Leaving ScienceBlogs: What next?

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.

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4 Responses to Leaving ScienceBlogs: What next?

  1. Lab Rat says:

    I’ve been desperately trying to twitter follow everyone I want too as the leave. It is a lot harder to keep up with independent blogs compared to a larger aggregate. I doubt people will ever stop reading/following BoraZ but some of the smaller blogs might just get lost by the wayside.

  2. Tom Roud says:

    I think you would have to learn from other (mostly foreign) experiences. We actually have a community of French speaking science bloggers (including people from Switzerland and Québec) called “Le c@fé des Sciences” http://www.cafe-sciences.org/ . This community was born in December 2006, less than one year after ScienceBlogs. This is far less big than ScienceBlogs (my own blog gets around 10 000 unique visitors a month, I think the community itself gets around 100 000 visitors a month), one of the main reason probably is the French language (while English is the language of Science, and you can reach foreign people like me for instance !).

    We were actually contacted by ScienceBlogs last year to see if we could become/be part of an hypothetical ScienceBlogs.fr, but nothing happened; one of the reason is that we work as a community and manage things by ourselves, we even founded a typically French association (loi de 1901) http://association.cafe-sciences.org/ and we try to expand via partnerships with university or governmental science web site. My feeling after this Pepsigate is that in some way, it was not bad for you to have a media group to promote everything (which is what we typically lack in the c@fé des sciences), but the counterpart was the risk of having this kind of split between the bloggers and the blogging company. We do not have a media group, we are smaller, but I think we start being rather well-known on the French blogosphere, and some of our posts are even cited and linked by big French media like Le Monde.
    Maybe we should also create a kind of international Science blog platform, not limited to blogs in English.

  3. dave says:

    By the way, if you’d like to keep track of all the comings and goings, Dr. Skyskull and Carl Zimmer are trying to chronicle the exodus.

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