Welcome to 2017!

After 2016 was such a downer, it might seem like it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be optimistic about 2017, but I believe optimism is a necessary trait for progressives. We have keep hoping the future will be better, or there won’t be any point to our efforts to make it so. But for now, I’d like to put the rest of the world on the back burner, and talk about what’s planned for Canadian Atheist in 2017.

As I’ve mentioned before, in , longtime managing editor of Canadian Atheist Veronica Abbass stepped down. She’s still a contributor, though, so you can still look forward to her fiery contributions.

Taking up the reins is me: Indi. And I’ve got big plans for CA in the future.

I don’t intend to change what fundamentally makes Canadian Atheist what it is – CA will remain a host for diverse voices speaking out uncensored about topics related to secularism, humanism, atheism, and freethought that might be of interest to Canadian readers. That will not change.

In fact, I will shortly be starting a campaign to recruit more contributors, representing new voices and points of view. If you’d like to volunteer ahead of the rush, feel free to leave a comment or use the contact form to submit your contact information. (As of right now, there are no up-to-date requirements or guidelines for CA contributors; the only document we have is a few years old and refers to stuff we no longer have, so I have to update it. But the short version is that all that is required to be a contributor is that you’re writing stuff that will broadly be of interest to Canadian secularists, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers, and that your writing is readable, coherent, and not likely to be problematic for the site (for example, getting us into hot water with nonsense like plagiarism or harassment).)

Now, you may be wondering why I haven’t handled that already. After all, I’ve been managing things since , so what’s the hold-up? Well, when I took over the reins, I was determined to make the transition as smooth as possible. Ideally, I didn’t want anyone to even notice things had changed, at first.

What I’ve been doing is working very quietly in the background to fix little issues and patch up security holes. (Because, really, not much needed to be changed – Veronica had done a titan’s job running the site before I took over.) Not much of what I’ve been doing is actually visible on the front end, though you may have noticed some tiny changes on the right. The biggest visible change – which you probably haven’t noticed yet – is that images are now working for old posts. For the last year and a half or so, the images on posts before weren’t working. This made many posts functionally unreadable (for example “Belief in God as Essential to Morality Correlates with Low Wealth and Education Levels”). Well, now the images are working again. There are still many things broken, though, so if you notice anything, leave a comment (on the post with the problem or any post) or use the contact form.

Another small change you might not have noticed is with the categories and tags. We CA contributors have never been particularly diligent or organized about our use of categories or tags, and for that we owe our readers an apology. My goal is to clean up the categories and tags, and make them actually useful for searching or navigation. You can already see some of the fruits of this labour on the right: we now have a tag cloud that gives visual information about what we focus on, and allows you to quickly find posts by key words. This is very much a work in progress, and there’s still a ton more to be done. Right now it’s primarily based on posts from the last six months or so (hence the heavy focus on physician-assisted dying), but eventually I’ll work through the hundreds of posts in our archives.

These are the only things that have effects I can show you right now, but there is a lot being worked on. These examples should give you an idea of the flavour of what’s being done: a lot of it is pretty low-level, dry, or technical stuff. As I promised, the fundamental nature of what CA is will not change.

But there will be a lot of changes around here, to keep up with the changing times:

  • The look will probably change. This is primarily to make the site more readable across devices, whether small-screen mobile devices or wide-screen desktops. Right now the site doesn’t shrink well, requiring at least ~1000 pixels width, and at the same time it wastes lots of space on the sides on wide screens.
  • Contributors will be given more prominence. We used to have a contributors’ page – that will be coming back in some form.
  • Right now I’m currently in discussions with three different people, looking into the possibility of contributions other than writing. For example, we might starting doing a semi-regular webcomic, and even occasional music or video posts. In addition, I’m looking to doing “artist features”, where we regularly feature any kind of written, aural, or visual art contributed by CA. In other words, if you’re an artist of any stripe, and want to show off your work or even just get a signal boost for your stuff, CA may become a place where you can do that.
  • We may start hosting ads, or perhaps running some kind of crowdfunding system (like Patreon) to offset the hosting costs (which are excessively high right now – I’m also working to bring them down).
  • There are several new utilities in the works, not least being a “Canadian Atheist calendar” that you will be able to subscribe to and/or use in your favourite calendar app, that will be full of dates and events of interest to CA readers.

And so on.

There are a ton of other things I’m working towards, but that won’t be possible in the short term, such as a transition to HTTPS, and the extension of the commenting system into full-featured discussion forums. These are things I have planned for the future, but for technical reasons we can’t really do anything about them yet.

Bear in mind that:

  1. this is not my full-time job (or even a part-time one), so while I will be dedicating a lot of time and effort to CA, it’s not a life priority for me, so things will be done somewhat slowly, over time;
  2. a lot of what’s being done will be done quietly, in the background, under the hood, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see changes right away; and
  3. a lot of what I have planned is contingent on getting help from others – whether that’s contributing content, or even just helping out with suggestions and advice (for example, I will be asking for suggestions for a new hosting service in the coming months) – and the more help I get, the more things will get done, and faster.

What do you think, dear readers? How does all this sound to you? More importantly, does anyone have any suggestions for what else could be done? Let me know in the comments.

2017 is going to be a year of changes for CA – mostly technical changes, a new look, some new features, but no change to who we fundamentally are. I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about with respect to CA this year.

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