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Cover image for Widget (formerly Spooky) — Grant Report #1 (Interim)
Widget

Widget (formerly Spooky) — Grant Report #1 (Interim)

Sam
Editor, widgetmag.com. Writer/podcast, workitpod.com. Web dev.
・8 min read

Widget logo

Project Update

Our GftW project is going well and, barring challenges summarized below, according to plan.

In the 2 months of our funded, public facing work, our comedy site Widget has published 40 authors (with a focus on giving access to contributors from historically underrepresented backgrounds; see this post for our stats), seen an almost 1,000% increase in our visitors, seen our mailing list and social follows grow by hundreds, provided free and on-demand humour writing training (as a tool for boosting access), and drafted an equity guideline that will be open-sourced on schedule, among other accomplishments.

The biggest challenges have been the following:

  1. Time management – the amount of ‘in kind’ time we estimated we would be spending on the project is a fraction of what we’re actually spending. This is, in theory, a ‘nice problem to have’ because most of it is going to responding to people who’ve taken an interest in the site, but we’ve been unable to stay on top of this work while holding down full-time jobs, etc.
  2. Sustainability – we have only converted the smallest fraction of visitors into subscribers, and this necessarily points us towards being unable to sustain the site at the pace our GftW funding allowed. In our final months, we will have to consider our options for a) growing revenue more successfully; or b) planning what we can continue to do if we aren’t financially viable.

Progress on objectives

Widget (formerly Spooky), set out to a) bootstrap a silly and left-leaning humour site; b) be a leading web publisher with regard to equity and inclusivity; c) be a leading web publisher with regard to ethical, anti-exploitative business models.

Objective A

In the 2 months of our GftW-funded, public-facing work, our traffic increased by almost 1,000% (5.6k visitors vs. 543 the previous 2 months). Our newsletter mailing list has grown from 0 to 350+ and growing steadily, as we gate some free content updates to subscribers. And, as outlined in our latest monthly ‘wrap-up’ post, we’ve transparently published a diverse mix of writers. Some of our writers have previously published in the New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Onion; while others have gotten their first bylines with us:

My first published piece!!! 😭😭😭
Thank you @widgetmagLOL 🙏 https://t.co/W9t7gvg8pg

— Vic (@VicPinto_) March 3, 2021

In our first 3 months, we’ve teamed up with The Hard Times, Functionally Dead, and Flexx – three publishers of humour on the web – to feature their writers – and in our final three months, we are working to confirm partnerships with less conventional organizations – non-profits and activist organizations – to feature their members and people from their networks.

Objective B

One of our deliverables is an open-source publishing guideline to foster diversity and inclusion. As it stands, we’ve done 5 internal drafts, and had 2 external reviewers. We plan to have 2 more reviewers (representing unique background and perspectives) weigh in before open-sourcing it for community feedback – this is on schedule. In addition, with one of the barriers we identified being the cost of training, we’ve begun releasing free humour-writing classes – the first is live, the second will be shortly.

Objective C

The last goal is the least successful – we still promote on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and haven’t cracked an alternative; I think our hosting servers are ultimately AWS; the only ‘win’ so far has been moving to pro-privacy analytics provider Plausible. We will continue pursuing this and blogging our findings, however discouraging they seem to be.

Key activities

Activity A: Producing Coil-monetized humour content

Our primary activity was to produce Coil-monetized humour content. We said: “We are budgeting to produce 156 humour pieces (132 funded; 24 in-kind by the Editor) and 24 podcasts (hosted in-kind by the Editor, and featuring funded appearances from our contributors as guests) during the six-month project phase.”

At the end of month 2, we are largely on track, though needing to improve in some areas:

As part of this project, we have published 46 humour piece (89% of target) and 9 podcasts (6 Coil-subscriber only; exceeding target, though with only 2 guests – the time it takes to book a guest and get a recording from them was underestimated, and we will modify our approach to fill these slots within the grant period).

Activity B:

We promised we would publish blog posts about running the site and about web monetization: “We will create 24 blog posts addressing the ‘meta’ of running a web- monetised, WordPress comedy site – these will be resources for the web monetisation and Coil communities, regarding emergent best practices as we identify them in our use case.”

We have published 8 such posts, which are available here: https://widgetmag.com/tag/web-monetization/. In the remainder of our grant period, we’re interested in trying to move some of this activity to Twitch streams with other creators.

Activity C:

Our third activity is the creation of open-source equity guidelines: “As described, we will deliver an open-sourced set of equity guidelines to promote diversity in (humour) publishing on the Web.”

This is a work-in-progress, but we will discreetly share our current working draft, which we estimate to be two revisions from being complete as a ‘v1.’

Additionally, as this took shape, we identified one barrier to access is the cost of writing classes, so we have begun offering free, on-demand workshops, led by professional writers: https://widgetmag.com/classes/. The first class is up, and the second is edited and just waiting some admin before being posted.

Communications and marketing

It goes without saying we’ve discussed this on our social feeds, so beyond that:

We’ve been sending out a newsletter most weeks (to our 300+ subscribers), the archive of which is here: https://us16.campaign-archive.com/home/?u=ba6229e12a71869fb9fdc2a29&id=d673909b6d.

Our collaborator Caitlin Kunkel featured the site in her list of sites that accept writing: https://kunkeltron.medium.com/a-list-of-humor-and-satire-websites-to-submit-your-writing-to-2b5af860858b

Caitlin also shared a great, lengthy thread about how to pitch us:

I have a piece on @widgetmagLOL today in their "Myths and Legends" collection! I've been working with them to create some of their publishing guidelines, and I want to talk a bit about how to pitch them (they pay $200 a piece!): https://t.co/g4OAZNYZMt

— Caitlin Kunkel (@KunkelTron) January 19, 2021

We’ve appeared on the subscriber-only show of the Harbinger Media Network – a Canadian podcast network for left-wing podcasts:

UNLOCKED: on S2, E1 of🏆Harbinger Society Presents🏆 ⚒@WorkItPod⚒ broadcasts live from the 2021 Harbinger Socialympics + @socialistraptor & @RabbiDieHardman intro the excellent🏀@offcourtpod🏀!

Support Left podcasts athttps://t.co/yRi7iY3QlU
🇨🇦📻🎉 https://t.co/ssWsTo1uSn pic.twitter.com/cQSm5CG1gK

— Harbinger Media Network (@Harbingertweets) January 17, 2021

For marketing materials, it was in our budget to produce a physical ’zine to leave in coffee shops, record stores, etc. ... Needless to say, that was proposed at a time we didn’t grasp how wretched the last year would be. So, we’ve made the best of the situation and are producing a free, full-colour, professional PDF magazine every month instead. The first issue can be found here – https://widgetmag.com/themes/myths-legends/ – with the second in development.

What’s next?

The remainder is business as usual, with some modifications:

  • We expect to refine and publish our equity guidelines within the month.
  • We will continue to publish comedy and administrative posts, podcasts and monthly magazines, on schedule.
  • We will be more aggressive and budget longer windows in booking podcast guests to make up the gap between what was planned and where we are.

What community support would benefit your project?

We’re happy to discuss the challenges we think remain in trying to convince people to become Coil subscribers and supporters of our site here: https://widgetmag.com/tag/web-monetization/. Or maybe it’s a much simpler challenge: our site just doesn’t have the clout and the ‘brand loyalty’ to be able to convince people to subscribe.

Additional comments

Relevant links/resources (optional)

Subscriber perks: https://widgetmag.com/subscribe/

Subscriber-only podcast: https://widgetmag.com/fridays

Overview of our monthly themes: https://widgetmag.com/themes/

Free Widget magazine #1: https://widgetmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/myths-legends.pdf

Public analytics: https://plausible.io/widgetmag.com

Discussion (4)

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chrislarry profile image
Chris Lawrence

@scallemang this is a fantastic report. Honest, detailed, and thoughtful. Really liked the Zine. I know this revenue model is slowly developing but I hope you all can find a way to continue and that WM can be part of that plan. The DEI work you are doing, writing about, and committed to is a model all projects should be looking at.

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scallemang profile image
Sam Author

Thanks a bunch, Chris. Glad you enjoyed the zine and thank you for the DEI shout-out.

Agreed re: WM, it's a super-exciting tech and I'd love to see what happens if it reaches a critical mass of adopters.

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gjhannam23 profile image
Greg Hannam

Good update to read :) Looks like you guys are growing which is great.

Happy to discuss re: converting users - its what I do as a day job, so could be useful to brainstorm ideas.

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scallemang profile image
Sam Author

That would be awesome – would love to discuss in the least disruptive way for you. Would either, say, email or Discord/Slack be alright for you to follow-up, at least initially? (If email, drop us a line at info[at]widgetmag[dot]com, and thank you so much in advance.)