Blogs I Read: The Haystack Blog

It’s been quite the week in tech business news, with Adobe acquiring Omniture, Google acquiring reCAPTCHA and being rumored (falsely) to acquire Brightcove, Facebook announcing that is has over 300M users and is cash-flow positive, and Twitter closing a new round of funding at a $1B valuation. Recession? What recession?

But sometimes I like to get away from all that and turn back to my roots inside the ivory tower. And that leads me to one of my favorite university blogs: the Haystack Blog.

The Haystack Blog is published by faculty and grad students in the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab (CSAIL)–specifically those in the Haystack group. Principal Investigator (and occasional dance instructor) David Karger is its most prolific blogger–you might have read some of his SIGIR 2009 posts or his debate with Stefano Mazzocchi about how to properly use RDF. But other people’s posts are just as interesting–check out the most recent post by Eirik Bakke about bridging the gap between spreadsheets and relational databases.

I wish that more universities and departments would encourage their faculty and students to blog. As Daniel Lemire has pointed out, it’s a great way for academic researchers to get their ideas out and build up their reputations and networks. He should know–he leads by example. Likewise, Haystack is setting a great example for university blogs, and is a credit to MIT and CSAIL.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

6 replies on “Blogs I Read: The Haystack Blog”

Thanks for the link and the great post.

I think a deeper and more noble issue is Open Scholarship. If I only ran my blog to build up a reputation, I would have stopped some time ago. After all, writing research papers is far more rewarded.

In a very small way, I have at least the illusion that I help make the world a better place. A large chunk of my motivation is altruistic. (Yes, I also have a big ego. But all researchers do.)

This is also what makes wikipedia run:

Motivations of contributors to Wikipedia

Who knew? It turns out that human beings are not fundamentally evil.

I think we are wired to share our knowledge. This drive is stronger in some of us, but it should be particularly strong within academia.


Daniel, that’s a good point. Blogging is a perhaps the most productive way to channel a big ego–and the belief that sharing my ideas will make the world a better place is surely the symptom of an inflated ego. Moreover, I only enjoy writing when I know people will read what I write–and blogging offer instant gratification.

As someone who’s spent the past decade in industry rather than academia, I suppose I may be overestimating the reputation reward for academics. Still, I think it’s a way for people who would otherwise be lost in a crowd to make their mark. At the very least, it’s a way to interact with and influence people outside the narrow confines of niche research communities.


As someone who’s spent the past decade in industry rather than academia, I suppose I may be overestimating the reputation reward for academics.

I honestly have no idea whether blogging helps an academic (or even industry) career. I feel it made me a better scientist… but who knows?

However, objectively, many famous people are now blogging. So, having a well-known blog ought to count.

In any case, my colleagues don’t roll their eyes when I refer to my blog. It is not frowned upon as it once were.

There is another issue though. I feel that if I ever want to go back to industry it will be easier as a blogger.

(Not that I plan to resign my tenure, but I have always kept my options open.)


Hi Daniel !
First, congrats on the new job…..I am sorry we did not get to chat more these last few months. Second, I wonder if, since you are a fan of faceted search, you have ever had a look at my fledgling blog on search technology in the Newssift site. I will likely be starting up again in the next months or so. Cheers!



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