Thursday, April 14, 2005

Carnival Idea: Public Nominations

There's a very thought-provoking discussion going on over at enwe's meta-blog, which raises issues about the practice of self-submissions to the Philosophers' Carnival. Enwe and Clark were arguing that we often aren't the best judges of how interesting our posts are, so it would be better to have other people nominate our posts rather than having us choose and submit our own. I want to explore that idea further here.

To some extent I agree with them. However, I think it's a bit one-sided in that they're only looking at it from the reader's perspective, i.e. what would make for the most interesting carnival. That's definitely an important consideration, but I also want the carnival to be a service to blog authors, not just readers. There are a variety of possible reasons a blogger might wish to submit a post to the carnival -- the enjoyment of others being just one such reason. Perhaps the post touches on an issue which is important to the author, who wants to receive feedback on it. Someone might even intentionally submit what isn't their best work, precisely because they want a chance to improve it and learn from others' criticisms.

So I want to leave the options open for those who wish to submit a post for unusual reasons. In particular, I want authors to have the final say on which of their posts gets included (subject to the carnival host's approval, of course). Nevertheless, I do think it would be helpful to encourage more external nominations, especially for those bloggers who are reluctant to judge their own work.

Here's an idea I came up with: perhaps nominations to the carnival ought to be made publicly. For each upcoming carnival, I could make an 'open thread' for people to make their nominations (of others) in the comments section. If you read a really interesting philosophy post, scoot on over to the nominations thread and type in the details (author, post title, link). Then, as the date of the carnival approaches, authors might check the nomination thread to see if anyone has mentioned a post of theirs. The author can then take that under advisement when deciding what to submit. Also, if the author fails to make their own submission, the carnival host might check the nomination thread and include any nominations that s/he likes the look of.

What do you think? Good idea, or bad?

The main advantages are discussed above: (1) bloggers get some guidance as to which of their posts others most enjoy; (2) having a list of extra nominations handy makes life easier for the carnival host, saving them - and me - from having to hunt around for extra entries to include. Plus (3) it further decentralizes the carnival, making it all the more a result of community collaboration.

Disadvantages? Well, leaving a comment requires some (small) amount of effort, so people might not be motivated to actually use the system. OTOH, being public it might encourage more people to join in, since nominations might generate some gratitude from their targets. I expect that people who actively nominate others will be more likely to receive nominations themselves in turn! (What comes around goes around, and all that.) So that might not be a problem after all.

My only concern is that the public nominations thread might pre-empt the carnival itself. It will (if successful) have many of the same links offered in it. But at least it wouldn't receive the same level of attention, since many readers (e.g. those following the links from Leiter) would only see the finished product. Use of the nominations thread would be more limited. So this too might not be such a problem.

So, what's the verdict?

Update: Be sure to read the comments for a much better implementation idea involving tags.


  1. Hi Richard,

    As always, good to talk to a fellow philosopher blogger.

    In short, I think theming is a good idea per se, and separately, I think that a reader-driven theme is a good thing if there is sufficient interest. The question is whether I count as a reader. I would expect your blog would be mostly read by other philosophers, possibly including the philosophically and religiously curious. Ultimately, being reader-led would be good if there were sufficient interest, but bad if you end up failing to service your true readership, viz. other philosopher bloggers.

    Short version: Good idea, not sure if there's enough people willing to express an opinion to make it fly. I think you should theme the carnivals regardless, putting non-themed interesting posts after the themed posts, thus allowing the ful range of entries while catering to a "zeitgeist" for each carnival.


  2. A further thought: To avoid pre-empting the carnival, perhaps nominations should only mention the Author + Post Title, i.e. no links. But this would be inconvenient for the carnival host who wants to include a listed nomination that wasn't officially submitted. A better idea might be to mention the link, i.e. write it out as text, but don't make it a hyperlink. That would deter the casual reader from following the links, thus preserving their novelty for the carnival. (Then again, I may be overreacting to this whole "pre-empting" thing.)

    MP, I'm not sure how themes would work. Are bloggers supposed to change their entries to fit the theme? Or does the host just deal with what's given, and try to fit them together into some sort of coherent whole? It seems to me that the first option is unmotivated, and the second is very difficult (though a couple of past hosts have tried, with varying degrees of success). Perhaps you could describe in more detail how you see themes as working. (Some examples of possible themes might help here.)

    As for the problem of limited participation, I agree that could be a concern, though I outlined some reasons for optimism in the main post above. Also, it wouldn't be limited to my regular readers. I would update the carnival homepage with links to the nomination thread, and also mention it in the carnival newsletter. So it could at least become widely known. The big question is whether people, having learnt of it, would choose to actively join in.

  3. I like the idea of a theme as well. Perhaps a week before the carnival came out you could announce a theme, such as "Philosophy of Time" (which is all I've been blogging about lately, and presumably why my submission didn't make the last carnival) and everyone interested could write a post on their favorite topic in that area, broadly construed. This way each carnival would be a more cohesive unit. How cool would it be to have the opportunity to look back at all the past carnivals if they were collections of thoughts in one particular area of philosophy?

    I dunno...since I'm still a relatively young blogger I might not have a grasp on what the public wants. But I thought I'd throw this out there anyhow.

  4. I agree that simply having a public thread isn't that good. I think the solution is just allow, in the submission form, people to both submit their own posts as well as other peoples posts.

    One advantage of the carnival, as I see it, is that it allows blogs that only occasionally post on philosophy, to be read. There are quite a few out there that mainly blog about politics, cats or something else which I therefore don't read.

    The other advantage to allowing non-author submissions is that there frankly are a lot of people who don't care that much about the carnival but who still write very interesting posts. Especially once again from blogs that might not be on people regular list of blogs they read.

    I'd add that I think this has been de facto the case the last few carnivals where a lack of submissions meant the host and you nominate posts anyway.

    With regards to the theme idea - I like it a lot, I just wonder if we have enough regular contributors yet to make it work. It would be bad if we come up with a theme and then only get 2 - 3 posts. Especially with the end of the school year fast approaching, I wonder if there will be a decrease in blog activity as people are outside having fun and away from academics.

  5. I agree with Clark. I think the way things work now, with author and reader-nominated submissions is the best way to go. There's nothing wrong with authors submitting their own work (that's the way it tends to work outside of blogs, for instance), and if the post is truly uninteresting or unphilosophical, the host can always put it aside.

    I do think it might be good to encourage more nominations from readers. There are probably a lot of posts out there that would make for excellent carnival entries, but which are never submitted because the authors either aren't aware of the carnival or don't think to submit it.

    I don't know about the topic thing. While I think it's a good idea in general, the carnival is often good because of the broad range of topics, and it would be unfortunate to lose that, or diminish it. It might be better to start an entirely separate entity that serves as a sort of semimonthly or monthly blog symposium.

  6. Alex emailed me with an alternative way to implement the 'public nominations' idea (rather than through a comments thread):

    I've been giving this a bit of thought, actually. I am wondering, are you at all familiar with the system of shared bookmarks? If not, check out and take a look around. It might work, perhaps, to use a certain tag to denote posts that we come across that we think would be good for the next carnival, such as "philosophycarnival" or some such. Then, whomever is hosting the Carnival for a given issue can subscribe to the feed for that universal tag, and at least get an idea of what posts others have been considering worthwhile.

    Not sure how familiar you are with RSS stuff, but this seems to be an efficient use of available technologies, and could work nicely for this situation. Check out my bookmarks, if you'd like an example: and note that you can specify which tags you get on the feed, so if you subscribe to the feed from the page: you will receive all the pages that I marked with the take "philosophy." Likewise, if you go to: you will get a list of bookmarks from all users that have been tagged "philosophy." So, if we were to use a standard tag for nominations to the Carnival (such as, like I mentioned, "philosophycarnival") then anyone with a account could help out by accordingly tagging the good philosophy posts they come across.

    P.S. Chris, I'm pretty sure your entry (and another late one too - maybe Clayton's) was left out unintentionally. The host said he hoped to correct that soon, but was a bit pressed for time.


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