Donations to MetaBrainz (UPDATED!)

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking more about how to fund a developer to work on MusicBrainz server features full time. Part of that thinking was taking a critical look at our traffic and our donations. Here is a graph of our overall traffic to


Aside from a traffic spike in Dec 2005/Jan 2006, our traffic is steadily increasing, which means our bandwidth/hosting bill is also increasing. It used to be that donations covered our bandwidth/hosting costs, but that hasn’t been the case since we switched to the new hosting facility in February of this year. Our donations per month (excluding larger “special occasion” donations) are shown below:


Compared to our traffic, there is much more variability here and aside the “special occasion” big ticket donation (from Google, MusicIP, Cory Doctorow, etc) our donations from end users have shrunk, if anything. I would like to increase our rate of donations so that we can have donations cover our traffic costs again and have our licensing income go towards paying people to work on MusicBrainz.

I know that we’re not trying hard enough to solicit donations from our tagger users. Back in the day before Dave implemented auto pruning on the TRM server, the TRM server would slow down and tagger users would get a “we need more hardware, donate please” message. This would result in a wave of donations from users. To me, this shows that tagger users will respond if forced to. Our “please donate” nag dialog on the tagger is not effective in getting enough people to dig around in their wallets and make a donation to MusicBrainz.

My first approach to nagging users more to donate is to add a nag screen to the taglookup.html page that looks up a file in case the file has no PUID or TRM fingerprint. This page is most likely in use by people tagging their music collections and less so by people focusing on editing MusicBrainz.

Currently, people who donate $10 will receive no nag screen in Picard for six months and I think I’d like to apply this rule here as well. Also, other prolific contributors to MusicBrainz will also not receive the nag screen (via the seekrit NoNag flag on user’s accounts). Before I tromp off to implement this, I’d like to ask you for some feedback:

  1. What do you think of this idea in general?
  2. Do you think that six months no nag is a fair deal for $10?
  3. How do you think we should implement this nag screen?

My first idea is to have a nag panel appear over (and deliberately obscure) the taglookup results every 5 lookups. The nag panel will require people to click on the panel to fully be able to view the results. If the user has JavaScript turned off, the nag panel will be shown above the results and lots of white space will be shown below the nag panel, requiring the user to scroll down to view the results.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Thanks for all your feedback! I’ve starting coding the nag dialog and also started the process of getting another credit card processing company. So far I’ve gotten a quote that should be reasonably competitive to PayPal — if this goes through we’ll be offering people the choice to donate with their credit card via this new company or via PayPal. Stay tuned!

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21 thoughts on “Donations to MetaBrainz (UPDATED!)”

  1. I think $10 is more than a bargain for tagging abilities. It’s not forcing the user to donate, but I think most people will find it worthwhile to just throw $10 your way and not have the “nag” screen.

    Much like, you can get rid of the ads on your page buy pushing $3/mth their way. $3 is nothing to one person – why not try this at MusicBrainz?

    Another idea: You can have a “nag” page asking for donations for 3 seconds before displaying search results from the sidebar. IMO, this would be much more effective as I’d definitely pay a couple bucks to have instant searching in MB and bypass the “nag”.

    All the best,

  2. I think that an occassional nag screen is a fine and fair idea.

    I think honing the annoyingness of the nag screen will be something that will take time — balancing reminding users vs. pissing them off. Perhaps have an email address on it that says “Is this notice annoying you? Let us know.” See if anyone takes the time to click on it.

    Six months for $10 is something of a bargain, if you ask me. I think $5 a month is a fair price.

    Perhaps encourage users to set-up recurring PayPal subscriptions for a low $3-5 amount? Something that sounds small, so you don’t think much about it, but which will be recurring income for Metabrainz.

    Also something which I think works well on (and other sites I use) is the icon which indicates a paying member. It’s just a little social recognition which I think folks appreciate.

    Another idea: popping up a little non-obstructive “Thank you for supporting us” panel to subscribers on tag search results every so often might be a nice touch. Perhaps with a randomized funny comment. A little easter egg that will give folks warm-and-fuzzies.

  3. I totally agree with Rod here. A bit of nagging with social recognition for people who donate is the perfect way to go.

    If all you can get for a donation is the same service as before, people won’t be happy with it. Many users already do a lot of work to improve their editing and voting stats, so I’m sure they’ll also donate if they can get a nifty icon next to their user name.

  4. Generally, yes. I’d like to point out however that has a couple of features more that make the paid membership worthwile. If the only benefit is not being nagged, lots of people won’t bother i guess.

    Compare it to shareware programs, it takes a lot to finally shell out 20 bucks for a functionality which works perfectly fine but with a nag screen – i’m talking from my perspective at least.

  5. I know you’re wanting to talk about increasing donations, but I have ideas for reducing bandwidth. I took a look at the headers for some MB pages and searches and noticed that pages are being sent uncompressed. Have you considered installing mod_gzip to compress served pages to compatible clients (pretty much all modern browsers now). I know Slashdot has used it for a few years.

    Here’s a link to the home page:

  6. I agree with the idea of asking for donations a bit more. I, however, don’t think it’s a good idea to ask for monthly donations, even if the amount is lowered. Not all people will use MusicBrainz on a regular, let say weekly, base like they do with e.g. If someone paid for a month and only use it one time that month, they will already get the message again the next time they use it. On the other hand I do consider the six months period too long again. I think $10 for three months would be a fair balance. In the end it would be the same as the $3 per month on but the perception will be different.

    Five lookups before getting the nag panel again could be lowered a bit. 3-4 lookups would result in more nag displaying per album without it being too annoying. You could also make a combination for different nag panels. A constant not too obtrusive note at the top and bottom of a page and a big annoying splash screen on top of the results after each 3-4 lookups. If such a combination is used, you might want to increase the amount of lookups to 5-6 again.

    It would also help to clearly explain how and why MusicBrainz costs money. Not everyone realizes that bandwidth isn’t free and that improvements can only happen on a more regular basis if we get more money.

  7. I am strongly against deliberately obscuring or annoying nags. This sounds like forcing people to pay and forcing never works for me. As far as overlays go, I tend to instinctively close them without reading them.

    I suggest adding very short text message at the top of each page page like on Wikipedia and see how it goes. As Prodoc said, emphasize why the donation is needed. (eg “Please consider _donating_ to cover our _bandwith_ budget”) The social recognition might also be used here. (eg “This week’s top _donator_ is xxx” where the link will take the user to the donation page)

    +1 vote on Matt’s idea of trying to lower the bandwidth.

    What about setting some weekly bandwidth target according to amount of donations and then limit the speed of non-donating and non-contributing users to meet that target? If the speed is limited enough so that the user is likely to notice, show a short message explaining that there is not enough bandwidth available to cover the demand and that donation will help. Donating will prioritize the user so that he can use the service at unlimited speed.

  8. I agree with the general idea here. I don’t like the nag screens but MB is very similar to shareware, it’s fair that if you’re using it for free you should be able to put up with the occasional reminder to contribute. If you get the reminder enough it bothers you it’s a hint that maybe you’re a heavy enough user to give some money to the cause.

    I think that the nag should be restricted to tagging. MB is a great resource to simply looking up discographies. The occasional person browsing though from google or wikipedia shouldn’t be bothered, but if people make more use of the database for their own use (tagging) they should be encoraged to contribute a little something, $2-3 a month I think is fair.

    And I hate the idea of letting google ads in but it is always an option if people react negatively to the nag screen. Same deal as, subscription turns off ads.

  9. I’d like to point out that the only reason I don’t donate is because it’s Paypal. There are many of us who simply refuse to use it, we don’t trust it, and too many years of bad reputation make people like me very difficult to convince.

    I would have donated years ago, if there was any other way to do it (and if there is another way to do it, well, make it more visible.)

    Other options: Direct bank account to bank account transfers are free in most of Europe (especially if you have a EU based bank account to use to receive them,setting up a UK bank account as a foreigner is fairly trivial, I’ve done it myself, just ask at your own bank if they can do it.), all you need to provide is the bank account number and SWIFT code. Neteller is similar to paypal but enjoys a much better reputation. Or your own bank might offer a merchant handling service to allow credit card payments directly (something similar to the thing uses)

    Sure, keep the paypal for the people comfortable with it, but you should probably be aware just how much antipathy exists out here in the wild.

  10. Lauri and Arathorn:

    I am looking at switching banks that would allow me to take SWIFT transfers. But I fear that the fees incurred at my end would be too much to be practical. My personal bank takes $15 for an incoming wire transfer. The US is just now coming around to the idea of wire transfers for the common people (and not just people transferring millions of $$ to buy houses and businesses)

    I will also look to find another payment processor other than PayPal — I generally share your sentiments about PayPal. I never keep a balance in that account because I don’t trust PayPal to not freeze those funds at any random point in time.

  11. I would recommend keeping PayPal as one option – it doesn’t cost you anything and there are many people who don’t have bad experiences who may find it convenient (e.g. mo). However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have alternatives for those who don’t like PayPal.

    Setting up direct Credit Card payments probably makes sense as well – ironically, one of the cheapest ways to do this is with PayPal; for $10/month, you can accept direct CC payments with $0.30 + 2.9% (3.9% for non-US) transaction fee. This is substantially less than most bank merchant accounts for CC processing, especially for low-volume.

    Me, personally, when I donate to MB, I write a check. It costs me less than $0.50 to send (including cost of paper check, envelope and postage) and I know that the full amount of the donation goes to MB. Plus, I have a record when tax time comes around. (I realize this isn’t as practical for non-US members).


  12. Heh. Dupuy, first you would have to find me a bank anywhere in Sweden that even offers a checking account 🙂 Banking seems to be one area in particular with a massive cross-atlantic cultural divide, about the size of the spelling one.

    Mo: I certainly didn’t mean that paypal should be taken away, just that other options would be vastly preferable and a heck of a lot easier for a lot of people.

    Praying to the deity of blog comments this one posts first try and on the same day I sent it 🙂

  13. “other options would be vastly preferable and a heck of a lot easier for a lot of people.”

    I definitely agree with that. the more options the better, to be frank 🙂

  14. What do you want us to pay for?? I keep following musicbrainz hoping that one day it will have something to offer as it seems like a project with great potential but I never see any progress. I don’t even know what people are using it for right now…

    I have tried picard but its really no easier then manually editing each song. If musicbrainz lived up to its promise I would eagerly pay – scan your music, create unique audio fingerprints, match this to well combed meta data and make suggestions (not force changes) as to what changes need to be made and a simple – CHANGE button.

  15. “Also something which I think works well on (and other sites I use) is the icon which indicates a paying member. It’s just a little social recognition which I think folks appreciate.”

    see, i’d only ever want to donate anonymously as i don’t think what i do with my money is anyone’s business. plus i wouldn’t want any ‘credit’ for it, socially or whatever. we’re paying for a service at the end of the day.

    i know you could set up a system that let you donate but not show it to other users (or whatever), but then you are in affect forcing yourself to have negative social recognition, if that makes sense.

  16. Gecks:

    “we’re paying for a service at the end of the day.”

    That’s actually not true. The service is free (as stipulated by our IRS charter) and people make voluntary donations. Thus it makes sense for us to recognize the people who make MusicBrainz happen.

  17. I was looking at getting a Musicbrainz Tee from Cafepress — would this count against the donation for a nag-screen?

    Besides that, please don’t make the nag too annoying — dedicated MB users probably won’t mind, but new users might easily be put off.

    Maybe nag only registered users? Also, more features for “paid members” would be nice, but only if the price isn’t too steep. 🙂

  18. Yoasif:

    Cafe Press currently does not count. But, if you buy a shirt, take a picture of yourself in it and send me the picture, I will turn on your NoNag flag, which means you’ll never be nagged again. Fair? 🙂

    Also, if you’re an active member of MB (rather than just a tagger user) then you should never see the nag screen at all. Automods won’t see the nag screen. People with lots of edits/votes won’t either.

    As for paid features, that would go against the general principles of MB and our charter with the IRS. We’re supposed to be providing a free service to the public and we’re soliticing donations for this. If we tie the donations to services we provide, then the IRS may take issue with that.

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