I just saw this site after a tweet by Bill the Lizard from Stack Overflow. Some Stack Exchange sites (the only non-trilogy site with a blog right now is Gaming) have blogs. There's a page about guidelines for starting a site's blog. More recently, there was a Stack Overflow blog post about getting a blog started.

There are four key things to discuss:

Raise the idea on the child meta. A community blog needs the involvement of community members.

That's what this post is doing. Getting the idea out there, and getting some high level ideas flowing.

Define the scope and purpose of the blog. Is the blog about the site? Is it about the site’s topic? Is it about the industry around the topic? Keep in mind the audience of your community and their interests. Another generic blog about may not be all that interesting.

I don't see why we can't start this discussion now, either, before moving on.

Recruit contributors. Who will write entries for the blog? Starting a blog is a bit like going through the buffet line. Be realistic – don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. Think seriously about if and how often you will be able to contribute a blog post, including research/prep time.

There are a lot of heavily involved people at Programmers who are pretty good writers (at least when it comes to answers). Looking at the top users, a few names stand out in particular. I would be interested to see who would step forward, however.

Plan a schedule. Given the results of steps #2 and #3, think about a rough idea of a schedule for the blog. Will there be one post a week, posted Mondays? Will there be posts on Tuesdays and posts on Fridays? You don’t need to be pushing out postsdaily, but I would say at least one post a week.

This would be much further down the road, once we have topic(s) and contributors.


I suppose to kick off discussion, there are two questions to answer at this point:

  1. Should Programmers have a blog? Why?

  2. What topics should be covered by this blog?

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3 minutes and already an up vote? I'm impressed. –  Thomas Owens Jun 10 '11 at 16:57
    
I think this is a great idea. –  Walter Jun 10 '11 at 17:11
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I'm pretty sure you will get a lot of moral support for this idea. The question is how many supporters are willing to do the work. –  user281377 Jun 10 '11 at 17:23
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Something to keep in mind is that this isn't anyone's personal blog. You don't need to be writing 2 posts a week. That's why we want multiple people involved. Committing to writing 1 post a month is much easier to handle. –  Rebecca Chernoff Jun 10 '11 at 17:36
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Also, I'm here to provide any support I can in moving this forward, don't hesitate to ping me for something. –  Rebecca Chernoff Jun 10 '11 at 17:45
    
Can we get a [status-completed] on this? –  Dynamic May 27 '12 at 23:55
    
@Dynamic Until it gets linked to on the site (such as in the header banner), my initial response is that isn't not complete. –  Thomas Owens May 28 '12 at 9:10

6 Answers 6

One very important question that I think needs answering before we even think about having a blog is:

Who is our target audience?

Or even more generally, what would be the purpose of the blog? To keep the existing community engaged, or to try to reach out to a larger audience and show how awesome we are?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but currently there's still an inordinate focus in this community on vapor topics (careers, productivity, coding style, language A vs. language B, etc.) as opposed to just soft topics (design patterns, enterprise architectures, software project management, and so on).

This is the same tug-of-war that the community here has always been embroiled in, but a blog is going to be somewhat polarizing. Is it going to have the tone of...

  • Paul Graham, Steve Yegge, Scoble, and their ilk - full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? There's already copious amounts of this on P.SE and the internet in general. I'm sure it would be popular, but would it mesh with SE's pitch of making the internet a better place?

  • Eric Lippert, Raymond Chen, Jon Skeet, etc.? The material from them almost seems too technical to put on a P.SE blog. It really belongs on a Stack Overflow blog - of course, that blog already has a different meaning, so maybe this is precisely where it should be.

  • Maybe the kind of topics we see from Fowler, Ayende, Udi Dahan (minus the advertising), and so on? There are bloggers out there who frequently or at least occasionally write serious posts about non-code aspects of the software development process, although they're kind of hard to find. This would certainly be an interesting niche; the question is, would people read it?

  • Or maybe we want to take advantage of the breadth of the community and aggregate all of the off-the-beaten-path stuff like space, high-frequency trading, energy, device drivers, and all of the other professions that collectively employ millions of developers worldwide but we almost never hear about?

This is a critically-important question to me. I'm not saying for sure that I'd personally be qualified or willing to write anyway, but I definitely wouldn't want to be associated with the usual participatory narcissism, complete with fluff on software "craftsmanship" and what it "means" to be a developer and how every corporate programming job (which is over 85% of all programming jobs) is a nightmarish dead end and the only way to ever be truly happy as a programmer is to work for a caffeinated, VC-infused, pampering software publisher like Google, or maybe start your own business.

You get the idea, I hope. Software is an immense field; it's almost depressing how 90% of the popular writing seems to come from this weird alien echo chamber comprising maybe 10% of the profession.

The point is, if P.SE really wants to have a blog that stands out, it's going to have to do something different from the mountains of crap that are already out there. Take advantage of the diversity in this community to produce articles that will make people think, and dispense with the usual narcissism found on the less-technical programming blogs.

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It would help if we had blog posts giving the 'canonical answer' to 'what language should I learn next' and other often recurring questions. That way they can be closed on the site (since its a dupe and probably a bad question), but at least you provide them with a starting point which will hopefully help them ask better questions in the future –  Ivo Flipse Jun 26 '11 at 9:48
    
For some topics, we could do a point/counterpoint style blog posting, where we have a topic and invite two or three P.SE users (especially who might be considered experts or something close to an expert on the subject) to submit their thoughts, and they all get posted as a single blog post. We also don't want technical posts, IMO - we want to focus on what's on-topic on the site. If a question about the subject matter would be closed on the site, I don't think there should be a blog post about it. I do indeed like the fourth point - that would be amazing, but shouldn't be the exclusive focus. –  Thomas Owens Jun 26 '11 at 12:37
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@Thomas: Right, we don't necessarily have to focus on exactly one thing; on the other hand, if a blog doesn't have a consistent tone, style, or subject area, then people won't read that either. It's very difficult to hit the sweet spot, especially if you downplay the usual schlock; that's why the 'blogosphere' has a long tail. Point/counterpoint does sound interesting but I worry that those posts would either get far too long, or be far too shallow (or maybe even both). –  Aaronaught Jun 26 '11 at 15:08
    
For a point/counterpoint, the topic would have to be rather narrow and focused. In fact, the authors of each piece would probably want to coordinate with each other before hand. But yeah, this is a question that needs a good answer before anything can happen - perhaps it should be split into its own question? –  Thomas Owens Jun 26 '11 at 17:17

A good starting point for the blog would be to take a few of the best questions on the site and explore them in more depth.

A couple of way this could be done spring to mind:

  • The asker expanding on the thinking behind the question and what they learnt from the answers.
  • The writer of the accepted answer expanding on their answer taking in any discussion points that came up.

Of course someone else could pick up the question and answers and use that.

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In addition to a group of regular contributors, you should probably also accept irregular submissions from the community. Maybe the core group of regular contributors could also act as an editorial review board? I'm in middle of getting a Master's degree at the moment, so I wouldn't be able to commit to a regular schedule (see my own blog for evidence), but I might be able to contribute occasionally if a topic on Programmers inspires me to write a post.

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I would hope to see this. Some way for anyone on Programmers to either take something they've written and publish it in a more visible location (with few exceptions, Programmers probably gets more hits than most people's personal sites) or write something professionally that they don't have a blog of their own to post on. I think these "drive by" submissions would be fantastic. –  Thomas Owens Jun 10 '11 at 18:04

How about people pitch ideas for posts on Meta and things that get up voted get "commissioned". You don't have to write the piece to pitch, just a brief synopsis of what you're thinking in bullet point form, people can comment (which may help inform the piece) and say whether they're interested.

I don't think that there should be a particular "line" on anything or a set group of contributors, if anything the opposite, it should be a chance to see the breadth of opinion on here.

They should just be a chance to people who are accepted as as honest, thoughtful contributors to the site to make a point that others might find interesting on a topic which fits with the board.

Think of them as answers to questions that haven't been asked yet.

And if anyone were interested I'd probably be interested in writing something, or at least trying and seeing how it came out, though I'm not 100% sure where I'll find the time.

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I actually like this. And for some of the other ideas, a community moderator could make a timely "question" here on meta for nominating questions of the week/month and people could coordinate off-line to propose point/counterpoint topics. I think this actually gives us the best of everything since the community chooses what they want to see. –  Thomas Owens Jun 28 '11 at 16:25
    
Please go ahead and create the question! –  user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 16:39
    
I think this is a fine idea. Perhaps create a [blog-post] tag and use it to group suggestions (answers can then be used for discussion / refinement). –  Shog9 Jun 28 '11 at 18:57
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I think initially, we would want people to write the entire post on meta for quality control. It's one thing to say "I want to write about X, Y, and Z": it's another to write a really great post about X, Y, and Z. –  user8 Jun 28 '11 at 19:18
    
@Mark - I think you should agree it in principal before you ask them to write the whole thing as it's a pretty hefty time commitment. I also think that the guidelines should be agreed in advance - for me they should be as lightweight as possible - that the post should be a potential answer to some hypothetical Programmers (not Meta) question which would survive (the test is that they have to write the question!), that it should be in good English and that it shouldn't be obscene, offensive or otherwise disrespectful. Other than that I think anything goes. –  Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 21:49
    
@Jon Because it's such a hefty time commitment, we'd want people to take the initiative and make that commitment upfront to demonstrate this is going to work. We can talk about what we want to write about, but it's very easy to say "yes that's a good idea" to something that's non-existent. –  user8 Jun 28 '11 at 22:00
    
@Mark - So you want them to make the commitment off the back of not even the remotest demonstration of interest? The idea of pitching and feedback is how every other area of writing and publishing from magazines to novels works, why do you think it's wrong for here? –  Jon Hopkins Jun 29 '11 at 8:36
    
@Jon I think this question shows there's a ton of interest in a blog; but I'm not suggesting there isn't a feedback mechanism, but I am suggesting we don't green-light posts without actually seeing them. That is, the workflow would be 1) Propose idea 2) Gauge interest in idea 3) Write draft 4) Get feedback and peer review on draft 5) Post gets placed on blog; instead of 1) Propose idea 2) Gauge interest in idea 3) Post on blog. That is, like the other publishing mechanisms you mention, the work is submitted to an editor (in our case, the community). –  user8 Jun 29 '11 at 8:45
    
@Mark - I disagree, the community should be the commissioning editor, not the editor. My view is that the pitch should be "Poster Z is going to write about topic X, covering A, B and C". People leave suggestions which the poster can include or not but if people say that's the article they want to see then the only reasons to reject it are poor quality (in terms of clarity, spelling), offensiveness or not meeting the brief. The site as a whole is built to find consensus, I think that the blog should aim at potentially more interesting, thought provoking articles that might be minority views. –  Jon Hopkins Jun 29 '11 at 8:58
    
@Jon I don't think we disagree: I agree with you on the purpose of the site and the aims of the blog. The only thing I'm suggesting is that posts are checked for all the things you say (poor quality, offensiveness, not meeting the brief) before it goes live, at least initially. –  user8 Jun 29 '11 at 9:01
    
@Mark - I was actually thinking the same thing. I think my main desire is that it embraces the breadth of views in the community rather than providing some sort of consensus position. I'd love to see two people with significantly different views on a position both blog on the same topic. –  Jon Hopkins Jun 29 '11 at 9:28

I would be willing to write for this blog, if I have anything to say about any of the topics. I would also be interested in cross-posting anything that I write to my personal blog if the rules allow for that (would need to look into it). The frequency at which I would be willing to write would depend on topics and my ability to cross-post.

For things that I would be interested in writing about, you can just take a look at my profile and see the kinds of questions I've asked/answered both here and on Stack Overflow. To summarize, I'm mostly interested in software engineering practices ("best practices", as some might say), process models/methodologies, software design and architecture, software quality, tools, project management, team leadership, and communication. I'm also pretty passionate about software engineering education and assessment of software developers (interviews, certifications, and so on).

In terms of content, I think we can just look at some of top tags here on the site. Posts about careers and jobs as software developers (ranging from finding and getting a job to the work environment and work conditions), learning and education, project management, productivity, processes and process models and methodologies, architecture, books, tools (version control, editors, programming languages), communication (written, verbal, presentations), and teamwork. There are probably more, but those stand out as the top topics posted about here.

However, that said, I am in the process of transitioning to a new full-time job, so my availability will be constrained by me moving and getting set up in a new place. My computers are usually the last thing packed and first thing unpacked, though.

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Advice: If you can force yourself to pack the computers first and unpack them last, the rest of the packing/unpacking goes a lot faster. :) –  Bill the Lizard Jun 10 '11 at 17:56
    
@Bill the Lizard It's hard, though. Well, easy to unpack them last if I don't have internet access. But they are both laptops, so they are trival to pack and throw in my car. –  Thomas Owens Jun 10 '11 at 17:59
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@BilltheLizard, that doesn't sound like much fun. ): –  Rebecca Chernoff Jun 10 '11 at 18:52

I think there's definitely some interest in starting a blog, but what we really need is someone to start shaping the specifics of what the blog will look like. We can say we want a blog and launch one, but we're currently really thin on the details of what a Programmers.SE blog would be about.

What I'd like to see is some demonstrable value to this endeavor: what would a really great post on this blog look like? How do we prevent it from being just another blog about programming (or programmers)? How do we determine who's going to write for this?

That is, we should be asking ourselves (and providing a cogent answer to):

How does a Programmers.SE blog make the Internet a better place?

So I think perhaps the next step is to come up with a couple of topics for the blog and flesh out actual sample posts about those topics.

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I agree with this, entirely. Unfortunately, I'll be temporarily dropping off the grid on Thursday since I'm moving on Friday. No idea when I'll have reliable Internet access again. But I'm watching this "question" and I'm going to jump right back into this as soon as I can. –  Thomas Owens Jun 28 '11 at 0:45

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