Another year older

May 26, 2011 § 10 Comments

Well, it’s been a year. Anniversaries do encourage you to look back and say, huh, has it been that long?  How fast a year goes by.  Was it worth it?  And other such musings.

One thing about writing this blog that’s surprised me is that it’s a very effective way of maintaining an external memory.  I’m a bit of a dilettante, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed: I skip from topic to topic a lot, and the result is that I forget a lot.  Since I started writing the blog, I can say “hold on, I’m sure I wrote about that” when a topic or a paper comes up, and remind myself of what I thought when I read the paper.   [Come on, you’ve had this experience too.  Do you remember reading your old exam papers, back in the days when you had to pass exams, and wondering who on earth wrote them?]  It’s surprisingly helpful; the unpleasant part of the surprise is that it makes it clear just how much I do forget.

Was it worth it? From my point of view, it’s mostly been enjoyable.  I don’t entirely like the little monkey that now rides my back, reminding me of the fact that I haven’t started writing a serious post this week, that it’s been xxx days since I last posted something serious, that my pile of potentially interesting papers is currently depleted.  But on the whole it’s been good.  From your point of view, it’s harder to know.  Yes, I can look at a number of interesting metrics that purport to tell me how widely the blog is read.  On that level, the year has been quite successful: over 65,000 page views isn’t bad for a science blog in its first year, let alone one focused on systems biology.  On the other hand, how many of those page views were real — someone reading and enjoying what I wrote, or at least finding it useful — and how many of them were hapless googlers accidentally stumbling across a page and thinking “gosh, how boring”?  I notice that posts that refer to sex, drugs or evolution tend to get more hits than posts that focus on molecular mechanisms or modeling.  I fear that the people who googled for topics to do with sex are the most likely to have been disappointed by what they found.  On the other hand, the people who looked for “systems biology humor” deserved exactly what they got.

In any case, the number of regular readers of the blog seems to be increasing.  I hope this means that at least a few people out there (maybe including you, dear reader) who actually like reading about statistical models of red blood cell populations, biochemical reconstitutions of mesoscale cellular structures, and how you can set up a signaling gradient within a single bacterium.  Odd tastes, but that’s what the internet is good for — finding people who share your odd tastes.  I think there are at least a couple of hundred of you who come by frequently, and many more who stop by occasionally. I’ve met a few of you in person, and a few more by e-mail, but since most of you (if you’re out there) are fairly quiet lurkers, I’m really not sure who you are or what you like.  You could tell me.  You could leave a comment, or even send me an e-mail: becky[at]hms.harvard.edu.

Unless you blog, you probably don’t realize what a thrill it is (at least for a little blog) to get a real comment from an actual real person who’s thought about what you have to say. One moment you’re sending words out into the void, and the next moment the void is talking back.  It’s exciting.  And I like the fact that I can sometimes catalyze a conversation (see this post for example) between the original author of the paper I wrote about and the commenter.  When this works, I think it’s unusual and potentially valuable.  I don’t think I would have lasted the year without the evidence of real readers, really out there, that comments (and, yes, pageview statistics too) provide.

So.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting. Keep it up.  Tell your friends that reading It Takes 30 is the cool thing to do these days.  Send me suggestions on papers you’d like me to cover (note: I don’t usually cover Nature or Science, on the grounds that papers published in those journals get enough attention anyway — but I can make exceptions).  Tell me what you’d like me to do differently.  I may listen.

Happy anniversary, us.

§ 10 Responses to Another year older

  • janet says:

    Happy anniversary!! I’d like to say that I have enjoyed a lot many of your blogs, specially the ones on Lahav’s work and p53… I think your insight is usually a clearer way to approach some of the papers you comment, and I thank you for that.

  • Linas says:

    Happy birthday and thank you very much for keeping this “It takes 30” blog extremely interesting and comprehensive. I also laugh a lot by reading your little comments inside the stories, e.g. “I’m a bit of a dilettante, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed” or “usually when I’m on the verge of getting depressed by the sheer complexity of biology I try to think of it as job security” and many others which make me smile. So really thank you very much for keeping this blog alive and I wish it lives very very long time.

  • Fred says:

    Hi Becky,

    I subscribe to the weekly digest and end up reading at least a post or two when the email hits my inbox. I appreciate the blog. It helps me feel connected to the SB community and I appreciate that you’ve already browsed the literature and found the interesting new bits. I could never do something like this because of the “monkey on my back” feeling that you mentioned.

    • Becky says:

      Thanks, Fred. I hope you’re not laboring under the misapprehension that my coverage is comprehensive. That would be more of a gorilla on the back, a.k.a. a full-time job. But the good part is that by having a reason to look for new papers, and a deadline of sorts (the rising pitch of the eek-eek-eek noise), I do feel that I’m more aware of what’s out there than I did before I started blogging. But anyone who spots a paper I’ve missed should feel free to tell me so. (Please.)

  • Eric Batchelor says:

    Happy anniversary, Becky! As always, I enjoy reading your insights on the wide variety of topics covered in the blog. And the sys bio humor is always much appreciated! The posts are even more meaningful for me now, as I’m sure they are for other former department members… like letters from home while I’m at (permanent) summer camp. Cheers!

    • Becky says:

      Never thought of a new Assistant Professor as someone who’s at summer camp before… perhaps it’s different at the NIH intramural program! Thanks for checking in, Eric, and best of luck with the new lab!

  • Lea Goentoro says:

    Yay, It Takes 30 is one year-old! It’s an awesome blog Becky. I really like reading it from time to time, especially even more now.

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