MeFi Primer: How Best To Post June 13, 2001 1:50 AM   Subscribe

Uh-oh Zach's got another stupid idea... A thought that has apparently been percolating in my head just surfaced: MeFi Primer: How Best To Post.
Of course, I don't know how, so I'm asking for input... [more]
posted by ZachsMind to MetaFilter-Related at 1:50 AM (23 comments total)

First off, this would NOT be a replacement for the guidelines but would probably include and reiterate the major points. The intent would be to help newcomers and veterans alike to better formulate their ideas and explore not only the "do's and don'ts" but also encourage freedom of expression and ingenuity. Care would need to be taken in how it was worded and what was included. There would be a risk.

As a comparative example: it's like when one reads the first few books of the Old Testament in the Judeo-Christian bible, you got the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy, then the books Leviticus and Numbers spend a lot of time trying to detail the original Ten Commandments to an anal-retentive and obnoxious extreme (how many bushels are acceptable to carry on the sabbath for example. That one always bugged the crap out of me). This document would not be an attempt to police the site. It would be a series of suggestions, based on the experience and preferred tastes of the many participants in MeFi, and would require much input from many different sources in order to be useful and palatable to newbie and veteran alike.

It would include simple things that many might take for granted or think should be "no-brainers." There'd be a section that included links to all the most commonly linked news sites. Perhaps a separate page that organized the hundred (or so) most commonly used info-sites, from New York Times to (okay maybe not Satyr *smirk*)

What makes a good link? When you're surfing around the Web, what kind of webpage should raise a flag in the back of your mind and go "this just screams MeFi!" Ways to tell that the topic's already been covered before (simple discussion of how to use the search function to one's benefit). Is it best to find the most objective or most provocative and one-sided page on a given topic? When is it good to put more than one link in the same front-page post?

NO foolin' around (alright but just a little bit) When is it appropriate to post something that will obviously quickly deteriorate into topic drift or fruitless conversation? Is it okay to link to Spatula City, knowing it's been done to death before? Is it ever okay to linkpost one word to the frontpage and not properly describe the link? When is a front-page post too long? Perhaps a few words on the kinds of humor most generally accepted, and how to know your audience. When's it okay to go for a joke and when's it better to just describe the link and what it means to you? Why is the given link important to you? Why should it matter to other MeFi participants?

How best to respond when someone calls you on a fact or a social faux-pas. Perhaps describing how best to call someone on a social faux-pas (is it ever acceptable to do so 'in public' on the website, or is a polite email always the better way to go?) ..hmm.. a lot would have to do with describing MeFi etiquette wouldn't it? Care would need to be taken not to bog the document down with that, but it is a part of it.

It wouldn't focus on no-no's and it wouldn't be written in a way that talks down to the reader. However, after all the months that MeFi is up, obviously a number of people have come up with ways to insure thought-provoking topics that encourage positive responses, and it might be interesting to try to put all those thoughts from several different individuals into a FAQ-like document. And it would also explain the whys. There's definite reasons why someone shouldn't self-link. There's a difference between a provacative front-page post-link and a blatant troll. Perhaps space could also be devoted on how to formulate one's responses to a thread. Why should topic drift be self-restricted? Is there really such a thing as a bad post or a bad response? How does it benefit an individual to try and be personable and friendly in their participation instead of acidic and reactionary? And just as a veteran writer sometimes breaks the rules of storytelling, why is it that sometimes one person can get away with doing something that a newcomer might get raked over the hot coals for attempting?

Good idea? Bad? Indifferent? Discuss?
posted by ZachsMind at 2:31 AM on June 13, 2001

Just did a search in MeTa with the word "guidelines" which is very revealing. Perhaps most of what I've suggested here has already been discussed in MeFi and MeTa, but it's scattered all over the place.

Linkless posts tend to not work. Matt's already recoded it to make that more difficult. But further still, it's always best to link as deep into a site to get to a specific topic, as opposed to just linking to a website's front page. Like going to a specific article on instead of just typing ""

Cam and others have talked about the signal to noise ratio. Some have argued that participants should be restricted to the number of front-page post-links each can leave daily. Others think this best as a self-policed measure.

embedded graphics are generally frowned upon Perhaps there's times when they are acceptable? Never on the front page but sometimes inside the response thread? Thoughts?

Be respectful of others is very useful advice, even if I don't personally follow it like I should. Also, personal attacks should be avoided at all costs. Instead, focusing on politely but firmly "attacking" an individual's ideas or just showing how their logic is shallow or flawed is preferable and beneficial. Care should be taken to keep discourse above 8th grade reading level even if you happen to be that age or lower. People don't know your age online unless you tell them. Use of the spellchecker and conscious attention to grammar can make one sound wiser than their years, and other readers will respect and appreciate a well-crafted post.

Offbeat and newsworthy sometimes makes a link MeFi worthy, and sometimes it doesn't.

Know the difference between "gratuitous" and "valid." Know when profanity is tolerable or reasonable among mature parties. Proper use can spice up a post, entice the reader, punch up poetic emotion or drive a point home. Excessive use can weaken the intent of one's words, and cause some to dismiss your thoughts. Also, know your audience.

Linking back to MeFi is acceptable under some circumstances bot not others. Reinvigorating an interesting thread from six months to a year ago might on some occasion be fruitful. Repeating a day-old topic thread because yesterday's thread has gotten long enough to choke a cable modem.. well it's just generally bad form.

HTML points could always be welcome. I for one didn't know that [blockquote] will work even if the preview sucks. I've never had the guts to try that.

There are times when it's best to say nothing at all. Restraint and patience are passive virtues.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:16 AM on June 13, 2001

And I'm sure there should be something said about "talking to yourself" by sending a linkpost and then responding to it more than once before allowing other people to post to it. At the same time, it's generally unfunny to try to post first to a linkpost when it reads pretty obvious that the originator had more to say but was keeping the opening part brief. I've seen that happen a lot. Was funny the first time I saw it but rapidly got old. Bad form.

What else? My brain's gelatin. Any help out there or am I alone in this?
posted by ZachsMind at 3:18 AM on June 13, 2001

Zach, to be honest, I wish you a lot of luck but I won't be joining you on this one. I have no idea what the community standard is on MeFi. You can post what seems to you to be a totally harmless, amusing little bit of information that will do no major damage to anyone and come back to find it a huge topic of hurt feelings and bruised egos. I don't think all the guidelines in the world will stop that.

I would basically like to see people reading what people post and trying to understand what they mean, rather than attacking them to win some sort of invisible I am the cleverest of them all award. But I don't see how you can actually make that happen.

Otherwise, in reading your suggested guidelines, they seem fine...but they will, of course, be ignored. I'm sorry that I'm not being more helpful.
posted by Ezrael at 4:36 AM on June 13, 2001

I'm sure there's some zen or taoist quotation on abhorring structure and finding the "use" in the useless that would be appropriate here, but I can't remember one off the top of my head.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 6:17 AM on June 13, 2001

I like what you're saying in this post, Zach. There are a lot of unwritten rules at MeFi that are discussed on MetaTalk without one page that explains them. By adding the links to examples, it would be a lot clearer what and what's not acceptable. BTW, you broke the rule about "talking to yourself" on this thread.
posted by timothompson at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2001

Uhhhh.... Zippity BOP?
posted by daveadams at 9:03 AM on June 13, 2001

I"m sure you could find a few generalized nuggest at Emily Postnews or the WELL's etiquette & policy pages.
posted by dhartung at 10:00 AM on June 13, 2001

There are a lot of unwritten rules at MeFi that are discussed on MetaTalk without one page that explains them

But there are unwritten rules and then there are unwritten rules. I agree that a "style guide" wouldn't be a bad thing at all, it's the "secret handshake" sort of rules that people use to bludgeon one another with that need to be exposed to sunlight. Witness the J-Ko thread from yesterday.

If everyone agreed to abide by the style guide (which, as Ezrael suggests would not be as easy as it sounds), that would be fine. I won't hold my breath waiting.
posted by briank at 10:21 AM on June 13, 2001

That was so long winded I didn't read it all. If I didn't then I don't see how we can expect the average newbie with a non-1337 member number to read it.

Zippity bop indeed.

I have a better idea, self appoint the MeFi police to follow around assholes and email them and/or start MeTa threads harassing them.
posted by norm at 11:19 AM on June 13, 2001

I think something like this is needed, but maybe all it would take is a revision of the guidelines. I'm a newbie, and I read through the guidelines dilligently before joining, but after lurking even longer, realized there were many subtle nuances to MeFiquette (?) that I was unaware of. I think if I wasn't the type to brood silently in the background for so long, I would have gotten myself into trouble already.

It would be good to include some guidelines for comments as well as links. "I agree" posts are tolerated in many communities, for example, but not here. It could help to spell this out.

Of course, some people will always ignore this sort of thing, but I know that for me, it would've saved hours of wading through old MetaTalk threads.
posted by D at 11:34 AM on June 13, 2001

So why doesn't someone write a FAQ? Matt doesn't enforce these "rules" so it's not necessarily his responsiblity to list them.
posted by daveadams at 1:00 PM on June 13, 2001

Some suggestions:

Q. Is it true that the lower your user number, the more 1337 you are?

A. No, but keep in mind that it is often considered impolite to complain about etiquette when your usernumber is greater than (CurrentUsers - 1000).

Q. What is the proper term to refer to users of Metafilter?

A. Some people prefer "Metafilistines." Others like "MeFites." Still others use the term "Metatrons." Outsiders, on the other hand, are fond of calling us "assholes."

Q. Who is Jason Kottke and why do I see him mentioned so often?

A. Jason Kottke operates the best blog ever, period. It's no wonder all Metafiltrates are obsessed with him and his web doings.

Q. Am I 1337?

A. If you're reading this FAQ, you are not 1337.

Q. Are there any requirements on what political viewpoints I may express?

A. No, but you are encouraged to feel oppressed by an imaginary "other side" that constantly browbeats you into submission or depression. Weekly Metatalk posts complaining of your plight are encouraged so that we can keep up with the action.

Q. Now, what are the rules on self-linking again?

A. It is a crime punishable by death to post a self-link to the front page. Self-links within comments are okay so long as you accept that there will be four or five following comments complaining about your self-link.

Q. What does "1337" mean?

A. That you asked the question is just more evidence that you are not 1337.

Q. What's the longest thread ever on Metafilter?

A. That's a good question.
posted by daveadams at 1:12 PM on June 13, 2001

Why is everyone suddenly so obsessed with tanasil? I mean, he's only ever even posted one comment?
posted by moss at 1:55 PM on June 13, 2001

Reiteration: This "styleguide" would not be an attempt to alter, change, recreate, or replace the guidelines. In fact, it wouldn't necessarily even be "required reading" for all MeFi participants.* It would be for people who consciously want to improve their participation in MeFi. The intent would be to take all the accumulated knowledge of MeFi participants and distill it into one document, so those who gave a rat's ass about how they're communicating to one another and wanted to improve their communication skills in this environment, could do so.

And it wouldn't be an opportunity for self-appointed MeFi police to point out rules by section and paragraph and cite how other participants did something wrong. It might not even effect the signal to noise ratio, but it would exist to attempt clarification for those who cared how they personally express themselves in this extraordinary medium. It would be a tool for the enlightened. The ignorant will go on doing whatever they want regardless of what is said and done, and will admittedly show themselves for what they are. There's no need for MeFi police to do that for them. There's no need for any document to be seen as a MeFi Constitution. That's not what I'm asking for here. Dammit.

However, the response to this idea is ...mixed at best. Better than my expectations, but it still fell short of my hopes. I can't see how there could ever be a way to do this successfully without someone misunderstanding the intent and freaking out over minutiae. That more than anything is probably why this idea hasn't come to light before now, and probably never will be realized. Damn shame, but next time someone bitches and moans about MeFi sounding too much like SlashDot or a Usenet newsgroup, I can honestly say I did my part to change all that. It just wasn't enough.

I'm Pilate. I wash my hands of it. You guys do what you want to the long-haired weirdo.

* All the variations on "MeFians" blah blah sound silly to me. I prefer just calling them MetaFilter participants, because I do respect you guys and think any silly catchphrase demeans or belittles what's going on here, and the potential for this little community y'all are building.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:32 PM on June 13, 2001

Okay. So much for me washing my hands of this. I feel strongly that this might work. I'm painfully aware my words often come out emotionally and trigger things in other people that subvert my intentions. I shoot from the hip. I'm aware of my limitations. I don't necessarily wanna hold each and every one of you against the ropes and argue this until the end of time. Where this idea does NOT work for you, please cite why, and more importantly formulate how it COULD work for you. Please don't just dismiss the idea outright without trying to help make it happen.

For the record, I didn't bother to read that before starting this. However, I would like to believe this "styleguide" idea would be a moderate way to help resolve the problems that Lance points out. He makes some important points here. Is it okay for all MeFi threads to follow this criteria or is it possible to evaluate what actually happens in MeFi and compare it to what people would like to see, and then create a new document that would increase the probability that we could get there? If you personally think there's something wrong, all I'm asking from you is to weigh in and help fix it. I'm hoping we find ways of "self-policing" on an individual basis and improving communication throughout the community, before Matt does have to put his foot down and code in more ways to restrict and limit people. He shouldn't have to. There must be a better way.

Ezrael. Yes this will be ignored by some. Not by all. Maybe only one will take it to heart. That doesn't lessen my desire for you to join me on this one. If we can't get all the vets to sign up on this idea, it's pointless to continue. I'm asking people to put their money where their whining and bitching is. If you don't like how MeFi is now, help find ways to improve it. Not by force but through education. Don't just drive by and watch the car wreck. Get out of your car and come help.

DaveAdams, I don't know what 1337 is. Your contribution to this thread here is funny, but I guess I'm just not in the mood to laugh, maybe? That's a me thing. Sorry. My fault. FAQ structure is a very good idea. I am suggesting, though I'm very tempted to agree with you on the sarcasm, that the "styleguide" document be serious in nature with a tone that doesn't speak down to the reader. The intended audience would be newbie and veteran alike, and shouldn't be intrusive or cliquish in any way but rather open and inviting to whomever comes to the document looking for support and assistance. I'd write it myself but for this reason: I'm not very good at writing in the tone necessary for this to work.

Norm, point taken, although I'm sure you're not reading down this far. I'm longwinded. Another reason why I can't write this but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be written. The styleguide document needs to be brief, but simultaneously cover a lot of ground. And it needs to be written in a way which would encourage people to want to read all of it. Tall order, I know.

Dhartung, thank you for pointing out the Emily Postnews obvious. I'm not asking we educate people on netiquette, but to somehow communicate on an honest but... *cringe* inoffensive and perhaps politically correct level. There are some things here that should be painfully obvious to people and yet are not. And I'm again aware of my own limitations. I don't follow criteria I know myself, or should be aware. Maybe if it was laid out for me in a constructive format even I could learn to change my spots. And yes I'm aware of the hypocrisy of me of all people taking point at such a rallying cry. It's like someone accused of murder coming forward and saying, "gee maybe we shouldn't kill people.."

Anyway. I wanna help. I wanna assist in improving MeFi. Maybe this isn't the way to do it so you guys please enlighten me. How can we improve it so people like Lance and Cam and more importantly the lurkers that we never hear from will come back to MeFi and go "Wow!" And come back and not whine and bitch and not leave again.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:45 PM on June 13, 2001

I think, Zachs, what you might wanna create is a descriptive document rather than a prescriptive one. Describe how people behave on MetaFilter rather than decree how people should behave here. Interview some people who post a lot and ask them how they decide what to post, what's "going too far" for them, and so on.

That could be an interesting and useful piece. But telling people what to do hardly ever works.
posted by kindall at 10:49 AM on June 14, 2001

So why doesn't someone write a FAQ?

cough. :-)

I'm still happy to maintain it, but it falls off the map fairly quickly every time I mention it.
posted by cCranium at 7:20 AM on June 15, 2001

It's kinda hard to read, Cranium. The FAQ shows up on my browser with naked coding. Is it supposed to do that or do I have to upgrade my MSIE again?

A descriptive document would just be redundant. All one has to do is scroll through a day's worth of posted threads to see how people do operate. And a prescriptive document telling people how to operate would not be the answer either. I was hoping for something in between, but maybe there's nothing there.

It was just another stupid idea. Consider it dropped.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:56 PM on June 17, 2001

The FAQ shows up on my browser with naked coding.

Yeah, it's still raw XML, I haven't written anything to format it nicely because a) I'm lazy and b) interest in it drops off pretty quick, and even I forget about it until someone mentions the need for a MeFi FAQ again.

It was just another stupid idea.

I don't think it's a fundamentally stupid idea, but I think it may be pretty hard to do. I mean, your impression of a good MeFi post is similar to mine (I do like most of your posts, even if I don't agree with your point sometimes) but our ideas may be significantly different then other peoples'.

There's just too many ways that MeFi's good to be able to define a good post or a good comment.
posted by cCranium at 9:34 AM on June 18, 2001

The more people that start bending their own, personal experience with Metafilter into some sort of "official rules and regulations document," the less meaningful this site becomes to me.

Matt Haughey built the site, designed the site, puts out the coin for the site. If he wants to alter the rules, or expand on them, or change them, I fully support him in doing so. But when random users start popping up, wanting to play MeFi cops, wanting to puff up their own importance here by dictating new rules to other users, wanting to make my experience of MeFi exactly like their experience of it, I get very turned off.

posted by kristin at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2001

No one here is trying to push everyone into the same mold, kristin. Ideas, thoughts, brain storming. That's all.
posted by cCranium at 1:27 PM on June 21, 2001

cCranium, I am not referring to your faq, but to Zach's desire to ensure that we all use Metafilter only in the way that he wants to see it used, as he outlines (in part quoted below)...

" When is a front-page post too long? Perhaps a few words on the kinds of humor most generally accepted, and how to know your audience. When's it okay to go for a joke and when's it better to just describe the link and what it means to you? Why is the given link important to you? Why should it matter to other MeFi participants?

How best to respond when someone calls you on a fact or a social faux-pas. Perhaps describing how best to call someone on a social faux-pas (is it ever acceptable to do so 'in public' on the website, or is a polite email always the better way to go?)

Sorry kids, but as soon as you start trying to regulate other people's senses of humour, you get the big No vote from me. The whole point of this site is that it is a flexible document which changes tone and focus with every single post. Everyone's input is relevant, and nobody's input is more, or less important, excepting the guy that owns it, naturally, and the fewer rules and regulations, the better.

As for the social faux pas problem, it all becomes a problem of jurisdiction, doesn't it? Who will get to play Metafilter Cop is what I think this comes down to....who wants to suck their way up to becoming capital-I-Important at Metafilter, Matt's right hand man, a little more powerful than the rest of the users, monitering all the conversations, playing Moderator, and gently reminding the sometimes snarky, occasionaly mean-spirited types to, "Take it to email."

The more rules you make, the more administrators you have to make, to enforce them. Who would have the time? Who would want to make that kind of time?

So no, I could never support a document that tried to tell me how and when I could be funny, and how and when I must be earnest, and how and when I must take the discussion to email.
posted by kristin at 8:13 AM on June 25, 2001

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