Will someone please just explain Metababy
June 1, 2000 10:20 PM   Subscribe

Will someone please just explain Metababy to me? I promise I will try to be patient and understanding... I mean I think I understand the mechanics of it. I think I understand that it's an experiment in social interaction with technology or some such technobabble. What I don't understand is.. well if I could explain the parts that I don't understand then I wouldn't need someone else to explain it to me, would I? ...Just please someone explain it to me... Thank you... I'll just ..be over here..
posted by ZachsMind (17 comments total)
Probably just an example of the Tragedy of the Commons at work.
posted by adamv at 12:15 AM on June 2, 2000

See... once upon a time, there was a fairly cool listserv, called Meta, Baby!. Alex Massie wrote it.

Eventually, Alex got tired of it, because... well, because that's what Alex and Maggy both did. Get tired and bored with things.

Years later, someone made the same mistake that Coca-Cola did with "New Coke" -- implement an interesting idea with a label that had great meaning and freight.

The rest, as they say, is mystery...

posted by aurelian at 12:43 AM on June 2, 2000

Maybe Alex Massie should issue a cease & desist. I would.
posted by Markb at 2:25 AM on June 2, 2000

Geez! ZachsMind asked a question!!! I wish I could answer it, but I looked at Metababy for the first time by clicking your link.

But I have an idea. Most websites are read-only, except for the authors, who can post changes. Some, like Metafilter, allow readers to post changes, but only in a controlled way (we can't change the colors, layout, etc.)

My guess is that the creators of Metababy are conducting and experiment to see what happens when anyone can edit a website in any way they choose.

Now maybe all of you people in the in-crowd will explain how I'm wrong.
posted by grumblebee at 4:58 AM on June 2, 2000

Looks like Alex did issue a cease and desist.
posted by xiffix at 5:37 AM on June 2, 2000

Okay, that message was to shut down the original "Meta, Baby!" Should have looked at the date!! Sorry.

posted by xiffix at 5:41 AM on June 2, 2000


Uh, doesn't anyone remember the original metababy? Well, not original, but post Meta, Baby! The one where you could send in an e-mail to metababy@metababy.com and have it appear as a page?

No, of course not.

Ah, for want of simplier times.

But Zach, you were around for it.. what don't you understand? The pure mechanics of Metababy 2? Or the concept behind how anyone can edit any other person's page in part of a more integrated collaborative effort that if everyone took seriously and wanted to create something wonderful, would probably turn into a vision (as opposed to what happpened where a couple of doofuses just decided to continuously delete the whole site, which you couldn't do in the first incarnation, of course, but then you couldn't edit anyone's page in the first incarnation).

But then, thinking about it, if you bring together a mass of creative people and have them try to work free-form on a creation, most likely you will end up with competing visions, ego wars, hurt feelings, and ultimate failure.

I wouldn't say its purpose is to be a human experiment of any sort, I think Greg just put it up because he thought it would be cool and people would like to use it as a tool.

Heh heh. I said 'tool'.

It's not like it's some big secret project or anything.
posted by rich at 6:27 AM on June 2, 2000

Oh, for pete's sake, people. Alexis Massie and Greg Knauss know eachother. Greg credits Alex with the idea and everything. As far as I know, Greg just thought it would be cool. And for Greg, that's usually enough.

posted by schampeo at 7:31 AM on June 2, 2000

There really isn't anything to explain about it.

Like many personal projects on the Web, it was an idea made real without too much thought into consequences. If you built an "open server", a site with no rules where anyone can come, create a new directory, create a new page, edit that or any other page, change the whole thing or delete it, what would happen? Would people come and make cool stuff, write funny or thoughtful junk, have some fun and play with the toy?

It turns out that, again like many Web projects inviting public participation, you have geniuses, assholes, and genius assholes. Given the opportunity to be either a creator or a destroyer, some people choose the latter. Since destruction is so much easier than creation, it only takes one destroyer to undo the work of many creators.

I doubt it was ever an experiment, per se. You could look at it as one, but I think the intent was just "hey, this is kind of cool. I can build a site where the people create everything! I'll give them ultimate control over the content and I might get something cool in return!"

But then there's that asshole factor. What would Metafilter be like if Matt opened up an edit function so anyone could edit (or delete) anyone else's posts? Do you think there'd be anything here, either? If you disagreed with someone, rather than voice your disagreement or perhaps start an interesting discussion, you could just *snip* and it's gone.

posted by honkzilla at 8:29 AM on June 2, 2000

I remember Metababy version 1.0. In a way it's still functional. You can still send an email to metababy@metababy.com and it still goes through. In fact metababy's email addie is on countless spamming lists and gets a lot of that crap already. Then people go in and change all the nouns to poop and all the verbs to penis.

I mean I get the mechanics of it, and I know some of metababy's history.. It's just... well..

I guess I don't understand some of the people in there, maybe? Or just some of what happens. Maybe it's not the people it's just...

What is with this fascination with Katie Holmes and Brittney Spears for example? I mean they're not even talented, and personally I'd only do them if you paid me.

And who is this babe of the delicious salamanders or some such nonsense? The woman with the three facial expressions. What's up with that?

I'm sure I would find all the injokes amusing, but I was never in the in crowd. Or rather, if ever I was in the in crowd, no one told me.

Why are we stalking Becki? Who the hell is Becki?

And what's a fnord? Really. I mean I'm in there but I just don't understand any of it and it's hurting my head.

I'll just be over here trying to nonchalantly examine this potted plant over here. Please continue trying to explain this to me. I'm sure I'll get it eventually.

Or maybe I'll just go play Quake Arena and be cannonfodder for everyone in there. I go by the name Idiealot cuz.. well I do.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:36 AM on June 2, 2000

Oh, and who's FirePoop and why can't I delete his annoying page? BTW I have been one of the doofuses on occasion to go through and delete the entire site, but that was back when there was only like 100 pages and it wasn't that difficult to do. I just thought it needed a clean slate. Now there's over a thousand pages and some of them you can't delete.

I understand the idea of having a website built by committee. That's a neat idea, but this committee doesn't even talk to itself. I mean a couple people may talk to one another and go "gee that was funny what you sent me in email. Let's talk about that in metababy!" but I don't think people even do that. They just... well it seems like a kneejerk reaction. Like most people in there just barf stuff. I guess that could be art.. Or it could just be community regurgitation.

I find it fascinating but at the same time I find it disturbing. It's like watching pygmies running around naked. You can't help but look but you're wondering why you're looking.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2000

Metababy's neat and all, but the long-running sito.org-- which is based on similar principles, but throws in just a handful of controls --has produced stuff that, to my mind, is a lot more rewarding to look at.

posted by jbushnell at 8:57 AM on June 2, 2000

I would agree that Sito is definitely better to look at. It's more graphic oriented though.

Actually I wish there was some real cool 'continue the text' kinda thing, where you picked up where the previous person left off and edited some maybe but like you couldn't delete it completely. Maggy tried something called Rainbow awhile back but it didn't quite work for some reason. I found some intriguing stuff there, but it's missing something.

Gee.. it's still there.. but the past is washed away so easily with no way to follow the changes. Maybe something where every change is saved somewhere. Like you can edit and delete if you like, but when you make a change, the previous version is left static elsewhere and can be found. So you can delete to your heart's content and destroy and make new, but the past is left for others to find and do with what they will.

If it's JUST text, and you don't go crazy with graphics or things that are download intensive, it just might work.

Like a Round Robin.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:19 AM on June 2, 2000

Actually, Maggie did have all the different iterations saved to Rainbow. But since she has since 'retired' of sorts, I doubt we'll have the chnace to see them again.

And Metababy was not intended to be website by committee. As I said, and Lance said, Greg just made it because he thought it would be cool and fun.

Uh, as for 'inside jokes' I would assume there is some stuff going on there, but not much. But is there a need to understand everyone? I mean, everyone has different motivations, so it's going to be hard to figure them all out.
posted by rich at 11:47 AM on June 2, 2000

Zach, I've been thinking about your--well, I'd call it a Collaborative Story. Though it's probably not cool in this community to use a pre-fab tool, a guestbook from htmlGear would work well for that. I've been thinking about creating one. Maybe this afternoon, I will.
posted by Spyderella at 1:19 PM on June 2, 2000

I thought about trying htmlGear, but don't you need a tripod site to use it? I can't stand banner ads and popups. I had a thing called WordJazz.Net for awhile where I was hoping to create a collaborative story thing with fictional characters that anyone could play, or they could add characters.. I just didn't have the time to properly devote to it, and I also didn't have the cgi saavy to make it intuitive. A guestbook would be a good start, I suppose, but the user interface has to be more friendly, where people could move the words around like playdough without damaging the previous copy.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:00 PM on June 2, 2000

Just tried getting into Metababy and it's broke. I'm getting errors as if the server's not even there. Spoooooky..
posted by ZachsMind at 5:00 PM on June 5, 2000

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