Would you pay for access to Tildes?
Tildes is 100% donation-supported. It sounds great but I'm doubtful it's a sustainable model. Countless sites have started this way but ended up seeking other ways to monetize, including...
- Showing ads on the site
- Intermingling "sponsored posts" or "promoted posts" with regular posts, basically giving preferential treatment to content from users who paid for extra visibility (native advertising)
- Selling user data
- Cryptocurrency mining (either with user permission or on the sly)
- Opening a store for selling branded merch
- Periodic "pledge drive" fundraising campaigns
- Enacting paywalls
I've been thinking a lot about site monetization in the abstract lately. Some of these options are better than others. Personally, I'd draw a hard line against 1-4 on Tildes. I think all of those are in direct opposition to what this site is all about.
I think 5 is a "good in theory, but not in practice" idea. A merch store might generate enough revenue for the first few months but would see rapidly diminishing returns. It would have to resort to increasingly gimmicky promotions just to reach eyeballs and meet its goals.
I think 6 could be a popular option but I personally recoil from the annual hard-sell guilt trip. The recurring drama of "THIS COULD BE OUR LAST YEAR IF YOU DO NOTHING" is exhausting and paints the site's future as constantly in turmoil.
Finally we come to 7, the paywall. Traditionally I hate these too, especially when they block content like news that is available for free elsewhere. Sometimes they are "soft" paywalls that give you free access to an article (or the first few paragraphs of one) before they ask you to pony up. I feel that these are the worst form of paywall because they tease and frustrate users, and are often easily circumventable anyway.
That said, I think a "hard" paywall might actually be a good choice for Tildes. For starters, this is already a walled garden. We're actively trying to cultivate a community by not exposing the site to the wider world. That would at least make the transition to a paywall easier to swallow than if the site had been open the whole time.
It's 2018. By now it's evident to me that TANSTAAFL online. If you're not paying for something, you are the product. I'm a dyed in the wool cheapskate and I don't like opening my wallet to use a website, but at this point I'm even more tired of being treated like a commodity. If I'm going to invest in an online community, I'd much rather pay a small subscription for access than be jerked around in shady ways. I feel it's the most honest and straightforward solution for a site like this.
Caveats are that it would need to be cheap. Really cheap, like $1 a month. I don't know what the site's operating expenses are, but I would hope something in that ballpark would cover them, at scale. Also @Deimos would face the temptation to implement multiple options from the list as time goes on. Like, after we're used to the paywall, he might want to add "unobtrusive" ads too, or start selling "non-identifiable" user information. I think it's vital that the site never compromise like that. Raise the price if it comes to that, but don't get greedy. A page in the docs formalizing some promises about respecting users would be a nice thing to put on the record.
What are your thoughts? I should say that I'm talking about the future here, I think it's way too early to put up a paywall now. The community would have to be large and mature enough to justify a paid subscription to it, and we're not there yet.
It's a bit of an aside, but something I've been thinking about lately that's pretty interesting is that when your goal is just "sustainable" (which it is for Tildes), you can actually just choose to stop growing once you've reached that point. For almost all other sites, this isn't even an option to consider—obviously you need to keep growing as large as possible.
But for example, if Tildes got to something like a few hundred thousand users (tiny in internet-community terms) and was already bringing in enough donations that the site is completely sustainable and the users are happy, why would you want to keep growing past that point? Of course you wouldn't want to close the site off completely and still have some slow growth through user invites and such, but there wouldn't really be any need to search for large influxes any more (and could even specifically avoid them).
Haha wow, I was wondering if he'd delete that eventually. I saved a copy of it a while ago because I fully expected him to.
Call me cynical but...
The odds of him responding to you: 0.0%
The odds that deletion of the blog post was intentional (especially considering how often I have seen it linked in redesign related posts): 100%
Well I’ll be damned... Cynicism proven unfounded. Kudos to Alexis.
kind of reminds me of what happened with the post about eglin when they did their redesign...
I like this method of approach. As exclusive as it sounds, I'd rather keep tildes alive by limiting (or completely stopping) the growth of the site so it becomes self-sustaining instead of allowing it to keep on growing and consequently run into money issues. Growing too large also creates more issues besides funding the site so maybe prohibiting growth at a certain level is the best way to run the site.
The idea of slow growth after a certain point could be achieved by some sort of limited invite system, where each user would receive an invite every month or so. Other methods could be implemented to make sure that the site consisted of actual active users, for example an account that hasn't been used in over two months could be terminated. By used I mean they have actually viewed the webpage, not that they have to comment or post every once in a while to keep their account active.
This constant deletion and activation of accounts would hopefully allow the userbase size to slowly reach a constant number (or thereabouts), and also allow a few new users to register every once in a while who have maybe been wanting to join. Reducing the number of inactive accounts would also hopefully increase site interaction as dead accounts would be replaced by new, fresh active ones.
I don't think kicking out inactive users would be necessary for any reason. That doesn't really gain anything, and trying to keep the site at a constant number of users doesn't accomplish anything on its own. It's only the registration of new accounts that needs to be restricted, not the number of existing ones.
Surely the removal of inactive accounts would give way to new active ones which would increase site activity, something I'm guessing you always want to keep as high as possible? Chances are most accounts will be kept active anyway considering the site is invite-only and therefore slightly more valuable than an open-registration made account.
Only if the site has some arbitrary restriction like "no more than 100,000 accounts". But that's what I'm saying—there's no reason to have some sort of strict cutoff like that.
I see what you mean now, you'd rather keep growth controlled and not total numbers?
Gotcha, I can imagine maintaining the growth rate will be rather easy if it's kept invite only. Any idea on how you're going to decide whether you're going to keep it that way? Personally I'm in favour of keeping it invite only, the idea that everyone is connected to everyone through one big family tree is a cool thought.
I don't know exactly, I think we'll just have to see how it goes. Like I said, if the site gets large enough and is self-sustaining while it's invite-only, there's really no reason that it needs to switch to public registration. But if invite-only can't get us there, we'll probably have to try making it public for a while (and could always go back to invite-only if we want).
Yeah I agree, it’ll definitely be a case of reading the current situation and adapting the registration system to suit it. I have faith that invite-only will work, especially if a cascading effect occurs where five invites leads to five users which then leads to 25 invites and so on.
inactive users don't cost money
Very true, surely a simple script that removed inactive users every once in a while wouldn't really do any harm though? I know it doesn't affect the site either way, but it would be nice to have a high ratio of active users to registered users.
Imagine if you're away on vacation for a month or something, and come back to find your account deleted. Would that be a good experience that encourages you to sign up for the site again? I think deleting accounts would be a lot more harmful than just leaving them around.
True I never even thought of something like that happening, definitely will end up doing more bad then good. My opinion on the matter has definitely changed, you made some very good points I didn't really consider beforehand.
Sounds like some private tracker site. Once they reach a certain threashold, they will stop accepting new user until the next purge of “bad” users.
No. I might throw in a couple bucks here and there as donations, but I do not have the kind of fuck around money to commit to regular payments.
Yeah, Tildes is pretty good already, and has huge potential, but there's thousands (and thousands) of forums out there that are free and supported by donations.
I think OP is heavily overreacting anyway. It's not expensive to run a text only site. Tildes users already seem passionate enough that I'm sure donations could cover it. I've seen bigger sites manage fine.
And, as @deimos says above, there's a lot to be said for NOT trying to be "the biggest" and just finding a nice balance point.
This generally holds true but the caveat to Tildes is that it is not at all intended as a for-profit venture. So there's not really a product to be sold either way. The donation system exists to help pay for servers, and potentially to give Deimos the money needed to devote more time to it. But hosting a simple message board without advanced user tracking, jesus features, image/video sharing, or ad systems is a lot cheaper then an operation like Reddit.
When a time actually comes where Tildes operation costs are far larger then donations can actually cover it might be good to look at additional montization options, but if Wikipedia can run their operations on donations only I'm confident Tildes can as well.
I would not pay for a subscription. I am much more likely to donate. I don't mind Wikipedia's model.
Also, @deimos has mentioned the idea of grants being used to help cover things, so that's a possibility.
I could agree with 1$/mo to be able to partecipate. Recurring plan, unsubscribe whenever you want.
But, free reading access to everyone, without need of registration.
A declaration of intent would be required by the owner(s) of tildes.
Pledge drives like what Wikipedia does would be OK. I'm not really into any of the other ideas.
Considering that sites like Wikipedia are still up and running to this day, I can imagine that tildes will operate perfectly fine on donations for a large amount of time, especially considering the controlled growth. Wikipedia must be used by millions every day, but only a tiny tiny percentage of people must actually end up donating at all. Tildes can probably easily hold itself up on donations considering that most users want to be here to create or read discussions. The site isn't used as a tool like Wikipedia is, it's a place to communicate with others. I think people will be more inclined to donate to a community to keep it alive than to a tool, so tildes should be okay for a while I think.
I'm sure we'll be made aware of any issues with funding and at which point yes a new solution to keeping the site running may need to be made.
Your post made me think about the difference between a walled garden and an open site. From what I've seen so far, it feels like many at this early stage (at least the most vocal folks) are hoping for a site that works on a level 'above' the typical open forum.
I'm interested to know if anyone here has had long term membership in any other walled gardens and how that worked out as far as sustainability. For the record, at present, I'm neutral.
Metafilter is a good example of a long term walled garden that has proven sustainable. So walled gardens can be made to work long term, but IMO you do lose a lot of potential for interesting sub communities developing and flourishing on the site by doing so.
If the intended systems on ~ (trust, accountability for actions, tagging/filtering, etc) designed to help prevent quality drop at scale wind up working it may not be necessary to completely wall this site off and we can get the best of both worlds... but if they don’t, as @deimos said, at least walling it off and/or relying on gradual, controlled growth is still an option here once it’s sustainable.
I disagree with everything except cryptos and fundraising.
I don't think 1-3 will ever be used, just because what this site is about. Cryptocurrencies is on the border - I think, that if mining was opt-in and 100% optional, it shouldn't be a problem, many users may agree to support Tildes by letting the website mine on their HW while they are reading. I don't see this as privacy violation, so I don't see any problem, as long as it would be opt-in.
Opening store seems unrealistic to me and I don't think Tildes could make enough money to run the site.
Fundraising campaigns looks like Tildes best bet, as userbase here is already willing to donate money and do it without extra campaigns - but I don't know how many, maybe @Deimos will tell us if he actually gets enough money that way.
I'm strictly against paywalls - let the users decide, if they want to pay for Tildes. As soon as Tildes establish paywall, most its users will just leave it. Let's keep donating optional, don't lock features away from users. This will not help Tildes in a long run.
I pay a dollar or two a month to a number of sites and projects that I want to see continued quality content from, so I'm not opposed to the idea of a Patreon-type or even a paywall model, so long as reading was still free and cheap memberships could be easily gifted like Reddit gold. Monetization is a problem on the internet, and I really prefer when I can just pay someone honestly for content or access instead of having them sell my data or try desperately to get around my ad blocker for fractions of pennies while degrading the site experience.
If we ever have to pay a subscription, I would hope it's something tiny. Like college-student-on-a-budget tiny.
The problem I have always had with mandatory payment up front to register or mandatory subscription models is that what is affordable for “college student on a budget” in Europe or NA isn’t necessarily affordable for people elsewhere in the world, especially the developing world. And not everyone has a credit card or access to an International payment option either.
I would be vehemently against either for that very reason. IMO, ~ should see if donations and other acceptable alternatives (e.g. opt-in crypto mining, fundraisers for features, cosmetic rewards, etc) are sufficient before it takes any drastically restrictive steps.
One thing MetaFilter does is charge new users a one-time $5 fee at signup. This helps defray operating costs but mostly serves as a small hurdle to keep the low-effort posting riffraff out. There is also a 7-day waiting period after signup before you can post anything. I think that's a decent way to discourage frivolous noise.
Would I pay to use tildes? No. Would I buy the app? Yes.
Why would you give the money to a random developer instead of to Deimos's own non-profit organisation? It's not the developer who's building this website or paying for the infrastructure to keep it running.
Wouldn't something akin to reddit gold be a decent option? It'd be useful to mark quality discussions while also funding the project. Or does that violate the site philosophy in some way?
I wouldn't pay a subscription for Tildes, no. I could live with Something Awful's model of paying once for registration
After posting I thought of an 8th option: Premium accounts. Something like Reddit Gold, I guess. That's not a bad idea either, provided the premium tier offers meaningful perks, without leaving non-paying users feeling jilted. Reddit shows ads for regular users and hides them for Gold users, but I'd prefer Tildes never show ads to anyone, ever.
I wouldn't pay to access a website/social network/reddit.
I have no idea on how to make money out of a website
Can we please stop with this if you're not paying then you're the product line already?
If you go and spend five minutes with Facebook's Ad Manager or Google's AdSense you'd find out the whole idea bears little relation to how these things really work. Not just that, it's necessarily the case, because the whole concept of selling targeted advertising space doesn't work as a business model without the user's demographics being kept secret, permanently, from the ad buyer.
Googbook doesn't have one customer and one product. It has two customers and two products. You, and advertisers; adverts, and web services. Advertisers pay with cash and get to target ads to specific groups of people, you pay with your eyeballs and get social networking/email/etc. YOU are not being sold at any point. Admittedly FB has a habit of giving away user's profile data because it's worthless to them and Zuck has weird ideas about privacy - but they sure as hell keep the good stuff, the ad demographic data, safe because that's their entire revenue stream. You're paying, because you're a customer - you're just not paying using money.
I'm fine with any means of monetisation. I don't mind paying for a product, I'd rather pay with eyeballs or CPU cycles (lol, might as well milk that particular scam while it lasts, eh?) than cash, but whatever is OK with me. Make ads optional, I'll turn 'em on quite happily. Some adverts really aren't that big a deal. Sell my "personal data", whatever that even means - I'm not remotely important or interesting anyway, I don't care about any of that.