The End of the Road for the Humanist Symposium?

The 57th edition of the Humanist Symposium has been posted at Unequally Yoked (a great concept for a blog in its own right!). Go check it out, link to it if you see fit, and thank the host for all her fine work.

The Humanist Symposium

With that said, I have to say a few words about the future of the Humanist Symposium. I started this carnival back in April 2007 because I believed, and still do believe, that there ought to be a more prominent platform for writing on humanism and the positive side of atheism. I’m happy to do the bookkeeping work of scheduling and running the carnival as long as there’s an equal response from the community.

But in the last few months, I’ve noticed a trailing off of interest – both in the volume of submissions, and especially in the number of people volunteering to host. When the carnival started up, it was routinely the case that there were hosts for many months out. But lately, there have only been hosts for one or two editions in advance, if that, and the next edition has no host at all as of yet. It’s not that there’s no more writing on positive atheism; I see it all the time. But it may be that the carnival itself hasn’t caught fire among the nonreligious blogosphere as a way of promoting it.

There are several bloggers whom I think really get the mission of the Humanist Symposium, and who have been very diligent in hosting and sending in submissions. I do appreciate their efforts. But I’m hoping for it to be supported by a broader, organic community, not just a dedicated core of a few, and I haven’t been seeing that these past months.

So, I put it to you: Is this the end of the road for the Humanist Symposium? Three-plus years is a pretty good run for any blog carnival, I think. Has this carnival run its course? Should it be discontinued?

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  • NFQ

    I really like the Humanist Symposium and hope to see it continue. I would be happy to host again if hosts are needed, but I did so not too long in the past, and wanted to give others a chance to get in the game so I hadn’t volunteered this time.

    I don’t think we should scrap it just yet, though I agree that a blog carnival run and read by only a small group of people isn’t exactly worthwhile. Many more people do look at the HS than submit to it. Maybe we just need to consciously amp up publicity — more people than you should be linking to it each time, I’m part of the problem on this, I admit — and see if we can’t turn the trend around.

  • Aristarchus

    As someone who reads a lot of blogs, but isn’t a blogger, I would like to see the carnival continue, but I think it could be improved a bit. (I should say that this criticism is one I would apply to all blog carnivals, not the Humanist Symposium in particular.) The problem I see is that the carnival post is usually just a laundry list of every post some blogger wanted linked. Some are great. Some are awful. Many are mediocre. Most blogs are not that great. I read things through an RSS reader, and have over a long time built up a list of blogs I think generally say intelligent things. It takes a lot of filtering. I’d love to see good articles from blogs I’m not subscribed to, but I don’t want to read through a dozen bad posts to find them.

    What I’d love to see is a more selective carnival. Here’s what I imagine: The host/editor changes each month, but they’re prohibited from including their own articles. There is also a strict cap on the number of posts they can include – something small, between 5 and 10. They take the best posts from their submissions, and lots of submissions don’t get published. Of course, not every editor would be great, but I think the average quality of what’s included would go up drastically – probably drastically enough that I’d expect them to be better than what I’d be reading instead (whatever comes up randomly in my RSS feeds).

    If it was that selective, it’d be good enough to develop its own following (especially if there was an RSS feed somewhere that would just send you the HS posts). You would still need it to get publicity, of course, which would mean largely that the handful of really big-name, large-following atheist blogs linked to it regularly. I think that’s a lot more likely if it was a small set of consistently good posts, though. You could maybe also adopt some semi-coercive means to get people to link to it, though I don’t know how well those would work. (Maybe you can only submit to it if you linked to it the last time, or if you have a widget in your sidebar that always links to the current edition, or, something….)

  • vjack

    From what I’ve seen at Blog Carnivals, one carnival after another is dying out. I wonder if we are seeing the end of blog carnivals as a medium because there are so many other ways for people to find content that interests them. When I visit Humanist Symposium or Carnival of the Godless, I find that I’ve already read at least half the posts. Maybe this is because the number of blogs submitting content tends to be both small and consistent.

    I don’t know what the solution is, or even if there is one. I can say for myself that while most of the content I write is suitable for Carnival of the Godless, very little of it fits the Humanist Symposium. I sometimes try to write for the carnival but don’t always have time or remember to do so.

  • The 327th Male

    I’m with #2, make it a five post limit. Best posts win. Carnival host gets to decide what’s “best”, based entirely on frivolous personal preference. No whinging.

    Carnival 2.0 (yes, i went there) needs to be limited to enough content to read in one sitting.

  • Leah

    I’m having problems with the comment form at Unequally Yoked, but I wanted to thank Leah for hosting. I was very pleased to be included.

    I hadn’t heard of the Humanist Symposium until a couple of weeks ago. I hope it continues, and I would be willing to host in the future. I agree with the other commenters about keeping it selective. To me the point of a carnival is a “Best Of” kind of round-up for those with little time. If your piece isn’t selected by a particular host in a particular month, you can try again next month. There are sooo many blogs out there, I never have time to sort through what’s worth reading myself. That’s the appeal of a carnival. And getting some of the high-traffic atheism blogs to link to it would be helpful as well.

  • Jesse

    I want the Humanist Symposium to continue, but there needs to be more discriminating about the quality of the content included. With each edition, I sigh once or twice, because some of the web links sound tantalizing but they point to blog entries with a mere two or three paragraphs of mediocre content. I understand the difficulty of having higher standards when there is a diminishing number of submissions, but I believe we can solve this problem by fundamentally rethinking the way the Humanist Symposium works.

    The reliance on submissions introduces a point of failure, as you have seen. I believe you should use Planet to put together a website like Planet Fedora but called Planet Humanism instead, or something like that. Planet can download news feeds for various Humanism-related websites and generate a static website from them with the use of templates. The hosts of the Humanist Symposium would then have a large amount of material to choose from, thus allowing them to be more discriminating about quality. In addition, bloggers would only need to submit the address to the news feed for their blog to be included on Planet Humanism and to have a shot at being featured in all of the future editions of the Humanist Symposium. In fact, bloggers themselves would not need to involve themselves because someone else could tell Planet Humanism where the news feed for their blog is.

  • Petrucio

    I couldn’t agree more with most people here about selectiveness. Lately I have simply stopped reading almost all entries unless the title read got my attention, because I simply do not have enough time to read them all.

  • Clare

    I think it would be a great shame to lose the Humanist Symposium. I still feel that the online debate continues to be dominated by those who self-define as atheist/rationalist/skeptic and that issues of ethics and how exactly to live a good, fulfilling life are rarely touched.

    Would it be an idea to bring the frequency down for a bit until demand builds up again? If we’re drawing from a smaller pool, would it be worth having the symposium every month or every four weeks? This might also help with the idea of having editions with fewer articles but more selective editing and give people more posts to choose from.

    Also, should we remind people that you can also submit other people’s posts that you have read online and felt to be really good and relevant? We have a whole taskforce of sub-editors who can peruse the web for good content too.

  • Greta Christina

    I like the Symposium — and if you need hosts, I’m happy to host again (although not for the next one, as I’m swamped right now). But with vjack, I do wonder if blog carnivals are dying out. (How much traffic do they get, anyway?) I’d be sad to see them go, though — I think they’re a good way for smaller blogs and newer to get attention. The Carnivals are a big part of how I built my traffic, and I don’t think it’s right to pull up the ladder behind me. New blogs should have the same opportunity to get attention and traffic as I did.

    I wouldn’t object to a more selective Symposium, as others have suggested. However, I would object to the “host can’t include their own posts” limit. Hosting a carnival is a fair amount of work, and it seems like being able to publicize one piece of your own best work is a very modest and reasonable compensation for that work.

  • Chris Hallquist

    I have similar thoughts to Greta’s, though I wonder if carnivals are the great traffic-building device they once were. If they aren’t, discontinuing carnivals wouldn’t necessarily be pulling up a ladder away from anyone.

    I’ve also wondered about the possibility of a more selective, once a month carnival. Something designed to function as much as possible like a once-monthly magazine: a relatively infrequent burst of very high quality writing.

    Oh yeah, and I can host.

  • Sharmin

    I just recently started reading the Humanist Symposium, and it includes some very thought-provoking articles. It’s an opportunity to read posts by bloggers I had not heard of before. The idea of having posts with a positive outlook, discussing morality from a point of view that’s not necessarily theistic is great.

  • Ebonmuse

    Hi folks,

    After reviewing the comments here, I’ve reached a conclusion. I really would like to continue the Humanist Symposium, and if I thought making the carnival more selective would accomplish that, then I’d gladly do it. However, I don’t see how it would help fix the lack of interest in hosting and submitting. If anything, I think it would make the problem worse, because people who’ve had several submissions rejected are likely to get discouraged and to be less interested in submitting to the carnival in the future. I’ve also noticed that this post has received fewer hits and comments than anything else I’ve posted recently, and I think that fact speaks for itself.

    So, here’s the deal: If anyone else wants to take over managing the Humanist Symposium, I’ll be happy to turn it over to you. I’ll give you the login to the BlogCarnival page and you can take over rounding up hosts, soliciting submissions, and all the rest. I’ll help out with promoting the carnival to the fullest extent possible. However, in the absence of any such interest, I think this carnival has run its course, and I intend to shut it down for the foreseeable future.