Slash Boxes

SoylentNews is people

posted by NCommander on Monday July 21 2014, @03:25PM   Printer-friendly
from the sickness-and-real-life-sucks dept.
On July 4th, I ran a short article noting that we were officially incorporated as a public benefit corporation (PBC) with a followup to follow; due to both sickness and real life difficulty, that followup got delayed until now. There were a fair number of questions on what happens now, and what our next steps are, and I'm here to shed some light on them.

In This Post
  • So What Does This Mean
  • Summarizing Our First Board Meeting
  • Coming Site Updates
  • Revenue Streams
  • State of SN Finances
  • Original Content
  • In Closing
What Does Incorporation Mean For SN?
Obviously, I've done a fair bit of writing about our incorporation progress, but given some of the comments I saw on the "We're Incorporated" post, it's not clear how this is a benefit to the community. Simply put, being incorporated provides us legal protections we didn't have for the site in an ad-hoc form. Furthermore, it allows us to migrate to a world where no one individual can say "screw you", and take the site down just by doing so; as things were setup and if I were so inclined, I could have turned off SN just by deleting the Linode's, and there would be no recourse for my actions nor would it be trivial to re-establish the site. With a proper legal corporation taking charge of the site, it prevents any one individual from taking over in a dictatorship. It has never been the plan for SoylentNews to be a dictatorship and this represents the first step that allows us to move to community governance.

Furthermore, it also allows us to accept and manage money on behalf of the community for the ongoing upkeep of the site. I've got more on this below, but in short, this is an important landmark on our goal towards self-sufficiency and allowing the site to be able to finance itself. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it brings us to the point where succession is possible. The fact of the matter is most projects live or die on the motivations of its original members, and there will come a day, sooner or later, that myself and others will wish to step down.

If SoylentNews is going to be successful, it needs to be able to handle this inevitable changing of the guard. While I have no plans on going anywhere, you never know if today is the day I will get hit by a bus, or just suddenly drop dead. As a community, we've already had one major change in leadership and the fallout from that nearly killed the site; I never want to see a repeat of that. A large part of our incorporation ensures that as long as there are folks who are willing to put the work in, SoylentNews will continue.

I understand that a lot of people may be unconformable dealing with corporations, even a public benefit corporation, but we will continue to try and provide the same transparency and community involvement we always had. We're looking at how we can legally include members of the community on the board via election and other ways to insure we don't lose the rapport and trust we've built up to this point. Trust and communication goes both ways; we've already changed plans when the community thought we were wrong and I'll be damned if we change that philosophy now. I'm open to any feedback in the comments below on how we can bring the community into the business side of things.

Summarizing The First Board Meeting
On July 8th, we had the first official meeting of the board in #staff on IRC, the transcript and meetings are available on the wiki. For those not versed in business creation, most of this meeting consisted of formally establishing the board, various accounts, and discussing revenue streams. To merely get the ball going, we started with a very small board consisting of the folks directly involved in our incorporation process in positions required to meet our legal obligations; as of this writing, our board consists of the following:
  • Michael Casadevall (NCommander) - Chief Executive Officer/President
  • Matt Angel (matt_) - Secretary
  • Ben Prentice (mrcoolbp) - Treasurer

We'll likely be expanding the board in the very near future to include additional positions, such as Editor-In-Chief and so forth. We're still getting our sea-legs on this. I'm covering the remainder of the meeting as bullet points here, but invite the community to dive through the log and raise any questions they'd like.

ADDENDUM: Since I originally wrote this, we've had our second Board Meeting, which was mostly expanding on points above and below. Furthermore, we're working on trying to set a regular time for holding meetings. Up-to-now, its been a relatively ad-hoc affair decided a day or two in advance due to having to accommodate multiple schedules. Our board meetings are open to the public on the #staff channel on IRC. I'll update the Site News box with the date as soon as it is determined.

Coming Site Updates
So, with our incorporation complete, one of our first priorities is getting subscriptions up and running, as discussed earlier. Right now, the largest bit of work is refactoring the subscription code to be a calendar-time-based system vs. usage based, which has proven to be somewhat more complex than I thought when I first looked at it. We'll likely launch subscriptions with our 14.08 Slashcode release, with the initial payment method just being PayPal and with an invite-only test period to make sure everything works beforehand.

I can already hear people groaning about that, but its the only supported merchant in the pre-existing code. We plan to add more merchants in the near future, as well as re-evaluating accepting crypto-currencies via coinbase for those who are unwilling or unable to use traditional credit cards over the internet.

In addition, we're modifying the code to take into account requested features like being able to toggle the subscriber star (which is *shockingly* difficult; its tied to the comment, not the user). I'm hoping to find some free time to finish cleaning this code out in the next week, and get everything ready for an early August launch. Beyond that, we have the usual slew of non-critical bug-fixes, and a big one, UTF-8 support landing in base (much thanks to TheMightyBuzzard for this work). As usual, we'll be updating the site on the 1st, so expect further news about subscriptions between then and now.

Revenue Streams
Shifting from subscriptions, we're also looking at creating an official SoylentNews store with various types of swag. mrcoolbp has been experimenting in creating a CafePress store with various shirts and cups available and we'll be looking to expand for more unique merchandise in the near future (ideas welcome). It is our hope that this, combined with subscriptions, will be enough to successfully allow SoylentNews PBC to reach financial independence.

On a larger scale, I'd like to start building out towards accepting original content. While this topic will get a post of its own sometime in the near future, we'd like to build a system where people can approach us to write on a topic, and we'd purchase articles from said authors with reasonable compensation. To do so, we need a larger base of capital to work from. Once we've got subscriptions and some money coming in, we'll be investigating the possibility of doing a crowdfunding project which will give us the necessary capital; this is now a medium-term goal, one we'll be seriously investigating once the site itself is safely financed.

This site exists for the community -- we'll announce and discuss any revenue streams we want before implementing them and try and keep site finances from affecting the site in any visible way.

State of SoylentNews Finances
So another major point is figuring out everyone who has a current financial stake in the site, and work out a means of compensation. Our early members may remember some unpleasantness we had in regards to financial matters not long after we went live. We do not ever wish to have a repeat of such things because it creates an environment where folks are unwilling to call BS when they see it. As we learned from that experience when someone has a financial stake in the site, those members can have undue influence over others. As such, we're going to work out repayment for the current stakeholders in the site (represented in the GNUcash file as "Equity"; see below), and get the site back to zero-sum. The method of repayment is still up for discussion (one such option that has been proposed is issuing all stakeholders common stock in the PBC), but everyone should be aware that some of our net income will be used to pay off these debts.

I've retroactively worked through every receipt I had for expenses related to SoylentNews and have compiled our initial ledger which is available here. This file was generated with GNUcash 2.6.1, which is available in most package repositories, and available for download for Mac and Windows on the GNUcash website. Obviously, relatively few people will want to download something to view one file, so I will attempt to summarize the ledger here.

In short, most of our costs came from purchasing the site assets from the original founder for $2000 USD, with our general hosting costs being ~$240 a month, combined with ~$60 dollars for backing up critical servers via the Linode backup server. We were able to refund several of the large purchases made at that changeover, with the credit applied to the Linode account; this is reflected as a large credit to my line under Equity in the GNUcash file. Beyond that, we ran up ~$400 dollars in incorporation fees. All and all, our total costs to this point are $3,216, split between $833.58 dollars to myself, and $2,418 to Matt.

For those who are more interested in seeing where money went, and on what, I invite you to download the file, and ask questions below, and I will try and justify each and every expense. As a final note, we will likely be migrating to using QuickBooks instead of GNUcash as it is the de-facto standard of the business world. This is an unfortunate necessary evil because (1) GNUcash does not handles tax information well and (2) most CPAs will be unable to work with GNUcash files directly. While it is possible to run a small business using GNUcash for bookkeeping, it is likely to create annoying difficulties and additional expense in dealing with our future accountant. However, in line with our manifesto, we will continue to provide access to our finances in a format that can be opened with free software.

In Closing
I hope this post helps set aside a lot of the concerns folks had with our incorporation as well as help give a clearer picture of where we are going from here. I'd like to re-iterate my apology on the delay on getting this authored, the last two weeks have been something I'd rather forget. It seems hard to believe, but its been almost half a year since we first opened our doors (5 1/2th months), and its been a long and exciting ride. The fact that a random group of folks, disgruntled with the other site, managed to get together, form a replacement, and revive a dead codebase is no small achievement. The fact that we managed get organized to this point is, in my humble opinion, truly remarkable. To everyone who reads, comments, or submits stories: YOU are what makes SoylentNews possible and are what keeps us going day in and day out. No matter what we will not forget the folks who make this site what it is or the reasons why it was formed.

Until the next,

Note: There are some early comments on this article due to it accidentally being posted during drafting, hence how some comments have dates before the publication time.

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  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday July 21 2014, @04:20PM

    by VLM (445) on Monday July 21 2014, @04:20PM (#71869)

    I'll buy a "coffee" mug, although I drink tea. Please at least remember to put the site URL on it?

    "Fork /." would be a moderately amusing motto for a mug, although I'm sure /. would need a little (tm) symbol. "Fork Beta"?

    ideal mug : "2 donations to [] 1 Cup" And for the pix have two women looking vaguely like the "famous" actresses (but not a screen cap because that would be illegal) holding a coffee mug looking vaguely like this mug as a recursive thing. I suppose this means I'd have to donate twice. Try to make it vaguely G rated-ish so I can use it at work.

    Another funny motto "I down modded ethanolfueled" (just kidding... or am I?)

    Starting Score:    1  point
    Karma-Bonus Modifier   +1  

    Total Score:   2  
  • (Score: 2) by present_arms on Monday July 21 2014, @05:12PM

    by present_arms (4392) on Monday July 21 2014, @05:12PM (#71891) Homepage Journal

    Another funny motto "I down modded ethanolfueled" (just kidding... or am I?)

    if you are kidding, you might be the only one with mod points that hasn't down modded that dude

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday July 21 2014, @06:00PM

      by VLM (445) on Monday July 21 2014, @06:00PM (#71906)

      Just kidding about the general concept of using usernames of real people in marketing materials.

      Beyond mere legality, I think it would be polite to ask ethanolfueled for permission before using his name in marketing stuff.

      And probably need to do trademark searches and all that BS. There probably is a small chainsaw engine or liquor sold as "ethanolfueled (TM)"

      • (Score: 2, Informative) by Ethanol-fueled on Monday July 21 2014, @06:29PM

        by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Monday July 21 2014, @06:29PM (#71928) Homepage

        I only took that user name because "Alcohol-Fueled" was already taken on the other site. So not only am I a troll, but an unoriginal one, at least as far as names are concerned. My first Slashdot username was actually GeneralPurpose (created in 2006), but I gave up after having my first comment downmodded to hell and angrily attacked. It was at that point I realized that, to succeed at Slashdot, I would have to lurk moar, to become one with the holy circlejerk: Windows, bad! Linux, good!

        At this point I would ask that the username not be used, because I don't want to be singled-out. The only way I would approve of being used is only as part of a list of other distinguished usernames from the site, which I think would be pretty cool because somebody could draw up a list of caricatures based on what people think the user looks like based on their posting personality here (or, with the users' permission, a caricature of their real appearance). Or perhaps every user could be given the opportunity to design their own caricature like they have those "make your own southpark or Simpsons caricature" with their username to use as a graphic for swag.

        Speaking of The Simpsons, an episode explains very well why I don't think myself or anybody other single user should be singled out -- if this [] were to occur, then the site would make a mockery of itself, and the people would detract from the site's (relatively) pure aims.

      • (Score: 2) by present_arms on Monday July 21 2014, @07:48PM

        by present_arms (4392) on Monday July 21 2014, @07:48PM (#71970) Homepage Journal

        Yeah absolutely :) I only said it as a "funny" with a seemingly hint of truth behind it.

  • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Monday July 21 2014, @06:23PM

    by Phoenix666 (552) on Monday July 21 2014, @06:23PM (#71922) Journal

    Some day SN may have a spiffy, professionally designed logo, and the chunky candy bar will be retro and cool. I still mourn my Dukes of Hazzard T-shirt. :-)

    I would like to have my username, user #, motto, and a QR code to my SN journal added to SN swag. I know some services like Cafe Press let you do that for a couple bucks more.

    I feel a bit ambivalent about "Fork /." and its variations. I still feel bitterness about the demise of /., but think we should look forward, not back. That said, "SoylentNews: Fork Beta!" seems the mildest. Its meaning is only clear to other /. refugees.

    Washington DC delenda est.