If you're interested, you can donate to help cover Metafilter's ongoing costs using this link:
The site and server can always use upgrades of hardware, software, and bandwidth. If you'd like to chip in, you can donate via this PayPal link."
Which does in fact link to https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_b...
The site's getting hammered right now, but if you can't get through directly you can also check through the Google cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:NMFYgwZ...
We aren't formally doing any fundraising at this point -- that's an account we've had set up for ever mostly for the once-a-month "hey, here's five bucks, buy yourself a beer" tip from a random happy/guilty user -- but if you toss money in that, it ends up with us, and I won't tell you no.
If you want to be extra sure about the paypal link, visit the one at the bottom of Metafilter's about page, here:
Some things I've learned:
- Ask for specific dollar amounts. It'll give users an idea of what they should type in.
- Make that donation link more prominent on the page. The "this PayPal link" <a> tag is pretty hidden at the bottom.
- Offer incentives. I give my donors a trophy for their site account when they give something, and there are certain tiers (e.g. gold trophy for $50, silver for $25, etc.) Requires a bit of management on your side of things, but it could pay off.
Yep. I was at a museum and they had "please donate €5" donation box, which was full of fivers. Otherwise it'd be full of coins.
Heck, I just saw donations can be recurring, so let's do that instead. If you made this a bit more prominent, I'm sure quite a few people would love to chip in.
> On the subscription payment idea, even if 10% of the userbase started paying a few bucks a month for extra Pro-level features, we’d still be coming up thousands of dollars short each month.
So I'm just a lurker, but I'm still happy I found the site.
I've been reading since 2000 and while I don't participate as much as I used to, I still enjoy keeping up with some of the communities there.
It's a peer of 4chan.
That is highly inaccurate
Edit: Matt Haughey just told me on Twitter that the quantcast numbers are accurate enough - https://www.quantcast.com/metafilter.com
So that's 6M uniques and 16.5M pageviews per month.
Some napkin math:
Let's say 8 staff + servers cost $100,000/month.
So, they need 10,000 people paying $10/month. That's 0.2% of their monthly uniques.
Assuming 10% of the uniques are registered users and 2% of registered users pay, that seems achievable.
Plus, they can keep the ads for non-paying users and also have higher paid plans for those willing to pay. For example - https://twitter.com/mathowie/status/468474737790693376
MeFi has way fewer than 600k active registered users. There are a little over 200k user IDs, but those are allocated at the beginning of the signup process and a lot of people bail out before paying the $5.
I took a quick random sample of 100 userids, and only 30 of them had completed the signup process. Of those, 7 were visibly active (posting, commenting or marking something as "favorite") in the last 12 months.
So the number of registered unique visitors is at most about 60,000, and probably closer to 10,000.
EDIT: This comment is superfluous since matthaughey chimed in while I was posting, but I'm a bit pleased that my estimate was so close.
I just tried signing up for the site. My first hurdle was finding the sign up button. It's nearly impossible.
After finding the "New user" link and clicking on it, I'm presented with your community guidelines, which I understand make MeFi what it is. But, that page could still do with a sign up button, instead of the link buried at the bottom.
Anyway, I clicked on the "Go ahead and sign up for an account here" link, filled in my details and then I was presented with the "pay $5 to complete your signup" message. I didn't know it was going to cost me $5! I went back to the guidelines page, and I noticed you did mention the $5 there, but I didn't read it.
I expect this is the most common user experience of new visitors to your site interested in joining.
I don't know if improving these things will move the needle at all for you, but there seem to be a few simple things you could try to increase signups.
Lurking on Metafilter doesn't require an account; you need one only if you want to post or comment. The $5 threshold (and the wall of text "guidelines" page where it's mentioned a couple of times) serves as an incredible gatekeeper. That is probably the single most effective thing that is responsible for the high quality of Metafilter's posts and comments. The exceptionally well-done moderation is a very close second.
Most mefites actually did read the guidelines page, because by the time they've decided to become a member, they know that text on that page is probably important, and (much like the rest of Metafilter) is probably worth reading in full.
Because what usually happens is a user will read Metafilter for days or weeks, slowly realizing how special it is, and then finally hit a topic that they're passionate about -- the kind of thing where they just have to post, because they know they can contribute to the community... so they spend the $5 and sign up.
The catch is, they've been a member of the community for a bit already, albeit a mute one, and they've probably picked up on some of those guidelines already. That's the point. Optimizing the site so a first-time-visitor is more likely to become a (paid) user would inherently be deprioritizing community quality.
It's that community that makes MetaFilter what it is.
But just wanted to say that I love MeFi but the interface leaves a lot to be desired. Really :(
Except for that part where they won't ever ban dios.
I think a lot of people equate "moderation" with "deleting and banning". If that's a moderator's main tool, though, that moderator has already failed, IMO.
(Admittedly, Mefi culture has become more eager in recent years to simply quash posters or viewpoints that make them uncomfortable, which is a pity. I go there because I want find people intelligently and courteously expressing ideas I might not already be thinking. Lately Mefi has seemed less fruitful.)
This is particularly true if you have an anomalously strong community or an audience which is more valuable than "a generic Internet user in your company."
Even if you're not a massive B2C company, there are plenty of niche publishers who quietly receive $500 to $X,000 a month for each of ~6 ad placements rather than taking $125 in "webmaster welfare" from Google. At that level you don't even need a sales force -- just "your ad could be here" leading to a contact page works.
Holy crap. I think this is a giant mistake; IMO she's the heart and soul behind that site.
Too many valuable things die or are simply discarded these days, whilst utter nonsense by 17yo's that have no purpose get funding in the millions, which are rapidly squandered.
I respect your decision. I also suspect that Matt seriously underestimates the amount of goodwill the site has generated over the years... There's no shame in collecting on this.
PS Get off my lawn young'uns.
Also the whole site is just so personable. I hope it stays around.
By "issues" above I don't mean technical things like "I can't log in" but disagreements about how the site should be run. Metafilter has a official side site called Metatalk that is largely a forum for people to complain about Metafilter. It is a testament to the Metafilter mods that this actually works.
In my opinion, this is one of the major reasons why MeFi is such a pleasant community compared to something like Reddit. Because the mods don't let discussions spiral out into people yelling at each other, and because drama can be dealt with on a separate subsite, it truly feels like a community of mature adults. (For the most part.)
/r/askhistorians is one that comes to mind immediately.
As amazing as her work at metafilter is, it's only a small portion of why she's well-respected. In a sense, this is quite appropriate, and is why she's been so perfect as the heart and soul of AskMe, if not much of MetaFilter for the last decade.
I am incredibly curious as to what she does next, because I'm quite sure it will be both revolutionary and personable in a way that is rare and getting more so.
This is why:
I've made lifelong friends and had many enjoyable meetups with local folks. It's going to be hard to think of Jessamyn as a not-moderator.
The bigger issue seems to be Google's algorithm changes. I don't think anyone would argue that Metafilter is a low quality site or that they should appear below some of the spammy and generally worthless sites that continue to stay near the top. Relying on ad revenue is difficult, especially when your core audience is the crowd that is typically running ad blockers and search traffic changes at the whim of a search engine.
AskMeFi likely is seeing the results of going up against massively VC-backed competitors. It's hard to imagine Google's search updates were aimed at prioritizing "worthless sites".
Edit: And Reddit & Imgur have exploded. Those have probably had even bigger impacts.
VCs wouldn't be pumping money into the Rap Genius' of the world if they weren't seeing big wins there. Eventually a site like MeFi gets crowded out.
And there are exceptions as well, as there is abuse. The ability for fringe interests to effectively hijack subreddits is a particularly troubling dynamic. See the case involving, of all things, xkcd discussion on reddit:
There are some interesting reddit rules which play into this:
• subreddits are considered community, not personal, resources. If a subreddit's moderator goes AWOL (fails to log in to reddit for 2 months), the sub may be assumed by another moderator. Note that merely failing to moderate a sub isn't considered AWOL.
• Once installed, moderators are not (or are only very, very rarely) removed by reddit admins.
• To clarify, moderators are ordinary reddit users who moderate subs. Admins are actual paid reddit staff who run the site.
• Senior moderators can remove more junior mods. There's no provision for voting among subscribers or moderators in the event of perceived abuse.
• The generally recognized remedy is to create an alternate subreddit with different mods. This happens with some regularity. You'll now find /r/xkcdcomic as an alternate to the original sub, and with a subscriber count approaching that of the original.
These rules are generally laid out in the reddit FAQ: http://www.reddit.com/wiki/faq#wiki_moderators
(I started it though)
Programmer to moderator ratio is a pretty meaningless metric. I'd far rather see a great community with limited programming support to a fancy site with tons of new features and a toxic community.
Google definitely caused a lot of collateral damage with Panda, especially to large sites with user generated content. And unlike algorithms that target aggressive use of links or ads, it's still very unclear how to fix a site that's been hit by Panda (I should know, my car review site was hit by Panda, and never really recovered, despite 2 years of improvement work).
Now that content farms are not such a pressing problem, Google should be able to dial things back a bit, so that good sites like Metafilter aren't ranked lower than they otherwise would be.
When I read things like "current response times to contact form emails of less than a few minutes will increase" I am tempted to say they might have actually had too many until now, but I don't participate enough on that site to judge this.
Maybe it would pay off to invest some money in the development of better "crowdsourced moderation" features (like rating/flagging of posts) to save on staff in the long run?
What they're doing is just really hard. It's not a paradise, but they have reasonably civil, well-thought-out conversations with people of vastly different viewpoints on everything from transgender issues to Israel-Palestine to which rock band is the best to weird art to police brutality to which dogs are the cutest dogs to anything else you can think of. Imagine scaling up Hacker News so that every member is allowed to post to the top of the front page, and posts are allowed to be on any topic imaginable, and the average comment is going to be at least as knowledgeable and thoughtful as it is here -- in fact, the comments are expected to be good enough that they won't be sorted or threaded, and it will be more or less a faux pas to comment without reading all the comments that came before yours. It'll also be a faux pas to drive away people with contradicting ideas.
Running a site like that is so hard that I don't know of anyone else doing it. Not at this scale, not with so many members, not with so much freedom remaining to members.
The key is that Metafilter functions like a community. The members have reputations they care about (partly because of the $5 entrance fee, and partly because they value the respect of other members), and the mods pay attention to the mood of the site and the relationships between people, spending more time nudging people than actively deleting things. They also spend a ton of time (at metatalk.metafilter.com) getting feedback from the community about how the site should be moderated.
Spend a few weeks reading Metatalk and you realize that, whatever they're being paid, it isn't enough.
I post on HN or Reddit when I feel like adding a point of data to a debate. I post on MeFi when I want to talk to my peers.
(Admittedly, even sites like MeFi can't compare to talking with people in real life. There's something to be said for taking control of someone's locus of attention while you're talking, which you simply can't do when you have to talk in discrete, comment-sized chunks.)
None of italicize everything quoted, "put quotes in quotes (especially for long passages)", nor > prefix quotes with a greater-than sign work particularly well IMO. Though I suppose they generally suffice.
Chowhound has a nice compromise where it's threaded but all the comments you've already seen are folded by default. I'm sure there must be other communities that do the same thing.
I've seen flat discussion style particularly on G+. While I strongly feel it doesn't scale well, what you do get for small discussions is a conversation which feels a bit more like a handful of people talking in a room. Assuming people are clueful enough to read the preceding comments and take them into account (observed more in the breech), there's more of a chance for side conversations to work their way back into the main stream.
The problem is that, as with a discussion in a room, the discussion tends not to scale well. Past a half-dozen to a dozen primary participants, continuity tends to be lost. Threading allows for break-outs of specific interest. Sites such as reddit (with RES) that allow expanding or collapsing of specific sub-threads (RES's "hide all child comments" is great for busy posts) are particularly useful. I find that navigating reddit threads on busy posts to be somewhat challenging: too many open/close options and long threads are cut off too soon, particularly when you're viewing just that thread.
HN wants badly for a specific "response to comment / post" feature. You can view your threads but have to find and respond individually, and responses to anything but recent comments get lost.
HN: hn_unread by Jens Wille
(also a Chrome extension, if you search for hn_unread)
Mefi: MetaFilter Scroll Tag by Plutor
Greatly improves my user experience on both sites. I suppose this kind of thing isn't built into the sites themselves because of concern about the extra server or client storage needed. Super useful though.
More importantly, an integral part of MeFi's culture is that the moderators aren't just behind the scenes, deleting spam and banning problem users; they try to actively steer discussions away from flamewars/trollbait and towards productive discourse, without being too heavy-handed on the "delete" button. It's similar to what I've seen dang trying to do here over the last few months, but it works a lot better without nested comments.
I totally understand where arguments along the lines of "automate and eliminate human costs" come from and there is absolutely value in finding ways to simplify/streamline/remove work, and we've developed a lot of custom tools for the site over the years to do just that. It's something that we'll have to do more of now as we transition to the smaller staff, taking a lot from what we've learned over the last several years as guidance.
But the fact that Metafilter has attentive, thoughtful human eyes on the site and hands on the till is a defining part of the culture and nature of the site. It's not a question of whether it's a good business expense, it's a question of whether it's what makes for the kind of community we want to maintain.
I mean, there's groupthink on every site small enough to have recognizable usernames and associated reputations. But the groupthink eventually became too much for me and I left. The actively (and silently) wielded delete button only needed be used a couple of times.
MetaFilter has taken a different approach. The market is telling its team that approach is not economical. Perhaps there's some ideas they can borrow from sites like Reddit that baked more crowd-power and automation into their models from the get-go.
Hopefully mefi can find a way to operate within their means without compromising their important characteristics.
Well, from the cited stats, it's not enough of a valuable service to generate sustainable revenue.
I'm sorry to hear this and I will endeavour to more actively support MetaFilter and other uniquely valuable sites in the future.
And yet it's easily shown that Google highly values MetaFilter in its results:
The problem is it's kind of a niche-topic site, a bit like NPR. It needs lots of external support to keep going.
I went there almost every day, up until a couple of years ago. Around then, I sort of lost interest, as most of the popular questions became 1) Can you recommend me a recipe X for Y?,
2) I hate my life, now what?,
3) Can I ask this question so that we can all bash men?
That's just my opinion. I'm sure it's not the reason for their downfall. It does make me sad, and I hope the data doesn't disappear.
(Losing karma is worth it sometimes, to state an opinion against the masses. Political correctness be damned.)
I consider myself egalitarian; injustices against women and men alike are infuriating to me. So several months ago I posted a powerful article about a woman's struggles growing up in Hezbollah culture. This was very well received, but one of the first commentators felt the need to add, "I say [this religion] was dreamed up in the first place by men, for men, and it seems continually to be defended and further embellished for the benefit of men." This became one of the most-favorited comments on the article, and I felt put on the defensive there simply for being a man.
In contrast, I had also posted Susan Sons's Linux Journal article "Girls and Software" (very well-received here on HN), as I thought it was an interesting counter-point to numerous recent MetaFilter articles adhering to the popular view that the lack of women in computer science is due to some systemic bias against women in higher education and industry (as opposed to preferences formed in early childhood). It was quickly removed, with the moderator calling it a "fight-starter opinion piece".
But every community has its faults I guess, and I certainly hope MetaFilter survives this.
("Recommend good books/movies/tools for X" questions are disproportionately represented in the "popular" list, because users interested in the same topic tend to favorite these so they can follow the recommendations too.)
My own favorite AskMe thread recently was this crowd-sourced deciphering of a hundred-year-old postcard written in Norwegian in an obsolete gothic script:
Edit: unfortunately I can't test your theory, because the 'most popular' links only go back so far. And, I'm interested in the ones in a typical 'day range' for favorites, around 10-60, or so. But, it would be interesting to test.
There are also links for 24 hours, 7 days, 12 months, and all time.
Here's the equivalent for Ask Metafilter:
Yes, I realize Matt thinks it is largely due to changes in Google algorithms and that may be true. Or it may be more complicated than that. (In my experience, it is more about the community. Everything else is secondary.)
(1) It's somehow 14 years old and this article is #1 on HN, but somehow I've never heard of it.
(2) I haven't been able to figure out what the site actually is, or what it does. I looked at the FAQ and the orientation page on the wiki, but I still have no idea what I want to accomplish by going to the site.
I got into some ugly argument right on the very first try at participating in a discussion on the site, wasn't really impressed by how the mods handled it (although the one I PM'd was actually quite okay), and never really gave it another try.
I always felt like I'm really missing out and this was probably all just bad luck and a bad combination of personalities in this specific comment thread, but whenever I went back to the site those memories kind of killed the fun for me and I never commented again.
So I think you aren't at all strange. I don't know what the policies on MetaFilter are but my experience as a moderator suggests that keeping an eye on the site "virgins" and making sure their initial experiences are positive is super important in shaping the site and growing it.
I am sorry you had such a negative experience. I get a lot of value out of MetaFilter, though it has been a long process for me to figure out how to fit in. But, I am not you and some of my issues are specific to me, not to MetaFilter and ...yadda yadda.
I used to read Metafilter for many years, and even paid the $5 to start commenting. I stopped though since unlike many members of that site, I tend to be pretty conservative in my views, and it always seemed as if the mods had a vendetta against beliefs too different from their own. Turned me off completely.
I'm not particularly conservative, but I am relative to Metafilter and I've argued center-to-right positions there (for example, pro-life).
I think it's true to say that it can be very challenging to engage the membership in a way that goes against the lefty gestalt, and if/when you do, there are certainly members who will be less than kind or thoughtful about responding to that kind of participation. But I've rarely had any problem with negative attention from the mods, certainly nothing that I'd describe as a vendetta.
Perhaps this event will provide the catalyst necessary for the Mefi community to accept some modernization.
1) Answered questions have a green checkmark by the answers count.
2) All comments attached to the question are ordered chronologically, with the earliest answers first.
3) Comments accepted as an answer by the questioner are rendered with a dark green background.
4) Comments by the questioner have a light green/grey bar off to their left.
Example of 3) : http://ask.metafilter.com/261436/Should-my-math-student-have...
Example of 4) : http://ask.metafilter.com/261436/Should-my-math-student-have...
Visiting MetaFilter this morning from this story, my first thought was "They're still using that same look?!"
There are many ways to gradually modernise a site without terrifying the herd (the way Slashdot has frequently in its past) - font and font size, headers and gradually the colour scheme, improve on-boarding, etc. It doesn't have to be done in one hit.
internal duplicate content, might not hurt (might hurt), definitely does not help.
force lowercase, always. 1 page == 1 URL, 1 URL == 1 page
always set a canonical, the canonical is content dependent, not URL dependent.
also, your tag pages are wasted, as you do not target a sensemaking phrase i.e.: "Posts tagged with lawschool" nobody searches for that.
also there is no sitemap.xml reference in the robots.txt, which is at least a warning signal.
also i got a very concerning result while doing a webpagespeed test
i only got the first result of a tag page
i could see this with a first request no cookie (on firefox), too, this is very strange, and if this is communicated to google this will definitely lead to traffic loss. have you done an extensiv "fetch with googlebot" using webmaster tools?
my name is franz enzenhofer, i'm the most successful SEO in europe, write me a twitter message, so like now. hope you read this.
in just 5 minutes i have seen 3 warning signs, if this is all new to you, please just fire your SEO instead of your moderator staff!
Their goal is not to optimize for Google, it's to optimize for users on the site. (This is one of the reasons that makes metafilter such a special community)
I don't believe in change for change's sake (and this juncture somewhat reminds me of where Digg was a few years back), but the whole thing seems like it could use some modernization.
Maybe it has iterated a lot and I've just missed it or not noticed through the years of my casual encounters.
There have also been subtle changes, like removing the ability to post images in comment threads, or adding a five-minute window where you can edit comments for typos. I appreciate the amount of thought that goes into both implementation and policy changes and how they are likely to affect discourse on the site. It's the people and the conversation that make MetaFilter, not any flashy technical features.
It's brand new, and they're still working the kinks out. But Matt has said he wants to expand it to include discussions about movies, and possibly books as well.
It's a difficult balance, no question.
If the userbase is steadily gaining, it seems like monetizing that traffic should be inherent and profitable unless the infrastructure is inordinately expensive.
A site I've visited at least once a day every day for over a decade.
The About page is a good place to learn more about the site: http://www.metafilter.com/about.mefi
I think if Metafilter gave its community a chance to keep the site afloat they'd step up.
I think they should take the Reddit approach: gold + directly sold ads. Directly sold ads would surely make a better CPM than Adsense and it could go on all pageviews rather than just non logged in ones..
That sucks but at least MetaFilter will live on.
I don't know much about google algorithms but if you don't have the good community piece of it, you have no business model for this. It is not HN, HN is the funnel for applicants for Y Combinator, so it is part of the business model here but it is a very, very different model. Mefi exists solely (as I understand) to be a community and not to serve some other business need the way HN does.
I think they should make the donate button much, much more visible but I am not a fan of recurring membership fees. But I don't have time to write more at the moment.
-- Andrew Carnegie
So the main point - allegedly - of Metafilter is the community. Do they get to Metafilter by going to Google first? Why would they? I don't Google my favourite destination sites, e.g. BBC news, I just type 'b' in the browser and I am kind of there. Same with HN, I just type 'n' and I am a down-arrow + enter away from being there.
I just don't see how a few changes to a search engine can instantly result in a 40% of traffic to a community site. I could understand if it was a 40% drop in new members but not overall traffic.
Incidentally, I have used the web since 1993 - twenty years - and I cannot ever remember going to Metafilter from a search. I have seen the site, and I have some perception it is like 'tripod' or 'geocities', as in ancient. Although anecdotal, I don't believe that they get search traffic in a big way or that they have done so for years. I have also never gone to 'Reddit' from a search result - community sites should and do rely on word of mouth introduction (or links).
The oft-criticised Alexa stats on Metafilter tell a story when compared to SO, Reddit and Quora. The bounce rate is high, the page views low and the time on site low. IMHO there are a lot of people that just do not like the look of the site It needs a redesign with the existing look kept as 'low bandwidth' option to allow the community that likes the existing look to stay with what they know.
The vast majority of these lurkers originally hit the ask.metafilter site by searching for a specific question and landing on a thread where a MeFi member has asked the same thing. Those users were the ones being targeted by ads. So yes, it's pretty easy for a google algorithm change to reduce traffic by that much.
They aren't optimizing the site for search traffic or for growth. They're optimizing it for fantastic discussion and community. I realize that's a foreign concept here on HN, where growth and monetization are king, but I believe it's why Metafilter has remained a popular and influential site for over 15 years. (That's like 100 in internet-years...)
There is no monetization, and HN hasn't pursued growth for years, if it ever did.
Since I'm the lead optimizer, I know what we're optimizing HN for. The answer is intellectual curiosity. It's a hard problem, maybe even a lost cause, but people should at least know what we're trying for.
Without more information, though, I am afraid we cannot jump to that simple conclusion.
Amazing power Google has. We desperately need this power distributed to 4-5 search engines, not one. I have been thinking about the changes, and I suspect that a lot of the "lost" traffic went to ads (Adwords) and YouTube. In other words it shifted from sites like MetaFilter to Google. Great ain't it? Google decides that it's own properties (where it keeps 100% of revenue) are more relevant than sites where it keep just about 30% of it. Proof for the shift are Google's own numbers: in house ad clicks have been grown by double-digits, quarter after quarter.
Oh, I have heard the "Chinese Wall," "Church and State" but frankly I no longer buy it. Something stinks , as we hear of a lot of losers and one winner, the one that also ranks.
Too many coincidences, too many punishing updates for non Google sites, and a very suspicious increase of Google's own ad clicks.
But would have even clicked the donation link prior, even if it were a prominent "Please donate. We need it!" button?
That's the real question folks.
I've seen such disappointing vitriol in the comments of the main MetaFilter that I stopped reading it long ago. I do continue to drop by Ask, though. I'm surprised there was anything on MetaFilter that required so many full-time staff and looking back on years of reading MetaFilter still doesn't give me any appreciation for what they must have been doing. In particular, the quality of comment moderation on the main MetaFilter did not, to me, reflect the level of quality one would expect from several full-time staff.
I suppose if they made a commitment to having one employee moderating at all times, that would take at least four employees, and even then it would require overtime and some funny scheduling. Imagine if reddit replaced the little arrows with salaried people deciding the fate of every post. It would take 100s of staff.