This was one of those weeks where all of my public output involved me talking about my job instead of doing it (including one radio interview that doesn’t seem to have gotten aired and a second podcast that should get posted next week). The exception: Patreon, where I unloaded my CES 2020 notebook by writing about my observations of TiVo’s strategy, how HBO took me and my data with dinner, and my aborted ride in a self-driving car.
I joined my analyst friend Mark Vena via Skype Monday afternoon (hence the Jan. 13 reference in the title) to unpack what we learned from CES 2020. We talked about privacy on connected TVs (others call them “smart TVs,” but I’m not ready to bestow that kind of compliment), foldable phones and laptops, 5G wireless and the industry’s addition to hyping it up, and much much more.
My second-shortest business trip of this year let me add yet another airport to the list of 90-plus that I’ve used. At some point, I should post that avgeek list here, because some of those airports are a tad unusual.
This breakfast panel, sponsored by FierceWireless, featured T-Mobile senior director for engineering and technology policy John Hunter, C Spire chief innovation officer Craig Sparks, Ericsson vice president and chief technology officer for regional carriers GS Sickand, and Strategy Analytics director of service provider strategies Susan Welsh de Grimaldo. Fierce picked up my travel costs, which was especially appreciated after a week after I’d paid to attend and travel to the Online News Association’s rewarding but notoriously monetization-resistant conference.
Speaking of, Patreon backers got an extra post from me there that covered some of my ONA takeaways on issues of disinformation and rebuilding trust in journalism.
This was not my finest 10 minutes, because I got a question I wasn’t expecting about the alleged erasure of a trending hashtag attacking Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Coverage I’ve seen of Egyptian Twitter users denouncing their dictatorial leader, including AJ’s English-language reporting, has not mentioned any such erasure, so I had to limit myself to saying that did not make an enormous amount of sense given my understanding of how Twitter works and how Twitter has dealt with authoritarian regimes.
9/20/2019: Twitter suspends thousands of accounts, Alhurra
Another day, another appearance on an Arabic-language news channel. But this time, instead of Qatar’s government supporting the channel it was my own: Alhurra, Arabic for “the free one,” is backed by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the same government agency behind Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other news services set up to bring quality reporting to people in unfree countries. They had me on to discuss Twitter booting a new batch of disinformation-minded accounts across the Middle East but also elsewhere. I couldn’t find video of my appearance on their site, but I did find their writeup of this situation.
I once again joined Moor analyst Mark Vena on his podcast to talk tech–in this case, 8K TV, the next-generation gaming consoles he saw introduced at the E3 show, and Apple’s WWDC announcements. Yes, we talked about the Mac Pro’s thousand-dollar monitor stand. How could we not?
I spoke for about an hour before this Apple user group about the state of Web and smartphone privacy, the prospects of Washington agreeing on any government regulation of same, and the state of tech journalism. (That last bit gave me a chance to talk about my Patreon venture–my latest patron-only post there outlines upcoming stories I’m working on for various clients–and do some in-person salesmanship for it.) And as I did when I spoke to the Pi last summer, I brought a bag full of tech-event swag and gave away almost all of it.
A week after taking off for the Bay Area to cover Google’s I/O conference, I’m departing for Denver early Monday afternoon. This week’s excuse for propping up the airline industry: moderating a state-of-the-industry panel at the Pay TV Show, in return for which the conference organizers are covering my travel costs.
My big takeaway from the IFA Global Press Conference two weeks ago was a dramatically more pessimistic forecast for 8K TV shipments from the research firm IHS Markit. It was refreshing to see analysts decline to get in line behind industry hype over a new product category.
I took a break from I/O Wednesday morning to attend a press event hosted by Waymo, the self-driving-car subsidiary of Google’s parent firm Alphabet. Said event did not feature any time as a passenger in one of Waymo’s autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, because the company apparently still doesn’t have the California permit needed to offer rides to non-employees.
I launched a Patreon page Monday night, and as I write this, it’s attracted zero supporters. Which means it’s performing as expected—this post is my first attempt to publicize my experiment at this crowdfunding site.
But it took an expiration date to get me to proceed—11:59 a.m. Monday was my last shot at launching a page under more favorable terms than those now on offer under Patreon’s tiered membership structure.
I am cautiously optimistic about how my page could work. I think the value proposition I offer—depending on what tier you pay for, you get content not available elsewhere and, more important, increasing access to my time—is both a fair trade and a reasonable way for me to monetize the scarcest thing in my daily routine, my attention. I also like the idea of having a bit of a sandbox to play in; while I’ve committed to write some patron-only posts and set up a Slack channel, maybe I’ll try doing short podcasts there? There’s nobody to stop me.
But it’s also possible that nobody will support me, and that other people will then point and laugh. That might be chickenshit of them. But it would certainly be chickenshit of me not to try this, not when there are so many things going wrong with the business of journalism.
So if what I have on offer to patrons strikes you as a good deal, I would very much appreciate your support. And maybe if everything goes well, this new venture will at least make enough to recoup the cost of the XOXO trip that lodged this foolish idea in my head.
I’m not a millennial and I don’t have any tattoos or piercings, so I would appear to be wildly ineligible for Patreon.
Yet I’m still curious about using that crowdfunding site to give people a chance to underwrite my work if they feel so inspired. I can’t tell if that is me being entrepreneurial or vain, so I’m writing this post to try to untangle my thoughts.
I first encountered Patreon when founder Jack Conte gave an exuberant presentation on the site’s backstory at 2013’s XOXO conference. (His talk rambles a bit–which is fine if you enjoy dancing robots–but overall merits 24 minutes of your time.) I decided that letting fans pledge as little as a dollar or two a month to indie creatives was a smart response to declining ad rates and the overall horribleness of the content industry. And then I thought little more about that concept until I started seeing more people and sites I know pop up on Patreon.
You can sum up the Patreon proposition as “Kickstarter over time.” Instead of asking for support for a particular project, creators invite fans to kick in a defined sum each month to support their ongoing efforts–and can also offer extra rewards for contributions above a certain level.
For example, my friend Glenn Fleishman‘s typographic-centric pitch includes exclusive or early access to his articles, science-minded podcaster Rose Eveleth offers a patrons-only newsletter, and the Arlington news site ARLNow.com touts a private Facebook group for more-generous contributors.
After conversations with a few Patreon fans at XOXO this September, I e-mailed Glenn to ask how that was working for him.
His two bits of advice: Find something you can provide to Patreon contributors that they couldn’t get elsewhere, and show what their support lets you do that you couldn’t accomplish otherwise.
I think I have a good answer for that first item: my time. As most people who have e-mailed me can attest, getting my attention when I’m constantly changing channels between stories and clients is… problematic. If I could offer something like a private Slack group or some other closed forum, I’d like to think that would appeal to people who miss the Web chats I did at the Post. (I miss them too.)
My other concerns: I wouldn’t have enough time to tend a Patreon page (note that I’m typing this near 10 p.m. on a Saturday); nobody would support it; worst of all, nobody would support it, and outsiders would then point and laugh.
At the same time, I like the idea of generating another stream of income, even if it only underwrites one trip a year. Getting acquainted with the inside of a crowdfunding platform seems like an overdue to-do item for me. And the last few months have made me increasingly uneasy about relying on my Facebook page for occupational banter with readers.
Having spent this much time musing about crowdfunding, I might as well crowdsource part of this decision. Please take the poll below, and if you have suggestions for what you’d want me to do at Patreon or another crowdfunding platform, please share them in the comments.