Peter Krautzberger on the web

Happy 2nd Birthday, Mathblogging.org or My 136 favorite mathematical blogs

Mathblogging.org is nearing its 2nd birthday. We’ve passed the second anniversary of the domain registration and my own blog post is having it’s second anniversary soon. Plenty of reason to write a post about this.

We (Fred, Felix and I) recently decided to put the Mathblogging.org Weekly Picks on hold. It was a bit of a sad moment for us, but for something we never planned on doing, it’s been quite a ride these past 18 months and I’d like to think we’ve helped people a little to get a peek into this living, breathing chaos that is the mathematical blogoshpere.

The thing is: we are not able to do a good job anymore. With 691 feeds aggregated it is very hard to fulfil our promise of “reading all blog posts that go through mathblogging.org”. Additionally, in the last few months a couple of changes caused the Weekly Picks to be done mostly by yours truly alone – making this promise even less realistic and even more biased. For a while we could compensate by saying “only a few categories each week”, but even that is outside of what we can manage now.

So we turn a page.

If all goes well, we will re-launch in a few weeks, which will allow us to invite people to become editors, allowing us to aggregate interesting posts right on the front page. We’re still looking for potential editors (read: people who read too many math blogs and are opinionated). But in fact, quite a number of mathematical bloggers are doing an amazing job already, though either separate or in small collectives.

A while back I tweeted that the best thing this year in mathematical blogging has been the launch of The Aperiodical. Well, they do have competition to this title. For example, mathbabe.org’s Cathy O’Neill has established herself as one of the premier “cross-culture” math bloggers after blogging for little over a year. Also, right from the bat (a year ago next week), Math Munch has been an awesome resource of weekly posts, so Anna Weltman, Paul Salomon and Justin Lanier are race for that immaterial title race of mine, too.

Add to that work of God Plays Dice’s Michael Lugo with his weekly links and the grand old lady of math podcasts Math/Maths with its weekly math news – and you’ll see that nobody really needs our Weekly Picks anymore. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, you could follow an amazing series of posts thanks to the initiative by Sam Shah and Kate Nowak to create a math teacher blogger initiation which us 200 new math bloggers (!) – and giving mathblogging.org a slew of new blogs to include. Their work is, quite frankly, amazing.

The funny thing is, when we launched mathblogging.org we only reluctantly added a teacher/education category. Sure, we loved Dan Meyer’s blog dy/dan but we were all researchers, so teacher bloggers were not our natural focus. It didn’t take me long to completely change my mind. There are still some things that strike me as odd (say, some homeschooling blogs) but then again there is much more that strikes me as odd about research bloggers these days.

I’m amazed by the grassroots movement that is mathematical teacher bloggers. The way these people have built (and keep building) a strong online community, exchanging ideas, materials and technology, supporting each other and boosting outreach on a scale that research mathematicians could only dream of. Are research mathematician bloggers even aware of this effort? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no.

Research bloggers in mathematics face one major issue: a blessing that is also a curse. Namely, we have – unmatched by other sciences – a high number of highest-level researchers blogging (relative to the size of our research community and blogoshpere anyway). Terry Tao and Tim Gowers are probably the most well known, but I would count about 5-10 belonging to that “inner circle”. This is a blessing as especially Tao and Gowers prove time and again that the very greatest researchers are extraordinary communicator and teachers.
Unfortunately, it turns out that having this truly elite group of bloggers does not help researchers at all to embrace blogging as a medium for their academic and popular outreach. On the one hand, young researchers (who are more likely to pick up this type of mathematical writing) are often intimidated. Yes, there are a few grad student blogs and yes, the group behind the Secret Blogging Seminar has turned from grad students to tenure-track and tenured folk. But far more young researchers react with something along the lines of “I can’t blog on the level of Terry Tao!”. (When I’m in a sour mood, I’ll reply: Is this why you went into research? Because you asked yourself if you could do it on the level of Terry Tao and answered “sure, no biggie”?) But it’s hard to underestimate how intimidating the situation is.

The other negative effect I noticed is curious: mathematical researcher bloggers can’t even fight the good fight against old fashioned researchers and institutions (say, in tenure evaluations). Where science bloggers are building a strong community to support each other throughout the academic career path, fighting the St. Kerns of their disciplines every step of the way, in mathematics you’ll encounter a more wicked opposition, a soft wall: blogging is great! Terry Tao does it. Are you Terry Tao? Aha. (followed by snicker or evil laugh)

This would not be a problem if there were at least some influential researcher bloggers like Bora (nobody is like Bora!), actively promoting blogging as a most serious researcher activity. Instead, the influential math researcher bloggers do not give the impression as if they were interested in getting anyone to embrace blogging (yes, John Baez wrote a column once, I know). In fact, I have the impression that they hardly read other blogs outside their small, elite collective. To be honest, I find this highly disappointing (these are our scientific leaders, after all) but, sadly, not surprised.

Back to the second part of the title of this post. Since the Weekly Picks are soon to be retired, I’ve had to re-arrange my reading habits. You see, I used to read the mathblogging.org feeds – simple as that. Now that the Weekly Picks have taken a leave of absence, I don’t have to read all the blogs anymore and I found myself not reading any math blogs anymore!

So I grabbed the opml file that we kindly provide at mathblogging.org and imported it into Google reader, filtering it down to 136 blogs that I either really like or feel like I should keep an eye on (say, Terry Tao’s posts; I don’t enjoy them as a I used to yet I need to at least glance over it). You can find the correpsonding opml below, if you care.

These ~136 blogs will give you some overview over what the mathematical blogosphere has to offer. But not that much – it’s fully and totally biased (if you want to force me to check your blog, go add it to ScienceSeeker where I’m an editor for mathematics). You can, for example, see my clear affinity for Italian math bloggers. Or you can see that I don’t care that much for tumlbr-rebloggers (it’s no that they are bad, but it’s too much noise).

It’s worthwhile to point out that the international mathematical blogoshpere is not as well-represented on mathblogging.org as we’d like. This has many reasons (e.g., a lot of people blog on English no matter their first language), but certainly one is the lack of ability on our side, the mathblogging.org editors. Spanish, French and Italian are roughly doable (with or without google translate), but, e.g., languages out of Asia or Africa are hard to deal with for us – and we don’t find them as easily (and honestly, we don’t seek out blogs that much anymore).

It’s strange however, how few blogger we have from France and Germany. Maybe France suffers from Images des Mathématiques being such an extraordinary online magazine. If you read nothing else, Images is likely enough. But it doesn’t explain the absence. Just looking at the UK gives you a different example. While you have big, semi-traditional projects like +maths and other projects out of the Millenium Mathematics Project, the UK has by far strongest local math blogger community I’ve seen anywhere – and in addition a strong local math culture with Maths Jams. (And, as mentioned, the fantastic The Aperiodical and the HistSci Hulk himself, the Renaissance Mathematicus.)

German mathematical blogging, I’m afraid, is pitiful to behold (and of course I’m utterly biased). While Thilo Kuessner still holds down the fort at the Scienceblogs.de, that’s about it. There aren’t even that many German bloggers writing in English. (Well, Guenther Ziegler blogs – cross-posting something once a year. Not that I blame him – he’s busy doing a lot of other awesome stuff. But he’s not a blogger.) And how many German mathematicians are on twitter? Less than there are bloggers…

We do list a few Spanish-speaking math bloggers and you’ll find some really good ones in my list. I’m sure there are more and I hope we can get more once we upgrade mathblogging.org. It’s much better than French and German blogging (and it’s not just Spain), then again given the number of native Spanish speakers in the world, it’s still very very small – but at least there it’s worth reading. Oh, and Italy is surprisingly strong in terms of the mathematical blogosphere, ranging from online versions of print columns to weird creative bloggers.

So there you have it, kind of a “state of the math blogosphere”. It only took me two years to write it (even though Martin Fenner kindly offered us a guest post at PLoS blogs many moons ago).


And now, the annotated list of the blogs I do read, most of which I simply love to read.

Mind you there are a number of blogs missing from that list. For example, all of Booles’ Rings since those posts have a different status for me personally. But if you ever needed an infusion of blogs, here you go.

The OPML file (on Dropbox)


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