In its wake, some people left Scienceblogs. It was no one in the top 5 so if you're a cynic, they care too much about the money to leave but if you're an optimist, they want to remain and be part of the solution and not abandon a place they helped grow. In its aftermath, some went out on their own again, like Bora Zivkovic and David Dobbs, and some formed new science networks. As I predicted, no one bolted to Nature Network where they could make Big Media bigger for free and with Discover getting sold, any of them hoping for a contract over there now has to deal with a new overlord (who seem to have bought it for its digital power so they may go full on and hire everyone - hard to say), meaning more unknowns in the short term.
For the people who left Scienceblogs, their own network makes the most sense. There just aren't many big blogging networks out there - even I can't keep track of which ones that are coalitions are for blogging or who do other things also. Anyone who can make an accurate chart of who does what please let me know. We sometimes get lumped in as blogging, for example, even though it is 4% of what we do so I am not taking a shot at categorizing anyone else's site. But more than that, they are not going to fit into other successful cultures because they are still 'Sciblings' so they may want to get paid like they are part of corporate media, they just don't want to think they are.
Given that mentality, David Crotty at the Scholarly Kitchen asks if it is even possible for blogging networks to fit in with publishing business plans:
Publishers that have built networks should consider reaching the same conclusion — building big networks is not only no longer necessary, it may actually endanger your brand and limit revenue. ScienceBlogs network members put the kibosh on what was likely a fairly lucrative business opportunity. By putting your company’s stamp of approval on a network of bloggers who you can’t control and must at all times cater to, you risk tarnishing your reputation by association. Scientific American recently ran into a question of credibility along these lines.Was it lucrative? No, with SEED and Nature blogging is a marketing expense, not a profit center - their bloggers just do not see that the way others in media do. If SEED employed 20 people they were there to put out a magazine not build a blog and NN carries no ads. In the most optimistic scenario for SEED the revenue for Scienceblogs was $25K per month and SEED's loss, as everyone who bothered to look over the last 5 years saw, was $200K per month. Devoting more money to Scienceblogs was not going to help there(1).
As an outsider to science blogging, Crotty hits a nerve with (bold mine):
Beyond the actual subject matter, communities tend to form personalities, and like it or not, that personality represents your brand. These personalities are hard to spot from the inside of a network. Social networks like these tend to be self-reinforcing, filled with back-patting and congratulations for brilliance being offered back and forth. I won’t name specific names, but read nearly any of the posts from departing ScienceBlogs bloggers and you’re pretty much guaranteed to run across some statement about how incredibly important their blogs have been and how hugely respected they are.As I have said before, Scienceblogs is not as important as its contributors thought - Adam Bly certainly knew it, that is why he devoted little effort to it. If The Borg of science blogging is only read by 1.5% of the science audience, even in the U.S., perhaps the market is just not there (yet), but perhaps they just are not reading that site.
But does that mean it is not there for all science media? Perhaps, or at least big money is not in general science publishing. Henry Donahue, CEO of Discover Media, once joked to me that he believed media buyers went into their fields because they hated science - and he may be right, because they got bought by a publisher that produces 5 magazines on trains and 2 on beads (yes, beads). Yet he said their online push in the last two years boosted the value of Discover Media. Tech Media Network bought online-only Livescience (Disclosure: Livescience is a media partner and TMN and Science 2.0 sell advertising on occasion for each other), Space.com and various other Imaginova sites but had no science media before that. Science media is getting eaten?
When I created the Science 2.0 business plan, it looked much different than it ending up being; there were to be a different tool for the 4 aspects of Science 2.0 I outlined but they were all web-based. 2 of those 4, publication and collaboration, are either not realistic or being served already. Open access publishing has been around since the 1960s and still hasn't taken off but it is well-served by groups like arXiv (1991), Biomed Central (2000) and PLoS(2001), among others. Collaboration may be too difficult today. There is a core group of interested people but competition is still too important and lots of other tools are 'good enough' that converging on the perfect tool doesn't make sense, since early adapters in science (read: young) have also been self-trained to want things for free.
The participation aspects of Science 2.0, like citizen science, are a big winner, with groups like Foldit and GalaxyZoo getting plenty of attention. What about the communication aspect? Instead of 10,000 grad students writing on science and whatever, this site ended up being a smaller group of serious researchers, book authors and journalists intermixed with some shockingly talented 'citizen' science writers who scoop the BBC. And it makes money. Why would fewer writers have more success?
But perhaps it’s wiser to stick with participants whose interests match those of your company. Brands matter. Ceding control of your brand to strangers is a dangerous path to take.Wide-open blogging has worked well for Examiner.com and AssociatedContent.com but science is a different animal. If you open it up to everyone, you get stuck with pseudoscience and that will drive out serious people. If you make it just about names and have editors micromanaging content and control like Nature Network (I have an account there because it was going to be an open Science 2.0-type site but in 2010 I cannot access my account or reset my password so maybe I am blocked) you get a Big Brother-ish mishmash ...
NN has a bit of a negative cachet in the rest of the blogome — where, actually, I’m more interested in being seen and accepted. It has a high barrier to casual commenting (the lifeblood of blogs!) — a stratospheric barrier to non-scientists. Furthermore, there are too many blogs hosted here.(2) but if you just make it about inviting popular people, like Scienceblogs, your reputation becomes (from a comment cited by Crotty)
too many of the bloggers there have little to do with science, and post like 95% crap and politics (also mostly crap). There’s also a strong case of hivemind there, with a rather lopsided treatment of real controversies. An extreme example is the Pharyngula commentators, where any mild divergence from the accepted ideology results in a blinding firestorm. I don’t thing SB is any sort of ‘bastion of rational thinking’ that they like to portray. . . . SB has too many hotheaded narcissists who think they’re special snowflakes because they have blogs.There are two reasons why I think it was smart for the departed Sciblings to go off on their own and those dovetail with why networks are not dead.
1) They get to create their own culture. They would not fit in at Science 2.0 or Discover, they are their own group with years of experience, and it gets to be their own experiment if they create their own. The market for science readership is huge, some 65 million, and at Scienceblogs they were trapped with a small subset of that audience, with a cultural tone that scared off anyone who was moderate in the readership. Now they can appeal to anyone they want. The only cautionary note is that they need to make sure their reasons are positive. Negative energy (e.g. being the 'anti-Scienceblogs') will not work well because remaining Scienceblogs people will turn on them over time.
2) Since money is not a factor, they can invite anyone they want who feels the same way. Of course, it is not as easy as Edward at Field of Science thinks when he writes that he can set up a science network for $12 a year. He is like one of those guys on TV saying anyone can get rich in real estate with no money down - yes, it has happened but not often and that site only has 25,000 readers a month or so and thus the whole thing wouldn't be in the top 25 people here so his statement reaffirms my point that a successful network is more than an open source CMS and a skin. As a guy named Napoleon said, "the distance between a battle won and a battle lost is immense - and there stand empires." Sure, anyone can use Blogger or Google and host AWESOMESCIENCEBLOG.com there but that won't make it successful - and neither will having a few friends on Twitter. Networks will not die because it is hard work attaining success. I spent 7000 hours of my life building this for free - not everyone can do that. So Napoleon's quote may be paraphrased as 'the distance between 2000 readers a month and 1 million is immense - and there stand publishing empires'. For book authors or researchers who aren't drinking the 'I need to control my own destiny' Kool-Aid, and who recognize that personal blogs are darn lonely and lose readership fast without a lot of content, successful networks will always have value.
(1) Though a scandal sure hurt, since he was fishing everywhere he could about buying the magazine with Scienceblogs as the bait and the fallout made it obvious to publishers that the kind of people they were recruiting did not play well with others. Basically, if SEED Media had any chance of being sold for even $3 million, it evaporated. This reaffirms Crotty's point that, if the benefit of blogging is not obvious for a media company, it is better not to do it since the pitfalls are now quite obvious.
(2) They are not alone - we have plenty of negative cachet among Scienceblogs people. The ones who left primarily did so because the money was not important but in 2006/2007 it was important and they were even more cult-like than their detractors portray now and the dirty tricks and insults they hurled at us because we might cost them some audience (we didn't, in hindsight - we share virtually no audience with Scienceblogs and never did) were substantial and that continues today, whether the contributors are still there or not.