Science Online New York (SoNYC) encourages audience participation in the discussion of how science is carried out and communicated online. To celebrate our first birthday, we are handing the mic over to the audience so that anyone who would like to participate will get five minutes to show off their favourite online tool, application or website that makes science online fun. To complement the celebrations, we’re hosting a series of guest posts on Soapbox Science where a range of scientists share details about what’s in their online science toolkits. Why not let us know how they compare to the tools that you use in the comment threads?
Susanna Speier currently works in social media and digital journalism. Her writing credits include Scientific American, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and The Denver Post and her science themed plays have been produced HERE Arts Center, The Tenri and Galapagos Arts Space. She has a Masters in Playwriting from Brooklyn College, C.U.N.Y. and a Bachelors from Hampshire College. She has also created a couple dozen Pinterset boards for her social media clients in the fashion and real estate industries. The disproportionate amount of attention Pinterest users dedicated to fashion and decorating is probably her fault.
It’s easy to criticize Pinterest. Pinterest is the precocious wunderkind who skipped five grades to enter college with under-developed social skills. Try initiating a copyright infringement and/or intellectual property protection dialog and watch said golden child’s attention wander to the window in the back of the room.
According to Richard Darell’s article on Bit Rebels, a significant amount of Pinterest users (including myself) did not use the site prior to January 2012. Its growth spurt is impressive. Parse the spurt into categories and “home decor” ranks top at 12.8%, according to Repinly. According to the same source, only 25% of Pinterest users have a bachelor degree or higher. nature.com’s reader demographics, by comparison, strongly favor readers with graduate degrees. Most Scientificamerican.com readers also have graduate degrees. This is just slightly lower than the US 2010 census in which 27.9 reported having Bachelor degrees or higher. This might also explain why “Science & Nature,” conveniently lumped together, category is relegated to the subterranean digital dungeon at 1.7%. In other words, the future of space exploration, genetics and geophysics are being sacked by “Hair & Beauty,” “Food & Drink” and “DIY Crafts” in the US. In the UK, where the majority of users are male, according to Googledoubleclick, venture capital, blogging resources, crafts, web analytics, and SEO/marketing are the alpha topics ruling the site.
Science bloggers on both sides of the pond have expressed their disinterest by condemning the platform on distinctive, relevant and legitimate grounds. Eva Amsen’s Nature Network post stipulated scientists just don’t get Pinterest and would they just quit feeling like they have to try being the acolyte of every new social media fad. While this may seem extreme, I have seen what she’s describing firsthand and I will concur that certain individuals can’t handle the anarchistic interface. I’m not sure why certain individuals are so emphatically adverse to it. The explicit discomfort, however, appears to be a legitimate phenomenon and one that is unique to Pinterest. Something about the interface is deeply off-putting to certain users. (See the chart at the bottom of the piece.)
Scientific American’s symbiartic blog’s contention, on the other hand, had nothing to do with the interface or with any other aspect of the information architecture. An episodic trilogy of posts that culminated in Kalliopi Monoylos’s, Pinterest’s Terms of Service, Word by Terrifying Word going viral, actually resulted in a heartfelt, albeit ineffective, attempt on the part of Pinterest’s community manager, to smooth things over. When Symbiartic refused to retract or amend the accusations, Pinterest sent in the PR rep to inform Symbiartic that “Pinterest was looking to change the Terms of Service and remove the ‘sell’ portion” in advance of publicly announcing the change. Symbiartic then shared a full range of community responses and conceded that, “assessment comes with being a creator whether you’re showing your work to an editor, a colleague, or the whole legion of intertubes.” Glendon Mellow then went on to delete his array of Pinterest boards, leaving behind a name, avatar, link and post-deletion bio stating, left “due to disagreement with ToS.”
With such criticisms shared on two of the leading science blogs and brands as vital to science education as The British Museum, Science Museum, The American Museum of Natural History, BBC Earth, Frozen Planet, NASA Goddard Space Station just hovering around 200 followers or less Pinterest, it is not surprising to see the platform either being shunned as the new pariah or, at least, approached with extreme trepidation.
Michigan State University Genomics and Molecular Genetics Research Assistant and bachelor candidate, Alex Hoekstra http://pinterest.com/insilico/ uses Pinterest as both a public bookmarking site and as a way to follow trends in biotech. He sources content directly from his browser and pins range from American Society for Microbiology articles to posts in popular science publications like i09 . Despite his university affiliation, Hoekstrabli believes Pinterest will become more relevant as citizen science and science research increasingly turns to crowdfunding. While there are only a couple of pins sourced from the Brooklyn based community bio tech lab, GenSpace on Pinterest, the scientific research crowdfunding site, Petridish http://www.petridish.org/ has an astonishingly robust Pinterest presence. The number of pins sourced directly from the site, in fact, is about the same as the number of pins sourced from nature.com
- Universe Today, Discovery News, National Geographic News blogger and graphic designer, Jason Major, “Never got into it. I don’t really dig the interface.” In other words, he contextualizes, “I haven’t been forced to assimilate……yet!” He is not adverse to eventually adapting, however currently, “the site structure is too suburban,” – he will hold out as long as he possibly can.
- “The most I’ve pinned is a cool photo of a lightning strike on a board called “Science!” says Dave Mosher, a Wired contributor and freelance science journalist. Mosher also identifies himself as an Android user. While the former titles do not preclude him from pursuing more ambitious Pinterest experiments, the later definitively does. “I don’t own an iPhone, and that’s the only device with a dedicated Pinterest app. I’m an Android user, so I can’t use Pinterest in the way it’s designed to be used,” he explains. “To use the service, I need a desktop or laptop — and what fun is that? Answer: None.” He“can imagine, however, how Pinterest might be useful to journalists. Maybe it’d be a neat way to pin disparate pieces of information to a board that may someday fit together as a feature. Or maybe you’d use it when your feature is nearing publication, as a sort of social and visual citation list.” The future forward gears may be churning, however until the Android app is released, the lone lightning bolt pin on the science board will only strike once.
- Media Relations Manager at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Isabel Lara’s Pinterest experiments coincided with the Space Shuttle Discovery’s arrival at the museum in mid-April. Although Lara does not manage the official museum boards, some of her most popular personal boards chronicle the the days preceding the shuttle arrival. The result is a behind the scenes peek at the process of scoping out media spots, watching NASA T38s do practice rounds around the Capitol: Discovery piggybacking on the T38 as it swoops past the Smithsonian castle, exuberant fans, the press conference on the Dulles runway and the shuttle’s ubiquitous newsstand presence the following day. “What fascinates me most about pinterest is the ability to group different objects or concepts in boards which basically reflect the pinner’s thought process and free association of ideas,” Lara says.
Screen shot from Isabel Lara’s Pinterest Board
- When it comes to Pinterest you have to keep in mind that it’s a visual tool. If your content isn’t visually appealing then it will go nowhere, explains Perks Consulting, Director of Media & Marketing, Damien Basile http://damienbasile.posterous.com/ “When people repin your pin, your content becomes amplified many times over because many people share it, then more people share it from them.” When asked how this differs from Twitter or Facebook, Basile rolls out the numbers. “For one month we saw that 20 pins turn into 30 repins and 5 likes, which was 3.5K visits, only 1.5% of traffic. The next month 45 pins turned into 135 repins and 30 likes.” Although the final data wasn’t available it was clear “the ratio of shares to traffic is large” even when the traffic is not. “The viral nature of Pinterest lends itself to traffic amplification. Facebook and Twitter have those mechanisms in place (share and RT respectively) but their platform isn’t built around it. THAT’S why Pinterest is more viral.”
Grouping different objects is not unique to Pinterest or the Internet. Darwin was building beetle boards as a student at Cambridge. 19th century naturalist’s specimen cabinets helped pave the way for modern biology. This isn’t to say Pinterest is en route to becoming the digital era’s poster child for biogenetic genetic engineering. There is something to be said, however, for investigating its potential as an online interactive science communication tool.
Check out my science inspired Pinterest board to accompany this piece. It provides tips for how Pinterest might help science bloggers, science journalists, citizen scientists, science communicators, science educators and science enthusiasts. Feel free to let me know what you think.
Visual.ly Chart showing UK vs US Pinterest user stats