Launch of Omloppsbanan, an Orbit for Swedish Geminauts
I've hosted a Gemini capsule for a month now. I'd like to add something to my capsule that is not just static text, so I decided to make an orbit. An orbit is a bunch of Gemini capsules linking to each other in a ring. Each page has a link to the next and the previous page in the ring. This was popular on the early web under the name "webrings". To make the orbit resilient to link rot, each navigation link goes via a central orbit service.
The orbit is called Omloppsbanan ("the orbit" in Swedish) and is now live. At the time of writing only my own page is in it. The bar for participating in the orbit is very low. If you have any relation to Sweden or the Swedish language, you are welcome to join. Please do!
Why make this orbit? During my first days browsing around on Gemini I found several capsules by Swedes. Is Gemini especially popular here? I don't know. My goal for Omloppsbanan is for Swedish geminauts to be able to find each other. Chances are that many of them live in the big university cities. Maybe your neighbor in Gemini space is also your neighbor AFK?
To the orbit main page I added some ASCII art and a bit of poetry that I made. I had an idea about the logo and I found a good tutorial for ASCII art on YouTube. (I had never done ASCII art before. I don't usually write poetry either.) I really like when people adorn their pages with beautiful (ASCII) art and playful writing, so I hope I could contribute something myself.
I decided to write my own software called Retrograde to serve the orbit. LEO, the original Gemini orbit, uses a software called Molniya. So why not use that? The biggest reason is that I enjoy coding in Python. So coding it is just fun in its own right.
A second reason is that I had just read how Antenna – a "reverse" aggregator – managed to collect new posts in Gemini space so quickly without any crawling. The trick was letting the user submit their feed to Antenna when a new post was made. Page discovery becomes immediate. Molniya works by checking backlinks from geminispace.info, which are updated weekly. I wanted to combine the two ideas: an orbit updated by user submissions where the join delay is at most a few minutes.
I also added some ergonomic features. The links required by the orbit to be in the page contain the page URL in the query. Escaping URLs by hand is simply not very fun, so I also added a way for the orbit to automatically generate all the correct links given the non-escaped (and non-normalized) URL as an input.
I put the code on GitHub mostly so that anyone who is interested can read it. I haven't put any effort into the documentation yet, so I don't expect anyone to figure out how to use it. The source for my capsule is on GitHub as well. My ambition is to at least add installation instructions and release Retrograde on PyPI.
While working on Retrograde, I also released a small Python library called gemurl. Its main feature is a URL normalization function, which is useful to have and took some time to write. It was supposed to be a part of an unfinished Gemini client, but I needed the code for Retrograde. It's well tested, has documentation and is published to PyPI.