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I'm sure everyone on SO and the other tech-oriented SE sites is comfortable with "meta" as the label describing the meta sites. But for non-technical sites (like cooking), is this clear enough? I don't think "meta" is a word that "normal" people use all that often.

(Worse yet, on Cooking.SE it almost looks like it says "meat").

Should this be changed to "help" or "support" (or something else) instead?

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Most people with a college degree in liberal arts have heard "meta" in phrases such as "meta-narrative" frequently enough to understand the concept, I think. –  justkt Nov 8 '10 at 17:21
I agree with @just, meta is not a technical word –  jmfsg Nov 8 '10 at 18:02
There was the same discussion about "parent" as well –  Michael Mrozek Nov 8 '10 at 20:14
@justkt: "Most people with a college degree in liberal arts"? Uh, since when that (very narrow) demographic become the primary target for SE sites? IMHO, while most college graduates would know what it means, I'd say there is still a LOT of the general population who would NOT know what 'meta' means, and probably a few college grads as well ; ) –  David HAust Nov 8 '10 at 21:22
@David HAust - my point was simply that meta isn't part of the exclusive domain of the technical world. Since I know at least as many poli sci/lit/what have you majors that throw this stuff around as CS/EE types, I used my demographic background as a basis for the comment. –  justkt Nov 8 '10 at 21:38
@justkt - perhaps not "technical", but maybe "nerdy"? It's not a term most people use everyday. Personally, I think "help & support" would be more inviting for most people. –  user27414 Nov 8 '10 at 21:46
@justkt: I absolutely agree that 'meta' is used outside of the technical world, no argument there. But I think it's a mistake, especially as SE grows, to assume that most communities will understand it. For example, SE sites like Home Improvements, Bicycles, Board and Card Games could easily attract an audience that has never heard the word, let alone know what it means. Now they may know what it means, I don't want to underestimate them, but why run the risk of alienating those parts of the community that don't know what it means. Everyone knows what 'Help' means ; ) –  David HAust Nov 8 '10 at 21:53
Don't forget that it's also linked to at the bottom of every page, where it's labeled "feedback always welcome". If you're gonna rename it, perhaps "feedback" would be a good start... –  Shog9 Nov 8 '10 at 23:31
@David: Ah, that's completely different from how I read the liberal arts comment: "if even these guys can understand it..." duck-n-cover –  Gnome Nov 9 '10 at 0:38
@Jon: Even if it does make sense to change the name for specific sites, it's very handy to have the same name (and thus familiar advice, FAQs, commentary, etc.) across the whole SE network — I would not break that lightly. –  Gnome Nov 9 '10 at 0:40
@Gnome: Haha. Hadn't thought of it like that. I like that much better ; ) –  David HAust Nov 9 '10 at 0:54
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6 Answers

I agree with the comments by justkt and Downvoter. "meta" is not a technical term, so this is a non-problem. Seasoned Advice does kind of prime the mind for reading "meat" instead of "meta," but I don't think that special case is enough of a problem to justify breaking standardization with the rest of the SE network. It's certainly not enough to justify changing the word across all the sites.

To answer your title question: Yes, we want to call it "meta" for all the sites, regardless of topic.

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-1. See my comments above and answer for explanation. –  David HAust Nov 8 '10 at 22:11
@David, I can't believe I'm saying this, but... I think you may be underestimating the intelligence of people on the Internet. –  Pops Nov 8 '10 at 22:57
Haha. Sorry to force you into saying that ;) –  David HAust Nov 8 '10 at 23:48
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As the StackExchange network expands outside the boundaries of techinical audience, I think this may become a valid issue. (See my comment to the OP for more details)

While the meta/meat issue on Cooking is an isolated and unfortunate, yet funny, coincidence, I do think we could use a more widely understood word for non-tech SE sites (or all SE sites).

I'm also thinking 'Help' or 'Support' could work.

Update #1: As @David Thornley points out in the comments, 'Help' and 'Support' do not quite say the right thing, which I somewhat agree with. I just don't have any other suggestion myself.

Update #2: How about Shog9's suggestion of 'Feedback'?

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Except that "Help" implies either a page of instructions on using the site or a way to get in contact with the administrative people, and "Support" generally implies the latter. Neither of them suggest to me that they go to a place to discuss the base site. –  David Thornley Nov 8 '10 at 22:29
Thornley: Yeah, I'll pay that. 'Discuss' would be good but too confusing with the chat sites. I'm all out of suggestions myself :( –  David HAust Nov 8 '10 at 23:33
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It isn't "Help" - that would be resources on how to use the site. It isn't "Support" - that would be how to get in touch with the site's admin people.

"Meta" is not a computer-specific word. It's not a real widespread word, but I don't know of one that would work.

Besides, if they're curious, they can always click on it and see. The Web really does support finding things out by exploration.

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I'm not sure I know a alternate choice that has the right semantics.

  • admin though more or less correct is presumably a little intimidating for plain vanilla users
  • help might imply "cooking help" or "instructions for use" rather than "policy, and problems"
  • ...nothing else is coming to mind right off

Added: The more I think about it, the more I feel that "meta" really is the right word. But it is also a word that is recognized by a relatively small subset of the population (and not the educated, but rather those who like to "think about thinking" (to be, well, meta about it)), and used by a smaller group still.

"Help & Support" has been proposed, and that is not bad, but maybe policy & support would be better. I really am worried that "help" is going to bring a lot of people with "How do I make links?" type questions when we would rather that most of them find the formatting help page.

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I think you're right about "help". What about "support"? –  user27414 Nov 8 '10 at 17:23
Or "help & support" –  Joel Coehoorn Nov 8 '10 at 17:26
Site Help, to differentiate from Cooking Help, which is the site's focus –  Joel Berger Nov 8 '10 at 17:35
Umm... I think that "help & support" has less meaning than "meta". –  user150068 Nov 8 '10 at 20:18
@Alejandro - the word "meta" is up there by itself for no apparent reason. Meta what? Why would I click on that? "Help & support" is pretty clear. –  user27414 Nov 8 '10 at 21:47
@Jon I don't really think it's clear enough. To me, one thing really missing is some indication that it's actually a whole separate site devoted to back-and-forth about the main site. In-line with "about" and "faq", "help & support" still looks to me like what dmckee explains about "help" alone. And "support" alone looks like something that would be for sending emails to admins. Now, "meta" doesn't indicate the separate site bit, but it really doesn't indicate anything at all, which miraculously works in its favor here. –  Grace Note Nov 8 '10 at 22:00
@Jon B: That greek prefix made famous by Aristotle has for meaning to be the information, discussion, rules, philosophy, abstraction about a subject, but not the subject itself. I think this is a common understanding. You wrote Why would I click on that?. I agree. But this is another issue: Usability. An @alt or @title wouldn't hurt. –  user150068 Nov 8 '10 at 22:25
What about "about"? (Though that word's already being used) –  Andrew Grimm Nov 8 '10 at 23:45
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Copying my answer from a few comments on http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/07/new-per-site-metas/

“I think a more accessible term for the wide audiences you’re aiming for would be ‘main site’”

Not a bad idea — “parent” vs. “main”. Some say “meta” is too geeky but I don’t agree with that. I could possibly support “parent” though. I worry though that “meta” and “main” look way too similar as links.

as you move away from more technical sites to the great unwashed of the interwebs, the term ‘meta’ might not be so well understood

I’m ok with doing a tiny bit of education about what meta is, since we have to educate people about how the Q&A format is supposed to work anyway. (or deprogram them from Yahoo! Answers, I guess)

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Just for the sake of a counter-argument: you have a barrier to entry already with an alternative paradigm to traditional forums. Adding additional barriers - or simply terms that make new users feel less comfortable - will make it more difficult to get new users to adopt the SE philosophy. –  user27414 Nov 9 '10 at 1:06
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Yes, we do.

Mostly because it's more apt than any of the alternatives suggested here or any others that I can think of.

Is it a descriptions that'll be clear to all users? Nope, although the tech vs. non-tech issue is a red herring, I think. But at least "meta" is highly accurate if you know the term. Unlike, say "feedback," which much of meta is not, and makes me expect to get a pre-addressed email to the team. Or "help", which I'd expect to take me to something more like the FAQs.

The challenge we're facing is that meta is actually the... rightest word (unlike "rightest", which, well... isn't).

On the beta sites, we could potentially put some verbiage on the right where the under-construction-y stuff is, something like, "Have a question ABOUT the site? Visit Meta."

At the end of the day, if the person we're worried about is actually looking for something like meta, and they find the links up top (no one's suggesting they're too well hidden, just that the diction will prevent them from picking the right one), they'll almost certainly wind up at the FAQ. Which will quickly advise them of where they should go if they have a question ABOUT the site.

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