What is a blog carnival?
It is a crowd-sourced online magazine, occurring at a regular interval, usually rotating hosting blogs for each edition. Bloggers submit their best posts from a particular period or on a particular topic to the next editions’ host who accepts (or rejects) the entries, and edits the blog post that contains nicely arranged and introduced links to all the entered posts. Thus, it is a well-defined, well-archived, regular, rotating linkfest. Usually all the included bloggers link back to the carnival from their blogs (as well as other online sites, e.g., social networks) thus bringing attention and traffic to the host, as well as to all the bloggers whose work is included in that edition.
The carnival as a bloggy phenomenon got its name from the very first one, Carnival of the Vanities, which was started by blogger Sid in Chapel Hill, NC on his blog Silflay Hraka back in 2005. Today, there are more than 10,000 carnivals on a variety of topics, most of them live (they do sometimes die off), and all compiled on the Blog Carnival site.
Why should you participate in blog carnivals? Let me try to explain how it works, so perhaps you can see if there is a value in it for you.
Step I – find the appropriate carnivals
A number of blog carnivals have science, nature and medicine topics. While several have lasted a year or two and then quietly died, a number of them are still live and kicking. Here is a sample of sciencey blog carnivals that are currently running:
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 Google Blogsearch or 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.
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 your 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 and helps build the community. You should all do it sometimes.