This post is about surveys. It's motivated by one of my tasks last night, as I has to spend some time going over the final proofs for the survey Hash-Based Techniques for High-Speed Packet Processing, written with Adam Kirsch and George Varghese, which happily will finally be "officially" published (as part of a DIMACS book). The link is to a submitted version; I'll try to find a "final" version to be put up when possible, but the delta is small. I'll take the liberty of complimenting my co-authors on the writing; if you want a quick guide on the connection between hashing and routers, it should be a good starting point.
It occurs to me that I've written a number of surveys -- I mean, a lot*. Indeed, I'm sure in some circles I'm known mostly (and, perhaps, possibly only) for some survey I've written. That is not meant as self-promotion; indeed, I'm well aware that some people would view this as quite a negative. After all, as comments in a recent post felt it important to point out (and argue over), the mathematician Hardy wrote: Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds. I would disagree, and I would hope to encourage others to write surveys as well.
I've found writing surveys a useful tool in both doing and promoting my research. I've done surveys for multiple reasons. It's a good way to learn a new topic. It's a good way to bring some closure to a long line of work for oneself. It's a good way to frame and popularize a research direction or a set of open problems. And finally, I've found it's a good way to provide a bridge between the theoretical and practical communities.
Earlier in my career, there didn't seem to be much of a home for publishing surveys. I was fortunate that the journal Internet Mathematics started when it did, and was willing to take surveys. Otherwise, I'm not sure where my surveys on Bloom filter and power laws -- my two most cited (and I would guess read) would have ended up. These days, surveys seem to have become more acceptable, thankfully. The Foundations and Trends series, in particular, have provided a natural outlet that has spurred a number of impressive and useful surveys. I admit these booklets tend to be a bit longer than what I have usually aimed for, but I was usually hoping just to find some journal (or conference) that would take a survey, so length was actually a negative. I imagine someday I'll get up the energy to write something for this series.
But perhaps there are now other mechanisms for producing and publishing surveys. I view Dick Lipton's blog as providing one or more well-written mini-surveys every week (a truly amazing feat). Wikipedia provides a means for what seem to be essentially collaborative mini-surveys to also be written on technical topics; perhaps some Wiki-based tool or archive could be developed that would allow for richer, growing and changing surveys with multiple contributing authors.
In any case, when somebody suggests to you that exposition is for a second-rate mind, keep in mind that not everybody agrees. Writing a survey has become downright respectable. If you feel like disagreeing strongly, in the most vocal way possible, then please, go ahead and write a survey as well.
* Here's a possibly complete list. Co-author information and other related information can be found on my List-of-Papers page. Current links are provided here for convenience.
Some Open Questions Related to Cuckoo Hashing
Hash-Based Techniques for High-Speed Packet Processing.
A Survey of Results for Deletion Channels and Related Synchronization Channels
Toward a Theory of Networked Computation
Network Applications of Bloom Filters: A Survey
Digital Fountains: A Survey and Look Forward
A Brief History of Generative Models for Power Law and Lognormal Distributions
The Power of Two Random Choices: A Survey of Techniques and Results