A colleague of mine, Sébastien Paquet, wrote his Computer Science Ph.D. thesis on the benefits of social software for scientists. Sébastien determined through self-experimentation that using social software could improve substantially your network as a scientist. After years as a blogger, I can testify that blogging did improve substantially my network. I also believe it made me a better writer.
- Better networking: My list of readers shows that I am read by a wide range of people, from famous scientists to entrepreneurs. Considering that, as a scientist, I rarely attend conferences or participate in large-scale projects, I am vastly more connected than I should be.
- Better writing: When I write research papers or lecture notes, writing well is important, even essential, but the focus is on the scientific results. I find that blogging forces me to focus on writing better. Not to mention that some people criticize my writing publicly: that is a strong incentive to get better!
Secondary benefits include better knowledge management: often I can’t remember something, but I remember writing about it on my blog! However, I find that I am spending more and more time on sites such as facebook, friendfeed and twitter. I am slightly worried that these sites may have lesser benefits for scientists.
- No better writing: Most of the social software sites require little prose. A lot of the interaction involves no writing at all! And the writting is simply not sophisticated enough to require much effort.
- No better networking: It is much harder to build long-lasting content on these social sites. Many of the 1000+ subscribers to my blog subscribed because they found at least one blog post interesting. On facebook, I am only a stream of slightly incoherent bits of news.
Conclusion: I will not give up on this blog in the near future, no matter how good twitter or facebook get.
Reference: Aimeur, E. Brassard, G. Paquet, S., Personal knowledge publishing: fostering interdisciplinary communication, 2005.