Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blogging for search engines

Related to my last post about the failings of Web 2.0 in biology, I want to ask the meta-question: Why do we blog? David Crotty proposes four reasons: Communication with other science bloggers, with non-specialists, with journalist and finally with search engine users. Unless you are a fairly well-known person, your regular audience will consist of your colleagues, collaborators and a random grad student or two. A journalist might only come by if you managed to get a press release about a Nature/Science/... paper out. But, Googlebot won't fail you and read all you posts!

Insightful blog posts won't stay without an audience. For one, the small circle of followers to your blog will spread the news if you write something worth sharing. Far more important are search engines. How do you survey a research area of interest? Most of us will query PubMed, but also do a Google search in the hope that some meaningful analysis is somewhere on a course website, in the text of a paper or maybe even in a blog.

Biologists use Google to query for their proteins of interest. STRING is a fairly successful database, and lots of people google for it by name. However, almost one quarter of all visitors from Google have actually searched for a protein name (random example) and found STRING. If you follow Lars J. Jensen's lead and publish your research observations and dead ends online, someone might serendipitously find them and use them for their own research. This will be the next steps towards open science (with open data, open notebooks—which we might never reach): "Publishing" small findings, data and back stories about papers on your blog, enabling others to gain insight.

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