Keyboard Builders' Digest / Advent Calendar
One year of kbd.news
Tamas Dovenyi, the guy behind kbd.news, sums up one year of the blog touching on a wide range of topics from visitor stats to new features.
Published December 21, 2022
I try to regularly report on behind the scenes stuff in my weekly editorials so I can only hope that there will be some new and interesting info in today's incoherent write-up. But before that, a short disclaimer for newcomers:
What is kbd.news?
By kbd.news I'm referring to this blog focusing on DIY keyboards, mostly but not exclusively open-source ones. As much as obvious this may sound for seasoned readers, I also write this disclaimer for my Japanese audience who have their weekly Youtube show going by the same name.
Some of you oldtimers may remember how this digest started out: as a weekly post of useful links on r/mk. But in two years it somehow has turned into a public service and full-fledged blog attracting close to 100K visitors a month.
Despite the continuous help of several community members, be it content, proofreading or tips, this is mostly a one-man-show, i.e. the site is developed and run by yours truly. I do the editing, coding and maintenance of all the databases (shops, coupons, meetups, etc.) as well, simply because I like to fiddle with code and databases.
Who are you?
My name is Tamas Dovenyi (sort of, for hardcore kbd.news fans: the proper name is Dövényi-Nagy Tamás), a relatively old guy compared to most of you (45 yo), working as a researcher at the local university in my hometown in Hungary (sorry for my despicable government). I don't really teach or do much science stuff nowadays, my work is more like development and coding. For the last ten years I've been developing various ecological models based on the data provided by a network of meteorological stations. Maintenance and programming of this network is part of my job (starting from the data loggers to the web interface) – and these skills helped me a lot on my journey since I learned about mechanical keyboards in 2018.
For example, genetic models, which we use for simulating all kinds of ecological phenomenons from soil water levels (irrigation) to accumulation of deadly toxins in your foodstuff, played a surprisingly important role in me ending up in the keyboard hobby: I used the same logic to optimize my layout. Yeah, I come from the layout design side of the hobby.
But I wrote about how I started in this hobby many times, check out the upcoming interview on keeb.io [link later] if you'd like to know more about me. Instead of that stuff, let's talk about this year's achievements and difficulties.
2022 in numbers
- I've featured about 700 projects this year.
- There are 461 shops in the vendor database, 111 of those are new (added during 2022).
- 87 stores offer you discounts via the KBDNEWS discount code. I'm quite proud of this which started to gain momentum this year if I remember correctly. (New shops are listed in my weekly editorials so somebody can count the new ones.)
- 56 meetups in the relatively new MK meetup database
- About 2,600 newsletter subscribers. More on this later.
- About 100K users in 30 days (the advent calendar plays a big role in this and temporarily distorts this metric, a more organic number would be 80K I guess).
Earlier this year I tried to count how many hours I put into this project. My estimation was 15-20 hours in an average week. Sometime during the summer I realized that this is unsustainable, so I decided to cut back on some features. Have you noticed it? No? As you can see, I miserably failed. :D Instead of less features there are actually more: meetup database, anniversary giveaway, advent calendar – just to name a few.
Then came another revelation. I'm not entirely sure how these numbers were calculated, but I would be ashamed if this wasn't the result of doing a community work:
Ouch! And this is just the browsing, commenting and dissemination part – up until Nov 30, that was the cut-off day for this stat I guess. Incorporating the time spent with editing, posting, etc. would double this amount.
So if my original estimation of 15-20 hours would be equivalent to a part-time job, the Reddit recap figures suggest it's most like a fulltime job. And the anniversary giveaway and advent calendar ensured I spend more time with curating this blog than with my actual job.
How do I have so much free time?
- I live next to my workplace. So my "commute" is a 10-minute walk.
- My kids are becoming independent so I don't have to take them to school or drive them around the city. There are weeks when I don't even use my car.
- I'm an introvert, otaku and couch potato so my nonexistent social life doesn't distract me from my duties. :D
- I don't game at all, watch movies and listen to music only moderately and very consciously (I'm a newsaholic though). I'm not on social media either – except the kbd.news accounts.
- I neglected my other hobbies.
- I completely stopped doing freelance coding and web development for local companies – this is a painful part of this project which has to be resolved.
So that's how I squeeze out that many hours for kbd.news.
When I made the interview with RominRonin, and at some point our roles seemed to be reversed, he asked me about my motivation of doing kbd.news. Danny asked me a similar question when doing the interview for the Keeb.io blog (coming soon I guess).
My answer was that the actual motivation changes all the time.
Back at the start I was grateful for every single upvote or positive comment on Reddit.
After four months or so, the first donation (thanks Diana!) helped me to overcome a low point. Then came a long period of double digit growth in visitor numbers which was fun to keep track of and kept me motivated for a long time.
And nowadays I feel a small adrenaline rush when I see kbd.news or myself referenced e.g. in your keyboard documentations, Seeed competition submissions, etc.
I’m humbled to have played a small part in your incredible keyboard projects!
2nd Anniversary Giveaway
This was a very, VERY bad decision. :D A year ago, after the first (relatively) big giveaway with 28 prizes, I decided I'll never run a similar giveaway again. The amount of correspondence it takes to ensure every winner gets his/her goodie is crazy. I wrote many hundreds of emails – and counting.
In 2021, after the raffle was done in November, I was still sorting things out in January next year.
So I was pretty sure I wouldn't be such a fool again – until a mini-meetup with davidkincses who told me the giveaway is a must, and I promised I'll think about it.
Next day I figured out this is the last chance if I want to ensure that sponsors get a decent amount of publicity in return of the prizes they offer, so I reached out to 400 vendors at about 10PM, and there were 58 prizes (offered by 15 vendors) included in the next newsletter sent out the following day (it was a really hard night setting up the giveaway page while putting together Issue #101. :D).
And eventually there were 50 sponsors with 109 prizes. (I merged some small ones in the end.)
That said, after the raffle on Nov 20, I contacted the last sponsor with the list of winners on Dec 16. Almost a month later.
I have a LOT of ideas how to improve the system for next year and to reduce this time frame to a couple of days...
Advent Calendar 2022
I've been a big fan of the MK calendars of the Japanese community. Many articles published in such calendars became reference materials for years to come, e.g. I used them for the exotic matrices write-ups.
When Cody Tu, designer of the Switch Magazine reached out to me in June offering he would turn one of the kbd issues into a pdf-zine, I thought of these advent calendars immediately. I liked his original idea (and readers have asked for a pdf version regularly) but the weekly turnaround of issues and the very heterogeneous length, structure and quality of posts made it quite impossible to produce an e-zine based on a regular issue. Instead, I suggested a special issue and started to organize it.
In the coming months, I managed to put together an epic line-up. Originally, I reached out to more people, but I've never heard back from some potential contributors, was refused by one single user, and was let down or ghosted by some confirmed authors in the last few weeks... But that was expected. That's how these projects work I guess. ;)
Unfortunately, I haven't heard back from two Ukrainian community members either, I hope they are well.
In hindsight, this was a thrilling new challenge, sometimes I felt quite uneasy because of the pressure, responsibility and race against time. All in all, I deem this first calendar and special issue a success, and may do it again next year.
Many thanks to all the contributors, and especially Sadek Baroudi for proofreading and editing many posts, and Cody who is working on the pdf-version now, but it's a huge task, and may take a few months.
The period of the initial double digit monthly growth is over.
The number of visitors has stagnated since this summer, only increasing in December, mostly due to the advent calendar and its shameless promotion on Reddit and Twitter.
(These are 10-20% samples of the whole picture, explanation below.)
I keep track of some stats on Googe Analytics and Cloudflare. Unfortunately, they are not compatible or comparable, partly due to my fault.
The more detailed GA stats are based on cookies, and adblockers prevent its tracker from working, so these datasets are mere samples.
Cloudflare on the other hand uses DNS data, so it registers all the visits (but not pageloads) – the number of unique visitors is pretty much the only usable metrics it provides.
Comparing the two sources, my estimation is that GA registers only 10-20% of the pageloads, i.e. 80-90% of you use adblockers. There are no ads on kbd.news which could be blocked so you could even whitelist the blog. ;)
About 2,600 subscribers receive my free weekly newsletters.
This is absolute cognitive dissonance: the more subscribers I have, the more I have to pay for this service. Still, it's a good feeling when I get notified of a new subscriber.
On the other hand, seeing people unsubscribe is still a bad feeling, despite knowing full well that I should be grateful instead, because the fee I have to pay may decrease with every unsubscriber.
I started with using Mailchimp where you are kicked out of the free plan after reaching 2,000 subscribers. That was in April this year I guess. I tried another service: Buttondown – which is cheaper, more human (we exchanged many emails with the founder), uses markdown, so is scriptable! But its free plan allows only 1,000 subscribers.
Combined it's 3,000, so yes, I'm sending out two newsletters (the same content) these days because I'm frugal. :D
As things stand now, I deleted a bunch of inactive users from Mailchimp, I guess about 100 people, so I'm temporary below the free threshold there.
And I have about 700 subscribers at Buttondown so that's free as well. At least for now.
This will change next year.
Opening rate is about 50% these days, which is actually very good. Mailchimp's industry average of newsletters of this size is below 40% (and my 19% click rate is way better than the 5-7% industry average as well).
Still, it's strange to pay per subscriber when half of them never open these mails.
I'll try to delete a massive number of passive subscribers before I start to pay again, so make sure you open some mails or click some links in the newsletters if you want to stay subscribed.
When it comes to posting about your gorgeous keyboards, I'm in a state of constant self-doubt: impostor syndrome, sustainability (content wise and also financially) and time management wise as well.
Impostor syndrome: I blog about stuff which I only partially understand. :D What do I mean by that? While I've built my own keyboards from scratch, I don't try every single switch, keycap profile, controller, etc. Some of you erroneously think about me like an omniscient sage (at least that's what some of your questions reflect :D) which I'm definitely not. I don't order the newest switches, would have to completely relearn KiCad at this point, haven't used QMK for more than a year either. What's even more outrageous: I haven't spent a single penny on (contemporary) keyboards this year. I enjoy the research and learning part of the hobby, the content aggregation, but I don't feel I have to try everything and especially to hoard switches, keycaps or keyboards – except of course vintage ones. ;)
My second doubt is if I will able to keep posting with this frequency. Will there be new keyboard projects every week at all? I mean, enough to fill a full issue or newsletter. And really new and newsworthy ones. Aren't we repeating ourselves and posting the same ideas all the time? For my biggest surprise it seems there is enough valuable content most of the time. New solutions, technologies emerge and stir things up constantly: RP2040, XIAO footprint, Cirque touchpad, X-switch, new keycap profiles – just to name a few innovations and trends from this year. However, if it wasn't the advent calendar, I've had a hard time with the December issues.
Finally, my third source of doubt: the justification of time and energy I put into this project. You can do this for some time for sheer enthusiasm. But then you really have to look for new motivation and reasoning to spend endless hours with your hobby instead of your family – or another hobby. :D
Ads & business model
Speaking of costs, as already mentioned, I gave up my freelance part-time webdev side hustle to be able to cope with the blog. That's a huge loss financially, and I have to compensate that somehow.
I hate ads, just like pop-ups telling me I should whitelist a site to be able to read an article. So I'm not going to scatter the site with ads as long as I see any other way of making some bucks – despite being regularly approached by ad networks (actually, I was really surprised the first time I was contacted).
Instead, the "business model" is based on:
- and recently affiliate commissions
It makes sense to divide donations into two parts: money coming from readers and businesses. The logic behind a blog founded on donations coming from readers would be editorial freedom. Taking a look at the list of donors (thanks everyone!), you can see the top supporters are shops which may compromise the editorial freedom on the long run. Affiliate partnerships take the content in a different direction as well.
The only way to ensure I can post about keyboard stuff that I find valuable is reader donations.
So if you can afford to support this project, here is the link: https://kbd.news/donate
Another topic I'd like to mention shortly: vintage keyboards. While I'm not a hoarder of contemporary keyboard stuff, I definitely hoard old and dirty keyboards which I don't even use. :D You may have seen my reddit cake day post which turned out to be my most upvoted post this year:
And here is a larger photo:
How to get into kbd.news?
While I'm continuously browsing various subreddits and other resources, I may miss your keyboard, so feel free to reach out to me any time.
So you finished your project and think it's newsworthy? Awesome. I prefer open-source keyboards or projects which are well-documented. Most of the time I can't come up with a post based on a single photo you posted on Twitter.
Feel free to DM me on Twitter (@KbdNews), ping me in a comment or in your tweet. Same with Reddit (u/dovenyi). Another way to raise my attention is to contact me directly.
I don't really hang around on Discord but I check it regularly so if that's your platform of choice, you can find me there too: my handle is dovenyi#4481.
I really have to update and completely revamp the split database. It gets a lot of traffic and it's a real shame it hasn't been updated for a year now.
I'd love to be able to release my logical layout design tools, but it still has many hardcoded config parameters. This has to be fixed so people without any programming skills can use it by clicking around on a nice interface.
And I'll try to keep up the basic service: bringing keyboard news to you.
Thanks everyone, and have a nice holiday season! I'll be temporarily AFK, I have run out of articles for the advent calendar series anyway. Will try to keep an eye on keyboard content but will also spend the last few days of the year in the mountains without internet so expect some radio silence.
Tamas Dovenyi (45)dovenyi
|Description||Keyboard content aggregator|
|Niche||monoblock splits, vintage keyboards|
|Fav. switch||Momoka Frogs, Kailh This-Is-Plastic|
|Fav. keycap profile||MT3, MDA|
|Other hobbies||guitars, drums, learning Japanese|
|Links||https://kbd.news, https://golem.hu, https://twitter.com/KbdNews|
Published on Wed 21st Dec 2022. Featured in KBD #108.
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