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. Q4 of this year was very fun, but also very busy. I just wanted to spend a few moments (planning for this to go live on Christmas) to let folks know what is happening here.
If you want to check out how this series has evolved, here are the links to the previous ones:
- 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
- STH Q4 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q1 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
This update marks the conclusion of the third year of this series.
STH Q4 2021: The Joy of the Daily Grind
Personally, I really enjoyed Q4 2021 at STH. With that said, we had more than a few instances where we barely managed to keep content online daily. We also had a borderline wild number of reviews compared to what we were doing in 2019 with a huge number of systems. We also had some original and exclusive content that was a lot of fun to make.
Personally, I am one of those people that enjoys grinding slowly towards goals. There was nothing spontaneous this quarter, but we put out a lot of content. Just to give some sense of how busy I was this quarter, Tom Fenton and I put out a book on running VMware ESXi on a Raspberry Pi 4 (note this may be changed to an affiliate link by a plug-in) in November. A few weeks later my family noted at Thanksgiving that they did not even know I was working on a book. I asked, and I had not told my friends either. This was all done during the move from Silicon Valley to Austin and so I guess it was so low on the top 10 topics to talk about that I simply forgot.
One of the cool parts of the book is that we are getting to do a little good with it. When Tom first brought up the royalty split earlier this year I said that I would rather my portion go to charity. Tom followed suit. While Apress, the publisher, and the various distribution partners will still get their share, it is great that we get to use the work to help people learn about a technical topic and at the same time help kids. We are donating all of our proceeds to a Kiwanis kids camp in Oregon near where Tom lives. My grandparents were very active in their local Kiwanis chapter and it brought back a lot of great memories from when I was younger.
The grind was really interesting this quarter in terms of the team. On one hand, John, Will, and Rohit took mini-breaks over the quarter. Will and I met up for BBQ and we came away with the new goal that Will would take a bigger role at STH. As he came back online we added Will as an editor on STH. Further, we added a new video editor Alex.
Between November 1 and December 1, a 31 day period, we had 14 videos go online. Our previous most was 10 videos. There is absolutely we could not have done that without the team. Many will have seen that the series we did at Supermicro was shot and the photos were edited by Joe. Will ended up writing the written articles. Alex edited the videos. I just talked on camera and helped coordinate. We are expanding the team to help scale.
That was important this quarter. As one may imagine, it takes a lot more effort to do a review than one of our pieces covering a product launch or industry highlights. It takes more to then do a video as well. In Q4 our mix will end up being around twice as many reviews and hands-on pieces versus what I normally target. That also means that our average article length was much higher than it has been historically in Q4. More words and more photos help make it feel a bit like a grind. It is also why we have been expanding.
We usually do not discuss numbers on STH, but just for some frame of reference, STH is now running at a clip of 3-4M page views per month (using Goole Analytics as our 3rd party tracking so that gets blocked often.) If you were running a mobile phone review site or a gaming site that would not seem like a big number, but in terms of data center technology, it is absolutely huge. STH is so big now that we not only are much larger than other data center review sites, but we are at the level that you would be shocked to hear our size compared to some more consumer-focused old-tech sites. I know I was (and still am.) This size has allowed us to do ambitious projects like our recent Dell-HPE-American Megatrands investigation:
Of course, a lot of this growth is attributed to our regular readers. While it may not seem like it, I spend a lot of time each week on our plan to try getting an exciting mix of content. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we do not. Unlike other review sites out there, we produce our content editorially independently. All of our revenue still comes from third-party agencies. That is a bit challenging since other data center-focused sites are publishing vendor-written articles or sponsored articles. At the same time, I believe our adherence to this principle is a key reason we have grown despite not publishing 4-10 news posts per day. News is an inexpensive way to drive traffic, especially if a site is mostly re-posting press releases. Instead, I am trying to focus the team on interesting and impactful content like the recent Building the Ultimate x86 and Arm Cluster-in-a-Box.
You will probably have noticed our YouTube channel at this point (you can subscribe/ check it out here.) It is certainly an area of investment for us and has been for the past two years. While in terms of viewership, it is still usually a single-digit percentage of STH main site traffic it is growing at a higher rate. In 2022 the goal is to pass 100,000 subscribers. I know a lot of loyal STH readers see this and are worried that we will go to all videos in the future. There is no plan to do so. Datacenter/ enterprise IT folks still read since they tend to be a demographic more advanced in years. At the same time, it is 2021 (almost 2022) and we need to have video to keep reaching more folks.
We probably could have hit 100K subscribers this year, but since we grew the STH main site organically, I want to grow our YouTube organically. For those that wonder why we do not have giveaways or crazy advertising for it, it is precisely because I only want to gain subscribers because someone saw our content and wants to come back, not because of an offer for a potential payoff or hoping quite a few folks misclick to subscribe. Skipping this common shortcut has given us great engagement numbers, but has added to the grind.
In the IT industry, it is actually very strange to me still. I know STH’s audience is larger than other sites, but it seems like most vendors tend to work with media outlets that have small audiences but they can have more control over them. At SC21, I came up with the realization that the media attendees had an inversely proportional relationship to the distribution of the outlet. Smaller publications had huge teams. Sites larger than STH like Tom’s Hardware were absent. I was at the show solo and almost did not go. While I can explain our process and commitment to editorial independence, what I can say given the resource allocation in the industry is that STH’s focus on this is not preferred by vendors. I am fairly certain that we would be more profitable in models like others in the space, but I just would not feel right so we are not going that way. Just know it grinds at me every time I see this stuff in the industry. I also feel like if STH gave up, that would be the end of independence for the industry.
The studio is up and running now in Austin, but the liquid cooling project is a bit behind. We are now looking at late Q1/ early Q2 for that. It is a large investment so it is also something we need to measure twice and cut once on. It needs to be done right. The bonus is that we are going very ambitious for that project.
After a few installation bumps, we now have the full 1700 fiber setup installed and ready to accept traffic. We also now have a new system for testing firewalls and other networking gear. Hopefully, that will make its way into the review process early in 2022.
Just know, I enjoy the grind. This quarter I had a seven-figure offer for STH and turned it down. This was at a part of the quarter where I was working 100 hours a week and we were still barely getting pieces online each day. Likely I will look at that decision in 5-10 years as a bad one, but I still have goals for transforming the industry that I have not met yet. That has me motivated for 2022.
Subscribe to the STH’s Newsletter and YouTube
Did you know STH has a weekly newsletter that comes out Saturday with curated “Top 5” pieces from the week? We know you cannot visit every day, so we can deliver our picks for weekend reading directly to your inbox. Subscribing to the newsletter is easy. Here is the form.
We are not selling your e-mail addresses and MailChimp is managing everything at this point so you can subscribe and unsubscribe from the list as you want.
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.
Finally, subscribe to our YouTube and check it out here. This is an area that we are going to have more of in 2022, especially if the pandemic subsides a bit more.
Good job holding your ground on the 7 figure offer.
Mind you, in the year of 2021, with house prices, inflation and the general cost of goods, honestly it’s not that much money anymore sadly.
Thanks for you work, Patrick! Best wishes from Russia.
Patrick – huge kudos to you for all that you are doing for journalism in this sphere. Your voice is unique and so incredibly valuable. Cheers to an even bigger 2022, and THANK YOU for doing things the right way. You’re right – it is exactly why your readers love STH.
Now is when you can pivot to busting your ass, and start busting others asses, as you are the boss now, so delegate like it! Put your time and effort into those things that are rewarding to you, and that you think will further your goals and visions for the site and the team. Everything else, delegate to one of your team members. Having 2-3 high quality articles a week is so much better than 4-5 “news” stories a day. There are a few sites on the “gaming” side of tech that I just stopped caring about because it was only a stream of new items and games for sale without any sort of review or deeper look other than “look what you can buy now!” I want to read to keep up on what’s new and improving, not product launch announcements.
Awesome work this year, for you and your team. Keep it up, but take a break when you need it.
I have enjoyed the articles and youtube videos for many years now, please keep pressing forward!