Ghost of Midnight

… about neighbors, community and Front Porch Forum

Web 2.0 for the rest of us?

Posted on Thursday, October 9, 2008 by 3 comments

Caroline McCarthy reports today on CNET News

LONDON–Digg founder Kevin Rose had a message for the audience at the Future of Web Apps conference on Thursday: It’s time to grow up.

“We have to do better,” he said in his talk, called “The Future of News,” and said that it’s time for the social news site that he founded in 2004 to to expand beyond the geek set and get some real-world relevance. “Why click a button and make the number go up by one? Why does that matter?”

Digg, after all, gets more than 30 million monthly visitors, but Rose said that the site only has slightly over three million registered user accounts–those are the people actually “Digging.” That indirectly confirmed what Digg critics hve been saying all along: that it’s reflective of only a tiny and vocal subset of the Web, resulting in a heavy bias toward anything iPhone, anything Linux, anything Barack Obama, and plenty of wacky local news stories.

I’ve been fortunate to speak to many groups over the past year or so, and I frequently survey each crowd about technology and services that they’ve (1) heard of, and (2) use.  Routinely, only one or two hands will go up for Twitter, RSS, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr, Delicious, etc. to my first question.  But almost no one ever admits to using these tech media darlings.  Meanwhile, it’s not unusual in talks with local groups within our pilot area to have half of the hands reaching for the ceiling when I ask about Front Porch Forum.

Kevin Rose’s call above seems on target to me.  When you offer a service globally, it’s not outrageous to find a million tech professionals and hobbyists to jump on board.  But try raising an online crowd within a local community… especially one that stays plugged in over time… very difficult.

In our pilot area, more than 11,000 households subscribe to Front Porch Forum, including one-third of Burlington, VT.  We have people in their 80s using FPF.  I spoke with a homeless person the other day who’s on board.  College students love FPF.  And we have droves of non-techie grown-ups… folks who are too busy with their lives to look into why they should tweet or digg.  Busy or not, they do know that Front Porch Forum is the place to turn to borrow a couple saw horses, find a babysitter, recommend a roofer, learn about a rash of break-ins, give away their couch, buy a bike, hear from their school board member about the budget, etc.

I’m looking forward to more online offerings aimed at the rest of us… not just the heavy tech consumers.  Of course, it’s tough for the traditional and new media, as well as funders, not to be dazzled by shiny bells and whistles, especially when these sites attract a sizable group of early adopters from the global masses.  This top-down approach has worked incredibly well for Google and a host of others.  And it will continue to draw most of the media spotlight and funding.

I’m eager to see more efforts coming from the other direction — the grassroots on up and out — such as we’re doing with Front Porch Forum… the Craigslist and Angieslist approach.  That is, get traction in one metro area, then spread to others.

Posted in: Citizen Journalism, Community Building, Front Porch Forum, Knight Foundation, Local Online, MacArthur Fellows, Neighborhood, Social Media, Social Networking, Start ups


  1. Deb Shannon says:

    Kudos again to Michael Wood Lewis for building tools that strengthen communities! The above article begs the question: When are the rest of the people going to get active with Web 2.0??? Let’s encourage them by explaining that Web 2.0 includes the truly interactive applications on the Web. In contrast to Email and online purchases, Web 2.0 applications increase the value of the Internet with the number of participants who CONTRIBUTE. That means Flickr gets cooler as more people add photos AND tag those pictures for the world to see.
    For example, I have been bedazzled by the foliage this year, and its got me thinking about my UVM friends who moved west after graduation. They return home for major holidays but rarely do they make it back for the brief season that fills the air with the crisp scent of decaying leaves and brilliant colors that stand out even more under a cloudy sky than on a purely sunny day. So I ran around taking pictures of Vermont barns and foliage and I put them on my Facebook page and tagged them Vermont Foliage 2008, and I opened that album up to the broadest Internet audience. It is the participation by the users that draws people to use the applications. Initially, parents want to see what the kids are doing, and that will grow into unpredictable applications as more people sign on.
    Back to the question…when will more people participate in web 2.0 apps? Today it is far easier and more intuitive to contribute to the Web than it was even five years ago. I think we just need to say – hey check it out! Invite a friend to look at your contributions. Surely you must have a few non-tech less geek oriented friends or family members!! The invitation might spark some curiosity and a little courage… participation is contagious!

  2. Michael says:

    Amen to that, Deb.

    At the same time, I hear from some folks a kind of tech backlash… they don’t want to spend more time in front of a screen trying to figure something out. So, for people in this position, the web offering has to be utterly intuitive and replace an existing non-digital activity… photo sharing is a good example.

  3. […] this right, the author is claiming that Digg and Twitter have about 16% market penetration.  In a previous posting here, it was noted that Digg has 30 million monthly visitors, with 3 million of them registered users.  […]

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