Why I blog

My blog has been going for 14 years now, and has just passed 4 million pageviews. Yay! I remember the 1 million pageviews moment in 2017!

The main reason I was able to persist for so long is because I blog for selfish reasons. Let me try to unpack why I blog, and why I keep blogging.


I write for myself

The audience I have in mind is myself. I blog to clarify my understanding and thinking about a topic. 

Reading a research/technical paper is already time consuming. I can't do it in less than 4 hours. Period.

I love learning. And I am fortunate that I get to read research papers as part of my work. I double-dip on this effort to blog about them, to improve my understanding of these papers. Writing a blog post is the final step in my pipeline for reading a paper.

I think my blog reviews of papers hits a good niche. Research papers are written for the wrong audience (or rather maybe the right audience but for the wrong reason): they are written to please 3 specific expert reviewers who are overwhelmingly from academia. Thus much of the benefit from the research and writing goes wasted. If we didn't have this objective of having to look impressive for peer-reviewing (and the resulting costly signaling effect), I believe we would be able to learn way more from the research papers. The authors would aim to educate rather than impress. They would not need to be defensive about their work, and would introspect about their learnings and their thought processes. In effect, this is what I do on their behalf when I write a blog review for my understanding of the papers.

Writing for myself also keeps the voice/tone of the posts natural. Not condescending, not too pedantic. Inquisitive and somewhat playful. This puts that small bit of personal touch there. 


I set a goal of blogging once a week

I set this goal not for the quantity of the output (more than 650 posts total, yay!), but for keeping myself in the writing frame-of-mind. What I refer to as the writing frame-of-mind is basically noticing the world around me, starting with the sphere of distributed and database systems and expending outwards and inwards. Staying in a writing frame-of-mind helps me notice things, and be mindful. The writing act following the noticing helps me process my understanding and sometimes my feelings.

I find that I need to have the intention about writing before I can find something worthy of writing. Sometimes to satisfy my one-post-per-week goal, I say "OK, fine, this topic is not interesting, but I can attempt to write some thing about it". And holy moly, am I surprised to find a fount of interesting things about that topic when I start to write. Many posts that I would not have written without this weekly goal turned out to be very insightful. I don't know what I think about something till I write about it: "Writing is nature's way of telling you how sloppy your thinking is."

The weekly posting rule keeps me to maintain a cadence and prevents my writing muscles from atrophying. This also helps me lower my standards for writing, which paradoxically maintains and raises my standards.

Another point of blogging regularly is to put myself out there in public with my understanding of a topic. This is a low-stake risk, but even this accountability works for improving the quality of my reasoning and understanding and ensures that I learned something worth sharing every week.


I don't fret the mechanics 

Well, I write on blogspot (thank you Google, and let me knock on wood!). Any platform that is open and usable would work. I don't spend time thinking on this, because I primarily blog for myself. The post being public, rather than remaining on the local disk, is important for putting myself out in the open and taking accountability.

I write on emacs, using org-mode, and then copy it to blogspot. I don't have a git pipeline to push to the blog, etc. Copying it and doing the final edits take me 5-10 minutes. 

Emacs org-mode is my playground. I can be a text-wrangler there. And play with ideas. Again, I don't know what I think about till I write about it.


Thank you for reading! I really appreciate it

I don't ask anybody to review my posts and give me feedback before I post. My writing is personal, I write them for myself with a low-bar, and I am ok if no one reads it. Of course I am happy when people read it and find it useful. Or even when they criticize something about it, which leads to me to compare/contrast their way of thinking with mine. But I don't ask for this or rely on this at all. 

I have been continuously impressed by the outreach my blog had. Around 2016-18, I was surprised when people I met at conferences mentioned they read and like my blog posts. I first thought of this as a fluke, but this kept coming up more frequently since then. Holy moly, people read blogs!

I think the reason is that textbooks are not that common anymore. Research papers are not very accessible, and they definitely lack the personal touch. Accessible information with personal touch comes from blog posts. 

I really like doing some community service via these blog posts, even though they primarily serve to scratch my own itch. Boy, did I get lucky or what. By being selfish, I also help others, and I do enjoy the ubuntu, arising from this. I love learning together.

I was worried if other people reading would make me shy and not post. I think this may have curbed some half-baked thoughts or opinion pieces (I should work on this). But overall I don't think I have been affected too much. I know that I need to write for myself, and I try to post once a week to keep me going.


Learnings

I should be writing more. And I should be more open.

I can only be myself. And I like it better when I can be myself.

Ok, on that point of being more open and transparent, and maybe to criticize this post myself, here is another thing. This is what I think is my reason for blogging. But maybe I am just retroactively rationalizing why I blog. Maybe I am predestined or predetermined to blog. I get an occasional creative itch, and blogging comes as a way to serve this. And I suspect I am wired to be a bit oblivious, and I don't mind learning in the open and sharing. So maybe these are just rationalizations rather than useful advice. But give it a try before you dispense it, no? We could use more people blogging and sharing their learning.

Comments

Amin Setayesh said…
Thank you for your blog!
You write very well, and it has inspired me to start something similar in the future.
Aaron said…
Thanks for blogging. I mostly read for the "misc." posts as I am not really into academics or distributed systems, but appreciate it all!

Popular posts from this blog

Learning about distributed systems: where to start?

Hints for Distributed Systems Design

Foundational distributed systems papers

Metastable failures in the wild

The demise of coding is greatly exaggerated

The end of a myth: Distributed transactions can scale

Scalable OLTP in the Cloud: What’s the BIG DEAL?

SIGMOD panel: Future of Database System Architectures

There is plenty of room at the bottom