March is Steering Committee election season March 1, 2023 5:23 PM   Subscribe

After an initial six-month period marked by a successful fundraiser, volunteer projects, and the start of a long process of establishing important tools and processes for the operation of the site, the MetaFilter Steering Committee (SC) is launching a second round of elections to replace departing members and help us continue our efforts to improve MeFi. Can you build on the progress made addressing the site's urgent needs, partner with diverse stakeholders from the membership, admin, and others, and coordinate with a committed group of volunteers to set MetaFilter's direction? Do you have relevant expertise, a desire to give back to this community, and the time and capacity to put its ideas into action? If so, we want you! Self-nominations will be open from March 1st through midnight Pacific Time on the 15th, with a voting period to follow. Check inside for details!

The inaugural Steering Committee's first six months has been a challenging time, with the open-ended task of building this new collaborative structure compounded by an unexpectedly urgent financial crisis that threatened the site's future - one that is in many ways still ongoing. Thanks to the efforts of our members, volunteers, and the community at large, we were able to mount a successful multi-prong fundraising effort that has put MeFi on the road to revival. Your support has also secured new tools and personnel to improve the site's internal operations and begin to make them more rigorous and accountable.

We've worked to establish a robust network of platforms for managing the SC's projects and correspondence, as well as a growing base of volunteer contributors, in order to set the stage for our next steps. Now, with the inaugural term coming to a close and several members opting not to renew, we're asking interested MeFites to step up and help us continue making positive change for this community: improving the SC's structure, implementing the new budget, exploring new revenue streams, and taking on concerns around moderation, development, and site culture. That starts with a call for self-nominations to the next incarnation of the Steering Committee.

We are looking to add eight new members, with two chosen by MeFi's Global BIPOC Board, two by jessamyn and loup, and four elected by the community. We feel this mix, along with four existing members staying for a full year, will ensure diverse representation and enough continuity to hit the ground running while still giving the community at large a continuing voice in shaping the SC.

RESPONSIBILITIES

Although the original Transition Team did a great job setting us up for success, one thing they underestimated was the size and scope of commitment -- four hours a month is simply not realistic to cover the range of work needed. Current baseline tasks include a monthly 90-minute video meeting and regular text correspondence, both internally and with the admin Slack. Add in misc. overhead and work on a variety of ongoing projects and the minimum is closer to ten hours per week.

While the addition of a part-time administrative assistant and developer will relieve some of the burden, we ask that prospective members ensure they have the time to contribute regularly to SC work, are diligent organizers/communicators, and are willing to take on at least one internal project or role each month to ensure such tasks are neither neglected nor overly centralized. We will also be determining ways to more effectively distribute such roles and track progress towards identifying and fulfilling community requests.

Here are some of the broad functions/roles we think would be most useful for SC2 to include, and some of the tasks they would be in charge of pursuing in concert with other SC members and volunteer contributors. We particularly encourage self-nominations from people who have experience with such roles and would like to take them on.
  • general coordination/president: chairing SC meetings, developing monthly agendas, tracking progress and ensuring follow-through on actions, staying on top of regular SC updates, main point of contact for admin, etc.
  • secretarial: scheduling meetings, making transcriptions, tracking votes, publishing minutes
  • site comms: responding to emails, monitoring SC threads, gathering and relaying consensus statements to admin and community, social media/PR
  • coding: working with frimble to implement new features and expand access to volunteer code contributors
  • business development: evaluating and pursuing new revenue opportunities in line with community values, donor outreach and relations, improving internal business processes
  • fundraising: planning and overseeing semi-annual fundraisers, merch/auctions/event ticketing, analyzing and reporting results
  • site/SC policy: monitoring policy discussions, gathering community feedback, formulating responses in consult with SC and admin, SC internal affairs
  • user growth: managing sign-up drives, demographic and opinion surveys, event management, promoting contests and theme weeks/months
  • volunteer coordination: maintaining and utilizing contributor database, communication with volunteer groups, on/offboarding, dispute resolution, advising staff hiring, HR
Note that the SC has already gathered a large number of proposals for site projects and initiatives -- at this stage the challenge is more evaluating and prioritizing them and putting in the organizational muscle to make them a reality. Of course, if you want to help but can't commit to this extent, volunteer contributors are always welcome!

APPLICATIONS

Email metafiltersc@gmail.com with the subject line "Steering Committee Self-Nomination" and the following in the email body: [notes in brackets can be replaced]
USERNAME: [your primary active MetaFilter account]

FULL NAME: [seen only by staff/SC and not shared]

PERSONAL INFORMATION: [As much as you're comfortable sharing; we're looking for a diverse group of MeFites to better reflect and advocate for the full range of community experience]

SKILLS: [Outline the skills or professional experience you bring to the SC and how you hope to use it]

ACCESSIBILITY: [Describe any accessibility needs to help you participate in SC meetings and discussions.]

YOUR METAFILTER EXPERIENCE: [What do you like most about MetaFilter? What do you think needs to change? If you tell someone you're on the MetaFilter Steering Committee and they ask "What is MetaFilter? Why are you on the SC?" what's your answer?]

PLEDGE:
* Affirm that you agree to abide by the SC charter.
* Affirm that you can commit to a minimum 6 month term, can attend a monthly synchronous meeting, and are able to stay in regular contact with both the SC and MetaFilter staff (this is in the charter, but it's important to emphasize).
* Affirm that you will not disclose private or confidential information about users and the site that you have access to during your time on the SC.
* If you are not either selected to be or voted to be a member, are you interested in being a volunteer contributor?
Like the Transition Team before us, we will be working on a "Starter Pack" outlining the SC's various tools and practices and getting new members up to speed.

While this might seem like a daunting task, the work is rewarding, and members are here to support each other in our common goal of improving MetaFilter for all members. If you care about the future of this community and think you have what it takes to help it grow and prosper, please don't hesitate to send in your self-nomination today!
posted by Rhaomi to Steering Committee at 5:23 PM (181 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

[Note that this was a collaborative post by the Steering Committee, written first by myself with extensive notes and additions by the rest of the team. So much of the last six months has been an exercise in collaboration, and I deeply appreciate the opportunity to work alongside such thoughtful, diligent folks who care so much about this place. Thanks, everybody.]
posted by Rhaomi at 5:24 PM on March 1 [8 favorites]


What timezones will the meeting be in?
posted by creatrixtiara at 5:36 PM on March 1


Hi creatrixtiara, we've experimented with several different schedules using tools to identify times that work best for the most people, including rotating to later US/EU hours to better accommodate Asia/Pacific time zones. This will vary depending on what the geographic composition of the new SC ends up being but we're always willing to be flexible.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:42 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]


Are community candidates subject to veto by the existing moderators again? If the SC is to take on "concerns around moderation", I would find that concerning as it might limit the ability for the community to choose its own representatives, especially representatives who have been outspoken about the need to move beyond the status quo.
posted by grouse at 6:13 PM on March 1 [6 favorites]


Jessamyn and loup will screen applicants as before but the SC will now be involved (the applications go to our inbox) and will provide some oversight on the process.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:22 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Will there be any criteria for jessamyn and loup's screening? And, will the SC to told who was screened out and why?
posted by Gotanda at 7:25 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


Not to abuse the edit window, I see that the SC will see the applicants, so will understand who was vetoed. But, it would be good to know what the criteria are besides that the applicant should "be a good fit."
posted by Gotanda at 7:28 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


I know that calls for greater transparency have recently become a hot topic around here, but nonetheless I’d like to ask for some clarification as to why so many current members are choosing not to continue. At any other company, if a job posting mentioned that 2/3 of the staff had recently quit, or that the turnover rate is less than a year, those would be red flags to me. Maybe not as bright red because this was a fixed-term position with a specified off ramp, but I still wonder why a supermajority of some of the (presumably) most committed users are choosing to take that off ramp. Or, to frame it differently, why are the other four current members staying on? Is there some reason we don’t know who those four are yet? I apologize if this comes off as combative; I just don’t understand why everything is so opaque, especially considering the recent calls for decreased opacity.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:41 PM on March 1 [24 favorites]


I would agree that knowing who is staying on the SC and who is leaving is important to MeFites who may wish to self-nominate. Knowing who you will be working with is an important part of that decision in my past experience on such boards or committees. Often, one of the main rewards of such work is getting to know and making friends with the other members. I am not sure if we need to know why. Much of that is likely quite personal, but we all know from reading their reports that the task is large.
posted by Gotanda at 8:09 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Is it really ten hours a week, or is that an error and should really say month?

10 hours a week is pretty extreme for a volunteer role.
posted by Miko at 8:12 PM on March 1 [35 favorites]


clarification as to why so many current members are choosing not to continue

I bet not everybody realized what they were getting themselves into, or they did realize, and were only available for the 6-month commitment. Based on the descriptions of responsibilities (good job with the descriptions there!) and personal experience with volunteer-run orgs, it's a lot of work and a big ask.
posted by aniola at 8:13 PM on March 1 [13 favorites]


I am extremely sensitive that fundraising and addressing the budget situation were quite rightfully higher immediate priorities for a group of volunteers thanklessly scrambling to put out fires, yet I do think a lot of the confusion on display in the initial comments here indicates the need to prioritize some initial governance process for the Steering Committee. Basic bylaws-type questions like how is the SC chosen, specific election methods/procedures, terms and term limits and (if any) and the process for re-election of existing members, veto procedure (if any), purview and powers of the SC, the role of the SC as it relates to moderation policy and specific moderation decisions, the means by which the SC makes decisions, what the SC will and won't be transparent about (meeting minutes?), how the charter can be changed in the future and the community's role in that process, etc... are really important to actually transition the site to community governance, and yet are all up in the air without any meaningful discussion.

Related to the need for further development of governance policies, the version of the charter linked in this post and dated March '23 says "New members will be voted on by the community" while this post seems to say that only 50% of new members will be voted on by the community while the other half will be appointed. I'm not taking a position on how the SC should be chosen now or in the future, but—and I'm sorry to be a troublemaker here about what I fully assume to be an oversight that reflects the lack of resources that have been available to devote to governance issues —I am confused why we have a rather short charter that can apparently be amended by the SC at-will and without any broader notice or discussion...and yet we're not following it in this election?

Is there a planned time-frame to formally discuss with the community and adopt governance policies along these lines? Or perhaps to try to recruit someone with a meaningful background in community governance models to help advise the community on different governance models (perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the open source software world or from the Organization for Transformative Works or Wikimedia or various co-ops and collectives? I'm learning now that there appears to be a small subfield of academic research in "governance structures in online communities of consumption" which may or may not have something to offer us)? Perhaps someone with governance experience is reading this thread right now and might even want to help out?

I'll add that it would help to have a history of the charter too, so that the community can understand if/when/why it's been changed. I noticed that the original SC charter dated July 2022 says the members agreed to "Determining the regular method of adding new members, or retaining existing members, by March 1, 2023" while the new version of the charter has removed this statement, replacing it with a commitment to confidentiality, even though it doesn't seem like such a process is currently in place (see, for example, the lack of member terms/retention process and the discrepancies between the election/appointment procedure specified in this MeTa and the charter).
posted by zachlipton at 10:30 PM on March 1 [12 favorites]


We went back and forth on the target time commitment. To clarify, I understand the 10 hours/week to be a rough estimate that includes time keeping abreast of the site, participating in discussion on SC/admin platforms and being around to vote, answer questions, and pitch in on various tasks when needed, not ten regularly scheduled hours of nose-to-the-grindstone Work. It's more a question of availability -- with four hours a month, and 90 minutes of that going to the monthly meeting, that's only 2.5 hours for all other SC activity, and if one's 2.5 doesn't line up with a given month's needs it's hard to get anything significant done (asynchronous discussion helps but it's easier to lose track of things that way). Asking people to have an hour or so a day being around for SC affairs, and potentially having that time available for a bigger task like hosting a MeFi Event or writing a site update post when needed, helps ensure that fewer things get neglected (or that people who do have more time/capacity don't end up taking on too much).

Part of the problem is that the immediacy of the funding crunch led to a lot of improvisational, ad-hoc planning without a well-defined structure already in place; some members were able to be incredibly productive and successful in this environment while others had difficulty staying sufficiently up-to-date and available due to their job's work hours and other commitments. We're hopeful that increasing the requested availability and making the SC's roles more well-defined will help to avoid this.

I won't comment on why specific members have chosen not to stay; suffice to say it's a mix of increased career responsibilities, avoiding possible conflicts of interest with IRL work, personal life circumstances, and not wishing to sustain the same tempo for an additional term. Some that are leaving the SC are open to serving as a volunteer contributor for specific projects in a reduced capacity. Nobody to my knowledge is stepping down due to discontent with the staff or the site. Speaking personally, I'm opting to stay on in order to put more work into some site-culture initiatives that inspired me to apply in the first place, which kind of fell by the wayside as the fundraiser and budget planning occupied most of our focus.

Gotanda, here is the Transition Team's criteria from the previous call for nominations: "MetaFilter staff will be screening the self-nominations, because they have privileged information from decades of interacting with the community that we do not. This screening is for the purpose of identifying moderation-related issues that a member may have had - primarily bans, near-bans, and abusive behavior - and is NOT being performed to approve or deny whether someone would be “a good fit” for the SC. This is non-negotiable for the inaugural Steering Committee." We know there is some distrust of the mods among some users and the SC will be discussing the rationale for any screening with the staff. Again speaking just from my own experience, I anticipate that jessamyn and loup are looking for prospective members that are interested in boosting the community, working constructively with the SC/staff/volunteers to improve the site, and representing it positively. Those with a history of antagonism towards staff and other users, disrespecting the guidelines, and generally wanting to burn shit down will likely not pass that test (and if somebody like that does apply I'd be inclined to agree). The SC has to work amicably with lots of other stakeholders to get things done; adding in somebody who fundamentally doesn't like or respect significant swaths of the staff, users, guidelines, fellow SC members, etc. is great if you want drama but pretty terrible if you want to see anything productive accomplished.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:34 PM on March 1 [20 favorites]


I’d like to ask for some clarification as to why so many current members are choosing not to continue.

I have a new job that is not compatible with continuing on the steering committee. I would have liked to have stayed on, despite the much, much higher time commitment than I expected because we were starting to get into working on audience development and policy issues that were much more in my wheelhouse than fundraising, but with my new position, it is just not possible.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:45 PM on March 1 [13 favorites]


If a user applies and is rejected by the SC, jessamyn and loup, they will presumably be told they have been rejected (or will figure it out when their name isn't included in the community ballot), I assume they will be allowed to tell the community that fact and disclose any reasons given to them? Or will that not be allowed?
posted by Lesium at 11:05 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Given that:

1. It appears that the commitments for SC roles and tasks are expanding, in terms of expertise and time required - rightly so, given the need to dedicate major effort to business development, new user acquisition, and fundraising;

2. If we investigate what moderators are doing, we are likely to discover that effortful and unproductive "high touch moderation" (or pejoratively, ad hoc user "therapy sessions") takes up a very significant proportion of their time, with straightforward moderation tasks requiring a fraction of overall time;

Has it been considered that:

A. It would be really useful to see if existing renumerated moderator time could be reallocated to support on these tasks rather than the entire burden be on unpaid volunteers;

B. Or more radically that these vital tasks and roles (business development, new user acquisition, and fundraising) require dedicated, skilled, paid staff - that they do need a commitment of serious hours and expert level of insight to achieve the impactful results required to ensure site survival. And so it might be worth considering flipping the current model on its head, i.e. hiring for these roles and asking volunteers to moderate.
posted by iivix at 1:16 AM on March 2 [23 favorites]


clarification as to why so many current members are choosing not to continue

I bet not everybody realized what they were getting themselves into


Personally I kind of melted down and left the SC after 2-3 months. The first SC team contributed a ton of incredibly valuable work that I didn’t understand and I wasn’t able to contribute anything.
posted by bendy at 1:18 AM on March 2 [13 favorites]


I can’t speak for the Committee but I took on a lot more than I was prepared for.
posted by bendy at 1:25 AM on March 2 [4 favorites]


10 hours a week is a part-time job and means anyone working full-time can't volunteer, leaving this open only to people with lots of free time.

I could definitely do 2-3 hours a week scheduled, but 10 hours a week is just not possible. I don't know of any volunteering gigs that require that many hours consistently - there are crunch times when people do more hours like around fundraisers, newsletters etc - but not what adds up to 13 full-time weeks a year!

You need to expand the steering committee at least 2x and break off sections that focus on a single thing with cross-reporting so that people's hours can be cut down to 2-3 hours max a week.

Sustainable long-term volunteers are more useful than people who contribute and then burn-out.

People who can do 10 hours a week because they're retired or otherwise not full-time employed are incredibly valuable volunteers and would be better off being able to take on 1-2 roles with back-up of more people AND diversity of having more people.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:37 AM on March 2 [23 favorites]


Is there anything like a "Diary of an SC Member" anywhere, with just a sample of what the work specifically is? The descriptions here seem a bit abstract.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:00 AM on March 2 [2 favorites]


TheophileEscargot:

The SC held a "Meet the SC" session in late December last year, viewable here.

(I'm not sure if this is close to what you're looking for, but perhaps it might help to get a better idea of what the SC has been doing.)
posted by aielen at 3:53 AM on March 2 [5 favorites]


dorothyisunderwood:
I could definitely do 2-3 hours a week scheduled, but 10 hours a week is just not possible.

We welcome volunteers in their available capacity - some volunteers have been able to commit 2-3 hours per week, others more (some also putting in 10+ hours/week), and others on an adhoc basis. For the Steering Committee specifically, we are hoping that 10 hours a week can be a more realistic and honest estimation of the work and commitment that's needed right now for the site, given the its current state and phase.
We understand the previous 4 hours/month estimation (from the original charter laid out by the TT) was benchmarked based on other organizations - that were stable, established, and not in transition or financial crisis. It would be great for Metafilter to be in a similar position, but unfortunately we're not there yet.

You need to expand the steering committee at least 2x and break off sections that focus on a single thing with cross-reporting so that people's hours can be cut down to 2-3 hours max a week.

Expanding the number of members in the steering committee by 2x would make for 24-member steering committee, which also increases and compounds the amount of coordination and consensus required for the Steering Committee to make collective statements, public comms, come to agreement on decisions, etc. The site is in a transition phase - a period of change and adaptation - which necessitates decisions be made within fairly short timeframes, with a committee that can move, adapt and keep pace with constant developments and needs that surface.

---

For those who are interested in volunteering with MetaFilter but are maybe hesitant to jump into full Steering Committee work, I'd encourage considering coming onboard as a non-SC volunteer for specific work groups / initiatives / projects tasks. This may also be more manageable if you have limited time to offer and/or more specific skillsets and interests. Volunteering in this capacity helps get a sense of what it's like to work "behind-the-scenes" with the staff/admin and stakeholders, while getting a better idea of what specific aspects/"departments" of Metafilter are like in their current state, and how they can be improved (e.g. Metafilter's affiliate income, outreach/engagement, code, marketing, PR, ad hosting, etc).
posted by aielen at 4:14 AM on March 2 [12 favorites]


Can we get a list of the actual volunteering opportunities? It's super-nebulous at the moment - the volunteering form is basically all on the volunteer to offer/guess.

I am inbetween jobs at the moment and happy to volunteer specifically to help do this for the next two weeks, mapping out what needs to be done into specific job descriptions with skills, responsibilities, hours needed, etc, and then turning it into user-friendly sign-up forms so people have clear expectations and get matched appropriately. Please memail/email me with the right person to start getting the info on this.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:29 AM on March 2 [10 favorites]


Like others, I'm really worried about the 10hrs/wk thing. I wasn't really seriously considering, but that utterly, utterly rules out both me and anyone like me. I have a family member who was once secretary of a church board and one of the webmasters for the church at a time while they were figuring out live streaming, and I'd estimate that 10hrs/wk is easily double what even that involved on average -- which already pushing what was sustainable as a long-term volunteer commitment. So I think it'd be really helpful to have a concrete, specific breakdown of what those 10hrs might involve in a particular week.

From Rhaomi's followup I wonder if 10hrs is peak, not typical/average? (Which is an extremely different story.) Has anyone actually tracked their hours as they went?
posted by advil at 4:46 AM on March 2 [4 favorites]


aielen are you staying on? And can we get a list of the 4 remainers?
posted by Meatbomb at 5:19 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


are willing to take on at least one internal project or role each month to ensure such tasks are neither neglected nor overly centralized

In addition to the bulleted list of roles, I'm curious about the project list and overall roadmap. Has a growth strategy and roadmap been constructed? I am helping multiple organizations (volunteer for my neighborhood association, paid for city's planning department, my boss' startup) to determine how to take a list of ideas and turn them into a schedule of expenses, activities, and impacts, that combine together into creating a plan with transparent expenses and impact.

And besides that, I've got my own ideas about growth, but they are mostly wild ideas that a lot of people would criticize. I believe in FAST, SMALL pilots, where a few people execute and learn and revise as quickly as possible, with the expectation that after 4 iterations, either something great will have emerged, or the bad idea will have been beaten to death with very little investment. That was my reasoning behind the black friday gift guide, which some liked and some hated but got over with and exposed some great questions about affiliate linking and the reach of our content beyond this site.

Rather than ramble on and on, I'll leave it at that. But if you like those two paragraphs, ask questions and I'll dive the next level deeper.
posted by rebent at 5:42 AM on March 2 [10 favorites]


Personally I kind of melted down and left the SC after 2-3 months. The first SC team contributed a ton of incredibly valuable work that I didn’t understand and I wasn’t able to contribute anything.

I can’t speak for the Committee but I took on a lot more than I was prepared for.

A big thank you to bendy for the honesty here.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:14 AM on March 2 [30 favorites]


The figure of 10 hours/week is at least more honest than the always-derided "it's only an hour a week!" line that Scouting leaders & volunteers exchange in the parking lot as they leave yet another multi-hour meeting... :7)

I am grateful for the contributions and effort by the first set of volunteers! I don't blame folks who took their turn and are stepping away (I have been there), and I am glad for those who are willing to stay.

High five, thanks for serving the community!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:32 AM on March 2 [18 favorites]


Personally I kind of melted down and left the SC after 2-3 months. The first SC team contributed a ton of incredibly valuable work that I didn’t understand and I wasn’t able to contribute anything.

I really hope that you don't, in any way, feel bad or remorseful about this. Very few people would be able and willing to dedicate 10+ hours a week to a volunteer position. Thank you for volunteering in the first place and I'm really glad you're here on the site.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:33 AM on March 2 [16 favorites]


From Rhaomi's followup I wonder if 10hrs is peak, not typical/average? (Which is an extremely different story.) Has anyone actually tracked their hours as they went?

Not answering on behalf of the entire SC, especially given that my last day was a couple of days ago, but speaking for myself, I would say that for me personally, the weeks in which I put in a full 10 hours were relatively rare. There have even been some weeks where I have done very little or even nothing at all -- checking in on our group comms tools a few times, but not more than that. But even half an hour a day keeping on top of the group's conversations and providing feedback on other people's ideas plus a block of 4-5 hours a week of working on your specific project and a little bit of time keeping on top of MetaTalk (which, admittedly, probably most likely SC candidates would have been doing anyway) and you get pretty close to the 10 hours most weeks. It's not an unwavering commitment -- if tonight is your family board game night so you don't check in on the group conversation or provide feedback on the document that is going around at the moment, that's probably not the end of the world.

But the thing is, on top of that, that two of the members put much more time in than the rest of us, and part of the reason for providing a fairly high estimate of the time involved is so that the work involved does get more evenly divided and it doesn't end up being a huge burden on the couple of people who can make that kind of time.

More specific, task-based volunteers doing more of the work, or handing it back to staff once a direction is set, with less of it falling directly on the SC is definitely a goal, but volunteer management and operational planning are, of course, a lot of work, so getting those set up and working smoothly will be a key task going forward. Getting systems in place -- things like getting accounting set up properly -- that can be easily maintained by staff over time but which have been just an absolutely huge amount of work upfront work for SC members and staff and a key volunteer who has been helping with that. That kind of upfront work isn't over, but it is my sincere hope that future SCs will need to put in way, way, way less time in those areas. But future future, not immediate future, most likely.

But also, like, the SC is the master of its own workload. We tried to do a lot with the fundraiser -- some of which, like auctions and events were very high touch -- at a time when we were also trying to build internal processes for a new organization, and figure out what did and didn't need to be done and what was in our purview vs. not, and figure out how to manage volunteers and our relationship with mods and admins and members, and to have strategic visions for the future. If it weren't for the extreme crunch of the fundraiser, I think the first SC would have spent much of its term doing the figuring out of how the SC would function in the future, instead of trying to do that in tandem with a bunch of concrete and urgent deliverables.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:37 AM on March 2 [17 favorites]


Plenty of people seem to do 10 hours a week reading/writing MeTa comments!
posted by Mid at 7:37 AM on March 2 [29 favorites]


I’m not a lawyer, but I worry that asking for volunteers to work 10 hours a week for a for-profit company would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act and could put Metafilter at significant legal risk.

From the linked document: “Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers.”
posted by buntastic at 7:54 AM on March 2 [12 favorites]


Hello!

I stood down from the SC at the end of January because I was promoted at my full-time job (yay!) but without having my current position replaced (um, what?) and the extra responsibilities and learning ate into the time I had carved out for SC duties.

But even before that happened, I was giving it about 4 hours a week instead of 4 hours a month. What did I do? Most of my time was spent catching up on conversations as we tackled a myriad of site issues and tried to establish what our responsibilities as a brand-new governing body were. I created fundraiser graphics in Canva. I spent time on Twitter promoting the site and fundraiser. I monitored and commented on some MeTas on behalf the SC, and I reviewed and collaborated on some of the SC's MeTas. I collaborated on some of the background governance and volunteer-related documents that aren't really splashy but are very necessary when you're in the infancy of a whole new way of doing things.

But even with doing all of that, I was still only giving a fraction of the time that others were able to give and doing only a fraction of what others were able to do.

I am still so touched that I was elected to serve on the SC and I am proud to have served alongside an amazing group of people as we ran through a door without knowing what was on the other side. I will definitely volunteer for other limited-scope projects as they come up, and when I succeed at getting my current position's plates spinning without it leaking into my personal time, I'd like to serve on the SC again. Zero regrets.

"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. - Theodore Roosevelt" - kimberussell
posted by kimberussell at 7:54 AM on March 2 [28 favorites]


There are some people on the Steering Committee who put in an amazing amount of time and energy. Myself (I'm sticking on for the next term), I'm a lot more laid back, and mostly just try to help people out who need it. This time that meant I helped a lot with Events, which I found out I kind of enjoy and am doing more with for the upcoming season, this time actively looking for new people to talk with (and we have some GREAT people for that, I can't believe some of the people who said yes so far, and we might be able to get more....). I've also fitfully been trying to do things to help get the MeFi ad network off the ground, and throwing some more ideas to the others.

All that said, I'm certain I haven't put in 10 hours a week into this. (I really can't do 10 hours a week, I have to focus on things that bring in income, which is my whole life's story.) I think I'm one of the slack-ier members of the SC, but there's room for a few slackers at least, if they're willing to help support the others.
posted by JHarris at 8:24 AM on March 2 [13 favorites]


With the understanding that the first 6 months of the SC's existence comprised of an initial phase of learning while flying, I recommend much of what zachlipton describes above. There are best practices and knowledge about how to manage systems like the SC, and the immediacy of the survival issue probably prevented those being explored or put into place. This next term should focus on building a strong foundation for the governance and workflow of the site.

10 hours is just plain too much investment for most volunteer commitments, even in a business structure that does allow for voluntarism. "That's how much work there is" is something you often hear when organizations wander into overcommitment; processes of prioritizing, auditing work, and structuring processes for planning and decisionmaking can really winnow that down. Since it seems there are various domains, it also makes sense for there to be some division of labor rather than having every SC member be all-in on everything. Task forces and ad hoc groups can move a lot faster than a 10- or 12-member body.

I still struggle to understand the role of the SC vis-a-vis owner and staff. It isn't structured like a board of directors, nor is it structured like a purely advisory board. They seem to be performing work for the organization (fundraising, for example), but they don't seem to have any power to set policy or guide planning.

There is a lot of wisdom and experience to be had out there on organizational planning and management of effort. MeFi may want to knock up unique code for this as it does for so many other things, but it doesn't have to be that way. There are many simple tactics you could use to reduce and manage this workload. I would suggest beginning with an overall audit of current activities for SC and staff, including a time analysis, followed by a prioritization exercise - entering with the assumption that a high priority is going to create a clear role/responsibility structure for the SC and the staff.

If that stuff isn't done, what you are setting up is a recipe for collective burnout and failure to meet deadlines, goals and expectations, and an ever-smaller, ever-more closed group running the site. I speak from professional knowledge and experience.
posted by Miko at 8:30 AM on March 2 [33 favorites]

> From the linked document: “Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers.”
I've been wondering about that too, but this wording doesn't seem to answer it. This is saying that Metafilter can't have its own employees voluteer. But the SC are not employees. They're like... unpaid interns, maybe?
posted by secretseasons at 8:39 AM on March 2 [3 favorites]


Since it seems there are various domains, it also makes sense for there to be some division of labor rather than having every SC member be all-in on everything. Task forces and ad hoc groups can move a lot faster than a 10- or 12-member body.

There was no requirement or expectation for everyone to be all-in on everything. There were smaller workgroups established.
posted by kimberussell at 8:50 AM on March 2 [6 favorites]


I'll clarify that FSLA note:

Anyone who does any work for a for-profit private business (which MeFi is) and is not a contractor is considered an "employee" under the FSLA. Companies are required to pay employees minimum wage unless they are an exempt from minimum wage regulations (for example, tipped service wage).

Under FSLA regulations, employees may not volunteer services for a for-profit business. Volunteer employees are ok in public sector organizations (eg agencies, recreation departments, public elder care programs, etc), and not-for profit civic, humanitarian, or religious organizations.

So. This is a fairly big structural issue even before we get to "how many hours?"
posted by Miko at 9:08 AM on March 2 [20 favorites]


On the FLSA issue, I very strong encourage Jessamyn and the MetaFilter legal entity to consult with legal counsel. There are very narrow exceptions in the FLSA for unpaid interns, and the SC definitely doesn't fit within those exceptions from what I can tell. I rather suspect that the conflict between for-profit status and unpaid management work is irreconcilably illegal under U.S. employment law. But again: this is not legal advice and is intended to encourage you to consult an employment law attorney.

On the broader subject: considering the (to quote Rhaomi): "urgent financial crisis... that is in many ways still ongoing", I have found in my professional life that it is often clarifying to ask this question:

"When push comes to shove, who decides?"

So who makes decisions for MetaFilter? I'd like to reflect back what I've heard and inferred from recent discussions (Molly, transparency, etc.) and see if this is correct and helpful to consider.

1. It's not the community (direct democracy). The old MeFi model of "work it out in MeTa" is long gone. The discussions are allowed to go on, without much in the way of formal or informal response from MeFi management, until they are (seemingly somewhat strategically?) pushed off the page by the MeTa chat posts.

2. It's not the community, via an elected Steering Committee (representative democracy / board of directors model). The SC does not appear to have any formal authority to, for example, set moderation policies. In addition, there is significant influence repeatedly intentionally exercised by Jessamyn and the mod staff to handpick the right SC members, veto the wrong ones, and generally make sure that if the community feels one way and the staff feels a different way, then only the "right sort of people" will have their voices heard on the SC.

3. Conclusion: it's Jessamyn and loup, who appears from the outside to have a management role over the moderation staff. When push comes to shove, they make the decisions.

Viewed in this light, it's unclear to me why anyone who wants to see change occur would volunteer for the SC: they'd be signing up for a lot of work with absolutely no formal power and likely little to no informal influence.

So the SC, it appears to me, is (or, I imagine, will over time become) a club for those who like MeFi the way that Jessamyn and loup like it. That isn't bad! Jessamyn is the owner, after all, and like Elon Musk she is entitled to have things as she likes them. But it isn't a board of directors, and it doesn't steer: it is, perhaps, intended to promote the feeling of community engagement. Less charitable possible interpretations of the role of the SC ("the purpose of a system is what it does") is left as an exercise for the reader, if desired.

Am I thinking about that correctly?
posted by gd779 at 9:13 AM on March 2 [22 favorites]


2nding getting some independent, paid legal advice.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on March 2 [4 favorites]


Oh, and if you do decide to get some independent legal advice, it might be worth considering that there are (it seems to me) a few potential solutions to the FLSA problem. The obvious fixes are paying the SC as employees or converting to a non-profit so that they can remain unpaid. But a less obvious option might be: consider converting to a for-profit cooperative, so that the SC consist not of employees but of cooperative members (i.e., stockholders/owners) who are representing the membership of the cooperative as a whole. In one move, that might solve the FLCA issue, provide "off the shelf" clarity around governance that allows MeFi to make decisions more efficiently rather than (or in addition to) hiring more, and answer the recent calls for greater transparency and true community governance. Plus, these are all well-trod paths and don't need to be reinvented or created from scratch by Jessamyn, loup, or some combination of them and/or the SC and/or MetaTalk operating by consensus, somehow.
posted by gd779 at 9:25 AM on March 2 [10 favorites]


I am stepping down mostly because my duties at work increased dramatically at very short notice and then a number of personal things interfered with my ability to do the work to the quality the site required. I plan on sticking around through the transition phase to help with the handover and provide what support I can.

As to the 10 hrs/week, I don’t feel that was every week, but some people were putting in way more than that on the regular, and finding a way to even out the effort will be critical. I hope that later instances of the committee will be able to build in this instance’s work to be more efficient and effective, but we all felt that overestimating time commitment was better than underestimating it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:39 AM on March 2 [8 favorites]


The problem isn't inherently that individuals are working without pay; people can choose to hire others to support an endeavor that they themselves don't expect to profit from. For example, a community place of worship that is self-run on a volunteer basis but pays someone to keep the books. The nonprofit model is one paradigm within the legal system that can be helpful in supporting this type of structure. Hmm, makes you think!

However, in the current Metafilter model you have people working without pay who are hierarchically below both paid staff and owners. I don't think any legitimate organization with a volunteer board would have paid staff that aren't directly accountable to said board (and/or accountable to someone with an executive role who is accountable to the board). That's... the reason that organizations have boards.
posted by dusty potato at 10:31 AM on March 2 [6 favorites]


It may also be worth considering: the owner of a business can be held personally liability for FLSA violations in some circumstances.
posted by gd779 at 12:46 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


2nding getting some independent, paid legal advice.

Will do.

like Elon Musk she is entitled to have things as she likes them.

Not the comparison I would have chosen, but okay.

The only people who would be vetoed from the SC candidacy would be people who had some history of mod or user harassment/stalking/abuse that might not otherwise be known about (maybe some Brand New Day situation, I don't know).

But it isn't a board of directors, and it doesn't steer:

It can steer. While the Steering Committee can't usefully step in to individual moderation decisions because of the distributed nature of the group and timing concerns, they are absolutely able to set moderation priorities and determine paths for the site. The inaugural SC (and Transition Team before them, thank you all) had a lot of work to do just doing fundraising and infrastructure building. It was a lot. I believe the hope is that with these things in place groundwork can be laid for a vision for MeFi that has more members of the community able to do more of the little parts of keeping MeFi going.

a less obvious option might be: consider converting to a for-profit cooperative

Yep, many options on the table and my current lawyer has always been a fan of co-ops. Nothing specifically on the table but also nothing specifically off the table.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:55 PM on March 2 [40 favorites]


Thanks for being so responsive on the legal thing, jessamyn, I was wondering/worrying too.

Like wenestvedt I’m very grateful to those who have served so far.
posted by eirias at 1:49 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]


I think the FLSA thing does not apply. Some employers try to get employees to work more hours for free. This is not allowed. Non-profits are generally allowed to exploit volunteers, just not employees. Not a lawyer, have been an employer.

I think 10 hours /week is too much because it limits the applicant pool too much. I stayed out of the recent moderation log thread because it takes a lot of effort to keep up with threads where all sorts of old business comes up, there are tons of distractions, useful and not, and so on. If the SC Slack is remotely similar, that, for me, is not a useful way to conduct work.

Right Now, MetaFilter is stable financially, Jessamyn is the new/old owner, the SC has a mission, and I think it's a good time to let things play out for a bit. I think jessamyn has more shrewd business acumen than might be assumed, while knowing and loving the place as much as anyone. Basically, Don't Panic.

I would be happy to volunteer several hours a week, not sure if the SC would be a good fit or not.

Huge thanks to bendy, jacquilynne, ailen, other SCers.
posted by theora55 at 1:50 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


Anyone that has or will volunteer for such a role has my admiration. I'm personally burned out from 40 years or so of volunteering for various things, so I'll never be volunteering for this or anything else (not to mention the embarrassment of 0 votes).

We hear that the steering committee is absolutely able to set moderation priorities and determine paths for the site. The community has, of late, given a lot of (a LOT of) feedback on a couple of moderation issues that matter greatly to some members. Nothing has (visibly) come from that feedback and it makes me wonder if the steering committee (or anyone) is interested in listening to the community when it speaks. I do very much appreciate that the current steering committee had a pile of steaming dog turds big and urgent fundraising task dumped on them before they even got their feet under the desk. But I would like to know if there is any point in members hashing out their concerns and trying to formulate improvements or if all that is just shouting into the wind. Is anyone listening and, more importantly, will anyone do anything with what they hear? This might be a useful thing for anyone self-nominating to think about.
posted by dg at 2:21 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


I think the FLSA thing does not apply.

That would be nice if it wasn't a concern, but as presently structured, It does.
posted by Miko at 2:25 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


I guess the distinction really comes down to the difference between "It can steer" and "has more members of the community able to do more of the little parts of keeping MeFi going." Both are important, but a board of directors (or even a board of directors with the backstop of "jessamyn ultimately has a veto if it comes to that") is meaningfully different from a group of volunteers who do business tasks (entirely setting labor law questions aside). And it's not entirely clear to me that it makes sense to elect the latter: volunteers with secretarial, communications, biz dev, and fundraising skills might be best organized on the basis of their experience and availability to take on or lead the tasks that need doing. That's different from an elected (or partially elected, partially appointed, depending on whether we're going with this post or the charter I guess) governing body, which would presumably be elected based on the community's alignment and trust in them to direct the site and its policy.

I think that could potentially help with volunteer recruitment too, as the SC would be able to set policy around the major initiatives they want to achieve and then solicit volunteers and/or reallocate staff time and priorities to carry them out (e.g. "we're looking for someone to organize this series of fundraising events, time commitment will be N hours mostly around May"), which may be easier to manage than putting out a general call for volunteers and trying to figure out what to do with the resulting assemblage of broadly interested people.

As the SC starts to find its footing and is able to get out of crisis mode a little bit, I'd hope that the site's governance body can be formally defined as separate from the group of people who help with MeFi operations (even if there may be some overlap with people who serve in both roles) and the responsibilities and powers of the governance body are made clear.
posted by zachlipton at 3:06 PM on March 2 [14 favorites]


The SC can organize itself however it wants. They can elect everyone. They can elect no one. They can call themselves a governing board, or a council, or a cabal, or whatever. They can appoint individuals, or teams, or spin up a chatbot to make decisions (although if that last one happens, someone please shut the lights out as we all leave).

Transition Team was asked: please get something put together so the mods can focus on modding, and not everything else.
Transition Team said: okay, given limited resources and an overwhelming request, here's a starting point.
Transition Team said: SC, one of your jobs is to come up with a more permanent structure for yourself, figure out who comes after you (and when), and re-write the charter as you need to.
SC is saying: hey, we got this far! it's been tough! we need some more help now, who's available? let's talk!

If you have time to write unsolicited theories of how things COULD be or SHOULD be, you probably have time to pitch in and actually help, instead of backseat driving. There have been cries on MetaTalk for YEARS about getting more member involvement in running the site, y'all finally have the opportunity, and you are.. still making MetaTalk comments, instead of emailing the SC and saying, "Hey, how you're organized matters to me. Can I help?" Or, "Hey, this mod decision feels really bad, and it looks like a pattern, do you need someone with some bandwidth to dig into this a little?" Any of the "I don't like how things are done here" MetaTalk posts of the last 6 months could have been an email and an offer. What the hell are people waiting for?

And it's super frustrating reading about how "the community" is weighing in on things. The MetaTalk community has been talking a lot, and that's different from the entirety of MetaFilter by a significant amount. We got 931 responses to the survey. I'd be shocked if 10% of that number have been participating in the recent shitstorm threads.
posted by curious nu at 3:39 PM on March 2 [49 favorites]


One citation: "This fact sheet provides general information concerning the application of the FLSA to State and local government employees."

Is metafilter a state or local government.

This citation is applicable to employees

Are SC employees of metafilter.

This citation: "The FLSA requires “for-profit” employers to pay employees for their work. Interns and students, however, may not be “employees” under the FLSA—in which case the FLSA does not require compensation for their work."

Is the work done by SC done as an employee, are they interns or students.

This citation: "If a worker is not an employee of one of these enterprises, he or she may still be covered if his or her duties meet certain interstate commerce requirements.

Do you work for any of the following...

Does SC work for the following (above)

This citation" The Supreme Court has said that there is no definition that solves all problems relating to the employer-employee..."

Have the SC contracted work for renumeration?

I'd still check it out Jessamyn but I'm confident if no renumeration was given.

A hearty thanks to all SC for dedication and labor making good. I voted for all. Bendy, thank you, you reached out and that was a fine thing in my books. I co- edited a magazine and had to drop it. I came to find out later that is integrity and it's amazing the power to that truth.

I, too would like to see a larger committee.
(a shadow cabinet, an arbitrator, offical 🐈 and bring back Stan Chins gold star for one day use only.)
posted by clavdivs at 3:47 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]


Clavdivs, respectfully, you aren’t getting what those documents are saying. The meaningful component is that anyone who works for a private, for-profit business is an employee and employees are subject to wage regulations (not less than minimum wage). The SC are not students. They are not interns. They are not a state government, but the FLSA categories noted in that sheet apply across the board (that section gives background).

Get the real legal advice.
posted by Miko at 3:59 PM on March 2 [12 favorites]


I think some folks are probably misunderstanding the law re: volunteering and I think it is not constructive. I think the issue is that the law considers anyone doing work for a for profit company to be an employee, regardless of whether they have a contract or are otherwise formally employed. But I am not an expert and I think it would be best to let the site get the appropriate legal advice before digging further into this.
posted by snofoam at 4:00 PM on March 2 [12 favorites]




If you have time to write unsolicited theories of how things COULD be or SHOULD be, you probably have time to pitch in and actually help, instead of backseat driving. There have been cries on MetaTalk for YEARS about getting more member involvement in running the site, y'all finally have the opportunity, and you are.. still making MetaTalk comments

I'd really like to push back on this. Writing a comment is much less time and infinitely less commitment than volunteering ten hours a week. As many others have already noted, 10 hours is an awful lot of work and that excludes a lot of possibilities. I might have had twenty hours to write Metatalk comments last week, but I also have two small children, and one of them is sick today, so I can't even commit to doing the job I'm actually being paid to do, let alone volunteer work. But I can still write comments, because I don't need to concentrate particularly hard - I can write one sentence, let it sit for an hour while I attend to my kid, then come back and write another sentence, if that's what I need to do - and there's no consequence if I don't ever finish my comment. (Some people would probably prefer that I didn't.)

And also, there has been expressed interest in ad hoc volunteering seemingly forever. When the banner needed to be updated a few months ago, it felt like every single user on this entire site offered their coding experience to help, and every single one was turned down. It's great that you're accepting volunteer help now, but that's a big change from how things have been done in the past, and it's going to take time for users to adjust behavior.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:16 PM on March 2 [24 favorites]


I'm not in a position to take part in the Steering Committee, but I would just like to offer my immense and effusive thanks to everyone who has taken part in the SC so far, and everyone who is considering participating in the future - and to everyone who has donated time to making MetaFilter a better place.

Time is so precious. I am so grateful to each of you who has provided your time to this magnificent community.
posted by kristi at 4:51 PM on March 2 [12 favorites]


If you have time to write unsolicited theories of how things COULD be or SHOULD be, you probably have time to pitch in and actually help, instead of backseat driving. There have been cries on MetaTalk for YEARS about getting more member involvement in running the site, y'all finally have the opportunity, and you are.. still making MetaTalk comments, instead of emailing the SC and saying, "Hey, how you're organized matters to me. Can I help?" Or, "Hey, this mod decision feels really bad, and it looks like a pattern, do you need someone with some bandwidth to dig into this a little?" Any of the "I don't like how things are done here" MetaTalk posts of the last 6 months could have been an email and an offer. What the hell are people waiting for?

I don't reach out to people individually because of the number of times people here have been accused, by people who work here, of harassment or other inappropriate behavior (like abuse) based on private conversations, sorry

(This is not anything that is directed at specific SC members who I generally like and trust)

But we don't talk about that because we only like shitting on people for...talking about the site on the part of the site called metaTALK

should be called metaSTFU I guess. maybe STFU and give us free labor and/or money
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:07 PM on March 2 [13 favorites]


I think it would be best to let the site get the appropriate legal advice before digging further into this

Agreed. An amicus curiae is beyond our scope here on this matter.

should be called metaSTFU I guess. maybe STFU and give us free labor and/or money

This is extremely not cool. You are free to express your feeling but others are free to say they disagree or are upset at said sentiment. Your not reaching out is your affair but that sentiment might discourage discourse for others.
posted by clavdivs at 5:21 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


honest to god. the fact that miko even bothers to say anything at all constructive or helpful here is a complete miracle. and now it's a problem because...she should have put it in a super secret special memail to the SC or else it's not helpful? what the fuck is the difference between doing that in a private email and doing that on the part of the site reserved for TALKING (in the title!) about the site?

I know, the answer is that it puts more burden on individual SC volunteers (to respond to emails, including emails about people unhappy with metafilter moderation which, wow, is a massive ask of someone volunteering). Of course, they are burning out at an astonishing rate, but the site owner and/or mods don't have to see those complaints?

soooooo I guess the decision should be obvious to us ignorant assholes who think we can talk about site policy here. instead we should send it over to the steering committee members!!!! they'll handle it!!!!!

jesus h. christ. people on here literally saying they can't be on the SC because they have normal lives and can't do all the work expected, and people are like "yeah, you are a bad user for using metatalk!! you should have made it the SC's problem!!!" and the site owner is favoriting that shit.

disrespect doesn't even begin to cover it.

to be clear I am not speaking on behalf of miko or anything so if you're annoyed by this, don't put this on her.

This is extremely not cool. You are free to express your feeling but others are free to say they disagree or are upset at said sentiment. Your not reaching out is your affair but that sentiment might discourage discourse for others.

yes, I know we'd hate to discourage discourse
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:27 PM on March 2 [22 favorites]


If you have time to write unsolicited theories of how things COULD be or SHOULD be, you probably have time to pitch in and actually help, instead of backseat driving. There have been cries on MetaTalk for YEARS about getting more member involvement in running the site, y'all finally have the opportunity, and you are.. still making MetaTalk comments, instead of emailing the SC and saying, "Hey, how you're organized matters to me. Can I help?" Or, "Hey, this mod decision feels really bad, and it looks like a pattern, do you need someone with some bandwidth to dig into this a little?" Any of the "I don't like how things are done here" MetaTalk posts of the last 6 months could have been an email and an offer. What the hell are people waiting for?

the people who you are discussing in this comment are also the people most likely to have had a negative interaction with the staff of this website. personally after having enough good faith contributions deleted and suggestions ignored, i became mostly uninterested in providing my time and energy to producing content for this site. i spent some time digging through the Moderation Log thread to try and find a comment that summed up how i felt - i didn't end up finding it, but i did notice when searching the word "trust" that it was used 68 times in that thread. clearly it's an issue people's mind!

i just don't trust this site anymore. i don't trust the staff and i don't trust many of the users. i don't trust that i won't get someone on the blue gaslighting my lived experience using irrelevant graphs and stats. i don't trust that my reply to that user won't be deleted because i was upset. i don't trust that if a moderation issue comes up, the moderator dealing with me won't try to use my private social media posts against me. i don't trust that the mods will allow changes to the structure of the website. i don't trust that the users of this site value my opinion, since they post comments like this full of disdain at the very thought that someone could still want to spend time here despite being unhappy with the way things are run. i don't trust that i won't have to keep explaining this again and again because every 5 comments anyone who is simply unhappy is accused of trying to sabotage this website.

i have been reading this site since i was 14 and have been a member since i was 18. i've put my time in, i'm allowed to have an opinion, just like all the other people who post good things about the mods or w/e in metatalk but don't have the time for this commitment.

and it is a commitment! you are literally asking 10 hours a week of these volunteers (which is something like 6000 hours of total unpaid work a year - a whole other issue i could get into). why would anyone contribute that much time to a site that they can't trust? personally, i would need to see some concrete steps towards a change in culture before that was something i would even consider. i felt pretty positive about that change in culture at the end of 2022. i don't really think it needs to be said why i feel differently only three months later.

i wish the future steering committee luck and i hope their first order of business is restructuring the finances of the site so that they are getting compensated for their 6000 hours of work.
posted by JimBennett at 5:34 PM on March 2 [24 favorites]


Your not reaching out is your affair but that sentiment might discourage discourse for others.

This is a bit, right? You're doing your random-words-strung-together shtick?
posted by Etrigan at 5:52 PM on March 2 [9 favorites]


That is rhetorical.
posted by clavdivs at 6:02 PM on March 2


If you have time to write unsolicited theories of how things COULD be or SHOULD be, you probably have time to pitch in and actually help, instead of backseat driving. There have been cries on MetaTalk for YEARS about getting more member involvement in running the site, y'all finally have the opportunity, and you are.. still making MetaTalk comments, instead of emailing the SC and saying, "Hey, how you're organized matters to me. Can I help?" Or, "Hey, this mod decision feels really bad, and it looks like a pattern, do you need someone with some bandwidth to dig into this a little?" Any of the "I don't like how things are done here" MetaTalk posts of the last 6 months could have been an email and an offer. What the hell are people waiting for?

I guess the issue for me is that, besides very serious concerns around time commitments and a promise I've made to myself to not take on too much, the thought of volunteering to stand for election for such an amorphous body that doesn't have clear powers and responsibilities feels, honestly...really stressful.

I am familiar with what's typically involved with serving on a board of directors, and I am familiar with what's typically involved with volunteering to help with or lead some sort of role or task. For either of those, I have a decent mental picture of what constitutes a healthy, productive experience and what sort of expectations are likely involved. But I don't really have an understanding of what it would mean to be part of a 12-person consensus-based body that appears to be responsible for carrying out a significant portion of the non-moderation duties of running the site, yet may or may not have any meaningful power to govern it. The ask here feels less like joining a steering committee and more like standing for an election to have the opportunity to take on an unpaid part-time job for which there's no specific job description or org chart, and it also comes with a vague sense that you're collectively responsible to the community that voted for you if the place explodes on your watch.

I hope you can understand why some talented people who very much care about this place and have feelings about it—feelings we're all here expressing in the part of the site that's explicitly for talking about this stuff—might be hesitant to raise their hands to help without a more meaningful structure being put in place . It's quite possible to feel interested in pitching in to help while simultaneously feeling not up to taking on the emotional labor such a role would entail.

I get it. When the TT and SC started, it was a full on "we're drowning and overwhelmed. Let's get some amazing people in our Slack who can start bailing water" effort. I've done that organizational structure enough times—it's great to pull a high-powered team together to respond to a crisis or put on an event—to know that it's just not sustainable. The first SC has accomplished a great deal—not least successfully leading the charge to get the site out of a dire financial hole!—but the fact that 2/3rds of the inaugural committee is leaving after six months points to how unsustainable this structure is. Nearly a year into the new model for MeFi, asking more people to volunteer to jump into the boat and grab a bucket is a big ask.

And MeFi is an entity that has historically been extraordinarily institutionally resistant to offers of help. We are still emerging from an era where most suggestions about changes to the site resulted in an explanation for why change would be impossible. This has obviously changed for the better—I am incredibly pleased to see that and thankful to those who have made it happen—but some people may feel burnt by having their past offers to help rejected or feel uncomfortable making such an enormous commitment to serve an entity that hasn't fully earned their trust right now (as JimBennett much more eloquently wrote).

As for emailing the SC and saying "Hey, how you're organized matters to me. Can I help?" that honestly never occurred to me as a thing people can even do. I guess I thought that was something the SC was already working on? Making unsolicited offers to elected bodies to opine on their structure doesn't feel like a very natural thing to do, at least if you're not some sort of professional governance consultant. And without minutes and more transparency into what the SC is up to (do you have some sort of project tracking board? could there be a public version of it?), it's hard to know what all is being done so that people interested in helping with those things can naturally make themselves known. I'm aware of the volunteer form, but registering yourself as a volunteer kind of requires knowing what needs doing already and then passively waiting to see if you're contacted. You ask why people complained instead of offering to help, but I can just as easily ask why any of the "I don't like how things are done here" MetaTalk posts of the last 6 months weren't responded to with a call for volunteers to help solve a specific problem. Without a culture of transparency that makes people comfortable asking for help and offering to help—a culture the site has not had for at least 98% of its existence—and a governance model that makes it official that people are volunteering to help out a community they care about and not a business, a community that's comfortable jumping in to contribute like that isn't going to just happen.
posted by zachlipton at 8:16 PM on March 2 [46 favorites]


Hello! I have, since 2005, been mostly a lurker, but I am also the person who organized the yearly winter gift drive for a number of years. It took a lot of time and effort, but it was so rewarding. I stopped doing that not because of MeFi culture or any of that, but because our parent organization, during the pandemic, stopped their public campaigns and moved to corporate sponsors. They're still in that mode. Otherwise, I'd still be doing it.

One thing that strikes me is that I am a big supporter of volunteerism, but this is a really weird way to volunteer. I do haircuts for hospice patients, and it takes me less than 10 hours a week. I had to go through training and certification to do this (and I was already, of course, licensed to provide such services), but there is a larger goal in mind. For 10 hours a week, volunteers are... just keeping one web site going, sort of, with a limited audience? I don't know, maybe I am stingy, but that seems like a lot for so little.

MetaFilter has meant a lot to me through these years. I lurked more than I posted because I learned a lot. But in the end, it's all kind of selfish. My best times were in helping people's contributions extend to the outer world.

I have stopped visiting the site because of oddnesses like this, and for so many other little reasons. Everything seems upside down, and it's hard to describe it, exactly, but this call to action seems like examining one's one navel until you just stare at your own viscera.
posted by houseofdanie at 9:22 PM on March 2 [24 favorites]


I've watched that hour-long video from the SC now. But to be honest I feel like we've entered some kind of topsy-turvy Bizarro World.

Originally I thought the Steering Committee was set up to be an elected set of user representatives, with a low workload, setting high level priorities.

Instead they are, or have become, a set of jack-of-all-trades volunteers doing an exceptionally high workload. That includes things like: setting up an accounting system from scratch, building up fundraising systems from scratch, working out how to do an online auction, getting access to site graphics, getting access to the github codebase, getting access to Amazon Web Services servers, trying to work out how to set up a non-existent development environment when the only databases have live servers, etc.

If that's the role, there's no need for elections. If the SC are actually volunteer workers, we need to get all hands to the pumps. Anyone who wants to do the job and passes basic vetting ought to be allowed to join in. You don't have elections for volunteer workers, the problem is getting enough people to volunteer.

But another weird thing is that the site has multiple paid employees. The paid employees are mostly doing website moderation, a job which is generally done by amateur volunteers. The site has amateur volunteers. The amateur volunteers are doing stuff like setting up accounting systems and website development tasks, which is generally done by professional employees.

Meanwhile the original task of the SC setting "most policy decisions" doesn't seem to be actually happening so far, because the SC are working flat-out as volunteer workers instead.

It feels like everything is back to front and upside down.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:19 PM on March 2 [81 favorites]


Nothing specifically on the table but also nothing specifically off the table.

I feel like there's maybe one thing that's specifically off the table, given some past threads.
posted by hades at 11:06 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]


If that's the role, there's no need for elections. If the SC are actually volunteer workers, we need to get all hands to the pumps. Anyone who wants to do the job and passes basic vetting ought to be allowed to join in. You don't have elections for volunteer workers, the problem is getting enough people to volunteer.

I would like to second this. If there are people volunteering for this very needed work, let's get them into the volunteer pool. If they are already in / were in the SC, hey whatevs but they can feel free to continue to do these volunteer labour tasks.

SC should be setting up vision, strategy, governance framework, policy and procedure. That is the stuff that will allow the site to carry on futurely into a healthy user driven community (to be fair most of that bullet list from Rhaomi in the OP seems focused on this).
posted by Meatbomb at 11:41 PM on March 2 [9 favorites]


> But another weird thing is that the site has multiple paid employees. The paid employees are mostly doing website moderation, a job which is generally done by amateur volunteers. The site has amateur volunteers. The amateur volunteers are doing stuff like setting up accounting systems and website development tasks, which is generally done by professional employees.

Yes, I asked that very question upthread - has it been considered to pay the currently unpaid roles and work with mods who are volunteers? (Putting employment law issues aside for now). Or use paid moderator time to do some of the currently unpaid tasks, in line with Miko's previous suggestion about investigating mod workflow and tasks.

But despite multiple SC members commenting, and jessamyn also, no one has responded to this point.

It's clearly not a rhetorical question. It's probably the most critical question of all right now in terms of how MetaFilter operates moving forwards.

Is nothing off the table? Or are there some things which really are off the table. It would be good to know.

Related questions - are the SC actually empowered to make this kind of suggestion, would it be actionable, would it be enacted?
posted by iivix at 1:09 AM on March 3 [13 favorites]


With the best will in the world, even if the SC are empowered to make suggestions that can be listened to, they inevitably have less "hard power" in the relationship with other Metafilter staff, paid or unpaid, because they're on six-month terms; and because they have no legal authority or ownership over the site. They aren't actually a board of directors with the authority to hire and fire management, etc., even if they kind of look like it in some ways.

They also have less soft power. The SC is usually very careful to speak as a group, which is both admirable and necessary, though it also means they're a lot less responsive. And because they're a group that only exists for six months, they aren't on the podcast, they don't get to represent Metafilter in interviews, events, podcasts, etc. I'm sure most of them wouldn't care to – I certainly didn't when I was on the Transition Team! But it still makes a difference in terms of the moral authority they have to make harder decisions as the "face" of the site.
posted by adrianhon at 1:44 AM on March 3 [13 favorites]

Originally I thought the Steering Committee was set up to be an elected set of user representatives, with a low workload, setting high level priorities.
Yes, that was certainly how it was originally presented. Cortex's vision of the SC (April '22) was:
a more long-term, ongoing group of MeFi community members [who] can collaborate with the moderation team on community governance and direction

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 the first SC check-in (October '22), their activities were described as:
This is part of the charter and broadly similar to the original vision with the exception of 'directing and approving budget expenditures'. Later in that same post, the SC's high priorities are listed and are more about practical tasks:
MetaFilter needs some professionalization of the financial and business operations. The desired future state of these efforts looks like accounting tools, automated p&l reporting, budgets, and forecasting.

We began discussing what the SC can do to bring in some additional revenue in the short term
Then it became clear to the SC that there was no longer enough money in Metafilter’s savings to cover an ongoing shortfall which had seen expenses exceed revenue over 18 months to the tune of $57k leading to there being less than a month of operating cash on hand. Thus the fundraising drive which involved the SC becoming involved in running an auction, tweaking AWS, setting up online events, increasing the size of text on the banner and many other activities that are a long way from the original 'deciding on site direction and priorities' vision. The fundraising drive was of course necessary and successful but it does seem to have led to a very different role for the SC than that originally envisioned. This post is asking for SC members who will code with frimble, reach out to donors, develop new revenue streams, manage sign-up drives, manage the volunteer database etc. Whether these activities are best carried out by a volunteer board is another question, but hopefully the links above show how the change of SC role happened.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:43 AM on March 3 [28 favorites]


Something that needs to be much clearer: the SC does not have 6-month terms. Members agreed to serve six months as a minimum. The SC has discussed a number of models with the goal of overlapping terms (which means that, by necessity, the first bunch of terms were going to be for different periods — this is absolutely part of setting up a new committee). So we always expected about half the committee to step down “early.” The proportion is a little higher, because we had a lot of members have unexpected changes in their employment workload. There is nothing particularly weird about this.

Anyway, the speculation and theorizing about “six month terms” is based on some false assumptions; those are the results of setting up a new committee and personal circumstances.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:06 AM on March 3 [10 favorites]


I see – I hadn't realised that. Still, I don't think it contradicts my broader point about power imbalances, especially with a lot of people leaving at six months (or earlier) and so many here expressing concern about the time commitments.
posted by adrianhon at 3:22 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


trying to work out how to set up a non-existent development environment when the only databases have live servers, etc.

OMG. My jaw just dropped when I read that. That's not good.
posted by octothorpe at 5:49 AM on March 3 [6 favorites]


1. One zillion thanks to the current, future, and former Steering Committee members. I remember last year when I finally understood that MetaFilter might go belly up, and it terrified me. This place means a lot to me. That MF survived and has a more comfortable margin of resources is thanks to the hard work done by the Transition Team earlier and the first Steering Committee, as well as additional volunteers who worked on and/or donated to the fundraiser, events, promotion, and so forth and also jessamyn! I saw her working hard to save this place.

The volunteers are rock stars. I did what I could in terms of PR and promotion. It was not especially successfully (my part, specifically) but it required some focus over several weeks and, in the process, kind of pushed me away from MF for awhile. I just needed a break.

That is how I discovered that I will never have the bandwidth to become a Steering Committee member. I am doing some light volunteering for an affiliate links project powered by another volunteer's expertise. There are maybe four volunteers total, and if anyone wants to volunteer on that small part, fill out the volunteer form.

2. No one is trying to be mean to members here, as best I can tell, by estimating that SC volunteers may need to be available for up to 10 hours per week. Instead, they are trying to be realistic and set appropriate expectations. It is possible that no one will want to step up as a result. If that happens, then it will be time for another pivot.

3. I would very much like for MetaFilter to become a coop or nonprofit or something with a structure that made sense and with funding that was at least modestly reliable. I get that some users have had bad experiences with moderators (I have as well, but not often) but even so I do not understand the push to get rid of paid moderators. That is pretty much the essence of the MetaFilter experience. (Of course, if that has been a sucky experience for you, then I can understand why you might want it to go away.)

4. Here is what I personally do not want to hear about: Why members of the first SC have decided to step down. I don't consider that any of my business. Why members of the first SC have decided to continue: ditto. Finally, why any potential new members were vetoed by anyone: loup, jessamyn, or the Steering Committee. Again, not my business. I vote with my money and my time. If I do not agree with the decisions made ultimately by jessamyn, then I can stop donating and step away.

5. In my ideal world, the Steering Committee would create a roadmap for MF's future, share it with jessamyn and the community, ask for volunteers for specific projects, let the volunteers do their stuff, and focus on high-level stuff until that group is eventually replaced by an actual board. Which may never happen, but a gal can dream. Virtual hugs to anyone who wants 'em!
posted by Bella Donna at 7:15 AM on March 3 [22 favorites]


If you have time to write unsolicited theories of how things COULD be or SHOULD be, you probably have time to pitch in and actually help, instead of backseat driving.

So-called "backseat drivers" have been prevented from even being on the ballot. You have to be a fanboi to be considered.
posted by hypnogogue at 7:42 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


>I get that some users have had bad experiences with moderators [...] but even so I do not understand the push to get rid of paid moderators.

That's a little bit of unnecessary projection there. I have been arguing this case, and I haven't had a bad experience with moderation. In an ideal world, we pay for moderators and everything else. But:

1. It is unsustainable to allocate resources like this, when we really need to focus on business operations and new user acquisition to secure revenue - soon enough "paid moderators" won't be possible in any case if funding dries up, as has happened before and will happen again if nothing changes.

2. Given this new information about how much critical work the steering committee have been doing unpaid, and indeed how much more work is actually required moving forwards, it feels unfair to ask people to do this unremunerated when some funding / cashflow does exist.
posted by iivix at 7:49 AM on March 3 [9 favorites]


I'm very grateful to those who have stepped up to serve on the Steering Committee, especially since the level of responsibility and commitment seems to have morphed so much over time. All of you have done great work to help this community. I'm also very grateful to Jessamyn and the staff, who are working under difficult financial and other conditions to keep the place going and balance all the various competing interests and priorities members bring here. It's far from easy, and we must not forget that as the legal owner, Jessamyn has taken on a much higher risk and responsibility than any of us.

I was surprised, though, to see how much the role of the Steering Committee has shifted from being a high-level consultation/governance body to providing explicit policy, management, and other services. Others have pointed out some of the risks/pitfalls associated with this, and while their comments make sense to me, I am not familiar with the legal issues in MeFi's jurisdiction, so I will leave those specifics to others. I do agree with the comment that it does seem backwards to have routine moderation performed by paid staff while volunteers do the policy work. If nothing else, this leaves the organization very vulnerable if something happens in a particular volunteer's life, as ten hours per week is a lot to ask and unpaid things are the first to go in a pinch.

It seems to me that, now that the immediate financial crisis has passed, it would make sense to engage a professional to do a proper evaluation of the governance and management structure of the organization and make some concrete and feasible recommendations, specific to the applicable jurisdiction and circumstances. Although there are a few of us on the site who deal with these things in our day jobs, I suggest that it would be better to hire an independent consultant, and have the Steering Committee responsible for drafting the parameters of the project and providing ongoing oversight. I'd be happy to contribute to a dedicated GoFundMe or other mechanism to finance something like this, and to provide other help if it would be welcome.

Without something like this to help "land" things, I fear that the positive energy and commitment of many members and staff will continue to dissipate and burn out.
posted by rpfields at 7:55 AM on March 3 [21 favorites]


I'd be happy to contribute to a dedicated GoFundMe or other mechanism to finance something like this

I think this is a great recommendation, and I would contribute to that effort.
posted by Miko at 8:14 AM on March 3 [6 favorites]


I want to emphasize: the Steering Committee members aren’t volunteers; they’re employees who are being illegally misclassified as volunteers.

The site’s leadership urgently needs to talk to a competent attorney to figure out how to remedy this situation. It’ll likely be a time-consuming and expensive process: the previous SC members (and possibly the Transition Team members as well) will need to be paid for their time, along with the additional monetary penalties imposed by the Department of Labor for late wage payments, and payroll taxes owed to each state where SC members live. There will be additional complications for paying SC members who live outside of the US.

It’s really frustrating to me how sloppily this was handled. This isn’t the fault of the Steering Committee — you’ve done a great job, but from my perspective it seems like the site’s leadership has set you up to fail by being so blasé about the legal requirements of running a business.
posted by buntastic at 8:21 AM on March 3 [10 favorites]


I might go so far as to recommend suspending this election process, putting the SC on hiatus, and doing the attorney consult and then the organizational consult before proceeding. This actually is something I recommended back in 2019, and it's really even more urgent now if the site is to survive.

A few thousand dollars spent in this way could make a dramatic difference.
posted by Miko at 9:12 AM on March 3 [12 favorites]


I have a different perspective on the volunteer issue. It did come up as a discussion point during Transition Team discussions (but this was when the SC was intended to be in an advisory role) It was a while ago so I'm just sharing my thoughts, not the team's.

First, the landscape. Reddit’s volunteer moderators contribute by this estimation over $3 million to Reddit. Patreon and GoFundMe and other tip jars allow people to donate to businesses (or, as it may be framed, paid flexible fees for additional services) and so on. Lots of websites depend on content generated by visitors/customers, whether that’s reviews, articles, comments, etc. Including MetaFilter. Lots of organizations accept articles or work from people in exchange for the “promotional value.”

In other words, the Internet landscape is already blurred. I have personal and professional feelings about that, especially since female-coded work like emotional labour tends to be least paid while male-coded work like coding tends to be paid (although with Open Source etc., that’s not the case.)

Now, that doesn’t mean that anyone here wants to perpetuate bad practices. MetaFilter is currently structured as a business, although it’s not profitable. That may be something to change.

But - as someone who did put in hours on the Transition Team, I think the choice in the short term really has been to help out, or watch it shut down. It felt very high-wire even before the SC got the full financial picture.

And to be blunt, that’s not inconsistent with what I find in my real life. I’ve contributed free social media expertise to several friends’ businesses and even to organizations I had a business relationship with. I’ve helped out with events for local businesses, both recreation and art-based, at local festivals.

All of these activities may or may not fall under Ontario labour laws but they are not that uncommon and behaving like MetaFilter is The Only Place On The Net that has reached out to its community in that way seems a bit unfair.

That said, I think it really is everyone’s goal that it gets to a new place. But I’m not sure insisting that MetaFilter walk the purest road in the next year is going to get it there. I think it’s more likely it would shut down.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:26 AM on March 3 [18 favorites]


Oh, I also have volunteered as a reader for literary journals that are not structured as nonprofits. So just another example.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:27 AM on March 3 [4 favorites]


The fact that Reddit's model involves volunteers has come up elsewhere as a seeming counterexample, but here is a way we might view it. Reddit's product is a platform that allows anyone to set up a community and host it, on their own time and at their own will. Reddit doesn't dictate that there will be a Bad Bunny forum; a Bad Bunny forum exists because someone brings it into creation out of voluntary interest.

As a business, Reddit is sort of like an aggregation of thousands of MetaFilters. It does not employ people to set up its forums or dictate the content or where or when they do their work. They use titles like "backend engineer" to descibe some of the tasks we would call "moderation." Reddit's moderators are non-employee end users using a free product. They operate at their will within use guidelines, similar to someone who volunteers to host a discussion group at a local library and operates within the library's hours and room reservation requirements and such.

MetaFilter as a business, meanwhile, is set up as a single set of forums that does involve a degree of content direction (Ask, Fanfare, etc) and employs a professional moderating staff to do its work. End users do not moderate. The mod staff does not have totally free will as to when and how their work is done; they have to perform specific tasks and meet certain targets, they're employees.

It's been pointed out, too, that Reddit is scrupulous about not paying any moderators, even for any of its largest and busiest forums, because to pay some of them and not others immediately calls into question this rationale and exposes them to litigation.

It's MetaFilter's status as a private for-profit that makes it so volunteers are not in compliance with FLSA. It's clear that there can be no volunteering performing work in a private for-profit that is in compliance with FLSA. Do some companies ignore this? Yes, just like some companies do wage theft and misclassify exempt and non-exempt employees. Are there grey areas? Sure, getting "business advice" from someone is probably not going to meet the definition of "permitting work" even though it does use the advisors' expertise. The only real guardrail on preventing employers from exploitation under the FSLA is directly reporting the company or taking to the courts.
posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on March 3 [10 favorites]


Jeez, seeing those peer review requests in a new light now… but then again, I’m not spending ten hours a week on them. I think the time commitment + operations nature of the work is what’s combining to make me say “uh-oh.”

Definitely on board the train of “let’s not see MF shut down.” I hope my comments & worries are taken in that spirit.
posted by eirias at 9:46 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


I think the idea that the site should be careful is not about being morally impeachable for the sake of being so. I think the concern is that the site could face severe consequences if something was not allowed. More than the average business, there is a lot of publicly available documentation about what the site is up to. There also might be disgruntled former users who could theoretically report something to the authorities, if there was anything happening that violated labor laws, etc. Other businesses getting away with something doesn’t mean this site would. And, again, I am not an expert who could say that there is a something to be concerned about. Hopefully, it is easy to get a good answer from an expert.
posted by snofoam at 9:51 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Just so people know, I have reached out to counsel on this topic.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:05 AM on March 3 [44 favorites]


I don't disagree with either of you, Miko and snofoam, (although I do think the Reddit example is Reddit bending the rules in plain sight, alongside Meta etc. etc. etc.)

But I also think that this community has a serious tendency to - how to put this. We all, and I am certainly guilty of it, insist that it hit above its weight.

The way this discussion is going makes me really wonder if people want MetaFilter to continue, or not. I think some people would rather it get shut down than make mistakes. I was listening to a podcast (it may have been Work Appropriate but not sure) that said "boys are encouraged to be brave and girls are encouraged to be perfect." I think a lot of the issues with the site should have been addressed bravely (and correctly) but instead people have gotten frozen with perfection.

And I think it is possible to move in a good direction without being like Do This Today Or The World Ends. Not saying that's any one person's position but I think there may be a cumulative effect.

I'm glad Jessamyn is getting advice about it.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:29 AM on March 3 [33 favorites]


I think, regarding the SC (and speaking for myself, not the other members), that some of us have spent a lot more time on it than others? Not to speak against the slackers, by no means, I myself am one of them, out of necessity. But there are some who, alternatively, have poured their souls into it.

I don't think all of us put in 10 hours a week. I think the efforts of those of us who have put in a lot of time are kind of giving the impression that all SC members put in that much time. I don't. I can't. I'm still on the Steering Committee. It may in fact be part of the reason I feel I can stick on for another term--I notice many of those leaving are doing so because of increased professional commitments, where all of my income is freelance and royalities.

(I wonder if I'm the only real slacker of the bunch, actually? I can't actually point to time commitments of anyone else, I haven't measured any of them. But then I have a lot of impostor syndrome, so who knows.)
posted by JHarris at 11:02 AM on March 3 [8 favorites]


I can’t speak for anyone else, but I imagine that if there is an issue with how people helping here is structured, it will be addressed by either the site evolving into something that can accept help (e.g., co-op or something, I don’t know), or modifies how it gets help from the community. I think not only will the site continue, but it will continue to get help from the members. Just, if there need to be changes to facilitate that, it’s probably better to make those sooner rather than later.
posted by snofoam at 11:03 AM on March 3 [7 favorites]


JHarris, you’ve been great to work with.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:28 AM on March 3 [7 favorites]


And I think it is possible to move in a good direction without being like Do This Today Or The World Ends. Not saying that's any one person's position but I think there may be a cumulative effect.

This is such an excellent summation of all of these threads.
posted by Think_Long at 11:33 AM on March 3 [12 favorites]


Flagged as fantastic, warriorqueen.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:36 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]


I think people announcing definitive views of the law who are not lawyers who practice in this area (labor and employment) are almost certainly not correct in their pronouncements. I'm not one of the people who says that nobody should offer legal opinions on the site, but I do think that people who are not experts in a field should allow for some uncertainty in how a court or a regulator will approach a question. People who deal with courts and regulators know where the grey areas are and where there is more flexibility or less - which is difficult to discern by reading laws/regulations on the internet. "Hey you should look at this issue" is totally fine (and wise, it seems, in this case), but "this is definitely illegal and going to get you in trouble" is probably misguided unless informed by some experience/background with real-world enforcement.
posted by Mid at 12:07 PM on March 3 [17 favorites]


Also, a work-around that I have seen employed in different situations is a "Friends Of X" not for profit that does various NFP things and then helps/supports non-NFP X in certain ways. That might be something jessamyn could explore with counsel.
posted by Mid at 12:19 PM on March 3 [8 favorites]


I think people announcing definitive views of the law who are not lawyers who practice in this area (labor and employment) are almost certainly not correct in their pronouncements.

I'm not a lawyer, but I have expert level knowledge in compliance with labor law in the context of leading nonprofit organizations. I know how to understand regulations as written. I have "experience and background with real-world enforcement." What I can't offer is advice of counsel about recommended paths of action, but I am not speaking out my ass.

"Friends Of X" not for profit

This is absolutely worth exploring and is a model I have seen used for public agencies that can't engage in direct fundraising. It'll be important to understand whether a for-profit organization can accept gift funds - I think they can but it's not an area I know well.

The way this discussion is going makes me really wonder if people want MetaFilter to continue, or not

I'm not sure why you'd wonder this? People are concerned that it will not continue, or that it will continue as a weaker, or broken, or unwelcoming or unuseful form of itself - that's why we are engaging. Support doesn't always look like cheerleading. When conditions aren't good - and they aren't good here - support can look like identifying problem areas that need attention and pointing toward possible solutions. After 19 years and like 20,000 comments, I think the fact that I want it to continue should be pretty obvious; but I want to continue as a form of itself we can feel good about and that treats the people who work hard to support it and participate with it very well.
posted by Miko at 12:59 PM on March 3 [42 favorites]


The way this discussion is going makes me really wonder if people want MetaFilter to continue, or not. I think some people would rather it get shut down than make mistakes.

I would rather it get shut down than make mistakes that could possibly severely negatively and materially affect Jessamyn, who, despite my disagreements with her, has actually put herself on the line here in a pretty significant way, if that's what you mean?

People aren't like "if metatalk isn't a darker grey it should just BE SHUT DOWN" they are trying to point out a very real and significant issue and painting it as perfectionism is possibly comforting, which I respect, but it's also inaccurate

Or basically what miko just said
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:02 PM on March 3 [8 favorites]


Miko, also flagged as fantastic. If people are sometimes passionate in their disagreement, it’s because they care. A lot. I truly appreciate that some people who have gotten a ton of pushback at times, including Miko, haven’t given up on this place. They’re still here fighting to make it stronger and better. As far as I can tell, we all want MF to thrive. We don’t all agree on how to make that happen, which is a totally normal thing. I just wanted to acknowledge what we share. Maybe that’s sappy but I also think it’s important. And because few of us are experts, I am grateful to Miko and others who draw on their professional expertise to point out potentially threatening pitfalls because that shit matters.

I’m off to bed. Happy weekend, MeFites. I would be super lonely without you. Thanks for being here.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:38 PM on March 3 [8 favorites]


If people are sometimes passionate in their disagreement, it’s because they care.

Maybe, but it does not always come across that way. Insulting cortex before he left did not come across as caring. It's like the parent who verbally abuses their child saying "You're ugly, you should dress better, and I'm only saying this because I care."
posted by Melismata at 2:50 PM on March 3 [9 favorites]


If people are sometimes passionate in their disagreement, it’s because they care.

I know. I know. But when someone literally leaves a link to a site where you can report employers for FLSA violations, it doesn't feel like they care.
posted by kimberussell at 3:05 PM on March 3 [15 favorites]


Wow, that was not my intent. I'd be content for the link to be deactivated, but the fact that there's no enforcement except thru the courts or a direct report is relevant so the text matters.
posted by Miko at 3:21 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


I guess the Amicus brief is set, hmm I was with snofoam on ceasing but its a free site. But a direct link which I'm sure is informational. k. The thing is to present information is fine. but really the relevant questions would be directed towards Jessamyn which she already addressed, twice. I chin wagged this around. Bottom line, if someone filed and it would fall into bureaucractic fissure so deep you'd hit oak island. Citing a private company that's end product is 95% public that is raising funds, supports the adminstration, etc. in short, the labor dept would be dragged through the streets by the internet.
posted by clavdivs at 3:29 PM on March 3


To be clear, I don't think the need for an expert governance/management assessment is an extremely urgent situation in the sense that it needs to be dealt with this very second, or that it should get priority over continuing to operate the site on a daily basis. A good assessment would help avoid situations like the legal ones under discussion now, though, and I believe it would be worth the investment now. The best time to plant a tree, etc..

I'm glad that Jessamyn is seeking legal advice, though, because once compliance issues have been raised, continuing to operate without addressing them is not a good option. It only takes one disgruntled person to take something like this forward. While I doubt Metafilter is a huge offender in the big landscape of labour issues, you never know who might decide to pay attention or when.
posted by rpfields at 3:30 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


Maybe, but it does not always come across that way. Insulting cortex before he left did not come across as caring. It's like the parent who verbally abuses their child saying "You're ugly, you should dress better, and I'm only saying this because I care."

my perspective on this metaphor is that the user in question is the abusive parent here, and i fail to see how it would work the other way around at all (as the users of this site have traditionally had very little authority or control over what happens here). that said i'm pretty sure there is really no productive way to have this discussion and it would be better to assume that the people commenting are not acting in bad faith.
posted by JimBennett at 3:42 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


only takes one disgruntled person to take something like this forward

This is my real concern. I read that "other site" and there are plenty of people with very big built up grudges. You know, they let anyone on the Internet these days!
posted by Meatbomb at 3:49 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Wow, that was not my intent.

It's nice to hear you say that because I respect your contributions and your longtime community advocacy here even when we disagree, but that's really what it read like to me and I was surprised.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:58 PM on March 3 [12 favorites]


Note that the DOL's fact sheet on the FLSA also appears to say that it applies only to businesses earning more than $500,000 annually in revenue, which according to the SC's most recent financial report probably does not apply to MetaFilter. I'm not a lawyer, and I'm glad jessamyn is speaking to one. Let's not draw hasty conclusions, and let her actual lawyer answer the question.
posted by biogeo at 4:12 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


I’m bewildered that a post soliciting volunteers for the SC changeover ended up here.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:25 PM on March 3 [11 favorites]


It's nice to hear you say that

Yes, I really regret that and I apologize for not thinking it through better. Like everyone here I want this place to grow and survive and get healthier. I appreciate you calling it out, kimberussel.
posted by Miko at 4:54 PM on March 3 [9 favorites]


Maybe, but it does not always come across that way. Insulting cortex before he left did not come across as caring. It's like the parent who verbally abuses their child saying "You're ugly, you should dress better, and I'm only saying this because I care."

As someone who was verbally abused by a parent this is gross and inaccurate
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:19 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


I know. I know. But when someone literally leaves a link to a site where you can report employers for FLSA violations, it doesn't feel like they care.

Wait — people are legitimately arguing that users who expect Metafilter, a beloved community that is simultaneously an obviously dysfunctional for-profit company, to follow federal employment law are behaving abusively?
posted by knucklebones at 5:37 PM on March 3 [17 favorites]


Note that the DOL's fact sheet on the FLSA also appears to say that it applies only to businesses earning more than $500,000 annually in revenue, which according to the SC's most recent financial report probably does not apply to MetaFilter.

It’s not quite as straightforward as that. The $500,000 revenue requirement is for an “enterprise” to be covered, that is, everyone who works for that enterprise is covered by FLSA. Alternately, an *individual* may be protected by FLSA if “their work regularly involves them in commerce between States (“interstate commerce”).”

I am an attorney, but I’m definitely, definitely not a FLSA expert, and have no idea if some other exception or carve out applies.
posted by skewed at 5:37 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


Yes, I really regret that and I apologize for not thinking it through better. Like everyone here I want this place to grow and survive and get healthier. I appreciate you calling it out, kimberussel.

Or maybe you just assumed that this site generally is OK with linking to google-able publicly available documents about federal law?

The contempt and paranoia about/towards users here is sometimes really sad, sometimes really infuriating. I'll let you guess how I feel about this particular incident.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:55 PM on March 3 [24 favorites]


When the membership treats highly competent longtime members with invaluable professional expertise in little-understood fields as bad actors, again and again...

Because they offer helpful advice, information, and critical feedback that may be (understandably!) uncomfortable to hear, even though it's verifiably accurate and informed through years of professional practice...

And when the staff and owner both tacitly and explicitly condone that treatment...

The only thing they've succeeded at is yet again providing an exemplary model of how to drive away competent volunteers who could've provided invaluable, hands-on assistance to help Metafilter thrive in a time they most need it.

To me, that looks like the behavior of people who "want to see the site fail."

Anyway, glad to see the FLSA reporting link is gone; now there's no possible way Metafilter can get in trouble!
posted by knucklebones at 6:07 PM on March 3 [17 favorites]


I want this site to get fixed and cleaned up and straightened out. I want it to function well and be in good health and be a healthy place for people to be where we can have more emphasis on content and not have to worry about what’s under the hood. I don’t want it to have to endure a whole other level of challenges.
posted by Miko at 6:07 PM on March 3 [10 favorites]


Have there been comments deleted in this thread?
posted by biogeo at 6:34 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


How did that link break the guidelines?
posted by PugAchev at 6:36 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


A favourite work phrase for me is: drain the swamp while you fight the alligators. You have to balance fixing long and short term issues, or you will never reach a stable goal (also a destroyed ecosystem, but that's stretching the metaphor a little too far).

The alligators have retreated and it's time to look a little at some swamp-draining:

1) How can volunteer labor be legally provided in Metafilter's current form? Jessamyn is on this now, yay!

2) How can productive volunteering on SC and other committees be structured to prevent burnout?

3) How can volunteer recruitment and training/onboarding be made easier for both the SC and metafilter members?
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:05 PM on March 3 [15 favorites]


Last time we had an election we got to hear updates on how many people had self-nominated. I would be interested to hear those updates again.
posted by umber vowel at 7:32 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


What makes this group of people a steering committee? It sounds like they’re being tasked with doing a lot of the actual… well, tasks.
posted by wondermouse at 7:54 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


I thought (hide) in the top banner was a UI feature, but after reading this thread I see it was a warning!
posted by staggernation at 7:58 PM on March 3 [11 favorites]


How did that link break the guidelines?

Deleted at user request.
posted by clavdivs at 1:37 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Legal issues aside, and those are really important to resolve, I think the reason that reaction has been so strong in this thread is the hours. 10 hours a week for a volunteering position strongly implies that the current balance of how metafilter spends its money is wrong.

If theres really that much to do, then it probably should be handled by people who are getting paid for it. Ethical and legal considerations aside, the fact is that only a very small minority of people can reasonably give up 10 hours of their week for no pay.

By its very design, you are likely to end up with a steering committee which is richer, older and has less commitments than the rest of the community. While that sort of make up is perhaps a little inevitable for volunteer positions, the sheer weight of time is going to tip the scales dramatically.

I really like metafilter, the mods, and the steering community, but if you find yourself in a position where you ask this much of your volunteers for a, lets not forget, for profit organisation, then something is fundamentally wrong
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:43 AM on March 4 [32 favorites]


It's fantastic that the SC has identified lots of stuff that needs doing! But! I don't think the SC is necessarily the right people to do them (sometimes they might be!)

I'll offer an anecdote from my own experience- when I came on to the board of Elders at the church I attend, I was invited along to "come and see" for a few meetings, which meant I started at the end of some of the old timer's terms. There was a shift happening in how the board perceived itself and what it needed to be involved in. At the time we were constructing a new building, which obviously brought up lots of things to discuss. Some more important than others, and we had to decide what the real issues were. I remember the progress report that included a comment about the carpet colour choices: this was a surprisingly popular topic, and then the discuss that this wasn't the level of detail that we needed to go into- one of the "old timers" really wanted to discuss though.

The role of the board is to fly at 10,000 feet, metaphorically, to see things from a bird's eye view and talk about the trajectory. Sometimes the stuff on the ground needs to be dealt with by other people, sometimes those people are the same people (one of the Elders donated their time to clean the toilets!) But as the board you have to think about what is beneficial to the community and the overall vision.

(I know some people bristled a bit when we were talking about fundraising and the tithe model, I use the church as an example because it's my most relevant experience, apologies to the non-religious.)

I've also been on school consultative committees, which again, important to step back from the grindstone and see the bigger picture.

Some practical notes, to finish:
I see you're looking for someone with secretarial experience, talking about minutes. I actually wonder if that's needed. I know some groups do minutes by taking turns, a different person each meeting takes and distributes the minutes - this ensures one person isn't distracted from contributing their thoughts each meeting, though there are benefits to having a central minute-taker.

When I first started taking minutes I thought it needed to be like a court transcript, but there's a reason there's a stenographers shorthand. For minutes, you might do something like:

fundraising
Discussed various options for next round of fundraising.
Action: XYZ to contact ABC regarding auction.

Just dot points and a broad summary, not word for word.
posted by freethefeet at 2:57 AM on March 4 [14 favorites]


Good point. Recently I started using other.ai for meeting notes. It’s scarily comprehensive. You can use a “signal word” - like “minute this” - to flag things that need to be noted in the transcript. Huge timesaver.
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on March 4


other.ai

I think you mean otter.ai? never heard of it until now, but now I want to use it everywhere.

agreeing with some other thoughts here: especially for something at the scale and volunteer-nature of the SC, tools like this do seem to be very wise to take advantage of where possible. in general, efficiencies and optimizations should be the name of the game for MeFi's operation but also for the SC itself; my response to the 10 hours a week expectation/implication is that it should be a priority task of the next SC to lower that ask for the next rotation.
posted by Kybard at 7:29 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Have there been comments deleted in this thread?

It does not look like any comments have been deleted from this thread.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (staff) at 8:17 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


This is tangential, but I think another high-priority task should be to consider a different form, such as a co-op or nonprofit. Such a structure would make more sense for volunteering, and also might encourage donations from outside the Metafilter community.
posted by NotLost at 8:47 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Instead of making sweeping changes to Metafilter’s legal structure, couldn’t we just give Steering Committee members small shares of equity upon assuming office and stipulate that they have to sell their shares back to Jessamyn when their terms expire? As long as each share x is small enough that 12x < 50.1, Jessamyn would still be the controlling owner, and instead of salaries, they’d get a share of profits, which… yeah, not much danger of that. (And of course, they could always choose to reinvest whatever meager profits they do make back into the business.) This doesn’t solve the problem of non-SC volunteers (although if we pay the BIPOC board honoraria, couldn’t we pay volunteers a nominal consulting fee?), but there aren’t many, if any, of those right now, while there is a Steering Committee that needs to be figured out quickly.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:10 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


How did that link break the guidelines?

Deleted at user request.

I like accuracy. So even though this is water under the bridge and I think the conversation can move on, as an aside I'd like to point out that the comment was not deleted at the user request. Somewhat like those "mods you can delete this if it's too far off topic" comments I always see elsewhere on Metafilter. More like, permission granted.

Wow, that was not my intent. I'd be content for the link to be deactivated, but the fact that there's no enforcement except thru the courts or a direct report is relevant so the text matters.
posted by aniola at 9:16 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Opening the site up to more help and member input, through the TT and now the SC and other volunteers are really, really great things. Without advocating for any specific change in structure, I have personally felt that the structure of the site as a regular business started to become more awkward when user contributions became the main source of funding. Adding in a layer of volunteer help, which I think is fantastic and necessary, makes the mismatch seem even greater to me.

Obviously, it's not because I think someone is profiting from all this. And I would still find it awkward even if everything is 100% legal, which hopefully it is. I guess I feel like there have been so many big steps made towards the site reaching a possible final form as something of/for/by the community. It feels like structure is lagging behind. With volunteers doing so much over the last year and, probably continuing to do more, I think it would make sense to see if there is a way to restructure so there's more harmony between what the site is on paper and what it is in practice. But that's just, like, my opinion, man.
posted by snofoam at 9:19 AM on March 4 [10 favorites]


I'd like to point out that the comment was not deleted at the user request.

Didn’t want to belabor it, but in the interest of openness and because we were just talking about this, I asked Jessamyn to remove a sentence from my comment. As was pointed out it was far too easy to interpret in a negative way.
posted by Miko at 9:55 AM on March 4 [13 favorites]


Obviously metafilter should try to comply with USA federal labor laws, but I don't think the risks of noncompliance are existential and I'm not sure why this is taking up so much airspace, for an organization that was on the verge of bankruptcy six months ago. I don't think that "potential lack of compliance with federal labor laws" is one of the 15 most pressing problems that MF is facing.
posted by Kwine at 10:25 AM on March 4 [8 favorites]


Thankfully, Jessamyn is looking into it, so we don’t need to guess about whether it may or may not be important.
posted by snofoam at 10:32 AM on March 4 [9 favorites]


For the record, I'm another SC member who is leaving as soon as the next wave is onboarded. My professional and personal circumstances changed during the past six months such that I have not been able to commit to spending the time required to do my fair share of the work. By standing down, my hope is that my place on the SC can be taken by someone with a greater ability to help equitably distribute the workload. I want to thank everyone for the opportunity to serve and I want to thank the other SC members for your time and effort. It was an honor serving with you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:35 AM on March 4 [21 favorites]


Re the hours and duties of the SC committee and moderators: does the budget allow for hiring more paid staff and return the SC to the initially expected advisory role?

And, given the discussion of what all moderators do, should the job title change from moderator to one that more accurately reflects their range of duties? Not the greatest need, but the title drives expectations.

Also, while doing the legal consult, this discussion all seems very USA-centric; does the legal consult need to confirm the non-USA staff and SC members all fall under USA law for these purposes?

And should that MF is USA-driven be made more clear in any of the policy sections? The current note simply states privacy on MF may not be as in a user's own country but does not spell out what that means for comment deletion, logs, etc.

Given what was said by members during the fundraising period about the value of the banner in driving them to Metatalk, at what stage will a summary of this go to the larger community?
posted by beaning at 10:54 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


does the legal consult need to confirm the non-USA staff and SC members all fall under USA law for these purposes?

Lawyer will advise but typically the governing law is the law of the state and nation in which the entity is legally incorporated.
posted by Miko at 11:36 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


So has anyone volunteered yet?
posted by octothorpe at 1:15 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


I was nominated for the SC by some other members. I'd love to jump in and help, and until now I was hesitating on it because of the 10 hr/week commitment.

But folks on this thread are saying that the hours are much more flexible than I assumed, and I'd be able to contribute fewer hours if that's what I can do, so I'd like to volunteer! With the caveat that I'll be able to commit 5 hours a week reliably, and on my lighter weeks I'll be able to do more - 10 hours is an upper limit for me, not a realistic every week commitment.

If that is going to cause someone else to have to pick up my slack, and you'd rather choose someone else who *can* give 10 hours every week, that's totally understandable. Thanks for giving me the chance to try!
posted by MiraK at 2:04 PM on March 4 [17 favorites]


So has anyone volunteered yet?

No nomination process would disclose this information. You will see the nominees on or around March 15th.

As a separate point, the members of the SC have been pretty clear about what we mean by the time commitment. Our primary concern was to not under-disclose and lead people into making a decision on false assumptions. The time commitment is not excessive, most weeks , but 1 hour/week was overly optimistic, and people deserve to know that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:13 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


In the previous election, there were regular updates on how many people self-nominated throughout the nominating period.

I thought that was helpful to potential candidates, as knowing the size of the field is helpful when deciding whether to throw your hat into the ring and helps build momentum leading up to the election (setting aside my continued confusion over why we're electing people to what appears to be more of a "volunteers doing stuff to keep MetaFilter going" committee than a governing and policy body where we're choosing candidates based on how well we think they'd represent us). If there's a reason why you've decided not to provide the number of nominees as we go this time around, that's fine, but clearly some nominating process would disclose this information because the one we had six months ago did that.
posted by zachlipton at 7:32 PM on March 4 [22 favorites]


Thanks for checking/confirming on no deletions, Brandon.
posted by biogeo at 8:45 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


A few process questions and a suggestion:
* “[T]wo chosen by MeFi's Global BIPOC Board, two by jessamyn and loup, and four elected by the community”

Will jessamyn’s and the BIPOC Board’s choices come from the pool of applicants before or after voting, or will they be anyone (perhaps even non-Mefites) and if so will those be announced before or after voting? Technical, but it can make a difference in perception of the members and in diversity of the SC.

*"Self-nominations will be open from March 1st through midnight Pacific Time on the 15th, with a voting period to follow."

When will voting begin and end? How will the nominees communicate with the membership before voting begins? Last time nominees used their profile pages and a kind of freeform Metatalk

Will voting work the same way as last time? Or will there be some other method of vote counting?

* Nominees have begun to declare themselves in this thread Is this OK?

I think this is fine, but others may disagree, can see both sides. However, GenjiandProust seems to say otherwise. “You will see the nominees on or around March 15th.” In the absence of previous guidance on this, it seems like MiraK’s transparent self-nomination is one way to go, but other nominees could wait. Either way, it may force the next issue. Each way can drastically change the outcome based on my experience of previous NPO board elections I have participated in. Kind of hard to put the cat back in the bag. Also, see suggestion below.

* Lesium asked, “If a user applies and is rejected by the SC, jessamyn and loup …I assume they will be allowed to tell the community that fact and disclose any reasons given to them? Or will that not be allowed?”

What is the answer to this question? If for some unfathomable reason for example MiraK were vetoed (Could happen! Doubt it will happen. Also, thank you for volunteering MiraK.) and a “silent” or anonymous nom were vetoed, one would be known by all members but the other might not.

Suggestion:
Next time around, have an elections committee. SC, loup, and jessamyn or some subset select three people who are not on the current SC and not interested in joining the SC soon after this election is complete. They run the next election. They would write up the election process, announce it, answer questions in thread (so that current SC would have to answer pesky questions such as mine without having an SC member address a Mefite). This is one task that is not too demanding, but is very important and can lighten the SC's load while also reducing the chances of future election grar.
posted by Gotanda at 2:21 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Sorry, loup! Should be "jessamyn and loups' choices!" Darn it. Process stuff is hard and has many details. See Elections Committee.
posted by Gotanda at 2:30 AM on March 5


Next time around, have an elections committee

I’m not sure we need a committee to elect a committee. My comment upthread about electing the doge was supposed to be a joke.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:38 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Eep. Sorry for jumping the gun.
posted by MiraK at 5:35 AM on March 5


Hi MiraK, I think that is great. And, more to the point, nobody told you what to do or how to do it. A natural tendency towards transparency seems like a good quality in a potential SC member.
posted by Gotanda at 5:44 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Yes, any candidates for SC should publicly announce or not, as they like. There is no rule or previous practice against announcing publicly.

I prefer they announce publicly. For one thing, it lets other potential candidates know what the field is like.
posted by NotLost at 6:00 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I am very sorry but the scope of responsibilities and the time commitment are outrageous. It sounds like the SC will be responsible for the work of running and growing the business, without getting paid and without having power of purse (or any other power for that matter). This sets up a dysfunctional "heads I win, tails you lose" relationship where the SC can only fail (having no power to effect change unless it agrees with paid staff or ownership), and ownership/paid staff can only be failed (having no stake in the work done by the SC unless it agrees with them).

The only incentive in this structure is a sort of aristocratic, general beneficence towards Metafilter, which —whatever its merits otherwise— is not conducive to growth & change.
posted by dmh at 7:21 AM on March 5 [29 favorites]


Who decided that the Steering Committee should have all those responsibilities? I don't remember that being the case when the current group was selected.
posted by wondermouse at 8:25 AM on March 5 [8 favorites]


Next time around, have an elections committee

I’m not sure we need a committee to elect a committee. My comment upthread about electing the doge was supposed to be a joke.


Many non-profits I work with use election committees and so do many for-profits with the idea being to ensure diveristy and skillset for the final slate. Some even will only present a slate only for yes/no voting as this avoids "popularity" contests or voting based upon who writes the most engaging blurb.

However while I think an election committees is not a bad idea per se, I'm not sure how it would be chosen for MF.
posted by beaning at 9:55 AM on March 5


It’s committees all the way down…
posted by Vatnesine at 1:35 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


You need them when you are doing something ambitious to distribute workload. Of course, managing it poorly can just be spinning your wheels. But managing them well can make it possible for everyone to contribute just where they are most useful.
posted by Miko at 1:47 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I'd be happy to contribute to a dedicated GoFundMe or other mechanism to finance something like this
So would I.

It's clear that, with the very best of intent from all concerned, there is a desperate need for some independent, dispassionate analysis of actual effective governance models that would work for MetaFilter. It's also clear (to me, at least) that the current structure is not going to work long-term, even leaving aside employment law issues (which are far less clear-cut than some would have you believe). Armed with the legal advice around employment, a competent consultant could generate two or three workable alternative structures with little effort. I doubt any of them would have volunteers selected to set high-level policy doing routine admin work. Finally, it's clear that the inaugural steering committee had to quickly pivot into survival mode immediately on being installed, but that shouldn't dictate the governance model going forward.

There are few times when this is true, but what is needed is someone who knows what they're doing and who does not care one bit about MetaFilter. Everyone that's been commenting on this topic in MetaTalk cares way too much to be objective.
posted by dg at 2:52 PM on March 5 [18 favorites]


Can some of the admin tasks be outsourced? You don't have to go the "take advantage of people in developing countries" route but surely there's a way to lighten the load?
posted by creatrixtiara at 2:56 PM on March 5


who does not care one bit about MetaFilter

I would not trust one person who felt this way. why, because they would be concerned about thier job then community. Now an arbitrator would be neutral but I've not seen an arbitrator or delegated authority convey " oh, I don't care about the site or people, I just want it to work as it should be by community consensus."

You don't have to go the "take advantage of people in developing countries"


This is disturbing as I would like anyone who feels this way to come forward or, to a metafilter staff they can reach out too.
posted by clavdivs at 3:32 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Why would employing a person in a developing country be more problematic than exploiting a person in the United States?
posted by bowbeacon at 3:34 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


So, my comments about nominees are my beliefs. I have never been invoked in a process involving nominations where any information is shared, and I consider it an ethical issue as it can lead to various kinds of pressure exerted on candidates. If a nominee chooses to self-disclose, that’s their decision, and my beliefs are not binding, if the rest of the SC wishes otherwise.

Additionally, and, again, I am speaking only for myself, but the SC is a very new institution. I’m proud of the work the committee has managed so far, but there is a lot left to do, and some of that effort is focusing and refining what the SC can and can’t, should and shouldn’t do. If you have strong opinions about these things, you should nominate yourself to do some of the work. I apologize if that sounds glib, but I felt strongly about the work, and I did it to the best of my abilities (although I wish I could do more), and I would like to hand my seat over to others who feel equally strongly about the good of the site, having done some part in laying a foundation for future work.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:51 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


who does not care one bit about MetaFilter
I would not trust one person who felt this way

For clarity, my 'does not care' comment was intended to be attributed to the preceding '... independent, dispassionate analysis of actual effective governance models that would work for MetaFilter ...', not to the engagement of any person/s in an on-going role. Sorry for any confusion.
posted by dg at 4:33 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I mentioned the "take advantage" thing because that's usually what people assume when you say "outsourcing", but I mean more in the sense of paying someone to do these roles. Like a virtual assistant perhaps? I've used one and they're awesome.
posted by creatrixtiara at 6:13 PM on March 5


Originally I was in favour of the Steering Committee. One of Metafilter's problems is that nobody will ever make a decision. Should there be a record of all comment deletions? Should there be a site ombudsman? Should there be more legible colours on the mobile interface? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So I thought that if the management won't make any decisions, then since the decisions need to made, the SC would make them.

But instead it looks like the SC has just diffused responsibility even more, adding another distinct unit to the owner, the mods, and the Metatalk threads that never reach a conclusion.

It feels like stuff is going on behind the scenes that's stopping the SC fulfilling its original purpose. Have they just been sidelined into doing so much volunteer work there's no time to do any steering? Are they unable to reach agreements among themselves? Do they make proposals internally which just get slow-rolled into oblivion with a long list of objections and difficulties?

If anyone is thinking of standing for the next SC, I'd like to hear a plan for getting to some decision on the proposals that have been raised in Metatalk over the last year and just left in a state of ambiguity.

E.g. at the monthly meeting the SC votes on any outstanding proposals that have been raised in Metatalk but not been decided, votes Yes or No, and communicates the outcome.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:36 AM on March 6 [21 favorites]


I only just watched the SC session from MeFi Events. It's worth a watch for anyone interested in the SC. There was a lot in there that was news to me. I am very grateful to have these folks doing so much for the site. I think they were definitely aware that the role and expectations had changed between what the SC was supposed to be and what it became for them. I think they really rose to the challenge that was waiting for them. That said, it doesn't really seem sustainable to me. I think one way or another, it will probably have to be reconfigured soonishly.
posted by snofoam at 4:33 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


As the person responsible for the "ombuds" MeTa, I think it's worth noting that that although that conversation more or less wrapped up 1-2 weeks ago, I deliberately waited to make sure there was time for anyone else to weigh in that wanted to, and have only recently "formally" sent that to the SC for consideration. With SC elections upon us, I'm not expecting they'll take that question up very soon, if they decide to do so, and it's the sort of policy discussion and decision-making that I'd expect to take some time, especially for a volunteer board with infrequent meetings. As far as I know, that MeTa was the first one deliberately structured to be input to the SC, so in my opinion it's premature to conclude that the SC is unable to make these sorts of decisions.

I think all of us in the community, both those who have generously volunteered their time and labor to serve on the SC, and those of us trying to participate in and contribute to this community in less structured, more ad hoc -- and consequently less productive -- ways (I count myself in this category), are still trying to work out how things are going to operate in this new model of community governance. Six months isn't a whole lot of time to resolve those questions, nor even is a year. My "ombuds" MeTa is just one experiment in pathways towards better community-led decision making, and I think we've got some time before we see whether that and/or other approaches are viable.
posted by biogeo at 8:58 PM on March 6 [16 favorites]


I am extremely coop-pilled and would be thrilled if MetaFilter became a coop.

Regarding the Steering Committee, I am very grateful that they stepped up to do more and different work than initially expected to keep the site alive.

I am, in my current role, a software developer and manager. In a sort of ideal world, that would mean I am actually just a manager. But sometimes the current need is greater than can be otherwise dealt with using the available labor, and I have to (or... get to) code. So while it would have maybe been the "ideal world" scenario for the SC to simply steer, or maybe delegate tasks each to their appropriate community volunteer(s), I am extremely sympathetic to their course of Just Doing It.

That said, I think that moving towards that ideal world would be preferable for the future.

Re the upside-down nature of MetaFilter: If moderation of a site this size is performed by a group that you can count on your hands, it will be too much stress to expect from volunteers. Volunteer moderation wouldn't necessarily be bad- it may very well be the future of MetaFilter- but it would require a bigger mod team and different tools and social processes.
posted by Jpfed at 6:04 AM on March 9 [7 favorites]


I do not ask this to put yet another burden on the SC members who have already given a lot to this site and do not need any more pressure on them. Maybe loup or Jessamyn can contribute here as manager or owner.

We are now just over half way through the nomination period. There are a whole lot of unanswered questions here about process, but also things as simple as who the continuing SC members are going to be and how many nominations there are so far.

If this round of applications is going to be effective at creating the next iteration of the SC--and I hope we all want that--it may be helpful to hear how things are progressing and what the next steps are. Thank you.
posted by Gotanda at 5:04 AM on March 10 [7 favorites]


And I would like to learn how many people have nominated themselves so far.
posted by NotLost at 5:56 AM on March 10 [6 favorites]


I'm growing concerned that the unclearness of the process, the overburden on the SC, the lack of communication and lack of insight into criteria are going to lead many people to conclude that community leadership is impossible or unproductive. It is definitely not, as many successful such organizations exist, but it requires structure and putting those values into action so that this effort to transition to a more long-lasting and sustainable site can actually realize its goals. The strategic thinking to build managable governance processes is much needed.
posted by Miko at 6:03 AM on March 10 [23 favorites]


I notice that the current charter includes the line:

[The] Steering Committee is primarily responsible for the following:

[...]

Directing and approving budget expenditures and monitoring the site's financial health


Does this mean that there will be a budget subject to the SC? Who's writing the budget? Does jessamyn have veto power?

It seems like this is another way that the Steering Committee's scope has changed. That's not in itself problematic -- it was explicitly anticipated that the scope would change -- but are there legal or practical ramifications here?
posted by tivalasvegas at 3:22 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Is the budget year the same as the calendar year, or is there a different fiscal year?
posted by Miko at 8:40 PM on March 10


I feel like we're missing an almost obvious idea here: elect the sites most vocal critics to the steering committee - on the surface you'd think "bad idea!" right? but no, it's actually genius if you think about it. These people are highly invested and highly motivated: the top two traits I'd want in an SC member. They clearly love this place deeply. That's very powerful and we should harness that power, not squander it.
posted by some loser at 5:27 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Hi all, just had our monthly SC meeting the other day. I can report that we have four candidates at the moment, while the staff and BIPOC board is in contact with a couple dozen potential applicants. I blame myself for not being clearer about the nature of the time commitment, which may have put a damper on enthusiasm. There was no consensus against people talking about their applications here; I'll reiterate that the SC is first contact on all applications so there is additional oversight on the process. With aielen, JHarris, wesleyac, and myself staying on it's looking like there will at minimum be enough to restock the SC (we even operated at 10 members for several months without too much difficulty). As for labor questions, Jessamyn is in touch with an attorney and we'll share more as soon as we're able.

Budget questions are more in aielen's wheelhouse, but basically we evaluated current and new revenue, identified savings and possible outlays to help improve the site, and recommended those changes to loup and jessamyn to implement. aielen is working on an explainer with more details. (Also re: staff communication, please keep in mind that loup is normally charged with official responses to moderation and policy questions but has been out of town for the last week+ and less able to keep tabs on these discussions; please be patient while they catch up with the last few big threads.)
posted by Rhaomi at 10:52 AM on March 12 [14 favorites]


I think I may have to clarify, personally:

- I expressed I would be open to staying on if my personal workload were reduced going forward, and if work were more evenly distributed among the SC. The hours I have been putting in took a toll on my own health and energy.

I still very much want to help see the site succeed, and as I see it - the site is at an important juncture and has a window of opportunity to make real changes for the better. This moment/window of opportunity won't be around forever, and like I mentioned in the fundraising MeTas last year, I don't want Metafilter to burn through the community goodwill and trust that has been rekindled through the new changes in ownership, the new community-driven model, and the fundraising drive. I do not want Metafilter to be in the same financial state it was (and still is, fundamentally) when we on the SC posted about the fundraising drive in October.

I hope to be able to stay on the SC to at least see some promised changes through (on the business/financial side of things), or get some things more established. I personally feel like I was part of that promise made to our community at the beginning of the fundraising drive last year (when we were being transparent about the site's financial state), and I hope I can help make sure that promise is kept before I leave.

- I am not sure I would say we operated at 10 members for several months without too much difficulty - but I also think it was not so much the actual number of members that was the influencing factor as much as it was the capacity/availability of members.
(This is not to knock on my fellow SC members - I know we came to the SC on the understanding that 4 hours/month was the estimated time commitment, based on the charter we were given at that time. And I am personally really grateful for all my fellow SC members have contributed. We all tried, and we all did what we could based on our own circumstances and capacities.)

In terms of how the budget for 2023 was developed and finalized:

The SC met with Loup at the end of December 2022. Together, we reviewed the finalized figures for the 2022 Fundraising Drive and discussed budget plans for 2023 in the context of the available funds, guided by the original three budget scenarios proposed. After examining and debating all proposed budget items in detail, the SC and Loup agreed on a finalized budget for 2023. This finalized budget was promptly conveyed to Jessamyn, who approved and agreed on the budget. The Budget for 2023 was developed with the calendar year in mind.

A more comprehensive information packet for Budget 2023 has been in the works since then, and will be posted in a separate MeTa within the next week or so. I am sorry for the delay - I know more information about the site's overall direction, goals and budget for this year is very much needed for us to understand how and where things like the elections and HR management/compensation fit in, within this overall picture. The MeTa will be posted soon, but in the meanwhile I understand (and appreciate) the questions here and the need for more clarification.
posted by aielen at 12:36 PM on March 12 [14 favorites]


There's something I'd like to offer the SC in case it's useful, and that's a perspective on "consensus." I'm not sure whether your structure is referencing a specific consensus process, but as I see it being talked about, it seems like it might not be. I would suggest that it may be beneficial to do some looking at a few models and adopting a formal consensus practice. The reason I suggest this is that I see some mentions of things like "not having reached consensus" or "we make decisions by consensus," and I think that in common parlance people tend to think that the word means "until we all reach 100% agreement." That's not normally the way formal consensus works, and it may be costing you some time and trouble. Simply put, consensus aims for "unity, not unanimity."

I'm currently chair of the board of a Quaker organization that uses a Quaker model of consensus, which is fairly rigorous. There are many others. The key points of most such systems are:

(1) not every decision needs to be made based on consensus. Basic operations and actions within delegated areas of authority do not need to come up for consensus. Consensus is best left for big-picture strategic issues, instead of getting bogged down in signoff on all activities. You can also designate certain issues for specific people or groups to decide (eg, "this is a staff decision and we just make a recommendation."

(2) Not everyone has to agree on everything in order to make a decision in the consensus model. There are various decision rules that are used - for example, various tools allow someone to: declare they are neutral and allow the group's decision to go forward without their input; they can "stand aside," meaning they disagree with the decision but do not intend to block it; they can "register concerns" meaning they allow the decision to go forward as long as their concerns are minuted; or they can choose to "block," and the bar for blocking can be adjusted. In Quaker practice it's really serious to block and means you're bringing the whole group to a halt to focus on its values and skills, not just the decision at hand. But in other models, a block doesn't have to be that serious. You can have a "1-block" buffer rule where a decision can go forward even if one person blocks. Other groups that are larger might allow more blocks before a decision has to continue being deliberated.

Here are a few resources giving examples of consensus processes. They are probably worth a look since time is clearly a challenge and working asychronously no doubt means that the process of assessing everyone's stance on everything takes quite a while.

Seeds for Change: Consensus Decision Making
Tamarack Institute: Practical Guide for Consensus-Based Decision Making
Consensus Decision Making Virtual Learning Center
posted by Miko at 12:48 PM on March 12 [28 favorites]


tivalasvegas:

I notice that the current charter includes the line:

[The] Steering Committee is primarily responsible for the following:

[...]

Directing and approving budget expenditures and monitoring the site's financial health

Does this mean that there will be a budget subject to the SC? Who's writing the budget? Does jessamyn have veto power?

It seems like this is another way that the Steering Committee's scope has changed.



Both the initial July 2022 charter and the current March 2023 charter mention "Directing and approving budget expenditures" (this part has not changed, although "monitoring the site's financial health" was an addition) -

Current charter (March 2023)
Previous charter (July 2022) (which should be identical to this charter which was linked by the Transition Team in one of their MeTas when they ran the SC elections in 2022)

There's also another MeTa by the Transition Team last year that talks about the SC's initial scope as they anticipated it might be.
posted by aielen at 1:08 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Thank you Rhaomi and aielen for the updates, and the SC as whole especially for doing all the necessary and unpaid work.
posted by 15L06 at 3:21 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


now that the number's out there, in the interest of transparency I'll go ahead and say that I'm one of apparently four who volunteered this go-round.

a big thanks again to our first round of SC members for the huge amount of time and effort they've dedicated to some more-urgent-than-expected work as well as the longer, in some ways harder work of ensuring sustainability for MetaFilter.
posted by Kybard at 8:25 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


I have nominated myself for the steering committee. But I acknowledge that I can serve only a few hours a week, not 10. If we have enough people that can commit to 10 hours a week, I expect to be bypassed, and I respect that.

I also applaud the current SC. They have done critical work, and probably much more than they expected.
posted by NotLost at 12:29 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]


Well then I guess I'll go ahead and say I put my name in as well. I did this because I'm already involved in a volunteer capacity working on a strategy to help increase funding though affiliate links and other related means (more to come on this in the upcoming weeks!) As an SC member I think I can be a little more effective and perhaps take some of the load off of aielen, who's been an absolute pleasure to work with as a SC liaison. However I too freely acknowledge that 10 hours a week is more than I can commit to, so if there are enough people who can commit to that I wholeheartedly applaud and support them and will happily step aside and continue in a volunteer capacity with the affiliate work regardless.
posted by cgg at 6:35 PM on March 14 [10 favorites]


No nomination process would disclose this information. You will see the nominees on or around March 15th.


So how about now?
posted by octothorpe at 8:28 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


Posting on my lunch break woooo

So after checking in with the others, we're pretty happy with the submissions we have so far and have no issues with anybody. That said, we're going to extend a week and change for the scheduled March 25th BIPOC board meeting so they can meet and finalize their picks (and give loup time to catch up with the rest of the staff on theirs). And tbh I feel bad for doing a poor job communicating the nature of the time commitment in the original post and want to take another shot at clarifying for anybody who took themselves out of the running because of that. So keep an eye out for a "last call" + site update post in the next few days, with the final list going up for voting the last week of March. In the meantime, I thank everybody who has applied already and encourage you to write up a short vision statement for the site and think about common questions that people may have once the voting opens. Thanks for your patience!
posted by Rhaomi at 12:02 PM on March 16 [13 favorites]


Thanks for the update!
posted by warriorqueen at 5:50 AM on March 17


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