Scienceblogging: LabSpaces – a Q&A with Brian Krueger

This is the series of interviews with people doing interesting things in the current science blogging ecosystem.

Today I got to ask Brian Krueger of LabSpaces a few questions.

Hi, thank you for taking your time for answering a few questions about the past, present and future developments of the science blogging ecosystem. Let me begin with you – can you tell our readers, please, who are you, where you come from and how you got into science blogging?

Hello readers! I’m Brian Krueger, I’m a researcher at the University of Florida. By day I mutate important “stuff” out of Herpes viruses to better understand how viral proteins, microRNAs and genetic regulatory regions affect how the virus survives in a host, and by night I run the science news site and blog network, LabSpaces.net. I began my love for science as a young nerd growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. Not deterred by all of the early ridicule, I studied biology at a small liberal arts school and got my bachelor of science degree from Bradley University. I completed my PhD in molecular biology at the University of Iowa in the fall of 2009, and then moved down to Florida to manage the start up of the Herpes virus mutation core facility.

I got into science blogging as a result of trying to create a social network for the scientific community. In 2005, I had just begun my PhD, saw how popular an interesting new website had become (Facebook) and decided I’d try to see how I could spin a “Facebook” into a useful tool for scientists. After years of trying to unsuccessfully promote my social network on a non-existent advertising budget, I decided to change the focus of the network to one of increasing science literacy by getting scientists and the public interacting and talking about science in one place. To best facilitate this communication, I asked a very talented group of bloggers to join the site.

Everyone seems to agree that the summer of 2010 saw some big and important changes in the science blogging ecosystem. What are your own thoughts on this? Where do you think it will go next, over the next couple of years?

The falling out at ScienBlogs was definitely important. A lot of great science bloggers have since joined new networks or formed their own collectives. It seemed like new networks sprung up almost over night after the pepsi-gate scandal and I think that this has helped put the spotlight on newer blogging talent. Maybe the best thing that happened was that it opened the eyes of bloggers and showed them that they didn’t have to aspire to ScienceBlogs to have their voices heard. There’s a ton of room for growth in the blog network sector, and we’re starting to realize that.

As far as the future of science blogging is concerned, I think for now things are going to be pretty complicated. We’re trying to figure out what is the best fit for the science blogging community. Niche networks are on the rise and we’re seeing all ecology, geology, marine biology etc networks form. It remains to be seen if these types of networks can sustain a readership, though.

Additionally, how the ecosystem shapes up depends on what bloggers and networks want to get out of their writing. Many bloggers have chosen to stay independent. I know I have spoken with a significant number of bloggers who are content staying at wordpress or blogger and have no intention of joining a blogging network. For some they like having complete control over their bloggy domain or have no desire to make blogging more stressful by having to meet deadlines or posting quotas. Personally, I think things will probably settle back into a normal routine in a year or so. There are going to be great independent bloggers, high profile blog networks like ScienceBlogs, Discovery, SciAM etc, and smaller “for fun” networks like LabSpaces. I don’t see there being “one network to rule them all” though, because each network has different goals in mind.

How do you personally read science blogs? Do you use feeds, or social networks, or some other ways of keeping track of the science blogging world? How do you find new blogs?

I usually read science blogs based on what I find through twitter or through posts made by my own bloggers. I also have a blogroll on my own blog at LabSpaces that lists my favorite blogs that I read on a daily basis. I find new blogs through blog posts by my own bloggers, their blog rolls, and by reading through researchblogging.org every couple of days. There’s a ton of blogging talent out there and you really don’t have to look very hard!

Tell us a little bit more about Lab Spaces. What is it about? How did it come about? By what process do you add bloggers to the network – do they apply, do you invite them, or some other way?

LabSpaces main goal is to increase communication between scientists and the public. The bloggers serve a very important role in facilitating the realization of this goal. I have tried to recruit a wide variety of scientists and science bloggers to the website. Most of the bloggers on the site are full time scientists who blog about the scientific lifestyle or interesting new developments in their field of study.

When I first coded the blogging platform at LabSpaces, I thought it would be a great way to try to get scientists to blog about their daily lab lives, talk about experimental problems, or discuss their latest data. Since the website has remained small, the blogging section was unused for at least two years (if you don’t count the biotech spammers…). I decided after my major redesign of the site that I’d try to actively recruit current scientist bloggers to the site to flesh out the blog section. It began almost as a joke on twitter. I asked Joanne Manaster (world renowned Science Goddess, former international model, and YouTube powered Science book reviewer) if she’d like to syndicate her book reviews on the site. David Manly, a recent journalism graduate and animal lover, asked if he could have a blog spot too. This started a small wave of twitter requests from Nancy Parmalee and Evie Marom who also wanted to blog. Since I had at least 4 twitter followers who were interested, I asked a few more of my favorite followers if they were interested in blogging on the website and I ended up adding Catherine Anderson, The ModernScientist, Disgruntled Julie, and the Angry Scientist. From there I have slowly invited other bloggers to the site who I find interesting and LabSpaces currently has 26 active bloggers.

The process of adding people is pretty simple. I let the bloggers nominate anyone they’d like, we discuss them in the forum, and then I send that person an invite to join. I’ll also invite bloggers that I think write engaging and interesting content. We have a private googleDoc spreadsheet to keep track of new talent. There’s no big committee or review board, but I do try to bring bloggers in who I think fit well with our band of blogging misfits. Bloggers are also welcome to audition by posting in the blogger forum and linking to their blog for review.

Where do you see Lab Spaces within the global science blogging ecosystem – what is its position, how does it differ from others, what unique service does it provide?

I think LabSpaces has the potential to become very popular with both practicing scientists and the lay public. The bloggers write on a wide range of topics that are appealing to both communities. Lately, the majority of posts have been focused on the scientific lifestyle and it seems that LabSpaces content is heading in that direction although I am trying to balance that out by recruiting bloggers who write about both lifestyle and scientific research. I don’t tell the bloggers what to write about or put limits on their topics, but I think content diversity certainly is important for sustaining a readership.

What makes the blogging experience different at LabSpaces is that the site was originally programmed as a social network. This means that readers can interact with the bloggers in more ways than just by commenting on blog posts. A few of our bloggers have formed groups on the website where they discuss anything from football to whether we should contact alien life.

LabSpaces has the potential to provide a richer user experience by allowing users to interact in a self contained community. Users can track the activity of their friends on the site to see what their friends are commenting on or discussing. This could help spur further discussion or bring different viewpoints to posts that a reader may have missed or thought wouldn’t interest them.

LabSpaces is also different because it was coded by me and I’m the only person on the back end that runs the site. If things break or stop working, I know where to look and what to fix. If the bloggers want something new or added functionality, they don’t have to find a plugin that only solves half of the problem, they can tell me what they want and I’ll code it in over the weekend. Finally, because it’s just me running the site, things can be changed or updated immediately. We don’t have to hold meetings, ask the editorial board or the investors if it’s ok. We are in a much better position to be innovative and take risks. I hope that we can take advantage of this to bring about changes to how the public interacts with scientists and the news we generate.

What is next for Lab Spaces?

World Domination. Haha, no, I really don’t have a set plan for “What’s next.” We’re going to keep our eyes out for good talent and try to grow the community. I’m always looking for new ideas or suggestions on how to improve the site. So I invite everyone to stop by the site and then send me an e-mail or post in the forum about what they’d like to see changed or improved! Currently we’re working on coming up with some fun ideas to help bring in new readers. Expect to see the announcement of some exciting contests in the future to do just that!

Thank you so much for this interview. I hope you and some of your bloggers will be able to come to ScienceOnline2011 so we can discuss future developments together.

Name of the site: LabSpaces
URL: http://www.labspaces.net
Feed URL: http://www.labspaces.net/labspaces.xml http://www.labspaces.net/labspacesblogs.xml
Founder(s): Brian Krueger
Current community manager: Brian Krueger
Geographical location: Chicago (Server), Me (Florida)
Date of launch: January 2006
Number of bloggers on the day of launch: 0
Maximum number of bloggers in the history of the site: 26
Current number of bloggers: 26
Software/Platform: Programmed from scratch
Average monthly traffic (visits/pageviews): 300,000
Top Bloggers: Doc Becca, TideLiar, GertyZ, BiochemBelle
Key events from the history of the site:
Started coding July 2005
Launch January 2006
Added press releases March 2008
Added blog interface April 2008
Major site redesign June 2010
Actively recruited bloggers June 2010-Present

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2 responses to “Scienceblogging: LabSpaces – a Q&A with Brian Krueger

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