Monthly Archives: March 2008

May we all be so fortunate…

Here’s a posting from a South Burlington FPF neighborhood forum from Deana that makes my day…

I just wanted to show my gratitude for the neighbors I have on [our street].  People on our street care about one another, watch out for each other, and help whenever you need it.  I’ve walked out my door and my neighbor is chipping away at ice in my driveway for crying out loud!!

I’ve lived in southern Florida, San Diego, and now Vermont.  Making a life on [our street] has been an experience of a lifetime.  There’s nothing like it.

We are out of town right now and I feel very at ease as my neighbor, Susan, is taking care our dogs, the mail, and no doubt whatever weather inhabits our driveway.  I love turning off of [the main road] and immediately begin to wave at anyone who is in their yard or walking on the street.

Thank you to everyone on [our street] for making our neighborhood feel like a real community.  I am very proud to be part of it.

VBSR Panel to focus on Local Online

I’m excited about a panel that I’ll be part of at the annual conference of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. Here’s a draft of what to expect…

The World Wide Web Comes Home
How “Local Online” Is Changing Your Business

Richard Donnelly, Burlington Telecom
Christopher Grotke and Lise LePage, iBrattleboro.com
Chris Middings, Seventh Generation and Champlain College
Paula Routly, Seven Days
moderator: Michael Wood-Lewis, Front Porch Forum

The fifth great wave of the Internet—after communication, commerce, search and social networking—may well be “local.” People increasingly look online for answers to local questions about shoe stores, plumber recommendations, meeting people, directions, crime reports and more. A vast array of tools and services are being developed in Vermont to meet this demand. Much of this activity is fueled by online ad sales, which grew nationally to $20 billion in 2007. The Internet is driving business change, and companies are increasingly learning how to use this medium to focus on local markets. This session will provide attendees with concepts and tips for keeping up and getting ahead.

The conference (always a hit), will be held May 14 at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. The panel is tentatively scheduled for 1:15 to 2:30 PM. Come join the conversation… bring your experiences, questions and comments!

For a list of local businesses that have advertised online recently via Front Porch Forum, click on our sponsor link.

INVITATION: If anyone wants to get the conversation started early, leave a comment below…

Clift looking for small town UGC

Steven Clift writes a good post today at PBS.org…

While the new EveryBlock.com site uses maps to display aggregated content for three major cities and Outside.in gets local with select geotagging blogs in a number of high population areas, I am looking for tools that display organic “user-generated” content via maps that get out of urban areas and into small town America.

As part of E-Democracy.Org’s Rural Voices project in Minnesota we seek to discover bloggers, social networking groups, wikis, online community forums, etc. from rural/Greater Minnesota. This map of 200 blogs aggregated by MNSpeak, shows just three outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This doesn’t seem very democratizing. Our goal is to connect these rural citizen media producers and bring them to workshops across the state.

Has anyone out there seen anything that combines say recent post data in Google Blog Search or Technorati and displays it as a daily/weekly/monthly “heat map” of sorts?

I’ve stumbled across a number of sites like Flickrvision and its cousin Twittervision which show real-time geo-tagged content. Panoramio shows photos from Google Earth. Placeopedia and WikiMapia are trying to get people to manually link place-based Wikipedia pages to maps. My friends with Placeblogger allow you to search by place, but I don’t want to type in village after village. The best site I’ve found that seems to get, is FindNearBy.Net which maps Craiglist and EBay sale items.

All in all, touristic rural areas do pretty well with photos online, but finding blogs/blog posts, video, wiki pages, online forums without highly focused geographic term searches seems near impossible. Can anyone help me out? Show me the map of my dreams.

Steven Clift

P.S. We are using the Del.icio.us tag mnvoices to tag Web 2.0 drive rural/Greater Minnesota sites that we find and will be adding the best sites we find to our wiki.

Gotta have my Front Porch Forum

We’ve been the lucky recipients of some great feedback about Front Porch Forum recently.  Just now a member wrote in after discovering that her new street address didn’t fall into one of our pre-existing neighborhood forums…

I just moved to Burlington and [my] street appears to not be part of a forum. I can’t imagine this is possible. If is is though how does one get started? I have been part of Westford’s forum and I love the information that is shared. I rely on it for local news, political info, resources, etc. and I will miss not having that in Burlington. I will look forward to you response. Thanks!

Good news for this subscriber… yes, her street does belong to a very active FPF neighborhood forum.  Our registration process just hiccuped and misdirected her… all’s well.

Local Business finds Clients through FPF

Thanks to Elaine for this wonderful note today…

I just wanted to tell you that right after the announcement that I had started my business was posted on the Five Sisters Forum, I received an email from a prospective client. I’m happy to say that he is now an official client and I foresee a successful working relationship ahead. Many thanks to you and Front Porch Forum for making connections like these happen!
— Elaine Sopchak, Vermont Voices Marketing Services

I wonder how she’d do if she reached out across all 130 of our neighborhood forums in addition to the single one she tried the other day?

Yelp Expansion Plans

Mike Boland writes today about Yelp, including…

The company is moving in some interesting directions and the $15 million it just received will provide the fuel. Much of it will be put towards sales & marketing to seed reviews activity and bring in SMB advertisers. Its 10 person sales office in New York City is the first such move and will be staffed with new and existing inside sales reps.

To clarify a point made in the last post, most of the company’s efforts to generate new reviews involve moving into new cites, rather than into new categories. Categories, according to Stoppleman, have to happen naturally and the company takes a hands off approach when it comes to the direction of the content. It’s geographical expansion plan also interestingly takes a stepping stone approach that branches out from existing cities and take advantage of the word of mouth and cross pollination of people between nearby cites like L.A., San Diego and San Francisco, in order to organically grow its branding and base of reviews.

Not trying to steer content makes sense.  As does the “stepping stones” expansion approach.

To take on or not to take on investors…

Ahmed Farooq writes an interesting piece today about not taking investment money for his local review site called iBegin Source.  He says, in part,…

When we had originally launched iBegin, I think about a dozen VCs came to us in the first 3 months or so. They all liked the idea of local social search, and wanted to expand on it. Quickly. Yelp was gaining steam, and with Judy’s Book and InsiderPages all growing too, they were convinced that untold amounts of money was to be made.

Thankfully, I had a philosophy, and I stuck with it.

And it became clear relatively quickly that the sales channel and the review channel did not mesh very well. A vice-versa catch-22 – if a business had good reviews, why bother advertising? If a business had bad reviews, why bother advertising?

By not funding and deciding to take my time, I was able to re-assess without having fire being breathed down my neck. Heck I even went on a one week vacation to clear my head.

Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody”

I look forward to reading Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Until then, this video of his lecture at Harvard’s Berkman Center provided me a thought-provoking overview.

The nut… the internet allows for “ridiculously easy group forming,” which improves…

  1. Sharing
  2. Conversation
  3. Collaboration
  4. Collective action

But this doesn’t do his ideas justice. I’m especially interested in how much of Front Porch Forum‘s experience maps onto Shirky’s conceptual framework. Many of our online neighborhood forums, upon reflection, have followed the four steps above.

UPDATE:  See comments below.

Newspapers, Audience and Community

Several compelling bits from J.D. Lasica’s posting at PBS.org/MediaShift/IdeaLab today…

As newspaper analyst Dave Morgan observed last year: “Ad revenue in most large newspaper markets will keep dropping 3-5% per year for the next five years. Real circulation — excluding the tons of papers dumped on schools, hotels and the constantly-churning “free ten-week trial” — will keep dropping 3-7% per year for the next five years.”


On Friday, Beatblogging.org’s David Cohn pointed to Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, and quoted this excerpt from Shirky’s book:

A good deal of user-generated content isn’t actually “content” at all, at least not in the sense of material designed for an audience. Instead, a lot of it is just part of a conversation.Mainstream media has often missed this, because they are used to thinking of any group of people as an audience. Audience, though, is just one pattern a group can exist in; another is community. Most amateur media unfolds in a community setting, and a community isn’t just a small audience; it has a social density, a pattern of users talking to one another, that audiences lack. An audience isn’t just a big community either; it’s more anonymous, with many fewer ties between users. Now, though, the technological distinction between media made for an audience and media made for a community is evaporating; instead of having one kind of media come in through the TV and another kind come in through the phone, it all comes in over the internet.

University of Florida new media professor Mindy McAdams chimed in:

Newspapers used to be centered in communities. Now they are mostly not. People in much of North America don’t even live in communities.Is this why newspapers are dying? Because there are no communities? …

It’s about what Shirky said: Audiences are not the same as communities, and communities are made up of people talking to one another.

What does a community need? How should journalists supply what communities need? …

This is what Front Porch Forum is all about… helping nearby neighbors stitch together community at the neighborhood level… in every neighborhood in a region. And, as Professor McAdams said above “People in much of North America don’t even live in communities.”  And many want to.

MacMansion’s future? Our next slum?

I’ve always been fascinated by grand old mansions in various U.S. cities that have fallen on hard times… whole neighborhoods that, over a couple generations, go from being the toniest side of town to the slum.  And solid middle class homes too.  How temporary it all is.

So  Christopher B. Leinberger‘s current Atlantic article, “The Next Slum?” easily caught my attention…

Strange days are upon the residents of many a suburban cul-de-sac. Once-tidy yards have become overgrown, as the houses they front have gone vacant. Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading…

In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento… many [of the houses] once sold for well over $500,000. At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.”

He lays out how the subprime mortgage mess, the increasing demand for urban living and resulting gentrification, and the inefficient design of suburban living will combine to vacuum the upper and middle class out of many suburbs, leading she ‘burbs toward chopped up rental housing, poor schools, etc.  Over time, the suburbs will see similar decline to what our inner cities did in the 1960s and 70s.

In thinking about the thousands of neighborhoods that turned over or were emptied out due to “white flight” and wholesale demolition (a.k.a. “urban renewal”), I wonder about the people, the community, the relationships… so much lost.  A much quicker version of this occurred in New Orleans with Katrina’s deadly arrival.

Well… I recommend the Atlantic article.