I’m active in discussions on Hacker News and regularly submit articles there. For anyone reading this that doesn’t know them, Hacker News is a popular news aggregator and discussion forum primarily for tech related news.
In some of my last submissions, a few people complained that our articles are ‘disguised ads’ and although these comments did not appear to represent a large number of people, I started reflecting on what we could do better and how we can stay authentic in our mission to always be open in every area of our business, whether that is open hardware/software or being open about our intentions when we are communicating with the air quality community .
First of all, for anyone reading this who doesn’t know what we do. We are an air quality monitor manufacturer that is unique because all of our monitor designs are open-source under CC-BY-SA enabling everybody to use it whether you purchase a monitor from us or not. Thousands of people around the world use our monitors and are able to have full control on how they use them (e.g. send data directly to their own server like home assistant or do easy hardware upgrades).
Being open-hardware, open-data and self-funded does not enable us to spend a lot of money on traditional marketing, but it puts us in the unique position that we can be very transparent about practices in the industry that may not necessarily be good for the user, customer and the planet. It’s only natural that we compare our products against others in the air quality sector, to inform our readers about alternatives that might be available to them. And depending on their circumstances, could bring them more benefits. In this approach we stay open about what our monitors offer compared to our competitors allowing the reader to come to their own conclusion on what product would be a ‘best fit’ for them. It is probably difficult to avoid a certain inherent bias towards our own products but we always try to be mindful of this.
Developing robust open-hardware air quality monitors requires a lot of money and our strong beliefs in open hardware, open data and open algorithms means that there are limits to how we can monetize these investments. And this is ok, because for us founders impact is much more important than profits. BUT we need to make a profit to fund our operations otherwise our business model would not be feasible and we would no longer be able to maintain our open designs used by so many people.
Our main source of revenue is the sale of our open-hardware air quality monitors and as such we need to get traffic to our website so that people know that we exist and that there are alternatives to closed-source commercial monitors. Our impact before profit mantra, reduces the amount of money we have available for paid advertisements. Like many other companies out there, we run a blog and (try to) write articles that are interesting for people who care about air quality. We also write quite extensively on how we want to operate as a transparent, and open company.
We also want to use the blog to inform people about our open-hardware monitors with the aim to get more visibility and to support our operations. This is why below each blog post, there is a small banner about our monitors that people can click to and get more information (and if they like it, they can buy one) and if they can’t afford one they can go to our open designs on the website and build one.
What we will do differently from now on
As outlined above, transparency is really important for us at AirGradient, and we are actively listening to our community’s opinions. This is one of the reasons I’m writing this article. We want to learn and adapt along the way to always ensure transparency. Therefore going forward we will do the following when writing articles:
- Mark our own banners as “Ads” but also highlighting that it is our own product
- We will only mention our products in a post if it makes sense to do so
- On some posts put a disclaimer with a link to this article
We are always listening to our community so let me know if you think there is anything else we could be doing to address the above or if we are doing something you like that you think we could build on please let us know.