24 January 2013

Science Online 2013: “Blogging for the long haul”

Here is the next appetizer for the second of two Science Online 2013 sessions I’m co-moderating. “Blogging for the Long Haul” will be moderated by Scicurious and myself.

Note! This session will be streamed online to Science Online Watch Parties. Mark your calendars!

When I suggested this panel, I was thinking about strategies to deal with changing online ecosystems. Science blogging has stood the test of time. It’s lasted a good, solid, decade, and has gone from strength to strength. Yet we’ve also seen networks and platforms emerge, dissolve, and morph multiple times, with blogger packing up house and moving over and over.

There are issues like long term preservation of blogs, discussed here:

With the emergence of practices like open notebook science, science blogging, and science discussion forums a considerable amount of this content is being produced and presented on the web. If we do not act to collect this contemporary material, we may end up with more complete records of scientists’ unpublished notes and personal communication from previous eras than we do from our own.

Certain science stories that are likely to be of great interest to science historians played themselves out mostly on the blogosphere (e.g., arsenic life). If blogs are lost, so much context for understanding that episode in science will also be lost. (Blog preservation will be discussed at another panel. Nominate science blogs for archiving here.)

Dynamic Ecology touches on issues closer to the heart of this panel in this post:

Indeed, many established ecology blogs seem to be slowing down, especially over the last few months...

(I)f it is a trend, I hope it reverses itself. It’s hard to see blogging becoming a key way in which ecologists communicate ideas with one another if existing blogs (especially established ones) wind down. And since there’s a stronger incentive to blog once a “culture of blogging” exists, but not before, a field can’t really develop a culture of blogging in the first place unless there are some “early adopters”, pioneers like the folks who write the blogs listed above. If the early adopters themselves give it up before enough other folks have followed their lead, it’s hard to see how you ever get a critical mass.

For other examples of the changing ecosystem, Tumblr carved out a niche for hyper-focused “single serve” blogs. Twitter has also significantly changed the blogosphere: lots of things that people used to blog now get tweeted instead. People respond to posts with tweets instead of commenting on the blogs.

Speaking of Twitter, Miriam Goldstein tweeted this:

Was sad that your “Twilight of the Science Bloggers” session didn't make it. I definitely feel faded & dim.

Andrew Thaler replied:

I feel like I've been running on fumes for the last year. Would have been nice to talk about issues other than “yay-blogging”

And that’s only after five years. Imagine how you might feel at ten. That’s becoming a bigger part of the session than I originally expected: how to deal with fatigue, or writer’s block, or feeling unnoticed, or running headlong into the dip.

There are reasons a-plenty why you might feel burned out. When you first start out, there is nowhere to go but up. You see the number of hits accumulate, you see more people retweet or +1 your newest posts, and you have all these ideas that you have never talked about online that you want to share.

But eventually, your readership plateaus. You run into “second album slump,” as musicians know it. The first album contained the band’s ten best songs, tried and tested and honed by years playing them in bars. You can’t draw upon that tested back catalogue again for the second album.

27 and a Ph.D. epitomises the feeling that it’s all been done before.

At times I’ve gotten so discouraged by the internet overload that I’ve felt like everything I have to say has been said, and that maybe I should hang the blogging gloves once and for all.

Then there’s the green-eyed monster.

You might be blogging your little heart out. Then, someone who hasn’t been blogging as long as you is suddenly getting a lot of attention, has posts that keep getting retweeted and showing up on Ed Yong’s “I’ve got your missing links right here” weekly compilations, and joins some swanky science blogging network. Their post goes viral, while yours, on the same subject... doesn’t.

The Internet, she is capracious mistress.

What can you do to keep a blog going after the “new car smell” has faded? Obviously, we want to spend a good chunk of our session talking about this, it’s would be cruel to leave you hanging until then. Sci and I talked about a few tips that we have both used to keep us going.

1. Blog for yourself first. If you are being too driven by external indications of success (hits, visitors, etc.), you are likely to become discouraged, maybe too early. Seth Godin goes so far as to say that when it comes to a blog, “It doesn’t matter if anyone reads it.”

2. Schedule. Both Sci and I are great believers in the power of making a schedule and sticking to it. One post a week, once a month, it doesn’t matter, but it helps when you commit to a timetable. Neither of us are “I only write when I’m inspired” types.

3. Don’t self censor. “This is too old, too small, too flawed for a blog post.” But you can never tell what will resonate with people. Even two or three paragraphs looks substantial compared to a tweet, or a +1.

We will cover all that and much more! To end this post on a fun note, Chad Orzel does some filking with “Still Stuck on Paragraph Two.” If you can’t recall the tune, it’s here.

Update, 3 February 2013: A Storify of the session is available here.

Update, 4 February 2013: Scicurious has a wrap-up here that includes her Storify at the top, but if you scroll all the way down to the end, she has some more comments and thoughts.

Update, 5 February 2013: Char Orzel reflects on the session.

Green-eyed monster by Friday Felts on Flickr; sued under a Creative Commons license.


TheCellularScale said...

Sounds like a great session. I suppose it's a bad sign that I've only been blogging a year and I feel that I need it. :) I hope it will give me ways to nip discouragement and burnout in the bud. The session will be available online?

Anonymous said...

I've just started blogging in the last couple of months and already have a love/hate relationship with my stats page! Hope to gain some wisdom from this.

Zen Faulkes said...

Cellular: It will be streamed to the Watch Parties, and archived soon afterwards. I haven't received any details about when or how it will be made available to people who are not in Watch Parties.