Corrente

If you have "no place to go," come here!

It's live! (What happened....)

[I'm leaving this thread sticky, since there's a lot to talk about. --lambert]

mulch

It was a lovely warm day today, so since I haven't done a garden brag in a long time, I thought I'd go out and take some pictures of how I put the garden to bed this year. The word is mulch. This shot shows the raspberry patch mulched with the last of the straw in front, and then the bed with my Versailles-style stone dust paths between them. (Some people believe in bark mulch paths, but I like the way that warm stone dust feels on my bare feet, before the tomato and squash vines cover grow all over everything.)

I'm proud of my mulching system, too. These leaves are the leaves I raked last year, put into big garbage bags, banked the house with, and spread on the garden this fall. (Banking the house with leaves really makes a difference with the heat). And now this year's leaf fall is banking the house, and will mulch the garden next year.* Let no organic matter leave the property!

And I improved my banking technique. First, I stacked the bags "head down," meaning that the twistied end is at the bottom, and so water -- which does not flow upward -- is far less likely to get into the bag; dry, fluffy leaves have a much higher R value than wet, compacted ones. Second, in the spring, I'm going to poke holes in the bags and add compost starter. Since the bags are black plastic (sorry...), they soak up heat, which I hope will combine with the starter and cause the leaves to rot more completely than they did this year.

So, that's my garden brag of the moment.

And now, since winter is both a time of introspection, and prepares for next year's growth, I want to ease into the real subject of this post, where the appropriate image -- the outage -- is not a garden, but something more like this

So, some of my financial plates crashed a couple of weeks ago -- to the consternation of many, and also to the detriment (however small) of the discourse, which really does need "the blog that everybody hates and nobody reads." During the hiatus, I did learn a few things: It really does matter to a great many people that Corrente is up and running; and it really is possible to ask people for help (you know who you are, and I'm very grateful). I was also amazed that nobody seemed to be angry. Some claim that there is no such thing as an online community, but my experience tells me that is not true. Also, the outage was the first time since 2003 that I've taken a sustained break, despite my periodic threats to do so. Basically, Corrente has been a constant during my waking hours for eight years, and so going without was.... Quite a change. (I could also have wished that the financial plate had not dropped and smashed quite when it did, since Corrente, for a blog its size, has a remarkably high concentration of people who have actually been present, on the ground, during Occupations, and who are willing to post on their experiences, and I had the feeling that Corrente was taking off, into a new space that was not so much "all lambert, all the time."

However, right now lambert -- if I may speak of my online persona -- is the single point of failure at Corrente. And the "lambert spins plates" model just isn't sustainable, as the outage proves.** That's not fair to the Corrente community, nor to the various sub-communities within Corrente. Nor is it fair to subscribers. Nor to me. To me, Corrente, besides being something very like a child, is also a job, and a stressful one: The annual fundraiser, where I ask to be paid for work I have already done, covers most of my property taxes (given my current mix of Corrente and "outside work"). What happens if that plate drops?***

Further, one thing I discovered during the outage was that some ideas for Drupal software development that I've been thinking about for a long time have finally gelled; and I'm going to be doing light posting during the month of December, probably in the morning and evening, so I can work on that. These ideas may end up being of interest to some here; we'll see.

Finally, what is to be done to make Corrente sustainable? Adding, again, that right now it's not; if the next plate that drops isn't money, it's going to be lambert's time. My thought -- but, readers, I am throwing this open to you, in comments -- is that Corrente's tiny but real revenue stream needs to be divided into two parts: (1) The monthly stream to pay the servers, and (2) a different stream to pay contributors, including lambert. Right now, it all goes into one pot, which is income that I pay taxes on, and that's not working. (Here I may be able to take advice from people who actually know how to do fund-raisers; Yves's fundraiser was very successful because she did just that.) The monthly stream could also be used to do other good works, too. But these are just my ideas; at some point the child must leave home. Perhaps a Committee or a working group could be formed; live chat (which permits file uploads) might be a useful tool.

Readers?

NOTE * I do compost some of the leaves, but I generally have well over 20 bags, and I don't have the compost bins to put them in.

NOTE ** I should say that I dropped the plate because I tried to spin one plate too many. As it turns out, over the last few years, I've developed excellent Drupal skills [hint hint], and also superb skills [hint hint] as a site administrator, moderator, and poster. So I'm about as well positioned, given the givens, as I could be.

NOTE *** It's not a coincidence, I think, that bloggers like Susie Madrak or Jim Rittenhouse or Arthur Silber have constant, protracted medical ills; computer work is, in itself, very hard on the body, and blogging 24/7 is even more so. I've been spared their issues, may the God(ess)(e)(s) Of Your Choice, If Any, be thanked.

UPDATE I guess I'm saying that here's an opportunity for Corrente, as a community, to figure out how to sustain itself. FDL has a membership model rather like NPR, but I think I'd like something more.... Occupational. Over to you, readers!

UPDATE I should say, though nobody mentioned it, that my stint at NC had nothing to do with Corrente going dark. I'm part of the community here, and don't want to leave at all. However, if the community is to sustain itself, clearly I can no longer be the single point of failure.

0
No votes yet

Comments

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

....just so you know that I hear you and want to be involved any way I can.

BUT that is the problem - I have no (none, nada) computer knowledge so I cannot help on that front.

I have no fund-raising knowledge (other than donating when I can) but I might be able to learn if someone is willing to lead.

I only know that I missed my daily Corrente fix and want to see it continue.
So let me know when/how I can help once you have heard from some of the more knowledgeable Correntians.

Submitted by lambert on

See the comment on the separating the revenue streams. No technical knowledge required. I can handle the technical aspects in my sleep, or at least with very little time. Just thinking through a process; rather like organizing a Corrente meetup ;-)

Gotta go....

Submitted by gob on

Thank you for coming back, and for letting us know something of why, and for being willing to try to keep going.

If I had any financial, organizational, leadership, business, or other relevant skills, they would be at your service. I can only offer some scanty donations and a willingness to put in a little time on anything that more informed heads may devise.

I'm sure many of us are seriously willing to add labor wherever it can be harnessed, wiitness the anti-catfood-commission transcript effort.

PS: garden envy!

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Corrente is really no different than almost every small business. In the beginning, there is almost always one "indispensible" person, and the business reaches a crucial turning point when that person either is incapable of continuing, or no longer has the desire to continue. You need an "exit strategy" as they say. No matter what the size, or success of your business, setting it up to succeed without you is the main problem. There are multiple books on the subject, but the main issue always comes down to giving up control. Don't discount this thinking it will be easy for you. You have to go into this with the expectation that you will be giving away authority and control to people who may make decisions that you are adamantly opposed to, or who make mistakes that you never would make. To not be "indispensible", by definition you need to be "dispensible". Not easy to put yourself in that position.

So to make a sustainable Corrente requires spreading out responsibility, which also means spreading out control. For example, there are actually more than two issues to deal with, it's more than just day-to-day operations and fundraising, those are just two small parts of larger issues. Day-to-day is a subset of a broader topic of operations, which includes services, method of delivering those services, features, and editorial direction. At present, you are in sole control of those issues, to be sustainable in the future, you will need to set up some overall strategic vision and a group interested in taking it forward without you. Fundraising (or revenue generation) is also only one subset of overall finances, which also includes expenses, taxes, etc. and is tied to what services Corrente seeks to provide and the way it does it (operations, strategic direction, etc.). You can't properly fund-raise or set revenue goals if you don't have a fiscal goal based on expenses, and controlling or determining expenses can't be divorced from the services provided and the way the are provided.

Sorry if this is disjointed, I'm in the middle of some other things, but I wanted to get my main point across that making this sustainable going forward is a major step. It won't happen quickly, and there are practical, philosophical and psychological hurdles ahead. If it makes you feel better, I'm in the exact same position, grappling with the exact same issue.

Submitted by jawbone on

of community which builds up at a blog where there are regular contributors and commenters. Or not so regular, but there, and sometimes commenting, etc. (I still miss the Sunday book post and poster....)

I value anonymity on the web, to the point I won't do Facebook, but I also dread when some "nym" no longer appears on "our" site, and there's no way of knowing if the person is ill, checking out for awhile, moving on, or...whatever.

Re: the outage. I would like to suggest that we do as groups sometimes do when on an outing. If separated, have an agreed upon meeting place at a given time. Anyway to have a "meet-up" place/site if something goes wrong technically and the site isn't up? Where updates can be placed, peope check in?

Now, how to keep Corrente on an even keel financially. I know what I'll do if I win the lottery, but that is airy-fairy wishful thinking (but I do have a list of people and places, if I do win...heh.).

Am looking forward to thoughts from the community here.

More photos of your garden, please! It looks so pleasant and, yes, the idea of walking on sun-warmed stone dust...ah! Lovely.

I worked with bluestone dust when I put down a bluestone sidewalk. When the stones are thick enough, and over stonedust, they seem to hold up better than concrete. And are much more beautiful. But, heavy to carry and work with. Not sure I could do it now; I was so much younger then.

Submitted by lambert on

On the community:

Yes, that was what struck me. I got the nicest mails, and nobody was angry or flaming. Remarkable and not like a lot of other places, for some reason.

* * *

I think as far as the hosting fees go:

A shared host is not adequate to our needs because this is a big site with a lot of functionality, and if we have a usage spike (as we regularly do) a shared host is brought to its knees. So we have a dedicated server, at around $200 a month. (When I was a high priced consultant, back in the day, this was trivial).

Now, we do have subscribers, and so we are in reach of that amount. What I would like is to separate the hosting stream (which is the community) from the contributor stream (which pays lambert, and, wouldn't it be nice, others) because now they are commingled. With the hosting stream as a baseline, I/we can focus on the contributor stream.

Because $200 = $20 * 10, that is surely doable. It doesn't take any technical knowledge. And people can contribute time. And I would really like somebody other than me to do it!

Submitted by gob on

One reason I don't mind in the least sending money to Correntewire (when I have money ;-) ) is that I get to blog here when I feel like it and it costs me nothing. You talk of paying contributors, and that makes sense for contributors who make and keep commitments like plantidote of the day and so forth, or are long-time reliables like DCblogger, or have a period of extremely useful posts on a particular topic like PALady. But for some of us, writing here is a privilege worth paying for.

Is there some way to turn that a reliable stream of enough money to pay for the server? Only $200? Knowing that makes me somehow more, not less, willing to send money. I guess because even when the amount I send is small, it has weight.

I don't, myself, see any sensible way to charge mandatory fees for posting, but how about a Donate button next to the Preview and Save buttons?

lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

I also think the ideas presented here about distributing the workload to prevent single points of failure are good ideas. Willing to help, if needed. I'm ignorant of fundraising but do have some technical skills which may be useful.

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

there are also other considerations. I looked into dedicated servers for a biology course site a couple of months ago. Fairly solid service seems to start in the just-below-$100/mo range. That would have been for use by 30-50 students and no real spiking. So $200 is not really out of line.

The other factor is that moving a complex web site like corrente is a huge undertaking. Are you volunteering the weeks it would take? :D If somebody were paid to do it, it would make the new less-expensive host not so much cheaper.

Submitted by lambert on

... because I can do that with my mad Drupal skillz. So that part is not a huge undertaking.

However, my current host is reliable and has instant 24/7 technical support via phone from a human. I'd want to make sure there's no risk to changing; some server companies are fly by night...

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

I'm not saying you don't have mad Drupal skills. No matter how mad they are, I was just trying to say it's easy to suggest someone else spend time to save a buck. As a matter of simple fact, and disregarding time as you suggest, hell, yes, there are cheaper solutions with good 24/7 service. In the $150/mo range, possibly less if you spend a lot of time nosing around.

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

For what it's worth, I've found that having a service supplier you can rely on is usually worth the extra bucks. It's just something you don't have to worry about or provide manpower to hedge against. There might be a reliable server provider out there that can give a better deal, but even $50 a month savings is about a man-hour a month at typical rates, and it's not a lot of frozen dinners, either.

Submitted by lambert on

Yes, that's true. I did do some nosing around recently for a client, although they weren't looking for dedicated. I looked at RackSpace, which has a good reputation, but I couldn't make head or tail of their pricing structure. There doesn't really seem to be a reliable comparison service, and if you look at the ratings and comments over time, it's clear that these companies come and go. I've been using this one since 2004 (after the shared host kept blowing up) and it's always been utterly reliable. I'd be very reluctant to change without explicit personal testimony from a user of another ISP. And as you point out, if the cost of transfer were billed for (though some do it for free) plus any additional friction would eat up the $50 pretty quickly (if I were billing by the hour). I guess if you view this as the commodity business it is, I'm paying a premium for reliability and service.

lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

You are assuming that by paying more you are getting better, more reliable service. That may not be true. Similar services are advertised for half the price ($100 per mo). Unless you check out consumer reviews, how can you know that what you are getting is worth 2x the price?

Just suggesting that in addition to fundraising, you look at lowering costs.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

in lieu of that, all I can do is offer to help out with any that come along. Corrente is one of the few places around that gets it -- so it can't go away!

Anyone have any experience with grants?

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

And my head springboards off of that (BTW....love the idea of having an alternate on-line meet-up place to rendezvous) into financial support.

I'm thinking about borrowing from what I'm learning from the Occupy movement - e.g. Occupy Corrente (sustaining); GA's (support for a special "events/needs") and Mic Check ("Buy a beer if you like this particular post").

Someone has mentioned taxes - that needs to be sorted out as all of that shouldn't fall on Lambert...but this is an area for which I have no thoughts.

Lambert: You have a front page group already - could they step forward to share some of your more functional posting duties?

Submitted by lambert on

Actually, I was getting pretty excited just before the site went dark because my RL work had ramped up and people were stepping up and posting on Occupations that they attended, with lots of great detail. So we were definitely right where it was happening... And now things are changing and I would like to see that again.

But Okanagen was right in a lot of ways; I think Corrente is a community that is or at least had better be trying to figure out how to be self-sustaining, which overlaps with the "take off" process for a small business (i.e., how to distribute the functions originally performed by the founder) but is not identical to it.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

actually two thoughts. First, seems like last year during a discussion like this coyote creek suggested doing fund raisers more often, maybe quarterly, iirc. I think that's a great idea, much easier to give $50 four times than $200 once, especially with so much economic turmoil.

Second, what about setting up a Corrente store at Shop Left? Maybe someone doesn't have a lot of spare cash but they do have some stuff (or services, whatever) to sell and don't mind donating the proceeds to the site. You might be able to pay for the server (at least partially) with that.

Submitted by hipparchia on

setting up a Corrente store at Shop Left

i would participate in that. i don't want to set up and keep a paypal account, but i'd be happy to try to sell something if the money goes into lambert's paypal account.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

I am sure I have plenty of things that I no longer want but also don't know what to do with.

Submitted by hipparchia on

instead of, or in addition to, a once-a-year fundraiser, maybe have a count down timer along the lines of the hamsters are going to faint from inanition and the lights will go dark in xx:xx:xx:xx days:hours:minutes:seconds] or one of those thermometers with $X at the top [how much the hamsters need] and $Y [how much the hamsters have] as the measurement. it looks like one, some, or all of these might be integratable(?) with the paypal/donate block.

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

occurred to me also. It could be on the front page or, if that's too in-your-face (and I think it isn’t but lambert tends to be a bit more reticent about financial matters), it could be discreetly tucked under a tab or link saying Financial status.

If the monthly stream to pay for the servers is $200, it's not a bad idea to let contributors (or potential contributors) know how close Corrente is to getting that $2400/year.

That would be a real clarification of the two streams that lambert wants to have. And the nice thing about visible feedback like that is, in a cohesive community, it tends to be somewhat self-regulating—people will try to keep the lights from going out—i.e., the “server fund” above minimum—without a lot of active “fund-raising” on lambert's part; they just know it has to be done. (I’d certainly throw in a few bucks if I saw the "server fund" was getting low.)

I'm not quite sure how to design that feedback—is the the total in the fund? Or, as you suggest, a “countdown”? Is the “target” $2400 (yearly) or $200 (monthly)? That might be a minor question but probably some designs are more optimal than others.

Submitted by hipparchia on

that was pretty much what i was thinking too.

i also think it ought to be on all pages, not tucked away somewhere on its own page, but that, along with which design and target funding level to use, can be experimented with pretty easily. the software that runs this blog has gazillions of plug&play-type modules that can be added [and taken away of they don't work].

and because it's open source, you can tweak and customize the modules to your heart's content. when lambert first put up the twitter feed, he gave me a couple of the keys to the blog kingdom so that i could play with it and i was able to dust off my decades-old mad fortran skillz and figure out how to change it around. i'm already envisioning ways to adapt little animated hamster graphics to fit either a countdown clock or a thermometer... :)

Cujo359's picture
Submitted by Cujo359 on

I have some technical experience, and I'm glad to help if I can. I administer a site for my a local theatre company right now, which isn't all that big a time suck, so I can probably do at least a little admin work on this one, if the need arises. I also have done PHP and C programming in past years, so might be of assistance on that score.

Am glad to discuss particulars either here or via e-mail.

Submitted by lambert on

although at some point I'm going to want to migrate to Drupal 7, a thought that makes me shudder (I stopped counting at 10K posts, and that's my personal productivity).

However, I'd be very interested in talking to you offline about PHP programming since I have a "bucket list"-type project I'm going to be working on this month that I would like to deploy for people here to experiment with...

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

Starting from the quote: "Corrente's tiny but real revenue stream needs to be divided into two parts: (1) The monthly stream to pay the servers, and (2) a different stream to pay contributors, including lambert. Right now, it all goes into one pot, which is income that I pay taxes on, and that's not working."

I wonder if forming a corporation of Corrente, Inc. and having it employ Lambert would be a tax efficient way to operate. Someone who knows taxes and corporate structure might be able to make things work well for you. Maybe Corrente could even be a non-profit corporation. If it gets to the point where income potentially presents a significant tax load, a corporate officer can stash quite a bit into a tax deferred 401(k) -- a lot more than is allowed into an IRA. It is how our tax system works -- benefits for corporations and corporate officers.

Beyond that, maybe you need to give yourself a bit more breathing room, Lambert. A couple of days off a week is not such a bad thing. "Archie" the Archdruid, posts once a week and it is still well worth a read. (By the way, thanks for leading me to that site.) Others might fill in on your off days with recurring features.

Like the other folks, I'm glad to see you back. I was hoping that you were OK.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

Lambert was THE source for coverage about the Egyptian Spring. Perhaps we could have had a special donation period to maintain that effort?

What new "events" could Corrente be the specialist in? I have received notice about two possible big Occupy events next July. The problem is that one is in DC and the other is in Philly. What TOM (The Occupy Movement) could use (badly) is coordination of big things so that all of them are maximized for impact.

We could create a TOM calendar - with individuals posting their local events and someone keeping track of the future big events. Maybe a clearing house type of thing. This is just off the top of my head and would need lots of clear thinking to work out.

BTW - IF AND WHEN TOM does have a big DC event, I will be there - and hope that we can have a Corrente Meet-up with members of our community from all over the country.

Submitted by lambert on

This part is the editorial part. How do we pay for creating this great content, especially since our famously free press won't do it? I love the idea of "event marketing."

I think the editorial part and the server part need separate revenue streams (to be sustaining).

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

Can we set up "pledges" for the server part and then maybe quarterly "thank you to posters"/separate marketing of events?

Years ago when I actually went to church, I got myself involved in the "Stewardship" committees. In fact, I was the chairperson for several years in a row.

We had an annual pledge: took our budget and then divided it by the number of members and "suggested" what that pledge might be. It was provided via weekly offerings.

Then I set up occasional letters appealing for separate donations to cover X or Y or Z. (building funds, Holiday appeals, etc.)

Not disimilar to election campaigns, is it?

Years ago when I was (gasp) over at The Great Orange Satan, I remember individual posters who published weekly "columns" asking for monthly support/pledges.

Submitted by lambert on

The pledge drive never occurred to me, but it's a great idea!

Clonal Antibody's picture
Submitted by Clonal Antibody on

My financial plates crashed early in 2009. There are no signs that they are being replaced! Basically eating out of the "dog dish." But I am hoping that a federal grant comes through soon. When it does, some contributions could be forthcoming.

Brian.Nelson's picture
Submitted by Brian.Nelson on

Wow, there are a lot of things that people can learn from this blog. You really did a lot with last years leaves. Great work on utilizing what you already have, it should be a lesson to all of us.

A gardener can do a lot with mulch and leaves from previous years and this romeo is very good at providing all the details of how to make great mulch.

tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

to the detriment (however small) of the discourse

Yep, the discourse sure is small, and was smaller still with you out of action, lambert. Welcome back. :-)

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Divide the physical costs from the creative costs. My Dad was a great fundraiser for his pioneering school for the handicapped. You have a building fund. I can sponsor/pledge January for the server costs. Then there is the travel fund like Yves has and that Hamsher has for Kevin to go to all the Occupies. (I'd like to sponsor a young person to permanently occupy because I can't physically occupy and it's important to do more than rally). And then the writing funds. This is a great site for news and opinions on alternative thinking and living. Perhaps we can apply for a grant from Occupy Wall Street? Also educational fund for the University of Occupy.

I also like the idea of swapping. I have so much stuff accumulated now that I live on a ranch as opposed to a NY apartment that I really want to send stuff. I sent some really nice ski clothes and blankets to Occupy Boston. I sent books to Occupy Wall Street. Maybe we can figure out how to trade books. Maybe on Kindle? or I Pad. Hmmmm?

Are the hamsters feral and free? I hope so. They are volunteering, right?

Submitted by lambert on

I am going to take a little time and assimilate all this.

However, if somebody else -- or a group of somebody else's -- wants to do the assimilation before I get to it, that would be wonderful.

I really, really like the idea of sponsoring an Occupier.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

from Tennessee who is a regular caller to Dave Marsh's "Land of Hope and Dreams" radio show on Sundays on Sirius Left. Bob is a long time activist, teacher and poet. He is also a person who is careful with language as a poet often is. I should call in and tell Bob to come over to Corrente. I also heard him take on Markos on Mark Thompson's show. He's awesome. Also a regular is Alice from Arkansas who lives in the country and sells natural products. She is extremely well read and a great news aggregator. I've only called in once. Bob has asked that I call in again, but I often can't wait to get on the line. It can be a long wait. I'll try this weekend and talk about correntewire.

Submitted by lambert on

Seems like there are maybe more lefty radio shows than we know -- Virtually Speaking, and so on.