Anybody can set up a blog and write a post, yet the reach of these posts varies dramatically.
Let’s say you have an interesting or important idea for fellow ecologists. For example, you want to report on a great symposium, or just read a really cool paper with a big idea and want to discuss those further. Or you want to review a book, or share safety tips for fieldwork, or write more broadly about a new paper of your own. Or perhaps a response to an absolutely horrid op-ed piece that you read in the Washington Post last week. You’re not going to write these in a peer-reviewed journal, but what would you do?
At the moment your options are:
- Post an email to ecolog-l
- Write on social media
- Write a post on your personal site
- Be friends with someone who runs a blog
- Do nothing
I think there’s a missing option, and I’d like to fix this.
I’ve grown uncomfortable with the notion that to have a blog post reach a broader audience, you have to have a connection with one of a small number of blogs.
A lot of you have a great short 400-word posts inside ready to get out, but don’t have the venue. While anybody can create a blog, audiences grow steadily over time with regular feeding, and that investment that isn’t well suited to most people with great ideas that they want to share.
I posted about this on twitter last week, have recevied interest and useful feedback, and now I’m planning to take the next steps.
The fix to this problem isn’t with existing blogs — we need a new way. The way science community blogs are run right now, content is determined by the owner/editors. I run this site, and two Corresponding Editors post whatever they wish. Once in a while, I’ll run a guest post, but ultimately this site features the voice of a few people. This blog is about doing science in all kinds of institutions, and I think keeping that focus is why the blog has grown. I imagine other blog owners aren’t going to change their editorial focus either. There are blog “aggregators” out there, but those aren’t fulfilling this role either. I imagine that a single blog designed with the purpose of letting everybody contribute, without having one or more people be the dominant voice, could transform our community.
Here is what I am picturing:
A website that publishes posts from any member of the academic community, with posts filtered for only for relevance and civility. A volunteer editorial board to help develop editorial guidelines and help communicate about the site and collect content (a number of folks have already expressed interest). An Editor-In-Chief to handle submissions and make sure they are ready for posting (consulting with the editorial board when necessary). Perhaps a limit on posting frequency by a single individual, so that individuals aren’t allowed dominate the conversation. I am envisioning posts that are similar in theme and approach to what you see on existing science community blogs (like the recommended ones at the bottom of this page). While the editorial filter wouldn’t be screening like peer reviewed journals do based on ‘impact’ or whatnot, a post would have to be of some actual substance, so the guidelines would have to be developed with care.
I’ve got a snappy name for the site, URL, twitter account, and email all set up. I’ll be glad to pay the cost of operating the site and commissioning banner art. I realize that joint ventures and group projects fail when there aren’t individuals who are there to take responsibility for it. A diffuse group of volunteers could crumble — that happens in group blog all the time. Since this isn’t being run out of any official academic society, the site would clearly need an EIC who really makes it happen, and some Ed Board members who are proactive. I guess I’m okay with being EIC, because I can’t really expect anybody else to step into this role unpaid and still do what it takes, I’d be fine with support from other folks. Though if anybody else is really jazzed to do it and can invest time in the long haul, then I’d be overjoyed. I’m thinking about slowly developing a team and plans over the next six weeks, and launching in the spring.
Do you think this is a worthwhile endeavor? Would it improve the diversity of viewpoints and broaden access to discussion about current issues for ecologists? Would you commit to contributing? Do you have thoughts about how it should — or shouldn’t — be run? Are you invested in being involved? Please do leave a comment.
Update 29 Nov 2017: Since one misperception has come up a number of times, I should put this here. What I am proposing is not a group blog. I’m proposing the opposite of a group blog. A group blog is a site where a bunch of people who own/run the site post what they want, and everybody else can read or comment. That’s been around for a long time. What I’m proposing is a site where everybody can post, with limitations so that a single person cannot post frequently. Group blogs are designed to give a voice to the owners of the group blog. This, on the other hand, is designed to give the bullhorn to anybody who want it, especially if they don’t have their own blog.