The merits of being on a network are many (community, traffic, search ranking, etc.), but the one that matters the most is the prestige a blogger gains by association with the other bloggers in the network and through being part of a professional organization. The reason for this is straightforward--the first impressions a blogger makes are largely built on split-second judgments, and among the things that can be judged the quickest are appearances and the company you keep. If you're part of a professional looking network that includes another blogger who a reader already judges favorably, you're ahead of the game even before the reader reads word one. That doesn't mean you don't need to still be a good/great blogger to have an impact, you do, but being part of a network is a foot in the door every single day of the year. All you have left to do is raise your game to take advantage of the privileged position being part of a network grants you. It is this privileged position, this perpetual foot in the door (not traffic, pagerank or friends) that the ScienceBlogs.com blog network is looking for ways to monetize. It is the future prospect of guilt-by-association (there's that word again) such a compromise entails that helped to spur so many bloggers to leave SB. No matter how you cut it, #SbFail is proof that the network effect is real and that it matters.
When I first started Field of Science I was pleasantly surprised to find that science bloggers were blazing their own trail. They'd resisted, for the most part, the urge to indulge in the sensationalism and rhetorical excess that was fueling and defining the rest of the blogosphere. This intrinsic resistance to short-term gain in blogging has much to do with the scientific method and uniqueness of the people drawn to science in the first place. But I would go further still and suggest that SB deserves some of the credit as well. It gave science bloggers something to aspire to. A reason, beyond simple adherence to an unwritten ethic, to blog credibly, consistently, for the long-term. But now that SB has been, how should I put this, unmasked, does it still play that role? If you'd argue that it does, has the example it is setting changed at all as a consequence? Has the type of science blogger SB is encouraging (seeking) shifted away from those that value the science and good opinion of their peers toward those that are equally or primarily interested in making money? So long as SB remains the best option (or chief steppingstone) for science bloggers hoping to achieve success in blogging (however they define it), SB is going to have an inordinate influence on how science bloggers define science blogging.
The benefits of being on a network are not in dispute. There's also room (and arguably an imperative) for alternatives to SB to emerge. It's all that other stuff, the endemic issues inherent in the network model, and the stuff that being on a network puts out of your control that still stand in the way. If only there was a way to create your own science blog network. One where you, the science bloggers, could be in control of who was on it. One you could afford to host. One where the technology behind it was both powerful enough to compete with the big boys while simple enough for you to manage it in passing. One that was no more demanding than the blogging it is meant to augment.
If only, instead of being forced to beg and plead for fish, there was a way to learn to fish. Well, there is.
You can create your own science blog network, putting you in complete control, for under $12 a year. Your network will be hosted and powered by Google, who, at no cost to you, will employ a crack team of super talented technology professionals to not only keep your network up and running, but to bring you regular innovations. What's more, because you're partnered with Google, your SEO will be the envy of the competition by default, and you can take for granted the innate integration with Google's ever growing list of tools...
Over the next few months I will teach a course on how to create your own science blog network. The total cost to take the course will be under $12, and that will be to pay for your network's first year of hosting. Whether you want to create a science blog network to rival SB, or you have an idea for a small exclusive network for you and your colleagues, or you want to leave the door open to the possibilities, it's up to you. The goal is not to tell you what to do, it's to show you how easy it is to do it. It's to empower you, the scientist blogger, so that you don't have to compromise, or be subject to someone else's whims, shortcomings or worse.
If that sounds like time well spent to you, class is in session:
Edit: 08/12/10 - Class cancelled due to lack of enrollment. However, I'd still like to explore collaborations along the above lines, so if you're late or decide later that you're interested, leave a comment or email me.