This week, we’re featuring a blog carnival rather than a blog. Many of you know, and have contributed to, Festival of the Trees already. If you haven’t, I hope this introduction will broaden your horizons and perhaps inspire a contribution. On a personal note, Festival of the Trees is a favorite of mine, because it’s the first blog carnival I contributed to and the first I hosted.
The Festival of the Trees is a blog carnival that celebrates trees and those who nurture and admire them. Like most blog carnivals, it travels to different hosts each month and welcomes contributions from around the world. All manner of tree posts, podcasts, videos, and images are welcome as long as they deal with the benefit or wonder of trees. In addition to the website and the traveling carnival itself, Festival of the Trees is @treebloggers on Twitter and Identica.
Festival of the Trees is edited and maintained by Dave Bonta, Pablo, and Jade Blackwater. Dave’s main blog is Via Negativa and his NBN blog is The Morning Porch. Pablo blogs at Round Rock Journal and can be reached via email to paul AT roundrockjournal DOT com. Jade can be found blogging about trees at Arboreality. Links to her writing, art, and other projects can be found at Brainripples.
What led you to start a blog carnival?
Pablo: I remember doing a post on my blog nearly four years ago about anthropomorphic trees and somewhat jokingly calling it the first of a carnival. Dave seemed to like the idea and suggested a full-fledged festival about trees. We’ve been building it from there, hosting it ourselves a few times and recruiting other blogs to be hosts. The Festival is now nearly four years old.
Dave: As I recall, Pablo actually suggested a festival of weird trees. I suggested taking out the weird part (which may come as a bit of a surprise to people who know me). I had been impressed by the creativity and level of participation in I and the Bird editions, and thought it might be possible to do something similar with trees. But since there weren’t nearly as many blogs devoted solely to trees the way there were for birds, and tree-huggers aren’t nearly as fanatical as birders in general (who is?), I suggested a monthly rather than bi-weekly schedule.
Jade: And I was ready to jump on the bandwagon as soon as it rolled past my neck of the woods! I think we do it because we love and care about trees, and we feel a certain kinship or gratitude for every other person who takes the time to reflect on trees and share their thoughts online in some form. The rewards are cumulative – I find something new and surprising in every issue of the Festival. For example, I never would have known that “living bridges” existed anywhere outside of my dreams if it hadn’t been for this submission for Festival 39: Living Root Bridges in India.
Is there a story behind the name of your blog carnival?
Pablo: Dave, I’ll leave this one to you. I seem to remember you had a post about why you thought it should be a Festival rather than a Carnival.
Dave: Pablo, I think one of us is going senile, and it ain’t me. “Festival of the Trees” was your suggestion! Perhaps you had Christmas on your mind? Oh well, whosever idea it was, I think trees and festivals do go together. Most trees just aren’t rolicking enough for carnivals. They dance too slow. And I think this might help explain the confusion we regularly see with new or potential contributors. (Or, it might just be that they’ve never heard of blog carnivals, and as soon as we explain it, we switch the name on them.)
Pablo: Dave is being kind (by calling me senile). He’s really the brains and the creative force behind this operation (though Jade is expected to stage a coup in 2010). The key to understanding the name is to focus on the second part. The Festival is about trees, individually, collectively, ugly, beautiful, cultivated or wild. A single tree can be the subject of a post. If we had wanted it otherwise, we might have called it the Festival of the Forest, no?
What are the best and worst things about running a blog carnival?
Pablo: Well, the best is the interaction with all the submitters and the wonderful material they send in. There are plenty of people around the globe who are interested in celebrating trees and forests, and that is
The worst is pestering people to be hosts. We generally have a few willing hosts who have volunteered in the line up, but sometimes we have to go out and shake the trees, so to speak. A cold email to a likely blogger is never fun since you never know just what response you’ll get.
Dave: For me, the best part is waiting for Pablo to scare up new hosts. I never get tired of that. He’s so good at it.
Actually, it’s impressive how many people just come out of the woodwork — so to speak — and how many past Festival hosts volunteer again without having to be prompted.
The worst post for me is suddenly realizing it’s the middle of the damn month and we haven’t posted a new call for submissions yet. That’s only happened a couple times, fortunately. (The info is already included at the end of the previous edition and in the sidebar of the coordinating blog, but the announcement post is important for all the people who follow the feed in one form or another.)
Jade: For me, the best part is the chance to “travel the world” in a single Festival. If I can’t be wandering the countryside like Hermann Hesse, at least I can wander through the blogs and find all kinds of strange fruit growing in unique and unexpected places!
One of the most challenging parts seems to be the education factor – helping to spread the word about just what a blog carnival is, does, and is good for… and then helping others to get as excited about the whole thing as we are!
What makes your carnival unique?
Pablo: Trees, of course. Actually, given how focused many carnivals are, it was inevitable that one focusing on trees would sprout.
Dave: Yes, but if we’d waited for someone else to do it, it might’ve been lame. The Festival of the Trees rocks (slowly and gracefully, unless there’s a gale-force wind).
Jade: Plus we’ve had Pablo and Dave to nurture the Festival into its current glory. The whole thing might have withered in the bud if it weren’t for their investment of genuine arbor-love (not be to confused with the more, ahem, protracted forms of dendrophilia).
Have you had any surprises running the blog carnival?
Pablo: It seems to be feast or famine sometimes. We often have a surfeit of willing hosts, and then we’ll run into a period where we’re out hunting for blogs that will take on the job. It’s sometimes the same with contributions. A host may get dozens of really good submissions, or he or she may have to go out surfing the web for material to use. We never know how it’s going to be, but we march on.
Dave: I always expected that the majority of links in any given edition would come from non-specialist blogs, but I’ve been surprised by how many tree blogs do keep springing up, and in all parts of the world. It’s cool to find so many people who are as wacky about trees as we are, despite their diverse backgrounds.
Jade: Ditto what they said – I’m continually surprised and heartened by the number and variety of bloggers who have something to share about the trees from their homes or travels or dreams. It’s just awesome.
What would an ideal edition of the carnival look like?
Pablo: Well visited, with lots of complimentary comments. We don’t really give much in the way of guidelines for how a host’s edition of the Festival must be organized, and that has allowed it to flourish in all sorts of directions in terms of creativity, content, and style. Chatty and whimsical or scholarly and serious. And everything in between.
Dave: Yeah, I don’t know that I have an ideal vision of a FOTT edition either. I do think we lag a bit behind I and the Bird in terms of the average edition’s sheer creativity of presentation, but they’re a tough act to follow. Carnivals with lots of links are not necessarily better than shorter ones, though — too long, and you diminish the likelihood that visitors will click on every link.
Jade: “The Small World” version – it would be great to see broader representation from all different parts of the world, but really each Festival is unique with the links we find and receive. Have we had any contributors blogging from the boreal forests around Russia? I think Russia has something like 25% of the world’s remaining frontier forests… And I want to hear from a blogger who’s visited the apple forest in Kazakhstan!! http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/2961/
How do you get the word out about the carnival and attract readers?
Pablo: I make posts about the current and upcoming Festivals every Sunday at Roundrock Journal. The triumvirate of Festival organizers bring different strengths to getting the word out.
Dave: We’d offered an RSS email subscription forever (through Feedblitz, though now WordPress.com, our blog host, provides its own subscribe-by-email option, too). And for a long time I thought that ought to be enough: feed readers are the only rational way for people who follow a lot of web periodicals to keep track of them, and the email option ought to cover everyone else. Unfortunately, people aren’t always rational. The popularity of Twitter as a way to keep up with blog posts baffles me, but as soon as Jade suggested we get on Twitter, I said “Of course!” — and added an account on the open-source Twitter competitor Identica for good measure.
This was a couple months ago. Twitter had just added its Lists feature a week or two before, and that really simplified the job of finding tree-friendly Twitterers. I already managed three other Twitter accounts at that point, but I didn’t anticipate posting too much besides announcements of calls for submissions, reminders to submit, and links to new editions. With a modicum of effort, we already have 280 followers and are on 26 lists, and at least two people who found us through Twitter have volunteered to host future editions.
I’ve held off on starting a Facebook fan page out of sheer social media exhaustion, but that would be a logical next step. We do use a popular application called Networked Blogs to make the feed available on Facebook for anyone who wants it.
We’re also starting to get a bit pushier, and asking festival hosts to email everyone who submits a link when the issue goes live. We could probably stand to get a bit more aggressive in getting participants to link to the festival, too. The sidebar badges that we provide do help advertise the FOTT, and we’re grateful to everyone who’s added one to their site, but there’s nothing like a link in a blog post to bring new visitors, both human and robotic.
Jade: (Is Social Media Exhaustion a diagnosable disease yet?) I think that just as with professional networking and job hunting, a lot of our best promotion happens by word of mouth. Social media seems to make this process both easier and more complex – we can reach more people, but there are more people to reach, and if we aren’t consistent (and consistently interesting), then it’s easy to get lost in the forest of feeds. Fortunately there are more bloggers coming online all the time, and a seemingly endless variety of
them have something to say about trees. I really like hearing from bloggers who don’t normally write about nature; they seem to provide some of the most unique contributions and attract a variety of readers whenever they announce their contributions at their respective blogs.
What would you say to convince a blog-carnival newbie that they should participate? Any tips for participating?
Pablo: It’s really easy, and we always give as much help as anyone asks for. Contributing is simple. You just send an email to the upcoming Festival host giving a link to the post you want to contribute. Hosting isn’t that much harder. It just takes a longer focus and pretty much a free weekend at the end of the month before your edition of the Festival is to come up. All of the past Festivals are listed on the coordinating blog, so a newbie can go there to see how others have done it, and since there aren’t many rules about how it should be done, fresh approaches are welcome.
Dave: Anyone who’s been blogging for any appreciable amount of time knows how good the blogosphere is at helping those with interests a little outside the mainstream find like-minded folks. Blog carnivals are a great way to concentrate and magnify that effect. It’s not just about finding new readers and new blogs to read, but making new friends. For hosts, of course, an FOTT edition can increase your Google Page Rank, your Technorati authority, and your standing in any number of other fun-but-meaningless indexes of your
worth as a blogger. I always enjoy pulling an edition together, and seeing how varied I can make it. They are among my most popular posts at Via Negativa in terms of comments and total page views.
Jade: Like Pablo said, it’s easy — really easy. Easy as falling off a log!
- Create something tree-inspired.
- Share it online.
- Send us the link.
- Spread the word.
Why do it? Because you love trees, you love blog traffic, and you like to join a good conversation. I see blog carnivals as thoughtfully moderated conversations that help bring a diversity of voices together around a common theme. The cool thing about the tree-theme is that we hear amazing ideas coming from people of all ages and in all walks of life. It’s fun to be a part of that conversation each month.
Pablo: Just like NBN, blog carnivals can introduce readers to the huge range of nature-oriented blogs that are out there. I’ve found many blogs that I read regularly now that I first found through carnivals, and the community spirit so common to blogging is enhanced in the carnival format, which is good for all nature blogs.
Dave: Blog carnivals are vital to nature blogging in part because they help bridge the gap between those who occasionally blog about natural-history topics and those who blog about virtually nothing else — the sort of people who have blogs listed in the NBN. It’s very important to us at FOTT to welcome not only our fellow nature nerds, but also garden bloggers, photobloggers, artists, literary bloggers, and regular folks who just happen to like trees. I suppose the only people who wouldn’t be welcome would be get-out-the-cut timber beasts, but fortunately I don’t think many of them blog. (Thoughtful, conservation-minded foresters are of course fine.) The point is that we can, and should, learn from each other. What’s the point of nature blogging if you never reach a wider audience than fellow naturalists?
Jade: Going back to your earlier question about surprises, I think this is really the value of the blog carnival – there’s just SO MUCH on the web these days. When a blog carnival pulls together a collection of diverse
voices, each issue is sort of like its own “Aha!” moment — as in, “AHA! I KNEW that there were thousands of other people who look at the trees around them and ponder and puzzle and care and dream and think about planting more.”
I have this secret, burning hope that passers-by who aren’t necessarily “conservation-minded” can read through an issue of a nature blog carnival and find a voice just like theirs which connects them with an idea or quality or benefit which is personally valuable or meaningful. We don’t have to all be tree-hugging hippies in order to appreciate, respect, value, or even love the trees around us.
I also think that blog carnivals are one of many guinea pigs on the market for the next generation of publishing. A blog carnival is composed like a magazine, with obvious differences. Especially in the case of a blog carnival like The Festival of the Trees, I think we exemplify a functioning, grassroots, non-commercial chorus in the sea of online information. The more that the internet allows independent voices to capture an audience, the more opportunity individuals will find to help reshape the “global discussions” emerging in the 21st century.
Do you have any advice for people thinking of starting a new blog carnival?
Pablo: A blog carnival can be as ambitious or as casual as the originator wishes. Some sort of focus and some basic guidelines are important. A facility with back-end blogging is helpful, as is an organizing spirit. But it also seems important to be willing to let go of control to some degree and watch the carnival grow in all kinds of interesting directions.
Dave: To organizers, I’d say: be organized. Seems kind of obvious, but it’s astonishing how many would-be organizers miss this important step. Being organized doesn’t have to mean being a control freak, but it does mean having a coordinating blog and being predictable. If host possibilities dry up and it looks like the carnival will go on hiatus for a while, put up a post and tell people.
There are many, many ways to blog right, so I don’t want to give too much general advice, but I will say this: please make sure you have a full-content RSS or Atom feed. Partial feeds are really freakin’ annoying, and I probably won’t subscribe to you if you have one.
Jade: Give careful thought to your motivation. Part of what keeps The Festival of the Trees going is the simple fact that we all love trees, and that Festival or no, we’re going to blog about trees anyway. Pablo and
Dave’s enthusiasm and passion have always shone through, and I believe that’s what has attracted and retained our community of regular contributors, hosts, and readers. I also think it helps that they’ve worked
as a team – it always helps to have a partner (or two) to keep things moving and share the work.
Pablo: This seems like a great opportunity to toss out some bad puns about seeing the forest for the trees and barking about the Festival and going out on a limb and getting to the root of the matter, but I guess I’ll spare us all.
Dave: Trees may not actually like it when you hug them. Most of the time they would probably prefer to be regarded from a slight distance. Lie down on a forest floor sometime and look up at the canopy — unless your woods is tick-infested like mine, in which case you’ll just have to get a crick in your neck. You’ll notice that very few of the trees are actually touching. You’re talking about beings that have sex through intermediaries, after all. Very civilized, really. Of course, it’s a different story below-ground, but even there, almost all of the connections through which energy and information transfers occur — the wood-wide web — are actually fungal. In sum, the trees have much to teach us, but it isn’t necessarily what we want
to learn. Their primary message, I think, is Shhhhhh.