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How does iMechanica relate to Applied Mechanics Blogs?

Zhigang Suo's picture

In January 2006, with the encouragement of the Executive Committee of the ASME Applied Mechanics Division, several volunteers initialed Applied Mechanics News (AMN), a blog of news and views of interest to the international community of Applied Mechanics, accompanied by sister blogs covering research and researchers, conferences, and jobs. Within weeks, AMN topped the list on Google, Yahoo and MSN for the query of applied mechanics news. By late August 2006, the four sister blogs had a total of over 65,000 page loads, and on average over hundred unique visitors every day, from all over the world.

The Internet has enabled AMN to be international and inter-organizational. The news can be updated continuously by many volunteers. Some of the initial thoughts of AMN was collected in the entry Applied Mechanics in the Age of Web 2.0.

AMN is hosted by a free service, Blogger. The service is easy to get started, but does not serve our needs well. For example, people cannot become contributors by themselves, and Blogger offers no tagging. The contributors cannot upload files, and the resolution for images is low. The software is proprietary and allows limited customization. Also, Blogger is not accessible in China, a country that has perhaps more mechanicians than the US and Europe combined. The platform of Blogger has severely restricted the growth of AMN. The experience of AMN has taught us in our adolescent months, but we have grown.

We are migrating AMN to iMechanica, a far more effective many-to-many communication platform, with the following initial features:

  • Without signing in, everyone can read every entry.
  • Everyone can sign in.
  • Upon signing in, each user has a blog.
  • Moderators may promote new entries to the front page of iMechanica.
  • A user can subscribe to the RSS feeds of the front page, individual blogs, individual tags, and more sophisticated combinations.

These and other features can be customized. We will experiment with various options of moderation. While iMechanica will never replace conferences, it will enable people who do not go to the same conferences to communicate with each other. In particular, we will make a special effort to bring industrial practitioners and students into this online community.

The initial features are adopted with particular emphasis on ease of use. If you know how to send an email, you know how to post a blog entry. So why not join iMechanica today to explore the brave new world of the Internet.

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Rui Huang's picture

One thing I learned from Modeling Place is that students are often shy to post at the beginning, especially when they know (or think) many important persons will read their post. I had to push a little and convinced them it is mainly for internal communications within the group - very few others would care. Over time they are feeling comfortable posting there. Now, with iMechanica, the world is wide open, and scary. Even I have to think carefully before posting anything. So I am thinking: maybe I should keep Modeling Place as it is now, where we bring up anything interesting from inside and outside the group. On the other hand, we participate in iMechanica by bring the good stuff from our group to share with the larger community. In a sense, the local, smaller blog serves as a filter, while iMechanica serves the big family that we belong to. 

RH

Xi Chen's picture

Rui, your suggestions are excellent. My students also have the same concerns.

First, we need to convince the students about the advantage of iMechanica over blogger, which is the much increased popularity and visibility. With their own photos uploaded, they could quickly introduce themselves into the mechanics community even if they do not post anything. Whenever they post some valueable information, it may be promoted to the front page and seen by hundreds of people, which could be considered as an honor for them. Moreover, with the powerful tag function, the students could easily find people working in similar areas and start to collaborate in research, as well as to build up their social network. Zhigang is also considering to add the "homepage" or "resume" function into the individual blogs. All these features are very useful for the career development of the students, especially for those who are looking for jobs or ambitious.

Even for "shy" students who do not wish their post to be seen by the public, they could still contribute to iMechanica by doing the following: 1) Post useful information such as job openings, conference, biography of mechanicians, recommending a textbook, etc., which would not cause any controversy. 2) Write something about their own research or just some opinion, with a tag that belongs exclusively to their own group, e.g. chen group or huang group -- this still keeps the student staying in a relatively small circle that is similar to the modeling place. In fact, Zhigang has recently disabled the "latest post" function on the sidebar of the front page, which is very useful to "protect" the "shy" students. If the new post written by the student is not promoted to the front page or the research page, that post is of equal status as those in the modeling place, and the student does not need to worry about anything. Once the student gains more confidence, he or she could start to add more tags to the post and thus make it more visible to people working in similar areas.

I fully agree with Zhigang's view that iMechanica is an ideal platform for everybody to communicate and contribute. The success of such platform relies on everybody's contribution and any contribution (big or small) counts. We certainly do not want to force the students to contribute, but we could encourage them to think about what they could do for the community as well as how to make themselves visible to the community -- with its interactive BBS-type of forum, iMechanica is much more efficient to get to know other people than attending conference, and it costs nothing.

So I would encourage my "shy" students to first draw more people to iMechanica, which is also a critical contribution. I would ask the "shy" ones to begin by posting non-controversial stuff and let them to get used to iMechanica gradually. Once they become the more "ambitious" students, they could start to introduce their research and opinion to the community, and to communicate with others working in similar areas. I am also considering to ask several ambitious undergraduate students to join iMechanica and to bring more diversity.

Zhigang Suo's picture

I've just added a feature that enables everyone to create a homepage in his or her iMech account. The idea came about in discussions with several people, including Zak Stone, Zhen Zhang, Teng Li and Xi Chen.  Like most other features in "my account", this feature is optional.  You do it at your own pleasure.  

To edit your account, first login and click "my account" on the top-left corner of the page.  Then lick the "edit" tab and then "my profile" tab.  At the bottom of this page, find a rich-text editing window labeled "Additional information".  You can put in any additional information about you that you'd like to share with others.

The rich-text editor is Web-based.  If you leave the page without submitting it, your writing is lost.  So, hit submit as frequently as you can.  Alternatively, edit your homepage using a Desktop editor, such as MS Word, and then paste into iMechanica.  

Xi Chen has explained some of the benefits to fill up "my account".  It helps to get a social network started among mechanicians of all ages and across all fields.

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