But Metafilter DOES Exist!
December 6, 2005 8:43 AM   Subscribe

This Site Cannot Exist! Recently I've been seeing a lot of crazy talk around the web regarding the possibility of a purely "community driven" website. And it is FIERCE -- running the gamut from here to here to here . And, although the ongoing discussion is interesting (and centered around the pontification of one person), I couldn't help but think, "What the Hell is wrong with these people?" Community-owned blogging/websites have been alive and well for years. For example: Kuro5hin, Slashdot, Linkfilter, Plastic, and a growing host of sites using community platforms like Drupal and Scoop. Heck, all they'd have to do is head on over to Google and type in the words "Community Weblog" to discover the answer to their queries. That's right. At the top of the page staring them in the face is the grand-daddy of all community Blogging -- the pioneer that started it all -- Metafilter.com!! Is community blogging possible? Come on! Long live the Big "M"!!
posted by jb_thms (43 comments total)
Wow. MetaFilter = Pepsi Blue. I'm impressed. I think.
posted by Doohickie at 8:46 AM on December 6, 2005

What community owns Slashdot? I thought it was owned by the Open Source Technology Group, whose parent company I seem to recall having an IPO at some point?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:47 AM on December 6, 2005

a little excessive, don't you think?
posted by wumpus at 8:48 AM on December 6, 2005

Wumpus, to what are you referring?
posted by jb_thms at 8:51 AM on December 6, 2005

It's like one half of this post is something about the viability of online communities and is a decent FPP, another half is a blog entry, and the third half should be on MetaTalk. And all the "here to here to here" links are all already linked off the very first link....?
posted by tpl1212 at 8:55 AM on December 6, 2005

A depressing lack of Caps lock.
posted by dgaicun at 8:59 AM on December 6, 2005

I'm not sure that Kuro5hin is a great example either. Last time I looked in there, the 'community' was up in arms because Rusty seemed to have picked up his ball and gone home. I think somebody had insulted his wife or something.

Which tends to throw the spanner in the works when it comes to the author's point that ownership isn't the issue. If you don't own something, it's hard to see how you can have any meaningful control when the real owner decides he's not going to play at community control any longer.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:02 AM on December 6, 2005

I work with a physical-community driven website that has operated for 5-7 years: Northfield.org. 501(c)3, all volunteer driven until Jan 1, when we finally have enough donations to hire someone at 1/5 time to run some of the chaos.

They're out there.
posted by unixrat at 9:02 AM on December 6, 2005

The ownership is not the issue suggestion seems to obviate all of the authors other arguments. It only isn't the issue when things are proceeding as you would like them to. Even here at MetaFilter, where Matt is really quite a good moderator, when points of community norms are discussed in MeTa someone always quite correctly points out that #1 can do whatever the hell he feels like doing because it's his site. That's the very definition of heirarchical power, isn't it?
posted by OmieWise at 9:08 AM on December 6, 2005

The key complaint is that none of the community weblogs is a real democracy. I love mefi! But I can't vote on entries, I can't vote on color schemes and I can't vote on whether to move the servers to Hoboken.

Not that I care. Just sayin'.
posted by harmoniousness at 9:10 AM on December 6, 2005

Neither MetaFilter nor Plastic can be called 'a purely "community driven" website'. MetaFilter has Matt and jessamyn determining what gets killed, and Plastic has editors determining what gets posted.

The closest either gets to 'purely community driven' are Plastic's QuickLinks which anyone can post, and given the votes, each QL either makes it to the front page, languishes on a section page, or is deleted.
posted by mischief at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2005

The key complaint is that none of the community weblogs is a real democracy

Check out digg

It's the new breed, all submitted stories have to get "diggs" from the community to make it to the front page.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:25 AM on December 6, 2005

First sorry about the amateurish "Blog" post. I'm still a greenhorn at this sort of thing, but I'm working to make it better. Your feedback is appreciated.

Regarding content, It's starting to sound like a "pure" community website is impossible. That is, if you consider the need to vote on site color and server location... issues about which I want nothing to do.

Contentwise, I think we have come much closer to community run than many in this thread give the blogosphere credit for.
posted by jb_thms at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2005

Oops. In the second paragraph, I was trying to say that requiring various administrative technicalities to be community driven will indeed make a community driven site closer to fiction.
posted by jb_thms at 9:31 AM on December 6, 2005

"I think we have come much closer to community run"

Not even close; to accomplish that deletions of both posts and comments must become automated.
posted by mischief at 9:37 AM on December 6, 2005

No one can claim that slashdot is community driven, although its does get hords of worthless comments, and the community propotes a few not quite as worthless ones. K5 is community driven, but the driving is negitive & non-constructive. Metafilter is, however, clearly community driven.

As I mentioned here, I want to see a wikified blog with (1) a workable system of etiquette for editing others comments, and (2) purpose tags, like <opinion>, <funny>, etc., which users could use to customize their experience. Wikis work whenever reasonable "rules of convergence" exist, like Wikipedia's NPOV policy, but purpose tags would permit more flexible rules of convergence.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:39 AM on December 6, 2005

Digg recently got millions in VC, which is great I guess, but I don't really understand why (yes, I know web2.0 means you don't have to understand or have a reason for throwing money at something).

Much like eVite, digg could be run fairly well by a handful of folks in a garage/basement/small office. Throwing millions at it isn't going to improve it much beyond its current incarnation (IMHO). [They seem to have plans to take it (the concept?) into various verticals and mediums.]

I find it interesting that Metafilter is still indie(rawk!). I can't help but wonder if #1 has been approached regarding investment or something. (though, I can't imagine a VC windfall adding much to the site, which in a way might be what protects it from the vultures)
posted by shoepal at 9:41 AM on December 6, 2005

Your feedback is appreciated.

I refer you to Norm on Cheers, where in one episode a running gag has gotten going around the bar and Cliff keeps on coming up with additional takes on it, and Norm says to Cliff confidentially:

"Cliff: The secret is knowing when to stop."
posted by soyjoy at 9:46 AM on December 6, 2005

bitdamaged says "Check out digg It's the new breed, all submitted stories have to get "diggs" from the community to make it to the front page."

As much as I like digg, Scoop came years before it and was built on the same principle/concept. It isn't a new concept, just repackaged and Ajaxified for the Web2.0 bandwagon.
posted by shoepal at 10:01 AM on December 6, 2005

Hierarchical power is not mutually exclusive with community. In fact, they are often synergistic: Think of a good church, or a physical community with a strong mayor. Or Metafilter, when it works well, to use the obligatory local example.

The issue isn't really that community sites are "impossible" -- rather, it's that people become disillusioned with their specific community sites. Which is to say that I agree that it's ultimately about control: They control it, not me. Ergo, I don't like the way it works.

The solutions:
  1. Put up.
  2. Shut up.
  3. Make your own.
  4. Change it.
They're all workable options, including 4 and regardless of the opinion of community skeptics.

I'm skeptical about the term "community", myself, but my skepticism doesn't extend beyond arguing that the community you get is not likely to be the one you think you have. (Corollary: My community is not your community, even when they're the same community.)
posted by lodurr at 10:05 AM on December 6, 2005

mischief: Neither MetaFilter nor Plastic can be called 'a purely "community driven" website'.

Well, what's "pure"? And what do you mean by "driven"? Here, and following, you seem to conflate "driven" with "run"; in the usage I'm familiar with, they're not the same at all. In my current business (roughtly, software and business process implementation and support), we often talk about "process drivers", or "who's driving" a project (or "driving it from [our/their] side"), and those aren't in any useful way synonmymous with who'se "running" it. The person "running" it would be the person who signs off; the driver is the person who moves it forward.

In that sense, it's hard to see how either Plastic (where I haven't spent much time in several years) or MeFi are not community-driven.

Community run -- no, clearly not. When we can earn admin access to the system through good citizenship, yes, and until then, not so much.
posted by lodurr at 10:13 AM on December 6, 2005

What's Metafilter?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:17 AM on December 6, 2005

Maggy Donea's Mindspace has been going since November, 1996. There's not much activity there, and Maggy's not involved anymore, but it's the first community blog I can remember.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:28 AM on December 6, 2005

Interesting that the text that comes up in Google about MetaFilter is "Community based news oriented weblog." (my emphasis)

I find it a little curious, and a little funny, considering the conflict over MeFi not being "NewsFilter."
posted by gohlkus at 10:51 AM on December 6, 2005

it's not constructive to talk about "democratic" sites ... as it seems that democratic sites are often intolerant of the minority

what seems to work best is a situation where one person, or a group of people sets boundaries in which anarchy is allowed to florish ... if it goes too far, it gets controlled ... otherwise, it's hands off

metafilter does this well ... kuro5hin doesn't because of their democratic pretensions
posted by pyramid termite at 10:52 AM on December 6, 2005

Driven by mob rule is no way to succeed.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:55 AM on December 6, 2005

posted by Eideteker at 11:04 AM on December 6, 2005

everything2 is a partially community-driven (with the exception of the e2 gods) and a very community-based website. I've yet to see another online community in which people meet in real life, marry through these connections (and invite other members/noders), or grieve over each others' deaths...

And because a rise in level/rank is determined by the quality (okay, the communal judgement of quality) of someone's writeups, there's a larger amount of community moderation than some blog which gives 'karma' according to the quality of short comments..
posted by provolot at 11:23 AM on December 6, 2005

Yup, pyramid termite is right about K5's general suck factor. Democracy is a means to avoid the most negitive contributions, but democracy is almost never constructive. K5 would suck far less if the edit queue was a wiki.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:28 AM on December 6, 2005

I second E2. I've been there for years. Buncha completely lovely commie weirdos, they are.

I think it predates MetaFilter, as well.

And before Google got wise and stopped pageranking and spidering E2, before the rise of WikiPedia, just about any given one-word search netted you at least one E2 response in the top ten results. E2 totally breaks Google's pagerank. It's like a tesseracted tesseract over there.

And the place is just insanely vast. So many words, so many links.
posted by loquacious at 11:38 AM on December 6, 2005

... some blog which gives 'karma' according to the quality of short comments.

When I spent a lot of time on Plastic, I thought it would be interesting to compile a sort of "plus+minus" rating, that would show what your ratio of positive to negative ratings was.

Nobody else seemed to think so, though.

In the end, I think karmic systems are probably a bad thing, as are systems that make it clear how many times you've been blessed by your community. You should have to continually earn the blessing by behaving in a civilized manner. Otherwise, people could gain an esteemed status and then behave like schmucks -- you know, like they do in the real world.
posted by lodurr at 11:40 AM on December 6, 2005

posted by blue_beetle at 11:49 AM on December 6, 2005

[nods thoughtfully at blue beetle /]
posted by lodurr at 12:03 PM on December 6, 2005

And before Google got wise and stopped pageranking and spidering E2

I can't speak to the pageranking, but not spidering? Why then would a google search using


return 275,000 results?
posted by WestCoaster at 2:18 PM on December 6, 2005

lodurr: The problem with the original statement is the word 'purely', as you indicate. As to whether Plastic can be considered community 'driven' depends on your perspective on the role of the editors, particularly given the usually long lag times in getting even popular stories posted. Perhaps there the proper infinitive is 'to ride', as in community-ridden.
posted by mischief at 2:56 PM on December 6, 2005


Not to bust up the party guys, but I think Scoop originatd as a a ( heavily ) hacked version of Slashdot and Metafilter is some hacked derivation, in turn, of Scoop.

Just saying.

Matt Haughey can set the record straight if I'm wrong on that.
posted by troutfishing at 3:54 PM on December 6, 2005

Oh, that would really, really surprise me.

MeFi is ColdFusion. It's pretty JRun, now, I gather, but in its older forms, it was really obviously ColdFusion. I've never done more than hack CF apps, but CF bears no useful (read: portable) relation to PERL or PHP.
posted by lodurr at 4:28 PM on December 6, 2005

It's interesting that most of the comments about K5 amount to "It's community-driven but I don't like it." Why does anyone assume that something that is truly community-controlled would be something they'd like? It seems like most efforts in this direction eventually come to a point where community control starts producing something that the people who started the site don't like, so they take back some control. I have done that with K5, but regretted it nearly every time. But it should be noted that my expectations for K5 do not necessarily include it being a site full of people that I particularly like, or stories that I'm particularly interested in reading. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. But neither is necessary for the site to be what it should be.

In any case, no site will be completely community owned until someone provides a good enough means of ensuring that one person can only have one account. Until that happens, all efforts at voting are provisional, at best, and only work as long as there are enough people voting in good faith to drown out the abuse. MeFi, with the $5 cover charge probably comes close enough to that to be going ahead with. I've thought about doing that on K5 and trying to turn over more control to the users, but basically I'd be more apathetic if I wasn't so lethargic.

And troutfishing: Scoop started as modifications to Slash, but the Slash of that era turned out to be ill-suited for modifying, so it quickly became a rewrite from scratch. It currently shares no code and a very small amount of database structure with Slash. And Metafilter was started a few months earlier than K5 or Scoop, in a different language, so there's no crossover there. Drupal started as a PHP Scoop clone, very shortly after Scoop itself debuted on K5, but the two have, I think, mostly diverged since then.
posted by rusty at 6:24 PM on December 6, 2005

Reddit is another example of a 'community run' site, in that users vote links up or down. Though it doesn't have any comment or community features at all. Its currently working well - I usually find a few good links each day without little effort.

Interesting to see if it faces the same scaling problems as Digg. Digg was pretty good a few months ago, but now appears to be going down in a sea of stupidity and commercial linking before it really got going.
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:21 PM on December 6, 2005

The term "scalability" has some interesting meanings here. Normally, scalability (to me) references system implementation: As the number of system users increases, performance characteristics change. Here it seems to be largely a social issue: As the number of community members scales, its performance charateristics change.

Which is to say, there's a difference between a system user and a community member. A search bot could look like any other user, but it will never post new articles or make meaningful comments. ("Never" being a relative term...) It will not directly interact with other system users. It's a "person" to the system, but it's not as much of a person as a member would be.

A member will contribute: It will interact with other members. It will function as a person in more than a mechanical sense. Its interactions with the system are at least in part interactions with other users; the result of its interactions with the system will be more than the sum of those actions.

And taking it further, not all members are equal. This is a very important point: Some members are more equal than others. There are lots of reasons this happens, and we all know some of them: Some people are cleverer than others; some people are more honest; some people are more insightful; some people are good at provoking conflicts (and therefore interest and intrique); some people are good at resolving conflicts.

And some people own the system. But the ideal for the successful sites is (or at least seems to be) that the "system owner" status is disproportionately un-important relative to its actual system power. That seems to me to be what rusty was talking about, and it reflects Matt's slight distance from the threads relative to, say, y2karl.

There are several dimensions to that last bit, including at least a distinction between system control and social control. Using Mefi as an example, Matt has all the system control, and he spreads the administrative social controls (delete/close, bannination, etc.) across himself and Jessamyn.

I see there as being two basic ways that different platforms distribute administrative power: They can concentrate it into one or a few individuals, or they can try to spread it out. MeFi concentrates control with Matt and Jessamyn. Other systems spread story editing across a large subset of users. Some systems (Digg, Drupal) are capable of spreading story promotion and ranking across the whole community, or subsets thereof.

But the instrumentality is only ever part of the story, as rusty alludes.
posted by lodurr at 4:26 AM on December 7, 2005

Wikipedia will be as viable as Usenet in another ten years. Even the new policy band-aid won't do a lot to stem the tide of bullshit.
posted by darukaru at 8:02 AM on December 7, 2005

Wikipedia will be as viable as Usenet in another ten years

Because, of course, nobody ever changes the way anything is done.
posted by lodurr at 8:30 AM on December 7, 2005

But it should be noted that my expectations for K5 do not necessarily include it being a site full of people that I particularly like, or stories that I'm particularly interested in reading.


I've thought about doing that on K5 and trying to turn over more control to the users, but basically I'd be more apathetic if I wasn't so lethargic.

that pretty much sums up the problem with k5 right there ... if you don't have any constructive goals for the site, why should anyone else?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:18 AM on December 8, 2005

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