Astonishing numbers and enthusiasm
We officially launched Keebtalk on Thursday night and we’ve been pretty amazed by the response. In just the first day or so of operation, we served nearly 100,000 pageviews and welcomed over 1,200 new users who have already given each other 1,700 likes On behalf of this new community, please let me thank you all who have participated for giving this site such a fantastic running start!
Response around the web has been overwhelmingly positive, and I want personally to thank everyone who has reached out via Keebtalk, GeekHack, Discord, Facebook, Reddit, email, and otherwise with words of support, encouragement, and enthusiasm. You people are all awesome and much appreciated. (Though, with apologies, it’ll probably take us a while to get back everybody.)
Of course, as with any change, a few people have their hesitations, which they have been unhesitant to voice. I’d like to take some space below to address some of the common concerns I’ve seen around various threads and to roll my explanations up here into one place. Just bear in mind that, while drama and negativity may always get more attention, there is obviously a huge silent majority of people who have already just enthusiastically set about the task of diving into to Keebtalk and making it their new keyboard home.
If nothing else, the name Keebtalk has proved remarkably antifragile. The more people have to say about it, the more they drive interest in this community by talking about it. And, both positive and negative, people have lots to say about it.
I’ve always been with the Basecamp people on this. I think most folks go blind to a domain name, brand, or URL really quickly, as the word just comes to stand for the thing itself in our brains (and not its lexical origins). That’s certainly what happened to most of us with GeekHack, which has got to take the the cake for the world’s most non-germane domain name ever. Among GeekHack’s problems, getting people to sign up and participate didn’t seem to be one of them, so I’m not sure a name that baffles a few people is a particularly problematic bottleneck.
The thinking behind the name, for whatever it’s worth, was (beyond the obvious considerations of being reasonably short, pronounceable, and an actually available domain name) was that it would be nice to have a name that was catchy and a little jocular/playful. As I mentioned in my video for this site, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot lately about what makes the keyboard community such a broadly kind, friendly, and collaborative/non-competitive group of people. One of my two main working hypothesis is that nobody outside of our hobby would think of what we do as anything other than utterly frivolous (“you spent $1000 on a what?!”). We all know this. And I think it prevents the kind of acrimony and competition that can arise when participants in a particular pursuit can take what they’re doing too seriously. I think to retain the special and wonderful character of our community we need to take care to remain earnest and good-willed but without taking ourselves too seriously. The name Keebtalk most def doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Settling into Discourse
Some people are used to some very specific aspects of GeekHack or Reddit and are still getting used to how things work in Discourse, the platform upon which KT is built. Happily, the two main points that people seem to raise are that they want a dark theme or prefer to see the Category view as their home page. Happily, these are all settings easily changed in your profile configuration.
Also, some people have suggested that our choice of Discourse as a platform might have been based on a desire to get up and running quickly rather than our feeling that it is actually the best technology for this community. Quite the opposite.
Just for street cred, let me point out that I have a background as a web developer (been building websites since I was a kid in the 90s). Discourse is built on Rails, and I was one of the very first people to launch a company using that platform. I subsequently ran a Rails consulting firm that did engineering work for all kinds of organizations, including Microsoft, AMD, Yale, Harvard, etc. I was even quoted in the Wired cover article on Rails. In short: I’ve been dealing with web tech all my life—and Rails in particular.
I chose Discourse quite intentionally because I also run the most prominent and active online community for people who are into the production design of Star Trek (props, costumes, etc.), which is built on Discourse and has been around for years. In my experience running that community, Discourse has consistently impressed me with its thoughtful design, constant updates, and most importantly its absolutely excellent, semi-automated system of user trust and moderation tools, which for a site like Keebtalk is going to be super important. I’ve come to have faith in the (remarkably rational and data-driven) design decisions and wisdom of its development team. (In case you guys don’t know, the creator of Discourse is Jeff Atwood, who is himself a keyboard enthusiast and creator of the Code Keyboard.) Yes, hosting is expensive. Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to coming from the forums of the 90s. But I generally think it’s worth the tradeoffs, or at least is worth giving a try for a while.
The keyboard community is full of engineers (including me!), and I know the first impulse of engineers is always to build everything super-custom and from scratch. But Discourse has been tested on huge communities around the web and is constantly incorporating feedback from those disparate communities in the updates it regularly pushes. A major advantage is that Discourse is very approachable for new and casual users and power users alike, and I feel that especially the former is really important as the keyboard community grows and welcomes new people.
And for everything else, Discourse is fully extensible through Rails plugins and front-end code. And, fortunately, the keyboard community is full of coders.
My recommendation: use the site for a few days and let it settle in on you. I myself found Discourse a little jarring when I first used it (in particular, the fact that you highlight text to quote it in a reply). I think once the unfamiliarity wears off you may come, like I did, strongly to prefer it. Many members of Keebtalk who were initially skeptical have already reported to me having this experience.
Potential appearance of ill will
Some people have remarked upon the fact that Massdrop ended up being the high-bidder in purchasing GeekHack and that one of our trustees (who serves in his personal capacity as an enthusiast) is also affiliated with Input Club, which has had some public differences of opinion with Massdrop. To someone unfamiliar with the backstory, his working on the creation of Keebtalk could somehow look ill-willed, but I can easily vouch for Andrew on this one. We started work in earnest on Keebtalk in the morning of the day preceding the announcement of who the buyer was. At that time, the general consensus on GeekHack itself was that the site had been subject to a hostile takeover by some Chinese data-mining/advertising company, which had grossly outbid a few relatively small community vendors who just wanted to step in and preserve the site for true community ownership. It never entered our minds (and I don’t think anybody was even speculating on GeekHack at the time) that the buyer might be Massdrop.
We were already getting close to being ready for launch when we learned that Massdrop was the buyer, and we actually briefly considered dropping the project when we learned it wasn’t just some spammy ad company that had bought GeekHack. But by that time we had formulated a philosophy of why we felt an alternative needed to exist, and we realized that the identity of the buyer didn’t really matter: the community simply shouldn’t be up for sale, to anybody. We don’t object to Massdrop at all, and we certainly welcome their participation here as an equal among all other members and vendors.
Our specific plans to protect the community from favoritism and commercial control
Some people have expressed a healthy measure of skepticism about the fact that the three of us who got this thing started are in various ways involved in commercial (and semi-commercial) sorts of activities within the community, to varying degrees. First, let me say that I deeply appreciate skepticism like this, because in my experience if you go through life operating on these assumptions you’ll (sadly) be correct most of the time. It’s pretty much my own worldview, so in no way do I begrudge anyone this healthy cynicism. It was, in fact, my similar cynicism concerning the GH sale that pushed me to think we needed an alternative.
The best I can do is try to help you understand our current thinking and motives, along with reiterating our commitment that we’ll be continuing to work with our fellow community members to bring more people into the governance of the site and onto the board of the formally registered non-profit organization we’re putting together to operate Keebtalk.
Honestly, we had to get rolling with what we had, and just for this very initial phase, to get this off the ground what Huey, Andrew, and I had was: each other. Our intent is very much not that it should just be the three of us “running” things. In fact, it is my personal hope to step into the background as much as possible and as quickly as possible, just trying to help provide logistical support and high-level advice on the board, based on whatever expertise I may be able to bring to the table. I just wanted to see this community happen, and I knew that I could help make that occur well and quickly, so I joined the effort. That’s honestly the only reason I’m doing this: simply to ensure that the project actually happened, and with the right set of guiding principles.
Regarding the vendor vs. non-vendor thing, let me just say that, in my experience, it’s pretty much impossible to find anyone who’s seriously committed to the hobby who hasn’t also run a group buy or offered something up for sale (or isn’t at some level at least thinking about it). This hobby involves an obsession with physical objects, so commerce naturally creeps into most corners, and most of us are happy with that because it facilitates cool stuff happening that wouldn’t otherwise. But, FWIW, Huey, Andrew, and I were all hard-core enthusiasts and have been longstanding members of the community before any of us started doing this (semi-)professionally, and that growth grew directly out of our hobbyist activities. Frankly, IC (or more precisely Kono.store) are the only thing that could actually be called a meaninfully profitable business among the the ones associated to the three of us, and even IC has demonstrated an enormous commitment to the community by open-sourcing all of its work and helping financially to support keyboard community-service projects—which (in my mind at least) includes TopClack.
I do myself make and sell keyboard housings. This is technically a business of sorts, but I ship them right here out of my living room, and I still think of this (and it still very much feels like) making and sharing my designs with a group of friends who share my niche tastes. While my designs have become (to my surprise) quite successful and popular, as my accountant will vouch, this pursuit still loses me money year-over-year. I’d honestly love to figure out how to make a little money for my trouble eventually, but for now I do it because I love the satisfaction of making this stuff and just want to figure out a way to facilitate a lot of people getting cool things. So, while at some level I’d love to think that my efforts on Keebtalk could somehow translate into figuring out how to make lots of cash from keyboards, even if that were my intent (which it isn’t), I don’t think that some kind of grand scheme along those would really be very plausible, given the way we’ve (intentionally) planned the site and its governance. I don’t honestly even know how I would go about doing it even if I wanted to. (If anything, having started KT is going to cost me money, since I previously used to be able to post my group buys on GH without having to contribute to its hosting costs, and that may no longer prove true.)
Below are some of the draft rules we’re working on putting in place as part of the charter of the non-profit to ensure no undue influence from any vendors, whether they’re on the board, help support KT, or whatever.
- No ads. The only way to “advertise” products is to make threads in the Marketplace, where it it’s an actual conversation and two-way street between community and seller—and not just pushing branding/product in people’s faces while they’re looking at other content.
- We’re going to ask major companies that share their products on KT to contribute to the (as-yet, still fairly modest) hosting costs. Following the public broadcasting model, we’ll a have “support for Keebtalk provided by” page somewhere unintrusive, but that’s it.
- Disclosure: Kono.store has stepped forward as the first of these contributors, making a $2000 commitment to cover startup costs while we get the sponsorship system in place. And I paid for the (inconsequential) cost of registering the domain name.
- No preferential treatment of any vendors within the Marketplace
- Admins and moderators need to recuse themselves from using editing authority in matters relating to their own projects or posts, or any other matters where there might be a real or apparent conflict of interest
- No access to KT user data (individual or summary data) for use by any vendor, including board members, for any commercial purpose.
- Data access of any kind, including by mods, will always be kept to the absolute minimum necessary to run the site. (Mods won’t even be able to access your PMs without going through a special, tightly locked-down, mutually-audited process.)
- The charter of the non-profit will require board members to act in their private capacity as keyboard hobbyists for the good of the community. If anyone is seen to be trying to guide the community toward their own private or commercial interests, there will be a mechanism for voting members off the board. We also fully expect (and welcome) that we’ll be held extremely accountable by the community at large. We know you guys aren’t going to let us get away with any shenanigans, which is just how it ought to be.
We’re still brainstorming for other ideas to help keep this separation clean, appropriate, and above-board. We certainly don’t want to make this community vendor-hostile, since the vendors all grow directly out of this hobby (each vendors is, ultimately, another keyboard enthusiast); we just want to make sure that no one vendor controls anything or “owns” any part of this community or its data. We also want to make sure that this is a welcoming space that fosters entirely non-commercial, free, open-source collaborations among those members who want nothing to do with commerce.
Please bear in mind: we only really conceived of this site, like, literally a just few days ago. Even if moving swiftly, we are trying to be deliberate and are working hard to make something that should endure over a long time, long after the three of us have served out our time on the board. So maybe just give us a a bit longer to write some more specific rules and guidelines, to get the non-profit registered, and to get more people involved in governance. We’re not going to pretend that we’re not totally making this up as we go along!
In the meantime, please make your suggestions below about how we can set this thing up best to serve the community’s interests and to endure over time. We pretty much just have to figure out how to keep everything fair and non-preferential, to establish a trusted moderation team to keep interactions on the site civil and constructive, and to figure out how to pay the server bills so that the lights stay on without compromising those other goals. Any and all help toward that end is both needed and welcome.