Posted on Sunday, February 7, 2010 by Michael
But sometimes Front Porch Forum can come close.
We heard from a super-techie the other day. He was frustrated that his hometown, South Burlington, is covered by 20 FPF neighborhood forums… too many small groups he thought. Also, he wanted more bells and whistles… catchy pseudonyms for users, avatars, a rating system for postings, etc.
Well, that’s all understandable. And we recognize that we can’t please everyone all the time. What we do work on everyday, though, is fulfilling our mission in our pilot service region… to help nearby neighbors connect and build community.
So in South Burlington we host 20 neighborhood forums. On average, each one covers an area encompassing about 350 households, with 100 subscribing in each neighborhood forum so far. We hear wonderful comments all the time from South Burlington FPF users. Here’s one we got earlier today…
Last week I was at an educational session for reaching personal goals, offered at the South Burlington Library. The class was filled to capacity (with more on a waiting list) and everyone in the group (approximate age range 15 to 70) said they heard about it via the library’s announcement on the various South Burlington FPF. Keep up the good work. -Joanne Heidkamp, MS, RD
Any resident of the 25 Vermont towns in our pilot area (Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties, plus Starksboro) can put Front Porch Forum to use too. Sign up, then post. Then ask your local network to do the same… each person in his/her own FPF neighborhood forum.
In a way, FPF has passed out small neighborhood-size soapboxes to 17,000 (and counting) Vermonters… anyone may reach dozens or hundreds of nearby neighbors through FPF. Some Web 2.0 gurus who know how to manipulate mega social media (Facebook, etc.) may grow frustrated that they can’t somehow use FPF to build a huge soapbox for themselves. So be it.
Posted in: Civic Engagement, Community Building, Front Porch Forum, Local Online, Neighborhood, Small Business Advertising, social capital, Social Media, Social Networking, Stories, Vermont
It is not about bells, nor whistles. True community building is about bringing together people with different ideas, growing as the times grow and embracing the differences. It is not about soap boxes, there is only one person around here who stands on them.
Statistics show that for every complaint, there between 8 and 20 people who feel the same way, and to ignore these is just not good business. Web 2.0 is a technology, community is a philosophical viewpoint – why is one persons way of thinking about community wrong, and another’s right? Web 2.o is a way to interact, it has nothing to do with the message – so they suggested that posts are rated – you may choose to disagree, your right.
Wouldn’t it be nice to push the penetration from 28% higher? Are you sure you understand what that will take? Do you have any statistics to show what it will take? Have any attempts been made to embrace those that do not agree with you?
I am sure that some people get real value out of FPF. I cannot argue the testimonials, only to say you never actually publish negative ones. Let’s for argument sake say 50% of subscribers in South Burlington feel this way, extremely positive – that represents 14% of the population – what about the other 86%?
I appreciate your allowing my post on your forum, it is a start.
Thanks for sharing again Mitch. Amen. FPF’s design is based almost wholly on user feedback. And I wouldn’t say that you are the only one who stands on a soap box… plenty of folks do.
Actually Michael, I guess the cue was not subtle enough – there is only one person who can broadcast to ALL of the FPF communities through FPF – only one, and it is not me.
Before you trash Web 2.0 too much, please consider that it is used on this website and the Knight Foundation website as well. So, you use Web 2.0, you also try to use Twitter to extend your reach, using it to announce the KF grant proposal. Which by voting the way they did, seemed to agree with my philosophy.
Thanks Mitch. I’m not trashing Web 2.0… far from it. As I’ve said before, the many tools of online social media are tremendously powerful and do much good in our shared world… including FPF’s contribution in our small corner of the planet.
But I do see a kind of orthodoxy growing up around it… “all Web 2.0 must be x, y, z… ” that doesn’t seem productive. But what the powers that be and their messengers declare as important doesn’t matter very much as long as the internet keeps to its promise of decentralization of power. Regrettably, much of Web 2.0 now is working in the opposite direction… the wall gardens of Facebook, etc. are concentrating the clicks and dollars to fewer and fewer fat cats.
I have to agree that, while the small neighborhood feel is a great thing about FPF, it’s also at times a negative. I, for example, am signed up on three neighborhoods in my area because my residence is right near the intersecting point of those three neighborhoods. So when my cat went missing and I had to get the word out – I knew FPF was one great way to do it, but I also needed to use three separate emails to sign up for those various areas, rather than just select the three intersecting areas using my email of choice. The lack of feedback and the slowly interactive nature of FPF is certainly a potential point of frustration for those familiar with Web 2.0, or who have built, moderated or maintained websites and forums. I’m not saying what you’re doing isn’t welcome and appreciated, I’m just agreeing with the other who sees some significant misses among your hits. If you’re truly looking for some meaningful feedback – yes, something resembling another Facebook doesn’t make sense, but something a bit more akin to Yahoo! groups messaging (dailyor weekly email digest and online access) would be nearly ideal for someone like myself. Thanks for listening, and I hope to see small sustainable steps and improvements that make sense, without becoming SPAMMY, intrusive and at the expense of the individuals who are on FPF or the FPF entity itself.
Thanks Mel. Yes, the balancing act of not overloading peoples’ inboxes (whichever platform/medium) and being timely is a tough act. Many FPF postings are about events a month in the future. Others are about a lost kid. We turn around the critical ones immediately, and the others we aggregate until they pass a threshold, then we publish to our subscribers. This requires judgment, and sometimes we rankle a few people. But, most of the time we keep from tipping over… based on the feedback we get.
Thanks for your feedback… it’s truly critical to our future design decisions.
P.S. I hope your cat made it home safely.
She did Michael! In fact, I had more response from Front Porch Forum than I did from any other source – including posters, emails to others I knew in my area and even my daughter knocking on doors.
Mitch is right – true community building IS about bringing together different people from different backgrounds. I think that’s exactly what FPF does, and the one uniting factor that participants share is their close geographic proximity as neighbors. It is this intrinsic togetherness which adds an additional layer of connection as many of the conversations which take place through FPF often spill into the streets, sidewalks, etc. This is not something that is at the heart of most “conventional” Web 2.0 models.
As far as providing a soapbox that is available to all, FPF has many tiers of access, not just a one/none/all situation as Mitch seems to describe. Individual neighbors can only sign up for their neighborhood but there are a few special cases as evidenced by Mel living at an apex and having access to multiple Neighborhood Forums. Local public officials have access to their constituencies and FPF provides the most direct channel of communication between elected officials and the folks whom they represent.
Additionally, system-wide access is available for ANYONE if they chose to become an FPF sponsor. Nearly any message can be sent to FPF’s network of neighbors through the sponsorship program. Sure it costs money to do this, but that is how FPF is supported and there have been some tremendous results.
[full disclosure – I am an employee of FPF]
I enjoyed the discourse generated from Michael’s post, but it would be good for us all to remember that it takes ALL sorts to make community work well. I’ve met so many people who only use the internet to buy plane tickets and check their e-mail, this forum meets them where they are at.
For the rest of us, Michael included, we have tools to meet our interactive needs.
While, of course, I would love to watch FPF morph into a device more suitable for 2010, I can’t escape the brilliance of keeping it simple!
I do not want this to come out wrong, but there are a number of things that just sound wrong, maybe I am misunderstanding.
I have known people (gave examples a long time ago) who asked for special access to coordinate a green-up day in their town, who were declined “special access”. Paying for wider access given everything Michael has described FPF to be is elitist, unless you are thinking something different. So, for all FPF access it is available to Michael and advertisers, is that correct?
As I have said before, Web 2.0 is a technology, there is no social interaction model built into it. What any technology is used for is up to the creator and users. If you really want true stats – check the email model – 95% of all emails sent daily around the world are spam, this is a statistical fact. But, I am not going to generalize email as bad simply based on the technology or even the published statistics of utilization.
There is simply no way that anyone can argue that if users had the capability to share a picture of the lost cat (a favorite example) it could possibly be bad.
Thanks for your comment, Ita. Good to hear from you!