When I looked back on the old C’Mon Get Meta post. There were some great ideas for how the system could be changed into a discussion site.

  • bounties make little sense on a discussion site
  • questions->topics, answers->replies)
  • remove notion of community wiki, as discussion sites have a stronger sense of ownership, plus nothing will be off-topic
  • remove accepting an answer

These are all things that were stated from day one. (i'm not talking about that most of these things haven't been implemented). But why are we still treating the system like a Q&A system?

Meta is for discussion, an answer to a question is a reply to a topic. It's like we're still trying to get rep and worrying about looking like a rep whór.

IMO. Answer and talk about questions as much as you want. Comments are only for meta-meta-meta.

We have a discussion tag, so we should be able to discuss things as an answer. Not as a comment.


The problem is, flat message boards / bulletin boards / forums all suck.

"Hmm, Ólafur makes a good point - I wonder if anyone has been able to refute his arguments... I'll just quickly read through the next 80 pages of unthreaded, largely-redundant responses and check!"

Flat only works when you're willing to admit that, after the first ten or so responses, everything else stands a good chance of being ignored. Which is great for SO (no discussion allowed), fine for blog posts (any real conversation in the comments would lower the blog-owner's soapbox), and death for a discussion forum. And so we don't use MSO like a discussion forum, or when we do we do so largely via comment responses: it's the closest we can get to a real, threaded forum.

Meta as a discussion forum is doomed, and has been from day 1 - the system simply doesn't support it. But, that's ok - it still works better for discussion than UV-style or PHPBB-style forums, and that's enough to make it worthwhile for the time being. Eventually, it'll all collapse under its own weight, but by then we'll all be using Wave or something...

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    we effectively offer one level of threading, and you're looking at it. – Jeff Atwood Oct 12 '09 at 5:26
  • "Flat only works when you're willing to admit that, after the first ten or so responses, everything else stands a good chance of being ignored." And this is different from threaded.. how? After the first ten ANYTHING, everything else is ignored. Except for the tinfoil hat wearing obsessives who read everything, and once you're in that state of mind, the game is already over. – Jeff Atwood Oct 12 '09 at 5:29
  • @Jeff Atwood A one level threading system should be more than enough. We shouldn't be splitting hairs on every topic anyway. – alex Oct 12 '09 at 6:44
  • @Jeff: yeah, but I only care about two responses: Olaf's, and whoever replied to him. If the system lets me identify those responses, then I don't care that there are 300 others... if it doesn't, then Olafur has lost a reader. @alex: if you think any discussion involving more than one level of response is "splitting hairs", then you really need to find a better forum. And again, SO isn't a forum, so i'm perfectly fine with discussion being stifled there. – Shog9 Oct 12 '09 at 14:10

remove notion of community wiki, as discussion sites have a stronger sense of ownership, plus nothing will be off-topic


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You're surprised that the software is structuring how people behave? That people wrap their behavior around what the software allows and encourages rather than the other way around?

While I agree that the SO engine is not optimal for pure discussion, it ends up being better than most of the alternatives. In all honesty, I think this says more about how crappy the alternatives are than how great our system is. But, a win by default is still a win, so yay us!

I think you ought to be looking at Stack Exchange sites for evidence of how well this model extends beyond its intended initial audience (Q&A for technical folks, programmers) than meta. They're pushing the boundaries way more than meta is.

  • I've used a few SE sites and I agree that it works outside the tech model, and I'm not surprised that software structures how we behave. What I am surprised by is that people know that we are supposed to discuss things there, but don't as much as you'd think. – Ólafur Waage Oct 12 '09 at 10:57
  • in what way is there not ENOUGH discussion on meta? From my perspective, there's plenty -- and I can point to many, many changes we've made as a result of the discussions here. – Jeff Atwood Oct 12 '09 at 11:22
  • What I mean is that way to much discussion is taking place in the comments. People are stating things that should actually be a reply instead of a comment. – Ólafur Waage Oct 12 '09 at 13:00
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    Actually, I'd be more concerned about how the nature of the software changes the nature of the discussion. For instance, I know that I'm far less likely to put any real effort into crafting a comment response than an answer response, and even less motivated to respond to a comment when the author of that comment isn't the author of the post it is attached to: with no notifications, my response will only be read promptly by tinfoil hat-wearing obsessives, and that doesn't exactly make for fluid conversation. So i fall back on snide remarks and other lazy ways of ending it much sooner... – Shog9 Oct 12 '09 at 14:17

I think a slashcode like system would work much better for discussion:

  • Allow for threaded responses.
  • Hide stuff with no votes when you have a response overload.

The whole giant comment thread thing is completely out-of-control here.

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    Threads! Yes! OTOH, Meta provides great rebuttal-fodder when arguing with folks who think discussion questions should be allowed on SO... – Shog9 Oct 11 '09 at 21:26
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    Some people, when confronted with a discussion problem, think "I know, I'll use threads!" Now they have N problems. – Jeff Atwood Oct 12 '09 at 6:08
  • Actually, they started with N problems. Now they have roughly N/average depth problems. There should be a fudge-factor (Mmm... fudge... with a good dark beer. Wish i had some right now...) of course, but the clear win is the ability to ignore deep, off-topic subthreads when a distraction arises... for instance, food. – Shog9 Oct 12 '09 at 14:21

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