I've been blogging for 10 yearsR
I’ve been blogging for 10 years, actually even a bit more than that, my very first blog is not online anymore and if I remember correctly was in French. I think it was around 2010 when I was a Master’s student.
Anyways, here are my thoughts on why I think blogging is a very nice activity if you’re interested in technology or science.
The primary reason I started my blog was to have a repository of code snippets that I could re-use. Anytime I had to do something for my thesis or for work, I would write instructions around the code that I’ve used to explain how and why things worked out. But I needed a spot to save these scripts, and it turns out that a blog was the best solution for this: it doesn’t require any subscription to a (very often proprietary) service to store my notes for me, and I need 0 discipline to maintain a blog. Simply write a post, push to Github, website gets updated. If I would store the notes myself on my computer instead, this would mean a lot of work, and I would need to think about how to make them available across devices.
The other reason is that I thought that this would be a good way for me to contribute to the wider free software and open source ecosystem. I’m not a programmer, so contributing code would be quite difficult for me. I’ve recently published a package, so in the end I ended up contributing code, but that was more due to “luck” finding an actual problem that hadn’t been solved (well, that’s not really the case, logging in R had been solved, but not using a monad and for some reason I had become obsessed with monads in 2022) and also thanks to the help of much better programmers than myself. So writing and posting these blog posts would be my way to contribute to the community. I think that this was the right decision, as I’ve had many people throughout the years thank me for some of my blog posts that helped them with some of their tasks.
Now, not all blog posts were about problems that I encountered throughout my career. There were also some blog posts about topics that piqued my interest, but purely out of curiosity. For example the ones about NLP, like this one, among others. I’m lucky enough that I find enjoyment in programming and exploring data for fun, so I do write a lot of code. But how did I manage to consistently write blog posts for 10 years+?
I think that part of the reason is that I have literally 0 commitment to this blog. I don’t force myself to write on a schedule and sometimes don’t write for months like in 2020 where I didn’t write for 5 months because I was busy renovating my home and taking care of my baby daughter. I didn’t even miss writing. I think that one of the reasons this works is also because I have absolutely 0 trackers on this website. For all I know, this post will get read by 3 people, me, you and my mom. The only clue I have that one particular post was successful is if people reshare the announcement I make on social media, or if they contact me with questions or praise, or if it gets picked up for the R weekly highlights. By not having any trackers and not having really a clue of what people like, I avoid falling into the “recommendation engine” or “SEO” trap. If I did use trackers and knew exactly what my audience wanted, I’d be very incentivized to just continue writing what would generate the most traffic. And the issue with that, is that it would feel like a job, and I very likely would have abandoned this endeavour a long time ago. What generates a lot of traffic are posts mostly aimed at beginners, tutorials that explain how to do a t-test or make a bar graph with two y-axes, but sorry, I’m not interested. I don’t hate beginners, but I don’t only want to write tutorials to serve ads to my readers and tell them to subscribe to newsletters, bla bla bla. I have no qualms with people doing this, but that’s simply not my thing. Not interested (and don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against tutorial blog post, quite the contrary, especially when they present some lesser-known features of a package).
Also, the first thing I install on my web-browser is an ad-blocker, and I would be a huge hypocrite if I tracked my blog’s visits. To be fully transparent, I do use Goatcounter for my latest book here, but I don’t adjust the book’s content to the audience. It’s just to know if people read it, because writing a book takes some effort and I was curious. I might remove it in the future though. Again, nothing against people trying to live off the internet, I myself accept donations, but if I started to look into what drives people to click and donate, I’d turn this into a job, and that would be the fastest way for me to hate blogging.
So the reason this has been working is simply because I avoided considering this as an obligation, a duty or a job, and in order to do this, I avoid collecting data.
So blogging is a nice way to store code snippets and quickly find them. These code snippets can in turn help other people facing similar issues. But what are some other benefits of blogging? First, by turning your code into a full-fledged blog post, it also forces you to think more carefully about the solution you found. Very often, while writing the blog post to a problem I’ve solved, I often find a simpler, more elegant solution, and then use that solution instead to solve my problem. It’s a similar idea to rubber duck debugging, or writing a Minimal Reproducible Example when opening an issue because (you think) you found a nasty bug somewhere in that package you use daily and never bothered reading the documentation for carefully. Blogging is also a way to get some feedback by other people, and sometimes people show me other ways of doing things, like here. Blogging also helped me meet people in the real world, and discuss with them about certain of the topics I’ve blogged about. I think that’s really neat.Blogging also helps (at least it helped me) realize what I really enjoy about statistics, programming, and data science, and once you have a nice collection of blog posts, you could turn them easily into a book. That’s another way of contributing to the community. I’ve written two books, the latest one seems to really interest people:
My book is done. I need to write a conclusion to the last chapter and will likely rewrite some paragraphs, but I won't make major changes anymore. So if you're interested in building reproducible analytical pipelines with #RStats, take a look it's free: https://t.co/Vx8LGpddwR pic.twitter.com/PKFb2P4pJK— Bruno Rodrigues (@firstname.lastname@example.org) (@brodriguesco) April 23, 2023
That’s my most “viral” tweet! Before it was this classic:
"doing science" pic.twitter.com/T0TJQ6vY6q— Bruno Rodrigues (@email@example.com) (@brodriguesco) September 30, 2021
I’m sure that many people, maybe even you!, work in an industry that tackles many interesting problems, and could share that with the world either through blog posts or books, or videos (yes, I also do that sometimes), and many people would find that interesting. I’ve had people tell me that they have nothing interesting to write about, so they don’t even want to start. Who cares, just write.
So it’d be cool if you blogged. I like it, so maybe you will as well?
Anyways, thanks for reading, especially if you’ve been reading my blog for years.
Here’s to 10 more years!
Hope you enjoyed! If you found this blog post useful, you might want to follow me on Mastodon or twitter for blog post updates and buy me an espresso or paypal.me, or buy my ebooks. You can also watch my videos on youtube. So much content for you to consoom!