Individually, as researchers and scientists, we want to read high-quality information, we want to find everything that is relevant to our interests, we want our own writings and publications to reach all the people that are interested in seeing them, and we want to discus and develop ideas with our peers and those interested in areas around our own. We go to specialized meetings to be part of a community, we need to build an audience of people readership and commenting communities, and nearly everybody in science is looking to reach out to a wider group at schools, policy makers and the general public too. Fortunately, the interests of researchers and scientists, science journalists and bloggers, journals (at least, the not-for-profit ones) or blogs, and conferences or conference attendees are all closely aligned. However, the ways we inform ourselves and develop our subject are arguably far from optimal, not least because the tools and opportunities available to us are changing rapidly, with the internet and globalization of scientists.
Having prepared a 10 minute presentation on social networking and building a journal community for a meeting of Journals Editors and Oxford University Press, a triple-whammy of unexpectedly long and unpredictably slow journey to the station, and then a group of cancelled trains, meant that I missed the last slot. I’d already resolved not to use PowerPoint, not least because I wanted discussion at the end of a long day, ideally continuing into dinner and beyond, so we could get some new ideas and input from other editors. However, I had notes for my commentary, and am expanding them here – perhaps different from the topics I usually cover in my blog, and for another audience, but actually related to areas we go into in the blog, not least because AoBBlog was created to build a community. Our blog readership and scientists, including those in the audience for my ‘non-talk’, put a lot of effort into going to specialized meetings to be part of a community, bloggers need to build readership and commenting communities, and as a primary research Journal, we need to reach out to a wider group of people, so hence my message is related to dissemination, database and quality issues that the blogs and Journal content posted here are aiming to achieve.
At Annals of Botany, last summer I was making the argument that we need to do more for building a community and helping people find information published by scientists worldwide. Following discussions and presentations at our annual editor’s meeting, the trustee’s agreed to support setting up the AoBBlog.com site with these aims. We invited Alan Cann to join as a Special Editor and Dr Alun Salt to edit and implement the blog, significant in showing that we see it as an integral part of the Journal, and not a peripheral add-on. Over the year, we have felt that it meets a need in plant sciences and is starting to gather a community around it. At least speaking personally, it has expanded the range of contacts and publications that I have seen, and the editorial blogs have influenced the emphasis in a number of my research projects. It is particularly encouraging to see how several outstanding papers have come to the forefront, where perhaps they would have been less visible otherwise. Those involved in the blog development are keen is not focussed on one Journal but is community network oriented: we have news items, blogs and links to many other Journals. Keywords from papers discussed on the blog are linked into the Mendeley crowd-sourced database of papers, picking from papers which have already been tagged by the Mendeley users as being of interest.
Re-purposing of information is something that our blog is doing at several levels. I think the short paper summaries, which we call ContentSnapshots, reach a different and new audience from those who browse the journal, and a small percentage probably go on to read papers that they would not otherwise have seen. Another important outcome of the blog has been the opportunity to increase the amount of botany in mainstream media. The Journal cover a specialized and detailed subject – each one of our papers represents two or three dedicated years of research I estimate – I am happy to say that the active programme of press-releases and the links through the blog is being seen more widely, and I am happy that the some of work of our authors is reaching a wider audience or millions rather than the thousands or hundreds or maybe even 6 (as suggested by Lord Rees) people that read the average scientific paper.
As I had expected, the dinner discussions at the Oxford meeting we very revealing. The talk there was given by the CEO of Oxford University Press, and I was delighted that he started with the Royal Society report on networking – which was discussed on AoBBlog.com the day before. Other discussions are some of the things I have been thinking about. The use, misuse and playing games with the ‘impact factor’, of course, came up. As discussed in other contexts, I follow the view that when a metric or measure becomes a target, the measure becomes useless. A blog post about this has been lying unfinished on my computer for several months – as usual, conference discussions helped with development of my views, something I can’t imagine gaining from listening to talks or interacting over video links.