Interview with Daniel Tunkelang from Google about his blog “The Noisy Channel”

This week, instead of a review of a social media website, we have something different and hopefully equally interesting for you. In this post, I interviewed Dr. Daniel Tunkelang, a very prolific and influential blogger on information retrieval and the person who inspired “tunkrank.com” , about his experience with maintaining his popular blog The Noisy Channel. In this interview, Dr.Tunkelang talks about some advantages as well as challenges with curating his own blog. He also shares some useful insights about starting a blog and increasing the readership base. I especially like Tunkelang’s story about how one of his posts helped him reach a wider audience beyond the blogosphere.

As background, Daniel Tunkelang works at Google as a technical lead in the New York office. After graduating from MIT with degrees in Computer Science and Math and then completing a PhD at CMU, Dr.Tunkelang joined the founding team of Endeca, where he served as a Chief Scientist. In addition to his interests in information retrieval and information science, he also enjoys learning about social networks, decision theory, and behavioral finance.

Below is a transcript of the interview.

AG> Briefly tell us about your blog

TD> The Noisy Channel, which I’ve been publishing since 2008, focuses on how people interact with information. My main theme is that information retrieval techniques should bring human intelligence into the search process. I also blog about other search and social media topics that interest me.

AG> Who is the intended audience of your blog?

TD> Anyone interested in the topics I blog about! Granted, that’s a diverse audience. Some of my readers are information retrieval researchers who are helping promote the study of interaction in their communities. Others are practitioners building the next generation of information-seeking tools. And some are just intellectually curious.

AG>Why did you start blogging?

TD> I was chatting with a friend at a conference back in 2008 and he convinced me to start a blog. In his words: “It didn’t take much effort, he has a lot to say.” I hope he meant that as a compliment! But he was certainly right. I’m always bursting with ideas, and my blog offers an ideal channel to share them.

AG>What are some of the benefits that you have experienced as a result of maintaining your blog?

TD> (1) Expanding my professional network, (2) Building reputation and name-recognition and  (3) Influence: if you blog it, they will come!

AG> Can you give me an example of how your blog helped you reach out to the popular media or a wider audience beyond the blogosphere?

TD> A couple of years ago, I read about how people were measuring the authority of Twitter users based on follower counts. After writing some critical blog posts, I tried a more constructive approach: I proposed a Twitter authority measure based on attention scarcity, which my readers dubbed “TunkRank”. I posed its implementation as a challenge to readers, and Jason Adams responded by setting up http://tunkrank.com. The site has been a hits, and the TunkRank measure has been cited in scholarly research and the mainstream technology press.

AG>What do you see as the main challenges with maintaining your own blog?

TD> When I started blogging, I worried about running out of material. But I quickly found that the scarcest resource was my own time. Maintaining a blog is fun, but it’s hard work, especially on top of a demanding day job. I used to blog every other day, but now I try to maintain a cadence of weekly posts.

AG> What software/tools/services have you found most useful in maintaining and promoting your blog?

TD> I use WordPress and have been very happy with the basic software, as well as its collection of themes and plug-ins. I never used any tools to promote my blog, but I did make a concerted marketing effort early on. I emailed friends, co-workers, and even some total strangers whom I felt would be interested in what I had to say. I also made sure to engage anyone who commented on my blog, and to point people to other blogs when appropriate.

AG> Should more scholars start blogging? And why?

TD> Yes. As I hope my own example shows, blogging confers a variety of personal benefits. But scholars should blog for a more altruistic reason: to fulfill the fundamental scholarly mission of sharing knowledge.

I hope you enjoyed Dr. Tunkelang’s interview as much as I did. Please feel free to post a comment if you like to see more posts like this. Also if you have a suggestion as to whom we should interview for a future post, please let us know.