[MeFi Site Update] December 20th December 20, 2023 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Hi there, MetaFilter!

Welcome to your monthly Site Update! You can find the last Site Update here.

Reminder: I will be the only mod actively monitoring this thread so please be patient. I’ll reply to your feedback and questions at least twice a week. I’m looking forward to your feedback and questions!

Admin/Moderation

– There was a request in the last thread to share a month by month readout of revenue for the last year or two. While we can pull this data from our bank statements, we do not have a pre-existing monthly breakdown of MRR. This is something we can start doing eventually and handing over to the Nonprofit Transition team so that rather than addressing a one-off request, we can build this into something more structured. We currently do not generate specific reports for MRR because our expenses have been consistently lower than our monthly revenue generation.

– We have a shortlist of candidates for the Web developer role, frimble, Jessamyn and I have reviewed all the applications and I’m reaching out to each candidate letting them know the next steps. I will let you know once the position is filled.

Technical changes

– Fixes to e-mail delivery in advance of Amazon policy changes
– Adjusted how some admin emails get delivered
– Fixed https://chat.metafilter.com/ so that it is up and working again.
– CSS changes for classic and plain themes due to problems caused by a Safari update – this is a temporary fix; more complete fix coming.

BIPOC Advisory Board

– The November BIPOC Board meeting was cancelled. I'm working with Thyme to reschedule it and to get the Meeting notes for the last meetings approved and posted.

If you have any questions or feedback not related to this particular update, please Contact Us instead. If you want to discuss a particular subject not covered here with the community, you’re welcome to open a separate MetaTalk thread for it.
posted by loup (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 2:45 PM (131 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

I'll just repost the unanswered questions from the last post:

I’ll reply to your feedback and questions at least twice a week.

If you say this, maybe that's what you should do until comments are closed? If that means closing comments sooner, then do that.

I appreciate that you now set expectations for how often you will be able to respond to questions, but... you need to actually do it.

(I see adrianhon's comment from over two weeks ago has no response.)
posted by fabius at 5:10 AM on December 13 [11 favorites +] [⚑]


I’ll reply to your feedback and questions at least twice a week.
vs
Thank you for pinging us about this directly! This thread had been dormant for a while so I did not see your questions earlier, I'm sorry about that.

Yeah, it's not so much the "waiting for an answer" part that bother me, it's the breaking of explicitly-set self-proclaimed expectations.

Is that the new norm -- that everyone who asks questions in MeTa Site Updates should also use the Contact Form to message the mods? Is there a keyword or phrase we should use in our comments to trip some automatic switch to remind you to return here? Or is it no longer reasonable for you to be the only mod who answers comments here?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:40 AM on December 13 [10 favorites +] [⚑]

posted by bowbeacon at 4:36 PM on December 20, 2023 [19 favorites]


The thing I like to do is put threads in my recent activity so when there are new comments/questions/info added, I see it right away. My suggestion is that the paid staff also do that for these community update threads. Until then, as demonstrated by the above comment and by loup's "oh this was old so I didn't know to check" in the last update, there's no point in thoughtfully asking questions or attempting to engage.

I say this with love born of more than two decades here. You may read it as snark, but it's an honest suggestion.
posted by donnagirl at 7:02 AM on December 21, 2023 [11 favorites]


I’m really very confused, if not alarmed, by this:

We currently do not generate specific reports for MRR because our expenses have been consistently lower than our monthly revenue generation.

I don’t understand because running a monthly profit and loss is trivial. Assuming there is some accounting software in place, like Quickbooks or FreshBooks (which I use for business at $12 a month), this is a process that is accomplished with a couple of clicks. These generate a full report based on bank activity and anything you’ve added manually, and it shows revenues and sources by days, and expenses by date and category. So, nothing like this is in place? How has that situation been allowed to go on?

Nonprofit team - please be sure proper accounting gets put into place. Not being able to generate a revenue statement or P&L does not look at all good. Those things are not only very easy to produce with basic business operations going on, they are also needed for tax accounting anyway.
posted by Miko at 8:12 AM on December 21, 2023 [56 favorites]


The Steering Committee set up Quickbooks for the site. Has that not been kept up?
posted by Klipspringer at 9:01 AM on December 21, 2023 [26 favorites]


Thank you for bringing that up, bowbeacon, I was in touch with The Pluto Gangsta and replied to him via email but did not reply in the thread itself. I generally do check these threads every day but in the last thread there were no replies for a while and when I saw Adrian's comment I was discussing it with Jessamyn. I'll make sure to keep checking the site updates consistently until they close even if the thread is no longer active so the twice a week expectation remains.

@donnagirl , thank you! Yes, I'll keep checking for updates in my Recent Activity!

We had Quickbooks set up for the first time in 2022 and that is still the case. We didn't get reports set up because it was lower on our priority list than other issues of site management and governance. However, since then both Jessamyn and I have been monitoring revenue and expenses closely.
posted by loup (staff) at 10:35 AM on December 21, 2023 [2 favorites]


If I remember right, Quickbooks has reports pre-loaded - profit and loss and statement of cash flows. You go to the menu and select them. Unless you don't have the data entered in the first place, it should work.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:13 PM on December 21, 2023 [6 favorites]


MRR may not be automatically set up in Quickbooks.

But it is the fundamental metric that subscription-dependent organisations monitor and target. This is not obscure stuff.

Saying that you don't even need to know what it is because more money appears to flow into the bank account than goes out each month is .. not serious.
posted by Klipspringer at 12:54 PM on December 21, 2023 [31 favorites]


Fair, MRR may well not be. I was thinking more of the P&L.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:01 PM on December 21, 2023


The P&L is all you need to see revenue by month and it takes only minutes to link accounts, and seconds to run a report. It’s not the kind of thing that even needs prioritizing, it’s so quick.
posted by Miko at 2:18 PM on December 21, 2023 [18 favorites]


If you can't produce MRR, please provide a report of revenue and expenses per month – we can do the rest (i.e. subtract one number from the other). This was produced for the Transition Team when I was on it.

For context, the reason I asked for MRR is because we were previously told, very publicly, that we had "$882/month in new subscriptions" from this year's fundraiser, but you had omitted the fact that MRR had decreased by $1,730.00 at that point. Even with $200/month added in restarted subscriptions, that's still a very worrying trend.

If you are too busy or otherwise incapable of providing any report, I suggest you provide full access to Quickbooks to a member of the nonprofit team who can. In a pinch, I'm willing to do it myself. Please let me know when I can expect a reply on this; if I don't hear anything within a week, I'll do as you suggested in the previous thread and email the Contact Form every day until I do.
posted by adrianhon at 2:42 PM on December 21, 2023 [45 favorites]


I was in touch with The Pluto Gangsta and replied to him via email but did not reply in the thread itself.

loup, you've got years, multiple, of people asking you to be a reliable communicator. You must know by now that people, including people this site relies on for funding, read these threads. All we could see was that nobody answered multiple serious questions in that thread, including the last two comments, which were explicit requests for a response. And then the thread closed, several days before this one opened.

That sends a really clear, public message. And it's been years of this. Please let somebody better equipped to do communications do it already.


It's also been many months (since the fundraiser) that people have been asking for actual non-vague non-partial non-obfuscated financial information. Please let somebody better equipped to do financials do it already.


I get that this is hard for staff to keep up with* and I'm aware that a site transition is in the works, but that transition is probably going to take quite a while and it's not okay or responsible for super basic things to just keep not being done.


*Maybe because there isn't the budget to pay for enough hours, or for motivated, skilled employees who can prioritize this job? When I saw that whoever applies for the dev job can expect to earn $35/hr - for web development, apparently with no minimum guaranteed hours - all I can say is that seems to explain a lot about the lack of tech work over the past years. Metafilter is not financially healthy, regardless of how often the claim is made to the contrary. It would really help to get a sense that the current management even realizes that.
posted by trig at 4:14 PM on December 21, 2023 [56 favorites]


I couldn’t agree with trig’s comment more. Thank you, trig - I would have been a lot less polite.
posted by dorothy hawk at 6:07 PM on December 21, 2023 [11 favorites]


This shit is a big reason why I expressed significant disappointment, anger, and frustration to Jessamyn when the SC first found out about the complete lack of business bones and baseline business competence at MeFi LLC.

The LLC happily asked for and accepted my money and that of many others who funded the site for decades and just….let it splash around. No records, no financial administration…just vibes and payroll, when they could be bothered to pay people on time.

We are still through the looking glass with normalization of deviance. That loup is somehow still in charge of any of this area is just incredible.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:13 AM on December 22, 2023 [40 favorites]


I was wondering how long it would take before the general bitching and moaning around here would turn into a personal attack on a moderator.
posted by Melismata at 6:18 AM on December 22, 2023 [3 favorites]


Asking someone to be accountable in their professional role, and pointing out when they have consistently failed, is not a personal attack.
posted by lapis at 7:00 AM on December 22, 2023 [47 favorites]


If it's an attack to point out when someone repeatedly commits to something and then doesn't do it then yeah sure that was bound to happen.

From my perspective, these are people who've repeatedly asked for money to do a thing, and then mostly not doing the thing, and then running out of money and asking for more. Calling them on "you didn't do the thing you said the money was for" doesn't seem like an "attack" to me.
posted by dorothy hawk at 7:01 AM on December 22, 2023 [35 favorites]


personal attack on a moderator

Niiiice. MeTa, never change. JFC, I will not miss the shame-o-verse that Metafilter is.
posted by heyho at 7:25 AM on December 22, 2023 [8 favorites]


I was wondering how long it would take before reasonable standards of accountability got misrepresented and shamed
posted by donnagirl at 7:43 AM on December 22, 2023 [30 favorites]


– The November BIPOC Board meeting was cancelled. I'm working with Thyme to reschedule it and to get the Meeting notes for the last meetings approved and posted.

I forgot to ask before: the last minutes posted are from 5 months ago (July). What's going on?
posted by trig at 8:22 AM on December 22, 2023 [11 favorites]


Thank you for all the replies so far. None of them are taken as a personal attack, rather as a sign of how much you all care about the current state and future of the site. There are several questions/concerns that you are raising here that are reasonable and need to be addressed. I'll take some time to address them to the best of my ability next week.

For anyone celebrating the holidays, may you have a great weekend and spend it surrounded by your loved ones.
posted by loup (staff) at 11:11 AM on December 22, 2023 [6 favorites]


‘Next week’

Okey dokey.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 12:36 PM on December 22, 2023 [9 favorites]


Man oh live y'all are insufferable.
posted by kbanas at 12:43 PM on December 22, 2023 [4 favorites]


Who is insufferable, and in what way? These drive-by insults are the worst of Metafilter.
posted by adrianhon at 12:46 PM on December 22, 2023 [22 favorites]


Constantly bitching and moaning in MetaTalk is also the worst of Metafilter.
posted by Melismata at 12:47 PM on December 22, 2023 [3 favorites]


OK. How is the conversation here bitching and moaning, precisely? Was my comment "bitching and moaning"? Or was it someone else's? This site is run entirely on community donations. I and other people in this thread have donated a lot of time and energy and money; we've been on the Transition Team, we've participated in community fundraisers, all as volunteers. That is the opposite of bitching and moaning.

Nothing people are asking for here is difficult in the slightest – I know that because I literally got Loup to do it for me when I was on the TT, and because the Steering Committee did it themselves. It is easy. There are only two reasons it's not being done: either Loup just doesn't want to do it for some reason, or they are so incompetent they cannot do it, in which case they should let someone else do it – for free.
posted by adrianhon at 12:54 PM on December 22, 2023 [46 favorites]


I think the current leadership/management has been pretty explicit about the idea that they are just caretaking while the next thing happens. So, that’s frustrating, but I don’t really think that anyone has any reason to expect more than that at this stage. I understand Loup to be saying that revenues exceed costs, so the ship isn’t immediately sinking, and that’s basically the whole plan for the site for the time being. Which, again, I understand why people want more than that, but I think that’s an issue for the next leadership team!
posted by Mid at 2:16 PM on December 22, 2023


I think the current leadership/management has been pretty explicit about the idea that they are just caretaking while the next thing happens.

And that's fine, but I think some frustration (ok, mine) lies in the fact that the transition team did work for the site AND prepped things for the SC, the SC did a lot of work for the site AND prepped things for the next SC which turned out to be MF management again.

But it looks like things have backslid, and what I don't want to see is the interim board/future ED (executive director, if hired) having to redo work that was already completed. I very much don't want them to be surprised by finances because there has been little or no financial reporting or forecasting done during this period. Other than "more money is coming in than leaving."
posted by kimberussell at 4:00 PM on December 22, 2023 [34 favorites]


Re: caretaking - you know, I don't think anyone has many expectations left at this point. I think few people are realistically expecting site improvements or even moderation improvements or new initiatives or anything like that.

But even basic caretaking includes reliability. It includes responsiveness, community management. Accountability. It definitely includes financial responsibility.

I strongly believe it also includes maintaining existing commitments, like the BIPOC board (which is important and meaningful and exists for a reason!) And I think it has to include active effort to at least retain the existing membership, if only to maintain financial viability.

Caretaking is a serious job. It needs energy and competence and really good judgment. Caretaking is not coasting.

How long will the nonprofit transition take? How big of a mess will the next team inherit? There might be a need for another fundraiser in the meantime, before the transition's complete. Is it going to be run halfheartedly and with no real financial tracking, like the last one?

Election season in the US is going to get serious soon. If management and staff are this unresponsive and this behind schedule right now, how will it be when the moderation workload increases?

Caretaking should mean handing over a site that is in roughly as good a state as it was when received. The financial situation shouldn't deteriorate. Community relations shouldn't deteriorate. Membership should shrink at little as possible. Members should be able to trust that concerns will be addressed in a timely and reliable way.

I can't speak for anyone else, but all I want is to have visible reasons to feel that the site is in responsible, competent, and yeah, dedicated hands that are actively taking care of this place the way it deserves to be. Hearing "trust me" and "everything's healthy! We're totally fine even though we can't keep up with workload!" are achieving the opposite, for me, at this point, because that does not seem to be based in reality. Caretakers need to earn trust too.
posted by trig at 4:51 PM on December 22, 2023 [33 favorites]


I'm wondering if maybe posting these MeTa updates on a Monday instead of an end-of-day Thursday might address some of the concerns re: communication turnaround?
posted by smirkette at 9:18 PM on December 22, 2023 [8 favorites]


The purpose of a system is what it does. Same holds true for State of the Site posts.

Don't offer anything, the users will rile each other up, those that remain, and take the heat off the patterns that are plainly visible if you're not being griped at for personal attacks.

It all feels very much like a stonewalling spouse who has lost his mistresses bra somewhere in the house and can't find it. Best he can do is maintain the status quo while starting a bunch of little fights. Maybe he'll find the evidence first. Maybe she will

Or like some sort of performance piece. Part Kafka, part Kaufman.

If so, it's brilliant. 10/10 pitch perfect parody of nonprofit process turning inward to digest itself. No notes.
posted by She Vaped An Entire Sock! at 2:35 AM on December 23, 2023 [17 favorites]


These posts are ostensibly the main reporting mechanism for the site admin. They are often late or posted irregularly, they include minimal information, substantive questions are raised by the community go unanswered or answered incompletely and reveal huge lapses in site administration, the level of monitoring and response proposed by the poster is minimal, but still not actually done, responses often don't answer the question at all, but promise some vague future response.

Based on these posts and comment threads, it might seem reasonable to believe that the site could be better off financially, and no worse of administratively, if there was no admin at all.

Happy holidays everyone!!!! Especially the non-profit team that will eventually have to sort all this out and the TT and SC, who really tried to get things on the right track.
posted by snofoam at 3:01 AM on December 23, 2023 [22 favorites]


This is all blowback from decades of running MeFi as a private business. Whenever some idiot politician talks up running government "like a business" it's a huge red flag, because most businesses are not particularly well run, especially private ones. My wife and I own a mom & pop shop and we get by, but once you throw employees into the mix, it's incredibly hard to be both ethical and profitable.

Paid moderation here made sense during a revenue bubble that popped years ago. I'm not sure it will ever make sense as a community based nonprofit. Paid administration and oversight of volunteer moderation might be a more achievable goal, if the community is willing to accept moderation more from within the ranks than it's been in the past.

In order to move forward, we have to be able to shift expectations and settle on a common vision. Matt and Cortex ran things in very ad hoc ways that mostly worked at the time BECAUSE it was a small business, but running a business is so easy that you never know what you're doing wrong until it puts you out of business.
posted by rikschell at 4:47 AM on December 23, 2023 [19 favorites]


Paid administration and oversight of volunteer moderation might be a more achievable goal,

I feel fairly sure that's the vision for the eventual nonprofit. No one is going to opt in to run this thing without being decently paid, and paid professional leadership is about the only thing that can save it. Nothing about that plan is inconsistent with nonprofit management.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on December 23, 2023 [8 favorites]


Based on these posts and comment threads, it might seem reasonable to believe that the site could be better off financially, and no worse of administratively, if there was no admin at all.

This, all of this. The update posts cause more harm than good, and leave the impression that literally no work is actually being done by admin behind scenes. The lack of substantive response, the constant deferment of discussing issues until a later date, and the increasingly pointed refusal to address questions that are repeatedly raised, all those things would get you fired anywhere else. It's the primary reason I no longer donate, and will never donate as long as this is what I'm paying for. I'm starting to believe it would have been better if cortex had just found a person to pay the web hosting from the existing accounts as long as the money lasted, let everyone
go, and left us to figure shit out. Everything since then has been a pointless, poisonous waste of the time, money, and good will of people who loved this place.
posted by donnagirl at 11:26 AM on December 23, 2023 [35 favorites]


Probably never the explicit intention but, probably since the MetaTalk queue was implemented, it sure seems the trend here has been to shrink the community governance structures enough that they can be drowned in a bathtub.
posted by Rumple at 1:34 PM on December 23, 2023 [1 favorite]


It is legitimately comical at this point, like at least have the decency to pretend harder that you're doing something imo
posted by Sebmojo at 2:11 AM on December 24, 2023 [13 favorites]


First, thanks for getting chat working again. >

Profit and loss can be generated with a few clicks from the quickbooks reports menu as long as all income and expenses have been entered into quickbooks. Is that happening consistently? If not, what obstacle has prevented this?

Checking back into this thread at the promised interval should take no more than 30 minutes of staff time twice a week. What obstacle has prevented this from happening consistently?

And, apologies if this has been answered elsewhere - about how much total time is staff paid for right now per week? And can you give a breakdown of that time in terms of technical work, meetings, responding to contact messages, regular moderation, and other admin tasks like accounting? This is useful for the community to know so that we have a sense of what the demands of running the site are as a whole, and what it will take for volunteers to step up and assist as we transition to a non-profit.
posted by mai at 7:54 AM on December 24, 2023 [23 favorites]


Hi Everyone! I hope you all had a nice weekend surrounded by your loved ones.

I'm wondering if maybe posting these MeTa updates on a Monday instead of an end-of-day Thursday might address some of the concerns re: communication turnaround?

I’m happy to adjust the schedule of the site updates however the community thinks is best. Please let me know in this thread.

How long will the nonprofit transition take? How big of a mess will the next team inherit? There might be a need for another fundraiser in the meantime, before the transition's complete. Is it going to be run halfheartedly and with no real financial tracking, like the last one?

The current commitment is to have the nonprofit up and running by July 1, 2024. My goal is to work with the Non-Profit Transition Team to define priorities and start handing over anything they need in a better state than we got it so that they will be set up for success in a non-disruptive manner.

If you can't produce MRR, please provide a report of revenue and expenses per month – we can do the rest (i.e. subtract one number from the other). This was produced for the Transition Team when I was on it….

There are only two reasons it's not being done: either Loup just doesn't want to do it for some reason, or they are so incompetent they cannot do it, in which case they should let someone else do it – for free.

MeFi’s revenue is bound to decline due to attrition for as long as it keeps its current revenue model and generating a Quickbooks report is fast and easy, my pushing back has nothing to do with the reports themseves but with how we address these requests in a way that is consistent and organized.

I agree with Adrian’s concerns and I do believe MeFi’s finances should be as transparent as possible, and handing over financial reports to the community should become a common practice. That being said, handing over financial reports/data to anyone outside the organization while MeFi is (still) a privately owned business has privacy/labour/access management implications, moreover now that our main goal is to become a non-profit. That’s why I think we can and should build this into something more structured before just getting data out without thinking about the implications of it.

I think the current leadership/management has been pretty explicit about the idea that they are just caretaking while the next thing happens. So, that’s frustrating, but I don’t really think that anyone has any reason to expect more than that at this stage.

But it looks like things have backslid, and what I don't want to see is the interim board/future ED (executive director, if hired) having to redo work that was already completed. I very much don't want them to be surprised by finances because there has been little or no financial reporting or forecasting done during this period. Other than "more money is coming in than leaving."


All the amazing work, tools, documentation and planning the SC did has not gone anywhere and we keep access to all of this data. Also, as mentioned above, both Jessamyn and I have been monitoring revenue closely and we have been controlling expenses (like AWS) so that they do not surprise anyone.

We are doing the best we can but unfortunately it is not feasible to transfer all of the ongoing tasks, reports and responsibilities the SC had to one person working part-time and still moderating while performing admin tasks.

And, apologies if this has been answered elsewhere - about how much total time is staff paid for right now per week? And can you give a breakdown of that time in terms of technical work, meetings, responding to contact messages, regular moderation, and other admin tasks like accounting? This is useful for the community to know so that we have a sense of what the demands of running the site are as a whole, and what it will take for volunteers to step up and assist as we transition to a non-profit.

Let’s talk about staffing and where we are right now.

Site Development pays $35/hour. Mods are paid $30/hour (these have been the going rates since I joined the team) and all non-moderation tasks are completed within their set moderation schedules with the sole exception of the BIPOC Board Meetings and preparation.

Since January 2020, we went from 8 mods, 24/7 site coverage, one person in charge of operations and one part time person in charge of web development to 6 mods covering roughly 119 hours per week and one part time person in charge of web development. These reductions happened to control costs and several members of the staff left for personal reasons. This included Cortex stepping down as the site owner and myself taking over day to day business administration tasks like payroll and scheduling while decreasing my total weekly hours as well, and Jessamyn becoming the site owner of the newly registered MetaFilter LLC.

Since then several things have happened:

Operations: We have ironed out several compliance items that were never addressed before like regular invoicing and staff contracts, having an accounting system, having a CRM System, overseeing unnecessary expenses and reducing the necessary ones.

Governance: Our main goal since Cortex stepped down has been to turn MeFi into a member-driven community. Since then, we have encountered several bumps in the road but the goal remains the same.

Revenue: For the first time in years MeFi spends less money than it brings in. All of this is due to the 2022 fundraiser that the SC executed so the credit is all theirs.

Structure: Several responsibilities have been distributed among the staff so that we don’t have a single person trying to get everything done alone. This way we won’t have a single point of failure.

Content and Policy: the site content and policies, including mod practices have changed dramatically and moved towards more consistent moderation thanks to the Policies and Guidelines that are constantly updated and reviewed with the help of the BIPOC Board’s recommendations.

Better Roadmap and Tech Prioritization: Several fixes/changes to internal tools and new features have been deployed, but moreover, we now have better prioritization so that the Tech resources we have are used wisely.

That being said, several things have not happened as we planned as well, the most important being the site’s Governance, which was put on hold and needed to be adjusted due to legal compliance. Since we no longer can have a Steering Committee we've had to pivot and adjust our budgeting priorities for the time being. This is why the transition to a non-profit is a critical step for the future of the site.

I forgot to ask before: the last minutes posted are from 5 months ago (July). What's going on?

The current process that the Board has in place for note taking is a bit resource intensive as it involves several reviews and approvals. I have proposed a review of the structure, methodology, note taking and note sharing process of the Board's meetings in order to speed this up and will follow up on that so that the board can keep doing its amazing work without spending tens of hours in administrative work.
posted by loup (staff) at 2:06 PM on December 26, 2023 [8 favorites]


MeFi’s revenue is bound to decline due to attrition for as long as it keeps its current revenue model and generating a Quickbooks report is fast and easy, my pushing back has nothing to do with the reports themseves but with how we address these requests in a way that is consistent and organized.

loup, how many times have you actually opened Quickbooks since the Steering Committee left? Honest answer. And please don't run over and open and close it 24 times and come back and say "on average at least bimonthly."
posted by mochapickle at 2:19 PM on December 26, 2023 [3 favorites]


how many times have you actually opened Quickbooks since the Steering Committee left

Roughly once a month when we do payroll. That being said, I spend far more time looking at stripe and paypal directly since I need to know the specifics of each transaction and subscription. So I look at those at least twice a week.
posted by loup (staff) at 2:26 PM on December 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


Profit and loss can be generated with a few clicks from the quickbooks reports menu as long as all income and expenses have been entered into quickbooks. Is that happening consistently?

Almost forgot to address this question as well. Yes! Income and expenses are entered and labelled consistently in Quickbooks.
posted by loup (staff) at 2:39 PM on December 26, 2023 [2 favorites]


Thank you for promptly returning to respond, loup.
posted by Klipspringer at 4:02 PM on December 26, 2023 [5 favorites]


I agree with Adrian’s concerns and I do believe MeFi’s finances should be as transparent as possible, and handing over financial reports to the community should become a common practice. That being said, handing over financial reports/data to anyone outside the organization while MeFi is (still) a privately owned business has privacy/labour/access management implications, moreover now that our main goal is to become a non-profit. That’s why I think we can and should build this into something more structured before just getting data out without thinking about the implications of it.

A monthly, top-level financial snapshot would not reveal anything about salaries or other personal employee info. Though the LLC is not obligated in any way to do that, if the overall goal is transparency and community management, I don’t see any reason not to start doing this right away after discussing with the team. If anything, regular updates showing good financial stewardship should result in more donations, as would any early signs of financial issues. If in good faith there is a particular reason not to do this, I think it would make sense to just state this clearly rather than saying just that it has “implications.” Also, you claimed you would defer to what the community asks for, and many people have asked for basic financial reporting, now and on an ongoing basis. No one is asking for the building of something more structured. Everyone thinks the benefits of transparency outweigh hypothetical “implications.” At the very least, if there are any actual implications on your mind, start naming them. I am sure the community can address them immediately.
posted by snofoam at 5:45 PM on December 26, 2023 [21 favorites]


I appreciate the level of detail given in the comment, loup, thank you for that. And I agree with snofoam that there are no “implications” that would prevent a high-level dashboard intake/outgoing report or even pie chart-style breakdown. Further, if there are negative “implications” to transparency, it would be helpful in building trust to know what those implications are - even as a hypothetical, as in “if we realized X information, bad outcome Y could happen.”

The only times I’ve seen the argument made that financials must be private have meant the following: A) the organization is worried about giving info to their competition, B) there are pay parity issues that would be detrimental to the organization’s reputation and to staff commitment: or C) there are some things in the books that wouldn’t withstand the light of day. A is immaterial because MeFi has no real direct competition and in any case is about to transition to a model requiring much fuller transparency anyhow. B and C are very much legitimate concerns of the community that has given of their own funds to support the organization over the past several years. No one is asking for specific user donation data or PII - donations should be easy to show as an aggregate, even to the point of “$X in donations from Y# individuals.” Other than those, are there further implications preventing a basic financial report? Could you specify them please so we can understand the obstacles and develop some trust that they’re not just the sort of handwaving fauxsplanations we got used to in the past?

I also agree there’s no need at this moment for waiting on a consistent regular reporting format and structure. That is something the nonprofit leadership will, I am confident, put into place once in charge. Right now, though, members are asking to run a snapshot report. It doesn’t need a lot of procedure around it. It’s the equivalent of when, in an organization with strong infrastructure, someone pops in to the office in mid month and says “can you just run a report on profit/loss to date” even though it’s in between monthly reports. And you just run it, even though you all know of course it’s not going to reflect every transaction for the month.

We are all on the same side, at least in theory. The community’s trust has been badly damaged over the years, and the increasing reliance on user contributions absolutely justifies both the transition to a proper nonprofit financial structure and also, in the interim, an increased commitment to transparency over the deployment of those funds.
posted by Miko at 6:40 AM on December 27, 2023 [30 favorites]


Oh yeah one more quick point: there is going to need to be some determination of assets in order to complete the transfer of assets from LLC to nonprofit, so detailed financials need to be established by then anyhow.
posted by Miko at 6:43 AM on December 27, 2023 [8 favorites]


there is going to need to be some determination of assets in order to complete the transfer of assets from LLC to nonprofit,

Yep. This was done already when the assets transferred from cortex-MeFi to MeFi LLC so while we don't have a strict dollar valuation on those things, we do have a list of what MeFi LLC "owns" and it's already been provided to the Interim Board.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:18 AM on December 27, 2023 [8 favorites]


So is there a reason not to be clearer about it with the community?
posted by Miko at 9:51 AM on December 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


Some of it's just stuffed into weird legal documentation but people are welcome to look at it. I'll get it into user-friendly versions.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:50 AM on December 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


I could not agree more snofoam! I was more concerned about how we can address these requests in a way that is consistent and organized rather than addressing a one-off request.

Moving forward, we’ll add a Profit and Loss report to each site update from now on. Also here's a Profit and Loss year-to-date comparison report and here's an informal list of MeFi's Assets.
posted by loup (staff) at 11:16 AM on December 27, 2023 [13 favorites]


Thanks loup. Really great work on everyone's part on getting the hosting fees down and the finance charges off. I've cleaned up a small business's finances and it's a lot of work.

Just a small flag - I'm sure the non-profit team will be on this when it's appropriate, but I want to point out that if the annual net profit is essentially what is in the bank (which definitely may not be the case, hopefully it's more), taxes paid in 2023 is close to half that amount.

This is not a calculation. But I think as a community member my main concern financially is will the organization have enough runway to make it through the transition to non-profit, the time it will take for people to get up to speed, and through another fundraising period, especially as the member base is declining.

And I'm not sure how/when US corporate taxes work, so it may be that you've paid quarterly and everything is up to date. But the difference in the amounts between the two years stood out to me and made me concerned about the liability, if that's an amount that gets paid annually and if it's tied at all to the personal tax calendar.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:19 PM on December 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


What is “Direct pay”? Edited to add: if that’s the line that’s private for $reasons, we understand if it can’t be broken down further.
posted by Miko at 1:50 PM on December 27, 2023 [2 favorites]


I'll address these hopefully briefly.

if the annual net profit is essentially what is in the bank (which definitely may not be the case, hopefully it's more)

Understood, yes. We have significantly more in the bank, 153K, but that's before this month's payroll and, yes, taxes come out around April as well as paying the person who does the taxes. In contrast, when I took over at the end of September we had a little over one month's expenses (again, big thanks to the SC, this was mostly not my doing except in overseeing and trying to be supportive and optimistic). Because of the way MeFi income worked in 2022--a lot of money came in at the tail end of the year whereas expenses stretched the entire year and MeFi LLC and MeFi Corp were different entities which each did their own taxes--our tax liability was higher. We expect it to be lower next year but I'm not sure by how much. I have a professional accountant whose work I trust. A weird other little factoid is that AdSense income is up from a low of under $1K in May to over 5K now. I don't think that's anything we've tweaked, just vagaries of the internet. We also got back on an AWS savings plan in terms of web hosting which should save some money.

I, too, am concerned about runway and am keeping an eye on it with loup. I know the Interim Board wanted to not overpromise and underdeliver, but it may be possible to make the transfer sooner. In an effort to not try to overdetermine things I've been in touch with the board and can assist as necessary/needed but am trying to not take a leadership role so some of this is in their hands.

Direct Pay was the payroll category for half of the mods for Dec '22 - March '23 who got paid from the old bank account until we could set up a way to pay them from the new one (we use different payment methods for US and non-US mods). It's no longer a category we're using but we figured it was better to leave it as-is for internal recordkeeping.

I'm going to step back away from this thread for a bit. People are welcome to email me if they have specific questions or if they want to see more of the business documentation.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:19 PM on December 27, 2023 [18 favorites]


This info makes me feel a lot better about the status of the site and how it is being managed. Hopefully this kind of meaningful reporting can continue. I would imagine it gives members who have relevant expertise an opportunity to develop some ideas that may be useful for the non-profit iteration of the structure.
posted by snofoam at 3:39 PM on December 27, 2023 [7 favorites]


Thanks Jessamyn. That is all great and makes me feel much more confident. It’s been a good year and good stewardship.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:09 PM on December 27, 2023 [4 favorites]


It is so much better to see some clarity.
posted by Miko at 6:57 PM on December 27, 2023 [5 favorites]


Jessamyn, I appreciate what you wrote. You provided an excellent high-level summary appropriate for sharing with the community.

I have followed the MeFi Site Updates and have refrained from saying anything in the discussions until now, but there were some comments earlier in this thread that concerned me, specifically the requests for providing detailed financial data. It is more than fine with me, speaking as a Metafilter subscriber and moderately long-term member (2007), if the only group who had access to detailed financial information was the actual board. (Interim board now, non-profit board later.) Is it necessary for every MeFite and everyone who accesses the site to see/pronounce judgement on/micromanage financials? I don't think so. I trust the board to do their job [see also following paragraph]. I trust Jessamyn's stewardship. I trust their judgement for what they decide to share, or not, with the wider Metafilter community.

The strong comments that these MeFi Site Update threads, plural, have engendered made me reluctant to post, because I didn't want to inflame the situation any further. But I do have some experience with a non-profit board. I have been an officer/board member of a community theatre for 12 years. We do everything by the book: bylaws, Roberts rules of order, regularly scheduled meetings, budgets, accounting system, expenditures and income reviewed in detail at each meeting, minutes taken, all governmental forms filed, all taxes paid. The things that a board is expected to do. We didn't always. It took some time. We were in the red for some time; now we are solidly in the black. We made mistakes. We learned! I respectfully suggest that MeFites let our management structure do the same.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:27 PM on December 27, 2023 [7 favorites]


Certain types of fiscal transparency are required for US nonprofits because they are taking advantage of public support and tax relief. MeFi is not currently a nonprofit, but its clear and near-total dependence on contributed revenue means that it should have been for quite some time and that is now being corrected. The donors who have maintained the site’s existence for several years, and are now expected to do that in the future in a much more appropriately structured and compliant way, deserve to know where the money is going. Though a board could conceivably keep to the absolute minimum reporting requirements, overall trends and best practices clearly land in favor of maximum feasible transparency. A Board stands in for the public and is tasked with responsibility to ensure appropriate use of contributed funds and publicly funded tax benefits. As little as possible should be secret. It’s difficult to imagine any “community-driven” model for MeFi that is afraid to disclose its full financials. If this is a trust-based and responsibly-led community-driven organization that is almost fully dependent on user donations, there should be nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide. What on earth would that even be?
posted by Miko at 9:11 PM on December 27, 2023 [11 favorites]


With sincere respect, Miko, because I have read all of your comments in this and prior MeFi Update (and other) posts, I acknowledge your areas of expertise, and I know how deeply you care for this community--with all that, you are using quite loaded phrases. "Afraid to disclose full financials"? "Nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide"? No. Not a good argument (too much like name-calling, if one happens to disagree with the premise.) That's not the issue at all; it has to do with who gets to make the call.

Especially when work is actively going on to move Metafilter to become a nonprofit entity under the oversight of a board, not every financial detail of day-to-day operations should be public. The link that you provided that includes the subsection, "Twelve additional ways nonprofits can demonstrate financial transparency" (on the National Council of Nonprofits site) doesn't say that *at all.* You might be a very good candidate to be on the Metafilter nonprofit board, to discuss your understanding of transparency with your fellow board members (though I think that somewhere you said you did not want to go on the board). All I am saying (and truly, I do not wish to inflame things!) is that for right now, while we are in the transition period to become a nonprofit, it would be wise for us collectively to let the soon-to-be-in-existence nonprofit board determine what non-required financials it wishes to release. It is part of their job.

A personal note. I am one of those donors who supports Metafilter with a monthly recurring donation, just as I do certain other entities. Some are for-profit and some are nonprofit and when I signed up, I knew that Metafilter was a privately owned site. Its ownership structure has not made me feel any less of being a part of the community.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:12 PM on December 27, 2023 [6 favorites]


Thank you for the response, Loup and Jessamyn. This is unfortunately not a monthly breakdown, however. The point of a monthly breakdown is not out of prurient curiosity but to determine trends; a year-to-year comparison, especially given the massive changes the site has undergone, will not do this.

As Snofoam has pointed out, monthly data would not compromise privacy, and as anyone who has dealt with financial reporting knows (including me), it is not onerous to produce. The continued misunderstanding or misrepresentations of people's infinitely patient and reasonable requests over the course of months is baffling. In fact the total amount of time reading and writing comments in this thread probably exceeds the amount of time it would take someone to make a monthly overview report.

The reason people want to see financials is because the site almost ran out of money. We are assured that site finances are fine now, but we were told that before. I hope it is true they are healthy but the continued obfuscation does not boost confidence. I cannot wait until the new board is in and takes control of site communication and financial reporting.
posted by adrianhon at 1:15 AM on December 28, 2023 [31 favorites]


you are using quite loaded phrases

I see what you are saying, but in the absence of clear communication, the full range of possibilities is already on the table, whether someone infers it or not. I think Miko's use of these terms is meant to show that unless there is transparency, people can assume negative things. In this very thread, it was communicated that financial reporting was not a "priority" which caused a lot of people to wonder if accounting was being done regularly at all. It was also claimed that transparency might have undefined "implications" which could be practically anything. Previous reporting of the fundraiser was incomplete enough to make it impossible to guess the financial position of the site. Last year, the site went from apparently fine to a month from shutdown. So many valid questions have gone unaddressed, so much mismanagement has been revealed. It would be naive to give the benefit of the doubt at this point. The urgency last year was only revealed because people kept probing to get the real financial state revealed.

If Loup had just said, "I am afraid to release any financial reporting because I haven't done it before and I'm not sure what I'm allowed to release, give me a couple days to ask" then this whole thread would have been quite different. The fact that they said instead, in essence, "I want to be transparent, but bad things might happen" is not the fault of any users.
posted by snofoam at 3:44 AM on December 28, 2023 [14 favorites]


If Loup had just said, "I am afraid to release any financial reporting because I haven't done it before and I'm not sure what I'm allowed to release, give me a couple days to ask" then this whole thread would have been quite different. The fact that they said instead, in essence, "I want to be transparent, but bad things might happen" is not the fault of any users.

And that they actually started by saying they couldn't share the financials because they weren't being tracked. These extended requests for information are often because of weird stonewalling.
posted by lapis at 6:50 AM on December 28, 2023 [8 favorites]


Speaking for me personally, I've been somewhat aggressive in this thread for four reasons:

- first, as adrianhon said, the site has almost run out of money more than once. This isn't a site with a history of good financial stewardship. I too want to see trends, I don't feel the need to see specifics.

- second, the way the fundraiser was run, and the fact that a clear statement of "our goal was X, we got Y, we're short Z, the implications are as follows" was not once made despite months of asking for it. Instead loup kept dribbling out partial information (from which I did the math, and honestly it didn't look good), and lots of "well we only got Q on recurring donations but that's not a real number because I'm following up with people" for the months ever since. Okay, fine - but at some point you've got to say "this is what we've got", if only to yourself. What I got from all this was a strong sense (a) of opacity and (b) that there was a disconnect in terms of responsibility, communication, and realistic evaluation of the site's financial condition. If the fundraiser wasn't necessary then why have it; if it was just for "nice to have" but not critical donations then that should have been communicated explicitly; and if it was for actual needed funds then it was a failure and that should be owned and admitted and discussed. Really hard to tell if it was a matter of bad communication and expectations-setting, or of bad financial and project management. Or both. loup's comments, dragged out over months, just gave an impression of evasiveness and irresponsibility. It smelled really bad, to me.

- the dissonance between "we're doing fine financially! everything's sunny and roses!" and "staff is too overloaded to deal with things, you can't expect much communication or development work even when it's needed." The revelation that even for development the site can't afford to pay anywhere near market rates. Hearing "this is totally fine!" makes me feel unconfident about the judgment making the evaluation. That confidence was not strengthened by things like the flag UI fiasco, where management judgment was also either unrealistic or based on priorities I think were wrong (delaying immediate results in favor of 3 years of structural change, rather than doing first the quick, more-urgent thing and then the long, less-urgent thing). And again, that embarrassment of a fundraiser. I want to trust the management's judgment! Please make it less hard!

- evasiveness and excuses feed distrust, and consistent repeated failure to answer questions completely or at all starts to come across as either evasive or, I'm sorry, obtuse. Again, it's been a few years of this by now. Sometimes jessamyn shows up in these threads for a shot of straightforward input, and it's a breath of relief. Suddenly things that loup - if they ever responded, often after weeks of pleas - said were so complicated, and so reliant on processes that never do seem to be completed, turn out to actually be doable here and now. And it makes me wonder why the months and months of bullshit each time - is it a fear of looking bad, or dealing with criticism? Or is it a detached-from-reality need to just continually put off doing a thing until it's implemented in some theoretically perfect way. Both of those possibilities sap my trust that the site's being managed well.

I've said it before - this whole site is based on the idea that community management makes a difference. That how a conversation is steered affects its tenor. If we're at a point where people who love and support the site are sounding aggressive and distrustful... then maybe that's a sign the current style of admin interaction in these threads is not right.
posted by trig at 6:53 AM on December 28, 2023 [32 favorites]


By the way, stuff like this -

– I'm wondering if maybe posting these MeTa updates on a Monday instead of an end-of-day Thursday might address some of the concerns re: communication turnaround?

>I’m happy to adjust the schedule of the site updates however the community thinks is best. Please let me know in this thread.


Is it passive aggressive or obtuse? The point is communication turnaround, not specific days of the week.
posted by trig at 7:27 AM on December 28, 2023 [13 favorites]


not every financial detail of day-to-day operations should be public. The link that you provided...doesn't say that *at all.*

I haven't asked for "every detail of day-to-day operations" to be disclosed, nor do I think the community wants an itemized daily report. The link I provided was offered to support the assertion that the overall trend in nonprofits is to increase transparency. Yes, we know a nonprofit is required to provide form 990s and tax exemption documents to any member of the public upon request, and to file them in accessible formats. This article, though, indicates that best practice is to go beyond that -- especially where trust is at issue, as it clearly is here:
Leaders of charitable nonprofits know that financial transparency will help preserve the important trust community members and donors place in a nonprofit. Additionally, and no less importantly, conduct that is accountable and transparent earns employees' trust and creates a positive workplace culture.Earning trust through financial transparency and accountability goes beyond what the law requires...
There are many other sources that endorse a stronger transparency policy than what the law requires. A 2018 report, "Determinants and Consequences of Nonprofit Transparency," looked at thousands of charities and found that "organizations that went from not being transparent to being transparent saw an increase of 53 percent in total contributions, one year later. Furthermore, organizations that elect to be more transparent had stronger performance across a range of governance, financial, and operational dimensions." Candid (formerly GuideStar) has set criteria for earning reputation badges,and to earn the the Gold or Platinum seal requires provision of audited financial reports.

DonorBox writes :
Transparency means being open and honest about your nonprofit’s finances, policies, staff, board members, impact, and more. It’s a willingness to share information to help donors make an informed decision about giving to your nonprofit. Being transparent is the only ethical way for your nonprofit to function. It can also help build community partnerships, establish relationships with granting institutions, and impact the communities you serve through your mission...Perhaps the most important kind of nonprofit transparency is financial transparency. It proves to both current and potential donors that you’re handling your nonprofit’s finances (and their donations) responsibly. Without financial transparency, they have no clear idea of where their money might end up....If we look at the steps and tips above, we can see a pattern: openness. At the end of the day, nonprofit transparency is nothing but that. Being open and willing to invite donors into the inner workings of your organization.
Captrust, a firm that advises donors:
The public has higher expectations for organizations whose missions are to do good. “Today, people want to know more about a nonprofit’s mission, its goals, its impact, and the outcomes produced. Donors want access to detailed financial reporting, too” ....donors are doing their homework before making gifts. And, according to data from The NonProfit Times, if a nonprofit organization doesn’t live up to a certain standard of transparency, it receives 47 percent less in contributions than organizations that proactively provide data to the public.
See also the cited Give.org report on Donor Trust. Over and over again analysis shows that transparency is vital to maintaining healthy donor relationships amd engagement. Nonprofit Quarterly, 10 Ways to Kill Your Nonprofit:"When donors move slowly and subtly from deeply interested and engaged to distant and detached, your nonprofit will spend more and more time trying to replace those contributors as they lapse and move on." This has already definitely begun to occur for MeFi, as trends clearly show.

The reputational issue is also at play. From the same article:
One of the greatest assets a nonprofit has is its reputation. It can take many years to build a sterling reputation and only a few minutes to ruin it. So your reputation can play strongly in your favor if you want to kill your nonprofit. Nonprofits get some elements of legitimacy just by being nonprofits—people trust most nonprofits more than they trust most businesses. However, frequent scandals and sector fraudsters have eroded much of the inherent trust that nonprofits have enjoyed for so long. Thus, individual organizations have to build their name through painstaking quality and careful communication with clients, donors, and other constituents.
Reputation maintenance has not been a MetaFilter strength - it's a reputation-damaged organization. As others have commented above, the history of communication with members and donors has been fuzzy and uneven, characterized often by resistance and, in times past and more harmfully, even contemptuous. MetaFilter at this moment can be thought of as in a much-needed phase of reputation recovery, with degree of success so far unclear.

So, to your challenge, apartmentdweller, I'll say again that it's hard to see any real reason why financials shouldn't be clearer to members and donors. You argue that "it has to do with who gets to make the call," and to that I say, it's not at all ambiguous who gets the make the call. At the end of the day, the Board, in its roles of care, duty, and obedience, will have final signoff on budgets. They will figure out what financial management decisions to delegate to staff, and will review the financials and make recommendations or demands. They will also determine what level of reporting and transparency to provide the membership, with a strong professional recommendation from me regarding MeFi's status as a nonprofit proving its competence and building confidence in its earliest phases being "a lot." But the Board won't ever be at risk of having members "micromanage" every aspect of day-to-day operations if they don't want that, because structurally, they simply wouldn't empower members to do that if they don't wish it - that's exactly why a board exists. They'll establish the protocols and they'll make the calls. So the fear that would happen if the board doesn't want it to is really a total non-concern. Will the members likely speak their piece and make recommendations, requests and arguments? Sure, that's part of the gig. The staff will too. There's a lot of input from all levels of an organization to inform Board choices. But again - the Board will have the reins on fiscal policy, so there's nothing to fear in letting members see the whole picture.

This is why I use the word "afraid" - often in organizations, the instinct toward secrecy and information hoarding is driven by fear alone, a set of imagined consequences that are frequently based on unfounded notions, such as those about what can and can't be disclosed from a legal perspective or simply being frightened at a perceived loss of control. When a healthy structure is in place, and all is on the up-and-up, this sort of fear need not be the guide. When practices obscure information, fear does proliferate.

Despite the reality that some MeFi supporters might not find trust and care as salient as others (especially others who have already invested a great deal of their valuable time and expertise in setting MeFi up for success), MetaFilter's trusting relationship with its community is broken. There is already speculation going on about what happened in the past that caused the present funding crisis; I'm not making that speculation up but I see it, and the more information that can be shared to clarify will help nip that in the bud. MeFi would be well served - both now and in its future nonprofit incarnation - by demonstrating maximum possible transparency to its community, to communicate strongly that this is a Brand New Day for the site, that it will be professionally run and carefully stewarded for longevity by a thoughtful board that looks ahead, watches funding trends, and can assure the community its donations are being well managed.
posted by Miko at 8:47 AM on December 28, 2023 [22 favorites]


Based on comments in this thread, the word transparency is a loose term that can legitimately be understood in different ways by different people. Same with the word financials. What these terms mean for sharing information to the entire site has to be defined.
posted by apartment dweller at 11:18 AM on December 28, 2023 [2 favorites]


These terms aren't that mysterious; there aren't that many categories of financial information in a nonprofit, and transparency is, well, transparency: "the process of being open, honest, and straightforward about various company operations." Indeed, the board will decide the degree to which they share financials beyond the federal requirements, and decide the level of transparency they deem best for the site. Again, noting the breakdowns of trust and fuzziness around donations and expenditures we saw in the past, high transparency is recommended as a means of repairing and restoring member confidence.
posted by Miko at 1:14 PM on December 28, 2023 [8 favorites]


You argue that "it has to do with who gets to make the call," and to that I say, it's not at all ambiguous who gets the make the call. At the end of the day, the Board, in its roles of care, duty, and obedience, will have final signoff on budgets.

I think it would be more fair to say it will not be at all ambiguous. We do not currently have a Board that is empowered to provide that final signoff on financials, since the non-profit hasn't been legally created yet, much less have the for-profit's assets been transitioned to their governance. The people who will make up that Board are, on the other hand, certainly stakeholders in that decision, and it makes sense that current site ownership would not want to make a decision they are unhappy with. I read apartment dweller's comment to be describing that ambiguity during this specific point in time of transition.
posted by solotoro at 7:40 AM on December 29, 2023 [2 favorites]


What are the odds of new site features being rolled out at this point? The “Hiding Posts” thread closed without a staff comment (besides Brandon and he specifically said he was speaking as a user and not staff). If new features are still possible, maybe someone on staff could check with Frimble on how technically feasible a request is and post their response in the thread? There’s a new feature request MeTa right now. It would be great if someone could do that.

If new site features aren’t realistically going to happen, is there a point in having threads asking for them?
posted by Diskeater at 10:48 AM on December 29, 2023 [10 favorites]


If new features are still possible, maybe someone on staff could check with Frimble on how technically feasible a request is and post their response in the thread?

Speaking purely from a software development background (with no special knowledge of the Metafilter situation): Figuring out the technical feasibility of something - or rather, the cost, since pretty much everything is feasible if you have enough money - can be very time consuming. It doesn't always produce useful results without a clearer idea of how the feature will behave, or what other features it might be combined with. It's often just unhelpful to try and triage a series of independent random requests in this way (unless they're intended as very small straightforward bug fixes), and given the current extremely small software development budget, it would be easy to just use all or most of of the budget up on this kind of triage at the expense of getting any work actually done.

The whole software development system works best if everyone has a clear idea what overall business goals they're trying to achieve. Ideally someone would do some research with users about different ways to achieve those goals, and someone would figure out what non-customer-facing things might also be needed to achieve those goals. Then a businessy person sits down with a technical person, and they figure out between them a reasonable strategy to move forward towards the goals, while measuring and evaluating outcomes where appropriate and pivoting if things aren't working out as planned. This strategy should involve a coherent stream of work that fits together well from the business and the technical perspective.

tl;dr Custom software development is neither efficient nor effective if you treat it as an infinitely large a la carte menu.
posted by quacks like a duck at 11:35 AM on December 29, 2023 [4 favorites]


Sure, sotonhito. Either Jessamyn/staff or both makes calls now. After the transition, the board will make calls. Either way, it’s not ambiguous.
posted by Miko at 12:52 PM on December 29, 2023 [1 favorite]


When I click the link for the asset list (https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/vizt1326bv6fl1nm8g3mw/MeFiAssets.pdf?rlkey=4lg7rrm8lzq9ceddgha09k5h6&dl=0), I get a message that the item was deleted.
posted by NotLost at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2023


solotoro and Miko: yes, that was what I meant.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:23 PM on December 29, 2023


How a person can read this thread and have not posted since Wednesday is mind boggling.
posted by bowbeacon at 7:38 PM on December 30, 2023 [7 favorites]


Because it’s the end of the goddamned year?
posted by hototogisu at 3:58 AM on December 31, 2023 [6 favorites]


A thread where multiple people have called out inconsistent communication would seem to be the perfect place to post your holiday work schedule, if you had one.
posted by bowbeacon at 5:44 AM on December 31, 2023 [8 favorites]


A thread where multiple people have called out inconsistent communication would seem to be the perfect place to post your holiday work schedule, if you had one.

I hope you have a relaxing and refreshing new year.
posted by kbanas at 6:56 AM on December 31, 2023 [7 favorites]


I get a message that the item was deleted.

Yep that was my error. I updated the document and then uploaded one with the same name and wasn't aware that the Dropbox link wouldn't be the same. The link in that comment should now be working again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:01 AM on January 2


Happy 2024 to everyone! I want to thank you all for both the positive comments and concerns.

As little as possible should be secret. It’s difficult to imagine any “community-driven” model for MeFi that is afraid to disclose its full financials. If this is a trust-based and responsibly-led community-driven organization that is almost fully dependent on user donations, there should be nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide. What on earth would that even be?

This is unfortunately not a monthly breakdown, however. The point of a monthly breakdown is not out of prurient curiosity but to determine trends; a year-to-year comparison, especially given the massive changes the site has undergone, will not do this.

We are in full agreement, there is nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide. At the same time, the more granular data we provide to the entire community the more *totally valid* questions will arise, and this means more time and attention towards MetaTalk, which might be, in all honesty, not the best use of the time we have to get internal work done. I’ve talked with Jessamyn about this and our plan is to start sharing more granular data with the Interim Board for them to review it and determine both the most useful cadence and structure of reporting for MetaTalk. We’re really looking forward to continuing to work with them.

What are the odds of new site features being rolled out at this point?

If new features are still possible, maybe someone on staff could check with Frimble on how technically feasible a request is and post their response in the thread? There’s a new feature request MeTa right now. It would be great if someone could do that.

Currently, frimble’s time is spent in 3 separate buckets: Site Maintenance, Bug Fixing, Ongoing Projects (like the flag UI changes or the system email overall configuration). This is part of why the new tech hire role is so important.

A thread where multiple people have called out inconsistent communication would seem to be the perfect place to post your holiday work schedule, if you had one.

I work Monday through Friday, regardless of holidays. In case I’m out or take time off while a site update is still open, I’ll make sure to let you know in the thread. That being said, the reason why we have the “at least twice a week” reply schedule is because both Jessamyn and I talk daily about these threads and agree on next actions so rather than providing a fast answer we discuss and determine priorities accordingly.
posted by loup (staff) at 12:31 PM on January 2


We're not in full agreement, though. I'm saying it's trivial to produce the data so many people have been asking for so consistently – a monthly breakdown – and you're saying this will take so much time and attention it will detract from other internal work, and that it'll just lead to more questions that, undoubtedly, are also not as important as that internal work.

I realise that most Metafilter users rarely visit Metatalk, so it's understandable to think there is no consequence to slow-walking answers to people's questions. However, many people do, and I imagine few come out of reading these threads with increased confidence about how the site is being run and managed financially. It's what led me to cancel my own regular donation a while ago, which have probably amounted to a couple of thousand dollars over the years.

In other words, your poor communication is actively and permanently harming the site's health. The site was given a massive boost thanks to the amazing work of the Steering Committee's donation run but that reprieve is being wasted now. Good communication and financial transparency is not a nice-to-have, it's not low priority, it's the highest priority for a donor-funded organisation. And what's most tragic of all is that it would be so easy to deliver – a few clicks in standard accounting software.

Perhaps the delay is because the trend looks bad. Well, even bad news would be better than no news, because what you're doing now is ignoring and delaying us with corporate-speak.
posted by adrianhon at 3:53 PM on January 2 [36 favorites]


I cannot fathom the "internal work" that would be so pressing and time consuming that you couldn't find time to answer, let's say, 10 questions per day from the very people who are paying the site a quarter million (!?!?!?!?) dollars per year.

This is a website that gets on the order of 1000 comments per day. Maybe 2000. What internal work, specifically, are you talking about?
posted by bowbeacon at 5:12 PM on January 2 [26 favorites]


This feels like disdain toward the userbase here. There's been a palpable feeling of mistrust and paranoia toward the users here for a while. That's part of what needs to be overcome. Saying that you're hiding information because you don't think spending time communicating with the users is a good use of staff time is a problem, and is making things worse.
posted by lapis at 6:53 PM on January 2 [26 favorites]


There's a danger of fixating on one aspect of the discussion when the problem is more general, but the response to the request for MRR is worth recapping as it clarifies some issues. Emphasis mine.
Can you please share a month by month readout of MRR for the last year or two? (posted by adrianhon at 9:05 PM on November 28)
(time passes)
... rather than addressing a one-off request, we can build this into something more structured. We currently do not generate specific reports for MRR because our expenses have been consistently lower than our monthly revenue generation. (posted by loup (staff) on December 20)
In response to replies unhappy that Quickbooks as set up by the SC was not being used to monitor key metrics:
We had Quickbooks set up for the first time in 2022 and that is still the case. We didn't get reports set up because it was lower on our priority list than other issues of site management and governance. However, since then both Jessamyn and I have been monitoring revenue and expenses closely. (posted by loup (staff) at 7:35 PM on December 21)
In response to replies unhappy with this prioritisation and offering to set up reports on Quickbooks if staff didn't have time:
... handing over financial reports/data to anyone outside the organization while MeFi is (still) a privately owned business has privacy/labour/access management implications, moreover now that our main goal is to become a non-profit. That’s why I think we can and should build this into something more structured before just getting data out without thinking about the implications of it. (posted by loup (staff) at 11:06 PM on December 26)
In response to replies unhappy that there are no clear "privacy/labour/access management implications" in producing a monthly snapshot of income and expenditure:
... the more granular data we provide to the entire community the more *totally valid* questions will arise, and this means more time and attention towards MetaTalk, which might be, in all honesty, not the best use of the time we have to get internal work done. (posted by loup (staff) at 9:31 PM on January 2)
While there is some consistency in loup's stated preference to share data in a "structured" way, the rationale for not sharing monthly MRR otherwise shifts from one reason to another. This inconsistency also occurred in the September update thread where the reason for removing Twitter share/social options was first a matter of principle, then when that argument came under scrutiny the reason became a technical one and finally, when pressed, "not an either/or case but rather both".

Being charitable, the background is that loup was never recruited to manage MetaFilter on a day-to-day basis and the lack of normal business systems, policies and procedures was inherited, with the last third of this comment suggesting that there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes cleanup going on.

However, even if all that is true, the changing explanations jar because they are pronounced with a detached certainty rather than an approach of "this issue is outside my skillset and I've only got an hour to look at it this week but my feeling is X (sorry, I know I said Y earlier but I've thought about it some more) though I'd really welcome community input especially from those with relevant experience in Z". I consider this attitude (whether deliberate or inadvertent) as important as the slow-walked replies to why goodwill and expertise is being squandered in these threads by poor communication.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:14 AM on January 3 [23 favorites]


I really hope that the future brings management that's both much more professional on the business-running end of things, and much more human and open on the community-relationship side of things. Right now it feels like the worst of both worlds - an all too human, disorganized, laid back approach to business stuff, and a sort of suit-wearing corporate-speaking circling-the-wagons approach to that inconvenient thing, the community. Of a community-supported website of community-created content.


We are doing the best we can but unfortunately it is not feasible to transfer all of the ongoing tasks, reports and responsibilities the SC had to one person working part-time and still moderating while performing admin tasks.

This is why "we're spending less than we bring in" rings hollow. If we truly can't afford good management - that's called being in bad shape.
posted by trig at 9:27 AM on January 3 [13 favorites]


When I joined the team, what stood out to me the most was how much time and resources were used in MetaTalk alone across the entire team. Fast forward in time, several approaches were attempted, R_N came back to handle administrative work behind the scenes, managing policy discussions, and processing user feedback for 6 months during which the site updates were closed to comments, then Cortex took over the site updates with open threads that didn’t go well so he tried to continue with closed threads as well. At that time, I could see how these threads had a toll on the entire team and I asked the team to allow me to take ownership of the site updates and to make them open to comments again. My goal was simple: to balance expectation and resources while having open conversations with the community because their feedback was necessary and healthy for the future of the site.

At this point, while I still think feedback from the community is necessary and healthy, I’m prone to think that the main problem with MetaTalk’s site updates have little to do with the communication style of anyone taking ownership but rather with the frustrations and speculation that come from a site with a long and complicated history. Moreover after running on net negative income for too long until last year’s fundraising.

When Cortex stepped down I agreed to keep the lights on while we formed a better plan for site governance that transferred power and ownership back to the community. Unfortunately things have moved slower.

When Jessamyn and I agreed to keep the lights on about 18 months ago, cortex told us "The site loses money, but slowly" and we felt, correctly, that the Transition Team and the SC would be able to turn that ship around and they did. Some of the funding emergency was due to the Transition Team being formed and SC being selected at the same time that usual fundraising was supposed to happen and the transition between cortex and Jesamyn’s ownership started around the same time.

This was stressful for everyone and required, and still does require, a lot of behind-the-scenes cleanup, as mentioned above.

Perhaps the delay is because the trend looks bad.

The trend is pretty much as expected. Donations flag somewhat. They went up during the fundraiser, and are back down. The site's donation income in December was $51 less than it was in January. Monthly advertising revenue is up 3K from January. Web hosting is up a little but we expect it to come down some again. Payroll-by-month is confusing because some months people were paid right before the end of the month and sometimes right after depending on when people's invoices got in.

Again, Jessamyn and I plan to share all data with the Interim Board for them to review as this requires some in-depth attention that would not be scalable or ordered in an open thread.
posted by loup (staff) at 10:29 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


At this point, while I still think feedback from the community is necessary and healthy, I’m prone to think that the main problem with MetaTalk’s site updates have little to do with the communication style of anyone taking ownership but rather with the frustrations and speculation that come from a site with a long and complicated history.

No, it's because you are very bad at communicating, as has been noted exhaustively by people here in comments you continually ignore.

This trickling out of information ("Donations flag somewhat") is pointless. You need to immediately give the Interim Board full access to Quickbooks at the very least, and ideally, read-only access to PayPal et al. You don't think that communicating the site's financial position to donors is important – but everyone else disagrees, so you should get out of the way.

Finally, I note that you've recently begun saying Jessamyn actively agrees with, and is setting the direction for, work prioritisation and communication. If that's true, then Jessamyn is also responsible for the dreadful communication and information sharing here, which is incredibly disappointing.
posted by adrianhon at 10:47 AM on January 3 [22 favorites]


At this point, while I still think feedback from the community is necessary and healthy, I’m prone to think that the main problem with MetaTalk’s site updates have little to do with the communication style of anyone taking ownership but rather with the frustrations and speculation that come from a site with a long and complicated history. Moreover after running on net negative income for too long until last year’s fundraising.

While the site faces plenty of real issues that are difficult to solve, and maybe it's impossible to please everyone all the time -- are you saying you believe that taking weeks or months to answer reasonable questions, giving inconsistent and evasive answers to reasonable questions, and all too often not answering reasonable questions at all don't contribute very much to those frustrations and speculation?

I promise you, that's where my frustrations and speculations come from. I did not have them originally.

And you know, there are not many reasonable people who would not get frustrated eventually in the face of this. Absolving yourself of any responsibility might be a comforting narrative, but it's false.
posted by trig at 11:01 AM on January 3 [21 favorites]


I’m prone to think that the main problem with MetaTalk’s site updates have little to do with the communication style of anyone taking ownership but rather with the frustrations and speculation that come from a site with a long and complicated history.

This is fucking jawdropping.
posted by bowbeacon at 11:06 AM on January 3 [10 favorites]


While I agree that the communication style here hasn't been the best -- I find myself riling at both the deflecting corporate-speak on one side, and the I-pay-your-salary/I'm-going-to-have-a-talk-with-your-manager attitude on the other -- I expect at least one side of that to improve once a new (non-profit) board is fully up and running. The bigger takeaway I see is that for all the talk about people being so dismayed with how the place is being run that they've stopped donating, etc., the actual net change in monthly recurring donations from last January to now is just $51/month. Which suggests the voices calling for larger site changes under the cover of 'crisis' (whether a funding crisis or a user-activity crisis) might not be quite the majority they believe.

Recognizing that this might be outside the scope of what the transition board has signed up for, it seems that a couple early orders of business should be:

1) Figuring out how best to run a sitewide user-survey, to see what the bulk of the userbase is happy or unhappy about.

2) Running the numbers to see what the trend lines are these days for site activity, unique users, etc. (As of two summers ago, wesleyac had reported the numbers had stabilized over the prior year. Has that continued to hold up?)

There's been a mythos built up among a certain segment of the MeTa-visiting crowd that the site is in active, terminal decline, along multiple axes, and I think that ought to be reexamined. And since the purpose of doing so would be to help set the early direction of the non-profit board -- not to help the current business -- maybe that could fall under the transition board's purview?
posted by nobody at 12:34 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


I continue to say that I'm not in any way calling for large changes or saying there is a crisis. I am only saying that the communications style that leads to failing to meet the extremely low bar of two message board posts per week is super, super, super offputting, and reeks of not giving a shit. And when I raise that point, I'm treated as if I'm overreacting.

And my question still wasn't addressed!
posted by bowbeacon at 12:44 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


A great way to demonstrate the site isn’t in decline is to provide a monthly report. I can’t stress often enough how easy it is to generate this, or how utterly normal it is for practically any organisation, even very small ones, to make these as a matter of course - literally an automated process run after the end of a month.

I’m not demanding any features, any change in moderation, any change in work patterns. I’m asking, as someone who volunteered on the Transition Team and was previously given access to the kind of reports I’m asking for, for those same reports.

Not long ago, the site was in crisis, with only months of runway left. This was spotted and averted by the Steering Committee, so forgive me if I have lost confidence in current staff and management.
posted by adrianhon at 1:18 PM on January 3 [19 favorites]


I mean, they're saying over and over that they are just "keeping the lights on" to hand the site over to a new leadership this year, which tacitly (or not so tacitly) concedes that they know the present state is not good or sustainable. Demanding "do X immediately!" or "answer my questions now!" seems not productive. Maybe check in with the interim board folks for ways to deploy your enthusiasm to help?
posted by Mid at 1:27 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I can't tell if it was superseded or not by the more recent comments promising detailed reporting to the interim board, but it sounded like at least some sort of income/expenses report would be added to the monthly site updates from now on.

I think ideally a monthly site-activity report should really be generated, too (with a rolling average smoothing things out over some longer period), but I don't have a sense of who currently on-board knows how to generate that, nor how time-consuming that is to do. (Is any/most of that gleanable from the infodump? Site visits isn't.)
posted by nobody at 1:39 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


There seems to be the perception that if we just wait long enough and ask politely enough, financial information will be forthcoming. Anyone who has looked through my Metatalk comments will see that I have done both, to no avail. So for people to claim that I or anyone else are popping out of the woodwork asking for work to be done immediately is flat-out wrong – we have been stonewalled for months. All for data that would take minutes to generate. Minutes!

I was enthusiastic to help. I gave a lot of time on the Transition Team (including helping with the site-wide survey run in mid-2022 that’s been suggested again), I gave a free book talk for the big fundraiser, I bought stuff in the auctions. I don’t say this as “I’m a customer and I want to speak to your manager”, but to demonstrate that I loved this site and I have been a member (#482) for almost twenty four years. I helped then and the way I am helping now is trying to keep the admin to account. So please save me any snide comments about my attitude.

As for the Interim Board, I’ve been told they are trying to get access to financial information but they still don’t have it yet. Quite why this needs to take longer than a few hours remains beyond me, because it is a necessary part of the transition and would not entail making any supposedly private data public.
posted by adrianhon at 1:46 PM on January 3 [30 favorites]


I'm not doubting your sincerity, I just mean that the site leadership has already thrown in the towel and is trying to hand the site off to new leadership ASAP, so asking the outgoing leadership to institute process improvements, new disclosures, etc. just seems like a recipe for frustration all around. They're trying to do basically the minimum, not more, and I think they've been pretty upfront about it. We can all not like it, but it's temporary, and chasing Loup around about it seems to accomplish not a lot. I think getting the data/disclosures to the interim folks seems like the best solution.
posted by Mid at 2:03 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


They aren’t even doing that! I would be happy if there was visible progress in getting the Interim Board better data, but there isn’t. And there continues to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what people are asking for. It’s not about getting spending hundreds of hours getting a set of audited accounts done, it’s pressing a few buttons in Quickbooks.

I can only assume this misunderstanding stems from a disbelief that this argument could be about performing a piece of work that’d take a few minutes – “surely it can’t be that easy?” – and yet it is.
posted by adrianhon at 2:07 PM on January 3 [15 favorites]


I gave a lot of time on the Transition Team (including helping with the site-wide survey run in mid-2022 that’s been suggested again)

Oh, wow, that feels like so much longer than a year and a half ago.

I thought that survey was great (though in the end it looked super time-intensive to process all the free-form answers).

An updated survey to accompany the transition to nonprofit could now maybe try to get cleaner and more specific data on sentiment around the array of particular changes people have been calling for since the previous survey.

For example, unless I'm misremembering, you've pushed a number of times for mothballing the current site into static pages so the community can be moved to a more modern platform. It'd probably be worth getting the full userbase's read on the pros and cons of doing (for example) anything like that.

The really thorny one is probably about moderation direction, where the people vocally (and sometimes vociferously) unhappy with how moderation works seem split into three fairly opposing camps: one that sees too many unnecessary deletions, one that sees still too much leniency around, for example, racist/sexist/classist/etc. comments/posts, and one that sees too much leniency around comments aggressively responding to racist/sexist/classist/etc. comments/posts (which itself might be a subset of a group concerned about 'meanness' here in general). I'm sure that can be better defined than I've just sketched out, but getting a handle on how large each of those groups are -- or maybe where people fall on each of those axes, on average -- would sure be useful, as part of a followup survey.

And another: getting a handle on the idea of potentially shifting to volunteer moderation, which has been brought up in this thread at least once as though it were a fait accompli (to be able to afford a market-rate professional executive director, I guess). Seems like something it would be valuable to get broad feedback about before the handover to the nonprofit, since that affects what sort of executive director can be sought out.

And another: how MetaTalk works these days, what level of interaction and responsivity the general userbase would like to see from management/staff/boardmembers(?) in threads like this (which might affect what sort of person the executive director should be.)

That's just off the top of my head, as big things that get fought about on the gray and which I don't think can be directly gleaned from going through the previous survey's responses again (though maybe I'm misremembering), but I bet there would be a bunch of smaller/less-contentious things to poll about with more specificity now, too.
posted by nobody at 3:57 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

the main problem with MetaTalk’s site updates have little to do with the communication style of anyone taking ownership but rather with the frustrations and speculation that come from a site with a long and complicated history
I disagree, Loup, because elsewhere in this comment, there is evidence that a better style of communication is possible. Even though I don't agree with all of it or feel that it's a total sea change, there are signs of someone who wants to a do a good job, which have been missing in many, even most, MetaTalk statements so far. (I'm not passing judgement on your actual motivation, just on how those previous statements read.)

There's a sense of human frustration at how hard managing MetaTalk can be, the story of trying different approaches, honesty that you see your role as just keeping the lights on, confirmation that a lot of clean-up has been happening since the ownership transfer and specifics like the difficulty of tracking month-on-month payroll costs owing to invoice dates falling either side of the month.

Again, I'm not saying I take on board everthing in that comment as good justification for recent actions (or inactions). But if there was more genuine communication like this and less defensive bland corporatese, I think there would be a lot less frustration and confrontation.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:04 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


plz let me know when it is legal to go back in the books and clean house
posted by the ghost of shakespeherian at 6:47 PM on January 3 [8 favorites]


At this point, while I still think feedback from the community is necessary and healthy, I’m prone to think that the main problem with MetaTalk’s site updates have little to do with the communication style of anyone taking ownership but rather with the frustrations and speculation that come from a site with a long and complicated history.


Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah

:deep breath:

Wow. Just....wow.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:56 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


chasing Loup around about it seems to accomplish not a lot

Yeah, I can't say it hasn't been largely a demoralizing experience.

On the other hand, it definitely seems like a lot of the (few) things that have happened, have happened only after (quite a lot of) chasing. Of loup, and of restless_nomad and cortex before loup.

There are also things that still haven't happened, despite promises and despite importance, and without chasing there would be zero accountability. And maybe also zero sense that these things actually matter to anyone.

One example I'm thinking of is the BIPOC board. It's now 6 months since the last minutes were posted. That's... that's really not okay. loup said above that "I have proposed a review of the structure, methodology, note taking and note sharing process of the Board's meetings in order to speed this up and will follow up on that [...]" Emphasis mine - loup's only following up on it now, months after the problem started. Better than nothing, but it's unacceptable that this wasn't fixed a long time ago. If there were no accountability, would loup be spending any time on it at all?

And the minutes matter because: is the board actually functioning well, aside from all this? Do they feel that they're being heard and are making an impact? Earlier minutes show the board being very frustrated about... glacial responses and general unreliability from loup. If that's not the case anymore, that's wonderful! If it still is the case, we should know about it from the minutes and be able to support them so they won't be yelling into the void (and, you know, leaving, demoralized).

The BIPOC board was born out of that "long and complicated history" loup referenced but has never truly addressed. Back when cortex first shut down comments in site threads, it was because there were a series of intense, heartfelt, and yeah, difficult discussions about people's experiences here as BIPOC, trans, international, and more. Cortex was not up to the job; instead of actually moderating, and listening, and leading the community - or asking someone else to - he lashed out in ways that I was pretty shocked by at some specific members, and basically said "talk amongst yourselves", with a vague assurance that of course the mods would be reading and learning from what was said. However, there was not much manifestation of that reading and learning. There was a huge sense that we were all talking into a void. One of the few (hopefully) meaningful steps that ever came out of it was the creation of the BIPOC board, so that at least some members' input would be heard and hopefully acted on. I'll note that one thing that never did seem to happen was mods going back to those threads and addressing the specific issues that were raised there - despite loup promising to do this repeatedly. That got dropped, silently.

And, again, I hate to be blunt but: things like the failed fundraiser, or the 3-year long saga of changing a [!] to a [⚑], say that just trusting the current management's judgment is not a good enough bet.


In the end, I think Rumple's comment that "the trend here has been to shrink the community governance structures enough that they can be drowned in a bathtub" is correct, and I think that a Metafilter that really works as a community site and doesn't see its members as a messy, time-wasting annoyance to barricade against or ignore is something that's worth trying to preserve. Even when that translates to the frustration of trying to actually call loup to account.

I hope, truly, that the team after loup will bring Metafilter back to its roots as a site that's friends with its community. The kind of friend that listens and cares, and doesn't respond with defensiveness, opacity, or gaslighting.

In the meantime, I hope enough of us keep bringing up things that matter, if only to make it clear that they do matter to somebody.


In closing, here's a fun nostalgic comment from jessamyn, to loup, from back in '21: "I both appreciate that this is the case and wish that there were some way to keep the community informed without feeling like there has to be some level of nagging to get the previously-promised-or-suggested things on a to do list."
posted by trig at 5:12 AM on January 4 [25 favorites]


the main problem with MetaTalk’s site updates have little to do with the communication style of anyone taking ownership but rather with the frustrations and speculation that come from a site with a long and complicated history

It's precisely because of that history that the communication strategies need to improve.

The failures of the past can't be corrected, but what happens in the present is within our control.
posted by Miko at 7:42 AM on January 4 [11 favorites]


One example I'm thinking of is the BIPOC board. It's now 6 months since the last minutes were posted. That's... that's really not okay.

As I understand it, the BIPOC board is a volunteer enterprise that can meet and post minutes at its own choosing. If for some reason they can't post the minutes here, they can post them somewhere else, which I think they have done in the past. I don't understand why it is loup's fault or the fault of site management/ownership if that group is not meeting regularly or not posting minutes regularly. In general, getting an-all volunteer organization to do anything regularly is really hard -- people get busy, they can't get together at the same time, etc. I get the point that loup said something about instituting a better process for the minutes, but is that really the thing that is preventing more regular meetings or minutes? To my memory, there were very few meetings or minutes for a long period that had nothing to do with loup.

I have been part of several volunteer efforts that didn't go anywhere, which I am sure is not a unique experience. The reason was usually that people got too busy, nobody stepped up to push everyone toward a goal, the goal was too diffuse or difficult, etc. It seems strange to me that people think the BIOPC board is any different and that it is somehow the fault of cortex or loup or someone that it hasn't achieved what people would like it to achieve.

I think, in general, and especially as the site moves to a not-for-profit/volunteer model, people should make more room for the idea that, sometimes, volunteer stuff is just hard and it isn't the fault of some historic grievance when things don't go as intended.
posted by Mid at 10:01 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


That would be a fabulous explanation to hear from the person in charge of the website, yes.
posted by bowbeacon at 10:02 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]


The BIPOC board is a volunteer board, but it's also a promise the site made to the membership. It's one of the site's main answers to, again, the extensive and serious issues that people were repeatedly reporting. It was the site's substitute for engaging in the conversations happening here in MetaTalk; it was an alternative channel to funnel community issues through that was intended, among other things, to make that input more manageable for the staff. It was a compromise to help members feel that site was actually responsive to and working on these issues, while avoiding big, public site discussions.

It felt at the time like a bit of a placating sop, but it had and has the potential to be more than that. If the board is not meeting, or if it's meeting but not giving much input, or if the input just gets stuck in months of limbo - then the site needs another answer to the question of how to get, listen to, implement, and be accountable on critical feedback from the userbase on social justice issues. Especially since the cortex, r_n, and loup all made it clear that they are not willing to participate in or respond meaningfully to difficult Meta threads on those topics.

If the meetings aren't happening, or the minutes aren't being posted, because participants are frustrated with the way the site is running the board or using its input, then that's something the site is responsible for. If it's that "nobody stepped up to push everyone toward a goal, the goal was too diffuse or difficult" - presumably that's what the professional moderator/facilitator leading the meetings is there for. If it's just life getting in the way for participants, then I'd expect to see the site call for more members of the board, or find ways to have asynchronous conversations, or otherwise do its best to help the board be a living, functioning thing.

We don't have any insight as to what is really going on, because the minutes from the several meetings that have happened over the last half year have not been posted.

You're right that loup isn't the one leading the BIPOC board (that's thyme). But loup is the only one interacting in these threads, by their own design. loup is also - as far as I can tell - the person in charge of all the other mods and of the site's management in general. I could be wrong; I don't actually know what the internal organizational structure is any more; I have asked about it in a previous thread; that was not a question that got an answer. If they are the manager, then ultimately they're responsible for how this site initiative is going.


I don't know. Like I said, I didn't start off this way, and used to look a bit askance at people being demanding of the staff in MetaTalk. But years of the same exact conversations, and the same exact excuses and the same exact silences, over and over, combined with some very externally visible mismanagement, make it difficult to keep cutting the same slack over and over again.

That previous thread I linked to is from August. I read all the staff responses again, just to make sure I hadn't missed anyone actually answering my question about the organizational structure. In that thread jessamyn listed more accountability, more transparency, more visible activity, and continued community check-ins and feedback as the big things the Steering Committee had identified as being important to the userbase. And loup said "my biggest goal has been leaving the site in better shape than I found it, and when the time comes, be able to hand over a site with better timelines in how we get things done, with more healthy finances and with more clear and streamlined moderation procedures." That is not just "keeping the lights on", nor should it be. It is not unreasonable for members to want accountability, transparency, and visible activity on the goals and initiatives the site has undertaken for itself.
posted by trig at 11:25 AM on January 4 [18 favorites]


I love the staff here, and moderating is hard. But working for MeFi shouldn’t give anyone cart blanche. When a couple of members of the previous team doubled down violently on why MeFi could NEVER be a nonprofit and stop harassing them about it already, it was very clear to me for the first time that as tricky as community moderation might be, it can’t be worse than the professional moderation we’ve come to expect.
posted by rikschell at 2:11 PM on January 4 [7 favorites]


people should make more room for the idea that, sometimes, volunteer stuff is just hard

This is precisely why the steering committee (on which I served) worked very hard to set up multiple avenues for fundraising that could be reused (they weren't) and why the steering committee consulted with an expert in volunteer/donor engagement and retention to help metafilter develop best practices for interacting with donors and volunteers. It sure doesn't look like any of that advice, which was so generously provided, was followed by the current administration once the steering committee was unable to perform its function anymore. The last fundraiser was an unbelievable slap in the face to everyone in the community, especially those who worked on the transition team and steering committee, and very especially the few SC members that worked incredibly hard to make that successful fundraiser happen.

This is not a question of old grievances coming up. This is a question of, how does a community respond/negotiate better circumstances/rebuild when its leaders are nearly completely absent and behave as if they are out of care for the community?
posted by twelve cent archie at 2:16 PM on January 4 [27 favorites]


Just chiming in to share what I can about the BIPOC Board minutes. They are pending approval. The reason the most recent minutes haven’t been updated is because they haven’t been approved, because we had to cancel our meetings the last two months, which further delayed our timeline in getting together and having the board approve minutes. First meeting we missed was because I had a family emergency and the second was because multiple members of the board including myself could not meet during the busy holiday season.

In summary, they’re pending approval and it’s on our agenda for our January meeting so stay tuned! Ps, im just responding with the knowledge I have and I will not be monitoring this thread.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 3:34 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]


A correction: Meeting 19 & 20 are approved pending action items on my part! I missed them due to my personal circumstances the last 2 months so I will get these changes done this month.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 5:17 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


In other words, your poor communication is actively and permanently harming the site's health.

For me it is the people demanding things from the small team, and calling the staff incompetent -- among other things -- that is driving me away.
posted by terrapin at 8:11 AM on January 5 [7 favorites]


For me it is the people demanding things from the small team, and calling the staff incompetent -- among other things -- that is driving me away.

100% this. The attitude of site members in these MetaTalk threads towards staff has definitely caused me to not want to be a part of this community any longer and I didn't bother to renew my contribution a while back because of it. I still read the site daily, but have no interest in interacting with any of you.
posted by Jawn at 8:51 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]


If you've read other comments in this thread you'll understand the context of that sentence, which is missing in your quote – context such as the many patient requests that preceded it, and details about actions and information that was repeatedly promised and then ignored, over and over again. Yes, I call that incompetence – certainly at communication, which is a pretty important part of the job when it comes to a community-funded website.

These drive-bys are tiresome tone-policing. You are basically saying it's unacceptable to ask things of the staff or to criticise them, no matter the history or the issues at stake which people have repeatedly and clearly detailed over and over and over again.
posted by adrianhon at 11:29 AM on January 5 [23 favorites]


I also think we should stop criticizing the staff. At this point, anyone donating money to the site knows exactly what they are getting into and I for one don't want to kink shame the non-sexual FinDom deal going on here.
posted by Jarcat at 11:56 AM on January 5 [6 favorites]


Have there been any recent updates about the process of forming the new non-profit? I think someone commented that it was taking longer than expected - any specifics available? Comments from members of the interim board?
posted by umber vowel at 12:29 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


It's simple for me. I donate monthly what I think the site is worth to me, and in return I get to use it without feeling like I'm not contributing my share. I'm happy to be giving money to people who are probably working here more as a labor of love than for the big bucks. I don't think anyone is getting rich off of MeFi.
I hope that the money is being used wisely and in a way that will make the site sustainable long term.
I'm glad to hear that income is > than expenses.
I understand that sometimes, as an employee, you just don't have the spoons to do some "simple 5 minute task" and answer all the resulting follow up questions, demands and suggestions.
I have faith that the transition to NPO will happen eventually and at that point, various financials will have to be made public for compliance reasons. In the long run, the people who are asking for more transparency are going to get what they want.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 12:36 PM on January 5 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the response, travelingthyme. I'm sorry to hear about your circumstances and hope things are okay or get better soon.

Meetings 19 & 20 are from 5 and 4 months ago, so - I don't know, is there any non-fighty way for a member to express the hope that there be someone acting as manager who follows up on things so that they don't fall between the cracks, and reassigns tasks when staff members are not in a position to handle them?


I hope that the money is being used wisely and in a way that will make the site sustainable long term.

I think that is everyone's hope here.
posted by trig at 1:25 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


As mentioned above, we’ll add a Profit and Loss report to each site update from now on. At the same time, providing detailed reporting, access and visibility to oversee where we are at to the Interim Board is a must and we are working with them.

Now, let me address the ongoing mention of how communication from my end is inconsistent, unreliable and evasive:
Yes, this needs to improve. Period. I understand how disrespectful it can come across. We’re beyond the point where I can ask for patience or understanding. While I do think MetaTalk is not the best format to address the community as this requires thoughtful and undivided attention while doing several other things, this doesn't change the fact that we can improve things. Together.

In the past 2 days 20+ super thoughtful and detailed comments from different members have been posted here, and there’s no way to address them all with the same level of thoughtfulness and detail they deserve while still doing moderation, logistics, payroll, team management, interviews, internal policy discussions, addressing tech issues with frimble, etc while working part time.

You deserve better. And both Jessamyn and I are working towards a better MeFi at the pace we can.

This is also part of why we are funneling reporting and creating all the necessary documentation for a successful handover through the Interim Board and not in an open thread.

As everyone has pointed out, pulling data and reports is easy and just a few clicks away, the main problem with how/when/who we share the data with is mostly tied to bandwidth. Unfortunately there's’ only so much I can get done on a 25hr/week schedule while trying to oversee everything else.

As I’ve mentioned before, “You may be right that, in the long run, I might not be the right person to keep the site running, and that is something I knew when I accepted this responsibility, moreover knowing that I only work part time and most of the work I do happens in-between moderating the site as well. That being said, my biggest goal has been leaving the site in better shape than I found it, and when the time comes, be able to hand over a site with better timelines in how we get things done, with more healthy finances and with more clear and streamlined moderation procedures. I’d like to think that progress is being made, slowly but steadily.

This is still the case, and when I said “we agreed to keep the lights on”, I’m not saying that is *all* we can and will do, I’m saying that the scope of my position here was different to what it is now, and we’ll keep working towards not only keeping the site afloat but to hand it over in way better shape than we received it. I do believe that is the path we are currently following.

There’s a lot more from the past comments that I would like to address right away, but it takes time, and I will slowly but steadily continue to reply and chime in as I’m allowed to.
posted by loup (staff) at 2:21 PM on January 5 [20 favorites]


Thank you loup, I really appreciate that. It can't have been easy to write and I truly appreciate it.

I also really do appreciate how difficult it is to do work when there are not enough paid hours to do it. That's the reason why I found the approach to the fundraiser, and the refusal to admit its failure, and the insistence that the site is healthy because income is greater than the current, insufficient, spending, so damaging to my trust. Metafilter can't be healthy until it can afford the level of spending that lets its work be done, and I hope that happens soon.

Thank you again.
posted by trig at 2:48 PM on January 5 [9 favorites]


Thank you trig. I do, indeed, understand where you are coming from. Sometimes, the overly optimistic tone you hear from me doesn't come from blindness or denial, it comes from a place of hope and from believing and seeing that this community does have better days ahead.
posted by loup (staff) at 2:56 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Thank you.
I think, ultimately, what many of us are asking for is to see solid foundations for that hope - and nonevasive acknowledgement where those foundations are not solid, and need help. Sometimes assessments that dress up problems can erode confidence rather than strengthen it.
posted by trig at 3:33 PM on January 5 [9 favorites]


I genuinely appreciate the note, Loup. I'll echo trig in saying it means a lot.
posted by adrianhon at 3:41 PM on January 5 [11 favorites]


Have there been any recent updates about the process of forming the new non-profit? I think someone commented that it was taking longer than expected - any specifics available? Comments from members of the interim board?

The interim board was delayed by the holidays. We expect to post an update thread soon.
posted by NotLost at 5:03 AM on January 6 [9 favorites]


Also, we had moved theoriginal proposed goal date of May 1 to July 1.
posted by NotLost at 5:05 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the update, NotLost!
posted by umber vowel at 9:17 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Reading though the thread here are some things I still think need to be addressed better:

BIPOC Board’s work and Past Minutes.

– Both Thyme and myself work as facilitators and support the Board but the Board works with a big degree of autonomy.

– They have been doing a lot of work. This includes but is not limited to: Advising on Policy changes/updates, gathering and analyzing data from site activity, overhauling the BIPOC Board landing page (still pending review/approval from the board).

– Back in October I caught up with all the Action items from past meetings and added notes to all them for the Board to review and approve.

– Both the November and December meeting were cancelled due to scheduling.

– I’m hoping to get the outstanding meeting minutes posted with everyone’s agreement and plan to bring up and prioritize the review of the Board’s methodology, note thanking and note sharing process after next week's meeting. It is my impression that we can simplify parts of the process to make it less labour intensive for both the Board and the staff.

I think ideally a monthly site-activity report should really be generated, too (with a rolling average smoothing things out over some longer period), but I don't have a sense of who currently on-board knows how to generate that, nor how time-consuming that is to do. (Is any/most of that gleanable from the infodump?

Thank you for bringing this up. We have a User Activity dashboard that will be shared with the Interim Board as part of the transition

plz let me know when it is legal to go back in the books and clean house
Thank you very much shakespeherian! Jessamyn has reached out to you via email about that!

I don't think anyone is getting rich off of MeFi.
I hope that the money is being used wisely and in a way that will make the site sustainable long term.


That is 100% correct. Currently, no one makes a profit out of the site, which is why becoming a non-profit makes so much sense now. All the net revue is kept to strengthen the site's reserves and all the site expenses are divided between Payroll (5 part-time mods with 103 hours per week distributed among them and up to 25 hours per week for Tech); Tools (like GSuite, Slack, etc.); and Web Hosting. Jessamyn, frimble and I are trying to keep the Tools and Web Hosting expenses to the minimum possible.


That's the reason why I found the approach to the fundraiser, and the refusal to admit its failure, and the insistence that the site is healthy because income is greater than the current, insufficient, spending, so damaging to my trust. Metafilter can't be healthy until it can afford the level of spending that lets its work be done, and I hope that happens soon.

While our main goal with this year’s fundraiser was to go back to doing the fundraising during the summer without putting too much pressure on the site members because the previous one wrapped up in January, 2023; we do recognize that this approach backfired and was unnecessarily stressful for everyone involved. Also, it overlapped with personal commitments I had scheduled months in advance and could not postpone them. Being in a totally different time zone during the fundraiser didn’t help either.

Other than that, both Jessamyn and I agreed that this was going to be a lighter fundraising because, yes, it was virtually impossible for a team of 2.5 people to do the same work as the SC (with 12 members and several volunteers) did in the previous one.

Regardless, a good part of the stress and disappointment from this is my responsibility and, in hindsight, I think this was something that could have been averted by sharing a more detailed picture about the state of the site’s finances. This is part of why we’ll prioritize sharing financial data with both the membership and the Interim Board.

If there is anything in this thread that you think still needs to be addressed, please let me know. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to chatting with you in next week’s site update.
posted by loup (staff) at 10:34 AM on January 10 [8 favorites]


Thanks for those updates!

On a different topic, since the RSS thread is locked, do we have a complete list anywhere of what the RSS feeds actually are?

These are the ones that I know of, but I could have missed some.

The subsites:
https://rss.metafilter.com/metafilter.rss
https://rss.metafilter.com/ask.rss
https://rss.metafilter.com/fanfare.rss
https://rss.metafilter.com/projects.rss
https://rss.metafilter.com/music.rss
https://rss.metafilter.com/jobs.rss
https://rss.metafilter.com/irl.rss
https://rss.metafilter.com/metatalk.rss

Popular posts:
https://rss.metafilter.com/bestof.rss

Popular comments:
https://rss.metafilter.com/popular-comments.rss

Podcast:
https://rss.metafilter.com/podcast.rss
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:09 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I'd forgotten about this, but it looks like every single tag generates an rss feed.

For instance here's the rss feed for all posts tagged with "internet."

And then also every post on each subsite generates an rss feed of its comments (like the one for this very thread).

(But I think these have always been hosted on MeFi itself -- the urls are just the original post or tags page url + "/rss" -- so I'd assume these aren't affected by this week's change.)
posted by nobody at 6:09 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Speaking of, I wonder if it might be possible/worthwhile to manually add an artificial post to the old version of each of the main feeds notifying subscribers of this change (without cluttering up the actual subsites).

In Feedly, it'll show you the number of other Feedly users subscribed to any particular feed, and those subscribed to the MetaTalk feed -- and thus seeing the notification here -- is just a fraction of those subscribed to the main one (or to Ask -- or even to "popular posts on metafilter").
posted by nobody at 6:22 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Thank you! I asked frimble yesterday to link MeFi's main RSS feeds on rss.metafilter.com and this should be added soon. I'll bring up the artificial posts in the old version of each of the main feeds as well.
posted by loup (staff) at 7:33 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Thank you for the update Loup.
Just to hopefully clarify/add to a few points (as BIPOC board member with reference to the board's internal notes/minutes, and as former SC member):

– I’m hoping to get the outstanding meeting minutes posted with everyone’s agreement and plan to bring up and prioritize the review of the Board’s methodology, note thanking and note sharing process after next week's meeting.

The outstanding meeting minutes to be posted are: Meeting #19 (Aug 2023), Meeting #20 (Sep 2023) and Meeting #21 (Oct 2023). The BIPOC board confirmed approval of Meeting #19 minutes and Meeting #20 minutes in October 2023 (during the October board meeting). (I think Thyme also mentioned this upthread.)

Other than that, both Jessamyn and I agreed that this was going to be a lighter fundraising because, yes, it was virtually impossible for a team of 2.5 people to do the same work as the SC (with 12 members and several volunteers) did in the previous one.

I hope it is ok for me to say this - I think some SC members have also mentioned this previously in other MeTas as well - much of the fundraiser in 2023 was primarily organized by a few SC members. Perhaps it might be a bit more accurate to say it was not so much the number of people that was a deciding factor in 2024's lighter fundraising (as you put it) as it was the bandwidth of the people (which in itself, I think, is also a valid reason - not everyone wants to choose to spend more time/energy fundraising when they are part-time paid staff, have other priorities outside work and personal commitments).

Currently, no one makes a profit out of the site, which is why becoming a non-profit makes so much sense now

I'm not sure this logic tracks, but I share your optimism about future changes and am glad MetaFilter is on a path towards becoming a non-profit with a (hopefully) better governance structure, new management and renewed focus on its community and members.
posted by aielen at 4:52 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Correction (and apologies for overlooking the typos), for accuracy/record:

*much of the fundraiser in 2022
*2023's lighter fundraising
posted by aielen at 3:53 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Thank you for the list of RSS feeds, TheophileEscargot. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to resubscribe from the information provided in the other post.
posted by hilaryjade at 4:43 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


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