from the soylent-news-is-you dept.
Based on your questions from a little over 10 days ago, we have our first batch of responses. I want to apologize for the delay, as everything has been moving so quickly that we're still getting our act together in so many ways. Remember that we were still in the very early stages a month ago, so bear with us in our growing pains. We chose a large number of questions, mostly highly rated ones from the community, with some additional questions that I felt deserved answers. Read on for answers from the site leadership.
How do you plan on making money, and what happens if you don't make enough?
I'd elaborate on this question.
One cannot ignore the fact that presently we have nothing foreign loading on the site. No third-party elements, no advertisements, beacons, trackers -- nothing of the sort. Yet we're all aware that keeping the server running has a cost. Surely many of us are curious how we will keep it running, and it's worth asking if there will be a method to facilitate donating to the SN fund to help with the costs.
Back on /. I would often see comments from the older crowd along the lines of "the Internet existed once without ads just fine, and it will continue to exist with or without them." My hunch is SN does not want to resort to inserting advertisements. If this is the case what would the plan be?
I plan on taking community consensus.
So far I've seen discussion of seven income types. I've thought them through and have notes and observations which should inform discussion.
I'm putting it all down on paper in a vision statement which should be published in about a week (although I'm finding that things take much longer than expected).
The ones I have so far:
- [selling] Swag
- Job listings (viz. Slashdot "Jobs" link)
- Sponsors ("This week's bandwidth is provided by...")
- Paid reviews
If you have more suggestions for income channels, please let me know and I'll include them in our proposals
[ How much did this site set you back so far? ]
Startup costs are under $1000. I expect an additional $1000 in Business/Legal/CPA fees (mostly incorporation fees) and $200-$300/mo. in bandwidth.
I've posted a full accounting of expenses to date on the wiki.
Nowadays, you can start an Internet revolution for under $1000. Who knew?
[ What happens if you don't make enough? ]
I have set aside $10K to run the site for the first year, we have that long to establish our brand and break even. If we aren't successful by then, I'll probably leave to pursue other interests.
[ Where is the tip jar? ]
Until we choose a business model, this is still "officially" a for-profit venture. I don't think it fair to solicit donations under that model. If that changes we will let everyone know publicly, and we will try to involve everyone in that decision.
What we have here is in some ways a self-selected community of torch and pitchfork-wielding Internet villagers. (I really do mean this in the kindest possible way.)
If it's determined that things need to change for the good of SoylentNews, how do you go about making these changes, when you know that the community you've created knows how to do a proper Internet revolt?
This may be a false dilemma. Since I intend to run things by community consensus, I don't see this being an issue. I consider myself the *leader* of the torch and pitchfork crowd!
The overlords have agreed to run their departments by community consensus, only making decisions when there is split opinion or if there is a global overriding concern. I'm intending to decide big decisions (such as business model) by community vote, and we've already used feedback on the site to tweak some policies.
I'm a big fan of crowd-sourcing, I would realize that the mob of Internet villagers is probably storming the castle with good reason.
But that's avoiding the question. Let's suppose an issue where the crowd wants to go one way and I want to go another. What issue might that be? Something that puts me personally at risk ("Let's fight the security letter! Force them to take us to court!"), something against my personal morals ("Nazis and white supremacists should be banned from our IRC. Also Holocaust and climate change deniers. Yeah!"), or something I find distasteful ("Please Read: A personal appeal from SoylentNews founder John Barrabas...").
I could easily walk away from the project with no regrets. Before SoylentNews, I liked my life *a lot* and would go back to it in a heartbeat. I wouldn't be like Hitler: a sad, broken man living out the rest of his life in South America, brooding over broken dreams.
If the crowd is *absolutely sure* they want to rush the machine guns, I'll quietly hand over the keys and retire. Nooooooo problem!
I'd like to add something here. If there are changes that need to be made, we will make them boldly yet cautiously, in new directions yet allowing everyone to remain comfortable in their place. I know that sounds like a bucket-full of contradictions, but it isn't.
We are going to be experimenting a lot to find out what nerd culture wants and needs in general. Some of our experiments will be successful, some will not. Some may seem like great ideas when we bounce them off a few people in IRC, and later we get negative feedback on them. (Video contest, looking in your direction, although we'll see the final outcome of that in 4 weeks.)
Our experiments with twitter may or may not pan out. We've started reserving our current name on other social media platforms, even if we never pursue those. But we will never make you use those platforms. Our key means of interaction with the community is on this site, and it will remain here. Any drastic changes to our site will be published in advance, and not forced down everyone's Internet tubes.
Anything else, whether forums, IRC, twitter, Vimeo, Instagram, or the next flavor of the day, will remain strictly voluntary.
The best way to ensure that any change is welcome is to participate in the growth of the site by volunteering. I'm asking all of our group leaders to publish their task lists so that we know, specifically, where we need help. I find it is easier to solicit help with specific things (Hey, can you help me move a couch upstairs?) than it is to get help with general things (Hey, I'm moving across town, got some buddies coming by to help, you in?) We'd like to break it down to manageable and specific tasks so that volunteers know what they are signing up for.
How will you know whether you're succeeding or failing? Do you have MBA-style metrics, or will you just feel the zeitgeist, or is it enough if you have a smile on your face at the end of the day, or...?
I don't really think in terms of goals like that. I've only got two success goals for the project:
1) Take in enough money to pay for basic operations (mostly bandwidth fees).
2) Take in enough money to pay employees... perhaps 10 full-time employees after 5 years.
Once these are satisfied, the rest are "how far can we take it" ideas. For example, I'd like the project to have $2 million in annual revenue. That would pay 10 employees at $100,000 per, and leave $1 million in profit. (These are "back-of-the-envelope" calculations.)
What could we do with $1 million?
- We could donate to Wikipedia, or another charity.
- We could fund an important supreme court challenge(*).
- We could endow interesting research projects.
Nerds tend to have high moral standards and a willingness to help. Wouldn't it be nice to know we helped stamp out the last remnants of polio or guinea worm? Or took part in a court case that strengthened our civil rights? Or made endowments to promote interesting research?
Of course, if the community doesn't want any of that we can just settle down with a nice newsfeed clone.
I'm a big fan of finding out where the limits are by trying to go past them, so unless there's push back from the community we'll at least have the *possibility* of doing some of these.
I'll do my best to make that happen.
(*) We could support the legal defense of anyone worldwide. I mention the Supreme Court - which is US centric - only for illustration.
How do you intend to promote the site? Is this strictly word of mouth or do you intend to take more active measures?
I'll take community feedback, of course. Having said that, I don't think we'll need any formal promotion. We're currently serving 5 million page-views per month. For comparison, Slashdot is serving an estimated 15 million page-views per month, so using word of mouth we're already at 1/3 of Slashdot's volume.
People have noted that we have higher quality article summaries and that our commentary is better. In all likelihood we will attract and keep readers simply because people will like the site.
That's a good thing.
It means we won't have to worry about marketing the site; by which I mean, we won't need to spend money on advertising. Like Wikipedia, we'll be a staple of the Internet and rely on our value and user experience.
As a follow-up to this question:
Should we still be trolling the other site? Years ago, I remember a situation where the BSDForums.org community all moved to DaemonForums.org within a few weeks. All it took was word of mouth. Should we be posting on each /. article about where the community has moved to?
I have had /. blocked at the DNS server for over a week now.
Please don't troll in the sense of sowing discord or upsetting people. It reflects on us as a community, and experience shows that it will hurt membership. Would you join a group known for griefing and flaming?
As noted above, we probably won't need *active* promotion for some time. The financial and business structure won't be in place to receive a revenue stream, and we're already reaching a great number of people. Instead of dissing the other sites, talk about your SoylentNews experiences.
Let people know about our summaries, insightful comments you've seen, how we respond to feedback, all the good things. Talk us up by all means - get the message out, let people know what we do and what we're all about. But try to keep it positive and focused on us.
Does the open source license from the SlashCode fully protect you from any litigation initiated against you from the other site?
I'm not a lawyer, so I can't fully answer this.
It's well known that you can be *sued* for any reason, and sometimes for no reason. Whether I would *prevail* in court is the real question.
It's my understanding that an open source license can't be revoked - you can't take a work in the public domain and retroactively put a copyright on it. Much of the look-and-feel of Slashdot came part-and-parcel with SlashCode - including the name "Slash" and some logo similarities.
We should be good so long as we don't duplicate the "look and feel" of their site too accurately. Since that's not our intent, I don't think it will be a problem.
Oddly, by my reading of the notice included with SlashCode, it would appear that Dice is in violation of the GNU copyright terms. Their site is based on SlashCode and they have made substantial changes without releasing those changes back to the community.
I have no interest in pursuing this - it serves no useful purpose - but this might be used as a defensive legal maneuver.
Again, I'm not a lawyer.
Are there still plans to solicit the community for a new name and to re-design the look of the site with community input?
The looks are being redone based on community input right now, in the "style" subsection of the project. Contact the overlord of style (MrBluze): Style (at) SoylentNews (dot) org if you'd like to be a part of that effort.
Lots of decisions are being made in other groups as well. The Wiki has a list of groups and overlords, come join us if you would like to help.
There's considerable momentum for the current name and choosing a new one takes effort (for example, to keep squatters from preemptively grabbing names), so I figure we'll first have a poll to choose whether SoylentNews should be the permanent name.
This puts SoylentNews up against all other names combined. If there's not enough combined interest then we won't need another contest.
If we *do* have another name contest, a simple way would be to have a panel of judges (8, for example) and receive suggestions by E-mail. I'll recuse myself in that case.
Judging from the quality of the questions here, would you say have the finest, most intelligent, most handsome, and downright extraordinary user base?
Hmmm... It's hard to tell handsome on the Internet. Not only do I think the users are extraordinary, I'm counting on it.
That's not a platitude, either. My vision for the project depends on the users being "extraordinary".
We read all the time about how this situation is bad or that person is treated unfairly and "oh, don't we just *wish* we could do something about it". Facebook catalogues our lives, the NSA reads our E-mail, Google sprays us with adverts. This post sums it up nicely.
We have an opportunity to build our own garden and show the world how good things could be. This means expanding into services beyond the news-feed, and experimenting with policies and new ideas. This is why I wanted our own IRC, Wiki, and Forum.
We could just run the news-feed and be a clone of Slashdot, but we've achieved that already and if we stopped now it would be boring. We've got "nerd paradise" in news reporting, so now I want to see how much further we can go, how much bigger our paradise can be.
This is probably our *last* chance to bring reason and sanity back to the Internet. If nerds can't do it, probably no one can. Empires will rise and fall and stars will flicker and fade, but if we can't fix the Internet, it will stay broken forever.
I'm banking on there being enough extraordinary people to help bring that vision about.
By now, you have had the chance to read the updates of both NCommander and Barrabas. Nonetheless, you may still be wondering quite a few things about the site and its staff. Here is your chance to ask us anything. These questions can be general in nature, in which case the staff will select a spokesperson to answer it, or it may be specific to an individual. If the question is for an individual, please ensure you identify that person specifically enough.
We will select the best questions from the thread and provide answers to the community. These questions may not be the highest rated, although we will probably use those first.
In keeping with tradition, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
So, what is SoylentNews? This is your chance to tell us!
I am announcing the first ever SoylentNews online video contest. The rules are pretty simple.
- Upload an original video (no more than about 60 seconds, please) to the site of your choice (but please tell us where it is up loaded and ensure it tracks views) that answers the question, "What is Soylent News?" Your video should ideally contain the phrase, "Soylent News is ..." but this is not strictly required. Let us know what site you upload to.
- Tag your video SoylentNews.
- Watch as the hits roll in.
Too easy, right? We will count the views on 31 March 2014, at 11:59 UTC. The winner is the individual video that has the most views.
You do not actually have to appear in the video! Make a cartoon, do CGI, do a voiceover of a movie, whatever. Be creative and explore your artistic vision! (Yes, you have one. It may be underutilized at times but it is there).
We have not yet determined the prize for the winner, but it will be jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring (it's a key-chain I found on the sidewalk somewhere). No, it'll be something good. At a minimum we'll feature your video on the site here and interview you for the "making of" your entry. But probably more (it's a keychain).
On behalf of the entire staff and volunteers, we continue to be amazed at the response we've gotten from the community so far. We will continue to provide ways that you can interact with us and help define us. I hope you enjoy this contest. If you have any other suggestions for how we can better meet your needs, feel free to let us know in IRC, the Forums, or the Wiki. Thanks for reading!
p.p.s updated based on feedback
As many of you have already read, John Barrabas resigned as head of SoylentNews, and I've taken over in his place. Many people who are not involved in Staff were likely blindsided on this, and the community itself deserves to have an understanding of the reasons and events leading up to this. This post exists to set the record straight.
I would like to make it clear, especially in hindsight, that the events leading up to this were not pretty, and that no one involved came out smelling like roses. Mistakes were made all around, tempers were lost, and to be frank, at times, I've conducted myself in a way that was not professional.
In the end, the changeover was amicable, and John and I are still on speaking terms with each other. This isn't intended as a bashfest, but rather as explanation to the community (along with those staff who were not directly involved) of why and how this change came about.
NCommander Adds: Staff logs and copies of the email have been posted to my journal. Links included below.