Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Technology permits blink-of-an-eye contact and an all-day-wired-up-and-followed feeling: Twitter, Facebook and IM pretty well track your every, well, everything.
Then there’s Front Porch Forum, a service that is using technology — or some of it, anyway — to link neighbours and services in Chittenden County, Vermont. The main differences: You have to say who you are and where you live when you e-mail, and you have to wait for once-a-day delivery of the raft of messages coming from all over the neighbourhood. So, no aliases, no cloaking, no down and dirty discussions — just something civil, slower moving, respectful.
The challenge for the service, like all such services, is to make money. At the moment there are government sponsors and advertisers, but this is one service you can foresee moving from the free-to-fee territory. After all, it’s a legitimately great local utility.
Monthly Archives: April 2008
I came across some “manhour” data today from a variety of sources. Got me thinking, so I laid it out in these graphs (each graph shows the estimated number of human-hours of labor required to complete each project)…
Folks in Huntington, in a rural part of Vermont, have been discussing speeding cars a lot lately on Front Porch Forum… and how to slow them down through the village center. Good, meaty conversation. Lots of ideas and participants.
So when Doug asked if anyone could loan him a posthole digger, I figure it was a little off topic. Less than 12 hours later, Doug writes…
I was overwhelmed with 15 offers to loan a post hole digger. Thank you to all who responded! … and thanks to Front Porch Forum!
How many posthole diggers could possibly exist in the 200 or so household that currently subscribe to this neighborhood forum? I venture that Doug found many to most of them.
And it strikes me that this exchange is not off topic at all. The speeding comments are boiling down to getting drivers to realize that their aggressive driving is a problem and danger to the folks living there… to getting them to be better neighbors… the kind of neighbor who would loan you a posthole digger.
Well, I’m having a hard time boiling it down to a sound bite. Here’s a sample, but I recommend reading the full piece…
I was being interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and she asked me, “What are you seeing out there that’s interesting?”
I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia…
So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”
So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project… represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought…
And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.
So that’s the answer to the question, “Where do they find the time?” Or, rather, that’s the numerical answer. But beneath that question was another thought, this one not a question but an observation. In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: “Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves.”
At least they’re doing something.
Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.
And I’m willing to raise that to a general principle. It’s better to do something than to do nothing…
This is something that people in the media world don’t understand. Media in the 20th century was run as a single race–consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? … But media is actually a triathlon, it ‘s three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.
And what’s astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they’re discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they’ll take you up on that offer. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we’ll do it less.
Amen to this. From Kara Swisher at Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital…
I conducted a little experiment among the more than 100 folks gathered for the wedding, all of whom were quite intelligent, armed with all kinds of the latest devices (many, many people had iPhones, for example) and not sluggish about technology.
They were also made up of a wide range of ages and genders, from kids to seniors.
And so I asked a large group of people–about 30–and here is the grand total who knew what Twitter was: 0
Widget: 1 (but she thought it was one of the units used in a business class study).
Facebook: Everyone I asked knew about it and about half had an account, although different people used it differently.
In other words, confirming for me what I wrote last week about the intense obsession with the hottest new services like Twitter and FriendFeed, in the echo chamber of Silicon Valley, and how no one else cares yet.
Making a householdword is the great challenge. Not only does the word need to be universally known, but it has to be universally known for something that people need. eBay, Amazon, Google, and Craigslist are universally known, and people need what those words mean: People need to buy & sell & search in their everyday lives… As for Facebook, people need to stay in touch with people they know, so they’re on-track, but I suspect their word is too muddied with pokes & kid stuff.
About 30% of our pilot city subscribe to Front Porch Forum and many more than that have heard of and/or plan to sign up for our service. Many people appreciate help in connecting with their neighbors and plugging into their neighborhood.
Jen Mincar writes from Richmond, VT today…
I love Front Porch Forum. It’s such a great vehicle for bringing us all closer together. My visiting friends from across the country laugh when they read the posts about free eggs, or bobcat sightings, or someone looking for a good local seamstress, but I LOVE it. It’s tough to know your neighbors through the woods sometimes, so it’s nice to get to know them through the computer. And then you have something fun to talk about at the local neighborhood bash that we find out about through the forum!
That’s great to hear! And I’m curious about what the out-of-town friends find funny. Jen?
UPDATE: A fascinating response from Jen…
The friends/family that laugh are doing so more out of genuine surprise that we would actually go so far as to trust someone, albeit a ‘neighbor’, that we’ve never met. A lot of them come from bigger cities, and they covet their anonymity. They don’t want anyone to know their name, where they live, what they have in their house, or what they have to offer. The don’t want to know their neighbors. They don’t trust their neighbors. And they are really shocked and happy that there are still places and communities in the world where people trust one another so openly. They find it almost unreal. Unbelievable. “Why are people sharing like that?” is a question that someone asked me. My only answer was “because that’s how we do things here”.
The evils of the computer and internet are also in question. My sister, who works in internet forensics, asked how I could be sure that child molesters weren’t out there lurking around when I posted to the forum about trying to find a sitter for my two kids. Now he knows my name, my kids name, where we live, and our phone number. Aren’t we scared. Everyone/anyone knows all about me and the kids now. It’s a valid question. One I didn’t even think about it. Technology tends to want to make people stay anonymous. Giving out your real name and number suddenly seems like a lot of exposure. TMI…too much information. I guess it’s about trust again.
I trust the people in my neighborhood, both in person and on the FPF. Again, maybe it’s just ‘how we do things here’. Would the FPF fly in NYC? Or Vegas, where my sister lives? Good question.
FPF is social networking with a twist, and that’s extremely hot right now with younger generations and lots of business networking websites. It’s the softer/gentler version of Facebook , LinkedIn, you name it, without the pics, although maybe with your upgrades you’re headed in that direction?
After hosting 130 FPF online neighborhood forums in a variety of settings (urban, rural, suburban, village, poor, rich, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, etc.), I think that the feelings of mistrust detailed above are widespread. However, I believe that the latent desire to know the neighbors and feel plugged in locally is even more powerful and that Front Porch Forum is helping wake it up in many communities… and can do it many more.
More evidence that Front Porch Forum brings out the good in people…
Andrew posted a TV that he was giving away on his FPF neighborhood forum. Jeff responded saying how he appreciated the gesture, to which Andrew replied…
I have been touched by the power of FPF to network the goodness that exists in our community serveral times and am happy to make a little contribution myself.
Vermont is working to become the first “e-State” with availability of broadband internet and cell phone coverage across 100% of the state… by 2010. The “100% of the state” bit is ambitious and lots of people, organizations are businesses and contributing toward the realization of this goal.
The State of Vermont justifies this ambition saying it will be good for economic development, healthcare, education, public safety and more. And part of the “and more” usually includes a vague reference to the e-State being good for society and civic engagement. Can the internet and cell phones enhance the sense of community in a town? Many people feel these tools actually turn people’s attention away from local community.
Explore public policy issues, opportunities, and potential obstacles that will arise as Vermont becomes fully connected.
- How might civic life change in a fully connected state?
- How will we master emerging technologies so they unite us and strengthen communities?
- How will we address issues of privacy, equity, resistance to change, ownership, and cost?
- How will local and state governmental units ensure that all citizens have equal access to information and participation?
My old friend Lars is up to some new tricks in central Vermont…
I am asking everyone I know to support a new effort in Montpelier: the Onion River Exchange’s Pecha Kucha Night. The idea is pretty cool, and really simple:
- Two rounds of presenters
- Each presenter has 6 minutes and 20 slides with which to present their idea
- 5 presenters each round
- Do it somewhere fun, with food and drink
Think of it as TED meets speed dating – in Central Vermont. Seriously, should be a lot of fun – especially with YOU on stage
Anyway, here’s what I’m asking:
- Think of yourself as someone who might want to present a big, bold idea you’ve been slaving away on
- Pass along the flier to anyone else you know who has an idea they’ve been working on and encourage them to contact me.
The invitation is *especially* for those whose work communicates well visually. They should get in touch with me BEFORE April 30.
So, let’s paint the town Pecha Kucha!
Thanks, and hope you’re enjoying this prime gardening weather.
The Case Foundation’s Make It Your Own Awards contest is wrapping up. The public online vote closes this Tuesday, April 22, 2008, at 3 PM EST.
Please vote for Front Porch Forum among your choices for the Final Four. And thanks to all who voted and supported our effort in this endeavor.
Front Porch Forum, hailing from tiny Vermont, is a huge underdog… but I’m just hopeful enough to imagine a major upset! Tune in the first week of May when the winning Final Four will be announced. Thanks again!
Ghost of Midnight is an online journal about fostering community within neighborhoods, with a special focus on Front Porch Forum (FPF). My wife, Valerie, and I founded FPF in 2006... read more
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