Timothy Dwight freshmen traditionally take fierce pride in their small, tight-knit college, where they live with upperclassmen starting as freshmen. And this year, a handful of students in Timothy Dwight’s class of 2012 have created a blog that they said is pulling their community even closer together.
The Web site, Timothy Dwight Blog — which has a dozen active contributors and, as of presstime, more than 300 posts — has become part community forum, part celebration of Yale life. Originally read only by Timothy Dwight freshmen, the blog’s readership has grown to include other Yalies, parents and prospective students. Though some have criticized the blog for being too niche a publication, many TD students cited its familiar tone as its major appeal.
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As soon as the blog’s founders found out TD Blog was competing against college blogs — such as the Ivy League news and gossip Web site IvyGate and Columbia University’s “ The Bwog” — for the title of Best Alternative Media Outlet in a U.S. News online poll last Tuesday, they started mobilizing their readers to vote. The TD Blog currently leads the poll with 32.77 percent of the vote; the results will be tallied next Tuesday.
While Joshua Pan ’12 sent e-mails to his Directed Studies classmates urging them to vote, his suitemate Max Uhlenhuth ’12 began tracking the poll results and reading posts by TD Blog’s nine competitors, which include not only IvyGate but also blogs at Columbia, Pennsylvania State University and Wesleyan. Pan even has a widget set up on his MacBook Pro that tracks the results (which he checks “once a minute or so,” he said).
So why the competitive frenzy?
Besides the chance to attract more readers, “U.S. News will write an article about us, and we’ll get eternal glory, which is the main thing, of course,” co-founder Uhlenhuth said. “And who wants to lose to Columbia?”
Pan, Uhlenhuth and their suitemate Spencer Bradley ’12 started the blog in mid-October as a forum for the freshmen in their Timothy Dwight entryway. Although Pan said it was just “a fun idea” at first, it has grown from a small scattering of posts mostly about the state of their shared suite and upcoming dances to a 300-post undertaking that is updated several times a day.
Each new contributor brought in new readers, and “it just snowballed,” said Reid Magdanz ’12, whom the founders affectionately call their “Most Valuable Reader.”
Pan said he realized the Web site was gaining traction as people started sharing gossip from the posts and talking about it over meals in the dining hall.
The blog focuses on Timothy Dwight news and often features extended posts about individual freshmen’s hometowns, vacations and hobbies. For contributors and readers alike, TD Blog is not only a way to keep informed about intramural sports standings and upcoming college events but also to stay involved with community life; in one update, Pan posted when several freshmen would be returning to Yale after winter break, and Uhlenhuth posts a riddle every week, which readers compete to solve. Videos of Timothy Dwight events and video interviews, recorded on Pan’s webcam, add to the close-knit feel of the blog.
“There’s a very low barrier to entry for participation,” Uhlenhuth said. “It’s not super-legitimate, but it’s a fun way where people can say what they’re thinking about.”
Several contributors write weekly features that are not just about Timothy Dwight, including Music Mondays by Vlad Chituc ’12 and Politics by Daniel Frascella ’12, but the blog is still almost exclusively by, for and about Timothy Dwight freshmen. Still, the blog’s reach can be surprisingly diverse. Uhlenhuth said he once met another Yale student at Tweed-New Haven Airport who recognized his name from the riddles he posts on the blog.
The blog’s seeming insularity has inspired some gentle Yale-bashing among its competitors. In its latest post, IvyGate called TD Blog “a blog about a certain cult group … a dorm blog” and Columbia’s “The Bwog” called the fact that TD Blog is based out of a single residential college “egregious.”
But TD Blog’s contributors said they think part of what makes the blog so popular is its low-key, intimate feel.
“All the other blogs we’re up against are very different from us. They’re very much like a college newspaper,” Bradley explained. “We’ll have occasional blogs about Yale news, but mostly we’re a community-building blog.”
Added Uhlenhuth: “It’s brought everyone in TD together.”
As an informal chronicle of life at Yale, the blog has also attracted admitted and prospective students from all over the country. Bradley said Timothy Dwight Dean John Loge, another reader, has mentioned the possibility of directing new Timothy Dwight freshmen to the blog in his welcome letter over the summer.
And while the blog founders are trying to gain national attention, they said they have no plans to expand TD Blog’s reach to the rest of Yale. Instead, Uhlenhuth said, they hope to set up a Yale “blogosphere” with every residential college and student group maintaining its own version of the blog, complete with a home site to pull all of the Yale content together. While there are a few blogs written by Yale students, he added, there is no unified blogging community.
“Yale has these built-in communities of residential colleges,” Pan said. “That makes it the perfect atmosphere for blogs.”