Why is MeFi the way it is? September 19, 2003 12:22 AM   Subscribe

I should know this, being one of MeFi's last surviving "early adopters" (user #206), but I don't...
MetaFilter's NO multiple-threads, chronological order, NO sigs or avatars, permalinked format for comment pages has become the standard default style for blog comments, used by most blog software out there. (And that format has been, with all its abuses, one of the major reasons why MeFi has been my favorite Web Hangout for most of its 4 years).
So, Matt, why is it so? Did you duplicate some even earlier weblog pioneer I don't remember? Did you just follow a K.I.S.S. methodology? Or was it all/partly about the limitations in the Cold Fusion database or your then-newbie abilities with it? Tell me, for the record, how much credit (or blame) do you think you deserve for "The Way We Do Comments"?
posted by wendell to MetaFilter-Related at 12:22 AM (15 comments total)

Yes, i know I could've e-mailed this question to Matt, then published the answer on my own blog, but I think it's better here for a number of reasons (including the fact that my own blog has gone all pear-shaped lately).
I'll soon learn if Matt agrees...
*holds on tight, prepares for deletion*

posted by wendell at 12:25 AM on September 19, 2003

you're not the only pre 1Ker lurking around. I just have nothing to say.

And, erm - yes, I agree, hear hear for simplicity.
posted by cheaily at 1:09 AM on September 19, 2003

I think Matt said a bit about this in that usability book where he wrote a chapter.
posted by holloway at 1:43 AM on September 19, 2003

I sent this design to suffocate.org (now dead art site) whose motto was "The web is all about limitations, and limitations are the source of creativity.", and each month they'd have a submission theme ("redesign a book cover"). I only submitted once, and I viewed them all for a year or so. So the topic prompted people, more than an open topic would have, and the more specific the topic got the more people squirmed out a design.

With forums there are minimalists like Mefi and maximalists(?) like FYAD who dump 100 animated gifs and overlapping midis where you can pay to replace other people's signatures. Someone liking Miguel* would pay to get a picture of a cigar and a red wine on a dinner table as the sig, someone else would pay to replace it with a drunk passed out over a dinner table holding a cigar. Here they usually use the Link Title to put some metaguff in a post. Or, on Slashdot, people vote funny comments +1 Informative because the +5 Funny canned laughter isn't as funny as +5 Informative. The more buttons and misguided software a site has the more ways people will IM each other and edit posts after posting and pass around notes and profiles and they'll play.

I like minimalist mefi, but I like FYAD too, and the point is that fish are expensive in china.

*possibly Miguel
posted by holloway at 2:42 AM on September 19, 2003

I guess it was the kiss philosophy. The only thing I had at the time to compare to was slashdot, and I essentially made the interface I wish slashdot had, the anti-slashdot with a minimum of "form junk" as I called it. I put a lot of thought into where usernames would go, how timestamps would be displayed, how big the comment form box was, and the order in which comments appeared.

I spent 5-10 pages explaining it in that book, I should dig up the old PDF I have of the chapter and post it (copyright laws ye be dammed!).
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:14 AM on September 19, 2003

(copyright laws ye be dammed!)

Yaar! The usability design of the high seas! And a pox on FYAD!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:21 AM on September 19, 2003


Damn acronyms. Arrr...
posted by me3dia at 9:34 AM on September 19, 2003

Fucking Y2Karl Acid Dish
posted by angry modem at 9:57 AM on September 19, 2003


posted by jaronson at 11:01 AM on September 19, 2003

obligatory :gb2gbs:
posted by oaf at 12:23 PM on September 19, 2003

Aaaarrr the pre 1k years...what a fine time that were for putting the ropes end to that squiffy kottke.
posted by dangerman at 1:25 PM on September 19, 2003

Aye Cap'n danger, methinks we ought to be making that kottke yer new "cabin lad", i 'ere cap'n megnut be sellin that round head fer just a few piece 'o silver.
posted by alana at 2:35 PM on September 19, 2003

*hangs head in shame for not having bought all of Mathowie's off-line books*

But I (1) was already doing a weblog and (2) didn't think usability was worth $49.95 in those days! (Silly me)

I just hope this thread helps to stick into the collective mind that MeFi is THE pioneer in blog ommenting. But, you know how bad I am at starting memes...

Matt, I'd still like to know where you got the font in your pirate logo...
...and a pony (preferably one I could pass off as a dog to the landlord).
posted by wendell at 4:21 PM on September 19, 2003

When first visiting Metafilter, I remember thinking that the manner in which the comments were presented was very similar to photo.net - which has been around quite a bit longer.
posted by normy at 7:03 AM on September 20, 2003

MetaFilter's comment style has been compared to venerable picospan. Indeed, linear bulletin-board style systems clearly evolutionarily precede their threaded cousins by several years, mainly because the latter did not develop until there was a critical mass of diverse users. Matt certainly didn't invent this simplicity; for many of us it was 'back to the future'. Indeed, I've often argued that MeFi could benefit from the introduction of time-tested Picospan features.

An interesting comment on linear vs. threaded: Threaded conferencing dissipates attention, while linear conferencing concentrates attention. I think this is essential to the nature of MetaFilter as well as other sites. A thread on MeFi about a weird Japanese flash movie does not quickly devolve into a discussion of better lemon square recipes. (All threads, however, are vulnerable to devolving into discussions of Bush and Iraq; perhaps an as-yet-undiagnosed coding flaw.) Usenet is threaded by necessity; the decentralized reading and posting means that responses may arrive hours, or even weeks, after the original post, long after a discussion had drifted off topic. Threading is a way to manage this distributed (in time and place) discussion.

Alas, wendell, I do not believe that MeFi was influential in the style of blog comment posting. Blog comment posting is linear because linear is simpler. It also eschews the fillips of well-rooted website forums using pictorial signatures, personal messaging, and the like, because the users are not themselves well-rooted. It's simply best suited to transient comment posting.
posted by dhartung at 9:24 PM on September 20, 2003

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