Thursday, August 5, 2010
I was clued into a discussion earlier this morning by BiochemBelle
about some misconceptions
about what LabSpaces actually is. I will say that when I first read the comment by Ed Yong that LabSpaces is just another news aggregator (paraphrased)
I was pretty upset. For one, the news (or "news") is only a small fraction of what LabSpaces is all about. If this was just
a news site, I would have chosen to name the site "EurekAlert Science News Scraper"
. I thought that the vision of this site was covered pretty well in the "About"
section, but Ed Yong
is a busy guy and an all-star science writer/blogger
, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt here. What follows is a mock interview with Ed, I hope you enjoy.Ed Yong
: What's the deal with the Press Releases, Brian?Brian
: The press releases are really just one component of the site. I first designed LabSpaces, as the domain name implies, to be a one stop shop for lab people to come to discuss lab issues, help one another with protocols, share ideas, and collaborate on science projects. I quickly realized that many scientists (even my friends in graduate school) had little interest in joining a social network for the sciences. I decided to switch the focus of the website from being a place where scientists interact to help one another to a place where scientists can increase science literacy by interacting with the public. I thought a great driving force to spur conversations would be discussing the latest science trends, and I soon realized that Universities offered up articles about their latest discoveries for free! I thought, what a great platform for scientific discussion. EY
: But Science Daily, PhysOrg, and 100 other sites already repost EurekAlert's "news" feed verbatim, why do we need another one? Isn't that kind of a scumbag business model?B
: Wow Ed, I couldn't agree with you more, it's almost like you read my mind! Yes, I completely agree that reposting the EurekAlert newsfeed is scumbaggy, especially if you're like Science Daily and take complete credit for "Assembling the news articles with material provided by X," but then just repost the press release word for word. The difference here at LabSpaces is that I actually read the articles and pick the ones that I think are interesting or controversial. I don't just repost the entire feed and hope to get clicks. The method behind my madness is that I pick stories that I think might spur discussions. Does that mean that the press releases I publish are of extremely high quality science? No! Anyone who has been to a journal club knows that the best papers to talk about are the shitty ones. And you learn way more about science and it's process by tearing apart a bad paper. Additionally, I was hoping that LabSpaces would serve as a middleman between the scientists and their press releases. One of my visions is to one day have the scientists come to LabSpaces to discuss their work directly with the public. I don't think either Science Daily (which doesn't even have a comments section) or PhysOrg do this effectively. I wanted the central focus to be on connecting scientists directly to the stories. Even if I was the only scientist (for now!) responding to those comments. I would much rather have readers get information and support from me than from a shoddy media company.EY
: I see now, you're trying to increase communication and science literacy by having the public interact directly with the scientists. That's kind of a cool idea!B
: I thought so too!EY
: I have noticed over the last few months that you've been recruiting a great group of bloggers to write on your site, can you explain how this fits in with your ultimate vision of increasing communication in the sciences?B
: I have had a blogging interface on my website for a very long time now. Almost two years! Previously it had only been used by spammers to post Press Releases (see what I did there...). So when I did my site redesign a few months ago, I decided that the blogs section was no longer going to be open to everyone and I'd start recruiting people to blog for me. It began really as a joke between me, David Manly
, and Nancy Parmalee
. I told Joanne Manaster
that I'd like to feature her book reviews on my site, and both David and Nancy asked if they could blog for me! I thought, awesome, people are going to actually start using my site to talk science. We spent about a month organizing and getting things together, and then the Sb debacle happened. It seemed like a prime time to shake up the science blogging world so I've been keeping my eyes out for amazing writers to try to recruit them here to further my vision of increasing public interaction with scientists. I think the bloggers that I have recruited show a wide range of diversity from ranters to hard science writers. I couldn't be happier with the community that has developed in the forum, and I'm extremely excited to see where LabSpaces goes over the next few months. I think that showing the public that scientists are real people, not snooty assholes who have no time for inane questions, is really my focus with the bloggers. Additionally, I hope they provide support to me in answering questions on the press releases, and critically reviewing the bad science. As far as I'm concerned, the press releases and the bloggers synergize, and I don't think the site would be better off only highlighting one media form.
Credit: H Berends
: But don't you think the bloggers should take center stage?B
: Yes, I do, they're the content generators and they're amazing. I will bend over backwards to make them happy. LabSpaces runs a completely open forum. I want the bloggers to help me design the most engaging science site on the internet. I think we're making great strides. The blogging section is in it's infancy and you will notice major changes in the position and layout of the news articles and blogs on the main page. You can see our discussion about said changes here
. I just don't want people to be confused about what LabSpaces is. It is not a blogging network, it's not a science news aggregator, it's a science site.EY
: Ok, I'm beginning to understand more, but since I haven't made an account yet to take a look around, what other things are there on LabSpaces besides the news and the blogs??B
: Well Ed, I originally programmed LabSpaces as a facebook clone with the addition of lab pages. So there's actually a lot of information that can be added. Scientists can upload their publication history, provide useful protocols for other site users, discuss techniques or problems in the forum, engage with like minded people in specific groups, upload pictures of lab activities to their lab pages. There's actually a whole lot more beneath the news and blog main page that is completely underutilized! I hope that in the future, that as the site grows, scientists will slowly come around to the idea that social networks can be very helpful and maybe realize my original goal of creating a website where scientists feel safe to share ideas and promote collaboration through an internet connection.EY
: Don't you think you should just focus on one thing, instead of trying to be an all encompassing science portal?B
: Not really, I think that's what makes LabSpaces unique. You can read the science news, read the commentary by the bloggers, interact with them, or stop by the forum and chat up other science freaks. I really want to build a community here, and I think providing my users with a variety of places to interact only makes the bond stronger.EY
: Well, I must say this has been an enlightening interview, I should have done this sooner.B
: I couldn't agree more!I hope that Ed can see the humor in this. I'd love to hear some of his ideas on how to improve my website.