I had come across this mildly creepy site on Digg back in 2006, thepurification.org. It was one of those Mysterious Countdown Sites with a handful of cryptic clues and a clock ticking down to a looming date. One of the comments linked to an ongoing dissection of the puzzle on AskMetaFilter, and I followed the discussion with great interest, impressed by the spectacle of the hive mind in action.
Finally, after ~700 comments of codebreaking and investigation, the clock hit zero and the site revealed itself to be... a promotional stunt for some ski resort ("a crummy commercial!" as one user drolly observed). Unfortunately, I never checked out MeFi beyond that one thread, and so in my disgust with the letdown I forgot to sign up for that intriguing green message board.
But over a year later, Lifehacker began running weekly round-ups of helpful AskMe questions. Reading the more interesting ones, I was once again impressed by the cogent and useful advice there, and this time took a look around the rest of the place. After reading the site's Wikipedia profile and then all the articles on the MeFi Wiki, I finally dropped five dollars shortly before Halloween 2007 and have thoroughly enjoyed participating here ever since.
Giving old memories new life
I first understood how great a community MetaFilter was by reading through some of the notable threads and comments linked to on the site wiki, such as Pastabagel's exegesis of Mr. Rogers and robocop is bleeding's monstrous Wheel. But that was all prologue.
The most memorable time for me on the site was probably my experience posting about the old computer game Starship Titanic this past winter. I had always enjoyed waxing nostalgic about obscure gems from my childhood here -- my first really celebrated post, a round-up of quirky one-off animation that used to air on Cartoon Network, brought on a deluge of people reveling in long-forgotten memories, just as I had when I first found the material.
This thread was something else, though. I thought I had collected just about everything there was to see on the web about Douglas Adams' strange adventure game, from walkthroughs to funny stories to scanned bonus material. But within hours of posting, one MeFite got ahold of Yoz Grahame -- a developer of the game and a longtime MeFite himself -- and pointed him to the thread.
Yoz proceeded to post one of the best comments I've ever read on this or any other site. He started out talking about his time working on the game, sharing firsthand knowledge of the project and the people that put it together. He revealed insider info about the development process, including easter eggs that had never been discovered before (a rarity for a 12-year-old game). That alone outclassed what I had thought of as the definitive take on the title.
But he wrapped it up with a truly remarkable story about the power of online community, as exemplified by a throwaway forum on the game's fake in-universe website. I won't spoil it here -- it just *has* to be read in full -- but suffice to say it manages to employ "sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera" as an apt metaphor.
I think that thread represents the MetaFilter dynamic at its best (aside from rare momentous events like marriages and raising money for victims and busting Russian traffickers, of course). I've been on the web a long time, and no other non-professional platform could challenge and inspire me to write so thoroughly about something so obscure just because I thought people might enjoy it. And no community that enabled that level of writing could also be eclectic enough to count somebody with a direct connection to the subject among its membership -- and likewise inspire them to share an amazing story that itself represents the unique value of the web.
Eliciting first-person, insider accounts on a vast array of topics has always been one of MeFi's great strengths, and this was the first time I saw it happen as a consequence of my own participation, and on a subject that really meant something to me. It made me deeply grateful to have this place available -- both as an opportunity to share stuff I care about with people I respect, and as a source for learning fascinating new things from those people about stuff I thought I knew inside and out. With all this occurring within just a few years of joining the site, I'm eager to see what another twelve years of MetaFilter will bring.