David Crotty at the scholarly kitchen says that Science 2.0 is a failure.   Like many who use it off-the-cuff, I don't know how he is using the term - I usually do a global replace of 'Smurf' for Science 2.0 in these instances because Science 2.0, like Smurfs(1), seems to be whatever people want it to be.   If you are not old enough to remember the mythology of Smurfs, it makes less sense, but you can more topically replace Science 2.0 with "jobs created or saved" in the stimulus package last year and get an idea what I mean about definitions tailored to suit the environment that exists at any given moment.

I have seen people claim Science 2.0 is some mystical shaman of science participation, some say it is storing PDFs, last week a fellow moderating the Science 2.0 group on LinkedIn claimed it was transhumanism, and then...well, you get the point.   Crotty discusses CiteULike, Nature Networks, Scienceblogs, etc. and dismisses them all(2) as dying entities 5 years in.    As I noted in a comment, Nature Network was a marketing expense all along so they were not going to devote time and money to it unless it showed value.   Small communities are made big by zealots, not paid people with other jobs who get disheartened easily if the science community does not mobilize itself to work for free so McMillan and its German parent can get richer.   If you don't have someone devoting 10,000 hours to a start-up, it will not work.

Scienceblogs.com, owned by SEED Media, was also a marketing expense, but clearly a start-up company understands it will burn money in the beginning and hopes revenue will catch up.   I never understood the "culture is science" hook, it always seemed like a vanity publication to me, but Adam Bly made a go of his vision and I respect that.  Scienceblogs.com ended up being what they were known for but was never going to support $200,000 a month in burn rate.  I can tell you, if our traffic today had the same ad rates as we were getting in 2008, I would be throwing a nationwide Science 2.0 conference.    Yes, overall Internet advertising has gone up but only because print guys are giving it away for free when people buy print ads, which means they have to account for it, and it hurts us because media companies we would never ordinarily compete with are scraping for revenue even down at our size level.   

Science 2.0 has always been more than communication; the original four pillars I laid out were communication, collaboration, participation and publication.(3)   Communication is obviously us, Nature, etc., anything written primarily by scientists rather than something like Discover or Wired, which just poaches people who build up a fan base, science or not.   Participation is handled well by GalaxyZoo, Foldit and others so no need to try and work on that, citizen science is doing it nicely on its own.   Publication has a first step in open access, which preceded Science 2.0 by decades, but I would go farther and make publication completely open - I don't see an ethical benefit to charging scientists to publish any more than there is an ethical benefit to charging subscribers to read, but when I mention that, immediately I am told by open access proponents that the quality issues, editing, etc., require that fee - the same argument that subscription journals use to justify their higher price, so publication is 50% there.    The tough one was always going to be collaboration.

Why?  Because people want things for free.  And some things cannot easily be done for free.  I estimated back then that a tool to do actual Science 2.0 collaboration would cost me around $5 million, which means parting with majority control of the company.  For something I have no idea if scientists want.  Sure, they can buy a machine for $50,000 or more but they control the machine.   Do they want to buy a tool that allows them to collaborate?   If they spend 2 years generating a result, and it's a failure, do they want to share that with competitors and save them time and money, which means the original researcher may get beat out at grant time?  Maybe.  Do they want to share positive results with competitors, meaning the competitor has to do little work and has a head start?  Again, maybe.  I know some researchers do.   But maybe is a great way to lose millions of dollars.

Back on the science blogging aspect of Science 2.0, I am always puzzled when someone takes consolidation as a negative.   If NatGeo (trying blogging again) and Scientific American (trying blogging again) and Wired and Discover and other large media companies are doing this, it means the marketing is finally being established.   When it was just Scienceblogs.com and us and Nature and then a lot of small networks, we were hitting 2-3% of the science audience.   Basically nothing.   By putting big media names behind blogging, it will create an audience in a place where they never even knew blogging existed.   It puts blogging on the map.

Obviously big competitors could leave us in the dust but that is a risk any company in a small market takes.  And with Scienceblogs being given away to NatGeo in return for covering the costs, we're the only independent blogging network of any size remaining.  If we're gone, the actual Science 2.0 may be a footnote in Science 2.0.  But, as I have told the story many times, I have never been to a conference and told someone my name and gotten anything but a blank stare, but when I mention Science 2.0 the response is "Oh, you're that guy."

So whether we are here or not, Science 2.0 will live on.   It just may be a line of coffee shops or whatever someone decides Science 2.0 should be next.   Heck, Russia is not an IPO-treaty nation so when they wanted to start a Science 2.0 television channel, they just did it.  Trademarks don't count in Russia but if it gets really successful, I will hire a Russian lawyer and sue.  Maybe then I can easily get the $5 million I need for that collaboration tool.  And that nationwide conference.  And a big trampoline for the office.


(1) Like Science 2.0, Smurf and Smurfs are registered trademarks and property of their respective owners.

(2) But not us.  Why not?  Well, it's a blog and his research seemed to be limited to sticking it to Scienceblogs, which he basically hates, and maybe looking at some crappy free web traffic service to support their failure.   In that context, if Compete or Alexa or any of those don't show us with a million readers a month because their panel of Zwinky-ad participants does not read here, then traffic does not exist to those people.   A guy writing an article insisting that free has failed but then only using free stuff instead of a good traffic monitoring service like Comscore is ironic.

(3) It always makes people groan because they regard it as oh-so-trying-to-be-clever but those four words all end in -ion so my desire to make things start with -ion resulted in naming the company that.