Why do we do this again?

This seems like a particularly good time to focus on what’s nice about blogging. Dunno why. And if anyone reads this who doesn’t know what I’m talking about: you don’t want to know. Really.

Anyway, coincidentally I just stumbled across this post Bora wrote in late 2008 over on ‘a blog around the clock’. In the comments, he actually linked to a post I subsequently wrote and in which I linked to his post – I didn’t actually realise this until today. Goes to show that, at that point, I’d barely started blogging and was (and still am) stumbling around – not only because of current technical limitations.

Bora also linked to a post by Corie Lok on the Boston blog on what is acceptable in the blogo/commentosphere. Look, it’s not as if we haven’t had that discussion, even during the small amount of time I’ve spent in the blogosphere so far. In the comment thread on Corie’s post, you’ll find this cartoon – which puts it quite nicely:

Could it be that we just need to agree to disagree on what we like about blogging and the reasons we do it for? Can we happily carry on with our different styles and approaches to blogging? And live happily ever after have a watercress sangwich get back to it?

In that spirit, I propose we revive the why do we blog meme Martin Fenner started in 2008, and which produced so many different answers from such a wide variety of people. At that point, I had been blogging only for a few weeks and was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (and actually quite shy about the whole thing). Here is my contribution.

My main drive then could not be more mainstream: it was ‘science communication’, and what finally tipped me over the edge to start this suspicious activity called ‘blogging’ were the many points made in a journal theme section I was assembling at the time – I suddenly felt that I couldn’t just talk about it, I had to get off my butt and do something myself.

But I didn’t think just ‘presenting’ or ‘explaining’ science would work for me; that didn’t feel right. I needed a different angle, so I decided to try and tell the stories of people behind the science, hoping this “might allow others to relate on a more personal level to science topics and the doing of research”, to quote from my replies back then.

Funnily, I did initially take myself completely out of the equation – I just didn’t think that people would want to read about me. I’m less shy now, if you care to look into my archives.

Anyway. Well over a year down the line and already quite a bit more jaded about the experience, I’d rephrase the questions slightly and answer a bit differently.
I still want to get people interested in science. And that now explicitly includes my wider circle of friends and acquaintances, who are about a third scientists and a third in science support, while the last third do not have anything to do with science at all. Especially in the case of that last third, I find explaining science tricky sometimes. I am now bold enough to distribute the url for my blog rather generously, even to people I meet in my job – I even bragged about it in the interview for my current position. Blogging under my real name and with my professional affiliation clearly stated on my profile here on NN is important for me and plays an important role concerning ‘reaching out’ to people that don’t usually spend much time online, and talking to people who wouldn’t otherwise look at a blog at all.

This recent kerfuffle (again, if you’ve missed it, good!) has – for me – just reinforced how important it is to allow different styles and accept and tolerate (blog-)cultural differences. So, in the general spirit of kissing and making up, I invite you to join in and answer these slightly different questions1:

  • What made you start blogging?
  • Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
  • Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
  • [rephrasing this question: Are there blogs you stopped reading for some reason or that might be interesting, but turn you off right away? If yes, why?]

  • Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
  • Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
  • Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?

1 Should you chose to answer these questions you accept that, after getting it all out, you are done and will stop the off-putting meta-blogging.

Answers on other blogs (please let me know if I’m missing any):
Heather Etchevers
Alyssa Gilbert
Prof-like Substance
Bob O’Hara
Katherine Haxton
Answered in the comments:
Eva Amsen
Cath Ennis
Richard Wintle
Stephen Curry
Henry Gee
Grant Jacobs (his blog)

This post was first published on Nature Network, which has since been discontinued. The post has been moved to SciLogs.

About steffi suhr

Once upon a time, I was an enthusiastic and hopeful biological oceanographer who did a bunch of work in the Antarctic. I was alternately wearing labcoats or extreme weather clothing and hard hats, but have long since swapped survival suits for dress suits and do science management, currently as the BioMedBridges project manager at the European Bioinformatics Institute. I still like to use my brain. I'm a German serial expat, currently - again - living in the UK.
This entry was posted in Antarctic stuff, career, Keep on fighting. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Why do we do this again?

  1. Eva Amsen says:

    1. What made you start blogging?
    Initially, I was doing a research internship in Quebec, and hand-coded a website to update my friends and family back home. When I came back (this was in early 2001) I heard about blogger, and thought “if only I’d had that a few months ago!”. Even though I was no longer away, I set up a blog just for randomness. Eventually, that evolves into a science blog or two or three.
    2. Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
    As my answer above illustrates, I do like to write for an audience. I also like knowing that people are reading, either through comments or referral links. In terms of community, you can certainly achieve that through blogging, but also through other things online, like forums. I have several good friends who I met on internet forums ten years ago. So, it depends – I don’t need to be best friends with my blog readers, but I like knowing they’re around.
    3. Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
    Well, yes, of course. There are way too many to keep up with! There are blogs that I used to read and then stopped reading, and in most of those cases the “problem” was that they posted too often and I couldn’t keep up! I feel the need to either read all posts on a blog or just go look at a single post when someone recommends it. I can’t stand to subscribe to a feed and constantly have to mark it “read” when I haven’t really read it.
    (I also have an aversion to shelving unread books. It comes from the same place, the feeling of needing to “read it all”. I’d rather not own a book than put it on the shelf unread.)
    4. Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
    On my NN blog I think most of my readers are themselves involved in science, so I try to keep that in mind. on easternblot I used to write for a non-science audience, but it’s recently come to my attention that many of the non-science friends who I had in mind as audience weren’t even reading, and thought I had “quit my blog”. That wasn’t very motivating. I also have a WordPress blog about science/music, and I write that mainly for myself as notes for a bigger project I want to work on.
    5. Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
    No, I think all my readers are already interested enough in science that they are exposed to it in other ways. A few non-science friends read it, but they’re also the kind of people that read the science section in the newspaper. The friends that really don’t care about science don’t read my blog either.
    6. Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?
    No, not at all. They think we’re all crazy. They might be right.

  2. Maxine Clarke says:

    Nice post, Steffi. I think your blog is great – science behind the scenes is such a good concept, as so few non-scientists, or even scientists in completely different disciplines from one’s own, know what it is like to “do” science. Well done to you.
    I can’t add to what I’ve already said about why I blog (but I like Eva’s response!) – basically, because I like it and it fills a niche in my life. And I have found a few like minded people with whom it is more than pleasant, really quite delightful, to interact on the internet about common interests.
    It is a pity when arguments flare up but I suppose it is inevitable. It seems so much easier to write things that you wouldn’t say. Before the internet (probably still) people wrote nasty letters or emails – but at least those were private. As your cartoon points out, there is lots wrong out there, usually written by those who shout the loudest and push their point of view most aggressively.
    Anyway, keep up the good work. I am sure I am not the only one who appreciates the content and style of your blog.

  3. Cath Ennis says:

    1) What made you start blogging?
    My last job didn’t really engage the science part of my brain. I felt dumber than I’d ever felt, and really missed discussing science. I read an article – I think it was in Nature, or maybe Science – about science blogging, and checked out a couple of the recommendations. I liked Pharyngula the best and became a regular reader, and from there I found ERV (my postdoctoral research was on endogenous retroviruses). I joined in the comments on those and other similar blogs and instantly found what I’d been missing. I started my own blog a couple of months later, while I was away from home on a conference and had hours of downtime at the booth with just me and my laptop while everyone else was in the sessions!
    My first few months worth of posts were pretty sciency – journal club style posts about new papers, and ruminations on my career path etc. I found my brain switching on again (blogging saved me from Teh Dumbz), and found that my writing improved.
    2) Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
    Community is the single most important part of blogging (to me), and the main reason I’m still going now, even after switching to a new job that does use my brain and writing skills!
    After the first few months of science content I described above, I took a month long break for my wedding and honeymoon. When I restarted, a lot of my original commenters didn’t come back. But I was still submitting lots of posts to carnivals, and one carnival I was in also featured a post by Mad Hatter (blog recently closed down. I am still very sad about this). I clicked through to her blog and discovered a lot of shared interests, left some comments… and that was the start of my current community on my other blog. Mad Hatter and a lot of her readers followed me home to my blog, and they and other, newer additions, are now my friends in a very real sense. I’ve met Nina, Mad Hatter, Propter Doc, Dr J, and Scientist Mother in real life, and I hope to meet many more fellow bloggers in the future.
    When I was invited to blog over here, I decided to split my blogging effort, and I’m glad I did, because a lot of my existing commenters didn’t follow me over here (registration and real names were barriers to many of them). Now I have another community of awesome NN peeps over here, who have also become friends, and I managed to maintain the existing community on my other blog too despite the almost complete lack of science content these days. I feel like I’ve won the lottery with my best of both worlds situation!
    3) Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
    Same as Eva said… there are just too many to read. I’ve also stopped reading blogs if they’ve become overly boring, specialised, or repetitive. I also stopped reading a couple of blogs when the author wrote something I felt so strongly about that I just didn’t want to know them any more (a heartfelt “f*ck the planet” in response to an environmentalist’s suggestion, for example).
    I still read some of the blogs I started with, but rarely comment any more – I’ve moved on. Plus I stopped commenting (or even reading the comments) ages ago at Pharyngula when the number of comments started to exceed my ability to keep up by a factor of several thousand.
    4) Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
    Primarily myself and my existing communities, to be honest. I know these people pretty well and know what topics they like to read about (as judged by the comments that ensue as well as their own favourite blog topics). My favourite blog posts and subsequent comment threads feel like a chat with friends down the pub. If people at other tables hear something interesting and want to join in, well, the more the merrier! But other than submitting to carnivals (I’ve recently restarted thanks to Bob’s encouragement and example), I’m not making too many overt efforts to reach new audiences each week. (I’ve saved myself from Teh Dumbz, but not Teh Laziez).
    5) Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
    I know I am by the search terms that people use to find my other blog. My post about my postdoctoral research on endogenous retroviruses is still the most Googled post on there, and is consistently in the top five visited posts of any given week. A lot of the search terms are things like “what reasons do scientists give for believing in evolution”. There are other examples too, including my two posts about ERVs and multiple sclerosis, but the original one is extraordinarily popular (it helps that PZ Myers and several other bloggers linked to it at the time, and it made the top 10 on Reddit. I had 4,000 people read it in one day once! I peeked at my stats on my lunchbreak and almost fell off my chair! All the attention got the creationist site who were using one of my papers as evidence against evolution to finally take the paper off their list, after a few months of ignored emailed requests from me).
    6) Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?
    Absolutely not. My husband has been completely bemused by events of recent days (I repeat Steffi’s advice that if you don’t know what we’re talking about, you’re better off that way), and thinks we’re all completely insane. He’s read some of the posts, comments and tweets, and just doesn’t get it. “Is this stupid thing still going on?” he asked this morning as I logged in to Twitter this morning. “I want to play Risk, will the computer be free some time this year?”

  4. Cath Ennis says:

    I’ve been and gone and triggered the spam filter again. Please can some kind soul retrieve my comment? One day I will learn about links triggering filters and start splitting my comments into multiple sections, I promise.

  5. Lou Woodley says:

    Post reinstated! Don’t ever say we’re not dedicated 😉

  6. Richard Wintle says:

    What made you start blogging?
    In a frustrated fury at a previous boss, I typed the word “tw*t” into Google, and came up with a blog. It was an entertaining read, and after a while of finding new bloggers and living in everyone’s comments boxes, I got the bug.
    Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
    Um, well, I like reading and commenting and receiving comments. Not interested in “community blogging” with a group of co-authors per se (although I have participated in one two such adventures, and might again with the right people, I suppose).
    Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
    Is this a trick question? 99.9999999% of all blogs, worldwide, are ones I never look at.
    Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
    Me, mostly. And a small cabal of acquaintances internet friends.
    Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
    My science blog is barely read by anyone, since certain co-authors bailed on it (before I appeared on the scene – it wasn’t my fault in other words. Not much, anyway.) My personal blog contains smatterings of science but I think they annoy most of the regular readers. It’s more about cars and wildlife, and strange things done by the Junior Wintles, really.
    Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?
    Not even slightly. I’m not sure I even care about all of them.

  7. Cath Ennis says:

    Thanks Lou! I never have and I never will 🙂

  8. Austin Elliott says:

    Hmm. That’s another feature we need for the much-awaited “re-vamped” NN system – an intelligent filter that DOESN’T trigger ” >4 URLs = SPAM” DefCon One responses if the comment is from a “trusted” poster (e.g. one who has had several previous comments pass the filters?)
    That is actually one of the WORST features of SciBlogs, BTW – the spam filters trigger on >1 URL, and many of the bloggers there (especially the popular ones) don’t scan their spam in-boxes terribly often.

  9. Stephen Curry says:

    What made you start blogging?
    Narcissism. The desire to write. The desire to make my science more accessible.
    Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
    Never gone solo so don’t know. Joined NN to be able to access their ready-made audience.
    Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
    I liked RW’s answer to that one.
    Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
    For anyone who has at least a passing interest in science.
    Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
    I suspect it is (slowly) exposing more scientists to blogging than web-surfers to science (though I’m pimping my posts shamelessly on Twitter). Since NN is mostly by scientists for scientists, I’m not sure how many outside the profession (broadly defined) it reaches. But that’s probably a discussion for another time.
    Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?

  10. Henry Gee says:

    What made you start blogging?
    Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
    The community is very important. When I started, I felt that the blogging community was somewhere I belonged quite naturally, in a way that I’d never felt for any other community. However, I discovered rather abruptly that the honeymoon came to an end some time ago, just when I thought it was going to go on forever. I have learned unpleasants thing about other bloggers, and also about myself.
    Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
    Yes. I just don’t like the way they conduct themselves, and the company they seem to keep. I don’t think this is a matter of civility, so much as taste.
    Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
    ‘For whom am I blogging’, shurely? Myself. Who else is there?
    Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
    Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?

  11. Grant Jacobs says:

    First up, I’m an outsider. I hail from the sciblogs.co.nz collective way down in New Zealand.
    Secondly, if I come across as dull or jaded, it may have something to do with having been up all night completing a grant application. You promise every year not to do it again, but you do…
    >> What made you start blogging?
    I read blogs for quite a while, studied the sci. comm. thing a bit too. My comments got longer and longer and more and more blog-like. Eventually a local blogger held up one of my comments and offered to post it as a guest blog instead. It was kind-of on the long side… A second one went the same route and not long after that sciblogs started casting around for it’s founder bloggers and I jumped in.
    >> Is a sense of community an important part of blogging for you, or do you prefer blogging ‘solo’?
    Mixed on that one. I like there to be a certain amount of traffic, which collectives help, but wish I had more control over the blog software to suit myself better.
    >> Are there blogs you never look at? If yes, why (be nice and don’t name names)?
    Leaving aside that there are too many, for a few of those I know: yes. There’s a larger collection I try avoid to spare myself the agony of getting accused of all sorts of silly things through trying to correct someone who turns out to either be a bit of a nutter or who takes criticism of their “knowledge” personally. Can’t stand that. It’s doubly painful when people bring it to your own blog. (One such twit wound up “his” people up with misrepresentations of what I’d written and encouraged them to head my way… double ugh.)
    >> Who are you blogging for/who are you talking to?
    Sci comm outreach to non-scientists and journalists. I know the sciblogs are read by the local media scene and most of the commenters are non-scientists. (To date, I know it’s read by scientists, but they seem shy to speak up.)
    >> Do you think you may be getting people exposed to some science through your blog who otherwise wouldn’t be?
    Yes, but hard to tell if for the better though, as the “negatives” tend to speak up more than the “positives”, which is a pain. Personally I’d like more people who have a positive interest. It’s not much fun when too many people try be negative to you.
    >> Do you think any non-blogger cares about any of the above things?>>
    Hmm… I’m avoiding painful introspection on this one 😉 Seriously, I doubt it unless they’re a sci comm buff.
    Cath Ennis:
    My most visited post is a full-length retrospective on bioinformatics that I originally wrote in 2002 and recycled late last year. It’s still getting the odd hit. Sounds similar to your ERV post on a lesser scale.

  12. Heather Etchevers says:

    Steffi, if anything makes me want to get back to blogging, it would be this olive branch. But I’m jetlagged and it’s officially 4:13AM in my original time zone. So perhaps tomorrow or Friday… anyhow, nice idea to revive this. Especially, for those like yourself who had participated in the first round, why are we sticking with it? A question I do ask myself from time to time.

  13. steffi suhr says:

    Sorry all, just woke up, now deleted the spam (the irony…). Please carry on!

  14. steffi suhr says:

    Thanks to DrugMonkey for joining in! If you see others, please add the links – I will not be able to catch them all today.
    And I guess a bit of explanation is needed for question three, I added that in above.

  15. Bob O'Hara says:

    I’ll respond in a blog post later, but thanks and I love the tags!

  16. steffi suhr says:

    Thanks Bob – youre other half is already done!

  17. Heather Etchevers says:

    Here you go, Steffi.

  18. Alyssa Gilbert says:

    I thought since I have both an NN blog, and a “solo” blog, that I’d write my response as a post

  19. Alyssa Gilbert says:

    Oh, and Prof-like Substance has done this too

  20. steffi suhr says:

    It is really interesting how almost everyone reads the question about a sense of community to mean blog networks, which I was not specifically aiming at. Seems that the consensus is clear, anyway.
    Please leave your link if you join in the meme!

  21. Maria Jose Navarrete-Talloni says:

    I’m back and I’ll answer the questions!…
    … coming soon!

  22. Eva Amsen says:

    MARIA! I missed you! Was just wondering a few days ago: “whatever happened to Maria…?”

  23. Lou Woodley says:

    I just wanted to say what a great idea this is Steffi. I guess other questions that I might ask as a non-blogger are “how much do you think your real life personality comes across in your blog and is this important to you or for the success of the blog?”
    One of the interesting things about working in Second Life, where everyone is represented by an avatar, is that some people can generate quite different personas from their real life identities, or maybe just pick out aspects of their personalities that they want to accentuate. Your impressions of a person can be subtly influenced by their virtual clothing, the way they engage in chat, even how/where they stand in a virtual location. I’m sure this is true for some bloggers too, but I wonder to what extent you’re aware of it, engage in it or think it matters?

  24. Maria Jose Navarrete-Talloni says:

    Hi there people!… I’ll be posting about my last 4 months soon, but just a preview:
    – thesis submitted! (awaiting for reviewers)
    – paper accepted!
    It’s great to catch up and find out what you all have been into these days…
    BTW Steffi… great post!

  25. steffi suhr says:

    Maria Jose, welcome back – I missed you too, and same as Eva was just wondering where you were! Congrats on submitting the thesis and on your paper!!!
    Lou: very good question, I only have time for a quick answer. Strangely, for me it’s the other way around – I think my online personality is actually reflecting on how I act in real life in some ways. Yes, I am very grateful that my online personality is not too outrageous 🙂

  26. steffi suhr says:

    And I keep meaning to add the link to Katherine Haxton’s answer.

  27. Bob O'Hara says:

    Maria – congrats! It’s a strange feeling to get that thing out of the way, isn’t it?

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