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City Wide Web

City “blog maps” enable point-and-click sightseeing.

The premise behind a blog map is simple: Some industrious blogger posts a subway map of his or her city (if you live in a city without a subway, well, that’s your problem) and then organizes the city’s blogs by the stop to which they are closest. If residents want to explore their neighborhood blogosphere, they simply click the section of the city that strikes their fancy. The result: Local bloggers find each other, exchange e-mails, meet up for drinks, and then generally do the same things as neighbors who stumble upon each other in the real world.

But blog maps offer another benefit: an alternative city guide that enables a little point-and-click sightseeing. Take the Washington, D.C., Metro blog map, which is growing by 20-30 blogs per week (still no Andrew Sullivan or Josh Marshall, though). It’s a constantly evolving, unadulterated, warts-and-all look at the nation’s capital—without any of the generalities or value-neutral pronouncements that are a traditional guidebook’s stock in trade. There are 18 blogs listed at the Dupont Circle stop, including Bureaucrat by Day, the “musings of a government lawyer, pop culture addict, political junkie, comic book enthusiast, and former child star,” the Cultural Elite, and … With the Rest of Our Jewelry, which features “rants and raves from four fabulous queens.” Taken together, they paint a pretty decent portrait of the liberal, gentrifying, largely gay neighborhood in Northwest D.C. Just like Dupont Circle’s coffee shops, Dupont’s blogs are teeming with earnest social commentary, intellectual nitpicking, and a healthy dose of Bush-bashing. Compare that to my ratty Lonely Planet USA guidebook (1999), which points out that the Dupont Circle area “became a fashionable residential district at the end of the 19th century and remains so today.”

The rest of the D.C. blog map offers similar revelations to those with the patience to unearth its secrets. At the Metro stop for Columbia Heights, a run-down neighborhood that is emerging as a hipster enclave, the blog map provides evidence of the area’s dual nature: A blog called D.C. Blows, where the downtrodden proprietor claims that “this city sucks like no city hath sucketh before,” sits alongside Notes From the Lounge, featuring the “pathological self-absorption” of a former NYU philosophy major. Just outside the Beltway, white-collar professionals with too much time on their hands broadcast their thoughts via the more than 30 blogs at the suburban Vienna/Fairfax Metro stop. Inside the District, the economically depressed area east of the Anacostia River is silent. At the Pentagon City stop, blogger Gene Cowan laments the fact that being close to the Pentagon makes it impossible for him to get terrorism insurance. “Skeevis,” writing from College Park, offers his perspective on the University of Maryland housing situation (“Sweeeeeeeeet! Elkton 5 is gonna ROCK next year”) while over at the Tenleytown stop, near American University, toenail-painting coeds wielding live journals discuss the fabulousness of The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

They don’t parse out the hours that the monuments will be open, but blog maps (there’s one for New York and London, too) give a sense of the city beneath the postcard images hawked on downtown street corners. And for those of us trapped in front of a screen all day, they provide the opportunity for some virtual tourism without ever leaving our desks.