Introducing the Stellar Fun Pass

Today, I’m happy to announce the availability of the Stellar Fun Pass, a way for people to support the ongoing development of the site (and gain additional features) through the purchase of an annual membership. Right now, there are three membership “tiers” and three additional Fun Pass-only features: 1) you can filter by source in your flow (e.g. no Twitter or Vimeo), 2) your faves, flows, and best-ofs go back much further, and 3) only members can invite new users to the site. Oh, and you get a little Fun Pass icon next to your name on the site. There will be more Fun Pass-only features in future, so stay tuned. And you non-Fun Pass holders, don’t you worry…I will always love you and your Stellar experience will continue to be top-notch.

So, that’s the “what”. You might be wondering “why?” The plan for Stellar, right from the first few conversations I had with people about the idea, was that if it worked, the site would need to include a revenue component. The site has worked and I’ve put more than a little thought into how to make the revenue part happen. I’ve had conversations with investors about building a company, I’ve had interest from publishers wanting to build publications around Stellar, I’ve chatted with companies about integrating their faves into the site, I’ve had discussions with ad networks, I’ve thought about Kickstarter. But the idea I keep coming back to is direct financial support from the people who actually use the service, which support goes right back into improving the site for them. Ads or funding or sponsored sources might come into play at a later time, but for now, a closed symbiotic loop of Stellar and its users seems like the way to go.

Direct support of creators and their projects is an idea that’s very much in the air right now. Kickstarter, Tugboat Yards, 29th Street Publishing’s stable of publications, and Pinboard are all exploring different aspects of the idea, offering a spectrum of membership benefits, tangible products, and donation opportunities. This isn’t a new thing of course (Kevin Kelly wrote about 1000 True Fans back in 2008 and experimentation around this idea is as old as the web), but the relatively high receptivity among current web/app users seems novel. Kickstarter and the App Store have done much to get people used to the idea of paying for ideas and apps. Users are tired of seeing VC-backed sites shutter because they run out of money, close down after being acqui-hired by Facebook, or make user-hostile business decisions in order to pump revenue up to please current and potential investors. Direct-funded projects certainly aren’t immune from these issues, but when I think about Stellar and the Fun Pass, it’s in terms of growing more organically and thinking longer-term w/r/t site features than hockey-sticking growth on some bullshit metric for the next round of funding.

So if that sounds at all interesting to you, head on over to the Fun Pass page on Stellar and check out the options. Questions, comments? Send em along.

P.S. I got the Fun Pass name from Caine’s Arcade. Some rejected names were: Plus, Pro, Extra, First Class, Premier, Cartographer (Trek joke, yo), Shooting Stars, Star Alliance Members, Astrologers Club, and Liker Gang.

And now, what I would assume might be a few frequently asked questions:

What’s the current status of Stellar?

Stellar is currently a project, not a startup or a company. When I started working on this project three years ago, I spent at least 20 hours a week on it, sometimes 40-50 hours. That figure was down to 2-4 hours a week a few months ago but it’s trending back upward over the past three months and I hope that trend continues.

Platform-wise, Stellar is stable. It works without intervention…for the most part, it just sits on the server and goes. [knock on wood emoji] From time to time, there’s an issue that crops up and the site will see some slowness or downtime, but that’s rare. There was a major screw-up recently where the entire database was almost lost (man, even writing that still turns my stomach right into a knot of dread and shame), but I have much more robust backup procedures in place now (larger DB backup window at AWS, periodic offsite DB backups, etc.) that will hopefully make that a one-time occurrence. [knock on wood emoji x1000]

Site growth is deliberately slow. There are currently about 15,000 users (~3000 of those are active) and over 25 million faved items in the DB. I recently turned off invite requests to keep things nice and stable for the near future. New users can still be invited by Fun Pass holders, so a small amount of word-of-mouth growth will occur.

Feature development is ongoing, continuing alongside the effort to fortify the site’s infrastructure. In particular, I am looking at adding more sources, upgrading the design (particularly on mobile devices and on retina displays), and making more past faves available on the site.

What’s up with Twitter’s API? Are they going to shut you down?

I hope not, but that’s the nature of the beast. Stellar doesn’t exist without APIs provided by the likes of Google and Twitter. In the future, they may reconsider providing those APIs to me or others. (For instance, Google shut down Reader and its API before I even had a chance to add GR likes to Stellar.) Right now, there’s no way to pay any of these companies money for the data Stellar needs. I wish there were…that way, I could pay them for guaranteed access and then sell Fun Passes and ads to offset the costs. It would remove a lot of the uncertainty I have, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, I am certain there will always be a number of available APIs full of interesting data from companies that see sites like Stellar as helpful in spreading their content around the web rather than as competition or whatever.

So what doesn’t a Fun Pass get me?

So many things, starting with a stay in the Royal Suite at the George V hotel in Paris’ swank 8th arrondissement. But also: prompt customer support (I will do my best though), specific uptime guarantees, input into future product features, ability to run a Stellarbot forever and ever, API access, t-shirts, a cool laminated Fun Pass that I can put into my wallet, and so forth. Which are all reasonable requests! And I hope to be able to offer some of them in the future. But not just yet.

Why didn’t you go with Tugboat Yards?

The Fun Pass has been under development since before TY launched their offering, so I was past the point of no-return when their alpha launched. Plus, Stripe is so pleasant to work with and gives me 75% of what I need. That and I am a roll-your-own control freak. (Did I just say that out loud?)

Any other questions? Drop me a line!

  1. digdoug reblogged this from stellar-status and added:
  2. whitneymcn reblogged this from anil and added:
    Easy decision: I’m now a Stellar Fun Pass holder. Though I still want an actual laminated Fun Pass. A plaid fun pass....
  3. anil reblogged this from stellar-status
  4. stellar-status posted this