What’s a blog?
Imagine a cocktail party. You walk in and begin to talk with someone you know, and they may introduce you to someone else. You chat for a while, and if they make you laugh or think, you may exchange numbers for further conversation. Then you move on to talk with others. It may surprise you, but there are a lot of parties going on all around you, and you don’t need an invitation. Fifty million little parties, in fact. Come as you are.
The word blog is short for “Web log,” which is a user-generated site in the form of periodic journal entries that are part of a rapidly growing online phenomenon. The content, usually visible to anybody with a computer, can be anything from a teenager’s unedited musings to a national forum with advertising and millions of visitors. Unlike online message boards, or listservs, these pages are often personality-driven. Unlike static Web sites, active blogs are updated frequently, some more than once a day. They can be opinionated and provocative.
A political blogger, Matt Drudge, was named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People in 2006, after first becoming famous for entries that broke the Monica Lewinsky story. Dan Rather and Trent Lott can trace their career downfalls to bloggers who exposed and kept alive issues that the mainstream media did not take on. Many individual bloggers now get press passes to trials, special seats at press conferences and through the Internet’s easy accessibility and connectivity, a simple blog can turn a nobody into a celebrity. If you want to join in the party, you can post your comment on others’ pages or create a blog of your own.
How big is Fauquier County in the blogosphere? Not big. But growing.
Among the blogs by county residents: an Iron Chef in Warrenton who is writing a novel, an anti-death penalty activist, an indie band, an Episcopal minister, a local firefighter, a college professor and more teenagers complaining about school than there are schools. The author of the blog “Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl” reports her adventures in Fauquier via Web entries to her friends in New York. The site attracted the attention of a literary agent who told her to “stop giving it away for free.” Her entries, now in the form of a book manuscript, are currently making the rounds to possible publishers.
Local bloggers have posted as a wife went into labor, as friends and lovers fought, and as someone’s chickens were attacked in the night. Citizens announce deaths, arrests, job changes and automobile accidents they’ve just witnessed or experienced. One problem with locating the locals who maintain such sites is that most of them use descriptive pseudonyms and few give their locations. Even for those who do, there is no central place to search for them. Internet directories are notoriously incomplete, and links are just as likely to be in the next country as the next street.
Further, not all bloggers necessarily want to be identified by their neighbors; a few contacted for this story were surprised and uncomfortable that a reporter found them the way anyone can: online searches using obvious keywords like “Fauquier” or “Liberty High.”
“I really enjoy posting!” said Jennifer Schultz, a youth services librarian in Warrenton who also keeps up with a number of blogs in her field. A Warrenton man who has recorded both large and small events of his life since 2001 in his “Rokenman” blog calls it “a great way to keep track of the events in my own life, a diary I can access from anywhere in the world.” Sarah, a 20-year-old from Warrenton, maintains a pair of blogs for journal and creative work, and keeps up with the blogs of people she meets. “A blog really helps me decide whether this is someone I might want to associate with,” she said. E.M. Risse, of SYNERGY/Planning in Warrenton, is a contributor to the site “Bacon’s Rebellion,” but is unromantic with regard to blogs. “Blogging allows individuals to associate primarily with those who already agree with them and to reinforce their preconceived beliefs and prejudices,” he said.
Sixteen-year-old Matthew McKimmey likes the accessibility of the sites. “There are so many people on the Web these days, and there is surely someone that is bound to read what you post.”
A 19-year old graduate of Liberty High says she “never saw the point” of keeping a private diary. “Why should I keep something like that to myself? It didn’t make sense to me.”
“Howling Latina” is a 55-year-old educator and graduate student from Midland who posts on politics and the death penalty. “I blog because I love to write and I love politics,” she said.
The age factor
Without a doubt, most bloggers in Fauquier and elsewhere are teenagers. The use of MySpace, Facebook and Livejournal to share music, Internet links, humor and personal style is a routine part of high school and college life in 2007. Although it is possible to set one’s profile and blog privately or for “friends only,” many teens say they see no need to do so.
“I don’t have anything to hide,” said one Liberty High graduate who wished to remain anonymous.
Said another: “The idea of my parents reading my blog does kind of freak me out. But that’s a risk I willingly run every time I post something online.” As a free, easy-to-use, intimate medium, the world of Internet social networking is perhaps ideal for teens seeking peer approval and contact. As reported in this paper in the past, school and law enforcement authorities caution parents not to be naive about the contacts their children may make online.
Uses for blogs
But blogging is not all about youthful expression. Businesses and governments, for example, have begun to adopt the technology to keep in contact with clients and constituents.
In Warrenton, Fauquier Ear, Nose & Throat Consultants maintain an active blog on office news and medical innovations for readers, not all of whom are local patients.
“People from all over the world are visiting,” said Dr. Christopher Y. Chang, who created the blog as “the most convenient way to organize office news items over time in an easily searchable and archived format. Plus it is free.”
Real estate agent Michelle Perkins of RE/MAX has a blog with a forum in which a number of public and non-profit agencies can post, including the Red Cross, the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office and Habitat for Humanity.
Fauquier Library offers two blogs, the “Kiddosphere at Fauquier” by Schultz, the youth services librarian in Warrenton, and “What’s New in the Library Collection,” an series of online updates maintained by other staffers.
Politics lends itself well to blogging, as opinions are the main product and online news is the raw material. Blogs like the “Howling Latina” and “Conservative Politics, A Perspective From Gainesville” offer insights and a heads up on local and national news issues with links to news articles published throughout the state.
And at times the view is from the outside looking in, as when blogs around the country took notice of local efforts to thwart Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed 40 miles of high-power electric lines through five Virginia counties, including Fauquier. One Fauquier native away at college made an impassioned petition appeal to protest the power company actions on MySpace, more typically used to poll opinions on music and celebrities.
Weather and photographs are further natural subject fits for blogs. A blogger for the WeatherBug Web site reports the weather from Warrenton, and many local sites feature photographs of family members, new babies and even new home renovations to share with distant family members. One young photographer in southern Fauquier with a special interest in airplanes posts his photos online and sells them commercially.
Not everyone is a fan of the growing blog environment. Susan Feeley is well-known locally for her often unbridled daily Soup Broadcast e-mail which mixed “local gossip” with appetizing lunch specials at Jimmie’s Market. Feeley, who has restarted her listserv on her own after selling her Old Town Warrenton businesses in 2006, said she’s annoyed by what she calls the ego and anonymity of some bloggers.
“I haven’t followed along with (blog technology),” confessed Feeley, who said she prefers listserv mailing lists to the blogging idea.
“They don’t have to take ownership for it,” she said. “My gossip column was only for people who I want to send it to. It’s not out there for anyone to look at.”