Bora’s Science Blogging Post

The title above should be read in the same way as you would read “McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology” or “Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage”. Bora’s post is a resource on a very specific topic, and future generations will refer to “the Bora” when they talk about the article.

The fact that Bora remembers that I was one of the first science bloggers makes me happy, because I was worried that my multiple virtual and physical moves over the past decade had made everyone lose track.

I started my first regular (non-science) blog in 2001, using Greymatter and then B2, but like many curious young university students those days I also experimented with Blogger and GeoCities. Just over a decade later I’m typing this on an iPad in the second-latest WordPress release, after a full day’s work managing my work WordPress blog. That’s right, procrastinating younger self, one day you’ll get paid to blog! (Not to play games, though, but don’t let that stop you.)

I digress. Must not let reading Bora’s blog affect my own post length!

My first actual science blog came out of my regular blog (which was called Easternblog). I had some science posts on there, but wanted to have a place where I could focus on only science. In 2005 I launched on another part of this very same domain where you are now. If you’re very quiet, you can still hear the pixels of the old posts. In 2007 I joined Nature Network, where I started another science blog, and then I started a music-and-science blog, and and and… Then I thought it was better to have everything in one place again (where you are now – unless you’re using RSS), but shortly after that I started a Tumblr again. I guess I need a constant number of blogs, and that number is bigger than 2.

What’s different now from ten years ago?

Bora gives a great overview of the major catalysts that drove the changes in the science blog community over the past few years. In summary, I think the are two BIG changes:

1. More people in general started blogging, so there are now a lot more science blogs. I no longer know everyone out there. Even Bora doesn’t know everyone out there anymore, and that’s saying something.

2. Commercialisation and institutionalisation of science blogs.

Neither change is bad, but they have both shaped the community enormously. What used to be an event with the goal to get together and put faces to screen names, has turned into an international conference on using the web for scienctific- and science communication. Am I talking about the North Carolina or the London version of Science Online? BOTH. That’s right, there are TWO events with the same history.

Effectively, we have now gone from a small globally dispersed community to such a large virtual network that it has become local again. Now, if you want to meet other science bloggers and tweeters, you don’t have to chat with friends across the globe, but you can drop by the pub in your area and meet several.

This is not unique to science bloggers, so I hope nobody is drawing the conclusion that scientists alone are suddenly more web savvy and keen to communicate. It’s a general trend.

When I had just moved to Toronto, I didn’t know many people. I did have a blog, and I knew there were regular blogger meetups. I was a bit nervous about it, so I first met up with just one local blogger, and only then took the plunge and went to my first GTA Bloggers meet up in October 2003. The people I met there are, to this date, some of my best friends.

I was lucky. Had I moved to Toronto a mere four or five years later, the local blog community would have been too big to really get to know people. In 2008, the same group of people who first met in groups small enough to go bowling were now at a massive, spectacular, Christmas party in a rented-out club. Twitter was the new medium of choice, and the hash tag of the event trended on Twitter. The event raised lots of money for the local food bank.

This is the same sort of growth – including the move to Twitter – we’ve seen in science blogging, which is now at a local level about the size that the entire blog community was in 2003. Now that I’m still relatively new in the UK, it has only been the online science community I’ve had a chance to meet. There are no general blogger meetups, because everyone has a blog or Twitter account these days.

I don’t think we quite know what to do with this massive pool of digital science enthusiasts, though. So far, the answer has been “launch more blog networks” and “get a hash tag for our scientific conference”, or occasionally “start a new business”. I don’t think any of those are necessarily things that strengthen the community. (Edited to clarify: I don’t mean to suggest they’re bad. They’re just not required for a strong community. That can happen independently of these efforts.)

I think there is a lot of potential, though, and I think that the answers lie offline rather than online. At last year’s Science Online London meeting I hosted a breakout session about the overlap between online and offline, and there were a lot of people in that room who had experience with very successful projects that were either started online and then taken offline, or vice versa. One of the best examples is Science is Vital, which would not have had the initial momentum required for its result (preventing a cut in UK funding), had it not been for a very engaged online community.

We may be bigger now, and less close-knit, but I think great things are still to come!