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Monthly Archives: April 2007

Rent a Spouse?

A local hardware store is running ads for its handyman service, called “Rent a Husband.” A friend, John Grimm, took them to task via his ONE West Neighborhood Forum awhile ago and several other neighbors then piled on. He talked to the business owner, which didn’t seem to go anywhere. Then yesterday I saw that the local daily paper finally printed John’s Front Porch Forum piece (I assume he submitted them at the same time).

So today’s posting by a woman in the Richmond South Neighborhood Forum made me smile…

Seeking “handy” person… or a “husband”. My Brian doesn’t want to HAVE to do anything domestic when he gets home from work and my honey-do list has gotten really long. My honey won’t and I can’t. If you know someone handy for hire, please let me know. Thanks.

I hope she finds someone… my honey-do list is getting a bit ripe too!


Eight Year Old Rocker!

I love the message posted today on the Five Sisters Neighborhood Forum below by a father on behalf of his kid…

I am 8 years old and a 3rd grader at Champlain. I have been playing the drums for two years (lessons every week) and I am getting quite good. My Dad and Mom have told me that it is “cool with them” if I want to start a rock band. I am looking for a singer, guitar player, keyboard player, and a bass player. I am looking for band mates from the ages of 8 to 12. We can practice at my house on the weekends. I have my own drum set and we have keyboards as well. Please call me if you are interested. Rock on…

I think this is a first for Front Porch Forum… maybe we’ll make it in the liner notes some day (do they still write liner notes?).


Connecting with Neighbors helps Kids

Kevin Harris reports today about some ESRC research that shows that parents who feel connected with their neighbors allow their young children more freedom to roam.

The findings are from a three-year study involving some 600 children and 80 parents in five contrasting areas – two inner London boroughs, an outer London suburb, a new town in the South East of England, and a city in the Midlands. During the study, the researchers examined children’s experiences of traveling to school and to a wide range of activities outside the home – from formal clubs to hanging out in the park.

They found that the more parents were involved in the lives of their neighbours, the more freedom they gave their children. At the same time, the more social networks children have in a neighbourhood, the greater parents’ confidence in the safety of that area.

The research also suggests that when parents allow their children to roam, their classmate’s parents draw from that confidence. This in turn impacts upon their classmates’ freedom of action.

It’s good to see more evidence of Front Porch Forum‘s underlying premise… when people are more connected with their neighbors and plugged into their local community, all sorts of good things can happen, including for kids.


How People Use the Social Web

Ross Mayfield recently offered the Power Law of Participation…

Social software brings groups together to discover and create value. The problem is, users only have so much time for social software. The vast majority of users with not have a high level of engagement with a given group, and most tend to be free riders upon community value. But patterns have emerged where low threshold participation amounts to collective intelligence and high engagement provides a different form of collaborative intelligence.


At first blush, I’d say that Front Porch Forum‘s neighborhood forums travel along this curve, from left to right, as the neighborhood forum gains participants.  People join and lurk and then past some tipping point things get interesting and collaboration kicks in as neighbors start working to get the potholes filled, graffiti cleaned up, block party organized, etc.  He goes on to say…

Charlene Li at Forrester just came out with a report on Social Technographics that surveyed user engagement.

As I previously commented, 50% of one neighborhood forum contributed in the past six months.  Not sure how our model fits into this web-centric world view.


Lost Dog Rescued by Neighbors

Deb Olsen wrote to her neighbors in the ONE East Neighborhood Forum the other day… a real sense of urgency…

Attention Neighbors – I am caring for a large Husky Hybrid dog for friends. Kiva dug her way out of my fenced yard today and is missing. She does not know this neighborhood, so I fear cannot find her way back. Her collar holds a tag with adhesive tape over her home phone number and mine written on it.

She followed that up with…

Hi Neighbors. A HAPPY BULLETIN – Thanks to the Front Porch Forum and my Henry Street neighbor, Jenny, LOST DOG, KIVA, IS HOME.

Jenny called me at 9:30 PM tonight to report that she had seen Kiva next door around 4:30 PM. She had phoned the number on Kiva’s dog tag, but the owners are out of town. When she saw the Forum notice on email tonight, she surmised it was the same dog and called me. She said she would go out to see if Kiva was still around. I had little anticipation Kiva would still be there hours later, but joined her outside for a look. Sure enough, Kiva was still there and although she was scared and would not come to us, we followed her down the street and she ran onto my front porch as if nothing had happened.

Another happy ending, thanks to Front Porch Forum and my alert, caring neighbor, Jenny, our neighborhood portrait artist.


Take steps to build community

Refrigerator Rights reports about being new in the neighborhood.  Bought an “outdoor fireplace” and lit it up this spring in his small front yard.  Within a little time 21 neighbors had wandered over with beverage in hand, and dog/kid in tow.  Repeat a week later to same effect.  People crave connection!  Folks just need to make an effort to create the time, space and welcoming environment.  As the post says… “Build a fire and they will come.”

In this example, communication was easy… people looked out their front windows and saw a party forming and joined in.  Other times it’s not so easy.  That’s when Front Porch Forum comes in handy… one brief email and dozens of neighbors get the word about your event.


More time online hurts real relationships?

Refrigerator Rights reports…

A newly released study at Standford University acknowledges what we already know – an increasing number of people say their personal relationships have suffered as a result of their use of the Internet with many confessing that they are discreet about their online habits. This is certainly not a surprise to anyone that follows cultural trends. Our immersion in electronic media comes at a price – and that price is almost always the decreasing amount of time we spend with other people. It is an argument to become more intentional about our social world – building Refrigerator Rights relationships. You can read about the study through this link.

I agree. (FYI, if someone is friend-enough to walk into your home and help himself to something from your fridge, then he’s said to have “refrigerator rights.”)

That said, it’s also interesting to note that our members report that using Front Porch Forum works in the opposite direction, i.e., our internet service leads to more face-to-face time with neighbors.


Local Officials join Neighborhood Forums

More than 100 local officials have joined Front Porch Forum spread among the various 18 towns and cities that make up Chittenden County (don’t forget Buells Gore!). We always envisioned city councilors, selectboard members and school commissioners joining and having access to the multiple neighborhood forums within their districts. This is a great way for elected local officials to listen to their constituents and to broadcast out announcements… and even to have constructive back-and-forth discussions. And it’s been broadly supported and appreciated by our members.

However, we now also have many appointed local officials, that is, department heads (public works, park and rec, zoning, etc.), police and some elementary school community resource people. In general, these folks sign on and simply “listen in.” If something comes up relevant to their area, they may respond to the neighborhood forum or the person who wrote in originally, or may do nothing… or something else all together. They occasionally post announcements.

One or two FPF members have complained about this latter group, saying it gives them too much power around political issues… if a neighborhood is fighting a development that the city is pushing, for example. I have yet to witness any outright abuses of this set up.

For their part, the local officials seem mostly grateful for the service, but also a little unsure about how best to put it to use… fair enough, Front Porch Forum is a new beast. One official complained just today that “we have well-established public processes for public input on issues… now I’m supposed to monitor all these neighborhood forums to learn what our citizens are focused on?”

With 20% of Burlington participating across 38 neighborhood forums – many hopping with hot issues (e.g, historic preservation, graffiti, car break ins, heroin, homelessness, taxes, traffic planning, stormwater, snow plowing, etc.) – our subscribers increasingly include a line in postings like… “if our public works department is reading this, will you please… ” So there does seem to be a degree of public expectation.

At the same time, other folks are adamant that the neighborhood forum be limited to residents only.

One last thought, some years ago the Five Sisters Neighborhood Forum (our flagship forum) essentially defeated a proposal to build an indoor tennis building in South Park. A few neighbors stated strong opposition based largely on false or missing information about the proposal. The developers, including King Street Youth Center, immediately backed out and the project died before the public even knew what it really was. One person declared that the neighborhood didn’t support the project, based on the forum postings, to which my neighbor Larry replied… Front Porch Forum is “a soap box, not a ballot box.” And I think he’s right… and that’s an important point for “listening in” local officials and contributing members to keep in mind.

A few folks have used their neighborhood forum to great effect… raising their issue on the forum and rallying support among the neighbors. Then, when interest is up and the local officials are starting to tune in, they use their forum to get a critical mass of neighbors to engage the municipality through existing channels… e.g., by turning out a crowd at a commission or council meeting.


Neighborhood Blog Count shines Spotlight

Outside.In’s Top 10 Bloggiest Neighborhoods was very interesting today. How inspiring to learn about the level of online community going on in these neighborhoods (including some former stomping grounds of mine!). I wonder how our little Five Sisters compares? I’d love to see the data. (Does anyone know if that’s available? I couldn’t find it.)

The Five Sisters (Burlington, VT) was named a top ten neighborhood in the United States in 2006 and many residents credit Front Porch Forum, a kind of neighborhood blog (to stretch the term), for contributing to the incredible sense of community here.

The Five Sisters forum has an astounding 340 members out of the 350-household neighborhood. Another 20 local officials (city councilors, state reps., school commissioners, police lieutenant, etc.) participate. In the past six months, 50% of the members have written… 630 postings total. Since these folks are actual nearby neighbors, a vast majority of the follow up occurs offline on the sidewalk or over the fence (that’s the point!). In this model, only residents of the neighborhood may read and write postings… it’s all about helping neighbors connect and foster community within the neighborhood.

The Five Sisters is the flagship of 130 contiguous neighborhood forums covering all of metro-Burlington and hosted by Front Porch Forum. In its first six months, about 20% of Burlington has subscribed to this free community-building service. Everyday folks, not just heavy web users, are making wonderful use of it. Front Porch Forum garnered a couple more community-leader awards last month and will be featured at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City on May 18, 2007.


Social Network Training Video

Thanks to Lauren-Glenn Davitian and crew at the Center for Media and Democracy (Channel 17 CCTV).  She invited me to address her Media Mavens training series for local nonprofit leaders.  We focused on social networking and online community last week.

The video (117 minutes) is available here.  My portion begins at the 32-minute mark.  I was glad to share some of the lessons we’ve been learning from Front Porch Forum with this group.