The Purpose of Planet Debian

An issue that causes ongoing discussion is what is the purpose of a Planet installation such as Planet Debian [1]. The discussion usually seems to take the less effective form of what is “appropriate” content for the Planet or what is considered to be “abuse” of the Planet. Of course it’s impossible to get anything other than a rough idea of what is appropriate is the purpose is not defined, and abuse can only be measured on the most basic technical criteria.

My personal use of Planet Debian and Planet Linux Australia [2] is to learn technical things related to Linux (how to use new programs, tricks and techniques, etc), to learn news related to Linux, and to read personal news about friends and colleagues. I think that most people have some desire to read posts of a similar nature (I have received a complaint that my blog has too many technical posts and not enough personal posts), but some people want to have a Planet with only technical articles.

In a quick search of some planets the nearest I found to a stated purpose of a Planet installation was from the Wiki to document Planet Ubuntu [3] which says ‘Subscribed feeds ought to be at least occasionally relevant to Ubuntu, although the only hard and fast rule is “don’t annoy people”‘. Planet Perl [4] has an interesting approach, they claim to filter on Perl related keywords, I initially interpreted this to mean that if you are on their list of blogs and you write a post which seems to refer to Perl then it will appear – but a quick browse of the Planet shows some posts which don’t appear to match any Perl keywords. Gentoo has implemented a reasonable system, they have a Universe [5] configuration which has all blog posts by all Gentoo bloggers as well as a Planet installation which only has Gentoo related posts.

It seems to me that the a reasonable purpose for Planet Debian would be to have blog feeds which are occasionally specific to Debian and often relevant to Debian. Personal blog posts would be encouraged (but not required). Posts which are incomprehensible or have nothing to say (EG posts which link to another post for the sole purpose of agreeing or disagreeing) would be strongly discouraged and it would be encouraged to make links-posts rare.

Having two installations of the Planet software, one for posts which are specific to Debian (or maybe to Debian or Linux) and one for all posts by people who are involved with Debian would be the best option. Then people who only want to read the technical posts can do so, but other people can read the full list. Most blog servers support feeds based on tag or category (my blog already provides a feed of Debian-specific posts). If we were going to have a separate Planet installation for only technical posts then I expect that many bloggers would have to create a new tag for such posts (for example my posts related to Debian are in the categories Benchmark, Linux, MTA, Security, Unix-tips, and Xen) and the tag Debian is applied to only a small portion of such posts. But it would be easy to create a new tag for technical posts.

Ubuntu is also the only organisation I’ve found to specify conditions upon which blogs might be removed from the feed, they say: We reserve the right to remove any feed that is inaccessible, flooding the page, or otherwise interfering with the operation of the Planet. We also have the right to move clearly offensive content or content that could trigger legal action.

That is reasonable, although it would be good to have a definition for “flooding the page” (I suggest “having an average of more than two posts per day appear over the period of a week or having posts reappear due to changing timestamps”). Also the “could trigger legal action” part is a minor concern – product reviews are often really useful content on a Planet…

Some time ago my blog was removed from Planet Fedora for some reason. I was disappointed that the person who made that change didn’t have the courtesy to inform me of the reason for their action and by the fact that there is no apparent way of contacting the person who runs the Planet to ask them about it. Needless to say this did not encourage me to write further posts about Fedora.

If a blog has to be removed from a feed due to technical reasons then the correct thing to do is to inform the blogger of why it’s removed and what needs to be fixed before it can be added again.

If a blog is not meeting the content criteria then I expect that in most cases the blogger could be convinced to write more content that matches the criteria and tag it appropriately. Having criteria for some aspects of blog quality and encouraging the bloggers to meet the criteria can only improve the overall quality.

Currently there is a Planet installation on being recommended which is based on Planet Debian, but with some blogs removed (with no information available publicly or on debian-private as to what the criteria are for removing the blogs in question). It seems to me that if it’s worth using Debian resources to duplicate the Planet Debian then it should be done in a way that benefits readers (EG by going to the Planet vs Universe model that Ubuntu follows), and that if blogs are going to be removed from the feed then there should be criteria for the removal so that anyone who wants their blog to be syndicated can make whatever changes might be necessary.

9 comments to The Purpose of Planet Debian

  • jldugger

    Flooding the planet scenarios are like “I upgraded my website and the RSS feed script created new GUIDs for all the entries so the last twenty entries got reposted to Planet,” for the most part. There was a minor scuffle after an Ubuntu developer made a post about iBrator or some other computer dildo silliness. Someone complained and the end result was he wound up quitting for about a year over his feed being removed from the planet.

    The important reason this policing exists is because the Community Council is the final arbiter of policies established. There is no general resolution that can be passed to override it. If someone complains that removing their posts about too many women doing too little in Open Source amounts to censorship, the most they can do is complain on mailing lists and ultimately tie up the five or so people on the Council who have to give the fellow some amount of due process.

    Personally, the Planet Debian and Planet Ubuntu are too large to really pay attention to. Blog memes amount to twenty nearly identical posts about an upcoming release or ordering the set of {ls, clear, cd, grep, vim, apt-get} based on their popularity in BASH_HISTORY. I find myself mostly cherry picking individual feeds from planets for liferea based on whether they contain informative and interesting posts like this one. Also, I should probably find a feed of planet debian without Clint Adam’s Bayesian spam busting RSS feed.

  • daniels@brainfreeze:~% host is an alias for has address

    I didn’t know that developers’ personal machines counted as project resources. Or are you referring to the unwieldy burden of a CNAME?

    Also, cute proof-by-assertion that it does not ‘benefit readers’.

  • etbe

    jdugger: I believe that having a developer quit is an example of why there needs to be a purpose for a Planet and a set of guidelines for content.

    I don’t find Planet Debian to be too large to pay attention to. PGDN works well and quickly.

    daniels: Your Planet is being touted as a Debian resource which is aimed at removing “the worst abusers”. If you don’t agree to it being promoted in that manner then it would be good if you could clarify the situation.

  • Given I haven’t ever spoken about it publicly (or, at least, certainly don’t recall doing so), I don’t see why you’re so intent on putting these labels on moon.d.n. If NAMBLA touts Debian as a distribution ideal (indeed, designed for) paedophiles, would you be banging Debian’s door, demanding they answer these allegations?

    moon.d.n is what it is: a (usually outdated) copy of Planet Debian with the list of blogs modified. If you want to speculate further on the purpose, feel free to do so, but don’t hang it on the people running it.

    (Interestingly, only two people have ever emailed the contact address that was listed there: one wanted a blog added, and another a hackergotchi updated. Apparently idly postulating about these matters is more entertaining than actually finding out.)

  • jldugger

    There were policies in place, about relevance and appropriateness. The conflict was cultural. An Australian woman felt iGasm were not family safe and had no place on the Planet. The German man who posted it felt it was fine and within his own cultural norms to discuss, and relevant to Ubuntu in the sense that Apple was suing the company.

    Such a debate goes on to take on dimensions of gender discrimination and the German decides to revoke his signature on the Code of Conduct and in a strange calculus, decided he’d leave for openSUSE rather than deal with anonymous forwarded complaints and the Community Council. He returned early this year, and I don’t know if anything was actually resolved, other than he appears to have decided to focus on wine and FAI. I suppose he was rather clever, if he was able to leave for six months and come back with minimal fanfare or accountability or even opposition.

  • etbe
    I first saw the “husband dressed as batman” story printed on the front page of “The Age” (the least tabloid of the Melbourne newspapers) in about 1994 (when people were more conservative than they are now). I discussed the matter with colleagues at work (including female colleagues) and no-one considered it inappropriate. I believe that standards in Sydney are more liberal than in Melbourne (Sydney has the Gay Mardi-Gras). Sydney and Melbourne comprise about half of Australia’s population.

    I believe that anyone who claims that a news report about an iGasm is not suitable by Australian cultural standards either knows little about what Australian standards are (they must not read major newspapers or watch TV), or they are lying.

    Of course if the German guy had made some jokes about the iGasm then that might have been inappropriate by Australian standards. But reporting the news about such a device could appear in any of the Australian papers. The “MX” paper that’s given away for free on Melbourne public transport (and is available for children) contains a lot of tabloid material related to sex.

    The actions of the German guy as you describe them sound rather strange. If he was smarter he would have just compared his writings to what is printed in The Age or other respected Australian papers. Below are a few URLs returned by a search for “sex” on–radio/tricks-of-trade/2008/04/16/1208025264067.html

    Not that the major Australian papers deserve so much respect, the quality of the news is quite low.

  • etbe

    For people who can’t understand my previous comment:
    Based on my experience of having lived for most of my life in Australia and having visited Germany many times I don’t believe that there is any significant difference in cultural norms between Germany and Australia in regard to posts about an iBrator.

    This does not mean that such posts would be appropriate for all Planet installations, and of course has nothing to do with the issue of whether a Planet might have a policy against such posts which makes it a criteria for removing a blog feed.

    I’m happy to debate this matter further, but I would appreciate it if people who disagree with me could provide some references. I have already provided references about Australian cultural norms.

  • seth vidal

    planet fedora blog:
    I’m not sure but I believe your blog was removed b/c it started giving me a 404 on the rss feed and filling up the logs. istr that this site changed, but I might be misremembering that.

    If you’d like it re-added email and it’ll get taken care of.


  • etbe

    seth: Thanks for that information. I have no idea why it would have been giving a 404 (and it’s way too late to search my logs), but that’s a fair reason for removing a blog. It is a pity that there is no contact information for the Planet admin and that the admin didn’t send me an email.

    I’ll send an email to the Planet admin shortly.