It’s been a few days since the fundraising post went up, so I wanted to give you an update on where things are at:
- First, thank you all so much, you exceeded expectations, hopes and dreams. I’m not closing the gofundme because more funds now set the date at which we have to be self-sustaining further into the future, and that makes everything more possible.
- We can roll to the end of the season, get the blog actually polished up and perfected, and gradually make decisions about subscription models.
- We have chosen a blogging platform — we actually have had for some time — and I’m at 99.9% on a professionally made theme. Both the backend and the theme are cutomizable, so that’s been my focus for a few weeks, learning how to do that. So far that’s been one 15 minute video on Handlebars and a half an hour on their docs page (ain’t this just PHP wrapped up in JS to run on the front-end and the back?) The CSS seems to need four different tools to produce!!!! (Good lord, people, do developers now have a robot to tie their shoes, and another one to bring the laces, a third to get the shoes, and a fourth to do the walking?)
- I’ve started setting up an admin and bookkeeping process, which I learned to do on paper, so a spreadsheet is a luxury (said in a Yorkshire accent).
- We are in the early stages of testing a commenting system I’m really hoping is going to work out — more on that in a bit.
- I’ve got all the intel on doing some kind of merchandise sales and setting that up technically.
- Still to do is nailing down the process for transfer and opening on the new backend. And a host of other things, technical, design, actually setting up the permanent site accounts and paying for things. And all the other things I don’t know that I don’t know.
I’ve spent most of the last month looking at commenting platforms. We’re going with Ghost as the blogging platform for a bunch of reasons, not least because it is an open source software, and if the day ever came where we wanted to self-host, that’s actually possible. It’s also flexible, has a lot of options to build in features, but not too many. Wordpress is like learning a whole new sport, whereas Ghost is just like getting up to speed on a new team.
In the beginning Ghost did not build in comments. They were ideologically opposed to them based on a paradigm of blog/news/magazine publishing that was solely a broadcast model. Comments on broadcast media are horrible. (I don’t mean television here, I mean media where there is a clear divide between the producer who broadcasts to a consumer.) Eventually they were convinced that communities exist that aren’t just reply guys shouting at writers. But their native comments are new and feature poor (on purpose I think). The deal breaker with those is they aren’t realtime loading.
Ghost is designed to allow you to plug in almost anything appropriate — including stuff you write yourself, which makes me go hmmmm. And the most commonly used comment plugin for people who want realtime commenting and other features is Disqus. I took a decently long look at it.
I have a Disqus account, a lot of people do, if only from a social media sign-in. And that’s the thing. Disqus is a thing over here you have an account with and it aggregates your activity everywhere. It’s got some good features — both for users and for moderation — and it looks okay, functions well and isn’t absurdly expensive for ad-free versions.
Recently they did an update, and I looked at their blog and the entire set of comments to that post on the redesign was vitriol about how bad, oh so very bad it looks. And look, first of all, I’d not put up with that. “Thanks for the eye cancer” was one comment that basically was just childish whining that’s it’s different. That’s the cool thing on the internet. Yell at the maker of the service you use for free like you’re the Pope and Michelangelo carved you a statue you don’t like.
But underneath all of that, Disqus does look like some other thing than the site it’s on, and that separate account is a friction that you all just don’t need, considering there is going to be friction aplenty involved in this change. Many things will look different, be different, feel different. I’m going to be writing a lot of How To pages.
The plugin we’re testing right now is visually customizable to take on the colour and look of the site — and to correct the developer delusion that people want to read pale grey text. It’s also customizable in terms of what it allows users to do, what it allows the moderation to be, and it can be set up to piggyback off the site’s own sign-in while still giving users some control over notifications.
There’s one thing we’re never going to get out of a commenting system and that’s the z-key functionality. We were all a little shocked when SBN didn’t include that in their redesign at first, and the reason is likely that everyone sorts comments and forums into different categories, and they don’t think to put forum tools on comment systems. It doesn’t meaningfully exist out in the wild in a form we can use.
The system we’re testing threads well, has some collapse functionality, let’s you block other users, flag comments, up-vote them to turn them colours, and use the kind of formatting and embedding we’re used to. It’s not a WYSIWYG editor, so you can actually preview to make sure your comment looks right, they are editable, and basically there’s not much wrong with the system beyond the few things it doesn’t do.
From the site’s side of the equation, there is some automatic moderation, anti-spam tools, controls on how much loads on a server request and a bunch of other useful things. I found it all very easy to figure out how to use, which given the weight of other things I need to get my head round — oh, and write some stuff and watch some hockey — that’s a plus.
I think this is going to be it.
But this post is not really about what’s going well; rather, it’s about the things that will change — the friction that will come. Get your head round that, accept there will be changes, and it will be easier to take in.
Changes can mean very positive things too, so the removal of a lot of clutter — just dumping all those “sponsored content” horror show ads is going to be glorious — but the field is wide open here to make a site where you can actually find the things you want to read.
You know what, though, I’m really going to miss that “We’re building great things at Vox” block in the middle of the article list.