Field by Anthony GormleyAlthough this website has a paywall you may not have noticed it. That is because we are not, at the moment, hiding much of our content from anyone who wants to read it. But we are encouraging those of you who are interested to join our online community, which during our “beta” period, is free. More than 1,000 people have joined so far. At the moment the only concrete privilege of becoming a founder member is that you are able to read and post comments on articles. This is an experiment to test the idea that what a community might want is a relatively secure place to discuss issues with like-minded people, free from the flaming of trolls and absurd apologetics of the devout.

Soon we’ll be asking our founder members what they want from this community, and then we’ll try and build it. This might well include such things as a dedicated member forum, a public statement of values and a mechanism by which members can communicate with each other, perhaps even meet in the real world. But we won’t know for sure until we ask.

We will also be giving our members a first look at some of the other features we’re developing (this includes, whisper it, an online version of our legendary God Trumps game). We want to make the community something which is valuable and useful to its members, and something which others might consider paying a fee to join. Founder members will never be locked out (so if you are not already a member join now) but in the future users will be asked to pay a moderate fee to join (there will be other benefits, such as our magazine, New Humanist, in print or as an app, discounted tickets to events and giveaways).

Our punt is that there will be enough people who value what we do, what we produce and membership of a community, to enable us to grow. As a charity you can be sure that every scrap of revenue we make goes back into funding our work which is to ensure reason, science and humanism has the strongest possible voice in the public sphere.

As I said more than 1000 people have already joined the community, and more are joining all the time (twenty five more since I wrote that first paragraph). For those of us who started planning this site a year ago, and, especially those of us who have been working to bring it to life for the past seven months, this is thrilling. But of course it’s only the start, and we have lots of work to do to make sure it is a community that has real value – that is both useful to its members and influential on the world.

A community also has to be responsive. Though we haven’t polled our founder members yet (coming soon) we have already starting listening to feedback. You’ll see a link to a feedback form throughout this site and we’ve had a constant stream of comments from users. We have already fixed several technical issues you have told us about – non-loading videos, dodgy fonts, sticky banners. Since the site is designed to work on any device with any browser this user feedback is essential to us, keep it coming.

We’ve also had lots of feedback about why people have joined: “I want somewhere to talk to like-minded people”, said one member, “I want to discuss ideas,” said another, “I believe we need a greater sense of community amongst atheists,” said a third. My favourite comment was this: “I can’t just sit at home not believing in god.” (You can read more responses in the comments here)

So where are we now? We have established that there is a desire – however currently inchoate – for a rationalist community. And we have built somewhere for this community to cohere online. Now we will set about bringing it to life. Over the next few weeks we’ll be starting this by rolling out some new features and opening our members poll. Keep telling us what you want and how we’re doing, even what we are getting wrong. After all what’s a community without some really juicy disagreement?

For now on behalf of the RA team thanks for joining (quickly join here if you forgot) and be assured we are listening and we do care.