The Joys and Frustrations of 6 Months Blogging in the Chemistry Community

27 Oct

Today marks the six month anniversary of the ChemSpider Blog. This blog is one of 4 blogs on the ChemSpider Blog Network – there is also ChemSpider News, Open Chemistry Web and Spinneret. It’s been a short strange ride.

I thought I’d share my experiences for those interested in joining the blogging community. These are my opinions and perceptions…it doesn’t make them right but it certainly makes them mine. I’m mind-dumping them here because I feel an urge and judge it will be quite cathartic. This was driven not only by the 6 month anniversary but also by the fact that I have just signed up for the 2008 Science Blogging Conference. I’m really looking forward to it just to hear about the experiences of others in this domain.

So on with the commentary…

Reasons to blog

You need to have a reason to blog. Maybe you want to join your friends in the community information exchange, rant your frustrations, practice your communication skills, demonstrate your understanding or generate a web presence. All are appropriate. My own reason was simple. The initial catalyst to open this blog was a commentary on the ChemSpider service some friends and I had opened in our spare time. It was done in a very public forum and by one of the most prolific bloggers in Chemistry. It directed enormous traffic to the ChemSpider site in its beta state (see the figure below) and likely created harm. We will never know.

There was no way to inform the community of our stance other than to climb into the blogosphere and talk about it. Three days later we were up and running this blog. (There have been a multitude of negative comments since then and even an apology).

That said, when a decision was made to blog all the potential values became clear and I opened the blog with:

We have launched the ChemSpider Blog for a number of reasons. Specifically

1) We believe it gives us a good opportunity to discuss our vision of where we are going and some of the struggles to get there. Speaking openly and honestly about the passion we have for ChemSpider is a great opportunity for us to express our creativity and post for comments and feedback.

2) We do not have clear decisions made in certain areas and we will encourage the feedback of the chemistry community to help in these decisions

3) Blogging is certainly a high profile manner to engage an audience and express, warts and all, challenges and opportunities. For an example of an advantage of honesty read Wired ’s Naked CEO article

4) It offers a path to respond to other blogs. Experience shows that responses to criticism on other blogs is edited prior to posting. We may have to take advantage of that capability ourselves of course!

5) It’s fun.

I have used it in this way and more….

Should you Blog?

1) If you think you should blog, then you should blog. Go with your gut … you likely have something valuable to say.

Pros of Blogging

There have been many pros to blogging. Here are most of my pros (I may remember more later and will continue to edit as I think of them)

1) I have opinions, judgments and commentaries and wish to share them with friends, colleagues and other interested parties.

2) I’d like to go on record with certain opinions and stimulate discussion to find out the opinion of others. I don’t have all the answers but I certainly have lots of thought and questions.

3) ChemSpider is a project for the community. It is being built for the community and blogging gives us a chance to communicate new features and capabilities, ask for guidance and feedback, defend our position, comment back to the naysayers, clean up misinformation, and, primarily, build community.

4) I have connected with some great people. By this I mean great intellect, ethical and honest people, passionate people, people with string opinions. I have a sense of camaraderie with people I have never even met. I have learned from these people, been stimulated, challenged and helped reform some of my original thoughts.

5) I have learned new technologies. Technologies useful in my career in cheminformatics or even outside that domain.

6) I have further developed my emotional intelligence and had an opportunity to exercise diplomacy, mediation and community building in a non face-to-face manner. This helps hone new skills.

7) You have the chance to voice your opinion on anyones blog.  (Whether they moderate it in is of course their choice).

Cons of Blogging

1) You’re posts are open to attack

2) You are now on public record and it can be good for you or destructive.

3) If you always say what you are thinking you’ll likely get locked up! (Speaking for myself of course).

4) Some people might dump and run. Anonymity can be used by some in a negative way.

5) Check your spam filters!

6) As a scientist I am pretty clear with the difference between data driven understanding and what are my opinions and judgments. This distinction is not so clear to everyone and their opinions become their reality. And you might be the recipient of their reality..and it might hurt.

7) Your most passionate pleas, emotional commentaries, data-driven decisions etc might receive no acknowledgment. You might feel that you are not being heard. The reality is that you might be heard but nobody’s commenting.

8) Many blog posts will generate no response. I judge it’s better to have silence that 3 friends saying “Cool” or “Nice post”. They love you anyway.

9) Your comments on other blogs can be moderated out and never see light of day. Or, in my opinion what’s worse is that someone will excerpt from your comment and post only what they want the world to see.

Beware of blogging

1) Blogging can be mildly addictive.

2) Blogging is, simply IS, time consuming. You are putting your time into doing it instead of doing other things.

3) If you don’t have a thick skin be aware that you might get “hurt”. Not everyone will agree with your comments, opinions and decisions. They may challenge you and it might get uncomfortable. You’re entitled to your opinions…they are just as entitled to theirs. Try not to take it personally..

4) You can put a lot of thought into a blogpost or comment on someone else’s post. It might generate no response. So be it…what’s important to you might not be to anyone else.
Language of blogging

1) You can use whatever language you would like as long as you are willing to be judged by it. If you are writing a science blog I recommend steering away from profanity. There are of course the other societal no-nos but it’s your choice whether to touch them or not

2) I recommend clarifying language with your comments. Preface your statements with “I judge, I believe, I think, I’ve heard” if that’s what they represent. And, if you know, you know. These types os statements can defuse responses and assist your position. you are definitely ALLOWED to judge, form opinions, believe and report on what you’ve heard. Stating opinions as facts can get you into trouble!

3) if you are being sarcastic…communicate it. You have a worldwide audience and not everyone can read sarcasm into your posts. So, declare it. I use (sarcasm) to indicate.


1) Use Trackbacks when commenting on someone else’s blog – they likely put a lot of work into their posting so let people read it. Don’t copy their entire post onto your site without a trackback.

2) Don’t call people names – it’s unprofessional

3) If you don’t understand something on a blogpost don’t make up what it means…ask for clarification.

4) When people post a comment to your original blogposting respect their investment in time and read it. I don’t just publish it or moderate it – I READ it. And, if it’s valuable commentary acknowledge their contribution either on or off blog.

5) I suggest NON-anonymity. Own your views, commentaries and words proudly.


1) Decide whether you want to host your own blog or one of the services. Consider the costs of having a computer switched on 24/7 versus a $5 per month service or even free. (We use WordPress and host ourselves)

2) Use Feedburner or some other system to track people signed up on your blog and to ease the spread of information.

3) Using your blogging software is not difficult. But, buy a manual just in case.

4) For reading other blogs use a Reader. I recommend Google Reader.

5) Ask for advice…there are lots of people out there who will help. This example is not about technology but it is a good example of responses.

Be the Top Dog.

If you want to be a top blogger try some of these tricks (of course these are tricks and, in my opinion, don’t fit into Blogiqette. SO..these are ALL SARCASM!)

1) Minimize trackbacks -simply copy large parts of other peoples blogs onto your site and annotate around it. Here’s a perfect example on the ChemSpider blog – I was returning the favor! Copying large parts of someone else’s blog to your own increases the volume of text on your blog and can help with indexing and increasing traffic.

2) Post, post, post – sometimes you don’t even have to even say anything of value to drag attention to your site. It’ll keep popping up new posts on peoples Reader, generate clicks and get you some ranking

3) Light a fire. Post something contentious and get people blabbing. All good for business.

4) Rant and point fingers. It’s human nature for most to be attracted to open arguments in the blogosphere.

5) Build a circle of friends who you can count on to link to your posts and get you incoming bloglove. Friendship and love for your blog is all good.

6) Don’t try this without a safety net. It’s all sarcasm.

So, those were my thoughts on the world of blogging after just 6 months. I’m glad I entered this world but admit it’s meant less sleep and, in reality, I’ve wasted a lot of time defending ChemSpider..when it speaks for itself. Take a look at that plot above…there are over 2000 people a day getting value from the site now.

Oh…humor and visuals are good by the way. Rich Apodaca uses these to great effect at Depth-First. And here’s my piece of humor for this blog. I think it’s damn funny. Remember, it’s my blog…so I can find it funny and you could hate it. And that’s just fine…


About tony

Antony (Tony) J. Williams received his BSc in 1985 from the University of Liverpool (UK) and PhD in 1988 from the University of London (UK). His PhD research interests were in studying the effects of high pressure on molecular motions within lubricant related systems using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. He moved to Ottawa, Canada to work for the National Research Council performing fundamental research on the electron paramagnetic resonance of radicals trapped in single crystals. Following his postdoctoral position he became the NMR Facility Manager for Ottawa University. Tony joined the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York as their NMR Technology Leader. He led the laboratory to develop quality control across multiple spectroscopy labs and helped establish walk-up laboratories providing NMR, LC-MS and other forms of spectroscopy to hundreds of chemists across multiple sites. This included the delivery of spectroscopic data to the desktop, automated processing and his initial interests in computer-assisted structure elucidation (CASE) systems. He also worked with a team to develop the worlds’ first web-based LIMS system, WIMS, capable of allowing chemical structure searching and spectral display. With his developing cheminformatic skills and passion for data management he left corporate America to join a small start-up company working out of Toronto, Canada. He joined ACD/Labs as their NMR Product Manager and various roles, including Chief Science Officer, during his 10 years with the company. His responsibilities included managing over 50 products at one time prior to developing a product management team, managing sales, marketing, technical support and technical services. ACD/Labs was one of Canada’s Fast 50 Tech Companies, and Forbes Fast 500 companies in 2001. His primary passions during his tenure with ACD/Labs was the continued adoption of web-based technologies and developing automated structure verification and elucidation platforms. While at ACD/Labs he suggested the possibility of developing a public resource for chemists attempting to integrate internet available chemical data. He finally pursued this vision with some close friends as a hobby project in the evenings and the result was the ChemSpider database ( Even while running out of a basement on hand built servers the website developed a large community following that eventually culminated in the acquisition of the website by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Tony joined the organization, together with some of the other ChemSpider team, and became their Vice President of Strategic Development. At RSC he continued to develop cheminformatics tools, specifically ChemSpider, and was the technical lead for the chemistry aspects of the Open PHACTS project (, a project focused on the delivery of open data, open source and open systems to support the pharmaceutical sciences. He was also the technical lead for the UK National Chemical Database Service ( and the RSC lead for the PharmaSea project ( attempting to identify novel natural products from the ocean. He left RSC in 2015 to become a Computational Chemist in the National Center of Computational Toxicology at the Environmental Protection Agency where he is bringing his skills to bear working with a team on the delivery of a new software architecture for the management and delivery of data, algorithms and visualization tools. The “Chemistry Dashboard” was released on April 1st, no fooling, at, and provides access to over 700,000 chemicals, experimental and predicted properties and a developing link network to support the environmental sciences. Tony remains passionate about computer-assisted structure elucidation and verification approaches and continues to publish in this area. He is also passionate about teaching scientists to benefit from the developing array of social networking tools for scientists and is known as the ChemConnector on the networks. Over the years he has had adjunct roles at a number of institutions and presently enjoys working with scientists at both UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University. He is widely published with over 200 papers and book chapters and was the recipient of the Jim Gray Award for eScience in 2012. In 2016 he was awarded the North Carolina ACS Distinguished Speaker Award.
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 27, 2007 in Community Building


0 Responses to The Joys and Frustrations of 6 Months Blogging in the Chemistry Community

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.