I wanted to respond to this thread when I saw it first posted a few days ago, but needed time to evaluate how I thought about all this. I've been a member since the beginning, years ago, and have been a part of the early days of great innovation and tight-knit community, through the spurt of growth in the early 2000's, have been both a helpful and disruptive contributor, and have watched with dismay as things began to deteriorate in the last few years. I recently renewed, but it was a difficult decision; as many have voiced here, I see the advantages of being a member mostly come to naught, especially with things like the Store and supposed member contribution. I was quite taken aback when the BPL staff first introduced the MLife offer, with its supposed ability for members to contribute to the site and to the things going on at BPL. My understanding with membership earlier was that was what we were supposed to get... so why did those of us paid members who had been here for years, but didn't want to pay the MLife fee, suddenly get sidelined? Too often that has been the way BPL has changed tactics (I'm sure to clean things up for their business, so understandable in a way), by springing something on us without allowing us to have a say.
And that is the thing, BPL IS the community. It would be nothing without it. None of the BPL staff could have gotten anywhere without the continued, freely given, contributions of the community. So when Tony brought up the proposal of only paying members being able to access the forums, I thought, "Wait! This whole community grew out of thousands of free contributions and thousands of hours of free dedicated input and offered knowledge by hundreds of members and there would be nothing here today were it not for them. Now there's a possibility that all this freely offered knowledge might only be available to a few paid individuals? That's just not right." I can predict with great certainty that were BPL to ask for paid access to all forum members BPL would suddenly see a huge drop off of members. I think the BPL staff sometimes fails to see that in many ways this forum is not theirs; they didn't make the community grow...that happened organically and through the efforts of those who decided to stay and be a part of the community. BPL staff (especially Ryan J. in the early days) started it, and provided the groundwork upon which to build, but the community itself is an entity all its own, so that BPL is just as dependent upon the goodwill of the community as the community is dependent upon BPL providing the tools and location. Once BPL begins to think that, because they want to run a business and make a profit, the community is somehow beholden to them, then BPL has lost sight of what has allowed them to become a business at all, or that Ryan Jordan made a name for himself. Remember, a lot of the BPL marketing and visibility is based on the popularity of the forums. BPL did not pay most members to contribute. To suddenly now, after years of contribution without asking anything in return, require members to pay for being able to contribute, well, that would be quite a slap in the face.
I do see the need for paying for all this site maintenance, bandwidth, hosting, moderation, site development though. It costs to run a site, especially a big one like this. Where does that money come from if not from advertising? I would not be happy with being required to pay in order to be a contributing member, and would not think twice about moving on if I was asked to do so, but to be asked to donate, well, that is a different matter. I think it would work a lot better if, like NPR and Wikipedia, every six months a donation campaign was set up in which a set amount of money needed for operating the site was posted and a contribution account set up, with the goal to be met in a week or two weeks. This could be done through Kickstarter, with the whole payment scheme already in place. This could be further made into a yearly BPL community event, with a chance for members to come together and be part of the ongoing BPL community upkeep and spirit.
Which brings me to community participation by founders like Ryan and others. I'm of mixed opinion about this. I understand Ryan's need to get away from the online aggravation of social networks, with all their mean-spiritedness and constant controversy. I myself am guilty of having started up some real doozies of threads here and upset a lot of people, including, I'm quite sure, Ryan himself. While I never meant to upset or anger anyone and always meant for my contributions to be helpful or to try to right what I thought might be a wrong (yes, I've often been way too opinionated that way. Sorry...), those times have certainly added to the difficulty of being a moderator for the forums. So Ryan's wanting to get away from all that, as evidenced by his often referencing "simplicity" on his site, makes a lot of sense. I know I'm tired of the arguments and constant flow of criticism, and have been a lot less active in online sites than I used to be. It's just not worth it.
But without Ryan's and many other people who started BPL's daily participation in the forums something big is missing. As other's have pointed out, there is now a very strong sense that Ryan and company no longer care about BPL and have moved on. And that makes for a very unfocused and confusing vision of what BPL is and why it is that people are paying for it. It was disconcerting to read several MLife members now voicing discontent with the services and wishing that they could get a refund. Makes me think that implementing the MLife service was ill-thought out and a bit of a rip-off. I guess because Ryan no longer really seems to be at the helm, much of what is happening at BPL seems to be listing here and there and there is no real idea of what is going on or what the vision is. This seems to be happening with a lot of UL sites and stores, many of which have closed down or have not updated their products in quite a while. Whereas a lot of cottage manufacturers used to be actively present here in the forums, cynicism seems to have moved in and only a few, namely Rob Bell, Ron Moak, and a few people like from HMG, Katabatic Gear, and a few others still post regularly. I don't remember the last time I saw Glen Van Peski, Brian Frankle (who quit his ULA business), Henry Shires, or the folks from Jacks R Better say anything in these forums. The UL community momentum seems to be losing a lot of steam these days.
I would, however, offer this (with, truly, no malice or insult intended), I think, perhaps, many who seem to see this site as a community are a bit discouraged that the community leader seemed to stop seeing it as a community and instead began seeing it as a business some time ago, and a somewhat neglected side business at that. Which has, perhaps, caused some who used to see it as a community to now see it as a business, and one not quite worthy of their financial investment.
Very valuable insight into the what is going on, Doug, and echoes a lot of my own feelings. My feelings also with no malice or insult intended, just strong concern from someone who very much values this community and wants to be part of keeping it from dying.
I've got no horse in this race either way and don't think we need a cult of personality to run BPL...but I think the mission/purpose of BPL has gotten seriously confused as compared to 5 years ago, and it shows.
Further evidence of widespread worry about the fate of the BPL community.
No, seriously he was just ashamed at the footprints vs LNT rants, elitism, and thread-endism, and wanted to make a family-friendly version that he could show his inlaws
I suspect that some of the big firestorms over issues like stories on guns and perceived censorship and such gave RJ and others rather a distasteful view of all this. In part the cynicism is our fault, too, I guess. I know I, at least, am guilty of fanning the flames in the past. I've tried hard to moderate myself and keep my strong opinions to myself, but bitter pills tend to stay in people's minds and opinions are shaped by past experience.
I fail to see why there is the perception that having a successful business that is also your life's passion that has the ability support your family is somehow considered selling out or a bad thing.
That's just the thing though. It may be Ryan's passion and he of course has the right to live out his dream, but there is money involved and there has to be something the money is compensated for. It would be different if everything was volunteered here, including Ryan's time and expertise, but he's asking for money for what he offers, and the perception here is that he is no longer offering anything here. If we are still paying the money, but getting nothing in return, then why are we still paying the money? Some people perceive the articles as being good enough to pay for this (I do, to some extent), others see the financial support of BPL as reason enough to pay (I don't. Mainly because I see the community as self-determined and no different from other, free online communities). But there are quite a few who do not see what BPL offers as enough to ask for the money. They have a legitimate beef, which seems to me to hardly be listened to (Chris Wallace, it heartens me to see your oft repeated willingness to step in and explain things. Makes me feel someone is listening). The many-years-long heavy criticism of the forum software, for instance, is one area that should be seriously addressed, and yet never really is.
We do have an incredibly passionate and intelligent community here. Why not leverage just a fraction of the energy that we put into researching and selecting our gear into finding ways to help make this a better place for all of us. As people have said, the best thing about BPL is the community of users and the vast wealth of knowledge they have and are so eager to share with others.
My experience over the years has been that very little that the community asks is ever really answered. Now it seems that only the MLifer's have a say anymore. (So I pay my M membership fee, but, like unpaid members, get no say in what happens here?) There are spurts, like when the wiki was entertained and then implemented (and which never got off the ground, due, mainly, I think, to its invisibility. It should have been intimately incorporated into the forums, and not made separate where it wasn't readily visible to all members). I and several others offered to create a separate, community driven wiki, in a way that was run by and benefitted the whole community, but were discouraged from trying when we were told that BPL wanted to own the content and control how it was presented, the implication being that BPL owned the forum community and wanted exclusive rights to whatever was put into the wiki... the very antithesis of what a wiki is. You can't have a democratic information source that is controlled by someone at the top. It has to be.... democratic. If I may be a bit contentious, I don't think BPL staff properly understand how a lot of online communities work.
So why did I renew this time? Well, recently, I've seen a slew of articles that I really enjoy (mostly the trip reports), so that gave me good enough reason to renew. If articles like that continue coming then I know my renewal will have had some worth. But I'm almost certain that I will not renew next year.
Closing the shop down was a wise decision, I thought. For far too long the products that BPL staff have been trading among themselves and touting as the bees knees in all their articles and blog posts, have almost never been available to members. Product delays and overly quick stock depletions and simply outrageous shipping costs overseas, just never made them viable options to confidently include in one's gear list, simply because if you tried to order any of the products more likely than not they would not be available. Supposedly one of the main benefits of paying for membership was to be able to get these products at a discount... but what is the point of having this benefit if those products are never available? It doesn't make sense. But still, other members insist that there is something in the offerings that makes the payment worthwhile. Other than simply wishing to support the BPL community and the articles... what exactly?
BPL has been a big part of my life, especially learning-wise and making some good friends, and I'm grateful that I found it and was so long a part of it. I'm not sure, were I to leave, what I would replace it with. It's not often that I find an online community in which so many like-minded people, with basically the same temperament, participate. That's why I've been here for so long. I've not been part of any other community for such a long time, both online and real. I miss the excitement and creativity and camaraderie of the early days. I will be greatly saddened to see BPL die away.