Quick backgrounder: the ambitious science magazine SEED started a blogging network, which attracted some of the biggest names in the science blogging world. Opinionated, informed and entertaining blogging. But the whole thing collapsed in a storm of controversy around a sponsored Pepsi blog.
Barely raised a blip in Australia, though online and on Twitter it was hard to miss. For a less concise, but more insightful history see @mjrobbins’s Storify – including a series of tweets from @mims about how ScienceBlogs started.
We were looking for ways to build traffic to, of all places, Seedmagazine.com. #SBhistory
It was impossible not to notice all the excellent science blogs that were then scattered across Blogger and self-hosted sites. #SBhistory
Intern made a spreadsheet including estimated traffic. We sorted by that field, invited the top 20. #SBhistory
It was a success, even outliving Seed magazine. But from @mims’ tweets, doesn’t sound like the publisher ever really got it, with most of the budget going to the in-house website and publishing team, while the bloggers were out in the cold.
A few weeks ago, I was on a panel at #media140 Brisbane to dissect the story, with Wilson da Silva and Becky Crew from Cosmos, Darren Osborne from ABC Science Online, and Peter Griffin from the NZ Science Media Centre and SciBlogs.co.nz. Disappointing not to have Tim Lambert from Deltoid or anyone from The Conversation. Still, a great panel. Listen to it here.
That’s two panels on blogging in a month (I was on a panel about hyperlocal/place blogs at Reclaim The City, at the University of Sydney, in April). It’s weird, blogs as news all of a sudden. Bloggers like celebrities, and at the other end of the spectrum a growing awareness of the writing and thinking on blogs. Which is great, but I feel weird getting up on panels like it’s some new thing. Still great.
(Pepsigate panel at Media 140, Brisbane – photo by UQ journalism student Pakwayne)
So the panel on Pepsigate was interesting. I guess my main point was that like blogger outcry over the fake Coke Zero blog in 2006, the idea of a digital or social media crowd getting angry about dishonesty is nothing new. People get angry when they’re misled. It’s just now social media gives people an outlet.
What’s new to me is the potential for science blogs to be a serious alternative to the often superficial coverage of science in the mainstream media. The panel talked about the way Nature/Science dominate their respective coverage. One of the most attractive things about science blogging is how by sharing ideas, by articulating ideas and by being exposed to ideas, it creates a fertile space for innovation.
Anil Dash takes this up, saying by expanding on ideas you’re reading (instead of just tweeting or retweeting), you’re forcing yourself to articulate newly conceived ideas.
One of the most hilarious things to come out of my hyperlocal blogging panel – chaired by the lovely Jesse Adams Stein – was a comment by one of the panelists that what we do as place bloggers is “elite”. If you can write an email, you can write a science blog. Any blog, really. Though great writers *are* something special. As great writers (or thinkers) are anywhere. What’s elite isn’t the blogging platform, but the potential you create by taking part.
The other issue with #Pepsigate is the rise of branded or sponsored content. It’s nothing new in the papers, but the protocols online aren’t as well established. See Wired‘s response to The Independent doing it online. Readers, overloaded with advertising, are getting better at filtering out the direct material, which is why advertisers are increasingly using sponsored content, product placement (an audience member suggested Haruki Murakami had paid products in his books, though I doubt it). And though ScienceBlogs was a very niche corner of the web, it had a large, dedicated and well educated readership. Prime for Pepsi’s (probably very good) scientists to flex their credentials.
But if it was going to be good, relevant content to the blog network, then it should have made it there on its own merits. Blurring the line is no good in magazines or papers – eg those “special supplements” in the Herald. But it’s happening as an increasing desperate publishers look for the elusive business model.
Fast forward to the end of the story, and Seed boss Adam Bly cancelled the deal after a massive outcry, and the week of the talk in Brisbane, National Geographic announced it had taken over the blogging network.
I planned to write a bit more about Media 140 Brisbane, but it hasn’t happened. Fortunately there were plenty of fantastic bloggers and thinkers on hand. Click Kristin Alford, Craig Thomler, Kate Carruthers, Andrew Maynard and Peter Griffin for insights.