Help build MetaFilter’s savings July 31, 2017 9:04 AM   Subscribe

The generosity of the MetaFilter community has been invaluable in keeping this place up and running for the last several years via community funding. We’re in a position right now where we need to ask for a little more of that help to ensure that the site remains financially secure.

In the last few years, the MetaFilter community as a collective has been deeply generous in its support of the site. More than just deeply, really: broadly too. A stunningly large number of folks in and around the MetaFilter community have helped out with contributions to the site's funding, with both one-time donations and recurring payments. Even small sums help when there's a lot of them, and there have been a lot. There've been thousands. I've talked in detail before (e.g. earlier this year and in 2015) about how fundamental that support has been to the site being able to continue to function and to maintain a workable staffing level. I can't sufficiently express my thanks for your generosity. But I need to ask y'all to help out again.

The big news behind this: mathowie has formally given up ownership of MetaFilter. More details about that in this MetaTalk post; the short version is it’s a good thing for both Matt and for the site, but it does mean we’re starting this next chapter of the site’s history with less in savings than we had before.

We still have a basic buffer of savings to work with, enough to navigate the sort of odd short term bumpiness that can come up month to month with varying costs or weird payment schedules. But it's important to me that we build our savings back up to a more significant level, to help prepare us for any future financial shocks or major changes in revenue outlook.

For that, we're going to need your help.

With the transfer of MetaFilter’s ownership completed, we're launching a new fundraising push today, with two goals: increasing our total amount of monthly/quarterly/yearly recurring contributions, and collecting enough new one-time donations in the next short while to return our savings to a more comfortable level.

MetaFilter has been known for years on the web for its moderation; that we have an attentive, dedicated staff of people helping the community function is one of the things that makes this place unique. What isn’t always understood as well, but is vital to that working, is that moderation on MeFi is an actual, no-fuckin’-around job, something that people get paid well for in exchange for the years of care and concentration and compassion they pour into maintaining this place. It’s an unusually dedicated human process, and compared to more expedient and automated moderation/filtering/voting mechanisms common elsewhere it’s fairly expensive to do. We have been lucky as a site and a community to use this model over the years.

And so between payroll, benefits, hosting, bandwidth, dev work, legal fees, and various miscellaneous business expenses, our ongoing costs are on the order of $30K-$40K per month. My goal is to build our savings, through both immediate donations and steady monthly saving, to the point where we have several months of expenses in reserve against unexpected expenses or financial downturns.

So if you’re able to help out, with a one-time donation or a recurring payment, or by bumping up your current recurring payment by a few dollars, now is a good time to do it.

If you’ve set up a recurring payment previously and haven’t checked on it recently to make sure it’s still active, here’s a good reason to check back in.

We provide multiple paths for contributing on the site’s funding page; you can contribute electronically via PayPal or, if you’re logged in to MeFi, via Stripe as well. You can also if you prefer send a paper check to the site’s PO Box address (note: our PO Box has changed, though we’ll still receive at the old one as well for the next couple months).

If you have any questions about payment options or related issues, please hit us up via the contact form and the mod team will help you out.

But, also, as always: if you’re not in a position to contribute financially to the site, that is absolutely okay. We have never wanted MetaFilter to be a place where financial means has anything to do with participation; the most important thing to us is that you are here, that you’re reading or contributing to the site.

For those who can provide financial support as well, we thank you and are deeply grateful, but ultimately we’re most grateful that we have this amazing community of people to begin with, that there is a MetaFilter here to want to support. Thank you all for being here and making this place what it is.
posted by cortex to MetaFilter-Related at 9:04 AM (450 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

The "funding page" link is busted
posted by quaking fajita at 9:13 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


None of the links lead to a place where I can actually donate. Help! The money is burning a hole in my pocket!!
posted by anothermug at 9:14 AM on July 31 [5 favorites]


link
posted by solotoro at 9:16 AM on July 31


Ha, dammit! Smart quotes screwed up the hrefs somehow. Should be fixed.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:16 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


For reasons, a one-time donation works better for me than a monthly donation, so I'm always happy to see these reminders to give.
posted by kate blank at 9:25 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


Added my little bit to the pile.
posted by angiep at 9:25 AM on July 31


My just now paypal (one time) donation got me a receipt from mathowie's email address -- given the other news is this something that needs to be fixed?
posted by neustile at 9:30 AM on July 31


My just now paypal (one time) donation got me a receipt from mathowie's email address -- given the other news is this something that needs to be fixed?

Yeah, that turns out to be one of the most annoying details of all the business transfer stuff we've had to do. Change bank accounts? Sure! Swap corporate account ownership? No problem! Change the contact email field with PayPal? Hooboy, we've been working on it for a while. Will get it nailed down eventually, but for now Matt's email address will still be lurking around in Paypal territory.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:32 AM on July 31 [21 favorites]


OK, as long as the money finds its home :)
posted by neustile at 9:34 AM on July 31


This prompted me to add my updated credit card info to my PayPal account, so thank you for that, and sorry I forgot about it for a few months. MeFi 4EVA
posted by widdershins at 9:50 AM on July 31


If there's going to be an increased reliance on donations from community members, this is definitely a good time to discuss a non-profit setup for MetaFilter in the future.

Matt had every right to demand the financial payoff he received for giving up MetaFilter. And I know some people will defend that. But frankly, that's not where I wanted previous donations to go. And I'm not keen on making further donations in an organizational structure that allows that to happen legally.

If someone posted an Ask MetaFilter question about whether it is prudent to donate to some other organization structured like this, they would receive a loud chorus of noes. It's time for that to change.
posted by grouse at 9:57 AM on July 31 [57 favorites]


Hope you get the donations! Upping my monthly amount.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:05 AM on July 31


What is the best way to modify my recurring PayPal subscription? I've been meaning to do this for a while, but I kept getting hung up at a certain point with PayPal. The details on the email I get each month seem to be out-of-date:
To change or cancel your agreement with MetaFilter, log in to your PayPal account, go to your Profile, and click My money. Update your agreement in the "My preapproved payments" section.
If I go to PayPal and choose the gear icon at upper right, then choose Payments, then under "Pre-approved payments," go to "Manage pre-approved payments," I come to a list, "My preapproved payments," of every merchant with which I have an existing relationship to make any sort of payments through PayPal, recurring or not. The recurring MetaFilter payment I set up on May 20, 2014, is there. But when I choose "MetaFilter" and go to the "Recurring Payments details" page, my only options appear to be to "Cancel," "View history," or lower down on the page, change the "Backup payment method."

Do I have to cancel this recurring payment altogether, then start a new one to increase the amount? Or if I use the PayPal form on the funding page, can I just set a higher amount that will then replace my current one? Or is there somewhere else in PayPal currently that I can actually modify the payment amount?
posted by limeonaire at 10:08 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Can I suggest that you append some kind of signifier to usernames if we choose some kind of membership/subscription? Maybe like a star that's currently on our userpage, but following our names?

The natural curiosity of new folks will cause them to click the star and will likely increase membership over time.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:09 AM on July 31 [5 favorites]


If there's going to be an increased reliance on donations from community members, this is definitely a good time to discuss a non-profit setup for MetaFilter in the future.

Yeah, I feel you. It's something I've done some looking into; one of the things I explored while working on this was whether it'd indeed make sense to go that way even as part of the initial transfer of ownership, or into one of a few other variations on the current S-corp, sole-shareholder setup.

I touched on this briefly in the main announcement post, but the longer version is that having gone over a bunch of possibilities with lawyer and accountant, what I came away with was the advice that it doesn't really make financial sense for MetaFilter as it exists now to operate as a 501c3 nonprofit, or particularly to pursue things like a coop structure. Not that those things are out of the realm of possibility, but they're not trivial wins and for 501c3 status in particular we'd have to do a bunch of work for it including operating parallel non-profit and for-profit entities given that our non-donation corporate income is still very much the majority of what we bring in.

I really like the idea of operating as a non-profit, and when I was explaining to our lawyer why I found the idea of exploring that organizational structure attractive and what my intentions for operating MetaFilter are, he suggested it's far more practical for us now as a tiny company with a proportionally large amount of disqualifying commercial income to just...operate in that spirit.

So whatever we do or don't do in the future structurally/legally, that's where we are right now: my sole goal with MetaFilter is to keep things running, keep the lights on, keep the staff paid. I don't see it as a profit-generating venture, and aside from my actual paycheck I will not be taking anything out of the company. We don't have the non-profit status that allows for tax-deductible donations and right now it doesn't look even legally practical to pursue that, but I can promise you flat out that I aspire to that philosophy. If MetaFilter is flush any given year after the bills are paid and the payroll is run, that's money that will stay in savings and act as insurance against future financial difficulties.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:10 AM on July 31 [38 favorites]


Wouldn't setting up a nonprofit entail a lot of legal and administrative headaches both initially and on-going?

Also, re mathowie's "payoff", when I donated I assumed my money would go towards paying people to run the site. This is their job. For years, Matt worked his ass off for this place. If he got something extra when ownership was transferred (and we don't really have any details about this one way or the other), I'd consider it well-deserved deferred compensation.
posted by Jpfed at 10:11 AM on July 31 [79 favorites]


If someone posted an Ask MetaFilter question about whether it is prudent to donate to some other organization structured like this, they would receive a loud chorus of noes. It's time for that to change.

I've got a different concern. Depending upon his estate planning, if cortex gets hit by a bus tomorrow that could either kill the site entirely or result in some third-party selling the site out to someone to monetize.

That's of course a personal private matter for cortex, but unfortunately as the owner of a business that significantly impacts our lives it's also a matter of concern for us.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:11 AM on July 31 [11 favorites]


This is exactly why I hate buses.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:15 AM on July 31 [43 favorites]


(limeonaire I had the same issue, and just opted to delete & re-add at the new amount since I don't think there's any other way. Only side effect AFAIK is the withdrawal won't automatically fall on the same day of the month as your previous one. Joys of PayPal...)
posted by churl at 10:16 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


But couldn't the site be operated in the spirit of non-profit transparency? I have literally no idea what's going on with the site's financials.
posted by lalex at 10:16 AM on July 31 [8 favorites]


Can I suggest that you append some kind of signifier to usernames if we choose some kind of membership/subscription? Maybe like a star that's currently on our userpage, but following our names?

I appreciate the spirit of the idea but am still pretty loath to do anything overly conspicuous in terms of "hey, this person used money to get this thing" on the site. Profile page is an okay compromise, bylines feels like too much. But there's other things we can do to try and work on visibility of fundraising long-term.

I've got a different concern. Depending upon his estate planning, if cortex gets hit by a bus tomorrow that could either kill the site entirely or result in some third-party selling the site out to someone to monetize.

It's a valid concern, and one about which I intend to do as much as I can to prevent worst-case scenarios from going badly. Matt had previously had MetaFilter continuity stuff formalized in his will and had a corporate continuity plan, and I'll be revisiting and updating that. My wife, also a long-time MeFite, knows very well and agrees with my basic attitude toward site stewardship so if I literally got hit by a bus today I'd be less worried about sorting the mess out than I otherwise might be, but formal continuity planning will account for the rare double-bus incident etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:18 AM on July 31 [26 favorites]


For years, Matt worked his ass off for this place.

Other people worked their ass off too. Some even more so. They got nothing.

Donating in this situation is your choice. I choose not to.
posted by grouse at 10:18 AM on July 31 [9 favorites]


Can I suggest you sell shares of Metafilter in the manner of the Green Bay Packers?

Namely a pretty certificate you can hang in your home in exchange for literally no voting power at all.

I'd buy one.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:19 AM on July 31 [12 favorites]


Do I have to cancel this recurring payment altogether, then start a new one to increase the amount?

That seems to be the simplest solution a lot of the time, yeah. I think some folks have managed to update the amount in place from the PayPal interface, but if so it's not consistently doable so a quick cancel-and-restart move may be the best way to avoid hunting around trying to find if it's even findable.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:20 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


if I literally got hit by a bus today I'd be less worried about sorting the mess out than I otherwise might be, but formal continuity planning will account for the rare double-bus incident etc.

The key takeaway here is to avoid buses.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:21 AM on July 31 [5 favorites]


But there's other things we can do to try and work on visibility of fundraising long-term.

Doing some kind of, I dunno, store? With t-shirts and stickers and tote bags and stuff? That people are asking for all the time anyway?

Also, more than one podcast I listen to (TBTL being the main one) does a fund-raiser-athon every year, complete with donation gifts and on-air mentions for really major donors, very Public Broadcasting in model. We already pick months to do various things like best post prizes and YAY! posts and stuff. Couldn't we pick a month which somehow focusses on raising money for the site in various ways?
posted by hippybear at 10:22 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


Bake sale.
posted by JanetLand at 10:25 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Bake sale.

I always wanted Metafilter to buy a bomber! Show that Reddit what's what!
posted by leotrotsky at 10:26 AM on July 31 [20 favorites]


But couldn't the site be operated in the spirit of non-profit transparency? I have literally no idea what's going on with the site's financials.

Seconding this. It would be nice to have more insight than "savings are depleted", especially when we're donating to help with some of these things. Something like what Pinboard does would be nice. Also, refreshing the store is a really, really good idea. The existing swag is...fine. It would be nice to have something newer, and to have some more variety.
posted by protocoach at 10:28 AM on July 31 [15 favorites]


I'll be revisiting and updating that.

I understand that there were a lot of timeline things that could not happen in an optimal fashion with this move, but I'd hope this would be one of the first orders of business (along with the PayPal account) since if I recall correctly the last MeFi corporate continuity plan involved stuff going to pb and Matt's wife.

One of the things that has always been challenging (and problematic, no offense) about this site's org structure was that one person owned it and literally everyone else didn't. So it's AskMe 101 to have a plan in place for that single point of vulnerability and as much as I adore your wife, that's more of an acceptable fallback than an actual plan.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:29 AM on July 31 [34 favorites]


Matt had every right to demand the financial payoff he received for giving up MetaFilter. And I know some people will defend that. But frankly, that's not where I wanted previous donations to go. And I'm not keen on making further donations in an organizational structure that allows that to happen legally.

I hear you, and I think that's a totally understandable perspective on it and one that's not unique to you. I have pretty complicated feelings about the various pieces of that myself. That said, we were where we were, and now we are where we are; one of the reasons it is meaningful to me to be in full control of the business now is that I can determine exactly what happens with the site's spending and savings, and, see above, my intention is to be sure that every dollar that comes in from this moment forward goes solely to putting money into our payroll and operating costs and, where there's any extra, savings for the future.

I know that's not the same thing as legally establishing non-profit status. I talked above about why that's not something that we can plan to move on right now even though I like the concept underlying the idea. But I hear you and I take very seriously the core idea you're talking about and will be operating MetaFilter as a long-term, self-sustaining entity, not as any kind of means to extract revenue or so forth. The generosity of the MetaFilter community the last few years is something I have a hard time conveying the depth of my gratitude for, and it's not something I take for granted or consider lightly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:31 AM on July 31 [20 favorites]


"I've got a different concern. Depending upon his estate planning, if cortex gets hit by a bus tomorrow that could either kill the site entirely or result in some third-party selling the site out to someone to monetize."

Fear not that the ex-lawyer on staff had MANY THOUGHTS for cortex on the importance of a corporate continuity plan. :) I'm confident it'll be done and done well, cortex is clear on the importance of it, and I feel I did adequate hectoring.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:32 AM on July 31 [51 favorites]


Just to put it out there, I'm cortex' wife, and while I don't love speculating about anybody getting hit by busses, I used to work in the life insurance industry and I'm well aware of the need for good estate planning. I'm a long time mefite, and I feel very very strongly that the site should not be "killed" or sold out to a third-party to be monetized. I'm aware this is a fallback plan, but in the unlikely circumstance that this is what it comes to, things will be ok.
posted by Secretariat at 10:33 AM on July 31 [45 favorites]


I made a donation because I love Metafilter and trusting the staff and owner to do the right thing is much easier than dwelling on worst case scenarios where the owner absconds with my donations like he's Snidely Fucking Whiplash.
posted by bondcliff at 10:40 AM on July 31 [55 favorites]


dwelling on worst case scenarios where the owner absconds with my donations

This is literally what just happened.
posted by grouse at 10:44 AM on July 31 [23 favorites]


If he got something extra when ownership was transferred (and we don't really have any details about this one way or the other), I'd consider it well-deserved deferred compensation.

I mean, was this considered deferred compensation? If so, was there a conversation about deferred compensation for other retired staff members who have put their bloodsweattears into this place? Or crowdsourcing deferred compensation for them? (That's essentially what's happening here; savings depleted to pay out a lump sum, crowdsourcing to replete savings.)

If it was considered a standard sale-of-business transaction, was an industry-standard form of valuation (based on things like anticipated profit/assets/debt) used? I mean, these terms all have meaning and this is all just very confusing.
posted by lalex at 10:47 AM on July 31 [17 favorites]


I made a donation because I love Metafilter and trusting the staff and owner to do the right thing is much easier than dwelling on worst case scenarios where the owner absconds with my donations like he's Snidely Fucking Whiplash.

I guess...I suspect everyone here loves Metafilter? I increased my yearly donation as a result of this post. I have a tremendous amount of faith in cortex, and the rest of the team, because in the half decade I've been a member here, and the two years of lurking prior to that, they've been excellent stewards of the site and the community. Nevertheless, I would like to see transparency around the financials, ownership structure, and major changes of the company (like an ownership change with a significant payout) if fundraising is going to continue to contribute a significant portion of the site's operating income. I don't think that's an unreasonable request.
posted by protocoach at 10:50 AM on July 31 [11 favorites]


By non-donation corporate income, you mean advertising, right? Surely it's possible for a nonprofit entity to receive advertising money on the web?
posted by dbx at 10:50 AM on July 31


By non-donation corporate income, you mean advertising, right? Surely it's possible for a nonprofit entity to receive advertising money on the web?

Nope.
posted by protocoach at 10:54 AM on July 31


By non-donation corporate income, you mean advertising, right? Surely it's possible for a nonprofit entity to receive advertising money on the web?

What was outlined for me while talking the possibility through with our lawyer: a 501c3 non-profit is allowed, under certain circumstances, to have some limited amount of commercial income in addition to traditionally qualifying donation/grant/etc income, but "limited" is pretty key; once that's in the vicinity of, say, 20%, you're looking at losing your legal status at a minimum and also maybe some further IRS ramifications.

Setting up a for-profit foundation that then funnels money to a non-profit entity routes around that but, again, suddenly we're dealing with a far more complex structure for a business that does one specific niche thing and has a handful of employees. It's not impossible we could pursue that in the future but it's all else aside definitely not reasonable to try and do it right now.

A MetaFilter that was basically entirely dependent on donations and grant money to operate at all would be a really good setup for 501c3 status. That is thankfully not where we are at all; user contributions instead supplement our primarily commercial income. And those contributions super important, it's why we can afford enough staff to keep this place reasonable, but it's not the same sort of proportional funding you see with most non-profit arrangements.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:58 AM on July 31 [7 favorites]


dwelling on worst case scenarios where the owner absconds with my donations

This is literally what just happened.


No it isn't. Matt didn't go to the bank and withdraw the donations without the knowledge and consent of the other owner of the site and you very well know it. This was a business transaction between owners, and while I agree that it would be prudent to lay out the details of that transaction (including whether or not other emeritus staff received any buyout or, indeed, whether that was/is warranted), you're going just a little beyond the pale here.
posted by cooker girl at 10:58 AM on July 31 [54 favorites]


It's just grouse grousing.
posted by hippybear at 11:01 AM on July 31 [16 favorites]


I have a lot of faith in cortex (as I did in matthaughey) and that is part of the reason I support the site. I agree with a lot of things above in terms of formalizing structure, updating continuity plans etc. All good ideas.

Was it right or wrong for Matt to take a payout? I don't have a problem with it; it seems fair enough to me. And because I give a not-princely sum per month to Metafilter, the personal financial stakes just aren't that high to me. This is not the same as saying they can do whatever the hell they want with my money. Just that I'd rather focus on where the bulk of my donation goes/went -- keeping the place running, paying mods, etc. I find it hard to believe the bulk of my long-term monthly donation lined Matt's pockets. And, again, if that's the case... it just wasn't that much money for me in the first place, so I can't get too worked up about it.

Maybe that's one of the benefits of a small recurring donation? It allows me to feel like I did something without getting too rawr if something happens that I don't love.

BTW, I just gave a small, one-time donation. There was no way to earmark it for lottery tickets and beer but ... if you can find a very cheap beer, be my guest.
posted by veggieboy at 11:09 AM on July 31 [7 favorites]


Which reminds me; who was the member way back in the day who had the user name that was wholly opposite to his/her personality? I want to say it was something as ludicrous as "happy", which made all the bitching that came out so ironic.
posted by yhbc at 11:11 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Yeah I never thought any donation was like donating to a charity. It was obviously going to pay staff and keep the servers running. I feel like that was never cast in any other light. If I recall it took us, the community, essentially demanding to be allowed to give them money after the google ad revenue crashed and layoffs started.

Donating to the site is a source of the site's income, for them to do with as they need. We're patrons not investors. I'm 100% fine with that.
posted by French Fry at 11:12 AM on July 31 [66 favorites]


Businesses gotta business. And this is one business I thoroughly enjoy. Happy to contribute! Thanks guys!
posted by double bubble at 11:26 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


Also, thanks for the introduction to Stripe! PayPal - ugh - now there's a business I don't want to contribute to.
posted by double bubble at 11:29 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


Matt had every right to demand the financial payoff he received for giving up MetaFilter. And I know some people will defend that. But frankly, that's not where I wanted previous donations to go. And I'm not keen on making further donations in an organizational structure that allows that to happen legally.

For whatever it's worth, non-profit status is not really a strong guarantee against that. I used to be a member of the I-GO car-sharing service in Chicago, which was a 501(c)(3) set up by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (also a non-profit). It was sold lock, stock, and barrel to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, over the protests of many donors and members who had not envisioned their donations going to line the pockets of a $20-billion-dollar company. Enterprise proceeded to run it in an increasingly slipshod manner until finally putting it out of its misery last month. I'm not a lawyer and don't know much about the specifics of the deal, but I know that the 501(c)(3) structure was not effective in preventing the outcome you're worried about.
posted by enn at 11:29 AM on July 31 [13 favorites]


Just to be clear, how many buffer months does the site have in savings right now?
posted by lalex at 11:33 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


(For those who want to know more about the nonprofit-org-with-business-income thing, the term you want is "unrelated business income"; here's the relevant IRS page).
posted by melissasaurus at 11:37 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


Just to be clear, how many buffer months does the site have in savings right now?

We have about two full months of expenses in savings right now; I'd love to build up to something like double that buffer by the end of the year, through one-times and an increase in recurring donations. That'd be on the order of $75K new donations in total.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:39 AM on July 31 [11 favorites]


Donated! That stripe payment popup is SLICK. I was prepared to cartwheel through hoops of fire to help out, but you made it stupid scary easy.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:41 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


Okay, I FINALLY donated. Didn't do it the first time around but dammit, I use this site like my life depends on it (and now? sure feels like it) so I ponied up.

Speaking of ponies, do we get ponies now??
posted by cooker girl at 11:44 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, I think of it more as a voluntary subscription, rather than a donation.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:45 AM on July 31 [38 favorites]


Is there any chance the progress of this fundraiser could be made more transparent, like most fund drives that let you know how close you are to the goal? I find it pretty motivating to track progress. I'm definitely happy to make a larger one-time donation in addition to my monthly donation but it feels a little odd to not know how many other folks are chipping in or if we're anywhere close to the goal.

I realize the status quo is to be very, very subtle about asking for money but I'd find it quite satisfying to see a small progress tracker displayed somewhere.

On another note, I find it shocking that anyone begrudges Matt making money off the transfer for ownership or equates the Metafilter staff's labor with the "work" of being an active participant here.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:47 AM on July 31 [24 favorites]


Is there any chance the progress of this fundraiser could be made more transparent, like most fund drives that let you know how close you are to the goal?

Yeah, I like the idea of thermometering it; frimble's gonna do a bit of mucking with the backend info we track for donations and we'll see what we can mock up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:49 AM on July 31 [11 favorites]


I like the word "thermometering." I'm going to use it in my next work meeting.
posted by cooker girl at 11:51 AM on July 31 [8 favorites]


Very cool, thanks cortex and frimble!

And congrats to you, cortex, glad this will make running the site and decision making easier on you.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:58 AM on July 31


I owe you some shirt design concepts. Ia!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:59 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


OK, just throwing this out there, but would Patreon be an option for Metafilter ?
posted by Pendragon at 12:00 PM on July 31


I like the idea of thermometering it

I love this idea. And I just like saying thermometering. Thermometering.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:04 PM on July 31 [16 favorites]


Patrón is always an option.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:05 PM on July 31 [16 favorites]


For what it's worth, I think of it more as a voluntary subscription, rather than a donation.

Seconded, I think of my monthly contribution as payment for a service I value more than donation to a cause I believe in.

Are you guys saying thermometer-ing or thermo-metering? I can't decide.
posted by solotoro at 12:06 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


I like the word "thermometering." I'm going to use it in my next work meeting.

I would use it in lieu of "You can stick that up your ass".

As in: "Interesting idea. How about you thermometering that for a while and then we can circle back and see if its hot or cold."
posted by Kabanos at 12:07 PM on July 31 [33 favorites]


I'm donating, but if one of you says THERmoMEEtering on the podcast I'm taking it back.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 12:07 PM on July 31 [15 favorites]


OK, just throwing this out there, but would Patreon be an option for Metafilter ?

Technically, yes. Likewise doing some sort of more externally-facing fundraising campaign with a third-party service like gofundme or indiegogo could work if we found ourselves wanting to do something less internal-focused. It's something I've talked about with the team a bit as far as possibilities that exist.

That said, one of the big attractions of things like Patreon for recurring support and other platforms for one-time fundraising is that they let people do such things without having to deal with payment-processing code and such themselves, and in turn they take a slice off the top for providing that service. For us, that's not actually very valuable: we have payment-processing widgets built already, we've got frimble to tweak tech stuff, etc. So right now when we're pointing folks in the MeFi community to the fundraising page, pointing them to Patreon instead would mean...seeing something like 10% less of every donation for no good reason.

What could make sense with those third parties is a situation where they do something we can't; the main thing there I think is reputation and reach. MeFites are super comfortable in general hitting our funding page, and know who we are. But if we wanted to try and do more of a HEY, ENTIRE INTERNET, HERE'S WHO WE ARE AND WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP push at some point, it could be worth considering using a recognizable platform for that.

I don't have any specific plans there right now, but it's something I've been contemplating the broad outlines of and may come back to in the future.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:08 PM on July 31 [5 favorites]


Are you guys saying thermometer-ing or thermo-metering?

Is this going to be another Mee-fy/Mefee, shoes on/shoes off, showering the way god intended/showering facing the back wall thing?
posted by cooker girl at 12:08 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


Too late now, but you should have crowdsourced the purchase of the site from Matt.

Then few would be bitching about how the money was used or what the intent was when donating.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:10 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

I find it shocking that anyone begrudges Matt making money off the transfer for ownership
For what it's worth, I don't begrudge him taking the payout. As I mentioned, it is his right. It's also his right not to share that with former staff who did to make this the place that it is. It was, after all, a business.

But that doesn't mean it's wrong to point out that the situation is unchanged. It's still a business. Some people are OK with giving to a business. I'm not.
Then few would be bitching about how the money was used or what the intent was when donating.
grousing. Please.
posted by grouse at 12:12 PM on July 31 [26 favorites]


No internet place has been a more important part of my life over the last fifteen years and I'd be a fool not to give something extra on top of my usual monthly in this time of need. I've had my public and private issues with the site and possess a level of grouse-ian discomfort with this kind of ownership structure in the context of receiving donations (just ask mefi's own YoungAmerican) but I'd be an ungrateful fool.
posted by Kwine at 12:13 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Just want to go on record here: I've donated to Metafilter under the assumption that my donations would go wherever they needed to go. If part of where they need to go is to compensate Matt for the time, expertise, goodwill, IP, assumed risk, shares, and whatever else he was actually paid for in the course of this buyout, then fine. I'm not sure whether there's a feeling that he shouldn't be compensated, or whether other people have some additional detail that makes them think something wasn't done fairly. But as a random mefite person, it seems totally reasonable that the owner of an S-corp would need to be bought out, and that to cast this as some sort of "demand" (which reads to me as extortionate, although maybe that wasn't the intention) is to undervalue what he brought to the table.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:14 PM on July 31 [27 favorites]


I don't care about the existence of a payout (maybe buyout would be a less-charged word), I care about the lack of transparency, and I also have concerns because 2 months is an inappropriate amount of cash reserves for a small business to be carrying, especially a small business with a history of occasionally volatile revenue streams.
posted by lalex at 12:17 PM on July 31 [23 favorites]


(Also, cross-posted with grouse, who clarified above, making my comment above seem like I'm willfully ignoring them. I'm not!)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:17 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


On another note, I find it shocking that anyone begrudges Matt making money off the transfer for ownership or equates the Metafilter staff's labor with the "work" of being an active participant here.

Indeed. I think the subtext makes it pretty clear that Matt has put a lot of emotional labor into this site, even after he stepped away from day-to-day management, and if we're going to be a progressive community we have to recognize and compensate that emotional labor.

And I'm not sure who's better positioned to make that call than Josh.

So, um, thanks Matt! Thanks Josh!
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:19 PM on July 31 [16 favorites]


we have to recognize and compensate that emotional labor.

if this is about recognizing and compensating emotional labor then I sure hope jessamyn's getting paid.

Anyway, I've said more than my piece which is basically that I'd like to see more transparency.
posted by lalex at 12:23 PM on July 31 [34 favorites]


Hmm. I kicked in a little extra via the PayPal one time link -- and my receipt lists the vendor as matt@[matt'slastname].com. Anything to worry about there?
posted by notyou at 12:39 PM on July 31


And I just like saying thermometering. Thermometering.

WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH YOU?!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:41 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I kicked in a little extra via the PayPal one time link -- and my receipt lists the vendor as matt@[matt'slastname].com. Anything to worry about there?

Nah, no worries with Matt's email showing on the PayPal receipts; we have the actual account permissions and bank transfer stuff updated, there's just frustrating administrative drag getting the contact info stuff tied to our ooooold PayPal account all changed. The money is going to the correct place.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:43 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I will double triple my monthly contribution if cortex will start pronouncing "MEEE-fite" correctly.

Back me up on this, iamkimiam.

p.s.— the link to your dissertation is borked.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:48 PM on July 31 [10 favorites]


I figured!

Good luck with the details the rest of the way.
posted by notyou at 12:48 PM on July 31


Is there still no way to alter/cancel a recurring payment through Stripe without emailing you? As dumb as it may seem this is sort of a mental barrier for me increasing my monthly sub.
posted by selfnoise at 1:14 PM on July 31


Welp, this just provided the kick in the pants I needed to *finally* donate regularly! So long, and thanks for all the fish, Matthowie!
posted by dbmcd at 1:20 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


*Donates to Plastic.com*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:22 PM on July 31 [13 favorites]


Speaking of ponies, do we get ponies now??

posted by cooker girl at 2:44 PM on July 31 [+] [!]

My Little Pony-esque sticker in MeFi colors with [+] for the cutie mark. Make it so.
posted by ersatzkat at 1:23 PM on July 31 [7 favorites]


Is there still no way to alter/cancel a recurring payment through Stripe without emailing you? As dumb as it may seem this is sort of a mental barrier for me increasing my monthly sub.

It is a little dumb, but, yeah, that's the ticket. Refining that toolset/process is one of many things on the todo list.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:33 PM on July 31


Some people are OK with giving to a business. I'm not.

FWIW, I think of it more as paying for a product, which I do every damn day when I give money to businesses like the grocery store and WaPo and xfinity internet. I don't really see metafilter as distinct (except that they're much more ethical). Others may frame it differently, but this is what works for me. I love that the ongoing payment for metafilter's product is entirely optional, since that makes the site accessible to anyone with $5 once, but for those of us with the ability to pay for the services we use, that's a reasonable thing to do and it's not really charity.
posted by R a c h e l at 1:39 PM on July 31 [56 favorites]


Matt had every right to demand the financial payoff he received for giving up MetaFilter. And I know some people will defend that. But frankly, that's not where I wanted previous donations to go. And I'm not keen on making further donations in an organizational structure that allows that to happen legally.

What concerns me is that now the coffers have two months of expenses in them, and there's no transparency about how much there was before this buyout was made. Two months is not great, especially not for a site that has had lots of ups and downs financially.

The other thing that I am just... thinking about... is: I remember when the Big Change happened and jessamyn stepped down, and there was no "ask" for money then. The community rallied around and made it happen because we love this place. This time around, it's been very different, and combined with the "we paid an undisclosed sum to the previous owner," I'm just feeling a bit... not super great. And that is OK! I'd rather that the owners of the site feel super great about it than me. But reading this thread, I realize I'm not the only one with a bit of a side eye/question mark in my head. It just doesn't look great, it doesn't look like what I thought we looked like as a community, and that's fine, but it's also kind of not?
posted by sockermom at 1:42 PM on July 31 [43 favorites]


I'm [mostly] a pessimist and I still see this as a positive because someone like cortex (or various and sundry other previous staff members) is damn near the ideal person I think of when I wonder who would be best suited, altruistic or not, to run the site.

I say 'altruistic or not' insofar as I can't help but think that he's smart enough to not let the site die of incompetence, he's vested enough that he actually wants it to succeed or else he's guilty of killing the [his] golden goose, and he's wise/wily enough to know that the only way to keep the site alive and successful (as per my previous two points) is to foster the same sort of esprit de corps that's kept it going strong through the years, ad-revenue or no.

... and the tone for moderator comments here, especially when he is short on shits to give, is to die for. I like that this is a thing on this site and I feel like he'll keep that going. In fact I'm sort of glad there's not a donate button at the end of every moderator comment as a nod to a given comment/mod or else I'd be tens of dollars poorer from donating every time I saw a comment I agreed with from the mod team.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:52 PM on July 31 [7 favorites]


sockermom, I have really complicated feelings about it too, so I understand where you're coming from. And we've had a couple of transitional periods in the site in the last few years that have made some of this stuff more muddy and complicated than I think anyone would like. There are some things from the last few years that are pretty solid if-I-had-a-time-machine material, starting from a couple years before the site's big financial crisis first broke.

But I don't have a time machine, and we're here now, and the stuff that I think could have been approached better in the past is just gonna be what it was. So I'm focusing on now. And what I can say is that now, as of very recently, I have the certainty and profound responsibility of being able to control 100% what MetaFilter does as company, how it spends and saves and plans for its money. I'm hoping I've been clear about those aims so far in this thread; I'll continue to reiterate and outline that vision going forward.

Right now, whatever other compromises and complicated feelings may tie up with all of this, I feel good about MetaFilter's present and future. I feel like the site's going to be in good shape, and that is down in no small part to the willingness of the community to support MetaFilter in every sense of the word despite its flaws and missteps and idiosyncrasies. What shape that support takes, and with what reservations, is going to vary from person to person and I think that's expected and totally understandable. I'm glad that this is the sort of place where we can actually have this kind of thoughtful conversation about complicated stuff like this.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:58 PM on July 31 [25 favorites]


Although the amount of the buyout isn't given and shouldn't have to be, you can kind of figure it out from the data given. The amount has to be way less than Matt could have gotten selling the place to some media company. Money makes people feel weird, but I don't think it's appropriate to second-guess Matt here; paying money for something someone else owns is not an abuse.

I personally have very little money, but I sent some of it to Mefi.
posted by zompist at 2:08 PM on July 31 [32 favorites]


I really appreciate and admire your level-headed patience in this type of thread, cortex.

For me, giving money to metafilter is not "donating to a business," as grouse said upthread. It's paying for a valued service I use every day. I understand lots of people use the service for free, and that's totally fine, but I can afford to give a little and so I do. I give to my podcast networks, too, and they're not non-profit either. I do it because I appreciate the service being provided and want to do my very small part to make sure it keeps existing.

If it turns out cortex is an embezzler who wants to steal my $5 a month I guess that's something I can live with.
posted by something something at 2:14 PM on July 31 [22 favorites]


I see the money I send this place like the money I toss to buskers. And of course some of that money will be used to buy pizza and beer. Of course some of the money that I've previously given to Metafilter ended up in Matt's pocket just like some of the money I'll be giving Metafilter in the future will end up in Josh's. To expect anything else is to expect a 100% volunteer effort by the owner which is unfair; and unrealistic if the owner isn't already independently wealthy.

Seems like Matt and Josh could have just issued Matt a weekly pay cheque for a year amounting to the amount of the payout and made the transfer without money after the year and a) no one would have made the quid pro quo connection and b) even if they had no one would have cared. But as usual both Matt and Josh have been scrupulously honest about what went down. And really I have no problem with any transfer of funds. Being pissed about it seems like asking Matt to make yet another massive donation to the site; a site he has stepped back from to boot.
posted by Mitheral at 2:36 PM on July 31 [14 favorites]


I feel like a lot of people are confusing 501c3 status, which is ultimately just a specific legal arrangement, with some kind of ethical stance. 501 status is not a guarantee that a corporation will behave ethically, nor is the converse true.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:50 PM on July 31 [27 favorites]


I remember when the Big Change happened and jessamyn stepped down, and there was no "ask" for money then. The community rallied around and made it happen because we love this place.

Well, yes, but: the lack of an explicit ask was mostly because Matt was so very blinkered about doing so even though the site had been struggling for revenue for months; and the rallying around was very much a "oh for heaven's sake Matt, why didn't you say something earlier" response.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:17 PM on July 31 [14 favorites]


On ethical stance: GiveWell was a 501c3.
posted by Mitheral at 3:21 PM on July 31 [8 favorites]


Whatever it takes to keep MeFi as a beacon of stability in the increasingly walled and corporatized web is fine with me.

I'd also subscribe to a jessamyn Patreon even if it only described the goal as "helping her continue to be badass".
posted by Rumple at 3:26 PM on July 31 [22 favorites]


I find it shocking that anyone begrudges Matt making money off the transfer for ownership

I don't think anyone begrudges Matt making some money off the transfer for ownership; I think the problem is that because we're talking in vagueness here - and I get the sense that's mostly because cortex is a class act, rather than because he's trying to be shady - no one really knows the /size/ of said payout, and what the proportions of payout-to-remaining-savings are.

Like, to take something absolutely ludicrous, if there were originally 5 years of savings and Matt wound up taking all but 2 months, I think people would probably be (rightly) frustrated, because even though Metafilter technically operates as a for-profit company, it hasn't really been working like one. You don't generally give donations to for-profit companies, frex. It's just different.

At the same time, if it was 3 months, and Matt got one month, leaving two behind, everyone would be like "oh yeah that totally makes sense 100%".

Presumably, the actual figure is somewhere between one month's worth of savings and 58, but without knowing which end of the scale it leans towards - and we may never know - the uncertainty seems hard for folks. I don't think anyone's being begrudging, exactly, just that nebulous numbers don't sit well with community orgs.
posted by corb at 3:34 PM on July 31 [16 favorites]


who was the member way back in the day who had the user name that was wholly opposite to his/her personality? I want to say it was something as ludicrous as "happy"

Witty? He wasn't very, I remember.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:50 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


Yeah but honestly do you think your five bucks or whatever entitles you to that information? Like, when I buy a pair of shoes, I don't really feel like I'm entitled to know the salary of the person who sold them to me, their bosses' salary etc etc. In fact, I'd wager most of us spend a lot more money with a lot less transparency every day, without much thought.

Because mefi is a community site, I think we sometimes forget thats it's a community site run by a business.

Like questions about jessamyn getting a payout. I love jessamyn, this site wouldn't be the same without her and I miss her heavy presence here every day. But she was paid for her contributions, as an employee. People can talk about the fairness of that or not (hopefully not), but I think we can agree that there is a difference between a business owner and an employee. Mefi is not a cooperative currently, and what's happened isn't unusual or even really remarkable.

If that is discomfitting - and you're totally entitled to feel discomfitted - then you don't have to participate in a call for donations, as per grouse.

I just think it's important that we put mefi into the same context we put many other product or service vendors. The community is special absolutely, as a small business it's less unusual though and I think expectations should be tempered.
posted by smoke at 3:54 PM on July 31 [53 favorites]


I tossed a bit of extra cash as a one-off, on top of my usual monthly donation, and am glad to do it. Thanks for continuing to do what you do, cortex and all the mods, especially in what is charitably probably not the single most fun period of time Metafilter has ever had. For what a point of data is worth, while I wouldn't mind more data because I'm incurably nosy, I'm happy with the level of transparency provided and trust cortex and mathowie to have come to a reasonable agreement on how the payout/deferred-comp/whatever should work. But I'll feel better when that continuity plan is in place, please work on that, I can send you cute pictures of my cats looking disappointed in you that you haven't done it yet if that will provide sufficient motivation.

(I really need to monetize My Cats Looking Disappointed In You As A Service one of these days.)
posted by Stacey at 4:56 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]


it's far more practical for us now as a tiny company with a proportionally large amount of disqualifying commercial income to just...operate in that spirit.

I can understand this reality. Still, the spirit you speak of is one of transparency. Can we expect open books - or regular disclosures as in an annual report - as we would have in a nonprofit?

other retired staff members who have put their bloodsweattears into this place

I read this as "bloodsweaters" and now I'm going to think about that all the time when I think about employee contributions...wearing our bloodsweaters. Anyhow, I agree that in a just set of actions, that kind of payout would be spread to all those who built the value. Perhaps what went down did do that and everyone thinks it's fair. Since it is a business, it's none of my business. But that's how I'd look at it.

I feel like a lot of people are confusing 501c3 status, which is ultimately just a specific legal arrangement, with some kind of ethical stance. 501 status is not a guarantee that a corporation will behave ethically, nor is the converse true.

While that is certainly true, what that status does get you is two things: transparency (seeing where the money goes, and to whom, and how much) and accountability (to the governing body of members holding the org in trust). Organizations with poor accountability and low compliance do exist, but that's a fault of their leadership and membership. What's always bothered me about MetaFilter is this idea of having the "ethos" of a nonprofit without any of the things that give a nonprofit that ethos - openness and some degree of stakeholder participation in decisionmaking. In an odd sense, I'd always have preferred if the lines were clearer - the subscription model, in which the ownership is clear and the user relationship more clearly admitted to be transactional -- but I get that has its own set of drawbacks, including participation challenges.

We've been down this road 100 times, and I get that things are the way they are, that they're not changing, and that community purpose and ownership is simply not the vision of this entity. So be it. I'm not arguing for anything else any longer. But personally, I have limited amounts of money to donate, and at the end of the day, I can't bring myself to donate to a for-profit, privately held organization, especially not one already running a near half-million-dollar budget. And I think it's entirely reasonable for other people with that outlook to opt out of giving money in this way, and not be shamed, less-than, argued with, or otherwise berated for it. I understand that many people have no such hangups about organizational structure and accountability and trasparency, and at this point it's good that they donate and don't worry about it, since the site is now clearly dependent on their contributions as a necessary income stream. Like cortex, I see a lot of points at which it could have been different, but that's not what folks wanted. So, I'm glad cortex's vision is for an essentially unchanged MetaFilter, and I hope it lasts a long time.

With regard to succession planning, yes, that's absolutely essential. There's other long-range planning stuff that has come up in the past, and I think now might be the time for a 5-year projection. The participation changes would be of concern to any organization depending on contributions for its sustainability, "buffer" or no buffer.
posted by Miko at 4:59 PM on July 31 [24 favorites]


I personally think that when money is donated to a cause or an entity, it's no longer MY business what they do with the money once it's out of my pocket and in theirs.

It's like people yelling at cops that "I pay your salary" or getting in a dudgeon because tax money is going somewhere I disagree with. I can disagree with it, but at the end of the day, once the tax bill is settled up, what's done with the money is out of my hands.

Support the site, don't support the site. Disagree with the management, don't disagree with the management. Whatever, but complaining about it doesn't change the fact that it's mefi's money to spend once they have it.
posted by disclaimer at 4:59 PM on July 31 [9 favorites]


A bunch of people have made the point that they think of their contributions as a voluntary subscription, rather than a donation. That's where I am too -- I get more out of Metafilter every month than I put in, so why not? But I actually think that's a downside of the for-profit model, not a defense of it. It's basically saying, the limit on what I'm comfortable putting into this enterprise is the value I personally anticipate getting out in the very near term. That's not a great feeling.

Nonprofits get donations for broader reasons -- I'm giving $100 to X because I want to buy 100 meals for strangers. I'm putting Y in my will because I want it to exist after I'm gone. That's so clearly the spirit cortex is bringing to this project and I'd very much like to have his back. But just subjectively I have to admit I find this latest transaction offputting -- it pushes me back into "it's just a subscription, not a donation, don't give too much." (But really do give too much, because these are real people who have been around for a long time and we can trust them ...)

Nonprofit structures exist for exactly that reason -- to make it safe to give more than you get. If it's not you eating the meals, or you'll be dead when the money's spent, you do have a legitimate interest in poking your nose into how the business is run, and that's why nonprofits are governed the way they are. So yeah, that means 501(c)(3)s, and public financials, and board elections, and bylaws, and all that overhead.

Maybe that's just plain overkill, given ad revenue vs. the total we could feasibly donate -- and also given that this is a labor of love and just shrugging and trusting in cortex is a pretty reasonable plan. I just want to flag that "it's just a subscription" comes with real downsides -- it's making the best of a bad thing, when it comes to not being able to afford handling donations the way they're usually handled.
posted by john hadron collider at 5:00 PM on July 31 [8 favorites]


This was a good reminder, thank you! My last recurring donation had canceled because I changed credit cards and I never got around to updating.
posted by liquorice at 5:07 PM on July 31


Nonprofit structures exist for exactly that reason -- to make it safe to give more than you get.

I mean, if I'm understanding correctly, this is essentially a fundraiser to make up for some dollar value of Metafilter LLC being paid out to Matt, and whatever that value is has now been essentially transferred solely to cortex? If that's the way it is then fine, and I like all the people involved, but it's not weird to think it's weird.
posted by lalex at 5:16 PM on July 31 [14 favorites]


It's a fundraiser to contribute to cash reserved of the Metafilter S-corp. If you seriously think cortex is just gonna pocket the cash, or whatever, why are you even here? How can you possibly trust his moderation abilities if that's the level of paranoid cynicism you're operating on?
posted by tobascodagama at 5:40 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]


I do not seriously think cortex is going to pocket any kind of cash. I think if you're running a community that relies heavily on donations, it's not weird for people to think it's weird that there's no additional level of transparency.
posted by lalex at 5:46 PM on July 31 [13 favorites]


I pay Google $10/month for all the music I want to listen to. I pay Microsoft $10/month for storage space and software. I can drop $5/month on the sanity and community that MeFi brings me. MeFi doesn't need to be a charity. It's a business. And I can only assume that Mat invested $BIGNUM of his own money into that business over time, and it's absolutely fair and logical for him to extract that investment if the business is no longer his. Keep on keepin' on, guys. You're all good people.
posted by jferg at 5:57 PM on July 31 [12 favorites]


But personally, I have limited amounts of money to donate, and at the end of the day, I can't bring myself to donate to a for-profit, privately held organization, especially not one already running a near half-million-dollar budget.

This said what I was thinking, but much clearer than I could have articulated it. I'm fine with commercial transactions where I pay a for-profit company for a service, and I'm ok giving to non-profits with their transparency and accountability. But, even though this is the era of kickstarter and suchlike, I'm not going to donate to a for-profit company that operates in the normal way of a for-profit, and I'm not going to give a donation towards some tech dude's equity stake (or to make up for that equity stake once paid out).

It's probably for the better that many people here obviously feel differently, and I certainly wish economic good fortune on MetaFilter Inc. regardless of how that is achieved.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:31 PM on July 31 [11 favorites]


Every day, as I'm reading the most recent political thread, there's a moment where I remember that the mods have to monitor each and every one of those threads. I get this huge pit in my stomach, and I worry seriously about their mental well-being, in light of that terrible work during these terrible times.

I help support Metafilter financially, given the incredible value I get from it. But I also worry the mods might need support that isn't just financial, given everything that's going on.

How are the mods doing it? How can they keep up with the political threads, let alone everything else going on in the site? I can barely follow the political threads and manage to avoid crying in a ball in the shower all day. You okay, mods? You getting all the hugs you need?
posted by meese at 7:03 PM on July 31 [10 favorites]


I'm not too stressed about my tiny donation* going to the apocryphal "hookers and blow".

But it would give me the warm fuzzies to see a chart where, in broad categories, monthly expenses were laid out (salaries as a lump, hosting, legal...), and income was also reported (ad network 1, ad network 2, affiliate 1, recurring subscriptions, one time payments...) just to give all of us a feel for what goes out, comes in, and how that sheet looks. Numbers in thousands is fine.

The above is kind of ludicrous to ask of a private company...but on the other hand it's an enterprise that exists because awesome people hang out and contribute, so it seems natural to ask for. Appropriate? Have no idea. But it also gives an opportunity for users to be proactive and offer advice and insight if they can ("hey, word up, I work with so-and-so and, mum's the word, network 2...well...").

I personally would like to just get a sense of "ok, things are good, I have someplace to grumble and moan for the foreseeable future" or "jeebus, why is 80% of income coming from one source, if that goes away, where will I grumble and moan?"

And I'm super-concerned about two months cash. If you're going to fundraise, let's fundraise get this to at least six month's cash. It sounds like metafilter is about a $1M/year business to run? Let's see $500K in the bank. (This would be the "do as I say, not as I do" part of the speech.)

I like to assume everyone gets paid well here, if not tech-bro-VP-of-nothing well. "Well" is defined as "able to live like that mythical middle class person the fascists stole from us". We don't need to know anyone's specific salary, of course, but I would be thrilled to hear everyone who works here is paid an amount they're generally happy with. I believe that any part-time mefi employees are so by their own volition? (Unpaid "interns", or "19.5-" or "39.5-hours" employees would get some serious side-eye from me.)

* Which I'll up soon...after all, when I personally go bankrupt next year, based on how this year is going, I'm thumbing it down I-5 to live in a box in Cortex and Secretariat's yard, our never having met being but a tiny bump in my plan.
posted by maxwelton at 7:10 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


I already give to a lot of non-profits, many of which do work that needs doing but may never impact me directly. This is a place that means a great deal to me personally, and so I am happy to invest in keeping the place going, whatever the shape that investment needs to take. I can afford it, which helps with that calculation. But I don't begrudge anyone a different decision, for whatever reason they make it. Pay what you think this place is worth to you or what you can afford - and if that payment comes in the form of wonderful links or thoughtful or interesting comments or shared community, then MetaFilter has been well compensated, indeed.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:18 PM on July 31 [5 favorites]


The above is kind of ludicrous to ask of a private company...but on the other hand it's an enterprise that exists because awesome people hang out and contribute, so it seems natural to ask for. Appropriate? Have no idea.

None yo damn business.

I used to run a restaurant that had a bar that was sort of a neighborhood bar. People could come and have dinner and/or a few beers and hang out. Or show up and drink water and watch the game. None of them got to see the books, no matter how good their tips were.

Metafilter is like that.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:25 PM on July 31 [22 favorites]


With slightly less vomit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:27 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: Slightly less vomit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:27 PM on July 31 [8 favorites]


cortex is reaching the age where hookers AND blow are beyond his body's ability to cope.
posted by hippybear at 7:48 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


octobersurprise: yes, it was witty I was thinking of!
posted by yhbc at 7:48 PM on July 31


double-bus incident

Bus plunge, surely.

Just changed my monthly X to 5X. Thanks for all you guys do.
posted by ctmf at 7:53 PM on July 31


I'm sorry that I can't contribute, but I appreciate that it's not being demanded of me or anyone else. In spite of my occasional griping, this is a great site, and I'll contribute by trying to... contribute more, in the form of links n' stuff people might like. All the money in the world won't matter if this site doesn't have content, and that comes from us (actually, all the money in the world would probably matter a lot, but you know what I mean).
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:56 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


yes, it was witty I was thinking of!

oh I've wasted my life
posted by octobersurprise at 7:58 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I dig the headline bar but I think it should say "cortex now pwns metafilter."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:01 PM on July 31 [6 favorites]


Fear not that the ex-lawyer on staff had MANY THOUGHTS

Isn't an ex-lawyer like an ex-marine (in that there is no such thing, there is no known remedy for that)?
posted by ctmf at 8:02 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


Miko: "And I think it's entirely reasonable for other people with that outlook to opt out of giving money in this way, and not be shamed, less-than, argued with, or otherwise berated for it."

I think cortex was at pains in the FPP to make it clear that it is 200% fine not to donate. To the extent you are talking about the opinions of users, I think it's a little unreasonable to assert something in MetaTalk and expect zero response from people who disagree.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:07 PM on July 31 [10 favorites]


Money is fungible. There are a lot of ways to look at this. I think the mistake, if you think there is one, is the title for the thread. He could have just as easily rephrased it and asked for money to pay for operations and used the ad revenue to bulk up the savings. Money is money. Can be used for anything.

I think, like anything else, you just decide to contribute or not. No big deal either way.
posted by AugustWest at 8:12 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


For the record, I don't see my donations as going to a for-profit corp either. I like the voluntary subscription idea. Alternatively, I'm donating to Cortex to do what he thinks the best thing for MetaFilter is. If that's buy it from Matt for cash, then I have no reason to doubt that. If Cortex is conning us with his "good dude, passionate about MeFi" persona, it's been a very looooong successful con.
posted by ctmf at 8:16 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


I guess, and this is a thing that I've been thinking about.... is that Josh is now the owner of MetaFilter etc.... but it was the company's money that was used to buy Matt out? That's an... interesting financial transaction.
posted by hippybear at 8:18 PM on July 31 [23 favorites]


If I get hit by a bus I request that my treasured collection of bespoke favorites devolve upon my metafilter spouse, tehloki.
posted by 7segment at 8:45 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


We did kick around some alternative corporate structures (I am a huge fan of L3Cs and so forth and have been for years /lawnerd), and they all had various ups and downs (including one not being available in Oregon, full stop), but the long and the short of it was that restructuring MetaFilter at this time to have a more community- or charity-oriented corporate structure would have involved considerable up-front cost and complexity, and significant ongoing expenditures dedicated to the maintenance of the more-complex corporate form -- in other words, we would have been able to SAY "look how community-oriented we are in our corporate structure!" but we would have been saying so at the cost of diverting money that is currently used for community functions (hosting, wages) to the significantly-increased corporate overhead.

Wishing MetaFilter were a 501(c)3 or a community corporation of some sort is totally legitimate and there would be a lot of benefits to that, even though it would require a lot more money go to non-core functions. But there is also an argument to be made that keeping a very simple corporate structure with minimal overhead costs and maximal flexibility is the more community-centric choice because it focuses more resources on the community -- even though it loses some of the community-centricity and/or transparency of some other corporate structures. It definitely does ask you to trust more in Josh than something with a board of directors auditing his every move would, but I think he's been pretty upfront that he understands that. I certainly understand why some people are uncomfortable with that choice and I don't fault anyone who has a different preference, but I am satisfied that Josh considered all options and chose the one that was, at this moment, in these specific circumstances, the most community-centered.

Isn't an ex-lawyer like an ex-marine (in that there is no such thing, there is no known remedy for that)?
Technically my license is even still active and stuff!, but I'm not MetaFilter's lawyer. IANMFL, interpretable in so many ways!

posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:46 PM on July 31 [15 favorites]


Glad to help. Rather than futzing around with modifying my monthly PayPal donation, I sent in a lump sum. Remind us from time to time, please, and I'll do the same again in a few months.

So. At my day job I work for a large for-profit business. I moonlight as an adjunct for the local public community college. And I'm on the board of a non-profit 501(c)(3) community theatre. All can be appropriate, ethical ways of operating a business. Cortex, I trust you and your staff to do what is best for the community, and to look ahead to ensure continuity of operations. Long live MetaFilter!
posted by apartment dweller at 8:47 PM on July 31


It definitely does ask you to trust more in Josh than something with a board of directors auditing his every move would, but I think he's been pretty upfront that he understands that.

Is there a reason that has to be the case? That is, would Metafilter consider some sort of board with rotating community members, even if they're not technically empowered with legal power? Metatalk certainly provides a lot of that function, but when it comes to the financial stuff, there's sometimes less information given out for privacy reasons. Which is completely the right outcome and I wouldn't want you to do anything else. But I wonder if some sort of board set-up could provide some community oversight/input for the financial aspect of things. I'm not sure what the tradeoff would be in terms of complexity/extra work for the staff, but perhaps it's something to consider?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 8:54 PM on July 31


Non-lawyer here; does the chosen corporate structure actually prevent providing various levels of financial transparency? Like up to a certain level or something?
posted by lalex at 8:55 PM on July 31 [6 favorites]


but it was the company's money that was used to buy Matt out? That's an... interesting financial transaction.

I am admittedly no businessman, but pretty much every small business sale that I have been involved in included some form of self-financing similar to this. Cortex could just as well have taken a loan to cover the amount and the paid the loan back with the money in the coffers, or Matt could have said "x dollars/mo for x months". Lump sum must have been better for whatever reasons.

Point is, the financing structure isn't actually that weird.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:11 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]


Or maybe it's misleading to think that cortex bought MetaFilter, and that instead Matt extracted some value from the company he founded and left and in the process just handed it over.

I mean, I'm not making accusations of any sort here. I don't suspect malfeasance on the part of anyone involved here. I'm more curious than anything else.
posted by hippybear at 9:16 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that a lot of people here really want MeFi to be/have been a co-op. I, personally, think that would have been great. But it wasn't a co-op. Lots of people also seem to really want MeFi to be/have been a nonprofit. But it wasn't a nonprofit. Within the context of what MeFi actually is, which is to say a wholly-owned S-corp, I find the nature of this transaction to be entirely normal and unsurprising. Employees are not owners and don't get paid out, and expecting that is weird and surprising. I personally would love to see MeFi become a co-op because I think it would be more fair in the future, but I haven't gotten the impression that anyone who wore bloodsweaters for the company as an employee was coerced or cheated. I think Jessamyn has been forthright about her opinions about how MeFi was managed by Matt during her tenure, and I am actually encouraged by my belief that cortex may have the energy and motivation to address some of those issues (if warranted, and if they haven't been already). So here's to the future.

For my part, my recurring payment is for an optional, ill-defined subscription to a service I value. I don't expect financial transparency in return, because I'm not buying shares, nor is the company getting a tax break for providing it. I do, however, get to help pay for lights and salaries, and maybe also the profit that cortex extracts from the business as the sole owner but it doesn't sound like it, so it's all gravy to me.

I mean, inasmuch as I am okay with capitalism generally, which is the context in which we must necessarily discuss this topic.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:29 PM on July 31 [21 favorites]


For the record, I don't see my donations as going to a for-profit corp either.

No matter how one sees it, that's in fact what it is.

Posting clearer financials would be a terrific gesture of goodwill and commitment to the community ethos. Nothing about the tax status of the corporation should prevent that. Open book management has been a trend for a while. Readers here aren't employees, but they do generate the site's content (so they're instrumental in producing the value of the site), and having greater knowledge might just help them generate even more significant value in, with, and for the site.
posted by Miko at 9:51 PM on July 31 [16 favorites]


No matter how one sees it, that's in fact what it is.

I don't care. If Josh runs off with the money, I still feel like I got my money's worth. I don't need metafilter to fill out a FAFSA form to get it.
posted by ctmf at 10:03 PM on July 31 [13 favorites]


I get that many people really don't care. And it's honestly, sincerely, fine that you don't and that many people don't. Purely as a point of clarity, it is just simply a good idea not to characterize a business as something that it isn't - that confuses people. It's easier for all of us to understand some of the arbitrariness inherent in managing it as a for-profit business when we know that it is a for-profit business. Our expectations would rightfully be different if it were not. Being clear on that is good for the entire discussion.
posted by Miko at 10:10 PM on July 31 [11 favorites]


I give money to places and things and people all the time and don't feel the need to demand transparency in the way that some of you seem to want, and I really don't get it. I give money to my favorite bar a lot (and yes, metafilter is a lot like my favorite bar, except we have more fights here and my actual favorite bar doesn't need to employ bouncer-type service nearly as much as mefi does) and I get enormous value - beyond tasty drinks and snacks - from that bar, and I don't feel the need to know exactly what the owners do with it; I can see the results: low staff turnover, happy customers, a clean, well-lighted space to drink and eat - and honestly, that's what I need to know.

I am happy to pay mefi some money on an ongoing basis because this is my virtual bar. I just have to pour my own drinks and provide my own food.
posted by rtha at 10:12 PM on July 31 [21 favorites]


Is there an easy way to ALWAYS go through MeFi's affiliate Amazon link?
posted by Charity Garfein at 10:15 PM on July 31


put a bookmark called "Amazon" in the most prominent part of your browsing environment so when you think about going there, that is what you click.
posted by hippybear at 10:18 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


$5 a month, same as in town?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:21 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Or maybe it's misleading to think that cortex bought MetaFilter, and that instead Matt extracted some value from the company he founded and left and in the process just handed it over.

Yeah, that's more the case, really. On paper, I "bought" it from Matt because that's how the maneuver is legally defined, but in practical terms it's more accurate to describe it as a transfer of ownership and that's the language I've been trying to use to talk about it.

That is: this wasn't a case where I saw a chance to buy Matt out and make some cash off the venture, it's something where I'm willing and able to take on the responsibilities of ownership and Matt could transfer that ownership and responsibility once and for all away from himself and to someone he trusts to do right by the site. I care about MetaFilter enough to take that new responsibility and liability and I'm glad that with something that seemed increasingly inevitable—Matt wanting to find a way to divest himself completely of that stress and responsibility—we were able to find a compromise that's workable for him and for the site. It is a compromise, but it's one I feel is better for MeFi than any of the other plausible paths this could have taken over the next few years.

I hope MetaFilter stays steady financially or even thrives, because that matters for letting the site operate well in the ways and with the staffing levels we're all accustomed to. But if this wasn't absolutely clear already: I have no interest in MetaFilter doing well financially for my own financial sake. I take a good paycheck for doing a job I love and care about; I'm not going to take money out of the site beyond that, period. Owning MetaFilter isn't a speculative venture for me; it's not an investment I'm going to pull dividends from. It's a thing I'm doing because it means being able to protect and maintain this community that is incredibly important to me in the most direct way I know how.

I've kept some of the details of that out of this and the other post because, I mean, shit, because I was involved in the process of getting here with the ownership transfer over the last couple months, and in a decade of working with Matt prior to that, and this is where my judgement has fallen on what details are appropriate to include or not. There are details I'm not going to get into, and I appreciate that folks by and large have been able and willing to read the room on that. I can totally appreciate that some folks would prefer more absolute transparency in the details of the transfer and the operations of the site, but this is the balance I'm trying to strike and it's not gonna satisfy everyone. I sympathize with that; it's a very MetaFilter sort of situation for us to collectively be in.

I'll keep trying to communicate where we're at, where I'm at, why we're doing what we're doing, and what the site and the web and the ad economy and so on have in store for us all. I'll keep looking at possible changes to how we structure the business and communicate about its operations. I'll keep talking with and working with the MetaFilter staff to look at what's possible, what's workable in personal and privacy terms, about future changes to those things. Most of all I'll keep putting the site's stability and persistence as my top priority in all of that.

My perception and hope is that there are enough folks who find that an acceptable balance that this all works out well enough even though none of us is likely to end up totally satisfied about every aspect. It's okay if folks disagree about some parts, or don't feel comfortable with contributing, or any other wrinkle. It's a big community, it contains multitudes.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:23 PM on July 31 [62 favorites]

It's a big community, it contains multitudes.
Good thing it doesn't contradict itself.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:28 PM on July 31


Yes it does, it totally does.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:29 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I've been trying to think through my vague unease about this all day.

Like, I 100% believe in the fundamental goodness of all the actors involved. Matt created the site and put I ton of work into it over the years, so whatever payday he got was definitely not enough. I absolutely think cortex is going to continue to be a great steward of Metafilter, and the mods all do the Lord's work.

But for some reason I just feel a bit weird about the whole thing, and I'm not sure why. Honestly, I think a large part of my discomfort is that if you squint, the structure of the transfer sort of looks like a leveraged buy-out, and my capitalism-hating heart is unfairly sounding a false alarm.

It's sort of like that scene in Robocop where they can't stop the malfunctioning robot from shooting up that flunky in the board room, if my desire to reform the allocation of wealth was a robot armed with machine guns and this very innocuous business transaction was a two-bit character with a punchable face.
posted by jcreigh at 10:30 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


I have a number of recurring PayPal expenses and no email from them makes me as happy as the monthly notice of my MeFi contribution. I am happy to bump it up if it encourages other to start donating.

Seriously, the tote-bags and the invites to special supporters-only gala events are more than worth it. Last year, I made out with Ivanka at the Portland W Hotel Ballroom whilst drinking champagne from Matt's bicycle shoes. Here's to cortex wooing us donors with similar debauchery!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:38 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]


Haha, I know! Last year I went in costume as Ivanka Trump and... waaaaaaaaitaminute!
posted by ctmf at 10:47 PM on July 31 [15 favorites]


There are three kinds of entities out there.
(1) Those I do not trust as far as I can toss a Toyota and will double-count the change from every transaction.
(2) Those I don't trust very much, but my financial and other involvement with them is too small to be concerned with; but if that rises above a certain level, they may migrate to #1.
(3) Those I trust implicitly with everything. That's a very small list, but MetaFilter is on it.

I just had a doctor's appointment today where I learned that I will not be incurring more medical expenses in the immediate future (the best news of a goodnews/badnews/nonews mix). So I will soon be figuring out how much I can toss into the Filter in August and September.

And, as far as the Ambiguity of MeFinances is concerned for me, well, I'm currently wearing this shirt.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:48 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that MF being a co-op of any kind would be a disaster that would involve an almost immediate flameout. I like the bar metaphor.

I see the money I send this place like the money I toss to buskers. And of course some of that money will be used to buy pizza and beer.

Greg Giraldo;
"This homeless guy asked me for money the other day.
I was about to give it to him and then I thought he was going to use it on drugs or alcohol.
And then I thought, that's what I'm going to use it on.
Why am I judging this poor bastard?"
posted by bongo_x at 11:54 PM on July 31 [8 favorites]


Haha, I know! Last year I went in costume as the Portland W Hotel Ballroom and... waaaaaaaaitaminute!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:07 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


As someone who has worked for a co-op for 34 years, co-ops ain't all transparency and roses. I'm happy to know MetaFilter is in cortex's hands and I'm happy to help.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:11 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


I'm gonna set up recurring donations as soon as I can but in the meantime can I send you guys brownies or something because I feel like that best represents how I show affection and appreciation so just LMK please
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:15 AM on August 1


Yes, please! I'll take some brownies. Washington style, please, IYKWIM.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:18 AM on August 1


I disagree that Metafilter is a neighborhood bar, or that it's just a product or service vendor. I come to Metafilter because of everyone. Because of everyone's thoughtful comments and discussions and ideas and love and concern and effort.

To me, Metafilter is a community because of the people in it. And a community is created by clear facilitators and moderators, and I am so grateful for everyone who is and has been a moderator here.

To somewhat paraphrase blue_beetle: If we're part of an online community of words and discussions, and we write posts and leave comments, not because we're paid for it but because we cherish the community -- we're not a consumer; we're part of the community we're creating.

--

I get it, having run orgs and businesses myself; these things don't run themselves, you need revenue and have expenses, etc. I respect and am grateful for the community that all the moderators have created.

However, I am not grateful that Metafilter is a 'well-run' business. I don't mean that I'm 'ungrateful'; I mean: To me, Metafilter is great because it's a community first, business second. It might be an inefficient business. In fact, its monetary inefficiency is probably why it's such a good community.

At the heart of it, this is probably exactly why I'm be a regular supporter of Metafilter. Metafilter is a community, hosted by its generous facilitators and moderators. I'm willing to go to bat for the community and its hosts, to donate $$ when things aren't going well, and to generally try to support Metafilter.

--

To use a very real example:
I have some dear friends who used to have small, intimate evening gatherings at their house. It wasn't just a dinner party - they would host, set very intentional tones of discussion (they are professional facilitators), and everyone would cook together, help do the dishes, clean up, etc. Still, it was a lot of work for the hosts.

The cost of the dinner was donation-based, and they would never lose money, but it certainly didn't pay for their time. This was no matter, since these gatherings weren't for $ - they were amongst old friends, and new guests.

Over time, however, these friends began to institutionalize this process. They incorporated as a business. They moved the gathering to a retreat space, and now had fees. The books became closed, more out of inconvenience than of a desire to keep anything hidden. Gradually the gatherings became more pricey. Ultimately, it felt less like a small, intimate gathering.

--

To me, Metafilter is a dinner gathering. Thank you, cortex and all of the former and current mods for doing the difficult work that you do, and hosting this community. I'm happy to pitch in and play sous-chef and do the dishes afterwards, and I suspect nearly all of us are. I'm especially happy to donate $ towards the cost of hosting, even though I helped cook and do the dishes, because the logic of product and consumer and return just doesn't apply here. I love the conversations that happen here.

However, this discussion of the sale of Metafilter makes me feel that for the hosts, the dinner gathering can feel a little bit like a business. There are things to buy, people to pay, and it's a lot of invisible work.

I hope Metafilter stays as it is - a wonderful, intimate dinner gathering. And I hope that Cortex, you'll be able to ask the community for advice. Not only for requests, but for real advice -- to tell us what's going on before you've made decisions, to ask us what we think are some options, to have us pitch in. If you make all the decisions and present them to the community, as helpful as you're being, it may be like cooking all the food before the guests come to the gathering. How wonderful and generous of you! But our expectations may slowly change, and despite our best intentions we may start to become more like spoiled restaurant patrons over time, rather than enthusiastic sous-chefs and helpers. And I don't think anyone here wants that.

There's a middle line between cooperative ownership and total control, and that's to be a host -- to listen to our ideas, and help us participate. Perhaps with more transparency and community input, Metafilter will receive more donations. Maybe the community will come up with better ideas to fundraise. We did it before, and we can do it again, as long as the place is understood and run like a community first, not like a business first.
posted by suedehead at 12:51 AM on August 1 [14 favorites]


maybe buyout would be a less-charged word

I think there's probably a formal business term, and I'm guessing it's "management buyout", defined as when the existing managers acquire the company from its private owners, e.g., according to Wikipedia this type of transaction became more common with companies after 1980. That sounds accurate.

But I don't know, maybe someone who's more familiar with business/finance/econ could educate us on what it all means, and what the typical implications and expectations are.
posted by polymodus at 4:04 AM on August 1


Metafilter Inc. is an asset with bits that are hard to assign a concrete value, like the community, and bits that are easy to value, like its bank accounts.

One way to transfer ownership would be for Cortex to pay Matt the full value of the corp, or at the very least the amount in the accounts. But that would be a lot of money that maybe Cortex didn't have on hand.

Another way to do it would be for Matt to extract most of the money from the Metafilter accounts, then sell/give the depleted corp to Cortex. That's what actually happened.

Note that these two options are basically equivalent. Drawing a bright line between Metafilter accounts and the sole owner's personal accounts is a bit of a shell game. I mean, there is a line because of taxes, liability, and a bunch of other stuff, but when figuring Cortex's net worth, you pretty much add in the Metafilter corp accounts to the total.

I mean I suppose Matt could have just gifted the whole thing to Cortex and ate the 40% gift tax, lol, but no that would be dumb.


Like, to take something absolutely ludicrous, if there were originally 5 years of savings and Matt wound up taking all but 2 months

No that's actually the right way to do it. The idea is to minimize the value of the asset before the transfer. That's probably how they arrived at the two month figure: it's just enough to cover minor surprises and keep the lights on.
posted by ryanrs at 4:14 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


But I don't know, maybe someone who's more familiar with business/finance/econ could educate us on what it all means, and what the typical implications and expectations are.

A management buyout doesn't use company resources to buy the owner out - generally speaking, people buy into a company with their own private equity and not by liquidating the company's assets to the previous owners. This is an edge case, of course, and more like a restaurant changing hands between family.

One possible solution to this is to make Metafilter a Benefit Corporation - which, simply, allows an organization to bake a mission and additional stakeholders into the corporate DNA. It's a legal structure now available in something like 33 states that can help to future-proof the mission and non-financial goals of the company into the future and could codify things like sharing financials with the members at least 1x per year that would perhaps ease some of the tensions around transparency. It's worth investigating - I helped advise two companies through the process and some folks like Patagonia have done it to protect their environmental goals.
posted by notorious medium at 4:19 AM on August 1 [6 favorites]


So the idea of a buyout is that Cortex would actually buy the company. But that's a non-starter if Cortex doesn't have a few hundred grand on hand. Either he'd have to mortgage his house or get a loan from Metafilter Inc. to pay Matt. The corp loan thing is actually pretty common. Corp loans money to Cortex, Cortex pays money to Matt, Cortex gets company. Note that all the cash in the corp accounts is now in Matt's pocket, so it's not very different from what they actually did.
posted by ryanrs at 4:20 AM on August 1


A management buyout doesn't use company resources to buy the owner out

I wrote my comment after reading an internet article (Googling) that does explicitly say a management buyout can use certain company resources to do so, as one of the ways of financing the transaction, so again the general question on expertise and meaning, etc., is what supporting reference do you have for a concept (that something is or is not the case), and so on.
posted by polymodus at 4:22 AM on August 1


Yeah, the company can loan money to the buyers, which then pay it to the sellers. So instead of the buyers putting in independent cash, they are instead reducing the book value of the company. Net result is basically the same.
posted by ryanrs at 4:28 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


This is an edge case, of course, and more like a restaurant changing hands between family.

And just to be super clear, my question was what the appropriate business or economics concept is, and "restaurant changing hands" certainly may be apt but also sounds like a loose analogy and even if it is the case doesn't free it from business/financial/economic significance that could be unpacked more clearly, etc., etc.
posted by polymodus at 4:29 AM on August 1


The appropriate economic concept is you exchange equal value, or pay massive taxes.

(I actually don't know much about taxes, much less corp transfers. I am basing this on the idea that if Matt and Cortex could wriggle around the problem with a couple months notice, then nobody would ever pay estate taxes, ever. Since that isn't the case, I assume the IRS has most of its bases covered. Plus there's the issue of Matt probably not wanting to give Cortex a boatload of free money.)
posted by ryanrs at 4:35 AM on August 1


Isn't what happened:
  1. Metafilter was struggling so people donated money to keep it afloat;
  2. It worked, Metafilter was able to hire mods and build up some cash reserves;
  3. Matt withdrew the cash reserves so now Metafilter is struggling again and people are being asked for more donations?
If that's the case then it looks like people's donations were used to buy Matt out, which in turn put the site in a precarious position. When the point of the donations was to keep the site running.

Now, Matt may have just wanted to wash his hands of everything and liquidate the company and this was the compromise to keep it running. Ultimately achieving the purpose/spirit of the donations and giving cortex a potential financial upside if the site thrives. This very well could be a win-win-win. It's just the optics are a little hazy.
posted by mama casserole at 4:42 AM on August 1 [26 favorites]


Yeah, the company can loan money to the buyers, which then pay it to the sellers. So instead of the buyers putting in independent cash, they are instead reducing the book value of the company. Net result is basically the same.

Yes, except in this instance the loan looks like it will be paid back by community contributions rather than the person who's actually inherited the equity. The book value dip is very temporary and thus whoever has acquired the equity gets that additional value for free. You can argue there's sweat equity that makes that fair, however cortex has maintained that staff are well-paid here and he was staff for a long time.

This is all well and good when you like and trust who's running the place and the valuations are fair (but nobody's getting that info), but with plans for corporate continuity still a to-do, this is the kind of thing a board of directors would zero in on pretty heavily because it would only take an unexpected event (illness, death, lawsuit, etc.) to create a corporate crisis that threatens the community.
posted by notorious medium at 5:08 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


It's definitely an optics thing, like mama casserole said above. When you go through the posts in order and read how Matt was carrying around the stress of owning MetaFilter "without much upside" so his solution was to give that stress over to Cortex and walk away with all but 2 months of the site's savings...it just reads weird. And a lot of it I know is Cortex verbally taking the very high road on this, which I admire and appreciate.

Which, whatever. You do you, #1. My monthly donations are back on (I canceled them for some belt-tightening of my own last year) and I hope the site lives forever and makes Cortex a jillion well-deserved dollars.
posted by kimberussell at 5:18 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


I somehow missed that PayPal cancelled my monthly donation, and the Stripe (and Checks!) are now options. Rad!
posted by schmod at 5:55 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Irregular donor - self-employed so I tend to donate during feast months and live off the fruits of the land during famine months. Zero regrets have donated before wherever the dosh went and I'll happily donate again as I have one hundred percent trust in Cortex to do the right things e.g. keep the mods fairly (a decent level, no gender disparity) paid and with the healthcare benefits, keep the server on, not compromise the quality or start doing really annoying things like those pop-up ads with the tiny tiny close boxes that those of us with nearly 49 year old eyes have problems clicking on god i fucking hate those

Anyway - should it turn out in the future that MetaFilter disappears one day because Cortex funneled all the donations into canvas and paint supplies then {shrug shoulders} whatevs, it had a good and really long run, so be it and I hope the artwork is good. He probably needs the art anyway so he can function with e.g. the stress of politics and my low-grade content "contributions" on this site. Looking at my list of standing orders and direct debits there's a bunch of far sketchier organisations which get my English groats, farthings, and threepenny bits, such as Yahoo! for my Flickr Pro account, a website hosting company which I'm too terrified to switch from, and a mobile phone company (who I loathe paying money to even though it's a very small amount but I have to have a damned phone for a bunch of luddite client reasons, not choice).

In comparison, MetaFilter ... is no comparison.

On the transparency thing, noting that Cortex is more transparent on finances than MetaFilter has been before. Have wondered a bit over the years how much it costs to keep the site running and now we know - roughly $75k every two months, or $450k per year (a good bit lower than I guessed). Fine. It feels counter-productive for it to get to the stage of Cortex being relentlessly hassled to eventually put up a line-by-line statement of each single expense and justifying them as:

(a) That will lead to the same hasslers endlessly saying that item x could be done cheaper if y is done instead, or maybe x isn't needed and blah blah blah.
(b) MetaFilters financial minutae being public makes it more vulnerable to other organisations and businesses whose intentions definitely do not include the wellbeing or future of MetaFilter and its staff.
(c) It chews into the time Cortex needs to do the billionty essential things to keep the site active and legal, and keep the Mods in rent and video game and hard liquor monies.
(d) It's not going to help Moderator Moral (an ever-ongoing and important factor in the health of this service, even if it is less easy to quantify) if folk are going to start poring over and discussing their lines in the spreadsheet e.g. "Wouldn't it be cheaper if MetaFilter replaced mods X and Y with bots" or something else inane that ignores the quality and experience and that MetaFilter mods are actually people damned good at their jobs aspects and reading those same "suggestions".

Being more of an optimist rather than a "look-for-scandal-where-there-isn't-one" type of person (I am so not made for the Age Of Twitter), I'm thinking more about wish-list stuff for when Cortex can get the chequebook out in the future. Personally - but only of course if she wants to do it - would like to see more paid Jessamyn modding as I always have a quiet "Yay!" moment when I see her return as a relief mod, as that's someone who has more experience than ... anyone? at doing this. And also in due time a larger pool of mods (and another tech - you don't have a cricket team with just one wicket keeper), and also some (paid) way of distilling the wisdom of long-term mods for new and future ones to use. Maybe this last one already happens, I don't know, good if it does.
posted by Wordshore at 6:17 AM on August 1 [20 favorites]


then it looks like people's donations were used to buy Matt out,

This is by no means necessarily true. Cortex has called out that advertising has long made up the bulk of site revenue, even with the dip. The buyout could well be all or mostly advertising revenue.

I wonder, if Matt were a company himself, instead of just one dude, if people would feel it reasonable for a company to give away ownership of a profitable business (even one that receives gifts), or whether they would expect the company to sell that business, and not be that fazed by it. This is our community, sure, guys, but it was his job as well and for all our talk of contributing, telling someone to dtmfa is not really on par with engaging counsel for prospective lawsuits, hiring hosting and security solutions, staffing etc

Whatever Matt has received, I'm sure his pro rata hourly rate for it over all the years is rubbish, and I'm sure it's missing a couple zeroes at least from what he could have sold the site for, let alone in the hey day.

I guess I'm saying let's not forget charity is a two way street on this one. We've given our donations, but he's given up a lot more, cash and time, than any one of us, so it's a good deal all round I think.
posted by smoke at 6:24 AM on August 1 [24 favorites]


We've given our donations, but he's given up a lot more, cash and time, than any one of us, so it's a good deal all round I think.

True, however Matt also benefited from the site from the community's deep involvement and labor too - Matt was one of the first internet icons I can remember as a result of Metafilter's success and has parlayed that into good jobs as a result. Matt was also compensated at least some of the time for his efforts.

Plus, at the end of the day if Matt got $10k or $250k as a result, the deal is varying degrees of good for a community that's donating to make these things possible...especially if that amount made the site's existing more precarious.

Again, I want to stress that personally, I like and trust everyone involved and assume this deal was fair - however this is the time to ask questions about corporate structure, transparency, and how this thing might go again in the future. The point of corporate structures and succession plans is to make things of this nature predictable for stakeholders. Asking about governance is not about the individuals involved today - it's about contingency for what might happen when Cortex becomes the next Matt, because probably 10 years ago this moment wasn't on Matt's radar either.
posted by notorious medium at 7:00 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


...what might happen when Cortex becomes the next Matt...

That will be one of the more interesting future episodes of Doctor Who.
posted by Wordshore at 7:23 AM on August 1 [7 favorites]


Forgetting financial transparency and succession plans for a moment—what happens if cortex is sued? Or unfortunately develops a significant personal debt? Even with all his good intentions, the situation will be out of his control and a judge could hand over ownership to someone who won't have those good intentions.

cortex, do you want to protect MetaFilter from that possibility?
posted by grouse at 7:23 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


grouse: Some people are OK with giving to a business. I'm not.

R a c h e l: FWIW, I think of it more as paying for a product, which I do every damn day when I give money to businesses like the grocery store and WaPo and xfinity internet.

something something: It's paying for a valued service I use every day.

So, y'all are saying if you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold?


tobascodagama: I feel like a lot of people are confusing 501c3 status, which is ultimately just a specific legal arrangement, with some kind of ethical stance. 501 status is not a guarantee that a corporation will behave ethically, nor is the converse true.

So very true. My dad used to work for a weird law firm where the couple who were the owners/partners also ran some sort of non-profit, but were on the shadiest end of non-profits (taking maximum pay for non-profit CEO/COO, minimum payout to their cause) and were fond of expensive cars and appearing on televised events. In short: non-profit status is not a cure-all.


grouse: Forgetting financial transparency and succession plans for a moment—what happens if cortex is sued?

In the ownership transfer thread, Matt wrote "There were still regular pesky details I had to do each month, quarter, and year, and there was also the stress of dumb stuff like the credible legal threats that get sent our way every year or so." I imagine cortex is now well versed in legal issues that are targeted at MetaFilter.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I think (?) what grouse is talking about is: if Josh the individual is sued/runs up a debt/whatever and creditors obtain a judgment against him, and Metafilter LLC is Josh's asset owned solely by him (which seems to currently have ~$75K cash on hand but if a 6-month buffer is successfully built back up it will have ~$210K cash on hand), can creditors seize some/all of MetaFilter's assets?

I honestly don't know the answer to this and think it might vary a bit state-by-state?
posted by lalex at 7:43 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that MetaFilter is organized as an S-Corp, which protects MetaFilter from Josh the Individual and vice versa.
posted by cooker girl at 7:46 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


oh sweet thanks!
posted by lalex at 7:47 AM on August 1


Yeah, that's basically it. I'm really worried less about Josh's creditors seizing the cash on hand and more about seizing the web site as a whole and destroying it.

My understanding is that MetaFilter is organized as an S-Corp, which protects MetaFilter from Josh the Individual and vice versa.

No, a solely owned S-Corp does not protect against this possibility. Far from it.
posted by grouse at 7:49 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


oh hmmmm. confused!
posted by lalex at 7:52 AM on August 1


Anyway, this is a very real question because for most people in America, a ~$200K personal asset (and really even a $75K one) would be a very appealing target for a creditor. And as grouse says the concern is really liquidation.
posted by lalex at 8:04 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that MetaFilter is organized as an S-Corp, which protects MetaFilter from Josh the Individual and vice versa.

No, a solely owned S-Corp does not protect against this possibility.


"S corp" is a tax status not a legal status. Metafilter Network, Inc. is an Oregon business corporation with a single shareholder. As long as proper procedures are followed like not commingling personal and business funds, there's no reason to think that the liability shield wouldn't hold up. Cortex's hypothetical personal creditors could theoretically seize his Metafilter shares and assume ownership of the corporation, but that isn't the kind of situation that arises overnight (and is not ideal for a creditor who just wants cash not an operating business), and is also why many lawyers recommend that business owners have a substantial umbrella insurance policy.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:08 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Huh.

LLCs and S corps have much in common:

Limited liability protection. With both, owners are typically not personally responsible for business debts and liabilities.


I also found this article about the circumstances that would lead to an individual being personally liable, which still, I think, supports my point.

My admittedly limited knowledge of LLC and S Corp configurations comes from when my husband was an independent software contractor but needed to incorporate for various reasons.

Also found this article helpful.

Eagerly awaiting (still licensed!) ex-lawyer the honorable Eyebrows McGee, Esq.'s input.
posted by cooker girl at 8:10 AM on August 1


iirc from her excellent comments in the political megathreads, melissasaurus is something of an expert in this area.
posted by lalex at 8:12 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


A coincidence of timing: Reddit raised $200 million in funding and is now valued at $1.8 billion this week. The article's worth a read to see an outcome for a community somewhat like Metafilter but 100% different in many, many ways. Particularly scale and business goals.

I like our community. It's small, it's elite, it's intelligent. I'm fine donating a few bucks a month and trusting the people to run the place well, I don't need more transparency in the business structure.
posted by Nelson at 8:13 AM on August 1 [6 favorites]


As long as proper procedures are followed like not commingling personal and business funds, there's no reason to think that the liability shield wouldn't hold up.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:08 AM on August 1 [+] [!]


Which is what I was trying to say, inelegantly but helpfully!
posted by cooker girl at 8:14 AM on August 1


One possible solution to this is to make Metafilter a Benefit Corporation - which, simply, allows an organization to bake a mission and additional stakeholders into the corporate DNA.

Cortex, I hope you'll consider going the B Corp route when thinking about organizational structure going forward. A few years ago Oregon passed legislation making it possible to register as an Oregon benefit company. It's a structure geared towards creating long-term stability in mission driven organizations like MeFi, and having an annual benefit statement would address many of the transparency concerns voiced in this thread. For example, here's Kickstarter's 2016 Benefit Statement.
posted by joedan at 8:17 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


Cortex's hypothetical personal creditors could theoretically seize his Metafilter shares and assume ownership of the corporation

Yes, that is precisely the scenario I'm bringing up. Liability shield has nothing to do with it.

many lawyers recommend that business owners have a substantial umbrella insurance policy.

Sounds like a good idea. Is that the case here?
posted by grouse at 8:18 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Just to note and reiterate re: a couple of comments while I was sleeping. On stuff like this:

and giving cortex a potential financial upside if the site thrives

and I hope the site lives forever and makes Cortex a jillion well-deserved dollars

I appreciate the spirit and, however goofy, intent of those thoughts but again that is not an upside that's on the table. If the site thrives, the site thrives and we can sock away savings and spend more on staff and development. If there's a jillion dollar surplus, that's a jillion dollars that goes into conservative financial planning so that the site still has that jillion plus interest ten years later.

On the legal front, this is why the site has a lawyer, who has been reviewing and advising this process and with whom I'm continuing to work throughout. He is going to better equipped to tackle the actual legal situations MetaFilter Network Inc. faces than any amount of speculation in a MetaTalk thread. That's not to say I don't appreciate the spirit of chattering about it, but this is a site where we know like eight variations of acronyms about who isn't whose lawyer. Some of this stuff is a work in progress, and I appreciate folks wanting to think out loud about aspects of it but that progress is gonna be more about me working with the lawyer than about impromptu MetaTalk Q&A.

Cortex, I hope you'll consider going the B Corp route when thinking about organizational structure going forward.

It's one of the things on my radar! I do like the general idea, and I want to discuss it more with our lawyer soon; we went over it (along with various other structure/classification ideas) initially while looking at the transfer of ownership process and came to the conclusion that it may be worth doing but that it wasn't necessary or helpful to try and pursue that simultaneously with the transfer of ownership itself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:24 AM on August 1 [27 favorites]


Thanks, cortex. Look forward to seeing what sort of structural vision you come up with.
posted by grouse at 8:28 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Thanks cortex - I always try recognize that the amount of legal speculation and suggestions and advice that starts getting tossed around in these types of threads is the result of the fact that a lot of us are invested in the site emotionally, and want to protect that investment. But we don't have the closeness to the day-to-day that you do, so I appreciate you taking the time where you can to share some of the thinking and behind the scenes stuff; it's part of why we (or, at least me) feel the way we do about the place - there aren't many sites where we are able to interact with the ownership (both Matt, and now you) and staff in such a close way.

Keep on keepin' on; looking forward to seeing the future.
posted by nubs at 8:34 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Is there anything going on with the Stripe widget? I tried donating but my card was declined twice in a row. I've used it a few times this morning elsewhere, so I don't think it's on my end. I can use the contact form if need be to track this down.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:36 AM on August 1


> It's probably for the better that many people here obviously feel differently

"Probably"?! I can respect the fact that some people are unwilling to give to the site because it doesn't have the legal structure they prefer (though I can't actually understand it), but to be unsure whether it's a good thing the site continues to exist is... weird.
posted by languagehat at 8:37 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


Sure, NSAID, toss us a note with the details. I'll take a look on my end right now as well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:37 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


"Eagerly awaiting (still licensed!) ex-lawyer the honorable Eyebrows McGee, Esq.'s input."

I am not MetaFilter's lawyer and do not provide MetaFilter with legal advice, but I felt good about the advice MetaFilter's actual, Oregon-licensed attorney with expertise in this area provided to the site.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:43 AM on August 1 [14 favorites]


Aw, I was hoping for serious wonky delving into why one structure was better than the other while being non-MetaFilter specific.
posted by cooker girl at 8:47 AM on August 1


I am not MetaFilter's lawyer and do not provide MetaFilter with legal advice, but I felt good about the advice MetaFilter's actual, Oregon-licensed attorney with expertise in this area provided to the site.

This is the politest STFU Noobs sentence in the history of sentences. I love it.
posted by notorious medium at 8:50 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


Am I the Noob in this scenario?

If so: :(
posted by cooker girl at 8:56 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


So while all of these questions are not easy to answer it IS super easy to write up a formal business plan which has sections for things like succession planning, risk management, basic financials. Since we're being asked to pitch in to fund the site, I think it's fair to ask to see a business plan so that we can assess the health of the business and future prospects. I have full faith that everyone is doing what they perceive to be in the best interest of the site and community but often it's easy to get so caught up in the day to day that planning and optimizing gets overlooked.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 9:00 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: a site where we know like eight variations of acronyms about who isn't whose lawyer.
posted by bondcliff at 9:06 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


This is getting ridiculous. If you want to contribute, do so. If not, fine, it is still essentially free minus the $5. What a total buzzkill this thread has been....
posted by repoman at 9:22 AM on August 1 [29 favorites]


So how do we feel about donating by buying one-off joke accounts?
posted by A Bus at 9:33 AM on August 1 [20 favorites]


Whatever else I've learned, I know I'm not gonna let you deal blackjack.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:34 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


I know that's not the same thing as legally establishing non-profit status. I talked above about why that's not something that we can plan to move on right now even though I like the concept underlying the idea.

The discussion of the difficulties of establishing non-profit status seemed to focus on the difficulties of establishing tax exempt status, which is something different. The comment by Eyebrows McGee did suggest there was some consideration of a variety of structures, but I'm still now sure if there was much attention given to the possibility of becoming a non-profit without seeking tax-exempt status.

There have also been suggestions for increased financial transparency. I may have missed it (it's a long thread) but I haven't seen if anyone has responded to that possibility. Could the same financial reports available to cortex be publicly shared? If not, can someone explain why that's a bad idea?
posted by layceepee at 9:41 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


I respect the discussion (kind of), but really, who gives a shit? You are being asked to contribute, not required. There is absolutely no reason for increased transparency.
posted by repoman at 9:47 AM on August 1 [21 favorites]


I think without any sort of structured input (ie an advisory panel or board of directors), releasing detailed financials just opens a whole platecan of beanworms that is going to generate a ton of controversy without necessarily providing any useful guidance.

If there were some sort of formal feedback mechanism in place, that’s maybe different, but I don’t get the feeling that that is being actively considered at this point.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:02 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


Publicly sharing financial reports opens up the opportunity to have thousands of people giving their opinions on issues that are literally not our business. (Okay realistically a hundred people.) And often getting testy about it. For no productive purpose.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:07 AM on August 1 [23 favorites]


releasing detailed financials just opens a whole platecan of beanworms that is going to generate a ton of controversy without necessarily providing any useful guidance.

I think considering the nature of many MF members the less information available the better. Just look at the salivating in this thread over the chance to critique and debate.

Please become a shadowy cabal.
posted by bongo_x at 10:09 AM on August 1 [13 favorites]


There is no "Become."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:14 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


There have also been suggestions for increased financial transparency. I may have missed it (it's a long thread) but I haven't seen if anyone has responded to that possibility. Could the same financial reports available to cortex be publicly shared? If not, can someone explain why that's a bad idea?

Have you met our fellow Mefites?

Every last decision he made would be subject to the sort of intense nitpicking and heated arguing previously only restricted to MetaTalk discussions about whether people should stand or remain sitting to wipe their themselves after using the toilet, or whether favorites should be added to comments. Cortex would never be free of people offering advice (good, bad, ignorant, irrelevant but hopefully well-meaning,) and those same people getting their internet rage on when they weren't listened to.

Considering the average commenter's interaction with a Metafilter FPP, a decent percentage of them would no doubt take the very existence of those financial reports being public as an opportunity weigh in without bothering to read them.
posted by zarq at 10:14 AM on August 1 [46 favorites]


I didn't read that whole comment, but I'm pretty sure I violently disagree with it. Stop hurting America.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:19 AM on August 1 [17 favorites]


"What possible downsi-"

*site implodes into a singularity that not even light can escape*
posted by zarq at 10:23 AM on August 1 [7 favorites]


I'm alive and have a job thanks to Metafilter so I'm definitely donating for as long as I can.

I like MeFi being a one-man corporation (even if it has multiple people in its payroll), it feels like the old web when such things were possible. I trust Cortex' vision more than I'd trust a board of people with enough money to buy shares and/or influence.
posted by Memo at 10:24 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


A singularity filled with BEANS.
posted by zarq at 10:24 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


BEANGULARITY
posted by Rock Steady at 10:27 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Be the bean, Danny.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:36 AM on August 1


Transparency is a fun word, but consider what it would mean here. This is a company that can fit around a dinner table. Based on what we know, operating on a very modest budget. So of a dozen or so substantial line items, half of those would be the modest incomes of public figures on the site who's real identities are generally common knowledge. That seems awful.

I spend money at the coffee shop and I tip into the tip jar. They are asking for that money, I know it helps, but I don't have to give it to them. But giving that tip (probably a dollar each work day.. so 20 bucks a month) entitles me to nothing extra at the coffee shop. I don't get to be like "I tipped with my latte... show me your P&L sheet!"

If you feel the need to know what the barista makes before you tip? Don't tip.
posted by French Fry at 10:37 AM on August 1 [34 favorites]


why are we spending so much money on whistles?
posted by bondcliff at 10:38 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Do you see any tigers around here? The whistles are working.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:39 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


Considering the average commenter's interaction with a Metafilter FPP, a decent percentage of them would no doubt take the very existence of those financial reports being public as an opportunity weigh in without bothering to read them.

You're just saying that because it's factually true and completely predictable. I'm not sure 2017 has room for that kind of practicality.

(But seriously, count me as another voice for 'revealing detailed financial information openly would be a terrible idea.')
posted by mordax at 10:40 AM on August 1 [12 favorites]


Partially to repeat; amongst reasons for not making the financial details publicly available are:

1) The implied massive disrespect to Cortex that you think he isn't doing a good job with the finances and you, after a quick read of them, can provide a superior solution despite having jack-shit experience of running MetaFilter or anything remotely similar.

2) The massive disrespect shown to Mods for having their salaries and financial stuff revealed to all and sundry.

3) And the Mods would be more likely to leave anyway, as they become vulnerable to being poached by start-ups, other organisations and places with lots of vc capital that gets burned through unexpectedly quickly, who will be able to calculate how much of an increased pay and benefits offer would be likely to succeed in enticing them. Mods are not easy to replace; lose a few and MetaFilter is in deep trouble.

4) If you really, seriously, laughably don't think the financial details will be endlessly misused by assholes with too much time on their hands, then I'd like to introduce you to something called The Internet. Not so much within MetaFilter - though zarq has covered that well - but in much worse places where people reside who would like to see MetaFilter damaged and closed. Either for warped fun or the game of it, or because they think it's a lefty social justice warrior hangout, or just simply because they are not right in the head. DiGRA, a games research organisation, has had years of something very similar, still ongoing. Making the finances available just provides a bundle of extra information that can and will be (mis)used against the service and the people who keep it going.

If people want to widen the scope of who can see and use the minute details of MetaFilter finances e.g. potential directors of a board, then the list of people with the depth of site experience and knowledge who can make good use of it over and above what Cortex can is very short and arguably just:

- Matt (not going to happen now).
- Jessamyn.

+ + + + +

Cortex: have you considered the Oregon Lottery? If not, why not? As there are two months savings stashed away, as someone who bought a lottery ticket once I have calculated that investing this in tickets would give you a 100% guarantee* of winning $!$millions$!$ to secure the lifelong financial security of MetaFilter. As I paid my $5 several years ago you are therefore legally** my unconditional employee for life and I demand that you drop everything you are doing this instant and start buying Oregon Lottery tickets like they are going out of fashion.

* IANAS (I Am Not A Statistician)
** IAABSOLTT (I Am A Bit Shit On Legal Things Too)
*** I<3ANAL
posted by Wordshore at 10:42 AM on August 1 [30 favorites]


"why are we spending so much money on whistles?"

Goes with my tintinnabula collection.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:46 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Please stop with the dog whistles. Don't want to pay for your Rintintinnabula.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:49 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


Say what you will about sole ownership, at least cortex isn't gonna divorce himself and sell half the company to a handful of other internet dudes who have Different Ideas and/or hold the whole site hostage.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:01 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


And, as far as the Ambiguity of MeFinances is concerned for me, well, I'm currently wearing this shirt.

I thought for sure it would be this one.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:22 AM on August 1


I'm not wearing a shirt.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:25 AM on August 1


Like, when I buy a pair of shoes, I don't really feel like I'm entitled to know the salary of the person who sold them to me, their bosses' salary etc etc. In fact, I'd wager most of us spend a lot more money with a lot less transparency every day, without much thought.

That analogy doesn't hold. In your scenario you are exclusively the customer. At Metafilter we are all the volunteers, that run the place. We create those shoes. As a creators of the content I do not think it is unreasonable to understand the financing of the site..
posted by terrapin at 11:30 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


That's a tricky riposte, though, because considering us "volunteers" is really just not apt at all. We aren't donating time to the site that we'd rather spend elsewhere, all because we believe in the mission of creating discussion threads for lurkers to read.

Right? Or have I been using MetaFilter wrong all these years?
posted by solotoro at 11:34 AM on August 1 [9 favorites]


As a creators of the content I do not think it is unreasonable to understand the financing of the site..

So your comments at Facebook, or the newspaper, or whatever entitle you to the business ? The neighborhood bar or dance club only exists because other people go there. Does your presence grant access to the accountants ?

Your statement is bizarre and weird.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:35 AM on August 1 [12 favorites]


It's less like a shoe store and more like a bar. Not having people in the bar might make it a lame-ass bar but my awesome presence there doesn't mean I get to know how much the person pulling pints (or in this case, the bouncers) makes just because I buy a drink every once and a while.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:37 AM on August 1 [13 favorites]


Well at least two of us agree on that analogy, so I guess we should sit down at the same side of the bar.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:38 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


I don't think MetaFilter is anything like a bar. For one thing, I'm on MetaFilter right now and no one is offering me a drink. Which is frankly a problem for me. *leaves for bar*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:39 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


It's Raining Florence Henderson: "I'm not wearing a shirt."

I am not wearing pants. Nor a left sock.
posted by AugustWest at 11:40 AM on August 1


I'm not even here. I'm at a bar.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:41 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Annnnd... they threw me out. No shoes, no shirt, no pants, no clothes, no corporeal identity, no service. The nerve!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:42 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


I respect the discussion (kind of), but really, who gives a shit? You are being asked to contribute, not required. There is absolutely no reason for increased transparency.

Hahahah, the people who are discussing it give a shit. If all you want to do is donate, please do that. "Talking about every angle of an issue in a MetaTalk thread about how the site runs" is pretty much one of the Metafilteriest parts of Metafilter. The reason people want to donate is because they feel connected to this place, and one of the reasons that people feel connected to this place is the mods listen and talk back to the membership about how the site works.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:46 AM on August 1 [9 favorites]


The sort of transparency that is getting discussed here seems like it would make an already-fiddly job extremely fiddly, a point others have made more elegantly above.

Count me in the "just take my money" bin.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:52 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


The implied massive disrespect to Cortex that you think he isn't doing a good job with the finances

I absolutely trust cortex. However, I don't think it's a stretch to say that historically on MeFi financial issues have been somewhat fraught and shrouded in secrecy in a way that caused the site, its members, and its staff, unecessary stress.

So while I think generally it's reasonable for there to be a significant level of membership trust, trust that has been earned and is deserved, for the way cortex has handled things, I also don't think that some degree of pushback is at all unwarranted. People who don't feel comfortable with the level of disclosure on offer are welcome to ask for details or decide not to donate.

I am hoping that this is going to be the one last hurrah of MetaFilter "We can't talk about this money thing for $REASONS" mathowie-era approach, and that this move will push us towards a more open and more community-feedback-oriented and member-supported MeaFilter which I would totally support.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:55 AM on August 1 [61 favorites]


Chiming in to say I am with grouse on this.
posted by terrapin at 12:01 PM on August 1 [5 favorites]


I feel like there's a whole lot of territory between business-as-usual and tell-us-everything, and I get the impression from what he's said here that cortex is very much open to exploring that territory. It's OK to want more visibility and it's OK to want limits to that. It's definitely OK to talk about what those limits might be. It's all good. We'll get there together.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:14 PM on August 1 [14 favorites]


Oh great, now we're combining terrapins and birds.

When will the madness end??
posted by cooker girl at 12:20 PM on August 1


It's turtle birds all the way down, cooker girl. It's turtle birds all the way down.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:27 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


That analogy doesn't hold. In your scenario you are exclusively the customer. At Metafilter we are all the volunteers, that run the place. We create those shoes.

I'm sorry, but this is absurd.

I love MeFi, but let's be real clear: we are not such super special awesome people that there aren't many hundreds of thousands of other potential like-sized groups of people that could have come together on the internet and formed just as awesome a community. Despite this, MeFi is relatively unique online -- or at the very least, among a very small cadre of really great community sites. If all it took was a bunch of people viewing themselves as "volunteer shoemakers", as you describe them, the internet would be full to the brim of such sites -- and yet, it isn't.

Why do you think that is?

Is it because we all just got incredibly lucky?

Is it because some deity willed it so?

Or, maybe, just maybe, is it because the defining factor that has led to this awesome community site has been the people who run it, and how it's been run?

I'm kinda aghast at the people in this thread who seem to want to view the contribution of the people whose jobs' this has been as so tiny, as if really nothing about how the site has run has mattered and it all just would've happened spontaneously anyways and so fuck how it's been run, obviously us internet armchair brigade people know better.
posted by tocts at 12:28 PM on August 1 [15 favorites]


In the midst of all this angst, I say happy 75th anniversary of Jerry Garcia's birth with a link to the JGB playing, I Shall Be Released.

They say every man must need protection
They say every man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above the wall
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Down here next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he's not to blame
All day long I hear him cry so loud
Calling out that he's been framed
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Songwriters: BOB DYLAN

posted by AugustWest at 12:31 PM on August 1


MetaFilter: have I been using MetaFilter wrong all these years?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:31 PM on August 1


I absolutely trust cortex. However, I don't think it's a stretch to say that historically on MeFi financial issues have been somewhat fraught and shrouded in secrecy in a way that caused the site, its members, and its staff, unnecessary stress.

This is my feeling.
* Four years ago, seemingly out of nowhere, Matt posts that the financial situation has become dire, we are losing three beloved moderators, and we need to reset expectations for the site.

* A year later in 2015 we get a "State of the Site" update from cortex.

* Two years later, in March 2017, we get another "State of the Site" update that says we are fine. Yay! Personally, this was a huge relief because I was worried that the clear downturn in user engagement, which obviously has potential implications for advertising rates and user financial support, might precipitate another "hey we're screwed" MetaTalk. Although the post doesn't address the participation decline, (discussed in a MeTa posted by a user a few days later), the financial health of the site is a relief.

* Then 4 months later we are told that to get the site back into a place with a somewhat comfortable cash on hand situation of 4 months expenses, $75K needs to be fundraised.
Look, this is a community site, with community-generated content, that relies on community eyeballs and community donations to survive. Obviously some people are going to be interested in what's going on with the finances (not to mention a succession plan or the liability consequences of running a one-man shop), and it doesn't make them "disrespectful" assholes, it makes them people who care about the site.

(Note that I am not AT ALL suggesting that participating in the site is the same thing as being a staff member, just that people put a huge money, time, and emotional investment into MetaFilter, and that's why they care.)

I do not give a single shit about how much each or any of the mods are paid except that they're paid well. But yes, it would be nice to have a basic look at How We're Doing once in a while: how much we depend on donations vs. ad revenue, user engagement rates, etc. Are we inoculated in case of...a continued decline in user participation? Or a recession? Or sharp marketwide decline in ad rates? Or or or. And if not, let's think together about ways we can achieve this.
posted by lalex at 12:32 PM on August 1 [35 favorites]


Oh great, now we're combining terrapins and birds.

It's turtle birds all the way down.

Terravens? Birdles? Tweetles?
(anything but "tirds")
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:43 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I was going to chime in with a bar analogy as well. My favorite bar is my go-to because it's a place where I almost invariably have interesting conversations with random strangers, I have made friends with other regulars there, and there's a general sense of agreement about acceptable behaviors (within a range.)

Some of this stems from business practices put in place by the bar owners. Some of it is due to the way the bartenders manage the customers. I voluntarily tip my bartenders in appreciation for the space and atmosphere they help provide. But the main reason I go to this bar isn't for the direct services the bar provides--I could buy these beers more inexpensively and drink them at home-- it's for the company of the other patrons and the interesting conversations we create. I don't think the bar owes me any greater bookkeeping transparency because of it, though.
posted by desuetude at 12:43 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


I am a subscriber and even though I don't expect other things I subscribe to (like online storage or netflix) to share every detail of how user payments are used, I expect Metafilter to behave more like other collective communities I subscribe to (like BitchMedia, for instance) than just a business I rely on.

As much as I respect McMikeNamara (and seriously will fight you to sit next to him at the bar) and like the idea of Metafilter being a bar where we are not owed transparency about how our tips are used, that analogy falls apart for me. Possibly because I have many bar industry friends whom I am accustomed to tipping while hanging out with them and Metafilter feels more like that time my friend was running an art gallery/coffee shop/performance space and we all chipped in with real labor, emotional labor, and cash. In the former situation (the bar, where my friend works), I am 100% patronizing a business which--however much we find community within its walls--is just a business intended to sell us booze. We all know really successful bars which don't have a culture of regulars or which thrive on their cookie cutter experience.

The latter situation (the art gallery my friend runs) is a business which lives or dies on its ability to create a community with some shared purpose, no matter how often we disagree over whether that piece is shit or brilliant and it's going in the show anyway. In this situation, there needs to be ownership and ultimately control which necessarily means discretion and the occasional nondisclosure, sometimes just to preserve the dignity of the employees. But there also needs to be meaningful transparency and accountability. Which means business plans, disclosures, appropriate corporate structures,

It sounds like Metafilter is working to put that all in place. I've got to trust something, so for now it's Metafilter.
posted by crush at 12:47 PM on August 1 [6 favorites]


(anything but "tirds")

tirdles
posted by hippybear at 12:48 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


lalex, your outline of announcements clarifies for me my slight concern for the site: irregular "state of the site" updates.

For me, I would feel more comfortable if there were an annual State of the Site update. Nothing in depth, but some useful (and some fun) stats:
- general stability of funding (x months of reserves at current expenses [but we would like y months, which would require $z by [month], ad revenue is [not] reliable and [x]% of our funding, where user donations are [y]%)
- # of active members, # of new members, # of members who have gone quiet (if this is an annual "report" type thing, that last figure could be identified in short order by looking at the prior year\
- # of posts and # of comments (maybe charting the trends)
- # of flagged posts and/or comments and/or number of deleted posts and comments (flags might be TMI for public consumption, but deleted comments and posts could be pulled from the various deleted [content] sites/widgets)
- new staff added, old staff retired, and fun things the site has implemented, new social sites you can now link via profile (and # of sites dropped due to those sites dying off)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:49 PM on August 1 [30 favorites]


(anything but "tirds")

tirdles


Still no
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:55 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


MetaFlutter: for the birdles
posted by bookdragoness at 1:43 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Then 4 months later

I am trying to walk a pretty complicated mutually respectful tightrope in discussing a lot of this, of which see above about there being details I'm not going to get into, but four months is four months and in this of all years I feel like folks on MeFi can generally appreciate how goddam long a stretch of reality that can be. I didn't expect to be writing these posts back in March when I posted that State of the Site update; I wasn't eliding anything from my assessment of where we were and what was in the pipe then. It's been a busy few months, and now we're here because this is, as sort of a surprising turn and a set of compromises, what I see as the best place we could practically manage to be right now. Managing to get there has been my top priority for a couple of months now.

In a very real sense the timeline is less about four months than it is about the whole stretch of time from before that initial financial crisis struck. I've tried to convey that in about as much detail as I'm going to in these two posts and my comments upthread. In my dream world there are things that would be different, but I don't have the luxury of dreaming so we're working with what we've got.

So I appreciate the unease. Nothing anyone is bringing up in here is a surprise; I've been thinking about basically all this stuff and talking about it with the team regularly as we've figured this all out, and I have as I've said complicated feelings about a lot of it. So please trust me when I say I don't think there's really a way to have made this last recent stretch of site/business history more transparent that would also have led to as good of an outcome.

I know I'm repeating myself, but where we are now is where we are now. I can plan for and have control over now, and for four months from now and a year from now and five years from now, in a way that I couldn't four months ago. So I get the unease about that then-til-now stuff, but I can't really do anything about then. I'm starting from right here.

For me, I would feel more comfortable if there were an annual State of the Site update.

Me too, and one of my biggest regrets in the last couple years is that that didn't happen with the regularity I'd meant for it to when I made my first State of the Site post back in 2015. I didn't (I'd say "couldn't" but that's letting myself off the hook) plan for how fucking disruptive and draining the 2016 election and various concurrent internet/MeFi events would be, and it just kept being a "okay, not now but in a couple months" thing for...18 months or so. I talked about stuff in smaller bits and pieces in MetaTalk posts and threads where it came up, but that's not the level of visibility I want these updates to have.

Even with everything that's been busy internally and externally this year, I feel like the site and the mod team is on a little steadier ground now than we have been, if only through getting some new calluses from the constant weathering 2017's been throwing our way, so I think that will help us to make this stuff more consistently prioritized. And I'm more forewarned now about how possible it is for that update schedule to slip, so I can plan against my own capacity for slippage there to make sure it doesn't just get deferred again and again in the future.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:43 PM on August 1 [28 favorites]


I didn't expect to be writing these posts back in March when I posted that State of the Site update; I wasn't eliding anything from my assessment of where we were and what was in the pipe then.

To be totally clear, which I wasn't, I don't think you did or could have anticipated this "one-time lump sum buyout" thing. Was just trying to convey that there's some unease when folks are pretty in the dark about How the Site Works.
posted by lalex at 1:48 PM on August 1 [7 favorites]


Having sat on the board for a nonprofit going through some serious leadership shifts, and seeing how painfully slow issues can come to light and how painfully slow change can be to implement, I compliment the Metafilter team for handling these financial and leadership shifts so swiftly and with such consideration of the community at large. I also appreciate the relative transparency with which these changes have been undertaken - believe me, transparency is a blessing and a curse and when making changes of this magnitude, having dozens - let alone hundreds or thousands - of additional viewpoints and concerns and ideas can take the snail's crawl of change down to total standstill. The alternative to this, I can readily imagine, is no more Metafilter. Which is what happens when change is necessary and is kept from happening.

No, Metafilter is not a nonprofit. But I don't see a big difference between Metafilter and a for-profit membership organization which allows folks to be members for free or to make a donation of any size to keep it going (which is pretty unheard of and pretty darn altruistic). It isn't to my knowledge taking money from corporations I find objectionable, which is likely related to the whole Metafilter-needs-your-contributions (both financial and written) thing. It isn't name-whichever-social-media-megasite-you-like. Would I like us to consider donating members shareholders? Maybe. But that's a question for another day and another forum (and part of that might be: would Metafilter allow folks to have bigger or more shares depending upon the size of their contribution). Regardless, it's not for me to say. If the Metafilter team ask for my opinion, ask me to weigh in, then lovely! Even more reason to wholeheartedly support their work.

I don't have to do anything to participate in Metafilter beyond show up and read. Yes, I choose to be a member, and I choose to contribute. But I don't have to in order to benefit from the community wisdom. And even as a member I don't have to contribute financially in order to contribute to the conversation(s) which I don't think any of us would find anywhere else. What a great thing.

And yes, this shift has spurred me to start making a (financial) contribution. Doesn't it give me more happiness than my dratted Hulu or Spotify account? Doesn't it allow me to contribute to the good of the community? Yes. So thanks, Matt and Josh.
posted by pammeke at 2:02 PM on August 1 [7 favorites]


I gived the money. When can I expect cortex at my house for a backrub?
posted by Justinian at 2:03 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Wait, I may have misunderstood the situation.
posted by Justinian at 2:05 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Stripe Right
posted by French Fry at 2:07 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Sticker Fundraiser!
For real, tho. Lets kick off cortex's tenure with a rainy-day fund fueled by stickers.
posted by domo at 2:41 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


I understand that people want to peek under the hood and kick the tires, and I'm likely one of the most suspicious and wary people here when it comes to the problems that come with money, but I'm frankly finding some of the needling in mistrust in this thread to be upsetting.

I also know that cortex doesn't need my help defending himself or the site, and that he welcomes as much openness as makes sense and isn't threatening to operations and stewardship.

I just want to say that I've met cortex. And via online he's seen me at my worst, shittiest and in the most hurt. And he's always been gentle, fair and concerned.

Relax. The site is in the best of possible hands.
posted by loquacious at 2:45 PM on August 1 [18 favorites]


The discussion isn't about mistrust. It's helpful to make a distinction between personal trust, and financial transparency. They're separate domains, not easily connected.

Nobody is saying cortex is not personally trustworthy. Quite the opposite.

I do, though, think people are saying "if we know what's going on, we can help more! Isn't this a community? Isn't this how Metafilter has been helped in the past?"

There's an incredible amount of support and thoughts and effort available in the Metafilter community.
posted by suedehead at 3:09 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Actually; no it never was "really" a community. It was always Mathowie's Community 'Blog (you can get anything you want...). It was always a one-man show. As such, it SEEMED like a community, because the members were primarily the ones driving the content and interacting with each other, but one guy was in charge.

For the most part, that model worked, and worked well. Obviously, jessamyn has a perspective from the mod side of why some greater degree of transparency may be helpful and healthy, but I don't want or expect cortex to throw out the MeFi as benevolent dictatorship concept entirely.
posted by yhbc at 3:27 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Metafilter feels more like that time my friend was running an art gallery/coffee shop/performance space and we all chipped in with real labor, emotional labor, and cash.

Fuck, I hope it's not that. Say goodbye now if it is.
posted by bongo_x at 3:31 PM on August 1


As always, a vigorous MeTa discussion has helped us reach complete consensus on the situation and what we need to do going forward.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:33 PM on August 1 [24 favorites]


MetaFilter is like your ex who never really moved on. Wait - am I doing this right?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:35 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


I do, though, think people are saying "if we know what's going on, we can help more! Isn't this a community? Isn't this how Metafilter has been helped in the past?"

Honestly, I think this is reasonable ... to a point. Yes, there's some things that could be more transparent or involve more community input that would improve MeFi. However, the extreme degrees to which a lot of the historical push for other modes of operation have been premised on are frankly terrifying to me.

I feel like anyone who has been following the grey for any length of time and who thinks that any kind of fine-grained fiscal details (salaries, budgets, etc) or community oversight board would achieve anything other than imploding the site has basically not been paying attention.
posted by tocts at 3:37 PM on August 1 [7 favorites]


Kids, back in the early 90s I worked for a magazine/newsletter called Lesbian Connection, or LC for short. It had been founded in the 1970s, after one of the first-ever lesbian conventions. Back in those pre-internet days, those pre-media-portrayals days, LC was a vital resource for lesbians all over the US, and, to a lesser extent, the world. Its classified ads were where you could learn about books, music, events, artists and craftswomen. Its "Contact Dyke" directory worked much like the Green Book for Negro Motorists we've learned so much about recently, with listings of women who'd volunteered to be included all over the US and, again, the world. If a lesbian was traveling or moving to a place, these Contact Dykes could tell her what neighborhood to rent in, what community organizations there were, whether there was a dyke-friendly bar, and so on. Sometimes Contact Dykes provided short-term housing for travelers or relocators.

Its content was all user-generated. Women would send in articles, which started a topic, and for the next few issues, the magazine would publish responses. Topics ranged from how to come out from a heterosexual marriage, to lesbian parenting issues (it was contentious when women started having babies with donor insemination, especially once it turned out that donor insemination produces a disproportionate number of male* babies), to managing (or not managing) facial hair, to controversies about things that happened at the music festival, to reviews of books and magazines. Much like at MetaFilter, there were classic topics. I think a lot of LC readers from that day would recognize "If Meat Is Murder, Pets Are Slaves," as one of the most famously heated topics.

One of these days I'll write more about my time at LC. The lengths we went to to avoid outing women just by delivery of the magazine! A surprising number of our readers started subscribing while, for instance, still married to men, and a great many lived in rural areas where being outed could be dangerous. A fascinating time.

Anyway. LC was, and is, a non-profit. But it was in a lot of ways similar to MetaFilter: editors acted like the moderators, deciding what topics and responses were included. The content was entirely user-generated. It was a vital part of the lives of tens of thousands of lesbians, and they felt a great deal of personal investment in it.

Because it was a non-profit, a lot about financials was transparent. Because it was run by a small collective, it didn't function quite like a business--we tried to meet our own deadlines, but sometimes the printing press would break down or we'd have a run of flu through the staff and an issue would go out late. We didn't sell subscriptions. Lesbian Connection was (and is) "free to lesbians." The price on the cover was "Suggested Donation $3 (more if you can, less if you can't)."

Women were so invested in the magazine they drove us nuts second-guessing and judging our decisions. Because one member of the founding collective had stayed with the magazine, and expected that she would do so forever, and because she was no fool about taking care of herself, we had SEP IRAs for retirement, and health insurance, and we earned a decent wage (the equivalent of about $18/hour today). Everyone, no matter how long they'd worked there or whether they were full or part-time, earned the same hourly rate. Working production on getting the magazine printed, collated, addressed, bundled, and mailed was a very nice bi-monthly source of extra income for a lot of lesbians in the community, as well as an excellent bonding experience.

We got pushback about the wage we paid, which seemed excessive to some women (even though they were not required to pay anything for their subscriptions). We got pushback about the way the magazine was mailed; it was sealed in such a way that its cover and content couldn't be seen, folded in half and stapled shut on all sides with an industrial stitching machine. This pissed off women who were in a position to just get any old magazine in their mailbox, and protected women who could not, under any circumstances, risk exposure. We got pushback about how content was edited, and about the cover art we chose, and about how we managed our mailing list.

When people feel ownership, it means they really love and value something. It also means they want a hand in running it. One of the most frustrating things about working at LC was putting in endless hours (not me personally; I was kind of lazy as it turned out. But some of the other collective members--the Ambitious Amazons--routinely worked 50 or 60 hours a week) in the service of something important and meaningful, and then getting angry judgemental letters. And, yes, accusations that we--especially Margy, who was one of the founding members in the 70s, the only one who was still there in the 90s, and who only finally retired recently--were extracting value from the lesbian community, "enriching" ourselves at their expense. Did woman NOT want Margy to have a retirement plan? Of course not. And yet, it somehow made them uncomfortable that she did, that we all did, as if anything beyond the immediate operating expenses of the magazine, and the lowest wage that would keep us housed and fed, was some kind of unethical rent-seeking. It drove some women nuts to know that the magazine had savings, as if having money in reserve wasn't essential for long-term survival.

That turned out to be a really long way to say, "This thread reminds me of working at Lesbian Connection." I'm going to post it because I wrote the damn thing, but I could certainly have been pithier.

My sympathy and appreciation to Cortex, and the other mods, for your ongoing goodwill and patience. The more your users love you, and the more your work matters to them, the more they will vex you. The vexation is in part a sign of their commitment to what you've built. If they didn't care, they'd just walk away.

*"male" used here in its shorthand sense of "apparently male at birth based upon anatomy"
posted by Orlop at 3:38 PM on August 1 [158 favorites]


The more your users love you, and the more your work matters to them, the more they will vex you. The vexation is in part a sign of their commitment to what you've built. If they didn't care, they'd just walk away.

Absolutely true. Dealing with the opinions of the many is just part of leadership. The best you can ask of someone in that position of decision-making power is that they be fair, and listen, and consider the various perspectives respectfully and seriously in their decision-making.
posted by Miko at 4:33 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


"Contact Dykes" would be a great name for the bold plucky protagonist in a classic sci-fi story.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:46 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I don't care if Matt got moneys. I just want to know if I can have TWO stars on my profile page. I am motivated by stickers. I always have been.
posted by headspace at 5:14 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


bloodsweaters

they go well with hairshirts
posted by kindall at 6:28 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Here's how I'm looking at the whole "Mathowie got money" thing:

Metafilter had a bunch of savings built up to cover unplanned events. Metafilter then had an unplanned event, which was that it bought out Mathowie and transferred ownership to Cortex. (I'm sure there was really quite a bit of planning around this, but it sounds like not on the kind of time scale that would have allowed the site to set aside funding specifically to cover it.) This used up some of the savings. Now we need more.

If you feel like you want to give more under the circumstances, do so. If not, don't. It's not mandatory.

Besides, even if I take the most uncharitable view of this transaction that I can think of, I still feel better about the future of the site with Cortex as owner. Even if I were to disagree with how Mathowie behaved here—and to be clear I feel like I really don't know enough to judge that either way, nor do I expect to be told—it's clear that this is a one-time thing that isn't going to happen again in the foreseeable future, and if Metafilter can build up its reserves again then it'll be back to where it should be, but stronger because the administrative and ownership situation will be more sensible. Under the circumstances I'd prefer to have Cortex as owner than Mathowie (much as I love you, Matt) so that's one good thing that came out of this.

Cortex talks and behaves like someone who genuinely loves this place and wants to keep it running long term in a stable, sustainable way. I get the impression that Matt fell out of love with Metafilter (or at least with being in charge of Metafilter) a long time ago. I'm glad Cortex is fully in charge now, and I think that aside from this financial hiccup we'll all be better off for it. I respect that there are some aspects of this that he'd rather not talk about and that he's walking a fine line between doing right by the community and doing right by the community's founder. Now that he's the owner though, there will be one less reason for him to have to be like that going forward.

If I could ask one question, it would be this: is there a Plan B in the event that donations don't fully close the gap? What is it? Two months' operating expenses really isn't much buffer, so for the health of the site it's obvious that something has to be done.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:28 PM on August 1 [21 favorites]


And yeah, count me in for more regular State of Metafilter type updates. It sounds like Cortex already wants to do that, and I think it'll be a very good thing and help strike a balance between reassuring, trust-building transparency and not having periodic huge fights over the details of MeFi's financials.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:39 PM on August 1 [8 favorites]


If I could ask one question, it would be this: is there a Plan B in the event that donations don't fully close the gap? What is it? Two months' operating expenses really isn't much buffer, so for the health of the site it's obvious that something has to be done.

I would think the Plan B would be the sale of common stock. As far as I know, that's the conventional way to do this kind of crowdfunding for a corporate entity anyway, rather than to ask for donations.

Personally, I would really support the sale of stock! It would be cool to own a share of MeFi.

And another upside to selling shares would be that it would be a way to spread out ownership without the headache of trying to make this place into a co-op/nonprofit. It would also address the issue of employees (presently) not getting buyouts -- stock options could be part of the compensation structure.

Also, personally, I think it would be great if Metafilter owned itself (through the ownership of treasury stock) instead of being owned by an individual. In real terms, that probably would make no difference, but that seems like a more stable structure to me, and fits better with how Cortex is visualizing his relationship to Metafilter anyway.

To be frank, I think there are plenty of tools for responding to these concerns (about employee investment and compensation, the use of outside investors, financial transparency, etc) at MeFi's disposal as a privately-held, for-profit corp -- which is apparently the structure that its lawyer believes is most appropriate for it -- and it would be counterproductive to try to force it into a pseudo nonprofit mold.
posted by rue72 at 10:11 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


"Contact Dykes" would be a great name for the bold plucky protagonist in a classic sci-fi story

or Jodie Foster fan fiction


Orlop, please do write more about your experiences at Lesbian Connection. It sounds like a fascinating time.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:12 PM on August 1 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I don't actually want to know how much any staff member is making. I say this as someone who makes nowhere near a middle-class income; if I'm going to consider making a donation, I really don't want to get hung up on, or bitter about, "do they need it more than me" as a consideration. I do, however, think that "what do they need" is a question I want to have the answer to. So what I'd want to see is not posting staff salaries etc., but more the basic information about the financial health of the site: income from donations was X, income from ads was Y, expenses were Z, buffer is Q, here's where we are vis a vis where we need to be. Possible trends or events on the horizon. Doing this on a schedule, and fundraising on a schedule, would be the right thing to do, I think.

I definitely trust everyone involved with the site to make considered and good-faith choices regarding financial outlay and don't feel any need to be a backseat driver. I just want to know how to balance my needs with those of the site, and not to be donating blindly.
posted by trig at 10:44 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Aaand this is why I am bad at money. Cortex seems like a cool guy and things are working well now, so everything is all good forever, right?

I get incredibly and reflexively bored by all this kind of business and legal talk. But, I spend money emotionally and when the Great Financial crisis hit, it was without a second thought that I set up recurring payments and I feel like I'm doing my fair share to keep the site afloat. The truth is, I would do far more before I let the place disappear. But right now, I have this vague sense, based on nothing really, that I'm giving enough for myself and few others to feel like it's enough. As someone entirely disinterested in details generally, and financial details specifically, I guess the value in releasing those details at regular intervals would be in receiving feedback about how great the financial need is, and how my personal giving compares with others. I'd never be inclined to give less and I certainly don't feel like being a regular contributor gives me any special status, but I could be convinced to give more if I understood what was needed and what typical contributors are giving.

But I'm not the type of person to nitpick how someone decides to spend my contribution and easily recognize that there are others who are that type. I don't want anyone at Metfilter, LLC to spend more than 20 minutes fretting over this stuff when they could just spend that time continuing to keep the site great. And I also don't want people who can't afford regular contributions to feel any less involved or connected to the site. So I'm fine keeping it all a mysterious black box if the cabal feels that works better.

In the end, Metafilter *is* a bar, my family wishes I'd spend less time here ignoring them and coming to bed drunk. If the price of 15 year Balvenie is getting too high to keep serving it, I'd appreciate the chance to do something about it before they cut me off.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:37 PM on August 1 [6 favorites]


In fact, I'm having a hard time really even understanding what cortex is asking for at the top
of this thread. A little more money? A *lot* more money? Non contributors to give a one time donation? Recurring contributors to up their regular contribution? We are being asked to do all of this, but I'm having a hard time understanding what specifically is needed from me and how badly it is needed.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:49 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


(I realize these are unfair questions when the site has never really relied on a fundraising effort and that you tried to anticipate my questions from the outset, but I'm just giving my perspective as a typical long time community member)
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:56 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


In the end, Metafilter *is* a bar

Yr tellin me, *hic*
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:18 AM on August 2


A little more money? A *lot* more money? Non contributors to give a one time donation? Recurring contributors to up their regular contribution? We are being asked to do all of this, but I'm having a hard time understanding what specifically is needed from me and how badly it is needed.

You need to go into preferences to change that. It sounds like you're using the "plain" theme, which thinks that money is money is money-- ridiculous I know. "Modern dark" is the one which analyzes your posting history to estimate the utility you derive from Metafilter (for most of people this is just the cost of food they would've thrown out if not for a "can I eat this" question) and accesses your bank account to calculate the amount you're willing and able to pay. The "classic" theme actually gives you money to buy a new computer to handle the politics threads.
posted by acidic at 1:13 AM on August 2 [6 favorites]


Here's what I would like clarified. If Cortex is now the site owner, isn't the payout to Matt out of his own pocket? Why do the company accounts (under the nominal control and the legal property of Matt) act as the piggybank that cortex has used to make this purchase?
posted by Meatbomb at 3:21 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Apologies because I have not fully read through and it seems this may have already been addressed. But put another way, the donations that were to "keep MF alive" turned out in part to actually be "buy cortex a thing".

I have no doubt his intentions are pure and he will act as he says he will.

It would be better if there was some sort of legal hurdle that prevents cortex doing the same down the road and handing off to frimble or Eyebrows or whomever.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:42 AM on August 2 [5 favorites]


Thank you Cortex for your latest update - I think a State of MeFi and a Q & A, as someone asking for more transparency, is exactly the kind of thing that I am looking for.

I will probably ask questions about continuity at that time (and it seems you may have answers), mostly because it's something that's been asked of me in various leadership roles, and given the previous owner burnt out from how much this site takes I see that as the kind of possibility that the corporation should plan for.
posted by notorious medium at 5:37 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Why do the company accounts (under the nominal control and the legal property of Matt) act as the piggybank that cortex has used to make this purchase?

My understanding from cortex and Matt's comments is that a way to frame this that better reflects the spirit of what happened is that Matt took a final cash extraction from the business. So:

* Metafilter was worth $X and was solely owned by Matt.
* Matt extracted cash from the business as a final payout and now Metafilter is worth [$X - $payout]
* Sole ownership of Metafilter and its value [$X - payout] have now been transferred to Josh.
* The payout depleted the cash reserves of Metafilter LLC from some unknown amount to about 2 months of operating expenses ($60-80K).
* 2 months isn't a great cash on hand buffer, so now Josh is asking for donations with a goal of 75K to increase that buffer to 4-5 months.
posted by lalex at 6:19 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Sole ownership of Metafilter and its value [$X - payout] have now been transferred to Josh.

OK, right. So cortex actually didn't buy it, Matt gave it to him, a gift. A golden lucky day, and congratulations in order!

I love MF and I hope it stays forever. The B corp, and the LC model, both sound like excellent ways for MF to stay forever and I hope cortex makes something like this happen rather than keep his gift indefinitely.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:04 AM on August 2


Apologies because I have not fully read through and it seems this may have already been addressed

Then why are you here throwing around accusations? Try reading the whole discussion first, you might learn something.
posted by Nelson at 7:28 AM on August 2 [9 favorites]


Actually; no it never was "really" a community. It was always Mathowie's Community 'Blog (you can get anything you want...). It was always a one-man show. As such, it SEEMED like a community, because the members were primarily the ones driving the content and interacting with each other, but one guy was in charge.

Yeah, this has always been my understanding of Metafilter, and maybe this is a bit old-fashioned and comes from a time when Matt was way more involved in the site as a poster, commenter, and as the sole moderator all at the same time.

I think Metafilter is definitely different now, and its not right to treat it as one person's baby anymore - apparently many long-time members have never felt that way, and on the whole it probably hasn't been correct since the moderator staff started to grow. If the handoff to cortex will facilitate structural changes to match what this site *is*, then it sounds like a net good even if it meant a rainy day that depleted the rainy day fund.
posted by muddgirl at 7:28 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


So cortex actually didn't buy it, Matt gave it to him, a gift.

Another mental model to describe the transaction is a seller-financed acquisition: Matt used the assets of his company, MetaFilter, to provide financing to cortex to purchase that selfsame company in the amount of $payout, and upon its acquisition, cortex's company MetaFilter repaid that loan to Matt immediately in full. I think it's more typical for that sort of repayment to be done over time, which would have avoided this problem of a dramatic reduction in present assets, but then, this is just an after-the-fact approximate model of the transaction, it's not necessarily the schema they used.
posted by solotoro at 7:31 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Usually you'd buy the company with a loan, using the company as collateral (the same way you buy a house or a car). You then tap the company's cash flow to repay the loan over time.

It's probably much less common for the company to have cash on hand that exceeds the sale price. I mean, if I'm selling a banana stand stuffed with cash, I promise you I will ask for a number that exceeds the amount of cash.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:45 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I think it's more typical, as you say, for the repayment to be done over time or to be done without company assets and just between the individual buyer and the seller, so like: Josh the individual, through some combination of personal assets and loans, pays Matt some lump sum amount in exchange for the value of Metafilter.
posted by lalex at 7:45 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


We don't know the amount realized on the sale, we don't know mathowie's basis in his Metafilter stock, we don't know the amount of any previously taxed but undistributed income owing to mathowie, we don't know the structure of the sale or what tax elections if any Metafilter Network Inc. will be making in conjunction with the sale, we don't know the status of any liabilities assumed or personal guarantees, etc etc etc.*

Everyone is acting like mathowie is making off with some huge capital gain -- none of the information provided thus far establishes a basis upon which to determine whether mathowie will recognize a gain or loss as a result of this transaction. Cash disbursement =/= gain.

*this is not a request for said information
posted by melissasaurus at 7:53 AM on August 2 [12 favorites]


I just want to say that if MeFi does set up some kind of merch shop -which I am totally in support of- that cortex not be responsible for its care and feeding? I don't want him to suddenly get a second job fulfilling orders, and I am sure he doesn't either. Please delegate, maybe use a retailer like Topatoco to handle fulfillment.
posted by domo at 8:06 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


It's probably much less common for the company to have cash on hand that exceeds the sale price.

Yes, definitely. It's also much less common for seller financing to represent the entirety of the sale price, though.
posted by solotoro at 8:08 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


And for the record, melissasaurus, in case it was not clear, I entirely agree with you both in that I don't pretend to know how the transaction happened beyond what we've been told, nor am I expressing a desire to be told more. I just wanted to offer what might be a more useful mental model than "gift" for folks who are still grappling with what it might all mean.
posted by solotoro at 8:11 AM on August 2


G'morning!

So what I'd want to see is not posting staff salaries etc., but more the basic information about the financial health of the site: income from donations was X, income from ads was Y, expenses were Z, buffer is Q, here's where we are vis a vis where we need to be. Possible trends or events on the horizon. Doing this on a schedule, and fundraising on a schedule, would be the right thing to do, I think.

To be clear, that's pretty much where I am on it too. I think a regular basic rundown of some of this stuff is a good idea, much as I haven't put that out there as regularly so far as I'd like. I think talking basic expenses and revenue, at least in broad strokes vs. what has previously generally been no strokes is a good approach. I have tried to at least informally characterize some of that in MetaTalk in the past, but it hasn't been as regular as I'd like and it's always been something of a negotiation with Matt who, with no ill-intent, has consistently been more reluctant to talk about money stuff publicly than I'd like for the site.

On the flip side, I am really sensitive to the fact that we're a small team that has historically operated with the assumption that personal and financial details aren't public; there's a very big difference in the degree of transparency about some of those things that's reasonable to contemplate as a starting point when hiring staff initially and the degree its reasonable to unilaterally impose after years at the company. And anything beyond broad outlines would necessarily wander into that latter way more problematic territory. Like you say, stuff like posting staff salaries isn't really where I'm looking with this line of thinking. I think that'd be an unreasonable imposition barring everyone on staff literally insisting on it. This is also one of the wrinkles in some of the possible alternate structures for the business: anything that requires public documentation of personal details like name and salary creates a situation where the team, otherwise fairly consistently pseudonymous in their work here, are essentially required to be doxxed by the state.

So there's a balancing act there. I'm for disclosing more general financial/business information about the site, more regularly. I'm also extremely motivated to respect the team's privacy and right to expect not to have the rug pulled out from under them after years of working here under some fairly steady assumptions about what would and would not be public. Upping the breadth of our degree of public discussion about business stuff will have to respect both of those facets.

If I could ask one question, it would be this: is there a Plan B in the event that donations don't fully close the gap? What is it? Two months' operating expenses really isn't much buffer, so for the health of the site it's obvious that something has to be done.

Yeah. There's additional forms of fundraising we can consider, is part of that; this is clearly a pretty informal, internal-facing approach which is where I prefer to start because it's been effective in the past and doesn't require as much build up and PR stuff, but I talked a little upthread about considering a broader, external-facing fundraising campaign aimed at the whole (if largely far more disinterested) internet. That's something I'll continue to actively consider. It's a harder sell and would absolutely have a lower hit rate because Random Internet Person doesn't care about this place the way y'all do, but it's an obvious possibility.

And while I don't see merch as a likely money-maker, that's something we want to get back in the habit of doing regularly, and it may be something we can sometimes treat as a hybrid—auction/pledge-drive type merch rewards as a special case of the otherwise more at-cost, just-for-fun stuff that's my main motivation for getting shirts and stickers and whatever else out there.

I've also held pretty steady on the kind of ad revenue we pursue because I really like having that be something with minimal impact on the site's presentation wherever possible, but if we're looking at serious financial shortfall there are some spots we could give a little there. Anything eyebrow-raising would fall out to the far end of me feeling potential concerns, though; that's not so much "what if we aren't building fast enough" but "what if we're looking at a consistent shortfall" situation.

But I should be clear that Plan A is a slow-and-steady thing; I'm hoping to raise a decent chunk of new revenue in the next couple weeks and then to slowly build via new and existing recurring donations toward a bigger buffer by year-end, not looking at it as a do-or-die thing right this minute. And initial infusion followed by slow steady building is what we've done previously and it's a good model for MeFi.

So I'll be monitoring how we're doing over the next couple of months with both our normal commercial revenue and contribution from y'all, see how that's proceeding, and go from there. Right now, I'm feeling good about our initial progress on this; we'll get more info up about fundraising so far when we've gotten a little farther along and can organize the numbers better.

Also, I do want to make a quick note to be clear in case there's any doubt that this is about building a buffer, not accounting for an immediate monthly shortfall. The site's finances have been generally steady-to-slowly-growing the last few years, and that's consistently my aim and something I am naturally pretty conservative about maintaining. I don't think anybody's been obviously confused on this point, but in case there's any silent uncertainty/panic: we're not out of money in two months, we're chunking steadily along month to month with income and expenses pretty much balancing each other out, and with a reserve of two months expenses in savings. Two months of savings isn't nearly enough for my comfort level because Shit tends to Happen, which is why I want to build that number higher so we're more resilient in case of downturns or big surprises.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:27 AM on August 2 [21 favorites]


I just want to say that if MeFi does set up some kind of merch shop -which I am totally in support of- that cortex not be responsible for its care and feeding? I don't want him to suddenly get a second job fulfilling orders, and I am sure he doesn't either. Please delegate, maybe use a retailer like Topatoco to handle fulfillment.

Yep, that's my intention. We've had good experiences with Topatoco in the past and that my obvious first choice for new stuff. That said, Secretariat and I did stuff some envelopes with Matt's unearthed small cache of MetaFilter stickers yesterday which was kinda fun as an it's-been-a-while task.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:29 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


This site amuses, bemuses and enlightens me daily.
I made another contribution yesterday, because ... we need it.
Thank you for all you do, staff and mods especially.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 8:33 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


I just wanted to jump in and say that two of my favorite internet sites operate on the private ownership with advertising and member donation model: Boardgamegeek.com has been run this way for over a decade. I see many of the same concerns/arguments/disputes popping up here. I'm sure there must be others.

I guess with that said, Scott's a friend and Josh is a really nice guy I met in person once at a meet-up. So, I'd be glad to try and put you in touch if you want to talk inside baseball with someone else who's been navigating these waters for a while.
posted by meinvt at 8:35 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Not that I'm a business guy (does it show?), but I kinda half expected MetaFilter the site to transfer from one corp to another with Matt keeping the old corp around long enough to settle any debts/legal matters. So the cash reserves, the continuity of staff, of hosting, of payment processors, etc all seem like a pretty good deal and designed so that MetaFilter can continue being MetaFilter instead of floundering in the junk that causes so many small businesses to fail on launch. Not that the process is going to be completely pain free, obviously, but I'm very appreciative of the thought that went into this, thank you.

This seems to belong more in the other thread, but we're talking about it here now I guess?
posted by ODiV at 8:47 AM on August 2


Someone needs to come up with a fun/terrible portmanteau neologism to define the kind of "subscription-ish donation to a for-profit" that it seems a lot of Internet communities run on.
Donscription? Subnation?

And while I don't see merch as a likely money-maker, that's something we want to get back in the habit of doing regularly, and it may be something we can sometimes treat as a hybrid—auction/pledge-drive type merch rewards as a special case of the otherwise more at-cost, just-for-fun stuff that's my main motivation for getting shirts and stickers and whatever else out there.

I think Maximum Fun (another for-profit corporation that relies on "subscriptonations" and is helmed by MeFi's Own YoungAmerican) does a great job with this. Frequently updated t-shirts as just-for-fun merch with more creative, often artist-designed, things as pledge rewards (enamel pins, cat portraits, custom bandannas, and Max-Fun-branded lube are among the ones I can think of off the top of my head).
posted by Rock Steady at 8:50 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Had awkward feelings about it, notably using site reserves to pay for an individual acquiring ownership, but have been mostly reassured by the discussion here. Definitely a big thumbs up for more regular financial updates and so on.

I also remembered my monthly donation stopped when my old card expired, so I've sorted that out now.
posted by knapah at 9:47 AM on August 2


We've had good experiences with Topatoco in the past

When the merch stuff happens, would it be possible to solicit t-shirt recommendations in a separate MetaTalk? Their size guide indicates American Apparel ladies' sizing which I know an awful lot of breast-having folks, including me, have asked that we avoid.
posted by lalex at 10:02 AM on August 2 [10 favorites]


The "classic" theme actually gives you money to buy a new computer to handle the politics threads.

If I don't follow the politics threads, do I still get a new computer?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:25 AM on August 2


Yeah, but only if you go into them and favorite all of my comments.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:31 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


OMG will someone PLEASE think of the BEANS?
posted by yoga at 10:43 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


meaning, they are very very hot and self conscious in this intense microscope srsly i love you all especially cortex
posted by yoga at 10:45 AM on August 2


Everyone goes on about the beans. But what about the plates? Huh? Nobody ever mentions them.
posted by hippybear at 10:45 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


+1 for more merch.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:10 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


cortex i have three (3) desk calculators so i'd be happy to take a look at your quickbooks file when you get a chance
posted by beerperson at 11:21 AM on August 2 [15 favorites]


MetaFilter: I know I'm repeating myself
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:10 PM on August 2


I am not repeating myself I am NOT repeating myself oh god I'm repeating myself
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:27 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Here's another anecdote from working with other, less well-run organizations that relied heavily on user-donated content:

I was a volunteer moderator at Discogs.com for years, initially when it was an electronic music-only database, and then as it grew and expanded to include hip-hop, rock, and soon every sort of recorded audio. In the early days, the moderators selected more moderators, so it was a fairly close-knit group, but we operated on our own, separate from the site owner, teo. He built the site, and he made updates, often without consulting the users or moderators at any length. There was plenty of grumbling about how he ran the site, but most of the changes weren't catastrophic, and it was the only major game in town at that time.

teo finally hired a community manager from the pool of volunteer moderators, but the poor guy didn't get much information to share with us, so he was treated as a sell-out who tried to convince the volunteer users and moderators that everything was going according to plan, and that he'd ferry the significant concerns back to teo. Then came the lead-up and roll-out of version 4, which really turned off a lot of folks, as commemorated in the Roll of Honor, those who "committed oggercide" when the selected moderators were "de-valued" and anyone could confirm release details and everything was public instead of being "hidden" drafts before approval. Discogs moderators used to be sticklers for accuracy and details, which can be time-consuming for submitting and maddening if you just want to know the tracklist from an album, not be reassured that the flute player on track 3 was the same Jimmy Smith who played flute on some other album.

But at the end of the day, Discogs was teo's business, like MetaFilter is now cortex's business. Except Discogs was managed by mystery, while MetaFilter has a whole sub-site for discussing site-related issues with the site owner and other moderators. In other words, I respect and greatly appreciate the balance that cortex is trying to strike, especially has he is actively engaged in overseeing the daily operations of the site, which can take up time that would otherwise be used to report on the well-being of the site. I left DIscogs behind years back, but I'm an active MeFite to this day. Time to donate more to support my home online.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:37 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


Ya know unsaved 5 bucks joining and I'll walk the dunck tank for this But I've never given a slim dime. I have a job but its going to be a money order, CO/ cortex, no. I won't but nonethe less, I want a Gold Star.
posted by clavdivs at 12:41 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


We've had good experiences with Topatoco in the past

When the merch stuff happens, would it be possible to solicit t-shirt recommendations in a separate MetaTalk? Their size guide indicates American Apparel ladies' sizing which I know an awful lot of breast-having folks, including me, have asked that we avoid.

THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.THIS.
In fact, I'm pretty sure there's still an active metatalk about merch and t-shirts where lalex and I and many other mefites have again lobbied for non-AA shirts.
Am I the squeakiest wheel yet?
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:51 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


I know that it feels strange to see Matt taking a 'payout' on this, but as lalex pointed out, Metafilter was solely owned by Matt and he's effectively gifted it to Josh. I don't begrudge him this one bit - there's a reason why Metafilter is one of the survivors of the early days of the internet, and it's because Matt refused to sell out at multiple stages along the road; not just in terms of selling Metafilter, but simply leaving the site earlier for a far higher paying job.

I've been running my own community that's just as important to its members as Metafilter is for six years, and believe me, it takes a lot out of you. That's only a fraction of the time Mefi's been here, and I can't imagine the stress. None of this is easy, especially if you try to do the right thing and limit advertising or decide not to sell user data or be skeevy in a million ways. No-one is getting rich running Metafilter. And just as you figure out one way to make money, the world (aka Google) moves on and six months later it doesn't work any more.

So I want to salute Matt and Josh, and thank them for their service in running this site. There are harder jobs out there, but this is hard in a way that's difficult for people to understand.

My one pony: please make that fundraise-thermometer Josh, I have a donation waiting and I want to see the pixels change!
posted by adrianhon at 12:54 PM on August 2 [12 favorites]


Am I the squeakiest wheel yet?

I KNEW YOU WOULD HEAR MY BREAST BAT SIGNAL!!!
posted by lalex at 12:54 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


In fact, I'm pretty sure there's still an active metatalk about merch...

Thread is closed.

Sad face.
posted by cooker girl at 1:26 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


If and when we do merch, don't worry, we know people have a ton of shirt-pinions!
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:27 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


I assure you we are abreast of the issues, yes.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:36 PM on August 2 [14 favorites]


Boo-urns.
posted by ODiV at 1:42 PM on August 2


I know that it feels strange to see Matt taking a 'payout' on this,

People keep saying this, and I don't understand. It doesn't seem in any way strange and I can't imagine why it would.
posted by bongo_x at 1:44 PM on August 2 [16 favorites]


I don't know what Matt's payout was on this but I'd start a fundraiser to triple whatever it was because MetaFilter is basically the only good place left on the web and that's valuable to me.
posted by hippybear at 1:53 PM on August 2 [11 favorites]


If and when we do merch, don't worry, we know people have a ton of shirt-pinions!

As long as they don't get shirty about it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:20 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Maintaining my monthly contribution & kicked in a one-time. Go forth & mefi.
posted by samthemander at 2:47 PM on August 2


It doesn't seem in any way strange and I can't imagine why it would.

Since it seemingly obliterated the reserves, the site is now in a precarious financial position.
posted by hwyengr at 2:50 PM on August 2


I assure you we are abreast of the issues, yes.

ಠ_ಠ
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:06 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I KNEW YOU WOULD HEAR MY BREAST BAT SIGNAL!!!
Man, I love the internet sometimes.

posted by ApathyGirl at 3:13 PM on August 2


Since it seemingly obliterated the reserves, the site is now in a precarious financial position.

He could have just shut it down, or sold it, and taken all the money. I'm amazed he didn't. I'm not sure how that's any of my business.
posted by bongo_x at 3:14 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


I remember when it was revealed that Metafilter was in a bit of a pickle because of the drop in ad revenue and lots of people said please let us help and also please tell us that you need help in the future and they did and we did and things went from there. My piddly little $AU6.something per month gets me a gold star on my profile and the site that I've been obsessively reading for over a decade continues which makes me happy.

So here ol' cortex is, asking us for help (as we requested) but making it perfectly clear that no-one is required to give anything more than they feel comfortable with, and he's also telling us why he's asking and what (in broad terms) it will be used for. As I'm an actual poor person (relatively speaking) I have to stick with what I'm doing and can't donate any more, but I'm fine with that and I'm glad that cortex understands that.

I get the whole questioning of the legal and financial arrangements, because that's what happens here, but as far as feeling like I have an actual share in the company, or even wanting a share in the company, no. Too many cliches spoil the cliche, as the old thingy goes.

I bought a t-shirt a few years ago but as I continue to expand my oldest son has now taken possession of it, even though he's been giving me shit for years about the amount of time I spend on this site because I'm constantly doing that thing of 'hey, I read this thing on Metafilter *quote some interesting fact gleaned from a post/comment*' at him and he's all gawwwd Mum. Anyway, the point of this rambling anecdote is that I could probably scrape a few dollaroos together to buy another one and I'd wear it with pride because I really love this place.
posted by h00py at 5:05 PM on August 2 [15 favorites]


Jeez, I go on vacation for a week... (HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEWS MYGOD)... So I was a monthly contributor, nay, subscriber, for over 2 years I think, because having the site here for me to read & participate in was worth at least what I was paying for Harper's & the Statesman, but money shit took a turn for the wurst this spring (Tax season double-++, illness in the family, blah blah) & I had to pull back all contributions to try & stave off financial ruin.

That's going okay now, but I want to thank all of you who continue to step up. I hope to join you again soon.

I respect Cortex's judgement & I feel sure the wheel is in steady hands.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:26 PM on August 2


I'm cautiously happy that this change has happened but this whole thing has a really disgusting look: regardless of how you phrase it, the "help fund the site!" donations appear to have funded buying MetaFilter for cortex. And, hey, maybe that's not a bad thing in terms of operations, but that's most definitely not the general feeling that I got from the fundraising MeTa posts and donation page. "Help fund the site," in fact, lowered the net value of MetaFilter and enriched cortex. It feels gross.
posted by introp at 5:28 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


"Help fund the site," in fact, lowered the net value of MetaFilter and enriched cortex. It feels gross.

Hasn't all previous "Help fund the site" effort just enriched cortex and the other staff? They provide me a service. I'm okay with enriching them in return.
posted by Etrigan at 5:49 PM on August 2 [11 favorites]


And the other options were? Let it crash & burn if times got tough? That almost happened once already. Let Matt close it down & take ALL the money? Sell it to Spectrum?

Matt wanted out. He deserved to be bought out. Think of all the years Matt put into building value here with his tireless efforts. Josh wants very badly to keep the boat afloat. I didn't see anything about him giving himself a big raise, and I seriously doubt that user contributions could so anything like "enrich" him much at this point.

One thing that really gets me about MeTa is the bad faith assumptions & worst-possible readings that get dumped into these sorts of threads when we have 18 years of evidence to the contrary.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:00 PM on August 2 [50 favorites]


Seriously, what's the deal?
Good job cortex, thank you!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 6:11 PM on August 2


I just want to say I'm all ready to buy faux retro distressed MeFi baseball jerseys with low member numbers for $75 at Lucky Brand Jeans and then post how cool and fashionable they are on The Sartorialist and Hypebeast. We need to monetize our brand!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:07 PM on August 2


I didn't see anything about him giving himself a big raise, and I seriously doubt that user contributions could so anything like "enrich" him much at this point.

Unless I've missed something about the transfer of MetaFilter and its assets, this is factually untrue. Anyway I tend to agree with introp that this is a positive operational change; c'est la vie.
posted by lalex at 7:14 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


introp: "I'm cautiously happy that this change has happened but this whole thing has a really disgusting look: regardless of how you phrase it, the "help fund the site!" donations appear to have funded buying MetaFilter for cortex. And, hey, maybe that's not a bad thing in terms of operations, but that's most definitely not the general feeling that I got from the fundraising MeTa posts and donation page. "Help fund the site," in fact, lowered the net value of MetaFilter and enriched cortex. It feels gross."

Truly, no good deed can go unpunished.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:19 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


Truly, no good deed can go unpunished

Two-edged sword. Truly, the sense of personal ownership people have in MetaFilter is its greatest asset. It's also an enormous hassle for those whose work is to run it. But without the former, there is no latter.
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


When t-shirt time comes, may I please lobby for expanded sizes? Ranges that go up to XL or 2X, especially in some brands that run small or don't fit women well, leave out me and a lot of other 3X+ Mefites.
posted by Orlop at 10:17 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Seriously, what's the deal?

Oh come on: If someone walked into Ask.MeFi and laid out the bare facts here, they would smell & the comments would reflect that. Cortex has said as much in his own comments here & in the previous metatalk - he knows perfectly well that this doesn’t pass the sniff test.

This being the best available out of a limited set of options doesn’t change that one iota.

(NB Cortex: please tell me you’ve taken tax advice on this deal? Because from where I’m sitting an unsympathetic eye might decide that someone in this transaction has incurred a sizeable tax liability.)
posted by pharm at 2:36 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


We're patrons not investors.

Exactly. I subscribe to the Guardian and the Wahington Post, I pay for other services online. MetaFilter is a site I´m willingly supporting, in fact this was a timely reminder to update my details and shift from PayPal to Stripe (because PayPal is godawful). Happy to support the site and I am not worried about Matt running off with funds like he has been running a pyramid scheme, because he hasn´t.
posted by arcticseal at 3:07 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


articseal, you want 'RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK' (U+2019)for an apostrophe, not 'ACUTE ACCENT' (U+00B4). i.e. ’ not ´.

I’m not I´m.

posted by pharm at 4:20 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


arctic not artic
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:45 AM on August 3 [4 favorites]


I wish when it came to these discussions I had a stronger sense of an organisation that really wanted to be an exemplar of transparency and propriety on the internet, one that would go the extra mile to make sure it could be seen to be doing the right thing. Given the high moral tone of the discourse here, it's remarkable how easily propriety is dismissed as trivial or irrelevant when it comes to our own business.
posted by Segundus at 5:08 AM on August 3 [10 favorites]


I subscribe to the Guardian and the Wahington Post, I pay for other services online.

The Guardian was dedicated to an independent trust which removes the possibility of the original owners profiting from it or their personal situations affecting it. It's also financially transparent.

I don't personally subscribe to the Washington Post. They have chosen a business model that allows me to read the limited number of articles I want either for free or through payments from libraries I already pay for. Paying above the odds is a transfer of wealth to their owner, Jeff Bezos, who I am not interested in enriching further.

I do donate to the Texas Tribune. I do this even though they make all of their content available free and I rarely read it. I do it because they are financially transparent 501(c)(3) nonprofit and I am assured that any contributed funds go to their stated mission.
posted by grouse at 5:55 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


Oh come on: If someone walked into Ask.MeFi and laid out the bare facts here, they would smell & the comments would reflect that. Cortex has said as much in his own comments here & in the previous metatalk - he knows perfectly well that this doesn’t pass the sniff test.


Yeah, but we all have information beyond the bare facts, which is the history of the site and Matt and Josh. It's weird not to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since any contribution is entirely voluntary.
posted by Mavri at 6:03 AM on August 3 [6 favorites]


Obviously. I was merely pointing out that those expressing unease and disquiet about this transaction are doing so for *completely* understandable reasons, which cortex himself has acknowledged. Don’t tell people that their unease about this transaction is groundless, because it’s not - it’s completely reasonable to feel very uneasy about it.
posted by pharm at 6:18 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


IGiven the high moral tone of the discourse here, it's remarkable how easily propriety is dismissed as trivial or irrelevant when it comes to our own business

This presumes, based on no evidence, (a) that some impropriety has occurred, (b) that people who feel comfortable taking cortex at his word are completely unconcerned with ethics, and (c) that the MetaFilter S-corp is in somehow "our" business. None of that is remotely the case.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:43 AM on August 3 [9 favorites]


Some days I wonder what could possibly motivate someone to be a mod on Metafilter.

To take a ton of crap from the users. Practically every move is argued with and every change is pushed back against. Many deletions are considered personal slights. At times criticisms, no matter how minor, are argued against in public as if the mod had slaughtered a family member or something.

They have to navigate personal arguments, sniping and grudges between members, deal with incendiary discussions and maintain calm and reasonable discussions when people seem unable to be calm and reasonable. Worst of all, their motivations are constantly questioned. People here declare that adding features or stemming tides of racism and sexism mean the mods don't care about the site. That making moves to make sure this place doesn't turn into a flaming cesspool is evidence that they're dictators, power-mad or worse. And the ugly sexist bullshit that the Lady Mods have been subjected to over the years is completely awful.

It's a shit job. And they get treated like shit, and that's a damn shame, because you really have to wonder when they will just up and say "fuck all y'all" and shut this place down for good.

I'm sure as hell not innocent in this. I've lost my temper over meaningless bullshit in the past.

But for fuck's sake people would you listen to yourselves? You're accusing cortex of what, stealing from the community under false pretenses? Embezzling?

What the hell? He damn well doesn't deserve this.
posted by zarq at 7:50 AM on August 3 [58 favorites]


The Guardian and the Washington Post aren't even great comparison examples. You are buying access to read articles at your own convenience, the way we used to when we bought physical newspapers at newstands or had them delivered to our houses, versus reading newspapers for free at the library, or the coffeeshop (where they may be incomplete or a couple of days old.)

Here at Metafilter, there is absolutely no difference in service or access for contributors versus non-contributors.

It is voluntary patronage, not a paid subscription.

In recent months I have likewise thrown modest voluntary donations at Resistbot, WTF Just Happened Today, (Metafilter's own) Fight Fire with Phire, Bitch Magazine, and a half-dozen various Kickstarter/Indiegogo campaigns -- all at the "eternal thanks but no physical reward" level.
posted by desuetude at 7:51 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


Also, I feel like some of these comments are unduly amplifying some of the "people are asking questions and being curious" into "ergo, lots of people are clearly uncomfortable with all of this." Speak for your own selves, please, not on behalf of other MeFites.
posted by desuetude at 7:54 AM on August 3 [9 favorites]


I'm still boggling at the guy who came in to accuse Cortex of malfeasance while admitting he hadn't even read the discussion. You know, the long, detailed comments from Cortex explaining what happened and why. It's incredibly disrespectful. Not just to Cortex but to everyone here who makes a good faith effort to participate in the conversation.
posted by Nelson at 10:10 AM on August 3 [7 favorites]


Yes I agree with dusuetude - as a "disquiet" person, I completely disagree with the tone and between-the-lines "please tell me you’ve taken tax advice on this deal" shit that pharm is up to right now.
posted by notorious medium at 10:14 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


I do not expect to be informed and be involved in financial decisions involving Twitter or Reddit.

When Goodreads was sold to Amazon I was really angry. Not because of the content. Users supplied the content, but also got use of it. I was OK with that part of the sale. But Goodreads had mod and database work done by volunteer members. That was over the line for me. Many people had spent many, many hours checking and correcting database information for free, for the good of the site. And then the owners sold it to Amazon for a huge amount with no compensation. That's when I quit.

I don't see any problem with the MF situation. I put a tiny bit in, I get a lot out. Mods doing the real work are paid.
posted by bongo_x at 10:31 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


But Goodreads had mod and database work done by volunteer members. That was over the line for me. Many people had spent many, many hours checking and correcting database information for free, for the good of the site.

Not unlike the backtagging and backtitling projects here?
posted by grouse at 10:38 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


Man, you live up to your username, don't you?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:56 AM on August 3 [7 favorites]


What do you mean?
posted by grouse at 10:58 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


Man, you live up to your username, don't you?

*emails grouse with order to put this on his profile page*
posted by lalex at 10:59 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


we have 18 years of evidence to the contrary

yeah but what if it's just a long con? open your eyes!

this is a humor joke, I do not think metafilter, mathowie, or cortex have been trying to fleece us by way of 18 years of apparent good faith
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:39 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


I've been keeping super quiet here, but I'd just like to comment that I don't think that cortex is anything like Amazon, or (going back a bit) the tiniest bit likely to "flip" Metafilter to a soulless profit-driven corporation for his own enrichment, and that I'm personally incredibly grateful for his actions, and would trust him with my life. Like in a difficult spot, I would give him power of attorney for my own personal affairs, among a less-than-a-handful group of people. (Most of which are Mefites!)

/speaking just as myself, member and person, since I'm not working today.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:49 AM on August 3 [10 favorites]


I'm a small voice here, but I just contributed a modest amount (i.e. not more than I can afford this month) without a whit of hesitation.

I have enormous respect for cortex and our mods and many, many thanks for Matt and his vision for this site. If Josh says he did due diligence, you know what? I believe him.

Not everything needs to be or get complicated. And like many if not all others here, I think Metafilter is in very good hands in this transition. I seriously can't think of an outcome more beneficial in the short term, though I'd support a coop model as well.
posted by vers at 12:00 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


I like the Long Con angle

The secret plan to give up far more lucrative careers to do a job for free for a few years to later get paid a tiny amount then after a few years of that move on to the heart of the con... the debauched pleasure of extracting dozens of dollars from people over a protracted period of time. Tricking those rubes into thinking they were helping!

To make the plan work all they have to do is work incredibly hard for a very long time, have herculean patience and build up an intense amount of good will and personal investment. This will make people believe you care... then the Hamiltons start rolling in.

I want Mattdamon as Matthowie and 90's long-hair Nick Cage as Cortex.

enriched

Jeez. Head against the wall. Jeezy. Peets. Even if you divide the entire budget among the headcount of employees, even if you assume that there are literally no expenses at all, no is getting rich here. If you assume reasonable numbers for a site this size, holy crap that's a modest living wage left over.

posted by French Fry at 12:09 PM on August 3 [14 favorites]


Not unlike the backtagging and backtitling projects here?

Aside from the facts that that was nearly a decade ago, Matt didn't sell to a big corporation after a couple of years (as it became apparent was Goodreads plan all along, and they used free labor knowing that) and the amount of work wasn't a drop in the ocean compared to what librarians did on Goodreads? Fairly unlike. You'd have to squint pretty hard.

What a weird conversation.

I quit Goodreads because I disagreed with what they did. I don't really understand the end game for some of the people upset about this.
posted by bongo_x at 12:10 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


> Not unlike the backtagging and backtitling projects here?

No, not really. Backtagging and backtitling projects were nice, they make the content easier to search, but were not essential to the functionality of Metafilter.
posted by desuetude at 12:13 PM on August 3


I'm pretty sure that a "The Aristocrats!" type situation is more likely than a long con.
posted by Etrigan at 12:15 PM on August 3


Man - I do not get the love for the co-op model. At all. Let's take something most of us love, run in a manner we mostly don't object to, by people we largely respect, who get paid to make sure the place stays running as smoothly as possible given the large, active, and opinionated user base. Take this place we love coming to, spending as little or as much time as we want here, for a one-time payment of 5 bux, maybe donating a bit more if we feel like it to keep the place going.

Now make it your job to be here. Give yourself some chores.

No thanks. I'm glad somebody is paid to run the place. Don't want any part of that. Most of the rest of my life is made up of work and obligations. I come here for a respite from that. I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:16 PM on August 3 [27 favorites]


...then the Hamiltons start rolling in.

I want Mattdamon as Matthowie and 90's long-hair Nick Cage as Cortex.


I just have to register my appreciation for this. I snorted in the coffeeshop and now everybody's looking at me.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:28 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]


I snorted in the coffeeshop and now everybody's looking at me.

Did you lay the lines out right on the table? Yeah, that'll get you some funny looks.
posted by bongo_x at 12:32 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]


I thought it was canon that Zachary Quinto is playing Matt. For Josh, I would humbly recommend Jeremy Davies.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:33 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


I must be stupid, because "this smells" is too cryptic. I legitimately do not understand who's supposed to be the bad guy here.
posted by that's how you get ants at 12:51 PM on August 3


For anyone who can't give financially, you can also help by making great posts to the front page, to Ask.me, etc., as well as great comments. The site is the members and the content. The moderators make it work well, but it really is a community and benefits from participation. I have supported the site in the past, will do so again, but right now it's not an option. So I've got a really awesome chicken dance youtube post I'm working on. Damn, it's a double.
posted by theora55 at 1:04 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


Man - I do not get the love for the co-op model.

I mean, we don't all have to be members of the co-op. It doesn't have to be a consumer cooperative -- it could be a worker cooperative, where the employees each have partial ownership.

Because the site gets most of its revenue from business activities "unrelated" to its mission (i.e., from advertising), I don't think that pursuing nonprofit status makes sense. That also seems to have been MeFi's lawyer's advice. Plus, if it were a nonprofit, I think it would have to publish three years of IRS Form 990s on the site, which include a lot of financial information that cortex has said he doesn't think it's appropriate to share (like salary info).

So I think a for-profit business model is here to stay. Which is fine! I don't think there needs to be a value judgement attached to that at all. There's nothing inherently bad about a for-profit structure just like there's nothing inherently good about a non-profit one.

But you can also still have a for-profit co-op, if a co-op is something people want. In the context of a for-profit business structure, one way to divest cortex of sole ownership (which sounds like he received for expediency's sake rather than because that's the model that he or the other employees would ideally prefer) would be to give the other staff members shares as part of their compensation.

That might be too financially complex to actually be doable? I dunno.

Also, when businesses need to raise funds, the conventional way to do it is to issue shares and sell them. I personally think that would be a cool idea for MeFi in terms of codifying its (already extant) commitment to its user base (like say if, as a matter of policy, 1/10th of its stock were consumer-owned? I think that would be cool, because I think some consumer buy-in would make sense symbolically in terms of MeFi's guiding mission). But issuing stock like that is functionally just a variant on asking for donations or offering voluntary subscriptions -- so as long as those methods are working fine to raise sufficient funds, there's really no reason to do it in any case. And it might be needlessly complicated.

Anyway, just throwing around ideas. I don't mean to be an asshole about it! It sounded to me like cortex didn't necessarily want to be sole owner and is open to other models -- and personally, I think other models (like some sort of cooperative) make sense in terms of MeFi's culture and goals, too. But it's not that I don't trust him in the ownership role or that I think he did anything hinky to get there.

I legitimately do not understand who's supposed to be the bad guy here.

Personally, I'm not worried that anyone did or is going to do anything untoward. The only thing that makes me feel kind of bad is that only one staff member received ownership, and the rest were shut out. I feel bad for the rest of the staff members and former staff -- even though it sounds like there's no reason to, and they don't seem to feel bad for themselves! I just like the idea of the bounty being shared, I guess. But I also understand that it was done the way it was for expediency's sake, and is likely stay as it is for the same reason.
posted by rue72 at 1:37 PM on August 3 [4 favorites]


MATT SOLD METAFILTER
AND ALL I GOT
WAS THE PROMISE OF
THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT
IN THE FUTURE
posted by Kabanos at 1:40 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]


I completely disagree with the tone and between-the-lines "please tell me you’ve taken tax advice on this deal" shit that pharm is up to right now.

The "shit I am up to" is this: a back of the envelope calculation suggests that the transfer from Matt to Cortex significantly undervalued the Metafilter holding company. Making sure that the difference between the amount paid & fair market value (according to the IRS) didn't qualify as taxable income would probably be a good idea in the circumstances I would have thought! No underhand or double meaning was implied by that comment whatsoever.
posted by pharm at 1:48 PM on August 3


It's Raining Florence Henderson: "I thought it was canon that Zachary Quinto is playing Matt. For Josh, I would humbly recommend Jeremy Davies."

John Rhys-Davies, I think. Sure, he looks nothing like cortex, but he looked nothing like Gimli, either.

For jessamyn, Janeane Garofalo. I just like to see her get work.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:17 PM on August 3


Walken. I get played by Walken. Doesn't matter that he's twice my age, doesn't matter that he looks and sounds nothing like me, doesn't even matter if he literally dies before shooting commences. Walken.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:20 PM on August 3 [19 favorites]


Judging site ownership by the overall quality of their tweets, Matt has a great twitter game but Josh's twitter game is simply divine.

Ergo I'm on team Cortex.

Rationality be damned.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:39 PM on August 3


You can have Jimmy Fallon doing you as played by Walken.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:39 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


Walken

We need a video of you doing this.
posted by zarq at 2:41 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


Well, you could probably request a video of him doing a little something...like this.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:53 PM on August 3


Thoughtful comment, rue72. I certainly wouldn't have a problem with any of that, and would like to see all of the mods past and present have a stake in ownership if they want one, though this is really just me playing with other people's imaginary money and ownership.

But assuming that cortex retains the controlling ownership sufficient to hold off the obvious takeover plot when all of the other shareholders sign their shares over to jessamyn (I see what you're doing - I'm watching you!!!), I'm not really sure how any of that really changes anything meaningful, even for them.

It would feel good, I guess.

But I'm a partial owner in a few companies thanks to retirement accounts and the like, and let me tell you, I get tired of the shareholder documents and the constant requests to vote on the board members, etc. Like I have time to keep informed enough about any of that to actually vote meaningfully. Just adds to my shredding chores.

Sometimes they even call me. "Please vote, Mr. Wayne! Your vote is important!" Please. Like I have time for those chuckleheads when The Joker is out there plotting his next move. Out there. Somewhere. In the night.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:14 PM on August 3 [9 favorites]


Matt could have sold this place out in a zillion different ways over the years, including in multiple tech/web bubbles. And I really doubt that cortex would sign up for something he thought was unfair to the users or the site. Money is complicated between friends/family/community - and it can be awkward - but I have a very high presumption that what Matt and cortex agreed on was probably as fair as could be to all involved. (I gave money, FWIW.)
posted by Mid at 4:45 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


pharm - we have no idea what debts and other liabilities there were that might be factored into the book value of the company. Just because there is a bunch of cash on hand doesn't mean that the value of the company is at least that much.

They actively talked to a lawyer and an accountant extensively, cortex said so himself...
posted by NormieP at 5:15 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


It seems incredibly inappropriate that some random user would make an uninformed "back of the envelope calculation" and follow it up with vaguely threatening comments about tax trouble. Being very charitable and assuming good faith, the appropriate way to raise a legal concern is privately.
posted by Nelson at 5:28 PM on August 3 [10 favorites]


lol "threatening"
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:05 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


This thread has gotten entirely ridiculous and feels more like an Alex Jones rant than a real discussion of real issues.
posted by hippybear at 10:14 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


It seems merely helpful to me to mention a prima facie tax risk. But I suppose that's just part of the strange "ultra-loyalist" strand to this discussion that sees all questions as accusations and all puzzlement as hostility.

You can't solicit donations to support your activities and at the same time tell people that what you're doing is none of their business.
posted by Segundus at 10:15 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


tell people that what you're doing is none of their business

I don't believe I've seen that in this thread.
posted by hippybear at 10:17 PM on August 3 [4 favorites]


Well, plenty of people saying that they, for one, do not regard it as their business, and then quoting me specifically:

This presumes, based on no evidence... (c) that the MetaFilter S-corp is in somehow "our" business. None of that is remotely the case.

Fair comment in response to that, or not?
posted by Segundus at 10:25 PM on August 3


No, because you are saying that cortex, the person who solicited the donations, is also the person who said that what he's doing is none of their business. And I don't recall seeing that.

What is your point here? I mean, just close the thread, don't give any money, and appreciate that MetaFilter still exists. Do you have a desired endgame to your comments here?
posted by hippybear at 10:35 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


Sheesh. You guys are reading truly astonishing levels of bad faith into my comment.
posted by pharm at 11:49 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying cortex said anything, hippybear; if you're reading it that way you're not reading it the way I intended.

As to what my point is, I'm trying in my own small way to help a site I strongly support to raise its game. I'm doing that by supporting reasonable, open, discussion about the way it operates: that should be welcome; it shows engagement, not hostility (or an 'endgame' - you really think I have covert aims of some kind? I've been around here a while, you know, I'm mostly harmless and FWIW I have contributed cash fairly regularly in the past).

However, this kind of engagement is clearly not really welcome just now and probably isn't doing any good, so I will leave it there and reflect on whether there are lessons I can learn.
posted by Segundus at 12:29 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


For whatever it's worth, Segundus, my use of the word "business" wasn't intended to convey "concern" as in "this is none of your business", but rather business as in the actual corporate organization that runs MetaFilter. That's the sense in which I interpreted the word in the comment I was responding to.
posted by Ipsifendus at 3:26 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I work in the nonprofit industry, and the laser focus of donors (both individual and organizational donors) on their money "going directly to programs," ie "not going to staff salaries," is THE reason why we are all overworked and understaffed. People resent the notion that their donation might be part of the money that gets paid to me, and that I might then blow it on a margarita when it could have been placed directly into the hand of a starving child, etc. Which I get, on an emotional level! But the thing of it is, these programs (and also this site) literally don't exist except as projects undertaken by people who need money to live on and who deserve more than poverty wages.

I have no idea of the details of the financial arrangement that went on here. Maybe it was wack as hell! But I can't find it in me to feel resentment about it, because this site certainly consumed a fair chunk of Matt's life and energy for a very long time.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:28 AM on August 4 [38 favorites]


I'm not saying cortex said anything, hippybear; if you're reading it that way you're not reading it the way I intended.

Then I'm curious who you intend the "you" is in this sentence in an earlier comment to indicate: "You can't solicit donations to support your activities and at the same time tell people that what you're doing is none of their business."
posted by hippybear at 5:27 AM on August 4


I work in the nonprofit industry, and the laser focus of donors (both individual and organizational donors) on their money "going directly to programs," ie "not going to staff salaries," is THE reason why we are all overworked and understaffed.

Oh man, I just the other day wrote a SUPER long comment on a friend's FB about how the percent of funding "going to programs" is an entirely meaningless metric. It hadn't occurred to me, but yeah my similar background is probably informing why I am so sympathetic to matt/cortex not being super interested in laying open the books for all and sundry to see. Of course, the direction this very conversation has gone is another reason.
posted by solotoro at 6:52 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I’m not I´m.

I´m on a Spanish keyboard that I'm still not used to.
posted by arcticseal at 7:09 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I just the other day wrote a SUPER long comment on a friend's FB about how the percent of funding "going to programs" is an entirely meaningless metric.

I take your larger point, but this metric does help to point out the "charities" that are basically scams.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:27 AM on August 4


the percent of funding "going to programs" is an entirely meaningless metric

I also work for a charity and totally disagree with this, although I don't think it's relevant here because almost all of the program expenses here are staff salaries.

my similar background is probably informing why I am so sympathetic to matt/cortex not being super interested in laying open the books for all and sundry to see

There are other people with a history of working for nonprofits and serving on the board of nonprofits such as myself and Miko. Without wanting to speak for anyone else, it's my background that both drives my expectations of the use of standard nonprofit practices here and also my concerns for what happens when those practices are not followed.
posted by grouse at 7:29 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]


There are other people with a history of working for nonprofits and serving on the board of nonprofits such as myself and Miko. Without wanting to speak for anyone else, it's my background that both drives my expectations of the use of standard nonprofit practices here and also my concerns for what happens when those practices are not followed.

Metafilter Network Inc., is not a non-profit. There should be no "expected uses of standard nonprofit practices" with regard to the company. The site owner and staff have no legal obligation to follow practices that do not apply to their business model. Nor do they have to provide transparency regarding their financial transactions to the public.

You said you think it's time to publicly discuss whether Metafilter should become a non-profit and while I personally think that's both presumptuous and not any of our business, you can of course do what you like.

But you appear to also be assuming that the site should follow practices required of non-profits by law now for some inexplicable reason and that's simply not the case.

In 2014, Matt asked for community donations to replace lost ad revenue and keep metafilter afloat. Doing so did not change Metafilter's status from a for-profit company to a non-profit. Anyone can donate money to a for-profit company if they choose.
posted by zarq at 7:57 AM on August 4 [15 favorites]


I also work for a charity and totally disagree with this, although I don't think it's relevant here because almost all of the program expenses here are staff salaries.

Maybe "entirely meaningless" was a bit strong, but I stand by the idea that it carries much less meaning than what 99% of the people looking at it think it has (and for a deeper reason than just "you need an accounting department to keep the lights on"). You're right, this is becoming a derail that is not terribly relevant to the matter at hand; I really just meant it as an aside. I'd be happy to continue that discussion offline though, I'm always looking for opportunities to learn!

And I see what you are saying; I am also sympathetic to the point of view of wanting accountability in order to build the most robust possible organization. I'm just more sympathetic to not wanting to provide more accountability than is required, because once you give people more information than you are obligated to, you are MUCH more likely to get detailed questions and challenges to the new information than you are to get a "thanks for the extra transparency" message. Again, I cite this thread as an example of that.
posted by solotoro at 8:05 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I agree with everything you said, solotoro, but I think this point illustrates a key difference:

I'm just more sympathetic to not wanting to provide more accountability than is required

What several of us are saying is that more accountability is required. Not by the law, but by us, before we choose to donate to MetaFilter again.
posted by grouse at 8:19 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]


> What several of us are saying is that more accountability is required. Not by the law, but by us, before we choose to donate to MetaFilter again.

Based on what you said upthread, you're not interested in giving to a business, and mefi is likely to remain a business, and so, for you at least, what transparency or accountability there is is irrelevant. MetaFilter does not need to change its entire structure to make you feel okay about donating to it, and you don't need to donate if you don't like the structure. Both are fine.
posted by rtha at 8:29 AM on August 4 [11 favorites]


MetaFilter does not need to change its entire structure to make you feel okay about donating to it, and you don't need to donate if you don't like the structure. Both are fine.

One of the best consumer mechanisms there are for change is letting businesses know what you expect from them.

I used to run a business association in a neighborhood without a lot of bike infrastructure. We gave out little stickers to the cycling advocacy organization to give to businesses to let them know they'd be more likely to patronize them if they had bike parking. You know what happened? Businesses put out a lot more bike infrastructure.

Businesses respond to demand, and if a bunch of users say "hey, cortex, I'm interested in donating if thing X, Y, or Z occur" then it gives him some information on the demand for different things. It's no different than a feature request if done politely, which has happened to wildly varying degrees in this thread.
posted by notorious medium at 8:39 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


> Businesses respond to demand, and if a bunch of users say "hey, cortex, I'm interested in donating if thing X, Y, or Z occur" then it gives him some information on the demand for different things.

But it's not "a bunch of users," it's a few very, very concerned users who bring up their concerns over and over.
posted by languagehat at 8:43 AM on August 4 [13 favorites]


And seriously, if you don't want to give, don't give. Who cares?
posted by languagehat at 8:43 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]


I care.
posted by grouse at 8:45 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


> Businesses respond to demand

Sure, but I think there's a big gulf between "Can you do more regular State of the Site updates?" and "Become a co-op/non-profit/worker-owned collective or I won't feel okay about donating" and even "Tell me all the financial deets of the transfer and lay out the quarterly budget or I won't feel okay about donating." None of the business who put out some bike infrastructure had to open their books or change their corporate structure in order to respond to people who wanted to use bikes to get to them, you know?
posted by rtha at 8:47 AM on August 4 [9 favorites]


It does seem like those who have concerns so far have clearly and thoroughly stated their thoughts at this point, and been given every impression that their concerns have been listened to and noted. It's good that people who have concerns or questions are voicing them, that means that MetaTalk is functioning as it should. Nobody has been forced to donate, and I hope nobody feels pressured into it, it's just an invitation to donate if you feel comfortable doing that and would like to do that. Money can be kind of a personal thing, so there's no need to tell everyone you're donating unless you want to; similarly, no pressure to tell everyone you're not donating. And also no pressure to tell people the status of your donation or non-donation over and over again. A saying I've always liked for this sort of situation is "flag it and move on".
posted by Secretariat at 9:27 AM on August 4 [9 favorites]


I like how Metafilter the company is organized and don't want it to change.
posted by michaelh at 9:36 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


It does seem like those who have concerns so far have clearly and thoroughly stated their thoughts at this point, and been given every impression that their concerns have been listened to and noted.

I agree with that, cortex has been clear that he has noted our concerns and will consider them. As far as I can tell, it's only people who are not staff who say that our concerns are wrong or that we are wrong to express them.
posted by grouse at 9:37 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]


Concerns cannot be wrong. They can be ill-founded. Expressing them is no sin, either. Repeating them a dozen times risks seeming a bit strident.
posted by Ipsifendus at 10:03 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]


Sorry if this is butting in, but I've been following with interest (because I'm not really sure how much transparency I feel like businesses I patronize owe me) and I think some of the pushback might be because the idea of "transparency" that has been laid out is still a little...nebulous, and each facet of it carries its own risks and rewards.

Maybe people would talk past each other less if the request for transparency was more specific? Do you want to know the full valuation used for the transfer? Do you want to see the amount of money Matt withdrew? Do you want to see the full financial history, including benefits/wages Matt did or didn't take or defer in the past? Do you want staff salaries to be public? Do you want to see ad revenue over time? Do you want to see a full accounting of all debts and liabilities? Do you want to see the future business plan? Do you want to see plans for the ownership structure, or an outline of what structures were considered and rejected and why? In general, where's the line?
posted by R a c h e l at 10:04 AM on August 4


I just donated (and turned off the star on my profile page, yay). Please earmark it for booze for the mods because we're pretty useless without them; us users are trolling each other constantly. We're always getting into repetitive and dark places in the politics megathreads and I can't even imagine some of the stuff mods have to read before they (rightfully; thankfully) delete them.

On a different note, the donations page is kinda strange in that it doesn't mention "credit card" but prominently mentions stripe. As a B2B company, I'd venture most people haven't even heard of stripe, even if they've used it before in the past. Maybe the language on that page could mention something like "donate with credit card" as a way to improve conversion?

On the subject of fundraising tools though, Indiegogo launched Generosity which charges 0% platform fee compared to 5% for projects. Maybe it's worth taking a second look at that?
posted by fragmede at 10:16 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


In general, where's the line?

1) re the ownership transaction, I'd like to be updated on the progress of a succession plan and what the current understanding is on the relationship between Metafilter, LLC and its owner with respect to liability shielding, etc.

2) Moving forward, I think filthy light thief posted a nice, not invasive outline upthread which I will reproduce here for convenience:
- general stability of funding (x months of reserves at current expenses [but we would like y months, which would require $z by [month], ad revenue is [not] reliable and [x]% of our funding, where user donations are [y]%)

- # of active members, # of new members, # of members who have gone quiet (if this is an annual "report" type thing, that last figure could be identified in short order by looking at the prior year\

- # of posts and # of comments (maybe charting the trends)

- # of flagged posts and/or comments and/or number of deleted posts and comments (flags might be TMI for public consumption, but deleted comments and posts could be pulled from the various deleted [content] sites/widgets)

- new staff added, old staff retired, and fun things the site has implemented, new social sites you can now link via profile (and # of sites dropped due to those sites dying off)
I'm operating under the assumption that these numbers are run on a regular basis and so wouldn't be a huge project to collate, but if not then I'm sure members could pull together the publicly available data (as strangely stunted trees did here.) I've also done it before and while it didn't take 10 minutes, it also didn't ruin my day or anything.
posted by lalex at 10:31 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I'm seeing Stripe crop up more often the past few months, I think there's an uptick in usage vs. PayPal.
posted by arcticseal at 11:44 AM on August 4


> Walken. I get played by Walken.

Literally, I've had a joke on one of my sites for a decade that states, "If you’re interested in contacting me for a movie deal I must stipulate that Casey Affleck play me." I picked Affleck at a time when no one knew who he was, his biggest role had been in Good Will Hunting, and I was convinced he'd go nowhere. I am not a futurist.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:14 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I haven't donated since the first drive so I like the idea way back up in this thread or the other about an annual drive. I also like the suggestion to clarify that Stipe is pay by credit card. I had no idea. I now see the 'what is stipe ' link beside that payment option but it would have helped lazy clueless me to have wording like "pay with credit card via Stipe"
posted by biggreenplant at 12:35 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Stripe. https://stripe.com/

This is Stipe. :)
posted by zarq at 1:04 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I'm seeing Stripe crop up more often the past few months, I think there's an uptick in usage vs. PayPal.

Stripe is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:10 PM on August 4 [5 favorites]


Stripe? Omg. I refer you to the lazy clueless description. Thanks Zarq. That explains why my ctrl-f for details wasn't working
posted by biggreenplant at 1:27 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


No worries. :)

But we should definitely demand that cortex hire Michael Stipe to come to our homes to take our payments in person. :D
posted by zarq at 1:32 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]


"That's you in the corner", he'll murmur. "That's you on the website, renewing your subscription."
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:37 PM on August 4 [50 favorites]


Oh no, I've said too much.
posted by grouse at 1:53 PM on August 4 [22 favorites]


> There are other people with a history of working for nonprofits and serving on the board of nonprofits such as myself and Miko. Without wanting to speak for anyone else, it's my background that both drives my expectations of the use of standard nonprofit practices here and also my concerns for what happens when those practices are not followed.

Okay, I also have a very long history of working for nonprofits. My background and experience is why I do NOT think that Metafilter should be a nonprofit, and I sure as hell don't think think that standard nonprofit practices need be practiced by Metafilter in its current form as a business.
posted by desuetude at 1:57 PM on August 4 [9 favorites]


I am more than willing to continue to contribute because I don't even need to worry about the way the business is run. It's a pleasure to be a part of an organization that is so upfront and trustworthy that I don't feel compelled to examine all its inner workings.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:29 PM on August 4 [9 favorites]


"99% of donated funds go directly to our core program of digging a big hole, filling it with money, and then pooping on it."
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:36 AM on August 5


Except with Metafilter, apparently it's the commenters who poop on it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:45 AM on August 5


MetaFilter is important to me and that it continues to run as it has been is also important to me.

I got laid off last fall and stopped every single recurring subscription I had with just two exceptions: Netflix and my small $5/month donation to MetaFilter.

I got a new job in June and, as someone who started chipping in back when Matt told us the site was in trouble, I was so pleased that cortex put up this fundraising post. I'd been of the mind that Matt should have told us sooner, should have asked for help earlier, so I'm very glad cortex did exactly what I would have wanted whoever the owner of the site was to do. As such, I've doubled my small monthly donation (still have debt to climb out of or it'd be more) and tossed in an extra one-time donation.

Would I like a bit more transparency? Sure. Do I need it? No. What I need is for MetaFilter to be here and to be on solid financial footing and for the community to be run as it has been for the last 18 years.

I'm happy I can be a small part of assuring this community's future. :)
posted by juliebug at 6:45 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


Here's some of my garbled stream of consciousness when I think about this:

I'm curious to know what, if any, shenanigans went on behind the scenes that cortex doesn't feel like sharing. I'd also like to know what people get paid - just because I'm nosey and that'd be interesting to know about.

But Metafilter is a monetized blog platform. We aren't feeding the hungry or educating children, this is a social media product people use when they should be working. We're just people online talking about stuff. That Metafilter should be made a, or act like a, non-profit would never occur to me. For starters, it'd make it harder for the site to grow and the proprietor to profit. Why would I want that? I like the site. Donate or don't donate - what did you think you were funding?
posted by floam at 2:14 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: this is a social media product people use when they should be working.
posted by Melismata at 10:44 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]


I just want to point out that nobody is currently arguing that MetaFilter should be a nonprofit. Given the funding choices that have been made over the past decade, it simply cannot. The discussion has become one about values and appropriate degrees of community partnership and transparency. I say this only so that hopefully we can have that discussion instead of the one about how bad nonprofits are believed to be.
posted by Miko at 8:15 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Miko: I just want to point out that nobody is currently arguing that MetaFilter should be a nonprofit.

grouse: If there's going to be an increased reliance on donations from community members, this is definitely a good time to discuss a non-profit setup for MetaFilter in the future.

also

grouse: But that doesn't mean it's wrong to point out that the situation is unchanged. It's still a business. Some people are OK with giving to a business. I'm not.
posted by zarq at 8:12 AM on August 7


So this happened while I was out with my family on vacation and I didn't want to comment via my phone, etc.

So congrats cortex, good job so far. I think the site is in good hands fwiw.

I don't have a super-strong opinion on Mefi being a non-profit - if there were tax advantages to it then it has an obvious attraction, but I don't think being a non-profit would make Mefi inherently more stable.

I would like more financial transparency, regardless of the corporate structure. I get there is a lot of sensitivity like personal salaries or revealing ad income which may have issues around data sharing, but overall I think it would be a net positive. I don't think I have a lot to add to the various comments that have already gone over the various issues around this, so it's just my opinion. I think the discipline require to produce a few basic accounting statements like a balance sheet and income statement would be positive. Not that you're not doing this already for your own benefit, but there's a certain beneficial pressure to having to produce it for an external audience.

That said I don't think it's that pressing but if Metafilter is supposed to survive for decades to come I don't think it's going to happen via a string of benevolent dictators. As much as I like cortex, we're one bad medical incident away from the whole thing going offline. So stay well dude.
posted by GuyZero at 12:23 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Yes, zarq. That grouse comment you quoted was in the first [less than] 1/8 of the thread, and things moved on from there a long time ago. Maybe you can too.

And:

But that doesn't mean it's wrong to point out that the situation is unchanged. It's still a business. Some people are OK with giving to a business. I'm not.


That does not constitute an argument to become a nonprofit. it's just a refusal to give a donation to a for-profit business - a reasonable stance. It does not require action or change on the part of another entity.

Let's move on. What's the degree of transparency or community vision-setting people might want at MeFi - whether they give or not?
posted by Miko at 10:42 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Yes, zarq. That grouse comment you quoted was in the first [less than] 1/8 of the thread, and things moved on from there a long time ago. Maybe you can too.

That comment and others covering the topic have been discussed at length throughout this thread, and if the subject is brought up again, I'll feel free to discuss it (or not) as is my right. Don't presume to dictate to me what I should or should not respond to, or when, Miko.

But by all means feel free to be as condescending as you possibly can while moving goalposts.
posted by zarq at 1:00 AM on August 9


Hey there guys please keep it in a spirit of mutual kindness and respect. It is a BIG issue and it is one with quite strong opinions on all sides, because we are UNITED IN OUR LOVE OF METAFILTER.
srsly.


It turned out that the real site ownership transfer was the friends we made along the way.


Hugs guys, hug it out FFS!!!!!1
posted by Meatbomb at 1:28 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


by all means feel free to be as condescending as you possibly can while moving goalposts.

I found your comment unnecessarily limiting and condescending as well. I'm tired of being a target for drive-by hostility and gotcha games. There is no proposal on the table for Mefi to become a nonprofit. It will not become one in the foreseeable future. However, the concerns that underlie the earlier moves to become a nonprofit continue to exist, and I would love to discuss those, rather than continuing to chew a bone that ran out of juice a long time ago. That's not "moving goalposts," it's acknowledging the arc of the discussion as it has played out in this thread. I am willing to be respectful and have taken pains to; I know you Perhaps we can engage in the discussion at hand rather than playing "prove ya wrong!"
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I found your comment unnecessarily limiting and condescending as well.

It was literally nothing more than links and quotes from two comments made by someone else in this thread with no other commentary offered. I was noting that your assertion seemed incorrect and that point seemed obvious enough that I didn't feel it necessary to say anything more. There was nothing limiting or condescending about that comment of mine. It was at worst gentle disagreement with you.

I'm tired of being a target for drive-by hostility and gotcha games.

By whom? Certainly not by me. I could probably count on one hand the number of times you and I have directly interacted in my nearly 13 years of membership here. In all that time, I don't believe I have ever targeted you with either "drive-by hostility" or "gotcha games." We've disagreed once in the past on whether comments in threads can have a silencing effect. I vaguely recall that conversation as respectful? I cannot recall any other past negative interactions or outright disagreements between us.

We have no personal history of hostility or arguments that I can remember. I had no need, desire or reason to target you in any way. I did not do this. I disagreed with you. Politely.

There is no proposal on the table for Mefi to become a nonprofit.

I did not say there was. What you said was: "I just want to point out that nobody is currently arguing that MetaFilter should be a nonprofit." and that was what I responded to, offering a quote from someone who said that a non-profit model should be considered for Mefi. A discussion grouse has continued to contribute to throughout the thread.

That is what I consider moving the goalposts.

However, the concerns that underlie the earlier moves to become a nonprofit continue to exist, and I would love to discuss those

As far as I can tell, no one is stopping you from doing so.

rather than continuing to chew a bone that ran out of juice a long time ago.

grouse was still talking about holding Metafilter to non-profit practices much later in the thread than the comments I quoted. I replied to him then.

I am willing to be respectful and have taken pains to

...accuse me of being "limiting and condescending" and of making you a "target for drive-by hostility and gotcha games".

Because I disagreed with you.

; I know you

I'm getting the distinct impression that you don't.

Perhaps we can engage in the discussion at hand rather than playing "prove ya wrong!"

If you have something constructive to say, go for it. Accusing me of making bad faith comments with no evidence, and asking me to restrict myself to what you want to talk about is not a good foundation for a pleasant discussion.
posted by zarq at 9:52 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


omg I love you both!

grouse was still talking about holding Metafilter to non-profit practices much later in the thread than the comments I quoted.

In an effort to move the conversation forward, I'd say there's a difference between continuing to discuss MetaFilter legally becoming a non-profit - this particular issue sounds like it's been decided, it's a hassle, and it's not going to happen - and considering whether MetaFilter should consider adopting some standard non-profit behavior for the protection of its community and donors.

To me this discussion would include considering things like the sharing of basic financials, shielding the business from the vicissitudes of its owner's life, and a real succession plan.
posted by lalex at 10:15 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


> and considering whether MetaFilter should consider adopting some standard non-profit behavior for the protection of its community and donors. To me this discussion would include considering things like the sharing of basic financials, shielding the business from the vicissitudes of its owner's life, and a real succession plan.

I agree with all of those things, but those are also all totally within the realm of acknowledged business practices within segments of the for-profit world, there is no need to confusingly shorthand any of this as "nonprofit behavior."
posted by desuetude at 10:57 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


I don't think this is about me, but it's weird, so let's drop it.

Talking about bringing some of the underlying values of nonprofits over to Mefi is of interest to me, even though Mefi will unequivocally not become a nonprofit. There is no reason not to continue that aspect of the conversation, even though the idea of Nonprofit Mefi died a long time back. Those values can be the basis of a discussion on guiding principles for going forward . The things I care most about are a degree of financial transparency that provides enough inclusion into site finencial information to support the solicitation of donations (such as the annual or semiannual report described above) and a degree of openness to community accountability and community decisionmaking whenever possible, and of course a resistance to monetizing the site in ways which might be harmful to users or their content. What else?
-
posted by Miko at 11:03 AM on August 9


I don't think this is about me, but it's weird, so let's drop it.

Next time you want to accuse someone of harassing you, make sure you have your facts straight.
posted by zarq at 11:05 AM on August 9


I'd appreciate it if to whatever extent either of you have any desire to continue to respond to each other it happens over some other channel, this has gotten super tedious.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:16 AM on August 9 [9 favorites]


That's fine. I've said what I've needed to at this point.
posted by zarq at 11:17 AM on August 9


One feels that, before dueling pistols at dawn are declared between two MeFites, this MetaTalk perchance requires a break for some light relief at this adjunct. Therefore, feel free to avail yourselves of a repeat viewing of finest vocabulary, as illustrated by Jessamyn and Cortex.
posted by Wordshore at 11:18 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


So I just made a donation and Paypal forced me to shorten my password (!!!?) down to 20 characters. This for an account that was created only a few months ago, so I was rather suspicious that I'd been redirected to a fraudulent version of the Paypal site or something. But I called the 888 number that's all over the internet for their customer support and after wading through the automated prompts the guy I talked to confirmed that the new password limit is legit.
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 PM on August 9


Wow, I picked a good time to be mostly offline.

I've kept up with just the POTUS45 thread, because a lighthearted nuclear exchange between two blustering bullies is going to seriously ruin my year - and that's all I've kept up with. So to wander into this thread many days later ... Yikes!

> Just want to go on record here: I've donated to Metafilter under the assumption that my donations would go wherever they needed to go.

I wanted to say this, exactly. I really appreciate the site, the community, and the work that goes into maintaining things. I have the luxury of some spare cash, and I'm happy to chip in again.

As an aside to the Mods: I understand that you have had other things to deal with (see: POTUS45) but a semi-regular (bi-annual?) site update would be a useful donation reminder.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:27 AM on August 10


Totally agreed; talked some about that in the other thread, but basically I see at least yearly site updates as a good goal and regret not having done that more steadily in the midst of the weirdness that was the last two years.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:57 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


Can you guys make a shirt that says IANAL?
posted by gregr at 7:09 AM on August 15


Can you guys make a shirt that says IANAL?

But if you do, pay close attention to the spacing between the I and the A.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:12 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


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