Mefi as a Counteraction to an Upcoming "Terrible Media Age"? January 29, 2022 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Corb, in a comment about a recent news story on The Root, wrote a comment that made me think about Metafilter, its history, and its potential future. They said: "AV Club itself was a shitty substitute for Television Without Pity (spare the snark, spoil the networks). Articles were shorter and had less depth. I just keep seeing site after site die because someone felt they weren’t squeezing every last dime out. We are entering a terrible media age and I don’t know what to do about it." What if Metafilter's the answer?

We pride ourselves on the quality of our discussion. Imagine this: to begin with, each user's post-feed is subdomained to their username, i.e.:

goes to

Or perhaps frimble figures out some way (multiple checkboxes) to let people pipe their choice of subsite concatenation -- perhaps User A has most of their contributions to Music, others are mostly active on Fanfare, etc.

In a way, Metafilter becomes what Kinja never really was ... a feed of people's posts of interesting things. I guess what I am trying to postulate is that we could somehow turn the existing contribution pages -- at the moment just essentially database extractions -- into much more robust and shareable landing pages which people could share.

I guess what I am saying is that the content people share on Metafilter is much more individualized and personal. Indeed, it has the same Internet reputation, and personalized feel, of TWP and other places now gone.

With only some slight work and spiffing up, those contribution pages could become landing pages which, in and of themselves, might then serve as greater draws for new people into the site from users' social circles -- especially if new, more robust social sharing tools were added from there.
posted by MollyRealized to Feature Requests at 11:54 AM (28 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Even better if there was a VR interface....

posted by sammyo at 2:50 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]

I honestly think there's something to this, though, I think it can't really be talked about without acknowledging the conversations that have happened over the past year(s) about privacy and how much, or how little, we allow to be public facing.

At the very outset, anything like this would need to be opt-in. While I like to think there has been effort made towards clarifying exactly how private our comments and posts can reasonably be expected to be, asking members to position themselves as potentially public faces of the site has to be considered through that lens.

I have to be honest, I barely scratched the surface of kinja, and only really began to understand that there was a whole wealth of content hiding there just under the surface when the powers that were started to pull the plug. The thing is, as much as I knew, was that the kinja-content was, essentially people blogging, people writing their own content, and this, as much as I know and see, is not that, or, at the very least, the "get your own blog" line is still fresh in my memory of MetaFilter. This seems to be much more of a place where people are reacting to things than where we have a space to hold forth on a topic. The hair is very fine, but to me the split has always been "wait until someone brings up the topic that you have oh, so much to say about," and I wonder how much a contextless collection of any given member's holding forth would really grab anyone's attention.

To answer your most direct question, I don't think MetaFilter is the answer, as much as there is now no answer to be had. I think this is a moment where we are waiting to see how the new web shakes out, to see what, if anything, will be left of the promise of the web as a free space, and what, if any place, something as old, as from-three-or-four-webs-ago as MetaFilter is has in it. The problem is, as seen over the last couple years, is that the userbase here has very strong feelings about the idea of MetaFilter as a random site with a particularly fervent membership, or as a collective whose greatest value is the members whose contributions keep it going. To the extent that this place has any bearing on the future of the web, it feels more like a place for those that remember "better" times to gather, reminisce, and watch the next thing unfold.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:28 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]

I think that this is both (a) onto something and (b) already what MetaFilter is, in a lot of ways? I mean, that's what the blue is: a concatenation of our collective interests.

You can also subscribe to the most popular posts and comments on the site from here, already RSS-friendly! Way back when, I used to follow popular comments via RSS, which clued me into a lot of what were basically great blog posts in comment form.

As for what "the answer" is: I think that we've been in a place where, inflated by artificial advertising money, it has been possible to imagine "cultural hubs" where a single site covers every possible conceivable subject in a single place. That's becoming increasingly impossible, because it requires a lot of money that these sites flat-out aren't making anymore. At the same time, though, virtually every magazine publication does cover a lot of this ground: I mean, if you want TV reviews of shows, you can find those in The Atlantic or The New Yorker or Vanity Fair or GQ or Rolling Stone or the New York Times, not even getting into sites like NY Mag that explicitly specialize in that stuff. Roger Ebert's old site is getting into TV reviews too.

None of those have the cultural "insider"-ness that the AV Club did, but then, the original "insider" stuff was all done by enthusiasts for free. The anomaly was that, for a little while, an organization could get paid talking about that and nothing else. If you want the free stuff, there are options—for pop culture specifically, Letterboxd can be fantastic, and RateYourMusic is still around.

Meanwhile, people are going back to solo enthusiasms more and more. Substack obviously is the big name there right now, but also, a lot of people just flat-out blog. There are people on Tumblr and even Blogger who just... write a bunch. And they tend to pal around with people who they like, which is how I find a lot of new writers myself. Some of them even go the Patreon route and try to make a living off of it.

I've been working on launching a new media publication myself (Pepsi Blue alert!), so I have a lot of opinions here, but I think that this is less the dawning of a Terrible Media Age and more the start of a somewhat unfocused one. There are a lot of different approaches to the same thing, and some of the old approaches just don't make as much sense anymore: episode-by-episode recaps started to mean something different way back when Netflix first released House of Cards as a full season, and they mean something different now, when there are just an insane glut of TV shows out there. Media has changed, and our approach to media is going to have to change too. And while I hate what G/O Media has been doing, the fact of the matter is that the AV Club was mediocre well before it got sold—if you want to get nerdy, it was really just half-heartedly aping the style of TV discussion that Alan Sepinwall pioneered way back with The Sopranos, and Sepinwall himself still happens to be around, doing that kind of thing for Rolling Stone. Media criticism is hard, and the best people at it tend to be a mix of uncommon and scattered all about. (TWoP, which corb mentions, had some fantastic people in it, many of whom have gone on to write for major publications, but it also had some... well, quality control issues, to say the least, much like Letterboxd has today.)

MeFi already occupies a really nice slot in the confused state of things. I like going back to Fanfare discussions for old shows that I'm only just now starting to watch. Personally, I feel like there's been way too much stasis in recent years, even allowing for the occasional breakthrough success like the already-long-gone Grantland. I'd rather see a bit of weirdness for a while. It'll be inconvenient, but the sort (I hope) that leads to neat new things.
posted by rorgy at 6:40 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

The suggestion here reminds me somewhat of what Reddit has (actually reasonably successfully) implemented with user profiles, where a redditor's profile is its own little mini subreddit that you can post things to and not have to worry about finding a space for them, somewhere between a blog and a "look at this particularly cool thought/thing/collection of links I have made".

I don't know if that's what you have in mind, WCityMike2, and I have no idea if/how it could even be implemented, but I've always thought it would be cool to have a sort of "mini blog" of personal posts and thoughts within a profile that you could link to or just share with your contacts and friends who follow you.
posted by fight or flight at 9:17 AM on January 30 [6 favorites]

We... have this already? Clicking on any user's name takes you to their profile page, with direct links to sub-pages containing all their posts and comments in each of the sub-forums (sub-fora?). Adding sub-domains as a redirect from what's already there adds nothing as far as I can see.

Any user is already free to make a TinyURL to their profile page if they want. Or, heck, buy their own vanity domain and set it to redirect to their MetaFilter profile page!

ETA: fight or flight, click this link!
posted by heatherlogan at 5:23 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]

sammyo: "Even better if there was a VR interface...."

Maybe with a sort of symbolic link, a "token" if you will, which was unable to be funged?
posted by signal at 9:43 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]

The AV Club started in 1993 on paper and 1996 on the web; I'm not sure how it can be a substitute for TWP which came years later.
posted by octothorpe at 10:57 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]

My brain is a little broken today. I hope I'll be clear, perhaps a little less breathless.

A lot of media and news is just flat out disappearing, or they're becoming corrupted public relations amplifiers as opposed to whatever cleaner form they started out as. Metafilter has a pretty good situation in that it's for the most part remained true to, and expanded on, its original purpose, and in doing so built a community of contributors that produce good content for free.

A recurring response thus far has been: what you are proposing, isn't it what Metafilter already is? To that, I'll say: people are REMARKABLY lazy in terms of information retrieval. It's disheartening to subscribe to Neil Gaiman or Diane Duane's Tumblr feeds, because once people realize the authors are on Tumblr, they Tumblr-Ask them any one of about five million questions that could be looked up with the quickest of Google searches. (And, to my surprise, they answer their fans. Neil has the patience of a few saints, conjoined. Or perhaps an angel and devil. iseewhatyoudidthere.gif)

But if I've learned one thing from that, it's that the more you grease the skids (decrease friction), the better, and you never know when you're going to cross that magic moment where it becomes enough of a frictionless process to get the numbers you're seeking.

There's a page already existing and public for every single member on the site - you just click their names. They already control how much information is on there, and can minimize it to next to nothing with a checkbox ("[ ] minimal..."), or populate the hell out of it with as much information as they'd like.

What I'm suggesting is that that be mapped to [username], and, as an opt-in measure, tweak that page to serve as more of a landing page for people to start there as things their friends share [*], with branching off points for further exploration of the site.

[*] - To address some points by Ghidorah, I am thinking people could opt in to share what they post on Music, Fanfare, or the Blue ... and that it might be mostly those by default of their posts as opposed to their comments, and also perhaps users with this enabled might also have a 'repost to your page' for posts or comments as things particular people liked. Perhaps you wrote something you really feel nails the point of how you feel about Topic X -- it's seminal to your beliefs or hobbies or just one time you really wrote something funny.

The reason I threw this suggestion out there is that the site evidently needs both eyeballs and new users in order to continue operations and pay its mods while not financially struggling to do so.

This approach is a way that could drive a lot of traffic to the site, naturally through friend connections, without betraying Mefi's basic existing structure or philosophies. I am suggesting heavily greasing the skids on the UX of this so that it's a cinch to take the content you are already creating on Metafilter and show that off to your friends, and in doing so, get them to come here and check out the other cool content and discussions we have.

It would require some programming and design work, yes, but that is very conceivably do-able, either via Frimble or through someone hired (through Metafilter Jobs, perhaps, yet another resource that this model could show off).
posted by MollyRealized at 11:54 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]

(By the way, if making it a subdomain of creates issues for future subsites, zrsvhfref.pbz appears to be available. (I ROT13'd that in case a scraper were to grab and register it.)
posted by MollyRealized at 12:00 PM on January 31

I am suggesting heavily greasing the skids on the UX of this so that it's a cinch to take the content you are already creating on Metafilter and show that off to your friends, and in doing so, get them to come here and check out the other cool content and discussions we have.

Oh, god, no, none of my friends knows that I am on metafilter and I absolutely do not want them to.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:06 PM on January 31 [13 favorites]

there must be some thing left in this world that is not An Social Media pls for the love of all that is holy
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:08 PM on January 31 [24 favorites]

Metafilter has a pretty good situation in that it's for the most part remained true to, and expanded on, its original purpose, and in doing so built a community of contributors that produce good content for free.

I'm not arguing with the idea of Metafilter being a great discussion site. And there's a big value in that. I still think FanFare is the best growth target overall.

I'm not clear if we're talking about social media or media or whatever. But there is a big difference between discussing content, in the sense of information, and producing it. There are often very knowledgeable amateurs who can beat the pants off a generalist professional for their in-depth understanding. There are comments here I treasure and people I always look to for thoughts in their areas of expertise.

But there are aspects to professional media that a volunteer environment can't produce. That includes accountability, training, editorial oversight and feedback, fact checking, actual money on the table to lose for getting in wrong - and also a good life and compensation for the person doing the work that gives them time to investigate, learn, and grow. In These Times that includes help with them being safe.

I think of expert commentators here who have burned out, Food safety comes to mind in particular - how hard it is to have expertise in something but feel like you're shouting through a crowd. It's really hard to be the person who spends professional time on something bringing things forward in a crowd of opinionated...people.

Where professional media has gotten this wrong it's cost us all. And it has. There were always suspect, lazy pieces. The business implosion has made it a worse world. But I think of those big or important or illuminating stories and the amount of time and effort and learning it takes to create them. I don't think unpaid is the answer. That's meaning original content.

I *do* think if we're talking about FanFare and social media-type fandom/discussion specifically there is a lot of value there and there could be some additional tools built in to let people say, write their own reviews or host their own watch/read/listen-a-longs. I'm betting it would be a fair bit of work but that is an interesting idea for a time that it's right.

I suppose a middle ground would be allowing self-posting to something like Medium or Substack but in my (aging) experience, that leads to the balance of posts tilting towards the Shameless Self-Promoters, which doesn't always result in great stories being brought forward.

Thanks for the ideas though, I think it's an interesting discussion and even though I sort of sound meh about it I appreciate it.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:22 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]

I don't mean this as an accusation, but I kind of feel as if those people responding here are not responding from a place where the site's economic condition is known.

Being in favor of Metafilter staying the way it is, nice and undiscovered and a private club for those who stumble across it, ends up also leading to a place where Metafilter stops existing. That's not an opinion or anything, that's kind of the situation as stated in update threads.

The site is very much not making its subscription goals (situations where people are just giving money). It very much needs additional users.

If you'd like to see that done wrong, see Boing Boing without an adblocker or any DNS ad protection.

I believe the proposal above is a way to work within a much more natural organic friend-of-friend way of doing things.

I'm not saying that not doing this in particular will result in the site's death. But just kind of generically saying "nah, meh, we don't need to do anything and the site will exist forever" is not a truthful accounting of the situation, either.
posted by MollyRealized at 1:49 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]

But just kind of generically saying "nah, meh, we don't need to do anything and the site will exist forever" is not a truthful accounting of the situation, either.

Don't see anyone saying that though? Just kind of saying that this particular thing is not the direction that I, personally, would want to go. I'm already exhausted from the handful of real-life networks I currently maintain.

But then I am not a Content Creator here (or anywhere), so I guess it would probably not matter what I think.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:34 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]

I'd use some version of this. I feel very weird making people that I don't know a contact - I'd see their comments show up on the sidebar that way - but there are plenty of members that I'd follow through some other interface for funny/insightful comments. I've got friends that ask if I've "seen anything good on Metafilter lately" and sometimes I send the same link to everyone as an individual text, but plenty of 'em would semi-regularly click a "curious nu's MetaFilter feed" bookmark and see what I'd been up to lately. They can hit my profile and individually click through posts, comments, favorites, etc, but I think a "most recent 100 whatevers" landing page would be way more useful and fun.

Something to opt-in with, and for expediency and proof-of-concept-ness I'd be totally happy with a preset determination of what shows up on that feed/landing page -- if it's used enough, that'd warrant some more staff time for customization.

I could follow some of my favorite members on Twitter or IG or FB or Mastodon or whatever comes next, but I do specifically like the things I see on Metafilter, and having another door/path to the interesting conversations seems like a good thing both for current members and potential new ones.
posted by curious nu at 2:42 PM on January 31

Note that the OP, the owner of the linked comment, and myself all have taken the step of enabling a minimal profile on our user pages for logged out users. How would our stated preferences for privacy interact with a new public profile page?
posted by meowzilla at 3:46 PM on January 31

I'm not saying that not doing this in particular will result in the site's death. But just kind of generically saying "nah, meh, we don't need to do anything and the site will exist forever" is not a truthful accounting of the situation, either.

For sure that's the case. I know the Metafilter team is on it and I look forward to hearing about their plans and will support 'em to the best of my ability.

From my point of view, engaging more members is definitely a way forward but I am not sure that generic kind of "get your members to promote you and invite their friends" will result in a long-term sustainable business model, at least not at a fast speed. It's a great start. But businesses don't often last long there. Facebook didn't succeed because people used it - it may have grown because they did. It succeeded because it monetized it, so it could keep developing reasons for people to be there.

I think it's more about business partnerships. For example, I've been watching with interest the communities where a Substack subscription gets you into a subscriber-only forum/Discord community. That's a really interesting model because the content and the promise of a savvy group of like-minded people gives a reason to subscribe - not just one or the other.

But the people who are pioneering it are eventually going to find out that moderating a community is a tooooooonnnnn of long-term work.

So I can see a model where MetaFilter becomes the expert commentariat manager to a variety of content producers, and the exchange is basically have people sign up, split the fee. MeFi creates some private communities, advertised here but pay-extra-to-play, and the content producers split that with the moderators to pay-for-expert-management.

To promote the whole deal writers could curate some public posts, so it sort of becomes a synergy. (It all depends on the Substack creators getting tired of managing their own moderation of course. This is equally pie-in-the-sky, but it's at a B2B level, not trying to convince everyone to fork over their personal contacts.)

I also see FanFare as a potential source of business exchange...Tor hosts discussion on their releases (moderated by MeFi) in exchange for the Tor newsletter linking to it and so on and so forth. That's old school in some ways but I think that's still where you get the kind of growth that isn't like, NYT Buys Wordle! level but remains professional.

And again, it's really easy to *say* that and hard to do. Moving forward with things like that requires really good contacts and business development.

Whereas a site code change to permit individual streams is easier, in comparison, to do (especially with opt-in) but will it actually drive signups and *revenue*?

I don't know, maybe every MeFite has 5 friends that want to pay $5, but all the friends I've shown the site to have been like "ok, cool," and then chat on the text chat. MetaFilter needs someone with 1,000, 10,000, 50,000 friends to say hey, this place is having a great conversation about X.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:20 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]

I can definitely see some benefit in making the current contribution pages (clearly intended for the contributor's or other members' use only) into some kind of 'landing page' that could be safely configured to be suitable for public consumption. Careful consideration would need to be given to privacy (as already noted), given the long history of protecting user privacy to the extent they want it protected.

Honestly, a large part of me is in the camp of 'don't you dare change my MeFi even a tiny bit' (many of us remember the agonising process of finalising the current site design and why it hasn't changed since). I'm also a pragmatist and something needs to be done or there'll be no MeFi to not change. I do wonder how a world accustomed to being bombarded with moving, flashing, image -heavy content and stupid word-bites would react to the wall-of-text UX that is MeFi. OTOH, there must be lots of people out there (people like us) that would welcome the calm blue of MeFi, right?

The suggestion has merit, is what I'm saying and, importantly, seems to be low cost. If only as a way for members to easily share their content (or their favourite content) in a way that attracts people to explore the site itself, rather than just sharing links to cool things they found here. Some sort of marketing plan would be needed (which is being worked on) to get the real benefit, but setting up the function doesn't require that.
posted by dg at 4:21 PM on January 31

Being in favor of Metafilter staying the way it is, nice and undiscovered and a private club for those who stumble across it, ends up also leading to a place where Metafilter stops existing.

It will diminish, and go into the west and remain Metafilter.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:15 PM on January 31 [10 favorites]

One of the major diffilcuties here is that Metafilter is a discussion forum where the selling point basically is that all users interact on the same level. This comes from having a smaller user base and consistent identities, even if not real names, that carry a history of comments with them, which, importantly, also follow site guidelines on certain values.

Strengthening the individual indentity element changes the dynamic to more one of teacher/student, if one attracts more users of expertise, something necessary for an AV Club sort of discussion based around a longer piece that users react to. It invites challenges to site values, for media, it prompts challenge to claims of expertise, something easier to reject along various terms unless the writer is backed by the site as an "authority" and set apart from the discussion by the rest of the users. Site user growth may well be necessary but there is also an element of Metafilter that is based on a manageable size for regular discussion, the limits of size open for question, but I would suggest real if the goal is maintaining Metafilter as Metafilter. Why come here if it becomes more like Reddit for media or whatnot?

I do though get there could be some benefit to users being able to write as they wished and connect that writing to a potential discussion in ways that the current site construct isn't great at providing. Just looking to media for example, something where a user could write up their take on some music or movie or show without attaching it to a post and throwing the discussion off for length might be nice, that comes with the acknowledgement that a lot of people don't want long posts on such things in a discussion, preferring just to offer their immediate reactions or to have light conversation instead. Having both those things can be an uneasy match without changing the dynamic of the site regarding give and take among all users.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:31 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

Before spending a lot of effort on this, maybe just email the writers who left The Root and the AV Club and see how many want to write for free for Metafilter.
posted by snofoam at 1:44 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]

Something we all could do is simply pay more money more often voluntarily. $5 once? Pfft! How about $5 a month? What percentage of the total membership here could not afford to chip in that paltry sum every four weeks? In that case, others could cover them.* No need to announce it -- just do it.

*Of course members who have contributed exemplarly in the past could be given a free pass, enshrined by vote in a virtual Hall of Fame or even given a kickback in case of an especially glorious contribution -- homunculus, of course, comes immediately first to mind in all three categories.
posted by y2karl at 4:04 AM on February 1

I just found myself explaining MeFi to someone as "Reddit for people who make sure to get people's pronouns right and know how to use JSTOR."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:03 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]

"Yes, madam, but we need a majority."
posted by clew at 11:39 AM on February 1

Pandemic isolation is sure not bringing out the best in people -- this whole your favorite xxxx sucks tendency seems on the increase. Nothing is more depressing than to see someone post about something they like and then someone pops in to say how much they hate it by the third comment. Who would say something like that so fast to real people at a real party in real life and expect to ever get invited back, let alone not be immediately shown the door? The situation eminds me of the people in my hometown who put up the sign reading 'We don't swim in your toilet, please don't pee in our pool.'
posted by y2karl at 1:55 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]

Sorry, my comment was rude. It is a creative idea. To me, it seems like wishful thinking: about what metafilter is right now, about what the web is right now, etc. I like Fanfare, but aside from a few shows, there aren’t even enough commenters to even generate a discussion.

That said, some of the better Fanfare threads are ones where the poster is putting together something significant. It gets the ball rolling and gives people something to respond to. There are perceptive, engaged people here. If they have time, they can put together posts that inspire more activity and interaction. I don’t think giving everyone their own blog would help the site, but encouraging people to go all in rather than telling them to gyob, as was done long ago, seems like a positive attitude.

I don’t really see the OP’s idea working, but it is a positive suggestion. And maybe I just don’t have the vision to see how great the potential is. To me, the takeaway is really just to embrace and encourage contributions coming through the existing channels of posting and commenting and get past limitations that might have been useful in a busier era with more active members.
posted by snofoam at 4:45 PM on February 1

I wouldn't exactly call Metafilter "undiscovered." Unsullied perhaps, but I think that's a function of the five-dollar bill and the decision to have moderation from the beginning. That said, I found MeFi organically. It simply kept coming up in searches I was doing at a particular time in my life. I have no idea why, since it rarely happens anymore, but whether cosmic or coincidence here I am. Not to mention tere have been many Google page-ranking changes since then and maybe a robots.txt tweak or two.

I do wonder what could result from pointing some grammar-mill bot at my comments and constructing short essays from my sentences that may or may not be congruent with the original use of the words, and then blogging-or-something that. Anonymously. But that's a project that can lay around in the back of my mind without much urgency.
posted by rhizome at 2:16 PM on February 3

Those who forget Kuro5hin are condemned to repeat it, perhaps. K5 Diaries didn't end well for K5 but then again K5 was overrun with trolls to an extent that isn't quite so much of a problem here any more. I'd love to see the decline of the internet start to turn around but my experiences of the the past 30 years have not shown that to be a high probability outcome.

Perhaps all we can do is fight back in small ways until our definition of quality is not just a couple of decades anachronistic but outright archaic.
posted by majick at 7:22 PM on February 8

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