Transition Team initial discussion summary and kickoff April 18, 2022 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I've had an initial discussion with several folks in the MetaFilter community about planning the next steps in building the community management and engagement structure necessary for the long-term health of the site. I'd like to report on who I've talked with, what we've talked about, and some of the core questions and ideas that came up in that discussion of what we're now calling a temporary Transition Team. This is the start of a process that I expect will actively involve the whole MetaFilter community in new and constructive ways, and I’m excited about that.

To recap: I'm departing from my professional roles at MetaFilter; I wrote about that in this post, and mentioned in that that I was planning to put together a "Steering Council" of a handful of MeFite volunteers to help plan for next steps. In our discussion Friday, we talked about names and came to a loose consensus that Transition Team better captures the spirit of this.

That is, a group of non-mod folks working—as a temporary structure for the next few months—to help build out a structure in which a more long-term, ongoing group of MeFi community members can collaborate with the moderation team on community governance and direction.

The goal is that the folks currently involved, and the folks they in turn bring into the process as it moves forward, will spend the next three months or so drafting the initial blueprints for this structure for the long term, and engaging with the community and the mod team to work out future plans for the site. These folks are not people I'm putting in charge of the site long term; whether any of them is interested and available in more long-term participation in whatever structure they recommend to the mod team will be up to them, and several have explicitly stated they're not available for more than this short-term process or some small portion of it.

I asked everyone I talked with on Friday to agree to one core expectation about visibility in this process: if they're formally involved, they're okay with folks knowing this publicly. No one had any objections and there was a lot of explicit desire to make communication and transparency a core focus of this process, which is something I had hoped for going into it. So they'll variously be participating as they're able in discussions and available to reach out to, and several folks on Friday talked about wanting to specifically reach out to other folks they think would be good to have involved as well.

The folks at Friday's discussion, in total, were: myself and loup, for the moderation team; brainwane, warriorqueen, iamkimiam, Rock Steady, sciatrix, mochapickle, suedehead, and curious nu. (A couple other folks were not able to make it so I don’t have any sense of whether they want to commit to public discussion yet.) The folks above have all signed off as being okay having their participation on Friday mentioned. As far as their commitment to actively participating in the Transition Team, they are mixed, with some considering that commitment still, and in brainwane's case explicitly not being on the team itself because of existing commitments but being supportive of the process.

We discussed several things over the course of an hour, aiming to hit major outlines and answer outstanding questions without digging in a great deal on any specific point; we’ll leave those in-depth discussions for future meetings and conversations. I'll sum up what I can here and leave any elaboration or other questions for folks to address in the thread below as they're able.

1. What's the purpose of this process? To plan the next steps in building the community management and engagement structure necessary for long-term site health. That future approach will be distinct from this temporary transition process and its participants. The point is to draft an initial blueprint, not to convene the new government itself.

2. Who has decision-making power right now? The moderation team, as has been the case previously. The goal of this process is to explore a new balance of responsibilities that includes more than just the moderation team. In the short term, site and business needs have to be taken care of and the capacity to do those things (and hence the responsibility for them) lies with the mods for now.

3. What are the possible outcomes of this process? In my ideal scenario, the Transition Team will have worked out an initial, well-fleshed-out draft for a long-term, iterative community-driven governance process, where members of the MetaFilter community who are willing and able to give time to helping the site can collaborate with the mod team in supporting the community, deciding on site direction and priorities, and addressing site and community concerns and needs. In my worst case "this doesn't go anywhere" scenario, we'll retain the status quo of decision-making and direction remaining entirely with the mod team, to whom it will fall to figure out what the next steps will be. In between those two extremes are a lot of possibilities, with outcomes that could range from a statement of intent for future work, to having a good plan for others to finish carrying out, or to any other options that emerge as the team understands more.

4. How long will this take? I’ve estimated that the Transition Team will be resolved and replaced by a more permanent structure in three months, give or take a bit. That may or may not be enough time to work everything out in practice, but it's an attainable goal and keeps the weight of commitment reasonable for this Transition Team. It'll be up to them to decide the definition of done; they'll be better equipped to assess needs and availability as the process goes along.

5. How does the BIPOC board fit in with this? The two groups have different but intersecting goals; the BIPOC board should continue to exist, and the consensus is that there should be some intersection between the two. Whether that is a full member participating in both or someone who’s in the BIPOC board acting as a liaison between the two is yet to be decided. The Transition Team will be focusing on high-level site direction and strategy and that will benefit from incorporating the work and goals of the BIPOC board.

6. How much communication will there be between the Transition Team and the community? A lot! This has been one of my priorities for how this proceeds. I expect the Transition Team will be regularly sharing updates on discussions and reaching out to the community (whether through MetaTalk discussions, site banners, off-site poll/survey tools, etc.) and looking for input and feedback. This process is in part an opportunity to spread out the job of communication with the community to more hands than just the mod team, to make broader and more consistent communication possible, and to help people feel more consistently heard. Please keep in mind that the members of the Transition Team will also remain individual users of the site, and may decide to communicate their own thoughts and opinions about the process as things move along, but those statements do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Team as a whole.

7. Is there a limit to how many people can participate in this Transition Team process? In our initial discussion Friday we recognized a lot of potential for additional involvement of folks, both in less formal/committed roles, and in helping with a variety of possible sub-groups focused on different site needs (community engagement, revenue, technical development, and so on). Determining and changing any specifics there will be something the Transition Team manages itself. My opinion is that maintaining the core work group at 6-8 folks makes the most sense, but that is ultimately up to the Transition Team.

As we go through this transition, it's clear that in order to grow and thrive, MetaFilter will need to rely much more on volunteer support. This is a big change from the past! If you have an interest in being a part of that work, please do reach out to the transition team. If you have thoughts about a project that you think could meet a site need (say, a merch team to help with generating revenue), let’s talk about what those might look like and how to best coordinate efforts on those projects.

8. How can I get involved? This is something the Transition Team will be working on in terms of any formal processes, and I am sure they will have more to say about it. Informally, you're welcome at any time to reach out at the contact form or to a Transition Team member to let them know about your interest/availability/etc. We’re looking at setting up a dedicated email/inbox for the Transition Team soon as well. I've been tracking suggestions we've received so far and am passing them on to the initial participants for reference. Getting this initial process started quickly required making some calls based on immediate availability and not being able to include everyone interested, but finding ways to include folks more generally will be a focus of the Transition Team as they move forward.

9. What is cortex's role in this? I'll be available in an advisory capacity for this process. I'll provide what input and guidance I can and am asked for, and context on the site's current budget realities and historical decision-making processes. Because of both my personal need to wind down my professional obligations with MeFi, and my desire to see this be something new and different beyond my personal capacity to orchestrate, my aim is to be at most a helpful resource for and bystander to whatever happens next.

10. How will MeFi’s change in ownership affect this? I don’t expect it to at all; I’m still in the process of putting the site legally in other hands within the MeFi community (I’ll share more in a separate post when there’s more to share) but that role is going to be primarily stewardship rather than top-down control over site processes. They’ll work to support the Transition Team and the mods rather than personally directing it.


So: there's a start! This is a lot of newness, and it's a little nerve-wracking just because change always is, but I'm excited about the directions this can all go in. And I am deeply reassured about my decision to step away knowing there are smart, caring people excited to help figure this all out and to reach out to and work with the MetaFilter community to figure out what happens next.

Please be as kind and supportive to them as you can as they take on this big pile of work; nothing as complicated as this place is ever gonna be without bumps, but this is an opportunity to hit the reset button on a lot of things and work together toward the things we collectively want to see happen. I'm really looking forward to stepping back and seeing everything folks manage to build.
posted by cortex (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 1:16 PM (42 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

And a quick extra thank you to all the folks on the Transition Team who helped with both the idea generating on Friday and the draft-polishing for this MetaTalk post. It's better for having had several sets of eyes on it, and with any luck it's the last one I personally will be making on the subject!
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:18 PM on April 18 [19 favorites]

Thanks for the update cortex; I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes, and my hat is off to the members of the transition team.
posted by nubs at 2:06 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

Thank you so much for this detailed and reassuring post, cortex (and everyone who helped hone it).

For what it's worth, I have a huge amount of trust in you, cortex, and in the individuals you've mentioned, and in the individual mods, and I believe that, just by virtue of your individual and collective experience, and your individual and collective good intentions, you will come up with the best options and plans possible.

I am truly grateful to you, cortex, for your outstanding efforts in passing the baton(s) to others carefully and helpfully, and I am grateful to everyone involved in this process for their emotional, technical, strategic, and creative labor.


A completely unimportant question of idle curiosity: what tool are you using to track suggestions? Trello? LibreOffice Calc? Dog-eared index cards?
posted by kristi at 2:33 PM on April 18 [11 favorites]

Thanks to all of you for taking this on. I do not recognize all the names on the list but those I do seem to represent a good cross-section of constructive voices. I look forward to hearing more about the process as it evolves, supporting the team, and contributing where I can.
posted by rpfields at 2:47 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

Those are some excellent "hires" for this work IMO. Well done.
posted by eirias at 2:49 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

Thanks, cortex and everybody else participating in this.
posted by signal at 3:21 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for this detailed post, cortex! And thank you Transition Team for all you have done and all that you will do! I am so impressed with what has been presented so far and I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes of this process.

I don't know how I might contribute but I will always be in the background, rooting for Metafilter and its members!
posted by danabanana at 3:26 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

Cortex, tihs is a good step. I hope you feel good about this transition.
posted by theora55 at 3:30 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

Thanks to all of you for putting in the work and to Cortex for assuring the lights remain on during the transition.
posted by bondcliff at 3:47 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

Thank you so much, this seems to be very well planned and everyone on the team are the right people. Hugs to all.
posted by mumimor at 3:54 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

There are some nice people on that list and I am grateful they're doing that.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:08 PM on April 18 [10 favorites]

[this is good]
posted by dorothy hawk at 5:04 PM on April 18 [6 favorites]

A completely unimportant question of idle curiosity: what tool are you using to track suggestions? Trello? LibreOffice Calc? Dog-eared index cards?

(This is me speaking for me, not as a Unified Whole)

We're working that out now! Bear in mind this volunteer group has been in communication for four days, two of which are weekend, so I think right at this moment we're on the "dog-eared index card" end of things. Most of our notes have been in a series of shared Google Docs, but obviously a long term organizational storage of ideas attached to potential volunteers, working groups, priority levels, and so forth is something we've got to sort out fairly quickly.
posted by sciatrix at 5:16 PM on April 18 [9 favorites]

This all sounds really positive, thank you for the update.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:04 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

sciatrix - Yay! Thank you for responding to my idle curiosity!

(For anyone on the team who's exploring task management options, I've become pretty fond of Freedcamp, which has a robust free tier that lets you assign things to people, move things around in lists, use tags and priorities, and so on. But I imagine the fine folks on the team have plenty of their own favorites to choose from.)

... I am enjoying the idea of y'all speaking as a Unified Whole, which I am imagining as rather choral. 42-part harmony.
posted by kristi at 6:28 PM on April 18 [9 favorites]

I just want to wish you good luck, we're all counting on you.
posted by briank at 7:03 PM on April 18 [38 favorites]

... I am enjoying the idea of y'all speaking as a Unified Whole, which I am imagining as rather choral. 42-part harmony.

Something quite like the choral bits from Stephen Sondheim's The Frogs.

(this is a musical concept, not a political swipe)
posted by hippybear at 7:10 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

I'd love to be part of the team or at least participate in discussions and am looking forward to hearing more about how to get involved.

I believe in Metafilter!
posted by bendy at 7:11 PM on April 18 [6 favorites]

Many thanks cortex and Transition Team members. MetaFilter is such an important part of my life and I appreciate the work that y'all are doing to keep this community going.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:33 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

Thanks cortex and the transition team members, this is all very positive!
posted by ellieBOA at 12:28 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

A community can't grow without new members. Are there any plans for outreach, expansion, perhaps even advertising? A random thought was an article about the history of Metafilter... We've been around for a long time, with some legendary stories. Might be fun to share the highlights with the world.

Does Metafilter have a sign up fee still, and should it remain?

How does the team feel about the site moderation, and is there anything that needs to be changed?
posted by Jacen at 3:46 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

Those are all great questions - whether for the transition or the next team. If you want to contribute to growing the site by taking on some of the work don’t forget to throw your name into the proverbial hat.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:49 AM on April 19 [5 favorites]

Thanks to the Team members for standing up to do this hard work!

I believe that the community's scrutiny of your work, and the inevitable feedback, will be in the spirit of getting the best outcome, and not to tear you down personally. *looks out at MeFites, sets jaw, raises one eyebrow* Right, everyone?

We're going to support them and offer constructive criticism. Remember, MeFites: "Yes, and."
posted by wenestvedt at 5:28 AM on April 19 [19 favorites]

I am excited to see this process taking shape. Give me a shout if/when you get to the issue of technical sustainability/bailing out frimble. (I'm not sure if that's on the immediate agenda or a further down the line thing.)
posted by hoyland at 6:05 AM on April 19 [6 favorites]

posted by ®@ at 6:45 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a move to a true board of directors, with responsibility for setting policies and charting a long-term course for the site, and that's great. Pretty standard in non-profits and public companies. But I'm not sure how that works with (I could be wrong here) what's essentially a private corporation. Would love to know more about how the ownership and direction functions will work in practice.

Also, I'd be happy to jump in and help, although probably you have more than enough cis het white guys involved already. Maybe I'll start by (*ashamed face*) finally making another donation to help keep the lights on. (Update: Done!)
posted by martin q blank at 7:06 AM on April 19 [4 favorites]

How does the team feel about the site moderation, and is there anything that needs to be changed?

That's a great question, and one that I think is crucial to answer going forward. That said, I think it is a question that I believe [personally, not Unified Whole] should be answered by some future iteration of site governance. I [again, personally] don't believe the transition team is suited to those kinds of long-reaching strategic decisions. I do think that we can put together some sort of committee or council that will be capable of making those kinds of decisions in consultation with staff.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:09 AM on April 19 [4 favorites]

While this is all well and good and admirable the elephant in the room is finance.
How much is in the kitty to keep the lights on?
Incomings vs. Outgoings.?
Is the new owner bankrolling the site?
posted by adamvasco at 7:42 AM on April 19 [7 favorites]

I want to echo Rock Steady that I don’t personally see this current team getting into moderation policy. I do hope we can be a resource to the current team basically to listen.

For finances, again, at least asking questions and laying out the (temporary) rules of the road will be important. I think because this might include some salary information or implications (to be clear, I don’t know any of that at this time) it’s important to take a steady but thoughtful approach. Cortex has given significant updates in the past and that seems like a good tradition to me right at this moment, and I leave it up to him if he wants to jump in.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:17 AM on April 19 [6 favorites]

We know that the problem space has been pretty well mapped out at this point, as we tend to have gone over the major known issues, hopes, and needs many times in past MeTas. Since these discussions can become so sprawling and woolly, introducing some structured analysis process could be helpful. I wonder if the Transition Team would find it useful to engage in an inventory of issues/topics to address and do some preliminary organizing of ideas in the form of something like a SWOT analysis or - probably even better for this case - a NOISE analysis? That could result in something the future community committee structure could use to prioritize and move forward.
posted by Miko at 10:04 AM on April 19 [9 favorites]

New boss('s) same as the old boss, but woohoo for once that lame platitude is a really good (hopeful, positive) expression!
posted by sammyo at 10:15 AM on April 19

I [again, personally] don't believe the transition team is suited to those kinds of long-reaching strategic decisions

I think you might be underestimating the problem. With cortex on his way out and Eyebrows also leaving the site or becoming a part-timer, the amount of mod hours available every day for the site is going to drop sharply, and before Q3.

Besides the situation in Ukraine, we’re certain to have threads on hot-button topics like, for example, the U.S. midterm elections campaigns which will kick off shortly, abortion cases going to the US Supreme Court, and others I’m forgetting during my lunch break. Flag It And Move On is not a viable strategy if it takes mods hours to respond, that just means the thread becomes toxic and mods will spend more precious time trying to unravel and wind it back.

I would urge you to start thinking about either hiring new mods or training volunteer mods, to begin ASAP.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:45 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

Mod note: "the amount of mod hours available every day for the site is going to drop sharply"
We are already looking into this, I'm talking to each of the mods so that we can balance coverage and budget.
posted by loup (staff) at 11:00 AM on April 19 [7 favorites]

What's the current mod coverage? I know it was dropped down to about 75% last year, but it's felt like it's been lower than that recently.
posted by buntastic at 11:16 AM on April 19 [3 favorites]

I have positive feelings about the positive changes and bad feelings about the known issues and very stressful feelings about the unknowns. Is there more I could be doing? Yes. Am I exhausted? Also yes. Is anything truly permanent? No. What's actually important? What's the point?

It's a 2022 microcosm.

Am I am ok with it? I am not ok, but I am ok with this. Ok with the limited map and uncertain terrain. ok with all the questions that can't be answered at the moment. So good luck out there.
posted by zenon at 11:16 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]

I was asked to be part of the steering committee, which I think is the earlier iteration of the transition team, but unfortunately time zone issues means that I haven’t been able to join either of the two Zoom meetings so far. That’s fair enough – people are busy and mostly in the US whereas I’m in the UK.

I am especially interested in the finances and tech stack of Metafilter and if and when I can get involved in the future I will want to take a good look. So many issues could be alleviated with more money and better technology!
posted by adrianhon at 12:06 PM on April 19 [17 favorites]

I was asked to be part of the steering committee, which I think is the earlier iteration of the transition team

Same group, new name, adrianhon. I hope we will have a chance to get some good input from you (and other MeFites) in the near future, even if you aren't able to "officially" join the team (whatever "officially" means).

I think you might be underestimating the problem. With cortex on his way out and Eyebrows also leaving the site or becoming a part-timer, the amount of mod hours available every day for the site is going to drop sharply, and before Q3.

You are correct that it is a big problem, and I do think that the transition team will be thinking about ways to address the shortfall in moderator hours, but that is a different problem than "Should MeFi change its moderation philosophy, policies, and practices?" which is something that I think needs more community input than the transition team is going to be able to gather in our 3-ish month timeframe.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:05 PM on April 19

people are busy and mostly in the US whereas I’m in the UK.

Would be good to ensure geographic diversity is built into the team. (I'm implying cultural & social diversity arising from that.)
posted by biffa at 1:34 PM on April 19 [15 favorites]

I think I'm the only team member that hasn't posted in one of these threads yet, so: hello, hi, I'm also involved.
posted by curious nu at 6:56 PM on April 19 [15 favorites]

An important reminder that MeFi, like Soylent Green, is made of people.
posted by panama joe at 7:33 AM on April 20 [8 favorites]

OH HAI, now that 7 hour car rides with a three year old are over for me (FOR NOW), I've joined the Transition Team (cortex invited me last week) so I'll be doing putting in my two cents, while trying to find out where the mods have stashed all the chocolate.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:16 PM on April 20 [46 favorites]

> a long term organizational storage of ideas attached to potential volunteers, working groups, priority levels, and so forth is something we've got to sort out fairly quickly.

If you could use help briefly spinning up a server or software to help organize, let me know.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:20 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]

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