Blogging groups, lighten up and enjoy your niche!

By Grant Jacobs 08/08/2010

A brief dash of opinionated meta-blogging on blogging groups and their focus.*

Looking around the science blogging networks, I see a lot of fretting ’why aren’t we more like blogging group X’.

I’m not convinced it’s the problem some make it out to be, and I have to admit I feel a bit depressed when I see people fretting this way.

Bora has written comprehensively on issues about blogging groups. I couldn’t possibly complete; do read his posts (2 links). I have to admit his articles are so comprehensive I worry he’s already made my point somewhere in there and that this is hence redundant… (My contribution is certainly insignificant by comparison!)

I’d like to offer one small and rather modest thought, that a blogging group doesn’t have to be everything for everyone, and to my mind in many cases probably shouldn’t try to.

In business you need to know (a) what it is that you stand for and (b) your point of difference, what sets you apart from your rivals. Finding your own niche is more usually the game than copy-catting.

Take for example a comment by Heather Etchevers at Nature Network,

I received the following comment from a long-time reader, elsewhere, and it explained a lot for me. To add to the other anecdotes recounted earlier in the thread.

You’ll probably recall that I used to be a regular commenter before you moved your blog to nature.. at that point I felt kinda lost, like you’d moved to a community that as a layman i was outside of, so i wandered off.

A shame, and if he has expressed himself thus, The 90-9-1 rule applies in the other direction, so imagine how many other worthwhile contributing commenters do the same?

(I’m not trying to single out Nature Network, or make this about that blogging network in using this example.)

If the intention of Nature Networks was include a wider audience, then this might be a loss, otherwise it may simply be the reader (or blogger for that matter) realising, perhaps belatedly, the place isn’t a fit for them.

I personally rather like Nature Network’s ’scientist’ focus. It does mean the audience will be more limited. I lean towards blogs where visitors really discuss things (not argue or debate), and with that I often like the quieter places on the ‘web with substantive articles and thoughtful regulars who contribute.

There are blogging groups focused more tightly still. Genomes unzipped, for example, is a group that writes on many aspects of personal genomics including legal issues, diagnostics, and recent research findings. I imagine this works best for areas that are in high demand, and personal genomics is a very topical issue. Again, the tighter focus has it’s appeal.

I’d personally like to see more effort in exploring what each group can (successfully!) present as it’s own unique focus, rather than worrying too much about what the larger groups are doing. Let ’em be, perhaps, and worry more about how to make one own’s group successful in it’s own way, what it’s focus ought to be, and how to ’sell’ that particular focus.

Some of these issues are not just about the size and focus of a group, but also how the features of the group are presented (which has a lot to do with good web design) and how the group promotes the bloggers and their articles (two different things, note). Poor web design and promotion can thwart the aims of on-line efforts.

Lest this be thought of as being divisive, I am strongly for the suggestion made elsewhere (by Bora, for one) for better networking amongst the networks, for example by featuring work of other science blog groups. This is part of the reason I set up my Other science blogs links (see below banner). It also reminds me that I need to update my blogroll!


* I accept the gripes about meta-blogging being so much navel-grazing, but in my defence this is Sunday! 😉

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0 Responses to “Blogging groups, lighten up and enjoy your niche!”

  • Interesting. I get the impression you see blogging groups as important in your own browsing. That readers might actually go specifically to the group rather than an individual blog, and then navigate around the group.

    It’s certainly not the way I work – unless I am aimlessly browsing. I go to individual blogs, whether they are in a group or not. In a sense the group is irrelevant.

    I think the major influence a group may have on me is the design/format. the more attractive the group format the more attractive, easier to read, is the blog that may interest me.

    I guess it could be different if there was a group specifically oriented around a limited field that interests me. But a general science group would cover too wide a spectrum.

  • Thanks for the comment Ken.

    I get the impression you see blogging groups as important in your own browsing.

    Not in the way that I think you’re making out! 😉 To be up-front I don’t know how you are getting this from my post either!

    My post was about a sentiment raised by some of the people within groups, a sort of blog-group envy going around that I think can be unhealthy, not that that they are in groups or not. I don’t see how this relates to what I think of groups in general or my personal reading habits!

    The message was that I think it’d be healthier for them to worry less about others and more about their focus and how to present that, and also that there is merit in having other focuses than “just” being a large collection with a diverse audience.

    The ‘focus’ I am referring to in my piece can be anything, not just a scientific niche, including how you present the group as I tried to briefly allude to in my penultimate paragraph. There is more to this, but I didn’t have time to elaborate; options like a unique way of presenting discussions, a highly “visual” orientation, a focus on short’n’sweet (think BoingBoing) or vice versa (i.e. long-form writing), etc., etc.

    I agree good design helps. I’d add that’s more than “looking pretty.” I’ve seen very plain designs that are quite effective and vice versa some ornate ones that hinder reading.

    FWIW, I read several ways, directly to individual blogs I know well, and to groups and feeds/stream to be “surprised” by posts from blogs I might not have otherwise visited. Every now and then I randomly try places I haven’t visited just to see what I find. (Obviously only when I have time on my hands!)

    Also FWIW, it’s partly why my ‘other science blogs’ list (see below banner) is mainly focused on independents or those who have recently moved. The latter just happen to make up most of the list at present because of a lot of movement lately and because I’m short on time to add more of the independents. (I’ll try add these later, but it’s a fair bit of effort so it’ll have to wait until I have time.) I only put the groups near the top as being a shorter list, it’s less disruptive this way.