Allowing specific tag/topic meta discussions

Problem

One thing that I miss the most on SO is a place where you can discuss tag-specific issues among those with domain knowledge. Which posts should we use as FAQ or canonical duplicates, what should be in the tag wiki, how do we treat domain-specific issues etc.

Some examples from SO meta where I’ve been active in moderating the C programming tag:

When I’ve tried to drive things like this through meta, I’ve always encountered problems with the posts not getting sufficient attention, but also with getting attention from the right kind of people. Rather than getting opinions from the usual, generic “meta lurkers”, I would have liked to get attention from users who are actually actively participating in the tag, particularly the domain experts.

I believe this is only a problem on communities as vast as SO, where questions posted on the site-wide meta easily drown in noise.


Suggested solutions

  • The easiest solution would have been to allow the meta site to pick up domain-specific tags from the main site. If I could have tagged posts as “C programming” on SO meta, then that would have created a place free from noise.
  • A different solution would be to connect discussions/meta to the tag itself somehow, similar to how Wikipedia does it with a separate tag for discussing the topic.
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So ideally I think there should be 3 tiers of meta:

  • Network-wide meta similar to meta.stackexchange.
  • Community-specific meta.
  • Tag/domain-specific meta.

Some of this was discussed at MVP: Meta Site Concept.

TopAnswers has an interesting approach: per-site meta isn’t a separate place, but rather meta questions (marked as meta) are asked right there on the main site. That’s an interesting idea that I’d like us to explore, especially in combination with filters (which are not MVP).

But even if we don’t do that, letting a meta question use main-site tags would (and should) mean that those meta questions would show up on the list for the tag. This isn’t “tag-specific meta” but it accomplishes the same thing in a more organic way – people interested in the tag will automatically see that there are meta questions about it. With yet another separate meta place, you have to get people to see it. I wouldn’t want a site to have little pockets of meta in addition to its main meta; instead let’s integrate meta content better.

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a meta tag would work especially well with other tags, dealing with the issues that were brought up previously, however in MVP: Meta Site Concept a consensus was already made for off-site meta

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I don’t like this at all. It creates an unholy mess of things. Because you can be sure that people will constantly forget to add the meta tag, and so we’d end up with tons of clutter which the people not participating in meta has no interest in.

On the programming community specifically, this would be a true nightmare. In addition to meta-meta, we also have HTML meta elements, meta-data, meta-programming, template-meta programming and so on.

I know from experience that this will be a mess. I participate & moderate the “embedded” tag over at SO. It is supposedly about embedded systems programming, but it gets blatantly mis-tagged questions on daily basis, basically anything about “embedding stuff into applications” ends up there. This will happen to a meta tag on the main site too. In particular, the unwashed hordes of C++ template meta programmers will constantly assault that tag.

If the aim of this is to get more people to participate in meta, surely there must be better ways.

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I think “meta question” is a separate post type, just like “blog post” (which is also shown on the main page). I haven’t looked too closely at how they do it, but it’s not just a matter of tags. That would be messy, as people would edit the tags and not always correctly.

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Meta doesn’t need to be a difficult thing to implement. SE’s model is arguably way more convoluted than it needs to be. I did it in qpixel by adding an is_meta field to the Post model, and displaying only those with false on the main page, and those with value true on a dedicated page which I happened to call “Meta”.

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But the main design flaw with SE meta is that it’s using the same Q&A format as the main site. Because of this, it’s a horrible place for discussion. You can’t follow what’s being said, it’s just a flood of comments, where the good ones drown in floods of crap. The voting mechanic causes needless drama and aggression. It’s designed for non-constructive monologues instead of constructive dialouges.

The whole “voting on meta is used for expressing opinions” is bad enough - new users coming in from the main site never understand it and get pissed off. On other sites, when they want to have a poll, they use a traditional poll feature. On SE meta, everything is a poll, whether we ask for it or not.

And what does voting on bug reports and support requests even mean? “No, I don’t agree that you are having this support request.”

I think 10 years ago, Atwood & Spolsky were saying “meta doesn’t need to be a difficult thing to implement, we’ll just use the Q&A model for that too, because Q&A is awesome”. It was a design mistake.

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Perhaps “meta post” is another post type, which allows (threaded) comments that are all shown by default (unlike main-site questions) and has some mechanism for reporting the outcome if there is one. (That mechanism might be an edit to the post, tags, a pinned response, or something else TBD.)

Polls with strict tallies aren’t useful on meta, but emergent consensus is. The latter calls for words (with attribution), not silently clicking on vote buttons.

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Not necessarily. Those who don’t have good verbal skills or are generally intimidated about meta (should it end up like SO) would still have a voice. The SE metas always suffered from this, where a minority of loud veteran users dictate everything. It even went as far on SO that there were some 20-30 users who only participated on meta and never on the actual main site. That’s how smelly sub-cultures appear.

Meta on SE is not working well, never has. We should strive for something more suitable for creative discussions.

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This is why I envision meta discussions as being discussions rather than raw Q&A. Threaded comments allow for back-and-forth leading to refinement, or dialogue to better understand an objection, without bringing voting into it. Also, voting on certain types of meta questions is amplified because people both upvote what they agree with and downvote what they disagree with. Discussion de-emphasizes voting and, I hope, emphasizes consensus-building.

That doesn’t mean there’s no place for voting, of course. Sometimes, after discussion, the community needs to decide among a few options, and you need voting for that. But trying to jam everything into the Q&A format hasn’t worked well for meta on SE.

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I found it works alright for simple/specific/discrete topics.

So someone asks a meta-question like, “How do we handle questions about a controversy?”, and people with an idea about the ideal way to do that post an answer, good answers are upvoted and therefore become policy. I might write a summary of the policy based on that and link to the original topic for further details (actually I wrote a “FAQ index” with summaries of and links to all such policies, if only for my benefit so that I could reference them in the course of duty – some were related, variations on a theme, so I structured the FAQ index into like chapters).

Other much broader questions – “What’s our policy for closing a question, what types of question do we or don’t we close?” – that took more discussion.

That was an involved discussion – which had fewer participants than normal as it happened, and wasn’t easy to participate in because it was a bit intense with semi–real-time back-and-forth dialog – that could have benefited from threading, though we shoe-horned the discussion into the answers-plus-comments format of a Meta page. That one I definitely needed to rewrite the whole thing after consensus, a page (well, a topic) of fair copy to summarise what people had agreed to as community consensus.

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