A year in LES - Reflections, Thoughts, My history and the future for LowEndSpirit.
Good Afternoon LowEndSpirit.
I have been threatening to write something up for a while but never quite found until now the time so here goes nothing.
Let me start by saying writing is certainly not my strong point and this entire post is directly from the hip so it may jump about a bit but obviously this is influenced by a ton of factors.
I am writing this paragraph after finishing writing this whole thing, I wanted to say that I never intended for it to get this long, it got so big I had to keep things fairly short and cut out detail sometimes believe it or not so this entire post is part conversation, part story part therapy take from it what you will or take nothing at all, I can't imagine most people will ever read the whole thing. I really did just write it from the hip, it was a direct brain to fingers to screen write up with no significant plan or edit, I am going to read through it once now to correct any obvious mistakes. Despite English being my first language grammar is a foreign language to me so please be kind in that regard.
The beginning/genesis,- the past events that happened that resulted ultimately in my writing this post today.
For those that do not know LowEndSpirit started off as a brand name for the 128MB NAT (shared IPv4) servers I started to offer via Inception Hosting, Having been active on LEB (not LET) since 2010 and running a registered business that actively promoted services on LEB since very early 2011 I have now for a decade been entrenched in the LE* world.
This at the time was quite a departure from where I came from doing project management for EDS Defence (letter purchased by HP) rolling out and managing entire data centre builds for the UK military with high multi-million £$€ budgets. Some of the EMC SANS alone were £1,000,000+, I went from one extreme to the other.
Before being a project manager I was more involved with the server management (windows based) and because of my utter boredom with my sysadmin day job I started experimenting with VMware probably as early as 2001, from that I then through online friend groups (irc/aim/msn etc) got to hear more about linux/bsd, my first experience in the *nix world was actually FreeBSD, I believe at the time it would have been FreeBSD 4.0.
I was amazed (after several failed attempts I should say) just how well it ran on an ancient Pentium II laptop I had with 96mb ram, it was one of those chunky IBM's you could bounce down the stairs without it missing a beat.
Following that I moved onto Gentoo because someone told me that would be much more userfriendly, keep in mind there was no package manager at that time so I was compiling everything from source on the laptop, after a week I felt like a victim of a sick joke and went back to FreeBSD
Fast Forward a few years my enthusiasm had grown and I had a couple of home servers I had liberated from the local college where I studied for my CCNA (passed) and CCNP (could not finish due to life commitments) qualifications.
I ended up with 3 old servers running in the house 24x7 making a horrible noise, probably impacting my sleep but in my 20's ... who cares about sleep , the street I lived on got cable and for the first time ever I had GOOD quality upload speeds a whole 10mbit... amazing (for the UK) with around 50mbit down.
I started to do things like host email servers, host game servers for friends and colleagues and then even websites after a while although this was on my windows 2003 webserver running IIS (sorry). this was all done on old minimal hardware, the best I had was an old dual Pentium 2 450Mhz RM server the size of the medium shipping box, it was so big it had wheels, but it could take around 50 hard disks.
Not earning a huge amount back then I focused on 2nd hand stuff a lot and filled it with a pile of old IDE drives, ranging from 4.3GB to 20GB, this then got used by people I knew online and friends as a central repository for games, music movies etc.
Whenever I spoke to people about this it was a topic of fascination, people even came to visit my setup, they could not believe how minimal old hardware was able to do so much, I think they expected a mini DC in the house when really it was just corners of rooms and a mess of wires, it seemed people really just did not understand how much you could do with so little.
Thus my own personal lowendspirit was born, I was determined to find out how to commercially host websites and make some money from it, sadly my own what I would consider late start to the world of the internet generally did fail me at times, certainly more so back then than now.
I spoke to some of the people I talked to online about it and swapped ideas with them (Shout out to Lee Macdonald aka roto/roto-router) about getting something started, I by that time did have a bit more spare cash and was happy to bankroll the start up on a small scale but there was nowhere near the insane amount of options there are now, we found something and got to work. I think it was called cube panel.
Back then Jon Roberts who some of you might know was just starting his own company Racksrv, which is still active today, I had donated some stuff as prizes to Jon when he was a teen and doing some local LAN gaming events, so naturally, I rented a server from him, I think it was a dual-core with 8GB Ram and a 320GB Disk (may have been smaller), which to me at the time was a powerhouse.
Ultimately we simply did not know what we did not know at the time and it came to nothing, lmas-networks (Lee MacDonald + Anthony Smith) was a failure in a business sense as it never really got to launch but it was certainly a learning experience which taught me a lot so it was an important step towards getting to where I am today.
I believe, and I could be wrong as my memory is not the best this takes me up to around 2007 and I was 2 - 3 years into working Windows Desktop/server support at HP (Then EDS Defence). The next few years passed with me learning more and more, getting windows certifications and eventually ITIL project management qualifications and moving into the world of managing rollouts 2010 came along, I was burned out and bored and started conceiving Inception Hosting, the code name for while at the time was SmitHost... imagine that... lol.
With HP buying EDS defence and EDS as a whole, a lot of jobs became duplicated within the wider organisation so they started offering very generous voluntary redundancy packages which after careful consideration and financial planning and knowing I was starting my own plans anyway with SmitHost (lol) I took the voluntary redundancy.
Xen and the art of server maintenance!
Let me start this next section by saying it has been 2 days since I wrote the first section due to time so the flow of my thoughts is not on exactly the same track.
At this point circa December 2010/January 2011 I had written the project plan for Inception hosting and was actively working on it while essentially on garden leave (A terms for when you are officially employed but can't come to work, usually for security reasons, in my case I was registered on the official secret acts and was a defence vetted civilian working on a military contract) waiting for my employment to officially end and the redundancy to be paid.
I got a couple of cheapos (ish) servers with Hetzner this was just to thoroughly test the end to end solution, I also had some business customers I had known for many years chomping at the bit for me to start as they needed some managed offsite backup solutions, so everything went together quite well from that point and Inception hosting was in profit (by about €75 /month haha) on day 1.
I had enough redundancy money to live on for a good 18 months minimum even if I did not make a penny so that was the plan, build a stable base, build slowly and build sustainably. The option of halving the money and buying hardware and IP blocks outright was also an option but not having even close to the same finger on the pulse of the VPS market as I have now that seemed like the much higher risk strategy. in hindsight, if I were to do this again from scratch, I would have taken the second option but I went the way I went and I am not sure it made that much difference in the end as this was always a lifestyle choice, not a world domination plan.
Before KVM, it was really only OpenVZ 5 or Xen 3, KVM was only a thought in someone's mind back then, Xen (PV) was as close to KVM as you could get, performance-wise (HVM sucked back then) while still running your own kernel and OpenVZ 5 had a reputation for being massively oversold (and it was), not understanding LE*Economics as well back then and not feeling comfortable overselling at all, I went for Xen.
I rode the Xen bandwagon hard, even when KVM launched I still pushed Xen as the superior product, sadly it did not take long for KVM to outperform it in every single way apart from stability although I would still argue to this day in terms of stability alone KVM is not as good as Xen. It is certainly production ready enough if you stay off the bleeding edge features, using SolusVM, obviously that was not a problem
Anyway moving back a step, my new Xen method was battle-tested and ready to be made public instead of just the B2B managed work I was doing and I was ready to take over the world, I went in search a host to back the public offers on, after testing a few over a fairly short period I landed on SnelServer (Shout out to Wouter) in the Netherlands.
They had some great features at the time which were simply not available anywhere else, the control panel was amazing, you could pretty much drag and drop chunks of bandwidth from 1 server to the other, IPMI was built right into the control panel (rare back then), rDNS was automated and they (Wouter) even wrote me a plugin to pass the rDNS requests from SolusVM directly to their own control panel, the price was right, the hardware was right, the location was right the control panel made it super simple to completely manage everything you needed and then Wouter made it a no brainer with his willingness to make things work as I needed them to work.
Sadly years later when Wouter left SnelServer the whole company dropped through the floor in terms of quality, they started taking 6 weeks to replace dead drives, I was catching them in lies constantly, the guy running the company refused to be accountable for anything but was terrified of speaking to customers himself which made the entire platform untenable and amateur at best which is why I ultimately moved to i3d back then, this is a tangent for another day though (if ever).
Moving on... The stage was set I initially started putting offers out on WHT and testing the market with various plans and packages and one of them was picked up by 'LEA' who was the original creator of LowEndBox:
Here is that offer:
Following this as it generated a huge amount more sales than I was used too I decided to start putting my own offers into LowEndBox on a semi-regular basis, the feedback was generally positive and any issues found I tried to deal with as soon as possible. I was still new to this specific industry segment and new to running a business generally 9shout out to @Asim for calling me out on not keeping my company registration up to date
I still feel bad to this day I took your public call-out on this personal back then) so I certainly had a lot to learn as you can see from some of the comments and my responses on my ancient lowEndBox offer posts
interestingly the first comment on the first offer I sent in is by someone who is still to this day an Inception Hosting customer, the oldest customer Inception Hosting actually has.
A link to a very early review of Inception Hosting: http://www.96mb.com/96mb-low-end-vps-review-part-viii-inception-hosting/ (Shout out to 96MB)
So from that point on the formula was pretty obvious, get server pricing, get the average plan distribution over the nodes, attribute a proportional price per IP, license etc, add profit margin, sell the plan, underpants, profit! and that was how Inception Hosting was built, using a stable base and a sustainable margin. It became very obvious that you could grow significantly faster by using OpenVZ and selling plans and specs at an 8:1 ratio compared to Xen but it was also obvious that the hosts doing that we're the ones getting publicly slammed for poor quality, poor performance stability problems etc.
2 paragraph tangent warning
I have had the odd few chats with @Francisco over the years and we both seem to be able to pick/call host that are going to deadpool with a high degree of accuracy, usually 6 months before they do, it is a 6th sense you get, not just because you know what things cost, there is something in the language and general behaviour that makes them stand out.
Almost all of the plan inflating OpenVZ only hosts from back then do not exist today or at least not in the same form due to rescue buyouts etc. I do like to sleep at night so I felt my approach although is slowed initial growth was a plan for the long run and here I am 10 years on.
Fast forward a few years and a few dramas later, the hostile take over of LowEndBox/Talk by coloncrossing happened and also what became apparent was that the market as a whole in the LE* world was limited, there are only so many people looking to buy in the LE* world and the price is king above all else, Xen simply was not cutting it any more, KVM was king so it was time to adapt, I probably fought the Xen battle harder than most but in the end, I had to acknowledge KVM was simply the future and I also started Offering an OpenVZ service as a super budget option and adopting KVM for mainstream higher quality services.
By this point, I was certainly better off than I was working in my old 9-5 (more like 6am - 9pm) job however I did not have any plans on global domination, this had become more of a lifestyle choice, it allowed certain freedoms that I hold more dear than money but frankly the cookie-cutter approach was boring, having to deal with the same issues day in and day out was wearing on me so I needed a side project, something of interest.
The Birth of lowEndSpirit (not this one, that NAT one)
I started messing around with NAT IPv4 containers, it was obvious that the IPv4 shortage people were talking about was going to hurt the industry and knowing price was king I wondered just how ridiculous I could be in terms of resources. Having already offered OpenVZ for a while the primary uses for it was obvious to me, the odd website, scrapers, proxies and VPN's that had to account for 80% of all use.
Always being fascinated by doing more with less I got to work seeing how low I could go and started offering Ultra Budget containers for just €3 per year with 128MB RAM and NAT ipv4 access, with a set 20 TCP+UDP ports forwarded + 1 SSH port and I called it LowEndSpirit
This generated a LOT more buzz than I thought it ever would, I sold around 400 containers in the first month and had to start restricting sales, suddenly I got a glimpse of what BuyVM may have felt like with their $15 128mb plans back in the day.
At this stage, LowEndSpirit was simply a brand name for a product to help keep it somewhat separate from Inception Hosting, although Inception Hosting was footing the bill for it, it had its own website and forum which was purely for separation and support, at the time the goal really was just to cover the costs and promote knowledge, the knowledge that you don't need a 2GB RAM VPS with bleeding-edge CPU's to run a proxy/VPN or heck, even a forum, the whole LowEndSpirit support forum ran on a 64mb VPS on FluxBB and it was FAST
It got to the point whereby it covered costs and then some, so I put that money into a new location, that kept happening until I had 5 locations and it was running at a small but manageable loss just on the borderline of breaking even, I put the prices up by €0.50 per year to stop the loss and declared it a stable project.
The containers for those that are interested back then ran at ridiculous contention they were all 128MB Ram, and the formula was that I could run 250 containers per 4GB of physical server ram which is close to 800% over allocation just they ran and ran reasonably well, but that was the Joy of OpenVZ 6+simfs, the density was incredible (at least double what VZ7+ploop filesystem can manage) but ultimately that is what allowed the LES NAT service to exist.
4 Years flew by in the blink of an eye, I had some great plans for LowEndSpirit, actually written plans which I might release at some point to turn the service into an HA hosting service with replication and anycast for the price of a coke and chips at the cinema. Due to the lack of buy-in and my own inability to sell the idea well to those that could make it happen this sadly never happened although technically sound its hard to sell an idea to developers when it is only breaking even in its current form even if that is by design.
I had at least managed to convince some of the control panel developers to implement haproxy into their panels directly and working with them to get that done was fun and it certainly expanded the options and worked better than my god awful (but effective) scripts to get haproxy working.
By this time this sort of service was no longer unique to Inception Hosting, I actively encouraged and helped or at least inspired some other hosts set up similar services a few don't exist now but those that do really took the idea and ran with it, giving it far more time than I was ever able too and apparently made it profitable as they are still here to this day, shout out to @mikho (MrVM) and @cam (Gullo), @oliau (RansomIT), @gestiondbi (Sorry I forget the old company name from the NAT era).
A less known fact about LES (The NAT one) that I never made very public is that I applied to a funder who had advertised for people and organisations to come forward with ideas on charitable businesses that could have a global reach and improve lives worldwide.
I put forward my plans on being able to develop relationships with hosting providers to donate resources in return for the promotion and tax breaks to the project to make it truly global, fully HA and the 3-year plan was to reach 100 pops, have paid 'champions' in every region and develop the platform further, the idea behind it was to team up with the likes of udemy and other online teaching resources to provide complete platforms for people from poor and disenfranchised backgrounds for free, a complete learning package that they could keep for life to learn and develop on, if they had access to the internet in some form they could make use of it at free or incredibly low cost, it would also be available to the more developed parts of the world at a low but sustainable cost which would help in keeping it going beyond the funding.
It took many months of work, I got the idea through to the final stages, the funding was essentially a competition but it was rejected ultimately in favour of more direct humanitarian work, which I understand but never the less was proud to have been in consideration in the final tranch of applications for the grant, it would have been around $320,000 worth of funding to fully launch the project and it got to the top 10 from 1000's of bids.
I was not at all upset about this, it simply was not meant to be, fast forward another random 'life speeds up as you get older' amount of time and it was clear that others had more time and drive to push the NAT idea forward and they had transformed it and made it something unique of their own, some even offering it for free, shout out to @Neoon and thanks for your continued frustrations with me not implementing certain features, hopefully, this explains a little bit more as to why I never did.
By this point, the lowendspirit support forum was largely idle, a few posts a day at most as with putting the prices up slightly I started allowing direct support tickets, it just worked out easier that way, I was already looking for a new use for the domain and certainly wanted to switch the forum software, that is something I procrastinated on like a pro for at least 12 months because I just had no time.
By now I was actually providing backend support for around 4 different hosts, completely managing their back end infrastructure and acting as a support escalation point, I don't do any of that sort of work now as it is simply too demanding on my time outside of normal working hours despite the hours you set there is always that 'urgent' thing that needs to be dealt with every other day haha and no one wants to really pay for it.
The idiots have taken over the asylum - LE'What? - Darker Days
@jarland has left the building, I am not 100% sure what it was that made him step down as the LET admin
but I do know it was by choice and I do not 100% remember if I asked or he offered to put me forward as the new admin at lowendtalk but some events happened and I took over at lowendtalk as a volunteer admin, the site at that point still being owned by coloncrossing.
The fact that the place was owned by coloncrossing and the puppet masters were known to be slippery at best was concerning to me but I was already in the mix, I had been here for the better part of a decade, I was there before those guys as far as I knew so I thought, perhaps I can affect some change because, at that point, the forum was a bit of a shit show compared to days gone by.
Being that bit older by then perhaps I just noticed it more but it felt like the place was being effectively trashed by rage kids that spoke in memes, bad ones every single post was being derailed, some people were just looking for a fight with anyone for any reason, no offer was safe, instead of not buying people felt that their opinion needed to be not just heard but forced down everyone's neck aggressively, I reached out to some level heads in the LE* world and it became very apparent that what I was observing was also being felt by others so I decided to give it a go (the admin role) knowing full well that decisions I was going to have to make would not be popular with the incredibly loud minority of people.
I did my best over a fairly short period of time to try and drain the swamp a bit, some constant rule skirting hosts were struck off, toxic behaviours were nulled as much as possible, rules were updated to strategically get the place back on the rails. While I took some serious abuse that continued pretty strongly outside what was seen publicly (people be crazy) for the most part things were getting back on track, as back on track as possible anyway knowing that the days gone by had, gone!.
A few of the hosts that had been removed for abuse of the rules or being past the known pump and dump scam artists i.e. a danger to the integrity of the community and to peoples personal finances got miraculously unbanned and given provider tags. It turned out that if you had services with coloncrossing you were immune from punishment and you were not held to the same standard as anyone else.
After some digging, it turned out that these were decisions made by Chris Fabozzi who at this stage was working for coloncrossing directly as opposed to pretending CVPS was not owned by colocncrossing and Chris was acting on orders from Jon Biloh to do this.
I protested this undermining of decisions made strongly and was assured that this was a one-off event and was business-critical, this did not sit well with me but I was assured that should any of them slip up again I was free to immediately ban them. I begrudgingly accepted this, in hindsight I should have quit there and then but as we all know perfect hindsight is the ultimate super power.
Fast forward literally a few weeks, one of the same slippery hosts messed up yet again, and they were banned yet again, within 3 days Jon had unbanned them again because they were coloncrossing customers. I spoke to some of the fellow moderation team about this and a day before I made any decisions about my future as a volunteer admin there I did a deep dive, I found that coloncrossing under the leadership of Jon had been dishing out old abandoned accounts with post history with updated usernames and email addresses to hosts that had servers with coloncrossing to make them look more legitimate to potential buyers.
That was the final straw in terms of the admin role for me, they were deliberately and systematically defrauding the entire community so I stepped down with immediate effect. I continued to be a host and communicate with the wider community just as a regular user, I did not make a big deal out of stepping down I just did it. I have to admit I did worry to some degree that leaving LET all together would impact sales adversely which I would be lying if I said impacted my decision to not just leave immediately.
As it has turned out leaving LET has been great for sales, I sell more plans at full price than ever before and I get a LOT less hassle/abuse orders generally.
I honestly don't remember how much time passed from then and to the point I decided to call it quits at LET all together, it may have been 3 months it may have been 12 months or anything in between would come as a surprise. At this stage, LEB was effectively dead to anyone but coloncrossing hosts, after I stepped down things went from bad to worse in terms of behaviour from the top, all previously banned coloncrossing hosts were not only unbanned but were being heavily promoted on LEB and continued to get away with breaking the rules.
The rate at which the coloncrossing boys were simply just taking the piss at all our expenses was increasing day by day and they were not even being particularly careful about hiding it as they once were. At this stage, you were genuinely more likely to get ripped off on LET/B than you were at hackforums (is that still a thing?) reputations of hosts were being trashed in other places simply for being active on LET.
It might be surprising but I really don't remember what the final straw was, it probably was not 1 specific thing, more the accumulation of a series of things that finally just got to heavy for me to continue being part of the community there, so I wrote my farewell with no intention to fork the community at that stage. I wrote a big and frankly angry account of my reasons for stepping down as an admin, making sure people were aware of the incredibly shitty nature of the puppet masters behind LET/B and all their past misgivings which included but are certainly not limited to over 50 sponsored pump and dump hosts that took the communities money and ran, identity theft (look up the UGVPS drama if they have not removed it to see evidence of Chris and Jon literally blackmailing someone into allowing them to pose as someones girlfriend using her ID's without her knowledge to set up a pump and dump company and run away without paying the bills) and the constant flexible rules for coloncrossing hosts and undermining of the voluntary staff they use as a free human shield while profiting big from LET/B.
Not too long after that another 20 hosts deadpooled after taking money for totally unsustainable 3-year deals black Friday, every single one of them was tied back directly to Jon Biloh/coloncrossing, the ZDnet article: https://www.zdnet.com/article/20-vps-providers-to-shut-down-on-monday-giving-customers-two-days-to-save-their-data/ (Shout out to @teamacc )
Now Jon finally admits that he personally owns LEB/T, many of us know beyond any reasonable doubt that he has owned it for a long time before this admission and only made that admission because we found out, possibly as long as 3 years, he now has a known child sexual abuse sympathiser cheerleading for him and is continuing to employ all the same tactics as he has been getting away with for years just now he pretends it is a fresh start (it's not) and putting on the uncle Jon act.
It always surprises me how many people are unaware of just how bad things have been in the background there over the years as a result of his influence but it usually turns out that those that are unaware are reasonably new to the community.
All of this ultimately confirms to me that I made the right decision in getting out of that place, I do regret the way I did it though, I should have just quietly walked away, I just felt that after spending so long being a part of a community that Jon made rot from the core I had to say my piece. Sadly the net effect was it caused massive division and turned people on both sides of the moral fence against each other and arguments broke out right left and centre, that was not what I wanted, I wanted to build awareness and justify my actions, really I should have done neither but what is done is done and I lost some great contacts/friends whom I used to communicate with through that platform only. I don't go back unless I absolutely have to, a few miss clicks on links occur that's about it.
What my outburst/stamping of my feet/swan song post on LET (Link to OGF) https://www.lowendtalk.com/discussion/161258/why-are-the-leb-feed-offers-posted-in-offers-allowed-to-break-the-rules (I still to this day have not read beyond the first handful of pages in that post) did do though was make it very apparent a large portion of the community felt similar. I did read a comment by someone on that final rant post of mine that lead to me finally walking away from LET which said something along the lines of "You know, the reason we don't have a separate community is not due to a technical limitation" that hit me like a ton of bricks, they were absolutely right! ... queue the game of thrones intro music.
Teach a man to code and he will eat for a day, give him $7 and he can idle a VPS for a lifetime
I decided to give it a shot, to make my best efforts at making a safer space for the part of the community that gave a shit to reside, I had witnessed many ex-LET admins do the same thing over the years in 1 form or another. Perhaps it is a natural knee jerk reaction because to my knowledge except for the original owner of LEB/T no one had left on the happiest of terms even if that was how it was portrayed on the surface.
We had a major community fork about 6 or 7? ish years ago with vpsboard however that started as a big reaction to finding out Jon/coloncrossing had been in secret control of LET/B for over a year without telling anyone. The result of which was a huge bile spitting pool of negativity and tin foil hats & pitchforks. sadly because its entire momentum was built off the back of that, when people calmed down and accepted what had happened had happened and that no amount of evidence or smoking guns was going to make the LET/B puppet masters care and the momentum slowly dwindled to near nothing and the new forum became a graveyard for a long time. I have not checked on it for a while it may have some life back in it now.
Mandude (The persona that started VPSBoard) was always a nice guy, probably in a similar headspace to that of mine last year when I exited LET. however, the forum was using that old style we know from the 90's and 00's made most popular by forum standards like phpBB and SMF, in the age of social media they don't have a great flow to them to keep conversations going no matter how powerful the backend is.
@jarland who we all know and love started hostballs now hostedtalk soon after his exit from LET as admin, again this is just my perception, I may be wrong, but he wanted that to be a generally more positive and calmer place and was not prepared to allow any of the drama for the sake of drama creep in there.
That seemed like a great thing to do, a calmer place for those of us that we're sick of the noise and constant bad feeling at LET, it was however made pretty clear from the get-go that the commercial element of hostballs was far from a priority and in fact when asked it was actively discouraged by the mods/admins there.
The software behind hostballs (discourse I think) is nice, it is a modern re-imagining of vanilla in its layout however at the same time it did feel different to LET with a different flow to it with a fair bit of focus on gameification https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamification.
Learning from past observations and other forks what I felt I knew was needed in order for the community to feel comfortable, it had to feel familiar, subtle differences were fine but the overall flow and function needed to be the same, that meant 1 thing... Vanilla.
Now for all the moans and groans about vanilla which are likely justified the fact remains or at least in my head, it is a strong opinion that Vanilla does a fantastic job of keeping a conversation going and engaging people, it is a good middle ground between a forum and social media.
I always had an issue at LET in that any random volunteer admin who's real name was not even known by the forum operator had access to everyone's email addresses, IP addresses and even PM's at the click of a button, that never did sit right with me, despite the years of protest by Jon claiming that access to PM's was not something they had, bam, right in your face at the click of a button.
That is something that does not exist in LES, while I could, in theory, read your PM's as I have database access at the end of the day it is not trivial (for me anyway).
One of the main reasons I don't have other admins/mods here is because I don't believe in simply handing access to peoples data to others without any pre-qualification or built-in accountability for the person with the access. I know this again may sound like a triviality to some but one thing I know is that there are enough people in the LE* community that really do care about this that it should be important to me as well.
The other reason is that I think the idea of having free/unpaid community managers is a bad model is that you can't complain if they are not doing a great job, you can't really demand anything of them and as we have seen time and time again the person or persons in that role become targets, having been on the receiving end, I won't put anyone in that position that is not being compensated appropriately. LET/B used to pay the admins around $1000 /month for managing the T+B sites, that stopped a few years ago around the same time as the numbers started to really drop off, how motivated can you really be for free while taking daily abuse after all.
With some help from @Solaire and @Phill in the early stages of launching this forum and the huge amount of feedback from the community, it got into a familiar state pretty quickly, I was only willing to take the help in the first instance to get things running and despite my best efforts, neither of them would take any money for the work they were doing on the backend meaning that I ultimately had to stop accepting that help.
LES up to around a few months ago was costing somewhere in the region of $70 /month to exist when adding up the cloudflare, mandrillapp, runcloud pro, staging servers and live servers, the position was getting difficult as there were things that needed to be done, I either lacked the skills or the time to do them myself to at least break it even by getting the advertising system in place, I had been paying a developer in the past to get some of the grav (main LES blog platform) core modifications made I needed and I knew his rates so he was an obvious choice to go forward with.
My preference would have been someone from the community directly however I did put out a few calls for paid help and either people wanted lawyer money for coding work or they could do some but not all, that was the driving factor behind having to get external but known paid help in, so I once again put my hands in my own pockets to pay for the time needed to get the advert system completed.
But I hate adverts, they offend my eyes and kill fairies with every blink!
Well, I hear you, the truth is though that the forum needs a revenue stream of its own to continue to exist, I considered going down the Patreon route but something did not feel right about that, I believe that as much as the commercial element of the forum (the hosts) needs the community, the wider community also needs the commercial element in order to exist, it is a symbiotic relationship.
I think the right place to generate revenue from is the companies that stand to gain from the community, I say that as a host, a community member and the forum owner, 3 separate hats that can be hard to wear at the same time. The best way to do that is banner adverts, at least that is my thinking and no one has come up with a viable alternative with wider buy-in yet.
So I am afraid for now at least, the adverts are here to stay, I understand if you feel you want to manually block them I really do but I wanted to let people know why they are here at least so they can make an informed decision rather than just ranting that an advert moved. I knew from day 1 this was going to be a situation whereby there is not a single standard or solution that would keep everyone happy so I have just accepted some people will be unhappy and have moved on from that.
Currently, the situation is that the revenue generated from the adverts is less than £200 /month, people may think this goes in my pocket, that is not the case, it will all be spent on the forum in one way or another, getting this money in itself costs me money as I am forced to declare it as additional personal income (it does not go through Inception Hosting) and have an accountant do a return on it so about 20% of it is nuked immediately.
I made a post in the provider's section (only seen by hosts) a while ago when announcing to the providers that the adverts were available to buy now (up to this point all the adverts you saw were free), I think rather than retype everything it would be best for me to simply quote some snippets from that post bringing them into the wider public view:
I get poked a lot about the adverts on here, I do appreciate the enthusiasm and you guys wanting to throw some money into the pot!
I have started them off super cheap because this is a budget market segment forum after all.
@AnthonySmith said: I think it is important to say what your money is being spent on because after all I already have an income and I genuinely never set this place up for profit. so here is my brain being spilt onto this post and I very much welcome any feedback no matter how small.
It will be considered income in the eyes of the taxman, so I will kiss goodbye to around 20% immediately as I already far exceed any personal income tax breaks as a limited company director.
This forum all-in costs me personally around $70 / month just to run when you take into account the licenses, the services and the paid Cloudflare elements, it would be nice to recoup some of that.
I don't want to encourage or invite too much free help, I have had a fair amount in the first few months, I had > to knock that on the head though as people literally would not let me pay them for work they were doing, I am aware there are a number of things that can be done to make this community work better but they require > some coding work to be done, I have identified the members that can do the work I just need a separate pot > to pay them with, I have prioritised people from low socioeconomic backgrounds when possible so the relatively small amount of money 100's not 1000's actually makes a difference to their life as that is important > to me.
External promotion of the forum and someone to manage the social media elements.
Whatever may be left after the above I want to give back to you and the community by way of doing advance > paid offers, REAL LES exclusives, I have already had this conversation with a few people but essentially what I > want to do is guarantee you a minimum order volume by pre-paying it, that might be a product you want to > showcase, I purchase 50 units in advance and pay the first months bill, you then simply charge a nominal $0.50c for the account validation on sign up. advertisers will always be the priority market group for this.
If possible I would like to pay a nominal amount to a moderator, one on a different time zone to me, it is quiet in terms of abuse but it is getting gradually worse in terms of volume as growth occurs so I would like to > have someone in place to keep things in check before they ever get out of hand.
I have also spoken with some dedicated server providers and discussed the idea of paying the setup fee's in > advance or paying for an upgrade outright so the LES customer base gets the best possible deals.
I hope that makes my thinking and ethics behind this clear, the better and busier we can make this forum, the better it is for all of us in the long run so don't think of it as just paying me, think of it as an investment in yourself with a nice advert to go with it
Prices will increase over time as the numbers justify it but they will never just increase out of greed, I am not a financially motivated person but I do understand money is required to make other things happen.
If this is a complete failure and no one buys then, which is entirely possible I don't expect everyone to subscribe to my way of thinking I will just strip out the adverts altogether and offer top bar banners on a case by case basis only.
@AnthonySmith said: A little update on this, I have now hired a freelance dev, he has already started work and his priority is fixing my shitting advert rotation script and better integrating it into the backend for me.
Next, he will be working on the resizing of the adverts on LES and the rotation of ads on LES.
The first priority was fixing the ad system that you guys are paying for essentially.
Next he will work on fixing some theme issues and fixing some formatting and removing some built-in junk, then the forum fixes from the issues list will be fixed.
I cant remember if I ever shared the other host-specific projects publicly but a much better ad/offer system is in the works that will really work for you guys much better, some examples are:
being able to select "Must reply to view offer" when making an offer post.
being able to have pre-formatted offers auto post on a schedule (for those that like to set and forget al la WHT)
being able to auto-select a close date.
a reviews system which will proudly display your rating
a much better profile system for hosts, so your profile is almost like a micro site.
Thats the main things, that is where in part your advertising money is going.
The adverts, for the most part, were taken up pretty quickly, many hosts asking if they could pay multiple years in advance so the advertisers you see are genuinely supporting making the platform this community runs on top of a better place and I hope that influences your thinking about any of them in a positive way.
I should also say I am wide open to other suggestions on improving the platform.
With that mammoth account of the last 10 years bringing us right up to date on things, the only thing left to talk about is the future.
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