A Capital City Connected

Well-educated and tech-savvy, Madisonians are especially adept at using the Internet to make real-world connections with like-minded folks. Instead of suffering from isolation in the Information Age, local residents are logging on to tell the collective tale of our favorite city and engage in more meaningful civic and social life. It doesn’t take newcomers long to get a handle on Madison geography. Drawing a mental map of the city is easy. A quick, first sketch of the isthmus links the Capitol Square to the UW campus via State Street. Over time, the rest of the picture fills itself in with each new neighborhood explored and landmark visited. It’s more or less a finite terrain, a set of familiar routes that most longtime residents could walk in their sleep … and then there’s virtual Madison. Choose a Destination On the web, the city expands in all directions. Ask anyone who frequents Madison’s vast online landscape to map it out for you and you’re bound to end up with an interesting—yet incomplete—picture. The local resources available on the web are abundant, which is exactly why, at times, they can also be completely overwhelming to navigate. But this rich territory is very much worth exploring. Don’t expect to take it all in at once. Simply pick a few choice destinations to visit, tailored to your personal interests and needs, and then grab your mouse and go! Points of Access To begin your journey, all that’s required is curiosity and a good Internet connection. Many Madison coffee shops, cafés, pubs and fast-food joints offer free wireless now, allowing customers easy online access at all hours. In addition to providing a wireless connection for laptop-carrying patrons, every branch of the city’s library system has computers available for free public use, in-house. Over seventy percent of the buildings on the UW–Madison campus allow faculty, staff and students to connect to the Internet via wireless network. Add to that the tens of thousands of Madisonians who log on regularly at home and at work and it’s fair to say that folks in this city are pretty “well-connected.” Local web heads are taking advantage of that ample online access and increasingly user-friendly technology to connect more with one another. We’re at our keyboards busily building community and creating lots of Madison-specific content. It’s Who You Know Online networking opportunities for Madisonians abound. Got an interest in biodiesel? Love daschunds? Want to find other triathletes to train with? Like chasing storms? There are 450-plus area list-servs available to satisfy interests of just about every variety. If you can’t find exactly the right one to serve your needs, it’s easy to start your own discussion group and attract kindred spirits. Residents of many Madison neighborhoods stay in touch this way. Do a search of the directories at yahoogroups or googlegroups to look for your neighborhood association listing. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, host many Madison-specific groups as well. Create a personal profile for yourself and in just a few swift clicks find others who share your interests. Badger sports fans connect here, as do music lovers and politicos. Want to make sure you’re in the loop? Use these sites to your advantage and tap into the power of a broad social network for lightning-fast event updates and info sharing. These sites have search functions that make it easy to find other users in the same geographical area who are alums of the same school, share hobbies or work interests, and so on. The Daily Page discussion forum is an especially popular online hangout for well-wired locals. The TDP Forum gets used to exchange ideas, announce gigs, ask questions, debate local issues and weigh in on what’s going on around town. A quick read of the latest posts on this forum provides an amusing peek into what’s on Madison’s collective mind at any given moment. Roam the rest of The Daily Page site for news, features, reviews, photos and event info. Lookin’ good, Madison Interested to see the city from a different perspective? Take a look at Madison through multiple lenses by visiting the Madison Wisconsin Flickr Group on the photo-sharing website flickr.com. Over 1,000 local shutterbugs participate by uploading pictures that document life in Madison from myriad points of view. Updates are made daily and group members engage in lively online discussions and exchange feedback on photos. Monthly meetups around town allow local photographers to connect face-to-face, share tips and socialize. Like any group drawn together by a common passion, the group attracts a membership of folks whose paths might not otherwise cross. It’s another example of how Madisonians are taking advantage of technology to bypass some of the social barriers experienced in the real world and create communities based on shared interests. The complex view of Madison generated by this group is stunning. Be sure to take a look. A life well-blogged Another vibrant and multifaceted view of life in our city is available at Dane 101 “the collaborative blog for Madison, WI.” At Dane101.com, an ever-changing crew of local writers, photographers and all-around culture vultures join forces to report on and review everything from roller derby bouts and open mic poetry nights to county board meetings and minor league baseball games. Contributors also often work together to produce live events that celebrate local culture. Dane 101 is penned by people “from and familiar with life here,” as explained in its “About” section. The blog “is about the persons, events and issues that shape the region.” Visitors add to the dialogue by commenting on posts. This one’s a must-have for your list of Madison RSS feeds. Its sister site, Dane101.net, aggregates over one hundred area blogs, thereby providing a perfect home base from which to explore the rest of the local blogosphere. Eat, drink and be merry Some of those local blogs enjoy large audiences—in part because they focus on topics near and dear to many of our hearts, such as food. One such site is Eating in Madison A to Z, which documents the exploits of local foodies Nichole Fromm and JonMichael Rasmus. Photos of meals eaten and locales visited accompany well-written, detailed reviews. The project began as a lark when the couple decided to tackle Madison’s restaurant scene by dining out…alphabetically. Their quirky approach and the blog’s commercial-free credibility garnered them a loyal following, which in turn egged them on to keep going with the project. Four years and 350-plus restaurant reviews later, they’re still at it (they’re in the M’s now.) “We're so glad that we can share our experiences. Madison is a great place to be and it is fun to tell others about the adventures we’ve had,” said Rasmus. A to Z allows for comments and questions from readers and links to other restaurant review sites for easy access to additional perspectives. Eat up! Where to next? There’s a whole wide web out there waiting to be explored. As Madisonians connect and communicate online, they create culture, document local history and cultivate a sense of shared identity for isthmus dwellers in the real world as well. Virtual Madison continues to expand and has no physical boundaries to contain its growth. Where to next? You decide. Angela Richardson is a Madison-based writer, photographer and performing artist. Find her online at flickr.com/photos/olive_talique.

Madison Magazine - November 2008
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