I keep getting asked: why should I participate in blog carnivals?
The Wikipedia page about blog carnivals is not really accurate (it includes things that are not carnivals), and also suffers from overzealous, obsessive-compulsive, self-important administrators (who have probably never seen a carnival, never submitted a post to one, never hosted one, never started or managed one, ah well…).
I have written a lot about carnivals in the past (see especially this, this, this, this and this) so you should check those out for more “meaty” treatments, though some of the stuff in there is a little out-of-date (and some links may be broken).
So, let me try to state this briefly here (newbie bloggers first, oldie bloggers below).
Let’s say you consider yourself to be a new science blogger by some reasonable criteria. You tend to write about various topics in science, nature, medicine, environment, you debunk pseudoscience or muse about the life in the academia. If you are a new blogger, nobody knows about you, your traffic is 3 visits per day, and you have no idea who else out there writes stuff you are interested in – carnival is a place for you. How?
Step I – find the appropriate carnivals
Here, let me help you – a list of good current science-related carnivals (hover over the titles to see what they are about):
Carnival of the Blue
Carnival of the Green
The Giant’s Shoulders
Cabinet of Curiosities
Circus of the Spineless
I And The Bird
Berry Go Round
Festival of the Trees
Molecular and Cell Biology Carnival
Change of Shift
Four Stone Hearth
The Accretionary Wedge
Cancer research blog carnival
Carnival of Space
Carnival of Mathematics
Medicine 2.0 Blog Carnival
Step II – read the carnivals
Once you find the carnival(s) that are close to your interests, go and check out the homepage to see what are the official criteria and “rules”, then go to the very latest edition (or two, or dozen or 200, as far back into the past as you have stamina to go). Click on every link and open every post. Read them.
First, you will find things you did not know before – you will learn something new.
Second, you will get the feel for what kinds of posts are appropriate for the carnival. You will see which posts you like and which ones you don’t, which posts have a lot of comments and which ones have none, which blogs are popular (and why) and which ones are not. You will quickly develop your own ‘taste’ and from it your own ‘style’.
Third, when you really like a post, click around that blog to see what else is there on the front page and in the archives. Bookmark and blogroll the blogs you like the best. Start posting nice, intelligent, polite comments on the blogs you like and on specific posts you like. Start making connections….
Also, start linking to the new editions of your favourite carnivals as they get published – sometimes the trackbacks will show up and bring you some back-traffic, but even if not, the host will come to pay you a visit and may look around to see who you are.
Step III – submit to carnivals
Some hosts are picky, but most will include pretty much every decent post in the edition of the carnival they are hosting. Thus, once you write a post that you think satisfies the criteria for the inclusion in the carnival, submit it. You are likely to be included if your stuff is worth anything. If you were unlucky with a picky host the first time, try again next week. You’ll get in there eventually. This is not a peer-reviewed journal, it’s a community magazine. Peer-review will come later, in the comments on your post.
When the carnival edition containing your post gets published, quickly link to it. Post a ‘thank you’ note in the comments of the carnival (with your name linking back to your blog, as always). Enjoy the traffic (you do have some kind of sitemeter or traffic tracker, don’t you?) and be prepared to politely respond to the comments that may show up on that post even if the comments seem a little harsh at first (you’ll get used to the blunt tone of the blogosphere after a while and your polite tone will mellow some of the blunter commenters’ tone – feel free to just delete obvious trolls and spam).
Most of the visitors will come once and leave as soon as they are done reading that one post. But a few will stay longer and look around. If they like what they see, they will keep coming back. You should be getting a more permanent bump in the traffic as well as some more comments than usual. You will notice (you do check on Technorati who is linking to you, don’t you?) that some people may put you on their blogrolls or in their RSS feeds.
Do it again next week (or fortnight or month or whatever) and monitor how people respond to your posts. Learn from the experience.
Step IV – host a carnival
Once your posts have been included in several carnivals, consider volunteering to host an edition. First read the posts linked inside this post to prepare. Take the job seriously – read all the entries carefully, publish the carnival on time, make it neat, check that all links are working correctly, notify all the participants (as well as regular promoters of carnivals like PZ, Greg Laden, Grrrrl, me etc.) by e-mail as soon as the carnival is up.
Then enjoy the increased traffic and comments. You are now really, truly, on the list of “who is who in the science blogosphere”!
Consider doing it again….
But still, ….why?
Because this is the best way to build a community around a particular topic – the quickest, easiest way for people who are harboring similar interests to find each other, decide if they like each other, to boost each other’s rankings and traffic, and, if needed, to organize together for some kind of action. In best cases, you will meet some of those bloggers in person and forge new friendships, or even scientific collaborations.
Then, there is a special case – American atheists. For decades almost every U.S. atheist thought that he/she was the only one, or at least the only one in town. It felt unsafe to say anything about it. But the Web changed this. First on Usenet groups, and later on forums and blogs. With the current explosion of blogs and blog readers, suddenly atheists realized they are not alone, not even in their towns, and that their numbers are much greater than the polls and censuses suggest. With the safety in numbers, it is now possible to come out of the closet.
And I would argue that Carnival of the Godless played a key role in this development as a venue for atheists to find each other, eye-ball their numbers, exchange ideas, and plan action – how to make atheism OK in the United States, how to make it OK to analyze/critique/criticize religion, how to pull together to counter the eggregious influences of religion on politics and society. Yes, some find it unpleasant to hear vocal atheists – after all, Americans have always been enculturated that criticizing religion is not something done in polite company so some sensibilities are hurt, but that is exactly what happened in the past in the matters of race, gender and sexual orientation. Nothing changes until someone fights for it. And the fight makes some people uncomfortable. It is their discomfort that eventually results in change for the better, even if it is because they are sick and tired of hearing it so they succumb to the persistent noise and start supporting the cause so it will stop! And nobody gets out of the closet until there is a perception of numerical advantage. And the Carnival of the Godless provided that perception for a lot of people.
How about the old-timers?
If you are an older, already prominent blogger, your participation will not likely affect your traffic, popularity or rate of commenting. But, you are prominent at least in part because you were an early adopter – one of the first science bloggers around. It is almost a duty, or pay-back time, to promote those who are good but new and need our help and promotion. It is not hard to link to new editions of carnivals, occasionally host one, sometimes send an entry to one or another carnival. It boosts other people’s traffic, it boosts their confidence (“I was in the same carnival with PZ!”), and helps build the community. You/we should all do it sometimes.