I attended last year’s Science Blogging conference very much as an outsider. I’d signed on at Nature Network and passed a few comments, but was not a blogger. However, the event was a turning point for me and in the warm flush of excitement that emanated from the conference, I finally decided to jump into the strange reality known as the blogosphere.
This year I came back to Science Online London 2009 (which took place yesterday) from a rather different position. For me the conference actually kicked of at the Friday evening bash organised largely by Jenny, Richard and Matt and hosted by Mendeley. This loosely-run event was held on a roof-top terrace somewhere in the Farringdon area and attracted forty-odd interested souls. The first session, led by Jenny and myself, gave me a chance to offer a few basic observations on the value of online media, blogs in particular, for getting across the narrative that is so often lost from textbook and journalistic presentations of science.
Spouting on the rooftop (Richard’s pic)
There followed a very interesting discussion, with vigorous participation from many members of the audience, as was the case in the subsequent sessions on Blogging as a tool for persuasion (led by Richard and Cameron) and the two more spontaneous sessions on blogging genres (Eva Amsen’s suggestion) and on PR, the latter generating some trenchant remarks from the redoubtable David Colquhoun. Suffice to say he’s not a fan.
But more than anything the event was about getting together — lubricated by free drink — and making more of a connection with people that many of us only knew ‘online’. Whatever kind of knowing that is.
The late night on Friday was not too much of an impediment to the early start at the Royal Institution on Saturday. The conference was launched with great verve and intelligence by Petra Boynton and David Allen Green (Jack of Kent) who laid out the proper ethical and legal framework for bloggers. It’s all so very clear now. “Ahem.”:http://network.nature.com/people/scurry/blog/2009/05/30/i-don’t-know-what-to-say
We then moved on to cover topics as diverse as Blogging for Impact, Citizen Science, Online communication for institutions, real time metrics for assessing scientific contributions and Google wave, which is apparently about to crest.
There were some great contributions, from the panellists and the floor, though I was somehow content to sit back and let it flow over me. Much of the material seemed a bit diffuse or perhaps too specialist for an ordinary scientist such as myself. I have yet to be touched by any of the excitement swirling around Google wave, for example; it still seems too much like a geek toy. Some tidbits did nevertheless end up lodged in my head. I very much liked the sound of the Ask a biologist site that Paolo Viscardi talked about and it was good to hear that the editing tools at Wikipedia are to become simpler.
But more than anything and, as I had discovered last year, the greatest joy of this event is meeting the people who are the reality behind the virtual world that we inhabit online. Not only did I manage to put faces to people that I already knew (delighted to have finally met you Steffi, Eva and Maria, to name but a few), but I also met people I hadn’t known before in any medium.
Over lunch I enjoyed debating the merits of electronic lab notebook with Rory Macneil of Axiope. I’m going to need some more convincing on that one, but I’ll certainly be investigating.
I bumped into Northern Doctor on the balcony at the end of the lunch break. Down in the street we could see the smokers clustered around the front door of the institution. What’s the collective noun for smokers standing outside a building, I wondered. “A carcinoma,” he suggested, “or a wheeze?”
It is agreeably ironic that the richest experience for me was meeting these online folk in the flesh. It was a particular thrill to come across many of the community (bloggers including Jack of Kent , Dr Aust, Gimpy, Zeno and the Quackometer), who have been doing such fine work both in supporting Simon Singh and in taking rationality to the alternative medicine community.
Meeting these guys and all the other people I chatted to during the conference, and in the pub afterwards, brought home just how much joining in online has enriched my life with new connections. But it still strange to realise that these connections are best savoured in the real world.
Or maybe it was the effect of the drink.