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DIGITAL CELEBRITY
Bill in Portland, Maine goes big time
BY REBECCA ZICARELLI

"Start with one dedicated man in Maine. Add news, humor, snark, opinion, and quotes. Blend. Laugh." That’s how Spyral, a regular poster on the liberal political blog, www.dailyKos.com, describes "Cheers and Jeers," one of that site’s top columns — called "recommended diaries" — authored by "Bill in Portland Maine."

Bill, Bill Harnsberger in the real world, posts "Cheers and Jeers" weekday mornings, opening with the greeting, "From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE." Next, comes a dose of humor that typically skewers both pop culture and the political right. The fun is followed by an election count down and round up of cheers and jeers focusing on news stories, political happenings, historical events, and whatever else catches Harnsberger’s attention.

Harnsberger says he’s an obsessive blog reader. It leads to sassy quips, linked to news sites and liberal blogs, like this September 24 jeer linked to Media Matters: "Apparently, the indictment of three aides who are joined at the hip with the Most Powerful Person in the Unites States Congress isn’t newsworthy enough for poopysnots Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather. In their defense, team coverage of the fake Britney wedding was top notch."

"If I don’t find a way to laugh at this stuff, I would go crazy or blow my brains out," Harnsberger says in an interview. "There’s a seriousness to political blogs. I thought if I could lighten it up, I’d be doing a service."

It’s all part of the heady brew that gives the Daily Kos community — they call themselves Kossacks — a bullhorn to be envied. According to Brian Reich, of Mindshare Interactive Campaigns in Boston and a blogger for MSNBC.com, Daily Kos had more then 7 million unique visits last month, nearly 2 million more than Fox News’ Web site.

Markos Moulitsas, aka Kos (rhymes with Morose), says " ‘Cheers & Jeers’ has become a sort of institution at Daily Kos, repeatedly making the ‘Recommended Diaries’ list and making Bill in Portland a celebrity within the Daily Kos community." Daily Kos’s popularity surprises him, Moulitsas says. "One of the unexpected side benefits of the site is the way it has catapulted a bunch of people — Bill in Portland being one of them — into the spotlight. If Daily Kos can continue bringing talented progressive writers to the forefront, then I would count that amongst the site’s greatest successes."

Part of Daily Kos’s appeal comes from the community feel to the Web site, compliments of the sexy open-source software that powers the blog, called Scoop, developed by Peaks Island resident Rusty Foster. "Scoop is somewhere between a content-management system, a Web bulletin-board system, and a weblog," Foster says. Scoop allows readers to post serious content rather then simply comment on posts.

"There’s so much stuff to do, so many toys to play with, that people find it like a home on the Web," Foster says. "You have to remind them it’s just a Web site."


Issue Date: October 1 - 7, 2004
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