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Why do people become registered users of iMechanica?

Zhigang Suo's picture

The number of registered users of iMechanica is approaching 3000.  This sustained growth has been surprising to many, considering that iMechanica was launched less than a year ago, in September 2006, that iMechanica uses an off-the-shelf open-source software, Drupal, and that everyone can read everything without registration.  Why have so many people registered?  There might be many reasons, such as

  1. To post anything in iMechanica, whether a blog entry or a comment, a writer has to register for a free account.  He has published papers in journals, and given talks at conferences.  Posting on iMechanica is just another way to promote the subject and enhance his reputation.  Why not?  iMechanica is free and has a lot of readers.
  2. A graduate student has a question, and would like a know how other mechanicians think about it.  To post the question, he needs to register. 
  3. A reader likes what she reads, and would like to see iMechanica succeed and becomes a registered user.  The more readers iMechanica has, the more quality entries it will attract.  Why not?  Registration is free, and only takes 18 seconds.  She will never receive a single mass email from iMechanica.     

Given these reasons, why not even more people become registered users?  For a while, iMechanica has seen a linear growth, about 10 new registered users per day.  Why wasn't the growth exponential?  There can be many reasons, such as

  1. Many mechanicians still don't know about iMechanica.  If you like iMechanica, send an email to your friends, or talk to them when you meet.  There are many other ways that you can help to promote iMechanica
  2. Many people feel uncomfortable about posting on a web site.  They might think that it is immodest to talk about their own work online.   This concern seems to be unnecessary.  Mechanicians have long engaged in self-promotion by publishing papers in journals and giving talks at conferences.  What's so different about posting an entry on a professional web site?  A case may be made that every paper published anywhere is an advertisement.
  3. Many people feel that they have no time.  Time is a scarce commodity.  If you don't see the value of iMechanica, taking 18 seconds to register for a free account is a waste of time.  Perhaps most mechanicians believe that iMechanica is worth 18 seconds of their time.  The question is how much more time iMechanica is worth to you.  Should you spend 5 minutes to comment on someone's post?  Should you spend 10 minutes to post an entry to tell people about your recently published papers?  (After all, you have just spent several days and $1500 at a conference to tell people about the paper.)  Should you spend even more time to post your lecture notes?

I'd love to learn about your thoughts on these.


yoursdhruly's picture

Prof. Suo,

I can speak for myself and say that as a graduate student working in mechanics, I feel happy that there is a place on the web which I can be a part of and relate to. iMechanica has been fantastic in that regard, and I can say without a doubt that I have learnt a lot from browsing through the pages here.

I think the reasons you have hit upon are indeed the key ones. Yet, I think it must be divided into two groups of people: the graduate students and the fresh graduates vs. the seasoned academicians and industry/research folk. The former arguably have more time and almost definitely spend more time surfing the web, but may not know about iMechanica or (more likely) feel uncomfortable posting. The latter may not see the value in spending time, as you rightly bring out in point 3. Graduate students are used to their advisors proofing (almost) everything that is to be read by the outside world. The thought that Professors and  other people that we all hold in very high esteem may read what we write can be intimidating, I know it is for me.

I really can't speak for faculty/industry members, and so will limit my suggestion to the student community: in my opinion, iMechanica must exploit graduate student power/time/enthusiasm. These are the folk who will take iMechanica into the future and encourage their students/peers to do so. For this, I think a "student chapter" will help. Just the way iMechanica has moderators/managers, a group of students should get together and setup a plan: even if one student from each school were to post iMechanica flyers on their department notice boards, I imagine more students would know about iMechanica and join. Many of them will stay long after they are not students anymore, and carry on the good work that you and others have started. If this sounds like a good idea, I will happily take the initiative in this responsibility.

Thank you. 

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Dhruv:

Thank you very much of your comments.  Your suggestion of exploiting graduate student power/time/enthusiasm is significant.  The suggestion reminds me of an earlier thread of discussion.  I hope more people will join in to discuss so that we have a specific plan to go forward. 

Mahdi Kazemzadeh's picture


 Dear Prof. Suo & Dhruv;

I believe that now in iMechanica students have the majority but a silent one! All the time I was thinking about a practical solution. Four months ago, I posted a comment and asked from students to join us in iMechanica in order to initiate a section or a group. I am so pleased that you have the same ideas; I really appreciate your opinion and consideration about how we can be more efficient.

I do agree that one of the most significant points that prevents students to post their comments or mention their opinions, is the range of knowledge. Having this students section, they will be prepared for their later tasks and even it will be easier to write their comments. I know posting a comment as a student to one of the scientists or professors post is a challenging work, at least for me, but we can start from our section; improve ourselves and as a consequence initiate some new ideas.

The academics in iMechanica try to help students in any order and that is the point which will make other students interested to join us.   

Dear Dhruv;

 would you please read my suggestions in the posts that I had sent and let me know your idea. I don’t pick a definite one because in all my latest posts and comments, I have endeavoured to propose a plan for students section.I am ready to contribute in any plan or idea that you will have in order to build up this section.

I suggest that we will be in contact via email and then we can post a Blog about concluded options. Having Prof. Suo supervision, we can ask other students to contribute in this plan. Please feel free to contact me, I will send an email to you as well; we might discuss our plans later in a forum here so others can propose their solutions.


Mahdi Kazemzadeh

yoursdhruly's picture

Dear Mahdi,
I was happy to read your comments and to learn that there has already been a small initiative in this regard. Let us take this discussion off this thread and onto the old one you had participated in, the link Prof. Suo gave above . I will be in touch with you through this thread and via email soon, once I read through the thread and absorb it.

If you are reading this and are a student, please join us at the thread linked above. 



Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Mahdi:

You are right about graduate students being the silent majority.   A lore of collaborative web sites is that about a few percent of registered users are active content contributors.  iMechanica seems to follow this lore:  5% of 3000 registered users translates to 150 active content contributors.  The number 150 seems to be too small to realize the second mission statement of iMechanica:  to pave a way to evolve all knowledge of mechanics on the Internet.  We can do two things to increase the number of active contributors, by increasing the total number of the registered users, or by converting the silent majority.

Both you and Dhruv have raised a concern that seems common among graduate students:  students are not used to expression their opinions on technical matters.  The same concern appeared in the first thread of discussion on iMechanica initiated by Rui Huang.  It would be great you and your fellow students can discuss this issue and come up a plan for iMechanica to address this issue.  Meanwhile I'd like to list several low-barrier ways to contribute.

  • Ask a question.  A question puzzles you, and you don't find a satisfactory answer by talking to people around you, or by looking into the textbooks available to you, or by searching on the Internet.  You can post the question to one of the Forums.   An example of such a question is about fracture criteria. Asking a question is a form of active learning.
  • Answer a question.  For example, in the forum Ask iMechanica, quite a few questions are unanswered.  You can try to answer one of them.  You can help a fellow mechanician, and you can also clarify your own thoughts and practice the skill of communication.
  • Direct a question to an expert.  If a question posed on iMechanica interests you, and you are unsure that you have the answer, you can ask people around you, or send an email to an expert.  Once you find a satisfactory answer, you can post it on iMechanica.
  • Add a reference.  You can always add a reference to a thread of discussion.  The reference can be in the form of a hyperlink to a web site, a citation of a book or a journal paper.  When I posted a paper on elastic dielectric on iMechanica, people pointed out several very relevant papers.  The subject was new to me, and I was grateful for the help.

There must be many other low-barrier ways to become active contributors.  It would be good that people can talk about these ways.  

yoursdhruly's picture

Prof. Suo,

Your points are very valuable. Last time I checked, there were 11 pages with people matching the Job Function "Student" - with 20 people on each page, we have about 220 registered "Students". That is indeed a very small number, given that the average faculty member has more than one student. But then again, only 9 pages of people registered as faculty members (or about 180 people). My guess is people are not filling their correct job function when they register - am I missing something?

In any case, returning to the point: there seem to me, three issues we graduate students need to discuss:

1. How could we use iMechanica to best benefit us and other members?

2. How do we achieve these goals? This includes the very issues your raised.

3. Given these targets are met, how do we create greater awareness among the student community?

I have been in touch with Mahdi and we will start a new thread titled "Calling All Students" and try to get some momentum and keep it going.

Thank you for your motivation,



Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Dhruv:  As you have guessed, many people do not fill up the profile when they registered.  For those who have not, please read the following post and consider providing your profile.

How can I add my profile and my resume to iMechanica?

It takes about 10 seconds, and is a simple way to introduce yourself into the community.

Gopinath Venkatesan's picture

Prof Suo, Druv, Mahdi and Friends,

Glad to see some photons are trying to ionize and stimulate Laser effect.

Atl(e)ast you have made me write my first post

I completely agree with Mahdi's comments -- the knowledge of the self to balance the level of exchange of ideas with others in this forum -- atleast considering myself, above is true. My activity has been reading some relevant posts and opinions of others.

One concern is also the thought of flaming or critical comments. If some student is posting a comment on the topic and the opinion happens to be incorrect, some will try to correct it, some try to create an idea that poster has no knowledge whatsoever. (and some just see and don't comment, Laughing ). This is permanently registered in the form of post in any forum -- kind of semester grade. I think that is also one of the reasons -- "why not be silent and act as if I know some stuff" attitude.

Other reasons may be availability of time, and if available, then laziness and the thinking that the poster could get this idea by reading general text books - why bother others -- in some cases it is true.


Graduate Student

University of Oklahoma

yoursdhruly's picture


I agree with you. I have found iMechanica the most exciting when people responded to my comments/questions. I don't believe people will be critical - if we post under the "Education" section, how can they be? After all, if we knew everything we wouldn't be here. I have a feeling if the word "Education" was replaced with "Students" or something like that, we would have had more students interacting today.

I think the key is this: we students must support each other. This sounds wierd, but I think will play a big role in increasing student activity. As long as we don't go propounding theories we know little of in, say, the journal club, nobody can object to us using iMechanica as a medium for education, within the Education forums (or is it fora?). But for this to happen, every student needs to be convinced that she/he will get a fair hearing and a just response. The onus is on us to help each other as far as possible and hopefully faculty and industry members will also contribute - in recent cases, like the posts by me on SED or the one by Arash on fracture criteria , they have and Prof. Suo has truly led the way here.

Being a grad student myself, I know a lot of spend several minutes (hours perhaps?) a day wandering through the web. All that remains is to make iMechanica a comfortable place for students to come and share ideas with each other and with anyone who wishes to participate. If things are better explained through a text, someone should guide the person to a good one. Further, every question, however bookish, can be used to bring out finer points or to summarize concepts - each question has an essence of an idea, it is upto the reader to dig that idea out and turn it around in a way that is productive to all who follow.

In short, in my opinion, we need several students to accept responsibility for interacting with people who post on these pages. We have 200 odd students now, if our numbers touch a thousand, I am sure there should be enough of us around in most areas to answer questions and provide guidance on a regular basis. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this -I hope you will pardon my using your post as a segway into sounding out my ideas! Smile

Keep in touch, we should be starting a new thread on this soon.




Gopinath Venkatesan's picture


Thanks for kind comments.

When you start considering increasing the interactivity among students -- we should try to customize the attraction features. Like offering suggestions and sharing views on (certain communicable thoughts) preparing for EIT/FE and PE exams and PhD Qualifying/General Exam.

And introducing web seminars like features for graduate students - not only on their speciality subjects -- they are unlikely to present them before their publications. But on the common subjects like 1) Learn about different kinds of Direct Integration Methods -- asked in the form what is implicit and explicit time integration methods in this forum, 2) Why not Finite Difference method in Structural Mechanics -- this is discussed by Amit Jadhav somewhere in this forum, 3) like the one you started on fracture criterion/ Strain Energy density, etc. One more area where we can interact is to discuss the bad/good experiences with software applications.

I should thank Prof. Suo for being nice and encouraging students via this forum.



Dan Cojocaru's picture

One additional reason for which some people might prefer being a silent user is that (unfortunately) they are reluctant when it comes to share the knowledge. This might seem a radical point of view, but I've seen this approach so many times during my Ph.D. program.

Nanshu Lu's picture

Thank Zhigang, Dhruv and many others for having brought forward a crucial issue: how to stimulate voice of students on iMechanica? Since I am one of the graduate student community I feel responsible to share my opinions with you all.

A folksay in China says the power coming from a model is infinite. This can translate to a saying in English: if one sheep leaps over the ditch, all the rest will follow. Zhigang has very good suggestions of how to become active contributors to iMechanica and I think what we can do is to make the running. How?

First, follow and carry out the instructions in Zhigang's post "Silent majority".

Then, we can initiate some topics not that academic but very close and important to every graduate student. For example, we can always start a thread to exchange our experience in learning a course, a software or an experimental instrument; we can share the thoughts and experience of our first time being a TF or the success of a conference talk or a job interview... There's no right or wrong in such topics and everyone has something to say. This can make us be familiar with each other and build our friendship. Remember, people always feel comfortable to talk with someone familiar.

Once users start to post or to ask questions, try our best to comment or to answer them because in this way they will feel it worth their time to log on iMechanica and speak. On my undergraduate university BBS, there are many boards of different subjects and the board managers are expert in that field. Once people come in to ask questions, the managers will take their responsibility to answer and help. A good board manager always leads a more prosperous board and his/her reputation will be broadcast.

Of course there are a lot more solutions we can discuss of, but during the discussion, I think it is time to fulfill existing ones.

Mahendra Gattu's picture

Hi Lu,

         Thank you for encouragement. I was recently reading articles on Perelman  and came across the millenium mathematical problems. I have not much background in hard core fluid mechanics like existence of smooth and physically reasonable solutions of Naviers Stokes Equations.Do people work on solving such problems? I mean where do proving the theorems can be translated into applications to real world problems. 



Nanshu Lu's picture

Hi, Mahendra,

Welcome to iMechanica and I'm glad that you begin to ask for help on iMechanica now. I'm not in fluid mechanics field but I have taken relative courses. Regarding to NS equations there are many classic solutions to simplified cases, rigorously or approximately. These are what a fluid mechanics course would teach you. Scientists still work on solving NS equations with different boundary conditions according to their own situation or purpose, which is often much more complicated and difficult.

Usually you do theorem proof to be familar with that area and get trained of necessary skills. Then when you meet a real world problem you'll be able to translate it into mathematical model and try to solve it.



Hi Mahendra,

The question you have raised is interesting. It can be looked at from many different angles and at different levels. It, therefore, should be posted as a separate thread by itself.... You know, the core of the theme here is pretty different. I will be happy to provide my thoughts once we have independent space to discuss the topic.

Also, again, since the question can be tackled from many different angles and at different levels, it will help if you could please indicate your preparation. (Are you, as the Google search on your name does suggest, the final year B Tech student of Civil Engg at IIT Madras? Not absolutely necessary, but it would help if you could identify at least in some abstract but meaningful terms your background.)

yoursdhruly's picture


Your comments are valid - while we build a more formal structure for students, we must not forget the basic responsibilities. I just wanted
to point out that we have started
a new thread that focuses on the role of students at iMechanica. Please join us there - we need all the support and fresh ideas that we can get!



Henry Tan's picture

I will bring around 170 undergraduate students into iMechanica through the course Engineering Mechanics.



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