Pursuant to my recent post (and that of scicurious) about the Society for Neuroscience's nascent attempts to use the tools of Web 2.0, social media, etc (e.g., Twitter, science blogs and Facebook) to promote the Annual Meeting, I have a couple of thoughts.
It starts with a comment made ages ago by Abel Pharmboy, although I can't find the exact link. His essential point is to observe that for a typical professor teaching her subject matter, the general audience available for outreach / education purposes is the University class. This amounts to scores or a few hundred students per academic year in most cases. A professor teaching huge Intro sections with a big load might just bat into a thousand or two. maybe.
Scientific blogging beats this audience six ways to Sunday.
Authoring a science-related blog can reach numbers similar to this with minimal effort. A privateer blog launched on a popular hosting system such as WordPress.com or Blogger.com will start with no audience but by a few simple promotion steps can rapidly get a few dozen people reading each new post. That's the baseline. If one happens to be associated with a blog collective (such as ScienceBlogs.com, Scientopia.org, LabSpaces.net, Nature Network, etc) then these audience numbers increase substantially. The DM blog at ScienceBlogs.com over the past year was running several hundred viewers per day on a slow weekend day when we didn't post anything new. A weekday with a new post would hit around 1,000 unique viewers. Each day.
And we were by no means unusual. I would estimate that this size audience is readily attainable with reasonable effort on a decent sized network of blogs.
Some specific entries can have a very long tail indeed, thanks to the boost provided by search engine links. Abel Pharmboy and I have both remarked on the special place that our posts on JWH-018, synthetic marijuana, Spice, K2, etc have in the hearts of the Google searchers, for example. My old post pulls in a couple of hundred search hits on most days. Still.
The casual reader of a scientific blog does not see this, of course. Reader comments added to posts, which are visible, only represent perhaps 2-5% of the viewers of that post. Viewer numbers are not typically pushed in front of the reader so it is not readily apparent what scope of reach is enjoyed by a given blog.
Turning my attention to the portion of my audience which blogs on scientific topics and/or has an interest in using new media tools to promote their scientific subdisciplines, it is our responsibility to answer the "why" questions. Why should our academic societies deploy Twitter, Facebook or blog technologies? What is in it for them? How does it advance their agenda?
It is my view that the size of the potential audience to be reached is a good place to start the discussion.