On science blogs this week: Networking

Does the future of science publishing depend on the future of science blogging?

 

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WE ARE NOT AMUSED. I didn't mean to spend another week on what you might call the infrastructure of science blogging, but here we are again. What was originally a spat over whether a marketing stratagem put together by junk food purveyor PepsiCo should be peddled as a respectable blog about the science of good nutrition at the network ScienceBlogs.com has trotted off somewhere else entirely. It's also getting lots less amusing.

Goodbye cola and chips, hello cosmic questions. Cosmic for us, anyway. Questions like What is the future of science blogging? And even What is the future of science publishing?

A FEW CURRENT MODELS OF NETWORKED SCIENCE BLOGGING. Some bloggers who defected from SB have struck out on their own. Blogger as individual entrepreneur will certainly remain a big part of science blogging. But recent blog chatter has centered on science blogging networks, pro and con.

Some former SB bloggers have started a new network of science blogs, Scientopia, which describes itself as "a collective of people who write about science because they love to do so." But it is, of course, not as simple as that. As you will see if you check out "The Scientopia Code," a very long post you will find here. At A Blog Around the Clock, Bora Zivkovic describes Scientopia's plans and a few of its two dozen blogs. More to come, it says here.

The departure of some SB bloggers has also generated new interest in existing blog networks. One of them is Field of Science, a not-so-big network of mostly young scientists. FoS is particularly intriguing because its founder Edward Michaud has just begun a free online course to teach anyone how to put together a blogging network. The cost, he says, will be less than $12 per year — money that will go for the first-year hosting fee. The first two sessions are online here.

THE SOCIAL NETWORKING MODEL OF SCIENCE BLOGGING. Lab Spaces, a sort of social networking site for scientists, collects "news" in the form of press releases, has lists of lab protocols, runs chat rooms, sells T-shirts, and publishes bloggers too. Most are young scientists. And most are women. That's novel. Find the blog section here.

Another social networking site with appended blogs is Science 3.0, which

combines the hypothesis based inquiry of laboratory science with the methods of social science research to understand and improve the use of new human networks made possible by today's digital connectivity.

There are a lot of things going on here, or potentially going on. Maybe too many. Find the blogs here.

THE AGGREGATOR MODEL OF SCIENCE BLOG NETWORKING. Research Blogging is an aggregator rather than a network. It is aiming at being a comprehensive collection of blog posts about peer-reviewed research, and since its alphabetical listing of blog titles is 70 pages long, I'd say it is pretty serious about that goal.

Research Blogging also organizes its searchable blog lists by subject matter, post date, and language, and you can get feeds by subject matter and/or in five languages besides English: Chinese, German, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. A caveat, however; I checked on a blog I was familiar with and found that posts at Research Blogging hadn't been updated since June, although the blogger had posted several times since then on his own site.

Those 70 pages of listings means there are at least 1400 blogs out there reporting in a more or less serious grown-up fashion on published scientific research. A terrifying number. The listings include blogs that are no longer active, but still. Fortunately, if you feel you need help with filtering, Research Blogging also provides specialist human curators who suggest posts they think are of particular interest.

And if you want to add to the glut, Research Blogging has an open-door policy.

join us! Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use ResearchBlogging.org to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

THE NATURE NETWORK. One doesn't hear much about the Nature Network, which is Nature Publishing Group's social networking site for scientists. That's in part because it's a "walled garden" — free, but you must register and log in for access. The network features a lot of blogs, its own and some aggregation of non-Nature blogs.

In the Pepsi wake, though, one hears murmurs of discontent. Or more than murmurs, as in Richard Grant's recent complaints here and here. He's irritated by the technical glitches that plague the Nature Network site, but he's also wondering about the worth of blogging in general. Another Twitter fan, I gather.

And for outsider snark, see proflikesubtance's post at a new Scientopia blog, The Spandrel Shop. You remember what a spandrel is, don't you?

SCIENCE BLOGS AND TRADITIONAL SCIENCE PUBLICATIONS. Speaking of Nature, some argue that blogs associated with publications have special problems — or, rather, the publications themselves have the problems. Recall that ScienceBlogs.com began as an appendage to Seed magazine but soon became its 800-pound gorilla. Seed doesn't seem to have published an actual paper magazine in well over a year.

David Crotty has examined whether blog networks are compatible with publishing business models at The Scholarly Kitchen, a blog from the Society for Scholarly Publishing. The title is "Letting the Inmates Run the Asylum," which should give you some idea.

He notes:

building big networks is not only no longer necessary [for publishers], it may actually endanger your brand and limit revenue. ScienceBlogs network members put the kibosh on what was likely a fairly lucrative business opportunity. By putting your company's stamp of approval on a network of bloggers who you can't control and must at all times cater to, you risk tarnishing your reputation by association.

Crotty concludes that there's

a strong case against running an open blogging network as part of your academic publication ... By all means, blog, and create your own networks for your editorial staff to blog — it's a superb marketing tool. But perhaps it's wiser to stick with participants whose interests match those of your company. Brands matter. Ceding control of your brand to strangers is a dangerous path to take.

Finally, he says

Not every technology is worth the investment for a publisher. While it may be possible to build a community, controlling it and turning a profit from it is generally not in the best interest of that community. There's an inherent conflict here that's difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

OTOH, CONSIDER THE CASE OF DISCOVER, WHICH SEEMS TO SUGGEST A DIFFERENT CONCLUSION. The timing may have been accidental, but it is sure salient to point out that Discover magazine has just been sold. To Kalmbach Publishing. Which publishes Astronomy magazine, but also hobby magazines like Birder's World and (believe it) Bead & Button. The price was a purported $7 million. Less than half of what Disney sold the magazine for in 2005.

Also salient is this fact: Discover is home to the most universally praised group of science bloggers around — a group that includes Phil Plait and Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong.

Says Hank Campbell at Science 2.0:

It is a bloodbath for everyone else in science media. Unless they were losing $5 million a month, it means that price is a disaster for anyone in science media that is not membership-funded, like Science or Nature.

Campbell goes on

It may also mean the market for print science magazines aimed at educated non-professionals just does not exist any more.

But here's the really fascinating part: the reason Discover got even $7 million in this terrible economy of non-readers was attributed to "the digital operations the brand has developed." And those digital operations are? Plait, Zimmer, Yong, & Co.

Campbell concludes:

Not a bad result for basically installing Wordpress and recruiting people who were already successful, right?