On Nature Network, again

You’ll remember last time that I wondered what the point was of Nature Network, and indeed for a few months now a few of us have been wondering whether to set up an independent blogging collective that does what we think Nature Network should have been doing. The whole ScienceBlogs thing with Pepsi sponsorship came as we were talking about the technicalities of doing such a thing, and I see that they’ve already done something along the lines of what we are planning.

I’ve just had a brief twitter conversation with Tim Jones on how twittering and blogging eat into reading and writing time, and Tim made the point that the day job comes first. Put another way, if something doesn’t pay, it’s the first against the wall. And the problem with an independent blogging collective is that it would take some serious time (and a small amount of cash) to do it properly.

But after a glorious ten days or so with only intermittent internet access, I’m seriously beginning to consider the point of blogging at all. Most conversations happen with twitter, and if I want to say a bit more, or engage a bit more, there’s always Facebook (with all its quirks and problems). The kicker is that blogging eats into the limited time I have for writing for ‘fun’–short stories, novels, poems, songs; a whole heap of projects that has been bubbling away for far too long.

So is it really worth continuing to blog? I probably wouldn’t stop completely–it’s nice to have an unwalled garden where anybody can come along and pass the time of day.

And I see that Dan Pollock has responded to the comments we raised on his post last week (or whenever it was. The altitude here in Colorado has rotted my mind). The interesting thing to my mind is that he claims there are long-term plans for NN, but he can’t reveal them for commercially sensitive reasons. That’s set alarm bells ringing, and brings me back to Pepsigate and my conversation with Tim.

First, Dan is falling into the same trap that pissed off the ScienceBloggers–lack of relevant communication. I don’t want to be fobbed off. That leads me to the second thing: if there are really ‘commercially sensitive’ plans for Nature Network, then I want to know what that specifically means for us, the creators of the content.

That’s all, for now.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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36 Responses to On Nature Network, again

  1. Benoit Bruneau says:

    I’m afraid I don’t get the parallels with Twitter (too short) and Facebook (need to be “Friends”). A blog is accessible to all, a means to communicate broadly broad ideas broadly developed (also broadly). Twitter and Facebook, not so much.

  2. Richard P. Grant says:

    A blog is accessible to all
    Unless it’s Nature Network.

  3. Benoit Bruneau says:

    But anyone can sign in right? For most blogs there is a need for some form of signup (e.g. Wired’s blogs, and even Blogspot needs some form of login, whether it be a Google account or whatnot). But the commercial thing is weird, and the overbundance of content is another. Still, blogs are a good means for communicating ideas, and they work for me (reading them and occasionally commenting, that is).

  4. Ken Doyle says:

    The kicker is that blogging eats into the limited time I have for writing for ‘fun’–short stories, novels…
    That’s the realization I came to as well, when deciding to shut down my personal blog recently.

  5. Cath Ennis says:

    “I’m seriously beginning to consider the point of blogging at all.”
    Yeah, right! I’ll believe it when I see it 😉
    Benoit, with Blogspot it depends on the blogger – some allow completely anonymous comments with no login at all, while others only allow people with Google accounts to comment, others allow open ID etc.

  6. Richard P. Grant says:

    Anyone can, Benoit: but the (anecdotal) evidence is that they don’t.
    I guess you’re arguing here from the point of view of a consumer, not the producer. That might make a difference.

  7. Benoit Bruneau says:

    Richard: Correct, and correct.
    Cath, thanks for correcting. Still a n00b. (at least I know the word n00b)
    But yeah, I can’t imagine spending so much time blogging. Unless it is close to one’s primary occupation (eg the Jonah Lehrers of this world).

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    That’s the thing. I think cutting down the science blogging and simply keeping an online journal—much the way I started back in 2000 in fact!—is the way to go.

  9. Eva Amsen says:

    When in 2000? I fear you may have me beat in terms of “blogging the longest”. I just looked it up – I thought it was October 2000, but my very first blog entry was September 17, 2000: http://web.archive.org/web/20011109035750/www.geocities.com/canadagboek/entries.html
    (It’s not actually there anymore, it was in Dutch anyway, but the list of dates is all I needed!)

  10. Richard Wintle says:

    ^^^ what Benoit said.
    Twitter is fun but way too easy to miss things if you follow more than about three people. Facebook requires sign-up and is irritatingly fussy to navigate (one reason I gave up on it and killed “deactivated without actually deleting it” my account.
    As for RPG not blogging… ^^^what Cath said. Also – some of us enjoy reading your musings. 😉
    Off to read Dan Pollock’s tardy response now.

  11. Eva Amsen says:

    Facebook is super simple to navigate! Or maybe I spend too much time there, and it just became easy… I do vaguely remember being upset when they changed their layout – but am all over that now.

  12. Heather Etchevers says:

    Let me propose something publicly. One does need to adapt to new circumstances.
    Many of us, as Mr. Wintle wrote, love reading whatever you put up. Many readers know their way to this blog. Don’t just follow the zeitgeist: setting up something else will take tons of time, more perhaps than writing?
    Have you read FSP’s post? Moral being, if you take a break but keep writing somewhere, it does not matter so much where. To thine own self be true (off the top of my head and from my phone, so don’t quote me).
    Someday, it would be very interesting to set up what is essentially a meta-blogroll on a theme that differs from others. Like Lablit did for its particular niche, and then there might be a guest blog where invited essayists could spout off on something related to that theme. But individual bloggers would keep their offsite idiosyncrasies. Remember blog rings? Something in it.
    I think what I am saying is it might be good to change one variable at a time, from one scientist to another. Maybe start by experimenting with frequency and topical focus? I like the “renewed diary” idea.

  13. Frank Norman says:

    Re. accessibility. NN is accessible to all, in the sense that anyone can read the blogs without registering. I’m not sure but I don’t think Facebook content is easily accessible In that way.

  14. Nigel Eastmond says:

    I have found a niche for Facebook and Twitter in my working and personal life. Basically, for me, Facebook is for play. I swap photos, links and funnies with my friends, and I lock my working life away from it. I also have an FB page for my company for the simple reason that I can tweet from my work Twitter and account and repeat it on the FB page. This enables me to post any capacity I have in my business to former colleagues who just don’t get or want to get Twitter.
    Twitter, for me, is a work thing. I have a personal account, but it lies dormant. Twitter is about getting pharma news as it happens and being able to tweet news about my own activities as part of my social media new business tactics. These tweets are selectively repeated to Facebook and LinkedIn to maximise their spread. Basically, any news I pick up and retweet or comment on is not repeated, and everything that might get me more work is. As I said recently on Facebook, Twitter is not rubbish (I may have used a different word there).
    In all that, there is not space for a blog. I write for a living, so the idea of writing a load more without getting paid for it seems odd. I know it is about ‘getting yourself out there’, but I think that what I already have on in social media is sufficient. Another pharma writer I know recently started his own blog, and when I read it, it doesn’t tell me anything new. It’s just reporting well-known facts. I think that this is because putting any real thought or analysis into a blog takes a ton of time.
    … and the novel needs a new synopsis for its second agent and that has taken 6 months to not get done.

  15. Brian Clegg says:

    Twitter is very effective for quick comments (the answer to keeping track, Benoit, is to use a suitable reading platform like Tweetdeck), and parallels blogging, but you can’t beat a proper blog for getting a point across in more detail.
    I think there is a point, Richard. It might be less the case here, but an ‘open’ blog like Blogger can build up a good solid audience you communicate with, and it has less transience than Twitter/Facebook. I still get blog comments coming in from posts I wrote last year.

  16. Kristi Vogel says:

    how twittering and blogging eat into reading and writing time, and Tim made the point that the day job comes first
    It seems obvious, of course, that if you can’t enforce that priority, then you’re in trouble – whatever your day job, or whatever social media platform(s). The point could be made about Facebook, studying/paying attention to lectures and labs, and students, for example.
    I think the dichotomy that Nigel mentions for Facebook and Twitter usage is a good approach to managing social media; unfortunately for me, there is already “slop” between personal and work for my Facebook invites, so I just avoid the quicksand of Facebook altogether. I also avoid Twitter – not because I don’t “get it”, but rather because I see it as a potential Charybdis of fun online repartee. Too tempting on the one hand, and the other side of Twitter is the boring daily activity descriptions. It would be like willingly listening to one of those chattering cell phone diarists who haunt grocery store aisles, airports, public restrooms, and the hallways at work.

  17. Alejandro Correa says:

    I really neither like to me Tweeter neither the Facebook, get lost the cosmovision.

  18. Henry Gee says:

    The kicker is that blogging eats into the limited time I have for writing for ‘fun’–short stories, novels, poems, songs; a whole heap of projects that has been bubbling away for far too long
    The emotional turmoil, aggravation and general brouhaha that blogging seems to cause people is also not worth it considering that one does it for nothing.
    However, at Sci10, I attended a panel at which one of the speakers was Rebecca Skloot, author of that excellent book on Henrietta Lacks, which if you haven’t read, you should make a note to yourself to patronize the proverbial All Good Bookshops and buy it forthwith, or preferably fifthwith – it’s THAT good.
    But I digress.
    Ms Skloot said that social media are useful for telling people about one’s book projects, building up an audience, expectations, cultivating a fan base and so on and so forth (or fifth). In other words, blogging acts as what marketing people call a loss-leader, or, maybe, a means of spculating to accumulate. Not that it works for me. I have been telling people about my novel By The Sea until my face is blue, but I have sold precisely one (1) copy in a year.
    By the way, you can order it at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/by-the-sea/5362595
    Just sayin’.

  19. Eva Amsen says:

    Hm. No. I think the best blogs are the ones where the author had fun writing them. Ever seen Hyperbole And A Half? So good, and for that reason.
    And I’m not having fun right now, blogging for work and in my spare time. I feel like I have to, and I’d rather it be fun again. I wish I knew how!

  20. Richard P. Grant says:

    Well, I get paid to blog and tweet and whatnot, so I’m slightly different 🙂
    Having said that I’m very careful to keep my professional and personal blogs separate—and maybe that’s what’s made me think more carefully about this.
    Someday, it would be very interesting to set up what is essentially a
    meta-blogroll on a theme that differs from others.

    that is kinda what I’m considering at the moment. Blogs as such are so last decade.

  21. Heather Etchevers says:

    I just had to add how much I loved this turn of phrase from Kristi:
    a potential Charybdis of fun online repartee
    What Henry brings up is true, and relevant to you, but not to me:
    In other words, blogging acts as what marketing people call a loss-leader, or, maybe, a means of spculating to accumulate.
    This whole self-marketing thing is interesting. I like it, in the sense that I feel (felt?) like I get heard, when it feels successful. I don’t like it, in the sense that it takes energy, and what exactly am I trying to sell? Not like my paper or grant reviewers read my participation in social media, or that it would make a difference if they did, unless I am adding documents of lasting value to the archives.
    So, for those of you who write books on the side, have jobs that are more or less journalist roles, or have a self-proclaimed mission to perform public outreach – the use of blogging becomes self-evident. But Nigel’s comment is interesting. Is someone who doesn’t blog, but makes use of other social media alone, putting themselves at a disadvantage relative to reaching the desired audience?
    (Personally, my desired audience has always been “people whom I find interesting” according to my very subjective opinion, and I’ve usually been pretty happy because in that realm, numbers don’t count much, unless there are never any new people for years on end.)

  22. Mike Fowler says:

    NN means different things to different people.
    For some, it was the chance to start a blog (maybe for the first time), in a reputable online arena with an established audience, for others it’s more about pedantry or knob gags.
    Right now, I see the blogs on NN as an area of global scientific expansion, with a very multicultural collective starting to dip their toes into the sea of online discussion. This is a good development IMO, as it was previously a bit too cosy with the startup establishment here. Fun, but limited.
    When I started my blog here, it was an experiment to see if I liked contributing posts myself and could write about my work to a non-specific audience, rather than just contributing knob gags on others’ posts. Like Richard and many others, I now find myself with too little time to maintain a steady presence here as well as doing the day job properly – even in a time when we’re actively encouraged to outreach to non-specific audiences1 in our day jobs.
    But that’s OK, there are plenty of (old and new) bloggers joining NN to fill in the space. They will build up their own audiences with time, those established here will find their own homes elsewhere if required, and the interwebz will keep turning, with more, or less navel gazing.
    1. Whatever they might be.

  23. Nigel Eastmond says:

    I think I can explain this for you. If one is using social media for commercial purposes, then the ‘really interesting people’ tend to be ones who want to hire you. In pharma, these people can be incredibly conservative. Despite the fact that they are all 30–45 years of age and own the Oasis back catalogue, the risk-averse industry they work in has all but wiped any youthful creativity from their minds. They are not really the types to read blogs, but more importantly they are also not the types of people who would care to work with someone who blogged about the job. It would create a sense of risk and they would wonder what part of the working relationship you have with them might end up on a blog page, however cleverly disguised.
    My job is very interesting. It would make great content. But to blog it would be nearly as dumb as a blog from a nuclear submarine commender.

  24. Richard P. Grant says:

    in a reputable online arena with an established audience
    there are plenty of (old and new) bloggers joining NN to fill in the space.
    is exactly the problem at NN.

  25. Cath Ennis says:

    @Henry: blegh. I’ve unsubscribed from a bunch1 of different blogs when they became nothing more than a sustained sales pitch for the author’s new book or something else they were selling. Obviously a blog is an effective medium for marketing a book, but you need to continue to provide some other form of content, preferably the kind of content that first attracted your blog’s readers in the first place. So when you and Jenny have each had the occasional post about your books, but have kept up all your other normal blogging too, that’s all fine and good and welcome. But some blogs start featuring nothing but posts about the author’s next appearance on a book tour or podcast, reviews of the book, etc, for weeks and weeks at a time. That turns me off faster than, um, a very fast thing.
    1 We need a good collective noun for blogs. A navelgaze?

  26. Åsa Karlström says:

    Interesting Richard. I’m starting to feel a bit silly but I never got signed up on twitter – partly probably since I have a hard time keeping within the 140 limit on texts. I like blogs, since I look at them as column with possible interaction with the writer. Did I mention something about hard to keeping it short? 😉
    Then there is the thing that FB and Twitter is blocked from work – and even if I shouldn’t read blogs from work I can if I work late or have a lunch break. And due to the (at least what I’ve gathered so far from other people using twitter) the idea of twitter it’s less fun to read all the twitters late at night when it’s been up to 14 hours since they were posted/twittered.
    As for the whole “work you get paid and blogging takes time from that” – I can understand the feeling of not wanting to keep up with it. But I like reading you post (if that makes a difference?)

  27. Heather Etchevers says:

    Nigel: point taken. Everything in its own time, anyhow. Or you could make a private blog if you really wanted. Depends with whom you’re dying to share your anecdotes.
    Richard: new does not necessarily mean “dilute”, but perhaps it’s possible to set the bar higher, and ask for some sort of demonstration about commitment? The SAB’s request to commit to a post every 2 weeks for the first year wasn’t so stupid, really. Practice writing does make closer to perfect.
    Cath: a friend on Facebook (ha!) has asked about a potential collective noun for scientists. Any suggestions?
    Åsa: I may have signed up, but I certainly don’t use Twitter professionally. However, it’s a great place to get pointers to interesting reading that is very current (I don’t rely on Google Reader anymore as I’ve loaded too many blogs in there), and to feel like you are in on something very slightly earlier than others. It’s a pleasure I don’t need very often but some people get downright addicted to it. Believe it or not I’ve somehow emitted 1000 tweets by not saying anything of note whatsoever, and it’s also a quick way to update one’s FB status from my phone. Your approach is probably wisest. But if you’re embarrassed you can say in a blasé manner “oh, I have an account, but it’s a real time sink, and I have more important things to do”.

  28. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Cath: We need a good collective noun for blogs. A navelgaze?
    I suggest a “stroke” of blogs, which could refer to genius, insight, lightning, ego, or … other things. In some cases I would also recommend the collective noun “bloat”.

  29. Richard P. Grant says:

    The more I look at it, Heather, the more the SAB seems ahead of its time.
    @Kristi: that caused a silent splort (a lort?). Thanks.

  30. Richard P. Grant says:


    Scienceblogs isn’t an anarchically pure open network. It invited certain science bloggers, then let them go with essentially no supervision thereafter. In effect, it did its quality control in advance by choosing whom to invite. Discover does this much more selectively with its far smaller stable of first-rate bloggers, to excellent effect.


  31. Richard Wintle says:

    A collective noun for blogs? There Can Be Only One:
    A glob of blogs.
    Thank you very much. I’m here all week.

  32. Kristi Vogel says:

    As I am in a particularly vile mood this afternoon, I have another collective noun: a passive aggression of academic colleagues. >:-P

  33. Richard P. Grant says:

    Awesome. I may have to steal that!

  34. Kristi Vogel says:

    Small consolation, that it’s a universal phenomenon.

  35. Richard Wintle says:

    What was it Jenny said in that interview regarding writing papers and fighting agains a “sea of useless opponents”?
    A sea of co-authors? An opposition of colleagues?

  36. Richard P. Grant says:

    A friend on Facebook commented, but as she’s quite private, most of you won’t see it. I think it’s quite a valuable contribution, so here it is:

    “Richard, I think blogging’s useful, though maybe not in the way people thought, at first — it’s not a very good conversational medium, never has been. It’s for musing and storytelling, but the hierarchy involved sort of kills conversation, and so does the comments format. For conversation you want something threaded and meritocratic, like Usenet, though fora are okayish as a substitute.
    My blog’s been dormant for about two years, though I’ve kept working on blog posts. What I find is that the blog’s been good for two things:
    One, identification. When I first started posting to ***, you guys were able to have a look at my blog and get some sense of what I was about, and that put me squarely in the *** convo much faster, I think, than I’d otherwise have been. You see how it’s gone: People will show up at *** and post for a little while, but if they don’t have substantial writing elsewhere, it can take longer than they’re around to get a sense of who they are & what they might be after. There’ve been other contexts where my blog’s served as calling card, too.
    Two, it’s public scratchpad. When I started my blog I knew perfectly well that I’m no good at the short-form writing that characterizes much “polite” blogging. I didn’t care; I thought maybe what I was writing might, someday, turn into a book, or source material for a book. And that’s exactly what’s going on, even though I really won’t be able to use most of the posts I’ve made. The core of the blog still works as the core of a book, only my thinking on those subjects has deepened and changed in tenor & focus somewhat, thanks in part to talking with you & other ***/Nature crew.
    So I’d say blogs might be looked at as part of intellectual and social process, not product. Something to chew on, in the line of serious fun, the essential kind, for people inclined to this kind of work.
    In other words: Patience is a virtue. 🙂

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