There were many moments of recognition as nametags were made, as some members of the Northfield blogging community don't display a gravitar, or globally-recognized avatar, identifying their face with their comments and blog. After some introductions, the bloggers moved through popcorn and a few beers to discuss in person the issues their blogs and discussion threads address on a daily basis.
Northfield's blogging community revolves around a few specific sites. Northfield.org, started by Bruce Moreland, acts as an umbrella website for the Northfield community. Launched in 1991, the site organizes calendars, business and community events as well as a list of news feeds and blogs from local individuals and businesses. Another website, www.locally-grownnorthfield.org, is a companion weblog to the weekly audio show "Locally Grown." Organized by the so-called "Triumvirate" of Ross Currier, Tracy Davis and Griff Wigley, the site is a place for active discussion between Northfield's electronically-inclined citizens.
Wigley is one of the most prolific bloggers on the site. The bloggers gathered at Tuesday's F2F event credited him for starting the organized blogging community that exists today. With several posts every day, the blog gives Northfield citizens plenty of fodder for discussion. The discussions, which are displayed alongside the blog entries, are attributed to each participant by name. Clicking on the name displays the contributor's gravitar, if they choose to display one.
The discussion definitely continued at Tuesday's F2F meeting. Topics range from local gossip to serious political and social issues affecting the Northfield community. Sometimes, the line between the two is blurred, as evident in the discussion over the recent controversy regarding the Northfield mayor's office. Jane Moline of Dundas and Bretts debated passionately over the journalistic accuracy and ethical reporting displayed in posts about the event. However, as Peter Seebach observed, "People who grow up with blogs are less likely just to accept facts -- they know how to go out and research, to look for the truth." Regardless of the journalistic ethics tied up in blogging, both women admitted that most Northfield bloggers take careful consideration of what they've written before they click the "submit" button. "There is a lot of reality projected through the blogs, a lot of good, solid information," Moline said.
While most of the F2F's meeting centered on discussion of comments posted on "Locally Grown," Northfield's blogging community extends beyond the active website. "Locally Grown's" blogosphere lists the blogs of government officials, community leaders and civic organizations. Furthermore, people who contribute to blog discussions have the opportunity to link to their own blogs and websites. Northfield's blogosphere is becoming a new way for people to meet eachother, like Facebook, but for adults active in their community.
"It's a good way to meet people," said Bretts, who recently moved to the area. "I might not know their faces, but I know their opinions, their views on community." Likewise, Reginaldo "Regi" Haslett-Marroquin, who writes a blog for the Latino Enterprise Center after moving to Northfield 18 months ago, related his experience among the blogging community: "If you make the rounds, you get to know people. We all live here together in Northfield," he said. "It's a small town made smaller through the blogs."
Will another F2F meeting happen? Without the safety screen provided by the blogosphere, some heated discussion elevated voices and emotions rang out. As Bretts joked, "Watch out, we're not often in the same room together." However, the meeting is a progressive move in the direction of combining Northfield's virtual and physical worlds, finally giving faces to the faceless blogosphere gravitars.