AskMess October 27, 2019 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Today I posted an AskMe question. So far, half of the suggestions have been deleted as noise. The mods probably did the best job they could of cleaning this mess up, but I wonder if this could be a good opportunity to reflect as a community on how we might be able to lower the frequency of answers that did not meet the criteria laid out in the question.
posted by Acheman to Etiquette/Policy at 4:24 PM (75 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Yeah, that's been a frustrating thread in that respect, I'm sorry it's got going that way. It's a case where mod-side we're often inclined to leave a note pointing out what folks are clearly missing, though in this case I think your followups have been clear enough that they'll be effective on their own; so far so good now, but I'll leave a note if it does recur again after all.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:26 PM on October 27 [2 favorites]


- no one reads the whole question, no matter how short it is
- if it's too short everyone focuses on the things they think you've "forgotten"
- but if you put in too many "i have already tried X pls don't rec" disclaimers it won't help
- there is no number of disclaimers that isn't too many and no short question that isn't too short, somehow
- if someone at the beginning of the thread misreads something you wrote, every subsequent commenter will make the same error no matter how many times you try to correct it
- people answer the question they think you meant to ask instead of the one you are asking because SURELY you could not possibly have considered that beforehand

asking stuff here has become exhausting and demoralizing and frustrating and i self delete 100 askmes on preview for every one i actually post. i self-delete 10,000 answers on preview trying to carefully and within site guidelines correct the above issues for other askers for every one that i actually post; that gets deleted for being fighty.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:43 PM on October 27 [72 favorites]


I just read it and was personally unclear as to what things you put in the category of "guided meditation" but not "mindfulness."
posted by Miko at 5:06 PM on October 27 [39 favorites]


reflect as a community on how we might be able to lower the frequency of answers that did not meet the criteria laid out in the question

I too was a little unclear on what would satisfy the parameters of that question, but that’s why I didn’t answer it. I do think some AskMe fans have a hard time walking away from a question they think they might be able to help with, that in-between space where they have a sort-of-helpful answer (especially if they see a question about something pretty common that doesn’t have many answers yet). But when you’re the Asker it can be more annoying to get a bunch of irrelevant stuff than to get nothing, to the point where it would be satisfying to have a “mark as answer that didn’t read the question” button. But at the end of the day, it’s free advice on the Internet, so...
posted by sallybrown at 5:32 PM on October 27 [23 favorites]


I didn't read your question initially, but must admit when I saw this topic, I was almost certain that it was regarding an entirely different question posted here. In this instance, the moderator warned repsonders to stay on topic after allowing two off-topic replies. While most of the following replies answered the question, there continued to be additional posts that did not address the question that remained in the thread.

Personally, I find it confusing and that in some threads, all off topic replies are deleted but in others they are permitted.
posted by seesom at 5:39 PM on October 27 [2 favorites]


This sorta thing is why I think the "no back and forth" rule in AskMefi needs to be taken out. I've had quite a few questions where people really did not get the point of my question, but me pushing back against it or trying to clarify was against the rules.
posted by divabat at 6:42 PM on October 27 [33 favorites]


I’m someone that gets super annoyed when it looks as if people ignore the premise of a question and I’ve also made peace with this and think that it’s ultimately not that big a deal if folks give answers that aren’t helpful to the asker. The asker isn’t the sole beneficiary of the responses—the responses live in for years and are available to everyone and may help people with similar questions later. Also among the benefits of crowdsourcing answers is that someone might, every now and then, add something that is really helpful to the discussion even if the asker wasn’t looking for it. Being really aggressive about deleting answers that don’t fit the asker’s framing but are otherwise not harmful doesn’t provide a whole lot of value beyond assuaging the irritation of curmudgeons like me.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:53 PM on October 27 [43 favorites]


I read your question and feel your pain (I hate mindful meditation and meditation in general is bad for me, therefore I don’t know much about it) but I had zero ideas other than something movement oriented like gentle yoga, music, and podcasts, which I don’t think is what you wanted. So I didn’t answer.

Although I think there is a broader lesson here somewhere for the community, I also think that this may be a situation where the field is so broad (and full of pseudo spiritualism) but what you’re looking for is so narrow that it is a bit the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Having said that, I had not heard of sleep stories so I hope that’s helpful?
posted by warriorqueen at 7:52 PM on October 27 [3 favorites]


I try to read the entire question. I read the whole thread before answering. Long questions I'll read them again before answering to confirm my answer is relevant. I still sometimes end up giving the answer FOO even though the asker has specifically or generally said FOO won't work.

I guess I'm saying I make mistakes. Maybe I'm tired when this happens, maybe just distracted, or maybe I just made a mistake because of sunspots (and maybe the question was asked poorly). At any rate answerers aren't performing a service for pay or anything. They aren't advising on emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor. The are offering free advice to strangers. That advice is sometimes going to be wrong/misleading/irrelevant. Answers are sometimes going to come after a rack of tequila shooters. Bad answers cost nothing but a few cents of electricity and the asker's attention for a minute. The answerer probably spent more time writing it than it takes to read it (or at least I can read way faster than I can write).

Non-relevant or straight up wrong answers are just one of the risks of not paying for answers; especially on the internet (Honestly it is a risk even when you are paying). Getting a full thread that doesn't end up answering questions is bound to happen. Maybe the question is unaswerable. Maybe the venue is wrong. Or maybe the one user who might have been able to answer the question didn't because they were afraid of annoying the asker because they weren't absosmurfly sure the answer was 100% relevant.

all off topic replies are deleted but in others they are permitted.

This is generally an effect of the mods not being experts on all subjects. Things they know about get moderated closer than subjects outside their wheelhouse.

Also I know this isn't on the table but please let's continue having this be a positive place and not be enabling visible negative flagging. Getting people to engage with the site is hard enough without shaming. We should even be light on the delete button. Getting stuff deleted can discourage participation; especially for newer users who may not have internalized a deletion == no big deal
posted by Mitheral at 8:42 PM on October 27 [16 favorites]


Being really aggressive about deleting answers that don’t fit the asker’s framing but are otherwise not harmful doesn’t provide a whole lot of value beyond assuaging the irritation of curmudgeons like me.

I think if off-target answers stay up, it raises the odds that future answerers will go further off-target. In a long thread, people spend more time reading answers than reading the original question, and they probably don't go back and reread the question before answering themselves.

So if the OP says "Recommend me a foo, I'd prefer a non-A foo," and a dozen people come in and say "Oh, here's a great foo that's 100% A," then I might well do the same thing, even if I know lots about non-A foos, just because I've been led astray by the derail.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:27 PM on October 27 [10 favorites]


I’ve also made peace with this and think that it’s ultimately not that big a deal if folks give answers that aren’t helpful to the asker.

Idk man I think there's enough people who come here to ask really hard (for them) questions while they're in a not great state of mind, such that egregiously and aggressively useless answers given repeatedly with a blithe disinterest in the asker's actual needs and abilities should be crushed like a roach scuttling out of the trash.

we could also stuff repeat offenders in a wicker man but i understand that's a minority opinion
posted by poffin boffin at 10:13 PM on October 27 [46 favorites]


I went back over my last couple of questions, because I had a feeling at the time that most of the answers weren't actually answering my specific question and was rather frustrated by the whole experience, but on re-read: most if not all of them are actually decent answers, just not an answer that's useful to me personally, but still fine answers. Maybe others will find them useful, it's not the answer's fault that they don't know exactly what sort of sheet I'm picturing IN MY MIND and the exact specifics of the sheets I already own.

So I'm sorry askmefi, it turned out in my case that it wasn't you, it was me. Although I do think that actually off-topic answers can be really demoralising if the question matters to you personally, and a "Not Answering the Question" flag for the asker, like the opposite of a best answer button, could be useful for both the asker and the mods, because I think it's useful to know if the answers are bothering the asker specifically when considering deletion.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:50 AM on October 28 [6 favorites]


Mods (if you're in here) - there's something I do sometimes, if it's okay? When I'm in AskMe and I see that this kind of thing is happening, I will preface my own answer with a note reminding people what the OP was looking for ("OP: the thing you're thinking of is called a 'hot dog'. Guys: gentle note that the OP was looking for 'what's the name of the sausage that usually is eaten in a bun', so even though stuff like andouille and kielbasa are delicious they aren't what the OP is talking about").

I also know that I've come close to posting an answer more out of a motivation of "hey look at me I can be smart and helpful", or "I really want to help even though I don't know about this", but usually catch myself and self-delete before posting. But the motivation is usually one of "wanting to help" if that helps, so it comes from a sort-of-good place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on October 28 [5 favorites]


a "Not Answering the Question" flag for the asker

I usually flag obvious "didn't read the question" answers as 'Noise', which I think covers it.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:38 AM on October 28 [8 favorites]


I think the biggest problem here is human nature. People are just going to answer questions with what they think is helpful information, whether they actually have useful information or not. No matter the guidelines and gentle reminders or deletions, that's going to mean a lot of answers which ignore the question's parameters or the asker's preferences and which are just ill-informed or baseless opinion.

BUT I also think that there's been an increase in chatfilter questions--questions for which any response is as valid a response as any other. "Name my kitten" "What are great songs for my GO ME! playlist?", for obvious example. That creates a culture in ask.me of "this is just idle conversation; not a place to mine the particular (and possibly esoteric or hyper-local) knowledge of our members." When 3 out of 4 questions are basically open-ended, the one which needs specific answers within a set of clear criteria is just going to get noise and useless answers.

I do a lot of flagging in ask.me--questions and answers and a lot of closing the window in irritation. Like someone said above, I have also typed & deleted a number of questions because the answers just often are neither useful nor particularly responsive.
posted by crush at 5:08 AM on October 28 [15 favorites]


Personally, I find it confusing and that in some threads, all off topic replies are deleted but in others they are permitted.

Not all AskMe threads are the same. Sometimes, people are asking the wrong question. The trick is striking a balance between deleting bad answers, while leaving answers that the asker may not like. I thought the moderation on the AskMe you mentioned struck a reasonable balance.
posted by zamboni at 6:44 AM on October 28 [3 favorites]


"I’m someone that gets super annoyed when it looks as if people ignore the premise of a question and I’ve also made peace with this"

"maybe the question was asked poorly"

The situation in question has happened to me a couple of times, and a combination of these two answers is generally my reaction. The downside is that it probably has created more of an internal monologue that checks my participation. Now, before I post a question, I'll think to myself "am I asking this in such a way that it'll get helpful answers?" The answer is often no, so I don't post. My non-posts are probably no real loss to the community, but since we're trying to promote engagement, it's probably not a good idea if a lot of other people are getting the same takeaway. In particular, I could see how this could be a problem for emotionally loaded questions, where the asker isn't in the best position to evaluate whether they're phrasing their question well or not.

"Maybe others will find them useful"

I don't think I really care for this line of thought. When I post a question, I'm not soliciting an encyclopedia on the topic; I just want to figure out what I should do. And likewise, when I answer a question, I'm not thinking in terms of helping some future googler who comes across the page; I'm trying to help the asker figure out what they should do. The fact that a hypothetical person might ask the same tangential question that the commenter brings up shouldn't outweigh the fact that someone is asking an actual question now, IMO.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:52 AM on October 28 [7 favorites]


- no one reads the whole question, no matter how short it is

Gosh, I hope this isn't true. I would never answer a question if I didn't read the whole thing. There are some questions that are so long-winded, I don't read all of them - but I don't try to answer those questions.

I have had some answers I thought were pertinent get deleted for reasons I wasn't sure of. I wouldn't want to encourage more deletions, as the moderators are imperfect human beings, and once or twice I felt like my answers were deleted because people didn't like them. I don't think there's complete consistency in what gets deleted and what doesn't (see "moderators are human beings" above). I agree that this is a "human nature" problem and that there are a limited number of things that can be done about it. It can absolutely be frustrating.

I did not try to answer the meditation question because I wasn't entirely sure what the OP meant by "not mindfulness," though I meditate and feel I basically know what mindfulness meditation is.
posted by FencingGal at 6:52 AM on October 28 [3 favorites]


This sorta thing is why I think the "no back and forth" rule in AskMefi needs to be taken out.

Wait, there's a no back and forth rule? I guess it's a mod judgement call as to where providing clarification stops and threadsitting begins?
posted by zamboni at 7:20 AM on October 28


Idk man I think there's enough people who come here to ask really hard (for them) questions while they're in a not great state of mind, such that egregiously and aggressively useless answers given repeatedly with a blithe disinterest in the asker's actual needs and abilities should be crushed like a roach scuttling out of the trash.

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaard agree with this, I've definitely posted a lot of stuff when I was feeling vulnerable and in need of support and the feeling that I'd asked for help -- which is a scary thing! -- and then been ignored or steamrolled or whatever made it worse.
posted by an octopus IRL at 7:24 AM on October 28 [25 favorites]


Limiting the number of answers people can provide per week would be as beneficial for AskMe as the question limit was*

*Tongue mostly in cheek†

†Goes to The Green, asks "How can I remove my tongue from my cheek? NB: I do not want to cut off my tongue as I need it for whistling," reloads page, sees 23 responses linking to knife stores

posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:48 AM on October 28 [7 favorites]


Idk man I think there's enough people who come here to ask really hard (for them) questions while they're in a not great state of mind, such that egregiously and aggressively useless answers given repeatedly with a blithe disinterest in the asker's actual needs and abilities should be crushed like a roach scuttling out of the trash.

Hear, hear.

I was a terrified mess when I wrote my last AskMe and despite my adding exactly what I was looking for and not looking for, not only were some answers aggressively unhelpful, but the authors were just scrapping to give me a Come to Jesus talk about family relationships that they knew nothing about. I didn't have the energy to threadsit and clarify (and that's against the rules anyway) so I closed the browser, walked away, and figured it out for myself.
posted by kimberussell at 8:16 AM on October 28 [18 favorites]


Crush observes above that having allowed more chatfilter/open-ended questions might have lead to more idly speculative answers even in the questions that do need specific answers. I hadn't made that connection myself, and hadn't seen a downside to easing the chatfilter rule. But now that crush mentions it, I'm wondering if it's true, and if so, whether it's a reason to clamp back down on chatfilter (while OF COURSE still leaving intact the 'name my kitten' exception).
posted by daisyace at 9:13 AM on October 28 [2 favorites]


poffin boffin: - no one reads the whole question, no matter how short it is

Random question: would there be value in an optional "guided version" of posting questions that people could very clearly opt into or out of?

Many clarifications are topic-specific, so a prompt wouldn't help in those cases, but I think this question might fall in the category of "I'm looking for something I can't name," like EmpressCallipygos's example of hot dogs up thread.

More specific prompts I thought of:
- I enjoyed this / I do want answers like this thing/these things:
- I want answers like this thing/these things, but more [something]:
- I disliked this / I don't want answers related to this thing/these things:
- I can't elaborate, please don't ask for more details.

I was imagining blank fields next to those prompts, and the replies would be included in the AskMe post in a standard format. It could also be good to help recap a question where someone has given a lot of narrative around the inquiry, which can obscure the question(s) at hand.

And then it would allow users and mods to refer to a list of likes and dislikes, to help figure if answers are appropriate or not.

[And this isn't getting into cases where the question is actually the wrong question, like "I had a bad experience with a contractor and they ripped me off, so how can I demo this basement wall on my own? I have a sledge hammer and I'm ready to go."]
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 AM on October 28 [3 favorites]


no one reads the whole question, no matter how short it is

Some do, some don't.

My experience has been that the more narrow your question and the less tolerance you have for answers that don't "fit the brief" the less functionality AskMe is likely to have for you.

Free advice is generally worth what you pay for it, and sometimes it's worth more. I truly understand that when you're in a tough place, it's hard to feel that AskMe is just one more thing letting you down in a world of disappointments and pain.

One of the hardest things about AskMe is that it can be a mirror to how we're doing. I'll flag answers as noise if they either don't answer the asked question or, especially, if they seem to be offering the same old "tough love" that the answerer loves to dish out for purely their own reasons that have very little to do with the OP.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:43 AM on October 28 [29 favorites]


Speaking as someone whose hobby is flagging AskMe answers as noise, I actually don't think this is much of a problem? Certainly it can be demoralizing to get answers that miss parts of your question, but it may have value to someone else.

The kinds of comments I routinely flag if I see them are things like "I don't have an answer to your question, but" or "I know you have cancer and are looking for tips to get through chemo, but have you considered a faith healer?" type stuff.
posted by Automocar at 12:45 PM on October 28


THREADSITTING THAT'S THE WORD

I've been rebuked for it by mods in the past whenever I've tried to reply to people with "that won't work for me because XYZ", in the hope of being able to clarify what my question is. But after that rebuke I end up just having to sit with answers I can't use, making the question wasted.

It doesn't really help for reading other people's questions either - if nobody is answering the original question correctly, how is that supposed to help me when I have the exact same question?
posted by divabat at 3:01 PM on October 28 [8 favorites]


My read on what happened with tha tquestion – and I'll underscore it's just a single person's interpretation – is that people wanted to help because they were reacting to the distressed emotional tone within the writing (again my interpretation), but that it conflicted with the fact that all the "easy" candidates for help were ruled out by the question's parameters.

Looking at what you are stating you need, I suspect you need someone with an expert-level knowledge of meditation to be able to offer suggestions that did not include the parameters which you were specifically ruling out.

I think that's what happened there anyway. My $0.02. If not useful, feel free to disregard.
posted by WCityMike at 3:05 PM on October 28 [2 favorites]


Not all AskMe threads are the same. Sometimes, people are asking the wrong question.

That right there is what drives me crazy about AskMe. This line of thought is applied to so many questions. If I’ve asked a question just frigging answer it and not the madeup version that you think I should have asked or leave it alone.
posted by billiebee at 3:13 PM on October 28 [21 favorites]


I view Ask questions by dividing them into several categories. First, there are the factual questions. Factual questions such as "Why is the sky blue?" are ones I either can answer and do or know nothing about and don't. Then there are the opinion questions such as I am looking for the best Android phone under $400 that has at least two doohickies and a great battery to power the doohickies. Either you have an opinion about that because of experience with an under $400 Android phone or you don't.

The advice questions, the relaitonship questions, the ones where people are asking for input on how to run their lives, those are the ones that are fraught with peril. Even when the asker tries to put parameters on them, many, too many, will ignore the parameters and just tell the asker what they think. What bothers me about answers is not so much the specific content, but when they ignore the parameters or the details that the asker wants followed.

While I get that questions are there for anyone to read or research in the future and that some off grid answers might help someone else someday, I think the reason asks exists is to use the crowd to answer the question asked, not to build a database of human opinion.

Following my belief that anyone can point out problems, but if you do, at least try to offer a solution, I think the best way to handle it is for the person who asked the question to work with the mods if they are not getting appropriate responses or not getting responsive responses. Maybe that is working with the mod to reframe the question, maybe the mods delete a few answers and drop a note explaining why, maybe the mods accept the answers and work with the asker to understand why. Maybe a flag on an answer by the person who asked the question should be looked at more closely than say another flag.

Having said that, I think that already happens in some cases. I also think that there are some answers that may not answer the question directly or completely, but help point the asker toward a resolution. I think those answers should remain. For example, with the previous mentioned question about an under $400 Android phone that has two doohickies, an answer like, "I do not know which one is best, but the only three phones made that fit your criteria are, the Samsung Red, the OnePlus blue, and the Sony Orange." is a helpful answer although not a complete answer.

I think that ultimately, moderating questions is an art not a science and need be taken on a case by case basis. If I recall correctly, when I first started hanging around here, questions had to have an answer or had to be answerable. Now, many of the questions are asker for opinion or advice.

I also think that as long as an answer does not cause a derail, the asker can decide to read it or not and accept it or not. I also happen to think that bad answers have value. I also think that the source of the answer, their reputation is part of what makes an answer valuable or not to the asker. I have a friend, a great guy, but he is a contra indicatior. If I ask him his opinion, I almost always do so knowing that I will probably do the 180 degree opposite of whatever he suggests.

One other point; I think that sometimes people who answer an advice or opinion question take them personally sometimes. They are just questions people have. Do not be offended by them, do not read too much into them.
posted by AugustWest at 5:09 PM on October 28 [1 favorite]


How come nobody's mentioned the banhammer yet?

WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE
posted by not_on_display at 5:24 PM on October 28


I just left a comment on that AskMe, but I am now second-guessing myself because you mention you have trouble with most guided imagery, but I don't know what "most" here is.

I guess I can also be flagged for deletion, nbd *shrug emoji*
posted by Ender's Friend at 5:53 PM on October 28


You know, there're a lot of ways to think and feel about the ideal handling of AskMe questions. But there's also a role for a baseline expectations check: "These mostly well-intended people are trying to understand and respond to my query, for free, on their own time."
posted by Miko at 5:55 PM on October 28 [30 favorites]


"In this instance, the moderator warned repsonders to stay on topic after allowing two off-topic replies. While most of the following replies answered the question, there continued to be additional posts that did not address the question that remained in the thread."

So, a couple of things were at work there (with the drugs/library question). First, since it was an anonymous question, the OP couldn't clarify what they preferred, and while the "don't get rid of it" answers picked up some flags, I thought they presented a valid point of view that the OP might not have been aware of -- and I had no way of knowing either way, since it's a very short and anonymous question. If the OP had been in the thread, or if I could have contacted them, I might have clarified that point with them first -- are these answers helpful or unhelpful? Is this giving you information and strategies you didn't have, or are they not at all what you're after?

As it was, I assumed the thread would continue to pick up "don't get rid of it" answers and so I left those two thoughtful, thorough answers there, so people could feel comfortable that that POV had been represented, and asked that further answers focus on the question as asked, in an effort to allow for both possibilities (whether the OP wanted or didn't want "don't get rid of it" answers). I watched the thread for the rest of my shift and I DID delete a couple further off-point answers; by the time I went off-shift, the thread hadn't had a flag in a few hours, so I noted it up for the next mod but said it had gotten quieter. Nothing else was flagged for the rest of the thread, so mod attention wasn't drawn to further off-point answers. (And a couple other threads were moving fast, so mod attention was probably there.)

So yeah, definitely flag to draw our attention, it helps us a lot!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:20 PM on October 28 [3 favorites]


I will say that I think this is complicated here because in the question itself, before looking at the clarifications, I would not actually have parsed that question as meaning "I don't want mindfulness", I would have actually said it sounded like you were asking for a way to be able to do mindfulness meditation for somebody who has trouble with it. I don't actually like it, myself, so I don't think I have any bias towards thinking it should be the solution!

In general, you don't need to hedge stuff. If it's a hard no already, you can say that, rather than that you'd rather not or that something is a challenge. I think this might be a social thing, especially if you've spent a lot of your life being told that you need to do more of the polite softening of how you ask for things, but AskMe benefits a lot from posing a question with a clear outline of where the answers are. "I have trouble with X" can be read as "I would be receptive to solutions for my trouble with X" if you don't make it a bit more specific. "I have trouble with X so I'm not interested in stuff related to X" is a perfectly valid thing to say in a question. It can also help to define what side of those boundaries should give first: "I want a phone under $400 but I can spend a little more if there's literally nothing else that meets these other criteria," say, gets different answers from "I absolutely can't spend more than $400 but I could make do without a couple of these features."

To be clear: Not saying that anybody who ignored the clarifications afterwards was doing a great job, ugh. I just think that for this particular kind of question, being more explicit about the parameters is very helpful. Won't prevent noise completely, but it helps.
posted by Sequence at 10:59 PM on October 28 [11 favorites]


a good opportunity to reflect as a community on how we might be able to lower the frequency of answers that did not meet the criteria laid out in the question.

I once asked a question about a specific kind of mental therapy which I'd done a lot of research about and had finally decided to take on. My question was about what to expect from this kind of therapy and things around that. One of the answers was specifically about why the therapy I had selected was bullshit.

I contacted the mod team and was given a response which entirely justified the answer calling the therapy I had chosen bullshit and the answer was allowed to stand.

This answer was entirely the antithesis of what I was asking about. I found the mod support of the answer that ran entirely counter to my question really shitty.

I didn't pursue it beyond that. The mods have all the power. I closed the thread because just seeing that answer there got my blood pressure up. If there were useful answers in the thread after that one response, I have no idea.

I was asking about what to expect in a certain kind of therapy. The answer was that the therapy I had chosen was useless. The mod response to my protest reflected something, I don't know what, which really changed how I see the mod team in AskMe.

I don't know what to say other than I'm much more hesitant to post AskMe questions since then. I felt personally violated (I know it's a strong term, but it is how I felt) when I asked for this to be deleted and it wasn't.

I guess maybe the mods won because now I don't ask even my very few questions to Ask anymore.
posted by hippybear at 12:34 AM on October 29 [8 favorites]


That question was hard. Once you rule out mindfulness, affirmations, guided imagery (iirc), metta / loving kindness / etc., then what's left? Podcasts? Prayer? I didn't have any other ideas, but I'm not surprised that people didn't miss the full list of what wouldn't be helpful.
posted by salvia at 2:37 PM on October 29 [2 favorites]


OK but can we make sure to preserve the joy of the absolutely shitshow that is culture recommendation answers? If I see a thread phrased "please recommend songs that are X and Y" I know I can have a wonderful time tearing my hair out to pages of suggestions that are NOWHERE IN ANY POSSIBLE WORLD ANYWHERE CLOSE to X and Y. Please don't take this joy from me
posted by ominous_paws at 2:40 PM on October 29 [9 favorites]


Yup. This happens ALL THE TIME, and it's gross. It's particularly egregious with mental health questions. If you look at my question history there's one where the majority of the answers completely ignored what I was asking for and one man repeatedly mansplained why my own experience of emotions JUST COULDN'T POSSIBLY be how I actually experience them. Even though that was the entire point of the question.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:47 PM on October 29 [2 favorites]


Salvia, I get that the OP's question is hard! That's why I didn't answer it. What were wanting is for people to just skip the question if they can't help.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:49 PM on October 29 [10 favorites]


Salvia, I get that the OP's question is hard! That's why I didn't answer it. What were wanting is for people to just skip the question if they can't help.

Right! We--as a group--need to stop seeing the questions as wrong and begin to realize that random answers are not helpful and stop offering them. Let a question that wants a unicorn and a unicorn only with free overnight delivery stand unanswered. Sometimes, there's no help to be offered. It's okay not to have anything useful to suggest to a question.
posted by crush at 3:00 PM on October 29 [21 favorites]


It's okay not to have anything useful to suggest to a question.

LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK.

I can understand why people answer, say, "what was this book" questions with wild guesses. That makes sense, to some extent. But, yeah, if (as an example) you haven't been to therapy or are not an actual therapist, you should probably not be throwing out random answers to specific questions about therapy. Nor should you be googling for information and just pasting what you fine - the OP can do and probably already has done that.

Maybe some kind of wording to this effect could appear near the " Ask MetaFilter is as useful as you make it" note, since the current wording does nothing to mitigate useless answers?
posted by hanov3r at 3:09 PM on October 29 [1 favorite]


hippybear I remember that question because as I was researching that same type of therapy before beginning work with a therapist to use said mode of therapy I wanted to find out about others' experience with it, and yours popped up in the search. I was also really bothered by the answer you referenced that called the therapy bullshit, and I hadn't even started treatment yet.

Some of us come here in really vulnerable states and are looking for support and advice. I don't see any reason to come into a thread like that with absolutely nothing concrete to offer except "you are wrong and you are doing therapy wrong", especially when answering a question about a thorny mental health issue. I'm going through hell right now in terms of my own mental health - check out my last question. If someone had come into that thread to tell me how much my treatment plan sucked just based on their own personal antipathy to it, it would have devastated me. It also would have been deeply irrelevant to my question.

Unless someone is asking about undertaking something that is legitimately dangerous (which was not the case in hippybear's question) I don't understand why it's ok for answers that essentially shit on the question (and by extension the asker) to stand.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I hear you hippybear and I want you to know that what happened in your question upset me too, and it's even more upsetting to hear what the mod response was when you asked them to intervene. Hugs if you need them.
posted by thereemix at 3:21 PM on October 29


But, yeah, if (as an example) you haven't been to therapy or are not an actual therapist, you should probably not be throwing out random answers to specific questions about therapy.

I feel like part of the concern here is also that sometimes people who are the most heavily invested in various therapy modalities may have strong feelings about the efficacy or usefulness of that therapy. So sometimes you wind up with what i call the Wikipedia Phenomenon where the people the most qualified to answer the question generally may actually not the right people to answer specific questions. This may have been the case with hippybear's thread.

I also think sometimes people feel that they are being really concrete and specific (and they are, in their own communication style) and in fact are leaving things a lot more open according to other people's communication styles. You see this a lot in interpersonal/relationship questions where someone will say something like "I told him I wasn't free to go out with him" and to them it means that they said "No" and to other people it seems that they said "Maybe later" and then people are off to the races speculating. Sometimes that speculation is helpful, sometimes it isn't, and sometimes it's flat out aggravating. We're mostly a bunch of irritable nerds, after all.

I try, though I could always do better, to do some of that "What I am hearing you say is..." in questions where I think there's some doubt as to what the OP is looking for, or if I know my answer may not be quite right but might actually work for them given what little I know about it. I decided, after a while, to answer the meditation question because I could see it as "Give me resources to answer this" as opposed to "Tell me what to listen to" but I may have judged incorrectly. As mathowie always called it, MeFi is a "social network for non-friends" and sometimes it's difficult to want to get a different sort of support from your chosen community than you feel like you're getting.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 3:41 PM on October 29 [1 favorite]


know I can have a wonderful time tearing my hair out to pages of suggestions that are NOWHERE IN ANY POSSIBLE WORLD ANYWHERE CLOSE to X and Y. Please don't take this joy from me

When some asks for songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and then someone suggests "Gangnam Style" I like to give the person the benefit of the doubt and try and figure out why they think those songs are similar. I can't see anyone just firing off random songs so they must have some reason.
posted by Mitheral at 6:53 PM on October 29 [3 favorites]


My experience has been the AskMe setup works great for impersonal questions, but for personal questions, responses can be insensitive and invalidating to the extent that I wonder if the answerers are projecting. I think therein lies the distinction; unhelpful answers are one thing, but in an equal, back-and-forth conversation between mature people I think we would like to to not unintentionally invalidate the other person, which in turn is different than giving an answer that deliberately, consciously, and justifiably challenges the asker's premises and assumptions. I think unless the personal question is problematic (in which case it should be flagged, rewritten), it should be approached empathically and centered around the asker (as opposed to some abstract "helpful to the future community") and I think this empathic approach is a learnable skill that makes answers useful and not dehumanizing, retraumatizing, etc.
(Meanwhile, one thing for Askers can do is to distance your personal problem by asking a related but more impersonal question instead, one where you have less emotional stake in it.)
posted by polymodus at 12:07 AM on October 30 [1 favorite]


I was also really bothered by the answer you referenced that called the therapy bullshit,

I went back to look at that, as it's a useful case. First, no one called it literally "bullshit" - answers were respectfully worded. Second, the question was open ended enough ("what will make this work for me") that even the answers that referenced critical literature could, in imaginable cases, be helpful - some people are actually more willing to try something when they know what the clinical perspective is so their expectations can be appropritately set. Third, the person who posted the critical info is a specialist in this subject matter, so not just someone doing a drive-by based on shallow knowledge. So I just wanted to note that even some of the criteria for "unuseful answer" being suggested do not fully apply here.

A lot of this comes down to the question: is the question for the OP, or for the community/wider web readership? If for the OP only, we would consider making all answers private, right? But if it's for a wider consideration and utility, there are going to be lamer answers mixed in with better answers, and we can't ever have total control. Only a small fraction of people who answer will be reading this or reading the guidelines.
posted by Miko at 5:23 AM on October 30 [15 favorites]


I have my suspicions that social AskMes will always be a difficult case. Any interpersonal or psychological AskMe where the asker has sufficient perspective on the situation to write a perfect question that won't be misunderstood or misinterpreted, is probably capable of solving their own problem and doesn't need advice from a bunch of weirdoes on the Internet. Answerers who have sufficient insight to understand that, hey, maybe they should butt out on this one, are the ones who are capable of writing a better empathetic answer that would be helpful. Which means that there's no good way around social/psych AskMes being a hot mess of people writing imperfect questions that will generally receive imperfect answers.
posted by zamboni at 6:02 AM on October 30 [4 favorites]


I've posted a few personal/relationship questions on here and have gotten both really good input and responses that jumped to conclusions based on unfounded assumptions or not fully reading my question.

I don't post here for answers but instead for perspective. You can't possible know the entirety of my situation, no matter how much detail I provide. So I try to get at the issue with enough framing to make it useful for me to see what perspective others bring to the situation.

I do feel like there are times when 'thread sitting' is appropriate, especially when comments are first being left in case there's some clarification that would help get more accurate responses.
posted by Twicketface at 12:03 PM on October 30 [1 favorite]


“In general, you don't need to hedge stuff. If it's a hard no already, you can say that, rather than that you'd rather not or that something is a challenge. I think this might be a social thing, especially if you've spent a lot of your life being told that you need to do more of the polite softening of how you ask for things, but AskMe benefits a lot from posing a question with a clear outline of where the answers are. "I have trouble with X" can be read as "I would be receptive to solutions for my trouble with X" if you don't make it a bit more specific. "I have trouble with X so I'm not interested in stuff related to X" is a perfectly valid thing to say in a question.”

Sequence, you just qualified your understanding that this type of wording could be socialization, but then you want the OP to ask the question the way you want it, *in spite of their socialization*. Can you see how that might be a problem?
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:27 PM on October 30


If I ask a smattering of my friends and family for advice on a particular situation, their responses will vary greatly. Some will be very factual and to the point, while others will lead with a personal anecdote that eventually winds its way back to a suggestion. AskMe is really just an online version of this social structure. The answerers of Ask are busy with their own lives and thoughts, pausing here and there to provide answers they think the asker might find helpful. They won’t always be good answers, or even close to the right answer, but these momentary engagements say, “I see you. I hear that you have a problem or a question. Maybe, just maybe, I can help.” To me, that’s what makes a community and it’s why I continue to stick around.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 1:12 PM on October 30 [6 favorites]


is the question for the OP, or for the community/wider web readership? If for the OP only, we would consider making all answers private, right?

I don’t understand this. When I ask a question it’s for me. Maybe someone in the future might have something similar and come across it but I do not ask questions “for the community”. Are people really asking questions with the idea that in essence it’s like a hypothetical? Because it sure makes sense that some people approach their answers like it’s a hypothetical scenario, and not written by a real person who might be struggling with reading 20 answers telling them that they are fundamentally misunderstanding something about their own problem.
posted by billiebee at 1:34 PM on October 30 [9 favorites]


Maybe a better articulation of that point could have been “are answers only for the OP or are they also for community?” which would in my view reflect the reality that AskMe serves two core audiences, not merely the OP.

I’m sometimes reminded of advice I see about how to approach posts on the blue—once you’ve made it, you’ve sort of released it into the community and it’s no longer yours anymore. This helps depersonalize things when the post doesn’t get a hopes for or anticipated reception. That advice obviously doesn’t apply directly to the green, but I think there is still something to be taken from that sentiment; you do, by posting to AskMe, lose a measure of control over the question and need to consider that a consequence of posing questions in this format is that a number of answers might be really unhelpful. This isn’t an argument for letting abusive or plainly hurtful answers stand in sensitive personal relations Asks, but it is a suggestion that when you’re soliciting opinions about consumer products that it is not that big of a deal (even if irritating) to receive answers that fall outside the careful boundaries of what you’ve asked.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:33 PM on October 30 [2 favorites]


reflect the reality that AskMe serves two core audiences, not merely the OP.
At the same time though, much like many other MeTas we've had lately, if the status quo is driving so many former askers off, and causing others to give up on trusting in it as any sort of institution... who is this policy really helping?
posted by CrystalDave at 3:36 PM on October 30 [4 favorites]


you do, by posting to AskMe, lose a measure of control over the question and need to consider that a consequence of posing questions in this format is that a number of answers might be really unhelpful.

So if we reflect on where this "you need to" is coming from, that's the expectational missing stair in the AskMe setup. I think the need lies in informing people of this expectation that this is how it tends to work out, and then they can decide on whether to ask and how to word it. If that takes the shape of, for example structurally encouraging people to use AskMe for small questions before asking big/serious/questions so they can experience the dynamic for what it is, maybe that would reduce the amount of unnecessary bad experiences that happened, like hippybear's and mine and others.
posted by polymodus at 4:43 PM on October 30


When I answer a question I answer for the specifics of the question but I'll also elaborate a bit if appropriate for anyone who does a search for that topic. I know people are actually using the acrhives because I get a couple favourites a month from 1+ year old AskMes. Heck I often find a question I'm about to ask has already been answered years ago when the posting page does the search thing for previous questions.

Caveat 99% of my answers are for physical/concrete facts sort of questions. I rarely answer relationship/therapy/social questions.
posted by Mitheral at 8:36 PM on October 30 [1 favorite]


I went back to look at that, as it's a useful case. First, no one called it literally "bullshit" - answers were respectfully worded. Second, the question was open ended enough ("what will make this work for me") that even the answers that referenced critical literature could, in imaginable cases, be helpful - some people are actually more willing to try something when they know what the clinical perspective is so their expectations can be appropritately set. Third, the person who posted the critical info is a specialist in this subject matter, so not just someone doing a drive-by based on shallow knowledge. So I just wanted to note that even some of the criteria for "unuseful answer" being suggested do not fully apply here.

Yes, thanks for being nearly exactly what the mods were when I contacted them. I won't quote the MeMail exchange here, but I can summarize it by being "yes, but he has a good point, and he knows his shit, and you should not dismiss him", when his answer was exactly the opposite of what I was asking. My question was "what should I expect from this therapy" not "should I regard this therapy as I look for treatment".

It's "imaginable" that his answer was helpful and appropriate. I assure you, it absolutely was not. And when I asked for it to be removed and had it "mansplained" to me (I have no idea the gender of the mod who responded, I haven't even looked at the response again) that I was wrong for wanting it to be removed, my relationship with MetaFilter took some hit point damage.
posted by hippybear at 8:41 PM on October 30 [3 favorites]


"mansplained" to me (I have no idea the gender of the mod who responded, I haven't even looked at the response again)

hb, I sympathize with your situation, but you're losing me here. What makes it mansplaining? Condescension? Gender? The power imbalance?

So if we reflect on where this "you need to" is coming from, that's the expectational missing stair in the AskMe setup. I think the need lies in informing people of this expectation that this is how it tends to work out, and then they can decide on whether to ask and how to word it.

I second that this should be factored in to the documentation rewriting that's going on at the moment. People seem to have different understandings of what AskMe is and how it works. If people are expecting something from AskMe that isn't being provided, we either need to change how AskMe works, or change askers' expectations.
posted by zamboni at 7:30 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


I don't want this to be a place where we only give the answers that askers are hoping for. In what feels like an increasingly anti-intellectual world, I like that this is usually a science-minded, highly literate oasis. I like that there are people here who freely share their expert knowledge of which aspects of medical and therapeutic practices are supported and which are discredited, and I've learned from that in ways that have been personally important to me.

I can imagine times that I wouldn't want that, and at those times, I might say something like, "I've researched [thing x] a lot, so I know what the literature shows, but I'm still going to try it for reasons that I don't want to go into. I'm anxious but committed. Can those of you who have done this tell me exactly what to expect from the process, without trying to talk me out of it?" If you then came along just to naysay, then yes, I'd be annoyed.

Say instead I posted, "I'm really interested in trying [it] but I understand basically nothing about it," (as hippybear did). Say the thing I was interested in was something that could potentially divert time, money, and my mental and emotional resources from something actually effective. And say an expert in that precise field came along, read my question, and was willing to freely share her expertise with me. Do we really want her to move on without comment instead, because that's not what I asked?

Hippybear, I believe you that you found her answer shitty and violating in a time when you had a real need and were reaching out for help. I'm upset for you that you had that experience here. At the same time, it's exactly the answer I would have wanted most if it were me asking, and the answer I benefit from most as a member of the community. If that seems inconceivable, imagine your question were about something you DO reject as pseudoscience -- maybe homeopathy? crystal healing? Whatever it is, does that help you see that the kind of answer you got -- despite its truly negative impact on you -- was only ever meant to be a hand reaching out to you, not pushing you down?
posted by daisyace at 9:52 AM on October 31 [6 favorites]


Forgive me hippybear for speaking for you but I don't believe hippybear was asking because he was interested in trying it, he was asking because he had already made arrangements to try it and was hoping for insight as to what to expect.

And to compare what hb was asking about to homeopathy or crystal healing is not helpful. The mode of treatment being discussed in hippybear's question is absolutely not a pseudoscience, regardless of the personal feelings of the subject area expert who responded.
posted by thereemix at 10:27 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


And I say that as someone who has been under the same treatment for months, and who has found it to be extremely helpful overall in spite of not getting some of the anticipated results I was hoping for in one area. This isn't faith healing or, like, dropping acid and hoping for the best.
posted by thereemix at 10:31 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the VA lists EMDR as one of only three research-supported therapies effective in treating PTSD. It's hardly something that's universally condemned as pseudo-science. I think someone can talk about its shortcomings or potential problems without acting as if it's worthless or implying that an unknown therapist whose statements are described secondhand is bad at it.
posted by lazuli at 10:39 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


At the risk of sounding a bit self-aggrandizing: There was once a MeTa shoutout over a handful of users, myself among them, for being unusually good at giving advice in AskMe. The bunch of us were also asked "how the heck do you do it". I haven't been able to find the post (it was some time ago) and I don't remember whether I was recoiling from embarrassment too much to think clearly; but one part of my answer to "how to do a good AskMe" would be "put yourself in the place that the asker is, and speak to them where they are." Your job is to help them, yes, but you need to meet them where they are in order to do that, you know?

Meaning: someone who has expressly stated that they have already decided on a course of action and are asking what to expect are not in a headspace where they can as easily entertain the suggestion that their course of action is wrong. Not that you can't say that (especially if the course of action in question is something like "I'm gonna try juggling flaming knives"), just....be cognizant of how you talk them out of it. "That thing you've already decided to do is stupid" is a different answer than "If this works for you, great, but my mom tried that and it didn't work so she tried this other thing later and it was better, lemme know if you want to know more". Accept that the asker has put at least SOME thought into things and respect that before you compare their choice to homeopathy or whatever.

This goes doubly so with questions where people are asking things that make them uncomfortable, embarrassed, or vulnerable. They're already uncomfortable, embarrassed or vulnerable, and hearing the equivalent of "you made the wrong choice" would be less than successful.

There no doubt are times when you may find that you can't answer a question and still meet the asker where they are. That's fine. You don't have to answer. When I back out of an AskMe, 99.9% of the time that's the reason why ("....Eh, I don't think I can answer this after all"). My knee-jerk reaction is to help people, and usually it's my brain stopping me in time and reminding me "I know you WANT to help, but you don't know enough about HOW to help in this case." (My brain doesn't always stop me in time, I'm afraid, but it tries.)

I suspect that if everyone approached responses to AskMes from a position of "I'm meeting the asker where THEY are", it would go a long way towards helping this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on October 31 [7 favorites]


Yes, my apologies in lacking sensitivity in how I proposed the thought exercise around homeopathy or crystals. I didn't mean to equate EMDR with them. Rather, I was purposely choosing examples on the far end of what I see as a continuum of supported-to-debunked methodologies because I think that it's easier to perceive the good intent of the answer by imagining it in relation to a more extreme possibility. The answerer doesn't call EMDR a pseudoscience, and neither do the links in her profile (based on my very quick perusal of a few of them), just that its effectiveness -- which is acknowledged! -- doesn't depend on eye movements/buzzing. I don't know the field ,and it's possible that there's equally strong research refuting that. But I think the answerer had enough basis to believe otherwise, and posted a measured, good-faith answer conveying her science-based beliefs.

I also believe she did so with reasonable attention to the question, which did say that hippybear was interested in trying it but didn't know about it, having just had a demo and talked with a therapist about it that day. The quote I pulled above is verbatim from his question, not something I made up.
posted by daisyace at 12:49 PM on October 31 [6 favorites]


Some people interpret “I have trouble with [thing]” or “I don’t know a lot about [thing]” as an invitation to explain [thing].

My interpretation of this phenomenon is that sometimes people ask for help in oblique ways, and answerers want to be responsive if that’s the case.

Because of this ambiguity in language, this Ask vs. Guess dynamic, I think it’s better to straight up say what kind of answer you won’t accept.

Acheman, it looks like you did that in a follow-up comment after your original post, and I think that language was good in that it was unequivocal about what you do and don’t want.
posted by delight at 2:41 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Is this something that could be mitigated with official style recommendations?

For example, if the question is looking for specific suggestions as responses rather than sharing experiences or other things (which a certain % of askmefi questions are), there could be a recommended style of

"[BODY OF REQUEST]

REQUIRED:
- bullet 1
- bullet 2

DISQUALIFYING FACTORS
- bullet 1
- bullet 2
"

Then at least it would be more clear to skimmers?
posted by softlord at 3:42 PM on October 31


It's "imaginable" that his answer was helpful and appropriate. I assure you, it absolutely was not.

I'm sorry this was such a bad experience. I do, however, agree with daisyace: there was no way to tell beforehand how you were going to receive this information. I have also recently tried a similar form of therapy with my therapist, and am a skeptic, generally. I researched the technique and found critical information, and went ahead anyway . I could have posed the same question, verbatim, and found the answer you thought was "mansplaining" to be a very helpful one - because in essence it helps me understand that sure, the clinical jury is still working through this, and maybe it's not supported by science, but it's not harmful, it's at least as effective as placebo, and maybe more, and other things haven't worked, and there may be some ancillary virtue that's about my own risk-taking or building trust in my therapist that emerges as a side benefit, so, my conclusion would be "great, I thought it was a bit woo and maybe I'm right about that, but no harm in trying. Whatever comes of it will be useful in therapy."

How could we be expected to know whether the mind behind the AskMe is more like mine, or more like yours? I, too, could have asked most of that questionverbatim , ending with "I would appreciate any insight into exactly what this therapy entails and what to expect during a session," and been delighted with this answer and found it extremely useful.

I'd find it very hard to devise a way for that answer to be screened out based on what was presented. There is a limit to how much we can tell about a person, their orientation, the state they're in, and what they're truly seeking in their heart of hearts from a few paragraphs online.

If I say "I'm going to ask a sensitive, personal question of a bunch of strangers, and I'm feeling vulnerable about it and unable to face answers that don't meet my parameters" - how realistic is it to expect all answers will be carefully tuned to that exact frequency? If I can imagine the possibility of answers that will really hurt me, that I really don't want to encounter, and will be harmed by in some way if I do encounter them - is there some responsibility that we could say is on me to decide whether to ask or not? Rather than ask this entire, constantly shifting and highly varied community to work through a series of rules, some of which are going to be individual and pretty hard to discern?
posted by Miko at 7:04 PM on October 31 [14 favorites]


and found the answer you thought was "mansplaining" to be a very helpful one

I should be clear here -- the word mansplaining was not used in reference to any comment in the AskMe thread in question.
posted by hippybear at 7:28 PM on October 31


We could ask everyone to reread the question after they write their answer but before they post.

By the time you have read the question, read seventeen answers and then composed your own answer you can forget parts of the question, especially that sentence where the OP is asking you not to suggest certain things. I find this helps me answer the actual question as asked.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:42 AM on November 1


The thing is, you're not going to get sitewide behavior changes (like "everyone includes a What I Don't Want List") with just a recommendation, because most people don't read recommendations, or ignore them if they do read them. You'd need at least some mod support.

It doesn't need to be enforcement per se. It could be very gentle support like "Hey, OP, I notice you're flagging a bunch of stuff in here. Did you know you could include a W.I.D.W.L.?" or "Hi, answerer, instead of just silently deleting your answer, I'm going to reassure you that it would normally have been a fine thing to say, and the only problem was you ignored the W.I.D.W.L."

But making suggestions (however good) down here is reaching, like, a few dozen people, many of whom will probably ignore you. To reach the hundreds of people you'd need to reach to make genuine changes, you'd need the mods on board.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:41 AM on November 1 [1 favorite]


And I'll say from the mod side that "hey, adding a clarifying comment on that point would okay" is common advice when an asker checks in about it (similar to e.g. the case of the question in the post here, where Acheman had already left a good clarification and preempted that adivce but I let him know over email that we'd keep an eye out and try and reiterate that from the mod side if things kept wandering). We'll do that proactively as well at times with a mod note, if we notice a pattern of off-the-mark answers from flagging (whether by the asker or other readers).

I find that people want to use Ask in a wide enough variety of ways, in terms of amount of structure and detail they want to include and how much of a project they want to turn framing their question into, that trying to formally introduce more specific infrastructure into asking would be likely to frustrate or turn off as many people as it would potentially help. So I like the spirit of the "here's some bullet points to work through" framework as a tool some folks would find helpful, but I don't see formally pushing something like that or involving it in the asking workflow.

But as far as trying to share frameworks for effective question-building, one decent middle ground between establishing some formal policy take on it and just brainstorming in the tail end of a random MetaTalk would be putting together a dedicated "hey, here's some notes on what can work well when structuring a question on Ask MetaFilter" type of MetaTalk post. That's the sort of thing that could be fairly visible and focused pretty actively on positive, "here's stuff that has worked for me" accretions of experiential knowledge from the community, and that we could sidebar to help people find their way to, etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:26 AM on November 1 [1 favorite]


I'm curious (honestly, genuinely curious) what feedback folks would have on a situation like one of my recent answers in which I felt that the asker (who admitted they didn't really understand the topic they were asking about) may have meant a slightly different question than the one they actually asked so I posted a mix of background info/clarifying questions rather than answering the question directly.

Even as I posted it, I was somewhat unsure sure if my answer really fit the brief; indeed, several of the other answers did see it differently and did answer the question-as-asked more directly. I'm not sure which answers were actually more helpful in the end, especially since the asker has not come back to clarify at all.
posted by mosst at 11:01 AM on November 1


I read that at the time, mosst, and I thought it was good. Sometimes it's tough to tell what the asker knows, and tougher still if they don't come back to clarify.

In the library world we have this thing called "the reference interview" which is basically what it sounds like. Someone comes in asking "I need a book on caves" and you ask clarifying questions ("Is this for an assignment?" "Does it have to be recent?" "Are you looking for pictures or essays or facts or scientific studies?" "Do you need something you can walk out of the library with?" and then a few other thing you try to suss out indirectly like what their reading/English proficiency is, or like if you know the professor who gave the assignment, you could fold that in). Not everyone appreciates this exercise "I just want a book on CAVES" but it can help most people get access to better information.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:22 AM on November 1 [2 favorites]


As someone who has ranted about this before, I agree with jessamyn - I'd always appreciate the chance to answer a follow-up question! E.g. in my recent one the answers were all reasonable but I would have also been happy to take a couple minutes to reflect on whether I was interested in recommendations in nearby towns.

I know that's more challenging with anon Asks, so I think askers may need to weigh the inability to easily follow up against other considerations in anonymizing their question.
posted by capricorn at 10:54 AM on November 4


One of the best things about Ask MetaFilter (and other quality Q&A sites) is the willingness to read between the lines and give answers that address the situation fully, including its context, rather than accepting the asker's framing blindly. There are plenty of places online that assume the OP is totally right and only support is allowed, but they're echo chambers.

This is an extreme example and doesn't reflect on anyone in this thread, but one of the best answers I've seen was to a question that basically said "how can I feel safe around homeless people after this negative interaction?" The answer was "you can start by reframing your past interaction with compassion." The question was about future interactions, but the problem was rightly identified as the way they were conceiving of an interaction where the asker was the advantaged party taking to a disadvantaged person. In an Ask world that requires only answering the question as it's asked and not addressing context or the asker's assumptions or framing, I'm not sure that answer would have stood.

Now, there definitely have been questions where responses have focused on the wrong thing, or derailed, or piled on OP, and I think we should keep dealing with them on a case by case basis. And I agree that if the OP as put guardrails on a question those should probably be respected (though only to a point - if the guardrail is "I don't want to hear about how vaccines are good" I'm not sure we should respect that".) But starting with the assumption that every answer must accept the question's framing is throwing the baby out with the bathwater and would ruin one of the best things about Ask.
posted by Tehhund at 5:27 AM on November 11 [2 favorites]


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