This page is a (probably ever-changing) scratch-pad where I wanna lay out some thoughts on trying to run a website that tries not to turn a blind eye to some of the more menacing aspects of, let’s say, internet capitalism.
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Here are our latest news updates and press releases, lulz.
And you may ask yourself, “Well, what is this site called?”
Subscribers only: Work It made another full-colour, 25+ page magazine based on episodes 9-16. Holy macaroni!
Hamilton-based comedy website Widget has been awarded a Grant for the Web worth $33,704 USD ($44,698 CAD).
In a nutshell, I want to see how far I/we(???!!) can build a web publishing business model that engages as little as possible with the tech monoliths, monopolies, and malefactors. You know, those user-surveilling, democracy-eroding, white-supremacy-profiting, ICE-partnering, shareholder-benefitting Silicon Valley lizard men.
I’ll say right off the bat, I’m a dum-dub and probably have lots of half-formed or lacunose opinions on this stuff, so feel free to recommend alternatives or improvements to anything I say here (GitHub issues) and “maybe, just maybe” (bernie voice) we can kind of open source ideas of what an ‘alternative web business model’ might look like.
The site is on WordPress. Surprise surprise. As you know, it’s an open-source content-management system, owned by no one and/or everyone. And though it makes a lot of money for a lot of people (and a lot of investors), at least the core software doesn’t ‘belong to’ a private entity that’s only looking to maximise profits. If it becomes manifestly perverted, someone can fork it and run it for the public good. Seems like the best option.
It’s hosted on Namecheap* (for now?). I haven’t spent much time thinking about hosting. All I know is my preference is to not use Amazon’s AWS hosting – ideally, not at all, though not directly in the very least.
Facebook and Google have siphoned profitability from web publishers.
Lots of people have turned to Patreon, which is a nice alternative to advertising and has largely been a boon to content-creators and fans. People who like your stuff kick in a few bucks, they vote with their money, there aren’t gate-keepers, what’s not to like? Hell, Widget is on it (as the link in the header and in the sidebar attest) – pulling in $4 to be exact from a single patron – and Luke, believe me, it’s well appreciated!
Minor ambivalence with Patreon
And even that’s putting it too strongly. Obviously, it’s a privately-owned business and they could change their terms for the worse willy nilly. And if they did, their ubiquity (read: near-monopoly at present) and network effects could encourage people to shrug and swallow it. This doesn’t seem imminent or even likely to happen, but I’m sure it’s happened before in similar situations.
But more practically, for a user, it doesn’t scale well. For $5 a month, I can support my favourite podcast, but what if I have 10 podcasts I love? What if I want to support other projects? And then I gotta support charity and ad hoc crisis-response on top of that? All vital things to do, but gets expensive.
So I decided to try a new platform for micropayments: Coil. For $5 a month, you get access to all content that has been ‘web monetized’ using Coil – on this site and any other. Create an account, subscribe with your five bucks, install a browser extension, sign in and ‘surf the web, dude.’ So, it’s pretty user-friendly and has the potential to give people a wide array of content for a single subscription. And it’s got a WP plugin, so bonus.
It also allows provides an alternative to vexing subscription models, where often a person just wants a single frickin’ article on your newspaper, and you’re trying to get them to subscribe to whole bloody paper. Oh yeah, I’d love to support Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss in order to read this one article about, like, Joe Pera or something!! Where do I sign up??!! No thanks.
The agency who made the plugin have a nice guide to micropayments as a yet-unresolved problem on the web.
For what it’s worth, I also have BAT tips set up and am using Brave (and Firefox) as my main browsers.
And honestly, this is probably just a small-time comedy blog and wouldn’t make a buck under other circumstances anyway, and that’s fine. I still want to explore this model, if only for curiosity and repulsion at the prevailing one that bankrupts creators while makes Mark Zuckerberg richer and richer.
Social Media & Open Source
I also want to reject the assumption that in order to reach people, you have to shake hands with Facebook (/Instagram), Google (/YouTube/Analytics) or Twitter, not to mention AWS or any of the other demons who have:
- made fortunes surveilling their users in order to better advertise to them;
- polluted the world with misinformation and bigotry;
- abdicated their responsibility to treat their platforms like the public goods they are or oughta be.
Blech!, I say.
Where possible, I’d love to substitute open source or at least less-demonstrably pernicious alternatives to these tools. Maybe we’ll be on some open source piece of shit social network with no critical mass, posting into the void, “Thanks for following us on UbuntuClub! Make sure to smash that subscribe button – it’s the one with Linus’ face on it!” And will I completely shut down Widget’s accounts on the behemoths, hoping that some ethical alternative gains market share? Doubtful.
But for all that, I want to at least experiment with an alternative model.
YouTube is a hot bed of white nationalists and little goblin men ‘destroying’ feminism. I mean, the algorithm has recommended Faith Goldy videos to me before, Jordan Peterson, other sacks of human waste. What a dump!
I’m going to try Cinnamon.video which, not only is it not YouTube, but handles Coil payments as well. Let’s see how it goes…
I’m aware there are open-source options (or at least an option – https://joinpeertube.org/), but for now I’m choosing the one that integrates with the micropayments spec and isn’t self-managed. And seems to deliver a decent UX – although the embeds aren’t working on this site just yet, but I’ll reach out to their support team and try and get that fixed.
If the tech ain’t ready right this second, it’ll probably come together pretty soon anyways. Yeah, you forfeit the audience of YouTube and the network effects, but what can ya do. Not like Widget had many subscribers there anyway. Or maybe I’ll keep both accounts, but, when given the choice (for embeds, links, etc.), prefer the Cinnamon account. Work-in-progress.
Google Analytics replacement
Google makes their money off of your data. To use the truism, you don’t pay for the product because you are the product. Google Analytics cookies track you around the web, know your demographic profile, make their money knowing as much about you as possible and then selling you things based on the information they collect about you. They partner with government to share your private information. Anyway, I’d feel better not depending on this ubiquitous, invasive analytics tool just to find out how much traffic we’re getting.
So Widget’s using a service called Plausible that collects way less, doesn’t store your IP, and (at least outwardly) embraces privacy. They also let you open source your analytics, so why the hell not, let’s be transparent starring Jeffrey Tambor.
Facebook + Twitter replacements
TBD. I don’t really know what handles the same use case and is likely to reach anyone. I’ve set up a Mastodon account, but not really spent too much time with it yet. I can’t tell if this is a non-starter. Maybe I need to just look to pretty different tools – forums? e-mail lists? – to try and give Widget’s ‘readers’ (ha ha ha…) a place to chat or for me to share content or whatever. Maybe a Slack-replacement like Matrix, Mattermost, Zulip, RocketChat… This is a big, fat open question.
Anyway, like I say, I’ll come back to this post and tweak it and revise it as I learn more or as new tech seems viable. And please feel free to share your thoughts on what a better, healthier business model for web publishing can look like than the one being forced on us by the vultures and villains and billionaires out there ruining the world for a buck. 😁