I have been thinking recently of getting back into the blogging world, dropping my anonymity and expanding (slightly) the scope of Urban Richmond. I can think of no better way of ramping back up than posting a guest author’s thoughts on blogging in Richmond, which is what follows below.

Jason Guard/RVA Foodie asked me to post this on his behalf  so that he doesn’t distract students/teachers (who, along with RVA Blogs form the subject of his post) who are just getting introduced to his blog. Here it is:

I have a couple, relatively minor, gripes with the RVA Blogs website. I bring up the topic of “what’s wrong with RVA Blogs” because it’s a lot easier to level a few bits of constructive criticism as opposed to a verbose solilique on the benefits of Richmond’s virtual community that manifests under this convenient URL. Also, I don’t mean to be insensitive, especially considering that RVA Blogs most popular author just offered some pointed feedback about the new layout of the sister site, RVANews.com. Never having met, Ross or Val, I still don’t think it’s appropriate to pick on them as they just gave birth to a three month old baby (10.5 lbs!).

Disclaimers aside, I mostly wanna tell a little story. On Tuesday, I was the guest speaker at a local ESOL class (English for Speakers of Other Languages – formerly known as ESL). They wanted me to talk about blogging. The class is experimenting with some online writing assignments and they just happen to be planning a field trip to a restaurant, so my talk served as a good intro to an upcoming bit of homework. The talk went really well and the group was pretty engaged (to the degree that they actually understood me). But it could have gone better… Why?

As I prepared some mental notes before heading over to the the adult school, I popped by RVA Blogs to see if I had anything in the popular posts list that I could use as a segue. It would be great to show the class how many blogs there are in Richmond and lure them into blogging with the expectation of gaining exposure (and building community) through RVA Blogs. At the very least, they could practice their reading skills on the pithy posts of In Vino Veritas, or bask in the common language of d’amor at Jack Goes Forth. Well, on second thought, I better clarify that anyone can say anything on their blog (and they/we often do). But wait, what’s this?

As I scanned the list of Popular Posts, I came across one titled “Erotic Photography from Le Chagrin.” Uh oh. I don’t want the class to see this projected on the wall. Someone’s gonna tell me to click it. Well, I’m sure it’s innocent enough (I think to myself as I click the link while sitting at my desk – AT WORK). I’m taken to a site that I had been to recently, where a guy who was layed off from the RTD forecasts the demise of the paper. This time around, he’s posting porn. Well, I guess you’d have to be the judge. The booty shots and the implied cunnilingus would probably be rated R. But the one with the spread eagle lady with a guy’s blank in her blank (think proctology exam)… um, that X rated contra-ban is gonna get me in trouble if anyone thinks I walked into a public school and pointed people in that direction.

Damn. I really could have used RVA Blogs as a convenient example of the potential of Web 2.0 applications. I poked around the aggregator looking for ways to circumvent the link to erotic photography. The more I looked over the site, it started to seem like a much less appealing example. The blog roll of postings is dominated by spam from corporate sites (Elliot in the Morning, RTD’s numerous “blogs,” Ellwood’s filabustering hot bar advertisements). The independent voices hardly come through. Sure, the unrepresentative abundance of right wing postings may be a thorn in my craw. And the alleged popularity of these costume blogs where wierdos get off portraying themselves as buffoons makes me shake my head in dismay. But I still believed that RVA Blogs would be a good place to direct those looking to learn about the personal perspectives that make up our city.

Instead of talking about RVA Blogs, I gave examples of professional blogs vs. personal blogs. Then I provided an example of a community blog (CHPN), highlighting the potential for discussion. The class seemed to like the idea of posting on a site where they aren’t solely responsible for the content. So, I played up the multi-purpose functions of blogs, from recipes to food reviews, from baby pictures to political diatribes: something for everyone. Maybe they would choose to self-publish after all. If there was one concern, it was the fear of writing in isolation, the need for their valuable time to go towards interaction, which will further their fluency. Hence, the need for connection, a la RVA Blogs.

Recommendations:

  • Remove all corporate pseudo-blogs that clutter the site.
  • Post some basic terms for aggregation (include “no hate speech”, and adult material should be hidden under “adult only” disclaimer screens – which most blog software includes, right? and maybe something about activity level to remain listed).
  • Create a separate list called “RVA Bizarro Blogs” where people can access those sites where the author pretends to be some convenient butt of jokes demographic (gap toothed women, religious zealot folk singers, and bartender jiggalos – sorry Jack, your promiscuity is too far fetched to be believed).
  • Otherwise, manage the site in whatever way is sustainable and consistent with the Catrow morals and the Bill of Rights.
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