Derek Powazek: ¿Qué?

We don’t get what online-communitarianist Übergruppenführer Derek Powazek is going on about in comparing Metafilter’s commentary features to CNN’s.

Let’s say you go to CNN and read a story about the latest election drama. You become impassioned. You have something to say. So you click on the “Discussion Boards: Presidential Race 2000” link. And there you’re greeted with message number 587,334 of 587,335. What does CNN expect us to do, read 500,000 messages before responding? And, if not, what does it say about the value of the community if you’re not expected to familiarize yourself with its members before becoming one yourself?

Um, it’s identical to an unmoderated mailing list. The news article was posted online in part to elicit commentary. Now, we have derided “message boards” over and over again already. There are lots of reasons to hate “message boards.” Being wide-open isn’t one of them.

It’s a user-hostile way of integrating community features, and, unfortunately, it’s the norm. Enter MetaFilter, where a MetaFilter community member can read that same CNN story, become impassioned, go to MetaFilter and write a quick few lines about what the CNN story says, how they feel about it, and link to the story. Then other MetaFilter community members can follow the link, read what’s going on, and discuss it at MetaFilter. other words, commenting on a CNN story somewhere other than CNN, ensuring that everyone else who’s interested in the CNN piece will never see your commentary. Wow.

You can add your voice to the rabble, likely to be ignored by everyone else in the rabble because there are too many voices already, or mutter to your friends in a far-off corner, where you might elicit one or two intelligent responses. (Don’t overestimate the smarts of the typical Metafilter contributor.) Neither “paradigm” is all that shit-hot, in our opinion. The fact that you do get to know the posting styles of other Metafilter contributors is a plus, but if the focus of this conversation is the superiority of approaches to commenting on a CNN story, the advantages are dubious at best. And in both cases an unseen moderator can and will yank your post if it’s deemed offensive.

What makes MetaFilter technically compelling? Matt Haughey has done some smart things with the site as it’s grown. There’s now a lag time before someone can start their own discussion. Visitors also have to respond to three other conversations before starting their own. This makes sure users participate in the community before they try to lead a conversation. Very smart.

Very smart, and unrelated to CNN’s “message-board” approach, where the originating article “lead[s] a conversation.” The Metafilter approach is merely one of many. It works pretty well for Metafilter. Dissing CNN for not being Metafilter is like dissing Mr. Wrong for not being Mr. Right. There are some things we just can’t change, you know?

Posted on 2001-03-13