Science Online: Bloggers, Commenters and the Reputation Game

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

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I dropped into one of the unconference sessions, looking at engaging with your readers (of obvious interest to me). The panel did a sterling job of giving a beginner’s guide to managing comments and commenters, from different scales (personal blogs to Ars Technica). I thought Ed Yong‘s comments about building a commenter community around your personal blog were particularly good – and the delurking thread idea is one I intend to nick.

But the audience, once the questions started, took the conversation in an entirely different direction, about the reputation of scientists and (to a degree) to the on-going problem of poor scientific reporting. Now, as a journalist, a profession usually in the top three least trusted professions, I’m not entirely clear why scientists are so concerned, but there’s clearly a strong feeling fo disconnect between the scientific community and the general public. There was some attempt in the conversation to shape blogs into the answer to that. However, I think there were two key misconceptions percolating through the discussion. The first was the idea that blogging is inherently publishing to the mainstream – a question was asked that pre-supposed that a science blog that wasn’t reaching a non-specialist audience was, in some way, failing. And I disagree strongly with that sentiment. Some of the best blogs I know have small, but highly specialised audiences. A highly specialised science blog is just as valuable as a generalist science communicator  blog – they’re just performing different functions.

The second that was a blog is something that “you have to go to” – Ed started to address that point, describing how people share links to interesting articles on Twitter and Facebook (feel free to use the buttons below, folks ;-)) and that creates an ecosystem of content that is pushed outside its traditional content.

To me, this suggests that many within the scientific community are somewhere between three and four years behind the “cutting edge” of social media – much of the focus is still on blogging, and the rise of the social networking systems has yet to have as much of an impact. But I could be wrong in that. It occurs that scientists are used to describing their work in written form – it’s an inherent part of the current systems. And perhaps the barrier of entry to blogging is slightly lower here, which means that blogging hasn’t been so supplanted by the Twitter/Facebook world. What do you think?

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.