Local blog gains attention, momentum

In just a few short years the word Blog, derived from Web log, has become synonymous with independent commentary, homespun punditry and individual journalism. From quiet beginnings more than 10 years ago, by the end of 2006, the blog search engine Technorati reported to be tracking more 60 million blogs.

Close to home, one local blog has garnered considerable attention in the year its been online. Capitol Hill Seattle, the creation of Justin Carder and his wife Kristin Boraas, has attracted a growing crowd of loyalists. Featuring a whimsical take on life on the Hill, the blog gets between 150 and 200 hits a day.

For Carder, starting a Capitol Hill blog was a natural evolution. He and Boraas moved to the Hill from Belltown one year ago. Carder, who has worked for Microsoft since 1996, had created a technology blog three years ago.

"I quickly found out that I didn't have anything new to say on that subject," he said. "And no one was reading it, either."

While living in Belltown, Carder created a blog that focused on that neighborhood. It was thus a natural evolution to establish Capitol Hill Seattle when the couple moved to the Hill a year ago.

The blog's focus, some may be surprised to learn, is not on Broadway or Pike-Pine. Those areas are well covered in the public's imagination, Carder said. And besides, that's not the part of the neighborhood where the couple lives. Capitol Hill Seattle devotes most of its posts to the area between 15th and 19th avenues. Living closer to St. Josepth's Catholic Church than the Egyptian Theatre gives a different perspective.

"People naturally think of Broadway when they think of the Hill, which is fine. But people here are different. It's less sexy, more bucolic, and there are many more kids. The blog tries to keep an eye on what's interesting up here," he said. "We hope that things that are interesting to us will prove interesting to others."

Capitol Hill Seattle's growing popularity is gratifying, Carder said, and a little bit surprising. Last year, roughly 15,000 individual e-mail addresses checked out the blog. Search engines find the site easily, and it receives a great spike of attention when The Slog, Stranger's blog, mentions it, as happened numerous times during December. Someone from Iran even logged in to check out coffee shops along 15th Avenue.

"The idea of having a blog is kind of embarrassing. I'm not really someone who seeks out attention. And yes, I am aware that there is some irony in saying this," he said, adding that the last thing he wants is to be recognized on the street as one of the Capitol Hill Seattle authors.

Blog entries are posted on most days (sometimes several a day) and come about from whatever strikes the couple's interest. While Carder aims to avoid coming across as a local Pollyanna, the blog does accentuate the positive. Things that appeal or are interesting to Carder or Boraas are the things they write about. Keeping it fun is a high priority.

An example of interactive whimsy took place last December, when Capitol Hill Seattle offered its first tournament. The tourney matched 16 Hill icons against each other, a list that included coffee shops, drycleaners and even furry critters. In the voting, Shop-Rite bested Walgreens by a huge margin, while Victrola earned a close victory over Fuel. In a contest between drinking houses, Canterbury and Hopvine, represented the old school, trounced newschoolers Liberty, Cypress and 22 Doors by a nearly two-to-one margin.

The eventual winner - squirrels, beat out Slog, The Stranger's blog by a mere 28 votes out of nearly 1,100 cast. To the victors, a 10-pound bag of unshelled walnuts shared between squirrels in Volunteer and Interlaken parks.

Shifting off the Hill, and shifting the tone from playful to serious, Carder recently put up a survey on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Responses will be tabulated through Tuesday, Feb. 6. The survey, and others likely to follow, represent a conscious effort to include topical issues into the mix. While Capitol Hill Seattle will always maintain its sense of playfulness, Carder understands that there is a larger world out there.

"The blog is great fun, but I am aware that while we're writing about, say, squirrels there are horrible things going on in Iraq," he said.

He and Boraas have a set of loose, evolving rules. The posts are not about the pair's lives - very little personal information about them is included on the site; for instance, their names are not there for the searching, and posts are signed with the initials of their first names. And when they write reviews of restaurants or cafes, they wait at least three days after visiting to post a comment to make sure their comments are carefully thought out and carefully worded, especially if that review points toward the negative.

The popular posts are often ones that venture beyond the Hill. Restaurant and café reviews receive frequent hits as well, though not the moment they're posted. Since Capitol Hill Seattle is easily found on search engines, someone looking for a restaurant online might be pointed to the site.

"The reviews are popular in the long term," Carder said.

As hobbies go, the costs are minimal apart from the time Carder and Boraas spend on the project. And it's not just a literary or technological exercise. Writing about Capitol Hill has provided a great way to get to learn about their adopted neighborhood.

While it's only been a year, Carder can look back at the posts as a kind of on-going document. The content hasn't changed much, he said. The blog is more involved with interactive elements such as the tourney and the survey. Capitol Hill Seattle links to many other Seattle neighborhood blogs as well. Carder said the site will evolve, but is not about to become a different animal altogether.

"We're not posting more because the site's become more popular, but when we have time and when we have something we'd like to say," he said.

There are goals for the future. There will be another tournament, and Carder intends to find a way to provide some tangible benefit from the blog, like raising money for a worthy cause. He hasn't figured out just how Capitol Hill Seattle will pull it off, but he's certain he'll figure out a way.

"The point of the blog is really the neighborhood," he said. "People can get overly concerned about bloggers' motives, but this one's just a reflection of where we live. If we write good things about things that are good, there may end up being more good things in the neighborhood."

Capitol Hill Seattle can be found at www.capitolhillseattle.com

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. Reach him at 461-1308 or editor@capitolhilltimes.com.[[In-content Ad]]