[MeFi Site Update] September 27th September 27, 2021 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Hello Metafilter! We are back to regular site updates this week. Please find more details on the state of the site below. Reminder: I will be the only mod monitoring this thread so please be patient as I reply to your feedback and questions. If you have any questions or feedback not related to this particular update, please Contact Us instead. If you want to discuss a particular subject not covered here with the community, you’re welcome to open a separate MetaTalk thread for it.

Summary of the August Fundraising:

- Ad revenue has declined and, as reported back in February, we’ve been running at a deficit throughout the year.

- We raised about $1100/mo in new recurring monthly subscriptions.

- We also received a $15,000 donation from a friend of the site, Jeff Atwood. You may read more about it here.

- To close the gap in revenue we have worked as a team to rearrange mod resources and adjust to the current budget.

- Now that we have completed several key parts of content for the site (privacy policy, content policy, community guidelines, and the microaggressions page) it is time for us to start thinking about possible growth strategies and better ways to raise funds.

- Re: Recurring payments: it is simpler to cancel and restart recurring payments with PayPal, for Stripe, you can change your amount from the Manage Stripe Payments link on the funding page.

- PayPal and Stripe payments are almost equivalent, the only difference is that we only show Stripe to logged in users.

- If you want to send a check instead of a PayPal and Stripe payment, you can do it to the site's PO Box (It's also listed on the funding page):

MetaFilter Network Inc.
PO Box 83386
Portland, OR 97283

If you want to talk about any of the points brought in the latest fundraising update, please, feel free to add questions to this thread and I will do my best to address them as promptly as possible.
posted by loup (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 3:34 PM (296 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Are any of the notions discussed in the past two years designed to recruit site members under current or serious consideration? For example, I've repeatedly discussed here that I would find it easier to promote this community if I could offer interested friends a fee waiver--the $5 joinup fee is not a meaningful contributor to site economics, but does in my experience frequently deter a lot of interested potential community members. We talked about offering users a small number of yearly fee-waived invites for friends in the past but that has gone nowhere.

What is the current status of the modbase's plans re: community growth? Is there a plan as of now?
posted by sciatrix at 9:24 AM on September 28 [16 favorites]


Are any of the notions discussed in the past two years
there's a list of notions? Do we have that some where?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 11:59 AM on September 28


There have been a bunch of statements in these updates, in response to prodding, to the effect that loup/the mods would be making a list of the many (many) serious points that were brought up repeatedly in MetaTalk, including on the subject of funding, in the last big round of discussions that ended about a year ago (?) when the mods made it clear they were not actually going to read or in any way address those discussions themselves.

But there's never been any kind of ETA for said list, or any clear statement as to whether it would be made public, or any sign of it being considered a priority. Despite requests for these things. I find the whole thing really demoralizing.
posted by trig at 5:29 PM on September 28 [29 favorites]


The ownership structure of this site is such that the user community can never and will never have any power to change things to the degree that is needed. The only option is exit, which the site usage statistics show is the choice many have already taken.

When cortex made these site update posts himself, the thread would turn into a bit of a pile-on. But what else can we do? cortex is the sole owner of the site. The only way anything changes is if he 1) agrees to it, and 2) actually executes the plan. Having loup be the messenger certainly averts the pile-on, since they are not responsible for any management failures.

There is no accountability. There is no path through which real accountability can be constructed.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:06 AM on September 29 [28 favorites]


Those charts are pretty interesting, overeducated alligator, thanks for sharing! I knew there were big declines from the site’s peak of activity, but had not internalized that usage was still dropping that fast. The weekly unique commenters figure seems like a decent approximation of engaged users. At under 1000, it seems hard to imagine how a fundraising goal of an additional 6k in monthly donations could have been a realistic goal. I guess there may be a lot of donors reading but not commenting or some making large monthly donations. (And the results of the funding drive seem to show it was unrealistic.) I think it is pretty fascinating to see how organizations deal with crisis/decline, and since it is both a private company and the host of a community it is a unique situation. Hopefully there is some success at bringing in new members. I would imagine donations from the current user base are at their peak right now.
posted by snofoam at 9:35 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


Just speaking again, for me:

eh. It's been a fucking wild ride for the past few years, and some things do take time to change. I do understand the desire to have the BIPOC board, the newer recruitments and the various policies relatively solid before trying to drive a big ownership drive.

But I do want to have some clear goals and some understanding of where the moderation team actually is on these recruitment drives before I get excited. There's a lot of affection for the community here and a lot of desire on the part of community members to help any way we can, but I am certainly one of the people who is a bit frustrated by uncertainty about what, exactly, is going to change.

I would love to help, and I know there is a big affection for this community among the people who are part of it. But I'm not going to get fired up about helping until and unless I know that the site board is in such a place that recruitment and engagement is a priority and something to make tangible progress on. I don't see anything from y'all--and loup, I know it's just you making responses, so I left 24 hours on mine to give you a chance to do that--that says there's anything more than a vague declaration that it's time to start thinking about recruitment and community growth.

I agree! It's time to do that. What is the current state of those initiatives? Are there certain ideas that y'all have about how to go about doing that? What do the current state of those resources look like?

It's a really scary problem, and I can see a lot of reasons to feel avoidant about it because it's overwhelming. I personally tend to do that. But there's so much desire to help here, y'all. At the worst of the conflicts, people are here because we want to figure out how to help you make this place better. We just need to know that you'll be responding on a predictable time cycle, checking in on new initiatives, and figuring out what we can collectively do about it. It would help to be able to say "Okay, on X date, we need to have decided on a proposal to try. On Y date we need to have figured out how to resolve Technical Issues A, B, and C so we can start kicking off the effort. On Z date, we will sit down and evaluate how community growth has changed, using metrics G, H, and I."

I don't know where you are at right now on that, which is why I asked. If you ask for someone to scrape together a community-originated google doc of existing suggestions so we can all review them, I bet you the community here would gleefully do so. Give us something to do to help you!
posted by sciatrix at 9:47 AM on September 29 [24 favorites]


The "whither MetaFilter" discussion dates back almost to the beginning of the site. It was relatively easy to coast on dotcom energy early on, but the waves of change that came with referral and SEO had incremental impacts. Around 2010-11 it became clear that a vision for future thriving was needed; it simply wasn't forthcoming, and the ball's been repeatedly kicked down the road. Promises unfulfilled.

Some of us have been saying for 10 years or more that a thoughtful plan for longevity, community health, and inclusivity was needed. That was not ever really listened to. At this point, it seems clear that longevity is the transcendent value (that is, this site will be around even when it's an empty husk with a post a month). Community health and inclusivity are clearly just not core values of the business. That's why the falloff has taken place. The writing was on the wall, and people read it.

For those wishing to review the trajectory, I recently compiled an index of as many posts as I could find that discussed the business model, future propositions, community strategy suggestions, and general health of MetaFilter.
There's nothing that's been suggested in recent months that hasn't been suggested many times in the past. If you think you feel like getting in there and trying to change this trajectory to 'rescure" or re-orient MetaFilter for a thriving future, mazel tov, and you will probably want to familiarize yourself with all the water under this bridge.

From no meaningful position whatever, I want to thank every person who has lent their thoughts, care, technical knowledge, instinct, and expertise to ideas about how MetaFilter could survive and thrive. I see you and I wish you had been heard.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on September 29 [67 favorites]


I'm shocked/not shocked to see those posts going back so far, Miko. That seems like sad work. It's also honestly absurd. For all that's been promised in that time, the fact of that ongoing silence remains. To me, it has been like the experience of working for a company that's all about family and teamwork and collaboration and then you get a super harsh reality check when they do merciless layoffs.

I think the can has been kicked down the road long enough that recruitment has its own set of risks. If we did receive a steady influx of new users, they'd take over because the active core of users is so small. This is a real bind. It may be the case that the avoidant leadership on display here has deferred the issue too long and now the situation is set.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:10 AM on September 30 [9 favorites]


If we did receive a steady influx of new users, they'd take over because the active core of users is so small.

If by taking over, you mean they would have lots of comments and would be posting more, etc., that would be fine by me. I think we need new users, ideally users who are, as a whole, more diverse in every way than me and a bunch of the other folks here (which is to say white and old). I do love my fellow white, old MeFites so if we get more of them, fine. I just hate feeling like part of a Shaker community toward the end.

Having new users is a much better problem, IMHO, than watching the community continue to hollow out. I'm happy to wave a fond farewell to "same as in town" and other in-jokes if that is part of the tradeoff. I'm really worried about this place, and I don't have a magic wand to produce cash or new users. Thanks for the links, overeducated_alligator and Miko. Thanks for your comments, sciatrix. I value those who have commented here, and I will miss your contributions if this place goes down.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:22 PM on September 30 [35 favorites]


It would be fine with me, too, but it probably would create an eternal September problem, and a wave of new users who are treating it like TikTok or Reddit would dilute the value proposition of joining even further. I'm not against new users by any means, but I feel like we have to acknowledge that it's not as easy to get where we want to be as it may have been in the past. Stopping the exodus is probably more important than starting an influx at this point.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:58 PM on September 30 [3 favorites]


The 2018 state of the site post gave this guidance on bringing in new users: “As a goal, I think a moderately increased rate of new users signups would be good for the site. I would not want to fundamentally change the pace or feel of new signups because I think MeFi has always benefited from bringing folks onboard through a slow-and-steady process of acclimation and modeling good behavior, but if we went from a small handful of new users every day to a medium-sized handful that'd be a positive, manageable change.” I think not long after that we found out that the small handful was an average of two per day. And even when the post was made, it was clearly less than replacement rate.

Even if there were changes to boost new users, and I think it is great that the possibility is mentioned in this update, I don’t think it will be easy to do and I am definitely not worried about a sudden, overwhelming rush of newcomers.
posted by snofoam at 4:41 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]


Two per day?! That’s fewer than 1000 new signups PER YEAR. And that doesn’t even account for churn.

Am I understanding that correctly?
posted by iamkimiam at 4:53 PM on September 30


I think so, I feel like it came up in a discussion of how much work it would be to remove the $5 fee a couple years ago. If overeducated alligator’s chart is right, I guess now it averages between one and two.
posted by snofoam at 5:01 PM on September 30


a wave of new users who are treating it like TikTok

Did a sentient tucker carlson chyron write this?
posted by phunniemee at 5:05 PM on September 30 [8 favorites]


Did a sentient tucker carlson chyron write this?

They will destroy our culture because they don’t share our values.
posted by snofoam at 5:07 PM on September 30 [11 favorites]


Damn, after all these years, you guys finally figured me out.
posted by feloniousmonk at 7:44 PM on September 30 [7 favorites]


Like many people have done over the years, I went through a phase of caring about the perpetual decline in site engagement, and making MeTa comments (and charts!) about it. But reading some the past decade of MeTas on the topic — and to be honest, cortex's ownership philosophy in particular (1, 2) — really killed my interest.

To be fair to cortex, I don't think it's just a him problem. Entrepreneurial zeal is not exactly among the community's core values — and you need a lot of that, whatever the ownership model happens to be.
posted by Klipspringer at 2:48 AM on October 1 [17 favorites]


It would be nice if AskMe had more questions to answer, at least. That would be an achievable goal.
posted by bleep at 9:14 AM on October 1 [3 favorites]


This conversation happens a lot and I rarely comment, but today I will.

I love Metafilter. It's my home on the internet, and being largely housebound you're all a huge part of my world. You are all brilliant and thoughtful people, and I choose to spend time here because of you, the community, and what we've all created together here.

Metafilter feels different than the usual enterprise because we all have a major role in its direction and sustenance, but at the end of the day it belongs to cortex. I'm glad our members have ideas, and that they're valuable and hard-earned based on your own valid, real-world experiences and insights, and that so many people care about this place so deeply. It shows you love this place.

But as much as we care, infrastructure changes aren't ours to make. I can't fathom marching into a local business and expecting them to take my business advice, and then getting frustrated when they don't use my ideas, so I'm not sure why that's considered okay to for us to do here for literally years on end. If cortex & co decide to make a change, they know where to find some very good and enthusiastic help. If they don't, they don't. And for me, I think that's okay.

On AskMe, we frequently tell askers to avoid their very human, very natural urge to give unsolicited advice, even when they are fully confident that they are right. I think it's a good rule. If I were a new member encountering a forum where everyone was complaining the site was dying, I'd probably not stay. It takes time to build roots here. That's where we can help.

As members, I feel our true job here is engage with content (even if that means just lurking), to solidify site culture, to keep driving metafilter toward being a better platform for bipoc/trans/disabled and other vulnerable/marginalized groups, to help each other, and to be welcoming to newer visitors who are getting a handle of how things work here. If you are in a place where you're able to support the site financially, that's terrific too.

Again, I'm so proud to be part of such a passionate group. I just think it's time for members to focus on the actions where we can and do have impact in getting people interested in coming here (and more importantly, interested in sticking around), using that energy to help build this community and keep it strong and lively.

I love you all.
posted by mochapickle at 12:19 PM on October 1 [53 favorites]


I would greatly appreciate some kind of response to sciatrix's question about increasing the use base. I personally am prepared to be pretty patient on this because I think many of the previous discussions of this sort have been pretty abusive and possibly traumatic for the mod team, but this is an important question and the community needs some leadership on this. We need to be able to have these discussions somehow. If the problem is that the site leadership can't effectively moderate contentious MeTa threads because moderating abusive behavior directed towards them (which is a minority of the comments, but has outsized weight when it is allowed to stand) would be perceived as a conflict, perhaps bringing in some third-party moderators temporarily (community volunteers trusted to uphold MeFi values, perhaps?) just for such a discussion would be appropriate. I'm not sure of the logistics but we need some kind of dialog on this issue, and clearly the standard MeTa approach has failed. I want this place to be a fun and interesting place for members of the community to spend their time, and a satisfying, meaningful, well-paying workplace for the mods who facilitate it. We seem to be struggling with both of those things for a variety of reasons. I don't know what the minimum viable population for Metafilter is, but the fundraising needs suggest we're at or below it, at least with respect to the goal of ensuring the mods aren't fearing for their livelihoods. I appreciate the work our mods do, and things like cutting back moderation coverage for financial reasons makes me worry for them as well as this community.
posted by biogeo at 12:31 PM on October 1 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter Network Inc. links to http://www.metafilter.net/ and is broken. The About page/FAQ/Funding does not discuss finances or the structure of MeFi, Inc. I would like to see meaningful transparency.
posted by theora55 at 1:03 PM on October 1 [6 favorites]


I can't fathom marching into a local business and expecting them to take my business advice, and then getting frustrated when they don't use my ideas, so I'm not sure why that's considered okay to for us to do here for literally years on end.

I agree in general, but most local businesses don’t claim to be a community and subsist largely from donations. I think it is absolutely legit to expect a chance to have input when those two aspects are part of how the organization runs and presents itself.
posted by snofoam at 1:14 PM on October 1 [13 favorites]


“Metafilter feels different than the usual enterprise because we all have a major role in its direction and sustenance, but at the end of the day it belongs to cortex. […] But as much as we care, infrastructure changes aren't ours to make. I can't fathom marching into a local business and expecting them to take my business advice, and then getting frustrated when they don't use my ideas, so I'm not sure why that's considered okay to for us to do here for literally years on end.”

There is a misalignment between (and within) the community and the MetaFilter staff about what that role is. Technically, MetaFilter is a business, but those who participate here do so as community members trying to enact culture change moreso than customers offering business advice.

When it comes down to it, it's as simple as this: people here don't feel heard.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:38 PM on October 1 [15 favorites]


Here is the funding link. There's not a single reference to donations. Contributions, yes. Support, yes. Donations, no.

Metafilter is not a charity. I often consider Metafilter in the same category as a local, pay-as-you-wish coffee shop. You go there because it's a local business, they offer something you want, and you like the people who frequent the place. It's a community. With both, you're supporting employees doing actual work. But instead of selling coffee, metafilter offers a content forum. Instead of using a storefront, metafilter uses servers.

Maybe that's where the difference in opinion lies? If Metafilter were a charity, I tend to agree with you. But it's a legitimate business.
posted by mochapickle at 1:43 PM on October 1 [14 favorites]


it is time for us to start thinking about possible growth strategies and better ways to raise funds.

I both appreciate that this is the case and wish that there were some way to keep the community informed without feeling like there has to be some level of nagging to get the previously-promised-or-suggested things on a to do list.

I very much understand that having mods showing up in these threads so that people can just complain, cajole and kvetch (as well as other constructive forms of engagement) at them is not useful and inhibits mods' abilities to do other things during their work time. However, it hasn't been replaced with some other form of accountability structure where there's not just a "What we've done" list but there's also a "What we're planning to do" list or possibly even a "Help us determine how/what to prioritize" list so that the community can help be part of the process.

Micromanaging isn't good, agreed, but in the absence of any real "what's going on" proactive statements from the mod team or cortex, the site owner, people just use it as a Rorschach about their own feelings about how things are going. I think maybe it's going okay, other people think maybe it isn't. No one really knows. And that's avoidable!

As one example... last update frimble was dealing with an API issue with FanFare. What happened with that? We got two issues of a newsletter, neat, but then nothing about it in September. And maybe taz has some stuff going on, that is totally understandable, but just saying that can go a long way towards making it not look like something that started and frittered out. My main ask is just to have these updates include information on what's happening, what's not happening, and what was mentioned before and status updates on those things. I know it's wincey to say, again, the BIPOC Advisory Board hasn't met, but maybe that can be a trigger for saying "Hey this current arrangement isn't working and we need to do this differently if we still care about the reason we set this up in the first place."

I love this place, I donate, I've worked here in the past and may again in the future. As both a community member and a sometimes-employee I feel like there are some real workplace culture issues that make it hard to kick the ball down the field and get traction on projects here and I'm sorry that seems to be the case.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:50 PM on October 1 [59 favorites]


As members, I feel our true job here is engage with content (even if that means just lurking), to solidify site culture, to keep driving metafilter toward being a better platform for bipoc/trans/disabled and other vulnerable/marginalized groups, to help each other, and to be welcoming to newer visitors who are getting a handle of how things work here. If you are in a place where you're able to support the site financially, that's terrific too.

Just speaking for myself, I feel like driving metafilter toward being a better platform for different groups is something we tried so hard and long to do - and were explicitly told that no one was listening; yes, they would hire a diversity consultant for a limited time and (try to) set up a BIPOC board, but as to listening to actual input and discussion from members of said groups in any sort of wider discussion -- no; doing that was too exhausting.

And the message that no one's listening keeps being sent. Loup monitors these threads, as actively as a single part-time mod can; that's it. There have been almost no substantive metatalk threads in about a year, and the mods seem to prefer it that way. Which I absolutely understand -- it's much easier. But it destroys the goodwill, energy, enthusiasm, and sense of community that leads members to do the work of trying to bring more people here. And to stay themselves.

Klipspringer linked to cortex's description of his philosophy for the site:
MetaFilter is (a) a business entity and (b) a community, an idea, a concept. And those two things are interrelated because [*gesturing in the direction of capitalism*], but they aren't the same thing at all.

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

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

The only thing that would shut MetaFilter down is the outright collapse of the idea of MetaFilter.
The dissonance here to me is huge, because that vision is a conflation of the business entity with the community. If the site shrinks, the community is the thing that's shrinking! Not the business entity. If the site shrinks so much that only cortex can stay on as a mod, who is he going to be modding? Some fellow lovers of the same kinds of things that cortex loves? That could be fun for that group - but that won't be the metafilter community; that will be cortex's own very small, very particular subset of it. So if preserving "the community" is the reason for Metafilter to exist, then the question is which community: the community that wants to be here and wants to make this place a better home for them, or the community that cortex wants or finds easiest to deal with.

And it's hard to read The only thing that would shut MetaFilter down is the outright collapse of the idea of MetaFilter. When I started reading the site, one of the things that impressed me the most was MetaTalk. Back then it was mathowie and jessamyn, and later cortex; three mods for a much larger active membership than now. It felt like MetaTalk threads had full and active mod participation; they would often take different approaches, speak with their own voices, and actively engage in a way that made it feel like they saw engagement as their mission (jessamyn and cortex more than matt, maybe, but that was okay - they seemed able to push him in the right direction in those cases where it felt like he wasn't quite getting it). And they all seemed to care about improving the site and making it the best it could be.

Maybe that's the energy from a newer project. Or from a younger team. But to me the idea of Metafilter is a site that really cares about being the best it can be and honestly working hard to do that. And the site has not felt that way for a while, because the message now is that no one has the energy anymore. And I don't see how the idea of Metafilter is supposed to survive without energy.

I get burnout; I get how hard it is to feel attacked; I wish you (cortex, the site, whoever has any voice here) would work on staffing or otherwise empowering people who do have energy, and on building goodwill and showing the kind of effort that make people not feel like they have to constantly push and accuse in order to get any results. But how many times have I said that? How many of those comments have any of the mods actually read?

Back when Matt owned the site, I had a lot more sympathy for the idea that hey, Mefi's ultimately his baby. Though even then it seemed like it was also jessamyn's baby, cortex's baby, pb's baby -- and the baby of all the people who actually gave life to the site with their participation. Today, cortex owns the site, yeah, but that's the business entity. The community is membership plus mods, not mods alone, and certainly not owner alone. Metafilter is our baby too, but we're left to make comments on threads that the mods stopped listening to a long time ago. And that feels like a collapse of the idea of Metafilter.

On preview: Thanks for your comment, jessamyn. I miss being able to take that kind of forthright input for granted.
posted by trig at 2:09 PM on October 1 [26 favorites]


Miko' link to the September, 24, 2001 meta by kottke is really worth reading. Alot of mefis, including myself, urged to pull the plug because the place was getting too big.

I don't think this time lowering the 5$ barrier would be a problem as I believe cortex said he'd entertain that notion on a case basis.
posted by clavdivs at 2:54 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]


(1) A lot of people use social media to fill time: on the subway, waiting for a meeting to start, at lunch when there's nothing else to do, all those little moments of the day when we'd otherwise be tapping our toes. A lot of that filler is, effectively, comprised of reading or writing snippets of text. You know, like you see on the Q&A in ask.metafilter on the regular.

(2) There's also a long U.S. history of Agony Aunt popularity: Q&A type sites/pages/columns being popular, dating back at least a good century in the U.S. I suspect it's human nature for most folks to be interested in the the weird, surprising, embarrassing, intriguing, relatable hows and how to's of their fellow folk. That's what ask.metafilter offers, and it's why I first got addicted to the site.

(3) Like many people, I like knowing if I have a problem or some issue I don't know how to address, or don't want to address with people I know in person, I can pose a question to ask.metafilter, anonymously or less anonymously.

(4) For all these reasons, I've recommended ask.metafilter to a lot of friends over the years. Inevitably ... THEY'VE NEVER HEARD OF IT.

I know advertising takes money (conventional approach: Facebook, Google) or a lot of time (social media approach), but aren't a lot of the site's problems caused by there not being enough of us? And, well, unlike a lot of sites, don't we have a natural reason d'etre that really isn't that hard to advertise?!? And, well, though obviously we won't be for everybody, there are quite a lot of people who don't know about us (advertising), or aren't reminded that they want to explore the site (repeat advertising).

My question is: How much time/money/attention/experimental thinking has been given to advertising the site (in whatever way) over the years???
posted by Violet Blue at 2:56 PM on October 1 [4 favorites]


I don't think this time lowering the 5$ barrier would be a problem as I believe cortex said he'd entertain that notion on a case basis.

Having to ask for one-off waivers is itself a barrier.

Like others have said, I don't think attracting too many people is a realistic worry now or anytime soon. At the point that it ever becomes an issue, Metafilter will be in a much better place, and there's plenty of precedent on how to deal with that "problem".
posted by trig at 3:02 PM on October 1 [13 favorites]


It's so heartbreaking to watch folks in here make the same thoughtful and well-intentioned helpful suggestions that have been made hundreds of times over the past few years. No one is listening.

A better use for these threads would be to plan replacement community spaces for folks to migrate to. The PoliticsFilter Slack has grown into a really vibrant multi-topic space, there are others, there can be more.
posted by lalex at 3:56 PM on October 1 [29 favorites]


trig, yes in some ways that is a barrier. so I guess, as when Matt opened the floodgates, I'll say it again. " Let the people in".
posted by clavdivs at 4:29 PM on October 1


It would be nice if AskMe had more questions to answer, at least.

I think it came up in a previous discussion, that many new members found the community via Ask MetaFilter? And then sign-ups cratered after that subsection stopped readily appearing in search engines. Whatever can be done to fix that state of affairs (amplifying AskMe via social media [like with its own Twitter account linking back to the site], SEO, etc.), so more eyeballs Googling #question get AskMe as a top-10 hit again would help in the short-term. A simplified membership link* on the Ask homepage & each question might encourage new sign-ups once there. Whatever the most popular subsite is right now (Ask? FanFare? Best of?) could appear below the MetaFilter.com main page's header (not shrouded in the mystery bars to the left of it).

*I just looked at the subsite on mobile while logged out, typing it directly: The address needed to be "ask.metafilter.com" with a period between ask and metafilter. Clicked on the peoploid-shaped icon to the right of the AskMetaFilter header, clicked 'Sign Up' rather than Log In, was directed to a text-heavy page to read several paragraphs on how signups work, with hyperlinks for additional reading. Clicked "sign up for an account here" hyperlink at bottom of that scroll, for a new screen to pick a username, password, etc. Submitted that info, and finally reached the 'registration started' payment page... So, side note, maybe the site should also own askmetafilter.com? (And fer cryin' out loud, another two-person board game question, is the search/tag system busted?)
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:32 PM on October 1 [3 favorites]


If lack of questions is an issue, maybe the allowed number of questions per member could be raised. I think of questions all the time but I don't want to waste one of my two weekly alloted. And it's not because they're terrible questions (usually), it's more a weird, not-entirely-rational worry that I might unexpectedly have two more urgent questions come up.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:55 PM on October 1 [5 favorites]


It's so heartbreaking to watch folks in here make the same thoughtful and well-intentioned helpful suggestions that have been made hundreds of times over the past few years. No one is listening.

This. If there was a desire (or even willingness) for change, it would have happened long ago. I've let go of all of my angst about things not going in the direction I would prefer, and I just try to appreciate the parts I like.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:10 PM on October 1 [14 favorites]


It's interesting and sad at the same time to watch this place, which used to be a major part of my online life even just as a lurker, enter what looks like a terminal decline in slow motion. It feels like all the support from the community is doing is simply helping to make the decline more graceful. I think MeFi will be about to keep going for quite some time, maintained by a smaller core of diehards paying for server costs and cortex as the only mod, with frimble or a successor working part-time on maintenance. This will be perfectly manageable, as the daily discussion volume will shrink too. The remaining hardcore MeFites will post for and talk to each other. A new user interacting with the community will become a noticeable event every time. Maybe around that point cortex will be ready to take on volunteer mods and help, and when he finally burns out, as any normal person would, a serious conversation will take place with a pro-bono lawyer about restructuring of site ownership and legal form. My main curiosity is how small the active userbase will need to get before hitting this equilibrium, and how soon we might get there. Two years? A year and a half? Less?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:08 PM on October 1 [10 favorites]


I would greatly appreciate some kind of response to sciatrix's question about increasing the use base.

Way back when Matt was running this place he said that Metafilter was primarily funded by ads displayed when internet searchers came across questions on AskMe. I don't know if that's still the case, but it seems likely. The database of questions and answers is already massive; except for questions on current events, the marginal value of further entries must be small. It's a mature income source and probably a deteriorating one. That's a problem, but here's a bigger one: registered users don't see ads. The people who, on other sites, would likely represent the major income stream are at best voluntary contributors here.

If you get more people to sign up you may get more questions and answers and indirectly get more eyeballs seeing ads, but you've basically traded a one-off (refundable!) payment of $5 for any income they'd have supplied via ad impressions. Maybe that's a good deal, I don't know, but it's a pretty roundabout way of generating more income.

Also, I think we need to consider whether the site will be around much longer. That's fine: I think I got my money's worth from the $5 sign up long ago, but all the signs indicate that this website
does not actually have 24-hour moderation any more, or the pay has been cut to the point where moderation can only be a second job::

1) It's not that long ago that people could post to Metatalk and have the post show up immediately, without entering a queue. The reason we were given for the change was to make it easier for the mods - which I take to mean so that their availability could be scheduled. And Metatalk posts don't always appear, either, which would mean that there's simply no budget for the time that responses would take.

2) People regularly complain about a lack of moderator engagement on the posts that do appear. I have noticed that sometimes users ask specific mods for a response and it takes a long time for their reply - or no reply comes at all.

3) Promises made by mods to, e.g., spend more time on giving reasons for deletions don't seem to be fulfilled. I presume most moderation can be done by clicking a button, but composing a response takes time, and it's a lot more obvious if it's being done while the mod is supposed to be doing something else.

In the absence of any financial transparency I don't think it can be wrong to speculate about this apparent drop in moderator labour. Maybe it's due to burnout or whatever, but here's a simpler reason: funds are so low that the one thing that Metafilter is really known for - its fulltime moderation - has become pretty equivocal. Cortex wouldn't have cut that if there were any other option. So, that's that.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:38 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


The PoliticsFilter Slack has grown into a really vibrant multi-topic space, there are others, there can be more.

How do I join?
posted by grouse at 6:50 AM on October 2 [7 favorites]


I can't fathom marching into a local business and expecting them to take my business advice, and then getting frustrated when they don't use my ideas, so I'm not sure why that's considered okay to for us to do here for literally years on end.

To this I'd say only that the rhetoric for 20 years is that MetaFilter is more than a business, or is a business only because that's the best way to enable the community. It has always existed to support a member-based community conversation. So if it is compared to a local business that serves the public, the analogy holds up in sofarthat there is a paid staff and a business infrastructure that sets up and maintains the space, turns on the lights, provides shift management and security. But the analogy starts to fail because this business also depends on its users to provide all of the content and value of the space that generates its custom. So if it's a local coffee shop, it's the owners who do all the above infrastructure support, but it's users who write the menu, order the goods, stock the shelves, brew the coffee, greet the guests, sell the coffee, bake the baked goods, make the art on the walls, provide the entertainment on open mic night, run the discussion groups, decorate the chalkboard, and everything else that makes that coffee shop a good hang.

It's that dependence on users to create the content and the community that makes it reasonable for those generating the value of the business to comment on and have input into the business. There is no business without the users. I've always felt the for-profit model is a very imperfect fit for the structure of this entity, mainly for this reason: it's more like a co-op in function than like an owner/employee/customer business where those roles are clear and transactional only, and where the business creates all the value and customers just buy it. Of course users should be empowered in this thing; users create the value.
posted by Miko at 7:30 AM on October 2 [18 favorites]


So if it's a local coffee shop, it's the owners who do all the above infrastructure support, but it's users who write the menu, order the goods, stock the shelves, brew the coffee, greet the guests, sell the coffee, bake the baked goods, make the art on the walls, provide the entertainment on open mic night, run the discussion groups, decorate the chalkboard, and everything else that makes that coffee shop a good hang.

And I absolutely agree, 100%, with every word of this. Users indeed do all of these things.

Of course users should be empowered in this thing; users create the value.

...And here's where we disagree, because that's an enormous logical step. Participation here is entirely voluntary, a distinction that makes this whole thing pretty squishy. No one set any oversight-related conditions or agreement for posting or commenting or participating here, nor did I ever agree to any. I just swooped in and started hanging out with all of you. Members can come and go, button and unbutton, take a hiatus (an Ask yesterday was from a user who's been away for a full decade, which I thought was absolutely marvelous!). But the site itself, this space here and the people in charge (although the faces change), can't. In my heart, I feel the responsibility lies there.

Does increased member oversight or input have the potential to be a good and helpful thing? Absolutely and frequently. Has anyone on either side contractually or otherwise agreed to oversight at the levels people keep suggesting in these threads? No. And yet in these threads, there's this feeling that a contract exists.

I posted my initial comment above with the full understanding that people fall all over the spectrum on this, and that's totally okay. We're all going to disagree. I still enjoy all of you and find value in your perspective. I learn a lot from everyone here.

What I felt needed to be said is that people inevitably start infrastructure/management discussions in these update threads every time, and it's typically the same well-meaning folks who may very well be right, and I know that's super frustrating, but ultimately it's likely not their call to make.

So it becomes this endless cycle of SUGGESTION -> FRUSTRATION -> METAFILTER IS DYING. And that dreariness really hits me hard, even when that's not your intention. If metafilter does die, I'll mourn it. But we're still here. Changed, but here. (My life, it's changed so much and I've lost a lot. But I'm still here and still valid.)

When it boils down, people come and go mostly because of other members. Not exclusively, but mostly. The only times in 17 years I've ever considered leaving was due to what I felt ugliness or snarkiness from other members, and mostly in MeTa, and mostly in these threads!

My idea is that members shift their primary focus to members and building the culture. I mean, I don't always get it right as a member, but I'm trying. And I think that's an area we should always keep working on. I hope others feel the same.
posted by mochapickle at 8:53 AM on October 2 [16 favorites]


A better use for these threads would be to plan replacement community spaces for folks to migrate to. The PoliticsFilter Slack has grown into a really vibrant multi-topic space, there are others, there can be more.

Are there public alternatives for communities like Metafilter? Slack and Discord can't fill the same purpose as MeFi, by design they are mostly isolated silos that require explicit effort to open up. Which is totally fine but not what MeFi actually is.
posted by simmering octagon at 9:34 AM on October 2 [4 favorites]


it's typically the same well-meaning folks who may very well be right, and I know that's super frustrating, but ultimately it's likely not their call to make.

Oh, I understand that users here are structurally disempowered. Owners get to make the decisions, and over time it's become clear that owners aren't interested in user perspectives on management/strategy or in running this like a community endeavor. Hence the reason for my pullback and others'. Make no mistake - I get that we don't have actual force of any form of agreement. But it remains disappointing. I personally agree that people might as well stop throwing good time and thought after bad, though some will probably want to keep doing CPR as long as there are signs of a pulse.
posted by Miko at 9:35 AM on October 2 [12 favorites]


I've been thinking lately that I have never been in a place where it seemed like anyone understood at all what I was trying to say so unless that changes I'll be hanging around.
posted by bleep at 9:45 AM on October 2 [7 favorites]


My idea is that members shift their primary focus to members and building the culture.

I can't speak for Miko [on preview, hey Miko!], but for me the issue is that putting energy into the site was one thing when I felt it cared about its users and their needs, and when I felt that it was being run intelligently and actively.

It's harder to put energy in when the most decisive move the site has made in the last year or two was to shut down discussion. It's hard to sit back and trust the leadership when it's been so tangibly passive and avoidant, and when its philosophy for the future of the site is so fundamentally self-contradictory. And honestly, it's hard to just sit back and let the accessibility and social justice and privacy-oriented discussions from last year just be papered over. Those are the ones that really bother me, and when the US elections were approaching I started planning to post a bunch of ffps about fun topics - something I've never done - and then it just felt like it would be validating this new direction the site's taken that I really don't believe in, and I just didn't have the heart to put the energy into that. I'd happily start trying to put together some publicity for MF, for whatever it would be worth, but for a site where I know so many people won't feel welcome, that seems to take its membership for granted?

And yeah, there's no written contract, but there has always been a social contract. And there've been so many promises made and not kept. And when the site rolls out initiatives like the fundraising drive, did it not want us to participate? Most people didn't come out in the fundraising threads to restate their reasons for not contributing to the site more; they just voted by not sending more money to a site that doesn't care back. Is that better than not giving feedback?

I don't know. I provide a service for a living. It's a service that has the potential to help and, to a lesser degree, hurt people. When the people I provide that service to give me unsolicited feedback on my work, I don't say "that's not your contractual right and I'm not interested in hearing about what could make my service to you better." I definitely don't expect them to keep recommending me and paying me and putting their own time and effort into working with me if I'm continually unresponsive to their expressed needs. Sure, responding well to some input can be hard and unpleasant and, in some cases, dispiriting; I'm just one person, I'm just human, what do people want from me. And it has happened in the past that I've felt too burned out to do this work the way it should be done, and when that's happened I've stepped back and found other work for a while, because I care about the effect of my service on the people I work with, and I think I have a real responsibility to do the best work possible. That's how it goes.

But look, the mods aren't reading people's feedback, and for sure aren't acting on it, and that being the case who cares if we waste our own time by describing our experience as members in good faith.
posted by trig at 9:46 AM on October 2 [23 favorites]


(I still love the site and am here daily and get a lot of value out of it. But I want that to keep being true, and for the first time I can't really see that future. And I really want to.)
posted by trig at 9:53 AM on October 2 [4 favorites]


Again, I'm so proud to be part of such a passionate group. I just think it's time for members to focus on the actions where we can and do have impact in getting people interested in coming here (and more importantly, interested in sticking around), using that energy to help build this community and keep it strong and lively.

Ironically, I was not allowed to share that site usage statistics mefi project as a MetaTalk post because they're burnt out and didn't think anything good would come of it.

I don't want to be a part of something that's held together by people who are burnt out by holding it together. I mean, if I were dating someone who consistently felt burnt out by spending time with me? I'd take that as a cue to leave. Which is exactly what I'm doing.

I wish a diverse, welcoming, flourishing, prospering, healthy, multicultural, growing, successful, heterogenous environment upon everyone who continues to be a part of the MetaFilter community.
posted by aniola at 1:14 PM on October 2 [20 favorites]


To back up a second: Now that we have completed several key parts of content for the site (privacy policy, content policy, community guidelines, and the microaggressions page)

I apologize for not acknowledging this important work, done during a hellish year and change, in the earlier comment.

Thank you, lovely mods.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:10 PM on October 2 [10 favorites]


I really like having you around, aniola.
posted by mochapickle at 6:04 PM on October 2 [12 favorites]


I think, for me, it is what it is right now. I read and I get a lot of good stuff from reading. I like the people who have stayed here, and I recognize that others are arguing for change. I posit those members should start their own community weblog and manage moderators and do all of those things that come with ownership of this site, before grousing repeatedly that it just isn't done their way.

Sure, things can be done differently. I agree. And I feel like people have been listened to, and there have been things done to accommodate those issues, and they are being addressed. Yes, it's a community, and we all contribute, but it's ultimately a business that has to support the community OWNER and the MODS (aka employees) and we can't all cowtow to your pissy little grouses from years gone past.

Can we just acknowledge that Cortex has established routes for others to express their differences, and done a lot of good, instead of all dumping on him?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:13 PM on October 2 [12 favorites]


I posit those members should start their own community weblog and manage moderators and do all of those things that come with ownership of this site, before grousing repeatedly that it just isn't done their way.

This is pretty capitalist and/or classist. Like if people who have poured their heart and soul into this place for a decade plus don't have the time to start a business and the funds to hire other people, they should go eff off? Ehhhh. There are a lot of people here with relevant experience, passion, and commitment who don't specifically have the role of "owner."

Cortex isn't just an "owner" obviously but I think we should avoid intentionally reproducing the myth that the most important social relationships are contractual ("agreement") and/or centered around resource "ownership" as described by the American legal system.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:35 PM on October 2 [17 favorites]


Also like...if this is a business then customers giving feedback is pretty much 100% normal and expected and not personalized? There is a weird "you're only allowed to treat this like a business, but Cortex/the mods are supposed to be treated like your friends" vibe that emerges in these kinds of threads sometimes.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:39 PM on October 2 [23 favorites]


we can't all cowtow to your pissy little grouses from years gone past.

Pissy maybe, but I’m 6’2” y’all.
posted by grouse at 7:09 PM on October 2 [42 favorites]


This is pretty capitalist and/or classist.

Yea, exactly! I am giving something to this website, via reading or being a community member via by commenting, and I am contributing it if I comment. I agree.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:59 PM on October 2


it is time for us to start thinking about possible growth strategies and better ways to raise funds.

This is what jumped out at me from this post. The time to start thinking about these things was in 2014 when the decline of Metafilter made national tech news. That was seven years and a half year ago and we've seen very few visible changes since then.
posted by octothorpe at 6:22 AM on October 3 [22 favorites]


People who care about reading, writing, good conversation and organic community may not be naturally inclined to business-mindedness in my experience, which is often why I like those people. But that certainly doesn't mean they don't care or aren't doing their best. In fact, I'm not the least bit surprised if the whole mod team and Cortex too are burned to ashes. For the last year? two? They've been rushing around trying to address the needs of those who felt othered, or those with hurt feelings, or even those who just complained a whole hell of a lot. They rethought the whole structure, created several new systems, allowed for multiple open meetings where people could say what they wanted. And still the criticism is endless, the bitching keeps up, and destructive declarations of a dead site are rampant. If I leave the site or lessen my use of it it won't be because of them. It will be because of all the thoughtless, relentless complaining.

If you want corporate efficiency, traffic a corporate site. If you want something people-sized, Cortex and co. have spent months trying to cater to their user base. So maybe have some respect before you attack them for not being business-minded too. They were trying to please you, and the only response a lot of folks have is to stamp their feet and continue to voice their displeasure.
posted by Violet Blue at 2:10 PM on October 3 [19 favorites]


It is obvious why people would make suggestions or ask questions here. I even understand people complaining about being ignored, because I think they genuinely hope against hope things move in a better direction, even though they are saying they are sure, by now, this will not happen. I don't really understand the couple comments here by people who feel like they might leave because of, or just really get brought down by, the complainers. This is the complaining spot (not exclusively, but it exists in part so complaining doesn't contaminate the rest of the site). It seems like an easy place to avoid. I also think there has been a ton of helpful advice and constructive criticism offered over the years and I don't think it is unusual that there would be quite a bit of frustration/demoralization today.

I, for one, welcome our relatively opaque and seemingly disinterested overlords.
posted by snofoam at 2:51 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


This is the complaining spot (not exclusively, but it exists in part so complaining doesn't contaminate the rest of the site). It seems like an easy place to avoid.

No, this is loup's regular site update thread.
If you have any questions or feedback not related to this particular update, please Contact Us instead. If you want to discuss a particular subject not covered here with the community, you’re welcome to open a separate MetaTalk thread for it.
I am interested in the site and in learning what loup has to say, so I make a point to follow the regular updates that loup has taken the time to compile for us. I am very much not interested in other complaints, and they honestly don't belong here. I know you feel it's important to vent here but it's really very much the opposite.
posted by mochapickle at 3:29 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


It's really interesting how people can have such different experiences in the same place.

I sympathize with people's frustration and dismay at seeing comments that seem to be attacking Metafilter and/or cortex. I used to feel that way too, and it was a genuine surprise to me to find myself making them myself. I didn't want to be here. But that round of discussions from a year ago; the way the mods responded, or just didn't; the way one of two of them outright mistreated a few members - something I'd seen grousing about before (sorry, grouse) but never believed until I saw it happening myself; and the way the site's response was to shut down input - in the end, that got me. Some people here feel the mods are still responsive and have made a lot of efforts this year; I wish I could feel that way; I'm glad you do; I wish you could see your way to believing that for many other people commenting here, we're not saying negative things out of entitlement, pique, pissyness, bitchiness, or a failure to have "some respect". (And honestly, since there've been two comments saying that ugliness from other members is the most dispiriting thing, I agree - so please, there's a lot of thoughtful stuff in this thread about why the negative commenters feel the way we do and why we think it's legitimate to express it (and why we still love the site); you don't have to agree or even engage with it, but maybe acknowledge it enough to lay off the insults.)

Anyway, VB, you (yourself) asked:
My question is: How much time/money/attention/experimental thinking has been given to advertising the site (in whatever way) over the years???
Sciatrix asked:
What is the current status of the modbase's plans re: community growth? Is there a plan as of now?
And:
What is the current state of those initiatives? Are there certain ideas that y'all have about how to go about doing that? What do the current state of those resources look like?
Theora asked:
MetaFilter Network Inc. links to http://www.metafilter.net/ and is broken. The About page/FAQ/Funding does not discuss finances or the structure of MeFi, Inc. I would like to see meaningful transparency.
Jessamyn (well-known for being a pissy, disrespectful, non-constructive grouser if ever there was) asked:
... last update frimble was dealing with an API issue with FanFare. What happened with that? We got two issues of a newsletter, neat, but then nothing about it in September. And maybe taz has some stuff going on, that is totally understandable, but just saying that can go a long way towards making it not look like something that started and frittered out. My main ask is just to have these updates include information on what's happening, what's not happening, and what was mentioned before and status updates on those things.
I asked, in the last thread, whether any thought had been given to using some of the funds raised in this round to hire a professional fundraising consultant.

I think these are all legitimate things to ask. And I do think that in the absence of responses, it's natural for the conversation to grow in all kinds of directions. It would be very welcome if mods participated in a way that helped shape the conversation in a constructive and less heavy direction.
posted by trig at 3:35 PM on October 3 [21 favorites]


trig, that's a really thoughtful response.

I don't know if this approach has been tried yet but perhaps a united, independent workgroup? Gather up the folks who are really invested in these ideas and solutions, analyze them, waterproof them, compile them into a document, and then propose them as a united party with lots of people cosigned? It's a lot of work, I know, but may be less effort in the long run.

Significant change requires strong organization, and all the feedback going in a million directions across a hundred posts is a difficult ask. We don't have a board here, but I think this might be the closest thing.

I'm glad that people really do care. I do, too. I'm backing out of this thread now and won't be following, but I do have memail open. Thanks, all.
posted by mochapickle at 4:14 PM on October 3


I knew the site had been struggling, but I had no idea things were this dire. I'm worried the whole thing might shut down, which would be a huge loss for the internet.

I think the $5 signup is part of the problem, but I also think the site may have kind of p.c.'ed itself to the brink of obsolescence. I am a bleeding heart liberal, a person who tries so, so hard to be respectful to everybody, but Metafilter has left me walking on eggshells. I've reached a point with the main site where I simply don't comment on things that really matter to me, because I know that no matter how careful and considerate I try to be, my comments will be deleted. And if it's happened to me over and over again, I've got to figure plenty of other people have also said, "Screw it, I just won't say anything."

I'm not looking for Metafilter to become Reddit. I don't want big flame wars and I definitely don't think we should fling open the doors for fascist trolls, but I feel like this site is increasingly less tolerant of any debate at all. It's becoming an echo chamber, and one that's running out of voices to echo. We do need more diverse voices, but that includes people who will disagree with each other. If the mods can't keep on top of it all, they need to let things get a little more messy. Let this place be contentious again, and stop worrying so much about policing microaggressions and all that. Allow us to disagree and work out our own shit, like adults.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:28 PM on October 3 [48 favorites]


Ursula Hitler, what you are saying basically states that everything the POC folks have been fighting for in the past years as responsible for the downturn of the website. Not cool -- the neverending whiteness of this website continues to astound me.
posted by yueliang at 4:31 PM on October 3 [16 favorites]


I'm certainly not saying that POC are responsible for the site's troubles. I'm saying that it's a problem that I can't respond to your comment without worrying that my comment will be deleted. (And to clarify, that's not some passive-aggressive way of saying I'd go off on you, if I could. I wouldn't.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:38 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I like the subset of the internet that is Metafilter much more than the subset that isn't Metafilter.
I don't miss the era of like 50 FPP/day. It was hard or impossible to keep up, and there wasn't as much of a culture.
I do think the ideal number of FFP/day is closer to 2× or 3× the current number.
I like the $5 rule. It keeps many trolls away.
As a non-USian POC, my main gripe is with how US-centric some people seem to be, but that's more of a style issue, IMO, and easy to call out when especially egregious.
Hugs to all.
posted by signal at 5:03 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]


A lot of people have written about (re)building the membership in one breath and "driving metafilter toward being a better platform for bipoc/trans/disabled and other vulnerable/marginalized groups..." in the other without acknowledging that on Metafilter specifically, increasing the membership is often a dogwhistle for maintaining a community that tacitly excludes those "bipoc/trans/disabled and other vulnerable/marginalized groups." Not acknowledging this means ignoring one of the largest specific reasons Mefi has lost membership over the past few years.

Numerous BIPOC members left in the summer of 2019, and numerous more trans and queer members left in the summer of 2020 (along with a significant subset of international members who objected to the insistence on a North American-centric culture and values here) because Cortex and some amount of the membership too, I guess, emphatically want to avoid moving the site culture past status quo quasi-progressive white North America circa 2007.

Some members from vulnerable/marginalized groups have stuck around or ventured back since (I'm one of them), but we're not reading as often, not posting or commenting as much, because we know how the site feels about us: excited to be inclusive as long as it doesn't inconvenience them. As I've said elsewhere, perhaps under an earlier user name, one fantastic way to grow the userbase would be to foster the type of community that could sustain and even welcome the many, many long-standing members who've left or dramatically decreased their participation in the past few years, but obviously right here in the past few comments (not to pick on those past few comments since there's plenty more upthread) are are a couple good reasons we can't.
posted by knucklebones at 5:09 PM on October 3 [17 favorites]


I think it might be helpful to separate two issues that are crossing over each other here.

On one hand, there's how various marginalized groups are treated and respected on Metafilter. On the other, there's the general decline in participation. It's not my place to have any "opinion" on the former. I will say though, that in browsing metatalks from the past couple years, I find it equally heart-wrenching to see how hard these conversations have been for the mods, and how many voices Metafilter has lost due to dissatisfaction with how the site is evolving. I think it's reasonable both to feel disappointment with how well and quickly cortex and the mods have facilitated this evolution, and to recognize that doing this properly is immensely difficult and emotionally exhausting. I hope this evolution can happen and we can see it through together.

On the subject of site participation though, my own guess is that the decline has less to do with these difficult Metatalks driving people away, and more to do with people getting older, the internet changing, and how difficult and draining the past few years have been. I think addressing this could be done along side fixing the site and its structure, without needing to further burden the mods. I wonder if we could channel some of the energy in this thread towards organizing outreach and promotion of the site.

I started reading Metafilter as a teenager two decades ago, and it has had and continues to have a really positive effect on me. I also think that maybe the Metafilter of 10 years ago was too big, but for the present, I would be very happy to hear a lot more voices, newer and perhaps younger voices, on Metafilter.
posted by Alex404 at 5:20 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


No, this is loup's regular site update thread.

Metatalk, and specifically updates on the site are, in theory, the appropriate place for people to ask questions and give feedback about what is going on with the site (“complain”). Yes, these update threads are also a place where loup is used as a human shield for the site to give a veneer of “engaging” with the “community.”
posted by snofoam at 5:37 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


these update threads are also a place where loup is used as a human shield for the site

I honestly find this a fairly disturbing choice.
posted by lalex at 5:40 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I imagine there's some not insignificant cluster of users who never even check out the grey at all and are all appropriately mystified whenever a huge change to the active users happens seemingly out of nowhere.
posted by some loser at 6:14 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


@knucklebones basically explains what I meant by my first comment (thank you very much for doing that), @Ursula Hitler, to be clear.
posted by yueliang at 6:26 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


One of the unfortunate aspects of these discussions is that everyone assumes that their own particular grievance is what is making the site "decline." Even when those explanations contradict.

Something that would be really helpful here is a membership survey. Ask how happy or unhappy people are, what makes them feel that way, whether they would recommend the site, etc. There are plenty of free options.

Even an opt-in survey would be useful, but ideally you'd pick a random sample of active users.
posted by zompist at 6:33 PM on October 3 [11 favorites]


Lol i just reactivated my account so i could read some of my old posts after three years clean and that little exchange above reminded me so piercingly of exactly why i left that it made me laugh, silently, like a hyaena.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:54 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


It is a strange combination of both

I also think the site may have kind of p.c.'ed itself to the brink of obsolescence. I am a bleeding heart liberal, a person who tries so, so hard to be respectful to everybody, but Metafilter has left me walking on eggshells.

and

along with a significant subset of international members who objected to the insistence on a North American-centric culture and values here

that largely keeps me away or at least logged out. Personally I'd not use the PC term, but I do feel that a fairly strict, and often implicit rather than acknowledged, orthodoxy around site interaction developed over the last few years that left me feeling grumpy and unable to participate.

Plenty of times I've seen this kind of gripe taken to mean "hey, I would really prefer to be able to offend people without repercussion". I am comfortable that's not where I'm coming from and to write off all opinions such as this is in that way is probably easy but something may be missed.
_____

Even an opt-in survey would be useful, but ideally you'd pick a random sample of active users.

A survey of recently(ish) inactive users may be more illuminating.
posted by deadwax at 7:07 PM on October 3 [19 favorites]


I don't know if this approach has been tried yet but perhaps a united, independent workgroup? Gather up the folks who are really invested in these ideas and solutions, analyze them.::

Yeah it’s disheartening to hear this again. If you read through the document I’ve provided, this option has been put forward over and over. Offers were made. Had there been one iota of curiosity or interest in this from the site leadership, it would have happened by 2016. There is no such interest, and that alone has sucked away the energy of those with the expertise and emotional investment to continue. Why would you invest any such time without a single indication by site leadership that they’d care what was said?

I mean, I’m sure this all looks needlessly negative if you haven’t personally witnessed all the water under the bridge. But all the eager ideas have been offered before. It’s not happening.

If you want to lead an effort for change, and think you can do it in a way that is constructive, new, different, and effective, then I wish you luck. Your first step should be to read every thread in the doc I linked above, so you can trace the ideas already developed and use that as fodder for the proposed working group to refine.
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on October 3 [20 favorites]


Miko's right, I was around for their initial threads and suggestions about this. It's really weird to hear people acting brand new about this in this section - you can go ahead and do this, but folks are in good faith suggesting to take any of the efforts previously worked on and suggested into account. And mochapickle, it's honestly pretty weird to throw a suggestion for a big initiative and then be expected to be DM'd about this. I hope you can come back to this thread and read what people have to say.
posted by yueliang at 7:28 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


Quoting:
Metatalk, and specifically updates on the site are, in theory, the appropriate place for people to ask questions and give feedback about what is going on with the site (“complain”). Yes, these update threads are also a place where loup is used as a human shield for the site to give a veneer of “engaging” with the “community.”
posted by snofoam at 20:37 on October 3 [2 favorites +] [!]


these update threads are also a place where loup is used as a human shield for the site

I honestly find this a fairly disturbing choice.
posted by lalex at 20:40 on October 3 [3 favorites +] [!]
This is an incredibly bad-faith read, the sort of behavior that I regard as borderline abusive towards the mod team, including loup. Having a professional community moderator take on a specific role in community moderation is not making that person a "human shield," it's trusting that professional to do their job. Furthermore, loup was quite clear in the post that, despite how many people here seem to be choosing to treat it, this thread is not a general complaints box. They wrote:
If you have any questions or feedback not related to this particular update, please Contact Us instead. If you want to discuss a particular subject not covered here with the community, you’re welcome to open a separate MetaTalk thread for it.
The signal-to-noise ratio in this thread, with respect to that goal, is now very low, and loup is going to have more work to do sifting through things as a result. Which, yeah, I suppose is part of the job, but it's always disappointing just how uncooperative people are with these sorts of requests to make limited mod time better spent.
posted by biogeo at 10:06 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


I'm trans and bi, and while I still feel a little dramatic calling myself disabled, I can't work a day job because of my stupid, shitty body. So, there's some context for you. I'm on the margins myself.

If you're here, I probably agree with 95% of your politics. While I'm glad to not have to deal with flame wars, I think it's becoming a problem that we all agree so much. And it's a bigger problem that we can't even discuss the areas where we might disagree.

I think the mods would be happier, and the site would be better, if they just stepped back a little and let people talk. If we're not free to talk honestly, what are we really doing here?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:18 PM on October 3 [22 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, suppose Metafilter could be put on a sound financial footing but only if:
(a) ads were displayed to registered users; and
(b) Metafilter FPPs were closed much more quickly - say after a week or ten days.

Would people still consider it worth coming here? Because the first would, I think increase revenue, and the second would cut moderation costs.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:21 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


If you have any questions or feedback not related to this particular update, please Contact Us instead. If you want to discuss a particular subject not covered here with the community, you’re welcome to open a separate MetaTalk thread for it.
The signal-to-noise ratio in this thread, with respect to that goal, is now very low, and loup is going to have more work to do sifting through things as a result. Which, yeah, I suppose is part of the job, but it's always disappointing just how uncooperative people are with these sorts of requests to make limited mod time better spent.


Aniola apparently tried to open a separate thread to talk about the site's problems, and it wasn't allowed.

And this is Metafilter. If any place understands the value of moderation, this one does. If any place understands what happens when there is no moderation, this one does. This thread's been open for a week. The high-signal questions haven't been answered; nor were questions in last week's thread; nor were questions and requests from many previous months' threads.

There have been exhortations and requests to give credit to what the mods have been doing, and that's not a bad thing. But on the flip side, please give some credit to those of use who have been doing our best to give the mods a chance throughout this year. Surely they'd start giving more substantive feedback on the site at some point. Surely they'd follow up on things they promised eventually. The previous fundraiser was really lackluster; surely the next one would be more active. Months ago loup finally agreed to go through some of the old discussion threads and make a list of takeaways for the rest of the mods. (I say "finally" while understanding that that's a huge task, and grateful that they said they'd take it on - and also feeling that there was no reason one part-timer should be the only mod dealing with user input, that that was not a good site decision.) That was months ago, and after asking a few times for updates (updates, not completion) I stopped, to give him a chance in case the silence was due to being overwhelmed. I've not raised ponies because of an understanding that frimble was (a) in a difficult situation because of covid, and (b) going to be working on a list of tasks related to more important things that would relate to some of the requests put forth last year (like anonymity features); a year later, I have no idea what the status is, and the promised list of improvements that he'd be working on never materialized either. I don't think I'm the only one who's been trying to not make work for the mods.

This has been such a quiet year on MetaTalk. It's not because no one's had anything to say. Some people have been discouraged from saying things, some people have been not allowed to say things (start their own posts), and I think a lot of people have been holding back, trying to be patient, trying to cut the mods some slack. Read back on previous update posts and even this one; criticisms and requests have been sandwiched in tons of thanks and statements of support and assurances that we don't hate the site or mods, we'd just be grateful for some feedback or followup.

But because the underlying issues still exist and feedback and followup have been minimal, things are going to bubble up at some point. And if no mod participates in the thread, then it's a really predictable result that the signal-to-noise ratio is going to wane.

And signal-to-noise is relative; to you the noise is the questions that have been asked and the comments critical of the site's handling of its fundraising and responsiveness to user input, which emerged after the early questions went unanswered; to me the noise is the (increasingly aggressive) comments trying to shut down any critique and pleas to the mods. Half this thread is people responding to the "stop complaining" comments.

As I said, I'm very sympathetic to how it feels to read negative and heavy stuff about a site we love, and to see predictions of doom and lack of belief in the leadership. I spent almost all my years on this site feeling that way. But I'm less sympathetic to the argument that this discussion is creating more work for the mods, because that is always going to be the result when there's no mod presence. You can't not tend a garden and then feel wronged that it's grown untended. And that's something that's been discussed over and over since before restless_nomad's temporary return, which was supposed to improve responsiveness among other things - though I don't know how much, if any, of that continuing discussion the individual mods ever read, or discussed among themselves, or what feelings they have about it. Because they've not been here to say.
posted by trig at 11:13 PM on October 3 [20 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, suppose Metafilter could be put on a sound financial footing but only if:
(a) ads were displayed to registered users; and
(b) Metafilter FPPs were closed much more quickly - say after a week or ten days.

Would people still consider it worth coming here? Because the first would, I think increase revenue, and the second would cut moderation costs.


I don't know - don't know how many registered users use adblockers, or what portion of moderation time is spent on older threads.
posted by trig at 11:16 PM on October 3


I love metafilter and I owe an immeasurable debt to the users and mods here for all I have learned from this site.

I am willing to accept that lots of decisions should be made by the mods/site owner and not everything needs to be decided by a show of hands. I think the new meta talk ethos seems to reflect that philosophy. And I get it. Constant high-conflict meta talk threads are draining to mod energy.

On the other hand this is a community. People have been sharing repeatedly about the things that make them feel unwelcome in this community and while there has sometimes been a response, at other times there has been a kind of weird unpredictable silence that makes it seem like the mods don’t care.

On the third hand if you are asking people to donate money to keep the site running, it is natural that they will be less likely to give if the site’s finances are opaque or don’t seem viable.

I haven’t seen cortex in this thread but I would like to ask - cortex, would you consider converting the site to a non-profit? I know it has been suggested before and it certainly wouldn’t solve all of the site’s problems. But I sense that you might be rather burned out, and becoming a non-profit could be one way to infuse fresh energy.
posted by mai at 5:33 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


I'm gonna save cortex the time and repeat, as a user who has read all of these threads for the past 10+ years, that becoming a non-profit is not a legally viable option for Metafilter. Period, end of story, lawyers were consulted, it's not a thing.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 5:42 AM on October 4 [13 favorites]


Well okay then.
posted by mai at 5:45 AM on October 4


I guess I missed when that was communicated r_n; can any explain exactly why that's not a legally viable option?
posted by octothorpe at 6:13 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Overview here and additional complications about politics here. It's possible the funding situation has shifted to negate some of those concerns - I'm half a year out of date, there - but it's still pretty much a no-go as outlined in those two comments.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 6:27 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


You can see some of cortex's previous comments on non-profit status, describing it as "doesn't really make financial sense", "a bunch of work", "immediate significant headaches", but also "never been off the table".

Characterizing that as "not a legally viable option" to shut down discussion does not seem honest.
posted by grouse at 6:30 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


It is not, and has never been, a subject that generates much useful discussion unless that discussion is with actual tax lawyers.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 6:39 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


(I'm not really invested in the non-profit debate - I don't understand the implications well enough to be - but I thought Miko's response back then to the points r_n links to was interesting, and it never got a response itself.)
posted by trig at 6:40 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


"Non-profit" is mainly a tax status - why do people think this will change way the site is run? Is the idea that there would be a board or committee making decisions rather than one owner? That can be accomplished without creating a non-profit - plenty of businesses have boards or committees that make decisions. It seems to me a little bit of rabbit hole debating whether non-profit is viable if the thing we are really talking about is governance structure.

Personally, I think a committee governance structure would rapidly devolve into dysfunction. I mean, have you read MetaTalk?
posted by Mid at 6:46 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


For me, it's not so much that the non profit idea is the be-all and end-all; it's that it, like almost every other suggestion and proposal put forward over the years, clearly never met a receptive audience actively looking for solutions. Surely at least one of the hundreds of ideas put forth could have had value and been worth taking on, but instead the plan has been mostly to shrug and carry on as-is. I suspect that a calm and slow decline might even feel like a relief to someone who is totally burnt out, and it certainly isn't the worst outcome imaginable.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:51 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


That's a problem, but here's a bigger one: registered users don't see ads.

My understanding is that the proportion of the sites traffic that goes to registered users is quite low, and showing ads to them would not substantially change ad revenue. This has been addressed previously, I think more than once. Here's an example:


is there an estimate for Google Adsense revenue if ads were served to logged-in users?

. . . the estimate is "quite low". We'd have to test it to really put a number on it, but serving generic ads to a captive, relatively very small audience isn't likely to produce much income, will mostly lead to ad blindness, and uglies up the experience for the people most dedicated to the site. So it's not an impossibility but it's far from the first thing on my list of stuff to explore.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:20 PM on June 13, 2018 [has favorites +] [!]


This underlines the main problem that is not really escapable: ad revenue used to be pretty substantial, then the ad market changed dramatically, and a site like Metafilter cannot generate nearly as much ad revenue as it could before. Between this and the rise of mega-social media (FB, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Tik-Tok, Reddit, etc.), I think it's pretty miraculous that Metafilter has been able to hold on, and at this point I'm thankful we have anything at all. I really don't understand the idea that the site's failure to thrive at this point is because of mismanagement. I can't imagine a plausible alternative universe where Facebook groups and Reddit and Twitter still exist but Metafilter has the same number of active users it did in 2010.
posted by skewed at 6:54 AM on October 4 [19 favorites]


"Non-profit" is mainly a tax status - why do people think this will change way the site is run?

-It would come with a requirement of financial transparency
-it would enable tax-deductible donations
-it would guarantee some community oversight in the form of a board accountable to the membership and to the state of incorporation
-it would require a shifted revenue model more dependent on member fees and donation and far less on advertising, but it would make membership and donation more viable and attractive to more people
-it would require mods, board, and ownership to avoid making partisan statements in favor of a specific political candidate or piece of legislation (but this would not apply to members/users)

I understand why MetaFilter doesn't want to make the changes that the shift would require. But let's be clear, they are not structurally impossible. They're just not of interest. Cortex et al have communicated that in so many words: it's a "bunch of work," it's "non-trivial," "it doesn't work for MetaFilter as it is," etc. Yes, we all get that it's a non-starter and that's in the history. It would require fundamental levels of change and strong, shared leadership, and there's no appetite for that. There's not even serious appetite for creating a "Friends of MeFI" 501(c)3 that would raise pass-through funds. to support the site - a model that a lot of government entities like parks and historic sites use because they can't directly fundraise.

At this point, if a nonprofit route were chosen as a Hail Mary/last-ditch attempt to save the site's future, I think it would fail simply because the degree of energy and support that could formerly have driven interest in board and volunteer service and drive robust, income-generating user membership is much diminished.
posted by Miko at 7:04 AM on October 4 [21 favorites]


I think you're mainly talking about a board. "Financial transparency" and tax-deductions are nice, but they aren't game-changers. The type of financial disclosure that most NFPs make is pretty summary in form and not super transparent. Maybe a top-level income statement and balance sheet, but not individual line items like each person's salary or the snacks budget or whatever. A tax deduction, while not nothing, is probably not a major factor in whether MeFis choose to give money. The shift in revenue model to donations has already happened in large measure because of the decline of AdSense and similar things.

I think the main thing is a shared governance model, which, I totally get as a goal, though I think it would be disastrous.
posted by Mid at 7:18 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


it would require a shifted revenue model more dependent on member fees and donation and far less on advertising, but it would make membership and donation more viable and attractive to more people

Not clear to me why this would likely be a net plus, and seems like it could easily reduce total revenue. There'd have to be a pretty clear evidence that membership/donations would increase by more than the ad revenue lost for this to be a safe trade-off to pursue, even apart from all the other non-trivial issues associated with non-profit status. Is there any basis for the idea that Metafilter could be self-supporting based primarily on user contributions? Tax-deductability for U.S. taxpayers is at most a 37% bonus on giving power, and doesn't even apply to anyone who takes the standard deduction (most taxpayers). Meanwhile, my understanding is that advertising of the sort that currently forms a declining but still significant chunk of current revenue would be basically eliminated.
posted by skewed at 7:22 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Financial transparency is a game-changer for me when it comes to donation and membership.

The type of financial disclosure that most NFPs make is pretty summary in form and not super transparent.

A 990 is not insignificant. It takes some skill to read one, but it's a hell of a lot more transparent than what exists now.

Maybe a top-level income statement and balance sheet, but not individual line items like each person's salary or the snacks budget or whatever.

That's false:

The organization must list all of its current officers, directors, and trustees...regardless of whether any compensation was paid to such individuals. The organization must also list up to 20 current employees who satisfy the definition of key employee (persons with certain responsibilities and reportable compensation greater than $150,000 from the organization and related organizations), and its five current highest compensated employees with reportable compensation of at least $100,000 from the organization and related organizations who are not officers, directors, trustees, or key employees of the organization.

A tax deduction, while not nothing, is probably not a major factor in whether MeFis choose to give money

It's meaningless for people who make small gifts. For those, like the current major donor sustainers, making $15,000 gifts, it's actually pretty meaningful. In a development strategy that prioritized a certain number of gifts from people like that as part of an annual budget, it's a very useful tool.

I think it would be disastrous.

At this point I don't think there are enough people left with the interest and expertise to compose a useful board. But if you're basing this on the degree of argumentation you get in MetaTalk, know that the structure and management of a board is different, there is actual authority built in, and it takes collective, not individual action. It doesn't have to be a mess, and in most cases, it is not one.
posted by Miko at 7:24 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


There'd have to be a pretty clear evidence that membership/donations would increase by more than the ad revenue lost for this to be a safe trade-off to pursue

It would require a strategy and management to build the funding model. It doesn't just happen.
posted by Miko at 7:25 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


To try to make this easier for loup, or any other mod coming in to respond (is loup okay?), here's an update to the list of questions/concerns people have asked for mod input on. I might have missed some, so feel free to add.

VB asked:
My question is: How much time/money/attention/experimental thinking has been given to advertising the site (in whatever way) over the years???
Sciatrix asked (and biogeo seconded):
What is the current status of the modbase's plans re: community growth? Is there a plan as of now?
And:
What is the current state of those initiatives? Are there certain ideas that y'all have about how to go about doing that? What do the current state of those resources look like?
One point sciatrix brought up specifically was whether there'd be condsideration of the idea of offering a signup fee waiver to invited friends.

Theora asked:
MetaFilter Network Inc. links to http://www.metafilter.net/ and is broken. The About page/FAQ/Funding does not discuss finances or the structure of MeFi, Inc. I would like to see meaningful transparency.
Jessamyn asked:
... last update frimble was dealing with an API issue with FanFare. What happened with that? We got two issues of a newsletter, neat, but then nothing about it in September. And maybe taz has some stuff going on, that is totally understandable, but just saying that can go a long way towards making it not look like something that started and frittered out. My main ask is just to have these updates include information on what's happening, what's not happening, and what was mentioned before and status updates on those things.
I asked, in the last thread, whether any thought had been given to using some of the funds raised in this round to hire a professional fundraising consultant.

Joe in Australia was interested in the possibility of displaying ads to registered users and shortening the duration of MF threads as a means of increasing income and decreasing mod workload.

Zompist suggested:
Something that would be really helpful here is a membership survey. Ask how happy or unhappy people are, what makes them feel that way, whether they would recommend the site, etc. There are plenty of free options. [deadwax added: A survey of recently(ish) inactive users may be more illuminating.]
mai asked about the possibility of converting the site to a non-profit. restless_nomad linked to a previous discussion on why that wasn't being considered. Miko, responding to those points in a previous thread, asked whether ProPublica and Mother Jones weren't good counterexamples of non-profit sites that still run ads and do politics-related work.

Two notes:

- I didn't list Ursula Hitler's request for less strict moderation, because that feels farther afield than funding-related things and because it's such a delicate and contentious topic, related to so many concerns about different people's experience on the site, that it doesn't seem like something loup could give much of an answer to on their own (other than "no").

- A lot of the comments in this thread haven't taken the form of direct answers or requests - but should, I think, be read that way. I can't speak for everyone, but when I've written things along the lines of 'there's no mod responsiveness' or 'not engaging with user input on MetaTalk has profoundly changed Metafilter for the worse', that's not me trying to snipe or be negative - that's me trying to express the request 'could we please have more mod responsiveness' and 'could mods please engage more because I think that's vitally needed for MF to change for the better'. I'm realizing now that maybe it's passive aggressive to not phrase things as requests directly, and that was definitely not my intent. For what it's worth, though, there's nothing here I haven't asked as a direct request before multiple times, with a fair amount of emotional labor in terms of trying to be non-accusatory and positive, without response. I think this is true for pretty much everyone here.

All of which is to say: if you (loup, cortex, any other mods) are able take the comments in this thread not as haters sniping and making work for you, but as committed users expressing the things they hope to see and describing their current experience of a site they truly care about a great deal, and their current responses to the fundraising effort - I think that would be the right interpretation.

(also I'm going to try to stay out of the thread now, because I've taken up way more of it than I intended. I apologize about that.)
posted by trig at 7:32 AM on October 4 [15 favorites]


There isn't anybody getting six figures of income from MeFi, so the disclosure rules around salary are not really relevant. We would get a 990, which is summary information, and perhaps whatever else the board chose to disclose. My point is that NFP status isn't a guarantee of transparency. Here is a 990 for a ~$400k/yr budget NFP that I know about. Not a lot of info!

I've served on an NFP board and, in my experience, it's very hard to run a community-oriented NFP without a professional staff or salaried executive director-type. I don't see that happening here. Perhaps you are right that it could be done, but it would take a huge amount of work.
posted by Mid at 7:35 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


There isn't anybody getting six figures of income from MeFi

Do we know this? I don't know this to be the case. Where is that information?

Seems most everyone has some experience with a couple of nonprofits as part of their life. That offers a certain perspective and fund of information. I've spent my entire career in nonprofits and have launched two of them. I have benefited from a great deal of professional development and a graduate degree with coursework on nonprofit law and governance. I know a lot about them. Humbly, probably more than most folks who don't have a nonprofit career.

However, I understand there is not sufficient will to investigate that structure here. If you don't want collective governance, you don't want it, no matter what the management issues and problems would be. Most NPOs I work with publish not only their 990, but an annual report that is specific - because that is an intentional act to create trust and transparency with members. That's something you have to want, not something the law forces. The law lays a minimum baseline - the philosophy MeFi doesn't want it - that could not be more clear.

At this point, I'm just arguing for the honesty of being able to say "We're not investigating this because we don't want it," instead of "it's impossible." It's not impossible, it is a choice that has been made. It's a dead idea and I hope we never discuss it again. By its own unwillingness to engage with users in general, MeFi has indicated it is probably not capable of managing a healthy transition to a strong nonprofit. "We don't want to do it" is where the story ends.
posted by Miko at 7:54 AM on October 4 [18 favorites]


I'm not disagreeing with your bottom-line point. My main point is that it seems to me that the main thing people want is some form of shared governance, which is itself likely a dead end for the same reasons you articulate. The ins-and-outs of NFPs seems to me secondary (and something of a smoke screen, not by you) for the core issue of shared governance.
posted by Mid at 8:00 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


We agree there for sure. I used to see a lot of other reasons to go to NPO as a path to viability, a way to ensure a stable future - it's too long an if-then chain in the absence of will.
posted by Miko at 8:04 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Do we know this? I don't know this to be the case. Where is that information?

aah HAH HAHAHAHAHAA haha no.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 8:06 AM on October 4 [15 favorites]


I mean, maybe back in the good ol' days. These days no one even gets health insurance. Unless something has drastically changed on the back end, and everyone is actively lying to the community, in the last six months. Which I doubt. Because it'd require Elon Musk or whatever to be personally bankrolling salaries.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 8:08 AM on October 4 [14 favorites]


Well, that's interesting information and more clarity than has ever been offered.
posted by Miko at 8:16 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I didn't even know that the mods don't get health insurance anymore. :(
posted by skewed at 8:19 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


These days no one even gets health insurance.

Favorites of course mean many things but in this instance it represents a weary and unsurprised "jesus christ. That stinks."

Unrelated general feedback point for loup and team's What's All This Then summarizing: in many cases, a hard-no is preferable to soft-no's. There's always frustrations to go around, but I bet some of the time-is-a-flat-circle on non-profit topic could have been avoided if the underlying No had been communicated as clearly hard and certain as it has been here, right from the first. Among the problems of the soft-no is that people will naturally miss that it is in fact a no, and will remain stuck in bargaining phases longer than necessary.
posted by Drastic at 8:28 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


Except that when there is a hard no, as there was in this thread, they get attacked anyway (well that's a rather inflexible answer, isn't it??).

The mods can't win no matter what they do; every thread that asks for suggestions devolves into a screamfest. People demand that Cortex immediately solve all the BIPOC problems in the world (if the world can't do it, I don't know why you expect Cortex to do it. Can the site be better? Of course.), and demand a level of transparency that's just not possible with most businesses.

Even when the mods admit that things are bad and mention that health insurance is gone, they get attacked (well that's more clarity than has ever been offered). Why are we in attack mode all the time? Why are we so angry? Have we become a bunch of Karens? It's not just Metafilter; the world is angry, we are in a pandemic, we had to deal with the Orange Man for 4 years, life is kinda scary these days. Everyone is angry; people yell at grocery store clerks and one another. Why, at Metafilter, can't we do better?

Perhaps if we stopped attacking the mods all the time they might be more interested in what we have to say.
posted by Melismata at 8:55 AM on October 4 [21 favorites]


Cortex talked about that as a belt-tightening next step here. He gave an explicit payroll expense number here. (I assure you salaries have not gone up since then, although health insurance costs sure did.) This isn't secret info I'm dropping because they can't fire me, this is info the staff has made public over the years.

Personally I think skewed is correct, and this is far, far more a market issue than a management issue. There is no One Weird Trick that would make everything ok again. There are things that could be done differently - there are things that I did differently - but fundamentally the site is riding out some pretty huge changes in the way the internet works and who pays for what, and whether or not a site like this continues to be viable at this level of service - which pretty much no other site offers - is very much in question. Hell, very few sites ever offered 24/7 professional moderation - it's incredibly expensive, requires hiring very specific talent, and has an enormous burnout rate. Especially given the state of the world, these last five years.

And the internet - especially the demographic that got accustomed to what the market looked like in the 2000s - is in general hugely resistant to the idea of paying for content, because they never had to before. Ad revenue covered everything, and if you paid money, it was because you were getting some kind of overtly premium experience. Content providers are reduced to either fucking over their writers or begging their readers to chip in a bit, or both. Usually both. Moderation is done by volunteers when it's not done by terrible algorithms or sweatshop workers, and this is just as true on modern Discords as on old-school comment sections. (I was really thrilled when Blaseball hired a few of their volunteers, but that is a 40k+ Discord mostly managed by enthusiastic teenagers and, frankly, it shows.) This shit is labor, and labor costs money, and the artificial ad economy is gone. This is a genuinely hard problem.
posted by restless_nomad (retired) at 8:59 AM on October 4 [57 favorites]


Absolutely. I asked a week ago what the current mod status on ideas to grow the site looked like, and just to be clear: I was happy to hear just about any answer, because whatever that looked like we could figure out where to work from it together. Hearing total silence is a lot more anxiety-inducing and bad-feeling: it makes me feel like there isn't a point investing in the place, and that makes me really sad because I care about this place and want it to succeed.

There is a lot of anxiety these days about fast turnarounds on the Internet because we have kind of conditioned ourselves to think, online, that if someone doesn't get back to you within a certain period of time (hours? days? a week?) they have forgotten about you. The internet can be so fast that we come to expect a certain amount of response speed, even when that is not reasonable, and especially for neurodiverse folks* those expectations can become overwhelming, which leads to avoidance...

...and on the gripping hand, extended silence can create more anxiety on the part of the person who first spoke, who sometimes worry that we have been forgotten entirely or deliberately unheard. Often, in this position, people escalate their demands in tone, volume, or frequency, just in case it was an accident or a level of avoidance that can be overwhelmed with sufficient energy. Sometimes, if the person who is avoiding is relying on anxiety and a certain pulse of activation to initiate a communication, multiple parties learn that repeated activation is the only way to get communication.... which tends to increase the level of anxiety in the system on all sides, and heighten the amount of effort it takes to let communication happen. It is a bad pattern, and eventually relying on anxiety to build to a certain point so you can make yourself move will burn you from the inside out until you collapse.

I have been on both sides of this. I know how hellish it can be, to feel that you are letting everyone down but also to know that you don't have anything good to say. That's one of the reasons this whole thing is making me so sad.

One thing that can help with this, which I know y'all are currently trying to implement, is setting defined times on when communication on questions can be expected. That, if it is set at an attainable frequency goal, can build up a series of small positive interactions that will wear away some of the anxiety for everyone, so everyone can feel that success is possible and that concerns are being listened to. I see a lot of efforts in the past couple of years to do this and I've seen good progress on that front. Maybe some of the timelines we set for the mod team are too ambitious. What can communities do to help, assuming that labor is freely given? I know we value paying people for work here, but money seems to be in short supply, so perhaps we can figure out something sustainable with donations of labor.

Ad revenue and nonprofit status are non-starters. That's fine. Where do we go next to grow revenue? I had thought that increasing traffic might recruit more paying donors to the site, since fundraising from existing membership doesn't seem to sustain the necessary salaries of staff on its own, but I don't know how feasible that looks on your end.

which, to be clear? I generally assume includes some subset of our moderation base, y'all get every bit of benefit of the doubt from me as any other long-time internet community does on that point, because I know very well what kinds of people tend to gravitate towards Very Online Communities.
posted by sciatrix at 9:02 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


The staffing model just probably needs to change. Difficult enough conversation to have.
posted by Miko at 9:23 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


People demand that Cortex immediately solve all the BIPOC problems in the world (if the world can't do it, I don't know why you expect Cortex to do it.

I'm white, so you can take my perspective with that grain of salt, but this strikes me as so unnecessarily diminishing. I've never seen anyone "demanding that Cortex immediately solve all the BIPOC problems in the world"; rather, it seems like people have mostly been discussing the real challenges they have encountered on the site and how they might be changed? It feels to me like a wild dereliction of interpersonal responsibility to classify something as a "world" problem just because it is rooted in a larger social reality and not unique to one space.
posted by dusty potato at 10:40 AM on October 4 [27 favorites]


This thread is a big mess, but do you have to invoke slurs by simply blanking out some of the letters of the slur here just to prove a point? You didn't have to give a direct quote to say what you were trying to say. We can do better indeed.
posted by twelve cent archie at 11:11 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]



I agree that people not being used to actually paying for internet things is a big part of the problem.

Do we know what the rough ballpark per-user actual cost of Metafilter is, assuming a fully user paid monthly subscription model with about the current user base?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:27 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


People demand that Cortex immediately solve all the BIPOC problems in the world (if the world can't do it, I don't know why you expect Cortex to do it. Can the site be better? Of course.), and demand a level of transparency that's just not possible with most businesses.

this is really insulting and unnecessary. I know from experience that in all of these threads someone will inevitably feel the need to come in and characterize BIPOC as unreasonable / irrational / mean / unfair but it's still shitty and I wish you wouldn't do it.

thanks for saying something dusty potato.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:09 PM on October 4 [24 favorites]


I’d really love to see the MeFi newsletter become regular. I think it’s worth giving up moderator coverage to make time for it. It’s so good! And it mixes old school blog/forum charm with a popular medium people are willing to set aside time and money for. It’d be even better to see the newsletter have its own corresponding post on the site where comments could be made, like how Substack allows little communities to build in comments on the online version of its emails.
posted by michaelh at 7:10 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I agree that people not being used to actually paying for internet things is a big part of the problem.


"At $179 per user x 11,873 users = $2,125,267.
Perhaps not the most accurate way of assessing the monetary value of MeFi, but plenty businesses are valued in similar ways.
posted by johnny novak at 6:58 AM on September 23, 2001.
the link was to eBay.
I'm guessing $100 a year subscription fee then dividing that by active users?
posted by clavdivs at 8:05 PM on October 4


Base it on a default of $120 - $10/month. Discount from there for bundling/special pricing.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on October 4


From the statistics overeducated_alligator posted, Metafilter is pretty small now. There are about 10 posts and 400 comments per day.

If that was a subreddit or a Discord or a Usenet group or a BBS, you'd expect it to be run on a shoestring by a handful of moderator/users.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:31 AM on October 5 [10 favorites]


But Reddit has threaded discussions. They don't need intensive moderation to keep people from going "off-topic", and keep them from being "fighty", and exhorting them to "read the room" so the ever-shrinking single discussion "goes well". Everyone with a wild thought related to the post can contain it in a new top-level reply.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:27 AM on October 5 [10 favorites]


They don't need intensive moderation to keep people from going "off-topic", and keep them from being "fighty", and exhorting them to "read the room" so the ever-shrinking single discussion "goes well"

And perhaps we don't need that either. Looking backward, users have clearly asked to have oppressive content moderated (which still doesn't happen consistently), but the degree which conversation is now forced along a path is fairly recent.
posted by Miko at 7:30 AM on October 5 [9 favorites]


We can discuss things in this thread until the cows come home - that's the fine old Metafilter tradition of overthinking a plate of beans.

The problem is that, regardless of the fact that by providing content we make the site more than just a framework, whether or not any action is actually taken on anything lies squarely on Cortex.

On this site, we're used to being listened to as if our input matters. The hard truth is, it's been proven over the last few years that it doesn't.

(The heavier moderation of what gets posted to Metatalk, and constant reminders in update threads to only talk about what they themselves bring up, and 'Contact Us' for anything else – another way of lessening community input.)

That same behavior will continue into the future. That's a marked change from prior leadership and tradition, but I think that's the way it's going to be.

I wish things weren't this way. But there's a lot of things I wish weren't this way. Sometimes you just accept that this reality is the reality. This is Metafilter, and it'll continue this way until it can't anymore.

You may want to throw it any one of the 100 different life preservers you have on your boat, but evidently they prefer to drown.
posted by WCityMike2 at 7:55 AM on October 5 [19 favorites]


Another thing Reddit has that helps with self-policing... downvoting.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 9:08 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


No idea if this is a useful model or not, but I didn't see it mentioned on a brief search of metatalk posts so I'll throw it out here: the one model that has successfully gotten me to regularly support creators I like with money is Patreon.

I could see MetaFilter setting up subscription payments through that or a similar service. You could have different tiers of membership--I don't know what that looks like for MetaFilter, exactly, but off the top of my head: a $5/month tier where you get a little badge next to your username to mark you as a supporter, $10/month gets you access to the exclusive cabal.MetaFilter.com subsite, $20/month you get to post img tags. That kind of thing.

Point is, I regularly give $5-$10 a month to various podcasters to support them and for access to bonus content. It's a model that works. Could work here.
posted by JDHarper at 12:50 PM on October 5 [2 favorites]


(Realized after typing all that that there is a subscription model already in place--but having perks for different tiers may still be a useful idea to steal from Patreon)
posted by JDHarper at 12:53 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


There are subscription-only moderated forums, but I have never heard of any of them coming close to paying for full time moderation. However, if it were a viable model you could set Metafilter up on Reddit or whatever and take advantage of sophisticated messaging technology like “replies” and “threads” and “inline images”.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:15 PM on October 5


You know what Metafilter has that Reddit doesn't?

It's not fucking Reddit.

Seems like a killer feature to me.
posted by signal at 2:50 PM on October 5 [27 favorites]


MetaFilter has LOADS of killer features. It could be a thriving global community of people who are quietly influencing policies across the world, connecting humanities through thought leadership, innovating new ways of using the internet, filling small tech gaps with amazing projects and generally just leading, inspiring and informing with simplicity and words.

It used to be that; there are countless examples.

Currently, MetaFilter is more like a dying star.

MetaFilter needs psychological safety, clear vision, imagination, and strong, visible leadership.

I don’t say that as a criticism or judgement of what currently is or a reimagining of what once was, but rather as a neutral statement of what’s required now to shine again.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:58 PM on October 5 [28 favorites]


Just speaking to buttress iamkimiam's point, and I will add this in the "what does Metafilter mean to you" thread: Metafilter got me the job I have today. It might actually be directly responsible for the fact that I am still in academia despite a terrifying breakdown in the relationship I had with my PhD supervisor.

Metafilter is a really powerful place to share ideas and talk to people. The strength of this place is not in the structure of the site but in the people who come here. Where Reddit succeeds or does not succeed, it does so not because of threaded discussions and downvotes but because local moderators on specific subreddits foster communities that recruit people to care about them. When we succeed or don't succeed, we do so because of the people who invest here.

Now, funding 24/7 moderation is subject to one hard cost limit: time. No matter how the community grows or shrinks, the costs of human employment will remain inelastic as long as the moderation is a core feature of this site--and for a place whose value is its userbase, I think that is really valuable to maintain.

That's why I keep asking about userbase growth initiatives, because I think that the key to keeping this site alive is adding more people and growing that user base. More people will eventually increase moderation costs, true enough, but I think that the money that will come from more people invested in the people here will scale at a rate higher than the rate of conflict to manage, and certainly that it will scale--unlike the fixed costs that are tied to the inexorable passage of time.

I really believe in this place, and that includes our leadership. Please prove me right. Please talk to us. I know it's terrifying. I would be exhausted and frightened and paralyzed too; these last few years have been heartbreaking, and it's hard to summon up extra energy to change things.

Please help us help you. I'm worried about y'all; if you're not getting health insurance than you are absolutely not getting enough support in this job. The thing that frightens me the most is the thought of our mods gritting their teeth and carrying on along this path without telling any of us until knees buckle and no one can go on.

You don't gotta do it alone.
posted by sciatrix at 5:13 AM on October 6 [30 favorites]


One problem I have with this thread is that there is a lot of hand-waving, "the problem is all around us, as we all know" kinds of non-specific speech, and I've heard it elsewhere, including from ex-MeFites I still have contact with, but I don't actually know it? I, at least, don't dip into every thread, I don't think many people who aren't mods actually do, so I get the impression that not every one who is describing problems is on the same page as to what the problems are? (I don't visit Talk much either, maybe that has something to do with this perception?)

I am just a random internet person and no authority on any of this, but it seems like constructive discussion has to begin with being more concrete about what each of us see as what is going wrong here. For my part, I've certainly made mistakes here before, but I've never gotten a timeout for them. Is this an uncommon experience? (I like to think I've gotten better over time. If you disagree, please don't disabuse me off my foolish notion, let me cling to what I have.)
posted by JHarris at 6:27 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]


Early on in this thread, Miko wrote a comment with a link to a guide that addresses much of what you're after in greater specificity.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:54 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah there's never been a shortage of ideas. What would be needed is a structure for sifting, prioritizing and acting on ideas, and that's not something users can do as a skunkworks.
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]


Not without leadership buy-in and support, but customer-centric companies use tools like Gitlab or ProdPad (and a zillion other options) to enable user communities to directly contribute to the backlog and drive prioritisation efforts. This is totally a solved problem.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:56 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]


The topic has come up so many times that, at this point I only need to plagarize my own MeTa comment from back in February:

"We have to admit that most site innovations are spurned or blunted by Cortex until the last possible moment.
[...]
So here’s the only path forward that I can see: Just like he was cajoled, bribed and threatened into forming a BIPOC board, he has to be pushed into accepting user volunteer help. He needs to receive this as a fait accompli. A spreadsheet with a list of user info, with people signing on and saying “I can give X hours a week to learn Coldfusion” or “I can spend X hours a month designing a better tag system” or “I can design a way to receive donations for specific site goals” and then he must be dragged into accepting that help. He cannot be allowed to refuse.

To continue to insist that the current staffing can do it all themselves, that this site will implement the features that other sites already had a decade ago, without tapping into the user goodwill that still begrudgingly exists, is to lie in the face of all evidence."
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 3:19 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]


So here’s the only path forward that I can see: Just like he was cajoled, bribed and threatened into forming a BIPOC board, he has to be pushed into accepting user volunteer help.

What's going on with the BIPOC board? It's apparently met three times (September and October 2020, April 2021) but glancing over the most recent minutes from eight months ago, it's clear that a lot of the discussion was still procedural, focused on how the board itself will operate. Which is fine, but at the same time the board is already more than a year old, and for all practical purposes is no longer meeting. If it is, whatever initial momentum it may have achieved has likely long since been lost.

So: why is the board no longer meeting? Why has scheduling ongoing meetings been such a low priority for the mod(s) responsible for handling this type of admin work? Or have the board members themselves deprioritized making time to meet? In either case, what are the underlying reasons?

Which brings me to my next question: What can the BIPOC board accomplish, practically speaking? Do its recommendations have any inherent power behind them? Because until we see Cortex actually implement the board's decisions/recommendations, a BIPOC board's function for Metafilter-the-business is just to look good. Which is to say, if the board isn't being given the facilitational assistance to get off the ground + the authority to make recommendations that will actually be listened to, if it's tacitly just expected to function as a friendlier, less fighty version of these threads, it's no wonder that the members and even the mods haven't found much momentum to keep meeting.

So, sure, we can force Cortex to accept volunteer help, but we can't force him to actually utilize it. Quite a few skilled professionals have volunteered to help over the past few years, but I'm sure it's evident to every single one of them that without Cortex's enthusiastic yes, their help will be a big waste of time and energy for everyone. Like the BIPOC board, which (from my very limited perspective) seems to have insufficient power and clarity of purpose in the context of Metafilter's overarching enthusiasm about the hard work of equity and inclusion, it's likely any volunteer assistance Cortex gets pressganged into accepting won't be utilized or implemented in meaningful ways.
posted by knucklebones at 5:34 PM on October 6 [12 favorites]


A user who pledged "I can give X hours a week to learn Coldfusion" is unlikely to provide help that doesn't make things worse, and then, to imperiously demand that cortex must accept this dubious aid? I find that frightening. MetaFilter has always prided itself on paying its workers for their time and energy, anyway.
posted by JHarris at 7:17 PM on October 6 [8 favorites]


Anyway, I think the solution to losing users ultimately is to make more posts, and that is something I will try to do.
posted by JHarris at 7:17 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]


I have specific as well as general grievances against Cortex, but in fact he doesn’t deserve the degree of criticism he’s getting here.

Up above I mentioned that Metafilter’s revenue reportedly comes mostly from Google ads displayed to non-members. Those people are primarily the ones whose searches lead them to a question on AskMe: the revenue from that database is how Metafilter keeps running, and it provides an inadequate income to several good people.

The AskMe database would bring in just as much money without Metafilter, which would save all the mods’ salaries and probably most of the hosting costs. I expect the newly-freed income would make Cortex at least comfortably well off, without having to lift a finger. He must be aware of this and he’d be only human if he sometimes thought that he could shut all this down and have an easier life. But he hasn’t, and I have no reason to think he’s even mentioned the possibility to anyone. Like I said, I have grievances, but I have to respect him for that.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:37 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a software dev 20+ years into my career, I don't buy that the codebase is so fragile, idiosyncratic and complicated that outside help would only make it worse. All respect to frimble, but it's worth trying when the alternative is another year-long wait for things like fixing the flag button.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:40 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]


What is broken about the flag button? This is what I meant when I said everyone has their own idea of what the problems is, I had no indication that people considered the flag button to be broken. Are they not getting flags? Is it just considered to be poor UI in 2021? Is it impossible to unflag things that are flagged accidentally? Am I just naive about the incredible brokeness of something about that little exclamation-point link?

ANY codebase is fragile if something is added that doesn't work, and the "learning ColdFusion" comment suggested to me someone coming in from square one?
posted by JHarris at 11:33 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]


JH, Am I the only person who keeps accidentally almost flagging posts instead of favoriting them? (April 26, 2020) ("It's come up in a few metatalks..." comment within thread has prev. links) & The flag button's design is bad enough to be a social justice issue (June 21, 2020). July 19, 2021's MeFi Site Update has a "flag feature" update, "cortex, on the possibility of accepting user assistance in implementing changes to the flag feature..."
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:47 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]


Now you see, I have never heard that before in my life. There are large areas of the site that I don't generally go to. Not to diminish the need for this feature, but I had no idea.
posted by JHarris at 1:14 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]


Sorry - I had assumed that if you were in this MeTa thread, you knew about it. It's not an issue for me personally, but it's a (conceptually) small change that was asked for by several people. It was tentatively promised by cortex but basically, not anytime soon, due to the complexity of the codebase and demands on frimble's time.

It strikes me as something that could be done far more quickly with the right resources.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:30 AM on October 7


Not to beat my head against a dead horse here, but this is exactly why a business with a web presence needs a visible backlog in some form.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:26 AM on October 7 [5 favorites]


While I understand that mod responses are not immediate under the new MetaTalk paradigm, I would like to put it out there that loup hasn't responded in this thread at all.

The last post here by a mod was Jessamyn, and that was six days ago. restless_nomad posted here on the 4th, however they're (a) not officially a mod anymore, and (b) could only speak about the history re: non-profit considerations and payroll questions in general.

In fact, r_n did bring up the topic of sites accepting volunteer help for organization, technical work and moderation, which I alluded to before.

@Loup: This thread is eleven days old now. Will there be a response from you or do we all just (un)happily roll along into the next MeTa update thread?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:40 AM on October 7 [4 favorites]


I feel like it's unspoken but apparent the mod and admin team are not only burned out, they just really don't want to deal with the site users at all in more than a "removing the bad posts and stopping fights" way. There's a lot of simmering "us versus them" tension, which is pretty common in moderator-type roles but it feels like it's shifted to contempt where it's very "ugh not THIS shit again."

Which is...I don't want to say "fine," it's not good, but if it's the new social contract then just come out and say it.

Likewise a lot of the social justice stuff feels the same way. If they don't want to deal with it, that's okay, but it's disingenuous to strike the "we are going to be inclusive and have a board and address our site culture and change the world for the better" pose and then studiously not say anything for months/years.

There is a longstanding tension between the more vocal social justice crowd and the more casual users and right now it seems like neither "side" is happy, but moderating in a heavy, discussion shaping way that requires hours of investment to keep up with The Discourse and etiquette in social justice spaces is going to be much more intensive than basically removing slurs, spam, and keeping the fights to a minimum. Maybe it's time to say "look we agree with these goals and we really wish we could do all this stuff but frankly the best we can do is keep yall from murdering each other". Just make a call and live with the fallout rather than trying to do everything while satisfying no one.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:41 PM on October 7 [37 favorites]


Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown
posted by Ahmad Khani at 1:33 PM on October 8 [4 favorites]


I love that line, studied that film at school. One of the best lines of resignation to events beyond the individuals control, a testimony where there is none to explain the many under currents of human behavior that push up on the American notion of "just out west a bit further" even though lands end does not dispel this notion of sheer expansion and damage it creates.
I can recognize the sentiment and no bad on you Ahmad khani, but don't think we're there yet, perhaps Nebraska.

I see no reason why another could not open a meta on finance, etc. but perhaps wait for mod feedback before parlance ensues.
posted by clavdivs at 4:20 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


@Ursula Hitler: I'm queer trans and disabled and also a person of color. Naming off identities doesn't really mean that much to me regarding what your affiliation is -- what matters is solidarity, and solidarity requires understanding who is at greater risk for power and being in support, not being defensive and not acknowledging of your privileges. Being a person of color and the amount of whiteness that has gone on in this website to deal with censorship frankly favors a white point of view, and I'm not about to rehash an entire history of how white voices have predominantly shouted out spaces, especially in queer and disabled spaces. Personally, I would be more worried about my comment being deleted, for pointing out the privilege in your statement, but that's not at all from the same position that you are discussing in feeling 'censored.'
posted by yueliang at 10:35 PM on October 8 [10 favorites]


Yueliang, doesn't the fact that you express concern about having your comments deleted kind of prove my point about how the moderation on this site can have a chilling effect on conversation, which probably contributes to this site losing users? I'm not saying there should be no moderation here, just that the way they've been doing it can be excessive.

But it seems like the mods have probably checked out of this thread, so we could probably get into a real flamewar here if we wanted to. I don't want to. I think I've said what I need to say, so I'm out.

I hope the site isn't doomed.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:07 AM on October 9 [9 favorites]


Well, we're all doomed.
posted by Miko at 2:50 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


The site will just keep fading away as fewer and fewer posts and comments get made and people's attention turns elsewhere. At some point in that long slow decline, it'll hit a cliff where the network effect evaporates and the participation drops to a post or two a week.
posted by octothorpe at 3:52 PM on October 9 [11 favorites]


moderation on this site can have a chilling effect on conversation, which probably contributes to this site losing users

Unchallenged oppressive and hateful behaviour also has a chilling effect on conversation. I’m not being flippant: many users cite that as a reason for leaving, or downgrading their participation.

I think there are ways in which thorough content moderation could coexist with free-flowing conversation on controversial topics, but I don’t see how that could happen given the technical and financial constraints Metafilter labours under. I don’t even think they ever actually coexisted: Metafilter’s archives contain some really vile stuff that wouldn’t fly today. Were there more posts back then? Yes. On the other hand, accepting that as a trade off meant subordinating the interests of people who, because of Metafilter’s design, had no way to participate without reading past that hateful content.

I hope the site isn't doomed.

If it is, it’s a consequence of changes in the Internet advertising market, not clumsy moderation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:46 PM on October 9 [21 favorites]


On what Joe in Australia said: yes. I was a member back then and the site, while never really what I'd call right-wing, was much more of a boyzone back then.
posted by JHarris at 2:24 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I also think the site may have kind of p.c.'ed itself to the brink of obsolescence.

Ursula Hitler, what you are saying basically states that everything the POC folks have been fighting for in the past years as responsible for the downturn of the website. Not cool

moderation on this site can have a chilling effect on conversation, which probably contributes to this site losing users

Unchallenged oppressive and hateful behaviour also has a chilling effect on conversation. I’m not being flippant: many users cite that as a reason for leaving, or downgrading their participation.

You can all be right, you know. I know for a fact people have left the site both for it being "too P.C." and for it being offensive. Some of those people I said "fuck 'em" when they clicked the button, but, if we're talking about participation as a necessity for the site's continuance, they are gone now and nobody replaced them. I have a sense that MeFi is caught between incompatible expectations, incompatible ideas of what and who it's for, and nobody seems to be able to come up with a real vision that resolves this (and comes with an idea of how to find the users who would want to contribute to that version of MeFi).
posted by atoxyl at 2:28 AM on October 10 [28 favorites]


One thing I think about is, one can enjoy Metafilter without being a member and commenting. Some people read MeFi without ever wanting to pony up for it. If we keep providing good and interesting links, we could help the site to survive even if fewer people are commenting.
posted by JHarris at 3:40 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Good and interesting links. This might sound sarcastic, but I mean it completely seriously: thanks for giving me something I can do.
posted by box at 6:10 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


I have a sense that MeFi is caught between incompatible expectations, incompatible ideas of what and who it's for, and nobody seems to be able to come up with a real vision that resolves this

In my own field, the way you resolve this is to realize that stances of neutrality always aid the oppressor, and stop trying to play "both sides" into a neutral middle that does not exist - because that is the only sure way to lose everybody but the most malleable.

It means you have to make morally grounded choices.
posted by Miko at 1:59 PM on October 10 [22 favorites]


Interesting that the two internet locations I spend the most time on (outside of a carefully curated youtube subscriptions page) are metafilter and tumblr, both of which are now artifacts and no longer "relevant" to the "tocky" internet of today--and neither of which seems viable in the long-term if their various doom-telling user-bases are correct.

Maybe tumblr can buy mefi? (One consequence of this would be the revelation that mefi's outdated coldfusion code-base is (sadly?) technically superior to the sticky tape and bro-sweat which holds together tumblr.)
posted by maxwelton at 11:33 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


I belong to a bunch of Slacks. That model seems to be working today. Discord is also working for lots of people apparently. I don’t think either is as good for long-form, linear discourse, and that ways always one of MeFi’s two great strengths - that and the talents of the people it attracted - and would have made sense as the basis for a retooling-and-survival strategy. Where smart people go to talk about things in the world.
posted by Miko at 7:59 AM on October 11


It would actually make sense for either Discourse (Jeff Atwood) or Automattic (rescued Tumblr, Simplenote and DayOne) to buy MetaFilter someday. I’d trust either to take good care of it.
posted by michaelh at 8:50 AM on October 11


It would actually make sense for either Discourse (Jeff Atwood) or Automattic (rescued Tumblr, Simplenote and DayOne) to buy MetaFilter someday. I’d trust either to take good care of it.

1. Mention generous donation
2. Remain silent until members themselves suggest acquisition
3. ???
4. Profit!
posted by snofoam at 10:51 AM on October 11 [4 favorites]


Mod note: Loup and I are going through this thread separately to compile questions and action items individually, confer to see that we've basically got the same set of takeaways, and then present them to the team to get more complete answers. Loup and I are typically a pretty speedy team (go, privacy policy!) so we'll have that to the full team in a day or two.

I'm going to give a couple off-the-cuff quick answers -- with the understanding that the full and complete answers will come from other mods. One of the consequences of a divide-and-conquer strategy we've been pursuing is that ... I don't actually know the status of the FanFare bug? I've been focusing more on documentation-type things (privacy policy, guidelines, etc.). Which, having just loup and I working on the privacy policy allowed us to move a lot faster than when everything was going to the whole team. But it also means I don't know the status of the fanfare bug and can't speak to that.

And then, in the next comment below, all by itself, I'm going to specifically respond to the non-profit question, so it can be easily found in the future or linked back to.

So I do want to say that, yes, the mods are all pretty burnt out. We've had kids stuck at home for 18 solid months, been hospitalized for brain/spine problems, and had seriously ill spouses. And that's just me! But, like everyone, we've been dealing with the pandemic, and with various life crises within a pandemic -- moving during a pandemic, lack of childcare, spousal job loss, illnesses that require doctor's care suddenly becoming cabbage-sheep-wolf logic games. We're tired -- and honestly, usually after a US campaign season we get a break, but then we had super-fun insurrection AND the global pandemic just! kept! happening! So we haven't had much chance to refresh after post-election-season burnout. (When my kids finally, finally went back to school in person after 18 months of being at home 24 hours a day, I would get out of bed, send them to school, and go back to bed. I slept for like 12 hours a day for like the first four weeks, I was so much more exhausted than I'd realized.)

We are beginning to kick around membership drive ideas, and most of the ideas raised here -- which y'all have mostly raised before and therefore we had on our list of "good ideas for membership drive time"! -- have been part of that conversation. Someone else can speak to what and when the next steps are.

Moving Ask to two questions a week has not precipitated any kind of crisis, so I'm intrigued by the idea of removing the limit entirely or going to one-Q-a-day or something. This is not an idea we've discussed, but I immediately was like, "Huh, that's interesting! We should kick it around!"

A membership survey is something we have done in the past and would LIKE to do, and have been talking about in recent weeks -- it's kind-of a question of how heavily we should prioritize it, and whether we should attempt to do it in-house, or whether it's worth seeking a volunteer or paying for professional assistance.

Creating a "fee waiver" process that is part of the normal sign-up process and not an "e-mail the mods for a fee waiver" thing IS on our tech list and we have the guts of it outlined. I'm not sure how high up the list it is.

Closing threads earlier does not appreciably reduce moderator workload. (We actually have some nifty tools for managing the "long tail" of threads, although 30 days is generally a pretty short tail anyway.) So little revenue comes from adsense these days that show ads to logged-in users wouldn't help much. (We can create a setting that will let individual users do that, but it's gotta be pretty low on the priority list because there's not a whole lot of financial upside and it won't meaningfully improve user experience.) We have been talking with a couple of mefites who volunteered expertise on advertising about other sorts of ad units. I want to emphasize that nothing may come of it, advertising revenue is terrible everywhere. But we are investigating our advertising posture and whether it can be improved in a useful way.

I know there are a bunch of other ideas and questions in here but they're not ones I can give quick off-the-cuff answers to so will be conferring with loup and passing back to the whole team. (I see you! I wrote you down in my memo!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:13 PM on October 11 [9 favorites]


Mod note: Here is a HARD NO on the idea of becoming a 501(c)3.

"it's that it, like almost every other suggestion and proposal put forward over the years, clearly never met a receptive audience actively looking for solutions."

This is something that we actively responded to over the course of several years. We were extremely receptive to the idea! We were receptive to the point that, when we were pretty sure it wasn't possible, but Miko kept insisting it was, we went out and paid an attorney money to look at it. In the comments restless_nomad linked above, which occurred five years ago, we were pretty up-front that while it was theoretically possible to create an elaborate structure that would allow a non-profit, it wasn't feasible, and there were a host of problems beyond "it is technically possible to create a hybrid structure that would be very expensive and cumbersome to maintain."

This did not stop the conversation, even after we -- again -- literally consulted a lawyer and relayed the results of that consultation. Some users who had not seen the conversation before continued to suggest the idea, which is fair; other users, who participated in the conversation over several years, continued to insist it was possible. In fact, the discussion shifted; it was no longer that we weren't willing to consider it -- it was that we were lying about it:

“At this point, I'm just arguing for the honesty of being able to say "We're not investigating this because we don't want it," instead of "it's impossible." It's not impossible, it is a choice that has been made. It's a dead idea and I hope we never discuss it again. By its own unwillingness to engage with users in general, MeFi has indicated it is probably not capable of managing a healthy transition to a strong nonprofit. "We don't want to do it" is where the story ends.”

So let me be even more clear. I am a currently-licensed attorney who has done work with non-profits. I am not MetaFilter's attorney, but I assist MetaFilter in liaising with its outside attorneys. It is my professional legal opinion that it is impossible for MetaFilter to become a 501(c)3. We have discussed the possibility of a transition to a non-profit with MetaFilter's actual attorney, licensed in Oregon. They believe it is impossible for MetaFilter to become a 501(c)3. I have talked about it with friends who are attorneys, and bounced it around my professional network. They believe it is impossible for MetaFilter to become a 501(c)3. Literally no legal professional we have discussed it with, socially or professionally, thinks it is a viable legal option.

MetaFilter does not serve an "exempt purpose" as defined by the IRS, that 501(c)3 corporations must serve: "Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations." Yes, there are non-profit journalism outlets that file as "educational" organizations. We do not fit those very narrow parameters. There are other 501(c) organizations (some of which can take deductible donations, and some of which can't), but any of the possible 501(c)s that might otherwise be available to MetaFilter (various social clubs, for example) require in-person meetings. Even if it were possible, it would also shift a large chunk of money away from staff salaries and towards "overhead," mostly compliance costs and a massive increase in specialized paperwork. Even if we could handle all of that compliance and accounting in-house -- which I question -- we'd basically have to lose an entire staff member to doing JUST THOSE PARTS instead of moderating.

Moreover, here is the IRS's guidance for non-profits that have websites:
Can a section 501(c)(3) organization post information on its website (or link to other websites) about a candidate for public office?

A website is a form of communication. If an organization posts something on its website that favors or opposes a candidate for public office, it is prohibited political campaign activity. Posting information on its website is the same as if the organization distributed printed material or made oral statements or broadcasts that favored or opposed a candidate.

If an organization establishes a link to another website, it is responsible for the consequences of establishing and maintaining that link, even if the organization does not have control over the content of the linked site. Because the linked content may change, the organization should monitor the linked content and adjust or remove any links that could result in prohibited political campaign activity.
This WHOLE GODDAMNED WEBSITE is a prohibited political campaign activity. To comply with this requirement, we would not only have to disallow basically all future political discussions about candidates, and spend way more time moderating the ones about policies; we would have to nuke the archives completely. And probably disallow future links. Nobody could ever again say "Fuck Trump" or "Here's the website of this amazing person running for my local dogcatcher." If someone made a website "StandUporSitDown.com" to talk about whether you wipe your ass sitting or standing (an AskMe classic), let it lapse, and then three years later the Trump campaign bought it and changed it to being about "Will you stand up for Trump or sit down like a jerk liberal?" and we did not immediately remove that link from MetaFilter, we could lose 501(c)3 status for prohibited political campaign activity.

It is not possible to have MetaFilter exist as a place where people talk about politics or a place where people share links, and also be a 501(c)3.

And to Miko specifically, I appreciate your enthusiasm for shared governance and transparency, but the models you are suggesting are simply not legally available to MetaFilter. We do not fit the model under the federal statute, and we cannot make ourselves do so without fundamentally changing MetaFilter into something else entirely. And honestly, as a personal matter, I find it pretty upsetting to have you repeatedly tell me that I'm just lying instead of giving you an honest answer, because the honest answer isn't the one you want to hear.

On a possible future:

I do keep an eye on low-profit and community-benefit corporations, which are emerging governance models currently only available at the state level (no federal recognition), and only in a handful of states, that combine some of the benefits of non-profits and some of the benefits of for-profit corporations, and actually is designed for small businesses providing low-margin community services. I actually do think that when the law around those is better established, and the IRS creates federal rules for them, that may very well be a possibility for MetaFilter. As of right now, that's not available to us either, and the law will have to advance quite a bit before it is. But I'm very bullish about it eventually being an option -- a good option! -- for us.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:48 PM on October 11 [45 favorites]


That wasn’t so hard, now was it?

Yep, MeFi would have to make some changes to be incorporated differently. We get it; Mefi would rather die than change.
posted by Miko at 9:51 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]


Mod note: "That wasn’t so hard, now was it?"

I mean, no, given that we explained it five years ago.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:00 PM on October 11 [28 favorites]


No, that’s a stretch. The business’ representatives have never openly described the process in clear detail. In addition, even the above comment doesn’t deal with the distinctions between between restrictions on the legal entity (The “organization” in the IRS language you quote above) and on the activity of the membership - a distinction which allows countless organizations from the League of Women Voters to Wikipedia to host discussions on a tremendous variety of political
topics and issues - , nor on the concept of partnered (c)3 and c(4) organizations, which allows orgs like the NRA to fund itself for the benefit of members Appeals to authority notwithstanding, it’s been five years of dismissiveness and defensiveness. So at least what we’ve achieved here is getting a point of view on record that someone owns now. Satisfying enough. Good luck to the staff.
posted by Miko at 10:07 PM on October 11 [6 favorites]


Oregon legislature made Chap. 65 revisions that took effect just last year re: non-profit in-person meeting requirements (membership & Board) and remote participation is possible now.
But I hear you about the political content, and am now imagining a MetaFilter that's a lethargic 527 organization. Voting's important in general, and the site already has cabal-related merch.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:04 PM on October 11


Miko, your behavior here is pretty outrageous. I appreciate Eyebrows breaking this down in such detail, but it shouldn't have been necessary. I am not a legal expert at all, but I have been following these threads and not commenting when I don't know enough to contribute. Various members of the mod team have been saying the same thing for years, that their lawyers have advised them that incorporating as a nonprofit isn't feasible, and you (possibly one or two others?) have simply refused to accept this answer, instead inventing nefarious explanations and maligning the mod team for refusing to listen despite their numerous responses. For Eyebrows to take the time to reiterate the same thing they have already been saying for years and for you to condescendingly respond That wasn't so hard, now was it? is unacceptable behavior. The mods don't censor this kind of guideline-breaking behavior when it's directed towards them the same way they would when it's directed towards any other community member, but it's still unacceptable and I think that needs to be said.

This thread is full of exactly this kind of behavior from a disappointingly large number of people. Not just on the issue of incorporating as a nonprofit, but on whatever any particular person's pet project is about why they think the site is dying. For the record, if I ever quit the site, it'll be because of this kind of bad-faith crap.
posted by biogeo at 11:13 PM on October 11 [69 favorites]


Man, do you guys remember Gawker?
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 1:51 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]


GOTEM
posted by some loser at 4:08 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]


Yep, MeFi would have to make some changes to be incorporated differently. We get it; Mefi would rather die than change.

That's a bullshit, bad faith interpretation.
posted by signal at 4:52 AM on October 12 [34 favorites]


Maybe that's a little over the top but we still haven't heard any other strategy for combating the decline.
posted by octothorpe at 4:57 AM on October 12 [11 favorites]


I appreciate the update and the time it took to lay that all out, especially given the frustrating reality with respect to the nonprofit status. I hadn't realized that the political aspect of the site raised such issues but of course that makes sense, especially because Metafilter is neither wholly apolitical nor dedicated to party politics. It seems to me that this makes it much harder to navigate the situation, which... that's not quite what the law is set up for, so it's not that surprising.

I'm sad but not surprised to hear about your collective burnout issues and pandemic experience. Of course that would make it harder to engage with these things and execute new changes, especially in the background of the widespread traumas of the fascinating new lives we've all been living in the past five years. Neither MeFi nor most of its users have been living our best lives as our best selves lately, and again it's not surprising that that would make it harder to muster additional energy to move above and beyond.

That said, the long silences are difficult. Going forward on a thread like this, do you think it would be possible to state a specific date by which mods will make a good faith effort at responding to questions, even if it really is just "no, no, no, we have repeatedly explained the nonprofit thing, it's not on the table, link to why" and "we're trying to do new things but we are exhausted and burnt out and the BIPOC board requires wrangling and nudging about meetings and we've been so tired and it just didn't get caught" and "of the ideas that have been proposed we are most excited about X and not sure about Y but Z seems unfeasible" and so forth?

I appreciate it's got to be exhausting to see the nonprofit stuff every single time we see these discussions raised, and writing up that long and involved explanation that yes, you tried, you really did try, but it's not going to work would have taken ages. Let's focus on what we can do to give each other space to move forward in ways that channel our collective anxieties into things which are productive instead of insisting that any single course of action is the only one that can possibly save us. It's a complex situation, and we clearly have to do something, but insisting that there's a simple clear path to solvency and the mods haven't taken it because [insert nefarious reason here] seems.... ludicrously unlikely, to put it mildly.
posted by sciatrix at 5:22 AM on October 12 [24 favorites]


I also think having a better sense of the timeline on which we can expect responses would be really helpful. (Please think of this as a request/suggestion rather than criticism/complaint, though.) I think some of the unpleasantness in this thread might have been avoided if we all had a better sense of whether the lack of response represents a normal wait time or a lack of engagement. I think in the past loup may have indicated that responses to site update feedback will be made primarily in subsequent site updates rather than within the thread, but a) I'm sure not everyone saw or remembers that, and b) I'm not sure I'm even remembering that correctly.

I'm sure there are some here who won't feel the same way, but for me at least I'm perfectly happy with a response like "Hey, I've seen this and will need some time to get back to you. Expect a response in about X days." And then if X days pass and a response still isn't ready, "Hey, I'm still working on a response but wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten about this and it's still on my list. I'll check back in in Y days." And then repeat as necessary. Or alternatively, a clear statement that something won't be getting a response: "We've discussed this many times before and aren't going to reopen it here. Please let it drop." is a perfectly good response too!

Honestly while a lot of the discussion here and requests for responses from the mods relates to site issues that are very important, very little of it is actually urgent, and people ought to be able to be patient. But a lack of any acknowledgement that a question has been received and will be responded to tends to leave room for people to start inventing their own explanations for the lack of acknowledgement. MeFi skews high-anxiety, and speaking from experience, high-anxiety brains catastrophize easily. In the context of these kinds of interactions, that can manifest as unfair, bad-faith interpretations of others words and actions. A little bit of feedback can go a long way in curtailing that impulse.
posted by biogeo at 10:14 AM on October 12 [13 favorites]


That wasn’t so hard, now was it?

WTF? That’s astoundingly condescending. Don’t be that way.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:11 AM on October 12 [29 favorites]


Generous and educational response. Thanks, Eyebrows! Hopefully we can move on (or just post insults, you know, whatever.)
posted by michaelh at 12:57 PM on October 12


I suppose I tend to fixate on the “user shortage” rather than the funding shortage because it’s more obvious when one looks around, and because the users are the content, and the income source. And as such I still feel like a lot of this is a marketing problem more than anything.

- who do we want to join here?

- why would they want to join? What do we offer that Twitter, Reddit, Discord, Hacker News, Tumblr, whatever don’t?

- conversely, is there something those sites offer that we don’t that we really need to? Without compromising the essence of the site?

- where are these prospective users right now, and how can they be reached?

- what are the obstacles to converting the MeFi curious to registered users?

And so on. I guess this comment probably happens a lot in these threads, too. Maybe I’ve even made it before. But I know I have thoughts about all of those questions, so I’m sure other people do, too.
posted by atoxyl at 2:52 PM on October 12 [6 favorites]


This wouldn’t be a problem if we implemented comment threading in 2003!
posted by geoff. at 6:11 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]


Hi. I’m an attorney whose practice, for more than 10 years, has been limited to the representation of cooperatives, both taxable and tax exempt. I left this site a while ago, over moderation philosophy, but occasionally drive by out of nostalgia, as this was my home for a long while.

I would echo the questions above, from Miko and Iris Gambol, about whether you have fully explored your legal options? In addition to their suggestions about traditional non-profit status (such as exploring the differences between the entity and the membership, or partnered organizations, your options under Oregon law, etc.), which are not my area of expertise, I wanted to point out that you may have options to restructure as a cooperative.

The University of Wisconsin has some good resources, and Minnesota has a law which you might find interesting.

The thing to know about cooperatives is that they can be tax exempt (under Subchapter T of the tax code, so ignore everything about 501(c)(3)’s or (4)’s). But cooperatives can also be taxable, and that’s okay too. Even if you ignore the tax implications, restructuring as a cooperative would bring transparency and democratic governance pursuant to cooperative principles. Cooperatives are more common than you might think: the Associated Press, REI, Ace Hardware, and Sunkist are all cooperatives, and those are obviously not charities. It might be something to explore with your lawyer, if allowing for more member input in MetaFilter’s governance is desired.

I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer, so consult your legal counsel.
posted by gd779 at 7:43 PM on October 12 [11 favorites]


At this point anyone still pushing the 501(c)(3) thing needs to find an example of a forum/community weblog which shares Mefi's characteristics (users discussing politics, etc) and which is run as a 501(c)(3) — or just move on from it.
posted by Klipspringer at 1:01 AM on October 13 [6 favorites]


501(c)(3) is at this point a bit of a distractor, clearly it is off the table but I think it was the focus of the larger question of community governence / inclusivity. People want this community to have a larger role than moneymakers for MetaFilter LLC., and that has always been a sort of illusory thing. We're all family!
posted by Meatbomb at 4:15 AM on October 13 [9 favorites]


I agree with what Meatbomb just said about the 501(c)(3) and the larger question of community governance and inclusivity. The 501(c)(3) is one possible implementation of a solution to answer the larger question.

When I read mod comments that this (and related discussion?) is off the table, what I fear that I'm hearing is that all possible implementations for community governance (and inclusivity) are off the table. That is, there is no interest or discussion to be had about any solutions for this. And so then I wonder, what does that mean for the issues that the solutions are meant to address? Is there interest in solving it? Do we even agree on what the issue is? Or that it exists?

Going back to the original post, specifically, “it is time for us to start thinking about possible growth strategies and better ways to raise funds”…I then realise that for me, this topic is inextricably linked to a larger question of community governance and inclusivity. It dawns on me that it may not be at all the case for the MetaFilter staff. And whether the 'us' in the sentence includes 'us', as in the MetaFilter community?
posted by iamkimiam at 8:23 AM on October 13 [7 favorites]


And I guess from their point of view there are plenty of downsides to engaging with us on it and no downside to not engaging.
posted by bleep at 9:31 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I think Miko is right to be frustrated. We've been hearing about mod burnout for years, then nothing changes, and the same burned out team is trying to make things limp along. Folks have been clamouring for a robust fundraising model beyond, "Hey we need cash to survive the next quarter." Fundraising when the donations are tax-deductible has some great models that make folks happy! Instead we're trying to re-invent the wheel.

Jessamyn brought up the new newsletter, and that has already fizzled, and the sidebar hasn't been updated in over a month. I don't understand why a new initiative was taken on when the existing features aren't being maintained.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:44 AM on October 13 [19 favorites]


The thing about the nonprofit/community governance talk is - on one hand it does seem like there’s a structural issue that the few people who are in charge of decision-making for the site seem very overloaded and slow to actually make any decisions. But on the other it feels like people are approaching this as if changing the governance structure will come with a solution to the issues that have lead to a dwindling userbase, and I don’t think that’s a given at all.
posted by atoxyl at 11:16 AM on October 13 [9 favorites]


It's not that it would be a solution but more like a prerequisite to actually coming up with, validating, and implementing solutions. Who is going to do this stuff & when are currently open questions which would be answered by having some kind of structure that can be described and understood. So it's natural to be curious about what's the plan.
posted by bleep at 11:37 AM on October 13 [5 favorites]


the new newsletter, and that has already fizzled...I don't understand why a new initiative was taken on

The newsletter really didn't make sense to me. It seemed almost tone-deaf to launch it while so many other things were not happening, happening very slowly, or unknown behind a veil of silence. The only thing that kinda made sense to me is that if you combine a) being unenthusiastic about getting new users/okay with the user base shrinking and b) wanting to/needing to get more income through user donations, then you maybe get to a place where you want to offer "more" to the existing users so they donate at a higher rate.

Of course, this general path could never work, because as there are fewer users, there is less MetaFilter (posts, conversations, etc.) for users to enjoy. I think this was made clear by the really lackluster fundraising drive in August. The people who want to give are basically giving and from here on out, income is only going down unless the site itself starts growing in users and activity.

Trying to turn this around would have been somewhat easier in 2014 or 2018 or whatever point in the past when the userbase was bigger and less discouraged. I don't think MetaFilter needs to be run as a collective, but it is clear that the current management team is unable to save it, or even point it in the right direction. They are surely good at other stuff, but they don't have the aptitude for steering the site where it needs to go. I see the team as 80% moderators, 20% tech maintenance. I feel like the site needs big chunks of community builder, community engagement/communication, fundraising/development and some strategic planning/leadership. Also, if your function is to moderate and maintain a site, users and activity are basically problems. I am not saying current staff see things that way, but I can imagine it is harder to feel gung ho about a growth plan if you already feel burned out with your current workload.
posted by snofoam at 12:03 PM on October 13 [17 favorites]


E. McGee kindly let me know the Oregon legislature meeting changes for nonprofits can't benefit MetaFilter in the way I'd hoped.
I think my "get-out-the-vote (every-four-years)" hybrid PAC idea was probably garbage, too. Apologies for noisy derailing.

Reading this FPP and clicking links in the digg article led (via tosdr.org's advanced search) to this MetaFilter analytics page. Maybe it's useful?
[If it's accurate -- Canadians, please stay? I'll dial down the adoration, I know it makes you uncomfortable.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:16 PM on October 13


Also, if your function is to moderate and maintain a site, users and activity are basically problems. I am not saying current staff see things that way, but I can imagine it is harder to feel gung ho about a growth plan if you already feel burned out with your current workload

To extend from this (and I'm not treating "users are basically problems" as a negative here, but in the "what's a cost center & what's not?" sense), this cuts to a lot of the complexity, I think.

We've had *lots* of ideas over the years. Many of them good. But as has been pointed out time and again, the fundamental issue ends up being "the revenue stream/funding model of the Internet has shifted from under our feet". And in this case, this applies as a very fuzzy "ratio of income to effort". The level of income hasn't kept up (though people have been trying to stem the tide a bit), and there's not much headroom on 'reducing effort', I'd posit. At least not usefully so, I'm not about to throw in on "let's bring back Thunderdome MeTa", nor do I think that'd actually reduce costs as much as would be required.

Getting more users in, that's burning more effort in the hopes that getting above some critical threshold will flip the equation around & the ratio-of-income starts growing *faster* than the marginal cost of those new users. Understandably, that's a difficult prospect when everybody's burnt out.

I'm very amenable to "Get MeFi to where it's a place which can be unreservedly recommended, without the self-inflicted grenades that always take a few users with & cause remaining people to go 'Ehhh, I don't know that I want to subject people to *that*'", but also even once we've done that (handwaving for a moment), there'll still be the issue of "Ok, MeFi is a Good Place to Be on the Internet. But why come here over everything else prospective members are already browsing/talking/doing to fill that role currently?"

I don't have any good answers here, if there were good answers we wouldn't be in this position, but hopefully that helps crystallize some things as I've seen them.

* and to head things off, when I say 'self-inflicted grenades', I mean *perpetuating* BoyZone, transphobia, racism, US-centricism, general fight & feud-iness, everything else that's been well raised by better members than I; rather than the people raising those things as issues.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:41 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


Mod note: Regarding changing the business structure and/or shared governance, I'd like to silo that off for a couple of reasons: First, we've investigated that very thoroughly as a team twice in the past five years, and we're confident that the current structure of the business is the right one for now (maybe not forever, but for now). But second, I think the well has also been poisoned with the round-and-round on this issue, and every discussion we have about it in public turns into the same unproductive set of things. It also ends with us saying "no -- no -- no" a lot (or, sometimes, "... it's complicated"), because people don't know the back end of the business, or they're not familiar with Oregon law, or whatever -- which is totally normal! but it feels very frustrating, both for users and for mods, to retread that territory over and over. I know a lot of people want some kind of model of shared governance, but ideas about what exactly (other than being a non-profit) have tended to be kind-of hazy.

So as an interrupt switch, and in an attempt change that dynamic and to let discussion move forward on other issues, I'm going to suggest that anyone who has concrete suggestions about productive modes of shared governance (or shared governance adjacent things) contact me directly -- use the e-mail in my profile -- and we can talk about it in a more direct and focused way. I'll tell you my biases up front: 1) changing how MetaFilter is incorporated would have to be an extremely compelling case, and not dramatically increase overhead costs (and is down to cortex anyway, but if you show me a compelling case I will advocate); 2) any suggestions would have to NOT slow us down more -- we're already not the quickest of organizations, and some suggestions seem to be "govern by committee of the whole!" which would basically make us Congress; and 3) we deal with private user information that needs to remain private, we make assurances about that in our privacy policy, and we sometimes go to great lengths to assist users in protecting their privacy; anything we implemented would have to respect that.

Of course you're free to continue in here, but I'm hopeful that a step to the side can bypass some of the repetitive and unproductive rehashing we tend to get stuck in on this issue. I like talking about organizational governance (I wrote my undergrad thesis on it, what a nerd) so even if we just end up shooting the shit about governance, I won't mind, and if we get some concrete ideas, so much the better. One caveat, however: I'm on duty tonight, but then I'm seeing my sister for the first time in two-and-a-half years this weekend and have swapped away all my shifts and will be online as little as possible until next week. I will answer you! But it might be next week.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 1:31 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


Personally, I don't think that a change in the structure of MetaFilter LLC is a priority. To me, the site needs a bigger user base to survive as what it is (paid moderation, incremental improvements towards inclusivity, reliably self-supported, etc.). I think the management needs some kind of input (outside consultant or member-offered help) and needs to actually put a plan into place to at least try to grow. I think there could be some low hanging fruit, but I don't necessarily think it will be easy. I definitely don't think giving members a vote in decision-making is necessary or even helpful for implementing a growth plan.

Somewhat separately, I think better communication should be a key part of the plan to transition to a user-funded company. (More precisely, I think it should have been part of the plan ever since user-funding was prioritized.) I would be most likely to support an actual nonprofit versus a company in general, but I also would be more likely to support a company that was presenting a clear vision of its plan for the future and was more transparent and responsive to its users.
posted by snofoam at 2:28 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


you maybe get to a place where you want to offer "more" to the existing users so they donate at a higher rate.

Of course, this general path could never work, because as there are fewer users, there is less MetaFilter (posts, conversations, etc.) for users to enjoy.


Yeah this goes back to my core point. In one of these threads somebody proposed like a $10/mo subscription (baseline, with exceptions made of course) and I was thinking - who the hell is going to pay that much for a community site with a shrinking community? Which isn’t to shit on their proposal specifically, it’s just the fundamental bind the site is in.
posted by atoxyl at 2:57 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


atoxyl, back when the "I Help Fund Metafilter" campaign was begun, quite a few MeFites voluntarily set up subscriptions like that. I've been here since 2007 and consider it a very small payback for all the value I've obtained.
posted by apartment dweller at 3:14 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]


I've been here since 2007 and consider it a very small payback for all the value I've obtained.

Pricing based on your 14 years of value isn't going to appeal to new subscribers though.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:31 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


who the hell is going to pay that much
I would, in fact i do already. I assume i am not the only one.
posted by 15L06 at 3:32 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]


I only speak up on the pricing because that is a very fatal move, to price it based on the true fans (unless you can sustain yourself on that number, which is entirely possible - but it's not a growth strategy.)
posted by warriorqueen at 3:32 PM on October 13 [4 favorites]


Cheers for the time note, Eyebrows, and I hope your time with your sister is lovely!

I'm very amenable to "Get MeFi to where it's a place which can be unreservedly recommended, without the self-inflicted grenades that always take a few users with & cause remaining people to go 'Ehhh, I don't know that I want to subject people to *that*'", but also even once we've done that (handwaving for a moment), there'll still be the issue of "Ok, MeFi is a Good Place to Be on the Internet. But why come here over everything else prospective members are already browsing/talking/doing to fill that role currently?"

See, that's one of the things that gets me hopping and excited, one of the things that makes me keep whining about removing the common barriers I see to going out and being a Metafilter Evangelist. (Mostly I stopped, again, because the twenty somethings in my circle were reluctant to give the place a try and read because of the barrier of the $5 joining fee.)

-Metafilter is a public place for discussion. That means that people who don't know the right people to get into the right slacks full of the smartest people can find it. That means that when someone says something really insightful here, I can share it with people who might or might not already be here. I can attract people in a more wholesale way than I can otherwise. I can meet people from more walks of life and different backgrounds than I might otherwise. I think that is really valuable! Discords and Slacks are great for private and semi private conversations, but they run on a friends and friends of friends model, and sometimes a public option is useful.

-Metafilter does longform text, and it encourages slower conversations. It is possible here to get overwhelmed, take a break for the night, and come back in the morning to find people still willing to talk to you without having gotten distracted. Fucking love that. Literally there is nowhere else public to do that except maybe Reddit.

-Metafilter prizes respect and social justice together, and our mods do their best to enforce those community values: we care enough about those things to staff and pay for them as the single most expensive part of this site. I think that the selling point of human moderators who are also part of this community is something we can strongly emphasize. I often see people hungry for this combination, too, especially those who have encountered situations like Winterfox or the ongoing Bad Art Friend saga where people have learned to weaponize the language of social justice as a cloak to hide bullying or abusive behavior. We care enough to try to fish the baby out of the bathwater, even though we're not perfect at it.

-There are a lot of smart, enthusiastic, earnest people here to have conversations with. This is a pretty good place to network if you do any kind of intellectual work, but it's easier to have a focused conversation here than it is on Twitter.

-No one here is ever going to fuck with your feeds to control what or who you see without your permission. Our mods, our community members, own the servers. There will be none of that venture capitalists bullshit here. We can't be quite as gleefully malevolent about our hosts here as Tumblr, but neither will our hosts treat is as fungible products.

-And that's just the Blue. Talk about Fanfare's potential as a fandom hub!
posted by sciatrix at 3:43 PM on October 13 [27 favorites]


You know what, fair enough. My apologies, I've let weariness get the better of me.

Those are all *fantastic* selling points for Metafilter, and you're right to be hopping & excited about it.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:54 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


atoxyl, back when the "I Help Fund Metafilter" campaign was begun, quite a few MeFites voluntarily set up subscriptions like that

I think I stated that in a harsher way than I really intended (though I did mean to be blunt, for effect) and overshadowed the intended emphasis. The point isn’t that the site was never worth that - they certainly could have asked a lot more from me to join in 2013, or when I was lurking a few years before that - or even that it definitively isn’t right this minute. It’s that there is half as much here as there was when I joined, and there’s little to cite to suggest that trend is about to reverse. It’s one thing for those of us who have been here forever to volunteer that kind of support because we hope to save our beloved MeFi. It’s quite another to think that’s a reasonable baseline for brand new users to join a faltering forum, and new users are the thing we need.
posted by atoxyl at 4:41 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


On a more positive note, and because I said I had thoughts about these kinds of questions:

And that's just the Blue. Talk about Fanfare's potential as a fandom hub!

I’m under the impression that Ask was the killer app before, and I don’t really see why it shouldn’t still be now. The competition is still terrible. Does anything really even exist besides Quora?

Metafilter does longform text, and it encourages slower conversations. It is possible here to get overwhelmed, take a break for the night, and come back in the morning to find people still willing to talk to you without having gotten distracted. Fucking love that. Literally there is nowhere else public to do that except maybe Reddit.

There will be none of that venture capitalists bullshit here.

I actually see a lot of nostalgia for old school web fora for these reasons, which it feels like we should be able to leverage. On the other hand, even though I like the lack of images - let alone moving images - that feels so far out of step with the rest of the web today that it might be too far. And the non-threaded, non-paged formatting of discussions here is great until it gets to a certain length or velocity of conversation and then becomes rather effort-intensive to follow.
posted by atoxyl at 4:49 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


When I buttoned on my previous, much longer-time account in 2016, membership was active and somewhat frenetic, with (imo) unprecedentedly heavy-handed moderation; the atmosphere of this space had become (I think I may be paraphrasing someone else in a MeTa from around that time) like a salon personally hosted by the mods in their home, with the mod team setting the agenda and carefully sculpting the direction of each discussion. Five years later, the prevailing vibe is more like a semi-abandoned apartment building where the landlords are willing to renew leases for the increasingly few remaining tenants but won't fix things, and well, you can't really fix them yourself because you don't own the unit. My guess is that this is why some folks are so zeroed in on the idea of a nonprofit or other fundamentally different governing model; because if the owners and real stakeholders are that genuinely burnt out, there's no clear way out of the hole other than radically reimagining what it means to hold a stake.
posted by dusty potato at 4:59 PM on October 13 [22 favorites]


And the non-threaded, non-paged formatting of discussions here is great until it gets to a certain length or velocity of conversation and then becomes rather effort-intensive to follow

I think it's fine for Metafilter to appeal to just a small slice of all possible users; there are so many people on the internet, that even the fraction of a percent who like long unthreaded text-only conversations amount to orders of magnitude more than the current user base. Also, there are some things for which I find myself reading reddit threads, and I don't know if I'm doing it wrong or what, because effort-intensive is exactly how I'd describe it. Whereas I find just scrolling down and reading to be as easy as it gets. (Ironic, because I actually advocated for threading on reddit back in its early, unthreaded, extremely niche-audience days.)

Which is all to say that instead of worrying about the people MF won't appeal to, it would be nice to see some marketing assaults launched against the many audiences that contain the weirdos who would be interested.

Eyebrows McGee, thanks for your input and enjoy your days off. In the interest of expectation-setting, is there any plan for loup or anyone else to participate here while you're gone?
posted by trig at 5:18 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


I definitely think the first step is to try to get more users for the metafilter that already exists. If that works, maybe there are resources for improvements, and maybe new users help push things in good directions. If it doesn’t work, then maybe the site is doomed, or maybe it makes a big change as a Hail Mary. But to me, any variation on we’ll make change X and then see if we can get new users is more of the same, where X is either an insignificant change or something that never actually gets done.
posted by snofoam at 5:30 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]


I thought trig put it nicely.

“Long Unthreaded Text-Only Conversations With Interested Weirdos” could be Metafilter’s advertising slogan, proudly worn on a T-shirt. I’m glad to have found the rest of the fraction of a percent who prefer this style.
posted by Vatnesine at 8:56 PM on October 13 [8 favorites]


I agree that increasing the number of participants/users here is a critical step for improving the site funding, but I don't know if it's necessarily the first step, or one of several steps that must all be taken in parallel. (To be as clear as possible, I'm not saying that I disagree that it's the first step, just that I don't know, and I can see reasonable arguments otherwise.)

As far as I understand it from the discussions in this and previous threads, our options for improving funding include, but are certainly not limited to:

1) More advertising income. But it seems like this is not a reliable source of income any more due to changes in the nature of the web advertising economy, and there may not be much that can be done about this. Possibly taking out ads to drive traffic to the site could help.

2) Increase the fraction of the existing userbase that voluntarily supports the site with recurring financial contributions. The current fund drive approach seems to have been somewhat successful at this but so far has not been sufficient to balance the site's budget. Whether continued fund drives to reach a larger fraction of the userbase will be effective remains to be seen but certainly seems worth doing. Increasing the visibility/urgency of fund drive messaging may help, similar to Wikipedia's slightly annoying but effective guilt-trips.

3) From the fraction of the userbase that already voluntarily contributes to the site, increase the average recurring contribution. The fund drive also seems to have been somewhat successful at this. I don't think I've seen any mention of what the proportion of the fund drive's $1100/month result came from existing contributors bumping up their regular amount, versus completely new contributors joining in. I don't know that we need a public discussion of these numbers (though I'm certainly quite curious), but cortex hopefully should be attentive to the difference between these two sources, as they probably represent pools of future contributions with quite different elasticity. Again, increasing the visibility/urgency of messaging around fund drives is probably necessary.

3) Increase the size of the userbase so that there's a larger pool that may be willing to contribute. There are some concerns that have been raised about this. (To name a few: How large is Metafilter's potential userbase that could be reached, actually? Would increasing the site population too quickly lead to a dilution of site culture? Is there a size at which Metafilter could become too large to function properly?) However I think most people seem to agree that Metafilter would not only be a more vibrant place if the userbase increased in size, but this would also help the funding situation by allowing the cost of mod infrastructure to be spread out across more people, ideally with voluntary contributions. Many suggestions for this have been raised, including: remove the $5 signup fee; give users "invites" to encourage growth via social connections; advertise the site explicitly on social media or elsewhere on the web; engage in SEO to improve hits, especially for AskMe, on major search engines.

4) Identify other sources of voluntary contribution outside the traditional userbase (e.g., lurkers without accounts who may sufficiently value the site). I have the impression from a few things cortex has said in the past that traffic from non-signed-in users is a significant fraction of site traffic, suggesting there may be a sizeable pool of regular lurkers without accounts. (Hi if you're out there! Glad you're reading. I was one of you once, for quite a while. If you ever decide to take the plunge and create an account we'll be glad to have you!) Whether any meaningful fraction of these lurker-members without accounts may value the site enough to contribute to it financially is an open question, but maybe it's worth considering if there's some way to reach them.

5) Increase the sales of Metafilter-branded merchandise and/or the profit margins on said merchandise. This would require advertising such merchandise more aggressively on the site. Speaking as someone who generally hates being advertised to, I would be totally fine with this. Some community members have expressed a desire to contribute design work for such merchandise in the past, and I think this non-monetary form of contribution should be welcomed, with an explicit understanding that artists/designers are choosing to provide something of value to help support the community. It's been I think at least some years since this idea was floated but I still think it's a good one and worth revisiting.

6) Provide new services ancillary to the primary community function of the site that can be sold with a significant profit margin and either supporting or at least not detracting from the primary function of the site. Someone (I think maybe it was sciatrix but apologies if I'm not crediting correctly) once floated the idea of selling Metafilter-branded URLs for member blog hosting, as a bit of a prestige item. I can see many difficulties with actually implementing such a thing, especially with the site's finances in its current state, but I do think it's an interesting idea that deserves some discussion. I'd certainly consider shelling out for getyourownblog.metafilter.com/biogeo or some such.

7) Switch Metafilter to a pay-to-access model, requiring monthly payments to maintain an account. I don't think anyone actually wants this, and cortex has been pretty definitively against this in the past, but I'm including it in the list for completeness.

Anyway this is a summary of things I've seen discussed in this and previous threads mixed with a bit of my own thoughts; I hope it is helpful as we all think about how to make sure the site is funded and the mods are properly compensated for their work.
posted by biogeo at 9:35 PM on October 13 [8 favorites]


There's no road to survival that doesn't pass through "add new users" and "annoy some crusty old members with dreaded Change". So just turn off the $5 joining fee right now. We've spent literally years debating this stuff, someone needs to do something and that's the easiest and most obvious first step. Do it! Do it now!
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:24 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


It's worth remembering that every time there has been a Significant Change (at least since I've been reading/a member) there's been enormous resistance. I don't blame the owner/mods for being hesitant and/or wary about implementing new things.
posted by h00py at 2:40 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


On the subject of lurkers, there's also the classic "Metafilter accounts are free for the next two weeks! Join now!" (Which is also a potential bit of social media news to spread)
posted by trig at 2:40 AM on October 14 [11 favorites]


And if the mods do take any steps like that, then please don't be afraid to use the community as a resource. The site is intimidating to new users? We've got people who would be thrilled to put together a welcome page, short video guide, whatever.
posted by trig at 3:03 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]




None of that's relevant because we're not talking about "gaining new customers" by running an expensive ad campaign or something. We're just switching off an obstacle to new customers.

Also if your business is dying and unprofitable because it doesn't have enough customers for it to be financially viable, you don't have a whole lot of choice about trying to get new ones.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:43 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


Many people above have suggested prioritising the acquisition of new users as the central component of a growth strategy for MetaFilter. Every one of the articles I linked to is specifically about growth strategies and how focussing on the acquistion of new users is not as beneficial to ROI and growth as the retention of existing users.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:34 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


What about concrete suggestions that could be done right now by a team of burned-out and overworked people?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:16 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


It'll change the culture here.
It'll get too crowded here.
Where will all these new people park?

(Oh sorry, I thought I was at a meeting in my neighborhood).
posted by octothorpe at 5:30 AM on October 14 [13 favorites]


“What about concrete suggestions that could be done right now by a team of burned-out and overworked people?”

As a transformational coach, helping burned out people to develop strategies and plans for moving forward in their lives and their work is an area I specialise in. I would love to offer my support. However, that is not what's being asked for.

One of the key topics in the OPP is growth and funding strategies. I'm seeing several people here contributing many well-meaning ideas for this involving new user acquisition, which is why I felt it helpful to share links to supplement those perspectives with current business growth best practices and research.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:44 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


One of the key topics in the OPP is growth and funding strategies. I'm seeing several people here contributing many well-meaning ideas for this involving new user acquisition, which is why I felt it helpful to share links to supplement those perspectives with current business growth best practices and research.

Did you even read what TheophileEscargot wrote above? While it is generally true that acquiring new users is more expensive than retaining old users, that is in the context of big budget advertising campaigns and the like. Surely you can see that turning off the $5 entry fee is not the same thing, and is a reasonable measure to make the site more welcoming to new users? Whether you think that's a good idea or not is a different issue, but it's not because it's a hugely expensive measure, and general guidelines about how much it costs to retain vs. acquire new users are not really relevant here (since they assume very significant acquisition costs, not turning off a $5 entry fee).
posted by peacheater at 7:04 AM on October 14


Well this is why we really can't do the kind of real product management that's needed in threads like this.
posted by bleep at 7:16 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Well this is why we really can't do the kind of real product management that's needed in threads like this.

No kidding. Generic articles about product management are great for MBA papers and consultant fees but it's not true for every field or every business.

Eyeballs on the Internet is a very specific field and there is no online community that can depend on no growth, because the community is the product, so if you focus solely on retention you are essentially saying that you're going to stop growing your product.

(Obviously it's a bit more nuanced than that if you get people involved in posting more etc., but the fact is that user-generated content is not, say, a gym or a fitness facility.)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:30 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


"Retain more of your current customers" is to product management as "change your logo" is to marketing, really.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:37 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Regardless, growth and churn reduction aren't even contradictory goals: the site's shrinking content and increasingly non-diverse membership isn't the only reason people leave, but it seems to be one of them. (I do agree that making this a place more people want to stay is extremely important, but besides everything mentioned above, both finding out what would keep people here and, especially, implementing it are steps that take way more mod energy, or financial outlay in terms of hiring someone professional to do it, than seems realistic any time soon.)
posted by trig at 8:00 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Sure, they're not. I agree that the diversity and inclusion issues are global for new or existing members. I have slightly divergent opinions on how much needs to change internally before new members become more of a focus than usually appears in these threads, but *everyone* has an opinion.

But parachuting into a community discussion in a community that is historically almost monofocused on the needs of its current members (to greater or lesser extents, but seriously, the amount of work on that vs. marketing or recruiting or business development or partnerships is a huge gulf - that is not a cranky remark, just an observation) to share a few business articles on retaining members is like, okay, thanks for your remarkable insight.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:13 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


What about concrete suggestions that could be done right now by a team of burned-out and overworked people?

Turning the site off/going read-only for a specified little while and taking a vacation and/or focused retreat to really hash some hard decisions out at the level they need to actually be done at has also received a (soft) No in the past. Which in my book is far more tragic than any of the looping frustrated ruminations on organizational restructuring, because ultimately organization structure is just a tool, but practically never getting room to breathe is a health cost.
posted by Drastic at 8:30 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't call "participating in every thread and trying to help" exactly "parachuting into a community discussion" nor do I think it's something that deserves snark. This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by bleep at 8:49 AM on October 14 [8 favorites]


That's true, I'll apologize for that language. I am frustrated with the idea though that you can just link to some external generic business advice and that makes you an expert.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:23 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


The reasons to prioritize adding members include 1) the current membership base is too small to sustain the site financially 2) the site is not putting any (visible) effort into growing the user base, and hasn’t ever done it despite years of the same decline. Arguably, a big percentage of the work currently being done is customer retention, directly or indirectly. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect more to be done in that area. Maybe it would be possible to optimize so it is more effective. But that will never accomplish more than slow the decline and collapse of the site.
posted by snofoam at 9:27 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Thanks, warriorqueen. I'm not an expert, but I have been a product owner and UX researcher, designer and strategist for 5+ years, all in the online tech space. I also have a bit of experience with online community engagement and growth. I linked to generic articles because the principles around acquisition vs. retention are commonly understood within the product management space, but less so outside of it. I'm trying to bring that insight into the community from credible, accessible sources.

I've never suggested that MetaFilter focus only on retention, or only on acquisition/new users, or that we do/don't remove the fees, or whatever else. I'm simply trying to share that it's been repeatedly proven that for most businesses (including user-generated content businesses like MetaFilter), the cost of getting new users (I'm not advocating any specific method here, doesn't require big marketing campaigns!) is more than the cost of keeping the users you have. And the ROI is greater.

Right now, churn is so high (and new user acquisition is so low) that the site is a 'leaky bucket' — you can spend resources to bring new users in, but the energy is wasted because they fall right through the same holes in the bucket that the existing users do. Improving retention (ie, reducing churn) is fixing some of the holes in the bucket.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:36 AM on October 14 [8 favorites]


Turning the site off/going read-only for a specified little while and taking a vacation and/or focused retreat to really hash some hard decisions out at the level they need to actually be done at has also received a (soft) No in the past.

I'm kinda with the mods on that one. I think there's a big percentage of the membership who you don't really see represented in these threads — people who treat the site more as a source of interesting links and questions that they'll occasionally drop a comment or two into, but don't think of as a community they're massively emotionally invested in — for a lot of those people a break in Metafilter would very swiftly become permanent.

A planned fortnight or month of zero-moderation though...?? (only a half-serious suggestion!)
posted by Klipspringer at 11:04 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Well, you could have led with that - but quite honestly, your approach still reminds me of the "experts" and "consultants" that would be brought in during my 20+ years of building online communities and running major magazine sites. Generic and decontextualized.

I mean, we can respectfully disagree if you actually make an argument other than "it's been proven for most businesses." The life cycle of long-term, large communities requires a growth strategy. Although MetaFilter is losing members, I don't think it's a leaky bucket because of lack of attention to retention.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:06 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


But the fact is without actually doing the ux research that's needed to tell us where the issues really are we're all speculating in a rather pointless manner.
posted by bleep at 1:22 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Is the issue with retaining users or new users is a question only competent ux research can answer (which I know because that's my job) and there's no desire to do that so there's no point speculating on what the right thing to do is.
posted by bleep at 1:25 PM on October 14


I never would have imagined a day where my approach to MetaFilter comes across as generic and decontextualised.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:34 PM on October 14 [7 favorites]


Regarding user retention I just have the idea, per my earlier comment, that there are conflicting and perhaps incompatible ideas of what people want this place to be - more moderated versus less moderated just to choose a relatively abstract example. And then there are sort of group tipping points - people don’t like feeling like they are the only ones representing their particular politics or personal identity, and of course they really don’t like feeling like people like themselves are actively disrespected or mistreated - and then there are people like me who are okay with a lot of visions of MeFi and unlikely ever to say “fuck it, I’m done” but just visit less as the people we can identify and enjoy hearing from fade away and there’s less discussion in general. So at some point whoever is in charge kind of has to pick which way they want to go, which is going to lead to some people on the other end of the spectrum falling off, which is why it feels like that has to come with some idea of how to bring in fresh blood who are excited about whatever Future Metafilter is about.
posted by atoxyl at 1:50 PM on October 14 [9 favorites]


I agree that research is great, but of course that's not what I'm responding to at all.

I don't know how to put this gently and I know I've gotten snippy but seriously, you look at a site that has no marketing that its users are aware of, very little content strategy, no business development that users are aware of, no formal partnerships that users are aware of, no person with anything like marketing or acquisition in their title that users are aware of, very little social media presence, etc., while said team spends quite a bit -- really a lot -- of effort on moderation, answering user concerns via the contact form, working on user pony requests -- and say guess what, it's cheaper for most businesses to retain their users, look, here are a bunch of links that say so which might help you understand.

(Links from like, analytics consulting companies which clearly put out the right content for clicks into their sales funnel! Which, you know, doesn't make it wrong but I'm just saying, as in the window I opened to check my memory on this the chatbot is asking me "Hi! I help companies improve their retention!" so, you know. Sources.)

I don't know what to say other than what I've said, and really, I think it really is Cortex and the team's business and am happy to help when and if they are ready. In general I don't want to argue about it, I just found that set of links really condescending and sounding very official without being tied to reality which is one of my hot buttons. Like I said, I have gone through this so many times. Do you know what the current ROI is? Is there even an I? Why are you suggesting a retention strategy when you just don't know.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:54 PM on October 14 [8 favorites]


Do you know what the current ROI is?

Six croutons of illustration time per $1k in recurring donations? For sure no one really knows.

As far as retention cost, I assume it is about 7 million mod hours to reduce the number of people buttoning after a blowout by half.
posted by snofoam at 2:51 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Alternative suggestion: raise the cost of membership to (say) $20, but drop the “one or two questions a week” rule and allow non-members to ask questions.

Metafilter’s income reportedly comes mostly from people browsing for answers in AskMe. Allowing casual browsers to ask questions would increase the number of questions, particularly current, topical questions, which would increase the value of the AskMe database and make it appear higher in search results. It would also make it “stickier” for casual browsers, also increasing the revenue stream.

But, as much as people like asking questions, they also like answering them. Many people browsing questions will want to post their own answers, and some of them will join just in order to do that. The increased membership cost will help pay for the initial increase in moderation before the corresponding revenue increase kicks in, and it makes membership look more prestigious. It’s also counterintuitive enough to be worth reporting on, and news coverage will help drive traffic here, leading to more membership, more non-member browsing, and more revenue.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:56 PM on October 14 [6 favorites]


I'm a very infrequent poster, but Metafilter has been a regular part of my online world for what seems like forever, and I really want to see it survive.

Like many here, I'm also a UX strategist. Personally I have extensive experience in both start-up product development and enterprise-level digital transformation projects, so I obviously have an opinion as to what I think needs to be done here -- and yes I agree that there should be a laser-focus on acquisition right now since there is literally zero effort being applied to that and organic sign-ups are negligible as we've recently discovered.

But the reality is that this needs to be done properly, in a structured, targetted, repeatable, and quantifiable way - which is dependent on implementing and championing the right processes, which itself is dependent on knowledge of what those are. Those of us who do this for a living can offer some pointers: Develop personas + target audiences, research pain points and delights for each, codify a unique value proposition, develop a marketing plan, copywrite marketing material, work out how to track your pirate metrics (Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue) and iterate the strategy accordingly. But what is needed here is engaging an actual professional to plan properly.

There are three issues with rolling out any program like this - lack of knowledge, lack of resource, and lack of will.

The first two are solvable - find the right professionals from inside or outside the user base to help, and use donation drives in a more directed way to achieve tangible program goals. (Personally I'm not keen to donate any more cash because it's just being thrown down the drain right now, but I would be very happy to donate my professional time, or donate money towards specific measurable targets).

Lack of will is a much bigger problem, and it seems there is the fatalistic belief that MetaFilter is essentially outmoded, undesirable, and has no viable sustainable business model. Which is really frustrating because 1. until you actually do the research and have the right analytics that is not actually known, and 2. many businesses have evolved through worse times, with the right professional help, and this help is available.
posted by iivix at 4:09 PM on October 14 [16 favorites]


> Metafilter’s income reportedly comes mostly from people browsing for answers in AskMe. Allowing casual browsers to ask questions would increase the number of questions, particularly current, topical questions, which would increase the value of the AskMe database and make it appear higher in search results. It would also make it “stickier” for casual browsers, also increasing the revenue stream.

With respect, this is related to my point above. This may be a good idea, but it's a series of hypotheses that requires qualitative and quantitative investigation into user segmentation, user behaviour, perception of value, SEO, cost-per-acquisition / activation, ROI, and more. Even a "simple" suggestion like this really needs a professional to research and implement it.
posted by iivix at 4:30 PM on October 14 [6 favorites]


I'd like to apologize for taking an unpleasant tone above in my response to Eyebrows McGee. It's not my goal to be perceived as a sarcastic bully, and I am sorry for coming off that way. I let my feelings get away with me. I regret it and am sorry for the negative tone.

Speaking with a cooler head, there are some reasons for why I believe it is important to share information like decisions about business models more clearly. First, I want to make it abundantly clear that I no longer advocate for MeFi to become a nonprofit, and have not done for a long time, since coming to understand it very much a non-starter with the staff. To the extent I keep talking about NPOs, it's mostly for two reasons: (1) someone brings it up again, possibly unfamiliar with the full history of the conversation, and (2) to try to correct misunderstandings and misperceptions of what nonprofits are, how they work, and what they can do, which tend to crop up from people who are not very familiar with them or have had a negative experience. That's more of a personal mission for me, having not much to do with MeFi. But (3) the third reason is, in fact, that the site employees truly never have explained their rationales anywhere near as clearly as was done above. They've said "not happening" or the equivalent of "we talked to a lawyer and they said no," but the reasons given were often vague and sometimes seemed incomplete or based on assumptions that were incorrect. And I think the full rationale is something the users deserve. As noted, I still think the investigation of the idea has been incomplete; I get that the prospect is intimidating but the deeper difficulty is the lack of interest and energy to explore analogues, and the fact that it's not an off-the-shelf model and would require some careful research, planning and structuring. The main reason it would never work is not that nonprofits don't get things done, or have to decide by a "committee of the whole," or are rife with drama, or would be impossible to manage, any other such negative perception - it's because the staff, tired, burned out, frustrated with users, under-supported, and apparently not so eager to share governance, is not well positioned to undertake what would indeed be a time-consuming project to explore and begin structuring an alternative or hybrid model creatively, happily, and inclusively. So I get it. Non-starter on all counts.

A sense of frustration and sadness persists. Sometimes I ask myself why this seems to mean kind of a lot to me. Then I remember that I've been part of this site for 20 years. MeFi has been there (almost) 24/7 every day during that time, whenever I needed something curious or new or companionable. I've learned a tremendous amount, been challenged and educated, had wonderful conversations. For a while, admin'ed a lovely spinoff community. Met friends who became IRL friends, who I still visit and stay in touch with. Indirectly thru MeFi, met my husband. So you could say I've felt invested. And not even the most invested person here. I'm invested in a lot of communities and organizations, mostly IRL. And I try to lend what I can to take care of and improve them.

But over the past few years, I've felt alienated. It's in part due to the shifts in mod culture that seemed to be more about clampdown than about cultivating community. A certain lack of care for how communications happen. And the slowness to respond to the expressed needs of people to have a space they could participate in without running a gauntlet of bullying. But it's mostly due to the sense that there's no plan to hold the core value of the place together, for the benefit of the community that makes and maintains everything good about it.

We don't need to go back into all the threads, starting at least 10 years ago, that talked about the need for some long-term planning. Sure, "web ad models have shifted," but when weren't they shifting? That erosion began a real long time ago and it would have been a good idea to be planning for a possible revenue cliff then, too. Even more so nowadays, now that ad buyers have clued in that internet advertising is near worthless. That ship has fully left the harbor. Any future plan that is pinned on sustaining the site based largely or even substantially on ad revenue seems like a failure out of the gate.

So for years, various folks who know various things have suggested: make money differently. Have a different business plan. Institute a subscription model. Incorporate another way. Organize new forms of membership. Develop a regularized, professional fundraising campaign. Many many ideas. People try to help and pull out the tools they know the best.

Those things might all be a part of the solution. But what the whole the situation calls for is transformative thinking. Instead, what we are able to witness of planning is a lot of deck-chair moving. Newsletter? Deck chair. More questions in Ask? Deck chair. Survey? Deck chair (and a classic move that orgs do when they lose touch with their internals. What would it be about? Why would it be acted on? ). These are tiny, incremental things that take up people's time, but don't actually do much to rebuild this venture on a viable platform.

The facts as we know them:
- MetaFilter is running a deficit budget. It can't cover its bills with its revenue.
- Users and donors provide cash infusions to cover crisis points, but these are not sustained, planned ahead of time, or consistent
- Employees have had wage, benefit, and hours cuts
- Employees are constantly pleading burnout and exhaustion and have evident frustration
- Costs will increase because they do
- User decline will continue because there is negative replacement of users and has been for some time

This is not a recipe for success. MetaFilter needs to reimagine itself. That's what I meant above by "would rather die than change," and I wasn't exaggerating. If it chooses not to change, the likeliest future looks like: gradually there are fewer and fewer mods, and volunteer mods start to replace paid mods. There are fewer active users overall, less user activity, and fewer new users. That maintains a vicious cycle where fewer users post less new content which attracts fewer new users, fewer ad viewers, and even less activity. So, project out 3-5 years, if the code still runs, it's a sleepy site with kind of a wildly deep archive, but it's like a ghost town where a boom happened 50 years ago. And there are a few friendly people, probably largely white tech guys, still hanging around joshing about stuff. That's the writing on the wall.

Now, is life surprising? It is. Maybe the endgame is that someone else buys MeFi to transition into their own tech company or run it as a hobby project. In such a case they'd basically be buying the userbase and that data, since I'm guessing they probably wouldn't want to run it on the old platform. That'd be a big change and would probably deeply reshape the community.

And maybe those who run the place now will have a sudden awakening where they realize their endlessly critical userbase was never the enemy, but a group of highly invested people willing to offer their professional knowledge, and maybe they start reaching out and getting some good advice and leading a process of strategic change that does research, makes plans, and follows through on them with clear structure so we all know how we can support this thing and feel good about it at the same time. Of course, right now the input they're getting feels chaotic, noisy, and contentious. And I understand that messiness of these times in an organization life cycle can be profoundly uncomfortable and difficult to sit with and to work though. But a big part of that messiness exists only because no one has facilitated an actual strategic process to gather, sort, sift, and prioritize the ideas and identify the people capable of steering the solutions. That's what the next step would be, in a healthy organization.

Eyebrows notes above that the "ideas are kind of hazy" and that they would have to be shown a "compelling model" of an alternative structure to begin to entertain new ideas. Well, of course ideas hazy right now. There is simply no platform for developing concrete models with some realistic projections without first gathering information and prioritizing based on clear parameters to guide change. Questioning assumptions. Going through scenarios. Comparing. Inventing. That's what that process is. When I do strategic planning with clients, I don't give them a cut-and-dried model and say "here it is, just implement this." I work with them in an organic process that includes fact gathering, data modeling, consultation with different kinds of stakeholders, processing and organizing ideas. All that information goes on the table, and the ultimate decisions are unique, organic, and inclusive. I feel sure that at one time there could have been such a process for MeFi and it would have generated some pretty cool, brilliant, maybe innovative solutions that could have been that model for others.

But after feeling a real sense of dismissiveness and irritation that any user would be deigning to make suggestions, a lot of the folks, including me, who were once willing to make a good-faith effort to help MeFi figure out how to do membership, fundraising, or governance are really not willing to give any more. And especially not to respond to something like the statement "anyone who has concrete suggestions about productive modes of shared governance (or shared governance adjacent things) contact me directly...and we can talk about it in a more direct and focused way." Why would anyone with such suggestions do that, at this point? To get shot down? Mocked in MeTaTalk? Have their professional experience dismissed? For years, folks came forward with offer after offer to do a consultation and I don't know of even one who ever got a call, an email, even a DM expressing any curiosity about what such solutions could look like. At this stage, we're hearing and seeing that the staff wants to keep all organizational planning to the staff. We also see that the staff consensus is "the current structure of the business is the right one," at least "for now." Which is a weird thing to say when you've got all the red flags listed above - as a business, it's on the operating table with its ribs cracked open. So why would I, or anyone with ideas, work particularly hard to try to sell MeFi on the idea of alternative revenue structures? We aren't seeking to prove anything or win anything. Most have just wanted to help. And they could have helped, at one point.

So there's an element of just plain grief, as well as bruised feelings, and other components not really worth digging into. I think, though, at bottom, this organization is on the rocks. And it's not doing right by its users. Who, after all, create the value and are here mainly to enjoy the creative output supplied by one another. So it's not about what model is chosen, or how many mods there are, or how many chairs are on the Lido deck. It's about missing the feeling that something a lot of people care about is being well taken care of, and that the care is mutual, reciprocal, and based on strong positive relationships. The business side always existed to support and foster the community. The community, the conversation, is the core. Whatever needs to happen to support the community's thriving is what needs to happen. If I can take the liberty to speak on behalf of at least some of those who are disappointed, we are disappointed not because we are individual champions of idea or another about what's best to do, but because we don't see the evidence of meaningful conversations about long-term survival and health. And if they are happening, we, the users, are not included in the effort to determine the fate of the community we belong to and give to.
posted by Miko at 4:36 PM on October 14 [52 favorites]


Miko, having called out your response to Eyebrows before, I'd like to say that while I think we're probably not on exactly the same page on a lot of things here, I really appreciate you laying out your thoughts and feelings on this in such detail. I think I've got a much better understanding of where you're coming from and why you feel as frustrated as you do with the lack of progress on a number of really important site issues over the last 5-10 years. I also really respect and appreciate that you also care about this place so much, as I think all of us participating in this thread do. While I may not approve of some of your behavior towards Eyebrows and the other mods around this issue, I genuinely appreciate and admire your willingness to apologize for the negative tone. Not just from this but for many other ways you've contributed over the years, I'm glad you're part of this community.
posted by biogeo at 7:33 PM on October 14 [9 favorites]


Survey? Deck chair (and a classic move that orgs do when they lose touch with their internals. What would it be about? Why would it be acted on? ).

Are you this arrogant to your clients as well?

You have a wide-ranging diagnosis of what's wrong, and it's based on what? Your gut feelings and a feud with the moderators?

A survey is a way to find out what people think is wrong (or even what they think is right), instead of guessing. People have guessed that a lot of things are wrong— entirely contradictory things— but no one knows. Complaints in Metatalk tell what some talkative individuals think, but are a bad way to generalize to the whole userbase.

There's a whole industry devoted to enterprise feedback management— the company I once worked for had clients in half the Fortune 500. But apparently they're all idiots and the mods only need to survey one user, yourself.
posted by zompist at 8:42 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


I didn't find it arrogant at all and I think your comment is unfair.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:46 PM on October 14 [13 favorites]


This may be a good idea, but it's a series of hypotheses that requires qualitative and quantitative investigation […]

Absolutely. I’m just throwing it in to encourage discussion, hopefully as a prelude to such investigation.

As far as I know we don’t have any basis for assessing suggestions at present because Metafilter has never done even basic user research. A while back I asked whether anyone had followed up to find out why users left; a moderator contacted me privately and the short answer was, basically not. A program of the sort you describe would be a really, really good idea.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:13 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


I joined earlier this year after a while of lurking on AskMe. What got me to join was the culture there - interesting and useful questions, thoughtful and thorough responses. Since joining, I've noticed that the culture on the Blue feels different. I'm often nervous about jumping into a discussion there. I can think of a few reasons this might be:

1) I still feel like an outsider; lots of people on this site appear to have known each other for years. Like any social circle, it can just be difficult to break into. (And I'm very much a people-loving extroverted non-socially-anxious person, so I can only imagine that the barrier to entry can feel a lot higher for other newbies!)

2) I think the discussion often suffers from commenters assuming bad faith and defaulting to argumentative stances rather than collaborative ones. To be clear, I'm not talking about tone-policing comments that call out racism/ableism/etc. or that enforce boundaries. What I mean is more that often a discussion can have an underlying feel of hostility for seemingly no reason. And in these situations the comments often aren't egregious enough to report to a mod, so I don't necessarily think this is a moderation issue. It's just more of a vague sense of like, "oh, if I say something, this person or that person might immediately jump to pointing out what's wrong with what I said, or give me a snarky comeback, so I'd better not". I'm also not saying that disagreement is bad! I'd love to be disagreed with! Just, like, cooperatively and with assumed goodwill (unless I've been hurtful, in which case obviously push back however you feel is warranted).

Anyway, my point is that if I'd come to the Blue first rather than AskMe and I'd gotten this impression of MeFi culture instead, I don't think I would have joined as readily. But that said, I think this default-argumentative stance happens other internet spaces as well, particularly anonymous ones, so I don't think it's necessarily a MeFi problem, and I don't have a solution. Just wanted to put in my 2c around why new people might feel disincentivized to join/participate in this space.
posted by chaiyai at 10:56 PM on October 14 [50 favorites]


Thank you for sharing, chaiyai.
And even though i joined 7 years ago, i feel pretty much exactly like you describe.
posted by 15L06 at 3:18 AM on October 15 [2 favorites]


Zompist, i think personally attacking Miko (" Are you this arrogant to your clients as well? Etc) is not only nasty but also counterproductive.
To make it clear, i am not on "Team Miko", and do not share their opinion. But attacking them in such a personal manner is completly wrong.
posted by 15L06 at 4:00 AM on October 15 [3 favorites]


I’m on “Team Miko”.
posted by grouse at 4:18 AM on October 15 [14 favorites]


I have been here in some form or fashion for 15 years and I often still feel like chaiyai. I am sure the snarky comebacks are meant in good fun, but they can be confusing and upsetting for new users. I also used to get scolded by other users a lot on the Blue for not understanding site culture or history.
posted by all about eevee at 6:42 AM on October 15 [9 favorites]


Miko clearly is not saying that hers is the only right opinion. But a survey is not necessarily the right tool to get community feedback of the kind that is needed.

The questions she's asking are worth answering: What *would* such a survey be about? And would it be acted on, or would the results just get filed into the same folder as other suggestions that have been made over the last several years?

If the staff is unwilling or unable to make big changes, then why bother asking what those changes should be?
posted by JDHarper at 7:40 AM on October 15 [4 favorites]


I hope we're all on "Team Metafilter" here.
posted by biogeo at 8:52 AM on October 15 [4 favorites]


A while back I asked whether anyone had followed up to find out why users left; a moderator contacted me privately and the short answer was, basically not.

I really don't understand why moderators seem dead-set on not having these conversations in public.

The general impression is that having an engaged and interested userbase is a problem to be solved and it's just really really sad because the bunker mentality and general hostility towards people who give a shit is destroying a wonderful and important community.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:55 AM on October 15 [13 favorites]


The general impression is that having an engaged and interested userbase is a problem to be solved
This is the impression I get as well. This thread is so absent of moderator input it's a bit surprising, especially when compared with discussions in the past. They're here, but they're not here here. I get it. I've been having trouble checking in and focusing on any of the work that I do that demands my emotional attention especially. I think some of this is pandemic burnout, but this has also been a long, long time coming for Metafilter. This change did not happen overnight or even in the last 18 months.

I think we have to accept that nothing will be done, really, and that sometime in the not so distant future, this site will become an abandoned and overgrown warehouse. And that's for a whole host of reasons that are both social and technical. It's no one's fault, really. Forget it, Marge, it's the Internet.
posted by twelve cent archie at 10:14 AM on October 15 [4 favorites]


Miko's roundup of discussions way above is very helpful. It's cortex's site, he gets to decide not to change the status of the organization. But, any organization asking for financial support is likely to have better success and engender more confidence if there is some pretty good transparency about financial and organizational issues. I think it's nuts that there's no Board of Advisors, especially when the membership is so full of competent smart people. I have no difficulty being on Team MeFi and Team Miko; if you don't recognize Miko as a valued member of the site, you've missed a great deal of insight.

shifts in mod culture I often feel an Us vs. Them, Mods against The World vibe. It's quite natural, members create work, but it's toxic and damaging. Members provide the content; they are a critical resource. Some large percent of posts and comments are great, neutral, brilliant, inoffensive, hilarious, mildly challenging, honestly controversial, questioning, informative. If I wanted to take the time, making links for those adjectives would be fun and useful. Some small percent of posts and comments are insincere, spam, trolling, rude, inappropriate, nasty, unacceptable. That's the price paid for user-created content. Metafilter does some of the best moderation on the Web; pretty sure we all agree with that. Complaining is fair. But it makes sense to have a non-adversarial relationship with the user base, to listen carefully and respectfully to concerns and suggestions. It makes sense to encourage and celebrate the membership. Investigating what attracts people, makes them want to stay, makes them want to leave, etc., is marketing.

As I understand it, the focus has been on training, documenting and growing in social responsibility; that's excellent and urgent. There's only so much bandwidth; that's a worthy priority.

There's a lot of members I miss. People move on, okay. But there are too many days with only a few front page posts. Ask.Me clearly generates way more traffic now, but the blue is still essential. We, as a community, with support and encouragement and leadership from cortex and other staff, should work on more and better posts and more fun, as well as the transparency and more meaningful communication.
posted by theora55 at 10:14 AM on October 15 [8 favorites]


Rock 'em Sock 'em: " I really don't understand why moderators seem dead-set on not having these conversations in public. "

Maybe because of how swimmingly productive this thread is going?
posted by signal at 10:18 AM on October 15 [4 favorites]


Maybe because of how swimmingly productive this thread is going?

Guess we should never talk about the site or the site governance in the section of the website specifically designed for that and used for that for 10? 15? years because this one thread is not "swimmingly productive"!

The engaged userbase literally funds the site. That's pretty fucking productive. There is a baseline level of disrespect for the traditions and culture of metafilter that comes from essentially shutting off metatalk, and it sucks and no amount of "it's the community's fault, actually" fixes or changes that.

Like, am I taking fucking hallucinogens right now or are we on a part of the site that is literally for this exact activity? Why do we have to justify wanting to use the site??
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:28 AM on October 15 [12 favorites]


Threads like these. Have you ever seen/ heard a pretty good negotiator at work? They re-cap what they've heard and check to see if it's accurate, try to refine their understanding of concerns. They listen to suggestions, make a list of suggestions made, report back at later meetings. They elicit comments and suggestions. There is a strong tendency here to respond that X was discussed on Metatalk but few members read every MeTa discussion thoroughly; it's not a useful or manageable record. Defensiveness is an understandable but unhealthy and counterproductive response. There are areas of improvement, but from a business perspective, the site is losing ground, as far as I can tell. Most of the of the membership wants to help, many would love to be involved in helping; the frustration has been growing. Threads like these are an indication that the membership cares what happens.
posted by theora55 at 10:45 AM on October 15 [5 favorites]


Metafilter does some of the best moderation on the Web; pretty sure we all agree with that.

No, we don't. As of the writing of this comment, dusty potato's got 20 favorites for "unprecedentedly heavy-handed moderation" and Ursula Hitler has 43 favorites for "the site may have kind of p.c.'ed itself to the brink of obsolescence" and "no matter how careful and considerate I try to be, my comments will be deleted".

If you read through the past metatalk threads, you will find the exact same complaint. The charge that MF's modding practices punish folks for straying from a narrow set of acceptable opinions is very common.
posted by factory123 at 10:54 AM on October 15 [10 favorites]


factory123, I've been to some of the rest of the web. I am not uncritical of moderation here, but it's far, far better than anyplace else I hang out, so I'll stand by that. I'm not uncritical, I recognize that good moderation is hard, and it's better, or maybe far less bad, than anywhere else I hang out. But, yeah, I made a blanket statement, those are always invalid here.
posted by theora55 at 11:09 AM on October 15 [8 favorites]


I can't speak for the mods, but I think part of the major reduction in mod participation in these threads is the feeling that any back-and-forth between the mods and users that involves any degree of pushback or disagreement rapidly degenerates into negative and unproductive threads where people button out. The Miko/EM back-and-forth was perhaps a taste of that before everyone (commendably) cooled off. The mod silence (or near silence) is not good, but the intense anger and buttoning were also not good (and I am sure exhausting).

Sometimes I've had arguments where it seems like no matter what I say, no matter how carefully and respectfully I try to explain my position, anything I say is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Generally, the only solution is just to stop talking and hopefully find another way or another time to communicate. That's what I imagine is going on here.
posted by Mid at 11:26 AM on October 15 [7 favorites]


Maybe because of how swimmingly productive this thread is going?

I do find it weird that the hallmark of Mefi's business/organizational model is a professionalized staff of moderators, yet the implication is often offered (by some users, not really the mods themselves) that the mods ought to need some sort of carrot to remain engaged in site issues... To be clear, no staff of any organization should tolerate verbal abuse and and people deserve better than just that low bar, but also, but also! I think employees who are on the clock in a public-facing job can simply expect to encounter a higher level of interpersonal discomfort than a spirited volunteer would. I know at my place of work I put up with frustrating relationships that I would have stepped away from years ago in my personal life... because it's my literal job to work through it!
posted by dusty potato at 11:29 AM on October 15 [8 favorites]


No, we don't. As of the writing of this comment, dusty potato's got 20 favorites for "unprecedentedly heavy-handed moderation" and Ursula Hitler has 43 favorites for "the site may have kind of p.c.'ed itself to the brink of obsolescence" and "no matter how careful and considerate I try to be, my comments will be deleted".

I'd like to just note for the record that I don't fully co-sign Ursula's take on this :) There are aspects of what they're saying that I probably agree with, but I find the mods' zero-tolerance for spelled-out bigotry to be one beneficial side effect of what I feel to be (especially in the past, seemingly not quite as much today) an overall heavy-handed moderation approach.
posted by dusty potato at 11:36 AM on October 15 [7 favorites]


I want to state for the record that just because I favorite a comment doesn't mean that I agree with everything stated within the comment. I agree with some aspects or believe the author has made a good point that contributes something worthwhile to the discussion, it is not an endorsement of the comment.
posted by all about eevee at 11:39 AM on October 15 [12 favorites]


I am talking to a 450 lb bear. She looked around to see if I was talking to a person and then focused on me. I gave her half a curried wrap from trader joes and she walked on her toes in a circle. She put her paw on my shoulder and made me sit down and I don't know what that meant but it kinda felt like the gods had abdicated and there is just this bear. That's kind of how Metafilter feels to me now-just this bear.

When I joined, my son was two and didn't need sleep in the way I don't in autumn so I let him pick a username for me cause he couldn't sleep either. I didn't want to drug him at that age. Metafilter was perfect. I could find stuff we both enjoyed and work it. I miss that.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:49 AM on October 15 [5 favorites]


I want to state for the record that just because I favorite a comment doesn't mean that I agree with everything stated within the comment. I agree with some aspects or believe the author has made a good point that contributes something worthwhile to the discussion, it is not an endorsement of the comment.

I favorited this comment.
posted by grouse at 12:19 PM on October 15 [4 favorites]


I hope we're all on "Team Metafilter" here.

Miko is on Team Metafilter, just like everyone else who's spent the last few years pouring time into trying to help the site. This is different than being on Team Mod.
posted by lalex at 12:23 PM on October 15 [9 favorites]


The community, the conversation, is the core.

Absolutely.

concrete suggestions about productive modes of shared governance (or shared governance adjacent things)

TLDR:
1) find out everyone's unmet needs
2) create tools for community meetings in metatalk
3) try out a process for change
4) shift moderator burden

Sorry in advance for the mega-long comment.

===

Oh hello. As someone who semi-left during the race conversations last summer, I have now some perspective, and it's kind of the same as before (but this time, with more! perspective!):

Metafilter is such a community. This is classic community. People who care, people who joke, who are angry, happy, upset, delighted, hurt, having fun, full of connections made over the years. It's definitely a particular demographic, and over the years has drifted from the communities I know, a bit. But that's what community is like sometime.

Metafilter is pretty unique that it is a long-lasting community, but it's also on the internet. And so, it almost feels like a cooperative to me, in that each person has... the same voice as anyone else. There's no limit to how much you can participate here. It's all just.. thoughts and typing. Conversations are single-threaded. It feels like each person has the same amount of "say" -- at least, compared to other forms of discussion now out there on the internet, sorted based off of votes, or some sort of addictive exploitative algorithmic sauce.

People are invested, and have equal say. And so of course there's a lot of discussion here in the threads about what should be done, what could happen. This is kind of amazing. It means people care. People spend time here. I've created, grown communities before. Do you all know how special the amount of care I see on this site is? It's so very special.

Communities are interesting, because they're about the people, not the founders/facilitators; but it's also about the facilitators. And to everyone's credit, I think many of the mods and early founders (or pretty-much-founders) really set a special tone here that carried metafilter through to its time. It's not easy, these things, especially in a day and age where forms of community are continually being eroded, where the social contracts between us all are constantly being challenged. And things weren't peachy keen on Metafilter back in the day - look back, and there's so much cringey sexist and racist and transphobic stuff. It's not perfect now, and it was much worse then. This was both a Metafilter problem and a world/US problem, and things shift. Frustratingly and way slower than they should, honestly... but I see the shift happening.

Communities. Are. HARD. I imagine that moderation is difficult. I say this from personal experience, as someone who has deeply been part of place-based communities and cooperatives. You have to be therapist, counselor, mediator, judge, teacher, manager, administrative person, janitor, all at once..... and also have your own boundaries! Let alone have time to be a human being or a friend! But this is also Meaningful Work. So it's also difficult to set boundaries and not have emotions personally involved in this. It's "a business" the way that being a doctor is "a business", honestly. The business is secondary to the practice itself, but money is necessary for people to.. live to do the work. So props to all the mods for trying, trying, trying.

And So many members are trying here. There are hundreds of suggestions and comments about people invested in a website!! It's wild. This amount of depth and care is rare. It's hard though, personally. I say this as someone who pretty much took a long hiatus, after being personally hurt by the discussions about race last summer. I get it. There's always a lot of hopeful optimism and pessimistic disappointment in these threads. I get it; I have it in me, writing this comment. It's difficult to wonder if things will change. ('Should I come back? Is this site still going to be so white? I don't know? But I've been here for so long..') But still. Many folks here are trying! Myself included, in writing this comment. And that's amazing. This is such classic community shit, I love it. So I see everyone trying.

===

Sooooo What To Do / What We Have Here:

(ENTER stage left, Mods, way overworked, deeply feeling underappreciated, underpaid, burnt out... AND still caring, wanting to help, wanting to make things right, finding joy, being helpful, trying to moderate well

(ENTER stage right, Community, wanting meaningful change, distrustful, upset, frustrated, feeling blocked, AND still trying, sharing posts, commenting, talking, participating, even in frustration)

(a flashing marquee lowers from the stage, with a neon pink arrow pointing down, that says: WE ARE METAFILTER)


===

This is difficult place to be! Let's recognize that that's where it is.

Why are we here?

I've started IRL communities and been in many cooperatives. Here's what I think is going on.

TLDR: Metafilter has a community friction problem, not a business/strategy problem.

- Metafilter's social structure operates like a community. A cooperative, even.
- Metafilter's financial structure operates like a business.
- Everyone feels a sense of ownership and care/frustration towards Metafilter.
- Everyone wants Metafilter to succeed and flourish, in some way, despite having different definitions of what this means.
- Members feel a sense of ownership and belonging over a community, and want to have say, but feel blocked and frustrated when this sense of ownership is not acknowledged, and paths towards action. Members want meaningful change, distrustful, upset, frustrated, feeling blocked, AND still trying, sharing posts, commenting, talking, participating.
- Moderators feel underappreciated and burnt-out, underpaid AND are still caring, wanting to help, wanting to make things right, finding joy, being helpful, trying to moderate well. Moreover, members don't have their livelihoods at stake; Metafilter mods do, which could contribute to a sense of scarcity or anti-risk-taking.

Add to this COVID-era and politics / economics-related deep stress and tension and interpersonal conflict and burnout that is societally prevalent.

In other words: there's an emotional stand-off between mods and the members. Mods feel attacked and hurt. Members feel unlistened to, and hurt.

===

So, What could Metafilter do?

Here are some of my thoughts:

Sounds like everyone feels unlistened to. so:
1) Understand what the mods and the members' unmet needs are through facilitated community conversations

Find a way to guide community conversations with a bit more prioritization so that everyone can focus their energies, so:
2) Make it possible for community consensus to be seen in special Metatalk threads

There's a standoff between mods and members. Members want change. so:
3) Lessen the divide between mods and members by giving members more agency through a clear, regular process for community-driven decisions and actions. It should be clear to everyone: "What can members do to change the site, and how?"

There's a standoff between mods and members. Mods are burnt-out. so:
4) Find a way to lessen moderator load or transform moderator process through a discussion with the community. Perhaps towards a more facilitator-based model.



### 1. Conversation: A facilitated How Does Metafilter Feel conversation

In every conflict, there are unmet needs. I think things could become very clearer if we, as a community, understood some of the following questions through a facilitated conversation:

1. What are the mods' needs? Which of these are currently not met? It's clear that the mods are feeling burnt-out, underappreciated, yelled at. They must need help, empathy, and compassion. It seems that the mods are unwilling to change decisions in ways that seem to have member consensus. This must be because something is blocking them from moving, that they have unmet needs. This could range from "needing to feel valued by the community" to "needing healthcare".

This conversation could happen in a mods-only Metatalk, or an offline, mods-only facilitated conversation with some volunteer members present that is transcribed and published later.

2. What are the members' needs? Which of these are currently not met? It's clear that the membership is frustrated, not seeing pathways to change, not understanding what to do. They must need communication, transparency, agency, and hope. The membership also has needs, and many of these are not met. As a member, I feel this myself.

This conversation could happen in a special Metatalk thread below, or through a community-driven census.



### 2. Tool: community-driven metatalk threads for 'dotvoting' or opinion prioritization

Problem:
- Members have a lot of ideas and capacity
- However, due to Metafilter's single-threaded nature, members are not able to consolidate or overall ascertain importance or priority to these ideas
- Because of this, overall agreement is slow and hard to form, and only through discourse
- Mods aren't able to respond to member feedback because there is no Single Community Answer that is supported through general consent/consensus
- Instead, mods respond to an avalanche of comments.
- Members feel unheard and unresponded to
- Mods feel overwhelemed and burnt out

I noticed this especially in the racial slur feature Metatalk -- despite overall consensus actually appearing to exist, it was hard to acknowledge it because the "what if" questioning of edge cases was occluding the overall consensus.

The solution:
- Find a way that members can organize together to consolidate / prioritize sentiment. This is often done through tools like dotstorming or multi-voting. (Facilitators on Mefi, please chime in)

The implementation:
- In these Metatalk threads, anyone can say anything they want, but: there are 'special' idea comments that have a particular convention (e.g.): [[IDEA: Metafilter buys a pony farm]]. These comments are highlighted separately, and can be voted on via 'favorites'. Perhaps after a given period of time (e.g. a week), these proposal comments are sorted in order of favorites.
- This would require a bit of modification. The moderators would 'turn on' the ability to sort the code manually. Highlighting and sorting can be done with 5-10 lines of of Javascript regex, and a tiny bit of CSS.

The ideal result:
- In a proposal-related Metatalk thread, discussion commences normally.
- Proposal comments are occasionally written that are voted on.
- In a week, the thread sort allows members to see what shared ideas floats to the top.
- Moderators can prioritize responding to the prioritized comments; this means less moderator burn out.
- The community can set expectations for serious discussions that is met when moderators take the prioritized comments very seriously

NOTE: This is just an idea! The design of this thread itself should be subject to a community discussion!


### 3. Process: A community decision-making + action process.

The community needs have a way to make community-based decisions and actions.

This is for a few reasons:

1) For reasons of community cohesion and future engagement. If Metafilter is a community, and the community has a consensus, then when the mod team blocks this proposal, a conflict is (re)created between members and the mods. Instead, if the mod team engages this consensus, then the community will feel empowered and engaged to participate in Metafilter.

2) For reasons of information/wisdom. The collective community can be verywise in making decisions together. If anything, Metafilter is very good at discussion and protocols; with a little bit of facilitation magic and website tools, this kind of discussion can easily turn into a productive, decision-making process, and can make wise decisions together.

3) For reasons of solidarity: the community might make mistakes. But at least the mistakes that will be made will be made with a community at everyone's back, in solidarity.

I have many ideas on how to use consensus-based decision-making systems, but will omit because this comment is getting too long. I'm sure other facilitators or coaches here also have ideas.


### 4. Lessening/shifting moderator load.

Finding a way to lessen or shift moderator load through a discussion with the community will be important. I wrote this comment about facilitation a while back, and still think it applies. Perhaps there's a way in which something could change to transform how the mods feel about work? Maybe some expectations around moderation could be set differently, with the community,=.

===

Ultimately, though? Mods, I think the onus is on you to listen, and to start somewhere. Like sciatrix says, Please help us help you. ... You don't gotta do it alone..

If you all are willing to move with community input, then I'm personally happy to help facilitate a little the meta-meta-structure of what this might look like. I'm sure others here are too, and willing to lend their expertise. Just reach out / memail or email me. Or start a Metatalk thread with that explicit question, just saying.. "we want help.. what does that mean?"

BUT, you all have to be willing to change things up. Cede some power or control. It will be scary. And mistakes might be made. But at least the mistakes that will be made will be made with a community at your back, in solidarity. So consider how you feel about this, and how you feel about change.

---

Lastly. This whole thread is evidence of a real community, if I've ever seen one. I've been in many. I'm sure you all have too. I've created, stewarded, maintained, seen ones hurt, seen ones last. This isn't like twitter, or instagram, or some other social media structure. This is a deep community, as I sure know it.

I want to remind everyone: Most of the communities I know are having a hard time right now. It's been a deeply difficult time for community. I know I know, COVID, but COVID has truly meant that it's been years of weakening our social and interpersonal muscles. For literally ALL of us, our communal and familial support structures underwent a significant shift. So just a reminder to.. move with care.

Like many communities, the keys to it all are the emotional relationships we are holding here. How to understand the needs we all have, and why we all care, taking time to care.

Whatever happens, I'm glad I chanced back here on this autumnal day. It's been nice to write this here. Last summer was a difficult time for Metafilter, personally, and I'm still a bit hurt and upset and hesitant about issues of race here.... and issues are still issues, but now! am holding more gratitude and compassion.

I'm glad to have shared, and to continue to share this community with you all, however close or distance, dormant or active we all may be.
posted by suedehead at 12:26 PM on October 15 [26 favorites]


I tend to post more than I comment.
It's disquieting to see what is happening or more precisely what is not happening to rejuvenate Metafilter and keep it alive.
For me the slippery slope started here in Metatalk - the part of the site where the users, often quite animatedly, discuss the site - was when comments started to be deleted.
And then there was often no reason or explanation given about why those comments were deleted.
Previously the commentators sorted themselves out often in a rather rough and ready manner.
But Nanny knows best.
This culture then pervaded.
But he, she, they, don't know best hence where we are now.
There have been very many magnificent offers of assistance and advise from the userbase - which is what Metafilter is.
Most seem to have been unacknowledged and ignored which doesn't really encourage others.
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
posted by adamvasco at 12:29 PM on October 15 [6 favorites]


chaiyai, thank you for your comments. You definitely captured why I feel discouraged from participating, and illuminated for me why I still participate in AskMe pretty often but have dialed back so much on the blue.

So far this year, I've had 59 ideas for front page posts. I've posted 1. (Last year I posted 13.) The snark and disrespectful comments that are not uncommon on the blue have left me feeling like I'm just going to feel bad if I do post something. I don't come to MetaFilter to feel bad, but posts to the blue - mine and others - too often leave me feeling that way.

If it were up to me, I would hard ban all snark and all comments that are contemptuous. I'm sure that would make the site less attractive for some people, but we don't need to worry about that, because I don't think it's an idea that would be embraced by site leadership or the mods.

And that's okay with me.

MetaFilter is not perfect, but it remains easily my favorite place on the web, and I can't think of any organization that could do a better job creating a home for this incredibly passionate, vocal, giving, demanding set of individuals.

Whenever I see these threads, I get vicariously exhausted. I can't imagine what it must be like to be doing the very best you can to maintain an organization you love in the face of very bleak changes in the world, while every time you turn around - every time you share information in an attempt to increase the transparency you sincerely value - dozens of people are waiting to tell you, again, how you're doing it wrong. (I mean, I have had the experience of having to shut down a project I loved and had invested years of my life into. I've been on the fringes of other projects that closed because they couldn't be sustained any longer. It's heartbreaking. It's crushing. But at least I didn't have dozens of people telling me all the different and contradictory ways I was doing it wrong.)

I believe the people currently guiding MetaFilter - cortex, all the mods, their support team of lawyers and accountants and advisors - have the best understanding of what should be done going forward, and what is even possible. (I almost think we should move these site update threads to AskMe, where the culture assumes that the poster is smart and resourceful enough to have tried the obvious things and to have valid reasons why a particular course of action might not work in their specific case.)

I am glad it's cortex and the mods who are in charge, though, because if it were me, I would probably just quit.

Sorry, I'm having trouble keeping this concise.

tl, dr:

The MeFi team may not do everything exactly the way I'd like, but I can't imagine who could or would do it better.

I don't believe I know better than they do what might work to help the site.

I believe they are all, to a person, caring, good-hearted, well-intentioned, committed, thoughtful, and smart.

There is no organization to which I give money (either donating or purchasing) that practices more transparency or engagement with the community.

I fervently hope the site doesn't go away, but if it does, I won't believe it's for lack of effort or caring on their part;

and if MeFites are concerned about declining user engagement, I hope we can, as a community, pay serious attention to the many people who have said here on the grey that we are posting less because of the contempt that poisons the comments.
posted by kristi at 1:34 PM on October 15 [17 favorites]


There is a baseline level of disrespect for the traditions and culture of metafilter that comes from essentially shutting off metatalk, and it sucks and no amount of "it's the community's fault, actually" fixes or changes that.

This is complete nonsense. The "traditions and culture" of Metafilter are not fixed. They change constantly, in response to changes in the composition, priorities, and needs of the user base. I first started lurking here around ten years ago as the site was going through a long, difficult conversation about what kinds of behavior would and wouldn't be tolerated with respect to sex and gender. The site was making a transition from its earlier "boyzone" culture to the much more feminist place that it is today. There were a lot of contentious, angry discussions about things like how to balance values for free and open discussion against values for being a welcoming and comfortable space for women, and what kinds of speech was acceptable versus unacceptable. A number of people left the site over these discussions. Other people saw a place that was willing to interrogate and address its own faults and grow to overcome them, and joined the site for the first time. I was one of them. But what is important to acknowledge is that while the mod team generally supported this transition to a more mature and welcoming site culture, it was clear to me at the time that they did not lead it. The user base did, or at least a critical segment of it did, and we have a lot of brave and assertive members to thank for this change. (The partial exception to the mod team not leading is jessamyn who deserves a lot of credit in her roles as both moderator and community member for helping lead this; however from my perspective as a lurker at the time it was in her role as a community member that she achieved the most here, alongside many others who also deserve credit.)

More recently, changes to moderation procedures in MetaTalk were vocally demanded by a significant contingent of the community membership. I remember many of these discussions quite well. The moderators were attacked, sometimes with quite abusive language, repeatedly and for many months for "failing to listen" to what many community members pointed to as the obvious consensus demand from the community to increase the deletion of comments seen as unacceptably aggressive, dismissive, or oppressive to members from marginalized groups. There were demands to change the expectations of MetaTalk discussions that came not from the mod team but from members of the community. When the moderation team made the decision to shift policy in response to this groundswell of demand, other users attacked them, sometimes with quite abusive language, for making arbitrary changes without community input. Hell, sometimes this dynamic happens within the span of a single thread. I remember one particularly disturbing incident where cortex was told by one community member that he needed to be more personally open and vulnerable in order to be an effective moderator, and responded by doing so while also acknowledging that he fully expected to be attacked for it, and then was immediately attacked for complaining too much.

For those who keep talking about an "us vs. them" mentality by the mod team, I'm sorry but I just don't see it. Over the past 5 years or so the mod team has clearly adopted more of a bias to engaging in moderation actions that they see as supporting the site's members who belong to various marginalized identity groups. I don't always agree with their choices, and in some cases I disagree extremely strongly and have told them so. But it is always quite clear that they are attempting to respond to a perceived need from the community. Not necessarily on the basis of numerical majority or popularity of opinion, but with a goal of just representation accounting for different segments of the community's different needs. I may not always agree with their decisions but I respect the difficulty of balancing competing requests and needs from the community, and I appreciate that their goal is clearly to serve the community as best they can. On the other hand, I do see an "us vs. them" mentality with respect to the mod team from a few specific individuals on this site on a regular basis. Quite frankly, I think there are a few, not many, people here who really want to think of the mods as cops so they can justify feeling like underdogs fighting the power. But the mods aren't cops, they're mods.

I don't think there's a "Team Mod" here. I do think there's a "Team Don't Be A Dick To Service Workers Serving You."
posted by biogeo at 2:25 PM on October 15 [29 favorites]


I often muse to myself that metatalk got turned off due to white fragility but rarely does someone just come on out and say it. So kudos for that, I guess.

Having metatalk is a baseline function of the site and a fundamental part of the site's culture.

Comment moderation (even if asked for by the mean BIPOC who are always to blame for something) is something completely different.

If your theory is that we literally can't have metatalk because the members here are too mean, then I kind of don't know what to say. We have fundamentally different views of the people on the site.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:10 PM on October 15 [5 favorites]


Is there any scenario in which you'd admit that there are ways in which one's mental health can be impacted, as biogeo describes, that aren't white fragility?

Do some people here just see the suffering of mods as irrelevant, a lie, or straight-up impossible?
posted by sagc at 3:19 PM on October 15 [3 favorites]


I'm just putting another call out in favor of attracting more users--I speak not from any position of expertise but in terms of trying to change the social vibe that Metafilter gives off these days. It definitely feels like, with the general slowdown of the site, active users are *extremely* noticeable. On a kind of innocuous level, this can make many conversations very predictable and can seem further offputting to new users: very much the sense of "there's the Table of Regulars rehashing their favorite stories and I'm not sure I'll fit in there." One the more negative side, it's that much easier to frequently see users that you may have had a run-in with and/or just don't want to engage--I avoid big chunks of Metafilter these days because my own personal reactions to certain frequent users is not good for my mental health and so I sort of concede the field.

On another note: I am someone who absolutely would love to discuss film and television more but Fanfare's design is just kind of atrocious for it--it's an active turnoff for me to either have to scroll down tons or put time into selecting shows. I end up reading places like Primetimer (message board design) or (gasp!) Reddit (threaded discussions). Like at some point the whole Metafilter design aesthetic is becoming more of a hindrance than a useful point of distinction.
posted by TwoStride at 3:19 PM on October 15 [7 favorites]


Is there any scenario in which you'd admit that there are ways in which one's mental health can be impacted, as biogeo describes, that aren't white fragility?

There are people who exist who aren't white, making this question kind of fundamentally bizarre. It's also pretty hostile (using the word "admit" as though assuming I would lie, for example). I don't know. This is the kind of thing where someone is basically telling me I'm mean in a really mean way. Sometimes I respond to this kind of thing substantively because why not, but sometimes I don't bother. This is kind of an in the middle response, I guess.

Do some people here just see the suffering of mods as irrelevant, a lie, or straight-up impossible?

White fragility causes suffering, as does a lot of shit generated by our deeply racist culture(s), so maybe we're on two different pages here.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:25 PM on October 15 [3 favorites]


Rock 'em Sock 'em, I guess I'm just trying to ask whether there's a level of mental health damage to the mods that would actually be a problem, or whether it's just that it's not a concern at all.

(And yes, I do often find you to be one of the people who brings more heat to light to threads, on pretty much any topic; you definitely participate in the contempt other people describe as making them worried to post.)
posted by sagc at 3:26 PM on October 15 [3 favorites]


It's a concern and also not something that I think justifies chopping a limb (metaphorically) off the site.

Separately from that, I find it personally upsetting, hurtful and anxiety provoking when people time and time again reference BIPOC as being to blame for [insert metafilter problem here].
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:31 PM on October 15 [3 favorites]


Like in any metatalk thread about any subject people are pretty much going to blame me and people like me for ruining/fucking up the site. So I guess I feel like the mods and I are pretty much in a similar boat on that point.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:32 PM on October 15


Anyway, I am breaking my longstanding rule of not getting into discussions about race or racism on mefi, so I will step away from this.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:35 PM on October 15


I don't disagree about the burden put on POC mefites, but I just felt like it was a dismissive response to both biogeo's comment and some of the impacts the mods have described on their mental health - those are real things, and I think that the framing of the mods as service workers is important.
posted by sagc at 3:35 PM on October 15 [3 favorites]


I feel like "Mods should support the requests of the userbase for a more inclusive, respectful space" and "Mods should have support for their emotional and financial needs as service workers" should not be mutually exclusive ideas. Hopefully there are solutions that address both.
posted by Alterscape at 4:27 PM on October 15 [11 favorites]


I would like to second kristi: the dismissiveness and contempt are why I post FPPs much more rarely than I once did. It is possible to handle discussions in which one is a marginalized person interacting with a largely majoritarian consensus without dipping into those keen little gotchas. I know this because I've been spending an increasing amount of time doing it for ableism.

Frankly, the last one I saw that left a bad taste in my mouth was a comment on the Grey accusing another poster of homophobia for the way they described a sex ed conversation (I am queer). I didn't comment then, but perhaps I should have. I am just so very tired of trying to reach out in good faith when someone is relishing the opportunity to draw attention to the worst possible interpretation of someone else.
posted by sciatrix at 6:06 PM on October 15 [22 favorites]


I often muse to myself that metatalk got turned off due to white fragility but rarely does someone just come on out and say it. So kudos for that, I guess.

If this is your takeaway from all of this, I don't know what to say to you. The most charitable thing I can think is that you're experiencing a lot of pain that's standing between you and the ability to read in good faith what others have plainly written. If that's so, I can try to empathize, but lashing out with your bad-faith reads that paint everyone else as having some kind of moral defect informing everything they say is a form of bullying. Please stop.
posted by biogeo at 6:08 PM on October 15 [9 favorites]


Not going to go to the trouble of quoting because I’m on my phone, but for folks who have ideas about a front page post but don’t want to be the one that makes it, I can help you with that. Send me a MeMail.
posted by box at 6:27 PM on October 15 [5 favorites]


If that's so, I can try to empathize, but lashing out with your bad-faith reads that paint everyone else as having some kind of moral defect informing everything they say is a form of bullying. Please stop.

It's not bullying and white people are not "everyone else."
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:37 PM on October 15 [8 favorites]


ah fuck getting called a bully (yet another "POC are so mean" thing again) is the exact kind of super upsetting thing I try to avoid by leaving these convos so bye for real hopefully.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:39 PM on October 15 [5 favorites]


I hit post before intending to, so let me flesh out the point I was trying to make: you can get really burned out on these discussions, especially when structural awareness of the points you're trying to make get lost and eroded in the shuffle. For me, I most recently took a long break because I was finding that I was so burnt out that I was becoming reactive: it was easy to set me off, hard for me to disengage and offer calming signals, and I felt so raw and vulnerable that I had a hard time re-regulating myself. And.... the thing is, insofar as a do over button from that kind of intensely emotional flare up exists, it exists because mods see that interaction, calm themselves down from the adrenaline response, and remove it from inflaming future reactions. I say do over button because I'm usually capable of noticing when I react so harshly that the value of the light I can shine is sharply reduced by the friction burns in my wake.. within an hour or so. I often flag my own meltdowns for removal.

The burnout was coming from here in part, because this is a community I care deeply about and spend a fair bit of time on; but it was also coming from the background radiation of my life as that life went through a lot of scary events. Our nervous systems adapt to chronic stress, and one of the ways they can adapt is to become sensitized to possible danger: hypervigilant to potential attack or danger.

I didn't ask to re open my account, when I closed it, until a few things changed in my life that let me feel a little safer about the world around me. I got a job with a supervisor I could trust to not walk on eggshells around. I moved the hell out of Texas, where the background radiation of malevolence from the state and crumbling infrastructure and climate change left me feeling in danger all the time. I changed my financial situation. I got lucky, in some ways.

In short: I felt I didn't have the security that I need, personally, to extend grace to conflict. I didn't feel safe enough to teach. I didn't feel safe enough to be heard. And it is frustrating and exhausting to have the conversations that I kept getting feedback were really important to people to have, especially other disabled people, conversations that I feel and felt strongly about, so that the temptation to try and just shoulder through loomed harder... and then I would see threat, and react as if threat, and shit would go to hell. I buttoned in the midst of one of those threat reactions; I stayed buttoned for several months while I worked on changing my situation to let me rebuild that sense of safety because I didn't really trust myself to speak in "public" for a while.

One thing I do want to bring out, on the level of users and mods, is that mods have to judge on the fly when a traumatized person lashing out is speaking truth to power... and when it is overreaction to an ambiguous threat signal. Which is very very very hard to do. And in the past five years, the world has really traumatized a lot of people, including our mods, which can have the effect of sensitizing everyone to conflict. suedehead's excellent comment is right: many communities are struggling right now, because many people are struggling right now.

So: how can we find the security in one another to feel that we really mean well by each other here? How can we strengthen the weave of many small positive interactions and respect that we need to allow us to trust one another even when we conflict?
posted by sciatrix at 6:42 PM on October 15 [26 favorites]


I hate to just append this question to the end of this thread, but is Loup OK? Both in the sense of "are they OK as a human being in a difficult time?" but also "does Loup still work here?"

It's just that they have been completely absent from this thread, when we are usually told that they would be the only mod responding in this thread, and that hasn't been true here. Usually they come in to at least summarize what they're hearing in the comments and what they will take to the mod meetings.

Their last activity on the site that I, as a user, can see was on October 7.

If we were going by the usual schedule, the next MeTa Site Update would have been October 11. So that's delayed by over a week now. What's up?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:58 AM on October 19 [10 favorites]


(If the answer is "we're just waiting until we have something significant to report", then please don't - intermediate feedback that says "hey, we don't have full answers yet but we're listening and we're currently debating questions x, y, and z" would be very welcome over radio silence.)
posted by trig at 11:34 AM on October 19 [6 favorites]


Hey, so. um.

I’ve been keeping out of these things, but I’d kind of like for this community to continue to exist for a while. It’s a place that means a lot to me!

I get that resources are tight.

I get that these conversations have been contentious in the past.

But…. is anybody actually running this site? Is there a plan? Are we even going to try? The current silence is uncomfortable and disconcerting.
posted by schmod at 7:01 PM on October 19 [6 favorites]


Mod note: But…. is anybody actually running this site? Is there a plan? Are we even going to try? The current silence is uncomfortable and disconcerting.

Hi there! The short answer is yes! The silence has mostly been due to the conversations going on with the mod team in the past couple of weeks. We'll have a new site update with more details up tomorrow.
posted by loup (staff) at 7:35 PM on October 19 [8 favorites]


Thanks, loup! I'm sure this will be a tough one to prepare but I appreciate the work.
posted by biogeo at 11:53 PM on October 19 [2 favorites]


It's so nice to see two mostly-allied sides going after each other with the standard accusations, like they have since the days of Usenet. "You're a bully!" "You people always say POC are mean!" I'm just going to sit back on my lounge chair, with my sunglasses and lemonade, and bitterly weep that we've been doing this since Internet Forever.

I think the mods are really trying, but are pushed from all directions, and have limited time and day jobs, and that it's very easy to point to something they're doing wrong and making it seem like Ultimate Dereliction. The site has come so far since the early days, and yes there's further to go, but even appointing a POC review board is something most organizations would not have done, especially one with such limited resources as MeFi. You are free to disagree with me if you want but I think we have great mods, I've been here since Two Thousand and Freaking Five (THAT LONG YIKES) and can say that. And all my many flaws are manifestly on display over a long, long commenting history, but, I'm trying to do better, we're all trying to do better, and we shouldn't let the current internet atmosphere of obvious disingenuousness trick us into seeing each other as the enemy. We all deserve the benefit of the doubt, the mods and the other people in this thread.
posted by JHarris at 1:50 AM on October 20 [3 favorites]


(I mean, the mods here have never done things like "disemvoweling" people, does anyone here remember that?)
posted by JHarris at 1:52 AM on October 20 [3 favorites]


The silence has mostly been due to the conversations going on with the mod team in the past couple of weeks. We'll have a new site update with more details up tomorrow

Hi loup,
Thanks - that's great.
I'm going to voice again a request to reconsider the approach of only participating when there's something substantial to announce. A decent chunk of this thread (and others) has been specifically about how this silence has been disturbing, and how lack of responsiveness, and lack of the sense that it's possible to have a conversation with the mods, are discouraging and demoralizing to many site members. Even a "we hear issues X and Y and are actively discussing them/still discussing them/discussing them some more" would help, and be a signal that this input is not just going into the void.
posted by trig at 4:01 AM on October 20 [12 favorites]


humbly request that loup come in every 5-10 comments and reply:
"k"
posted by phunniemee at 7:48 AM on October 20 [7 favorites]


Mod note: Yes, you may expect more responsiveness moving forward. For this particular thread I brought the thread and the feedback from it to the whole team. Which also turned into a conversation about next steps and priorities. We can definitely do that while acknowledging that we are here and still reading every single comment. You can see the new site update now live here.
posted by loup (staff) at 9:36 AM on October 20 [5 favorites]


loup is transformed after yesterday's full moon.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:44 AM on October 20 [4 favorites]


*Starts howling uncontrollably*
Haha, thanks for the patience, we'll keep trying different approaches. At the end of the day we're here to serve the community in the best way we can.
posted by loup (staff) at 12:22 PM on October 20 [6 favorites]


Awesome, it's appreciated!
posted by trig at 1:29 PM on October 20 [1 favorite]


loup is transformed after yesterday's full moon.

Oh I just got that, nicely done.
posted by Vatnesine at 5:19 PM on October 20 [1 favorite]


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