Saturday, January 20, 2007

Where Next for the CoC?

My original hope for the Carnival of Citizens was that it would facilitate dialogue by bringing together a diverse bunch of bloggers who shared a meta-political commitment to deliberation across partisan lines. (There seems a niche for such a service: where else would one look to find such people from across the spectrum?) Nothing too much is then required of the carnival itself -- it just provides a common meeting space, in effect.

Unfortunately, that dream doesn't seem to be working out. Perhaps it'll develop in time, as the Philosophers' Carnival did, but at present the CoC just hasn't gotten enough publicity. A couple of other bloggers have expressed their support, which has been great, but we'll never get off the ground until more people do the same. Granted, it takes a fair bit of time and effort to write a post to contribute, and people are often busy with other things. But I expected more bloggers to at least express support for the carnival, raising its profile by giving it a brief mention on their site. (Note to readers: you can always start now, if the fancy takes you!)

Anyway, I've been wondering whether some changes may be required. At least while the carnival has low visibility, just having each edition sit there as a bunch of links isn't going to achieve much. Perhaps the carnival could be organized to more actively encourage discussion between participants -- get them commenting on each other's posts, etc.

Any suggestions for how to achieve this? I've received a few helpful ones already:

1) Keep each edition of the carnival to a small, manageable size. (That way, hosts can provide a detailed introduction of each entry, and readers won't feel swamped.)

2) Stick to themed editions, to provide a common focus. [An extreme variation on this suggestion might be to solicit submissions in response to a particular article -- but that might be getting too narrow.]

3) A more ambitious suggestion was to "make the carnival sort of like a symposium":
The authors of the posts that are accepted could be required to read and respond to the other posts—few in number—that were also accepted. (Also, if all this could be kept at the main carnival page, or centralized somehow, I think that would help. Less clicking around.) This would, I think, help start the dialogue. Maybe, too, the original authors could then be given a chance to respond to all the required critiques (this could all be done before the carnival was first posted) then I'm sure that would help jumpstart discussion.

4) An older idea was to have a "progress" section summarizing the resulting discussion from last month's carnival. But that's a non-starter until we get some more discussion developed in the first place!

Any other ideas to improve the Carnival? Having small, themed editions sounds pretty sensible to me. I'm not sure whether something like #3 could be made to work. What do you think?

Then again, this all might be moot if we can't find any more hosts. If you'd like to host the next edition, do send me an email. Otherwise, I guess there's always the default option -- (0) Give up on the whole idea as a lost cause -- but I think it's a bit early for that yet!


  1. I think idea #3 is terrific, but it would require a big time commitment from the people who've already taken the time to write something-- and as I understand it, part of the problem is getting more people involved. This might scare them off.

    It would be helpful,though, if all the carnival posts were at one location. That way, we could easily keep track of the comments to the individual posts without having to check back at each one individually. I think that would help to generate discussion.
    It seems that you have already been giving each carnival a theme that is neither too broad nor too narrow to encourage postings.
    It's a great idea for a carnival. Don't give up!

  2. Thanks!

    I agree that hosts may find it useful to personally invite/encourage submissions from other bloggers. (Worth a try, at least.) But I'm not too sure what other assistance we could use, besides simple participation (and publicity, for those with their own blogs)?

    Though I'd welcome any further suggestions, especially about how something like option #3, or centralizing the posts, might best be implemented...?

  3. Here's an idea related to (3): In the period between two carnivals, encourage the original carnival participants to write new posts responding to one another's previous carnival posts, then add links to them in bullet points under the original post in the carnival (and, of course, also include counter-responses). An extra link is a big enticement for most bloggers :). By restricting it to the original participants and the period before the next carnival, I think you would keep it down to a manageable number of posts, and also keep it as something more carnival-like and less newsgroup-like.

    By the way, I'm interested in participating in the carnival, but I didn't hear about it until the third one, and the topic didn't inspire me in that particular case. But keep it up; I'll definitely watch for topics as they come up. Some suggested topics:

    The Role of Religion in Politics
    Beginning/End of Life Issues (abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, etc.)
    Civil Liberties and National Security

  4. Thanks Kenny, I like that idea! It retains a more recognizably "carnival" format, as you note (as opposed to a mere aggregator). But how do we "encourage the original carnival participants to write new posts responding to one another"? Are many likely to be willing to put in this extra effort?

    An alternative that's been suggested to me is for the host to organize cross-participant responses before the carnival. Do you think that'd work better?

  5. I think if you tell the participants at the beginning that they're gauranteed the extra link (as long as they follow the standards of civility, etc., required by the carnival) then for a lot of people, especially those of us who are on the low end of the blog food-chain, that will be enough motivation. But if you want to organize respondents in advance, you could do it like a journal or a conference - that is, you could try to match each post with another blogger that would be likely to have something to say on the issue from a different perspective, like a peer-review process, and specifically ask them to comment. But I think that may be a lot of extra work for the host, and may discourage people from participating since they know they'll be assigned a post and required to comment on it. It might make me personally a little hesitant to participate if the theme was such that I thought it would generate posts I wasn't very interested in, and I would then be expected to comment. Overall I think it would be better to just let people respond to the posts they find interesting and hope that it takes off. It's worth a try, anyway.

  6. Sorry, I was unclear. The idea, as I understand it, is to distribute all the essays and let participants choose whichever they want to respond to. The only difference is that this takes place before the carnival goes public, rather than afterwards.

    (You're right that it's easier to just leave it for after. I just wondered whether the 'before' version might elicit more responses. But I think I currently favour your version -- best to keep things simple.)

  7. Sure thing, there's a thread for theme/topic suggestions here.


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