On Google, Second Life and blog collectives

Jul 25 2010 Published by under Science Outreach, ScienceBlogging

Rob Knop has a series of observations up on Galactic Interactions that struck a chord with me. He's talking about Linden Labs and the Second Life dealio, about which I know next to nothing. I barely understand all that stuff. However, he starts with this observation:

I think often the way to kill a business is to over-monetize it. I remember the 1990’s, and Web search engines. The pattern was repeated over and over again. There’d be one that was the best. They’d realize they were the best, and they’d either get sold or they’d try to monetize their business. The page would go from being relatively clean, to being a cluttered mess of ads… and the search results, being increasingly paid, would become less and less useful. So we’d all move on to another engine. That ended with Google, who had the vision not to try too soon to over-monetize their search, and who recognized when they did monetize it that they had to do it in a way that didn’t completely undermine what brought people there in the first place.

Emphasis added. Now I'm not so much afeeerd of monetizing but it appears an axiomatic truth to me that you cannot kill the function that brings people to your online site or business. That is really the key to Google's world dominance as a search engine. I had the exact same frustration expressed by Rob with Web engines in the 1990s and I bet most of you did too. It still boggles my mind that you go to the root Google page and you get what you need- a search box and an entry button. Sans extra crap.

It really is sad that Twitter is trying as hard as they can to miss the point of Google. but I digress..

Rob has another observation about Linden that sounds hauntingly familiar:

Alas, the company as a whole didn’t realize this. What they should have been focusing on was promoting virtual worlds. Instead, they… well, to be honest, I’m not really sure what they were focusing on, but they didn’t direct substantial effort towards promoting virtual worlds in general.

I return to the Google example. I mean sure, the Internet was going to explode anyway. I get this. But by making the internet useful for people (some of us do remember the Web before search engines were so ubiquitous, fast and so damn good, you know), all people-even our grandparents- Google made themselves indispensible. This is what Rob is getting at I think. If you want to be an online entity that relies on low fractional payment from a vast audience, you need to concentrate your efforts on the audience. And when an audience doesn't exactly exist yet, you are not trying to steal marketshare, you are trying to build up the whole dang market.

This is where I personally think that ScienceBlogs.com has gone a bit astray and where I routinely criticize the approach of Nature Networks. I look at it this way. I've been blogging for over three years now and experienced both negligible-audience privateer blogging and the heady heights of the Pharyngula driven Scienceblogs.com traffic. Comments and personal communications to PhysioProf and I suggest that our focus on academic careerism for grant funded scientists is of interest even beyond biomedical disciplines. Our traffic is quite pleasing and the commentariat of decent size. But here's the thing. If I look at the IP numbers coming in from the domains of easily identified research Universities and research institutes we still only draw one or maybe 5 repeat viewers from a given institute. That spells one heck of a lot of untapped audience to me.

The funny thing is that Sb says all the right things about engaging the broader audience. And Nature Publishing Group routinely tries to tell all scientists reading their flagship publications (and this is a good fraction of all scientists) to go online, to comment on papers and, gasp, to blog.

Their hearts are in the right place but their execution could use some re-thinking.

5 responses so far

  • Abel says:

    Drug, this is quite the insightful post. I've heard you say before how amazing it is that so few practicing scientists read, write, or participate in the science blogosphere - I have similar experiences looking at traffic numbers from .edu, .gov, and .org laboratories.

    Of course, we're only individual blogs with a subset of potentially interested readers (although your careerism slant transcends disciplinary boundaries and, therefore, would have a larger potential audience). But if you're only seeing 1-5 distinct readers from individual institutions, I've got to think that whoever figures how to tap into the rest will have some good cash flow following.

  • Dirk Hanson says:

    What is your reaction to the New York Times article referring to the blogs at scienceblogs as "class-war claptrap"and suggesting there is more in-fighting and general bloviating and freshman sarcasm there than substantive science writing?

  • Dirk Hanson says:

    But more importantly... my Drugmonkey coffee mug just arrived. And it's BIG, just the way I like 'em...

  • DrugMonkey says:

    From what I'm seeing on the Twitts I'm thinking I should skip the NYT bit?

  • Dirk Hanson says:

    re NYT bit: Adequately responded to, I would say.

    re lack of visits from research universities and research institutes: I'm guessing that "legacy" print and physicial libraries still represent the lion's share of what academicians are up to research-wise on any given day. Not too many researchers citing blogs in peer-reviewed journal papers yet. Am I wrong on this?

Leave a Reply