Meta-blogging, social media & naked mole rats

This is a blog about blogging. On the fun scale, meta-blogging probably falls midway between metadata and meta-analysis but I am going to do it anyway. In stages, because, just like if it has bullet points it must be serious business, if it has stages, numbers and units you’ve never heard of, like petapixels, it must be serious research:

Stage 1: Claim Guru Status

I am a social media expert because I have three blogs and accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter and Bebo. I’m also a member of and a bunch of things like Second Life I randomly signed up for and then forgot about.

Stage 2: Scoff at other self-styled gurus

Seriously, what is it with these people who claim to be experts on social media, anyway? As someone said, I must listen to them because they have days of experience. How long does something have to exist before you can claim to be an expert on it? What makes you an expert, anyway?

I have been told over and over by self-proclaimed media gurus that everyone must have an account on Facebook or they’re missing out because half a billion, 700 million, 5 teraflops or a petabyte of shakes of a lamb’s tail of people are on Facebook.

We make money at The Julia Group by doing survey design, evaluation research, quantitative and qualitative analysis. We have some consultants who are terrific statistical programmers and others who are experts in qualitative research. Now, twice in the past twenty years, I have gotten substantial contracts because I was walking out a door as someone I knew was walking in and she (both times it was a she) said,
“I can’t believe I ran into you! I really need a statistician. Are you available?”

So, given that…. it is theoretically possible that someone will see my Facebook page (well, actually, they won’t because it’s private) and say,

“Hey, you rock at Mafia Wars! How about doing $150,000 worth of data analysis for us over the next five years to evaluate our $3 million project?”

I think it more likely, though, that we will continue to get business by submitting grant proposals, bidding on contracts and having people I have worked with in the past call and say,

“We need someone with your expertise on this project. Can you work with us?”

Before the economy went south it seemed to me like the only thing on LinkedIn was headhunters and job seekers. Since I was neither, I never had any use for it. Lately, I’ve given it a second look and it seems mildly interesting. I can’t say I’ve seen any huge benefits but I haven’t been using it much either, so I’d say the jury is still out.

What about Second Life, the place a few years ago that any serious company would be and if you weren’t there you were a dinosaur missing out on the “new Internet”? This article that conveniently was written this week, entitled “How to save Second Life”, well I guess the title gives a clue how that’s going.

Stage 3: Pontificate

What does work? I have run into interesting people all over the U.S. and in a few other countries who say they read my blog, which has gotten me a few free beers. I have occasionally gotten work or hired people I met at conferences, so, it is possible that some of these people who read my blog may eventually become clients or employees. If not, hey, I got free beer, so hurray blog!

Someone said that Facebook is the people you went to school with while Twitter is the people you wish you went to school with. For me, personally, twitter has been the most useful social media in that it has given me a lot of references to useful websites. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the Internet is big, really big. Having people with interests like mine who pass along sites of interest to them has yielded a number of very useful leads on development in fields I’m interested in, latest research results or just new ideas.

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…'”

– Isaac Asimov

Twitter has delivered more than its fair share of those “that’s funny” moments.

Stage 4 (optional): Say something remotely sensible. If that fails you, just rant

This is the third blog I started. My earlier two blogs were focused on judo (I was the world judo champion 26 years ago and still coach) and for Spirit Lake Consulting, which was our parent company before The Julia Group was spun off as a separate company.

I write this blog because I feel like it. The main benefit for me, in addition to the free beer, is that I have forgotten more about statistics and statistical software than most people know. (Part of this is simply a function of being older than most people.) The problem is, that I have forgotten it. So, I post it here. Suppose I vaguely remember that I did something with AGGREGATE in SPSS that added the number of times a person appeared in the database to each case, or that I did install SAS Enterprise Miner for Desktop and here I am a year later wondering how the hell was it that I did that. I can go search my blog and it pops up.

Since I write it for me, I am often surprised that other people read it, and I am really surprised when I Google a phrase looking for information that my blog comes up on the first page. Sometimes it reminds me of a book I liked when I was about ten years old, called The Pushcart War. At one point, there is a public TV show on the topic of traffic problems with various experts and a movie star. During the show, the movie star states that the problem with traffic is “The trucks are too big and there are too many of them.” And, the author says, since no one understood what the experts said and they all understood what the movie star said, that was the part they paid attention to.

I think it is because I am writing for me that much of what I say is very accessible. I wonder how many statisticians when they are writing notes for themselves do like me and explain

AUTOREGRESSIVE – autoregressive means something is regressed on itself

As this very cool page from the National Institute on Standards and Technology says

An autoregressive model is simply a linear regression of the current value of the series against one or more prior values of the series.

… and how many of them write as if they are trying to fit a mold.

Of course, now that I find more people are actually reading my blog I have given some thought to being (slightly) more serious and not say things like PROC MI is used to make up data, the MI standing for “my imagination”. I haven’t actually done anything. I’ve just thought about it. Sort of like the world’s most spoiled twelve-year-old’s view on cleaning her room.

[If you have a mad desire for a serious blog on multiple imputation, I did write one. Your life is now complete. You’re welcome.]

The rant part
If we were a bigger company, and if I wasn’t the majority owner, this blog would be very different. There would be no profanity. There would be no mention of other company’s products unless they paid us. There would definitely be no mention of any company’s products having all the attractiveness of a sexual experience with a naked mole rat for fear they might sue us. There would be a legal review, an editorial review, a graphic designer to tell me that my blog too often features pictures of naked mole rats.


Someone would tell me that I cannot end sentences with prepositions, that “cannot” is actually one word, that the word count for the average post exceeds what research says people will read and that I don’t write in the tense recommended by the Microsoft Style Guide. All of these people would be paid. My blog would cost many, many times what the current cost to produce (which currently is the value of my time between midnight and 1 a.m. and a glass of Chardonnay) and take at least 60 times longer from beginning to actual publication (which is currently from the time I get an idea to the end of the hour it takes me to slowly sip a glass of white wine, ramble and locate pictures of naked mole rats).

I don’t know how blogging went from being an individual’s musings on life to the property of corporate weenies. This isn’t to say there aren’t some corporate blogs that don’t suck. Jon Peck did a good one for SPSS that I hope will eventually be reinvigorated once the whole IBM takeover gets sorted out. Chris Hemedinger does a cool one on SAS Enterprise Guide.

Most corporate blogs, though, fit the cartoon by Hugh Macleod in his awesome book, Ignore Everybody,

“Welcome to Nobody Cares. population 6 billion.”

I started this blog when a web site editor for an organization I was working for told me that my web pages on statistics could not be approved until they were rewritten because,

“Our entire website has to have one voice and that is the CEO. You cannot use examples that might offend anyone. You must speak in a formal tone. Your pictures are too big and often inappropriate. Your headers are not the right size. You need to conform with the Microsoft Style Guide (attached). I am sure you put a lot of work into this and some people (sniff) seem to think you are very bright but I am sorry we cannot post anything that might cause anyone to call and complain. I suggest that if you want to have your own voice and express your own opinions, you write a blog.”

So, I did. And the Microsoft Style Guide (whatever that is) can bite me.

In case you were wondering, no naked mole rats were molested in the writing of this post.

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