The Open Laboratory is the annual anthology of the best writing on science blogs. Yes, this is an actual, physical book, printed on paper.
The aim of the book is twofold: first, to showcase the quality of science blogging to the audience that does not read blogs and perhaps has a negative opinion of blogs due to the anti-blog propaganda in the mainstream media, and second, to build and strengthen the science blogging community.
The idea for the compilation came from a discussion between Anton Zuiker and a representative of the Raleigh-based online book publisher Lulu.com. They were trying to find a fun and useful way for the company to sponsor the first ScienceOnline conference (then called Triangle Science Blogging Conference). As it was late December 2006 there were only about four weeks left until the conference, so they thought there was not sufficient time to collect and publish such a book and have it ready in time for the meeting.
But I thought it could be done if the project was completely crowdsourced. I posted a call for submissions on my blog and e-mailed hundreds of science bloggers asking them to recommend either their own or other people’s best posts which they promptly did. I then asked several science blogging friends to help me read and evaluate all the entries. This narrowed the field from 218 submissions down to 62. Out of those 62 finalists, I picked 50 essays, making sure that different areas of science, as well as different formats and styles, were represented in the final version. I contacted the authors and, with huge help from Anton Zuiker on the technical side of things, put the book together and had it published just in time for the first Conference. You can buy the first edition here.
The book was an instant success – both among the bloggers and in reviews published in several media outlets and journals (including in Nature). It became obvious that this had to become an annual project. But it was also obvious that this project is too big for one person to handle alone.
Thus, for the second anthology, I asked Reed Cartwright to act as the 2007 guest editor. The number of entries doubled, so his help in setting up the technology for submission, judging and sorting the entries was invaluable. His technical skills also made the book look much better. Thus, the second book was born. You can buy it here.
In 2008, guest editor Jennifer Rohn brought her editorial skills (as well as skills in persuading several other people to help) to produce an even more professionally edited and prettier book – you can find it here.
The work on the 2010 book is in progress. The guest editor is Jason Goldman. The Submission form is here and the instructions for submitting are here. You can buy all four annual collections here and you can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.
I post the full updated listing of all the submissions every Monday morning. This serves as a reminder for bloggers to submit their (and other people’s) posts, and to some extent prevents duplicate entries. But most importantly, it presents a growing listing of some of the most exciting work on science blogs. This is a weekly post where bloggers can discover each other and discover blogs they were not previously aware of. Thus it is also a promotion for all the bloggers involved.
The complete transparency of the process and the community involvement in the entire project are the biggest strength of it. Everyone in the science blogging world feels a little bit of pride in it and a little bit of ownership in it. Competition is tough, but everyone is very sportman-like when the final winners are announced in late December or early January, everyone congratulates the winners and everyone helps promote the book to their friends and families. Thus the project serves both as a glue for the community and as a means for the community to promote itself to the people outside of it, including people who are not online at all. Thus both the science and the world of blogging gain new readers from the project.