In the open

from inside Write.as

Write.as is a publishing platform built on preserving privacy and enabling free expression. Everything in our platform is built to back this up, from our policies to our infrastructure.

We collect as little personal data about you as possible and, as outlined in our privacy policy, we scrutinize every request for user data that we receive. We encourage compliance with legal procedural requirements, and will object to requests as appropriate.

Write.as has enabled 50,000+ people to publish over 250,000 posts since we first launched in 2015. But 2018 was the first year we received requests to have content removed from Write.as, or for user data. Now that these numbers are non-zero, we'd like to publish our first yearly transparency report, where we regularly share information about what requests we receive from governmental and non-governmental entities, and how we respond to those requests, so you can know exactly how your data is handled on Write.as.

Going forward, you can browse all annual transparency reports here: #TransparencyReport


In short, we received zero requests to disclose or preserve user data from any governmental or non-governmental entity in 2018. We received 1 user data request and 3 content removal requests from private parties.

Requests for User Data

While we're a platform built around minimal data collection, governments, corporations, and individuals may seek to gather any non-public identifying information we have about the writers on our service. We are very conscious of the potential for abuse by these actors, including entities seeking to de-anonymize writers and governments conducting dragnet surveillance. Thus we require certain legal conditions to be met before divulging user data.

In 2018, Write.as received one request for user data from a non-governmental, US-based entity. As the private entity cited merely “slanderous” content without any supporting evidence or formal legal demand, Write.as did not comply with the request.

Requests for Content Removal

In addition to guarding confidential user information, we want to ensure that speech is not removed by powerful governments, corporations, and individuals aiming to silence certain voices.

In 2018, Write.as received three requests to remove content from non-governmental entities, all from outside of the US. One request came from the Czech Republic and two came from Australia. All requests cited “defamation” or “slander” without supporting evidence or a legal ruling, and some cited non-US laws as reasons to remove the content. Some also claimed copyright infringement, but never filed a DMCA take-down notice upon receiving information on how to do so. In the end, Write.as did not comply with any requests to remove content.

#transparency #writeas

We plan on making a change to Casual and Pro accounts sometime in the next few days: reducing the number of blogs / identities included with your subscription, while giving you the chance to add more for a small fee. There are a few things driving this decision:

First, the generous number of blogs per account is a relic of the early days of our business model. Back in mid-2016, we didn't have all the Pro features we have today, or the large audience on Read Write.as, so we offered more blogs to make the plans worth their price. Today, however, writers enjoy a full-featured platform at (what many people say is) a reasonable price, so this isn't as necessary.

Besides that, many people request discounts on our subscriptions because they don't actually need all the blogs we offer. We used to give those discounts, but again as we've added features and become more useful to more people, that's come to make less sense.

Lastly, we've been considering increasing the price of our Casual subscription (out of necessity), but also looking for ways to avoid it. After all, its cost is meant to be accessible to as many people as possible, so more people can have access to our permanent, privacy-respecting home for their writing. We'd like to keep it that way, and this is how we'll do it:

Soon we'll be launching our marketplace, named Extend Write.as. Along with the recently-launched Write.as Labs, we'll be offering new add-ons through this channel that help people customize the platform to fit their exact needs.

One of the first things that'll launch on the marketplace is the ability to purchase an additional blog. It'll be available for everyone — even if you're not a Casual or Pro subscriber — and will cost $12 per year, per blog. With this change, Casual accounts will come with 1 blog (instead of 3), and Pro accounts will come with 3 blogs (instead of 10).

As always, existing subscribers will keep their current blog allowance for as long as they hold a subscription. So if you'd like to get the current allowance at a great price, now is a great time to upgrade! Otherwise, you'll be able to add as many blogs to your account as you want sometime within the next few days — and again, help us ensure we're around for decades to come.

Have any feedback? Let us know what you think on the forum.

#pro #casual #changes #writeas

Over the past several months, we've seen a ton of new posts published on Write.as. Much of it has been driven by our launch of ActivityPub support and people interested in starting a federated blog.

Another good portion of this growth has been driven by an audience using the platform as a pastebin for sharing links — and in some cases, for circumventing blocks of those shared links on other sites like Facebook.

We invested a significant amount of time last year months trying to keep this kind of content at bay, from manually flagging posts, to implementing rudimentary automated blocks, to even adding a reCAPTCHA test on signup — which we would really like to get rid of. Hosting vast quantities of posts like this reduces the quality of traffic we receive, fills up our database, and risks us having the write.as domain viewed as a platform for spam / malicious content. Ultimately, it can harm everyone else that uses the platform as it's intended to be used.

With these things in mind, and the fact that we're pretty settled on the current pricing, we want to try out a new change on the free plan. We're presenting this here because we'd like your feedback on whether or not it'll adversely affect you.

Proposed change

The #proposed #change is an 8 post per day limit for free users, whether registered or not. For now, this would only affect users on the web (not our other apps). Casual and Pro users would still get unlimited published posts every day.

We feel this would be a pretty good solution to the problem:

  • Most regular users, who don't abuse the platform, shouldn't be affected by the limit
  • Most spammers post many times throughout the day — this would prevent that
  • Most spammers take advantage of the web app — this would directly address them
  • Spammers take advantage of anonymous / no-sign-up publishing, which we can normally do little to prevent — this would help prevent abuse there
  • Spammers generally aren't willing to pay — this forces them to do that or move on

This is just a starting number — we could imagine it eventually being reduced as low as 3 or 4, depending on your feedback. In the long-term, we also imagine this being a reason people upgrade to the Casual plan. With more people paying just $12 / year for Write.as, we can keep the price as low as we have it. If not, we may have to raise it, to make sure we remain financially sustainable.

So what do you think? Are you okay with this limit? Do you post multiple times in a day, and if so, how many times on average? Feel free to respond on our forums.

This month we revisited our pricing model and realized how much money we lose to processing fees each month on our $4 Pro plan. We found that 10.5% goes to our payment processor, Stripe, as opposed to only 3.5% when customers pay annually — a big difference in our revenue.

When we originally launched our annual Pro plan we wanted to keep the pricing straightforward, so we just multiplied the monthly price by 12 and called it a day. People didn't seem to mind, but still our monthly plan remains the most popular.

So beginning on Monday, March 5, we'll start passing on the savings we get when you subscribe to an annual Pro plan by permanently dropping the price to $40 per year. We hope it'll encourage more people to go yearly, helping us all save a bit of money.

For anyone currently on the $48 / year plan, you'll be able to switch to the $40 / year pricing when you want (we'll show a reminder in the app), and you'll see the savings the next time your subscription renews.

As always, let us know what you think of the new pricing!

#pricing #pro #changes

Next up on our roadmap is support for cross-posting to Mastodon!

If you haven't seen yet, our little Mastodon instance Writing Exchange has been growing into a nice little community lately (I'm active over there @matt).

I think federated services like Mastodon are what the web really needs, so I'm excited to add it as our next new publishing channel. We'll launch support in a few different working stages:

  • Cross-post to Writing Exchange. Users on our instance will be able to cross-post to their accounts there, and toots will essentially be the same thing cross-posted to Twitter, except with a 500-character limit.

  • Cross-post to any instance. Once we work out any potential issues, you'll be able to connect any Mastodon instance and cross-post there.

Once this is all done, we'll start on ActivityPub support. That will let you directly interact with the fediverse by optionally making your blog itself an account that people can follow and interact with from Mastodon (or any other service that speaks ActivityPub) — imagine a handle like @matt@write.as or @janedoe@write.as. You can see what this will look like in action on PeerTube, where people can soon comment on videos via Mastodon — it's really cool.

ActivityPub support is also a major milestone in our work towards an open source, fully-federated blogging platform — a distant goal of ours. There will be more information about that soon, but for now, keep an eye out for Mastodon cross-posting!

~ Matt

On today's internet we're surrounded by numbers: how many “likes” a photo has; the number of times an article was shared; the average number of “stars” an app (or product or restaurant or movie) has received, and how many people have given it stars; how many times an app has been downloaded. On Write.as, right now we show how many views a post has.

Numbers are used for representing many things, but are generally only useful when combined with more data. Restaurant ratings won't necessarily tell you whether or not the food is good, or the service is bad, or some combination of those. App ratings won't necessarily tell you about missing functions in an app, or whether it'll solve the problem you're looking for. Ratings are only useful when paired with written reviews.

The way that numbers allow us to quickly compare things is great when we're in a rush, but bad when we care about discovering new things. A campsite might not have as many stars as Disney World when you're looking for something to do in the area, but you might still have a much more profoundly enjoyable time camping. A musician might not have the most downloads or plays, but could still easily become your favorite artist. An article with few “shares” might still be worth reading, just like one with few “views” might.

Basically, popularity numbers don't necessarily correlate with quality or enjoyment, but still tend to factor in to our natural decision-making. And we at Write.as want to be sure that numbers don't speak louder for writers than their words. So we're hiding public view counts from all posts, anonymous or not. They'll still be available for everyone through our API, but will only be shown to the original author on the web, since they benefit the most from knowing that people are seeing their work.

We hope this change will make the reading experience more enjoyable for everyone, and as always, we'd love to hear your thoughts!

We've kept read.write.as a simple space so far, as a foundation to help get your words out to the world, and give readers a place to go when they take a break from writing. It's since grown to include a deep, diverse set of writers on a whole range of topics. As it continues to grow, we're now ready to start moving on to our next phase.

Soon, we'll be taking a minor step and adding the option for content notes on your blogs. This will let you mark your public blog as “not safe for work,” for example, and will simply show that content note (instead of the post's preview) on read.write.as. Adding a note won't affect your blog in any way outside of RWA, that is, the note won't show up while someone is already on your blog or reading its posts. This is simply the first step of many in letting readers have more control over their reading experience.

Next, we'll add new reader-focused features that'll let you customize the experience more and spread your favorite writing farther. For example:

  • Do you like “night mode” in the Write.as editor? You'll be able to read in that mode, as well, across all Write.as posts.
  • Want to keep track of a particular writer or let them know you like their writing? There will be a variety of simple ways to do that.
  • Want to help organize and curate writing into something new? You'll be able to.
  • Want to read on the go? Simple, dedicated mobile apps are on the roadmap.

These and more features will form a flexible space where anyone can go to hear new perspectives on a variety of topics, all from the writers on Write.as — and eventually other places on the web, too.

If you'd like to see us reach our big goals, you can help by spreading the word about read.write.as:

As always, keep in touch and let us know what else you'd like to see.

We're replacing the JSON export option for posts, which currently requires a Pro subscription, with a zip file export option available to everyone. You can export your posts now as a registered user.

There are a few reasons: based on our analytics, the JSON option is rarely used, especially when compared to CSV exporting. But most of all, a collection of plain text files is universally helpful, and furthers our goal of data freedom. And while Pro users can still export all of their data as JSON, all users can always access their data through our API. But let us know if you'd like the JSON option for posts back.

Since launching blogs last year, we've heard from several people that they'd like to be able to have static or persistent pages on their blog, for creating things like an About or Contact page.

As you can see on our roadmap, we're working on this feature now. In our normal style, it'll be a tiny addition that works by letting you “pin” individual posts to your blog, adding a link to the top of its home page, without any extra work from you. Any pinned post's title will become the link text, and for now, they'll be added in the order you pin them in. Later, we plan to make it easier for you to rearrange them.

Pro users will see this new feature as soon as we launch it within the next week.

A URL is is the first thing someone sees before reading your posts on Write.as. Right now they can be a little unwieldy:

write.as/vbw14j2rv9noid03

Yikes. We're not even sure why we thought 16 characters were necessary. Maybe we were a bit overzealous.

So we'd like to make them into something simpler, like this:

write.as/vbw14j

Ah, that's better.

Casual and Pro users will see this in the coming weeks.