Did you recognize the National Geographic Theme Song?

i-9dcd26e803299d1df492012beec8b119-croppedSA-2003-07-20_0075.JPGThe new arrangement between National Geographic and Scienceblogs is now, like the proverbial cat, out of the bag, so I feel comfortable making a few brief remarks about it.

As far as I can tell, the information that is currently circulating is not entirely accurate, but not in any way that matters just yet. For instance, National Geographic has not bought out Science Blogs. Seed still owns Scienceblogs.com, and we Sblings (prounced “Siblings” as in “kin”) have the same arrangement today that we had last month and we’ve heard of no changes in that arrangement in the near future as far as the pragmatics of contracts, content ownership, payments, etc. are concerned. Even if there was such discussion, however, those details would be either private or at least, uninteresting to any of our readers, or so I would assume.

National Geographic has taken over (or will take over) the site’s advertising. I don’t really know what that means, but I expect we might see (or have seen) a shift in what appears on the right side bar with fewer ads for mail-order brides and more ads for, I dunno, exotic travel destinations or something.

i-c216839fd3fa42f66367f102ab86594e-Laden_Lion_Kittens_SA-2003-07-20_0082.JPGOne of the most exciting possible changes is that we will have a new blogging platform with improvements in both the back end (how we post and manage comments, etc.) and what you as a reader get to do in the comment section. What we have now is OK but I feel in some ways that the Internet has moved a bit beyond what we are doing and how we are presenting ourselves. I look forward to a modernization of our commenting system, social networking, and so on.

I know that anonymity in commenting is important to my readers, and I’m sure that this is important to NGS as well. If you are a regular anonymous commenter on my site, don’t give this issue a second thought.

In other words, for the most part, what you see now on this blog will be mostly the same as what you will see later on after that which is planned (or being planned) develops, but upgraded. Feel free, though, to express your concerns or even requests (thinking especially about technology) in the comments below. The folks from National Geographic will read them, and I assume your comments will matter.

I don’t want to talk about any of the other developments or possible changes or upgrades because I regard these as private in-house conversations. Believe me, all the ideas being tossed around now are in their blastula stage. I assume that if somebody has some great idea that we can turn into something real on the blogs, that part of making that work is deciding when and how to “roll it out” as they say. I am just one little blogger, and not the marketing department at National Geographic or the Community Manager at Seed. I will blather at length internally about what I think is good and bad, and I’ll represent my readership as well as I can, but the conversation has to be compartmentalized to a reasonable degree.

There are two concerns that have been expressed here and there that I’ll address in vague yet strident terms right now: Topical content and tone.

i-c586fa3e8692b2456506e345529ac107-Laden_Baby_and_LionessSA-2003-07-20_0051.JPGAt the larger scale of Scienceblogs in general, I’ve been told clearly that NGS is very interested in all that Scienceblogs has to offer, and I believe them. They want all of the topics we cover as a group. There is not some category of blogging going on here that they don’t want.

Regarding tone and style, or as some put it, standards and practices, there is the difficulty of marrying a renegade, untamed, wild, often profanely exuberant and, in relation to normative journalistic fair, truly exotic beast (scienceblogs) with a staid and traditional institution (National Geographic). But really, National Geographic has been interacting with exotic cultures since 1888. The real issue may be how pure one needs to be; If Ed Brayton continues to produce his “Dumb-ass Quote of the Day” blog posts exactly as they are, but changes the title to “Dumb-Heiney Quote of the Day” so that NGS fan-children will not be sullied, is it very much of a leap to then assume that Ed Brayton’s soul is now owned by the Montana Travel Bureau (a randomly chosen NGS sponsor)? I imagine that a small number of Ed’s readers will assume so and storm off in a huff, but really, probably his soul, if it existed, which it does not, would remain unfettered.

Or, maybe not. There is something to be said for purity in social movements and the New Bloggers are a social movement that demands purity. Phsioprof reduced to recipe bogging (does he still blog here?) is not Phsioprof. A “Standardized and practiced” PZ Myers might look a lot like … oh, no, wait, I’m not even going to go there.

But I do hope each and every one of my Sblings can find a way to make this work for them, and even more, I hope that every one of my Sblings can find a way to make this a very good thing for them.

But what about this blog, in particular?

i-3018225539a0f0c69649a34b2a1a3df1-Laden_Lion_MadSA-2003-07-20_0012.JPGJust as news of this arrangement moving forward was coming down the pipe (and this latest movement came fairly suddenly though we all knew about the fact that something was coming for months) I was busy contemplating my own blogospheric navel, though rather privately. In fact, I’ve been down here in the blog cave doing things that no one knows about at all, not even Amanda or Julia or Huxley, and there are a few things that everyone knows about.

You do know that I’m now contributing one post every four weeks to 10,000 Birds. More importantly, that post is a certain kind of post. I don’t just blog something there once a month; Rather, I contemplate a range of topics within the category of Bird Evolutionary Biology, try to link it to a subject of interest to bird watchers, find a more or less current twist on it, and put it all together in a blog post that is more essay-like than bloggy-ranty or what-I-had-for-lunch like.

i-1ff84dfa1fe7c890402c74ca27da2cf5-LadenTiger.jpgYou don’t know that I am (slowly but surely) creating a version of “Evolution … not just a theory any more” that includes only the substantive posts and none of the bloggy stuff. The old version of Evolution… will become an archive, still accessible but not the default landing spot on gregladen.com, and the new cleaned-up version will have the occasional item added to it. The idea is that Evolution… will become a reasonably engaging landing place for educators and others interested in human evolution, evolution/creationism and related issues. You go there not just to see the last post, but perhaps to land somewhere in the middle and scroll through a series of semi-related things.

You may have noticed that Quiche Moraine went silently and suddenly dormant several months ago when all three authors more or less simultaneously stopped blogging, and at least four or five strong efforts distributed among us to get new co-bloggers and/or guest bloggers simply failed. Lately, though Mike and Stephanie and I have been talking about reviving the thing, and have considered various strategies to do just that. Quiche Moraine was where I blogged about Life, Love and Dinner, and a bit of Local Politics.

And then there is the Bush Rock Project. Top Secret.

i-3ebec08c0eeb86bcbb26ecbed0ea6b98-Laden_TwoKitties.jpgGreg Laden’s blog was going to become …. well, what it is now, my main home-blog where I rant about how Netflix got something wrong in their ROKU interface, analyze peer reviewed research, talk about Linux and Weather Radios and so on. But it is always true that I’m thinking about ways to improve. For that matter, I’d simply like to do more of what I originally wanted to do when I started blogging. I think there are ways in which the link to National Geographic will help me do that.

After all, I am an anthropologist. I did live with Pygmies. I have seen a bird eat a monkey. I have changed direction to be downwind from … all sorts of things … while closing in to collect data or shoot them with a camera. If National Geographic started a new blogging dealie and asked me to join it, I’d likely say yes.

But I was thinking of changing the name of my blog. I had been thinking about this before, and the NGS thing suddenly made me really want to do it. Yes, I have something in mind, and it is very cool, but feel free to suggest your own ideas.

The prospects of partnership with NGS may change some or even much of the above outlined distribution of my efforts, but it will do so only in ways I feel comfortable with. I may consolidate my rants into fewer, yet somehow rantier, posts with pictures of exotic cats on them. I might find more ways to link Ubuntu (the OS) to Ubuntu (the Southern African cultural concept). I may shift certain political discussions, especially about local issues, to a revived Quiche Moraine. I may seek more partnerships like the one I’m doing now with Ana, because I feel like we are really accomplishing something. And there may be a podcast in there somewhere.

And think of this: Whatever the audience of National Geographic consists of, those individuals that would be exposed to my site because of this partnership may hear about things they otherwise may not have heard about. The Naturalistic (and other) Fallacies as critiqued by me, and a bit of Linux and an anthropological approach to skepticism. And the text they read will have been written in emacs, which they may never know but which will subtly change the position of the chronosynclastic infundibulum.

And, of course, I may need to change the color of my blog’s banner. Oh, wait, no, I already did that! Eons ago!


  1. #1 Azkyroth
    April 29, 2011

    I have no fucking patience whatsoever for the superstitious, panicky paranoia about a few mostly-Germanic-derived terms for body parts, sex acts, and excretory processes. Anyone who can’t see past “NAUGHTY LANGUAGE” is unworthy of notice, let alone taking seriously.

    I’m also suspicious about some of the ideas for the blogging front end given how I wish, wish, wish so many other sites would just get “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” through their heads.

  2. #2 pteryxx
    April 29, 2011

    Swearing or no swearing, if Nat Geo means better adserving, wonderful! Whoever did Seed’s adserving let far too much malware get through.

  3. #3 Charles Sullivan
    April 29, 2011

    No time to read this really long post tonight. I’ll read it tomorrow. But the Nat Geo Theme song sounded a bit like the theme song to Hockey Night in Canada. Weird.

  4. #4 Charles Sullivan
    April 29, 2011
  5. #5 Charles Sullivan
    April 29, 2011

    Oops, sorry (as they say in Canada), wrong link.

  6. #6 James Hanley
    April 29, 2011

    It sounds like you might be a great fit for a Nat Geo affiliated blog, Greg, but Dispatches and Pharyngula less so. Even if Nat Geo is only doing the advertising, most companies care deeply about what kind of content their advertising is associated with, so I think Ed Brayton’s concerns are legitimate–not yet proven true, but legitimate trepidation about what might come down the pike. Your blog is excellent, but of a rather different character than theirs. The great thing about scienceblogs to date is it has not attempted much of a one size fits all policy. Larger corporations are more likely to prefer that approach, having a much larger stake in their corporate image.

  7. #7 Benton Jackson
    April 29, 2011

    Here’s the first blog name that occurred to me:

    “An Unladen Swallow”

  8. #8 Mu
    April 29, 2011

    Hmm, I was trying to make the stormtrooper march fit, but that is Dum Dum Dum Dum Dum de Dum Dum de Dum.
    Good luck with the new overlords, if you go quiet we look for snakes with large center bulges.

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    April 29, 2011

    James, don’t forget that National Geographic has been involved with ScienceBlogs for a while. They’re just increasing their involvement now. They’ve had every opportunity to know exactly what they’re getting.

  10. #10 Pete Moulton
    April 29, 2011

    Well, as long as NGS has more internet savvy than Seed (and a real, functioning IT department), I’m good with this.

  11. #11 Rick O'Leary
    April 29, 2011

    Thank you for this note, and PZ Meyers note; this was a bit longer(or it seemed so) PZ’s was a bit more on the “tone” of his blog.

    I find them both worthwhile.

    Finally, I have today updated to Natty Narwal (11.04)… Anyone else have difficulty with Samba 4?

  12. #12 horace
    May 1, 2011

    Well, I’ll miss the ads for mail order brides.

  13. #13 travc
    May 2, 2011

    Instead of trying to enforce standards and practices, NatGeo could reasonably (IMO) request that NSFW posts, posts with profanity or other potentially objectionable material (to overly sensitive people) be flagged. Hell, they could automate that quite easily.

    There could then easily be two (or more) different versions of everything served… a censored version for the young-ones with overly protective parents (and probably those parents) would be accessible alongside the original. A very simple implementation would be via virtual hosts, but they’d probably want to do something with cookies and javascript and all that jazz.

    I could live with that. Of course I’d never visit the censored version, but NatGeo could link to it without having to worry about sullying their image.

    Hum… NatGeo’s image… sorry, just remembering those photo essays of half-naked pacific islanders from my youth 😉

  14. #14 Samantha Vimes
    May 3, 2011

    Sounds like the best case is if Nat. Geo. simply is doing what many readers have said during discussions of the financial issues & ads with Seed, and actually sees the real potential of politically engaged, well educated, intellectually curious, regular readers for properly targeted advertising– and will be totally hands off, avoiding linking their own brand to the content, so they don’t have to worry about appearances. If they just want to leverage their connections within media advertizing to sell our eyes to Galapagos Island tours, Save Habitat nonprofits, Space Camp and REI, everyone could come out a winner.
    If they meddle and lose the most popular blogs, it won’t be good for them.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    May 3, 2011

    travc: They got shirts.

    Samantha, regarding linking etc.: There will absolutely be cross-linking or some kind of joint venture or cooperative effort between NGS and SB, but it will be on a blog by blog basis and fully cooperative and depending on the will of the blogger, as I understand it. Bloggers are not going to be compelled to alter or adjust or develop content on any basis of NGS’s interest, though those of us who already blog on topic will look forward to making those connections. But I have no idea what that will look like. But every one will keep their shirts on, I’m sure!