This website can't be everything to everyone

The Scolding
The Scolding © by Roblawol, used under Creative Commons license.

An odd thing has happened as the Empire has evolved: readers are REALLY invested in the websites, which is awesome. The downside of this investment is that sometimes, if they see something on one of the sites that isn't a perfect fit with their expectations, they get crabby.

Sometimes, this crabbiness translates into readers then scolding me or my editors for not adhering to what they think the we should be about. A few examples:

  • "This advertisement suggests I buy something, but your sites are about DIY and living simply" [because apparently no one is allowed to enjoy shopping if they also like DIY]
  • "This advice suggests that I should do something I don't want to do, but your sites are about supporting me in making my own decisions to do whatever I want to do" [because apparently people need to be told it's ok to ignore this advice if it's not relevant to them]
  • "This language strikes me as hurtful, and your sites have a long history of supporting my community, so you should know better and clearly you're writing this way because you hate me" [because sometimes it's hard to factor in context]
  • "You shouldn't allow this writer to define themselves using this word" [because allowing author's to self-identify makes some other readers uncomfortable]
  • "This post is irrelevant to my needs — you NEVER pay attention to people like me" [because apparently every post is supposed to be catered to every single reader's unique lifestyle, finances, region, and personal situation]

Yes, I've written about this before…but it's gotten worse.

I totally get where all these concerns are coming from — ultimately, these challenges boil down to people loving the sites and feeling sad/hurt/confused when something they love doesn't line up with their expectations (or in some cases, projections). It's the sweetest kind of hurt, but over the years I've felt it paint me into a corner where I'm almost always acquiescing instead of sometimes saying, "Hey, I respect what you're saying here, but I disagree."

Posts have gotten increasingly toothless and bland as they try to appeal to as many readers as possible. Articles get so heavily qualified as to be almost meaningless — "here's a thing you could maybe consider trying, unless it doesn't relate to your situation, in which you can ignore it of course, but if it's helpful then yay!, but no pressure, mmkay?"

This needs to stop.

Yes, I like to cater to readers and their concerns as much as possible, but when it starts breeding toothless content, that's not good for anyone. No one wants to read a post titled "This certain people could maybe do if they wanted to (but no one has to, and that's ok, right?)." I don't appreciate being told by readers (even the most loving, well-intentioned readers — and I KNOW you are!) that I don't know how to run my business or make editorial decisions.

I cherish my readers and love it when they take the time to share their feelings with me, but I need to balance these thousands of voices with my own business decisions and my desires to keep my editorial content strong, opinionated, and unfettered by fears about making bold statements. I need readers to respect that we know what we're doing, even if it's not always what they like. This doesn't mean there's not room for feedback or questions or concerns. We make mistakes. We're opening to learning new things. But we're not always going to agree, you guys. It doesn't mean we're not on the same team, or that we can't be friends.

As I said last year:

We LOVE getting feedback from our readers about how our posts make you feel, even if I can't always promise that we'll be able to make all 250,000 of you feel good about every single post on the site. We're ok with that, and we hope you can be too.

  1. I love all the offbeat sites here. Keep up the excellent work! If the Empire ever becomes so far lost from what I enjoy here, well, then I'll find other websites. I know how to use the interwebs! Stick to your guns Ariel! It's done you well so far and it's what I like about the Empire. I am not planning a wedding, a baby, or a home, but there's a lot of good information and inspiration.

    EAT IT SCOLDERS!

    7 agree
    • I second what Megan said.

      More polarizing awesomeness!!! ;)

      0 agree
  2. "Posts have gotten increasingly toothless and bland as they try to appeal to as many readers as possible. Articles get so heavily qualified as to be almost meaningless — 'here's a thing you could maybe consider trying, unless it doesn't relate to your situation, in which you can ignore it of course, but if it's helpful then yay!, but no pressure…"

    THIS. I always hate to see the qualifiers increasing, because it means that you're getting gunshy from all the scolding. Good for you for pushing back. Take back the night!!!

    0 agree
  3. yeah exactly. You're sites are so huge and so successful that there is no way you can possibly please everyone all the time, so you gotta just please your self which is what made you so popular to begin with. If you loose one or two people along the way, whatevs. Seriously, who has time to complain about nit picky stuf on websites that they love? And if you love it why be a dick about it? That's all I'm saying.

    1 agrees
    • Lauren makes excellent points!

      Be bold! Be strong! Be fierce! Haters gonna hate. And they can also relocate.

      Just be you and be what made you guys so successful in the first place. That's what we're here for :)

      1 agrees
  4. If I wanted toothless, meaningless, let's-please-everyone content, I'd be reading the mainstream crap.

    I LOVE the Empire!

    7 agree
      • I would love posts with teeth to them, even if I don't agree with their viewpoint. If I don't like it I just move on. I would rather have something that makes me feel emotion ( joy that someone thinks like me, anger that someone doesn't think like me, whatever) rather than posts that make me feel meh.

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  5. I read Offbeat Empire blogs for a particular kind of editorial and a particular style of voice and I bet most of the readers do too. So don't listen to the scolders because we will all regret it if the Offbeat Empire stops being the Offbeat Empire. I loved the early posts that had teeth (including in surprising places) and that had something to say. So keep having something to say. :)

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  6. Have to admit, I'm a bit amused to hear that there are people complaining that not every post is relevant to them. The majority of the posts on Offbeat sites aren't relevant to me – I'm not a parent, I live with my parents so I don't have my own house to think about and I'm not engaged. The reason why I look at the Offbeat sites is because I get to see what the many different people of the world do, see, create. I love all the differences, even when they're something I don't actually like or agree with.

    3 agree
    • The thing that's great about this new-fangled internet doodad is that it allows for the creation of much broader sub-cultures and groups – where once you were one of 25-odd people with one specific interest in your community, now you can find hundreds, or thousands or more.

      But that doesn't mean that everything on teh interwebz is going to apply to your specific needs.

      This can be good, because you can learn about all sorts of things you might never have thought about (which I do frequently with OBE stuff), but you also need to learn to filter that stuff that really doesn't apply to you and just take on board what works.

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    • That was not meant to be a reply to your comment – sorry, I must have borked it =( I did like your comment though!

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    • I'm also in this boat! I'm not engaged, I don't have a baby .. I DO have a house, but I'm too broke to think about "decorating" much more than it is. But I still like to read about all of it, even if I don't agree with some (admittedly few) things on the obe sites. Honestly, they're the only sites I come to daily now.

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  7. "This advice suggests that I should do something I don't want to do, but your sites are about supporting me in whatever I want to do [because apparently people need to be told it's ok to ignore this advice if it's not relevant to them]"

    I saw a comment like this the other day, and just had to roll my eyes. Keep on keepin' on. I love the Empire!

    1 agrees
  8. I have to admit, sometimes I look at a post and go "duh?!".

    Like, "this could not be less relevant to me if it tried! Why is it here, in this place I like, with people I thought were like me?!"

    But then I look at the comments and see all the offbeaties saying how good it is to see Star Wars cake toppers, steampunk wallpaper or hippies with guns and I smile and am glad that everyone has somewhere to get their jollies.

    2 agree
  9. I agree with and support your decision, Ariel. I cringe when I see comments that show disappointment that the content isn't relevant to that one commenter, or that the prices of the items advertised are so OMG high, or what-have-you. I'm sure not everyone is going to like or benefit from every post. I know I don't, but it does give me a little bit of insight into other offbeat subcultures that I don't get exposed to already. If someone wants a site that relates to them all the time, then they can google that Thing and go to that site whenever they want. I go to the Offbeat sites for the variety and flavah!

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  10. Bravo!

    You're not responsible for other people's feelings. It's a big internet,and there are other places to go if people start disliking OBE.

    Don't forget that people started reading OBB because you have great ideas, strong voices, and a sense of community, not because of the care-taking abilities of you and your staff.

    I say this having had 10+ yrs experience with online communities. It's a fine line between admin and feeling like you're playing Forum Cop,plus you want your readers to know how much you love/appreciate them… but since this is a repeat topic this year, you need to go with your gut and not worry if it's pleasing everyone. (Especially people that don't sit with you every day and see the time/love/energy/tears you and your staff put in.)

    Doing what makes the OBE unique and true to itself, regardless of the peanut gallery or butthurt, is what has worked in the past, and what will continue to work. It will only get better if you continue to do what you truly want to do, not what you think is the "least offensive " thing to do.

    Thanks again for all of your hard work.

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  11. Well, if this website can't be my everything, then I am just going to have to look somewhere else. Thank you and goodbye. /sarcasm

    I just had to come out of the woodwork to say how much I enjoy the style and content of the Empire, and I look forward to what's ahead. It is great to see you standing up for yourself and your staff! I don't understand people who feel the need to scold grown-ass adults. C'mon.

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  12. "This language strikes me as hurtful, and your sites have a long history of supporting my community, so you should know better" [because apparently being a longtime ally only gets you first in line to get complaints from the marginalized communities you've committed yourself to for years]

    I really agree with everything else you said in this post but this piece her bothered me a little bit (just a little!). Being an ally to oppressed groups is a great thing to do, it's hard work that doesn't always get you a lot of thanks, but it's also not a free pass. Allies can say hurtful things too and if the people you're trying to support are telling you you're being hurtful I think you should consider their perspective. Maybe they really are overreacting or taking it wrong or whatever, but I think it's important to at least listen and consider that they might have a point. And of course marginalized groups are not monolithic – for every person who loudly complains there might be 2 members of the marginalized group silently laughing. You're not going to please all of the people all of the time, that's for sure!

    1 agrees
    • Totally agree that being an ally doesn't get you a free pass. We always respond to criticism from marginalized communities with an open heart and open arms, and gratitude to the reader for taking the time to share their feedback. This post is an example of how the Empire tells folks "Thanks for the feedback, even though we disagree with your request and won't be making the change you suggested."

      That said, I also think that being a longtime ally actually *should* give you a little wiggle room in how you use language. It's all about context. Looking my use of the word "dykey" as an example — obviously, if someone finds that word hurtful, I can't change that. But I can say, "If you look at my five years of content, you will see that I'm immersed in and supportive of lesbian culture* — so while you don't have to like me saying 'dykey,' please don't tell me that I'm using it hatefully."

      In other words, I can't expect everyone to know I've got a Lesbian mother and step-mother, lesbian mother-in-law and step-mother-in-law, lesbian aunties, lesbian friends, etc etc etc, but I can expect them to take a moment to consider the context based on what they DO know about my websites' ongoing, very visible dedication to marginalized communities.

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  13. Dude, this site effing rocks. I'm so happy I foung you. I'm here for better or worse.

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  14. Wow, I feel like this all the time IRL. The bottom line really is that you're not going to make everyone happy all the time so as long as you're not intentionally trying to hurt someone, just do what you think is right.

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  15. Just keep in mind, the vast majority of people are NOT sending you complaints, and happy readers are less likely to send mail at all. I, for example, looove the offbeat sites (particularly Home, since I'm still kidless and unmarried) but this is the first time I've commented and I've never sent any mail. I get how some people could find some things on the sites offensive on occasion, but you can't appeal to everyone all the time, and I think you do a great job of being inclusive and cool without being irritatingly over-indulgent of every possible personal gripe of the audience. Peeps need a sense of humor! It's only the internet, after all. :)

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    • Also sometimes people only complain when they see one thing they dislike, but are silently LOVING everything else. Not to mention that tone is hard to convey in a few lines of text – I've seen my own comments try to sound impartial/curious but come off sounding snarky and being rewritten or regretted (that's not what I meant! long justification! never mind, not the point). Bottom line: we're all grown-ups here and none of us are crying into our pillows at night because other people disagree. If comments are constructive, use them, if not, ignore them!

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      • Was going to edit this comment, then forgot you can't do that here. But I meant the last part literally, as in really ignore critical comments if you can't use them. No need to spend your time replying or explaining (probably other frequent readers will pop up to do it for you, with links to pages you've already written).

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  16. This is the first time i've posted too.. I fall into none of the offbeats of the empire.. I'm not married, I don't have a baby, I don't have a house. I love the inspiration posts from the empire!… but shock, horror if i see a post that I don't like or agree with, I click on… Wow the joy of the interweb! Haters will always find a way to hate, and it is so much easier to diss someone on the internet.. hiding behind a computer! Lovers will not always tell you how they feel, but at least you should know in your heart they are there for you, and think you are doing an awesome job!! Keep it up Offbeaters! You are amazing! SO HATERS.. CLICK ON!

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  17. I totally needed this today! I work in an industry where people voice their opinions about our 'product'. We got some nasty comments on the Facebook page the other day that were specifically about themselves and what they wanted and not for the masses. Even though I know we are doing a pretty great job and these comments are few and far between, but they still sting a little.

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  18. People suck. Just keep up the good work please.

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  19. Ditto to almost everything everyone has said! I love this site! And that is an understatement! I joined as a bride-to-be (still am) and occasionally get drawn to the other sites by awesome, interesting, sometimes -what?!?!- stuff – since joining I have learned about placenta printing, rainbow groups, that whole rick-rolled thing (have no idea how i missed that) and tons and tons of awesome and unique weddings. This site keeps me sane and thanks to it I learn something new everyday! Thank you!

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  20. My parents gave me your book after getting engaged and I've been so happy looking through the website seeing how creative everyone is with their special day. I appreciate everything I've seen on your site even if it doesn't apply to me or i would never do it. I just think it is nice to see other people doing what they want, not what everyone else is doing. Please continue everything you are doing because you are one of the only sites online that I have found that celebrates the differences between people instead of forcing people into the same mold. I can only imagine how much bigger you can get from here. Keep doing what you are doing because the people who support you (and there are many) will stay with you.

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  21. When I was planning my wedding, offbeat bride saved my sanity. Now that I'm planning for a baby, offbeat mama gives me inspiration. I don't relate to or agree with everything, but I look forward to reading something that makes me laugh/scowl/ooh/ahh. Some people really are going to complain no matter what so trust your instincts about the direction the Offbeat Empire is taking. If some people get a little too precious about their subculture/micro niche, perhaps they need that provocative piece to remind them that other points of view are just as valid and real.

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  22. *Like* *Support*
    Maybe you just need a disclaimer page. All new articles link to: "No, seriously, we support all y'all, regardless. That's the point."
    As far as I'm concerned, you can feel free to be as tooth…ful, awesome, and bitchtastic as you want.
    Love,
    A queer, fat, hippie, PA-Dutch, wiccan, vegetarian, jew. (yes, it is possible.)

    0 agree
    • I…. I…. I think I want to marry you. Or how you sign off on your posts. Either, or both?

      0 agree
  23. Isn' the whole "Offbeat" message meant to NOT fit everyone? There are PLENTY of stories on all of your sites that I can't relate to, but it's certainly not worth complaining over. It's too be expected! If anything it has introduced me to various subcultures that I never even knew were out there, and made me think of other lifestyle options that I never would have considered previously. There is no right or wrong when it comes to offbeat. I think readers need to check themselves and get rid of these smug and entitled attitudes they seem to be throwing at you.

    1 agrees
    • That should be " It's to be expected" not too…I'm sure no one cares, but I'm a grammar nazi and I needed to correct myself :P

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  24. Beautifully written, keep up the stellar work that reminds us all we are unique and awesome.

    Thank you for dedicating yourself to helping thousands of people around the world find the courage and support to take a leap in their own direction and feel fabulous and proud about it xxx

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  25. All your stuff about the content of the site, the way not every post is applicable to every reader etc, makes excellent sense, but I think the idea that marginalised people shouldn't call you out if you screw up is really not great. Allies totally screw up, it's part of being a human person, and it's desperately important that having done so, we don't just get defensive and double down by saying that pointing this out is attack-y, or hurtful to us, or ignoring the point that yeah, actually marginalised groups are much more likely to be able to spot things that are problematic than people in privileged positions.

    Also, you're probably only first in line to get complaints because you're the people that will listen to them and do something about them. I'd love to spend my days complaining to the Daily Mail newspaper about their horrifically racist, sexist and homophobic assumptions, but turns out it's written by massively racist, sexist and homophobic people, who would look blankly at me and then call me a lesbian like it's a bad word, so there's little point, except when I feel like banging my head against a brick wall.

    I wanted to link this post which you've probably seen already because it talks about this exact thing as well.
    http://www.whattamisaid.com/2011/08/from-vault-when-allies-fail-pt-1.html

    Also, I hope this doesn't count as drama, I wanted to be helpful, if slightly challenging about that point, not a self-righteous knob about it ;) Hope that comes out!

    Meg

    0 agree
    • Realized I never responded to this:

      "I think the idea that marginalised people shouldn't call you out if you screw up is really not great."

      I'm not saying I'm not open to feedback — I'm saying I'm done responding to scoldings. They're very different things. Feedback is something like "I know you care about this issue, and I noticed this problematic language." Scolding is more like "You're a _____ist because you use different language than I do, and you should know better, and clearly you're this way because you're ignorant and hateful, and I'm flouncing, and fuck you!"

      As a publisher, I've gotten a lot of both. The feedback is always helpful, even when I disagree. The scolding? Not so much.

      1 agrees
  26. I thought of something else, when I was reading your example about the word 'dykey' I think that your wondering if it's ok to use it on the site is not a sign of something going wrong, but a sign that yay, you're examining your privilege and thinking about how words can affect groups of oppressed people. It's traditionally been used as an insult (in the UK anyway) against lesbians, trans people, women who don't conform to rigid gender roles etc, so the idea that you're being careful with what you say, and the knowledge that you don't get a free pass because y'know, 'some of your best friends/family are gay' is actually something I find really positive! It's harder to do than just carrying on using the words the way we always do, but it's 100% worth it.
    Anyway, it's things like that where I get the idea that you do care, you do make an effort to make it inclusive that makes this site feel like a safe space, which is awesome, and I'd hate to see that change because it got bound up with the other stuff about people not feeling every article is written entirely for them and their interests. (I hate DIY).

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    • Yeah, "dykey" is one that I will absolutely defend my right to use in this context. While I totally understand that "dyke" was (and still is!) a derogatory term for many folks, in the context of my lesbian family and friends, "dykey" is a genuinely useful, positive word for describing a particular aesthetic within one corner of the Lesbian community. In this context, it's not an insult; it can be a cultural style descriptor, just as much as "rockabilly" or "gothic."

      Of course I can't expect everyone who reads my sites to know my social context for using words the way I do — but I can ask readers to take the language we use as part of a bigger picture, before they rush to assume that we're being hateful. The issue here is the scolding, not the questions or respectful feedback from readers.

      0 agree
  27. The first Christmas episode of South Park featured the school trying to put on a Christmas pageant and, in the end, they ended up having to remove EVERYTHING that EVERYONE found offensive. The result was a total cluster that NOBODY enjoyed. I'm glad to see this will not happen to my beloved Offbeat sites.

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    • I couldn't agree more with these sentiments and with this article. I can only speak for myself but I come to the OBE sites because of what you write about and how you write, regardless of whether what you are writing about caters to my tastes. A well-written article/feature will always be worth perusing :D Keep up the great work – you guys have been such an inspiration.

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  28. I wanted to cry when I read your post today since I am feeling the same way with my website. People are upset if you don't give them everything they want. Being a much smaller website than your site, I am the lone wolf pumping out the content.

    When I asked some of my readers who complained that I was pumping out certain content because it is time consuming would they pay for a small membership fee, they said no. This would enable me to get some help. I was stunned but not surprise.

    You have built a successful business model and done a great job. Kudos. Follow your heart. It's tough.

    0 agree
  29. I totally get that Off Beat can't be everything to everyone but i disagree about the emails about hurtful language. While I agree that the scolding may not be necessary, don't you want to know if you are using hurtful language? I learn phrases and words that have offensive meanings that I would never have even have known were hurtful all the time because people point them out. I feel like this is a vital step to acknowledging privilege and unlearning all of the "isms" we are inherently surrounded by in society.

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    • I know you saw my response to another comment but I just wanted to add that for me, I think it comes down to this quote: "If you have a disagreement with your allies, you discuss it. You don't attack them." (source) I haven't been glitter-bombed, but I've definitely been scolded to the point of feeling attacked.

      I absolutely want to know when we've made a mistake. But doing it with hostility or assumptions that WE DON'T CARE or WE DON'T UNDERSTAND is frustrating. We've committed years to showing we care and want to understand. We make mistakes, but give us a little credit for being committed to learning from them.

      0 agree
  30. this post offended me. *grumble grumble*

    (someone had to say it.)

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  31. I love your web site. Not everything is for me but it is very helpful. Look at the site in general, it is advice. Take what is being said here as a group of friends telling you, 'this is what I wish I would have done.' The same thing will not work for everyone. So sort out what fits for you.

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  32. I love this website. Sure there are some posts that don't pertain to me but I just MOVE ON, no big deal. People taking time to send in complaints could be spending time looking at different articles.

    Keep up the great work!

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  33. I ADORE the varied posts on here, and find inspiration in so many articles that I never would have thought to hold my interest. Often, the majority of content doesn't relate to me. Sometimes, it doesn't even remotely interest me…and that's ok. The interwebz doesn't revolve around me, I have other shit to do, and if something isn't relevant I won't throw a hissy fit. Keep on doin' what you're doin', and I (and many others like me, I'm sure) will keep coming back. Sometimes, that post about the monkey costumed/godzilla/whatever themed wedding will have a snippet of an idea that's simply amazing for me, and in the background of a reception photo there's some random guest doing something that would just perfect for someone else's reception. Random inspiration & the vibe of "Do your thang" is why I keep checkin' in!

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  34. Just wanted to find an appropriate space to say I appreciate everyone for never making me feel unwelcome on OBB. Even though I can't be in the tribe because I'm the MOB, you can't imagine how much I appreciate you letting me participate anyway. Posters at all the other mob places I've visited end up 'looking' at me strangely after my first post, so this became my first and foremost place to go for inspiration and support during this past year for all my OB and diy ideas. And I really really needed it since dd asked me to do all the planning – don't I have the best OBB to work with in the whole wide world? Anyway, thanks!

    0 agree
  35. It's interesting that this topic came up. I find that the polarizing comments don't come from regular bloggers. Anyone who isn't a regular blogger, I treat like a facebook friend that posts political messages–just keep scrolling. As someone who considers themselve Offbeat Lite–heavy on the Lite–I find that there's a lot that doesn't have to do with me. Big deal. I still find more in common here than on the Knot or other big budget sites.

    1 agrees
  36. "Posts have gotten increasingly toothless and bland as they try to appeal to as many readers as possible."

    Please please please DON'T feel obligated to feel this way. Yes, there are going to be vocal people who say negative things, but I think the majority LOVE the fact that your content is unique and different. Sometimes I see articles that don't fit my style, and that's ok, I just don't read them…or I do and get cool ideas of my own! I LOVE this site and I love the awesomeness of your authors. Keep on keeping and being awesome :)

    1 agrees
  37. Fuck em. Off beat you are brilliant and you know it.

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  38. I know I've been crazy and maybe have taken it out on OBB, but MAN do I love you! Where would we be without you? It's the place I come to for advice, to get grounded, and to sometimes receive a much needed reality check. Keep it real, man. We truly appreciate all you do!

    0 agree
  39. There's nothing wrong with branching off from OBB if it's not for you. I left the tribe some months ago, and as a result, discovered A Practical Wedding, which is a perfect fit for me, and it's a blog I read every day now. Obviously, I return to OBB occasion, but more on a 1-2x a month basis instead of daily.

    If you're having issues with OBB, there ARE other options out there if you search. I think many of you would also appreciate APW and East Side Bride, which I check on occasion.

    1 agrees
  40. I must admit that I've been feeling my interest in Offbeat Empire posts waning a tiny bit lately and I couldn't put my finger on it. After reading this, I realized it was exactly the toothless thing. Sure, there have been things I've disagreed with or things I'm not 100% on board with, but the offbeat empire has always challenged me and that's what I love about it.

    I haven't made any of the types of comments listed above, for the record. It's not the site's job to cater to me, and I certainly haven't been offended by any of the content.

    Thanks for the years of great content; I'm looking forward to the more challenging content to come.

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  41. I have loved your sites for a long time now, ever since my boyfriend found the post on the Katamari wedding. I really hope that you and your fellow writers/editors do not cave in to pressure to be some form of alterna-mainstream. What you give readers is freedom, and the idea that options exist. If they don't exist, we can make them! Or we can buy from a sweet seller on Etsy and support artists! I appreciate your idiosyncratic posts. Stay true to your self!

    0 agree
  42. You can't please 100% of the people 100% of the time. Sad, but true.

    I don't agree with some people's posts, but I don't have to. They have their opinion, I have mine and we're all entitled to them how ever different and wonderful they may be.

    I think you guys's are doing a great job and long may it continue.

    0 agree

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