Bora and PalMD leave ScienceBlogs: What to do now?

I can’t believe it.

I really can’t believe it.

I really, really, really can’t believe it.

Bora has left ScienceBlogs.

Readers of just this blog probably don’t know what a body blow that is to the ScienceBlogs collective. Readers of multiple ScienceBlogs probably realize that Bora was the proverbial heart and soul of ScienceBlogs. It’s news that’s left Isis the Scientist speechless and GrrlScientist “deeply upset.” Even ScienceBlogs’ big macher PZ Myers has pointed out how Bora compared the situation here to to Bion’s Effect, where the departure of a few people at a party triggers a sudden end to the event. I don’t know whether Bora’s departure is the seismic shift that leads to the collapse of Sb or not, but I do know that it’s a wake up call to me that maybe I was too quick to go back to business as usual after our corporate overlords decided to invite a corporate blog to be added to the Sb stable as co-equals with the rest of us, hopelessly blurring the line between content and advertising.

Why is this such a big deal?

It’s because Bora, more than any of us, personified ScienceBlogs and what it was meant to be at the beginning. Bora, more than any other ScienceBlogger, put his work and sweat into trying to turn this unruly bunch of disparate and unruly bloggers into a real community, often more so than even management seemed to have done. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had some great “community managers” (or, as we like to call them, “cat herders”) over the last four and a half years, but over the last two years they don’t seem to have had much support. When someone like Bora decides to jump ship, someone who had been more committed than any other blogger to building ScienceBlogs as a collective and community, it signals that something is wrong. Very wrong. Mark Chu-Carroll’s departure, as jolting as it was (given that I am his blogfather, so to speak, having inspired him to start his blog) I could dismiss it as being due to his unique situation. After ScienceBlogs got rid of the corporate blog, I could then put Seed’s serious misstep out of my mind (mostly) and move on, taking a “wait and see” attitude.

Not so much after Bora leaves.

And not PalMD, either, who, shortly after Bora left, announced his departure from ScienceBlogs as well. PalMD and I are friends. We’ve hoisted brews together. We’ve worked together on another blogging project. I respect his writing, and I respect his ethics. If staying with Sb bothers him, then I start to wonder anew whether it should bother me more as well and whether taking a “wait and see” attitude is simply due more to inertia and laziness than anything else.

Still, I’m torn. As has been the case for both PalMD and Bora, by and large blogging at Sb has been a fantastic experience for me. I met people and made connections that I highly doubt would ever have happened if I had stayed at my old Blogspot blog. Being part of Sb at the beginning was fantastic. There was a palpable energy and purpose, and it was an honor to be part of it. Even though we were all very different, we bought into the shared vision. True, it may not have been possible to keep such a group on the same page as it tripled in number.

Even so, even as late as last year, Sb seemed to hold together remarkably well, even in spite of the occasional outbreak of internecine blog warfare among ScienceBloggers. This in spite of a deteriorating blogging infrastructure, a template design that was becoming more and more outdated by the month, and being not just passed but lapped in technology by other competing scienceblogging platforms. Last year, Seed Media Group was very late with blogger payroll not once but at least a couple of times. We (mostly) understood, as the economic meltdown of 2008 hit media companies hard. This year we’ve only just received our April paychecks. Of course, I don’t do this for the paycheck. If ScienceBlogs had never been created or had never invited me on board back in late 2005, I’d still be blogging, and doing it for free. However, if a company makes a contract, and I more than keep my end of the contract, doing far more than the minimum number of posts per week and watching my traffic quadruple since I’ve been here, it is not unreasonable to become disturbed when that company doesn’t keep its end of the bargain.

Despite all that, I still don’t know what I’m going to do. As I said, four and a half years is practically an eternity in the blogging world. That’s a lot of history, and it’s really hard to turn my back on all that. Others may be able to do it rather quickly and decisively, but I can’t. Part of me is seriously tempted to get out now while the gettin’s good, while another part thinks I should stay and try to be part of the solution–at least until ScienceBlogs either finds its way again or Seed Media Group forced to turn out the lights at the ScienceBlogs office. After all, I can move to doing this for free on a different blogging platform just as easily then as I could now. Which part of me will win out? I don’t know yet, but my guess is that a decision won’t be too long in coming. Maybe in the meantime I’ll go back and reread Bora’s post to remind me of why ScienceBlogs was so cool in the beginning and what’s gone so disappointingly wrong over the last year and a half.