Dave Munger Gives the Inside Scoop on ResearchBlogging

i-78e146eb55f0b6fbc3e4a40285ce5f37-dave.jpgAs everybody's talking about, the snazzy new version of ResearchBlogging.org launched on Tuesday. Powered by Seed Media Group Technology, ResearchBlogging now has a host of new features, including multi-language capability, subject-specific RSS feeds, and profiles of registered users.

ResearchBlogging was the brain child of Dave Munger, a writer, a science educator, and half of the genius behind our most popular psychology blog, Cognitive Daily. (That's Dave at right, hiking in Pasayten Wilderness in Washington State, the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states.)

We sat down with Dave in New York last week to find out more about how he came up with the idea for ResearchBlogging (hint: a nun's involved) and what's in store for the project in the coming months. Check out the full interview below the fold...

How did you come up with the idea for ResearchBlogging?

That's a long story. Greta and I started Cognitive Daily by only blogging about peer-reviewed research. A couple of years ago, we decided we wanted to expand and cover things that weren't strictly about peer-reviewed research, like links to news articles, polls, that kind of thing. But we had a large base of readers and we didn't want to alienate them by adding this other content. So, we developed our own icon that indicated that it was a post about peer-reviewed research.

Then, a nun, actually, Sister Edith Bogue, who's a professor of sociology at the College of St. Scholastica, emailed me and asked if she could use our icon on her blog because she did the same thing: sometimes she posted about peer-reviewed sociology research, and sometimes she posted about her vacation or what she was doing with her students that week in class, whatever. I said to her, well you can do that, but our icon is designed specifically for our site: It's got a little cog on it, it doesn't really make sense for other people to use it. And she said, well wouldn't it be great, though, if there was one icon that anybody could use to distinguish their posts? And I said, yeah that would be great. That's how the idea started.

At the beginning it was just an icon, there was no ResearchBlogging.org at that point. We had a contest to design the icon, and there were some, um, controversial results to the contest. But we finally came up with our icon, and there was this discussion online about this. People realized it would not be that difficult to create a single central website where all of those people who used the icon would be in one place.

Did you do the coding for the first version of the site?

No. The first version of the site was completely designed and developed by an undergraduate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Zachary Tong. And he did a great job for somebody who was really busy--he was working in a lab almost full time and was a full-time student. So he did it all on his spare time. It's really amazing what he did. Since then, Seed called us and offered to take over. So they've been working on this second generation that we launched on Tuesday.

So it took off right away? Give us some raw stats.

Over 400 bloggers registered for the first version of the site, including 43 ScienceBloggers and three bloggers from ScienceBlogs.de. There have been over 1,700 posts and we average about 15 posts a day, which is more than twice as much as what the NYT puts out in a day.

And what will those numbers be a year from now?

Well, we'll see! One feature that's added in the new version is the ability to import older posts. So now people can go back into their backlogs if they want to feature something that's still relevant they can. I think that within the next month, we'll probably double the number of posts easily. I think we'll significantly increase the user base as well. We've never really publicized the site until now.

Will ResearchBlogging always be limited to just science?

Not in principle. Now it's just science because that's the network that we have right now. Scientists write about peer-reviewed journal articles a lot, just kind of casually, naturally. Now I'm trying to think about how we might change the definition of what qualifies as "Research Blogging" depending on the discipline, because I really want to encompass all fields.

In English [blogs], for example, which I'm familiar with because I actually started as a literature blogger, people tend to read a new novel by somebody who's really well known and then they'll offer their review of that novel. The novel's obviously not peer-reviewed literature, but if you have an English professor who's offering analysis of a book by a Nobel prize-winning author, then I think that's at least the equivalent of a graduate student writing an analysis of a journal article that showed up in the Journal of Particle Physics or something. (No offense to particle physicists!)


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Technical point first - the link to Cog Daily needs fixing.

My main point relates to an idea I had at sciblog. How about hooking up RB to a Zemanta-type browser addon. A blogger starts writing and the addon identifies keywords and researcher names, and pulls in likely references. Blogger flags primary research paper on which the post is focused and the system inserts the citation in RB format automatically.

I blogged it here