Community Update - October 2020
As of writing, we have 32,192 users, 52,051 blogs, and 418,334 posts.
Bit of a change this month - while last month was entirely code, this month has been spent doing code and research into how various bits of the site are doing.
Additionally, one breaking change is coming - when this update hits, we will officially be dropping support for Internet Explorer, and will not be attempting or offering any support for bugs discovered while using that browser. This doesn't necesarily mean the site won't work in it - but Internet Explorer is outdated and officially end of lifed by Microsoft, so you really should upgrade to a modern browser if you still use it. My recommendation is Firefox - it's lightweight, privacy focused, and doesn't transmit all your data to Google like Chrome does.
So - since last month people said that actually, they are interested in getting into the lower level, technical stuff around the infrastructure and policy decisions of the site, this month you get a longer post going into some of that. I'll also be taking this opportunity to answer a few questions that come up every so often, since I assume that means more people are interested than are asking. I'll hold some stuff back for next month. Oh, final note - still on track for the update being launched in December.
All this stuff will be going under a readmore with a table of contents just above it.
So, let's go!
We're probably not calling the new text editor Writer's Block.
But, since everyone hates the current one and, frankly, the licencing conditions for it aren't great, I've wanted to build our own for quite a while. I'm happy to announce that we finally have one.
This screenshot is a prototype, and there's still all the styling work to be done. Bear that in mind.
Our Kickstarter backers were given a live preview and report that, so far, it seems to work very well on mobile too.
Right off the bat, you'll notice you'll have more formatting options available to you. These will be extended - you're likely familiar with markdown, it's the thing Discord uses for its text formatting. We're working on a custom implementation that, eventually, will add support for colours and some other fancy formatting. Both the text editor and the Falldown parser will be open sourced, so that anyone can contribute to improving them.
Accessibility - Fonts and Image IDs
Something that's been largely neglected so far is the accessibility of the site. That's on me, and is largely a symptom of trying to do too much at once. It's also something I need to take seriously if I want Waterfall to grow. Given I'm about to rewrite the UI from scratch anyway, this is the perfect time to make that happen. While I'm not an expert in accessibility - I'll be bringing someone in who is to tell me what a bad job I've done so far - there are three things that are going to be addressed.
First, font sizes. They're going to be made configurable without messing with browser zoom. This may be a per-device setting, or iit may be a global account one - implementation details will dictate which I end up going with.
Secondly, something that's been requested a lot is the option for a dyslexia friendly font. I've been looking around and found two promising options. Dyslexie is the one that commonly gets suggested, but the licencing terms for that are unfriendly and we have to pay by both the staff member and, as a website, by the visitor, so that's out. Instead, we'll be going with OpenDyslexic for now, and possibly forking it to add in any missing glyphs we encounter as the site grows. This will be a toggleable option in user settings.
Third, I noticed a lot of people putting Image ID stuff in reblogs and under images and such. I'd never really seen them before but it didn't take long to figure out that actually, those are a great idea, so I'll be building native support for those into the site. The image editor is being overhauled anyway, so support for regular image captions was planned already. Now, it just has Image ID support too. While we can't force artists and image uploaders to use the feature, we do highly recommend it. As with the font, viewing image IDs will be a toggleable option.
Image Formats - WebP is the future
WebP has been a thing for years now. It's better than PNG, it's better than GIF. Why hasn't it taken off? Apple is why it hasn't taken off. They're the only major browser to not support it (edit while proofreading: apparently they do now. But only for some people).
The only real limitation of it is the image size - it can't exceed 16,383 pixels on either dimension. This is unlikely to be too much of a problem, but it's something we had to bear in mind - as such, with the update, images will be limited to 8,192 pixels on any dimension. We don't anticipate many being bigger than that, but we think that's the sweet spot for any hyper-detailed artists to still be able to get their stuff in a high quality format.
When the update hits, image transcoding will finally be a thing, meaning image sizes can be shrunk a little bit. Ideally, we'd be going WebP only - but, thanks to Apple... WebP supports both static and animated images, at a significantly lower file size. When testing, a GIF file we used started at 5.7MB, and, once converted to WebP by our encoder, came out at only 628KB with no loss in perceptual quality. When testing with a 16,000 x 8,000 pixel PNG file, it shrank from 478MB (yes, megabytes) down to 8.7MB. Obviously, WebP is a good idea.
However, not all browsers support it yet. According to CanIUse's page for WebP, support is at only 80% coverage, and Apple have decided to artificially restrict the version of Safari that will support it to only supporting it on the latest Macs for... some reason. Unfortunately this probably means that support on iPhones will be similarly artificially constrained. All these factors combined means that we'll be keeping both WebP and legacy (hereby defined as GIF and PNG) copies of images for the foreseeable future. If your browser supports WebP - awesome, you'll get the WebP version. If not, you'll get the bandwidth sucking legacy formats instead.
You can expect this to be a trend going forward - I hate the idea of constraining Waterfall to using legacy technology, so as new stuff becomes widely available and we've tested it, we will start using it and, eventually, phase the older stuff out, since for reasons outlined below, supporting 1% of the population who can't use the more modern stuff is a resource drain we can't realistically handle.
For now, it'll be a couple of years (most likely - if the support matrix changes to a high enough usage, it may be earlier) before support for PNG and GIF are dropped, and our converter will continue creating those formats. We'll give plenty of notice before we finally drop them too. AVIF recently launched, we'll likely add support for that when we drop PNG and GIF. Similar with x264 - it's a legacy format now, but not enough support for the technology we want to use (in fact, here it's worse - there's been VP8, VP9, and now AV1 whereas regular images haven't advanced as quickly. We're ignoring HEVC since that's patent encumbered and basically nothing supports it. VP9 has about the same support level as WebM currently, and AV1 sits at around 30% - unfortunately, video is a lot costlier to store than images, so we have to stick with one format for now) is available yet. It's an incredibly frustrating scenario as both a developer and the one who has to pay for the storage space to keep all this.In an ideal world, we could just drop the old formats immediately, but we aren't in an ideal world.
How does Waterfall make money?
Alternative title: How do we plan to make money going forward?
Right now, 90% of the income Waterfall itself brings in is from the Patreon, sitting at $80 a month. The other 10% is from blog slots and commission market fees. Yeah, it's not much, we know, we're still very much in the "passion project" phase of the site and likely will be for a while longer.
The rest of the company's income is largely made up of a couple of other small sites and freelance work (the latter being the vast majority of what pays our bills). Additionally, we're game devs, so we're working on a project there too. The games subsidise Waterfall, and Waterfall subsidises the games.
Going forward, I'm committed to one thing in particular - fierce independence. I don't want shareholders or stock options or an IPO or whatever. I want Waterfall funded by the community, not advertisers. This, obviously, makes things a bit difficult, since most sites sell out fairly quickly to that stuff. To understand how I want us to work going forward, you need to remember the plan I laid out last year - to make Waterfall a collective of sites rather than just one.
That's where the subscriptions come in. From the beginning, the idea was one subscription across the entire network, however large that ends up being. Three sites or three hundred, your single $10 subscription gets you the bonus features across all of them, no double-dipping, no "oh but you subscribed to Glacier, not Waterfall Social" or any other crap like that. There'll always be some people who adamantly refuse to pay a penny, but the goal here is basically to make subscriptions give you so much for your money that from a sense of pure practicality, it's just worth it. Whether we'll succeed or not remains to be seen.
Something we're actually getting rid of that makes us money is blog slots. I've always felt weird about them to begin with and they're not a huge seller, so the limitation will be lifted in the update. People who hoard URLs will still have them nuked, obviously, but I think we're outgrowing that kind of restriction now. Anyone who's bought blog slots already will be given a free subscription, rounded up to the nearest number of months it'd cover.
We're also doubling down on the commission market. It's been in alpha for a year and we've had some reasonbly good feedback so far, so that too is getting a total rewrite. New payment options, new search options, one-and-done templates, adoptables support, all being added. We'll reach out to some artists on the site soon asking if they want to help test it. Additionally, we'll be giving the fee structure another look - our bottom line didn't move much with the coronavirus special, so we're considering making that permanent even after the crisis has ended.
In addition to that, we're still looking at the patron subscription stuff to provide a safe space for artists of all kinds to offer exclusive work and have fans subscribe. As with the commission market, we'll take a small fee - likely less than Patreon - to help sustain it. Glacier's monetisation model is still up in the air.
Most of this relies on us building something good enough that people actively want to support it. Some people won't no matter what - I still remember our first hate mail about the commission market fee structure and that we shouldn't bother trying to offer protections - but ultimately, it feels the right balance of independence and incentive to make something good that it might work.
That's it for this month, see you in November!
Wooo Image ID!