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September 11, 2007

Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

Posted by David Corfield

Another Fields Medallist has started a blog – Gowers’s Weblog.

In his first post, you can find out all about the Princeton Companion to Mathematics, which he is editing. You can sign in to read a sample of the articles. Next, in the second post, he starts a discussion on how to set up a wiki for exposition.

Posted at September 11, 2007 1:03 PM UTC

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8 Comments & 1 Trackback

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

Thanks, David, for providing this link.

One comment: I think the blogosphere would be a better place if Trackbacks were used more consistently.

These trackbacks are crucial for cross-blog discussion – which we are seeing here (concerning research Wikis) and which we are likely to see more of as the number of blogs increases.

So, it’s a pity that, even though Tim Gower in his entry on expository math wikis does link to the related discussion on the nn-Café, no trackback to that discussion is issued. That makes it less probable for people interested in the discussion here to find the discussion there which they might also be interested in.

I am not entirely sure about all the technology at work in the background. I believe, if I recall and understood correctly, that Jacques Distler has inserted by hand into the nn-Café the functionality which makes the software issue trackbacks automatically, whenever it detects that an author has inserted a hyperlink into some entry.

That’s good. Hopefully in the future this becomes the default functionality of all blogging software.

In the extreme case, I imagine it would be both useful and maybe desireable to have a discussion (similar to those discussions in newspapers where authors reply to other author’s comment articles in a later issue) not in just in the thread section of a blog, but distributed over the entries of the participant’s blogs.

We already had this kind of situation before once in a while. But it can only work usefully and efficiently for the readers if trackbacks are issued consistently.

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on September 11, 2007 1:35 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

Urs, I’ve just read what you wrote, and it’s not quite clear to me whether the thing that wasn’t done was something I didn’t do or something that somebody else didn’t do. If the former, then I’d just say that I’m very new to this game, and don’t yet know about any features that aren’t utterly basic. In particular, I had not heard of trackbacks and still don’t really know what they are. But I’m eager to learn about any blog features that make a genuine difference to the usefulness of the medium.

Posted by: Tim Gowers on September 12, 2007 11:06 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

Tim, a trackback to a blog entry is much like a comment to that entry, only that instead of a full comment text it contains a link to another entry which refers to the former one.

So it’s a way for an entry to act like a comment to another entry.

To see an example, go for instance to John’s entry Higher Gauge Theory and Elliptic Cohomology. Notice that in the comment section it says, currently, “nn-Comments and 1 Trackback”.

Scroll all the way down the comment section. At the end you see a little colored field saying “Read the post Lie nn-algebra cohomology” and containing an excerpt of that entry.

This is an entry which I wrote in reply to John’s entry. The trackback tells readers that something like an “extended comment” to John’s entry can be found in another entry.

As I said, here at the nn-Café such trackbacks are issued automatically, whenever one entry links to another.

But usually your blog software allows you to issue these trackbacks by hand. If so, there should be a little edit pane somewhere on your admin interface which reads in trackback URLs.

The trackback URL of some entry is the URL which the trackback ping needs to be sent to, in order for the trackback to appear below that entry. Here at the nn-Café these URLs can be found at the end of each entry, right before the comment section begins: there is a little box which says “TrackBack URL for this entry: …”

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on September 12, 2007 11:42 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

To see what a trackback looks like, see for example this post at Terry Tao’s blog. The first two comments are trackbacks. If you click on them (or rather, the clickable bit to the left of the actual comment text) you’ll be taken to another blog where TT’s post has been mentioned. That way you could join in the discussion of TT’s post at other blogs too.

(As it happens, the two blog posts linked to didn’t engender any discussion. But of course they might have done.)

You can tell that those first two comments are trackbacks by the fact that the comment consists of a quoted piece of text, starting and ending with “[…]”, and also by the fact that where the name of the author would usually be, there’s some kind of link. Personally I’d prefer it if it actually said “trackback” somewhere.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on September 12, 2007 11:44 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere


I think it should be easy for you to enable trackbacks. If you go to “My Dashboard” on your blog, then to “Options”, then to “Discussion”, you should see a checkbox entitled ‘Attempt to notify any Weblogs linked to from the article (slows down posting.)’.

If you tick that box and then click “Update Options”, it should cause trackbacks to be issued when you include links in future posts.

Posted by: Robin on September 12, 2007 12:50 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

Thanks very much. I’ll try out this simple solution first and see how it goes.

Posted by: Tim Gowers on September 12, 2007 2:47 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

Oddly enough, I’ve just had a look and it seems that that option was already ticked. But I played around with the options a day or two ago, so perhaps it wasn’t ticked before – I can’t quite remember. Anyhow, I hope I’ve got trackbacks happening automatically now.

Posted by: Tim Gowers on September 12, 2007 2:54 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Tim Gowers Joins the Blogosophere

In any event, I continue to be impressed with the character of professional mathematicians - the academic weblogs are enriching my undergraduate education in exciting and profound ways.

Thank you to all,

From all.

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