I’ve made a decision to restart The Map Room. If all goes well, the new version will go live some time in January 2016 — next month.
That’s the short version. If you’re interested in the gnarly details of how I came to this decision, and how I’m going to go about it, read on.
After eight years and 4,055 posts on everything from antique map collecting to geospatial technology, I brought The Map Room to an end in June 2011. I was feeling a bit burned out and wanted to reclaim some space in my brain and use it for other things. More prosaically, the blog was coming up short in cost-benefit terms. Its Movable Type install was increasingly cranky and was not bearing up under the load, and while advertising had never made me gobs of money, ad revenue had declined by more than half.
To my astonishment, my social media audience continued to climb: today, four and a half years after I closed it down, The Map Room has nearly 3,400 Twitter followers and more than 2,000 Facebook likes. And lately there’s been an uptick in social media activity: more and more, my posts are being shared and going viral (this post, for example). Of course, there was something to go viral, because I’ve been posting about maps more often lately. Apparently I’ve gotten over the burnout.
For the first time since ending The Map Room, I began giving serious thought to restarting it. But I still needed to figure out how to make it work, on three levels: time management, tech, and income.
I think I’ve figured out the time management part — what, how and when to post — so that I can do this in addition to the other things I’ve got on my plate.
The tech part looks like it can be solved by starting fresh with WordPress, which with my hosting provider, WordPress is better supported (and much more scalable). It’s also compatible with more blogging tools, and has features and plugins that would enable me to do things I’d otherwise have to code by hand, like Retina image support, mobile device support, and responsive templates. Blogging and site maintenance would be considerably easier than it was last time.
Income is the trickiest problem. Online ad revenues were already in freefall the last time around, and it’s probably best not to count on them too much this time either — not with ad blockers in widespread use. Or on affiliate revenue. The solution I’ve come up with is a familiar one: crowdfunding. Once the new site launches, so will a Patreon campaign. At each milestone goal, I’ll add a new feature (such as a podcast), reflecting the fact that additional income will enable additional work. I have absolutely no idea how readers will respond to it, but the more money The Map Room earns from whatever source, the more time I can spend working on it.
For now, I have to get the new site up and running behind the scenes, test it, and launch. I expect this will keep me very busy over the holidays. When it’s ready, I’ll let you know.
In the meantime: any questions?