Curious Experiment

Shilling private social media spaces for petty cash.

I have a theory about the monetization of emergent media. I’m going to test it with HWFO, and you can participate. It’s related to Substack and Medium.

Let’s do Medium first.

Medium was the “world’s first open paywall,” which meant you could go to Medium and get three free articles a month, and if you wanted to read any more you had to pay them five bucks. Then three of your five bucks got distributed amongst the writers writing on Medium. I don’t object to this idea, particularly because it bought be some groceries for a couple of years while I dominated their Gun Control traffic board, and occasionally the Politics board as well when gun control was a hot topic. But to make a living on Medium you’d have to do what Caitlyn Johnstone and Umar Haque do, which is churn the same article with different words over and over and feed either the Disestablishmentarianism Echo Chamber (Caitlyn) or the Late-Stage Capitalism Echo Chamber (Umar) clickbait twice a week. And let’s be honest, that’s a fucking grind.

Now let’s do Substack.

Substack has a different “writers get money” model, which is rooted in some proof tested stuff from the blogosphere. First write some free articles to kite people onto your mailing list. Next write some super-secret articles which are guaranteed to be totally more awesome that you can only see if you subscribe for cash. Convince people to subscribe. And okay, that might work, but it just seems tremendously dishonest to me and I refuse to participate. Partly on moral grounds, but partly because I don’t need the stress of deciding which idea is appropriate to kite people into reading a publication, and which idea is insider only knowledge. Maybe if I was a STONKS!!1!one!eleventyone11! writer that would make sense, but I’m not. I have ideas, I want to share them, and I also have a real job so I’m uncancellable and not beholden to this bullshit. Really this publication is an elaborate version of my Facebook wall, where I try to hash ideas in my head out because I can’t stop thinking about them until they’re in print.

And I don’t think either of these monetization schemes really give people what they want. They’re both based on a very narrow and uncharitable interpretation of the people who read articles. The people who read articles are people, not robots, and people like to communicate. This is the lesson that Facebook learned early. Facebook, for all its flaws, is fundamentally a way for friends to communicate, for people to make more friends, and for those friends to communicate more. Then they sell ads. All of the very horrible things that have resulted from Facebook are just a sideshow from their realization.

What I want to do with this publication is test a new monetization mode. I’ve already stated that every article I ever write, or I ever cross post out from underneath the Medium paywall (should be fully transferred by the end of 2021) is going to be free. Subscribe and you’ll see it in your inbox, bookmark and you you’ll see it anyway without the inbox spam. What I’d like to do is test a theory.

Theory: The ability to communicate with like-minded individuals has value.

Here’s how I’m going to test it.

All HWFO articles will continue to remain free, forever. Right now, I have a “subscribe” function built into Substack where people can subscribe, and to date I’ve made it explicitly clear that subscribing gains you nothing, other than a contribution to my beer fund. And to date I have almost enough subscribers to equate to my annual Medium earnings, purely out of charity. I also have a Patreon, which is almost definitively “begging for money because people like your stuff,” whatever that stuff may be. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to give back. And I think the thing I can give back is what people actually want.

I created a Slack channel a few months ago. There’s a few dozen people in it already, and we have great discussions, walled away from the public eye, under the radar from the Great Cloud of Cancellation. We adhere to Slate Star Codex rules as best as possible, which include most specifically analyzing culture war without waging it, and being charitable to the people you’re talking to.

I’m going to send an invite to all subscribers and Patreon donors to the Slack channel, once a month, until the number of people involved reaches the Dunbar Number and it becomes unmanageable, at which point I’ll shut the program down. I’ll go ahead and post the Slack rules in advance.

  1. Modding, when necessary, shall be unilateral, final, and have no recourse or appeal.

  2. Everything posted on Slack is private.

  3. Do not share outside of this Slack

  4. Be nice to everyone here, as if you were meeting them in BJ's kitchen. Be aware there are Democrats, Republicans, gay folks, straight folks, atheist folks, religious folks, and even Woke folks in this Slack.

  5. Always steelman your interlocutor if you disagree with them.

  6. Don't post in the rules channel

  7. I reserve the right to change or add to the rules.

  8. Don't create work for the moderator. (me) If your participation creates work for me I will boot you just to reduce the amount of work I have to do. I am work averse.

  9. I reserve the right to kill some or all of this thing entirely with no notice for no reason and shall not be butthurt about it.

  10. No waging culture war. That goes across all channels.

That’s the theory. I’m very curious to see if this thing works. “Like, share, and subscribe.” Or don’t. You’re not losing anything.

The Slack invites go out next week.


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