Front Porch Forum‘s co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, will speak on a panel for the virtual conference, Reimagine the Internet, on Thu., May 13 at 12:00 p.m. The event is co-hosted by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the soon-to-be-launched Initiative on Digital Public Infrastructure at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
FPF will be joined by many notable panelists, including Cory Doctorow of Electronic Frontier Foundation, Evelyn Douek of Harvard Law School and Katherine Maher of Wikimedia Foundation.
Front Porch Forum will be part of Thursday’s discussion:
Thursday, May 13, 2021
12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
This panel will focus on lessons learned from local communities and the implications of these lessons for online spaces. Sara Lomax-Reese is the CEO of WURD, a family-owned talk radio station in Philadelphia that serves that city’s Black community. Michael Wood-Lewis is co-founder of Front Porch Forum, an online community of mailing lists that serves every town in Vermont. Individually and in dialog, both will address lessons learned in building hyperlocal media and the ways in which online communities build trusted relationships.
Learn more about the virtual conference or RSVP here.
Front Porch Forum was recently featured in an episode of the podcast “Home. Made.” It tells the FPF origin story, and also gets into the behavioral science of what happens when we feel like we finally belong somewhere. Give it a listen!
Learn more about the episode or read the transcription here.
Wow! A number of students and families participated in this year’s “At-Home” version of the Good Citizen Challenge, complete with 40-plus activities encouraging learning in History, Government, Community Service and News Literacy. Many put FPF to work to complete the activities:
Team Tiki in Wolcott organized donations to the Hardwick Area Food Pantry. Blaine, 6, chose the charity. “It was all him,” said mom Laura.
Laura put out a call for donations on their Front Porch Forum, and neighbors they’d never met responded, dropping food off at their house. They’d beep when they arrived, said Laura, and “We’d wave from the window” or help unload the items.
She said delivering the donations was a big moment for Blaine. “I think it was the first time he really had an experience where he could actually feel that he had an impact on the world,” she said. “Things like that really sink in for children. I think he won’t ever forget that.”
Pick up the April issue of Kids VT, which is in this week’s Seven Days to learn more, or read online.
Front Porch Forum is celebrating the start of spring and lots of mentions in the news recently which our members have noticed!
“A big shout out to let everyone know that the April issue of The Atlantic has an excellent article called The Internet Doesn’t Have To Be Awful. This article mentions our fantastic Vermont FPF as an example of how we can make the internet a space that promotes democratic values by helping to make conversations better to benefit everyone in a community.” • Sandy in Burlington
How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire
By: Story by Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev
Instead of making people angry, participation in online forums can give them the same civic thrill that town halls or social clubs once did. “Elks Club meetings were what gave us experience in democracy,” he said. “We learned how to run an organization. We learned how to handle disagreement. We learned how to be civilized people who don’t storm out of an argument.”
Versions of this idea already exist. A Vermont-based site, Front Porch Forum, is used by roughly a quarter of the state’s residents for all sorts of community activity, from natural-disaster response to job-hunting, as well as civic discussion. Instead of encouraging users to interact as much and as fast as possible, Front Porch slows the conversation down: Your posts come online 24 hours after you’ve written them. Sometimes, people reach out to the moderators to retract something said in anger. Everyone on the forum is real, and they have to sign up using real Vermont addresses. When you go on the site, you interact with your actual neighbors, not online avatars.
Read the full article here.
“Kudos! FPF is showcased in the Atlantic. Upon which Fareed Zakaria (Foreign Affairs Quarterly, Global Public Square) highlighted FPF in his Global Briefing newsletter, “Can Online Politics Be Fixed?” • Alison in Burlington
Can Online Politics Be Fixed?
Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good
In Vermont, a site called Front Porch Forum “is used by roughly a quarter of the state’s residents for all sorts of community activity, from natural-disaster response to job-hunting, as well as civic discussion,” Applebaum and Pomerantsev write. “Instead of encouraging users to interact as much and as fast as possible, Front Porch slows the conversation down
See the full newsletter here.
9 Projects Trying To Build Social Platforms That Don’t Make You Hate Yourself
By: Jeff Link
Now in its third software iteration, Front Porch Forum is a community-based forum where neighbors can share information and local concerns. Active in Vermont and parts of New York, the 20-year-old platform launched by Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis trades in short posts about locally relevant topics lost pets, cars for sale, plumber recommendations, school budget issues and political protests. The service hosts online neighborhood and small-town forums for registered users.
“Once a day they’ll get an issue that arrives via email or website or mobile app,” Wood-Lewis said of users. “The average issue might have about 10 postings. It’s not emoticons. It’s not LOL-type stuff. It’s more substantive. The most compelling content tends to gravitate toward the top.”
“There’s no anonymity. It’s like wearing a name tag and showing up at a block party with your neighbors.”
Open only to local citizens, officials, nonprofits and businesses, the platform is distinct from several of its larger social-networking competitors.
“There’s no anonymity. It’s like wearing a name tag and showing up at a block party with your neighbors,” Wood-Lewis said during the panel discussion.
In addition, every posting is reviewed by a staff of online community managers before publication.
Read the full article here.
Virus in Vermont: In mutual aid groups, people help one another
By: Nora Peachin
Michael Wood-Lewis, co-founder of Front Porch Forum, says local communities have been weakened as life has moved online, a trend he has been trying to reverse with Front Porch Forum a community bulletin board since its founding in 2006.
“It would be my fondest wish that the social capital, those connections created in [mutual aid] work, don’t dissipate with the crisis,” Wood-Lewis said. “I hope all those mutual aid groups continue to live on, even if only as a social entity so that people can keep those connections in this time of political divisiveness and with all that big tech has foisted on us.”
Wood-Lewis noted a dramatic increase in almost all of Front Porch Forum’s metrics new members, postings, advertisers, clicks on ads during the pandemic. Wood-Lewis’ team set up a special category for mutual aid groups in the online directory and a list of ways to help during Covid.
Read the full article here.
Stay in tune with all the latest FPF mentions on our media page.
From maple creemee tours to swimming holes, farmers markets to local writers, there’s plenty of hidden gems that any new Vermont resident simply must check out. One perfect example is the locally grown VPR podcast, Brave Little State; it will tell you all you need to know about making your home in the Green Mountain State! We think their tip about joining FPF is especially good 🙂
Front Porch Forum is gaining some remarkable national attention these days. It’s an honor to be featured and recognized for our community building work, local focus and approach to digital tech. Check out some of the cool things that have been happening with FPF in the media below:
“To Thrive, Our Democracy Needs Digital Public Infrastructure”
Jan. 5, 2021
By: Eli Pariser and Danielle Allen of Politico
“…what we need are not just information services with a mission-driven agenda, but spaces where people can talk, share and relate without those relationships being distorted and shaped by profit-seeking incentive structures. We are just beginning to see glimpses of what these spaces might look like. One model is Vermont’s Front Porch Forum…two-thirds of Vermont households are on the Forum, and many Vermonters find it a valuable place for thoughtful public discussions…
…Built into the premise of this work is the notion that what’s needed is not one publicly owned Facebook clone, but an armada of localized, community-specific, public-serving institutions that can serve the functions in digital space that community institutions have served for centuries in physical places. Vermont’s Front Porch Forum and other examples show this is possible, even in the digital age.”
Read the full article here.
“Imagining Our Social Media Future”
Jan. 15, 2021
Hosted by: Brooke Gladstone of WNYC Studios and featured on NPR
Brooke Gladstone and Eli Pariser explore the limitations mainstream social media places on real communities. Welcoming and thought-provoking digital spaces make community building more possible. How the spaces are designed will decide how we participate in them.
“I’m inspired by examples like Front Porch Forum in Vermont, which is kind of like a slow social network…it’s very heavily moderated local email list that you can post to [daily]. If you post something and it’s against the rules and norms it gets sent back to you with a nice little note saying like “hey can you try saying this a different way.” The once-a-dayness is really important because you have to have a lot of stamina and energy to sustain an argument across 14 days of back-and-forth. What’s interesting about Front Porch Forum is it’s used by a huge portion of households in Vermont. Local representatives in Vermont are on Front Porch Forum because they know that’s where the issues of the day are being discussed and addressed.”
Listen to the full, 15-minute discussion here.
Highlights from the New Public Festival, held Jan. 12-14, by Micah Sifry
“Given all the problems with civic engagement today widespread misinformation, heightened polarization, online mobs (and their offline manifestations), fears of censorship by over-empowered tech bros, social isolation, increased mood disorders from online addiction, the list goes on and on–should we fix the tech platforms, or should we start over?”
Front Porch Forum co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, presented alongside dozens of other tech innovators and project leaders working to shape the future of tech spaces. For more information on who participated in this year’s New Public Festival or to sign up for more information, visit here.
“These 14 principles could help big platforms create healthier social media”
“The Civic Signals founders say they have had some discussions with big tech companies about their work. But they also see the signals as useful to smaller and nontraditional operations, including publicly operated civic forums and smaller platforms like the Vermont-run Front Porch Forum, a network of neighborhood-based sites.
“We have a realistic view of what can happen in traditional tech-startup world, and we don’t think that all of these public functions can be served just by private companies alone,” Pariser says. ‘There’s a role for public infrastructure as well.'”
Read the full article here.
“Could Tax Dollars Fund Smaller, Better Social Media?”
“…Users will need a brigade of options “localized, community-specific, public-serving institutions that can serve the functions in digital space that community institutions have served for centuries in physical places,” as Pariser wrote in Politico.
One model that Pariser has pointed to is Vermont’s Front Porch Forum, a 20-year-old local forum/digital newsletter that has become an unlikely model for online communities.”
Read more here.
Also, check out more commentary from Eli Pariser from Dec. 2020 on an episode of Your Undivided Attention from the Center for Humane Technology here.
The staff at FPF was touched to rediscover this 2006 Seven Days article titled “Front Porch Forum Encourages Neighborliness — Online and Off.” It’s heartening to see how far Front Porch Forum has come over 14 years.
The article explains how FPF got started. At the time it was written, co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis compiled e-newsletters alone.
“Though Wood-Lewis is currently working on FPF as a volunteer, he sees his time as an investment. He’s hoping that as the service expands, he’ll be able to find local businesses to sponsor it.”
Now the organization has a growing staff of 22. It’s been put to use in communities all over the state, and now serves parts of New York and Williamstown, Massachusetts. The look and feel of the Email Forum has been redesigned and members can now also read their Forum via mobile app and the website.
Check out the full piece for an awesome throwback (complete with a MySpace reference!)