Future of The Agonist

where play

The Agonist has always been a labor of love for those who contribute to it. We’re not looking for glory and we are certainly not making any money from it. The quality of our efforts have earned us a decent level of recognition and a good reputation on the ‘Net. We would like to see that continue.

In lieu of participation and management by the owners of The Agonist domain or their designate, the community seems to be continuing without editorial guidance or focus. While this provides a forum at least for now, the long-term viability of an undirected forum is unpredictable. The Internet is full of sites which degenerated into tiny communities preaching to their respective choirs, yet there are also communities which operate productively simply because of common interests and a tacit agreement of what constitutes appropriate postings and comments.

It may be that the inherent interests of the editors, authors and contributors will coalesce into a useful and productive whole and will thereby provide a focus for going forward. For that to happen, those who post (or comment) should bear in mind that without any central guidance, their actions are the only thing that define the site to our subscribers and the blogsphere. Please behave accordingly – keep your comments on-thread, argue politely, play nice.

Good luck to us all.


(Update from actor212: I’ve pinned this post to the front page so that we can continue a really good discussion more easily)

63 Replies to “Future of The Agonist”

  1. I have left his post up and free for comments even though there is some airing of ‘dirty laundry’ that probably does not enhance our standing on the blogsphere. I did so because I felt that venting might alleviate some tensions and because free expression might generate new ideas.

    I think it has served its purpose and it is time to close it to further comments.
    I will also remove the ‘sticky’ status and let it roll off to eventual obscurity.

    Some of the comments on this thread are quite useful and helpful and I am grateful for those. Thank you.

    I will start a new thread specifically soliciting ideas on how best to keep the site operating effectively at maximum value to both the Agonist community and the blogsphere in general while we and the owners chase our Karma – or run from it, as the case may be. πŸ˜€

  2. I need an email address for WordPress to use as the primary contact so Steve doesn’t get more email. The email address cannot be blank.

    Does Agonist have a email address?

    1. Why not set a garbage address – we don’t care if the email bounces, just that it doesn’t get to Steve. Or the email address of the host’s admin (or would that be cruel)?

  3. That the owners have chosen to not reply to any of this speaks volumes.

    I wouldn’t make any plans here until we know what their intentions are.

    1. I can imagine a scenario where they might intentionally hang back to see how things work out. And it could well be a good tactic.


      1. Would we not need to know which scenario it is? How can TPTB take appropriate measures while the Agonist is in a state of limbo?

        1. Well I think maybe I was wrong. Now that I try to actually think a scenario through I find I can’t do it. Naively I was thinking that they might attempt to generate good energy by seeing who rallies round the flag. And I suppose that if they are as naive as I then yes I guess that could be an imagined good scenario. But good in intentions and not good necessarily in effects.

    2. I agree with you on this. Zero contact, if I’m not mistaken, at this point, regarding the future of the site and the preservation of the content is beyond odd. I do think it’s worth keeping things moving as things unfold, as though something will work out here or at another URL.

  4. I agree with jump that the ad and click-through models of blog financing are likely obsolete. TPM has instituted a pay comment area. I have not joined because the quality I would expect to find there would not be comparable to the quality that Numerian points out exists here. So I can certainly see myself paying something to read and comment here.

    My preferred model though is the public radio model of fund drives and asking people to donate. That way we can keep it free for those who would like to try it out and inexpensive enough for those who can only afford token amounts.

    The catch is that asking people for donations requires that we have some form of community ownership. At the moment I like the Pirate Party of Germany’s model of real-time delegated democratic representation. (See adhocracy and liquid democracy). But that’s experimental stuff way beyond our immediate needs. Our immediate needs simply require a not-for-profit incorporation with some kind of elected board.

    And for that to happen, either the owners arrange a transfer path or the community somehow creates a new site.

    1. Another requirement needed to ask for donations is transparency. I am quite amazed at how much transparency has been withheld from the community during these last three years. I get that it’s a standard business model, but for a blog that rails against the powers that be about their lack of transparency … well, yeah.

  5. A nice summary that I completely agree with Numerian. The quality and the sense of community is what has kept me lurking for the past ten years or more.
    Monetizing a blog or any social media is the primary question for any owner. I see the business model for such things stuck in ‘click-through ad’ mode; a model I personally loathe.
    I have been thinking about a neighbourhood social media type site with the goal to encourage local economies and neighbourhood collaboration, peddling the type of ideas that can be found on sites like Yes. I think the economic model needs to change and it needs to be a grass roots movement. Back to the point–the first question I was asked was how do you monitize that. Well of course I would use a co-operative membership model, to which I was quickly told that no one pays for web content. I am not so sure about that. I think the ad model is aged and broken except for the corporations that are pushing it and spending lots of money on data mining in the name of predictive ad placement.
    Would you pay a nominal membership fee for a site like the agonist (and have the ads dropped for members)? I would.

    Just a thought. And neighbourhood is not mispelled for a Canuck πŸ™‚

  6. The reason I started reading the Agonist ten years ago was that it was one of the few places on the internet that was opposed to the Iraq War. It’s hard to remember, but back then being opposed to the war, especially in the US, was a very lonely position. Such people were subjected to a lot of abuse and it took courage to say publicly that this war was a calamitous mistake. Certainly the mainstream media weren’t taking this position, so it was left to a few small blogs to point out the perils of this invasion.

    The Agonist was right back then, and it has since been right about a lot of other things. While the political leaning of the community here is leftist and progressive, what is really remarkable about the people who were attracted to the Agonist is that they are forward-thinking. They spend a lot of time thinking about the future, and in their own specialties, coming up with practical and real answers to problems most people have not yet noticed exist. When it comes to US military folly and extravagance, the curtailment of civil liberties, climate change, the consequences of drought, the housing bubble, the financial and credit crisis, the destruction of the middle class, the rise of oligarchy, the creation of debt bubbles all around the world, the attack on science and reason – on so many, many issues, the Agonist is the place people can go to read about what the mainstream media and politicians will be discussing five or more years in the future.

    The other thing that distinguishes the Agonist is the high level of civility here. This is an extremely polite and respectful community. There is none of the high school drama that exists on most blogs, with name calling and cat fights, and nor does the management conduct periodic membership purges as you find on places like Daily Kos. People who do cross a line are told privately what behavior is expected, and that has always worked to maintain civility.

    Third, the quality of the writing here is very high, on the order of any respectable major magazine or newspaper. The quality of the comments on people’s posts are first-rate: to the point, in depth, and well-argued. This is a very intelligent, global community, with qualities that are hard to find on the internet.

    Finally, and this point is often unappreciated, the self-policing nature of the Agonist means that it is very easy to read because grammar and spelling errors are minimal. The writers and those who post comments all read and correct their material before hitting Post Comment. Just look up at the comments on this thread and try to find spelling and grammar problems. Then go over to HuffPost and read the articles by famous people – celebrities, politicians, activists. They are filled with errors and no one is correcting this. The Agonist is user-friendly in a way few blogs are.

    Like everyone else here, I know nothing of these new owners. I hope they appreciated at the time of purchase the qualities they were buying in this blog. These qualities were culturally developed and are hard to duplicate. They are easy to lose if the site is allowed to disintegrate. How they can be monetized is another question, but I would think the blog is more comparable to The Atlantic than it is to Daily Kos. Ramping up traffic 100-fold is not likely to happen, but building traffic from an audience that wants quality thinking, writing, and editing is a lot easier with the Agonist than most other places. Leadership is however needed. People need to know there is a guiding hand and they need to know if that person or organization is invested in the community that has been built up here. At the moment, we all feel like we are working for Anonymous. We need someone to remove their Guy Fawkes mask and confirm the direction in which the Agonist is heading.

  7. Steeleweed, i don’t think that i have any editorial powers left but drop me a line at alexigregor at google’s mail service.

  8. While I believe we can function without a hand on the helm for a short while, eventually we’re going to want someone to take at least nominal control so that someone can be responsible for the kruft that’s eventually going to build up.

    Take Steve’s e-mail query, for instance.

    Maybe a review of where we want to take this site, in terms of outlook and potential growth, is in order? Look forward, rather than where we’ve been.

  9. >>”the reason some messaging works is those people took the trouble to create themselves a new Agonist WP profile (not an account, a profile) for the messages to attach to, I believe.”<<

    This is my understanding too.

    I think the way to set up a profile is click on the wordpress icon top left and select Profile.

    1. Hi, Graham,
      Steve said,
      “SW, the reason some messaging works is those people took the trouble to create themselves a new Agonist WP profile (not an account, a profile) for the messages to attach to, I believe.”

      But taking the trouble was not the reason for me. I stumbled onto it because my comments kept coming up with my ‘real’ name, not readr satx.
      I went to top left, clicked on Members, my name was up near the top, I clicked on that, picked Profile out of the grey-striped menu, and entered an avatar name or whatever they call it here on WP. It was just dumb luck that got me there and got Messages for me.
      It was serendipity that got me to The Agonist in the first place. SPK was on an afternoon radio talk show one day, the only progressive talk show then available in San Antonio (now there are none–it’s Texas, folks). He sounded forward-thinking, open-minded and inclusive. I looked up the blog and have been here since–in spite of my account’s having been accidentally deleted twice in spam clean-ups.

      1. Hi readr satx, yes I thought we had lost you a couple of times over the years, spam clean-ups hey! I’m glad you are still here. Would love to see a comment on the quantum article Adrena posted on the newswire πŸ™‚

        Re: Numerians’ comment re spelling and grammar, yes in the main. But there has been a dedicated effort by the editorial team fixing errors, unnoticed I think in the main.

        Finally a question re the advertising links. Is the advertising wrapper coding around the blog managed by the owner or by the agonist editorial team?

        1. In the main, the grammar is quite good. I’ve posted a couple of grammar-nazi comments in the past, tho’.
          I notice its and it’s in particular, use of an apostrophe to make proper nouns plural, there and their, but none of this happens very often. Only a few authors misuse these habitually.
          A structure item that I notice is a that a clause or a phrase has been misplaced, which, if it were in another part of the sentence, would make the sentence and its idea more forceful. But that would take another editing swoop before posting and slow down the timeliness of the composition.

  10. the reason some messaging works is those people took the trouble to create themselves a new Agonist WP profile (not an account, a profile) for the messages to attach to, I believe.

    This is my understanding too.

    I think the way to set up a profile is click on the wordpress icon top left and select Profile.

  11. Would someone who is an administrator please remove my newshog email address as the contact email for this site? I keep getting notification of user password changes etc.

    Bill, the reason I avoided giving you admin access to the site is that I was advised by several of the people who are cozying up to you now that your last meltdown – as they put it – made you too unstable to be fully trusted. Tina, Moley and SP himself were involved in that Google Groups thread, as I recall. Just saying.

    SW, the reason some messaging works is those people took the trouble to create themselves a new Agonist WP profile (not an account, a profile) for the messages to attach to, I believe. If they didn’t then sending or receiving messes up. This is a mess caused by Buddypress and if you can find anyone to upgrade Buddypress without messing up everything else in the theme, that should fix it.

    And now I’m gone again.

    1. Yeah Steve, whatever, and I do understand … other than the fact that I myself was the one who removed myself from the Editors list and turned off my own admin access when I had my “melt down” over the way the site was going and resigned as an editor/admin and left the Google Groups for managing editors. No one asked me to resign. You were not around then yet. The ironic part is you had already given me back the full admin/managing editor status on the Drupal site including the ability to set/modify everyone else’s access if I had desired, when I was helping you and Tina with things like turning on/off new user registration, front page menus, how e-mails were sent out from the site, etc. I’m not surprised they would have had reservations about having me back in the managing editors discussion group on Google, since I might have said uncomfortable things (such as I did in this thread), although I have never under any circumstances done anything with my actual admin access other than things helpful to the site and approved by those in charge. I have as I mentioned before had some “tantrums” in the Google Groups managing editors thread during the period after the sale of the Agonist, about the way some things were being handled, and I don’t blame anyone for worrying that I might have more, given that there was, I am told, a lot of um, instability going on among the group as it was. No comment on who is or was too unstable to be trusted. As for admin access, I had the highest level back again for about a month or so before the switch to WP, and I was not anything other than helpful using it. In any case, it was certainly not my loss to be spared from slaving away more on the site given recent events. Whether I could have helped resolve some of the technical issues is moot, whether I can help in the future is dependent on what happens with Google groupies/ editors /admins and what they can work out with owner(s) either buying the site or working out something tangible. That is why I passed on the info I had found regarding the sales contract being published publicly (now only on Google cache) … so they could have info to make good decisions.

  12. Dailykos may have a corporate owner, but most likely the functional owner is Markos Moulitious. Josh Marshall is the functional owner of TPM. Now I learn that good ole “SP” is the straw owner of the Agonist. And that he “got out” in 2010, likely when the getting out was better than now, just my guess on that one. But a quasi-community blog most definitely needs an owner, and even a straw owner will do.

    So now the cat is out of the bag (insert cat pic here). And we learn that something else owns the joint. Me, I assume that Steve was aware of the arrangement. But hey he made a real effort at reviving the (or a) community blog spirit. He likely believed that should he succeed he would be granted further chances to continue. I would believe that as well.

    So there is a line of speculation in that direction. Did the owners – and it seems that everyone has been saying owners, plural as in corporate or perhaps royal or if we would be lucky an actual organization – so did the owners not think Steve was not being successful? But it matters not anymore because they can no longer replace him with someone that might become successful. Well, successful as we understand the word, create a vibrant community blog.

    But that door is shut because the cat is now out of the bag that there is no actual real concerned owner standing behind this blog.

    For this blog to continue it had been necessary that a new manager be put in place who could continue the deception that SP was likely still back there keeping an eye out, even a distant eye would do.

    Now it is necessary that the owner/owners come forward and explain themselves and their motives and goals and so forth and so on. Because those of us who have stepped forward to continue this will not abide any other relationship than forthright. For us to continue to keep this going and to invest volunteer time nothing less will do and indeed we will likely require more.

    The slow leak of information about the recent history of this site isn’t helping at all. I get that we are tip-toeing around here trying not to awaken or anger the owners for fear that they will pull the plug before …. before whatever I guess. Shhhhh, be quiet. They might hear us. Likely we are waiting for a leader who we can trust to get us out of here in as much of one piece as possible. And good leaders take time to develop.


    Steeleweed, I hope you have taken a snapshot of the contact email addresses of the current members of the blog. Should a leader or leaders emerge then it would be nice to be able to let everyone know. Maybe doing that is one of your legal fears so I guess you would need to be careful to be legal.

    Because that is rapidly becoming the only way forward for us. The longer the owners are not forthcoming and the more negative information is leaked out about things the less likely this site to continue at this domain address.

    I have always been uncomfortable with privately owned blogs. But that is the sea I swim in so I get it. These things are mostly labors of love, except for a few lucky ones. Well skill and sweat and luck, of course. So I am not naive when I say that what I would really want is a community owned blog; like public radio stations. And even those tend to become board owned after enough time. Look at the Pacifica radio not-for-profit organization and its on-going travails at keeping a democratic face.

    But hey there is always a first time.

    Sorry for the ramble. But I think there are a few good thoughts in there.

    1. Good ramble, Jeff

      I think it is humanly impossible for any new manager to bring back the past. Steve replaced a popular leader who used to own the site and took on the thankless task of transferring the Agonist from Drupal to WP. I believe he did very well under the circumstances. Naturally, one can’t please everyone.

      And since we’re into ‘spilling’ beans, the $100/mth he was offered to continue was just an outright insult or, as a proper lady would say: a ‘fucking joke’.

  13. Wow, Adrena. “Personal differences with Steve” had nothing to do with my leaving.

  14. Is it possible that the buyers of the site are out to suppress the political viewpoints typical of the site? (E.g., through a strategy of passive-aggressive demolition-by-neglect?)

    1. As opposed to simply switching off the lights as they’ve had the right to do for almost three years? (Date of sale appears to have been 2010, not 2011.) Suppression of political viewpoints does not seem at all likely.

      Near as I can tell, the part of the site that we know and use is content to drive add sales. There’s been chunks of odd stuff grafted on to the domain for a number of years that seems to serve as a framework for ad sales (e.g., http://agonistas.com/Learning-Center/law/).

      1. Correct, Dave. The sale date on the contract is April 1, 2010. I mistakenly said 2011, which appears to be the year it was posted on the owner site.

      2. Re serving as a framework for ad sales:
        Have you noticed that “Three Quick Questions” in the right column always has question No. 3 asking about age or gender? Ad sales related, for sure.

      3. Dave, that’s an astute observation I was always just a little bit curious about the other page, linked on the front page, at the Drupaul Agonist (which I kind of miss). Are there others attached that you know of?

    1. It’s just “growing pains”. Old alliances are renewed, the smiley faces are back, people droppin’ by to get a feel for the rudderless Agonist. It will all work itself out eventually.

  15. You provide very interesting and useful information quiet Bill, however, I find the public airing of your grievances about Steve ungraceful. It leaves an awkward feeling that is not conducive to creating the optimistic and positive atmosphere required to keep the Agonist thriving.

        1. Speaking of ghost sightings (okay, really we weren’t, but my segue skills never were at all well developed), I see in the members list that ArtA was around. If this “pastness” keeps up, my hair may restore itself to its 2003 thickness.

          (Please. Oh, please, oh please.)

          1. were you around then as JPD?
            shit, 10+ years on the internet must be like a millenium in meatspace, for I surely can’t remember all that has passed. (I did see Chaka/Haven on the agonist fb the other day.) really, how many sites have kept readers and contributors for that long?

            where’s Graham, I’m feeling one of those serendipitous/interconnected things coming on.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Adrena! I guess I didn’t learn anything after all in my 10 years of being a senior moderator at Agonist and training fellow moderators on how to resolve disputes over what was appropriate to post publicly, and how to deal with posting rules/guidelines. And here I thought I was recounting some facts in an at least civil way, to explain to folks why I wasn’t around so much recently, in case they thought I just suddenly hadn’t cared about the site any more.

      By the blessings of whatever goodness there is, may my unseemly and awkward blurtings somehow still contribute to a positive outcome. Amen and sarva mangalam!

      1. It’s a real shame you left because of “personal differences” with Steve as I always appreciated your contributions.


        1. Wow, Adrena. β€œPersonal differences with Steve” had nothing to do with my leaving.

  16. Not much I can add to QB’s comments except to say that I will continue being ‘office manager’ for the time being.
    What I won’t be is Editor-In-Chief, marketer, publicist, apologist or evangelist.

    Eventually, the Agonist community, the blogsphere or the owner(s) – or some combination thereof – will bring things to a head and we can all decide how we want to proceed.

    My link works for internal messages (maybe?). If you have problems sending that way, post a comment here and I’ll track down your recorded email and get in touch.

  17. Anyway, steeleweed sent me an e-mail outside of the site, so I was able to provide him with the information I wanted to make available to those who are discussing how to manage the future of the site. The information that I found a few days ago is not something I thought was appropriate to post publicly, but I believe all who are involved with deciding on issues like making ownership arrangements / deals / communications / “good faith” working relationships …. they should at least know the details so they can make well informed choices.

    Those of you who are able to communicate with steeleweed and are participating in such discussions, can ask him to share it and he can do as he sees fit.

    Just to add, for the so called record and for whatever it is worth, I have been with the Agonist since 2002, and was an administrator/moderator/managing editor since 2003. I also put many hundreds if not thousands of hours of work into the site including help with upgrades and upgrade attempts, and including providing all the content of the front page along with Nick for a six month period when SP was ill, etc. Not trying to say that I am a Tina; she has contributed consistently and in the most major way until recently; I stopped when she stopped. And I have had my various tantrums along the way (mostly during the period after the secret sale in 2011, when I felt that something about the “good faith” of the site had changed, even though I did not know about the sale and the arrangements related to it. And, of course, there is my wimpy Seasonal Affective Disorder!

    I find it ironic that people are just now figuring out various bugs about the site re: permissions etc…. I found these out right away after the conversion to WP, but I was excluded from helping with them because, Steve said, I was a Drupal expert and he had new folks to do WP stuff and didn’t want potential stepping on toes. I was of course happy to help and did offer, but took the hint and said OK and good luck. Steve had asked me to do a bunch of last minute urgent back-end tasks regarding Drupal, Facebook site updates, etc (which originally I had initiated and managed), etc., and I did everything he asked and then was given a “thank you we’ve got it all covered now” after the conversion to WordPress. At least I saved doing hundreds more hours of back-end admin, site testing, customization, etc. work for a site that was perhaps intended all along to peter out, or at least not be maintained, at the highest level of decision making.

    Whether I decide to help out again in any way depends to a large extent on whether I view the site as simply a hit-generator business cow intended to coast without upkeep to its eventual upcoming demise, or whether those who buy it or run it intend to make it something more. In order for the group having those discussions to make informed decisions in dealing with the owner, I felt they needed to at least know the information I found publicly posted on the owner’s site, although apparently left up there by mistake and now hastily removed, although still temporarily in Google cache. The info was the actual sales contract from 2011.

    Like I said, I decided not to post the link here, or the still active link to Google cache, out of respect that it may have been left up there unintentionally.

  18. Now this is really strange. I noticed I had a message. When I clicked on it a message box came up showing the title and the first sentence of the message. When I clicked on the title to read the rest I was directed to an old post by Tina from 2004. I vaguely remember something like this happening before. However, I never brought it up with Steve because he was still busy with getting the site running smoothly and because no one else had complained about it.

    Unfortunately, it appears that the message function is malfunctioning.

    1. Yeah, Adrena et al – I pointed that out to Steve also. I think it may have to do with the same WordPress/BuddyPress problems that derailed our attempt to implement Diaries.

      I’m just guessing, but it smells to me like there were two ways of storing User Data – WordPress for the enlisted personnel and BuddyPress for the officers( who had associated Diaries). Since BP doesn’t work with our WP Theme, the BP-based user data also fails. If the expected BuddyPress upgrade fixes the support for Diaries, it may also fix this problem.

      Unfortunately, since it’s not a mainframe, I can’t get down to the bottom level of the code and fix it.:-(

  19. When I click on the user name link for Doug Richardson, Michael Collins and quiet Bill I get:

    Not Found

    Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.”

    But readr satx, steeleweed and tina’s link gives me their profile page.

    1. Yes, It’s always been like that. It’s impossible to send a message to someone when you get “Not Found”. I never bothered mentioning it to Steve because I figured he had enough on his plate. But it’s annoying.

  20. Similar experience here…I get the same message any time I try to do something other than reply to a post. I have no idea how to post anything…I’d like to contribute again, but can’t. C’est la vie.

  21. Steelweed, I would send you a private message but I am no longer granted that level of access on here, evidently.

    1. Just a minute, thar…
      I was able to send a private message, and I am probably the smallest nobody of all. I went into the person’s member file, and there were 3 choices in grey boxes, one of which was “Private Message”.
      The people each got their msgs.
      You, of all people, surely have that access.

      1. Nope, anything to do with messaging, receiving or sending, on my account, goes to:

        “Not Found

        Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.”

        I was not given any admin or editing privileges after the switch to WP from Drupal, although before that I had the highest level admin/superuser/site building/managing editor etc functions and was actively doing work for Steve and the site, for free of course, on Drupal that no one else was willing or able to do. After I saw that my access was taken away, I asked him to give me what he felt comfortable with, and he gave me Contributor access but nothing else. I was not even aware of the 2011 sale of the site, until a few days ago.

        But, I should try and “behave” in my comments here.

  22. Thank you for your efforts. They are stellar.

    One suggestion for the orchestra without a conductor:

    When you post yourself, please use the page break button, after some introductory text. It makes the front page look much better.

    Also, if you’re willing, look at this. I did it a while ago. It will make the site move move quicker by reducing image size.

    Image size and site speed

    1. Appreciate the good advice.

      The display size of an image can be controlled by HTML, which WP does, but a 800×1000 image displayed as 160×200 would still have to load a 800k to only display 32k. Better to reduce it to 160×200 before posting.

      I generally resize images I upload and may reduce resolution when hi-res isn’t important.
      I have local software, but those who don’t can use your link.

      I am all too often guilty of not using the Break function and will try to keep that in mind from now on.

      Thank you, Michael πŸ˜€

  23. Thanks for everything you and others are doing for the site. It IS greatly appreciated. I am inundated right now with work and my classes but drop me a line if you need anything that I could help with. πŸ™‚

      1. Thanks πŸ™‚ I am off this weekend, so drop me a line of what you need.