Just before the demise of MySpace and the rise of Facebook, it was Bakotopia.com that brought social networking to Bakersfield's underground arts and entertainment scene.
Launched in 2005 under The Californian's umbrella of companies, Bakotopia.com set out to become the epicenter of Bakersfield's young and hip -- and young and hip at heart. The idea was to build community among the disparate underground groups in the city by developing a string of citizen journalists and contributors who kept visitors reading, laughing and debating over topics ranging from politics to culture to social issues -- until tempers flared, as they often did. But even that was entertaining.
After eight years, the Bakotopia.com site will be signing off next week. The traffic and engagement with Bakotopia has moved to Facebook (facebook.com/bakotopia; @BakotopiaMatt on Twitter), so the website no longer warrants the ongoing upkeep.
What we can't take with us to Facebook are the archives and content of our hundreds of contributors. Sad? Yes. But what we started all those years ago was more a spirit than a Web destination, and I hope to keep that alive every week here in my Lowdown column.
A little history:
The cyber frontier in the early 2000s was open range, there for the taking. The world was going blogwild, with personal entries of every kind: funny, smart, mindless, infuriating, narcissistic. Cyberfreaks roamed freely as well, pushing the boundaries of free speech, attempting to redefine what it meant to be a "journalist" in the world of new media. Many stood on the sidelines like rubber-neckers at a pileup to watch various dramas unfold, while others chose to join in as a cheering squad. Not sure who won, but it made for some amusing case studies and note-taking.
To separate ourselves from other sites, the invitation was simple: Come take a walk on the wilder side of Bakersfield.
Within a few months, the curious wandered in and eventually the party spread from cyberspace to the material world. Bakotopia.com had become a brand name the community could trust for a good time, without cliques or fear of feeling left out. We put on concerts, showed up at the colleges to spread the word, did a radio show, put out a magazine and produced a CD compilation of local bands. The idea was to become a cultural hub, and so we pushed a few buttons along the way -- how's it going, Inga? -- but, at the end of the day, I think we succeeded in starting some interesting conversations.
I arrived a few months after the website's launch. For the first year I was glued to the site, moderating from sunup to sundown, building up the Bakotopia.com user database from hundreds to thousands. To attract attention and divert traffic from larger websites, I used traditional promotional methods I developed after years with my band. Soon, quirky buzz phrases began popping up -- "Embrace your inner Bako" and "Bakotopia: Where it's about we, not me" -- and we were off to the races.
And the world outside Bakersfield seemed to be paying attention. The Wall Street Journal featured the site on its front page in 2006, and we won a couple of cool awards. Dan Pacheco, who developed the site, shared a story about how during a visit to Costa Rica for a social media summit, a Brazilian journalist told him that he had used Bakotopia.com as the model for a youth soccer website he developed.
Looking back over the better part of a decade, running Bakotopia was more fun than I ever could have imagined and an experience that ushered me into my role as a full-time entertainment journalist. To this day, when I'm strolling around downtown or grabbing a burger, I still get, "Hey, you're the Bakotopia guy."
Rather than mourn what's gone, let's start a new chapter in the conversation of Bakersfield's underground arts scene. This column celebrates the quirky, the edgy, the old and the new, the personalities that make life here vibrant and unconventional. Give me a call or send a message via Facebook, email, Twitter, telepathy: I'll probably get it.
And a word to the wise for contributors: Those interested in smuggling some of their Bakotopia.com article and photo submissions for their personal archive should do so soon. The website will close down on Tuesday.
Speaking of contributors, I couldn't have edited the site without help from dozens of people, including: Chase Brockett, Holly Carlyle, Jeff Gresham, Kindra Hill, Norma Takahashi, Donni Lomeli, Miranda Whitworth, Rebekka Haas, Eric Duhart, Ronna Barajas, Orlando Galvan, Brooke Peace-Stewart, Cesareo Garasa, DJ Sanchez, Greg Goodsell, Heath Dobbler, Ray Vargas, Chris Borbon, Aaron Novak, Dezi-Von Manos, Nick Belardes, Jesse Rivera, Jen Raven, Faith Flores-Anderson, Nyoka Jameson, Lydia Gonzales, Jeremy Gonzalez, Todd Powers, Robert Bejil, Joseph Gomez, Adrianna Espitia, Candice Rogers, and Hectic Films' Rickey Bird and Jason Sanders.