I want to tell you a little about two new things we’re adding to Exercism to help make it financially sustainable. The second - Exercism Insiders - is something I think you’re going to be especially excited about. And make sure to read this to the end as I announce two special features, one of which is only available for early adopters.
So firstly, a bit of background. When Katrina first created Exercism 10 years ago she had absolutely zero desire for it to turn into any sort of big product. It was a simple platform that she was using with her students. But by a joyous accident, it became a thing. And 10 years later, we now have millions of visitors per month. We’ve got to this stage on a ridiculously small budget. In fact, in the 8 years of Exercism up to the launch of v3, we spent under $500k - only $60k per year. During that time, we’ve rebuilt the platform from scratch twice, created 65 language tracks, had millions of submissions, discussions, iterations… We’ve built automated feedback systems that have given feedback over 800,000 times. We’ve done a lot. On very little.
And a big part of the reason that’s been possible is obviously because of the fact that we’re open source. Thousands of people have contributed to Exercism, and a few hundred especially wonderful folks have done the work of building out and maintaining our content. But with the success of the v3 launch, we hit a point where we needed an actual full time team working on Exercism to keep it functioning. We were also given an incredibly generous donation of $500k at this time, which meant we could hire a small team. So we hired Aron to do front-end work, Jonathan to grow and manage the community side, and Loretta to work on fundraising and partnerships.
The result of that work has actually been pretty amazing. Day-to-day usage of the site has grown by about 250% year-on-year. We’ve added a load of automated mentoring features that mean we’ve now instantly given feedback on over 800,000 solutions. We have the community live streaming on Twitch on a daily basis. We have a vibrant forum and Discord server. We’ve also increased our monthly donations from pretty much zero to over $6k per month. Which is huge. However, our work on trying to get companies to support us via their CSR budgets has gone less well, and while £6k/month is amazing, it’s only actually 1/5th of what we need and the majority of donations are one-off gifts rather than recurring support. So, we’re running out of time to be sustainable with our current team, and without that team, we don’t have the resources to actually run Exercism - as much as I wish there were 400 hours in a week for me to do all the things, there’s not. And I can’t. So we need to find a way to be able to pay for everyone, and quickly.
But also, I want Exercism to grow. Those of you that have spent time talking to me over the last few years know all the ideas and hopes and ambitions I have for Exercism - the stuff I think we can do that would be amazing. But to do that, we need both a larger team, and we need to be able to pay more competitive salaries. So… we need to find a way to fix things.
And there’s two things we’re going to try.
The first is to add some sponsorship to the site. We’re going to seek out partners who we feel offer great products and services to developers and invite them to sponsor tracks and also areas like our emails and infrastructure. Sponsorship will be a long-term thing - companies will need to commit to probably a minimum of 12 months support. And we do really want to treat these as win-win partnerships. I’m thinking that we can do things like co-create really great content, do some interviews with senior people in their companies, and also get them to offer discounts or free trials to our power-users - but more about that in a minute!
There’s a few things we won’t be doing. This won’t be advertising in the pay-per-click sort of world. We won’t be adding any tracking stuff onto the website, sharing any people’s details, or anything at all like that. We’re purely looking for organisations who want to support free education, support open source, support grass-roots initiatives like ours, and in exchange we tell you all that they’re doing it, and hopefully encourage you to at least take a look at their products. I also hope that many of these organisations will also choose to donate to Exercism via their Corporate Social Responsibility arms as well. We’ll see.
And as an interlude here, if you work for a company that offers products or services to developers, maybe they’d be interested in sponsoring exercism. If you could make an introduction, put us in touch with the relevant person, or even just anonymously tell us who we should be approaching, that would be huge. So please email Loretta (her email’s in the description below) and we’ll work out what works best!
I started out a bit dubious about all this, but I’m actually really excited for it now. I think true partnerships could be a real level-up for Exercism and provide some great extra benefits for all our members.
So that’s the first part. The second part is something I’m definitely excited about and have been for ages and that’s Exercism Insiders.
Exercism Insiders is going to be our new rewards program for people who actively support Exercism. We’re going to be giving you more behind-the-scenes access, more involvement in the future of Exercism, extra fun features, and also, we’re going to be asking all the companies we’re speaking to about sponsorship to offer free trials or discounts to our Insiders.
To be an Insider the general rule is that you need to actively be supporting Exercism. For the most part that means either you’ve been actively contributing to our codebase, actively mentoring, or have made a recent donation. We’re still finalising the details, but my thinking is loosely that every time you earn a certain amount of reputation, or donate to us, that extends your access by 30 days from that point. If you’re a regular donator or a regular contributor, then we’ll probably also give a bit more of a grace period, so if you’ve not been around for 30 days, but have been for the previous 9 months, you don’t just lose access. And we’ll also be giving life-long membership to people who have made huge contributions in the past but aren’t currently active.
Insiders will also give you a badge that appears next to your name on the website, flare on the forum and a Discord role that gives you access to special private channels. It will also mean that on things like our community calls, you’ll be able to attend and actively participate, rather than just watching them back. It will give access to behind-the-scenes vlogs and interviews, and we’re also considering things like prioritising questions from Insiders in the AMAs we’re hosting. Basically, if you’re part of what makes Exercism a success, we want to celebrate you and really bring you along for the ride.
I mentioned at the beginning that we’ve got two special features for early adopters. The first of these is Dark Mode. I know this is something that a lot of you have been wanting forever, and well it’s finally here. We’re going to be launching it at the same time as Insiders and it's only going to be available to Insiders for the first 3 months. So if you want access to it, go and earn some reputation by contributing or mentoring, or sign up as a regular donor.
The second feature is what we describe in the UK as marmite - you’ll either love it or hate it. We’re going to be integrating ChatGPT into our site, so if you get stuck on an exercise you can ask it for help, and when you finish an exercise you’ll get automated feedback from it. In our experiments so far, ChatGPT has been awesome about half the time, and useless the other half, so we’re treating it as a purely fun feature at this stage, but we think it is going to be a lot of fun to experiment with. This is going to be an Insiders-only feature for the foreseeable future, and for the month of May, only those people who were Insiders on Insiders launch-day will get access, so if you want to play with this, you need to have earned Insiders access before we launch. We’re also going to be adding a special badge for people who supported us before we launched Insiders, and the little Insiders tag next to your name on the site will permanently reflect your early support.
We’ll be launching a landing page the next week with exact details and your pending Insiders status, but making a donation now guarantees you access, and it would be amazing to see some donations rolling in before we launch, so please consider doing that if you’re able to!
One thing I want to clarify is that none of our educational features are going to start getting walled off. Insiders is going to be full of fun features, extra UI juice, and behind-the-scenes access. It’s not going to be extra content, or production-ready features. So if you can’t afford the time or money to access Insiders you’re not going to get a worse educational experience as a result - that’s a really important red-line for us.
OK - so those are the two things: sponsorship and Insiders. Our hope is that through these, both companies and individuals choose to financially support Exercism, and we can both get ourselves to a more sustainable point and start to see a future where we can really thrive and start to build out some of the exciting ideas we have.
So thanks for reading. I hope you’re really too, especially by Insiders. I look forward to telling you more in the coming weeks!