Blogging de-Natured

The inexorable decline in blogging continues apace. As a journalist I got into blogging in the mid-noughties, and was paid for my efforts, with quantity and quality of personal output in direct proportion to financial input. From this website I have blogged for peanuts and empty promises on political and cultural matters, and I was part of collectives such as the much-missed Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for WAR.

To this day I occasionally blog from this website, but my professional blog writing ceased long ago, and this coincides with the overall decline in media consumer interest in the medium. Blog reader numbers have plummeted across the board, and that is certainly true of this site. Blogging is now being taken over by news media and the PR industry, and it has virtually no remaining credibility as an online medium for independent commentary and ‘citizen journalism’.

One wonders how now long it will be before journalists and PRs give up on blogging as a lost cause, and focus instead on the commercial exploitation of Twitter and other fashionable platforms for advertising and narcissistic self-promotion.

Science communication is no different from other media milieux when it comes to blogging. Dominated as it is by shiny happy people, the science communication sector embraced blogging with gusto, and in many cases with a fatally flawed belief in the philosophy of “If we build it they will come”. Well, by and large they didn’t come, but the science communicators stuck their heads in the sand, and continued to churn out largely unread blogs.

A very small number of science blogs have been popular, or at least were so until a few years ago. Today they are seldom quoted elsewhere, and this decline in real-world citation is evidence of the terminal state of science blogging.

One science über-blog that was for a time highly successful was that of the prestigious journal Nature. Macmillan’s editors set about building a blog community around Nature in a professional and considered manner, and the quality of Nature‘s online efforts spoke for itself.

Today I learn that the Nature Network is to shut down, with the existing content archived for posterity, and the bloggers already put out to pasture shuffled off to a new site. Nature‘s bloggy focus will now shift toward Twitter and the like.

“Saying goodbye to Nature Network feels akin to moving out of the house where we grew up, and hosted some fabulous parties through the years. Bittersweet, but with happy memories and lots to be proud of – in many ways Nature Network was trail-blazing especially in the early days.”

Six years, to be accurate, and, despite all the talk of happy and bittersweet memories, in my book that amounts to infant mortality. This is what comes of launching a publishing venture without a viable business plan. High quality the Nature Network may have been in editorial terms, but still it was a black hole for time, financial and human resources.

For science journalists and other communicators, as well as science consumers, the demise of the Nature Network is an occasion for mourning. Still, Macmillan is right to kill it off now. Better that than let Nature‘s blogs sink into digital obscurity.