If we look beyond blogs — which are really just a particular kind of website — to other websites not connected with print publications, what do we find lacking?
1. The big advantage of the web is that it makes it trivial to include photography, color illustrations, and graphic design with a text. In print publications, there are entire branches of people working on these aspects of design. What do we see on blogs, or other science-related websites?
2. Networks — a second big advantage of the web is hypertext. What do we see interesting there, other than linking to sites for quotes and reactions? Some networks have sprung up, like the Scienceblogs network, but the net effect has been to suck the life out of their graphic individuality. Sameness has some advantages, but if you want everything to look the same you can always use the feed.
3. Multimedia — from broadcast networks, we see some multimedia material in science. And there have been starts, like Science TV. I like to point people to the IHO’s site, Becoming Human, as a real standout. It’s good multimedia. But so far, the web has not done very well providing compelling and novel science content in these formats.
4. Interviews. Reporters interview people and find out their views. What we tend to get on websites is a monologue. The multimedia and hyperlinking capabilities of the web are perfect for including a rich documentary interview experience.
5. Editors help to make things understandable to nonspecialists. Some writers are good at self-editing, but even a great writer benefits from edits. Like multimedia collation and reporting, good editing happens behind the scenes. Few websites have a strong editor. That’s great for vanity projects, but not so great for public understanding.
6. Accessibility. This is the missing element in many online ventures. What to do about people who can’t read your text, or who can’t see your graphics or hear your podcast? One advantage of the usual bland blog format is that it’s probably compatible with text readers. A flashy multimedia presentation is likely to cause accessibility problems. If you want to create something useful in education, it has to be accessible. I have some experience with this — the cost of good transcription is one of the things holding me back from podcasting interviews.
So are blogs going to evolve into the next step in science journalism? I doubt it. Blogs make one thing easy, but the other things that contribute to effective public communication are still hard. Look at me — I could use an editor just to find a way to finish this post!