Simon’s laws of local blogging

Dryden, New York is a small town near Ithaca. Four years ago, local resident Simon St. Laurent began chronicling the civic life of the town on a blog called Living in Dryden. In a 2004 profile the Ithaca Journal wrote:

St. Laurent can be seen, notebook and digital camera in tow, at Planning Board and Conservation Advisory Council gatherings, as well as at special meetings on fire departments, speeding and comprehensive plans.

And it asked:

What could motivate this seemingly normal man to submit himself to hours of political talk and legalese?

The answer is that Simon St. Laurent is leading the way to an understanding of how local blogging can reflect and enrich the life of a community. Day by day, and year by year, he’s showing his fellow citizens that political blogging doesn’t have to be bombastic and divisive. It can be a civil dialogue that informs and unites.

I first wrote about Simon’s project more than three years ago. I’ve mentioned it in several talks since then, and this week I interviewed him for my weekly ITConversations show. The show’s not posted yet, and I’ll probably be away from my computer when it is, but check here later today if you’re interested. Personally I think Simon’s project is one of the more important things you’ll never read about on TechMeme. Here are some quotes from the interview that highlight two of Simon’s Laws:

Responsiblity is inversely proportional to community size

When you’re doing local stuff, you can’t stay anonymous for long. I think that has a major impact on the tone of things. The content has to be a lot more accurate because people will call you on it. Somehow the level of responsibility increases as the size of community decreases. It really changes the dynamics thoroughly.

Don’t make people spit out their coffee

Dealing with the threshold where people don’t really trust what they read is something I worry about pretty consistently. My usual rule is that nobody should have to spit out their coffee when they’re reading it. I have a neighbor up the hill who’s a conservative Republican, and I count on him to tell me when I’ve gone too far. Having that kind of tight feedback loop makes it possible for me to write things that I know will appeal to a lot of people.

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