Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Community brainstorming: I am swimming against a Tsunami

Dear friends,

As I mentioned yesterday, I have come to the conclusion that I need to share with you the problems which I and my blog are having and, frankly, to ask for your help.  I have been trying to avoid this, but several good friends have strongly urged me to do so and time has proven that they were right.

First, I will begin by a short "state of the community" mini-report so we can all see how far we have got and where we all are now.

Since 2007 this blog has been a "one-man show" where one anonymous dude shared his thoughts with an abstract (and very small but also very nice) Internet audience.  The war in the Ukraine changed all that.  From a blog which almost never even mentioned the Ukraine (I was focused mostly on the Middle-East) the Saker Blog rapidly became a 99% Ukraine-centered blog.  Along with that, an explosion in the number of readers happened: while for years I had maybe a couple of hundred visitors (on a good day), this spring it went from hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands to the absolute record of just under 70'000 in one day in August.  Then, it slowly tapered off back to a more reasonable 20'000-30'000 per day, depending on the events in the Ukraine: the worse the war, the more readers I got (-: which made me feel like a "war profiteer" :-).  The second huge change which suddenly happened was the the small community around this blog suddenly massively grew in size.  It all began when a wonderful French lady ("C" - encore merci pour tout!!) wrote to tell me that she thought my blog should be translated into French.  I replied "great - but I cannot do it myself".  She said that she would try to find somebody.

A few months later there are now six, soon to be seven (Latin American is almost ready!), independent Saker blogs - all tremendously successful, all with their own large readership and attached YouTube channels.  

Then there are the guest-author's SITREPS: Ukraine, Iraq, Nigeria, Transcarpathia Transnistria and Gagauzia, and Latin America.  Two of them come directly from a war zone and thus depend on the author's personal safety and access to communications.  All of them provide an insider look which is simply not to be found elsewhere.  I consider these SITREPs a fantastic asset to our community.

Furthermore, there are two more recent developments which I am delighted with and which deserve special mention here: Alexander Mercouris has agreed to post his (always excellent) FB commentaries on this blog and I am now a regular contributor to Russia Insider with whom the Saker community can now also collaborate on various issues.  In other words, our community is rapidly growing.  And what all this means is this:

We are making a real difference.  We have established a presence in a record time and the future prospects look nothing short of fantastic.  Furthermore, in this current war the information aspect is at least as important as bullets and guns.  In fact, the Empire spends a lot more on information warfare then on the military hardware actually used.  In other words, while a diverse community of like-minded people like ours has neither the goal or the means to beat the big heavyweights like the AngloZionist media or special services, we are big enough to make a difference and they cannot completely ignore us.  At the very least, we can serve to crash their propaganda about a consensus in their support.  Finally, we can be a people-to-people bridge between the people living under the AngloZionist Empire's rule and the those living in the (truly) "free world" lead by Russia.

I still have to pinch myself from time to time to check whether this is " really real", or this is just a dream (the regular contact I have with the wonderful people working on the other Saker blogs and that I now consider as friends, proves to me that, yes, this is real).

Finally, because of the very high risks of censorship and/or legal attack, I have agreed to move this blog to a new server in a safe(r) jurisdiction (Iceland) and on a privately owned server.  As you know, this important and necessary step has, so far, been less than a success (More about that further below) So let's turn to my problems now.

They can all be summarized in a simple expression: time and money.

The huge growth of this blog and the other independent Saker blogs and of our (now truly worldwide) community did not just happen "like that".  At each step of the way, I had to find the right people, discuss an immense array of issues and, of course, make mistakes and try to learn from them.  I had to cope with at least one major crisis which took a lot of energy to mediate and resolve and I had to deal with a lot of people who promised much but delivered nothing.  I am not complaining about this, but I want you to understand that it all entails a huge number of hours of work to organize and fix.  All the while while producing analyses of the civil war in the Ukraine and moderating one to several hundred comments each day (I had asked two friends to help me with that task, but one concluded that the philosophy of this blog did not make him feel comfortable while the second one simply dumped me with less than a week's notice).

As a result of all these developments, my daily workload for this blog has been exponentially going up throughout the spring, summer and fall.  At the same time, however, donations have been going down.  So let's talk about these donations (sigh, deep breath, plunging).

Those who have been here long enough know that the entire idea of donations came from readers who literally demanded that I create some kind of donation option.  I have to tell you that I have always been extremely uncomfortable and embarrassed taking about money (even writing this makes me feel absolutely terrible) but that I decided to give it try.  To my most absolute amazement, donations began coming in and even in amounts sufficient enough to make a difference in my family's budget.  In fact, without these donations we could not have made it through the summer without sinking further into debt (full disclosure: we have a house and 2 old cars, but no savings, no pension, and plenty of credit card debt).  Over the past couple of months, however, these donations have been steadily decreasing and, frankly, my family and I only pulled it through thanks to one individual from northern Europe who has been helping month after month and without whom I could never have maintained this blog.  Clearly, many supporters are suffering from "donor fatigue" or are also maxed out.

From the beginning of the existence of this blog I always have been reluctant to create categories of readers or to offer some products/services only to paying subscribers.  This is still something I don't want to do.  Still, I am told by friends that I should consider such an option.  In practical terms, we are talking about the possibility of writing a book about Russia based on some of the articles I have posted here and/or making a podcast.  Right now, I have way too much to do just to keep things running, but I could consider these options in the future, especially if my financial situation continues to deteriorate.  At this point in time, however, I cannot add any further activities or ventures to what I have to do every day, not unless I find a way to squeeze 36-48 hours of life into a 24 hour day.  Worse, if I have to take on these ventures just to make ends meet, I will have to dramatically decrease the time spent on this blog and this, right at the time when the Empire's war against Russia is heating up and the Ukraine is about to explode again.  This makes no sense to me.

By the way, I am often accused of being a "paid Putin agent".  Every time I read that I sigh in think "if only that was true...".  The reality is that Vladimir Vladimirovich has not contributed a single kopek to this blog (yet?), nor has any other Russian government, corporate or even private entity.  A few Russian readers have, but I can count them on the fingers of one hand.  Considering the absolutely dismal Russian performance in the current PR war against the western MSM propaganda machine, I am at loss for words to describe this apparent indifference.  I can only surmise that this the "not without honor, except in your own country, and in your own house" phenomenon at work.

If I had a magic wand, I would go back to doing what I think I do best and what most of you would probably want me to do: write analyses for this blog.  But in order to do that, I need to be honest with you and admit to you that I hit a kind of a "wall" and that I need your help.  If you value what you get on this blog then please help me work for this blog in conditions where I can at least preserve my mental health and focus on my writing rather than on my ballooning debt.  I am sorry to be so blunt about this, but at this point I have no other choice.

Then there is the issue of the new blog.

Fundamentally, I think that the decision to move the blog to Iceland is a sound one.  Furthermore, I personally like the new blog a lot, both the design, the visual appearance and the work on it as an author and administrator.  Simply put: WordPress is infinitely better than Blogger.  Furthermore, there is a real risk of being shut down here, on Blogger.  So I see no reasons to question the original idea.  The implementation is, however, a different business.  Here I personally responsible for a number of mistakes.  I will spare you all the technical details, but the bottom line is that for the time being the new blog needs to go back into testing and until it is fixed we all have to only use this blog here, on Blogger, for the foreseeable future.  The new blog will be back and, hopefully, the next time around it will be more solid than the first one.  But for the time being - Blogger is the only option.

The bottom line is this: I need your help.

First, if you have not contributed to this blog in the past, please do.  Right now less than 0.25% of the readers of this blog have sent a donation.  If you have, please consider contributing again or even increasing your contribution.

Second, please let me know what you think of the idea of creating "for purchase" products as opposed to keep everything for free.  Specifically, please let me know if you would be interested in purchasing a book and/or a podcast.  My own preference goes for the former, but you might think otherwise. 

Third, do you have any ideas about fund-raising/crowd-funding?  Are there any amongst you who are knowledgeable about this realm about which I know nothing?  Would any of you offer your time as a volunteer fund-raiser of some type?  What about this idea: can the community support my work by raising funds for me not by sending donations, but literally by creating some kind of fund-raising mechanism?  Seeking out donors amongst friends?  Organizing some kind of mailing list or dedicated website?  Write to Vladimir Vladimirovich and ask for his help (just kidding!)?  Seriously, if you cannot donate or are maxed out - can you help with your brain and, especially, your time?

In other words, while advice about what I could/should do is great, it would be even greater if some of you could actually take it upon themselves to help directly. Right now, I am so overworked that I stopped writing my thesis, stopped all my recreational activities and my daily reading is down to 15min a day max: I have 3 books in the pipeline to review for this blog, and I had only enough time to read 3/4 of the first one...

Fourth, please forgive me all the problems with the new server and the back and fourth between the old and new one.  For the time being, let's stay here and if suddenly I get shut down by Blogger - then go to any of the other Saker blogs (which are all safely hosted in Iceland) until the new blog is fixed.

Fifth and last, but most definitely not least - do you have any other suggestions or ideas? I really hope that this appeal to the community will generate one (or several) solutions. So far, what I call the "spontaneous self-organization of people" has been nothing short of miraculous for me and since the friend I mentioned yesterday did write "We can fix everything except you" I have decided to honestly lay out in front of "all of y'alls" (as they say in Florida) the stuff I am struggling with and which destroys my peace of mind.

Right now, I have the feeling that I am swimming against a Tsunami and I am losing the strength to do so very fast.  Please think about it all and if you can help, in any form, please do.

I would prefer if you posted your reactions/ideas/suggestions here, but feel free to also email me if you prefer.  I will probably not have the time to respond individually to most (or even any) of your comments/emails, but I will try as best I can.  And I will definitely read every single with the greatest attention.

For the rest of the week, I will probably post less as I will be working on many of these behind-the-scenes problems, but since I left you with two *truly* world-class articles to consider (Strelkov's reply to Khodorkovsky and the Glaziev - Khazin press conference) and since the "questions to Khazin" are still being collected until Friday, I trust that this is fair enough.  Of course, in case of critical developments I will set everything aside and keep you posted as best I can.

Okay, readers and friends, your turn now.  Please help in any way you can.

Thanks and kind regards to all,

The Saker