Hello, For about a week, over the holidays, we have been working on the new upgraded site, including you, our free updaste recipients, being invited to use it. We thank those of you who have done so. We hope the rest will soon. Teh link to use is http://www.zcommunications.org
During the course of our testing we have fielded a great many questions and they kepp coming - about the overall logic, our finances, etc. etc. Rather than continuing to answer case by case, we thought we would try to deal with the issues publicly and collectively. Thus follows the Q&A included below. It is long...but that's because we take you and the issues seriously! Twenty Upgrade Questions and Answers.. By Michael Albert There have been numerous questions from users, from many directions, about the new Z Communications Upgrade as well as our financial situation, aims, methods, etc. These questions have been more than reasonable, and patient, especially given that we are asking for people's support and given that Z is a political project and therefore responsible to a broader community and movement. Below we try to offer full answers that take your concerns seriously. To see if you are interested in reading further, or if you want to skip down or around it, the twenty questions we address are . 1. Why did you feel Z had to do the upgrade? 2. But why did the upgrade take 15 months instead of 3 months? And how expensive was the project? 3. But why is it so hard to do programming updates or new programs on schedule? 4. Getting back to ZCom, before exploring the financial issues, what is the new ZCom and why is there an intro/splash page for it? Isn't that sort of mid nineties design? 5. Can you briefly explain what each main component is, and maybe where they are headed? 6. How are the new web operations politically different from the old web operations? 7. So what are the political goals and ambitions of the upgrade? 8. The site feels more automated than before. Is that good, or is it less human? 9. Do you think the bells and whistles are worth it - their creation and their maintenance - or that they are beyond what anyone will utilize and benefit from? 10. What's with the pictures of Sustainers on the top page - does it make sense to give space to that in place of having more links to real content? 11. What's with the book preferences? Is that going to be useful? 12. What's the difference between user generated content and ZCom writer generated content? 13. What is the design philosophy? What is the logic of all the new features? What are you hoping to accomplish with all this? Why do you think it will increase the number of users, or the political impact on those who do use the site? 14. Okay, now let's return to the financial issues. Can you summarize, first, the future that you saw for Z operations if you didn't make changes? And also, more generally, the situation for alternative media more broadly? 15. How is your upgrade hoping to address your fiscal crunch? How much more income do you need? Will this get it? 16. What do you say to people who feel that everything online should be free? 17. What do you say to people who say that it is fine to ask for donations, to fund existence, and even to give premiums to provide incentives and show thanks, but any donor should get all premiums, so that being able to give more doesn't get someone extra benefits, or, put in reverse, being able to give only less doesn't reduce someone's benefits? 18, What do you say to people who say you are sending too many damn letters, each of which is too long - seeking help? Cut it out! 19. Do you think the upgrade changes will solve your financial issues? If not, that is, if you don't generate a big jump in income, what would be the effect on Z Operations? What more can you do - what more will you do, to raise more funds and avoid those effects, if the current plan isn't sufficient? 20. Suppose, instead, that the changes in ZCom do succeed, not only in enlarging audience and building community, but also in greatly increasing cash flow. What will come next, in that case? 1. Why did you feel Z had to do the upgrade? When ZNet was born, the site was editorially and technically innovative. In the past ten years, while Z editorial remained innovative, the presentation technologically aged to the point where it became retrograde in appearance and navigation. Much more damning, the failed to incorporate many new internet features for building community and participation. We upgraded seeking more content, easier navigation, better display, more multimedia, and especially more interactivity for users and writers. We not only wanted to upgrade, we had to because without major innovations not only would the aging old site become less valuable, it would also lose Sustainers. Without innovation we would suffer waning support even from those who really like our site. We wouldn't attract new people either. The dual loss would have sunk the site and all our projects. 2. But why did the upgrade take 15 months instead of 3? And how expensive was the project? Part of the delay was that the programmers took a wrong turn the first time they addressed our spec list - opting to use a new programming approach (called Ruby on Rails), thinking it would speed things up. Unexpectedly, they failed to master Ruby and so about nine months were wasted pursuing that path. Additionally, however, software is damn hard. The upgrade was actually relatively inexpensive. The total when the dust clears, for the programmers, outside help, and so on, will be roughly $60,000. It sounds like a lot, but, in fact, is modest for such extensive work. Regrettably, however, our cost didn't stop with the immediate price but included losses we incurred due to the delay. We would have been in position - had things gone as we hoped and anticipated - about a year ago to begin enlarging our sustainer base of donors, increasing our online sales of videos and subscriptions, and doing a twentieth anniversary fund raising, not to mention doing a better job with content, etc. But, it made no sense to push any of those steps when the new site was always just around the bend, since its completion would greatly enhance such efforts. So we kept putting off the funding efforts, to gain the benefits of the upgrade. Meanwhile, declining revenues and rising costs were depleting our bank account a little more each month. The result was that we lost money - spending more than we took in - month after month while waiting for the upgrade. This depleted all our built up assets, including needing to again mortgage our house, which we also use as offices, for extra cash. The twelve unexpected months of low revenues compared to what we would have had if the upgrade been done a year ago, constituted our major "expense," not the actual fees for the upgrade. 3. But why is it so hard to do programming updates or new programs on schedule? I don't know. Lots of reasons are given. There are so many details to any substantial project, each one of which can be deadly to outcomes, and in many situations the details are hard to even discern. More, you can't add more people to a project work team, to speed things up. Everyone has to understand the innards, and adding a person usually takes more time in getting that person up to speed than the gains of his or her being able to work. Many factors delay or even entirely subvert efforts, but by way of summary let me note that it is quite typical, nowadays, for projects to be undertaken and fortunes spent - even hundreds of millions or in some cases a billion dollars or more - and for nothing to be accomplished. All the work, energy, and cash are expended - and the result is nil. Years back, for example, there was an attempt to upgrade the U.S. air traffic control system that led to no improvements after billions were spent. That sort of puts our travails in perspective. Just recently I was in Salt Lake City to speak, staying with a software engineer friend who told me about a project in his firm, scheduled to be completed in one year. It was now in its sixth year of work, and still unfinished. Things are so bad in software development in general, my Salt Lake City friend told me, that whole groups of programmers, frustrated at their inability to successfully complete projects have formed into schools of thought that work on their own, with no pay, on behalf of their profession, to try to develop viable new methodologies that can be shared and that will work. Interestingly, they are not trying to earn more, that is, but to feel better about their labors by having more experiences of actually succeeding in their work. As the above reveals, we didn't suffer as badly as we might have with our upgrade. We didn't have to pay exorbitantly and we do have an upgrade completed nearly to our initial specifications. More, the changes provide a foundation from which it will now be easy to enlarge and diversify our activities and offerings as users will see in coming months. 4. Getting back to ZCom, before exploring the financial issues, what is the new ZCom and why is there an intro/splash page for it? Isn't that a mid nineties design? ZCom or Z Communications is our name for our overarching operations. It includes various components such as Z Magazine, ZNet, Z Video Production, Z Media Institute, and the new ZSpace. The "Splash Page" at www.zcommunications.org is not just a vestibule before the substance, therefore, but a place where we can briefly introduce the whole operation and each component, providing a little summary about each part and links to each. Most users will, after getting used to the site, bookmark for direct access sections they are most interested in, such as ZNet, ZMag, Videos, Interviews, ZSpace, or whatever. But the splash page conveys to new users a little about all the components, without a lot of links confusing that minimalist opening message. 5. Can you briefly explain what each main component is, and maybe where they are headed? Z Magazine is our monthly print periodical, which is also available online. It is about to celebrate its 20th birthday. It comes out monthly and addresses all sides of social life. It tries to highlight activism, vision, and strategy. As to where ZMag is going, we are unsure. On the one side, there is the growing difficulty that print has in the internet context. On the other side, we don't know how our overall upgrade will enhance our finances. If the financial picture gets much better, Z Magazine will diversify and innovate. If we don't attract new funds, cutbacks will result. ZNet is the basic comprehensive website. It is about to celebrate its tenth birthday, though it is hard to pinpoint ZNet's date of birth, earlier incarnations including LBBS, Left On Line, and Shareworld, so we could also say it is nearing fifteen. The ZNet website, like the print Z Magazine, addresses all sides of life and highlights activism, vision, and strategy. In ZNet, via the upgrade, we are already innovating. Where the site is going is toward generating far more community and interactivity among its users, with far more facility to work together, including enhancing information resources, debate and discussion, multimedia, networking, etc. Z Video Productions has generated over 60 Z films which try to convey the same kind of content as Z Magazine and ZNet, but in a more engaging video format. Like for ZNet, it is also hard to pinpoint an origin date for ZVideo, but it is about eight years old. Where Z Video is headed is toward a large increase in numbers and relevance of offerings, on the one hand, and toward wider distribution, including online, on the other hand. Quality will go up, but as with everything else, the extent of expansion and innovation will depend on user responses to the upgrade, particularly on new people becoming Sustainers or current Sustainers raising their donations. Z Media Institute, perhaps Z's most unusual project, is a summer school held yearly in June, which has graduated about 750 students who are active all over the left community, and particularly in left media. ZMI focuses on media skills and philosophy, and on organizing methods and ideas, with emphasis on analysis, and especially vision, and strategy more broadly. ZMI is in good health and will likely not innovate too much. The innovation we are looking toward regarding education, is an addition to our operations, an online school we are calling ZEO, for Z Education Online. ZEO will have a broad faculty, fine facilities, etc. We also hope to start publishing short books about vision and strategy - ZBooks - to be used in coordination with ZMI, ZEO, and other facilities and to have small groups of folks do mini ZMIs year round. Finally, ZSpace is an entirely new component of ZCom, born with the recent upgrade. ZSpace is a venue for progressive and radical users to network with one another and with our writers, to display their insights, art, poetry, articles, photos, etc., to debate, comment, cajole, and meet and socialize, and even to organize together. ZSpace, is very rich and deep in blogs, forums, group facilities, facilitating uploading all manner of content, with friends facilities, user customization, and much more coming. As to where ZSpace is going, it means to be a Left MySpace or Facebook, but with serious content and activist-centered facilities and no commercialism. In fact, revenues permitting, we will even generate an online cyberworld of sorts.with online venues to socialize in and share for films, lectures, poetry readings, concerts, and more. 6. How are the new web operations politically different from the old web operations? The new operations are informed by the same underlying commitment to simultaneously prioritizing race, gender, power, and class, rather than prioritizing one or another focus alone. They embody the same urgency about vision and strategy, rather than just bemoaning problems in the present. Editorial inclinations seek gender balance and race and class balance, as in the past, though all three prove hard to get. What is different is the appearance of the site, its navigation, its display of content, its increased multimedia, and especially its new elements of user-driven content and user-based interactivity. What is new is an infrastructure that adds many features now and greatly simplifies adding more features in coming months and years, all to enhance political affectivity. 7. So what are the political goals and ambitions of the upgrade? Why might they fail to be met? Speaking for myself, my life is organized around winning social change, not advancing any particular project. I don't think of what I am trying to do as building Z Magazine, or ZNet, or ZSpace. I think of it as trying to contribute to changing society and the world. That's the driving goal that takes precedence over narrower concerns. In that light, the reason for risking our current situation as staff at our various projects by seeking growth and not just stability, for example, is because affecting social progress requires more than just perching on a plateau. Having a comfortable project is nice, but having an enlarging and diversifying project is what social change requires. Our goal isn't feeling comfortable. Our goal is winning change. For that, we must continually become better, reach more people, sustain and nourish the people we do reach more effectively, add new insights, add new facilities, foster new connections. So that is what we are trying to do, even at the risk of losing that we have built to date. We want to win change. To do that, we have to go forward, not stay still. Maybe I should say a little more about this because it is central to our choices, and also reveals my own greatest frustrations. On the one hand, you and I and everyone can approach new ideas, innovations, and projects with an attitude of hope. We can test proposals to see their merits. We can passionately hope that the new efforts will prove viable. We can even assist efforts. But doing all this requires that we feel hope that our offering aid will be worth our time, that good things will result. Or you and I and everyone can be so jaded, cynical, hopeless, or even just habituated to new projects lacking value, that we a priori assume that each new effort that others make is not worth a look, is not worth hope and passion, is not worth trying to assist - because, ultimately, we believe that nothing works, nothing helps. We all know that the latter self defeating mindset is present in the broader society, where it is an immense obstacle to overcome if we are to progress. Rather, sadly, however, and perhaps even more urgently, I feel that the defeatist mindset also exists in ourselves, in the community of people who are critical of injustice, and even among those who are most radical. In fact, I think this kind of defeatism is prevalent, and perhaps even dominant, in our community. Many of us, that is, have great awareness about social ills, but exhibit no real hope of eliminating them. We don't have passion that there are good acts to engage in, good structures to build, good efforts to support. We do not get excited when we hear someone is undertaking a new project. We do not feel we should give it a chance, or perhaps even help it out. We do not hope for its success, and lend a hand, if we have means to do so. Instead, we anticipate failure. We nay say, as if that is a sign of sophistication. Maybe we aren't self conscious about it, but it is still rather habitual, and of course our defeatist posture, perhaps more than anything else, often helps bring failure to fruition. For that matter, most of our actual projects, particularly media but others too, once they are stable, if they overcome doubt to get to that point, then tend to get "conservative" in the sense of trying just to persist, to preserve themselves, rather than remaining "radical" in the sense of trying to enlarge and diversify on the road not to mere persistence, but to social victory. Bringing this observation back to our upgrade, it could be that the upgrade, even refined over a few weeks or months by insightful ideas and diverse requests from our users, will lack value. Maybe we erred in thinking a new kind of site would benefit activism and in taking the risk of trying to create it. If so, maybe it won't deserve support, or even use. But I think a more likely failing scenario - if I must delve into negative possibilities - won't be that the upgrade is irretrievably misconceived or mis-implemented, but instead will be, as has occurred with so many other excellent undertakings, that too many people simply yawn, simply assume the new site will offer nothing much beyond the old one, and so feel they don't have time to even look, and thus don't even look, don't try, don't support the effort. In that depressing case, the problem would not be people judging the upgrade unworthy, but people assuming it unworthy, or not even assuming anything about it at all - but just reflexively not looking at it, not hoping it will mark a gain, not trying to assist it, because that's just what we are used to doing, We so often tally defeats while circling wagons. In fact, of course, a great many people are already looking at the new site, assessing, and enjoying, and helping as well. But will as many do that as we need? Will as many do it as would like it? We don't know. I hope I am being clear. I don't want to be misunderstood. For one thing, these concerns are less applicable to Z's efforts, which garner relatively great user support, then to many others. What I am saying is that many projects that have great merit and potential, projects that could be highly and even hugely beneficial, fail, but that they do so not because people carefully assess them and reasonably decide they are irredeemably flawed, but because people don't have any hope at all about anything, and so don't give new projects a chance. Various projects we have worked on, for whatever reasons, have succeeded, for thirty years, twenty years, fifteen years, and nearly ten years, respectively. But given audience reticence such success require almost herculean persistence and things can go sour anytime, and so we must keep pushing. And many other projects, undertaken by us and by many others, have failed over the years - and often we would all be much better off had they gotten a better shake, had people given them a chance. Here is another way to say all this. We on the left need to get a sparkle back in our eyes. We need to assume the best, not the worst, of one another's capacities, motives, and efforts. We need to hear about new projects and feel elated that innovative attempts are being made. If we can do so, we need to give innovations a little time and attention - even if we have to take that time and attention away from reading the daily mainstream papers, or watching tv, or what not. We need to nurture innovations, trying to refine away their problems, if not all the time, then certainly when we have direct ties to the efforts and relevant insights to offer them. How can we possibly think we are going to win significant change much less a new world if we keep acting as though nothing any of us does has any hope of taking us forward? 8. The site feels more automated than before. Is that good, or is it less human? I feel the same tension between automation on sites and humanity inside them. But suppose you are going out to dig a little hole in the back yard for a tiny flower. You might use your hands to do that, or perhaps a pocket knife, or a table spoon. Very human and very hands on. But suppose you are planting a big bush or a small tree. Now you use a shovel, and using the pocket knife, a spoon, or your hands, while it might be possible, would be horribly unwise. The shovel is a little less human and hands on, but the tree thrives. Finally, suppose you are putting in a swimming pool, or you are putting in a hundred of them throughout a town - clearly it is better to use a backhoe, even if it has an engine, than a shovel, much less a spoon, even if it is less hands on. I like manually doing the top page of ZNet, and whatever other faults I may have when I do so, I am way more flexible than any existing automated system - but you reach a point where the pleasures of entering content directly, or the palpable human presence that some users feel from the fact that a person is interacting manually, is outweighed by the benefits of using an online backhoe - the database. So, using the automation you refer to in your question is good because of its tremendous efficiency - the tree thrives - and because of the foundation it gives for other changes too, as we develop. But I agree that on the downside the automation is less human in some respects. So, to offset the automation generated loss in human touch, we are seeking to inject more humanity in other ways. We want better tools, and more humanity, too. 9. Do you think the bells and whistles are worth it - their creation and their maintenance - or that they are beyond what anyone will utilize and benefit from? There is no question that almost everyone, me very much included, uses software that has many features that we never touch. Sometimes that is sensible because the features would waste our time and the learning curve wouldn't prove justified. Other times not touching features is a loss because the features would benefit us greatly if we took a little time to learn them. I recently learned that I could hold down my ctrl key and roll the scroll ball on my mouse to smoothly enlarge or shrink my entire browser display of any web page, and that I could settle on one size in one tabbed window, and on another size in another tabbed window. My eyes are bad and this is a fantastic resource for me. But I have used computers extensively for nearly three decades, and this is a feature I could have benefitted from that I was ignorant of or had simply failed to register and try. On the ZCom site there are features I won't use, or you won't use, but which others will use - and vice versa. I think the main features - blogs, forums, commenting all over the site, multimedia, ubiquitous display of links, clever tools to give easy access to content, watch pages, topic pages, a fine search facility, and coming networking tools, aren't really bells and whistles, but are, instead, essential offerings. I guess you could say the tabbed menu is above and beyond essential, or certainly the fancy technology of the left menus is, but many people will make great use of these tools, even as others largely ignore them. Our task was to provide features people will benefit from, but without those features getting in the way of people who won't need them. And in fact, I should report, there are actually many more bells and whistles coming, such as extensive RSS feeds by author, topics, places, and types of content, user controlled customization of content on people's ZSpace pages, an online school, and, we hope, even a complex system of online venues facilitating socializing together, plus organizing tools, etc. I guess the point is, one person's cyberspace bell is another person's cyberspace backhoe. One person's cyberspace whistle is a third person's cyberspace cane or solar power plant. If we offer features that some people benefit from and that don't obstruct other people who don't use those features, no problem is incurred. I have to say, I don't understand people who say, "I want to be able to do x,y,z - but not all this other stuff. You should get rid of the other stuff." If we made the site for a specific individual it would make sense for that one person to say things like that. But, given that we have to serve hundreds of thousands of users, it seems to me an incredibly odd sort of request. 10. What's with the pictures of Sustainers on the ZNet top page - does it make sense to give space to head shots rather than to having more links to real content? The new ZNet top page, if you use the arrows on the left menu, actually displays way more content than the old ZNet did, with way better organization. But, that said, I am wondering, why are you worried about database functionality reducing humanity on the one hand - but you don't want pictures of people on the other hand? Just teasing - but, really, in part the pictures do provide a little human touch. And beyond a little humanness, the pictures also tell visitors that there is something happening here beyond the text, video, and audio. People are creating a growing online community. Maybe it would be a good idea to find out what they are up to. That's the idea, anyhow. We'll see if it makes sense. Early returns suggest it does. 11. What's with the book preferences? Is that going to be useful? The idea is to build up a massive database of books - title, author, publisher, etc. - and indeed it is already rather large. Then we want to have lots of reviews appended to titles, by users and by our writers too. Users will also register preferences, which lets people know a bit about each other's tastes, and, cumulatively, tells something about what books are appealing to the whole population of ZSpace. Displays of such content will be widespread, including, for example, on author's ZSpace pages, as links alongside author's other content, etc. We are going to have author interviews accompanying books, too. We will have excerpts. When possible, whole books will be linked online, as some by Chomsky and myself already are. The idea of all this is pretty simple. In the current world it is very hard for left books to get noticed by audiences who would benefit from the books if they only knew of them. We aim to help overcome this distribution problem by highlighting books more visibility. Also, in the current world, reviews are sparse and often abstruse or otherwise unhelpful. We aim to provide more visibility and more discussion, more accessibly. And finally, perhaps most of all, writers rarely address each other's work. We aim to try to alter that too, with new tools and some prodding! And soon we will be hosting, as well, reading groups, online sessions with authors, etc. We don't just want to prod book sales, we want to prod book reading, book discussing, and book inspired activism. 12. What's the difference between user generated content and ZCom generated content? Sustainer blogs, say, and writer blogs? The user generated content is anything Sustainers upload or add. This includes Sustainer blog posts and also forum comments, comments on articles and other site content, lyrics and quotes in the respective databases, book, film, and site preferences, and also Sustainers' own articles and poetry, audio and even video. ZCom generated content is of the same broad types, but is generated by regular Z writers and, if it appears on the top page, has been accepted and published by Z staff. The user content appears on Sustainer ZSpace pages, in Sustainer blogs, in the forums, appended to content, etc. The ZCom generated content will appear similarly, but will also appear on the site top page, on the watch and topic pages, etc. All of it is searchable. 13. What is the design philosophy? What is the logic of all the new features? What are you hoping to accomplish with all this? Why do you think it will increase the number of users, or the political impact on those who do use the site? I think we have covered the philosophy and aims, above. The design philosophy is to look nice. Be accessible. Have tons of valuable content effectively distributed and displayed. As to hopes, we hope to incorporate users in all facets. Expand education. Expand ties and tools. And build consciousness, commitment, and community. Advance networking and activism. Why do we think the changes will increase the number of users and political impact on those who are using the site. Well, the latter is obvious. If someone is using a better site, with more content, better display, and more means for discussion and debate that utilizes content, the person will have a better political experience. But the former part of the question about number of users is tricky. Honestly, we don't know if the changes will increase the number of people using the site. We hope so but we know it won't happen due to massive visibility in mainstream media bringing new people. There won't be articles and reviews celebrating the upgrade in mainstream newspapers and magazines, so the upgrade won't become known by new people by that route. But, sadly, my guess is there will also be no significant coverage alerting people to take a look at the innovations, or reviews assessing them, etc., even in progressive media. If history is a benchmark, progressive media is highly unlikely to celebrate new and different progressive media from others, urging its own users to look at additional content from others, etc. It would be a hugely welcome change if this were to occur, if the Nation and Progressive and so on were to acknowledge and even celebrate the innovations, but I don't expect it. So, if our upgrade is going to abet growth in audience and lead to new online community, we suspect it will have to occur overwhelmingly by word of mouth generated by our own current users. The current users will have to reach out to new ones. Will that happen? Again, we hope so. Perhaps the aspect of the new features most likely to provoke such activity by current users is ZSpace, since it allows and highlights group and person to person relations and users may tell friends, classmates, and workmates about the site to bring them aboard, to be able to interact together. And, we also hope organizations - for example the new SDS and others - will see an opportunity to create group pages and otherwise use the facilities both for themselves and to interface with a very large audience.. Indeed, we hope that every progressive person currently using Facebook and Myspace, will use ZSpace, ether instead, or in addition. We want people to use our sustainer system, donating, instead of using sites driven by ads, which superficially cost them nothing but assume capitalism forever and lack serious much less radical content. Will folks see the importance of developing our own leftist social networking tools and community and of continuing to aid our own leftist hosting sites and publishing sources, Z and others too? Again, we don't know. We certainly hope so. 14. Okay, now let's talk about the financial issues. Can you summarize, first, the future that you saw for Z operations if you didn't make changes? And also, more generally, the situation for alternative media more broadly? Without changes we would have inexorably run down and collapsed. It might have taken some years, it might have been much quicker, a year or two at most, but in any case, it would have happened. And the reason is connected to the second half of your query. The current situation of alternative media isn't yet utterly desperate, but it is certainly difficult and getting worse. The problem, to put it bluntly, is ironically the internet and some associated attitudes. (a) The internet reduces people's inclinations to read print text and this is seriously undercutting print publications and publishers. Periodicals with audiences who are on average quite old aren't so quickly hurt - and this includes many progressive outfits like the Nation, the Progressive, ITT, etc., who have, on average, incredibly elderly audiences. But even so, the effect will eventually hit everyone, as it is hitting Z, say, already, due to our having a much younger audience. (b) Even worse is the feeling many people have that they should get information without paying fees. In the absence of generalized financing of media as a social good, media in our society must generate funds to pay bills. If this isn't done by charging fees - it will be done by incorporating extensive advertising. The latter is anathema for successful alternative publishing. Though there is more to it, it is not at all clear what the solution is. Z has a Sustainer Program and to the extent that works well - though it is always at risk of declining due to the prevalent free content philosophy - we are okay. But many other projects are not in position to raise comparable revenues via donors, and it isn't clear what their solution can be. 15. How is your upgrade hoping to address your fiscal crunch? How much more income do you need? Will the upgrade inspire it? We hope the upgrade will significantly increase both the number of people who become Z Sustainers and the average amount Sustainers donate. We hope this will occur mostly because people feel the project is worthy. But it is also fine that people raise their donations for better premiums we now offer, or at least that they enjoy those benefits! Which is why we are offering so much more than in the past. To keep operating our online and also our non cyber projects like the print Z Magazine and the summer school and Video production will not be easy. Given rising costs and escalating incursion on revenue due to the points mentioned above, we need to raise Sustainer donations by about $150,000 a year, or roughly $12,000 a month. To have sufficient funds for the upgrade to be the beginning of growth, rather than just a one time a big leap forward, we would need to raise still more, say another $4,000 a month. Where can this come from? One possibility is that current sustainers raise their donation levels. Considering that a good many sustainers no longer spend as much as in the past on subscriptions, considering the importance of alternative media, and considering what we hope will be the obvious value of ZCom both to its own community and more widely, we think it is reasonable to expect some growth here - but obviously the amount current donors give can't climb without limit. Many Sustainers are at or near the top of what they can offer, already. Still, we hope this avenue will yield at least another $5,000 a month and perhaps as much as double that. Beyond current Sustainers, we have about 300,000 users of the site each week. We don't know how many are frequent users. Suppose it was just 10%, which is very conservative given bandwidth use and other indicators. If even one in ten of those heavy users were to become a sustainer, the average donation for each would likely be over $4 per month, and that would solve our finances right there. Up the percent of all users who are heavy users, or up the percent of heavy users who sign on, both of which we hope the upgrade will do - and the basis for major growth is in reach. What the above reveals is how frustrating and yet hopeful the situation is. If we can find a way to establish among more of our users a feeling of shared responsibility for growing the site and growing alternative media more generally, the amount needed is in fact piddling given the size of the user base. On the other hand, if the attitude among progressive users of alternative media remains that they want it free and that they don't want to be donors - thinking, for gosh sakes, that's what the old folks who support NPR do, but not us - and even worse that they feel like nothing works anyhow, so why bother - things will be very difficult not just for us, but for all alternative media. What is so frustrating is that if we could poll all our users, simultaneously, in a big stadium, say with buttons in front of them allowing them to sign up, so they each could simultaneously see the incredible impact as more and more pushed the button, and so they each could know that their contribution was part of an amazing total that would guarantee great outcomes - we think huge numbers would indeed agree to contribute. But when each has to do it individually, it gets much harder. You know the same thing is true about our writers. If we can get them all to mutually interact both with Sustainers and especially with each other, via ZSpace, it will be far far more effective for each and in sum for all, than each writer operating solo. 16. What do you say to people who feel that everything online should be free? It depends on the mood they catch me in. I understand people's underlying desire for information to be free to all, I share that desire as a goal - but I find the assertion of it in context of the realities we endure in our current bad society incredibly frustrating and even annoying - as well as, well, I don't know how else to say it, quite ignorant. So, getting to substance, I might suggest to such a person that no one would say to folks at Z, you should make Z Magazine, the print product, or Z Videos, the DVD product, free. To say we or others should make all online information free, however, is barely different. Just because one thing is tangible, print on paper, or film on disk, and the other thing isn't tangible - info over wires - the intangible, nonetheless, still takes work and involves costs. Yes, there are less costs for conveying the same info electronically than via paper, say, but there are costs nonetheless, both of creation and delivery. How do people think leftist producers and providers are going to pay these costs? When sites or other media (roughly three quarters of each issue of the NY Times is ads) use ads as a basis for revenues they are not making their content free per se. They are selling audience, that is their users, to advertisers, that is corporate America - and the advertisers are paying for access and they are then passing the costs on to their consumers. So providing something free to some audience, just means something else is being priced higher than otherwise, to the same audience or to another. The issue for us isn't do we provide everything online free, but do we provide some things only as premiums so that we can provide a whole lot free. Honestly, it is pretty sad, in my view, when leftists think they are doing something admirable by using information from diverse sources but not providing funds for developing those sources - when leftists would rather be passively sold to mainstream advertisers, than to actively build alternative media. And there is a still bigger though related issue, I would tell the person wanting all information free. When people say information should be free in a good society, that is different than people saying it should be free now. The former sentiment is perfectly reasonable, but we don't live in that good society now. And even in that good society, all it would mean is that society as a whole would be paying for information preparation and dissemination, not solely the direct recipients of it. This would be analogous to what we do with public education, now. Everyone pays, not solely those who attend, on grounds that everyone benefits from a wide and deep flow of knowledge. But having media information available free to individuals in a better future wouldn't mean that the information was literally free. There is no such thing. Do people think that those who do valued media work should not get an income for their labors? That is surely absurd. Do people think bandwidth is costless, or office equipment is costless? Saying information should be freely available to the person accessing it is like saying health care or public education should be freely available to the sick person or student, and I agree. But saying this should be the case, when we win such changes, doesn't mean the people who do the associated work or the firms that provide the items used in the hospitals or schools shouldn't get income. It means society as a whole, via the overall economic system or the government, should pay the costs, not that no one should pay. If you don't have that collective payment - and we don't have it in our current society either for health or for information, as yet - it makes no sense to say that without collective payment doctors should not charge patients, or that publishers should distribute books and other information free. This would relegate each domain to being purely volunteer, and not even just volunteer, but charity from the producers, horrendously reducing the scope, sway, and also quality of such offerings. That is the general problem, I would say to the person urging that ZCom should be entirely free to users, but I would add that there is a more upsetting aspect of the information issue when we are talking in particular about left politics. The left needs diverse sources of information. Surely that is incontestable. What leftists need to do is to support those sources, not try to find ways to rationalize not supporting them. I would point out, for example, if you like the Nation Magazine and you feel it is critical to social change, you should support it. If you feel that way, about ITT or the Progressive, fine, support one or both of those, instead or in addition, to the Nation. If it is Z you think is critical, or it is some combination of two or more sources, then act accordingly. I think this whole discussion is related to what I tried to express earlier. If people on the left felt that there was a future of great and inspiring change out there just waiting to be won, and that providing media they like with financial aid would help that change come about sooner, how could they not act on that belief? How could they possibly think to themselves, so and so operation is great (whether Z or some other), it is an essential component of building consciousness and community, and we are in position to have great successes If we work at it - therefore, I will grab all the information and insights and whatever else they provide, and I will ignore their need for financial support, and even consider myself clever for getting all that info for free. Can you see how sad that mentality really is, objectively, in its implications? If people had hope, not supporting projects of merit would make no sense, except for what we might call a political freeloader. Many and perhaps most people would feel great responsibility and passionate desire to help what they found worthy, not just to take from it. But if instead a person is highly cynical about overall prospects, if a person accesses media more like a chore or for amusement or as a duty, but not to actually be part of a process of winning change, not with hope that efforts to win change will be successful and with energy to apply to those efforts, then a dismissive approach makes more sense. It isn't freeloading, in that case, for that person, to just consume without paying or donating. It is just going through the day with fewer expenses. Cynicism contours a great many of our actions, I suspect. 17. What do you say to people who say that it is fine to ask for donations, to fund survival, and even to give premiums to those who donate to provide incentives and to show thanks, but that any donor should get all premiums, so that being able to give a higher donation doesn't get someone extra benefits, or, put in reverse, being able to give less doesn't reduce someone's benefits? I understand the sentiment and I respect it. More, I often go to bed nauseous because we can't give away everything we have online. For that matter, I'd like to have the print version of Z Magazine be free, too. And South End Press books. And so on. But if we did this, within weeks there would be no more magazine, no more books, no more classes, no more site. And, the fact is, regarding the Sustainer program itself, people clearly do look at the benefits and gauge their donations in accord. The truth is, we give almost everything in our sites entirely free. And we give a whole lot of what's left at the lowest donor rates. And the additional stuff that comes with higher levels of donation actually costs us a lot to provide, so if we gave it away at lower levels, it would actually hurt our overall balance of income, not improve it. And you who would suffer the most then, those without funds. So, yes, if everyone who uses the site - say a half million people over the course of a month - did any kind of donating at all, say a dollar a month, we could not only give every donor everything we have to offer even at the lowest level of donation, we could do much much more, as well., for ZCom and for other media and organizing projects, too. But, so far, that hasn't been the case. On the left, much more so than on the right, we have a culture of resistance to donating to outfits, resistance to taking the time and the psychological leap to actually join things, and resistance just to the idea of money transfer per se - so what we are able to accrue to pay our bills isn't so much about their budget, for many users. The left's culture of fiscal reticence needs to be overcomes. 18, What do you say to people who say "stop sending so many damn letters, each of which is too long" - "long messages telling us our needs and wants are arrogant in that they think we can't decide for ourselves, on one request" - and so on? I understand this feeling too, but you know with just a little thought, I think people wouldn't say it. If we didn't email folks, not once but repeatedly, whenever we need to raise money, we wouldn't exist. So, it is fine to tell us to send less email, I guess, but only if you are happy saying to us, pull the plug - expire. Or you are happy saying, sell porn, say, or sell ads, become commercial, gut your content, distort your values and motives. We are in a critical time, trying to take a giant leap forward, and supporters say things like, hey, it is nice, but could you just send one message, not five. Well, sure we could, and it would be fine to do so if people weren't really busy and didn't miss the first message, or the first four messages - or if people weren't really busy and didn't read one message thinking, yes, sure, I'll do that, and then forget to do it, or if people weren't convinced yet, but were later. But all those things happen. In fact, from our angle, they are most of what happens. Are repeated communications bothersome, particularly for those who make their decision immediately. Sure. I know that. But you know the fact is our users routinely endure thousands upon thousands of profit seeking ads every day and for most of our users, they take it as just a part of life - registering no complaints. In fact, most get dozens or hundreds (I get way over a thousand) spam messages a day, and just roll with it. But let some progressive project send them a couple of messages or five, ten, or thirty even - over the course of a month, say, one or two times a year, and they get all upset. It is intrusive, they say. It is spam, they say. Yet, typically, as with us, messages leftists send don't deceive and don't manipulate, take the recipient seriously, make clear their intent early so people can move on if they wish to, but offer full information - which takes some time - and are in any event absolutely necessary not to profit a firm that the recipient of the email person doesn't care about, but to deliver what the person does in fact care about. There are, nonetheless, a lot of leftists who get more upset by a series of messages from outfits they respect and benefit from and support, messages that are in fact essential to what those outfits provide, than from folks trying to market hogwash generally playing on insecurities or real but largely subverted needs, for rich people's profit. I just honestly don't get it - save to say, again, that it seems to me like another manifestation of cynicism. If a recipient assumes that messages from us or from others are basically futile, useless, and nothing but annoying prods, than it is true that such messages are only irritants. In fact, of course, progressive fund raising messages are not futile, but are in fact effective, though if they were much more effective we could send fewer of them. Finally, your last point, what is arrogant, manipulative, and otherwise dismissive, is to treat people like their views don't matter, like they aren't entitled to serious content, serious formulations, but only puff and sound bites. Imagine what it is like to be seeking aid to survive and grow, and then to hear from people who say they support and appreciate your work that they are in a gigantic rush and can't find ten minutes to think - and then the person is happy to write fourteen email messages complaining about how long it would take to read one serious communication. I throw up my hands at that, sometimes, counterproductively, getting a bit angry as well. I know we are all time pressured. Believe me, I am too. But we simply cannot let it take a toll primarily on dissent, on activism, on our radical consciousness and commitment, while we find all the time perversely required for our mainstream wage slave jobs, for traversing idiotic drive times, for watching news over and over, and so on and so forth. I don't mean to demean it. We have to do that stuff, our we starve, our kids starve. I am busy too, honestly. But what can I say, after recognizing the tension and pressure, other than, hey, find some time. Make some time. If we only do what society commands us to do, filling up all our time with that, we will be doing only what society imposes, until we die, and the world dies as well. 19. Do you think your upgrade changes will solve your financial issues? If not, if you don't generate a big jump in income, what would be the effect on Z Operations? What more can you do - what more will you do, to raise more funds and avoid those effects, if the current plan isn't sufficient? I don't know if the upgrade will meet and transcend our needs. We hope more people will become sustainers and that the average sustainer donation level will also rise, as indicated earlier. If both these things happen, our needs will be met and more, and we will keep growing and diversifying. If they don't happen, we will have to dramatically reduce costs, which means cutbacks in what we provide . There aren't many ways to reduce costs - fewer staff is one, but that means less work getting done, and thus less product. Not printing as much or perhaps even at all to reduce bills, is another way to cut costs, but again, the impact on our offerings would be unimaginably severe. Here something odd about all this - the thing that also makes it incredibly frustrating. I said it once above. I will say it again. My guess is that if the roughly 500,000 people a month who use our online systems were all assembled in some kind of massive gathering place and Z Staff and some supportive writers got up and made a clear and concise plea for people to become Sustainers on the spot, and we gave people a button to push to enter their donation level, easily half and actually I suspect way more than half would do it. Many, lacking means, would do it for just a dollar a month, say, but many others would do it for more, and often a lot more. Our difficulty, and I hate to be repetitive but the point often doesn't get across and is central, isn't so much a lack of willingness to support left media or left activity per se, it is instead doubt that doing so, individually, will matter, and reticence at spending any time making it happen, one person at a time. How to overcome that self fulfilling mood is the big fund raising question we continually face. 20. Suppose, instead, that the changes in ZCom do succeed, not only in enlarging audience and building community, but also in greatly increasing cash flow. What will come next, in that case? See the link for "What's Coming" in the little yellow box at the top of the new ZNet top page. It lists what is left to finish the upgrade, and it list many new innovations that will follow, after that, if we are financially able to proceed. I think if we get sufficient support ZCom will become be a stable and more importantly a steadily innovating online operation with growing content and user base. Much more multimedia in all forms will appear on the new site. A four semester a year, very inexpensive, but very high quality online school (see ZEO) will appear. A publishing operation of short books, emphasizing vision and strategy will appear. An enlargement of our summer school operations, including additional sessions over the year, will occur. Major innovations for online socializing and organizing will be implemented. Various content innovations - such as offering more on popular culture and news, a subsite on the U.S. election, etc., will come online. Major increases in development of and display of vision and strategy will occur throughout the site. There will be more mutual engagement among writers. ZSpace will become a left Myspace and Facebook. And, finally, perhaps even ZTV will emerge. Beyond all that, I don't know what else will happen. We are eager, of course, for many developments, but at this point the truth is what matters most is the current upgrade and trying to induce needed support from old and new Sustainers - that is what will fuel a better Z future.