Do not tick off the community you created if you want it to survive

science by o palsson  

Bora and PalMD leave ScienceBlogs: What to do now?
[Via Respectful Insolence]

I can’t believe it.

I really can’t believe it.

I really, really, really can’t believe it.

Bora has left ScienceBlogs.

Readers of just this blog probably don’t know what a body blow that is to the ScienceBlogs collective. Readers of multiple ScienceBlogs probably realize that Bora was the proverbial heart and soul of ScienceBlogs. It’s news that’s left Isis the Scientist speechless and GrrlScientist “deeply upset.” Even ScienceBlogs’ big macher PZ Myers has pointed out how Bora compared the situation here to to Bion’s Effect, where the departure of a few people at a party triggers a sudden end to the event. I don’t know whether Bora’s departure is the seismic shift that leads to the collapse of Sb or not, but I do know that it’s a wake up call to me that maybe I was too quick to go back to business as usual after our corporate overlords decided to invite a corporate blog to be added to the Sb stable as co-equals with the rest of us, hopelessly blurring the line between content and advertising.

Why is this such a big deal?


A few days ago, I discussed how an ad hoc community – the Tour de France peloton – controls group behavior. I also made a mention of how the group deals with perceived outside interference. In the case of the Tour, the peloton adopted a behavior that benefited the group, to the detriment of individuals or the outsiders.

Here, we also see some behavior dealing with external interference. In this case, it was the inclusion of a blog that was bought by a corporation in order to provide its own views, without any real communication with the community about what was happening.

The group did not take well at all to this event at all. Read Bora’s post to get an idea of what happened and why these responses are being made.

What we have here is somewhat the opposite of the group coming together and getting stronger in response to outsiders. The group is, in response, may breaking apart. In part, this may be due to the particular instance – the inclusion of a new member actually undercut the entire reason for the group to exist. But it is also due to the same technologies that make it so easy for ad hoc groups to form.

Scienceblogs is a great example of the benefits and perils of technology. Ad hoc groups can be created very easily. Seed Media did this and worked to create a community that would support and attract people who would allow it to stay in business.

Now it appears to have messed things up by forgetting that in a Web 2.0 world, the community must be served first or it will leave.

The people of the community were creating all this content because they enjoyed the community, not because they made a lot of money or wanted Seed to make a lot of money. Most had other careers. They wrote at Scienceblogs because of the network of people they were a part of.

Apparently the managers of Seed did not really understand why it was that these people were even there. They needed to make some money and completely ticked off the community with their ham-handed process. They forgot who there real customers were.

Most media still think that servicing advertisers is the bedrock of their business. But, for businesses who require networks to survive, servicing the network is paramount. Without the bloggers, there is not Scienceblogs, no matter how much advertisers are feted.

Technology makes an ad-hoc community really easy to create. And it makes it really easy for the community to change its mind, for individuals to leave and aggregate at a new community if they are not happy.

Compare where Facebook and MySpace were 3 years ago to their relative popularity now. The same will befall Facebook if it forgets this.

I think that while Scienceblogs will survive, it will never again be THE place for people who write about science. Already other sites, such as Field of Science and Genomes Unzipped, are picking up new people.

I imagine that we will now have several well-connected networks of blogs about science, providing greater diversity and wider ranges of information to move around. Technology will not make it much more difficult for readers for read – adding Field of Science’s RSS feed to my aggregator adds minimally to my daily efforts.

The only one really harmed here, in the long run, will be Seed. The bloggers can easily become parts of other networks, taking the readers, eyeballs and advertisers with them. There will just be fewer for Scienceblogs to use to support itself.