July 24, 2009

How to Save Blog Carnivals

Carnival fascination - IImage by carf via Flickr

A recent post at Tangled Up In Blue Guy got me thinking. The post was reproduced from Leo Lincourt of Neural Gourmet fame. Leo is the one behind Carnival of the Liberals, and his post asked readers to consider whether it was time to end the long-running carnival. I've made no secret of being a fan of blog carnivals. Not surprisingly, my initial reaction was, "Hell no! We need a blog carnival celebrating progressive political blogging." But it isn't quite that simple. The influence of blog carnivals has been declining steadily, and there is no denying that they just aren't what they used to be. In this post, I'll share some thoughts on how we might save the blog carnival. However, you'll have to decide for yourself whether we should work to save them.

There are many reasons for the declining influence of blog carnivals. Leo describes a decline in the number of worthwhile submissions, and I have heard from those involved in other blog carnivals that this reflects a wider trend. Leo also notes that it has becoming increasingly difficult to find hosts for upcoming carnivals. Again, the same problem has been described repeatedly by those in charge of other blog carnivals such as Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium. Leo also questions whether blog carnivals are simply becoming obsolete in this age of Twitter, FriendFeed, Tumblr, etc.

Nobody wants to be in charge of a carnival in decline, so Leo's query about whether it is time to pull the plug is perfectly understandable. Managing a carnival is a lot of work, and it has to be frustrating to feel like one is losing an uphill battle against forces beyond one's control.

Ideas for Saving Blog Carnivals

As contributors, hosts, and readers of blog carnivals, we need to decide whether we want to save the medium. I can't decide this for anyone but myself, and the reality is that the effects of any efforts on my part to persuade you one way of the other would be short-lived at best. Instead, I offer the following thoughts about how we might save blog carnivals:
  1. Educate the authors of newer, smaller blogs about the benefits of hosting and contributing to blog carnivals.
  2. Reduce overlap in existing blog carnivals.
  3. Encourage contributors who have posts accepted to do a better job of promoting the carnival post via social media (e.g., StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, etc.).
  4. Encourage those who manage blog carnivals to reconsider editorial policies.
I know some of these suggestions might not be sufficiently clear, so I'll elaborate on them one-by-one.

For more established blogs, hosting a blog carnival involves considerable effort in exchange for little added traffic. Those running newer or smaller blogs are those most likely to benefit from hosting a blog carnival, and yet, these bloggers are the least likely to be familiar with blog carnivals. The same can be said for submitting posts to a blog carnival. This can have a big impact for less established blogs because a good post will bring the author considerable attention.

The overlap issue isn't really a problem for Carnival of the Liberals, but it certainly is for Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium. On weeks when these two carnivals overlap, it is difficult to know where to send contributions that might be appropriate for both.

For authors who have posts accepted by various blog carnivals, it goes without saying that you should do a post on your own blog directing readers to the carnival. Beyond that, make sure you submit or vote up the carnival on every social media network possible. This brings the host additional traffic and brings you more visitors as well.

Carnival of the Liberals generally only accepts the 10 posts which the host likes the best. Given the current state of blog carnivals, I think this is a mistake. Over the years, this practice has earned Carnival of the Liberals a reputation as a rather picky carnival. The problem is that this discourages many bloggers from tailoring posts to the carnival. As someone who has had multiple posts rejected by this carnival, I know I do not submit as much as I might otherwise. Admittedly, there is a trade off - poor quality posts should be screened out, but some modification of editorial policies seems warranted.

Other ideas?

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