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After blog experiment, Illinois village 'vanishes'

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Concerns are rising over the fate of a peaceful Mid-West town. Skokie, Illinois numbers around 60,000 residents, but has disappeared from the Internet after an intervention by techno-utopian webloggers.

Our thanks go out to old Reg friend Dan Gillmor for alerting us to this. In a posting on his own weblog yesterday, Dan, the author of book about weblogging called "We The Media" described the goskokie community site as "Hyperlocal Media That Works" and a "terrific experiment". The site was set up by six media students at the Medill School of Journalism, and features in the book. The students were proud of their findings, and wrote up the experiment in a 1.6MB PDF file.

Alas, when we checked into the virtual village, all we could find was some virtual tumbleweed blowing across the square. The last posting at goskokie dot.com had been made on July 31, when 'Sara' had written "So this morning I succeeded in spending an hour and a half at a Dunkies without ingesting a single donut." (The journalism students had warned us, in their PDF file, that "a lot of what appears on the site and interests people is not considered news by traditional media standards.") But activity hadn't exactly been heavy before that, with barely a hundred postings in all.

Alarmed and concerned, we called the Mayor's office in Skokie, Ill. to find out what was going on. Was this just a seasonal thing? Was there anyone still alive in Skokie?

"Yes, absolutely. The population is reaching 63,000," a village spokesperson told us. There was no seasonal migration out of the town. Were there any strange happenings, we wondered. Had any UFOs been sighted?

"No, no. Absolutely no alien abductions," the Mayor's office told us.

The official line - if you can believe it - is rather more prosaic. The goskokie dot.com 'hyperlocal media' site had been "created by some students who left after a couple of weeks," we were told. So the villagers weren't running away from the students, as we first thought: the students were running away from the village. Then the villagers got on with their normal lives.

Skokie's very fine official website, we learned, skokie.org, carries most of the hopes poured onto the blogging experiment. "It works like the goskokie site should," a spokesman told us. Once again librarians save the day: skokie.org had been created by Skokie librarians.

But can we believe this apparently rational explanation? It could be possible that social relations in Skokie, Ill. are already very healthy, and the citizens aren't interested in becoming guinea pigs in a blogging project. But it's in a book, so this can't be true. And mindful that we can't rule anything out at this stage, we plan to send in our Chicago correspondent for independent corroboration.

Meanwhile, if you're a resident of Skokie, and have escaped either abduction by aliens, or a close encounter with a weblogging student, just let us know that you're safe and well. ®

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