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Welcome to the Blogosphere

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It is a problem nearly as old as the written word: Given a text that is found useful or enjoyable, how does one find others like it? In the days of Gutenberg, the limited number of authors and slow process of producing texts mitigated the problem, but in the modern age the problem simply grows exponentially.

Blogs are websites consisting of a series of written posts by one or more authors. Their general tone can range from personal diaries to online columns to running journal clubs and, in most, readers are encouraged to comment on the entries.

Why do people blog — or more specifically, why do scientists blog? Certainly each scientific blogger has her or his own reasons, but in my case it was a mix. I started my blog during a difficult professional transition, having been forcibly severed from what had been my scientific home of a decade. I wanted to continue to think about some of the topics I had been working on and to expose my thoughts to the glare of professional criticism. I also liked the idea of writing something more rewarding than terse PowerPoints and hurried e-mails.

The rewards have been numerous. I do get to write something I can try to be proud of. I do get critical feedback that helps refine my thinking. And on a very personal note, I get to connect with old friends who find me through the blog and make new ones through those who comment there.

 From the point of view of a professional scientist, there are many blogs that may be useful and interesting. But how do you find the right ones, and keep up with the new ones that wink into existence?

A first approach is to find recommendations from back in the printed world or from a friend or colleague. This might identify a bunch of sites, and after browsing them you are likely to find a few that really click — perhaps you enjoy the commentary, or find the authors are good at pulling hidden gems out of the literature. Most blogs include a blogroll, or a list of other sites the blog author finds interesting; this can be a rich hunting ground for other sources. There are also services that aggregate multiple blogs on related themes, such as the DNA Network, which is like a newswire service for blogs related to genetics and genomics that you can subscribe to through an RSS feed.

But if you're looking for an overview of some of the recent blog traffic in a given subject area, check out the species known as a blog carnival. They don't have rides or barkers, but they're a good way to survey the field of scientific blogging. The general scheme is much like a floating poker game: a set of blogs takes turns hosting the carnival. At a given time, the host of the carnival collects recent blog entries of interest and writes a post mentioning all of them with short commentary and links back to the original articles.

A number of active carnivals exist that may be of interest to GT readers. Three that I've contributed to in the past are Mendel's Garden, which celebrates the full spectrum of genetics; Gene Genie, which has the ambitious goal of eventually having at least one post covering every gene in the human genome; and the Cancer Blog Carnival, which covers a wide spectrum of cancer research.

Keith Robison's Omics! Omics! blog frequently covers issues on the intersection of large-scale biology research with the biotechnology industry. His blog can be found at http://omicsomics.blogspot.com

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