Craig and I began working on rbutr early in 2012. We’ve never made an income from it, nor sought investment, instead attempting to work within our means. From our passion for this project, with the help of some amazing supporters, we got a lot done in a short amount of time.
About two years after we started (a little over two years ago now), my son was born. At around the same time Craig started working on a new startup, ubookr. Both of us had our own income difficulties at the time and we had to start investing our time elsewhere. Unfortunately, neither of us have been able to invest very much time into rbutr since then.
This has been difficult for me. I love rbutr. I believe that the principle behind rbutr is so important for the future of the Internet, that I consider it necessary. It is a non-optional technology for the progress of humanity. But with no time or money (and not being a programmer myself), there was very little I could do.
What is absolutely amazing about these last two years though – is that rbutr survived. The community persisted. Despite quite terrible usability issues, frequent down time which we weren’t always able to fix immediately and zero marketing, user engagement, social media promotion or any form of gamification, people kept using rbutr. New links kept being added, and new registrations came through most days of every week.
Survival of an app like rbutr under such conditions is very rare. And yet the rbutr community was so committed to what rbutr represents, that they just kept on showing up. Kept on performing. Kept on delivering what was needed.
Over the last two years of almost complete inactivity on our behalf, rbutr has maintained an average of 14 people adding 48 rebuttals every week. For an app which never made it big, and which requires special attentiveness to be able to add rebuttals (you have to actually find a rebuttal to be able to add it), that is absolutely amazing.
This all fills me with a deep sense of pride. And a strong determination to deliver on our promised vision of rbutr. I am completely dedicated to making sure rbutr makes it across the finish line…whatever that may look like in the end.
So, how do we get there?
I have a 3-step-plan which requires reviving and expanding our user base before raising money to fund development and progress, and then pitching massive partnerships at key companies.
1. Revive and Expand User Base
At our peak, rbutr had around 20,000 people using the plugin, and our best week had 64 different people adding 536 rebuttals. We need to get rbutr back to those levels of usage, and then improve them. We need to do this to show that rbutr is still here. That it wasn’t a fluke the first time around. It wasn’t an accident. It happened because people care about this project and want it to succeed.
We really need to do this to continue to inspire wider belief in the project, and to give us a larger, stronger, more engaged active community to help get us there in the short-term.
Lacking developmental progress (ie: no new features, no improved usability, etc) we lack a lot of the ‘announcement’ method of getting new users. All growth now will have to come through community engagement and content creation. I have committed to writing a lot more in the blog, like this. I have put aside the strict commitment to neutrality of all things rbutr, and am allowing rbutr to editorialise some discussions which come through the platform (editorialise them through this blog or social media – the rbutr platform is still completely neutral, as designed). This will allow rbutr to create more interesting content from its rebuttal feed.
I have committed to working a lot more with volunteers, and on a broader range of jobs. I have created a Trello board listing jobs that volunteers can easily do, and I have created a working group on Facebook and a rbutr Subreddit in Reddit where people can coordinate their efforts with me and with each other. As soon as we have a few volunteers working on several projects, I will begin holding weekly Google Hangout video chats where we can all discuss our progress and what we need to do next.
I will be reviving the “Best of rbutr” emails, and will be using the rbutr email list for sending out other interesting posts, announcements and good content.
I will be reaching out to organisational supporters of the past, like Skeptic.com and The Richard Dawkins Foundation, to help amplify our messages to receptive audiences.
I have toyed with creating a podcast around the rbutr feed. Still trying to figure out how to make a format which works. As always, very eager to accept help from anyone who wants to participate in this project. It will likely be a spin-off project exploring not only the content of topical rebuttals, but also the act of rebutting. How arguments are formed, what makes an argument effective or compelling, and how we can fail in our own debate techniques. This is one idea anyway.
The goal is to not only create an entertaining and educational podcast, but to attract a large following of people who will be regularly reminded about the rbutr platform through the show, while using the platform to provide unique content for the show.
2. Raise Money
Craig and I had to stop working on rbutr in large part because of our own financial needs. Without funding to pay ourselves, or even outsource jobs, rbutr quickly ground to a complete halt, with no work being done at all. We need to raise money to avoid this happening again. We need money to hire a full-time developer who can take rbutr open source, and then chaperone the rbutr open source community. Beyond that, funds for a full-time project director to keep everything moving forwards is the next goal.
As soon as it is clear that our user base is back and engaged with the project, eager to support it, we will organise and run a crowdfunding campaign. This is most likely the fastest way to fund a developer, at least for a short while, depending on how much money we can raise.
We will also start to seek funding from philanthropic organisations dedicated to supporting projects like rbutr, as well as investors. rbutr is still a ‘project’ – we are not incorporated as either a company or a non-profit, and we won’t register as either until we actually need to. Until that time, we are free to continue seeking both capital investment, and equity-free grants which are only be available to non-profits.
The goal is to raise over $300,000 to fund a couple of years of fulltime development, the consequence of which will be immense (considering what we have accomplished without money and only part-time development).
3. Partner With Key Companies
It is unlikely the rbutr plugin will ever be anything more than an app appreciated by a very small percentage of the population. Most people simply aren’t interested in the sort of thing that rbutr does, and so going out of their way to install it is simply never going to happen.
In order for rbutr to have the massive impact that it needs to have, we need to work with other organisations who can put rebuttals, corrections and critiques of content in front of people where they consume the content. Directly in their Facebook feed, for example. Or available through your browser without needing to install a plugin.
Through connections and introductions we take our growth, our success getting funding, our progress, our new features and improved usability and all of our awesome content which we have built up in preparation for this stage, and we talk with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Mozilla, Wikimedia, Reddit – anyone who will meet with us – and we show them how rbutr is a necessary technology for the future wellbeing of society, and the Internet directly. We show them why they should work with us to fight back against misinformation and promote critical thinking in a way which makes it clearly beneficial for them, and everyone.
Get On Board
None of this will happen on its own, and I am calling on volunteers to come help make it a reality. Have a look at our Trello board and see what you can do to help. Join our Facebook working group, or post in our Subreddit. You can play as little or as big a role as you want. It is up to you.
rbutr is a community project for all people. Help us take it truly global.