We are considering a new policy on comments here at AAC and it’s pretty radical so we want to give you, our readers, a chance to have your say before we go ahead with it.
Now before anyone has a melt down, hear me out, there are some compelling benefits:
Dealing with comment spam is a constant battle around here. All of that aggravation and time use would simply go away since I can’t see comment spammers paying to join! And it gets better: we could get rid of the arithmetic problem that you currently have to fill in on each comment.
Better Time Allocation
There are lots of improvements we would like to make to AAC:
- More in depth content.
- New editions of our Online Books.
- New Online Books.
- New types of content like video and podcasts.
- Improvements to the site design.
The list is endless. But here’s the thing. As I have shared before, Phyllis and I have now reached the point where we are spending as much time as we wish to on AAC—full time in winter and half time in summer.
The point being that our time is now a zero sum game: to do something new, we must stop doing something else. And since responding to and managing comments takes a good 20% of the time we allocate to the site, reducing the number of comments will free up time for said improvements.
No Change in Quality
Now, don’t get me wrong, we are well aware that the information shared in the comments is one of the most important and valuable parts of AAC. But analysis we have done indicates that this policy would not change that. In fact, what we are seeing is that the quality of debate is actually better and more valuable on chapters behind the paywall—where comments are already restricted to members—than on free chapters—less quantity, more quality.
And no that does not mean that AAC members are more likely to agree with us writers. In fact it’s the members time after time that catch an error I have made, or add a whole new dimension that I had completely missed to the issue under discussion.
Even More Civilized
Over the years, AAC has become a place where people can air diverse opinions without the risk of the flame wars so common on the forums. But even here we sometimes get what we call a “Drive By Comment” that is hurtful to the person (writer or commenter) it is directed at and adds nothing to the debate. But that just about never happens on member only posts. This policy would extend that civilization to free posts.
Align Revenue and Effort
It’s the members that keep the lights on around here, pure and simple. Yes, we have a few sponsors—thank you—but selling advertising has proved challenging and the resulting revenue would not have kept this site publishing without the members.
So it just makes sense for us to reduce our time expenditures on non-member related activities and increase what we do for members—it’s only fair too.
As of today, we have just over 1500 members. Enough revenue to cover our costs, but paying us and our incredible writers almost nothing—we could all make more, a lot more, flipping burgers in a fast food joint.
While we are happy to keep plugging away without getting paid for a while longer, this is simply not a viable situation in the long term.
We need more members and what we have found is that, after the initial wave who signed up to support us—you know who you are, and we are forever grateful—there is only one way to get more members: provide a compelling set of benefits for joining. This change would add one more benefit.
All of that makes a pretty convincing case for this change. And I’m sure you have, by now, figured out which way Phyllis and I are leaning.
But what about the downside?
Traffic will drop off
Well, maybe. But on the other hand, despite dire warnings from many, since we instituted membership the number of unique visitors a year to this site has increased from about 200,000 to nearly 300,000 a year. So maybe not.
And anyway—here’s a radical thought—if traffic does drop off a bit…so what? Clearly membership is the way of the future for AAC, so if someone who does not want to become a member stops visiting, what difference does it make to the viability of this site?
Reduces diversity of opinion
Now here we do have a real worry. Will people who have valuable opinions that we have not heard from before join us? I hope so, but I don’t know.
On the positive side, let’s not forget that the cost of membership is extremely low at as little as $19.99 a year—less than the cost of one cup of coffee a month…heck, less than the cost of one beer in Norway for the whole year! Having said that, we will have to be open to reversing the decision if comments drop off to the point that a decent diversity of opinion is not being expressed.