Opening up LWN
Posted Sep 29, 2005 3:17 UTC (Thu) by pm101
Parent article: An LWN status update
I think increasing to two weeks would be a mistake --- you would, at that point, essentially limit yourselves to the readers you currently have even more so than you have already done (most of whom, I would presume at this point, subscribe -- and those that don't are presumably too poor to -- although you may see plenty of accesses from subscribes such as myself who do not log in for reading older articles). The key is to get more readers. There are plenty of people in the Linux/free software/open source communities who have never heard of LWN (indeed, possibly the majority). A longer lockout period does not help that; while you might be able to squeeze out a few more subscribtions from that, it wouldn't fundamentally change your numbers.
In order to grow, far more people need to know about LWN. LWN needs to get featured on Slashdot regularly. Right now, that's impossible, because of the lockout period. By the time LWN news is readable to nonsubscribers, it is generally obsolete. It is admittedly better coverage, but being old news, ultimately, not that useful, since those people have already read the same news elsewhere. Similarly, I've often wanted to forward LWN links to people. I cannot, since those people do not have accounts. I know at least one of the people to whom I would forward links would subscribe (indeed, my girlfriend subscribed after reading LWN over my shoulder).
I strongly believe that in order to grow, LWN needs to eat its own dog food, and open up a little bit. I do not know the best way to do this. At the very least, subscribers should have an "e-mail a link" feature, which lets one specific article be readable to nonsubscribers. There should also be a related way to submit an article to Slashdot, or other blogs, with nonsubscribers being able to view that article. On the other end, you could keep the main pages locked (front/security/...), while keeping the actual articles open. In this way, only subscribers could find the articles in any easy way, but a forwarded or linked article would be automatically readable. The system would easily be cheatable (someone could set up www.links-to-lwn.net), but ultimately, I do not believe that most of the readerbase would cheat, although the most outragous instances of cheating could be caught, especially if the linked URLs had the subscriber's username embedded in them in some form.
A second issue is that I'm not convinced that the path of growth is the correct one. I essentially read LWN for Corbet's coverage, and I wouldn't mind seeing him draw a nice salary, and have an appropriate support staff (bookkeeping, etc.). The remaining editors are less critical to the core business. The outside editors vary, although it is not at all obvious that they are at all motivated by money, so it is not clear if raising payments would help (LWN is considered a fairly respectable place to publish). Some work needs to be done on the LWN codebase, and while it is not clear if the community would get involved in helping the LWN coding effort, there is not harm in releasing the code (unless I missed something, this has not happened yet). A model of some community involvement, in either the non-critical articles, or in the codebase, may allivate some of the work. If the staff could be cut from four down to two, the salaries would increase from underpayed to pretty decent. Similarly, if you extend the scope of LWN, you'll either need more staff (and proportionally more income), or to overwork the current staff even more. Neither seems like a good solution.
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