from the #define-soylentnews dept.
You know, this is probably one of the hardest things I've had to write since we went live. My first few attempts just lead to writer's block and frustration, so I tried to take a different tack with this and do it the way I usually do my write-ups for anything; by the seat of my pants. The staff have poked and prodded my early attempts, and I think we're ready to open this up to everyone to add their two cents in as we work towards a final version.
Since we've gone live almost three months ago (yeash, time flies), we've already had our fair share of debates, strife, and conflict, yet at the end of the day we remain operational with an involved community that keeps growing day after day. As I continue my relocation to NH, we're getting scary close to the point we're going to need to start drafting the bylaws and operating principles for this site. One of the pressing questions that have been asked time and time again is, "What will we be?" I'm ready to give you that answer.
Without further ado, let me present the current draft copy of the site manifesto. I'll read through and debate feedback below, and keep refining this until it becomes the defining statement for what SN will be.
SoylentNews Manifesto: Version 0.1
In recent years, many alarming trends have surfaced regarding the free interchange of news and ideas on the internet. The practice of selling users' information for profit, without their approval or even knowledge, has become rampant. People are being prosecuted simply for expressing their opinions. A "Big Brother is Watching" mentality from both state and commercial actors, with universal surveillance now becoming common, has created a chilling effect, preventing people from exercising their rights or speaking up.
Unpopular or unusual views are being actively suppressed, diversity of opinion is too often deemed a problem, and actively restricted, at the whim of corporate and political power.
Too often, the focus upon profit has led to owners forgetting that sites exist for the benefit of their community, and the leadership and staff live to serve that community.
Too often, useful help and input from a site's community is ignored by staff and management who are so out of touch with the very people they serve that they will destroy the support of the community they built, and eventually the business itself.
Statement of Purpose
Our aim is to stand in stalwart opposition to these trends. We will be the best site for independent, not-for-profit journalism on the internet, where ideas can be presented and free discussion can take place without external needs overshadowing the community.
Right to Privacy
We will limit the amount of data collection we do whenever and however we can.
Our user database, and the information in it, is not, and never will be for sale.
Any data collection we do will be done with the consent of the community, and destroyed once we are finished with it.
Any information we collect for legal purposes (i.e., DCMA safe harbor protections) will be destroyed as soon as legally possible.
We will continuously look at ways to shore up users' privacy, including, but not limited to, the tor proxy presently available to our users.
Right of Opinion
Diversity will be respected and encouraged as an important aspect of our community, as groupthink can easily prevent people from seeing other, perhaps better, ideas.
Except as required by law, no one will be banned or have their comments deleted due to stating a fact or opinion, no matter how unpopular or repugnant it is. We will not ban or silence a user for merely stating an opinion.
Freedom of Access
Access to information needs to be available to all members.
We will, to the extent possible, attempt to accommodate members of this site with disabilities, such as those dependent on screen readers.
Content produced by this site shall be available in a format that does not require proprietary or patented software. Non-free methods of access in addition may also be provided for sake of convenience (i.e., a YouTube video)
Freedom from Financial Backers/Handling Advertising
Media can be influenced by those who fund it; to prevent us from becoming slaves to a new overlord, the LibreNews Foundation shall be funded independently by the member sites (such as SoylentNews) which comprise it.
Should fundraising efforts prove insufficient, at the discretion of the staff, we may run advertising on this site in an attempt to supplement income.
No attempt to block access to this site shall be made by those who use ad-blocking software, though we urge such users to subscribe.
Permissions granted by the user to this site shall not extend to other sites (i.e., if you give us permission to email you, we're not going to give anyone else permission to do so).
Third-party media hosted on this on this site shall be limited to a form which is non-distracting, and non-disrupting.
Freedom of Topic
We recognize that the free flow of ideas can only take place in an environment free of taboo subjects.
No topic will be deemed unsuitable for our community to discuss.
Right to Criticize/Right of Reversion
A true community can only exist when communication can flow in both directions.
The right of our community to criticize, make suggestions, and help us improve our site will be respected. No staff or leader will ever be above criticism.
We recognize that mistakes will be made, as we are all human. It is both the right and privilege of others to correct us when needed.
If serious errors are made, we promise to revert them and fix the problems.
So, on the slow but progressing front of incorporation, I've been working on drafting the bylaws for the umbrella non-for-profit for SoylentNews. Our current plan is to have all the documents ready for incorporation done in a single go, then involve a lawyer to review them to make sure that we meet all the requirements. Once that is done, I'll finalize my move to New Hampshire (which has gotten unfortunately sidetracked due to real life), and submit the documentation to the state.
When I took over this site, I said that we would incorporate and (eventually) become a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. At the time, I had not dug into the specifics of what this would entail, and I've got some concerns that makes me wonder if 501(c)(3) is a good thing for our future. My biggest concern involves a prohibition that prevents 501(c)(3)'s from being involved with anything related to "political activity". While seemingly benign on the surface, this prohibition may create some difficulty for us.
SN Subscription - $20 USD per year
- Subscriber Badge
- Early Access To Features (i.e. Improved Threading, to help work bugs out before roll out to the general community)
- Exemption from ads if we ever run any
- Full comment histories/access to database-intensive operations
- No rate limiting/spam filtering
Subscription can either be bought, or gifted to anyone. From the feedback we got, $20 USD per year (approximately $1.66 USD per month) would roughly be the right "sweet spot" for people.
Given the unique nature, we're breaking it into two parts. The first is Slashcode 15.03, which is mostly a housekeeping/bugfixing update. This will be the final update of the legacy mod_perl 1 branch, and our final update using Slashcode. Here's what you can expect with this feature-packed installment.
Slashcode 15.03 - Changelog
- Moderation Improvements (better handling of Spam mods, template fixes, etc) (credit: TMB)
- Require prior moderation to use Overrated/Underrated (credit: TMB)
- No karma hits for someone moderated Overrated/Underrated (credit: TMB)
- Add karma floor of 10 to be able to down mod, tweakable in vars (credit: TMB)
- Monthly and Semiannual Subscriptions (credit: paulej57)
- User Selectable Pricing, with minimum (credit: paulej57)
- Auto Renewing Subscription option from PayPal (credit: paulej57)
- Reorganized the moderation dropdown list to avoid miss-moderations (credit: paulej57)
- Mod-bomb detection page for admins: this can now get you banned from moderating the same as if you'd abused Spam (credit: paulej57)
- Closed out the following bugs:
- Fix for issue #412: fixed login redirects to user Apache request_uri string.
- Fix for issue #411: added mod_banned info to admin user screen, now with date validation
- Fix for issue #405: removed users email from the daily stats email.
- Fix for issue #401: remove coremetrics scripts from few templates.
- Fix for issue #378: updated moderation FAQ to reflect new mod system.
- SN-specific: Retiring nitrogen, carbon, and beryllium back-end servers (in progress)
- Other Miscellaneous Fixes
If you can't wait to see what this is all about, take a look at our development version of the site. Feel free to create an account and try things out. If you find a bug, please Report it on GitHub or let it be known on the #Soylent or #Dev channel on IRC using your favorite client, or using a web-based interface.
If you want to know what this mysterious 'Rehash' is, check past the break.
I've long wanted SoylentNews to have much more in terms of content, and user participation. Many discussion sites such as reddit allow users to create their own independent communities-within-communities and as of the rehash upgrade, we've finally laid down most of the fundamental ground work for us to do the same. Right now, we have two nexuses, Meta, and Breaking News, and plans to add more. As one can see, by browsing these nexuses directly, you can see the intended communities-within-communities effect we want to generate. Right now, users can configure their home page to exclude or include nexuses they are directly interested in.
To clarify, rolling out community nexuses will not impact the main page; the intent of this upgrade is to allow more niche topics to have their own place of discussion and allow users to customize their home page as they see fit. For instance, if we have a nexus about Minecraft, you could elect to have those posts show up on the main page. To prevent us from falling into pitfalls experienced by other sites, I want to make sure we get the dialog going on this now and have a firm plan to hit the ground running. Our community defines this site and without that we are nothing, so we both want to make sure we do this right and provide opportunities to give back.
Overall, here's what I want to discuss
- Avoiding Community Fragmentation
- Community Governance
- Monetization and Revenue Sharing
- In Closing
Check past the fold for more information.
Thanks to all of our wonderful supporters, we have exceeded our financial goal for this period! This period covers the second half of 2015, so we still have a few months before this period is over. Up until now, the only thing we have budgeted for was immediate and expected expenses (hosting, tax preparation, domain registrations, etc.). While we have been luckily staying ahead of these projected expenses by a small margin (about 10% in the first half of the year), it appears we have an opportunity to exceed the goal set for this period. Subsequently, we had the idea of a stretch goal. There are quite a few things that we could use this money for (not for more more servers.)
One of the biggest "expenses" that we rarely discuss is the initial capital outlay that went into the site's startup costs — $3,417 coming out of the personal accounts of our staff. Of course, we aim to reimburse these sizable contributions. Though they have noted that they wished us to first focus on making the site self-sustaining, it appears we are already doing that.
Another possible use for "extra" funds would be to have some money on hand for lawyers. We often talk about how any kind of lawsuit or legal proceedings would be a huge financial burden on us. We do try to avoid any case that may invite that; for example, we are registered for DMCA requests, we take steps so that we are not breaking laws here in the USA (etc.). However, even if we are following the laws/guidelines exactly, that does not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit, so it would be ideal that we had some funds in case such a situation ever arises.
Further down the road we would love to be able to compensate some of our dedicated — and so far entirely volunteer staff — many of whom have been working tirelessly on this site since it went live; taking time away from their lives and families so that we can have this community. This is a "for the future" thing. It would have its own quirks and issues that we would have to figure out. It's a nice-to-have-problem in case we ever do have the extra capital. Surely, having a few paid employees, at least, would help ensure the long-term viability of the site, as well as open up the opportunity to really improve and expand on what we are trying to do here.
For this stretch goal we are aiming for an additional $2,000. This should cover any unexpected costs that come up in the way of taxes for last year (yes, we are still working to finish up the filing for last year) and give us a buffer that we could just leave in the bank for now. If things continue financially in this direction (or even grow), then we can start to use this money to begin to pay back the the startup costs for the site, and keep a few dollars on hand for things that come up in the future.
I also wanted to mention that we are working on getting direct credit card payments possible through Stripe for those that prefer not to use PayPal. Though we don't have a timeline yet, it is in the pipeline.
Once again, I am personally astounded by the support that we have seen since we went live in February of 2014: over a quarter-million comments as well as all the submissions, volunteers, and subscribers — the feeling of being a part of this is hard to describe. So thank you all for being you.