Today I need to share some unfortunate news: because of serious financial downturn, MetaFilter will be losing three of its moderators to layoffs at the end of this month. What that means for the site and the site’s future are described below.
While MetaFilter approaches 15 years of being alive and kicking, the overall website saw steady growth for the first 13 of those years. A year and a half ago, we woke up one day to see a 40% decrease in revenue and traffic to Ask MetaFilter, likely the result of ongoing Google index updates. We scoured the web and took advice of reducing ads in the hopes traffic would improve but it never really did, staying steady for several months and then periodically decreasing by smaller amounts over time.
The long-story-short is that the site’s revenue peaked in 2012, back when we hired additional moderators and brought our total staff up to eight people. Revenue has dropped considerably over the past 18 months, down to levels we last saw in 2007, back when there were only three staffers.
We’ve considered fundraisers, Kickstarters, and Pro Accounts, but none of the numbers add up. Kickstarter specifically forbids campaigns for websites that are primarily about social networking and KS is also a one-time band-aid solution to a problem that is ongoing. On the subscription payment idea, even if 10% of the userbase started paying a few bucks a month for extra Pro-level features, we’d still be coming up thousands of dollars short each month. We even explored selling the site to new owners, with the goal of having someone else run the financial/advertising side of things while we run the community as-is, but those talks were unsuccessful in finding a good suitor despite months of work.
Where we are headed
The site is currently and has been for several months operating at a significant loss. If nothing were to change, MeFi would defaulting on bills and hitting bankruptcy by mid-summer. As a result, I’m having to make the difficult decision to lay off employees to make up for budget shortfalls. Starting June 1st, we’ll be operating with a smaller moderator staff.
, who has worked in some capacity on the site for almost 10 years and was instrumental in shaping the voice of Ask MetaFilter, is taking a voluntary layoff. She has been vital to the site since the day she started volunteering to help on MeFi and has continued to help guide MetaFilter as it grew in size and scope. It’s a huge understatement to say she will be missed.
Our two most recent hires, LobsterMitten
, are also stepping down; they’ve also been excellent contributors to the team and acted as thoughtful and fair moderators throughout their time here. You may see them pop up from time to time in emergencies or when the remaining mods are on vacation, but they won't be doing daily moderation after the end of this month. I’m glad to say that cortex, restless_nomad, taz, and pb will be staying on.
The main takeaway for MeFi members reading this is to recalibrate expectations of the moderation staff. Fewer people will be working longer shifts and the current response times to contact form emails of less than a few minutes will increase. There’s a chance a bad post on the front page might sit for an hour on a weekend when people are out and about instead of being deleted more quickly. In the future, borderline comments that derail a conversation and require multiple moderators nursing a thread along for days on end may instead end more often in a deleted comment. We may give users a night off more often if they’re being problematic in multiple places in a short period of time instead of emailing individual users asking them what’s up and waiting to see if they dial things back.
We're also going to be looking to the Metafilter community to help us deal with tighter moderator resources by being sure to flag things and move on, encourage good behavior by example, and let us know via the contact form if something needs immediate attention.
As we adjust to these lower staffing levels, we'll be looking at things that can help us manage the site with fewer mod-hours. We've talked in the past about revisiting flagging, and we plan to look at that again and to consider modifying the flagging interface to make it more visible and easier to use to encourage active flagging. We'll be expanding our moderator toolset on the back end to help automate our workflow and improve our ability to monitor flags and trouble spots on the site. In general, we're going to be trying different things out over time with the goal of letting us continue to maintain and support the site and community as best as possible with less overall moderator presence. We really appreciate all of you being willing to roll with it as we do our best to adapt to the new situation.
I’m sad to have to cut staff positions, but I believe the members are what make a community great and I am looking forward to MetaFilter’s sustained presence online. We may have to make hard choices in the future as they come up, but the goal will always be towards having the best place online to share neat stuff, to ask and answer questions, and to have the kinds of thoughtful conversations that make this place what it is.
If you've like to help contribute something to MetaFilter, we've made a dedicated funding page here