How does MetaFilter have such a high user engagement compared to others?
July 19, 2021 2:30 PM   Subscribe

All questions asked on this platform typically get answered and get LOTS of in depth answers. Compare that to reddit, Quora etc. I feel like you don't get the same engagement. Why is that?
posted by oracleia to Computers & Internet (39 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm guessing having to pay for membership, combined with the userbase being made up of people who are still willing/have the attention spans for a completely text-based and gimmick/reward-free experience (I suppose favourites are a little like karma on reddit, but they're not rewarding enough to encourage karma-farming type repetitive and/or attention-seeking replies).
posted by Balthamos at 2:36 PM on July 19 [26 favorites]


I can only speak for myself. I am here because I like helping people and answering questions. I think askmefi has attracted a LOT of people like me. I would bet there's at least 200 or so of us "frequent answerers" that chime in a LOT here. Like, I answer 1/5 questions on the site or so.

In internet terms, that's not that many people. But in a q&a site that is quite a few.

The fact that we are here answering means, that there are more questions. And then more people answering. And then more questions. It's really a quite nice spiral.

I also answer questions on reddit a lot. But here, I know my answer will be read and helpful and less likely to be critiqued. On reddit, i'll get downvoted to oblivion for just trying to be helpful. Or, in a sea of 500 answers, nobody will notice mine.

But yeah, the dopamine hit when I get a "best answer" or friendly comment, or 10+ favorites, is real. And seeing others solve problems is nice too.

Quora is terrible and I hate it. It's ugly and hard and emails me and it's just not good :)
posted by bbqturtle at 2:47 PM on July 19 [55 favorites]


From day one, Metafilter has had very high community standards. We are asked to treat each other with respect and not waste each others' time. The standards are supported by the community members and enforced with active moderation. We see what's valuable here, and we all want to keep it going.

It is also a relatively small community, by internet standards, and so there's less opportunity for fly-by bs.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:54 PM on July 19 [32 favorites]


It's the moderation, for me. I dip my toes into Reddit and other forums from time to time, and then run away screaming when people are just freaking jerks to each other. And none of them can stay on target! And they want me to follow links to their spam sites.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:08 PM on July 19 [38 favorites]


Engagement from the asker is a big norm here (in the form of best answer and follow-ups and productive versions of thread-sitting), which helps. On other sites the OP might upvote your response and MAYBE reply. But on askmefi I get more of a sense that my answers might have an impact on people in a positive way and that they are reading + learning from them. Versus contributing to an SEO-optimized content farm to email to a stranger.
posted by heresiarch at 3:12 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


The quality of questions is also higher, and that feeds back into attracting people with good answers.

Most internet forums are locked into eternal September, where there is a constant stream of new people asking the same questions over and over, because it costs them nothing to do so. However, it reduces the visibility of better, more complicated/nuanced questions and drives away people who are more experienced.

Many places start creating wikis to collect the information, or stickying posts, or restricting simple questions into specific places, or some other methods to reduce the noise. Otherwise these places tend to die out when it is dominated by beginners.
posted by meowzilla at 3:19 PM on July 19 [17 favorites]


The people answering are interesting and diverse enough that I feel like I can learn something just reading answers for vaguely relevant questions, which keeps me returning to the page.
posted by praemunire at 3:20 PM on July 19 [34 favorites]


I think the initial "fee" to make sure you're serious has deterred the spammers and the casual dabblers, as well as made sure that people who truly have something to share stayed around.
posted by kschang at 3:42 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


The mods make this site what it is. Their rules shape who comes here and how interactions happen (or dont), full stop. The membership fee helps, but the quality of the moderators and engagement of the site owners surpass any online community I've ever seen. I've been in a few niche bulletin board type forums that come close (Brunching Shuttlecocks being one, thanks Loren!), but for a general collaborative site, Metafilter wins hands down.

So people trust the process. Trollers leave, and the good people stick around. New folks see that level of engagement and civility and stay (or dont bc they like trolling, or get blocked). It's a rare virtuous cycle.
posted by ananci at 3:50 PM on July 19 [16 favorites]


We have a diverse, well educated and compassionate membership. A lot of folks have been here for 10-15-20 years and we have all continued to learn and grow together. The staff of MetaFilter is very open and encouraging for us to be the best we can be to each other. We not only have a large number of computer programmers and academics, engineers, medical professionals, lawyers, writers, scientists, teachers, and CEOs, but also a smart bunch of retail, food service, construction, and other modestly paid workers. I'm always impressed by the willingness of autistic, depressed and chronically ill people to be helpful to other sufferers. Gardeners and parents are so helpful.

I know that I have learned an awful lot on AskMe not only by asking questions but also by answering. For an introverted childless person like myself, it allows me to pass on some of my hard learned lessons which fulfills a longing to share and pass on what I know. And I vastly appreciate all the carefully crafted answers that appear like magic!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:03 PM on July 19 [26 favorites]


When I answer, I do so with the expectation that I will be treated as having something real to say. It makes me consider how and which questions to answer.

When I ask, I try to ask in such a way that an answer will be helpful to me - there are definitely existential questions that I'm not putting out here, and things I don't want to say under my username (I've never asked on anon, although I've thought about it).

I have noticed some frequent questioners, and recognize patterns to their queries - this helps me remember that I'm answering real people, and that flippant or dismissive responses can hurt people and make them wish they hadn't asked. Why do that?
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:23 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


My *opinion* is that MetaFilter started in one of the golden ages of the Internet for community engagement - and by that I mean community, not faux community making Facebook a billion dollars - and so a lot of the culture of thoughtful connection between people about topics is in the DNA.

I think the type of content on the blue is also often thoughtful or knowledgeable, and that helps because people who like to read those things often will respond in the same tone.

But the structure and the moderation and commitment from the team has really held that space and continued it really nicely. In Ask I think the guiding principle of only providing answers that will be helpful or useful, and not arguing is really good in particular. And although I don't often seem to be having the same cultural experience as everyone else in FanFare, with the exception of the Marvel properties, I read it quite a bit when I do because I enjoy all the kind of geeking out on things there.

For me personally, in a way I have Formerly Gifted Child Syndrome in that I often deal with stress by trying to either sink into learning something or communicate knowledge or advice, and so MetaFilter is a very nice environment for that. Over time I've come to really invest in different members' journeys at arm's length and I miss people who have left.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:24 PM on July 19 [14 favorites]


I think flat comments help. With threaded comments the top threads get all the visibility so unless you're there it can feel like you're commenting into the void. With flat comments sure not everyone is going to read a long thread but enough people will and I think that makes people a bit more deliberate in the comments that they post. It also helps bring things to mod attention if people are being too disruptive.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:33 PM on July 19 [23 favorites]


I like that way this community of people isn’t forever racing onto the next thing. People spend time on their comments and follow up on them in thoughtful ways. I've shared interesting finds and personal projects that I think would’ve been tiny blips in any other forum. (on preview- what apiastorm said)

I love the mods too. In a couple instances, I've asked an anonymous question and then had a rush of anxiety, frantically emailing them, asking them to retract it. They've very quickly and kindly gotten back to me with assurances both times.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:46 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]


Agree with everyone who gave a shout out to the mods and the general awesomeness of the community members.

I don't participate in any other online space except a vintage fashion forum (also mostly Q&A style) and I haven't logged in there in a couple of years.

The main reason AskMe lured me out of my lurking lair was the fact that I felt a little more at ease here among these helpful funny curious people than I had anywhere else. I mean, questions like this have made me so happy and keep me coming back for more. And that's just one of my recent faves. I love this place so much.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 4:49 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


I have a lot of opinions about this. The main one that I think hasn't been mentioned is that the people here on the Q&A part of the site know each other or can get to know each other from the other parts of the site. And people can reveal as much or as little as they want and that's mostly okay here. Many of the really involved users here have met each other or interact on other spin off sites. Some don't and that is also okay. So I think this site attracts a lot of people who enjoy being able to do it "their way" while also liking to help other people but maybe in a way that isn't too intense or involved.

And in terms of Quora, I'll be honest, I don't like the community there. Too many start-uppy people (which is good if that's what you want) and I just got the feeling that it was for a certain kind of person and that person was not me. I found the interface inscrutable, the administration faceless, and the "Hey sometimes you can read this page if you get here from google results and sometimes you can't" aspect of it just awful.

I like Reddit a lot for certain things, some of the smaller or more tightly focused subreddits are terrific, but the overarching feel of Reddit is "Hey the parts of this site that are great are mainly that way because of unpaid moderation work" which... I feel weird about. I like that there are human mods here, that they're known people and that the jobs they have are decent (with some hand-wavey stuff in here because no place is perfect). I also like that there are a lot of people here with real life experience (yes another way to say that i think the site skews older) and that means you can get solid answers to questions needing someone with lived experience. Certainly not perfect, I wouldn't ask a question about opera here, but I think it hits a Very Online zeitgeist in a pretty good way.

I'm a librarian so I answer questions for people for a job, a little, but AskMe often has more interesting questions than the ones I get at the public library, so it's a great place for people who are helpful like that but maybe don't have as many real world outlets.
posted by jessamyn at 5:00 PM on July 19 [14 favorites]


I think there are two policies in particular that promote good answers. The first, limiting questions to two (formerly one) per week, does so by promoting good questions. Especially in the once a week era, which is most of the site’s history, the asker had to be thoughtful in drafting their question so as not to waste their only opportunity for seven days. If you threw away your question with a “how is babby formed”, and then two days later you had an actual urgent question, you were SOL. Alternatively, even if you were asking good questions, you still had more questions than opportunities to ask. That left you with time to hone your question, revising it until your window opened again. The result is that a lot of questions are pretty well-written with lots of detail on important topics. You’ve heard the saying “ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer”. Well, the inverse is true too.

The second discourages snarky or otherwise unhelpful answers. There are times I don’t like this policy, because I have an absolutely hilarious answer at the ready and everyone will think I’m so witty and clever and it’ll be great. For me. Not for the asker, though. That’s the key: the policy ensures that answers are useful for the asker, not scoring points for the answerer. To the extent that there are “points” for answers (“x users marked this as a favorite”), it’s a setting you can turn off, which I recommend.

There’s a third thing, which isn’t a policy so much as a best practice, and that’s the custom of not threadsitting. Askers don’t generally respond to individual comments, and to the extent that they do, it’s usually to provide additional information, not to disagree with a commenter. That keeps the discussion from turning personal and becoming filled with “you’re not understanding what I’m saying” defensiveness.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:03 PM on July 19 [13 favorites]


I absolutely agree to everything above, and only want to add, it's quality, not quantity here.

There aren't so many questions every day - a dozen or two, I think? So each question doesn't get quickly buried by five million other questions, and you can take your time to think about your answer, and easily revisit questions from the past few days. Each question gets the benefit of lots of eyes and time to ponder.
posted by umwhat at 5:18 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Pertaining to Ask MetaFilter in particular, I agree with all these things mentioned above: initial fee, proactive moderation, thread sitting discouraged, a limit on the number of questions allowed, flat interface structure, and the nature of the community (types of people who are members, etc.).

Plus I think there's another factor: on AskMetaFilter, not only are unhelpful answers discouraged, as someone else mentioned, but also direct engagement between members also seems to be discouraged. It's sort of like a legislature or school board meeting where people are told to address the presiding officer (in this case, the OP) rather than other people / each other. So this moderation-enforced focus on the question, which seems to discourage interaction between people and the attendant digression and other problems that can lead to, seems to be a big factor. For me the downside of that system is that it feels nobody knows anybody, everyone guards their privacy, everyone is afraid to be too personal or cross boundaries, etc. In that sense it doesn't really feel to me that it has any kind of socializing aspect to it and it's only social in the sense of people are helping each other. Maybe the fact that Ask MetaFilter has much higher quality answers than other sites is proof that we can't have it both ways.
posted by Dansaman at 6:15 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I’m on a cancer support board that really makes me appreciate how good Metafilter is. I agree with a lot of the points already made. People on the cancer board are constantly starting threads about questions that have been asked many times, and I find myself not wanting to help someone who won’t try the freaking search function. Answers frequently don’t respond to the question actually asked, and that’s just supposed to be accepted. If you specify something you don’t want in an answer, like saying you don’t want medical advice, that’s ignored by a lot of people. Moderators are hands off unless there is extreme abuse. I have a rare cancer, and I’ve learned helpful things from this board, but Metafilter has rules that eliminate a lot of the frustration of other sites.
posted by FencingGal at 6:41 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Compared to most other folks, I don’t engage much. But I read AskMeFi most days and will always sign in when I think I have something useful to say. It’s mainly out of gratitude for the wealth of information that lives here. It’s stunning to think about how much I’ve gotten from reading through old questions on this site: how to process a former abusive relationship, how to ship a car across the country, which laptop should I buy, what is there to do in X city, how to live with ADHD, do I need to start taking a fiber supplement, etc, etc, etc. Heck, I’ve found an unexpected career in the tech industry and I never would have applied for that first job if I hadn’t spent time skimming through the programming questions out of idle curiosity.

Other sites are fun. This one changed my life. And I didn’t have to prove myself or be good enough in any way. I just showed up.
posted by fairfax at 6:56 PM on July 19 [26 favorites]


The moderation is why I'm here, time wasting posts are quietly removed and questions are moderated so you get a lot less in the way of random "chat" type questions.
posted by wwax at 6:56 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


i think it's the authenticity. Authenticity by the OP's, authenticity by the mods, authenticity by those answering the questions. What a great, valuable space in a world that often feels so discouraging.
posted by rglass at 7:01 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


So this moderation-enforced focus on the question, which seems to discourage interaction between people and the attendant digression and other problems that can lead to, seems to be a big factor.

I'm not sure that's true -- oh, I'm kind of interacting here. I think that AskMe encourages elaboration or polite disagreement while answering the question. Also, things can get a little contentious with personal / relationship / being-a-human-in-the-world questions, especially if an asker is threadsitting and seems to be picking out answers that go against the consensus. Sometimes people ask personal questions wanting to get a certain answer, and that doesn't work well here.

I do think it's okay to be wrong on AskMe. Not "shine a UV light somewhere in there" wrong, but wrong in good faith or slightly off on something. If you're wrong (or just contrary) on Reddit or Quora you'll get downvoted off the page. If you're wrong on AskMe you don't. And people here tend to take correction well because they learn from it.

In terms of deep history: AskMe arrived when MeFi itself was getting pretty contentious and users were flaming out and the mods had their hands full. The green was a kind of refuge from that, and we're all here to help.
posted by holgate at 7:01 PM on July 19


The wide range of ages in this group also helps a great deal. There are people who have truly seen some stuff, and they are supported by groups who want to learn more about it. There is also a lot of non-judgmental understanding that everyone's life is not a perfect bed of roses, and probably won't be, but some fertilizer and rain might help.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:27 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Yep, nthing moderation, but also that my posts don't get deprecated if I miss a comma out - that really ticks me off about stackX.

metafilter is as real to me as walking around town this morning - it's a much of a real community as I'll ever experience, and I try to answer questions in that vein.

I learn so much here on IT, places, books, plants and hope to help others do the same.

The only thing I'd change is that there's a strand of answering (particularly from US) where a question will get answers cautioning the questioner about ethics / legality of their question (when q clearly states its not in US)- I think this is coming from the US' legalistic landscape.
posted by unearthed at 8:00 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Most Q&A sites have an upvote mechanism that drives popular questions to the top and unpopular questions to the bottom, so a small number of upvoted questions get a ton of answers and many questions get few or none. Ask treats all questions equally, resulting in a more even spread of attention to each question. This works because of the smaller volume of questions, which other posters have mentioned.

In addition, moderation and signup fees discourage low-effort answers and answers from children. (Heavy participation by children was obviously a problem with e.g. Yahoo! Answers, but I think many people don't realize how much the tenor of even a site like Reddit is driven by its demographics -- something like two thirds of Redditors are under 25.)
posted by phoenixy at 8:27 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


I appreciate the size of AskMetafilter… large enough to get expertise but small enough that people do care about the people behind the question. And it is very clear that there is a real human being behind the questions and the answers. The kindness and the quirkiness of the group also keeps me interested and engaged.
I mean, let’s face it, can you imagine one of the other sites having a crouton petting zoo?
posted by calgirl at 8:46 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the lack of ads and other pop-ups! As someone who is maybe not entirely neurotypical, that’s huge for me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:56 PM on July 19 [9 favorites]


Agree with some already stated.

The Ask has a novelty response/effect similar to receiving a package or a postcard. "Oh, I know the answer.. Oh, someone answered my Ask.." Not only this, but there is a wealth of psychological experience or referral here, and it's often actually accurate, or corrected.

There is a very kind "no BS" touch, and the moderators are fast.* They're essentially this animal, but instead of sweeping away Alice's path, they sweep away unhelpful answers or discrimination. (shows what happens when you pay your mods)

People actually appear to care about the information above who is delivering the information. In a way, that's very important right now. (One of my favorite experiences had oddly been a very subtly angry person asking for source citation: they weren't wrong!) It can allow a person to legitimately socialize, or socialize without socializing (internet phenomena), which is very nice for certain circumstances.

Reddit is great, but Reddit is very large and this creates obvious social or credibility complications. Aside creating independent/more peer to peer networks, Meta is a really nice, small niche on the internet.
posted by firstdaffodils at 9:34 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


.. Metafilter is sort of Reddit for adults (even if Reddit is still Reddit for adults). Perhaps forgive that sentiment if mistaken. I would describe it as 90% less eyerolly.
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:13 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Much more usable UI here than on Reddit (which I find nearly unusable) or Quora.
posted by porn in the woods at 11:37 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


When I refer to Metafilter in conversation with others, I refer to it as my "smart discussion board". The level of intelligence, perception, and empathy here is at least an order of magnitude above my average internet interactions.

I endeavor to answer others' questions thoughtfully, as well as making a point of only answering questions for which I feel I have a valid contribution, rather than just chiming in. Correspondingly, I trust the answers given here because I have experienced that same approach from fellow MeFi'ers.
posted by fairmettle at 11:37 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


The manner in which people answer questions. Because of great moderation over time, there are very few snarky replies that don't actually answer a question. It is like calling a friend with a question. Real answers or rationale rather than trying to get points for fast-posting a pithy reply.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:11 AM on July 20


I have learned more on MiFi than I did in 8 years of higher ed. All kinds of things from relationship problems to identifying nuts and bolts. That was the best $5 I ever spent! But this is a reading place. Many folks are down right lazy when it come to reading w/o graphics and funny gifs etc (I'm just the opposite, that kind of thing distracts me). I think maybe that's why MeFi has less traffic. But someone above mentioned that MiFi shines because it's quality, not quantity. I agree wholeheartedly. Anyway, thank you MeFi and MeFi ers.
posted by james33 at 7:47 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]


  1. Professional moderation.
  2. Unthreaded posts.
  3. $5 gatekeeper.
  4. Older userbase.
  5. No monetization via special paid access or flair etc.
Moderation and specifically a hard no on chat filtery comments that don't remotely address the question. Reddit questions, especially on subs that don't have strict moderation policies against, more often than not have the two or three top level comments be both non-responsive and only vaguely related to the question. And even worse you have to scroll past dozens/hundreds of off topic replies to those answers to get to the 3/4/5/6 reply that actually answers the question. And the manner in which responses are noted makes that difficult.

Culture that doesn't accept jokey answers. Ask a simple question on lots of sites *cough*Imgur*cough* and the top voted answer(s) will be intentionally wrong for the lulz.

No downvotes besides those employed by paid moderation (deletions and bans). Very weak upvotes. By which I mean favourites only have a weak effect on the user experience and that can be essentially wholly negated with profile settings.

Quora: Right off the top you can't even sample quora from their main URL without an account. I don't like the informational content I'm creating to be confined to that sort of walled garden. If you get past that via a web search then the presented answers are voted on and threaded by those votes instead of being flat. Popularly incorrect information will get their equivalent of best answer marking and will be the first answer presented. And then if you use the side bar, which takes up half the screen, to browse to different questions the content is blocked without an account. Quora also doesn't allow people under 13 to login to the site.

Stackexchange lets you downvote not only answers but also questions.

The $5 fee retards abusive sockpuppetry.

Moderators and the community haven't drunk any sort of whacky Kool-Aid that has be wafting out of the US. EG: we don't both sides antivax or climate change denial.

I also think the lack of upvoting greatly reduces the formation and influence of cliques. Some reddits for example are basically ruled by a handful of users.

And for me personally the clean web 1.0 interface. No images, no smooth scrolling, no massive side bars (often on both sides), bottom bars, top bars, floating bars, interface animations etc. Signed out ads that aren't deceptive or hugely annoying.
posted by Mitheral at 9:03 AM on July 20 [8 favorites]


I would also throw in here a link to the Wikipedia section on the Tragedy of the Digital Commons. I am serious in saying that MetaFilter is a positive counter-example, just as in the "real" world there are positive examples of groups who avoid the Tragedy of Physical Commons.
posted by forthright at 6:51 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]


A couple of thoughts on reasons already mentioned…

While we all appreciate the moderation that goes on here I imagine few, if any, of us know exactly how much there is and what a big effect it has. It’s only when there’s a visible note from moderators that we’re aware of them in action. Imagine if there was no active moderation (only the typical-on-other-sites, sluggish response to reports from users). There’d be gradually increasing levels of inappropriate, jokey, rude, whatever comments, which would lower the “norms” of the site. Some regulars would get fed up and leave, changing the tone of the place again… a vicious downward spiral. (So thanks for everything you do, moderators!)

Some people have mentioned the simple design and interface compared to Reddit, Quora, etc. I suspect one underlying reason for this difference is that MetaFilter isn’t a venture-capital-funded company with growth as its most important metric. That’s the kind of thing that results in more advertising, intrusive pop-ups, more gamifying of interactions, etc, etc.
posted by fabius at 6:54 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


Metafilter members also do a good job of not answering questions.

Wait, isn't the point of a question & answer community to answer questions? Yes, but only if you know what you're talking about, and have time to contribute something that is actually helpful. The community norms here encourage people to hold back rather than chiming in about something they don't actually understand. That does great things for the signal-to-noise ratio.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:51 AM on July 21 [10 favorites]


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