Let’s Help ScienceBlogging: What design features are useful in a science blog aggregator?

First, the great news: Bora, Dave, and Anton got together and developed a website to aggregate science blog postings. It’s at scienceblogging.org . This is really still at it’s first stages and they plan to continue to add to it and refine it as they go.

Here’s a screenshot (I’m guessing the page will look different over time so this way you can see it as I see it).

It's got three columns, and the top five stories from each source. The title links to the source as do the story titles. There’s also a blogroll – an alphabetically arranged list of the sources.

The sources are a combination of blog networks like this one, Discover’s, Nature’s, ScienceBlogs.com, etc., and some news feeds. Some of the sources are in other languages (Brazilian Portuguese, German, Chinese, French).

It’s clear from the design (and the delighted reactions) that this is meant as a place to go to read a diverse collection of science posts – to get a sampling. It doesn’t link to independent blogs – except when they are aggregated by “All-geo”. It also doesn’t have any way to export the contents or really explore the contents besides browsing the titles on the front page. If you mouse over the article titles you do get a snippet of information.

What features could help the current setup?

  • some way to expand and read a snippet without mousing over. People with twitchy hands might not do well with that
  • some indication of the blog name where the article comes from
  • separately, a page providing information about each source – I know some of these, but I’m assuming a lot of people don’t
  • an opml file or some way to export the rss feeds to your reader (you could, of course, visit the original site or just keep coming back)
  • I’m not sure what order things are on the page. Maybe they should be in some categories? Some explicit organization? (Blake makes that comment here)
  • Blake also makes the comment that these various aggregators have different rates, so 5 posts might stay there for a while or there might be 5 posts an hour – it’s hard to see how to deal with that.

Could independent blogs be added, and how?

This post from Dave puts forth some ideas for adding “science blogs”. The first problem is defining what’s a science blog. I faced this in both of my previous studies, and I solved it two different ways. One I was very strict: self-identified scientists posting mostly on scientific topics. The other I was more broad – the above plus scientists posting on life in science, plus everyone else blogging about science.

What no one mentions on that post is: what is science? Are social sciences included? Librarianship? Areas of the humanities like anthropology, archaeology, communication, history? It’s really hard. Science librarians yes, others no? Well, then we’d lose Dorothea. So academic librarians? Then I’d drop off 🙂

First, selection and maintenance

  • Nature Blogs takes nominations and then requires two members to confirm. They require:
      1. composed mostly of original material - no press releases or lists of links
      2. primarily concerned with scientific research
      3. updated (on average) at least once a fortnight
  • Other suggestions – like from Jonathan Eisen on twitter – were to take nominations and have a curator say yes or no. This could be way, way too overwhelming and there could easily be hurt feelings if someone didn’t get included and they thought they should.
  • A variation on that is to have one or a few committees. Maybe for each subject area.
  • Maintenance is also an issue – keep dead blogs? Use an automated link checker? Manually go back and check if the person is still blogging and still blogging about science? How often? Have a way for visitors to report. (Oh and for heaven’s sake, Nature won’t let me change my url from blogspot – let the bloggers update their urls).

I sort of think the Nature way pretty much works. It’s crowd sourced, so less load. But the maintenance stuff needs to be added.

Second, organization

  • There needs to be some organization scheme. It might go deeper (with sub categories) in areas where there are a lot of bloggers
  • The organization scheme could have a couple of different facets (topical/subject – chemistry, gender, work setting – industry)
  • Should be able to look at an aggregation on each subject category, and export rss feeds from that category
  • Some of the others aggregate around what journal article or molecule is being discussed – this might be too hard and there might not be enough content to do that.
  • There could be some organization around links. See who links to this blog, see who has commented on this blog – but that would also take a lot of work.

Personally, I’m not so much interested in links to press releases and main stream media – the bloggers pick up things like that that are interesting (I pick up some from the information industry). I’ve already spent way to long on this for incremental help to the founders – they have already done an amazing job. Maybe some information architect-y or user experience person might weigh in?

5 responses so far

  • KBHC says:

    "Areas of the humanities like anthropology, archaeology, communication, history?"

    Anthropology and archaeology are generally considered social sciences. And some of us in anthro consider ourselves life scientists as well.

  • Might be nice to let users "like" posts and then find a way to keep some of the most liked posts on the front page a bit longer. But that may require log-ins or something that goes way beyond what the designers were intending to commit to.

  • Dorothea Salo says:

    Faceted browse. Of course you can't put every blog on the front page, but you can let users play with the front page to find blogs and posts they're interested in.

    Facets would have to include subject, but I'm curious what others would be useful.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      I brainstormed some other facets (gender, work setting). Maybe what country the blogger is in? Some of these things would have to be tagged when the blog was added. What other fields make sense to you?

  • chezjake says:

    What no one mentions on that post is: what is science? Are social sciences included? Librarianship? Areas of the humanities like anthropology, archaeology, communication, history? It’s really hard. Science librarians yes, others no? Well, then we’d lose Dorothea. So academic librarians? Then I’d drop off 🙂

    I think that in areas where the subject area is borderline/questionable, the stated (or actual published) intent of the blog author should weigh heavily. If the author states an interest and intent to blog on subjects that will contribute to the greater science blogging enterprise, then the blog should be included.