Another Year Gone By

By Sean Carroll | December 31, 2007 6:04 pm

Some people spend their holiday vacations catching up on reading, or spending time with relatives. I like to take a day and devote it to fixing up my web pages, which tend to get sadly neglected over the year. (The erratum page for my book is embarrassingly out of date, I really should fix that.) This year I sat down and made a list of my favorite blog posts ever, from the heady and innocent days of Preposterous Universe to the practiced maturity of the blog you see before you today. Actually I tended more toward the “potentially useful” than simply my favorites. I think the Anatomy of a Paper series was the best of this year — much of my recent blogging has been of the short throwaway variety, but occasionally I work up the energy for something more substantive.

Interestingly, I still don’t know what to think about blogging in general. I read them all the time, and can’t seem to stop myself from posting even when things get busy. (It’s the quality that deteriorates, not the quantity, it seems.) But the technology is still quite new by any sensible standards, and the kinks have yet to be worked out. In the blogs I read, there seems to be some degree of shaking-out going on — the more successful blogs are ones where there are at least a couple of posts every day, and that’s a hard rate to keep up. It either means that you become a professional blogger, or at least a semi-professional for whom blogging takes up a majority of your attention. (As already admitted, I can’t seem to stop blogging, but at the same time I can’t really imagine devoting more than half an hour a day or so to the practice.) And very few people, of course, have quite so many novel and interesting things to say, so we find a lot of repetition or reacting to stories generated elsewhere. Some of the more casual and informal voice of the earlier days may be being lost. There’s no necessary reason for this, given the easy access to newsreaders like Bloglines or Google Reader — one could certainly imagine subscribing to an eclectic collection of provocative and unpredictable bloggers who only post a few times per month. But how do you find them? I think there’s a great opportunity out there for clever aggregators, who can figure out an efficient way to collect the best of what is already going on throughout the blogs and bring it to the appropriate readers.

Science blogging, I think, still has yet to find its comfort zone, despite the growing numbers of impressive science bloggers. There are important questions about how to you conceive of your audience, the best way to conduct research discussions in a public forum, and how to deal with comments generally. We’ve talked a little bit about this before — here, here, here — but I think this is a conversation that is very much ongoing. A sadly effective demonstration of the difficulties can be found in the Garrett Lisi thread, where everyone (including me) got snippy and annoyed at everyone else. The real problem there, in my judgment, was not the occasional bits of rudeness or nonsense, but the insistence on responding to the rudeness and nonsense, making the thread about the meta-conversation instead of sticking to the actual conversation. It’s pretty elementary internetology that the best way to deal with low tone is to raise the tone by being relentlessly high-minded, but that’s a strategy that requires almost everyone to go along for it to work. Or to have someone who is willing to spend their time carefully moderating hundred-comment threads, which our blog doesn’t have. Of course we could be very dramatic, requiring that commenters register, or disallowing anonymity entirely. Those sound like drastic steps that would likely change the feel of the blog beyond recognition. In any event, we’re still trying to balance our goals of conducting interesting conversations about ideas in a public forum, without actually spending much time on it — we’ll see how it goes.

And we have a Facebook group. Still don’t know what to do with that, but it’s great to see pictures of some of our regular readers. Happy New Year to all!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cosmic Variance, Internet

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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