Maintaining a (bioinformatics) blog

A lot of the well known bioinformatics blogs are no longer maintained. I recently came across a blog post that talked about blogging and how it was possible to actively maintain a blog for over 10 years. I discovered the blog when I learned of the book Building reproducible analytical pipelines with R, which also looks like an interesting read! As a fellow denarian blogger, I read the blog post with great interest since I wanted to find out what kept this blogger going! (I'll refer to the blogger as Bruno, which is their first name, from now on. I'm not personally acquainted but it sounds more polite to use their name instead of "blogger".)

The main reason was interesting. It's because there's zero commitment to the blog, which sounds counter-intuitive but I get the point. Bruno already has a job as a statistician and any commitment to their blog would make it another job, which according to Bruno would be:

"the fastest way for me to hate blogging."

In addition, Bruno does not track the blog's traffic. Doing so would also make blogging seem like a job because they would know which posts were the most popular and would become incentivised to write about those topics instead of writing something that interested them. Besides curiosity, Bruno keeps the blog as a way to contribute back to the free software and open source ecosystem. Therefore the trick to a long lasting blog is to have a noble cause that you're not commited to!

I started my blog with pretty much the same motivation as Bruno, which was to have an online electronic notebook during grad school. From Bruno's blog post:

The primary reason I started my blog was to have a repository of code snippets that I could re-use. Anytime I had to do something for my thesis or for work, I would write instructions around the code that I’ve used to explain how and why things worked out. But I needed a spot to save these scripts, and it turns out that a blog was the best solution for this: it doesn’t require any subscription to a (very often proprietary) service to store my notes for me, and I need 0 discipline to maintain a blog. Simply write a post, push to Github, website gets updated. If I would store the notes myself on my computer instead, this would mean a lot of work, and I would need to think about how to make them available across devices.

From what I've gathered from reading other blogs, this is one of the primary reasons why people start technical blogs. This may also be one of the reasons why blogs die off; people graduate (and move on) and take on different positions where they no longer have to do as much technical work. Or later on in life, they have other commitments and no longer have time for blogging.

I've written previously about why I blog and what discouraged me from blogging. Now that I re-read it, I can see some similar ideas with Bruno's post. I tried to (indirectly) treat blogging as a job by trying to see how my blog could help increase my chances with getting a fellowship or grant. My blog was never about this and it shouldn't be. My noble cause is to try to write blog posts that are useful to others, including myself. But I shouldn't limit myself and should just write whatever seems interesting (and fun) to me as well.

One thing I wish I'd done though is not use WordPress as my blog's platform and to have used a static site generator that generates my blog from Markdown or R Markdown documents, which is much easier to maintain especially posts with code. I could migrate my entire site now, but I found a Markdown editor plugin for WordPress that lets me write my posts in Markdown, making it more bearable. I also found a plugin to export my WordPress posts into Markdown files, which works perfectly when I'm already writing my posts in Markdown on WordPress, so I'm ready if I want to migrate my site. Some of my posts have been exported to this workflowr site.

In summary, to keep a blog (bioinformatics or otherwise) going, you need a long-term purpose. For those of us where blogging is not our main job, it's important to limit your commitment so that you don't get discouraged because blogging needs to be enjoyable. Sometimes this means writing posts that pique your interest without worrying about whether others find it interesting too.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International License
.
3 comments Add yours
  1. Hi Dave,

    I’m really glad that you enjoyed my blog post 🙂 and it’s really nice to see that others also share the same approach to blogging as me. It may be seem weird, but the best thing you could do if you have a blog about stats is to NOT collect data lol 🙂

    1. Hi Bruno,

      thanks for the blog post! I only found out about your blog a few days ago and look forward to checking the rest of it out. I like your approach of not keeping your blog traffic. It feels liberating.

      Cheers,
      Dave

      1. small world. I got to know Bruno from the same book 🙂 exchanged some messages on twitter with him too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.