Study Hacks Blog

Bring Back Blogs?

April 25th, 2020 · 27 comments

My latest article for WIRED offers a suggestion about improving our information response to the current pandemic.

In the piece I acknowledge that Twitter’s algorithms, in particular, have actually been pretty useful in helping to surface otherwise obscure experts who are suddenly intensely relevant to the moment (I document, for example, how virologist Trevor Bedford jumped from 10,000 to 200,000 followers since February).

But convoluted Tweet threads and thumbnail screenshots of longer articles are a poor way for these experts to explore evolving, complicated ideas.

My solution:

“We need to augment social platforms with a surge in capacity of the original Web 2.0 technology that these upstarts so effectively displaced: blogs. We need WordPress-style sites featuring both easy-to-update static pages and chronological posts. These sites could be hosted by institutions with some degree of public trust and a reasonable technology infrastructure, such as universities, medical centers, and think tanks. Some mild gatekeeping could be performed on the experts granted blogs by these institutions, and critically, IT support could be provided so that the experts could start publishing with minimal overhead.”

I’m not sure if this particular idea will take hold or not. I do believe, however, that we need innovative thinking not just about medical treatments, but also about how we handle the deployment of information relevant to our response.

You can read more here.

27 thoughts on “Bring Back Blogs?

  1. Di says:

    I definitely see the value in having dedicated spaces for science communication, especially as science and research are often complicated with many caveats and disclaimers that may be put aside for the short format of tweets. At the same time, it’s much easier for readers to digest short chunks of information, since reading a blog post tend to need a bit more concentration; it also takes more concentration and work on behalf of the author. A blog format seems to also be more suited for “inreach” rather than “outreach”, as it’s not a mixture of different sources compared to social media platforms. I’ve recently started becoming interested in how I can become a better science communicator and I’m still struggling to find a method or style that to me feels genuine and sincere while still be able to resonate with some form of an audience.

    1. Ian Howlett says:

      I like your terminology of inreach versus outreach.

  2. Silent Owl says:

    Agreed! We are not interested in 280-character thumb-thumping experts, but well-thought out experts or well-thinking adults for that matter. Blogs all the way!

  3. Shane says:

    I read your article on Wired, Cal.

    But I confess I’m a little confused (this is a near-permanent state of mind, ever since around 2007, so don’t take it personally…)

    Are you suggesting something that might occupy the overlapping centre of a Venn diagram of:

    – Medium (for ease of publishing and updating)
    – Twitter (for ease of distribution)
    – JAMA or other scientific journals (for gatekeeping / creditworthiness)

    Or what am I missing?

    1. Britnee says:

      Most “ universities, medical centers, and think tanks” do have blogs or online newsletters. Whether or not people read them is an entirely different story.

    2. Joe says:

      I think he’s suggesting institutionally hosted blogging, moreso than Medium, but the rest looks right.

    3. Study Hacks says:

      I address Medium in the WIRED article. My vision is that you have a blog, hosted by an institution, perhaps looking like other similar blogs hosted by other institutions, for the long form versions of your ideas. Social media can still be used to spread the idea and comment on other peoples’ ideas. Journals are their own beast: for peer-reviewed work, which is vital, but very much slower to disseminate.

  4. Stéphanie says:

    I share your point of view. Frustration with social media drove me to create a blog a few months ago, however counterintuitive it may seem in this day and age.

    It seems to me that the solution you propose in the Wired article is very similar to the platform Hypotheses (https://hypotheses.org/). It is an European research blogging platform in Humanities and Social Sciences provided by OpenEdition (which offers open access publishing services in these fields). It allows researchers to share ideas in a more informal way than in scientific papers. It might be worth a look!

    Thanks for your blog posts and books by the way. I find them deeply inspiring.

    1. Maurice says:

      I don’t think it’s counterintuitive, it’s a good step! ??

      There is the community of the “IndieWeb”, trying to change things, so that your blog/site is your homebase and even if you post on social media, your site is the source. There are plugins for cms and even official protocols by the w3c for doing so.

  5. I think you’re on to something, Cal. I read both your articles on Wired and on GQ, and I think you are right that Twitter has made good use for the panemic. That blogs tell the longer story makes sense. Interesting that you mention WordPress-like blogs, run by organizations or institutions. My first thought reading your post was about Tumblr, recently bought by the company that owns WordPress.com. It is a combination of social media and a blog platform, and at one time companies and organizations had their own Tumblr. And the platform lets you auto tweet your blog posts as well. However, did you know there are several companies and organizatins that have a VIP version ( https://wpvip.com/ ) of WP? Is this kind of what you were thinking? I’ve noticed that WordPress.com is promoting lately migration from a self hosted to the hosted version, and upgrading the tools to make it seamless. Anyways, yes, we do need a better way to communicate this stuff in addition to the medical treatment. But I don’t think we should take for granted how things would have been totally different with this pandemic had the digital technology and the internet not been around.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      This is probably my old-school internet persona emerging here, but I like when WordPress is self-hosted, as it ensures independence. The thing I like about these instances being hosted by institutions is that there’s some mild gatekeeping done on who gains access to the blogs, and this might go a long way toward adding credibility to the information and easing the public’s efforts to triage what’s worth listening too.

      1. Very important and compelling reasons, Cal. I’d like to add that with the blogs run by the institutions, most likely they will keep it going after we are long gone. … .compared to having our own independent blog. One example, I have my photos on one of the largest art sites, and several artist who have passed on, though their work still sells, their (person from the) estate mostly keeps it as the artist left it.

  6. John Jackson says:

    I like what Dan Cohen has done in utilizing micro.blog (http://dancohen.org/social-media/). This allows the author to publish to platforms like Twitter and engage with tthose comunities (at a healthy distance), but because the micro feed is hosted on one’s own domain, it invites the author to cultivate their own digital space: static pages, longer form content, etc., like you suggest.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      I wrote about micro.blog last spring in The New Yorker…very interesting indie social media service. See, however, my above not about the need for some mild institutional gatekeeping in this particular crisis…

  7. Nassim says:

    What if we made a platform similar to twitter. Instead of limiting the number of characters to 240 we limit the number of displayed characters to 240. This means that if people want to know more the tweet extends itself instead of having weird threads. This way we keep the sharing easy. The only difference is that we ad a button that extends the tweet to display the rest of the content the user wrote.

  8. I think Telegram is taking a fantastic stand on it. What they did is to collaborate with the government of different countries (India and many more) to provide official information in both regional languages (Hindi) as well as in English too.

    The problem with a typical static website would be it need to be changed continuously and isn’t real-time. But a message reaches in real-time.

    And Telegram’s channel structure is pretty great. This is one too many communication that helps in reaching a broad audience with just once posting. It has combined typical personal conversation (one to one) with a standard group (many to many).

    And as always, thank you for your blog. This is the only blog that I don’t forget to checkout.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      I need to check this out…sounds interesting…

  9. swbvty says:

    Dr Fauci believes there could be a second wave in the fall how easy will it be to find relevant expert twitter threads from 6 months ago? Nearly all blogs have tags, categories, and index sorted by month/year. The only tool on twitter you can use is the advanced search which is a pain to use.

  10. Abe Brand says:

    Bulletins vs bulletin boards
    Seth Godin’s Blog / by Seth Godin / 2h

    [Here’s a simple communications hack for small teams and organizations:]

    When times are changing and you’re adjusting on the fly, it’s tempting to send another alert.

    The rules at the farmer’s market, the latest schedule for a changing event, the status of a server…

    When I was growing up in Buffalo, they used to announce school closings on the radio. Twice an hour, we’d huddle around and listen to an endless list of schools (mine started with a W), wasting everyone’s time and emotional energy.

    The problem with alerts is that they don’t scale. They create noise. Every time you poke everyone with a bulletin, you’ve taken attention away with no hope of giving it back.

    The alternative is the bulletin board.

    Want to know how you did on the exam? Go look at the bulletin board. The grades will be posted when they’re ready.

    Want to know the latest situation before you head out? Go look at the bulletin board.

    Social media got everyone into the bulletin habit, but we left behind bulletin boards too quickly.

    And in our digital world, you don’t need to be a computer programmer to have one. Simply create a shared Google doc. It’s free and it doesn’t crash and it’s low tech. (And yes, there are many alternatives that don’t come from big companies).

    Give people the link to view the doc. Include it in your Facebook post or your last email on the topic. “Click here to see the latest updates.” Don’t worry about whether your tweet or post (a bulletin) moves down the screen, because everyone who cares already has the link to your bulletin board and you’ve trained them to check it when they want to know the status of your event or situation. It’s not a great choice for a high-traffic site, but if you’re trying to coordinate a few hundred people, it’s a lot easier than trusting social media.

    And you can even share editing privileges with your core team, so there’s no bottleneck for updates. You don’t need to get a programmer out of bed in the middle of the night to update the school closing list. It’s a simple thing to update the bulletin board, to keep making it more up to date and complete as your situation changes.

    Information on demand is way more useful than information that demands our attention at moments when we’re not interested.

  11. Sean O' says:

    Cal,
    They’re already back. They’re called Substack email newsletters. While some require subscriptions, they fit your description.

  12. Taarush Goyal says:

    Sir, could you expand upon the idea that you discussed with James Clear about building a starting ritual for a deep work habit.

  13. and one more thing. Thank you everything you do Cal sir. You are one of those people who have inspired me to write and to quit fb and instagram that was crushing my time and my self esteem.

    thanks again. 🙂

  14. Gaz Shaw says:

    This almost 10 years after Wired proclaimed the web was dead: https://www.wired.com/2010/08/ff-webrip/

  15. Geoff says:

    Considering that the WWW was envisioned by Lee as a means of more effective communication of scientific ideas, I’d say that’s a great option.

    If anything, blogs, or something to their effect are precisely along the lines of what Lee probably thought the web would be made up of.

    Probably?

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