How MetaFilter’s Founder (Successfully) Stepped Away From the Community After 16 Years

Matt HaugheyAfter managing MetaFilter for 16 years, founder Matt Haughey stepped away from the community in 2015, handing the day-to-day operations over to a long time staff member with a small, paid team.

More than a year and a half later, Matt stops by Community Signal to reflect on his decision and how it has impacted the community. The transition of power at MetaFilter is our focus on this episode, including what led Matt to realize that it was time for him to go. Plus:

  • Why MetaFilter charges $5 for new accounts
  • The time that Matt caught Dilbert creator Scott Adams posting anonymously to praise himself
  • What concerns Matt about the consolidation of power in social media platforms

Big Quotes

“I worked at startups, and I didn’t like it. I couldn’t imagine ever running one or feeling comfortable with it. [With MetaFilter], I just wanted to build something that was useful for people and enjoyable, and gave back to the people who participated in it. That was my goal.” -@mathowie

“[After taking a year to plan his exit from MetaFilter:] Maybe it’s the nature of community managers in general. We’re careful, thoughtful people or else we would have terrible communities. I’m the type of guy that gives three months notice if I leave a job. I don’t want to leave people feeling out of it. The community’s maintained health was my number one priority. It takes a year to pull yourself out of a project when you have tendrils in every aspect of it.” -@mathowie

“[MetaFilter’s $5 account registration fee] wasn’t really economic. It was definitely just trying to put a hurdle in front of people. … Anytime we [were mentioned] in the press … 500 or 600 people would just funnel in, sign up for an account and find the nearest thread and just start leaving comments. Most of them are just clueless, like ‘What is this site for, why am I here, what the hell is this, I don’t even like the color of it?’ It would just be chaos.” -@mathowie

“I never wanted a community that was so big, it felt anonymous.” -@mathowie

“[When people started selling MetaFilter accounts on eBay,] I’m sitting there going like, ‘Boy, this is weird having a black market around my own thing.’ I was railing on the music industry. I was writing blog posts about how it sucks the music industry is vilifying Napster and MP3s like, let me pay for digital music. I remember begging, writing things in 2002 and 2003. … There’d be no Napster if you had 50 cent songs or dollar songs. It would be easier to just pay for them than it would be to track down these MP3s … I remember just thinking, yeah, there’s this black market around MetaFilter. I can get rid of it by just doing what I would ask the music industry to do, which is provide an economic way to do the right thing. There were no more eBay auctions after that because anyone could get [an account] for five bucks.” -@mathowie

“Scott Adams and Dilbert stuff would come up on MetaFilter from time to time. I don’t even know what tipped me off … but I’d noticed every time there’s a thread about Dilbert or Scott Adams, there’s this weird user with this really bizarre username that’s always there to defend him to the death. He would argue with everybody about what a genius Scott Adams was. … We have PayPal records with some identifiers of your name and email, [and I pulled up the account]. It’s Scott Adams. … Running communities is weird. This stuff comes up from time to time.” – @mathowie

“The way we think of comments today, as mostly garbage to be ignored and phasing out rapidly in many places, is largely due to the lack of community management.” -@mathowie

“A zillion newspapers and news sites adopted comments without ever hiring a single person to moderate them or even care to look at them. So they became synonymous with cesspools of nonsense.” -@mathowie

“I do think we’re just on the cusp of figuring out where the downside is to [consolidating social interaction to a few, powerful platforms]. Like this week, there was news that Facebook’s working on censorship software for China so that controversial articles would, basically, never be seen in China because that’s a requirement of web publishing in China. That’s really disturbing. How could that be applied by any other government or anybody else or anyone at Facebook? Those are things that are super concerning. I don’t know if we’re ever going to return to a rich, lush, open web of thousands of decentralized servers and writers, unfortunately.” -@mathowie

About Matt Haughey

Matt Haughey was one of the pioneers of blogging. In 1999, he started MetaFilter.com as the first blog community and continued to run it until last year. He’s now a writer at Slack, and continues to tinker on dozens of small web projects today.

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Transcript

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