A blog is software.
Importantly: a blog is free software.
Everyone can use it in any way they want. If there are 100 million blogs out there, there are 100 million blogging styles and 100 million ideas what blogging “is”. And anyone who dares tell others how to do it incurs the wrath of the other 100 million who are NOT going to be told what to do. Blogosphere is democratic – the voice of millions of individuals who finally have the ability to have their voices heard. They will never accept any authority telling them how to do it and what they can or cannot write.
This means that one also cannot define the sub-nodes of the blogosphere. If you say “I am a science blogger”, you are. Technorati will not remove your “science” tag if you are spewing creationist crap every day. That’s just how it is. But if you do post creationist screeds, don’t expect not to get called on it or accepted into the science blogging community. And who is the science blogging community? People who consider each other members of it.
So, what is a science blog? A blog that is written by a scientist OR a blog that more or less regularly covers science-related topics, links to and gets links from other science blogs. It is about perspective. A scientist has a scientific outlook on life. A scientist even does LOLcats differently than others. And every science blogger does it differently which is his/her prerogative.
Which brings us to the most recent upheaval, coming from this post on Bayblab. Greg, Chad, Brian, PZ, Dave, Ian, Larry, PhysioProf, Michael and DrugMonkey give good, useful and, of course, being bloggers, idiosyncratic responses.
Of course, this discussion is nothing new. We had a big one a couple of years ago – if you missed it, I have collected all the links here.
And what came out of that discussion? A bunch of stuff:
1) Two Science Blogging Conferences and some very informative discussions coming out of them – see the blog coverage from the first one and the second one. See the series of post-Conference interviews for a variety of opinions about science blogging.
2) We (and by we I mean science bloggers, not sciencebloggers) collectively edited two Science Blogging Anthologies – see the OpenLab 2006 and OpenLab 2007. Less then half of the chosen entries are from SB bloggers in both books. If you look inside, very few of the chosen posts are comments on the latest paper. They cover some aspect of science, often much broader than a single paper, often from a historical, philosophical, political or personal perspective. They explain something scientific, or some aspect of the business of science, or the life in science, in a personal voice, often with humor, but also always with authority. These are the posts that most people liked and agreed were the best that science blogging has to offer.
3) Scienceblogs.com grew from 14 to 71 blogs. Yes, a few invited bloggers refused to join and a few left, but for the most part, this is the place to be and a great honor. The overall traffic skyrocketed. A number of us commented how much more careful we are about mouthing off on various topics, scientific or not, since we joined as our scienceblogging peers are right here and quick to point out our BS. And yes, we are a community, we are friends, we meet each other in meatspace whenever we can because we have common interests and similar outlook on life. That is good, what blogging is all about, not cliquishness.
4) Others are forming science blogging communities and trying to learn from the success of scienceblogs.com. See how bloggers on Nature Blog Network are using our experience to build a stronger community there. Reading each other, commenting on each others’ blogs, linking to each other, and meeting each other in meatspace – all those are important elements of building a community.
Scientificblogging.com is another blogging community. They have a different model. Almost all of it is commentary on the freshest papers. This is fine, but is unlikely to draw much of an audience. Popular magazines, like Wired, are trying to do the same.
What we do is draw people in with things they are interested in, then deliver them to science posts and show them it is exciting, interesting and fun – and they did not even know it before. They came by googling for “Britney Spears” or “naked Harry Potter” or something about creationism or atheism, and they stay to read posts about science. That is one of the services we as science bloggers provide. And once we draw those readers in, we also send them, via links, to other people – both inside and outside our network – to read about even more science, perhaps to bloggers who do not like to blog about LOLcats or politics, but do a good job covering latest research. There is a role for every style.
And, as SB is the most popular such network (The Borg) we are very aware of our responsibility to not let the bloggers outside bite our dust. We consciously link to non-SB bloggers all the time. Scroll through my front page and compare the number of links to Sciblings and a number of links to outside bloggers. Check my blogroll. Do the same exercise on other SB blogs. Don’t use postgenomics (great tool, but does not even try to measure the popularity of individual science blogs) to order the blogs – check their traffic, see who links to them using Technorati. Yes, some of the best are here, but also, some of the best are not here. The editors are trying to put together a diverse group – diversity in topics, styles, formats and voices. They often listen to our advice when choosing who to invite next – thus people we read and linked to before, when they were outside, our now SciBlings and we continue to read each other. And meet for beer when we can. That is how a community organically grows. Nobody is snubbed a priori. There is no closed impenetrable circle. Write a good blog, let me know and if I like it I’ll link to you and blogroll you – you all know this by now. If I really, really like your new blog and keep liking it for several months, you bet I will be bothering the overlords daily to send you an invite – it worked for several people already.
Another way we support the broader science blogging community is by starting, organizing, hosting, participating in and linking to science/nature/medicine/education blog carnivals (see this, this, this, this and this to see how carnivals build community).
Oh, yes, we get paid. My blog is usually one of the top 10-12 blogs here by traffic and what I get paid on a very, very good month (i.e,. getting slahdotted, dugg, stumbled, reditted, linked from DailyKos, Pharyngula, Pandagon, Shakesville, etc.) pays for a quarter of my rent. When I first moved here, I earned about as much as I did through blogads on the old blog. I forget about it on most months and am surprised when I find the check in the mail. The only thing when signing the contract, I think they pleaded with us not to post porn. We can do with our blogs whatever we want. SB can be considered just a blogging platform for us, with tech support, and the fact that many of us feel like belonging to a community is a definite plus.
It’s been a while since I last wrote a post on a recent paper. I post a lot of other stuff and almost all of it is somewhat related to science. My readers include scientists and science bloggers, but also liberal and atheist bloggers, North Carolina and Balkans bloggers, and my Mom. Some of them like my Quotes, others like personal posts, others like a good political rant (rare these days, I know), some use my blog to keep up with what’s new in Open Access and PLoS, and others just like me for idisyncratic reasons. So, yes, I am a science blogger but not ONLY a science blogger. I am a more complicated person, and I will let all those complications get revealed on the blog. People like to see that I am a human, not just a pipetter.
My most popular post ever is this one – it combines science, society, sex, personality and even literature in one long post. It mentions several scientific papers, including one that was published right around that time, but it also summarizes the results of decades of research in several areas. And it still gets hits three years later.
About a third of my daily traffic goes to my BIO101 lecture notes – no blogging on recent papers there. Every now and then someone teaches a chronobiology course and my Clock Tutorials get some traffic. The Lysenko post is used in a California class every year. Science posts covering the basics, infused with personality and humor, seem to be the most lasting posts, with the greatest long-term impact. Harry Potter posts, just like posts on the latest scientific papers, come and go fast. Nothing wrong with blogging on both, and I did it a large number of times, but those are peripherals for me. Building and keeping a community, making friends, networking, proselytizing my pet causes (e.g., Open Access) and making good clear explanations of basics easy to find by Google are reasons why I blog. And I will never tell you how and why you should blog yourself. None of my business.