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Virtual ties

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hamtown.blogspot.com

There is a fair amount of talk these days about how blogs are becoming a key component in forming online communities. But don’t go singing those praises to Mike Rehfus, founder of the Hamtramck Confidential blog. Rehfus knows what real community is all about, and sees the virtual form falling far short by comparison.

For three years Rehfus, 35, owned the Urban Break Coffee House, which he sought to make a community gathering spot. It was a place that had a world map posted on the wall, and patrons in this incredibly diverse community were encouraged to place pins in their place of origin. Eventually, he says, there were thousands of pins on that map.

“I wanted to create a truly open space,” he says. “A place not dominated by any one social or ethnic group.” Along with java and food, the cafe provided a forum for poetry and live music. And though he succeeded in creating a space where the town’s various cultures could mix and mingle, the business ultimately didn’t make it. After the place closed, Rehfus, looking for a way to stay engaged in the city he’s called home for 10 years, began blogging at the start of this year.

Currently working in advertising, he brought a range of experience to the endeavor. He’d worked previously as the design editor at the town’s paper, The Hamtramck Citizen. He’d also done stints on the city’s Downtown Development Authority and the Zoning Board of Appeals, so he had an insider’s view of Hamtramck’s often bizarre political workings, especially after helping out on a few political campaigns.

The blogging started once he found out how easy it was to create a site using the free services provided by outfits like blogspot.com, which make it simple for almost anyone to grab a space in the blogosphere.

Sometimes going with tips supplied by City Hall connections, at others commenting on the work of his fellow Hamtramck bloggers or talking about preserving the cultural and social aspects that make his town so interesting, Rehfus allows that his blog is a way to “stay engaged in his community,” and to share his ideas about it, using “what insight I have to express a point of view.”

It’s apparent he likes stirring things up. His most recent item relates the story of a Hamtramck man who claims he was harassed by a cop who refused to provide his name. “Who is Badge 37?” asks Rehfus.

Still, posting online comes up short compared to the sort of face-to-face exchanges that occurred daily when he ran the café.

“It’s a far, far cry from the Urban Break,” Rehfus says. “Blogs don’t connect people physically, so there is an antisocial component to them.”

So, what purpose do they serve?

“Blogs are still largely organic,” he says, “creating an opportunity for the unfettered exchange of ideas. You have an incredible volume of ideas and information being exchanged at incredible rates.”

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