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Monday, May 16, 2011

NEPA Blogs

Heh.  So far I haven't posted anything here in my eighth year of blogging - at least, not to Another Monkey.  But over at NEPA Blogs we've been going into overdrive.

I started NEPA Blogs back in January 2006 with a few things in mind.  I wanted to create a sort of network, or list at least, of local bloggers the way that the blogger SuperG had (at that time) a list of bloggers in North Carolina.  (There seem to be an awful lot of bloggers in North Carolina!) I wanted to do something that showcased these local bloggers in a way similar to but different from the then-idled group called NEPA Blog. NEPA Blog was actually a group of bloggers writing about Northeastern Pennsylvania.  I didn't want to be doing content generation in that sense - I already had a blog, and I really didn't want to be writing for another one at that time. So while we might write about the blogs listed on NEPA Blogs, the main idea was to get them listed - and linked.

The linking was the main idea, or at least the one at the heart of things.  I wanted to generate more hits for Another Monkey, and/or improve my Google rank.  Because...well, I wasn't running ads at the time, so I guess those things just seemed important.  Pure, unenlightened self-interest. I had a vision for creating a network that would allow everyone involved to benefit from connecting to everyone else, without having to have everyone add hundreds of links to their sites.  The idea was that there would be a central site with links going out to many individual sites, and all of those sites would have links going back to the central site.  Everyone would then be two links away from everyone else.

That's how NEPA Blogs was born.  I sat down, found a few local bloggers, and linked to their sites.  One of them, Gort from Gort42, had already linked to dozens of local political blogs, so since I would probably be swiping a lot of his links anyway, I asked him to come onboard as a co-blogger.  Later we brought on Michelle Hryvnak Davies as another co-blogger because of her boundless energy, technical expertise, immense social networking skills, and her connections throughout the local blogging world.

Things went pretty well from there. Gort, Michelle and I sought out and added local blogs.  Some people actually came across NEPA Blogs and asked to be added.  Everything went pretty well except for one eensy detail: I sort-of forgot to ask people to link back to the site - or even to tell people they had been linked by it.  So the one-to-many-to-one idea kind of fell apart there.

Things gradually dwindled down over the years for various reasons.  2010 saw two months with more than three posts, two months with three posts, three months with two posts, three months with one post, and two months with no posts at all. 2011 didn't start out any better: January and February had one post apiece, while March had none.

Then Michelle kicked things into high gear.  She went on a publicity tear, reviving the NEPA Bloggers Facebook group, putting NEPA Blogs on Twitter, and publicizing the Spring 2011 NEPA Blog Fest across and beyond the blogosphere.  She also began adding site after site to NEPA Blogs.  In April 2011 there were twenty-two postings to NEPA Blogs, five fewer than in all of 2010.

Michelle's flurry of activity provoked me into activity, too.  I began putting more effort into seeking out new blogs, and accidentally discovered that the work of many local bloggers was being copied and reposted without attribution by a "scraper" blog (which has since shut down, apparently.) I also did a redesign of the site, more-or-less by accident - while messing around with a new template, I discovered that the old template was no longer available, so I was stuck with using one of the "new" options from Blogger. Michelle redesigned our header using a photo of a sunrise I took over my neighbor's house one morning, and this inspired me to design several new headers using photos I had taken around Northeastern Pennsylvania. I've also tried to make up for my earlier mistake by designing a button that NEPA bloggers could install on their sidebars informing readers that they are listed on NEPA Blogs, and directing traffic back to  the NEPA Blogs site.

Recently we've introduced one other innovation: every new post to NEPA Blogs gets reposted to Facebook, bringing in additional traffic from our Facebook group. And traffic is up: yesterday's visits were two to three times the typical number from the latter half of April, and April's visits were up about 40% over visits from the previous eleven months. Requests for listings are coming in every day now, through email and Facebook. This weekend alone we had ten new posts, with eleven new blogs added.  And people are becoming aware of the networking possibilities, and are asking for help with ways of linking back to the NEPA Blogs site.

So where do things go from here? I have no idea.  Honestly, I'd love to parlay this into something bigger, but I know there are practical limitations with how far you can go in the blogosphere, especially when you are by definition restricted to a specific locale - in this case, the upper right quadrant of Pennsylvania (more or less.) But with each new blog added I'm getting a message: Blogging isn't dead. And as long as there are bloggers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we'll be looking to add links to their sites to NEPA Blogs.

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