When I started blogging, I was worried I might run out of things to write about. Now I'm worried I may run out of things not to write about.
I sometimes get emails from people offering to buy one of my blogs. I've always assumed that these were either from bankers looking to blow a few billion, or simply scams, so I hit the Report Spam button, but I suppose that some could be genuine in the sense that certain lowlifes might be looking to to buy traffic so that they could peddle dodgy pharmaceuticals. But on Monday I received an email from the Seed Media Group offering me a much more challenging proposition.
For those of you who don't know, the Seed Media Group publishes SEED Magazine, but also owns ScienceBlogs and is involved with researchblogging.org. In other words, Seed Media is second only to Nature Publishing Group in the science blogosphere. ScienceBlogs is a network of about 75 blogs written by a mixture of academics and science writers. Like NPG, ScienceBlogs is a commercial venture, and all the blogs in the network carry advertising, which is interesting since a number of the blogs are published under a Creative Commons licence and in signing up to the network a blogger agrees to give Seed Media non-exclusive, perpetual license to use their work. Squaring this circle is something I'm still trying to get my head around (Pass the politics, please: Science blogs peppered with commentary).
ScienceBlogs pays it's contributors a monthly rate that varies according to individual traffic levels. But don't get too excited, we're not talking huge amounts - not enough to buy an iPhone for example. My calculations show I could make more money by slapping a small Google Adsense advert onto the top left corner of MicrobiologyBytes, except that at present MicrobiologyBytes is on WordPress.com, which in return for free hosting does not allow blogs to carry ads (fair enough). I buy into the line that Seed Media does not exercise any significant editorial control over the content on the ScienceBlogs network, although there are some understandable legal restraints built into the contract.
Show me the money
As an author, I'm not going to make any significant money out of joining ScienceBlogs. The question of whether Seed Media would make any significant money out of my writing is more difficult to determine, but possibly not. So if it's not about the money, what is it that's kept me awake the past few nights? I've been surprised by the emotional investment I seem to have in the decision. Somehow, this point feels like a crossroads in my blogging anti-career. Maybe that's what happens once you've got your 10,000 hours in. MicrobiologyBytes traffic outweighs the hits on the old tat I pass off here by about ten to one.
And yet...Over the last year this site has developed a real sense of community which has been invaluable to me. I'm a writer, I couldn't stop if I wanted to, but the interactions I have with the people who read this site goes beyond any financial payment. I know you're not my "friends" (this isn't Facebook), but I'd really miss you if you went away. Somehow MicrobiologyBytes doesn't feel like that. For all the people who read it, there's little sense of community there. That's not altogether surprising, since when I started MicrobiologyBytes the intention was just to explore the concept of microchunking reusable learning objects, something which the data says has been remarkably successful. (In contrast, when I started this site, I had no idea what the purpose of it was...) Wouldn't it be great if I could build a community around MicrobiologyBytes which feels a bit like the one I sense here? Would joining a blog network help me with that, or would my rugged individualism still get in the way? Is it time for me to grow up and get serious about blogging? I've been weighing the options since Monday and not made a lot of progress, so I've made a (bulleted) list:
- Leave MicrobiologyBytes the way it is: No extra work but no new development - the "safe" option?
- Move MicrobiologyBytes to its own domain: Overcomes the restrictions of WordPress.com hosting (no scripts, content restrictions), but also loses the advantages of WordPress.com hosting. The decision to blog on WordPress.com and on Blogger has proved to be valuable as both platforms have developed. I'll still be using WordPress, but on my own domain.
- Move MicrobiologyBytes to the ScienceBlogs network: Would this build more of a community around MicrobiologyBytes? Is ScienceBlogs US-centric focus appropriate for what I'm trying to achieve?
- Move MicrobiologyBytes to the Nature Network: Would NPG's kudos add something that ScienceBlogs doesn't? Is this still selling out to the man? I'd still be a sharecropper on Nature's farm.
- Hedge my bets - split the content and run two microbiology blogs, one on a blog network and the other on WordPress.com or on MicrobiologyBytes.com: Considering how ridiculously overcommited I am, do I have time for this? Is splitting the traffic a sensible option?
What I really need is your input.