Like Metafilter, but more snowflake-y
February 26, 2015 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for alternatives to the Metafilter Blue with more open discussion.

I love AskMeta, but The Blue and The Grey … not so much. I’d like suggestions for online communities that are similar to Metafilter Blue, but where discussions of “difficult” topics are a bit more open, civil, and thoughtful. I’m not looking for a debate group, or necessarily unmoderated discussion, but maybe something a bit more intellectual or academic, and with less of a groupthink/us-vs-them vibe.

Ideally this would be a place that covers a broad range of topics, but I’m particularly interested in current events and news-ish stuff. I’d be most comfortable in a liberal-leaning environment that samples from a broad political/cultural spectrum, i.e. no echo chambers.

Conversely, what I’m *not* looking for:

--A place with an explicit or implicit consensus where if you don’t agree with a certain narrow set of beliefs, you’re on the Wrong Side and get shouted out of the discussion.
--A place where certain topics are off-limits or can only be discussed in a constrained, biased way.
--A place where being snarky is more valued than being rational, as long as you’re on the Right Side.
--A place with a lot of reductio ad adsurdum. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Here’s a little parody to illustrate what I mean:

Person A: Puppies are ok, but I really prefer kittens.
Person B: Why are you anti-puppy? Are you saying no one should like puppies?
Person A: No that’s not what I’m saying. I like puppies just fine, but I like kittens more.
Person B: Are you sure that’s what you’re saying? Because it sounds to me like you really hate puppies.
Person C: Why is it whenever we have a thread about puppies, someone’s got to come in and say BUT WHAT ABOUT THE KITTEHS????
Person A: I’m just saying I like kittens! I have absolutely nothing against puppies!
Person D: I can’t believe there’s someone on Metafilter who is anti-puppy. I don’t even feel safe anymore.
Person E: I don’t know why you keep saying that puppies should be killed and eaten when all your arguments have been thoroughly rebutted.
Person F: Can the mods please tell Person A to stop posting in puppy threads?
(end parody)

Anyway, I hope that gives you some idea of what I’m looking/not looking for. No place is perfect of course, but I’m hoping to find something that hits a bit better on my snowflake-y pros/cons scale. Thanks in advance for any/all suggestions!
posted by phoenix_rising to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
> open, civil, and thoughtful

My experience is that you get to pick any two out of that three. Civility and thoughtfulness needs moderation to get rid of the FIRST!!!1!-pests and name-calling. You'll get flashes of all three at once on any board (hey, even places like b3ta). There may be some subscription-based boards that bring the quality, but they have closed participation.

On reflection, maybe some of the Stack Exchange sites might work, but they are very q-and-a based.
posted by scruss at 5:08 PM on February 26, 2015 [11 favorites]

You want this place to be populated with humans, right? In that case, I'm drawing a blank. Kidding, kind of but not really - maybe the comment areas of the Guardian? There's a bit of a broader demographic there, I think, but I don't think it's free of the things you dislike.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:23 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just to quickly clarify: by "open" I don't mean unmoderated. Actually I really appreciate moderation that keeps the name-calling and snark to a minimum. I mean a place where people can consider and thoughtfully discuss topics even when they're not in absolute 100% agreement with some nebulous sitewide ethos.

And yes, humans being humans, I'm sure no place would hit all the marks perfectly.

I'll stop threadsitting now. :)
posted by phoenix_rising at 5:27 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might try the Great Debates and In My Humble Opinion sections over on the Straight Dope message boards. A bit left-leaning, but for any given topic there are usually at least three or four posters who disagree with the majority. The board culture tends to be more discussion based than Metafilter, and the moderators are fair and reasonable.

The only thing there I avoid are the feminism/women's issues related threads. There are a small number of MRAs and more than a few unintentional sexists.
posted by Cecilia Rose at 5:27 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

...where discussions of “difficult” topics are a bit more open, civil, and thoughtful

Such a place does not exist on the Internet. I get where you're coming from and think the groupthink here (and attendant histrionics when someone espouses deviant opinions in certain hot-button areas) has been a growing problem for awhile now. But seriously? Metafilter still does the job a lot better than most.

Offhand, the quality of discourse on Hacker News is still pretty high if you enjoy pure tech, tech business and science topics. I don't really consider HN a community, though, per se. Some of the more carefully modded subsites on Reddit are also worth a look. I'd recommend checking out /r/askhistorians and /r/askscience/, for example.
posted by killdevil at 5:51 PM on February 26, 2015 [12 favorites]

Perhaps or
I have not been a member of either, just making this suggestion based on what I've read about them.
posted by Sophont at 6:03 PM on February 26, 2015

Crooked Timber is more academic than not in topic matter, but I think they do a good job of keeping debate civil but from varied viewpoints. Definite liberal bias. I always hoped there would be a always be market for something like MemeFirst (which actively recruited pretty diverse ideological biases, though there was a lot of snark). Maybe with whole 'getting back to blogging' thing you can get them to get back to business.
posted by 99_ at 6:23 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

The only online communities that I've found like that also had very high percentages of users who were friends (or coworkers, or artistic collaborators, or etc) IRL. It's hard to maintain civility and have honest conversations on difficult topics without a lot of fairly close and trusting bonds between people, and bonds like that are much easier to form face-to-face than online even for people who are highly adept at socializing online.

Not sure if that helps or not.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:27 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

What you're looking for is going to be tricky to find - it's totally possible to have a civil discussion about a broad range of topics if the moderation is mildly competent and the userbase is *really small*, but you're not nearly as likely to get a wide range of *views* on those topics with a tiny group. If you have a wide range of views, the discussion is probably going to have to be pretty constrained to prevent the discussion from getting polarized and then nasty. (That's true regardless of size, but in small groups social mores tend to be sufficient to constrain people, and a minimal amount of moderation is necessary. The bigger the group, the more those flip.)

What'd I'd recommend is looking for a forum that self-selects for a wide range of users - hobby forums might be the place (obviously a hobby that you share) - that also has an "off-topic" or freeform discussion section. Or pick the topics you want to discuss most, and find mid-size fora for each of those that have a tone you're comfortable with. An all-topics, all-users forum that will actually invite you in (i.e. is not closed to new members, or so socially closed as to be hard to join) is a rare beast indeed.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:41 PM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

I know what you're talking about, and it's why I stopped posting on the Blue.

Unfortunately, I think the "anything goes" moderation style doesn't work so well with current events, politics, social issues, and similar content. One of the reasons MetaFilter works as well as it does (even with its unspoken and unacknowledged ideological biases) is that is is very fiercely moderated. Conversations about politics and such tend to go off the rails quickly and become emotion-driven rather than logical, reasoned discussions. People who are interested in logical, reasoned discussions thus flee to better moderated forums. So as a moderator, you want to encourage debate, but within some parameters. Moderators have to separate the wheat from the chaff and there's an awful lot of both. Without some idea of what constitutes a "real" point of debate and what constitutes abuse of the system, moderators can't do their jobs.

So I think you get three things happening:
1. Unmoderated forums become overrun with abusive poster
2. People actually interested in reasoned discussion seek asylum in well moderated forums
3. Moderated forums tend to naturally encourage a set of views which are "serious" and tend to regard expressions of views in opposition to these as abusive
posted by deathpanels at 7:06 PM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've gotten into a few too many silly arguments on Metafilter myself, and I understand what you're complaining about... but I've also been online since 1996 or so, and I've never found a forum as reasonable and intelligent as this. On Metafilter, the real jerks don't get to dominate the discussion. They are dismissed by the other posters, and eventually they probably get banned. People can get into PC, holier-than-thou tizzies, sometimes unfairly accusing other people of callousness or ignorance. But to fit in on Metafilter you kind of have to believe compassion and smarts are a good thing, and that is so, so preferable to other forums where people try to one-up each other with endless grossness and cruelty. Metafilter is kind of the Bizarro version of 4chan. And bless it for that.

If that's not doing it for you, I'd take restless_nomad's advice and look at forums for specific interests. Hopefully some quiet and brainy hobby that attracts quiet and brainy people.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:10 PM on February 26, 2015 [15 favorites]

posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:53 PM on February 26, 2015

Seconding The Well. I'm a fairly long-time member there (since 1999). It has its pluses and minuses, and while it doesn't fit your bill entirely (it's extremely Bay Area left leaning), it's a bit more freewheeling and less moderated than here. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to discuss it more.
posted by holborne at 8:17 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

The only online communities that I've found like that also had very high percentages of users who were friends

Precisely. You want facebook. And I'm not kidding.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:38 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I feel for you, phoenix_rising. It seems increasingly difficult to find quality communities that have not been taken over by one sect or another of political fundamentalists. That said, from what I can tell I'd second the forums on Straight Dope as well as the City Data forums.
posted by shivohum at 12:29 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

That was a great parody. And why I mostly lurk on the Blue. I'm insufficiently pure. I was going go say Crooked Timber or Lawyers, Guns, and Money. But you get a much narrower range of topics at both.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:30 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also should say that there is a level of snark at LGM that bothers me. But there is on the Blue too. And that goes hand-in-hand with the general lack of kindness and compassion there. CT is much better than either in this regard.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:35 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you could go back in time, would have been perfect. It still may be, albeit a little less populated these days. The interface might take a little getting used to, but it's worth it.
posted by bink at 12:53 AM on February 27, 2015

Great question, great answers. I came in to suggest Straight Dope although it has been many years since I lurked there. I did see, though, that you got a suggestion for the Guardian comment section and I really would have to disagree! In my experience, the news articles have more than their share of horrible YouTube-style trolls - I never even scroll down that far to save my blood pressure.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:14 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks all for the suggestions, I'll be looking into many of those! That's a great analysis restless_nomad, I think you've hit the nail on the head and yeah I imagine the sort of thing I'm looking for is pretty rare but it sounds like there are a few good possibilities out there. Thanks again!
posted by phoenix_rising at 7:15 AM on February 27, 2015

I mean, Quora ticks a lot of the boxes, though i wouldn't exactly call it a 'community'.
posted by softlord at 7:45 AM on March 2, 2015


The links at truereddit are good. You might also consider some of the subs at that page's sidebar under Related Links.

Be forewarned that since it's a popular subreddit, you will see links to racist, sexist or supremacist sites / articles / editorials. Sometimes frequently. I always pay close attention to the names of linked sites at TrueReddit before clicking.
posted by zarq at 7:56 AM on March 2, 2015

I don't think such a place exists and I like forums. I've visited most of the recommended places and they all feature a mix of people who are polite and less so.

Reddit: Even strictly "moderated" subreddits like true_xyx topic feature their own share of offensive POVs basically since the entire site is full of them. I mean, I follow a few niche groups but I can't escape the problems that plague the overall place.

Something Awful: Better than Reddit but still share the same problems as it felt like a small echo chamber. They have a lot of sub-forums with various topics like games, TV/movies, and fitness.

StackExchange: Decent Q&A site but not meant for discussion as mods will delete spam or anything against rules quickly. Mostly known for their Programming section than anything else.

There are smaller communities but they tend to lack scope as most of it will be centered around the hobby or niche interests. Maybe you can follow some academic blogs as they tend to have HQ content more often than not.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 7:37 PM on March 2, 2015

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