How would you improve MetaFilter if you change anything?
September 7, 2004 7:01 PM   Subscribe

If you bought MetaFilter from Matt tomorrow and he could make any development/interface/usability changes you desired, what would you request? [mi]

(This seemed a weird question to ask as it felt a bit self serving, but then I realized that's entirely what questions are about anyway ;-) I also realized that a lot of people (possibly even Matt) might find the ideas useful.)

I'm the developer of FreeFilter, a system to run MetaFilter-esque sites of your own (you can learn more about all of these systems on this MeFi wiki page). It was briefly popular but a lack of new development kept things quiet. I now have a few projects where I need such a system once again and so with all my new found knowledge of XHTML, CSS, XML-RPC, and so forth.. I'm rewriting FreeFilter from scratch as I am not happy with the alternative solutions.

I already have a ton of good ideas from my user community, but I'm looking for ideas that, perhaps, seem impractical or even bizarre.. which may eventually turn into something that redefines how sites like MetaFilter work in the future. So, if you could redesign MetaFilter (or a site like it) from scratch, what features would you put in, what features would you like, which features would positively put a smile on your face and get you more involved with the site? How should a *filter really work? Or, perhaps, should they stay as simple as they are?
posted by wackybrit to Computers & Internet (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Somebody had to say it.
posted by Eamon at 7:04 PM on September 7, 2004

Opening up the user base to a greater variety of users (particularly nationality, age, gender, and oh yeah, those pesky political viewpoints). It's the #1 thing I wish Metafilter had, although I totally understand Matt's reasons for not wanting to open the floodgates right now.

Okay, so that's not really something you can code for. How about the ability to save certain posts or comments in a personal sticky/watched list? A little icon next to the comments of people who are also on your friends list, as Slashdot allows? Automatically suggesting (at the bottom of the post's page) older posts on related topics or related keywords or from that category from the archives? Better filtering for whether the URL you're posting is potentially a double-post? RSS feeds customizable up the wazoo, like just the posts from certain categories or just the posts from certain users, or just the posts mentioning certain keywords? Sort the archives by category, not just by month? More robust search capabilities?

(Gosh, this thing is gonna be called PonyFilter if you actually impliment all that stuff.)

Good luck with the coding!
posted by Asparagirl at 7:32 PM on September 7, 2004

I'd use Phpilfer ;) Want to work together? :)

Clean urls organised by date so you can hack the url, rss on any story (so, to the engine, html is just another theme), that stupid bug with entities fixed, it's too big for one person so more than one moderator, a wysiwyg comment editor, a time format of "story posted four hours ago" for recent stories... then moving to dates, like my email program, maybe "comment posted ten minues ago" too, a way of bookmarking threads so you get a box to your side with this info. 100+ comment threads on mefi (less so elsewhere) must waste so much bandwidth, it'd be good to page the results at some point... maybe by the url -- so you can enter for comment #1, or /story/9989/40-50 to see that range, or /story/9989/40- to see everything after the 40th.

Actually I've been reimplementing the mefi design and theme for the last month and I think I've got all the features done (although obviously I'm just guess at to the admin things Matt has).
posted by holloway at 7:40 PM on September 7, 2004

Filters and filter-sets: FPP has metadata like category, subject, keywords..etc. Going to politics.*.com fetches all (and only) politics posts from last 7/whatever days. Each user also has stored preferences. So, once I log in, I see only [all] minus [politics] minus [sports] links. Of course, there's an all.*.com subdomain which displays everything.

Link-chains: Posters can start or append to link-chains. So, if I post a photography FPP, I can also nominate to add it to a photography link-chain which contains prior photography FPPs. To avoid abuse and make this more useful than what can be done with a keyword search engine, the link-chain is selective. If 'n' people support the nomination, then it gets added. Sort of a "Best of this type of post" filter.
posted by Gyan at 7:46 PM on September 7, 2004

Joel Spolsky's latest essay suggests that there may be sound social reasons not to add some features. So I might request that you remove the ability to sort the front page by recent comment or my comments, and remove the "new comment since last visit" count in order to see if that stops people monitoring threads for instant snarkage.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:53 PM on September 7, 2004

Ability for moderator to let a user know when they have been called out on MeTa, I am talking about people like Postroad who do not read MeTa so that once it's caught their attention things can be settled as needed.

Throttled commenting, don't let a user post more than say 3 comments an hour in the same thread.
posted by riffola at 7:58 PM on September 7, 2004

Categories & Keywords.
Who's online right now.
Effective, intuitive search engine.

NO ratings scheme for posts.
NO killfiles.
Explicit international outlook [how to code for that?]
posted by dash_slot- at 8:05 PM on September 7, 2004

I'd just like to be able to see, on a single page, all threads from Metafilter, Metatalk, and AskMe to which I've posted that have gotten new messages since my last visit.
posted by nicwolff at 8:12 PM on September 7, 2004 [1 favorite]

I don't know that I'd add too many new features - I rather like the way it works now (though some of the ideas mentioned above are quite good). My main problem: the design. It could be far better looking, more usable, etc.
posted by aladfar at 8:20 PM on September 7, 2004

There should be two pictures - both identical but a mirror image of the other - of chubby cherubs stationed at the top left and top right of each page.

The cherubs should be wearing flowy loincloths and blowing trumpets.

A simple javascript can rotate different images of cherubs through the slot : in turn Anglo, African (several types at least), Asian (Chinese and Japanese at least), Indian, Native American, Eskimo, and several versions of Latin American.

Also, "Wild Card" images - programmed to randomly pop up in this image slot - could feature real photos of notorious Metafilter members dressed up as cherubs and sucking on pacifiers.

Just a thought.
posted by troutfishing at 8:31 PM on September 7, 2004

Killfiles. Categories. Category filtering. New comment counts for threads in archives. Administrative delegation.

NO ratings scheme for posts, for the obvious reasons.
NO "who's online," since that'd up the chattiness quotient quite a bit.
NO sigs.
NO avatars.

These are things more specific to FreeFilter (from a glance at your demo site and the current code) as opposed to MetaFilter wishes. Some are less feature-like and are more reviews of the code itself.

Templates instead of inline HTML
Tag filtering/stripping (it might be in there, but I can't find it)
Tag closing (again, it could be in there and I don't know it)
the ability to disable signups
mod_perl instead of CGI (don't talk to me about Apache::Registry)
path-based URLs (as opposed to query based)
modules & objects instead of perl4 monster script style
80 column source code
functions & methods instead of one big ass series of ifs
some more database abstraction, or at least keeping some of the SQL a bit more hidden
The use of Request and Response
better variable naming conventions (my %variables; is just scary)
The use of 302 instead of meta http-equiv="Refresh"
posted by majick at 8:39 PM on September 7, 2004

I'd like a sidebar showing active threads I've commented on, and active threads I've previously checked in on.

Some subtle way to flag threads with many comments and few commenters (ie, flamewar). Maybe just a color-coded dot next to the FPP so I can choose to ignore it or tune into it, depending on my mood.

Some kind of genius heuristic that automagically finds threads on a similar topic and puts them in a sidebar (this would be even handier on AskMe).

posted by adamrice at 8:58 PM on September 7, 2004

User defined style-sheets - I would feel much more comfortable reading Metafilter if it was purple text on a yellow background. With cherubs.

Oh yeah, and a secret "FreeFilter Cabal" class of users who can attach comments to other users comments that only this secret class of users can see, for their own fun and amusement.
posted by Jimbob at 9:16 PM on September 7, 2004

You might find some of the answers in this question of mine helpful too.
posted by reklaw at 9:17 PM on September 7, 2004

The ability to send electric shocks to MetaWhingers. Lethal electric shocks for some of them.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:22 PM on September 7, 2004

A few people have mentioned 'similar thread' systems, I really like that idea. I agree with the RSS comments. Killfiles I'm less sure about, and it seems opinion is divided here too. All of your ideas are great, asparagirl, and I like your ideas on abstraction, holloway. I certainly think there could be some room for collaboration, particularly in areas of inter-operability, syndication, and formats and APIs for posting, export, import, etc.

I've been learning a lot from the building of Basecamp, and want to try out a couple of new architectural ideas in the new FreeFilter. No administration section, everything can be tweaked merely by navigating the regular site in an 'admin' mode (of sorts). XHTML out the wazoo to mean that changing the output code is less essential (removing the need for some clumsy large template manager/system like in MT). Things like that.

majick: I had to laugh at your list. I've grimaced at many of those items too! You'll know all the excuses.. it wasn't written for public consumption (originally), it was a rush job, yada yada, but luckily I'm somewhat more enlightened now. You'll be glad to know I've become a module and OO freak. FreeFilter's index.cgi is truly scary.

trout: CherubFilter. It has to be done.
posted by wackybrit at 9:28 PM on September 7, 2004

Further to my point about XHTML and CSS.. I thought of an interesting way of doing killfiles with little overhead or hassle.

Any DIV can have multiple classes like so.. class="box grey leftaligned" etc.. so perhaps give the user ID of the poster as one of the classes.. i.e. for me my posts might be wrapped in a div with class="post 2014".. and then for people who blacklisted me, serve them up a personalized style sheet with .2014 { display: none; } Just thinking out loud.. :-)
posted by wackybrit at 9:32 PM on September 7, 2004

The ability to send electric shocks to people who misspell whine. Lethal shocks for all of them. (Just kidding, FFF.)

And yeah, the ability to quickly tell which of the threads I've recently posted to have new comments.
posted by emelenjr at 10:12 PM on September 7, 2004

The ability to send electric shocks to people who misspell whine.

Yeah, I always thought that was weird too, so I looked it up.

dictionaries -- a good way to save face.

posted by fishfucker at 10:30 PM on September 7, 2004

Yeah I'd like it if there were an import/export format that we could agree on. Syndication is pretty well set by Atom and RSS, but is there a format for entire forums?
posted by holloway at 10:31 PM on September 7, 2004

Nothing. Not one damn thing. Why mess with perfection?
posted by caddis at 10:33 PM on September 7, 2004

holloway: I agree, and the whole 'entire site' issue is one that doesn't seem to have been answered yet. Unlike a blog, the comments on a *filter are quite significant to the process ;-)

Do you know what happened to the guy who made MetaPhilter? is unavailable, and has been taken up by the domain hoarders. This is a shame since so many of the *filter sites ended up using his software.
posted by wackybrit at 11:15 PM on September 7, 2004

An Amazon and eBay style "Page you made" where all the threads I've visited today are listed, indicating new comments.
posted by riffola at 11:22 PM on September 7, 2004

" majick: I had to laugh at your list. "

Sorry about that. I review code for a living and it's hard to suppress the instincts. Believe me when I say I have written plenty of awful monolithic script files that make FreeFilter's seem like a work of elegance.

I guess if you roll all that harassment together, it's a single feature request: "Mod-friendliness."
posted by majick at 12:46 AM on September 8, 2004

The ability to import data from a metaphilter database.
posted by seanyboy at 12:46 AM on September 8, 2004

majick: No, really, I appreciate it. That index.cgi file is a blot of shame on my record. ;-) Regarding mod_perl.. I would, but it'll follow on from a regular CGI launch first. I don't need the mod_perlness myself, and mod_rewrite can handle all of the URL side to start with (I'm finding most hosting companies support it now). Movable Type 2 handled mod_perl in a reasonably cute 'take it or leave it' way, so I'll probably take a similar tack.

seanyboy: Thanks, that's a nice one for the list. I actually appreciated MetaPhilter's FF->MP converter, as it allowed people who needed the extra features to flee, especially considering I had stopped active development on FF. Not to jump ahead of myself, obviously, but perhaps the reverse will become true.
posted by wackybrit at 1:57 AM on September 8, 2004

wackybrit: is no more. Jack's blog hasn't been updated since March and his other projects aren't online any more either.

seanyboy, I believe there already is a metaphilter->freefilter import facility - or there was talk of it, before Jack vanished.
posted by tracicle at 1:57 AM on September 8, 2004

tracicle: Thanks. Oh, and that thread you've linked to.. that was just prior to Jack releasing the FF->MP tool. I don't think any such tool was made for the other way around. Not a big deal now anyway, as things will be changing. :)
posted by wackybrit at 2:39 AM on September 8, 2004

A "collected works" feature, whereby a user can select either him or herself or another user and get each of their contributions and comments listed in full (not just links to each comment), with a variety of sorting options.

That way we could include the collected works or comments of Faze for study in an absurdist literature class for example.
posted by juiceCake at 5:21 AM on September 8, 2004

Something that checks an URL and says "uh-uh, you ain't posting this, I know you just got it offa [boingboing/slashdot/fark/etc.]." And says "uh-uh" like Stone Cold Steve Austin says it. Hard to describe.
posted by britain at 5:24 AM on September 8, 2004

The ability to "hide from view" posts made by anyone on a list of user IDs I set up. Additionally, "hide" entire threads that are started by IDs on that same list. I'm not going to say "killfiles," I"m just going to say: there are members of MetaFilter who have literally earned the right to be ignored, from my point of view, to the point that I'd want to not even see their posts, let alone have to "skip over" them. I understand Matt's past reluctance to implement this, but some of us have been members here for three-plus-years - and that's a lot of time for animosity to fester. Give us a way to stay out of each others' faces, it can only be a good thing.

While you're at it: how about multi-threading threads? Track a "replied to" indicator somehow, so when threads are highjacked, you can divert your attention from the noise and just follow the actual discussion.
posted by JollyWanker at 6:00 AM on September 8, 2004

emelenjr: ZAP!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:06 AM on September 8, 2004

The problem with message threading is that it thwarts natural conversation.

The model for MetaFilter discussions is the "coffee shop discussion." We're sitting at a table, having a yack. Most of our conversations use sequential turn-taking, with the conversation meandering over time. Sometimes we end up with cross-talk, as a couple of people segregate their conversation from the rest of the group; and consequentially, sometimes their side-conversation is overheard and becomes the new theme, and sometimes they finish and join the core thread.

Message threading is wholly unlike any real-life conversational model. Personally, I quite dislike it in conversational contexts; it's just fine for research/information purposes.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:10 AM on September 8, 2004

Fix. The Goddamn. Search.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:07 AM on September 8, 2004

You whingers need to start making more web pages. Google says whine beats whinge 655,000 to 68,900. And even on the BBC's UK web site, whine beats whinge 113 to 81.
But I'll go eat my hat now. I stand corrected.
posted by emelenjr at 11:14 AM on September 8, 2004

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