Fixing the Blog- the Limits of the Blanche Dubois Model

A-Streetcar-Named-Desire-16

So far (almost 4 years to the month) we have run this blog based on the “Blanche Dubois” business model- depending on the “kindness of strangers.” It has been a great thing; I have asked for financial contributions toward the hosting service, and so far I have received nothing from anyone. We agreed to not try to develop a 501c3 as the work for us would be more in terms of forms and accounting than we would probably get in donations. And up until these particular issues (blog programming), it worked just fine.

These issues are things to do with programming the blog. First folks wanted more than 15 comments in the “Recent Comments” widget. So I asked around and found that the only way to do this was to move the blog to be self-hosted. Our model worked, as Eli Sagor volunteered and did a great job moving it. I paid for the rent on the new server from my personal finances. I even played around with the support forums in WordPress.com to fix some things in September right after we moved. I ordered books on CSS from our library, and tried to reach out at the SAF convention to find some volunteers knowledgeable about design. I also tried getting a graduate student intern, but was told that since we are completely virtual and don’t have an office, that we aren’t a great environment for interns.

So reading the comments in Bob’s post here, the problem (for once!) is not that we all don’t agree on what needs to be fixed, but that THERE IS NO ONE TO FIX IT. Maybe I haven’t been as explicit before about having reached the end of my technical capabilities.

So if people want changes made, here are some options:

1) Send me money and I will hire someone- there are plenty of places where this could be done. I would put out the desired fixes and ask for bids.

2) Find a volunteer. Ask around at work, in your other volunteer work, or leave a note at local coffee house (I tried this, so far unsuccessfully).

These are the only two ways I can think of, but am open to others’ creative ideas. Anything you all think of can be done, but someone has to know how to do it.

On another note: the widget for categories had gone missing when we changed themes, it is now on the right hand side. It helps search when you identify the category that a post fits under when you author a post. You can also click on the categories on the widget when you want to find all the posts under that widget.

28 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your work and commitment to this blog, Sharon. I too am pretty much ‘all thumbs’ when it comes to technology issues.

    I never fully understood why this blog was moved and the address changed. Sure, some people felt that having 15 recent comments show up wasn’t enough, but that seemed like a small issue when one considers that WordPress offered the previous blog design and functions for free.

    Since the site was moved a few months ago readership seems to have dropped off. I’ve also received about a dozen emails from past readers wondering where the blog went a few months ago, as they were unable to find it, despite reading it for a few years.

    I’ve also been disappointed that, since the site was moved and the address changed, nearly 4 years worth of links to articles now don’t work at all.

    Add on top of this the fact that the new blog hosting requires financial support, taking a mini-lesson on CSS and/or finding an intern or volunteer.

    All this leads me to believe that perhaps the best, cheapest option is just to move the blog hosting back to the free WordPress service we had for nearly 4 years.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Unfortunately, I don’t think going back to the free WordPress service will bring the readership back – the damage is probably done. Doing so might even make the problem worse.

    Unless you’re extremely careful about configuring redirects and forwards on the old site *during* a website move Google and the other search engines will reset your page ranking to zero. Even though the new website contains the exact same blog content as what was on the old site you’ve lost all your in-bound external links, which is a big part of how search engines determine your rankings. In the worst case they may even see the new website as a duplicate of the old and penalize it. The end result can be an immediate and dramatic decline in traffic and there’s little you can do about it after the fact. I’d say you guys should stay on the self-hosted setup and keep doing posts like always; the readership will come back – it’ll just take time.

    [I learned this the hard way when I incorrectly moved my little hiking/nature/photography blog to a self-hosted WordPress setup a while back.]

    • Thanks, Dave.. one of the many advantages of the Blanche Dubois model is that it doesn’t matter really how we “rank”. I hope we are generally welcoming to new people and opinions, but in my experience, “more” is not necessarily “merrier.”

      I used to be somewhat concerned that people who used to be there can’t find us at our new site, and I think it would be nice of WordPress to provide a “forwarding address” (but they don’t as far as I can tell).. but if I google “a new century of forest planning” I can still find it. Or they can email me, or others, and ask.

    • Oh, another thing I forgot until I saw it on the Virtual Book Club site.. I think free WordPress blogs have advertisements and I think Larry asked once how to get rid of them. Self-hosted should not have ads.

      • One other unfortunate result is that other WordPress blog visitors no longer wander in and look around. In particular, I used to see new folks “liking” my posts with pictures. I have to think that some widgets have those “features” we liked on the old blog. I’d hope that some of those old features could return by going back to those original widgets. However, I’m just talking hypothetically. Sometimes, things become so complicated that us “regular folks” cannot customize their own blogs.

  3. I’m still not sure what a “widget” is, so that’s the limit of my capability. It sure seems like WordPress, though, would have a team of skilled professionals dealing with these types of obvious transitional problems — particularly when their clients are now paying them money for the service. I’m sure this isn’t the only blog that’s encountered these problems, and abruptly lost readership as one result; certainly, that can’t be good for the WordPress brand and it would seem that they’d have people dealing with it.

    I agree with Sharon that “the more the merrier” doesn’t necessarily represent blogging in general, or at least this blog in particular. One of the reasons we needed more that 15 comments listed was because sometimes so many people commented on a “hot” topic that the 15 displayed items only represented a couple of hours of the most recent comments — and sometimes mostly among only two or three people at that. Others on the blog who were not following such a discussion would be lost trying to catch up after being away for a few hours or a day. Does WordPress have a complaint department? Maybe that is a good starting point, particularly as everyone seems in agreement regarding the limitations of both the old and the new designs.

    Fundraising idea: Sharon, if you got PayPal or something similar, then we could do an annual or semi-annual NPR type of posting, where people could donate a lump sum every so often, or maybe pledge a dollar or two on a monthly basis, to cover the overhead costs and maybe hire a whiz WordPress mechanic from time to time.

    • It’s not really WordPress’s problem either.. it’s our problem. We could do these things if we had someone knowledgeable. Like my tiny church and a pianist… you either have a volunteer on board with those skills or you don’t. Or you have volunteers with those skills, who fear getting sucked into the endless volunteer work vortex, and won’t do it.

      I like the Paypal idea, let me check into it.

      Larry.. I’m working on the “Like” thing with Jetpack support.. that is one that should work, but doesn’t.

  4. Aha.. I tried to get Avatars on the comments, like we used to, and in the process acquired a plug-in that had the undesirable effect of having quotes instead of the blog post title on the “recent comments” widget. From the feedback, people prefer this even without avatars, so I changed it back.

  5. Jeesh…If we all can’t pony up a lousy $100 each to help Sharon out with this….then we’re a bunch of gold digging loser hanger ons. She’s been like a fricken Den Mother to us all. Who’s the one who posts 90% of the stories on here? Who’s the one who gently scolds us when two of us are fighting in a corner? Who’s the one who uses logic to calm us when we’re pouty? C’mon guys….are we men… or are we Cub Scouts! Who’s with me on this! I don’t want to hear the sound of crickets ….I wanna hear the sound of pens writing on check blanks. We’ll take the money that jingles, but we’d prefer the kind that folds 🙂

    Sharon has “volunteered” enough…must I remind everyone that if it wasn’t for HER, none of us would have a place to air our wacho looney type A point of views. (Of course, note how I have “volunteered” her to “find” someone to “pay to do it.”-after all….it’s easier for me to write a check than actually volunteer for something-LOL.)

    I’m with Matt….I don’t think any of us “old guys” are very computer savvy. My “new promotion” is bombarding me with “computer anxiety,(Jeesh…what if I accidentally deleted ALL the company files-LOL)” and if it wasn’t for my “twentysomething” cubicle neighbor…I wouldn’t be able to “cut and paste” (though I did learn how to “drag and drop” the other day!).

    SOoooo…..I’m thinkin that $1000 ought to hire some guy to….
    #1—straighten out the comments
    #2—-can we “get back the links” to old posts? I, like Matt, like to “link” people to some of my old posts.
    #3—people will find the new blog on their own. It is confusing that you have to “type in almost the exact title” to find it.”
    I think it’s time to hire a consultant 🙂
    My check is in the mail…and Sharon….why don’t you take a little something extra and treat yourself to a spa….lunch with the girls…Vodka and tonic…or whatever it is Den Mothers like to do…as a thanks from all of us…for all that you do. (AWwwww)

    • Derek, I think something along these lines would work fine, either as a periodic event, or on an as-needed basis, such as this, where maybe a $1000 into the right student or local business hands could get a lot done toward achieving blog characteristics we would all benefit by. Rather than depend upon the kindness of strangers — and their relative individual organizational skills — to also address an envelope, write a check, and find a stamp is where a lot of the well-intended hang-up takes place. I think the idea of having a PayPal account in Sharon’s name, or the blog or however she wants to do it, would make it a lot quicker and easier to reach targeted goals.

      Too, many of our members and regular commenters would have a hard time raising a spare $100 at any given moment, while others could likely contribute more, if they felt it was for a good cause. We also have 275+ subscribers: if even a fraction of this number agreed to monthly payments/subscriptions to the blog via PayPal, Sharon could be guaranteed basic operating costs for server and software fees, etc.

      Other thoughts?

  6. Other thoughts?

    Yes! I think we need to set up a 501(c)3 and then file a lawsuit against the Gub’ment for something, then collect a windfall in EAJA fees!!!! Guy K. can work pro bono and then bill $500/hr or something (of course we’ll win), then make a tax deductible donation back to the site!!!! That’s the way it works isn’t it?

    Why, with all the horsepower and passionate dedicated folks here, I’m sure we could drum up some sort of complaint (there seems to be plenty!!!)…maybe With Andy’s help, matt and Bob could tag-team a ‘”lack of transparency” kinda thing. Point us all in the right (common) direction for once….awww, c’mon, it could be fun!!!! (Funny thing is, it just might work!!!!)

  7. JZ…you sir,,,have stole ALL my facetious behavior! Well Played. And Zybach, your like a big brother, I’m counting on you to lead the way, and Larry…going digital has saved you a fortune in fim…so share the windfall, and Mathew….we all know you awash in enviro grant money (just teasing), and the eco lawyers are flush with my EAJA tax dollars(no offense counselor), and Gil and mac…shake loose with some of that pension my tax dollars pays for, and JZ..and the academians out there,you could part with a little of the three or four more payed holidays than us white trash get. Now that I’ve rubbed you all the ,…I mean “ribbed” you a little bit…I feel guilty about stealing a few “stay” trees many many years ago when the forester wasn’t lookin (HEY…it was a danger tree).

    This is a good site. I’m to busy to be busy here, but I love to read the stories and comments. this is the “current affairs” blog. I don’t think any of us would want to be without it. Small price to pay for a little light into our lives.

  8. Aw, thanks everyone! I appreciate all your kind words and I appreciate all the time you donate, too.

    I looked at Paypal and will try to set up to minimize their charges…
    Another approach would be one of the crowdfunding non-profit sites. If anyone has experience with those they would like to share, that would be good.

    • I am also sighing… if we are not a 501c3, then they are personal gifts to me with the trust that I will use them for blog purposes. Not tax deductible to the donators. Perhaps the lawyers on the blog can help? Could it be that simple? Exchanging paperwork and overhead for trust, pure sweet and simple, but not tax deductible?

      • Hi Sharon: I have been program manager for one 501 c(3) for 17 years, and have sat on the Board of another for three years. They are expensive and time-consuming to set up, and require a lot of meticulous book-keeping after you do get them created. Because most of us here on this blog are professional foresters, professors, sawmill operators, retired USFS employees, etc., it seems we can write off any expenses that are business-related — such as formal discussions of the issues of the day related to our professions. On the other hand, anything you receive is taxable as “business income,” whether PayPal wants to call it “gifts,” or not. Since your expenses can be readily shown to outweigh income, you should end up with more tax breaks than taxes and build up some nice credits for future years. Unless I’m missing something here . . .

        • OK, I signed up so that you can transfer $ to your friend, me, on Paypal. It seems like you can just use my “terraveritas@gmail.com” email as an address.

          I’ll keep the bucks in a separate account and provide an accounting each year, in the interest of our mutual value of transparency.

          PS In this discussion the replies I make seem to be indented correctly.. are others noticing a problem with indents?

          • Sharon:

            Yep, I’ve had indenting problems with my posts, but not my comments. Is this Problem #7?

            Also, I think I’m among the first (other than you) to contribute to the operation of this blog — under your direction — by going to: https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/send-money-online and using your email address as the connection.

            Maybe a periodic countdown to a pre-set goal might be an alternative to an annual accounting. Or maybe both. I think Derek set an initial goal of $1,000 and suggested individual contribution of around $100. I contributed less that that (but semi-pledged the remainder). Perhaps with what I’ve emailed and what Derek and others have mailed, you are off to a good start generating the needed funds for upgrading this site to standards its members have requested.

            I had to update my password and send an additional $1.75 by going the PayPal route, but I think it would have been free if I had transferred the money for a “service” instead of for a “friend.” Friends, apparently, are more expensive. My consulting/research business is a Subchapter S corporation, which allows me to write these types of costs off my taxes (and to declare resulting losses on my personal taxes) — would that also be a good formation for 21st Century Forest Planning?

            Do any of the legal experts or forest industry people on this blog know any good accountants regarding these types of questions?

            • Bob

              1. You should be able to indent in posts… if you go to “new post” there is a tab for “visual”.. under that you can go to the “paragraph” tab and that should be able to indent, if that’s what you’re looking for (indents at the beginning of paragraphs?).

              2. Periodic accounting is good.. can do.
              3. It is free to friends and family if you have a checking account linked or have your money in Paypal (however that works).

              “There’s no fee to send money to friends and family when you link a bank account or use your PayPal balance. When you use a debit or credit card, there is a flat fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. You can also send money internationally for a small fee. ”

              Of course, that’s sending from a “friend” to a “friend”.

              4. I am busy with classes now, ending mid-November. It would be helpful if you (?) could lead a virtual committee to enumerate, prioritize the fixes and characterize them in a document. Then when I get done, I could go right ahead and find and work with the experts.

              5. I’ll ask my tax guy about the Chapter S idea.

              • Sharon: I like how you put the “Gift Blog Countdown” in a prominent place with payment options and a current figure easy to find. I think the only thing missing is a link — perhaps to a permanent information page or to a current discussion such as this — explaining why funding is needed and what it is to be used for. I also liked Derek’s suggested $1000 figure being adopted as an objective and assume that holds true for his budget suggestions, too.

                So far as a needs priority committee is concerned, that was my virtual intent with the “What’s Wrong With this Website?” post. Some of those concerns have been addressed, and a few others added, but no real priority list was determined: this was before we knew we had a budget to work with: http://forestpolicypub.com/2013/10/25/whats-wrong-with-this-website/

                So far as needed blog improvements, I’d put some of the cheap stuff up first, just to check the skill level of who I’m (“you’re”) working with, and also to get some of the cosmetic stuff out of the way. Here are my suggestions:

                1) Now that we’ve fixed the Comment list topics, we’ve sacrificed our Avatars, which are also very helpful sorting and place-keeping tools. Should be a quick and easy fix, maybe involving a widget or two at most. This was the most common concern of commenters, and it’s mostly fixed.

                2) Improved (“same as before”) statistical and user summaries, maybe with a few add-ons. Maybe just more widgets, or cut-and-paste the old code.

                3) Making the bulk of the statistical studies available to all readers (or at least registered subscribers).

                4) Now something difficult — restore the older (“pre-upgrade”) posts and comments so that they properly display graphics (including stats back to Day 01) and so they can be readily searched, sorted, and displayed. Just like Google or Excel or somebody.

                5) Install a functional search engine so that past posts and comments actually can be searched, sorted, and displayed. If we can get these 5 things, some basic WordPress payments, and Derek’s spa suggestion covered for anywhere near $1000, I think we will be very lucky people.

                6) Categories and Tags. Probably need to design an explanatory page for this and demonstrate its utility to us non-users. Maybe after the next fundraiser?

                Other ideas?

  9. Two things.. Larry, I discovered you can “like” things or share them but you have to click on the actual link to that post to see that. Mystery solved as to why it didn’t work. It actually did but not the way I thought.

    Bob- my tax guy said that gifts to me are not taxed at my end. They might be taxed as gifts at your end if they exceed 13K (or 26K for a couple) as on this IRS site. Of course, if an individual wanted to give 13K to run this blog, it would be worth making it a 501c3. because that would pay for more than our WordPress guru and then we would need a board to help prioritize actions (People’s Database? People’s Research Agenda?)

    They would be not tax deductible on the donor’s end, as if we actually had a 501c3 for this blog. However, if the donor is a business or a 501c3,he said that gifts could be written off as business expenses, as if you had taken me out to a nice dinner or beer, in pursuit of the objectives of the business or non-profit.

    Whew.. that was a lot of investigating. Does this fit with what others know?

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