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Science Blogging

Back to nature… sort of…

Roy Schestowitz, London, 2010
London (2010)

Earlier today I watched with great patience this wonderful new interview with PZ Myers (thanks, Thunderf00t!), who spoke about his hugely popular science blog. I very much enjoy his site in which he started writing only 7 years ago. It was about 6 years ago that I started my own science blog (on computer vision) and later started another one about my particular area of focus (that was in 2005). They grew nicely and reached the niche whose narrow topic of interest they covered.

I have been thinking recently of the potential to inform people who are my peers through scientific blogs and decided that I will probably restore activity in those older two, as well as this one neglected personal blog where I hardly wrote anything for the past 3 years (it totals 1416 posts though, mostly from the olden days).

I found it gratifying back in the days around 2006 when people in my scientific field knew me in conferences because of my blogs and wanted to hang out with me because of these. The readership grew steadily as long as I kept writing. PZ Myers sees the same type of trend and Techrights, where I wrote over 11,000 posts, is the same. Perhaps I will resume posting in blog form about science later this month or next month. As always, I will separate my professional life, my personal life, and my hobbies (the 4 blogs I run will provide this separation).

On several occasions I was offered an opportunity to write a book, but frankly, I believe that books are seeing their end of days (when older generations are no longer with us, then pen and paper too may vanish). I was fortunate to get into blogging early on, thanks to Free software. It’s a rewarding experience even through there is no pay.

My Take on How Digg Works

An article about the way Digg works has just been published. I gave some input to it, which probably reflects on my view of Digg. Here it goes.

1. Can we start briefly with your background, especially with Digg? How long have you been a user, and when and how did you become an active user? About how many links a day do you submit? How many followers do you have? How often do you get stories to the front page?

I joined Digg back in 2006 when it was still a young Web site that attracted GNU/Linux users. I became an active user about a month after I had signed up and habitually submitted around 5-10 stories per day. I am not sure how many followers I have. Over 2000 people marked me as their friend and some of them regularly vote my stories up (digg them). My performance as a Digger probably peaked in mid-2006 when I made the front page about 3 times a day. These days, I rarely perform quite as well because things changed a lot while I was absent in 2007. The site grew.

2. Can you walk me through step by step of a recent instance where you submitted a link and promoted it to the front page? How did you come across the link, what made you think it was right for the Digg community? And once you submitted the link, how did you promote it? Through IM, shout outs, some other method? In other words, what drove it to the front page?

I read many RSS feeds and I stumble upon stories which I think are important to GNU/Linux users like myself (many of whom happen to follow my submissions by choice, so focus is important). My aim is to share these stories with people. Most of them pertain to adoption of Free software, which I care a lot about personally. I do not promote stories artificially. I let Digg just do its thing. The fact that some people keep track of my submissions out of genuine interest helps a lot, too. I would rarely promote a link because it is dishonest, it is a waste of time, and it is not necessary if the submitted story is an important one.

3. What about stories where you’re not the first to submit it — someone else found it first. How do you usually come across these? Do people send you shout outs? Do they IM you? Do you follow the “upcoming” page or the recommended page? Obviously, your answer might be ‘all of the above,’ but what methods do you use more than others?

I always concede submissions if I find that there is already something similar submitted. I do not communicate in order to coordinate anything. Long-time users are systematic only in their passion for the topic/s that they focus on. I personally disabled shout-outs because I perceive them as comprising lots of noise that’s designed to game the site.

4. What is your opinion of all the stories about “bury brigades,” secret groups of power editors and various other conspiracy theories about why certain stories make it to the front page while others don’t? Do you think the algorithms are sufficient enough so that Digg isn’t easily gamed by marketers?

No, and I would love to see Digg tightening the rules, although I fear it’s virtually impossible. I have come across bury brigades, abuses, stalking, and been a victim of them too. There is also plenty of libel being spread. To me, addressing this issue is equally important. I have left about 14,000 comments in Digg but I hardly comment these days due to rampant abuse that’s slanderous. Policing of behaviour in the site is generally disappointing.

5. If you had to give a person advice for how to consistently get stories to the front page, what would it be?

To be perfectly honest, the democracy in Digg is an illusion at best. Staff ‘elites’ enjoy a status that’s skin to editorial control, whereas some lesser-revered users have few eyes on their submissions, so they receive little attention. This is not to say that’ ‘sensior’ users cheat; however, user status by all means plays a significant role.

Blogging Notes and Random Thoughts

A funny church sign
An example output image from the simple text-to-sign generator

HERE are some arbitrary notes that I keep in mind while trawling the Web and managing Web sites.

High Traffic

If my Web sites make the front page of Digg, then that’s x0,000 of visits from Digg alone (more impact than Slashdot), plus the ‘aftershock’ (sites that write about what they read on Digg). It’s scary to watch at times. I’ve reached the front page of Digg and Slashdot quite a few times (as the source cited, not just a story submitter). The last time was half a day ago and it knocked down a site.

Netcraft

I always have Netcraft in sight. Be aware that Netcraft is very popular among *nix sysadmins, so it’s biased in favour of that audience.

Tracking Own Site

Not tracking use is a good idea. The habit is time consuming and distracting. Vanity is its only benefit. It has no real impact on content that you write anyway. On the other hand, be aware that by tracking backlinks you can find out if someone says something incorrect about you. Technorati is a decent tool for (almost) spam-free tracking of citations.

Spyware

NoScript (or equivalents) should always be enabled when browsing the Web, with exceptions. If only people knew the type of things that happen when they merely land on a page with JS enabled. Mouse being tracked, computer setup being probed and sent over the wire. Microsoft has some really nasty patents on it, so privacy was long ago forgotten.

Linking to Trolls

To clarify and put things in context, I don’t link to trolls myself. There are cases where inflammatory remarks are posted as a plea for attention. If someone does link to a troll, then I ensure people do not vote for it and promote it (social sites). rel="nofllow" has its merit as well.

Words to Avoid

I use the “Big Lie” argument quite a lot, but very cautiously because of what it’s associated with. It’s like a perfectly correct theory was poisoned by Godwin’s law. It is the same story when it comes to ‘patent terrorism’ (Sun exec and others), anti-Linux Jihad (Groklaw’s phrase), anti-Linux propaganda/brainwash.

Has Digg Just Deleted Popular FSF Submission?

DIGG had a long downtime last night (or so it seemed from here). More strangely, this morning, some content simply vanished. About 20 hours after I submitted a timely FSF-related item, the item is just gone. I don’t know if Digg had a massive error that led the Web site to restoring from backup. I checked their blog, I checked the front page, but there is nothing to indicate this.

I submitted a link to a video of Professor Moglen, which very quickly accumulated a lot of Diggs and at least one comment Why has it disappeared? Has Digg censored (as in “deleted”) this? If so, why did this happen after so many hours of the item being ‘live’? For the time being, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. I wish to see if more than just my own contributions was lost.

In any event, I have submitted the same story to Netscape, in case you are curious about the content which Digg had deleted (either deliberately or not)

Why Digg.com is Becoming a Waste of Time

Blogs and useless content aside, I think this screenshot I’ve just grabbed speaks for itself (click to enlarge).

Digg screenshot

‘Twitterization’ of Blogs, Resistance Ensues

More and more people are now able to blog. With technical barrier lowered, more information can be delivered more quickly, whether we like this or now.

Most bloggers prefer mundane tidbits to deep thoughts, and backed by voice transcription and video sharing, the cell phone may soon be the tool of choice.

The prevalence of blogs is (just as expected) sucking some of the fun out of it. This lacks the appeal of a unique occuption. For myself, I predicted this over 2 years ago.

Are blogs dying as a whole? Not quite. Instead, blogs with a particular focus — blogs that deliver consistent content (not streams of consciousness) appear to survive. Here are the words of a man who cannot stand the disruption to his profession.

“Millions and millions of exuberant monkeys … are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity,” Keen writes in a book published Tuesday.

His views have infuriated bloggers and others, especially in Silicon Valley, who argue he is an elitist intellectual, a conservative pining for a return to old ways, and a writer who cannot keep his facts straight.

As you look around the Web and track blogs that you used to read, often you find that the pace of blogging has declined significantly. In retrospect, blogs became very popular very fast, so they attracted many millions, which in turn led to the anti-climax. Long live the culture of personal blogs that were actually lively! Not many of them are left, unless you focus on “Internet celebrities”. Professional blogs replace drivel. I too have moved on.

AdSense Suggests I Sell My Soul to Microsoft

A couple of years ago I complained about AdSense placing anti-Linux ads (from Microsoft) right inside my Linux pages. It was then that I was told about an option which prevents this from happening.

Earlier today I logged in to my AdSense account again. It’s something that I only do twice a month. What did I discover? A new little feature that apparently gives advice to publishers. Here is the message I received:

Block AdSense

Aha! So the high payers are apparently not allowed on my sites. Who could that be?

Block AdSense

The apple does not fall far from the tree. This may explain why many Linux sites out there still display blatantly anti-Linux ads from Microsoft. Isn’t advertising lovely? Microsoft knows no bounds.

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