This Week in Science Community Brainstorm

July 14th, 2009

This Week in Science has been a labor of my love for ten years. I have enjoyed every one of them, and expect to enjoy many more.

The show has enabled me to meet so many people, and created a community of science minded folks who I hope to count as friends (even though we call them minions).

However, the community could be better. The show and our website are still run based on the old media ways of pushing content out when they should be created with a mind for the community who want to pull the information in. So, we are thinking about how to change our ways, to make even better science content that can contend with what the major publishers are pushing out, and how to foster the growth of a truly awesome science-y community.

It’s actually been a dream of mine for a long time to create a community-driven science media channel based on TWIS. We started to develop the idea with our TWIS-tributions; asking minions to record TWIS-y news stories for the show. But, it didn’t get the response I was hoping for, and so fell by the wayside.

Naomi Most (nthmost on Twitter) brought me back to the idea today (seriously, I think she is data mining my brain), and specifically peaked my re-contemplation with a couple of her comments:

Ah, but w/ TWIStributions, the show always goes on regardless whether of ppl contribute… If you set up a system of continuous expectation of involvement w/ appropriate reward, superfans emerge.” 

And, this is a crucial point. The community needs ownership and investment for the entire endeavor to thrive. And, so far that is limited.

So, this is where I am. I want to create what Naomi termed an incubator for science reporting through TWIS. I want to rebuild the TWIS website to reflect the community and its many interests, and allow the growth of parallel scientific content in the form of blogs, audio, and video programming. I want to find the science reporting superstars among the minions, and have them call TWIS their home.

Is that too much to ask?

Interested in sponsoring the endeavor?

Have any ideas?

21 Responses to “This Week in Science Community Brainstorm”

  1. David Williamson on July 14, 2009 9:46 pm

    I’d be interested in helping to rework some of the website, I’ve had a few ideas floating around in my head for a while but just never got around to emailing you.

    I think it’d be really great to get the TWIS website to be a one stop shop for science news and other sciency things (like the book club), with updates more often than just once a week when the new podcast goes up.

    I’ll try to remember all the ideas I had and send you an email in the next few days.

  2. LunarMark on July 14, 2009 10:37 pm

    “I want to rebuild the TWIS website to reflect the community and its many interests, and allow the growth of parallel scientific content in the form of blogs, audio, and video programming.”

    I think this is a great idea and I would love to be a part of it. There is so much quality content to be found from a variety of people that a wide field of interests could be served.


  3. Joe on July 14, 2009 11:06 pm

    Well I think it’d require letting go of a little bit of control over the content on ‘your’ website, but a couple of ideas.

    1. Maybe put a Twitter aggregator into place that displays all tweets with #TWIS in them?

    2. Maybe allowing certain people privileges to hold CoveritLive live blogging events on the website?

  4. techpops on July 15, 2009 4:05 am

    Sounds like a great idea in principle but I’d add this little observation about what draws me to shows.

    I watch or listen to buzz out loud (CNET’s tech podcast) primarily because Tom Merritt and Molly Wood are usually there and I have to come trust that they know this subject on such a deep level that going elsewhere for commentary on the news seems pointless. Merge that with the idea that I just really like these people as presenters and you have a killer formula for a niche topic.

    For different reasons I watch/listen to Leo Laporte’s podcasts, often the news and insight is lacking here and they can wander off on tangents but I still keep coming back because of the small group of presenters there that I trust and enjoy watching. So the news content in this case is actually secondary.

    Now with your idea, how attracted will I be to a random stream of people submitting content. I certainly couldn’t rely on the knowledge of these people, at least in the beginning or until they started to surface as some kind of super contributor. So the newsy content would have to drive it to begin with to attract someone like me, and I guess there is the real challenge.

    I really think if Dr. Kiki had a very strong presence here, perhaps talking about videos before they played, commenting on them after, running a good amount of segments that were focused purely on her own expert knowledge, that would attract me as Dr. Kiki has already proved to be brilliant at making science videos that I have to watch, just like I have to listen to Buzz out Loud and for the same reasons.


  5. Bjoern Brembs on July 15, 2009 7:39 am

    You could try and get some aggregator functionality such that people who are already interested in science-y news can post them to your site and discuss them there. Sort of what would come out if you crossed with

  6. Bjoern Brembs on July 15, 2009 7:39 am

    BTW, you should pipe your blog here also into friendfeed…

  7. RapidEye on July 15, 2009 11:28 am

    I’ve been a TWIS listener via Podcast for over 3 yrs now and have some thoughts on the idea….

    “asking minions to record TWIS-y news stories for the show. But, it didn’t get the response I was hoping for”

    I think a big part of that is quality related – you and Justin sit in a studio dedicated for recording/broadcasting with professional engineers to maintain and setup the equipment so that you guys sound great every week. Me – I’m recording into a headset mic slaved to my laptop running Audacity. I sound cheesy and would be embarrassed to have that aired.

    Anyway, addressing what you want going forward. I think its a great idea, with some caveats….
    How do you keep the “junk science” out and even, where do you draw the line? Justin frequently flirts with that line when he goes on his political rants – blaming this party or person for all the worlds ills. It throws off the signal to noise ratio. I can only imagine how bad it could be when you have tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people contributing.

    Take this blog I read the other day:
    It got caught in my news filters because of the linkage to Plait’s BA Blog. This guy has “data”, “studies”, and “science” all rolled into that blog; however, you and I know its full of Anti-Vax propaganda that has been disproven through vigorous double blind studies by WHO and a whole host of other scientific and public health organizations. (disclaimer – I work at a plant that makes pediatric vaccines)

    Without some boundaries and ways to enforce those boundaries, crap science like that blog will creep in. You only thought doing battle with Spammers on the Forums was bad – watch out if the Jenny McCarthy gets your web address =-)

    IMHO, this is one of your biggest assets, Dr Kiki. In all of the podcasts I’ve heard you on, TWIS, TWIT, TWIM, PS, etc – you have a good sense of where to draw the line to keep on target with the solid science while avoiding the political and/or religious jabs that others often toss in.

  8. Kishore Hari on July 15, 2009 1:16 pm

    I’m always a fan of simple conversation over big solutions.

    I love what NovaScienceNow has done recently post shows. They have an area where you can ask the researcher a question after the show. They opened a youtube channel where you can upload a question, they do their best to answer it. Low barrier, opens up the community to a wide range of new peeps. Plus, think of all the high quality commenting on the YouTube site 🙂

    I’d love if TWIS opened up a Ask Dr. KiKi area, with questions answered on the following weeks show. I did something similar with a science cafe designed for MS patients…it was pretty successful.

  9. Lee Buckler on July 15, 2009 1:42 pm

    Dr. Kiki,

    Having listened to you off and on for while now, following your Twitter stream, reading this post and its comments, etc, here are some random thoughts:

    – Don’t turn it into an aggregator. There are enough numb-minded aggregators out there already. The value you have built here is in a trustworthy and fun interpretation, analysis, etc.

    – I totally endorse and want to support the notion of having a more engaged and interactive community rather than an interested but relatively passive audience.

    – One of the ways I believe you can accomplish doing this without sacrificing the value you’ve built here is to bring in people as “editors” or “topic managers” or “community leaders” for different subject areas of interest. These would be people who can maintain your style and the community’s trust but be responsible for engaging a wider audience in their narrow subject area and for bringing interesting content and conversations to the community.

    I would certainly be happy to be this kind of person in the area of regenerative medicine. I’m no media expert but you can see some of my work in front of the camera on


  10. Brian Krueger on July 15, 2009 1:45 pm

    I think you and I have some very similar goals in mind as far as where we’d like to see science education heading. It would be awesome to get a community of scientists and the public interacting and discussing all of the current issues in the sci-tech field.

    I like the idea of user submitted science content, but it can be sketchy some times as alluded to by RapidEye. I think there are a couple of really good ways to control for this though. There’s always the “pre-screen” everything option, which is time consuming, but in the beginning it might be necessary. It’s been my experience while running my site that the spammers somehow get to my page well before my target audience. The second option is to let the community screen the content for you through ratings and abuse flags. The only problem is that there has to be an established community for that kind of oversight to be effective. On my site, I’ve taken the first approach.

    Naomi is 100% right that you need to provide incentives for this kind of thing to take off. I think the most effective approach here is a rewards system that gives contributors points for their contributions based on viewer ratings etc.(similar to digg or reddit). I’m not sure what else Naomi had in mind, but there are a few others we could talk about.

    It seems like you already have the community management issue figured out and as TechPops pointed out, it’d be great to have expert commentary on some of the new “stars” to help them and the community adjust to the new content.

    I have a bunch of ideas about what I’d like to improve on my site as far as the social aspects go, and would be more than happy to talk to you about them. Just spame me on twitter or shoot me an e-mail.

  11. msbpodcast on July 15, 2009 1:58 pm

    What you really bring to the podcast (both you and Justin,) is your selectivity and your own objectivity.

    You can be critical without turning it into a personal attack on the person (as someone like Limbaugh would.)

    That is why you are trusted.

    I am trying to do something different with my podcast, but the end result of affecting therapies and drug delivery mechanisms (for MS and other diseases,) might be a shared interest.

    I WILL stay a devoted fan and a listener of TWiS and catch you occasionally on TWiT, TWiM and the like,

  12. Epicanis on July 15, 2009 2:16 pm

    I think Naomi Most’s comment exactly hits what you need/want here. Of course, I say that as someone who sees himself as one of those potential “superfans”…

    The one TWIStribution I’ve done so far[1] took me quite a while – I’d actually found myself wanting to contribute from the first call for them, but not having a particular topic in mind initially it was a while before I came up with something to try. (Then a little longer to get over the virtual stage-fright of trying to record for the first time something to be heard by thousands of people all over the world, many of whom are probably smarter than me and for all I knew would be utterly bored with my submission…but never mind that. Like a new roll of toilet paper, after the first one the rest should be a lot easier.)

    If there were a system to help guide contributors on topics and content that are interesting to the TWIS Empire it might help. Rewards would be nice too, though I wouldn’t think they’d have to be explicitly systematized – being able to participate is itself a reward in my opinion. (Though if you wanted to go nuts, you could partially systematize it. How about a virtual currency that can be exchanged for permission to download digital tracks from a compilation CD, physical CD’s, T-shirts, live guest host slots, rides in the TWIS hovercraft, etc. You could call them “TWISlets[2]” or something…)

    It might even be worth trying to recruit a selection of potentially interested participants who could register general topic areas they feel they might be willing and able to speak on. Then if during the week you or Justin run into an interesting bit of news that you don’t have time to dig into yourself, you can send off a message to people who look like they might be able to do a bit of research and possibly recording on the subject, asking if they can come up with a contribution on it for the next show.

    I’ve got a mess of other random thoughts bouncing around my brain at the moment as well, but I’ll try to form them into something at least slightly coherent before I post them as well.

    [1] Early November 2007, as I recall. I was the “Microbial Fuel Cell” guy.

    [2] I was going to say “TWISlers”, but then you probably wouldn’t be able to offer the virtual currency in candy form later if you wanted due to threat of trademark lawsuits…hey, got to keep your options open.

  13. Henry Hagnäs on July 16, 2009 11:03 pm

    Like I said in so few word over on twitter a couple of days ago, “deciding topics on #TWiS via a Digg/Reddit style voting&discussion site?”

    I thought I’d come remind about it and expand on the idea since 140 characters can do only so much.

    Its quite clear to me, and from the comments above, that what people like is the personal chemistry and the type of discussion that Kiki and Justin are having. To change that formula would/could be disastrous, adding other people into the discussion, except in interview-form, won’t work. I haven’t heard or seen of any show that does it will and even the few times TWIS takes on-air callers the difference in audio-quality, tone and speed can be jarring.

    Thus if you want to have the community take a more active part, it should be in the form of directing Kiki and Jackson to the topics that are most interesting. Since TWIS will never be breaking news it makes sense to have a large portion, or all, of the topics up for discussion decided by the listeners – in advance. This way some of the research and fact checking can be done by the community aswell and ready comments and further questions asked in the attached discussion-thread.

    The Reddit-software is open source and there are Digg-“clones” that are also open source so the software part of the equation doesn’t need massive engineering.

    So in closing, this way we’d be able to direct Kiki and Justin to the topics we most want them to comment, discuss or inform the listeners about. Without joining the discussion and potentially breaking a well-working formula.

    Thanks for a great show!


  14. Ed on July 17, 2009 8:53 pm

    I agree with RapidEye and Lee Buckler about needing to edit out crap science stories. I would think you need volunteer moderators to help you.

    I would be willing to help, but have no background in either science or media, so I am not sure how I could help.

    Some quick ideas for existing TWIS

    1) List on the forum the news stories that did not make the on-the-air cut. Let minions vote for which of these is the best story and report on that the next week.

    2) Pick some story, or issue each week (that you can discussion), on which you and Justin disagree. Let minions vote on who they agree with.

    3) Poll each month for story of the month. Let a volunteer minion report on that story.

    4) Monthly Talkshow, or some other interactive service, TWIS discussion show. I am not to fond of chats. I think a moderated discussion works best.

  15. Epicanis on July 19, 2009 11:22 am

    The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a playful “virtual currency”. It would provide a common medium for many different kinds of active participation. One could “buy” TWISlets with cash donations to This Week in Science, or earn them by producing content or providing services, or win them in some sort of contest. They could then be “spent” to do things like commissioning a special segment explaining some topic that the spender is interested in (“I’m taking chemistry and I really don’t get the difference between ionic bonds and covalent bonds. I’m offering a 100 TWISlet bounty for anyone who can give me some audio to listen to that will explain it.”) or hiring Justin to describe oxidative phosphorylation in mime.

    Since it can be done entirely informally, and assuming I’m not the only one who likes the idea, it could be implemented immediately without any preparation (“Thanks to Joe Schmoe for sending us the pointer to this study. As a reward, Joe Schmoe gets 5 TWISlets…”) and then expanded later or dropped depending on the response it got.

    And on an unrelated note, between the higher quality (and/or smaller file size) compared to mp3 and the fact that the recent browsers coming out can play them natively, I’d love to see an Ogg Vorbis feed for the This Week in Science media.

  16. alloycowboy on July 20, 2009 7:57 pm

    Hey Kirsten,

    I think your idea about user generated science media is a good one. But I think you could take the idea a lot farther. Check out James Burkes ( to see what I mean.



  17. Naomi Most on July 22, 2009 10:08 pm

    Oh hai! I’m the one data-mining Kirsten’s brain, apparently. 🙂

    When it comes to incentivizing a fan-group you don’t need to set up any point systems, or dangle any chotchky-carrots, or anything like that. Merely becoming influential within the group is motivation enough for most.

    Read Seth Godin’s Tribes. It’s short and sweet. Here’s a teaser from his blog on throwing the concept of product marketing on its head by letting one’s “tribe” determine what’s needed:

    I have specific ideas for TWIS, but a lot of other writing to do right at this moment…

  18. Tom on July 29, 2009 2:53 pm

    Not sure of what code i can use to add pictures into a comment, so i’ll use 3 links.

    Is Forum the only word hinting at community?

    Then perhaps compare with

    I don’t have any particular answer off the top of my head, but I know of one communicator, who impressed me with his tech use and ability to keep communication and audience – Gary Vaynerchuck. And his recommendation was go with the useful media solution that suits your personal preferences/style/abilities.

    How to change our ways – change the interface with your audience.

    How to make even better science content that can contend with what the major publishers are pushing out – If the aim is better not more, then I guess it kind of depends what you want to cover, how, and to whom.

    (e.g. Bang goes the theory – a new BBC programme v recently on iPlayer – a new take on passing on some science info (with an interview with Craig Venter on his amazing boat))

    How to foster the growth of a truly awesome science-y community – Community I guess needs a hub to be at – hard sometimes to do that through an old school forum vBulletin style.

    Sounds like you’ve kind of already worked out what you want – “to create a community-driven science media channel based on TWIS.”” The community needs ownership and investment for the entire endeavor to thrive”
    “I want to rebuild the TWIS website to reflect the community and its many interests, and allow the growth of parallel scientific content in the form of blogs, audio, and video programming. I want to find the science reporting superstars among the minions, and have them call TWIS their home.” “I want to create what Naomi termed an incubator for science reporting through TWIS.”

    Kind of sounds like the rough idea is there, but needs pinning down. Maybe throwing up a wiki and letting us loose with it might get some ideas? 🙂

    Crowd sourcing needs bite size pieces and a focus, but can work very well.


  19. TheBigEater on August 4, 2009 2:21 pm

    I vote one-stop shopping for all your science needs right here.

    The other thing though, is action. How do I take action from the info you’re supplying? Right now, the info is interesting, but all I can do with it is drop nuggets of it at meetings and cocktail parties, but that’s not enough.

    If I hate short-legged dogs and my kid doesn’t have achondroplasia what can I DO with the information from your recent podcast? Can I use it as the basis of action in another part of my life?

  20. Darryl Rabon on August 24, 2009 6:59 pm

    I suggest: continue to hook your star to Leo.

    Video on the cheap may be the answer; it’s how I came to TWiS.

    A labor of love is its own reward, but more lucrative situations could be in the offing, I’m guessing.

    TV helps, but its future may be limited.

    And the herd sometimes appreciates the cognoscenti.

    It’s the best hope for progress.

    Lead, follow, or get out of the way – words to live by.

    I’m glad to follow TWiS.

  21. Bob Watson on September 25, 2009 1:21 pm

    I don’t know if this is on-topic, but my favorite site for quickly scanning science news is:

    Maybe they could hire you to do a 30 second recap of each report, so I could just hit “play” and listen/watch the 10-20 top topics on their main page (which changes daily), instead of having to read each one.

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