Monthly Archives: June 2008

Local Businesses Loving Front Porch Forum Too

More and more local businesses are putting Front Porch Forum to use.  This week, Epik (one of only 15 Google-certified web shops globally) advertised its OM Boot Camp.

Front Porch Forum helped us draw a crowd to our Online Marketing Boot Camp!
— Hannah Boucher, Epik

And very small businesses are weighing in too…

I am speechless. I love this thing so much!
— Will Keyworth, Keyworth Graphics

To see a list of dozens of recent FPF sponsors and to explore our advertising program, click here.

Crazy Brother Cycling 3,000 Miles in a Week

I’m blessed with an amazing extended family. So I hesitate to blog about any one member… but it’s simply amazing what my brother Dave is up to this week… biking from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland in 6.5 days. At this moment he must be passing from Indiana into Ohio… about 2,300 miles down, 700 to go. Go man, go!

This is all part of RAAM… Race Across America. Dave is on a four-man team… two in their 70s, one in his 50s and Dave in the mid-40s… the oldest bunch on the course… called PAC RATS. Here are his team results by stage.

So if you see a blur go by on the road between Ohio and Annapolis in the next 24 hours, holler a cheer for me! Wish I could be there.

UPDATE: Hey! Congratulations brother Dave and his fellow PAC RATS… they finished today (June 18) about 2:30 PM at Annapolis… averaged a little better than 18 MPH for 3,000! I’m looking forward to hearing some stories from him.

UPDATE 2: They did it… broke the record. Dave’s team averaged 18.21 MPH across the United States, beating the old record for “old men” (four-man team, 60-69 years avg) of 17.87 MPH. Here’s Dave on a steep ascent in Maryland, followed by a shot of the team after the finish

The seventh 4-person team, the PAC Rats, finished just 16 minutes after Utah Neuro Sciences Research with a time of 6:21:30 to establish a new record speed of 18.21 mph in the 60+ division.  They beat the old record of 17.87 mph set by Dave Tanner & Richard Rupp’s Team Hoosers last year.  PAC RATS have the oldest rider in this years race – 75 year old Lew Meyer.  Their crew chief was RAAM legend Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell who told me Chris Stauffer (his health was too poor to allow him to be on the team) was the emotional leader of the crew.  Also on the crew was Rob Kash and former Calvin’s 12 Hour Challenge organizers John & Ann McKinley.  Rider Don Peters said that Lee’s rotation of 4 on and 4 off worked brilliantly.

Knight Commission focused on Communities, Information and Democracy

I’m honored by a recent invitation to be one of a few people asked to address the initial meeting of the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy… June 24, 2008, at the new Newseum in Washington, DC… to be webcast live.

“The charge of the Commission is straightforward,” says Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of Knight Foundation. “Articulate the information needs of communities in this democracy; determine where we are today; and propose public policy that will encourage market solutions.”

I look forward to sharing some of what we’ve learned through Front Porch Forum with this august group. The full commission is listed here. And…

The Commission will be led by co-chairs Ted Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States, and Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Search Product and User Experience at Google. Peter Shane, a distinguished law professor at Ohio State University Law School, is the executive director.

The Knight Commission is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and organized by the Aspen Institute.

Serendipity in the Neighborhood

Occasionally, someone will post a request on his/her FPF neighborhood forum the same day as a neighbor offers a solution to that request… unbeknown to each other.  So the next issue of their neighborhood forum is published with the problem followed by the solution… all neat and tidy.  Gotta love it.  Here’s today’s simple example on a neighborhood forum with about 400 participating households…

Hi there!  We were wondering if anyone might have a twin box frame floating around that they no longer need.  We would love to have it for use of our four year old’s new mattress.  Thank you very much! Sarah

The item above was posted at 4:00 PM followed at 4:01 PM by…

On the green strip in front of [our home on] Catherine St.:  twin size mattress, box spring, and wooden frame; come and get it before the rain comes!

Hope they connected!  Rain should be here soon!

Small Businesses Advertising Online put Eggs in One Basket

Palore says that most small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) that advertise online, advertise on only one site.  Here’s a graph from Boston data…

NYC data from Palore is similar, as reported by the Kelsey Group.

Make every posting count… twice

Steve Yelvington posted today

Knowledge@Wharton has an interview with Joe Kraus, director of product management at Google, in which he highlights the importance of social interaction on the Web:

“So, the killer apps that have really worked on the web have always been about connecting people to one another. So, whether it is instant messaging and e-mail as communications to connect people to one another, whether it’s photo-sharing as a way to connect people to one another through photos, or blogging as a way to connect people to one another through the words, people have always been social and the killer apps that have really succeeded on the web have always been social.”

This got me thinking about a couple recent conversations with folks asking about huge powerhouse online companies that have outposts in Burlington, VT, where we operate Front Porch Forum‘s pilot. The gist was… “Wouldn’t people be better off selling their car on Craigslist Burlington, seeking plumber recommendations on Angie’s List Burlington, giving away their old couch on FreeCycle Burlington and just using Front Porch Forum to organize block parties and find lost cats?”

Good question and I encourage people to use multiple services when they have the need. But like Krause says above, it’s all about connection. While websites offering classified ads, reviews, give-away matching, etc. by location COULD help people connect in some meaningful way, I don’t think they do. My sense is that they help facilitate the immediate and direct need (selling a car, finding a plumber), but they don’t touch the other… they don’t capitalize on the opportunity to add a brick to the house of local community with each interaction.

That’s what Front Porch Forum is all about. We aim to take every posting by clearly identified nearby neighbors and cobble them all together to build real community among neighbors and townsfolk. Why give away your moving boxes to anonymous distant strangers when you can offer them to your nearby neighbors and actually get to meet some people who live near you? That’s tapping the real potential of the internet… as Google’s Joe Krause says… it’s all about connecting people.

Or, as Wolfgang reported a month ago…

Just wanted to let you know that we sold our Minivan today to a neighbor through Front Porch Forum. We had more people expressing interest and more people showing up to look at the van who found out through the Forum than the interest generated by Burlington Free Press, Cars.com and Craigslist combined. Thanks!

So, again, I encourage folks in our service area to post their messages on any site they like… AND to post it on Front Porch Forum. The results typically speak for themselves.

Can’t beat an informed electorate with a stick

The good people of the Town of Westford are engaged in a running debate about deciding some local issues, like the school budget, via traditional town meeting vs. Australian ballot.  Front Porch Forum has hosted many well-conceived postings about this from a variety of angles.

I was struck by Mary’s posting on the FPF Westford Neighborhood Forum today where she hammered home the importance of citizens getting educated on the issues before weighing in, whether it’s at Town Meeting or a ballot box.

She went on to say…

Front Porch Forum is an excellent tool for distributing information, but obviously it does not reach everyone in town.  Which leads to sending out much information to the public to prepare them for what they are voting on.

I will say between info mailed, The Forum and added meetings helped out tremendously with preparing us for the [failed school] unification vote.

An idea to share:  check with your neighbors and see if they belong to Front Porch Forum.  If not, highly recommend they join.  If you know of elderly people who do not use computers, offer to print out the forum postings once a week or every other.  They would probably love to read this info and people’s postings.

About one-third (270) of Westford households subscribe to Front Porch Forum so far, with more joining every week.  Last month, FPF published five issues of the Westford Neighborhood Forum per week, each issue comprised of about five postings from residents.

New Friends and Snapping Turtles

Will just posted the following on his town’s Front Porch Forum

Thanks to the Front Porch Forum for letting two would-be strangers recognize each other as a result of being FPF members. Last Sunday, while driving to town I saw a baby snapping turtle crossing the road right by the auto place on rte 2 between Richmond and rte 89. I parked where I could, jumped out of the car, grabbed some tools from the back of my car and proceeded to flag people to slow down as I approached the dazed turtle. A woman slowed and asked if I needed help, and I immediately said, “Yes!”

Though it was a baby, it was still about 14″ long and weighed about 30 pounds. So as I lifted the turtle, the woman who stopped to help steadied it while we escorted him across the rest of rte 2 and way up and over the other side of the railroad tracks. We bid him farewell and told him to NOT turn around! The kind woman and I exchanged names only to find that we recognized each other from the FPF. We had engaged in conversation through the forum, and I found it humbling to have actually known this person, though we had not actually met face to face. Thank you FPF for being an avenue for me to make new friends through! Hi Enid!

Multiply this story by thousands of times and you get what’s happening all over our little metro-area. Thanks for sharing Will!

Google-hosted Boot Camp comes to Burlington, VT

Cool local success, Epik, is hosting an Online Marketing (OM) Boot Camp in Burlington, VT, June 17-20. These are good folks who do great work, so I recommend it. Google and Champlain College are also co-hosting. They’re even offering some grants to cut the cost for select Vermont businesses. I’d be there if I wasn’t already booked… I’ll be co-leading a workshop about building online community at the American Press Institute based on our work with Front Porch Forum.

[Disclosure: Epik is a sponsor of Front Porch Forum.]

How is Front Porch Forum like an iPhone?

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch wrote today about Steve Jobs latest unveiling… the new iPhone, etc.  Here’s the part that stood out for me…

We had a grand debate today on the Gillmor Gang about the iPhone and its place in history. The most interesting part of the discussion for me was the “closed v. open” question. That’s because ultimately I believe the iPhone isn’t competing with Windows Mobile or RIM as much as Google’s upcoming Android, a very open mobile platform.

The iPhone is a closed system, with locked down hardware and platform, and rigid rules for outside developers. Android is all about open. And open is always better, right?

As we’ve seen with Macs v. Windows, and then the iPod v. everyone, closed systems can work. Users will trade price and flexibility in exchange for simplicity and elegance. That’s hard to do when you’re building software that will work across a broad range of devices, technologies and software providers. It’s easy to do when you control both ends of the system, and everything in between.

Ultimately I concede that Android may have a much larger market share than the iPhone. But I’ll argue that the iPhone users will be much happier, even as Apple makes obscene profits off of that smaller user base.

I love the iPhone for the same reason I love technology in general, and loved Disneyland as a child – it drives my imagination and makes me wonder what kind of magic to expect next. Also, it just works.

This reminds me of a recent conversation I had with someone asking for a comparison of Front Porch Forum to other services, such as Yahoo Groups, Ning and iNeighbors.

We have very specific goals with Front Porch Forum, so it’s not a wide-open system.  These other services offer a kind of blank slate on which group organizers can draw all sorts of great things for their individual members… or not.  Front Porch Forum’s mission is not so much  egocentric as it is neighborhood-centric.  We’ve made our design decision to date to optimize neighbor connection and the sense of community within a neighborhood or town.

And while we’re light years away from a giant such as Apple, thousands of our subscribers in our pilot metro area are ga-ga over their FPF neighborhood forum.  This would not be the case if we just offered an open-ended do-it-yourself kind of thing, like many other services.  We get comments like the quote above all the time, praising FPF’s simplicity and ease of use.