“I think it’s exaggerated to say that Craigslist has had a devastating impact on classifieds revenue,” said Buckmaster. “Newspapers as an industry are still twice as profitable as the average United States industry.”
“Journalism as practiced at newspapers has been hurt by an excess of money over the years as you’ve seen newspapers bought and sold and consolidated into large chains run by corporate managers to maximise profit, and increasingly over decades have resorted to running wire stories, putting an ever-greater proportion of advertising into their newspapers and shying away from writing hard-hitting stories about corruption in high places,” said Buckmaster. “The financial position of newspapers has not declined, it has more plateaued.”
And on dot.com business models:
“Our goal is to maximise utility for users, so we concentrate on doing what users ask us to do and little else. We do want to run a healthy business and we do have a healthy business, but beyond that maximising profits and revenues has never been a primary goal. It’s unfathomable to the financial community and Wall Street, it’s antithetical to their whole world view, it’s sacrilegious.”
It is in the top 10 English language websites by traffic, it serves six billion pages a month to 10 million users, yet it only employs 23 staff. It is those low costs which have kept it in business.
“It was fairly ironic, 100 per cent of dotcoms were geared toward trying to achieve an IPO and make a lot of money and 99 per cent or more of those companies went bust without making a nickel,” said Buckmaster. “Craigslist was never about money, and yet we were one of the very few that came through the bust and have done well year after year.”
Classified-type postings within neighborhood forums continue to grow at Front Porch Forum. I’ve heard from many of our members that when they failed to get a response to classified ads posted in the local paper and craigslist, they’ve turned to Front Porch Forum. They post a note to their neighbors and receive 3-4 responses within 24 hours. Doing business with a neighbor vs. a stranger is a big difference. Would you rather buy a used car for your teenager from some stranger 45-minutes away, or from the neighbor around the corner? Plenty of examples on our Testimonials page and past blog entries.
A dozen years ago I drove a pedicab in Washington, DC… think rickshaw built on a mountainbike frame. I hauled tourists and locals for a fee. The little company had four cabs and we stayed in touch with hand-held radios. Lots of stories from that experience.
But I thought of one in particular tonight over dinner with friends. I often found myself hustling fares at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in the evenings half-way between the Georgetown bars and the monuments on the Mall.
When a train pulled in, I’d be enveloped in a sea of people flooding by. Once the tide ebbed, assuming I hadn’t landed a customer, I’d settle in waiting for the next wave. In those intervals, I realized that I wasn’t alone. A half-dozen of us stayed put, while thousands of strangers kept moving.
The cop, the souvenir vendor, the panhandler, the mechanic working on the escalator, the girl with the guitar and open case, and me.
After a few rounds, a rapport developed. “Did you see the guy with the hair?” “Yeah, I wonder what he does when it rains?” Whatever… my point is that we treated each other as humans; we shared friendly chit chat.
I had never stood still at a subway stop for 20 minutes before. What had I missed?
I viewed the teeming masses slipping by us as curiosities and potential customers. The street musician and homeless guy probably wondered who might be a soft touch. The cop was looking for troublemakers. The mechanic maybe just saw weight limits being exceeded. I don’t think any of us saw them all as people. None of us standing still tried to make a real human connection with the movers… although if one of them had stopped and hung out for 20 minutes he’d likely have joined our little social club.
Which takes me back 25 years to Cedar Point, a huge amusement park in Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie. Two of my older brothers worked summers there, and, as an impressionable high school kid I got to go for an overnight visit (what were my parents thinking?).
This park was filled with hundreds of 20-year-old summer staff standing still, while thousands of people streamed through every day.
After pitching in to get the place ready in the morning and connecting with dozens of co-workers, my oldest brother turned to me as the front gates swung open and said “hang on, here come the animals.” Same as the Metro stop.
So, all this reminiscing brings me back around to Front Porch Forum. Many folks I’ve talked to recently say that they feel like the subway passengers and “animals”/customers at the amusement park in their own neighborhoods. And they don’t want to be strangers in their own community, marching through it anonymously.
So, short of standing on the corner and attempting to engage any person who happens by, how do you become one of the folks who is tuned in and connected with your community?
It seems that Front Porch Forum can provide a way of “standing still” in the neighborhood, even while people move their busy day. An increasing number of our members report feeling this way… and that’s no mean feat.
Local officials continue to pick up on the potential value of Front Porch Forum for their work. I had three state reps., a village trustee, and a schoolboard member join their neighborhood forums in the past couple days. Each signed up for the several neighborhood forums covering his/her district.
Still other folks are spreading the word about Front Porch Forum through public channels. A school commissioner running for reelection included a bit about FPF in her campaign literature. Volunteers in Westford, Jericho, Underhill and perhaps Williston plan to set up a table on Town Meeting Day to hand out FPF flyers. Any other volunteers out there for other parts of Chittenden County?
And then the Burlington Free Press reported the following today:
Erik Heikel, 29, is running a write-in campaign to fill [a] vacated seat [on Winooski’s City Council]. Heikel sees himself as part of the new population trend of Winooski — people in their late 20s and early 30s moving into Winooski to find affordable housing for their families. Heikel has been involved with Winooski’s “Front Porch Forum,” a neighborhood Internet site. Heikel said he wants to use the forum to keep younger people involved in city government.
And from K.G. in The Addition Neighborhood Forum in Burlington:
It is amazing to be a part of this forum because you get a glimpse at how our city government operates.
Getting kids to high school… now there’s a challenge that will capture lots of families’ attention.
Burlington High School is in the New North End, two to three miles from the South End, but tough to get to for many people. And the school department does not have a fleet of school buses. Families are responsible for getting their kids to school.
Many people would like to use the local transit authority buses, CCTA. However, from the South End the bus will deliver kids tens minute late for the start of the school day… which obviously doesn’t work. The only less popular option is the one before which drops students 45 minutes EARLY… I can’t imagine why that one isn’t loaded to the gills. 😉
So a concerned parent started asking questions. It seems that the bus schedule can’t be changed easily as it ties into a whole web of interwoven lines. And the school can’t easily adjust its timing. So, in the past, that might of been the end of it.
In this case, however, the parent turned to Front Porch Forum. She set up a petition on a free web service asking the school to start classes ten minutes later. She posted a link to her online petition on her neighborhood’s forum. Then, she got creative and asked a number of other parents to do the same on their neighborhood forums.
In a flash, she had 85 signatures in hand when she made the case at the regular school board meeting. And many of the forums were buzzing with follow-up comments from other neighbors. An issue was born.
Today a member of the CCTA board weighed in across several neighborhood forums. While far from resolved, this longstanding problem moved into the spotlight overnight because one determined parent made effective use of Front Porch Forum. Who and what issue is next?
During the toughest stretch of our recent record-breaking blizzard, local police and fire departments turned to Front Porch Forum. Some examples:
1. Police could not spare the manpower to aid a stranded motorist out on East Ave. Sun was setting, temp was dropping, and snow was accumulating around this older gentleman. We responded by immediately calling about 300 households within a ten-minute walk.
2. In a similar case, a single mom reported that two elderly women on her block were snowed in and incommunicado. No signs of life from the outside… just snow drifted up and over the entryways. We notified about 75 nearby neighbors and asked for immediate help.
3. As the first of dozens of carbon monoxide emergencies showed up in Burlington, the Fire Department realized that snow was drifting over the outside vents of many residential gas-fired appliances causing CO backup and in many cases poisonings. Front Porch Forum broadcast the word the night of the storm and heard back things like…
After reading the message posted about clearing your vents I braved the outside at 11:30 PM and couldn’t even find my vent. I came back with my shovel and after poking around a bit I found it and cleared it… I’m sure I’ll have to do it every hour with the wind but thank you for the reminder! -ONE West Neighborhood Forum