Friday, February 20, 2009

Googling Venango

(News-Herald, February 19)Every few years I report back to you about how the Venangoland web presence is faring. Googling “venango” is uniquely instructive because it is a very unique name. “Oil City,” “Franklin,” and “oil region” all turn up a gazillion hits that have nothing to do with us. I have not yet solved the mystery of the Venango’s in Kansas and Nebraska, but they are mere drops in the Venango-related ocean.
As a side note, I think it’s also cool that there are streets named venango in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. And I am really intrigued to discover that “Venango” also exists as a surname. But I digress.
When I first reported on this almost a decade ago, googling “venango” only turned up a few thousand hits. Three and a half years ago (hey-nobody said I was on a regular schedule for this) we found 1,350,000 hits. I’m not prepared to interpret my newest results, but today’s google actually turns up fewer hits—a mere 1,140,000. This may have as much to do with increased google efficiency as with actual internet shrinkage.
If quantity is down, quality is up. The county website now sits at the top of the heap. This official website continues to be a model of how it’s done, with actual services like dog licenses. You can follow links to the “Invest Venango” campaign, a push to shift business spending back locally. And there even video of the latest commissioners’ meeting. Most local agencies are equally well-represented.
Also close to the top of the googlepile are the ubiquitous wikipedia entries. Wikipedia is a great idea, an encyclopedia that anyone with a computer can edit; once I finish this column, I plan to add the story of how my great-grandfather, Wallace R. Greene, personally discovered the Ark of the Covenant under the Eight Street Bridge. I think the whole wiki-world needs to know.
Some groups need to get up to date. The Venango Museum of Art, Science and Industry had almost caught up to the present, but still provides a list only for events in 2008. For those who are particularly nostalgic, their other website, last updated in 1996, is still on line. Meanwhile, the “next meeting” for Focus on our Future is in January of ’08.
If I were interested in looking at birds (well, actually, I like birds, but I bribe them with assorted seeds to come close where I can watch them, so I guess I qualify as a extremely lazy bird watcher) I would enjoy Gary Edwards site, which provides a great deal of info.
That site is a rarity. Google is so well-organized now that you have to dig way down to find the curiously quirky sites, like the one that tells you which parts of the county get fluoridated water (fluoridation is no longer a Communist Plot, but part of the Corporate Global Pollution Conspiracy).
Googling also reveals that some developer nears Mars, PA, has poached our name for an apparently gated community down by the intersection of the Turnpike and I-79. Venango Trails offers ponds, acres of woods, bike and walking trails, and lovely Victorian homes. In other words, even as people carp and complain about how awful it is to live here, elsewhere people are spending buckets of money to build a replica of our area. I suppose there are two significant differences—theirs is much closer to crowded commercial urban sprawl, and way more expensive.
But I digress. It’s much easier to actually get things done on line than it used to be. You can find plenty of local real estate listings (including foreclosures). You can go to the Humane Society site and see what animals they have awaiting adoption. You can find a lawyer, oddly enough, with much greater ease than you can find a doctor. You can do a great deal of genealogical research, including searching through an increasingly large number of old books that have been placed in their entirety on line.
You can make local hotel reservations, and you can get involved in the sport of geocaching, an activity I promise to look into as soon as the ground is not cold and hard (say, June). This is, in fact, part of the beauty of being able to do so many things on line, because I just got my heating bill for February and if I’m going to spend this much money on warm air, I plan to stay right here and enjoy every last molecule of heat.

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