The fuzzy line of chatfilter January 20, 2005 1:31 PM   Subscribe

In this AskMe post, ad hoc asked whether or not people would accept an offer of immortality. Rushmc dubbed it a "chatfilter" question. Vacapinta pointed out that rushmc had asked a similar question ("what poetry books do you like?").

Here is rushmc's response to Vacapinta's accusation:

...That question was of direct practical benefit to me, as I discovered new-to-me poets to investigate and bought five of the works recommended in the thread, which was my purpose in asking the question. Immortality is not an option, so debating its desirability leads to no practical outcome.

[MORE INSIDE.]
posted by grumblebee to Etiquette/Policy at 1:31 PM (97 comments total)

I find rushmc's point-of-view frightening. It's one thing to promote answerable questions. It's quite another thing to judge a question by how practical you think it is to the person who asked it.

To rushmc, people's opinions of poetry books is useful, because he likes poetry. I don't read much poetry, so I don't see it as a useful question. To ad hoc, thinking about psychological questions may be useful, so he asked one that DID have an answer.

The two questions even have the same kind of utility -- neighter one solves a need-to-know problem. Rushmc doesn't need poetry suggestions to help cure cancer. Ad hoc doesn't need to know about people's decisions in order to get is job done. (Or does he? Maybe he's a novelist, and he can't go on writing until he understand a little more about how people think about this issue. It may not be all that likely, but it's certainly possible that Ad hoc's need for the info is MORE grounded in solving an immediate problem than rushmc's.) Both questions are want-to-know questions.

It makes no difference whether or not immortality exists, because ad hoc wasn't asking "How do I live forever?" If he was, I would agree that it's a question that has no answer and it should be deleted. His question is similar to this one: "What features do you think should be added to the next version of Windows?"

So I champion the questions-must-have-answers rule. That's enforceable in a fair way, because we can generally use objective means to judge whether or not a question has an answer. But you can't play rushmc's game without enlisting in the Thought Police. What people do with the answers is up to them. And the usefulness of a question can only be known by the questioner.
posted by grumblebee at 1:31 PM on January 20, 2005


I disagree with you and agree with the venerable rushmc. It was chatfilter.

Unless the poster in question is actually being offered immortality, what practical benefit is there? I'm not sure I understand the psychological benefit of such whimsical discourse.
posted by The God Complex at 1:33 PM on January 20, 2005


If you got to live forever, eventually all poetry books would suck.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:39 PM on January 20, 2005


rushmc is corrrect. It was chatfilter of the worst sort.
posted by willnot at 1:40 PM on January 20, 2005


I always suspect I'm wrong when I agree with rushmc, but I agree with rushmc here. He wanted to read poetry and was asking obliquely for people to recommend poetry for him to read. It's no different than when people ask for Windows freeware, book, music or movie recommendations, and it serves a clear purpose beyond chatfilter.
posted by boaz at 1:42 PM on January 20, 2005


The reason for asking was that he/she was "kind of curious as to what the community response would be".
Isn't that like the definition of Chatfilter?
posted by mr.marx at 1:42 PM on January 20, 2005


I disagree with you and agree with the venerable rushmc. It was chatfilter.

But isn't Askme the inappropriate venue to bring up such a complaint? Isn't that what MetaTalk threads are for?
posted by Cyrano at 1:43 PM on January 20, 2005


Yep, the death thing was chatty, as I said just a few minutes ago.

The poetry thing or people asking for good DVDs to rent or similar such things seem ok, as there's a goal being met, a need someone is asking about.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:45 PM on January 20, 2005


We've all participated in and/or created questionable posts in the past. So, neener to every single person in metafilter because we're all hypocrits to some extent and bravo to rushmc for doing his best to get rid of bad posts.

If someone has what may seem like a chatfilter post, I don't know why they don't try and word it or even lie to make it seems like it isn't chatfilter. "i'm writing a philosophy paper, and the topic is..." or something like that would prevent these almost daily callouts.
posted by Arch Stanton at 1:46 PM on January 20, 2005


Also wanted to add that people are taking ask metafilter a bit too seriously as of late. People are clamoring for rules for it and it feels slightly overzealous to me.

I would like there to be answerable questions, but there is some leeway and I do make mistakes, but the bottom line is that want to site to be useful for folks and a lot of this is a grey area.

Maybe if I finally drafted some guidelines we could stop sweating over every question that gets posted. Someone recently asked a bad question and wanted to quit the site completely after the feedback came in. That's definitely not what I want to happen to people.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:48 PM on January 20, 2005


If the question is phrased in an "I need/wanrt to know something to satisfy my own information needs." way, then I'm fine with it. If it's phrased in a "Let's talk about this topic and hear what everyone has to say about it." way I think it sucks. We used to see those in MeFi proper all the time, they've just migrated. The immortality thread was chatty, so was the "Would you kill yourself if you were paralyzed?" thread [mercifully deleted] and yet Witty's "I love peanut butter, what can you do with peanut butter?" turned out to have concrete useful answers.

At the library, it's pretty bad form to ask someone why they want or need to know something, and yet often having this information will help you answer the question. I think this will self-regulate in AskMe as more chatfilter posts get deleted and if people still want or need to know something for their screenplay or what-have-you, they'll include that information and post the question again so people can answer it more effectively and usefully.
posted by jessamyn at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2005


"I need some arguments both pro and con as to whether one should, if given the choice, choose to live forever." While outside of the current AskMe description I think this could be a legitimate request for information. Stuff like this could also be seriously abused.

on preview - what jessamyn said
posted by caddis at 2:06 PM on January 20, 2005


I asked a question that was basically idle curiosity (about how many friends of either gender people had). No one called it chatfilter, though now that I read it again it definitely got chatty.

The particular need it met was that I had been talking to coworkers and friends about it, and wondered how generalizeable what they said was. I could see ad hoc's question arising out of a similar impulse. Maybe people just weren't as militant before? (On preview, it could be what jessamyn's talking about.)
posted by kenko at 2:07 PM on January 20, 2005


Something else I should have added on preview: I'm surprised it's bad form to ask why someone wants to know something, because it will almost always help and depending on how the question is put it might be the only way to know how to answer it.
posted by kenko at 2:08 PM on January 20, 2005


Kenko, your question could give you valuable information about yourself and your own relationships unlike the immortality q.
posted by caddis at 2:09 PM on January 20, 2005


There are probably two or three threads, maybe more, every day that meet chatfilter definitions. The suicide/paralysis thread, the immortality thread, the "what Hollywood stars have come on to you?" thread, the "are other celebrities as nice as Alton Brown" thread, etc. I wouldn't post such a thread (even if I wanted to know any of those things, which I don't) since it seems not to be the purpose of AskMe, but if there are only a few of them a day, does it really clog up the page that much? I have yet to see an example so heinous that I felt like I absolutely had to go in the thread and comment on how heinous it was.
posted by anapestic at 2:12 PM on January 20, 2005


I'm surprised it's bad form to ask why someone wants to know something

Yeah it's a real bind in the public library world. The assumption is that if you're in the public library you may have things you want to know but why you want to know them is nobody's business, and you are allowed to keep your motivations private. In real life at the library, we often ask patrons, either directly or indirectly, to help us help them. Sometimes this can get absurd as when patrons are looking for some sort of legal help but won't tell us exactly what the problem is they're having [and we're not allowed to give legal opinions anyhow] and we engage in a bizarre form of 20 questions trying to tease out what it is they want. I think in AskMe it's more reasonable to ask why someone might want to know something.
posted by jessamyn at 2:14 PM on January 20, 2005


Also wanted to add that people are taking ask metafilter a bit too seriously as of late. People are clamoring for rules for it and it feels slightly overzealous to me.

I think you're the first one that's guilty of this, Matt. You took a step in the wrong direction when you equated certain threads to "pissing in the wind", especially now that you've got it all over your pants.

I think Ask is awesome. Three Chatfilter questions a week aren't going to destroy it. Think of it as community building activities.
posted by esch at 2:15 PM on January 20, 2005


This is Matt's site, and I ultimately support any decisions he makes, fair or unfair. I also realize that he's only human, and has to make judement calls. My problem isn't with the deletion of any specific topic. It's with this attitude of "I know you didn't ask that question for any useful reason. I know why you asked it. I don't think your needs are real needs..."

The only way I can translate the following statement (of Matt's) so that it makes sense to me is, "I just didn't like the question."

The poetry thing or people asking for good DVDs to rent or similar such things seem ok, as there's a goal being met, a need someone is asking about.

This makes no literal sense to me, because ad hoc's question DID have a goal. His goal was to find out, if people here were offered immortality, "would you take Immortality or a hugely extended lifespan (1000+ years) if it were offered to you and why?" That IS a goal. It may not be a goal that you like or care about, but it is a goal, and it's an achievable goal.

As for "need," here is where you have to play thought police. Maybe he had a "need", maybe he didn't. Only he can know that. Just because you can't imagine a need, that doesn't mean he didn't have one.

There are so many responses to this kind of thing from world-weary, been-around-the-block types, that say something to the effect of, "yeah, yeah... we all know WHY he asked the question. It was just to start a conversation." I find that sort of armchair psychology deeply offensive. You DON'T know why he asked the question. You don't know his need. You can't know it.

Now, for the sake of argument, lets say his need was simply, "because I was interested." Is that a innappropriate need? If so, how does that differ, in any meaningful way, from wanting to know what poetry book to listen to or what CDs to buy? Most of us read poetry and listen to music because we want to. The goal is to feed the mind.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this issue comes up. It's been coming up for a long time in the sciences. Some people don't think pure science is useful. If it doesn't cure cancer, why study it (especially if it costs money to solve it). Why should we waste time on things for pure intellectual stimulation? History has shown that many real-world applications have been born from pure science.
posted by grumblebee at 2:18 PM on January 20, 2005


Kenko, your question could give you valuable information about yourself and your own relationships unlike the immortality q.

This is what I'm talking about. This is a off-the-cuff, possibly wrong judgement. I learned something that "could give you valuable information about yourself and your own relationships" from the immortality post. I was totally shocked at how many people wouldn't want immortality, because they already don't like this life much. This is a much more common view than I had imagined, and it's very different from mine. Granted, I can't say exactly how this will color or change my social intereactions, because I'm still mulling it over. But it will change them.
posted by grumblebee at 2:23 PM on January 20, 2005


Are you being deliberately dense, grumblebee?
posted by Karmakaze at 2:23 PM on January 20, 2005


What about the sexual politics AskMeta questions? Those [and other advice questions] seem to walk the fine line between chatty and useful. I asked one about kissing on a first date and was warned that it might be considered chatfilter, but the varied responses I ended up getting were definitely useful. I can sort of see both sides, my question was helpful to me but a question along the lines of "What would you do if you had nipples on your elbows?"... well I don't find that viable.
posted by sciurus at 2:27 PM on January 20, 2005


This is Matt's site, and I ultimately support any decisions he makes, fair or unfair. I also realize that he's only human, and has to make judgement calls.

Being a MeFite with a user number higher than one is like being a grandparent, you get to make all sorts of "helpful" suggestions but when junior duties his diapers you get to hand him back to mom and dad, I mean Matt.
posted by caddis at 2:27 PM on January 20, 2005


Are you being deliberately dense, grumblebee?

Nope. I may be dense, but it's not deliberate. Would you care to explain what I'm not getting?
posted by grumblebee at 2:30 PM on January 20, 2005


was asking obliquely for people to recommend poetry for him
[Loud scoffing noises] The fact that rushmc didn't explicitely ask for recommendations, and he made his excuses after being called out says enough for me. He was caught out criticising the very things he does. Hypocrisy.

Not that changing your opinions on post suitability isn't a good thing. Over the short lifetime of AskMe, I've revised my feelings on what makes a good post. The fact that some of our older members may still be capable of doing just that, although unexpected, is heartwarming.

On the question in question. It's valid. Slightly chatty, but the potential for interesting facts & information is huge.
posted by seanyboy at 2:44 PM on January 20, 2005


In the strictest sense, you are correct, grumblebee: there is a goal being sought. The goal, however, is to acquire the whimsical answers to a fanciful question that serves no legitimate purpose.

Do you want a dozen of these threads every week?:

What super power would you choose and why?

If you were shipwrecked on an island, what would be the best fruit to have growing there naturally?

Would you rather be eaten by a shark or jettisoned from a space craft with a limited supply of air?

----

I don't understand how you can't see that these questions serve no actual purpose. If there's a deeper purpose to wanting to know if people would live forever, I'd be interested to know. I suppose you could posit that it was a question looking for philosophical responses, but askmetafilter is not--as far as I know--a sounding board for every crazy idea that pops into our heads. Asking for recommendations of poetry or films is close to chatfilter but falls (at least I think so) just shy of being so. This does not.
posted by The God Complex at 2:47 PM on January 20, 2005


Could a young man with a knife be trained to consistently defeat a grizzly bear? I'm being attacked by a dog, what do I do?
posted by kenko at 2:50 PM on January 20, 2005


Immortality is not an option, so debating its desirability leads to no practical outcome.

While the question was chatty, I don't agree with the above statement. We all have to grapple with mortality emotionally, and using a hypothetical scenario to discuss immortality is one way of exploring the topic.

Poetry itself is of questionable "use" if you see no value in discussing life and death.
posted by scarabic at 2:53 PM on January 20, 2005


Maybe this is another way of looking at it: I may seem dense because I'm (possibly) part of a minority here that carves up the unverse in a different way than most of you. Some people have decided (based on what evidence?) that all people think the same way, so when someone claims to differ, they must by lying or being "deliberately dense."

There seems to be a desire to promote "serious" questions and denounce "chatty" quesions. And many of you seem to feel that the difference is obvious. Yet when you try to explain the difference, you say things that don't make sense to me, like "serious questions have qoals." The question we're discussiong here DID have a goal (as have many other "chatty" questions), so I don't see how the goal thing works.

I've heard many people claim that the question can't possibly be useful to the asker, but I've yet to hear the evidence for that. How do you know what's useful to ad hoc if you're not ad hoc?

Again, because my mind doesn't leap to the same conclusions that some of yours does, I keep trying to figure out what's okay to post and what isn't. I do a pretty good job now, but that's only because I have become very conservative and never take risks. It's not because I have an innate understanding of what you're all talking about.

In any week, question A will get posted and chastised. A similar question (in terms of goals, needs, answerablilty), question B, will be posted and get away with it. I'm not talking about Matt's choices here. I'm talking about community standards. They claim to be about goals and answerability, but to me it doesn't seem like they are.

As far as I can tell (and please correct me), these are the REAL standards:

-- Questions must relate to a physical object or objects (as opposed to a mental construct).

-- Exceptions to this rule involve any question about things that young, hip people on the web find "cool." (News for nerds, stuff that matters.)

I think those are the real standards. Not "the question must have an answerable goal." There are all sorts of abstract questions that have answers and goal, but they seem to be frowned upon (if, like me, you find dividing the world between physical and mental to be unnatural, you will necessarily seem dense to those who do. Sorry I just don't think that way.)

Whenever this rule is broken and the poster gets away with it, the question inevitably seems to be about something the l33t find cool: sci-fi, indy music, math, etc.
posted by grumblebee at 3:01 PM on January 20, 2005


Stealth Mode for Chatfilter (patent pending):

1) Pretend you are writing a story, or play, or song, or screenplay or something. If necessary, you can qualify it as 'sci-fi' or 'fantasy.'
2) AskMe something like "A character is offered immortality and must decide whether or not to accept. What are some arguments pro or con? Personal feelings welcome!"
3) Based on the advice from AskMe in favor for living forever, accept the alien entity's offer and become an Immortal.
4) If you get bored during eternity, you could go ahead and actually write the story you used as a front. (If our existence can be characterized by a Markov process, you will eventually anyway)
5) Profit!!!
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:01 PM on January 20, 2005


I don't understand how you can't see that these questions serve no actual purpose.

Yes, this seems to be the block. I wish I could help us past it. You (and most other people here) seem to think some things intrinsically have a purpose and others don't. I don't get that. Things have purposes to some people and those same things have no purpose to others. How can YOU know what has a purpose to ad hoc?

And tons of people have equated the poetry question to the immortality question, all saying that the poetry question squeaks by, but the immortality one doesn't. WHY?
posted by grumblebee at 3:04 PM on January 20, 2005


They have to have a concrete, answerable purpose for ask metafilter. I'm not suggesting they serve no purpose (I'm a philosophy minor), but if given free reign for these fanciful questions, AskMe would devolve into a regular message board. That's not the point. The point is to serve as a resource for people looking for concrete answers.

For example, if I want to find some good poetry, I can search the archives for rushmc's thread. But who is going to happen upon it and want a bunch of random "Yeah, I'd take it!" responses to an offbeat question? Who wants to sift through dozens of them a day? I just don't see AskMe as a 'what-if' board--it's a 'how' (or where) board.
posted by The God Complex at 3:10 PM on January 20, 2005


The funny thing is, I agree with you, TGC. But I'd say he asked a concrete question. He just didn't ask a question to a concrete OBJECT. So am I right that questions need to be about things you can hold in your hand, bite, kiss, etc.? Are there exceptions to this rule?

As for a "purpose for ask metafilter," I don't know what you mean. Do you mean that the questions should have answers that are useful to the rest of the community? There are many that aren't useful to me (poetry books, Mac questions), and I'm part of the community. I can definitely imagine coming back to AskMe in a couple of years and looking for the immortality question.

Of course, I'm just one (atypical?) user. Do you mean that the question should have a purpose to the majority of the people here? If so, than the site is poorly constructed. If that's the goal, then there should be a rating system. If a question doesn't get a certain number of votes, it's out. Otherwise, unless you poll everyone, how can you possibly know which questions we find useful.

I don't mind having to sift through dozens of "offbeat" questions (who is to say what is offbeat?), as long are questions that CAN be answered.
posted by grumblebee at 3:19 PM on January 20, 2005


To me, the difference is that the only purpose the immortality question serves is to collect answers. Once the answers are collected, there is nothing you can actually do with that information. It may be meaningful to the asker, but there is not a USE for the information.

Poetry questions, once the answers have been collected, DO have a use; the asker can go out and find the suggestions from the people that he trusts.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:21 PM on January 20, 2005


Debate = ChatFilter
Recommendations = Ask.MeFi

s'ok?
posted by FlamingBore at 3:28 PM on January 20, 2005


I'm with grumblebee on this. It doesn't seem to me that there's a qualitative difference between a survey of people's favorite poetry and a survey of people's opinions on immortality. Both are meant to elicit a bunch of subjective opinions that the asker might be able to use in some way.

The difference is in that the latter is objectionable because it's of questionable use or value - it's obvious how to apply the opinions gleaned from the poetry thread, whereas it's a bit harder to imagine how to apply the information from the immortality thread. But it can be done! Maybe the asker is a theology student, for instance, and wants to quickly have an idea of what the Metafilter demographic thinks about what he researches, and this info will influence his studies. As long as AskMe doesn't become littered with questions that are of seeming irrelevance, I don't think we should be threatened by them.
posted by painquale at 3:42 PM on January 20, 2005


there is nothing you can actually do with that information
It's a research question, so you're right in the sense that no taps will be mended as a consequence of answers. However, as a research question, it's of definite value.

If (for whatever reason) you're interested in immortality, (Anne Rice, doctors studying the effect of increased longevity on society) then the answers given would be useful.
posted by seanyboy at 3:46 PM on January 20, 2005


>If (for whatever reason) you're interested in immortality, (Anne Rice, doctors studying the effect of increased longevity on society) then the answers given would be useful.

Would they be useful or would they just be interesting?
posted by occhiblu at 3:49 PM on January 20, 2005


I would like there to be answerable questions, but there is some leeway and I do make mistakes, but the bottom line is that want to site to be useful for folks and a lot of this is a grey area.

There have been a least 3 questions in the past couple of days that you specifically deleted for being "chatty" and unanswerable in the AskMe sense. The what-would-you-do-if-(currently impossible thing were possible) was equally hypothetical and unanswerable. What do you prefer in cases like this? You seemed grateful that people pointed out the first three cases to you, either in thread or in a MeTa thread, because it alerted you to their existence. Would you prefer an in-thread remark that it is not a real question (as defined by the AskMe standard, whether we all agree with that or not), a new MeTa thread, or a direct email? I'm sure we all want to do this is the way that is most useful to you and least disruptive to the site.

His goal was to find out, if people here were offered immortality, "would you take Immortality or a hugely extended lifespan (1000+ years) if it were offered to you and why?"

The question is hypothetical, and the premise is currently impossible, and mathowie is on record several times asking that hypothetical questions not be asked here, because they cannot be definitively answered (there were several impassioned discussions about this when AskMe first came out). I really don't see what your problem is with this.
posted by rushmc at 3:57 PM on January 20, 2005


USEFUL! That's my point.
Jeez.
posted by seanyboy at 3:59 PM on January 20, 2005


The fact that rushmc didn't explicitely ask for recommendations, and he made his excuses after being called out says enough for me. He was caught out criticising the very things he does. Hypocrisy.

Wth? I did specifically ask for recommendations. Why else would I possible care about people's responses to my question if I didn't seek to benefit from their experience, just as if I had asked if anyone knew how to solve a particular computer problem or how to lay tile without getting grout all over the place.
posted by rushmc at 4:01 PM on January 20, 2005


On the question in question. It's valid.

No, see, it isn't, because the site owner has already given it a thumbs down, and his is the deciding vote. On another site, with different guidelines, it might be just fine—you might like that site better, hell, I might like that site better—but that doesn't give either of us the right to try to turn this site into that one against mathowie's wishes. I'll see your hypocrisy and raise you a great big arrogance.
posted by rushmc at 4:04 PM on January 20, 2005


We all have to grapple with mortality emotionally, and using a hypothetical scenario to discuss immortality is one way of exploring the topic.

Quite true, but beside the piont, which is that we have been asked not to do such grappling here.

Poetry itself is of questionable "use" if you see no value in discussing life and death.

But I wasn't posting a poem in AskMe. I was asking a specific question that yielded specific practical results that I was able to use in my life. See the difference?
posted by rushmc at 4:06 PM on January 20, 2005


>USEFUL!

But how, really? I mean, it's not any sort of scientifically valid survey, it's not directly applicable to the asker, and it doesn't point anyone to further resources to for studying it more in depth.

It's useful if your purpose is to know what 40 not-randomly-selected people think about something, but once you know that, well, what? I fail to see that the fact that the asker is interested in the topic makes the thread any more useful.
posted by occhiblu at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2005


So the discussion (which hadn't touched on this until now) is actually about whether hypothetical questions should be allowed on AskMe. How stupid do I feel now. I never realised.
posted by seanyboy at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2005


I think the distinction is actually pretty clear--AskMe is a forum where the wider community helps people meet specific objectives. As long as a question is framed in a way that the objective is pretty clear, then I think even the broadest, most abstract question should make the cut.

In terms of possible guidelines, Matt, I would suggest that you recommend (not require, but strongly encourage) that posts don't already have a self-evident end be phrased in a way that makes the end goal clear. (In other words, "I need to resurrect my hard drive" doesn't need an explanation. Of course we know why you're asking it. But if you're going to ask something much more abstract--like "Would you accept immortality?" or "What poetry do you like?"--then you should either frame in a more pointed way, or be chastised/deleted.)

Personally, I don't think that open-ended objectives like "I was kind of curious..." are worthwhile. If you're going to toss out a big softball like that, I think the least you could do is tighten up your question a bit to give people a legitimate reason to care. Similarly, I think the simple question "What poetry books do you like?" is equally facile, on the face of it. I'm willing to concede rushmc's motivation, and think that underlying reason is totally legitimate, but without framing the question that way, I think the wording of the post itself is equally disposable.

Fundamentally, grumblebee, I think you're all too ready to assume that people have an implicit, meaningful objective in mind when they ask big, airy questions like that, and I just don't think it's the case most of the time. I think people should make the effort, up front, to clarify how their post is meaningful, or find somewhere else to just kick ideas around.
posted by LairBob at 4:15 PM on January 20, 2005


The fact that the asker is interested doesn't make the thread more useful. The fact that the thread is there, and available (via the power of the internet) to the {n} billion people who use the internet is useful.

An example. How useful is it that I can search for pictures of people called Chris using the internet. Collectively, not that useful, and you'd probably struggle to think why such a thing would be needed. But last month, I needed to find pictures of famous Chris's, and there they were.

It may not be a very useful question, but for that one person at that one time it could be very useful indeed.

on preview though... what lairbob said.
posted by seanyboy at 4:21 PM on January 20, 2005


or LairBob said. Sorry.
posted by seanyboy at 4:23 PM on January 20, 2005


I thought you were arguing directly against what LairBob was saying, but since I also agree with LairBob, I guess we're all good. And go, LairBob.
posted by occhiblu at 4:24 PM on January 20, 2005


Fundamentally, grumblebee, I think you're all too ready to assume that people have an implicit, meaningful objective in mind when they ask big, airy questions like that, and I just don't think it's the case most of the time.

No, I'm not ready to assume anything about what goes on in someone else's mind. That's my point.
posted by grumblebee at 4:41 PM on January 20, 2005


occhiblu: I was, but LairBob makes a good point.
Plus his suggestion is to "strongly encourage" and for people to tighten up their questions. I agree with both these things. I still assert that answers to open-ended questions can be useful, but LairBob's comment is placed in the context of his subjective relationship with AskMe and trys to err on the side of compromise. It's a compromise I'm happy to take.

I still think that rushmc is simply backpedalling with his answers, but there's only one person who knows the truth about that, so theres little I can do except offer my opinion.
posted by seanyboy at 4:47 PM on January 20, 2005


No, I'm not ready to assume anything about what goes on in someone else's mind. That's my point

Neither am I, grumblebee, and that's my point. While I agree with you on general principle that you shouldn't simply assume what other people are thinking in the broader world, I definitely don't think it's very credible to simultaneously (a) ask a group for help and (b) insist that they give you the benefit of the doubt..

AskMe is not the broader world--it's a very specific place, with a very specific context (to me, at least, and apparently to Matt). We judge the legitimacy of questions by their utility, and if that utility isn't self-evident, I don't think it's too much to ask for the beneficiary to make that clear.

I'm basically just offering that the criterion for a "good" question not be whether it's concrete or abstract, but "Can I clearly understand how I'm helping this person if I bother participating?" If someone's just asking to just have their curiosity indulged, I don't think they should get a lot of respect or credibility for that. If their question could be taken that way, I don't think it's too much to ask that they remove that possibility before they're taken seriously.
posted by LairBob at 5:02 PM on January 20, 2005


How stupid do I feel now. I never realised.

Well, I wouldn't feel stupid...you probably just weren't paying attention.
posted by rushmc at 5:07 PM on January 20, 2005


As long as a question is framed in a way that the objective is pretty clear, then I think even the broadest, most abstract question should make the cut.

Um, that's nice to know...but you've been vetoed.
posted by rushmc at 5:08 PM on January 20, 2005


I still think that rushmc is simply backpedalling with his answers

Then please, tell me what possible (realistic) other purpose I could have had in asking that particular question. If you cannot do that, then you're just being an ass.
posted by rushmc at 5:10 PM on January 20, 2005


The serendipitous nature of some early MeFi threads was what got me hooked on this site to begin with. Matt's light hand in letting things just happen helps in this.

The problem has probably more to do with the increase in volume than with the nature of posts. askme's do fall off the front page too quickly, but I think forcing an "objective" on every question is a bad idea.
posted by gwint at 5:14 PM on January 20, 2005


Ahh, tripped up by the fact that I have not seen the official response to previous "Chatfilter" threads :)

For the record, I am neither writer nor philosopher, and no paper or book will ever be wriitten (by me) about this. (actually, I'm a computer security geek)

I asked this question because people are endlessly facinating to me, and I generally like to take opportunities to learn about them. I saw the article in question, and thought that it would be interesting (for myself and any other students of humanity lurking out there) to see what kind of response a large educationally diverse population might give.

Other people have stated it above, but I thought I should re-iterate: Just because you personally don't understand what immediate value the answers might have to me does not mean that there are none. Every point of data helps me to understand other people, and in my Life, that is an ever present goal. However, I recognize that that is not something that would have been apparent to a large psudo-anonymous group without being stated directly as Lairbob suggests in the post a few above mine (also, I have no delusions about the amount of respect or credibility I have in this Community)

As near as I can tell the main objection to my post is that there can be no current practical use for the answers, and thus it violates the purpose of AskMe. After having taken some time to educate myself on the proprieters purpose for the green, I agree on that point.

So, for the record. I apologize. I stumbled over a point of AskMe etiquette, and since I do not appear to be banned, it seems I will have an opportunity to learn from my mistake. :)

Matt: If my post is deleted, can I have a do-over? ;)
posted by ad hoc at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2005


Spell check is my friend
posted by ad hoc at 5:16 PM on January 20, 2005


I asked about whether grumblebee was being deliberately obtuse because I was about to make a detailed reply and realizing that his post was setting off subtle "troll alarms" for me. As in, someone who knew that deletions are a hot topic was bringing it up to get attention from all the people falling all over themselves to explain. Now, I'm not saying that's whats going on, because you never know what's going on in someone else's head; it just had that vibe, you know.

And no, there is no mechanical algorithm for what is acceptable and what isn't, because social critera largely are not black and white that way. I rather like LairBob's suggeated "Can I clearly understand how I'm helping this person if I bother participating?" I

Of course, I'm not sure I'd particularly care for the "I am doing a paper on..." style question for time-wasting hypotheticals either, as (a) that's touching the edge of "please do my homework for me" and (b) most rigorous academic papers require a more reputable source than "a couple of guys on a webboard I know"
posted by Karmakaze at 5:16 PM on January 20, 2005


On behalf of myself I refuse your apology ad hoc. I can't recall you doing anything that would call for an apology. But it appears that we all learned something here today—what that might be, I've not a clue. Would you like some pancakes and sangria?
posted by sciurus at 5:23 PM on January 20, 2005


ChatFilter. rushmc was quite correct. And gwint, there's a HUGE difference between having an objective, and one's expectations that it can be fulfilled. Asking a question without an objective is plain stupid, and should result in deletion immediately. Asking a question where the objective cannot be fulfilled in any reasonable time or space is what we have here. There's a particular level of efficiency involved. Would rushmc have gotten a fulfillment by asking his question here over any other method? Probably not. Would ad hoc have been just as satisfied (or any more) with the response to his/her question by individually emailing every person on MetaFilter for their response? Probably.

So, for the record. I apologize. I stumbled over a point of AskMe etiquette, and since I do not appear to be banned, it seems I will have an opportunity to learn from my mistake. :)


I SO miss Miguel sometimes.
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:29 PM on January 20, 2005


And am I the only one who finds ad hoc's question eerily Faustian?
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:31 PM on January 20, 2005


And am I the only one who finds ad hoc's question eerily Faustian?

No. You're not.
posted by The God Complex at 5:33 PM on January 20, 2005


Wouldn't that be more Mephistophelean?

(If it was an offer to the community, I guess. If he were entertaining the choice for himself, I guess it would be Faustian.)
posted by LairBob at 5:41 PM on January 20, 2005


I SO miss Miguel sometimes.

Ditto
posted by caddis at 5:51 PM on January 20, 2005


I may have commented more than anyone in that thread, and yes, it is ChatFilter. Not a great question at all, but I can see why ad hoc would ask. It is an interesting question. So what is the gain in condemning that particular question? Soup nazism?

How tight are the rules going to be around AskMe? Every time a new user signs up to post a prohibitted query, are you all going to debate the rules again?

May I suggest a rule of only meaningful questions on AskMe? It is a real thin line between useful and meaningful and interesting questions. If you don't want to answer, but it is an ok question, let it slide.

MetaFilter: People are clamoring for rules for it and it feels slightly overzealous to me.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:17 PM on January 20, 2005


i'm with those who are saying they feel uneasy when they agree with rushmc (hee) but yeah, those claiming rush tried to cover his ass after the fact about the poetry thing are grasping. rush himself commented in that thread, he's like the last comment or so, saying "thanks, i have a bunch of new books now to buy/read!" and that was quite a while ago. also, what Matt said. he couldn't resist participating in and keeping the immortality thread (which, as some have pointed out, isn't the end of the world, plus he runs this site), but he acknowledges with calm common sense that there's clearly a difference in concrete usefulness between the two threads in question.

i'm routinely amazed at how overanalytical (to the point of being frozen in inaction and quagmire) mefi is. but carry on; that's just my view.
posted by ifjuly at 6:30 PM on January 20, 2005


rushmc's approach is a little too formulaic for me. Constrict the noose too tight and the site will suffocate. Complete anarchy doesn't work either. Matt has been walking a fine line on this (and doing a mighty fine job) which allows free expression without letting things get too out of hand. Good judgement and a lot of work it seems. I think a lot of us have noticed a little extra stress in him as of late. Perhaps it is just integrating all the new users, perhaps the stress of a coming child (that is soooo stressful). I hope he can carry through after the baby comes. A little extra effort on all of our parts to not get too out of line (*atones*) would surely help.
posted by caddis at 6:49 PM on January 20, 2005


Matt, hope me, the Migs signal has changed to something not very nice.
posted by caddis at 7:09 PM on January 20, 2005


If the post in question is not acceptable, then this one isn't either.
posted by BradNelson at 7:23 PM on January 20, 2005


If the post in question is not acceptable, then this one isn't either.

That's not a survey of people's opinions and is clearly of one "help me" variety: "Help me understand the physics of this scenario." It's not "let's chat about how we feel about space tubes."
posted by redfoxtail at 7:41 PM on January 20, 2005


I love LairBob's summary: "Can I clearly understand how I'm helping this person if I bother participating?"

grumblebee, no one is saying that there's no purpose or value in aimless abstract cogitation, or a.a.c. Personally, I adore a.a.c. and it seems to be one of the few things my brain does well.

However, mathowie and the majority of MeFites are saying that a.a.c. isn't the purpose of this site and AskMe questions that elicit a.a.c. don't add to the site's value. There's a clear difference between asking "What poetry books do you like?" and "Why do you like poetry?" The former is all about prescription; the latter, description. AskMe is, like it or not, a prescriptive site.

Are the internets so starved of the hyper-articulate and hyper-opinionated that you have no other outlet for your a.a.c. jones?
posted by vetiver at 7:54 PM on January 20, 2005


Chatfilter. And I liked it.
posted by bonaldi at 7:57 PM on January 20, 2005


boy, and people knock me for saying this is limited....
posted by amberglow at 8:49 PM on January 20, 2005


May I suggest a rule of only meaningful questions on AskMe?

Take it up with the bossman...hectoring the rest of us about it does you no good whatsoever.

i'm with those who are saying they feel uneasy when they agree with rushmc

Gee, you're too kind...

rushmc's approach is a little too formulaic for me.

For the BILLIONTH TIME, it's not MY approach! I have even argued against it in the past when the policy was being hashed out. But it IS the policy, and just disregarding that fact and doing whatever you feel like is pretty rude. Obviously he's not been 100% consistent in its enforcement—hard-and-fast rules are not his style. But he has been cracking down on it lately, and it clearly does matter to him. So continue to rattle on about how things should be THIS way or THAT way in MeTa all you want, but don't post chatty musings to AskMe anymore, for Pete's sake.
posted by rushmc at 10:12 PM on January 20, 2005


Okay, I'm going to take a stab at this: If, in the guidelines for AskMe, Matt said something like:
Generally, AskMe questions should elicit answers that will be of some practical use; so, for example, the question "How important is poetry in the modern world?" is not a good AskMe query, while "I would like to add more poetry to my personal library; what authors or books do you recommend?" is. If it is not immediately obvious why your question is a practical one, it is your responsibility to make this clear. Questions that are just conversational as opposed to useful will be deleted. Examples of such questions might be "If you had three wishes, what would they be?", "Are people more intrinsically good, or evil?", or "How do you feel about animal rights activists — do they go too far?"
Would this make things clearer? Of course, grumblebee, you may say that what is "practical" to one may not be practical to another, or that "practical" means something different to you than it does to me, but for the sake of communication/relaying information, let's say that we stick to the generally accepted meanings of "practical" and "useful".
posted by taz at 10:18 PM on January 20, 2005


So continue to rattle on about how things should be THIS way or THAT way in MeTa all you want, but don't post chatty musings to AskMe anymore, for Pete's sake.

But again, along the same lines, what was so egregious about this thread in particular that made a rules lawyer like yourself commit a no-no by calling it out in the thread rather than bringing it here in the first place?
posted by Cyrano at 10:48 PM on January 20, 2005


taz, that's a wonderful explanation about what types of questions are near the boundary line.

It feels like half the guidelines I would need. I think there should be a similar paragraph about the opposite limits, when something is so utterly specific that there's virtually no chance someone can answer it.

Like "I have a 1943 Norge refrigerator that threw a gasket that is part # 412-213P but no one in my native Poland can find one. Can anyone help me track down an owners manual in Prague so that I may reproduce the part myself, in my backyard smelting plant?"

Ok, so maybe that's not a good example, but there are plenty of examples where no one here can help someone and they should go to the company that sold them defective product X, or that something is so specific that it's a bit too much.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:50 PM on January 20, 2005


Hm. This is harder. Maybe something like:
"One-off" questions that are so specific or narrow that they are unlikely to find answers are discouraged. An example of such a question might be "I have a vintage shawl that needs mending; where can I find the discontinued size 40 silk thread in a color called "Indigo Nights" manufactured by the now defunct GoodThread Company between the years 1902 and 1915?". Instead, try phrasing such a question this way: "Where can one find vintage sewing and embroidery thread? I am looking for a particular gauge and color of silk thread to mend an antique shawl, circa 1910 - any ideas?"
posted by taz at 12:04 AM on January 21, 2005


You're the ** best ** taz.
posted by seanyboy at 12:36 AM on January 21, 2005


taz, those are great.
posted by LairBob at 3:13 AM on January 21, 2005


Flatterers! *interrupts preening to write pay-off checks*
posted by taz at 3:44 AM on January 21, 2005


hectoring the rest of us about it does you no good whatsoever.

*heroically resists obvious comeback*
posted by languagehat at 4:36 AM on January 21, 2005


How's this:
Some questions should be avoided. For example, product-specific questions should never be asked before you have first visited the web site for the manufacturer (and also checked Google). For instance: "My iPod has started skipping on some tracks - how can I stop this?" should not be asked unless you have visited or called Apple and checked Google for "ipod skipping". Ask Metafilter is not a support substitute; it is a support supplement, and should be treated as a last resort.
Similarly, questions which are so specific as to should either be avoided or rephrased. [Then stick taz's great example above about shawls...]
posted by humuhumu at 5:08 AM on January 21, 2005


Examples of posts currently on the front page of ask which could be argued as having no practical benefit.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

My main concern with these kinds of rules is that they're overly wide, and they allow a small percentage of users to bully their view of Metafilter onto everyone else. "Oh, but Matt Said in 1999...", etc. When everyone is a criminal, you get to choose who goes to Jail.

What should be said on the Ask a Question page is ...

"Hi, I'm Matt Haughey. You may remember me from other succesful websites like Metafilter, Ten years of my life and PVRBlog. Post your questions here. If I don't like it, I'll delete it. If you get up my nose too much I'll ban you. If you moan too much and I disagree with you I'll ban you as well.

Remember, sometimes the safest roads are the ones without the safety rails."
posted by seanyboy at 5:59 AM on January 21, 2005


This is Matt's site, and I ultimately support any decisions he makes, fair or unfair.

I just wanted to say that this sentiment is everything currently wrong with MetaFilter bundled up in one neat package.
posted by Ryvar at 6:00 AM on January 21, 2005


Then code your own mirror.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:33 AM on January 21, 2005


Some questions should be avoided. For example, product-specific questions should never be asked before you have first visited the web site for the manufacturer (and also checked Google).

I'd even go for something more general.
Before you ask, please check obvious sources like Google, product support sites, your local library site, and/or the web site of the company/blog/person you are having a problem with. If those sites didn't help, feel free to let us know why.
IMHO, I'd avoid example questions in both the good/bad range just because they're too easy to debate. I'd also consider doing the same thing with deleted posts on AskMe that currently we do on MeFi [i.e. include a delete reason] so that people can learn both by what stays up as well as what goes away. I think all of taz's suggestions are terrific, I just worry that the more text you add to the post page, the less chance people will read any of it. "Wisecracks don't help people find answers" has had a really amazing amount of effectiveness per word and I think has brevity worth emulating.
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 AM on January 21, 2005


Mathowie, I'm not sure why you'd have to screen for "stump the crowd" type questions. That they wouldn't be answered by anybody seems like disincentive enough, and you never know what kind of experts will show up in a crowd of 20,000 pretty smart people.
posted by furiousthought at 7:38 AM on January 21, 2005


what was so egregious about this thread in particular that made a rules lawyer like yourself commit a no-no by calling it out in the thread rather than bringing it here in the first place?

Because the most effective method of bringing it to mathowie's attention without causing excessive disruption is not clear, and yet again, he sidesteps an opportunity to clarify his perspective and avoid LOTS of future hassle, choosing instead to simply ignore a current problem and thereby cause us all many future ones. It's just irresponsible, IMO.

*heroically resists obvious comeback*

Your bravery continues to amaze and inspire.
posted by rushmc at 7:51 AM on January 21, 2005


I just wanted to say that this sentiment is everything currently wrong with MetaFilter bundled up in one neat package.

Ryvar, That's not a helpful comment without further explanation.

Taz, I really like your explanation. It's much better than those ones that just say "questions must be practical, useful or meaningful." Those words are too vague and have different meanings to different people.
posted by grumblebee at 8:49 AM on January 21, 2005


makes note: hire taz to re-write my entire site
posted by dabitch at 9:07 AM on January 21, 2005


I'm with grumblebee. Abstract questions can still be useful, and the way you know that is that someone bothered to ask the question, hoping for an answer. Don't take things so seriously.
posted by gd779 at 9:45 AM on January 21, 2005


As far as I can tell (and please correct me), these are the REAL standards...

The line between acceptable and unacceptable is usually too grey, and decisions are made on an ad-hoc basis. So there are no "real" standards. There is just what gets deleted, and what doesn't. Do what thou wilt, and don't piss off Matt, are the whole of the law.
posted by gd779 at 9:50 AM on January 21, 2005


I agree that we don't want any guidelines defining practical usefulness to get too wordy -- it seems that the more extensive and detailed the bullet points, examples, etc., the more likely that some people will simply not bother to read them at all. Or as Jessamyn put much better: "Wisecracks don't help people find answers" has had a really amazing amount of effectiveness per word and I think has brevity worth emulating.

I also don't think that there's an equal need to screen for extremely specific questions as there is to screen for chatty, abstract ones -- it seems to me that we get far more of the "would you rather be able to see through walls or turn into a mist and slip under doors?" abstractions or "what's your favorite childhood memory?" conversation-starters than we do hyper-specialized queries about such things as the vintage thread example that Taz (so elegantly!) gives. (Besides, even for super-specific questions, people can still extrapolate how to give a concretely practical answer -- "I don't know if you'll find exactly what you've described, but I know you can find vintage notions at Such-and-Such store online.")

I would just worry about cluttering up the page with too much text, thus making it likely that potential offenders won't bother reading any of it.
posted by scody at 10:02 AM on January 21, 2005


Do what thou wilt, and don't piss off Matt, are the whole of the law.

Destructive nonsense, but I'd expect no better from you.
posted by rushmc at 10:22 AM on January 21, 2005


I am totally with grumblebee on this one. This won't come as any surprise to anyone who looked over the Why is there something instead of nothing? thread and the ensuing MeTa discussion. The idea that someone would think it's "mere chatfilter" is boggling to me as well. Asking a question about whether or not you'd take a greatly extended life starts to reveal deep-level thoughts about how life is to be lived, so it's at least as productive in terms of outcome as stuff like "Should I quit my job?" Or here's another thread -- cali's response about her dad is one of the best things I've read on the internet, as simple as it is. Chatfilter, right? Maybe, but the thing is, it may just as well be about looking for answers that it's hard to form good questions to.

I can imagine trying to form these questions in a way that wouldn't offend those looking for tech support and other practical advice -- "I'm considering what makes life worthwhile and enjoyable. Can you tell me what some of the highlights of your life have been, weddings aside? Can you tell me what you think might make life living if you were to become immortal or have a greatly extended life span?" -- and I guess if that's what it takes to keep DepthFilter around, it's worth doing the contortions. But I'd be mighty saddened to see some of the more philosophical questions banned simply because some people can't see the value in consideration and can't make the leap to trying to provide as practical and relevant an answer as they know how given the parameters of the question.
posted by weston at 11:32 AM on January 22, 2005


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