At the useR!2010 conference I had the honor of giving a (~15 minute) talk titled “Blogging about R”. The following is the abstract I submited, followed by the slides of the talk and the audio file of a recording I made of the talk (I am sad it got a bit of “hall echo”, but it’s still listenable…)
P.S: this post does not absolve me from writing up something (with many thanks and links to people) about the useR2010 conference, but I can see it taking a bit longer till I do that.
Abstract of the talk
This talk is a basic introduction to blogs: why to blog, how to blog, and the importance of the R blogosphere to the R community.
Because R is an open-source project, the R community members rely (mostly) on each other’s help for statistical guidance, generating useful code, and general moral support.
Current online tools available for us to help each other include the R mailing lists, the community R-wiki, and the R blogosphere. The emerging R blogosphere is the only source, besides the R journal, that provides our community with articles about R. While these articles are not peer reviewed, they do come in higher volume (and often are of very high quality).
According to the meta-blog R-bloggers.com, the (English) R blogosphere has produced, in January 2010, about 115 “articles” about R. There are (currently) a bit over 50 bloggers (now about 100) who write about R, with about 1000 (now ~2200) subscribers who read them daily (through e-mails or RSS). These numbers allow me to believe that there is a genuine interest in our community for more people – perhaps you? – to start (and continue) blogging about R.
In this talk I intend to share knowledge about blogging so that more people are able to participate (freely) in the R blogosphere – both as readers and as writers. The talk will have three main parts:
What is a blog
How to blog – using the (free) blogging service WordPress.com (with specific emphasis on R)
How to develop readership – integration with other social media/networks platforms, SEO, and other best practices
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Tal Galili founded www.R-bloggers.com and blogs on www.R-statistics.com
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In this post I reflect on the current state of the R blogosphere, and share my hopes for it’s future.
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I am very grateful to Dr. AnnMaria De Mars for writing her post “The Next Big Thing”.
In her post, Dr. De Mars attacked R by accusing it of being “an epic fail” (in being user-friendly) and “NOT the next big thing”. Of course one should look at Dr. De Mars claims in their context. She is talking about particular aspects in which R fails (the lacking of a mature GUI for non-statisticians), and had her own (very legitimate) take on where to look for “the next big thing”. All in all, her post was decent, and worth contemplating upon respectfully (even if one, me for example, doesn’t agree with all of Dr. De Mars claims.)
R bloggers are becoming a community
But Dr. De Mars post is (very) important for a different reason. Not because her claims are true or false, but because her writing angered people who love and care for R (whether legitimately or not, it doesn’t matter). Anger, being a very powerful emotion, can reveal interesting things. In our case, it just showed that R bloggers are connected to each other.
So far there are 69 R bloggers who wrote in reply to Dr. De Mars post (some more kind then others), they are:
This is good news, since it shows that R has a community of people (not “just people”) who write about it.
In one of the posts, someone commented about how R current stage reminds him of how linux was in 1998, and how he believes R will grow to be amazingly dominant in the next 10 years.
In the same way, I feel the R blogosphere is just now starting to “wake up” and become aware that it exists. Already 6 bloggers found they can write not just about R code, but also reply to does who “attack” R (in their view). Imagine how the R blogosphere might look in a few years from now…
I would like to end with a more general note about the importance of R bloggers collaboration to the R ecosystem.
I already wrote about R-bloggers on the R mailing list, so it only seems fitting to write about it more here. I will explain what R-bloggers is and then move to explain what I hope it will accomplish.
R-Bloggers.com is a central hub of content collected from bloggers who write about R (in English) and if you are an R blogger you can join it by filling in this form.
I built the site with the aspiration to help R bloggers and users to connect and follow the “R blogosphere”. When I am writing these words, R-bloggers already has 17 blogs in it, and I hope for many (many) more.
How does R-Bloggers operate? This site aggregates feeds (only with permission!) from participating R blogs. The beginnings of each participating blog’s posts will automatically be displayed on the main page with links to the original posts; inside every post there is a link to the original blog and links to other related articles. While all participating blogs have links in the “Contributors” section of our sidebar
What does R-Bloggers offer it’s visitors?
Discover (for all): Find new R blogs you didn’t know about. And Search in them for content you want.
Follow (for people who don’t use RSS): Enter your e-mail and subscribe to receive a daily digest with teasers of new posts from participating blogs. You will more easily get a sense of hot topics in the R blogosphere.
Connect (for facebook users): Click on “Fan this site” to become a “fan” of R Bloggers. You can then “friend” other people and share thoughts on our wall. Or just by leaving comments on the blog.
Participate (for bloggers): Add your R blog to get increased visibility (for readers and search engines) with permanent links on our Contributors sidebar. Your blog will also gain visibility via our e-mail digest and through your presence on the main page with posts.
Who started R-Bloggers (and way)? R Bloggers was started by Tal Galili (well, me). After searching for numerous R blogs I decided that there must be more R blogs our there then he knows about, and maybe the best way for finding them is to make them find him.
After writing about it in the R mailing list, I got some good feedbacks but also questions about why use only R blogs and not all the R feeds that exist. Who is the website actually for (when there are services like Google reader for us to read our feeds with), and what am I hoping it will do. So here is what I answered:
For me there are two audiences: One is that of the web 2.0 power users. That is, people who know what RSS is and use it, maybe evern write their own blogs. These people have only one problem (as I see it) that R-bloggers tries to solve, and that is to know who else lives in their ecosystem. Who else they should follow.
For that, google reader recommendation system is great, but not enough. A much better system is if there was a one place where all R bloggers would go, write down their website, and all of us would know they exist. That is what R-bloggers offers for the power users. I think this is also why over 20 of them subscribed to the site RSS feed.
BTW, The origin of this idea came to me when I was trying to find all the dance bloggers for my wife (who is a dance researcher and blogger herself). After a while we started http://www.dancebloggers.com/ while knowing of only 10 bloggers. They list now has over 80 bloggers, most of which we would have not known about without this hub.
The same thing I am trying to do for the R community, that is way I hope more R bloggers would write about the service – so their network of readers which includes other R bloggers would add themselves and we will all know about them.
If that was my only purpose, a simple directory would have been enough. But I also have a second one and that is to help the second audience.
The second audience I am thinking of are people of our community who are not so much early adopters (and actually quite late adapters) of the new facilities that the new web (a.k.a: web 2.0) provides.
To them the all RSS thing is too much to look at, and they are used to e-mails. And because of that they are (until now) disconected from many of the R bloggers out there, simply because it is in-efficient for them to go through all these blogs each day (or even week). So for them, to see all the content in one place (and even get an e-mail about it) would be (I hope) a service. I believe that’s why 5 of them (so far) has subscribed via e-mail.
I also hope teachers will direct their students to this as a resource for getting a sense of what people who are using R are doing.
Another thing that hints me about the R community is seeing how the “facebook fan box” is still empty. Which tells me that (sadly) very few R users are actively using facebook as a means for connecting with the outer networks of people out there.
All I wrote also explains why R-bloggers will only take feeds of bloggers and only (as much as can be said) their posts that are centered around R (hence the website name ).
It both follows what Gabor talked about – having a site who’s content is only about R. But also what I wish, which is to have “content” in the sense of articles to read (mostly). And not so much things like news feeds of wikipedia or new packages published.
I hope this post will both notify people about this new resource, encourage more R bloggers to join, and will help for future people to better understand what this R-Bloggers thing is all about