Monday, October 20, 2008

Where My Moral Compass Points

As I alluded to in a comment on the previous thread, outlining my moral compass last week has really helped put some things in perspective. It helped me to realize that energy/environmental/economic issues are very important to me. For whatever reason, these are things I think about (and have always thought about since at least 8th or 9th grade). When I brainstorm business ideas, I think of these issues.

So I've decided, for the present, that this is the area I want to put my energies. I'm applying for a canvasing job with a local environmental group (not my ideal thing, but its a start and its a job). I've also been working on a business plan for starting a web page about these issues. I'm still working out exactly what tone I want to take. Maybe you have some thoughts? My overall goals are to 1) Provide balanced information and and analysis of issues, and 2) Propose solutions and discuss them with readers. Something like, but covering a wider variety of topics and having more accessible content.

I am also interested if anyone would like to help develop the site, contribute writing, etc. The reason I want to put ads on the website is to possibly eventually support myself (or ourselves) enough to dedicate more time to the project. I am somewhat concerned with moral implications of this, etc. I'm really not sure exactly where I stand on the issue.

Anyways, here is the business proposal. I've spent the week writing this and about a half dozen other partial or whole articles, which is why this is the week's "essay."

Business Plan

Description of Business

The business is an educational and entertaining website that teaches readers about all issues relating to this issue: “We have a finite world. Our economy is designed for ever increasing growth. How do we transition to a sustainable way of life? The site will cover environmental issues, propose solutions, promote activism, evaluate important news items, and offer numerous how-to articles and product evaluations.

The tone of the website will be serious overall, with bits of sarcasm, recurring references, and humor to add life and create a feeling of humanity and community.


Content will initially be divided into three subsets: 1) Essays 2) News 3) Evaluations. Essays will be published 2-3 times per week, and will cover a variety of issues. They will be longer, and address macro topics as well as micro. Most “Green” websites concentrate on micro issues, and many of them propose new, “green” products to help us change our ways. While this is a step in the right direction, the value of such things needs to be closely examined. This business will do that. It will also work to pose solutions, even if they need some work, to these problems, and not just identify the problem.

The Finite Planet wants to move beyond the generally agreed paradigm of the Green movement, which consists of small communities, locally grown foods and a local economy in general, recycling, renewable energy, (ADD). The Finite Planet sympathizes with these ideas, but finds them lacking in many regards and in need of explanation and expansion in every regard.

The format in which news is presented still needs to be determined. We will mostly cover important scientific discoveries, oil, environmental and economic related news.

The website will do some book reviews and product evaluations. Book reviews will be done for recent as well as older books, with the goal being that I only write reviews for things I like and can recommend. If I do negative reviews, they will be for popular products, like bottled water, and the tone would be more sarcastic. Product reviews will concentrate on the following questions: How oily is this product? How necessary is it? How oily are the alternatives?

The website will also include an ever-growing compendium of internet resources, which are expertly indexed and organized. The main page will include a link to *NEW* resources.

Game Plan

Phase 1: Pre-Hosting

1) Write initial static content. As with all content, as much emphasis as possible should be placed on teaching. This is ESPECIALLY true for static or “pillar” articles. This includes the following articles:
a. An overview of our economic and credit system
b. What is peak oil? (Initial entry)
i. Cover the “what” portion, and save the “when” for further investigation?
c. The Green Movement
i. An article describing the mainstream Green Movement. Define it, talk about its good qualities, but also be critical of it.
ii. Make sure to cover the pros and cons of the merger between environmentalism and business.
d. (TITLE TBD) – This essay will be a sequel to the Green Movement essay. The first looks at where we are and how far we’ve come. This essay will lay out The Finite Earth’s core principles and try to show how we will move the conversation forward.
e. The Myth of Energy Independence (Essay)
i. Go after Obama, McCain, and politicians in general for misleading American as to what this would actually take. It might be a good political talking point, but its not a very effective way of thinking about policy.
f. An article discussing/defining what we mean by sustainability. Base this on Dan and my discussion, so include population.
g. A review of solar laptop chargers.
h. An “About” page and mission statement.
2) Write first six essays (about two weeks worth of material).
3) Compose an initial compendium of resources
a. Go through wikipedia entries on various renewable energy. Consider cataloging them, and search them for links to useful reports, pages, etc.
4) Begin to write out an index of technical terms such as kWH and EROEI, with explanations. This will be an ongoing project.
5) Hand-draw webpage layout
6) Investigate blog networks.

Phase 2: Pre-Launch

1) Install and experiment with different web software (Wordpress, Drupal, etc.)
2) Build webpage
3) Sign up for Google Analytics service
4) Figure out how social aggregator’s work and sign up for appropriate ones
5) Scout for possible pages, blogs, etc. on which to promote website
6) Find blog carnivals to submit essays
7) Have Morgan do a copy-edit
8) Ask friends to visit website and give feedback

Phase 3: Launch

1) Troubleshoot
2) Promote site (Need to determine how)
3) List blog on places such as Eaton Web, Globe of Blogs, BlogShares and Blog Street.
4) Sign-up for advertising.
5) Add an “e-mail your friend” option.

Monthly Goals



The business’ marketing campaign will be internet based, word of mouth. Quality and consistency in our content will be the main force of attraction. The business will experiment promoting through aggregators such as Slashdot, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Delicious, and Digg. Articles and pages will also have titles that are search friendly, though we will not optimize for search engines to the detriment of content.

We will support RSS feeds, participate in blog carnivals, and network with other websites.

The business will also investigate doing a newsletter to help remind people of the site’s existence and keep them coming back.

The business does not plan on spending money on any sort of advertising.

The Finite World is one part policy, two parts education and teaching. The latter needs to be emphasized especially, because that’s what is going to attract traffic and attention.

The general approach for each article needs to be: This is what you need to know, and I’m going to tell you.

Articles will have informative yet catchy titles. Formatting for articles will be very important. Experiment with different formats, but remember to take a look at Mr. Electricity’s webpage and others for inspiration on how to arrange subtitles, bold first lines, etc.

The website will be relatively personal. Not so much that its called or anything like that, but it will include catchy, snarky phrases. This will include things like Mark’s rules of the universe. Rule #4, for example, is “that people tend to believe the end of the world is upon us. This is only warranted when it comes to things like nuclear holocaust. Otherwise, we need to think clearly, keep a level head, and take decisive action. The end of the world as you know it is not the same as the end of the world.”

Marketing To-Do List

1) Find blogs that you like with comment pages and comment on them. If it is allowed, link back to your blog when relevant.
2) Research and possibly use Feedburner.
3) Create a newsletter
4) Participate in blog carnivals
5) Submit to blog/webpage directories
6) Submit to Google sitemaps (if you’re using Wordpress, this might be useful:
7) Browse for other blogs on similar topics, find ones you like, and smooze on message boards, etc.
8) Make sure that you do trackbacks.


Initial start-up costs are as follows:

1) Domain Registration: $10/year
2) Hosting: About $10/month, depending on which plan is selected.

Domain registration costs are fixed. Hosting costs will increase as site traffic (and incomes) increases.

The website expects to earn money from a number of different sources. Here are the four types of income streams I will probably begin with:

1) Adsense – I anticipate Google’s Adsense to account for the largest percentage of the business’s income.
a. Problogger recommends to wait a little while before applying to adsense, because they want your site to have a reasonable amount of content. On the other hand, how do all of the typo sites have advertisements if this is true? The post was from 2004, so look into this some more and see if its changed.
b. REMEMBER – NEVER click on your own ads or encourage your readers to click on them.
c. Center, top left, and the footer are the best places to put Adsense ads. In-text ads are also very effective, though you should experiment with them so that they aren’t annoying.
2) Adwords – Another part of Google-based advertising
3) Affiliate Programs – Links to Powells, Amazon, and other online retailers, where the business earns money when people click through to purchase.
4) Donation requests – Visitors can donate money via PayPal.

Listed below are some more methods of earning money that could be used.

5) Custom Advertising – This is an option that I will probably only get into if someone approaches me, because this isn’t the place I want to put my time.
6) - This one in particular is recommended by Problogger.
11) Maybe some of these?: Azoogle Ads, Intelli Txt, DoubleClick, Tribal Fusion, Adbrite, Clicksor, AdHearUs, Kanoodle, Pheedo, TextAds, Bidvertiser, Fastclick and Value Click
a. Note: This list was taken off of a 2005 article, so you might want to look around for newer options. On the other hand, it should be obvious which ones of these are good by which ones have survived.

Possible Topics

- Shale Oil
- What is Peak Oil? (Series)
- Electricity
- Geothermal
- Solar Power
- Wind
- Extranaloties, externalized costs - Those things where something has a cost that isn’t included in the dollar estimation of it. I.e. air pollution from a car.
o Compare externalized costs as robbery with the argument used to say that graduated taxes are robbery.
- Why efficiency is so more important than increasing supplies.
- Natural Gas
- Coal
- Liquid Coal
- Ethanol
- Ethanol vs. Bio-diesel
- Cellulose-based Ethanol
- Fertilizer
- Industrial Farming
- Can organic farming feed the world?
- Transportation
o Cars
o Planes
o Boats
o Trains
o Buses
o Share-car programs
o Bikes
o Walking
o Scooters
- Water scarcity
- Collapsing fish stocks
- Forests, and why we need them
- Local food
- Gardening
- Small Wind
- Personal solar
- Solar thermal
- Drill heating (or whatever you call those systems that drill into the ground to heat homes)
- Metal
- Industrial energy use
- Helium
- Concrete manufacturing
- We need a world-oriented approach.
- Meat
- Energy efficiency and reducing use (multiple articles)
- Global warming vs. other problems
- Buy used, buy less
- Commercial buildings
- Plastics
- What’s the difference between bio-diesel and ethanol?
- Hemp and Marijuana
- Batteries
- The electric grid
- Water problems
- Building materials
- The Genuine Progress Indicator (See wiki article)
- Tourism
o What is “eco”-tourism anyhow?
- Ordering online vs. driving to the store
- Home size
- Growth economies
- The need for a new economic system (see:
- Two good, related articles for thinking of article ideas: 1) and 2)
- Netflix vs. Driving to video store vs. Walking to video store.
- Moving beyond the generally agreed paradigm of the Green movement, which consists of small communities, locally grown foods and a local economy in general, (ADD). The Finite Planet sympathizes with these ideas, but finds them lacking in many regards and in need of explanation and expansion in every regard.
- Eating out vs. eating in.


Daniel said...

This sounds like a very worthwhile use of your time. Let me know if I can help in small ways. I will definitely be able to help with content editing, since I think you've given a very thorough and clear concept.

Eliot said...

Seems like a really great idea, Mark. Keep us posted as things get rolling. I'm guessing the Finite Planet is the prospective name for the website? If so, I think it's a really good one. I'll be a soundboard for ideas if you need one.

Elana said...

Mark! This sounds great, from my admittedly cursory reading of it. I'm pretty busy now, but I would be happy to help out in small ways as well. My strengths would probably tend towards editing and a more creative or personal interpretation of the material, although I have no idea if that would interest you. I'm also happy to bounce ideas back & forth w/ you if you could use that. Good luck, and keep us posted with your progress!


Kayce said...

I'm interested in helping, but I'm not sure what that would mean, exactly...