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19 May 2014

Wow: metafilter in trouble.. [More:]I hope they pull through and that the mods will be ok.
Me too :( I would miss the community very much.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 19 May | 14:12
I remember thinking when they hired the new mods (taz, gnfti, etc.), I hope they're not in an internet bubble!! Now we'll go back to those days where mods weren't on top of things every single second of every day. Hope people don't whine too much!
posted by Melismata 19 May | 14:16
Thanks! I just jumped into the subscription option for $20/month. It is hard to imagine life with Metafilter (or, for that matter, Metachat!)
posted by bearwife 19 May | 14:20
I've said for years that over moderation would ruin the site. I know that's an unpopular opinion, and I'm holding back from voicing it over there in fear of being lynched, but I'm tired of the outright editing and censorship that's been going on, and hope that this trimming down will help bring back some of the old glory.
posted by mrmoonpie 19 May | 15:23
Moderation didn't cause the financial problems, though.
posted by JanetLand 19 May | 15:46
Whatever the cause, I think this will be a good thing for metafilter. Over-expansion has been the downfall of many a small business.
posted by mrmoonpie 19 May | 15:51
I remember when the new mods were hired, it was a response to various handwringings and whinings over the fact that the mods couldn't attend to Every. Single. Problem on the site. Spammers and trolls were posting at times when all the U.S. mods were asleep, for example, and people were outraged. So Matt did what the customer wanted and hired mods for that time frame. And I remember thinking huh, we are being a little whiny here, but if he can afford it, more power to him.

Be careful what you wish for.

But you're right JanetLand, that's definitely not the only issue.
posted by Melismata 19 May | 15:59
Whatever the cause, I think this will be a good thing for metafilter.

You may or may not be right; I have no opinion on site moderation. But your sentiment seems a little . . . . out of place just at the moment when 3 people are losing their jobs.
posted by JanetLand 19 May | 16:10
I agree JanetLand.
posted by jouke 19 May | 16:18
I have a different opinion.
posted by mrmoonpie 19 May | 16:23
So maybe keep it to yourself?
posted by Eideteker 19 May | 16:29
Bearwife, could you link me the subscription option? I have to admit that I joined before it was $5 and I have never given a dime to the place, other than buy a few t-shirts.

If I can give to PBS, I can surely give to MeFi.
posted by danf 19 May | 17:04
Jesus moonpie, drop it right now. I know you are a good guy, but here and elsewhere you are coming off as prickish. Three people lost their fucking job. You sound like you lack in common human decency. Your opinion on moderation is really beside the goddamn point.
posted by msali 19 May | 17:09
Oh yeah, I signed up to donate every month. I would have Matt hire MORE MODERATORS
posted by msali 19 May | 17:10
I must sign up for monthly donations. Compared to how much I spend on mediocre coffee every month... yeah.
posted by gaspode 19 May | 19:40
You'd think they'd let them keep their mod abilities with the added bonus of being able to walk away with a hearty, healthy "Not my job." At least Jessamyn. I don't know about anything vaguely recent, meaning years, but she use to set a standard of thoughtful decency, although she may have more time to do that as a member if she doesn't have to tend it.

I wasn't aware that they'd gone to weight bearing full time employment as it seemed like that would be a very different creature, and I thought they mostly had other projects or jobs. If it needs heavy moderation now, I suppose it is very different, which doesn't bode well, if it was based on growth.

But going off at mrmoonpie because he wants to think about the site's survival after other people have far more appropriately commented to curb his stream of commentary is pretty much killing the concept of thoughtful conversation with prickishness. At least he had a point besides gnashing of teeth, renting of clothes and expecting someone else to curb your emotional dog when you go leash free. It's not like we can do anything to change their job situation immediately or that a few more "healing vibes" make any difference. I doubt there was anything sudden or light in coming to this, but it's more a time for pragmatism than sad emojis, dying in fires, or i told you sos.

The spammer issue should be less, but if there was a high new active user rate with no ethical code indoctrinated-- there really should have been some kind of fee guest ask account. I'd love to see data on use and retention. How many old timers stayed, how many new users contribute-- it really is such a different thing from the whole turn of the millennium and so is the whole internet, I thought it was really remarkable for making it pretty much intact to a decade, because almost nothing else had. It's lost that weird snotty self importance but so many other things and I don't really know what it is now. I just looked at it the other day and noticed the FanFare, which is anathema to what it was.

A really interesting article could be done from a sampling of days over the last dozen years, and charts... I bet I have old pages saved on old computers. There was something to its cold nerd fight logic once upon a time that had way more skill than a lot of the baseless emotion noise.

I was shocked to hear the Pyramid still exists; nothing in New York just stays the same. I wonder how many sites from old bookmarks still exist. Crash after calamity, if the url had ever changed, I doubt I'd have kept finding it. I think I've done at least three surveys of the site until some years ago: early days to first new members, second new members to the great upheaval, the dust settling to massive growth-- there is an allegorical sci fi novel in here somewhere. And following that logic, it really stayed intact because it didn't have exponential growth.

It would be weird for it to not exist. I'd have problems with that. It's really got to outlive Facebook. Really. Seriously. But how. It depends on what existing means, what survives, because I never thought it was suppose to be a growth industry so much as a sustainable community. Did that change? Because 2007 mefi is not a bad thing except it's not 2007. I remember gnfti and LobsterMitten and it's great they are still around. I still have metafilter minutes somewhere. They both seemed like Keep Calm and Carry On types I doubt need much worry or to worry about people worrying.

If this is the crucible, it really better survive as something stronger.
posted by ethylene 20 May | 05:49
You'd think they'd let them keep their mod abilities with the added bonus of being able to walk away with a hearty, healthy "Not my job."

Were the mod jobs full-time, full-pay gigs? I was under the impression that the mods all had regular jobs and Metafilter was a part-time thing with a small stipend. In a lot of smaller communities, mod positions are volunteer jobs with, maybe, a Christmas bonus thrown-in.
posted by Thorzdad 20 May | 07:08
Danf, I'm not bearwife, but here's the link. You can click the box to make it a recurring monthly donation.

I joined in 2011, so I haven't been around that long, but I really enjoy the site. So yeah - if I can give to NPR, I can definitely give to MetaFilter.
posted by needlegrrl 20 May | 07:20
It looks like the fund drive/sponsorship has lots of traction. Maybe they can raise enough to make a nest egg.
posted by ethylene 20 May | 07:31
Sorry to be slow, danf. Here is the paypal link (thanks scrump!!). I had the same reaction you did.
posted by bearwife 20 May | 10:55
Were the mod jobs full-time, full-pay gigs?

Yeah for most of us. I started out part-time and then went to 1099 and then went to being a W-2 employee and then went to being a W-2 employee with health insurance where I've been for the last 5-ish years with side jobs on and off. Everyone's got a slightly different arrangement (which has always been a thing I didn't like about the place, but it's pretty normal from what I hear) but most of us were full time w/ benefits employees. Stuff's been bumpy from a $ perspective for the past maybe 18 months and there were some difference of opinion about how much to open this up to the userbase and what we needed to do to deal with it. I've got a bunch more inside baseball stuff if people want to ask questions over email but there's a limited amount that I'll say in a public forum.
posted by jessamyn 20 May | 12:39
That's understandable.
(the 'limited amount [...] in a public forum'. Not the 1099 and W-2. That's totally code to a Dutchman like me. Probably something to do with healthcare.)
Best wishes!
posted by jouke 20 May | 14:41
Oh gosh I'm sorry. Basically 1099 money is money where you are paid as a contractor so you're not technically an employee and don't have general legal employee protections. You pay into your own social security and a few other things. Usually seen in short-term gigs or consulting type stuff. W-2 means they hire you, you are an employee, you are protected like an employee and they pay into your social security for you. I've done a lot of both kinds of work but W-2 usually means more investment into you as an employee (i.e. the company does more of the work to keep you). Neither one necessarily comes with healthcare (hello America!) but you're more likely to get benefits like that as a full employee, not a contractor.
posted by jessamyn 20 May | 14:54
Also, 1099 and W-2 are references to U.S. tax forms. One provides a 1099 form to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) when paid as a contractor, and a W-2 when paid as an employee.
posted by bearwife 20 May | 14:58
Oww. You two are so polite! I'm ok with not having to understand US regulations. I guess I should have pointed out that I was being somewhat ironic.
But thank you for elucidating.

I'll be happy to explain the vagaries of VAR to you to repay the kindness. Verklaring Arbeidsrelatie obviously.
(Not really, no. It's extremely tedious even if the regulation applies to you)
posted by jouke 20 May | 15:36
That Metafilter could work as a business was, to me, proof that the entire US economy wasn't doomed. Now I'm not so sure.
posted by Obscure Reference 20 May | 19:44
Metafilter could work as a completely sustainable nonprofit, sitting prettier than most nonprofits, with a super clear value chain and an engaged constituency that most member-supported orgs would die for. But I sense that there's a real attachment to it being a business...or at least there was when it was making money easily. I'll definitely take jessamyn up on the inside baseball offer sometime. Sorry to see it come to this, especially since it seems like it was shaping up for a while. Still and all, I hope that moving on is actually kind of an exciting and good thing at least for some of the mods who are leaving. To everything its season and all that.
posted by Miko 20 May | 22:12
Metafilter could work as a completely sustainable nonprofit,

With respect, it's really not that simple unless you are offering to organize and run it. MetaFilter as-is includes the people it already includes and they are not motivated to do this and thus it's an open question about whether real-world-MeFi could or couldn't work that way.

A non-profit organization could certainly be created that would have as its mission fostering good online discussion and the like. Sure. But Matt's organization with the people who currently work there could, in my opinion, not do this and would never try. It's a long story and part of why I've moved on, but there's what's technically possible and what's actually practical in real life.

It's been a long 18 months of this increasingly bad news (with Matt getting advice from a lot of people and very little from the community who should have been told much much sooner) and while I've been trying to take the recent flood of advice in the spirit which it's intended, the bottleneck is really always going to be Matt.

I'm really hoping this influx of community support encourages him to be more actually transparent about the way MeFi works. I'm happy to talk about the stuff I know about but even with my long tenure there, and specially about the money, there's a lot I don't know.
posted by jessamyn 21 May | 18:33
it's really not that simple unless you are offering to organize and run it

Yeah, of course. Having spent my career in not-for-profits I am usually the first to say "Hell, no, this is much more complex than it seems" when people say "let's just start a thing!" so I know it's not the push of a button. I mean, it is a possible enough matter if someone wanted to do it, in a purely structural and financial sense, and yet I know that I certainly don't want to do it and would not in any case be given the power to, and that internal motivation is what it takes to run such an organization (desperation not being the best motivator), and that that sort of motivation, or even that orientation, is just not natural to the organization. MetaFilter just doesn't work that way and it doesn't work unless the people in it want it to. I get why that's frustrating. Also, if it seemed like I was blaming you-Jessamyn or offering advice to you-Jessamyn in any way, I didn't intend that. I don't see it as something you're responsible for saving or not saving. It's an interesting cultural/organizational thing, is all, and something that makes me reflect on how communities/outlets like this will survive (or not) now that ad revenue is such a shrinking pie.

I read the essay on Medium today and was really struck by the arc of the whole thing from the technical side. It very closely mirrors the revenue problem journalism has. It's not that the content's bad, it's not that no one wants it or wants to read it, it's not that it's not relevant - it's just that the financial model won't run this way any more. New financial models are totally necessary. I think the userbase stepping up is awesome, but wonder how sustaining that will be over the long haul.'s the hard part about being part of a community (or employed by a community) that is private property, at the end of the day.

posted by Miko 21 May | 19:44
It's easier to fund raise for something that is trying to be more of npo in the sense of being self sustaining, especially in the form of tax breaks if one went after larger donations. Then there is the funding things from a geographic community that it doesn't have, but one would think the possibilities of what one could draw in from a virtual community would have advantages-- there are lots of ways to raise money using what is at hand in the form of human resources that doesn't mean ruining the site with gawkers and gewgaws, but it does probably mean having somebody to at least organize things and take charge of that aspect. Charity auctions, art/writing/media donations/projects/contests, making a community marketplace section, skill donation/auctions, events, product, etc. there are lots of ways to get money, esp. if there is an animating cause behind it besides profit.
posted by ethylene 21 May | 19:53
It wouldn't be eligible for tax breaks unless it had a charitable purpose. It would most likely come under the IRS code of 501(c)4, Social Welfare Organization:

To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).

But yeah, it comes down to (a) wanting to be that and (b) setting up the organizational structure to make all the possible. Funds don't usually raise themselves (crises being the exception) and it takes people to organize the campaigns and deal with the records and all. As jessamyn says, without (a) and (b) it doesn't happen anyway; though I agree that there's nothing impossible about such a project in the abstract, it may not be the thing MetaFilter in specific can or will ever do.
posted by Miko 21 May | 20:04
I didn't mean going npo except as a tax break incentive, I meant as far as fundraising. And i can read, but if they want to raise funds, there are options.
posted by ethylene 21 May | 20:10
To avoid any more over explanation of what has already been written by jessamyn, when I've raised money for things, it's usually the non-momentary aspects that get people on board more than any tax break.
posted by ethylene 21 May | 20:13

Food. Need food.
posted by ethylene 21 May | 20:14
Oh -- they can totally fundraise. But individuals who donate can't take those donations as deductions on their income. It's a flat-out donation, no tax incentive for the donors. That's what we're both probably saying in violent agreement. As for donor motivation - for something like this, yeah, it's not the tax break that would make them donate anyway. It does mean that major donors/gifts and foundation giving is off the table, though.
posted by Miko 21 May | 20:26
Organizational issues aside, oh how I wish Matt had announced the news much earlier. Could layoffs have been prevented? I mean, we'll never know, but it does nag at one.
posted by gaspode 21 May | 20:38
To do that would seem out of character, much like why these other options that have been off the table. What I find surprising is that some kind of fund was not established once there was a notable surplus. I would have thought he'd think to make it self sustaining as soon as possible.
posted by ethylene 21 May | 20:48
Or better, social club IRS status.

I agree, gaspode, those thoughts crossed my mind.
posted by Miko 21 May | 20:58
I would have thought he'd think to make it self sustaining as soon as possible.

Yep, I agree completely. It was really nice to be well-paid but I just presumed that long-term financials were being managed and taken care of and I don't think that was the case. To Matt's credit I think he paid staff well and benefits were great and all the rest. But I don't think there was a long range "what to do in lean times" plan except to just watch the numbers and worry and make some tweaks and continue to worry.

Again, it's easy to backseat drive these sorts of things, but as someone more on the inside of things, I feel like a more community-minded approach would have been to involve the community earlier and as a mod I felt pretty kept in the dark about money stuff and still do. I was happy to not have to worry about it and just get to do my job, but it is the downside to these one-guy-website sorts of setups. I feel lucky that it was a good job for a bunch of people for a long time. The fact that maybe there could have been more, for longer, is a sort of unknowable but it feels tantalizingly knowable.
posted by jessamyn 21 May | 21:03
Does it really need such heavy moderation now? As i usually don't see it much in action, there have been occasions where things seem pruned to all hell. Maybe there does need to be an avenue called Chatfilter where people can have conversations born of a thread to not derail. But then for all I know it's just expletives and irrational emotional outbursts being removed.

There's something to a metatalk call to arms though; i can't think of the last time I followed such a thing.

I'd like to stop thinking about all the ways it could use its nature to pay the bills. There's so many options.
posted by ethylene 21 May | 21:04
The whole thing was ringing a vague bell in my head and I remembered this: Could MetaFilter Die?

Rhaomi had the tea leaves in that one already.
posted by Miko 21 May | 23:10
"Searching for “most amazing woman ever” on Bing will give you MetaFilter’s helpful “Who is the most amazing woman who ever lived” as the third result. (Answers, by the way, included British spy and French Resistance leader Nancy Wake, world’s first programmer Ada Lovelace, slave rescuer and activist Harriet Tubman, and Chinese pirate Ching Shih.) Google puts it at the bottom of the second page of results, in 19th place. Google’s top result? A list of “the 100 most beautiful women ever.” " slate

That made me wonder whether Google has shifted its products from being the kind of thing that their own employee corps would enjoy to things for the general public. I personally f.i. enjoyed the from: to: keywords in Google Maps search. That feature disappeared and probably the majority of users wouldn't use those anyway.
Personally I scorn at a search result of the '100 most beautiful women'. But in the large population it will probably lead to a much higher click through.
So I wonder if Google Search was oriented towards the smart crowd niche and that they changed focus towards the common and the populous.
To put it differently: a shift from an emphasis in information as high value search result towards including entertainment, gossip etc.

(Don't get me wrong. I don't think metafilter can or should start aiming for the common and the populous.)

It's strange to have spent so much time for a decade on a website, that is on another continent, in another language and that I never felt part of.
I guess I was lonely.
posted by jouke 22 May | 01:21
the slate link
posted by jouke 22 May | 01:26
I thought a big part of their algorithms were popularity, so sadly that would be the most popular result, as unchecked random online conversations often degenerate into how much someone wants to molest someone--

You don't feel like you're a part of it, jouke? You obviously care about it. Apparently I do, too. I keep stopping myself from volunteering for things but it's funny to see it called "legendary." Pffttt.

It's sad that only a handful of people took Miko's link seriously but how much of that was faith/wishful thinking and not wanting to pry.
posted by ethylene 22 May | 02:17
Well, the official message that came through in thread was pretty clearly "we aren't interested in discussing internal strategies with the community." I remember taking a different perspective on MeFi after that. I agree that people didn't want to pry, or rock the boat, but also am very much aligned with jessamyn on the idea that transparency is almost always a very good way to run a voluntary-participation organization.
posted by Miko 22 May | 07:22
All the press and articles are very interesting but the last line from a guy at goog saying he should have said something sooner-- there's a bit of, "You guys are saying that?" mixed with a healthy dose of, "Well, yeah."

The nervous rat disposition is not one to share and delegate, but I don't really get the lack of... core planning? They're usually so worried about money and security that isn't an issue. I guess I didn't think the "just ditch it one day" option was so close to the top of the list, so I ridiculously assumed things were generally financially and organizationally stable when there started being real employees. Like it was a grown up business if it was going to be a business. Peeking behind the curtain, seeing a bit of pre-sausage, I'm a bit stunned at the lack of... well, professionalism. Then going through the main talk threads, I was getting choked up (yes, in part because of my weird hours and over tiredness) but it's really heartbreaking for all of the people who were just running on faith it would exist in part through user base loyalty. I guess I thought it was past being just one guy's playground by the 9/11 decade-versary and there was some mutual agreement to exist. Ya know, a relationship, not polyamory, what's the word? Oh, yeah, community. Not that I've been around much (besides being actively discouraged) but it's like a town you once lived in happening to disappear on you.

We turned nine and this is the second year we forgot. And it's kind of weird I'd be the one to be the torch bearer for our little rituals in the same way it's sort of not. Good lord, we're NINE. We didn't know if we'd make it to four.
posted by ethylene 22 May | 09:26
the official message that came through in thread was pretty clearly "we aren't interested in discussing internal strategies with the community."

I don't think it will surprise anyone much that the official message on the internal mod list is not that dissimilar.
posted by jessamyn 22 May | 09:26
My dog chewed into the kibble bin and ate, I dunno, seven or eight pounds of chow. || new television