Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And the bottom falls out of the Science Blogging Universe

I love soda.  That should be no such a big surprise if you saw my previous post where I admitted to loving junk food.  I love science.  And you know I loves Science Blogging.  But if I had known my little affair of junk food and science and social media would end up in the mess now regarded as #PepsiGate/#SbFail, I would have shunned the tasty but not-so-healthy beverage long ago.  You see, Cola has shattered my science blogging world.

July 7th, news began to spread that Scienceblogs (operated by SEED Media Group) was now hosting Advertising blogs - Blogs that paid to be in the Sb Community to blog about a particular subject.  At first the idea of Advertising blogs didn't raise any alarms until I read the critique of the whole matter at the much respected Knight Science Journalism Tracker: ScienceBlogs trashes credibility: Leaked response from editor. I then understood why many of my fave Sb bloggers were in an uproar. 

I was grateful that not everyone reacted too quickly or strongly to PepsiGate, e.g. Dr. Isis and Greg Laden.  I tend to be rather oblivious to tensions and in-fighting of others.  Unless I'm personally affected by the madness, I remain agnostic about strife and that was my initial response to this matter.

See, what had happened was....
Junk food giant Pepsi Cola purchased blog space for their new social media baby - Food Frontiers.  It was supposed to blog written by their Food/Nutrition Scientists about Nutrition and Food Science and all of the yummy ways corporate America makes us healthier one bite/gulp at a time.  No kidding.  None of that sounded right to Sb bloggers or to me.  And the reasons why Pepsi purchased blog space as opposed to being invited are articulated quite well here and here.

But before I could adjust to this madness, I started reading blog posts or twitter feeds like this:  
Culture Dish Doesn't Live Here Anymore  (Best-selling HeLa cells Author, Rebecca Skloot leaves)
My Official Farewell (My co-dissertator and high-heel shoe friend SciCurious leaves)
A Pepsi-Induced Hiatus Exodus (Super popular,science writer paleo style blogger Brian Switek departs)

What's going on here?!

Sciencebloggers striking and others were jumping ship like rats off of the Titanic.  

Can't this be fixed? Is the party ending already?
After all, SB was this idyllic place in my head.  Once a upon a time, I would dream of being invited to join this great science blogging community. Me, or rather this blog, would be in the company of the Greats! Yes!  But no invite came.  More blogs were being added to the Sb fold and none of them looked or sounded like mine.  Eventually, I shrugged it off and kept it moving. I realized that as a niche blogger (science introduction) that targets a particular audience (African-Americans), joining Sb might not be a good move for this blog. I would certainly get more traffic and attention; but not necessarily from the people I was trying to reach.  Until such a thing as an AfroWorld Blogging Community, something akin to the SB model, existed, then my blogging platform was just fine.

And so it has been.  I've been a firm member in both the Science Blogging Community and the Black Blog-o-sphere, doing my thing and bridging the two communities where ever, whenever, and however I could.

However, with the exodus of great bloggers from Sb, Emerald City hasn't been looking so shiny lately.  And then the bottom fell out. On July 19, 2010, the leading link in the header of Scienceblogs read Bora leaves ScienceBlogs with superb history and analysis of science blogging. I actually gasped and teared up. No, not Bora! The Papa Smurf of the ScienceBlogs village. Always level-headed and fair. His virtual leadership in Sb was always obvious.  Like Papa Smurf, he seemed to know, accept, and even appreciate every single Scibling as he or she was  - sweet, the crusty, the potty-mouthed, and the antagonistic.  Everyone looked to him and no doubt he was the nucleus of Sb. Read Bora's Farewell- a long but thorough history of Sb,science blogging and new media science communication.

The bottom has dropped off!
Adam Bly, you messed up big time. Big Time! And if you still don't get why losing Bora is a big deal, I mean a REALLY big deal, then check out the Twitter Feed all about him #IOweBora.

And if that wasn't enough, as I was trying to write this post (taking me 2 days to do so), I read on Twitter that PalMD, Zuska, and Abel Pharmboy is departing, too.  Wow, those last two departures sting, too. Both have been great SM mentors to me. Zuska reached out to met at ScienceOnline09 in the sessions about STEM diversity and jumped immediately on board the Diversity in Science Carnival.  And if Bora is Papa Smurf, then Abel Pharmboy is certainly my Fairy God-father.  When I needed assistance getting to the Blogging While Brown Conference in DC, he came through in a flash.  His mentoring spiriting and influence on science blogging and outreach to diverse audiences is summed up nicely in these lines:

"Preaching to the choir certainly has value in galvanizing the science communication community. However, I can't think of a single science blogger who doesn't view this exercise as a form of outreach - to share and demonstrate to our constituents, the humble taxpayers, that what we are charged to do for world health is well-spent and communicated in an objective and approachable manner."

*Throws this soda away. Turns the lights down low. Departs the room*


Arvind said...

Great post Dr.Lee! I think whatever they do to fix it is too little, too late at this point. But I don't think it means that SB will cease to be. It just will be a smaller, less powerful node in the network. Which is in a way good for the entire network I feel because other robust hubs could mean a diversity of niches for science blogging!

Gaythia said...

As a fairly regular Science Blog reader, I'm beginning to think that the current changes could be a good thing. For me at least, it's gotten me out of my regular routine and exploring around. And finding new interesting blogs, here for example.

Kate said...

I've become increasingly alarmed at the amount of advertising going on. It seems the FCC ruling has only made things worse, and opened the floodgates to blogs of all kinds that are simply thinly disguised advertising. I think it does erode credibility, and while it hurts to see ScienceBlogs fall like a house of cards, I can totally understand the ethical reasons people would have to leave.

I'd much rather have the name of the site changed from ScienceBlogs (which it hasn't been exclusively for some time now anyway) to SeedBlogs, and just stop pretending it's anything other than just another media outlet.

There's a certain irony that the comment above mine should be a spam comment promoting Mumbai florists. Advertising/spam has gone from the comments to the blogs themselves. While I don't completely condemn marketing blogs, they should be clearly labeled as such... and left out of networks that self-identify as something else.

Zuska said...

Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate your post and the description of how the SBFail looks from your perspective. The changes may get people looking more widely at a lot of different bloggers now, we can hope. It is a true and real shame that SB never invited you to blog there (and not because there weren't people lobbying for you.)

Notorious Spinks said...

Makes you wonder...

Miriam said...

Whoa, thanks for the summary! Couldn't figure out why my Google Reader was so empty after a month at sea. Hope this causes more people to look outside the big networks for awesome bloggers like you.

PS You seem to have a problem with Indian florist spammers, in comments above.

Thomas Geza Miko said...

"Once a upon a time, I would dream of being invited to join this great science blogging community. Me, or rather this blog, would be in the company of the Greats! Yes! But no invite came."

Keep doing your thing, and stop worrying about being accepted by your colleagues. There are enough of us out there who understand what your blog is about, and why it exists.

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