The very first blog carnival was conceived right here, in Chapel Hill, some four-five years ago or so. Since then, the idea took off and there are now thousands of blog carnivals, some generalist, some regional, but most are topical with topics ranging from food to sports to politics. But, probably due to the funny name, new bloggers and observers are often baffled at the concept. I thought it would be a good idea to have a session that explains the concept of the carnival, specifically how the carnivals related to science, nature and medicine are somewhat different from other kinds of carnivals, and why they are Good For You.
Well, there are two people who have spent a lot of time studying and writing about science-related carnivals. I am one of them (read this for the latest, as well as for the links to older material) but as an organizer I did not want to tie myself down with actually leading the session. The other one is Mike Bergin, so he was the obvious choice to invite to lead this session - Blog carnivals: why you should participate.
Mike has written probably the most comprehensive guide to blog carnivals ever - a must read if you intend to participate in, host or start a carnival. So, in his session, he delivered - a good explanation of what a carnival is, how to approach it as a new blogger (or an old blogger for that matter) and why carnivals are an important aspect of the blogosphere.
Science-related carnivals are similar to popular science magazines, or, in some cases, even to lightly peer-reviewed journals. A well-maintained archive of a carnival is like a human-managed search engine on the topic: you can use it to start your search of a topic and how science blogosphere covered it at the moment it was hot news. This function will become more and more important in the future, as blogosphere becomes older.
Sure, you can go to Google or Technorati and search blogs for a topic, but what you'll get are millions of hits, most of them simple links or copy+paste jobs - useless waste of time. A carnival will contain the best examples of blog coverage of the topic and the included posts will often also contain links to other worthwhile coverage of the same topic - thus a good start for a smart, targeted search. Not to mention how much more fun it is to read stuff with a human touch and an editorial hand as compared to just using an automated, soulless application.
But carnivals have several other functions. And I was happy to see some of them mentioned in other sessions at the conference.
For instance, many bloggers use carnivals for self-discipline in their blogging. Yes, you post LOLcats and YouTube videos most of the time, but once every week or two you make yourself sit down and do some research and write a serious, carnival-worthy post, just so you can submit it to your favourite carnival.
Furthermore, the existence of a particular carnival may make a blogger get outside of regular topics and explore something different. For instance, The Giant's Shoulders has provoked many science bloggers to start digging into the history of science and writing posts about classical papers or historical concepts in science. This was, I understand, stressed strongly in the 'History of Science' session that day.
One function of carnivals that many appreciate the most is the community building it enables. For intance, in her analysis of the connectivity of science blogs, Christina Pikas discovered an unusually tight cluster of female scientist blogs. Several of those bloggers were present at the conference and, in a few sessions, all credited Scientiae carnival as one of the key community-building tools.
We could also see (and hear, oh did we ever!) that marine bloggers are also a tightly-knit community. In another session (on blogging networks, for instance) they mentioned that Carnival of the Blue is a key tool for building their community, discovering and introducing new marine biology bloggers, introducing each other and organizing events (even if it's The Invertebrate War - a wonderful community-building tool in itself).
I And The Bird was mentioned as an important tool for building communities in the 'Nature blogging' session as well. A carnival similar to Scientiae but focused on minorities in science may come out of discussions at the conference as well.
Finally, usually around Christmas when everyone is either busy or offline, some carnivals suffer gaps or start appearing dead - managing them takes work! The discussions at the conference led to appeals to rescue some of those, with immediate results - Circus of the Spineless has a new manager and will re-start publishing on Monday. Likewise, Tangled Bank (the carnival equivalent of Nature) is about to stage a comeback.
I hope that Mike's session has informed new people about the importance of carnivals and spurred others to revive old or start new ones.
More coverage of this session:
10000birds: Talking Blog Carnivals at ScienceOnline09
Nature Blog Network: What is a Blog Carnival?
Deep Thoughts and Silliness: Semi-live Blogging Scienceonline09: Day 1
Living the Scientific Life: What Happened to Tangled Bank?
Living the Scientific Life: Science Blog Carnivals: Another Endangered Species
Other sessions in this time-slot that I missed:
bjoern.brembs.net: ScienceOnline09: Open Notebook Science
Highly Allochthonous: ScienceOnline Day 1: generalised ramblings
Science in the open: The integrated lab record - or the web native lab notebook
The Flying Trilobite: ScienceOnline09 - Art & Science afterword
Ideonexus: ScienceOnline09: Science and Art
Bioephemera: Art vs. Science, Part One: Semiconductor
The Flying Trilobite: Art & Science at ScienceOnline '09 discussion continues...
Expression Patterns: ScienceOnline09 - Day 2
Nobel Intent: ScienceOnline 09: History, art, and science
HASTAC blogs: Liveblogging ScienceOnline '09: Anonymity and Pseudonymity - Building Reputation Online
Knowledge Sharing: ScienceOnline'09: Anonymity, Pseudonymity
Confessions of a Science Librarian: ScienceOnline '09: Saturday summary
Christina's LIS Rant: Science Online '09: Saturday PM
Extreme Biology: Anna's Favorite Moment from Science Online '09
The blog/media coverage linkfest is growing fast (perhaps start at the bottom and work your way up, posting comments on the way and saying Hello to your new friends), there are ongoing discussions on FriendFeed and new pictures on Flickr. Also, if you were there, please fill up this short form to give us feedback, so we can make next year's meeting even better.