Today lets take a break from discussions of science itself and focus on something near and dear to the hearts of all users of steemit. Blogging. But rather then talk about blogging in general, lets focus on one singular aspect of the communication form. Scientific Blogging. And, rather then focusing on how to be a science blogger, lets focus instead on the following question: "Who Is My Audience?" I will center the discussion around ideas which are presented in an article published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly titled "Science in the Social Media Age: Profiles of Science Blog Readers."
Who Is The Audience For Scientific Blogging?
I have had a lot of discussions over the past (almost) two years with users, investors, minnows and whales alike about the value of writing science blogs. I have had important and respected users like @andrarchy and @liberosist refer to it as a "niche," which at first glance appears to be a slight against blogging science. However it isn't. Science blogging is a niche. They are quite right in their assessment. It's different then say photography, or travel blogs. Those topics easily have mass appeal, because the content is digestible to anyone, you don't have to know, or to understand background material to appreciate a photo, or to read about visiting an exotic location.
For science blogs, it just isn't always so straight forward... they run the gambit of complexity from very distilled and digestible to a general audience, to incredibly complex and understandable to only subject matter experts in a particular field. This makes it more difficult for users to casually follow a science blogger, you can't just jump into any old blog and expect to be able to understand everything. From a science blog, people learn things, and learning is work.
Knowing the possibility for a science blog to fill a wide spread of difficulty levels, we arrive to the titular question of this section. Just who is the audience for a science blog? After we address that we can ask some other interesting questions: "Why Do People Read Science Blogs?" and "Is There A Benefit To The Reader?"
Knowing this would help us set a frame of reference for how much the steemit community should want to support science as a whole on the platform (if only, from a purely economical perspective). If science doesn't drive clicks then it doesn't get attention, so realistically its place in an "attention economy" SHOULD be smaller, perhaps smaller then someone heavily involved in say the @steemstem project, would like. But I get ahead of my self.
According to a 2012 study in the US, around 60% of those polled cite the internet as their top source for information about science.  With blogs being a primary source for where that information is derived from. What is also interesting is who the bloggers are trying to reach, where a study from 2014 reports that up to 72% of blogs are written with a general audience in mind. 
Interesting as these statistics may be, they tell us little about who it is that is seeking out scientific info on the internet in the first place. Nor do they tell us who the bloggers are actually reaching, despite their intended audience.
Okay Then, Who Are Science Blog Readers Then?
In the Jarreau article I reference throughout this post  the authors performed a survey of almost 3000 science blog readers. Here they identified that the demographics for science blog readership were as follows: 55% Male, 50% over the age of 40, 58% live in the united states (disproportionally larger then anywhere else, shockingly only 7% from Europe) and are highly educated with over 58% reporting having a degree in a STEM field and 21% having a PhD.
Based on these numbers it seems like bloggers desire to target a general audience may not be what is actually happening, as general audience viewers make up a minority of their readership.
What is even more interesting to me is the authors report that only 23% of respondents were uninterested in pursuing a career in science.  This means that a staggering 77% of science blog viewers are those who are currently working in the STEM fields or students looking to have careers in those fields. Further illustration that traditionally, science bloggers are not developing an audience comprised of the general public. They are cultivating highly educated, highly specialized audiences.
Why Do People Read Science Blogs?
In this part of the study's survey, respondents were able to provide answers as to what drives them to read science blogs in the first place. They were provided with a set of possible statements and asked to report how much they agreed with them. The statements that were agreed to the most were: "because it stimulated my curiosity", "as an educational tool" and "for information I don't find in traditional news media." What is perhaps more interesting were things that they did not agree as much with which included things like "to check the accuracy of other media" and "to feel involved in an online community." 
What the authors found that we can gather was that the audience of science blogs were primarily people seeking unique info, rather then a community atmosphere.
Is There A Benefit To The Reader?
This is an interesting and somewhat difficult question to ask, and it is one that the authors of this study attempted to pull out of their data. What they found is interesting, and can be summed up with one word. Maybe.
The authors also presented the respondents to their questionnaire about their reading of science blogs with a 10 question quiz about science. What they found was that the more blogs someone tended to read, the better they performed on this quiz. They also found that in general, science blog readers performed better than the US average on this very same quiz. In short, it would appear that science blog readers were in fact better informed on the topics that were covered in the quiz (I do not know what topics those were).
But here is why things get interesting, and also why the answer to the question of is there a benefit is a strong maybe. The authors also found a direct correlation between number of blogs followed and likelihood of the user having a degree in science. So it is not clear whether or not more viewing of blogs resulted in a better educated group of viewers or if a more educated group of viewers tended to follow more blogs.
Questions To Ponder
The data presented in this article about science blogging can be summed up in a few bullet points:
- Science bloggers are writing for a general audience, however the audience they attract misses the mark
- Science blog viewers are highly educated
- Science blog viewers are more interested in viewing information then they are in a community atmosphere
- Science blogs may result in people being better educated with regards to scientific topics
From this we can ask our selves:
Why is it that despite their efforts and desires, that science blogs are unable to capture a more general audience?
Is community atmosphere really unimportant to STEM minded people?
Should science bloggers place a greater emphasis in writing for the more technically minded audience they have?
In what way can steemit play a role in all of this?
My Thoughts On Some Of These Questions and Steemit
Let me start off by clarifying when I say Steemit, I am referring to the platform and steemit the collection of users, not steemit Inc., the project management has their own tasks and frankly a full plate (IMO, lots going on), the questions posed here about blogging are ones which can be answered better by the thoughts of the members of the community.
I feel that the answers to questions 1 and 2 above are both linked, and it may have a lot to do with the personality types of many scientists. In my experience, many scientists are not exactly the most outgoing and social people, they prefer their experiments, and data to social interactions (I know I am more comfortable with a pipette and my graph fitting software then I am at a party). This sort of personality type really fits with the respondents of the study and their desire for more information rather than a community atmosphere.
The general public however, is not comprised of people with that sort of analytical mindset. It is composed of people of ALL mindsets, and many people LOVE a good community atmosphere. One where they can both shoot the shit, as well as exchange ideas. One where they can ask questions and get quick answers, one where an exchange of knowledge occurs through personal interaction, rather then just through reporting of data.
In short, it is my opinion that science bloggers are unable to reach a more general audience, specifically because most blogging platforms (medium, square space etc) do not have a mechanism for the formation of a strong community atmosphere. Its one of the reasons why science has such a big viewership on a platform like reddit, because on that site there is a community of users who all use the comment sections to educate others and have some fun.
However reddit is not a blogging platform, and is by and large, terrible for the exchange of ideas and presentation of data. So we have blogging platforms that are not particularly conducive to the formation of communities, and community building platforms that are not particularly conducive to the effective exchange of ideas and information.
This is where steemit has a really unique opportunity to shine, it has truly become a multifaceted platform (due to the steem blockchain), one with the ability to both convey massive amounts of comment through text (steemit itself), video (dtube), audio (dsound), while at the same time enabling the sorts of conversations that take place in reddit's comment sections. Wrap this all up with the monetization aspect and IMO you have a recipe for re-inventing science blogging entirely.
Here we can answer question #3. Should bloggers change their emphasis to focus more on the audience they are able to attract? IMO NO! They should change the platform they are using, and join one which will enable the generation of a thriving community that can support the accessibility of science content to people of all walks of life. They should start publishing their work on steemit.
What Do YOU Think?
However in the end, this blog isn't about my opinions. It's an opportunity to start a dialogue with the community. What do you think?
We have some data on what the audience for the currently available science blogs is composed of. Is this sort of audience sufficient to command sizable support by the steemit community?
Is a greater emphasis on community a good mechanism to drive science blogging out from laptops on the lab bench, and onto screens of people across the globe? OR is there another solution?
Perhaps you think that science concepts are too difficult for a general audience? The information too dense to expand beyond the eyes of just experts?
Are projects like @steemstem key to increasing science literacy and getting more people interested in science? Or are projects like that too idealistic? Destined to reach a ceiling of an exclusively science minded and technical audience?
If you haven't heard about the @SteemSTEM project yet (and clearly you have because you read the above blog post and I discussed it there :P ) I highly recommend you take a look into it! The SteemSTEM team has been working for over one year now to promote promote well written/informative Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics postings on Steemit. The project (@steemstem) seeks to build a community of science and technology lovers on steemit and aid in nurturing the growth of blogs that will make steemit a go-to source for science/tech information, news, and just generally fascinating content.
To learn more about the project please join us on discord, we are always looking for people who want to help in our quest to increase the quality of STEM (and health) posts on our rapidly growing platform!