Some reflections on ScienceSeeker

On Saturday morning at the ScienceOnline conference in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, I was part of the team that launched ScienceSeeker, a new blog aggregator that strives to collect posts from all science blogs around the internet.

In contrast to ResearchBlogging.org, ScienceSeeker is inclusive. Whether you’re posting your trip to Maui or a detailed analysis of a journal article, it will show up on ScienceSeeker.

Won’t people who are looking for “real science” be discouraged by the site? I’d say if the site was launched two years ago, the answer would have been yes. But now with the rise of Twitter and the opening up of Facebook to a much wider audience, people are accustomed to getting a lot of noise with their signals. We list 50 posts on a page (and we may increase that number), so readers can easily scan past the posts that don’t interest them. No harm, no foul.

You can also filter (a bit crudely) by topic. So if you just want to see biology posts, you click on that topic, and you’ll see only posts from blogs listed in the “biology” topic. The problem with this is that we don’t filter on a post-by-post basis. So you’ll still see the Maui posts, political rants, and whatever else biologists like to blog about.

The reason for this is an elaborate compromise we worked out as we were developing the site. We wanted it to be usable from launch, so we pared down the feature list to those functions which were absolutely essential: Bloggers needed to be able to submit and claim blogs, and readers needed to filter by topic. There’s no search function, no way for individual users to edit their settings after they’ve submitted a blog, and no post-level tagging.

We finished the site in a whirlwind of activity during the last two weeks before launch. I was doing most of the CSS and graphic design, Mark Hahnel handled the WordPress install and found third-party plugins for some of our key functions, and Jessica Hekman and Chris Maden did the serious coding. Jessica in particular was simply amazing at pulling the site together, working an incredible number of hours, including a marathon session on Christmas day.

While the site is built on a WordPress framework, the guts of the system are all custom-coded plugins. Even the data for the individual posts on the site is handled by a separate database, not WordPress. The only thing we really use WordPress for is registration and administration, and as a frame for the visual presentation of the site.

On Saturday at launch, we got lots of positive feedback, and the site was tweeted all over the place, most notably by Bad Astronomer and his thousands of followers. By this morning, we’d had over 100 new blogs register, bringing the total of registered blogs well over 500.

But of course, there have been complaints as well—users want to edit/delete their accounts and they can’t do that. They want custom RSS subscriptions, and they can’t do that. They want their twitter account to automatically appear on the Member Tweets sidebar, and it doesn’t do that.

I was actually expecting more complaints—and I’m sure more will come, but overall, I’m quite pleased with the launch. The hardest thing about it is yet to come: Figuring out what enhancement we’ll offer next.

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One Response to Some reflections on ScienceSeeker

  1. Raima says:

    It’s awesome, Dave. Thanks so much for all your hard work on this! Will be checking ScienceSeeker often.

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