Additional suggestions for conference blogging

Lunch Over IP has an interesting blog post with tips for conference bloggers (pdf) covering twelve topics: tools, location, preparation, software, speakers, style, quotes, audience, context, linking, tagging, timing, mistakes, collaboration, tagging, and timing. These suggestions by Ethan Zuckerman and Bruno Giussani are useful suggestions for blogging about ‘general’ conferences, but I would like to add a few suggestions for scientific conference blogging, and those of computer science in particular, which are the principal outlets for the latest research (as opposed to journal articles in other disciplines).

The main modifications concern preparation, speakers, and timing, which is based on the conferences and workshops I did blog about (ORM’06, DL’07, OWLED’07, AI for cultural heritage 2007, AI*IA’07, IFIP TC9 ICT for warfare, OWLED’08, ISWC’08, ICT for Peace Symposium’08), the differences in quality of those post, the ones I started writing about but abandoned, the ones that I intended to blog about but did not do, and why for some I did not even start the process.

The, by far, most important point is preparation. Look up the accepted papers, decide on a theme, try to get the relevant papers beforehand, and read them. Split them into the stack of ones are worthwhile the “blog-attention” regardless, which to have as “potentials” and which to “discard”. For those where there is no paper available before the conference, skim through the paper upon receiving the proceedings, or at least mark them to go to the presentation and check the paper after the presentation.

Then, at the conference, attend the presentations and make notes primarily for those ones you have pre-selected and only by exception one that seemed unexpectedly interesting or that generated quite a bit of debate from the audience; in a good conference, there is too much new information to digest properly to summarize all presentations adequately, so not only preparation but also selection is important. Lunch Over IP mentions collaboration, which might be useful provided you team up with someone who has different interests or attends a parallel session. On the other hand, it also can be useful to have multiple reports and arguments about the same paper & presentation, in particular if one is attending an interdisciplinary conference. Further, even a lousy presentation but good paper should be worth mentioning: a scientific conference is not a marketing exercise where better-sold goods deserve more attention, but instead those papers that add something significant (the presenter could be a brilliant but nervous PhD student, humble researcher, or socially-challenged professor). Vice versa, a good presentation may mask a lousy paper; if there is such an ‘unexpectedly interesting’ presentation, then before blogging about it be sure to check the paper and consult an expert if it is not precisely your area of research.

The third point, timing, which Lunch over IP would like to see as liveblogging: posting within 10 minutes after the presentation. Well, no; let us call the opposite lagblogging. Aside that new things may pop up during the presentation—e.g., having misunderstood a section, newer material has been presented, criticism from the audience you had not thought of—one should back up any posted comments with an argumentation, which takes time to write, or compare it with another paper on the same topic that might be scheduled afterward, or even in another timeslot. Or perhaps there are links between papers one has not thought of before. Such papers should be synthesized into one analysis and not processed and published in a piecemeal fashion. Being able to connect dots is important in science, and when you do it in your post, the readers will appreciate that: not being at the venue, your blog readers were not exposed to the amalgamation of topics and papers, so your synthesis will give added-value. Make a connected ‘flow’ out of the selected papers and presentations. In that case, being a day or two (or three) later is fine.

Last, but this may be just my personal opinion, when I read other people’s conference blog posts, I really do not care who you rubbed shoulders with. First and foremost, I want to know what is useful to check out (and why), what was the ‘vibe’ of a panel session to get an idea of what lives in that research community, and what was deemed worthy of ‘keynote speech’ by the organisers (and was it really worthwhile listening to?).

4 responses to “Additional suggestions for conference blogging

  1. On your last paragraph there I think you identify a bit of the flavor of the conflicting goals present in many blogs – certainly mine. One of the main topics I like to post about regarding conferences is who I met because a) I usually find the people more interesting then most of the conference and b) I use the posts as ways to remember the names and URLs of people that I meet for future reference. In this way, posts on Who I met act much more as messages to my future self then as a report to the Web community on what was happening (though who was there certainly provides some implicit information in that regard as well).

  2. p.s. I love how your little SNAP link preview thing somehow pulls out ‘Moose’ when I mouse over the link to my blog. Clearly I have been in Canada too long!

  3. I agree on the conflicting goals in blog posts: that’s why I put that last paragraph there. Perhaps a conference blogger will include in the preparation & writing answering questions for him/herself “am I writing this just to myself [if so, then why not put it in a lab book?] or to share in a way so that readers might have spent their time usefully reading the blog post, and if the latter, then what’s more important to share, the human side or the science side of the conference?”
    I don’t see myself writing something alike “hey, I met Very Important Professor xx from Prestigious Uni yy again and V.I.P. xx has even remembered my first name!” (which is not trivial, and the situation and thought might have occured to me). Sure, having something of it to add a personal touch, fine, but prinicpally I want to know about the ‘what’ (but maybe I’m in a minority having that opinion).

    p.s.: I didn’t see any moose in your SNAPshot… maybe you have been to long in canada indeed 😉

  4. Pingback: A few notes on ESWC’11 in Heraklion « Keet blog

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