There are almost certainly more refugees from Metafilter than there are people who actively participate, these days. The registered user count is up over 14000 at the moment, but if I recall correctly, Matt recently said that the server logs indicate there are only (only) a couple or three thousand registered users that hit the site on a regular basis. All indications, based on the numbers, at least, are that Metafilter continues to be a robust and roaring success. Matt has recently purchased some new hardware, and there are days and threads when I would defy you to find anything smarter or more amusing anywhere on the iNtARwEb.
But everywhere I turn, there is a constant keening lament about how bad the site has gotten, as compared to its long-past Glory Days. It is typical of these things, I suppose, but amuses me anyway that some disgruntloids insist that the golden age ended only recently (with a raft of calm, reasonable, and highly respected old guard users quietly calling it quits) while others point to the beginning of this year (when there were some high-profile, I’m-taking-my-ball-and-going-home departures). Still others glare and hurl imprecations (though mercifully stop short of screeching and flinging their poo) at the huge upsurge in registered users following September 11th last year, and yet other others pinpoint the date that everything went to sh-t as November 16, 2000, a day of infamy that was marked by the first appearance of a certain wonderchicken on the #006699 scene.
Michael Sippey, for instance, lamented in Swiftian style

It is a melancholy object to those who click through to the great site of MetaFilter, when they see the front page, the comment pages and the MetaTalk sections crowded with chatter, with noise, and with meaningless posts that should have never seen the light of the submit button. Readers, instead of being able to rely on MetaFilter as a trusted source of daily diversion, are forced to employ all their time in scrolling to beg sustenance for their starving minds: which, as they evolve over time, either whither into dust, or abandon their dear MetaFilter for sites unknown.

almost a year ago!
A while back, I spent some time (way too much time, compulsively hitting the refresh button, wirehead monkey at the joyjuice hotbutton) hanging around with some folks who splintered off a long time ago from the grandpappy of Metafilter cult threads, 1142 (folks I miss, but in order to actually accomplish anything with my time must continue to hug from a distance – *waves*), and amongst all the other things that were talked about, they spent a lot of their time bemoaning how bad Metafilter had gotten. These were, are, some of the smartest, most creative people I’ve ever spent time with, virtually or otherwise. The few months that I spent a lot of time there were almost a year ago.
Since then, some of them have stopped appearing at all on Metafilter, although the occasional Special Guest Appearance leads me to believe that they are still watching, still disapproving, still shaking their heads in dismay at the decline of the Mothership.
Another gang of Meta-refugees with whom I hang out, the wacky kids at 9622.net, another MeFi splinter site that was birthed from a cult thread (9622 this time, duh), although much more concerned with having fun and being silly, also note occasionally, between flinging poo and screeching, that Bad Things are happening these days.
Recently, jpoulos (one of the admins of 9622.net) has been talking about his disenchantment in more direct terms in the comments attached to this post : Why Metafilter Sucks Ass. I find myself agreeing with him, with some reservations.
jpoulos doesn’t participate at Metafilter anymore, and is missed.
Many many words have been spoken and typed about the Metafilter and how it has changed over the past year or two. Hell, I’m adding to the wordcount now, and I can’t seem to stop myself. Nick Sweeney said a few months ago :

Matt’s always been very trusting towards his membership, and in general, receives the respect that’s deserved by such trust. I can’t help thinking that it doesn’t accommodate 13,000-odd members: partly because the times don’t lend themselves to seminar-style discussion; partly because you’re dealing with the friction between oldbies and newbies, and their different conceptions of what the place is, was, and should be. ‘Member memory’ is a vital aspect of community sites, even ones which profess to deal with the transient meme-feed, and I think it’s much stronger at MeFi than Plastic: so that when you have members who take perhaps two years’ worth of discussion into the day’s discussion up against new arrivals, it’s bound to create the same kind of frustrations as a USENET September.

Nick doesn’t participate at Metafilter anymore, and is missed.
For my part, I’ve written defenses both impassioned and tongue-in-cheek of the place in the past. I’ve said

…things are pretty much as they’ve been since I started coming here, at least – some good days, some bad ones, some thread hijacks, some crap posts, some egos and wrestling matches, some absolute diamond-hard fascinating discussions, some erudition, some crap jokes, some pee-myself-laughing ones too, a generally tolerant and friendly hubbub.

and other things, more embarrassingly and openly in love with the place.
I personally think the exodus started when Jason Kottke posted this Metatalk thread not long after the massive influx of users after September 11th, which seemed to be a continuation of a real-world conversation that he and Matt had been having. Matt commented in the thread that he was tired of it all, and thinking about folding the tent. Much consternation ensued, and I honestly think that some people who might have stuck around and dug in their heels to try and make the place better and lead by example threw in the towel at this point.
There were other things – the rise in chattiness, the rise in incivility, the decline in collective intelligence, the increase in jokiness and pointless IRC-esque chatter (in which I admit my occasional participation) – most of which were probably as a result of the massive influx of new users.
Whatever the reason, even though there are many voices still participating that I enjoy hearing, lots of people with whom I enjoy interacting, I’ve got to agree for the first time in public that the Mothership is not what it once was.
What to do? This is the $64,000 Question, of course. I still enjoy the place a lot, and will continue to participate until Matt bans me permanently for conduct unbecoming a wonderchicken, but I am starting to understand a little better the complaints that I’ve ignored or argued against for so long. To some extent I wish that I’d paid them more heed a year ago.
(Should I mention my theory about the disenfranchisement of the A-List now? No, perhaps not. Not until my secret plans for World Domination have been hatched, my pretties. Not until then.)
It has been said, and truly, ‘it’s only a website’. Can you love a website? Is it internet-era pathological behavior to say ‘I love that website’?
I dunno.
But some days it feels as if my love is turning into common street trash before my eyes, and no matter how well-documented my weaknesses for common street trash, that’s just not the girl I fell in love with.

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Join the conversation! 47 Comments

  1. I don’t post at metafilter primarily because everyone seems to know everyone else, the people can get pretty nasty, and I literally have a hard time reading through the linear thread.
    I’d be curious, though, to see the reaction to your posting out at metatalk. Are you posting a link to this there?

  2. I hear ya, stav. I’m starting to think the best and simplest remedy is a moderation queue – interestingly, it was implemented at blogroots. I still find there to be plenty of good smart posters at MeFi, but my biggest problem with it (and it’s not necessarily everyone’s problem) is that I can’t keep up. Related to this – related to the sheer volume of posts, that is – is an overall feeling of splintering. No one other than the unemployable can keep track of everything going on in all the threads, and I think a lot of inexcusable behaviour tends to go unchided because of it. Finally, it means that discussion doesn’t last long enough, and discussion that should be centered in one thread over a week takes place in three or four, and each of them rehashes the same points.
    Anyway (excuse the lengthy rant), a mod system would be an easy way to bring the number of posts down to about 10-15/day (would that be right?), and also ensure they are of relatively high quality and reflect what Matt wants the site to be, thereby encouraging the right type of newbies to sign up.

  3. Oh boy, another MetaFilter-fest!
    I already put my overall $0.02 in the referenced thread at jpooulos’ site, but here’s a quick response and suggestion to D’s point – there’s already a 24-hour wait time between a user’s ability to post twice to the front page. Would increasing this to a week accomplish the same thing as a moderation system? Might cut down on poorly thought-out posts, CNN-lnk NewsFilter posts and “latest-developments-in-the Middle East” stuff.

  4. Well said, my fine feathered friend. Much better-said than my “Why Metafilter Sucks Ass”.

  5. My problem has been the incessant I/P-type threads, combined with the self-righteous policing attitude of some (okay, maybe only one) stalwart defenders of MeFi.
    Ultimately, if Matt wanted to make things cool down, he would. I don’t know why he hasn’t stepped up to the plate to try and make it better; maybe he wants to see he it grows. I also think that Matt isn’t spending as much time there as he used to, which would definitely have an effect. Limiting postings to something longer than a single day may be a solution. I like the idea of a moderation queue, but who gets that wonderful job? Matt is already a busy man. Stricter policing may be another idea, though time consuming.
    In any case, MetaFilter is still better than any other community website of it’s size and I am still a loyal fan.

  6. A moderation queue, comment moderation, we have those already at slashdot.org, plastic.com, kuro5hin.org. If you want them, use those sites. MetaFilter was concieved as a community weblog. When the site is good, it is a mesh of styles that at first seem like anarchy, which, after acclimating to them, become actual intelligent discourse.
    With thread moderation, who gets to decide on the threads that stay and go? The “A-listers,” the old guard? There are as many idiots with low user numbers as there are with high user numbers. All of the users? That’s already happening. Threads that generate interest have a large comment count. Threads that don’t are frequently ignored.
    Comment moderation also totally changes the flow of the site. Suddenly people who make comments that the masses agree with float to the top (sort: higher scores first), and the unpopular, but still well thought out opinions get a -5:Troll. I like the fact that I can say whatever the fuck I want on MeFi. That is why I visit the #069 50x more than /. or k5.
    One more thing on comment moderation, if you feel the need to read every comment on every single thread, then you’re doing something wrong or you are a hyperactive Portuguese novelist. Comment moderation on the aforementioned sites forces the readership to only see what has been modded up, choosing to represent 95% of the comments with a hyperlink to “RE: Wonderchicken soup…. Does it have chives?” MetaFilter, in its current state, is more like a gathering IRL. You can wander from table to table, cluster to cluster, hear snippets of conversation, add your own comments and then move on. Like any party, it has its cool people, its dull clods, its crashers, its troublemaking monkey loving stoners, its articulate intellectuals, etc. If you hang around long enough, you know how to move from crowd to crowd.
    I used to disagree with all of the predictions of imminent demise. These days I spend less time on the site merely because it seems that the dull, and mostly hostile, clods have taken over. MetaFilter, and it’s Vesuvian counterpart MetaTalk, are getting dangerous. I don’t know why exactly. Familiarity breeding contempt? A large, unidentifiable rift in opinion? Who knows.
    MeFi’s resident optimist everyman jonmc likes to say the the site is what you make it. I agree with him to an extent. I do believe that the site can be improved if those people who talk about crafting the perfect post try it out once in a while (I’m excusing myself because my posts are suckass.) I think MeFi‘s biggest problem is that MeTa‘s constant flow of anger and frustration has made all of the regulars wary of even introducing the slightest change and then being called out by The Unofficial MeTa Den Mothers (you know of whom I speak.) MetaTalk is a nice place to sit and watch all the MeFi cops in a constant cycle of accusation and ridicule. I’m guilty of some of that too, there is a particular member whom my distaste for knows no bounds, but I’m a quiter voice in the mob.
    I’m sure I had a point. If you see one in this, let me know.

  7. I still love MetaFilter with a pain that burns me physically. I speak of it in the real world to people and gauge how long it takes their eyes to glass over.

  8. Mefi rocks my ass. Warts and all, it’s still the most interesting place to be on the web (for me at least). Yeah. Some of the self-rightous Mefi cops can blow moose dong and some of the farkian stuff is a little weird/pedestrian but overall, its a wild strange place to visit and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  9. eyeballkid – I was thinking Matt would thread-moderate. He basically already does this, as he deletes quite a few threads. I don’t see the need for comment moderation, though.
    yhbc – you’re right, a post-per-week limit might be a solution that would fit in better with the history of the site. Definitely less of a shock than a moderation queue (which I was surprised to see at blogroots, but I quite like the implications).

  10. Further discussing the demise

    Stavrosthewunderchicken discusses with others over at emptybottle.org some of the thigns going on at MeFi these days. I will join

  11. Good post, stav. All of the follow-ups were good as well (in a paradoxical sort of way). I have to agree that I like it a lot less than I did a year ago (please please please no more wacky news links? one per week, even?), but it still is better than anything around. The splintering is fine, but I like having one place to go for the discussion, instead of chasing everyone around at their blogs…hey, get back here!
    Anyhow, I am not thrilled, and I wish that those who left MeFi because of what it turned into would come back and help turn it around. I think half the problem is everyone jumping ship and letting it go to shit. No, no one has a moral imperative to post there for hte rest of their lives, but I heartily agree that if you don’t like something, or if you want others to act a certain way (or not a certain way), lead by example.

  12. Interestingly, Matt said this today in this thread :
    MetaFilter’s changed lots of times since I started it, but thankfully not for the worst (or not much worse than optimum). I guess the phrase “always changes” doesn’t necessarily always have to be bad changes. Some unintended changes are good (for the neighborhood analogy, a “changing” neighborhood doesn’t have to be bad, good things come with change many times).

  13. I’ll put my hand up as a self-appointed MeFi Cop and note that I have been trying to improve the site, not just piss and moan about its decline. I think many SAMCs are honestly trying to improve the site, although some (most?) go too far. For myself, my latest post was a pointless and snotty dig at someone in MeTa, so I’m taking a break. Not for good, just until I think I can contribute more signal than noise.

  14. Ya know, I can remember a time when every worthy comment included a link, and oftentimes those that didn’t were asked to defend their positions with one. Back then (and we’re talking two years ago or more), there was much more of an intellectual burden on users. You couldn’t just spout off any opinion, popular or unpopular, because somewhere along the line, some asshole would call you on it. And when they did, you knew you were in trouble.
    That kind of discussion was difficult, but it brought out the best in everyone, I think. The vast majority of posts were not snarkish one-line condemnations of the topic or a participant or even another comment. They were, for the most part, fully thought-out, well-formed ideas. It was difficult to participate, and one could spend hours looking for appropriate links to back up their views and arranging their arguments to be just right.
    But at that time, it felt like you were surrounded by a very intense, very intelligent group of individuals. And everyone was better for it.
    Sadly, it’s simply not worth it to go there for reasoned discourse of any fashion anymore. And that’s what’s most sad to me, as an old-time member.

  15. y’know, everybody gripes & moans about the alleged death of metafilter; yet, whenever I go, I find a half-dozen interesting articles, weird things, and/or discussions. and it’s brought me deeper and deeper into the world of weblogs, and that’s a very happy thing.

  16. I’d be curious, though, to see the reaction to your posting out at metatalk. Are you posting a link to this there?
    Nah – poor etiquette I think, self-linking, even in MetaTalk. There are ‘imminent demise of Metafilter predicted’ threads there with clockwork regularity, anyway, and have been since about a week after Matt opened the site, I think.
    I just wanted to put down my two bits about the whole thing, and hear what some of my friends who frequent the ‘bottle had to say… (and in this I have been richly rewarded – thanks for the feedback, folks!)

  17. …and keep it comin’, if you have anything you’d like to add…

  18. Can you love a website? Not like youd love a person, but in the end a community website is a collection of people and some code, more or less. MeFi has definitely been connected to some of the major changes in my life. I pobably would’ve made them anyway, but MeFi and the folks in it definitely threw in the issues involved into sharp relief. If we don’t like the way things are going it is up to us to change it. It’s not that the format’s anything unique, it’s just that thru accidents of fate we have an exceptional collection of people there who when we’re all in the right mood can create some cool stuff, but as eyeball says I’m an optimist everyman..or a clueless dolt depending on what time of day you catch me.

  19. Dang, spelt it wrong!

  20. To tell the truth, I felt the way you do a couple of months ago. But lately I feel like the quality is improving slightly (if you can manage to ignore some of the bitching, i suppose). But I go through cycles. There are weeks when I spend hours there every day, and then for several weeks I’ll visit only briefly every couple of days.
    But I do agree that the quality could be greatly improved by reducing the number of posts to the front page. I don’t think that there are really any less good (or great) posts than there used to be. But there are definitely more shitty posts than there used to be. maybe somebody should propose increasing the 24 hour posting interval on metatalk.
    also, I wish rodii would come back.

  21. also, I wish rodii would come back.
    amen

  22. I think Mefi’s problem nowadays is that we have a lot of oversensitivity and “please be PC”. But that’s me, and I’m an arse…

  23. I don’t know. I’ve spent a *lot* of time posting to metafilter as constructively, thoughtfully, and respectfully as I possibly could, and finally it simply wasn’t worth the trouble.
    I’m always a little irritated when I read someone say that those who have higher standards for the site need to spend more time interacting in order to set an example and bring the quality up: I did that for 2 1/2 years, and finally gave up. the quality kept going down, not up, no matter how many hours a day I spent on the site.
    in the end I haven’t felt that those efforts had the slightest effect overall–at some point you need to just face reality and spend your time where you *can* hope to make a difference, or at least to have a little fun.

  24. I miss you, Rebecca. I’m just saying.

  25. Me too.
    For better or worse, I’ve declared holy war here.

  26. ..and I do understand what you’re saying, Rebecca, I really do. I just have such a strong emotional attachment to the place (once again I recognize that that is at best a little odd, to non-iNtArwEb people at least) that I find it very hard to let go, no matter how many times during a MetaSession I shake my head and cluck my tongue at the dumbasses that seem to dominate sometimes.

  27. I go to Metafilter a few times per day. I post much less or seldom any longer because of the nasty remarks that often are made in commnets. If a reader does not like a topic, it is “trolling.” Most comments tend quickly to drift off subject and into a pissing match and name calling.
    In sum: a lack of manners makes Metafilter a bummer.

  28. Ah, sigh. Thanks, stav, for picking up on the bit in that Kottke interview that, on reflection, seems to make more and more sense: member memory. If you look at the Noah Grey thread, for instance, you’ve got people who basically have lived through three years of webloggery welcoming back one of their own, busting heads with people who don’t see what the fuss is about. A year ago, that wouldn’t have happened. In a year’s time, the thread wouldn’t be posted. As I said to Matt, a glance at that post (and yes, I still lurk, especially on a slow day at Plastic) seemed to me proof positive that actively ‘retrieving’ MeFi was a futile task. The deflector shields are up; these are polarised times.
    I miss Ezrael.

  29. MeFi has done it before, will do it again. I’m curious, what makes you (anyone really) think MeFi is with asbestos handbaskets. Mr. Cooke is back, Balihai etc. seems less scooby-doo politics, more tech. I do miss the wit though. good take stavs.

  30. I haven’t been struck with any sort of visceral “now MeFi is bad” vibe. The only time I really did was in the all-11/9, news-crazy months last Fall. What I have seen, recently, is more posters who have devolved into disrespectful bores. People who previously followed site decorum are more likely to get down, dirty and snarky, and they don’t respond at all (read: whatsoever) to in-thread callouts or MeTa whingeing. This is really hard to fight, short of Matt yelling at them (which is unfeasible). The solution is likely not going to be direct action, but rather, prevention. As has been said, everyone is too familiar with each other, too aware of others’ buttons, too secure in their relationships (and thus unlikely to change them). We need new members.
    And while I mourn the enlightened discussion of people such as you, Nick, or rebeccablood, or rodii, the “return” of ljr and aaron in recent months showed that the hallowed Greats aren’t necessarily better than the (unreformed) rivieras or Postroads. Although we miss those we loved to read, it’s unfair to look to them to bring back a lost spark to MeFi. I miss ’em because they were good to talk/listen to, not because they made MeFi something altogether different and superior.
    The site is not the same as it was. I’m not a blogger per se, and although I read rcb, ftrain (and a couple of others) with alarming regularity, I’m delighted that MeFi isn’t a place dominated by the ideology of the designer-cum-sage blosophere. But this is only because that’s not a community I feel at home in. To go back to the cited Noah Grey thread, last week: While I would have enjoyed some more respect given to Noah’s work as a striving artist, I was pretty glad to see that it wasn’t a great big “welcome back to one of our own!” While it makes oldtimers feel estranged, it makes people like me feel comfortable – the community is its own multifaceted person, not the spin-off of a particular clique (and I mean that in the nicest possible way).
    MeFi needs new members. It needs for commenters to respect those whom they address. It needs high-calibre posts. I can help with two of the three. So I will.

  31. I’m always a little irritated when I read someone say that those who have higher standards for the site need to spend more time interacting in order to set an example and bring the quality up: I did that for 2 1/2 years, and finally gave up. the quality kept going down, not up, no matter how many hours a day I spent on the site.
    I can understand your frustration and your reasons for not wanting to put forth the effort anymore. It is very frustrating when you are one of only a handful doing so; it seems to come down to one of two things though: lead by example or give up. And it is every person’s right to chose what path to follow. I just wish there were more doing what you were doing, and, for what it’s worth, I always appreciated your contributions, so don’t think that it didn’t have any effect at all, even if it was somewhat obscured by the noise.

  32. Stavros, did you list what exactly you will do to return to glorydays? What steps are we to follow? Are you leaving us to decide how we will change our actions in MeFi?

  33. I can’t take the “I miss rodii” comments anymore. Rodii didn’t go away. Rodii is Skot. Skot is rodii. I don’t really think it’s all that big of a secret, considering that he mentioned it right here.

  34. Uh, I’m pretty sure that’s not true, ike, but then I always miss the subtleties, so I could be wrong!
    jackson : I’ve posted a MetaTalk thread in which I’ve promised to modify my behaviour and be conscious how what I say has impact on the quality of community, amongst other things, and invited people to join me (in language that ruffled a few peoples’ feathers) here.

  35. It’s a neverending cycle. Like D mentioned at the very top, it’s too damn hard to keep up with MeFi now. I can’t devote my entire life to it, as it seems to demand. Yet when one of the “new members” posts, like people have been yearning for, the comment is ignored in favor of a bit of a bitchfest. I agree that threads are too easily derailed, and people are ignored. I’m not saying because I’m a “newbie” (even though I’m not) that I should be heard in the chatter, but dammit, if you keep ignoring us the new blood will go away too.
    Sorry, I had to vent somewhere. Stav, you’re one of my favorite posters and when these kinds of threads are started by my favorite posters is when I start to pay attention.

  36. ico, i honestly didn’t know that Skot was rodii. now i’ll tell that evil bastard off! πŸ˜‰

  37. Dammit, ebk, you’re supposed to be on vacation πŸ˜‰
    Anyway, thank you, WonderChicken, for the kind response that I finally got in the tumult you started. I thought it was interesting, though, that much the same type of sentiment was being expressed here as I (thought I) was trying to do there – that is, how do (or can) people without a “history” at a site get heard through the noise that’s created when established members are either chatting together or bitching at each other?
    * here, I chide because I love *
    Remember, to a new user, the site (whatever site, not necessarily MeFi) is tabula rasa – and there is no way anybody can tell the “chatting” from the “bitching”, or, for that matter, from the “knee jerk reaction from seeing the name on the screen”.
    /chide
    For my part, I will keep trying to contribute to MetaFilter’s success. I can do no less (since you incredibly interesting and intelligent sods all sucked me into it in the first place!), but I would really appreciate the continuing participation of at least some of those who made it a success in the first place.

  38. Um, iconomy et al, note the “*joke” in that post of rodii’s…

  39. I was kidding. I guess I should have used an * too πŸ˜‰
    I AM sick of the “I miss rodii” comments though. I wasn’t kidding about that part of it. Although, just to totally contradict myself, I have to admit that I miss rodii also. I loved that guy. And of course, he’s such a maroon that he doesn’t include his email address on his profile.
    Actually, he isn’t a maroon. But he is a schlub and a jerk.

  40. …and he’s on my MeFiSwap list.

  41. So if I click stav’s ‘FORGET THAT I EXIST’ button, can we pretend I never posted that comment and actually knew you were kidding all along?

  42. I knew that you knew that I was kidding! Anyone could see that, Rory πŸ˜‰
    I wonder how many metafilter nicks I have – I’ve counted ico and ike and icono and iconatrix.

  43. Can you love a website? Not like youd love a person…
    Well, I’m the blogfucker, so I’m not so sure about that.

  44. With you all the way, Mr Wonderchicken.
    Into the valley of death …

  45. hmm Mefi is actually letting new ppl sign up again…. may have to try again. πŸ™‚

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