Four Things The Orbit Is Doing Differently, And Why We Founded It

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably noticed this blog has moved. Until Monday, when this site went live, it was hosted at Freethought Blogs, as were about half the other blogs here. I’ve said my goodbyes to FTB, where I was fortunate enough to spend three years. Now it’s my turn, and my pleasure, to welcome you to the Orbit. If you haven’t already, see our public press release; then read our About page, then watch our video on Kickstarter, where we reached our first goal in just over a day. If you’re still hungry, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

A lot’s been happening these past few days, and we’re still scrambling to catch up. In particular, there have been questions about why some of us left Freethought Blogs to create this site, what our relationship will be and what the differences between us are. Colleagues of mine, Heina and Stephanie among them, have already gone some way to fleshing out the details, and it’s worth noting that ex-FTBers constitute only one part of our membership—but since it’s true that we were the ones who decided to launch our own site, I want to give my own answers to those questions.

To begin with, the Orbit is an independent site. Those of us who’ve moved here from FTB are proud of our work there and want to continue it here, but the association is informal: we’re less a sister site and more of a mutant offspring. As for why we decided to start our own site, the short version is that a few months back, when conversations about updating FTB’s internal structure took place, several of us came to the realisation simultaneously that our ideal network would be easier to build from scratch than to mould by reforming a site with its own history and machinery.

The more we talked about the site we wanted to be, the clearer it was that our best moments were when we didn’t copy FTB, and that it wasn’t the site most writers at Freethought Blogs had signed up to. We didn’t want colleagues to have to choose between leaving a reshaped FTB and staying on a site no longer resembling the one they’d joined, so we made our own plans. If Friendly Atheist readers were wondering, the reason Pharyngula isn’t hosted here is that a network cofounded by PZ Myers already exists: our network isn’t that network, and it works differently.

With that in mind, here are some ways the Orbit differs from other sites.

As detailed on our About page, everything behind the scenes here is done by bloggers, and everyone who writes here has a role. (Some people handle the paperwork, some admissions, some the social feeds.) Patheos is a highly individualised network where writers can focus on doing their own thing; the Orbit is a collective democracy whose members all know each other, share a similar outlook and socialise together when not handling site business. FTB is somewhere between the two, a network where some people work behind the scenes and others just blog.

Every point on that scale has its pros and cons. Out of those three networks, the Orbit is the one that demands most time and engagement from its members when they’re not blogging. The upside is that we’re far more of a community. Part of the point of running the place through working groups is that everyone here has an investment in making the site a good workplace, and we have internal systems in place for getting to know each other, resolving conflicts and supporting each other’s mental health. You don’t just write a blog at the Orbit—you live here.

Traditionally, FTB has had thirty to forty blogs. Although we don’t currently have a hard limit, we’ll be sticking in the region of twenty-five. Once your network contains a certain number of people, it’s likely quite a few of them will never interact. Rather than adding more members, our strategy for growth involves maintaining a productive atmosphere, collaborating with each other on content separate from our own blogs and promoting each other’s work. Instead of looking for new members all the time, our focus will be directing our efforts inwardly.

Skepchick has Rebecca Watson in charge; the atheist channel at Patheos has Dale McGowan; FTB has an executive committee. Round here, no one is in charge—or, rather, all of us are. Our structure is completely nonhierarchical: we get things done by working in small, dedicated groups with their own areas—finance, tech, policy—that liaise with each other and have no governance from above. Broadly, they have autonomy in their own areas. When necessary, including during admissions, all our bloggers vote, and upholding the site rules is the policy group’s job.

At FTB, proceeds from ad revenue after hosting costs are divided among bloggers according to how much traffic they get: if you get five percent of the site’s hits, you get five percent of the cash. The Orbit’s system differs in two ways. Firstly, now that we’ve raised enough on Kickstarter to cover our first year of hosting costs, all ad revenue will go directly toward paying writers. Secondly, only half the total will be allocated by views the same way as at FTB; the other half will be divided equally between all bloggers.

I’m proud that this is our site’s approach, and I’d like other networks adopt it. It reflects both our desire to be collaborative—everyone on this site has a material interest in promoting everyone else’s work—and our acceptance the blogosphere isn’t a meritocracy. All kinds of factors influence traffic to someone’s blog beyond how good it is—how much spare time they have, when they started and who they know, their physical ability to write—and we want to help smaller blogs on their way up.

It’s true, of course, that a large percentage of a small sum still isn’t much, but we don’t want to build our audience by getting heavy traffic on some blogs and next to none on others. If we’re to grow, it’s going to be together, with the benefits spread around—and as you might be noticing, together is what this site is about.

Four Things The Orbit Is Doing Differently, And Why We Founded It

6 thoughts on “Four Things The Orbit Is Doing Differently, And Why We Founded It

  1. 2

    Point #1 sounds nice!

    Also, the organization structure sounds a bit like Holacracy, which is a system designed to make organizations run smoothly without a “boss”. They might have some tips that The Orbit would find useful!

  2. AMM

    One thing I liked about the old FTB home page, back before it got “improved”, was that each blog had a bit of real estate with its logo and the title (and link) of the most recent post on that blog.

    Since a lot of my favorite bloggers didn’t post very often (I like to say “quality over quantity”), it was an easy way to see whether to visit them, and I could ignore the blogs I didn’t like. The current FTB scheme of showing the “most recent” articles (for some inscruitable definition of “most recent”) privileges the more prolific bloggers.

  3. 4

    This is fantastic to hear and I have found a true online home. I don’t just like this place, I need this place; especially right now. I am excited for the future and getting to know all the other writers and new commenters too. It was also fun to be a part of the build up over at the pub.

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