There are a number of science blogging networks out there, with different focus, and different management styles. I used to blog at Nature Network but I left there last summer. I never felt particularly comfortable over at NatureNetwork for a variety of reasons including the way the site was set up (registration required to make comments for example), and the inability to see ones own traffic. Blogging on my own site, free from even the constraints of blogger or wordpress is a far more rewarding experience because what I gain from blogging is directly proportional to the effort I put in. If I’m too busy to write (and that covers the 2/3 of the year called ‘term time’), there are few page hits, and no comments. If I emerge from the dark pit of my office and throw out a few posts here and there, and do some rudimentary promotion of them, the page hits rise and there are occasional comments.
Blogging collectives are helpful because they can be a way of concentrating similar minded writers in one place, and also sharing the site traffic around a bit. My own viewing habits over at Scienceblogs.com used to support that – I’d call in to read a post on one of my favorite blogs, and usually ended up looking at the homepage for anything that looked interesting and worth reading. Single sites do not benefit from this, and have to work a lot harder to get traffic (if the writers are interested in traffic). But if blogging is supposed to be about conversation, then site traffic is an indicator of engagement.
Promoting a blog effectively is more time consuming than writing posts. It is about effectively engaging with conversations: reading other people’s posts, responding with thoughtful comments, engaging in dialogue in comments threads, and perhaps responding with posts of your own including links to the other conversations. Blog carnivals (writing posts for, and hosting) and memes are also good ways to engage with the communities out there. Networked Blogs on Facebook and Twitter offer a convenient way to self-promote and draw small bursts of traffic but they don’t represent the best way to build up an audience and maintain it. Reading other blogs and leaving reasonable comments takes a lot of time and effort – I’d say it takes more time than writing a post, particularly if you return to follow the comment threads and continue to engage.
I will be interested to see how the bloggers formerly of Scienceblogs.com manage as solo bloggers. I know many view their return to old typing grounds as a place holder until they get a better offer, but some look like they intend to stay out on their own. I suspect that site traffic will be quite high initially as people browse by to see the aftermath of the kerfuffle of the last few weeks. What will be interesting though is to see the returning visit statistics. I’m not sure what the turnover in regular readership of a typical high traffic blog is, but if you even lose 10% of semi-regular readers every couple of months, that’s quite a decline to make up (if you care for such things), if you don’t have the benefit of a network promoting your efforts.
But again I come back to the idea that I just don’t like blogging networks that much. Both scienceblogs.com and NatureNetwork (and I’m sure many of the newish ones will be the same now or in the future) develop very peculiar hierarchies and social ordering. These in turn generate good effects (scienceblogs.com’s donors chose initiative springs to mind) and bad effects. I’ve seen many bloggers write that they just don’t see what they gain from being part of a collective. I think they gain traffic, a minimum level of interest in what they write (some would call it a ‘louder megaphone’), and probably a little more prestige, if that’s the right word, in the eyes of some. I don’t think those things can be casually dismissed, and I dislike intensely the attitude that several bloggers have where they believe a particular network to ‘owe them’. Ultimately the growth in science and science-related academic blogging is such that there will always be a long line of people willing to take their place. The relationship between a blog network and its bloggers has to be one of mutual dependence to a point, but beyond that the blogger is always beholden to the corporate overlords and their interests. That’s the key part for me – I like control. There are no ads on this site because I chose not to have them. If a product or link appears on this site, I am endorsing or criticizing it. I’m in control of every element. I don’t have to have panels of links to other people’s blog posts, of adverts for products I know nothing about, or any kind of corporate branding. And if I write something that someone doesn’t like, it is down to me to remedy the matter, not anyone else.
It is harder work out here in the big wide world. But definitely interesting.
This post was written on Sunday July 25th and scheduled to be published on Monday July 26th.