Newsletter #16 for July 25th, 2022

Howdy, y’all!

Joe Hills here, writing as I always do from a subspace Bubble somewhere below the Corina Nebula!

This week’s newsletter is pretty jam-packed, so let’s fly right in!

Discord Structure changes for 2022Q4 and beyond

Thank you to everyone who has participated in the Patreon Discord community and helped make it an interesting and exciting place!

I’d especially like to recognize the contributions of everyone who has shared thoughts over the last two weeks in #feedback-structure. The proposal under consideration below is vastly different from what I was considering before I received your input, and I’d like to encourage anyone who has more to add after reviewing my thoughts to please share them there before I finalize these plans at the September 17th Quarterly meeting.

Why are drastic changes to the Discord being considered at this time?

I have been overtired and overextended for a long while now.

I have been attempting to make small and incremental changes to my life to improve my energy levels, creativity, and health.

For example, starting the evening streams 30 minutes earlier has genuinely helped me get more rest, and re-allocating my streaming time from Wednesday nights elsewhere in the week has made me feel like I’m on the right track with my YouTube editing and publishing schedule (although I’m still refining the specifics on that one).

I took four sequential real days off work for the first time in years in June, and when I came back to work, I was startled that I was no longer too tired to ignore how tired I was.

The benefits of small things like this cannot be ignored, and I will continue to try to improve my processes in small ways where I can. Even so, they have not been sufficient to allow me to maintain my health and focus.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been too stressed out and distracted to realize I was making easily avoidable mistakes out of exhaustion. The money and time wasted due to those specific mistakes is deeply frustrating to me, and the measurable cost of both has forced me to face that I cannot both maintain my current level of responsibility and make time for the rest I need.

I recognize that if I am too tired to avoid stupid mistakes, I should not be making important and irreversible decisions in response to immediate frustration. The proposal below is open for consideration and comment until mid-September. Whatever is decided at the September 17th Quarterly Meeting will go into effect until the mid-January Quarterly Meeting, at which point I hope to be better rested and we all will have a clearer idea of what did and didn’t work during October, November, and December.

What are the primary objectives of restructuring the Discord?

  1. Allow me to focus on my creative work
  2. Allow my moderation staff to work within the budget I have
  3. Allow me to rest without dreading catching up on moderation actions I will have to review immediately upon my return
  4. Allow the Discord’s channel structure to change and grow in alignment with present-day needs, unburdened by one-off choices I made years ago
  5. Decouple the services I offer from Discord’s vendor lock-in attempts
  6. Re-focus the Discord channel structure around the following three tentpole concepts: interactions with me, gaming together, and individual creativity and expression

What other plans were considered and rejected?

Plan 1: Go full MumboJumbo

I considered following Mumbo’s example and trying to unplug as much as possible for a couple months by emptying my retirement fund and disappearing from the internet. I’d give the moderation staff a budget for the duration, and if they exceeded it, they’d have instructions and permissions to set the Discord to read-only until I returned so I wouldn’t miss payroll.

Plan 2: work harder on things I don’t enjoy to hire a full-time moderator immediately

I considered reducing my YouTube output drastically in favor of taking a tech day job that paid well enough to allow me to hire a full-time staff member to moderate the Discord.

Plan 3: replace the discord entirely with a self-hosted text-only web forums

I considered replacing the Discord with a text-only forum like GameFAQs to both recapture some of the joy of my youth and avoid the need to spend moderation time evaluating edge-cases involving memes or photos. In this scenario, I’d also host a Patreon IRC channel for chat during streams.

Plan 4: Set the Discord to read-only regularly

I considered closing the Discord two days a week. I’ve been thinking a lot about how big businesses clobber mom-and-pop shops the last two years, and like the idea that every business be required to select two adjacent days a week that their employees always know they will have off work.

Plan 5: try to get money some other way to expand my moderation budget

I considered pursuing bank loans, a merch store, and/or sponsorships to try to get through this awkward phase of community growth versus moderation needs, but didn’t have the energy or focus to do any of them right at this time. These ideas may be worth revisiting next year, assuming the following proposal genuinely does help.

The current draft proposal

The new proposal has several complimentary parts, which I have numbered for ease of reference in your feedback:

Part 1: Prune the Discord every two years.

This community Discord has been running continuously for seven years.

For new users, it may be overwhelming to see seven years of one-off channels and random stuff.

It’s kind of a weird map of my mind through a lot of disappointing times, and feels like it is anchoring me in the past in weird ways that I don’t want to burden you with.

Almost every channel was created as an opportunity for me to interact with the community in a new way, but many of them I disengaged from because of discouragement elsewhere in my life. For a lighter example, adding an #interior-decorating channel to post funny kitch in because I thought I’d be house-shopping soon was fun at the time, but is now just another constant reminder that I screwed up by not getting a mortgage before quitting my day job.

I understand that sudden changes to the Discord structure can be disruptive and alarming, and hope that pruning the Discord every two years on a scheduled basis will alleviate most concerns.

The pruning process would be to remove or consolidate as many channels as possible at the beginning of Quarter 4 of even-numbered years, then review the structure at the mid-January Q1 meeting three months later with the expectation that some additions or changes would be made that would largely set the structure for the next 21 months.

The autumnal cuts will be led primarily by my experience and intuition, and the January additions will favor community feedback and experimentation.

Additional channels may still be added at quarterly meetings during those two years as-needed, but I believe a regular large-scale shake-up will help us avoid being structurally beholden to the past.

On a personal level, I believe taking concrete steps to re-focus the Discord’s structure on the future will encourage me to focus on the present and future more than the past, and will genuinely help me focus my energy toward creativity and having fun with y’all.

Draft Pruning Result

Here’s a draft of how I see this working starting in Q3

  1. Activity-sign-ups
  2. All-specific-except-for-general (rename somehow?)
    1. 911-emergency resources
    2. current_events
    3. feels
    4. general
    5. identity
    6. introductions
    7. live_event_chat
    8. small_victories
  3. Consume
    1. Bookclub
    2. HermitCraft
    3. Culture (consolidate music, tv, film, theatre, dance)
  4. Create
    1. All spam channels are kept
    2. work-in-progress
  5. Games
    1. friend-codes
    2. minecraft
    3. pinball
    4. players-wanted
  6. Joe Hills Meta (making these decisions soon)
  7. Realms and servers (keep all)
  8. SMP categories and channels (keep all)
  9. Travel (rename to meet-ups, re-focus on individual event channels)

Part 2: Create and apply a Vacation mode to the Discord

This community has repeatedly told me that I need to take more breaks.

Unfortunately, most of the breaks I’ve tried to take the last few years were too short or too often interrupted by work concerns, such as the r/HermitCraft emergency while I was traveling with my daughter earlier this summer. Publicly, I quickly resigned in protest from r/HermitCraft, but my honorary status as a moderator of that subreddit for all those years left me responsible in private to confer with the other Hermits in defense of my friend.

If I’m responsible for something, I have a hard time disavowing that responsibility just because I’m on break.

I read about an Israeli hosting company that shuts down everyone’s servers before the Sabbath begins and turns them back on when the Sabbath ends. That way, no one is distracted by the worldly responsibilities of their labor during the Sabbath.

I’ve been responsible for servers around the clock since 2008, even without technically being on-call or paid for that responsibility. It has worn me down extensively, as even if something only blows up once every four or five years, when it does, it can absolutely tank a three-day weekend.

I acknowledge that creating and applying a vacation mode for this server is a rather extreme plan, but my fourteen years of personal experience about what allows me to enjoy a restful break or not deeply inform my judgement of how this plan will impact my energy, my focus, and my health.

Draft vacation mode mechanism
  1. Vacation mode would start at least one day before I leave, and end at least one day after I return
  2. Set all channels to read-only except:
    1. #spam-servers-you-operate
    2. Minecraft Server channels
    3. Activity channels for events during that time (like Sami running her Pinball league)
    4. relevant travel channels (like, if we’re in vacation mode because I’m driving through Ohio, New York and Massachusettes, the meet-up channels for each stop would stay open)
    5. #live-event-chat (while streaming)
  3. Any issues that arose on the Minecraft Servers would be dealt with by server operators, and reviewed within a week of my return
  4. Any issues that arose on the activity channels would be the responsibility of the organizing staff member to address, and would be reviewed within a week of my return
  5. Any issues that arose on the travel channels  or #live-event-chat would be addressed by myself, as I’d be monitoring them to coordinate the meet-ups or during the streams

Part 3: Enable only the bare-minimum Discord functionality on a per-channel basis

Discord has a business model of adding new features that make it harder for competitors to keep up.

It me, I’m competitors. If Discord gets bought by Facebook, I need to be able to deploy a self-hosted alternative quickly and with minimum disruption.

Features like threads, text in voice channels, and image posting would all be a headache to broadly support on my own, and I’d be less stressed out with a clear understanding by the community that I do not consider those core functionality of what I offer here.

Obviously, #spam-photos-you-snapped would require image functionality, so we’d maintain that there, but limiting image and video posting to only those channels that require it to serve their purpose should help avoid some of the most common types of misunderstanding that led to moderation action over the last few years.

Having personally grown up using text-only chats and forums, I’m far more confident about my ability to make snap decisions around issues that arise in text, and my ability to train my staff to do the same.

Oh, good, you’re still here, you might be wondering if this is enough to actually help me get back on track, and, uh, this is the part you might be a bit alarmed by.

I need a real break, and not just for a few days.

I have a ten-day road trip planned with my daughter for mid-October, and this is a rare, not-every-year opportunity for us, as she spends most of her breaks with the other side of the family and I usually only have her while she’s in school.

That road trip sounds like a great opportunity to test vacation mode for twelve days. But here’s the thing…

Tennessee Game Days is the last weekend of September, and I have other family obligations and events like Music City Multi-Con and Chicago Pinball Expo every weekend in October that would also justify activating vacation mode.

So basically, if we activate and terminate vacation mode as often as is warranted throughout October, we’d be having a read-only server light switch rave.

I don’t wanna put y’all through that uncertainty about which few days of October the server wouldn’t be in vacation mode, and I personally need to be able to focus on recording and streaming HermitCraft as much as possible during the brief periods I am at my desk that month.

So… what I’m looking at now is putting the server into vacation mode on September 22nd, the day before Fall Tennessee Game Days until after Halloween on November 1st.

I hope to return from this break well-rested and re-invigorated after meeting many of you in person during my travels.

I will not hold it against anyone here if you don’t want to support me via Patreon at the $5 level in October. I understand that taking a break is impossible without sacrificing revenue, but I can’t postpone such a break any longer. If you do leave, I hope you’ll keep an eye on the newsletters and consider returning in November or January as services and structures are restored.

Other concerns raised in #feedback-structure

I asked folks what other info they might need to provide meaningful feedback about the proposals here, and there’s two items that don’t really fit anywhere else in this newsletter I’ll address here in the interest of thoroughness:

Licensing my name

I’ve previously asked that folks not use my name when founding discord communities they promote in #spam-servers-you-operate because I don’t currently have a licensing contract in place to do that in any official capacity and wanted to reserve that right for the future.

If folks are really disappointed by the changes proposed above, but not so mad at me that they don’t want to use my name, I’m willing to consider some sort of licensing terms.

I should be up front with folks that it wouldn’t be worth my time to make licensing agreements about my name with anyone (fan clubs, merch shops, etc.) for less than a minimum of $1500 up front plus a cut of revenue.

I understand that’s not practical in most cases that would arise here, so fan clubs staying unofficial and not using my name while advertising on my server would probably be the easiest course of action.

Recent moderation process failures

I have failed to properly institute processes that are commensurate with revenue and my moderation budget.

A situation arose recently that I initially dismissed and said no action would be taken on.

The situation escalated at a time when I did not have the capacity to review the specifics of the situation, and I expected my staff could deal with it quickly in my absence.

Certain complexities of this specific situation and the escalating nature of it outside the Discord on social media led to much more extensive discussion and deliberation than I had budgeted for.

Some staff members had to excuse themselves due to competing work requirements (I am working toward being able to hire someone full-time to handle things like this, but in the meantime, my staff not being able to focus solely on my work here is on me, not them), and others continued deliberation as new information kept rolling in.

I checked in and discovered that deliberations had continued and asked the staff present to please take some immediate action, as my budget had been blown for the month and I was already extremely stressed out by finances.

I was informed that some members of the staff had not been billing me for such deliberations in the past, and weren’t logging their time now.

This alarmed me greatly, as it meant my budget projections based on previous months staff costs were woefully inaccurate.

As I was not up to speed on the details of the situation under review, I asked again that someone on staff make a decision and communicate with those who had filed tickets.

No one on staff had the confidence to do so given that deliberation was ongoing.

I informed the staff that I couldn’t afford further deliberations, and that if no one was willing to commit to a decision either way, I would inform those who had filed tickets that the staff had informed me no action was being taken at this time.

Later, a staff member returned from their day job, decided that no action was an insufficient response to this situation, and (without further deliberation) acted decisively to ban one of the parties involved. A few days later, I reviewed the specifics of the case and upheld the ban.

The specifics of the case under review are immaterial to the concerns I have about my budget projections.

I cannot run this community safely without assistance, and I cannot expect my staff to want to work for me if they don’t have the budget to do their job well. Streamlining the structure of the server seems the most expedient way to meet in the middle.

Until I can afford that, in addition to the structural changes mentioned above, I’m planning on scheduling a staff meeting next month focused on encouraging folks to make decisions more quickly with confidence that my review process will sort it out when I become available.

August Book Club

One of my goals of my Discord proposal is to enable me to re-focus on one of the reasons I created it in the first place, to connect with y’all about things in a way I couldn’t on a nightly stream chat.

The book club was a huge part of launching this Discord, and the fact that I’ve failed to select and discuss a book each month has been a symptom of the problems I’m trying to address.

My selection for the August book club is the March graphic novel trilogy by John Lewis.

I’ve only had time to read the first of the three myself, but found it an inspiring first-person account of the Civil Rights movement. I hope y’all will enjoy and benefit from reading it too!

The three graphic novels are available individually, or as a boxed set, as well as well as e-book format.

Pinball FX3 weekly challenge with Sami Higgins

Another thing I love about this Discord Community is folks organizing and playing games together. I can’t say enough how encouraging and exciting it has been for Sami to re-launch our weekly pinball contests. Even on weeks I haven’t been able to join personally, I’m glad to see folks having fun together from around the world!

Pinball standing showing MisterLantz in 1st place, forgantly in 2nd place, Parker in 3rd, NJ in 4th, Mr. Hardluck in 5th, Samihiggins in 6th and kindalas in 7th

Deep Slate Nine and Experimental petitions

Petitions will begin on the Experimental Server at 1pm on July 30th, then continue on the Deep Slate Nine server immediately afterward.

Everstorm Obituaries

NJ saw the nether portal sign and it opened up her eyes…but she went in anyway. Mistakes were made—but no regrets were had.

Upcoming HermitCraft 9 Live streams with guests!

  •  Friday, July 29th at 8:30pm US Central Time, MantaDeray will be joining me via phone to discuss an upcoming charity event he’s planning
  • Saturday, July 30th at 8:30pm US Central Time, BadgerSpanner will be joining via phone to reprise her role as Lucy Westenra in Dracula Chapter 6!

Meet-ups and Conventions

I’m in the process of planning a series of Meet-ups during my October road trip! Stay tuned for details!

Upcoming conventions

Until next time y’all…

Thanks so much as always to our community Liaison ThatTommyBoii for help compiling this newsletter.

Thanks again also to everyone who posted thoughts and feedback in #feedback-structure! We have plenty of time between now and September’s quarterly planning meeting, so please share any further thoughts you have after reading the draft proposal above.

This is Joe Hills from Nashville, TN. Keep adventuring!