Mathematical constants, for example, the 72 character limit on post titl January 30, 2020 12:41 PM   Subscribe

While drafting this FPP, I had to omit words from the title of the article I was linking to in order to fit within the 72 character limit on FPP titles. I noticed today that someone else was bitten by the same "feature", leading to a misspelling of the author's name, until cortex stopped by to fix things manually. While I understand the desire to keep FPP titles concise, I feel like 72 is rather strict, and that we should discuss increasing it.

I'll throw out 100 as an opening bid, being a nice round number that's no more or less arbitrary than 72, which would seem to derive from some defaults in email programs intended to avoid line wrapping on 80-character terminals. 100 isn't enough for every conceivable FPP title, but it would have been enough for these two posts, and several others I've had to alter when making FPPs in the past.
posted by tonycpsu to Feature Requests at 12:41 PM (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

A little background on the title length limit, as I remember it (I haven't gone back and dug out the original discussions yet and now I'm a little curious): it was a change that Matt introduced during a design pass, I want to say c. 2014 and in concert with some other design decisions happening when the Modern theme was rolled out. There may have been an SEO angle on the idea of short titles, I'm not sure; I do recall it being specifically oriented toward keeping titles to a reasonable chunk of the page in mobile view in particular, so we wouldn't end up with all-title, no-post situations.

I don't have any firm "no, it's got to stay where it is" feelings about it, but also don't want to immediately say it's changing; I'll look over some of the old conversations and touch base with frimble as far as that goes. But I do understand the appeal of having a little more title space to work with and have no problem with folks talking about where they are with it and what is working or would work well for their posting habits.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:45 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I run into this on occasion as well. I just write a shorter headline. 72, 100, whatever.
posted by Etrigan at 12:56 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


I don't make FPPs often, but I can recall having hit the limit when composing a title for an AskMe (and after a brief check of my AskMes, several of my recent AskMes have titles with 70-72 characters, so I can see myself recomposing those to squeak under the limit). And like, I have an older AskMe with the title "What sitcom had a plotline about chili with cocoa powder in it being a surprise hit at a chili cookoff?", which is 103 characters, and under the 72 character limit, the best I could come up after a few minutes of trying is "Sitcom w/ an ep where chili w/ cocoa powder is a hit at a chili cookoff?", which is harder to read/understand than my 103 character title. (I don't need any suggestions for title improvements here, thanks.)

I think upping the character limit to 100 might make it easier to write titles for very specific questions in Ask.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:02 PM on January 30


There have been times where I've wanted an extra couple of characters, that being said, I actually enjoy the limit, it sort of forces you to be concise with what you're labeling or leading your post with. So I'm actually good with it.
posted by Fizz at 1:22 PM on January 30 [8 favorites]


I would just like to mention that I have been complaining about the length limit since the day it was imposed.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:35 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I would just like to mention that I have been complaining about the length limit since the day it was imposed.

I got my edit comment window pony. I hope your tiny-but-no-longer equine dream comes home to roost in your mind's barn one day as well.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:38 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty firmly in the punny aside camp when it comes to titles so the title length is not really an issue for me.

I recall that when titles were added to the front page, though, it was possible to turn them off -- can people still do that? Do people still do that? It might not be a great idea to allow for more information to be included in a feature that's not even visible for some users.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:38 PM on January 30


cortex: "it was a change that Matt introduced during a design pass, I want to say c. 2014 and in concert with some other design decisions happening when the Modern theme was rolled out. "

Cortex, my understanding is that the 72 character limit was imposed when titles were made visible on the front page (Jan 2013). Per mathowie:
The only internal change we had to do for this besides revamp the posting pages was shorten title limits to 72 characters. We found this a happy medium where titles fit on one line of most desktop browsers, and only took up 1-2 lines on small mobile screens. Our stats show that less than 4% of posts have longer titles, most often people would copy/paste an entire quote, and you might find those in the new archive pages, but otherwise the change should have a minimal impact on writing new posts.
I'm pleased to see that I remembered correctly and complained about the limit in that thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:44 PM on January 30 [9 favorites]


That ancient history title meta thread is a treat let me tell ya.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:50 PM on January 30


Matt had a tendency to present site changes as a fait accompli.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:45 PM on January 30


I feel like I often write annoying joke titles on AskMes, or else really blatantly uninformative ones like "Question about food," because I can't figure out how to get something useful to fit but I'm not allowed to leave it blank.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:09 PM on January 30


(Which, like, I am happy to keep writing annoying joke titles, but if the length limit stays I will feel that y'all are bringing the annoying jokes upon yourselves.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:12 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


64 is a much more pleasing number, let's cut it back to that.
posted by biffa at 3:28 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Just make it 42
posted by one4themoment at 4:12 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]


How about 80? Good enough for a vt100
posted by floam at 4:30 PM on January 30 [5 favorites]


I am obviously in the minority here, but I feel like the titles should be succinct and the meat of the ask/fpp to be in the post itself.

I don't really care if the title limit is changed, but I feel like moving important information into the title is at best going to cause the poster to write the same thing twice (once in the title and then again in the post itself), and at worst making the post/question difficult to read because the information is spread out across two fields.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:50 PM on January 30 [12 favorites]


The current title limit ends up as 2 1/2 lines on my phone screen— very readable at a glance.
I advocate that we keep titles concise and punny.
TLDR, I vote no pony.
posted by calgirl at 5:44 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


"What sitcom had a plotline about chili with cocoa powder in it being a surprise hit at a chili cookoff?", which is 103 characters, and under the 72 character limit, the best I could come up after a few minutes of trying is "Sitcom w/ an ep where chili w/ cocoa powder is a hit at a chili cookoff?", which is harder to read/understand than my 103 character title. (I don't need any suggestions for title improvements here, thanks.)

Sitcom plot where chili with cocoa powder is cook-off hit?

(You don't NEED them but)
posted by klangklangston at 7:10 PM on January 30


80 same as in thread slot filling Peppers.
posted by clavdivs at 7:14 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Needs to be 73
posted by zompist at 7:22 PM on January 30


and a HALF
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:44 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


I've been meaning to make a Talk post about it but have been too lazy, so I will complain here about post titles with NO words at all. If the post title is just an emoji (or string of emojis), it usually just shows up as blank in most RSS feed readers, and that makes it difficult to click on.

As for the actual current topic, I'm in favor of a longer limit - 100 characters sounds fine. (As long as they're not all emoji.)
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:39 PM on January 30 [9 favorites]


You get ten characters for every year of membership on the site.
posted by ODiV at 10:40 PM on January 30 [8 favorites]


Most users get 100, tonycpsu gets 200 since he asked, I get 10,000.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:20 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]


Agreeing that anything more than 2-3 lines for a title on mobile gets unwieldy to read; my preference would be that the title character limit remains.

Honestly, I do find Metafilter a bit harder to read physically on my computer than most modern websites because the line length is quite long in horizontal orientation, stretching to fit 95% of the screen. The longer the title is, the more I have this problem with reading the full title as well, not just the meat of the post, especially if the title's long enough to wrap. Reading vertically on mobile helps tamp this issue down a fair bit, but then it's more tedious to respond with longer than a pithy sentence or two ...
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:37 PM on January 30


Pandora Kouti: Honestly, I do find Metafilter a bit harder to read physically on my computer than most modern websites because the line length is quite long in horizontal orientation, stretching to fit 95% of the screen.

Does it improve things if you make the browser window smaller?
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:22 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Personally I hate the mobile theme and use classic even on my phone (Also I've never figured out how to post an ask from the mobile theme?) I don't think that increasing the character length of the title would impact my viewing experience.

But I am probobly a tiny subset of users browsing on my phone in classic.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:00 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Also I've never figured out how to post an ask from the mobile theme?

I post only rarely, but I posted an Ask from my phone the other weekend. I have the modern theme and it was still far from obvious where the "new question" link was.
posted by hoyland at 4:15 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I once worked with a guy who was utterly convinced that database field sizes would impart faster lookup if they were n^2-2 characters long, so all our address fields were, like, 62 or 126 characters long. Now I get twitchy when I see space constraints that aren't sensible things like 80 or 128, because I wonder if he's out there somewhere sowing discord.

That said, it's 2020! Length limits are so Web 1.0. Make title into a MEDIUMTEXT and be done with it. Then when I make my Treaty of Westphalia FPP, I can cram the whole thing into the title and save everybody a click into the actual thread.
posted by Mayor West at 5:20 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I do find Metafilter a bit harder to read physically on my computer than most modern websites because the line length is quite long in horizontal orientation, stretching to fit 95% of the screen

I won't tell anyone not to have an allergy to the Modern theme instead of Classic, but this is one of the changes it brought in; there's reasonably generous margins on the sides after the browser hits a certain width and the line length is accordingly easier to scan. It's one of the reasons I spend all my time in Modern Dark. (The overall mobile experience being yaaaards better is the other top contender.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:07 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


I’ve only posted to MetaFilter twice but I post a lot of questions to Ask and could definitely have used a few more characters for harder to convey question titles. For me the thing on Ask (she says, as she sharpens her favorite axe) is that people so often skim the question and decide what it is about too quickly and then dive in to answer whatever they feel like talking about. When I can’t make the title as clear as possible then this tends to happen more because sometimes the title doesn’t contain the whole story.

Granted I’ve gotten better at being slightly more concise and recently have gotten really well focused answers (and I flag derailing answers like a motherfucker), but it’d be even better to have like 30 extra characters to make the titles focused and clear.

As far as titles on MetaFilter go, I read mostly on mobile but I’d have no problem with longer titles.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:17 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I've noticed this, I always seem to need just a *few* more characters than I have,but then I figure that would probably be true no matter how long I was allowed to have my title be.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:14 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Y'all screwed either way.
z͚̕a͚l͕͚̦̩g͉o̯̺͕̘
5 characters
17 unicode code points
29 UTF-8 bytes

Don't get me started on double-wide characters. Ancient metafilter backend software probably can't do the correct 5 characters or base it on absolute width anyways... probably doing 72 UTF-16 codepoints anyways.

That aside, I've also run into the title is too short to fit author's name and paper title into the 72 whatever limit so bumping up to 100 or so would bake me less graaaar. And make ,me feel less like composing a click-bait title.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:36 AM on January 31


what if you use emoji instead
can you use all 72 emoji or is it 36 or something
should I find out?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:43 AM on January 31


Nope, you get 72 emoji. So this can solve any problems you might have.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:59 AM on January 31


You can abuse ligatures to eek out an extra character or three.
posted by floam at 1:34 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I am obviously in the minority here, but I feel like the titles should be succinct and the meat of the ask/fpp to be in the post itself.

Those of us who MeFi from our phones (mostly) appreciate the shorter titles.

Oddly enough, I'm on an actual computer right now and the fullscreen MetaFilter experience feels so decadent.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:26 PM on January 31


MetaFilter: one of the reasons I spend all my time in Modern Dark
posted by chavenet at 3:59 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


On the idea that longer titles will be an undue burden when reading on e.g. phones, the fact cited above that only 4% of titles were longer prior to the institution of the limit suggests that we should expect maaaybe one or two FPPs per day to have 73 or more characters, some of which wouldn't even cause any change in the vertical space. I don't see this leading to everyone trying to use 90-100 characters.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:35 PM on January 31


I like keeping the titles short and concise. Long titles take a long time to read out. I sit there and wait for the text and try to see if this is a post I should dive into.
posted by introp at 5:55 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


[more inside]
posted by clavdivs at 9:40 PM on January 31


Too-Ticky: it does, but then I have to rewiden it when I switch tabs/sites and I find that one tiny thing anathema :D Completely irrational of me, but. But I didn't know there were different themes - thanks for mentioning that, cortex, I'll give them a try!
posted by Pandora Kouti at 10:43 PM on January 31


Why can't we just use the Twitter solutions:
1) Make post titles a link to a .GIF that can be like, a whole essay.
2) If you really want an extraordinarily long post title that can be (1/3)
3) Read without having to click through just put the remainder in the (2/3)
4) Next post? (3/3)
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:07 AM on February 1


But I am probobly a tiny subset of users browsing on my phone in classic.

Hi! We exist!! Right there with you. I came to MeFi via the Classic theme and it's very hard for me to disassociate from it. So here I am/we are!
posted by andrewesque at 7:46 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


betweenthebars: Oddly enough, I'm on an actual computer right now and the fullscreen MetaFilter experience feels so decadent.

I rarely read Mefi on my smartphone but when I do it feels like watching what's going on outside through the mail slot.

Pandora Kouti: then I have to rewiden it when I switch tabs/sites

Fair enough! I would solve that by having a separate browser instance (so: window, not tab) just for MeFi, but I'm not you and that may not work for you.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:48 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Oh my, a grey thread about the font size of the FPP title - keep it at 0 is what we mutually decided would work best after megathread meltdowns on AAUGH A TITLE
posted by Mrs Potato at 4:09 AM on February 2


This thread is not about the font size.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:58 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


I’m tossing in a vote for the current limited number of characters or something slightly increased, but I am dismayed to realize that some people may be reading the title only on ask and diving in with answers.

It does explain why some people seem to have such poor reading comprehension.
posted by jeoc at 9:26 AM on February 2


but I am dismayed to realize that some people may be reading the title only on ask and diving in with answers.

My general sense from the moderation side is that it's rarely if ever literally that (there'd be a lot more really bizarro off-the-wall non-answers if that was the case since the specificity of titles varies a lot from question to question); it's more likely that a title, or the above-the-fold bit of a question, can be enough to prime someone into having an "a ha, that reminds me about x!" moment that manages to carry them too quickly over the rest of the question text to the point where they don't always catch themselves on the "and not x, I've tried that" or "this might sound like x but really i want more like y" elaborations.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:32 AM on February 2


Firmly, rabidly on the side that 72 characters is enough. Wordy people don't need more words in the title, put in the post.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:23 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


Personally, I often use a pull quote for my title for posts on the blue, and 72 characters is surprisingly short.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:17 AM on February 3 [4 favorites]


Sitcom name from episode - cocoa powder chili is surprise cook-off hit?

Catholic Leaders haven't delivered promised transparency on child abuse

I managed both of these with my first try and each is 72 letters exactly. I understand not wanting to get names an article titles wrong though.

My suggestion is dumb but, how about allowing one post per user per year that's more than 72 characters?

Also I'm on classic as well.
posted by gryftir at 4:58 PM on February 4


Mods: any update on this request?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:37 AM on February 26


I'd sort of accepted that this pony was going to a farm upstate.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:46 PM on February 27


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