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Monthly Archives: January 2007

Lost Pet Reunited and Community Benefits

Meow

As C.G., a member of the Hinesburg Village Forum put it: “Another forum success story!!” First came:

Lost Cat? Issue No. 30 – Jan. 29
A very hungry orange & white cat is hanging around our house next to the old library. He/she seems healthy and well-cared-for, other than being cold and hungry. Is anyone missing a cat? I think he is sleeping in the big green barn next door.

Followed by this from S.S.:

Lost Cat Question Issue No. 31 – Jan. 30
Tuesday, January 30, 2007 – 7:12 am
Where is the old library? My next door neighbors have an orange and white cat they let out all the time…

And today’s conclusion by C.G.:

Another forum success story!! Issue No. 32 – Jan. 31
“Tiger,” the lost orange cat, was retrieved by his owner this morning!!! He had been missing for an entire month, poor thing.

BTW, the old library is now Clover Creek, an invitation and graphic design firm. It is located next to Grateful Dog Grooming, diagonally across from Lantmans.

So, not only was a pet quickly reunited with his family after C.G. took the initiative to post a note to her neighborhood forum, but S.S. learned a bit of local history about the old library… as did the other 60 households subscribed to this forum. Add this episode to many others about cars sold, school events announced, plumbers recommended, etc. and the net effect is… neighbors connecting and fostering community.


Pig and Rat on Front Porches

My father just sent this to me from Sunday’s paper…

Pearls before Swine 2007.01.28 by Stephan Pastis

Pearls before Swine here and here.


Members Spread the Word

Front Porch Forum members continue to spread the word about this free community-building service. Some examples:

1. A group of neighbors and AmeriCorps Volunteers plan to deliver Front Porch Forum flyers door-to-door in Wards 1, 2 and 3 (old North End, downtown, etc.) this Thursday (Feb. 1, 2007). If you’d like to join this group of fun-loving community-spirited folks, meet them at Radio Bean coffee shop on North Winooski Ave. at Pearl St. at 11 AM. For details, contact Rob Filitor (rmfilitor_AT_gmail_DOT_com)… many hands make light work!

2. “I emailed an announcement about Front Porch Forum to my co-workers today. Several people have already written and said they’ve just joined and love it!” -D.W. in Hinesburg

3. “I spoke about Front Porch Forum to my local chapter of a women’s service organization yesterday. It was a surprise for me that this group of seniors was so interested in this service and I am sure some will sign up very soon.” -A.C. in Charlotte

4. “I think that you are providing a wonderful service. I don’t know very many neighbors at this point, so I am hoping this will open the door to new friendships. I will certainly encourage people who are not signed up to do so.” -J.E. in Colchester


Weekly Sampler: Broadband Options?

Another 200 messages posted this past week in the various neighborhood forums hosted by Front Porch Forum in and around Burlington, VT. Here are descriptions of some of the postings. Seems that more and more people are posting a variant of “what’s the best broadband option here?” on their neighborhood forums.  This is our second pass at this exercise… check out the first Weekly Sampler:

  • Seeking broadband advice from neighbors
  • Pick-up basketball in Westford
  • Public safety initiatives in Winooski
  • Waterfront air show – pros and cons
  • Seeking a particular issue of National Geographic (twice!)
  • Broadband options in Westford
  • Free tax-prep program
  • Why can’t we recycle more plastic types?
  • Essex town-village merger
  • Meeting announcements for Route 15 planning, Burlington zoning re-write, online safety training, waterfront planning, Burlington armory fate, senior center planning, and more
  • Baker-for-a-day fundraiser
  • Free garden plot in Lakeside neighborhood
  • Seeking Ottawa travel tips
  • Bolton condo available
  • Seeking, selling and giving away:  washer, dryer, fridge, weights for seniors, couch, minivan, houses, hockey skates, router, monitor, cable modem, skis, etc.
  • Bike path test plowing
  • Tutors, babysitters and preschool slots available
  • Slowing down speeding traffic in neighborhood
  • Dog seeks walker
  • Neighborhood beach security
  • Neighborhood parent group forming
  • Ride needed to WRJ
  • Status of ice skating venues
  • Global climate change study groups forming
  • Keys found
  • Time bank launch
  • Car break-ins and hit and run
  • Local baker pitches wares
  • Art studio opening
  • Winter festival news
  • City news from Winooski
  • Five Spice fire
  • Police join more neighborhood forums
  • Neighborhood forum flyering plans
  • Old North End movie night
  • Neighborhood game night
  • And lots of cat postings: lost, found and sitters needed

Social Networkers getting Picky

How many online social networks do you belong to? MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo Geocities, on and on. I can’t find the quote now, but someone wrote recently about a desktop littered with passwords from various social networking sites. For the heavy user of this stuff, the question becomes… which networks are worth it and which should I drop?

Richard Siklos has an interesting piece in the New York Times (fee) yesterday about this. After outlining some of the recent deals where big media companies are buying surging social networking sites (e.g., Sony bought Grouper.com, a video-sharing site, for $65M) as the established media buys its way into this new world, Siklos writes of the challenge of readers evolving from consumers to members:

Social networking… represents a way to live one’s life online. Know this: if you are part of the social networking wave, you will have all the “friends” you can handle. The invite is the new handshake. Get ready for a lot of opportunities to join all kinds of networks – and, one hopes, some appropriately Webby new way to politely say, “No, thank you.”

Front Porch Forum is part social networking. But it’s different than most. Instead of pulling people together around an issue, hobby, desire, etc., our neighborhood forums pull together… well, neighbors. Simple.

The Local Onliner reported recently about major changes at the Los Angeles Times:

The LA Times Online will roll out two new, ecommerce-oriented verticals in the midst of a ripping internal report that says the paper’s online strategy is nowhere near where it needs to be for the paper to have a future… The article also cites a new internal report finding that the online division only has 18 employees, compared to 200 employees at WashingtonPost.com and 50 at nytimes.com. The understaffing has lead to a poor quality website that, in part, accounts for users only staying 11.9 minutes on the site, compared to twice that long on nytimes.com.

The internal report goes on to cite a debilitating philosophical clash between GM Rob Barrett and Joel Sappell, and online executive editor Joel Sappell. Barrett wanted the site to focus on “hyper-local” reports to deliver SoCal readers information about their communities. Sappell argued for building “communities of affinity” rather than geography. [Sounds like the GM's approach won out.]

So as social networks multiply and people start to get choosy, many, if not most, I think, would want to keep plugged into their neighborhood forum. They can swim in a near-endless ocean of “communities of interest,” but options for connecting with their neighbors online are scant.


Forums Reach Tipping Point

Tipping Point

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. This is a national bestseller that’s been in circulation since 2000. From the back cover: “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire,” like an epidemic.

I can draw many parallels to what we’re seeing with the growth of Front Porch Forum’s membership. It’s fascinating to watch as neighborhoods “tip,” one after another. A few dozen have passed the threshold already… now they have enough members and enough message traffic to sustain their neighborhood-wide conversation.

I also just read The Accidental Influentials in the latest Harvard Business Review about the work of Peter Dodds and Duncan J. Watts. They offer a different view of the mechanics of a social epidemic:

… Gladwell argues that “social epidemics” are driven in large part by the actions of a tiny minority of special individuals, often called influentials, who are unusually informed, persuasive, or well connected. The idea is intuitively compelling—we think we see it happening all the time—but it doesn’t explain how ideas actually spread.

The supposed importance of influentials derives from a plausible-sounding but largely untested theory called the “two-step flow of communication”: Information flows from the media to the influentials and from them to everyone else…

In recent work, however, [we] have found that influentials have far less impact on social epidemics than is generally supposed. In fact, they don’t seem to be required at all.

… marketing dollars might better be directed toward helping large numbers of ordinary people—possibly with Web-based social networking tools—to reach and influence others just like them.

I’m not sure which social theory best explains what we’re witnessing with the spread of Front Porch Forum. It’s not unlike a dry forest… lighting strikes one neighborhood and its forum bursts into a flame of activity. Other neighborhoods (parts of the forest) smolder for weeks or months before igniting a slow burn. Hmm… I’ll have to work on that comparison.


Neighbors Rein in Traffic

Too many cars and trucks driving too fast… that’s a problem that’s been plaguing residential areas since the Model T. But it’s getting worse. Americans own more cars per capita than ever before and we’re spending more time behind the wheel too… and if I had a couple minutes to spare I’d find some references to back up those claims.

And so a collective response by neighbors to rein in traffic must have started back in Henry Ford’s time too.

Now we’re seeing a new twist on it. Neighbors are using Front Porch Forum to talk about traffic problems and work on fixes. Some Burlington examples:

1. Residents along Home and Flynn Avenues bear a heavy load with truck traffic. They’ve posted dozens of messages on their neighborhood forum about this issue as it relates to the Southern Connector (both for and against, as well as some interesting middle-ground ideas). They also worked with one of their City Councilors to improve the signage regarding use of the ear-splitting jake brakes by trucks.

2. Birchcliff had a nightly speeder. One post on their neighborhood forum and the police stopped the offender that same night… problem solved.

3. Five Sisters residents were concerned about downhill traffic as it sped past South/Calahan Park on Locust St. Working with the Dept. of Public Works, traffic calming features were incorporated into the street.

4. Killarney Dr in the New North End… residents are concerned with teenager speeders exiting onto North Ave. A neighbor who is a police officer used the forum to encourage neighbors to identify the problem drivers and talk to their parents directly.

5. Lots of other neighborhoods have used their neighborhood forum to start conversations and eventually enter into DPW’s formal traffic calming process.

Concerned about traffic in your area? Post a note to your neighborhood forum and see if others feel the same way. Getting organized is a first step to finding a reasonable solution.


Military Air Show Debate

Last summer I was enjoying a day at the beach in Oakledge park with my family and some friends. Our four small children were thrilled to be in the water and combing the short stretch of sand for little treasures. As I stood where the bike path terminates along the back of the beach, I looked out and surveyed my brood thinking like a lifeguard… how long would it take me to get to my three-year-old who was wading in beyond bellybutton depth… what if my wife slipped and dropped our newborn in the water… typical father duty.

I can’t begin to describe then the shock when a fighter jet exploded through the air just above our heads. The earth shook. My ears rang. The jet, flying so low that we had no warning before it burst over the trees a hundred feet behind me, was on us in an instant.

I didn’t have one second to protect my family… not even an instant to lay a comforting hand on my oldest son who sat in his wheelchair next to me. Just BOOM!

Welcome to Burlington’s waterfront air show 2006.

For the past couple of weeks the messages against the air show have been multiplying across a number of neighborhood forums. This is a great use of Front Porch Forum. Other members have responded in support of the air show. Most of the comments break down along predictable lines… anti-war = anti-air show and vice versa.

Perhaps the growing number of people against the Iraq war who find the air show objectionable, and therefore wish it canceled, miss an opportunity. I still shake when I remember that instant… I had no idea what was happening, only that some terribly violent power was exploding over my children. I was powerless.

So, while my family was in no real danger, this facsimile of modern warfare in the homeland was a deep-felt reminder of what the U.S. military is doing to people in Iraq (and elsewhere) for longer than our involvement in WWII. My wife and I were able to comfort our kids as they all sobbed, terrified, with “it’s only the air show.” What do parents say in real war zones to their surviving children?

Thus the opportunity. Don’t protest the imitation; rather, use it to protest the real thing. While the military jets streak across the waterfront next summer, excite the local population to imagine that this isn’t a patriotic celebration of our might… instead, use it as a sobering moment of solidarity with humans caught up in war.

Imagine Burlington under attack. Imagine missiles from those jets slamming into the hospital, the water treatment plant, the power plant… bombs dropping on neighborhoods, schools, bridges. Those are our jets after all. Our guns (made in Burlington), our neighbors and relatives in uniform. Only seems fair that we all get an annual reminder of what we’re visiting on other communities half-way around the world.


Gannett Pursues Small Businesses

The Local Onliner reports today:

Gannett, via its Planet Discover subsidiary, says it will start providing its newspapers and TV stations with search marketing help… In the last six months, newspapers have begun to really embrace search and extending their marketplace to the small businesses, he [Planet Discover Head Terry Millard] notes.

The end goal, Millard adds, is to expand the advertiser base. While Planet Discover’s local search guides compete with Yellow Pages, “it isn’t all Yellow Pages,” he emphasizes. There is a layer of media below that: the community shoppers, things like that. There is a huge market of businesses that aren’t going to spend $3,500 a year,” the average for Yellow Pages buys. “But they’ll spend $100 a month.”

Millard says the effort starts with Gannett, where Planet Discover has already launched search efforts for it 110 newspapers, and is now gearing up to convert its 21 TV stations. Other Planet Discover clients are also being asked to participate. They are mostly newspapers but also include some verticals such as travel.

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out at our local Gannett outlet, the Burlington Free Press.


What the Neighbors are Saying

At one point in my past, I led a 20-year-old trade association of New England utilities with about 30 employees. We took pride in the 100 or so letters we received each year from members who took the time to tell us how pleased they were with our work.

So I’m tickled pink (to channel my mother) that shiny new and relatively tiny Front Porch Forum hears from it’s happy members in droves. Here are three unsolicited comments received just this evening:

Thanks for creating such a great local resource – we really love getting our Front Porch Forums in our mailboxes. -A.P. in The Quarry Neighborhood Forum

I think that you are providing a wonderful service. I don’t know very many neighbors at this point, so I am hoping this will open the door to new friendships. I will certainly encourage people who are not signed up to do so. -J.E. in Bay Creek Neighborhood Forum

Another success: I just received, delivered to my door, 3 packages of diapers for my son. A wonderful town member did not want to throw away unused diapers, so she posted on Front Porch Forum. I replied and she dropped them off! I will be thanking her with some of my homemade bread this week. What a great way to connect, reuse, recycle and overall develop a wonderful sense of community! -H.A. in Westford Neighborhood Forum

More such comments live on our Testimonials page.