G. Stolyarov II
March 12, 2012
Readers of The Rational Argumentator:
I write today to announce major changes to this publication – which are intended to enable it to flourish as never before, but which must thereby take it in a significantly different direction from its previous course.
For 9.5 years and 315 issues, The Rational Argumentator has evolved and expanded, regularly bringing a wealth of informative, thought-provoking, genuinely intellectual content that championed the principles of Reason, Rights, and Progress and worked for the arrival of a New Renaissance – and, in more recent years, an era that would transcend even that, along with our sufferings and current limitations. This work is far from complete, and it shall continue in earnest.
But the world has changed since August 31, 2002, when The Rational Argumentator inaugurated its first manifesto and issue (and yes, the issue link indeed points to an archive of TRA’s first page). While politically and economically, some of the change has been disturbing to say the least, the technological improvement has been astonishing. Nowhere has this been clearer than on the Internet.
TRA was not the first Internet publication, nor the first to espouse libertarian, classical liberal, Objectivist, or transhumanist thought. But it was certainly in a vanguard, back when the Internet was still young and fragmented. I remember what it was like in the first half of the last decade – when, to perform any serious research on a subject, one needed to dig through hours of content of marginal relevance at best, outright spam at worst – delivered by a suboptimal search engine – in order to uncover the gems of knowledge and insight. This was before the flowering of Wikipedia, before the market dominance of Google, before social networking, YouTube, or mobile devices. Back then, there were mostly just a few freedom-oriented think tanks and a few small-scale independent publishing enterprises – including the now defunct but still respected Quackgrass Press and HarryRoolaart.com.
When I founded The Rational Argumentator, I sought to emulate the few treasured sources of autonomous, rational, intellectual content I could find, while building something new upon the foundation available to me in the world of that time. Friends of reason and liberty on the Internet back then really did need an early-21st-century parallel to Diderot’s Encyclopédie – a compendium of resources in one convenient location, on which they could rely for quality discourse and genuine enlightenment. TRA has certainly grown in both its abundance of content and its readership, gathering close to 1.4 million visits during its ninth year and around 5 million visits for its entire existence to date.
But as TRA grew, the Internet grew with it, opening up in surprising ways that, eventually, led to a different model of publication now being preferable. TRA, while innovative in the ideas it published and the manner in which it approached its readers – without dumbing anything down or attempting to curry favors from established interests and ideologies – was modeled after a traditional publication, with the majority of the content packaged into issues that helped readers categorize the content chronologically for subsequent easy discovery. All of the systematization was performed manually, with great effort spent on even developing the unique page templates of each of the first 45 issues. Beginning in 2005 and especially since 2007, the issue and article formats were significantly standardized, but considerable manual effort was still devoted to compiling the index pages and updating references throughout the site when a new issue was posted. Up until this month, TRA remained a static website, where every link and every functionality was hard-coded into each individual page. While previous page templates could be used to jump-start new ones, this method implied that any changes to the appearance of TRA’s pages would generally apply only on a forward-going basis – or, on occasion, when an older page was updated.
In the meantime, accessing quality content online has become significantly easier. With the mostly high-quality search results from Google, basic information from Wikipedia, and the ability to readily share material through social networks, every individual can, in effect, create a custom repository of knowledge. Content aggregation in one central location is no longer a function of websites, but rather one of individuals. In order to contribute to and flourish in this kind of Internet, TRA will need to refine its structure and redirect its emphasis within a world where the objectives intended by its earlier structure have, in essence, been fulfilled.
Therefore, I am pleased to announce the following series of changes – the greatest and most transformative that this publication has undergone to date:
1. Conversion to a WordPress architecture. WordPress permits more convenient publication within a template that can be updated globally for the entire website, allowing all pages published in March 2012 or later to instantly receive updates whenever a new feature is added to the sidebar. Furthermore, WordPress performs wonderful feats of organization by category and content tag – such that one can locate content in a myriad ways instead of just a few.
2. Shift from an issue format to a free flow of publication. More radically, TRA’s issue structure is no longer necessary, since WordPress offers so many different and relevant ways to sort content by subject matter, contributor, and even specific keywords. Content will be easily discoverable from the front page (http://rationalargumentator.com/index/) and from the category-specific and monthly archives on the sidebar. New content will simply appear on the front page, with the most recent content at the top.
3. Advent of an RSS feed. Readers who wish to be regularly and automatically updated whenever new content is published do not need to wait for an e-mail from me. They can subscribe to TRA’s RSS feed and become aware of any newly posted work. The RSS feed can also be embedded on other pages and conveniently shared with others.
4. Greater ease of sharing content. Each subsequent post will come will embedded functionalities for sharing the content on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
5. Ability for public comment. Visitors to each post will have the ability to comment directly below the work. This openness to discussion on TRA’s own pages is unprecedented in the history of this publication, due to the previous technical difficulty in facilitating public comments using mostly pure HTML code. The intent is for the first several comments by a visitor to be moderated – not out of any desire to limit the discussion, but rather to keep out the spambots. Once a visitor has demonstrated his or her humanity through several approved comments, he or she will be able to post without restrictions.
6. Focus on original content. In the past, TRA has assembled works from hundreds of contributors. In the earliest stages, it was indeed hard work to locate individual works and to secure their authors’ permission to reprint it – without which the work might have disappeared from the Internet altogether within a few years. Now, the role of a human being as a compiler of extant Internet content is no longer needed. Most content can be readily shared via social networking tools and customizable feeds. For me to spread the work of others, formal reprints are seldom the most effective method anymore. Rather, a link and a discussion of my own will do just as well or better in giving the work more exposure. Most of the new content on TRA will be original creations either by me or by other contributors who have not been published elsewhere before. This does not mean that I will no longer reprint any content that already appears on the Internet. However, it does mean a shift in emphasis away from distribution of extant works by others and toward the development of a unique array of content for TRA.
7. Incorporation of shorter posts. Along with longer articles and essays, I will be more inclined from now on to share brief thoughts more frequently within a blog-post structure. My earlier experiment in this approach, The Progress of Liberty blog, failed because of the whims of the host, the ill-named and ill-fated BlogDog.com. Now that I own the website and the infrastructure, this will not happen again.
In TRA’s Ninth Anniversary Manifesto, I called on my readers to offer me technical suggestions for improving the site. Little did I know what dramatic changes would be forthcoming or possible with a modicum of thought about the purpose TRA ought to serve within a more mature, more open, and more expansive Internet. I would like especially to thank my wife, Wendy, for suggesting the WordPress approach as a way of easing the manual effort of publication. That suggestion motivated still further thoughts on my part about how to maximize the potential influence and effect of TRA while maintaining adherence to the principles by which it has always been guided.
The coming months and years shall surely see additional improvements in both the content and form of this publication. I encourage you to visit regularly, because what comes next will be worth it.
Gennady Stolyarov II,
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator
G. Stolyarov II is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on the Yahoo! Contributor Network to assist the spread of rational ideas. He holds the highest Clout Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and is one of its Page View Millionaires, with over 2 million views.
Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), and Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE).
Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, and a play, Implied Consent. You can watch his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.