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Monthly Archives: December 2008

Scientific Take on “Sense of Community”

Thanks to Richard Millington at FeverBee for this tip today

If you’re eager to build online communities, the best article you can read is Sense of Community by McMillan and Chavis. This article holds more useful advice (and a great practical framework) for developing an online community than any other.

It was written in 1986. Which means, unlike the post-twitter articles, it gets better every year.

If you’re lazy, here’s an easy-reading version.


Seeking Vintage Hearse

Front Porch Forum gets lots of predictable postings among neighbors, but I didn’t see this one coming…

“Does anyone know of a place that would have a vintage style Hearse that I could rent like a Limo?  Do I just start cold calling Funeral Parlors?”  -Brennan in Burlington’s Old North End

“Cold calling” indeed.


Eugene Jarecki and Civic Engagement

Mike Ives profiles Vermont filmmaker and author Eugene Jarecki in Seven Days this week.  Jarecki’s 2006 documentary, Why We Fight, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

And he has a new book out…

… he told Jon Stewart recently, he hopes The American Way of War will inspire a sense of common civic engagement that withered during the Bush years. “I’m on a real mission,” he explained to the Comedy Central host. “The worse thing that’s happened is, we’ve become disengaged… ”

And…

Jarecki is trying to make a difference in his community. Neighbors say the Big Picture Theater & Café in Waitsfield, which Jarecki co-founded in 2006, is an important civic space for residents of the Mad River Valley.

Good stuff.  Many of Jarecki’s Mad River Valley neighbors have asked us to bring Front Porch Forum there… we hope to in 2009… working on pulling pieces together now.  In Burlington, where we’ve been operating for two years, a survey found 93% of respondents claiming that FPF led to increased civic engagement for them… real, face-to-face, in the community kind of stuff.


“Dulled down, emptied, hurried, shell-shocked”

I, apparently, don’t get out much.  This holiday season I’ve found myself in places I rarely visit… suburban America, shopping centers, traffic, food courts, gyms with equipment lifted from the Star Ship Enterprise, watching relations spend a good chunk of “family visiting time” instead stroking their electronic tethers… it’s a shock to the system.  I feel like a foreigner in my own culture.  What’s become of walks in the woods, caroling, writing and receiving Christmas cards, baking simple hand-me-down recipes?

I was caught staring many times… oh, I’m afraid to say more right now.  I’ll let Scott Heiferman, quoting Rev. Billy, do it for me…

Rev Billy: … a good New Year’s Resolution would be to be able to shout the truth, and then to be able to hear such a crying out from others, too. We have to hear the cry from within ourselves as well as hear it from an orator in public space. I believe that the criers are out there, but we are so dulled down, emptied, hurried, shell-shocked by advertising, iPodding, Facebooking, sitting in traffic, waiting in line… all we do every day to pursue Consumerism… If we remain consumers, fans, tourists, demographic groups, investors – and not sensual citizens, we will never make our way back… And we will die or we will live – it is our choice. If we die, we might die standing up with our eyes open, buying something we don’t need with money we don’t have. That is modern Hell.

Right now, in 2009, we have an opportunity to defend ourselves against those who find every detail of our lives a potential profit center. The corporations have stumbled, they are smashed on their own greed. We have a unique window of opportunity – maybe have a few weeks or months in 2009 – in which to cry out. All the fake happiness and sorry of advertising is less powerful now. Remember how the supermodels and giant celebrity heads on the cityscape seemed to shrink down after the world trade towers crashed? They were suddenly so ridiculous. The spell of Consumerism was broken for a time. Now it’s happened again. And what are we doing? We are trying to clear our heads. We get up on one elbow. We know what we must do. We need to slip to dance, hear the music, and hold hands. This year, we pledge to find the power again by being human.”


The disappearing cup o’ joe

I found Corey Bergman’s recent blog post interesting.  In part…

I’m reading a book (that has yet to be released) called “Wired to Care” by Dev Patnaik…

Back in the late 1950s and early 60s, Maxwell House began slowly substituting tasty but expensive “Arabica” beans with bitter but inexpensive “Robusta” beans in its coffee, Patnaik writes. After all, customers were complaining about the increasingly high prices. Maxwell House made the transition slowly, conducting consumer research along the way, and the vast majority of its coffee drinkers were unable to detect the difference. This kept prices under control, customers happy, and the business continued to run at a respectable profit. Other coffee makers did the same.

By 1964, coffee sales declined for the first time in the history of the U.S. Younger people weren’t becoming coffee drinkers. Why? To a first-time coffee drinker, it tasted horrible. Coke and Pepsi sales began to skyrocket. Coffee continued its decline. Then a man named Howard Schultz took note of the espresso bars in Italy and launched a little company called “Starbucks,” bringing back Arabica beans with a new way of doing business. Young people began to drink coffee again. The industry had been reinvented.

Bergman goes on to say something similar is underway with local TV news.


“authenticity of users” and online classified ads

From the Local Onliner

Local media is so fragmented that its becoming increasingly important to aggregate classifieds from several sources. GoogleBase and Oodle go a long way in this regard… But other classified aggregators are coming up the horizon, too.

One site that recently launched is iList, a San Francisco-based company that has received $1.5 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson. It offers users the ability make their ads portable to all their friends who are tuned into them on all the social sites…

The authenticity of users is especially pushed – something that is coming up more and more. Users won’t see the site’s authenticity star until they verify their identity via cell phone SMS.


Using FPF to reward good service

Myra Mathis-Flynn reported a story from Front Porch Forum today for the Burlington Free Press…

Michigan family quickly learns the Vermont way
By Myra Mathis-Flynn
Burlington Free Press
December 22, 2008

Much can happen in the process of a move, but when Patrick and Juliet Halladay decided to pack up their three kids and move from Michigan to Burlington, they did not anticipate someone almost losing a finger.

When Juliet Halladay was hired as a professor in the University of Vermont’s Elementary Education program, the family packed its belongings for the trip East. During the moving process, the Halladay’s couch dropped onto Juliet’s finger. The appendage was spared only because of her engagement ring, which took the brunt of the impact. As a result, the ring was a wreck.

Patrick Halladay ventured onto the Church Street Marketplace to find a local store to fix his wife’s ring. Enter Lippa’s Jewelers.

“This is a Christmas of some fiscal austerity,” Patrick Halladay said. “I decided to spend a bit of money to get the ring reshaped and thought that I would like to use someone local. I stopped at Lippa’s because it looked local. They said bring it in, it will be $20.”

When Jeff Berger, owner of Lippa’s came back, he told Halladay he owed nothing for the repair, and to have a happy holiday. Halladay immediately posted a story on the gesture on his neighborhood, Front Porch Forum so others could hear of the good deed.

“What really surprised me is that I have never been to the store; I’m not a regular; he had no idea who I was,” Halladay said. “It made me feel positively inclined to not have a good deed be unrewarded. It’s consistent to what we have found here in Burlington, people have a human aspect of doing business, which is a smart outlook.”

“These are things, you do them because you can,” Berger said. “Sure it’s my time and my expertise, but you just do them. I grew up in this business and one of the things I remember my grandfather telling me: ‘If you do something good for a client, they tell 10 people, something bad and they tell 100.’ They are acts of kindness. It takes a little bit of time sometimes, but that’s OK.”

Eleven years ago, Patrick Halladay proposed to Juliet with that ring on her birthday, Dec. 29. He will give her the repaired ring as a gift on their anniversary.

Lippa’s Jewelers is located at 112 Church St., or call 862-1042.


Can you borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor’s avatar?

Thanks to Dave West for sharing this link

The City of Decatur, Georgia is evaluating the use of a virtual world interface to “encourage community networking, improve civic engagement, and promote economic development.”

Virtual Decatur will provide an environment in which residents, businesses, institutions and visitors can interact and connect…  it is it is imperative that the project go beyond the features of traditional virtual environments.  The overarching purpose of this project is to allow users to interact with the City in new and innovative ways that are not possible in the real world.”

Possible features of the proposed Virtual Decatur might include:

• Opportunities to gather citizen input on policies, topics of interest, city services, and happenings
• A Virtual City Hall Tour with multimedia capabilities.
• Opportunities to earn coupons for use in real stores/retail establishments.
• Streaming video of public meetings, ideally with a chat room feature that allows viewers to comment.
• Access to visitors information (store hours, directions, weather, etc.)

Well… I’m all for experiments, so I’m hopeful that the good folks in Georgia will go ahead with this and then report out results for the world to see.

In a way, it sounds like, as Dave put it, “Front Porch Forum 2.0.”  Hmm…  The purpose of Front Porch Forum is to kidnap peoples’ attention while online and redirect it back to the neighborhood, and, ultimately, get them face to face with neighbors for block parties, crime watches, yard sales, meals on wheels, city council hearings, etc.  That is, FPF is a gateway to real neighborliness and civic engagement (not just virtual facsimiles).  Perhaps the project above will do the same… or perhaps it will prove to be another way to avoid face-to-face contact with the people we live around.

I’m hoping for the best!  Good luck to Virtual Decatur.


FPF Milestones

Greg and I serve on a telecom board together and he’s made great use of Front Porch Forum in his own neighborhood.  So it was lovely to find his posting headed for the next issue (No. 500!) of his forum.  Thanks Greg!

Congratulations on #500!…

I wanted to be a part of the 500th Anniversary Edition of the South Union Neighborhood Forum!

Congratulations to Michael Wood-Lewis and family for an incredible vision and sticktuitiveness (I guess the real word is indefatigability, which I have trouble pronouncing) that we here in Burlington have been the fortunate beneficiaries of for many years.

I hope you, the subscriber/reader, always follow up when Michael passes on a request to support Front Porch Forum through surveys, grant applications, underwriting advertising and so on.  We want to be certain that FPF will be around for many more years to come…

Happy Holidays!
Greg Epler Wood


“The Revolution in the Hello”

From Scott Heiferman again…

RevBilly: “The Revolution in the Hello… we’re sluggish now from our deep sleep – we will go to the neighbor that we daily padded by with our iPod, go up to that person and slow down. Taking in that so ordinary and so fantastic neighbor – the revolution is here… If we walk in our streets again we re-magicalize them. Touching each other for a moment, “Hello!” – in that moment the architecture around us seems to change… Say hello to a neighbor and trade names and a new economy begins. Can we sense the release from debt and the launch into real wealth when we find a stranger who was always nearby but was lost in our consuming?”