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An open letter to the staff - Edited

To whom it may concern:

Instructables has changed my life in many ways. It has changed the way I work, play, and view the world around me. I have very much enjoyed my time here, and I wish to warmly thank the staff for all the work that has made it all possible.

I have had a variety of reactions to the introduction of paid or "pro" accounts. I've gone back and forth in my own mind, and to a certain extent with my comments on the site, at times favoring them, at times not.

At all times, however, I have attempted to be reasonable, and not act rashly. I have quelled my stronger impulses and not spoken out against the arrangement very much in public.

However, I fear matters have come to a head.

Due to the current state of affairs - allsteps, secondary images, pdfs not universally available, talk of making users pay to submit instructables among many other things - I will not be posting instructables until these confusions are resolved in a way that doesn't go against the spirit and tradition of instructables.

Edit: since access to secondary images and all associated files has been retained, that being the pivotal issue, I'm back to posting my projects.

I realize I am not the most active poster of instructables. I realize I am just one user among hundreds of active ones.

This may not make an impact. In fact, nobody may notice this at all. This thread may lie dormant, unread, unreplied, a sad reminder of a failed attempt at reconciliation by an obscure member. But I have not been the first, and unless something is changed, I fear I won't be the last.

I think instructables is trying to figure out the best strategy to make money...and I fully agree with them. The staff deserves to enjoy the fruits of their labors, and it's hardly fair to expect them to keep it up when they're losing money. I enjoy their site, and would be sad if they couldn't afford to keep it going...but I don't think I can agree with the way they're going about it.

Not letting users who don't have a pro account see full instructables, with allsteps and all images, as well as access to pdfs in some format, feels wrong. This is something that users need in order to do projects. To take this away is to make this a subscription based site where all users need to pay to see content, and possibly post content. It changes the very ethos of the site entirely. It changes the eglitarian society Eric has worked so hard to develop into an outrightly segregated one with two classes - the haves and the have-nots, those able to freely share projects and ideas and those able only to gaze longingly at partial content, previews, and pro teasers. This is dangerous, as while many users have site loyalty to one degree or another, at a certain point, people simply leave for greener pastures. Nature abhors a vacuum, and with the sudden vacuum of features for free members without anything to replace it I think there's a very real danger of people leaving in disgust, and new ones not signing up at all. I would hate to see that happen.

I understand the need to make money, and instead of boycotting a site I love, I would really like to try to help it, so here are some suggestions I came up with, which I think would entice people to become pro members, rather than features that will force them to sign up to retain basic functionality:

  • Kiteman's excellent idea for PDFs - leave them free for all, but pro subscribers get ad-free pdfs and the ability to customize/edit them

Seemingly silly or trivial things that nonetheless add value without simply massive amounts of effort (like the user patches...which I think was a brilliant idea and has a great value-adding to effort ratio, by the way), such as:

  • The idea one member had for a paint-like application for your orangeboard - like a whiteboard! Fun! :D
  • An interactive chatterbot named Robot (ELIZA, anyone?)
  • The built in ability to change the colors, theme and feel of the site (without having to download third party work from excellent coders ;-) )
  • A collection of all official images of Robot ever made available for download for coloring books, t-shirt transfers, stickers, and the like.
  • Sending subscribers small things in the mail like patches and stickers (very highly prized by some), as well as one copy of any instructables book that comes out while they're pro
  • The idea another member had to make instructables available in eBook format of some kind
  • Bumpus' idea for "Instructables Mobile, so it can be accessed by anyone with internet on their mobile cellular device. Kind of like how Facebook Mobile works, for example. And include it into the Pro package. To generate income." As he says it'd be easier to just look up ibles on your phone rather than take piles of pdfs to work or the shop.
  • As much as I detest to say it, a pro-only contest for access by mail to the laser cutter at HQ for one project a year, to be no heavier than X lbs and fit in, say, a large enveope from the USPS. (So that they could laser-cut stickers, plastic, and the like - not really meant for humongous projects but just for the smaller ones like Ed and Sherrif Sarafan make that make the audiences ooooh and ahhh.) I realize you're not Ponoko but then again people are miiiiiiighty jealous of ya'll up there with your fancy-pants tools... ;) probably won't work but I'm throwing out everything I can think of.

Finally, I realize that allsteps is a very useful feature, and one that has the power to turn people to pro users as soon as they figure out exactly what it does. But in my view, a compromise seems best in this case. The users who have been on this site for the past few years or more have gotten very used to this simple feature, and use it biblically. To take it away seems like you're stealing our candy we really like (and I don't know about you but I will fight for my Jolly Ranchers to the bitter end). What if you let us keep it, like you are right now, and still required new users to go pro in order to receive this feature?

As new users wouldn't know the benefit, and haven't ever used it, I can see how this can be used to entice a person to go pro. But taking it away from me, and saying I can have it back only if I give you money just seems a little cheap and wrong. You've already created a divided system where users who were here before pro got implemented retain their allsteps feature, all I ask is to take this from a three month temporary feature to something permanent.

Some of these may be harder to implement than others, but they're at least ideas to get us started.

I would like to call on everyone else who enjoys using this site to help me out and lend a hand to instructables and see if we can't suggest some ideas that would not only make the site a lot better, but would make people want to donate to their cause. (I realize this is already being done, but it seems to devolve into arguments, and the discussion is not centralized in any one place as far as I can tell.)

Oh. Cameron: quibbles, quibbles, quibbles. ;)

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A good name7 years ago
Finally, I realize that allsteps is a very useful feature, and one that has the power to turn people to pro users as soon as they figure out exactly what it does. But in my view, a compromise seems best in this case. The users who have been on this site for the past few years or more have gotten very used to this simple feature, and use it biblically. To take it away seems like you're stealing our candy we really like (and I don't know about you but I will fight for my Jolly Ranchers to the bitter end). What if you let us keep it, like you are right now, and still required new users to go pro in order to receive this feature? - I don't mind that. It's just the damn PDF's that I'm going to miss.
If you believe that you are owed something (for free) make a case for why you deserve it. Otherwise you're not likely to change anything. L
Forgive me if these ideas have already been posted, I tried to read through all of the comments, but there's just too many of them to read in my allotted time.. These aren't options to negate paying for Pro services, but it may help to supplement revenue and make it more affordable to go Pro: Move the Ads on the pages to a more visible spot(centered under the title?). I honestly have never clicked on one, as I've never noticed them until now. Instructibles has done a great job of blending them into the page, but maybe they should be more prominent.. Some sites use a google search bar, which helps generate revenue. I open a new tab and search google almost every time I am here. There's always something I want more information about, and I can't be the only person who would use a it to search the web for more info on something I found in an instructible.(provided it opens in a new window or tab.. Navigating away from the page I'm on turns me away from using those ones) How about selling car decals? Small, easily made decals can be sold for a good profit(I know, I make them), and I'm sure there are many supporters who would buy them to show support. Heck, I'd buy one, and I can make them myself. These are all small things to do to help the site make money, but they should not be discounted because of that. a few small changes can help in a big way. I would also like to say that this site is one of my absolute favorite sites, and the "see all steps " is something I can not do without. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to pay for a Pro account. (I make things from this site that I could not afford otherwise) I will support in any other way that I can, though, even if it means clicking on ads all day long.
You wrote, "Some sites use a google search bar, which helps generate revenue. I open a new tab and search google almost every time I am here. There's always something I want more information about, and I can't be the only person who would use a it to search the web for more info on something I found in an instructible.(provided it opens in a new window or tab.. Navigating away from the page I'm on turns me away from using those ones)"

(sarcasm alert) You must be one of the few, judging by the immense number of questions that could be answered with such a search :-/ (end sarcasm)

Seriously, this seems like an excellent, and presumably easy to deploy, idea. I don't know whether Google takes a fee from companies using the search bar, or if it could be easily integrated (replacing?!?) the current in-house search.
DJ Radio7 years ago
congratz- your pro.
Lithium Rain (author)  DJ Radio7 years ago
Thanks! A very generous anonymous user gave it to me (thanks, anonymous!) !
lucky...
Lithium Rain (author)  DJ Radio7 years ago
Hehe. That I am....
I wish somebody would donate one to me too.
ewilhelm7 years ago
If Instructables has changed your life, why not get a pro account? If changing your life isn't high enough value for you to pay for something directly, I don't see what more we can offer. Thanks for the suggestions. The problem is that developing features is the most expensive thing we do, because it takes our time. I note that in a deeper comment thread here, this cost is dismissed, but in a business, time is directly equivalent to money. If we spend time developing a feature that doesn't increase revenue, traffic, or goodwill in relation to how much it costs to build, we've missed the opportunity to develop some other feature that will. Because we're still around, I think I've made ok choices in this particular balancing act. Ideas are really easy to have; executing on them and making them reality is the hard work. We are flooded, internally and externally, with ideas for making money, yet no one -- besides zachninme -- has been submitting code to take those ideas to working features. So, I make the calls as to what features we develop (and I take the blame). This leads to frustration among those who think we just need some "good ideas" for making money, and get upset that we're not building those particular ideas. I'll note that the overwhelming majority of ideas involve either charging for features no one uses -- especially the idea submitter --, or asking for donations, which again is tantamount to saying "charge someone else." No one has said, "I use this feature all the time and find it valuable, you should charge for it." This doesn't mean you shouldn't suggest ideas! You just have to realize that those ideas are worth exactly what it cost you to have them. In another thread, there's a discussion of how the balance of value has shifted without us giving anything up. Let me correct this: For four years -- with a couple of exceptional quarters when our advertising revenue was just awesome -- Instructables has been a very efficient machine at taking our investors' cash and distributing it to the users in the form of a really nice site, and the team in the form of salaries. This is not a sustainable situation. So, I run the numbers, figure out what features are actually valued, and we're now asking people to pay directly for the value they receive. Yes, no one likes a price increase, but just because something was free doesn't mean it should always remain free. Part of what Warren Buffett considers to be a fundamental of a good business is the ability to raise prices (along with inflation, increased costs, or whatever). I am trying to run a good business, one that will be around for a long time, not a machine to distribute investors' cash. The internet already has enough cash-redistribution engines. As you astutely note, we have created a divided system with new users paying to access features old user are getting for free. This makes me uncomfortable, but it helps us to refine the pro account offering and to add things that will make it even more enticing. We are giving users who registered for an account prior to the launch of pro accounts at least 3 months of free access to the features we've turned pro. Depending on how many pro subscriptions we have, that time frame may be extended (with or without notice), but I will not hamstring our ability to generate revenue by saying we'll never ask old users to go pro. Finally, I'm flattered that you and others care so much for the site. The fact that I'm being second-guessed, yelled at, and criticized means that we've done something right in the past, and that people care that we keep doing so in the future. Thanks for that!
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