New Comment Policy Under Consideration

You-Said-It-

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.

And what’s the change we are plotting, you ask? Although comments will be visible on free posts to everyone, adding comments will be limited to members of the AAC Book Club.

Now before anyone has a melt down, hear me out, there are some compelling benefits:

Benefits

Spam

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.

More Members?

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.

The Downside

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.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

150 comments… add one
  • raffaele Feb 5, 2015, 1:54 pm

    I am a new member and agree with the new policy.

  • Dick Ehrlicher Feb 5, 2015, 2:05 pm

    I elieve I joined a while back; if not, I meant to! And I will! So, the policy is OK with me. We’ll see……

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 2:19 pm

      Hi Dick,

      You did indeed, thank you! If you have forgotten your username and password you can fix that here.

  • Bob Hinden Feb 5, 2015, 2:25 pm

    I am fine with the new policy.

    Bob

  • Erik de Jong Feb 5, 2015, 3:11 pm

    It only makes sense John.

    Another addition: There are so many good ideas and long term practical tests as well as research available on your site, that someone who is equiping a boat can easily save him or herself thousands of dollars in trial and error screw ups by reinventing the wheel. S19.99 is a small price to pay for all that practical know how, not only from you and Phyllis, but from other readers and commenters as well.

    Keep up the good work!

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 5:19 pm

      Hi Erik,

      Thanks very much for the kind comment, particularly appreciated considering the source!

      I think that your point about the value of the comments from members is really important. Phyllis and I have been thinking about that a lot. Wouldn’t it be great if we could figure a way to share the wealth, as it were,

      Now of course the first challenge is to get some wealth to share! But having said that, we are already thinking about ways in which people like you who share so much here could be in some way rewarded.

  • Brian Feb 5, 2015, 3:26 pm

    John,

    One other thing. You mentioned:

    “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?”

    From a marketing standpoint – what you’re thinking about actually will dramatically decrease your traffic. The occasional commenting system as its implemented now keeps the lower frequency guests like myself coming to your site – and eventually I’ll join (when I have a boat again, or get in the mode of buying a boat – but until then this is just a interesting diversion). This – I suggest – is the model for most of your visitors. You might call us “cruising dreamers” – something to keep us interested during the days when we’re thinking about cruising.

    I also link to your site a lot and give your site links to specific stories (when they are available) and that is what drives new traffic, and even more importantly Google Rank – which increases the probability that your site will get even more visitors when people search on different items. Read more about google rank here:
    http://www.thesitewizard.com/archive/google.shtml

    One way to provide even more value to your users would be to add a forum. And there is a new, free high quality forum (that works on both mobile devices like smartphones and tablets and computers – called Discourse. Here is that forum software:
    http://www.discourse.org

    You could add this to your forum and make it read-only for people who subscribe – to talk about issues unrelated to the stories you’re posting. This should give people even more reason to visit your site. This would also increase your google rank, and you could make it only for the paid users. I use this forum on my web sites and its great – no spam at all.

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 4:05 pm

      Hi Brian,

      Once again, thanks for the suggestions:

      Keep in mind that we have spent 10 years building pretty good page rank. 50% of our traffic comes from google.

      There just comes a time in every business’ life where building more audience does not really make a lot of sense. It’s like the old marketing joke, “we will sell it at a loss and make it up in volume”.

      As to losing audience, you may be right. But you could be wrong too. As I said in the post. Everyone said we would lose audience when we went membership, and instead we gained 30%! If we use the time we will gain to create more really great content our page rank will go up and people that come to the site will have even more reason to join. (A fundamental of page rank is that it’s driven by great content.)

      So, even from a non-members point of view, this could be a win because there will be more great content. For many, I think that might outweigh the loss of being able to comment.

      Finally, as to a forum, I just can’t see the business case for that since there are already many forum sites out there. What’s the point in duplicating that and how does it lead people to membership? Further, forums take moderation or they turn into flame wars. So that would be time I would take away from doing stuff for our members. Again, poor business case since it is fundamental that effort and revenue align. Or to put it another way, never forget in business (or morally) that our primary responsibility, first, last, and all the time, is to the people who have given us money.

      • BrianC Feb 5, 2015, 4:24 pm

        John – you mentioned:

        “If we use the time we will gain to create more really great content our page rank will go up and people that come to the site will have even more reason to join.”

        I’m still not sold on the idea that you need to have a spam problem on a public commenting system. All the web sites I’m familiar with in the San Francisco bay area – don’t have spam problems. Its something thats been solved. I think you too can solve it relatively easily. So the real issue – if the spam issue goes away – is “why close your comment system off” if there is no spam issue.

        The forums that exist right now for sailboat cruising – are terrible. I’ve checked most of them and give up on them. They are based on 2002 technology, don’t work on mobile – and are just painful to use. Even though “Cruiser’s forum has something like 130,000 registered users – there is no traffic to speak of. You could easily get a huge boost in readership and good quality user-generated content on your site and provide even more reasons for people to pay for your site.

        Additionally – I’m sure there are many retired or semi-retired cruisers who would participate and moderate your forums for free simply because they appreciate the content you do produce – so the added cost and effort would be minimal. This is how I manage my forums.

        Also – it seems like you have a conversion issue in terms of visitors not converting to paying users – and you not knowing why. We use a number of tools that really help you understand the funnel of converting users to paid customers and why its happening or not happening. Here are are a few that I’d recommend you look into:

        https://mixpanel.com/

        https://qualaroo.com/

        Also – they have a good blog (not sure if its still being done:
        https://blog.kissmetrics.com/9-metrics/

        https://blog.kissmetrics.com/

        • John Feb 6, 2015, 12:29 pm

          Hi Brian,

          We are split testing landing pages as I write. Talking of which, if you would like to take a look at the landing pages (see Online Books in the menu) and make some suggestions for improvement, I’m all ears.

  • BrianC Feb 5, 2015, 4:10 pm

    Here is what a Quantcast site looks like when you’ve got the tags on your site:
    https://www.quantcast.com/boatingmag.com

  • Brian Feb 5, 2015, 3:17 pm

    John,

    I’m one of the many people who visit occasionally but not enough to justify membership. If you make me subscribe right now unfortunately I’d have to pass.

    I’m assuming that this is a Wordpress blog – and there are many very good plugins that virtually eliminate spam issues. I run a major blog and get spam once every 2 to 3 months – its just not a problem

    I recommend you upgrade your spam protection plugin – its very easy to do, and inexpensive.

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 3:45 pm

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the suggestion. We have spent over a year experimenting with different spam plugins and solutions. Most of them work until you get to a certain point in page rank where the spammers “discover” you. At that point these plug-ins pretty much fail to work. We get over 2000 spam attempts a day, together with over 500 hack attempts on our logins.

      The problem is that with all of these plugins is that they, themselves, use a lot of server band width and none of them are 100% effective.

      (By the way, we finally found a good solution to the hack attempts, called brute protect. Solves the problem with very little server load.)

      • BrianC Feb 5, 2015, 4:05 pm

        I find it very strange that you’re having so much trouble with Spam. The google page rank of your site is only a 4 – and my site is a 6 and I don’t have any problems at all. You’re doing something unusual (from my perspective).

        I use Akismet – and have no problems.

        If you’re really having problems – you could use the Discourse discussion forum software for your commenting. They have very sophisticated spam protection built in and even with 10,000 comments a week – I get no spam and have not issues. There is a special plugin for commenting in Wordpress sites:
        https://github.com/discourse/wp-discourse

        You could also use Disqus – which is also pretty much spam free – but it costs you and you lose the Google ranking benefits of the comments – but perhaps not such a big issue because its a minority of the content on the site.
        https://disqus.com/

        The biggest problem I see with your site is that it is not mobile friendly. You really need to get your site into the 21st century – with a what is called a “responsive” template – so it automatically works with all size screens. More than 50% of my traffic on my sites (I get a few hundred thousand visitors a month to my site) comes from Mobile – so if you aren’t getting 50% of your traffic from mobile – you’re probably missing out on a lot of potential visitors (the trend for people accessing the web from ipads and smartphones has increased dramatically for the past year or two)
        http://marketingland.com/outside-us-60-percent-internet-access-mostly-mobile-74498

        What you want is a wordpress template that is “Responsive”. You also probably want something based on Twitter Bootstrap – this is the best framework that most of the techies down in San Francisco use because its developed by Twitter and is very proven with obviously hundreds of millions of users. Try to use a template that is Bootstrap 3 based.

        Here is the site that I’ve used to buy my template:
        http://themeforest.net/

        Search on “bootstrap” and “responsive” to get the subset of themes/templates that you would really want.

        • John Feb 5, 2015, 4:16 pm

          Hi Brian,

          Yup, know we need to go responsive. However, because of the member and online book requirements the conversion is huge. This site is heavily customized, not just a standard theme.

          It’s on the list, but one again, creating great content is my primary job, not becoming the greatest web master in the world.

          I can’t tell you the number of business failures I have seen when people take their eye off the primary task: producing a great product (in our case content about offshore sailing) and start focusing on the surrounding sizzle. (I have been in the high tech business with a few breaks for 45 years.)

        • Matt Feb 5, 2015, 4:45 pm

          The trouble with third-party comment services like Disqus and Livefyre is that they break – a lot – for users who have taken even modest steps to secure their browsers. Are you blocking third-party cookies, as you should be? Livefyre will crash when you hit submit. Are you blocking cross-site Javascript, as you should be? Good luck getting Disqus to display anything at all. No, sticking with the built-in comment functionality in Drupal or Wordpress, plus a spam filter, is the way to go.

          Responsive design is definitely the way to go; all new sites I build and all existing sites I upgrade now get the adaptive-theme treatment. But doing it on an established site like this one is a great huge heap of work, including a lot of testing on a dev server to make sure nothing gets borked up in the conversion. It’s doable but it’s more than I would reasonably expect John and Phyllis to take on at the moment.

          • John Feb 5, 2015, 8:02 pm

            Hi Matt,

            Now that’s a point. I can say that at least 50% of the times I have tried any sort of plugin on this site it has broken something.

  • Tim Feb 5, 2015, 4:39 pm

    John

    By far I think this is one of the best and most informative cruising web sites out there today. I would compare it to the BBC of the cruising media world !!
    I think restricting comments to members is entirely reasonable, as long non members can see them and be enticed to join (on the free content). It would be a reason to become a member.

    As to the difficulty accessing from tablets and mobile devices I mostly read your site on a tablet and have even posted a comment when riding on a bullet train in Japan. So not that difficult.

    As you say, it is the content that will drive traffic – I culd not agree more. It is like a great restaurant that serves amazing food. People will ALWAYS find it.

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 8:04 pm

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks very much, I have endless respect for public radio and particularly the grandmother of them all, so to be so compared is very gratifying.

  • BrianC Feb 5, 2015, 4:09 pm

    One other thing you can do to improve your revenue from ads – is have a public traffic measuring service (these are typically free) – that you can share with advertisers.

    You then share this with potential advertisers so that they can see a verified traffic level on your site with demographics. Obviously, this is in additional to Google Analytics which you’d use for your internal analysis.

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 4:18 pm

      That sounds like a good idea, thanks.

  • BobR Feb 5, 2015, 5:30 pm

    I’m the admin of a large Porsche website and spam costs me wasted time every day. Various anti-spam methods no longer work since these days spam is created by humans who can do arithmetic etc.

    FWIW I have reduce spam by blocking certain IP domains – notably in India.

    My summers are spent racing Porsches -100 MPH or sailing 8 MPH 😉 although last year I wemnt to the dark side with a Ranger Tug which is great in local waters where sailing is best for very shallow draft boats like centerboard dinghies or Lasers.

    Love your writing and thoughtful analysis of sailing and voyaging.

    Best,

    Bob

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 8:01 pm

      Hi Bob,

      Well that’s a relief, I was beginning to think I was the only one that was targeted by an evil cooperative of spammers that hate sailors.

      Thanks for the kind comments.

      I googled the Ranger Tug, looks like fun.

      As to racing Porsches at that speed, please be careful, we can’t afford to lose any members!

  • Danny Blake Feb 5, 2015, 5:34 pm

    Hi John
    I read your site most days in the winter but not so much in the summer due to being out boating myself, but am happy to pay as everything on here is so informative, I do not comment much myself however I love reading all the different views and sometimes have a good chuckle when things get a little heated but always in such a polite manner!
    Danny Blake

  • RDE Feb 5, 2015, 6:51 pm

    Hi John,
    A couple of non-technical thoughts from a long term member—.

    My guess is that the ability to post images by members will more than overcome any loss in traffic due to putting comment posting behind a paywall. After all, the internet is first and foremost a visual media.

    It is my understanding that most spam is auto-generated. If you were to offer a free temporary introductory 1 week membership to any non-member wishing to comment, would not the sign up procedure serve as an effective spam filter and keep the drive-by spammers in their baby carriages where they belong? And at the same time help to drive membership enrollment?

    Keep up the great work, and make sure you allocate 10% of your winter time to skiing!

    Richard

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 7:55 pm

      Hi Richard,

      Now that is a really great idea. Our software will support a free membership that would allow them to comment on free posts but not see the online books—could be kind of gateway drug to membership :-). Maybe we should even make it for say three months, so they could really get comfortable here? And if a spammer does get in, it’s an easy matter for me to ban them. I will work on it.

      And I just got back from a quick ski, thank you. We have snow at last!

    • Matt Feb 6, 2015, 4:21 pm

      Free introductory membership – I like it. (I’ve been hooked on a few software products this way.)

      Most spam is auto-generated, but there is a growing market in paying people $0.75 an hour to solve captchas on behalf of the spambots, or to create fake user accounts on hundreds of websites so that the credentials can be sold for spamming. Any kind of barrier that requires a moment’s thought about how to register is enough to slow down or trip up the automated systems that co-ordinate that effort.

      • John Feb 6, 2015, 5:27 pm

        Hi Matt,

        I think what we will have to do is get a credit card up front. Not sure how people will like that, but it’s the only way to stop the spammers.

        The other issue is that I think that the only way to do this is through Paypal and so many people just really hate them. And I totally get that.

        Still I will look at the options and see if there is a way around the these two issues.

  • Rob Gill Feb 5, 2015, 7:46 pm

    Hi John,
    I would really like to be able to see photos or diagrams attached to posts, so +++ for this – as a member I see only upside. The downside seems low (you can always reverse the decision), so a “ready fire aim” approach should work nicely!

    WRT the fall off in new sign-ups, typically in business when new sales slow we have a choice: do more of the same or, step 1) sell existing customers new products, step 2), sell new customers existing products (new products to new customers is generally considered a leap). From your description step 2) seems best.

    My suggestion then is to appeal to readers from a wider yachting community, not just the smaller niche undertaking extended ocean or high latitude voyaging. I don’t mean in anyway that you should dumb down the content – far from it. But perhaps find ways to be more inclusive of those of us on the “fringe” of your market segment. This might include people like us planning offshore trips in production yachts, adventurous coastal sailors, offshore racers, industry professionals and simply ocean dreamers. Have you done a market segmentation snake diagram? For non-marketers, a market segment is simply a bunch of people who care about the same things, and just as importantly are prepared to pay for it! $19 can’t be preventing people surely? This is the same amount I pay for a subscription to PredictWind forecasting site, of which there are many “free” options, but I choose to buy one I can rely on and is easy to use.

    The largest segment of the cruising market have production yachts (we have a well found but stock standard Beneteau 473), which I accept is not the best yacht for extended voyaging to high latitudes, but then it spends 10 months of the year in a marina. This doesn’t mean she won’t safely take us on our adventures from NZ to the Pacific Islands with the right crew and careful preparation, about which I have learnt so much on this site. Sometimes though, I find myself skipping through articles and comments ignoring dismissive remarks that refer to our much-loved yacht, to get to the heart of the message(s) and the value being imparted. I can’t help wondering if many visitors are turned-off by this (I am sure unintended) “exclusiveness”.

    So perhaps more acceptance of “fringe” adventurers might help attract those of us who don’t need or can’t afford true ocean voyaging yachts, but want to know how we can “ruggedise” our production yachts to safely, comfortably and affordably achieve our more limited or just different adventures.

    Good luck with the planned changes.
    Rob

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 8:14 pm

      Hi Rob,

      All great advice and a lot for us to chew on. I think you may have hit the nail on the head. Thanks so much.

      We don’t intend to give off that exclusive vibe, but I can certainly see how we in actual fact do so.

      We need to better job of living up to the fundamental credo that we now have in the sidebar:

      “Attainable Adventure Cruising is not about feats of derring-do; rather, this site is about gear and techniques that have let us, who are not particularly intrepid, cruise some of the world’s more remote and challenging places without exceeding our capabilities.

      For us, Attainable Adventure Cruising has often meant expedition voyages to the Arctic, but it has also meant a snug harbour in Down East Maine or a remote cove on the coast of Norway. It is our hope that whatever an Attainable Adventure Cruise is to you, the information provided here will help you attain it.

      I have now read your comment twice and got good stuff both times. There will be more re-reads!

      • Rob Gill Feb 5, 2015, 9:34 pm

        No worries John,

        One more comment on social media. Facebook (and others) are great ways to share articles and keep in touch with friends and fellow enthusiasts of any interest group or site. Most of my Facebook friends are either sailors or skiers! Groups or sites we follow gain free social media marketing exposure – I’m sure you know how it works. But a pay-wall effectively stops your members and visitors from sharing and liking articles, since anyone linking to the content could be blocked and it’s a bit rude posting a link that may end in a paywall. So AAC won’t be getting much of this pull through here.

        Richard’s introductory subscription idea would allow your readers to use FB say to share an article, and for their FB friends to be able to open it. This would encourage us to not only post, but to share more widely than a closed AAC member group.

        And, it would be great if new guests arriving from the ether got Richard’s 1 month free subscription, but members guests who have “liked” the AAC page, and who invite their friends through their linked social media account would get your 3 months free subscription offer.

        This way we can help you get the word out, and our sailing friends would feel a bit special reading an AAC welcome message informing them of the special offer for them as “friends”.

        Numbers? I have about 30 Facebook friends 10 of whom are sailors. If they each have say 7 friends who are sailors, that is 70 sailors you would reach just through me. So taking your 1500 members (and my schoolboy stats) over 100,000 sailors could be reached if we all shared one article per year, if I am an average (wrt social media) reader of AAC, and you restrict the offer to friends, and friends of friends. I’ll leave you to estimate the possible reach from friends of friends of friends etc.

        Not sure if you can do this technically though? … just a thought.
        Rob

        • John Feb 5, 2015, 9:58 pm

          Hi Rob,

          Yes, a very interesting idea, and the arithmetic is compelling—sort of the ultimate pyramid scheme :-). But, as you say at the end, technically pretty challenging. I’m sure it’s doable, but it would take a lot of custom programming to detect who was friends with who and then act on that.

          The problem is that we just don’t have the budget for custom programming, or the ongoing maintenance that custom programming always gets you into. (I used to run a custom programming shop.)

          Having said that, we are looking at an affiliates program. Not quite the same thing, but still a way for people to bring their friends in. The nice thing is that our member system supports that right out of the box.

          Also note that over 70% of our content is free and outside of the Paywal, so you can still link your friends to that.

          Also, we are considering making it so each Online Book that would have a free introductory chapter, so you could link your friends to that, so they can see whats available and decide if they want to pay for it.

      • Tim Feb 6, 2015, 3:19 am

        John,

        I agree with Rob. I suspect that whist the site has grown from it’s northerly roots, it may be time to expand its latitude further south (although there is some content from Colin on this I recall) and maybe sometimes closer to shore to expand readership. Just a thought.

    • Marius Feb 6, 2015, 2:49 pm

      I agree with Rob. A lot. Of course I would like to have a Boreal – I do however have a Bavaria. At least for now.

      With all respect for the experience behind all the content (and I support the BBC comparison!), I do sometimes feel that the content is a bit “smug” in it’s approach. I still read on, though, as the content is great, but others may not.

      Oh, and one more thing: I just signed up as a member.

      • John Feb 6, 2015, 6:32 pm

        Hi Marius,

        Thanks for joining, much appreciated.

        Just smug? I though I was arrogant, that’s way beyond smug. Seriously, good point, when you feel as strongly about stuff as I do it is very easy to veer into smug, (and arrogant too). I need to do better on that, thanks.

  • Laurent Feb 5, 2015, 8:23 pm

    Personally, I like reading this site because of the skills and knowledges of many contributors, and I like writing some comments on technical issues, because I have developed some interests in those technical issues in other activities, and also because I have some leisure.

    Point is, I am not directly concerned by blue-water cruising, neither as a possible customer/user nor as a possible provider, but I am directly concerned by old-gaffers (or copies of…). For that reason, I enjoy discussing about good-level technical points tied to boat-building in general, even if I don’t think I might ever be a customer for the kind of boat being discussed here.

    John is perfectly right in using Internet to try establish a boat-litterature or boat-building activity, and in trying to develop a business model where all his costs can be balanced by corresponding revenues, but, personally, I don’t think I should subscribe to an Internet site that I am reading, and sometimes contributing to, only out of scholarly interest and without serious perspectives of using corresponding information.

    The question looks like a choice between a more focused business-model and a wider, but possibly also a bit richer, one. I am a bit frustrated to learn that I won’t be able to go-on debating a few technical issues on this site without subscribing, but it is not a serious point and I wish John the best success in his activities.

    • John Feb 5, 2015, 10:11 pm

      Hi Laurent,

      Well first off, we would be sorry to lose you.

      One thing I’m interested in, which I would like your input on is the price to benefit ratio.

      To my eyes the price is so low ($1.66 a month) that I would have thought people (including you) would pay it in the same way that they might buy a cup of coffee and sit over it chatting with friends, particularly since membership at AAC is a lot cheeper than the coffee.

      Why does it not feel that way to you? Understand, I’m not being argumentative here, I genuinely want to know. After all, if I can convince people, in some way, of my thesis above, it will fix all our problems in the blink of an eye.

      Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

      • Laurent Feb 6, 2015, 11:14 pm

        I like the idea of long-range cruising but my health forbid it unless I use boats that seem to me ecologically incorrect.

  • Kevin B Feb 5, 2015, 11:34 pm

    Hi John…this site has become part of my daily routine…as comforting as my wee dram of evening scotch! The information provided through both your own input and the participation of the “regular” contributors continues to provide tremendous value. I am a member, and am pleased to pay for the quality of information I have received in return. I have no objection to your recommended change. K

  • ben garvey Feb 5, 2015, 11:44 pm

    I look forward to the few hours a month (maybe) when I can get lost in the data on this site. I have not found the end of it yet – there is such a depth here of well reasoned and well stated opinion, based on real experience. Even if I do not 100% agree with every point, or find that emphasis is placed in ways that I would do otherwise, I thoroughly enjoy and value the content. The format is excellent, easy to read and very well written (which is rare these days). The links and supporting data are always present and clearly accessible; and the caliber of the commentary and supporting contributions extremely high.

    In my opinion, it is priced too low – a bargain at twice the cost. Heck, I just spent $28 to buy ‘pro sails and extra options’ for the Volvo Ocean Race online game boat that my daughter and I are “racing” on the next leg of the VOR (BTW – I highly recommend this – it’s a hoot – we did the last leg and clawed our way from 65,000th to 17,000th after starting 2 days too late… we became so obsessed that we actually were setting our own ‘watches’ and getting up at all hours to deal with wind shifts and course changes. just like the real thing without all the nasty business of wetness and discomfort… what fun during a January in NS!).

    Your comparison to a coffee is very apt. so many people spend so much on frivolous and fleeting pleasures that actually do them harm in the long run. This is exactly the opposite. Charge more in my opinion. the value is more than there, even at twice the price. I’d still buy in at $40, without hesitation.

    …and when the heck are you going to offer your high latitude course on this side of the atlantic anyway?

    Thanks John and Phyllis (and contributors). You are doing a heck of a good job here, and deserve to be paid well for it. Those who don’t or won’t recognize that probably aren’t really ever going to be happy with any plan other than completely free.

    do not deviate for them.

    bg

    • Tim Feb 6, 2015, 3:12 am

      Ben,

      I agree, the price vs the quality of the information is too low. I would be prepared to pay more like you. I am mid way through commissioning a 47 foot aluminium lifting keel monohull and find the experience here is invaluable. Before I make any final major decision I always consult this site.

      • Erik de Jong Feb 6, 2015, 10:23 am

        I’m not sure if I’m 100% correct, but I think the price of $20 is in Canadian currency, making it only $16 in US currency at the current exchange rate.

        • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:46 pm

          Hi Erik,

          Up until November we were charging in Can$, but changed then to US. The problem was that most of our costs—server, software, computers, etc— are denominated in US$ so the steadily sinking Can$ was eating us alive.

          Automatic renewal members who joined before October and keep up their membership will continue to be charged in Can$—a nice discount for the early supporters.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 12:34 pm

      Hi Tim and Ben,

      Now that’s interesting. Maybe we are priced too low and that is communicating the wrong message to prospective members about the value of our content. Certainly something to think about.

      On the high latitude course in NA, stay tuned, we are working on it for the fall in Halifax.

  • Chris Feb 6, 2015, 2:51 am

    Hi John,
    I am a regular reader and check your site daily. From my perspective 50% of the value of your site comes from comments. I guess the question for you is what % of the comments are provided by members… My guess is that it is the majority . If it is indeed the case there is little risk to make the changes you propose .
    Cheers
    Chris

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 12:43 pm

      Hi Chris,

      A really good question. The answer is that in the four months to Oct 2014 just over 50% of comments were from members. But that’s only part of the story, further analysis shows that of the really meaty comments that add value over 75% come from members.

      And then after October we started putting up more posts that were locked down right from publication date. While those posts got less comments on average than a free post, the comments themselves were longer and more thoughtful on the locked down posts.

  • Dave Wright Feb 6, 2015, 4:21 am

    I am a recent member and a long time “in between” ocean cruising adventures. Even so, I find this site an incredible resource of well considered and experienced discourse—there simply is nothing else at all like it out there.
    I don’t waste money on fancy coffee or time on tweets either, but I think that for the price, this is a terrific bargain. I agree with those who would pay more to support the effort, and have no problem with the reasonable idea of reducing John and Phyllis’ load by limiting comments. Can $20 a year possibly be hard to justify for anyone with even a passing interest in boats and voyaging? No other site has anything like the content found here. Thanks for providing it

  • Rob Withers Feb 6, 2015, 8:45 am

    I am very miserly indeed – this is the only website on the planet that I pay to access! However, I would imagine that I’m in the crosshairs of the site’s target audience – the last article was all about the wonderful design of the Boreal, which I have on order! Everybody likes to be told they are right – so for me, it’s great value.

    I think it’s a good idea to restrict write-access to members if it saves time and effort. The most insightful comments tend to come from the same few names – who I guess are members. Presumably, you’ve done some analysis about how many posts come from members vs non-members?

    One point: I posted a link to a video a couple of days ago. Stupidly, I’d marked it as private on youtube, so nobody could see it. 2 people noticed and posted asking to be fixed, which I did – and then told them about. That’s 3 posts which don’t add to the sum of human knowledge at all and 3 posts you then have to manually delete to keep the board sensible. Is there a way to reduce the time and effort of keeping the comments tidy? Suggestions could be: Allow some form of 1-to-1 communication between members (that would have helped in this occasion) or delegate – there are probably a number of your readers who would take on looking after a thread every so often.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 12:52 pm

      Hi Rob,

      Interesting suggestions.

      While running a public forum is slightly less attractive to me than having a root canal…every day, the idea of having a place where members could communicate one to one is much more attractive. Not sure how to do that in the software, but it’s worth looking at.

      As to delegating, that’s interesting too, although Matt and Colin already shoulder pretty much all the load on the posts they write… Actually, in thinking about it, I think it’s important that the post author is available and interactive in the comments.

  • Ken F Feb 6, 2015, 10:10 am

    Not a member. However, I think it’s a great idea. I run a sailing website as well (still fairly new and not nearly the traffic as this site), and I’m also bombarded with SPAM and nastiness. Go for it! It’s a pain and lessens the experience for the owners and readers!

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 12:59 pm

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for that confirmation.

      Nice site. A question for you? Would you be interested in an affiliates program where you could sell membership on AAC and get a percentage? After 12 years of running this site, I know how hard it is to get started and maybe some sort of co-operation along those lines would be good?

  • David Hudson Feb 6, 2015, 10:18 am

    But I like spam. But I hate Monty Python.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:05 pm

      Hi David,

      Good to hear from you.

      Warah, Warah, Warah!

      For others who may be confused by the above, David and I raced 505s together back when the world was young. The above was his war cry as we approached the gibe mark on a three sail reach teetering on the edge of disaster.

      Beat hell out of another guy I sailed with who would yell “we’re all going to die” repeatedly in the same circumstances.

  • Steve Broom Feb 6, 2015, 10:31 am

    Makes sense to me. Anything we can do to keep you online and not discouraged.

  • dann303 Feb 6, 2015, 10:33 am

    No problem from this side of the pond. Keep up the good work

  • Svein Lamark Feb 6, 2015, 10:35 am

    Hi John, I support you. I am afraid that if you do not do this, you will get tiered of all the work and close down AAC .

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:10 pm

      Hi Svein,

      Thank you for the support. I think you have hit the nail on the head. In fact, one of the reasons that we came up with this policy was that both Phyllis and I noticed that I was starting to get resentful about the amount of work I was doing and that, worse still, that emotion was showing in my writing.

      When we analyzed it, the thing that was really getting to me more than anything else was dealing with long and involved conversations in the comments with people who were clearly never going to contribute to the site by joining.

  • Scott Fraser Feb 6, 2015, 10:36 am

    One work springs to mind: Nike

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:11 pm

      Hi Scott,

      Sorry, I don’t get it. But then I have not had a TV in 20 years, which might explain my ignorance?

  • Ray Feb 6, 2015, 10:37 am

    John,
    Do what you need to do to keep the site alive. Most everybody will adjust.
    Ray

  • Matt Boney Feb 6, 2015, 10:38 am

    Quote:
    All of that makes a pretty convincing case for this change.

    I agree.

    Maybe the reason you haven’t had many recent subscriptions is that you are not now adding content that people want to read.

    I joined to keep up and contribute to your battery and charging books, but I haven’t visited this site for a while.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:17 pm

      Hi Matt,

      Interesting. Hum, maybe we have deviated from what people want. Part of the problem may be that because of my broken leg and some other life changes we have not ourselves been out voyaging much since 2012. That will change in the spring and I already have a long list of tech stuff to write about.

      On the bright side, Colin is out there now and we have two really cool tech posts from him in the hopper. First one will publish in a couple of days.

      On the bright side, our enforced land time gave us the time to put the whole Online Book and membership system together in the first place—never would have happened if we were out voyaging.

  • James Feb 6, 2015, 10:56 am

    Good idea,especially if one can add photos / illustrations.Will this new system be s “searchable” such as one is endeavouring to find out about a bit of equipment and have all relevant data gathered in one place.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:18 pm

      Hi James,

      Everything, including comments, is searchable now. Just use the google site specific search box at the top of the sidebars. Works really well, I use it all the time.

  • Enno Feb 6, 2015, 11:10 am

    I have to prove you wrong John. You get at least 2 beers for 20$ in Norway. 😉

    Concerning the price for benefit ratio I think 20$ per year is quite OK for me and most sailors. But let’s not lose the perspective. We that can afford our own a sailing vessel are probably the riches 0.1% of this planets population. The other 99.9% might find 20$ prohibitive expensive. You might say that most of them are not in the target audience but don’t forget the dreamers. I have been reading ACC before I had my own boat but I do not think I was ready to pay for it back then.

    Why don’t you do the following:
    Make a free account available which gives the right to publish comments as RDE suggests. That would definitely solve the spam problem, especially if the first post gets only published after approval. If really spam is your problem than you do not need a time limit on this account. If you want to make money on the comments, than this is not the solution.
    You might also consider making one or two online books for a limited period available to those who register. I would suspect that most subscribers knew ACC from before. You might need a means to attract new subscribers. Those that never knew ACC before the paywall.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:21 pm

      Hi Enno,

      I think you and Richard (see above) are right, we need to think more about introductory memberships. Although, on the other hand, let’s not lose sight of the fact that 70% of our content is already available for free… Hum, maybe the problem is we are doing a poor job of communicating that.

      • Enno Feb 6, 2015, 3:52 pm

        Correct. But you have to motivate people to pay for the remaining 30% don’t you? Locking away more of the 70% will not do that.
        If you close comments for the A40 posts this could be harmful to the whole A40 project. On the other side the A40 posts are a good advertise for AAC membership. This whole project is dependent on AAC today.
        Do I guess right that the two François are paying to keep the Boreal posts free? They might not be pleased of loosing the comments on these posts either.

        • John Feb 6, 2015, 6:01 pm

          Hi Enno,

          Sorry, not sure I agree with all of that. If someone is not willing to pay $20.00 to be part of the A40 project, I think it unlikely they will buy a boat. In fact I perceive this as a positive.

          Frankly I was coming to dread A40 posts due to the huge amount of work dealing with people who clearly were never going to buy a boat or become members. I think with this policy I will be much more motivated to do A40 posts because I will be spending time with people who really care about the project, not the drive-bys.

          Also keep in mind that while it is possible, it is not clear that AAC will ever make a cent out of the A40.

          As to Boreal. The JF’s were, and are, kind enough to support this site because they feel what we do is worth while. They have never attached any conditions to their help. If they started attaching conditions (don’t think they would) I would immediately end the relationship.

  • Dave DeWolfe Feb 6, 2015, 11:23 am

    John,
    I think you have probably the best cruising resource website on the internet. I promote it with all my students and I hope a lot of them have signed up.

    Enno is right about beer in Norway; I just returned from Bergen Wednesday.

    I run quite a few Wordpress websites and can highly recommend the All-In-One Security plugin. My spam has gone to almost 0.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:22 pm

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks. We already use All in One security Plugin, it’s from the same guys who wrote our membership system, and I agree, great plugin.

  • Dan Feb 6, 2015, 11:31 am

    how about a way to pay without paypal, I just want to use my visa and an ask John tab where we can go off topic, ie what do you think of Hoek yachts

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:24 pm

      Hi Dan,

      You can already pay without joining Paypal. Only the automatic recurring membership requires joining Paypal. One year and three year do not, you can just pay with a credit card.

  • Terry Mason Feb 6, 2015, 11:57 am

    I joined December 2014. I came across your site by chance and read most of the free content. I was impressed at the quality of the posts/articles and wanted to see more, so I joined for one year to “try it out”. I have not been disappointed; on the contrary, I have gleaned much useful information in consideration of our upcoming voyage.

    The new policy makes perfect sense, especially considering that you have some free content as a kind of loss leader, it got me hooked and I was eager to join. Perhaps the new member drop-off has something to do with having to shovel snow instead (upstate NY), we have our priorities.

    Thank you for your efforts; like our refit, it must be a labor of love. Keep it up.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:26 pm

      Hi Terry,

      Good point on the weather. Sometimes you can drive yourself crazy trying to solve a problem outside of your control—kind of like voyaging!

  • Brian Engle Feb 6, 2015, 11:59 am

    It’s a no-brainer. This thread alone proves the point about quality vs. quantity. This interactive library you’ve created is the single best cruising resource on the web… not because of hit counts but because of the editorial and publishing value you bring to it. This is your ship; steer her where she needs to go. Thank you.

  • Chris Phillips Feb 6, 2015, 12:00 pm

    I think its a good idea and totally get the problem of spam; its the only way you can really fight it.

  • Andy Gothard Feb 6, 2015, 12:00 pm

    Yet another rational, well argued and coherent article from one of the few places you can get that nowadays! I’m happy to support your decision and I’ll be happy to carry on renewing my membership.

    Now John how about something in return? – I’m itching to read something new about the progress on the Adventure 40 project !

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 1:54 pm

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for the support.

      Yes, I know I need to get back to A40, and I will in the next two weeks, or so.

      In fact this change will make me a lot more enthusiastic about writing A40 posts. The problem in the past has been that said posts took a huge amount of time to write and then even more time to respond to the cascade of comments. And all of that was in the free area, so it was hard to justify the time away from content for our members.

      If only members will be able to comment the whole A40 thing becomes a lot more manageable. And, after all, if a person is not willing to pay $19.99/year to be able to interact with the A40 process, are they really going to buy a boat? I say no, so this will also help us determine who is really serious.

  • Robert Andrew Feb 6, 2015, 12:23 pm

    Also a relatively new member, and the policy change makes sense to me as well.

  • Jari Feb 6, 2015, 12:29 pm

    Without unrestricted forum this site would loose appeal to me , I think forum keeps you firmly on the ground John .

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 2:00 pm

      Hi Jari,

      Just to clarify, there has never been a “forum” here at AAC. Rather we have comments to posts. A very different thing as explained in our comment guide lines.

      And I agree that the comments “keep me on the ground”. Having said that, it is overwhelming the members that do that, so nothing will change.

  • Giles Adams Feb 6, 2015, 12:36 pm

    My 2 cents.

    For me this website has become the reference point for information. I am new to the sailing world and have a few more years before I can untie the lines. Whilst I wait, I dream a little, and learn as much as I can. Reading the posts and threads here does help with both of those, but also will save me from many rookie mistakes, and make me safer when I get onboard and away.

    The site though has to be a commercial success for John and the team, not a pure labour of love, so it has to pay enough to make it viable. Only John and colleagues can determine what that $ value is, but this thread is clearly a request to recognise it has to be something that is worthwhile for them.

    For me then, yes happy to pay, and maybe more than $20 a year. As to keeping the threads open or closed to members I think we need to be careful, as new recruits might struggle to see the value if locked out of the good stuff. That’s a marketing / data analysis question that will show as you balance the number of folks that pause on the site and then don’t return.

  • Don Feb 6, 2015, 1:22 pm

    Terrific move. As it should be. I am currently a member but do not leave posts as I am very early on the “learning curve”.

    Great work. The entire AAC concept is wonderful, especially to those of us pushing off.

    MAKE THE CHANGE!!!!

  • Marvin Feb 6, 2015, 1:38 pm

    Would the comments actually operate any different in the new scheme? I did post to the Interior boat design thread, and after it grew to more than two pages of comments, I could never see more than just the first page no matter what I did. Tried different browsers on different PC’s on different web connection and got the same view every time.

    I’m not a paid member, just a inland lake sailor, so while I really enjoy the wisdom here, it isn’t really all that directly transferable to a 22′ boat on an inland lake. Even though I completely agree the content is worth the cost, I’m a little resistant to spending on something that doesn’t quite apply. Big boat ocean sailing cruisers is a niche market. There are no two ways around it.

    • John Feb 6, 2015, 5:32 pm

      Hi Marvin,

      Yes the comments would still work the same way, other that (I hope) adding images.

      I’m confused as to the problem on posts with more than one page of comments. This page just tripped over to two pages and seems to be working fine. There is a “Next Comments” “Previous Comments” link at the bottom of the page. Is that not working for you? Please advise.

      And yes, I hear you on it being a niche. But I think that the key to our success is that we do specialize. Of course that may mean we just have to live with fewer members.

      • Marvin Feb 8, 2015, 5:12 pm

        …of course it is working just fine right now for me. Both for this big topic and the interior design thread. Not sure why it didn’t work so constantly for me in the past.

        • John Feb 8, 2015, 9:45 pm

          Hi Marvin,

          Now I think about it (I had forgotten) we did have a bug in this area some months…maybe a year ago. Maybe you just got unlucky and visited that post them—sorry.

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