How I built my Web presence as a researcher…

Suzanne Bowness asked me to answer some questions for a paper she is preparing. I reproduce here the content of the interview. It is mildly incoherent.


When did you first start your web site? Has your purpose for it evolved over the time that it has been online? How did you decide what sections to include?

I started my web site as a graduate student, circa 1995. Initially, my goal was to keep track of my favourite web sites, and share them with the world. Later, I began to post my academic papers online systematically. Informally, I also added a news section to my web site.

Around 2004, academic blogging emerge as a new trend. Researchers like Stephen Downes showed that blogging could be an integral part of one’s research activities. Therefore, I replaced my hand-crafted news section by a bona fide blog. Later on, I added a French blog for my students.

Do you have a sense of what parts of your web site are most commonly consulted? What would you recommend that other professors include on a web site? Anything you would avoid?

My blog is read by over 1000 people. Judging by the comments alone, well known professors and researchers read my blog. Of course, many of them have blogs as well including Peter Turney (NRC)  or David Eppstein (UCI).

In fact, my blog is more than a  publication venue: it is an integral part of my networking activities as a researcher.

Most professors should not become bloggers. However, they should all be making sure that their papers, their data, their software, their courses and their talks are available online. There is mounting evidence that making your work easier to browse and download is beneficial to one’s academic career.

How does your web site help you in reaching out to students? How does it help to raise your public profile?

I believe that most of my students do not read my blog. Other students do, certainly. I have not yet found a good way to integrate blogging with teaching. Indeed, whereas most teaching in universities happens in closed groups, blogging appears to require large open social networks to be effective.

I find however that many graduate students enjoy the fact that I make my papers and my software available online freely.

Did you design your site yourself? What software do you use to maintain it? Any advice for other profs in terms of technical upkeep or updating frequency?

Like many science professors, I have initially designed my Web site using a text editor and raw HTML. I maintain my own blog engine (wordpress).

Universities often do not have the resources to help professors maintain effective Web sites. Fortunately, many inexpensive solutions are available (wordpress.com, blogger.com, and so on). In fact, most academic bloggers do not blog from within the university networks. People have even coined a term for this do-it-yourself strategy: edupunk.

I spend  many hours every week publishing content online. Some may consider it wasteful. However, I believe university professors are in the communication business.

Any other comments/advice on creating a web presence?

In 2008, the Web is a social phenomenon. Merely posting content is no longer enough. You have to find a way to interact dynamically with people interested by your work and ideas.

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