In case you’re not up on the goings-on in the science blogosphere, let me bring you up to date. About two weeks ago, ScienceBlogs made a disastrous decision to sell Pepsi a “nutrition” blog with equal standing to all its independent, hand-picked science blogs. The hypocrisy in handing a nutrition podium to a company that is seriously implicated in the global obesity crisis was astonishing, and even worse, the dozens of bloggers who’ve worked for years to build ScienceBlogs’ reputation were taken completely by surprise.
Perhaps at least ScienceBlogs’ resident nutrition bloggers should have been consulted. Instead, they and many others have now left the collective. The icing on the cake occurred today when science networker extraordinaire Bora Zivkovic wrote a manifesto proclaiming his own departure.
Coincidentally, Greta and I left ScienceBlogs about six months ago, for different reasons. I simply wanted to move on to other topics, and because of our special system for managing the blog, Greta couldn’t keep up the blog on her own.
I decided to try an experimental blog, with a brand-new theme, The Daily Monthly. While many CogDaily readers made the shift to the new site, it never approached the popularity of Cognitive Daily, and readership stagnated. I decided to shutter that blog after just four months. While ultimately I don’t think it was a great concept for a blog, I do think that if The Daily Monthly had been a part of ScienceBlogs, it probably would have attracted much more attention — perhaps not achieving the popularity of Cognitive Daily, but still, attracting a decent share of readers.
Why? Because ScienceBlogs, for all its troubles, remains an incredibly powerful idea. As Bora points out in his post, there are now some other good blogging networks, but it’s unclear whether they will ever hold the same sway that ScienceBlogs does (did?). The site I manage, ResearchBlogging.org, can serve as a partial solution as well, since it loosely brings a large group of blogs together. But ResearchBlogging in its current form can’t highlight the issues of the day like ScienceBlogs does — not all science news, and little “breaking” science news, is peer-reviewed, which is a requirement for appearing on our site.
Social networking, too, can take up some of the slack, but it still doesn’t deliver the power of a dedicated, hand-picked blog network — otherwise The Daily Monthly should have been easily able to take off from the base of readership we had built at Cognitive Daily.
If they want to continue to have the kind of influence they used to have at ScienceBlogs, I think the bloggers who have left the site need to do something more than just start or restart their old, independent blogs. They need to form a new network — perhaps built around different principles, but a network nonetheless. They might choose to have a central site based on RSS feeds or some other aggregation system, but there needs to be a systematic way to connect their conversations. Otherwise, most readers will tune out. It’s simply too much work for most readers to follow a diverse set of disconnected blogs. Social networking sites like Twitter can bring important individual posts to light, but are less effective at sharing the extended conversations that go on between blogs.
The bloggers who remain at ScienceBlogs might be tempted to leave because their friends are leaving, but I’d suggest a cautionary approach. Even with all its problems and distractions, ScienceBlogs remains the most influential science blogging network in the world. If it is managed well — and I believe it is still in good hands with Evan Lerner as editor — it can move beyond this. Frankly, for most bloggers on ScienceBlogs, they have more opportunity to share their views with the largest possible audience by staying than they do by leaving. While Seed does make mistakes, it is capable of learning from them — it shut down the Pepsi blog before it had even gotten started.
Although ScienceBlogs may struggle to regain its credibility, for an individual blogger, leaving the network and retaining your influence is a much more daunting task.