Happy Birthday to the Atlasphere!

Join us in wishing a happy birthday to the sleekest, hippest, fastest-growing Ayn Rand community on the internet. (And check out what we've got in store for the next few months.)

You wouldn't know from the size of its burgeoning member directory, but the Atlasphere has only been online for about a year now.

The Atlasphere was launched publicly in mid-September 2003 and — as of today — has attracted more than 4,500 members. To celebrate the occasion, we've launched a new version of the site with a sleek new design and some new features. And there's more on the way.

In this column I'll review some highlights of the Atlasphere's first year online, introduce you to the team that has made it possible, and discuss where we hope to take things over the next year.

The Atlasphere's First Year

The idea behind the Atlasphere started with a phone call my wife and I received from Charles Tomlinson and Molly Hays in May 2003. They were looking for someone to build a web site that would include a directory and dating service for admirers of Ayn Rand's works. Kathy and I were easily convinced that the project had real potential.

Over the next few weeks, I put together a detailed development plan, which I then used to raise several thousand dollars in start-up capital from sponsors who liked the idea and were willing to help get the site off the ground financially. The support and encouragement we received from these sponsors during this phase was truly vital.

About this time, New York-based marketing copywriter Don Hauptman broke it to me that he didn't care for any of my proposed names for the site. "What about calling it 'The Atlasphere'?" he said. He didn't have to ask that question twice; it was an instant hit with virtually everyone.

Most of the Atlasphere site was launched on September 18, 2003. The dating service, which was a whole 'nother piece of software (and programming nightmares), arrived about six weeks later.

Andrew Schwartz
During its first few months online, the Atlasphere published some remarkably popular articles. Chief among these were founding editor Andrew Schwartz's interviews with artist Michael Newberry, "Capitalist Chicks" founder Debbie Brannigan, and producer-director Duncan Scott discussing his re-release of the Italian screen adaptation of Ayn Rand's We the Living.

Andrew's most popular piece, however, was his interview with Sabine Herold, editor and spokeswoman for Liberté j'écris ton nom (Liberty, I Write Your Name), a think tank and activist organization at the forefront of a growing pro-liberty movement in France. The interview attracted close to ten thousand visitors in its first two days online, and is still the first search result on Google for the popular (and beautiful) "Sabine Herold."

Within a few months of its launch, the Atlasphere was beginning to attract interest from well outside the community of Ayn Rand admirers. In February, Salon.com featured our site prominently in Lynn Harris's review of niche dating sites, where Harris characterized the Atlasphere as her "personal favorite." A similar article in the Chicago Tribune, in March, featured the Atlasphere as its lead example of why niche dating web sites are becoming so popular.

The Atlasphere Team

Overall, it was a terrific first year — largely because of the outstanding team of people who have been supporting and helping build the Atlasphere.

A major player in the Atlasphere's evolution was the aforementioned Andrew Schwartz. He not only provided valuable input on the development plan, but also recruited several sponsors, served as the Atlasphere's first editor, and organized the initial talent for the Atlasphere's column section. Andrew left the editor's position in May to pursue other activities, but remains actively involved in helping us make key decisions at the Atlasphere.

While drafting the Atlasphere's development plan, we were unbelievably fortunate to gain the interest of programmer and former computer science professor Jay Myers, who did an awesome job writing the software at the heart of the Atlasphere, and was constantly finding ways, behind the scenes, to improve the site's functionality.

Today Jay is focusing primarily on his own business, TwinAct, which develops "Answer Engines" to analyze common natural language questions and retrieve the answers, which are then presented by intelligent conversational characters. Jay also continues to provide helpful consultation on site development issues for the Atlasphere.

Marshall Sontag
Another person who tops the Atlasphere's "without whom" list is Orlando programmer Marshall Sontag, who was an early enthusiast about the Atlasphere's potential and has provided countless hours of late-night emergency programming, debugging, and site development assistance. Anytime you report a strange bug on the site — and it gets fixed within the hour — you probably have Marshall to thank!

Finally, the newest member of "The Atlasphere Team" is our priceless editor Jennifer Iannolo, whose professionalism and creative wisdom continue to make our columns section one of the Atlasphere's most popular features. Jennifer was another early contributor to the Atlasphere, with her interview of world-famous chef Charlie Trotter.

Together, Jennifer, Marshall, and Andrew have demonstrated unequivocally that there is no conflict between being a committed individualist and performing incredible teamwork. I cannot thank them enough — and I hope you will join me in thanking them, if you have the opportunity, for all that they have done.

The Atlasphere v2.0

This new version of the Atlasphere, before you now, has been about six months in the making. Chief among our priorities were to simplify the site's navigational structure, beef up the functionality for browsing member profiles, simplify the process by which new members join the dating service, and upgrade the dating service's internal e-mail suite.

For new visitors, we also now feature pages presenting the Atlasphere's mission, describing Ayn Rand's novels, and providing background information about Ayn Rand. We have also allotted space on the right side of each page that will eventually be used for paid advertisements. (If you are interested in purchasing advertising at the Atlasphere, please contact us.)

Building "The Atlasphere v2.0" took a tremendous amount of work, and the final result is a $25,000 piece of highly-integrated networking software, at your disposal, for meeting and connecting with other admirers of Ayn Rand's novels. We hope you enjoy using it!

Jennifer Iannolo
We also welcome your ideas for further improvement. Our top priority, in the coming months, will be to launch a set of discussion forums. These forums will be on a stand-alone "sister site" dedicated to discussing anything of interest to admirers of Ayn Rand's writings. We'll have a variety of forums to accommodate any topic imaginable.

Also, under Jennifer Iannolo's guidance, we'll be continuing our publication of feature columns "by Rand admirers, and for Rand admirers." Jennifer has a terrific lineup of columnists and is always seeking fresh faces. (Please see our writer guidelines for additional information.)

Don't hesitate to contact us — using the "Support" link on the left side of any page — with any questions, comments, or suggestions. We're pleased to have you at the Atlasphere, and we look forward to another terrific year!

Joshua Zader is the founder and owner of the Atlasphere, and the CEO of Atlas Web Development.

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To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.