Monthly Archives: October 2008

Challenging Conventional Web 2.0 Wisdom

A friend jokingly refers to Front Porch Forum as the “anti-internet” and he got me thinking.  I ended up with the chart below comparing conventional wisdom for much of “Web 2.0” vs. FPF.

FYI, Front Porch Forum hosts networks of online neighborhood forums that blanket metro areas.  In our Chittenden County, VT, pilot, 11,000 households subscribe, including one-third of Burlington.  People connect with neighbors and build community through the exchange of postings among clearly identified nearby neighbors.

So, Peter Kafka got me thinking more with his post on Silicon Alley Insider the other day, in particular this gem…

It’s counterintuitive, but during an up cycle people accept conventional wisdom, and during a down cycle people challenge it. That’s good. Very good. And the cycle will winnow competition.

Well… an upside to our economic crisis!  A year ago during good times a few Web 2.0 experts took a look at Front Porch Forum and each, in his way, told us that we needed to get in line and look more like the left column above.  And just in the past week I’ve heard from some folks in the same crowd and they’re showing up with open minds and probing questions.

Riding the adoption bell curve

A posting on TechCrunch came with this nifty illustration about adoption of new online services the other day…

… customers and word-of-mouth referrals travel from left to right along a bell curve that starts with Innovators and Early Adopters, peaks with the Early Majority and the Late Majority, and finally permeates with reaction from Laggards.

If I read this right, the author is claiming that Digg and Twitter have about 16% market penetration.  In a previous posting here, it was noted that Digg has 30 million monthly visitors, with 3 million of them registered users.  Considering just the U.S. population (300 million), wouldn’t that put Digg between 1% and 10% penetration?  That is, still far from moving out of the Early Adopter range?

Nearly 20% of our pilot area subscribes to Front Porch Forum, including 33% of Burlington and better than 90% of our leading neighborhoods.  That puts the bulk of our service in the Early Majority area, with our best neighborhoods pushing through the Late Majority and into the Laggards.

WeAre.Us kin to Front Porch Forum?

When I read this piece in TechCrunch the other day, the similarities to Front Porch Forum‘s (FPF’s) model added up.

WeAre.Us wants to help. It is a platform of 16 social networks that connect people with chronic illnesses.

FPF’s pilot is a platform of 130 online neighborhood forums.

In contrast to health platforms… which serve as a contact point for health-related topics of any kind, WeAre.Us connects people affected by severe illnesses only… rather than create an all-encompassing site, WeAre.Us decided to take more of a niche social network approach.

FPF focuses on neighbor connection and not in generating its own content.  We’re neighborhood social networks.

The subsites… run on the same core engine but are independent from each other.

FPF neighborhood forums stand alone but all run on the same engine.

WeAre.Us tries to avoid Ning-like scattering effects by allowing users to create communities only if more more than 1,000 members can be expected… The approach seems to work: While Ning has over 50 Crohn’s-based (mostly inactive) micro social networks, for example, WeAre.Us’ single Crohn’s community boasts over 2,000 members… expecting to pass the 10,000 member mark this month (for all of WeAre.Us).

I recall a site somewhat similar to FPF that boasted 5,000 neighborhood groups across North America… and only 10,000 members… sounds like the Ning example.  FPF currently has 11,000 subscribers in its pilot area of 60,000 households, including one-third of Burlington, VT.

CMO Robert Patterson says another differentiator is the active, individualized support the company provides all WeAre.Us members.

FPF offers hands-on community management and customer service.

Limiting Ad Inventory and Banning Ad Networks

Thanks to Daniel for the link to this New York Times piece about newspapers’ online ad sales.  Some points…

After 17 quarters of ballooning growth, online revenue at newspaper sites is falling. In the second quarter, it was down 2.4 percent compared with last year, to $777 million…

Overall online advertising, however, is strong. Display advertising, the graphics-rich ads that newspaper sites carry, grew 7.6 percent in the second quarter…

Unique readers in August were 17 percent higher than a year earlier, at 69.3 million…

Large papers… can sell premium ad space… for $15 to $50 for every thousand impressions. But these and other papers of all sizes have increasingly relied on middlemen — known as ad networks — to sell less desirable space, typically for around $1 for every thousand impressions…

There are now more than 300 networks, most offering custom ads, and they are popular venture-capital investments and acquisition targets…

Some sites unaffiliated with newspapers have also limited inventory and banned ad networks, and many report good results…

Front Porch Forum works with a limited ad inventory and we do not use ad networks.

Richmond Bridge Open to Cars!

This just in from Richmond Selectboard Member, Erik Filkorn…

The Richmond bridge is open to vehicles up to 3 tons. Plan your trip home accordingly and remember to stop at the final Farmer’s Market tonight!

That’s great news for the people and businesses of Richmond and surrounding towns.  This has been the number one issue in Richmond in the month since the bridge over the Winooski River was suddenly closed.  The village has a wonderful collection of small businesses, many of which have been struggling with the bridge closure.  In fact, “shop Richmond” if you have the chance.

We’re so pleased that Front Porch Forum has been available to help residents, businesses and local public officials communicate and pitch in during this crisis.  In fact, Erik used Front Porch Forum to break the news of the closure on September 4, 2008, shortly after he learned of it, and we’re publishing the good news of its opening right now across Richmond via FPF, just moments after the news became “official.”  Thanks to Erik for making such good use of this service.  Hopefully, the traditional media will cover the bridge-opening soon too.

Web 2.0 for the rest of us?

Caroline McCarthy reports today on CNET News

LONDON–Digg founder Kevin Rose had a message for the audience at the Future of Web Apps conference on Thursday: It’s time to grow up.

“We have to do better,” he said in his talk, called “The Future of News,” and said that it’s time for the social news site that he founded in 2004 to to expand beyond the geek set and get some real-world relevance. “Why click a button and make the number go up by one? Why does that matter?”

Digg, after all, gets more than 30 million monthly visitors, but Rose said that the site only has slightly over three million registered user accounts–those are the people actually “Digging.” That indirectly confirmed what Digg critics hve been saying all along: that it’s reflective of only a tiny and vocal subset of the Web, resulting in a heavy bias toward anything iPhone, anything Linux, anything Barack Obama, and plenty of wacky local news stories.

I’ve been fortunate to speak to many groups over the past year or so, and I frequently survey each crowd about technology and services that they’ve (1) heard of, and (2) use.  Routinely, only one or two hands will go up for Twitter, RSS, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr, Delicious, etc. to my first question.  But almost no one ever admits to using these tech media darlings.  Meanwhile, it’s not unusual in talks with local groups within our pilot area to have half of the hands reaching for the ceiling when I ask about Front Porch Forum.

Kevin Rose’s call above seems on target to me.  When you offer a service globally, it’s not outrageous to find a million tech professionals and hobbyists to jump on board.  But try raising an online crowd within a local community… especially one that stays plugged in over time… very difficult.

In our pilot area, more than 11,000 households subscribe to Front Porch Forum, including one-third of Burlington, VT.  We have people in their 80s using FPF.  I spoke with a homeless person the other day who’s on board.  College students love FPF.  And we have droves of non-techie grown-ups… folks who are too busy with their lives to look into why they should tweet or digg.  Busy or not, they do know that Front Porch Forum is the place to turn to borrow a couple saw horses, find a babysitter, recommend a roofer, learn about a rash of break-ins, give away their couch, buy a bike, hear from their school board member about the budget, etc.

I’m looking forward to more online offerings aimed at the rest of us… not just the heavy tech consumers.  Of course, it’s tough for the traditional and new media, as well as funders, not to be dazzled by shiny bells and whistles, especially when these sites attract a sizable group of early adopters from the global masses.  This top-down approach has worked incredibly well for Google and a host of others.  And it will continue to draw most of the media spotlight and funding.

I’m eager to see more efforts coming from the other direction — the grassroots on up and out — such as we’re doing with Front Porch Forum… the Craigslist and Angieslist approach.  That is, get traction in one metro area, then spread to others.

One night, two national awards for Front Porch Forum

What a humbling couple of days.  I’ve just returned home from Rural TeleCon 2008.  Yesterday I led a rich discussion about local community building via Front Porch Forum with a room full of telecom professionals, and this evening Front Porch Forum collected two wonderful honors…

First, the RTC People’s Choice Award — Most Innovative, which included a $500 check.  And then, the real shocker, the RTC Champion Award ($3,000)… this is the top national award from the Rural Telecom Congress!  And a genuine honor, especially considering the caliber of the other award finalists.

Credit for FPF’s recognition is shared with many collaborators and advisers, as well as our 11,000 Chittenden County subscribers, 200 participating local public officials, 350 FPF Neighborhood Volunteers, 100 local advertisers, and many donors.  And thanks to the RTC board of directors and conference staff!

See FPF’s growing list of awards and recognition, media coverage, and member testimonials.

UPDATE: Thanks to Cathy Resmer at Seven Days for her coverage on Blurt and Vermont 3.0.

Vermont PR Chick’s Free Advice

“Vermont public relations chick – Rachel Carter (www.rachelcarterpr.com)” offers “5 Free & Quick Ways to Promote Your Business” today.  And number five is…

Join your local Front Porch Forum and let your neighbors know who you are and what your business is! (www.frontporchforum.org)

Yes sir… and many have and do.  Thanks Rachel.

Tonic for Welsh Corgi puppy fever

Alicia wrote today from Burlington, VT…

My daughters and I had Welsh Corgi puppy fever and decided to wait until fall to find one.  Imagine my delight and surprise when a Corgi puppy showed up on our neighborhood Front Porch Forum the weekend before school started.  If we had designed our own a wanted poster he couldn’t have fit our family better.  He has been a delight.  It isn’t too much to say that Front Porch Forum changed our lives.  As an added bonus, everyone saw the posting, so he became the neighborhood’s Corgi and joined our family as a local celebrity garnering lots of well wishes!

She went on to share that she used FPF to find her lost keys (dropped when walking the new puppy) and she got four flute loan offers when her daughter’s instrument broke the day before middle school started.  This was all recent.  It’s no wonder she says…

It isn’t too much to say that Front Porch Forum changed our lives.

A new puppy in the family, found keys, salvaged music class, and more and deeper connection to neighbors and community… not bad for a month’s work.  While this is an above-average experience for our 11,000 local subscribers, it’s not unusual.


Front Porch Forum is two years old!  Thanks to everyone helping this local invention grow… 11,000 local household subscribing and counting.  Recognition continues to roll in… PBS just included Front Porch Forum on its short-list of great examples of local community building online, and we’re a finalist for a national award from the Rural Telecom Congress.  http://frontporchforum.com/blog/recognition-and-awards

We get questions…

QUESTION – My friend Sally is not on Front Porch Forum yet, and she swears she’s never heard of it!  But I know I told her to sign up months ago.  What gives?

ANSWER – We hear this kind of thing every day.  While one in five Chittenden County households subscribe to FPF already, that leaves LOTS of people who are not on board yet.  And we depend wholly on our members to spread the word.  Most people need to hear about something like this 7-8 times before they actually register.  So please… reach out today to everyone on your local e-lists (any resident of the 19 towns within Chittenden County are welcome to join this free service)… send them a note encouraging them to join FPF at http://frontporchforum.com Thank you!

QUESTION – Does FPF really work?

ANSWER – Oh yes!  Quotes from FPF members…

  • “Because of Front Porch Forum we found our lost cat! Home safe and sound now!”  -Ila Abramson
  • “Front Porch Forum exponentially multiplied our community’s response to the fundraiser for a neighborhood child battling cancer.”  -Vince Brennan
  • “I was overwhelmed with 15 offers to loan a post hole digger… thanks to Front Porch Forum!”  -Doug Graver
  • “We sold our minivan today to a neighbor through Front Porch Forum. More people called from FPF than from the Burlington Free Press, Cars.com and Craigslist combined.”  -Wolfgang Hokenmaier
  • “More than 80 people turned out for the Neighborhood Planning Assembly… thank you Front Porch Forum.”  -Linda Deliduka
    Lots more… http://frontporchforum.com/testimonials

QUESTION – How can I reach people beyond my own FPF Neighborhood Forum?

ANSWER – Join the FPF Neighborhood Volunteer Forum.  More than 350 local FPF members/boosters participate in this online exchange of county-wide postings… and many volunteers forward what they find there on to their neighbors via FPF.  http://frontporchforum.com/tour/volunteers.php

QUESTION – Can FPF really make a difference?

ANSWER – Well, PEOPLE can and do make a difference when they have easy access to their nearby neighbors.  Some recent discussions on FPF…

  • Essex Junction shooting leads to a neighborhood watch forming and a block party getting organized to help nearby neighbors get to know each other.
  • About 40% of Westford households participate in discussion about town meeting vs. Australian ballot through FPF.
  • Richmond rallies to deal with bridge closure.  Local officials, businesses and citizens turn to each other through FPF.
  • Winooski residents debate City leadership issues.
  • A South Burlington neighborhood starts sharing “Local Secrets”… under-appreciated restaurants, “hidden gem” tailor, etc.
  • Burlington Old North End residents challenge police response to car break-ins.
  • Burlington South End neighborhood debates offensive/clever name of new pizza joint.
  • Burlington New North Enders use FPF to question development of little-known disc golf course being built in Leddy Park.
  • Burlington Hill residents work with police through FPF to catch vandals.
    More… http://frontporchforum.com/blog/?cat=9

QUESTION – How does FPF pay the bills?  And, can businesses reach customers through FPF?

ANSWER – Front Porch Forum sells ad space to local businesses to generate much of its income.  And we’re hearing back from these advertisers (75 and counting) that they are getting solid results.  We have a handful of ad slots still open for this fall for any businesses or nonprofits interested.  And to everyone else reading, please support the FPF sponsors by clicking on the links in their ads and checking out their offerings.  Learn more… http://frontporchforum.com/sponsorship/sponsors.php

QUESTION – I’m not receiving my FPF neighborhood forum anymore.  Help!  [okay, that’s not a question.. ]

ANSWER – Please check your FPF account and keep your email address current.  Also, check your spam filter… PLEASE train it to allow/whitelist incoming messages from frontporchforum.com  Details.. http://frontporchforum.com/faq/#20

Here’s to a colorful fall!