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State of MetaFilter (metafilter.com)
400 points by danso 979 days ago | hide | past | web | 176 comments | favorite

I've gotten far more value out of my Metafilter subscription than the $5 I originally paid for my account. It really is an excellent (and very well-moderated) community.

If you're interested, you can donate to help cover Metafilter's ongoing costs using this link:


I don't mean to question what it almost certainly a well-meaning comment, but could someone from metafilter (I already saw cortex in the thread) endorse this or suggest an alternative? I'd love to send a few bucks that way to keep the wolves from the door but just want to make sure they're going to the correct bucket.

That donation link appears on this page: https://www.metafilter.com/about.mefi

"Supporting MetaFilter 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...

Thanks, I was looking in the wrong place for potential donation links.

That is our existing paypal account, yes.

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:


Doesn't sound like you may necessarily want to expand this funding source, but if you do, I also run a content-heavy site that currently runs on donations. I've been doing it without paying a dime myself over the past 8 years or so.

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.

Ask for specific dollar amounts. It'll give users an idea of what they should type in.

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.

You know, if you offered me a way to subscribe, I would :)

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.

To be fair this was addressed in the linked post:

> 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.

Thanks. Sorry to hear about the trouble at Mefi. I'm blackleotardfront there. It might be superfluous to say but we are all 100% behind the staff and site and whatever you guys decide is the best course of action we will support to the best of our ability.

Cortex: as a single datapoint, I'd pay a totally voluntary subscription for metafilter. Make it an option, and I'll do it.

People also say this about the SA forums. I paid for it (and some extras), enjoyed what I read in the archive -- there are some real pearls! -- but I have no idea how I could fit in there.

So I'm just a lurker, but I'm still happy I found the site.

SA is a place with a lot of interesting contradictions; it's been around since the early days of the Web ('99) and somehow survived through several waves of dot com implosions (eFront, etc) to the present day. It is highly moderated and hosts some of the best topic-specific communities this side of Reddit, but also spawns edgy and dark humor and internet memes. The $10 fee was started in 2001 before such things like that done on the Web and that allowed the site to finally be self-sustaining and free from having to join ad-sharing groups or another content network.

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 al right. After reading the current SA I decided not to go for the archives package. I just didn't like it. The way people were banned, unbanned was meant to look like funny but I didn't. Sometimes it looked like bullying, sometimes just assholery, sometimes just like absurd moderator actions. But then again I thought I was not going to fit in anyway and there's sth that I am missing to fit it. So, I just visit and login like once or twice a quarter. I never posted anything.

Good choice, archives have been down for a month anyway.

What are the "SA" forums?

> It's a peer of 4chan.

That is highly inaccurate

Not really. I am a member too and I must add that even the moderators do (almost all the time) that what is frowned upon when he 4chan do it. But hey, to each his own.

Are MetaFilter's traffic stats publicly available? I feel like there might be ways to make more money from it to keep it self-sustaining.

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

> Assuming 10% of the uniques are registered users

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.

This is rough back of the envelope calculations, but we only have 62k paid users, only about 12k come back every day, so subscriptions would need something like 25%-50% of the daily userbase paying, not just 2%.

Thanks Matt. As someone not very familiar with your site, I have some observations about the user experience of the site:

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.

This is a feature.

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.

I agree with "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".

But just wanted to say that I love MeFi but the interface leaves a lot to be desired. Really :(

Some would say that the difficulty in signing up is a feature—Metafilter wants dedicated people who've really thought about it to sign up.

I suspect that a major reason for the demise of Metafilter is it's just so rude that people have started leaving and not returning. I used to love it and spent a lot of time hanging out there, until it started to get so incredibly snarky that I felt uncomfortable commenting. The last straw was when some veteran accused me of trivialising the holocaust just because of an innocent quote. Nobody needs that stuff.

That's the reason I stopped visiting. I once asked a tech-support type question and was told to "man up and grow a pair", and tell my users they would just have to live with the problem (no attempt to answer the actual question). Unfortunately, answers like that tend to get lots of favorites since they sound so emphatic, and people on MeFi seem to like emphatic answers, in the same way reddit likes funny answers.

Man, I am sympathetic if you got an obnoxious answer like that, but for what it's worth as one of the folks who moderates it that as stated is a comment I'd delete from an Ask Metafilter thread in a heartbeat and would expect other users to have flagged a bunch as well. The system isn't perfect but "man up and grow a pair" is really precisely deletable as a crap non-answer in our moderation rubric.

Thanks for that :) It's a great community but some of its flaws grew a bit tiring. I genuinely hope it can come through its current crisis and keep right on going.

Your caricature of what MF is like is so grotesquely at odds with my experience that I would suspect that you are exaggerating or making it up. Metafilter, by and large, has an informed, intelligent and very helpful community. There are always jerks or people having a bad day but the mods deal with that promptly. That said, people who are just asinine, like perhaps those making unfair generalizations, are often dealt with by gentle ridicule. I have never seen anyone unfairly snarked, ever.

Showing ads to only non-paying users makes those remaining ad impressions considerably less valuable. Google won't care, but it basically rules out more lucrative direct sales of ads. No one is going to pay top dollar to reach only the cheapest and least engaged segment of your audience.

To add to that, for comparison, they'd need $6 CPM worth of ads on all their pageviews to make the same amount just from ads.

> It really is an excellent (and very well-moderated) community.

Except for that part where they won't ever ban dios.

Why should they ban dios? Honestly, what makes Metafilter a great site— I've been a member there for a decade— is that, unlike a lot of fora, it still allows dissenting and unpopular views. I may frequently disagree with what dios says, but it's usually worth reading anyway.

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.)

It's not my section of the Internet most of the time, but I'm professionally obligated to know a little about it, so in case anyone here runs a massive consumer Internet property and can't make the bills with AdSense: you should strongly consider having a direct ads sales force. AdSense is very effective at fulfilling the role it was designed for, which is algorithmically filling your least valuable advertising slots. It is not good at getting top dollar for brand advertising, in fact, it is optimized in entirely the other direction. Brand advertisers sneeze out numbers which pay for the entire salary bill in a month.

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.

Coming from the B2B media world, I couldn't agree more. Google Ads are a commodity. They work by making all web sites appear more or less than same to the advertiser. Direct sales is the opposite: it's about explaining why your audience is special. The difference really is orders of magnitude.

This might explain the high CPM I get with WordAds [1] and its brand-focused ads.

[1] http://wordads.co/

> Jessamyn, who has worked in some capacity on the site for almost 10 years and was instrumental in shaping the voice of Ask MetaFilter, is taking a voluntary layoff.

Holy crap. I think this is a giant mistake; IMO she's the heart and soul behind that site.

Thanks, that's really sweet, but it's been almost a decade and it's definitely time. I've got some stuff coming up (will post more about it later on so as not to take any of the attention away from mathowie's post) which is all good news. It was really time for me to get a little more librarianing in.

Thanks for all your work Jessamyn. I've lurked since 1999 and found a lot of useful information over the years (has it been 15 years already? it seems like it just was yesterday!). Made a small donation just now.

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.

After a decade of gently beating wayward mefites over the head with a clue stick, you deserve a break. Thanks for all those years of work!

agree - you are one of the reasons mefi is what it is. thanks for all of your hard work.

I had the same reaction, but it seems to dovetail with her needs. She said "this is literally just 'I am moving on in my professional life.' MetaFilter remains my online home."


Yes, Jessamyn has an amazing knack for handling users. That sounds rather pedestrian but she makes it into an intellectual art. I hope she's making a positive move.

Also the whole site is just so personable. I hope it stays around.

Can you go into more detail when you say "handling users"?

Jessamyn is amazing at being empathetic when people have issues with the site, but being firm about the actual decision that have been made, without being patronizing (it's very hard to say "I totally understand your concern, but we're not doing what you want" in a way that doesn't annoy people). And she never ever yells at people unless they totally deserve it, in which case they then realize they deserve it. Unless you are a real malcontent (and of course there are a few), it is really hard not to believe that she is genuinely on your side.

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.

Especially in some of the more heated discussions, it's very common to see a jessamyn comment like "Removed a few comments. This is a sensitive topic. Please take it to MetaTalk if you need to."

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.)

The interesting thing about Reddit, is that in a select few subreddits that are fortunate to have moderators as good as jessamyn, the experience is phenomenal and there is a concentration of domain experts sharing knowledge at a rate and depth to put even Hacker News to shame.

/r/askhistorians is one that comes to mind immediately.

I hope she has something bigger, better, and more exciting to move on to. She's well-respected due to her role in shaping Metafilter to what it is today.

And her work in the librarian community. And the warrant canary. And IIRC, a trickle-charging story-telling bear that almost was.

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.

No it's fine, changing is needed in a community.

I can't think highly enough of Matt and the staff / family at MetaFilter.

This is why:



and finally


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.

I was just reading SUN related stuff, reminiscing about mid-late-90's SUN, wondering how you were. Sorry for your loss.

I'm still here. :) Still run SunHELP although it doesn't get many updates nowdays; the geeks and rescue mailing lists are still pretty decent traffic though.

I just commented on HN yesterday on the success of Metafilter's model of charging a gatekeeper fee for posting. Maybe a one time fee is enough to keep spam at bay but not enough to pay moderators.

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.

In the last 5 years we've seen both Quora, StackOverflow launch and gain serious traction and Yelp has consolidated its position as a top destination for local search.

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.

I've visited MetaFilter on an off for many years, and I've never heard of AskMeFi before today. I didn't even know they had a section that was similar to Quora or SO. I've only ever seen it as a link aggregation community.

That's strange because I feel that AskMeFi is what keeps me going back and visiting.

That's very true. I'm thinking more of the about.com type of results (which would also qualify for your description of a well funded competitor). Perhaps I was too disparaging of Google's changes, overall they're increased search quality. I just find it unfortunate when sites like Metafilter get downranked as collateral damage.

There's certainly a lot of crappy sites out there! I think they probably got hit just as hard.

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.

I can't help but wonder if reddit's still growing popularity is a contributing factor. reddit found a slightly better way for the community to moderate itself so they've been able to have a higher programmer to moderator ratio.

It's a different and cheaper way to moderate a community. I don't think that necessarily gets you all the way to better.

What way is that? Reddit's staff are intentionally hands-off and it really shows. In fact, the only successfully moderated subreddit of any significant size I can think of is r/askhistorians.

There are several well-moderated subreddits. AskHistorians, AskScience, and Science all come to mind. Even some of the very highly trafficked subs do amazingly well (yes, with some bumps).

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

Why does significant size matter? Reddit has thousands of subs where users can congregate on a per-interest basis, which adds up to a huge total yet feels relatively relatively more cozy

http://reddit.com/r/answers I like to think it's well moderated


(I started it though)

MetaFilter's moderators are some of the most considerate and caring people I've seen on the internet. Sure, if you're approaching the site in bad faith they are going to tell you to take a hike, but they also put a huge amount of effort into working one-on-one with people through private messages. This is especially important when people are posting about difficult and sensitive personal issues on AskMe.

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.

The $5 entry fee has never been about revenue and my understanding is that it never netted all that much revenue. Most of the money, to my knowledge, came from AdSense ads shown to logged-out users through search traffic. The gatekeeper fee does a lot to build a community of people who are committed to the site and want to be there.

There is supposed to be a softer Panda algorithm coming soon (Matt Cutts announced it in March 2014 - http://searchengineland.com/google-working-softer-gentler-pa...). Maybe that will help?

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.

I was actually surprised to hear that they are employing multiple full-time moderators for a site like this. Is there any word on how much they were spending per moderator?

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?

Metafilter has absurdly good moderation. It sounds like they're going to do the best they can with more automation and fewer staff, but this is a huge loss.

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.

It's pretty difficult to have a conversation of any kind, let alone a productive one, without threaded comments. I feel like the site is stuck in the 90s along with Fark.

I disagree completely. When you have threaded comments, what happens is that people post their (often reactionary) opinions in response to OP, and then other people respond in kind to those opinions. On occasion you get a witty quip or a good story, but there's just no meaningful flow of conversation. It's soapbox vs. soapbox. On the other hand, non-threaded discussions, while more difficult to follow, read like actual, real-life conversations. You have a chance of having a pleasant discussion (or even changing someone's mind!) on those sites.

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.)

With Mefi, one could always quote someone in reply to make things clear. Some of the best discussions online happen over at Metafilter. (I find HN interesting due to it's SV audience, but it functionally feels like an old version of reddit.)

What hurts both G+ (and HN) is the absence of a specific blockquote markdown.

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.

Blockquotes have been supported in markdown as the ">" prefix since the very beginning. It's a mystery that HN doesn't support it when even reddit does.

Precisely my point. I've raised the issue specifically with Yonatan Zunger, and got a very typical Google NIH response.

Funny, I was just having a real-life conversation in which I was saying that I prefer the Metafilter style and find it difficult to follow HN/Reddit threaded conversations because it's non-trivial to find updates and all the action ends up in the first thread when there might be some good stuff below.

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.

Reddit partually folds comments based on score, but yeah some JavaScript to be more aggressive at first (and auto expand if you want to go deeper into a thread) mightnhelp

It's definitely a matter of taste, and it's fine that different folks prefer different stuff. The flat model works well enough for Metafilter -- we're constantly seeing thoughtful, responsive conversations on all kinds of topics in the site's discussion threads -- but it's a virtue of the web that there's a variety of models out there so different folks can have their preferences met.

The benefit is that it's easy to follow everything, like on ongoing conversation. I've been following this post throughout the day and I have no idea where the new comments are. Perhaps I've just never taken well to threaded comments, but I'd much rather have to mentally follow threads if that means I can at least read everything as it's posted.

My general preference is for threaded rather than flat comments. If you want to dive into a particular aspect of a topic in depth, they allow for this.

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.

I use Greasemonkey scripts on both HN and Mefi to help keep track of ongoing conversations.

HN: hn_unread by Jens Wille http://userscripts.org:8080/scripts/show/124778 (also a Chrome extension, if you search for hn_unread)

Mefi: MetaFilter Scroll Tag by Plutor http://userscripts.org:8080/scripts/show/23270

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.


I'm experimenting with a forum which lets you switch between threaded and flat format for threads... although I'm a bit worried that, once people actually use it, it might be confusing if group a is browsing in one mode and group b is browsing in another, still I don't know if you have to have one or the other exclusively. The way that the structure of a forum affects the nature of discussion is an interesting problem, though. And probably one that's been thoroughly solved but.. eh.

MetaFilter can be hard to describe but I think this is one of the best descriptions I've seen of what makes it special.

MeFi already has favorites and flagging. However, flagging is only used to get a moderator's attention, and the final decision on whether to delete something is always made by a human. I think the userbase would be extremely resistant to changing that.

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.

What teraflop said. cortex here, one of the mefi moderators.

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've seen a lot of groupthink on MeFi.

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.

Reddit had fewer than 8 people when it was seeing orders of magnitude more activity than MeFi. I understand fully why its great to have humans doing this work, but this downsize could be a good thing in the long run if it forces them to find novel ways to make things scale better.

do you really think reddit is a model of what a web community should look like? genuine question, because if that's the case then you're not exactly the intended audience

Reddit is certainly a model of what a web community could look like.

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.

generating revenue isn't the same thing as providing a valuable service and it's kind of sad that i have to point that out in the first place. there's a reason i've read metafilter every day for over a decade and reddit is generally considered a step above 4chan.

Generating revenue /is/ the same thing as providing a service that can afford to remain in business, though. A service that shuts its doors because it runs out of money isn't being valuable to anyone at all.

Hopefully mefi can find a way to operate within their means without compromising their important characteristics.

"generating revenue isn't the same thing as providing a valuable service"

Well, from the cited stats, it's not enough of a valuable service to generate sustainable revenue.

MetaFilter is a site which I always value, when I read it, but am rarely directed to: I don't remember ever noticing it in a search engine result.

I'm sorry to hear this and I will endeavour to more actively support MetaFilter and other uniquely valuable sites in the future.

Ask Metafilter used to come up often in my google searches for esoteric questions. Not as much lately.

> I don't remember ever noticing it in a search engine result.

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 used to love ask.metafilter.com!

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've been a long time reader and I am saddened at the prospect of MetaFilter's decline, but yes, the man-bashing is certainly one thing that's driven me away from the site lately.

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.

It's a shame that "Girls and Software" was removed. That article was really fantastic (to the extent that I made a point of saving it). I suppose this sort of thing is the reason why we tend to engage in multiple online communities. The discussion around that article on HN was worth reading!

I think this might be some confirmation bias in action; if you actually look at the front page of http://ask.metafilter.com/ today (or pretty much any day in recent years), or the popular questions at http://ask.metafilter.com/home/popularfavorites , the majority are not in these buckets you're complaining about.

("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:


Maybe. I'll check it out, at least.

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.

Check out "Most Favorited Posts in the Past 7 Days:" http://www.metafilter.com/home/popularfavorite7

There are also links for 24 hours, 7 days, 12 months, and all time.

Here's the equivalent for Ask Metafilter: http://ask.metafilter.com/home/popularfavorite7

If you're logged in, you can also use the "My Ask" tab to browse questions from selected tags/categories, instead of all categories. Useful if you prefer, say, science questions over relationship questions.

I will suggest that MetaFilter may be a victim of its own success to some degree. Growth of a forum always introduces new challenges and you solve those or experience die-back. I have seen it often, in other forums. though none were supporting multiple full time staff members.

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.)

Two problems with the site that I can think of:

(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.

Think: NPR-loving, female-friendly left-leaning cozy-fest discussing this that and the other.

Why doesn't MetaFilter update their layout / aesthetic? If google is hammering them, I'm sure a large part of it is the insta-bounces a site this old looking has.

I'd like to say that I come for the content/community and the design doesn't matter. Obviously HN is not really known for it's cutting-edge design. But I have to agree that MetaFilter just has a very old, dusty look to it to the point that it makes me want to instantly click away. That is a real shame because building a community is incredibly difficult, while doing a bit of design touch-up is relatively easy.

Metafilter has a lot going for it (personally I think it's probably the best non-private community online, particularly in the sense that once you're an active participant it truly is a "community"), but willingness to change anything about Metafilter is not among its virtues: http://metatalk.metafilter.com/13786/The-Green-Should-Be-Whi...

Perhaps this event will provide the catalyst necessary for the Mefi community to accept some modernization.

The answer is probably completely different designs for members vs random visitors.

That's been my experience. I take one look at a page, attempt to scan the answers section for what I need, and immediately go back to the search results to find a stackexchange result where I can find what I need effortlessly.

Here's the method to discovering the answers in Ask Metafilter comment threads:

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...

HTH. :)

HN looks almost exactly the same.

I don't get the impression that HN is desperate to keep growing and bring in new users. Usually it seems like the opposite is true.

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.

Sad to hear this.

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.


That's not that weird. When I moderated Tagmax, I made it a policy to "welcome people at the door" and try to make their first experience a positive one. My observation was those folks who had a positive initial experience came back and participated enthusiastically. Those who had a negative first experience we seemed to never hear from 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.

Totally agree with you.

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.

What do you mean by "vendetta"?

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.

This pretty much happened to me too, a regular user went after me particularly viciously. It was a bad enough experience that I never posted again. That was in 2002/2004-ish. Ten years on and that enormous asshole is still a regular contributor. I have nothing against the moderators, they are some of the best on the 'net. I don't even have a problem with most of the participators there. But there are about three regular users that for me cause so much hatred to well up when I see just their usernames, that I rarely ever go back.


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 http://www.webpagetest.org/result/140519_H1_10TE/1/screen_sh... 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!

When I'm on metafilter and I click on the 'lawschool' tag, it absolutely makes sense that the header says "Posts tagged with lawschool"

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)

This is a major bummer, but never having delved too deeply into metafilter, it seems like it's been basically unchanged for sometime, no?

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.

The biggest changes have been new sub-sites. The most recent of these is FanFare, for discussing TV and movies (and possibly expanding to other media in the future): http://fanfare.metafilter.com/

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.

Whoa! I totally didn't know about this subsite. This is great.

Launched in response to TWOP's shuttering.

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 added a lot of small features, like dynamic comment updating and edit windows, but most of the new development has gone into new sub-sites. They're pretty conservative about changing the core commenting dynamic, especially given their informal policy against undertaking technical solutions to social problems, which I think has been a beneficial policy for the quality of discussion there.

They have (or have had) developers on staff to assist Matt. It was originally written in ColdFusion (to be fair, the site has been around since 1999), though I imagine it's moved onto greener pastures since then. The look of MeFi is iconic, much like Slashdot, so any radical changes to its design would likely cause more problems than it might solve.

Sure, I don't necessarily mean aesthetic changes, but - particularly when you've developed a strong community - there's often a resistance to modifying a core offering. That benefits the community but also often begins to erode your ability to attract new users.

It's a difficult balance, no question.

Sure. For what it's worth, though, we've continued to see steady signups for years and years; the concern over the ossification of a conservative site design is a reasonable one and one we chew on plenty, trust me, but as far as that goes we haven't all else aside seen active new-user interest go away.

Any other efficiencies to be gained on the technology side?

If the userbase is steadily gaining, it seems like monetizing that traffic should be inherent and profitable unless the infrastructure is inordinately expensive.

Would hate to lose the Big Blue :(.

A site I've visited at least once a day every day for over a decade.

Old HN discussion of mefi moderation: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1711995 I had not seen it before. I thought it might be of interest.

This is a failure of Google's algorithm to recognize and rank appropriately quality web content. Shame.

For those who are wondering what MetaFilter is, it's a meta-filtered internet space, a well-moderated community where people can talk about things on the internet, without making it all about themselves.

The About page is a good place to learn more about the site: http://www.metafilter.com/about.mefi

Or really, the Popular Tags page should speak for itself: http://www.metafilter.com/tags/

Ravelry, the social network for knitters, in its early days had several fundraisers that keep it going for a while. The amazing thing is these fundraisers (called "For the love of Ravelry") were actually organised by the community.

I think if Metafilter gave its community a chance to keep the site afloat they'd step up.

The only advertising I see on there is The Deck which is divided up over so many sites I can't imagine any of them make much money from it. If I log out, I see Adsense too, which as far as I can tell isn't a good source of returns nowadays either, it's more in the last-ditch "I can't sell advertising myself, give me anything!" school of advertising.

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..

What would you guys say is metafilter's core objective now? I used to read it a lot between 2004-2007, then got bored. So if you could describe metafilter & its community, how would you?

If a site like MetaFilter is barely surviving, how is that Stack Exchange, Reddit, et al can just keep going? Is it because those sites have VC backing or roots in YC?

I'm pretty sure those sites are much more popular, and have better categorization for advertising targeting. You can charge a lot more for ads in /r/Television, /r/movies, and /r/trucks than you can on the generic MeFi homepage.

Reddit isn't profitable yet but is much larger and keeps its staff relatively small compared to its traffic volume.

For one I have never heard of MetaFilter and I can't understand what it is by browsing the site.

More users, more user engagement, more valuable content.

Well, damn. :/

That sucks but at least MetaFilter will live on.

Sorry for the silly question, but what is metafilter?! Like HN for general content with a price tag?!

old and well established user-generated blog with an extremely well moderated (best on the net, imo) discussion forum in the form of comment threads, with a medium-sized user base. the pice tag is only to comment, and as you might imagine it tends to make people value their ability to participate more than on other, free forums. it's the only place on the internet where i genuinely enjoy reading comments.

I wonder where they would be today if they took a monthly or yearly as opposed to a one-time fee. It seems to me like recurring revenue would turn the main problem into keeping users, rather than recruiting them.

From what I gather, their main revenue is ad money. The fee to join is mostly a gatekeeping thing. It is not a big part of the revenue model. Matt managed growth really well (from what I gather) by limiting new memberships and what not. It is a community and limiting new memberships and putting in a gatekeeper fee seems to have done a lot to avoid eternal September and what not. That's the main thing you need to do to make money from a community: Keep your eye on the prize of making it a good community. I have seen that failed elsewhere.

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.

Interesting that the only thing I know about MetaFilter is that I heard they are a well behaved community. That is it. Know nothing else about the site. What it does, why I would visit etc.

Really sad to see that even if you 'make it' and make a lot of money, you can (and probably will) lose it all given enough time. Never put all of your eggs in one basket. :/

The way to become rich is to put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.

-- Andrew Carnegie

Who said the founders/managers were going to lose in aggregate? They may have set aside a nest egg in peak years and not want to dip into that.

I never said that - I said they were going to lose their month-by-month income, not their total savings.

Damn, basically fired by a computer algorithm. We are living in the future. But is Google too powerful?

Ah, but they were essentially hired by the same algorithm. Had the algorithm not existed, they would have had to find another job.

To be fair, the algorithm changed.

Does anyone use a search engine to get to HN? Sure there are a few, however, most people on this site have been coming for years and these people - 'the community' - don't need a search engine to get here.

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 Metafilter pageviews are people who lurk and just read the content. (The $5 barrier to entry and reasonably small community is a feature, not a bug)

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...)

> here on HN, where growth and monetization are king

There is no monetization, and HN hasn't pursued growth for years, if it ever did.

To be clear, not HN itself, but the community in general is very much about monetizing their work, getting venture capital, making a quick buck, yadda yadda.

I still need to push back on this a bit. The mandate of the site is: intellectually interesting things. There's nothing intellectually interesting about "making a quick buck". It's true that HN has an entrepreneurial orientation, but it's also true that many (almost certainly many more) users aren't doing startups and come here to learn.

Since I'm the lead optimizer, I know what we're optimizing HN for. The answer is we're optimizing for quality. It's a hard problem, maybe even a lost cause, but people should at least know what we're trying for.

Is that better or worse than being fired by the invisible hand? If your company stays the same when new competitors (Reddit, StackExchange, and Quora have been mentioned) appear, whose fault is it?

This comment was downvoted, but I do understand the tenor of your comment. It was the first thing I thought of, too, when I read the post on MetaFilter.

Without more information, though, I am afraid we cannot jump to that simple conclusion.

So Google killed Metafilter?

Why dont they try Adsense?

Most of MetaFilter's revenue comes from the Adsense ads on Ask MetaFilter pages.

A year and a half ago, we woke up one day to see a 40% decrease in revenue and traffic to Ask MetaFilter, likely the result of ongoing Google index updates. We scoured the web and took advice of reducing ads in the hopes traffic would improve but it never really did, staying steady for several months and then periodically decreasing by smaller amounts over time.

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.

I didn't realize this was a legitimate site with real users. I always thought it was just a spam site scraping from somewhere based on the horrible design and excessive ads...

After a heartfelt letter to the public, and layoff decisions final, you are willing to pitch in some donation? How nice.

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'm stunned there was staff to lay off.

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 think you severely underestimate the effort it takes to run and maintain a successful community site.

doesn't give me any appreciation for what they must have been doing

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.

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