Ten Years!

On Monday I was at a meeting at MIT. When it broke up in the afternoon, I breathed a sigh of relief. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together lots of people who share science in one way or another–in museums, on Facebook, at street fairs, in books, and so on–and have them talk about what they saw in the future. Thankfully, I got to the end of the day without anyone stopping to say, “Now, we really need to talk about how blogging is going to change the landscape. Carl, maybe you could stand up and explain how blogs work?”

I had reason to dread this, because I’ve experienced variations of it over the years. People were wondering whether blogs were here to stay long after they had infiltrated the entire body of journalism. But it seems that, at long last, no one even thinks of blogs as something new and strange. And it felt particularly satisfying to me to go unbothered on that point this particular week. Because today marks the tenth anniversary of The Loom.

It’s hard to escape reflection when a ten-year anniversary rolls around. In 2003, starting a blog was still something people did as an experiment, or as a short-cut around traditional publishing, or as an open journal. Science blogs–the few that were around at that point, at least–were a mix of journal-club-like musings on new papers or righteous rants by scientists about bad reporting on science. As I got familiar with the software (because blogging is, when you get down to it, publishing software), I used it to write essays about science, toy with video, and find other ways to be a science writer than what I’d been doing up to then. (Like curating science tattoos.)

I don’t think many people blogging about science in 2003 would have guessed at the upheavals that would sweep across journalism in the years that followed. I certainly didn’t. And I was also surprised at the vague suspicion that somehow we science bloggers were to blame for the shuttering of newspaper science sections across the country. I was even more surprised to find myself in journalism classrooms where teachers asked me to explain the laws of good science blogging. When I said that blogging was software, and that you could make up your own rules, my answer did not satisfy. Clearly, blogging had achieved a cultural heft if rules were now required.

Its peculiarity dwindled as big publications established their own blogs. But the online world was also concocting new ways to communicate (or waste time, depending on your view of such things). Twitter and other outlets lured people away who wanted to have public conversations but didn’t want to learn WordPress. (I will spare you the “In my day, you had to build your blog from twigs and paper clips!” rant.) Recently, some high-profile blogs shut down, and so now we’re getting routinely exposed to think-pieces declaring that blogging is dead.

Does that mean that the Loom at ten is a zombie publication? I don’t think so. And I think the “blogging is dead” meme overlooks how bloggy all journalism has become. While blogging is just software, it has fostered certain social behaviors–an informality, a personal voice, a willingness to hear other voices such as commenters, an interest to respond to those voices, and a dedication to backing up claims with evidence in the form of links. Those behaviors now extend far beyond publications that we arbitrarily identify as blogs.

That’s not to say that these behaviors don’t pose their own challenges. Popular Science, for example, has gotten so tired of trolls in their comments that on Tuesday they simply shut down comments altogether on their stories. While I have no intention of shutting off comments on the Loom, I certainly appreciate how unpleasant a few commenters can make a thread with anti-scientific rants, insults, narcissism, and other conservational toxins. That’s why I keep an eye on comments and intervene when they break dinner-party rules. But I have always been well aware that I can always shut comments down–because blogging is software, and turning comments off is a feature of that software. I don’t think shutting down comments or banning trolls is automatically a cause for high dudgeon. After all, no one prevents even the nastiest trolls from starting a blog of their own for free. (“In my day, you had to pay for the privilege…” Oh, sorry again.)

For me, ironically, the biggest challenge for the Loom is that ever-expanding blogginess. In May, I started a weekly column for the New York Times, where I can write in a personal style about new developments in science that intrigue me. I write short essays sometimes for Slate or other publications. Ten years ago, by contrast, my options were stark. They were a) magazine features, b) newspaper articles, c) other. The Loom was the only place for Other. Now Other is everywhere.

So I’d love to hear from you about where you think I should steer the Loom in its next decade. The comment thread, after ten years, remains open.


13 thoughts on “Ten Years!

  1. Looking forward to the next 10 years, Carl, in all the media you use so well — blogs, books, magazines, newspapers and whatever else may evolve!

  2. Congratulations on your 10 year anniversary! You have a fantastic blog here. I have wondered why you named it the ‘Loom’ ?
    I don’t have any suggestions (at this time) for where you should steer the Loom, however, your willingness to take suggestions speaks volumes about your excellence as a leader in the field of science communication.

  3. Congrats Carl! My two cents would be any direction that would intrigue and educate young learners. Your articles on the microbiome, arsenic life, C. diff and the genome and epigenetics are mainstays in my class. As well as Ed Yong, Deborah Blum, David Dobbs etc. The kids get exciting educational insights into current science as well as science journalism. Maybe science journalism will go in a more multimedia direction like the NYTimes Avalanche story or your History of Feathers TedEd video. And if teachers are really lucky, maybe a way to organize journalistic output by topic and complexity and use these to share lessons. Keep up the great work!

  4. Congratulations and thanks. Looking at my blog, I find that I linked to one of your posts in 2007 and about forty times since then.

  5. The Loom should continue to be a sort of port for your articles and other works. I have enjoyed the site as a kind of RSS feed for your works. This makes finding and reading your stuff so much easier and more enjoyable. I also love the additional comments added as commentary to your pieces that may be on other sites. I hope The Loom continues on in this tradition as a haven of excellent science writing!

  6. My undergraduate course assigned one of your articles as reading, and it linked to an dead blog, which linked to another dead blog, which linked here. That’s because we’re reading a photocopy of a paper and ink book, so the text is static. In other words, outdated technology doesn’t allow self updating. Anyhow, back in the 90s, I never would have thought I’d be reading books on a computer. So just consider all the implications for electronic books insofar as people can track what you read and when you read it, as well as have computers monitor activity for subversion against government authority. So, congratulations on 10 years of (hopefully) unfettered publication.

  7. I would like to thank you very much for providing the posts that you do here on this blog. It enriches my life and I am grateful that you are in a position to provide this info to those of us who read it.

  8. Kathy K, use his search engine for Moby Dick posts and you will find your answer in the form of a full post or mention of where to read his full post.

  9. Congratulations on the longevity in the face of adversity! How do you manage to put up with nit-picking nimrods who point out things like, “You probably meant ‘conversational’ rather than ‘conservational’ “? 😉

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