Blogging & Research

Posted: July 25, 2006 in Thoughts
Tags: ,

So I just attended this talk. The speaker was a Masters student doing her research in Social Computing, and Bloggingis her main research interest and the topic of the talk. Her ultimate point was that it is very good for researchers to blog about their research ideas and progress. Let me just clarify that she meant blogging within protected corporate intranet blogs, not the open web. In her opinion, blogging about research has the following benefits:

  1. It makes others within the corporation aware of what the researcher is doing, i.e., promotes the researcher’s work
  2. If the researcher is stuck at some problem and blogs about it, someone who reads the blog might have a solution
  3. Even without being stuck, getting feedback from blog readers can open up more areas for the researcher
  4. Instead of just communicating with the people who are working on the same project, the researcher is communicating with different kinds of audiences, again a potential to uncover new issues
  5. At the very least, it can be a written record of the research progress, which can be referred to later on

Now, personally, I think this all seems very nice, but there is one large point missing. I think all the aforementioned benefits can be really good if we replace the word “research” with the work “development” or just “daily work”, whatever kind of work it is, as long as it does not involve generating “new” ideas. In daily work, I believe, many problems can be solved by sharing experiences. One person’s problem has most probably been already encountered by another person, and a solution already exists for it. This has been practically proven a long time ago (evidence: the Internet’s public blogs and forums where people share lots of problem solutions).

The main problem in research (in my field at least) is as follows. Although all research is eventually to make things better, i.e., for the common good, researchers are, by definition, competitors. They compete for who gets a problem solved first, who provides a better solution, and so forth. The end-users do not care who provides the better solution as long as there is one, but for the researchers themselves, it makes a whole lot of difference.

Now, for a researcher, most of the work is confidential. Only those directly collaborating on the same project know about it. If a researcher decides to blog about their work (again, we’re talking about an internal corporate blog), they have one of two options: either (1) write openly about everything, or (2) write only vague information that does not reveal much. The latter option is certainly meaningless, as it defies all the “benefits” mentioned above, so that leaves us with the first option, i.e., writing openly about all the word being done. Although this might depend heavily on the topic of the research, but my guess is that most researches would not want to reveal their work early on until they have concrete results and, most importantly, until they get the proper recognition for it.

Suppose Researcher A started blogging about their work. Worst case scenario: Researcher B who has been working on the same problem reads the blog, takes the work, builds on it and claims the whole thing as their own. Ok, that was an extreme case. Let’s say that Researcher B isn’t really a thief. However, they are working on the same problem. Reading the blog of Researcher A might give them some insights of things that they have been missing, therefore enabling them to fill in some holes and publish their own work before Researcher A (again, stealing the glory). Best case scenario: Researcher B is really a nice guy and decides to cooperate with Researcher A, publishing the final solution as a cooperative work. (Again, Researcher A gets only half the glory instead of getting all the glory had he reached the solution alone).

I know, many might argue that when talking about corporate environments, Researcher A and Researcher B should be cooperating in the first place. After all, it IS the same project. This is true. However, this is not always the case when we talk about large multinational corporations that have many research centers all around the world. The reality is that researchers might be working on the same problem without realizing it. They only know about it when one of them gets some published work.

Conclusion: as I said before, blogging in the research field “might” be good on the global level (getting problems solved faster), but definitely not on the local (researcher) level. Oh, and for the fifth point above, what is wrong with keeping a record on your own computer? Why does it have to be public?

  1. Anonymous says:

    good points!

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