My friend Ben Allen, a mathematician (he is what I play on TV), has started his own blag, Plektix. This is his way of spelling plectics, Murray Gell-Mann’s suggestion for what to call the study of complexity and simplicity. OK, as far as neologisms go, it’s not quite as shiny as Buckminster Fuller’s replacement for the word sunset, but it’s not bad. Let’s give Ben a warm welcome to the fractious, contentious, infuriating and sometimes enlightening pursuit that is online science writing!
I hope he doesn’t mind if I add that everybody says he looks uncannily like John Cusack.
This sounds like a good time, or as good a time as any other, to mention a few suggestions for anybody who wants to get into the blagging hobby and attract a bit of a reading audience. None of these remarks are particularly original with me, and I won’t pretend that I’m the most successful at implementing them or attracting an audience at all, but what the heck:
1. Comment on other blogs in your subject area. Readers there will follow the link you put in the URL field back to your site, and some of them will stay.
2. Submit posts to “blog carnivals”, which are periodic collections of blog posts in a particular area. The job of hosting a carnival moves from one volunteer to another. I tend to gravitate towards the Skeptic’s Circle, the Carnival of Mathematics and a few others.
3. Mix posts of different technicality levels. I’ve found that, generally speaking, the hardest posts to do are the ones in the middle: posting a YouTube video or quoting a nice paragraph from somebody else’s blag is easy, and writing a technical post full of equations isn’t so difficult, but producing an intelligent, informative, non-deceptive popularization of science (and, particularly, mathematics) is quite the trick!
4. Make yourself a valued member of a community, even if you have to invent the community first. For example, if a discussion begins which spans several blogs with lots of back-and-forth, you can keep a cumulative post which links to the essays written elsewhere and provides brief summaries of each.
5. I haven’t particularly tried this myself, but other people have suggested keeping a regular feature, such as a post every Friday on some lighthearted topic. I can see the merit in this, but I’ve been more likely to parody the style rather than playing it straight: “All right, kids, it’s time for our Friday Quantum Mechanics!”