Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The State of Planet Atheism

Yes, I plead guilty.

Planet Atheism hasn’t been maintained by me for a while (several months, in fact). I used to sometimes let new additions “accumulate”, but for the last few months I’ve let my PA email folder grow (and grow and grow), so that I currently have more than 110 blogs waiting to be added. I’ve also had requests for address changes that I haven’t replied to yet.

And, yes, this is mostly due to laziness on my part. I had also been waiting for a new version of FeedWordPress which would fix the duplicate posts problem, and allow me to upgrade WordPress to its newer versions, but, apparently, the FWP author has been as lazy as myself, so that excuse went down the drain. :)

Anyway, more than 100 new blogs would mean that PA would double in size, and size is already a problem: the number of posts per day means that it’s almost impossible to read every post, and the front page changes too quickly (yes, I don’t like reading PA in an aggregator – call me weird).

A possible solution is to create “Planet Atheism 2” (the name will probably be different), which will have all the new blogs. This is a far from perfect solution, as it forces people to read two separate sites (or aggregate two feeds), but I think it’s better than the alternative; a 200-blog aggregator simply doesn’t work. Imposing a tag system, or something similar, would force bloggers to change their way of blogging, and that would never do.

I’ll have news soon. And, again, sorry for my laziness.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Duplicate posts, and other problems, on PA

As more than one member / reader has complained about, there are currently some intermittent problems on Planet Atheism. Added to the occasional "duplicate" post, there's a new one now: some posts are linked to the wrong blog, and usually to a very old post.

I've been deleting and re-adding those manually, but it's happening more and more, which suggests that it's size-related. I'll try to contact the author of FeedWordPress again, and let's hope that a solution can be found. If not, I'll probably have to change software... again. :(

Meanwhile, all I can do is ask you to be patient, and I hope you still find PA useful, even with these temporary problems.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007


This morning, when I was checking Planet Atheism, as I always do (like I've always said, I created it mostly for selfish reasons: I love reading what other atheist bloggers write, in a convenient place :)), I found a couple of references to ChallengeReligion.com. What's this, I thought? A new competitor?

So, naturally, I checked. Here are my first impressions: ChallengeReligion (CR from now on) is an interesting mix of a Digg, a Technorati, and a normal aggregator such as PA. It's like Digg because posts are ranked by popularity, like Technorati because it measures "popularity" according to incoming links from other blogs (unlike Digg, where people vote), and like an aggregator because you can then read posts from there -- though they only publish excerpts. I believe they do the latter because, unlike PA, they didn't ask permission from the bloggers; since they just publish excerpts, it's OK, I guess.

Oh, and it looks quite good, which is no surprise, as they have a whole team behind it... and many others. Yes, CR is just one of many Digg/Technorati/aggregators; they have others, about many different subjects. More power to them. :) I could create PA clones in minutes, too (though it would take time to get member blogs, since I prefer full aggregation, and that implies asking first).

It may be useful as a source of extra traffic, but it's not useful to me, because... "all together now..." I like to read blogs in a convenient place. :) Also, while the posts populary feature is interesting, it may also have its drawbacks; for instance, what if a blogger is publishing a series of posts, the first appears there, but the next ones aren't linked enough, and therefore never appear?

Note that I'm not actually criticizing CR or saying that there's something wrong with the concept; I just prefer a normal aggregator, which to me works like the "morning newspaper" (or afternoon, or evening, or whenever I open the page :)).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

And now... the NEW Planet Atheism!

Yup. I was tired of the incredibly slow speed, RSS feed problems, and other annoying stuff. So I spent this morning migrating Planet Atheism to WordPress, using an aggregating plugin. I even changed the theme so that it looks like the old PA. :)

The good stuff:

- no more slo-o-o-owness (as in more than 1 minute to load the page)
- no more limits to the number of aggregated blogs
- a more "current" piece of software (WordPress is frequently updated, highly popular, and very well supported)
- no more hiccups with the RSS feed
- (this is mostly for me) no need to use a separate web server so that Simplepie memory leaks don't affect the rest of the sites.
- a search feature
- real, permanent archives (don't worry, every archived post still links to the original version, so search engines will recognize that PA is the duplicate).

The bad stuff:

- no more short posts version / list of post titles, at least for now. My stats show that very few people use the former, and if you really need something like either, you can just feed the RSS feed (!) into an aggregator and choose "titles only", or something like that
- I've just configured all of this, so there may be problems I haven't detected yet.

Problem with Planet Atheism feed

For some days now, the PA feed hasn't been updating itself, affecting email subscribers too. This is a technical problem; the software used for PA apparently doesn't scale too well with a large number of member blogs.

I've already looked into it a bit, and will continue to do so. If nothing can be done, I'll try to switch to some other software, or possibly even begin to hack my own. This will take some time, though.javascript:void(0)

For the moment, I apologize for the inconvenience. The "normal" version of PA (that is, browsing to planetatheism.com) still works.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Planet Humanism

Nullifidian has recently created a new aggregator, Planet Humanism. Looks great, and I wish it the greatest success.

If you're curious, no, I don't think of it as competition to Planet Atheism. :) There's certainly room for both. As I've already told Nullifidian, the only potential problem I see is that the members of each aggregator will probably want to join the other, and will probably be eligible, so there's a risk that they will have something like 90% of blogs in common. But I hope that can be avoided (maybe there's some humanists out there who don't really consider themselves atheists), and it's great to have one more aggregator to read. :)

So... atheist or not, if you have a humanism-themed blog, go join PH. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Help Planet Atheism's Alexa Rank!

As some of you know, besides being an atheist and maintaining Planet Atheism, I'm also, among other things, a Unix/Linux systems administrator, and I'm also interested in subjects like search engine optimization, website creation and promotion, full-time blogging, and so on.

One thing I've noticed is that PA has a much, much worse Alexa rank than many other of my sites, even though they are less visited. Obviously, this will not do. :)

Therefore, as a favor (and this is just a favor to me, nothing more -- I won't be annoyed if you don't do it, and I have no way of knowing who does and doesn't), I'd like to ask you, if you read PA through the site (as opposed to the RSS feed), to please install this Firefox extension. Just click on the grey "download searchstatus" button, and follow the instructions. After you install it and restart your browser (as indicated), you will get a small box on your browser's statusbar with PageRank, Alexa and Compete indicators, and will be contributing to the latter two's ratings every time you access PA.

If you use Internet Explorer, I'd advise you to switch to Firefox, for your own sake, not mine, as it's a much better, more secure browser (and then install the above extension! :) ). Opera, Safari and Konqueror users can't help me on this one, unfortunately: they're great browsers, but the extension isn't available for them.

Again, this is simply a personal favor I'm asking. It requires virtually no work from you, and you will be helping promote PA by improving its statistics (and rank). But I'll understand if you don't want to do it, of course.

Thanks in advance. :)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Coming soon: PA FAQ for members

Readers and members of Planet Atheism may be (I hope :) ) aware of the Planet Atheism FAQ. I believe it is quite comprehensive, and it should answer any questions a potential member may have.

But what about current members? Sometimes, they have questions, too. I could add them (and their answers) to the current FAQ, but I think that those who're interested in one of the kinds of answers aren't necessarily interested in the other, and vice-versa. If you're not in, you won't be having any problems, and if you're in, you're not considering whether joining is a good idea. :)

Therefore, later today (I hope) I will be starting a new Planet Atheism members FAQ. It will include answers for questions such as "my last post isn't showing up on PA".

If you're a member, and have any other questions, ask away (for instance, as a comment on this post), and I'll answer them, either as a reply, or in the FAQ. :)

Friday, May 25, 2007

More additions to the PA top Technorati ranks table

The top technorati ranks table for Planet Atheism members has been improved again. :) In addition to showing the Technorati rank, number of incoming links (from Technorati as well), and Google Pagerank, the table now shows Alexa ranks as well.

You can now also click on any of the above column titles to sort the table by that particular value/rank. Incoming links and Pagerank are "the more, the merrier", while Technorati rank and Alexa rank are "the lower, the better", so sorting takes that into account.

A note of warning: I've mentioned before that you shouldn't really take any of these ranks too seriously, and this is especially true for the Alexa ranks. Alexa is a nice idea (it's the only one that measures traffic instead of incoming links), but it has the following problems:
  • it only counts hits if the user has installed either the Alexa toolbar (for Internet Explorer) or the SearchStatus Firefox extension (I recommend the latter, since, as everyone knows, MSIE sucks), and
  • it often lumps all subdomains for a particular domain together (i.e. doesn't distinguish between aaa.domain.com and bbb.domain.com, even though they may be totally unrelated). It apparently has some hard coded exceptions for some (not all) blogspot.com blogs... but the values aren't really reliable. Still, you can use it to measure the changes in traffic for one site.
Incidentally, the application I've coded (and have been improving) to generate this table from a list of blogs is almost ready for public release. :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

20070523: 5 new blogs on Planet Atheism

Enjoy. :) 81 now...

New look for PA

No, they're not HUGE changes, but have you looked at Planet Atheism lately? :) (I ask this question because you may be reading it through the RSS feed)

Thanks to Chuck of Unbecoming Levity for the nice images: a logo, a favicon and two buttons for linking to PA (possibly on your blog's sidebar).

I've also changed the order of some stuff in the sidebar, and actually killed a few unnecessary sections, so that the available options are more visible (options BELOW the huge list of blogs? What the hell was I thinking? :)), and more clearly explained. Look for them at the top of the sidebar.

Oh, and I've fixed a few things in the members' Technorati ranks table, so that the information isn't lost if Technorati is down when trying to update, and also so that any temporary "weird" values are handled correctly.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pharyngula, and Technorati ranks

We have a new member: Pharyngula. I imagine most of you already know that blog very, very well. :) Many thanks to PZ Myers for joining Planet Atheism.

And now for something completely different... I just coded (for fun) a couple of scripts to show a table of Technorati incoming links and ranks for all the PA members. The table is sorted by Technorati ranks, which are kind of (that is, don't take it too seriously) a measure a blog's success among other blogs; it counts the recent (180 days or less) links to a blog. How that rank is calculated is kind of mysterious, though, and, anyway, it's not a perfect system (for instance, some of the blogs are listed as having 0 links, which obviously can't be true, unless those blogs aren't listed on Technorati yet). [EDIT: that seems to be the case; the blogs are there, but don't have ranks yet. It must take some time.]

Therefore, don't put too much faith in it, and don't use it as a measure for the success of your blog. It's a toy. For fun. Nothing more. If you know another members of PA personally, it allows for playful competition among you, but I hope you don't start any real life feuds or something. :)

Since it involves making 76 queries (and rising) to Technorati, I'm updating it only once a day (midnight GMT). Enjoy...

[EDIT: added each blog's Google PageRank to the table. Why not? :) ]

The Planet Atheism FAQ

What is Planet Atheism?

Planet Atheism (PA) is an aggregator of atheism-related blogs. At any time, PA shows the most recent twenty or so posts from its member blogs, in chronological order.

Is Planet Atheism a blog?

No, it's an aggregator of blogs. It doesn't have original content of its own, but gets it from the member blogs.
In practical terms, however, you can read it as a blog with more than 75 different authors. :)

Is PA a blogroll, then?

Again, no. Technically, a blogroll is simply a list of links, like those most blogs have on their sidebars. There are also more "serious" blogrolls, which are maintained by someone and then shared among many blogs. For instance, one I heartily recommend is Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll. We're not in competition, since we provide two different services; in fact, we're members of each other's service. :)

Are you ripping off other people's content?

Not at all. All of the members have either asked to join, or accepted my invitation. I'd never add a feed to PA without the author's express permission.

What can PA do for me and my blog?

Two words: increased readership. Many people who might never have found your blog otherwise (not due to lack of quality, but simply because the web is so huge) may read it through Planet Atheism, enjoy what you write, and visit your blog to post or read comments.

Sounds cool! Can I join?

Sure, if your blog is about atheism, secular humanism, protecting the separation of church and state, denouncing the abuses of religion, and so on. Details on joining are at the end, since I'd like you to read the rest of the FAQ first. :)

Wait... most of my posts aren't about that at all, though I do write a couple of good ones on that subject from time to time. What can I do?

I'd never tell anyone to write about anything other than what they want to write, of course, so please don't ever consider changing your blog's subject matter because of PA. :) If at least 50% of your posts are about atheism, you can join (a little variety now and then actually makes PA more interesting, in my opinion).

But what if your atheism-related posts are less than 50%? You have an alternative, then: provide a category feed, which includes posts from that category only. In WordPress, it's easy; I don't know if you can do it in Blogger, though. Consult your blog service / software's documentation, or, if desperate, ask, and maybe I or someone else can help.

What do I need to join?

Basically, your blog must provide an RSS or Atom feed. All the popular blog platforms (Blogger, WordPress, etc.) are fine.

Also, this is not mandatory, but I'd really prefer if you provided full feeds, instead of just small excerpts, as many blogs are configured to do. For the (comparatively few) readers of PA who really prefer excerpts, there is a Planet Atheism - short posts version.

But I need to provide excerpts for some other service I'm a member of...

This one is easy: join FeedBurner (it's free), then configure your blog to provide full feeds, and FeedBurner to change it into excerpts. Provide your original feed to PA, and the FB feed to whoever needs excerpts.

Wait a minute. If PA will provide my posts in full, won't that mean that nobody will need to visit my blog anymore? My blog is supported by ads, and...

In my experience, the advantages far outweigh any possible disadvantages:
  • readers will still need to visit your blog to comment or read comments, and with many more readers, the number who do so will actually increase
  • your regular readers aren't likely to change their habits, and will keep visiting your blog; you won't "lose" anyone to PA
  • since each of your posts in PA includes a link to the original version (on your blog), search engines such as Google recognize which is the original version, and send readers there, not to PA
  • you gain PageRank from the links to your blog on PA, improving the odds of your posts appearing in search results
  • being on PA makes you a part of a growing community which actively comments on each other's blogs, mentions your posts on their own blogs, and so on.

This is nice! What can I do to help Planet Atheism?

Basically, help spread the word. For instance:
  • Add a permanent link to PA on your blog's sidebar (you can use these buttons)
  • Mention PA in a post (many current members already did this when joining, and it has helped a lot)
  • Tell other people about PA ("did you know of this convenient place to read a bunch of interesting blogs about atheism and humanism?", or "we atheists aren't the monsters you believe we are. Want to know what we're really like? Here's a nice place to start...")
  • Know of a great atheism-related blog that isn't aggregated? Suggest to the author that he/she joins!
  • Unleash the power of social bookmarking: add PA to your del.icio.us bookmarks, join the PA community on MyBlogLog, vote for PA (by installing the toolbar, and clicking on "I like it" on it) on StumbleUpon, and so on.

Who are you?

I'm Pedro Timóteo, author of Way of the Mind, among other blogs and sites. More about me here.

Why do you hate God? / You can't prove God doesn't exist! / etc.

Sorry, but this is a FAQ for Planet Atheism, not atheism itself. There are many fine atheism FAQs out there, such as this, this, or this.

I'm sold! :) How can I join?

Just email join@planetatheism.com with your blog's details (name, URL, feed URL, and possibly a short description).

Last updated: 20 May 2007

7 new blogs on PA today!

I'd like to thank Mojoey of Deep Thoughts (who also maintains the Atheist Blogroll, which by the way I encourage every atheism-related blogger to join) for his recent mention of Planet Atheism. Thanks to that, and other recent mentions I've mentioned recently, such as those in Why Don't You Blog? or Blurp, 7 bloggers -- yes, seven -- have asked to join PA today!

Without further ado, here are the newcomers:
This means that there are now 75 blogs on Planet Atheism, a nicely impressive number. :) Each new member enriches PA, making it increase both in quantity and quality, and I couldn't be happier about it. :)

PA has been the first thing I read every morning for months now, and when I'm bored in some place I even, sometimes, find myself accessing it on my mobile phone just to see what's new on it, knowing that there's always something of interest there (as I've said before, I'm not "blowing my own horn", I'm praising what the other members write... I don't use PA to read my own posts, after all. :D)

Coming soon (maybe even tomorrow): a Planet Atheism FAQ.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Planet Atheism and search engines

First, thanks to TW of Why Don't You Blog? for this post telling readers about Planet Atheism. With more posts like this, the PA community can't be stopped. :)

And now, some considerations about the growth of PA and its relation to search engines such as Google. Besides being an atheist / humanist, I'm also a Linux sysadmin, among other things, and I've long been interested in search engine optimization (SEO), or how to make a site perform as well as possible in search engines. In fact (shameless plug), I'm the author of this series, for instance... and one day I may even finish this one. :)

How does this relate to PA? Well, remember that I said, in the previous post, that PA is getting 200 readers a day. Sounds good, right? Well, it isn't. After 4 months, the number should be much greater.

Here's why: PA gets almost no hits from search engines. Since every post includes a link to the original version (on the member's blog), search engines recognize (correctly) that those are the original content, not the version on PA. Therefore, if someone searches for something you've blogged about, your post will always appear in search results before PA... if PA appears at all, since its content changes daily, and isn't archived.

PA does get hits from people searching for "planet atheism" (duh!), "atheism blogs", and similar stuff, but these are much rarer: anyone who knows about "planet atheism" probably doesn't need to search for it, and nobody searches for "xxx blogs", they search for actual subjects.

In conclusion, PA gets very little help from search engines (much less than a "normal" site, or than any blog). This is why it's so important that member blogs (and possibly even non-members) help tell people about PA, since that's its only real source of new visitors. Remember, by helping Planet Atheism, you're also helping your own blog (if you're a member), helping PA get even more interesting as something to read yourself, and helping the "cause" of atheism / humanism.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The State of Planet Atheism: May 2007

And now for something completely different: the first of a periodic (monthly, probably) series of posts about the evolution of Planet Atheism, the world's favorite aggregator of atheism-related blogs. :)

Some facts, first:
  • Planet Atheism is a little more than 4 months old (it was "born" on January 9, 2007).

  • PA aggregates, as of this moment, 68 member blogs.

  • PA gets slightly more than 200 visitors each day. That number is slowly rising.

  • Another 100 or so individuals read PA through the RSS feed. Again, the number is slowly increasing.
In other words, by having your blog in Planet Atheism, you increase your potential readership by about 300 (and rising).

An implication of the above is that, if you're a member, then, by helping promote PA, you are also helping your blog (and those of the other members) as well. Those extra 300 daily readers could easily become 3000, and more. And, indirectly, you're also helping the cause of atheism and humanism, by "spreading the word" about both the aggregator and its member blogs, which is always a good thing. The more people see what we are like, the more they will stop seeing us as immoral monsters against whom any bigotry is justified.

How to help, then? Many of you are probably helping already, judging from the hits PA gets from many of the member blogs. A few suggestions:
  • Add a permanent link to PA on your blog's sidebar

  • Mention PA in a post (many of you already did this when joining, and it has helped a lot)

  • Tell other people about PA ("did you know of this convenient place to read a bunch of interesting blogs about atheism and humanism?", or "we atheists aren't the monsters you believe we are. Want to know what we're really like? Here's a nice place to start...")

  • Know of a great atheism-related blog that isn't aggregated? Suggest to the author that he/she joins!

  • Unleash the power of social bookmarking: add PA to your del.icio.us bookmarks, join the PA community on MyBlogLog, vote for PA (by installing the toolbar, and clicking on "I like it" on it) on StumbleUpon, and so on.
Note that you can do any or all of those even without being a member. Maybe you're fascinated with the subject, but don't actually have a blog about atheism / humanism. Well, you can still help, by doing the above. All the member blogs will appreciate the increased readership, and the greater number of comments it brings. More readers should also eventually mean more member blogs, which will make PA even more interesting.

I've said it before, but I would have created PA even if I was its only reader. It's a wonderful site, a great read each morning, with guaranteed fascinating posts and essays every day. I can say that without being a conceited jerk, because most of the posts aren't mine. :)

Friday, May 4, 2007

PA: Email subscription, and a small change

On Planet Atheism, near the top of the right sidebar, below the RSS feed link, there is now a new button: Email subscription. As the name implies, it allows you to receive Planet Atheism by email, as daily digests (that is, all the posts from a day are collected in one email message).

Personally, while I read a lot of blogs and sites through their RSS feeds, I prefer to visit PA directly, which I do several times a day (there's always something new and interesting there). But that's simply a matter of personal taste, and, much like atheists have only one thing in common (a lack of belief in gods) but can be (and are) different in every other way, so Planet Atheism readers can (and do) have their own preferred way of reading PA. :) Therefore, I wanted to give you as many choices as possible:
  1. visit the site;

  2. add the RSS feed to an aggregator such as Bloglines or Google Reader;

  3. receive digests by email.
Emails come from FeedBurner, not me, and include an "unsubscribe" link at the bottom.

As I said, this is not my preferred way of reading PA... but if you prefer it to the other two options, go ahead. :)

As for the small change: there were a couple of HUGE posts on PA during the past few days. By "huge", I mean many, many pages long, even with a full-screen browser window and a relatively small font. Therefore, there is now a limit, even for the full posts version of PA, which is 10000 characters. That's still a lot -- I believe that, in months of PA, and hundreds of posts, there were probably less than 5 posts that went above that limit. In those very rare cases, you will have to follow the link to the original blog.

20070504: two more...

62 now. :)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

20070503: 60 blogs and counting!

The 60th blog on Planet Atheism is Geoff Arnold, which looks quite interesting indeed. Incidentally, one post in it directed me to the WP-Footnotes WordPress plugin, which I've just added to my WordPress blogs, such as WotM. :)

In other news, I've just updated moonmoon (the aggregator software I use) to the latest trunk version, and Planet Atheism should now load faster.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

20070501: 3 new blogs on PA

More miscellaneous stuff:

- last week, there were some technical problems with the Planet Atheism RSS feed. They should be solved now.

- PA isn't an "exclusive club". :) If you have a blog where at least 50% of the posts are about atheism, humanism, fighting theocracy, and so on, and you want to join, just ask.

- Similarly, if you know of an atheism-related blog which you just love to read, but which is not included in PA, why not suggest to the author that he/she joins? It's the best of two worlds: it brings that blog many new readers, and it makes PA even more interesting.