MetaTalk: MetaFilter revenue update: holy cow, y’all!

Recently, I announced that MetaFilter was in serious financial trouble, and asked you to help with additional community funding of the site.

Y’all have really, really come through. Recurring contributions supporting the site are up by almost $10,000 a month and growing, erasing our current shortfall and helping move MetaFilter toward a more sustainable, independent revenue model. Community funding alone now covers very nearly half our operating budget. That’s amazing.

Come on in and I’ll give you the details on what’s happened and what we’re up to next.

WHAT HAPPENEDTwo weeks ago I told you all that MetaFilter had an $8K/month revenue shortfall. And I asked you all for help defraying that. My hope was we could cut that rate of loss back some, reduce the shortfall by a few thousand dollars a month to buy us more time to work on other revenue-generating stuff and sort out budget cuts.I had no doubt the MetaFilter community would help. You’ve all been generous before in your insistence on supporting the site, and you’ve convinced us to ask for help when we need it, and that by itself means the world to me and reassured me even as we were facing down this financial difficult new financial situation. You said ask for help, we asked for help.But you didn’t just help. You didn’t just reduce the shortfall. You eliminated it entirely, with room to spare. As of right now, MetaFilter members and readers and well-wishers are currently contributing an additional $9,500 per month compared to this point in May. That’s more than double what our community-funding levels were before. It fully covers the eight thousand dollar shortfall and gives us an extra fifteen hundred dollars a month to build into savings. On top of that, we’ve recieved over $30,000 in new one-time contributions to the site, which has put our savings into immediately better shape.I can’t say thank you enough. I can’t express my gratitude sufficiently. You’re all amazing. Not just because we’re breathing easier now than we were two weeks ago, but because this demonstrates a level of commitment to a long-term community-funded future for MetaFilter that puts us on far steadier ground than we have ever been. If this is what an independent web community looks like, you all have helped show that that is an accomplishable goal, that MetaFilter’s future doesn’t just come down to hoping the ad market holds out.We’ve got a bunch of work to do still. We’ve had a very busy couple weeks, and we’re working on stuff right now and have a lot of stuff queued up for the near future. I’ll sum that up below as best I can. But, just…thank you. Again and again. Thank you all.WHAT’S NEXTFirst off: probably needless to say, but I don’t consider this a “problem solved!” situation. The revenue dive you all have helped us recover from came from a big drop in the ad income we have historically depended on, but there’s no guarantee that that’s the end of any problems there. So I am very much taking this as a prompt to plan for the possibility of future problems along those same lines. All the stuff I talked about in the post a couple weeks back still stands as work we need to do, work I need to do. Best case scenario we’ll end up in a really positive revenue situation in the long run and build up a really great savings to work from; worst case scenario, we’ll be better prepared to deal with future downturns by embracing a business model focused on fostering and supporting community-funding of the independent web. So I am deeply relieved right now, but not resting on my laurels.In the last couple weeks we’ve gotten a ton of worthwhile input from the MetaFilter membership, in original State of the Site thread and a bunch of subsequent MetaTalk discussions; thanks also to the various folks who reached out over the contact form or dropped me a line directly via mefimail and email. It’s been a really heartening level of brainstorming, community self-reflection, and well-wishing. It’s also a lot to work with and through!So as a team we’re sorting through all that and setting out priorities for what we can tackle immediately, what we can tackle soon, and what we’ll be focusing on as bigger, longer-term projects. Over the next few weeks we’ll be easing from the bustle of intense community discussion of the last little bit- and the collating and processing of info coming out of that-into getting small changes implemented, starting new discussions of individual aspects of site practice and culture and features, and getting some of our more significant feature development stuff ready to roll out.I’ll run down some of those various things we’re working on:1. Advertising revenue. I’m looking at where we can tweak the existing Adsense units we’re using; they’ve got a couple newer programs I’m exploring and there’s spots we’ll try to adjust our existing ads a little to kick up revenue without going nuts with the ad coverage. If you read logged-out sometimes, you may see ad units page layouts change some, though no big changes in the type or behavior of ads. I’m also talking with a couple independent ad folks; we’ll likely very soon start testing one or more small ad types visible to logged-in users up at the top of front pages, replacing what used to be The Deck ads for many years.2. Affiliate revenue. We recently added international Amazon referrer links, so folks outside the .com market can support the site that way. Right now those links are on the fundraising page; we’re gonna work out a way to make those links more visible on the site, and add some documentation on how they work, what tools are available for making them more convenient to use, etc. We’re also going to roll out some OneLink code to make it so existing Amazon affiliate links in comments automatically redirect to the appropriate regional store as well, which will be helpful for both MeFites and, crucially, for drive-by search traffic who wouldn’t ever go looking for our dedicated affiliate links in the first place. I am starting to explore some other good-reputation affiliate possibilities as well for the kind of sites MeFites are likely to be linking to or shopping at already; more on that as it comes.3. Operating budget. I’m continuing to look at possible trimmings on our monthly hosting costs with AWS, which may save us a little money month to month. I also decided earlier this month as a first-cut move to reduce my own pay by a bit before looking at any staff-wide cuts, to help us hit budget until things steadied out. The way revenue is going with the new community contributions, it looks like that cut can be temporary instead of a long-term move, which is a relief; that we don’t need to look at any other payroll cuts now at all is much bigger one.4. Community funding and subscriptions. We talked a lot in the State of the Site post about focusing more in the future on supporting a formal subscription process for the site. That’d mean moving from the “hey, contribute if you can” indirect process we’re currently using to something tied explicitly to membership. It’ll still be pay-what-you-can-it’s essential to me that MetaFilter remain a site you can use regardless of your means or financial circumstances, even if that’s literally zero dollars-but it’d allow us to normalize the expectation that this place costs money to maintain and needs ongoing community support. I’m exploring a bunch of options for the subscription-management aspect of that; we’re also working on increasing the visibility of community funding appeals and info on the site long-term. One small change we’ve already made: the “I help fund MetaFilter!” message you can optionally display on your profile page now links to the funding page directly, instead of to an FAQ entry.5. Helping folks communicate with the mod team. Hearing from folks about problems, concerns, etc on the site is essential to us doing our jobs well. Flagging helps, so does using the contact form. But folks have been clear that there’s ways we can help supplement that, and we’re working on a couple specific things right now to this end: making the contact form link much easier to reach on mobile by getting it into the menu bar on the Modern theme mobile view, and working to very soon do a final test and public roll out of the free-form text field flagging option we’ve had in an almost-there state for a long while now.6. Making MetaFilter easier to understand, join, and share content from. This is a big topic with a lot of moving parts, but a few things we’re looking actively: making gift accounts free so members can more easily invite new folks on to the site; modernizing some of the signup content and FAQs to make it quicker to get the basic ideas of the place; working on an all-subsites landing page for easier browsing of content; and looking at a single-comment view or related approaches to sharing a small, fast-loading, easy-to-parse bit of a larger (sometimes much larger) thread. I’m also revisiting some ideas about tweaking the default view of the site to be a bit more, well, MetaFiltery: bringing back colored theming by default (though logged-in users will still have full control of their preferences there), reviewing some little look-and-feel things in our typography and color schemes, etc.7. Encouraging fun, interesting, makes-your-day-better-not-worse posts and engagement on the site. Some of this is features, some of this is culture & community work, and we’re looking at both. Revamping FanFare to be much easier to parse and find stuff on is an ongoing project; we’re aiming to support and highlight good/cool/fun/neat posts through community-wide posting initiatives and regular sidebarring; we’re going to filter politics megathread content out of the Popular Favorites view to make it a less grim and monotone list and more of the joyful/interesting mix it had traditionally been; we’ll be revisiting and discussing some of the site’s posting guidelines to make sure they’re serving the site and community well; and we’ll continue to have public discussions and do behind-the-scenes mod work to try and help people find a way to balance the need to stay informed and active in a weird and hard timeline with the goal of having MetaFilter be one of the good things in their day, not the first bad part of it.8. Working to improve on recurring conflicts and sources of friction in conversation. This is a complicated, progress-by-increments subject and one that’s going to require a mix of moderator work (via both in-thread moderation guidance and some private discussion with users) and collective effort from the MetaFilter membership as we try to steer some of our worse conversational patterns back toward a focus on kindness and patience and benefit of the doubt where possible. That exists in some tension with the need to continue to reject some of the toxic rhetoric and behavior that makes a lot of the internet uninhabitable, so it’ll need a lot of deliberate attention and there’s no silver bullet for it. But I know it’s something we can make some progress on, and I want to clearly acknowledge the need to do so as a major topic of discussion over the last couple weeks and as something we’re putting a lot of focus on as a mod team as we move forward.9. Merch! We’re gonna make some more merch, because dang it merch is fun. There’s been some good brainstorming both in the original State of the Site post and in the dedicated merch chatter thread, and I’ve been digging through some possibilities for getting some new stuff available in a low-friction way, so we’re hoping to get some new stuff on offer shortly and to roll out additional stuff periodically so it’s not just a once-in-a-great-while sort of deal.That’s a pretty good summary. It’s not everything, but it’s a lot and represents a lot of ongoing and future work, so we’ll be getting to it all in bits and pieces.As we roll out or prep a new feature or initiative or point of community discussion, we’ll be putting up subject- and feature-specific MetaTalk posts so folks can comment, brainstorm, etc. I’m hoping we’ll be able to tackle something new every week or so for a while, as frimble’s able to get stuff implemented and the mod team is able to put together the framework for discussing this or that issue.I’m also going to aim to just update MetaTalk with shorter, more frequent “here’s how things are going” posts for the foreseeable future, vs. the less frequent, more omnibus posts we’ve had previously. I want to keep you all in the loop on where we’re at, even when stuff’s mostly just motoring along month to month.There’s a lot going on so I appreciate y’all bearing with us on this and for being so involved and thoughtful in discussions of where the site is at and where it can go.And, again, again, thank you all for the outpouring of financial support. There is no question now that community funding is and will be not just a helpful but a fundamental part of this place’s business model. If you’re able to help out there, please do; we’re a long way from being totally ad-independent still, but the events of the last couple weeks have put me into a place of believing that it’s an achievable long term goal, and every little step forward there matters.I’ll stop typing, promise. I just want to reiterate, one more time, that the MetaFilter community is a remarkable group of people and I feel incredibly lucky that this is the kind of place I get to work and, more importantly, to call my online home.

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