Welcome to the Party, Ben!

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!”

8 thoughts on “Welcome to the Party, Ben!”

  1. Google Reader, while convenient, has destroyed my habits of commenting on blogs. I haven’t figured out yet what to blame for my nonconstant rate of posting, though. Poisson?

  2. Very nice list. Number 1 seems to be the most important. When people become familiar with your name, they’re more likely to come see what you have to say.

    “Friday Quantum Mechanics?” You do realize that if you specify the time so precisely, the energy level of your writing will be very uncertain? :P

  3. Nice algorithm for meaningful “traffic”

    Commenting at other like minded blogs is a must but for doing this, as mollishka says, one should avoid reading a blog in the feed reader. It generates enough procrastination or distraction (by looking at other blog feeds in the reader) to come over and comment. I am consciously breaking the jinx with this first comment at your blog, although I have been following the blog for a while (and kept mum even when we were doing the Open Lab 2007 judging)

    OK, the comment is getting lengthier. Shall do a quick short post, following tangentially your point four…


  4. I’m still astonished that I was asked to be a judge for Open Lab 2007. Somehow, my writing must obscure my obvious flaws. (If only real life worked the same way.) Just between you, me and random passers-by, I didn’t have anything on this site which I really felt should go in a science-blogging anthology, although I did submit a couple posts pro forma. This is one of the things I’d like to change in my second year in the game.

  5. Thanks for the shoutout! Man, those five action items seem like a lot of work. I’ll see if I can do just number 1 for the moment.

    On this note, does anyone know of any other blogs specifically about complex systems? Google didn’t turn up any active ones, which seems preposterous.

  6. Ben — comment on blags you want to read! It more or less automatically gets you a decent balance of a) high-traffic blags (because the same blags everyone reads are probably somewhere in your blagroll), b) blags close to the topic of your own blag, and c) blags on topics you’re interested in, and therefore can reasonably hope to make a smart comment on now and then.

    I’m not a blagger so my recommendations shouldn’t carry much weight, but I’d also say don’t get into bickering with people, and try to end up with a feeling of having done something constructive (doesn’t have to be groundbreaking) after you post or comment. You want to be fun, interesting, or useful for readers at the end of the day, and the kind of detailed bickering that happens online just isn’t as fun to read or useful as its authors seem to think.

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