Moving Overton Window So Mefites Perceive Default Behavior as Recurring December 19, 2022 6:58 AM   Subscribe

So, I have a radical idea that I wanted to throw out there. Upshot: moving the Overton window of our concept of membership here on the site, so that membership is no longer be a one-time fee.

I will outright open up by saying I'm not so sure this is the right way to go, but I think it's definitely worth community discussion.

The world has changed a great deal since Mefi started. Asking for money for site access was a very new idea when Metafliter was born, such that really the only option was to mail a check to a PO box. (I was one of those, I still have a visceral memory of writing out the check, wrapping it in a blank piece of paper, applying the stamp, and waiting that week for the check to arrive at their end.)

But nowadays, there's Paypal, Venmo, checks, and a lot of other ways, and this very recurring model is easily being done on Patreon and many other websites.

For those who say this would be problematic - we've always had a paywall to comment since before that was common, and this would not have to be a barrier to anyone, regardless of economics.

For the 'standard', perhaps the $5 one-time fee would become $5/month as a standard. There would have to be some gentle UI here steering towards that as the default -- if you sign up at a Patreon you'll see that like much consumer pricing, the desired option is more emphasized and in the center, with both lesser and more-expensive options on either side.

But there could be perhaps $12 a year as a budget standard (with no differences), which is $1/mo., less than a candy bar. (This could be billed yearly so as to avoid excessive processing charges from anything online.) We could also have both (a) 'scholarships' (something I think we already do for the one-time fee) and (b) methodology for people to give gifts to one another - either covering ongoing ("just bill me for their $12/yr. recurring, I'll warn them when I can't do it anymore") or perhaps as a sort of Mefi credit (contributor one-time pays an amount that converts to 'CatScanCoins', one coin being a month's or year's membership, etc.).

I think in accordance with the spirit of Metafilter, it would be important to make sure - and to somehow pledge for the future/future-proof this - that there would never be any "benefit differences" between any tiers.

Part of this idea would also be kind of about shifting the Overton window on the existing 'standard'.

Right now, we're using a metric that was thought up 20+ years ago and was daring then (articles were written around the time about the simple intelligent idea of setting up a $5 barrier to entry to keep out trolls, as it was a uniqueness in the Web at that time).

But, nowadays, it is a measure that is incredibly generous when compared to most existing fundraising. Generosity is a wonderful idea in most circumstances, but unfortunately is problematic when the site's existence becomes at stake ("you can have BOTH my kidneys").

This would also have a very, very significant benefit for admins and the Steering Committee --- (please note I am not speaking on their behalf, this is just something that started baking in the back of my mind when I first signed up for someone's Patreon yesterday, and then 'hatched' when my next personal to-do was to set up a rate sheet for a writing pseudonym) --- in that when the 'standard' goes from one-time to recurring, income likely becomes a great deal more forecastable, and as such, there's (a) more advance warning of future trends (Imaginary mod: "wow, a lot of people canceled their automatic renewals lately") and (b) more ability to plan.

In other words, knowing that your subscription income is, barring any significant changes, going to be $X for the following months or years is likely both strategically useful for budget forecasting (and for forecasting of financial emergencies), and emotionally is likely a great deal easier on stress and mindsets of the mods.

I also am going to say as an additional controversial corollary to this suggestion: I'm not sure this would have absolutely any useful impact if it was just applied to new ongoing members from this point onward and the existing userbase was grandfathered. (Not to mention that doing that would likely cause some significant pseudo-"class"-based resentment between new users and grandfathered ones.) So I think it probably should be applied to the entire userbase. I don't know what existing laws cover reaching out to people (GDPR, etc.). If outward-reaching contact isn't feasible, for those users entirely inactive, something could pop up explaining this and offering contact information should they ever login again; perhaps for those we know come in a few times a year, if it's legal, we could reach out to them via e-mail (or perhaps MeMail if they've got their forwarding turned on).

I could foresee what I've proposed here to be unpopular. But:

(a) Given the ample professional and emotional benefits for the mods and the site, and given how it really is just shifting from a pre-2000 model to a current model, I think it's worth at least thoroughly hashing over and discussing the idea. Trying to emergency-budget on the edge of a dime has probably added a lot of gray hairs to people's scalps for a good year or two.

(b) Even if this particular model I've outlined is thoroughly hated (I hope it isn't), I still think there's very, very significant value in moving the Overton window on this, so that recurring membership fees becomes the conceptual 'default' way a Mefite considers their membership here, while still making it clear that money will never be a barrier to entry for anyone if they can't afford it.
posted by MollyRealized to MetaFilter-Related at 6:58 AM (138 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

It feels like this is the reason there is a Steering Committee, to make strategic decisions like this, and not end up with contentious MeTas.
posted by hwyengr at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2022 [11 favorites]

Mod note: FYI: Bringing this up to the Steering Committee.
posted by loup (staff) at 7:53 AM on December 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

I would probably not be here at $60/year, and certainly would not have (finally) signed up for that sort of subscription originally.

I also don't know how you'd avoid class-based resentment between the people who are getting a free pass, and people who are paying to post.

Simultaneously, I think there's be a problem of how, exactly, you both move the norm toward paying more and move it toward making clear there are ways around that. The more you emphasize the subscription nature of the service, the more people getting for free will feel like freeloaders.

Finally, I think that this is the sort of proposal that would be better facilitated by the steering council - or at least, better framed with a clear problem that's being solved. Do we know that enough people would convert that it would impact the budget? Do we get enough new signups that an ongoing fee from those would make a difference?

I think that this is just going to be a strenuous conversation that isn't necessarily being held between the right people with the right information.
posted by sagc at 8:06 AM on December 19, 2022 [17 favorites]

Also also, I think that scholarships/gift memberships/multiple tiers of membership have to be weighed against how much complexity they add to the choice to join the site.
posted by sagc at 8:08 AM on December 19, 2022

I feel the problem with charging is that donating would go from something that seems needed to "wait, they want more even after I paid?" and I'm not sure the conversion rate would be high enough to cover that.
posted by simmering octagon at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's any reason to look at something complex like this while the current fundraising hasn't been completely tabulated and finalized so we can see where the site is right now/going forward.
posted by Glinn at 9:04 AM on December 19, 2022 [11 favorites]

I like that the one-off fee of $5 functions as a "speed bump" to counter trolls, bots and spammers.

I was throwing around (in my head) the idea: what if the $5 fee were yearly? Still wouldn't inconvenience most people, except....

...that would make MeFi membership (once acquired) opt-in rather than opt-out.

So rather than taking breaks or buttoning temporarily, I am guessing many inactive or semi-active users would just choose not to renew.

That would be a "speed bump" in the wrong direction, I think, towards losing members rather than keeping them.

Plus, then we wouldn't get those golden moments when someone whose account has lain dormant for ±10 years just pops up to say hello, or contribute a comment on their field of expertise, or is suddenly part of something noteworthy.

Just my 2¢ (or whatever fraction of $5 this comment represents).
posted by Pallas Athena at 9:05 AM on December 19, 2022 [44 favorites]

My opinion is just my opinion at this point but: I think there's a huge qualitative difference between encouraging a culture of voluntary sustaining membership and creating an explicit pay-to-play subscription barrier, and that the latter is only the right decision if your priority is to limit yourself to a much smaller subset of paying participants in exchange for the prestige of being a closed space.

Right now MetaFilter operates with the understanding that membership support is both necessary and voluntary. The implication there is those who can give, do, and do so at a rate matching their ability to provide financial support. This doesn't provide a simple X paying subscribers @ $Y/monthly calculation, but it does provide a great deal of natural flexibility for those with more ability to support the site to subsidize those with less, and means that deciding to reach some arbitrary spending threshold upfront isn't a hard gate to new members.

That feels to me to be important both to avoid cratering new signups (and if applied retroactively deeply culling existing memberships) and to preserve a basic function of economic justice that feels much more in line with the MeFi ethos than a hard subscription gate.

I agree with the overall spirit of continuing to shift the perception in the site's members toward embracing the necessity of ongoing membership financial support and of appealing to the capacity of those who can provide that support to choose to do so. I feel like the fundraising efforts from the SC and staff lately have been a pretty great set of steps along that road, and hope that continues. But I don't believe a shift in paradigm from voluntary but essential support to mandatory subscription would help MeFi sustain itself or grow. We are not a prestige publication trying to arbitrage a competitive advantage in access; we're a community space that wants people to come here, stay here, and believe in this space as a place to be and help sustain.
posted by cortex (retired) at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2022 [34 favorites]

My opinion on the proposal itself: I think adding a yearly call to action to make a "pay what you want" membership contribution would be fine, with a default suggested amount of like USD$10-20, as long as one of the numbers is zero (as in, it's ok for a member to pay 0 [dollars/euro/rupees/etc.]), and as long as it's not required to keep the membership active/working for usage on the site.

MollyRealized, separate from the proposal itself, I just want to thank you for framing this explicitly as something where you're uncertain about it and you know it's a really radical idea. I find it easier to consider it in this context and to think about it as a gesture towards related and adjacent ideas.

Some related reflections and a question:

Right now I'm on a Mastodon server where new users are required to pledge recurring financial contributions. That is a particular feature I sought out, because I have come to believe that, in general, if I'm signing up for a service that I will depend on, I want to be not just a paying customer/member but I want the provider to not owe any significant level of service to nonpaying users. It's just a bad investment to choose a service provider that is only running on voluntary donations and thus setting itself up to be, by default, financially unsustainable. If all or nearly all users pay regularly for using the service, then financial resources, by default, scale with number of users (which at least has a chance of correlating with usage and with staffing and hosting resources needed).

I joined that server this year. When chatting with people who joined the server five years ago, I realize that many of them don't have a recurring contribution set up; the rules must have changed in the intervening time. I've sometimes thought "well they need to get with the program and set one up!" but only today, in comparing to MetaFilter and thinking about your proposal, do I think from their perspective. Maybe they signed up with a one-time contribution under the assurance that they'd never be required to give another to stay a member. Maybe they missed the Loomio notifications of discussions and rule changes. It happens! So thanks for giving me another perspective on a related concern in a different online sphere I'm in.
reaching out to people .... If outward-reaching contact isn't feasible, for those users entirely inactive, something could pop up explaining this and offering contact information should they ever login again; perhaps for those we know come in a few times a year, if it's legal, we could reach out to them via e-mail (or perhaps MeMail if they've got their forwarding turned on).
This raises a different but crucial question: is it actually feasible to systematically contact all MeFi users, active and inactive? I can't remember; did we do this for the survey a few months ago? Have we ever done so? Was it via the user's email as set in their profile, or some other method? I know from my own past experience with other constituencies that doing that is generally a bit of a pain because you deal with:

* a ton of confused or annoyed "unsubscribe me!" requests to untangle
* bounced emails
* noticing a set of accounts that's in a weird limbo half-disabled state and deciding how to deal with them
* "hey, I just remembered I had an account, help me remember my password/deal with this support question?" tickets to work through
* sometimes even getting the institution's email account flagged as spammy by an ISP or big email providers like GMail

I figure that knowing our capabilities in this area will help me opine on whether various policy changes are feasible, since giving people a heads-up and a chance to opine before significant policy decisions happen makes it easier to make those decisions well and defend them later.
posted by brainwane at 9:24 AM on December 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

did we do this for the survey a few months ago?

No. It wasn’t feasible from the information that we had at the time.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:30 AM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Whenever someone at work comes to the group with an idea and complex implementation plan, I always start with one question: "What problem are you attempting to solve?"

Which then leads to the conversation with questions such as
* is this something we need to solve?
* When does this need to be solved by?
* What other options have you considered?
* What criteria did you evaluate the options against?
* Why this solution over the others?
* What are the costs / ROI? Risks?

I suppose I'm asking the SC to evaluate the above if they do indeed take this idea into consideration.

I generally feel the hardest work that needs to be done up front is clarifying the goal. Is the problem statement here "how do we increase monthly revenue?"

(Maybe I shouldn't read metas when I should be working...)
posted by cgg at 9:51 AM on December 19, 2022 [14 favorites]

I'm comfortable leaving the funding of the site in the manner it runs now, which is something akin to a "free" car wash hosted by your local high school marching band. The marching band could charge $10 a car, but they know that by making it "free," people who can't/won't pay $10 can still be included, while others will give far more, so much so that it's a net gain.

The reason it works out that way is because when you put a price on something--even a suggested/nominal one--you also accidentally encourage people to think paying that price covers everything, you make it about the transaction more than "giving what you can." I don't think that what we would gain instituting a complex system of sliding membership fees is likely to net more than just being frank and open about help that is needed and letting people do what they will/can.

As a self-deprecating, but still true point... consider that this is actually where MeFi's oft-noted overabundance of graying Gen X-ers works out in our favor, at least for the foreseeable future. More of us have disposable income we can contribute than we did even ten years ago. Let some of us who struggled and bounced rent checks for our crappy apartments in the 90's and 00's help carry some of the load now that we have 401k's and a little money left over here and there. I couldn't have paid $20/year to be a MeFite in 2005, but I send that much a month now, along with extra bits, as needed.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2022 [14 favorites]

Agreed with so many people above that this isn't the way to go, for a variety of reasons. I make regular contributions now but certainly wouldn't have when I first signed up.
posted by tangerine at 10:29 AM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'll be blunt. I don't think there are anywhere near sufficient analytics available to have any idea what the value of the site actually is, or what charging people monthly would do in terms of impact on content on the site.

I'm not sure you could ask the SC right now to do a ROI/Risks analysis.

For example, what percentage of answers/comments and posts are provided by people who donate vs. people who don't? That's not a sufficient answer but it might give some vague idea of what would happen to your product if you started charging people to create it. You'd also have to look at new vs. longtime members and so on.

There's a difference between something you pay to read and something you pay to do, not to mention converting something from free to paid. That's before you get into what people will expect in terms of responsiveness/service, plus what you do with overdue/unpaid accounts etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:32 AM on December 19, 2022 [10 favorites]

I think this is an interesting idea (and continue to lament your pulling of your SC candidacy, MollyRealized), but ultimately I think it's probably not quite solving the problem that we have. There was perhaps a moment for this solution, back when ad revenue started to dry up and participation was high - at that point, the problem was basically "we have all the users but no way to make money from them." At this point, though, we don't really have "all these users" anymore, and participation is falling. So I would worry that something like this would backfire, and create a death-spiral instead.

I think in accordance with the spirit of Metafilter, it would be important to make sure - and to somehow pledge for the future/future-proof this - that there would never be any "benefit differences" between any tiers.

I also wanted to highlight the above because, while I get the sentiment, this is pretty much the opposite of how Patreon, which you cited approvingly, works. Like, I support Maintenance Phase on Patreon, and in exchange I get bonus episodes. Crucially, there are also lots of episodes for people who don't pay to listen to (otherwise why would anyone start paying in the first place?). But I don't think it should necessarily be ruled out-of-bounds to get something in exchange for deciding to become a paying member.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:34 AM on December 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

There has been more progress on fundraising in the past couple months than there has been ever. I think we should be open to any reasonable ideas, but I also agree with those who would like to hear how this round of fundraising has gone and what the SC thinks about it before pursuing a different direction.

I also think that the fundraising was the most urgent concern, but the other huge concern is how to bring in new users and increase activity on the site so the community doesn’t keep shrinking. I think making the site easier to join will be an important part of this. I feel like growing the user base and getting more people engaged and then continuing to do voluntary donations and other fundraising activities is most likely to get the site to a thriving situation.
posted by snofoam at 10:35 AM on December 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

And that's before you even start to look at trying to create a funnel:

how do people find the site?
what makes them come back?
What makes them sign up/pay?
What makes THOSE people come back?

I would guess, for example, that the main source of 'sign me up now!' traffic is from the post a question page but I have no idea. If you don't have even that level of information (we may! But part of the reason we did a survey was we didn't have access to anything like that), it's very very hard to make good decisions about how to structure things.

What you could do is offer something NEW and charge for it, in the meantime. But then you have to have bandwidth for the new.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:36 AM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I do think it's awesome that fine folks like MollyRealized are challenging our conceptions of how MeFi can operate. Even if I am not sold on this particular idea personally, I think this is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that may lead to good things.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:04 PM on December 19, 2022 [23 favorites]

I would like to note that setting up recurring payments to metafilter can be quite inconvenient for people outside the US. Here in Europe for instance we are not at all used to dealing with middlemen like ‘paypal’ or ‘credit cards’ – direct bank transfers are the norm, but apparently those cannot easily be made into the US’s rather backward banking infrastructure. Having to open a paypal account for a one-time payment was bad enough, but I’d hate making some sort of permanent deal with that company. It is used for nothing else.

(And I do recognise that making payments from Europe to the US is relatively easy, compared with other places in the world. How many countries does the current selection of payment methods exclude?)
posted by trotz dem alten drachen at 1:38 PM on December 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

When you are signing up three options:

I want to pay nothing
I want to pay $5 once
I want to pay $5/month recurring

You could have the initial choice at $5/month, new signuppers can adjust as they see fit.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:39 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I like the current model of voluntary payment. While I think "we" collectively, as in users of the internet, should pay more for the operation of sites that we use, and that that's going to become more normal in upcoming years, I think making Metafilter pay-for will deny the site a lot of cool people and I don't want to make that change.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 1:44 PM on December 19, 2022

(Some years before finally overcoming my disgust for paypal, I mailed a ten-euro note to the address listed for sending donations to, hoping to get an account in return. But it was lost in the mail or, being foreign, maybe not recognised as money. Anyway, it did not work.)
posted by trotz dem alten drachen at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I appreciate the outside-the-box thinking, but as others have said, it's important to solve the right problem. In order to thrive, I think the primary issue to address is growing the community. The business of Metafilter only exists to support the community, so care must be taken to assure that business goals (more monthly revenue) don't contradict community goals (attract more members).

I don't think I would sign up as a new user today if I was asked to make a monthly contribution up front, for varied reasons. When reading the post, I actually thought it was going the other way; is it time to remove the $5 speedbump in order to gain more membership? I could see a case for that as well.

I think the model for MeFi is to provide value for members that they then want to protect and support. A compromise might be to send a message saying, "Hey, you've been a member for a year. If you like it here, could you make another $5 contribution, or consider a recurring donation?"
posted by team lowkey at 2:11 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have to leave, so I can't go into detail, but I think you can get the idea from just the two words, which are "trial period". Don't force a subscription at signup; let new users read the site for a while first.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:16 PM on December 19, 2022

I do think it's awesome that fine folks like MollyRealized are challenging our conceptions of how MeFi can operate.

Ditto. This is a really well thought out idea with great points but I can't 100% agree with making MeFi a pay-to-play site completely. I do agree that the value here is in line with a fee based model, but I would hate to exclude people who can't afford to pay.

While I now have the fancy 'I help fund' star in my profile, that wasn't possible for many years. My initial sign-up $5 was a Christmas gift (12 years ago next week - time flies) because I couldn't justify that in my budget at the time but wanted to join after much lurking. I'm still not a very prolific commenter or poster but this place does feel like an internet home to me and I wouldn't feel the same as a pure lurker. There must be more people like that here (or not yet here).

Another note about gift memberships, scholarships, etc. It's VERY difficult for a lot of people to ask for help. I used to work with a group that did a lot of outings that cost $20 or $30. We had people who couldn't afford to participate and we had a large scholarship fund set aside, but we could not get people to use the scholarships. People just did not want to ask for the help or feel like a drain on the system. So they sat certain things out - I personally don't want anyone to sit MeFi out for financial reasons.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

Free was the general expectation online for content 20 years ago. Today, especially with the ongoing circus at Twitter, I'm not so sure free is the selling point many here may think it is. More and more, people expect to pay for stuff that is valuable to them.

Marketing the site as "regular support expected but not required" is definitely a bit of a challenge, but might be worth exploring versus the current "pay if you can but no big deal if you can't or don't want to" vibe that permeates the culture here.
posted by COD at 2:29 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think it's more that the Steering Committee could propose it as part of a slate of options to solve a money shortfall, with parameters and options that match what they know about how the Metafilter userbase works.

As it is, this is likely a discussion without a decision, without the information that would be needed for a good one. So I'm not hugely optimistic for it going any other way than people getting increasingly incensed about a hypothetical.
posted by sagc at 3:10 PM on December 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

I feel like ideas at this stage are better shared with the Steering Committe and not automatically community-discussed. We do not decide anything and really should only be providing feedback on ideas and proposals coming from site runners.
posted by tiny frying pan at 3:36 PM on December 19, 2022 [7 favorites]

I really don't think you're taking on board what people are saying. People don't want authoritarianism, and it seems pretty rude to accuse people of that, or of "preferring that someone make the decision for them".

How do you know that this won't result in a sight with ~150 active users, and a new signup every few months? That's the sort of question that would need to be answered as part of the proposal, and makes it hard to discuss the idea as-is.

And if your instinct is to stay obstinate about being right, what's the point? I don't think there's a ton of value in just going back and forth about the idea in the abstract.
posted by sagc at 4:08 PM on December 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

microcosm for preferences in government
But that's not right; decision making in government comes from all citizens' mutual responsibility for that government (and, collectively, ownership of their societies). Which is completely unlike metafilter, a privately owned website whose owner for some reason has delegated a lot of decisions to a committee.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:32 PM on December 19, 2022

It's my understanding admins don't have the ability to close a MetaTalk thread. If they do, I would agree that this has reached its usefulness point and would encourage the thread's closing at this point.

It's my understanding that admins absolutely can and have closed MetaTalk posts in the post, when things have gotten too heated.

Honestly, though, this is going to be one of those threads where I'm going to (mentally) stay obstinate and think that I'm in the right.

In doing so, what problem will you be solving?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:32 PM on December 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

I don't think there needs to be a pileon. At least a few people (including me) appreciate this being brought here for discussion. Discussion has been had. If some people prefer that it not be had, that is fine. However, metatalk is for policy discussions and has been since forever, and it is totally reasonable to bring a policy/approach issue here.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:43 PM on December 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

Mods can totally close threads without deleting them. They did it to a bunch of redundant MetaTalk threads a few weeks ago. I am in favor of letting the SC, who I voted for and are volunteering lots of time to do stuff and figure stuff out, lead some of the discussion on things that they are actively working on, like fundraising. To me, this is about trusting people who have stepped up to lend a hand and have been voted in by the community. To me, this has essentially nothing in common with authoritarianism or wanting to be told what to do.

I think it is clearly fine to start a MetaTalk thread to introduce an idea. I also think that in an ideal situation, people would just discuss that idea and the OP would participate, but also let the discussion run its course, even if many people politely noted that they don’t think the idea is what they think is best.
posted by snofoam at 4:51 PM on December 19, 2022 [11 favorites]

MollyRealized, I would gently and lovingly suggest you leave this thread alone for a few hours and come back to it later. Usually when one tries to a "take on everyone" approach to every response in a thread, it rarely ends well for the person, the thread, or the site.

Hope you consider this and wishing everyone well, I'm bowing out of this for now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:51 PM on December 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

feel like ideas at this stage are better shared with the Steering Committee

I think the Steering Committee was never meant to be an authoritarian model. And if discussions bother you, just don't participate in them.
posted by MollyRealized at

I have a right to share my thoughts on this idea like anyone. That was a startlingly aggressive response to my comment. You might be too close to this to discuss clearly, and this is kind of a good example of why I don't think MetaTalks about the direction of the site, not coming from the SC, are productive right now.
posted by tiny frying pan at 4:55 PM on December 19, 2022 [11 favorites]

I see zero problem with discussing ideas like this. It's part of what MetaTalk is for. Everyday users are going to have a lot more freedom to propose ideas, encourage brainstorming, and get the feel of the site--positive or negative--than the SC.

If MeTa post about an idea has to come from the SC, then by definition it the SC is considering it. Which changes the stakes, and unless it's a really well formed idea is going to mess with some peoples' confidence levels in them. The SC shouldn't be floating trial balloons. It'd be exhausting for everyone. Let users talk stuff out.

In terms of this specific suggestion, I'd definitely worry it would change the behavior and expectations of MeFites. There's a lot academics who point out moving something from "gift" to "transaction" fundamentally changes the relationship.

I'm a podcast fan and donate to some podcaster's patreons. I'd cancel in a heartbeat if I starting thinking about in terms of "subscription radio service" or something--suddenly I'd be "for this amount of money I can get BritBox, why am I not doing that?" As long as it's a gift, I think of it as helping out people who are doing something positive in their spare time and tossing a few bucks their way.
posted by mark k at 4:59 PM on December 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

How does the concept of scholarships work in a purely online environment? In the real world, they work because someone knows someone else or because someone applies and is judged by someone and deemed worthy. But do we have people clamoring for membership in such a way that would warrant scholarships?

Seems like the people who want to join can afford to (with the current model) or we could do one-off guest memberships for other low-volume posters.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 5:03 PM on December 19, 2022

Unless anything has very recently changed, it is MetaTalk threads and only MetaTalk threads that can be easily closed without deletion by a mod. (It's technically possible to hack such a closure into threads elsewhere but it's an annoying manual in-the-db edit frimble has to make and not something that has been used as a general practice tool in the past.) The *decision* to close a MetaTalk thread has often been a difficult and fraught one for mods though, regardless of the pushbutton mechanical ease of it, because it's rare that folks are unanimous on whether it should happen.

So as a general thing I'd suggest for the mod team's sake avoiding setting up "well, if they don't like it, they can close it" situations: it just creates extra work and stress. When in doubt, just drop 'em a line at the contact form, or write to the SC with a suggestion, instead of creating a thread you think might go sideways.

People obviously disagree but I feel as if there's a rather substantial overlooking of the point made that a 'budget' subscription of $12/yr.

There's not a small enough price tag you can put on a mandatory fee to make it not, qualitatively, a mandatory fee. It's a fundamental change in position about how access works. I hear and agree with you that, as mandatory subscriptions go, $12/yr is a pretty modest one; that doesn't make it not a mandatory subscription, which is a big inflection point on whether someone chooses to sign up (or chooses to stay if it's retroactive), and my counterpoint to the above is that I feel you are significantly underestimating how much of a gate that would be to most people's participation.

Even the five dollar fee has been a big blocker for folks; years ago that was a necessary boon, more recently we've tried to really smooth the path to bypassing it for folks who need it and IMHO it'd be good to ditch it altogether though I know from personal work on the idea that it's not trivial to do so.

I can't see the future either, but my gut says a mandatory subscription as a default—even a modest one, even with attempts to carve out tertiary workarounds or scholarships or other complications—is not a good match for way people come to and begin to engage positively with MetaFilter as users.
posted by cortex (retired) at 5:16 PM on December 19, 2022 [7 favorites]

I appreciate MollyRealized putting the effort into articulating this idea in such a way that it sparked a good discussion and led to many what-ifs, ideas, red flags, and applause.

I also think it would be a good idea to see how the fund drive ultimately shakes out. I am unsure whether I like a heavy dose of annual fundraising more or less than a site fee, but I am not sure right now the size of the problem for which this would be a solution.

Hard agree with mark k on the changed nature of the site if it went to pay-to-play. I don’t generally donate to Patreons, nor do I contribute to fundraisers when beloved local businesses get into dire straits. I think MetaFilter is something special, and I’ve donated time and money to it in a way that I absolutely would not if it became a subscription beanplating service.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:33 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think you're extrapolating a lot from people saying "I don't think this will be a good discussion". I really don't think people who want the steering committee to steer some of these conversations want a dictatorship.
posted by sagc at 6:00 PM on December 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

I don't think this is a beneficial thread anymore.

With kindness, this thread may not have gone the way you may have wanted it to or hoped, but it's the community's thread and not yours. MeTas can definitely be closed. This hasn't always been a MeFi feature, but has been for a while now.

It's good to have community conversations about these things but one of the possible outcomes of a community conversation--and in fact a pretty normative one, for here--is that at least some people either won't agree with the idea or don't feel like it should be in MeTa (for various reasons, maybe they think it should be elsewhere, who knows).

And to the topic at hand, I'm right there with cortex. We run a site called MLTSHP which has a three dollar per year fee, one that is mandatory (it's a closed site, this is how people gain access). We still have people who either can't or won't pay that for various reasons. There's a lot of friction involved in making a suggested donation into a mandatory one. I'm not disagreeing that maybe shifting how we think about these things may not ultimately be beneficial to the site, just saying that it's not a change to be made lightly. The SC could always use help with committee work on various aspects of money stuff, and I suggest people keenly interested in these topics drop them a note.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:31 PM on December 19, 2022 [16 favorites]

I think part of the problem is seeing this as a thing with a right or wrong answer, and you’re either on one side or the other. You’re saying this idea is the right thing to do. But, it’s just an idea, one of many ideas. In fact, it seems like about a dozen different ideas have already been enacted since this fundraising event started.

And that’s what my point was - at least wait and see if we’ve already solved the problem for the foreseeable future, which will negate the need for a drastic change like the one proposed by this meta, and which several people have convincingly said could have a negative impact on both existing and potential new memberships.
posted by Glinn at 6:37 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I suggest to everybody that learning how to say "thanks but no thanks" in a way that doesn't make someone feel like shit might be a great idea

Repeating for emphasis.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:36 PM on December 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

You said you would be obstinate; people using it (me) were quoting you. Also, I think that you can interpret some comments as "you, specifically, should have emailed the SC", but they can also be read as "I wish this sort of thing was handled by the SC, for general reasons".

Also, again, I don't think it's a matter of people not having heard of benevolent dictatorship as a concept (a bit condescending, in Metafilter!). It's that people don't want their response to this one proposal extrapolated into how they think governments/the site should be run.

I thought my first post laid out my concerns in a reasonable manner, and I think that most of the other comments here do, as well. Broad pushback isn't a pileon, and I don't think you can advocate for discussion and call us out for discussing not just the proposal, but also how it's delivered, how we would implement it, and whether that's what we want to do.

I guess I don't like how these suggestion threads seem to turn into accusing those who disagree of not having the best interests of the site at heart/revealing something about their ideal authority structure/being inherently inflexible. I think that's a good question (how these drastic site changes are mooted and responded to) and would be an illuminating thread, but it shouldn't be conflated with responses to this particular idea.
posted by sagc at 7:41 PM on December 19, 2022 [7 favorites]

Just like how you can’t control how people answer an AskMe, it’s even harder to control the discussion in a MeTa.

As fantastic of an idea as you think this is, is how awful I think it is. My “Maybe we should let the Steering Committee handle this” is not a cry for authoritarianism, but rather a midwestern passive aggressive “this isn’t a good idea”.
posted by hwyengr at 8:45 PM on December 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

The matter of possible subscription is still valid and $12 is probably less then one...

Very Benevolent Caesar Salad
posted by clavdivs at 9:31 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

a 'budget' subscription of $12/yr. (literally less than two Happy Meals a year)

In America.

Right now that's $18 AUD, which is base minimum wage, but still quite a bit pricey for a website where the only benefit I get from paying up is posting here (with very mixed results - there's a big reason why I took 2 years off and returned on a wholly new account). I'm currently under/unemployed & for complicated reasons my safety net is about to disappear, and I'm not sure I can justify $18 on a website I visit once in a while, for rather mixed engagement.

What would we be paying for, exactly? And why would we need newbies especially to commit to a subscription for something they may not necessarily use or gel with after sign up?
posted by creatrixtiara at 9:33 PM on December 19, 2022 [12 favorites]

I would also be paying AUD $18, and can easily afford it, and have a recurring subscription at the moment, and would probably reconsider if a USD $12 subscription was required. Currently, I'm a member in good standing, and I have the ability to contribute more than my fair share to keep the lights on for a site that I get, let's be frank, pretty marginal value out of. I have other places I feel more at home in; I have other subscriptions that for $12 a month provide a lot more value than participating in the comment threads here. If the fee is framed as a price of entry, then I have to think about whether or not it's worth $12 to be able to enter, and my answer would probably be 'no'.

I would also say that it's not clear whether the problems MetaFilter are facing are due to not squeezing the existing users enough. There are other possibilities - we already know that some of the technical debt the site was dealing with meant hosting costs were quite a bit higher than they needed to be. I'm sure that the contentious nature of MetaTalk threads, especially pre-sale, has shrunk the community to some extent as well, and MetaFilter doesn't seem to have been a beneficiary of the migration away from Twitter. I'd want to see that a reasonably comprehensive analysis has been done on the revenue and growth problems that MetaFilter has, before determining that complimentary revenue streams aren't enough and a change in business model is the only sustainable way forward. As Twitter has demonstrated, that's not something you can take back without causing a lot of damage.
posted by Merus at 10:51 PM on December 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

People obviously disagree but I feel as if there's a rather substantial overlooking of the point made that a 'budget' subscription of $12/yr. (literally less than two Happy Meals a year) with virtually no difference would've been available, and that even if that was too much for someone, the site could waive the fee (scholarship), or people could fund one another (*).

The thing is even an American buck a month is more than I personally can afford when I'm broke and making negative $500 a month. I've been that broke on occasion in the past 20 odd years I've had an account here and likely will be in the future.

And the bitter icing on the broke sandwich is I'm usually too embarrassed and or depressed to have the spoons to deal with any sort of scholarship application or go begging on Meta for help. There is only so much energy a broke person can devote to money matters and despite how much I like this place it wouldn't make the effort budget.

This isn't to dismiss the the idea out of hand but merely to register that any mandatory pay to play scheme will lock out some users.
posted by Mitheral at 1:30 AM on December 20, 2022 [42 favorites]

Beautifully put, Mitheral.

I was struggling to find a way of saying something similar, but I never could have done it so well.
posted by jamjam at 2:09 AM on December 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

MollyRealized, I think you are asking really good questions.

But I think your solutions are a bit unformed. Having been through a number of analyses on setting prices for gated content and even more conversion funnel discussions, I just want to reiterate that “everyone’s paying for this” and “$12 is not a lot” with the expectation that you would cover MetaFilter’s costs is not analysis. It’s hope.

As far as I know (but I am sure the SC is digging into) there is not a lot of information about things like where potential new members are coming from, how many visits to the site on average it takes to before some concert, what those numbers are, how many leave after posting a few times (I’m of the mind a free trial would be a bit tricky considering current site culture which boils down frequently to “pay you dues while you learn to read the room), etc.

If you’re talking about converting existing members…I’m sure this number has improved but the rule of thumb used to be, for media sites, that you would lose 90% at the point you put in a paywall. Now MF isn’t a media site. But in order to go from free to paid you have to know what your audience wants. From doing the survey, I can tell you it’s still unclear. The NYT spent forty million dollars to build out its paywall, because it also paid for the analysis and built the cooking and crossword/game site as well as investing in content people would pay for. And oh yah - a shit ton of marketing.

Also, as I noted, as a user-generated site, there are other issues like the impact payment might have on actual generation of content and discussion.

On the flip side, podcasters do it all the time, etc. Except there are significant differences. First, as noted, they produce both regular and premium content. Second, it’s a diverse revenue stream (includes ads). Third, when people grow revenue organically from the start they fail a lot, but usually they have a day job or at the least, they aren’t paying a team. So they can muddle around, and not lose a current audience.

Finally and most significantly though, they are in an Apple/Spotify/etc. ecosystem that provides audience and analytics and marketing. MetaFilter is not listed anywhere as a “if you like this thread on SomethingAwful you might like…”

When you as a layperson (which I’m assuming from your statements here) are like “well I pay my favourite people on Patreon,” you are not seeing the effort it takes to get a consistent flow.

I am not saying this to discourage any of the investigation of all of the options but to say again that without data or the ability to track it, the result is extremely unpredictable.

I take a bit of issue that you think your approach is logical. As someone who has worked on both free and gated online sites, and who has been through a few transitions, and who deals with small business marketing funnels to ensure a staff of about 45 get paid every week in a very tight industry, I gotta tell you that success is not going to come without very very clear goals and yes, data. I’ve seen properties with 300,000 paying subscribers kill themselves because they didn’t know what those people were actually paying for.

I am confident the SC is looking at this stuff. We have so much expertise here!
posted by warriorqueen at 3:49 AM on December 20, 2022 [16 favorites]

MollyRealized, in case you want to better understand why people are reacting to you the way they are, I think one reason is because of the 180° turn from
I will outright open up by saying I'm not so sure this is the right way to go, but I think it's definitely worth community discussion.
Honestly, though, this is going to be one of those threads where I'm going to (mentally) stay obstinate and think that I'm in the right.
You initially took the first approach, one that said that you were holding your opinion loosely and you were willing to be convinced. This was a welcoming and helpful way to start the discussion, because people appreciate being in a conversation of equals, where all of us show up reciprocally open to persuading and being persuaded. Then you indicated that you were not open to being persuaded, regardless of the quality of others' arguments. And you didn't say that your obstinacy and your certainty came from other people's arguments having failed to convince you, which strongly implied that your previous statement of "I'm not so sure this is the right way to go" had been misleading.

At least some of us are also aware of the context of your last MetaTalk proposal where you accused people who disagreed with you (especially those who tried to work out the implications of your proposal and consider their ramifications) of strawmanning, and said things like
It's clear at the moment that the community's firmly against this idea, God knows why
(implying that people had not explained their disagreement with your idea, which they had).

Fundamentally, the attitude you are expressing in these MetaTalk proposals seems to be that, if the preponderance of the commenters disagree with you, it is probably because of a failure on our parts.
Maybe I'm wrong, maybe people find value in echo chambers or maybe the SC or the mods did not see the massive variations on 'no' as an echo chamber.
You are assuming that if many people - most of the people you're talking with - disagree with a particular idea, then that means there is an echo chamber. Yes, sometimes that is the case. But sometimes it's because the idea has a lot of problems. And you will not be able to listen to people about those problems, and work creatively with them to improve your idea to incorporate responses to their concerns, if your attitude is "I'm going to (mentally) stay obstinate and think that I'm in the right".
We actually used to enjoy civil polite disagreement around here in some threads -- it was kind of refreshing to have that 'okay, you're nuts but I love ya anyway, ya bastard' moment at the end of some threads.
You have mentioned in recent comments that you're not doing emotionally great. I do think you will look back on these MetaTalk posts with a different perspective once you're doing better. I am very reticent to call anyone nuts or a bastard, but I hope "I think you have done things here that were not as productive as you wished, but I wish you well and have affection for you" conveys some of the same sentiment.
posted by brainwane at 4:37 AM on December 20, 2022 [21 favorites]

For the record, my intention was not to make you feel bad, MollyRealized - rather, I wish threads like this didn't even get released right now because they often seem to be a long thread of arguing about an idea that may or may not even be considered to be implemented.

It was not a "passive-aggressive" way of saying I don't like your idea, as someone said above - it was a dodge and hopefully a vote to those in charge to 9please leave less stress on the site and between users debating ideas that can cause hurt feelings. I think sending these thoughts to the Steering Commitee and them saying, "thanks for the idea!" (Which basically happened above too) is a better outcome for all, at the moment.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:31 AM on December 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

It's an idea that probably warrants further investigation by those with the experience and training to at least make a credible attempt at it.
posted by some loser at 5:34 AM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

(for what it's worth, you can get 2 Happy Meals in Australia for under $14, quite a bit less than your proposed price, especially with fluctuating foreign exchange rates.)
posted by creatrixtiara at 7:49 AM on December 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

My plan would be:

It's free to read but costs $20 / year to post or comment. However...
You actually have to pay $40 / year, half of which pays for someone else.
If you can't afford the $40, you sign up on a hidden queue. When you're next, the next extra $20 pays for you.
All anonymous, no one knows who paid or who was subsidized.
People with a bunch of extra money can fund the queue directly with more $20 bills.

Equality! Liquidity! Metafelicity!
posted by hypnogogue at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Hi, MollyRealized & Community! This is Kim with her Steering Committee hat on. I'm hastily writing this on the last few minutes of my lunch break because I want you to know that we see this!

Thank you for the suggestion. Really! We are keeping a log of all of the suggestions that come through, and have gone through older MeTas for suggestions as well. And anyone can post suggestions here because we wouldn't enact anything without asking for and receiving community input anyway. Especially with a topic as serious as money, which can really amplify emotions.

So suggest and debate away, but with three things in mind:
1) Disagreeing with an idea doesn't mean one is putting down the OP
2) The OP of a suggestion is coming from a place where they want to help MetaFilter, even if we disagree with the idea
3) Everyone needs a hug, fist bump, kind smile, etc.

For the nearest future*, we're going to stick with the current financial model of fundraising, plus generating our own revenue streams (via merch, events, affiliate sales, possibly selling our own ads but that's just a discussion right now), plus working on keeping this a community where members (new and current) want to voluntarily pitch in a few bucks a month.

*this inaugural SC term ends in just a few months and our to do list is still huge!
posted by kimberussell at 10:38 AM on December 20, 2022 [15 favorites]

This tool a weird left turn. First, MollyRealized is to be credited for raising a good question for brainstorming. Good community practice almost always means airing a new idea widely so it can be considered from all angles. All of us are smarter than one of us. By engaging with the question and addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed model, we can in essence do the first phase of R&D that identifies key questions and also no-go solutions. It’s entirely appropriate and saves the SC a lot of work when the time comes for them to discuss the long-term funding model for the site.

Second, I’ve long been of the belief that membership should be an important element of future planning. Know that membership programs do not have to be exclusive. They do not have to offer any special benefits - especially in the philanthropic model which is about pride in giving as opposed the transactional nature of premiums for increased access or features. I’ve seen membership models where all you get is a silly title, or a thank you note, or a sticker. The rest of the value is in knowing you’re a key supporter.

I would support serious consideration of a tiered model for membership/subscription giving, while
Keeping the site entirely free to access. That would both create a degree of budgeting and financial planning clarity that I’m sure is much needed, and also not prevent anyone from enjoying the site. This is basically the public radio model.

Also it doesn’t preclude regular fundraising drives. Most member-supported organizations have both memberships and fundraising campaigns. The people who give tend to give more. People who haven’t given often join a campaign as their first step in becoming a giver.

This is worth discussion and appropriate to discuss here.
posted by Miko at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2022 [5 favorites]

I was thinking about this last night/this morning and came to a conclusion about the way I feel about Metafilter: Metafilter is a community that I take part in. I contribute to the community by posting, commenting, and giving money to maintain the servers/pay moderators/etc. (Sometimes I contribute to the community by keeping my damn mouth shut and doing something else for a while.)

If Metafilter charged money, for new folks, it wouldn't be the kind of community I entered when I originally joined the site (under a different user name). It would be a service that users paid for, and if it didn't offer a value proposition as a service, it wouldn't be worth it for people to join and pay.

I said upthread that I think people are going to have to get used to the idea for paying for more of their internet services over time because the economics aren't there for things to continue to be free-to-use (cf discussion of The NY Times in this thread, also Twitter as free-to-use service with its advertising problems as discussed in depth in threads on the Blue). But there's a difference between people paying to barn-raise/barn-support for community servers and presenting Metafilter-as-a-service to new users. Without insulting anyone's intentions, I think Metafilter-as-a-service is not where I want the site to go.

This is a separate matter from the question of affordability, which I think has been addressed admirably by Mitheral in this thread. I think the question of affordability and access to pay will also cause problems for users in parts of the world where access to (compatible) internet payments systems is difficult. I think those users offer, if you will, "value" to the site and I don't want them excluded. This separate reason also supports my feeling that Metafilter should remain low-barrier to join and no-barrier to use once a user has joined. Again, I respect good intentions but I don't want the site to become pay-for.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

There are lots of models to consider when it comes to funding services, from paywalled news and media, to donation-driven sites like Wikipedia, to paid membership communities like a lot of Substacks (which have private Discords and forums), even to public institutions like the BBC, which is funded by a compulsory licence fee.

I disagree with the suggestion that introducing some kind of mandatory ongoing payment to Metafilter would begin its demise into a cold transactional organisation, simply because I’ve seen other communities avoid that. Frankly I think a lot of people here are unfamiliar with other forms of paid online communities, which is unfortunate.

With all that said, the recent outpouring of donations demonstrates that a mandatory subscription is not, in fact, the only way for Metafilter to survive. For what it’s worth, I think some kind of generous free membership combined with a paid membership for new features and fun but non-essential stuff might work well, but that ought to be further off in the future as the SC continues to steady the ship.
posted by adrianhon at 3:02 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

One more note: I can’t think of any community where al participation is totally free - as in no one is paying for it. Churches require - yes require - their members to pledge, and pass the plate. Community groups place a burden on someone to do the work of convening. People bring dishes to potlucks and commit to a required number of volunteer shifts a year at a co-op or a beautification committee or what have you. The idea that wonderful things just happen with no money and no labor is an illusion; if you can think of any community worth being part of, chances are someone is paying for or contributing something - whether it’s printouts, server space, fuel, food,electricity, time, or cashmoney. There’s no reason this community would be different just because, for a long time, someone else was footing the bill.
posted by Miko at 3:41 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Lutheran church I grew up in absolutely did not *require* pledges or tithes. It may have been expected but I know there were times my family did not tithe and we weren't kicked out. On the contrary, we were helped.
posted by cooker girl at 4:05 PM on December 20, 2022 [12 favorites]

Churches require - yes require - their members to pledge

Some do; mine doesn't, and I would leave if it did not because we can't afford to pledge (we do pledge) but because it would set limits around who could be part of the community and send a message about who was welcome/valued with which I would be deeply uncomfortable, and that's also how I feel about Metafilter. Data point of one but if payment were mandatory I would leave both because I don't want to pay to participate and, even more, because I don't like the idea of contributing to a community that implicitly excludes people the way mandatory payments would (and that exclusion would likely disproportionately affect people who might already feel marginalized by the site including people who live outside the US).

I also take exception, as it seems like some others do too, to being told that I desire a benevolent dictator (and that reads to me like being called a passive sheep although of course that may not be your intention) simply because I think there is value in letting an elected body take the lead on the tasks they were elected to do.
posted by an octopus IRL at 4:11 PM on December 20, 2022 [13 favorites]

Okay; I'm sorry I was too universal in my discussion of churches. Churches, though, survive on congregation donations. They expect that everyone will pledge, they ask frequently, they communicate about it and some make it a stipulation of formal membership (though not attendance). The point stands: If you're not paying, someone else is. I don't know of any mainstream church that has zero costs and collects zero funds from members.
posted by Miko at 5:19 PM on December 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

posted by Miko at 5:22 PM on December 20, 2022

But... Is that the only sort of community that exists? There are absolutely communities where the members don't directly pay to be a part, for lots of reasons.

It basically amounts to saying "communities need money to run, if they don't want to run on volunteer labor", which isn't that illuminating.
posted by sagc at 5:24 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Give me an example of a community where no one is paying for or contributing anything.
posted by Miko at 5:25 PM on December 20, 2022

Why is this being set up as "communities where everyone is expected to pledge/tithe" vs. "communities where nobody pays or contributes"? That seems to exclude a wide range of options for the sake of setting up a binary choice.
posted by CrystalDave at 5:28 PM on December 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

Fully, CrystalDave. Above I absolutely noted that in a contributed revenue system not everyone has to give.

This is a solved problem in the world. I do think the Overton window does need to shift, because many MeFites still do seem to think there is a way to support it without donation, subscriptions, and/or giving - a revenue plan. But there's not, at least not in a way that resembles anything like what we think of as "MetaFilter." The SC will, I'm sure, be doing a lot of study and benchmarking on how to construct a plan that does some of this, is fair and inclusive, and supports the site. I just think it is wise to recognize (a) it's far from free to create and manage a meaningful, functioning community and (b) in the absence of another source of fundraising than the community itself, mechanisms for deriving revenue from the community itself become necessary.
posted by Miko at 5:32 PM on December 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't know of any mainstream church that has zero costs and collects zero funds from members.

If I wanted to go to church, I'd be in church. I'm at Metafilter. Metafilter is not church.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 5:34 PM on December 20, 2022 [9 favorites]

Of course MetaFilter is not a church. I am using what is known as an analogy. It is a good analogy: a church is an organization that serves its constituency with content and experiences that are relevant to their interests. In order to do so, they must have a means of funding those services. Similarly, mefi is an organization that serves its community with content and experiences. It also must have a means of funding those services. Is this getting clearer?
posted by Miko at 5:41 PM on December 20, 2022

I mean, only if you entirely exclude other funding models, which is why it's a bit confusing - what about ad-supported, merch-supported, etc communities?

If you're saying that, for various reasons, the only model that could work for Metafilter is one where people pay to participate, then just say that outright. The analogy is loose enough that it's confusing things, I think.
posted by sagc at 5:46 PM on December 20, 2022

I did say that.
posted by Miko at 5:47 PM on December 20, 2022

Mefi was ad-supported for the bulk of its history. That no longer works.
Raising almost half a million dollars by selling merch is not feasible (also not environmentally responsible).

These models are known. They have been used and explored. Neither works. This feels like something we’ve been over exhaustively.
posted by Miko at 5:49 PM on December 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Of course MetaFilter is not a church. I am using what is known as an analogy.

Since my response was apparently unclear: Metafilter as church is a poor analogy. I personally am not seeking the things I expect from a church community from Metafilter. There are a lot of different churches and a lot of different experiences with them, and a lot of Mefites who belong to religions without churches or who don't have any religion at all, or who have bad experiences with churches, and the analogy may say things that you're not intending to them.

I think it's pretty clear that some members have settled on membership fees as the only possible way Metafilter can be funded. I don't think that's the case.

To me Metafilter is more like public radio, so to extend that analogy, possibly we could get funding from charitable foundation sources like public radio does and do membership drives while remaining free to participate in just like we listen to public radio for free but some of us pay for memberships. (That's an analogy I'm tossing out off the top of my head and would want to do a lot more research into before I seriously submitted it to the community for consideration.)

We need more money. That's clear. This is the first suggestion. We don't have to take it simply because nobody else has come up with another suggestion just yet.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 6:13 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

It just seems premature to even discuss such a drastic change when we have been having fundraising for a couple months now, right now. We don’t actually know yet if and how much additional funding will be necessary.

Have you seen how much has been raised since people became aware of the problem? What we needed was a way to signal to the population that the site was going broke. What we didn’t need was to be told to pay up or get off. That may not be what is intended, but people are saying that would be the effect.
posted by Glinn at 6:23 PM on December 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

From a professional fundraising perspective, the differences between a church and public radio are trivial.
posted by Miko at 6:36 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

I agree we need real financial projections to understand the funding gap and develop a plan for closing it. Emergency fundraising is worth analyzing, but not an exact indicator of actual capacity for long-term support.
posted by Miko at 6:37 PM on December 20, 2022

MeFi as currently incorporated is not eligible for the majority of foundation gifts.
posted by Miko at 6:38 PM on December 20, 2022

MollyRealized, I think one of the most admirable traits is recognizing and acknowledging this sort of thing when it's pointed out. All of us have days like this, but not all of us can own up to it. I'm impressed.

For what it's worth, I just wanted add a couple of thoughts, more or less in line with what others are saying:

1. This is a really well-put-together MeTa. I think this is the sort of thing that MeTa has been for, and should continue to be for. I appreciate the care and thoughtfulness behind the ideas.

2. I disagree with the suggestion, for reasons others have already covered well so I won't reiterate any arguments against it.

3. I don't think that discussions of this sort should only be brought forward by the Steering Committee. I think it's important that the community as a whole continues to be involved in hashing out ideas for how we self-govern, while the SC make decisions based on those discussions as well as its own internal processes. I think that having these kinds of discussions openly on MeTa is important partially for helping the community make decisions when SC elections come up, and partially to keep the community as a whole involved in self-governance so the SC doesn't come to feel like a "cabal" to some, among other reasons.

4. I think all of us, myself included, need to try harder to extend a little grace towards each other, and ourselves, in these discussions. A few years ago I tried to get a series of posts started on MeTa centered on discussing how we can have disagreements on MeTa that are more amicable and productive. I was a bit disappointed with the reception, and things in my own life got in the way, so I dropped the idea pretty quickly, but I still think something like that would be a good idea for giving us all a common framework and vocabulary for thinking about how our own behaviors may contribute positively or negatively to a disagreement, and recognizing when things are starting to go off the rails so we can help one another turn down the temperature when things get unnecessarily heated. While I think that having difficult discussions about the future of the site is going to be really important over the next months and years, it's going to be even more important that we approach those discussions with good faith, patience, and humility, and those are things that are skills that take practice and conscious intent.
posted by biogeo at 9:37 PM on December 20, 2022 [9 favorites]

I disagree with the suggestion that introducing some kind of mandatory ongoing payment to Metafilter would begin its demise into a cold transactional organisation, simply because I’ve seen other communities avoid that. Frankly I think a lot of people here are unfamiliar with other forms of paid online communities, which is unfortunate.

I think it's right that many of us don't have experience with that kind of directly paid-for communities. I also think it's worth considering why that is, and how many of us wouldn't have or have had experience of Metafilter if it was a paid-for community in the same way.
posted by Dysk at 10:50 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

I confess I find this kind of gnomic statement a little condescending, Dysk. Why don’t you explain why you think that is? If it’s because you think many people here can’t afford to pay for a subscription, please say that.

If that’s the case, we can explore other counterfactuals, like the signup fee, which makes the site surely more exclusionary than Reddit and many other forums; or the way many users find the site initially confusing, which could be alleviated by better feature development, which can be helped with funding.

I haven’t actually been a member of many subscription-based communities, but I didn’t dismiss their worth out of hand because I read what their members had to say. I hope we can move the Overton window in this way, even if it only makes us more comfortable and confident in where we stay.
posted by adrianhon at 11:58 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

From a professional fundraising perspective, the differences between a church and public radio are trivial.

To me there is a big difference!

With public radio, the main beneficiaries are the larger community, and they are the ones asked for support and funding. The people providing the content are usually paid, and are not the ones expected to fund the place through donations or subscriptions.
With a church quite the opposite, in general it is the membership that most benefits and also is most asked for their support.

MF is clearly somewhere between these two points - yes people value being part of the community, but they are also the ones making it a thing that is a worthwhile and tangible good thing on the Internet. We need data, but I suppose many many lurkers read regularly and see the value, and plenty of drive-by Internet people get value from Ask and other parts of the site.

My dream fantasy is this:

MF started out as kind of a hub of the cool Internet bloggers from the early days. It is known to the Woz and many other rich people from Web 1.0 times. Surely with the right pitch and the right connections some people like this could be convinced to give a huge donation? There are people, I am certain, who would see 10 million USD as pocket change and would throw it at the idea - "Remember MF? It still exists! It wants to live indefinitely and needs funding!"
posted by Meatbomb at 12:13 AM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

$12/yr (literally less than two Happy Meals a year)

Just adding my emphasis to this, I recently started donating and my "$10 a month" donation was over 15AUD in the end and I had to reduce it.

I also feel there something classist about referring to it as happy meals ... like "all the poor people have to do is not eat takeaway and their budget would work" etc . I fully acknowledge you did not say that MollyRealized but it instantly gave me the wrong vibes.
posted by Lesium at 3:18 AM on December 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

I lurked for a decade before i could afford the $5 fee. I would be too (culturally) shy to even consider asking for a scholarship. That level of cultural reticence is not emphasized enough. Yes, now that I have disposable income to support places i like (including my Mefi instance once that's sorted), I do so. Even American ones with the worst options for banking money. I do so with the thought there'll be people there who will never ask but would love to dip a toe in, in spaces they're allowed.

Anyway: no.
posted by cendawanita at 4:04 AM on December 21, 2022 [13 favorites]

Thanks for raising this, MollyRealized. I've found this discussion illuminating, and it helped me clarify my point of view.

It is clear to me that, while money is mandatory for running Metafilter, it should not be mandatory for participation and membership. It is also clear that the main source of money for Metafilter these days is the members, to the extent that the site needs money from members to survive. In the past, more of Metafilter's money came from other sources, and getting money from members was not much of a priority. Going forward, I think getting money from members should be more of a priority, without going so far as making it mandatory.
posted by dmh at 4:18 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

While I don't object to the idea in principle, my instinct is that it probably wouldn't work for MeFi, given one of its aims (that I saw in some other MeTa somewhere) is to increase engagement.

But I do feel the idea of tiered optional paid memberships is a good one, and very common these days across sites like Patreon, Ko-fi, etc (not saying MeFi should use those, just that it's a familiar pattern to many people). It would take away some of the uncertainty and decision-making around "I want to, and am able to, regularly donate to MeFi, but first I have to decide how much is appropriate."

Three or so paid tiers would enable a simpler decision when it came to signing up to regular donations. How those tiers should be priced and what, if any, benefits each one should offer would require a lot of thought, but it seems like it might be a good idea.
posted by fabius at 5:18 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

with public radio the main beneficiaries are the larger community, and they are the ones asked for support and funding

Well, no. Public radio isn't something people use universally. There are more non-users than users. Therefore, It has a constituency. The membership is a part of the constituency, the part that supports it monetarily. The remaining listeners in the constituency are free riders - but also, part of the public radio community. Church is no different. Churches in the main are funded directly by their membership, but many attendees are not members. They are free riders, just like in public radio. Your thinking that they're materially different is really a discussion about what the organization's value proposition is; but value proposition actually doesn't make a difference to the underlying mechanics of fundraising and community development.

This all falls into the category of relationship-based (as opposed to transactional) fundraising. There is a church-based fundraising model called Levels of Commitment that looks like a series of concentric circles. In this model the "community" is the biggest circle - everyone who has a connection and interest in any form in the work of the organization. It is the biggest component of all engagement; participation is open and likely free. You don't have to do anything much to be part of the "community," but you care and show up at least occassionally. The "congregation"- the regularly active users - is in the middle, but not all of the congregation is "committed" and even fewer are in the "core" - the core being the people who provide a disproportionate source of funding support. (Public radio has a "core" too - the people who give big matching gifts). I've used this model in a modified way with nonprofits, where "membership" takes the place of "committed" and "congregation" is active users.

The concept is the same. There is an entity people care about. It needs support. The strategy for developing support depends on defining the relationship people have with the entity and growing the "core" and "committed" levels who give regularly and substantially. The "crowd" and "community" can continue to benefit from the services, as long as those closer to the core are giving at a level that sustains the entity.
posted by Miko at 6:03 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Bringing it back to MeFi, I'm supporting what dmh and fabius are talking about - a fundraising strategy centered on members and direct support, but that allows the free ride to continue. The only way this model works is to leverage the emotional and intellectual commitment of members with giving capacity to support the organization for not only themselves, but others as well.
posted by Miko at 6:06 AM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think it's probably not meant in a negative way but I have a bad reaction to referring to some community members as "free riders" as if they are some sort of drain on resources instead of valued participants.
posted by an octopus IRL at 6:34 AM on December 21, 2022 [16 favorites]

There are people, I am certain, who would see 10 million USD as pocket change and would throw it at the idea

This is an idea that's just as fraught, especially if Uncle Moneybags wants to participate on the site. If Uncle Moneybags flags a comment, do the mods have to address that ahead of other concerns? Does Uncle Moneybags get his pony requests moved to the top of the list? Heck, could Uncle Moneybags get a user banned if they disagree with one of his comments? I've worked at companies funded like this, and I didn't care for it. Even if there are no material benefits, there's an deification of the guy with the money. Everybody talks about him in hushed tones. And if nothing else, there's a pretty recent example of a rich guy taking over a social site and things... not going well.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:33 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Bringing it back to MeFi, I'm supporting what dmh and fabius are talking about - a fundraising strategy centered on members and direct support, but that allows the free ride to continue. The only way this model works is to leverage the emotional and intellectual commitment of members with giving capacity to support the organization for not only themselves, but others as well.

To my understanding that's different than the proposal, which was a mandatory paid membership (whether $12 or $60) with a scholarship component.

If the argument is for better fundraising with donor benefits, I don't think you need a whole bunch of analytics to do it - because you're not changing anything for the existing base so you can assume that the number of new posts, comments, questions, etc. won't bottom out.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:40 AM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Bringing it back to MeFi, I'm supporting what dmh and fabius are talking about - a fundraising strategy centered on members and direct support, but that allows the free ride to continue.

Isn't this what most people are saying in the thread? I'm not sure what we are arguing about. Generally, people seem to agree that those who can give money should give money and those who cannot should not be locked out/penalized. There is some discussion of maybe a "subscription" model with some kind of benefits for people who can give more regularly, but there is very little (no?) support for a model where people are locked out if they do not pay. Seems like a consensus to me!
posted by Mid at 7:42 AM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

And just to add, I do think a more subscription-type model is possible. I just don't think it's possible without greater understanding of how to attract and convert new people -- all communities and subscriptions need that coming in because people will come out the other side and leave (or at least, one as mature as MF is.)

I 100% agree with adrianhon that that would require some better user experience, and that it might fund better user experience too.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:43 AM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also and lastly, before people get too excited about NPR it would be good look at where their revenue actually comes from.

33% from member station fees, 43% of which comes from individual donations.
12% from individual gifts at the wider network level.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:50 AM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

And, not to open up a whole new (actually quite old) can of worms: public radio stations are (at least in the U.S.) a non-profit organization. As in, they are registered as a 501(c). Discussing this has always been a huge lightning rod in MetaTalk, but it makes no sense to talk about how the site can take in more of (what is essentially) pledge money without asking "Just what kind of organization takes in regular cash contributions from members, anyway?"

A decade ago cortex got some questionable advice from a lawyer, and it made him gunshy about turning the site into a non-profit and we've been dealing with the aftermath ever since. Does Jessamyn plan to change it? Is the Steering Committee looking into it? It's utterly pointless to talk about tiered donation levels and what that might grant users without first settling the question of: Is this site a non-profit? It it a for-profit? Is it a periodical of some kind? Because if it's any of the latter options, then a reasonable economic actor would have the right to expect something more in exchange for giving the site more money.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:07 AM on December 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

MollyRealized: I wish I had something particularly articulate or helpful to say here. Thanks for your reply; I recognize this is a difficult moment within a period of lots of difficult things to deal with; I wish you well.
posted by brainwane at 8:21 AM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I mean, it's fine to debate the 501(c) thing again, but it isn't "pointless" to talk about a subscription model without turning the site into a 501(c) or having that debate again. For example, there are plenty of podcasts and apps that are not non-profits with a "freemium" model that provides certain things for free and certain things for a subscription. As far as the "something more" that people would get from a 501(c), if you are talking about a tax deduction, the only financial benefit would be to people who file itemized tax returns, which I would wager is a small percentage (but I suppose this could be polled). Something like low teens percent of taxpayers itemize.
posted by Mid at 8:21 AM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

As I said in my comment above, I mentioned public radio because it felt like a better analogy for the relationship and community we have here at Metafilter than "church". If I wanted to make a serious proposal, I would research it instead of mentioning it in passing. My point was, and continues to be, there are other ways of looking at the site and potentially of looking at funding. We don't have to be married to any model of the site or how to fund it right this second and should consider all our options instead of grabbing like a drowning person at the first one that comes along.

Having said what I had to say three times, and not wanting to try to dominate the discourse, I am following my own long-held rule and leaving it be for now.

(On preview, thanks to brainwane for that explanation link, which was posted before I re-upped earlier this year and explains a lot about this thread! Sorry for apparently dragging up an old debate that I was unaware of.)
posted by gentlyepigrams at 8:24 AM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yes, thank you brainwane, and I feel foolish because I probably read that thread last year and forgot that E_M had given a more complete answer. Since it's too late for me to edit my comment above, let me apologize for forgetting and re-frame:

Since it's been stated by qualified people that MetaFilter is unlikely to ever qualify as a non-profit in the U.S., any talk about creating tiers of membership pricing (which was also brought up in that MeTa from Sept 2021!) is premature until there's some clear idea of what they would get for their money. If the site is a for-profit enterprise than more money has to mean more of... something for the person paying. What will it be? And if someone says the "prize" that they get is the continued existence of the site, as a counterpoint I would say that the site has just made its most overtly desperate plea for funding from current members, and at last report has barely, maybe, hopefully, returned to a level that could be described as "adequate". To put it mildly, that sort of pitch doesn't seem to sell papes.

The flaw in the OP's proposal, as well-meaning as it is, is that it would take something away from existing members of the site who had been granted it gratis, and restrict it behind a paywall. They allow for a lot of permeability, but also suggest at the outset that current members do not get grandfathered in. So they would actually have the most to lose from this even if they already donated during the fundraiser.

However! In that same MeTa where Eyebrows gave their explanation, there is also another later post from them where they say:
I'm going to suggest that anyone who has concrete suggestions about productive modes of shared governance (or shared governance adjacent things) contact me directly [...] changing how MetaFilter is incorporated would have to be an extremely compelling case [...] some suggestions seem to be "govern by committee of the whole!" [...] we sometimes go to great lengths to assist users in protecting their privacy; anything we implemented would have to respect that.
So even then the door was open for change, and since then there has been change. It's not "shared governance", but a Steering Committee now exists! Can we get some official report from them about the options they're considering, following the results of the fundraiser?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:21 AM on December 21, 2022

I confess I find this kind of gnomic statement a little condescending, Dysk. Why don’t you explain why you think that is? If it’s because you think many people here can’t afford to pay for a subscription, please say that.

Not my intention to be condescending.

It's a point of friction, first off, and more so than a traditional sign-up requirement. There's the issue not just of if people can afford it, but whether they actually will pay even if they could. A subscription is perhaps cheap on its own, but increasingly everything is being monetised through subscriptions, and the reticence to add yet another to the pile that you've barely got track of already is real. And that's before even considering whether people might object to a subscription model for a community on some sort of level of principle. Like, it's a long list. I'm sure there are great subscriber funded communities out there, but I'm sure there's a lot of diversity along many axes which isn't as present as it otherwise would be. It'd be a fundamental change in the nature of metafilter, and people's relationship to it.
posted by Dysk at 10:01 AM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

This seems like a very odd time to be talking about raising barriers to entry.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:07 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Case Studies?

The might serve as a useful case study. It's about as old as Metafilter, had a similarly storied history, and ended up with similar financial problems. Eventually, it was bought out by three or four long-time users, and eventually organized into a membership fee-based community. The current cost is $15/month, but I was told by an inactive member the user base there is only a few hundred people. As pure anecdata, I did consider joining and I could have afforded the monthly fees, but I was not convinced it was a good fit for me, and I immediately envisioned paying for something I would not use. It did not help that I did not like the look of the type, and I could not see any sample threads beforehand. For all those reasons, I never joined.

Pandemic Unemployment, Inflation and Recession?
A subscription is perhaps cheap on its own, but increasingly everything is being monetised through subscriptions, and the reticence to add yet another to the pile that you've barely got track of already is real.
This isn't a small point. Microsoft and Adobe are now SASE. Chances are you pay monthly fees for your favorite news source, streaming video source, personal website, and productivity apps. Those fees add up. In addition, and speaking purely of myself (and I live in a very big city), my rent went up 20% this year, my electrical went up 50%, my groceries have gone up 30%, my gas has gone up 20%, and I'm still paying unexpected back taxes on my pandemic unemployment, not to mention credit card debt, again accrued during the pandemic.

So, yes, absolutely everyone needs to make a living and nothing in life is free. But the SC is examining a range of financial options. Let's hear them all.

The Pay What You Want Model?

To my limited knowledge, there are three names for this: Pay What You Want (which leaves the valuation to the customer), Pay What You Can (which suggests a customer may have a budget) and Tip Jar (which implies the worker needs the supplement to earn good wages). I was unable to find much recent research on this, including whether the distinctions in name impact the outcome.

With those caveats, my impression is that some real-life experiments showed that PWYW can work sometimes, which may also explain the digital Tip Jar? Anyway, I wonder if anyone has more information or experience with this, and whether it would be worth experimenting with on Metafilter.
posted by Violet Blue at 11:29 AM on December 21, 2022

It is known to the Woz and many other rich people from Web 1.0 times. Surely with the right pitch and the right

I can't see Woz dropping 300 bands to support metafilter, perhaps. But patrons might want control or react to negative criticism and that kinda cash can be gifted but will most likely be traceable. Think of a cool wealthy patrons perspective which in and of itself could be problematic.

I wanted an auction house for years. Make it a niche and people may come. I believe the talent for evaluation, legal stuff, shipping matters lies with- in the site members.

If I'm gonna call Woz, I'd ask for an interview or a small paper about what not. Then ask other mefis to contribute to a sub section on nothing but high end articles, stories, interviews, like the mefi mag but with a call to papers.
MollyRealized, you did fine work and I realize that subscription with possible expansion is a thing to discuss.
posted by clavdivs at 11:32 AM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think part of the problem is that $12/year is too little to support a thriving metafilter budget by a factor of 10 and $12/month is a subscription comparable to access to most music ever made, newspaper of record, software you need, etc. I think the viable future I can most easily imagine is a combination of growing the user base and continuing a variety of voluntary fundraising efforts and volunteer participation in parts of the site where that is feasible.
posted by snofoam at 11:47 AM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

One other point, piggybacking on several other comments here and my own experience: The user experience on the Gray is very often quite negative for the OP, as well for some percentage of commenters. Some percentage of the site's user base routinely ignores it, in some cases most certainly because of its reputation for fractiousness. Given Metafilter's community-run management model, I think this is a particularly important issue for the SC to focus on helping the community ameliorate. I would even go so far as to say, it's second in importance to their (superlative, energetic, amazing and successful) handling of the financials.
posted by Violet Blue at 11:50 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

A subscription is perhaps cheap on its own, but increasingly everything is being monetised through subscriptions, and the reticence to add yet another to the pile that you've barely got track of already* is real.

Exactly! I don't mind paying for services I value, and I've been making monthly contributions to Metafilter for many years. But when I set up my regular payments, I was already at home here. I can't fault anyone for hesitating to take on more subscriptions, especially new people.

*Recently, I paid objectively too much for "lifetime access" somewhere, for just that reason. It's a one-time payment and it's done. I don't want more subscriptions creeping into my life.
posted by tangerine at 1:08 PM on December 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

As a longtime professional fundraiser in the nonprofit world, I disagree with the validity of the church analogy, the public radio analogy, and the assertion that they are not substantially different.

As a person who left behind church for Very Good Reasons including queerness, I am kinda revolted by the church analogy actually (with apologies to non-homophobic religious MeFites for the generalization).
posted by desuetude at 2:02 PM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have been reading this thread and have lost of thoughts of course.
First, I agree with all those who mention that payment methods that work in the US are often difficult for those of us who are not based in the US.

Second, Re amounts tossed around - in addition to all the comments how much is affordable, i have not seen (and unsurprisingly so because it is impossible to say without knowledge of the financial procedures in place or planned), do any of the proposed amounts make financial sense from a processing side.
Eg how much does or will it cost to process a one Dollar monthly donation or 60 Dollar or whatever, once personnel cost and infrastructure cost, general overhead at Metafilter is realistically assessed and calculated? Where is the cut off amount for a true net gain? I suspect it will be much Higher than 12 Dollars.
This was a question we faced at our institute, where everything (live events, streamed events, articles online, podcasts etc) is offered for free. Because a fee that would reflect true expenses would have to be so high potential attendees would not realistically willing or able to pay.
A low fee, eg a 5 Euro Ticket per person at each event, even at max attendance, will not cover the overhead of ticket administration, eg personnel costs of fee collection, and managing a system of reduced fees and fee waiving etc. Let alone the expenses caused by the event itself. In our case the solution is not fees based but fundraising, from various large donors and sponsors, plus small donations, and great care is taken to maintain independence by not seeking or accepting donations that might appear or try to to influence the intellectual direction our institute takes.

So i think before any discussion of amounts, someone (the SC?) will need to assess the overhead expenses administrating a fee based membership causes and if in the light of that expense it makes any sense to charge it, and what the lowest amount that makes financial sense might be.
posted by 15L06 at 3:11 PM on December 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

For people calculating income: there are currently just under 1000 active commenters.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:22 PM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Minor correction, it's probably closer to 1200. While Mefi and AskMe each have 1000 commenters a week, it's not a 100% overlap.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:27 PM on December 21, 2022

Regular commenters seems like a reasonable measure of engaged participants, but I would guess that more than that 1200 people have donated in the last year, a stat that I also think indicates engagement. I think this might be a testament to how much people love the site, an indication that commenting doesn’t capture all key forms of engagement, and maybe a warning that a significant chunk of donations are coming from people who might not be that active on the site and could be at risk for dropping off the donor list in the future. Food for thought at any rate.
posted by snofoam at 6:27 PM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

For people calculating income: there are currently just under 1000 active commenters.

I probably don't count as an active commenter, but Ive paid 5$ monthly for a few years and have been a daily reader since before I joined. I've participated quite a bit by my standards. I delete more comments than I post but that's just how I engage.
posted by kittensofthenight at 7:58 PM on December 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

I understand that Metafilter cannot function as a non-profit and that's being cited as the reason it doesn't qualify for a lot of funding.

But you guys in the US have auspicing right? Like with Fractured Atlas and such? Does it work the same way it works in Australia?

I'll speak from the POV of an artist because the arts world here is where I see the most auspicing but I suspect it applies across the board. So a lot of artists who operate as sole traders or partnerships (essentially we're considered a business and have a business tax number but aren't limited liability and aren't a non-profit) or even unincorporated groups working together can get auspiced under a larger organisation for funding purposes. What that means is that this larger organisation applies to bigger grants on our behalf (well really we put together the grant app and submit it under their name, but often the orgs provide help with putting the grant app together), and if we are successful, that org helps administer the funding - which means they get the money, we invoice them for whatever expenses need to be paid, they help sort out the acquittal.

I've done at least one grant like this where we were offered substantial institutional-level funding for a project, but our group was just a loose group of people rather than a registered association or something more formal, so we got auspiced and we got the money and they handled the financial end. I've also been a grants assessor on the other side for federal arts funding and it's not uncommon for people to apply under an auspice - in the case of the grants I've panelled on, it's not necessary, but some people like to do that for the extra assistance the auspicing org can provide.

Is this something Metafilter can access, or does the fact that it's already an LLC take out that option? Also are grants only available to non-profits? Over here there are plenty of grants that are also available to LLC-type companies, so long as you're doing a grant-qualified project they're not fussed over your fundraising status (hell sometimes they only fund companies of a certain size).
posted by creatrixtiara at 8:54 PM on December 21, 2022

I think it's important to remember that Metafilter is now looking at a round ballpark figure of 25K per month in recurring contributions from a number of contributors that is probably getting close to 2,000 at this point. That's more than $12 PER MONTH per current contributor. There may NOT be a significant pool of active/semi-active metafilter users and comitted passive readers out there who who are not already contributing voluntarily. This means there's an extremely real risk that going to a (semi)mandatory subscription model would not capture much in the way of new contributors while potentially even reducing revenue from users who are already contributing. Not to mention the knock-on effects that so many have pointed out of making it harder to reverse the long-term shrinkage of the user base.
posted by drlith at 6:08 AM on December 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

Mentioned this situation and possible solution (some sort of recurring fee) to a non-MeFite who uses the internet heavily yesterday. Their mouth dropped open, and they said "well, I guess they don't want any new members, do they?" I mentioned the "what if you think of it like a subscription for a streaming service" idea, and that did not really resonate either. Anecdata is only as valuable as it is, but... a data point.
posted by cupcakeninja at 6:53 AM on December 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

One thing about a mandatory subscription fee, is that due to

a) wage differences
b) cost of living differences
c) currency conversion differences

$12 US is a lot more in somewhere like Malaysia than it is in the US.

It would make metafilter less accessible to people in low-income and middle income countries.

I remember seeing a post earlier this year in which someone from a developing country was saying "People say US $5 is nothing to pay for a fanzine, but that is my week's grocery budget."
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 7:49 AM on December 22, 2022 [9 favorites]

Regular commenters seems like a reasonable measure of engaged participants, but I would guess that more than that 1200 people have donated in the last year, a stat that I also think indicates engagement.

Yeah, as a stat it's really only useful as to how many people would be (if a mandatory recurring payment model was adopted) forced to pay if they wanted to remain as commenting members of the site.

And of course there are discounts/etc. As always the full picture is a lot more complicated.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:00 AM on December 22, 2022

I pay a bit for MeFi because I want to. It feels like a gift, not a fee, and I feel good about giving it, and that's a major part of why I want to. I choose not to pay streaming subscriptions for exactly complementary reasons.

I also don't know how you'd avoid class-based resentment between the people who are getting a free pass, and people who are paying to post.

The way I do that is by choosing to continue my modest ongoing financial contribution while also choosing, as a matter of personal policy, to treat the choices others make about this as entirely a matter for them.

Really, this is low-stakes stuff. It's not like we're trying to fund adequate public housing and universal free-at-point-of-use medical care but can't because a handful of uber-wealthy fucks would rather keep hoarding all the moneys than pay anything like a fair rate of tax. If I'm going to work myself up into a properly resentful froth, it's going to be over amounts many orders of magnitude more than what my favourite online community pays for hosting and moderation.
posted by flabdablet at 7:00 AM on December 23, 2022 [6 favorites]

I pay a bit for MeFi because I want to. It feels like a gift, not a fee, and I feel good about giving it, and that's a major part of why I want to. I choose not to pay streaming subscriptions for exactly complementary reasons.

Yes! Beautifully said.
posted by tangerine at 12:27 PM on December 23, 2022

I will agree with flabdablet
.... It feels like a gift, not a fee, and I feel good about giving it, .... choose not to pay streaming subscriptions for exactly complementary reasons.

Towards that end, I will set up my *first* content-based reoccurring payment (it won't be a lot, but I'm happy to contribute to the mods' peace of mind in a tiny way). I donate to organizations on a reoccurring basis, but refuse spotify/etc on principle. I'm ashamed to say that I don't engage a lot outside of the blue, and other than contributing to the recent funding with a one-time gift and purchase, it hadn't occurred to me that subscriptions aren't just money for hosting and moderation, they're *peace of mind*.

I don't know if that resonates for anyone else, but I'm sharing it for a) future fundraising efforts and b) rando less-engaged reader pov/feedback.

As has come up on the blue re:social media platforms in the valente thread, and I'm sure prior, I'd love any sort of ability to contribute to 'self-ownership' of the sort that might protect the site from LJ/twitter/etc-style takeover/sale and consequent loss of community. I'm sure this isn't new, but if there is an easy way to say "I support that" I'd like to learn about it.

Similarly, I'll add that I really appreciate the efforts of POC to de-colonize(??) our content and would like to support that in some way too (gift memberships? Some sort of appreciation? prioritized comments, extra weight in mod decisions?). I know that's also a topic of interest for lots of others, but if there are individual efforts that I can take (as a white cis ally), I'd love to hear about those too.

Thank you for the post - like others have said, 'it's complicated' and detailed serious drawbacks. I have an ongoing allergy to reoccurring payments vs one-time $ transfers, so I'd be one of the folks put off by a (manditory or nag/guilt-based) subscription model.
posted by esoteric things at 1:04 PM on December 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

I want to pay $5 once
I want to pay $5/month recurring

It's been a long since I've signed up, but:

I want to pay $5 once,
I want to pay some greater amount once,
I want to pay $5/month recurring,
I want to pay some greater monthly amount (recurring),

seems like a reasonable set of up front options. Maybe a nudge once a year to revisit your choices and see if you'd like to change them? That said, I'm in strong agreement with the sentiment expressed upthread that how much people donate per month, or even whether or not they donate per month, should not be visible in the interface. The "I support metafilter!" star in your profile is already plenty.

I would like to have a way to gift a membership to somebody, if that doesn't exist already.
posted by mhoye at 7:26 AM on December 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

But no "I want to pay nothing"?
posted by Meatbomb at 7:58 AM on December 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think our speedbump still serves us well.
posted by flabdablet at 8:26 AM on December 24, 2022

> Also are grants only available to non-profits? Over here there are plenty of grants that are also available to LLC-type companies, so long as you're doing a grant-qualified project they're not fussed over your fundraising status (hell sometimes they only fund companies of a certain size).

We call that fiscal sponsorship here. Metafilter would have a difficult time qualifying for fiscal sponsorship as it's meant for nonprofits too small to be able to bear the administrative burden of incorporation as a nonprofit, AND philanthropic grants are generally only available to nonprofits. Business grants exist, but are most commonly structured to jump-start entrepreneurial endeavors with strong commercial appeal.
posted by desuetude at 12:22 AM on December 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

referring to some community members as "free riders" as if they are some sort of drain on resources

it's just an economic term, it's not pejorative. The thing with free riders is that they don't drain resources - there's no increased marginal cost to adding more free riders. The issue is that they also don't do anything to support the existence of the organization, so other people have to support it so they can use it.

Generally, people seem to agree that those who can give money should give money and those who cannot should not be locked out/penalized.

So there's agreement on that. The next step, then, is to recognize that the great majority of people don't give money just because they should. Instead, they respond to a structured, clear plan that incentivizes them (emotionally, materially, etc.) to give money, and not just that, but to give it in a way that the organization can depend upon and build longer-term plans on.

a lot of artists who operate as sole traders or partnerships (essentially we're considered a business and have a business tax number but aren't limited liability and aren't a non-profit) or even unincorporated groups working together can get auspiced under a larger organisation for funding purposes

We have that here, it's called using a fiscal agent.

At the risk of getting my head shot off, the "explanation" provided perviously about why MeFi could never in any version of itself be a nonprofit should not be taken at face value, as it really isn't the last word. There are some significant elisions, misunderstandings and omissions from the discussion; it's clear (especially because of the existence of ready counterexamples and a misreading of the code) that the person who advised them was not as well versed as they ought to be, and the main objection was not the tax status issues, but the fact that it was not a desired model under previous ownership. It's one thing on the table for the SC to consider, but they'd need to engage consultants who are more deeply familiar with the nonprofit world and are not just cribbing from the IRS website, and particularly are familiar with the sectors within that world that whose public benefit derives from an broad range of educational purposes that involve expressing points of view, such as media projects, educational, civics, and public programming organizations.

This thread is too shaggy to produce a viable business plan or a membership formula in and of itself, but it's raised some points about the tolerance of the community for subscription models and some values that those in the thread would like to see preserved. That's useful data to feed into the thinking being done. To take what exists here and develop a sustainable business model - of any kind - from it will require research, professional expertise, good advice, and, definitely, some changes that some will love, some will hate, and some will support even if they aren't super enthused about them. Developing some meaningful case studies of a handful of solid businesses with interesting models, and analyzing them through the lenses of budget requirements, financial histories, value propositions, giving level metrics, and ways of evaluating donor propensity and capacity, could be a helpful starting point.
posted by Miko at 4:34 PM on December 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

The thing with free riders is that they don't drain resources - there's no increased marginal cost to adding more free riders. The issue is that they also don't do anything to support the existence of the organization, so other people have to support it so they can use it.

Given that what mefi has to offer is the community, anyone posting and commenting is supporting the site in a way. Certainly not a free rider in the traditional sense.
posted by Dysk at 11:45 PM on December 29, 2022 [5 favorites]

Thumbs-down on use of the term "free rider," certainly in posts from mods, admins, etc. or site documentation. Whatever its technical usage in economics or elsewhere, if it's a term that requires explanation not to be understood as pejorative, I don't think that term should be used here. I cannot personally imagine joining a site where I would identified as a "free rider."
posted by cupcakeninja at 7:42 AM on December 30, 2022 [6 favorites]

In the process of analysis some term will have to be used for users who participate/read but don't give money. It doesn't matter to me what term it is. Dysk's point is a good one; many users contribute content (posts or comments), which absolutely has value. It's just not the kind of value that can pay bills directly.
posted by Miko at 4:00 PM on January 1

some term will have to be used for users who participate/read but don't give money

"Non-paying members" seems OK to me. How does it work for you?
posted by flabdablet at 2:01 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I'm sure the people doing the analysis will figure out what to best call the various categories of users of the site. There are non-member readers too of course.
posted by Miko at 6:02 AM on January 6

Before this thread is archived, can I reiterate a request from December 11:
Hello again! It's been 12 days (EDIT: 38 days now) since the last message from mods or the Steering Committee, and if I'm counting correctly this MeTa will close in the next few days, so I wanted to check in again to ask if the Fundraising update would come before everyone gets busy preparing for Christmas, Hannukah, etc.

If you're delaying with the intention to add information about the money raised through the Events, I would ask that you not do that: I would want to hear how the fundraiser did on it's own, especially whether the amount in monthly contributions has reached or exceeded the Revive target.
Thank you!
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 1:37 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

Seconded. I know how tiring and hard it can be in a volunteer position when you are busy doing work for the org and people are asking for updates… but, yes, an update would be great.
posted by cupcakeninja at 3:13 PM on January 18

They're in the "getting all the SC to sign off on the post, which is queued up" phase, in case that's helpful?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:16 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

I'm not totally clear on what requires every SC member to "sign off" w/r/t a report on finances raised. I'm looking for a numerical statement, not a procedural or editorial statement: What is the current amount of recurring donations (and one-time donations), how much of that came during or after the fundraiser, and is it enough to land in the Revive category? That's data from a spreadsheet.

Saying it needs to be looked at by every SC member doesn't... fill me with hope.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:32 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

I have appreciated the thoughtful updates from the SC on the state of things, and I can appreciate their focus on acting collaboratively. Shared governance is a renewed focus for the site. That said, I'm somewhere on the continuum between "just some numbers, please" and "would like to see a 10,000-word statement." In any case, I look forward to the forthcoming post.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:18 AM on January 19

The Pluto Gangsta: having multiple signoffs seems like pretty standard checks and balances work to me. It's coming from the full committee, which means the committee needs to agree that the figures and statements are correct. You run too many risks of mistakes and miscommunication if just one SC member makes a post without any clearance.
posted by creatrixtiara at 5:19 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

« Older Metatalktail Hour: It's the Sappiest Day of the...   |   what's the word for when you know this was on... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments