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Visit the Virtual Valley

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
January Issue
December 6, 2006

Visit the Virtual Valley

There is a Virtual Valley on the Internet.

You can locate the neighborhoods on Yahoo Groups, e-mail lists, and specialized forums on the World Wide Web. No matter your interest, there’s probably a neighborhood or two you will want to visit.

Yahoo Groups evolved as Yahoo purchased a number online communities and mailing list services. As a result, Yahoo has one of the largest collections of virtual neighborhoods on the Internet. I belong to more than a dozen of these groups, ranging from English teachers to Web designers.

Many of the groups are national, but there are also regional groups. These groups are the ones I like most because you can meet the other members over coffee and share messages online. To locate groups in Visalia, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/ (notice the URL does not begin with “www”) and enter a topic and include “Visalia” in your search. For example, the search “Visalia writers” locates a group named, logically enough, The Visalia Writers Group.

Searching the Yahoo Groups for any community in “Visalia California” locates more than forty virtual neighborhoods. There is a group for parents of autistic children, a cycling club, and even an amateur tennis league. Three different groups exist for scrapbook enthusiasts! Even quilters have an online community, where they organize old-fashioned quilting circles.

Each Yahoo Group has a distinct personality. Some update their Yahoo site frequently. The Yahoo site for each group can include a calendar of events, a photo album, and a document library. Some groups carefully maintain their calendars for local gatherings or events of interest to members. These are fun groups to join. I find if a group keeps the calendar up-to-date, they tend to post pictures and share stories.

Some people don’t care to visit Yahoo every few days, so you can join a Yahoo Group and elect to receive posted messages via e-mail. You can receive every message individually, a daily digest of message topics, or a weekly digest. I tend to receive every message in busy groups, while signing up for the weekly digests from slower groups.

It is a good idea to read past messages and let a few days pass before jumping into a virtual conversation. I find that most groups like introductions, but I always wait to find out what each group might want to know. A word of caution: no group likes the infamous “expert” member. If you join a photography group, remember that most of the members are hobbyists — they join a Yahoo Group for fun, not to be corrected. When you introduce yourself, never make it an advertisement for what you do. Groups are about making new friends.

If you are more adventurous, some blogs are actually communities. Most people associate “web logs” with vain teenagers posting poetry, but the reality is that a lot of blogs are set up by groups to share information. Visit Google’s Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) and search for Visalia to reveal a number of local individuals and groups. One blog is dedicated to Visalia history, while another tracks local entertainment.

Blogs aren’t as interactive as Yahoo Groups, but you can learn a lot about the individuals maintaining a specific community. Some “bloggers” include detailed biographies, while others prefer anonymity. The anonymous blogs can be interesting, but they can also be crass and insulting. Organizations with blogs tend to appoint a single “moderator” to keep exchanges polite and topical.

Once you start posting comments on a blog, you’re part of the community. My favorite blogs ask for reviews of local restaurants and entertainment. It’s a lot more fun to share opinions with local residents than to rely on a single review.

Some Web sites now feature forums, self-contained groups maintained strictly for registered visitors. Believe it or not, I located Central Valley discussions on UltimateRC.com, GardenWeb.com, and several other Web sites. With a little patience and some search engine know-how, you can locate forums of interest to Valley residents. The forum on GardenWeb included questions about what can survive Valley summers, for example.

To locate these forums, I went to Google and entered “forums Visalia California” and skimmed the search results. There are dozens of forums I want to check out, but I try to limit myself to topics I’ll read on a regular basis. By eliminating fee-based sites, I managed to cut the list of forums I’ll explore by half.

Remember that some commercial sites do offer free forums, though. Classmates.com, for example, has added free forums for alumni of local high schools. Even though I am not a paid member of Classmates.com, I can post messages and read responses in a forum dedicated to graduates of Golden West High School. You can do the same for any area high school.

For those of us seeking a simpler route through the Virtual Valley, there are listservs. A listserv is an interactive mailing list. The funny name is a result of pre-1990 computer file names: the software to manage “list servers” was listserv.exe. A Yahoo Group can be thought of as a complex listserv. Using any search engine, you can locate listserv mailing lists in the Central Valley.

Many listserv groups are maintained by schools and universities. To join a listserv, you need to know the e-mail address for subscriptions. Once subscribed, you will receive every message mailed to the list members. Fresno State maintains a list of their listserv groups at https://listserv.csufresno.edu. Some groups are limited to students and faculty, but many are open to the general public.

Mailing lists are nice because you simply check your inbox each day for news. I subscribe to many lists and read the messages daily. I would never visit two dozen Web pages, but I have no problem reading the handful of messages I receive from these lists. Thankfully, few listserv groups distribute more than one or two messages a day.

It is nice to know that no matter the weather, or even how far away you might actually be, you can always tour the Virtual Valley.

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