Results tagged “metafilter”

XOXO: Matt Haughey - MetaFilter

September 15, 2012

Matt Haughey's the founder of MetaFilter, one of the web’s longest-running and most respected web communities, and its popular Q&A section, Ask MetaFilter.

The Details

Matt Haughey

Projects: MetaFilter

XOXOing: Community and Q&A

Matt started MetaFilter in 1999, because he couldn’t do it all himself, and because he was in the right place at the right time. MetaFilter has 60,000 paid members, and eventually added a question-and-answer site, which led to him working on it full-time since 2005, with a team of six people today.

Matt was a reluctant businessman, and eventually had to hire an accountant and lawyer and all the other folks to help run the business. But there are three big lessons he’s learned in running a long-term project.

1. Failure is the biggest teacher. Failure has a lot of negative connotations, but it’s great because at least it tells you what doesn’t work (when you’re running a maze and hit a dead end, you know what doesn’t work, doesn’t mean you stop). It’s only bad if you give up or if you ignore the lessons it teaches you. Business blogs say “pivot” (Matt refuses to say it), but the sentiment behind it is good because it puts a nice face on failure.

Matt Haughey XOXO slide

You have to create an environment where you can do experiments and see what works. Fall in love with failure. Matt has lots of unpublished blog posts and old text files to record what he’s done that didn’t work (2 successful projects, and 12 bodies in a lake).

  • Like “Ticketstubs”, a record of old ticket stubs and the stories that go with them. In 2003, scanning a stub or taking a photo was only of interest to super-fans, so it didn’t really click. The big lesson was that simple ideas work better, and first-time visitors didn’t get it. Though this could work now, since people are more familiar with it.
  • PVRBlog was about Tivo and DVRs in 2003. Hours of research into each post, and it was one of the first sites to use Google AdSense, and it was generating $4000 to $5000 a month, doing a good job of paying the bills. He wrote an academic-style case-study of how Adsense helped him make money blogging. The downside of sharing that info was that within six months there were half a dozen ripoffs, and the site eventually faded out as the topic got less interesting. The lesson may have been to not give away the magic secret.
  • TravelFilter was a completely-built site extracting the travel info from Ask MetaFilter questions, but they didn’t quite commit enough. (Didn’t “burn the boats”) so being half-assed hurt the success of the site. (Other lesson: don’t cannibalize your own success)
  • Blogger didn’t really succeed as a business, even though people loved the site, it didn’t have revenues or investment. The lesson was to ask customers for money earlier. One of the Blogger co-founders, Ev Williams, epitomizes the good side of failing repeatedly, and always gets up and seems to be doing that again with Obvious.

2. Money is the least interesting problem. It’s a necessary evil, but it’s mostly a distraction other than providing for essential resources. Times he’s focused solely on money is when he’s made the worst decisions. Jeff Bezos talked about the “Amazon Doctrine”, always aligning the company’s interests with the customer’s. Tim O’Reilly wrote a great essay in 2009 about working on stuff that matters - running a startup is like taking a cross-country trip, and money is just the gas in the tank. You’re not taking a tour of gas stations...

The best days ever working on projects have been thinking of new features, or having a coding break-through. None of the best days are about money.

3. Success is fleeting. Several of Matt’s projects have been popular for a short time and then gone away. Success plots often look like Mt. Fuji: Pretty quick up, pretty quick down. It’s harder to set up a long, slow growth. Things have repeatedly decayed and been replaced by newer models. There’s already services replacing Uber in San Francisco -- wasn’t Uber awesome two months ago? Building on open source and open knowledge is great, but makes the competition much more fierce.

Relevance is really hard to sustain. MetaFilter’s already gone over a decade -- where will it be in 2020? Mobile usage, for example, goes from a blip in 2009 to 12% in 2010 to almost 33% today. And that’s already affecting advertising and money already. Businesses that depend on display ads are really challenged by the shift to mobile. The Olympics are showing 60% of visitors to the official site were on mobile. Matt’s predicting 50% of all web visitors to be on mobile by 2014.

Looking forward, Matt’s talking about information websites competing with individual devices that efficiently deliver information. “The future is a little iffy, but it’s super exciting.”


January 24, 2011

Today is Community Moderator Appreciation Day, a well-deserved moment of recognition for people who make the web more humane, more thoughtful, more helpful and more useful.

This is a bottomless topic for me, but perhaps the best way to observe it is to share what's been learned and distilled about creating an environment where good moderators can succeed. Here's Matt Haughey at last year's Gel Conference telling the story himself:

This is part of why I'm so excited to be speaking at Gel this year: There's a lot of things we've learned over the years that we haven't taken the time to share. And Gel itself is an event that's well-moderated, as you might expect.

So, thanks today to all the folks I know who moderate all of the sites where I spend my time online. Making a valuable, strong, positive community is one of the greatest things you can do to contribute to the world.

Heroes of the Web

January 7, 2011

Great news for the web today, some of the smartest folks I know are doing what they do best: Making the web better.

  • Take Paul Ford's thoughts on "Why Wasn't I Consulted?", the driving inspiration behind much of what happens on the modern web. It was exactly this kind of insight from Paul that made working on the early parts of Gourmet Live such a joy. Discovering that someone whom I admired and had wanted to work with forever was even more insightful than I'd hoped is a little bit like winning the lottery. I get to work with people who are basically heroes of the web.
  • Paul's ruminations also inspired Matt Haughey to write up a bit about how he came to love customer service. In short, he was influenced by Craig Newmark, another of my heroes whom I've been lucky enough to get to become friends with. But that deeper sense of being of service was exactly what I'd tried to allude to more than four years ago when I wrote How Matt Haughey Beat Google. If I had to characterize it, I'd say that the culture Matt's created at MetaFilter, both amongst the people who are members of the site and especially among the small passionate team that makes up the staff, has got real soul to it. And it shows, especially in conversations like this one where Paul's past work on Harper's is linked to Matt's ongoing work on MetaFilter, and we can see how these great ideas shape each other.
  • And even more fortunately, we get to see one of these soulful web communities in its formative stages. Andre Torrez and the fine team at SimpleForm just launched mlkshk. What is it? Well, we can't say for sure yet, because the community hasn't yet decided. But it feels like the roots of something interesting and I know it's got the potential to evolve into something really fun and delightful. As the kids used to say, [this is good].

Be sure to read over Paul's piece above, even if you saw it linked everywhere the past few days and Instapapered it for later. We'll be referring back to it in future posts here.

Collecting Samples

March 6, 2007

Do you want links? Because I'll give you some damn links, I'm not afraid of you! I'm not afraid of NOBODY!

Dominant, a UC Berkeley alumnus who actually attended the much-publicized class on Shakur in the late '90s, says that he finds value in hip-hop studies, provided they take the long view. "With hip-hop and all black music, you can't talk about the art separate from a lot of other things," he says. "You can't talk about hip-hop as an art form without talking about the people, the economics, how and why it was made. You have to be pretty thorough."

Finding ways to teach and study hip-hop from within a university setting is not easy. "I worry that scholars like us get so obsessed with trying to justify hip-hop that we end up running in circles," says Berkeley grad student Felicia Viator, a DJ who's finishing up a doctorate in history.

  • Businessweek's Catherine Holahan looks at the unfiltered conversations that have sprung up in light of community changes after USA Today's recent web redesign. I don't know that I'd make a change in the cultural assumptions of a site at the same time as aesthetic/UI changes, because then you don't know which one caused everybody to lose their minds.
  • Ask the Wizard, written by Feedburner CEO Dick Costolo is, flat out, the best new blog of 2007. The thing I love about great writing is it makes the pervasive truths seem self-evident and even obvious. Plus it's actually funny, not another tech exec wearing a goofy tie and claiming to be full of ha-ha.
  • Dear Drew, have you considered changing the font on Fark's homepage?
  • This is the old Top 5% of all Web Sites graphic that used to be used by Point. Which was actually Point Communications, which was actually at, until it sold to Lycos during a period of the web's history 10 years ago that is apparently so old nobody caught the reference. Winning the meaningless award used to be accompanied by an email alerting you to the good news. I suspect Todd Whitney is not still toiling away at Lycos.
  • I spoke at the Northern Voice conference in Vancouver a little over a week ago, and there's video of my presentation up on the web, albeit with suboptimal sound. But it kind of gives you a feel for what we were all talking about, if you have the patience to sit through it. (My part starts about five minutes in.)
  • If you've somehow missed them, a few articles on the tech generation gap. Emily Nussbaum's excellent, definitive look at the distinctions between the technological expectations of those born before and after 1977 in regard to privacy seems like the coming-out party for the topics danah has been talking about forever. A simpler, but still compelling, Tim Bajarin piece in PC Magazine complements it nicely. And the WaPo sez colleges have lost track of students because the schools are still trying to use phones and email to talk to kids who only use Facebook and IM. Whoops.
  • Someday, me and Kal Penn in a steel cage match for Most Famous Indian in America. Someday.

Dvorak on Online Community

August 8, 2006

John Dvorak examines incidental online communities, as opposed to explicit social communities like Friendster. There's some nice praise for MetaFilter in there, too. Having had the chance to spend some time with John recently, I'm more amused by his shenanigans, especially in light of useful articles like this one. He's still a world-class troll, but he seems to fully understand that intellectual dishonesty is a powerful tool, and should only be used in service of important and valuable causes.