Take it off line March 3, 2001 10:11 AM   Subscribe

posted by MattD to Etiquette/Policy at 10:11 AM (23 comments total)

This morning, on a thread devoted to a wacky lady looking for love on AOL, Mathowie diverted a subdiscussion about the reasons why atheists would want to get married to QuickTopics.com (or "TakeItOffline.com," as he said).

May I object to that? I find that as often as not the digressions that a thread prompts are often as interesting, or more, than the initial topic which inspired them. Every conversation organically evolves, and you just can't force them back (or exclusively onto) the track on which they started.

For example, I found the back and forth between Mathowie and Accountingboy in the "offline" chat quite interesting, and in my view it definitely would not have been out of place in the main thread. There are clearly some instances in which a thread devolves into a colloquoy among a few members which isn't interesting to the rest, but this wasn't one of those instances.

I understand that for good and adequate reasons we don't subthread (a la a newsreader) discussions, but I do think that we should try to allow for some fluidity.
posted by MattD at 10:16 AM on March 3, 2001

With the flat commenting as it is here, there are often side threads and tangents people go off on, and that's ok. But sometimes, a side topic takes on a life of its own, and in this thread I thought the stuff about the site and Mary was interesting, and didn't want to see the other stuff cloud the responses. When people see a thread of 20 comments, and the last 5 comments are about something else, they often don't leave a comment, or the 21st comment starts with "I hate to bring this back to the original post but..."

When things like that happen (and based on feedback I've gotten and comments I see on the site), something has sort of gone wrong, the limits of the flat commenting have been pushed a little, in a way that wasn't intended.

So sometimes, I'd like to see things worth discussing, but obscuring the original thread, off someplace else. I tried out quicktopic because I just happened to check and see if it was still online today, and thought I could test it out with this. I suppose tossing it into MetaTalk is more appropriate, and maybe I should create a category for "off topic threads."

Sidequestion: When I started this site, the most popular feedback was "Why aren't comments threaded?! Make them threaded!" I had noticed the then-new success of several UBB-type systems, and how being free of threading made the interface much, much simpler and allowed people to participate easier. I haven't heard a call for threading in over a year now, and after looking at slashdot and the userland discussions, I'm glad I never went with threading. Sometimes it's exhausting to have to click down into threads over and over, and you can miss good side discussions.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:00 AM on March 3, 2001 [2 favorites]

I agree with Matt! [heh]. I agree with MattD that sometimes the side discussions are the best part, and with MattH that sometimes they are a distraction. I'm not sure I think taking discussions to another site is a good answer, nor taking it to MeTa. I think this is a good reason to allow new threads in MeFi that aren't linked to other URLS--except maybe back to the original MeFi thread. I realize this takes MeFi a little farther from the weblog concept, so feel free to disagree on this. But I think it shouldn't be unreasonable to say "I think this has gotten too far off-topic, so I've started a new thread for it here. Let's keep this thread on the topic of fiery lapdog hoops." And, of course, if that new thread could be inaugurated with a relevant link, so much the better--but that's the human engineering side of community.
posted by rodii at 11:37 AM on March 3, 2001

By the way: sideanswer to mathowie's side question: Affirm--no threading rules.
posted by rodii at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2001

Actually, rodii, that's the last thing I want. When it's ok for anyone, for any reason to start new threads about old threads, metafilter becomes one big circle jerk. There are probably a handful of cases where it might have been alright, and you and I might disagree on which specific ones were worthy, but when anyone can do it for any reason, I'm sure we'd see it happen fairly often.

If something pops up in a thread that's really great, I could see linking it off the sidebar on the front page, and I don't know of any mechanism for people to suggest a link besides emailing me.

and thanks for answering my side question, I added that in half-jokingly, to add a side thread on a metatalk thread about sidethreads - ha! but yeah, I'm glad to hear the no threading is still favored over adding threading.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2001

No threading, definitely. Despite the rare sidethread, MeFi is, without exception, the finest example of continuity I've encountered.
posted by netbros at 2:44 PM on March 3, 2001

So, perhaps, the use of TakeItOffline would be an infrequent, case-by-case thing ... with the general principal remaining that digressions with a reasonable relation to the initial post are considered kosher.

I definitely am not advocating threading ... I know that I rarely read or post to /. or any of my old Usenet groups mainly because it's just too difficult and I (like to think) that I have a life. MeFi allows one to zoom through things in 2 or 3 five minute sessions in a day -- which is just about right.
posted by MattD at 3:30 PM on March 3, 2001

Count me in for the laissez faire approach. The recent thread on Peter Singer and bestiality took a diversion into the reliability of Kinsey's research, which was a side-track from the original post, but interesting in itself. If people want to TakeItOffline, there's always good ol' email. We're all friends here, right?
posted by ceiriog at 5:25 PM on March 3, 2001

aaron, I believe it was, mentioned that he would be willing to run a Metafilter mailing list if there were any call for it.

Would a mailing list be appropriate for sub-topics? Only people who are interested in reading about sub-topics would need to subscribe, it'd be off-site, and probably other good things that I can't think of right now.
posted by cCranium at 7:07 AM on March 4, 2001

OK, as soon as I posted my suggestion above, I knew it was a bad idea. I'm with ceiriog--gentle social pressure is the best answer.

On the mailing list idea: I still think it's a risky, probably bad, one. Not everyone is willing to give up their anonymity to the extent they would have to to be in a mailing list, and some people just can't handle more email or don't have easy access to good email clients, and unless the mailing list goes to everyone, it's creating a subgroup with more information—an a-list. Postings on MF would start collecting cute references to offline conversations, leaving some MF posters feeling baffled and/or excluded. I think that as a response to what's basically a minor problem, it has all kinds of possible unintended consequences.

(OT: hey, the posting interface to MeTa changed! Didn't it?)
posted by rodii at 7:39 AM on March 4, 2001

I think MetaFilter's lack of threading has been a big reason for the growth of the community. It's so easy to jump into a discussion here I suspect many people do it simply to post a message, and are encouraged enough by responses to stick around.
posted by rcade at 6:35 PM on March 4, 2001

rodii: They wouldn't have to give up anonymity, because they wouldn't have to be on the mailing list. If the list were kept specifically for off-topic conversations there'd be no need to mention it on-site (and mentioning it on-site could easily be discouraged).

Worrying about a-lists and perception of elitism is a pretty silly reason to limit the possiblities. People - as we've seen over and over again here - will attribute elitist thinking to pretty much any debate they can, and it's just a pain in the freakin' ass when you're trying to make a point.

I don't mean you bringing it up here, it is a valid concern in this discussion, I just wish it weren't is all.

I've had the occasional e-mail conversation with various members of MeFi, usually spurred by the urge to bring a topic off-list, that does not make myself or anyone else I've had communication prompted by a MeFi conversation a member of some cabal. It means that we're here, in a discussion board, looking for good people to have good conversations with.

A mailing list, as an example - this isn't inherently an argument for the mailing list, it was just a possibility, would only facilitate said conversation in a different way. People who want to take part will find a way to take part, even if it means missing an hour of sleep. We're a rather independant group of people, quite able to realize the consequences of the decisions we make and live with those consequences.

Single-threadedness, as many have pointed out here, is ultimately a Good Thing for MeFi, so it should be encouraged. Providing a spot for off-topicality helps keep the focus of a thread intact, and promotes MeFi's single-threaded nature.
posted by cCranium at 9:44 AM on March 5, 2001

Worrying about a-lists and perception of elitism is a pretty silly reason to limit the possiblities.

I agree?and yet I also think that keeping an eye out for the newbies and seldombies is a good thing for a friendly community. I do hear people sometimes lamenting the amount of in-jokes and jokey user-number jibes and other oldbie-type stuff, so I think it is something some people feel. (I bet every time someone invokes Aaron and Dreama as the house-brand conservatives, someone thinks "hey, what about me, dammit! I'm conservative too! Damn you, a-listers!" :)

(I might be obsessing about "community" these days because I'm involved in creating one in the real world, so it's on my mind a lot. Sorry if I seem overly focused on it.)
posted by rodii at 9:43 AM on March 6, 2001

Yeah, sure, but Aaron, Dreama and Tiaka got the "House Conservatives" labels by being assholes.


I rambled on for quite some time here about communication, but realized that it was not only bloated and wandering, but somewhat off-topic, interestingly enough.

(though, rodii, I'll likely e-mail you in the next couple of days, because that exclusionary media is the only place I have to explore off-topic thoughts. I'll be no newbies will be included in that conversation. :-)

Here's my case:
  • We all like to talk (me, apparently, a lot)
  • We all like to talk with other MetaFilistines.
  • A place to put off-topic posts means more talking for those of us that want more talking.
  • A place to put off-topic posts means less talking for those of us that want less talking.
  • Off-topic posts in MeFi proper are a Bad Thing for various reasons.
I'm pretty sure everyone here agrees on the above.

I fail to understand the fundamental difference between a mailing list and and online forum. If you're worried about your e-mail address, or if you really like your browser, there are plenty of places to get an anonymous e-mail address.

I didn't really want to argue this strenuously (I've been fucking around in this damn text area for a good 40 minutes now, deleting all the irrelevant crap. Christ I need an editor) for a mailing list, it was just an idea.
posted by cCranium at 1:38 PM on March 6, 2001

I'm glad I never went with threading.

Good. Threading simply does not work on the Web. I've only ever seen it done two ways, and both suck beyond belief.

The first is the Slashdot/Plastic model. It's hard to make out where subthreads start and end. If you decide to read each subthread as separate entities, it takes forever to load a page, then go back a page, load another one, on and on. And if you read them straight, and the topic has any popularity whatsoever, the Slashcode ends up generating so many levels of nested tables that it can take the browser 90 seconds to interpret and display the page. Which, as we all know, is intolerable. The average user will abandon a web page entirely if at least some amount of the text hasn't appeared within seven seconds of starting to load.

The other is the CompuServe model. Check out their forums, which were once the envy of the Internet for both their quantity and quality of activity, and see how switching to the web while trying to retain their old threaded style has completely, totally destroyed them. You will quite possibly determine it to be the single worst interface ever put onto the web.

aaron, I believe it was, mentioned that he would be willing to run a Metafilter mailing list if there were any call for it.

Yes, but I didn't really propose it for exclusively sub-topic content. And I agree with others above that it wouldn't work. It would require everyone who wanted to participate in the subthread to be subscribed, and would also force all subscribers to be subjected to all subthreads whether they care about them or not.

What I want a mailing list for is simple community building. The single flaw of MeFi, IMHO, is that our Prime Directive is "Keep your personal life off the front page links." That means, by default, that our only opportunities to open up about ourselves are on the rare occasions that a thread comes up about a subject that we have personal anecdotes about. Otherwise, we're just all names on a board, with varying levels of anonymity, that we never learn much about or interact with except to debate stuff. A mailing list would allow more of a real community to gel, to create actual friendships.

The problem of keeping anonymity is easily solved. Digests would be available to keep those with limited email space from going crazy. And I'm not sure it would be any more of an A-list than MetaTalk is already. Not all MeFites every come over here, though they're all allowed to at any time. Likewise, MeFites could join the mailing list at any time. The problems of exclusivity and obscure references on MeFi itself could be fixed by making all mailing list posts available via a web interface. Any MeFite could browse them at will. And when you bring up something that was list-only, you'd just link to the thread.

posted by aaron at 11:16 PM on March 6, 2001 [1 favorite]

aaron: Very good points. I think I was mostly trying to fit that mailing list idea into somewhere so that it would get off.

Of course, there's nothing stopping you from starting a mailing list somewhere and subtly sliding a link into it, though that would almost definitely take out the "open to all" aspect of it.

I really just want somewhere were us Mefiites can just plain ol' talk without the necessity for topicality, and that just won't work in a single-threaded online forum. Doing it here would destroy what MetaFilter is, and doing it online would be a major pain in the ass, because like aaron I don't think that general forums work.

What is it about BBSes that makes them able to do it so well but makes it unable to bring it to the Web?
posted by cCranium at 6:52 AM on March 7, 2001

I like mailing lists. I especially like high-traffic, free-form mailing lists populated with intelligent people. Yet I am currently subscribed to no mailing lists that are not connected to my work. Clearly, there is an unmet need in my life, although it does directly conflict with my need to ever get my work done. I could be very interested in an opportunity to fulfill this dark and dangerous need.
posted by redfoxtail at 4:55 PM on March 7, 2001

redfoxtail, yeah I pretty much feel the same way. I think a Metafilter-branded free-form mailing list would be fun.
posted by cCranium at 6:11 AM on March 8, 2001

I'm terribly concerned that having a separate mailing list would splinter the community that has developed here. One of the reasons that I like MeFi is that bantering does take place, inside jokes are traded (that eventually everyone can get), and people get to know one another (albeit in a somewhat limited way).

I would want to make sure that this alternative forum would be somewhat like what MeTa is to some respects now, a quieter room where folks can chat with an open door to the louder party that is taking place. I wouldn't want for folks to permanently occupy the semi-private room and seldom set foot in the larger MeFi party.

Like aaron, I would love to know more about the folks here (usually those that reside in the MeTa room). Perhaps a bit of community can be built; I just do not wish it to be at the expense of the community that has been built in MeFi. If it were focused on what it was that each of us were doing (like the community-building that rodii mentioned and that I'd love to hear about), then that would be okay. Having topical events in MeFi and personal events in the other forum (Bizarro MeFi?) would help.

I'd love to sit for a while and chat about this, but I have a meeting to attend... be back soon (bisy backson).
posted by Avogadro at 6:29 AM on March 8, 2001

The reason I like the thought of a mailing list is because it's an "always on" type of thing. I always have Outlook open, whereas I only visit MeFi a few times each day and have to batch my fun.

No more batched fun! :-)

Also, it'd be something that Matt wouldn't have to worry about, he's got more than enough on his plate already. Even if it were run off MeFi's servers, an unmoderated mailing list is pretty much a one-off thing.
posted by cCranium at 9:21 AM on March 8, 2001

I'm definitely adopting the phrase "batched fun," cC, although the more I look at it, the more it strikes me as a yummy noodle dish made with chow fun. Mm, gimme a nice hot dish of batched fun.
posted by redfoxtail at 4:49 PM on March 8, 2001

What is it about BBSes that makes them able to do it so well but makes it unable to bring it to the Web?

The UI. BBSs had a different "feel" about them that just isn't matched by the Web. In many ways the Web experience is superior, especially on DSL. But there's something ineffable about watching someone else's words appear on the screen one. letter. at. a. time... at a more human pace.
posted by kindall at 10:10 PM on March 12, 2001

But people have tried matching typical BBS UIs with HTML, and they tend to fail miserably. And even a 2400 BBS posts didn't really ever appear one letter at a time... it was more like bursts of one line at a time or so.
posted by cCranium at 7:44 AM on March 13, 2001

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