Why I decided to run a weblog.

I have decided to run a weblog on machine learning and learning theory research. Here are some reasons:

1) Weblogs enable new functionality:

  • Public comment on papers. No mechanism for this exists at conferences and most journals. I have encountered it once for a science paper. Some communities have mailing lists supporting this, but not machine learning or learning theory. I have often read papers and found myself wishing there was some method to consider other’s questions and read the replies.
  • Conference shortlists. One of the most common conversations at a conference is “what did you find interesting?” There is no explicit mechanism for sharing this information at conferences, and it’s easy to imagine that it would be handy to do so.
  • Evaluation and comment on research directions. Papers are almost exclusively about new research, rather than evaluation (and consideration) of research directions. This last role is satisfied by funding agencies to some extent, but that is a private debate of a subset of the community. It’s easy to imagine that a public debate would be more thorough and thoughtful, producing better decisions.
  • Public Collaboration. It may be feasible to use a weblog as a mechanism for public research on a scale less than a paper. Currently, most research is done in machine learning by one or a few closely working and privately communicating authors. Weblogs provide a natural generalization where anyone who is interested may be able to contribute.
  • The things not thought of. Weblogs provide new capabilities, and it is natural to miss the impact of these capabilities until a number of people have thought about and used them.

I intend to experiment with these capabilities.

2) Weblogs have the potential to be revolutionary. Here is a comparison of the different mechanisms of communication in a table.

mechanism speed scope permanency information filtration
journal papers 6 months to years. Anyone with interest and access. Very permanent reviewed
conference papers 4-6 months Attendees (and often any with interest). Permanent reviewed
workshops 1-6 months Attendees Typically Transient inspected
mailing lists a few days Anyone subscribed (or reading archives). Semipermanent (with archives) inspected
personal discussion thought speed Whoever is there then. Transient not reviewed
weblog thought speed Anyone with interest Semipermaent not reviewed

Weblogs achieve “best we can imagine” in every category except permanency and quality control. Furthermore, the weaknesses are not inherent to the medium, and are being actively addressed.

Permalinks are the equivalent of a citation, providing a semipermanent pointer to a piece of content. This is only ‘semi’ becuase the _author_ of the content can typically revise the content at any moment in the future and the pointer is only permanet up to the permanence of the website.
Trackback is an explicit method for creating the reverse lookup table of citations: who cites this?
In addition, there are several mechanisms for information filtration such as “post is reposted in another weblog” and experimental moderation schemes.

The same forces driving academia into desiring permanent indelible records and very careful information filtration exist for blogs. These forces may produce the ‘missing pieces’, making weblogs very compelling for academic purposes.

3) Lance Fortnow told me so.

9 Replies to “Why I decided to run a weblog.”

  1. Simon is right about discussion boards being pretty effective. I’m not sure whether it is inherently more or less organized, although it’s certainly more organized than this right now.

    There are some other efforts worth highlighting.

    Satinder Singh has been attempting to use twiki for reinforcement learning discussion.

    Rich Sutton has been experimeinting with “open pages” that anyone can leave a comment on.

  2. Great idea!
    Maybe this is a silly question because I don’t know much about blogs: who is allowed to post?
    Can anyone register and post? Do you need to give them approval?

  3. Roughly speaking, one or a few people can post, and anyone can comment. I am planning to have posters other than myself. Email me (jl@hunch.net) if you want to post.

  4. Just out of curioisity, what sort of mechanisms have been proposed for filtering/reviewing the academic postings in this format?

    It seems to me that the major advantage of conferences/journals is that they are peer reviewed allowing us to get an idea of the signal-to-noise ratio that we can expect to see (which in turn decides whether we will spend time on it). Selectivity is probably the reason why the more highly rated journals/conferences attract more readers, since the readers get some editorial assurance about the quality/topic/etc.

    If we have some distributed (eg collaborative-filtering) kind of review process for this medium, as a community we could potentially circumvent both the issue of reviewers’ time commitment/quality of reviews and the issue of whether any specific reader will think it worth his time to read a particular posting.

  5. I’m not aware of any good proposals for academic filtering/reviewing in this format.

    It is easy to have a set of ‘moderators’ who control content. This implies the quality of the information is highly dependent on who those people are.

    There are several obvious limitations to this in an academic context, and I think analysis of ‘what is a good online review system’ is an interesting research topic. I’m personally willing to experiment.

  6. It is really good news to see such a nice weblog. I ever looked for these kind of technical weblogs. Like you, I agree that weblogs may have very good and interesting new functionalities; however, I dare that these kind of technical weblogs can be run that easily: it is probable that the decay working after a while. You may add new members in order to prevent it from that decaying. It seems that you have done the right thing by inviting (inviting?!) Drew Bagnell.

  7. I am interested in machine learning.I started to learn it by myself but I need to someone as an expert to answer my questions.May I ask my questions?

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