This Small Pond is approaching carrying capacity. (There are some good analogies involving allochthonous and and autochthonous production, but I won’t go there.)
If you look at the history of academic and science blogs, the ones that end up connecting with audiences on a regular basis, individual authors don’t typically keep it up more than five years. At least, they don’t keep cranking along at the same clip. I’m about to hit the six-year mark.
The site grew pretty quickly, and I haven’t done the math, but I think my crude drawing above is a close approximation of readership over time for this site. I’ve made the decision to not pay too much attention to the numbers (aside from joining a paper about it with some other blogging ecologists), because I want to avoid writing something with the primary purpose of attracting eyeballs.
But of course, audience does matter. In size and in composition. I’m writing here because I want to create an impact, and that’s a function of how many are reached, and who those people are. My mission statement from the start is still pretty much the same as it is now. (Early posts on this are here and here. One thing you might note if you read these, is that I think writing here so much has made me a better writer.) I spent/spend a lot of time writing on my blog because I think it actually matters. Even a poorly performing post here gets far more views — and influences more minds — than a typical well-cited journal article. The bang-for-the-writer’s-buck is pretty big.
Nevertheless, with everything else I’ve chosen to bite off lately, I’ve been stretched thin. After being promoted to full, I’m doing plenty more “service” — but really, it’s leadership. So, it’s time to reassess some priorities and reallocation of effort.
Nowadays, I’m usually about to call it quits on Sunday night when it occurs to me – oh darn – I hadn’t written a post for Monday morning! And pretty much without fail, I have that post for Monday morning. I still have a lot I want to say, I’ve got a huge list, it’s just a matter of carving out the time to do it right.
Despite the difficulty fitting this in, life at the asymptote is pretty good. I’ve got a substantial audience and I reach new people all the time — this site continues to add new subscribers and followers. I’m choosing to believe people when they say it adds value to the scientific community.
But what does it mean that growth has substantially dropped off? Why is this site not growing as much as it used to? What determines k in the blogosphere? If I wrote posts as often as I did in the early days, I bet this site would grow to a greater carrying capacity. But I’m not writing a blog post every day. I can’t even imagine how Female Science Professor kept that up so consistently for six years.
Now that I’m approaching k, what should I be doing? I’ve built a platform for myself. What is the most responsible and effective use of the platform? Probably to use it as a springboard. There’s no clear answer about the direction to take — that’s a course for me to chart, though it’s indubitable that more public engagement and better inreach are things that we need desperately, especially for scientists working in small ponds.
I had a twitter account for five years before this site, but I never really used it. Twittering and bloggering go hand in hand, so that’s when I started using twitter when I made this site. Now, my twitter presence has eclipsed what I’m doing on this site. If I have something to say in a tweet or series of tweets, that will reach far, far, far more people there than here. It reaches many non-scientists, and journalists, and activists, and students. I’ve become a public scientist, whatever that is. I’ve evolved into a scientist who makes a point of engaging with the public, and makes sure that my work is responsive to needs of the public. A lot of the things I wanted to do on this site an be done more effectively on twitter. Of course, the twitter audience is a different set of people than the people who read blogs. Though there’s some overlap.
Some of the essays that I write on here take a lot of time, and others are just short one-offs that I knock out in what feels like 15 minutes. (This post is the latter, but really, it looks like it’s taking an hour.) I think I need to make a more formal distinction between the quick one-offs, and the substantial essays. Both for the efficiency of my time, and also to understand who my audience is and how I go about it. There are a lot of one-off things I’d like to continue to say, and I think I’d like to do it on this site. But when I write a more substantial essay, I feel like this site isn’t helping me reach the audience that I’d like to. I’ve been writing occasionally for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I would like to do that more often — I’ll hopefully be changing more minds there. That won’t grow this site so much, but, then again, writing big essays here won’t be growing this site anyway. And there are other venues I’d like to be writing for. At this point, I feel like I’m preaching for the converted. If I look at the science blogs the have lasted for a verrrrry long time, their niche is their audience-of-the-converted. I don’t want to build a fan base, I want to create bigger discussions about the role of teaching in higher ed, how science and mentoring is done best, and making a role for all of the scientists and students who aren’t in large research universities. That means I’ve got to jump off of this asymptote for a different curve.
What’s the upshot? I won’t be writing a new post for every single Monday. Instead, I’ll be looking to write more often for venues other than this one. But I hope to write more frequent and spontaneous one-offs here. So I guess that would make this more of a blog than it has been. Maybe it’ll be more interesting and fun here. And my more serious pieces will still be published, and I’ll be sure to share the links with you.
One other change I’m thinking about for this site is that I’m more open to the idea of guest posts. If you have a post that fits well under the theme of Small Pond Science, hit me up by email with a short description and I might want to publish it. We’ve done this rarely in the past, but I’m open to doing this more, as I’m scaling back on the bigger essays on here in favor of other publications. I’m not soliciting pieces of writing, because I’m not paying, as writers need to be paid for their work. But if you’re looking to share an essay and want to make avail of this venue, this can be a possibility. (However, if your post is about issues specific to ecology and for ecologists, then Rapid Ecology is a better place to go.)
So, welcome to whatever this new phase is. Please let me know what you think, now, and into the future.