Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A prospective Theory Blogger wants your input (Guest Post)

(Guest Post by M.T. Hajiaghayi)

Title: Successful blogs

Now that I'm joining Univ. of Maryland, and there are at several famous bloggers there, I may consider starting a new blog as well. I'm not so sure that this happens at the end, but before that I want to know what the others are thinking regarding a successful blog in CS and its criteria especially now that we have quite a few years of blogging in CS (e.g. see a list containing several of them in the leftside of this blog). I ask some questions below. Feel free to answer them or give any other comments. You may want to give even an example if you feel like it.
  1. Do you like blogs which put controversial posts (like FOCS/STOC vs others) or the ones which only mention news? If you think both are necessary for a successful blog give your percentages.
  2. Do you like blogs who give short or even long proofs? Do you think people are reading them carefully enough to justify the effort.
  3. Do you like blogs who mainly talk about their authors esp. their achievements? In short do you like blogs which essentially say "How great I am?". Again you may give percentages here if you think it is not bad.
  4. Do you like blogs which mention opinions of the authors explicitly or the ones that only mention questions without answers?
  5. Do you like blogs of short posts or long posts? Give an estimate.
  6. Should a blogger answer the comments or it is not necessary?
  7. If you do not like a person or its work should you mention his/her name or you should never ever mention any names as a blogger.
  8. Do you like blogs who repeat others' posts? If so give an estimate of how often you should do this.
  9. Is the number of comments the main measure of successfulness?
  10. Does a blog need a focus?
  11. Are there too many theory blogs out there already?
  12. Will a blog help you on the job market? Tenure? Full Prof?
  13. What role do or should Blogs play in our community?


  1. I think people should blog about what ever the feel comfortable as frequently as they have something to say.

    Obviously if you post several times a day and have hot and controversial topics you will build more readership but this is probably not worth the effort if you have to force yourself.

    6.Should a blogger answer the comments or it is not necessary?
    Not necessary, but a good bonus.

    7.If you do not like a person or its work should you mention his/her name or you should never ever mention any names as a blogger.
    Probably wiser to avoid any names, this can come back to bite you - I've seen it happen at least twice.

    9.Is the number of comments the main measure of successfulness?
    Only one measure - number of readers, number of times tweeted or linked to or just how much people like it are also good measures.

    10. Does a blog need a focus - Not necessarily, a bit of variety is good

    11.Are there too many theory blogs out there already?
    No, that's like saying "Are there too many books out there?" There is always room for fresh new voices and viewpoints.

    12.Will a blog help you on the job market? Tenure? Full Prof?
    Probably not. I don't think it hurts though.

    13.What role do or should Blogs play in our community?
    Gossip, communal discussions, grips and grievances, news sharing, etc.

  2. I think my short answer is "write what you would want to read".

  3. 1. Opinion posts are more interesting than yet another news blog. Of course, this is only true if you echo my opinions.

    2. In the world of proofs, shorter is always better. If it's long, handwaving with a link to the details would probably be the most effective (and the most work for you).

    3. Nope. The occasional achievement is okay, though.

    6. From what I've seen of this blog's comments, I'd say you should look only if you need a dose of modesty. Complexity blog readers can be brutal.

    8. Only in a "Lance has a post on [topic] that caught my eye. Here's what I think about it." kind of way.

    10. Of course, but the breadth of the focus is obviously variable.

  4. This blog largely fills the role of broader community announcement and discussion. I'm not sure how many more anonymous discussion forums we need, or how many more provocations to flamewars.

    However, I think there is a lot of room for informal expository writing, either about your work or about others.

    Really, you should write about whatever inspires you, since having a long-term successful blog actually means being able to continue writing once you've gotten the handful of things you're thinking about saying right now off your chest. If you continue to do this, you will eventually find your voice and your own answers to the questions you asked.

    Be very careful about putting negative things online. It's okay to provide professional criticism about an area of work, but you might not want to put anything online that you wouldn't say in person to the people you're writing about, or to a university administrator.

    Don't confuse comments or a lack of comments with a successful blog.

  5. If someone is against your tenure case, will your blog provide ammunition for them? "Look at the kooks they attract." "Look at how unfocused they are."

  6. 10. Does a blog need a focus

    Please, yes, have a focus. If your focus is "my random thoughts on things" that can be fine, but I would suggest against (for example) naming it as an algorithms blog and then talking about your favorite TV shows half the time.

  7. 1. I like both.
    2. I like blogs having proofs, but when they are long I seldom read them in detail. So it's probably better to have only proof sketches/ideas/a bit of handwaving, along with short proofs.
    4. I prefer reading the author's opinion.
    5. Short proofs.
    6. It's better if the author occasionaly answers the most relevant comments, such as Lipton's blog.
    7. I don't mind these names being mentioned, as long as it justified and not just the author's moaning.
    8. No, unless a different take is offered.
    9. No.
    10. No.
    11. No.

  8. I would answer most of the questions with "let a blog follow a style", obviously whatever style but a single one.

  9. Congrats Mohammad Taghi for the job. Maryland is a good school and Mohammad Taghi is a prolific researcher.

    Looking forward to your blog. I hope you will start one.

  10. The chances of your blog hurting your tenure case are higher than of helping it.

    A good blog takes a lot of time unless you are one of those rare people who can produce polished prose with little effort. So either you spend too much time writing the blog and away from your tenure case, or you end up with a mediocre blog.

    Then sooner or later you'll step on the toes of someone who is not mature enough to handle a controversial topic and you are in trouble.

    If after this you still want to go ahead and start a blog, stick to technical topics and write only when you have something to say.

  11. On question 3: I think in some rare instances you should say some self-appreciation, however I do not like some blogs such as "MY BIASED COIN" (or a very few others) which are very often self-appreciations of the blogger.

  12. I like blogs where the author writes about something they clearly care about.

    In other words, what David said.

  13. Mr ZeroSPAMTolerance1:48 AM, March 18, 2010

    eeehh, BILL, can we delete the spam comments of the previous commentator please ?

    no spam please.


  15. Hi Mohammad, Congratulations.

    From a reader's point of view, I personally don't think I have enough time to even read the existing top ones, so I probably won't read yours regularly. I wish someone would start to make things less time consuming in place of making more useful things. In this age it is going to be a requirement. I would like a blog with a larger number of authors without nonprofessional personal posts. It would save our time, both authors and readers.

    On the other hand, what I wrote above should not be a reason for not starting a blog. If you have time for writing one, and you feel good about it, you should do it.

  16. I am learning theory by myself and I don't have chances to attend seminars or conferences frequently. Therefore, if a blog helps me get updated about active research topics, point to the right references, explain new approaches, ideas, I would greatly appreciate.

  17. The most successful blogs are about sex, violence and drugs. And preferably with photos and videos. So if you are looking for fast success, pick one of those topics. Otherwise try to fill your blog with quality content and just be patient.

  18. Use a platform like Wordpress that encourages people to leave their name in comments. On average, comment anonymity seems to result in much lower quality blog comments.

    Michael Nielsen

  19. blogger can be set to require logins to post

  20. 1. both

    2. prefer short ones, don't like those which take more than 10min to read

    3. talking about oneself is ok as long as it is not more than 1%

    4. questions. answers, opinions, view, specially big picture

    5. prefer those which wont take more than 5min to read

    6. not necessary (specially to anonymous ones) but probably better to answer comments of people you know

    7. would not mention

    8. only if there is something new and interesting, otherwise a two line post pointing to it should be enough. Here is what I would like: "Here is an interesting post by Y about Z. The reason that I find it interesting is W, and my personal opinion is V."

    9. of course not. don't think there is a main measure for things like this. Relevant, short, high quality posts would be the main criteria for me. good discussion in comments is a positive sign.

    10. somewhat. I would not read about what happened to your grandma's cat. (unless it is versy short and very funny :)

    11. more than I can follow

    12. will make people know you better if you have a quality blog, but without high quality research by yourself wouldn't do much.

    13. I like the discussions about professional matters, new results, personal opinions about professonal matters, ... I think different blogs have different aims, this one is nice, Lipton's blog is also nice, but IMHO they are very different, and I am happy we have both of them, similar for a few other ones.

  21. Expository posts are by far my favorites. Currently, I am going through Terry Tao's excellent random matrix series.

  22. Congratulations, M.T.!

    I started a blog this year (my first as faculty) and it's been very helpful for keeping me engaged in research when I would normally spend all my time teaching.

    Unfortunately, I also get the feeling it won't be counted much in my future tenure case, perhaps as "service to the field" (the lowest third of the lowest of the three pieces (service)).

    So far, for me, it's been an excellent experience and resource!