Emily LakdawallaApr 25, 2012

Welcome to the new planetary.org!

Welcome to the Planetary Society's new website! What you're looking at right now is the result of months of continuous effort by the very small Web team here at the Society. Our goal was to create a new home for the Planetary Society on the Internet that reflects the way things have changed since our last redesign: changes in the Planetary Society, changes in space exploration, and changes in the way the Internet functions.

Our old website was designed at a time -- lo these six and-a-half years ago -- when we saw communication about space exploration as a one-way street. We had expertise, and we told you stuff, and you read it and were edified.

Fast forward six and-a-half years, which is a comically short period of time, but boy, have things changed. We still have expertise and a lot of interesting things to talk about, but that old narrow one-way street is gone, replaced with (if I may stretch a metaphor) a fast-moving two-way freeway. Instead of the hierarchy of information flowing from experts, to writers, to readers, we have a wide-open community. Our experts talk directly to the public through blogs, forums, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter; and they immediately receive comments and feedback, and can respond just as fast. Nowadays many of our experts actually are members of the public, armchair astronauts whose knowledge of space exploration, past or present, or skill in image processing, make them valued authorities as well. All the lines that formerly separated all those classifications -- public, professional, enthusiast, amateur, astronaut, researcher, journalist -- are blurring. Space exploration has become much more social, and, in my view, much more fun, while remaining as inspiring and fascinating as it ever was. We're all on this adventure together, discovering all the worlds, big and small, in our solar system.

We designed our new website to reflect those changes, to show space exploration as a human, collaborative endeavor. I see the new site as a theater with stage and a spotlight from which you can share your stories of investigation and discovery with the rest of your community and in which you can hear directly from the people whose efforts are pushing back the frontiers of what we know and what we can do. You, reading this right now, may have a story to tell or a pretty picture to show, and we're now giving you tools to share your stories with all the other space fans, professional or enthusiast (or both), all over the world. Of course, you'll still be able to follow here the people whose storytelling may have brought you to the Planetary Society in the first place, like me on this blog, or Mat Kaplan and Bruce Betts on Planetary Radio.

Of course, some things haven't changed, and that's a good thing. As we have been since our founding in 1980, we're still a membership organization, marshaling the combined voices of tens of thousands of members around the world to speak loudly in support of space research, exploration, and the protection of our own "pale blue dot" of a planet. We still do great technology development projects, funded by the generous donations of our members. We still run events, like Planetfest in August, where you'll be able to join thousands of other enthusiasts to experience the thrill of Curiosity's landing on Mars.

So, welcome! I hope you like our new place. Please feel free to explore on your own, starting from our beautiful new homepage! But if you'd like a guided tour, I'll show you around, and while I'm doing that I'll explain about what things should be working perfectly and what things are still a work in progress.

A Tour of the New Site


Why don't we start with the blogs, since that's where you are now. Notice that I said "blogs" with an "s." One big change with the new site is that you're going to be hearing from (or, I guess, reading) a lot more people than you did in the past. Our old website had a section for formal news and many sections for information about projects and one blog that was nominally under my name but which sometimes featured other authors. On the new site, the blog homepage now represents a one-stop shop for all of this fresh information from many different voices.

You can choose to just see my blog, which will continue to be approximately daily posts about current and past space science and exploration and pretty space pictures. Or you can visit Mat Kaplan's blog, where you'll find out about Planetary Radio and other podcasts and videos as well as special events. Or you can read Bruce Betts' blog, where you'll receive updates on the projects being developed with Planetary Society member donations, like FINDS Exo-Earths and Laser Bees. Or you can check out Bill Nye's blog to learn about what the Society is doing to make your place in space a better one. Or you can find dozens of other voices in the guest blogs, from scientists to policymakers, engineers to amateurs, educators to students.

For any of these, you'll find the author's name is a clickable link; click on it to find more posts or Planetary Radio shows from the same person. The posts are also keyworded, so you can click on one of the subject-specific links at the top of each post, or use the topic or keyword search tools, to find similar posts. Now, the old website did not have keywords for the blog, and keywords didn't just magically appear when I transferred the archives; I have to add them to each and every blog post. There are more than 3,000 old blog posts. I will work slowly backward, tagging posts with keywords, but it's going to take a while. Also, if you go back in the blog archives you'll find lots of broken images and broken links, as well as some funny display issues. I thought it was better to bring over the whole archive and live with these problems, rather than have the archives vanish until I could clean everything up. The text is all in there; images and keywording and link-fixing and layout repair will take a while.

One thing that is going away for good is most of our old news articles. A subset of these that is only temporarily gone is A. J. S. Rayl's Mars Exploration Rover updates. Several volunteers answered my call for help a couple of weeks ago, and we hope to have those back online within a month.

Every blog page has a comments section at the bottom. But, in another change from our old website, you will need to establish an identity on our site -- a username and password -- before you can post. We chose to require login for comments because that way your comment can go live as soon as you submit it; if no login was required, we'd have to moderate the comments, which would limit the conversation. So, you probably want to know how to do that!

Registering, Logging In, and Sharing Your Stories

You'll find our new Member Center in the ribbon at the upper right corner of the website. You can establish a username and a password there and start commenting right away. But if you are a member, I recommend that you don't do it that way. If you create a username and password now, it won't be connected with your identity in our membership database. Next week you should receive an email from us that has a special link for you to click to establish your account on the new site. If you connect through that link, your username and password will be linked automatically with your membership record, and you'll be able to do such amazing things as updating your own contact information. If you just can't wait, and want to go ahead and establish a website identity now, that is also fine; your username and password will eventually be linked to your membership account. But because that process requires human intervention,it could take a while, maybe a few weeks, give or take a few weeks. (Sorry that I can't be more precise; we're all getting used to new systems here.) If you're not a member, go ahead and set up your account -- and then consider joining while you're at it!

There are a couple of very cool things that you members will be able to do once you've logged in. Remember what I said about you telling your stories? You can do that in the Connect section (linked from the top nav bar), where you'll find "My Sky" and "My Story." My Sky is a feature that debuted in our member magazine, The Planetary Report last June; we invite members to submit pictures of their sky with a bit of story, and we'll feature many of them on the website, linked from the My Sky section on the homepage, and a few of them in the magazine. My Story is a new feature: each month we'll ask you a question about why you love space exploration, and My Story will allow you to share your answers and read others'. April's question is "What inspires you about images from space?" To get each month's question, you should subscribe to our monthly email newsletter (if you haven't already).


OK, so that's the Blogs and Member Center and Connect sections. Since I mentioned My Sky being on the homepage, let's go to the homepage and look at what else there is. I am so happy to have space to highlight huge, pretty space images on the homepage, in a section that'll always show five rotating features. Those huge images are carried through as page backgrounds throughout the rest of the site. There's another spot for pretty pictures on the homepage in the Snapshots section, which will feature a different image each week that you can send as an eCard. You'll even have an address book linked to your email address so you don't have to re-enter email addresses every time. (And don't worry, we are not going to spam anybody whose email address you send an eCard to; as we state in our privacy policy, we use those email addresses once only for the sole purpose of sending the eCard.) Also on the homepage are links to the latest blog posts and to Planetary Radio.


Let's go up to the top nav bar and check out the Explore section. That's where you'll find basic information about our ongoing projects. You'll also find background information on missions and planets. This is an area from which we've removed a lot of old, outdated content and have not replaced it. The Planetary Society was one of the first nonprofits to have a website (we've been online since 1993) and for many years our site was valued as a resource for authoritative information about space and space exploration. But since 1993, other resources have sprung up on the Internet that are much better than our website could ever be: in particular, Wikipedia, which, despite its faults, is much more current and reliable than our rarely-updated website was.

So the Space Topics section is much more svelte than it used to be. You'll find a smaller number of shorter pages with a few basic facts and lots of links to blogs and other places where you can get the most up-to-date information. I have, however, brought over some of the content from the space topics section on our old site that was unique and (in my opinion) useful. Things like my concise summaries of space missions, with pages for missions to Venus and Mercury, for missions to the Moon, for missions to Mars, and for missions to places beyond Mars. And other useful pages like the one explaining Mars' calendar and seasons and the one with ridiculous detail on Cassini's tour of the Saturn system. I will slowly be adding back other unique pages to this section as I have time and can check that the content is current; if something has gone missing that you really really want to see, just send me an email and I'll add that to my list.


Let's go next to the Multimedia tab. I'm very excited about this one; it's a totally new function on our website, yet it doesn't require me to generate anything that I wasn't already doing. In it we finally have tools to collect and show you the great videos we produce. This is also where Planetary Radio lives, and as on our old site you can browse shows by date, guest, and subject. In the Multimedia tab you also finally have the ability to browse and search the awesome images that are sitting in our image library. Our old website's image library contained 9,000 images; of those, only about 500 have been migrated over so far. So it should be fun for you (and me) to watch this section expand with time. Here's a few recommended image searches: amateur-processed images; Cassini; animations.

That's the main stuff that there is to find on the new site today. And we have a lot more planned. I hope you like what you find here, and that you'll enjoy exploring the solar system in the company of other space geeks in your new place in space!

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