Why blog?

People probably wonder why I blog. Shouldn’t I just be putting my energy into writing articles for publication? Sure, I have a few of them on the go, but they take a long time to write, they aren’t something you can just write about in the same quick way of a blog post. The other problem is that they aren’t really that meaningful. Sure, academics deem them as meaningful, quantifying them, and applauding their prestige. The problem is do articles really describe how good or bad a learned person is? I doubt it. When you write a blog post you reach an incredible cross section of people, from different places, and who do different things. When you write something like a journal article it is usually read only by people in the field. There are supposedly some 200,000 academic journals published in English – and the average number of readers per article is 5. Sure there are journals that buck the trend, e.g. Nature, but we’re talking about averages here. This blog has an average readership of anywhere from 200-400 people a day. It’s hard to really compare the two. It is also accessible to everyone, whereas journals and conference proceedings are only available to those who can access them via a library with a paid subscription.

In 2007 a published article suggested that 50% of academic papers are read only by their authors, and the journal editors, and 90% of published articles are never cited [1]. Shocked? I’m not. One of the reasons that few people read academic articles is that some are quiet poorly written. Others are written in a way that nobody outside the field can understand them. This is particularly true of scientific articles, where the writing is all scientific, and often not that interesting. Computer science articles often suffer from a special type of blah. Let’s say an article describes an algorithm and show results. It may be poorly tested, or suffer from a lack of real-world data. It almost never includes code (or even access to code), or even enough information so that others may reproduce the results. Sometimes people even comment how “exceptional” their algorithm is, even though it is at best mediocre.

Part of the reason I blog is because I like writing short articles on topics of interest. Sometimes to try and convey a topic in a simpler manner, or to cover a topic in a little more depth because I couldn’t find it anywhere else. During the semester I write articles for students in my classes to read (that’s why you generally see reengineering articles at the start of the year). I don’t post them on the course website because it’s a pain having to move them every year, and I want more than just the students in my class to be able to see them. There is sometimes a student who complains about having to click to a website… life is harsh right? I can also write a whole series of posts on a particular topic, and I am not constrained by the notions of what journal articles want you to write. There was a time, the 1960s-1980s where people like Dijkstra wrote interesting articles on stuff like programming languages, simple articles on new algorithms, debated things. Alas no more, unless you search blogs, or Stackexchange.com. Journals are often only interested in highfalutin gobbledygook about mundane topics, which is a shame (I’m talking tech journals here).

Look at the end of the day it’s about trying to make a difference writing articles that hopefully are of interest to someone. I don’t profess to know everything, and I am not some coding guru, but I do enjoy writing. Maybe too much, because this is one of four blogs I now write.

  1. Meho, L.I., “The rise and rise of citation analysis”, Physics World, 20(1), p.32 (2007)

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