Announcing the Good Web Bundle (and MeFi's part in it) November 19, 2014 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Later today you might notice a new top banner of the site promoting The Good Web Bundle (as well as the MeFi Mall). I wanted to describe the project and aims for it, as well as explain how MeFi plays a part along with how it fits into existing support from members.

The past six months of impromptu fundraising has been great for MeFi and again I want to thank everyone that supports us. It truly has put MeFi on solid ground for the first time in years and I can't thank you all enough.

One of the main requests over the past few months has been a way to donate to MeFi that doesn't require PayPal and we've tested a couple different options that suffered from some serious problems before reluctantly sticking with PayPal (there are paper check & bitcoin workarounds). The Good Web Bundle uses Amazon Payments and one of the main reasons for joining MeFi to it was to allow us to take non-PayPal donations for so many people that asked previously.

The Good Web Bundle is an idea people have been kicking around for the past two years and that idea is simple: roll a bunch of little sites that barely cover their own costs into a single low-price package we can offer up together as a one-stop way to support a slew of independent communities and voices. The sites that came on board are all often mentioned as MeFi favorites: MLKSHK (image community that I think of a funner Flickr or smarter Imgur), Newsblur (great RSS reader that replaces and extends the functionality of the long lost Google Reader), ThinkUp (nice personal approach to Twitter/Facebook analytics), The Toast (one of the recent greats of the blogging world, mentioned often on MeFi), and MeFi itself.

The idea was to take a $5/mo donation and mark it down to half price, along with all the monthly and annual charges on other sites marked down by half (The Toast is kind of new to this), and we all split the proceeds with minimal transaction costs.

If you have already given to MeFi, you can ignore the bundle and just keep doing what you do to help support the site, but if you've held off or wanted to avoid PayPal (and if you enjoy the other sites), I would urge everyone to consider supporting the bundle of sites presented together here.

There are gifting aspects to The Good Web Bundle. After you complete payment, you will get an email containing special URLs with payment codes for each site. You can buy the bundle for someone else and forward it along, or you can selectively use any of the URLs you like and share the ones you don't. If you'd like to support the bundle but don't need a second MeFi account, you are more than welcome to send the URL along to a friend to use to create a new MeFi account.

The Good Web Bundle runs from today through January 5, 2015 and then will be gone. If you'd like to take part, hit the site and the GET IT NOW button. And thanks again to the entire MetaFilter community for their continued support.
posted by mathowie to MetaFilter-Related at 4:02 AM (422 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

Was alerted to this just now by a library icon. It's an interesting membership and funding model; will there be data made available on the number of signups over the limited period?
posted by Wordshore at 5:11 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Awesome!

If people are currently paying by Paypal would it be worth it to switch?
posted by marienbad at 5:27 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just so I can think about this clearly: if I replace my monthly donation with the Good Web Bundle, how much will Metafilter get from me next year?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:28 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Must admit I am feeling a bit uncomfortable about the wording for the MetaFilter cost (see also the tweet linked from the first comment, and Matts reply) on good web bundle. If you go to MetaFilter at the moment as a non-member it says:

Due to the bursting size of the community, its use of resources, and the cost of running the servers, all new users have a one-time $5 charge, to help defray these costs.

I can see how the prices look in the same format for clarity on the good bundle website, but still:

$60 Included! One year paid membership, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads.

I'm probably over-reacting; it just feels - to me - a bit misleading for the aid of clarity, not an intention to fleece people.
posted by Wordshore at 5:39 AM on November 19, 2014 [25 favorites]


anotherpanacea, that will depend on the monthly amount (I think it would actually turn out to be less to us in many cases), but Matt will be along in a bit to provide more specifics and answer questions.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:43 AM on November 19, 2014


I'm just wondering if Metafilter gets $30 per Bundle. (That is, $2.50 a month.) It seems possible that the split might not be even or that there would be a different (better?) overhead fee from Amazon Pay than from a monthly Paypal donation.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:57 AM on November 19, 2014


Matt, I think that there's a big difference between membership fees and donations. I love this idea in a big way, but also want to see the wording clarified to explicitly mention a year of support and membership.

This seems like a fantastic idea and I'm pleased at the company mefi has decided to keep. Pitching it as the mature, thoughtful web plays to your strengths and should bring in new and thoughtful users.
posted by boo_radley at 6:11 AM on November 19, 2014


Yeah MeFi gets $30 from it, and I agree the "one year paid membership" line never sat well with me but I couldn't think of an alternative that fit in the same space.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:27 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's... there's an image in this post...

/points, makes body snatchers noise
posted by Ghidorah at 6:29 AM on November 19, 2014 [31 favorites]


Last question: if this goes well, might it be repeated?
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:41 AM on November 19, 2014


That question sounds dumb now that I've typed and posted it. Of course it might be repeated!

I'm just worried that I'll get addicted to NewsBlur or ThinkUp or something and be on the hook FOR LIFE!
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:43 AM on November 19, 2014


FWIW, I went to that site and thought "well, the mefi description is total bullshit, so I don't trust any of the rest of it" -- I'm not sure what alternative fits better, but this makes it look like it costs 5/month to be a mefite.
posted by jeather at 7:08 AM on November 19, 2014 [32 favorites]


I have to reluctantly agree with the above folks who found it had a misleading vibe. My path was actually top-bar, good-web-bundle, what-the-fuck-reaction, better-check-MeTa.

So the clarity is appreciated, and I am 100% confident that everyone's intentions are good, but it's definitely... off in a way that I found jarring.
posted by Shepherd at 7:14 AM on November 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


Yeah, I've asked them to rewrite the line about "paid membership" out, instead replacing it with a bit about recognition as a supporter, along with the new account. It should be updated in the next hour.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:17 AM on November 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry, yeah: That description is bordering on fraudulent, and seems likely to turn new users away from MeFi, thinking it costs $60/year to join. Do the Good Web Bundle people understand that the $5 is a one-time thing, and not a monthly fee (which would add up to $60)?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:19 AM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


New members who join via the bundle might be a little miffed to find MeFi isn't, strictly speaking, a $60 dollar value, but actually a $5 value. It's a little non-intuitive to see a bundled price higher than non-bundled. At least that's my take from a quick read.
posted by klarck at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


$60 is definitely not the same as in town. Thanks for requesting a rewrite Matt.
posted by Kabanos at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I've asked them to rewrite the line about "paid membership" out, instead replacing it with a bit about recognition as a supporter, along with the new account. It should be updated in the next hour.

That's all well and good, but the bottom line is new MeFites aren't saving any money by joining through this thing. They're overpaying by 500%.

You'd make more money, though, so Merry Christmas to you, I guess.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:22 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think that the "That's 50% less than you'd pay for each site individually" tagline should also be rewritten, because it gives the impression that all the sites are behind paywalls when that's only true for ThinkUp. It's not just MeFi: there's nothing on mlkshk.com about a $24 premium membership (one has to log in to see it) and The Toast asks for donations ($50 is suggested, not $24).
posted by elgilito at 7:24 AM on November 19, 2014


That's all well and good, but the bottom line is new MeFites aren't saving any money by joining through this thing. They're overpaying by 500%.

I think I see where the mixup is. Our default settings on the original "help fund mefi" page asked for $5/mo as a suggested donation or $50/yr, but then a new account costs $5 as well.

The aim of the Bundle was take a suggested donation and cut it in half. Later, I noticed that the real app parts of the bundle (Newsblur & MLKSHK) included an account on their systems, and I suggested we should throw in a free account if one doesn't have one (when the "help fund mefi" page went up, we got a steady stream of people giving a few bucks and wondering why they didn't get an account -- we assumed everyone reading it was already a member).

I see now that to an outsider, it might seem like MeFi costs $5 a month and that's not the intention at all, it's really just the suggested donation on our existing funding page.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:27 AM on November 19, 2014


That's all well and good, but the bottom line is new MeFites aren't saving any money by joining through this thing. They're overpaying by 500%.

You'd make more money, though, so Merry Christmas to you, I guess.


Well, duh, this is meant to be in concert with the ongoing support drive. Any of us who are paying a little extra are "overpaying" by a certain percentage.

Not that it really matters, Matt, but the banner in the new theme is the same color as the profile menu bar, so it kind of loses its eyecatchiness when they match up like that - it looks like part of the standard architecture, not a new thing.
posted by Think_Long at 7:28 AM on November 19, 2014


it looks like part of the standard architecture, not a new thing

it's as intended, we aimed for the top bar in the new design to still be there as an alert area but not be so jarring, design-wise.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:29 AM on November 19, 2014


That's all well and good, but the bottom line is new MeFites aren't saving any money by joining through this thing. They're overpaying by 500%.

With wording to indicate that the money is intended to support MetaFilter's operations, rather than a mandatory membership fee, the concept of overpaying is inapplicable. I'm glad that will be clarified--it sat wrongly with me as well--but the overall idea is totally appropriate and I hope it's successful.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:30 AM on November 19, 2014


Quick plug for NewsBlur - it is my Google Reader replacement and it is great, and regularly improved.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:36 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


With wording to indicate that the money is intended to support MetaFilter's operations, rather than a mandatory membership fee, the concept of overpaying is inapplicable.

But also inapplicable is the whole concept of saving money, which is what this whole bundle thing is claiming to do.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:36 AM on November 19, 2014


inapplicable is the whole concept of saving money, which is what this whole bundle thing is claiming to do

It's accurate for everything but MeFi and The Toast. MLKSHK does do nag screens for the $24, ThinkUp and Newsblur require a payment for full access to the apps. But I do admit I'm not a huge fan of the "save money" message, it's more to me like "support indie sites" but I know most uses of the "bundle" are about stressing you get a ton of apps/games/fonts/etc for a cheaper price than buying separately.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:39 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ahh, I see the distinction now. *shrugs* oh well, doesn't bother me.
posted by Think_Long at 7:41 AM on November 19, 2014


Quick plug for NewsBlur - it is my Google Reader replacement and it is great, and regularly improved.

Same here. I subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds, and I find it well worth the price.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:45 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


MLKSHK does do nag screens for the $24
Only if one is already registered, it seems. There's nothing about premium membership on the mlkshk home page (or it's really well hidden) so for the person who's interested in the bundle the $24 seems to come from nowhere.
posted by elgilito at 7:51 AM on November 19, 2014


Only if one is already registered, it seems.

No, I'm not a member, I just read the Best of Mlkshk Twitter feed, and I see them occasionally.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:55 AM on November 19, 2014


I have to say - I am a huge fan of every site mentioned but the way this is being marketed seems very off. For sites and products that are all about respecting their readers and being open/honest it seems really misguided. I feel like that you just copied a template about things bundles "need" to have (Save money! limited deal!) rather than thinking about how to reflect the character of the communities and sites in the promotion and be open and straightforward about what you are paying for (to support these sites) and what you are not (incredible savings).

Apart from Newsblur which is a legitimate app and straightforward - all of the other sites have something wrong with the marketing. MLKSHK was a site that announced it was shutting down earlier this year and changed its mind, and which I never used to pay for - I am not going to use it again though, if you announce you are shutting down and deleting all my stuff you don't get zombie second chance points. The Toast is a free site which you are paying for a vague feature that isn't released yet. ThinkUP is a VC funded site that is still in Beta ( I don't know if that is real beta or fake internet beta - but still) and the thing with Metafilter has already been discussed above.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 8:00 AM on November 19, 2014 [21 favorites]


You'd make more money, though, so Merry Christmas to you, I guess.

Back to grinchville with you, tiny heart.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:11 AM on November 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


This seems totally obvious that it's a donation to help great sites rather than a super sweet Groupon or something. As a non-rules lawyer it was easy to figure that out about it. It's not like the Toast costs money either.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:13 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


My path was actually top-bar, good-web-bundle, what-the-fuck-reaction, better-check-MeTa.

This is exactly what I did, too.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:14 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not a huge fan of the "save money" message, it's more to me like "support indie sites"

So there should be a way to phrase that in a way that is honest and true. "Each of the sites getting 50% of their usual subscription or membership fee" is not that way, not for MetaFilter, and probably not for some of the other sites. Not the hill I want to die on, and I commend you for trying to find other ways to bring in money, but it looks weird and being presented this way as a fully-tweeted fait accompli with this sketch wording feels wrong. If you wanted to start taking Amazon payments, you could have just started taking Amazon payments.

MetaFilter doesn't have annual membership fees and shouldn't say that it does. If you're going to go that way, maybe put it in the (sadly ignored) FAQ like it's a real thing and have a "suggested donation" membership fee that people can actually see as a thing MeFi already does.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:15 AM on November 19, 2014 [40 favorites]


The only two of these apps that're "real" values are ThinkUp and NewsBlur, one of which is an analytics tool that your average Internetter won't give any shits about — with all respect to Gina Trapini, who I admire and respect, it's a niche tool at best — and one of which is buying "premium" features to an RSS reader which isn't remotely distinguished from its many competitors, and which has nothing about it to mark it as "good web" over, say, Feedly, or any other reader for that matter.

The whole package reads like well-intentioned bullshit. "Get a $192 value for about as much as you pay for Netflix", which is one of the sales lines, horrifically mangles the meaning of the word "value", IMO. Subtract the $55 of false MetaFilter advertising and the $24 of The Toast's being a blog that's free-to-read, and you're down to paying $96 for a $113 package, which isn't that much of a sale at all.
posted by rorgy at 8:16 AM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


My path was actually top-bar, good-web-bundle, what-the-fuck-reaction, better-check-MeTa.

Nthing this

This seems totally obvious that it's a donation to help great sites rather than a super sweet Groupon or something. As a non-rules lawyer it was easy to figure that out about it. It's not like the Toast costs money either.

I don't think that's true at all, the first mention of mefi on the site reads:

"$60 Included!
One year paid membership, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads."

Which suggests pretty strongly that metafilter has yearly memberships, and that they cost $60
posted by Ned G at 8:22 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this feels like a really weird and deceptive piece of marketing to me. I kind of expected more from Metafilter than this.
posted by flatluigi at 8:23 AM on November 19, 2014


This seems totally obvious that it's a donation to help great sites rather than a super sweet Groupon or something. As a non-rules lawyer it was easy to figure that out about it. It's not like the Toast costs money either.

I disagree. The text on the page really makes it seem like you will get something that is worth twice as much as the amount you're paying. And not just in one place, but in several places in the page.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:26 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you wanted to start taking Amazon payments, you could have just started taking Amazon payments.

Funny story, we spent a couple months on this, and the Amazon Payments system is absolutely atrocious, and even worse than PayPal's. Eventually during testing they banned my Amazon Payments account for fraudulent activity (we were doing a bunch of $1 test charges) with no recourse other than canceling the account and starting over.

Basically, Gina and Anil came to me with the idea and said they'd already worked out their payment system, I saw it as another alternative payment for the funding page and agreed to sign on. The marketing messages around it were kind of constantly in flux so I wasn't on top of the wording on all the pages, but they're definitely removing the bits about MeFi having any annual paid membership fees.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:28 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


And since the thread's tide is turning to polite (?) confusion on an emerging issue, I again reiterate that this is a useful and good idea. I like that Matt is finding new ways to support the site in an independent fashion.

I suspect that, as with many web and software bundles, there is a disconnect between the bundle organizers and the bundle's constituents as to what the value and services are. Having read Matt's comments in this thread, I believe he will address the issue in a way that satisfies Mefites generally. As people comment here, I would hope that we recognize Matt is working to change the bundle's wording and that it's only been 4 hours (pre-business hours, mostly) and that communicating between the partners here is an asynchronous and possibly messy process.
posted by boo_radley at 8:31 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


This seems totally obvious that it's a donation to help great sites rather than a super sweet Groupon or something. As a non-rules lawyer it was easy to figure that out about it.

If you know all these websites and could explain to friends about who Gina Trappani / Matt Howey/ Anil Dash etc is yes. But the whole way this is being presented seems geared towards people who are casually or not at all familiar with these websites or their content - and If I was them, I can imagine feeling deceived.

Part of what makes e.g Humble Bundle so successful is a total nerd like me can say to non-nerd friends "hey check out this cool bundle with that game I was showing you yesterday in" and know they are going to have a great experience. I would not feel comfortable doing that with this "bundle" at all.

And that would be fine, because this is really a "support these cool nerdy sites" drive not a "bundle" except it is presented like a bundle and it going to draw in people who think it is a bundle, (not a pledge drive) and are going to feel annoyed when they realise they thought they were buying an apple and actually were buying an orange.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 8:35 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


The bundle page updated, removed the MeFi paid membership wording.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


And right now, the site says "Recognition as a supporting member, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads", which seems better to me.
posted by boo_radley at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


oh, hello mathowie.
posted by boo_radley at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2014


And to be clear, the recognition is the I funded MeFi star on your user page.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:42 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like it, that sounds much less like "You're getting such a great deal! By paying $60!".
posted by Secretariat at 8:46 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hey all: Just wanted to jump in and say that we're listening and updating the descriptions -- Matt has been strongly pushing to clarify. Honestly, this is something we put together rather quickly and we've been so focused on making it work that I'm sure the copy can be improved.

I hope you all know how focused Matt has been on making sure this is *not* deceptive or misleading, and if you want t blame anybody for it reading wrong, that squarely on my shoulders. But we'll fix it.

I just honestly don't want a pile-on for Matt because I think there's a ton of potential for this to meaningfully help support MeFi and I will make sure we do that to the standard everybody here expects. Sorry for where my phrasing has been sloppy enough to frustrate people or put people off.
posted by anildash at 8:48 AM on November 19, 2014 [24 favorites]


While I support the idea of supporting good sites (and using the word "support," apparently), I still feel like the text on this page is misleading in certain areas. For example:

That's 50% less than you'd pay for each site individually.
Than you'd pay... if you chose to pledge that particular amount. :P

$60 Included!
There's no mention anywhere of where this $60 figure came from. And with this being such a value mentioned several times, and with MeFi's $60 making up a big portion of the "regular price," that concerns me.

The Good Web Bundle includes a full year's membership to five of the best apps and communities on the web for half the price.
50% savings
Get a $192 value for about as much as you pay for Netflix.

Like here.

Where does the money go when I buy a bundle?
We're splitting it between us, with each of the sites getting 50% of their usual subscription or membership fee in order to make this a good deal for you.

This isn't the truth at all, which I find alarming. Again, I'm super-duper in favor of making more avenues of financial support for this place, but this is incredibly misleading.
posted by houseofdanie at 8:50 AM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


If it said "suggested" instead of "usual", would that be better?
posted by anildash at 8:52 AM on November 19, 2014


anildash: "Hey all:"

Consider that for Metafilter this "membership" is really a patronage scheme rather than a subscription or deliverable good/service. I don't know how you might word that in a bundle context, but I think that's how I see my $5/ mo.
posted by boo_radley at 8:58 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you have purchased the bundle, and are already a member, how do you have the code applied to your account? The provided link is only for registering a new account.
posted by icathing at 8:59 AM on November 19, 2014


I think all sections should be really combed through to very clearly reflect the idea of support rather than payment.

Home section:

The best of the web, half of the price: I’d maybe leave this as is, with an asterisk going to a note to say that all sites survive on donations from members, and that the figures used are for voluntary user support or something like this.

Membership to five of the best etc. – I only ever use Metafilter, but my understanding is that all sites included are essentially free/ modest subscription? If so, I’d change this, because in at least 4 cases you are not truly buying membership – you are voluntarily supporting these sites. Maybe something like “Gold star membership etc.”

That’s 50% less than you’d pay for each site individually >>> That’s 50% less than you’d pay to support each site individually.

Etc. for each section.

Also, I think it muddies waters some to have a clearly paying/ subscriptions site alongside sites that are free or v.v. modest subscription sites like MeFi, which also rely on donations.
posted by miorita at 9:01 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


If it said "suggested" instead of "usual", would that be better?

It would be accurate, which would be better.

Honestly, this is something we put together rather quickly

doesn't quite jibe with

The Good Web Bundle is an idea people have been kicking around for the past two years

I mean I'm happy blaming you instead of mathowie but I don't think it's about blame at all, it's more about the MeFi community being a unique little thing where the members are used to having a bit more oversight into the public face of the community. And yet, at the same time, mathowie is the one person who can okay or launch this sort of thing so there's a tension there between the "community weblog" idea and "Matt's got a new fundraising idea. Here it is, we already started doing it!"

And sure it's a bit personal for me because of reasons but I think it's personal for everyone for different reasons. I've always been partial to the "Help us wordsmith this thing we're planning" over "Let's launch a thing and walk it back as people poke holes in it" but the latter seems to be the MO here, so this is just how the system (and the site) works. Just another exercise in being accountable to a whole bunch of nerds about being clear and honest with your language.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2014 [42 favorites]


If you have purchased the bundle, and are already a member, how do you have the code applied to your account? The provided link is only for registering a new account.

Oh right, if you're logged in and you hit that page, we should apply the "I funded" message to your account, regardless of whether or not you sign up a new account.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:07 AM on November 19, 2014


Consider that for Metafilter this "membership" is really a patronage scheme rather than a subscription or deliverable good/service.

I actually think introducing the idea of "Become a patron of the web" somewhere in the home section might help introduce the idea of "someone who gives money in support of x organisation(s)", retains some ambiguity (thanks to the "person who buys the goods and services of a business", which does, after all, also happen to some extent), and sounds tongue-in-cheek enough to appeal to potential MeFi-types at least.
posted by miorita at 9:11 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


> If it said "suggested" instead of "usual", would that be better?

Well, no, because the suggested price for a Metafilter account is still $5. To be more accurate the text would have to change to something more like "Each of the sites gets a portion of the money, based on their annual overhead." (Which sounds kind of boring, and might be something the other sites would not agree with.)

All that said, I like the idea of the Good Web Bundle- as written, it's a good gift to give to that friend who says "how do you always know about everything on the web before I do?!" But I don't know if there's a way it can be presented as both a good deal and a fundraiser- those ideas are kind of at odds.
posted by Secretariat at 9:13 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Have you considered Stripe or Recurly? That's how I would do it, were I in your position.

I'm still skeptical of this. If the site's on such stable ground, why do you need more money?

I love mefi for having a daunting list of guidelines before you try to take our money. And when we do pay, it's clearly for running costs and paying you and mods for their hard work. I mean, yes— I need an account to post, but at the same time I don't feel entitled to post because I have an account. Requiring us to pay $5 before we post to cover costs is very different from paying $5 for the right to post.

And I also want to say that I fully raising money and making this worthwhile for mods and matt. I don't think this place should be run on a shoestring budget. I think you're all some of the best at what you do and deserve to be paid appropriately. I think most of the userbase would agree with that, which is why your first call for donations was so successful.
posted by yaymukund at 9:16 AM on November 19, 2014


Honestly, this is something we put together rather quickly doesn't quite jibe with The Good Web Bundle is an idea people have been kicking around for the past two years

Yeah, to be clear it's something I've heard about for years in a casual way, over beers at say, SXSW, as people talk about crowdfunding and support and how someday instead of everyone running their own donation drives we should think of a way to combine them, but Anil finally did the legwork and wanted to make it happen in the last month or two so that's why there is a bit of discrepancy.

It's tough to pitch this early to MetaTalk before launch since it would let the cat out of the bag, though we discussed it a bit on the admin email list, but I knew the five participating sites all had different business models and funding and coming up with one catch-all way to describe it was going to be tough. The idea originally was more akin to "support the indie web" and kind of morphed into more of the bundle nuts-and-bolts approach over time.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:19 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm still skeptical of this. If the site's on such stable ground, why do you need more money?

I didn't see this as another big donation push, but rather a way offer a non-PayPal option (we get 2-3 emails a week asking us how to avoid PayPal and still support the site). It being time-limited and done near the holiday period seemed appropriate, in case anyone missed the first request for support back in May.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:23 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why not make it a network instead, then? The Good Sites Network, or something? And then a monthly subscription gets you access to whichever sites are a part of it, plus the feeling of being a good person all around.

Making this a one-time bundle is going to lead to weirdness because each site has completely different revenue models and offers you different features. This is never gonna feel like you're buying a product, because, frankly speaking, you're not. "Bundle" makes no sense for a clump of disparate web sites like this. "Subscription", on the other hand, both allows you to make a bit more sense of individual site proceedings, communicate more honestly about what you're actually getting, and make your buyer feel like they're effectively purchasing a Golden Ticket to all the best parts of the web.

(Plus, you could probably get away with charging more, because $10-15 a month feels a lot less scary than $100 for a bunch of hazily-defined features. I hear people like money. Money's popular these days.)
posted by rorgy at 9:24 AM on November 19, 2014 [17 favorites]


It's tough to pitch this early to MetaTalk before launch since it would let the cat out of the bag

I'm not sure what the advantage was to keeping the cat bagged. Why release it before said cat is fully formed and ready to de-bag? I don't understand. Were you afraid users would jump the gun and promote it before you got the chance to do that yourselves? Which, you know, seems a little win-win, no?
posted by heyho at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


As much as I'd like to be able to say to hell with the rules lawyers and as much as I love these sites (well, I love MetaFilter and The Toast, I'm sure these other ones are perfectly nice too I guess), this:

That's 50% less than you'd pay for each site individually.

Plus this:

MetaFilter This venerable community blog has an answer for everything. $60 Included!

Straight up misrepresents the "cost" of MetaFilter as it relates to the deal that's being implied here. And I don't know where The Toast is getting its $24 from; I'm accustomed to not paying for it.

This is exactly the kind of thing I would like to get behind 100% but the wording is, as we say in town, problematic. I really feel like this needs to be framed more like "here's a great way to support these awesome websites" and less like "look what a great bargain we're offering you."

Sorry. I know this is a sales pitch but prioritizing factualness over hustle would be more in line with the values of this site as I've understood it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


The other thing that's been bugging me this afternoon on this - and am kinda reluctant to turn this into one big flame-on - but might this mean MetaFilter starts getting users who, well, aren't really motivated to be on MetaFilter? Either because they saw the offer and were keen on some of the other sites but not really knowledgeable about MetaFilter? Or they got this as a Christmas present.

Not sure if that may happen, or if it does whether MetaFilter ends up with a wave of new users with a significantly different quality of commenting.

Maybe it's not a realistic concern. If there was, for - wild - example, a bundle launched which packaged up MetaFilter, Reddit and 4Chan in one easy saving/payment, then I'd be deleting my account within seconds.
posted by Wordshore at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think "Support the Indie Web" sounds rather cool. Maybe instead of "The best of the web, half of the price" in the home section, with adjustments elsewhere.

And then for the price something like "Suggested care package: 96 Dollars".
posted by miorita at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love this place and I'm perfectly happy to throw money at it to keep it running, but yeah the $60 figure sounds very borderline for me as well: nobody is paying $60, and nobody is getting $60 so why are you putting this confusing number at front and center?
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:52 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


This seems totally obvious that it's a donation to help great sites rather than a super sweet Groupon or something.

I think it's the reverse of obvious -- it seems like a Groupon for good websites, with the whole "best of the web at half the price" tag.

I appreciate that the description for Mefi has changed and that it is less misleading, but the entire bundle sounds like "buy this for cheap" not "support a bunch of sites, some of which are otherwise free or much cheaper than we're claiming".
posted by jeather at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


might this mean MetaFilter starts getting users who, well, aren't really motivated to be on MetaFilter?

If someone is a fan of MLKSHK and The Toast, I'm pretty sure they'd fit in well here and be a good member. I can't see this as a vector for the great unwashed masses to suddenly join up when all the sites share similar values.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


This part of this article

All of [the sites] also already require users to pay (like Dash’s ThinkUp) or offer freemium features (like the Toast), with each site usually charging $24 to $60 per year. So this is a pretty big discount.

is disturbingly inaccurate and misleading. I hope whoever pitched the piece (Anil?) will step in and correct the record.
posted by posyblue at 10:12 AM on November 19, 2014


Yeah, that $60 figure is really problematic. The honest truth is that it costs $5 to join Metafilter. Assuming that you're taking $30, then the message really ought to be "join Metafilter for $5 and add a voluntary $25 to keep the place running", and nothing more or less than that. Which is fine you know, lots of us did donate (some with a lot more than $25) and lots of people will again, but making it sound like some awesome money saving deal is just terrible.
posted by iivix at 10:19 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


The new wording is a little better, but "Recognition as a supporting member, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads" is also ambiguous, implying that you only get the lifetime right to post and no adds as "supporting member" rather than just as a plain $5 member.
posted by iivix at 10:23 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I hope whoever pitched the piece (Anil?) will step in and correct the record.

Anyone is welcome to comment on that article (or others).
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:23 AM on November 19, 2014


"One year paid membership" = IMG TAGS IN COMMENTS
posted by Going To Maine at 10:27 AM on November 19, 2014 [18 favorites]


"join Metafilter for $5 and add a voluntary $25 to keep the place running"

I agree that this would be more accurate, but then again, why would someone who's just joining as a new member want to immediately kick in an extra $25? It's not like they already know how cool the place is; it takes a while to warm up and start seeing that. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to shit on it, but it just doesn't make sense to me the way any of it is written. I mean, I hear what you're saying about the intent, Matt and Anil, but it's still reading a little shady to me. And that's just weird and unexpected.
posted by heyho at 10:29 AM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


I saw it as another alternative payment for the funding page and agreed to sign on.

So does this mean that existing members have an option to support MeFi using Amazon's payment system (I do this at MLKSHK) without this bundle?
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:33 AM on November 19, 2014


Don't think shady is the right word. Intent wasn't nefarious, just an issue of semantic annealing between intent and popular bundle terminology.
posted by boo_radley at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


When you get down to it, what Metafilter should be offering in this bundle is a membership for $3 or $4. But I can see why that wouldn't really appeal to Matt.
posted by smackfu at 10:38 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think part of the struggle we're seeing is in a conflict of incentives: the incentive to support, patronize, and help struggling things is something that makes a monetary contributor feel good, because they're paying into something larger than themselves, paying into a vision of the web to be a better place, etc. The incentive to purchase something because you're getting a good deal is an entirely different effect, one that's focused on the self and on money and is evaluated in terms of consumer cost/benefit. Appealing to the former is going to lead to much more goodwill all around in this situation than appealing to the latter (especially when the benefit to the consumer of the latter is questionable), and the copy should probably reflect that. The downside is that it's going to take more explaining, and more trust in the goodwill of strangers. And that could be a significant problem. However, you have a community to cheerlead that effort, and it will spread through networks with much less reservation.
posted by naju at 10:40 AM on November 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


I didn't see this as another big donation push, but rather a way offer a non-PayPal option

That is a very strange way to offer a non-PayPal option, rather than just supporting Amazon payments or whatever.

It's very off-message in a professional-white-background way and I'm not surprised to see it's Anil pulling the strings. I went back and read the first little bit of that thread and a lot of initial dissenters (TPS! peacay!, Plutor! fandango_matt! mr_crash_davis! grouse!) aren't around much or at all any more. jessamyn is a voice in the crowd now and not pushing back behind the scenes, maybe that's a part of how we wind up here.

And of course we now have a professional white background, imagine that. And I'm donating $5/month to support it. And the message that we'd been receiving was that things were stable, but maybe that's not really true or maybe this is a money grab or maybe Matt is lending MeFi's name to help out these other sites. Not great whatever the story is (it certainly seems unlikely that it's "now you can support MeFi in a way besides PayPal!"), but things are always changing. Today is a good day to reconsider whether supporting Metafilter is a good idea and I've decided on balance to continue to do it.
posted by Kwine at 10:48 AM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I appreciate the desire to make it better. Right now, the big $60 with a slash through it is still deceptive. Nothing is $60. Calling it $30 and saying you get an account and a contribution to sustain the site is fair, because that's what you're actually doing. Yes, that breaks the "50% savings" promise, but that was never true in the first place.
posted by zachlipton at 10:48 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


For me, it boils down to the concept of a "half-price donation." That's just fairly nonsensical to me.
posted by smackfu at 10:50 AM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


yeah. I'm not sure why the words "donate" and "donation" appear a total of zero times on that page, when (at least in the case of Metafilter) that's a big portion of the supposed value for which we're paying.
posted by xbonesgt at 10:52 AM on November 19, 2014


This is only semi-related to the bundle stuff, but I think this thread makes sense as the place to note it.

Checking the bundle, And I had never been to The Toast, so I went to check it out, like you do. I found an article there I liked, which continued after a jump, but clicking on the "Read More" link at the bottom of the article takes me to...the Western University website. NOT an ad for WU, which I can skip and go on to read the rest of the article, but the WU site. Which is, obviously, bizarre.

Went to another article on The Toast, same exact thing. WTF? I'm on my iPad, so maybe it is an issue with the mobile site?
posted by misha at 10:55 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


a lot of initial dissenters (TPS! peacay!, Plutor! fandango_matt! mr_crash_davis! grouse!) aren't around much or at all any more

I'm still here! I probably don't comment as much as I did once but rest assured I check the site several times a day.
posted by grouse at 10:56 AM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I hear only completely horrible things about The Toast's mobile site.
posted by jeather at 10:57 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


The mobile redirect issues are a problem for everyone on the Toast because damn, that is some clunky ad integration design.
posted by Think_Long at 11:02 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyone is welcome to comment on that article (or others).

You are right about that, and I actually did write an email to the author of that piece. But of course a request for correction will receive more attention if it comes from the source of the story.

I see now that there is an additional piece in Wired that extensively quotes Anil and promotes the total falsehood that this bundle represents a half-off discount of the price to access all the features of these five sites.

Besides MeFi's $5/lifetime charge, the Toast is free, NewsBlur and mlkshk are free with $24/yr freemium features. Thinkup, Anil's new project, is the only one that requires a $60/year committment.
posted by posyblue at 11:03 AM on November 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Toast people don't seem entirely happy with the bundle, either. Maybe this is just a weird model (aside from the misleading language and such) for close-knit community sites to participate in.
posted by houseofdanie at 11:04 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's kind of hurtful reading comments from other people saying they have no interest in MetaFilter. I mean hey, we're right here, we can hear you.
posted by Think_Long at 11:07 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


So does this mean that existing members have an option to support MeFi using Amazon's payment system (I do this at MLKSHK) without this bundle?

Not currently, for now I wanted to add it as an option (albeit an expensive option) and check into uptake and see if it's worth another month of work to try and make it work for us (it's really a poorly documented and supported system).
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:08 AM on November 19, 2014


The part of MetaFilter that feels like a community contrasts weirdly with the part of MetaFilter that feels like the plaything of a guy whose IRL friends are telling him to get with the times, already.

2014 has been a string of frankly shitty-feeling site changes, all of which are pushing rapidly away from a 90s-era site whose staying power was in part because it got everything right the first time. That all the attempts at monetization, web donations aside are straight from the Bad Bland Internet playbook strikes me as disappointing, from a site whose sole appeal is the strength of its community.

This is yet another in a long string of site changes that've met immediate (and loud) criticism from the MeFi community, followed by Mathowie offering a string of weak defenses that in sum read less like "here is why this is a good idea" and more like "at the end of the day, only one of us matters". (Anil Dash seems to be involved with a good 80% of these much-criticized decisions, and always comes in with his own line of defense, which is "You are all wrong to have opinions" followed by complete site inactivity until his next opportunity comes up to condescend.)

It is hard to ruin a text-only community so long as you leave the text part largely intact, thank God, but despite that I know a good dozen or two users who've left the site for good explicitly because of these various and sundry initiatives. At this point, I've collected enough many ex-Mefites who've resorted to Facebook-only postings that they practically comprise an entirely new community site, and that strikes me as problematic for a whole bevy of reasons. I have a general high tolerance for people fucking with good things on the Internet, and my own hiatii haven't ever been management-influenced, but I worry that I'm increasingly the exception to that, rather than the rule.

It seems self-evident to me that there's a problem, not just for me but for a number of MeFites, with the direction the site is increasingly taken. This is the first time that problem's gone from "problematic" to "feels like an outright scam", and the response to member outrage here feels disappointingly milquetoast for how shitty the initial action was.

I've canceled my recurring monthly donation. If this is how the site's gonna try to make money, then I'm not comfortable giving it any more of my own. YMMV.
posted by rorgy at 11:08 AM on November 19, 2014 [15 favorites]


help i just rolled my eyes so hard my retinas detached
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:17 AM on November 19, 2014 [28 favorites]


I'm sorry to hear that rorgy, and it hurts to read it. The two major missteps you see in 2014 are both non-mandatory things and don't necessarily represent massive shifts in userbase or tone or direction. There's a new design but the old designs are also easily available to both members and non-members alike. This bundle thing I saw as a new donation option for a system we previously couldn't support that includes similar sites, but is just that, an optional donation.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:17 AM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


rorgy: I just don't see it as that shady. This particular thing was done badly, is deceptive, and the people responsible have promised to fix it. I hope they will do so, and I think this community will be pretty vocal in expecting that.

Revenue dropped dramatically. Matt did a couple of things to try to improve that situation (and the big donation push largely came because users were demanding to know how to donate). Looking to redesign the site isn't evil, particularly not when there's a preference to select your preferred design. What other awful changes have there been (besides, you know, losing Jessamyn as a moderator)?
posted by zachlipton at 11:17 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have been quite critical in this thread - but the idea this was some big mistake I really disagree with. It was a nice idea that was poorly tested and is now rapidly being revised based on user feedback. Making mistakes is nothing bad in my book as long as they had decent intentions.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 11:21 AM on November 19, 2014 [21 favorites]


Okay, so apparently, Toast's chat feature will be free when it launches, but this bundle thing will allow access to "special events we will do." Bundle site: "$24 Bundled! Recognition as a sponsoring member and access to chat when it launches." What parts of the "Good Web Bundle" marketing text are true?

This whole thing needs and needed a lot more thought and just comes off as sketchy as hell, even if no one intended to pull a fast one. Is there a way to pull the hell out of this? Good names are having their integrity questioned and that's so horribly disappointing.
posted by houseofdanie at 11:22 AM on November 19, 2014 [22 favorites]


all the attempts at monetization … are straight from the Bad Bland Internet playbook

Sorry, can you point me to the full-page ad banners and sponsored content on Metafilter? I missed those.

As far as I remember the sum "attempts at monetization" have been membership fees, solicited donations from members, and ads. The first two are far from internet-standard, and the last is and has always been a primary way that Mefi pays its bills.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:29 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ambient nitrogen. INCLUDED! All you can breathe.
posted by houseofdanie at 11:32 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


resorted to Facebook-only postings [...] that strikes me as problematic

That strikes me as goddamn weird: "I'M FED UP WITH MEFI'S INCESSANT DESIGN CHANGES AND MONETIZATION SCHEMES so I'm gonna go to... FACEBOOK!"

On the bundle here: yes, it seems the wording is continuing to be problematic, and the offers a weird mix of subscription vs. donation. To be honest also I'm also a little uneasy with the whole "here's a bunch of scrappy independent websites that need your support" halo being applied to ThinkUp, which as noted above is at least partially VC-funded.

(Although this reminds me: damn, I never did get around to making an "I help support Metafilter" donation and I will get on that tonight.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:43 AM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


It's a bit annoying that they put that specific price on it, whereas for a humble bundle there are a lot of customizable options, such as donation/payment amount, and split (although the split thing would be a bad idea for this bundle). I donate to the site based on my perceived worth of it. I guess I haven't gotten the hang of this whole "boycott because of messages" thing, because unlike big companies, we have a direct line to the founder/employees/company, and they are definitely listening.

I heartily support the monthly (instead of yearly) bundle idea above. It's a much more excusable purchase than spending $100 on services you've never heard of.

This is yet another in a long string of site changes that've met immediate (and loud) criticism from the MeFi community, followed by Mathowie offering a string of weak defenses that in sum read less like "here is why this is a good idea" and more like "at the end of the day, only one of us matters"

What changes are these? I do know that the donation banner is something new put on right before I joined, and the new modern theme default I guess, but I don't know anything other than that.
posted by halifix at 11:47 AM on November 19, 2014


This bundle thing I saw as a new donation option for a system we previously couldn't support

I appreciate that this may have been your intent, but it really seems like an option designed for non-members to try to bring them in. Nothing wrong with that, but this option does not actually offer members a way to support MeFi using Amazon except in this strange convoluted way where a lot of the money doesn't go towards MetaFilter but towards other (possibly worthy, possible awesome) sites.

I think there's a disconnect between what this non-MeFi site is saying to people and how people here experience the site. I also think there is a disconnect between how we (users, mods, mathowie, supporters, non-supporters) talk about money on MetaFilter and how money actually works on MetaFilter and elsewhere on the web.

I've always been fully in favor of not hassling mathowie to go all "Show us your tax returns!" to prove that all the money stuff was ethical and above-board. At the same time, when appeals like this go out to the lager world implying certain things about this site, our site, I think it's appropriate to push back on those public messages if they're inaccurate.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:48 AM on November 19, 2014 [27 favorites]


What changes are these? I do know that the donation banner is something new put on right before I joined, and the new modern theme default I guess, but I don't know anything other than that.

I'd guess one of them is the MeFi post titles thing. Some people NEVER EVER GOT OVER THAT.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:51 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Hm. Reading the Toast comments, it mostly seems like people are interested in donating to the Toast (and getting access to chat when it comes)... which sorta sounds like the MeFi thread in May. People didn't realize you could donate so it was a big new thing. It's nothing disparaging on other websites, but instead shows that the Toast needs to work out their own donation mechanism.

MeFi post titles thing.

huh
posted by halifix at 11:53 AM on November 19, 2014


I agree that the bundle is confusing, and I don't have much to add to what's mentioned above (e.g. I thought MLKSHK was already dead, I think ThinkUp - which I pay for - has not at all proven its value yet, and I totally don't understand what I get by supporting The Toast). I would much rather see some kind of "Cool Web Patron" thing, which had nothing to do with membership and didn't include ThinkUp or MLKSHK.

HOWEVER. While I don't agree with everything mathowie does - in particular I think he got bad advice about the level of donations he could expect due to people comparing Mefi to generic social websites - Mefi has improved in many good ways (redesign, Fanfare, donations) recently. And having run a company that caters to a passionate community for only three years, I can't even imagine how much of a burden it is to have been responsible for Mefi for over a decade. It's a tough job.

Anyway, I feel there is the germ of a fantastic 'patronage bundle' idea here that could help support new and old community-supported sites. I hope we can get one in the future.
posted by adrianhon at 11:54 AM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


when appeals like this go out to the lager world

And the world including all the other drinks.
posted by jeather at 12:00 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Donate to become a "Patron of the Interwebs" perhaps?

Patron of the internet is already taken.
posted by Kabanos at 12:02 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


rorgy: "It seems self-evident to me that there's a problem, not just for me but for a number of MeFites, with the direction the site is increasingly taken. This is the first time that problem's gone from "problematic" to "feels like an outright scam", and the response to member outrage here feels disappointingly milquetoast for how shitty the initial action was.
"
I think you're reading the situation in poor light and reacting in a punative way. From my reading, I think Matt has had less than a day to react to this situation, and he is, I feel, permitted more time to correct things.

I don't think that fundraising is exactly in Matt's wheelhouse and there's going to be some awks times around figuring things out. I can see him doing something like this with an eye on rehiring staff, or for a thousand other relevant, non-scammy reasons.

Having seen bundle-promoters and bundle-content-providers clash in semi-private forums, I don't think the problematic behavior is on Matt in any material way.
posted by boo_radley at 12:06 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


in some ways, I recall the podcast after the fund raising drive where jessamyn was all I TOLD YOU TELL THEM THERE'S ISSUES AND THEY'LL HELP and Matt got all Oh well gosh, I dunno about putting on asking for money airs. Maybe metafilter needs a financing person?
posted by boo_radley at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


My philosophy is that when I have to ask what some marketing line means, and I'm given a explanation that's both more exact and easier to understand, it's time to change the marketing text.
$60: Recognition as a supporting member, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads. A lifetime $5 membership giving the ability to post links, ask questions, and hide ads, along with recognition of 11 months of a suggested $5 donation.

I mean, that's precisely what $60 covers, right?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2014 [22 favorites]


mathowie: I want to mention that I don't want to minimize how difficult this last year, or the time before that when you noticed Google revenue dropping before you announced it to the community, has been. MetaFilter is an extraordinary community, and right now it's going through somewhat of a crisis. I also don't think that you have anything other than MetaFilter's best interests at heart.

That said — and I know I'm not the only one who shares this opinion — you have a bit of a blind spot as far as your IRL friends are concerned, which is totally understandable but still kind of problematic. Anil and Gina have both done some fairly terrific things. However, they are not unilateral Internet Experts whose ideas go without criticism in any corners of the web, and this is a notoriously curmudgeonly community as far as Internet things are concerned. (One of the reasons I joined this site originally, in fact, was the thread mocking the overly-naive graphic designers who were smarming on about how great their airline ticket redesigns were. I was a Top 25 commenter at Hacker News at the time, and was wearying of the semi-circlejerk that was going on at the time, so the comments here were a real breath of fresh air.)

You run with the circle of people who pretty much defined the early Internet experience, and nowadays they've gone on to be the (relatively) elderly statespeople whose work still has an influence on the cutting edge of web design and development. I was reading an old thread the other day where Kottke and Zeldman were discussing something back-and-forth, and it's like, those people were here?! Obviously if you know these people, then to you they're just people, but from an outsider's perspective they (and Anil, and Paul Ford, and a ridiculously huge number of sometimes-MeFites) are kind of overwhelmingly a big deal.

That's crazy, and it's totally awesome. But those people, as terrific as they are, haven't been the core community of MeFi here in a long time. I think that a lot of the experience of posting to MetaFilter goes beyond UI or UX, and straight to the plain dumb process of reading threads and writing comments for months and years to the point where the site itself is kind of invisible to you. It's sort of like the Matrix, only instead of streams of harsh green it was seas of blue and grey, plus a much nicer, duller green! Like a cozy old home.

I feel like the backlash, both for this and for features going as far back as titles (to my relatively-recent memory as a user, at least), has to do with the way in which a lot of the changes made to MetaFilter feel as if they're being applied to the site, rather than built from within. That's a tricky difference, but the result is that it feels the site is being modified to serve purposes from without, rather than to aid users from within. They treat the site like it's a product to be modified, which, well, yeah, it sort of is. But beyond the code and the CSS is a community that exists separately of the structure which houses it, and modifications to the structure sometimes feel like they're being applied for reasons that have nothing to do with that already-existing community.

(I recently got a chance to meet one of my favorite-ever MeFites IRL, who said that they left the site for a long stretch of time because they felt titles ruined FPPs. From a structural standpoint, yeah! That's crazy! But from the standpoint of a long-standing reader/participant who interacts with the site in a particular way, including contributing new posts, that slight structural modification had a major impact. I know that a lot of people feel the same way about the new theme, about which I still have decidedly mixed feelings.)

The extent to which these various changes feel like ideas which were devised by experienced Internetters that aren't part of the contemporary community is sort of unsettling, and worse — worse because MetaFilter, for many many years, managed to seemingly avoid certain Internet trends that are still off-putting and unpleasant, and it's seemingly thanks to those outside commenters that it's finally conforming itself to these standards. I have no way of knowing, of course, how true that is, but that's the impression that's given off at times like this: that people who are good at an entirely different kind of Internet than what MetaFilter is are trying to impose their own ideas on this space.

(I'll just point out that when Paul Ford and you had your tilde obsession, not only did tilde.club become a cool thing, but not a whole lot of people complained about the ~username shortcut, which is totally awesome. It's not all changes that people complain about. Just the ones that futz with what already exists without adding immediate, meaningful value. My take on the redesign was that it got the mixed response that it did because it combines a lot of awesome with a handful of missteps; everybody's reaction was rooted in how much they valued the one versus how much they disliked the other. I wish the redesign process had been made more collaborative, especially since I can't think of a particular reason why crowdsourcing wouldn't have worked out.)

In this particular case, something just feels really, really off. For me, a part of it is that your site and Anil/Gina's are both valued at $60, which I assume means that you'll each be taking home $30 a purchase compared to the other sites' $12. That feels scummy to me, not because MetaFilter isn't worth the money but because the logic behind the valuation is weird as hell. Also, because ThinkUp just doesn't feel like a logical companion to any of the other sites bundled in with this, beyond "Anil and Gina came up with this idea with me, and this happens to be their web site."

I wish, at the end of the day, that could be more community discussion of these sorts of things before and as they happen. Perhaps that's attention-intensive, but on the flip site, MetaFilter has no direct competitors, no trade secrets, no information that could leak and be implemented by rivals. I feel that if there'd been more discussion about site features, or about redesigns, or about FanFare, or about the creation of this bundle, then the community would've come up with a bunch of interesting ideas about how to possibly go about stuff like this. Starting out like that would be a lot less messy than doing things like this, where people find out about something they don't approve of, strenuously complain, and then, even as things are backpedaled or improved, are left with a sour taste in their mouths. Even if no actual changes would come about as part of that process — and I should be clear, I think that a lot might potentially come out of such discussions — there would at least be the sense that the community had a chance to be involved with their own direction.

Of course, it's easy for me to say all this, as a consequences-free participant; it's obviously hundreds of times harder for you to figure out a course of action than it is for me, as an anonymous Internet. I'm just providing my own perspective on this, as somebody who both admires the heck out of your e-posse, likes a great deal about MetaFilter, and simultaneously is friends with a seeming lot of disgruntled MeFites. I'm trying to make this as much a consensus of what I've heard other people say as it is my own, personal, thoughts on the matter.

I also should say that the extent to which people are disappointed with developments like this is the extent to which MetaFilter really, truly matters to them. That, I think, is worth something in and of itself. This much of an outcry says something as positive as it is negative, I think. It's the point past which people can't bring themselves to care that is really tragic/problematic, and it feels to me like there've been a lot of those this year in particular.
posted by rorgy at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2014 [43 favorites]


I think this particular intiative was not well thought out, and would have benefited from prior discussion. That said, I tire of the constant casting of everything Matt does in the worst possible light. There is literally nothing that happens around here that does not result in accusations that the site is being ruined. This time, we even get dark hints that maybe Matt is scamming us. No doubt to put gold plating on his Learjet.

I don't think Matt always does the correct thing, and I think community feedback is always a good thing to consult. But that it's just "the plaything of a guy"? - give me a fucking break.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:18 PM on November 19, 2014 [29 favorites]


The new wording is a little better, but "Recognition as a supporting member, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads" is also ambiguous, implying that you only get the lifetime right to post and no adds as "supporting member" rather than just as a plain $5 member.

This needs to be said again, because it's really a problem. If I don't donate the suggested amount, or subscribe through the bundle, or whatever, do I lose the "lifetime right to post and ask questions"? Because that's how it sounds, and frankly, I can hardly afford the $2/month I'm donating right now.

(Also do any of us have a "lifetime right"? What if we're banned?)

Sorry, but this all seems weird and sketchy to me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:20 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


The mention of "lifetime" was in reference to the one-year memberships to other sites in the bundle.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:26 PM on November 19, 2014


Ok, rorgy's wall of text post is pretty legit. At the time I felt his previous comment was unfair but after reading that I can understand where he is coming from about this in particular. There are several interesting points in there (pricing in particular, also about mefi tredns which i don't agree with but now understand better) that are worth discussing.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:31 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


That is not what is implied by the words you used. You should have probably said "Recognition as a lifetime supporting member, with the right to post and ask questions and no ads." However, there's still the problem of it not being clear that you get the same value with a one-time $5 payment.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or, well that implies you'll always be recognized. I think the real problem is that it's two separate things: recognition as a supporter, and membership on the site, which lets you participate. Which still and has always cost $5.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


a thing from far upthread that is bugging me - there is a difference between regular mlkshk accounts and paid ones. it's weird that people are suggesting otherwise. i've been a paid member of mlkshk as long as its been an option and i'm glad every single time mlkshk bills me. as to the "i thought mlkshk was already dead" - for anyone curious about this, here is the blog post announcing it - basically, they realized how much people loved the site and decided to try to find more ways to make it work (so if you like mlkshk, but a membership!).

on the actual topic of the thread - i think the wording can still be better. having said that, i think it's shitty the way that some people act like mathowie is swimming in his scrooge mcduck vault just playing with metafilter for the benefit of his friends and i think it's shitty to keep grinding some bizarre axe about anildash. if i received the kind of crap he gets here, i'd stop hanging out as much too.
posted by nadawi at 1:39 PM on November 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


Is it such a sin to try and build up MeFi's userbase and capital by marketing a subscription model to a new audience of people who are not already members and hanging in MetaTalk all day?

Good hell. This is a prime example of how money talk makes everything 100x more awkward than normal.

Keep on keepin' on, #1.
posted by kimberussell at 1:47 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


You want a subscription model, you have a subscription model. $5 + voluntary donations is not a subscription model.
posted by smackfu at 1:56 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I feel like the backlash, both for this and for features going as far back as titles (to my relatively-recent memory as a user, at least), has to do with the way in which a lot of the changes made to MetaFilter feel as if they're being applied to the site, rather than built from within.

I see that, and of course, I've always said it is hard to tell where the exact line of ownership lies between a white board with two round circles drawn onto them, with one marked "matt" and the other marked "mefi community". I think I've shown a long track record of 14 years of having MetaTalk around where I have bent over backwards, floated new features as ideas, honed them with help from everyone, then launched and iterated based on feedback. There are a handful of times where some changes had to be made for outside reasons (mostly Google/money related) or they were tested internally and solved a lot of problems and were pushed out more fully baked than normal. I'd still say the track record is over 90% of features are proposed here, then released rather than released then discussed.

The extent to which these various changes feel like ideas which were devised by experienced Internetters that aren't part of the contemporary community is sort of unsettling

This leap where things you think were foisted on MeFi by me were directly the result of things Famous Internet People told me to do feels like a swing and a miss. I can't help but read your whole comment and previous ones based on this idea and frankly, it's kind of nuts. Zeldman, Kottke, Ford, and yeah, even Anil don't call me up and offer advice and I rarely talk to Internet Friends about what I should do about MeFi because I know they're not in it and don't understand the particulars. In this specific case, Anil took an idea that had been floating around and built it really quick and asked me to join on, but you're trying to say that redesigns and features here were also born of a similar path and that's nuts because rarely (if ever) do things like that happen around here.

I wish the redesign process had been made more collaborative, especially since I can't think of a particular reason why crowdsourcing wouldn't have worked out.

I did a crowdsource project for redesign mockups/ideas in 2005 and it was ok, we got a few good ideas but nothing super great. There's also the the giant problem of asking for spec work which is problematic. Instead I hired a designer and then a developer to build out the ideas that were tested internally for months. So it's not a given that asking for design help would have resulted in a better redesign in an easier way.

I feel that if there'd been more discussion about site features, or about redesigns, or about FanFare

Dude, FanFare was discussed to death here. The idea (nay, more like demand) for FanFare came right from the community on the site itself as a result of TV Without Pity closing. I feel like me and pb have been running as fast as we can since April or so when the idea was thrust onto our laps here and discussed at length. I'm surprised you think it's a crazy thing I plucked out of thin air and made into whatever I felt it should be when it was a direct result of demands made by users, who after any aspect of it was built would demand ten more features, which we're still trying to play catch-up against.

I fully get that people are heavily invested here and have a sense of ownership and understand that when something comes out as a surprise or feels off that it should be revisited. I didn't see any part of the Bundle as being a replacement for what we've already done, but it had potential to reach a wider internet audience. I recall thinking some of the wording was weird since we're not a web app with a monthly fee like the others, and I definitely think we can do better with the language and it has been improved, but there is clearly still work to do on it. This is definitely an experiment and I was unsure of what the uptake might be, but it was mostly aimed at an outside audience or the small number of people that wanted to specifically avoid using PayPal.

The other day someone asked me to list ten community sites and/or apps that make an ok living for the people running it (lifestyle businesses) but were never sold to Facebook or Twitter and I had trouble coming up with more than a couple. Running an indie site is really hard. The impromptu fundraiser helped out a great deal earlier this year and I need to keep experimenting to find new ways to make it work for the community. I honestly saw joining this group of sites as offering up another avenue to those looking to support not just MeFi but other independent spaces trying to make it in a tough market. It's a time-limited experiment as well as seeing if grouping together our efforts helps more than trying it all ourselves. If there were to be a future one of these I'd definitely want to do more around making the messaging about supporting the indie web world, group in another 5 sites, and try and bring down the price to something closer to $50. Maybe it'd be only a dollar a month for a handful of sites, but it seems that's the kind of thing that might have a larger impact with the wider web.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:59 PM on November 19, 2014 [51 favorites]


The other day someone asked me to list ten community sites and/or apps that make an ok living for the people running it (lifestyle businesses) but were never sold to Facebook or Twitter and I had trouble coming up with more than a couple.

Personally I would have really liked to see a nonprofit model investigated when things started looking shaky. Plenty of nonprofits can do this - it's not unusual. That kind of leadership is different than a Venn diagram, but creates stability and gives stakeholders some influence over the organization's direction. IT can be engineered to be self-supporting and to pay salaries; there are consultants who specialize in taking organizations from privately owned to nonprofits and maintaining,stabilizing and even growing revenue. New financial instruments become available to create long-term stability for weathering valleys in revenue. It seems appropriate for something that really is a community - I mean, the content of the site is actually the community, there is no value to MeFi without the community. I do understand from past conversations that that sort of organizational thinking is either foreign to or at odds with the culture of MeFi, but it's something I would have felt good about and confident about donating to. An annual membership fee would feel appropriate to me if I could understand the financial structure of the organization, and in a nonprofit I would be able to.
posted by Miko at 2:06 PM on November 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


(forgive me for going off topic for a minute - Miko is back!!!!!!!! ahem. carry on.)
posted by nadawi at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


I would have really liked to see a nonprofit model investigated

Yeah, I explored the non-profit angle in 2004 and it was a disaster. Rusty Foster from kuro5hin tried to setup a community foundation, laid the legal groundwork and then things went sideways with money and boards and arguments and in the end kuro5hin no longer exists and a lot of people thought Rusty's community foundation non-profit was a sham and a mess.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:11 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Isn't there some way to run Squarespace ads here? They seem to be holding up the entire podcasting industry.
posted by smackfu at 2:12 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's a long time since 2004. I also think you should look at models from outside the internet. One failed nonprofit is not representative of the vast economic sector - many of the sites praised and fundraised for (indirectly) right here are successful internet nonprofits. How you structure your board and leadership is key to success - there's not one model, and you're as good as your community and your leadership. There is a whole body of good knowledge about this. I wouldn't say "one guy tried it and it didn't work" is enough research - there is a bigger frame of reference out there. This is obviously a model that does work for a great many membership communities, and there has been a lot of maturing since then.

However, the real key is mindset. A nonprofit leader has to understand and embrace the goals of shared leadership. If it's not for you, it's not for you. I just think it's a pity, because there'd be a lot here to work with.
posted by Miko at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


What Matt said. For what it's worth, I love MeFi and I love Matt and no there isn't some secret Old Web People cabal trying to ruin what makes this site great. I do agree some of the language is far from how folks here see MeFi, and so we'll correct that. But there's a large audience that lurks and might want a chance to support the site, part of the vast majority who have mostly never even been to MetaTalk. (I'm among that group; as pointed out, it's tough for me to participate here without burdening the mods with handling endless white background "jokes".)

Even casual MeFites love the site & want to support it, too, and I often hear folks talk about MeFi the same way MLKSHK is mentioned here: "Oh, that's still going? I used to love that site but thought they were in trouble."

People who are in this conversation already give to MeFi, whether that's with time or money or both. Getting the broader MeFi audience to also show their support was a goal here, and I think we'll achieve that. I'm sorry for my part in some phrasing that was inaccurate or just confusing, and even if there's some contempt for me, I hope you'll trust that Matt has only ever fought to do right by MeFi and the community.

rorgy, thanks for your most recent comment; it gave me a lot to reflect on.
posted by anildash at 2:16 PM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


eGullet is an example of a nonprofit, member-supported internet community. Founded 2001.
posted by Miko at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I too think this is pretty crappy, yeah. And there's a lot of things wrong with it that people have pointed out.

But the main point I want to make is that I don't think it's going to work - if for no other reason than this is bad fundraising practice. People don't expect to get some kind of 'discount' on their charitable gift, nor do they give with the expectation of getting some kind of equally valued thing back. People give to things they care about because they care about them and it makes them feel good to support it and it's important to them. That's it. It's like, very few people are going to up their giving level to NPR because they want the tote bag more than the mug or whatever. No, they give what they think they can afford. Thank you gifts are just that - thank yous, they are icing on the cake, they aren't really incentives. People don't choose the amount of money to donate to something based on the kind of 'deal' they feel they are getting. You donate a million dollars or 200 dollars to the art museum you're still going to pretty much just get a pass to the art museum, you know?

It's also kind of insulting (no offense). But it's like - don't tell me I'm getting a $60 donation for $30. That's ridiculous and absurd. Like if you need money, just say you need money and ask for support, ask me to give you what I think I can afford to give - don't try and sell me something that doesn't really exist. When you do the whole price-slashing of what is (at least in Metafilter's case) simply a donation, you really turn off your potential supporters because you sort of rob them of the empowered feeling that comes when you decide to make a donation.

So yeah. I guess I appreciate the intention here, but this is weird. I think also it just feels weird to like group MetaFilter, which to me is like this kind of very unique thing on the web, with these other totally different things just based on the fact that they're all 'indie.' I mean it kind of feels like, because ThinkUp is the only site on there that really has any significant membership cost associated with it, that what you're doing is buying an extra-expensive membership to ThinkUp that's also sort of maybe supporting these other sites in kind of mysterious and dubious ways. Like buy a membership to ThinkUp for a third more than it costs and we'll throw in some feel goods about what you did for The Toast?
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:25 PM on November 19, 2014 [40 favorites]


Thanks anildash. I personally don't see a secret cabal trying to break anything here (of course, there is no cabal).

Any updates on fixing the text on the Good Web Bundle site? The $60 with a slash through it for MeFi is still deceptive in my opinion.
posted by zachlipton at 2:26 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I explored the non-profit angle in 2004 and it was a disaster.

It's fine to not want to do it for various reasons. But you are not Rusty and MeFi is not kuro5hin and it's not 2004. Non-profit member supported models are one of a few different potentially sustainable models and one that gives people other sorts of incentives (ownership! tax write off donations! grants eligibility!) than just an "I helped!" indicator. I've always liked the idea because I like sharing the work in a "This belong to all of us" sort of way. But it involves a whole new level of transparency, and paperwork, and management structure, and that's not for everyone. But it's definitely in the realm of the real world possible.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:36 PM on November 19, 2014 [34 favorites]


This probably is not the place for us to rehearse whether Matt has enough trust not to fuck up the community with profit motives. IMHO It would be better if people could focus on giving clarity about the issues that were problematic with this bundle and how best to approach them for all the content creators involved rather than some misguided attempt to turn it into some purity inquisition of Mefi post google-gate.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:39 PM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


I mean it kind of feels like, because ThinkUp is the only site on there that really has any significant membership cost associated with it, that what you're doing is buying an extra-expensive membership to ThinkUp that's also sort of maybe supporting these other sites in kind of mysterious and dubious ways.

Right. I mean, is ThinkUp really "indie"? It's a VC-backed company with a mandatory subscription model of $60/year and no significant devoted userbase. By that measure we may as well throw, like, Spotify into the mix.
posted by posyblue at 2:43 PM on November 19, 2014


I don't think of ThinkUp on the same level as Spotify (and not because I know Anil and Gina), but they took a round of funding a couple years ago, but they were born of an open source software package with a lot of contributors (that was backed by a NSF grant if I remember correctly), spun the commercial hosting option as a company, took a bit of money to get built, but then have done user fundraising since with a preview fundraiser last year and now this. I don't recall if any of the money they took was from traditional venture capital companies.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:47 PM on November 19, 2014


Their own about page says they have funding from Bloomberg Beta, Quotidian Ventures, SK Ventures. Come on - that takes 2 seconds to google and these are people you went into a business partnership with about this promotion. Saying you "don't recall" sounds worse than anything else.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:00 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I read all these posts nitpicking the details to death and it really bums me out. I think it's great that Metafilter tried some new way of raising some money and cross-promoting with some other cool apps. Good on ya, Matt!
posted by Nelson at 3:01 PM on November 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


i am always amazed at just how rude people can be when money and metafilter come together. make your points, no problem with that, but maybe some of you can be less jerky while you're doing it...
posted by nadawi at 3:09 PM on November 19, 2014 [25 favorites]


Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory: " Saying you "don't recall" sounds worse than anything else."

Not sure it's up to Matt to accurately recall a different company's funding sources.
posted by boo_radley at 3:12 PM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


I sometimes wonder whether someone is going to be a jerk in just the precisely right way, or dig into pressure points at just the right angle, that Matt just throws up his hands and says fuck it, you guys win, I'm out. Which is to say, yeah, we can all stand to not be jerks about this stuff. Hugs to whoever needs hugs (which I gather is everyone).
posted by naju at 3:12 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


So I think this has crossed a lot of wires here and I'm not sure how to unpick things now.
Metafilter as a product. Metafilter as a way to make money. Metafilter reduced to its 'features'. Metafilter as part of this new, santised and overly marketed web.

All unintentional and none of these statements actually stand up for a second or describe either Matt's intent or this community/website, but still - wires crossed.
For me, this isn't a biggie and while I'm kinda weirded out by the whole thing, it's not hard to move on from - this a single thing that'll be gone soon. Except that, and perhaps I'm reading too much here, this feels too much both like Matt's winging this solo and that there are still financial constraints that aren't resolved.

If you're reading this Matt, think the thing we (hopefully not a royal we if I'm reading the room right) would want taken away from this is that we want to help and want in on making things smoother.
posted by litleozy at 3:15 PM on November 19, 2014


The idea was to take a $5/mo donation and mark it down to half price

Sorry, Matt, I still can't grok the idea of a discount donation. That's half the donation, not half the price. This offer is being presented as a bundle, which is when several products are sold together for a lower than usual price. That's antithetical to the voluntary patronage which is the basis of donations here and, I believe, at The Toast.

The GWB site says that for $96 you get one year of premium NewsBlur worth $24 (true), one year of ThinkUp worth $60 (true), recognition / future chat at the Toast worth $24 (not really true), recognition / 'lifetime membership' at MeFi worth $60 (not really true) and ad removal / multiple shakes at MLKSHK worth $24 (not really true). Just below that the frankly deceptive '$192 value' is next to 'we... treat you with respect'. The largest text on the front page says 'half the price' which isn't really defensible.

In my opinion the text related to value/price is sufficiently misleading that it needs to be taken down asap. In business terms, it's a reputational risk for people like Matt, Anil and Gina who are rightly regarded as honest to be associated with that copy. (I'm sure the other 6 are equally well-regarded, but I am sadly ignorant of them.) There are tech journalists who would love to write a piece about how the holier-than-thou leftie indie web people have been caught lying and I don't particularly want to see this incident incorporated into Metafilter's Wikipedia page.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:16 PM on November 19, 2014 [25 favorites]


boo_radley: "Not sure it's up to Matt to accurately recall a different company's funding sources."

Especially in hindsight, holy crap.
posted by boo_radley at 3:23 PM on November 19, 2014


This isn't going to impact me directly in any way, and obviously it's Matt's site to do with as he pleases, but like a lot of people, I had an instant allergic reaction to pretty much everything about it (a much worse reaction than I've had to the other controversial changes). I won't try and analyze it further; I'll just say I heartily endorse all of Jessamyn's comments in this thread.
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on November 19, 2014 [18 favorites]


In hindsight to what? I think we have crossed wires? where was the dispute?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:36 PM on November 19, 2014


I sometimes wonder whether someone is going to be a jerk in just the precisely right way… that Matt just throws up his hands and says fuck it, you guys win, I'm out.

Matt has every right to shut down MetaFilter on a whim. That doesn't garner extra support for MetaFilter. It emphasizes that what the community wants doesn't really matter very much in the end.

I'm unlikely to leave the site. I've made my peace with the fact that the MetaFilter community is built around Matt's business and he is the sole decider of how that business operates. It's always been that way. But I think it hasn't been obvious to many until recently. I wish we could reduce the frequency of events that expose this truth, because it's not just harmful to the business—it also harms the community. Good contributors leave and we are all poorer without them.
posted by grouse at 3:51 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


What Matt said. For what it's worth, I love MeFi and I love Matt and no there isn't some secret Old Web People cabal trying to ruin what makes this site great.

I believe you're not trying to ruin the site, but nevertheless that is the outcome - the idea that somehow you might know a wee bit more than some of the mefites here is as arrogant as it is laughable.

People come here because they want to be part of a community, they're also quite aware of things like interactivity, they're highly politicised, some of them are actually very, very talented: you want to keep with the bright idea of dreaming things up without consulting them ?

Be my guest.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:04 PM on November 19, 2014


This is a making a $25 donation (plus membership fee) and getting credit for a $60 donation - which you don't even actually get credit for because you simply get an "I support Metafilter" star with no denomination attached to it. It's completely misleading even in its modified state.

There is nothing preventing this idea from being presented clearly as a $5 membership and $25 donation to Metafilter at full $ value. The discount is still 40% on the total package if you're honest about it. Whether or not its malicious, at this point everyone involved in the idea is aware the thing being sold is not the thing that actually is and thus is choosing marketing over honesty.

There are better ways to generate money than misleading people about value. This is the worst of marketing theory at work.
posted by buoys in the hood at 4:06 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


ThinkUp took a convertible note from a number of investors, yes, and we publicly disclosed the terms under which we did so. We have not, and will not, be doing a round of venture capital funding. If you have further questions about our finances, I'm happy to offer more details, or if you need to examine the finances of the other sites, I can connect you with their founders, but let's do that on email.

The word "indie" doesn't appear on the Bundle site precisely because I'm sure everyone has their indie purity test and I'm sure it'd be defined as something I'm not. (For example, MetaFilter ran for years on bandwidth paid for by Pyra, a venture-backed company; I don't have a problem with that.) I think it's fine to not want to buy the bundle, and obviously, one can just ignore the thing. But I agree with the folks up-thread who suggested pointing out ways to make it into something that feels appropriate for MeFi, rather than impugning Matt's motivations. I'd find it hard to imagine that there are folks here who dislike/distrust me more than than they like/trust Matt.

I'm dropping out of this thread as I don't want to be a further distraction. Opprobrium, rebuke, criticism and feedback are welcome at the email address in my profile.
posted by anildash at 4:08 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


But I agree with the folks up-thread who suggested pointing out ways to make it into something that feels appropriate for MeFi, rather than impugning Matt's motivations. I'd find it hard to imagine that there are folks here who dislike/distrust me more than than they like/trust Matt.

You don't have to imagine (and could buy some community faith perhaps) it if you simply recognize the value of the Metafilter package is a straight $30, spell out what it is, and sell the rest of the bundle as-is as a 40% discount.

The additional $30 in value is complete smoke involving no dollar transfers to anyone for anything. Trying to tweak the language to make it feel appropriate is not the same as actually making it appropriate.
posted by buoys in the hood at 4:13 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anil, since you're here, do you think that the "$96! That's 50% less than you'd pay for each site individually." headline on the GWB site is accurate or misleading?
posted by posyblue at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2014


I'm far from being one of the site's raging, love-all-the-mods fans, but I certainly recognize the challenge in ensuring that this site puts bread on tables, have a lot of respect and admiration for the people who make it happen and battle through serious challenges.

And what? The decision-makers are imperfect???

There's no small number of people in this thread who come across as somewhere between naive, rude and childish.

But it was a good laugh to read about the people who've fucked off to Facebook.
posted by ambient2 at 4:25 PM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


mathowie: for now I wanted to add it as an option (albeit an expensive option) and check into uptake and see if it's worth another month of work to try and make it work for us

I know this is a ways upthread now but I wanted to comment that as a usability/viability test this is not going to answer the question you would like to have answered.

This is not going to tell you whether the existing user base (where most of your donations come from) would use Amazon to give you money. This is going to tell you how many people, possibly/probably mostly new users, are interested in buying this bundle thing which just happens to go through Amazon.

Please don't use these data ("data") to make decisions about making Amazon donations available to the existing user base. I'd be happy to help you come up with ways to evaluate the viability of *that* but you are not going to learn that from this process.
posted by librarina at 4:41 PM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


Anil and Gina...are not unilateral Internet Experts whose ideas go without criticism in any corners of the web

well clearly sir, you never saw anil's giant "best of the web" gif. and his microphone.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:43 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


You have a page on your website that is "about" you where you disclose investments and on that page you list three venture capital firms as "investing" in your company. i have no idea what I the difference between a convertible note and usual VC funding and I am a big nerd.

Where did you publicly disclose the terms? All I can find is a blog with no legal terms or specifics and a lot of generic language?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:44 PM on November 19, 2014


weird that you seemed to miss this part of that comment - If you have further questions about our finances, I'm happy to offer more details, or if you need to examine the finances of the other sites, I can connect you with their founders, but let's do that on email.
posted by nadawi at 4:47 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


weird that you seemed to miss this part of that comment

Weird that you seemed to miss this part of anildash's comment:

ThinkUp took a convertible note from a number of investors, yes, and we publicly disclosed the terms under which we did so

I think AFPFTNF is just asking where the disclosure is.

--------

Matt, the GWB site currently inaccurately describes the MeFi portion as a $60 value because it assigns a purchaser "Recognition as a supporting member, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads."

That is literally a $5 value, I guess $6 if you want to be able to honestly push the "I support MetaFilter!" button. Is that wording going to change?
posted by posyblue at 4:57 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


i didn't miss that. anil said twice in his comment that he'd take any further conversation of it in email and that he was bowing out of the thread. to come back at that aggressively demanding in thread to know more specifics about funding is pretty crappy.
posted by nadawi at 5:01 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Is that wording going to change?

The description of MeFi will probably change additionally, but the above the fold top of the page applies to all the sites and will likely need them all to buy in on text changes as well.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:01 PM on November 19, 2014


This thing just reads as super sleazy to me, and I don't think there's anyway to fix it.
posted by empath at 5:08 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


It doesn't strike me as particularly sleazy but taking the concept of a bundle and extending it to donating to a website you like doesn't make as much sense as one wants it to.
posted by bleep at 5:17 PM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Ghidorah: "There's... there's an image in this post..."

Mods have always been able to post comments unconstrained by the html filter.

halifix: "
MeFi post titles thing.
huh
"

Post titles didn't used to be shown on the front page.
posted by Mitheral at 5:17 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why should I have to email someone I don't know to get clarity about why the things he advertises on his website are misleading because he coordinated a campaign which also misrepresented a number of other things to give a misleading impression of the original product he might have been selling? Why can he not reply here?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:27 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like this rewrite a lot and will see if we can get the text on the bundle site updated to reflect it.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:28 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why can he not reply here?

Because at this point it's pretty far off-topic (are we still discussing everyone's indie purity test?).
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:29 PM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm glad to hear that mathowie. That text is still slightly problematic to me, as $60 is still a made up number and you're not really giving it to MeFi, but it's much better.
posted by zachlipton at 5:32 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


What a tense thread. Thanks for responding to all the feedback, mathowie. People be thinking you run metafilter like Tim Armstrong firing people on conference calls in here
posted by oceanjesse at 5:37 PM on November 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Just to be safe, let's take a look at Matt and Anil's 1040 returns so we can be sure that this slightly ungraceful fundraising strategy is not, in fact, a dastardly scheme to bilk us all out of millions. What are they hiding???
posted by Think_Long at 5:41 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think I'd pay $30 a year to be a member of MeFi, if asked, and if I thought there was some kind of clear and fair giving structure. It's easily that value to me and for me that level would not be a hardship.

But I've had a hard time with the whole randomly-donate-to-avoid-crisis thing because (a) I'm not sure what I'm donating to - I mean, I get that MeFi is a business, but when asked to donate to that business I get the sense that I am supporting a lifestyle business that's yielding one or more people a lifestyle that's a lot better than my own, and I guess I sometimes don't feel that makes a lot of sense. I don't know from the information available if I am really supporting MeFi or something more narrow than that. I am sorry if this is a hurtful or negative thing to say, but it feels off at times. and (b) I don't know how much good my donation is doing because I have no idea what the overall financial picture is, and I don't know how long I can expect my donation to do anything because it still seems like it could shut down at a whim because I have no idea what the overall financial picture is. If it's going over the cliff, then I don't probably want to send any more money after it.

If I were, however, hearing "a $30 annual fee from everyone would create the stable platform this site needs to operate, can you please give $30 to be a member, and any surplus can go to subsidized memberships for those for home $30 would pose a hardship?" the transactional aspect of this would feel clearer and fairer to me.

Or if I heard "this site is a nonprofit community with some earned revenue income streams. please pay $30 to be a member and you can write a portion of that off on your taxes, and by the way our annual charity drive/cause of the year/whatever can now be more powerful because we can become eligible for partnership funding and stuff like that" I would be quite enthused about giving.

MeFi seems like it's trying to exist in a liminal zone where it's both a meaningful community about content and good discussion and relationships and a transactional contract where it's proprietary and we "buy" the product or we don't. It's hard to figure out how to navigate that, as someone on a carefully managed income who wants to do the right thing but really isn't sure what "right" means in this context. I want to be a part of a community but it's odd to have so little sense of how this community is structured and functions and the messages seem mixed sometimes.
posted by Miko at 5:47 PM on November 19, 2014 [57 favorites]


I'd pay $30 a year to be a member of MeFi, if asked, and if I thought there was some kind of clear and fair giving structure.

But I'm not going to do that, and these things are voluntary donations to something people like and want to help support and they're used in supplemental ways to the existing advertising income, but like you said the site by its nature exists in this weird middle area between private commercial outfit and somewhat transparent community. So the whole thing is offered up as a strictly voluntary option, and this was one additional way to help fund the site along with the existing ways.

The fact that I'm trying out this bundle idea doesn't mean we're moving down a path of asking people to pay in any mandatory way, ever. That will never happen.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 6:54 PM on November 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


It doesn't strike me as particularly sleazy but taking the concept of a bundle and extending it to donating to a website you like doesn't make as much sense as one wants it to.

Yeah, at root, I think this is the weirdest thing about this whole idea. I don't give a shit about ThinkUp or NewsBlur or Mlkshk; if I'm offering a charitable donation to something I love, I would like it to go to the thing I love, rather than shooting money out of a cannon where it gets snatched by random birds flying by in midair.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:44 PM on November 19, 2014 [27 favorites]


And if I'm offering a charitable donation, I want to contribute that amount. The idea of a "discount" on a donation is kind of missing the point of it. I'm a bit baffled by this whole thing.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:40 PM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


If you get baffled now, though, you can get 60 baffled for the price of only 30! That's twice as many baffled!

The boys down in graphics are working on a design for this where there's a big red line through the words "not baffled???".
posted by Greg Nog at 8:50 PM on November 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


Well, one good thing I can say for this thread is it caused me to go make a donation directly to The Toast.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:51 PM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I guess I take back my derisive comments--a lot of smart people are concerned about the wording here. Probably it made sense to me because I don't think things through too much. To me this has nothing to do with current members relationship to the site--it's a way for all of the company's involved to try and get new members and do a kickstarter-ish fund-raising drive at the same time. If you aren't interested, don't buy one or recommend other people buy one! But I do see now how it's easily misinterpreted and feels weird to people.

However let me say this: I think the loudest complaints about this seem to come from those who have no idea what the economics of running a website like this are actually all about. These people seem to think money just magically is available somehow and that costs don't exist. As someone with experience seeing how founders and startups operate from the inside let me say: thank you for being honest and for having extraordinary ethical standards. Most companies' mission statements go into the back pocket once the shit hits the fan, and the bar you have set for yourself is incredible. Sure, you wouldn't have a company at all if it weren't for your users, but there's nothing else like MF out there, and that's because of your openness. As displayed in your answers in this thread.

Finally, I also think that you deserve to make not a small profit off of this company that you have created and nurtured for a decade. It's your damn company, expecting that you live in a cell like a monk instead of paying yourself what you're worth is ridiculous. I hope this bundle works well and I hope you buy a boat with the proceeds. Haters can watch from the dock.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:01 PM on November 19, 2014 [25 favorites]


...rather than shooting money out of a cannon where it gets snatched by random birds flying by in midair.

Not that that wouldn't also be a fascinating way of doing some kind of spread-effect donation event.
posted by Evilspork at 9:11 PM on November 19, 2014


It's a patronage bundle that was poorly marketed. Some of the backlash here is insane, and I hope that doesn't drown out some of the more reasonable voices.

Seriously, getting some marketing help for this project would be a good idea. Getting some general fundraising/marketing help for MeFi is a good idea.
posted by klangklangston at 10:01 PM on November 19, 2014 [20 favorites]


Leaving aside the bundle issue, I DO really like this "Good Web" or "Best of the Indie Web" or "Places where you CAN read the comments" idea. Two of my favorite sites are here and I'm definitely going to check out the other three ... Even if they're not my thing, I'll know they're good, ethical websites to send people to who want that thing. So I hope you do think about other ways such a consortium of indie sites committed to well-moderated user experiences could work together. I mean just finding out what MLKSHK is has made it a pretty good day online for me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:06 PM on November 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


it's a way for all of the company's involved to try and get new members

I for one welcome our $96 noobs.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:17 PM on November 19, 2014 [14 favorites]


I don’t like how the “Good Web Bundle” is being marketed, and I'm hopeful mathowie will find a way to make it better. But I also think some of the critics here are expecting way too much of Matt.
This is yet another in a long string of site changes that've met immediate (and loud) criticism from the MeFi community
I work for a non-profit that manages some popular open source projects. We've been around for 16 years and have a large and vocal community. We work very hard to keep everything we do open and community-driven. But ultimately someone has to decide what goes into the project and what doesn't. Being open source doesn't change this. Being non-profit doesn't change it. There are a lot of good reasons to discuss new stuff as a community before doing it, but expecting to do anything without getting a bunch of loud criticism is not a realistic goal..

You can run every decision by the community first, and you'll get a thousand people all telling you different things. This is a good thing! You'll get a bunch of useful ideas, and if you're doing something dumb then people will surely tell you about it. But! You also get a bunch of conflicting feedback or infeasible requests. No matter what you end up building, it can't possibly be everything everyone demanded. And then the people whose ideas weren't included feel like you ignored them and why did you even ask for feedback anyway?

I mean, maybe the way MetaFilter is run is not perfect. But I trust mathowie to do good stuff, and to fix bad stuff that happens. Honestly I'm not sure some other process would do any better.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:22 PM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


When you are asking for donations, especially for a thing that has value largely because of its participants (who are also the donors), it's not asking much for financial transparency. Admittedly this is a reason why I haven't donated.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:38 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


You could always just start a Metafilter PAC. Then you don't have to worry about transparency.
posted by misha at 11:41 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why can he not reply here?

He's busy setting up an entrepreneurial venture selling ethically sourced curtains for wizards.
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:25 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's a patronage bundle that was poorly marketed.

This. Saying "$60 value for $30" is bizarre. You can make a 50% saving on your donation to the Red Cross by just only giving them half as much! What.

Totally agree this idea is great but needed to be presented in a different way. I think they were copying the "game bundle" idea too closely - for purchasable items with a set retail price it makes sense to buy the bundle to get a saving. For donating money to help websites keep running - which are otherwise mostly free/very low cost to access - making a "saving" doesn't make sense. You should be selling it to people as a cool thing to do to to help cool websites (agree with the "I DO really like this "Good Web" or "Best of the Indie Web" or "Places where you CAN read the comments" idea") - and hey, here's an easy way to support all these websites in one go! Click here to pay money and feel good about supporting Awesome Web Stuff! Rather than click here to "save money" and get a "$60 value" etc etc.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:24 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


There are many good comments in this thread, so I'll shut my trap so as not to detract from them - but this feels to me like something else is in the works: yearly subscriptions and mergers of sites, possibly with savings on hosting and moderation etc, a move away from funding that the users are too much in control of - you can't sell a site that doesn't have a guaranteed revenue stream.

I don't think we have to end up like that and other approaches could be taken - such as the focus on the indie part, some behind the scenes stuff etc.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Does anyone here remember Barbelith? Once upon a time it was a thriving messageboard with a very similar feel to Metafilter - the users were intelligent, considerate, conversation focused, and passionately engaged in the community that emerged.

Long story short, Barbelith died.

There was something of a troll problem with one or two persistent problem posters - Tom Coates (who owns and ran the site), with the best of intentions, responded with a series of decisions that created unwieldy bureaucracy and alienated some core users, who no longer felt that same sense of ownership over the scene that they had built. Coates genuinely understood the importance of community, in that many features were created with input from the userbase, and were designed to work in an inherently democratic way (e.g. the distributed moderation system), but when he decided on things by mandate, or didn't respond to criticism or advice, some users lost faith in his ability to do the right thing, which ultimately became a poisonous feedback loop.

Over the course of two or three years, key users left, the site culture changed, the population just drifted away, and posting dropped to zero. What is so troubling is that "Is Barbelith dying?" was raised so frequently that it became something of a meme, but because everyone loved the place so much, and because everyone knew that Coates would only ever act in the way that he thought was best for the place, the signs of Barbelith's descent were always written off as doom-mongering. Barbelith was a robust, self-sufficient community, but at some stage it reached a tipping point and its death became inevitable.

I'm not saying that is some sort of parable that we can apply to present day Metafilter, but it seems like there are parallels. For Coates, his somewhat singleminded focus on shutting down a troll problem meant he ignored vital signals from the existing userbase as to the health of the site. For Metafilter, the focus on making the site more appealing to new users (titles, new design with professional white background, and this) feels rather similar.
posted by iivix at 3:06 AM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


I've seen many people suggest that recent changes such as the redesign and Fanfare are purely about attracting new users, and are disliked by the existing users. I'm as old-school as they come - user #482, I founded the Mefi wiki - and I really like the redesign. It makes browsing on my phone and tablet much better, and I think it improves navigation and discovery of subsites. I really like Fanfare; it's encouraged me to comment more. Of course, YMMV - but that's the point.

I would never discount the opinions of people criticising the direction of Mefi on MetaTalk, but we should also realise that comments and posts on MetaTalk are a subset of the overall userbase, many of whom don't know it exists, and who wouldn't bother posting unless they had a problem.
posted by adrianhon at 4:08 AM on November 20, 2014 [12 favorites]


Redesign, what redesign? I vaguelly remember the logo was more yellow than green, but other than that I don't feel the look of the site has changed that much - not with Dark Mode at least.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:10 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was going to lie low after my last couple comments, since I'm sure I've given Matt too much heartache as-is, but this comment here:

I think the loudest complaints about this seem to come from those who have no idea what the economics of running a website like this are actually all about.

...made me gnash my teeth. Because what the fuck?

Some of the comments defending this bundle have been OBNOXIOUSLY smarmy. Call the critics of the "get half-off on your donation!" sales pitch wrong, I don't care. Disagreement is great. But the constant suggestions that critics here don't know what on earth they're talking about makes no sense when one of the first and most vocal/persistent critics is a long-standing ex-moderator who knows more about the backend of this site than all but one or two of the rest of us in this thread. It's smarmy as shit.

But your specific comment, Potomac Avenue, feels particularly smarm-tinged, and I say this as an admittedly loud complainer who happens to also know you in person. I get to claim the double-whammy of having spent 8 years working with start-ups and Internet-only small businesses, with the exception of the one year I spent working for a small but sprawling non-profit instead. I also have a college degree in advertising, and have studied/written about web publishing/communities/commerce for six years at this point.

The problem isn't with Matt trying to make money. Matt should make shitloads of it! Surely we all agree that he deserves it more than Zuckerberg or whomever. The problem is with this specific campaign, which feels rushed and sloppy and distinctly un-MetaFilter-like, not to mention sleazy as all shit. Again, not to drag her in as a defense, but a beloved ex-moderator was criticizing the package here before just about anybody, so it's just not all us entitled n00bs.

But there are a whole bunch of profit models based on small-ish web publications/communities that haven't been tried, some of which might be effective and far less intrusive. Wikipedia does its yearly charity drives, which are annoying but very effective at letting users of the site know: "Here is our goal, here is how close we are to reaching it, and here's how much we'd theoretically need from every contributor to meet our target." Or there's the burgeoning Patreon model, which I loved and suspected would never catch on but which is now spreading like wildfire. People pitch in money, they see how well somebody's doing in total, and thresholds are set at which they get something back for the donors' combined contributions. Maybe $10000 a month gets us back a moderator? I'm pulling that number out of a hat, but I feel visible proof of progress might be a great incentive for loyal donors.

The model which I think makes most sense, however, is an ad-driven one, because it was how MetaFilter made the majority of its profits until a couple of years ago (and if we'd talked about MeFi's problems then, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in now). There are ways to advertise that are unintrusive, community-sensitive, and still fairly potent. One of my favorite ones that I've seen bloggers use is the weekly Sponsored Post, which appears once on the site as a blogger-curated post and an extra time on the RSS as a more explicit advertisement. Just like The Deck, which MeFi uses too, relies upon its general unobtrusiveness to be persuasive, the sponsored posts that John Gruber or Jason Kottke use are effective because they're taken out by people who know the sorts of people who read a site, and thus can be interesting, relevant, and worth clicking on. Seeing as we have Google ads for non-readers, we could do a similar format with a sponsored post, where to registered users the post appears on the FPP listing but to logged-out readers there's an additional teeny banner that says "our sponsored post this week is XYZ". This is a thriving community, which means there're generally a lot of potential ways to make advertising and commerce not suck. Which is neat!

I'm offering all these as hypotheticals, and without doing a whoooole lot of thought about how these would work. But suffice it to say there are a lot of ways to make money on the Internet. Not all of them work for all situations, but if money's a real issue, then it makes sense to experiment! And through the lens of experimentation, this bundle is perfectly acceptable as a thing to try out. It's just sketchy as shit and feels really off to both myself and to a lot of other users. Matt says that he doesn't rely on his friends to come up with ideas for MetaFilter, and I believe him, but this bundle was an idea he and Anil and Gina had at SXSW, so it's safe to say that he only got involved in this because two friends of his were involved in it too. And for MeFites it feels really off. I hear The Toast has a lot of readers complaining about this as well, so it's not just that we're a bunch of Grumpy Guses.

What's so hard about the notion that money is great, but this particular avenue feels shitty? Nobody's saying Matt should be a monk in a padded cell. Nobody's saying profit is a bad thing! If anything, we want MetaFilter to be more stable, and feel like halfhearted attempts to sell it as part of a "bundle" are going to hurt perception of the site or the community itself. This feels like it goes against MetaFilter values, plain and simple, and seriously if you haven't read that On Smarm essay that I linked above, read it, because a lot of the responses to the criticism in this thread feel smarmy as all hell.

(Not the responses from Matt or Anil, I should mention. I still don't agree with their perspectives here, but they are being completely straightforward in their responses to criticism, which I'm sure from their perspective is overwhelming and unexpected.)
posted by rorgy at 4:22 AM on November 20, 2014 [17 favorites]


adrienhon: Functionally, the redesign is terrific. It's the aesthetics of the redesign that feel really off to me. The colors are harsher and less dull, and dull, for a site that involves lots of reading, is pretty essential. The professional white looks boring and bland, but I simply can't do Dark Mode, because the blue/green palette is way too harsh on my eyes. I also think that Verdana, which was the old default font, is more readable in white-on-dark situations; in general reading the blue against the new redesigned blue is undoable for me.

This is what I meant when I said that the redesign was a mixture of excellence and not-so-excellent. Depending on your perspective, it was either brilliantly useful or it ruined the way you used to read MetaFilter. As a designer, I try not to trust my immediate response to new designs, and using the new site I find myself appreciating the hell out of the mobile changes and admiring the typography on the white; still, I'm pissed off that I can't read the site in its true colors anymore, and partly registered with a new username because I suspected that the aesthetics of the site would completely change my reactions to things that I've read — and they have, by the way, though in ways that I doubt are super-noticeable. I respond to things differently with the changed colors/typography, and I'm not totally happy that I do.
posted by rorgy at 4:30 AM on November 20, 2014


I was going for rude rather than smarmy Rory. But I think you frame our disagreement well. If the problem is with the wording then ok. But there has been a lot of handwringing ITT about the general direction of MF and that is what I was smarming about as being naive. You are a super smart user of internets as are many here, but I think your (and others but I know you so I feel more comfortable criticizing your posts) specific criticisms aren't realistic in terms of how businesses actually run.

I'm sorry for being smarmy. I should know not to post from my phone in the middle of the night.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:19 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's like, very few people are going to up their giving level to NPR because they want the tote bag more than the mug or whatever. No, they give what they think they can afford. Thank you gifts are just that - thank yous, they are icing on the cake, they aren't really incentives. People don't choose the amount of money to donate to something based on the kind of 'deal' they feel they are getting.

As someone who has worked in public radio for almost 20 years, I can tell you that you are absolutely 100% wrong about this. During pledge drives, there is an undeniable direct line you can draw between the benefit/swag offered and the amount given, or even whether anything is given at all. We've done tests, where the first part of the drive is strictly built on the appeal ("you use the service, so do the right thing!"), then we add some tangible giveaways halfway through (free T-shirt! chance to win an iPad!) and the phones start ringing off the hook.

Perhaps you are a person who gives because you use the service and know you should, but if so, you are in the minority. Perks are the driving force behind certain types of fundraising.
posted by jbickers at 5:40 AM on November 20, 2014 [27 favorites]


It's a nice idea. Seems like something that could include a Pinboard membership.

I got the point of 50% off; that's how bundles get popular and also just a way to make supporting a lot of sites at once affordable without those sites changing their costs and suggested donations. People understand that. I also like the upcoming wording change.

To the degree the "missteps" affect my opinion, I mostly think it's refreshing that this isn't spot-on in tone and A/B testing us to maximize emotional appeal.
posted by michaelh at 5:43 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Miko! Thank god for Miko.
posted by Kwine at 5:53 AM on November 20, 2014


You can make a 50% saving on your donation to the Red Cross by just only giving them half as much!
Introducing The PlusGood web bundle: 50% saving on Wikipedia, the Red Cross, Greenpeace, the Catholic Church, PETA and Microsoft Office 365 Home.
posted by elgilito at 5:58 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've always been fully in favor of not hassling mathowie to go all "Show us your tax returns!" to prove that all the money stuff was ethical and above-board.

People who do this are why Matt can't have nice things!
posted by cjorgensen at 6:21 AM on November 20, 2014


but this feels to me like something else is in the works: yearly subscriptions and mergers of sites, possibly with savings on hosting and moderation etc,

This is not happening at all, sorry it feels that way to you. I've never met or spoken with The Toast people, I just know I read stuff there and it gets linked to very often. Same for Newsblur, never met the guy behind it before. The sites are all so different there is almost nothing that could be shared. Three are real web apps, two are content sites, four of them have comments but they're all vastly different.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:09 AM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've always been fully in favor of not hassling mathowie to go all "Show us your tax returns!" to prove that all the money stuff was ethical and above-board.

People who do this are why Matt can't have nice things!


I think the point where it changed from $5 membership sales (you got a thing in exchange for $$), to support drives involving thousands of people and then something like this which is such a misrepresentation of value, it became a much more relevant request to ask about the financials of this place and to dissent on how they might be improved.

There's a difference, IMO, to what I might donate depending on where the money is going - if it's $25 that keeps the server running because there isn't enough money for that, great, but if it's heading into a personal bank account then I'd like to at least have a sense of how much else is going there too. It matters whether a founder is making $25,000 a year vs. $250,000 a year.

A business that sells widgets is different than a business that sells widgets and also solicits donations. The available information and discussion on the latter, particularly where it's a business whose value is derived by the activities of a community of people with no financial gain in the matter, should be IMO greater.

Having worked in the NFP model for some time, it exists for a reason - because the pure sales revenue models don't work for everything, and the transfer of money outside of transactions has fewer controls and protections unless they're installed on purpose. MeFi is trending towards transfers of money that aren't one-time and aren't related to an exchange of services-for-money, and thus I think the consideration of an NFP or at least a transparent understanding of what those donations are being used for is fair.

It doesn't have to be "Matt made X last year", but at least broad revenues and expenditures and where the gaps are will help me understand what I personally do about the financial problems of this site and their relation to my own financial reality.
posted by buoys in the hood at 7:13 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


if you feel like you need details of mathowie's bank accounts to donate, then don't donate. easy peasy.
posted by nadawi at 7:18 AM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yes, the idea of donating to a business starts to get terribly messy when you think about it. People are donating for one thing (to keep the site up) but the business operates for slightly different reasons (to keep the site up and support the staff.)
posted by smackfu at 7:18 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I donate to keep the site up and support the staff.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:20 AM on November 20, 2014 [20 favorites]


the donations started explicitly, pushed by the user base, because mods were being let go - we as a community (with some loud detractors, i admit) decided that we wanted to support the staff. the idea that we're donating to keep the site up and not support staff doesn't really wash with what actually happened.
posted by nadawi at 7:21 AM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


I was a bit unclear. I meant, are you donating to the site so that the site has good mods, or are you donating to the site so Matt can support his family?
posted by smackfu at 7:26 AM on November 20, 2014


(And I say that only in the context of my previous point that the goals of the company may be different than the goals of the donators.)
posted by smackfu at 7:30 AM on November 20, 2014


I'm donating to the site to represent the value it provides to me now and has for years before I started donating. That value is considerable, and I am more than happy for Matt to make a decent living from it. We can't have nice things if the people who make them can't make a decent living.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:30 AM on November 20, 2014 [16 favorites]


the donations started explicitly, pushed by the user base, because mods were being let go - we as a community (with some loud detractors, i admit) decided that we wanted to support the staff. the idea that we're donating to keep the site up and not support staff doesn't really wash with what actually happened.

And that's cool, but I think it's entirely fair to suggest as the revenue model changes so too should transparency. Nobody's saying anything untoward is happening or accusing anyone of anything that I can see. It's just a perceived lack of information that typically is available to donation-based initiatives.

It's a request made in the midst of a discussion about revenue. Matt's running a company and has no duty to respond to or adhere to it. You disagree about its need, and that's entirely cool too, so it's just as easy peasy for you to ignore my request.
posted by buoys in the hood at 7:35 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Does anyone here remember Barbelith? Once upon a time it was a thriving messageboard with a very similar feel to Metafilter - the users were intelligent, considerate, conversation focused, and passionately engaged in the community that emerged.

Yup, I was one of the original posters when it was called The Nexus. Some of my best friends in the world are ex-Lithers and it is how I met my husband. I miss Barbelith a lot still and it was heartbreaking to watch it die but I also understood how its time had come. By the time the death throes started happening, my future husband had long ago decamped to here and it took him gifting me a MeFi account and about a year to two of lurking and observing before I was ready to find an online home again. MeFi is definitely not the same as Barbelith (too many users) but it's a good place. Or it can be (and often is).

I think the wording of the bundle was originally wonky and odd but I do appreciate mathowie actually engaging with the community to explain/defend/rewrite/talk. You don't get that in a lot of online communities.
posted by Kitteh at 7:36 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


both? i hope that mathowie, for all he's given us, has some financial security. i hope that he has enough to pay mods a good wage with benefits. i hope after tax returns i can hand him a chunk of money to do with as he sees fit because i trust him, because he hasn't given me reason to not trust him. i don't feel entitled to see his financials. if you don't trust mathowie, or if you don't think blind donations are ok, or if you don't have the money, or if you just don't want to - don't donate. he has been very clear that it will never be compulsory.
posted by nadawi at 7:37 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


. Nobody's saying anything untoward is happening or accusing anyone of anything that I can see.

it's not very many comments up where sgt.serenity pretty much called mathowie a liar and suggested that he was moving towards mandatory payments or trying to sell the site.
posted by nadawi at 7:41 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


what do the other mods think?
posted by likeatoaster at 7:44 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think wanting more financial transparency should not be equated with "I don't trust mathowie" - this is where we get into problems.

(I also dislike the "if you don't like the way things are run here, do not donate" argument, which seems to shut down discussion and also ratchets up the conflict-tension. In a thread that is already plenty tense.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:44 AM on November 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


pretty much called mathowie a liar

That certainly seems like a gross mis-characterization.
posted by smackfu at 7:45 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Agreed - it's a huge stretch.

nadawi, if what you want is for the dissenters to act the way you want them to, to be silent about their concerns, and just not to donate if they're not comfortable, then fine. I'm out of the thread and onto other things because it's not worth the time.
posted by buoys in the hood at 7:48 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I honestly think one of the reasons people want the financials is so they can sort of vicariously run the website. I do this with bloggers who blog for a living. I would love to see the true financials of some of the popular bloggers out there. In the end though it's really none of my business. It's also a can of worms. The last think I would want to see is a monthly discussion of staff salaries.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:50 AM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


mathowie said - The fact that I'm trying out this bundle idea doesn't mean we're moving down a path of asking people to pay in any mandatory way, ever. That will never happen.

and then sgt. serenity said - but this feels to me like something else is in the works: yearly subscriptions and mergers of sites, possibly with savings on hosting and moderation etc, a move away from funding that the users are too much in control of - you can't sell a site that doesn't have a guaranteed revenue stream.

i don't think it's a mis-characterization to say that sgt. serenity was insinuating mathowie was lying. i don't know how else to read person a saying : "i'm never doing foo" and then person b saying : "i think you're already in the process of doing foo."
posted by nadawi at 7:50 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


nadawi, if what you want is for the dissenters to act the way you want them to, to be silent about their concerns, and just not to donate if they're not comfortable, then fine.

dissent and complain and suggest and find sky falling remedies all you want - i just think some of you are being overwrought and grossly entitled about all of this.
posted by nadawi at 7:56 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


I meant, are you donating to the site so that the site has good mods, or are you donating to the site so Matt can support his family?

Disclaimer: I am fundraising professional. I know from donations.

I donate to the site so the site will continue to exist. If there aren't enough mods, the site will be less useful and pleasant. If Matt can no longer support his family through Mefi, then he may have to get a real job, and thus the site might close.

I donate to the site because I never paid $5. I never paid a dime, and for that I've gotten daily reading for over 13 years. I don't click on the ads -- I don't even see them. But I am aware that there needs to be a revenue stream in order for the site to continue to exist and function.

All that being said, however, I agree that the copy on this is a hot mess. The "value" of Mefi is $5. There is no such thing as "recognition as a supporting member" because there aren't membership levels (ie: the gold star on my profile says "I'm a monthly contributor").

There are places that do half-off philanthropy. It's called "matching gifts". (Donorschoose does it really well, actually.) That's not the case here. It's misleading, particularly since the MeFi blurb doesn't mention anywhere that membership is actually $5. But, honestly -- I think this is a tempest in a teacup because I cannot imagine who is both a) aware of these sites and b) would pay that to "join" all five of them. I can imagine a way where "support these five great sites" would be marketed well. This isn't it.

Thanks, Matt, for responding so clearly to the comments on this.
posted by anastasiav at 7:57 AM on November 20, 2014 [18 favorites]


I was a bit unclear. I meant, are you donating to the site so that the site has good mods, or are you donating to the site so Matt can support his family?

I don't see a difference here.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


nadawi, if what you want is for the dissenters to act the way you want them to, to be silent about their concerns, and just not to donate if they're not comfortable, then fine. I'm out of the thread and onto other things because it's not worth the time.

I'm going to back up this perception — nadawi, your contributions in this thread have all been along the line of "I can't imagine people complaining about this, how dare you? Shut up already."

I'm going to re-link On Smarm here, because you're doing precisely what Scocca writes about. It's not just you, but you're doing it especially prominently and I think that it's a problematic angle to take, for all the reasons which Scocca explores. There's ample proof of why that's problematic in-thread, including the quoted comment above.
posted by rorgy at 8:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


And if you think that complaining about an advertising/marketing schemata qualifies as "grossly entitled", I don't know what to tell you.
posted by rorgy at 8:03 AM on November 20, 2014


I think the requests for more transparency are understandable. I think there are certain issues there - as mentioned above, should we really know what taz's salary is? - but I hear where people are coming from.

But I do think there has been an undercurrent that does seem sort of accusatory about "just what is Matt doing with this money, exactly?" I found this from Miko disturbing:

I mean, I get that MeFi is a business, but when asked to donate to that business I get the sense that I am supporting a lifestyle business that's yielding one or more people a lifestyle that's a lot better than my own

If anyone feels they are financially straitened, they shouldn't donate, no issue there. But we are donating to support *Metafilter*. That includes servers and hosting costs and all that stuff, but it also includes paying a fair living wage to the moderators. The mods make this place what it is, just as much as the users. "Lifestyle business" seems to imply something untoward about people making a reasonable amount of money doing hard work - Matt is a mod, too, aside from all of his CEO work - and I don't think there is.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:03 AM on November 20, 2014 [19 favorites]


And if you think that complaining about an advertising/marketing schemata qualifies as "grossly entitled", I don't know what to tell you.

no, i think demanding that mathowie change the way he's set up his business or show the room his financials is grossly entitled. i think discussing this specific situation and the wording and how it can be better is totally fine. it's the free for all attacks on mathowie and his friendships that some have taken on that i object to. i don't think everyone should just shut up, but i do think they should stay on topic. if you have things to say to mathowie about his business structure, maybe first consider if it's any of your damn business and secondly discuss it offline with him so it doesn't become...well, what this thread has become.
posted by nadawi at 8:07 AM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


if you think that complaining about an advertising/marketing schemata qualifies as "grossly entitled"

I don't think that's what's entitled, it's thinking that your input is some kind of magic bullet that nobody at this company has ever considered before. It's not just you, and your advice is better than some of the silly ideas in this thread, but that's all it is--advice. You don't work for MF, and they don't work for you. We're ranging far afield from a discussion of the bundle. You say it was badly worded--Matt agreed and has sort of fixed it. It could maybe use more fixing, fine. But you and other "dissenters" are the ones using this (imo minor) mistake to broadly roam around Matt's boardroom writing SOCIAL MEDIA on the whiteboard and underlining it and then circling it and then trying to peek at his Quickbooks. Nadawi and are are verbally rolling our eyes at that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:12 AM on November 20, 2014 [13 favorites]


As someone who has worked in public radio for almost 20 years, I can tell you that you are absolutely 100% wrong about this. During pledge drives, there is an undeniable direct line you can draw between the benefit/swag offered and the amount given, or even whether anything is given at all. We've done tests

Huh, no that's interesting, and goes against all of my experience having worked in fundraising for many years. I would love to see the data you collected from the tests.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:13 AM on November 20, 2014


it's the free for all attacks on mathowie and his friendships that some have taken on that i object to

Well, the enmity towards Anil goes WAY back. Even on the infamous "professional white background" post from 2007 (seven years ago!), most of the responses are basically "fuck off."
posted by smackfu at 8:16 AM on November 20, 2014


i've been here a long damn time, i don't need a refresher on site history, thanks. people using this as another excuse to take a whack at anil is part of what i'm objecting to.
posted by nadawi at 8:18 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's not "taking a whack at Anil" when this bundle was collaboratively created by Matt, Anil, and Anil's cofounder. To quote Matt from way up in this thread:

Basically, Gina and Anil came to me with the idea and said they'd already worked out their payment system

So, he's involved? Regardless of what you feel about this, Anil is a meaningful part of this conversation.
posted by rorgy at 8:25 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


If miko and jessamyn started an NPO that was going to be "not Metafilter" I would so be throwing my money at that. I bet that a good chunk of the current userbase would support such a switch to a more open financial model, and would vote with dollars and feet.

See you on the barricades!
posted by Meatbomb at 8:32 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


the bundle can be discussed without demanding to be educated about thinkups funding structure or things like this :

It's very off-message in a professional-white-background way and I'm not surprised to see it's Anil pulling the strings.
...
(Anil Dash seems to be involved with a good 80% of these much-criticized decisions, and always comes in with his own line of defense, which is "You are all wrong to have opinions" followed by complete site inactivity until his next opportunity comes up to condescend.)


i don't object to discussing anil's role in the bundle. i do object to the way some (yes you) have used it as an excuse to drag out completely unrelated issues.
posted by nadawi at 8:34 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


We're ranging far afield from a discussion of the bundle. You say it was badly worded--Matt agreed and has sort of fixed it. It could maybe use more fixing, fine. But you and other "dissenters" are the ones using this (imo minor) mistake to broadly roam around Matt's boardroom writing SOCIAL MEDIA on the whiteboard and underlining it and then circling it and then trying to peek at his Quickbooks.

The way this bundle has been pitched, and the way ReadWrite and Wired have reported on it, makes it sound like "indie sites are dying! good sites are dying! we need to stop this!"

Which, well, okay. MetaFilter and Mlkshk have had their financial difficulties, sure. Nothing wrong with pointing that out! But that's why this discussion has become partly about, you know, FINANCES. People complained about the bundle, the response was "I thought this would be another good revenue stream", and now people are talking about revenue.

Again, it's not just "the usual suspects" or whatever complaining about this, it's a sizable cross-section of users here which includes an ex-mod. If talking about money is "entitled", then frankly, we can't have a discussion about this at all, because the bundle comes down to money and the only person who actually owns the site is Matt himself. I'd like to think there's a purpose to expanding the scope of the discussion a bit, and it is really irritating that people are trying to change the discussion from that to — what? Shutting the fuck up? Because that's about the only other thing that's left to do.

I'm gonna flip what you and nadawi are saying and point it right back at you: if you have a problem with the things being discussed about, YOU leave the thread. Neither of you is pushing the thread in any better (or even different) direction; you're both just adding noise at this point.
posted by rorgy at 8:34 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm donating to the site to represent the value it provides to me now and has for years before I started donating. That value is considerable, and I am more than happy for Matt to make a decent living from it. We can't have nice things if the people who make them can't make a decent living.

Yeah, this. I've coughed up the five bucks (twice) to be here, but when it became clear the site was in trouble, I was happy to start contributing what I could (which isn't much, and depending on my employment situation, may change). This place has a lot of value to me, in a lot of ways that are hard to express, and if part of the member base voluntarily moving to a "pay what you can" subscription model keeps it going, then so be it. I'm happy to be a part of that base. I don't mind Matt and the mods making a living wage at it either - the moderation (even when I don't agree with it) is part of what keeps the site humming, and knowing that there are people for whom this is their job - they are paid to be here and focusing on what is happening around the site, rather than doing it off the side of their desks as a volunteer or some pittance that means they are scratching around trying to find something else (or juggling it while doing other paid work simultaneously) - is part of what makes this site work.

Metafilter's business model now includes the idea of some portion of members supporting it at some level - for no additional perks or benefits; just for the knowledge that it helps the site continue. "Donate" is the wrong word in the context of Metafilter - it's supporting/subscribing.

I had some questions/discomfort about the Good Web Bundle when I saw it, because I thought the pricing/description for what you get with Metafilter was wrong and still might be problematic. What you get is a lifetime membership with the supporter designation. But without knowing the site and the culture, that's a hard thing to explain, and I'm glad Matt continues to explain what he is doing, thinking, and responds to the feedback from the userbase.
posted by nubs at 8:36 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


the other thing to do is to keep discussing specifically how this bundle can be improved. you don't have to see his tax forms to do that.
posted by nadawi at 8:36 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


> However let me say this: I think the loudest complaints about this seem to come from those who have no idea what the economics of running a website like this are actually all about. These people seem to think money just magically is available somehow and that costs don't exist.

This is bullshit and a poisonous way to approach what should be a conversation, not a political debate where each side tries to mischaracterize the other in the most damning possible way. How about you start by assuming intelligence and good faith on the part of fellow MeFites who disagree with you?

And nadawi, I have to agree you're not helping the thread, despite your obvious good intentions and sincere feelings. Maybe dial it back a little?
posted by languagehat at 8:37 AM on November 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


The problem is with this specific campaign, which feels rushed and sloppy and distinctly un-MetaFilter-like, not to mention sleazy as all shit.

I think that's the core problem with the campaign -- it was rushed and I don't have control over all the messaging, so a lot of it was out of my hands. I think the way it is presented using software bundles as a template would work if all five sites were web apps. So if it was Newsblur, MLKSHK, ThinkUp, and maybe Pinboard and a personal Dropbox account for all one low price, that'd make sense as a thing that is being discounted and maybe you have heard of and love two of them and all five would benefit. On the flip side, if it was five content sites like MeFi, The Toast, The Awl Network, Gothamist, and Kottke.org, and it was pitched as support the indie web without the "half-price" notions, then I think that would make sense too. Mixing and matching and then applying a software bundle template to the idea is a bit clunky and it doesn't work well at all for the content sites that are part of this.

That all said, the campaign is pitched at a wider audience and doesn't really include anyone that has donated to MeFi already, it's pretty much an experiment to get different people that might like the other sites to take a look, and since it was a pre-built thing it only took me saying yes to give it a try I figured I might as well try it. I liked the original web bundle idea and thought it had enough merit to try, even though I knew the sites fitting together and pitched at that price was a little bit weird. It's clearly an experiment and even in my wildest dreams I thought maybe it might bring in a few hundred backers that would amount to a small percentage of the fundraising we've already done. Put simply, it seemed like an idea with some potential (not a lot) but that also could work alongside what we already had, so I tried it out.

There are ways to advertise that are unintrusive, community-sensitive, and still fairly potent. One of my favorite ones that I've seen bloggers use is the weekly Sponsored Post, which appears once on the site as a blogger-curated post and an extra time on the RSS as a more explicit advertisement.

rorgy, I have to vehnemently disagree with this point (and many of your other points that you seem to frame as slam-dunks like crowd-sourced redesigns would have been easy and better & if I talked about search/ad problems earlier we could have easily solved it). You're talking about crossing a line between content and advertising we have NEVER crossed before. You're talking about paid, sponsored, promoted posts. Lots of big blogs do one post a week (or day) as an ad. BoingBoing, The Awl, The Toast, Gruber, etc, but those are editorial outfits and they have to mark them off as sponsored content and I think people like Buzzfeed and The Awl try really hard to write the stuff themselves as normal posts but geared towards a sponsor with some plug the sponsors want. The least successful ones basically post copy provided by a sponsor.

That all said, the moment we see a Sponsored Post from American Express on all the wonderful things there are to do in Paris that you can just throw on your AMEX card is so far away from "unintrusive, community-sensitive" and at that point I would start to believe the people saying the end of MeFi is nigh. I honestly can't believe you're trying to pass off sponsored posts as a great idea in a community setting.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:42 AM on November 20, 2014 [50 favorites]


I figured this goes without saying and it was just an example, but if we are discussing sponsored content in any meaningful way my vote is a big fat BLERGH DO NOT WANT.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:47 AM on November 20, 2014


Languageman: I don't see how my calling the disparate (and contradictory) criticism of MF's overall revenue strategy "naive" is poisonous. It may be hurtful, and I'm sorry if it hurt someone's feelings (which is why I singled out Rory, who I argue with vehemently IRL often and I think can take it), but I don't think at any point I've assumed folks aren't in good faith giving bad advice. & I don't think anyone should shut the fuck up. But I do think they should consider what evidence, if any, their advice is based on, and I recommend that they shouldn't get frustrated if Matt ignores them (or politely disagrees with them, as above). This is the "Why wasn't I consulted syndrome?" we've talked about before I think.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:48 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


what do the other mods think?

I apparently only thought I made a comment yesterday! So I guess I commented about it in my head. Out loud this time and with a night's sleep rolled in:

I think the bundle idea is interesting and was a thumbs up for experimenting with it even though I wasn't sure how it was going to go over. I think the impetus is good, I think the idea of putting it out there as something targeting not so much established Mefi (or ThinkUp, MLKSHK, or...) users as general web people who might want a nudge to supporting a bevvy of nice web things is good.

I think one things that's a lot more obvious on the other side of rolling this out is how much the bundle metaphor, as comfortable as it is to me as a big fan of video games, doesn't translate super clearly to different kinds of things and different pricing models. And that sort of adds an extra pile of muddy on top of the already obviously clearly confusing original language in the web bundle stuff itself. Given a crystal ball I'd have been more likely to say "hey, maybe we should rework this?" but I was mostly curious to see how things shook out since it was a well-intentioned one-off sort of thing. They've shaken out more critically than any of us expected, that much is pretty well-established.

I also think that talking about it in Metatalk is sort of an odd thing, because it's both necessary (obviously it would be super duper weird to not discuss that something like this was going on, and so we made a post about it up front rather than leaving it dangling out there as something for someone to post about having seen making the rounds) and yet the notional audience for the bundle in terms of new users isn't really clearly hardcore established metatalk-reading mefites, and so it's almost bound to go sort of weird and inside-baseball with the discussion eating its own tail a little bit and turning into a discussion about the discussion and essay length reactions to the spectre of things not happening but what if they did and so on.

If I had it to do again, I'd probably give the bundle thing as formulated here a pass. Not because I think the idea is bad, because as an experiment I think it's worth doing and exploring ideas for helping people turn "I like neat stuff on the web" into "I directly support things on the web", and trying something once doesn't fundamentally mean anything other than trying something once; but because the feeling a lot of folks have gotten from it, from the web bundle site's text and from the sort of mashing of multiple things together here, is not what we were hoping for and making a bunch of folks feel uncomfortable was basically the opposite of the goal. I pretty much expect any thing related to money or promotional stuff to be touchy for someone, because we have a big userbase and lots of different people have different preferences and expectations and comfort zones about those things, but I didn't expect it to be as much of a thing as it has turned out to be in this case.

Absent a capacity for time-travel, I'm glad it at least is being tried because I think funding and revenue stuff for the stuff folks like in an abstract userland way on the web remains a great big ongoing What Happens Now question; even finding out that something doesn't work or doesn't sit right is finding out something, which is useful.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:51 AM on November 20, 2014 [21 favorites]


I felt like the reason this discussion moved away from the bundle itself was that the initial complaint was made and ignored.

The concept of a "bundle" is that you're buying something of a certain value for less than you'd normally get it for. Maybe that applies for ThinkUp, NewsBlur, and Mlkshk, but it doesn't apply to MetaFilter, which costs $5 and is being sold for $30. Seeing as the minimum price for getting the "I contributed!" star is, what, $1?, that's still a $24 markup.

There's a lot of arguing over phrasing, like the part that mentions the "lifetime" membership, but that arguing really brings us back to the central issue, which is that a MetaFilter account is being sold here at a 600% markup. You can call the other $25 of the price a donation, sure, but on MetaFilter, donations are non-mandatory, completely voluntary, and don't come at a set value. Some people pay less than $5 a month, others more. The number is entirely arbitrary, and "discounting" based on a $60/year suggested donation makes no sense either.

I'll risk continuing my streak of "would-be slam-dunk" suggestions, and say that the wording you want is something involving a "pledge", like "lifetime account plus a $5/month pledge, here discounted to $2.50". That still doesn't make sense, and you could woo-woo your way around that by just using the phrase "monthly pledge", but the current phrasing, which is
Recognition as a supporting member, with lifetime right to post and ask questions and no ads.
still doesn't address the fact that $25 of your $30 are going to a donation which wouldn't be necessary for the "lifetime right" mentioned. If you don't make that explicit, then this is still a scam.

Maybe "A good-for-life user account, plus a generous monthly contribution to keeping the site up and running", or something of the sort. But at the end of the day, the fundamental problem here is that MetaFilter doesn't fit well into the nature of a "bundle", and is gonna seem like a dishonest participant unless you cut the $30 down to $2.50.

Which is another reason why people are talking about MetaFilter's profit strategy, IMO — explaining why MetaFilter makes no sense as part of a bundle takes us directly to the question of "Well, how does the site want to go about making money, and what models exist to support that kind of thing?" This mixture of one-time fee plus ads plus donations is weird and has proven itself to be unreliable, which is why people are worriedly asking about whether maybe there's a way to guarantee more site stability.
posted by rorgy at 9:05 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


They've shaken out more critically than any of us expected, that much is pretty well-established.

It's almost like you're new here.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:08 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I mostly hang out on that blue part of the site, did you see the thing about that old 80s sitcom with the long intro? A Lot Of Cooks, or something like that?
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:13 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is a really weird small edge-case question, but:

I assume that if people are getting a mefi membership as part of a bundle, they'd be less likely to be as engaged with site guidelines as someone who ponied up $5 because they'd been lurking for a while. Let's say one of the new bundle members posts a self-link as soon as they get their membership.

(I'm assuming they're not bad people, just maybe they primarily signed up for The Toast or something, and didn't read the mefi guidelines in the same way most of us don't read EULAs)

As I understand it, when spammers sign up just to self-link, they get immediately banned and get their $5 back. In the situation above, would the bundle-member be banned? If so, would they get $5 back? Would they get $30 back?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:15 AM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


languagehat: "not a political debate where each side tries to mischaracterize the other in the most damning possible way."

Like, for example, repeatedly calling this a "scam"?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:18 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Like, for example, repeatedly calling this a "scam"?

It's obvious that no one involved is trying to intentionally defraud people, but yes, the marketing language as it currently stands is totally deceptive and, in some places, outright false.
posted by posyblue at 9:25 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


The original logic about Paypal vs. Amazon seems.... a bit weird.

As far as I understand it:
1. We wanted a way for folks to be able to donate without using Paypal
2. Our experiments with Amazon Payments were a train wreck, so we didn't pursue that avenue. 99% of donations to MetaFilter come from Paypal, with a few paper checks and other online donation sources.
3. We decided to bundle with this group because it offered a way for people to donate to MeFi without Paypal, and they had the Amazon Payments system all organized.
4. Now people can donate to Mefi by paying $96 for this bundle, when only $30 of that goes to MetaFilter!

What is the number of folks who would (a) WANT to donate to MetaFilter, (b) NOT be willing to use Paypal or a paper check, and (c) WANT to pay $96 for a bunch of stuff, just so that MetaFilter can get $30 of that? It has to be a vanishingly small number for this amount of time and energy.

So...if this isn't really a route for current members to donate to Metafilter, then it must be about marketing to new members. It's a bit hard to imagine that tons of folks who get accounts via this route would then translate into ongoing supporters. Maybe, a few?

All in all, it comes across as "wheeeeee! let's try this!!!" and less fully-thought out approach to funding, membership and long-term financial strategy.

I completely understand why opening the books isn't a realistic or viable approach, but consider where that desire comes from. The desire to know more behind the scenes is about believing in a systemic plan to support and maintain the site (including staff and overhead etc.) A random one-off promo deal like this just appears to be "let's see if we can get some extra bucks!!" and less "this fits into our strategy for developing sustainable financial support over the next three years."
posted by barnone at 9:26 AM on November 20, 2014 [12 favorites]


Constructive suggestion. It may be difficult or non-trivial to get the wording changed satisfactory on the good bundle website. But changing the wording on the MetaFilter site should be easy?

As a non-member, on here it's still:

The current sign-up fee is $5 and is the only cost associated with using the site.

And on here it's still:

...all new users have a one-time $5 charge, to help defray these costs.

Could these, and any other places on the MetaFilter site be changed or updated to highlight donations more and align what they say - and the figures - more closely to the bundle? Dunno what; maybe something like:

$5 one-off fee and a suggested donation (if affordable) of $5 a month ongoing

Differentiating between fee and donation feels important, and also mentioning "affordable" to acknowledge that if you can't stump up five bucks every month then it's cool and you still join and fully participate for the 5 bucks one-off.

(that's just a suggested text, and it's clunky yes and someone else can and will word it better than I can)
posted by Wordshore at 9:33 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Can I just send matt an Amazon giftcard redeemable for a boat? I just love the idea of him boating around freeing people from Iranian prisons.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:34 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think some users consider their cash outlay to Metafilter an outright gift and some a quid pro quo. There've never been shared expectations about it and damn little individual self-examination about it either. I think it's a rift potentially fatal to Mefi as community.
posted by klarck at 9:37 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


cortex: "even finding out that something doesn't work or doesn't sit right is finding out something, which is useful."

Yes, but the experiment is flawed if you didn't invest the time to perform it correctly. What we've "learned" is that a bundle put together quickly by non-staff with copy that matt didn't write himself or read carefully is not very popular. I don't know if that's very insightful.

rorgy: "This mixture of one-time fee plus ads plus donations is weird and has proven itself to be unreliable"

I think a lot of people are assuming that this bundle is a reaction to ads + donations not working very well, and I don't think that's very clear:

mathowie: "The Good Web Bundle uses Amazon Payments and one of the main reasons for joining MeFi to it was to allow us to take non-PayPal donations for so many people that asked previously."

mathowie: "I didn't see this as another big donation push, but rather a way offer a non-PayPal option (we get 2-3 emails a week asking us how to avoid PayPal and still support the site). It being time-limited and done near the holiday period seemed appropriate, in case anyone missed the first request for support back in May."

mathowie: "The impromptu fundraiser helped out a great deal earlier this year and I need to keep experimenting to find new ways to make it work for the community. I honestly saw joining this group of sites as offering up another avenue to those looking to support not just MeFi but other independent spaces trying to make it in a tough market."

mathowie: "That all said, the campaign is pitched at a wider audience and doesn't really include anyone that has donated to MeFi already, it's pretty much an experiment to get different people that might like the other sites to take a look, and since it was a pre-built thing it only took me saying yes to give it a try I figured I might as well try it."
posted by yaymukund at 9:38 AM on November 20, 2014


I honestly can't believe you're trying to pass off sponsored posts as a great idea in a community setting.

Yeah, this. Particularly in the context of people complaining -- legitimately, IMO -- that the wording on the bundle is misleading. The whole fucking point of sponsored posts, just like with advertorial in print, is to mislead!
posted by asterix at 10:03 AM on November 20, 2014


whole fucking point of sponsored posts . . . is to mislead

Not necessarily. I'm not saying that sponsored posts are a good idea for Metafilter (though I'm not sure they're not, either) - but the ideal sponsored post fits the site well enough that it's intriguing / interesting to the readers, and thus doesn't need to pretend to be non-sponsored content. I know that some Mefites (including me!) have clicked on the Deck ads at time - not because we didn't realize they were ads, but because they offered something interesting.

An example would be on a local restaurant blog - the sponsored post could say, hey guys, XYZ is a new restaurant that's paying us to mention it - it is located here and it serves this type of food. check out XYZ's menu on their website! That kind of post could be valuable for the advertiser (because people who read restaurant blogs are now aware of XYZ), and nice for the readers too (hey, now I know about a new restaurant - if I'm interested I can check it out).
posted by insectosaurus at 10:44 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


A dark piece of me is curious about the unholy hell-MeTa thread that would be unleashed after sponsored posts went live. It's amusing that some are speculating that sponsored posts would be less controversial than the bad wording of the bundle thing.
posted by Think_Long at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2014 [12 favorites]


Oh, I'm not going to argue that advertising is evil or anything like that! Being made aware of new products/services/whatever is valuable. But there's a big difference from Deck ads, which don't look like anything else on the site, and sponsored content, which is designed to mimic the look and feel of non-sponsored content as closely as possible while still providing plausible deniability.
posted by asterix at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2014


I am with rorgy, jessamyn, and the other dissenters on a lot of this. I clicked on the Good Web Bundle link in the banner and got thoroughly confused with the wording (and this was just now, after the first edit).

Why is a membership being originally valued at $60?
Why does it make it sound like there is a difference between a yearly membership and a lifetime membership?
Why does it sound like regular members don't get as much opportunity to post and comment?

I could see this thing work for something like Autostraddle, which has a tiered membership - so for example, you could pay a Bronze membership price to get Silver membership, which gives you more access to stuff. But for Mefi, where the only perk to donating is a line on your profile AND there is no price differentiation? Makes no sense.

This is so scammy scam scam that if I was not already a Mefite I would be complaining about this on social media. And (even though I'm slightly miffed that I have to say this upfront) I mean no disrepect towards Matt and co, and appreciate that this came with good intentions, so much of this feels so wrong that it's making me question the rest of the site.
posted by divabat at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


Sponsored posts seem antithetical to what we aim for on the front page here. "No self-links unless you pay extra for the privilege"? I'm aghast to see that idea being seriously floated by anybody, especially its being presented as a contrast to objectionable misleadingness.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:00 AM on November 20, 2014 [28 favorites]


the ideal sponsored post fits the site well enough that it's intriguing / interesting to the readers

MeFi Blue?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:01 AM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


I trust almost nothing on the web. I let my guard down on MeFi, because I see how strenuously the Mods work to keep this a place where things are said more because people believe and experience them, not because it will earn them money. If I have to start looking for the sponsor message I can't trust it in the same way.

MetaFilter is my home on the web. You might not feel the same way I do about it and that's all right. But sponsored content would end that for me. I'm strongly against it.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:03 AM on November 20, 2014 [11 favorites]


The bundle framing is an incoherent hot mess. I think a takeaway here should be that sometimes you might be afraid to let the cat out of the bag, but even so if you do so, you might be able to solve the bagged kitten's incipient physiological malformation in time to correct it before the resulting adult cat suffers for inaction later.

Sponsored ad posts might be more coherent, but would also be even hotter and messier.
posted by Drastic at 11:03 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


My ideal mefi would have sponsored posts with the caveat that all sponsored post comment sections are 100% unmoderated and image-tag-enabled.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:05 AM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


This is so scammy scam scam that if I was not already a Mefite I would be complaining about this on social media.

That seems a little harsh. I think the problem here is attempting to reduce the irreducible complexity of multiple member financial support models into a punchy little bullet point each. There are ways to make it clearer without completely demolishing the PowerPointy succinctness angle, which usually involve rollovers. Speaking only for MeFi's, it could say "Lifetime membership + ongoing support", and a rollover or collapsing panel or some such could produce a paragraph laying out what that means.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:07 AM on November 20, 2014


Sponsored posts are, yeah, antithetical is the word. I'll be more moderate on the subject than I personally am for the purpose of this sentence and say that the fundamental concept of sponsored content is not necessarily horrid, but it would be particularly and specifically horrid on Metafilter. The express purpose of sponsored content as it is done elsewhere on the web is to facilitate precisely what Metafilter's oldest and firmest posting rule prohibits. "Yes, but $$$" is not a good argument for going down that road.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:11 AM on November 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


George_Spiggott: It may seem harsh, but it's an honest reaction. Social media has been super helpful to deconstruct and examine things that seem like a good idea in the surface but are actually really problematic (see: Ello's lack of privacy features until very recently). Though I slightly regret saying that mostly because I am now actually considering talking about this on my social media feeds, more with the aim of trying to find better solutions rather than Take Down Metafilter, so I've probably painted myself into a corner.
posted by divabat at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2014


no, i think demanding that mathowie change the way he's set up his business or show the room his financials is grossly entitled.

If you are asking for donations, it is both reasonable and expected that there be something outlining exactly where those donations are going. That's how every reputable donation scheme works.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:21 AM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


Not to belabor this, but a scam implies intentionally ripping off someone, acting in total bad faith. That's not the case here. I'm not saying the bundle is not misleading, I'm not saying it's not a bad idea, but I am saying that scam means that Matt explicitly set out to essentially, steal people's money. Which is the opposite of what you stated ("I mean no disrepect towards Matt and co, and appreciate that this came with good intentions"). So, I wish people would stop using that term.

so much of this feels so wrong that it's making me question the rest of the site.


divabat, could you please expand on this? Just unclear what exactly you are questioning.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:23 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I say 'scam' because it does feel like a ripoff: why would I want to pay anything more than $5 for the same features I could get at $5? And I recognise that I am probably on the 'lucky' side of the ripoff (in that I got the $5 price), but that just makes me feel...off, I guess. I'm not sure how else to phrase it other than it feels wrong.

The 'question the rest of the site' kind of echoes some of what the other comments are saying: if I had signed up for Mefi via this bundle, and then realised that I could have gotten the exact same thing for $5, what else is the site promising that isn't actually true? They're asking me for donations - but what if the donations are not going to support the site as they claimed? And so on. Even now as a long-time Mefite i'm having trouble trusting Matt now on anything to do with the site, because I'm concerned that this is the start of a larger pattern.
posted by divabat at 11:31 AM on November 20, 2014


Just as a heads-up: I've already requested changing all the MeFi language to the clearer descriptions that were mentioned earlier. Also, Anil and co. are currently reworking all the wording to make it clearer this is a way to support sites and apps you might like without sounding like half price donations. I suspect in about 24hrs it'll be a lot less sketchy sounding and be more in line with what I originally wanted to sign on for.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:34 AM on November 20, 2014 [21 favorites]


[…] as an experiment I think it's worth doing and exploring ideas for helping people turn "I like neat stuff on the web" into "I directly support things on the web" […]

When I saw this go up, I thought, "Huh, interesting. I wonder if it'll catch on."

I run a website that gets no where near the traffic metafilter does, and I used to struggle to make it see black. I ran some google ads, but that netted me $50 a year and required me to curate the shit I objected to (Sarah Palin political ads and "One neat trick to eliminate belly fat!"). I tried memberships, but they required too much of my time to moderate the comments. I tried selling ads on eBay and directly, and that worked to an extent, but then I was spending my time being an ad sales guy and worrying about if I was over or under charging. I tried some minor merchandising to no success. Crowdfunding would have maybe worked, but isn't predictable and kinda sucked the fun out the one time I tried it (I also failed to deliver because of this reason). I tried annual fundraisers, but I'd get a tiny amount from strangers then big chunks from people I didn't think should be financially supporting me because they were already contributors in some manner.

At one point I was looking at actual real corporate sponsorship, but then I got to worrying about that affecting my content creation. Would I still be as likely to make a fart joke knowing it might cost me my ads?

Basically, I tried everything I could think of and failed, so I stopped producing content.

The irony here is I was also fairly transparent where my costs were. I broke down every expense for people. I'd get countless and polite emails from people telling me I needed to move to cheaper hosting (not my largest expense). Or that I needed to change how the site operated. "If you sent email instead of mail you would save $150 a year!" Sure, but that's not what the site is. That might be a great idea for some other site, but not mine. For every line item expense I noted I'd get at least one email telling me how I could do that cheaper, so a lot of my time was spent replying to these people and explaining why I was doing it the way I was (there's only so many hours in a day). The problem was never on the expense side anyway. It was on the revenue.

I just wasn't making enough to keep wanting to do it.

I was only trying to break even, not stay financially viable and support a family and staff, so I can see how casting about for new experiments to make money makes sense. From a purely selfish perspective I was hoping this model would have been more embraced.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:36 AM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


I started this thread interested in a new method of helping the site and maybe becoming involved in some other things that the mods (whose opinions I respect) like. Seemed promising, but I now see that it's actually a pretty badly constructed bundle.

I'm starting to feel that there are some serious issues below the surface of the business model that need to be addressed. (It also seems like there are tensions between jessamyn and the active mods that should be resolved somewhere other than Metatalk.)

There's a lot about this site that I love, and there are things about it that annoy me and bring out bad things in people. But the business side really shouldn't be getting called out in Metatalk unless you want our help running it. I don't think you do.

That said, you've been asking for our help in various smaller ways for a while now. This place is the best run community website in the world, but precisely because it's such an odd and sui generis venture, it's not clear whether it's the best run business. (And it's okay for those to diverge and for community development to be a different skill than managing employees to be a different skill from generating revenue.) So maybe, too, there's a need for something like an advisory board to mediate between the people who aren't merely users and yet aren't mods or programmers or owners.

One of my jobs involves running a small non-profit and I find my board of directors is a great help when it comes to advice. Of course a for-profit corporation must have a board too, but it's usually pro forma. Perhaps it's time to elevate some folks you trust to a more active position either within your corporate governance structure or in some parallel structure. You already have a great group of advisors and programmers and moderators, it just seems like they need to be empowered to participate in decision-making in a different way.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:00 PM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's disappointing that the roll-out for this has been so bollocksed, because regardless of what it means for the revenue streams, I do see a lot of value in like-minded communities federating in this way. I have no interest in the other sites other than The Toast, so I don't think the bundling would appeal to me directly, but as a means of bringing in contributors from other communities, I think it's a great idea.

At the same time, it's really hard to assess good vs. bad faith here. mathowie's obviously built up an enormous reservoir of good will around here, but the misleading copy isn't misleading in an "oops" way, it's misleading in a marketingspeak "we want to sell you something worth X and make you think you got it for Y where Y < X" type way. Is it possible it was just an innocent mistake? Sure, but with this many smart people being part of it, it's really shocking that none of them would be aware of how transparently duplicitous the wording was.

I'm with jessamyn and the others who've suggested giving the non-profit approach another look. It's not that MeFi can't continue to be awesome and profitable and bring in enough revenue to keep the servers running, but there's definitely tension between these goals. If it must run as a for-profit, then the donation appeals are going to get more difficult and less productive, because people are right wonder if all the money's being used in the most optimal way to ensure the continuity of the community. Not saying it can't be done -- after all, the only reason we're at this point is because of some rather unpredictable changes to how Google pays out ad revenue -- but it is going to be an uphill battle.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:04 PM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


anotherpanacea: (It also seems like there are tensions between jessamyn and the active mods that should be resolved somewhere other than Metatalk.)

Why? She's not been shy about giving unvarnished opinions here since her retirement, and as far as I can tell, neither mathowie nor any of the other mods has had a problem with her doing so.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:06 PM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


jessamyn's never been shy about giving unvarnished opinions period, or so it seems, which is a good thing. Beyond that I don't wish to speak for her.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:08 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm glad the wording is getting changed. Given the disparity of costs, it seems like a Mefi account is the swag part of the bundle-- that someone interested in premium memberships at ThinkUp and Newsblur is more likely to take advantage of the deal, and that someone might also be interested in a Metafilter account. The cost to participate in Metafilter is extremely well labeled on Metafilter and referenced in basically every thread-- I don't think anyone is going to be misled (with the updated language) who has taken more than a cursory glance at Metafilter itself, and someone looking closely at this bundle will undoubtedly come across this thread and the one on The Toast. I personally think the price point is a little high because most of the expensive things in the bundle are not things I would use, but I think it's an interesting idea at least. I don't mistrust Metafilter or the Toast any more now than I did last week, and I hope they get at least a little money from this.


On the other hand I hate sponsored posts with an absolute fiery and burning passion; they're usually poorly written, irritatingly slang-y, and useless. (And they usually have comments blocked!) I can seriously think of few revenue streams I would rather see on Metafilter and which would be more antithetical to Metafilter as community, so I'm glad to see that is not an idea being considered.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:08 PM on November 20, 2014


I wonder if there is a way to monetize the Projects page. Pay to post something up there, but your payment doesn't include access to making FPPs or comments. Not sure how you'd negotiate the crosspost-to-the-Blue thing, my instinct is to block that option for paid Project listings, but then the incentive to post to Projects is a little lost.
posted by divabat at 12:13 PM on November 20, 2014




Projects sees too few posts the way it is.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:22 PM on November 20, 2014


It also seems like there are tensions between jessamyn and the active mods that should be resolved somewhere other than Metatalk.

Just normal different-people-are-different stuff from my vantage point. I think I've been up front about my concerns. mathowie and cortex and I talk every month on the podcast and we get along great. I've always been sort of pushy about clarity of action and clarity of words being the best way forward for a community site. I didn't think that this idea was a good example of that for a few reasons that I found troubling and I said so.

I think there are larger philosophical differences of management style that mathowie and I have and I don't think those are a secret but neither are they things that I passively aggressively gripe about on the site. I've been supportive of MeFi in word and deed since I stopped working here but that doesn't mean I like everything about the place. No one does. No one should.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 1:22 PM on November 20, 2014 [35 favorites]


I don't think there's any bad faith here. Matt often comes across as a bit of a naïf, and this is in line with that. I see no reason to mistrust this site as a result.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:30 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah that's true, it does seem more like naivety than anything intentionally malicious. As a longtime user I'm more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I can see how someone who's not familiar with Mefi would be more suspicious.

Looking forward to the rewritten copy soon. It's a super interesting idea, though I agree that the intentions can be a bit muddled.
posted by divabat at 1:43 PM on November 20, 2014


Jessamyn: "I think there are larger philosophical differences of management style that mathowie and I have and I don't think those are a secret but neither are they things that I passively aggressively gripe about on the site."

You don't manage communities, you serve them.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:27 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I went for a run to clear my head - cripes, it is cold - and I think I agree with the recent tenor of the thread. Matt not infrequently makes a decision that he is then surprised to find people gripe about. Part of that is just people are people, but part of it is Matt.

He's earned that enormous reservoir of goodwill, but sometimes I think he doesn't kind view the site from the same vantage point as the userbase. Some of that is he sees every crappy comment, and has to deal with payroll and schedules and all of that nonsense, but I am coming to the around to the view that a mechanism for him to get more formal feedback before decisions.

Even if Metafilter does not go down the road of non-profit status -- although it seems worth exploring again -- maybe there could be a formal board of user representatives to review and provide input on major site changes prior to rollout. I think the other mods provide a bit of this, but it can be hard to provide serious pushback on your employer. Similarly, the board could periodically report out to the userbase on the State of Metafilter. We could avoid broadcasting everyone's salary and idiotic arguments ("You spent HOW much on a new chair?!?!?"), but still be able to broadly say, "Donations are going to these categories in these rough amounts; we should be able to add a part-time mod if current trends hold." Something like that.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:33 PM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


sgt.serenity: "You don't manage communities, you serve them."

I think she meant managing his company and his staff of employees.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:33 PM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think she meant managing his company and his staff of employees.

I like melody beattie, who here likes melody beattie ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:37 PM on November 20, 2014


You're doing that being-weird-and-rude thing again, sgt.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:06 PM on November 20, 2014 [21 favorites]


FYI, the bundle has been linked on Daring Fireball.
posted by immlass at 7:26 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the chickens and the pigs. A few chickens want more say than their commitment level merits. I don't support the idea of moving to a non-profit model. The current setup works and provides far more stability. Matt has proven over a decade plus that he isn't selling out, isn't leaving the site to stagnate, and is staying true to the original purpose of the site. There is no shortage of non-profit boards run by busy body chickens making a mess of things. A more open governance model provides no guarantee of improvement and a high risk it would be a disaster.
posted by stp123 at 8:45 PM on November 20, 2014 [13 favorites]


Except part of MetaFilter's appeal is that the site's owner and staff have historically reached out to the community to request escalations of commitment to the site in various ways, whether it's soliciting advice on site design/features, financial donations to compensate for lost ad revenue, and now this new effort involving some other unrelated sites. None of us are making as much of a commitment to MetaFilter as the staff of course, but none of us draws a paycheck either. We put in our attention and our dollars (with some of that attention being converted into dollars). Some of those dollars keep the site running so we can get enjoyment out, and others pay a fair salary to the staff members. I don't doubt those staff members could earn more elsewhere, but I would imagine they also derive enjoyment from their affiliation with the site that helps make up much of that difference.

In the "Google hates MeFi" fundraising appeal thread earlier this year, I read several folks talking about how they didn't have a lot of spare cash, but were going to cut some of their other bills so they could redirect some shekels to MeFi. I've seen people write very long comments discussing nuances of various changes to the site design, behavior, and moderation policies, and becoming passionately attached to those ideas in ways that reflect a connection to the site that goes well beyond their own interaction with it. These things may pale in comparison to what the staff has to do day in and day out, but I don't know that the strength of the personal connection to the site is any less.

I guess what I'm saying is that if the site disappeared tomorrow, I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that many of the folks you're calling "chickens" would feel like they'd lost a leg or a thigh, not just an egg.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:13 PM on November 20, 2014 [12 favorites]


This reminds me of the chickens and the pigs.

What a stupid, bass-ackwards fable. The chicken has to lay egg after egg after egg, every day for most of her life. All the pig has to do is sit around and wait his turn. I'd much rather be the pig, frankly.

(The preceding is not to be taken as an allegorical commentary on the topic at hand. I just don't like that fable.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:28 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


The topic has been laid to rest already I guess, but I'm still going to say that sponsored posts is the worst, most out of touch suggestion of this entire thread and I will immedately cancel my monthly support the moment I see one on MeFi.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:32 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Laying eggs doesn't guarantee you a say in what is a life or death matter for the pig. One is contributing, the other is committed. Nothing in the fable talks about the rest of their lives, you're adding that in yourself and completely missing the point.
posted by stp123 at 9:34 PM on November 20, 2014


This has been very interesting and not a little harrowing to read.

As a bunch of people have said upthread, website funding is a hard and weird thing, when you're trying to run something that is, for lack of better words, good and independent and communitarian and if not non-profit, at least not created and run strictly to make a buck, but out of love.

I just recently wrapped up a once-every-couple of years donation drive over at MefightClub. In the past (once I got pushed, a bit like Matt more recently, by users who loved the place to do it) I would run a drive, people would donate, and that money would go towards expenses until it ran out, and then (this month was the third time in 7 years, I think) we'd do it again. In terms of raw dollars, the second round of donations got about half the first one, and this time, a little more than half of that. Which is slightly worrisome, I guess, because the site continues to grow (even if it's only up to about 3200 accounts at this point, a fraction of MeFi's size). But this was the first time Patreon was an option, and recurring 'subscriptions' became a thing to do, and that's changed the calculus a lot, so the lump sum isn't such a worry. We've got plenty of money for server/fees/domain stuff as of this point, as long as the single-digit handful of kind people who did subscribe don't drop their subscriptions. Still not sure how that's going to work out, but hopefully all will be good. Having enough money come in to just keep the sites running is just fine with me -- if I could make a living from it, hell, that would be fantastic, but I'm not holding my breath.

MFC sites are 100% user-supported, and I don't run any advertising, unlike MeFi itself, and I've agonized over and over again over the years about whether to run ads or not, suffered horrible bouts of imposter syndrome when I even considered the idea of trying to monetize to the point where any money coming in would actually end up in my pocket, even flirted with the idea of building a gaming-specific high-quality vertical ad network modeled on The Deck (Jim Coudal, who started The Deck, has mused a few times over the years in interviews and stuff about why there haven't been more vertical, industry-specific versions of The Deck appearing, something I took to heart), but unable to find someone I felt right about partnering up with who could help me out with it.

I really like the idea of this bundle-thing, in principle, even if it seems like implementation has been a bit rocky. I'd love to see (hell, love to build, if I had the coding chops), like cortex alluded to upthread, a bundle site for supporting Good Websites like MLKSHK and MeFi (and yes, MefightClub) modelled very much on the Humble Bundle (or at least back when it was a bit more humble than it has become), where you could kick in, adjust sliders to allocate your money to exactly where you want it to go, and know exactly what (if anything other than warm fuzzies) you're getting for it. I think implemented correctly (and who knows, maybe this Good Web Bundle effort of Anil and Gina et al's will become that), it could be as great a thing for indie, sole-proprietor, cool web sites.

But yeah, anyway. Money is hard and weird, and I sympathize a lot with Matt here at the same time as I do agree with folks that he should maybe have paid more attention to the messaging.

I very much don't want to come off here as trying somehow to stealth-insert a plea for donations to MFC -- we're all good for the moment, at literal orders of magnitude smaller scales than MeFi itself. But this thread -- and I thank folks here for talking about these issues at length, because I'm always trying to triangulate and navigate around these issues myself -- has hit very close to home for me, as someone dealing with similar issues to Matt's, and trying, like him, to find ways to keep off the rocks without selling my soul (or renting it, at least).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:47 PM on November 20, 2014 [16 favorites]


None of us are making as much of a commitment to MetaFilter as the staff of course, but none of us draws a paycheck either.

You're making it sound like the paychecks are a benefit for Metafilter's staff, but that's exactly why they're the pig in this metaphor: they literally lose their livelihoods if the site shuts down tomorrow. While it might hurt us as users if the site shut down (and believe me, it would hurt me a lot! god only knows what I'd do with all that spare time), we still wouldn't have to worry about being unable to pay our rents or mortgages. Regardless of how much we value the site and contribute, that's why we're still the chicken in this metaphor.

I don't doubt those staff members could earn more elsewhere, but I would imagine they also derive enjoyment from their affiliation with the site that helps make up much of that difference.

I don't want anyone employed by MeFi to have to accept "enjoyment" as even partial compensation. I want them to be fairly paid for their amazing work and I want it to provide a comfortable living on par with the incredible value they provide to me and to the web as a whole. I've bristled several times in this thread at implications that Matt or anyone else is living high on the hog off of Metafilter - everyone working for the site deserves to be doing well. It matters a lot to me that we do right by the staff here, and I'm glad we now have the ability contribute so that everyone employed here can continue to make a decent living. The value they provide is far beyond what they get back; Ask Metafilter alone is a near-priceless resource.

I agree that the bundle was probably ill-conceived and that the wording needed to be changed, and even that the wording is still rather misleading as written. But I think some of us are going a little too far with the sweeping criticism of the site's finances and management right now. If we need to have a big community discussion about whether our contributions to the site are donations or what, or how it makes sense to donate to a private business, or whether a nonprofit model could be successful and still work with Matt's personal goals for the site, or even whether we need to take sponsored posts (nooooooo! Rory, WHY), we should do that in a dedicated thread instead of turning this one misstep into a sweeping indictment of the site's financial issues and jumping off from there. Certainly those are important things to discuss, but this framing isn't right at all for the productive conversations those issues deserve.
posted by dialetheia at 10:17 PM on November 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


You're making it sound like the paychecks are a benefit for Metafilter's staff, but that's exactly why they're the pig in this metaphor: they literally lose their livelihoods if the site shuts down tomorrow.

I never disputed the fact that they're the pigs (for the purposes of the fable analogy), what I'm saying is that many members are more committed than the average chicken. I wasn't at all trying to downplay the staff's greater commitment.

I don't want anyone employed by MeFi to have to accept "enjoyment" as even partial compensation.

I dunno, I think everyone factors how much they enjoy a job into their employment decisions. I know I could make significantly more money at other employers in my industry, but choose to stay where I am because I enjoy the work. All I was saying is that, from what I can tell, the staff here seems to enjoy what they're doing in many of the same ways that members enjoy participating. Again, I think you're reading more malice into my comment than was intended by suggesting that I somehow think the staff should be working for less or something.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:27 PM on November 20, 2014


Honestly I think moving towards a nonprofit model is probably the way to go. 'Directed anarchy,' if that makes sense; Matt still at the helm with the team, but safeguards build in as a continuation-of-service model. Perhaps with specific (I assume this is planned JIC) succession planning laid out.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:30 PM on November 20, 2014


Again, I think you're reading more malice into my comment than was intended by suggesting that I somehow think the staff should be working for less or something.

It's the context. I think bringing that sort of thing up in the context of a single advertising misstep is much more pointed than it would be in a thread about Metafilter's overall financial management. The bundle thing is a really poor jumping off point for the more general discussion of what we want MeFi to be, and especially the discussion about what we think people ought to be paid or whether Matt should turn the company that provides his livelihood into a nonprofit. Saying this stuff in the context of "you screwed up this ad, and also I think your company isn't being managed right" (not that you were personally saying that, but it's been said in as many words more than a few times in this thread) is just terrible framing. If we want to talk about whether we're comfortable donating to a privately held company, we should have that discussion outside of this "the bundle is a scam" context.
posted by dialetheia at 10:37 PM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


My intent with that comment was not to advance any particular viewpoint on how the site is or should be run, so I don't feel like it necessitated or deserved its own MeTa. For what it's worth, I certainly get way more than my monthly donation's worth of enjoyment out of the site, and so long as that's the case, I can't see any reason why I would stop giving, even if videos were released of mathowie swimming in a Scrooge McDuck money vault. 99.999% of the Internet is crap, so when something that comes along that's not, it's worth supporting.

That being said, since this bundle experiment is precisely what led a lot of people to think about these larger issues, I think trying to talk about them separately would be futile and counterproductive.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:58 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well this is MeTa and things tend to wander a bit afield.

So..

1) This bundle seems... perhaps not a scam, but hinkily advertised. This bundle wouldn't be necessary if money were a constant thing to rely on, but it isn't, and

2) MeFi's finances have been less than transparent, which wouldn't be a problem if

3) Matt hadn't asked (after, I want to make clear, outpouring from the community) for donations.

So these issues are all kind of linked.

If you are going to charge for a service, fine, charge for that service. Nobody is owed any information beyond what they are getting in return, and it's up to them to figure out if $X is worth what they are getting. And as discussed in the "MeFi's $$ is dying b/c Google" MeTa thread, there was a significant lag time between "oh shit we have a problem" and "we are telling the community there is a problem." Had that lag time been shorter, jessamyn might (I am guessing and do not know MeFi's internal financing) still be a moderator, for example.

If you are asking for a donation, it behooves you to tell people where that donation is going. Again, this is standard practice when asking for donations, and as we all learned with GiveWell, not saying what donations cover is on the hinky side of the spectrum.

The marketing-speak in the pitch as originally presented is also on the hinky end of the spectrum.

Discussing what Matt should do next seems to be a pretty logical follow-on from the initial discussion as raised here. Because what we--all of us, I think--want is to ensure MeFi continues to be around in the way that is beneficial for us. And it seems to me that means, maybe, taking it a little bit away from being Matt's personal project that puts food on his table because it has grown to be so much more than that. Which is not to say that it shouldn't continue to put food on his table! But perhaps it is to say that because it has grown so, it has grown beyond that specific concern into a place where people find love (jonmc comes to mind), and support (pretty much everyone asking something not about shopping on AskMe, to say nothing of Hoder), and community and belonging and acceptance.

Matt has created something that is really goddamn unique. A community full of thoughtful people who are fractious (raising my hand here) and smart and opinionated and passionate and diverse and loving (how many people here have offered sofas or cash or food or shoulders to cry on?) no matter what our differences.

In short, this place has changed over the years from "a cool place to read cool things and participate in some conversation of depth" to a village. Not everyone likes everyone. Not everyone agrees. But, as Mrs Doubtfire would say, "Where there's love, dear." And there is love here. This place has grown beyond a cool webblog project thing. It's grown beyond a forum that supports its creator. It's grown into a community. As such, we all have a vested interest in making sure it continues in that vein. This bundle is... not continuing in that vein. It's explicitly (Matt's words!) trying to entice new people to join. I am not saying we should draw up the ladder behind us, by any means, but let's think about how this community has grown: by people lurking (me, from about 2001 until joining in what, 2004ish?) and wanting to be part of it. By people being told "hey, I'm part of this amazing community of amazing people and you're an amazing person and I think you'd like it here." Not by "oh I saw this ad for this thing and signed up."

Matt, this is directly to you. Obviously, and I don't think I need to go into detail, you and I have had... let's say disagreements (aka me being an ass). But I have always, no matter what, respected (in thought if not in deed) this incredible, wonderful, amazing place that you have created. You made a misstep here. Everyone does that. It may be time to realize that the kid you birthed from your brain has grown up. There are two desires here, one from the community and one from you, that in the end are the same thing: no change. We don't want an influx of potential asshats, and you don't want to let go of the amazing thing you have created. But maybe it's time to let the bird fly from the nest. Maybe it's time to--while keeping a hand on the tiller--let go. Maybe it's time to consider that MeFi has become more than the sum of its parts. As reprehensible as he may be in some ways, perhaps there is some value in considering Jimbo's change of position w/r/t Wikipedia. There needs to be a guiding force (which he isn't), but there needs to be an acknowledgement that the project has grown. You can be that guide, because the community respects you, but maybe it's time to think about the idea that MetaFilter isn't your project anymore, and maybe it's time to hand it over to the community. You can't do this forever, and I can't but help thinking what your brain may come up with if MeFi isn't your major overriding purpose--and I would be interested to see what that is.

But at the end of the day, if you are asking people to give money, you do need to tell us where that money is going. If you are going to advertise the site, you need to do so in a really open manner--I won't belabour the points raised above.

Dunno about anyone else, but I want this place to continue. Maybe it's time to think about how that can truly happen.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:18 PM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]




Sounds like exactly like what MeFi could become, with additional revenue streams tacked on to what we've got already.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:45 PM on November 20, 2014


Like dialetheia, I feel the question of Mefi's management and finances is best discussed in a separate thread, otherwise we end up over-reacting to a single incident. That said, here are my thoughts ;)

I'd be concerned if Mefi were handed over to the community, or a management or executive board be put in place. Presumably the idea is that a board would provide Matt with a wider diversity of views that would include more of what the reading and commenting community want; or at an extreme, that board would set the direction (or could veto) of future Mefi development. So, for example, such a board might have nipped this Good Web Bundle in the bud - clearly a great thing for many commenters here!

Good things could come out of a new management structure - along with bad things. How do people get on this board? Elections? Lottery? Does Matt pick them? How do we ensure there's actually a good diversity? What if there's a split in the board that spills over?

What do we even want with Mefi anyway? Some people hated the redesign; some people loved it. Some people wanted Fanfare, others didn't really care. Some people think sponsored adverts are a wonderful way to make Mefi sustainable; others feel that would signal the beginning of the end of Mefi. Ditto with pro subscriptions.

As it happens, I personally would like to see a bit more transparency; I think that an expanded patronage or donation model would work best to increase Mefi's revenues in the long term. But I'm not absolutely sure, and I'm not an expert in funding online communities. I do think these steps should be taken with extreme care, and over a long period of time. The whole difficulty with figuring out Mefi's future lies in how different it is to other internet communities, few of which have made it to 15 years.
posted by adrianhon at 1:45 AM on November 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


...otherwise we end up over-reacting to a single incident...

Hmmm. But, it's not a single incident...

Up until last May, and partially because of this tweet from Matt a few months before, I was under the impression that MetaFilter was financially all tickety-boo and Matt and the mods were probably living in a time of unlimited cheese and finest tea in MetaFilter Towers.

And so the the "Um, yeah, we're kinda running out of money and have been for a long time, and there have been economies, and no cheese or tea for the mods for a while" event of last May utterly threw me, coupled with the news of Jessamyn going (which to be honest still upsets me a bit half a year on).

I donated in the drive - and am glad I did - but did feel a mixture of guilt, that the mods had been having to curate my ... contributions ... under increasingly stressful financial conditions for a while, and annoyance at Matt for not saying a year before. A mod - and Matt - and their families - has to eat, pay the bills, get medical care if they live in a country that doesn't have lovely socialist medical care. And even the most anti-capitalist of mods deserves proper tea, and not having to compromise with the cheap beverage offensively named "iced tea".

And so to this week and the misleading text on the bundle. I do not think Matt is a scammer, blowing all the donations on the latest tweed wear recommended in Hipster Cyclist Monthly. Heck, he doesn't even have a butler! And if he was a scammer then MetaFilter, or the user data, would have probably been sold off to some shady folk a long time back and we'd be getting odd letters saying we were all "now assets of RomneyCruz Hedge Fund Trust", or something. 15+ years on, these things have not happened.

But the financial text that went live and public on the bundle was misleading. Not slightly, but a lot.

And I'm kind of contemplating incidents where e.g. a new user puts a comment such as "Hey this place is great! I can't believe I only paid 30 bucks for this; what a deal!", while us five buck sign-upers sit and read it and feel awkward.

And, for not the first time this year, am thinking Matt is maybe not the most confident and clear and unambiguous person when it comes to talking the dollar. After two nights sleep on this I'd be more comfortable donating again, if another call came, if:

- there was a clearer understanding of what is Matt-money and what is MetaFilter-money
- there was a clearer notion of what and how much the MetaFilter money covered

But I really do not want to know what mod salaries and benefits are (I just want those to be good salaries and benefits), or Matts take (I just want him to be able to afford a non-grumpy garage door wifi that doesn't lock him out of his house at night), or what the tea expense fund in MetaFilter Towers adds up to, so long as all staff get chai, green and the best of this years crop.

Moving to a model where MetaFilter is a non-profit, or a co-operative, or other, may help with this clarity as a necessary by-product. And also increase donations from the userbase, so there is less reliance on e.g. bundles that, financially, don't look right.
posted by Wordshore at 3:11 AM on November 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry friends, but the worst possible thing that could happen -- the thing that would signal the death knell of Metafilter faster and more convincingly even than the utterly horrifyingly bad idea of sponsored posts -- would be to try to turn it into some kind of idealized non-profit, co-op, committee-driven circular firing squad wanktacular drum circle.

I mean come on, guys: have you never read a Metatalk thread? Like this one, even?

I realize it sounds like apologia for benevolent dictatorship, but you know, screw it: that's how things need to work sometimes, and that's just the way it is. Trust Matt or don't, and if you don't, don't throw him dollars and just read the site for free, or, hell: don't read the site at all.

But don't start talking about taking what has become his goddamn life's work away from him because you think it would be better run by committee, because: fuck that noise.

Fuck that noise.

We as members of the community, we make this place what it is. Without us, it is nothing. But mathowie, for better or worse, in his good decisions and bad, no matter what: he owns this house, he built it, and he paid others to decorate it, and we are guests.

But: we are the party, and without us, there is nothing. A community site without a community is a sad and all too common web joke. If a forum appears on the web but nobody posts in it, does it make a sound?

I'm interested in the human web, not so much in algorithms and scaling and big data. For me, at least, I'm not interested in attending a party without a host, and I'm not going to buy a bottle for a committee.

Turning the web manifestations of the passionate efforts of individuals into bland corporate entities is what we should be fighting against, I reckon, rather than suggesting as a way forward.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:43 AM on November 21, 2014 [54 favorites]


And even the most anti-capitalist of mods deserves proper tea

Proper tea is theft.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:09 AM on November 21, 2014 [16 favorites]


I realize it sounds like apologia for benevolent dictatorship, but you know, screw it: that's how things need to work sometimes, and that's just the way it is. Trust Matt or don't, and if you don't, don't throw him dollars and just read the site for free, or, hell: don't read the site at all.

I read somewhere recently that certain very important former members of Metafilter switched to Facebook for this very reason.

Or maybe it was because of the titles.

Anyway, it was very important.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:15 AM on November 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


And I'm kind of contemplating incidents where e.g. a new user puts a comment such as "Hey this place is great! I can't believe I only paid 30 bucks for this; what a deal!", while us five buck sign-upers sit and read it and feel awkward.

Did the original free group feel weird when the $5 noobs showed up? I scanned that thread, but the overall theme was "Wow I only paid $5!" and the tone was joyful at the influx of new people.

I pay what I feel MF is worth to me, and I don't worry about those who paid less (or nothing) or those who might pay more. I also expect that someone who's perusing this specific bundle is intelligent enough to check the prices on the individual sites and see the actual values. Caveat emptor, as the wise Mike Brady said.
posted by kimberussell at 4:29 AM on November 21, 2014


Or maybe it was because of the titles.

Let me speak plainly: if someone left MeFi because of titles on the front page (which, as I have mentioned in the past, I also absolutely loathe) then: to hell with them. It is trivially easy to use any of a wide array of client-side tools like Stylish or Greasemonkey to make MeFi or any other site look the way you want it to, and instructions on how to do sore in every thread about them. If you're dramatically wrist-to-forehead giving up a community you claim to love because of a minor structural change that you can trivially easily fix on your end of things, then I reckon you're just hankering for attention, and, you know: pffffffffff, son or daughter.

But I'm breaking one of my personal MeFi rules here and posting while drinking my Friday beers, so it's possible I've gone all quixote here and missed some irony in the comment shard I quoted, so time to bow out.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:31 AM on November 21, 2014 [10 favorites]


Just in case: my comment was not targeted at you, stavrosthewonderchicken, only springboarded from yours.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:49 AM on November 21, 2014


A lot of what people say above really misunderstands the structure of corporate governance both for-profit and non-profit, but whatever. This isn't really a fruitful discussion for *us* to have. Matt has accountants and lawyers and a lot of Internet entrepreneurs to guide him.

I just want to register my concern that all does not feel well in the state of our union. Call it a feature request: maybe pb can hack together a stable and sustainable institutional design while drinking his coffee this morning.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:30 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


i just like saying 'wanktacular drum circle'.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:46 AM on November 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


"I scanned that thread, but the overall theme was "Wow I only paid $5!" and the tone was joyful at the influx of new people."

I always considered the $5 signup more a of CAPTCHA than any sort of payment/donation/gift/fee.
posted by klarck at 5:52 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I considered the board idea less, "Matt has to get all of his actions approved upfront" and more "how about kicking ideas around a bit before rolling them out."

In the party analogy - it's Matt's house, and Matt's party, but if Matt comes up with one of those hilarious-after-six-beers ideas, maybe just check around, see what other people think.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:13 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


So we're saying we want a cabal now?
posted by empath at 6:29 AM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Good lord. Just came to this thread and...good lord.

Matt, after the huge outpouring of support you got back in May after you announced the firings, you *still* couldn't believe enough in your membership to do a fundraising drive without linking your fate to a bunch of sites almost none of your members use regularly?

What the hell? Who suggested that to you? And why did you believe it?

All you needed to do - ALL you needed to do - was put a banner up during the month of December asking folks to help the site get to 5,000 supporters before the end of the year. That would have a) reminded one-time donors like me (via check, which worked just fine for my Paypal-hating self) to re-up, and b) gotten new folks to join the party. A couple of cheap, fun incentives for numbers 4,000, 4,500 and 5,000 and - bam - you're done.

This? This is go-around-your-ass-twice-to-get-to-your-elbow crazed. It makes no sense, from either a fundraising or "let's help out other cool sites" perspective, and the fact that it was rolled out with such a tone-deaf and actively misleading presentation is a huge red flag that it's a fundamentally unhelpful idea.

Here's a good, helpful idea: Believe in your membership. Again.
posted by mediareport at 6:35 AM on November 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


MetaAnilfilter: go-around-your-ass-twice-to-get-to-your-elbow
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:13 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I feel like I should give a recap. The fundraising is still going great as-is on the site, but when the idea of this was presented to me, it was aimed at a larger audience (there's no reason to stop your existing donation and move to this unless you really hate paypal or checks). The other sites are mentioned often on MeFi (especially The Toast) and Ask MeFi (Newsblur & MLKSHK) that despite it being a weird mix of apps and sites, they were similar enough that if the odd person that liked 2-3 of them heard about it, they might chip in. It was also supposed to get press and end up in holiday gift guides for nerds in more mainstream places than online hangouts for nerds.

So I agreed, and showed it to the staff and I think everyone had an inkling that mixing apps and content sites and mixing donations and actual charges for apps was a bit weird but I think we all saw "oh that means for the suggested donation" and wrote it off as possibly confusing, but without intent, and I can totally see now it's misleading, and could be read as intentionally misleading in order to make more money, which is yeah, pretty gross.

Behind the scenes, Anil and company are listening and they've re-written all the copy and a better version of the message should go up today, and I'm sorry for it taking this long and for it coming across this way. (more in a bit)
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:32 AM on November 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: But don't start talking about taking what has become his goddamn life's work away from him because you think it would be better run by committee, because: fuck that noise.

Who is talking about taking anything away? At most, what I've read here has amounted to a polite suggestion that Matt take a fresh look at how setting the site up as a non-profit could help with the finances. It's kind of strange to describe that as some kind of hostile takeover attempt.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:48 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah... I wasn't suggesting the benevolent dictatorship should stop, just that maybe it needs a bit more structure, a few more people to serve as a reality check (FWIW yours was one of the names that popped into my head as being a good one, stavros), and a little more guarantee of long-term stability.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:02 AM on November 21, 2014


I love you all.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 8:04 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Turning a privately held company that you own into a non-profit really does constitute a very major change, and I think stavros' phrasing was perfectly appropriate for what people are suggesting. I'm kind of uncomfortable with how this thread has turned out, to be honest. I feel like people are really giving Matt very little benefit of the doubt, even though he's never once acted in bad faith with this community. Given the initial framing of the bundle issue, saying we need to become a nonprofit all of a sudden in this thread is basically arguing that this bundle thing is such a big deal that we don't trust him to run the site anymore. I don't agree with that and I think Matt has earned a lot more benefit of the doubt than that. In the context of this thread, you guys sound like you're voting "no confidence" in Matt, which I would argue is an overreaction that's more likely to harm Mefi than to help it.

If people want to talk about how a nonprofit structure would work, or how they would feel better supporting it, or if there is some other way we should be talking about "donations" to a private company, that's a good conversation and we should probably have it. But it shouldn't be a kneejerk overreaction to a single advertising misstep because that framing poisons the well. Not to mention that such a conversation should involve the whole community, and the group of people reading to the bottom of this thread is pretty self-selected to only be people who are still upset about the bundle so it's a terrible sample and not an inclusive conversation.
posted by dialetheia at 8:26 AM on November 21, 2014 [26 favorites]


My response was neither kneejerk nor all of a sudden, it's something I've been thinking about ever since the 'shit, Google screwed us' post.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the Good Web but we still put on a hell of a bundle now and then.
posted by Segundus at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2014


I got that you were aiming at new members with this, Matt, but I still have no idea why you'd focus on something "weird" like this instead of a renewed push for donations from the folks who use your site every day.

A twice-a-year membership drive - unobtrusive, as you always do - makes so much more sense as an area to put your efforts into than this bizarre strategy.

Please do another one, soon.
posted by mediareport at 8:34 AM on November 21, 2014


(sorry, back)

I wanted to cover the calls for more transparency above. MeFi is doing alright currently. We're making enough on ads and donations to cover expenses with about a 5-10% overage that goes into the bank. It's alright, but makes me slightly nervous and I'm always working on other ways to improve the situation. It has been better in the past, and I will admit that the new design actually did reduce our ad income a bit, because of the whole re-arranging of header/fonts/titles, and moving to a default white site. I have a dark-mode default test to run to see if my hunch that people are just better at banner blindness on white sites vs. non, but I suspect that's also part of the case. The donations help soften the blow and help us make up for those small losses in the change.

The Good Web Bundle isn't another big fundraising push, but it was joining something that was 90% baked and required very little effort on my part to try and get MeFi in front of a larger, different audience. I think behind the scenes the in-their-wildest-dreams goal was to get 1,000 backers though this, and my guess is it will fall quite a bit shorter than that. It's not a ton of money (MeFi's cut would be maybe 5% of annual operating expenses even at the 1k level) It's clear to me now that any act of asking for money needs to be done in a careful, serious way and not just joining a thing that is already happening to get some new audiences because it reflects poorly and looks like MeFi is in serious financial trouble when things aren't that dire.

There's also a very weird continuation of mixing messages by putting it up at the top of the page along with the MeFi Mall callout. I did it for the sake of convenience, we need to promote the MeFi Mall as well as say, hey there's a new fundraising option, but those are aimed at two completely different groups (hardcore users with the Mall, casual drive-bys on the bundle) and so the messages are getting crossed (we used to only show MeFi Mall mentions to members-only).

I see now how there's a bunch of little mistakes along the way, and now I see why a handful of people are questioning my leadership here, calling for boards for oversight or flat out asking me to take a break. What might appear like I've checked out and flailing is actually the opposite, but the end result is similar. For the first time since 2010 or so, I'm back to working ~40hrs a week moderating the site myself, along with doing all the new feature planning and development and upkeep, so in a sense I feel like I've got two full time jobs now, one watching the site, and the other is worrying and working on the site, so I'm stretched thin by having these two big jobs occupying my mind, and having less moderators less around means they're stretched thinner too, so in a sense a bunch of little mistakes turning into one giant misguided message or blunder is a natural result of being stretched (as well as if I was checked out and didn't appear to care about these things).

I need to figure out a way to remedy this, but at the very least, I'll try and do better to stop myself if anything coming down the pipe seems to have much more potential than it does for change or disruption to the status quo. I'll also be incredibly more careful about anything regarding fundraising in the future, and reserve it for times it seems necessary (like about once a year to remind everyone to keep donating) and be clear and as transparent as possible why we need the money, what we use it for, and where things stand afterwards.

So again, thanks for all the feedback, the bundle site should be substantially different later today reflecting your responses.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:49 AM on November 21, 2014 [59 favorites]


I see now how there's a bunch of little mistakes along the way, and now I see why a handful of people are questioning my leadership here, calling for boards for oversight or flat out asking me to take a break.

I thought that was kind of ridiculous. Its your site, man, do what you want. I just thought this particular thing was badly misjudged. In general, the site is awesome and you are awesome.
posted by empath at 8:55 AM on November 21, 2014 [14 favorites]


A twice-a-year membership drive - unobtrusive, as you always do - makes so much more sense

I would totally get behind this. I like membership drives philosophically more than just about anything else. It feels good to participate, it enhanses a sense of ownership/membership, and it is the most morally direct link connecting intentions between all participants and the feel-good response that comes from it.

PBS does this, wikipedia does this, and even in cases where I know I'm not going to participate, I don't feel weird at all about sites letting me know they have a need and they would like nothing more than to give people the opportunity to invest in something that has value and is really important to them.

I think an important part of a philosophy of fundraising is not to ever see it as an issue of begging or a weak organization , but as an opportunity for people to invest in something of value. It's a reciprocal benefit in which everyone wins.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:03 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


in a sense I feel like I've got two full time jobs now

I've found it can be helpful sometimes to phrase my life problems as an AskMe question and use the community's modeled response that I hear in my head as a jumping off point. I respect and appreciate that you feel like you have two full time jobs. And yet, this is a situation that is entirely within your control-sphere of things you can change. Not necessarily fix, but change. And I know it doesn't feel that way. And so the next question for yourself should be: why not? What are the pressure points that are making you feel like you have an eighty hour a week job and constant money worries? And what could be done to address that? And what options do you feel are "not an option"? Because if this visible disconnect is not addressed with confidence at your level, people will try to address it themselves which is what has been happening here.

These are rhetorical questions of course. I'm very sympathetic to where you are and where you've come from on your MetaFilter path. But if the end result is you seeming checked out, and you don't feel checked out, but you're acting checked out and making checked-out decisions, something should probably change. And you're the person who can decide what those changes are.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:04 AM on November 21, 2014 [39 favorites]


Yep, totally spot-on Jessamyn.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:06 AM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


jessamyn: "I've found it can be helpful sometimes to phrase my life problems as an AskMe question and use the community's modeled response that I hear in my head as a jumping off point. "

He shouldn't eat Metafilter?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:14 AM on November 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


I've found it can be helpful sometimes to phrase my life problems as an AskMe question and use the community's modeled response that I hear in my head as a jumping off point.

DTMFA?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:16 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think behind the scenes the in-their-wildest-dreams goal was to get 1,000 backers though this, and my guess is it will fall quite a bit shorter than that.

We'll see.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:18 AM on November 21, 2014


Therapy would be enough I think, let's not overreact.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:19 AM on November 21, 2014


I think it's totally OK for all of us to discuss stuff, but in the end this is 2% of the Metafilter experience, 98% rock hard. Don't let it get inside your head too much Matt.

And look into YNAB for the money-headache.
posted by mathiu at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2014


DTMFA?

That's actually a viable option. Look, if I had something that was supposed to be fun and it became nothing but work, well, I'd move on. Even work is supposed to be fun. If the reward/labor/stress ratio is out of whack it could be time to shutter the whole place and go work in a bike shop or something.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


How were the sites for the bundle decided on? Thoughts of adding more indie best of the web type places?

Because if so, MeFightClub.

[And stav,I know you weren't going there at all, but as soon as I saw Matt mentioning a bundle of sites, I thought of my personal dream bundle, and MeFightClub is definitely in there.]
posted by misha at 9:30 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Matt, all the best - I hear a lot of stress and worry, and get where you are coming from. But also know that you have a lot of supporters and thoughtful people on the site, and you don't have to do this all alone - I don't think you need to be totally open about everything, or create some type of oversight committee, but just pointing out that there are a lot of smart people around, some of whom you know well, who could act as a sounding board/reality check on things when needed. We're invested in the community too, and we want to see it do well, and see it presented properly.
posted by nubs at 9:35 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Metatalk provides some of the functions of a board of advisors. I appreciate having this space. Matt, you've had a lot of changes and stress in the last couple years, and it's probably disconcerting after having the site be much easier before the big Google change. I think it would have been more successful to run the bundle as a small trial first, or to ask for feedback here on MeTa.

I'm not a fan of membership drives, as I think it works better for people to find MeFi and be drawn in rather than going out looking for members.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


flat out asking me to take a break

Was anyone asking for that? I missed it; it's crazy talk so ignore that.

There are more kinds of boards than "oversight" boards. Sometimes boards are about empowering more people to make the decisions in important areas or take over planning tasks in others areas so that two full time jobs turns into 1.5 full time jobs. Running your own business is probably never a less than 40hr/week job.

People can give time and they can give money. Usually the money is worth more, but sometimes the time of a skilled and judicious professional is what you need. I get the sense you've got more of that type of person willing to help than most businesses do.

TLRD: Every benevolent overlord has trusted advisors. More hands make lighter work, and a diverse group of minds is more creative.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also, Matt, keep in mind that MeFi is still a wonderful place, a community, a site of great value to its members. Thanks.
posted by theora55 at 10:48 AM on November 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


Perhaps in particular you should think about a fundraising committee, to brainstorm new revenue ideas. For instance, I've long thought that you should do a Patreon campaign with explicit goals and rewards, but never felt like it was any of my business to suggest it. You can roll your own Patreon-type setup, as you already have; what's missing is the incentives. They need not be personal: I'll never win a December Best Post Contest, but I sure benefit from the competition.

I bet you could generate a lot of extra donations if you just publicized the required fundraising levels for

1) Hiring another mod
2) Rolling out new features
3) Adding a midyear best post contest
4) Logged in profile personalizations
etc.

Even if there wasn't the sense that individual donors would get anything personally from the bargain. Every so often you post a Metatalk that says, "We need new donors: if we can get 500 new donors or all current donors increase their monthly donation by $2, then we'll have a Best Post Contest in July!" I bet you'd see some real movement there.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:58 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I always felt Patreon was geared towards releasing "big" things on sporadic schedules, like a new YouTube video by a small artist that takes two months to work out (that reflects a lot of the Patreon people I follow, with their pay me x dollars per thing I do model). If Patreon shifts more to a give-monthly-x-dollars-to-site model, I guess at that point the Patreon "benefits" is basically like a private blog to backers that gets updated with news?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:04 AM on November 21, 2014


Here's a screengrab of a rewrite of the bundle site, I'm open to feedback before they sign-off on it and make the changes later today. All the wording about pricing deals is pretty much gone, I think it strikes a better tone of asking for support instead of pricing down a bargain.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:49 AM on November 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


Mucho better, though maybe put the 'lifetime member' bit first, then 'and recognition as a supporter,' but that's just quibbling.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:55 AM on November 21, 2014


Much better, but the part about The Toast is still deceptive and misleading - chat will be free, so the bundle doesn't give you access to that.
posted by posyblue at 11:57 AM on November 21, 2014


Much better on the Mefi front!
posted by divabat at 11:59 AM on November 21, 2014


This version does not give me sketchy feels at all, hooray

And The Toast isn't putting a price tag on chat access, so I don't see the problem there either
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:04 PM on November 21, 2014


I like the new version. Thanks, Anil and others, for being open to modifying the text of the whole project.
posted by Secretariat at 12:10 PM on November 21, 2014


Much better! Thanks!
posted by ocherdraco at 12:16 PM on November 21, 2014


That alleviates all of my concerns. It was the big 60 with the line through it that felt off, and when I saw this rewrite, I got a big smile on my face. "All yours!" sounds pretty cool, actually.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:23 PM on November 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


Definitely good and not misleading. What SpacemanStix says - removing the lined-out 60 dollars changes it for the better. Thanks.
posted by Wordshore at 12:40 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like the new wording.
Thank you matt for listening, Jessamyn for perfectly expressing what I had in mind, and Miko for being back.

FWIW since there was a conversation about bundles, I don't think I like "patronage" bundles, but I wouldn't mind allocating part of another bundle to support my favorite sites - if the humblebundle people added this beyond the charities slider, this would be a no brainer for me.

Matt, your update reads like you're taking a lot of the stress on yourself. I know when I had a lot of stress in my life, a good way to lower this was reading through the point of views expressed in ask mefi. It sort of feels weird that you can't share more of this burden with the community - I mean metatalk can obviously take it, and it feel unfair that you should bear this burden all by yourself.
posted by motdiem2 at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here's a screengrab of a rewrite of the bundle site, I'm open to feedback

I'd go ahead and put in a crossed-out $5. 'Cause they do get that, right? That'd bump up the savings from an underwhelming $12 to a slightly less underwhelming $17.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:40 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the feedback all, they made the changes live.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:45 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Mind you, they are actually paying that $5. Hmm.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:46 PM on November 21, 2014


Looks great to me!
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2014


Matt, thanks for the detailed answer and thoughtful consideration of the feedback in this thread.

The right guy is at the top and I hope you find a way back to balance again.
posted by buoys in the hood at 1:48 PM on November 21, 2014


"One year paid membership" = IMG TAGS IN COMMENTS

Matt: If you're still in need of additional funds, maybe you should actually consider allowing people to buy a "premium" membership to be able to post images in comments. I would certainly be willing to pay extra for the ability to post stuff like this in the current Agents of SHIELD thread. :D
posted by Jacqueline at 1:48 PM on November 21, 2014


I always felt Patreon was geared towards releasing "big" things on sporadic schedules

Doesn't have to be. Here's our Patreon: it's precisely "a private blog to backers that gets updated with news."
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:48 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


maybe you should actually consider allowing people to buy a "premium" membership to be able to post images in comments.

Metafilter Platinum™ features are only visible to other Platinum™ users. Like the other subsites: QuMe, MFPL and SPaCE.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:56 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sort of related: since the current banner appeared, there is no visible link to the donations page any more. Maybe I'm blind, but I had to go to the FAQ link and CTRL + F "donation" to get to the link embedded there.

Could the donaton page not be made somewhat more visible again and also updated slightly for people who want to get festive on Metafilter, but don't want to or can't pay $96 for the bundle?
posted by miorita at 2:25 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jacqueline: Matt: If you're still in need of additional funds, maybe you should actually consider allowing people to buy a "premium" membership to be able to post images in comments.

I drank some of that in Ethiopia last month.
posted by gman at 2:28 PM on November 21, 2014 [15 favorites]


I drank some of that in Ethiopia last month

Wow! I've never known this existed, pretty cool and now I'll ask for it at Ethiopian restaurants here.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:32 PM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Could the donaton page not be made somewhat more visible again

Yeah, we should put something in the footer of the Classic design.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:33 PM on November 21, 2014


Well done, Matt. Thanks for paying attention and acting accordingly.
posted by languagehat at 2:50 PM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm glad folks seem okay with the changes. I appreciate the folks who had constructive feedback, even when pointed. I hope everyone finds the newly-updated site not just acceptable, but worth promoting to friends or more casual users of MeFi! Remember, only a tiny % of MeFi users have ever even been to MetaTalk, and there are _millions_ of people who might find MeFi valuable enough to support it.

[Sidebar: I understand that I represent some sort of bad thing to a few folks on MeFi, but I do want to reiterate to everybody just how hard Matt fights for all of you, and how much work he (and the whole team) put into making MeFi go. I want to suggest it's possible to be a bit kinder or more charitable in initial responses to Matt's efforts -- I can't imagine how hard it is to put a huge part of one's life in and yet have one's motives challenged. Honestly, I find it bruising sometimes to constantly be maligned when I come to this site, even though I know intellectually it has very little to do with me, and can't imagine how much harder it would be if I were someone who worked trying to help MeFi every day, rather than only for the past few weeks. Every site involved in this bundle had feedback for how we could improve the way it was presented; All of the others were able to do so without questioning the judgment or intentions of the good people who built their community.]
posted by anildash at 2:54 PM on November 21, 2014 [24 favorites]


Miko: "I get that MeFi is a business, but when asked to donate to that business I get the sense that I am supporting a lifestyle business that's yielding one or more people a lifestyle that's a lot better than my own, and I guess I sometimes don't feel that makes a lot of sense."

I know this was way up-thread, but this is still sitting a bit oddly in my mind, so I want to answer this.

MetaFilter, and community websites in general, are a new kind of community space. I think the best analogy for them is a café. And I mean an old-style coffeehouse sort-of place, where the coffee is decent but not made the whole point of going there. It's more of a meeting place which, to keep open, sells coffee, tea and various pastries.

Now, the analogy (like any other analogy) breaks down when you get into details, e.g. you can't buy coffee on MetaFilter or cookies, it doesn't close at night, and neither does a café get by on advertisements and tips aren't exactly donations.

However, I think the important part of the analogy holds in that cafés can foster communities and become important social and cultural institutions, and still be businesses. Yes, there are cooperative, community-run cafés, but they exist side by side (and are in a minority) with proprietor-owned cafés. And those old-style coffeehouses depend on having good communities, just like MetaFilter does.

I'm fine with MetaFilter being a business, much like I'm fine with my favorite cafés being businesses. It seems weird to me to think that's somehow bad in and of itself. I like non-profits a lot, but I see no pressing reason to make MetaFilter a non-profit.

Matt has built this place. First on his own, then with the help of staff. So I'm quite happy to support Matt, mods and MetaFilter financially in my own way, making a yearly donation of as much money as I can reasonably spare. The site is a place to share things I find interesting, and has fostered a community that provides a steady stream of laughs, cool posts and thought-provoking commentary.
posted by Kattullus at 3:38 PM on November 21, 2014 [42 favorites]


Well put, Kattullus. I like the coffee shop analogy.
posted by stp123 at 3:47 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


FWIW that is also how I think of this place, Kattullus.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:52 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not a fan of membership drives, as I think it works better for people to find MeFi and be drawn in rather than going out looking for members.

I'm not sure if you're responding to me, but in case you are, when I say MeFi should do twice-yearly "membership drives," what I'm suggesting is not that the site "go out looking for members," but rather just do what it did last May: put a small banner ad in front of the members who are already here on a daily or semi-daily basis. A goal is always useful, which is why the "help us get to 5,000 supporters before the end of the year" suggestion also makes sense.

It's a very well-tested model for getting support, and I continue to be surprised that MeFi hasn't used it again - particularly so after reading that Matt constantly worries and feels stretched thin by the job after firing a couple of staffers. Actively engaging on finances with what's always been an extremely committed and engaged user base seems about as essential a task as there could possibly be to insure the future of MeFi. But there's an odd hesitance to do it.
posted by mediareport at 4:35 PM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Danishes, Matt. DANISHES.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:36 PM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm fine with MetaFilter being a business, much like I'm fine with my favorite cafés being businesses. It seems weird to me to think that's somehow bad in and of itself.

Amen!

Thank you Matt (and Anil) for the work you put into metafilter. I love this place.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:45 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Now I'm hungry.
posted by divabat at 5:23 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every site involved in this bundle had feedback for how we could improve the way it was presented; All of the others were able to do so without questioning the judgment or intentions of the good people who built their community.

Yeah, you people are bad. Feel bad.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:28 PM on November 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


"Danishes, Matt. DANISHES."

Years ago, I interviewed this psychobilly band from Denmark and they're talking about all the ways that their country supports the arts, yadda yadda, and at the end I say, "Look, I gotta ask. Have you had a Danish here? What do you call 'em in Denmark?"

The singer looks at me and says, "Sorry, I am not that into cake."
posted by klangklangston at 5:40 PM on November 21, 2014 [7 favorites]


Every site involved in this bundle had feedback for how we could improve the way it was presented; All of the others were able to do so without questioning the judgment or intentions of the good people who built their community.

I really don't appreciate this kind of scolding.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:02 PM on November 21, 2014 [31 favorites]


And I think it's important to note that as much work as the mods and Matt put into the site, it also runs on effort from the community. This effort takes the form of comments, flagging, donations, suggestions, and promotion. For some of us (more of us than you'd think) our reputation is somewhat intertwined with the reputation of the site. We've recommended it to friends and family, people know we hang out here, we post links to the sites here, some of us use our real names. Given those facts, I do think that we have the right to be quite opinionated and even passionately critical when something happens that makes the site look bad/scammy, which this undoubtedly did. Matt is a large part of the site, but ultimately all of us, collectively, are the site.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:10 PM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


Only assholes use their real names.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:29 PM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


Hey now.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 6:37 PM on November 21, 2014 [18 favorites]


Oooooooo, shit just got REAL.
posted by heyho at 6:38 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really don't appreciate this kind of scolding.

People rarely do.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:45 PM on November 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


All of the others were able to do so without questioning the judgment or intentions of the good people who built their community.

Is the implication here that we should never question mathowie's judgment?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:16 PM on November 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


maybe the implication is to be less rude over all, but i apparently make things worse so what do i know...

anyway...
maybe you should actually consider allowing people to buy a "premium" membership to be able to post images in comments.

i should never be given this power!! i am way, way too petty with my img selections to be allowed to put them here.
posted by nadawi at 8:36 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hey now.

You don't count, Jessamyn. You're an all-star.
posted by rorgy at 8:40 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


But we are donating to support *Metafilter*. That includes servers and hosting costs and all that stuff, but it also includes paying a fair living wage to the moderators. The mods make this place what it is

I absolutely don't dispute any of that, and I don't want to be construed as somehow anti-business. I'm not. In fact, I've spent a considerable amount of time working on locally owned, independent business development and count a lot of business owners among my good friends. A for-profit business is an excellent model for certain services in certain sectors.

Also, I echo those who have said the criticisms aren't (all) uninformed ones. I've worked as an employee in both for-profits and non-profits, and have run a nonprofit as well. I have a fair amount of graduate/professional/hard-knocks training in governance, financial models and operations, and fundraising structures. I'm not operating from a shallow understanding of what such a transition might mean.

The coffee shop analogy is a fine one, and I certainly think of MetaFilter as an online third place (if not a truly "new kind" of community). But let's stay with it.

The difference I see is that most coffee shops are not asking for or accepting donations to cover basic operating expenses. If they are run as for-profit businesses, they come up with pricing structures that support operations and (they hope) generate profits. As the customer, I either choose to buy at that price, or go elsewhere (or take up a table for 4 hours drinking water and using free wi-fi. Well, no, just kidding, but there are always free riders). Some of their profits may be reinvested in improvement or expansion, and some may be personally taken and spent or set aside as savings. In a corporation of course they are shared among investors. And I am fine with all of that because it's transactional - I understand the nature of the relationship clearly. I see what price is offered and I decide whether the coffee and the experience of the shop are worth the asking price. And as a customer, I'm not all that interested in what the total gross/net of the business is, at all. I'm only interested in whether I had a personal experience of value that made my outlay seem worthwhile.

If a coffee shop is run as a nonprofit, then I assume that without members'/supporters' help they cannot cover basic operating expenses. The structure requires and demands additional support. Coffee can't pay the bills, and unless we contribute, the place closes. In that case, patrons certainly can expect periodic fund drives, donation requests, membership structures and levels, fundraising events, and the like. And I am fine with that because I understand the nature of that clearly. In this scenario, I find that the required transparency as to overall operating costs builds my willingness to give and my confidence that what I am giving to is the continued operation of the coffee shop, with good working conditions for all who work there. I can understand the overall impact of my gift, feel part of a stakeholder community with some degree of (defined) influence, and stay informed about the overall health of the organization. I can adjust my approach to giving based on regular reports about company conditions, or campaigns to add functions, etc.

That is what I meant by this site's trying to exist in a "liminal zone," above. Right now, MeFi is trying to both sell coffee and take donations for coffee, and yet it's not clear how the donations relate to the coffee. Complicating matters, there are also other revenue streams (ads). So it's very hard to understand how this all adds up. Do we need the donations to have the coffee? How much is the coffee helping? Should the coffee be more expensive? Should we let other businesses come in and sell stuff to the coffeehouse patrons in return for more revenue (sponsored posts, ads?) How much and what kind? What if people don't come as often - would we need to make up the shortfall in coffee sales by requesting more donations?

Though US tax structure still forces organizations to make decisions about governance that fit within defined categories, there are still middle grounds, and we don't need to be stuck in common tropes about nonprofits and react to those. It's not true that simply having a board means that your board is necessarily a bunch of meddling poor decisionmakers or that it means you retain no power to run your organization, etc., etc. Some of the most effective organizations you know of, services and advocacy groups you use regularly, even online, are nonprofits. Nonprofits are still businesses and run like businesses. They have executive directors, and can have empowered roles. The same is true of for-profit corporate governance. It's not all that different from nonprofits except for what happens to any surplus generated. The same social ills that can plague poorly run nonprofits also plague poorly run for-profits, as many people can attest from their working lives. Human organizations are human organizations and need to be managed wisely.

But back to my larger point, a change of status may not be entirely necessary. Even within each of those broad tax-sector categories, there are many choices that would boost good feeling and increase confidence and sense of value. I like the idea of goal setting as a middle ground. We wouldn't need to know what MeFi's payroll totals, for instance, to know that "100 gifts of $30 will allow us to do XYZ things for XYZ amount of time." That is a degree of increased transparency that offers clear and measurable goals and quantifies the impact of my contribution. Or that "MeFi's operating deficit this year is $15K (or whatever). Let's have a drive this final six weeks to collectively cover it." Running a deficit, of course, isn't ideal - but this sort of fundraising would make more clear the relationship between existing operations and voluntary contributions. I also like anotherpanacea's idea of seeking advice on particular elements of site management, fundraising being a terrific place to start. It seems like something where the considerable expertise and experience that is out there could do some good, lending knowledge and energy without requiring Matt to institute a board of directors. I am basically one of those people who would like more transparency to improve the inclination to donate, and though nonprofit law requires transparency, you don't have to be a nonprofit to offer more of it. I hear all of you who are deeply offended that anyone might not "trust." Matt. I do trust Matt, but I don't understand how fundraising works here, and I think that not having some clear protocols developed around fundraising -when it's done, what for, and how much - is the kind of thing that threatens to undermine trust in any organization. My point of view isn't coming from a bad place.
posted by Miko at 8:51 PM on November 21, 2014 [13 favorites]


Miko's persuasive and informed, but overall I'm still more on the stavrosthewonderchicken side of things because I don't quite see that this liminal zone is actually causing that many problems. That's partly my own bias because I, like some others, have utterly no concerns about the transparency of how my little monthly contribution is used or how much it matters relative to the site's financial sustainability. The transactional/charity distinction doesn't matter to me the way it does some other people. And while I recognize that it does bother some other people and that, in itself, is cause for concern, I don't see it yet rising to the level of anything that requires any significant changes in how MeFi is run.

Now, having written all that, I completely (and uncharacteristically) disagree with dialetheia because I think the issues surrounding the little faux pas of this bundling deal imply some issues about the things we're discussing and, insofar as this is the case, I'm a little worried that this might be an example of the beginning of a trend of things that, eventually, we'll all someday be thinking, well, Miko was right.

At the very least, I think Matt should think very carefully about what taking contributions means and what that implies about how he solicits and accepts those contributions. But then, he's just said unambiguously that he's strongly learned that lesson from this experience.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:33 PM on November 21, 2014 [11 favorites]


Miko and the comparison around coffee shops reminded me of Wicked Grounds, a kink-friendly cafe that had to rely on fundraisers when it temporarily shut down. I don't know if they're a non-profit or for-profit; I think they are for-profit. And I've heard of a few entrepreneurial ventures and social enterprises that are legally for-profit but run on donations.
posted by divabat at 10:57 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


The site may be trying to occupy a liminal zone, but a quick read of the more contentious comments indicates that individual members have already segregated into either the sell or donate camp. I have a bad feeling about that polarization.
posted by klarck at 4:42 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm still more on the stavrosthewonderchicken side of things because I don't quite see that this liminal zone is actually causing that many problems.

So. that's certainly fair, but I do think there's a bit of an undercurrent of people who feel uneasy with it. I am one, there are a few others. Again, I don't think it needs to totally transform financial models (though that's one viable direction) as much as just to increase community trust by being a bit more open and perhaps doing more advance planning for both campaigns and general site stability. I agree that Matt seems to have identified takeaways that will move a bit closer to that. Obviously I was away for a period of time and a lot happened during that, but I wanted to clarify my intentions and respond to some ideas that came up in the meantime even though we are sort of an interim resolution point, it would seem.

Wicked Grounds, a kink-friendly cafe that had to rely on fundraisers when it temporarily shut down. I don't know if they're a non-profit or for-profit; I think they are for-profit. And I've heard of a few entrepreneurial ventures and social enterprises that are legally for-profit but run on donations.

The first isn't uncommon. MAny of us can probably think about a business that had to ask for donations to stay open, or re-open, after a fire, an owner's bout with cancer, etc. That would be "crisis fundraising" of the kind we saw here initially. There's a clear cause and a clear need, but it's short-term and temporary. It's possible to use that as a launching pad for a wider fundraising program. As an example I will give my local cinema. They are a beloved downtown movie house that plays both first-run and art-house films and also shows local filmmakers, and they run on a shoestring. With the transition to digital projection, like most movie houses they had to come up with many thousands of dollars to purchase a digital projector or, simply, stop showing feature films. It would have put them out of business to do that, and they also didn't have the money to invest in the projector. So they created a campaign. They identified the total cost of projector, installation, staff time, etc., and put out a call to the community to donate. They offered some premiums, free movie tickets and stuff like that, but the most attractive one was to be designated a "Friend of [Local] Cinema" which meant you got email invites to special screenings. They also put the names of every single Friend on a set of big thank-you slides that shows before the movie. Well, after the campaign was over (and it was successful) their newfound. Friends began telling them that they wanted a way to keep supporting the cinema and being part of that insider community. So they created a permanent membership program which is now an important revenue source for the cinema. There are two levels of premium membership with special events and perks. The cinema can now expand programming and they do a film festival and produce some local films, so it's a win for everyone involved. More importantly, they can make plans around this revenue stream and roll it into their overall operating budget, allowing them to project their operations into the future with greater confidence. That's self-sustaining fundraising. Through planning, and community support, they successfully moved from crisis to sustaining fundraising.

So since it looks like MeFi's crisis is past, now is a good time for Matt and whoever he's willing to allow to think about how to transition from crisis fundraising to self-sustaining fundraising. This project seems like an effort toward that, but the problems that he ran into were predictable from a professional fundraising point of view. No matter what your model, when you begin asking your former "customers" for more of their goodwill and for their voluntary support, the nature of your contract with them changes. Some people will not be sensitive to that, but others will recognize that change and ask, since you want more from me, and much of that is in the form of an emotional commitment to give more than the asking price, I would like to know what the nature of my relationship is with you? How am I helping? How much am I helping? Do you really need me, or can I opt out and let other people carry the weight (the NPR problem)? Are my gifts making the site better, adding tools and supporting staff well? Are they just keeping the servers running and the creditors away? What does this additional support mean?

These are reasonable questions and this is why, even in the context of for-profit fundraising, which, yes, does exist in social enterprise as well as places like my cinema, a lot of attention is paid to donor support. People give thought to the nature of that relationship, to quantifying goals, sharing information about the status of the project, communicating with donors and strengthening that relationship. I think it would be bad for MetaFilter's future not to address that changed relationship/changed expectations issue with a clear and organized program of support that everyone can understand, whether or not it changes its governance or tax structure. It may not make a difference for many of you, but even just considering future new users, they will bring expectations with them from the world of fundraising and donor support elsewhere on the web where this is done clearly and well. There's an implied social contract in taking donations that's about more than money, it's about affinity and trust, and providing some transparency and a well-thought-out case for support helps to justify and build on that relationship.

It's worth thinking also about the messaging to and between members. In this thread alone we are already seeing Sneetches who are saying something like "just give already, who cares, don't be stingy, I trust Matt, don't you?" and Sneetches who say "I'd just like to know a little bit more about this organization before I put it into my budget for charitable donations, this is shaky planning, don't you care about the future of the site?." There is the potential for some serious community schism in there. There is the potential for those who donate, or who donate more, to feel more ownership and begin to look down on those who aren't ready to start donating, and the potential for those who don't or can't donate to feel like second-class citizens. This is part of the reason organizations have membership levels and define the benefits that members get, if they get any at all - to reduce the bad feeling and the wondering what everyone's doing and what's reasonable for you to do, and focus on the good being done. This is something that could be damaging in a non-financial way, so that's something I hope the team gives some thought to. I feel like it's even a risk for me to say these things and yet I don't think any other member could honestly say I care about or appreciate MetaFilter less than they do. By having a fundraising plan that's clear and well communicated and fairly straightforward, we could stop worrying about what the person next to us is doing and make our own decisions about support. And as long as MeFi is meeting its fundraising goals, then it's working.
posted by Miko at 6:05 AM on November 22, 2014 [21 favorites]


I just want to suggest one last possibility: we don't need Matt to empower us if he doesn't feel comfortable doing so. We can empower ourselves.

Here's the model I mean: some institutions have boosters. These are people who devote themselves to the institution without any specific mandate from it. "The Friends of Cherry Library" or "The Friends of Takoma Park Middle School." They sniff around for needs and then try to organize their community to fulfill it.

So perhaps Matt could just say: "I wouldn't mind that kind of support, but I don't want to organize it or be in the position to grant special status to some users." Then users could take the already existing avenues, like starting Metatalk threads, to make requests of the community, solicit new donors, run completely unsubsidized best post contests, or whatever.

The monthlong drive to get more women authoring FPPs, #JulyByWomen, was one example of this kind of unsolicited organization. It seemed successful.

Of course, this is a nosy thing to do if Matt rejects the help. But he does seem willing to accept help if it's offered, and it's not just his job to reorient our relationship: that's a lot for anyone to take on alone, and there are a lot of different relationships at stake.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:48 AM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


There is the potential for those who donate, or who donate more, to feel more ownership and begin to look down on those who aren't ready to start donating, and the potential for those who don't or can't donate to feel like second-class citizens. This is part of the reason organizations have membership levels and define the benefits that members get, if they get any at all - to reduce the bad feeling and the wondering what everyone's doing and what's reasonable for you to do, and focus on the good being done.

I don't feel like this is at all pat, though. It's one thing to sort of broach the idea of membership levels as a good thing with a handwave, it's another one to actually lay out (a) what exactly that means for any given member at any given level and (b) why it's a good thing to associate having more money to give with getting more from the site or having more say.

Why, in other words, it's better to explicitly declare to everyone that some people are giving more than others and who and how much than to deal with the possibility of some people worrying about that sort of thing.

Right now, if someone who is giving a bunch of money every month feels like they have on outsized share of ownership over the site, that's in their head; if they actively look down on people giving less, that's in their head. We don't encourage it or condone it. If someone is giving a little bit, we're thankful; if someone is giving nothing, we're completely okay with that.

We've tried to be really clear about not wanting to associate giving or amounts of giving with any kind of status on the site other than the little opt-in gold star on the profile page, because one thing we don't want this place to become is somewhere explicitly perceived to be a Money Talks situation as far as membership status or rights or access.

Which, I realize some of this may just be the friction between the language of non-profit fundraising and the specific idiosyncratic nature of the Metafilter community history and practices, but that friction is non-trivial to route around and I don't think it makes sense to say "this worked there, ergo it's a good idea here" without having a really good explanation for how the structural and social difference between places and models comes in.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:04 AM on November 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


I only saw this thread now and while I was put off about the original language, I never doubted it would have been fixed by the time I reached the end of the thread. From the time I've spent on MeFi, mathowie seems to me like the type of person who is open to recognising his blind spots and working on them and to me that's more important than never erring in the first place. Good on Mefites pushing to change the copy and on #1 for doing so.

I just switched back to classic design because it's easier to read long texts even if it doesn't look as snazzy. Hello Blue, Green, Gray.
posted by ersatz at 8:20 AM on November 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


Yeah- I'm still using classic design, too. Change is hard. (So I don't, except as required.)
posted by small_ruminant at 8:32 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dark Mode all day, every day. I didn't use the professional white background when I didn't need to and I'm not gonna start now, much as I appreciate that a lot of other people like it. But I dig the new font, as much as Verdana will forever have a place in my heart.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:37 AM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


We've tried to be really clear about not wanting to associate giving or amounts of giving with any kind of status on the site other than the little opt-in gold star on the profile page

Just wanted to say I think this is such a good approach and I'd be sad to see any kind of tiered membership be put in place. I like the fact that I have no idea who donates or doesn't and how much, because the star is opt-in and not linked to any amount. And I very much like the fact that donating or not has no impact at all on someone's use of the site - what you see and what you can post is exactly the same whether you are a lurker whose contribution is in terms of time spent here, or whether you give every last penny to the site.

Personally, Matt can take the little bit of money I send his way and wallpaper his downstairs toilet with it for all I care - I give because what I get back from this place is hard to put into words and contributing a little to keep the lights on is something that makes me feel good. I trust that it'll be put to good use, not just because I trust Matt, but because I trust people to clearly state their displeasure in threads like this one if something doesn't feel right. That seems like enough of an oversight committee to me.
posted by billiebee at 8:59 AM on November 22, 2014 [16 favorites]


mediareport, not specifically aimed at you, just my .02. Thank you for the clarification, in any case.
posted by theora55 at 9:04 AM on November 22, 2014


"The Friends of Cherry Library" or "The Friends of Takoma Park Middle School."

Just a note, the great majority of these organizations (libraries, schools) are nonprofits or publicly operated, and so their budgets are public information. When the booster clubs raise money, they can set informed goals and evaluate the impact of what's raised relative to the total operating needs of those institutions.

WE could have a booster club, but we couldn't know anything about the meaningfulness of its support without understanding more about MeFi's operating costs. So it would not lend itself to a funding case.

Cortex, I hear you about not mapping models onto MeFi because it's "idiosyncratic," but as with everything, there are plenty of analogues. You don't need to have tiers if you don't want. Startups and grassroots groups that do whatever and involve communities have had this discussion. MeFi is unique in certain ways, but not unique enough to make its experience with this unusual. In fact I would say that it's pretty familiar and predictable stuff for those of us who work on organizational structure and funding.
posted by Miko at 10:17 AM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


MeFi is unique in certain ways, but not unique enough to make its experience with this unusual. In fact I would say that it's pretty familiar and predictable stuff for those of us who work on organizational structure and funding.

I both appreciate the motivation there and get sort of frustrated at seeing "hey, this is how you should proceed, for example x" presented when we've been so clearly, actively anti-x in every previous discussion we've had on the subject. While I totally respect and think there's value in the strategies that you find as a matter of your work experience familiar and predictable, it puts a conversation about adapting those strategies to Metafilter on a really weird footing when it feels like you're failing to account for some of the basic things we've laid out as important to us. It feels like trying to fit the site to the model, instead of the model to the site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:40 AM on November 22, 2014 [19 favorites]


I think you may be misreading my comments, cortex. Though I raised the notion that nonprofits can work early on, I'm not actually pushing that you proceed on that or in any other certain way. There are a lot of ways to get to greater transparency and consistency and nonprofit structures are just one; I also talked about a for-profit structure, the cinema. I've done my best to say that I am advocating for greater transparency and for consistency in the fundraising ask and for communicating about long-range planning. I am noting the existence of some alternate models and talking about how they accomplish similar goals, but not asking anyone to adopt them.

(I'm also not "handwaving." If you ever want to have a brass tacks discussion offline I can share a ton of different and specific approaches that could meet all the stated parameters. On the topic of profit, however, people get money for that.).

I'm all for originality and adaptation of ideas in figuring out how to make a project work. Every organization is unique in the ways it sees itself as unique. There are a lot of ways to make projects like this work - many many approaches. There is probably a combination of ways that could be right for MeFi and I am just suggesting a few comparables/ideas/sources of knowledge. I'm not frustrated that there's no interest in adopting a single particular model; I'm frustrated that it seems like there's not that much interest in tackling the fundamental issues, and that is manifesting as "we're never going to be a nonprofit." Okay, that's fine, but what about the issues that people suggesting a nonprofit are hoping to solve? Are there other solutions being explored? Will MeFi ever have a long-term plan? A consistent approach to giving? Be more transparent? That is what at least some folks are wondering about. If not, again fine, but does everyone understand how that may impact current and future users and support, and everyone is okay with that? Those are the kinds of things I'm asking.
posted by Miko at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2014 [8 favorites]


I also think if you really believe in not differentiating users who give, then maybe don't assign any "I help fund!" stars. Why would anyone need to know?
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it requires a tremendous reach to equivocate a star you can, if you choose, have on your profile page if you donated $1 one time or even just told us non-specifically that you should have (because we're going to trust people on that), to the idea of cash-tiered membership levels with which people are generally familiar and to which you seemed to be referring.

And yet, at that, even the opt-in star was a little bit controversial. It was a compromise but one with a very small footprint. It's manifestly not Metafilter Pro. Which gels with why in terms of site ethos any sort of actual tiered membership would be anathema, which is why it's so weird to me to see that broached. I hear you if what you're saying is you weren't broaching that so much as just floating the general concept as an example of things that exist in fundraising contexts, but even at that it's a very distracting example; see discussion of Sponsored Posts above as a pretty good analogue in terms of fitting poorly with the site.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


It seems to me that not having tiered memberships and anything like that is a rock-bottom principle of MetaFilter that is of a piece with its core ethos. Maybe it's not quite as antithetical as sponsored posts, but it's not that far away, either. So I totally understand why cortex or anyone else is reacting strongly against the suggestion.

But I think we should recognize that Miko is spitballing possibilities and one of her main points -- which is really important -- is not to get stuck in rigid thinking about what could work and what couldn't, that such thinking is related to having prejudicial ideas about various kinds of models. That's not a good articulation of her point, but in reading her comments, I've been trying to have it stick in my mind that there's huge variation in proven successful ways of doing the sorts of things we're discussing.

As I wrote before, I don't think that at present any of the issues related to this liminal zone are that serious, we could get along indefinitely like it is now with these low-level concerns about its ambiguities. But I didn't mean to imply that I think this isn't a problem that couldn't get quite a bit bigger and create an unsustainable situation, because I think that's quite possible. And part of what I'm hearing from Miko and others is that as MetaFilter experiments with and implements more contribution revenue schemes, that's what's going to happen. That's persuasive.

To go, um, meta for a moment, this discussion is quite like other discussions we have that are of the form "I think this is a problem that's going to get worse, something needs to be done" and the response from mods and others is something like "we'll deal with it when it's actually a problem and not be fixing things that aren't broke because that's a good way of screwing-up, too". That response reflects Matt's inherent conservatism about the site, which I personally think has proven to be a very good instinct -- I say this as someone who likes to problem-solve and prefers to be proactive but who also greatly respects proven results, clear-headedness, and competence.

So I think that a lot of folk are probably reacting to this discussion with a "it ain't broke, the sky isn't falling, let's move on" perspective that, frankly, has usually been proven correct in the past about so many other things. But not always. And while I've repeatedly said that I don't think things are broken, I am concerned enough that I think that just waving this discussion aside is a mistake. At the very least, I think that we should be ruminating on these issues and be sensitive to the problems that Miko and others are pointing to. If there isn't a serious problem now, I think that we should be sensitive to it becoming a serious problem before that actually happens. If not now, then as the next contribution scheme is implemented. "We" primarily means Matt, of course, but the community at large, or at least the MetaTalk portion of it, can help in various ways.

One of those ways is by listening to each other because -- I don't quite know how to express this -- some of the issues we're discussing are about differentiated implicit transactional relationships, that involvement and perceived ownership and entitlement and such are all much more strongly invoked when you start actively bringing money into the relationship than just from things like amount of participation and whether you frequent MetaTalk. Tiered memberships aren't the MetaFilter way but it's not clear that people won't sort of feel that way about their membership, anyway, in ways that result in actual changes about how people interact and behave on the site. I mostly disregarded these concerns back in the spring, and I still think that those who explicitly raise this issue are a small minority, but I also think that they represent a lower-level diffused pressure that exists. Bringing this whole money thing on an ongoing basis really does change some things at the core of the site -- I personally don't feel this, I'm extremely poor and make a small monthly contribution, but it hasn't changed at all how I think and feel about the site. But I believe other people when they say that it's changed how they feel. And I expect those attestations to be representative of other people who haven't spoken up.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:56 PM on November 22, 2014 [6 favorites]



Remember, only a tiny % of MeFi users have ever even been to MetaTalk



At least it's got more visitors than Expert Labs.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:07 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


This thread has all of a sudden made me very emotional. Because I see people whose opinions I value very highly at odds, and I feel like my family is arguing at Thanksgiving.

I can get coffee anywhere, but I cannot get years and years of community for the price of a cup of coffee.

I have met many of you in person, and some in chat, and read the site for many years before I joined. There is a history here that I don't have with my family or even my husband.

Sure the kinks in this bundle will be worked out, and I am empathetic to the fact that going non-profit is a huge endeavor and not necessarily desirable. Not sure how I would feel if someone laid that on me.

I see a real value in contributing to a site that I get a huge value out of, every day, without spending $3 for a cup of coffee. It's free, after I paid my $5. It's free, even without that, if I only want to read.

Maybe the thing we all have in common is that we want to see this site continue?

I really, really want to see this site continue. It means a lot to me. If that means some bumps and quirks along the way as Matt figures things out, I have no problem with that. I too have worked in business, non-profits, marketing, etc., but I don't have any great ideas. I hope Matt will tap into some folks who do have them.

I love you all and thank you all for your passionate contributions here. Have some pie.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:08 PM on November 22, 2014 [18 favorites]


> At least it's got more visitors than Expert Labs.

Just stop. Just please stop with the doing nothing more than flinging shit. Stop.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:52 PM on November 22, 2014 [21 favorites]


Aren't there users who already beta test layouts and give feedback on new features and ideas? I would think they could be asked about bundles as well if it's useful.
posted by michaelh at 7:42 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just a thought, reminded by Black Friday increasingly becoming a UK thing as well, and adverts and pieces for Amazon doing offers on that day and around that time.

For those of us who do use Amazon, what's the way of doing the affiliate or associate link so MetaFilter get a cut of the price? Also, is it just for US Amazon, or UK, Canadian and/or the other Amazons as well?

Could this be shoved somewhere more prominent on the site, rather than just e.g. comment 400-and-something, especially with the aforementioned Black Friday online sales and approaching Christmas? Personally have mixed feels about Amazon, but more positive feels to some of their profit heading MetaFilters way.

Also: #CatsForMetaFilter suggestion.
posted by Wordshore at 8:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think that the site has added Amazon referral thingys to our links over there for a long time (see here) - so, when you buy something from an Amazon link from here, you'll automagically be using the Mefi code to give us a little kickback. I don't know how it works for amazon.ca, amazon.co.uk, or other places, though.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:34 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just sat and read most of this thread (towards the end I started skimming a lot more) and I wanted to share some about my experience and reflections:

As I started reading this thread, I felt a growing sense of dismay and confusion. I felt like maybe my trust in Metafilter had been misplaced--and this questioning of mistrust was mirrored and amplified by what other people were saying in this thread. It felt disorienting, like a sudden and big and quite unexpected change had--or might have--happened.

And then, later in the thread, my trust was restored, probably even strengthened. And I can pinpoint the exact moment that happened: this comment, by mathowie.

Thank you, mathowie for saying all that, for continuing to be ethical and responsive and communicative.

Thinking about my experience, both before and after that comment, I realized: part of my escalating sense of mistrust and confusion was the feeling that people's concerns hadn't been really heard. It felt like people were bringing up compelling points and the Metafilter team's responses weren't fully addressing them. Like, what I really wanted was for someone (and especially mathowie) to just be like, wow, sorry, I seem to have messed this one up, guys.

And that comment totally met that need and then went beyond, to sharing what might have been pretty vulnerable about your experience of relating to Metafilter recently. Thanks for doing that! I'm sorry things have been so stressful. I'm glad there's someone like Jessamyn who can offer you what seemed like really helpful insight--it was touching to see the exchange between you that followed that comment I keep referring to.

And thanks for hearing the feedback--I think the lessons you pulled from it will go a long way towards preventing something like this from happening again.

I don't know a lot of the context, so please take this with several grains of salt, but the idea of some kind of board of advisers struck a chord with me. I wonder if that could be a way to lessen some of the burden that you feel? And I know people have suggested it having some kind of institutional power, and I can imagine that might not be what you want--but it could be something different from that.

I'm imagining it being a volunteer thing--and I'm sure plenty of people would be happy to volunteer--and like a formal way you could get feedback from people about new ideas, a way that might be less work than monitoring a feisty MeTa thread. It could even be limited to a specific topic--like fundraising--or for a specific, temporary purpose. Like read this copy, tell us what you think.

I don't know, I'm seeing potential pitfalls now--it sort of goes against the openness that is an such an important part of the culture here, and might create some of the awkward dynamic that tiered membership would.

tl;dr: Thanks!
posted by overglow at 10:56 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


it has grown beyond that specific concern into a place where people find love (jonmc comes to mind)

Uhh, dude, I met and moved in with my wife long before MeTa (or MeFi) existed.
posted by jonmc at 2:11 PM on November 23, 2014


Aren't there users who already beta test layouts and give feedback on new features and ideas? I would think they could be asked about bundles as well if it's useful.

Eh, layout and features feedback and beta testing is one thing , but to me it would feel weird to have an inner user circle with a say in money/site management matters.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:27 PM on November 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


Sorry, I had thought you'd met here. Must have had my wires crossed.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:06 PM on November 23, 2014


it has grown beyond that specific concern into a place where people find love (jonmc comes to mind)

Uhh, dude, I met and moved in with my wife long before MeTa (or MeFi) existed.


I'll bet that your love found new depth after joining though. I mean, how could that not be the case? When I show my wife a cool and exciting FPP about puppies or video games and she barely rolls her eyes at me, it's a defining thing for us.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:17 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Hey Mathowie, I just want to thank you for your consistent willingness to engage with the at times quite ornery and not-at-all-representative section of the userbase that shows up in MeTa.

Your reliably-measured approach and openness to ideas and discussion in the face of - what I would feel to be - quite personal and vitriolic statements, or even attacks on your personal integrity and character are heroic in my opinion. I like to think I'm pretty level-headed, but if I was confronted with some of the bitterness and aggression that is regularly directed at you in these kind of threads, I... would be less restrained.

The fact that, in the face of this, you repeatedly come back to discuss these things with all members of the site, even the most oppositional, and do so in a spirit of generosity and even vulnerability is really impressive, and it endears you and the site to me greatly.

It would be very easy to dismiss feedback here - especially the more hyperbolic - as "haters gonna hate", but I feel like you always make an effort to consider and engage, and even change where you feel it's warranted. That you appreciate some of this emotion comes from a sense of ownership and belief in this community and site.

I suppose this is all a little shmoopy, but I think there's been some pretty hard knocks in this thread, and I wanted to register my voice as one that think you're doing a great job, with a lot of heart and integrity, and I genuinely think there's a courage and strength in working with the community and all our cockamamie and non-cockamamie ideas the way you do. It typifies the best of Metafilter to me, and I love seeing our founder being emblematic of it.
posted by smoke at 3:27 PM on November 23, 2014 [26 favorites]


[…] to me it would feel weird to have an inner user circle with a say in money/site management matters.

Why? As long as the process of getting to be one of these people was open, then I don't know if I see a problem. I am sure the big donors to NPR get more input than the guy who shells out $50. Just as I am sure they listen to everyone including those who are not members.

But you are most likely to see the kind of dedication required to be invited onto a board from those who are most vested in the place. Their opinions are probably more valid.

If you haven't run a site, aren't ponying up a lot of cash to keep the place going, don't run a business, nor managed employees, nor understand the technologies needed, then yes, you still get an opinion, but it's probably not going to be as informed.

Same thing if you're not an ongoing donor.

I mentioned before I'd be willing to kick in a whole lot more if I actually got something more than warm and fuzzies. As it is, I treat this place like NPR and PTV. It's on my list of places I value and when I feel like it I throw a few bucks at it.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:15 PM on November 23, 2014


I think the problems with tiered memberships are the same sorts of problems with a board. There'd really be a cabal and that would be bad. I think the only way it would work would be to remove that element, somehow. Like maybe just a random rotating selection of members who meet some minimal site participation criteria. That would work against many of the reasons for doing it -- you'd lack both the expertise that selected advisers would (hopefully) have as well as the motivation to actually be involved. Which probably would make it useless. But a self-selected, elected, or even a Matt-selected group would all effectively be a cabal and I think that would be a very bad, disruptive thing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:27 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I don't like the implication that I'm less invested in the site just because my donation was relatively small. And I don't think big donations automatically mean you get more input in any organisation.
posted by divabat at 5:03 PM on November 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


"I told you, we're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to be a sort of executive officer for the week..."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:48 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


As a low-level commentator here and a mere user, as opposed to the power users I brush up against sometimes round these parts, on the internet as a whole I'll drop my two cents into the bucket 'o' opinions:

1) The bundle presentation seems like a bad fit for Metafilter. It seems to be an experiment of sorts so, after learning as much, I'm more willing to let my initial squick reaction melt away like so much lake-effect snow. I would probably feel better if the partner sites*/services/whatever had more of a perceptible theme to someone like myself although, again, I understand I'm probably not the intended audience because experiment.

2) Hats off to Matt for reacting, with aplomb, to critiques here with respect to the presentation of said experiment. Sure, it'd be great to get things right from the beginning but much better to get the horse back into the barn rather than let it run loose. Hindsight, 20/20, all that jazz.

3) I may not like it but I'm not user numero uno and, as such, Matt seems to handle that job plenty good enough for me and any slips or falls that he makes will, ultimately, have a much larger tangible impact on him than it will for any given one of us (mods possibly excepted I suppose).

4) Fund raising. This bundle thing. Those things seem really at odds with each other and I hope, once this experiment's results are out, to see a return to the donation/supporter method that has, as I understand it anyway, worked out quite well as a sustaining stream while Google does the optimization song and dance. Sure, successful funding doesn't preclude experiments like this but it should make the need for them anything but rushed or thrown together as this seems to have been. Mixed messages, copy rewrites, and the like are always best avoided where possible, but I regress.

5) Folks who leave for dumb reasons. Good riddance. Folks who leave for good reasons. A true tragedy. Sky blue. Grass green. News at 9pm.

6) jessamyn remains awesome.


* mfc mfc mfc mfc mfc [with stav's blessing, that is] #stickingonesnosewhereitdoesntbelong /hypothetical

posted by RolandOfEld at 11:54 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why? As long as the process of getting to be one of these people was open, then I don't know if I see a problem. I am sure the big donors to NPR get more input than the guy who shells out $50.

I don't think the NPR model fits very well: your relationship to NPR is much more passive, and your interaction with other NPR listeners is limited to non-existant.

We already get enough grief about the Cabal (TINC), imagine the epic metafights we would get if someone, say, got in an argument with a prominent board member and then got the short end of the moderation stick. Not that I think the mods would play favorites or most mefites would try to pull rank, but I think a formal tiered membership status would be a lightning rod for trouble.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:15 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


On a positive note, the other sites in the good web bundle are good company to keep.
Newsblur (And Sam, who runs it) is excellent, the Toast is always linked here, which speaks to it's quality and Gina Trapani from Think Up is consistently excellent in all her endeavours .

What I would love to see would be "The Good Web Network". More akin to a Max Fun style podcast network. Ongoing support for a group of donation supported sites. I'd envision it as being like minded sites which are broadly donation supported, but adding a few of the pay for services type sites like Newsblur and Think up might work(albeit with some thought on how the tone played out).
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:07 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


And I don't think big donations automatically mean you get more input in any organisation.

well, except for the u.s. congress.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:53 AM on November 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Thank you, IF, for the charitable read of my comments. You are correct, I am spitballing. I have a lot of ideas/experience/models to draw on for managing big projects/organizations, and these are just some different approaches.

I hope it's clear, but maybe it isn't, that I'm concerned because I, too, really love MetaFilter and want MetaFilter to continue, and to thrive. I've seen a lot of organizations not engage in enough planning, struggle for solutions, not hit on anything that works well, lose heart and eventually fizzle into weakness and fold. I am concerned about that for MetaFilter in the long run. No, the sky isn't falling right now, but it's just a little scary to not understand much about the plan for holding up the sky in future when it may get saggier. At the fundamental level I've understood clearly since this 2011 thread that this sort of thinking was not an easy fit with the culture and, of course, faced with the ways that might contribute to losing something I really appreciate, that made me uneasy, so the big "uh oh" last year was not a surprise. I'd love another 10 years, at least. I'd love a simple and clear way we can all feel like yeah, I understand that, we're going to get there.

But a self-selected, elected, or even a Matt-selected group would all effectively be a cabal and I think that would be a very bad, disruptive thing

This point is going to be academic because I know this is not under consideration, but I see some confusion about what a "board"is and can be. No doubt people have had some experience, or heard some bad things about boards. Boards can be dysfunctional. At the same time, it's about leadership, and a board can be a wonderful thing. You can structure a board in any way you want - for instance, in some alternate reality where this was in consideration, it wouldn't have to be a "Matt-selected group." It could have a defined number of positions of different types - such as, an individual from another similar site, a user with legal skill, a few user representatives unknown to Matt, a user with financial skills, etc. etc. In a board governance structure, the shareholders/members would be able t make nominations and approve the slate. Terms would be staggered and rotated, etc. In other words, the setup and management of a board is something there is great knowledge about out there and can be a blessing, lending long-term sustainability and wider investment to the project at hand. Again, not suggesting this for MeFi, but I just like to speak up that despite the bad rap they get from bad actors who have dummy boards, a board governance structure, with the right leadership and motivation, can do great things for an organization.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on November 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


I am so very glad to see you back, Miko. And at the same time, you are like a hammer. Of a woman. Woman-Hammer. Trying to digest your first several entries into this thread and then there were more. Which is a good thing, Woman-Hammer.

Just give the rest of us some time to digest it. You are very wordy and some of us are not very wordy and we might need to read it all before we can read the wordy things again.

I love you and your man so much, thanks for reading my wordy words.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:20 PM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


wat
posted by cjorgensen at 7:21 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


In other words, the setup and management of a board is something there is great knowledge about out there and can be a blessing, lending long-term sustainability and wider investment to the project at hand

Agreed. I've been the ED for two dysfunctional boards and one great board, and believe in the long-run if you structure them correctly and give them a clear and defined scope they are worth their weight in gold. The lack of scope and/or direction and/or criteria ensuring quality in selection are almost always at the root of a truly dysfunctional board, and those are all possible to avoid by tapping knowledge at the outset.

Advisory or largely ex-officio board structures allow some level of oversight and input without the complication of losing your capacity to make key decisions independently. I sit on two advisory boards and it's a low barrier way to tap knowledge your organization does not natively have and can't or won't hire for.
posted by buoys in the hood at 9:38 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Matt should be a monk in a padded cell
posted by el io at 3:32 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whatever. Go Matt, try some stuff out, see what works. What smoke said. And I'm not even in the cabal.
posted by alasdair at 3:24 AM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


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