This is a somewhat difficult news item to post so I will take my time and endeavour to be as clear as possible.
For perhaps a month now I have been having doubts about how to best tackle continued development on moonmars.com. Despite having worked very hard on it for about 7 months, including travelling to the US and Australia and promoting it at 5 space conferences, it has failed (so far) to generate a significant level of activity, or to attract business partners or funding of any kind. Everyone says it's a great idea and is very positive and enthusiastic about it, but the results tell the story. The site is simply not being used very much.
This is easily attributable to the fact that it is still very much in beta, and some of the core features have not been developed. Others need to be completely redesigned and rebuilt, plus we had a number of bugs there for a while that I could not spare time to fix, and which I suspect turned a few people off. It's quite understandable that a new and unique site would have these kind of problems - 7 months is not all that much time, after all - and the answer, of course, is simply to be persistent and get those features redesigned and built as required, until the site is fully functional as envisaged. Then I could expect people to start using it in earnest.
Unfortunately, I have persisted with this project as long as I reasonably can in light of other pressures in my life. The main problem, as with all startups, is capital. I have been funding this project from my own pocket since its inception, plus contributing a significant amount of time to it. This has seriously impacted not only my finances, but also my business. I have another Drupal 7 project that I'm developing for the Australian government, which is a very good project, probably the best I've ever had, and it's paying the bills. I can't afford to lose it. However, due to time invested in moonmars.com, I am now about 1-2 months behind on that project. I've made my excuses, but now am in the situation where I absolutely must deliver a site for them by February, and I can't risk anything impeding that goal. Unfortunately that includes moonmars.com.
Aside from this, my life this year has become almost completely overtaken by Drupal, which is simply not what I want my life to be about. Part of the reason I started building moonmars.com so I could write about space settlement. But I haven't had a lot of time for writing, or for many other things. My feeling now is that writing is much more likely to be my purpose than business, although perhaps there is room for both. But I need to make room for both.
Yet another consideration is the reality that social networks are simply not attracting the levels of enthusiastic investment they once did. Despite its incredible market valuation, Facebook is not an especially profitable website, and since going public they've been under pressure to introduce all kinds of new revenue streams, many of which are unloved. YouTube is another example of a highly-valued and trafficked site that ran at a loss for a long time, and only recently have Google figured out some innovative ways to monetise it with ads.
All of these sites must run ads in order to make money, and I, too, had assumed the first and most obvious way to generate revenue from moonmars.com would be through advertising, which is why the right-hand sidebar has remained empty. However, the increasing prevalence of online ads has tended to dilute their effectiveness and profitability, and ads are no longer the golden river that made Google so wealthy. Recognising this, I realised that the most important revenue stream for moonmars.com would most likely be by charging fees for usage of the virtual environment, which was, after all, the original purpose of the project. This could prove to be very profitable, but a tremendous amount of work would be required to get to that point. I decided to build a social network before the virtual environment because it would be easier, but to do even this by myself has proved impractical.
Do we even need another social network? Most of the conversation about space is now taking place on Facebook. Trying to migrate the conversation here would only serve to divide rather than consolidate it, which was my original goal. Even though I do still truly believe we can build something better than Facebook that is totally dedicated to space - a collaboration framework rather than a social network - and I would still like to see that goal realised, there is probably very little real need for an alternative social network at this time. Facebook is a free tool that we can and should use, along with Twitter and LinkedIn. If moonmars.com gets funded then I would continue to build the social networking features, since I believe we can introduce innovations that will produce a superior result that the mainstream alternatives. But for now, these tools are adequate, and I can't justify building something that isn't genuinely needed and may not even generate enough revenue to support its own development.
I am not closing the site down, as I think that would be too drastic and unnecessary an action to take at this time. However, unless the investor gods suddenly point their magical golden fingers at me, in order to secure the success of my other project, which is quite essential, we will not be able to do any work on moonmars.com until I've achieved certain milestones with my other website, which will be February - April 2013. If we do decide at that time to continue this project, we will evaluate what needs to be kept, what needs to be rebuilt, and whether we need to change focus and build something else instead - such as the virtual environment. (This change of direction is called "pivoting" in startup parlance.)
Building this site - what there is of it - has been educational and brought me some awesome new friends. I'm very grateful for the support I've received from all of you. I'm sorry that I couldn't deliver on all my promises, but that's life, and fortunately no kittens were harmed in the process