Robotic Tendencies
The personal blog of Robert McQueen

April 15, 2005

Debian Planet

NOTE TO THE SLEEPY: This post is about Debian Planet (founded 2000), not Planet Debian (founded 2004).

Sorry about the needless verbosity of the previous post. I’ll try keep this one shorter because I’d like some feedback on it. robster (who founded it) and I are essentially the only active staff of Debian Planet, and neither of us are able dedicate much time to it because we’re both kept busy with all manner of university-related stuff, both academic and not. It’s been suggested by some people within Debian that DWN and especially Planet Debian render it defunct and nobody reads it anyway. However, robster and I don’t really share this opinion – Planet Debian contains opinions, hacks, experiences, recipes and stuff that can be very interesting if you know the people involved, but really doesn’t necessarily perform the function of making Debian’s development more translucent to the outside world if you’re not on the mailing lists (although certain relevant blog posts can be highlighted, as DWN does). DWN seems to be aimed at a fairly technical audience who is generally aware of the projects’ internals but wants to keep up with day-to-day issues – it frequently includes stuff that’s not hugely relevant to the big picture unless you’re inside the project.

As far as we know there aren’t any other sites that are aimed at demystifying Debian for users, and with the advent of Ubuntu, depending on your viewpoint we stand to lose or gain (indirectly) many more users too, some of whom may take (or retain) an interest in Debian development (and we can cover Ubuntu too). The site does something in the region of 30 GB a month, a lot of this down to RSS feeds, so I’m sure articles that are posted actually do get read by quite a few people. Posts to the site itself asking if we should continue, and in what form, have prompted a surprising amount of positive feedback, and have been enough to dispel any ideas of closing down the site, although we’ve been quite lax at following up the resultant offers of assistance thus far (an ESR style list subscription of anyone who shows interest is exceedingly tempting).

What we’d like to do now is make it easier for other people to contribute (our editorial control has been an iron grasp thus far, with most articles being written or mostly rewritten by a very select few), and find some more people to help us out with keeping up with goings-on in the project, and we’ve also potentially got to find new hosting over the next few weeks. Are we misguided? Should we bother securing new hosting for the site and keep it going, or is it as needless as people say? Does anyone who’s reading this agree with our goals and want to help us out?

posted by Robert McQueen @ 2:49 am
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12 Responses to “Debian Planet”

  1. Steve Kemp says:

    As far as we know there aren’t any other sites that are aimed at demystifying Debian for users

    I’d like to think that Debian Administration is doing a reasonable job of that – although from a different starting point.

    I’ve been reading Debian Planet for a long time now, and find it frustrating how little it seems to be updated, that’s not a real criticism because I know what is involved in writing, but it’s sad that so many times I can return and see no new activity.

    I’d like to see it continue, and I think the idea of opening it up a little bit more to outsiders would be a useful thing.

    (I’m guessing that the naming of the other planet isn’t helping your audience out, or google searchers – for that I feel your pain).

    As for hosting, that should be simple enough?

  2. robot101 says:

    I honestly wasn’t aware of the Debian Administration page. It’s really cool, you’ve got another reader! Of course, configuring some RSS aggregator is on my todo list… :)

  3. Jon says:

    I liked DP a lot when it was updated. I thought the final nail was when nobody updated about the DPL elections. Now I see someone has, rather belatedly, but it’s not exactly a piece of unbiased journalism :)

  4. YellowDesk says:

    PlanetDebian was my introduction to Debian, and aided me to find resouces to install and use Debian while migrating from Windows98. I would visit more often if there were more to see. Please organize those who’ve volunteered. Debian Weekly News is not much help to those “just starting,” nor is planet.debian.net, though now both DWN and p.d.net are very interesting and occasionally really useful to me.

  5. robot101 says:

    See what I mean? We’re never going to escape the name confusion now that p.d.o has turned up… :(

  6. Jon says:

    You could cut your losses and CNAME it to p.d.o – however, something pseudo-external like DP is/was is clearly still in demand.

  7. YellowDesk says:

    Um. Yeah. DebianPlanet. How about DebianNews; DebianSummary; DebianStuff; DebianUniverse; DebianReview; DebianJournal; DebianNotes?

  8. Andre says:

    I’m an ocasional contributor to DWN. One thing Joey and I have discussed is setting up a regular “package of the week” feature. The name is a bit misleading because often we would compare and contrast several different packages, e.g. xpdf vs. gv vs. evince. Our original plan was to host the feature in the main d.o web, because that would get us Debian’s translation teams. Work stalled out during the 2003 break in, and I never got back to it. I’m about to move across the continent, so it’ll be (at least) a few more months before I have time.

    For a while Andy Sweger had something similar running on Livejournal, but I guess he burned out. http://www.livejournal.com/users/debaday/

    I still think a weekly in-depth package review is a good idea, and should be hosted on d.o because of translation. But one of the things I learned from Andy’s experiment is that a public feedback forum is important–reader followup comments were very helpful. And forums are one thing that don’t fit in at all with d.o’s WML and mirroring infrastructure.

    Perhaps some hybrid approach would work, where the package review is posted on d.o and Debian Planet hosts English-language discussion?

  9. Andre says:

    I had another thought while biking in to work. I’ve started steering new users to Ubuntu instead of Debian Stable. One thing a site like Debian Planet could do, though I haven’t figured out the details, is help foster a sense of community between users of Ubuntu, users of the other Debian derivatives, and users of Debian.

  10. MJR/slef says:

    The problem I have now is: what is the unique selling point of debianplanet now? I can post to a wide debian-interested web audience via planet.debian.net with no danger that an over-zealous editor will maim the message or deny me permission. Further, when I click the link to contribute something, I am told that I am “not authorized” to do so.

    From a quick look at the current front page, it looks like debianplanet content is currently a biased commentary (some of which would be better elsewhere) rather than something interesting itself. The design and layout makes it a little hard to read on my browser.

    I think you need to reinvent yourselves and be clear about communicating the who, what, why and how on the site. Finally, why is this on your site and not debianplanet?

  11. robot101 says:

    As implied in my post, the purpose of Debian Planet is not the same as planet.debian.org – it’s supposed to be news, information and tutorials for *users* of Debian. Nobody especially blogs just to announce certain new packages, changes to archive structure, and users and visitors to the Debian Planet site have said they consider p.d.o contains a fair degree of irrelevant content. It’s certainly not a primary resource for an outsider to the project who is looking in, although may sometimes contain relevant items from people who were involved in particular pieces of work.

    As somebody who is active within the Debian project, and follows mailing lists, etc, I wouldn’t consider you to be a member of our target audience. The content of the site is, as you point out, likely to contain nothing new for you. However, based on comments on the site itself, there are people who are not willing to follow the often quite verbose communications of the project, but would like timely and consise news with the occasional feature – much like Kernel Trap follows the kernel development for outsiders.

    You’re not allowed to submit content because you’re not logged in. It should be made clearer I agree, but we do have to clean stuff like bulk-submitted IBM press releases and spammed comments out of the queue even with this requirement – it would be considerably worse if it was disabled. The software and appearance needs rehashing in line with our new mission, and this in turn should make it easier for more people have input into the site with news, lessen the editorial control, and hopefully make it a more active site.

    The biased commentary I’m not too happy about personally, the mjg59 topic icon was meant as a joke when his candidacy was announced, but beyond that I wouldn’t have posted the last article for example.

    The reason this is here is because the site has to, to some extent, be run by people who already do follow the sources of news related to the project. I’ve already solicited opinions on the site itself about what its future should be when it became clear Rob & I didn’t have enough time to make it what we wanted. Based on that, we tried to keep it going with mixed success. We need people from within the project, or at least “active fans” (the kind of people who read p.d.o), to help us achieve it properly.

  12. MJR/slef says:

    If that post after mine was a reply to me: On the one hand, you say I’m not part of the audience, but on the other you say that you need people from within the project to help you achieve it properly. Am I part of any target?

    You didn’t really answer: what makes debianplanet unique? That is the key problem. If it’s going to be a kernel-trap-style publication, what will make it different from DWN? You may know that I think DWN deserves to be shown up, but I don’t know whether debianplanet can achieve that.

    I didn’t criticise the front page being not news to me, really. It’s cool if I know it already, if it gives me some new angle or information about the subject. I criticised the front page for containing biased flamebait at the minute. There’s been some interesting commentary on the DPL election, but it’s not on debianplanet.

    My suggestion: focus on features and especially ones with clear introductions to recently-discussed topics. One good example would be the udev article on LWN.net a month or two ago (but preferably not written only by the topic’s creator). Don’t worry about following planet debian or the mailing lists too closely: perhaps use RSS feeds of announcements to give short and timely news near the top of the page, such as debian-announce and security announcements. (Why not follow lists closely? It’s really infuriating when DWN inflames discussions by covering half-discussed threads, for example.) Just because most of debian’s internal workings are visible doesn’t mean that we should point out every cog that stutters.

    Headline aim: debianplanet looks at the machine’s movements more than its mechanics.

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