When I first started Ten Forward back in April 2017 I didn’t think I would end up running it for more than a year, two at the most. Very few of my attempts at building communities truly succeed long term. In fact, the only other one that succeeded is EntropyNet which is a small IRC network I started with a couple friends in 2011 and is still going strong.
Ten Forward is of course an entirely different type of social network from what IRC offers and the requirements of maintaining a Mastodon instance are significantly more resource intensive than running a IRC network.
With the six year anniversary of Ten Forward’s creation still in the rear view mirror the fundamental question that has been on my mind is – “what do the next five years of Ten Forward look like?”
Let’s get into it.
Every good community is built on top of solid foundational pillars. Ten Forward is no different and this section is me elaborating on what I’ve for the most part kept in my head as I ran the instance over the years. I will also be improving and adding onto some of these.
The first key pillar is sustainability in all aspects of running Ten Forward. Simply put – prioritize long-term sustainability over short-term growth. As a small instance on the fediverse Ten Forward has always followed this principle.
Our user growth over the last few years has been slow and organic. Most of the recent wave from November 2022 has come through word of mouth. This is the ideal for me and I aim to let this continue.
Let’s get into the various aspects of long-term sustainability.
At the risk of stating the extremely obvious – Mastodon servers cost money to run. This includes the server(s) that host the application itself, various supporting services like backups, media storage, DNS, email, and domain registration(s).
On this aspect, Ten Forward has run a lean ship. Since the creation of Ten Forward, it has been hosted on a single server hosted with Linode. When Linode announced their pricing increases in March 2023, I moved the server to Hetzner Cloud as the cost differential between the two was getting to an absurd point.
So this year, we actually reduced the cost of one of the key pieces that make Ten Forward happen. That allowed me to add another piece to the equation, namely this blog, hosted with the managed WordPress provider BigScoots on a new domain.
Our slow rate of user growth has also allowed this lean state of affairs. Our media storage and backup expenses remain very cost effective. For a overview of the various expenses see the following wiki page.
Currently, the vast majority of recurring donations come in through Patreon. Going into the future, I would like this to transition to subscriptions directly through Stripe which is now the preferred donation method. This reduces fees, therefore increasing each donation’s efficiency i.e I get more of what you donate.
What I am aiming for when it comes to the funding of this instance is to build what I am tentatively calling the Ten Forward Savings Fund. This is fund will consist of any funds leftover after each month’s expenses are paid. I will get into more of this in the accountability section and in a separate blog post.
One aspect of running a Mastodon instance is the labour of the people running it. In the case of Ten Forward has been run by me, a sole individual. For the most part this part has been an okay situation for me. I keep the “management” aspect of instance separate with the use of separate accounts for “personal” and “management” use.
This essentially allows me to “disconnect” from the day-to-day drudgery of running a Mastodon instance when needed. This is vital to maintaining my mental health long-term and avoiding burnout. As someone who has dealt with severe burnout in a past job, I am extremely aware of what that feels like and I am definitely looking to avoid it when it comes to running this instance.
Looking to the future, what I would like to improve on this front is to add one another person onto the moderation team so I can take say, an entire month off from Ten Forward related management duties without feeling negligent.
Now of course, it is not simple as “just” adding another person. I would like to be able to pay this person a reasonable amount for their labour which brings us back to the financial aspect of long-term sustainability. Right now as it stands, Ten Forward does not bring in enough income for this to be a reality.
The above is also why I am aiming for increased donation efficiency. If for example, all 260 active users contributed $5/month, we likely would have enough to pay someone to moderate the instance on a part time basis at the very least.
As the captain of this particular ship I am accountable to y’all, the people who make up the Ten Forward community. To a lesser degree, I am also accountable to the fediverse at large but first and foremost I need to be accountable to the users I am responsible for.
Since Ten Forward is a Mastodon server, it is a part of the wider fediverse. This means at times we need to take moderation action against entire servers. Whether this be a instance silence/limit, media block or a full block/suspension every such action that affects the entire instance needs to be published to our users and in the cases of full blocks/suspensions, disclosed to the wider fediverse.
For years now, I have disclosed all full blocks/suspends of instances via a public post from my admin account and an addition to the relevant wiki page. What I need to improve on is the announcement of silences/limit. Some silences/limits in the past have been added without any public disclosure other than a addition to the wiki page for them.
I need to do better here so here is the plan going forward:
- Instance silences/limits – disclosed via instance internal announcement and addition to the wiki.
- Instance media blocks – disclosed via instance internal announcement and addition to the wiki.
- Instance blocks/suspends – disclosed via instance internal announcement, a public disclosure post on the admin account, and addition to the wiki.
One side effect of running a Mastodon instance as a personal project is that the instance’s finances become intertwined with one’s personal finances. This is the case for Ten Forward as well.
Ten Forward’s various expenses just show up as purchases on my personal credit card(s). While I use donations to pay off these expenses, the donations still land in my personal bank account.
So how do I be financially accountable to the users of my instances without disclosing the rest of my personal finances? The solution to that going forward is going to be a monthly blog post on this blog with a Income Expenses report for the previous month.
So the contents of such a post are going to be:
- Ten Forward’s income for the month (donations, gifts etc.)
- Ten Forward’s expenses for the month (hosting expenses, domain renewal expenses etc.)
- How much gets deposited into the Ten Forward Savings Fund
- Current balance of the Ten Forward Savings Fund
The above I believe is sufficient financial accountability.
Summaries and Conclusions
So to summarize, these are the things I am looking to improve going forward:
- Increased financial sustainability through more efficient donations income
- Increased personal sustainability with the addition of another moderator
- Increased moderation accountability for more types of instance wide moderation
- Increased financial accountability with the public publishing of a monthly income and expenses report.
To conclude, the future of Ten Forward as a project will be better with the improvements mentioned earlier. This post will initially be shared as an internal instance announcement and via Patreon post, after that it will be publicly shared on the Ten Forward admin account.
All active users of Ten Forward are recommended to put this blog in their RSS feed reader. Of course, I will continue to share posts on this blog via internal instance announcements and public posts so if you are not interested in using RSS, you are not missing out.
Here’s to another wonderful 5 years of Ten Forward!