• Matt Haughey, founder, MetaFilter: “You can invoke the ‘plain theme’ as a member, and we’re toying with the idea of making that the default in the future if enough people keep E-mailing us saying the current design is too hard to read.”

  • Haughey, as heard on a MetaFilter podcast a year ago: “I just find Reddit so hard to read physically.”

I am user 250 on MetaFilter. After 13 years, I’m taking a year off from this exemplar of community Weblogs, a site I have defended and championed.

I knew the game was over when I realized the only thing that interests me is metadiscussion. For years the only thing I could stomach reading on the site is MetaTalk. It’s MetaFilter’s true innovation, a subsite where you can debate the site itself. (So many other sites need the same thing, but, true to Internet form, those sites are happy to keep doing what is known not to work.)

MetaFilter is, moreover, a great site to read if you’re a fervent defender of Muslims or trannies or both, since criticism of either or both is simply not permitted.

Centrally, though, I object to the entrenched stupidity of the smart and sophisticated people who run the place, namely mathowie and lead developer Paul Bausch (pb). Haughey, a victim of sunk-cost fallacy, is overcommitted to the precept that MetaFilter in the 21st century has to look and behave almost exactly the way it did in the first month of its existence. (Another factor at work is a complete redesign Haughey long ago commissioned that didn’t go over well with the peevish, ignorant MeFi userbase. I gather that, because one redesign didn’t work, Haughey believes no part of the current “design” can or should be changed.)

What I’m talking about here is the counterfactual and reader-hostile insistence that lines of text on MetaFilter be about as wide as your monitor. Civilian MeFites, a cohort banging shit out on Wintel keyboards who can’t even typeset a quotation mark, insist up and down they can read 23-inch lines of text just fine. They’re lying: They can’t. You can’t. I can’t. Nobody can.

Cropped screenshot of marathon line lengths on MetaFilter

My beef with Bausch is his refusal to upgrade the site to 2001-era Web standards. Instead of marking up paragraphs of text, ideally in a list, MetaFilter used sequences of BR BR for nearly a decade. Developers have since gone to the trouble to replace those incorrect semantics with even-less-correct semantics (div class="copy post"; span class="smallcopy"; br hr). Matt Haughey is close personal friends with the inventors of Web standards, from whom he has learned nothing he cared to actually implement.

The fixes, while obvious, will not happen

  1. Haughey needs to accept centuries of practice in reading, backed up by decades of empirical research and his own experience, and make his site actually readable with default settings on real-world screens.

  2. Bausch needs to join the ranks of the competent developers – the people Haughey considers old friends, the guys he catches up with at conferences.

They won’t, of course.

I’ll be back on 2014.01.01. Neither side should get its hopes up.

Confidential to Adam Greenfield

You are not in any sense a member of, let alone a spokesman for, “the MetaFilter community.” Nor can you read 23-inch-wide lines of text.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2013.01.01 14:33. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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