On the new digs and USSM in general
The plan was to scrape enough money out of T-shirt sales, Google ads, Amazon affiliate links, a complicated Moose-napping scheme and whatnot to afford to move somewhere swanky that could host USSM without falling down (this costs more than you’d think) while still having a cushion of a couple months hosting bills. At the rate we were accumulating money, it was going to take us another couple months to get there (T-shirt sales went well initially, but the Google/Amazon stuff was barely going to pay to keep the doors open, no matter my ad tinkering).
So enter digital.forest.
They’re local. And for no reason I understand, they’re helping. After much discussion of what we needed and our current problem, they offered us a deal we could not turn down, no matter our meager bankroll. So we moved ahead of plan, which is fine with me, because that plan meant we were playing chicken with the user exprience: while picking up users and growing quickly, the site slowness and server errors would make it harder and harder to come and read. I was worried, to paraphrase Yogi, that we’d soon be so popular that no one would come here any more because it’s too crowded.
We don’t have a Beowulf cluster of supercomputers here at USSM Labs, crunching stats and inventing new defensive measures on its own. But this so far seems much, much better than our old digs. I don’t think the site went down during the game thread tonight (though, in fairness, not everyone’s over here yet due to the way server change information gets spread). That makes me grin stupidly. You have no idea what a pain that was.
We also have a lot more bandwith to play with, which hopefully means we can do some more photos, and we’re still hoping to get some podcasts up so you can listen to us joke around while riding the bus to the Mariners game, or… I don’t really know. We’ll think of something.
We’re still not corporately sponsored, we still aren’t part of an affiliate network that subsidizes our bandwith and hosting, we still don’t charge for subscriptions or premium content. We’re Mariner fans that have been at this now for three years (and change), and that’s all. I have no idea how much time I’ve spent on the site between writing, fending off comment spammers (and censoring dissent!), and trying to keep the old thing from falling over by doing ridiculously stupid tricks. Including research time on stuff like the Attrition War articles, it’s easily a year’s full-time work since we first threw up a post. I’m not alone — Dave and Jason have been here since the start, and Jeff had another Mariner labor of love before this.
Sometimes, it feels like one of the best things I’ve done, and sometimes, if I’m honest, it feels as if it’s been entirely unrewarding. Mostly it feels pretty cool. We’ve been paid back in random generosity through responses to technical issues, or someone picking up on one of us needing a job and dropping us a hint, or someone offering us a spare ticket if we want to see the game, as if we’re a good friend. Readers want to sit and buy us beer before games, and we have events where a hundred people will show up to talk to other fans and the expression on their faces talking to other smart Mariner fans is like they’ve had their first drink from the oasis after crawling around the desert for days with vultures circling. It warms my cold, antisocial heart.
I don’t know what happens from here, or how long something the current state can hold. We’re trying to do something strange that requires a balancing act I didn’t really anticipate: maintaining the level of discussion requires more intervention the larger we get, and now we have registration. But when the PI shut their forums for a while, I was shooting comments as they popped up, like a carnival game. I don’t know that discussions scale.
I worry that someone’s going to give Dave a full-time job to write about baseball or go hunt prospects, and Jeff’s going to be given some huge book deal to roam the earth and write about his crazy adventures (not a novel — they’ll be well-told stories), Jason’s going to open a restaurant, or (and) I’m going to wake up one morning and find the comments overrun and decide to go work on my next book instead of fix it. Losing one of the authors that way would be joyous and a great loss at once. We’ve seen that when we have more time to dedicate to writing articles, the site shines, but that time comes from somewhere, and we do only have so many days in our lives (I have, for instance, ~16,500 days left, and I’m unlikely to die and think “I wish I’d spent more time moderating comments”).
Based on what we were eking out of Google/etc, we’d need to grow another 10-20x for it to be worth it for one of us to quit their day jobs and write full-time (or every regular reader could give us a couple bucks, but I don’t believe there’s a team-oriented site that’s seen a high enough donation % to encourage me to think this is possible at current reader levels — and let’s not discuss that, please, it’s not the point).
I’m also leary of what happens when years of sacrifice by everyone result in one person making money while the others continue to toil, because all kinds of bad things happen. I don’t want to talk about that any more.
For now, though, here’s the short version:
– we have a new host, and by all measures it appears to be awesome
– digital.forest rocks and you should totally go there for your hosting needs
– I’m clearly willing to push their hosting services even though that’s not part of the deal
– we’re going to do some new stuff, like podcasting
– on a purely cash basis, the site’s now about break-even over its history
– the long-term future of the site is, as it has always been, somewhat uncertain
– fewer people visit USSM on a given day than turn out to see the Mariners
– that gap is not that large, and that’s both great and sad
In conclusion, about 1% of our traffic from search engines last month came from people looking for more information on Jennifer Pankratz, Scott Spiezio’s girlfriend (of which he has a tattoo). Thanks to all our readers, regardless of their taste level, for the last three years.