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Windows on Theory
Posted by Rob Knies
As “news” increasingly has morphed into “conversation” over the past decade, the blog has become one of the pre-eminent platforms fostering that discussion. It’s undeniably true, whether you’re examining political dynamics in Syria, college basketball tournaments in the United States, or the latest chartbuster from Adele. Whatever your interest, there’s a blog—or a dozen—to cater to it.That’s true in the world of computer-science research, too. Just ask Omer Reingold, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley.Reingold’s interests focus on computer-science theory, and a couple of months ago, he and his lab colleagues were exploring the launching of a blog to test the theory waters. A handful of weeks later, they’re quite happy they did so, given the initial response to Windows on Theory.—a name chosen for its Microsoft connection, not because the blog is focused solely on the Windows operating system.“We are not the first theory blog,” Reingold stipulates, “and it is already clear that blogs are turning into an important part of our community, because they enable faster dissemination of ideas and a forum of debating topics of interest to the community. The idea of opening an additional blog came from looking around me at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, as well as the other Microsoft Research labs, and realizing that I am surrounded by an incredible, extremely diverse group of theoreticians. I realized how interesting it could be for me to hear what they think is important.”As Reingold mulled the prospect, the more universal nature of the blog’s appeal became apparent.“If it could be so enlightening to me,” he says, “I thought that others could gain from it, as well. I hope that because the editors of our blog have different research interests and different perspectives on science and on our field, our blog can better serve and represent the general community.”That, Reingold says, became apparent early on.“In our first month,” he recalls, “we had discussions on quite a diverse set of issues, from various technical topics, through a discussion of the culture of publication in our field, to something dear to my heart: the subjective aspects of science stemming from the fact that science is performed by scientists—things like the motivations for doing science or the choice of topics.“To my surprise, we already seem to have reached audiences beyond our relatively small community. For example, our post on the right interpretation society should give mathematical notions of privacy seems to have received quite a bit of attention.”So what’s next?“In the next couple of months, I expect we will have posts by at least 10 different editors, and the list is growing,” Reingold says. “A year from now, I hope that the blog will be a virtual gathering place for the theoreticians of Microsoft Research, for the theory-of-computing community in general, and, hopefully, also a bridge to wider audiences. By then, the blog should function as a fully distributed, democratic group blog with a rich, fluent flow of posts.”Intrigued? Subscribe to the Windows on Theory RSS feed.