A few years ago I used to write the XML Deviant column for XML.com. Each week I had to submit an article summarizing the key issues, news and debates in the XML community. This meant tracking (amongst other sources) all the major mailing lists, reading nearly every discussion with a view to finding an interesting angle to write-up.

The experience was an education in not only writing to a schedule, but also a great introduction to a wide range of XML technologies and some pretty arcane markup lore. The process was also largely an editorial one; over time I think I got pretty good at picking out key contributors and relating topics across different forums. It was also pretty intensive as there was a lot of information to absorb and summarize.

Having gained this first hand experience at taking technical topics and opening them up to a wider audience, Blog Carnivals have interested me for some time. Blog Carnivals attempt to provide a weekly or monthly summary of key postings in a particular blogging community or topic. The source media is different (blogs versus mailing lists) but the editorial process and end results are essentially the same: a regular digest of important scholarly or technical discussions. Carole Anne Meyer has described Blog Carnivals as secondary publishing reinvented.

There's a growing number of high quality Blog Carnivals produced by scholarly communities. See for example this list of science carnivals which includes Bio::Blogs and Tangled Bank.

Ben Vershbow has described these scholarly carnivals as a "looser, less formal peer review" process. Vershbow went on to explain that "the idea of the carnival, refined and sharpened by academics and lifelong learners, might in fact have broader application for electronic publishing. It happily incorporates the de-centralized nature of the web, thriving through collaborative labor, and yet it retains the primacy of individual voices and editorial sensibilities".

So I was intrigued to read in Nautilus this week that the Bio::Blogs carnival has started producing a monthly compilation of the best bioinformatics articles in PDF format. The content is distributed using Box.net free online storage to actually host the content. This is another step closer to a traditional secondary publishing model; Carnivals are becoming more and more like traditional publications all the time.

Some publishers may feel threatened by this, but academic blogging is a useful complement to scholarly journals, not a replacement. They're different kinds of media, often with a different audience, and certainly with a different "voice".

If you're interested to learn more about science blogging and other new forms of interaction, there's an opportunity for you to hear presentations from Ben Vershbow, and Sandra Porter (science blogger and Tangled Bank contributor) at the International Scholarly Communications Conference which I'm chairing on the 13th April.