Eat The Poor
June 3, 2003 12:35 PM   Subscribe

When does begging for money on the Internet become extortion?, run by Sara Astruc, was informed on May 29 that it would be shutting down, due to the high costs of bandwidth. It turns out that Sara was spending most of her life for the past three years monitoring the forum instead of working, living off donations. Now forum members (unemployed and college students are the majority of the over 7K members) are clamoring to pay not only for the bandwidth, but to support her excessive Princess of Manhattan lifestyle and miraculously, the forum will remain open after an official fundraiser. How does one put this as their profession on a resume years from now?
posted by Pancake Overlord (46 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: pointless and vindictive

I don't see what the big deal is, or why it's extortion. A site gets popular, the person running it makes it their job, then when bills stack up, decides to close it down, but the community raises enough money to keep it afloat. I've seen the same thing happen with Fark, Kuro5hin, Andrew Sullivan, and to some small extent MetaFilter.

Am I missing why this is a big deal or something new? I'm not a 3WA regular.
posted by mathowie at 12:51 PM on June 3, 2003

I was hoping "" would have some...y' three-way action.

How disappointed I was to learn that it wasn't that kind of site at all.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:55 PM on June 3, 2003

Being a 3WA member (though only an occasional poster, and not a payer) my impression was Sara was hardly living a "Princess of Manhattan" lifestyle, and was (is?) quite ill to boot. That being said, the core community there seems fiercely protective of her and 3WA, and if they've found value in what she helps provide, I think that attitude is justified. More power to them. I think "extortion" is an overstatement here.
posted by jalexei at 12:57 PM on June 3, 2003

I'm not a 3WA regular

I'll go a step further: I'm afraid to click the link. Even if this were safe for work, that URL is going to set off alarms.

In principle, I agree with the above, if members are clamoring to pay, it's by definition not extortion. Even the princess stuff doesn't bother me. I don't care if mathowie wipes his a^H^H^H^H^nose with fifty dollar bills, if it's going to take $5/month from every user for him to deign to keep the server up, whatever, I'll pay.
posted by luser at 1:02 PM on June 3, 2003

I've never seen a forum pay someone to monitor it 24/7 since AOL and Compuserve hired TOS Nazis back in the mid 90s. I've never seen unemployed people willing to pay someone to do this before. Asking for donations is fine, but threatening to close something down merely to be able to buy a new Hermes scarf or Prada shoes is something different. The readers of her site cling desperately to her cult of personality and are willing to go without their own wants and needs to supply hers instead. Most people who run large forums also have jobs that pay well, and don't treat their readers as minions to do their bidding. I've never seen anyone choose Forum Monitoring as a career before, either.
posted by Pancake Overlord at 1:03 PM on June 3, 2003

Pancake overlord, where DID you get the idea that Sara was living some excessive lifestyle? I was looking specifically for that (though granted I didn't look that carefully because doesn't interest me at first glance) but didn't see anything to support that notion.
posted by orange swan at 1:03 PM on June 3, 2003

Looks like good old capitalism to me. People demand what she supplies. Good for her.
posted by studentbaker at 1:03 PM on June 3, 2003

Damsel in Distress fantasies always make me chuckle.
posted by Ynoxas at 1:04 PM on June 3, 2003

i've been to 3wa before, though i'm not a member. it seems like a decent place.


unemployed and college students are the majority of the over 7K members

but to support her excessive Princess of Manhattan lifestyle

i suppose it's too much to ask that bias be avoided in front page postings. i don't know that 3WA's members are mostly unemployed, nor do i know that sara's lifestyle is excessive. certainly you provide no examples, and so you may as well be someone with a chip on your shoulder.
posted by moz at 1:05 PM on June 3, 2003

It's not extortion. Even if her claims of how much of a money sink her site was turned out to be untrue she has the right to try and commercialize it. It's the American way and all that. If MetaFilter were to go to a subscription service I'd consider it, but not at 20 bucks per month.

I don't know that there's much of a chance of long term success though. I paid for kuro5hin and really haven't logged in since then so they won't be getting any renewal from me. I was a pretty religious FARK denizen for quite a while. I departed shortly after September 11th 2001 (and I think signed up on here) after I got frustrated with the changes in FARK. Gone were the humorous news stories and boobies in favour of myriad links to News Max, Rush Limbaugh and so on.

When one online community grows too large to support itself another one will pop up, often started by a member of the community itself.
posted by substrate at 1:08 PM on June 3, 2003

Looks like good old capitalism to me

But d00d, aren't you forgetting about all the people who are being exploited in A$truc's Amerikkka?
posted by dhoyt at 1:10 PM on June 3, 2003

never heard of the site before now, but I gotta say, I love the tshirt.
posted by GeekAnimator at 1:12 PM on June 3, 2003

I didn't hit the URL due to the title.

What does it matter if her lifestyle is princess of manhattan or not? It's hers. Not the people's. The only use those services through her good graces.

I shut mine down. Shoot, I am a webmaster and websites are a lot of work. Take your eye for one minute and I kid you not they blow up.

And the attitude of people who visit them! Don't people realize that someone reads those e-mails?! This is a free service that we offer, there is no entitlement...

errrr....sorry. I can't help it.
posted by Yossarian at 1:23 PM on June 3, 2003

a new Hermes scarf or Prada shoes

yer just not making your case. your links provide no support for your allegations of excessive spending. your whole post sounds like something a whiny, jealous little bitch would write.
posted by quonsar at 1:24 PM on June 3, 2003 [1 favorite]

Oh quonsar, I love you.

I'd rather not spend all afternoon going through every single thread at the site to prove anything (though you're free to do so yourself). There's nothing to be jealous of, nothing to whine about. What I want to discuss is how the Internet has changed the way that people support themselves now. I think being a Forum Monitor is unique, and wonder how anyone would explain it to a prospective employer years later.
posted by Pancake Overlord at 1:31 PM on June 3, 2003

A handy dictionary, available at any corner store or even online will help us solve this little puzzle; witness:

(n) to obtain from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power : WRING; also : to gain especially by ingenuity or compelling argument

Now I know that hyperbole helps the dramatic effect of a post, but come on, it's clear that begging is not extortion.
posted by xmutex at 1:33 PM on June 3, 2003

PO: you've still yet to validate all your remarks against the site owner. The angry mob waits with baited breath. (And torches.)
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:34 PM on June 3, 2003

Agreed, the name and URL can raise eyebrows. I had to sit a former boss down and give him a tour to assuage my guilt (even though he insisted he had no qualms either way). But FYI, the site is basically a UBB forum with topics that range from cooking to television to politics to everything.

The name comes from the forum's genesis as a shared discussion area for three separate web journals.

I believe it, too, when they talk about server load. Many forums have more than 5,000 posts even with pruning, and UBB isn't exactly the most efficient package out there. I run several comparatively abandoned forums, and still get spikes that make my server choke.

I have no idea where the "extortion" claim or assertions of extravagant living on Sara's part are coming from. Like quonsar, it seems to smack of jealousy. And I should know... I'm among the jealous.

I can both empathize and envy Sara's position. Moderating any thriving online community can be a full time job... but if I could make it my job, I just might. Then again, given the headaches and random accusations - insert echoes of complaints against Wing's Fametracker site - it might not be worth it.

I visit 3WA regularly, though I've never donated, but I know and appreciate the passion its users feel. If they feel keeping the community going is worth paying for, more power to them and Sara. If not, life goes on.

At least donaters get something for their cash. Even if the 3WA donation drive is "begging," save your nastier accusations for and
posted by pzarquon at 1:35 PM on June 3, 2003

"The angry mob waits with baited breath. (And torches.)"

She turned me into a newt!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:38 PM on June 3, 2003

The readers of her site cling desperately to her cult of personality and are willing to go without their own wants and needs to supply hers instead.

If you're a 3WA member with issues, seems like 3WA would be a better to place to work them out...

I think being a Forum Monitor is unique, and wonder how anyone would explain it to a prospective employer years later.

If I were smart enough make a living off monitoring a discussion website, I'd be pretty proud to share that fact with a prospective employer.
posted by jalexei at 1:47 PM on June 3, 2003

How does one put this as their profession on a resume years from now?

Once you find out, please let me know.
posted by crunchland at 1:56 PM on June 3, 2003

Hey, Pancake Overlord? Nobody is making you read it now, or subscribe to it when it becomes a for-pay site.

Just like The Well, which is also a for-pay site, ThreeWayAction has readers who enjoy it enough to be willing to pay for a subscription.

One of the reasons these readers are willing to pay is that the boards *are* monitored so intensively. Are you just jealous that people are willing--and actually eager--to pay Sara to do that work?

I think you might need a Time Out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:56 PM on June 3, 2003

That's exactly what I was thinking Sidhedevil - jealous much? Just because Sara is a single woman living in NYC doesn't make her a princess. What a sad (and rather sexist) assumption.

I'm a member of 3WA, although not one of the more prolific posters. During the time I've been following the community, I have seen all kinds of positive support offered to people in difficult positions. For example, 3WA is the reason I quit smoking, due to input from a member who was a generous and lovely person and who became very ill and died of lung cancer. 3WA is a community in every sense of the word apart from physical. And Sara adds a lot of happiness to many peoples' lives. I've never heard or seen anything from her that wasn't the epitome of generousity and kindness.

When the board was in danger of shutting down, I thought about posting it on Metafilter to get some ideas for solutions. It didn't come to that, as the members have found their own solution. I didn't think anyone on here would be critical, let alone cruel.

What you're accusing her of has no basis in fact. Your idea that most people on the site are unemployed, for example. Among the contributors are PhD scientists and medical doctors, very gainfully employed, as well as high school and college students who are learning a lot about life from older members. I have no idea how you could have formed these weird opinions, but they say a lot more about you than they do about 3WA or Sara.
posted by hazyjane at 2:07 PM on June 3, 2003

I've never seen anyone choose Forum Monitoring as a career before, either.

I wouldn't say I chose it as a career, exactly, but I did make a living monitoring chat rooms on the now-defunct Talk City for a year or so. It was tedious work, but it paid the bills...
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:11 PM on June 3, 2003

I'd like to underscore what hazyjane said. Pancake Overlord, I've been a member of 3WA for two years, and while I'm not a regular or one of the board's "in-crowd," I've come to know the people there as an intelligent, caring bunch.

If there is evidence that Sara's using the board to support some kind of lavish lifestyle, I'd love to know what that evidence is. I haven't seen it - and if it were so lucrative, I'm unsure why she'd be shutting the board down. I followed the discussions about the shutdown in the days following the announcement, and the planning to try to raise money to save 3WA did seem to be a grass roots effort. Of course, it's possible that Sara was manipulating things behind the scenes, but that's conspiracy theory territory, and again I'd want some evidence. This description just doesn't match the kind of behavior I've seen at 3WA over the past two years.

I also haven't seen any evidence that any one who's paid money (I personally have not) has done so under some kind of threat. It has seemed much more to me like people with a common bond coming together to save a community they love.

If you have some evidence, post links. If not, putting this as a front-page post on MeFi seems downright malicious.
posted by Chanther at 2:27 PM on June 3, 2003

I was a pretty active 3WA participant back in the day, 2 or 3 years ago - I think I might have been the first member. The board took off, and the membership grew, and between the number of threads started every day, and incessant reloading to participate in 'threaded conversations', along with other popular boards closing down (Hissyfit) and their members migrating en masse to 3WA, the bandwidth costs must be enormous. And for the last few years, the owners of the site have paid for it out of pocket, with some cafepress sales and a few donations here and there.

It is a pretty nice community - and when it had to finally close, the members offered to pony up a bit to keep it going. Many members have also offered to cover costs for out of work members, and students, so that it won't be so prohibitive for them. It is a very friendly place.

Seems to me that a number of mefi-ers donated to buy MeFi a server when the overload got to be too much. I am not sure how this is any different.

Of course, thanks to Pancake Overlord's careful investigation and presentation of the facts, I am now incensed to discover that the 3WA CafePress mug I bought actually went to support Miss Astruc's Princess in Manhattan lifestyle!, and did not go to cover the cost of bandwidth for the huge site. The $1.00 profit she cleared on that mug - just think of how far a dollar goes in Manhattan. Why, she might have bought a quarter of a mug of coffee. Or 2.5 cigarettes.

I am outraged!
posted by sperare at 2:41 PM on June 3, 2003

Fortunately, the subject of the post is a Metafilter member. Perhaps someone would want to forward her the link so she can post in her own behalf.
posted by PrinceValium at 2:45 PM on June 3, 2003

I work in an office next to a couple of people who get paid for doing community support -- they do it on behalf of a company, rather than freelance, but it doesn't strike me as particularly odd. New, but not odd.
posted by Bryant at 2:58 PM on June 3, 2003

Perhaps someone would want to forward her the link so she can post in her own behalf.

No. I think it's better that we make assumptions and unfounded accusations. It is, after all, what we do best.
posted by crunchland at 3:00 PM on June 3, 2003

So, how is this different from this, except that the 3WA donation method is perhaps a bit more formal? Unless those running community sites are "independently wealthy", they can find a way to make advertising pay the bills when no-one else can or they charge a formal membership fee, they have no real option but to either ask for those who can afford it to pay or walk away.
posted by dg at 3:11 PM on June 3, 2003

From looking at Sara's web page, she talks about how her "last paying client" went out of business. This was about two weeks ago.

That doesen't quite seem like she was "monitoring the forum, instead of working, living off donations" to me. Sounds like she had some kind of consulting work, lost it, and as a result, was going to have to shut down her forums.
posted by mrbill at 3:13 PM on June 3, 2003

It seems the thrust of this thread isn't destined to be about Sara Astruc, alleged Princess of Manhattan, but about how Pancake Overlord should should go fornicate himself with an iron stick.
posted by dhoyt at 3:22 PM on June 3, 2003

Well, he must have gone off to follow your suggestion dhoyt, because he certainly hasn't stuck around to answer for himself here after his snippy little front page post.
posted by hazyjane at 3:45 PM on June 3, 2003

Yup, dhoyt, that seems about right...and fairly appropriate, as far as I'm concerned. Bad, naughty FPP.
posted by hilatron at 3:46 PM on June 3, 2003

It seems the thrust of this thread isn't destined to be about Sara Astruc, alleged Princess of Manhattan, but about how Pancake Overlord should should go fornicate himself with an iron stick.

...and if he had any idea how 3WA members tend to behave when you cross them (think: Apple devotees) he would have anticipated this. I'd say that with 'downright malicious' and 'snippy,' he's got off positively lightly, so far.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:48 PM on June 3, 2003

I think Pancake Overlord actually has a bit of a point here - not that this sort of thing is actually extortion, but about how certain website founders attract huge, sometimes inexplicable followings that enable them to make (probably not all that much) money. It's not even always just about the site itself, or if it started that way, it soon becomes about the personality. It's often impossible to predict which ones will succeed in this manner. (I'm thinking of Hissyfit.) Not sure if any of this applies to 3WA.
posted by transona5 at 4:51 PM on June 3, 2003

I'm all for paying a few bucks, I just wish mathowie would stop demanding sex from me whenever he's in town. C'mon man, I'm not that way. You're looking for wolfdaddy or amberglow, or even hama7, assuming the log cabin republican thing turns you on.
posted by jonson at 4:57 PM on June 3, 2003

Just so you know I'm not quite on the fence, my comment above should have read:

" Pancake Overlord should (rightfully?) go fornicate himself..."
posted by dhoyt at 4:59 PM on June 3, 2003

I've never been to the site in question before, but to make statements like that and then just bugger off when someone calls you on it is totally low. Sara doesn't even need to come to her own defense because there's currently nothing real in the post to defend against, just lazy spite.
posted by blissbat at 5:27 PM on June 3, 2003

matt's really not my type......wolf? hama? you can have him ; >
posted by amberglow at 5:32 PM on June 3, 2003

Let's not forget the long-suspected possibility that Mr. Overlord is a sock-puppet.
posted by Mid at 5:35 PM on June 3, 2003

Just because I have had the crappiest day ever, I am going to jump into this mud and roll around a little.

/rant on

So let me get this straight:
A person runs a message board/community on her own time, with her own money, and isn't paid for it. When the costs of running it and offering a free service becomes too high, she says she wants to shut it down. The people who use the free service and enjoy it, don't want to lose it, so they decide they want to help pay to keep it up and running and this some how becomes extortion?

I am an admin on two large and growing message boards. One with 6,000 members and one with 10,000 members. Neither of them started out that large, and so didn't cost that much to run in either time or money on our part, so it was easy to pay the hosting each month and keep things running without any hassles. Then they grew, and grew and GREW.

Last year it became obvious that either money had to be made somewhere, or they would have to be shut down. We were under NO obligation to continue offering as a free service something that we could no longer afford to pay the bills on. The smaller board began asking for donations and has been struggling through with what that brings in, but there are times when it is a real crunch. The larger board tried that but finally had to go membership only with a fee. Of course, there were people who were offended, upset and downright angry that not only would we ask them to donate something to a board, they thought it was outrageous that they might have to PAY for a service that they use daily (and more often). We lost some members, and that was fine seeing as the ones who stayed obviously found enough value in the community to want it to stick around. If they hadn't, one or both of these communities would have closed. Even after these measures, there is still not enough cash left over at the end of the month to buy a cup of coffee, and money and time both still come out of our pockets. The other admins and I are far from living the high life on what these communities bring in, and we are reminded of that fact every time we see the bandwidth bill.

Anyone who thinks that running a large and thriving community is some sort of walk in the park has never had the experience of having done so. Take 24 hours a day, thousands of members, two admins and maybe a mod or two and add in a thousand posts a day or more, two chatrooms and tell me that it isn't a lot of hard work (and generally thankless). Sure, you could ignore the flame wars, the trolls, the spam, the crap that is unfit to have on the site, but then ... you would have total lawless chaos and a community that no one would want to be a part of. Imagine if everyone on Metafilter was very active about posting and posted whatever they wanted with no oversight by anyone at all. Wouldn't that be fun?

And yes, the years I have spent running these communities does appear on my resume. Think about the skills required to do it: management, people skills, problem solving, computer savvy, scheduling, bookkeeping, and on and on. It IS a job, whether it's a paid one or not.

/rant off
posted by Orb at 5:36 PM on June 3, 2003

hey , any board that has 'vampire lesbians of sodom'
as one of its discussion topics is worth a SERIOUS amount of fact, i just registered !
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:00 PM on June 3, 2003


Mid, there could be something there. Consider Pancake Overlord's user page and this comment from #1. And that only one of them has posted in the thread my second link goes to. Only circumstantial, of course; speculating is fun ;)

posted by trondant at 6:09 PM on June 3, 2003

She lives in Manhattan, the lifestyle must be lavish. Y'know, compared to the Third World and stuff.
posted by Slagman at 6:14 PM on June 3, 2003

the evidence sounds conclusive trondant , i say we invade san francisco.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:19 PM on June 3, 2003

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