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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Blog has been accessed One Million times

This blog has been accessed one million times. Felt good, though I can't say if this is just a satisfaction of ego, or a feeling that perhaps I have had impact. There is no impact factor for blogs, you see. Of course, in this day and age, when startups become valuable only after they have had several million customers, a billion transactions, a trillion rupees exchanging hand, having a blog accessed a million times may mean nothing to most people, but for me it is a time to look back and reflect on the journey.

I started writing long time ago on a newsgroup called soc.culture.indian during my PhD days. When I joined the faculty of IIT Kanpur, there was no easy way to write on public forums. Our Internet access was rather poor. So anything I wanted to share, it had to be on internal mailing lists and internal newsgroups. That means I started focusing on IITK issues.

That changed in 2006. I took one semester off to travel around the country. I visited about 30-35 technical institutes, including many NITs, state government colleges, and private and deemed universities. I would talk to students, faculty and senior administrators to get a feel for what is going on in the space of technical education. I must have interacted with about 10,000 students, about 500 faculty members, and about 100 Heads, Deans, Directors, VCs, etc. At this stage, I decided to start putting my views and ideas on my website. Somewhat earlier, I had already started writing about JEE Counseling page every year on my website, which had started resulting in several hundred emails coming to me during the JEE counseling period.

Around 2008, someone suggested that having a blog is better than writing on my website, since that would allow people to write comments and have a discussion. I started my blog with a single posting in 2008 proposing a very different admission process for IITs. In 2009, it was only marginally better with 3 posts, all of them related to engineering college admissions. I was Director of LNMIIT from 2008 to 2010 and did not have much time for blogging. I started writing more frequently after returning to IIT Kanpur in June, 2010. Most of my blogging has been about education in general, and technical education in particular. However, I am a big fan of Indian Railways, and have written occasionally about them. I also used to write things which were specifically about IIT Kanpur, but a few years ago, I moved them to another blog, Inside the campus. And of course, a few personal things which I have now moved to yet another blog, Stories from my life.

This blog becomes very active every summer. Of course, I have more time in the summer and I can write more. But it is also that since I have written a lot about how to choose an engineering college, what to do in JEE counseling, what are the good CSE departments, etc., there are many new comments, a lot more discussions, and so on. The blog became really active in 2012 when there was a proposal to change the process of admission to IITs and other engineering colleges. I would consider fighting a stupid admission process as the second most important contribution of this blog after giving admission related advice.

That fight resulted in something very interesting. We could avoid any significant change to the IIT admission process. However, we could not save the NIT admission process. And I realized one thing.  People care about NITs only after they fail to get admission to IITs. If you tell 12th class students or their parents that there is something wrong with NITs, they simply don't care. The hope at that time is that we will get into IITs, so what do we care about NITs. And, of course, next year, not many will get admission to IITs, and suddenly there will be questions on what can be done now. And this pattern repeats so frequently that I am amazed by it. Of course, the fact that IITs have far greater autonomy than NITs means that for something wrong with IITs, there will be people within IITs willing to fight it out, but for something wrong with NITs, there won't be an internal voice. So it is extremely difficult to raise issues faced by NITs and other engineering colleges.

If I look at the most popular articles on this blog, most of them do relate to education. However, I am surprised to find my article on Premium Tatkal scheme of Indian Railways in the list of all time favorites. Given that most readers come here to read about education, why is this blog in the most popular list is not clear to me.

Blogging has made me friends with a lot of people, and my readers have generally treated me with a lot of affection. I get lots of emails thanking me for my blog, which unfortunately I am unable to respond every time. But it has certainly not been all positives. I have received threats. Senior administrators in IIT Kanpur have been approached to ask me to stop blogging citing some government rule against it. Thankfully, IIT Kanpur has always been very supportive of my right to express myself.

I keep getting suggestions from my friends on how I can improve this blog. One of the most common suggestion is that I should write smaller articles. I try to, but I also notice that some of my longest articles have the highest readership. My writing style involves guessing questions from my readers and answering them even before they are asked as comments. This has also been my style of teaching, and I can't help it. I am so used to it. Of course, even with that style, there is a scope for writing concisely, and I will try to do that as much as possible.

One of the things that I have often followed in my blogs is that I should never post an article immediately after writing. Normally, I would wait for 12-24 hours before posting an article, but there have been occasions when I have taken 3-4 weeks between writing the first draft and posting the final one. I also tend to do a lot of home work, ask questions from relevant people, show the draft to some people before anything important is posted. (Of course, all this does not happen all the time.) I do take blogging very seriously.

After so many years of using, I do find that some features missing from it. One is about spamming. I get several spams as comments on this blog. I hope Google can one day figure out a way to categorize advertisements as spams and delete them automatically, or at least allow me to block those who try to write those ads as comments. Second feature I would love to have is to limit access to individual articles. Currently, I can limit access to the entire blog to a set of users. But what I really want is to provide limited access to my new article to a few persons who could comment on it and it can be improved before making it public. All older articles should remain public at all times. But right now, I have to do cut and paste to send the draft article to friends for their review. That is not very efficient.

At the end, I want to thank everyone who has ever commented on any article, shared it, sent an email about it, or just simply read it. The mission of this blog is to improve the quality of technical education in India, and together we can do it.

Wishing all my Indian readers a very happy independence day, and since this is being posted on the I day, here are the first few lines from my favorite speech given at the very moment India became independent:

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

Jai Hind.


Prashant said...

This is one of the four or five blogs I keep checking on every now and then.
It is amazing how very few academics in India blog and discuss their thoughts in public forums, given that they should ideally be the ones leading debates and discourse. This blog has also been the only channel via which I have ended up communicating and discussing with a professor from IIT, in a way which did not happen in the four years while I was studying in one :)

Tarun Kumar said...

Sir, I have been a regular reader of your blog since 2013 (the year I gave JEE). I really don't mind the length of posts so please make sure the longer ones keep coming.Regarding the features I agree blogger is rather limited.I would have suggested Wordpress for someone starting a new blog as it has all the features you require but obviously that would not work in your case.

Keep blogging :)