Transparency Report: 2021 (And Goals for 2022)

“What a year.” My annual catchphrase. I always say that this project has exploded in ways I never expected, and that never stops being true. So where are we now?

Looking Back: What Worked (And Didn't)

According to last year’s blog post, my main goal for 2021 was to “continue to grow.” Kind of a crappy goal, but technically a success. I’ll get numbers in a moment. I also stated a goal to add a new podcast series. That ended up being much more work than I expected. The good news is, the writing is now done for Season 1 and production was SUPPOSED to be this month. Instead it is now being pushed to January with a goal to release in Spring 2022. (Hopefully I can start pushing out episodes sometime between late March and early May, depending on how my schedule allows). I mentioned my goals to add videos and in-depth blog posts. I didn’t do the in-depth blog posts, but I did start making video content on YouTube, Odysee, and PeerTube. Video production is a lot of work, but I’m thankful for the warm reception I’ve gotten. Thank you to everyone who subscribes, watches, comments, etc.

Next I mentioned plans to start consulting, which I did (you can view the submission form here) and I mentioned plans to speak more in the real world. I did do one livestream round table, but that was about it. C’est la vie.

The next goal I mentioned was plans to ethically monetize. In addition to tons of donation methods, we also added affiliate links (with non-affiliate links, all transparently marked, as promised) and even added sponsorships and had our first sponsor, IVPN! I’m pretty excited. I’m a big fan of IVPN. I love their commitment to ethics and transparency and the fact that every time we cover a VPN story, it almost always turns out that IVPN has already fixed the issue or never had it in the first place because of their security. Great company. I’m hoping to partner with more amazing companies like them in the future to keep growing and bringing more and better content. Of course, I also want to make sure we’re doing this in an ethical way, so you can check out our rules for sponsorships here.

I mentioned translating the site. This is still on the to-do list, and every time I start we do major changes and make it so I have to start over. Ugh. Oh well. I’m hoping to have the Spanish site up in early 2022, maybe end of January if I’m lucky. I’ve even had one amazing Spanish-speaking reader offer to help translate the blog post. You can check that out here and donate some Monero directly to them to thank them for their time.

Thankfully, I don’t see a lot of “what didn’t work” stuff. I met most of my goals, and the ones I didn’t meet weren’t really hard goals anyways. I think I’ll skip that section this year, but just know that technically there were a few “it’d be nice” goals that I didn’t quite hit. I already mentioned them above.

Growth

Alright, let’s get to the exciting numbers: how did I grow? According to last year’s post, I had over 650 Mastodon followers at the start of the year. The blog had 16 Fediverse followers, 15 email subscribers, 21,000 views, and the podcast had 50 listeners and 2,000 total listens. The site itself peaked at just under 5,000 unique visitors in December. Prepare to have those numbers blown out of the water.

My Mastodon account now boasts over 1800 followers. I also started a Twitter account – mostly to schedule posts in Mastodon easier (for some reason my instance’s scheduler doesn’t work) – and that has grown from 0 to over 1100 followers. It’s also proven to be a great way to reach new people.

The English blog (which are you reading) now has 25 Fediverse followers and 36 email subscribers. (Hey email subscribers, did you know you can reply to this post and message me directly? Neat!). Total stats are hard to get with write.as because of the way they prioritize privacy-respecting analytics, but I think the lifetime reads are more than 34,000. I get over 500 monthly visitors and about 1,000 monthly reads.

The site stayed relatively steady all year. Most months were at least 5,000 unique monthly visitors ranging up to 6,500 on average, though if I’m reading the numbers right I was just shy of 7,400 in October. Wow! Altogether, we had over 72,000 unique visitors throughout 2021. Many of you may have also noticed we moved from .xyz to .org. This is because many readers were reporting that .xyz is flagged by a number of security organizations as a spam domain. We thought that moving to .org might look more professional and also reduce the number of issues readers were having.

Oh, and the weekly podcast! How could I forget? Well, early in 2021 I retired my own podcast to join forces with Henry of Techlore. You see, Henry was already making a weekly current-events podcast very similar to mine called Surveillance Report. Unlike mine, however, Surveillance Report was very hit-or-miss in terms of consistent, weekly releases. So I reached out to Henry with the idea that maybe I could come on board and help bring some consistency to Surveillance Report. With my consistency and his audience, I thought we could have a real impact there, and I guess I was right. Since I’ve joined, we’ve put out an episode almost every single week and the podcast has grown to have over 10,000 views on YouTube alone each week! You can listen to SR on all the major podcast outlets (Spotify, Apple, etc) as well as RSS and Youtube, Odysee, and Peertube.

In previous years I haven’t noted community stats. This year, at the time of writing, we have over 400 members in our primary Matrix room and two moderators, one of whom has become a very eager advisor and has been a person that has helped me bounce ideas and get feedback on plans. So the internal team is starting to grow. TNO is no longer 100% just me, though I remain the captain at the helm.

Financial Transparency

This year was also wildly successful new territory for The New Oil financially. We raised the following funds:

We raised $351.30 in cryptocurrency. This money was never cashed out into fiat currency. Thus, according to US tax code, the value of these donations for tax purposes is calculated based on the value at the time of donation, which I calculated according to Yahoo Finance.

We made $1963.07 in USD. $213.28 came from sponsorships, and $1015.96 came from Techlore for my work on Surveillance Report. For the record, I never demanded any money from Henry. He willingly donates to The New Oil in recognition of the work I put in. We both contribute articles and notes, and we both take turns editing the videos each week. The amount he donates is an attempt to share any potential revenue generated from Surveillance Report. I'm not sure if this counts as a donation, sponsorship, or something else, so I thought it might be best to disclose it separately from the other categories. The remaining money ($733.83) came from either donations or consulting. For the sake of preserving privacy, I won’t give a breakdown of how much came from where. (I suspect that technically stating consultation earnings – even in bulk and without any further details – can give one insight into how many clients I had or how many sessions I had with each client.)

Expenses were as follows: * Write.As Pro (for the blog): $45 * Web hosting & domain name (.xyz, main site): 43.95 * Web hosting (PeerTube): $92.44 * ProtonMail/VPN Plus: $30.60 Total: $211.99 Remaining: $2102.38

The Proton number is derived based on rough, low estimates of how much time I spend working on The New Oil.

A few miscellaneous donations and compensations include a Brave Heart Edition Pinephone (valued at $199.99, I think) and the .org TLD, which I will pay for moving forward using TNO funds. I also purchased a computer off an associate for $500. Given the specs on the device, this was a steal for me. I’m not sure if I should include this device – at least partially – in business expenses. While I do some leisure stuff on it, like watch streaming services and play video games, I spend the vast majority of my time working on The New Oil: filming and editing videos, collecting and posting articles, writing blog posts, etc.

The left over $2102.38 seems like a huge number at first. Admittedly, it feels like a big number to me and I wish I had tracked it better so I could’ve better allocated it to things I want/need for The New Oil – like some of the expenses I discuss next. However, in terms of money I pocketed, know that the living wage for my area is about $47,000 a year. Assuming I worked on The New Oil part time (20 hours a week) for the whole year, that means I made $2.02/hr. When you put it like that, I think it’s fair to say that while I could’ve and should’ve spent the money better, pocketing it doesn’t exactly count as an abuse of funds. (Though, for those interested, my rent is about 33% below market average for my area, I drive a deacade-old non-luxury sedan, and I buy off-brand food at the local grocery store, so I’m pretty frugal. It’s not like I’m out here living in a condo downtown driving a luxury car).

Goals for 2022

Most of 2022 will be spent staying the course and delivering on the promises mentioned above, like the new podcast series and translating the site. As I said, I hope to have both of those at least started by spring. I’m also hoping to continue to grow financially – but ethically – so I can continue to devote time to this project. I actually took some paid time off work during the holidays, mostly to burn some PTO but also to use that time to catch up on TNO stuff that I had fallen critically behind on. The last week and a half has been absolutely wonderful. Normally I’d wake up at 5-6 am (depending on the day) to an alarm, go to work where of course my day job expects me to do work for them and not my own stuff, and then have to cram in all the TNO stuff in a few hours at the end of the day when I’m already mentally exhausted – trying to be creative, make decisions, and then hoping I have enough time and energy after that to shower, meal prep, and spend time with the partner. This past week, I woke up on my own time with no alarm, cooked a warm breakfast each morning, worked on TNO all day, ran errands as needed, and at the end of the day I can actually close the computer and spend time with my partner. Not to air my dirty laundry or tell a sob story, but my partner and I have actually had conflict in the past multiple times over how much time I spend working on TNO and not spending time with her (and she’s not wrong, for the record. Some nights I go straight to bed and barely acknowledge her at all. I’ve been trying my best to better manage my time). This past week has been zero conflict because I can actually set daily goals, finish them, and then “clock out” and spend time relaxing with her. All that to say: please, please, please donate if you can. This is the dream and while I love my industry I am absolutely dreading going back to work Monday. Having had a taste of working on The New Oil full time, I absolutely would love to do that. So TL;DR: one of my goals for 2022 is continue monetizing so I can eventually move down to part time – or even contract or quitting my day job entirely – so I can do TNO full time.

[Note for those rereading: this goal has been removed out of an abundance of caution, however I will still be announcing it upon completion.]

There are two other brand new goals I have for 2022. One is delving into TikTok. I know, I know, it’s literally the worst, but multiple people have suggested trying it to reach the people who need this stuff most, and my partner is constantly showing me videos of people who are surprised by data abuses of all kinds so clearly there’s a need for someone to explain how it works. As such, I’m gonna try it and see if it helps anyone. If people find it helpful and I can get just a few more people to take their privacy seriously, then I’ll call that a win. (This will not be a major focus for me. Videos will not be high-production value and I will not be posting them on a regular schedule, rather only when I have time and something to say.)

The other major goal will be a merch store. I will likely use BigCartel – at least at first as a test run – though I will also have other channels for those who wish to use cryptocurrency or don’t want to trust BigCartel (I think some of their themes use Google fonts). This will start small – stickers, maybe a few shirt designs but at least one – and if it proves successful I’ll keep it going and look into more privacy-respecting store options. This will be something that will be a bit of an up-front startup cost as in order to be as privacy-preserving as possible, I’ll need to order the merch in bulk up front then sell it myself, unlike some other sites where the merch is made on-demand when you order it. (This will also mean lower prices for you.)

Oh, one last small goal for 2022: I plan to buy a shotgun microphone soon so that I can record high-quality audio for videos but keep the mic out of frame. That’s gonna be cool.

Wrap Up

I always laugh at small, unsigned bands when they break up, not because I enjoy their failure but because they always say something like “this project went further than we ever could’ve imagined.” Please. We all know you had dreams of stadium shows, European tours, and being the next Metallica. Quit lying. But imagination and expectation are two different things. The New Oil is not my first business venture, but it is by far my most successful. While I can imagine some pretty lofty dreams – public speaking, TV appearances, conferences, if we’re being honest – I’ve done enough rodeos that I knew what to expect realistically: a handful of regular readers, a few hundred hits per month, and maybe $20/month in donations if I’m lucky. And then this happened. The New Oil continued to grow and grow. I’m so thankful for every single one of you who has made this grow. Believe it or not, you guys challenge and educate me, too. Every person who writes in to say “hey you were incorrect about this, here’s how it really works,” or every person that says “what do you think of this?” and makes me go learn about something new, you all help to make me smarter and better informed. It’s amazing hearing people’s ideas, strategies, opinions, and feedback on various tools, tricks, and tips. It makes us all better in the long run.

Thank you for being part of The New Oil. Here’s to bigger and better heights in 2022.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.