Longtime Front Porch Forum member Bob Wolf remarks that the forum in his area “acts as a neighborhood watch.” In the past week, I’ve seen messages across greater Burlington about two house buglaries, a car break-in, a missing bike, and a handful of graffiti and noise complaints. Previously, neighbors posted about a registered sexual predator who appeared to be violating the terms of his release, a child abduction (thankfully broken up before the perp. got away with the nine-year-old girl victim), and an armed home invasion.
The primary benefit appears to be neighbor helping neighbor, and everyone keeping an eye out for each other. However, Front Porch Forum also encourages and welcomes the participation of local law enforcement. The Burlington Police have been on board our flagship neighborhood forum for years. Lately South Burlington and Williston police have joined our forums in their communities.
In fact, it was a quote from Lt. Kathleen Stubbing that contributed to our decison to take our initial single neighborhood forum and launch Front Porch Forum to share the success with other areas:
“I think the forum is terrific. It is also very helpful when it comes to crime prevention. I wish all the neighborhoods in Burlington had this communication venue.” [Now they do!]
So, when a neighbor wakes up to a broken car window, she may think to tell her neighbors through her Front Porch Forum. Nearby residents are duly alerted and may be able to provide an eye-witness account. And, the police may decide to contact the victim directly and/or send a note to the neighborhood via the forum.
Other episodes are more direct. In the first week of a new neighborhood forum, a member posted a question: “Does anyone know who it is that drives through the neighborhood squealing his tires and locking up his brakes every weeknight at exactly 11:35?” The police called and asked if he minded if they camped out in front of his house at 11:30 that very night. Well… by 11:40 PM, problem solved.
San Mateo, CA (PRNewswire) November 7, 2006 — Zvents, the leading local event search technology firm, announced today that it has secured $7 million in series A financing led by VantagePoint Venture Partners… The funding will be used to expand Zvents’ geographic coverage to major metro areas across the United States, and to grow its technical and business staff.
Founded in March 2005… the company has developed the Zvents Media Platform… that provides next-generation local search and targeted advertising capabilities for local web publishers… The platform was launched with the San Jose Mercury News in July 2006, and has since rolled out with the Denver Post, Miami Herald, and Contra Costa Times. Forthcoming 2006 metro launches include Boston and greater Los Angeles.
“Local is a huge growth area on the Internet today, for both relevant content and targeted advertising,” said David Carlick, Managing Director at VantagePoint Venture Partners. “Zvents’ search, content, and advertising solutions are enormously valuable to media firms looking for ways to become more relevant to their audience, and better monetize their content.”
Closing its third full month of operations in metro-Burlington, Front Porch Forum counts about 2,500 households as members. That’s 5% of the county; 12% in Burlington. A couple neighborhoods have more than 80% of homes participating, about 15 are at 20-40%. Folks report joining because a friend or neighbor told them about FPF.
And member comments tilt strongly positive. We get lots of unsolicited notes like the following from today:
How could I possibly resist joining my neighborhood’s forum? I know a good idea when I see one! I am looking forward to learning more about what’s happening around here with people, places, and things. -Elise Eaton, Burlington
I must say, this forum has been absolutely wonderful for me and my family!! Canning jars, baby clothes, great community interaction!! Congrats to you! -Heather Armata, Westford
Thanks to our members for joining and participating, and especially for spreading the word to others. More neighbors taking part makes each forum more useful for everyone.
Dot.com titans are hard at work to tie into the millions of small and medium businesses (SMB or SME) in the United States. I recall a Business 2.0 article that pegged the Yellow Pages as a $15B/year industry… that’s all paper, not online. And Peter Krasilovsky reported today about Google’s efforts to provide micro-websites to potentially millions of small businesses that otherwise have nothing to link to (and therefore can’t buy advertising space from Google).
Google’s head of SME product development, Dan Rubenstein, speaking at The Kelsey Group’s ILM event in Philadelphia, said that Google is going to meet SMEs halfway to get them to actively market themselves on the Internet. Google is developing several new products specifically with SMEs in mind (and may have quietly launched them).
First, it is rolling out microsites to help the SMEs that don’t have a website but want to advertise on Google – a group that potentially represents at least 50 percent of the 12 million + SMEs in the U.S with ad budgets. Without a URL and website to link to, of course, ad campaigns on Google are highly limiting.
Rubenstein noted that SMEs would have at least five templates to choose from.
Front Porch Forum’s sponsorship program (under development) is aimed at the micro-to-small end of the business spectrum, and, therefore, we’re expecting that few will have a web presence, nor care to have one. The three-man roofing contractor, the neighborhood daycare, the one-woman tax preparer, the corner store and autoshop. They’ll be able to advertise very cheaply in one or more neighborhoods in one-month increments. We haven’t really started talking about this publically yet and already two dozen businesses joined our waiting list. And since it’s nearby businesses sponsoring the surrounding neighborhood forums, there’s less need for each small enterprise to have a website… just “Special this week at Jerry’s Gulf this month: $20 oil change for members of this neighborhood forum.” And everybody knows that Jerry’s is up on the corner. Stay tuned!
Anyone who organizes public gatherings knows how hard it can be to attract a good showing of local folks (unless major controversy erupts). Some thinkers reason that people just don’t care these days or they’re too busy.
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s more a case of the message being drowned out by the din of competing media… too much information swarming around us. Posting an announcement on the city’s website and in the local newspaper does not mean people will notice and act.
So it’s compelling that reports are piling up of people using Front Porch Forum to gather crowds for events. No single example impresses, but taken together…
1. Newly (re)elected State Representatives for South Burlington held a meeting this week to solicit input from their consituents. One incumbent reported “the majority of folks who got there did so through Front Porch Forum notification as contrasted to the notice in the [local daily newspaper].”
2. Burlington’s several Neighborhood Planning Assemblies meet monthly and provide an important community link to city government and are involved in many valuable projects. Recently, a city staffer who has attended countless such meetings reported the largest turnout ever. While the agenda contained a couple of hot issues, the sense was that a fraction of the crowd would have shown up if not for the new set of neighborhood forums covering that part of town.
3. My neighborhood is blessed with a great park. A concerned neighbor reported tonight that the Parks and Rec department may significantly change a portion of the park, and he posted the date and time for the public input meeting (first I’ve heard of it). I’m guessing this will be the next example of a big turnout generated through a Front Porch Forum posting.
Lots of other examples of neighbors pulling neighbors into local government goings on. In a way, this is using the internet to increase citizen participation in public policy and to hold officials accountable. That’s similar to the Sunlight Foundation‘s mission. I met with it’s National Director, Zephyr Teachout, today (still digesting the spread of ideas she laid out!). The Sunlight folks focus on citizens using the internet to press for transparency and accountability in the U.S. Congress. Amen!
Ultimately though, Front Porch Forum is about helping neighbors connect and foster community. Other benefits, like engaging your city councilor about property taxes, are an important bonus.
Watching neighbors connect through Front Porch Forum is often both fascinating and moving. This post from today, e.g., adds to other evidence we’ve witnessed of people wanting and waiting for a chance to lend a helping hand to those around them.
My husband died from metastatic prostate cancer in October. I asked for help finding someone to snowblow my driveway [through her FPF neighborhood forum] and think I have found someone. Then I went away for a week and when I returned my leaves were raked and removed and items moved from around the house to the driveway. I don’t know who did this, but I have to think it was someone in the neighborhood and I wanted to say thank you.
This message comes from a suburban-style neighborhood where about a quarter of the 200 households signed up with Front Porch Forum in the first three months of operation. To further thank her neighbors, the writer goes on to share a warning:
You should also know that in July 2006 we had a house invasion during the daytime (2:30 pm, man with a ski-mask) and my husband’s pain medication was stolen ([he] was lying in bed at the time). While I was away in November, there was another break in. His remaining medications were taken too. There is no more medication in the house and it is now very much more secure, but be aware that this sort of thing happens even in our own “safe” neighborhood.
Many thanks to the kind-hearted and energetic people who helped me out.
The anwser to the request for snow-removal help for the coming winter is great. The mysterious leaf-rakers are even better. But it’s the willingness of the writer to share her loss, ask for help, and offer a constructive warning to her neighbors out of what must have been an awful experience that motivates us to make Front Porch Forum happen for more people and neighborhoods.
Just two months old, Peuplade enables users to find like-minded Parisians in their own neighborhood, or even their own building, to schedule a range of activities, including after-work drinks, jogging groups and block parties. Already some 40,000 people have signed up and participated in more than 1,100 events around town. A rollout in other French cities is planned soon.
That’s an amazing start! Rosenberg goes on:
Beyond recreation and socializing, the site also promotes exchanging small services like babysitting and visiting isolated senior citizens. “In Paris, we don’t have the habit of really knowing our neighbors,” explains one of Peuplade’s founders, Nathan Stern, a sociologist by training. “Our website is about establishing community interaction not based on looks, background or politics, but by virtue of being nearby.”
That last quote could be said for Front Porch Forum too. Now where did I leave my college French? Peuplade looks impressive, but it’s impenatrable to the likes of my English-speaking self.
Anecdotes are piling up of increased neighborliness in areas with vibrant Front Porch Forums. People seem more willing to see those living around them as neighbors worth getting to know vs. strangers who happen to live a few doors away once an FPF neighborhood forum breaks the ice. Some such stories are collected on our testimonials and media pages.
It’s wonderful to watch low-level online exchanges build up over time and feed positive face-to-face interaction. FPF postings come from nearby neighbors and each is automatically signed with the sender’s full name, street and email address. After dozens of messages about babysitters, car break-ins, furniture for sale, free baby strollers, roofer recommendations, public policy opinions and more, people begin to get to know their actual neighbors’ virtual personalities, interests, opinions, etc. When they do meet face-to-face, the foundation has been laid for a neighborly exchange.
Kevin Harris reports on three new publications that “contribute significantly to the arguments around neighbourliness, informality, and informal social control.” From the introduction of Respect in the Neighbourhood:
The challenge is to replenish society’s depleted stock of skills in engaging and recognising the legitimate interests of others… to hone our readiness to show consideration to others, whether we know them or not. It’s not that we don’t do this: it’s just that we tend to avoid doing it with those with whom we have little in common. It’s as if – conditioned to the taciturnity of the supermarket checkout rather than the inevitable greetings of the corner shop – we have abandoned the practice of conducting trivial interactions, because they don’t matter to us. But they do matter, and we need somehow to rediscover the vernacular of mundane encounters.
Community networks, or “we networks,” are so poorly used that they tend to really be “me networks.” That’s the gist of a new article in Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review by Tom Grubisch, who revisits the subject a little more than a year after first looking into it.
A person need not search too hard to find such services that seem a mile wide and an inch deep. Grubisch’s piece devotes a few paragraphs each to ten examples of local citizen journalism sites. iBattleboro gets a decent review (gotta love those crazy Green Mountain boys and girls), but not so for most of the others.
This brings to mind (hold on, this is a stretch) the first years of minivan production. Some manufacturers started with the tried and true full-size van or pickup truck and nipped it down to a slightly smaller version. Others started with a car chasis and built it up. On the surface the two minivan types appeared very similar, but, of course, they were quite different… one drove like a truck, the other more like a station wagon. Ultimately, a new creature evolved, borrowing from both approaches… a true minivan. It’s now part of the automobile landscape.
So, to local online efforts… some are mini-versions of something much bigger and beefier, e.g., Backfence, which looks like a local online newspaper. Others approach from a grassroots level, where the content is intended for a few hundred households, more a neighborhood newsletter… Front Porch Forum is coming from that angle.
Are these both “minivans” or two different things? The first tends more toward citizen journalism, the latter toward community-building within neighborhoods. Will the two approaches converge? Will one or more of these models become part of the “permanent” online landscape?
I tend to think that journalism requires professionals at its core, but the volunteer bloggers and online others provide a great service in keeping the pros honest and on their toes (and more). So, for my local news, I prefer a mix of local professional outlets and citizen efforts.
On the tiny end of the scale, most people want to know what’s happening on their block, and the only people who can deliver that content are their neighbors. Early success of Front Porch Forum and other neighborhood-level services seems to back that up.