Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Should I explain things more?

I added a poll to the side bar. Please take the time to answer the poll (once, please).

My question is, are my posts clear enough? Like anyone involved in somewhat technical subjects I take certain points as common knowledge, and don't elucidate them. But it occurs to me that this may alienate some readers, and I want my posts to be more inclusive as well as more understandable, assuming that they are too opaque. I also want to do this without greatly changing the character of my posts (for example, I would like to assume that readers are familiar with the Hebrew alphabet, although if that isn't the case I want to know about it). Should I briefly explain who, let's say, Rabbi Yaakov Emden is whenever his name comes up? Or is the existence of Wikipedia enough?

I know the options in the poll are not really sufficient, so if anyone has anything to add, or specific suggestions, please comment them here in this post. Feel free to do so without signing the usual name you comment under, anonymous is fine. I will take all suggestions seriously.


  1. You're doing great! Keep it up.
    The only thing that needs to be explained is why you don't come out from behind the cover of anonymity and reap the public honor you deserve.

  2. Hi, I voted "Yes." I started reading all your posts a few months ago. I am Yeshiva educated, so if I took the time to really pick apart your posts like a difficult tosafos and look up everything I needed to look up, I would gain a lot more from them. But I don't have (or more accurately, I'm not willing to dedicate) that kind of time! So I glean maybe 25% of what you're trying to say. I think you could attract a broader audience, and you could more richly educate more people if you assumed a more basic level of knowledge and did more translation/background/explanation of more involved or highly technical points. You need to get the posts to the point where I'd feel comfortable posting links to them on my Facebook feed, for example. In order to do that I'd need to know I wasn't going to totally confuse 95% of my friends.

  3. Thanks guys. Keep the comments coming please.

  4. The more I read OTML, the easier it gets... seriously though, I think a little more explanation, or at least more hot-links to Wikipedia, might help. As well as translating key Hebrew passages that appear in your posts and are particularly difficult to read or understand.

    I agree with Zohar about the anonymity thing too.

    Just my $0.02.

  5. I think it's up to you, obviously; as a reader, I view the blog as a much more technical one, and therefore don't expect to understand all or (say) why you're posting about a subject or their importance.

    Perhaps linking to previous posts on a subject or to things such as Wikipedia or even just to a brief bio would help someone check out the information should they wish to, but not send every post on numerous tangents.

    Of course, these all take time, so you can only do what you are happy doing.

  6. If I may make two suggestions:

    1) Reduce the size of the pictures (maybe make them enlargeable thumbnails). It's very distracting and breaks the flow of the post.

    2) "Brevity is the soul of wit"

    Try and curb the length of your posts, leaving the many digressions either in a footnote at the bottom or as material for new posts.

    Also, try not to be so incredibly detailed; it's too overwhelming for a blog. There's no need to prove you're an incredible yad'an - we already know that.

  7. I completely disagree with aiwac. The pictures allow for amazing detail. Also, the longer the better. Like a great movie or book, I never want the posts to end.

  8. Something I'm going to start doing if I ever post again is either link to Wikipedia or do those things where the word that needs explanation is underlined with dots; the reader puts the cursor on the underlined material, and an explanation appears in a little box. If you store your explanations, you can reuse them.

    To give credit where it's due, I stole the idea and the source code from Lethargic Man.

    Your material is often over my head, but I blame that on my head being too low. But two things about that. First, if something is too technical, I don't read it unless it's on a topic that really grabs me. Second, you're very menshlich about giving explanations when asked. Third, I second what aiwac said (which should probably have been second).

  9. I'm with Anonymous 6:10

  10. I read almost all your posts and I cant get too much. Yes, sometimes I have to look up stuff in Wikipedia to get more out. I would say, only add detail, even if brief, when the info is not available on line.

    Keep it up. I would love more translation but I know how time consuming it is. You do a good job of synopsizing.

    Thank you for your great work.

  11. First, let me just say that Mike Koplow's line above - "Your material is often over my head, but I blame that on my head being too low." - is worthy of being preserved for posterity.

    Fred, I think you already have a good sense of judgment to know when something needs elaboration. In general, I prefer less explanation. This blog is a beis vaad lachachamim. If someone doesnt understand the discussion, he really shouldnt be here. Go to hirhurim or some place like that. The whole beauty of associating with peers is that you dont have to stop to explain yourself every few minutes. If someone doesnt understand something -and that has included me - let him ask in the comments. Anonymous commenters are never shy. No need to belabor the post for the sake of a few dolts.

  12. I'm with DF. And I think you've actually been pretty good about providing links to helpful sources. As for the digressions, I say digress on! They add to the charm of this site.

  13. I am a regular reader of your blog, and I usually find the content fascinating.

    The picture and facsimiles are one of the most attractive aspects and I certainly don't think they should be reduced in size.

    As to the length of your posts, perhaps the longer digressions should be posted separately.

    Like other readers I think you strike a nice balance, you don't want to waste your time on lengthy explanations only to sound condescending. However, as others have said, links to Wikipedia and so on would be a plus.

    Keep up the good work!

  14. S
    I would make 2 points after saying that yours is the only site without an ax, well maybe a pen knife, to grind. You should really publish some "safe" article in some of the Jewish publications who have columns such as the strange side of history.

    1. While they may be passive readers , there are a number of Yeshiva folks out there who read your blog. I know who Rabbi Yaakov Emden is but I had never heard of Shadal, I'm sure there are folks on the other side of the aisle who never heard of Rabbi Yaakov Emden. I found it interesting whom you chose an example. More of us than you think are readers.

    2. Rather than constant links to Wikpedia which often is less than accurate an occasional post on topics such as Jewish Italy in the 1800's would be interesting in its own right and over time would provide a lookup source for this information.
    I found your parenthetical remarks on searching beyond Google in a recent post very interesting.

    I greatly enjoy your posts

  15. Thanks for everyone's input so far (and the flattery). By the way, I have an axe to grind, I just try to keep it separate. I'm especially glad someone noticed the beyond google thing - I thought it was something which probably wasn't widely understood. I'm going to try to do more about online research and how to massage and manipulate sources.

    By the way, it's a pleasant surprise to me that the poll results are about what I expected. Roughly, they are split 50/50. Half say it's all good, 1/3 say I could explain a little more, and the remainder feel I could do a lot better. The poll expires in a week, and then I should have a better idea of what I can do. By the way, I'm glad someone pointed out the fact that spelling things out can come across as condescending. That's something that I tried to avoid - not to mention I am aware that people who know far more than I are reading. But by the same token, I do want to have a that's blog enjoyable for a wide audience and that's why I'm trying to appraise the situation.

    I'll have more responses to individual comments and suggestions later.

  16. S.,
    Your blog is great.
    Keap it the way it is.

  17. Hi,
    Its Motcha from I love your blog but I want to be like you! Could you start explaing how you find this stuff as to train us in research?

  18. DF: Thank you for what I believe were meant to be kind words. But "This blog is a beis vaad lachachamim. If someone doesn't understand the discussion, he really shouldn't be here"? I hope that was written in regrettable haste. You include yourself among us dolts who don't understand everything and ask questions in the comments. Does that mean you yourself should take your electrons elsewhere?

  19. No ax to grind????

    For crying out loud, Fred is the only person I know of with an entire seperate blog devoted to his ax.

    BTW, as a traditional yeshiva [un]educated fellow, I love OTML. One of the only blogs I still read regularly. Don't change a thing.



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