You might know that we’re in the process of trying to build a mobile app for The Hayride. That’s being driven by a couple of factors.
First, it’s a challenge to monetize alternative media. You can’t just hook up to some digital advertising networks and run your business on ad revenue. So the business model we built at The Hayride was to put on a series of events around Louisiana throughout the year, sell tickets and table sponsorships, and use the site to promote the event tour. That worked OK until COVID-19 came along, and until all of the restrictions are gone I don’t see much of an opportunity to turn a profit on the events. With that going away, we’re going to need something that can bring in some revenue if we’re going to continue our operations. An app carrying a small subscription price might fit that bill.
I don’t want to make The Hayride a subscription site, and I don’t want to lock up our regular content behind a paywall. I’m not convinced that model works, and given the dearth of conservative media in Louisiana and some of the other states we cover, I don’t think we do the cause any good by denying new readers the opportunity to see our stuff. But there are some benefits I think an app can bring that are above and beyond the regular stuff The Hayride does.
For example, I have people hammering on me to start up a podcast again, but to justify that I need to have it bring in some revenue. Secondly, a bunch of our readers have told me they would be interested in shelling out a couple of bucks a month – or more than that, as some have told me they’ll pay just about anything – to eliminate all the ads which pop out when they’re reading The Hayride on their phones.
And third, we can deliver a whole lot more content on the site if we’re free from the structure a blog post, with all its SEO-friendly formatting, keywords, categorization and so forth, requires. Many items we have are just little chunks of information, or they’re too early for a whole post, or maybe they’re gossip. A message board format or a social feed are better venues for a lot of that stuff which could well fit in the wrapper of an “insider forum.” Which is what The Speakeasy is intended to be and what we’re doing with the pre-app version you’ve likely seen.
The second factor driving me to pursue an app is that Facebook and Twitter are becoming hostile and unworthy social media platforms which regular Americans who believe in free speech and an unfettered pursuit of the truth are becoming duty-bound to abandon. The censorship on Facebook has become crushing – they’re doing everything they can to ban speech which is perfectly legitimate, and the shadowbanning campaigns they practice every year when a major election cycle approaches are only intensifying.
The Hayride will typically do 50,000-60,000 page views in a normal day, some 80 percent of which comes from Facebook referrals of posts which “pop” through sharing by followers of our Facebook page. That traffic has been cut in half in the past two weeks, and Facebook shares have dropped to a tiny fraction of their normal volume. Now we’re less than 50 percent of our site traffic coming from Facebook, and The Hayride’s front page, its Louisiana page and its Elections page have been the top three traffic-getters on the site for more than 10 days. What that means is we’re no longer able to get an individual blog post to go viral through Facebook shares, which is what has always driven high traffic volume on the site. We have 24,000 followers to The Hayride’s Facebook page, and the vast majority of them aren’t seeing anything from us on their news feeds anymore.
This is not acceptable. And if it’s happening to us, you know it’s happening to lots of other sites like us.
So, fine. Do we migrate everything over to Parler, which is the app conservatives are talking about as the alternative?
We could, but the problem is Parler does nothing for us. Yes, it’s a social app a bit like Facebook and Twitter, and yes, Parler says they’re not going to censor their users. The problem is that the amount of engagement you get from Parler is only a fraction of what you get from Facebook, because comparatively, nobody is on Parler. And Parler doesn’t seem to have a plan to offer anything new or different in order to change that. You aren’t going to beat an incumbent in the marketplace without offering people some sort of improvement or innovation, and I don’t see that Parler is doing that.
So we’ve been working on an app concept encompassing the three elements described above, and frankly I’m not happy with the progress we’ve made so far.
A couple of days ago I went looking around for options and found a platform called Disciple, which does branded social media apps for content creators and others, so this is a test drive. It’s very preliminary, but think this can possibly satisfy the basics of what I’m looking for.
A warning, though – you might have trouble seeing this on your mobile device. The free demo version of it isn’t a mobile app. You’ve got to look at it in Chrome or some other web browser in order to get it to pull up.
But what I want is feedback from you guys to see if this is a viable, workable platform to build something from. So if you have a few free minutes, hop over to this thing and sign up for it – it won’t cost you anything – and let us know if it’s something you might consider engaging with.