Subreddit /r/planetemacs: My favorite source for Emacs-related news. It is 3+ Years old, and has 1750+ subscribers. A brief note on how it is made.


Subreddit /r/planetemacs: My favorite source for Emacs-related news is 3+ Years old and has 1750+ subscribers. A brief note on how it is made.

1. What is /r/planetemacs?

/r/planetemacs is a good, and an eclectic source of Emacs-related news. It is also my favourite source for Emacs-related news.

The subreddit is 3+ years old and has 1750+ subscribers. It describes
itself as a source for

Emacs News, Packages, Articles, Videos, Events & more

The subreddit is a link-only subreddit, and doesn’t see much commenting activity. There is a sole poster, and he has been sharing links on this subreddit, like a well-oiled clock, ever since it’s inception. The regularity of posts, despite the absence of any other living soul in this subreddit is a commendable achievement.

2. Why I created /r/planetemacs?

I created /r/planetemacs in Dec. 2018 purely out of whim, and it was meant to serve my own interests. That is, to keep myself abreast of goings-on in the Emacs community, in a non-detailed way.

The name of the subreddit, as you might have already guessed by now, is borrowed from the “Planet Emacsen”, the original, but now defunt, Emacs blog aggregator.

3. How does /r/planetemacs work?

/r/planetemacs is a link aggregator, much like “Planet Emacs”, the blog aggregator, but on a bigger scale.

The subreddit aggregates links not only from “Planet Emacs”, but also from

  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • Mastodon
  • “first-class” NEWS—think M-x view-emacs-news or C-h n—from the Emacs and Org repositories.

Here is a quick overview of the mechanics of /r/planetemacs.

How /r/planetemacs is made?

See planetemacs.svg for the above image in SVG format. In the SVG image, you can “click” on the URLs that make up the news sources. Note that the Reddit and Twitter links in there use the “advanced search” features, specifically search keywords that take date or timestamp values, that enable “recency” searches. If you follow these links in your browser, it will give you an insight in to search keywords that I use to seed /r/planetemacs.

Note that /r/planetemacs heavily depends on

The continuity of /r/planetemacs depends on the above “cloud infrastructure” being available for free. These cloud services supply  me with steady stream of links for posting.

Note the “human-being” in the above diagram. He filters the feeds, and ensures that submissions are relevant to Emacs.

4. Setbacks I faced while running /r/planetemacs

In the 3 years, since the inception of /r/planetemacs, I have faced the following setbacks.

  1. IFTTT moved away from unlimited free applets, to mere three applets.(1) When /r/planetemacs started, I was using one applet per RSS feed. Since there were more than 3 RSS/Atom feed already, I was using more applets than what I could use for free. This made me shift to Pipes, and thereby consolidate multiple feeds to a single RSS feed.
  2. Twitter disabled the non-Javascript web endpoint, and  forced the use of Javascript on client-side. This meant that the Google Spreadsheet fetcher, being not Javascript aware, was no longer fetching the Twitter pages. To add fuel to the fire, Twitter disabled anonymous scraping by making developer tokens mandatory. This meant that the scraping of Twitter stopped abruptly one fine day, and remained broken for a long time. I had to tweak my Google Apps Script to work with anonymous bearer tokens. (I am not a web developer, and making the relevant changes was a hassle.) As an aside, right from the word go, my Twitter-scraper used a fair amount of “advanced search” features, mostly as a heuristic, to surface meaningful links, while weeding out the worthless ones. Even though I pride myself in my Google-fu, I had to hunt really hard for Twitter’s catalogue of search keywords.
  3. Reddit bots would arbitrarily flag, shadow-ban or disable the account I use for submissions. This would happen periodically at “longer” intervals—every 6 months or an year or so. To mitigate against this risk, I have roped in a couple of my friends as moderators to regain moderator control in case of an adverse decision by Reddit bots that “prune” accounts for “subversive” activities.

5. Apprehensions I had when I started /r/planetemacs

When I started /r/planetemacs, I was wondering if there would be a steady supply of “fresh” links on an ongoing basis. My initial apprehension was very misplaced. My 3-years of experience suggests that (on an average) there are around 5-6 links available for serving every single day. This steady supply is not only indicative of the large size of Emacs Community, but also a keen interest that Emacs users have in creating new articles, packages or videos.

6. Discoveries I made while running /r/planetemacs

I am a long-time Emacs user. I learnt Emacs and Emacs Lisp by reading the User Manual. I used to lurk around official Emacs forums. Naturally, I used to think not-so-highly of people who never participated in official Emacs lists, but confined their Emacs-related activities to “non-official” channels. But once I shifted my focus away from the Emacs lists, I discovered that (a) there are very many Emacs-related communities, of varying sizes and interests, that are outside of “the official” Emacs fold, and that (b) the developers who direct these communities are no less talented or no less dedicated than the “core” Emacs hackers. I also learnt that some of these developers have made a deliberate choice to stay out of the official Emacs fold, either as a matter of practical expediency, or as a matter of “principle”, whatever it may be.

7. What is the value proposition for you in following /r/planetemacs

  • You discover packages as they are made. This is because the subreddit uses GNU ELPA and MELPA as one of it’s sources
  • You learn about the popular and useful stuff. This is because the subreddit uses links shared on Twitter and Reddit comments
  • You learn about what the Emacs and Org developers are doing. In other words, you learn about all the NEWS-worthy stuff—merging of a feature branch to the mainline, cutting of the mainline for a release, a new feature release—as soon as it is available. This is because the subreddit tracks commits to Emacs’ NEWS and Org’s ORG-NEWS file
  • You don’t see the same thing twice. This is because Reddit rejects reposts
  • There is literally no noise. The subreddit is link only, and doesn’t allow “self” posts. This means that it discourages Emacs newbies, by design. So, if you are an experienced user, and has grown beyond newbie-ish Q&As, then /r/planetemacs is just the right place for you.

8. A word of advice for Emacs-related bloggers, vloggers and organizers of Emacs-related events: Add your RSS feed to the “Planet Emacs” OPML list

I would like to see more participation in /r/planetemacs. Consider sharing any Emacs-related article, be it your own or of others, to /r/planetemacs.

If you write about Emacs on a regular basis, consider adding the RSS/Atom feed of your blog to Planet Emacs. This blog aggregator is hosted by Sacha Chua, and the OPML list is maintained in the GitHub repository sachac/planet.emacsen.org.

If you run an Emacs event, consider adding the RSS/Atom feed of the event to the “Planet Emacs” aggregator, and most importantly ensure that the invite URL for the event is unique for each instance of the event. In the last 3 years, I have noticed that many user groups send out invites/announcements (on Twitter usually) with a URL that points to their landing page (which in turn would link to a specific instance of the event). The problem with these “one-size-fits-all” invite URLs, when viewed in the context of how /r/planetemacs is structured, is that they won’t make it past the “no repost” rule of Reddit, and stop short of reaching a wider audience.

9. What kept me motivated to keep /r/planetemacs operational for such a long time, without abandoning it

There were atleast two instances in the last 3 years, when I suspended the “pipe” that feeds the /r/planetemacs. In every one of those instances, there was a user–two different users–who cared enough to message me, wondering if all is well with me, and why the subreddit has stalled. If /r/planetemacs is up and running today, it is solely because of these two users. These users, reminded me that there are souls out there who find value in /r/planetemacs and regularly keep track of it, even if they don’t visibly participate in it.

I am also very happy when I see a comment on a post which was posted long, long time ago. Such comments remind me that /r/planetemacs is not only a source of real-time NEWS but as a searchable archive (or repository) of Emacs-related knowledge.

10. Conclusion

/r/planetemacs has one sole purpose, which is, to help me keep a non-detailed eye on goings-on in Emacs world.

/r/planetemacs will continue to exist as long as it’s sole user and contributor finds a value in it, and finds the time to maintain it.

The intention of this post is two fold:

  • To pat myself on my back, for keeping up the /r/planetemacs active for good long 3-years. This “human-being” amidst the “cloud” spends a good 20-30 minutes every single day reviewing the inbound URLs with an eye to pruning out the bad apples.
  • To give you an overview of the mechanics of /r/planetemacs, and to document how one may go about running a link-based subreddit, powered largely by “the cloud”.

11. What I wish …

  1. An RSS feed for “fresh” packages–a “fresh” package, as opposed to an “updated” package–to Non-GNU ELPA
  2. An RSS feed for “fresh” packages that make their way to MELPA(1)

If any one of you create such RSS feeds for “fresh” packages, kindly message me through this blog or my github repo. I will happily add it as a “source” for /r/planetemacs.

Categories gnu

2 thoughts on “Subreddit /r/planetemacs: My favorite source for Emacs-related news. It is 3+ Years old, and has 1750+ subscribers. A brief note on how it is made.

  1. Thanks for doing all that work! For noticing new packages, I have my-list-new-packages in https://raw.githubusercontent.com/sachac/emacs-news/master/index.org . It keeps an alist of package and date at https://github.com/sachac/emacs-news/blob/master/package-list.el and compares it against the list of packages when I do Emacs News. I can probably convince it to make an RSS feed, or you can use a similar idea and run it more often than once a week. For Emacs-related events, I aggregate a bunch of meetups and include some manual ones at https://emacslife.com/calendar/emacs-calendar.ics . Emacs News and This Month in Org are both in the Planet Emacslife feed, so you might be able to get away without piping them together. https://www.reddit.com/user/emacsnews/upvoted.json has the Reddit posts I upvote as emacsnews to include in my weekly updates, in case you can reuse some of that curation. Would that help with your workflow?

    Like

  2. Oh, silly me, I understand now – you mean Emacs NEWS and Org NEWS, the changelogs. Yeah, that’s totally not in Planet Emacslife, so thanks for aggregating those.

    Also, since you curate daily and I tend to check in a couple of times a week, maybe I can take advantage of your curation instead of the other way around? =) I like to link to the Reddit discussions in Emacs News if there are lots of comments, so it’s a little hard to find those in /r/planetemacs because I think you use regular link posts to the original resources instead of crossposts. But if you happen to use upvotes in your workflow and want to share your upvote JSON with me, or if the data is available some other way, I might be able to use that to catch anything I skimmed past.

    I also check YouTube ( https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4th0AZixyREOtvxDpdxC9oMuX7Ar7Sdt ) and Hacker News ( https://hn.algolia.com/?query=emacs&sort=byDate&prefix&page=0&dateRange=all&type=story ), and I’ve recently started checking https://lemmy.ml/c/emacs too.

    Like

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