Social networking today is not going to look like social networking in a year from now. What is the role for OR given the ever-evolving social network landscape? They concluded that if you believe in operations research, you will find enough outlets to publicize OR. This issue and many others were discussed in a panel discussion at the INFORMS Annual Meeting on social networking. The panelists included Anna Nagurney, Wayne Winston, Aurelie Thiele and Mike Trick. It was the most fun I have ever had at a session, and I am indebted to the panelists for their wonderful insights.
All of the panelists are bloggers, and blogging is a great outlet for both publicizing OR as well as educating the general public. We continue to blog because it’s fun. Aurelie also mentioned that she was motivated to start blogging in order to address the comments made anonymously during the peer review process.
Blogging is certainly constrained by social expectations (such as keeping posts reasonably short), but it allows us to write about an eclectic mix of topics in the same place while gathering feedback from our readers. It doesn’t feel so constrained, since we could break up a long, contemplative essay into several shorter blog posts with little effort. Blogs can adapt and change with us, and they have truly served OR well. In the foreseeable future, blogs appear that they will be the social network du jour for operations research.
One of the major themes that we discussed was credibility. Credibility in the blogosphere is different than credibility in the classroom. On the blogosphere, no one cares if you are a full professor, but being able to make logical, linear arguments to make a point buys you a lot of credibility. Wayne Winston argued that if you can step readers through your argument using simple algebra, even better (his blog post on Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th down last year is an excellent example of a simple blog post that oozes credibility). Credibility came up throughout the discussion as we discussed why we do not use “LOL” in tweets and how we are often asked to comment on work that has not been peer reviewed. In the latter case, we may feel the need to educate our readers about being able to recognize more credible sources when they read the news.
Panelists had mixed feelings about twitter. We all seemed to prefer blogging to twitter, since it is hard to limit ourselves to 140 characters (we are all professors, after all), but we noted that twitter has its advantages. Twitter is good at building a brand, generating an audience for our blogs, and for reading other articles, but it’s not a tool that should be used in isolation of other social networking tools. Both Aurelie and I prefer the twitter links to actual news articles to generic RSS feeds, and we both read more news using twitter.
None of panelists were too keen on LinkedIn. Wayne Winston expressed his desire for something to come along and destroy LinkedIn, since it seems like it could do many things better. The consensus was that LinkedIn is too transactional and doesn’t offer many social network benefits. It reposts blog and twitter posts, where LinkedIn accepts comments from other LinkedIn users that are not fed back into the blog. This leads to disjoint sets of user comments to the same blog post. I was relieved, since I thought that I was the only one who didn’t really get LinkedIn (but if you can teach me, join my network and show me the way!).
In the end, we all hoped that there would be a “linkedIn Killer” that would do what LinkedIn is trying to do but better. This network would not only link CVs but blogs, white papers, essays, editorials, and paper summaries. The network would ideally be organized according to social network (“friends”) and according to topic. On a related note, panelists felt that a few TED talks about OR or analytics would help to publicize our field while contributing to a collection of talks that will probably outlast most of the social networking tools we are using.
There are certainly things that we can do better as OR ambassadors to the blogosphere and other social networks. The benefits for a strong OR social network. It’s a work in progress. We are evolving as are the tools we are using. In the end, we hope to better publicize our field, recruit the next generation of OR researchers, and educate the general public on timely issues using math.
External links to other bloggers on the panel (and other bloggers), in true Roshoman fashion: