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Monthly Archives: August 2007

Online Ad Spending Ramping Up

Greg Sterling reports today about two spending forecasts for online geotargeted advertising.

eMarketer
2006 $2.1B
2011 $7.8B
30.0% annual growth

VSS
2006 $6.4B
2011 $19.2B
24.6% annual growth

I don’t know why the two estimates differ as much as they do. However, they both show a sizable industry getting bigger. I take this as encouraging news for Front Porch Forum, with it’s neighborhood-specific focus.


Social Networking and Local Online News

No shortage of lessons regarding social networking sites…

1. Mark Glaser at PBS.org offers a history and overview of major social networking sites.

2. Greg Sterling reports about a piece written by Jacqui Chew for iMedia about “how community and social media functionality are helping some newspapers grow and retain audiences online.”

3. And eNeighbors comments… “Information Week has an interesting article up titled “5 Keys To Social Networking Success” by Andrew Conry-Murray.”

And more, some local online stories today…

4. The Kelsey Group writes about Metacarta… “given a tool that can reliably and automatically geo-code news stories to the neighborhoods or regions to which they are relevant, many possibilities emerge. These include search engines that can return results about news stories relevant to a particular location, maps that can spatially represent news stories, and email alerts for news content that is relevant to a given location. It should be pointed out however, that geographically targeted news is nothing new online and has been accomplished by the likes of Topix, Outside.in, and others. The difference is that Metacarta claims to do this in a more effective, automated, and scalable way (and is a platform, rather than a destination, that can be utilized by online newspapers).”

5.  Several sources are commenting about Yahoo’s latest reorg, including Yahoo Local.  PaidContent.org, Greg Sterling, NYTimes.


Global Use of Neighborhood Forum

Rebecca of the Five Sisters Neighborhood Forum chimes in today…

BTW, thanks for all your work on this forum. I do a lot of travel in my job, and it’s fun to be out of the country, often in the third world, tracking down an “internet cafe” – and I use that term lightly for some of the places I’ve been – and reading news or drama from the neighborhood.

Interesting to think of Front Porch Forum, the most local of online services, being used in the global way.


College Students tuning in to Neighborhood

Last school year we had many college students sign up with Front Porch Forum. Now, with a new school year kicking off, we’re seeing dozens of them registering each day this week… University of Vermont, Champlain College, St. Michael’s College, Burlington College, etc.

That’s great! Burlington has its share of town-gown challenges, including a small percentage of ill-behaving off-campus students giving all college kids a bad name. So we were thrilled when students started joining their neighborhood’s FPF forum and posting messages like…

Hi – I’m Kelly and I’m living on Prospect St this year in an apartment with two friends. I’m a junior studying to be a teacher and I’m looking for babysitting jobs during the school year to help pay tuition. References available.

Good for Kelly. Good for the neighborhood. Now instead of just the drunken lout passed out in their hedge on Sunday morning, nearby homeowners have a competing image in mind… hard-working college kid.

It’s interesting too to chat with some of these students about FPF and how it compares with other online social networking services that they know so well… Facebook, etc. Bottom line seems to be… Front Porch Forum is, simply, different. If you care about your neighborhood or want to connect with your nearby neighbors, it’s the only place to go.

So, welcome back to town students! And welcome to Front Porch Forum.

P.S.  One more point… I’ve been surprised by the geographic dispersion of the college students across the county.  While there’s a concentration in the well known “student ghetto” near the UVM main campus, we’re also seeing a number of students sign up in small outlying villages, rural areas and suburbs.


Soup Mama Gauging Interest

Burlington’s creative economy rarely ceases to amaze me.  And I’ve got a great view as the local Front Porch Forum moderator.  Here’s today’s entry from a member of the ONE East Neighborhood Forum in Burlington…

Hi Neighbors – I’m considering a weekly soup delivery to wherever you want it, home or office. It can be a drag to pay for overpriced sandwiches for lunch or bother with packing your own and I’m sure you know those nights where you don’t want to cook, don’t have the energy to go out, or don’t want greasy take-out. That’s when the Soup Mama will fill the void. I’m a neighborhood mom who wants to serve you some homemade soup. Since this endeavor would be in the neighborhood, deliveries will be made with a bicycle.  For all those interested please e-mail me.  Thank you.  -Lorraine M.


Maya’s Mom Acquired

Acquisitions in the social networking space continue. This from paidContent.org

The baby and mom-focused BabyCenter, owned by J&J, has made its first acquisition in its 10 years of existence: it has bought Maya’s Mom, a Palo Alto-based social networking site for mothers. Last year MM raised angel funding from some high profile names, including Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, Yahoo exec Jeff Ralston, Tickle founder James Currier, Presto’s Raymond Stern, Wink’s Michael Tanne, angel investor Jeff Clavier and True Ventures. MM describes itself as a cross between Yahoo Answers and Facebook. It is centered around the asking and answering of questions related to parenting.


FPF Members help Design Playground

Here’s another great use of Front Porch Forum… this time by the City of Burlington’s Parks and Rec. Department…

The Department of Parks and Recreation has received funding in the new fiscal year 2008 budget to replace the playground at Schmanska Park on Grove Street. With input from the Front Porch Forum, we have completed the design process and have ordered the play equipment. Installation is scheduled for mid October. A colored perspective of the new playground may be view by going to the department’s website at http://www.enjoyburlington.com. There is a link to the design on our home page.

Ditto for Baird Park.  Melissa Young used FPF to reach neighbors in several neighborhoods surrounding the two playgrounds in question.


RottenNeighbor.com

Not sure what to make of RottenNeighbor.com. It’s…

the first real estate search engine of its kind that helps you find bad neighbors before you move so you don’t regret the purchase of your new house, home, condo or apartment.

A different approach than Front Porch Forum to say the least.


Grayboxx ranks Burlington

Grayboxx has been generating some buzz online recently with its impending launch… which happened today. And lo and behold, its first target is our very own Burlington, Vermont. From its press release

Grayboxx Inc., a Silicon Valley-based online local search firm, today announced that Burlington is the first city to gain access to the company’s unique “neighbor-recommended” local search service. By using patent-pending techniques to accurately determine the community popularity and approval for local businesses, grayboxx.com provides the most meaningful local recommendations on the Web. Grayboxx will roll out its service to other communities across the United States in the coming months.

For people who live outside of the largest metropolitan areas, there are few, if any, online local search options that provide extensive business rankings and recommendations. Grayboxx’s unique approach to local search has enabled it to assemble a critical mass of community feedback on more than 3,000 of Burlington’s businesses. The site features more than 12,000 “neighbor recommendations”, covering everything from antique shops to violin stores.

Wow! Burlington’s population is about 38,000… a little more than 12,000 households. Here’s how it works, according to the company…

Grayboxx’s innovative PreferenceScoring™ engine is able to translate everyday actions people take with or about businesses into meaningful expressions of business popularity and quality. For example, when a user checks out a restaurant online, makes a reservation, and then a week later makes another reservation, this can be considered as a positive recommendation of the restaurant.

Online reservations are just one of the many methods used by the powerful new local search engine to assess the top recommendations in Burlington. Grayboxx works by processing anonymous information from a variety of sources to create implicit neighbor recommendations in more than 6,000 yellow page categories in Burlington or in any city. This approach differs greatly from that of current search giants, which rely on manually entered user reviews for their recommendations.

This sounds interesting. Wisdom from boiling down databases… the final dish depends on the ingredients (data) and the chef’s technique (Grayboxx’s software). Let’s see how it tastes…

The following are samples of grayboxx’s top results for businesses and services in Burlington, as ranked by the Burlington community.

The top neighbor-recommended “jewelers” in Burlington are:
* Fremeau Jewelers, with 34 neighbor recommendations
* Von Bargen’s Jewelry, with 12 recommendations
* Hannoush Jewelers, with 3 recommendations

The top three neighbor-recommended “taxi” services in Burlington are:
* Benway’s Taxi, with 38 neighbor recommendations
* Yellow Cab, with 8 recommendations
* Airport Taxi, with 5 recommendations

A search for “computer repair” in Burlington returns with the following:
* ReCycle North, with 47 neighbor recommendations
* Computer Rescue Squad, with 7 recommendations
* Pine Computers, with 4 recommendations

I just plugged in several other items… groceries, computer dealers, newspapers, shoes, pizza… maybe some of the databases they hope to mine are not quite ripe or fresh. As a local, I haven’t had one search produce what I would call “good advice from a neighbor.” Makes me wonder about the chef’s secret recipe (mysterious ranking criteria)… hard to trust when initial tests come up with what I’m seeing.

I know Grayboxx is taking aim at smaller markets, but this seems more suited for large anonymous metro areas. If I didn’t know anyone local to ask for a reliable and a reasonably priced taxi option, I’d be happy for this kind of service.

Burlington, and all of Vermont, is so reasonably scaled, that lots of this kind of information is near at hand. Ask a few co-workers, friends, etc. Indeed, this is one of the most common types of messages posted among neighbors on Front Porch Forum. People get real “neighbor recommendations” in Burlington everyday this way.

At this point, I’d rather ask a couple hundred neighbors for a computer repair recommendation through FPF than turn to this kind of service. Or I’d sooner take a peek at the local successful reader survey that our weekly alternative paper runs, the much coveted Daisies, by Seven Days. But Grayboxx may be more attractive than some of the other non-local data-driven behemoths stomping through the local online scenes these days. I’ll have to keep trying it… fun to have it here first.

And thanks to Greg Sterling for the lead.


Small Town Website Featured

Phyl Newbeck wrote an interesting piece for the Burlington Free Press on August 21, 2007 about a local online effort within Front Porch Forum‘s initial pilot area.

Jericho and Underhill collaborate in ways that few Vermont towns do.

They share a library district, a park district and a land trust. The two towns go even further in their collaboration by having a communal Web page and listserv known as “Two Towns Online.”

Although each town has a formal, municipal Web site, Two Towns Online provides additional interactive applications like collaborative document creation and a message board. Front Porch Forum offers three neighborhood-based listservs for Jericho and Underhill, but Two Towns Online founder Toby Brown feels that Two Towns Online is not redundant because it serves a larger audience and is the result of a group effort.

Two Towns On-Line wasn’t always a collaborative project. For almost a decade, Brown, a Web production manager and native of Jericho, was the sole force behind the page. That changed in 2005 when Jan DeVries, a retired businessman from Holland and newcomer to the town of Underhill, offered to provide additional applications such as Mediawiki.

Franco Gatti and Kelly King joined the duo, and the group formed a nonprofit organization and opened a dedicated bank account for the page. Gatti was born in Italy and moved to Jericho in 1994.

He retired from IBM with a desire to devote his time and energy to local projects and is responsible for the page’s virtual gallery for local artists and artisans. King is a home-schooling mother who is a lifetime resident of Jericho.

The Two Towns Online board is somewhat frustrated by the limited use that residents give the listserv. One hundred and thirty people are signed up, but conversation is limited. Still Brown is pleased with his efforts.

“It’s not a wild success, but it has become a community asset,” he said.

Brown sees the limited use as “reflective of our society where people aren’t tuned in to participating in the civil realm.”

The page may not be fully utilized as of yet but it is, as DeVries notes, most definitely designed in the Vermont tradition as it has no billboards and accepts no advertising.

Toby, Jan, Franco and Kelly deserve praise for all the work they’ve done… lots of good stuff on their site.

For the record, Front Porch Forum hosts four neighborhood forums covering 100% of Jericho and Underhill towns.  To date, about 140 households have joined.  None of these neighborhood forums are among our top tier in terms of member count or message traffic… but they are all getting there.