Colonising Force
October 18, 2015 7:52 AM   Subscribe

An influx of Indian users ruffles Quora. Responding to the question “What turns people off about Quora?,” the user David Stewart wrote, in 2013, “The large, and steadily increasing, Indian presence.” The answer has earned him over 3,400 upvotes.

Some threads have asked whether Quora is experiencing a “white flight”—an exodus of its Caucasian users— and if Indians have “killed Quora.” Indian users have been called, among other things, “unbelievably pretentious” and “narcissistic.” Muth saw these reactions as evidence of what he calls the “Baywatchnormativism” of the internet—the misconception that online communities should conform to American cultural norms even as the internet becomes increasingly international.
posted by splitpeasoup (153 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can we just repost that article any time someone complains about the moderation in Ask MetaFilter?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:01 AM on October 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


The Quora execs should be a little concerned about long term prospects, take Okut an excellent social networking site that started as a google side project looked like it could be the next myspace/facebook but was assimilated by/transformed into a Brazilian only site. Then just dropped. I've got no idea how Quora is "monitized" or planned to monitize but will that plan work for users outside "the west"? We have a similar issue here...
posted by sammyo at 8:03 AM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Quora is so obnoxious. So many of the popular questions are just variations of "what's it like to be really rich????"
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:03 AM on October 18, 2015 [24 favorites]


Quora is what Ask Metafilter would be if most of the questions were auto generated and most of the answers were from 17 year old geeks.
posted by miyabo at 8:06 AM on October 18, 2015 [23 favorites]


Actually Orkut was not Brazilian only - it was dominated by both Brazilians and Indians. Source: I was on it during this period. Then Indians abandoned it after Facebook opened its doors to non-college students. But I think if anything the influx of Indians and Brazilians delayed the demise of Orkut - I don't think it ever caught on in the same way in the US.
posted by peacheater at 8:11 AM on October 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Muth saw these reactions as evidence of what he calls the “Baywatchnormativism” of the internet—the misconception that online communities should conform to American cultural norms even as the internet becomes increasingly international.

This is interesting. As an American, who lives in America and travels outside the U.S only every five years or so, I really have no idea how the US really relates to the rest of the world or it to us, honestly. I listen to some BBC podcasts in which the topic never comes up. I read the Economist, which does not really talk about those sorts of cultural questions. And I hear anecdotally about thing like Hollywood only making shitty things blow up movies because they can play them all over the world with little effort in adapting them for foreign audiences.

But the perspective of how irrelevant your average American opinion really is? That's a thing no-one gets (and I'm sure not just an American failing). The fish don't know the water is wet, after all.

I think it's not surprising that any group of users might feel alienated when surrounded by unfamiliar cultural markers in a place they assumed would be dominated by familiar ones. What's surprising to me is that the Internet businesses, who are all about exploiting whatever market they can attract, would be frightened off by non-US-users.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:20 AM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry, how would that article apply to moderation of AskMe?

Because Quora's problem is clearly not Indian users. Its problem is insufficiently effective moderation (and racists blaming the failures of the site on the ethnicity of its users).
posted by howfar at 8:21 AM on October 18, 2015 [29 favorites]


It is odd, for this American, to see so much Indian content on Quora. But that's totally my own perception and doesn't make the site bad. The most fascinating part is seeing the wide gamut of answers from pro Indian viewpoints. Many have understand pride and love of their country and see it as upcoming world power.

So basically it's like wonderfully polite and charming American rednecks who are very educated and have better food.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:21 AM on October 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


If things continue at the current rate the majority of Quora users will be Indian by this time next year. Soon after which it might reach a critical tipping point in which non-Indians start to become discouraged by the majority Indian focus and start to leave at the same rate that new Indians sign up.

How frightful! Imagine a world where a website might be populated by a non-White majority. Won't someone think of the privileged?
posted by billiebee at 8:22 AM on October 18, 2015 [73 favorites]


I quit the site because of all the materially focused questions about how to get rich, what's it like to be rich, etc. I thought it was starting to affect my outlook on life and my happiness, quite honestly.
I simultaneously noticed the Indian thing happening, but that's not why I left.
posted by keep_evolving at 8:24 AM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I quit the site because of all the materially focused questions about how to get rich, what's it like to be rich, etc.

Really? I've never, ever noticed that, but only subscribe to questions related to various space topics. Which can get amusing when some rabidly pro-Indian people start demanding to know why India isn't part of the ISS and their plans to land on the Moon by 2020. Mind you, they haven't launched a single astronaut, though they're probably the next country to do so.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:26 AM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you're horrified that your Q&A site has non-whites on it, it's time to review your own personal mission statement a few times. I'm just saying.

Kinda reminds me of something.
posted by delfin at 8:27 AM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Isn't Quora impossible to use without logging in? There is zero chance that a question and answer site could produce sane responses if it makes itself unusable to the general not-logged-in public even for reading.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:27 AM on October 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


Not a Quora user. After reading the linked comment, I perused some of the topics. Many of the questions seemed like desperate conversation-starters at a failing dinner party. That's enough to keep me from visiting regularly.

I find that many of my friends and co-workers with a South Asian background are friendly, open and gregarious. Guess what? there are rather alot of them and they are coming online. India is poised to surge in global importance.

Suits me fine. They invented Indian food. For this alone my gratitude to the people of India is eternal.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:30 AM on October 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


@BrandonBlatcher I didn't ever really subscribe to any particular area of the site, so I just got the generic email with questions. I actually didn't realize you could moderate your own content!
posted by keep_evolving at 8:30 AM on October 18, 2015


I guess I just follow the "wrong" topics on the site, since I focus mostly on military and Windows 10 issues, and haven't seen a huge number of Indian users there. But occasionally my feed does get these questions about "what's it like to be and just ignore them.

I actually don't remember ever signing up for Quora. I started receiving summaries in my inbox one day. For once it was OK, and I didn't mind...

posted by lhauser at 8:33 AM on October 18, 2015


Huh, a few of the billion people in India are using a popular English-language website? Well, will wonders never cease.
posted by thetortoise at 8:35 AM on October 18, 2015 [24 favorites]


DOWNLOAD THE APP OR SIGN IN WITH UR FACEBOOK!!

nope. no thanks. buh-bye.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:38 AM on October 18, 2015 [24 favorites]


Isn't Quora impossible to use without logging in?

More or less, yes. If you visit Quora.com you can't get past the landing page without logging in. You can read individual answers without being logged-in, but trying to do anything beyond this launches an un-dismissable login dialog.
posted by alby at 8:48 AM on October 18, 2015


Add ?=1 to the end of a URL and you can bypass the Quora-stalk-me junk login dialogue.

Not my favorite UX, so I don't contribute to their website.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:58 AM on October 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


I left Quora when it had an obnoxious Silicon Valley slant, so this sounds like a huge improvement.
posted by Wemmick at 9:00 AM on October 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


Heh, I note that none of the people complaining about the site beginning to have an Indian slant objected when it had a US/Silicon Valley slant.

It's ok if the site caters to a particular interest group possibly to the exclusion of others as long as the catered to group is theirs.

Is it racism or ethnocentrism or NIMBYism, or just being a gru,p who hates change or all of the above? Either way it makes the complainers look like asses. Though the internalized racism from some of the Indian users is also depressing.
posted by sotonohito at 9:03 AM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I must have subscribed to Quora at some point in the past and still get occasional emails. When I follow links on my iPad, I get blank pages and links that don't work. It just seems very dysfunctional. I don't really need an extra reason to be grateful for AskMeFi, but it's just another reminder.
posted by idb at 9:12 AM on October 18, 2015


Many of the questions seemed like desperate conversation-starters at a failing dinner party.

Or worse. What got me visiting less and less are the never-ending questions along the lines of, "Is Obama the worst president ever?" or "Who should a conservative hate more, President Obama or Hillary Clinton?"

I also tired of the many questions about how to get rich quickly, followed by what seem to be students asking homework questions, like "How many members are in the US Senate?"

Tedious stuff.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 9:16 AM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh, a few of the billion people in India are using a popular English-language website? Well, will wonders never cease.

It's ok if the site caters to a particular interest group possibly to the exclusion of others as long as the catered to group is theirs.


I wrote this in Dec 2007 in response to a BBC piece by Michael Geist on the next billion online, and I don't feel like linking to my-formerly-residing-in-SFO-yet-carrying-Indian-passport-while-frequenting-popular-websites-with-obvious-slants self . Because I wrote it, I'm not italicizing or blockquoting it. Nothing in the text has been changed since it was written 8 years ago, only some bolding added for readability. I'd never dream of using the word cyberspace again, unironically, for instance ;p:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Imho, we’re in a transitional phase here when it comes to this next generation world wide web of humanity, on many levels, as the ways and means of access online adapts and reshapes itself to the shifts taking place globally –

1. Technological – from PC boxes to handheld devices – the other billion will demonstrably be requiring entirely different solutions and platforms for access due to environmental, infrastructural and other conditions

2. Social – from ‘people like us’ to ‘whole wide world’
– from those who were computer literate, educated and had resources to buy a computer and connection to virtually anyone who can make a phone call

3. Economic – from ‘models for consumption’ to ‘models for production’
– business models are already changing as the original models based on consumption of infotainment and bandwidth are better suited for those with purchasing power, its a given that the next billion’s patterns of purchase will differ significantly from the first billion’s.

I think that while Prof. Geist’s points on the impact on the internet are valid and important, they relate in many ways on the Internet as we perceive it now, primarily designed for access through big screen monitors and based on current accessibility. They are extremely relevant right now during this transitional phase but I can’t help but wonder what will happen in the future.

The majority of the next billion already own mobile phones and many are going online, both to the regular Internet as well as many “designed for mobile” sites, conducting many of the activities that we take for granted via the internet such as shopping or social networking or searching through other means such as SMS or voice or some combinations thereof. They are already shaping a cyberspace to their needs, albeit in small and disconnected ways as yet. But enough dots exist to show some interesting directions that this could take.

Will there be a seperate but synchronous web that will arise that will be designed to be as easy to access as this one but within the limitations or conditions of wireless technology and the cellphone? So much of it is already beginning to happen – remittence sending, social networking, banking, blogging and picture uploading – that one can’t help but muse on this direction.

Will these two webs meet in the future? Or will we all meld into some new way that is accessible to us all regardless of the size of the screen or the box we use to enter cyberspace? However it happens, the changes have already begun, even if the next billion aren’t as yet ‘online’ on the same space we are and where we conceive cyberspace to be.

We just can’t ‘see’ it yet because its in the process of happening right now but the global village information network has begun to change in a way that it hasn’t for millenia. Today, you don’t have to be literate, educated, formally employed or even have a home address anymore to access information via technology from the worldwideweb. Now that is the real beginning towards a bridge across the so called divide. And that is what will really influence the changes going forward as much as anything else such as geography, language, technology or culture. If information is power, then access will be worldchanging.
posted by infini at 9:19 AM on October 18, 2015 [30 favorites]


The days of a US-as-the-default-culture for the English-speaking web are over. We run a professional website with an international focus and our user base is definitely shifting towards Asian and African countries with large populations that have English as one of their official languages. We have almost as many Indian visitors as US ones and the 3rd and 4th countries are Kenya and Philippines. Indonesia and Nigeria are also in our top 10.
posted by elgilito at 9:22 AM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


"In my recent experience this has turned two of my friends away from Quora."

Gasp! That many.

India and China are the future. We need to get used to this.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:24 AM on October 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


What turns people off about Quora?

A: The large, and steadily increasing, Indian presence. (Because Indians aren't people. Well, they're not my people.)

Sigh. Same as it ever was. The internet you experience is already 99% eurocentric. You don't even have the equivalent of a day trip to Japantown in your web surfing. We could all do with a little cultural unfamiliarity.
posted by naju at 9:26 AM on October 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


Suits me fine. They invented Indian food.

Or, as they like to call it, food.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:27 AM on October 18, 2015 [47 favorites]


My own impression of Quora was it was trying to be better than Yahoo answers and failing.
posted by RobotHero at 9:30 AM on October 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Especially because "what turns people off about Quora" has a very obvious answer that has nothing to do with its growing Indian population.

I don't use Quora because the "you must sign in to read this" is bullshit.
posted by nat at 9:32 AM on October 18, 2015 [41 favorites]


A neighbor recommended Quora to me a few months ago.

I tried looking up a few dozen questions that I check on often to see what's new.

Quora didn't have answers matching what I figure out for myself by reading a bit in Scholar.
Lots of "enthusiast" opinions posing as definitive answers.
Lots of answers that might have been correct a few years ago.

Quora seems to have a self-esteem problem developing.
Far too much of it.

Remember when AOL started funneling people onto the Internet?

"Eternal September" happens each time some profit center decides they can benefit from connecting a new crowd at a fraction of a penny a head, and trusts the existing users to sort them out.

My, of course, opinion, solely, YMMV, etc.
posted by hank at 9:37 AM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I get the Quora emails highlighting popular questions, and most of them are stuff like "How do I turn myself from a wantrepreneur into a CEOwner?" and "How can I apply the core tenets of Six Sigma to my marriage?" Very different userbase from the likes of Metafilter. I nope out because of the Silicon Valley bro-ness of the place. The Indian presence is undetectable from what Quora itself is highlighting.
posted by naju at 9:38 AM on October 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I joined Quora when it launched and closed my account a year later when they changed their terms of service to claim full rights over your content. (That wasn't the end to the sleaze, either: for awhile, they engaged in search-engine cloaking where you'd see results in Google but be forced to login to view what had been shown. They've toned it down, presumably to avoid being blocked by Google for violating the rules against that.)

Every so often, I still see a link there and it's been very consistent over the years: mostly white, mostly male, mostly tech-industry people trying to sound authoritative, quite reminiscent of those scammy business books & conferences trying to sell you the secrets of success, which is totally not having the right parents, and the service is marketed towards that insecurity about missing out.

I strongly suspect most of the outrage comes from people who believe that they're part of that elite success network and don't appreciate the Indians’ pointing out the nude emperor.
posted by adamsc at 9:39 AM on October 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


I don't know, is is necessarily racist to not want to read about things that don't interest you? If Metafilter was mostly about politicians and pop culture I'd never heard of, and AskMe was mostly questions I couldn't answer because I didn't have the same cultural context, I'd probably stop reading it, honestly. It wouldn't matter if it was Dutch politics or Indian, if either started overwhelming the site it would become less meaningful to me. (I am not suggesting that any topics should be restricted, in fact I've specifically encouraged more diversity.)
posted by desjardins at 9:43 AM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


OK, I'm confused by this post. The post uses phrases like "ruffles Quora" "turns people off" and "white flight". I can't see the threads referenced in the post's extended text, so while there may be some bad feeling there, it's not something I can read about directly.

The two links in the top of the post talk about:

- discussions of cultural stereotypes and geographically-specific topics that the vast majority of non-Indians have no business discussing;

- one guy's friends seeing that kind of content and not finding more relevant-to-them content, so deciding not to continue using the site -- not out of any kind of emotional response, but (at least as described, and hypothetically) out of a _lack_ of connection to the discussions they happened to find;

- (from the main article)- 'Quora is taking its burgeoning Indian population seriously, he said, and is looking to fill an “India Country Manager” position to help “drive regional growth.”';


Could someone who is on Quora fill me in on the "ruffling" part of all this?
posted by amtho at 9:44 AM on October 18, 2015


Damn Indians, always ready to point out the nude emperors.

Btw, it should be loudly noted that we've had our circling around this discussion here (on the grey) and dealt with it for the most part, far better, due to moderation & higher bar for content.
posted by infini at 9:45 AM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


My own impression of Quora was it was trying to be better than Yahoo answers and failing.

I think that they're better, but that's setting the bar so low that you'd have to dig for a while to find it. I made the mistake of signing up once to proffer my own answer to a question that I don't even remember any more, and got "updates" for months featuring answers from people who had absolutely nothing interesting to say about the subject. It was almost as irritating as getting spammed by LinkedIn because someone that I was barely acquainted with had apparently offered up the email addresses of everyone they'd ever emailed to the LinkedIn god.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:46 AM on October 18, 2015


What turns me off about Quora is its utter uselessness. Meanwhile Stack Overflow seems to have it all figured out: focused Q&A, for topics where it makes sense, moderation, and a reasonable voting system. And you don't have to log in.
posted by mubba at 9:48 AM on October 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


"How can I apply the core tenets of Six Sigma to my marriage?"

Step 1: get a box.
posted by escabeche at 9:50 AM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Indian users have been called, among other things, “unbelievably pretentious” and “narcissistic.”

When Quora ppl are calling you “unbelievably pretentious” and “narcissistic,” you're really setting the standard. I have my Quora account set up to show me the most vainglorious crap that the site can produce and then post inflammatory answers to those questions. It's probably the least productive hobby I have.
posted by dudemanlives at 9:53 AM on October 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


A lot of Metafilter is about things that aren't that interesting to me, and I really don't see it as a problem. I read what's interesting to me and skip what isn't. But it sounds like there's something deeper at stake, which has to do with different styles of engaging with the same content. You can see that in the accusations that Indian users are pretentious or narcissistic or, less pejoratively, in Raghu Venkataraman's take on it:
A few years ago, he told me, most of Quora’s users saw it as a serious source of knowledge, and demanded the same professionalism and attention to grammatical detail here as, say, on Wikipedia. Many Indian users, Venkataraman said, view Quora as more of a social network, where slang, exaggeration and internet memes are all appropriate.
And I don't think it's necessarily unreasonable to be irked at that kind of radical change in site culture. Neither old Quora nor new Quora seem like anything I would want to read, but I can understand why older users, regardless of nationality, might be irked by people who wanted to make it into jokey chatfilter fun-times.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:53 AM on October 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also, after I wrote the above, I decided to check out the Quora response that's the second link in the FPP and found it less interesting (the second sentence begins "I mean no disrespect to our Indian friends"; mmm-hmm) than what Quora tells me are "Top Stories from [My] Feed": "Why are the eggs in an Egg McMuffin so good?", "What are the best-kept secrets of great programmers?", and "How can I lose 5kg in two months?" Trust me, it's not an influx of people from another ethnic group asking questions in a cultural context not my own that's keeping me away.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:54 AM on October 18, 2015


infini: yeah, I probably should have worded that better to make it clear that it wasn't a conscious effort by anyone but simply being present to call into question the belief that it's Very Successful People Talking About Serious Business.
posted by adamsc at 9:55 AM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I only recently paid attention to Quora and actually signed up. Just in the last 6 months or so.

This article made me giggle because one of the reasons I signed up was because I noticed that it did seem to have a more visibly diverse group of users and yes Indian, though I never dinged on Indian as the growing group.
I was all oh this is sorta cool, topics I'm interested in and people from all over the world answering, not just the same old, same old North American, mostly white people default, that is so common.

I'd like to think that I'm not the only white/NA person around who would do the opposite of what this article is talking about. Come on we can't be that rare.
posted by Jalliah at 9:55 AM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of Livejournal. The tides didn't turn on Livejournal because the userbase became flooded with Russians, but rather because the site's administration became flooded with idiots.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 AM on October 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


If... AskMe was mostly questions I couldn't answer because I didn't have the same cultural context, I'd probably stop reading it, honestly.

This is strange to me, because I already can't answer most of the questions on AskMe. Some I have no clue about, and some may as well be written in a foreign language. Most likely I move on to the next question. I might find a handful of questions I find really interesting and camp out on (yay Add to Activity) but yeah, most questions aren't written for me and I have no interest in them - no biggie. I would think Quora and any similar site works the same?
posted by naju at 9:58 AM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


jeffburdges: "Isn't Quora impossible to use without logging in? There is zero chance that a question and answer site could produce sane responses if it makes itself unusable to the general not-logged-in public even for reading."

Yep. Every once and a while Quora comes up as something I might be interested in. I remember that I've thought that before but can't remember why I don't use it. And then I go there and am reminded that you can't even read without running through their registration process and I just close the tab.
posted by Mitheral at 10:14 AM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile Stack Overflow seems to have it all figured out: focused Q&A, for topics where it makes sense, moderation, and a reasonable voting system.

QFT. Quora's biggest threat is the StackExchange system, where they have auto-moderation and setting reasonable bars for posting figured out. Stack Overflow was mostly a response to the terrible programming sites which preceded it (such as Experts Exchange), which did pretty much everything wrong: hiding answers to non-paid users with easily bypassable javascript, letting in lots of HELP HOMEWORK questions, and allowing a lot of answers and questions from people with questionable English skills.

Having been through several community die-offs, I think swarms of badly written ESL homework questions do the most to kill any site/group. If there is no aggressive moderation for "must make sense" and "not homework" the dumbest and least thoughtful posters will post every single assignment hoping for some internet angel to get them an A+. Lazy students are obviously universal, but India has the largest number of students that can read English well enough to post.

If Quora is having a problem with well written posts that ask reasonable questions, but culturally aren't of interest, then fork the site, redirect all the Indian users to the new site, and let the users determine what they want to see answered. Likely this is some combination of:
(1) community managers cost money
(2) we don't like hiring humans because we are so damn smart nobody will ever game our system (see: Google)
(3) our advertising department has no idea how to convert Indians into ad dollars
(4) the VCs don't give a shit about that market
posted by benzenedream at 10:17 AM on October 18, 2015 [16 favorites]


Mod note: Several comments deleted. Debate about MetaFilter doesn't belong on the blue.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:19 AM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't mind if the forum turns them into us. That seems only proper. But I don't like this trend I'm seeing, turning us into them. That's just not right. Besides, if I wanted to be rich I'd invent something.

More moderators and sub-headings will take care of all this without disturbing anybody's pet paradigms too much.
posted by mule98J at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


1. I didn't realize that Quora still existed. Huh.

2. Baywatchnormativism is obviously a real thing (we've argued about it in MeTa fairly often), but that word is horrible, and the person who coined it should be banned from the internet for 5 years to think about what he's done.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:30 AM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Meanwhile Stack Overflow seems to have it all figured out: focused Q&A, for topics where it makes sense, moderation, and a reasonable voting system.

AskMe just makes do with the Internet's best userbase & mods.
posted by scalefree at 10:30 AM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The internet you experience is already 99% eurocentric.

...is this based off some definition of 'europe' that includes the US? Because to this non-British European, the web seems intensely US-centric overall, with small nods to Britain (England, specifically) and very occasionally Australia.
posted by Dysk at 10:44 AM on October 18, 2015 [20 favorites]


There are 135 million Indians who speak English. That's almost half the population of the United States.

I assume the reason every web forum doesn't have a sizable Indian commenting population is simply because we're too irritating for them. But nobody ever talks about brown flight. Nobody ever worries that maybe a site is too dominated by noisy Americans and therefore cannot effectively monetize the massive English-speaking Indian population.
posted by maxsparber at 10:51 AM on October 18, 2015 [38 favorites]


Huh. Well, this thread made me learn about U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923).
That's something.
posted by hank at 10:52 AM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I find the rules lawyering and drawbridge lowering on questions deemed too.......well, chatty....on the Stack Overflow site to be enraging, but I will forgive them A LOT for making me not have to look through Experts Exchange results any more, ever.
posted by thelonius at 10:52 AM on October 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


I follow Quora, and I do think that this backlash is racist. Considering that the large proportion of the website, which is focused on self-help style, "make your rich" Silicon Valley entrepeneurs and tech people, is being weirded out by the Indian influx, aka who contain a large amount of the users that upvote and ask those people questions.

I say this because growing up in the Silicon Valley, where there is a distinct racial/language/gender divide in the tech industry in terms of who is upper management and who isn't, and what is meant to be aspirational, and I think it's really weird. Silicon Valley records a very white history, which is extremely narcissistic and egocentric, to the exclusion of many Indian, Chinese, and POC workers that work there, in both the factories and in the cubicles and management. If people from other subcontinents want to participate in an English-speaking forum, have a really good facility of English, and can do it, well why not? When that same population also aspires to participate in that sphere, but on their own terms, I think it can only be welcomed for variation. Of course, the dominant power holding group would feel threatened.
posted by yueliang at 10:53 AM on October 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


Maybe that's why there's the rise of the balloon powered satbeamed gated garden for the throngs who're monetizable eyeballs but not ppl like "us" whoever "we" the ppl may be...
posted by infini at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2015


I don't know, is is necessarily racist to not want to read about things that don't interest you?

I don't think so, but, when the question is “What turns people off about Quora?,” and the answer is "Indians," I think racism is a reasonable assumption. This also answers the 'the problem is really a huge influx of people who want to use the site as a social networking arena" dodge -- if that was the perceived problem, surely that would be the problem identified.

The correct response to being puzzled by crores posts about Bollywood actors, actresses, etc that you don't get is to watch more Bollywood films. That stuff is amazing, like pure cinematic candy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:01 AM on October 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


I can understand why older users, regardless of nationality, might be irked by people who wanted to make it into jokey chatfilter fun-times.

So why aren't they upvoting an answer that discusses that phenomenon, rather than one that frets about Indian people talking about things that are relevant to them and says that users will be "discouraged by the majority Indian focus"?
posted by howfar at 11:05 AM on October 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it's hard for young, white, affluent American males living in the SF Bay Area to understand that their worldview isn't the norm. I think most of them would deny they even think that, since they look around at their co-workers and friends from other cultures and genders, and assume this makes them neutral and open-minded, and think of themselves as average, centrist, "normal". They don't realize these others all made themselves over into white American males in order to fit in and be successful.

Even in SF, it isn't hard to see that Hispanic and Asian cultures dominate some arenas outside of the tech/Internet purview, and are effectively invisible to it.

I say all this as an old, white, affluent American male, working in tech, who realizes how tiny our part of the real world actually is.
posted by panglos at 11:10 AM on October 18, 2015 [30 favorites]


Huh. Well, this thread made me learn about U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923).
That's something.


Wow, the Wikipedia page for that case is a super depressing read from pretty much all sides.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because to this non-British European, the web seems intensely US-centric overall, with small nods to Britain (England, specifically) and very occasionally Australia.

Five-Eye-centric? Anglosphere?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2015


The internet you experience is already 99% eurocentric.

...is this based off some definition of 'europe' that includes the US?


I agree with your point that the web is very US-centric. My understanding is "Eurocentrism" isn't talking exclusively about Europe as it exists now, but rather about a worldview centered on the importance of European culture and its spread throughout the world, including North America. Wikipedia sez: "Eurocentrism is the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of European culture." I'd wager many Indians writing on Quora have at least some Eurocentrism they've absorbed, and they may be absorbing more of it as they look to Silicon Valley for inspiration and aspiration. The problem of whether and how to amplify non-Eurocentric (including US) viewpoints on the web is an interesting and difficult one.
posted by naju at 11:21 AM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


But it's not the anglosphere, not exactly. There are many countries with English as an official language, and where many people speak no other languages, and the web mostly reflects the US and to a much lesser extent, a few other countries (Britain, Canada, Australia). How often do you see a South African viewpoint or cultural context treated as normative? Or a Jamaican one?
posted by Dysk at 11:26 AM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, they're "degrading the quality" of Quora...



Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Good one! Oh my goodness, I'm laughing so hard I'm crying.

Oh my yes. I LOLed. I most certainly did.
posted by clvrmnky at 11:27 AM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


But it sounds like there's something deeper at stake, which has to do with different styles of engaging with the same content. You can see that in the accusations that Indian users are pretentious or narcissistic or, less pejoratively, in Raghu Venkataraman's take on it:
A few years ago, he told me, most of Quora’s users saw it as a serious source of knowledge, and demanded the same professionalism and attention to grammatical detail here as, say, on Wikipedia. Many Indian users, Venkataraman said, view Quora as more of a social network, where slang, exaggeration and internet memes are all appropriate.

This is Michel de Certeau's "bricolage," happening on the internet:
In contrast to strategy, de Certeau characterizes tactics as the purview of the non-powerful. He understands tactics not as a subset of strategy, but as an adaptation to the environment, which has been created by the strategies of the powerful. The city planning commission may determine what streets there will be, but the local cabbie will figure out how best to navigate the lived reality of those streets. This art of making-do is what de Certeau calls bricolage, a process that often implies cooperation as much as competition.

Strategy, de Certeau recognizes, makes two presumptions: control and an in-group. The inherent contradiction of strategy is that the control is never perfect and the situation upon which the strategy was constructed is always changing, which constantly makes aspects of the strategy obsolescent. The self-segregation of in-groups magnifies these myopic aspects of strategy, because the walls that keep others out also obscure their vision. Strategy becomes dangerously self-referential....

Strategies are undermined by unpredictability. Tactics make an ally of unpredictability.
(Source)

And race, wealth, and ethnocentrism have everything to do with it.
posted by thetortoise at 11:27 AM on October 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


Meanwhile Stack Overflow seems to have it all figured out: focused Q&A, for topics where it makes sense, moderation, and a reasonable voting system.

The Stack Exchange network is interesting here, because they've also seen a lot of "non-western" users coming in and have reacted a little differently. They've done some things really well, like a separate English Language Learners Q&A site where people can ask about the meaning of phrases or how best to express something. But Stack Exchange moderation is done collectively by the more active users of each network site, which means that community norms are decided through actions more than policy. In general, there's a strong culture toward aggressively closing (or sometimes just ignoring) unwanted questions, many of which seem to come from people of different cultures from the predominately American/Western European/AUS/NZ userbase.

Much like on Wikipedia, there's generally a group that take the rules overly seriously and would rather close a question than answer it. People are often told they've asked their question on the "wrong site," with few tools available to help find the right one. These types of questions are often from curious young people looking to better understand the world, though they haven't done any basic web research before asking.

I realize that a quality bar for questions is necessary to avoid being Yahoo Answers, but the way in which these users are so quickly discouraged doesn't sit well with me either.
posted by zachlipton at 12:06 PM on October 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Dysk: "But it's not the anglosphere, not exactly. There are many countries with English as an official language, and where many people speak no other languages, and the web mostly reflects the US and to a much lesser extent, a few other countries (Britain, Canada, Australia). How often do you see a South African viewpoint or cultural context treated as normative? Or a Jamaican one?"

Heck just use same name different units where America is the perpetual odd man out and watch people get riled up. Use an imperial gallon for miles per gallon or a kilometer for 50K when taking about mileage. Or use 35 degrees to describe a warm day.
posted by Mitheral at 12:39 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]




I'm not super sure that this is "racism" per se, though some of it might be, or at least some of the people leaving Quora might be showing off their racist attitudes in the way that they explain why they're leaving the site.

I once stopped using a web forum because it was overrun by Indians, which made it less interesting/useful to me, for specific reasons.

The site was indiamike.com, a forum on the topic of non-Indians traveling to India, often for the first time, though there were also a lot of recent travelers and old hands there weighing in on things and having conversations with people planning trips to India for the first time. And then a funny thing happened. Indians discovered indiamike. At first it was really cool, because you were able to get first hand knowledge of what India is really like, from people who really live in the specific places you were asking about. But as the userbase shifted, the focus of the site shifted. Foreign travelers to India want different things from local Indians. Even foreign travelers and domestic travelers in India are different audiences, let alone all the Indians who arrived at indiamike just for the purpose of generally hanging out and talking about off-topic or very tangentially related stuff.

On the one hand, it seemed natural and good that indiamike would be accepting to Indians who wanted to participate in the forum. But on the other hand, there was suddenly this HUGE signal to noise ratio that non-Indians had to navigate in order to talk about the same stuff we'd always been talking about, the stuff the site was founded to talk about. So eventually, I stopped participating. I'm not sure if the overall focus of the site shifted from foreign travel to India to general India related discussion with a majority Indian userbase. In fact, I'm kind of tempted to hit up old indiamike right now and see how the site has evolved as India has come online.

So I can see Quora being less attractive to non-Indian users if the focus of the site becomes more Indian. If most of the questions on AskMe were about life in India, I'd probably slowly stop participating, as I wouldn't really have anything to contribute. There wouldn't be anything wrong with it. It wouldn't be a downgrade for Metafilter. I'm sure that, personally, I wouldn't frame my departure from Metafilter as "smells like curry" or some racist bullshit.

I don't think you can compare something that is fundamentally a media outlet to something like a segregated neighborhood. Am I racist for not reading El Diario? Am I racist for not joining Weibo, when nobody else I know uses Weibo?

Personally, I'm pretty amazed at the international users of Metafilter who soldier on despite our blatant America-centricness. I don't use any sites that are UK-centric, France-centric, Israel-centric, etc. About the closest I get is clicking on the international Buzzfeed articles that pop up late at night due to time zone and demographic differences. I've never even sought out the non-American internet. So, props to you guys!
posted by Sara C. at 1:12 PM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Quora doesn't seem to have started with a plan for how to create an international space for the free exchange of ideas between cultures; it just got an influx of users and treated them like they were identical to all the existing users. Much like LJ, I'm sure they care about the way that the number of users is going to influence their funding and their bottom line. LJ didn't start adding meaningful ways for users to filter their experience of the site until people were already bailing in droves. I don't fault people from India for wanting to use Quora, of course not. But I will fault a site for caring more about accumulating numbers than about actually keeping the site usable.

I don't think this is a sign of the "international" internet. I think this is a lot of people who would LIKE an international internet, and instead they're getting their choice of websites created by white American men. I'd rather look at fixing that part. American racists are reacting to this with predictably unpleasant racism, but I think the problem exists even without that in the picture at all. People outside the US deserve access to internet communities that not only exist, but have staff who can communicate with them (and can treat, say, their English usage as "localized" instead of "bad", for sites using English as a lingua franca). Sites that have culturally-aware moderation and user experience and, ideally, where the whole point of the exercise is not just to line American pockets. If we try to shove the entire rest of the planet into the same sites that were built for Americans... expecting that to go well is, I think, the real US-centrism. Why does the whole planet need to be using the same ten service providers for everything?
posted by Sequence at 1:23 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Since every thread needs someone to say this (not really): I use the Web heavily every day, and I've never even *heard* of Quora. And in all the times I've ever Googled for information, I don't remember a Quora page coming back in the results, maybe because you have to sign up? I feel like I've missed something ...
posted by freecellwizard at 1:24 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why does the whole planet need to be using the same ten service providers for everything?

One ring to bind them all.
posted by infini at 1:29 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


this is not new. quora has faced similar problems since the start. i wrote this in 2010, when quora was a year old:
I understand that it's hard to combine quality answers with diversity: when this place was exclusive it was small-minded; when it opened up it became a dumb, noisy mess. But I don't agree with the way this has been addressed.
that post doesn't mention it, but it was already clear that indian users were going to be a "problem", because their numbers were increasing and, unlike people from other countries, language couldn't be used to exclude them (i was involved in a running fight with the moderators over spanish language posts for a while).

people here are mocking quora, but the truth is that it is very similar to mefi. both sites rely on social pressure to control content - on the cultivation of a certain culture (and the culture is not that different: what i would call "american university" and what i suspect is particularly east coast; the main difference is this place is more arts to quora's science and engineering).

however, unlike mefi, quora had to grow to keep investors happy. so quora has hit the kind of problems that all communities with large immigrant populations face, while mefi has taken what you might call the japanese route - social constancy at the cost of stagnation.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:36 PM on October 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


So I can see Quora being less attractive to non-Indian users if the focus of the site becomes more Indian.

But surely that is only true if Indians are somehow more likely to engage in off-topic discussions and derails. In the case of your travel site, the distinction between domestic and international travelers is interesting (and possibly complex to handle), but I doubt that Indian users are particularly more likely to derail threads than anyone else.

And, again, maybe it's the framing of the FPP, but, if derails were the main concern, then the answer to "What is wrong with Quora?" would be "derails" not "Indians."
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:08 PM on October 18, 2015


But surely that is only true if Indians are somehow more likely to engage in off-topic discussions and derails.

No?

I mean, imagine you go to AskMe. The whole front page is stuff like "Where should I stop for lunch on a road trip from Mumbai to Surat?", "How are Bollywood dance sequences choreographed?", "Looking for recommendations for a new dabbawalla", "Critique my shaadi.com profile" etc. Obviously those are all great questions for Ask Metafilter. But if you're not Indian, you most likely won't be able to weigh in. And as the Indian userbase grows, a question like, "Is it worthwhile to buy season tickets to my college football team?" or "Where should I go on vacation from Indianapolis with 10 days and $1000?" will probably not be answered, or not answered effectively.

So, yeah, as one userbase grows, another will probably fade away unless there's a lot of common ground. And it wouldn't be down to racism, but just the site becoming less relevant or less useful for some people. Which is obviously fine.

It's completely OK for people to stop using a website that is no longer meeting their needs. It's not racist, in the same way that pulling your kid out of the community pool because a black family showed up would be racist.
posted by Sara C. at 2:19 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


But surely that is only true if Indians are somehow more likely to engage in off-topic discussions and derails.

Answer the following questions in a way that would be appropriate and relevant to people from every country on Earth:

"Here is a list of the ongoing troubles with my relationship with my partner. What should I do?"

"I want to start a business making widgets. Where do I start?"

"I think my neighbor is doing this really obnoxious thing. How do I deal with this?"

"I have two weeks off of work. What should I do with that time?"

There are differences between the US and Canada, or the US and Europe, but most of the people who choose to hang around AskMe have enough shared experience that we're able to do this. And we still sometimes have problems with people who post interpersonal relationship issues where it's hard to balance a parent who is from a different, very traditional culture, say, with more modern needs. But that's here. Posting answers that assume a context of a life similar to your own isn't derailing. It is a problem, though, if those answers aren't actually helpful for the asker. Now, I specifically do not assign any fault for this to the Indian users, I'm just saying: it's going to be a problem. I don't think it's reasonable to expect the users of every site on the internet where people interact like this to post six paragraphs of context and then hope that they get sufficient answers from people who are culturally similar enough.
posted by Sequence at 2:23 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Or use 35 degrees to describe a warm day.

That's a hot day.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:26 PM on October 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Answer the following questions in a way that would be appropriate and relevant to people from every country on Earth:

"Here is a list of the ongoing troubles with my relationship with my partner. What should I do?"


Do just enough compromising so that the cat doesn't look down on you too much for caring about other beings.

"I want to start a business making widgets. Where do I start?"

Don't make widgets, the market is saturated.

"I think my neighbor is doing this really obnoxious thing. How do I deal with this?"

Talk about them behind their back.

"I have two weeks off of work. What should I do with that time?"

Rent a room near the DuFonts Deli on 44th and Bradley. Visit the local sites and then have your meals at DuFonts. Note: Don't use the Hyatt on 50th, they don't give you little bottles of shampoo OR chocolates on your pillow.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:32 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


YMMV here (collective you), but I feel like the question of whether users are personally racist for abandoning a site is much less interesting than how the site addresses the demographic changes, and the broader implications of the social shifts on the internet infini describes upthread. Why look at this from the point of view of the disgruntled Silicon Valley user rather than the Indian user finding new value in the site?
posted by thetortoise at 2:34 PM on October 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


It seems inevitable that racism is a big part of the Indians-on-Quora backlash. But it does also seem that there are aspects of the site that have been changed dramatically by a sudden influx of users with different ideas of and expectations of the site and that yeah, some of that correlates somewhat with the cultural background of the new users. Why shouldn't they have different ideas? Wouldn't it be fantastically racist to expect Indian culture to be indistinguishable from Euro-American culture? It would. Because it's not, of course. So is a person necessarily obligated to feel just as fond of Quora after this different set of norms, expectations, ideas, etc. makes it mark on it as before? Quite possibly, but not necessarily. If a person's favorite Sunday brunch buffet starts being frequented heavily by Indians and the person stops going back strictly because they don't want to be around Indians, yes, that is definitely racist. BUT, if the food at the buffet follows the demographics shift and starts tilting toward Indian cuisine, are isn't it understandable if they'd rather eat somewhere that didn't replace the biscuits and gravy they were coming for with Indian food?

(NOTE: someone is going to quote that first paragraph without quoting the subsequent one, and I just want to note right now how hard that sucks.)

Even this will only get you so far, though. I don't know how a person can comfortably come up with even a "I didn't like the direction the site took" complaint that doesn't beg the question, "OK, privileged person, how about you try being the minority for once and see if you learn something?" Because the very least that can be said about this ostensibly different version of the site is that people who were interested enough in the things you like to join your community added some of the things they like. So maybe that's worth trying?

I mean, damn, okay, the biscuits and gravy are gone but the other people who eat here swear the curry is good, so maybe try some, okay?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:36 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Personally, I would love to see the type of general questions Sequence suggested answered from a broader perspective. Sometimes I feel like Metafilter itself has too specific a site culture, which results in a bit of an echo chamber.

Also, why should we assume that an answer to a question like this requires shared culture? I always sort of cringe when people get stuck on cultural differences in human relations questions. For one thing, just because your mother in law is Korean doesn't mean that the issues stem from your mother in law's Koreanness, or that a non-Korean or someone without a Korean mother in law can't weigh in. For another thing, let askers process answers in whatever way works for them. Maybe that culturally jarring answer causes them to consider things from a different angle, which helps them arrive at a solution?

In an ideal world, sites like Quora and Metafilter would be basically a mini UN, with people from all types of backgrounds weighing in as appropriate. But, again, I don't know how you can enforce this, and I don't think using "racism" based shaming is helpful at all.
posted by Sara C. at 2:39 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


There is definitely a case to be made that this isn't a question of racism, but just another in a long line of examples of "our community site without sufficient moderation turned into a thing that wasn't expected!"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:44 PM on October 18, 2015


See, I find the "thing we didn't want!" angle to be much more interesting, here, than the racism angle.

For one thing, since I gather that Quora is a for-profit Internet Product™, is this even a case of the site becoming a thing somebody didn't want? A social media focused site populated with more users, meeting ever higher engagement targets, etc. is a success regardless of the race of the userbase. This is like in the 90s when rappers started wearing a lot of Tommy Hilfiger. Did Tommy start as a clothing company for the hip hop community? No. But their stock was certainly a lot higher when they were a status symbol within that audience than it is now, when Tommy Hilfiger has no particular cultural association.

The only people who seem particularly "ruffled" at the surge in Indian users of Quora are frustrated users who don't like Indians. Boo fucking hoo. (I would presume that people who left the site for other reasons, even shifting-userbase adjacent ones, aren't couching it in such oppositional or racist terms.)
posted by Sara C. at 2:53 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'm pretty amazed at the international users of Metafilter who soldier on despite our blatant America-centricness.

1. Non-american users make plenty of non-american posts. And you can always choose not to read FPPs that are too America-centric.

2. YMMV, but it seems to me that if English speaking non-American users eschewed America-centric sites or America-centric pop culture for that matter, we might as well abandon the internet entirely and become hermits. It's incredibly pervasive.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:00 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is Facebook still doing that facebook-only-internet crap in India? Is it maybe facebook-for-login but now unrestricted? If so, maybe we're just seeing a bunch of Indian users who get their internet through facebook and thus login automatically to many sites using facebook-connect? Those Indian would not hate Quora with the passion of us westerners simply because they were never notified that using Quora shared their identity with Quora while we all saw this nasty login-through-facebook screen?
posted by jeffburdges at 3:02 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


YMMV, but it seems to me that if English speaking non-American users eschewed America-centric sites or America-centric pop culture for that matter, we might as well abandon the internet entirely and become hermits. It's incredibly pervasive.

yet, ironically, if even one of those lesser known sites accidentally gets a little more diverse... look out, here's an entire thread on the topic.

maybe the ICANN has the right idea.
posted by infini at 3:05 PM on October 18, 2015


jeffburdges... through twitter, I've been getting a peek at a minuscule minority coming online from the African continent... utterly fascinating. When you use apps to access "places" and "spaces" you might never know the interwebz we grew up on.
posted by infini at 3:07 PM on October 18, 2015


I left Quora when it had an obnoxious Silicon Valley slant, so this sounds like a huge improvement.

The Indian people on Quora also seem to focus a lot on SV (or at least tech/business) topics. Of course as someone who is actually part of "Silicon Valley" this is entirely normal.
posted by atoxyl at 3:20 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


And some day, when y'all are ready for it, I'll share what they (those coming online from Africa) think of the current mainstream tenor of this shared virtual space collapsing context right into McLuhan's version of a singularity.
posted by infini at 3:21 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I assume the reason every web forum doesn't have a sizable Indian commenting population is simply because we're too irritating for them. But nobody ever talks about brown flight.

Quora's design has some features that cater to narsicism, and as a consequence highlight heterogeneity of the population. If you look at the "too many Indians" quora answer, the first thing you see after the (anonymous) question is "David's Answer" followed by a lot of information about David, his qualifications, and who likes him, and what their qualifications are. The side bar invites us to join nearly 10 thousand people in following David and offers us MORE FROM DAVID. You can see how that sort of feedback can build a kind of cult of personality. And if your name happens to be Satya Nadella, Jerry Yang, Divya Nag or Ellen Pao, that your name reflects a different culture and heritage than the viewer, that information is front and foremost.

In contrast, I can't even figure out who asked the question.
posted by pwnguin at 3:21 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


BUT, if the food at the buffet follows the demographics shift and starts tilting toward Indian cuisine, are isn't it understandable if they'd rather eat somewhere that didn't replace the biscuits and gravy they were coming for with Indian food?

Except this is not what is happening. Rather, the buffet now offers both saag paneer and biscuits and gravy, and anyone can try either or both. But the biscuits and gravy crowd are upset that they can even see the saag paneer, even though they don't have to eat it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:25 PM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I pretty much entirely agree, His thoughts, as could probably be grokked from the paragraph following the one you quoted. Well, not directly following it. First, I expressed in small text my complete and total confidence that any quotes would come only from that half of what I said.

Eh well. I do agree.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:40 PM on October 18, 2015


I know it's a metaphor but if anybody has a lead on a buffet where I can get both good biscuits & gravy and good Indian food near Chicago, my contact information is in my profile.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:47 PM on October 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


I do get it. India is one of few countries that speaks English and is also really, really, really different than the US. I'm often having a good lunch break with Indian coworkers until they say something really racist/sexist/homophobic/otherwise completely unacceptable in US culture today and things peter out. I probably offend them just as much. (I've had a lot fewer misunderstandings with people from China, despite the language barrier -- not sure why.) Honestly I'm not sure people from the US and India should attempt to communicate, online or otherwise, without taking a mini training course in the others culture.
posted by miyabo at 3:57 PM on October 18, 2015


yet, ironically, if even one of those lesser known sites accidentally gets a little more diverse... look out, here's an entire thread on the topic.

maybe the ICANN has the right idea.
Favourited for the first sentence, de-favourited for the second ;).
posted by Pinback at 4:03 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I will make some calls, MCMikeNamara. I do know a place where we can get biscuits and gravy with shawarma, burek, and apricot chicken. So that is a real thing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:06 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I pretty much entirely agree, His thoughts, as could probably be grokked from the paragraph following the one you quoted. Well, not directly following it. First, I expressed in small text my complete and total confidence that any quotes would come only from that half of what I said.

Yes, I know. But you also said "I mean, damn, okay, the biscuits and gravy are gone but the other people who eat here swear the curry is good, so maybe try some, okay?"

But the biscuits and gravy aren't gone at all. They're still there, but there's a whole bunch of other stuff also.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:12 PM on October 18, 2015


OK, if you wish: not only do think I think people should be open-minded in the specific situation I mentioned, but they should also do so in milder situations, where doing so is even easier.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:19 PM on October 18, 2015


Yeah, we don't actually disagree, DirtyOldTown. I just really like saag paneer.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:21 PM on October 18, 2015


I hear you on that.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:21 PM on October 18, 2015


I remember when MetaFilter was mostly Australians, and then the Americans showed up with their incomprehensible, belligerent politics and their unhealthy obsession with media culture. I do like American food though.
posted by um at 4:33 PM on October 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


sammyo: "The Quora execs should be a little concerned about long term prospects, take Okut an excellent social networking site that started as a google side project looked like it could be the next myspace/facebook but was assimilated by/transformed into a Brazilian only site. Then just dropped. I've got no idea how Quora is "monitized" or planned to monitize but will that plan work for users outside "the west"? We have a similar issue here..."

It probably would have worked better if people such as myself actually ever got invites.
posted by Samizdata at 4:33 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


escabeche: ""How can I apply the core tenets of Six Sigma to my marriage?"

Step 1: get a box.
"

Then think outside it?

I use Quora and also subscribe to several mailing list that have a substantial Indian cohort. The only problem I ever have with either is when you get those posts or emails that show the user might want to work a little better on their English when posting to English-speaking sites and lists.

Call me racist or xenophobic if you want, but if there's a post that leaves me staring blankly at it for several minutes because I can not wrap my head around it in any form to have the slightest bit of the fragment of a clue as to what the author though they were saying, then so be it.
posted by Samizdata at 4:40 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Honestly I'm not sure people from the US and India should attempt to communicate, online or otherwise, without taking a mini training course in the others culture.

I mean, things usually run pretty smoothly as long as everyone has an open mind and remembers that different cultures are different and that doesn't mean either culture is inferior. I've had a lot of Indian friends, lovers, and coworkers over the years, and I don't feel like there's a special amount of cultural friction that is exempt from the general rule of Don't Be An Asshole. I've traveled extensively in India and, while every day was a new challenge in "different cultures are different", again, I didn't feel like there was any special problem.

If anything, I'm excited about the fact that India provides a huge anglophone culture that is both very similar and yet intensely foreign. I think interacting with that is a good thing, and I think the inevitable cultural syncretism can only be a net positive for the world.

But yeah on the other hand I did once leave a website when the userbase shifted to be more Indian and thus less useful to me.
posted by Sara C. at 4:53 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Samizdata: it's worth noting that a HUGE proportion of middle-class Indians speak English either as a first language or entirely fluently. India is not really in the same boat as a country like China or Korea, where there are a lot of ESL learners who lack proficiency. Instead, Indian English is its own completely separate dialect from American or British English. Especially in workplace lingo (which I can imagine comes up a lot on Quora), things are just really weirdly different even if everyone involved speaks English as a native language.

On the other hand, Indian English writing conventions do make it more obvious that there's a language difference, especially when slang gets thrown in. I'm not sure if it's a whole generation of Indians growing up online and with SMS (far more prevalent there than in the US) and the like, but Indian written English feels really different to me in a way that Australian or Scottish English don't, despite the latter (spoken) dialects being almost unintelligible to me as an American.
posted by Sara C. at 5:00 PM on October 18, 2015


Samizdata wrote: Call me racist or xenophobic if you want, but if there's a post that leaves me staring blankly at it for several minutes because I can not wrap my head around it in any form to have the slightest bit of the fragment of a clue as to what the author though they were saying, then so be it.

hamburger?
posted by syzygy at 5:05 PM on October 18, 2015


I mean, imagine you go to AskMe. The whole front page is stuff like "Where should I stop for lunch on a road trip from Mumbai to Surat?", "How are Bollywood dance sequences choreographed?", "Looking for recommendations for a new dabbawalla", "Critique my shaadi.com profile" etc.

I guess what I'm imagining is more like, 10% of the front page is questions of that kind, and non-subcontinental MeFites start saying to each other, "how come this entire site is about India now?"
posted by escabeche at 6:20 PM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh, yeah, I kind of thought we were talking about an actually significant shift in the community. Not like "OMG I HEARD SAG PANEER EXISTS BOYCOTT THIS RESTAURANT"
posted by Sara C. at 6:27 PM on October 18, 2015


Honestly I'm not sure people from the US and India should attempt to communicate, online or otherwise, without taking a mini training course in the others culture.

This kind of comment comes up frequently based on someone's observation of a handful of Indian coworkers or something, and I find it pretty ugly. I could say the same thing about a ton of cultures I come across based on a few commonalities of my experiences with them, but I don't think I've ever seen such extreme views on things like Americans talking about Indians. It's really baffling and sad to me.

Also, as an Indian American I see lots of people trying to answer AskMe questions with only their experience with a few acquaintances of indian background or something they read about in a magazine, and it strikes me as incredibly tone deaf, particularly toward Indian American culture as something distinct from Indian culture.
posted by zutalors! at 6:33 PM on October 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


Having not come across Quora previously, I actually, legitimately thought that Quora was an Indian-based site. Even found their weekly digests noticeably focused on the sub-continent.

There wasn't a great deal of relevance there for me, so I quit it. But it is interesting to note that this appears to be an issue or talking point.
posted by chris88 at 6:35 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would welcome an influx of Indian users to Metafilter but only on one condition:

our new Bharatian brethren must try to turn every conversation into a conversation about how it's just like that in India, man.

I think this would provide some much-needed balance.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:10 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also on the training class - whose culture is the baseline for America and India? African American Midwestern? White Southern? Marathi Brahmin? Tamil Jain?
posted by zutalors! at 7:18 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having not come across Quora previously, I actually, legitimately thought that Quora was an Indian-based site. Even found their weekly digests noticeably focused on the sub-continent.

That's interesting. I haven't found this at all. But I only follow 6 or 7 feeds - TV, books, musics, science, and a couple of others, and I only really glance at the digests. Plenty of "what's it like to be super rich?", "why is Obama the antichrist?", lots of US military stuff, some actually interesting (to me) questions.

But I'm looking at the front page now, and I don't see see any India focused questions, unless I search for 'India' as a topic.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:28 PM on October 18, 2015


Yeah I just clicked over and the top topics are: American Ethnicity and People, Mexico, Cats (pets)
New England Patriots, Psychotherapy

Which weirdly includes a bunch of my interests (go Pats), but not like, as an Indian American, so.
posted by zutalors! at 7:32 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, he told me, most of Quora’s users saw it as a serious source of knowledge, and demanded the same professionalism and attention to grammatical detail here as, say, on Wikipedia.

This strikes me as more pretentious than anything else that has entered the conversation.

If these dudes are trying to make a solid case for nonwhite/non-US users pooping in their sandbox it would help to not sound like wikipedia editors, who are as a group some of the most pretentious bullshit comic book nerd people on the internet.

We've had threads about that before, but seriously... If someone wants to make another insular digital ivory tower full of ridiculous rules lawyers who snuff out any sense of interesting community with their arbitrary line drawing that always seems to favor other white dudes like them, then i'm not going to cry any tears when people outside that sphere crash the party and start djing cooler music.

Mefi has proved you can have good moderation without "killing the culture", despite what guys like these(i wonder what the overlap is with redditors?) want to argue. Maybe do that instead of trying to have a free speech party like it seems they are and then getting mad when it's not the kind of speech you hoped?

Or yea, fork the site? But the way these guys are presenting it, that sure sounds pretty damn "whites only bathroom".
posted by emptythought at 7:48 PM on October 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


infini: "Much like on Wikipedia, there's generally a group that take the rules overly seriously and would rather close a question than answer it."

And the moderation is one of the reasons I tend to avoid Stack Overflow. The moderation there seems almost more concerned with parliamentary procedure than with answering questions. Half the time I see an answer there, it is loaded down with people arguing whether or not the answer is a duplicate and whether or not to close it, if it hasn't been closed already. And I have yet to have an question answered though...
posted by Samizdata at 8:18 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


emptythought, I wish I had more favorites to give for that comment...
posted by zutalors! at 8:18 PM on October 18, 2015


DirtyOldTown: "I will make some calls, MCMikeNamara. I do know a place where we can get biscuits and gravy with shawarma, burek, and apricot chicken. So that is a real thing."

Can you MeMail me some please?
posted by Samizdata at 8:23 PM on October 18, 2015


syzygy: "Samizdata wrote: Call me racist or xenophobic if you want, but if there's a post that leaves me staring blankly at it for several minutes because I can not wrap my head around it in any form to have the slightest bit of the fragment of a clue as to what the author though they were saying, then so be it.

hamburger?
"

No thank you. I've already eaten.
posted by Samizdata at 8:25 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The question whose answer earned David Stewart 3,400 upvotes on Quora was why the site wasn't more successful at turning "smart, knowledgeable people: who visited Quora into regular participants. What do you think are some reasons why people don't come back?

It's hard to understand why Stewart didn't lead with the argument that general pop-culture topics are started to become dominated by references to sources unfamiliar to many of the site's earlier users. There was enough such content on the site that some new users assumed Quora was created for a particular ethnic and geographical audience. Based on that perception, they didn't become regular users of the site.

These are the factors he discussed when providing specific examples. But instead of just presenting the argument and delivering evidence to support it, he chose to frame it by saying what turns people off about Quora is The large, and steadily increasing, Indian presence.

It's like some kind of reverse dog-whistle, so instead of introducing an ostensibly reasonable argument and using it to send a veiled racist message, you take an argument that might actually have some validity and use it to deliver an openly racist sentiment.
posted by layceepee at 8:49 PM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


A few years ago, he told me, most of Quora’s users saw it as a serious source of knowledge, and demanded the same professionalism and attention to grammatical detail here as, say, on Wikipedia.

This strikes me as more pretentious than anything else that has entered the conversation.

If these dudes are trying to make a solid case for nonwhite/non-US users pooping in their sandbox it would help to not sound like wikipedia editors, who are as a group some of the most pretentious bullshit comic book nerd people on the internet.


I ... did you read the article that quote was from? Because that was not from the guy who answered the question. Have some context.

In August, I spoke about Quora’s changes with Raghu Venkataraman, a Bengaluru-based technology professional who has earned the coveted title of a “Top Writer” on the site. A few years ago, he told me, most of Quora’s users saw it as a serious source of knowledge, and demanded the same professionalism and attention to grammatical detail here as, say, on Wikipedia. Many Indian users, Venkataraman said, view Quora as more of a social network, where slang, exaggeration and internet memes are all appropriate.

Venkataraman admitted that he is quite tired of such content, but also that he owes his popularity on the website to the newcomers. He attracted a flock of followers after one of his answers—a humorous take on being a “6-pointer” (almost failing) at an IIT—went viral among Indian readers, and he told me most of his list of followers consists of them. But he does feel an extra “ego boost,” he said, when he sees a “Japanese or American person” following him rather than just “another Indian student.” His advice to others who, like him, bemoan the questions from Indian users that “infest” his feed, was to just “grin and bear it.”

posted by kafziel at 9:39 PM on October 18, 2015


Am I racist for not reading El Diario? Am I racist for not joining Weibo, when nobody else I know uses Weibo?

Not personally racist in the "you're a bad person" pejorative sense, but you are participating in enacting structural racism, yes.
posted by Dysk at 12:24 AM on October 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, imagine you go to AskMe. The whole front page is stuff like "Where should I stop for lunch on a road trip from Mumbai to Surat?", "How are Bollywood dance sequences choreographed?", "Looking for recommendations for a new dabbawalla", "Critique my shaadi.com profile" etc. Obviously those are all great questions for Ask Metafilter. But if you're not Indian, you most likely won't be able to weigh in. And as the Indian userbase grows, a question like, "Is it worthwhile to buy season tickets to my college football team?" or "Where should I go on vacation from Indianapolis with 10 days and $1000?" will probably not be answered, or not answered effectively.

I mean, metafilter at the minute is all questions about driving indianapolis, restaurants in Boston, apartments in new York, etc at the moment. And yet, a bunch of us non-Americans find value in the site anyway. We're expected to know and 'get' US cultural references. If those of us who have never seen an image, never mind an episode, or Mr Rogers can figure out who he is and what he stands for, you Americans should be able to figure out some cultural context that's foreign to you, shouldn't you? After all, with the way US culture is treated as so very normative, you collectively expect it of us.
posted by Dysk at 12:34 AM on October 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm on a forum for electricians that has an explicit membership policy: with one narrow exception you must be a journeyman electrician or apprentice to post topics or replies. And the moderators aggressively enforce that restriction against DIYers because past experience has shown that all questions and all sub-forums get flooded by DIYers without that restriction and nuanced discussion of professional topics can't occur because of low S/N ratios. I'm sure most other professions have similar closed communities.

Being Canadian our laws are subtlety different than American though the sub forums are set up to allow for law compartmentalization. One of the interfaces though doesn't make it ?obvious? which forum you are on and Americans are constantly accidentally posting about stuff doesn't apply or is just wrong in the Canadian forum.

More interestingly though is the work culture exchange that happens because US and Canadian wiring methods are very similar. There are substantial differences in the details though and it can really make you thing about whether one is doing something the best way possible.

Not sure if I have a point here besides being able to empathize with a different culture being a real clash with the existing culture without any racism being involved. But I can also see where this could be a win for the community if given time to integrate.
posted by Mitheral at 1:37 AM on October 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah I just clicked over and the top topics are: American Ethnicity and People, Mexico, Cats (pets)
New England Patriots, Psychotherapy

Which weirdly includes a bunch of my interests (go Pats), but not like, as an Indian American, so.


I want to favorite this, but I can't bring myself to click on the little + for a comment that includes the words "go Pats," so I'm registering my assent here
posted by thetortoise at 1:44 AM on October 19, 2015


Not sure if I have a point here besides being able to empathize with a different culture being a real clash with the existing culture without any racism being involved.

Just to clarify (though I don't want to speak for everyone using the word in this thread), when I talk about racism being a factor in this situation, I'm talking less about the intra-site dynamics and users' reasons for leaving-- though, wow, there certainly seems to be plenty of that happening going by the article-- and more about how this entire way of understanding the dilemma as well as the situation itself are informed by structural racism, as Dysk mentions above. The article's cheeky title alludes to this.

That's not to call people here out or anything like that (and Mitheral, your comment is just a springboard for my point here); it's to say that the fact that "white American" is taken for granted as a default user identity for English-language NA-based (not sure about Quora?) sites is an effect of racism (and a lot of other historical and intersectional stuff). It isn't coincidence and it isn't just the democratic voice of the consumer, because we see here that white Americans are not the only interested consumers. Now, I am a white American, so my point of view is probably the most overrepresented and least interesting here, but I care a lot about issues of access, marginalized populations, and representation, so I want to add this note.
posted by thetortoise at 2:06 AM on October 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is the WEIRD of user research. My 2 kwacha worth on this, written last month, offers one particular instance where what thetortoise said above - normative user research - can snowball into far more expensive challenges than simply an overflowing buffet table:

Digital financial services seek to bridge the chasm between the structures, policies and institutions of the formal economy, and the cash intensive informal and rural economy. Current day approaches tend to take the perspective of the service providers when assessing the market opportunity and the needs of the intended customers. And so, the research to inform the design of products and services focuses on the behaviour of the end users isolated from their context, and considers their unmet needs within the narrow bounds of a specific project or purpose.

Given that the user researchers, the concept developers and the service providers, are mostly from the formal operating environment and/or first world contexts, they tend to consider this consumer behaviour without explicitly acknowledging that these user responses captured during user research for products & services are emerging from the context of very different conditions than they themselves are immersed in. That is, there are implicit assumptions tacitly being made regarding the market and its opportunities, which, if left unquestioned, may obscure the underlying causes of the problem. And, thus, may inadvertently act as intangible barriers themselves.

posted by infini at 2:51 AM on October 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


“Particularly in the last 18 months,” he told me, the website has become “more heavily frequented by Indians.” As a result, Muth wrote, answers today can be “culturally, financially, or otherwise focused on India and not useful generally to the rest of the Quora population.”

Were people writing thinkpieces about Quora when all the content was based on white US Silicon Valley dudebro minutae and had no relation to the rest of the world?

Even Ask Metafilter often feels very US-centric - or requires some knowledge of the US to be able to participate - so I don't understand the people who think it's culturally neutral.
posted by divabat at 6:36 AM on October 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Were people writing thinkpieces about Quora when all the content was based on white US Silicon Valley dudebro minutae and had no relation to the rest of the world?
I don't think they were, because they were just not joining Quora. I was vaguely aware that it existed, but I would never have thought to join, because it so clearly wasn't relevant to me, as a woman not in tech with no ties to Silicon Valley or its culture. I think a lot of what's going on here is a shift in culture: if Quora had originally been all about how to succeed in life as a six-pointer at an IIT, then the Silicon Valley dudebros would never have been on it in the first place.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:48 AM on October 19, 2015



I want to favorite this, but I can't bring myself to click on the little + for a comment that includes the words "go Pats," so I'm registering my assent here


what if it were "go cats"?
posted by zutalors! at 7:26 AM on October 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


For a little while, I thought Reddit was an Indian-based site.
posted by grobstein at 9:52 AM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not racist: I stopped using Quora because the questions and answers stopped being relevant or interesting to me.

Racist: I stopped using Quora because of all the Indians.

Tangentially: I don't really get why conversations about India always include some lengthy side discussion about Indian food. Is it because that's the only thing about Indian culture that people feel familiar enough with to talk about it? It just seems weird to me, like:

"France just passed a law which bans women from wearing the burqa, what do you think about that?"
"I think it's horrible, Islamophobic, and tied to a rise of far-right politics in Europe."
"The burqa is representative of patriarchal and religious oppression and thus should be opposed."
"Escargot is delicious."
posted by Errant at 10:43 AM on October 19, 2015 [17 favorites]


Tangentially: I don't really get why conversations about India always include some lengthy side discussion about Indian food. Is it because that's the only thing about Indian culture that people feel familiar enough with to talk about it?

I think it's weird and I'm comfortable saying I find it offensive. Like we're forever in the kitchen or being waiters or something.

Also, Indian food varies really widely by region. So you're not even saying that much about the culture by saying "I like Indian food," but then again, cultural style/political tastes/sexism or no/accent/family relationships etc etc also vary by region, and of course vary again across the South Asian diaspora but people feel fine weighing in there.
posted by zutalors! at 10:50 AM on October 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


errant, that reminds me of a recent incident (proceeds to desify the thread) - Met a VP of a continental offshoot of the World Bank, who happened to be an Indian woman, at an event on a third continent recently. Due to the weather we both happend to be dressed in Indian style clothing. Instead of the usual questions on who, what, where, how etc that two desis exchange, I noticed and really liked the fact that she entered straight into a very professional exchange with me purely on the work at hand and our opinions on the topic of technological innovation etc etc. Most refreshing and very different.

/about that biryani
posted by infini at 10:52 AM on October 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


The other thread about POC Yoga and a social network kind of relates back to this thread. For the longest time, due to history and market forces, the interwebs resembled IRL more or less. Now, this is changing faster than IRL. We'll see more of this happening up and down the pipes, wherever the garden isn't closed like an FB or LinkedIn due to ones own connections.
posted by infini at 10:59 AM on October 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


As someone hired one to write an English language column to lure non-Brazilians to the Brazil-dominated Orkut, I'm glad someone brought up the similarities to that doomed social network.

But the presence of Indians on Quora is about the only thing I like about it. The reason I quit Quora was that after asking a simple U.S. history question about how Congress worked in 1865, Quora recommended these intentionally trollish and useless answers from an American crank who ranked highly in their reputation system. So successfully had this guy gamed Quora that there was a separate Quora thread asking who he was, and why we were advised so often to turn to him as a proven polymath who knew about everything. Not just that, but there was an entire Usenet FAQ discussion of how to ignore him when he steered discussion on that network to his favorite agenda, which was calling for genocide against all Muslims.

This made me like Ask Metafilter a bit more. So I was sad when a Quora data scientist told me this goliath ranked higher than Ask Metafilter in Google's new search methods--insisting Quora's answers were just objectively better!
posted by johngoren at 1:06 PM on October 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Errant: "I don't really get why conversations about India always include some lengthy side discussion about Indian food."

Now that you mention it, it is a little weird. To be fair, the chances of someone mentioning any semi-related food in a MetaFilter thread increases exponentially with the number of comments.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:13 PM on October 19, 2015


Indian pancakes. More Indian pancakes. Variety of very different Indian pancakes.
posted by infini at 1:32 PM on October 19, 2015


yes, so now just imagine that the pancakes are people...
posted by zutalors! at 2:14 PM on October 19, 2015


So, someone should start AskLocal, which geotags all posts and comments and users and throws vicinity into the ranking mix so you can exist within your cultural bubble.

That started off as sarcasm, but actually perhaps its not such a bad idea. The various reddit city and country forums actually have a pretty strong following.
posted by nickzoic at 3:59 PM on October 19, 2015


Tangentially: I don't really get why conversations about India always include some lengthy side discussion about Indian food. Is it because that's the only thing about Indian culture that people feel familiar enough with to talk about it?

Immigrant cultures often default to restaurants as a source of income, and they cook what they know. It's a point of difference that can't be replicated by the local competition, a competitive edge, but in an unaggressive, non threatening way. Foreign food is easily adapted to local tastes. Running a restaurant requires a lower level of fluency in local languages than other endeavours.

As such, food becomes the first way that people are introduced to foreign cultures - it's an easy way to engage with those cultures on a superficial level, without having to travel or research. Someone who never thinks of India and knows nothing about India may still have eaten Indian food (or their country's version of Indian food) and enjoyed it. And then it becomes a small area of common ground - oh, you're talking about India? I love Indian food.

I don't think it's sinister - it's just people trying to connect - but it is a bit silly. I mean, I love Thai takeaway food, but that doesn't impart to me any knowledge of Thailand or Thai culture.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:12 PM on October 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, someone should start AskLocal, which geotags all posts and comments and users and throws vicinity into the ranking mix so you can exist within your cultural bubble.

That started off as sarcasm, but actually perhaps its not such a bad idea. The various reddit city and country forums actually have a pretty strong following.


Your very own Metafilter features tagging, which surprisingly, can be useful for filtering things. I figure mefi tags need a bit more encouragement and norms before it'll prove common (witness absence of posts tagged new, york, and city about something other than newyorkcity). But it's still beneficial for example, to subscribe to the Oregon tag if you live in Oregon. And since it's a manual process rather than a geotag, it's much more useful for migrants. This is getting kinda Metalk land, but I bet the most commonly found tag to any given metro area (Portland) is the first it's state (Oregon), then travel, then moving, and then finally jobs.

So in a sense, even Metafilter, as used, produces an actual physical colonizing force, helping migrants find welcoming and likeminded communities. The opposition could easily portray it as a sort of Portlandiafication, whereby a community unreasonably expects gluten free cupcake stands and bicycle lanes in Wisconsin.
posted by pwnguin at 7:52 PM on October 19, 2015


"I don't think it's sinister..."

I do. It represents a colonialist mindset, it's an appropriation that is often condescending. The contrast with France made above is revealing because the difference is the relationship with the culture as a whole. With colonialist and/or immigrant cultural relationships, where the relationship is unequal and narrow, the appropriating culture can (and will) reduce the other into their own appropriated and iconified version of it. But where the cultural relationship is more equal and wide, this doesn't happen so much. In particular, it doesn't look the same way from the other side -- the colonized culture has to see and deal with the reality of the variation and complexity of the colonizing culture.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:53 PM on October 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


whereby a community unreasonably expects gluten free cupcake stands and bicycle lanes in Wisconsin.

We have lots of both, just so you know.
posted by escabeche at 7:58 PM on October 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I should keep quiet, I know MetaFilter will start to wither the second people perceive it as overrun by Wisconsinites.
posted by escabeche at 7:59 PM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


...so I don't understand the people who think it's culturally neutral.

I haven't seen anyone suggest that Metafilter is culturally neutral.

However, OK. I'm an American. One of the reasons Ask* is useful to me is that the community also generally skews American. Which means I can ask questions about the types of American things that an American like me might need to know, and also I can feel comfortable answering others' America-centric questions.

This isn't to say that only Americans should use AskMetafilter, of course. Or that I would leave if we started getting more questions from a globally diverse userbase. But if pretty much all the questions required a deep understanding of Not America to participate, yes, of course I would stop participating.

And, no, I vehemently don't think anybody has a duty to stick with Metafilter even though it skews American, or stick with Quora because it skews Indian, or stick with Orkut because it skews Brazilian, or whatever. You consume the kinds of media that speak to you, and that's fine, and shaming people into doing otherwise is pointless.

*I'm limiting this to Ask because I feel like the blue is a space where the national breakdown is a little less important. Cool links are cool links.
posted by Sara C. at 8:05 PM on October 19, 2015


But if pretty much all the questions required a deep understanding of Not America to participate, yes, of course I would stop participating.

Sure. But the point is that this is in no way what's happening at Quora.
posted by escabeche at 8:36 PM on October 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Personally, I'm pretty amazed at the international users of Metafilter who soldier on despite our blatant America-centricness. I don't use any sites that are UK-centric, France-centric, Israel-centric, etc. About the closest I get is clicking on the international Buzzfeed articles that pop up late at night due to time zone and demographic differences. I've never even sought out the non-American internet. So, props to you guys!
posted by Sara C.


Interestingly, I've usually noticed that people assume their online communities are more homogenous than they are.
The human tendency is to notice things more similar to themselves, and not notice the less similar things.

For example, I very much have the perception that The Guardian, is one of the most linked newspapers from Metafilter. I don't even know if that's correct, because hey, selection bias! But probably one of the most common links after the NYT. And that's a UK centric paper.

An off the cuff search seems to show that after New York, London is one of the most mentioned cities (or somewhere up there, got bored trying city names).


I mean, I'm from New Zealand, so I don't expect international sites I'm on to have much of a focus on NZ, but... It's also a country of only 4.5m. That's almost a million less people than say, for reference, the Miami or Atlanta metropolitan areas. I mean, if you've even HEARD of New Zealand, then that probably indicates that it has an outsized cultural impact.
posted by Elysum at 1:56 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm going to have to go ahead a disagree a little on that one. MetaFilter is a pretty typically US-biased site. The Americans here, while perhaps not as blatantly chauvinist as you might find on other American sites, do exhibit that peculiarly American habit of treating the US as the pivotal actor in constructing their worldview. Other countries exist, sure, but what goes on in them is merely a continuation of or a reaction to something that originated in America. Everything reflects America and everything reflects on America. I'm pretty much resigned to it, and I assume I'm not the only one. Anyhow this discussion doesn't need to turn into meta-commentary on MetaFilter so I'll leave it there.
posted by um at 3:14 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


For example, I very much have the perception that The Guardian, is one of the most linked newspapers from Metafilter. I don't even know if that's correct, because hey, selection bias! But probably one of the most common links after the NYT. And that's a UK centric paper.
It's not, really. The Guardian has been aggressively courting US readers for almost ten years, and they have a separate Guardian US page that you see if you log on from North America. (Actually, i don't know what you see if you log on from Canada. You see Guardian US if you log on from the US.) You can actually toggle between the US, UK, Australia and International editions if you go to the top right corner of the website. Right now, both the US and the UK editions are leading with the Canadian elections, but most of the other top headlines are different. Sports, opinion and entertainment news are totally different. Apparently, people in the UK are much more interested than people in the US and Australia in the burning question of whether wearing opaque black tights is fashion suicide.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:32 AM on October 20, 2015


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