What is YOUR vision of MetaFilter? April 13, 2003 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Fulfilling the MetaFilter Promise. What is your vision of what the MetaFilter (and MetaTalk) project could be or should be? Those here tend to agree that this enterprise is important, so why is it so? What is MetaFilter doing and what might it do? As an exercise in originality, consider posting your ideas before reading the others. (Disclaimer: I'm writing a thesis on Blog Communities, and this one's my fave).
posted by squirrel to Etiquette/Policy at 5:35 PM (47 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Hm. Maybe should have listed this Metatalk-related. My bad.
posted by squirrel at 5:50 PM on April 13, 2003

Homeworkfilter. Although I salute your intent, squirrel, and think it's a reasonably interesting question, I must note that requests of this type have often been frowned upon in these parts, Cardosonian thread-stylings notwithstanding. Others may be more accommodating.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:59 PM on April 13, 2003

In the context of this thread, I think MetaTalk is a "do my homework for me" area.

So here's one I never figured out:

A train arrives in Boston at 10:00 AM, having left Belfast at noon the previous day. Taking in account the combined miles of the planes involved, what is the effect of this trip on the quarks inside a butterfly in Japan?
posted by riffola at 5:59 PM on April 13, 2003

posted by cortex at 6:10 PM on April 13, 2003

Good luck to ya, squirrel! You'll find almost all you need right here on MeTa. Also, e-mailing people almost always works. Here's hoping we can read it soon. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:15 PM on April 13, 2003

Hm again. I may have overstated my disclaimer. My thesis is a year-long project, not a weekend book report. This is not to snark rif and stav, but to clarify. The study is an vehicle of, and secondary to, my own interest in the nature of what promise electronic communities offer--and how they offer it. I wonder why, if it's so, discussions of the user's collective vision of the forum are frowned upon.
posted by squirrel at 6:17 PM on April 13, 2003

Ok, I'll go along.

I don't have a vision for MetaFilter, but mathowie does, and his initial vision I believe was to create a community blog. It started out as a few friends and friends of friends posting interesting links and commenting on the links posted here. Initially Matt helped others learn how the site works by leading from the front. He still does, but back then he pretty much carried the site forward.

These days the blog side of site is active as always, but the community angle has come into it's own. It's no longer just friends and friends of friends, now there are thousands of strangers who are brought together by this one site. It's resulted in threads like 1142 and 9622, which resulted in the respective sites. It's got a thriving chat room, which in fact has come into it's own. The problem with the community angle is that it added noise to the site. But I think it's getting better once we have other places to chit-chat.

As for it's future, I see us carrying on like this for years, as long as mathowie keeps it up of course. We should let new people in once in a while, let them get used to being members, and let some more in.
posted by riffola at 6:49 PM on April 13, 2003

I wonder why. . .discussions of the user's collective vision of the forum are frowned upon.

Because each person here is completely right, and everyone else is necessarily wrong.
posted by Vidiot at 6:50 PM on April 13, 2003

It's the best snark-fest that ever existed. I can be snarky and contrary in a productive and engaging environment. I can learn and be exposed to new ideas and be a cranky bastard all in the same place. I love it.

One of the unique things about Metafilter is that it's huge *and* closed. So you get a diverse community where people all know the rules and, for the most part, play nicely with only one moderator.
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:51 PM on April 13, 2003

squirrel, to be honest, I don't have huge broad plans for the site, nor do I have any visionary aspirations. Recently in interviews, I've calling this place to an "accidental empire", as the current size and scope of it are way beyond anything I ever thought it could be. I did my best when setting things up, a lot of great people showed up, and it just grew and grew.

If you're into research, see if your library can track down this book and this other book, in which I talked extensively about how metafilter came to be, how it maintains, and what might be next.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:00 PM on April 13, 2003

To me, metafilter is a place where many thousands of people can have a discussion on a myriad of topics. It's a place where you can learn about something new everyday, or soapbox on your favourite topic, or disagree totally and completely with somebody on something as basic what their favourite colour might be. The members don't have a choice who they have their discussions with unless they themselves choose not to join a thread, which means that you have an open forum of different people who are saying something because they want to, not because they have to. Considering the size of the community, there are relatively few major flare-ups between people, and I believe that as time goes by and people become more tolerant and aware of each other, there will be even fewer blows. MeFi has a vast potential for grassroots change that should not be underestimated. I believe that if metafilter acted as a single unit, instead of as individual voices, its influence would know no boundaries.

I look at metafilter as an ideal. We all know that ideals are terribly hard to achieve in actuality, but I feel that metafilter is not only what I've described, but something more--in grandiose terms, it's almost utopian.

To be honest, I feel a little silly about describing a website, a simple website in such glowing terms, but I really do feel that metafilter represents how the world may interact in the information age once computers are 100% everywhere, worldwide. Anyway, there you go.
posted by ashbury at 7:31 PM on April 13, 2003

The Accidental Empire - well, you've got your title. And a damned good one it is too!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:38 PM on April 13, 2003

I call tagline!
MetaFilter: The Accidental Empire
posted by wendell at 7:50 PM on April 13, 2003

Those here tend to agree that this enterprise is important, so why is it so?

'Good' and 'important' are different things.

Is the local bread/cheese shop good, or important?

Is the poetry slam on Fridays at the local coffee shop good, or important?
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:55 PM on April 13, 2003

What's true in any community, be it a neighborhood or a city or a website, is that every member has a vision for it. Everyone thinks they know what the place should be, and whether or not they'll admit it, they're all convinced that they're right.

Start with Matt's vision: a site that filters the web, and delivers the interesting bits to the membership. From that, I or riffola or ashbury or Miguel can have our own "vision" of what that means, and what the site should be. And we post things that advance that vision. And hopefully, enough of those visions are concurrent enough that we wind up with something acceptable to most.

As far as my own vision goes, I've always thought of MetaFilter as an electronic version of the Roman forums. An eclectic bunch of lone philosophers standing on their street corners, spouting their opinions to whomever will listen or throw them change. On the best days it's as vigorous an enlightenment as you'll find; on the worst days two or more of them start a fight that has to be broken up by legionnaires. On most days, the majority sits by and listens, or occasionally offer their thoughts. Then, every once and a while, on of the listeners screws up his courage, stakes out a street corner, and goes at it himself.

I don't think we should all try to have one voice, or even one purpose, because they're always be the people who don't like where it's going. Better to be egalitarian; if we never agree on something to become, people will always work to make sure we become something better.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 7:59 PM on April 13, 2003

Oh, and squirrel: once it's done, make it available, eh?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 8:02 PM on April 13, 2003

YAN: Natch.
posted by squirrel at 8:07 PM on April 13, 2003

Interesting thread, and more interesting reaction to it.

squirrel, not to tell you how to write your thesis, but: If I was in your shoes, I'd ask for private, not public, feedback. Familiarize yourself with the site's history and evolution. Who are the key players from each period in its history? What are some key events? (Kaycee, 9/11, etc.) Identify members with connections to these events and whom your research identifies as key to the site's evolution. Find their e-mail addresses. Contact them directly. They'd almost certainly tell you more on background than they would post in a Metatalk thread. What we're getting here is "Metafilter is great because...". What you really need is "Let me tell you about what it was like the time when...".

It seems from this thread you're asking a large group of people to write your thesis for you. No offense to anyone, but that's going to make for a pretty crappy thesis.
posted by PrinceValium at 8:26 PM on April 13, 2003

Don't ask me. I thought hanging out here would get me laid.
Did it work?
posted by dg at 8:33 PM on April 13, 2003

It put the virtue back in virtually.
posted by y2karl at 8:51 PM on April 13, 2003

Prince Valium: Thanks for your feedback and for giving me a chance to clarify the intent behind my question. I agree that if I were trying to write something like a history of MetaFilter, your method would be best. But I'm really more interested in how the current users of this system make sense of this space. Looking back, I shouldn't have mentioned the thesis, which is a long way off. A lot of people have their homework associations, but that's off the mark. I'm just reading a lot of communication theory now, and I keep coming back to MetaFilter as a brilliant social construction model. Like others here, I believe it holds great promise. This thread is a forum for discussing MetaFilter direction and vision, and in a postmodern way it's also a demonstration of its governing forces at work. Groovy. Thanks again. (on preview, yes you do y2karl).
posted by squirrel at 8:56 PM on April 13, 2003

*Miguel welcomes squirrel*
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:26 PM on April 13, 2003

Is the poetry slam on Fridays at the local coffee shop good, or important?


posted by dhoyt at 9:49 PM on April 13, 2003


Metafilter is basically a place for posting and discussing links, of which there are already many. What makes it different from other sites is that it is a self-policing community. In theory, it should be full of people who are all here for similar reasons; sharing interesting things and having intelligent, reasoned discussions about it. Somewhere between the Algonquin round table and the School of Athens. But that's a totally ideal picture, more what I idealize than what I would ever expect.

Along those lines, Metatalk ought to be the backstage area where things are assembled and costumes are changed, so that the illusion of a harmonious community on Metafilter proper isn't broken.

I don't think Metafilter is important in any objective sense, just that it's important to the people who spend time here.

Right now Metafilter is acting as a very successful and well-designed discussion board, and not too much more. Besides a strong cast of regulars, there's not much here that you couldn't get on a lot of other chat communities. The difference should be that a system of mutually agreed-upon protocols would be arrived at by the community and adhered to without interference from the benevolent dictator (hey matt!) being necessary. It ought to run pretty smoothly now that most of its users have been using it for at least a year. For one reason or another, human nature or unique historical circumstances, the freedom that could have made it an efficient democracy hasn't worked as well as could have been hoped. What we've got is an often frustrating near-anarchy with some loose Hobbesian social contracts and the odd deus ex machina keeping a fragile peace. What holds it together at this point, I think, is loyalty and a strong cast of interesting characters. Still the best game in town though.

Good luck with the thesis.
posted by Hildago at 10:38 PM on April 13, 2003

I wonder why, if it's so, discussions of the user's collective vision of the forum are frowned upon.
Oh, look! Belly-button lint! ;-P
posted by mischief at 11:15 PM on April 13, 2003

MetaFilter is a place where nothing ever happens.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:09 AM on April 14, 2003

*runs in, completely naked, painted blue, howling and brandishing a vibrating broomstick, whacks kirkaracha one over the head, runs out again*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:17 AM on April 14, 2003

Can't you be original for once?
posted by dong_resin at 2:30 AM on April 14, 2003

Don't ask me. I thought hanging out here would get me laid.

you mean it hasn't?!
*lolls back in chair, closes eyes with cig and satisfied smile*
posted by quonsar at 5:20 AM on April 14, 2003

posted by kirkaracha at 7:03 AM on April 14, 2003

Accidental Empire? Someone wrote a book about that...

[If anyone cares, i had to read it for Uni, But i actually rather enjoyed it. Maybe cos the guy hates Bill Gates... ;)]
posted by twine42 at 7:04 AM on April 14, 2003

what kirkaracha said : )
posted by sgt.serenity at 7:36 AM on April 14, 2003

twine42, I can't believe Uni made you read that book. Get out while you can!
posted by soyjoy at 9:11 AM on April 14, 2003

This place is just as important as the ongoing darts game at your local bar, and it runs pretty much the same way. If you hang around long enough the regulars will start to pay attention to you, and if you piss them off someone is likely to throw a dart at you.
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on April 14, 2003

Well, maybe a local bar capable of hosting 15,000 people who are capable of getting so pissed they can throw a dart from Dublin to Senegal, languahat. Still, I see your point: MetaFilter the digital pub. I suspect that it's more, and that it will continue to evolve beyond that scope.

As others have indicated, the forum is structured to bring thousands of strangers into a relatively comprehensible discussion, with the potential to change minds on a scale never granted or assumed by the individual. I don't think a lot of y'all are as cynical or dismissive of this new power as your comments may suggest.

In a time of relative Western prosperity and frivolity, such as the 90's were, one could easily dismiss MetaFilter and communities like it as mere distractions. But in less frivolous times, when the connection of minds separated by continents becomes politically essential, the MetaFilter model may become a very important dart game.

(y2karl, this is your cue to post a visual raspberry)
posted by squirrel at 12:08 PM on April 14, 2003

Well, since y2karl isn't around, here.

Also, here.
posted by languagehat at 1:04 PM on April 14, 2003

And don't forget here.
posted by iconomy at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2003

(eyes fire alarm)
posted by clavdivs at 1:44 PM on April 14, 2003

But in less frivolous times, when the connection of minds separated by continents becomes politically essential, the MetaFilter model may become a very important dart game.

Squirrel, Links is part of the name in this game. Meta-Filter has linked me to the various thinkings in the vast regions of the World.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:02 PM on April 14, 2003

Better late than never...
posted by y2karl at 2:43 PM on April 14, 2003

posted by y2karl at 3:05 PM on April 14, 2003

I think MetaFilter provides a place where discussion and inquiry are valued. In a world where people equate debate with 'Crossfire' and the loudest voice who has the last word wins, I think places like MetaFilter can bring us back to inquiry and away from verbal gladitorial combat. Threads like the Laurie Garrett thread show how a group of smart and interested people can bring their collective expertise to examine an issue and ferret out truth in its many forms. Imho, that is some of the best that blogging can offer, and MeFi does it better then just about anyone.

Of course, sometimes it all goes to hell and that's fun for a time too.

aside: My master's thesis is in Professional Writing, and involves using blogs to teach students about argument, so this topic is important to me.
posted by answergrape at 3:24 PM on April 14, 2003

Actually, I think the pub analogy is an apt one - a pub that is open 24/7 (barring technical glitches), where there is a core of regulars who, no matter when you drop in, they seem to have been propping the bar up for hours and where a much larger group drop in from time to time, say a few words, play a game of pool and then disappear. Every now and again, there is an influx of new people and this sets the regulars to bouts of "I remember when" and crying in their beer. After a while, though, it gets hard to remember who the original regulars are and who the new regulars are.

Sometimes a fight will break out and that could mean someone being banned from coming back, either temporarily or permanently. Often the regulars will gang up on one of the fighters and drive him/her out by force, sometimes the bouncer will just pick the offender up and hurl him/her out the door. Other times, the fight will be taken out into the alley where it is private and the other patrons resume their activities.

The pub is full of in-jokes that are incomprehensible to outsiders, but hilarious to regulars - at least, in this pub, everything is recorded and you can look back in time to see what everyone is guffawing about.

The publican is a friendly bloke who lets pretty much anyone in his pub, as long as they behave himself. He is pretty tolerant and, despite the occasional admonishment to stop spilling beer on the floor, he overlooks the occasional transgression. Rub him up the wrong way, though, and he will snap at the offender without warning. He is fond of a joke now and then, but also likes to put something back to the community for particular causes and can get serious about things that matter to him.

All in all, a friendly pub and one that looks cozy and warm through the windows if you are out in the cold, able to see and hear the goings on but not to participate. Sort of an extended family, some might say, where there is usually a certain amount of respect given and expected all round and where you are free to speak your mind and (mostly) be accepted as you are, despite (or because of) your views.

A nice place to be.
posted by dg at 3:33 PM on April 14, 2003 [6 favorites]

dg: sound!
posted by dash_slot- at 4:39 PM on April 14, 2003

[crowd[ Norm! [/crowd]
posted by y2karl at 5:41 PM on April 14, 2003

Nail on the head, Normy dg.
posted by Vidiot at 6:15 PM on April 14, 2003

MetaFilter: Where everybody knows your nickname.
posted by wendell at 1:33 AM on April 15, 2003 [1 favorite]

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