Over at Nature Networks, Timo Hannay has posted a conference talk in which he questions the future of science blogging:
“Science blogging is growing” I confidently wrote in an essay a few months ago. Then, like any good scientist, I went in search of evidence to support my prejudice. But I couldn’t find any beyond the anecdotal. For a year or more, estimates of the number of blogs by scientists about science seem to have been stuck at about 1,500 (give or take). Services such as Alexa and Compete.com (if they can be believed) show traffic to sites like ScienceBlogs.com to have been flat for the last few months. If anyone has good evidence that scientific blogging is growing then I’d love to hear about it. But for now I’ve had to conclude that it isn’t.
I’d quibble with this a little bit, in that I think the last several months have seen the launching of a fair number of new science-oriented blogs (Shores of the Dirac Sea is probably the most prominent example). Scientific blogging as a whole could be growing, even if the audience for any particular site is not.
He’s right, though, regarding ScienceBlogs. The total readership of the site has been pretty much flat since the beginning of the year, after rapid growth in the first two years. This is partly due to the fact that the Corporate Masters have stopped adding new blogs to the site (the total number has gotten a little unwieldy as it is), so we’re no longer bringing in new readers in large chunks.
At the same time, though, I’ve been feeling as if we’ve plateaued in more ways than one recently. Things are feeling a bit stale around here– it’s the same old audience reading the same old bloggers writing about the same old topics, ad nauseam. Some of this is due to the election sucking all of the metaphorical air out of the room, but I think it goes beyond that. Nothing against the audience we have, mind– we love you guys– but there isn’t the same excitement.
And there’s clearly a larger audience out there, that we’re not tapping into. We get a lot of hits here at ScienceBlogs, but even collectively, we’re not even close to the level of the really big blogs.
So, the question is, what should we be doing to reach a wider audience than we have now?
Mind you, this is a subtly different question than what Hannay is worrying about. His concern is mainly with the failure of scientists to embrace blogging as a part of their professional activities, not penetration to the general public. I’m less worried about scientists communicating with each other– there are plenty of good ways to do that now, that don’t require posting essays on the World Wide Web– than I am about scientists communicating with the general public. Despite the difference in the questions, though, I think I share Hannay’s concern– I don’t see the expanding audience that I would really like to see.
I think it’s clear that there’s more we could be doing, but I’m not sure what. And, of course, I realize that asking our current audience how to expand our appeal to people who aren’t part of our current audience is a little silly, but, well, I don’t have anyone else to ask. So I’ll just throw it out there: Do you think that we’ve maxed out our current appeal? If so, why? And what could we be doing differently?
(Yeah, the post title is a little deceptive. Got you to look, though.)