Today marks my ten-year blogging anniversary. That doesn't seem possible, but there it is: ten years since I sat down and chose a Blogger template and starting typing away into the void. So what have I learned in all that time (and after all that blather?)
Where It Fits and How It's Done
I may well have been the first science blogger, because it didn't take me long to start talking about drug discovery, as opposed to current events and the like. (Even in 2002, I thought that blogging the news was an overcrowded field, and little did I know how much more crowded it would become). But blogging drug discovery still isn't a very crowded field at all, for various reasons. One of those surely is that most of it is done in an industrial setting, and very few people have felt comfortable blogging from inside a drug company.
The fact that I do so might be due to circumstances that are hard to repeat. It helped that I started out before most people had any idea of what a blog was, and it probably helped that my company's highest management levels at the time were on another continent and spoke another language. And naturally, it's also helped that I've carefully avoided ever being seen as a spokesperson for any company I've worked for. (Or a source of inside information, God forbid). But there are so many topics to write about that this has never been a real problem. When I started, I wondered if I'd be able to keep things up, but there's hardly a day when I don't find something to write about. The material just keeps coming, and I'm glad of it.
That's because I actually enjoy doing this - I don't suppose I could have lasted this long if I didn't! I compose quickly, and type quickly, which helps keep blogging from becoming a chore. As for what to write about, keeping up with the literature and the industry is something that I would have been doing already, and it really doesn't add much time to sit down and write up something about what I've been reading and thinking. (It helps, in fact, to clarify my thoughts - I'm sure that I retain a lot more information for having blogged about it).
Who Reads It, Anyway?
As it happens, a lot of people really do seem to be interested in this stuff. That was my hope - one reason for blogging was that every time I talked to people outside science about what I did for a living, they seemed to think (1) that it was a really neat job, and (2) that they'd never heard of it being a job at all. No one really seemed to know where drugs came from, and despite my efforts (!), most people still don't.
I get letters all the time, though, from non-scientists who read the site, and they make me very happy. Not everything here is accessible or interesting to non-scientists, but I try to make sure that enough of it is to keep people hanging around. And then there are the scientist readers themselves, who make of the bulk of the audience around here. To them I owe a rare distinction: one of the highest signal-to-noise ratios in in the entire world of blog comments. That's really the case - other bloggers have asked me many times what I do to keep things from devolving, and I tell them that it isn't me, it's the people who come here. It's not like every comment thread is a river of gold, but there's a lot more gold there than you'd expect from general run of the blog world.
Readership has increased steadily over the years. Here's the chart, minus the first couple of years, which tail off just the way you'd think, and minus a few months back in 2006, around the time the Wonder Drug Factory was running into trouble and I forgot to save the stats.
Basically, every time I think that the numbers have plateaued, they haven't. Most recently, mid-2010 to mid-2011 had pretty much the same readership levels, but lately things seem to be rising yet again. (And note that my stats don't pick up people who see the blog on RSS feeds, which I think has been an increasing percentage over the years). Far more people are willing to read about chemistry and drug discovery than I ever imagined.
Day-to-day, posts about misery (huge layoffs and the like) get a lot of traffic, which says something about human nature that close observers will have already noted. But a steady diet of misery lacks a number of essential nutrients. The "Things I Won't Work With" posts get the largest non-scientific readership, which is why I'm whacking them into book shape (to appear first on the Kindle, etc.) And posts about patents and IP issues almost always drive a small but noticeable number of people away - if I did a solid week or two of those, who knows if the site would ever recover.
Overall, though, the site has had what I think is a fairly consistent tone over its whole history. That may be because I have a fairly consistent tone myself. A few years ago, I was unnerved when I started looking over some of my older posts and thought that they were clearly better than anything I was turning out at the time. But that seems to be a general psychological effect - older posts always, eventually, look more polished to me because I still have the fresh experience of tumbling the new ones out onto the page. The old ones felt the same way at the time, though. Hindsight polishes them up.
The drug industry is a very different place than it was when I started blogging. Basically, every time I've thought that the worst had passed, it hadn't. I hate to be that negative-sounding, but it's hard to deny that the last ten years - especially the last six or seven of them - have been some of the roughest water that drug R&D has ever experienced. I never thought that I'd have to work at keeping the site from becoming the Blog of Constant Pharma Layoffs, but I've had to.
But that said, the way the industry works hasn't really changed over that time, not in any fundamental ways. (Those two trends may not be unrelated). We have some techniques now that weren't used much back then, but the broad strokes of the business are identical: find some hits, most likely through screening. Develop them into leads, and turn the med-chem people loose on them to do SAR. Fix the potency, fix the selectivity, fix the PK, and then put them into tox and cross your fingers. Send the winning compound to the clinic, put it into Phase I and cross your fingers, this time on both hands. Send it to Phase II, crossing all your fingers, your toes, and your lower intestines. And send it to Phase III, crossing all those body parts while sacrificing a two-headed goat and barbecuing it over bales of money. You know, the usual grind.
The scientific literature has changed, though - and in almost every way, it's become more like blogging and less like it used to be. Print journals have looked archaic for some time, and will likely continue their vanishing act. I haven't seen a hard copy of any of the journals I read in. . .months? Years? Articles get published online, discussed online (shared, boosted, or picked apart), and their authors, their publishers, and their readers are paying attention to things like traffic stats, comments, and links. That'll continue, too, and I think that science will be better off for it.
For the industry? I have no idea. Well, that's not completely true. I have several ideas, but they can't all be right at the same time. For this blog? That's easier - I have every intention of keeping it going, because I still enjoy it. And it's opened up a lot of opportunities that I never would have had otherwise. I had no idea what was going to happen when I started it, although it's safe to say that I wasn't exactly planning on it becoming one of the key turning points of my life. But that's what happened. Here's to more of it!