For me, the MetaFilter magic is gone. March 13, 2001 9:36 AM   Subscribe

For me, the MetaFilter magic is gone.
posted by Steven Den Beste to MetaFilter-Related at 9:36 AM (25 comments total)

I recently realized that I was no longer getting much enjoyment out of participation in MetaFilter. That was a pretty surprising thing, so I tried to figure out why. After long thought, I realized that it's because in the last three months or so, MetaFilter has gotten extremely vicious.

This isn't a "things were better in the good old days" trip into nostalgia. Things really have changed. In the first nine months of my participation here I don't recall seeing any case where someone actually hauled a fellow participant up in public and crucified them. But in the last three months it's happened at least three times. I myself was publicly flayed, and I was deeply insulted.

And, I'm ashamed to admit, I then did the same thing. That was part of what I contemplated, and I realized that I was viciously reacting to what I perceived as viciousness in someone else. Once I realized that I had descended to responding in kind, I felt bad about myself.

But that's just a symptom. The problem runs deeper. There used to be an attitude that we could disagree about things without hating one another, a general attitude that civil discourse was valuable, that ad hominem was always wrong, that we should discuss issues and not personalities. Now we seem to have descended to the level of a Usenet OS advocacy group.

There was a time when everyone who posted understood that this was first and foremost a collective entertainment experience -- that the goal of adding a link was to amuse fellow participants. There was a time when we all felt a responsibility to post things for which we thought most others would thank us. Now many seem to be posted "for their own good, because they need to read this even though they don't want to".

There was a time when controversial subjects were posted to inspire discussion. Now they seem to be posted to make a point. (Or to score points.) I don't remember the last time I saw someone link to a well-crafted and cogent editorial with which they themselves disagreed.

I think perhaps the last election had something to do with this, but the problem is that the election is over but the attitude continues. In the election people were posting things here to push candidates in which they truly believed, or to slam candidates that they hated. But that also legitimized the idea of posters having an agenda, which hadn't been the case before.

I think that was when the "for their own good" posting became commonplace. Now it's become a fixture.

There was a time when I read every single thread, followed every link. These days I skip about three quarters if not more. (That's not because of time pressure or increased volume.) And I usually regret reading more than half of what I do look at.

It also reached the point where I thought three times before starting any new thread. Recently, I noticed that I was encountering things and having first a reaction of "Hey, this would make a good MetaFilter thread!". And then, a moment later, I would think "No, better not. I'll just get beat up again."

The magic is gone. I used to eagerly click my shortcut, with the sort of "What will be under the Christmas tree this time?" feeling I remembered from when I was a kid. Now I come here with mixed feelings of anticipation and dread. I know I'll see things which are interesting (the bad hasn't totally driven out the good, yet) but I also know I'll see a lot of "fingernail on the chalkboard" stuff: ad hominem, petty bickering, attempts to make me feel bad about myself "because they're scum and need to realize it for their own good", the prosaic, the banal, the redundant -- and the vicious.

I actually deleted my shortcuts last Sunday, but curiosity drove me to visit again a couple of times, and I'm glad I did. I'm also sorry I did.

My participation here will probably dwindle. (And many will cheer.) And I mourn the loss of something valuable.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:40 AM on March 13, 2001

Steven, I share your MeFi sorrow for many of the same reasons. There have always been two MeFi camps: those here for the links, those here for the so-called discussions. I've been in the former, but the latter has taken over. That's fine. MeFi does not belong to me, and try as I might I cannot force it to conform to my visions.

Although I complained about the volume of your posting, I concede that they were generally of high quality. You have a talent for rooting out good linkage. Why not start your own weblog?
posted by luke at 10:00 AM on March 13, 2001

Postscript: That newcomers can't tell the difference between MeFi and a bulletin board is a symptom of what saddens me.
posted by luke at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2001

I don't think people were being vicious when they raised an issue about how many links you were posting on MetaFilter, or that your comments about Sudama were unreasonable.

An unmoderated community like this has to have some give-and-take where people discuss what's appropriate and what isn't. There's no other way to let people know what our acceptable norms are.

Otherwise, people will treat this like a Usenet newsgroup, where everyone knows there are no rules.
posted by rcade at 10:16 AM on March 13, 2001

There's another explanation, namely that MF is not greatly harsher than it used to be, but you're more sensitive. I wouldn't blame you: you've definitely taken some shots.

But let's recap the thread in which you were "publicly flayed." Someone posted a thread about your impending 1000th comment. Several posters joked about how much they posted. Finally, comments 11, 12 and 14 were about how some people thought that was too much posting. A couple comments later, those same posters were backing off, saying they didn't mean to pile on. The rest of the thread was dominated by people *supporting* you.

Unfair, yes, singled out, yes, embarrassing, apparently; public flaying, no. I wouldn't have enjoyed it if it were me, and would have cringed for a good while. So I sympathize but calling that "flaying" suggests a certain loss of perspective.

I agree with you about one thing: one of the things that's most disquieting to me when it happens--and it's happened a few times in other online forums and I've done the same thing's Steven's talking about, tapering off and dropping out--is when I receive some sort of reality check and realize that I'm part of the problem. I'll read back some of my own postings and think "what a prick. *I* wouldn't like that person very much." When things get nasty and I find myself lashing out, or being an instigator instead of a rational voice, it's disturbing. (None of this is directed at Steven, who I *don't* think ever comes across as a prick. I'm simply talking about getting the sudden feeling that the persona you're presenting isn't really who you want to be.)

(To digress a little, I think there's a kind of emotional nausea that sensitive people sometimes suffer from when they speak on the record in emotionally charged environments. It often leads to this kind of withdrawal--the "I'll just crawl back to my corner now" kind of comment we see on MeFi fairly often--sometimes it involves leaving entirely. Other people seem completely comfortable in their "gadfly" role and don't exhibit that kind of, well, not to put too fine a point on it, moodswing. *Those* people seem, to people like me, to be kind of relentless.)

So I think your analysis of the state of MeFi is a mix of truth and overreaction, just as Cam's last month was, in a different vein. It also seems to me that you're to some extent projecting your own emotional reaction to MeFi onto MeFi itself.

Now you can get insulted and truculent and say "how dare you psychoanalyze me!?" and write me angry email, or you can take this in the spirit in which it was offered: a sympathetic attempt, on the part of someone who would happily consider himself a friend, at another take on what you're saying.
posted by rodii at 10:39 AM on March 13, 2001

I deserved everything I got for my vicious comments about Sudama. I am now ashamed of them. Not because I've changed my mind, but because I should never have posted them publicly. Had I felt the need to express those feelings at all it should have been by private email, and far more diplomatically.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:47 AM on March 13, 2001

I also feel that Metafilter has been less information-rich for me over the past few months. As some may know (because you don't see my name around here all that often), I often read conversations and I seem to restrict myself to joining only those which I know I can keep up with.

To me, as MeFi has become more popular, and more people post even greater numbers of links per day, it's increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. I'm with jkottke on this one, when he recently described Matt's new features for MeFi [allowing each user to filter what appears on the homepage daily] as a significant improvement. When this is available to all, things may once more improve, as I for one, am simply overwhelmed when I load the homepage.

There's still nuggets of gold on this site, and a sense of community which is unrivalled online in my view, and I hope this remains for some time to come.
posted by williamtry at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2001

The viciousness quotient has definitely increased recently. I thought about starting a thread here about it, but this seems like a good place. This morning I was catching up and couldn't believe that these two, who I've come respect a great deal, were going at it like this. A quote out of context turns into a personal thing pretty quickly these days. Another example that comes to mind is the recent self-linking incident by hanseugene. He made a mistake and was hammered mercilessly. I haven't seen him here since.
posted by gimli at 11:04 AM on March 13, 2001

For me the magic is alive and well. Good job Matt. Good job all. I enjoy it everyday. I recommend it to friends.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:28 AM on March 13, 2001


i am profoundly sorry that you felt like you got flayed. i was afraid you would. i have similar concerns.

however, i'm not giving up hope yet. i think there are still many good things at work here, and i've met some great, interesting people. it sharpens me.
posted by Sean Meade at 11:46 AM on March 13, 2001

I, for one, miss Steven's lack of posts lately... They were most often the jewels in the politcal slop that occupies most threads. You are one of the many who made MeFi great, SDB, and I would like to see your continued participation.
posted by Neb at 12:21 PM on March 13, 2001

Noted without comment: "Political slop." "Attempts to make me feel bad about myself 'because they're scum and need to realize it for their own good'."
posted by snarkout at 12:37 PM on March 13, 2001

Steven, I missed your comments after you felt you were flayed, and if you leave permantly, I'll miss them again.

So, you can leave, if you like, and we'll miss you and in a couple of months we'll forget you. It's a shitty thing to say, but quite honestly it's the truth.

Or you can try, through your posts and comments, to make this a less-vicious place again. And I'm not saying that you don't do that now, in fact you're one of the people I'd highlight to the new people joining MeFi, if any asked me "Who's a good example of a Metafilter member."

I hope you'll come back, that's all.
posted by cCranium at 12:42 PM on March 13, 2001

Steven, I for one would miss your posts a lot. I enjoy the subject matter, and I am interested in your comments. It would be our loss if you left.

As far as visciousness goes, you're right, but I think I see the trend in RL, too. I've been thinking lately that there are bad political vibes around (& ideology is where the flames usually stem from, right?) People get excited easier and resort to cheap shots quicker. It just shows up more on the net.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:45 PM on March 13, 2001

If anyone follows every thread these days, they are more dedicated then I. I would have to say that the general attitude of online posters always hovers between touchy and completely laid back. We are talking to tons of people that we have no real idea how their day has been. We can't gauge their mood from body language and little comments tend to ignite flame. Someone's bad day turns into a 70 post flame fest. Responding to something emotionally once and a while is natural. The more people posting just means that it willl happen more often.

We can get along.
posted by john at 1:27 PM on March 13, 2001

I'm not fishing for compliments. I'm not making a threat. I'm not really trying to make a global objective comment about MetaFilter.

I am deliberately trying to describe my subjective response to the current state of affairs.

I don't like to wade against a tide. I have tried to be civil, to be an asset, but my only motivation for participating here was because I used to enjoy it. I used to get back what I tried to give: reasoned, civil, informed discourse about a wide variety of subjects, which would stretch my mind.

I don't enjoy it anymore, and since my reasons for that are, I thought, possibly shared by others I thought it might be useful to expound them. That was all.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:44 PM on March 13, 2001

When an online forum starts to get to me, I take a forced vacation from it for at least two weeks. If, at any time after the two weeks, I find myself wishing I was still participating, I go back. Otherwise the vacation may stretch into months or years. Did that with the misc.writing newsgroup several times, in fact.
posted by kindall at 2:52 PM on March 13, 2001

Steven, I'm still curious why you are so reluctant to have your own weblog. I encourage this not to limit your presence at MeFi, but because you are a thoughtful person with a lot to share. The comments here suggest you would have an eager audience. It seems clear that the joy you once found from MeFi could be derived from your own site, where nobody is crowding you out, you control the flay meter, and nobody is there for any reason but to hear from you.
posted by luke at 3:34 PM on March 13, 2001

I sit corrected! Ladies and gentleman, adjust your bookmarks accordingly.
posted by luke at 3:47 PM on March 13, 2001

No SDB today and I'm feelin' the vacuum.
posted by gimli at 1:00 PM on March 14, 2001

Two gun control posts in one day.
Now I know Metafilter is going to the dogs.
posted by lagado at 3:51 PM on March 14, 2001

Steven, not only do I highly respect your presence here, but you were the first person I felt intrigued enough to read about through your profile. I have been noticing the hostility within MeFi. The instances are perminently etched in it's history which makes it an even more dubious task to erase from memory. This also makes it a bit harder to digest as well. I'm not nearly as knowing or wise as many within this community (yeah yeah, obvious newbie flattery), but I would offer the advice to take these things "with a grain of salt." There will always be a consistant thought-process ocurring here. People will continue to share ideas, confront each other, or totally miss the point and post before the mind is finished thinking. If we all enter posts with this frame of mind, then we are far better off and less sensitive to the things that deviate from our train of thought. It may prove to be theraputic in itself.

However, I am the last person to give advice on discussion threads as I have been involved with them the least (especially compared to Steve). I do feel, that if everyone is involved in a discussion as a learning process, the one's that are upset or vicious will either apologize, or go somewhere else....those that strive to keep character (even if sometimes falling out of said character) will be more respected for doing so. It's an active process tho.

Now I know Metafilter is going to the dogs
Metafilter2 anyone?
posted by samsara at 6:22 PM on March 14, 2001

If you guys think that MeFi's gone to the dogs, just wait until the next wave of publicity about to wash over this little community... but to return to the topic of the thread, I disagree completely with the assertion that MeFi has gotten meaner.

Granted, some people who post have, but the tone isn't that way at all. The best example I can give you is having spent much of the last 5 days with mikewas, I can tell you he & I got along famously and I really enjoyed his company. (And your wife, too, Mike.)

This, despite the fact that I usually couldn't disagree more with his political views, proves to me that the sense of humanity and community far exceeds the momentary snittiness people get when seeing a link that's surrounded by some inflammatory text.

My suggestion? People make their link descriptions informational instead of editorial, with a few relevant prompts for comment to prod the discussion along.
posted by anildash at 7:57 PM on March 14, 2001

Anildash: I was kinda joking around when suggesting a move to a different board. That seems to be the way things work though. The feeling I've been getting recently while reading through MetaTalk, is that there is an atmosphere of "us vs. them" The folks that have been around for awhile, or feel that they haven't been served a fair dish of discussion, usually come here to further discuss why it seems wrong. I would almost expect to see for those that would like to discuss the boards on even a higher level. That is one of the reasons I'm not really too fond of MetaTalk as it almost screams "us vs. them."

I'm not saying that either parts are a bad thing, just that if you want to see things improve on the other side...dedicate more of your time to metafilter. Those that don't read MetaTalk will get a better idea of what the site is about, and those that read MetaTalk will feel more included and comfortable to engage in meaningful discussion without having to put up a front. I don't think the site is going to the dogs either, because it is the people actively sorting out the mess that makes it valuable, not the posts themselves. Just my opinion though.
posted by samsara at 8:07 AM on March 15, 2001

Metafilter doesn't seem much different to me - just bigger. There's still intelligent commentary in response to interesting links, and silly banter in response to jokes and absurdities. I'm still making friends and learning things.

The increased number of links and comments has demanded some changes in my participation, though; I've stopped reading every comment in every thread, and these days I seem to throw away two out of every three comments I start writing. With increased volume, I don't want to say anything unless I have something valuable to say.

The flamewar phenomenon is connected to volume. Discussions develop inertia; when the number of participants is small, the number of posts stays small, and it's difficult for the conversation to build up to the point that people start yelling at each other. This is one of the things I particularly like about the weblog-plus-discussion-board model - there's a natural limit to the life of a discussion, and there's no way to develop the months-long running arguments that can decimate a mailing list.

Every online community goes through this kind of change as it grows. I've lost track of the number of times I've found a lovely little place to talk, watched it grow, watched it change, and then discovered that the magic is gone and the place no longer has the spark that kept me coming back. The thing to remember is that it's not dead, it's just different - if the newbies are still flooding in, there must be some other spark there to draw them.

I'm sure the day will come when I'll leave Metafilter for somewhere new, but I'm also sure that the Metafilter I leave will be a thriving, energetic community on its own.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:20 PM on March 15, 2001

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