Open Access Business Models That Can Actually Work - Sigma-Aldrich's ChemBlogs

A gem of a chemistry blog has been operating for some time - apparently without much notice. ChemBlogs is Sigma-Aldrich's Web answer to their Aldrichimica Acta print magazine, and it's packed with mini-reviews on synthetic chemistry with links to the primary literature. This approach to scientific marketing has so much potential, I can't imagine why others aren't doing it.

Nevertheless, there are some small things that could be done to make ChemBlogs a lot more effective. Here, in no particular order, are some suggestions:

  • Submit the RSS feed to Chemical Blogspace. Chemical Blogspace is perhaps the most widely-read aggregator of free chemistry content on the Web. And it's one of the best ways to get your chemistry blog noticed, bookmarked, and linked to.
  • Make it easier to discover and use a post's permalink. If I see an article I like in ChemBlogs, such as this one on gold catalysis, there's no obvious way for me to link to it in my own blog. Standard practice is that all titles on the front page are hyperlinked to the article's permalink. This article discusses the importance of permalinks.
  • Don't moderate comments - use reCAPTCHA instead. Nothing stifles online discussion like moderated comments. The Web is about immediacy. Make a change and see it live instantly. Everything else is so 1999. If spam is the concern, reCAPTCHA is a wonderful tool for the job.
  • Drop the company group when identifying authors. No reader cares whether Sharbil J. Firsan is part of the Marketing Group or not. In fact, it's a bit of a turn-off to have the word "Marketing" appear at all.
  • Each author should have an online bio that links to their name. Although titles and company divisions are not useful, other information about authors is. In a multi-author blog like ChemBlogs, the byline should hyperlink to a bio of the author, or a collection of their writing. This makes it easier for readers to follow authors they like.
  • Link to the primary literature via DOI. ChemBlogs cites many articles appearing in journals, which is a great thing. Unfortunately, there's no way for a search engine to know that this is happening. The simple fix is to hyperlink a literature citation to the DOI entry, like this one for Chem. Rev. 1994, 94, 2483-2547.
  • Include InChIs for all important structures. Free tools like InChIMatic can then be used to quickly find articles dealing with those molecules.
  • Post more frequently and/or regularly. More content means more eyeballs. When it's regularly posted, readers know when to expect it.
  • Invite some working scientists to write articles. If recent experience with Wikipedia and Chemistry is any guide, there are plenty of capable scientist more than willing to create free, high-quality compound monographs and other chemical content. Invite some of them to contribute very short articles for ChemBlogs in their area of expertise and see what happens.
  • Release all content under a Creative Commons License. Information wants to be free - why not make it free? Allowing ChemBlogs' content to spread far and wide just makes it that much more visible. For example, at last count, Depth-First content was reproduced on about a dozen other Web sites, including one in Korean. This matches my goals exactly, and it's all perfectly legal thanks to the way the content is licensed.

With a little tweaking, Sigma-Aldrich's experiment in Permission Marketing could pay off - for everyone. Readers would conveniently get useful bits of information to make them more productive. The Internet would get new, high-quality chemical content - free to use and link to. Who knows - this might even become an Open Access business model that actually works.

And Sigma-Aldrich would have a far more effective marketing tool than anything else they currently use. With the possible exception of the Handbook, but even that could change.