Monday June 25, 2007
Making connections online
Posted: Monday, Jun 25, 2007 - 11:37:29 am CDT
By Ashley Rhodebeck
Daily News staff writer
Area residents join Internet groups for different reasons
“You make it sound like an addiction,” 28-year-old Alexis Haenel said when asked if she can go a day without checking the Internet communities she belongs to.
Visiting the Web sites has become second nature for the Beloit resident, who spends up to three hours a day reading her groups' activities and replying to postings after checking her e-mail.
And it seems Haenel is not alone.
Because of the Internet's enormity, it would be impossible to know the precise number of Stateline Area residents involved with online communities, but judging by membership counts from two Beloit-specific groups it appears as though area citizens - both public and private - have joined cyber groups in droves.
At a friend's suggestion, City Councilor Marty Densch viewed the Beloit Yahoo! Group shortly after joining the council five years ago and has been lurking - and sometimes participating - on it ever since.
“It puts (your opinions) out there for everybody to see,” he said, “and other people - people you don't know - will be reading it and will respond to it. That's what makes it truly interesting.”
The group, which began on Nov. 14, 1998 as a Yahoo! Club, had 368 members as of Thursday. Though not all reside in Beloit, Densch said the message board has been “very helpful,” especially when more controversial issues arise because many of the participants don't attend city meetings or submit letters.
“It's one more ear to the ground to find out how people feel about things,” Densch said, adding people give their “unvarnished opinion” because users don't have to post under their legal names.
Densch mainly uses the community to gauge public opinion but said there's an entertaining element about it, such as when diverse viewpoints crop up. Usually the discussions are “quite civil,” he said, but sometimes talks turn nasty.
Rarely will Densch post a new topic thread, he said, noting his participation mainly includes him replying to discussions started by others. But, he added he will try to initiate dialogue “If there's an issue that's come up and (the members) haven't had a discussion about it.”
While Densch mainly uses online communities for business, Haenel visits hers to pursue hobbies. The para-educator began participating in Internet groups after getting a computer about four years ago. At first she simply searched for key crocheting terms on Yahoo! and asked other members questions.
Her involvement soon expanded, though. One day as Haenel tried to update her Yahoo! page she stumbled upon LiveJournal, a free journaling and blogging site that lets members form groups based on interests, and quickly joined.
“It's kind of cool to meet up with people who have the same interests as you,” Haenel said.
Through her online knitting, crocheting and crafting communities Haenel has bridged the generation gap by forging friendships with teens and people in their 60s.
“You're able to visit with them and realize you can still connect with people who are not in your group,” she said.
Sometimes the connections transcend the Internet. Besides meeting a few of her online friends in person, Haenel has participated in a “swapping” group, in which members mail packages to each other.
The most recent swap Haenel received contained a gift for her son, and the items were individually wrapped, something Haenel called pretty special.
“I overly enjoyed what I got,” she said.
Though Haenel has become acquainted with several people out of state, one of her online groups, the Beloit-Stateline Freecycle.org community, connected her with someone much closer to home.
Of the 752 members, one was giving away some clothes, Haenel recalled, saying she took the woman up on it. It turned out the lady lived across the street.
“I had no clue,” Haenel said.