Some thoughts about science blog aggregation

After the shake-up at ScienceBlogs over the past couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of buzz in the social media networks over what to do next.

Sure, there are some other burgeoning science blog networks, but none seem to be prepared to assume the ScienceBlogs mantle (which ScienceBlogs itself hasn’t actually yet ceded). There are also some lists of all the bloggers who’ve left ScienceBlogs, but they don’t capture all the other science bloggers who were never a part of ScienceBlogs, or the many excellent bloggers who chose to stay.

To me, the obvious next step would be to find some way of collecting all these disparate voices in one place. Sure, ResearchBlogging does some of that, but it only captures posts specifically about peer-reviewed research, which is probably less than ten percent of what scientists and science communicators actually blog about.

One idea that shows promise, at least as a stopgap, is to use an existing social network to do the task. There’s already discussion over at Friendfeed about doing just that. The advantages of such a system is that Friendfeed already has tools in place to help people “like” and “dislike” posts, discuss them, and so on.

To see how this might work, I created a FriendFeed group for Anthropology, based on blogs registered with ResearchBlogging.org. You can check it out here. But this isn’t all Anthropology blogs, or even all Anthro blogs registered with ResearchBlogging — I cheated a bit because my default report of regisered blogs doesn’t include RSS addresses. I only used blogs from Blogger and WordPress since their RSS URLs are easily reproduced based on the blog URL. And there are other problems. Many blogs cover multiple topics. How would you decide how which list(s) to put them on? What if someone started posting pseudoscience, or moved their blog? Who would be in charge of monitoring the list to make sure it remains useful? And how many people would actually register with FriendFeed just to follow blogs? The beauty of a site like ScienceBlogs is it stands on its own — you go there to read blogs about science. Someone who’s only interested in science (and not social networking) is less likely to hang around a site like FriendFeed just to read science blogs. I’m unconvinced that a set of feeds could have the same influence as a dedicated science blog aggregator.

A more elegant system would be built into ResearchBlogging itself or a similar site. Then bloggers could register once, and change their information themselves as necessary. ResearchBlogging already has editors who ensure that the registered blogs report high-quality science.

But of course, such a system takes time and money to build. It would need to somehow differentiate itself from ResearchBlogging because it would be filling a different purpose. I think it’s a good idea, but I’m not sure I want to be the person in charge of it (and that’s assuming I can convince the management at Seed to pursue it). Maybe, even though it could be a slower process, a better approach might be to build the FriendFeed groups first, then see if the interest level is high enough to support a more sophisticated dedicated website. Even those will take a little work, which I can’t do on my own. It takes a lot time to copy and paste hundreds of RSS URLs into FriendFeed, so ideally we should divide the labor (I think I can provide a list of blogs and RSS addresses sorted by topic). Who’s interested in helping out?

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8 Responses to Some thoughts about science blog aggregation

  1. I don’t see a need for aggregators like ScienceBlogs. In the end you are indebted to ‘the man’ and will have to make compromises. I like the FriendFeed solution. Let social media do it’s thing: the best aggregates will float to the top, insignificant ones will disappear. No money needed, just time distributed over many people. I’ve started one for virology at http://friendfeed.com/virology. The only question is how granular this should be.

  2. Isn’t that sort of what the Nature Blogs listing was trying to do? You had to be nominated, but once you’re in you can login and edit details. However, you can’t edit the address, so mine points at my blogger blog still.

  3. Mary Canady says:

    Hi Dave,

    I think Friendfeed is too risky. Back in ‘the day’ I owned many URLS around scientistblogs.com and was planning to set up a wordpress mu site to host science bloggers. Never got around to it and let the domains expire. Today, that would be much easier, as the Facebook integration with wordpress mu/buddypress is straightforward from what I understand. It pains me greatly to see bloggers going to wordpress.com as it is so low functioning. Also, applications like joomla and drupal >should< be straightforward to install and administer and could be used.

    Funny how things come around…I just checked and scientistblogs.org and .com are available so I snatched them up (hey I have invested at least $100 in them, I deserve it). I am willing to either help with the application or redirect the URLs with an agreement for sponsorship by my company.

    Any ideas on how to get started would be appreciated, and it would be nice to know how many of the sciblings would be interested in such a venture.

    Mary

  4. dave says:

    Christina, do you mean this page? That’s useful, but as far as I can tell there’s no active feed of the actual content from the blogs. I’m talking about something that would be more like ScienceBlogs, but with feeds of blogs from all over the internet, not a dedicated, invite-only site.

    Mary, I tend to agree with you, but I think it’s a pretty daunting task even if you’ve got some skill with Python or Ruby on Rails. Maybe Drupal could handle it — my only experience with that was quite a few years ago. Maybe you should try it out — as I said, I think I could provide the list of blogs and RSS urls.

  5. Eva says:

    I think Christina means this

  6. dave says:

    Ah, indeed, that’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. Not bad. Is it possible to tag individual posts? Or does it simply use the generic tags you’ve provided for the blog as a whole? I’m not sure this site has quite the diversity of blogs that we have on ResearchBlogging.org, but as long as the infrastructure is there, maybe we just need to let more people know about it.

  7. the nature blogs seems a good solution, but I’m not able to subscribe to the feeds by topic tags (for eg http://blogs.nature.com/posts.rss?blog_tag=neuroscience) is not recognized by Google reader. Any clues what might be going wrong?

  8. What about using technorati? Bloggers would agree on tags for particular topics, and register their blogs with technorati.com. It will aggregate posts with particular tags.

    I detailed how this would work here:

    http://dogzombie.blogspot.com/2010/07/proposal-for-organizing-science-blog.html

    As an experiment, I’m using the tag “meta-scienceblogging” for posts like this one. I don’t know if people will like this solution, but it’s available if anyone else wants to try it!

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