Archive for the ‘Science blogging’ Category

How to find interesting science blogs

May 26, 2009

Probably you already have plenty of experience finding blogs you like, but perhaps you’re still looking for something new. There may be some ideas about where to look that you haven’t tried yet, so this post has some suggestions.

Of course, this just reflects my own interests; yours may be very different. In particular, I’m concerned here mostly only with blogs that actually have a lot of discussion of actual science. There’s a place for blogs that cover the writer’s extra-scientific interests, personal life, etc. Finding blogs with a broader scope is a different issue I’m not addressing here.

RSS feeds

I offer some of what seem to me to be the most interesting science blogs at my Bloglines page. The entries are organized into broad categories, so searching shouldn’t be too hard.

It’s not necessary to understand much about RSS. Use of the page is pretty self-explanatory. But using an RSS reader like Bloglines make scanning many blogs for new material pretty easy. Google Reader is perhaps an even better tool, but it’s not used for this list because it does not allow for making the list of feeds public.

Blog rolls

Once you have a certain number of blogs you know you like, my preferred method of finding new ones is simply by going through the “blog rolls” provided by the blogs you like best. These lists are usually presented in one of the blog’s side columns, but sometimes they may be on a separate page. Just go through the list one at a time, trying blogs you haven’t visited before (or recently).

Inevitably, many of the links will turn out to be dead ends. That will be obvious pretty quickly. But it does stand to reason that if you like the blog of the person who made the list, you will probably like some of the blogger’s choices.

I think I’ve put together a fairly good list at my main blog, Science and Reason. It’s not the same as what’s in the RSS feeds saved at Bloglines, and undoubtedly there have been blogs that have moved or disappeared since I last checked. But it’s a place to start.

Research Blogging

Research Blogging is a site hosted by Seed Media Group. It is not a single blog or group of blogs, but rather an “aggregator” that provides blog posts from many sources and all scientific fields. Posts are required to deal with research published in refereed journals or certain other professional venues. Posts may be contributed by any science blogger, not necessarily one on ScienceBlogs, as long as the stated criteria are met. This is an excellent way to scan recent research developments, as well as to become introduced to blogs you may not have been aware of.

Check here for Science and Reason posts on Research Blogging

Facebook NetworkedBlogs

If you’re a Facebook member (and who isn’t, these days?), there’s a useful application available called NetworkedBlogs. If you’re logged in to Facebook, simply go to the URL just given and select “Browse” from the menu at top, then select “science” from the menu on the right. Or better yet, just go straight to here. What you’ll get is the “Top 50 blogs in science”, ranked by number of “followers”. This gives you a selection of blogs to start with. You can click on the picture or name of any blog that looks interesting to get more information about it. That includes a description of the blog, appropriate tags (which can be searched for other blogs with that tag), recent blog posts, links to other users who are following the blog, and a list of other blogs that may be similar.

Hit the big blue “Follow” button for any you want to add to your personal list. Once you’ve followed a few blogs, you can go to your personal page (“Profile” from the menu at top) to see the list of blogs you’ve selected to follow. (Clicking the checked “Follow” button again will remove it from the list.) Also, when you return to the NetworkedBlogs home page, you’ll see recent posts from the blogs you’re following.

There are a number of other things you can do to search for additional blogs. For example, selecting “Friends” from the top menu will show you a list of recent posts from blogs belonging to friends of yours. You’ll also have the option to get a list of all your friends’ blogs, or even of blogs that your friends follow (which won’t necessarily be related to science).

If you have a blog of your own that isn’t listed yet, you can add it here, or watch for a button labelled “Add a New Blog”. There’s also a way to use NetworkedBlogs to make it easier to add new posts from your blog to your Wall (go here).

By the way, the NetworkedBlogs page for Science and Reason is here. (Also accessible here.) Please follow it, and leave a comment on the Wall you’ll find there.

All in all, this is a pretty easy way for Facebook users to browse and discover new blogs.

Science blog networks

By this I mean groups of blogs that are usually hosted at a single site and have a uniform style and appearance. The blogs are usually listed by categories at the site’s main page. Sometimes blogs are included only by invitation of the hosting organization, while others are open to just about anyone. In either case, there will be quite a lot of variation from one blog to another, so there’s no guarantee that all the blogs will be high-quality and well-maintained.

Here are a few of the networks I know about:

Blogs on Nature Network

One has to join the Nature Network (which is open to anyone) and apply to start a blog, but the process doesn’t appear to be difficult, and it’s free. The blogs in this network are high-quality and deal mostly with real science. Separately, Nature also provides a (confusingly named) blog catalog: Nature Blogs, which is described below.

Scientific Blogging

This is a commercial operation, but it appears that anyone can start a blog on a science topic for no charge. Quality is a little uneven, but generally pretty good.

ScienceBlog

The frontpage content is drawn from selected press releases about scientific research, but readers can create their own blogs. Recent blog posts from readers, as well as the reader blogs are accessed from a separate page.

ScienceBlogs

The site is provided by a commercial organization, Seed Media Group, which provides several other online services and also publishes a print magazine. Blogging at the site is by invitation only, and most of the bloggers are science professionals or graduate students. Nevertheless, the quality is somewhat uneven, as the majority of blogs tend to deal with political and cultural issues, or personal/professional anecdotes – so there can be a lot to wade through in search of material actually covering scientific research. But the best of the lot are very good, and usually quite well known.

Blog catalogs and directories

A catalog or directory consists of links and short descriptions of blogs that are actually hosted elsewhere. The directory may allow additions by anyone or only entries selected by editors. The latter, naturally, tend to have much higher quality content. However, in the better open directories, there are mechanisms for ratings by such means as traffic analysis, link popularity, reader voting, etc. There’s a large diversity in how such catalogs and directories operate. Some are specifically for science blogs, while in others science is one category among many.

There are several desirable features to look for in a blog directory. One is the inclusion of tags to describe blogs, in addition to or instead of fixed categories. This takes some of the guesswork out of finding blogs that interest you, since blogs can have multiple tags associated with them. Another important feature, or set of features, is some sort of social networking capabilities, especially the ability to make “connections” with other users and to form groups of users interested in similar things. Other users can be very helpful in identifying blogs you want to read. It’s also helpful if there is a capability for including user comments and discussions on catalog entries.

You might want to take a look at the Wikipedia Blog directory page (now covering directories in general).

Here are some of the better examples of blog catalogs:

Nature Blogs

Included in Nature’s stable of online sites is a decent blog catalog, and as you’d expect it’s specifically for science blogs. In addition to blogs maintained by Nature staff and contributors, outside blogs are also listed (upon approval). In addition to broad categories, tags can be assigned. Other convenient features are listings of recently approved blogs and blogs ranked by “popularity”. But perhaps the nicest feature is the listing of recent stories from Nature blogs and outside sources, together with commentary on them from other blog posting. This site is highly recommended.

Scintilla Sources: blogs

Scintilla is another corner of the Nature empire. It appears to be somewhat of an experiment for identifying important current science news stories by doing content analysis of a large number of sources, including blogs. The system will attempt to recommend articles from its sources that match a user’s interests. Social interest groups and connections are supported. But it is the actual list of article sources that Scintilla uses which is relevant for supplying a list of blogs to investigate. The Science and Reason blog has its own page at Scintilla.

Technorati: Science

Technorati is one of the old-timers in the blog tracking business, and it can provide a variety of kinds of blog information. One of its services is a directory, organized by category. Listed blogs are rated by “authority”, which is based on counting links to blog pages. This is, of course, not the same as blog traffic or some kind of judgment of actual quality. Technorati also provides a number of other types of search, such as by blog post tags and blogger-supplied keywords. Such searches may provide faster ways to locate blogs that deal with topics that interest you. The Science and Reason blog has its own page at Technorati, which you can add as a “favorite” if you log in to Technorati.

BlogCatalog.com: Science

BlogCatalog is a general-interest catalog that has a category specifically for science, and a few subcategories. Blogs are included upon owner’s suggestion, following review and approval. There are good social facilities including user profiles, friends, interest groups, and discussion boards. There are also flexible facilities for searching on various criteria. The Science and Reason blog has its own page at BlogCatalog, and can be added to a list of “favorites” if you have an account at BlogCatalog.

Best of the Web Blog Directory: Science

The Best of the Web Blog Directory is a general-interest catalog with a science category and a number of subcategories. Listings are determined by an editor – presumably not all submissions are accepted, so there is some bias towards quality. Short descriptions are provided. There are no social networking capabilities.

Blogged: Science

Blogged is a general-interest catalog with a science category and a number of subcategories. Blogs selected for inclusion are also rated by editors on a number of criteria, including “Frequency of Updates, Relevance of Content, Site Design, and Writing Style”. Listings are ordered with highest-rated sites first. Registered users of the site can add reviews of individual blogs. There are some social networking capabilities. The Science and Reason blog has its own page at Blogged, and you can “follow” it if you have an account at Blogged.

Bookmarking sites

Bookmarking sites are more informal than catalog sites. Any registered user can save bookmarks at the site, and optionally make bookmarks public, which is when they become useful to others. (Sites that don’t provide public bookmarks aren’t considered here.)

Most bookmarking sites allow for bookmarking any type of page, not just blogs and blog pages. Usually there is no way to limit browsing and searching only to blogs, unless something has been specifically tagged as a blog. All current bookmarking sites support tagging, so that one can search for general or specific pages using appropriate tags. Ordinarily it is specific articles within a blog that are bookmarked, although sometimes blog home pages will be bookmarked. There are some quite good bookmarking sites oriented towards academic users, such as Connotea, CiteULike, and BibSonomy. However, these are used mostly for bookmarking journal papers and other academic material.

Probably the best way to use bookmarking sites to find blogs is to search for fairly specific tags related to scientific topics, such as “quantum computing”. Most results will involve specific pages – examination of those results should lead you to appropriate blogs.

Most bookmarking sites now have basic or extensive social networking tools, which can also be helpful. I have a table of some of the leading bookmarking sites here. Among those, the following may be particularly useful:

Twine

Twine is a fairly untraditional bookmarking site with several attractive features. Public bookmarks are stored in “twines”, which are topical areas, usually somewhat narrow in scope. Tags are associated with twines rather than individual items. The system analyzes user choices in order to make recommendations on other items or twines a user might like. Users can “connect” to other users, but there are no special interest groups other than the twines themselves.

Delicious

Delicious is one of the oldest and most popular bookmarking sites. It has especially good support for tags associated with bookmarked items, in that you can search for items that have all of a specified set of tags. You can also group set of items with related tags into “bundles”. All search results can be accessed with RSS feeds. On the other hand, the social networking facilities are somewhat weak – no groups or detailed user profiles, for instance.

Diigo

Diigo is a relatively new bookmarking tool that has a fairly large number of features. For instance, you can call up a list of sites you have saved bookmarks from, and view recent additions to the site. You can also get a list of public bookmarks on the site that other users have saved. (The page for the Science and Reason blog is here.) Bookmarked items can have associated tags and also be grouped into “lists”. Diigo has extensive social networking features, including special interest groups. (There is a special interest group for the Science and Reason Network, which you are invited to join.)

StumbleUpon

StumbleUpon is one of the newer breed of “Web 2.0” bookmarking tools with extensive social networking facilities. Registered users submit site links to sites or pages (usually the latter) that they especially like. The service allows search based on tags that are specified along with the submission. Not all submissions are blogs or blog pages, of course. Users can provide reviews or simply vote to “like” an item, so there is plenty of feedback on item quality. You can also view pages and sites at random to provide feedback on what your interests are. There are many special interest groups, including a lot for science and technology.

Blog search engines

Blog search engines are much like ordinary Web search engines, except they restrict their searches to separate blog posts rather than entire pages. That’s important, and not as trivial as it may sound. It’s not always clear (especially to a search engine) what is or isn’t a blog – and that’s important if blogs are what you’re looking for.

Blog search engines know how to recognize blogs, and find individual posts rather than whole pages. Yet searches can be done in the usual way for posts that contain specific words. More advanced searches can be done for posts that contain all of a set of words, or some words but not others, or specific phrases.

If you’re looking simply for blogs that deal with areas of interest to you, use searches to find terms or phrases that are especially likely to be used.

Technorati

Technorati is especially good for searching blogs because it keeps track of blogs that attach explicit tags to their posts. So that in addition to performing simple or complex searches for posts containing specific terms, searches can also be done on just the tags that were attached to posts. You can also do a search for other blogs that link to a specified blog.

Google Blog Search

A Google blog search is just like a regular Google search except for being restricted to blog posts instead of arbitrary pages. In particular, the usual types of advanced searching are available. The blog search home pages allows you to get a default set of top stories currently on blogs, and in various specific categories, including science. RSS feeds for blog searches are readily available (unlike in ordinary search, where it’s harder).

Icerocket Blog Search

Icerocket has been around quite a long time – even before Google took on blogs. It does blog searches well, and other kinds of searches besides – including general Web pages, news, images, and MySpace. It has also kept up (somewhat) with the times, and now does Twitter searches too. Best of all, you can quickly switch to a different kind of search if you’re not satisfied with what you’ve found already. One more nice feature is that you can turn most searches into RSS feeds, for use anytime in the future.

BlogPulse

The search capabilities of Nielsen BuzzMetrics’ BlogPulse are somewhat more limited than other blog search engines. And since the purpose of the search engine is oriented towards marketing concerns, its coverage of specialized blogs with relatively low traffic – like most science blogs – is not especially complete. But is has one interesting feature, which is the ability (called “trend results”) to display in graphical form the frequency over time of new results in particular searches. A surge of results in a period of a few days, for example, might suggest that some interesting news came out in that time frame.