18 November 2011

Who reads this blog? Followup to a departmental talk on geoblogging

Posted by Jessica Ball

Because AGU’s Fall Meeting is coming up fast, and because we have a lunchtime seminar in my research group, I volunteered to preview my AGU talk. This is something that we often do as a trial run, although since the seminar runs for an hour and AGU talks only last 15 minutes, there’s usually a lot of condensing that goes on afterwards. This year at AGU, I was invited to give a talk in a public affairs session – not my usual venue as a volcanologist. But the session is perfect for a geoblogger:

PA33C. Earth Science Communication in a Changing Media Landscape I Wed. December 7, 1:40 PM – 3:40 PM; Room 302

My talk (an invited one!) is first in the lineup (yikes!). I was asked to talk about my experience as a geoblogger, so I came up with this abstract:

“More than just a catchy title: The rewards and challenges of geoscience blogging”

Social media have become increasingly important tools for communication, and no less so in the world of the Earth sciences. The “geoblogosphere”, a collection of blogs written by geoscientists, began to grow quickly about four years ago and now encompasses more than three hundred blogs in multiple languages. The blog Magma Cum Laude (https://blogs.agu.org/magmacumlaude) was first published in 2007 among some of the earliest geoblogs, and is now part of the AGU Blogosphere, a widely read and lively blogging network. Originally intended as a chronicle of the author’s time in graduate school and interest in volcanology, Magma Cum Laude’s content has expanded to include science outreach, philanthropic ventures and interdisciplinary communication. In the process, the author has learned a great deal about how to develop and maintain a science blog, and how to integrate blogging with the demands of being a student and geoscientist.

Geoblogging can be rewarding and fun, but it should also be approached with concrete goals and a clear understanding of potential drawbacks and difficulties. Geoscientists using social media have created new pathways for collaboration, peer review, science communication, and commentary on current events, making geoblogs a powerful supplement to ‘traditional’ research processes. In addition, geoblogging breaks down barriers between scientists and the public, demystifying research and giving the scientific community an opportunity to prove why its work is important. Geoblogs also have a lighter side – at any given time, there are a number of lively competitions, memes and conversations going on in the geoblogosphere. But like any social media outlet, blogging can present challenges, such as maintaining a good flow of content, integrating posting into a busy schedule, and dealing with interpersonal, employer and public responses. It is important to understand what these challenges entail, and how to deal with them, in order to utilize geoblogging to its considerable full potential.

I won’t go through the talk itself, since that’s what the meeting is for (and I’ll post it after the meeting anyway), but Brian Romans mentioned that he’d be interested in hearing my department’s reaction to my seminar version.

Some people in my department – my advisor, a few professors, and a few of the grad students – know that I’m a geoblogger, and have visited the blog with varying frequency. But I’ve never really talked about the issues that have come up over the course of geoblogging, or how one goes about writing one, so I was interested to see what their reactions were. The short answer is that they seemed intrigued and pretty positive about the whole thing. I was pretty careful to mention that blogging is secondary to graduate school for me (my professors were there, after all!) but there were questions about how I handled the time commitment and where I get ideas for content, as well as who the geobloggers are in general. I touched on a few of the tricky bits of blogging, like how I handle controversial issues or annoying commenters and where I draw the line as far as what I will and won’t write about.

On the whole, I think the group enjoyed the talk and was interested in hearing about an area of geoscience communication that they don’t deal with much. They definitely liked the fun side of blogging (The Accretionary Wedge example I mentioned, as well as our recent “Best-Evil-Geologist-Volcano-Lair” meme, both got a few laughs.) I haven’t had a whole lot of feedback other than questions, but I got the feeling that for those of us who aren’t constantly blogging (or reading geoblogs), it was at least an entertaining topic.

One question that got me thinking was about who my audience actually was – which, despite having numbers on visits and visitor location from Google Analytics, I can’t really tell unless I look through the comments. I know that some of you are students, some are geoscience faculty, some are just interested in volcanoes or geoscience in general, and a bunch of you are fellow geobloggers. But I don’t know how many of you fit into those categories, or what age range visits the blog the most. So I thought getting some numbers to mention in my talk might be useful – and  if you could help me out by filling out the following survey, that would be great! (There’s  no personal information attached to it – I’d just like to have some basic data on who my readers are.)

Click here to take the readership survey

It only takes a minute – and thanks in advance! If I get enough responses to be statistically significant, I’ll throw it into the talk I give in December, and you’ll all be able to see the results (and the talk) post-AGU. If you are coming to AGU and you have a chance to come by the talk, I hope you like what you see (and if I don’t get any questions for some reason, you all can chime in too!)