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Monthly Archives: September 2008

Financial blow softened for those who’ve invested in community

Millions of middle class Americans are watching their savings shrink dramatically in the Wall Street debacle unfolding before us.  Much is being written and said about it all… lots to digest.

But one angle I’ve not come across yet is the strategy that a small but growing number of people are employing… to invest more personal resources into building community, even at the sacrifice of their short-term savings.  Put another way… to shift financial capital into social capital.

When hard times come, having plenty of cash helps, of course.  But so does having a strong community.  Having a network of close local friends, living in a supportive neighborhood, being part of a stable town with good schools… all of these “assets” can help cover real needs.

Front Porch Forum is in this business.  It helps people invest in community and realize genuine gain from it… economic, social, emotional, and more.  More later…


New Media Guru in Vermont Oct. 4

New media thinker and do-er Dan Gillmor will speak at the UVM Center for Rural Studies 30th anniversary bash on October 4, 2008 starting at 5:00 PM.  I’ve been fortunate to hear Dan speak and follow his online writing for the past couple years… great stuff.  And now he’s leading the newly formed Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Front Porch Forum is tickled pink to be involved (albeit in a small way).  Come to the conference all day… or at least catch Dan’s talk at 5:00 PM and the panel he’ll moderate after that.

Dan Gillmor

-Author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People (2004; O’Reilly Media)
-Director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
-Director of the Center for Citizen Media

At the newly created Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Dan Gillmor is working to help create a culture of innovation and risk-taking in journalism education, and in the wider media world. He is founder and current director of the Center for Citizen Media and previously founded Grassroots Media, Inc. From 1994-2004, Gillmor was a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper, and wrote a weblog for SiliconValley.com. He joined the Mercury News after six years with the Detroit Free Press. Before that, he was with the Kansas City Times and several newspapers in Vermont. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Vermont (’81), Gillmor received a Herbert Davenport fellowship in 1982 for economics and business reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. During the 1986-87 academic year he was a journalism fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied history, political theory and economics. He has won or shared in several regional and national journalism awards. Before becoming a journalist he played music professionally for seven years.

And I seem to recall some former Vermont professional connection of his.  Hmm…


One of ten neighbors respond to request posted on FPF

I don’t have much data about the multiplier effect of Front Porch Forum, that is, how much off-forum activity does an FPF posting stir up?  So I was interested to read the following from Mike in Burlington’s South End.  His small neighborhood of 120 households has about 70 of those subscribing to their FPF neighborhood forum.  And in response to his request for a good mechanic?  Nearly one of ten responded with a personal recommendation!  That’s typical from what we hear.

Hi neighbors, I received a lot of responses regarding mechanics last week, and also had a request from Sandra to share what I learned.  Here’s what folks had to say:

Katharine says: “we went to the other Kaigles and have had good luck, plus they sell fine xmas trees in nov.  they seemed to honor Christian’s work and were sort of in a position to help the customers that were formerly from RKaigles.”

Ryan says: “I’ve used the guy down at the Rotary for several small jobs….brakes, suspension…things of that nature.  There not set up to do alignments or machine work so you may need to find another place for those items.  What I do like about him is how he goes over the car with you to show you the problem and his hourly rates are pretty low, 45/hr last time I checked.”

Stephanie says: “I highly recommend bringing your cars to SVS on Batchelder St, just off Home Ave.  Darren is the main guy there and he is fantastic.  As a fairly naive, female car-owner it was important to me to find a straight-forward, no-nonsense mechanic.  SVS is the real deal.  I have had a few instances where the dealer has told me it would be over $1200 in work and Darren has taken care of it for $400.  And it’s a no-frills kind of establishment.  He’s a bit gruff, but I take comfort that I’m not paying for a socialite, I’m paying for quality work.”

Tom says: “I have been pleased with the work of Double G Auto on lower Birchcliff Pkwy. They used to run the Rotary Gulf, until 2-3 years ago. I have been pleased with their reasonable, quick and well done work on our 13 and 9 year old foreign cars. Hope you find this useful.”

Patricia says: “‘double G auto’ on birchcliff pkwy (behind champlain chocolates) is where i go and would highly recommend them.”

Mary says: “I use Double G Auto (Gary Sylvester) at 43 Birchcliff Pkwy (which is real close).  He used to be Rotary Gulf but wanted to do auto repair without pumping gas.”


PBS offers Examples of New Media aiding Local Communities

Mark Glaser, New Media Expert for PBS, offers examples of the internet serving local communities…

That’s heady company for FPF… two nationally known Knight Foundation grant recipients.  Everyblock and Spot.Us are both exciting projects.  See Mark’s comments for yourself…


Essex Junction Neighbors Respond to Crime

Some people question Front Porch Forum‘s strategy of blanketing an entire metro area with our online neighborhood forums.  Why not, instead, just provide them in the areas most likely to embrace the service?

Well… because we never know where or when FPF will catch hold.  This past week we’ve seen another formerly snoozy FPF neighborhood forum light up.  This area, in Essex Junction, VT, near the fair grounds, encompasses about 200 households and less than 10% subscribed.

Then a shooting occured.  And someone posted about it on FPF.  Several replies followed.  Then the owner of the rental house where the crime happened weighed in.  All of the postings were constructive and civil.  Instead of being ostracized, the house owner had a chance to get her side of things out to the neighbors.  Several people stated their devotion to the neighborhood and said they planned to step up their presence… walking the dog, etc.  Another person stepped forward to promote the idea of a formal neighborhood watch and planned to connect with a particular police officer.

And, my favorite step, a woman said… “how about a block party so we can all get to know each other better.”  That’s Front Porch Forum in a nutshell.

And, by the way, during all of this back and forth in the wake of the shooting, several new subscirbers signed up AND I noted a couple of “seeking babysitter” and “plumber recommended” postings slipped in… that “normal” neighborhood conversation is already sprouting.


Information + Communication + Civic Engagement = ??

Keith Harris in the United Kingdom writes today that “What’s missing is communication, not information” on his blog Neighbourhoods.  Some of his points…

This is very definitely work in progress but maybe the argument is something like this:

  • for various reasons there is a crisis of local social connections which causes evident damage
  • examples of local communication (post-its on windscreens, notes on lamp-posts, message graffiti and so on) point to the inadequacies of existing communication channels, especially in contexts of high mobility and the erosion of local life
  • online networks can augment (not replace) other channels of communication and stimulate more interaction (I never understood why this should ever have been in doubt)
  • we need to find out what research has been done and where the gaps are, showcase good practice and clarify the lessons. This will help the system-builders, and then
  • we have to go to to the housing movement and local government with incontestible arguments that this stuff works and should be developed. Might that do it?

This reminds me of some of the conversation that the Knight Foundation has been sparking through its various efforts.  Knight is pushing easily accessible information at the local level as a needed element to sustain our democracy in the United States.  Hear, hear!  But others, including me, have pushed to have civic engagement be part of that mission as well.  And here’s Keith telling us that communication trumps information.

I think we need all three to feed our democracy… an engaged citizenry that can communicate with each other and develop, access and share information.  I’m thrilled that Front Porch Forum is on the cutting edge of all this.


“The possibility of human-sized communication”

We keep stumbling over pieces about the value of “local” in the digital universe (and vice versa)… right out of Front Porch Forum‘s playbook.  Today it was a couple of journalists…

Mark Potts writes in part…

Anyone who questions that people are interested in talking about their communities hasn’t dug in to the plethora of listservs, Yahoo groups and organization sites that already provide coverage of many local communities.

And I definitely recommend reading Howard Owen’s full post.  Here’s his opening…

Some people think the web makes the world bigger. I say, it makes it smaller.  Some people say the web makes us neighbors with people in Kenya or the Ukraine.  I say it makes us better neighbors with the family next door.

There was a time in United States history when newspapers served as a centralizing force for drawing communities together — and then came  television, and cable, and satellite — all the forces that did nothing to humanize communication, but made mass communication more mass and less personal.

The Internet brings back the possibility of human-sized communication.

At a time when too many glass-eyed Americans turn to network TV for their “Heroes” and get “Lost” in whatever flimflam Hollywood is dishing out this season,  the Web opens up new possibilities for people, local people, people who share a common interest in a common community, to partake in conversation and pursue change with conviction.


FPF nominated for award

I just learned that all the great activity surging through Front Porch Forum is being recognized by the Rural Telecom Congress as a finalist for its RTC Champion Awards!  The final selection will be decided at the Rural TeleCon 2008 conference at Smugglers’ Notch, VT on October 8, 2008.  It’s a great honor to be included with several wonderful projects on the short list of finalists.  Thank you RTC!

NOTE:  If you plan to attend the RTC, please sit in on my sessions and please vote for Front Porch Forum;-)


Talk “community building” with FPF: dates and places

I always learn something valuable, so it’s a pleasure to converse with an audience about Front Porch Forum.  So I’m grateful for the invitations to address these upcoming events.  Please come!

Connecting with your Essex Neighbors using Front Porch Forum

Sept. 15, 2008, 7:00 PM

• Building Community Online: Leveraging the Web 2.0 World for 21st Century Classrooms and Communities
Sept. 26, 2008, 10:15 AM with Dr. Rob Williams
Action Coalition for Media Education
GROWING UP DIGITAL: Kids, Commercialism & New Media Culture
Rock Point School, Burlington, VT

• Sponsor
Intervale Center‘s 20th Anniversary Harvest Barn Dance
Oct. 3, 2008

• Sponsor
UVM’s Center for Rural Studies 30th Anniversary Symposium
Oct. 4, 2008

Front Porch Forum: Helping Neighbors Connect and Build Community
Oct. 6, 2008, 9:30 AM
Vermont e-State: National Model for Broadband Community Building
Oct. 7, 2008, 9:30 AM with Lauren-Glenn Davitian and others
Rural TeleCon 2008
Smugglers’ Notch, VT


“Bite Me”… now is that how your mother taught you how to talk?

When neighbors start heating up over a topic through Front Porch Forum, our local traditional media often picks up on it and writes a story.  Some issues are of larger public concern, e.g., violence, multi-million-dollar development projects, etc., while others are more modest.  Take today’s story by Suzanne Podhaizer in Seven Days: Right to Bite: New pizzeria offends some sensitive South Enders.  I can attest… it’s been a firey back and forth.

And on the subject of media coverage of FPF, I just looked back at Mike Ives’ well-written 7D piece about neighbors using FPF to combat vandalism in Burlington.  Here’s the traffic rank on the Seven Days website for the past week…