I got a bit annoyed with Twitter this weekend. I’m following about 400 people, even after I culled a lot of them, and I want to keep following all these people, but I’m getting a LOT of tweets I don’t care about. The problem is that I follow many people because I know them, and for some mysterious reason I make friends with a lot of people who are involved in politics and policy-making, and they tweet a lot. A LOT. My own interest in politics is at the same level as my interest in public transportation or nutrition: I don’t hate it, I appreciate that it exists and is important, I’m even happy to talk about it once in a while, but I don’t need to see tweets about it all the time. I suppose the same applies to many people who follow me because they know me, but don’t care about any of my science-themed tweets. It’s a side effect of Twitter having become both a professional and a personal communication tool.
I know I can solve this particular problem by using certain programmes and apps, and I don’t need to get advice on that. (In other words, if you respond to this by recommending TWeetdeck or lists or something, I know you didn’t read past the first paragraph.) This is not a rant about Twitter in general, it was just an example about a more general mix-up I’ve experienced, where interests get muddled.
I’ve also experienced it when blogging. When I choose to write a blog post about something, I do find the topic interesting, but often only in small amounts, or from one particular angle. What I like best about it, is the writing itself. I wrote it because I wanted to write about that topic, not because I love that topic. When I write about X, Y, and Z, the message I want you to get from that is “Eva likes writing”, not “Eva likes X, Y, and Z so much, let’s talk to her about those things all the time!”
The things that interest me continuously are much harder to write about. Part of the reason is professional: I can’t really write about everything. But I don’t even have the urge to write about it much. I don’t spot it as blogging material, because it’s always there. The things I do spot are especially those things that are not continuously on my radar.
That may also be one of the reason that, as many people have experienced, it’s harder for working scientists to write general audience pieces about their own field of research than about a more distant topic. Aside from the issue of language, you simply can’t spot what’s interesting anymore, because you’re constantly surrounded by it.
Now I’m wondering what urged me to write this post. (Meta klaxon!) It’s certainly not a deep-rooted permanent interest in the psychology of blogging and Tweeting. Once again, it was something I noticed. In particular, it was the programme for SpotOn London.
SpotOn London has three concurrent tracks: communication, tools, and policy. Even though I’m speaking in the communication track, most of the talks I’ve circled in the programme are tools talks. I rarely write or tweet about tools for science communication and publishing, but – or sould I say “because” – it does really interest me. I’m even going to bring my non-coding self (not to be confused with non-coding DNA, although technically that’s part of me, too) to the hackday the day before the conference. I’m also really looking forward to the “The Journal is Dead, Long Live The Journal” session, about the future of publishing, even though I never blog about publishing…
I can get frustrated when people don’t seem to get what I do and don’t care about, but I realize I’m projecting a particular image via blog posts and that image doesn’t always reflect what I love. I also signal “interest” when I follow someone on Twitter, but that can be amicable interest (following a friend) rather than a sign of approval of all their tweets. Maybe I need to figure out how to make it clear what *I* like, and not worry so much of what everyone else thinks I like…
Hoping they’ll lose Pinterest
This post also appeared on my science blog. If you read between the lines, it also explains both why I first decided I didn’t want a personal blog anymore, and recently revived it again.
The people who introduced me to blogging were not scientists or academics. They were online friends I’d met through playing games. A few of them set up their first blogs in 2001, and I thought it looked fun, so I started one as well. It was on an archaic blogging platform that doesn’t exist anymore. B2? Greymatter? Whichever came first. It was more a diary than anything else, and the only people reading it were my friends.
When I first started thinking about expanding my blog to cover science, there weren’t many other science blogs. I’d been clicking around to see what was out there, and I remember seeing the blog that was later revealed to have been the science blog of the woman who moonlighted as a prostitute and who blogged about that elsewhere under the Belle du Jour pseudonym. There were really only about five science blogs back then. It was ages ago. The web was young.
Now I manage a professional science blog, where researchers sign up for a WordPress account and blog about their work. Scientists have taken up blogging as an almost natural thing, and I don’t mind that at all. Of course they would. It’s a medium. You can use it for anything you want. Pictures of cats. Science. It makes sense.
The people who introduced me to Twitter were not scientists. They were my techie friends in Toronto, who I knew via blogger meetups. “What is Twitter?” I asked in a pub one night, and my friend said “It’s like Facebook, if it only had status updates.”
Now I manage two Twitter accounts for work. They’re followed by Twitter accounts from other scientific publishers. I don’t mind that at all. It’s a good way of keeping in touch. Twitter has become its own medium. You can tweet about anything you want. Sandwiches. Science. It makes sense.
I joined Facebook so I could see a friend’s photos that she uploaded there. She’s not a scientist.
Now I manage a Facebook page for work. I link to the posts and job ads that scientists have posted on our blog. Scientific societies ‘like’ my status updates – or at least the people managing their page do. I don’t mind that at all. Almost everyone has a Facebook page now, and subscribing to professional updates is a convenient way for them to see all the news they need to know in one place. Family news. Science news. It makes sense.
But sometimes, certain internet-minded scientists, who so fervently jumped on blogging half a decade after it first started, go a teensy bit overboard in their praising of an online tool.
I heard about FriendFeed via science bloggers. None of my other friends ever used it.
I heard about Google Wave at a science blogging conference. None of my other friends ever used it or even heard of it.
I heard about Google Plus via science bloggers. A few of my other friends created a profile, but immediately abandoned it – like everyone else.
The people who introduced me to Pinterest were not scientists, admittedly, but this time it only took weeks, not years, for the first science/web-people to jump on the bandwagon. They were really excited about it. Probably the most excited I have ever seen a group of mostly men be about a website of mostly pictures of dresses. And the dreaded questions were asked: “How can we use this for science?”
You can’t, okay! Just leave it!
Not EVERYTHING on the internet has to be twisted and molded into some sort of vehicle for science communication. If it’s a good fit for such communication, like blogging or Twitter, it will happen. But if you try to force your professional research interests onto something that is so purposely modeled after scrapbooks and inspirational pinboards and NOT after anything remotely resembling the way you normally distribute or find scientific information, you are only going to be annoyed and disappointed. Disappointed with the way it functions. Disappointed with the restrictions it imposes.
Why do I care? I didn’t care that FriendFeed or Google Wave or Google+ never worked out, but as soon as I now see the same group of people that thought those tools were the next big thing get completely disproportionately excited about an online product, I fear that it will succumb to the same fate. And I do rather like scrapbooks and inspirational pinboards.
Academics may have invented the web, but not everything that’s on the web has to do with academics. Nobody is going to judge you if you just want to use a product for fun, so please stop trying to turn everything you like into work.
My only consolation is Instagram – a safe haven of food and pets. Until the first person sepia-filters their lab notes and considers it as a medium for research dissemination, that is.
I joined Pinterest to look at some fun things as distraction, but lately it’s just the next thing to succumb to forced professionalization. All kinds of science people joined to use it for science communication, and now there are articles everywhere on how to
use leverage it for work the workplace.
Just leave fun things alone.
I feel like a kid who just realized their favourite playground games were “educational” all along.
I guess real life pin boards can also be used either for pretty things or as notice boards for work. Just don’t expect me to put work stuff on my inspirational pin boards.