Monthly Archives: August 2007

Social media + Classifieds

The Kelsey Group reported today…

LiveDeal announced that it will integrate community discussion boards to its classifieds engine.

Diversity and Community within Neighborhoods

Just found this article by Robert Putnam, PhD, of Bowling Alone fame.

E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century
Robert D. Putnam (2007)
The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture
Scandinavian Political Studies 30 (2), 137–174.
Volume 30 Issue 2 Page 137-174, June 2007

Ethnic diversity is increasing in most advanced countries, driven mostly by sharp increases in immigration. In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.

social networking mom sites dime a dozen (or $5M for one)

Seems a new mom-focused social networking website pops up every week lately.  I know Gannett has one in our area through it’s newspaper.  And a  grocery vertical I learned about recently is providing its client grocery store chains with just such a tool.  I’ve heard good things in the past about the DC Moms Yahoo Group.  Now today from Greg Sterling

Mom-oriented social network CafeMom just received $5 million in funding and BabyCenter, which I just wrote about, relaunched the site with many more social media features.

Women and moms are are the intersection of a number of important online phenomena, including social media and commerce. They are the most influence and important audience when it comes to transactions.

Front Porch Forum‘s approach is to help mom’s in a neighborhood get to know one another so that they can then talk in person, form toddler playgroups, babysitting coops, etc.  And plenty use their FPF neighborhood forum for direct “looking for a babysitter” or “stroller for sale” type postings.  Since most mom sites are about connecting with strangers, why not do the same with a group in your own area?  And actually get to know them… in (gasp!) person?  And no need to limit it to just females… I love taking our little ones to the neighborhood playgroup.

Internet Marketing vs. E-Commerce

Greg Sterling today points out the following…

E-commerce is growing but it’s not the story. As I’ve argued in the past, the story is Internet-influenced offline/local sales. The Internet has emerged fundamentally as a marketing, rather than a transactions platform. E-commerce is a percentage of total US retail sales is less than 4%.

Local Online: Too Expensive or Not Interesting Enough

The Kelsey Group reports today…

Peter Horan, CEO of IAC Media & Advertising, gave a speech entitled, “What’s Local ReallyAbout?” He said that we are “now in the second decade of local: So much promise. So much logic. So little progress. How come?” His answer was that we are in the age of Internet-driven media where local isn’t about reading, it’s about doing.

Peter told the audience that the litmus test for local is usefulness, but he went on to describe the issue that has been facing city sites since they evolved from being mere bulletin boards hosted by a techie in a community. He called this the Grand Canyon of local – the trade-off between efficiency and effectiveness. Few media are able to bridge this gap. In order to keep costs down, city sites need self-service, low cost of sales and abundant promotional coverage at very low prices. But to meet the needs of consumers and advertisers, they require such high-expense items as a strong sales force, unique content and broad market coverage. Under Peter’s leadership, Citysearch is well on its way.

I read this to mean that few local websites have figured out how to continually crank out enough quality content to attract a sizable audience while keeping expenses in check.

Our early findings indicate that Front Porch Forum may well be an engine that can drive a local site. We have tremendous traffic (nearly 25% of our pilot city subscribe… word of mouth) and people love it. They go door-to-door to recruit their neighbors. The expense of moderating the neighborhood conversations is modest, but not the web 2.0 dream of zero… nor should it be. Plenty of other local online services could be hung on FPF as the core… it’s what people come back to weekly, even daily.

Professor Keith Hampton‘s research about neighborhood email lists seems to support this.

Online escape into virtual world vs. reintroduction into real local scene

Jason Fry, in reviewing FloorPlanner.com in the Wall Street Journal, concludes with…

The Net makes exploring the world and engaging with it easy in a way we’re only just getting used to. Within a few keystrokes, you can be digging into the news, indulging your curiosity, or foundering in an obsession or addiction. Practically speaking, you can communicate with most anyone you wish whenever you wish. And you can do so at a remove — step away from the PC, or just hit the back button, and your engagement ends.

That remove can be a wonderful thing. It lets us indulge our curiosity almost as quickly as we can think, makes it easy to drop a line to someone we might not feel like we have time to call on the phone and allows us to be part of a community that may be too diffuse for real-world interaction.

The danger is that interacting at a remove can come to seem preferable to the messiness of the real world, where a greater commitment is required and interaction demands more of ourselves than it does in our compartmentalized worlds of browsers and digital personas…

David Weinberger pointed out this passage in his blog posting today, and talks about the value of “what if-ing” via the web. My first thoughts go a different way… Some would argue that too many people are checking out of their local reality to spend time in virtual worlds online, television fantasy and the like. It’s one thing that makes Front Porch Forum such a different experience for people… FPF draws you into your local scene… people become more involved with the neighbors and community around them through the service.

Julia Lerman touched on this when she rates FPF vs. Facebook and the like from her global software development perspective.

Portals not so hot?

Jeff Jarvis takes the New York Times to task today for an article that suggests AOL’s struggles as an internet portal are a “quirk.”

Once and for all: The size of the site doesn’t matter to advertisers. Oh, yes, they still think its matters and for a time that’s still how they buy, by reflex. But get this straight: Just because a site has 100 million users, that doesn’t mean 100 million people see your ad. It’s not TV. Repeat: It’s not TV. The only people who will see your ad are the ones who see the page on which it appears. If you buy 10,000 impressions, aka eyeballs, you can buy them on a big site or a bunch of small sites, it doesn’t matter. Big brings no advantage other than convenience and it also brings some disadvantages like inefficiency and price. This is the essence of the change in the economic model of media. Post that on your wall and stare at it.

Local and Libraries

Municipal libraries are a cornerstone of local America.  While they’ve been hit hard by budget cuts in many locales, they continue to play vital roles.  So I was pleased to see Front Porch Forum treated well today by Charles at Dewey and Main.

Many small town librarians participate on the FPF neighborhood forums in their towns.  They post announcements about programs and new books, as well as address specific issues that come up in the various neighborhoods.  And, I would guess, they learn a bit about what’s going on around town and use that information to shape what they provide.

“Local” by Locals vs Outsiders

Here’s a thought… “Local Online” efforts come in two flavors… those provided by locals vs. not. Local-local includes bloggers, local citizen journalism sites, neighborhood websites, community newspaper sites, and lots more. Outsider-local includes national offerings in yellow pages, mapping, search, classifieds, and a quickly growing number of offerings… peer reviews, database mashups, etc.

Both local-local and outsider-local bring value, of course, but outsider-local often lack authenticity. Some of that can be made up with large doses of user-generated content, but still…

Yelvington.com’s post today approaches this point today in discussing regional newspapers vs. those operating at the community level. In our area, the Gannett daily is now putting out suburban weeklies with recycled content from the past week’s regional paper. All the communities served by these new weeklies also have well-established community newspapers. There’s no confusing the two. One is local-local.

Certain national efforts, like craigslist, feel local-local in some locations, but not so much in others. Front Porch Forum is local-local in its pilot area. This suggests a litmus test for local online services. Which national efforts will be able to come across as local-local and thereby more authentic?  Which one-city local sites will make the most of their homefield advantage as the heavyweights lumber into town… into every town?

Neighborhood Planning Assemblies Online

Two of Burlington’s Neighborhood Planning Assemblies are now online…

All of the NPA Steering Committee members deserve thanks from the citizens of Burlington for the volunteer work they do on our behalf. About 25 of these good folks also participate on their neighborhood’s Front Porch Forum and have access to all of the neighborhood forums in their ward.

Kudos in particular to Basil Vansuch (Ward 5) and Lea Terhune (Wards 4 and 7) for creating these NPA blogs and thanks for mentioning Front Porch Forum on them.