Monthly Archives: March 2007

Street-Level Local Online

There’s a new player in local online… at the street level. It’s called StreetAdvisor. Users log on by street address and then rate their street. There’s some social networking elements too. The company plans to advertise locally to get people to start supplying data.

My two cents: As with most local online efforts that depend on user input, the need for lots of active users seems to outweigh the degree of nifty-ness of the bells and whistles. This is a nifty site without users… so time will tell. It takes a different angle than anything else I’ve seen out there… which I value.

Front Porch Forum is all about getting users on board and engaged with each other first. We have more bells and whistles on the drawing board, but it’s the personal connection with neighbors and concern about neighborhood that drive our service. More than 4,000 households in our one test area signed on in our first six months… 15% of Burlington, Vermont… with zero marketing. People love it so much that they’re going door-to-door to recruit neighbors.

TechCrunch, WebWare and Mashable have blog entries about StreetAdvisor. Thanks to David Wilcox for encouraging me to take a second look at it.

Sure sign of spring in Vermont…

Winters in Vermont are long. When the snow finally starts its final retreat a collective sigh wafts over Burlington… followed by a “Oh sh#t! I just stepped in dog crap!”

I’ve been avoiding this topic (who wants to focus on dog poop?), but the sheer volume of dog poop posting the past week overwhelmed me. On neighborhood forum after neighborhood forum the call has gone out… “please scoop the poop!” All those layers of melting snow are revealing months of accumulated rogue deposits.

As unpleasant as it is to encounter this subject offline, reading neighbors’ online postings do provide a dose of antidote. It’s good to learn that I’m not alone in my aversion to this sign of spring.

The top two terms used, by the way, are the classic “dog poop” and the softer “dog poo.” I do take issue with the alternate spelling used by some folks on their forum… “dog pooh.” I’ll never think of Winnie in the same way.

And kudos to those like the following Front Porch Forum member…

“Enough talk. My shovel and 30 minutes cleaned up two buckets worth. Who’s next?” -South End resident

Amazingly, in all the poop postings, no one turned nasty. Most people, it seems, want to be and have good neighbors… regardless of the occasional mess.

Thousands of Front Porch Forum Members Honored Tonight!

Ain’t that a pip! Preservation Burlington honored Front Porch Forum tonight at its annual meeting with its 2007 Ray O’Connor Community Improvement Award. Although I got to be the person up front receiving the plaque and certificate, this recognition really goes out to the more than 4,000 people who have signed up and put their neighborhood forums to work. It’s a beautiful thing to watch it all unfold.

So… thanks to Preservation Burlington and congratulations to all the members of Front Porch Forum! What’s next?!?!

House finds Buyers through Forum

People report remarkable and routine successes from their Front Porch Forum postings. I find the one just received below to be amazing considering how much the real estate market has slowed locally (e.g., the lovely home next door to ours has been on the market for about a year).

I sent a brief email to our Forum to let folks know our house was for sale. Within a few days, I had 9 responses, 4 people who came to look at it, and 2 people ready to make an offer. What a great way to target folks with an interest in our neighborhood. And what a relief to have the daunting marketing of our home made so easy. Thanks! -C.H., ONE Central Neighborhood Forum

U.K. Video about Social Cohesion in Neighborhoods

An interesting video from the other side of the puddle about social cohesion in neighborhoods… from Nick Booth at Podnosh, Birmingham, U.K.

Corner Store gets Neighbors’ Attention

Interesting the ways folks are finding to use their neighborhood forums. A recent example covered by Seven Days reporter Suzanne Podhaizer:

The Springflower Market on St. Paul Street in Burlington is up for sale. But, rather than letting real-estate supply and demand determine its next incarnation, residents of the neighborhood want to weigh in. After a rousing discussion on the online network Front Porch Forum, Joey Corcoran of South Winooski Avenue offered to host a meet-up at her house.

A dozen people showed up, including Gregory Clairmont, the realtor who is representing the property, Democratic City Councilor Andy Montroll and Emily and Chris Conn, who live right across the street from Springflower. The Conns dream about opening their own café and market. Although they don’t have the money to buy the place outright, they hope to find an investor willing to put up the capital. The couple came to the meeting with business plan in hand.

Check out the full article here.

Masked Marauders invade Cyberspace

What is it about the internet that has most people concealing their identity? On most online forums, mail lists, blogs, etc. you have no idea who’s talking. Compared to conventional soapboxes (letters to the editor, watercooler, public meetings, etc.), this is a big change.

I guess folks are concerned about identity theft to a degree. But it’s likely more a case of scale. It’s hard to be anonymous in a village of 1,000 inhabitants, but it’s easy to disappear into the crowd in New York City. And most of the internet is more like NYC than Mayberry.

Nasty anonymous online behavior appears to be increasing and is getting more attention in the mainstream media. The AP and Washington Post had recent stories.

It’s no wonder… anonymity can breed antisocial behavior. Like wearing a mask in a crowd… fun to blow off some steam at Mardi Gras or a Halloween bash… but a little bizarre to keep your face covered year-round at work, on campus, around town. I guess it works for Batman… but he has his own issues.

The neighborhood forums hosted by Front Porch Forum are limited to residents only. And each message includes the writer’s full name, street, and email address. No masquerade… just straight shooting from the person next door and around the corner. Boorish behavior is largely kept in check by the same system that’s been in place since the dawn of humankind… act like a jerk toward the people around you and pay the social price.

The Social Network that stops Traffic!

I’ve poked around various social networking sites and some impress with a feeling of community among distant strangers, others with sheer size or whiz-bang technology. But I’ve never seen anything that elicits the reaction that we’re seeing to Front Porch Forum in the neighborhoods where it’s really caught on in this corner of Vermont.

The other day as a I walked along the sidewalk in downtown Burlington, a woman drove past and did a double take. Break lights… she jumped out and ran over to give me a hug… “you’re the forum guy, right?!?!” Her car door hung open and the guy in the Audi behind her started fuming. Her house had burned the week before and her neighbors had rallied around her and her kids through Front Porch Forum. We kept it short and traffic resumed.

Not the first time we’ve seen neighbors pulling together to help one of their own, nor the first public tears of appreciation I’ve witnessed. People are genuinely moved when they connect with the people who live around them… when a degree of isolation is broken through.

And today from a different person we heard:

Front Porch Forum has connected us to our neighbors and the community quickly and profoundly. We’ve been in Burlington only nine months but because of the forum we feel that we know our neighbors, even if we haven’t actually met all of them. And when we have questions or information to share, it’s an easy, friendly way to get answers or help and share what we know with other people. Our experience of Burlington is so intimately tied up with Front Porch Forum at this point that they go together in our minds. Burlington = Front Porch Forum = community = connection = Burlington. L.D., Five Sisters Neighborhood Forum

Seniors know how to do community

Today’s senior citizens know about great community because so many of them experienced it in past decades. Now, in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, a collective call seems to be rising from this chorus of elders… “we need to connect with and support each other!”

At least that’s the message I’m getting through a series of conversations I’m having with senior citizens and various support organizations. Today I was honored to speak at the Charlotte Senior Center and Front Porch Forum received a wonderful welcome. Said one lovely attendee:

What you are doing is very special – like the honest-to-goodness connections I remember from “the olden days” – the 50’s and 60’s in Shelburne – that somehow we let “life” take away. Thanks for answering the yearning of so many and for updating it in such an inventive and warm way.

She also expressed frustration when “they” assume that she doesn’t “do email.” She’s all over it. I was surprised when we got our first octogenarian Front Porch Forum member, but now we enough 80-year-olds that it no longer grabs my attention. We also get adult children of people that age signing up on behalf of mom or dad and acting as a bridge to their neighbors through Front Porch Forum… another subscriber innovation that we didn’t anticipate!
I’ve written here already of relevant FPF stories… e.g., snow 1 and 2 and cancer 1 and 2.

And here’s news of another model from Boston (courtesy of MyDecide blog):

Beacon Hill Village helps persons age 50 and older who live on Beacon Hill and in its adjacent neighborhoods enjoy safer, healthier and more independent lives in their own homes–well connected to a familiar and attentive community. Faced with the prospect of leaving the neighborhood they love in order to obtain the services of a retirement community, a group of long-time Beacon Hill residents decided to create a better alternative. Beacon Hill Village is designed to make remaining at home a safe, comfortable and cost-effective solution.

Funding climate favors local online entrepreneurs

From the Local Onliner:

Nick Veronis, managing director of Veronis Suhler Stevenson, says [regarding local online]… that it is a very good time for entrepreneurs to raise money and monetize their local investments. But the climate is not so golden for investors. “Valuations are very high right now,” he says.