New Science Blogging Networks
It is gratifying to note that many people seem to have carefully read my post about the new science blogging ecosystem and the new networks (it was linked a lot over the past week on other blogs and social networks). I see some of those ideas either discussed or already implemented by various new and old networks.
The emergence of Scientopia did not obscure, if anything it actually highlighted, the rapid growth of other self-governing blogging collectives. Lab Spaces had an exciting week of growth and blogging. One of my favorite new-ish blogs, C6-H12-O6, is only one of the blogs to recently move to Field Of Science network. Users of Science3point0 site are starting up their blogs there as well. And The Gam also has two great new additions – John McKay of Mammoth Tales and Chuck of Ya Like Dags?.
The corporate networks are slower – that is the nature of the beast – but they are coming soon, quite a few of them. There is a new Twitter account called GuardianScienceBlogs, with just one tweet to date: “We’re coming soon…”. Interesting times…
One of the things I mentioned in my post was a need to collect, collate and organize bloggy material in ways that makes it more long-lasting and useful, especially for people who are new to a particular topic and who need a quick introductory or refresher course in order to be able to follow the ongoing discussions.
Two blogs have tried to do experiments along these lines this week.
On their shiny new blog Child’s Play, Melody Dye and Jason Goldman had a whole week worth of posts on a single topic: pros and cons and confusions regarding the “cookie” test for measuring delayed gratification in children. Then they collected the links to all of their posts (as well as a couple of good posts by other bloggers) in one place which you can bookmark, and which Melody and Jason can keep linking back to in the future, perhaps even have a link to it handy somewhere on the sidebar so it is easy find.
Ed Yong did something a little bit different. He capitalized on his spot at Discover, thus his right to use Discover images and slideshows, to put together a collection of brief explanations, each linking to one or two of his older posts, all about Bacteria living in or on us and other animals – the Microbiome. It looks really nifty! Interesting times…
Bloggers saving magazines
It is brilliant and innovative bloggers like Ed (and others, yes, Carl, Phil, Sheril, Chris, Sean, etc.) who saved Discover magazine, or so it seems, as it managed to sell for more than $1 (paid last week for Newsweek) for a small but still respectable sum guessed to be around $7 million. In the times when magazines are folding or selling for nothing, this is nothing to sneer at, and it is the online part of it – their blogging network – that saved their skin. Which is why pretty much every popular science magazine is now expanding, building or considering building a blogging network of their own right now. Interesting times…
Yes, I wrote at length about this in my post last week. But this does not stop the blogosphere from discussing the issue as well, and it shouldn’t – this needs to be dicsussed. See these interesting and enlightening comment threads at ScientistMother and DrugMonkey.
The fact is that most of the networks (see the blogrolls of Scientopia, Lab Spaces, Field Of Science, even Scienceblogs.com…) have around 50% or more female bloggers, and also bloggers spanning a wide range of ages (and countries, as long as they all speak the same language, usually English, but check my Blogroll on the right for other examples), but are sorely lacking in the non-White department. This reflects the situation in science as a whole.
As I am privy to many back-channel conversations, I know for a fact that all of these networks have tried really hard to attract minority bloggers. There are just a handful of obviously and openly non-White science booggers out there, and I am sure they all got inundated by invitations. And as I noted in my post, they had very good reasons to be reluctant to join, even when invited by their long-term bloggy friends and commenters. It will be interesting to see if the corporate networks coming up soon will have better luck.
But the bottom-line is: do not blame the networks for being all-White as they are trying really hard not to be, and do not blame the minority bloggers for being reluctant at this point in time to join networks, as they have quite legitimate reasons for this. Once the situation in science changes, and the situation in the science blogiverse starts reflecting it, there will be many more minority bloggers and the problem of ‘tokenism’ will slowly disappear (we all hope) as they will know they are naturally included in the community anyway, so why not join networks as well.
A much more interesting is the case of diversity of disciplines. As much as all the nascent networks are trying, they apparently cannot attract any Earth Science bloggers or Ocean Science bloggers to their networks. This makes them seem bio-medically biased despite their efforts not to be.
Ocean bloggers have happily built their own community around Deep Sea News blog and Southern Fried Science blog, and The Gam network, and the Carnival of the Blue. They feel no need to join other networks since they have their own, and it is quite visible and well-known outside of their narrow circle – the MSM watches them as well.
On the other hand, geobloggers appear to feel similar to the minority bloggers – always sidelined, always misunderstood, always invited as tokens, always playing the second fiddle and being a second thought. So they are circling the wagons and trying to build their own community. Read carefully the comment thread on this post on Highly Allochthonous and listen to the podcast. They are building their own network, have built a comprehensive RSS feed and all participate in the Accretionary Wedge blog carnival. But they are sorely missing from the networks! So again: do not blame the networks for not having geobloggers (they tried hard to invite them), and do not blame geobloggers for saying no to invites (they have legitimate reasons for that as well).
What some have not read in my post, perhaps, was the “exclusivity” subheading – at this day and age, a network (unless paying enormous amounts of money to the bloggers) cannot ask for exclusivity. Why not have different blogs in various places? A solo blog for ranting, plus a couple of blogs on a couple of networks – perhaps one blog on a community network for the feeling of belonging to a community, and another blog on a corporate network that pays: where you write your most professional stuff. You can even mirror the same content everywhere so you do not have to write 3-4 times as much. This is nothing new – there are a number of bloggers out there who are already writing several blogs in several places (Grrrlscientist and DrugMonkey and Jason Goldman and Dr.Isis immediately come to mind).
There is nothing wrong with having topic-focused networks, but there is no need to be only there and not help generalist networks also showcase your discipline. Or as Grant Jacobs wrote: Blogging groups, lighten up and enjoy your niche! (the text of the post is actually much smarter than the title). More the merrier, in terms of networks, does not just mean pure numbers, it also means diversity of approaches to building networks. So go forth and experiment.
To join or not to join, that is the question
I am not going to be the one to tell you how to blog or why to blog.
But I am a little disconcerted (especially after explaining the difference in painstaking detail in my farewell post – if you link to it, please link to it here, not on Sb, thanks) that a lot of people still do not see the difference between being solo and being on a network. Comments like “URL is an URL” drive me up the wall because they reveal clear lack of understanding of how the Web works.
So I am not going to tell you if YOU should join a network or not – it is up to you and your own blogging goals, but will just try to explain again what is the difference between being on and off a network.
Perhaps we can start by reading (especially the comment thread which is revealing – the post itself is excellent and thoughtful) this post at FemaleScienceProfessor. Then also read the post and comments at Academic Jungle (perhaps also this one) as well.
FSP nicely looks at several factors (that many commenters seem to miss) that play into a decision to join a network, including increased traffic, belonging to a community (see this post as well), change in the type of audience (see this comment) and potential loss of independence.
These factors are more or less important depending on who you are. If you are a FemaleScienceProfessor, or a Larry Moran, or a Rebecca Skloot, or a Jerry Coyne, or a Cliff Johnson or a Deborah Blum, or heck, even me, you can probably afford to go solo. These bloggers have been around forever, they are well known online and offline, they have built over the years a large audience (and probably nice traffic), and they are read by at least a few people in the MSM – the ‘visibility’ factor that FSP did not mention.
But even for bloggers like these, by not being on the network they have to rely for visibility only on their direct traffic, and not the indirect visibility that comes from co-bloggers on the network and the extended visibility that comes from the virtue of MSM monitoring networks quite closely. Whenever a solo blogger needs to have a message spread more widely than the usual crowd, they need to resort to e-mails, tweeting, begging big bloggers for a link, sending stuff to carnivals, etc. Those things come spontaneously and effortlessly for networked bloggers. So if your blogging often requires that as many people as possible see something you posted in order to get important information out or to effect some action (perhaps even to affect policy), being on a network is a good idea. If not, then going solo is just fine.
What if you are not a Skloot or a Coyne? What if you are a young grad student who just started a blog? Not well known online, not well known offline. You can keep posting and trying not to quit just because nobody is commenting. You can keep commenting on other blogs. You can keep linking to other blogs. You can keep posting links to your posts on social networks like Twitter and Facebook and trying to follow/friend as many other science bloggers as you can there. You can keep sending your stuff to carnivals and occasionally hosting one. All in the hope that one day somebody will finally notice you and recognize your writing greatness. And when that happens, what form will that recognition have? Probably an invite to a network!
And these days, as The Usual Suspects are either happily remaining on Sb or NN or Discover, or moving en-masse to Scientopia, or quickly getting poached by other media-hosted networks, there are just not enough of them to go around. So all the new and growing networks are now searching for new talent to fill their blogrolls. This is a good time to be good and productive on your blog if you want to join a community.
What is important for you? If it is editorial independence and a belonging to a community, you should join a blogging co-op. Less likely your stuff will show up in Google News, but still an increase in visibility and reach.
If you are a professional writer or want to become one, you need to go to a place where you can showcase your best writing in the hope of getting noticed. You may get paid or not on a corporate network, you may not have 100% freedom to post whatever you want (especially if you are paid a lot – this become more of a professional job than just personal diary and ranting), but you will be seen by people who are potentially in a position to offer you a gig or a job or a book deal, people like those who read and write KSJ and CJR and NASW and editors of pop-sci magazines and science pages in newspapers.
A co-op is likely to be fast and nimble and flexible and will evolve quickly as the Web evolves. A corporate network is likely to be much more traditional, cautious and timid, and will change very slowly (several layers of bureaucracy, tons of paperwork, etc., so things like moving a widget from left sidebar to right sidebar may take five months to happen instead of five minutes: corp-time, not blog-time). But the corporate network is much more likely to be stable and long-lasting and not die off when some key person suddenly loses interest. So there are pros and cons and compromises in each case.
So it is up to you to decide what are your own best options. It may be going solo. It may be joining a blogging cooperative. Or it may be joining a corporate network. Or, as I said above, do all of it at once and take the best of all worlds.