Home » Blog, Featured

The Nature of Science Blog Networks

25 July 2010 862 views 18 Comments
Blogging permitted
Image by cameronneylon via Flickr

I’ve been watching the reflection on the Science Blogs diaspora and the wider conversation on what next for the Science Blogosphere with some interest because I remain both hopeful and sceptical that someone somewhere is really going crack the problem of effectively using the social web for advancing science. I don’t really have anything to add to Bora’s masterful summary of the larger picture but I wanted to pick out something that was interesting to me and that I haven’t seen anyone else mention.

Much of the reflection has focussed around what ScienceBlogs, and indeed Nature Network is, or was, good for as a place to blog. Most have mentioned the importance of the platform in helping to get started and many have mentioned the crucial role that the linking from more prominent blogs played in getting them an audience. What I think no-one has noted is how much the world of online writing has changed since many of these people started blogging. There has been consolidation in the form of networks and the growth of the internet as a credible media platform with credible and well known writers. At the same time, the expectations of those writers, in terms of their ability to express themselves through multimedia, campaigns, widgets, and other services has outstripped the ability of those providing networks to keep up. I don’t think it’s an accident that many of the criticisms of ScienceBlogs seem to be similar to those of Nature Network when it comes to technical issues.

What strikes me is a distinct parallel between the networks and scientific journals (and indeed newspapers). One of the great attractions of the networks, even two or three years ago, was that the technical details of providing a good quality user experience were taken care of for you. The publication process was still technically a bit difficult for many people who just wanted to get on and write. Someone else was taking care of this for you. Equally the credibility provided by ScienceBlogs or the Nature name were and still are a big draw. The same way a journal provides credibility, the assumption that there is a process back there that is assuring quality in some way.

The world, and certainly the web, has moved on. The publication step is easy – as it is now much easier on the wider web. The key thing that remains is the link economy. Good writing on the web lives and dies by the links, the eyeballs that come to it, the expert attention that is brought there by trusted curators. Scientists still largely trust journals to apportion up their valuable attention, and people will still trust the front page of ScienceBlogs and others to deliver quality content. But what the web teaches us over and over again is that a single criterion for authority, to quality curation, to editing is not enough. In the same way that a journal’s impact factor cannot tell you anything about the quality of an individual paper, a blog collective or network doesn’t tell you anything much about an individual author, blog, or piece of writing.

The future of writing on the web will be more diverse, more federated, and more driven by trusted and selective editors and discoverers who will bring specific types of quality content into my attention stream. Those looking for “the next science blogging network” will be waiting a while because there won’t be one, at least not one that is successful. There will be consolidation, there will larger numbers of people writing for commercial media outlets, both old and new, but there won’t be a network because the network will the web. What there will be, somehow, sometime, and I hope soon will be a framework in which we can build social relationships that help us discover content of interest from any source, and that supports people to act as editors and curators to republish and aggregate that content in new and interesting ways. That won’t just change the way people blog about science, but will change the way people communicate, discover, critique, and actually do science.

Like Paulo Nuin said, the future of scientific blogging is what it has always been. It’s just writing. It’s always just been writing. That’s not the interesting bit. The interesting bit is that how we find what we want to read is changing radically…again. That’s where the next big thing is. If someone figures out please tell me. I promise I’ll link to you.

Title of this post is liberally borrowed from some of Richard Grant’s of which the most recent was the final push it took for me to actually write it.

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

  • http://friendfeed.com/cpikas Christina Pikas

    we’ll see :)

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • Pingback: Blogging Professors: Big Boffins with Blogs « O'Really?

  • http://friendfeed.com/joergkurtwegner joergkurtwegner

    "The interesting bit is that how we find what we want to read is changing radically…again." … that is why I rather trust people than technology or just journals … the social web is good in helping here based on the friends around you. As McAfee said the bullseye explains what you will read, most main of your strong ties recommendations, but also the surprises of professional strangers. http://andrewmcafee.org/2007/11/how_to_hit_the_enterprise_20_bullseye/

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • http://friendfeed.com/cameronneylon Cameron Neylon

    Joerg, that’s true but I think there’s a lot more innovation to be seen around improving the technical side of that filtering process. I think what we’ll ultimately see will be a very sophisticated combination of social, software agent based and filtering but we’re a very very long way away from that yet.

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • http://friendfeed.com/cameronneylon Cameron Neylon

    Christina, my feeling is that SB will survive just fine, that there will be more consolidation, more mainstream media outlets hiring in high quality writers, but that ultimately people will lose interest in what the source platform is vs who the writer is. And writers will then need to make a choice between whether they are writing for themselves, representing themselves, or if they are writing as part of some bigger media brand. Nothing wrong with either approach, depends who you are and what you want to do – and what your immediate needs are but I think the conglomerate will start to fade.

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • http://friendfeed.com/joergkurtwegner joergkurtwegner

    Cameron, that would be "web 3.0" and honestly, technology is not the problem, but the reluctant crowd and the web inactives are. I simply follow DeMarco "You can’t control what you can’t measure", so if they do not contribute, we measure non-activity, and this does not help improving any mining methods (for the rest of us)?

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • http://friendfeed.com/cameronneylon Cameron Neylon

    I agree the reluctant crowd (that’s a great term incidentally is there a cite for that or is it yours?) is the biggest issue. I hope that there will be an element of just capturing behaviour rather than intention that will help (tho that raises privacy issues as always) but the key will come when people value the publication of intention and curation. In a sense its a return to something Maxine Clarke has always advocated for as the role of the journal editor, the valuing of curation – I just think it can be much richer than a simple yes/no answer. But I think there are technical problems that could help if they were solved. At the end it is all mixed in. Interface issues, social issues, time issues, attention issues.

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • http://friendfeed.com/cavlec D0r0th34

    There’s more that holds a conglomerate together than the desire to multiply traffic. I wasn’t in Sb’s inner circle — or even its outer circle — but there WERE circles there, of people who liked and trusted each other. Not dissimilar to some circles on FF. I don’t expect these circles to dissolve; they’re not reader-driven to begin with.

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • Pingback: Thank you! « A Blog Around The Clock

  • http://blogs.nature.com/eva Eva

    Great post. Insightful as usual. Instead of leaving a comment, can I comment in person at SciFoo over coffee? I know you like everything to be online and accessible, but I like coffee and meeting in person. Ha!

  • http://cameronneylon.net Cameron Neylon

    Absolutely! Coffee and in person are good as well!

  • Pingback: Letting The Inmates Run the Asylum: Are Blogging Networks Compatible with Publishing Business Plans? « The Scholarly Kitchen