A brief reflection on maintaining a blog for 15 years (going on 16)

Fifteen years is a long time in IT, yet blogging software is still around and working—the same WordPress I started my blog with, even. At the time, in 2006, when WordPress was still only offering blogging functionality, they had the air of being respectable and at least somewhat serious compared to blogspot (redirects to Blogger now) that hosted a larger share of the informal and whimsical blogs. Blogs are not nearly as popular now as they used to be, there seems to be a move to huddle together to take a ride on a branded bandwagon, like Medium and Substack, and all of the blog-providing companies have diversified the services they offer for blogging. WordPress now markets itself as website builder, rather than blogging, software.

One might even be tempted to argue that blogs are (nearly) obsolete, with TikTok and the like having come along over the years. No so, claims a blogger here, some 10 more more bloggers here, and even a necessity according to another that does provide a list of links to data to back it up. (Just maybe don’t try making a living from it—there are plenty of people who like to read, but writing doesn’t pay well.)

Some data for this blog, then. It has 325 published post, there are around 400-600 visitors per month in recent years (depending on the season and posting frequency), there are people still signed up to receive updates (78), some even like some of the posts, and some of them are shared Twitter and other social media. The most visited post of all time got over 21000 visits and counting (since 2011) and the most visited post in the past year (after the home page) still had a fine 355 visitors and is on my research and teaching topic (see also the occasionally updated vox populi). So, obsolete it is not. Admitted, the latter post had its heydays in 2010-2012 with about 2500 visits/year and the former saw its best of times in 2014-2015 (4425 and 4948 visits in each of those years alone, respectively). The best visited post of the mere 10 posts I wrote in 2021 is on bias in ontologies, having attracted the attention of 119 visitors. Summarizing this blog’s stats trends: numbers are down compared to 5-10 years ago, indeed, but insignificant it is not and multiple posts have staying power.

Heatmap of monthly views to this blog over time.

I also can reveal that there’s no clear correlation between the time-to-write and number-of-visits variables, nor between either of them and the post’s topic, and not with post length either. With more time, there would have been more, and more polished, posts. There’s plenty to write about, not only the long overdue posts for published papers that came out at an extra-busy time and therefore have slipped through writing about, but also other interesting research that’s going on and deserves that extra bit of attention, some more book reviews, teaching updates and so on. There’s no shortage of topics to write about, which therewith turned out to be an unfounded worry from 15 years ago.

Will I go on for another 15 years? Perhaps, perhaps not. I’m still fence-sitting, from the very first post in 2006 that summed up the reasons for starting a blog to this day, to give it a try nonetheless and see when and where it will end.

Why still fence-sitting? I still don’t know whether it’s beneficial or harmful to one’s career, and if beneficial, whether the time put into writing those posts could have been used better for obtaining more benefit from those alternative activities than from the blog post writing. What I do know, is that, among others, it has helped me to learn to write better, it made me take notes during conferences in order to write conference reports and therewith engage more productively with a conference, structure ideas and thoughts, and pitch papers. Also, the background searches for fact-checking, adding links, and trying to find pictures made me stumble into interesting detours as well. Some of the posts took a long time to write, but at least they were enjoyable pastimes or worktimes.

Uhm, so, the benefit is to (just?) me? I do hope the posts have been worthwhile to the readers. But, it brings into vision the question that’s well-known to aspiring writers: should I write for myself or for my readers? The answer depends on whom you consult: blog for yourself, says the blogger from paradise, write for another, imaginary, reader persona, says the novelist, and go for bothsideism for the best results according to the writer’s guide. I write for myself, and brush it up in an attempt to increase a post’s appeal. The brushing up mainly concerns the choice of words, phrases, and paragraphs and the ordering thereof, and the images to brighten up some of the otherwise text-only posts (like this one).

After so many years and posts, I ought to be able to say something more profound. It’s really just that, though: the joy of writing the posts, the hope it makes a difference to readers and to what I’ve written about, and the slight worry it may not be the best thing to do for advancing my career.

Be this as it may, over the past few days, I’ve added a bit more structure to the blog to assist readers finding the topics they may be interested in. The key different categories are now also accessible from the ‘Menu’, being work-related topics (research and papers, software, and teaching), posts on writing and publishing, and there are a few posts that belong to neither, which still can be found on the complete list of posts. Happy reading!

p.s.: in case you wondered: yes, I intended to do a reflection when the blog turned a nice round 15 in late March, were it not for that blurry extension to 2020 and lots of extra teaching and teaching admin duties in 2021. The summer break has started now and there’s not much of a chance to properly go on holiday, and writing also counts as leisure activity, so there the opportunity was, just about three months shy of the blog turning 16. (In case the post’s title vaguely rings a bell: yes, there’s that cheesy song from one of the top-5 movie musicals of all time [according to imdb], depicting a happy moment with promise of staying together before Rolfe makes some more bad decisions, but that’s 16 going on 17.)

BFO decision diagram and alignment tool

How to align your domain ontology to a foundational ontology? It’s a well-known question, and one that I’ve looked into before as well. In some of that earlier work, we used DOLCE to align one’s ontology to. We devised the DOLCE decision diagram as part of the FORZA method to assist with the alignment process and implemented that in the MoKI ontology development tool [1]. MoKI is no more, but the theory and the algorithm’s design approach still stand. Instead of re-implementing it as a Protégé plugin and have it go defunct in a few years again (due to incompatible version upgrades, say), it sounded like more fun to design one for BFO and make a stand-alone tool out of it. And that design and the evaluation thereof is precisely what two of my ontology engineering course students—Chiadika Emeruem and Steve Wang—did for their mini-project of the course. That was then finalised and implemented in a tool for general use as part of the DOT4D project extension for my (award-winning) OE textbook afterward.

More precisely, as first part, there’s a diagram specifically for BFO – well, for one of its 2.0-ish versions in existence at least. Deciding on which version to use and what would be good questions was not as trivial as it may sound. While the questions seem to work (as evaluated with several ontologies), it might still be of use to set up an experiment to assess usability from a modeller’s viewpoint.

BFO ‘decision diagram’ to assist trying to align one’s class of a domain or core ontology to BFO (click to enlarge, or navigate to the user guide at https://bfo-classifier.github.io/)

Be this as it may, this decision diagram was incorporated into the tool that wraps around it with a nice interface with user guidance and feedback, and it has the option to load an ontology and save the alignment into the ontology (along with BFO). The decision tree itself is stored as a separate XML file so that it easily can be replaced with any update thereto, be it to reflect changes in question formulation or to adjust it to some later version of BFO. The stand-alone tool is a jar file that can be downloaded from the GitHub repo, and the repo also has the source code that may be used/adapted (i.e., has an open source licence). There’s also a user guide with explanations and screenshots. Here’s another screenshot of the tool in action:

Example of the BFO classifier in use, trying to align CODO’s ‘Disease’ to BFO, the trail of questions answered to get to ‘Disposition’, and the subsumption axiom that can be added to the ontology.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact either of us.

References

[1] Keet, C.M., Khan, M.T., Ghidini, C. Ontology Authoring with FORZA. 22nd ACM International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM’13). ACM proceedings, pp569-578. Oct. 27 – Nov. 1, 2013, San Francisco, USA.