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!)
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.
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.
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.
“Talk of the Towns & Topics,” a publication for the Association of Towns of the State of New York, shared news of Front Porch Forum‘s expansion to parts of upstate New York.
FPF has served Vermont towns since 2006, and people use FPF for all sorts of things. This brief daily connection helps neighbors become better informed and more involved in the life of their towns.
“Technology can be used to divide us or bring us together. I really admire the way Front Porch Forum uses the Internet to bring us together. It’s not formulated to keep you in front of your screen. FPF urges you to read the local postings and then get going, and go out and be with your neighbors. That is really important and constructive in terms of building community and building democracy.” • Susan Clark, a Vermont town moderator
“I really love your service and its natural connection to local governments” • Libby with the Assoc. of Towns of the State of New York
Front Porch Forum co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, was recently interviewed on the Vermont Centers for Emerging Technologies (VCET), “Start Here” podcast, which shares the stories of active, aspiring and accidental entrepreneurs.
“Featuring Vermont’s most influential business leaders, Start Here bridges the gap between entertainment and inspiration by presenting the unfiltered stories of today’s top innovators. Everybody starts somewhere – why not Start Here?”
Click below and have a listen!
Front Porch Forum is the hyper-local, neighborhood-centric social network that is having a big impact on communities and businesses. Many places are now looking to FPF as a model for community-building that empowers members to become more engaged and invested in their towns.
Mridhula Raghavan, a journalist for Ouishare Magazine, investigated FPF’s role as an alternative to Big Tech networking. Read the full article here.
“It’s not just a smiley face or thumbs up. It’s real engagement.”
Listen to WCRV‘s short interview with FPF’s co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, airing this Thurs., Aug. 8 at 8:12 a.m. on 100.1 FM and 1320 AM.
To stream the interview on Thurs., Aug. 8 click here.
Visit Front Porch Forum for the latest and greatest news and announcements!