Things I Have Learned Blogging at Science Blogs: Part The Three

The first two pieces of this series were largely comic pieces. This one is more serious. I have said this before, but I'll repeat it - I came to science blogs for one reason, and one only - because there was no one else talking about facing up to our material limits on this kind of site, with this kind of audience. I didn't come for the money (you may or may not believe me on this one, but as I keep saying, it isn't that I probably don't have a price, it is just that it isn't a few hundred bucks a month) - I've donated everything I've ever earned here (well less than 1K, given that they rarely actually pay us) to the Heifer fund.

But the reality is that in order to find most of my old writings, you had to know what peak oil was, and why you should concerned about its intersection with climate change or food or whatever. And that's fine - I got a lot of readers that way, and it is a great site. But that doesn't change the fact that until energy depletion and the full scope of our material limits are fully part of the mainstream conversation, you miss a lot of people. And the more people who understand what's going on, the more effective our response can be.

And that's why I stayed after Pepsigate - other people have other reasons and other issues - for example, some people objected strongly to not getting paid regularly. I totally understand this, but for me, the money wasn't the point, so I only object mildly to that. I knew I was being turned into SEED's cash cow (a little one...moo), but I honestly didn't care that much - that was the trade off, and there's no life without trade offs. I knew other people were pissed at the crappy tech support, the lack of communication, the sense that SEED is three steps from bankruptcy. These all seem reasonable, but since I have the worst tech skills on the planet, I'm used to living with tech problems (we've had one on this blog that affects traffic since the beginning of the blog in December, with no sign of it being fixed), and I was willing to wait and see whether SEED could pull it together. All of this was one trade off for me - the chance to talk to an audience who hasn't heard this story before - a critical and thoughtful audience that might also bring home the reality of what has to be done to their neighborhoods.

But here's the thing - we've lost three more blogs in the last 24 hours. The stuff I don't care that much about *is* legitimate - people deserve to get paid, they deserve not to have to beg for basic tech support (SEED did give us a sort-of-new tech guy 3 days a week, who promptly went on vaction - to be fair, the guy had planned it before, but well...), and they deserve to know what the state of the company is. None of these things have really been forthcoming, or forthcoming quickly. And the blogs that went - Speakeasy Science. PALMD and most of all A Blog Around the Clock, which was a model of collegiality and community building, well, they mattered.

So now the question becomes central - can science blogs still do what I'm interested in? How long before the traffic drops off? How many good blogs can it lose before it becomes a "turn off the lights on your way out" scenario for the rest of us. Bora, in his final manifesto observed both the value of science blogs, but also argued that they were fundamentally unnecessary, that the technology was changing fast enough that science blogs can be replicated. I'm not sure if that's true or not. I do know that I find the upheaval here distracting from my central project, and that's not good. I think Speakeasy Science's departure blog was a good way of describing the degree to which this is unsettling.

Right before this happened, I turned down a-probably-even-higher-traffic blog position at a magazine blog, because I didn't want to move my blog twice in a year - it is a huge pain. That option is now closed to me, and I'm left with the question - do I stay? I know some of you are rooting for me to leave, others to stay. I've got several other options, good ones, including, of course, ye olde blogge. And again, the question is this - how do I get this story to the most people who haven't full heard it, or haven't heard enough of it to believe it? If scienceblogs helps, great. If they don't - I need to find a new way to do it.

That's always been what mattered to me - that more people know. Every person who understands that our world is headed towards a crisis that can be offset in some measure (that's not the same as magically fixed) by human action makes this better in some way. Every action we take in advance while there's still time makes a difference - every renewable energy system we build, every local farm we support, every walkable infrastructure we create, every community garden we make, every time people stop their infighting and actually work together, the future gets better for me, for you, for posterity.

The thing is, I have a great deal of faith in big tents - not in the idea that we'll all just stop arguing and love each other, but in the idea that people with wildly disparate backgrounds and experiences and beliefs can actually work together when confronted with something that's serious enough. I actually think one of the interesting results of all of this has been that the sciencebloggers have demonstrated exactly that working with one another - unfortunately, against their management. In a way, I find this heartening. I'm just not sure how best to make this happen in the wide, wide world.

Decision forthcoming, when I get around to it.



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My advice, for what it's worth, dump Seed and deliver your message via TAE. Personally, I don't pay that much attention to TAE because, frankly, I'm uninterested in the financial scene, considering it inconsequential compared to ecological issues facing humanity & the biosphere. But TAE is popular & a lot of people would see what you have to say there. TAE would become more interesting to people like me if the emphasis shifted from high finance to real world issues like putting food on the table & living within accelerating resource constraints. Just my opinion...

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 20 Jul 2010 #permalink

I guess maybe I'm too old (might really be true since I am in my mid fifties) but I am pretty close to just ditching the whole computer-access-to-the-Internet-at-home thing. Too much trouble, too much wasted time and energy not going to food growing, the net is so big I don't feel I can use it effectively. I read the blogs you linked to in this post and I appreciate what they say, but I still wonder who reads blogs, if they actually have much effect on things. I'll probably keep reading a very few blogs, like yours, for a very few more years, but that will be it. I think between financial issues, caregiving issues (my mom will be in her 80s before too many more years pass), and my tiredness of dealing with the care and feeding of computers (not to mention supporting the whole corporate-capitalist network they are an integral part of), I won't be looking at anyone's blog or anything else on the net sometime within the next 5-10 years. How many other aging boomers will make similar choices? Can younger folks continue to upgrade computers and have time to read blogs for much longer? How much longer will blogs last as a format? All questions I ponder, maybe you do too.

Wow, Claire -- it's as if you are reading my mind. Sharon's "ye olde blog" was one of the first that I started reading and I will probably stick with her and a couple of others. However, I am also getting tired of computers and the upkeep - especially at work. In fact, I have not had a computer at home for the last four years and am enjoying the peace and quiet very much. So I am not looking for other blogs to read - enough is enough.

I'd love to read your work at TAE as well - for some of the reasons Darwinsdog gives. I don't consider the finacial aspects inconsequential, but a fuller picture including other related topics would be great.

As for computer technology, I think younger people will continue to embrace it for as long as they possibly can. And my 80-year-old great aunt is on Facebook, so who knows who else is reading!

Like darwinsdog, I don't spend a lot of time at TAE, though not for quite the same reason (though detailed information about finance is not my cup of tea either). The reason I don't spend a lot of time there is because the format and layout are lousy. It's a real turnoff when one has to scroll, scroll, and scroll some more to get to the article one wants to read. Therefore, when I'm there (and I do check it out at least twice a week), I tend to read Ilargi's or Stoneleigh's analysis at the top and ignore the rest of the postings. (I almost never get to the comments at the bottom.) So if you were to move your blog over to TAE where your columns might be buried way down there, I might miss it--I hate to say.

On the other hand, if TAE changed their format to something closer to what Energy Bulletin does, where the headlines of several articles are readily visible without scrolling, my opinion might change.

Claire, I gave up the internet & land line at home two years ago next month. I've not missed it. My son did, apparently, since he got a cellular modem thingie for his laptop. His staying up late at night online then being braindead because of it the next day when I needed his assistance around the place became a source of conflict between him & me. I don't ever want internet access available at home again. I have wasted literally months of my life over the years arguing imponderables with strangers online. It's nuts. Keep your computer for word processing & number crunching, etc., but dump the internet, is my advice. Live a real, as opposed to a virtual life.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 20 Jul 2010 #permalink

Have you seen Mike Ruppert's new venture? It's worth taking a look at the intro for the sake of seeing what's going on in the world of Peak Oil communications.…

Also, I listened to the latest interview of Matt Simmons sunday night and then found Kunstler devoted his monday blog to that interview. If, and I say if, Simmons is right, the Gulf disaster could be the tipping point that begins the real, serious economic collapse of this country.

Even if Sommons is wrong, I still think the cost of the Gulf disaster to this country will be enough to seriously undermine the economy and create huge hardship for most people, the beginnings of which we are already seeing.

All of which is to say - as I have said before - there will come a time Sharon when your books and ideas will be in great demand and people will easily find you and your works no matter what.

I love TAE as much as the next person (which it looks like might be Darwinsdog, so perhaps not the best contrast.. hm...), and I'll bet Ruppert's plan is a good one, but I take it that part of the point of what Sharon is doing is to find audiences that don't *already* buy what she has to sell. Now, TAE readers might not already be on her boat, but they're in the same harbor. And Ruppert's place will be literally preaching to the choir. I liked that at scienceblogs, Sharon got a really new audience who had not been exposed to these ideas before (or if they had been, it was limited and/or poorly). I hope that either SB will continue to be able to offer such a venue, or she can find a new comparable one.

Classic dilemma. Do you think it's a higher priority to get the message out to wider audiences, or do you think it's more important to make sure the process of spreading it remains completely consistent with the message itself? What are the central points of that message, and can they jibe with the questionable ethics of the company providing the space?

If not, how does one go about disseminating this stuff out to a different audience, when the media for doing that may not always suffice? Because preaching to the choir doesn't do much.

I certainly don't know. They're big dilemmas for a lot of messages I care about, though.

I love TAE as much as the next person (which it looks like might be Darwinsdog, so perhaps not the best contrast.. hm...)

Love you too, Robyn... :) Have to disagree, tho, that many or most of the TAE readership is in the same harbor as Sharon's readers. My take is that most of the TAE readers are financial types who aren't even in the same ocean basin as hobbyist farmers practicing to be subsistence agriculturalists once the ecological meltdown gains a little more momentum. There may be a little overlap in readership but I think that Sharon's message would reach a whole new audience on TAE, an audience that especially needs to hear what she has to say. And, Don, I agree that TAE could make its format a bit more user friendly.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 21 Jul 2010 #permalink

Okay, out of left field a bit here, but my take on spreading the message is this:

Go for the moms. Once a mom "gets it", she gets galvanized. She reads. She plans. She converts those around her (the dads, the other moms).

And you get to the moms through the MSM. Granted, a tough nut to crack, but some cracks have started to show in the past couple of years. Think Oprah and the beef industry. Oprah is as mainstream as it gets, but the woman is willing to think and speak out and seems genuinely to care about wanting the best for people. She is also not beholden to anyone but her own audience.

Martha Stewart is another possibility. The Dervaes family of Path to Freedom has also appeared a couple of times in the MSM, including an appearance on the Food Network, one of the network news magazines and, yes, Oprah.

I've been P.O. aware since early '95 and reading Casaubon's Book since then. I don't watch TV myself, but I used to be a journalist. I do not consume any mainstream media anymore other than skimming the New York Times (to keep track of what "they" are thinking). Yes, the MSM often ridicules and distorts and trivializes the offbeat. (As a homeschooling parent I have seen that done over and over and over.) But I think the MSM is the best way to reach a wide audience, and the best way to reach the moms. And the moms are who you want to reach.

Keep blogging for us, but to spread the message, go for the moms.

By ideasinca (not verified) on 22 Jul 2010 #permalink

oops -- P.O. aware since '05, though it seems like a lifetime, and I had a funny feeling about things way back in 1969. But Sharon wasn't even born then, and she wasn't blogging in '95.

By ideasinca (not verified) on 22 Jul 2010 #permalink