The state of the Geoblogosphere – geoscience communication in the social web
Science blogs are new and rapidly evolving media in the social web. In the last years, several hundred geoscience professionals and students have started their own Earth science blogs. Serious concerns exist about the credibility of scientific blogs but until now, no info has been published on the geoblogosphere’s motivation and the writer’s societal and scientific backgrounds. Here we present data from an online survey with 78 participants and from analysis of more than 200 Earth science blogs.
Our survey shows that a majority of persons writing geoblogs are young, male, and academic. Most live in the USA and Europe. Collectively, their main motivation to blog is to share knowledge and to popularize the geosciences. Blogging is also seen as an opportunity to improve the authors’ writing skills, perform outreach, establish new contacts, and positively influence their careers. The rapid dissemination of news has been cited as an important advantage of the geoblogosphere.
Bloggers suggest that their own work is the most important source of ideas for new blog posts, followed by the analysis of recent scientific publications. Reading preferences differ from writing preferences, with most surveyed geobloggers seeking rigorous analysis of scientific news and research. Topics covered are diverse but are currently dominated by paleontology and the narration of bloggers’ personal experiences.
Geobloggers perceive their activities as building up their professional network, enhancing their scientific eloquence, and generating a useful educational and outreach tool. Geoblogging may have the potential to evolve into an important part of the modern geoscience working environment.
Lutz Geißler1, Robert Huber2 and Callan Bentley3
109599 Freiberg, Germany
2MARUM, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
3Northern Virginia Community College, 8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA 22003 USA
Knowledge dissemination through the World Wide Web has changed extensively over the past decade. This change has been based on free and user-friendly web tools enabling individuals to publish their own news and opinions via the Internet. One of these tools is the web log (usually contracted to “blog”).
A web log is a website that is frequently updated. It offers news and commentary published as categorized posts, including text, images, media objects and data (e.g., Nardi et al., 2004; Westner, 2004; Winer, 2003). The site is organized in reverse chronological order with the most recent posts at the top of the page. Depending on the number of readers, a blog may serve as an interactive tool for discussions, knowledge exchange and networking. The author of a blog (the “blogger”) pursues a form of micro-publishing (William and Jacobs, 2004) within an intellectual zone of cyberspace called “the blogosphere” (Quick, 2002).
The size of the blogosphere is difficult to estimate, but there were between 112 million (Shadbolt and Burners-Lee, 2008) and 133 million blogs in 2007/2008 (Winn, 2008). The popularity of blogging rose extremely in 2007/2008 (Sifry 2006, 2007). Schott (2007) suggested that blogs became so popular because blog software offers a much easier method of web publishing than hand coding. All blogs automatically generate news feeds for content syndication (so called “RSS feeds”, standing for “Really Simple Syndication”), making blog content easy to discover by search engines and easy to follow by subscribers.
This ease of publication not only resulted in an increase of individuals’ online diaries, but also affected semi-professional and professional blogs, e.g., community blogs, corporate blogs, and scientific blogs (William and Jacobs, 2004). Bonetta (2007) estimated the number of science blogs at 1,000 – 1,200. The actual quantity is much higher with respect to the establishment of large science blogging platforms or “collectives” in recent years (e.g., scienceblogs.com, scientopia.org, Nature Network Blogs).
The first geoscientific blogs were released in 2001 with “Green Gabbro” (Bentley, 2008) and in 2003 with “Andrew’s Geology Blog”. Building on the term “blogosphere”, blogging geoscientists soon established “geoblogosphere” as shorthand for the entirety of the geoblog community, including bloggers and readers.
In January 2010 the “Geoblogosphere News” aggregator by Huber et al. (2009) had tallied 265 blogs dealing with Earth sciences. This represents an increase in the size of the geoblogosphere of more than 100 % compared to the previous year.
Serious concerns about the credibility and trustworthiness of science blogs have been raised (Ashlin & Ladle, 2006). But no systematic approach to characterize the geoblogosphere has been carried out yet. Similarly, the geoblogging phenomenon has been incompletely documented. What is the geobloggers’ motivation to write? What is their background, both societally and scientifically? What are their information sources? How do they assess the benefits and disadvantages of blogging? What role will geoblogging play for the future working of the Earth sciences?
The first data on geoblogs were collected by Bentley (2008) who conducted a short online survey with 46 participants representing approximately 50 % of the geoblogosphere at that time (Geißler, 2009). Another geoblog-survey was started in August 2009 (female participants: n = 91) to investigate geoblogs as a resource and social support network for women geoscientists (Hannula et al., 2009a, 2009b; Jefferson et al., 2010). This survey included bloggers (n = 36) and blog readers.
With the rapid development of geoblogging, the authors extended and reissued the survey of Bentley (2008), supplemented by data from statistical and semantic analysis of more than 200 Earth science blogs. The study presented here is the first comprehensive attempt to characterize the geoblogosphere from the bloggers’ point of view.
3. Methodology and representation
As the survey targeted geobloggers, it was conducted online, voluntarily and anonymously, using GoogleDocs web-software. The survey comprised 29 questions about demographic data, the respondents’ blogging and reading habits, their perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of geoblogging, and their perceptions of the influence of blogging on their careers (Table 1). The questions were phrased mainly in multiple-choice style. Individual comments could be added at the respondents’ option. To reach as many geobloggers as possible, the survey was offered in English, Spanish, French and Russian. The survey started on October 1 and closed on November 30, 2009. Participants were recruited through the authors’ and other geoblogs, but also through other social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
The geobloggers who participated in the survey (n = 78) represented approximately 30 % of the known geoblogosphere at the time of surveying, albeit it is unknown to which extent Asian (especially Russian, Indian and Chinese) and African bloggers contribute to the worldwide geoblogosphere. Thus, the results represent the “western”, mostly English-speaking, geoscientific community.
The survey results below may not be statistically representative due to this passive, self-selective recruitment of the participants. This self-selection may cause a statistical bias of the results with respect to the actual geoblogosphere. As noted in Babbie (2001), however, nonprobability sampling can be acceptable, where random probability sampling is not possible. The match of the general age distribution in the worldwide blogosphere (Sussman, 2009) with the data presented herein (see subsection 3.1), suggests at least a representative demography.
In addition to the survey results, we present statistical and semantic data collected by the “Geoblogosphere News” aggregator (Huber et al., 2009). The aggregator scanned the summaries of news feeds of all listed geoblogs (n = 265 as of January 5, 2010). Besides general statistical data, e.g., the frequency of posts, we present data on topics covered geologic time periods described and geographical coverage. “Geoblogosphere News” uses Yahoo!’s term extraction service to extract keywords and topics, Metacarta’s geotagging services (Rauch et. al, 2003) to detect the geographical areas of interests covered by blog posts, as well as Stratigraphy.Net’s agetagging service (Huber & Klump, 2008) to identify the geochronological coverage of blog posts.
The demographic and social background of the geoblogosphere is quite variable but shows some clear patterns. 57.7 % of the bloggers are 25 to 40 years old, whereas an additional of 30.8 % are geobloggers in their 40’s and 50’s. Minory populations in the geoblogosphere are very young bloggers (18-24: 7.7 %) and older bloggers (61-68 yrs: 3.8 %).
Most geobloggers are male (78.2 %) and live in the USA (51.3 %), followed by Spain and Germany with 11.5 % each, and Great Britain (7.7 %; Fig. 1).
Most of the geobloggers have an academic background. One-fifth (21.8 %) of the respondents hold Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts as their highest degree. The majority achieved a Master or a comparable degree (35.9 %), followed by 32.1 % of the surveyed bloggers who hold a PhD. Only 9.3 % stated a lower degree, e.g., an Associate in Applied Arts & Science (AAS) degree, or a high school graduation.
Most geobloggers are either graduate students or teaching and researching staff on university faculties (Table 2; Fig. 2). One third work as freelancers, consultants, and in industry. Unemployed bloggers, undergraduate students and educators without research activities are represented in equal shares. Researchers in the public sector (e.g., in geological surveys), post-doctoral researchers who do not teach, and museum researchers are not as represented as their colleagues teaching at universities.
Most of the geobloggers publish a new article (or blog “post”) once to several times a week (35.9 %) or a month (33.3 %). Only 12.8 % publish one or several blog posts per day. The remaining bloggers (17.9 %) publish their articles irregularly (Fig. 2). The geoblogosphere average is 0.37 new posts per day (median: 0.21) or 1 new post every 2.7 days (Fig. 3). This contrasts with the calculation of Bentley (2008) calculated, who found an average of 0.55 posts per day in his survey. The difference may be accounted for by considering some extraordinarily active blogs with an average rate of up to 3.6 posts per day (Bentley, 2008), which did not participate in the current study.
The first geoblog ascertained by the survey started in June 2003. There was a remarkable jump in the quantity of geoblogs at the end of 2007 (Fig. 4). Only one third of the participants created their blog prior to August 2007. The remaining two thirds started their blog between August 2007 and the beginning of 2008 as well as in the second half of 2009. These pulses of explosive growth in the geoblogosphere in the last three years reflect the general trend in the worldwide blogosphere.
On the other side, data derived from the “Geoblogosphere News” aggregator (Huber et al., 2009) indicate that at least 17.4 % of the geoblogs are inactive (46 out of 265 show blogging inactivity of at least 6 months). 18.9 % of the geoblogs seem to be temporarily inactive (latest post is older than 1 month but younger than 6 months). Geoblogs with new entries in the most recent month are classified as active blogs (63.8 %).
The topics geobloggers write about are quite diverse. About 60 % of the bloggers (n = 78; a = 479) stated that general geology is a subject of their posts (Table 3). Sharing personal geological anecdotes with the community (46 %) and paleontology (44 %) are the other frequent topics. Subjective topics including personal stories, as well as experiences in teaching and education, travel reports, posts about the blogger’s own research, field work or field trip diaries, and political issues account for 36 % of all answers. In contrast, geoscientific research topics make up 59 %. Paleontology is the most popular geoscientific field in the geoblogosphere, followed by geomorphology, climate change, sedimentology and biology (Fig. 5).
Monothematic blogs are rare. Instead, geobloggers embrace a variety of sources of inspiration (Fig. 6). The majority of geobloggers write 91-100 % of their posts about geoscience-related topics (72 % of them exclusively). Only 8 % of the geoblogs contain less than one-third geoscientific posts (Fig. 7).
The statistics of the “Geoblogosphere News” aggregator database (Huber et al., 2009) allow a more specific view on the geoblog topics by analyzing the most used general geologic and stratigraphic terms, and names of locations and countries in the news feeds of 265 geoblogs (Table 4). According to this automated compilation of data, 40 % of the blog posts which contained stratigraphic terms cover the Mesozoic, 34 % deal with the Paleozoic, 25 % are about the Cenozoic, and 1 % discuss the Proterozoic.
The (western) geoblogosphere is dominated by American bloggers who write in English. This observation is clearly supported by the geographic coverage of blog posts: 48 % of all country names found in blog posts refer to the United States of America, followed by only 5 % for Spain, and 4.0 % for Brazil.
Besides their own blogging activities, 96 % of the respondents read at least two other geoblogs. 59 % of the survey participants get some of their ideas for new posts from reading other blogs. Most of them read 10, 15 or up to 30 blogs (20 %, 14 % and 8 % of all geobloggers, respectively; n = 77). One-fifth of the respondents follow only 2 to 8 blogs (22 %), whereas far fewer of them (17 %) read more than 30 to more than 100 other geoblogs. They generally read what they write about. Thus, general geology, paleontology, and personal geo-stories are favorite readings (Table 3).
Interestingly, and in contrast to their own writing preferences, geobloggers prefer reading about “hard” geoscientific facts and analysis (e.g., geomorphology, sedimentology, volcanology) rather than reading personal experiences and opinions (e.g., field trip diaries, travel reports). Furthermore, posts about teaching and education or climate change are frequently published but attract less attention by geoblog readers (Fig. 5).
Motivation of geobloggers
There were two main reasons that surveyed bloggers offered as their motivations for writing their blogs. They want to 1) inform, educate and share their knowledge and 2) popularize the geosciences (Table 5). Furthermore, one third of the geobloggers stated they want to get in contact with other people. One fifth wants to give support to the community. Beside these externally directed motives, there are several internal reasons relating to the enhancement of the blogger’s own skills and competencies, e.g., improving writing ability and the own understanding of a topic, gaining experience and inspiration, presenting their opinions, and receiving support and feedback. Moreover, some see blogging as a way they can improve their ability to represent scientific ideas more confidently in professional circles (Table 5). Approximately one-third of geobloggers use their blog to document their own research activities.
The reasons survey respondents gave for blogging are mostly similar to the respondents’ perceived advantages of the geoblogosphere (Table 6). The rapid dissemination of news and information is the most valued attritbute. Another important aspect is improved access to information and news. About 60 % of the bloggers reported that they like the friendly atmosphere of the geoblogosphere. Geobloggers appreciate the possibility to gain new perspectives and insights; they further like the meaningful discussions and feedback. As readers they like the diversity of specialized topics. As writers they favor the wide audience they reach in the geoblogosphere. Networking, the community involvement and personal connections between the bloggers play a comparable role (Table 6). One-fifth of the respondents cited their appreciation in being mentored and supported by other bloggers.
Geobloggers see more positive aspects to the existence of the geoblogosphere (450 survey responses) than negative aspects (135 responses).
The maindisadvantages cited were the lack of enough geobloggers and enough blogs of professional geoscientists, or the absence of a centralized overview of existing geoblogs (Table 7). Of those surveyed, 6 participants mentioned that there is nothing they don’t like about the geoblogosphere. One fifth of bloggers cited the substantial amount of time that it takes to write a blog. Interestingly, only 9.0 % of the geoscientists who participated in the survey expressed concern with the theft of scientific ideas that they post in their blog. Of those who blog about their own research three out of four bloggers suggested that they were not afraid of being plagiarized. Another disadvantage which may be particular to geologists is seen in the low level of blogging activity during the boreal summer as many geoscientists are doing field work at this time. Many participants added a variety of individual disadvantages to the given list of answers (Table 7). One participant stated that there are relatively few female geobloggers – an observation this study confirms.
Geoblogs, Web 2.0 and the community
Most participants in our survey (89 %) use online software to host their blog. Another 11 % are equipped with their own server or have their own webspace to publish their blog. The predominant web application for creating a blog is Blogger, a Google application used by 67 % of all surveyed geobloggers. Another popular blogging platform called WordPress is used by 17 % of the respondents.
One of the widely-perceived advantages of the geoblogosphere is the active participation in an international geo-community. Bloggers follow other geoblogs, comment on recent posts, and connect with geoscientists worldwide. In the last years several collaborations between geobloggers were started. Two of these online projects are “The Accretionary Wedge” and “The PodClast”. The former is a geoscience blog “carnival” started in August 2007. Every monthly carnival is dedicated to a geoscientific topic to which the geobloggers are invited to submit relevant posts. The submissions are then summarized and published at the Accretionary Wedge website (The Accretionary Wedge, 2010). The PodClast is a geoscience podcast (an audio-only file available, e.g., via iTunes) with episodes. It is formatted as a discussion with a variable number of participants. Almost half of the geobloggers who responded to the survey questions had not yet taken part in these collaborations. In contrast, 40 % had participated in the Accretionary Wedge and 13 % had contributed to the PodClast. Furthermore, one fifth of the geobloggers contributed to other geoscience blog carnivals, and 9 % joined other collaborations of geobloggers, e.g., geoblogger meetups at conferences, geology memes (= a “fad” topic explored by multiple blogs, usually in quick succession), cross-promotions with other geoblogs, or field trips.
One measure of the degree of networking in the geoblogosphere is the ways in which bloggers follow other geoblogs. About two thirds of them visit a blog directly, 59 % are subscribed to RSS feeds, and 30 % use an aggregator service. Some geobloggers additionally follow blogs via the social networking sites Twitter, Facebook or FriendFeed. Of the aggregator users, 30 % visit the “Geoblogosphere News” aggregator, 22 % use aggregators provided by other geoblogs, and 48 % combine both sources. Most of geobloggers use additional social web media. 70 % of those surveyed are also users of Facebook, and 44 % use Twitter. 12 % utilize additional applications, such as Flickr, Picasa, Youtube, studiVZ, Tumblr, FriendFeed, Xing, Netvibes, and Issuu. Only 17 % of those surveyed focus exclusively on blogging.
Another measure of networking is the conversation that takes place via comments on each blog post. On average, 45 % of surveyed geoblogs get less than 1 comment per post. An additional 18 % achieve an average of 1 comment per post. 2-5 comments per post were reported by 32 % of surveyed geobloggers. Only 5 % reach more than 6 comments per post.
Geoblogging and the careers of geobloggers
Our online survey included two questions concerning the relationship between geoblogging and the participants’ current jobs and future careers (Table 8). Two fifths of surveyed bloggers reported that their employers either had a neutral attitude or displayed a positive assessment of their geoblogging. Interestingly, 23 % (n = 61) of the male respondents but only 6 % (n = 17) of the female geobloggers get positive feedback from their employer or supervisor. Women who participated in the survey reported that their blogging activity is mostly assessed neutrally (24 %).
Survey respondents’ self-assessment of possible advantages and disadvantages due to geoblogging is overall quite positive. Half of the respondents think that blogging will positively influence their career. For instance, one respondent said, “it’s a good way to increase your contact network, learn new things, get noticed, and probably get job or research opportunities.” Another commented that “communication and the dissemination of information is what we do. Blogging just shows that you have taken the initiative to go beyond the expected.” Along similar lines, one respondent said that “my job includes public education about paleontology as a component. My blog has been my most successful single effort to that end.”
Only a minority of the geobloggers suggested that blogging will likely have a negative impact on their career (Table 8). Interestingly, male geobloggers are twice as likely to think that blogging will influence their career in a positive way, as compared to female geobloggers (57 versus 29 %).
The fact that about 37 % of all surveyed geobloggers do not know how their supervisor would evaluate their blogging activity could be one of the main reasons why 22 % of the participants blog anonymously. Women are more cautious about blogging under their own name (53 %) compared to male geobloggers (85 %).
A blogger is both an author and a publisher. Playing both roles results in an efficient and fast way to share news and information to the public. Additionally, articles written by blogging scientists may provide information in a richer context than mainstream media are able to offer (Bonetta, 2007). This is supported by the result that “rapid dissemination of news and information” is seen by survey respondents as one of the greatest benefits of the geoblogosphere (Table 6). Topical blogs act as communication channels to distribute and discuss new scientific advances (Carter, 2005; Jiménez Hidalgo and Salvador Bruna, 2007) and provide a novel venue to contribute to the vitality of scientific conversation.
Reading other geoblogs appears to be an important part of the online networking of blogging geoscientists. It influences their perspectives and the topics they opt to write about on their own blog. Even though most of the bloggers reported getting inspiration from other geoblogs, we were unable to verify a significant correlation between the rate of daily posts and the number of blogs read. One of the reasons for this may be time: time spent reading is time not spent composing. Many of the surveyed geobloggers see blogging as a way to improve their own skills in writing, understanding, and discussion. Students especially perceive benefits, as writing their own blog provides space to reflect and publish their thoughts and understanding, and may help generate new ideas through discussion and feedback. Additionally, blogging provides an international network of contacts.
We observe a contrast between the “networking” character of the geoblogosphere and the number of comments on the blogs. One would think that commenting would partly be a proxy of the degree of network activity. More than 60 % of all surveyed geobloggers receive one comment or fewer per post. This is partially explained by the content of the blog posts. Many posts are written as short news articles or announcements without any content to discuss. Only some of the published posts are of such comprehensive, controversial or otherwise interesting content that the material itself invites intense discussion. Further, the survey results show that the bulk of commenting is concentrated at few large and very active blogs. Due to the limited amount of time for blogging, blog reading and commenting, it is probable that bloggers, on the one hand, see the composition of new blog posts as their priority rather than commenting. An additional factor may be that only a few large blogs have attracted a sufficient number of followers necessary for deep discussions.
Blogs have potential to be used as educational tools. In the past several years, several studies have shown that blogs support collaborative, participative learning (Agostini et al., 2009; Hall and Davison, 2007), increase student and teacher relationships, improve flexibility in teaching and learning (Ferdig and Trammell, 2004), and teach students the art of scientific argument (Moore, 2008). In the geosciences specifically, blogs can be powerful instruments to visualize geological phenomena, present annotated field trip guides, or accompany geo-educational projects like “Earth Learning Idea”, which supports teachers and teacher-trainers with Earth-related teaching ideas (King et al., 2008a, 2008b).
The fact that more than 78 % of the surveyed geobloggers write their blogs to acquaint laymen with geosciences suggests that geobloggers see blogging as being a form of geoscientific outreach work. One geoblogger wrote: “The whole goal of being a research scientist is to get your research out as quickly as possible to the widest possible audience. A well-known blog lets you do that very effectively. Our ideas reach people that they would never reach if they were only in our formal publications, and also act as a “gateway drug” to get people onto those publications where the ideas are worked out with full rigor.” Wilkins (2008) reached a similar conclusion; he argued that blogging should be understood as fundamentally outreach for science.
Meanwhile, public geoscientific institutions and societies focus more and more on blogging to increase their visibility to other geoscientists and to a wider public (e.g., AGU, 2010). This includes, for instance, blogs maintained by geological surveys, blogs about research expeditions, and conference blogs. The latter issue has been discussed by Bradley (2009) with the result that he evaluates conference blogs as more advantageous than not.
The characteristic mixing of scientific evidence and author’s opinion in blogs results in little acceptance by the broader scientific community (Bonetta, 2007). Some researchers assess blogging even as dangerous, a sort of “anarchy in science” (Research Information Network, 2010). Furthermore, there are reservations about blogging founded on the potential theft of scientific ideas. A recent study by the Research Information Network (2010) about usage of web 2.0 tools claimed that only 5 % of the bloggers they surveyed publish their work in progress openly. This pattern applies to geoblogs, too: most of the geobloggers we surveyed do not post their own scientific data and findings. Besides the fear of getting scooped, this may be attributed to the fact that many journals do not accept anything that has already been published (Amsen, 2006). Instead, the bloggers discuss scientific methodology or social, cultural and political issues concerning geosciences. In consequence, geoblogs may be best utilized as supportive tools for a discussion of scientific concepts and methods of the sort that a professional journal is not able to cover. Geoblogs offer the opportunity to be supplements to the existing geoscientific infrastructure, rather than to be a replacement for parts of it.
Blogs can be democratizing because there are no filters like supervisors or editors (Allison, 2009). This entails risks and advantages. As Minol et al. (2007) remarked, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between “correct” and “false” information in the internet. A study by Johnson and Kaye (2004) indicates that blog users rate blogs as the most credible online medium. This disconnect may develop into a major problem for the scientific blogosphere regarding the reputation of blogs. Almost certainly, there will be blogs written that intentionally or unwittingly present false information (e.g., Wilkins, 2008). For example, in recent years some young-Earth creationists have begun to publish their own websites and blogs. Others have initiated discussions in the comments section of geoscience blog posts. As a result, some geoblogs were started principally to counteract this creationist movement. Their authors are motivated to face this and other politically charged tendencies (e.g., climate change denialism) with objectivity, reason, and intelligence. Ashlin and Ladle (2006) suggested that scientists should actively engage in blogging to increase the presence of informed opinions in the blogosphere.
Butler (2005) discussed the possibility of implementing a peer-review mechanism to increase researcher’s acceptance of blogging. This seems an unlikely development, because the spontaneity and interactivity that characterize blogging would be compromised (Ashlin and Ladle, 2006). In an informal sense, blogging may already provide a kind of review. Commenting on controversial, unsupported or incorrect blog posts as “public peer-review” (e.g., Batts et al., 2008) could offer a more flexible way to contribute to the assessment of the variety of information published on the Internet.
Maintaining and keeping a blog up-to-date is dependent on the blogger’s employment situation and the amount of time available for writing (Fig. 2). This is reflected by the high proportion of geobloggers who are graduate students or university faculty staff. Another reason for the high proportion of academics could be the proprietary nature of some information. Geobloggers working in industry could be more restricted in their blogging.
A comparison of the number of answers given to the questions about writing and reading topics (a = 479 and a = 700, respectively) indicates that geobloggers have a wider range of geoscientific interests than they are able to cover in their own blogs. The surveyed geobloggers write preferentially about “soft” geoscientific topics, but prefer reading “hard” professional facts and interpretations. Those surveyed expressed an interest in a greater number of blogs written by professional geoscientists. If blogging were accepted as part of the modern scientific working environment (e.g., Butler, 2005), it might promote more professional (geo)blogs with an increasing number of well-written posts.
Women geobloggers are especially concerned about blogging under their own name. Hannula et al. (2009a, 2009b) and Jefferson et al. (2010) showed that blogging may help female geoscientists find role models and may promote the recruitment and retention of women from undergraduate to faculty or industry careers. These benefits were seen as more likely to be realized if they refrain from using their own names (K. Hannula, 2010, personal communication).
Currently, the geoblogosphere is dominated by younger, highly qualified “web natives”. Senior scientists apparently have concerns with regards to the use new social media (Research Information Network, 2010). Ashlin and Ladle (2006) argued that these senior scientists should publish their own professional blogs to allay fears of younger scientists that blogging could be disreputable. It is one of the major challenges for the future of the geoblogosphere to keep today’s younger professional geobloggers writing when they enter higher career levels. This would be a promising way to establish geoblogging as a powerful tool for internal and external geoscientific communication, education and research (cf. Nentwich, 2009).
Our survey shows that the geoblogosphere is a topically widespread, fast-paced and growing community without geographic constraints, but with Anglo-American dominance. Geobloggers are highly motivated to educate and inform their readers, and to popularize the geosciences. Geoblogs show the potential to contribute to knowledge transfer from scientists to the general public, though they have yet to establish a reputation as a reliable source of geoscience information. Survey respondents indicate that blogs offer a novel route to enhance geoscientific competencies, knowledge and general skills. They may support career opportunities and increase professional networks. Geoblogging offers a promising route for some students and young geoscientists to find role models and mentoring. Geoblogs are contributing to enhanced scientific communication, networking, collaborations, and interdisciplinarity. Dealing with the major disadvantages of geoblogging will depend in part on the level of acceptance and support of geoblogging by geoscience societies, public institutions and professional geoscientists.
We would like to thank Patricio Valderrama Murillo, Sergey Devyatkin, and Daniel Höllen for translating the survey questions. The suggestions of four anonymous reviewers greatly enhanced the manuscript.
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