I mentioned last week that I’m a fan (and a user) of MetaFilter, the community website. MetaFilter predates the entire concept of “Web 2.0,” but manages to maintain all the things we like best about large communities on the web, while avoiding the possibility of a bunch of crappy Ron Paul posts or questionably relevant links to stories about how some programmer is really upset about… well, whatever it is programmers get upset about.
We can all learn a lot from looking at the things MeFi does right:
A Negligible Membership Fee. MetaFilter charges a one-time, five-dollar fee to join.Â Â The fee was implemented in 2004 as a result of overwhelming membership requests. It’s a brilliant idea; Five bucks isn’t much, but it is enough to ward off trolls, and to encourage people to join only if they really want to. The hassle of dealing with PayPal is by itself enough to keep out the riff-raff.
Compartmentalization. One of the big no-nos on MetaFilter is self-linking; the strict policy against it can get you banned if you try. But founder Matt Haughey appreciated his users’ need for a forum for their own projects, so he created MetaFilter Projects, where self-linking is not just encouraged, but pretty much necessary. It’s yet another in a list of sub-pages designed to relieve the front page of non-essential posts and too-specific minutae, along with Ask MetaFilter (sort of a community advice column) and MetaTalk (for discussion of MeFi itself… a sort of MetaFilter Meta).
Design. MeFi’s design is so distinctive that its members often only refer to it as “The Blue.” (They also call AskMeFi “The Green” and, occasionally, MetaTalk “The Grey.”) There’s nothing striking about MetaFilter’s design, but with its cool blue concept and serifless font, it’s definitely memorable.
Self-Policing. Because the blog is subtitled “The Best of the Web,” and early users fostered a community based on quality, courtesy and a strong adherence to that subtitle, MetaFilter has a powerful reputation for self-policing. A system of tagging and “favoriting” posts allows users to both alert mods to bad posts and reward good ones.
Quality Posts. All of the above factors result in a series of immersive, readable posts every day. It’s not like Reddit or Mixx or Digg or Stumbleupon; at MetaFilter, the users strive to contextualize their posts, often providing multiple links to related material, so that each post is like a reading list on some specific topic. And even when the posts are just single links to things like YouTube videos (ahem), they’re still pretty good.
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