Is it just me, or have some science blogs been running out of steam lately? I know earlier this year we had a number of people (either on their blogs or privately) express that they were considering giving up blogging to concentrate on other things. I haven't been paying attention for that long, though, so I thought I would open up the question to whoever might want to chime in. Particularly in the case of long-time science bloggers, are you just as enthusiastic about science blogging as you were a year ago (or when you started)? How have things changed?
For my own part, a number of changes have made writing the massive posts I used to produce more of a challenge. I can think of a few reasons.;
- It's hard to find the time. On a day like today I work for seven hours, drive home (~45 min.), scarf down a quick lunch (~30 min.), hop on the bus (~30 min.), go to class (~50 min.), get back on the bus (~45 min. because of rush hour), and then have about three hours to eat dinner and do whatever it is I want to do before my late-night math class. During those three hours it is difficult to get motivated to write about peer-reviewed research or similar things. Usually I just want my headache to stop.
- I'm more concerned about detail than I was before. When no one was paying much attention to me it was easy to read a book, take that information, and write a post. Now I know that I have scientific experts and knowledgeable non-professionals reading, so I put a lot more time and effort into a post. Where I could rattle off posts relatively quickly before, now it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to write and edit a solid science post. Which brings us to our next item...
- Even though my main motivation for blogging about science is that I just like doing it, the vagaries of the blogosphere can sometimes be discouraging. There have been times when I've written something very quickly and posted it just to have something of substance on the blog and later found that it got picked up on Digg or StumbleUpon. Other times I put a lot of time and effort into a post that I think is going to share something interesting and almost no one takes notice. (I am not blaming anyone; not everything I write is gold. But it is a common trend.) Typically I never know what is going to be popular and what is not, and when I'm pressed for time there do not seem to be substantial benefits to writing meaty science posts.
- I also have other writing projects going right now, both on and off the web. Some, like the book project, you know about, others I have kept under my hat. These projects represent a sort of "next step" beyond the blogosphere that have more potential to help me build a career. If the difference is between writing a blog post and working on an academic paper that might eventually be published, the paper wins. Blogging has helped me get to the point I am at now, but if I keep putting all my energy into blogging then I'm not going to be able to develop some of these other things.
Am I going to stop blogging? Of course not. This post is mostly an attempt to identify where I am at as I approach the 1-year anniversary of writing for ScienceBlogs. If anything I'm looking at ways I can change my strategy; posting less often but having those posts be of higher quality. I do not have a concrete plan for changes yet, but things are certainly different for me now than when I started writing about two years ago on ProgressiveU.org.
It's tough for me to juggle blog posting with my other "free time" activities. You may have noticed that I don't post nearly as much as I once did. Hell, back on the original blog, I posted three times a week.
But now my job is tougher, my home workload is bigger because I own and house AND a condo, I was doing an art show, and now I want to write a book (or two). Getting really fantastic posts up is tougher to do, but it feels good. I'm never really discouraged from blogging, even if my (supposed) best posts don't get many (or any) responses. I also feel really guilty every time I blog for the sole purpose of asking for a paper, as I do from time to time.
But I'll never stop blogging--I love it!
There have been times when I've written something very quickly and posted it just to have something of substance on the blog and later found that it got picked up on Digg or StumbleUpon.
Heh. I did just that for this post, and it got picked up by StumbleUpon and Google News. Did you know posts here could end up aggregated on Google News? I sure didn't.
Typically I never know what is going to be popular and what is not, and when I'm pressed for time there do not seem to be substantial benefits to writing meaty science posts.
Yep. I have a crazy scheme to deal with the "why write meaty essays" problem, to which the month of November will be dedicated. . . but I probably shouldn't be monologuing about my crazy schemes just yet.
No one will fault you for not posting as frequently. But also, doesn't your blogging platform let you write posts that can be set to be posted later?
Just recently I took a look at what kinds of posts bring traffic. Of course, there is a difference between good and bad traffic, i.e., a quick Digg surge (nobody ever comes back again) and a slow but steady accumulation of readers who appreciate quality science blogging. They may not comment, but they read.
I'm under contract to write a book, so that's naturally cutting into blogging time. And it's not the kind of book I can just phone in. :) Not that I would....
For me it a new job, where I actually am doing some real science and loving every moment of it. I spend 9-6 at work mostly in the lab, 6-8 dinner with my family and helping put the kids to bed. By the time I remind my kids to stay in bed for the 14th time, I'm exhausted. Then I have oodles of emails to get through, have to plan out my experiments for the next day, and catch up with my wife. Then the weekends I try to devote to being with my family. Lately we've been house hunting as well. So it is near impossible to write original content right now. I am writing up my Masters thesis still (even with already starting the new job, ugh!), writing 2 papers for publication, redoing figures for a paper that is supposed to go to press in 10 days, Outlining a book idea myself and trying to squeeze in some drinking time! Its not easy, there aren't enough hours in the day.
I know when I was really rolling out the blog posts, I was avoiding my thesis and hardly even working (because I really disliked my position at the time, and I was looking for work). I had more time on my hands. I am always enthusiastic about science and writing about science. That will never die down, I just am doing too much that I can't focus on a single thing. so I've been taking the easy way out in the last few months by linking out often and posting pictures with little text.
I'm 54, older than you and most of your commenters, and I wrote quite often for my blog for the past 3-1/2 years. I have some great frequent commenters and we have had some wonderful salon-like comment conversations over the years.
But I've had some health issues lately and my motivation to post has flagged. I think every blogger has to to take a break now and then --real life intrudes.
It takes a lot of time
Brian, you still post a lot ... the most of anyone science blogger I have in my reader. And, to be honest, I don't read them all ... I typically actually read about one a week. Like others have said above, doing other things has taken a bit out of my own blogging (which includes reading/commenting on other blogs). I simply can't keep up as much. So, I'd rather see you post less but still with the passion that you have for the topics you write about. Just my $0.02.
As others have suggested ... less can be more. The sheer number of sci-bloggers and bloggers in general that I follow keep my reader filled with 3-figure volumes every day. I, for one, would not be disappointed with fewer posts from any and all, with the anticipation that those remaining posts would be 'better' (whatever the h3ll that means) and more worthwhile for me to read.
It will also help when the dang election cycle is over. Too many peeps posting endlessly about all the various facets of all that, IMHO of course.
Anyway, good 'thinking' post, this one.
Like Digital Cuttlefish, it takes a lot of time to be creative.
Researching a blog post and making new artwork (or writing a poem) are similar that way. I've aimed to get artwork up every Monday. But now that the ball is rolling, I have a thin but steady stream of commissions and artwork to do for my online print shop, and time is indeed the issue.
Of course I live for the dream of painting my weird little paintings as a full time job, but it is just a dream.
There have been times when I've written something very quickly and posted it just to have something of substance on the blog and later found that it got picked up on Digg or StumbleUpon. Other times I put a lot of time and effort into a post that I think is going to share something interesting and almost no one takes notice.
My thoughts as a ScienceBlogs reader on why this may be the case:
Just as the bloggers have a problem finding the time to write, many of us who read and comment cannot always spend as much time as we'd like with your output. When I get into a time squeeze, I find that I tend to skip large, "meaty" posts, but may read a few small posts and perhaps fire off a comment or two.
Somehow, that actually speaks to the quality of those posts: a thoroughly researched and well written article deserves a thorough, thoughtful reading to be worth reading at all, while some quick banter about things I already *know* doesn't demand much of me as a reader.
The net result is a smaller number of readers for the large posts addressing a subject in-depth. A sad state of affairs? Yes, but that's reality with a busy and demanding audience.
If you blog it, they will come!
I agree with Kevin Z, the times when I'm blogging the most are the times when I'm avoiding the huge pile of stuff I have to get done. But it's true, as a grad student I work 10 hour days, then there's training, I have to eat and sleep, and then there's my SO. And I'm supposed to be working at HOME as well as at work.
But blogging on science has helped my productivity a little, it's made me prioritize, and once in a while I'll blog something related to my thesis, which keeps me reading the relevant stuff.
I agree about boingboing and stumbleupon. I get those for all the stupid little posts I do on sex, while my well-thought out posts on things like depression generate no views at all. I guess I do it just to keep myself reading. Reading things outside my field got me excited about science all over again, just when grad school was about to kill it all entirely.
A new school year has recently started. Online science writing has been like this for as long as I can remember. Most of the university-based writers appear to 'lose steam' about 4-6 weeks after their university's busy semesters start.
Things always pick back up again when summer rolls around.
I'm a little late to this conversation, but I find it an interesting one. I've been blogging prolifically for a year and a half. During that time, I've noticed several of things you've mentioned, Brian -- such as the tendency of my (self-judged) best posts to gather few comments or views. I have also noticed that roughly every 2 or 3 months, my mind takes a week or two week long break from blogging, whether I want it to or not. My motivation collapses and I can't think of even a single idea I want to blog about. Things then pick up again, and I'm back to being a prolific blogger. The thing is: I haven't yet learned to just go with the flow. I always try to fight that cycle.