Via Larry Moran I came across this article, from the journal Cell, about the growth of the science blogosphere:
There are close to 50 million weblogs or blogs for short. Blogs provide an online discussion forum for issues of current interest and are updated regularly with new short articles on which readers can comment.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project (http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf), an initiative of the Pew Research Center, reports that 8% of Internet users in the United States, or 12 million American adults, keep a blog and 39% read one. Most bloggers (37%) write about their life and experiences; politics is a distant second with 11% of bloggers; and technology, including science, comes in at 4%.
According to the Technorati blog search engine (http://www.technorati.com), there are about 19,881 blogs with a “science” tag. Most of these are “pseudoscience blogs, new age blogs, creationist blogs, or computer technology blogs,” says Bora Zivkovic, a Ph.D. student who writes A Blog Around the Clock (http://scienceblogs.com/clock). Zivkovic estimates that the actual number of science blogs is 1,000 to 1,200 and notes that such blogs are “written by graduate students, postdocs and young faculty, a few by undergraduates and tenured faculty, several by science teachers, and just a few by professional journalists.”
These 1,000 or so science blogs provide authoritative opinions about pressing issues in science, such as evolution or climate change, or aim to engage other scientists in open and frank discussions about the scientific literature or science policy. Because of their freewheeling nature, these blogs take scientific communication to a different level.
Perhaps because we’re talking about Cell here, the emphasis is on biological bloggers. Lot’s of familiar names: Larry Moran, P.Z. Myers, Tara Smith and so on. No mention of any math bloggers! Another issue that comes up is this:
Myers not only writes about his brand of science, developmental biology, but often discusses politics and religion. “The blog would not be as popular if it was only about science,” he says. “I am popularizing science using political issues as a hook.”
The general issue is how you attract readers to your blog. I’ve noticed that around here, for example, my posts about politics and religion tend to get a lot more comments than my posts that are just about mathematics and science. However, I don’t know if number of comments is necessarily a measure of reader interest – sometimes a small number of commenters dominates a particular post, and if the Site Meter is to be believed there are a lot of people who read but don’t comment.
I think at this point the only way to really get a lot of readers to your blog is to get some big shots to link to you. That, at least, will make people aware that you are out there. To keep readers you then have to update frequently, have a fair amount of passion in your posts, and have a particular attitude that people either love, or love to hate. That’s my impression anyway.
All of this takes an enormous amount of time, of course, which is another issue raised by the article:
The age barrier is not the only thing keeping more scientists from blogging. The biggest impediment is probably lack of time. According to most bloggers, posts can take 30 minutes to a couple of hours to research and compose. That may not seem like much, except that a critical factor for a blog’s success is that posts are updated frequently, ideally at least once a day. “If I ever stop doing this, it is because of time commitment,” says Moran.
Blogging is definitely a huge time sink. In addition to the time spent actually writing the posts, there is the time spent trolling the internet looking for good blog fodder, and the fact that after investing a lot of creative energy in writing a long post you often just don’t feel like turning around and working on a hard math problem.
That said, I also agree with what came next:
In general, scientists who blog say the benefits outweigh the problems. Most believe they have become better communicators and have gained a broader appreciation of different scientific issues.
There are definitely days when I feel like I have to drag myself to the computer and search desperately for something to blog about. Most, days, however, I’m sufficiently fired up about something that motivation isn’t a problem.
At any rate, when I started this blog I never imagined it would turn into anything significant. I blogged in obscurity for about six months at a blog I called “Science and Politics.” The idea was to comment on any issue in which science and politics intersected in some way. I found, however, that most of my posts were focusing on evolution and creationism. I gave up the blog after six months partly because no one was reading it, and partly because of the time involved.
The main thing that got me back into it was the book Creationism’s Torjan Horse by Paul Gross and Barbra Forrest. Somehow Paul had seen some of my writing on the subject of evolution, and he mentioned my blog in the book. After that I decided I’d better get back to it. I changed the name to EvolutionBlog, and started focussing almost exclusively on that issue. Somehow I caught the eye of people like P.Z., who gave me a few links, and of the PT crew, who invited me to join them. After that things started taking off. Readership went up steadily, and then I got called up to the bigs by Seed. And the rest, as they say, was history.