Thoughts on Patreon’s (rolled-back) fee change

Update, morning of December 13: Patreon has rolled back this announced fee change, which they clearly waited to do until I’d posted this. More seriously, I think a lot of the business dynamics I’ve talked about here with respect to the kind of creators Patreon needs to court in the future still hold true—and are still worth thinking about.

In case you missed this particular part of the internet catching on fire the other day, Patreon—a platform designed to allow content creators to get direct support from their fans, via pledges paid monthly or “per work”—has announced a change to their fee structure. Instead of taking 5% and a sliding (and opaque) transaction processing surcharge of 2–10% from money going to creators, they’ll take a flat 5% from creators and add a transaction processing surcharge of 35¢ plus 2.9% to pledges.

You’ve probably seen the reaction on Twitter and other social media: that this change will cause too many patrons to leave and will devastate creators’ incomes and everything will end in ash and fire. The community does not, as a whole, appear to be pleased, is what I’m saying.

Why make this change?

First off, I don’t think this is was a cash grab by Patreon. The description of how the new fees work clarifies they’re going to stop “bundling” pledge charges together in one charge per month; this is not a sneaky way to pocket new transaction fees two through N if you’re supporting N creators. (I’ve seen people nitpick the specific numbers Patreon announced, but they use at least two different back-end processors with differing fees. It’s unlikely Patreon’s making money off this.)

Okay, but what about that marketing weasel guest post from June that everybody linked to? “We’d rather have our (Patreon’s) GMV be made up of fewer, but truly life-changed creators rather than a lot of creators making a few dollars.” (“GMV” is “gross merchandise volume.”) You can definitely read that as “screw the little guys.”

But should you? The argument is that creators need to have “an established online following, even if small” before launching a Patreon, and that it’s in Patreon’s best interest to focus on creators who meet that metric. This may sound brutal, but there’s truth to it. Also, remember Patreon makes the bulk of their revenue from aggregating across the “long tail”; I think the proper translation from Marketing Weasel here is “focus on the head and the tail will follow.”

Having said all this, let me put an asterisk beside “Patreon isn’t blowing off small creators.” I’m coming back to it at the end.

So they made wanted this change because…

This year Patreon’s on track to make around $7.5M, according to an article about how they closed a $60M funding round in mid-September. That sounds like a lot, but as an 80-ish person company (in San Francisco!) that probably doesn’t cover their labor costs, much less anything else. They’re taking venture capital money because they need it.

Now, VC money comes with…strings. As I write this, I’m unemployed in part because my last employer’s investment round came with a demand for them to cut headcount, and I was one of the lucky ones. (Yay!) We don’t know what strings were attached to Patreon’s last investment round, but we know that it valued the company at a boggling $450M. Given that the investors would like to see a payout in five or six years rather than thirty or more, Patreon is going to have to change somehow. I’d bet this change connects back to this investment.

Why? Well, as Christie Koehler argued, Patreon may want to get out of the micropayments business. I’m not positive she has all the details right (for instance, payments Patreon processes with Stripe are likely covered by Stripe’s “money transmitter” license), but I suspect the gist of her argument is on point.

At first glance this seems baffling. A lot of people flocked to Patreon because it was the only company with a micro-transaction model! Well, yes, because nobody else could make it work. It’s possible that at the end of the day, Patreon can’t make it work, either. Bottom line: I think Patreon’s most recent round of investment came with a requirement that they move to this billing model. (Update: I still think this is what the investors wanted.)

This doesn’t materially change Patreon’s revenue, though, so how are they going to earn that $450M valuation in five to ten years? Can they do that just by growing the number of creators? Well—maybe. Assuming they don’t change the business model, they just need to increase the number of creators and patrons they have. But it’ll really, really help if they increase the amount of revenue they get from each patron. They’d rather have you spend $15 than $12, right?

So, completely theoretically, what if they make a change that doesn’t technically bring Patreon more revenue, but nonetheless makes $12 one-dollar donations cost more after fees than three five-dollar donations do?

Surprise!

[There’s a section I’ve deleted here that went into specific numbers: “I’m not convinced it’s the shitshow it’s been widely received as.” As Patreon themselves noted in their retraction, this change disproportionately affects low-value pledges, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that creator revenues would go down. While I spent a lot of time digging into those numbers, they’re all moot now.]

Going forward

First, while I can’t be positive this isn’t would have been the Patreoncalypse everyone else seems to think it is, so far that’s not supported by the data. Let’s check back in a month. Meanwhile, if we’re going to be angry about it, at least let’s make sure we’re angry over accurate information. I’ve seen a lot of (well-intentioned) bullshit passed around.

Second, if you’re a creator using Patreon who’s willing to stick with the platform, but you don’t have reward levels designed to encourage people to go up to the $5 or higher level, consider changing that. I’m not suggesting getting rid of the $1 level, but the transaction fees drop off sharply with just a few extra bucks. ($1 becomes $1.38, but $3 becomes $3.44, and $5 becomes $5.50.) even without the new transaction fees, this will really help you get higher revenue.

Third, lest I come across too much as saying “everyone should just rally around Patreon,” well: no. I’ve been an advocate of owning your own space on the internet for a long time, and that’s why I consolidated a lot of my presence to a new home earlier this year. There’s a strong argument for hosting your own content on your own site, using a service like Memberful to handle subscription management. But this isn’t something everyone’s up for doing on their own. No matter how easy you make it, it costs time and money.

So here’s that asterisk about large vs. small creators I promised I’d come back to (remember?). To earn that $450M valuation Patreon has, they’re going to have to double revenue every year for the next four or five. Wouldn’t a great way for them to start making serious bank be to start landing creators who can get a few hundred thousand patrons instead of just a few thousand?

As of this writing, just six creators have more than 10,000 patrons. The top of the “long tail” curve Patreon has just isn’t that far above the bottom. This is the part of Patreon’s business that I suspect investors are most keen on changing. It’s great that Patreon can get Amanda Palmer now, but they’re going to need to get Imagine Dragons. I don’t mean “the next” Imagine Dragons, either. I mean an existing artist who can bring a bazillion fans with them.

And to do that, going after Financially Successful Creators™ as they’ve defined it now isn’t good enough. They can’t just go after people they think Patreon can bring to the next level. They’re going to have to go after people who are already making six- or even seven-figure incomes from their art. They have to be able to say, hey, if you take a chance on us, we can give you the same income with fewer middlemen.

Maybe they can do that while still providing good service for “little guys”—by which I mean everyone currently on the platform—the way WordPress seems to have managed. But it’s tough to be both a consumer-focused company and an enterprise-focused one.

And, yes, “enterprise-focused” is what I mean. It’s just that the big value unicorn in Patreon’s space isn’t General Electric. It’s Beyoncé.

That could be really bad

Imagine for a moment that another rogue employee were to take control of the presidential Twitter account and use it to wantonly harass private citizens, belittle Senators with slander and catchy nicknames, attack Gold Star families, spread mistruths and propaganda concocted by our enemies, defame former US presidents, taunt foreign leaders and threaten war with nuclear-armed adversaries, or even go so far as to call into question the rule of law with constant attacks on judges and law enforcement agencies. That could be really bad.

Dave Pell

The revolution will have a monthly subscription

Introducing the first iteration of the Apple TV with an app store, Tim Cook (in)famously declared, “We believe the future of TV is apps.” The Apple TV stands out from its competitors for only two things: the App Store, and a much more powerful CPU than its competitors. So it’s safe to say that Apple genuinely does believe this is the future of TV.

It’s also safe to say, though, that it doesn’t appear to be panning out. Pretty much nobody buys Apple TVs for much other than what other streaming boxes do.1 We’re watching Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon Prime. (Well, we will be watching Prime. Later. Theoretically.)

What we want from TV is—sorry for the buzzword—content. In practice, it doesn’t matter how we get Game of Thrones or Star Trek: Discovery as long as we can get it easily on demand. Apps are arguably less help than hindrance. Imagine having a storefront that had all the shows, and we just paid per episode or per season for permanent access to our favorite shows–we could stream them or download them. Wouldn’t that be much better?

Ha ha! I’m pulling a fast one on you. Sorry. We had that from Apple and Amazon by the mid-2000s. Have you ever bought a TV show on iTunes? No? Yes, but only because it wasn’t available on Netflix? Once we got “all you can eat” streaming for $10–12 a month, we all said fuck this à la carte thing. We’ll just wait for all the networks and all the studios to put all the things on Netflix. Everybody wins!

But studios don’t make as much selling to Netflix as they used to in old syndication deals. They make a lot less. So what are they going to do? Start their own streaming service. Yay! You know Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, and HBO Go/Now. Maybe you know Walmart’s me-too Vudu service. And you’ve recently heard Trek nerds bitch about CBS All Access. But there’s also Crunchyroll, Feeln, Acorn TV, Filmstruck, BritBox, Shudder, Screambox, Youtube Red, and others that I’m certainly forgetting—and that’s without counting the “cable replacement” services like Sling Orange, PlayStation Vue and Hulu Live. Disney is gearing up for their service, with plans to pull their stuff off other streaming services. And there’s whatever the hell Apple is doing.2

“But nobody’s going to subscribe to all those streaming services!” Not if you’re already paying $100+ a month for cable before you add any streaming services, no. But imagine a world (it’s easy if you try) in which you’re only paying, say, $50 a month for network access with no bundled television. All your shows now come from streaming services. So the chances are you’re going to end up subscribing to more than just Netflix and one other.

If you look at cord cutting as a money-saving move, this sounds depressing: it’s painting a picture of a future where the money you save by going data-only gets eaten up by streaming services. Well, true. But now you’re paying for everything on demand, in most cases commercial-free. Honestly, that’s still a win.

“Okay, but even if you get me to pay for five or six services, you listed eighteen services and claimed you were probably forgetting some. That is not gonna happen.” No, it isn’t. Most of those services aren’t going to survive long-term. They’re going to merge with other services or just quietly vanish. (SeeSo, we hardly knew yeeso.) But streaming video will likely never consolidate to a point where you can get every show you want by ponying up for one or two big names.

Is this just about money? Is it just greed that stops networks and studios from making it easier on all us consumers by just putting everything on Netflix or Hulu? Sort of. But it’s also about control.

Giant aggregators kind of reverse the way we think of monopolies working: instead of giant companies gaining control over a market and gouging consumers at retail, they lower retail prices and deliver the real pain to the suppliers. Walmart is the original giant aggregator, and it’s not hard to find stories of companies driven to bankruptcy by “success” selling through them. Twenty-First Century Walmart, Amazon, is remarkably cavalier about counterfeiters selling physical goods on their site. And you don’t have to be on the take from Penguin Random House to wonder whether it’s particularly healthy for self-publishers to rely on Amazon for three-quarters or more of their sales. If they decide they’d rather only give “indies” a 50% cut of the cover price instead of 70%, well, what are you gonna do about it? Pray they don’t alter the deal any further.3

The music industry still blames Apple’s iTunes ecosystem for destroying the once-lucrative CD market. So it’s not surprising that studios have decided that if on-demand streaming was truly going to be the future of television, they did not, in fact, want to chill with Netflix. Think about streaming music: artists say that unless they’re Taylor Swift, they’re making bupkis from Spotify, yet Spotify pays out so much for music that they’re still not profitable. These sound mutually exclusive, but they’re not: Spotify and friends should have charged $15 or $20 a month for unlimited music streaming, not $10.

Does that mean that Netflix should be charging us more than $9.99 $10.99? If they wanted to be the video version of Spotify, yes. But they don’t: they want to be a network. Amazon wants to be a network. Hulu wants to be a network. Apple (probably) wants to be a network. CBS wants to remain a network.

And at the end of the day, that’s what this boils down to: video streaming services aren’t the new airwaves, they’re the new networks. And since we’ve pretty much all collectively decided we can’t stand commercial breaks—how we “paid” for most network programming for sixty-odd years—we’re going to end up paying those networks directly.

So the future of TV is not apps—the future of TV is, just like the past of TV, networks. The key shift is a move from an advertising-supported model to consumers paying the networks directly.4

But will this future last as long as what it’s replacing? The network-and-affiliate broadcast model has been with us for nearly a century, predating television itself. That’s a lot harder to say. The model definitely needs tweaks—streaming services need to stop treating their metadata as proprietary secret sauce and let companies building streaming appliances build comprehensive cross-service program guides, for a start. But it seems to me like this future, even if it’s not precisely the one we wanted, has legs.

It’s much less clear to me whether this model will work well for software, as more and more programs take cues from Adobe and Microsoft and move toward subscription models. That, however, is another post.


  1. The Apple TV is arguably most of the way to being a solid “casual” game console, but it’s become clear that Apple has no idea how to make it attractive to either developers or consumers in that space. 
  2. I suspect Jason Snell is correct: Apple will take an “HBO approach…offering a dozen original series and a curated collection of films and classic TV shows.” 
  3. This is what much of Amazon’s stock price was historically based on: investors bet they would do exactly what Walmart did. That this hasn’t come to pass may well be due to Amazon Web Services becoming the company’s biggest revenue driver. 
  4. Advertising-supported services that are free to watch will stick around, but there’s a strong antipathy toward services with monthly bills and ads. I doubt that “blended” model will be with us long-term. 

The Looking Glass

Are you a party loyalist, willing to forgive what you see as a few character flaws in our president in order to get things done; in order to win? Are you the neighbors who pointed soldiers in the direction of an outhouse and sentenced my relatives to death? Are you the person down the street who chose to abandon a friend because she was Jewish? Or are you just a person who feels the broken glass grind between your boots and the sidewalk while thinking none of this has anything to do with you?

Dave Pell, “The Looking Glass”

A better Amaretto Sour

I’m pretty sure I was introduced to the amaretto sour in college by my roommate’s girlfriend. I liked it—because I like amaretto—but I had the vague notion that it was kind of a simple, overly-sweet drink even back then, and they mostly fell off my radar. After I got introduced to craft cocktails in the 2000s, sours didn’t exactly come roaring back. Sour mix is probably responsible for more meh cocktails than anything else behind the bar at your favorite chain restaurant. It’s Country Time lemonade as a syrup. And liqueurs are great with dessert, but not so great as cocktail foundations.

But nothing demands the Amaretto Sour must suck. You just need to make it stronger and less sweet, and dump the sour mix. My recipe is mostly Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s without the egg white, because I am not a professional bartender and I do not keep egg whites around for cocktails.


Amaretto Sour

1½ oz. amaretto
¾ oz. high proof bourbon
1 oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup

Shake up with ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cherry.


I use Baker’s bourbon (107 proof) and Knight Gabriello amaretto, which I think has a better flavor than DiSaronno and is a couple bucks less. I’ve upped the simple syrup a little because I’m not using “rich” (2:1 sugar:water) syrup, but that’s an “adjust to taste” thing.

I also remember, back in college and just after, having a few Midori sours. I suspect we can apply the same principle, with a different base spirit—Navy strength gin, perhaps?—but I haven’t tried. Yet.

Feed housekeeping

I finally remembered that I’d been using FeedPress for, er, feed stuff (remember RSS?) on the original Coyote Tracks, and I’ve updated it to pick up the feed from the new site instead. So if you were one of the couple hundred people who’d been reading posts that way, hi!

Since the new blog merges what was Coyote Tracks and my rarely-updated writing blog, Coyote Prints, you may get more than what you want here. If you only want tech posts, you can subscribe to the tech category feed. If you only want writing posts, you can subscribe to the writing category feed. (You can get a feed for any of the categories by going to the category page itself, if you really insist.)

And, if you’re following this as a link from Goodreads (hi?), note that the Goodreads blog is only pulling from the writing category.

Last but not least, if you’re subscribed to the Tumblr feed directly somehow (tracks.ranea.org/rss), you’re going to get what’s cross-posted to Tumblr, which is going to be mostly tech but probably kind of random.

Cotton, hay, and rags: giving bias the veneer of rationality

As you’ve surely heard by now, a mid-level engineer at Google—he’s anonymous, so I’ll call him Mr. Rationalface—wrote a memo called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” in which he argued that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.” (His words, not mine.) In response, recently former Google engineer Yonatan Zunger wrote the simply-titled “About this Googler’s manifesto,” in which he argues it’s manifest bullshit. (My words, not Zunger’s).

Between the time I started writing this and now, news has come out that Mr. Rationalface has been fired. I’ll come back to that.

I’ve been thinking about responses I saw on Hacker News to Zunger’s piece. The most common defense of Mr. Rationalface’s thesis was to restate its core premise: This whole drive for diversity rests on the premise that there’s no difference between men and women, but the falsehood of that is apparent to even the most casual of observers.

This is a common rhetorical trick I see in this particular corner of the internet (i.e., rationalists who want to rationally prove that PC SJW WTFery is irrational): restate the opposing premise incorrectly, then commence a full frontal assault on the restatement. Of course there are biological differences between men and women; who claimed otherwise? Mr. Rationalface proceeds from here to assert the following totally objective, non-sexist truths:

  • Women are more open toward feelings and aesthetics, while men are more open to ideas.
  • Women have more empathy than men, while men have more interest in systematizing.
  • Women are gregarious and agreeable; men are assertive!
  • Women are more neurotic, with higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance.
  • Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that! Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!

Whoops! While the first four are from Mr. Rationalface, that last bullet point was from noted academic rationalist Henry Higgins.

A fairer way to state the “pro-diversity” case is more like, some perceived differences between men and women used to justify associating higher-paying professions with men are rooted in dubious stereotypes. And we can test whether there’s prima facie evidence for that by looking at the actual history of software engineering. In the early days, it was women’s work: it was seen as more like filing and typing than math and logic—the hard stuff was the hardware. But by the mid-1970s, it was men’s work. But the work hadn’t changed. What changed was the perception of the work: society started to consider it high-status white collar work rather than low.

I know that—irony of ironies—I’m trying to rationally analyze an argument that is, at its heart, not about rationality at all. It’s about reclaiming ground in the Great Culture War. If the gender disparity in the engineering workforce at Google reflects something broken in their culture, it demands a solution that involves taking action one might call “affirmative.” PC! SJW! Cthluhu fhtagn! So don’t even allow the possibility that the problem is in the culture. If the problem isn’t in the culture, it must be in women. The solutions offered must involve working with and around Essential Feminine Nature.

But it’s the argument style that leaves me fascinated, the same style employed by many of his defenders, and a style that echoes through GamerGate, the Sad Puppies and other geeky outposts in the Great Culture War. If I may engage in some stereotyping myself, it’s an argument style beloved of folks who are mostly white, mostly male, mostly under 30, and mostly a little too sure of their razor-sharp logic. I don’t think this kind of guy gets redpilled because of deep-rooted anxiety over losing white male privilege—I think they get redpilled because it’s just effin’ cool to be told you’re one of the few people smart enough to see reality as it is, rather than buying into the conventional wisdom that traps all the other sheeple. This is why so many fringers, from anti-vaxxers to white supremacists, construct elaborate, nearly-logical theories built on a stack of unexamined premises. This is obvious to the most casual of observers, so let’s move on, they say, while the rest of us sheeple are making the time-out signal and saying wait, what?

Isn’t it obvious when premises are false? Isn’t this willful—and malicious—ignorance? Sometimes. If we’re honest with ourselves, more often than not. But the more boxes you tick on the cis-het-white-male line, the more advantages you get for no actual work on your part. You have, if I might be so bold, a rational self-interest in supporting arguments that those advantages are immutable nature, and attacking arguments that they’re uncomfortably squishy social constructs. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his social status depends on his not understanding it.”

So about Mr. Rationalface’s firing. If I were his manager, would I have canned him? I admit I’m not comfortable with hey, it’ll only chill the speech we don’t want; you can’t know that only the “right” group of people will take away exactly the message you intend to send. (Exhibit A: Hacker News.) But as Yonatan Zunger noted, a substantial number of Mr. R’s (former) coworkers were likely furious; he might as well have scrawled Does Not Work Well With Others, Especially Wimmen across his face with a Sharpie. From a—dare I say it—coldly rational standpoint, Google HR gets a firestorm no matter what, but keeping him risks a second, bigger firestorm when he shoots his mouth (or text editor) off to a coworker again.

I looked back at Hacker News briefly on the day of his firing and saw, well, what I expected. This is an outrage! This proves all the author’s points! This was not the anti-diversity manifesto the SJWs are claiming it is, it’s a well-written, polite, logical argument! It definitely had the appearance of logic, and it was debatably civil. But from its mischaracterization of the “pro-diversity” arguments through its “you’d agree with me if bias wasn’t blinding you to my truth” conclusion, it was precisely what its critics claimed it was. It’s easy to say Mr. Rationalface lost his job for not kowtowing to liberal groupthink, but sometimes a burning bridge is just a burning bridge.

Two Painkillers

The Painkiller is a semi-classic tiki drink. I say semi- because one glance will tell you it’s a pretty close relative of the Piña Colada. With all respect to Rupert Holmes of “Escape” fame, the Piña Colada is kind of loathed by tiki aficionados. (From what I gather, it’s loathed by Holmes, too, who sadly quipped, “No matter what else I do, my tombstone will be a giant pineapple.”) But for some reason, the tiki gods have smiled on the Painkiller.

So, curiously, have the trademark lawyers: Pusser’s, a sort of funky “British navy style” rum from the Virgin Islands, has trademarked Painkiller and insists that it must be made with their rum. (Never mind that the original recipe from the Soggy Dollar Bar actually predates Pusser’s.) Here’s their recipe:


Painkiller

1 oz. coconut cream
1 oz. orange juice
4 oz. pineapple juice
2–4 oz. Pusser’s rum

Shake with crushed ice and pour unstrained into a sufficiently large glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick.


So: stop pretending it isn’t a piña colada with orange juice. A relatively funky, dry navy rum brings a different flavor profile to the party than low-end Bacardi, but this is not a “spirit-forward” drink. (Unless you double the rum and make a “Painkiller 4,” which is an idea of dubious wisdom.) Also, despite Pusser’s attempted rewrite of pop culture history here, it wasn’t used in the original recipe, which was—as far as I’ve been able to tell—a mix of dark rums from Barbados and Jamaica.

As it turns out, though, screwing with the recipe is harder than it looks. I wanted to cut back on the pineapple juice to reduce the inherent Colada-ness, but cutting back on the sweetness too much took it too far from its roots. After a few attempts, I decided the simplest route was the best: slice the pineapple juice content in half, leaving the coconut cream and orange juice at their original levels. This makes the drink more like a refined cousin of its orange-free relative.

Also, why not get back to the original rum mix? It’d be more authentic, blending rums is fun, and screw Pusser’s trademark. So. In my version, I’ve gone with R. L. Seale’s 10 Year for the Barbados. For the Jamaican, I chose Smith & Cross: like Pusser’s, it’s “navy style,” meaning it’s a bit funky. (It’s also a rather formidable 57% ABV; the Seale’s is a respectable 43%. I’m just saying, do not do a “Painkiller 4” version of mine unless you want to make friends with the floor.) At my local Total Wine & More, the Seale’s was $24 and the Smith & Cross was $27; if you’d like a cheaper pairing, go with Mount Gay Eclipse and Appleton Estate Signature Blend.

Don’t skimp on the juices—get the freshest you can get. This is good advice for all drinks. I used Coco Lopez for the coconut cream, which seems to be the one most tiki bars use; I don’t know how much of a difference other brands make, but don’t use coconut milk. They’re not the same thing.


Coyote Painkiller

1 oz. coconut cream
1 oz. fresh orange juice
2 oz. pineapple juice (not from concentrate)
1 oz. R. L. Seale’s 10 Year rum
1 oz. Smith & Cross rum

Shake with cracked ice and pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass. Add more ice if necessary, stir, and garnish with grated nutmeg and cinnamon.

A new home

Over the years, I’ve ended up with multiple “presences” online:

  • The original Coyote Tracks, hosted at Tumblr
  • “Coyote Prints,” an attempt at a writing news-ish weblog, generated with Jekyll
  • My Ranea.org website, made with a hacky homebrew static site generator
  • The occasional foray onto Medium

That’s not even inclusive of earlier attempts at this, like a LiveJournal and, before that, a very simple bloggy thing that worked by putting files with names like 1999-01-01-entry.txt in a specific directory that were picked up by a small PHP script. (That was back in the days when PHP was just used to embed bits of interactivity in HTML pages, just like that, which is something it’s pretty good at. I’m pretty sure I was doing that in early 1998, which by some measure might make me one of the earliest bloggers, or would if there had been just one damn person reading my home page.)

While this hodgepodge of bloglike objects had good intentions—separation of concerns, trying new platforms, keeping up with the cool kids—it’s become too unwieldy. The decision where to post is sometimes kind of arbitrary. Many of the people who read about my writing are interested in tech; while the reverse isn’t as true, I’d actually kinda like to expose some of my tech audience to my writing, especially stories that involve techy things.

A bigger concern, though, comes down to fully controlling my own content.

This isn’t a new concern; Marco Arment was writing about owning your identity back in 2011. Some blogging services let you bring your own domain—Tumblr does it for free, which is why you go to tracks.ranea.org instead of chipotle.tumblr.com—and others, like WordPress.com, let you do it for a modest charge. Medium makes it possible, but only for publications (and at a fairly high cost); many other services don’t offer this at all.

So: Welcome to coyotetracks.org.

But while owning your online identity is necessary, it’s not sufficient: you need to own your content, too. I don’t mean that in a legal sense—despite the headless chicken dance the internet goes through every time somebody changes their legal boilerplate, no reputable service ever has or ever will tried to steal your copyright. I mean it in an existential sense.

I still like Tumblr, despite its foibles, but as far as I know it was never profitable on its own, it was never profitable for Yahoo, and it’s on track to never be profitable for Verizon. As for Medium, I love what it’s trying to do, or maybe I love what it was trying to last business model and not so much now, or maybe vice-versa, or maybe it was three or four business models ago. What other businesses call pivots, Medium calls Tuesdays.

I’ll circle back to that, but the upshot is that I decided I needed a POSSE: “publish own site, syndicate everywhere.” (Look, I didn’t make it up.) And that brings me to…WordPress.

I’ll be blunt: I don’t like WordPress. Internally it’s a dumpster fire, full of arcanely formatted non-OO code, bloated HTML, and a theming engine designed by bipolar squirrels.

So I looked at other things. I know there are ways to make static site generators quasi-automatic, that Matt Gemmell swears it’s faster to blog from his iPad with Jekyll. I’ve done it, with a system not too dissimilar from the one he describes. It works, but I don’t love it. I’m comfortable at a shell prompt, but I don’t want it to be necessary for blogging, especially if I’m on an iPad. (I’m moving back to the Mac for portable writing, but that’s another post.)

I also looked at Ghost, which started with some fanfare a couple years ago as a modern take on WordPress that focused back on blogging essentials rather than shoehorning in a content management system. Now they’re a “professional publishing platform,” and all their messaging is we are not for you, casual blogger, pretty much the opposite of their original ideology.

But I can publish to WordPress right from Ulysses. Or MarsEdit. Or the WordPress web interface, desktop app, or iOS app. The WordPress API is, at least for me, a killer feature. And its ecosystem is unmatched: I have access to thousands of plugins, at least six of which are both worth using and actively maintained.

So: I’m still finding my way. I’ve added a cross-poster which can theoretically post everywhere I want, although I’m not sure if I’m going to use its Medium functionality—I want to be able to vet what it’s posting before it goes live there, so I’ll probably just use Medium’s post importer. And I don’t want to syndicate everything everywhere: I want to syndicate selectively. (This post probably won’t even go to Medium, for instance.)

The semi-ironic footnote: I don’t know if this is really going to make me post more, when all is said and done. I’ve always been guilty of being more interested in building things than running them. But we’ll see.

Kismet

My first full-length novel, Kismet, was published by Argyll Productions in January 2017. Here’s the back cover blurb:

The River: a hodgepodge of arcologies and platforms in a band around Ceres full of dreamers, utopians, corporatists—and transformed humans, from those with simple biomods to the exotic alien xenos and the totemics, remade with animal aspects. Gail Simmons, an itinerant salvor living aboard her ship Kismet, has docked everywhere totemics like her are welcome…and a few places they’re not.

But when she’s accused of stealing a databox from a mysterious wreck, Gail lands in the crosshairs of corporations, governments and anti-totemic terrorists. Finding the real thieves is the easy part. To get her life back, Gail will have to confront a past she’s desperate not to face—and what’s at stake may be more than just her future.

Kismet takes place about ten years after the short story “Tow” and shares the same protagonist. While I aimed for a hard science fiction feel, it’s a character-driven story about identity, transhumanism and what defines home. It came out of the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop, a residential workshop at the University of Kansas led by Kij Johnson, so it has a pretty good pedigree. I could tell you that if you like Kim Stanley Robinson’s work or Jennifer Foehner Wells’ Fluency, you’ll probably like Kismet. I could also tell you that its high concept is “The Expanse meets Zootopia,” which is not entirely wrong.

You can get previews of the ebook from most of those links, but you can also get a four-chapter preview PDF on my “buy my books” page.

The fantastic cover art and design is by Teagan Gavet. (The featured art here is a clip from the book’s alternate cover.)