Beta-testing a new feature.

I’ve had the plugin that I’ve been talking about for Freethought Blogs mostly-done for a few weeks now, and I’ve had it installed on the live server for that time with no ill effects. Tonight, I managed to get the final pieces of the puzzle out of the way, and it’s ready to go live.

However, I never like to go into production without a slow rollout, with only the bravest of the brave testing out the features and making sure things are kosher. So, here we are.

I hate ads as much as the next person. More, maybe — especially given some of the odious ad buys by terribly misogynist browser-based RPGs I’ve seen as of late, which we keep trying to stomp but keep springing back up despite our efforts. But we have to keep our lights on. Those of you who are regulars, those of you who enjoy the free content that we produce on these blogs daily, if you want to support the site to keep our server running and our web guy fed, you now have an option to subscribe to the site and get something back other than just that warm glowing feeling of supporting the community you love and the writers you enjoy.

If any of you are brave souls and have a little bit of money to spare, we now have a Paypal-based subscription service where you can subscribe to Freethought Blogs for 30, 90 or 365 days, during which time — if you’re logged into a valid account against which you’ve purchased time — you will no longer see any ads on the site. Not banner ads, not popups, nothing. A few lucky folks got some free subscription time already, so I know the ad-free portion of the plugin is working quite well.

To subscribe, go to the site’s WordPress Dashboard. This should work to get you there, or you can click the blue and white WordPress logo on the top bar, next to the search box. Log in however you normally do — you can either sign up for a local user account, or you can use Facebook, Google or Yahoo’s OAuth to sign into their account to validate your identity here. Once you’re logged in here, you should be greeted with a Network Subscription box, which provides a link to get to the Subscribe page. There’s also a link at the bottom of the lefthand menu called Subscribe, that looks like this:


Or, you could bypass that and click here instead.

At the moment, Paypal is the only gateway I have set up. I’m looking into other services, like Amazon, Google and, but for now, Paypal’s what we’re using. Sorry if this excludes anyone.

Once you’ve chosen how long you’d like to subscribe to the blog, click on the “pay with Paypal” button, and you’ll be taken through Paypal’s interface. You should get a message in that popup that you’ve successfully registered for the blog, with a confirmation of how many days you’re now subscribed. Any time you want to check on how many days you have left, you can check back on your Dashboard. When your time is ticking down to its last few days, you’ll start to see a little yellow (unobtrusive, I promise) nag screen once a day until your ad-free time runs out, at which point you’ll start getting ads again.

We should get full records of all transactions that are processed on Paypal’s end, so if somehow something goes squirelly, let me know here and I’ll try to set things right.

Beta-testing a new feature.

52 thoughts on “Beta-testing a new feature.

  1. 3

    Strange. I do see that you’re logged in… you’re not seeing the links on the dashboard? You should see on the dashboard, where there’s normally basically nothing as a general user, a box that says “network subscription” with a link in it to the page. There’s also a link on the lefthand menu — I took a screenshot of what it should look like. If it’s collapsed, it’ll just look like the “Ads” icon with red text over a gradient.

  2. 6


    Have you seen this wordpress plugin?

    I already use adblockplus, so the ads don’t bother me, but the number of posts I’m reading across FTB lately that have an image as the primary content of the post, but with no alt text/caption/description (making the post completely meaningless for people who can’t see the images) seem to be increasing.

    When I feel like I have the energy, I comment and ask what it’s about, , and on the most part, I’ll come back and find either post has been updated or another commenter has provided a description for me, but having to always ask, having to make note of the posts to go back and check, and on the occasion when I’m completely ignored, having to deal with that extra feeling of isolation and unwelcomeness, and when it happens numerous times a day, it can be pretty fucking soul-crushing after a while.

    Sorry for the turd in the punchbowl, I know this is a bit heavy for this post, but basic accessibility on the web should be getting better, but it really seems to be getting worse, and I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired.

  3. 7

    I have not only seen it, but I have it installed on my own site, and it’s programmed by our very own Mysterious Stranger, CompulsoryAccount7746. I did propose that we install it server-wide, but it still requires that people actually hit Preview on their posts.

    I totally get your frustration. I harped on it at FtBCon enough that CA7746 took matters into his own hands. Once I’m through this particular hurdle, I’m going to push to install it domain-wide, and try to retrain people to actually preview their posts and check to see that they’re checking their sighted privilege.

  4. 8

    The link you give to go directly to the subscription is throwing up an error:

    You attempted to access the “Lousy Canuck” dashboard, but you do not currently have privileges on this site. If you believe you should be able to access the “Lousy Canuck” dashboard, please contact your network administrator.

  5. 10

    It looks like how you get to the Dashboard depends almost entirely on whether or not you, as a user, are assigned to a particular blog or to the Global. So all my attempts at giving you proper links to follow may or may not actually work for you. If you don’t have the top bar disabled, you can click on “Howdy, Yourname” then click on Edit My Profile, or you can try going to the W icon at the top of the page next to the search bar, as described in the original post.

    I’ve definitely sorted out the links not showing up for regular users who are unattached to any blog — I got them to show up for my test user. Both the network dashboard widget and the menu Subscribe button work for me now under that user. Also, so did the link @9 under that user account.

    I kinda hate doing this plugin the WordPress Way, and wish for end-user simplicity’s sake, I’d taken the whole subscriptions process right out of WordPress altogether. But then I’d have to rely on behind the scenes trickery to get it associated with your user account, and I don’t like that.

    Can someone kindly test again please?

  6. 12

    It eventually worked for me, but the “dashboard” link gave me a no-permissions error the first time, but going back to it a second time redirected to /pharyngula/wp-admin.php (no idea why pharyngula specifically, may be down to which blog I first had to register to comment on).

    After paying, it shows me as subscribed and I see no ads now.

  7. 14

    Andrew: well, that it eventually worked is wonderful news.

    It sounds like FtB has decided that you as a user are assigned to Pharyngula, likely because that’s the place you were when you first registered for an account. This whole Multi-User WordPress thing is a bunch of dark juju when it comes to whether or not you’re a “global” user, or a per-blog user. The weird thing is, we share a user roster across it all, so I don’t even know why a per-blog user paradigm exists at all. You couldn’t, for instance, sign up for “andrewg” on Lousy Canuck, already being assigned to Pharyngula. And you can in fact use your same account across all the blogs.

    I don’t know why WordPress ever went with the per-blog model to begin with. Presumably you’d want the flexibility to either use a shared roster or use per-blog accounts at the webmaster’s discretion, not this weird hybrid mishmash.

  8. 15

    Also not a PayPal user. I’d certainly consider signing up given an alternate method since the recent Flash-based ads wreak havoc on my ancient computer, at least until Flash gives up and crashes.

    Speaking of blog upgrades, I’m also a regular reader and occasional commenter at Popehat. They’ve made some excellent upgrades recently, including preview-as-you-type and a ten minute edit window. The latter would be very useful for folks like me who forget to close the blockquote tag on a regular basis. They’ve also implemented a pushpin/bookmark function for long threads.

  9. 18


    …the number of posts I’m reading across FTB lately that have an image as the primary content of the post, but with no alt text/caption/description (making the post completely meaningless for people who can’t see the images) seem to be increasing.
    When I feel like I have the energy, I comment and ask what it’s about, , and on the most part, I’ll come back and find either post has been updated or another commenter has provided a description for me, but having to always ask, having to make note of the posts to go back and check, and on the occasion when I’m completely ignored, having to deal with that extra feeling of isolation and unwelcomeness, and when it happens numerous times a day, it can be pretty fucking soul-crushing after a while.


    Thanks, fwtbc.


  10. 19

    Yeah, you’re definitely running into issues with account dashboards being linked to particular blogs (I apparently signed up for mine through Dispatches from the Culture War) – I got a permission error trying to get to the dashboard from here. Reloading did bring up the top bar (so it logged me in fine when trying to access the dashboard through this blog) and using that to get to my account dashboard worked fine. Now I have to try to remember my PayPal password… success!

    Except… The subscription widget is telling me I don’t have a subscription. I do have one – I don’t see ads any more – but it thinks I don’t, and also doesn’t tell me how many days are left as a result. I’m going to log out, clear browser cache, and re-launch the browser in case it’s pulling cached assets for the dashboard for some reason.

  11. 20

    Okay, so the main dashboard page does now show the subscription with time remaining. The subscription widget itself says I don’t have a subscription, but this probably isn’t a big issue. Unless maybe it will goof up renewals – if the widget doesn’t recognize the current subscription, might it purchase concurrent time upon renewal instead of adding it to the current subscription?

  12. 21

    Wow. That behaviour did not happen at all in my sandbox. (Of COURSE it didn’t.) Even though I had multiple sites, users connected to multiple sites’ dashboards, and the widget showing up on everyone’s dashboard properly.

    I really hope it doesn’t buy concurrent time. The user you’re logged into has a unique identifier in the WordPress database, and that’s what the subscriptions plugin is matching against its own local table. It should basically always “know” what user is connected, and always show the subscriptions and dashboard widget properly, but that you’ve got a valid subscription and yet it isn’t showing up on your widget kinda suggests to me a sort of “split brain” behaviour, probably because of how it’s acting on this particular multisite domain.

    Ah, the joys of beta-testing.

  13. 25

    I don’t think so, not at the moment at least. But I suspect Ed would be amenable to giving out some time to some of the awesome folks who had already subscribed via the recurring payments.

  14. 27

    The behavior I was experiencing persists: the main tab of the dashboard has a subscription notice with the number of days I have remaining, but the widget tab itself says, “You don’t presently have an active subscription to this blog network. You can purchase a subscription and remove all ads from this network here.” and lacks a timer.

    However, I purchased an additional 30 days, and it adds it onto the present time I have remaining, so no worries with additional time purchases/renewals. It looks like it’s just a bug related to the info displayed on the subscription widget tab, which isn’t really a huge deal, though still odd that it didn’t occur in any of the test cases. In case it helps, on both my home computer and work computer, I’m running Windows 7 x64 (Professional and Enterprise, respectively) and the latest version of Firefox. I just tested it in Chrome (latest version) and IE 10.0.10 and on my phone (HTC One on Sprint with their implementation of Android 4.3, checked HTC browser, Chrome, and Firefox Mobile for Android) and got the same thing.

  15. 30

    How about a feature that lets users change the size of the font(s) used in the body texts of posts and comments for certain FtB blogs which use uncomfortably small lettering that necessitates putting your face up close to the screen and squinting?

    Oh, and payment methods that bypass Paypal, pretty please!

  16. 31

    Okay, so, good news is, I’ve fixed it so new users are added to all blogs so they can access the dashboard on any blog. Bad news is, without adding a crapton of data to the database, and a bunch of extra effort on my part, retrofitting old users is less likely.

    There are presently 36,000+ users registered for the network, and while some proportion of them are automated sign-ups trying to automatically build spam blogs, most of them are real. With that many users, the plugin solution I tried to use to add all 30+ blogs as subscription rights to each of the 36,000+ users basically failed miserably. Without upping memory and execution timeouts server-wide, I can’t override the PHP settings for that one page, so I can’t retrofit old users without some extra work (e.g. creating my own script to do what that plugin was trying to do and running it on the command line).

    So, unfortunately, existing users will have to try multiple dashboards — the global, and the one on the blog they use the most — to get at that panel.

    And the issue of the multiple dashboards not showing the same subscription time is even weirder. I can’t even duplicate that on my end, but I strongly suspect it’s the global dashboard that isn’t running the code that finds out whether or not you’re a subscriber — that’s the only thing that makes sense. I’m still hacking at that, but I think we’re going to have to call it good enough to go live.

  17. 32

    Jason, I keep getting an error message when I click the Paypal button and enter my user account and password info – it says my password is invalid. Yet I know it is valid, because I am logged on to Paypal in another tab in the very same browser window.

    I’ve come across this when two-step verification is turned on for Paypal, and I try to access the payment page from my phone – there, I have to enter not just my user account and password, but also enter my second verification number from my account verification service right after the password. However, no approach has worked so far (via browser – Firefox – on computer AND phone,

    And I would LOVE to be able to materially support my favorite blog network. So. Any ideas on what might work?

    – Radi

  18. 34

    After further research, grafting in another payment gateway is going to be another relatively long development cycle. I promise I will get it done, but I can’t promise *when*. Sorry folks.

  19. 35

    Radi: is it JUST showing a password error, or is there any other error info that might be useful, like “we cannot process your payment at this time” etc?

    The only thing I could say is that it’s something to do with cookies… Paypal sets a cookie for the “remember me” checkbox. You could try not checking that box, or checking it if you weren’t.

  20. 36

    Thanks for setting this up! I was also hoping there could be an automatic handling of existing subscribers, but it was a dim, shadowy, cloudy-looking sort of hope, like the hope that the Tea Party will implode completely before the next election. (Because having just spent a week finishing off a small purely Cocoa app, I don’t even want to imagine the interface between Paypal and WP.)

    So, since the only option for me is to cancel the existing monthly payment and then sign up to pay half as much as I currently am, I’ll just leave it as is and continue to rely on Adblock to keep it ad-free.

  21. 37

    The biggest problem with the other subscription service is it’s actually just a subscribed “donation”, none of which ever makes it back to our actual server. If there was some kind of metering or call-back to our server, it might be possible. As it stands, sadly, it isn’t.

    I might recommend to Ed that we rename that “subscribe” to something like “donate” since it’s giving money without the expectation of any extra service in return.

  22. 40

    Jason, sorry about the delay – I have been deluged at work… But to answer your questions:
    1. There is no other explanatory information than “Please make sure you enter your email address and password correctly” – and I have verified that the user id is indeed correct.
    2. I have tried this using multiple browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari) and find the same error everywhere. Pre- and post-cache all-clear.

    Can I simply go to my Paypal account and set up a subscription to FTB from there? It will work if you can PM me the email to which to send the payment.

  23. 41

    It wouldn’t be automated, Radi, but I’m sure we can arrange something. I have the ability to manually add/alter subscriptions, so theoretically if you try to “subscribe” by Paypal it would be automated and it wouldn’t really auto-add the subscription time, so you would be constantly chasing us.

    I’ll drop you an email about this. If you could also send in screenshots (scrubbed of any personal info), especially of the URL bar for the Paypal part of the process, it might also help with troubleshooting.

  24. 42

    […] Thanks to Jason Thibeault and his programming acumen, we now have an ad-free option here at FTB. We’ve tried to keep the prices reasonable: $3 for 30 days, $8 for 90 days or $30 for an entire year. You can enjoy your favorite bloggers with no annoying ads in the way. You can sign up here. And if you detect any bugs or encounter any problems, you can report them here. […]

  25. 45

    X-posted from Pharyngula:

    Just a thought here. If you have to offer people to pay to not see something on your site, are you not doing this particular something wrong? Isn’t the real problem that the current batch of ads on FtB is utterly misplaced wrt target audience and hence entirely useless for most readers?

    I can imagine ads for, err, atheist socialising, pottery, books, gadgets, convention tickets, even food/drinks etc, that people would not actually mind seeing or clicking.

    For me, currently this just means I’m not accessing FtB from work anymore, because the Casino ads that spring up are somewhat frowned upon by my employer’s IT department.

  26. 46

    […] Not long ago, I mentioned that we had an ad-free subscription service in the works for FtB as a whole. Testing is now complete, and the service has had a couple of days to shake out some of the stranger problems. So if you’re interested in reading FtB without ads and are willing to pay* us a small amount ($3 for 30 days, $8 for 90 days, or $30 for 365 days) for the privilege, now’s the time to sign up. If you have problems along the way, Jason is the person to talk to. […]

  27. 48

    I was wondering, seeing all the folks who comment as being broke, if there might be plans for others to buy additional “subscriptions” which can be given out? I do not mind donating for no benefit to myself, but I would prefer to pass along a benefit to another, especially if it decreases the use of adblock.
    I used to use it and found it all too easy to forget I had it up (and that it hurt content creators) until it was mentioned in various posts on FtB.

    Also, everything seems to have worked well for me.

    Thanks for offering this function!

  28. 49


    You are right that adblocker hurts content creators. And I completely understand that.

    But I’m a user of adblock for one very simple reason: Some of the sites I visited had so many ads that without blocking them they would crash my browser. I installed adblock to stop that from happening because the alternative, spending money I didn’t have, was not an alternative to me.

    Some people know this, but I owe my school 66% of $3500 by November 6. Even after that’s paid off, I have to find a cheaper place to live than on campus, which means monthly payments. I don’t make a lot of money as it is. I’m broke, and in debt. I can’t afford subscriptions.

    Plus, in this particular case, I can’t use Paypal. I’ve been over this hundreds of times, but even my credit card is blocked. Yes, I just got a new number, but all of my other details are blocked. In order to use my new number, I have to invent a whole new identity. And all this because, as far as I know, because I forgot I had a PayPal account for over 6 months and then tried to use it after remembering it only to find it had been closed… and customer service really couldn’t have cared less. They didn’t try to help me at all.

    So even assuming I could afford a subscription (which I intend to figure out how to do), I still have to wait until other payment options are coded in.

    Adblocker plus is, I grant, an evil, but while I’m poor and blocked from PayPal, it is a necessary evil. Ads fuck my system. Maybe not on FtB, since I’ve never actually seen ads on FtB, but the ads on a lot of sites I’ve used most certainly did.

  29. 50

    Jason, the link in the post on Gruntled and Hinged is broken – not too badly, just needs part of it deleting and once I’d done that I was able to sign up without any difficulty, and it’s working fine. (Yay, no more of those horrible pop-up ads!)

Comments are closed.