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Substation — Grant Report #1

Jesse von Doom
・5 min read

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Project Update

Since this is a public report, I felt like the best way to start is at the very beginning.

Hi. I'm Jesse and I'm working on an open source subscription platform called Substation. I've been working in open and open source contexts for a long time, almost exclusively in nonprofit or self-organized projects. Substation has been conceived as a for-profit with commitments to open and ethical practices built in from the beginning. That's a change for me, and while it isn't the focus of my Grant for the Web ambassadorship, it is a huge challenge and better organizational models are a passion of mine — so reach out if you're thinking about entity structures, ethical business practices, or even just "should I work as a nonprofit or for-profit?" I'd love to hear your thinking.

The focus of my work here is on supporting recurring web monetization payments alongside "traditional" credit card and paypal transactions. We've been building slowly and modularly, with a lot of the most relevant work happening in a standalone JS library we called "Lodge." Lodge is meant to manage iframe embeds and let them securely coordinate with a central page on some basic app-like frameworks to display messages, request input, and handle a checkout process — all in a universal overlay. We're aiming at "more decentralized" in an age of centralized platforms in hopes of pushing mainstream audiences to become more familiar with the idea of decentralization in general.

This autumn has been a challenging time for a lot of people, myself and the Substation team are no exception. Personally, I've found my pace slowed, recovering from setbacks has taken longer, and context switching feels harder. I mention it because, well, I'm not alone in my circles feeling this way. If you're feeling anything similar I hope you don't feel alone in it either. I also mentioning it because on first thinking about this report I thought about timelines and tasks and felt a rush of failure. After taking a step back and a deep breath I could see how much we've accomplished through trying times. We've moved Substation forward as well as Lodge, we're working towards a more complete UX exploration and web monetization integration plan than I could have imagined at the start of the project, and we're helping launch the first project built on Substation's initial (and evolving) DIY version.

It's been a hard year for many, and it's important to recognize our accomplishments even when things haven't gone according to plan. So the shortest summary is this:

I'm disappointed by my own pace, but I'm proud of what we've accomplished in a difficult year. More importantly, I'm hungry to keep moving.

Progress on objectives

In the proposed project scope we broke things down into research and experimentation work, a UX report with designs / examples / demo code, and a plan for full integration of web monetization in Substation. Those three buckets are still the right framing, but we've spent a fair deal of extra time on the Lodge technical architecture because we saw the value in the checkout flow as a fully independent library.

It felt like a lot of behind-the-scenes work, so I took our internal notes and finally pulled them together to make something between a spec and a status report in one doc. (It's a google doc. I made sure to allow for commenting — if you're curious about any of it feel free to reach out or just leave a comment in the doc.) I think we've done our research and internal experimentation, we're in-progress on demos now, and still have to finalize a proper report and some code samples.

A few extra links:

There are also things that happened this year like the Substation business plan and pitch deck that feel like tangents or somehow out of scope. If you're working on similar things and want some examples or here about our work there just reach out. Happy to share anything or spend some time talking about it, even in the tangents.

Key activities

Here's a list of milestones from the last few months.

  • Scrubbed and refactored Lodge JS code to get it ready for checkout flow tests and mock-ups alongside live code
  • Final brand for Lodge is done and new public site, docs, and demo page are in-progress
  • In the larger Substation context, we've got the bones of our server-side APIs written to an internal spec — probably about 60% of the way to an MVP (also open licensed, but still in private repos until they're a bit further along)
  • Substation business plan and pitch deck are prepared for a push for funding starting in Q1 2021
  • Despite hiccups, there's a first full project built with the Substation DIY version launching in the next week or so

Communications and marketing

This is usually a strength for me but with progress slowed most of the planned comms work for Substation was pushed until January. In September I published a blog post on my history with subscription payments for creators and why I'm so excited by web monetization and the Grant for the Web program as a whole. In the new year we have posts planned about Lodge, another about alternate payment methods (web monetization meets mutual aid as a theme), and our UX report on recurring payments and enabling multiple services side by side. I'm looking forward to being more vocal again.

What’s next?

This progress report marks something close to the 65% mark of the planned project scope, and with pace picking up again things will be complete in January. To get there, we'll first finish up a public page for Lodge with a feature list, project status report, and working demos. With that finished we'll publish complete UX designs for the checkout process, along with demos, issues, and specs for future progress. Then another blog post, this time focused on a general look at what was learned, next steps towards full interledger integration, and an invitation for anyone to get involved or use what we've learned.

What community support would benefit your project?

Part of the reason I wanted to go deep here, and open up personally a bit, is to feel more accountable to this community as a whole. The motivation of knowing you're a part of something bigger really helps to push you on. The other big community benefit, beyond direct collaboration even, is trading notes. Seeing what we've learned, and helping it spread.

Discussion (6)

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erikad profile image
Erika

I appreciate this candid and honest report, Jesse. This year has been tough, and I remain in awe of grantees like yourself who managed to make progress on your projects, in spite of all the obstacles 2020 has thrown up.

What's particularly exciting about your project is your exploration of new organizational models that build on the open and ethical practices from your earlier non-profit and self-organized work. I hope other grantees take you up on your offer to connect on this topic, since changing exploitative business models is such an important driver of Grant for the Web.

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jessevondoom profile image
Jesse von Doom Author

Happy to spend a little time writing about that, specifically, if you think it'd be good here. I didn't want to drift the topic too far in a grant report, but there's a lot there I think matters in this context.

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chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

I think general posts on here about these topics would be excellent. There are many projects looking at how to build with ethics and human-centered approaches. There is even an emerging community in the music space with yourselves and projects like @FMA Amled and stuff populating on the #music hashtag

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cyberdees profile image
Desigan CHINNIAH

A quick one for @jessevondoom to consider Joe Docs to help also web monetize the collboration document. It's the same software that powers the WebMo'ed Coronavirus Tech Handbook.

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jessevondoom profile image
Jesse von Doom Author

This is rad, thx!

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chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

Thanks for the frank discussion about what it is like to build stuff during this year. I sometimes lose myself in work as an escape but that doesn't seem that healthy either. One of the goals of this community space is to start to understand that all of us are starting new adventures with these ideas and technologies, but doing so in an uncertain world. If we can come together more as a community it might help support each other socially/emotionally as we still try to make the world better in the ways we best can. Thanks for a balanced and thoughtful report, Jesse!