SFF Network & SFF Forum: A bunch of announcements... and a request for your help!

Everyone,

We have a lot of announcements to share with you today!

1. We have new moderators and a new contributor. Astute SFF Network readers and Low Volume listeners will be well aware of our newest contributor, Drew Duncan (@3lfk1ng on the forum), who joined our team just in time to do a veritable tour-de-force on the ground at CES 2017. His presence on the showroom floor was our first-ever local reporting at a trade show or conference, and as a result we were able to get a first peek at a slew of hardware announcements, to the point where larger publications like Anandtech even used our reporting as a primary source for their own.


Drew Duncan reporting from base in California, the day before CES 2017

Drew isn't our latest addition to the team, however; I'm very happy to give kudos (even if pre-empted) to @GuilleAcoustic and @||| , who have joined the moderator team for SFF Forum! Although we've discussed expanding the number of moderators internally for some time, it's been the latest spike of traffic that's inspired us to have more mods on tap to help us support the community. We've been incredibly proud of how well the culture and discourse on SFF Forum has transpired over the past few years, and - with their help - we'll be able to scale our team to maintain the communal spirit we've enjoyed up until now.

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2. We've improved the forum's search feature. I'm pleased to share that we've made a significant upgrade to the search functionality of the forum, which until this change was... shall we say, dreadful. Now, however, we have an Elasticsearch-powered solution implemented for all users, that's substantially better at pulling up relevant threads and posts. If you've sworn off the search bar in the past, we'd encourage you to give it a try sometime.

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3. We're changing how we monetize our editorial content. Up until this year, our primary means of monetizing content on SFF Forum was to use AdSense, which places contextual and targeted advertising on our site, in exchange for payments based on views and clicks on the part of users. This has worked ok for us - it's generated revenue, albeit not much given the readership we have - but we'll be blunt: AdSense ads suck. They make websites look ugly, they track users to a distressing extent, and they detract from our content, rather than compliment it. We implemented them in order to provide us with critically-needed revenue, and they did that. But we want to be better than that.

So no more. Moving forward, SFF Network will have zero AdSense or other ad placement services. Instead, we will be partnering and working together with vendors in order to have direct sponsorships, both on SFF Network and on Low Volume. In this way - and by implementing thorough internal processes to wholly separate our editorial team from our sponsorship team - we'll be able to cover our costs through tasteful and relevant sponsorships that are relevant to our readers, without the ugliness and disquieting nature of traditional ad networks.

To be clear, there's much more going on behind the scenes with this initiative, and we'll have a lot more to share in the coming months. Our intent with respect to implementation of this change is to be radically transparent and highly responsive to community feedback and guidance. And there's a lot that we're working on organizationally and strategically to give ourselves the best chance of success. For now, though, these more immediate changes will hopefully bring us closer to a sustainable level of income, whilst also improving the reading experience for users, and respecting their privacy. It will be a lot of work for us to co-develop sponsorships and limit ourselves to vendors who actually have good products and services to offer - but we think the effort is worth it.

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4. We're going to Computex - but only with your help! With Drew at CES, SFF Network was able to accomplish some stellar reporting, and the connections we've made with manufacturers and vendors have already yielded benefits in the form of a slew of product reviews we have in the pipeline. That said, it's well understood that the single most important event in our industry is Computex, as it is focused on the silicon and components that comprise computing devices, rather than the consumer-oriented devices that CES is primarily concerned with.

As such, we've set an ambitious goal for ourselves: to bring the whole core team - myself, @Aibohphobia and @confusis - to Computex 2017 this year, such that we can provide the best possible coverage of what is shaping up to be a tremendous event for computing and SFF. The thing is, we have little more than enough to cover our operating expenses and ongoing community/editorial work - and this is where we need your help! We've brainstormed a list of possible methods to give us the funding needed to make Computex coverage possible, but we want the community to drive this initiative as much as any other.

Some of our current ideas include the following:
  • A donation drive, encouraging folks to donate or become forum subscribers
  • An IGG campaign to cover the trip expenses, with tiers of support providing various perks or swag
  • A SFF Network/Forum t-shirt sale (finally!)
  • A "SFF Network Group Tour" whereby community members can pay-in to a group budget, so we can secure group rates for travel and hotel stays (and perhaps we can fit a few fun events in as well)
  • SFF auction drive (we put together a build, have the crew sign it, and sell to the highest bidder)
  • Working with a vendor or vendors to sponsor our coverage
  • Some combination of the above
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As always, we'd love feedback and input for all of the above developments. I know this has been a pretty dense update, but it's commensurate with the amount of work we're doing behind the scenes, as well as with all that's ahead of us this year.

Thanks much,

- Joshua
 

LocoMoto

DEVOURER OF BAKED POTATOES
Jul 19, 2015
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  • A SFF Network/Forum t-shirt sale (finally!)
As always, we'd love feedback and input for all of the above developments. I know this has been a pretty dense update, but it's commensurate with the amount of work we're doing behind the scenes, as well as with all that's ahead of us this year.

I'd very much prefer a polo shirt, but sure will get a t-shirt if that'd be the only option!

Very much liked this update, its content and I am excited for the future with it!
 

EdZ

Virtual Realist
Gold Supporter
May 11, 2015
1,578
2,106
3. We're changing how we monetize our editorial content. Up until this year, our primary means of monetizing content on SFF Forum was to use AdSense, which places contextual and targeted advertising on our site, in exchange for payments based on views and clicks on the part of users. This has worked ok for us - it's generated revenue, albeit not much given the readership we have - but we'll be blunt: AdSense ads suck. They make websites look ugly, they track users to a distressing extent, and they detract from our content, rather than compliment it. We implemented them in order to provide us with critically-needed revenue, and they did that. But we want to be better than that.

So no more. Moving forward, SFF Network will have zero AdSense or other ad placement services. Instead, we will be partnering and working together with vendors in order to have direct sponsorships, both on SFF Network and on Low Volume. In this way - and by implementing thorough internal processes to wholly separate our editorial team from our sponsorship team - we'll be able to cover our costs through tasteful and relevant sponsorships that are relevant to our readers, without the ugliness and disquieting nature of traditional ad networks.

To be clear, there's much more going on behind the scenes with this initiative, and we'll have a lot more to share in the coming months. Our intent with respect to implementation of this change is to be radically transparent and highly responsive to community feedback and guidance. And there's a lot that we're working on organizationally and strategically to give ourselves the best chance of success. For now, though, these more immediate changes will hopefully bring us closer to a sustainable level of income, whilst also improving the reading experience for users, and respecting their privacy. It will be a lot of work for us to co-develop sponsorships and limit ourselves to vendors who actually have good products and services to offer - but we think the effort is worth it.
I'd like to take a moment to congratulate SFFn on this. 'Native' delivered ads are superior in every way for a site viewer to those delivered via a CDN. They are more relevant, less intrusive (no cross-site javascript), more secure (no worries over 'rogue ads'), visually more pleasant (can be tailored to site design), and avoid the need to set up filter whitelists to support a site.
They take more effort to set up and maintain the relationships with companies who wish to advertise, but it's worth it. And, I'd hope, worth it for those companies too, who not only get a guarantee their ads are getting to people who actually want to buy their products, but are also getting expert advice from those same people!

With a smaller embroidered logo, I'd actually buy some smart pairs of SFFn socks. It's an elegant logo.
 

PlayfulPhoenix

Founder of SFF.N
Original poster
SFFLAB
Chimera Industries
Moderator
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Feb 22, 2015
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I'd like to take a moment to congratulate SFFn on this. 'Native' delivered ads are superior in every way for a site viewer to those delivered via a CDN. They are more relevant, less intrusive (no cross-site javascript), more secure (no worries over 'rogue ads'), visually more pleasant (can be tailored to site design), and avoid the need to set up filter whitelists to support a site.
They take more effort to set up and maintain the relationships with companies who wish to advertise, but it's worth it. And, I'd hope, worth it for those companies too, who not only get a guarantee their ads are getting to people who actually want to buy their products, but are also getting expert advice from those same people!

It's a pretty ambitious thing for us to try to do, but we want to try, and your comment neatly summarizes why. When it works, it's better for everyone.

I honestly don't know if we'll be successful, and I think in the back of all of our heads is the worry that we won't be able to consistently find sponsors. But our traffic and community/readership are strong enough that we're very confident that vendors will be interested in working with us - we have an awesome audience of discerning enthusiasts, and among our community are the sorts of folks that really lead the SFF world forward. As such, the ability to reach out to our audience is quite valuable. So the burden in many ways is on us to do right by them (though cooperation/collaboration), and by our readership (through transparency and curation and - frankly - tastefulness).
 

Phuncz

Lord of the Boards
Editorial Staff
Moderator
Gold Supporter
May 9, 2015
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Amazing work, I'm looking forward to the plans the Holy J's have laid out for the future of SFF.
I'll be auto-renewing my Supporter status soon, but I could use SFFn coasters (like these), a steel bottle opener (aluminium is too soft) and business cards that say "Also want a tiny but fast PC ? www.smallformfactor.net".
 
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iFreilicht

FlexATX Authority
Feb 28, 2015
3,241
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2. We've improved the forum's search feature. I'm pleased to share that we've made a significant upgrade to the search functionality of the forum, which until this change was... shall we say, dreadful. Now, however, we have an Elasticsearch-powered solution implemented for all users, that's substantially better at pulling up relevant threads and posts. If you've sworn off the search bar in the past, we'd encourage you to give it a try sometime.

Yay, my subscription contributed to this! :D But I probably won't be able to help you out with Computex, I don't even have money for a shirt right now and just a few months ago bought a whole batch of about twelve shirts, so there's no reason for me to get new ones :/ (serisouly, those are the best shirts I've ever owned)

Still, I wish you good luck! Maybe with an IGG campaign, you could do stretch goals to bring a different number of your team in? First goal is just the one of you who can get there cheapest, then the more money comes in the more people you get there.

And I'm so glad about how you decided to make your new ads work, huge fan of that! I also really like the integrated ads youtubers do nowadays, even if they're mostly for Audible, but they all bring their personal spin in and can actually be an entertaining part of the video.
 

Kmpkt

Innovation through Miniaturization
KMPKT
Feb 1, 2016
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Was thinking about this and wondering what you guys do with review units after you're done. If they're property of the website could you auction them to members or offer them as prizes on a drive for supporters? Say 1 entry for Bronze, 2 for Silver, 3 for Gold and then a raffle on date X?
 
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PlayfulPhoenix

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Feb 22, 2015
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Was thinking about this and wondering what you guys do with review units after you're done. If they're property of the website could you auction them to members...

Some publications liquidate review units to fund operations, but we have elected not to, up to this point. We are concerned about the ethics of doing so - it could improperly incentivize favorable reviews, particularly of expensive products.

Presently, our process for intake of review units is fairly straightforward: if a vendor wants the unit(s) returned, we return them. If they don't, we hold on to them for use by SFF Network/Minutiae for longitudinal testing and other editorial content. Once we have no editorial use for them, we give them away here on the forum.

...or offer them as prizes on a drive for supporters? Say 1 entry for Bronze, 2 for Silver, 3 for Gold and then a raffle on date X?

This would be illegal, since requiring payment to participate in a raffle is considered gambling in the US (which is where Minutiae is domiciled). And in any case, I personally would rather have raffles be open to all members.

(Free entry for all members - but extra entries for supporters - might be possible, and would be more interesting, perhaps.)
 
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iFreilicht

FlexATX Authority
Feb 28, 2015
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Some publications liquidate review units to fund operations, but we have elected not to, up to this point. We are concerned about the ethics of doing so - it could improperly incentivize favorable reviews, particularly of expensive products.

Yes, I think your integrity as reviewers is very important in this case. What you could do is have a guideline where you hold on to a product at least 1 year or so before selling it off. That way you create a perceived disconnect between your review and the monetary value the product has for you. Not sure whether that's enough.

Once we have no editorial use for them, we give them away here on the forum.

And I think that is a very good idea to create publicity and user retention. People will want to use your site more if that gives them the chance to win something. Not sure if the effect is strong enough to outweigh the money you lose by not selling it (probably not), but it's better than nothing :)
 

C4B12

Scratchbuilder
Jan 11, 2016
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I say a combination of these three:

Donations, T-shirts sale and working with a vendor.

I can help with a small donation and I would love to buy a t-shirt, or a polo shirt. :)

I might go to Computex myself so I can donate a lunch to all three of you there as well. :D
 

Necere

Shrink Way Wielder
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Feb 22, 2015
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Have you guys considered setting up a Patreon as an alternative to the current Paypal subscriptions? Some people might prefer having an option besides Paypal.
 
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PlayfulPhoenix

Founder of SFF.N
Original poster
SFFLAB
Chimera Industries
Moderator
Gold Supporter
Feb 22, 2015
1,049
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I say a combination of these three:

Donations, T-shirts sale and working with a vendor.

We want to offer SFF Forum and/or SFF Network gear not just as a fundraising tool (swag is generally a terrible way to raise money anyways), but as a fun thing for folks to have. That said, we don't want to take people's money and give them something of poor quality or poor design in return, so we're actually expending a lot of mental cycles trying to consider the best things we could make, and the best companies we could recruit to make them.

We're also considering whether or not it would be worthwhile to have a sponsor. We'd be very picky about who to go with, however, and we'd want to be very tasteful and diligent with how we approached it.

Have you guys considered setting up a Patreon as an alternative to the current Paypal subscriptions? Some people might prefer having an option besides Paypal.

We've (well, mostly I've) been developing a Patreon account, but only as a kick-the-tires exercise for now.

I'm not sure that would replace forum subscriptions, since we use a solution integrated into XenForo that makes administration really easy for us. But it may be complimentary to our editorial content. We're just not sure yet.

The take-away across all of this should be that we're taking a pretty experimental approach to all of this. We're comfortable with the ambiguity and risk associated with that, but as a result we are probably going to try some things that don't work at all as we work towards what does work.
 
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LocoMoto

DEVOURER OF BAKED POTATOES
Jul 19, 2015
287
334
That said, we don't want to take people's money and give them something of poor quality or poor design in return, so we're actually expending a lot of mental cycles trying to consider the best things we could make, and the best companies we could recruit to make them.

I just felt like coming in here again with my polo shirt dreaming.
A fabric using a poly-tencel blend would be so awesome!
However you'd likely, really be penny pinching then if you'd want a reasonable profit at a reasonable price.
A more realistic fabric choice would be a non combed, long fibrous cotton, a high quality performance poly fabric should also be quite realistic.
No breast pockets.. no elbow length sleeves (avg distance to lower triceps for short sleeve).. low armholes could also take a long hike.
Might need to ask around and look at a few different patterns to find the right armhole and sleeve one, seeing as we are relatively few here, asking around for short, medium or long sizing could actually be a viable option, you might also want to avoid blue shirt colors unless you'd be using a purple logo for it! (Charcoal is king)

Of course... do what you feel would "suit" you! This was pretty much just a rant off the top of my head. :thumb::oops:
 
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