do you have any roommates?). Sort of a metafilter version of that. Be extra conscious that the newbies feel like they're being included.

Yeah, I was talking more about how they were brought up in the previous State of the Site thread. As someone who really likes to lurk for a while without intrusion (I prefer to wander around a store for a bit before asking a question and hate being forced to contribute to conversations before I'm ready), I'd rather have something that the new users would initiate or choose whether they wanted, rather than have it foisted upon them - well meaning or no.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:23 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


So this makes me wonder, should we actively be encouraging people to post more? I mean not in a way that results in posting crap, but can we have theme months (or weeks) that target users just to maybe encourage users to think of making a post when they find something interesting. I read interesting stuff every day, not all of it on Metafilter, but only occasionally do I even think to post.

If I got a memail saying "This month is People With Animal Names" month and we want posts by people with animals in their user names. Please consider posting if you run across anything interesting! It becomes say 20-70% more likely that I make a post that month. That's me. For users who are very inactive, maybe it doesn't shift their window at all. For users who post all the time anyway, it probably won't make any difference. But moving the in-between posters up a notch could make a large difference in terms of overall content posted.

Next month (actually, I'm thinking it could be overlapping months with a new one starting each week) you do "People who joined in the month of February" or "People whose first comment was a on Tuesday" or "People who've posted a Metafilter: Tagline" comment. Brainstorming these could be half the fun!
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:26 AM on August 23 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I was talking more about how they were brought up in the previous State of the Site thread. As someone who really likes to lurk for a while without intrusion (I prefer to wander around a store for a bit before asking a question and hate being forced to contribute to conversations before I'm ready), I'd rather have something that the new users would initiate or choose whether they wanted, rather than have it foisted upon them - well meaning or no.

Yeah, what I was thinking of kind of requires the new user to engage at least minimally and thus be seen and wouldn't really be something you don't do with other people (and thus not particularly visible), just a thing you're extra-aware to do with newbies.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:28 AM on August 23


There are two flows of interest: you've got new users coming in, and existing users departing. And since existing users departing is happening faster than new users coming in, the net flow is away from the site and overall userbase goes down.

I think that iamkimiam's point is that there is a high marginal cost to increasing the rate of users coming in, and a lower marginal cost to decreasing the rate of users going out. If you decrease the rate of users going out, then the natural inflow of new users that we're constantly getting anyway will end up increasing the size of the userbase.

It sounds like elgalito's point is that the rate of departures is influenced by the volume of content, which is influenced by the number of users. While I agree that those influences are present, I don't agree with his implication that this rebuts iamkimiam's point; it just means there's a positive feedback loop between user count and content volume. Remember that even in our current state we've got new people signing up all the time; we just need to keep them to push the feedback loop into a more favorable place.
posted by Jpfed at 7:37 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


Apologies if this is well-trodden ground. It strikes me that the organization itself wants to operate with a non-profit or hobby ethos but remain an LLC (if I recall correctly). There will be significant limits on accepting donations of labor, money or in other forms without tax-exempt status of some kind. Cortex, have you recently reevaluated the tax status and org type of Metafilter Networks?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:46 AM on August 23


(Also, it's worth mentioning that there can be both business model problems and culture problems! And it might be worth trying to understand from actual users who've left WHY they left -- and what the primary drivers of user-base decline are. Again, it could be many things: alienated by racism or other prejudices, didn't think the culture was as playful anymore, just got distracted ... to name a few of the reasons folks have given.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:50 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


I loved the Post From Your Bookmarks month initiative, and it prodded me to make three posts I might not have thought of otherwise. More stuff like that is also user-driven and doesn't really require mod input, plus it tends to make it easy for people who are concerned about trying a new post to come and ask for help.

Most of what's going to work out going forward is, yeah, decisions that really gotta come from on high. So there's only so much that arguing here is going to do about fixing the problems. But increasing user engagement via community-driven events like that, that's something that totally does help... although I think that more in the way of banners etc. to prompt folks that hey, this month, we're encouraging posts in X initiative (first-time posters! single-link posts! long-form posts! posts about your job! etc.) would also be super helpful for getting those things off the ground.
posted by sciatrix at 7:55 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


chesty_a_arthur, here's the latest thing I found from cortex re: 501c3 status:
As much as this revenue situation suuuuucks, my impression is the overall tax situation for the business isn't different than it was last July: we still *mostly* make money from corporate income, and for a tax deductible non-profit status like 501c3 to work we'd have to have almost entirely non-corporate income, which would only be manageable with some messy-ass restructuring and basically me running an S-Corp and a non-profit simultaneously.

Still, it's something I'll talk with MetaFilter's lawyer about again. The situation could change more to the point where that's workable, and it's something I'll keep in mind.
-- cortex, June 13, 2018


Regarding "mentorship," I have MeMailed new users in the past when they join to discuss something they've made that was posted to the site, when their posts were deleted, or they asked a question in a thread that was more about site norms than the topic of the thread, to give them my suggestions on how to understand this site's culture, for lack of better word.

And recently, a long-time member made a post and wrote "I haven't made an FPP in many years. Please be gentle :-)" -- maybe that was tongue-in-cheek, but it's still coming from a place where they're recognizing that at some level, making a post is a daunting task for even people who have been on the site for years.

In both cases, I feel that these reinforce the fact that there are a number of norms and expectations that are a barrier to participation, which give people pause before joining the discussion, or make an FPP. Some of the issue, as I see it, is MetaFilter's US-centric membership, who may comment or reply from their point of view and not consider that there are a diversity of experiences, which sometimes results in comments that are racist or exclude others. Other times people are really intent on their point of view, to the point that they can make it seem like their stance is only truth, and everyone else is a fool for believing otherwise, which again shuts down conversations.

I think the mods are doing more to curtail all this, but if you browse through past threads, you can see current members saying things that might be off-putting. There was the period of jessamyn's cooter counter for "I'd hit it" comments. Hell, I'm sure I could find things that I've written that I would like to revise or delete. But that's still part of the site's history, and if someone's trying to gauge the culture of the site, it's there to read.

So someone saying "hey, welcome to this site! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out! Also, we're trying to shift some of our culture and discussions, so our past discussions aren't a reflection of our current culture, and if you see someone write something that makes you uncomfortable, you can [anonymously?] flag it and leave the mods a comment for them to review it." to new users doesn't sounds unreasonable.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 AM on August 23 [8 favorites]


Ambassadorship might work in theory but makes this feel like a cult. More elephant pooping gifs!
posted by geoff. at 8:13 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


For what it’s worth, I’ve been a member for over a decade and recently made my first FPP post. The experience was negative enough that within an hour I wished I could have deleted the whole thing. I don’t plan on trying again.
posted by Maarika at 8:16 AM on August 23 [33 favorites]


Hell, I've been on the site for almost two decades and I still get nervous writing FPPs. Yes, you shouldn't take writing them too seriously or too personally, but for many people they're lightyears away from posting on social media. They can be much more involved and they're more easily compared to other FPPs. So I don't think it's too shocking that others are nervous, and that some might appreciate others being gentle.

Metafilter has a very different dynamic to, say, Twitter or Reddit:
  • Subreddits and Facebook Groups can see their userbase soar in a mere few weeks, whereas that's just not going to happen on Metafilter because it's not part of a conglomerate. That means the tenure of an average user is likely to be much longer, so the culture probably is more stable (again, for better and for worse).
  • We always say "read the comments", the corollary to which is, "the FPP isn't everything". And that means it just takes more time to consume Metafilter. You can't sort threads by the most favorited comments; you can't view Metafilter in thumbnail mode just to see cute or funny gifs and links. So again, that's going to make it harder to get into.
  • People watch others to see how to participate, and that has lead to comparatively long comments and FPPs. Nothing wrong with that but it can feel intimidating to people who aren't used to it. We can all change this by modelling different behaviour, if you want.
  • The chronological nature of the front page (rather than algorithmic or sorted by comments/votes) means that less popular posts are visible by more people for longer, whereas on most other sites, if you make a "bad" post then at least most people aren't going to see it.
So I don't think it's right to say, XYZ site does or doesn't have ambassadors or gatekeeping or whatever. Metafilter today is very different from where most people spend most of the time on the internet and it's no surprise it takes some getting used to – and so it's good to see people thinking about how to make the onramp more gentle.

On a related note, I wish we could all be a bit more gentle to each other in this thread.
posted by adrianhon at 8:22 AM on August 23 [12 favorites]


From my perspective, it's just hard to get around the fact that Metafilter is an established community with some strong expectations around norms that come from its long, in internet years anyway, history of existence. Trying to get new users that would respect or even know those norms and who would find some value in posting to the front page will be difficult since the front page isn't what it used to be because the user base, taken as a whole, is older.

Over the past decade the changes to Metafilter's immediacy of posting interesting or fun links has been readily apparent. Around 2010 or so Metafilter was consistently posting the newest wacky or cute stories before they hit mass media, since then, the reaction time has slowed considerably, where the local news stations usually have those fun stories play on the morning news a few days ahead of them maybe making it to Metafilter.

That isn't itself such a big deal, but it points to how much of Metafilter's content has already saturated other sites like Twitter and only comes here when people want to share it with this specific audience of people they "know" as a community. That isn't a particularly inviting set up to draw in new members who have no history with the site and its members as so many of the links aren't themselves all that new or exciting for being so widely shared elsewhere already and there being no real pent up desire to talk to this specific crowd about them.

It feels like Ask and maybe Fanfare are the two parts of the site that could draw in more new users, while the Blue is mostly only going to appeal to long time lurkers and the occasional long form reply lover who doesn't like Reddit's layout. Talk about opening the flood gates by removing the 5 dollar fee is somewhat misguided I think as the river was long ago diverted so removing the fee isn't going to bring much of a stream anymore anyway, other than maybe spammers always keen to for any audience.

That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with removing the fee or trying to encourage more posts and members, just that Metafilter is now well settled in its place and that place is out of the mainstream with some heartfelt but highly singular norms. The Blue's value is as a curated selection of links, but curated to a smallish community with a somewhat narrow set of shared interests and the occasional outlier. For good and maybe not so good, those shared interests and expectations are in themselves fairly limiting which makes the ability to join in the community even more challenging and sometimes painful.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:31 AM on August 23 [16 favorites]


Since user engagement on Mefi follows a Pareto distribution (20% of users make 80% of the content), increasing content requires getting lots of new users on board.

This presumes that MeFi's attrition rate is even across all Pareto categories (and the 1% Rule of Internet Communities is probably closer— 90% of a community mostly just read posts, 9% comment on them, and 1% actively create new ones). It would be interesting to crunch the numbers to find out if burnout affects the high-volume creators more than others. If that's the case, then retaining the site's most active and productive members should be just as much, if not more, of a priority as attracting new members. The other question is, of course, how to encourage the 90%/9%'ers to become more active.

Beyond this, whether MetaFilter is the kind of site for which a massive enrolment promotion campaign would be that effective is an open question. In this age of micro-targeting, it might be more fruitful to advertise to potential users who would be predisposed to joining MeFi instead of trying the 'net equivalent of broadcast advertising.
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:53 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


Doktor Zed: retaining the site's most active and productive members should be just as much, if not more, of a priority as attracting new members

I think that there's a similar curve of posters by volume, where a few people post a lot, some post a bit, and many post with varying frequency. In other words, I'm not sure if there's that many "most active" posters. On the other hand, if someone crunches the numbers, also look at how many posts happen before, during, and after "best post" contests and theme months, because I think those efforts net more gains, particularly when there's a push for new posters. It seems like for every monthly contest or theme, a few people start posting more frequently for a while.

Also, more diversity of content on the site could attract more users than if the same group of people made all the posts, supporting the site on two fronts.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:14 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]



For what it’s worth, I’ve been a member for over a decade and recently made my first FPP post. The experience was negative enough that within an hour I wished I could have deleted the whole thing. I don’t plan on trying again.

If you don't mind: What did you feel was so negative about the experience?
posted by Dumsnill at 12:16 PM on August 23 [2 favorites]


I think that there's a similar curve of posters by volume, where a few people post a lot, some post a bit, and many post with varying frequency.

Almost certainly. And the thematic post months certainly have proved successful in enticing MeFites to post for the first time or post more often. Perhaps the mods could consider running these for every month or maybe for special weeks or days? (Contests seem a little more daunting.)

I also wonder if MetaFilter could turn the tables on Facebook by using its extensive collection of personal data to advertise to its users who are sick of its abuse of said data and tired of its essentially unmoderated community. Would Twitter advertising be similarly effective? (I'm only half joking—social network advertising is absurdly cheap when tightly focused.) Likewise, if someone could pitch the story of MetaFilter to magazines as the anti-Facebook—the open digital space to its enclosure, the rich community to its inward-looking social networks, the Web 1.0 idealism to its exploitative Web 2.0 behavior—would that draw in new users or furnish new promotional material? These are cheap ideas for a cash-strapped site.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:35 PM on August 23


I guess the mods can delete this if it’s too much of a derail, but the negative experience was two-fold: the difficulty in posting hyperlinks from an iPad (my main internet device at home), and the immediate knee-jerk comments by people who didn’t bother to read the articles (some of those comments were later deleted). I guess I wasn’t prepared for the tone of what felt like half of the comments. They did make me see a different side of the topic, I suppose, but I made the post in the spirit of the post-megathread call to diversify the Blue, and that effort didn’t seem appreciated enough to want to try it again.

As my [asshole] father would say, I’m a delicate flower, so if I had thicker skin maybe I wouldn’t care. But now I know that if I discover something cool on the internet I’d rather just email it to some friends than post it here.
posted by Maarika at 12:47 PM on August 23 [33 favorites]


That's too bad. I didn't get the sense that people hated the post (let alone the poster). Just the usual disagreements. But I didn't see the deleted comments.
posted by Dumsnill at 12:54 PM on August 23 [6 favorites]


When I'm on the internet I want to be anonymous, read a bit of interesting stuff that makes you think and a little bit of crap. I was a professor for a long time before changing careers, and I am capable of the discourse Metafilter seems to favor these days. It's just not what I want to do on the internet. Granted, I am probably more comfortable with crap than the average Metafilter user but that's the main reason I've drifted away. Sometimes in crap-heavy communities there is actually a lot of diversity.

I'm not saying I'm representative of anything in particular, I'm just speaking as someone who hasn't been around in a while and has no grudge against the site or any member.
posted by CtrlAltD at 2:30 PM on August 23 [5 favorites]


Maarika: the negative experience was two-fold: the difficulty in posting hyperlinks from an iPad (my main internet device at home), and the immediate knee-jerk comments by people who didn’t bother to read the articles (some of those comments were later deleted).

I remember your post, and thinking that the comments at that time were pretty negative, especially given that their concerns were addressed in the content of your post.

With that, I'll echo adrianhon: On a related note, I wish we could all be a bit more gentle to each other (and not just in this thread).
posted by filthy light thief at 3:10 PM on August 23 [9 favorites]


"Let's debate the state of MetaFilter" megathreads have become the new political megathreads.
posted by dw at 9:11 PM on August 23 [18 favorites]


MeFi is reminding me more and more of the late period forum Barbelith. Extremely informative and useful, but so rarefied as to be stultifying -- if not hostile -- to outsiders.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:12 PM on August 23 [6 favorites]


I know nothing about Barbelith other than what Wikipedia could tell me, but from that it did sound like a commonality is the attention paid to site culture and moderation. One of the best things about Metafilter is the desire to try and make the site inclusive, the commitment to trying to do the right thing and make anyone potentially feel welcome. At the same time though the leftish desire to provide inclusivity can lead to a different kind of exclusivity as the site norms demand greater attention than other conventional social sites would ask for, while at the same time the limitations and failings of parts of the community to be fully cognizant of the needs of others can still spark legitimate bad feeling for the failure of ideal to match to actions.

It's a tough line to walk and can be not only intimidating for anyone new to try and enter into, but creates a large amount of effort to catch up on for anyone who hasn't followed along with the sites changes over time. Even someone entering the site in good faith is going to have a tough time knowing all the boundaries and history of discussion on what is and isn't acceptable and trying to get current with that history poses some serious challenge with all the different Metatalk discussions to sort through to try and figure out what they might not know. That's what helps build the strength of the community that we have, but it's also what limits the membership to lower numbers.

The desire to be "troll free", to keep people from posting things that are hurtful or hateful to others, and avoid spammers or self promotion creates a stricter culture than most sites have where volume is the only thing that matters. It's a difficult dilemma, one that is not new to the left in other spheres, as the values by their very nature create a limit to site culture. Having expectations necessarily makes the site more rarefied than not establishing those norms would do.

That said, I think one mistake Metafilter made, or maybe just something missed out, was in not doing more to develop community interaction tools since the site's primary value is mostly that, as a smaller community of users rather than something like Reddit and their enormous base. For a community, Metafilter is still surprisingly anonymous as well. We interact as pseudonymic names without having much of any other base of sharing beyond shared response to other people's posts. Aside from the largely neglected Projects page, these new Metatalk chat topics, and maybe links on profile pages, there isn't much people can do to express themselves or share things with the community. Since community is what is being offered, it might not hurt to do more to allow that community to express things that don't fit the old paradigm of staying on topic to whatever the post at hand may be. How to do that or what it might entail I don't know, it just seems like an odd missing element sometimes.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:45 PM on August 23 [6 favorites]


Barbelith came to mind for me too. It was wonderful in many ways, but... well, this is how it once advertised for new members. Let’s avoid going down that kind of road.
posted by Catseye at 2:31 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


What about a regular (monthly?) ‘Post Your Questions Here’ Meta thread?

More work for mother. The admins need their time to stanch the bleeding and make a plan, not play whack-a-mole with inquiring community members. If things were ticking along fine, the users wouldn't have to even get involved to ask questions for the most part. The overall lack of structure/planning is the basis for the user concerns and questions - once/if that goes away, there's no need for people to probe the particulars. Most people will just get on with participating instead of having to turn their attention to basic functions.

e still *mostly* make money from corporate income, and for a tax deductible non-profit status like 501c3 to work we'd have to have almost entirely non-corporate income, which would only be manageable with some messy-ass restructuring and basically me running an S-Corp and a non-profit simultaneously...

Yeah, this isn't real talk though, it's the same kind of handwavy stuff we saw earlier that reveals a lack of interest/will, a very light investigation of the question and lack of knowledge of the legal structures possible. Let's not treat this as gospel because it isn't, at least until some alternative models and cost/benefits are presented in detail.
posted by Miko at 6:47 AM on August 24 [12 favorites]


More work for mother. The admins need their time to stanch the bleeding and make a plan, not play whack-a-mole with inquiring community members. If things were ticking along fine, the users wouldn't have to even get involved to ask questions for the most part. The overall lack of structure/planning is the basis for the user concerns and questions - once/if that goes away, there's no need for people to probe the particulars. Most people will just get on with participating instead of having to turn their attention to basic functions.

Yeah. Man.

I don't know. This stuff is all depressing. I grew up here, became a professional here, discovered my ADHD and transness here. But I have increasing discomfort over participating here, and find my energies going to other sites that feel more congenial. My AskMe type questions, in particular, have all been funneled to a metafilter spin-off parenting site on FB which is filled with people from here but has what feels like just a generally healthier forum culture and is more active, too, and has the benefit of my mother-in-law never ever seeing it. I know there are other MeFi spin-off spaces on various slacks and I'm sure they're not helping, in their own ways. I see how many small, idiosyncratic choices the site administrators made, going back for years, have had the impact of stifling participation. For example, I was once super excited to have fanfare, in the wake of losing TWOP, and because the livestream TV threads were SO GREAT and SO MUCH FUN. There are no livestream fanfare threads. It's confusing and intimidating to post new shows, and conversation is minimal when there is. I'll occasionally post a comment but there's so little illuminating back and forth that I know I participate less than I would. Things like the conversation starters on metatalk feel muted, compared to real, passionate, active discussion that used to exist. I never even waded into the politics threads and I understand how that kind of activity is draining for site moderation (which I honestly don't even understand anymore, and this is speaking as a long time user). But also we just need activity. Meanwhile, being asked, time and time again, to give more and more money to a slow-dying site feels like throwing good money after bad. I can't do it anymore, and I want to participate more but the incentives feel low. I know cortex is working hard to the best of his abilities and the mods are working hard and everyone loves the site. I love the site. But it's become a tender wound sort of love. Not a healthy, vital, living kind of love.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:32 AM on August 24 [28 favorites]


If there were a way to direct funds specifically to a "Pay the membership fee for referred users who don't have $5 to spare but would be a good addition to the community, according to the referring user", I (for one) would for sure contribute.
posted by softlord at 7:35 AM on August 24


So, when I put this MetaTalk post up the other day, I considered for a while just posting it and closing the comments. It's an unusual direction to go with MetaTalk, but then doing things different to make things work better has been its own running theme here the last few years in particular and it's borne fruit. Doing things differently and seeing how it goes isn't the worst idea.

And I wish I had done that. Because I'm tired. I'm really fucking worn out with some of the inevitable clashes and hobbyhorsing that comes out in MetaTalk, and as important as I think this part of the site has been and can be to overall community discussion and self-examination and social organizing, it's always had these shitty aspects prone to surface, hydra-headed griping and posturing in among folks otherwise trying to just talk and be constructive. It can be a mess, and it's a mess I've spent over a decade trying harder and harder to be a stoic and tolerant presence in for the sake of site communication traditions. And it's one of the worst fuckin' parts of my job.

We have shit to do, and we're gonna keep working on getting it done. There's a bunch of stuff in progress, and we'll communicate about it as it comes along. I appreciate the folks offering brainstorms and suggestions. I appreciate the folks speaking with kindness even when from concern. Those are parts of what I see as useful and positive aspects of the tradition of site/community discussion in MetaTalk. There's a lot of genuine good will and hope and support for and in this community and I think that's invaluable and I appreciate it a great deal. It represents the overwhelming majority of the experiences and interactions I have here and it's part of what makes this place special to me.

But I'm out of energy for the folks who want to speak to the manager's manager. I'm out of energy for the folks who are hanging around primarily to talk yet again about how much they don't like it here anymore or don't believe in MeFi or the team. I've put more effort than I ever should have into accommodating emotionally toxic patterns of behavior, and it's a drain even under good conditions. It's a stupid, asymmetrical transfer of emotional energy and I can't keep bothering with it.

I want MeFi to be a place people show up to because they want to be here. I want MeFi to be a place that I actually want to show up to work for. Some of stuff that tends to spiral around again and again in this sort of MetaTalk dynamic represents neither of those, and I regret creating yet again a space for it and then pouring mod resources into trying to wrangle it. This isn't where my energy needs to be.

I'm closing the comments on this post now. We've got work to get to, and that's what I need to spend my energy on; we'll post updates when they come. Folks taking the energy you have and putting it into doing the stuff you like to do on MetaFilter, and like about MetaFilter, is going to be the most useful thing to do on your end.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:48 AM on August 24 [108 favorites]


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