Blogging for the Professional/Scientist/Academic

Being a very young user of computers at school and library, I complemented my voracious reading appetite with writing, to share knowledge and learn from others. Before emojis, stickers, and inline images we learned to share at 14400 bps. MIDI and MOD files provided the background music before CD-ROM drives were standard computer fare. I feel blogging has been useful for me personally and professionally, which I’d like to share with you.

Make a better blog

The best blog is one that’s useful to the author. With this humble realization, I used my blog as a lab notebook. Sometimes the content is what would normally be considered “secret sauce”, techniques that have been developed through experience and failures. I feel comfortable sharing such content since any of us is very likely not the first to have figured something out, and this sharing shows our experience and competence. A large portion of the content is short, appropriately referenced techniques to do common tasks in my work as an educator, scientist, consultant and HPC programmer.

Blog content length

Many blogging guides say to avoid the short and to the point content that comprises the majority of my website. Comparing my Alexa rank and growth rate vs. theirs, perhaps I’m the exception to their “rule”. Virtually anytime I write something, it’s for the purposes of being actionable. Even for purely archival efforts, I write for someone who will someday need this information to replicate an experiment. More knowledge has been lost than retained in all sorts of fields from steam railroading to analog photography, and we never know when/how this knowledge could be useful again. Recall Gauss’ Fast Fourier Transform discovery over 200 year ago, as a forgotten note until the 1965 Cooley and Tukey paper “An Algorithm for the Machine Calculation of Complex Fourier Series”.

Long vs. short blog articles

Recently I’ve considered the benefits of adding more article-like content to my blog, more than my usual short-scroll on a smartphone content. This is actually less work than the tersely curated content that has usually been revised 2, 3 or even a dozen times to become the popular articles comprising much of my site. Part of the motivation is the disproportionately good traffic these often years-old article achieve, with no promotion. On some of these articles, I have the only relevant search result across search engines–absolutely no one else has published on these topics. I know that some people have written about these topics in their notebooks, because I worked with them in person.

When is a topic too obscure?

I don’t think any topic could be too obscure. Whether a general citizen, scientist, professional and/or academic, you have knowledge understood in a way that only you can describe. In college, I would buy the “recommended” as well as the “required” textbooks, and I would do extra exercises to make the lower-level knowledge more automatic. This trick is one necessary part of the 3.95 GPA I achieved. By so doing, I put some of the more mundane mathematics into mental muscle memory, allowing subconscious evaluation of several strategies at once to solve a problem. This is one part of experience.

For whatever things you have practiced well, you have found shortcuts and combination of shortcuts that you may be the only one to write about. By posting your experiences and insights to your blog, especially on rare/obscure topics, your article will rise in authority. I have numerous #1 Google SERP (Search Engine Results Position) pages this way. Assuming you have comments enabled on your websites (and you should, with moderation enabled) you may start getting comments in a month or so.

Using Blog Comments Effectively

Many websites from bloggers up through large news sites disabled comments a couple years ago. These sites, particularly the news sites felt that the comments involved a disproportionate amount of time to moderate for the value received. The trolling, harassment and spam got to be too much for website operators. I too disabled comments on my website as the spam got to hundreds of spam posts per day. Even just the briefest moderative scan was too much time spent distinguishing real posts from fake. Spam in any form is an arms race between spammer and defender, human or automated.

I watched as various sites coalesced to the commenting systems of Facebook and by a large margin, Disqus. Disqus has been winning the comment system war because it allows signing in with several popular services, and far more importantly, Disqus has phenomenal comment spam filtering. The Disqus rating system rewards positive commenters with a universal karma rating. As a moderator, I can click the Disqus users name and see their comment contribution across sites.

Previously, I had felt that blog comment systems should be self-contained in the website host, with spam filtering from Kismet. This system leaked spam comments occasionally. With the lowering cost of breaking CAPTCHAs and increasingly lifelike spamming, I didn’t want to risk spammers putting malware links in my website comments. The spammers were perhaps boosted by those behind the endless spoofing and trolling on other parts of the internet.

I saw a bump in internally-referred traffic that grew as a wider array of articles earned more comments. Disqus automatically provides each page with links to other pages on your site trending with comments. For pages where I left the first comment, I also saw boosts in internal referral traffic. This is a technique frequently used on YouTube and LinkedIn, where the creator posts the first comment; perhaps an invitation to comment or a brief thought on the content.

I had previously smugly thought that having no comment system drove more people to email me. I certainly did get more email, but a problem with emails vs. comments on a website is that no one else benefits from the trending information and you as the author don’t benefit from the bump in public interest. Search engines are able to parse legitimate comments as part of the influencer scoring of the website. Thus comments benefit in three ways while email exchanges benefit in perhaps only one way (assuming it’s immediately obvious the email contact is not a lead generated).

Accessibility

Help make your blog more appealing and accessible to a global audience. I generate business leads from this site from companies and institutions of all sizes, but first I make the site accessible to all. Previewing a website at various resolution and connection speeds is accomplished via Firefox: Tools → Developer → Responsive Design Mode. I use 280x280, Good 2G connection to test.

My website works nearly equally well with a Hi-DPI monitor and any web browser, down to a plain-text browser like Lynx. I consider these example audience members equally when blogging.

Nokia 3G flip phone Java web browser

Audience example: perhaps a student or worker in a developing country who is learning how to more effectively use WiFi/wireless to solve area problems such as remote monitoring of river levels. Many of these phones are 240 x 320 pixels. For reference a typical smartwatch is 320 pixels diameter.

Text-to-voice screen reader

This use case can be casually examined in Firefox’s Reading Mode, using the Voice to Text reader if desired. This mode only works when Firefox detects a body to the document. Sometimes this detection doesn’t work, and reading mode is not available, even when setting reader.parse-on-load.force-enabled true. Does your website render appropriately with all style sheets and JavaScript turned off?

Also consider Lynx for text-only views of your site.

apt install lynx

Many accessibility testing websites exist, running automated tests of websites. These tools do not in general provide compliance proof, but can at least show non-compliant accessibility issues.

1024x768 desktop browser

Excessively wide text is poor for reading comfort, as shown by the format of the New York Times website. Even with the widest monitors, less than 800 pixel wide column text is apparent. For those with Hi-DPI screens, they will most likely have numerous windows open. In short, you must not have a website that relies on a wide monitor, or almost no one will be able to see your website rendered in full. They will miss navigation elements and make your bounce rate go up.

Avoid unnatural sensational writing

Social media has filled with overly angry and emotionally-motivated posts that lower SNR. Particularly for blogs with any sort of professional purpose, in general stay far away from any such content. The traffic boost from sensational topics is not adding any value to your website venture. At least some of your goals should be oriented around funneling visitors toward a sale.

This sale should be very organic and natural from the proficiencies demonstrated while blogging.

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