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Category Archives: In the News

Vermonters take notice of FPF in the News

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.


Welcome to Vermont

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 🙂


FPF on Reimagining the Internet

Front Porch Forum‘s Co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, joined Ethan Zuckerman of Reimagining the Internet for an interview on running a healthy online community. Reimagining the Internet is a podcast that talks to experts in the field about what isn’t working with social media and how it can be improved. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, was also a recent guest of the podcast.

Give this great interview a listen!

For more on FPF check out FPF in the news!


Extra! Extra! FPF in the news!

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.

 

“Replacing Facebooktwittergooglamazonsoft”

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”

Jan. 20, 2021
By: Steven Melendez

“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?”

Feb. 2, 2021
By: Stephen Gossett

“…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.


Wood for Good

Front Porch Forum gives members across Vermont and parts of upstate New York and Massachusetts, a space to connect with their neighbors and communities. We see all kinds of postings, but some of our favorites are postings were people come together to help meet a need in the community.

Eric Axlerod, and FPF member from Jericho, uses his neighborhood forum to help provide firewood to neighbors in need. It started with a simple surplus of wood and has evolved into an effort to source, cut, stack, and donate cords of firewood.

Check out this excerpt from Seven Days:

“Thus far, they’ve given away 12 cords of wood. The crew is hoping to collect 20 cords to have on hand ahead of this fall. While they started collecting at their own house, they’ve also cut wood on neighbors’ properties.

The trio has dubbed the undertaking “Wood for Good,” and its mission is similar to that of organizations such as the Monkton Wood Bank in Addison County. Axelrod said he eventually wants to form a nonprofit and hopes to sign up more volunteers to help the cause. He’d consider expanding beyond Chittenden County if it takes off.”

Burlington Free Press also covered the story, sharing that many community business have pitched in to provide trees, wood-splitting and stacking equipment, and volunteers to help get firewood ready for this winter:

“Last month North Star Leasing Company in Burlington announced it was donating a portable wood conveyor to Wood for Good…

…Employees of North Star Leasing are arriving earlier to help split wood. People from the Rotary Club of Burlington and Axelrod’s men’s group have also come to help. Barrett’s Tree Services in South Burlington dropped off seven loads of trees that gave Axelrod a huge boost for 2021. Teachers Tree Service in Shelburne also donated trees.”

When people come together and give back to their community, amazing things can happen. This is a wonderful testament to how challenging times have inspired many amazing neighbors and small businesses to help support those in need of food, warmth, and support.

Read and post on FPF to brainstorm ideas for community outreach, connect with resources that may help you and your family, or organize an effort in your town!


Looking Back to 14 Years Ago

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!)


“Local Logic: It’s Not Always a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

Technology and the way people use it has the power to unite people or pull them apart. Ethan Zuckerman and Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci of Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University took a closer look at platforms that bring communities together on a local level, only to find that some designs work better than others.

Platforms that operate more like social media, where individuals can post whatever they want instantaneously, can lead to heated, attacking commentary, false accusations, or misinformation. This kind of content may cause civil discourse to devolve and it may disrupt the establishment of ties within a community.

On the other hand, Front Porch Forum is an example of a local platform that has systems in place to help keep conversations civil and community-minded, fulfilling its mission of helping neighbors build community. From Rajendra-Nicolucci and Zuckerman’s piece:

“That organic growth was key to maintaining one of the key differences between FPF and Nextdoor: proactive moderation. FPF uses a team of moderators that review each post to make sure it adheres to the site’s code of conduct (which bars personal attacks and behavior “counter to its community-building mission”) before it’s posted. That helps to keep the discussion friendly and constructive… We believe a platform that takes governance seriously, is designed for a specific purpose, and has ties to the communities it serves can be successful anywhere.”

The authors also share the criteria by which they evaluate various platforms. These platforms operate on a local level broken into neighborhoods, towns, or city blocks.

“Getting local social media right is important. Local platforms present an opportunity to strengthen social capital and civic life. At their best, they can keep residents informed about local issues, encourage civic organizing and action, and facilitate new connections and greater understanding.”

Read the full article on Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University’s blog here.


“Can’t Find It at the Store? Try Bartering For It.”

In an Aug. 3 New York Times article by A.C. Shilton, Front Porch Forum got a shout out as a platform that people successfully use to barter. When folks have too much zucchini but really need to borrow a hedge trimmer, FPF shines as a way for neighbors to help each other access what they need. Check out the excerpt from the article below:

Bartering hasn’t been this widespread since its days at the elementary-school lunch table. Front Porch Forum, a hyperlocal social network in Vermont and parts of New York that has long been a hub of bartering, has seen an 83 percent increase in new-member sign-ups this year over the same period last year, said Michael Wood-Lewis, who co-founded the site with his wife, Valerie, as a neighborhood listserv back in 2000. While Front Porch Forum is a way for neighbors to connect on a range of things, recently, appeals for swapping eggs for rhubarb or chicken wire for day lily bulbs have increased, Mr. Wood-Lewis said.”

Read the full article on the modern barter economy here.


“The Internet’s Missing Link in the Age of COVID-19”

COVID-19 is forcing everyone to adapt. An essential part of that adaptation is the use of technology to keep people connected without the face-to-face risk factors the coronavirus presents. Micah Sifry of Civic Hall observes the many challenges we all face as we navigate a global pandemic and the tech solutions that may help us move forward.

Sifry identifies Front Porch Forum as digital public infrastructure that can help communities thrive. See the excerpt below.

In all my years of reporting on how we use tech in civic life, one platform has stood out for how it has successfully fostered healthy community engagement while reaching significant scale: Vermont’s Front Porch Forum. Seventy percent of the state’s 260,000 households have an account on one of FPF’s local town or neighborhood forums, which are in every part of the rural state. Two years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released an in-depth study of FPF’s users, finding that their daily use of the site led to increased trust in their neighbors, increased interest in civic life, greater participation in local government, and increased optimism about the future. ‘Witnessing everyday acts of neighborliness is a powerful driver of both online and offline community engagement,’ the study concluded.

Last week, I checked in with its founder Michael Wood-Lewis and his chief innovation officer, Jason Van Driesche, to find out how they are weathering the current storm. After a brief dip in the site’s fortunes when the state went into lockdown in March, they were happy to report that even though no one was posting yard sales or local events, the type of information that has always been FPF’s bread-and-butter, user engagement was up. The number of net new signups per day doubled during the first weeks of the crisis, and posting is up considerably over the seasonable average, along with open rates.

Wood-Lewis and Van Driesche are also gratified to report that people are using the forum’s daily email bulletins to organize help for neighbors, share vital public health information, and fight isolation. They’ve decided to have their paid community moderators screen out misinformation about COVID, which Wood-Lewis said is ‘usually people getting stuff off of Facebook and sharing it with good intentions.’ They’re working on an array of service improvements, and also thinking hard about how to support the 10,000 local businesses, thousands of local officials and hundreds of nonprofits that use the site. ‘On a daily basis, most of the people in our state are giving us five to ten minutes of their attention,’ Wood-Lewis noted. But he and his team are frustrated that so much of FPF’s core mission, which is to bring neighbors together face-to-face, is stymied by the pandemic. ‘We know we’re successful when those real in-person things happen,’ he adds, so his team is trying to highlight local initiatives like safe scavenger hunts for kids and community claps for frontline workers.

Front Porch Forum’s model works because it keeps its forums to human size and speed, and it has paid moderators perusing every post before they reach subscribers. A typical instance has 500 to 1,000 people on it, all from the same town or neighborhood, and all verified, using their real names. Everyone sees the same content at the same time, Van Driesche pointed out; there’s no microtargeting of content. So while people still are people, and they may post things that get on their neighbors’ nerves, the general tenor of the site is ‘let’s pull together instead of knocking each other down.‘”

Read the full article here.


Front Porch Forum on WCAX’s Across the Fence

As the world adjusts and adapts to social distancing and self isolation, communities in Vermont are looking to connect with and help their neighbors safely. They’re doing so on FPF.

Listen to Front Porch Forum’s co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, share how the service is being used across the state (and in parts of Upstate NY) during the COVID-19 crisis.  He joins Fran Stoddard for an interview, below, on Across the Fence, the country’s longest-running locally produced program.

 

Learn more about how Front Porch Forum is being used during this time here.