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|The Exponential Growth of WebmasterWorld in 2002|
managing the explosive growth we've seen this year.
We've seen our traffic increase 3 fold in both uniques and pvs since the start of the year. There are some stresses on the system we are discussing how to approach.
a) Pre-moderation. All threads would require moderator approval before public posting.
b) Voting and public moderation. There would be a system where posts could be voted on by users. You would be able to set your own "twit list" level where messages below that level would not be included.
c) Members only. All members would have to log in.
d) Subscribers only. All members would pay a subscription fee.
Which one would you vote for and why? (one vote only please)
ugh.. I've been at work all day covertly following this thread... and I just can't get rid of the icky 'hairs raised on back of neck' feeling.... so here's my two cents.
Option 1: I'm not a 'new thread starter' as it is. Maybe I'm an exception, but I'll spend ages searching and reading back through forums rather than have to put my lack of knowledge in the limelight and ask a new question. If I knew I was gonna be vetted when I did get round to asking a question... well, I'd just never ask. a "NO" vote.
Option 2: Please please please no. Popularity contests are not my thing. Posts on more obscure but still important areas would end up marginalised. Some of these threads I have seen explode into wonderful creative and debate threads would never get off the ground. Ref. 3 column liquid CSS layout thread of a couple weeks ago.
option 3: I found this place through an SE. If it's going to interfere with SE placement, I'd be wary. New people are lifeblood to a place like this. OK, they start out newbies and maybe create more than their fair share of noise, but those that stick around are next years' gurus (no offense to the existing gurus, who will of course be elevated to deity status :) )
option 4: It's the "only" that worries me. The future issue again. This year might be rosy, but you end up with ever decreasing membership circles.
The international exchange rate is a big issue. Here in New Zealand we're not as exchange-poor as a lot of countries, but our dollar is currently worth about .46 of the USD, and it's been as low as .42 this year. Someone mentioned possibly $15 per month - converted to NZD that's a whole week's worth of my wages each year. I couldn't do it. The whole web thing is a combination hobby/dream for me at the moment. I hope it will become more, but right now it already costs me a fair bit and I have to watch every penny.
That said, I would happily pay, but it would need to be a nominal or flexible amount. If a note were put around every few months 'time to donate', yes, I definitely would contribute what and when I could.
The most vital and thriving chat site I know of has unrestricted access and posting for visitors. They recognise these are their future paying members. Paying members get to reserve their handles, own private rooms, messaging, customisable handles, etc.
There's another SE promotion-focused site around who has a few tools, eg, density analyser, etc, which are free trial for a month or so, and after that if you donate over a certain amount ($10), you can continue to have access to the tools for the next year. It's the first site I've ever handed money over to (barring anti-virus subs).
I can certainly see the benefit here at WebmasterWorld of reserving handles for all members in that it creates are more responsible attitude when posting - 'this is the name you chose, don't get it dirty' - but I was surprised to find that as a new, non-paying member I had sticky mail. Perhaps certain benefits could be attached to contributions - the ability to send sticky mail (perhaps you could still receive from mods, etc), perhaps access to some of the tools from SE World - the density analyser, etc, become tools for contributing members. non paying members could have a month's trial of the tools.
Could something be done in such a way that there is an added benefit attached to being a contributing member, rather than a penalty attached to being a non-contributing member?
I dunno.. it's a bugger of a decision, and I don't envy you having to make it.
My choice would be:-
c) Members only. All members would have to log in.
And hey, Brentt, how about adding a commercial services section where people can offer classified ad services of one sort or another (consulting, graphics, SEO, etc.) for a fee. Not that I'm personaly interested in doing this, but I know some people who might be and would pay a fee to have a professional martket to advertise to.
Oh, and one last comment Brett, is there some way of keeping the SE Guys out of a private paid forum? IMHO those guys have really toned down the dialog in your forum because we know what they're really up to and it's not in the best interest of the SEO folks. IMHO they are the ultimate takers and non-givers.
I'll pay a lot to have private dialog about SEO without having the foxes in the hen house.
[edited by: mayor at 10:24 am (utc) on Aug. 23, 2002]
"keeping the SE Guys out of a private paid forum"
what about the girls? we can be just as bad if not worse ;)
Chauvenist pig that I am, all girls should be allowed in our presence, lol.
Option D - This is the most professional, informative SEO forum in the world, let's keep it that way.
I think a subscription fee is workable, and had some thoughts on how you might do it and also provide some info for the public and be picked up by crawlers, as well.
It occurs to me that some of the best threads are those with many posts -- you can often see these are issues everyone is contributing to, topics very "hot."
Perhaps the first 10 or 20 posts on any topic are made freely accessible. However, to view beyond these initial topics, you'd have to have paid subscription fee.
That way, some general stuff gets shared with everyone, yet there is the incentive for people who really understand the value of information at WW to become members.
i think youd find most posts stopping at the 20 mark though!
To be honest I feel the best option would be "d" and I think you will struggle to find people who would not be willing to pay. One suggestion, why do you not have only the post reply or start topic pages protected that way users can still surf the site but cannot post unless they are paid up members. This would also allow se spiders to crawl WebmasterWorld. Another option would be to allow say for example 10 free posts before a member signs up. These free posts would be looked at by a mod before being listed in the boards. Get them hooked and they will pay for sure :)
Well let's just all pay Brett some dough and end this thread.
Brett don't go to subscription and lose all of your traffic, just move to a modest pay to post fee and perhaps approach the major SE's for some kind of contribution as they probably save themselves on some bloated marketing research costs by reading your forums. Contribution on it's way next week.
Back on a)
I was thinking that moderation at the start of a thread might be appropriate for the Google forum only, since that seems to be going wild.
The worry there is that you will get folks bursting in with off topic questions about Google-problems in the middle of threads.
There needs to be a way to channel people to Google FAQ/Knowledge base /before/ they post a new topic in Google. How about a screen when a new member posts "New Topic" in Google forum that leads them to an expanded G. knowledge base/FAQ plus the search function or the choice of posting. Members with a higher post count would not encounter this.
Several people have mentioned that we need to lead folks to the basic information already available before they ask a question that has been already asked 50 times before. That would seem to getting to the heart of one of the problems.
With option D you would kill this site instantly. Very few people will be willing to pay for a forum like this because they can easily go elsewhere and get the same information for free. The reason the Internet has been so successful is because of this reason. You can find just about any information on any subject for FREE
I have experience the same evolution with 2 very successful forum's (or fora?) recently. Same questions, same answers, same reactions.
One went the way of paid subscription, the second started monitored advertising.
The first is dead now, the second is expanding and even getting better thanks to more resources...
a) Pre-moderation of new threads. I think Brett is correct that it wouldn't impact on new threads timing too much. The mod crew has a good geographic spread, and a few of us seem to be connected 24/7. The problem I do see with this option is that I think it would prove a disincentive for new members/lurkers to start a thread (which is a good thing in some cases, but not always). I agree that it would tend to defocus topics as well, as many people would probably rather ask a question in an existing thread, than submit a new thread for "approval". Its a psychological thing.
b) Voting/public moderation. I'm not sure about this. I think it would introduce a bias against non-native English speakers and newbies asking questions that are important to them, which would degrade the member-focussed nature if the board. I think it would make it more difficult for those members with relatively narrow interests/skills to get fully involved.
Strange as it may seem, there are some members who almost never read the Google forum, and hang out here for the technical expertise available in the Browsers/HTML, Scripting or Graphics forums for instance. As they are fairly minority subjects, they would tend to be sidelined.
The only workaround I can think of it to allow separate filter values per forum, but that is 1) more work for the members, 2) probably fairly resource hungry
c) Requiring login. Don't like it at all. It would solve some problems, but I think that it would seriously restrict the flow of new members. The purpose of this exercise is to manage growth, not kill it. Thumbs down for c)
d) Subscriptions. With a couple of caveats, its not a bad idea. Some way has to found not to exclude members from countries where £20 (or $20 if you prefer) represents a lot of money. Using the Big Mac index or some similar measure to make the fee commensurate with the members ability to pay would be good.
I also feel that only part of the board should go "behind the veil". There is a place for both free and paid content, IMO. Maybe a time delay could be put in place on some forums as well. This would allow lurkers to get the free taster to assure them of the quality of information available, without giving too much away
Maybe a 3-tier model
1) "Free to air" forums. Free access, real time, totally open, just as the board is now
2) Level 1 locked. Both free and paid access available. Free access only permits reading, and only on threads older than x time. Some threads may additionally be excluded from free viewing completely
Paid members see everything in real time, and can post
3) Level 2 locked. Paid subscribers only, no free access available. Paid members see everything in real time, and can post
I would see the majority of the board being Cat 1, with a few Cat 2 forums, and only 1/2 Cat 3 forums (maybe new forums)
I prefer C)
I'd propose another option:
Solicit donations from the commuinity and procure a bigger or more, or both servers to run the site on. I have no idea what your running on now, but if its only 1 box, you could split the site into two, one for the web server, one for the database.
Just my $0.02.
Thanks - Brian
Pricing problems aren't related to conversion rates...
I own a small development shop. I have a small team that implements our sites. If I were told that Webmasterworld was going pay, I'd pay in a heart beat. Although I don't get as much now as I did when I was first learning my SEO stuff, its still worth it. If the site was $1000/month, I'd consider it a cost of doing business and cut the check. That's how valuable a resource it is.
The newbies trying to optimize their sites with no clue probably would be shocked. The ones on affiliate threads trying to make $200/month would balk at anything over $20/year.
I would suggest having three tiers. I would have a free area that covers all the non-SEO stuff. You should also keep the basics out there. You could then have a middle layer (the $10/year-$20/year) section for the basic SEO things. Add a more expensive, exclusive area ($100/month? $250/month?) for professional SEO discussions. People really poking Google and figuring out the details could go there.
I would guess that Googleguy would stay in the free area, commenting on basic stuff? I mean, 80% of the Google forum is the repetive concerns that placing files in directories drops their PageRank, PR0 panics, etc.
My only concern would be, if you move the gems to the paid area, will anyone pay? If I got to this site and only saw the garbage, I'd have no interest. I found it through a Google search and have been hooked.
I really recommend considering corporate sponsership. These $5-$20 fees for everyone will make very little money (maybe 200 people @ $20/month, if you're REALLY lucky, with no new signups). I think that with 5 or 6 people that really do well sponsering, you'd make more money, and you wouldn't lose users.
Just a thought...
a) - Would mean a long wait to get a response to a question sometimes so would not like this solution.
c) - Would be happy with this as might encourage more people to post
- possibly leave a small selection of threads to view for non-members
d) - Would be happy to pay subscription fee
Reading and posting for paid members only.
I think this is the best strategy to stay the favorite seo forum for top professionals...I like that goal better then getting as many members or readers as possible.
I'm still not sure if I understand WHY you are considering these changes?
1) Keeping the quality level high? I think it's pretty high right now.
2) Stop people from ranting? The moderators are doing a good job here. You might consider locking topics more often.
3) Too many new threads being created that are repeats of subjects recently covered? You might also consider pre-moderation on SELECT categories, thereby assuring quality in specific areas.
4) Are there certain "problem people"? Using #3, you could require people to earn a "preferred member" status before they can post in certain areas. Moderators would vote for candidates to be allowed in.
5) If money is a key here, let people pay to become preferred members, thereby allowing them to post in the "preferred memmbers' area. (alternate to #4)
Mainly Brett, I think it would be best if you did things in small steps. First, test pre-moderation in select forums. Then try a banner ad for a week. Then try paid membership for a week and see how many newbies you get. If you go to paid membership, you can be sure that everyone will expect to be grandfathered in.
My vote is for "Subscribers Only" (take my money please) - I'm in. (1st post after year(s) of lurking)
>(1st post after year(s) of lurking)
Guess you will owe back dues ;)
A nominal paypal-type fee would bring in nominal revenue and would slow growth significantly.
It's okay with me. I spend all my free time here and at instapundit.
Being a relative newbie, I'd say c) if at all, and that the need for FAQs is evident.
I contribute time to ODP as a hobby, and recently I have started to contribute here in furtherance of that hobby. I am not going to pay a subscription for the privilege of dispensing free advice and support to a closed resource full of professionals. I think some of the other senior dmoz editors who lurk and occasionally post here would feel the same way.
a)At the risk of clearly showing myself as an afforementioned 'twit', wouldn't the potential of a sudden release of a large number of messages which have been approved also slow things down?
b)I think that 'twit lists' are very subjective. I was a bigger twit than I am now when I first came to the Forum. If this could be completely configured by a visitor then fine, but I would rather exercise the right of 'if I don't like it, I don't read it'. There are some real nuggets amongst the seemingly twit threads.
c) Not sure this would really help the cause
d)If this keeps this fantastic forum as it is, and doesn't drive away the people who have helped me so much in the past, then fine. I would be willing to pay for this first class resource if it helps Brett keep things flowing.
It looks like everyone has an opinion but me... Ok I'll pick... C, or E. I think small 80x100 banners would be great. I'm sure you've seen www.httpads.com. You could set the CPM very low, and all of us members could go crazy buying ads for 'bragging rights'. Hey I'd buy impressions and put a banner up saying 'look at me I'm sponsoring WW'.
But then again that won't save you much time... Go with C. NY Times seems to be doing well with that set up.
>>I would guess that Googleguy would stay in the free area, commenting on basic stuff?
highly unlikely - all teh SE's that read here would pony of the dough to have access to the private stuff in a hearbeat. They'd be at the front of the line waving credit cards shouting "Let Me In!" and we couldn't block them. If we did they'd just sign up covertly. There's not much chance we'll ever have a private subscriptoin section that GoogleGuy or others won't be reading daily.
just another 2 cents
choster, I've never thought of it quite that way, but it's a good way of putting it. It's also making a contribution as an individual that has an impact that reaches much farther than we'd ever imagine.
The way I'm seeing it is that with the kind of growth we've experienced we can go one of two ways. We can stop the growth, which I believe could mean a step backwards and catch up to the demands if necessary, or we can continue to grow and adapt as best we can.
I first learned the principle of exponential growth from something I read by Pat Robertson years ago. I remember where - it was December, 1985 - that's how much impact it had. I forgot it for years until I arrived here, and it was evident at a certain point that it was bound to happen.
When I first arrived it was plain to see that it was intimidating for newbie types to even be able to understand most of the discussions, much less come out of lurking and post. Both myself and some others took special pains to help them when we could and try to create an environment that was more comfortable for those not at the advanced level.
That's changed in time to where all are comfortable, and while I've always thought a premium - not preferred, I don't care for the implications of a class distinction - was a good idea, I'd hate to see anything that would hinder or reverse the very factors that contributed to community growth here.
We've always strived to serve the needs of the members, whoever they are, and with our newbies our job is to give them wings so they can fly. We can't clip their wings or cage them - or push them out of the tree to go elsewhere.
With pre-moderation, I can see it for the very few who are problem members - very rare. Things look different from a mod or an admin viewpoint, since we edit and handle things all over when the mods aren't around. So there's really a good view of how everything is, including getting familiar with a good part of the membership, their level of activity, and a good appreciation for the value of their contributions. One of the mods just pointed out that I've done 1,000 posts in less than the past 5 months. It seems to me that I do more non-posting duties than post, but add that all up you get to see a lot. And I believe that a good part of our growth has been from that sector and we have to continue to meet those needs without detracting from what they've found attractive here. Besides, everyone's contributions are valuable in one way or another.
What I've seen in 4 years of involvement with online communities is that there are those who are givers - they enjoy participating in community life, they give and receive back in turn. They paricipate in interactivity with the whole, not just a select group, though individual friendships are formed. But they integrate within a community and they're the very lifeblood of it's health and growth. Far fewer are the "takers" but they certainly do exist.
Pre-moderating would be a nightmare, especially from an "all-around" point of view. What's a significant factor doing as many edits, changes and miscellany is that when that stickymail is sent it's an opportunity to make a personal connection with the member-and it's very fruitful. I wouldn't use anything automated exept for spam-and-run types, that personal connection that's so important in community building would be lost.
Adding something additional is one thing and there's no doubt a need. But it wouldn't be part of the same system; it would be a separate community altogether. Workable, but separate. If that's what's needed at this point in time, as long as it's for the right reasons and will serve the needs of the members I'm all for it.
a) Pre-moderation: I think there should be some pre-moderation on the topics posted, not in the threads.
c) Members only: People who are really interested would be able to participate.
e) Banners: I do not like the idea, unless there is no other choice.
I do not like the idea of paying a subscribers fee, because you may loose some people who are fundamental to the forums rich content. I am mostly learning and hopefully contributing a little bit. You may implement the subscriber’s fee to new members, but then again, a lot of interesting people, new to the forum, but with the knowledge to contribute may lose interest. May be you can implement an economic contribution system (right now I am starting a business, however, as soon as I am able, I will be happy to contribute). :)
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