I started the site NEPA Blogs nearly six years ago with the goal of increasing the amount of traffic to my personal blog. Since then it has grown into something much bigger and more significant.
My strategy was simple: create a blog that would link to my blog and the blogs of every other blogger in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Then, convince all of them to link back to the site, creating a centralized network. Every link back to NEPA Blogs would strengthen the network, and would allow every blogger in Northeastern Pennsylvania to be just two clicks away from every other blogger.
I brought on the pseudonymous blogger known as Gort because of his extensive connections to local political bloggers - I was planning to use his blogroll as a source for NEPA political sites anyway, so I thought it would be polite to bring him on as a co-administrator. It also meant that he could reduce my workload by posting these links and adding new ones as he found them.
Down the line I had come to admire the blogging skills of Michelle Davies. But I also saw that she had extensive community and media contacts, a boundless energy for doing community work, and technical knowledge and skills far beyond my own. I invited her aboard, and she immediately began to increase the roster of bloggers linked by our site.
NEPA Blogs ambled along for a few years, adding a new blogger here and there as we found them. Gort organized or assisted in organizing Blog Fests that brought regional bloggers together face-to-face, many for the first time. Michelle continued her community work, and I did the occasional "brute force" search for regional bloggers lurking in the shadows and back alleys of the Internet.
In April of 2011 Michelle decided to kick things into high gear. She expanded NEPA Blogs beyond the blog itself and into social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (and, later, Google+.) She arranged a media blitz to publicize the Spring 2011 Blog Fest. She began adding blogs at a frenetic pace. She reached out to local radio and television stations and secured a half-hour interview on a local technology show called Computerwise TV, a half-hour radio interview on local community radio station WFTE, and a regular slot on the WBRE afternoon show PA Live!
As all this was happening I realized that NEPA Blogs had grown into something far more than just a blog-linking network. It had become a full-blown community organization, serving both the regional blogging community and everyone in the area interested in reading about Northeastern Pennsylvania as it is seen through the eyes of its bloggers. Through our live-updating sidebar, it allowed visitors to quickly click through to the latest posts by the bloggers to whom we link.
And NEPA Blogs has expanded beyond simply listing blogs. Some events affect the entire region at once, and it is fascinating to see what bloggers across NEPA are saying about these events from their myriad viewpoints. While I considered doing something like this as far back as July 2006, it was Michelle who once again took the ball and ran with it in the aftermath of the Virginia earthquake whose effects were felt throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. Within a few days Northeastern Pennsylvania found itself faced with another region-wide event: the capricious winds and rains of Hurricane Irene, which left some areas unscathed and produced flooding, downed trees, and extensive power outages in others. Michelle was unable to create a post linking to the collected posts of NEPA Bloggers because she was among the hundreds of thousands of residents who found themselves without power - and was among the many thousands who found themselves still without power nearly a week after the storm. I collected and posted regional bloggers' accounts of this incident here and here.
A week and a half later, while some residents were still waiting to have their power restored after Irene, this area was hit with the remnants of another tropical storm - and the worst flooding it has experienced in nearly forty years.
We assembled posts, of course. They can be seen here and here, and capture both perceptions of the storm and reactions to it. But now Michelle took things to yet another level: recognizing the power of both the NEPA Blogs network and the extensive social media connections through Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, Michelle began collecting and posting information about ways that people could give (and get) assistance in the aftermath of this flood in a post called Giving Help. In the days following the flood, NEPA Blogs readership temporarily increased by roughly 1500%, mostly from people coming to access this incredible (and constantly-updating) resource page that Michelle had created. Perhaps after things settle down, some of these visitors will remember and return to this site.
So now NEPA Blogs stands as a full-fledged community organization. And those of us who work to maintain and expand it are not merely unpaid bloggers pursuing a hobby, but are volunteers working to continue to bring this site to Northeastern Pennsylvania. Rather than trying to find some community organization to whom I can volunteer my services, I have come to realize that I have, almost accidentally, helped to create one: NEPA Blogs.