Jul 212010
 

In this month’s accretionary wedge David Bressan at History of Geology invites us to contemplate the geoblogosphere. He asks how geology can impact society and real geology, should and can we promote the geoblogosphere and are blogs private business or public affairs, and [are] institutions under-evaluating the possibilities given by this new medium of communication?

Why Blog?

There are probably as many motivations for geoblogging as there are geoblogs. The collective of the geoblogosphere is, of course, no such thing. We just happen to blog on a similar scientific topic. There is, I’m please to say, a good degree of camaraderie among those who geoblog and I’ve virtually met some people that one day I hope to meet in the flesh and share a cold (or warm) beer with. But does the geoblogosphere, what ever that is, need promoting and is it too nebulous to actually be promotable?

I blog for my own amusement. There are no ads on this site and I make no money from blogging. I started because I have always liked playing with shiny new technology and to try to cure myself of a bad case of writer’s block. I have always found it difficult to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and forcing myself to write more I hope(d) will make it an easier process in the future. Since I blog for fun, actually having someone read these ramblings is actually a bonus. I don’t really care if nobody reads this. Ok, I’d be slightly miffed, and one of the first things I do when logging on to wordpress is look at the stats, but I don’t actually think that my little corner (or cupboard under the stairs) of the geoblogosphere actually needs promoting. I don’t blog to impact society or real geology. I blog in hope that someone one day might stumble across one of my musings via a google search and find the contents helpful or interesting. It is ironic that more people read this whimsy than the (rare) scientific ‘real geology’ papers that I write. (At the time of writing I note that my recent post on coal bed methane ranks #8 on a google search of that topic).

Promotion of the Geoblogosphere

There are parts of the geoblogosphere, far more worthy than my humble scribblings, that do need promoting. Public understanding of science is a very good thing. There is a hell of a lot of stupid out there and any well-informed geological post is one small whack with a geological pick at that monolith of general ignorance. A single, apropos geological blog post turning up in an ignoramus’s google search can only be a step forward. In this respect, by lodging itself in google’s indexes, the geoblogosphere promotes itself. I’m not a great one myself for using blog aggregators like Geoblogosphere News or Regator, although this blog is featured in both. I have to say that blog collectives largely pass me by. I’ve only really noticed ScienceBlogs on their recent implosion. Of course a couple of blogs that I regularly read use(d) the platform, but I follow the messengers, not the medium. Would a GeoscienceBlogs blogs collective help promote the geoblogosphere? I doubt it.

The thing that has promoted this blog more than anything else has been RSS feed readers in general and Chris Rowan’s allgeo newsfeed in particular. My readership on the previous incarnation of this blog rocketed when Chris added it to his feed. RSS feeds mean that I, and everyone else, don’t have to trawl through a list of favorite blogs, any new posts will just turn up in my feed. The allgeo feed has also introduced me to a whole host of other blogs that I probably wouldn’t have found myself and interesting topics I would have never picked up a journal to read. RSS feeds also take the pressure off a bit of having to come up with a stream of posts to maintain a readership. It is now easy to take a blogging sabbatical and the articles will just pop into the feed on the author’s return.

On casualty, however, of my RSS feed use is my blogroll. Before RSS I had the incentive to maintain my blogroll as I used it myself to visit my favorite blogs but now that it isn’t necessary. Blogrolls are pain to maintain at the best of times, and at the moment with Pepsigate over at Sb, my blogroll would be highly dynamic. There is also the risk of offending someone by not including them and a comprehensive list will now take up a whole lot of sidebar. I suspect that very few people click through blogroll links and a central compendium like Geoblogosphere News is probably the way to go. Despite this, I do try to spread as much link love as reasonable, which is probably the best form of cross-promotion – along with twitter tweets of shortened links.

Impact on Society and Real Geology

Just because I blog for fun, doesn’t mean that I, or any one else can’t make an impact on society. There are two current geoblog themes that have great potential for impact on society. The first is Dave Petley’s remote monitoring of the dam breach at Attabad, which appears to be the main means by which technical information is getting to the general affected population. The other is Garry Hayes’ crusade to stop lawyers in California allegedly starting a lucrative litigation gravy train by sneaking a defenestration of serpentine’s status as state rock into a bill on compost. I do hope Garry succeeds, but even if he and others don’t they will have contributed to society in increasing public understanding and awareness of geology.

Impact on real geology, whatever that is, is much harder to quantify. I’m a strong believer of the peer review processes but with internet publishing I suspect that the differentiation between blogging and journal articles is going to get blurred over the next few years. Research blogging on journal articles is already potentially impinging on the traditional ‘comment and reply’ of paper journals. Blogging does, however allow the journal article author to expand on a theme, present their information to a non technical audience and interact in a much quicker way than traditionally. The palaeontological community in particular appears to be getting its act together particularly in this respect (see Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings as an example but there are many others).

Private Business or Public Affairs

As previously noted, there are as many motivations for blogging as there are blogs. I have no problem with ‘corporate blogs’ as long as they are clearly labelled. The geoblogosphere is greatly enriched by the likes of geological surveys and societies. The likes of Lee Allison’s Arizona Geology consistently punches above its weight but generally I think that many organisations are missing a trick. Compare the USGS with blogs and podcasts to the blog bereft UK version, the British Geological Survey that is hardly known outside of academia. A well-written and informative blog can only help raise the profile of an organisation and in the days of tightening budgets, it doen’t cost much and a bit of link love from the geoblogosphere goes a long way.

Whither the Geoblogosphere?

So, indeed, whither the geoblogosphere? In general, we are slowly building a compendium of knowledge that courtesy of search engines will, in the long run help in the public understanding of our science and educate the great unwashed. This can only benefit society. But where technology will take us in the next ten years and what will become of the geoblogosphere is probably anybody’s guess.