Rebuilding a blogroll

Back when I used to blog regularly, I had a pretty substantial blogroll. Times have changed – the blogs I used to read have gone mostly dormant, and a whole crop of new blogs (including many linked to journals) have popped up. One of the really heartening developments is the presence of a slew of ecology blogs. So I figured it was time to start putting together a new blogroll.

What ecology blogs am I missing?

The changing ecosystem of blogging II

From my perspective, nature writing and science writing can bleed into one-another. In my last post, when I talked a little about the rise and fall of my blogging, I didn’t talk much about the different types of blog posts. In my experience, there are two types of posts – those where “publication date” matters and those where vintage doesn’t really matter too much.

In a general sense, time sensitive science writing tends to focus on the latest discoveries, or failing that, the latest issue of one journal or another. This sort of stuff can be fun to write about – exciting new finds, or just stuff that’s cool because of its newness. But you can also do the same sort of writing on something dredged out of the older literature. The value of immediacy can be tempered by the fact that it’s impossible to assess impact within a few days of publication. If you’re writing for the general public, it can also be difficult to balance the need to explain the background with the need to tell the current story. Too much background and the ‘story’ gets lost. Too little, and the reader gets lost.

The other type of writing is more about narrative. You can write about basic concepts. Lots of background for the general reader, plenty of opportunity to actually convey some real information…but apart from questions of tone (who’s really my audience?) there’s the problem of trying to stay on track. At some point you either have to assume a certain amount of background knowledge…or you’ll end up writing Wikipedia, all over again.

Back in the dark ages (2007) Dave Munger and Sister Edith Bogue launched BPR3 (Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting; sadly the original website is lost to link-rot) which later grew into researchblogging.org (which is still chugging along, by the look of things). More recently, Dave launched ScienceSeeker, which seems to have similar, but more all-encompassing goals. I loved the idea of clearly marking (and aggregating) posts about peer-reviewed research, but it doesn’t deal with the problem of recentism. Writing at BioDiverse PerspectivesFletcher Halliday took a look at what gets blogged about when it comes to papers about biodiversity. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the classic papers, it’s not the papers that have attracted hundreds of citations. Rather, it’s the new stuff. Scientists like writing about what’s new and novel. And why plumb the depths of decades-old literature when there’s more new stuff coming out than anyone can keep track of?

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The changing ecosystem of blogging

In 2006 I stuck a toe into what could be called science blogging when I started ‘Plant News‘. It wasn’t exactly a resounding success – over the course of the next two years I added a total of 63 posts. Unlike my previous forays into blogging, I actually had something to talk about, but I never managed to develop a voice or any real readership. And it’s a shame, since back in 2006 there were few competitors.

My first serious attempt at science blogging came about a year later, when Bill Dembski came to campus peddling intelligent design. This time everything was different – I had already started to blog (although mostly about politics and religion) and I was in the process of getting to know the science blogging community. Over the next several months my blogging output grew, peaking in February of 2008. By July 2008 it was mostly over. Blogging had gone from fun to work. Since then, from time to time I have tried to re-launch my blog(s), but with limited success. At some point, blogging stopped being easy.

The idea behind blogging was ‘easy’ writing. The medium is immediacy, the ability to post whatever you’re thinking. But the more I wrote, the more I thought about what I wrote.

Short posts have their value, but they quickly get old. Short posts don’t really stand alone. You can build a narrative of short posts (some people have done really well with that on Twitter) but it leaves very little room for nuance, for background, for explanation. But the longer your posts get, the more you realise the value of editing…not copy-editing, that’s something you can fix later (or, if you’re careful, while you write). No, what’s difficult about long posts is that they require a plan. You need some vision of how you’re going to write them without getting lost, without repeating yourself, without losing sight of your point entirely. And writing turns into work. A post that you might otherwise have thrown up in 10 or 15 minutes now takes hours or, worse yet, after days of editing simply sinks into the growing pile of drafts. And other priorities, like work, take over…

[More later]