It’s no secret that the use of online mail lists for neighborhoods is growing, especially, it seems, in more tech-savvy areas. Friends report their widespread use around Austin, TX, for example. And, this weekend, a compelling article by Kathleen Sullivan for the San Francisco Chronicle probes the adoption of Yahoo and Google Groups by neighborhoods all across the Bay area. Kathleen writes:
Thousands of Bay Area residents… have become members of online communities devoted to their neighborhoods, using free services offered by Yahoo Inc., Google Inc. and other companies. The groups have attracted renters and homeowners living in condominiums, townhouses, apartments, single-family homes and planned communities.
David Kopp, senior director of Yahoo Groups, said it’s hard to estimate how many people in the Bay Area are chatting about their neighborhoods using its service, because most groups choose to be categorized by subject, not by geography. Some choose not to be listed at all. Many Bay Area neighborhood groups are included in Yahoo’s Cultures & Community category, which lists 700 groups in California. Neighborhood-focused groups can also be found in its Regional and Family & Home categories.
These groups have some design elements in common:
Kopp said most local groups choose the “membership required” option. “They want people in the local area to feel safe and comfortable sharing information and opinions with other members of their local communities,” he said.
[One neighborhood organizer says] “Since we don’t meet over the back fence or in the front yard, we can use this message system to ask for resources, like best cell phone service, set up carpools, find lost pets and more,” she wrote on the group’s home page. “All our responses will be kept in an archive that only members can access. That way, if someone has already replied to ‘What is the city phone number for potholes,’ you can just check the archive.”
Good or bad news for Front Porch Forum? Great news. This is more confirmation of the pent up demand for this kind of service. While Yahoo and Google Groups are dominating giants, there’s room for some start-ups with a different formula to slide in. And, the start-up with just the right recipe might find some surprising success… I know we’re getting some exciting early results. One can dream, eh?