We started the tradition of “A Letter from the Editor” in 2019. It has become one of my favorite articles to write every quarter. The reviews and content you see on STH are only 15-20% of the work involved with the site. This quarterly series is my opportunity to share a bit about why and how STH is evolving. 2020 has taken its toll and presented us with an opportunity for greatness (OFG) going forward. I wanted to give an update on the behind-the-scenes at STH.
If you want to check out how this series has evolved, here are the links to the first five:
- STH Q1 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q4 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q1 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
This update marks the eighth installment of the series.
STH Q4 2020 Behind the Scenes
I wanted to break down the Q4 2020 behind the scenes look into what went well and some of the challenges we have faced.
STH Q4 2020 What Went Well
I generally target STH growth in the 20-25% Y/Y range for the STH main site. As we started 2020, we were running at about a 31% Y/Y rate until March 13, 2020. Traffic “cratered” pushing us up only 3-5% Y/Y through the summer and even into early Q4. I am happy to report that with about a week or so left in the year, we should end up in the 20-21% Y/Y growth range. While not amazing by my expectations at this time last year, it is still a very healthy clip.
STH YouTube (subscribe here) has been a major strong point for STH this year. On December 1, 2019, I set a target for hitting 10K subscribers by the end of 2020. We got a little boost in December, which meant we hit 10K early in the year. I reset the goal for 20K, then 25K, then 35K throughout the year. If it was not for the Christmas to New Year’s holiday, a slow time for STH while people are not working, we would likely hit 40K subscribers by the end of the year. This does not seem like much, but it is more than many other publications that focus primarily on written content like STH.
Normally we have many “what went well” items. In this letter, this section is perhaps best framed as “we survived 2020, and still grew.”
STH Q4 2020 Challenges
To be frank, Q4 of 2020 was extremely challenging. From a personal perspective, I have had a lot of family health issues that have taken my time, and perhaps more importantly some of my thought cycles. I have felt more absent from STH in Q4 2020 than I have in a long time. Perhaps the best example of this is that I had a grandfather break his hip on Thanksgiving Day and writing this post on Christmas Eve got interrupted by my sister getting rushed to the hospital and me watching my nieces and nephew. Those are just a few of the Q4 examples, and probably not even in the top 3.
In Q4 2019, I expected that we would likely be covering both an Intel Xeon Ice Lake and an AMD EPYC 7003 Milan launch in Q4 2020. Neither of those happened. We also missed a planned mainstream Cooper Lake product cycle earlier in 2020. So perhaps the biggest challenge this quarter is that there is tremendously little new in the market. We reviewed the Ampere Altra Wiwynn Mt. Jade Server Review as the new Arm entrant but the industry is in a waiting cycle for the next generation of platforms.
Keeping and accelerating YouTube a bit in December has been rough atop of everything else, but progress must be made.
One area I am re-evaluating for 2021 is publishing once per day. We have weeks like this holiday week or just days like Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, and others that I am not certain publishing new content on making sense. I have taken a hard line that we must have new content every day, including holidays, but this may have been a bit too hard of a line. Even targeting only one article per day, we are still going to end up with well over 400 articles published in 2020. Perhaps targeting a few rest days may be worthwhile.
Still, the level of challenges has led to an opportunity for greatness, or OFG.
The 2021 OFG
In 2021, I am making some big changes at STH. A select few of the vendors we work with regularly have been notified that I am planning on making a massive change to 3-5% of our monthly content. I am not ready to get into details on this broadly yet, but a few weeks ago I hit a vision of how we make a bigger impact in 2021. It has meant having some tough conversations, but in the end, this happened as a decree. I told our STH team “we are doing this”, I then started to socialize a bit outside of the STH team. Luckily, everyone has been on board, but part of that may be I have taken a very strong stance that I want to execute on an OFG. I hope the STH community rallies behind what we are doing, but I am passionate enough about this project that we are going to do it anyway.
Looking at the year ahead, we are going to have the AMD EPYC 7003 “Milan” series, then the Intel Xeon Ice Lake generation. We already have retail AMD EPYC 7003 in-house but the SKUs we have are frankly too sensitive to publish. Editorially, although we have numbers for Milan from retail purchased (non-NDA) chips, if we publish them we could have a significant market impact. This was a tough decision. In the publishing industry, we would have been months before the launch of a new generation of a chip. That usually means many page views. On the other side, it would have had an impact on people’s livelihoods going into the holiday season. On balance, we did not publish numbers on these chips because I had to weigh the benefits of personal/ site of being out months before others versus the impact that would have had on families who are counting on a certain launch cycle.
This may be an ultimately poor decision that many in the publishing industry would not make but going out with numbers in mid-November 2020 on these Milan chips would have had a direct impact on people during the holidays. Although I want to grow STH, it needs to be done responsibly. Just know, when I have mentioned in the Ampere Altra/ Wiwynn Mt. Jade review and a few others something like “Milan performance is significantly better than Rome” it is due to direct experience. We normally expect performance improvement with each new generation of technology, but Milan is not a minor/ single-digit performance upgrade.
These two aspects of defining the 2021 vision lock STH into a path of trying to grow while being a responsible steward to the community. While many are determined to grow through consistent antagonism, we are going to take our level of responsibility up a few levels.
Frankly, I hope STH shocks some folks in 2021 with this new direction.
STH 2020 Call for Action
Something that is extraordinarily difficult for us is onboarding new writers. You likely have noticed that my contributions to the site amounted to something like 90% of the content years ago and now I get a byline in maybe 30% of the articles we publish. That number should be lower, and I completely point the blame at myself for not doing a better job.
Here is the call to action: if you want to write for STH, drop me a note (patrick at this domain.) It is fairly hard for me to action an e-mail that says “I want to write for STH”. So I want to put some guardrails in-place that will make it easier for me to follow-up.
Specifically, in this edition, I would like to bolster our software side. If you are a Linux, VMware, or Windows admin and think there is a great opportunity for guides or software reviews, I would love to hear what you are interested in covering.
Please include a proposal. Let me know what subject you want to cover. How many articles are you interested in doing per month, quarter, or year. It is absolutely fine if you have a day job, want to focus on a subject, and want to do a single post or four a year. Likewise, if you do not want to review products, but you want to do a series of guides once per week so that you can beef up your LinkedIn profile’s publication section, that is great as well. In the proposal, please also include some sense of format and length.
If you are great technically and are concerned about your writing, STH can help edit so do not worry on that front. Also if you are concerned because you think what you want to write about overlaps with what someone on STH already does, feel free to make the proposal anyway. As an example, we will likely need to add someone on the networking team in 2020 because Rohit will become overloaded.
In 2019 we had someone offer to write articles for $250,000/ year at a rate of 1 per week. We cannot support that model. For some context, other websites that do a lot of news posts pay between $8-20 per post. Our content is more in-depth, but as you can imagine, we have budget constraints. Most of our writers are doing this as a freelance passion rather than a primary career.
Please get detailed in your proposal. My hope with the above is twofold. First, it will help me tremendously in evaluating proposals and responding to them. Second, it will help you figure out if you can follow-through on this. If you cannot complete a proposal outlined above, then it will likely be difficult for you to follow-through on writing. As we have had folks ask to write for STH, we have seen a sub-50% success rate in getting the first pieces completed.
Notice for California readers: California passed AB5. In that bill, there is a limit for California freelance writers that they can only submit 35 articles for publication a year and still be considered independent contractors rather than employees. For those who have not heard of AB5, that does mean that if a news writer spends 30 minutes per piece, they become an employee with under 18 hours of work per year. If you are based out of California, the answer to the frequency should be under 35 per year.
As always, I want to extend a big thank you to our readers, our team, and our partners for continuing to make STH grow.
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We are not promoting the newsletter via overlays and pop-ups. Those are very effective, but they are bad for readers. I do not like them, so as long as I have a say, we are not going to have newsletter signup overlays. I run STH as something I would want to visit daily even if I did not work on it.
One post a day seems crazy or am I missing something? Publishing for the sake or publishing is a slippery slope, quality content should come first I’d be happy with long form content once or twice a week if it’s comprehensive FWIW.
Is there any chance you could clarify the reasons behind holding back the Milan review? I know you have been vague intentionally but…the way you have worded it only makes it more confusing. I understand you do not want to publish the data because you think it would hurt someone, which is noble, but hurt who exactly?
Other members of the press? Intel employees? Intel investors? Your source, who supplied the hardware? I think you would be able to anonymize the SKU enough to protect the source. I have no clue what “families who are counting on a certain launch cycle” means.
If you prefer not to elaborate on the above, could you give us a timeframe at least, for the release of the review? We are looking to put together a purchase by the end of January, and it would be nice to make that decision cognizant of Milan performance.
I hope everything goes well with the family health issues, the rest is secondary.
Keep those high quality articles comming, STH’s, Michael Larabel’s and Ian Cutress’s outlets are really complementary, keep it that way.
Thanks for all you and the team do! Can you explain the term OFG for me?
Dave – have to feed the search engines. We get enough of a hit even publishing once per day.
Kebar – it is a very sensitive SKU for AMD.
Misha – thanks!
Mark – an opportunity for greatness. We are going well beyond our normal coverage/ comfort zone for this in a hopefully highly impactful way.
Best wishes for you and yours, Patrick. My thoughts are with your family going into 2021.
On the STH front, I feel like there’s caginess on the Milan news and it doesn’t add up for me (perhaps I’m a bit dense). An article explaining your reasoning would be very helpful. I’m unclear how releasing a review would impact “families who are counting on a certain launch cycle,” and more color around your decision would be insightful to the community as a whole and maybe provide a nice and distracting coda to a dark year. STH doesn’t trade in mystery, and while I respect the decision, more concrete reasoning would clear things up.
Again, my thoughts on your family’s health.
” On balance, we did not publish numbers on these chips because I had to weigh the benefits of personal/ site of being out months before others versus the impact that would have had on families who are counting on a certain launch cycle.”
What does this even mean?
It’s good to see something new on STH every day. But I agree with Dave on this. It’s nightmare to do something when you just have to do it. I personally found STH after your video on LTT (linus tech tips). No search engines involved. Because I am more into server stuff, I became STH every day reader.
Thanks for your work, Patrick.
Best wishes from Russia.
Very sensitive for AMD, major performance uplift…
Whoah, have you managed to snag a HPC part from one of the exascale projects? (I do not actually expect any answer for that, I know you would not be able to tell)
I still do not get the whole “families counting on a launch cycle” thing, but I am going to take the hint and stop prying now. When the whole thing blows over and Milan is on the shelves though, it would be nice to know what all that was about, assuming you will be free to talk about it then.
Beyond just server equipment, it’s also difficult to find reviews on a lot of technology for working professionals in general. I’ve recently purchased a Radeon Pro VII, an Asus ProArt monitor, a Lacie Rugged Pro SSD, and SilverStone CS381B NAS Case – and I struggled to find actual quality reviews (and not just press releases) for all of these things. It seems most sites are focused on gaming and lower end consumer stuff. You guys have covered some of those things, Threadripper, etc, and that’s been great, and maybe I’m just missing some sites that do regular coverage like that, but I feel there’s a huge opportunity for growth there.
You did hit 40k though, didn’t you? Congratulations for your hard work! Your content really takes things a level deeper than the rest 🙂
I don’t like this comment:
“I hope the STH community rallies behind what we are doing, but I am passionate enough about this project that we are going to do it anyway.”
Came across as a bit of – FU reader, it is y site and I’m doing this whether you like it or not. Which may be true, but tacky to say it anyway.
I come here for insightful reviews, and I hope the hardware vendors will provide STH with all the test systems you need going forward.
Not releasing numbers on products before the company has had their big launch event is just plain old professionalism.