Standing on the Shoulders of Bloggers: Carnival frustration searing my soul.

In the last few days I have had a few tweets inquiring about the present and future of Standing on the Shoulders of Giants the history of science blog carnival; what follows are some thoughts on the health (or better lack there of) and the future direction of the Internet’s only monthly round up of histsci goodness.

In June Giant’s Shoulders celebrated four completed years of existence but despite reaching this milestone your favourite histsci carnival is hanging in the ropes and is dangerously close to a KO. To exist a blog carnival needs three things. Blog posts to be collected, denizens of the Internet who read, find worthy and submit or nominate those posts and bloggers prepared to write up, present and host the carnival once a month.

As recent editions of Giants’ Shoulders have, I think, demonstrated there is no shortage of good histsci bloggage out there waiting to be read. However, what is probably not so obvious to the carnival readers, the other two requirements have become increasingly difficult to fulfil. Since at least a years and probably longer between about 90% and 95% of all the posts featured in the monthly roundup have been submitted by yours truly. Now I’m a confessed histsci obsessive and enjoy trawling the Internet looking for interesting posts to fulfil my own eclectic appetite for histsci information however if I’m almost the only person nominating posts for the carnival then I have to ask if anybody else is really interested in maintaining it. What should be more obvious are the extreme problems that we have had finding bloggers every month to host the whole show. Desperate series of tweets from myself and Dr SkySkull each month pleading and begging with the histsci community for somebody to come forward and take over the chore for the next month, which often ends with one of the small handful of faithfuls taking it on for the third, fourth or whatever time.

As should be obvious from the title of this post I am anything but happy with this situation and have been brooding about it for sometime, finally deciding to go public with my frustration with this post. What alternatives do I see? I could of course just pretend that everything is OK and carry on as before. The fact that you are reading this means that I have not chosen this course of non-action. Alternatively I could just give up on the whole thing, stop worrying and let other people decide if they want to take up the baton and try to rejuvenate Giants’ Shoulders. I must admit that in the last couple of months that has seemed the most attractive proposition and it is a course that I might yet choose. A third possibility is to ask the Internet community if they still want a history of science blog carnival and if they are prepared to become more actively involved in keeping it alive. This is basically what this post is about. If you read it and if you have an opinion about Giants’ Shoulders then please comment, make suggestions, make offers, or simply react in someway. Dr SkySkull suggested this morning making Giants’ Shoulders bi-monthly to reduce the stress of finding hosts. I personally don’t think that is the solution, maybe you do?

I haven’t given up yet but I do have to admit that at the moment I’m very close to doing so. I shall host Giants’ Shoulders #49 here at The Renaissance Mathematicus tomorrow to maintain the continuity. Jai Vidri, who has apparently successfully conquered the doctoral thesis summit and is returning to histsci blogging will host Giants’ Shoulders #50 at her blog From the Hands of Quacks on 16th August. What happens after that will be determined by your reactions to this post!


Filed under Giants' Shoulders

33 responses to “Standing on the Shoulders of Bloggers: Carnival frustration searing my soul.

  1. I might take a turn at hosting sometime. I would like to see more history of medicine. I have a couple of history of medicine posts up on Contagions at . (on biological weapons during WWII and the siege of Caffa in 1346).

  2. Rebekah Higgitt

    Thanks for this Thony. As someone who has hosted a couple of times, I am very aware that the bulk of the work is yours, and feel correspondingly guilty that I forget to submit the many history of science, technology and medicine posts that I regularly tweet.

    There are three issues as I see it:

    1) Twitter seems to have taken on much of the role that blog carnivals used to have, with regard to sharing links across the community (a point that BoraZ made in a recent post on the history of ‘science blogging’). I think link sharing posts or Carnivals are still nice to have, but they have less of a key role than they used to. Perhaps their day is done? What do others think?

    2) Thanks to you many of my posts have been included in the carnivals, but they don’t seem to generate much traffic. This may be due to point 1), a lack of interest in what I’ve written, or the fact that anyone interested in reading will have already seen the posts (ie there’s a reasonably small community of readers for any of this, with much cross-over in subscribers To wny of the host blogs.

    3) I have mentioned before that, while the links included in Giants’ Shoulders are usually up my street, the rubric for the Carnival neither reflects those posts nor is inviting to the more professional history of science community. If it were to comtinue, I would like to see this re-written completely. If it were, I would take a pledge to be more actively involved – unless the other points above resonate with others and it no longer seems to be worth pursuing.

    I suspect that the way to do this work really successfully would be for someone/several of us to produce weekly round ups (like Bora or Ed Yong do) rather than monthly carnivals – there’s so much to read every day on twitter & blog feeds that ploughing through a whole month of links sometimes seems like a lot of work! But then, that means greater commitment by someone/a group. Perhaps, though, it’s something that Whewell’s Ghost is perfect for, since it is already simply largely sharing links to other sites.

    • I agree with this. Blog carnivals don’t really work anymore. However, there are problems with twitter being used in lieu of it though, namely that posts get swamped quickly so you can easily miss out on posts if you don’t check often. I think part of the problem is that we don’t have a very good infrastructure that invites participation and co-operation.

      What is needed is a permentant repository of blogs. I think that if bloggers combined to create group blogs, they can still keep a personal one it will build upon the idea of a blog carnival but also generate greater traffic for posts as if you have 5 people posting on the same blog and then sharing links the law of scales suggest it will increase traffic. I think change is needed personally as I write in a post inspired by this.

      • This sounds like ScienceSeeker or Research Blogging. Why don’t we push for including history of science / history of medicine to be included as its own category in those aggregators? They keep a website that is constantly updated and can be browsed by categories. They also send out tweets for all posts added to their site. ScienceSeeker is probably the one to go with for history of science. @BoraZ could probably help with setting up a history of science category.

      • I haven’t seen science seeker or research blogging. I think it would be preferable to have the history of science have its own aggregator rather then a sub section of a science blog aggregator. But then that’s due to my disciplinary bias. Or a collective blog that has an aggregator with it.

      • I agree that it’s *not* a great idea to put a history of science aggregator or similar attached to a science blogging network. We are too multi-disciplinary for that and I think it would be a sure-fire way to lose important connections with history and philosophy bloggers.

        I like the idea of developing Whewell’s Ghost into a site that represents history of science as broadly as possible, making better use of its twitter and facebook presence. I don’t know enough about the kinds of technology that can draw in/present a large number of blogs, or how many people can or would get involved in managing it, but would like to learn.

      • friendsofdarwin

        Do people really read aggregators? I must be old-fashioned: give me an RSS reader any day. If the aggregators have RSS feeds, I suppose I could subscribe to those. I have a number of Google News searches configured as RSS feeds, which is where I get most of my material for my tweets. There, my secret is out.

        To be honest, I’m not interested in simply being informed of every #histsci story that comes out; I’m after something a bit more curated. If people could agree a set of tags/categories for blog posts, there might be some way to filter them out by tag/category feeds, if that makes sense.

      • friendsofdarwin

        Actually, I know exactly what we need. It was/is called FriendFeed. A fantastic facility. It’s still going, but FaceBook bought it out years ago and has done nothing to develop it since.

  3. My own experience has been that, far from supplanting blog carnivals, Twitter gives them a new lease of life. I do think it’s acquired a different significance versus the rapid and continuous stream of Twitter, but there seems to still be a fair bit of interest in the handcrafted and personalised selection of a carnival.

    In fact, I blogged something very similar about the History Carnival nearly three years ago (at a time when I was just getting into Twitter myself) and, as I mentioned in the post, that wasn’t the first time it had been in crisis. (Crisis was the norm pre-Twitter, if anything.)

    But the real turning point was setting up the Carnival’s own twitter account (rather than tacking it on to my personal tweeting), and assiduously following as many historians and history bloggers as I could find (via twitter lists, friends and follower lists and hashtags). I’ve also added a Facebook page and a Tumblr more recently though I don’t think these two bring anywhere near as much traffic and I don’t use them as much as I could. But it’s all part of what for me at least has made the crucial difference, and is facilitated so well by social media – to keep reaching new audiences, and not rely on the circle I already know (who are probably bored rigid with me going on and on about the carnival…).

  4. I have volunteered to host via the comments on the corresponding OGS post. Although I get where Rebekah is coming from, the problem as I see it with relying on Twitter is that, if you blink, you might easily miss something. OGS is a very useful resource for checking what I’ve missed. But, if the monthly format is too restrictive, why not simply have a link-blog curated by a number of #histsci groupies? A for the history of science. Or is that what Whewell’s Ghost is intended to be?

    Either way, I’ll subscribe.

  5. Jai

    The thing with Teitter is that tides require constant surveillance if one needs to keep up with all the posts. I don’t go on Twitter everyday, thus I do tend to be late with my readings and often have to scroll through a long line of #histsci tweets to catch up. I like the carnival because it allows me to catch up.

    Having said that, I don’t want it to disappear. I met a lot of graduate students at the Three Societies meeting and we spoke of how Twitter and blogs have contributed to a different type of discourse in academia, one that we find to be incredibly fruitful. I even spoke to my class at Ryerson about reading histsci blogs and some students even commented to me in emails or in class about the cool stuff they found on them.

  6. Thanks for this honest post Thony

    Hosting Blog Carnivals can be hard work, especially if you are doing it in a way that requires anything other than just collating links.

    Another factor here is that people are getting exceedlingly good at “curating” their own content to get at the quality stuff, whether it be via a RSS reader or a Twitter. Also, Paperli’s are a proven example of how you can turn selected tweets into a magazine style presentation – it has some downsides too. but may be a time saving alternative rather than see the whole thing abandoned.

    Good luck! And thanks for all your hard work 🙂

  7. Will Thomas

    Thony, one question is what sorts of stats blog carnivals generate. Are they substantially more popular than ordinary posts on the host blog? How many clicks do they usually generate? Like Becky, whenever I’ve been featured, I usually get one or two click-throughs, but then my posts are rarely scintillating sounding. Maybe other posts are more popular, or maybe the effects show up in aggregate?

    I can sometimes jog up an extra page view or two if I tweet a post, or cross-post to Whewell’s Ghost, and so most of the time it doesn’t seem worth it. But, then, sometimes the effects are larger. My recent post on industrial research got a good 20 hits from you and Becky retweeting, which accounted for maybe a fifth of the hits on an unusually popular post for me.

    • Is blogging supposed to be about page-views? I wondered where I was going wrong! I’d better start some intemperate god-bashing to drive up my referrals!

      • Will Thomas

        If it were, we’d all be in trouble! What I mean is that knowing the statistics would help us determine whether the carnival helps people find things they’re interested in, or whether good people like Thony are putting themselves through the wringer on a monthly basis for a really marginal benefit, when people (as Becky suggests) are actually usually finding what they want to see by other means.

  8. We’ve thought a lot about these sustainability issues as part of the PressForward project. Maybe you can convert Standing on the Shoulders of Giants into something more like our Digital Humanities Now, which uses a distributed set of editors to scan blogs in the scholarly community for standout posts. We could help you set up a history of science outlet for this purpose (if interested: As a historian of science myself, I would be happy to help out.

  9. I would be glad to host!

  10. Hey! I’m hosting an anniversary blog! Expect it to be so, so awesome.

  11. Agreed that things have become rather tedious in managing the blog, and I have admittedly dropped the ball quite hard myself in helping to gather posts for the carnivals. Before you began to co-manage, I was in the same position of struggling to find things to include due to lack of independent submissions! In more recent months, I’ve found things hard thanks in part to the slowly-decaying blogcarnival website, which seems to be malfunctioning half the time I try and do something. (A number of times I’ve tried to submit, I’ve found the system was screwed up and wouldn’t accept my posts.)

    What to do? I’m somewhat undecided myself. My own declining involvement suggests to me that I’d like to pass the reins of managing the carnival onto others, if we decide to keep it going. I imagine you might be of a similar mindset.

    If histsci folks decide they like the idea of a history of science blog carnival, it might be worthwhile for some enterprising enthusiasts to start fresh with a new carnival website, new method of curating posts, and even a new name, depending on their tastes. If people are happy with the current setup and want to take over things as they are, I’d also be happy to pass control over.

    I’ve been wondering if blog carnivals are even getting outdated in the modern social media era; it seems that a number of folks still find them useful, however.

    At the very least, I think we need to bring on some other people who can help curate posts and find hosts. The reality is that a blog carnival doesn’t have to be a tedious and frustrating exercise, but it really needs a lot more than 1 (or 2) people making it happen.

  12. Pingback: No Academic is an Island | Early Modern Dialogues

  13. The other option is for bloggers to do round-ups of their favorite posts as a service to the community. I don’t get lots of new hits from the round-ups I do but I know several of my regular readers like them and I’ve made connections with other bloggers through them. It should be more about building a community than just getting traffic.

  14. Pingback: The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 21th, 2012) | Stock Market News - Business & Tech News

  15. Pingback: The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 21th, 2012) |

  16. Pingback: Giants’ Shoulders #49: The “Crisis what Crisis?” edition. | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  17. Pingback: Giants’ Shoulders #49: The “Crisis what Crisis?” edition. | Whewell's Ghost

  18. Pingback: Giants’ Shoulders #49: The “Crisis what Crisis?” edition. « The Giant’s Shoulders

  19. Pingback: On and upwards?! A question for you all | teleskopos

  20. Pingback: On and upwards?! A question for you all | Whewell's Ghost

  21. Pingback: The Giant’s Shoulders: The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition | From the Hands of Quacks

  22. Pingback: Whewell’s Ghost on Facebook and Twitter | Whewell's Ghost

  23. Pingback: Whewell’s Ghost on Facebook and Twitter | teleskopos

  24. Pingback: The Giant’s Shoulders #49: “Crisis what crisis?” edition is out! | Skulls in the Stars

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s