Or should that be a pixel!
If you want a brief but mind-boggling, diversion from the tedium of your day then look no further than ‘internet live stats’ which shows the number of website, blogs, tweets and other social media stuff being created every second of every day.
Into this miasma do our scientists, research teams and science communications pros send yet more innocent websites to be lost in the surf for ever I fear.
Of the last five research proposals I have reviewed, all have proposed creating a new website as part of their dissemination strategy. There it sat, alongside promises to publish in an academic journal and visits to international conferences in far flung places; supposedly accessible but similarly lacking in impact on the wider public consciousness.
Fact is many, many websites never get visited. Or last about as long as it takes to create one. Only yesterday I was taken to a website that looked exactly the thing I needed. I was disappointed to find it was last updated three years ago.
What was even more surprising was the amount that people are willing to spend on these things. The bottom of the range was £2000. At the top was a website build, priced at £15,000. That’s the price of a second-hand family car. Actually, you could get 15 second-hand family cars for that amount where I live!
It is the singularity of purpose behind these websites that will defeat most of them from the outset. On their own, they amount to little. As part of something else, as a page or inventive piece of media on a bigger website, they could perhaps have a wider reach.
The underlying issue is that the author(s) of such proposals are not taking that first, most important, step and thinking about the audience they are trying to reach. Only when you are clear about your audience and its preferences can you make a sound decision on how to communicate with them (including online).
And why should they given it is not their discipline? So, I do wonder how often communications professionals are asked to look at the research proposals. And if they are, whether they are doing a good enough job of advising their colleagues. From my experience as a review, you can soon tell the ones where such a discussion has happened.
In a strange way, what’s so disappointing about this trend is that great science is letting itself down at the final hurdle with an unimaginative knee-jerk response to the task of dissemination. Or perhaps is it that the public is being let down by great science being poorly communicated?
One can understand the allure of the web as the easy answer to this thing called communication. However, I am struck by this paragraph in the recent Public Attitudes to Science report It indicates a thirst for something more direct, more meaningful in their interaction with scientists:
People especially want to hear directly from scientists. Six-in-ten (58%) think that scientists currently put too little effort into informing the public about their work, while five-in-ten (53%) think that scientists should be rewarded for doing so. Seven-in-ten (68%) would particularly like scientists to talk more about the social and ethical implications of their research.