01 August 2011

The mysterious story of Scienceblogs and Freethoughtblogs

PZ without his makeup?
So I read the news, and pardon the pun, but at first I thought PZ Myers just read Scienceblogs.com its last rites:
A new blog network is hitting the web on August 1. Led by two of the most prominent and widely read secular-minded blogs in the country - PZ Myers' Pharyngula and Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars - Freethoughtblogs.com will, we hope, quickly become and important gathering place for atheists, humanists, skeptics and freethinkers in the blogosphere.

Freethoughtblogs will be more than just a place for people to read the opinions of their favorite bloggers. It will be a community of like-minded people exchanging ideas and joining forces to advocate for a more secular and rational world.
That's right - Scienceblogs.com's (now owned by National Geographic) most popular blogger - and the guy responsible for maybe half of its web traffic - is taking his "hottest" content to another site, and he's taking another Scibling with him. Perhaps adding insult to injury, Dr. Myers even used his perch at Scienceblogs as a tool to acquire technical support for Scienceblog's newest competitor after the new site crashed:
...What you can do to help is give us concrete recommendations for a better situation, either a Virtual Private Server or a dedicated host. Leave info, links, phone numbers, whatever in the comments, or email me so we can work out a deal fast...
So I'm thinking there isn't a non-compete clause in his contract. But here's what really made me say hmmm - an entry from Myers on Google+:
I will still be maintaining my relationship with Scienceblogs and National Geographic, but only select content will appear there: that is, science, anti-creationism, that sort of thing...the openly anti-religious material will be on FtB only. So if you're a Christian, you'll now be able to read Sb Pharyngula without crying (but don't fool yourself, I'll still be despising your foolish belief system); if you're a teacher, you'll be able to tell your students to read Sb Pharyngula without fearing the wrath of the PTA.
I'm sorry, I can't understand why National Geographic, the new owners of Scienceblogs.com, didn't just ask for a clean break.  It's clear they want to control content to fit their squeaky-clean brand, and it's clear Myers makes them very nervous.  But if you worry about these things, Myers is simply "radioactive."  This isn't the same thing as an actor who appears in movies rated "R" and then shows up in a Disney flick - You simply can't separate PZ Myers' content from his personal brand.

It creates issues for Myers too - it raises the perception that he agreed to be censored for a buck.  He's announced he's only going to put "science" content on SB - can he link to his other blog? Can he mention it? Will content that was previously published on SB that no longer meets NatGeo's brand standards be removed?

SEED Media's sad history of unresponsiveness to its bloggers' concerns, its hesitancy and dumbfounding silence in the aftermath of Pepsigate, and the slow pace of public transition to National Geographic has really set this network back.  SB still has a handful of good writers - Greg Laden, the ever-angry Orac, Isis, Mike the Mad Biologist, Sharon Astyk, to name a few - but now the network can't sell web traffic to advertisers, and that creates a new set of problems.


Craig said...

I get the impression from what he says that the science stuff will be mirrored on FtB as well? I might well end up carrying on with ScienceBlogs out of habit...

DNLee said...

You may be right about PZ, but I'm glad he's taking the anti-religious stuff off of Sb. I likes my science untainted with ugly rants

Kevin said...

I dunno, I think Sb will be OK. It won't be the same, certainly, but I'm already seeing quite a bit of traffic whenever my posts are linked to from the Nat Geo site. Once the change-over is official, I expect this will continue.

I get the occasional random hit from the pharyngula sidebar, but the vast majority of people going to read PZ and Ed go to read PZ and Ed, not to bum around the rest of Sb. Yes, they will take a huge chunk of traffic with them, but I think the rest of us will be ok.

Gadfly said...

PZ/Ed are WAY overcharging on their own ad rates. Otherwise, Natl Geo appears semi-craven.

Greg Laden said...

Let me clarify a few points in your post:

National Geographic does not own scienceblogs.com, did not take over scienceblogs.com or purchase it. We have an arrangement, an interesting one and one that I look forward to developing, but scienceblogs.com is still owned by Seed Media group, and Seed Media Group still runs it.

I am unaware of PZ's contract, but I am under the impression that all of our contracts are similar, even identical. I'm pretty sure there's never been any kind of non-compete clause, and in fact, that sort of thing is very much out of character for the nature of our arrangements within sb.com.

PZ has decided that he'll be more comfortable elsewhere, and that's understandable, but rumors of NGS intending on cracking down on content, etc. are pretty much inaccurate. My understanding is that they want to link to Sb.com posts that are appropriate, much like the New York Times (with whom we also have a relationship) does now except more elaborately. In fact, NGS is already linking to us in a very preliminary way. And, they will be selective in what they link to.

Interestingly, there was a discussion of standards and practices and I'm sure this is all secret, but I'll stick my neck out and tell you this: Scienceblogs actually had a standards and practice document, and once NGS got a look at it they said they'd be more than happy if we just stuck with that. I suppose I'll have to read the damn thing now!

NGS is not asking us to remove old content, cross linking and dividing up content is pretty much up to the individual bloggers and there are no restrictions or pressures. (I currently divide my content across three blogs, do lots of cross linking, and over the next few months that will shift so I'll prob. be dividing content among three blogs but a different list of them).

I don't quite get your point about censorship for a buck or how that works. Is this something I can get in on???? Prolly not...

Regarding Sb's lack of responsiveness to we bloggers, that's been blogged about quite a bit by PZ and yes, it is true; On the other hand, this could be thought of as a sort of "hands off" policy which has other benefits. Regarding the slow transition to developing NGS connections: All I'll say about that is that I turned the banner of my blog yellow when the NGS thing was first discussed. That was a Loooong time ago. So yeah, but things are starting to happen.

I look forward to seeing how Freethoughtblogs develops. I'm sure it will be an instant success because PZ and Ed bring so much to the table (PZ was the biggest blog at Sb.com, but Ed was not so small either). I'm looking forward to seeing how PZ divides up his content. I think Frethoughtblogs is a great project.

but now the network can't sell web traffic to advertisers, and that creates a new set of problems.

I haven't heard that!

Oh yeah, and I loved the crowd sourceing for the new server arrangement. I was at the car mechanic the other day wishing I could do that for my engine....

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