I’ve been wanting to write this entry for a few months now, but between the server issues and starting an intense new job, it’s been hard to find the time.
But! I need a break, so today’s the day. Let’s talk about the roadmap I’ve put together for the next few years. Warning: this is a long one.
First, in order to understand my thinking, I think it’s helpful to touch on site traffic.
Here’s a graph of PB traffic since the beginning:
(That gap in the middle is the redesign last year, unfortunately that turned off the data tracking for a bit)
Ok, let’s break this down. Today the number of users visiting the site monthly hovers around 11k. At our peak in September of 2014, we were twice that at 21k. Why the big drop? It’s hard to say. OD coming back didn’t help, but the drop seems very consistent over time. According to the numbers, we’ve been shedding about 500 users a month since the peak.
There’s some good news here though. With the disclaimer that I only have a few months of data for this year, that 11k number seems to be holding steady. On top of that, it’s important to touch on those of you using the site. Around twelve hundred of you are posting or commenting every month. That sounds low, but it’s actually really impressive! Based on my experience with other communities, the usual number hovers around 4% of the total user base. Prosebox users, unsurprisingly, are very passionate.
Now, let’s talk financials
Also factoring into my long-term thinking, of course, is our revenue streams. Keeping the lights on is great, and we’re there, but I want to build out new features (and fix some old ones) to make this site better for all of you. That, as I’ve touched on before, costs money because I have to hire developers.
First up, ad revenue.
I posted a site update back in May about the declining ad revenue on the site and the steps I’ve been taking to improve that. I have a few months of data now, so let’s take a look.
The graph back then looked like this:
And here’s how it looks today:
Not too shabby! Placing an ad unit on the sidebar and the front page has grown things considerably. We’re still at around a third of where things were at the peak in 2015, but considering the number of users we have has been cut in half I feel pretty good about where things are.
As I mentioned back when we ran the fundraiser, the money raised has gone into a “rainy day fund” to take care of any server and stability issues. Despite the ongoing problems we’ve been seeing over the last few months, the developers I’ve brought on board to fix things have been generously flexible in terms of what they’re billing. On top of that, I’ve been calling in favors all over the place with coworkers past and present to pitch in on things. It really does take a village. All that said, the PB rainy day fund is looking good for now, and I think we’ll be solid through the end of the year. Maybe we do a yearly rainy day fundraiser? Not sure just yet, we’ll see how things look next year and go from there.
Before I dig in, I want to say once again: There will always be a free and ad-supported version of Prosebox. No functionality that you have today will later be locked behind a paywall.
That being said, my current thinking is that there are two types of features I’d like to work on once we have the subscription infrastructure built and are generating revenue: paid features, and features that are available to everyone. Paid features will be things that are incredibly complex and time consuming to build or that cost money to operate. Unpaid features will be simple and convenient things or things that research shows will drive engagement (more about that below).
As for pricing, my current thinking (and as always this is up for discussion) is $4.99/month or $49.99/year. Yes, OD is a dollar cheaper. We’re better. The two features I’d like to roll out with subscriptions are entry search and image uploading (both very complex to build, and both suggested by all of you – great ideas guys!). I also want to build in the ability to “gift” a year or month of PB to another user.
Hate this idea? Let’s talk about it. None of it is set in stone, and it’ll be early next year before this rolls out. We have time.
How does building a new feature work?
Before I go into what direction I’d like to take the site, let’s talk about what that process actually looks like. It’s a lot more complicated than it seems. My dayjob is in product and user experience design, and while what that means can change almost daily, the process typically looks a bit like:
- Propose a new feature based on detailed research about how users are using the site, and what will improve that experience
- Identify the parts of the site that will be affected and need to be changed for this feature to be built
- Design the feature (also based on research). This usually includes wireframes (mockups) and flow charts of every single variation
- Help developers build the feature by writing out detailed specifications to supplement and explain the design
- Make sure it’s built to specifications (it never is)
- Keep an eye on user behavior after the feature is released to make sure the thing we built was in fact the Right Thing
- Start the process over to make things even better
It’s a lot, and there’s a lot I’m skipping over here. If you ask anyone working in software they’ll tell you that the amount of effort for building anything is always 2-3 times more work than you originally think it’ll be. In short, new features are hard.
How do you decide what to work on?
The features that I’ll be building are based on a balance of feedback from all of you and research that I’ve done on the needs of the community. Sometimes a feature sounds like a great idea, but the usage numbers just don’t support that. A balance of the two helps point things in the right direction.
Based on my research, there are two things that could increase revenue: growth and engagement.
Growth means increasing the number of users we have on the site. I’m not interested in that right now. Honestly, a much much larger community would get unwieldy quickly and also, have you noticed the rest of the internet is super mean now? Nah.
So, that leaves engagement. And that’s a fun one! I want to build features that get all of you reading, writing, and commenting more. I want to come up with features that make you excited to come back to the site. With any luck that will not only increase ad revenue, it will increase the number of subscribers so I can fund the building of better features.
So, what’s on the list already?
Here is the current list of features on my roadmap for the next few years, presented in alphabetical order without comment or timeline. I’ve been listening, and most of these ideas came from all of you. There are a few of my own fun ideas sprinkled in as well. Oh, and if your favorite feature idea isn’t on this list, that doesn’t mean it’s not on my radar!
- Ability to sort front page by “new entries” or “most active in the past week”
- Accessibility for seniors (set text size)
- Auto-refresh front page when a new entry is posted
- Auto-refresh notifications (comments and bookmarks)
- Automated testing
- “Circles” (name tbd) – writing groups of some kind
- Comment editing
- Entry flagging
- Ignore User button
- Writing Prompts (more on this later)
- Optional “Smart Feed” on front page (tbd)
- Ad-free experience
- Comment search (received and placed)
- Entry Search
- Entry Calendar
- Image hosting and upload
- Improved WYSIWYG editor
- Organizing bookmarks/followed users into groups
- Share entries only with specific groups of users
PS: Mochi’s doing much better these days!
Last updated September 12, 2018