May 20, 2010

Media for Science Forum: poor organization, disappointing use of social media

A science journalism congress was held last week in Madrid, Spain, under the name Media for Science Forum (MFSF). This was a European congress dealing "with strategic issues about science communication and science journalism and its social dimension." One of its specific objectives was declared to be: "Explore new trends in Science Communication due to the web 2.0".

Well, this sounded really exciting to me (and registration was free!), so I planned to attend the congress. Unfortunately, the organization rejected my application due to the huge amount of requests received.

So, I couldn't attend the meeting in Madrid --but I followed the events from my home at London, using the internet.

This post describes my personal experience of MFSF, including a few thoughts about the use of social media. You are more than welcome to add your comments at the end of the post.

March 18th

I first learnt about the upcoming Media for Science Forum (MFSF) through an announcement made on the SINC webpage (in Spanish). SINC ( is a news agency focused on scientific research done at Spanish institutions and research done by Spaniards at foreign institutions.

After visiting the MSFS official webpage, I filled and sent the online registration form the very same day. Registration was free but seats were limited: the organization would contact me in due time to accept or reject my application.

After registration, I was expecting to receive an email, automatically generated by the system, acknowledging my registration and providing some additional information --this seems a common procedure for online forms--, but this message did not arrive.

Anyway, I sent a tweet to inform my Twitter followers about the event, suggesting a possible hashtag. I also announced the conference on the Science Writers Facebook page.

April 4th

Over two weeks passed, but I didn't receive any email from the organization, and no new information was posted on the MFSF website. So I sent them an email including all my personal information and a link to my CV. I also explained them that I needed to know about the success or failure of my application in a short time, as I eventually had to make some arrangements for my trip London-Madrid.

April 6th

The MFSF organization forwarded me an email, which was supposed to be sent to me on March 18th (but I had not received). The message thanked me for the registration and informed that I'd be contacted again by the organization about the possible success of my application. When? "Soon." No more details were included.

April 7th

I received an email with the following request: "We have had problems in our system, and I have to ask you to reconfirm the dates that you are planning to attend the Forum".

The problem is that the email did not come from the congress organization but from a known Spanish travel agency. I checked the MFSF website (again) looking for some explanation or connection to this travel agency: I couldn't find anything. Anyway, I replied with the requested information: I planned to attend both days (12th and 13th May).

April 12th

MFSF started to use Twitter and Facebook!

I thought: "Great, they'll keep us informed about what's going on."

Oh, how wrong I was...

April 14th

New email from the travel agency, including a message from the MFSF organizers: they started a blog!

"Excellent, another channel to keep in touch with us! Now we'll get some news!" -- or so I thought.

I wasn't sure if that message meant that my application had been successful, so I requested some information about it. They replied immediately: "Nobody is receiving any confirmation. The organizers are still receiving applications, and they haven't made any decisions yet. We will inform you in due time" (my Spanish-to-English translation).

April 28th

During the previous days I had exchanged a few messages with other members of a LinkedIn group (Periodismo científico y divulgativo, which is Spanish for "Science journalism"), and learnt that nobody seemed to have received any confirmation regarding their MFSF application.

So I posted a message on the MFSF Facebook page, requesting information (to see my message there, you need to click on "Media for Science and others", as the default page only shows messages written by the organizers).

They never replied to my message on Facebook.

April 29th

Six weeks after my registration, and 13 days before the event, the MFSF organizers sent me an email: "Unfortunately your request to participate on the congress has been denied due to the huge amount of requests received."

You can imagine this didn't make me very happy.

Anyway, I still expected to know more about the MFSF talks and discussions through the internet, by making use of social media.

May 12th: first day of the congress

Early in the morning, I learnt from Twitter (actually, I think it was through this Topsy search) that the MFSF talks were going to be broadcasted through live web streaming.

Oh, wait, it appeared that only the opening talk was to be transmitted.

Note that I didn't get that information thanks to MFSF "Web 2.0" tools: their blog, Twitter and Facebook pages were all mute about this issue at the time (and even later).

The opening talk --the only one that was to be live streamed-- was untitled and in charge of the General Director of FECYT (Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology). This didn't sound very exciting to me. So, I forgot about MFSF for the rest of the day. My plan was to check the internet for related discussions on the following days.

May 13th: second and last day of the congress

At midday, I was surprised to know (through Twitter, but not MFSF Twitter) that the forum broadcast was still live!

Although with some interruptions in the service, they had been transmitting the whole thing!? Apparently, this was just an unplanned, happy idea. Well, I guess nobody had thought about this possibility before...???

Anyway, so I was able to watch the afternoon talks. These included brief descriptions of European scientific news services (such as AlphaGalileo), and the final conclusions (which were not such a thing but a list of general recommendations). Nice, but not incredibly useful.

Today, May 20th
Today I've been searching the internet, including Twitter, for reactions to MFSF (see links below). It seems that the congress was quite popular on Twitter: the hashtag #mfsf (not the one I suggested) became the second trending topic on Twitter in Spain. That's pretty good for a science journalism congress!

...Although it must be said that many tweets were messages of the lifecasting type ("On my way to Madrid...", "Having a beer in...", and the like), which in my opinion only contribute to the noise -- when they are tagged with a congress hashtag.

From what I can read on the internet, it seems that most people found the forum interesting -- too bad my application was rejected. On the negative side, MFSF was poorly planned, and failed to provide essential information to potential attendees and the general public.

In particular, their use of social media (blog, Facebook, Twitter) for updates and conversation was really disappointing -- and remember that one of their specific objectives was to "explore new trends in science communication due to the web 2.0". After the first hello message, MFSF published only 10 messages on Twitter and 13 updates on Facebook (numbers correct at the time of writing this) -- and all these messages were just announcements of new blog posts. No updates about registration issues, no announcements concerning the live web broadcasting, no comments on specific talks, no conversation at all. That is useless to me.

Reactions to MFSF:
- No hay que ser innovador... tan sólo parecerlo [in Spanish] by Javi Peláez. La aldea irreductible, May 12th, 2010.
- Media for Science Forum (1), (2) and (3) [in Catalan] by Miquel Duran. Edunomia, May 12-13-14, 2010.
- Media for Science Forum and (II) [in Catalan] by Pep Anton Vieta. Pepquímic, May 12-15, 2010.
- Media for Science Forum 2010 – ein Rückblick [in German] by Hans-Dieter Zimmermann. FHS eSociety Blog, May 18th, 2010.
- El estado del periodismo científico, en el Media For Science Forum de Madrid [in Spanish but with English introduction] by Pere Estupinyà. Knight Science Journalism Tracker, May 19th, 2010.

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