Privacy, Performance, Community and Getting You Outside

I don’t just hope to build great content for you to enjoy, but I hope you come back and join our community and help build something we all enjoy. Something where you’re happy to share, happy to collaborate, happy to post, happy to come back and read in the near future.

Our mission is getting you outside!

Our mission isn’t to get you to subscribe to email lists, spam you with messages, invade your web experience distract you away from the content you came here to see. We want to excite you to get outside, to explore – to return and share your ideas either by joining our community or being a contributor.

#optOutside

When we get people like yourself excited to be outside, to try a new adventure or learn something new or simply help you connect with other people who have similar passions and interests, then we know we’re doing something right.

Our success depends on amazing people such as you!

Difficulties we face

I started building communities in the late 80s and early 90s by running Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) that people would call in, connect, leave a message, play a game, participate in message boards, chats or FidoNet (email before it was known as email). Building communities and networking with peers is just in my blood. Starting a BBS in the late 80s when everything was new meant success was a bit easier – “if you build it, they will come” definitely rang true. It was raw, uncut, unique – an experience for everyone. There wasn’t a gate to being discovered – no one company owned the front door. People shared my BBS telephone number, and I had people calling in from all over the world to connect and share with a shared passion for the focus of my BBS in the day. I got to know people, make friends and expand my community beyond my little neighborhood. It was awesome.

Today the internet giants Google, Facebook and to a smaller extent Twitter dominate the “Front door” – that is people don’t really go out to independent forums/community sites or blogs much but instead sit and spend time reading Facebook or searching Google and both of these giants do everything in their power to control this viewing. Facebook wants you to stay in their “walled garden” to monetize their social graph and Google wants you to “pay to play” to compete for a piece of googles 10s of billion dollar pie and monetize the “front door.”

Getting readers, getting new community members and trying to promote an idea and service is extremely difficult. The market is competitive, the major players dominate the “front door,” and we publishers seem to do things that don’t help our product but help the Giants succeed. We do silly things like adding more ads, make up PDFs to convince you to join mailing lists, try and persuade you to enter a get rich scheme, invasively ask you to share/post/update – we disrupt your browser experience, invade your browser and do so much to try and monetize every reader as if its the first and last time you will be here. We don’t just do all these things to our website, but we give away everything we do to Google and Facebook – in hopes that whatever they send our way we can monetize at all costs. It’s a bad pattern for the industry, for the readers, for the web.

We don’t want to do that, and we’re going to choose to do something opposite.

We’re streamlining our experience – focusing on the adventure, the community, and the services we can deliver to give people like you a fun place to call home and check in on every once in a while.  We’re removing invasive ads, privacy trackers, social “bugs” and tools that generally spy on you.  We’re going to work on optimizing our site, content, and services to be extremely fast and efficient on Mobile, Desktop, Tablet, and even TV. We want the same experience whether you choose to use Android, iOS, OSX, Windows, Linux or any OS for that matter.  We’re not going to make a mobile app to get access to your messages, address book, location services – we’re just going to strive to keep the web useable and create content, experience, and communities to help people like you.

It will take some help from people like you!

In many ways, I believe supporting smaller niche sites, niche communities and independent publishers will be good for people and good for the web. Just as shoppers choose to shop local, we can do the same on the Internet. I’m not saying that Google, Facebook et al are bad or evil, no, we use and love them very much, but we feel lots of negative impacts from them being so powerful. It costs us a lot of time, energy and expenses to “pay to play” in their walled gardens. Time we can’t spend on being creative, building community and sharing our experiences. Time that we give them for free in hopes we get something in return. We’re all a “product” of these giants, and I just don’t feel its made things better.

Because of this walled garden and “pay to play” control – success is extremely hard to find in this industry; Publishers go to great lengths to try and monetize every visitor as if that is the last action or last time that user ever comes back. We don’t want that. We don’t want to scare you off – we want to build a community – we want to create a hub of like-minded people who want to share their passion for the great outdoors. We don’t want to treat you like its the last time we’ll ever see you, and we need to make a few pennies off annoying you to no end. That isn’t our goal.

We’re making changes, and we’re doing it with a community in mind. We’ll work out in the open and try and “Test and learn” what works because that is all we can do. With that said, we’re making our initial changes so that by the time you read this you’re already enjoying the fruits of our labor to make some enhancements to achieve our privacy, performance and community building goals.

What are we changing?

Removing Google Adsense advertising – It doesn’t work, it doesn’t pay and because of invasive ads on the web more than half of our visitors implements ad blockers. The amount of time/effort to make a few bucks by joining an advertising network is soul crushing. The ads slow down our site, they’re privacy invasion, and they’re often not really on topic or controllable by publishers unless we spend every waking moment in Adsense trying to control it. If we ever do ads, it will be noninvasive ads by organizations that we’re passionate to work with and give value to our readers, and we control.

Removing social network trackers – We’re removing anything that can track your sessions/likes/history.  Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter et all don’t need to know why or what you’re doing on this website. If *YOU* choose to share something, we’ll grin and smile and thank you from the bottom of our hearts (we do love you!), but we’re not going to give them power over our readers by letting them collect data on you. We’re done making them profitable and successful. It’s not in my interest or your interest to make these internet giants even more profitable and bigger.

Removing Google Tag Manager/Analytics – We’ll use our built-in tooling to reward our contributors for successful articles, and we’ll use good old fashion log file analysis to share our successes and track our growth. Our analytics and tooling are in place to assure security, performance, and availability of services. It doesn’t track anything beyond what we need to make sure we’re up and running.

Easily remove your account – You can join our community easily, and you can leave it easily. You control what you share, who sees it and if you want to remove everything you’ve shared, you can delete it. It’s yours. This isn’t rocket science, and since we’re not concerned about losing content to Google or Facebook, we’re not going to hold that over your head as a reason we can’t respect your right to privacy.

Optimize on Web experience – We promise to be fast on Mobile, TV, low bandwidth devices. Make sure we work across all platforms. We’re embracing the web regardless of whatever technology you use to get to it. You have a powerful browser, tablet, phone of your choice – we’ll strive to be fast, fluent and friendly.

What else is on the chopping block?

We’re looking at “Gravatar” but have realized it can be challenging to remove Gravatar without breaking some of our site functionality. We like having our author bios show up with a friendly picture but if we disable gravatar WordPress will, unfortunately, disable all avatars. If you use Ghostery or another tracker tool you may still get alerts on this until we figure out how to work around it.

Social login – we don’t implement ANY trackers on this feature, but we still have them enabled to simplify user registration. We’ll track if people use this and follow up shortly with our findings. This service uses OAuth to authorize access to our site using trusted providers such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook without us having to store any credentials.

What tools do we run that may involve a 3rd party?

“Akismet” spam detection runs on our comments. It’s for sanity. If its abused – we’ll work on other ways to help alleviate this or ask for community participation to self-govern. Please let us know your thoughts below. Akismet warnings with privacy policy are linked on comment fields.

User registrations and logins are sampled through the invisible “captcha” from Google. We may change this to other technology. There is a reCaptcha logo with a clickable policy link if you are captcha’d.

We do affiliate marketing, and we’ll promise to keep affiliate marketing modest, pertinent,  and on topic. Affiliate marketing helps us pay for running the site and is only tracked if you follow the link. We are selective with our affiliates and only work with businesses that we trust and have used ourselves.

Our site before cleanup

PageSpeed – Homepage

The following screenshots show Pingdom page speed before we removed all the “junk.” These stats are a baseline of performance grade, page size, load times and before we started optimized on removing trackers. Improving all these numbers bu increasing performance grade, reducing load time, reducing requests and reducing page size will all improve the user experience by making the page load extremely fast, reducing CPU/memory overhead of your browser and being more fluid.

PageSpeed – Article

This following screenshot shows an article/post view before we cut out all the junk in an article – the same concept as above – our after tests should show reduced page load time and reduced requests – all resulting in a happy web browser.

 

Browser Privacy Warnings

Privacy warnings such as the one below from Ghostery are one thing that is upsetting to publishers. We’d love to be able to show a few relevant ads and earn some money to help pay for things – but along with these ads can follow up to half a dozen of trackers (or more) – everything that is trying to understand/track and know you. Publishers often can’t control or know what these are if they’re running ads because the ad network can inject them based on whatever ads they show.

Site after cleanup

Homepage

Performance grade went up, page size went down, load time went down, and requests went down. We’re still waiting for some changes to go out on our CDN to fix some caching which will increase performance even further!  Since we use SSL and HTTP/2 – we’re not so concerned about request count of 122, but it does hurt our overall grade. http/2 will parallelize downloads faster than doing javascript and CSS merging. We may still experiment with what is optimal here. Our goal isn’t a perfect artificial score but a website that works.

Article Load Time

On our “posts” or article pages the performance increase is phenomenal. We were running Google Adsense “Auto ads” which tries to use an algorithm to inject related ads into content, and we can see that by removing advertising the size got smaller, the requests got smaller and load time was drastically reduced. These are huge gains in performance for the user experience!

Looking for your help

Please join us on our forums or by commenting below and share with us your ideas, tips, tricks, and thoughts on how to make publishing work – or send me feedback on our feedback form. I promise to read and comment on everything as anything you share with me will be taken to heart.

What ideas do you have to grow a community for travelers, adventure seeker and outdoors fans?

What would keep you coming back for a visit – even if just every once in a while?

What would make a “real” community for you?

Your feedback, comments, and support is appreciated!

2 Comments
  1. Byron Miller says

    Look forward to reader feedback and hope you join us! we’re launching some new services and working on some simple and fun features to help build a great place for you to share, read and plan your next adventure!

  2. Mercedes Winters says

    I really appreciate the change in how ads are being handled. So many sites online have ads that are invasive, and as you mentioned, it’s difficult to control what appears in the ad space, and so there are plenty of awkward times that less than appropriate ads appear over half of my page while I’m just trying to read an article at work, and if I use ad blocker to disable it, then I’m getting pop ups and messages from the site making me feel bad for it, or just removing the ability to use the site. I wholeheartedly understand that bills have to get paid somehow, but a change to curated and non-invasive ads is always appreciated.

    It’s also really refreshing to see this level of transparency in how you’re working to improve the user experience.

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