Spend more time phrasing your question so AskMe is awesome August 26, 2004 6:33 AM   Subscribe

The format of Ask Metafilter questions is still something that bothers me a little. To my mind, this is the ideal question style. It takes up five lines, but all the necessary information is expressed briefly on the front page. Next best thing: a post can't be compressed into a reasonable length, but judicious use of [More inside] whilst still giving enough information on the fornt page gives people an indication of how much help they can likely offer. This is ridiculous, however. Five lines occupied on the front page, of which only one word is of any use. The [More inside] then takes us to a statement of the question in - quess what? - only three lines. I think people should spend a little more time posing their queries so as to make the Ask.me front page as useful as possible.
posted by nthdegx to Etiquette/Policy at 6:33 AM (55 comments total)

It might be that I'm alone in preferring a full statement of the question on the frontpage. I prefer using a scroll wheel to clicking backwards and forwards - others may differ in this respect. I'm happy enough to see a short statement of the problem followed by [More inside] - I just think the Ask.me users are becoming a little lazy, to the detriment of the site.
posted by nthdegx at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2004

See? Three lines are enough. ;)
posted by mr.marx at 6:42 AM on August 26, 2004

Tsk. You know full well that was an as well as, not an instead of ;)
posted by nthdegx at 6:47 AM on August 26, 2004

Christ nthdegx. how about I just kill myself. hate to fucking cause you any inconvienence or pain. pretentious asshole.
posted by damnitkage at 6:54 AM on August 26, 2004

Illiterate, aggressive, AND offensive—we've got a trifecta, folks!
posted by rushmc at 6:57 AM on August 26, 2004

I frequently do not like the way "more inside" is used. Your second example shows exactly how not to use "more inside." I do not know from the too terse description what the question will really be until I click the link. Put the question and the context up front and add details to help in answering the question inside if you can't fit them all into a pithy post.
posted by caddis at 7:05 AM on August 26, 2004

caddis is right, there was no mention of airfix inside.
posted by biffa at 7:31 AM on August 26, 2004

I suggest that all posts for all MeFi areas conform to Turabian style, unless of course there's a healthy dose of artistic pretension in which case adopt MLA. Of course if the topic in any way concerns midgets or psychosis you need to go APA and if tumors or GI tract are mentioned you should naturally shift to AMA. Of course there will be no Chicago used because that would imply NewsFilter, which is strictly verboten.
posted by tetsuo at 7:32 AM on August 26, 2004

It might be that I'm alone in preferring a full statement of the question on the frontpage.

No, you're not. I agree completely. Notwithstanding the "OMG standards??!!! You're going to kill the free spirit of AskMe!!! How dare you tell us that posts in AskMe should actually have questions!!" crowd. If tetsuo can build strawmen, so can I.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:38 AM on August 26, 2004

I think there's room for a healthy amount of artistic pretension on metafilter, but ask.me serves a very different purpose, and I don't really see a place for it.

The third example highlights that the use of [More inside] is becoming the standard form of ask.me posts, even when there is no need at all. There's a lazy convention on the increase: "xxxFilter: a few words on the subject [More inside]". Instead, [More inside] should be seen as a requirement only if it is impossible to compress the salient information into a reasonable length (six lines max. I would suggest).
posted by nthdegx at 7:40 AM on August 26, 2004

Really, lighten up damnit.
posted by caddis at 7:49 AM on August 26, 2004

Take a valium, damnitkage. Your question formatting did, in fact, suck. As caddis wisely pointed out, the ACTUAL QUESTION to AskMe is what should be on the front page, regardless of whether or not there is a [MI]. Not to mention the gratuitous line breaks.

Your question would have been MUCH better posted as:
My friend's Firefox (XP Pro) won't load new versions of web pages, even if the cache is set to 0. Does anyone know what would cause this?
Instead, you crapped up the front page with three lines of text with extra line breaks, none of which even came close to indicating what your question was.

And your shitting on nthdegx in your own thread (not to mention this one) isn't helping your cause any.

Now, to the topic at hand- I totally agree with you, nthdegx. Most AskMe posts could be reduced to about half their size. It just ain't gonna happen- there's no way to enforce it, people are always terrible at self-editing, and people like to hear themselves talk.
posted by mkultra at 7:51 AM on August 26, 2004

Christ nthdegx. how about I just kill myself. hate to fucking cause you any inconvienence or pain. pretentious asshole.

damnitkage, something tells me you're not real big on constructive criticism.

For what it's worth, I agree with nthdegx. In an ideal world, people would spend time crafting their question in as concise a fashion as possible, and putting the guts of the question in the post itself. The purpose would be twofold: (1) you would avoid having readers click links for questions they know (and care) nothing about; and (2) you might get answers from people who don't click on links for a question they might not know (or care) anything about.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:04 AM on August 26, 2004

Yeah, I'm entirely with nthdegx on this one: Ask the question already.
posted by fvw at 8:09 AM on August 26, 2004

I'm generally in agreement with this post, but discussing it is pointless. We've had umpteen threads about AskMe post formatting with little noticeable change. Unless/until the site is restructured to encourage some sort of standard, posting styles will continue to wander all over the place.

Matt says he's working on it. How about we unclench for a while until we get an update.
*sits back and waits for reklaw and quonsar to start bitching about mathowie*
posted by Galvatron at 8:14 AM on August 26, 2004

I gave up on expecting posting standards in AskMefi when we lost the war on [MI].
posted by brownpau at 8:20 AM on August 26, 2004

considering there's no way for you to be standing over the shoulder, nitpicking, as everyone posts a message, and there's no way to institutionalize a posting style, requests like this one are just blowing smoke up the asses of humanity, nthdegx.
posted by crunchland at 8:22 AM on August 26, 2004

This is a pretty stupid call-out. I for one, don't look forward to the day when we refuse to answer questions based on a posting style. You've got your way of asking questions, and damnitkage has his. This is nothing but elitism.

Now, to the topic at hand- I totally agree with you, nthdegx. Most AskMe posts could be reduced to about half their size. It just ain't gonna happen- there's no way to enforce it, people are always terrible at self-editing, and people like to hear themselves talk.

should have read.

I agree with nthdegx. Most AskMe posts could be reduced by 50%. However, as this cannot be enforced, people are bad at self-editing and people like to hear themselves talk, it will not happen.
posted by seanyboy at 8:40 AM on August 26, 2004

Oh. For. Fuck's. Sake.

I should quit the grey: the number of meddling control freaks in here just drives me spare.

It doesn't matter AT ALL how someone asks their question in AskMe. If they post it in Swahili, THAT IS OK. If they post it in fifteen lines and fail to actually ask a question THAT IS OK.

Because the bottom line is this: Those who don't write good questions won't get an adequate response. And if they've two neurons to rub together, they'll learn from that. And if they don't have two neurons, bugging them about it on MeTa won't accomplish a goddamn thing.

nthdegx's MeTa FPP is every bit as stupid as damnitkage AskMe FPP.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:41 AM on August 26, 2004

I'm redoing it right now, and here's the new format:

First pick a title for your post, by boiling down your entire problem for page titles and possibly RSS. It might also be used on the archive pages, so having a concise summation here would be great.

Then, cut down your entire problem to the gist of your question, with a character limit of 500 (meaning, 100 words or less -- plenty of space). That goes on the front page.

The next field is the more inside explanation, filled out at the time of question posting, and will be shown on the comment page with a standard [more »] indicator.

Then pick some keywords and a general category to help folks find stuff in archives. Keywords will be hyperlinks on the inside page, so you can jump to every other question that used any of your keywords. This will definitely cut down on repeat questions. Not sure if categories will help, but I'm adding them at the start to see how it works out.

I think this will result in a really quick, useful way to read the homepage, and let you know exactly what someone is asking upfront and give a good enough idea of what kind of help they need in an instant, so you can read the stuff you want, and ignore the stuff you don't.

At this point, I'm not sure if the RSS feeds will have the titles or just the questions, but I'll play with it to see what is more useful.

Oh here's an example of a post in this new scheme:

Front of ask mefi:

I'd like to buy a push lawn mower instead of gas, anyone have experience with them? [more »]
posted by foo at 12:55PM to home & garden

inside page (with a page title of "buying a push mower"):

I'd like to buy a push lawn mower instead of gas, anyone have experience with them?

So I recently bought my first house, and the lawn area is pretty small and flat. Back in college I used to have to mow the lawn of the house I rented, and the mower was a heavy, giant mess that always needed oil and gas, and I had to lug all 75 pounds of it up the back steps each saturday. I also hate the cacophony of mower engines every weekend in my little slice of heaven and would like to try something quiet and environmenally friendly.

I know not a lot of people use push mowers due to problems and the work required, but I figure it's 2004, and at any price, there must be a high-end push mower that is easy to use. Anyone ever find one they liked? Or should I just shut up and get a gas mower like everyone else?
posted by foo at 12:55pm to home & garden | mower lawncare environmentally-friendly

That would make Ask MeFi a bit easier to use and more helpful, wouldn't it? I set this up a couple weeks ago, and the aim wasn't to standardize posting styles, but to make the front page of ask metafilter more clear.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:43 AM on August 26, 2004

posted by matteo at 8:46 AM on August 26, 2004

Go Matt! Just please please please make it clear that you'll smack people around for putting stupid funny titles like they do on MeFi.
posted by riffola at 8:54 AM on August 26, 2004

Neato! Good choice of ponies.
posted by freebird at 8:54 AM on August 26, 2004

Looks nice, Matt. And double what riffola said; funny titles are nice and all, but if they show up in the RSS they will make AskMe less useful.
posted by Galvatron at 8:58 AM on August 26, 2004

On the subject of keywords. Sometimes people don't know which keywords to use immediately. There was a question about networking topography which illustrates this. The questioner would only have known about the keywords "7 layer" and OSI *after* the question was answered. Having these questions as keywords would, however, make finding the question easier. (For example, if I was looking for good resources on this.

So, would it be useful to allow the questioner to change the keywords after the question has been answered.

It's also nice to get feedback to if a problem has been solved. This is an example of a question where I'm dying to know what happened. As well as changing the keywords, could there also be a space to say (1-10) how well the question had been answered, and maybe a text box for personal messages.

To ensure that people filled these in, you could set the system up so that they couldn't ask a new question 'til the old one had been answered.
posted by seanyboy at 9:00 AM on August 26, 2004

I'm ok with the way keywords can be imprecise, because I think over time, they will shake out and folks will use good ones. At Flickr, del.icio.us, and other places, the keywords have created a really useful taxonomy that lets you easily find tons of info, even though in terms of data, an open-ended keyword is "dirty" data.

After I launch the reformating of questions, I'll work on letting people who asked a question click a link to say "this answered my question" and let them even click that more than once, if several people helped.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:08 AM on August 26, 2004

Not so sure, Matt! I think the risk is that people won't use the front page field the way you think - but just post a throw-away remark on the front and then put the question proper in the [more inside] field. That is to say, it'll be essentially the same as it is at the moment.
posted by nthdegx at 9:09 AM on August 26, 2004

So nthdegx, how did he taste?
posted by PrinceValium at 9:20 AM on August 26, 2004

I disagree, and think this is great. The simple fact of this "coming from Matt" should make people pay attention much more than the rest of us whining in MeTa. If just a few people initially adhere to the guidelines, the rest should fall in line pretty quickly.
posted by mkultra at 9:25 AM on August 26, 2004

I hope you're right. Perhaps a guideline above the front page form urging the questioner to frame the problem in its entirity in this box where possible?
posted by nthdegx at 9:29 AM on August 26, 2004

Hey! Can I name it Trigger?

Sounds fitting, don't it? ;-P
posted by mischief at 9:31 AM on August 26, 2004

Matt, I am not so sure a 500 character limit will allow a complete enough question. From the front page you should be able to determine if you might have an answer to the question or are interested in reading other people's answers. Some people read every word on MeFi so will be clicking through regardless, but most of us do not have that luxury. Your general format sounds like a big improvement in quickly scanning the questions and in searching. However, the 500 character limit may very well lead to less informative questions on the front page and more need to click through just to find out what the question is about. In any event, I guess time will tell and reprogramming the character limit would likely be trivial. As regards the RSS feed I am all for including the question.
posted by caddis at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2004

Well, out of curiosity I just counted the characters in my last post: 646. I take it back, 500 characters should suffice.
posted by caddis at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2004

Sweet, mathowie. That ponies a runner and rather than make quasi-useful suggestions I'll just say thank you.
posted by cedar at 10:24 AM on August 26, 2004

And a follow up post in the thread is always an option, too, caddis.

Nice one mathowie!
posted by dash_slot- at 10:39 AM on August 26, 2004

The main other problem with wishing to help in Ask.Me is that - as we have noticed before - it's sometimes unclear where the poster is.

Current top post - but it could have been one of about 10 or 20 in the last couple of weeks - by Grumblebee, is a case in point.

YankFilter! he screamed - what can be done about that? Or is it not a issue for anyone else?

Shall I maintain my polite enquiries about coffee shops in Boston, Lincolnshire, and desk shops in Chelsea, London SW1?
posted by dash_slot- at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2004

I think this is great. Nice compromise, should improve the look and ease of use.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:09 AM on August 26, 2004

Shit. Now I'm worried that damnitkage, having caused everyone such inconvenience and/or pain, has gone and killed himself. Come back, damnit!
posted by jpoulos at 11:27 AM on August 26, 2004

YankFilter! he screamed - what can be done about that? Or is it not a issue for anyone else?

What do you mean?
posted by Quartermass at 12:19 PM on August 26, 2004

I was talking of myself in the third person ["that's the final sign, lads - cart 'im off to the Loony Bin!"], as being a pent up wee YankFilter Nazi.

I'm simply asking, at what might be an opportune moment, programmatically, whether incorporating a location field, or if not, some other, way of de-emphasising the assumption that all questioners and all eyeballs are located in those there 50 United States of America.

Is all.

There may or may not be a surfeit of commas in that last paragraph.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:55 PM on August 26, 2004

Love the formatting guide, Matt. And I think you should consider an electric mower - much lighter and less noisy.
posted by jasper411 at 1:04 PM on August 26, 2004

No, come on: Pushing an electric mower is less wimpy than merely holding onto one that pushes itself, but you're still letting someone else handle the energy of turning the blades. Grab one of these and get a workout while you work!

P.S. Thanks for jumping on that pony, Matt. Next up: MoJo!
posted by soyjoy at 2:44 PM on August 26, 2004

Then pick some keywords and a general category to help folks find stuff in archives.

Well, damn. Are keywords only applicable by the original poster, then, Matt? In other words, what I was hoping for, fervently, for AskMe and the rest of the site, was that each user could (a la de.licio.us) privately (for that user's own delectation) flag threads with free floating keywords, optimally to be flagged either public or private (to be a nav tool on their profile page, and displayed inline mebbe), to build their own dirty-data taxonomy, and that ain't a-gonna happen?

Double damn. I'm really disappointed now...still, better than nothin', and thanks!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:16 PM on August 26, 2004

stav, I feel your pain, 'cause it seems like group-think would be the best way to distill an effective taxonomy. I can see the other side too: the load on the server, the database model, doing it all in CF, etc. Which leads me to this: AskMeFi has a RSS feed (Matt, will the keywords be available in that?), so it would be easy enough to build this outside The Gates of MetaFilter. I've been clearing my plate of outside work at home and I'm looking for an excuse to learn Python. Of course, then I'd need a Python-enabled host and I don't think 1&1 does that. Anyone interested in such a thing (I realize such questions usually lead to dust-covered Yahoo! Groups rooms, but it's worth a shot)?

It wouldn't be that hard ("hard" here meaning "difficult to conceive of," it'd still be a fair amount of work): make an entry whenever the feed updates, let visitors create an account and pick a native language, allow them to tag away and then provide a way to query based on your own keywords or everyone's or some useful subset. And provide a couple of web services that anyone else (or AskMeFi itself) can tie back into.
posted by yerfatma at 7:05 PM on August 26, 2004

Ok, so while flickr lets your friends add tags to your photos, no one else can aside from the original poster. Ditto to delicious. You save a link there, give it some keywords of your own, and you're done. I want to setup a system where when you post a question, you pick keywords, just like flickr (post a photo, pick keywords) and delicious (post a link, pick keywords).

You guys are asking for something different, where anyone can put keywords on anything anyone posted, both privately and publicly, but how on earth do you separate the good from the bad tags? And what are people supposed to do with private tags?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:19 PM on August 26, 2004

You guys are asking for something different

Well, no, I'm not. Using the delicious model, I'm effectively bookmarking something someone else has posted, most of the time. 100% of the time in my case. In the act of noting it, it pops up onto the front page, but that's no never mind to me. I want to keep a record of it. I add my own keywords (and edit them later, if I want) as I see fit.

What I would like is to do the same thing with *.metafilter threads. I don't give a good goddamn if anyone else can see my keywording -- it's for me only.

And what are people supposed to do with private tags?

Isn't that blindingly obvious? I must have made 1000 favorites in IE over the years, pointing to great threads and posts that I wanted to remember. If I could keyword (and thus bookmark and categorize) threads (as I keyword de.licio.us links) according to the way my brain works, well, hell, that'd be immensely valuable to me. And I would assume others.

But the added value here is the organically accreted taxonomy that the collective data of everyone's private keywording would allow. An emergent categorization! The neat things you could do with that data give me a hard-on, anyway, as an old data-wrangler. You could make it public any number of ways!

Ok, so while flickr lets your friends add tags to your photos, no one else can aside from the original poster. Ditto to delicious.

But that's exactly wrong! I can add my own tags to a link (which unlike MeFi has no corresponding discussion) in delicious when I 'bookmark' it or to someone else's photo in Flickr. That's the whole point of it... and where the magic happens, in my opinion. Frozen keywords chosen by the poster at post-time add little to no value (IMHO again) and wouldn't be worth doing.

I didn't mean to get in your face with the above comments, honest, but I see no point in what you plan to do (if I understand it) and can't believe that you don't see how what I'm on about would rock, Matt!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:29 PM on August 26, 2004

I see, looking at Flickr a bit more, that I can add a tag to AKMA's photo, but not to this person's photo, which is exactly right, come to think of it, because AKMA is a contact of mine, and the other guy isn't (and/or there are permissions involved with the public/private flags).

(Which might give the contact thing you built a while back for MeFi an actual purpose, beyond the Orkutty ego-stroke stuff.... I doubt that anyone actually used the contact thing very much after the initial 'wow, cool', but doing the same thing as Flickr does would ensure that people would use it, presumably for the sort of thing it was intended.)

I realize, as yerfatma suggests, that to do it right (if what I suggest is 'right') would be a massive project, and I would totally understand if you didn't choose to tackle it. I'm just saying that the spin-off benefits of doing that way would really enrich the user experience here, in ways we could only guess at now. The more I think about it, the more I'm in awe of how smartly done Flickr is.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:42 PM on August 26, 2004

how on earth do you separate the good from the bad tags?

Sorry, I'm Blighing the thread, but the point here is that there are no bad tags, just as their aren't any bad tags at de.licio.us or flickr. The structure (to whatever extent it is aggregated (like the 'most active' filter is at de.licio.us) and surfaced to the group) is emergent, baby!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:46 PM on August 26, 2004

how on earth do you separate the good from the bad tags?

I guess it's the economist in me (damn you Bligh for bringing him back out), but I truly believe in the Law of Large Numbers. You wouldn't be able to separate the good from bad in the beginning; you wouldn't even try. It wouldn't work very well for the first thousand taggings or so. But I was standing in the shower this morning getting very excited* about the possibilities after, say, tag 10,000. Letting the system build a dictionary and theasarus that supports words across different languages, etc.

I think AskMe is a wonderful resource as it is. I think the addition of a system like this would make it even better. And I think it would create a bit of a feedback loop: once it became just as easy to look for the 20 "Which Linux distro?" threads as it is to post a new one, there'd be a reduction in posts and a resulting increase of signal to noise. I will also admit that I think this would be a bitch and one-half more to build in ColdFusion and that I'd love to work on it (in a different langauge) because it would also be a way to build a small but solid base for a natural language querying system. Maybe not the querying part, but it'd build a hell of a dictionary.

* I realize the unfortunate interpertation of this statement, but that's when I was thinking about it. Besides, stavros said "hard-on". It's starting to smell like a bath-house in here.
posted by yerfatma at 5:16 AM on August 27, 2004

stavros, you're asking for a delicious system here -- separate from some minor ask metafilter overhaul. You're saying we're talking about the same thing, but we're not. There's ask metafilter and people posting questions, and then there is an internal bookmark system that would let you save a list of watched and favorite threads with any metadata you wanted to apply. I'm talking about internal design issues of other keyword-driven systems, and how ask metafilter could behave like other systems, but in the abstract (a question is a photo is a link is a blob in a database somewhere).

So, clearing the slate here, I'd love to wire in a delicious system across any section of metafilter. A big public community link system where any member here can mark any page on this server, with their own description, comments, and keyword tags. Then, everyone can jump around from tag to tag, no matter if it was posted to metafilter proper or touched on during a question in ask metafilter, or mentioned in any number of *.metafilters to come.

Personally, I see more value in adding my own keywords to things I am posting over a small list of general categories, so the keywords will stay as-is in the ask mefi mockup. But, I will work on an internal bookmark system that is very delicious-like soon after. I've already mapped one out before, so it shouldn't be too hard to extend it a bit.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:07 AM on August 27, 2004

OK. And thanks, honestly. I wasn't trying to convince you that you should do something, just sell you on the idea that it'd be cool.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:11 AM on August 27, 2004

stavros, you're asking for a delicious system here

I have to mention, too, that you were the one who originally mentioned flickr/delicious/gmail-style free keywording a few weeks back, so I blame you for getting me all excited!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:27 PM on August 27, 2004

Opera has a very cool keyword search algorithm that hotlists the hits as you type. I don't think such a thing could be applied to Me*, unfortunately.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:51 AM on August 28, 2004

/patiently awaits asterik explanation
posted by yerfatma at 2:21 PM on August 28, 2004


I guess Me* doesn't actually match AskMe...

Maybe I'll start using MeNe or MeNet as shorthand.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:38 PM on August 28, 2004

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