Tag Archives: Scienceblogging Q&As

Scienceblogging: The Lay Scientist (and The Guardian) – a Q&A with Martin Robbins

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

Today I got to ask Martin Robbins of The Lay Scientist 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? Before the launch of the Guardian science blogging network, what did you do?

I am Martin Robbins, I have a background in science and I currently work in a research job which I try to keep apart from my public life due to the nature of some of the people I write about. I’m also a freelance journalist and writer with a column at The Guardian, and a blogger, and at the moment I’m contracted by the Guardian to work on the development of their blogging network, and produce a report on its future (and by extension to some extent the future of science blogging). I got into science blogging though basically annoyance at poor coverage of science issues, combined with a passion for researching things and finding out more about them, and then thanks to some helpful editors and Twitter I ended up where I am now.

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?

I actually don’t agree. I think the changes have been happening for the last few years, but for whatever reason people didn’t notice them happening, or chose to ignore them. All of the things we’re talking about now – proliferation of competing networks, the commercialization of science blogging, bloggers merging with mainstream media, and issues between business and editorial – are things that people were talking about in 2009. What happened in 2010 with ‘Pepsigate’ and the aftermath was that people finally decided to talk about the elephant in the room, and act on it.

I think a lot of people are in denial about their position too, or cling to labels that are increasingly irrelevant. Once ScienceBlogs started being aggregated by Google News, bloggers there became to some extent subject to the same ethical considerations as mainstream media journalists, whether they are willing to accept it or not. Bloggers will be placed under much more scrutiny as the playing field levels and they become indistinguishable from columnists and journalists

In the next couple of years I think the trends of 2008-2010 will continue. Blogging will become increasingly commercialized and increasingly affiliated with mainstream media outlets. Social media will increasingly act as people’s editor of choice. Networks which thrive will be those who support good writers, and give them freedom and space to explore and innovate, and I expect to see more sophisticated editorial approaches developed in terms of how networks of blogs are developed and managed.

On the downside, I think the issue of editorial control won’t go away. I suspect we’ll see a whole series of battles similar to Pepsigate over the next 24 months as battles which were once fought in print media over things like the division between editorial and business management are refought on the internet.

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?

Twitter has become better than me at finding interesting stuff to read, and has taken over to a large extent from my news-reader, as there are very few bloggers worth reading every single day. Twitter is like having six hundred and fifty brains filtering content for me, catering to my interests. Social media has transformed the way people access the internet and news websites, and will continue to do so.

That said, I also try to subscribe to other, more diverse sources to try to prevent myself falling into the trap of existing within a news bubble or echo-chamber – Google alerts are useful, and also specialist aggregators like AllAfrica.com.

Tell us a little bit more about The Lay Scientist – it used to be your own personal blog but is now a group blog. How and why did you make the decision to make this change? How did you assemble the bloggers – did they apply, did you hand-pick them, or some other way? What is the goal and vision of the site?

I wanted the site to be bigger and better, but couldn’t achieve that on my own. I could also see that the existing blogging model doesn’t work for a lot of people. There are many people who occasionally have something interesting to say, but who don’t want to start a blog of their own because they’d only write once a month and it’s too much hassle. My aim was to provide some of those people with a platform.

Where do you see The Lay Scientist within the blogging ecosystem – what is its position, how does it differ from others, what unique service does it provide?

The two sites should work quite nicely together once I can find someone to take over layscience.net and run it day to day. My aim is that the old community site will be an open platform, while the site at guardian.co.uk/layscience will be used to showcase people and issues which I think deserve a wider audience, as well as being a supplement to my own column and journalism. I don’t think it’s particularly unique, but I think I’ve managed to provide a conduit between the wider blogosphere and mainstream media. So for example I’ve been able to help unknown bloggers get issues like ‘bleachgate’ into the mainstream media via The Guardian.

What prompted The Guardian to add a science blogging network to their already prolific and high-quality science reporting? Did #PepsiGate have any effect on decision-making or timing of the project? What is your role, apart from blogging yourself, in the new Guardian blogging network?

My role is initially as a consultant for the launch, and I’ll be setting out how I think the network should develop once the launch is out of the way and the site has settled down. I hope to take a long term role developing the site, but we’ll see. (I’ll leave the rest of the question for Alok to cover as I’m not sure how much I should say).

Do you notice any geographical differences in topics, styles etc. between British, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, continental European and other science bloggers? If so, any explanations you can come with?

I think there’s been a disappointing lack of communication and collaboration between especially British and American bloggers, and that’s disappointing because many of the issues we tackle are global or international in nature, and could benefit from a coordinated attack.

British and Australian/NZ bloggers seem much more willing to take things offline and engage in real-world activism, whereas Americans either aren’t bothering, or haven’t managed to convey what they’re doing to an international audience. Certainly getting Americans to take part in or even promote international campaigns like 10:23 was a thankless task.

I wonder if it’s entirely a coincidence that in recent times campaigns on things like the atheist buses, 10:23, libel, science funding and so on have starting in London and Liverpool rather than New York or Boston, and US atheists are relying on Brits like Dawkins and Hitchens to rally the crowds.

Thank you for the interview. We’ll keep being in touch and I hope you can come to ScienceOnline2011 so we can discuss the future in person.

Name of the site: The Lay Scientist
URL: guardian.co.uk/layscience / layscience.net
Feed URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/rss
Owner (if corporate): The Guardian / Martin Robbins
Founder(s): Martin Robbins
Current community manager: Martin Robbins
Geographical location: London, UK
Date of launch: February 2008 (layscience.net) / September 2010 (guardian.co.uk)
Number of bloggers on the day of launch: 1 (around 30 by time of Guardian launch)
Maximum number of bloggers in the history of the site: ~30
Current number of bloggers: ~30
Software/Platform: Drupal (layscience.net) Proprietary system (guardian.co.uk)
Average monthly traffic (visits/pageviews): Only have stats for both sites for September, combined total was ~ 700,000 page views, but probably closer to 200k on an average month, though that’s a complete guess as the Guardian site is so new, and growing.

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Scienceblogging: SciBlogs NZ – a Q&A with Peter Griffin

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

Today I got to ask Peter Griffin of SciBlogs NZ 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?

I’m Peter Griffin, former technology journalist for the New Zealand Herald, currently the manager of the Science Media Centre of New Zealand and and founder and editor of Sciblogs.co.nz I used to blog on technology for the New Zealand Herald and saw a need to coordinate some of the science blogging activity underway in New Zealand and help new scientists get into blogging – hence the formation of Sciblogs, which was modeled on Scienceblogs.com

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 Scienceblogs/Pepsi blog incident was a reminder of how fragile trust is online and the importance of being in tune with your online community and your contributors. It was sad to see a strong and successful platform damaged by something that was so obviously not in the interests of the community or its contributors. I think 2009 will go down as the year science blogs in general really exploded – there is a huge amount of content now available which I think overall is good for science communication efforts. Our relationship with the website of the best read newspaper in the country suggests this type of content is in demand and there is a vacuum that the media isn’t filling.

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?

Yes, I read widely – I don’t use feeds – I bookmark sites and visit them regularly and pick up suggestions on Twitter and Facebook. I mainly find out about new blogs via Twitter or email newsletters

Tell us a little bit more about Sciblogs NZ. How did it come about? Who started it and why? How many of the bloggers mirror their posts on their own blogs and how many write only for the network? What are the pros and cons of the mirroring setup for many of your bloggers?

Science blogging was very immature in New Zealand before we decided to get involved in this space. A few very good bloggers ran sites but it was hard to find them and there was very little sense of community among science bloggers. We saw an opportunity to do a mini Scienceblogs in New Zealand, nurture some science communicators and get some informed discussion going on science-related issues the mainstream media was constantly missing. These goals fitted with the objectives of the Science Media Centre which is part of a global network that helps journalists gain better access to research and scientists with the aim of improving coverage of science in the media.

Just under half of our bloggers mirror their content on their own websites. The WordPress MU platform makes mirroring very easy and it is generally a very good system. However, comments are an issue – maintaining two separate threads of comments can be frustrating for bloggers and there is currently no system that allows comments across two blogs to be integrated and maintained centrally. The most popular blogs on Sciblogs are exclusive to Sciblogs which suggests people discover bloggers on Sciblogs and quickly migrate to the original blog.

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

We are very much focused on New Zealand and the Pacific though our bloggers are well integrated into the global blogging community and swap content and ideas. Our bloggers are also very outward looking in terms of the content they generate – they are widely read and follow science developments closely – some of the most popular posts so far have been about issues that do not relate to our geographical area.

We are finding that we are becoming a default service for the science sector for people looking to get into science communication. We travel the country giving lectures and workshops on science communication. All of this came about through our Sciblogs efforts and it has attracted strong support from scientific institutions. We now host two institutional blogs – the Antarctic Research Centre and Genetics Otago.

On the other hand, what is the role of SciBlogs NZ within the science journalism ecosystem in New Zealand?

We are increasingly becoming integrated with the media which I see as a positive development. Sciblogs content is increasingly in demand and we have undertaken to share our content with the media. This is opening up a larger audience for the work of our bloggers. We are also finding journalists are using Sciblogs to gather ideas for stories and several of our bloggers have become very active with the media on the back of their blogging activity. We have not had any feedback so far from the media that they consider Sciblogs a threat.

Thank you so much for the interview. One of your bloggers, Fabiana Kubke, came to ScienceOnline2010 and we hope that SciBlogsNZ will be well represented at ScienceOnline2011 as well.

Name of the site: SciBlogs NZ
URL: www.sciblogs.co.nz
Feed URL: http://sciblogs.co.nz/terms/feed/
Motto, or subheading, or one-line explanation: Australasia’s largest science blog network
Owner (if corporate): Royal Society of New Zealand
Founder(s): Peter Griffin and Aimee Whitcroft
Current community manager: Peter Griffin and Aimee Whitcroft
Geographical location: Wellington, New Zealand
Date of launch: 1 October 2009
Number of bloggers on the day of launch: 27
Maximum number of bloggers in the history of the site: 30
Current number of bloggers: 30
Software/Platform: WordPress MU
Average monthly traffic (visits/pageviews): 39,000 visits 71,000 pageviews
Top Bloggers: Grant Jacobs (Code for Life), Peter Griffin (Griffin’s Gadgets), Shaun Hendy (A Measure of Science), Chris McDowall (Seeing Data)
Key events from the history of the site: Syndication on Scienceblogs, Scoop, Earthquake in Christchurch (huge increase in traffic), joint venture with New Zealand Herald, Sciblogs book project funded

Scienceblogging: science3.0.com – a Q&A with Mark Hahnel

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

Today I got to ask Mark Hahnel of science3.0.com 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?

I’m a final year PhD student at Imperial College studying stem cell mobilisation. I have a strong interest in ‘Science 2.0’ and online science in general. I noticed there was a lot of talk going on about how we could use the web to enhance scientific research on sites such as friendfeed, but not enough action. I found this frustrating. So I set up Science 3.0 as a community where those who share a similar interest can attempt to move science forward in a more efficient manner. The possibilities for scientific research and collaboration provided by web 2.0 are huge, crowd sourcing projects and getting feedback from those who will be using the software is a must. I appreciate we serve a niche group of researchers, but that does not mean that what we are doing is a) not important and b) that it won’t work. Blogging was just a natural addition to the services we offer. Science blogging is an essential part of science online. I provided the option, the people who joined the community took up the option and now we as a community are building a back catalogue of hugely relevant and ever interesting questions, queries and answers via the platform of blogging.

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?

There has been a power shift in terms of what you can and cannot do with a blog. Bloggers appreciate that networks do increase the reach of your blog, and recently have realised that blog networks are relatively simple to set up. Blogging networks such as Scientopia have made everything a lot more transparent, the goal no longer appears to be commercial success.

Bloggers on Science 3.0 choose exactly how they want their blog, it is their page. Science 3.0 is advert free and operates at a loss, but the bloggers can choose to add adverts or microfinancing links such as Flattr in order to try to monetize their blogs. Knowing this, not one of the bloggers on Science 3.0 has added adverts to their blogs. I think this speaks volumes on why everyone got so annoyed with ScienceBlogs following ‘pepsigate’.

The flip side of this is the spread of blogs. Now users have to look at several sites whereas in the past they just looked at one. This again raises a problem that needs to be fixed. Scienceblogging.org was the first to address this situation by creating a blog aggregation site. Science 3.0 has followed suit with our ‘science blogs’ section. We are now working together in order to optimise this service.

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?

Before building the ‘science blogs’ section, I accessed nearly all of the blogs I read via twitter. There are a few blogs which I follow via their RSS feeds as well as listening to the recommendations of the Science 3.0 users.

Tell us a little bit more about Science3.0. 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?

Science 3.0 is a community dedicated to advancing science online. The website is designed to be a neutral, impartial community where people can discuss the pros and cons of each application so that they can be developed in the most efficient manner.

The site is not designed to be a place where all science researchers from all disciplines meet and share results. The site is for those who wish to develop science online, or have an interest in science online. We do not have the answers to all of the problems associated with open access and bringing science to the masses. We are the place where like minded people can collaborate to generate these answers. We truly believe that people-centric communication (social web, web 2.0) and decision support for people (web 3.0, e.g. data mining, reducing information overload) will help us creating better and more efficient science.

Bloggers are members who have signed up to a blog themselves. There is no real recruitment, other than the odd tweet inviting new bloggers to give it a try. The blogs must be related to the goals of the site. They must be science related, online science related or open access related. There are no real rules, we don’t wish for people to blog unless they want to and they get something out of it.

Where do you see Science3.0 within the global science blogging ecosystem – what is its position, how does it differ from others, what is the target audience, what unique service does it provide?

We don’t just blog. Science 3.0 is a place where we can gather information, meet people, and collaborate to push online science forward. We aim to share information openly where possible (open access), and ensure that users know where to find relevant closed information. If there are people out there who have an idea, and want somewhere to test it, we are the ideal location. Science 3.0 offers a lot more than just blogging. For some people this is ideal, others just want to blog and this is why we compliment all the existing blog sites so well. We act as a place where people who do not blog all the time can have a voice. Science 3.0 is where all the action happens after all the talking stops.

What is next for Science3.0 (as far as you are free to reveal)?

We aim to be completely transparent and due to user contributions, we have a million ideas. The advantage of the site is that we don’t need to answer to our superiors before acting, upgrading or developing the site. For this reason we have experimented with many pieces of software to see what works. Because ideas are implemented so fast, our current thoughts on setting up etherpads and a user web activity hub page (using software by ‘thinkup’) may be up and running by the time this is published! We are also open to collaborating with any sites who feel that we can offer something collectively, either from a blogging point of view, a software developing point of view or just an idea generating angle. Hopefully, new users continue to sign up and get some benefit from the site. As with all community based projects, a critical mass of active members is needed in order to survive. Hopefully, we are on our way to reaching this number and will continue to thrive.

Thank you so much for this interview. We’ll continue working on Scienceblogging.org and I hope you and others from science3.0.com will be able to come to ScienceOnline2011 to discuss future strategies.

Name of the site: Science 3.0
URL: http://www.science3point0.com
Feed URL:
Activity: http://www.science3point0.com/activity/feed/
Posts: http://www.science3point0.com/feed/
Motto, or subheading, or one-line explanation: Viva la evolution!
Founder(s): Mark Hahnel
Current community manager: Joerg Kurt Wegner
Geographical location: London
Date of launch: 27.06.10
Number of bloggers on the day of launch: 0
Maximum number of bloggers in the history of the site: 13
Current number of bloggers: 13
Software/Platform: WordPress/Buddypress
Average monthly traffic (visits/pageviews):
June/July ~10000
July/August ~15000
August/September ~20000
Top Bloggers: Daniel Mietchen, Graham Steel, Catherine Anderson (aka genegeek)
Key events from the history of the site:
The name change after a threat of legal action by Hank Campbell.
Live-streaming of Science Online London 2010 (with the help of Graham Steel)
Launch of the science blogging aggregator, archiver and analysis tool: www.science3point0.com/scienceblogs/
Users own developments of the site, such as Daniel Mietchen’s www.science3point0.com/coaspedia

Scienceblogging: the Gam – a Q&A with Andrew Thaler

Over the next several months, I intend to do Q&As with a number of people who have done something interesting, useful, remarkable or at least memorable in the world of science blogging. I will interview founders and managers of networks, aggregators and services, pioneer bloggers, professional bloggers and others I think are interesting and have insight and information that should not be lost to the science blogging world.

We are also continuing to develop (and need your input and help) the Scienceblogging.org aggregator where you can discover dozens of networks and communities containing thousands of science bloggers.

I am also hoping to get several more ScienceOnline2010 participants interviews posted before ScienceOnline2011 – those are also all very fascinating people and what they said in those interviews are historical documents about the origins and evolution of the science blogging (and science communication) ecosystem.

I am starting this series with the Q&A with Andrew Thaler, blogger at Southern Fried Science and manager (and one of the founders) of the new independent science blogging network – the Gam.

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?

I’m a graduate student at the Duke University Marine Lab studying gene flow and population structure at hydrothermal vent ecosystems. I started blogging on the encouragement of Kevin Zelnio of Deep Sea News. I really enjoy being able to discuss science with a broader audience. After several months I added David Shiffman and Amy Freitag to the blog to expand the discussion.

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? How do the big changes in science blogging affect medical bloggers?

I feel like the great blowout had been brewing for a long time. Even at ScienceOnline2009 there were bloggers expressing their frustration with the (then) two major networks. I’m not privy to the inner working of ScienceBlogs, but it seems like there were some deeper problems in the way the network was being managed that caused many bloggers to seek other options. The Pepsi Blog incident was just a catalyst. I think that was largely a good thing. ScienceBlogs came with prestige and a paycheck but the sheer size of the network made it unwieldy. As more direct ways of reaching an audience (Twitter, primarily) became more popular, the benefits of such a large network became less and less important, and the detriments started to become more apparent.

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 have feed reader for my favorite blogs, the ones I like to check every day. For everything else, Twitter is king, although I’ve found that since we started building a network, I find out a lot from other members of the Gam through e-mail and the back channel.

Tell us a little bit more about The Gam. 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?

The structure of the Gam began shortly after Science Online 2010. We had invited William Saleu to join us on Southern Fried Science, but we felt that a forth blogger on the main site would be quickly drowned out by pictures of dolls and posts about manatee farts. So when we moved from a free hosting platform, we set up our domain to allow blogs under the southernfriedscience.com domain. After Bomai Cruz launched, we stayed dormant for awhile. I had a vision for a network, but was busy with the rest of my life. Luckily, the structure for building a network was already there.

The Gam is a collection of (mostly) marine science blogs. Our goal is to find good new, less well known, or lower traffic niche blogs, and bring them to a broader audience. Bloggers can be nominated by any member of the Gam or they can approach us with a proposal. Once we vote on the new blog, we send an invite. After a blogger is invited, we can be set up to launch a new blog within a few hours.

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

We definitely have the marine science edge going for us, in conjunction with Deep Sea News, who we’re very close with, we comprise the largest collection of marine science bloggers on the internet. I think we’re more flexible than other blogging networks (all bloggers have total control over their web design, among other things) and we avoid the potentially toxic effect of advertisers. Each blog has a different target audience. Some of us are writing for scientists, some for the general public.

What is next for The Gam (as far as you are free to reveal)?

We have a really exciting site about to launch called Journeys. Journeys will be a group blog featuring writing by scientists in the field collecting data. It’s essentially an aggregation of expedition blogs – those one hit wonders that show up for a few months and then go silent. Because Journeys is a permanent platform, those expedition blogs won’t fade into the internets. In addition, Journeys comes with a built in audience, social media support through an active network of bloggers, and tech support, so writers can focus on writing and research and not worry about blogging from the back country.