On Nature Network

Foreword: Everything in here has been buzzing around my head for the last few months. It has nothing at all to do with the recent trouble at ScienceBlogs.com, and the main reason I have waited until now before saying anything is that a few of us met with Lou and Matt last week to discuss some of these issues, and I didn’t want to preempt that discussion.

If you know anything about me, then you know that I’ve done my fair share of flag waving (and criticism) of this whole online networking shtick. Search for On the Nature of Networking here for examples. I’ve been involved in online fora since forever, it seems: I started by reading the bionet.molbiol.methods-reagents group on usenet, followed by various hobbyist groups; took in the Science Advisory Board; numerous PHP-type fora; and so on and so forth. I started an online diary–a proto-weblog, really–in about 2001 although I’d been running a website since about 1995. I’ve used the internet for my own gain (and perhaps it has used me, occasionally), and initiated various life- and career-changing events that wouldn’t have been possible without it. “Web 2”, or “social media”, has naturally played its part in this too.

So you might be surprised that recently I’ve been questioning the whole “why” of it. What is the point of online networks?

A couple of years it became a bit of a joke among some of us that there was a new scientific networking site every week. Each one promised to be the “Facebook for scientists”. Of them, I can only remember a couple; perhaps ResearchGate is the one that sticks in the mind, and that for all the wrong reasons (questionable marketing practices being the least of them).

The problem that all these sites came up across was that they didn’t really offer anything that scientists wanted. Scientists already have enough to do online (and don’t underestimate the power of email for making new contacts): so it’s difficult to know what yet another “web 2” site can do for them. Of course there are exceptions: the Science Advisory Board has an active online community, based around its business model of selling opinion to suppliers (and crucially, it rewards scientists and medics for taking part). There are other fora and sites based around tangible products, or shared interests (Mendeley and LabLit are examples in each case). Other sites offer sharing of protocols and methodological tips.

So what is the point of a site that simply says, “Come and be social”?

This is a problem that Nature Network faces. There is no real product, no added value for participants. Sure, you can meet people here, and make lasting friendships (I have done, and I’m very grateful for them). But once those people swap emails, facebook contacts, twitter nicks or whatever, then what is left to do here?

If that isn’t bad enough, the fora at Nature Network are badly organized and very difficult to navigate. It is all but impossible to casually pop by, ask a question, then come and see what’s happening a couple of weeks later. I had to ask where the private bloggers forum was a week ago! (And yes, I’d posted on there previously.) Martin Fenner and myself and a few others launched a ‘good writing’ forum here. Heaven only knows where it is–I keep getting email alerts but nobody knows it is there, nobody can find it; you can’t see it when you rock up to Nature Network all fresh faced and bushy tailed.

So I’m beginning to wonder, does Nature Network itself have a point any longer? If as I’ve argued above the value comes from finding that people exist, then after we’ve met each other and moved on, is it time to let it die a natural death?

Oh, you say, what about the blogs?

It’s not MT4, it’s a very naughty boy.

Oh yes.

I’ve been writing here since 2007. It was pretty quiet back then. I was, truth be told, pretty darn stoked to be asked. Nature! There seemed a small number of good and interesting writers, and there was a certain cachet associated–at least, for an academic.

But then things started to go a little wonky.

The cracks in the blogging platform started showing. They’d always been there, but as the bloggers got more sophisticated, they began to expect more; and the platform wasn’t delivering. Moveable Type 4 was promised, and promised, and promised…

It become a running joke. “MT4 will fix that,” people would aver when faced with a technical glitch. Other bloggers would nod knowingly. No space to upload images? “MT4 will fix that.” Wonky HTML? “MT4 will fix that.” Inability to customize blogrolls? “MT4 will fix that.”

Then, MT4 finally turned up, and what a disaster that turned out to be. I was locked out for a week. I had to have two different logins–one for my blog, and one for the rest of the network. I still have to log in each time I want to comment on a different blog. When I’m logged in, I have to refresh the page to write a post or report spam (and I have no idea what happens to my spam reports by the way). It takes a geological epoch to log in some days, I have to log in every five minutes (and I’ve learned to copy comments to the clipboard before hitting ‘submit’ because there’s a good chance it’ll all disappear into the ether) and if I go to a bookmarked link (because as I said above it’s impossible to navigate) without being logged on I get a really helpful blank page.

Now, those are technical glitches that presumably could be fixed (maybe in MT+6 weeks as I’ve taken to calling it). But not only should it never have been allowed to get to that state, each little thing that’s wrong makes me less inclined to participate. Hence the low rate of posting here recently.

But there’s more than that.

One of the things that attracted me to NN in the first place, as I say, was the cachet of Nature. Now, I’m no longer a research scientist, so that doesn’t really draw me any more. But also, NN has a bit of a negative cachet in the rest of the blogome–where, actually, I’m more interested in being seen and accepted. It has a high barrier to casual commenting (the lifeblood of blogs!)–a stratospheric barrier to non-scientists. Furthermore, there are too many blogs hosted here.

Is that a problem?

Well, yes. Being invited to write on NN was something special, back in the day. And now we have a load of–quite frankly–boring and badly written blogs cluttering up the Network. One of the great things about NN was that the most recent blogs would appear on what I like to think of as the ‘front page’: network.nature.com/blogs/. At a glance I could see what was happening in the community; the blogs and the comments. It was easy to keep abreast, to engage, to see what was going on. Now the amount of traffic makes it very difficult indeed–and yes, I could use RSS to keep track of the things I’m interested in, as I do for other non-networked blogs, but then where is the point in Nature Network?

Moreover, where is my visibility to the outside world? This walled garden has its advantages; we’re more civil, generally, and have some really great conversations because of the set-up; but with all the noise going on what are the chances of being featured so that the outside world can see me?

Is that an ego thing? Maybe it is, but for the love of Pete I’m a blogger. If there’s anything bigger than my ego I want it shot and brought to me on a plate right now.

Seriously though, NN is just too big to work, now. The number of comments is lower, the half life of posts much shorter; the noise is louder.

So I’m led to ask, what’s in it for me? NN gave me a free platform, a little bit of publicity, and I’ve given them a shedload of good writing, free publicity and a fair amount of goodwill, I’d wager. Now, I think I’d like something back. I’d like some acknowledgement of what I’ve done and can do, and at a bare minimum that should include a site that works and some decent visibility.

After all, I have technical chops. It’s not that difficult to set up an independent blog, and market it successfully. And today, when my posts are buried beneath boring reports of suck-up meetings and the technical problems that make writing here a chore have mumbled along for half a year, I’m wondering whether it’s worth staying.

Harsh? Maybe, but there’s more.

Currently, Nature Network is looked after (babysat?) by Lou Woodley. She’s the only full-time Nature staffer with responsibility for the place. She works hard, she tries hard, and she does a pretty good job with limited resources and tools. Matt Brown helps out, but he’s freelance so can go and do more fun stuff if he wants. The problem is that Lou is working pretty much in a vacuum. Where is the upper management support for NN? Where is the vision?

If there is no serious commitment to NN at NPG (and if I’m wrong about this and there is vision and real belief in NN’s mission, I’d like to know the name of the senior manager responsible, please), then who’s to say the plug won’t be pulled tomorrow, or next week, or in MT+6 weeks?

I get random people asking me for help with marketing or their experiments. All right, I can get that anyway because I don’t hide online, but there seems to be this sense of entitlement to my opinion just because I’m on NN. I can do without that, actually. I can do without the bugs, I can do without the lack of visibility, I can do without getting snapped at when I point out a bug or complain about something; I can do without people thinking I get paid for this, actually. Yes, I have a lot to be grateful to NN for, but over the last year more and more it feels like what I’m getting out isn’t worth what I’m putting in anymore.

So, there’s a couple of questions that remain.

First, assuming that NPG in some way benefits from my blog, what do I as a writer now hope to gain from Nature Network? What’s in it for me?

Second, is there any reason I shouldn’t move my main blogging activity to my own site; and/or set up a separate, independent blogging collective for some like-minded individuals?

For much of the next two weeks I plan on having no internet access. I’m going to think about these questions, and maybe a plan will have crystallized during that time.

Meantimes, peace.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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130 Responses to On Nature Network

  1. Simon Levey says:

    I totally agree with you about NN having no point.
    I joined fairly early on, spurred on by Li-Kim and a couple of other friends. I logged in, uploaded photo and bio, got lost, joined some groups, made a group, went round in circles, forgot my password and forgot to come back.
    The redesign hasn’t been much better – although like you I keep getting emails notifying me somebody wants to join my group, and I’ve no idea how they even found it in the first place.
    I even went to a couple of the socials, but tailed off because it was nothing more than that. Just a social. I was already a generalist science communicator, so in theory it should have been useful for contacts, but somehow it just wasn’t conducive to actually getting around to talk to people.
    In fact, the best (?) thing that happened as a result of NN was that someone once stood next to me in a bar toilets and said, ‘oi it’s you from Nature Networks’ and I didn’t remember who he was and he wouldn’t tell me. Another socially inept scientist, no doubt!

  2. Ian Brooks says:

    Copy cat! Just cos u got wordz don’t mean mi post dunt countt!
    I hate uuuu! Sike!
    Awesomez post and discussion bro. You are the Bora of my Network

  3. Katie - says:

    “Is that an ego thing? Maybe it is, but for the love of Pete I’m a blogger. If there’s anything bigger than my ego I want it shot and brought to me on a plate right now.”
    I’m wildly infatuated with that sentence. And know you’ll be fine wherever you write.

  4. Pete B says:

    Katie – in that case you may enjoy sentences written by other great writers who have done quite well, such as Douglas Adams.

  5. Richard P. Grant says:

    Heh. Ian knows very well how long I’ve been thinking about this.
    Simon, didn’t I see you on Friday? You didn’t say hello then either. 😉
    Katie, thanks for popping by! Long time no see. As Pete says, I can’t claim originality for that. Zaphod Beeblebrox is my role model.

  6. Richard Carter, FCD says:

    You’re totally right about the walled garden thing. It has irked me since Day One, and is the main reason why I don’t make more use of NN. It just took me 5 minutes to remember the email address I made up when joining so that I could post this comment. By all means require people to login, but let them use their own OpenIDs, rather than requiring them to create a NN account.
    Green, firm, under-ripe. #bananarank

  7. Brian Clegg says:

    Richard – you’ve put your finger on it fairly and squarely.
    I don’t understand NN either. I moved my main blogging activity out a while ago, and find doing anything in here a major faff. I’ve also got a group, the Science Writers group, which has a big number of members, but hardly anything gets said there, which reinforces the ‘what’s it all for’ thing.
    For me, the main benefit of NN has been to gain a number of excellent friends both those I’ve never met in the real world, and those I’ve bumped into out there. But it’s almost that it acted as a catalyst to kick start those links – I read these people’s blogs direct, I seem them on FaceTwit etc – but now I’ve sort of outgrown NN.
    It’s really sad, there OUGHT to be something valuable to do with it, but I’m not sure what it is.

  8. Kristi Vogel says:

    I’m still perplexed by the multiple sign-in screens. I can post to my (boring and badly-written) NN blog, but that requires more sign-in screens and more waiting.
    I don’t have FaceTwit accounts, so NN is my social networking site, I suppose. Without the attraction of CISB ’09, I doubt I would have overcome the activation barrier to travel to the UK last year to visit other friends, and I’m very grateful to Henry and others for having organized that. I spent three years in London as a postdoctoral fellow, and from a purely selfish and nostalgic angle, NN allows me to have some connection, however tenuous, with that part of my life.

  9. alice bell says:

    This post did something I rarely do, and made me signed into NN, which probably says something largely in agreement to several of your points…
    I have always thought NN was a reasonably closed space, but that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Spaces where similar people can talk to each other can be very useful (as long as they aren’t clique-y and the members don’t kid themselves that they are doing public engagement).
    But I get the impression that a lot of NN bloggers want to do more with their blogs. They’d really like a broader audience, and I really don’t think NN is helpful in that respect. Who was it who said SB’s was a high school clique and NN was a gentleman’s club?
    Personally, I think it’s weird that science blogging has developed in association with large media brands such has Nature and SEED. I suspect it’s something to do with trust issues and wanting the validation of a larger group (didn’t Prof Curry say something similar in his piece about blogging for the Biochemist?).
    I wrote an article saying roughly this (as a side point in larger essay on popular science) a bit over a year ago. Academic publishing going a the speed it does, this won’t be out till the Autumn, at which point it may well be completely out of date!
    Stand on your own science bloggers! You don’t need these big media brands. You don’t even need your communities. You are strong independent voices, speak out as such. Otherwise you’re a forum member, not a blogger.
    (I’m not entirely sure that forum/ blog distinction is fair, I’m just being augmentative)

  10. Benoit Bruneau says:

    So, from a non-blogger and occasional participant, I do agree that NN was on its way to something interesting (which is why I joined) and has since degraded. Henry Gee no longer blogs here (why?), the redesign makes it more difficult to do anything, and for some reason my network disintegrated (more than half of my connections are no longer there)…now this last one puzzles me: did a bunch of you get together in a pub and decided collectively to remove me from your networks, or is there a bug in the system? Either way, not a very friendly place for the occasional visitor eh?

  11. Stephen Curry says:

    Benoit – I for one can assure you that no cabal met to plan your exclusion from NN! I (and I think also plenty of others) am always glad to have your contributions.
    Indeed it is very good to have your perspective on Richard’s post. No doubt he’ll say as much himself but I think he’s travelling today.

  12. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Thanks Stephen. I wasn’t really serious, but something weird happened, and with short attention spans things like this can easily drive people elsewhere.

  13. Cath Ennis says:

    Excellent post, Richard.
    I’ve had a definite sense of the benefits:drawback ratio shifting over the last six months or so. Given that splitting my blogging efforts over two sites is a hassle, the benefits have to be good ones, and I’m not convinced that they are any more. The primary benefit to blogging here is the people, the new friendships we’ve all formed; but as you said, we chat to each other just as much on Facebook and Twitter as we do on here these days.
    The drawbacks? Well, the technical hassles are a pain. Sign in multiple times to comment on multiple blogs, decide to write a blog post, sign in again, hit refresh to be able to see the right buttons to start writing… not a huge deal, but it all adds up, especially for casual commenters for whom the sign-in process is already a deterrent. (I’ve always said that I’d like people to be able to use pseudonyms on here, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen).
    But really, the major drawback (as you and Ian and others have already said) is the feeling of certain restrictions on what I can write on here. I understand the reason for the restrictions, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. And all attempts to lessen the perceived “Big Brother” atmosphere have been shot down, e.g. our (well, mostly Bob’s) attempts to re-write the much-maligned “Policy” page that’s appended to all our blogs.
    I have nothing but praise for Lou and M@ as individuals, and I have no doubt that the technical problems will be fixed sooner or later. But given that I can blog just as easily elsewhere with more freedom and better technical features, I am (as you already know due to months of private discussions) definitely rethinking the idea of blogging on this, or any commercial, network.
    Enjoy your vacation!

  14. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Cath’s comment makes me realize perhaps where NN fails a touch. THe point I thought was for like-minded people to connect and share ideas. So far so good. The point of having it on the internet is so that anyone anywhere can participate. OK, that too. But it feels to me that the people doing most of the communicating to each other are in close proximity to each other, or often meet in person anyways (they might as well just talk over a pint, no?). So somehow there is less of a broad community feel than there could be, and I don’t know where this has arisen from. The other thing is I’m not sure how committed Nature is to this. They started a delightful web-based site on stem cells, which required considerable work from the Nature editor who got it going, and then pulled the plug, for “financial reasons”. I think it is rather important to know, for those of you blogging, whether anyone at Nature actually thinks this is worth developing.

  15. Cath Ennis says:

    Well, I’m actually an outlier in that regard! I’ve never managed to meet up with any other NNers in real life, although I’ve done very well at meeting other, independent bloggers a little closer to home.
    I didn’t know about the stem cells site that got pulled. That’s a little scary, given this and other discussions about the future of and support for NN within NPG.

  16. Eva Amsen says:

    I don’t think it’s a proximity thing, and last year I wrote a post that says as much but in many more words and with pictures.

  17. Stephen Curry says:

    There may be a touch of truth in what you say Benoit – it has been my experience that meeting in real space someone you have only ever known online does help to cement the relationship.
    But it is nevertheless possible to have good relationships and, better still, meaningful discussions with people whom you only know online. That was certainly my experience in my early days on NN (and I hope you feel the same). Since then, through the advantage of being in London, I’ve been lucky enough to meet quite a few of the folks. However, I don’t see the people I know very regularly (and have never met Cath!), so having an online space for conversation is still useful. But as Richard says, there are plenty of other venues for that besides NN. For me the initial draw was the group of interesting people who were discussing in some depth the larger issues surrounding the business of being a scientist.
    It is interesting what you say about the community being less broad than it could be. Do you think it’s because we London-based NNers have some sort of advantage or come across as cliquey? It would be good to think that new people would feel able to join the conversation but there seem to be barriers that some are reluctant to surmount.
    P.S. There are some further thoughts on network blogging at Cameron Neylon’s blog.

  18. Austin Elliott says:

    What Stephen said.
    I think NN can sometimes come over a little “Londonista”, speaking from my perspective as a chippy North of Englander.. But I suppose from where Benoit is, I’m probably “in proximity” too. All relative, I guess.
    I’ve never met most of the NN bloggers/commenters in real life, and AFAIK have not many any of the ones I have met more than once. But I would second Stephen’s comment that meeting people in “real life” does help build a community feel.

  19. Åsa Karlström says:

    I would agree that I’ve totally missed out on the action on the “non blog side of NN since the MT4” simply because I’ve lost that link to the groups and all… and having to resign in and all.. I stay here on the blog side of things and I click on my “networks” and keep up with what’s going on there….
    I’ve never, like Cath, met any (one exception) of the NN bloggers – and as non-blogger myself – and I agree on the sentiment voiced by others in the commentator sector that on-line is probably better (certainly easier) to maintain if you’ve met the people at least once.. and as a non-Londoner I haven’t. That doesn’t matter at the moment though, for my wish and hope to go to London and go to an encounter (sounds bigger than I wanted it to sound at the moment) and meet in flesh all these interesting scientist whom blogs I read or to read certain blogs that I have already located.
    My “problem” is that I am not catching on to new blogs. I read the ones I’ve read for a while, and I am happy with them. They mostly have brought up interesting thoughts and questions that I am interested in reading (and most times commenting) but to be frank, I don’t know why I would venture outside the known? It’s a bit hard to start aimlessly looking here at NN since I have some other places I can get “new faces” without the hassle.
    I realize that this sounds terribly vain/lazy/what have you – but it’s sort of the truth. That said, I still have a happy moment every day logging on NN to see if any of my network people have written anything to make me think, ponder and react. (like this post, thanks Richard!!)

  20. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Yes, perhaps it was the London-heavy population of NN that created this impression. I stand corrected. Thanks Eva for reminding me of that post. That said, not sure what is going on then. Blog fatigue? Richard’s post brings up a lot of good points, and it seems that the science blogosphere is undergoing a profound shift. From an outside perspective, I enjoy a place that I can drop by, read some clever post, and maybe participate. I hope NN will continue to be this place, but that’s up to you guys.
    And speaking of MT4, what happened to the nifty instructions on how to embed a link or a picture? Just when I was getting comfortable, it all got shifted around. Aren’t these things supposed to get easier, not more difficult? Next thing you know it’ll all be written in binary.

  21. Stephen Curry says:

    What Austin said. 😉 (Your turn now).
    And Åsa and Benoit, both of whom identify the quality of the posts as the main reason to keep coming back. This was a point made in Cameron Neylon’s post (which I linked to above) when he quoted Paolo Nuin – “the future of scientific blogging is what it has always been. It’s just writing. It’s always just been writing.”
    But added to that is the quality of the discussion and Benoit identifies one of the key problems with the current set-up: it is simply too hard for new people to drop by and join in:

    “Just when I was getting comfortable, it all got shifted around. Aren’t these things supposed to get easier, not more difficult?”

    Nail. Head.

  22. Eva Amsen says:

    “Blog fatigue?”
    I certainly have blog fatigue now that I do it for work all day. But I also noticed in the old post I linked that people mentioned that commenting was at a general low because it was summer, and that could definitely be an issue as well.

  23. Austin Elliott says:

    Second Benoit’s comment about embedding pictures and vids. Had just about got the hang of the OLD NN syntax… Weirdest thing is that the old syntax (textile?) still seems to work for comments on some blogs, but not others.
    The spam filters also changed the “Default no of URLs allowed in a comment” when the changeover went through, which was irritating.
    As various people including Benoit have said, the basic point is that the bar to penning the comment you want to pen has to be low, otherwise people don’t bother.
    PS Just saw a post on blogging collectives from DrugMonkey, which relates to some of the discussion here.

  24. Richard P. Grant says:

    Thanks all for your discussion. I’m still alive and well in mile high city!
    I’d just like to say that when I joined there dis seem to be an emphasis on quality of writing. That was one of the things that attracted me. And even if every blog on here was of high quality once you hit, oh I don’t know, 10 posts a day? it gets a bit difficult to follow. Unless you do it as a full time job.

  25. Benoit Bruneau says:

    So it’s all gone Pete Tong then? The quality is still there, but there was a sense of fun and urgency last year that I don’t feel anymore. Is it really just a combination of little things that have added up?

  26. Richard P. Grant says:

    Yeah. It’s all become a bit of a drag.

  27. Ian Brooks says:

    Xposted from my blog comment thread.
    I use the Nature Blogs site infinitely more than the Nature Network site now.
    Benoit has lead some good discussion of this. And RPG himself makes a very series of interesting points. I’m still leaning towards the inmates taking over the asylum and attempting to re-make this place in our own image, if you will.
    If there are collectives or blog networks we want to form, can we ask that certain posts are aggregate together? Maybe the Blogs main page can be re-jigged? TBH, the main page needs a lot of work and whatever drives the updates is clearly not turned on. It seems to rely on manual coded updates.
    If NN want’s to allow “too many” blogs, what can we do about that? Demand our content is aggregated and overwhelm with depth of volume and skill of writing?
    Richard if y’all s get bored and fancy a road trip drop us line 🙂

  28. Richard P. Grant says:

    Hah. You reckon a NN/NN blogs platform administered by (some) users?
    That might have legs.
    We’re up in Salida for a few days then camping in the mountains. Drop in 🙂

  29. Lou Woodley says:

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for all the comments here, which I’ve been following over the weekend. Please do keep sharing your opinions as it’s good to hear how you all feel and any suggestions for how you’d like to see things on the site to change.
    I have forwarded this and other comments to senior management and we’ll be in touch again soon with a more detailed response. In the meantime, please be reassured that NN is very important to the nature.com team and that we are committed not just to resolving the outstanding problems, but to continue to evolve the site in accordance with our users’ needs.
    Before then, I’d just like to correct a couple of factual errors:
    -Richard, you were locked out of your blog for less than 48 hours (I know, I was awake for most of them!!) and while that is still unacceptable, the tech teams did everything they could to resolve your login issues as quickly as possible. Please don’t feel that your contributions are unimportant or that we’re not taking the outstanding issues seriously.
    – Re. having two separate passwords, you should be able to change your password on MT or on NN so that they both match; M@ will be in touch soon to help you resolve this.
    – Re. NN staffing that concerns the day-to-day happenings here, it is not just myself working on NN. We have a new full-time Product Manager, Marta Rolak, who is working to transform Workbench as well as looking at various usability issues on the site. Matt Brown works to help the NN bloggers, write blog posts, assist with the site admin and run the London hub and Joanna Scott works on the groups and forums, also assists with the site admin and runs the San Francisco proto-hub.

  30. Lou Woodley says:

    X-posted on Ian’s blog:
    Ian, you make lots of good points about the Nature Blogs site and that also falls into my domain and is currently being reviewed.
    For those that don’t use the site, it’s here and in its current form is a simple aggregation site for all NPG’s staff blogs (things like The Great Beyond and Skeptical Chymist) all Nature Network blogs and around 800 external science blogs from around the internet. All these blogs are regularly searched automatically and we list the top stories people are blogging about as well as the most popular papers people are writing about and a few other things such as word bursts. The site is far from a final version of what could be possible with a good blogs aggregator – I envisage a much higher degree of personalisation by the user to make it truly appealing, as well as the ability to register community feedback on what people in your network are reading and rating.
    However, what I’d really like to hear is what you as blog readers and writers would find really useful. This is precisely the right time to have your say in what you would most appreciate on such a site so please do add your comments here, or email me (l.woodley@nature.com)

  31. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Richard, you were locked out of your blog for less than 48 hours (I know, I was awake for most of them!!) and while that is still unacceptable, the tech teams did everything they could to resolve your login issues as quickly as possible.
    Lou, I think Richard isn’t talking about the login issues, which were indeed 1-2 days for those affected. What he’s talking about is the fact that after that was resolved, many of us, including Richard and I, lost the ability to create blogposts at all – we could only comment on others’. There were lots of comments about it at the time. I don’t recall exactly how long this lock-out went on but I think about a week sounds right, perhaps a bit longer. It was incredibly frustrating.

  32. Richard P. Grant says:

    Lou, thank you for your comments.
    However, I think you misrepresent things slightly.
    There are effectively two passwords. Whether they are the same or not is irrelevant. When I sign in on NN, and then click ‘Write a new entry’ on my own blog, I am directed to another sign-in page for MT. That is two different passwords, whether they are the ‘same’ or not.
    A ‘Product Manager’ for Workbench and technical issues is not the same as senior management having vision, or taking responsibility, for NN. This is more than a technical problem, it’s a matter of strategy.
    Finally, you probably don’t remember but there were a number of problems related to logging in and the blogs. To add to what Jenny’s just said, a number of us got in at first, and indeed managed to post blog entries; then we were locked out again. My blog disappeared, if you remember. To quibble that I might have been locked out of my blog for less than 48 hours when I (and others) were having tremendous trouble interacting across the site for a lot longer isn’t that helpful.

  33. Ian Brooks says:

    And O/T – have fun camping mate. I’ve never been up there, but I gather it’s stunning. Watch out for bears and snakes though…

  34. Richard P. Grant says:

    Yeah, saw Andrew’s post as I was prepping mine. I disagree almost entirely 🙂
    I’m sure my local guide will look after me!

  35. Dorothy Clyde says:

    Out of curiosity, I’ll post here a modified version of the question that I posted on Andrew’s blogpost – will be interesting to see how the answers compare!
    If you were to move your blog elsewhere, what proportion of your readers do you think would follow you? Does it matter?
    I suppose this isn’t directed specifically at Richard, but at anyone considering leaving NN.

  36. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Regarding Dorothy’s question, I’m not sure if I would follow most of the individual bloggers here, only because I just can’t keep track and have other things to keep me occupied. Part of the attraction of NN is that there were all these people writing interesting things under one roof. However, since I have everything on RSS feed, I suppose that wouldn’t matter. But then I’m not sure….For example, Henry’s departure has not sent me running for the End of the Pier as often as I would be reading iEditor, partly because the posts are of a different nature (hah) and the ensuing discussions don’t have the same flavour. So the answer is it depends. Voila.

  37. Benoit Bruneau says:

    And Lou, was there an issue with contacts disappearing from people’s networks? (Although Stephen’s suggestion of a non-existent perhaps secret underground cabal is far more interesting, as I didn’t even know those existed anymore.)

  38. Stephen Curry says:

    Benoit – these cabals exist only in the same way that unicorns don’t. Clear? 😉
    More seriously, you are one of the few PI’s that has bothered to come out of the shadows and post comments here. Do you think that just a function of the perception of blogging as a non-serious activity among most scientists (the fools! or are they geniuses?) – or something else?

  39. Cath Ennis says:

    “If you were to move your blog elsewhere, what proportion of your readers do you think would follow you? Does it matter?”
    I’ve been thinking about this and I really don’t know. A large part of the uncertainty comes from having absolutely no idea how many people are reading, or who they are.
    When I first started blogging here, I hoped that many of my existing readers would follow me over here. I link to my 3 most recent NN posts in the sidebar, and mention my NN blog in posts from time to time. However, only one or two have become regular commenters here. I think there are a few more who read, but don’t comment (see example here – oh, the comment I was going to link to and a bunch of other ones on that thread seem to have disappeared. Just one more new bug to report. Was it because she used a pseudonym, I wonder?) because they don’t want to register / log in every time / use their real names / whatever – the barriers are too high even for seasoned blog commenters.

  40. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Stephen, I’ll be looking for a dark dank room to start my own now. I think I have to cultivate a weird accent also.
    But your followup comment does raise something which I was observing: it seems like these “networks” are mostly bloggers blogging to each other. I think many scientists fancy themselves too busy to bother (and some certainly are), or else don’t really care about this type of intellectual discourse. My wife (also a scientist) thinks I’m wasting my precious time, and my colleagues are mostly unaware or don’t care much for this type of thing. It is partly a generational thing, and also probably a perception that it is a frivolity that takes up what little time we have to do anything.

  41. Ian Brooks says:

    “If you were to move your blog elsewhere, what proportion of your readers do you think would follow you? Does it matter?”
    And this
    I’ve been thinking about this and I really don’t know. A large part of the uncertainty comes from having absolutely no idea how many people are reading, or who they are.
    Dorothy, that’s an impossible question to answer really. At least right now. I know that I get about 400 visitors a week to my other blog, and I know from whence they come, and I have a regular, albeit, small comment clique. I estimate that

  42. Cath Ennis says:

    HAHAHA! If even NN bloggers have a hard time finding each other’s posts, it’s no wonder no-one else is reading 🙂

  43. Stephen Curry says:

    @Dorothy – nice to hear from you (how is motherhood treating you?). The audience migration question is difficult to answer (as Cath pointed out) because we have no clear idea yet of the size of the readership.
    I suspect the answer very much depends on where one migrates to. Most of the audience here are scientists (I imagine), given the Nature branding. Which, to pick up on the conversation with Benoit, would hopefully be a draw to other scientists, though clearly many don’t yet see the value in it. I would have thought that an important draw here would be posts and comment threads about the wider issues of doing science – an area that many here write on.
    Sorry to put you on the spot again, Benoit, but your comment begs the question: what do you get out of coming here? (And have you ever tried to convince your wife to join in!?)
    But if one is looking to spark some interest about a non-professional audience who are nevertheless interested in science and scientists, I guess NN is not the ideal venue.

  44. Eva Amsen says:

    Benoit has been very active on the internet today. Grant deadlines all passed? =)

  45. Eva Amsen says:

    And Ian, I can’t believe you just warned Richard about the wildlife. You should warn the wildlife about him!

  46. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Eva, yes, some free time at last. I’m even working in the lab a bit. But you know what they say about idle hands and such….
    Stephen, what I get out of it is some entertaining and often thought-provoking intellectual discourse on things that relate to what I do (or should or shouldn’t do) as a scientist. I like thinking about many different topics, and it’s a lot more interesting if there is a discussion leader (blog poster) to get things going, as well as others to discuss with (all you guys). I also like that there is a variety of types of people here; nothing is more boring than the same types of people all agreeing on always the same topic.

  47. Lou Woodley says:

    Benoit – your missing contacts may be as a result of there now being two kinds of “friends” on Nature Network – a contact and someone you follow.
    A contact needs to reciprocate your request to add them to your network (a la Facebook friend request) whereas someone you follow can be a one-way interaction (like Twitter followers). My suggestion is that some of your “friends” on old Network had reciprocated and so while they have been imported as people you follow, they are not in your lists of contacts
    Hope that helps and sorry for any confusion.

  48. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Thanks Lou, that explains it. I’m often confused so any help alleviating my condition is welcome.

  49. Elizabeth Moritz says:

    Thanks for writing an interesting post RPG.
    Like several of the comments made earlier, I like NN because it’s an easy way for me to drop in relatively quickly and see what’s going on with a number of blogs/bloggers I’m interested in. I don’t use Facebook (regularly) or Twitter, and am clueless about what an RSS feed is, I’m just that technologically ignorant! So going to the NN homepage is the best way for me to checkout a bunch of funny and interesting science-related blogs in one go. (Though, I agree with what someone said before, it does seem much quieter during the summer, hopefully it’s only seasonal)
    As for the quality of the posts, I am 100% sure I will never have the blogging capability of you, Jenny, Stephen, Henry, Ian, etc, etc, Maybe it’s because I don’t have as much to say (or my innate dislike of writing), or a shoddy writing education (any 11 year old could beat the pants off me when it comes to grammer and run-on sentences). So you’re comment about the increase in quantity of NN blogs and decrease in quality both resonates with me and stings a little…
    Of course I like reading on NN because of those awesome bloggers mentioned above. I probably wouldn’t read on NN if all the blogs were more like mine (both in posting style and frequency of posting). But at the same time, if it wasn’t for NN, any blog I started elsewhere would have died a long time ago. Here, I feel I can still be part of the blogging world with my little posts and know that I’ll get some helpful/funny/supportive comments and some exposure while it’s still fresh enough. I know there’s a lot of technical issues (I constantly forget that I can’t write a new post directly from NN, but that I have to go to that MT4 webpage), but if I ventured outside of this “walled garden” I don’t think I have the know-how yet to not get fatally lost in the first day.
    I don’t have solutions to suggest for the problems you point out, but I hope there is a place on NN both for the “seniors” and the “freshman” of this blogging community.

  50. Stephen Curry says:

    Excellent points all Elizabeth.
    (BTW, I don’t think you have grounds for feeling stung. 😉 Though when I tried to track down your blog via your profile on NN, I couldn’t see it listed. You may have to update the info.)

  51. Elizabeth Moritz says:

    Thanks for the heads up Stephen! I have edited my NN profile accordingly 🙂

  52. Ian Brooks says:

    Elizabeth, those are good points all (especially when you include me (I assume it’s me) with Henry, Jenny et al. – my ego thanks you profusely).
    And the errant apostrophe in your second paragraph is comedic gold, thank you for a genuine LOL moment 🙂
    The main point I’d like to hear more of is the view of NN/NB from non-bloggers, and non-tech-comfy folks. For Richard and I to wax lyrical about the shortcomings of the site, well…we have a distinct technical and experiential advantage. What does NN offer to folks like Benoit who don’t blog but enjoy the interaction, and Elizabeth who blogs sparingly and somewhat reluctantly, and enjoys the experience.

  53. Dorothy Clyde says:

    @Stephen: Thank you! I’m loving being a mum – can’t believe the wee man’s nearly 13 months old already!
    Thanks to all those who have attempted to answer my question despite not really having the tools to assess your current readership. I think I probably use NN in a similar way to Benoit – and I too doubt that I would follow any of the regular bloggers (with one possible exception) if they chose to decamp elsewhere. I don’t know how typical this is?
    @Elizabeth: you do yourself a disservice in your assessment of your writing skills. Yours is one of the blogs that I do read and enjoy (albeit on an irregular basis!). However I do think that Richard’s comment was a little insulting to the many bloggers who are starting out and finding their feet here on NN. I’m glad that you (and the others) find NN a generally welcoming community and I hope you continue to blog here.

  54. Austin Elliott says:

    I don’t think there can be any real doubt that the drop-off in commenting traffic at NN was the switch to MT4 and the login issues – I don’t think comment traffic has ever recovered. This was exacerbated by a drop in many bloggers’ posting frequency (see login probs & MT4 glitsches) with some bloggers getting so p***ed off that they pretty much decamped permanently (notably Henry Gee).
    I think some of the current frustration stems from this feeling that NN was building an audience/community, and that it was then derailed or set back by something that was supposed to be a big step forward. I’m not blaming anyone, note, but that is how I see the recent history.
    In the time since the switchover, new blogs have been added, agreed. But against the backdrop of a loss in commenting overall it is easy to get the feeling that no-one is actually reading them (us?).
    PS Had a laugh of recognition at Benoit’s comments. My other half (doctor rather than scientist) also thinks I am wasting my time on the Interwebz, and I suspect my bosses feel rather the same.

  55. Heather Etchevers says:

    You’ve catalyzed some thought chain reactions for me, Richard.
    I have not been having fun writing blog posts, or comments much, for a long time. Once, the comments and interaction sort of made it worthwhile, but my posting frequency has decreased as my motivation, as has my visibility with the MT4 changeover. Only old blogging friends ever comment now. I can get pats on the back elsewhere. The software is not to blame, just changed circumstances.
    Thanks to you in large part, I’m here (and thanks to Anna, yet another blogger casualty of circumstances, and Corie, and happy-birthday M@).
    Thanks to you in part, I will be honest with myself. It hurts for reasons I can not really identify, but I quit blogging after many years, only a couple, good ones, on NN. I will write my last post later this week.
    Best wishes from a faithful reader and I will not deprive myself from commenting! That would be beyond cold turkey.
    Affectionately, and with some difficulty from my phone (who would have thought that so mainstream 4 years ago?!),

  56. Cath Ennis says:

    NOOOOOOOOOO don’t quit entirely, Heather!

  57. Eva Amsen says:

    HEATHER!! Butbutbut, your BLOG!

  58. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Heather, WTF dude?

  59. Richard P. Grant says:

    What they said, Heather.
    But thanks for your kind words also.
    Yes, I know some people will be insulted by what I said. However, it’s a point I thought needed making and I’m not afraid to make it. Somebody had to.

  60. Benoit Bruneau says:

    While Europe is sleeping, let me slip this one in:
    Does it really matter? This blogging thing, is it really THAT important? Is it critical that it be HERE? If it’s no fun or too annoying over here, why not just go over there where it’s more fun or easier? Seems that would solve the problem.

  61. Richard P. Grant says:

    Shh. Next thing we know you’ll be saying the Emperor is naked.

  62. steffi suhr says:

    Hmmm, dumping your blog from your phone – that reminds me of the story of someone who once rejected a manuscript from his iPhone…
    ..anyway. I am sorry to read that, Heather, but (and I don’t want to sound encouraging) I am not super-surprised. It seems to me like you have been building up to this step/decision for quite a while.
    I apologise for having been a crap reader-of-other’s-blogs (including yours) and commenter for a while now (I’m actually often reading, but don’t have the time/patience to comment). This is not because I’m not interested – more because, after a year in my new job, I still have not found a way to find much time to interact online. Concerning writing on my blog: also to do with my (developing) day job, I have (shockingly, to me at least) found myself reassessing what I write and how I write it. Pff. The result has so far been that I don’t write very much at all.
    Of course, nothing is forever on the interwebz. If you start blogging again, make sure we all have the URL!
    p.s. I could not log in to either my blog or NN account for four days, I believe – beat that, Richard! 😛

  63. Dorothy Clyde says:

    @Heather: I’m sad to hear you’re giving up on blogging. I have enjoyed reading your posts over the past couple of years.
    @Richard: I think anyone that has ever ventured onto your blog will be very aware that you’re not afraid of (and are possibly even proud of?) speaking your mind and/or insulting people. I suppose my point is that I don’t really understand why it matters to you that there is a variable quality of writing on here – what difference does it make to your life? I’ll go further and say that I’m disappointed in – and very put off by – the increasingly elitist attitude of a few of the regular bloggers here.
    @Austin: My observation is that there is a small pool of bloggers that regularly comment on each others blogs; I suspect that the downturn in comments may partially reflect their disgruntlement with NN and a decrease in their overall activity? I would also guess that many less-confident ‘lurkers’ have given up on the idea of commenting for fear of being ridiculed and because they are made to feel that their comment is of no value (if you are not one of the ‘regulars’ there is a real possibility that your comment will be completely ignored on some blogs). Elizabeth’s comment is, in some ways, a good example. She has gone to the trouble of posting a well-written, thoughtful comment – Ian points out the only grammatical error for his own amusement (is it really that funny Ian?) and Richard doesn’t even respond to her personally. I’m sure Elizabeth is familiar enough with the people involved not to take offence – but I mean, really! Thankfully others remain more mannerly and welcoming.

  64. Stephen Curry says:

    Heather, it’s your call entirely, of course, but I’d be sorry to see you quit altogether. Maybe a break from blogging would give you the time to rediscover your mojo for this bizarre activity that we are caught up in?
    Benoit, I wonder if parts of the answer to your questions about whether one should blog at NN is given in Elizabeth’s expressed hope that “there is a place on NN both for the “seniors” and the “freshman” of this blogging community.” – and in your own remark about appreciating the diversity of personalities here. I think there are real benefits to having a community/network. I think it would be even better here if the barriers to entry for commenters were lower.
    @Steffi – well spotted on that iPhone link (hadn’t occurred to me). 😉
    @Dorothy – Richard can speak for himself but I suspect his relative lack of comments on this thread are mainly to do with the fact that he’s abroad on holiday and probably relying on intermittent access to free wifi (the cheapskate).
    But I am interested to know what exactly you perceive to be this ‘elitist attitude’? Elitism – a concern for quality – is not necessarily a bad thing in my book. As Benoit has observed, it was the quality of the blog-led discussion that attracted him here. So I think it’s important to set standards – the tricky thing then is to find a way to attract new bloggers, many of whom will lack confidence in their abilities at the outset.
    I am aware of this problem because — believe it or not — I felt it keenly myself in the months before I started writing here in Sept 2008. I hummed and haa-ed for quite a while. But I got up my courage by commenting and discovering that sometimes people actually responded (!). In the end, I worked up the nerve to jump in. I’d like to think that I am encouraging to newcomers but if I’m not interested in what has been written, I usually won’t comment. I think there will inevitably be an element of selection – which is natural and good.

  65. Eva Amsen says:

    “In which I muse On the importance of elitism” =)
    When I joined NN, just over three years ago, the fact that Jenny and Richard both already had blogs here (and I knew them to be good writers) was part of the reason I was flattered to join. I didn’t mention them by name when I said as much in the first paragraph of my first post but you can tell from that first post that I was obviously flattered to be in that company.
    There is nothing wrong with beginning/unknown writers, or even bad writers who still have interesting things to say, but to draw in talent (like Stephen) or existing bloggers (like me) you need to already have talent among the existing bloggers on your network. Without that core group of talent, people will still blog, and will still ask to join, because, wow, Nature, but there is no anchor for any kind of group identity, and nobody to look up to.
    Maybe it’s time to find new talent among the group of not-yet jaded NN bloggers, and maybe it’s time for shyer people to step up and claim their spot. (For example, Elizabeth, you are most definitely not a bad writer, and you need to own that a bit more!)

  66. steffi suhr says:

    Eva puts it very nicely, but there’s more: good stuff does not just draw in or encourage new talent. It also leads to all bloggers – established and new – stimulating each other and egging each other on to improve (or keep producing good stuff).
    I was very, very nervous when I started blogging here – umm – almost two years ago now, and it has been a steep learning curve. Hell yeah, there was a barrier: but in retrospect, a large part of it may have been ‘in my head’, too. Since then, my writing has improved – my confidence definitely has (and the blogging experience has affected how I interact with people in real life too, but that’s a different story..).
    Elizabeth: it’s a continuous learning experience for all of us. I hope you won’t be discouraged, but hear the praise and take up the challenge.

  67. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Heather: I’ll miss your blogposts here – I’ve read almost all of them, even though I don’t often comment. I hope you’ll share the URL if you decide to start blogging again; there are too few developmental biologists who actually blog about developmental biology. 😉
    @ Steffi: I think I’ve gone through the same reassessment recently, and the result is that I do more work-related writing, and less blogging (and the former has a much more positive “ego return” than the latter). Benoit’s question, “Is it really THAT important?” also resonates with me, and I frequently wonder whether it’s worth putting up with annoying technical issues or, for that matter, elitism.
    I agree with most of the points that Dorothy has made in her comments. I’ve never been very good at identifying, understanding, or following the most popular (and will sometimes run contrary to the concept), and that tendency (or failing) seems to be accentuated in the blogosphere.

  68. Eva Amsen says:

    “there are too few developmental biologists who actually blog about developmental biology.”
    This sentence triggered an intricate alarm system on my desk at work – bells, whistles, flashing lights – to let me know I just had to respond with some Node links to challenge that!
    Just two, so I hopefully don’t trigger the spam filter:
    Report from Woods Hole embryology course
    Look who wrote his own blog post! =)
    There’s more there.

  69. Stephen Curry says:

    Wow – you sly blogger Benoit! 😉

  70. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Eva: The Node is a very welcome addition, and I have it in my RSS feed! I wrote a short post about it, and provided the link, on our departmental blog, but that’s another issue (i.e. the majority of my colleagues don’t understand/want to understand blogs, or many other online science exchange options, for that matter). Nevertheless, I’ll miss reading Heather’s personal take on working as a developmental biologist.

  71. Eva Amsen says:

    Cool! Can you send me the link to your department blog? I’m collecting “people who link to us”.
    I feel like I’m going entirely off-topic, but maybe this is all relevant, in a weird way.

  72. Jennifer Rohn says:

    @Dorothy, who writes “My observation is that there is a small pool of bloggers that regularly comment on each others blogs”, and who accuses a regular group of bloggers of “elitism” for that tendency, as well as for their tendency to wish that excellent writing was a prerequisite for entry into this blogging collective (although I have not seen anyone besides Richard express this wish in writing). I feel I am qualified to be one of the people she might be referring to, so I’ll respond to this point if that’s ok (though of course I speak only for myself).
    Imagine, Dorothy, that you started blogging at NN from the beginning. There were only a few blogs that persisted and the existing bloggers all commented on your blog, and you commented on theirs, because they were well-written and easy to see (having a half-life of a day or so being featured on the main page). Imagine you are an extremely busy person with many irons in the fire, and you had only about thirty minutes a day for this sort of reading and commenting in addition to writing your own blog.
    Now fast-forward a bit — more and more bloggers start blogging, some of very high quality, some not so good, but nevertheless far more than you personally can read and interact with — and without the time, it’s harder to identify the new blogs you do enjoy reading. Add into the mix that many of these newer bloggers don’t respond to the comments you do leave, which doesn’t make you feel welcome at that new blog. Eventually you might realize that there actually is a finite number of bloggers you can productively follow, and you decide you have reached a point of diminishing returns and have to start being selective.
    Is this elitism? I’m not so sure. I certainly only comment on a handful of blogs, and those are indeed largely those that have been around from the beginning, but this is not from cliquishness: it’s just because those are the seats on my bus that filled up first. To read a new blogger’s post I have to be drawn in by the title and the first line that shows on the preview — and when that happens (as it did for Elizabeth and a few others) I do read and comment. Yes, this is rare, but I don’t think it’s a terribly surprising observation that the more blogs there are, the fewer the existing community will be able to notice and follow. Do you, Dorothy, personally read and comment on every single blog that appears on this site? Or do you exercise a bit of selectivity? If so, how do you decide who is given attention and who is ignored? And do you think the people you are ignoring, if any, think that you are elitist?
    Finally, I have to say I don’t recognize your assertion that a group of regular bloggers are dismissive of or don’t respond to new people who comment on their blogs. Ian’s silly remark aside (which is, if you are at all familiar with Ian’s style, doled out to all equally), I have not noticed this phenomenon. I take great pains to personally respond to every comment left on my own blog, as politely and encouragingly as I can: when I don’t, I can assure you it is because I have simply run out of hours in the day.
    About quality: a blogger must above all be an excellent writer to attract and keep an audience, whether in isolation or in a collective. Writing is an endeavor that requires native talent, plus hard work and the honing of certain learned skills: not everyone can do it, and not everyone should. We don’t expect everyone to be able to play the piano professionally just because they have the ability to press keys and make a noise. Why is it elitist to expect a certain standard of a writers’ collective gathered together by a top publisher? If being surrounded by people encouraged to write because they are scientists and ought to “engage”, but who really don’t have the knack, creates a collective body of work whose quality discourages new people from reading the gems that are there – like Stephen, like Heather, like Eva and all the other wonderful bloggers in this group – then I think it does those writers a disservice. I wouldn’t be sad or angry if my mediocre piano skills kept me out of a musicians’ collective for the same reasons — that’s just the way life is. We must all of us play to our strengths.

  73. Richard P. Grant says:

    (aside: I like how people are using ‘@’ to reply to certain people. Nesting comments is another ‘would like’ for this blogging platform too, by the way.)
    Dorothy, people have very kindly responded on my behalf, and I thank them. Perhaps you missed the bit where I said I was going to have no internet access for much of this coming fortnight? If you are as familiar with this salon as you say you are then you will have noticed that I usually do respond to comments. Elizabeth’s was not the only one I haven’t replied to.
    I don’t want to name names, but for the record, I don’t think any of the people that have commented in this thread are in that ‘boring and badly written’ class I mentioned. Jenny’s comment about ‘elitism’ is on the nose.

  74. Dorothy Clyde says:

    I don’t have time to make a detailed response at the moment and will try to do so later. I will try to clarify what I mean by ‘elitist’ then (it’s certainly not based on how many blogs you regularly comment on!). For now, I just want to say that the following statements are revealing and give me a better insight into how some bloggers view NN.
    a blogger must above all be an excellent writer to attract and keep an audience, whether in isolation or in a collective
    a writers’ collective
    As a non-blogger, I view NN as a collection of scientists and as such I don’t expect the blogs written by NNers to be of a quality similar to a professional writer! As long as the content is interesting and the writer has tried their best to communicate their point(s), I will continue to come back for more.
    Would be interesting to see how other non-bloggers view it…?

  75. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Hi Dorothy – OK, I see the distinction. Thanks for that explanation. For me, the writing is paramount, but I can see how others might get something else out of it.

  76. Austin Elliott says:

    re @Dorothy’s comments:
    As a relative latecomer to NN blogging-wise (less than a yr), but having been blogging and commenting around the wider Blogoverse for some years, I don’t really recognise Dorothy’s “elitism” scenario.
    It is inevitable that when one first joins any community (real or virtual) where they are “established personalities”, that one is initially treated a little warily. NN is hardly unique online in this respect – e.g. in my personal experience Sb is the same, or more so. But people here are typically polite and responsive – as has been previously stated, this is a much more “decorous” forum than many on the Intertubz – and if you have something useful to say then you will rapidly get accepted.

  77. Richard P. Grant says:

    Yah, and I think it’s worth stressing that when I was asked to join there was definitely an emphasis on the quality as well as content.
    Dammit, I like being associated with good people—who doesn’t?—and I worry that degrading the quality of NN blogs reflects badly on (a) me (b) the other good bloggers and (c) NN as a whole.
    By the way Dorothy, as NPG staff, you should beware of making comments that are not obviously free from conflicts of interest. Maxine and Henry already have had to struggle with this, so you’re in good company!

  78. Benoit Bruneau says:

    I see that while California was sleeping I’ve been outed! Well sure, if there’s an available forum, I’m game. I never fancied myself as such, and I have no idea how NN chooses its elite bloggers (ooops). But as you have realized I have no shortage of opinions and like to express them, so at Eva’s request I went for it.
    Elitism? I don’t see it. I see quality writing and interesting and amusing commenting. Yes, some of the bloggers are the top of the heap, and that’s a good thing.
    Look, seeing how this is one of the most actively commented on post in recent memory, doesn’t it clearly indicate that we’re all enjoying this? Bloggers, stay. Good bloggers. Now if NN would just figure out how to make the experience manageable, as any other blogging platform has, I think there would be no issue.

  79. Richard P. Grant says:

    Thanks Benoit.
    Right, I’m just walking out of the motel door and away from the intachoobs.

  80. Cath Ennis says:

    Screenshot of the comments box text from my other blog:

    I’d have the same text on my NN blog too, if I could edit it.
    I’m struggling to think of any of the established NN bloggers who don’t respond to comments. I see this as such an integral part of the blogging experience that I really do notice when someone regularly does not reply – and I don’t remember noticing this on the blogs of any of the core NN bloggers who have commented on this post.
    On the other hand, I’ve left comments on some of the newer blogs here, and when the blogger doesn’t reply (in some cases even when I’ve asked a direct question), I just don’t bother commenting any more, even though I do still read the posts that interest me.

  81. Eva Amsen says:

    “Bloggers, stay. Good bloggers.”
    “Cat herding” is sometimes used to describe coordinating communities of bloggers, so I’m not sure that works… You may need laser pointers and fish instead.

  82. Cath Ennis says:

    Will blog for sushi.

  83. Austin Elliott says:

    @Eva Heh. “Cat herding” is also the term regularly used to describe managing University academics, with whom bloggers have a lot in common (e.g. verbosity in my case).

  84. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Eva: I think it’s insulting to cats, to compare them to bloggers. 😉
    Also, I see that you found our departmental blog, and left a comment … you are the first to comment, btw. Heh! I’ll make the change you suggested.

  85. Austin Elliott says:

    Re herding cats vs. herding scientists, one of my mates wrote a nice article on being a Dept Head for Phys News a couple of yrs ago (PDF here). It starts:

    “It is frequently said, though I forget who started it, that managing academics is like herding cats. My experience, as both cat owner and Head of Department (HoD), suggests that this is grossly unfair to cats; our feline friends tend not to discuss their destination at length, let alone all the ins and outs of if, why, and how they want to go there; nor do they resist change with nearly as much enthusiasm as academics.

    Over several years I have realized that becoming a HoD, rather than cat-herding, is more like becoming a parent – for the following three reasons in particular. First, you take it on in addition to your other jobs; second, nothing really prepares you for the reality; and third, you undertake its major responsibilities and possible consequences with little – if any – appropriate training.”

    The title of the article, BTW, is “The HoD Delusion”.

  86. Eva Amsen says:

    Kirsti, heehee – I must have actually found it earlier and forgot about it! Oh, now I see it in my list – the career blog of course.. We had a flurry with a lot of activity just after we launched and it’s all a bit of a blur. Who am I again?

  87. Elizabeth Moritz says:

    Holy crap, maybe it’s a good thing that comments on NN blogs are not usually this numerous, otherwise I’d need to get one of those fancy things called an iPhone to keep up.
    Thanks to everyone that left supportive comments about being a freshman blogger (and the joking too). While I didn’t write my comment as a means to fish out some praise, I do think a lot of bloggers feel the same insecurities. On the other hand, I understand that the blogging world is not a daycare and I need to put myself out there and if it doesn’t work, well it’s not like I’ve met any of you face-to-face so that lessens the humiliation of a poor blog/post 😉
    Also, I DO think quality is important, like RPG says. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to join NN and wouldn’t stop by to comment. I often read the more established blogs and find myself using them as a way of learning more about good blogging and what you can do with it.

  88. Åsa Karlström says:

    @Dorothy> you said As a non-blogger, I view NN as a collection of scientists and as such I don’t expect the blogs written by NNers to be of a quality similar to a professional writer! As long as the content is interesting and the writer has tried their best to communicate their point(s), I will continue to come back for more.
    As a non-NN-blogger I think a bit differently but partly the same. I mean, when I started reading blogs on NN it was a feeling of “oh, these people are selected since they write about subjects interesting for scientists and they can write well*. It’s not just an assembly of people who wants to be in the spot light but have something to say.”.
    *”write well” in this context to me, means proper sentences and maybe witty, not half construed things and other language chopping as one can see elsewhere (ehh, my writing at times). Also that maybe some of the posts were more of a “article”/”point driven” format rather than “today my science sucked and I feel bad. I hate that.”. Nothing wrong with those posts per se (I’ve written qiute a few of those myself, and follow a lot of blogs with emotional outburst, they are mainly pesudonomous though…) but many posts here on NN have given me a lot of “AHA, wow, never thought of that” or “wow, that’s what those types of scientists do” or “that’s going on in UK unis at the moment” etc. Something that gives me food for thought and then if I comment I get a reply (which I think might be the crucial difference between a blog and a “column” since the former has an interaction).
    I wrote earlier in this thread that when a place gets too big it is hard to navigate and find new places/people/blogs. I am not a fan of elitistic places per se, but I don’t know if I like the “all are invited and can write here” since it might make it hard to find those good gems in the heap of all the other? And I really enjoyed the “many feel the urge but few are chosen” [or whatever the qoute is original].
    Or I am just lazy and haven’t figured out how to search for new blogs that might interest me… although, I think that shows part of a little problem though, since I am quite used to searching and navigating web pages…

  89. Richard Wintle says:

    You know, your post says a lot of things that have prevented me from reading much at NN recently (I just commented on Heather’s farewell blogpost to this effect too… recycling, it’s good for the soul). NN is clunky and confusing, the log in times are, as you say, abysmal, and I object to having to sign in multiple times per session. The “copy-comment-text-to-clipboard” thing is something I’ve done too, to avoid the inevitable frustration when it kicks me out and loses my thoughtfully crafted commentary.
    Oh, excuse me for a second… [ctrl-A][ctrl-C]
    That’s better. Still, there are a number of very good blogs here that I have enjoyed reading in the past (including, ahem, this one). But as somebody or other waaaaay up there ^^^ said, take your writing where you will RPG, and I (and others) will follow.

  90. Richard P. Grant says:

    Nice of you to say so, Richard, thanks.
    You’ve said some good things, folks. I’m now off for a swim and to buy a fishing licence.

  91. Ian Brooks says:

    Elizabeth’s comment is, in some ways, a good example. She has gone to the trouble of posting a well-written, thoughtful comment – Ian points out the only grammatical error for his own amusement (is it really that funny Ian?) and Richard doesn’t even respond to her personally. I’m sure Elizabeth is familiar enough with the people involved not to take offence – but I mean, really! Thankfully others remain more mannerly and welcoming
    I’m working my way back through this thread and commenting as I go. Dorothy, obviously you don’t understand or get my sense of humour. I placed my comment in context and even added a “smiley” to show I meant no harm.
    Don’t tell me how to comment, when to comment or what to comment on. And don’t assume the worst when reading electronic communication.

  92. Dorothy Clyde says:

    Just to respond to comments directed at me.
    @Richard: I think our posts (just after Jenny’s) crossed. I realise you have limited internet access and aren’t able to respond as often as you usually do. That wasn’t what I took exception to – and I should have made that more clear. It was the content of the comment you DID make that I (over?)reacted to (don’t tell anyone, but I just might have been in a bit of a mood last night when I commented – rookie mistake!)
    Yes, I know some people will be insulted by what I said. However, it’s a point I thought needed making and I’m not afraid to make it. Somebody had to.
    Given what Elizabeth had just written, I don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of reason to read it as being OK to have insulted Elizabeth. Though I think it’s more likely you were responding to my comment on Elizabeth’s comment?
    At the time, it wasn’t at all clear to me why you felt it needed to be said, but subsequent comments by you and others have clarified this a little. Still not sure I agree though – need to think about it some more 🙂
    @Ian: Of course I fully understood that your comment was intended as a harmless joke – I specifically noted that I thought Elizabeth would be aware of that too! I apologize for using it as an example and causing you offence. And I certainly wasn’t trying to tell you how/what/where to comment – I wouldn’t dare 😉 The point I was trying to make (badly?) is that I think some of the hyper-confident long-time bloggers don’t realise just how daunting commenting can be for newbies – and that even seemingly innocuous remarks can be very discouraging. You mentioned on a comment thread elsewhere (on one of your own blog posts maybe?) about a martial arts site you use that has a separate section for newbies – and they are treated differently to the regulars. Maybe this is something that could be adopted on NN (I am aware that NN is already much more friendly than many other blogging networks so maybe you think it’s unnecessary here – and as Elizabeth says, it’s not a daycare)?
    Oh, and as Richard correctly points out (and should be obvious from my profile unless I’ve neglected to update it!)- I’m an NPG staffer. In my day job, I’m an editor on Nature Protocols and NN hosts our Discussion Forum and our (currently inactive) new blog. I hope I haven’t conflicted any interests – I’m trying to limit my comments to my experiences as a casual user of NN. And as I’m generally a well-spoken, considerate soul (honest guv!) I’m hoping I won’t fall foul of any ‘guidelines’ (and before anyone asks, I don’t own an iPhone!).

  93. Ian Brooks says:

    Maybe we need a postcount and ranking system for IDs as well then? True n00b (recent join, few posts), pseudo-n00b (joined a while ago, but comments infrequently) and non-n00b ranks (join date + postcount…student (1-50), grad(51-300), postdoc (301-1500), lecturer (1.5k-5k), reader(5k-10k), prof(10k+) or something…)
    The MA site I referred to lists the number of comments you’ve made, when you joined, and adds a “weight class” as well.
    On top of all that you can reward/punish individual posts (within reason and up to certain limits) by awarding so called “varrots”. The higher ranked you are the more your vote counts.
    They are worth absolutely nothing tangible, but a glance at someone’s username (actually a little dialogue box surrounding their name) allows you to judge accurately the relative worth of any given poster within the community.
    Do I honestly think we need something so convoluted, of course not! but that’s e-communication for you. These widgets were added to the site as time went on and the membership grew. I use this merely as an example of how one longtime online community (founded in 2002) deals with things.

  94. Frank Norman says:

    even seemingly innocuous remarks can be very discouraging
    Yes, I endorse that. Starting out here I struggled sometimes with the mode of discourse in some comment threads. I often have the feeling that everyone commenting manages to read ten times as much as I manage to, hence have a much wider bloggy frame of reference than I can muster. One-word responses or cryptic links have in the past mystified and derailed me.
    Perhaps I am too much of a delicate flower?

  95. Dorothy Clyde says:

    Oh, and Andrew Sun has blogged again on the relationship between blog hosts/readers/bloggers here. It’s possibly old news to some of you seasoned vets, but some of the concepts were new (and interesting) to me….

  96. Richard P. Grant says:

    Given what Elizabeth had just written, I don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of reason to read it as being OK to have insulted Elizabeth. Though I think it’s more likely you were responding to my comment on Elizabeth’s comment?



  97. Ian Brooks says:

    one lat comparison and then I’ll stop. Promise. (lie).
    The MA site gives out “tags” or badges for certain things. Because the site is dedicated to busting fraud in the marital arts you need to know who is an authority, so documented proof that have 4+ years Law Enforcement or military experience gets you the LEO or Military tag, documented proof of excellence in certain marital arts gets you a belt-colour tag (black for Judo; Purple, Brown and Black for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Some of us have submitted our diploma’s for inspection and have a “Scientist” tag, LOL.
    We could that here >:)
    (at least staff tags and maybe rank/nationality tags for ESL)
    (yes, I am kind of shit stirring a little, sorry. I am bored and hyped on coffee)

  98. Richard P. Grant says:

    documented proof of excellence in certain marital arts gets you a belt-colour tag

  99. Cath Ennis says:

    I don’t want to compare lats with you, sorry Ian.

  100. Richard P. Grant says:

    Well done Cath. In typical NN fashion you posted the 100th comment, with off-topic banter.

  101. Cath Ennis says:


  102. Stephen Curry says:

    This is more or less on topic since there was mention earlier about following people who are no longer here. On which note, this is Henry’s most recent post and it’s a cracker.

  103. Ian Brooks says:

    Bloody spell checker…

  104. Alejandro Correa says:

    Tottus AWEZOMEZ!!!

  105. Eva Amsen says:

    Aww, I was aiming for comment 100, but I was too late…
    What’s Alejandro so happy about anyway?

  106. Alejandro Correa says:

    Hi Eva, long time.
    Everything is so entertaining, is just that Eve, is simple.

  107. Eva Amsen says:

    Okay! I’m happy that you’re happy =)

  108. Kristi Vogel says:

    The MA site gives out “tags” or badges for certain things
    Oooohh, I know! How about some kind of monthly award for the cleverest commenters on each blog? And perhaps some shibboleth acronyms too?
    Oh, wait, that’s ….

  109. Wilson Hackett says:

    Dear Richard
    Does this mean that you will stop blogging at Nature Network?

  110. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Wilson, he’s thinking about it on a walkabout (or something like that but in Colorado and with fish). So let’s send positive vibes shall we?

  111. steffi suhr says:

    Dear Wilson,
    It seems that you may have brought this conversation to an abrupt halt with your question.

  112. Richard Wintle says:

    Good thing too, this was becoming WAY too meta for me.

  113. Heather Etchevers says:

    Bus? Station?

  114. Lou Woodley says:

    For anyone who hasn’t already seen it, there’s a post on the Network Team blog by Dan Pollock, the Associate Director of nature.com. I hope this goes some way towards answering some of the bigger questions you’ve been raising.

  115. Richard P. Grant says:

    I think Stephen’s comment on Dan’s post is the one that really needs answering, and will influence my decision, Wilson:

    But I can’t help thinking that a more definitive statement about future directions is warranted at this juncture. It’s good that you plan to have focus groups to poll opinion but plenty of opinions have already been shared on the private bloggers forum and are now spilling out one various people’s blogs – two more today.

  116. Richard P. Grant says:

    And meantime, this should help me relax, at least:

  117. Alyssa Gilbert says:

    Hi Richard – great post! I have not been very visible (okay – at all visible) on the NN since March, and for many of the reasons you wrote about here. Specifically, the shear number of new blogs made me feel like my blog was basically useless and it was tough to keep up with the whole “Network”.
    When I first joined (not even that long ago – in October 2009), there was a manageable number of blogs to keep up with. I would read pretty much every single post, and try to comment on most of them.
    But, with the new format and addition of a zillion new blogs, I felt lost in a world where I was already losing myself (since I was no longer interested in scientific research, I wasn’t sure what to post about). So, that lead me to just drop it. My blog is still up, but I haven’t posted since March – and this is the first comment I’ve written since then.
    Not sure what to do or where to go from here, but just wanted to say “hell ya” to you!

  118. Frank Norman says:

    Alyssa – I sympathise. I keep dropping out of NN and dropping in again. I find it difficult to write something if I’m not reading anyone else’s writings as I worry I might just be repeating old conversations.
    Re. the number of blogs, I chanced upon the NN forum for the 2008 Science Blogging conference in London, and saw a comment I wrote there about the problems we’d have when blog numbers really increased, arguing for better tools. (Needless to say I cannot now remember exactly where the comment was and cannot find it again!).
    I suppose you could liken the situation to online newspapers. Now you can access hundreds of different newspapers online, from around the world. But most people still will only read a handful of newspapers and don’t feel they have to read everything.

  119. Richard P. Grant says:

    Hello Alyssa! Thanks for dropping by. I mused to Jenny yesterday that you hadn’t been around for a bit. It’s nice to see you again! And thanks for agreeing with me: even I get nervous when I say something controversial, believe it or not.
    Frank, perhaps we should take a leave from the Times and start charging for access to NN?

  120. Frank Norman says:

    Perhaps leave the basic product free, but have a deluxe version for a small fee?

  121. Henry Gee says:

  122. Benoit Bruneau says:

    See that’s what I’m talking about: lakes and Henry’s couch dwellers. Wow. Henry?

  123. Richard Wintle says:

    Same idea, same continent as RPG, different country though:

  124. Alejandro Correa says:

    Where you took that picture in fabulous Richard, In toronto?

  125. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh, very nice. That looks like a gauntlet to me.

  126. Richard Wintle says:

    Alejandro – it is Desert Lake, about 45 minutes drive north of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. More here:
    RPG – it’s because of your ISS night photos that I tried this, so consider that gauntlet already thrown down. That photo of yours above (sun reflected in lake) is absolutely superb BTW.

  127. Richard P. Grant says:

    David Crotty weighs in with some thoughtful comments over at Scholarly Kitchen. Take a look, and chortle at comments such as ‘one-note atheist crazy cat lady’.

  128. Richard Wintle says:

    I particularly liked the comment about too many hotheaded narcissists who think they’re special snowflakes because they have blogs.

  129. Richard P. Grant says:

    But we are

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