A Conversation with Tal Galili at useR! 2014

“One can acquire everything in solitude except character.”

Stendhal

The Interview

Tal Galili is, in many ways, a central spoke of the R community. Both gregarious and thoughtful, he has grown his website R-bloggers into the definitive aggregation of the R community’s voice through his genuine, passion-driven intensity. Tal had a simple desire as a young programmer – to learn more about his chosen tools – and looked to the internet to find other voices like his. When googling for “R blogs”, Tal found numerous blogs about pirates, but only a handful about R. This interview details how Tal started R-bloggers and decided to challenge the status quo, as well as giving us a peek behind the curtain for his new projects.

On Community

There was a time in the not too distant past where in order to get anything accomplished you actually had to know and remember things using only your brain, your books, and nearby scribbled notes. It was a terrible and dark time, where knowledge and access were asymmetrically given to the minds of a few. If you were just starting as a programmer and your code gave you an error it was oftentimes an insurmountable obstacle. You could, of course, ask people in your local community if they’d ever faced a similar challenge, but you were likely to find an answer only if you were lucky enough to have a community of like-minded people nearby and they were actively working with similar tools. Fortunately, the collective web has managed to lift the veil of darkness that once held back an individual’s potential for progress. Rather than being limited to what a single person knows or by one’s geographic proximity to approachable experts, we now find ourselves more limited by the latency of the HTTP request/reponse cycle or our degree of google-fu.

Modern blogging can give everyone a voice. Sure, before the mid 1990’s it was theoretically possible for anyone to put up a web page and <html><head><title> themselves into Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web – however not everyone could truly take advantage. Back then, those venturing into this new web space were often academics with access to departmental or university-wide servers or hobbyists on the very cusp of early adoptership, not to mention that you also had to learn HTML without our modern conveniences like WordPress or Codeacademy. Blogging opened these previously obscured gates and provided simple interfaces to type up a post, disseminate it across the greater web, and make it discoverable for future readers. Blogs place the writer in the center, providing an avenue to share one’s thoughts with the rest world. In addition to providing a vehicle for communication, however, blogs can also serve to feed the writer’s ego.

This, among other things, is what makes Tal and R-bloggers special. Community-driven websites depend upon their technology’s integration into the existing human element. Tal understood this and knew that for an online culture to succeed, the people and their ideas should both be front-and-center. What could have morphed over the years to become a self serving, ego-bolstering engine, has instead remained an honest gift to the community. His name is listed only once on the entire page, if you scroll all the way to the bottom and are capable of somehow resisting the seduction to click from the many amazing posts from his over 500+ contributors on the site. The footer plainly, simply states:

R-bloggers was founded by Tal Galili, with gratitude to the R community.

DataScience.LA surely can’t speak for the whole R community, but we can speak for ourselves and we’d like to thank you for your work in raising up the profile of individual R bloggers everywhere through your site. We’d especially like to thank you for providing a single place that helps us find answers in the late of night as a deadline approaches. The community is truly strengthened by having the fruits of your labor.

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