May 1, 2016

Remembering Atheist Blog Carnivals

Queen of the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerif...
Queen of the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. This carnival is one of the largest in the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Not so long ago, between and 2005 and 2010 for instance, the atheist blogosphere was a very different place than it is today. There were a relatively small number of atheist blogs that had been active for more than a year, but new ones were beginning to pop up faster than I could count. There was something in the air, a certain excitement around atheism, humanism, secularism, and the like. It was an interesting time to be an atheist blogger.

These were the days of blog carnivals, and - wait a second - "what is a blog carnival," you ask? Good question. I don't think they exist any more, so I better explain what I'm talking about. There was a website called (it doesn't exist anymore) that listed all the blog carnivals and provided a portal for us to submit posts for consideration by various carnivals. Each blog carnival focused on a specific topic area (e.g., liberal politics, education, atheism, economics) and was held anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending on the specific carnival. A different blog hosted each edition of each carnival in the form of a blog post. Submissions accepted by the host were included in the carnival post in the form of links to recent blog posts pertaining to the topic of the carnival. Some hosts would write a traditional link post; others would craft the entire carnival post into more of a narrative (here's an example).

Blog carnivals, at least in their early days, were the ultimate in reciprocity. Hosting was quite a bit of work because the host would typically receive anywhere from 10-30 submissions and have to turn them into a carnival post within 24-48 hours. But the host benefited because virtually anyone who had a post accepted would link to the host's carnival post to promote it, and so would many of us who were interested in the subject matter even if we did not have a post included. Thus, the host would typically see a surge of traffic for a few days after posting the carnival post. Hosting a blog carnival was a great way for new blogs to be discovered by potential readers. At the same time, those who had their posts accepted received a link from the host's blog. They often benefited from increased traffic, and this would also prove to be a great way for new bloggers to be discovered. I remember learning about many excellent blogs through blog carnivals.

One of the first blog carnivals I found and the one to which I contributed the most over the years was Carnival of the Godless. I learned about this one in 2005 shortly after starting Atheist Revolution. A new secular blog carnival called the Humanist Symposium appeared a couple years later in 2007. It distinguished itself from Carnival of the Godless by only accepting contributions from atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers and by only taking posts that focused on humanism. Posts criticizing religion were discouraged in favor of those that offered "a positive alternative to belief systems based on the supernatural." Although less of my content at the time fit their focus, I promoted the Humanist Symposium heavily and hosted one in 2009.

Besides these two carnivals, I also contributed to some blog carnivals on other topics. This proved to be a great way to reach people who might never have ended up visiting an atheist blog. Sure, this sometimes resulted in visits from angry Christians; however, I did connect with some new readers this way too. In fact, I suspect that I managed to reach at least a couple people who had never really bothered to think about atheism before.

Why don't we still have blog carnivals today? I think there are many reasons, and most have to do with how much the atheist blogosphere and the Internet as a whole has changed since those days. Over time, both hosting and contributing seemed to bring less and less traffic. It became increasingly difficult for those who started blog carnivals to find anyone willing to host them. By 2008, Carnival of the Godless was in danger of shutting down for this reason. It managed to survive into 2010 before opting to close. By 2009, the person behind one of the longest running and most selective blog carnivals, Carnival of the Liberals, was wondering aloud whether it was time to wrap it up. It was not just the challenge of finding hosts; the number and quality of submissions had also been declining. Of course, the rise of social media was also likely a contributing factor. Blog carnivals had become obsolete.

As the atheist blogosphere grew and blog networks emerged, the gap between high traffic blogs and low traffic blogs expanded. If a high traffic blog were to host a blog carnival, it would see a minimal traffic boost. It was already pulling decent numbers, making it more difficult to justify the traffic benefit of hosting a blog carnival. But the rest of us would benefit more from the links we would receive from a blog carnival hosted at a high traffic blog. On the other hand, when a low traffic blog hosted a blog carnival, the benefit to the contributors from the links received was fairly minimal. Both around hosting and contributing, the incentives became less valuable.

Blog carnivals were great for what they were and for their time. I credit them with helping me to grow my traffic, find new readers, and discover many new atheist blogs to read. And yet, aside from the nostalgia associated with a different time, I cannot say I really miss them. They served their purpose, but we have moved on to other things. There are now easier ways to accomplish what blog carnivals once accomplished (e.g., social media).
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