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Monthly Archives: July 2007

Flavorpill distills cool for half-million hipsters

The Economist (7/28/2007) writes about Flavorpill and it’s European equivalent, le cool. Flavorpill publishes “free, weekly e-mails that narrow the torrent [of hundreds of cultural events] down to the two dozen [of the] very best.

Mr Lewis started Flavorpill informally in the wake of the failure, in 2000, of a dotcom start-up. It has since accumulated 560,000 subscribers across 11 weekly publications, including editions in six cities. New York, at 85,000, is the largest. For its part, le cool was founded in 2003 after René Lönngren, who was working in advertising at the time, encountered Flavorpill on a trip to New York. Based in Barcelona, it now reaches 110,000 readers in eight cities. For now, the two overlap only in London.

Such people are highly attuned to the inauthenticity of culture manufactured in the pursuit of sales, so both Flavorpill and le cool say they are careful to separate advertising from editorial material, and to avoid promotional events. “Our readers can smell PR,” says Ms Hix. But Mr Lewis says that by selecting events that conform to the ineffable tastes of his audience, he has been able to aggregate this elusive group in a form that is attractive to advertisers. Advertisements from the likes of Budweiser, JetBlue and Nokia provide the bulk of Flavorpill's revenues.

With low overheads, limited marginal costs and eager advertisers, both companies have been able to expand without significant outside investment. Le cool's Spanish revenues could support the entire company, says Andrew Losowsky, le cool's editorial director, and advance advertising sales meant the London list was profitable months before it launched at the start of this year. Mr Lewis expects Flavorpill's revenues to be $4.2m in this, its fourth profitable year. Both companies plan editions in more cities soon.

Some crude math here... $4.2m/560,000 = $7.50/subscriber in annual revenue. Similar to Seven Days NOW, except 7D uses their staff to do the reviews instead of volunteers. All three of these services use email with web back up... that's Front Porch Forum's current distribution model too.


Hyperlocal yada yada… it’s about connecting

Interesting discussion led by Jeff Jarvis about local news online this week… does hyper local matter to 18-35 year olds or not? And, if not, then let’s just declare it dead and move on. Jeff goes the other way and says that hyperlocal is just very hard to pull off and that everyone is interested in it, regardless of age.
Yelvington.com jumps in today and really nails it…

One camp agrees hyperlocal is important. The other thinks local is dead and it’s all about hyper-me. Me, me, me.

Here’s the thing. For most people, there is no difference between hyperlocal and hyper-me, because most real people live very local lives.

I do not. Lately I’m acutely aware of how little I actually live where I live. I have a well-stamped passport, gold status on Skymiles, friends scattered around the planet. I dare not assume that other people are having the same 21st century virtual experience that I’m having with my wifi connections and my global-roaming text messages.

I get the point about hyper-me, I really do, but I also know that most people live locally. And for them, hyper-me and hyperlocal largely overlap.

Human beings need connections. We’re hardwired that way. But modern life gets in the way. TV and the automobile sell us connections but deliver isolation. Stand at a street corner and count the cars with drivers talking on their cellphones. They’re fighting back.

I’m looking at some proprietary research from one city where fully 38 percent of women who were interviewed reported that connecting was their biggest personal challenge.

Virtual connections through a social networking platform are better than no connections at all, but the real opportunity, I think, is in virtual connections that are combined with real connections. Physical-world connections. Hyperlocal space.

That’s what Front Porch Forum is all about. And I don’t doubt the research about women feeling challenged by connecting with other people in this day and age. Check out the unsolicited remarks from FPF members… it all boils down to developing lasting connections with real people… in FPF’s case, with nearby neighbors.

And, good for him for recognizing that he’s not Joe Average.  I know of several (if not most) “local” efforts that are  designed by national-focused people with little experience of living in community with neighbors, serving on school committees, running a fundraiser for the volunteer fire dept., etc.  And they feel that way.
Many of these “local” online services are built for a national collection of locals, thus losing a degree of authenticity.  Just like eating at McDonalds among strangers is a fundamentally different experience than bellying up to the counter of a local diner and talking about the Little League playoffs.


Customers prefer peer reviews to expert’s

According to David Weinberger today

According to the Center for Media Research:

A recent survey on current attitudes towards customer ratings and reviews by Bazaarvoice and Vizu Corporation, shows that about three out of four shoppers say that it is extremely or very important to read customer reviews before making a purchase, and they prefer peer reviews over expert reviews by a 6-to-1 margin.

Of couse, Bazaarvoice provides customer review capabilities to vendors.

I don’t know about the 6-to-1 spread, but I don’t doubt people’s preference for peer reviews. And we find with Front Porch Forum that folks like reviews from nearby neighbors even better… one of the most common types of posting on the FPF neighborhood forums.


Gannett morphing newspapers toward web

Jeff Howe has an upbeat piece in Wired magazine (7/24/2007) about Gannett’s big changes to bring their newspapers into the internet age.

By March 2006, the pieces were in place. The Web was to become the primary vehicle for news, with frequent, round-the-clock updates. The newsroom would be rechristened the Information Center, while traditional departments like Metro and Business would give way to the Digital and Community Conversation desks. Photographers would be trained to shoot video, which would be posted online. Investigations would no longer be conducted by a coven of professionals working in secret. Instead, they’d be crowdsourced — farmed out to readers who’d join in the detective work. Gannett papers would also become repositories of local information, spilling over with data about everything from potholes to public officials’ salaries. “We must mix our content with professional journalism and amateur contributions,” read one of the PowerPoint slides prepared by Gannett execs. “The future is pro-am.”

Howe goes on to look at several of the new features… mom-focused online social networking, public info databases, “Get Published” areas, etc. At least one of Gannett’s 85 dailies is finding success with one piece…

When cincyMOMS [the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s mom’s social networking site] launched in late January, Mitchell was responsible for seeding its discussion areas with posts and moderating forums. After 12 weeks, the site — a blend of forums and user-generated photos — was receiving 40,000 pageviews a day, and demand for ad space was outstripping supply. Initially, cincyMOMS was projected to bring in $200,000 its first year; it made $386,000 in half that time.

Gannett hopes the popularity of cincyMOMS is a sign that a long-lost demographic is coming back to the fold. Only 27 percent of young women read a daily newspaper, and the proportion in Cincinnati who read the Enquirer is even more anemic. Visitors to cincyMOMS may not be more inclined to pick up the print edition of the paper, but as they flock to the Web, advertisers are happy to follow. And more than half of the cincyMOMS advertisers are new to the Enquirer.

The long Wired article offers some interesting insights into our local Gannett outpost, the Burlington Free Press. Its rate of change has been nothing short of remarkable over the last year given its reputation. It’ll be interesting to see which, if any, of these new offerings survive and thrive.

Of the thousands of messages coursing through Front Porch Forum locally, occasionally someone will reference a conventional Free Press article, perhaps with a weblink… that’s great. Besides that, the only other mentions I can recall are when Free Press employees have plugged the paper’s new web features to their neighbors… oh, and some traditional customers are calling for some kind of neighborhood action to protest lousy delivery service lately. And some comments about a recent cost-cutting dust-up about eliminating free parking for the paper’s well-regarded reporting staff…

“While people are angry,” said one veteran journalist at Vermont’s largest daily newspaper, this week “the prevailing mood is one of disgust.”

Times are changing.


More about FPF on PBS.org

Mark Glaser at PBS.org’s MediaShift wrote about FPF previously and yesterday

When I put the question to MediaShift readers about where they get neighborhood news, I was inundated by fans of the Front Porch Forum service in Burlington, Vermont…

Normally I tend to discount these types of write-in campaigns, but I have to admit that I like what Front Porch Forum is doing. The service is currently in a test phase covering 130 neighborhoods around Burlington. You can only sign up for the neighborhood you live in, and then you start getting email newsletters with news tidbits, items for sale, business openings, and more — submitted by people in the neighborhood. They are closed lists that aren’t accessible to the public, and each posting includes the person’s name, mailing address and email address to verify who they are…

It will be interesting to see if this closed approach via email — similar to the closed approach of the early Facebook — will foster a better way of keeping tabs on community news beyond Burlington. And of course, the question remains how to make money off of email lists, and including local businesses in the mix…

Thanks to Mark for the coverage. It’s a fair description of FPF; however, I think the email aspect of our service needn’t be over emphasized. Email is the best primary distribution method for the our audience currently. That’ll change over time. In our flagship neighborhood, 90% of the households subscribe with 50% posting content in the past six months… that includes folks in their 80s on down to teens looking for babysitting jobs. They all use email. They don’t all use RSS, text messaging, Facebook, etc. In a sense, we’re hosting a bunch of private group blogs… each one focused on a neighborhood… but we’re using email for now.


CityVoter making progress

Sounds like this effort is getting traction…

With the probably exception of Yelp, standalone review sites haven’t figured out a way to make money. In the past year, InsiderPages was sold off to CitySearch, and Judy’s Book, famously, changed its model to coupons.

So why would Josh Walker, Forrester’s former head of consumer research, dive into the game with both feet? Walker’s CityVoter, which raised an initial round of $1.1 million from two Boston-area funders, has been in operation since last year, and now has 25 employees.

CityVoter works with local TV stations…

While the site is still branded as “beta,” the lineup of stations, which get local exclusivity, is getting real. CityVoter now has nine stations, 120,000 registered users, and 410,000 votes. It is expecting to launch 25 more stations before the year is out. More importantly, CityVoter has developed relationships with key station groups – rather than landing deals, one station at a time.

Read more on The Local Onliner.


Parents Played Outside Three Times More than Their Kids do Today

Kevin Harris writes today

Adults were three times more likely to play out when they were young, than children are today… released by Play England:

71 per cent of adults played outside in the street or area close to their homes every day when they were children, compared to only 21 per cent of children today.

There has been a decrease over the past thirty years in children’s access to the streets and outdoor areas near their homes. Increasingly their independent mobility is restricted by traffic and fear, which in turn causes them to spend much of their time indoors or at organised activities. The combination of an increase in vehicles on the roads, increased parental anxiety, and restrictions on children’s mobility in the form of child curfews and anti-social behaviour orders has reduced children’s outdoor play opportunities.

The qualitative research reported included focus groups with young people aged between eight and 18. From which comes this scary piece of news:

Ten of the participants said that they never played outside on the streets and areas near their home.

That’s ten out of 64 participants. And in the light of my recent note about the importance of unstructured time, this point is noteworthy:

In all the groups, children and young people said that having the freedom to choose what to do, and where to spend time, particularly in contrast to time spent in school, was very important. Even the youngest children talked about having this freedom and time away from parents and adult supervision.

There’s much more material here

This is all about England, but it sounds not too dissimilar from the ol’ U.S. of A. While I’m tempted to launch into a lengthy piece that starts with “When I was a boy… ” – I’ll instead just add my hearty “hear, hear!”

I don’t have anything beyond intuition to back this up… but I believe that Front Porch Forum works to reverse this unsettling trend. That is, a neighborhood with a thriving online FPF forum becomes a friendlier, more neighborly place, where parents get to know their neighbors over time and thus become more comfortable turning their kids out to play. Maybe I’m wrong… but it’s just this kind of thing that motivates us to make FPF work for more and more communities.


Today’s Good Neighbor Example

Here’s my favorite use of Front Porch Forum out of today’s batch of neighbor-to-neighbor messages…

On Friday July 20, our neighborhood hosted lunch for folks at the COTS Daystation!  People there expressed surprise and appreciation when I brought in cooler after cooler of bag lunches.  One face in particular brightened when I said there was everything from PBJ to Roast Beef and Pastrami sandwiches in the bags.  (It was the roast beef that got his attention.)

I know at our house, I had ambitious children separating grapes, wrapping sandwiches, packing and decorating the paper bags.  Next time we saw a person begging at the exit ramp of I-189, we all felt better about doing our part to help a person in need.  We have decided to carry some decent snack foods with us that we can donate when we drive by;  we, like most, worry some about unhealthy choices people can make with cash, and it prevents us from reaching out.

Food showed up on my doorstep Thursday night and Friday morning not magically but with care and effort, which is better than magic.  5 different households pitched in to the 40-lunch effort.  Thanks to all who did… you know who you are.

I will contact COTS and find a date in August we can do it again.  I’ve learned a few things to help streamline the process and perhaps make it better for next time.  I hope we can continue on a monthly basis.

Great job Maggie and Prospect Parkway Neighborhood Forum members!  Not only are these folks using Front Porch Forum to pitch in and help their larger community, but by these very actions they are enhancing the sense of community within their own neighborhood… win-win.


MacArthur Fellowship? Oh my.

Thanks seem hardly enough when conveyed to UVM Professor Susan Comerford for her remarkable words shared on a PBS.org blog this week…

Front Porch Forum is a postmodern return to citizen democracy which is nurturing the burgeoning hunger for community in our society. Feeding the mind and the soul, the neighborly interchange provides the information necessary to participate intelligently in the democratic process, develop deeper connections with those around us, and provides the support and care that meld individuals who live near one another into neighbors. This may well be the most important advance in community development strategies in decades. Communities around the country will be seeking this opportunity to strengthen their social infrastructure, to foster healthy communities, and to provide the support necessary for their citizens to live vibrant, connected lives. Michael Wood-Lewis deserves a MacArthur Fellowship for an idea as visionary and important as this.

An award of this magnitude would facilitate the hard work and creativity needed to bring the community-building success of our pilot area to other locales across the United States… marvelous to even be mentioned!


Popularity Contest vs. Part of the Infrastructure

Yelvington writes today about the wax and wane of social networking site popularity…

Brands just aren’t what they used to be. A brand used to be something that stood the test of time. Now a brand is still powerful in terms of defining what a product is all about, but when it comes to loyalty, fuggetaboutit. Brands today are volatile.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the social networking space, where Orkut and Friendster are about as attractive as yesterday’s dog food. Myspace, the hot item just six months ago, is in a brand tailspin from which it may not recover; even the kids are sneering at it. And the new darling? It’s Facebook, which a year ago looked like a dead-end street…

Facebook’s founders supposedly have turned down offers approaching a billion dollars for the site. Smart or not? Facebook is certainly ascendant. The question I have is: For how long?

Amen. I think of hang-outs from my high school days… a particular hamburger stand for a couple months, until all the kid brothers and sisters showed up, then the crowd would up and move to the arcade on Saturday nights after the football game… then the pizza shop… then the 24-hour donut place (hmm… them’s good eats!).

I seem to recall that the arcade did NOT survive when the in-crowd moved on. Other places did fine and probably preferred that the teenagers got lost after awhile.

So I’m guessing that the “it” social networking site will continue to shift (I don’t know who’s after Facebook)… it’s not about bells and whistles, it’s about who’s there. That’s reasonable. Some sites will compete for the favor of the masses, while others will be content to develop niches.

I like Front Porch Forum‘s potential. It’s not about popularity, it’s social networking with your neighbors… online a little so it can happen in person a lot. I see it as a solid base that doesn’t try to compete with the trendies… part of any real community’s infrastructure. We’ll see.