I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to all those who responded to my request for feedback on the future of Interesting Thing of the Day (see Pondering Changes to ITotD). Besides the comments posted online, many people wrote to me privately to express their opinions. The comments, to which I’ve replied individually where possible, have been extremely helpful. I wanted to follow up with a few words of summary and some observations.
The opinions covered the entire gamut from “don’t change a thing” to “just walk away,” with many variations in between. There were, however, some strong trends.
- Virtually everyone agreed that it’s unnecessary to publish ITotD on weekends and holidays, and that most readers probably don’t expect that in the first place.
- Surprisingly (to me, at least), most respondents were quite insistent that articles remain at their current length rather than shrinking to a size similar to what you see on most blogs. (One person specifically mentioned my little personal intros as being an important feature, and another person said those should go.)
- A frequently expressed suggestion was that we include more articles by guest authors. I am 100 percent in favor of this, and I know of at least one author who’s currently preparing some new articles. But although I’ve publicized our willingness to accept guest articles with at least two different links on every single article page, very few people have expressed an interest in writing. So let me just reiterate: if you have good writing skills and interesting things you’d like to share with the world, please let me know.
- Several people suggested moving to a subscription-based model of one kind or another; others said they’d rather see more advertising than fewer articles. In both cases, I have to face the numerical reality of our current reader base. Recently we’ve been getting, on average, about 1,600 visits per day (though a “visit” often includes multiple pages). Given the small percentage of readers willing to pay for content on the Web or click on ads, neither advertising nor subscriptions would yield interesting levels of income unless the overall number of visitors went way up—but then, if it did, income from our current (voluntary) subscription program and AdSense ads would probably make the site self-supporting. The moral of the story: one way or another, it’s all about getting more visitors. (And just for the sake of reference, here are the current subscription stats: After 9 months, we have 327 subscribers, of whom 63 purchased the ($5) article subscriptions and 14 purchased the ($20) audio subscriptions; the rest get the free “link” email every day.)
- A printed book (or books) of Interesting Things is, as a few people mentioned, almost a no-brainer. We have the technology, and I have every intention of making this happen. I somehow doubt I’ll get to it before June, and I wonder how many copies I’ll be able to sell, but it’s certainly worth trying. I could also put together a multi-CD or -DVD collection of all the audio recordings—enough to fill an iPod (hmmm…)—but there’s been so little interest in them thus far that it barely seems worth doing.
- In the past week, the site has received a surprising number of (mostly anonymous) donations. I deeply appreciate these, though I wish I knew who was sending the money so I could thank them personally. Still…please don’t feel obligated to contribute out of a sense of guilt or anything. When all is said and done, it will be the overall number of readers, rather than the donations or the paid subscriptions, that makes or breaks the site.
So what now? Well, the next three months (March–May) are going to be outrageously busy for me, as I’ve got several new ebooks to finish, magazine articles I’ve agreed to write, and so on. It has always been, and continues to be, my intention to make good on my promise to deliver 365 consecutive daily articles before making any changes; that means 95 left to go! That, too, will keep me busy. I will continue to digest all the suggestions, though, and I hope to have made a decision about the site’s new direction by at least May 1, since whatever happens will require some coding and infrastructure changes before June 1.
And what if my health or sanity gives out before then? That’s a good question. I don’t know. It would be ethically problematic for me not to deliver something I’ve been paid to deliver, but I won’t kid you: it’s getting rough. I guess I’ll cross that bridge, if necessary, when the time comes.