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MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey says online communities chasing page views are inviting 'mob rule'

From a great interview about startup failure.

Jeffrey Zeldman / Flickr

For people who were active on the internet in the early 2000s, MetaFilter was like Reddit before Reddit — a blog that spawned a larger community site with probing questions, inane links and a lot of devoted users.

MetaFilter’s founder is a guy named Matt Haughey, who stepped away from running the site in 2015 and now works for Slack. He thinks that communities like Reddit have the long-running abuse problem that they do because once you scale to having millions of users, you lose the ability to control the conversation in a way that makes users feel respected. From a recent interview with, a network of bootstrapped startup founders (emphasis ours):

“Here’s another thing: Community doesn’t scale very well. There’s a high human cost of running community sites. …

“It’s weird that there’s a time where we envisioned MetaFilter would run like Reddit, up and down votes and we wouldn’t have to have a human component to it, but that would kill the personality and the humanity of the site. It would just be mob rule and it would have all the problems Reddit has: terrible people controlling the conversation. It’s just really hard to run a human-curated anything at scale. I think that’s why I never wanted to do anything at scale.

“Once a year some VC guy will see my name and email me and be like, ‘We should talk. Oh my God, you’re an underutilized business, I could flip this. This should be 10X, this, that.’ But no one can answer the question: if you gave me $5 million to invest in MetaFilter, what would you do with it to make it better or worth more? Communities don’t respond well to rapid growth.”

The reason that this interview caught my attention was because Bethanye Blount, the former engineering chief of Reddit, shared it on Twitter.

When Blount left Reddit last year, she told Re/code that she felt the company’s leadership was making promises to its (unpaid) community moderators, who have felt burdened by their workload, that it wouldn’t be able to keep.

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