May 31, 2006

The Extremely Early Days -

It's not entirely easy to pick a starting point for Metafilter—I'd like to get started with an Early Thread, but I can't simply start with thread number one, because it doesn't exist. Metafilter was (and continues to be) a test-as-you-go experience, administratively, and so the first 18 thread numbers were tied to threads that are no longer of this world.

Scanning Cats

The first active thread, then: Thread 19. The infamous "cat scan" thread. Infamous, and from a purist starting-from-the-beginning perspective consequently problematic—folks wandered into the thread long after it was posted, on more than one occasion, to chatter. The lack of a year field in the comment timestamps makes it difficult to tell when exactly the incursions happened, but the key point is clear: this thread, as a single entity, is not really an "early" thread so much as a thread that was originally posted early on. The comments span a great deal of mefi history.

Looking at thread 19 is anachronistic in more than one way. Aside from the great big jumps in the 3-year-long comment chronology, there are site features present to the modern viewer that weren't there when the thread was posted. Tags, for example: those weren't around for years—only after the fact has the post been tagged. A sort of revisionist librarianism, that.

Also, flags—just now, I've flagged this mathowie comment as 'other', but flags are a relatively recent innovation. (God knows what Matt and Jessamyn will make of that.)

And the thread is closed! As it clearly wasn't originally—automatic thread closure after 30 days was a change made no less than three years after the original thread 19 was posted.

The cat-scan Meme

By virtue of both it's historical significance and the sheer potency of the idea itself, has held fast as a long-running (if low-frequency) meme on Metafilter. It's not hard, with a little Googling, to find references to the site and even the original text of mathowie's post. Consider:

The double-post joke has become a birthday tradition for Metafilter, as well:

It'll be another month and a half before the inevitable 2006 edition.

Not What I Had In Mind

My hope, with Refi, is to take a good systematic look at joe-average Metafilter threads over time—essentially, examine threads that have no particular motivation toward self-examination and see what's going on in there. Thread 19 is a terrible fit for that sort of thing—as threads go, it is highly self-aware and its offspring are all likewise.

On the other hand, looking through this stuff is a hell of a lot of fun, so it's safe to say you can expect to see more thematic/memetic explorations that veer somewhat off-point—considering that no such on-point posts yet exist, especially...

Why Refi?

Why Refi? Why review Metafilter? To what purpose? &c.

It's been something like seven years since Metafilter came into being, and the site has grown from tiny experimental community weblog to a bustling fixture of blogdom. In that time, the userbase has grown and changed, the threads have gotten longer, the traffic has gotten heavier. Folks talk about the good old days; other folks talk about how there weren't any good old days. Assertions get tossed around—this has changed, that has stayed the same—

But why not test some of that? Why not take a look back through the history of Metafilter, and see what there is to actually see?

Why not indeed!

So here's the plan: sample mefi history, talk about what's there, who's there, and what the hell everybody is talking about and how. Maybe some armchair discourse analysis thrown in. Maybe even directed graphs of conversational branching.

Refi is born!

And this is its pancreas. Not really what I want to present to you in your first glance; let's let this sit here for a moment while I get everything else under control, and I'll show you something adorable when I'm good and ready.

Thanks a bunch.