Plants & People

How “The Week in Botany” works

I’ve changed the system for sending the emails out for The Week in Botany, so I thought now was a good time to revisit how the email works.

The Week in Botany is a weekly email that collects the most popular links shared by people following @BotanyOne on Twitter. I also add the posts on Botany One for that week, regardless of whether or not they were popular. If I’m going to spend a few hours working on sharing work from other sites, I’ll take the time to promote our things as well.

I can’t manually scan the feeds of over ten thousand people. Instead, I use a few computer systems to track what is getting shared. What we get are links shared by people who probably have a serious interest in botany, or at least the kind of botany we share. It means that we pick up quite a few things, like research papers, that the general public might overlook.

There is a bit of editorial shuffling. 

First, like many groups on Twitter, the botanical audience has become more politically active. I think that’s a good thing, but that’s not why people come here. So if the politics has no connection with botany or being a botanist, it gets cut.

Next, not all shares are equal. Papers in Nature or Science are likely to get shared than articles in New Phytologist or AnnBot. These, in turn, will have more shares than pre-prints on sites like BioRxiv. If a story in BioRxiv is shared almost as many times as a paper in Science, I’ll add the BioRxiv paper to the list. I’m assuming that without a large company promoting the article, the BioRxiv paper must be of interest. The idea is we combine the Wisdom of Crowds with a crowd that knows what it’s talking about.

I try to do the same with the more popular news items. A story from In Defense of Plants will get extra weighting compared to the Guardian or New York Times.

Finally, sometimes I make the selections at the end of the day instead of trying the next morning. When this happens, if a publisher’s article link directs me to a broken sign-in page, I’ll probably only make a few attempts to locate the DOI before I replace the story with something else. Only one publisher makes life difficult. They’re not blacklisted, but they have had articles cut two or three times.

The selection process is staying the same as before. What’s changing is the company we use to send the emails.

Why the change?

Cost.

Sending emails is cheap, which is why your mailbox is filled with spam. Sending emails responsibly and reliably so you’re not spamming people is more expensive.

In the past, we’ve used MailChimp. They’re an excellent company. However, they limit their free accounts to 2000 contacts. If you pay for more, then you get a whole load of useful features – but this is a newsletter, not a marketing campaign. We’d be spending quite a bit on targetting features we would never use. If you go to our email page, you’ll see I don’t even ask you for your name because that’s private data I don’t need to know (if you did use a name in one of the early iterations of the MailChimp form, I’ve deleted your name from our database).

Revue has a different revenue model. They charge a percentage of the subscription fees for the newsletter. They lose out from us, as our newsletter is free. Though you could argue we’re promoting Revue and their owners, Twitter.

There are some personal advantages for me in that Revue also integrates well with how I compile the newsletter. It means there’s a little less of a headache when it comes to putting it together.

The Future

For the future, there are no major plans to change the newsletter further. One of the primary reasons it exists is that our followers are experts in highlighting interesting botany. If I’m grumpy for whatever reason, I can usually look at what’s getting shared on Twitter and find something fascinating to read. For example, top of the pile for Monday was How we discovered a hidden world of fungi inside the world’s biggest seed bank. As well as the piece in the Conversation, there’s also a link to the original paper

It’s been a busy week. I might have missed that, but thanks to compiling the newsletter, I won’t.

You can get the email delivered to you on a Monday by visiting Revue, where you can see the emails I’ve sent, or sign up using the form below.

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