ConvergeSouth is on Friday and Saturday. I am part of the session on "community building" and I am invited to explain the concept of the blog carnival. It is going to be fluid and conversational, i.e., I will not be standing up and lecturing for 20 minutes, but I need to have my thoughts clear and talking points ready. This post is a mental preparation for me. Writing this post may help me make my points more concise than the usual marathon posts I write on this (or any other topic). I may even pull up this post on Friday and have it contain links to places I want to show the conferees.
What is a blog carnival?
A blog carnival is a:
Can you think of a shorter or better definition?
What does this all mean?
Linkfest: A linkfest is a blog post containing a bunch of links to posts from other blogs. A blog carnival is a series of such linkfests. Unlike in a usual linkfest, the links are not chosen by the owner of the blog, but are submitted as entries by the authors of those blog posts (or their friends).
Rotating: Each edition of the carnival appears on a different blog.
Regular: Editions of the carnival appear with predictable regularity. If it is slated to appear every Wednesday, it actually does always appear on every Wednesday (or every two weeks, or every three months, or whatever is the official frequency).
Well-archived: The carnival has a homepage with links to all editions of the carnival. The archives are updated promptly after an issue appears.
Well-defined: The homepage states the theme, topic and goal of the carnival, the duties of the hosts, the criteria for the inclusion of the links into a carnival, and the mechanics of hosting and submitting the entries.
The oldest carnival, Carnival of the Vanities, is just over three years old. Most carnivals got started within the last few months. This is still an early time in the development of the concept and there is a lot of experimentation going on. However, it can already be seen that carnivals that do not entirely fulfill the definition above do not thrive as well as those that do.
Without a clear criterion and topic, or without a readily accessible archive, or without rotation, or with unpredictable timing, the carnival can never engender a sense of ownership by the community of bloggers associated by that particular carnival. If nothing else, the return on the investment, measured in hits and new readers, is diminished for both hosts and participants if some of the elements are missing.
The Three Functions of the Carnivals
Beyond the short-term enjoyment of discovering and reading cool blogs, or getting many hits and new readers, there are three major long-term functions that carnivals can potentially fulfill.
First, for a researcher in the future, e.g., a historian, journalist or student in 2055 who needs to research a topic, e.g., popular response to Katrina, no search engine can separate the wheat from the chaff among the millions of blog entries written on the subject. The best entry into a topic on blogs is to find carnivals with the right theme - general magazine format, or political - and look at the archives from September 2005. This avoids sifting through millions of one-liners with links, or reprints of the same photos over and over again. Carnivals contain the best posts submitted by the authors - thus usually longer, more thoughtful pieces that also tend to contain further links to other bloggers' longer, more thoughtful pieces. An ideal place to start may be Blogarithmicly, a carnival of linkfests. A September issue actually contains a linkfest of Katrina blogging. You have considerably narrowed down your search to some of the best posts that will then lead you to the other best posts on the subject.
Second function is building a geographic community. This usually means building a political community, but there is no reason why it cannot be a business community or a community gathered around a hobby, sport, or even dating. What is important about these carnivals is that the members are occupying the same geographical area and can, potentially, meet in person, or organize action concerning a local issue. Large geographical areas, like Asia, Canada, Balkans, or British Isles, may be too big for political organizing or putting together people who want to meet in person. Smaller countries, like New Zealand and Malta now have their carnivals. But the best are the smallest. The first state-wide carnival is The Tar Heel Tavern, here in North Carolina, but there are now carnivals of New York, New Jersey, Montana, Virginia and Wisconsin bloggers, with a Kansas one in the planning stages. Interestingly, it is the conservative bloggers who felt the need to start carnivals in Blue States and the liberal bloggers in Red States. Some remain strictly one-sided politically, while others strive towards bi-partisanship or even a non-political atmosphere. Week after week, you discover more and more like-minded bloggers who are your physical neighbors.
The third function is community building around a topic or common interest. I have explored this idea concerning science blogging before. This is globalization at its best - an opportunity for people in poor countries to join the networks on equal footing with their colleagues in rich countries, and to be recognized for what they are worth. Topical carnivals, like Tangled Bank, Grand Rounds, Philosophy Carnival or History Carnival, provide the opportunity to discover, every week or two, like-minded bloggers from around the world. You discover blogs that immediatelly go into your RSS feed and your blog goes into their feeds. Thus, you gain regular readers as well as become a regular reader of blogs that cover the same topics you are interested in. Beyond increased traffic, you build friendships that, who knows, may be really helpful in the future - like getting a job! If somebody on a search committee is an academic blogger who knows and likes your blog, don't you think you'll have a greater chance of getting hired in spite of coming from a lower-tier school or even a Third World country?
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You make some good points about blog carnivals, and here's another:
Blog carnival hosts need to be wary of the blogs they accept, as it is entirely possible for the hosts to promote stolen content. I've had this happen to me on several occassions. I write articles and post them online, but blog thieves steal them (meaning, they publish them on their blog without my byline). Then, I see these same articles hosted on a blog carnival. I know I'm not the only one who has had stolen content posted on a blog, and hosted on a blog carnival.
In a way I take it as a compliment that somebody wants to call my work his/her own. But it also gets me down, because I work hard to put out good content, and having it stolen is discouraging.
I encourage potential blog carnival hosts to be ultra-picky about the content they host on their blogs. It's far too easy to unknowingly promote stolen content.
This rarely ever happens in small specialized carnivals (e.g., Boneyard, Oecologie, etc.) where everyone pretty much knows each other. But for the big carnivals, this is definitely an issue to pay attention to. Thanks for pointing this out.
You have to be careful of people that change content too. If I post a very legit blog about the price of icecream in China and wait for the links to appear on my page I can then edit my blog content to pass a reverse message, or porn or whatever.