The Scienceblogs fiasco and the future of Myrmecos

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I suppose I should say something about the mess over at Scienceblogs.

If you haven’t been following the story, earlier this week Scienceblogs sold a valuable piece of blogging real estate to PepsiCo. A paid-for corporate blog was suddenly and without prior announcement dropped into the middle of our lineup of independently contracted blogs. It was a spectacular failure of management both in its execution and in its failure to anticipate the obvious reaction from the scienceblogging community. Several bloggers resigned- particularly the science journalists- and several others went on hiatus, including this blog.

Myrmecos is not a nutrition blog, and I am not a journalist, so on the surface I shouldn’t  be so conflicted by sharing a server with a Pepsi-sponsored corporate blog. And I am not, at least not on the basis of some sort of anti-capitalist sentiment. After all, many sciencebloggers rather transparently use the medium for hawking their own wares. Lots of folks promote their own books. We all get paid for pageviews. And I’ll be honest- I use the visibility of Scienceblogs to drive traffic to my image galleries.

So why did I suspend my activity at Scienceblogs?

The Pepsi fiasco was not an isolated incident. Scienceblogs has systemic organizational flaws that the kerfuffle revealed in grand fashion. I recognize all organizations have their weak spots, and all people make mistakes. But the errors made by management last week reflected not just little problems but rather large ones both in the long-term vision department and in the nitty-gritty implementation department. Pepsi was just the fizzy drink that broke the camel’s back.

Next week CEO Adam Bly has scheduled a conference call to discuss our concerns. I have not decided whether to keep Myrmecos at Scienceblogs- I will wait to hear what Mr. Bly has to say before making any final decision. At this point, though, it’s going to take an honest commitment to structural- and ethical- reform to convince me to stay on.

That’s all I have to say. If you’d like additional reading on the whole sordid soap opera I recommend these fine links:

19 thoughts on “The Scienceblogs fiasco and the future of Myrmecos”

  1. Well, I can’t say that I understand anything about this affair, but I am guessing that Scienceblogs desparately needed the money. I’m assuming they already generate some money from the ads in the sidebars and from new bloggers who sign up to join the stable, but they must have needed more revenue, especially with the still stormy economic climate right now. I would say that that was the motive for allowing PepsiCo in among the ranks of independent bloggers… so that they could keep the cash coming to pay for various expenses, including paying bloggers for using Scienceblogs. I’m sure they anticipated the reaction, just not on this scale.

    That is all speculation, if I haven’t made it clear already.

    But the fact that they’ve thrown out Food Frontiers shows that they still listen to their bloggers, though whether for moral or monetary reasons, I’m not sure. I for one think you can forgive Scienceblogs for this lapse. It’s in your best interest to, since you do generate some revenue from blogging there. But if this happens again, obviously you should turn your back on Scienceblogs.

    Well, that’s enough from me, but I’m glad to put in my two cents.

    1. “Well, I can’t say that I understand anything about this affair, but I am guessing that Scienceblogs desparately needed the money.”

      I’d guess that too. But I don’t really know, because Sb management never tells us anything. To me that’s the heart of the problem. It’s a labor dispute where we (the collective “we”- I’m just small fry over there) bring in the money but have no idea what headquarters is doing with it. Not even in the vaguest generalities. They could be nearly insolvent. Or they could be having lavish parties in downtown Manhattan with the surplus.

      The undercurrent behind the dispute is transparency. It would have been nice for Sb to have at least mentioned beforehand that they were going to start selling blog space instead of inviting established talent.

  2. I applaud you for taking a reasoned approach to this problem, and I’m behind your perspective 100%. Maybe Scienceblogs will allow each blogger to include some kind of disclaimer (“Myrmecos” does not endorse any corporate advertisers at Scienceblogs”) at their personal discretion? There should be a little compromise offered, at least. I’m rooting for you, you have “broken the ice” yourself in getting entomology blogs into the mainstream, paying realm. Let us know how we can keep your train rolling.

    1. Thanks Eric. The thing I really like about Scienceblogs is that they let me write whatever I like- disclaimers included.

      I have thought about whether it would be in all of we bug bloggers’ interest to assemble a collective somewhere. Kind of like the one that Christopher Taylor (Catalogue of Organisms) just joined.

  3. I follow over 300, mostly obscure, nature bloggers who blog for the pure enjoyment of sharing what they love. A couple of you popular folks moved around 3 months ago to ScienceBlogs. Fine, I reset my readers, widgets, and bookmarks. What I wonder is… Why did you even consider the move? What was wrong with WordPress? Why are you concerned about traffic to image galleries? Does SB pay you? If so, where do you think they’re supposed to get the cash to cut the checks? On the other end, I feel a little badly for the snooty attitude towards the scientists who do get their checks cut directly from PepsiCo. They could have been incredibly engaging bloggers. Are they somehow inferior scientists because they get paid from a successful corporation, versus universities and public grants and not-so-on-the-side-blogs? To me, it seems like a whole lot of brouhaha over nothing. Like Jason above, I can’t say I understand. Plus, I’m a Coke fan.

    1. Katie,
      Bloggers that have something to say to people they want to communicate with are easily seduced by the lure of additional traffic. for many of us that was at least an order of magnitude jump right off the bat, day one. The money is peanuts compared to that particular reinforcer.

    2. Lots of good questions there, Katie.

      “What I wonder is… Why did you even consider the move? What was wrong with WordPress? Why are you concerned about traffic to image galleries? Does SB pay you?”

      I am supported on soft money from various grants and teaching positions. Consequently, I am prone to unpredictable periods of unemployment. I’m employed now, but next year? I don’t know.

      I do have a small insect photography business. Not enough to live off of, but I can’t complain. It buys my equipment and pays for some travel. That’s why I am concerned about traffic to my galleries. Keeping the business running sustains my photography, allowing me to, for example, fly down to tropics to shoot army ants and other exotic critters at least once a year.

      I moved to Sb for several reasons:

      1. It pays. Not very much, mind you. But if I am going to put in blogging effort, I may as well pocket an extra $100/month (In theory, anyway- I still haven’t received a check.) For those of us on tenuous salary every bit helps.

      2. Sb has a much higher readership. Related to wanting to share what one loves, having a larger potential audience is helpful.

      3. Sb is more prestigious, in the sense they only invite bloggers with an established record. An invitation to join the Sb network can be considered an honor. All the same, it took me a year to make the move after receiving an invitation. Mostly because I am rather fond of WordPress and not so fond of intrusive advertising.

      “On the other end, I feel a little badly for the snooty attitude towards the scientists who do get their checks cut directly from PepsiCo. They could have been incredibly engaging bloggers.”

      The corporate issue is a red herring. It’s not about Pepsi, or the quality of their scientists. It’s about Scienceblogs. They *sold* a spot in a network that was supposed to be built in the merit of individual bloggers.

      When you’re a blogger who perceives oneself to be part of a meritocracy, it is an insult when your network turns around and sells the same honor to the highest bidder. It’s even worse when they just drop the paid-for blog into the same pile as everyone else’s, unlabeled as such, as they did at the time of the roll-out.

      For me, that’s not even the main issue, although understanding that psychological dynamic is key to understanding the seemingly overwrought responses from the bloggers. As Martin Robbins points out

      “It’s like watching King Arthur hand-pick eleven knights of the Round Table, and then sell the twelfth seat on Ebay. If anyone can buy themselves a Seed Blog, then one of the main reasons to blog there – the prestige – is gone. And the effect of that is doubled when King Arthur himself doesn’t bother to tell the knights until some rich kid in Gucci armour wanders in the room asking where the bar is.”

      The Big Deal for me is that the leadership at Scienceblogs has such little understanding of the blog empire they built that they failed to anticipate a completely predictable response. It doesn’t inspire confidence in where the enterprise is heading.

      So maybe Sb needs to sell blog space to remain profitable. If so, fine. But they should have said something to their existing bloggers before just plowing ahead with the new business model.

  4. I’ve never understood just what Scienceblogs had to offer that made it compelling to those maintaining science-related blogs.

    Setting up a blog is not hard. Getting traffic to a blog with first-rate content is not hard. Posting an article is not hard. So what was the appeal?

    I think if you shared what got you interested in using Scienceblogs in the first place, that could be an interesting post. Compare the vision to the reality.

    1. See my reply to Katie, above.

      Even though you say that “getting traffic to a blog with first-rate content is not hard”, and that’s true, Scienceblogs can deliver orders of magnitude more views per unit effort.

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  6. you know, I tried for years to get onto Sb (when my blog was in it’s heyday) but never made the cut.

    I have no idea how I would have dealt with this situation, but I think the King Arthur analogy is spot on.

    Hope you get some answers–(and an income stream!)

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