Last week (and weekend) I attended ScienceOnline 2011 as a sponsor for the second straight year. (You can find my reaction to last year's conference here.)
My immediate reaction to this year's conference is by no means unique or especially insightful, but I'll add my voice to the chorus: Anton Zuiker and Bora Zivkovic are passionate and skilled advocates of the science blogging community, and they put together a strong conference. (They got some essential help on the ground from other passionate advocates like Dawn Crawford.) They flat out DELIVERED for their community - an amazing accomplishment when you consider how much they had going on in their personal lives this year.
The conference program was solid. I won't be as ecstatic over the content as some because thankfully, ScienceOnline is not about me. I'm on the periphery of the science blogging community at best. I'm not a scientist, I'm not angling for a book deal, and I'm not a science journalist. I think it's also safe to say 2010 was the year of the "science blog network," and once Bora launches the Sci Am blog network I'm wondering just how many more science blogging networks we need at this point. Rather than more networks I think we'll see further "professionalization" of this online community on the individual level, just as we've seen in other blogging communities.
So here's what I'm looking at for the science blogging community in 2011 - will this be the year science bloggers have real influence beyond their own community? And if so, who will be the bridge figures that emerge to carry this influence forward?
For example, and I know this surprises some people (cough VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN cough cough), there is a lot of political discussion on science blogs, and for good reason. But the people who write and implement the public policies that affect all of us don't generally read science blogs. (Seriously, they don't. I checked.) Of course, Congressional staffers and political operatives DO read the political blogs - and they respond to political bloggers who write about science issues, regardless of how (un)informed those bloggers may be. Yes, there are some people who write competently about both topics, but I'd argue those people are more regularly recognized for their political writing - like Daily Kos' Greg Dworkin, who also manages the Flu Wiki. (I also note that one of the more widely read reviews of science blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum's new book came from Daily Kos, so maybe that's a start.)
There are several other examples, but I'm hopeful. #scio11's most important moments for me focused on the nexus of science communication and other important communities such as parenting. I walked away from them with new contacts and reasonably specific actions for follow-up. Some of the ideas that were actually born at #scio10 may bloom sometime before #scio12.
At this point I have many more questions than answers. But hey, it's January.