The ScienceOnline 2010 Conference was held over this weekend, and I'm proud that my company was one of the sponsors - and the only public affairs firm to sponsor. I hope it demonstrates our willingness to think beyond the trite, formulaic, "how you can drive sales with Twitter" world and directly support online communities that are doing much more than blogging about blogging.
There have been dozens of posts written by the conference participants - I thought I'd add my non-scientist perspective and reactions, as well as my warmest thanks to Anton Zuiker and Bora Zivkovic for their leadership in organizing the conference.
The first thing I noticed was rather typical of the blogging conferences and meetings I've attended - people are very excited to see each other. There was no question this was a community of like-minded souls who were thrilled to be among friends and colleagues. Some even talked about feeling somewhat isolated where they lived, and felt "at home" here. As a non-scientist with few friends in attendance, I could tell people were looking at me and wondering why I was there. (It happens.)
The second thing I noticed was how many members of the "mainstream" media were there not to cover the event, but to listen and learn. The Charlotte Observer, Reuters, The American Scientist, US News & World Report, and dozens of freelance stringers were there. The Federal government had people here as well - NASA, Energy, EPA, and NIH were represented. So there's obviously a core group of people who see this community as essential to their communication and professional efforts in 2010 and beyond.
There were also a lot of bloggers who had very specific and strategic professional goals and pursued them in earnest. Lots of bloggers/writers wanting to score book deals, get paid writing gigs, things like that. I hadn't seen that before.
And while this wasn't present in all the sessions, the "bloggers vs. journalists" meme was clearly an underlying struggle in many panel discussions. In the PR world we have similarly distracting discussions that focus on nomenclature. To my new friends in the science world let me offer this piece of advice: let it go. It doesn't matter. And to those who insist it does, I say go write a 30-volume treatise on the topic, and get back to me when you're finished so I can throw it away.
Finally, there were a few things that really gave me hope that the science community can extend beyond its current discussions and engage others on important issues. Science journalism is more niche now, and there are fewer mainstream pubs that make a point of sharing science with lay audiences. Scientists must bypass mainstream media more often and speak to people directly through social media channels.
To that end I was excited to learn about Scienceforcitizens.net and to know that so many science bloggers want to have an impact on the issues that affect everyone. Building conversations across communities is a very difficult thing to do, but there are people who are passionately committed to doing this, and I hope I have the chance to work with them.