On a personal note…

travel dayToday (Friday) is a travel day for MDN editor Jim Willis, so there will be no regularly scheduled news updates today. Don’t worry! I will catch you up on the all of the latest news that matters for the Marcellus and Utica on Monday.

In lieu of today’s news, I would like to give you a brief update on the state of MDN and where things will go in 2014. It is a rare “personal note” where I pull back the curtain and discuss with you what happens backstage…

I started MDN as a hobby in 2009, writing occasionally because I wanted to figure out for myself what this fascinating thing called shale drilling in the Marcellus was all about after hearing about farmers in Deposit, NY (not far from where I live) becoming overnight millionaires by signing leases to allow natural gas drilling on and under their land. I chose to launch a blog because blogging was still new and as a marketing person, I wanted to explore it and use it and figure it out.

The topic of natural gas drilling appealed to my sense of wonder, my “geeky” side of trying to understand complex scientific issues. Shale drilling also appealed to my political side–it appeared to me from the earliest days of shale drilling that there is a philosophical and political divide among those who support it and those who do not. That chasm interested me precisely because most people didn’t (and still don’t) talk about it.

Finally, I wanted to try my hand at writing for publication–even if only my own online publication. Being a “marketing guy” at small, niche business-to-business publishing companies for most of my adult career, I wanted to write for a change, to satisfy my “always the bridesmaid but never the bride” syndrome. I had always felt there was a writer inside me wanting to bust out.

And so blogging about the Marcellus (and later Utica) Shale drilling seemed to be the convergence of all those things in one neat package. I began to write about it, sporadically, occasionally, in early 2009. Little did I know!

I’ve monitored traffic to my blog site from the beginning, and it surprised me to see how quickly people were finding my site, and the expanding numbers of people who were reading it. The numbers went from a few hundred to a few thousand to many thousand within a year. I won’t bore you with a long history, but once or twice in those “early years” I just quit writing for long stretches (months) as life got busy. However, traffic to the site remained strong even during those non-writing periods. It was obvious I had hit a vein and that many people were hungry for more information about shale drilling in the Marcellus.

As my site and enthusiasm picked up steam, I would spend an hour or two a day seeking out news to share with others–adding my own “take” on the news. What started as an hour or two turned into three to four hours a day and it became obvious that if I was going to keep up that kind of commitment to this blog/news site, because by then it had turned into something more than a blog, I would have to make money from it or I could not justify the amount of time I was spending. I couldn’t justify it to my family! It was with fear and trepidation that I added what I considered a reasonable but very small “pay wall” or requirement that people pay–$5.95 per month or $59.50 per year–in May 2012. I felt sure my audience will simply vanish overnight–but really, what alternative did I have?

To my surprise and shock, a lot of people stuck around and decided it was worth the price to read full stories–enough people to make it profitable. My formerly free readers understood and “got” my concept that I scan, aggregate, condense and otherwise connect the dots on news that happens in the northeast with shale drilling each day–so they don’t have to. My “value proposition”–the thing that I do so my readers (you who are reading this now) don’t have to do, is to scan multiple news sources each day, locating the most relevant, interesting news, and present it.

I also try to add a dash of humor, a bit of snark and sarcasm, and in general try to make sense of this industry. I don’t say things to intentionally tick people off (although I often seem to), I simply give it to you straight–exactly what I think. And I believe people find it refreshing to know exactly what my thinking, my leaning, my “biases” if you will–are. Let’s not pretend as so many do. Let’s talk straight and be completely transparent. What you read each day is my take, my understanding and my (quirky) personality on paper–or perhaps I should say on the screen.

Enough people find value in what I collect and present each day to pay me–about the equivalent of one cup of Starbucks coffee (my personal fav) each month. People don’t have to agree with my views in order to get value from my writing. I have many subscribers who vehemently disagree with some of my conservative “tea party” (I would call them common sense) positions and assertions–but they still subscribe,  gritting their teeth on occasion, because I perform a valuable service for them.

To everyone who subscribes, I want you to know how much I deeply appreciate and value you. I am not arrogant enough to believe that I am always right (although I am confident of my positions and thinking). I sometimes make errors–in facts and in judgment. I try to correct those errors quickly, openly and honestly. I am far from perfect and keenly feel my responsibility to do the very best I can for those who have paid me money. I take this site and my responsibilities very seriously. I just choose to have a bit of fun along the way!

What’s Ahead in 2014: Housekeeping

When I evaluated software that would allow me to offer some stories and content for free, but charge for other bits (in May 2012), I selected a simple, inexpensive system. Let me be brutally honesty and transparent. My early decision has come back to haunt me many times and has served as a valuable life lesson: While you may think an idea stands a good chance of failing, plan as if it will be a wild success.

I desperately need to change the software that allows access to permissioned parts of the MDN site–I am well aware of that! It’s a pain to have to constantly log in (my system doesn’t keep you logged in), or to reset a password (it doesn’t do that well either).

I also need to change website hosting services. The service I have is sometimes slow–and the security software I have to run (the site has been attacked in the past), causes unending problems for some subscribers because it seems to randomly blacklist their computers and disallows them access.

That’s the bad news. The good news, on the housekeeping front, if that I am close to deciding on an upgrade to a different software system for subscribers. However, it will involve some pain, initially, when we transition to it. I plan to give you plenty of advance warning before it happens. My commitment to you, my valued subscribers, is that I will fix these ongoing “housekeeping” issues in 2014. I also plan to freshen up the look and feel of the website. Nothing too radical–I don’t like it when sites “re-skin” and change their layouts every year or two and I figure if I don’t like it, others don’t either. So I won’t make you learn a completely new website navigation. However, I do need to correct some issues that subscribers have complained about for years, like the background color around quoted articles that makes them hard to read. Smallish font size and font colors. Things like that.

I will change hosting services, change the permissioning software for subscribers, and give the site a fresher, more modern “look and feel.” That’s what’s ahead for housekeeping in 2014.

What’s Ahead in 2014: Content

I intend to continue doing what I do, which is a daily review and comment on news of interest for landowners, supply chain companies, drillers–anyone with an interest in the Marcellus and Utica Shale and what happens in those plays. However, not everyone likes or needs a daily feed. For some, daily is too much like drinking from a fire hose–weekly would be sufficient. So I am toying with the idea of a weekly review/summary of the “most important” of the important news that I cover on a daily basis. And the weekly might have more of a “just the facts ma’am” kind of feel. It would likely be aimed at businesses and business people who don’t have a lot of time but want to track the Marcellus and Utica and not miss anything important. This is my thinking right now–subject to change–that I may start up a weekly review. My question to you, my valued readers: Good idea? Bad idea? If you’re a business person, would you pay for it? Send me an email with your thoughts: [email protected]

Also ahead in 2014 will be another 3-volume set of the Marcellus and Utica Shale Databook. I edit the Databook and create it with my friend Ed Camp. Ed is the founder and proprietor of ShaleNavigator. The Databook is my attempt at helping businesses understand where drilling is hot–and where it is not–in the northeast. We do this with a series of maps. I also add analysis of the industry in varying sections of the Databook. It’s a big undertaking every four months (I’m currently working on the 2013 Vol. 3 edition which covers the last four months of 2013). Although it may seem pricey at $298 for three volumes, I have lots of emails telling me how much it’s helped companies. And the companies that subscribe range from the smallest kinds of companies–like providers of chain link fences–to the largest drillers in the world. I think the Databook fills and important need and I love writing and publishing it. That will continue.

In addition to the Databook, I am seriously considering more involvement with events. I have helped design and will moderate several panels at an all-day conference at the end of March in Pittsburgh as part of the Oil & Gas Awards. More on that in the near future. In addition, I’ve considered starting a workshop on supply chain–something that would take small and medium-sized companies “by the hand” and walk them through the process of “how do I sell my products (or more of my products) and services to the shale drilling industry?” I believe there is a real hunger for practical, nuts and bolts “here’s how you do it” kind of information and learning. I think a workshop is probably the best way to share that kind of information–something that is interactive and face to face. Do you agree? If any businesses are interested in that kind of workshop, drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know. I can’t promise a workshop event this year, but I am seriously considering it and your feedback will help guide my decision-making.

Wrapping it Up

Finally, I’m now old enough and (hopefully) wise enough to know that I don’t know it all. Far from it. There may be things that I could do to address needs in our industry that I’m overlooking–haven’t even thought about! If there are, please drop me a line. Send me your suggestions–on anything. Is there something I can improve about the website? Something you really like–or really hate–about MDN? Things that stir strong emotions are things I pay close attention to. Is there something you wish you had in the way of information and can’t find and think I may be able to provide–a new publication or information service? Let me know.

My parting comment on this highly personal note is this: Thank you. Thank you for being there, reading, and giving me a small portion of your hard-earned money and your time. I acknowledge it, and I appreciate it. I would love to meet you in person and hope to along the way, somewhere at some time.

I’ll be back Monday to catch you up on the news!

Jim Willis, Editor, MDN