we should limit posts! March 14, 2001 8:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty new around here, and for the most part, I think metafilter is great, but the signal to noise ratio is lower than it might be. I have an idea...
posted by anapestic to Etiquette/Policy at 8:11 PM (39 comments total)

Well come on, spit it out!
posted by Avogadro at 8:23 PM on March 14, 2001

I'm sure this will strike many of you as heretical, but I think that limits on the number of postings deserve serious consideration.

If a member were limited to, for example, one link and two comments a day, I think a lot of people would be a lot more careful about what they choose to comment on.

There are several benefits to limits.

1. Noise posts would be reduced. I'm thinking of "hey, that's funny," or "hey, you suck." I see some posters putting many of those up some days. If you could only comment twice, you'd probably want to reserve your comments for something of substance. And if you didn't, at least there wouldn't be so many of them. Easier to find the signal.

2. Spitting matches would be less frequent. I'm thinking of links where one person says something (perhaps provocative) then another person responds (perhaps rudely), and then the posts fly, usually getting longer with each additional post.

3. The quality of discourse would increase. If you can only post two comments a day, you're going to really think about them. Posters are less likely to mindlessly post because they'll want their posts to count.

I have a feeling this idea is a non-starter because it does seem like so many people have so much to say. But I think it's worth a try. There are so many people posting here now, that it doesn't seem practicable to just let people post as much as they want. If that happens, people will be overwhelmed, and the only people who'll stick around are the people with enough time to read all the posts. And that isn't most of us, I think.

btw, I did look around to see if this topic had been posted before, and I didn't see it. But if it was, and I missed it, only one person really needs to say that.
posted by anapestic at 8:23 PM on March 14, 2001

Isn't the threat of having our behavior analyzed on MeTa enough to limit at least a few of the most prolific of us?
posted by snarkout at 8:31 PM on March 14, 2001

anapestic, that's not a bad idea at all.

I think it's mostly good and would in fact make people think before posting, but the truly nefarious posters would probably create 5-10 usernames so they could still get their pissing matches going (of course, I could make it harder to switch between usernames, making this less of an issue).

Let me think it over. Does anyone see any massive drawbacks to such limits?

posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:34 PM on March 14, 2001

Let me start with the first drawback: the limits seem really low, and some real conversations would require more than a couple comments from each participant.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:35 PM on March 14, 2001

Sorry, didn't mean to be snarky; I was just a bit impatient to hear what you had to say.

I vaguely remember comment limits being mentioned previously, but have forgotten what was said...hold on...

Well hell, I couldn't find it, but I did stumble across this thread, which I thought addressed signal/noise rather well.

I suppose that I lean towards human solutions for human problems. In other words, rather than impose a comment or post limit, I would raise awareness that discourse is degraded by personal attacks, "me too" comments, and general snarkiness. There are times when I enjoy reading an ongoing discussion between a small group of folks who know what they are talking about and who will post comment several times in the same day on the same topic, especially when it is deep. I wouldn't want to stifle this kind of discussion.
posted by Avogadro at 8:41 PM on March 14, 2001

I pulled the one posting/two comments per day limit out of thin air. I agree that two comments per day is somewhat draconian. I don't know if an analysis has been done, but I'm guessing that the 80/20 rule applies. That is, 20% of regular contributors account for 80% of the volume. So if you set the comments limit at 5/day, you'd probably be most of the noise that you'd eliminate at 2/day.

In any case, I still feel that if you're limited to n comments, you'll think more carefully about what you want to say so that fewer comments will be needed to fully elucidate your point of view.

I also think that in many cases where there are two people posting numerous posts to a single link, those two people are talking to each other rather than to everyone, and those posters should be encouraged to take it outside.

Avogadro, I agree that it would be preferable to raise awareness, but I don't think that approach has worked. There are plenty of indications around here as to what kind of posts are most likely to encourage enlightened debate. Too many people just don't care. And you have to admit that some of those people are just plain rude. If you try to raise their awareness, they're going to tell you that they don't need your help. They'll use much more colorful language, of course.

posted by anapestic at 8:58 PM on March 14, 2001

I like the discussion. I like the give and take. I like watching the thread develop.

Two comments? - A recipe for stagnation.

Self policing? - Seems to be working.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:02 PM on March 14, 2001

" so that fewer comments will be needed to fully elucidate your point of view."

It's not a freakin' term paper! It's a discussion. You know - sitting around on the couch, talking, hearing other people's opinion?
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:11 PM on March 14, 2001

I think it's a lovely idea.
posted by luke at 9:24 PM on March 14, 2001

Instead of limiting the number of comments, how about permitting as many comments as a person wants to post but limiting the number of threads the person is permitted to participate in per day, say four total including starts and followups?

If that did nothing else, it would focus attention more graphically on the threads people really found valuable. There would be a lot more 0-followup articles on the front page, which might be a form of feedback observed by everyone about what kinds of things people really want to see.

On the other hand, this might be a lot harder to implement, and Matt's already too busy.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:02 PM on March 14, 2001

If you can only post two comments a day, you're going to really think about them.

I can think of one very big problem with this: If people were limited to only two comments per day - or a few, or any number less than 10-15 or so probably - discussions would grind to a halt. People would check in once a day, figure out where to put their two preferred comments, leave and not come back for 24 hours. (Why bother when you couldn't reply to anything?) Discussions that only take a few hours now would end up taking days since nobody would be able to get into an active debate.

Combine that with the fact that MeFi front-page posts are time-sensitive anyway (every new thread pushes all the older ones down the page, to the point where even the most active threads usually die with 72 hours or so), and it might be enough to dissipate all the energy of this place. It could end up turning MeFi into little more than a Memepool with sparse, aimless Fark-style user comments.
posted by aaron at 10:13 PM on March 14, 2001

Setting aside the amount of code and effort needed to do it, barring Matt's purchase of that Time Machine I heard him discussing:

What about a limit of 4 comments per day, and you earn one credit per comment. Posting a new thread costs 6 credits.

posted by anildash at 11:05 PM on March 14, 2001

To respond to the idea that threads would take longer to develop if links/comments were limited:

I'd like to say actually that sounds pretty good to me. I'm on a wacky schedule and even though I've been reading MeFi and MetaTalk for a while, I didn't actually bother to get a login 'til last week, and I've never posted anything, links or comments.

Why? Because most of the MeFi activity takes place during the day when everyone's at work (I'm assuming that's why it's so busy here between oh, say, 10 AM and 4 PM). If I'm working/running around during the day, I'm too busy to check MeFi, and if I'm not busy I'm asleep. So by the time I can sit down and read for a while, which is usually very late at night as you can see, all the discussions are pretty much over - and it's on to the next day. (If I stay up late enough maybe I'll see the beginning of the next day, but I'm hesitant to post a comment and not be able to read any replies until much later in the day when the discussion's played out and I can no longer participate in a useful fashion.)

If comments and front page links were limited, threads would take a little longer to build and would include more thoughtful posts than one-liners. Then maybe a thread would last more than 10 hours and I could participate a little more - would be very nice. I like the pace in MetaTalk better since the conversations here last a few days and I can come back to them and follow up. (But MetaTalk is *about* MeFi, and I'm not really participating in MeFi....)

Of course, I'm sure many people here like that they can check on threads all day at work since the discussions seem rapid-fire - like people keep checking back every hour; so I'm just putting in my two cents here. I'm not saying I'm for or against the idea of limiting people to a certain number - I'm pointing out what advantage limiting *could* bring for me.

I was checking Fark a lot for a couple months and I came over here because it felt like more of a community - much more interesting to listen to - but I soon found out that even if something were posted that I wanted to comment on, I really couldn't because by the time I got there, the discussion was already over. (And this isn't like "by the time I got there four days later" - this is like, the link is posted at 11 AM and when I check MeFi at 11 PM, the discussion is over.) So to me right now, this *is* just like Fark - I'm limited to checking out the cool links. Only on Fark I was limited by the normal comment style - here I'm limited by time constraints.

Also, as I just saw someone mention in another thread on MetaTalk, it's hard to get to know people beyond their ability to weigh in a paragraph on a particular issue. What I thought was more community *is* there but it seems to be based on very little and/or RL or longtime knowledge of each other. So-and-so is the arch-conservative and so-and-so is the quasi-troll, etc. I mean, I can go read someone's weblog, fine, but that's just *one* person, and how I can find *one* person interesting enough to follow up on if I see his/her *one* paragraph in each thread?

Anyway, if you've read this far, I thank you; I hope my thoughts are a helpful contribution.

Now back to my normal lurking mode. =)
posted by Melinika at 12:05 AM on March 15, 2001

When you've got fifteen people who disagree with you in fifteen different ways, it's hard to respond in 2 comments/day.

The idea of credits is neat, but risks karma whore (or worse) style abuse.

With the new recent & my comments views, I find MetaFilter extremely manageable. Sure there are lots of posts on the front page I don't give 2 craps about, but the only way to improve the situation is for people to post more better stuff.. not less worse stuff. And I don't know if that's something any clever code can bring about.

That said, here's a crazy idea. What about a page where threads go to die -- 6 hours after a thread is posted, it can be nominated for eviction from the front page. If evicted, it's sent to a dead letter office of sorts, a metafilter graveyard where the post and any comments can still be found but the post no longer clutters the front page. This would not be used for the types of threads that get removed now -- spam, doubleposts, and other misuse -- but for threads that are nominated and then seconded, thirded, fourthed, thirteenthed, voted, or moderated off of metafilter.

The only kind of moderation I'm comfortable with is one where the community is actively involved -- though I have no idea how feasible this really is. It just seems like a neat idea right now.

posted by sudama at 12:17 AM on March 15, 2001

I'm extremely afraid of the tyranny of the masses; it goes against the grain. There's too much opportunity for abuse. To take a historic example where opinions ran high, suppose that a group of people fed up with Ralph Nader posts last fall took it upon themselves to try to torpedo any article pushing his Presidential candidacy? And then some of his supporters, wising up to what was going on, organize to take revenge by shooting threads started by the first group no matter what they're about, simply in retaliation? Any remaining semblance of cooperation and civility here could vanish in a matter of weeks, replaced by what amounts to a shooting war.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:24 AM on March 15, 2001

Just wanted to quickly mention that we've been down this road before, at least in terms of limiting front page posts. Of course, we didn't reach any resolution then, either.
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:11 AM on March 15, 2001

Self policing? - Seems to be working.

I disagree. I think that self-policing is working only for people who have an extreme tolerance for rudeness and for people who have immense amounts of time to devote to MetaFilter. I suppose that you could say it works, if by working you mean that people who won't tolerate rudeness stop participating. What you end up with is more heat than light, and a relative few dominating the discussion. Some may consider that a good thing. I don't, and it's not my impression that MF was formed to promote that sort of discussion and rhetoric.

In my experience, self-policing doesn't work well on discussion forums unless there are consequences. The fact that no one thinks a post is interesting simply doesn't deter a number of people from continuing to post.

It's not a freakin' term paper! It's a discussion. You know - sitting around on the couch, talking, hearing other people's opinion?

Well, it's not really. A discussion involves immediate feedback. That's what chat does. MF is more like a debate, albeit an informal one. Again, if you view it as simply a discussion, you are tilting towards people who can sit around and monitor it all day. And I don't get the sense, frequently, that people are hearing other people's opinions. Too often I see people with set opinions coming in and shouting at each other across a great divide. Multiple comments then devolve into "Am not," "are too."

I don't see comment limits as a recipe for stagnation, either. Perhaps that would happen with a two/day limit, but as I said earlier, that was just an example. The idea that you need 10-15 or more comments a day to make your point makes no sense to me. I think it makes sense to people who don't know when to stop. For example, I've made three comments (including the initial idea) to this thread over two days, and I think I've been able to say pretty much what I want to say.

Also, if you let people comment as much as they want, but limited them to commenting on four threads a day, you wouldn't be accomplishing much, on an individual thread level. I think we have to recognize that there are many people who post here, and that means if any one person or two people can post as much as they want, fewer opinions are heard.

Comment limits are meant to increase the signal/noise ratio, encourage participation by a greater number of people, and encourage civil discourse. Yes, it might take longer for threads to develop, but my attention span can handle that.

In the end, I think it's up to Matt to decide what he wants for the site and how best to encourage that direction. I think comment limits or a credit system would certainly discourage some people from participating, but I think it would encourage more people. And the people who want unlimited commenting can find another site or make their own. Alternatively, people who want more civil and content-filled debate can do the same.

Anyway, why not try a test period with a five comment/day limit and see what happens? A limit can always be rescinded if it's not working.
posted by anapestic at 7:14 AM on March 15, 2001

Oh, almost forgot - Matt, you've mentioned before that you have the ability to categorize MeFi threads. Has it come time to implement this feature?
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:20 AM on March 15, 2001

I think something in means of setting the mood for discussion would be more appropriate. Lets say, a simple question automatically inserted after the post suggesting a "type" of response. Direct the desired use of the thread by asking "Do you find this topic interesting?" or similar (the wording could be a mandatory radio button for the one who's posting).

If you want a restrictive type of discussion board policy, then I say, take all necessary actions to make it so. The only consequence is that you replace human reactions with and/or gates and switches. You also lose the direct representation of what it's like to be in a community.
posted by samsara at 8:30 AM on March 15, 2001

Here's another problem. If I'm limited to a certain number of posts per day I'll end up having to write very long comments. Will this increase the quality if comments end up running several pages? And will people still want to participate? Will it stop being a community and start being a repository for lengthy editorials?

I personally enjoy Metafilter for the discussion. And I don't see any added value in insisting that discussions be formal, or polite, or even well reasoned. Just my opinion.

The main value I see hear is being able to share opinions with people from around the world. I like having my ideas thrown into the fray and batted about. If it becomes "just the facts mam," I think we lose a lot of that value.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:36 AM on March 15, 2001

you can get links anywhere. the web's full of 'em.

on the other hand, this community only exists in one place.

I wouldn't muzzle it for the world.

there will be lots more taking-it-offline if comments are limited. you'll see people links to their blogVoices threads or whatever. really hot topics will all end up with their own QuickTopics thread. people will be more inclined to post their contributions to MeFi discussions on *their own* sites because, although they had a valuable opinion they wished to share, they'd already shared two valuable opinions that day. so, as I see it, such limits could just as easily fragment the community as improve it.

it may also be worth noting that cutbacks on quantity to attempt to improve quality will be *totally* useless once the community gets a little bigger. When MeFi10K comes along, "only" 2 comments a day still means, potentially, 20,000 posts per day total.

however: I'm all for per-user limits on front page posts.
posted by Sapphireblue at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2001

oh, and tangentially: Matt, I am personally made a little nervous by your observation that there are things that could be done to make it harder to switch userids---there are two compulsive MeFi readers who regularly visit using the same browser/machine/networked IP from my apartment---getting my link/comment counts all garbled is one thing, but i'd hate to be driven to violence between us over the last allotted MeFi comment per day.

posted by Sapphireblue at 10:14 AM on March 15, 2001

I would favor a limit on links, but not on comments. I'm sure most of us have had the experience of needing to clarify a point that has been misunderstood, or wanting to acknowledge that someone may have succeeded in changing our mind on a subject. SDB's suggestion of limiting the number of discussions a user participates in makes sense, but I can envision the occasional day when many links might be right up someone's alley.
posted by gimli at 12:03 PM on March 15, 2001

Limiting comments is not the solution, but limiting how many threads someone may start a day or week could work. I often find that some days, there are good threads that could warrant discussion for more than one or two days but with all the new threads started every day, the discussion dwindles in these older threads. Posting in these older threads seems useless to me in the current situation, as it's unlikely people are going to read my comments due to them moving onto new threads, probably for the same reasons i move on and have just explained above, dwindling comments.

posted by Zool at 2:38 PM on March 15, 2001

Although I have no solution to offer, I'm with Melinika. I don't find MeFi overwhelmingly vicious (though the occasional rude ad hominem stuff does make me sad) nor do I think the S:N is particularly out of whack.

I just find it exhausting. I have time to check in once, maybe twice a day and really read the site rather than skim. By the time evening rolls around and I've a longer period to read, digest, think and post, there are already dozens of comments and topics are beginning to scroll from people's radar so the discussion has died out anyway. So I rarely post, infrequently comment and -- when I do -- tend to go for the obvious, banal or otherwise bad pun/joke because I'm too weary to put some thought into a response that's moot anyway.

Lack of threading is one of MeFi's greatest charms, but it also comes with a price. In threaded discussion systems, divergent discussions and topic-drift can be managed to a point where you can follow/respond to only those aspects in which you're interested and discard/ignore the rest. Here, comments in reply or germane to another user's comment may get buried 25 posts down the detail page, making the "conversation" disjointed and...well, exhausting.

I'm not advocating threading, although some form of post/comment limiting might slow down the drift, make us all a bit more deliberate in our "weblog as conversation" and, one hopes, elevate the level of discourse. (I'd also probably tend to make fewer bad jokes and puns.)
posted by bradlands at 7:20 PM on March 15, 2001

See, I don't think conversation will stop if people post well-thought out comments outside peak hours. It may slow down a bit, and there may be a whole lot of exposition on "What x really meant when s/he said that was..." before you can continue arguing your case.

I can understand that being an icky prospect.

Speaking as one of the people who hit MeFi multiple times during the day, I 'm always happy when someone who doesn't slack as much as I do is able to inject a new viewpoint into the discussion.
posted by cCranium at 5:47 AM on March 16, 2001

I think I phrased that poorly. I think people posting outside peak hours will spur the conversation to continue. If I'm interested in a conversation, I'll follow it until it falls off the page.
posted by cCranium at 12:54 PM on March 16, 2001

I like the idea of limiting of number of discussions someone could participate in. Its been said before but I must second it... so many sweet little front page posts scroll by over the course of the day.. such a ephemeral existence... and i watch them go by as new front page posts come up, and they cry out "post something to me..." "if you post here they will come..." but no... 0 comments - Post a Comment stares back at me all day long. farewell little post, you were special in your own way, sadly everyone had to bandwagon on the latest salon george w bush thread. we WILL miss you.

my point is if you could only post to say three or four threads, more threads would get posts. and c'mon, they DO deserve it.

posted by darkpony at 10:56 PM on March 16, 2001

I don't know if I see the logic here. If we could only post to three threads, and there were three threads that produced passion and controversy, wouldn't it be more likely that everyone would expend all their rhetorical capital on those three threads and *even more* others wouldn't get any posts at all?
posted by rodii at 6:38 AM on March 19, 2001

hey rodii,

yer right, It doesn't make sense to me today either. although the other day it made perfect sense.

lets see, I think I was thinking something about MORE hot threads than a person has the ability to post to... that way you could only take part in three of the five hot topics... but you are right that does absolutetly NOTHING for the lonely 0 comments - Post a Comment threads.

maybe you get points inversely proportional to the number of posts a thread has... frist psot gets you 10 points down to posting to a 50 post thread gets you 0 points. and you have a certain number of points per day.

AND the first born of every second family born under the sign of gemini get one extra post on the fifth day of the seventh....

I give up...

posted by darkpony at 1:13 PM on March 19, 2001

once you start doing complicated points and algorithms for proportional ratios, it becomes a bit ridiculous. add my vote to the stack for limits on front page posts, no limits on comments...

posted by judith at 3:39 PM on March 19, 2001

Yes, limiting links and not comments sounds good. Limiting the number of discussions you can participate in or how much you can contribute to a discussion sounds.......like trouble. All I can say is that sounds like it could take away alot of what I like about this place while only eliminating a part of the problem.

Maybe categorization might help? or more user-configuration options (like filters on posts from certain usernames or older posts with little or no discussion, etc.)

or maybe someone should start a secret underground MeFi community with an invite-only list of users? "the first rule of sneaky-MeFi is you don't talk about sneaky-MeFi...."
posted by Hackworth at 7:25 PM on March 22, 2001

An excellent solution to front-page bloat would be to allow posters of links to categorize them (yeah, like at Memepool). Then each user could choose in their preferences wihch categories of links they want to see. Don't like political topics? Bam, they're gone. This would rely on people selecting correct categorization for their posts -- it might become a form of sport to intentionally select the wrong category, sort of trolling -- but a bit of whacking by their peers should keep most people in line in this respect.

You could also have a "roulette" feature that applies a "kill" probability somewhat less than 100% to links in categories you have turned off, so each session you might see one or two links in categories you don't normally see, just to keep things from getting too insular between the categories. Or else an alternate "bizarro MetaFilter" front page that lists only links in categories you've killed, which you could visit occasionally just to make sure you're not missing anything important.
posted by kindall at 12:18 AM on March 23, 2001

Hackworth: what makes you think that hasn't already happened?
posted by rodii at 4:06 PM on March 23, 2001

If it has, then that's the end of any legitimacy these arguments have. Why should the "little people" have to obey the rules of MeFi if there's an private A-List (There is no A-Listâ„¢) MeFi that allows The Chosen to not have to worry about such rules at all?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for my Council on Foreign Relations party.
posted by aaron at 4:15 PM on March 23, 2001

posted by Hackworth at 8:32 PM on March 24, 2001

(Aaron, it was a joke response to a joke suggestion. A pretty obvious one, I'd have thought. I'd walk you through it, but it would destroy what tiny entertainment value it might have had.)
posted by rodii at 1:09 PM on March 25, 2001

Jokes are usually funny because they're illogical concepts. You brought up something that happens online with extreme regularity.
posted by aaron at 11:25 PM on March 25, 2001

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