Category Archives: Peer Reviews

Backdoor Bakery and Front Porch Forum

Quote seen on the website for the Backdoor Bakery in Huntington, VT…

“Also on my mind — the best almond croissant I’ve ever had in my life — last Saturday — hot out of the oven from the Backdoor Bakery (my stomach thanks Front Porch Forum).”  -Catherine

This is a “community supported bakery”… locals buy shares in advance and get regular doses of fresh baked yum yums… reduces the risk for the mom and pop owners of this treasured local small business.  Suzanne Podhaizer of Seven Days wrote about it recently.

Front Porch Forum in Two Slides

Here’s Front Porch Forum boiled down to two slides…

Mega Local Sites in the News

CitySquares in Boston and beyond says business is good with advertisers’ coupons being hot.

Citysearch rebuilt its site. “Elements of the revamp include a more intuitive interface, an embrace of social media, a major focus on video, some new twists in mobile, and the development of a full-fledged local ad and content network that offers an alternative to Google’s dominant position.” Local Onliner

Service Magic is doing very well, despite the general economic conditions.  Co-founder Rodney Rice’s “6 Keys to Success in Local Services” via Andrew Shotland:

  1. Build supply before demand
  2. Choose the right vertical focus/right branding
  3. Execute as a service business, not a dot com (too true)
  4. Control customer acquisition costs – apply real business metrics
  5. Utilize technologies that make sense now – not in 3, 5 or 10 years
  6. Focus on yourself, not the competition (the best advice ever)

Angie’s List took in more VC money recently, bringing it’s total raised to about $66 million.  And Shotland reports Angie Hicks saying “The biggest competitor in the space is ‘your next door neighbor.’”  Interesting.  In this light, Angie’s List offers another way to buy your way out of something you just can’t find the time to do… get to know the neighbors and have conversations with them.  Front Porch Forum, on the other hand, is free and uses things like plumber recommendations among clearly identified nearby neighbors as a way to help connect neighbors and lead toward more vital communities.

And again from Shotland

The thing I love the most about both Angie’s and Rodney’s talks is that they are both very much outside the local search/Silicon Valley community in some ways (well Angie did raise a bunch of $ from VCs and Rodney did sell out to IAC, but besides that), but they are both incredibly successful.

Center’d integrates people, places and plans

Mike Boland posted today about a conversation with Center’d’s CEO who…

positions the company as a deeper dive into events, which breaths more functionality into all of the nuances of planning local outings. With the tag line, people, places, plans, it also brings in some social features and local search functionality.

The value proposition lies in the integration of these otherwise disparate local media categories. The idea is that a group of friends can plan a weekday dinner outing, find the location, read reviews (Yelp integration), invite people, and set up a landing page as a central source for event management. One can argue that this already exists with Google Maps, Yelp, and Evite, but the main point is that it doesn’t exist all in one place.

Center’d formerly was known as FatDoor.

Pay-per-post comes to Angie’s List?

Peter Krasilovsky reports today

Getting people to submit reviews is hard. We’ve seen incentives such as $5 coffee cards (a lot), $10 gas cards, and direct donations to charity (InsiderPages‘ current model)…

This month, Angie’s List, a paid service founded in 1995 that counts 650,000 members… launches a review campaign with the biggest review incentive we’ve seen yet: a free Flip video camera for 15 submissions. The camera is worth about $120. Reviewers also get entered into a $5,000 sweepstakes.

The twist is that all 15 reviews must be for local services, and three of the submissions must be for Angie’s new medical category. The reports on Angie’s List aren’t likely to be rushed affairs, since each one follows a template with six questions — and your name is on it.

Whether you call them the “Three Ms” – members, messages and moolah – or the “Three Cs” – community, content and cash – one of the three critical elements to any Web 2.0 site is “user generated content.”  Those with the magic attract content, while others pay for it.  Some people get bent out of shape about this kind of thing… see it as a sin against all things webby and wonderful.  Not me.

Angie’s List is an established successful big business.  They charge people to participate and now they pay  people in certain cases to write their reviews.  This seems similar to the business of publishing as we’ve always known it… a publisher pays a writer to write and then sells the writing to readers for a fee.

Front Porch Forum does not charge its members to participate… to read or to write… although we have given away a few donated ball game tickets and gift certificates in raffles among members who posted recently.  Who knows what the future will bring?

I think we’ll see more and more experiments among Web 2.0 sites to capture a greater share of the three Cs.  Or is it the “Three Rs?”  Readers, ‘riters, and revenue.  Gotta have lots of all three!

UPDATE:  Andrew Shotland chimed in too.

Vermont PR Chick’s Free Advice

“Vermont public relations chick – Rachel Carter (www.rachelcarterpr.com)” offers “5 Free & Quick Ways to Promote Your Business” today.  And number five is…

Join your local Front Porch Forum and let your neighbors know who you are and what your business is! (www.frontporchforum.org)

Yes sir… and many have and do.  Thanks Rachel.

One of ten neighbors respond to request posted on FPF

I don’t have much data about the multiplier effect of Front Porch Forum, that is, how much off-forum activity does an FPF posting stir up?  So I was interested to read the following from Mike in Burlington’s South End.  His small neighborhood of 120 households has about 70 of those subscribing to their FPF neighborhood forum.  And in response to his request for a good mechanic?  Nearly one of ten responded with a personal recommendation!  That’s typical from what we hear.

Hi neighbors, I received a lot of responses regarding mechanics last week, and also had a request from Sandra to share what I learned.  Here’s what folks had to say:

Katharine says: “we went to the other Kaigles and have had good luck, plus they sell fine xmas trees in nov.  they seemed to honor Christian’s work and were sort of in a position to help the customers that were formerly from RKaigles.”

Ryan says: “I’ve used the guy down at the Rotary for several small jobs….brakes, suspension…things of that nature.  There not set up to do alignments or machine work so you may need to find another place for those items.  What I do like about him is how he goes over the car with you to show you the problem and his hourly rates are pretty low, 45/hr last time I checked.”

Stephanie says: “I highly recommend bringing your cars to SVS on Batchelder St, just off Home Ave.  Darren is the main guy there and he is fantastic.  As a fairly naive, female car-owner it was important to me to find a straight-forward, no-nonsense mechanic.  SVS is the real deal.  I have had a few instances where the dealer has told me it would be over $1200 in work and Darren has taken care of it for $400.  And it’s a no-frills kind of establishment.  He’s a bit gruff, but I take comfort that I’m not paying for a socialite, I’m paying for quality work.”

Tom says: “I have been pleased with the work of Double G Auto on lower Birchcliff Pkwy. They used to run the Rotary Gulf, until 2-3 years ago. I have been pleased with their reasonable, quick and well done work on our 13 and 9 year old foreign cars. Hope you find this useful.”

Patricia says: “‘double G auto’ on birchcliff pkwy (behind champlain chocolates) is where i go and would highly recommend them.”

Mary says: “I use Double G Auto (Gary Sylvester) at 43 Birchcliff Pkwy (which is real close).  He used to be Rotary Gulf but wanted to do auto repair without pumping gas.”

“All Experts” Recommend Front Porch Forum

Just stumbled across this exchange posted on AllExperts.com… (thanks David!)…

Expert: David Beckett
Date: 8/27/2008
Subject: Temporary Housing

Hi David – I read your answers about Burlington and my husband & I decided to move here from Los Angeles a few months ago… We love it here. I am French and we need to go back to France for family reasons from November through March 2009 and I would hate to leave the house empty for a host of reasons.

Ideally we could rent the place (we have a beautiful 4 bedroom house in the Hill section) but I am not sure where to post an ad. The other option would be to have a professional come on a regular basis to ensure that everything is OK (i.e. heating still on). Do you have any recommendations for either solutions?

I assume we are not the only people to leave Vermont in the winter, I was just curious if there were any obvious resources available that we are not aware of.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Hello Isabelle – Glad you like Burlington! … You might also post a note on your “Front Porch Forum” email list, without your address of course, just asking if neighbors have people to recommend as short term renters or housesitters. If you haven’t gotten onto your neighborhood “Front Porch Forum” yet – I recommend it. You can read archives and sign up at http://www.frontporchforum.com

Please feel free to contact me directly – I’m happy to help. I live in your neighborhood.

Make every posting count… twice

Steve Yelvington posted today

Knowledge@Wharton has an interview with Joe Kraus, director of product management at Google, in which he highlights the importance of social interaction on the Web:

“So, the killer apps that have really worked on the web have always been about connecting people to one another. So, whether it is instant messaging and e-mail as communications to connect people to one another, whether it’s photo-sharing as a way to connect people to one another through photos, or blogging as a way to connect people to one another through the words, people have always been social and the killer apps that have really succeeded on the web have always been social.”

This got me thinking about a couple recent conversations with folks asking about huge powerhouse online companies that have outposts in Burlington, VT, where we operate Front Porch Forum‘s pilot. The gist was… “Wouldn’t people be better off selling their car on Craigslist Burlington, seeking plumber recommendations on Angie’s List Burlington, giving away their old couch on FreeCycle Burlington and just using Front Porch Forum to organize block parties and find lost cats?”

Good question and I encourage people to use multiple services when they have the need. But like Krause says above, it’s all about connection. While websites offering classified ads, reviews, give-away matching, etc. by location COULD help people connect in some meaningful way, I don’t think they do. My sense is that they help facilitate the immediate and direct need (selling a car, finding a plumber), but they don’t touch the other… they don’t capitalize on the opportunity to add a brick to the house of local community with each interaction.

That’s what Front Porch Forum is all about. We aim to take every posting by clearly identified nearby neighbors and cobble them all together to build real community among neighbors and townsfolk. Why give away your moving boxes to anonymous distant strangers when you can offer them to your nearby neighbors and actually get to meet some people who live near you? That’s tapping the real potential of the internet… as Google’s Joe Krause says… it’s all about connecting people.

Or, as Wolfgang reported a month ago…

Just wanted to let you know that we sold our Minivan today to a neighbor through Front Porch Forum. We had more people expressing interest and more people showing up to look at the van who found out through the Forum than the interest generated by Burlington Free Press, Cars.com and Craigslist combined. Thanks!

So, again, I encourage folks in our service area to post their messages on any site they like… AND to post it on Front Porch Forum. The results typically speak for themselves.

CitySquares, PediCabs, and True Local

Peter Krasilovsky covers a Boston website today, CitySquares. Many interesting points…

Boston-based CitySquares, which just celebrated its second anniversary, is getting about 70,000 unique visitors per month and now has a base of 700 advertisers, averaging $1,200 per year, reports CEO Ben Saren… Roughly a third of the existing advertiser base is in the downtown Boston area, while the others come from adjacent communities… As with most other city guides, the best categories are restaurants and vanity sites –beauty salons, spas etc.

The hyperlocal company, which has raised under $2 million, has seven full time sales agents working for it, and has really built up a well-known brand in Beantown, says Saren. He believes that a large part of the recognition is due to innovative advertising efforts, such as local event sponsorships; quite a bit of viral marketing; and an exclusive deal with Boston Pedicabs. There are 17 Pedicabs cycling around Boston all day and night, and a CitySquares banner is on the back of each one – shared with various CitySquares advertisers, who help foot the bill.

Hey! I drove a pedicab in Washington, DC years ago… Boston must be a good spot for that.

To Saren, the high awareness factor puts the company in good position to “own” the market. He says, in fact, that it is a fallacy that local advertisers are being deluged by a wide group of hyerlocal opportunities. Sites associated with major local media and directory firms, such as The Boston Globe’s Boston. Com, Gatehouse’s Wicked Local and Idearc’s SuperPages, never come up in conversations with potential advertisers, he says. Yelp and Outside.in don’t either. Only IAC’s Citysearch comes up, and Saren believes he is gaining a bead on it.

I wonder about “owning” a region. It’s a tough slog to become the defacto place that local folks turn to on the web. Seems to me that once someone has that spot, they’d be dug in deep… hard to dislodge. This is an opportunity for genuinely local efforts — like CitySquares in Boston, iBrattleboro, Front Porch Forum and others — to get firmly rooted before the giant WalMart/McDonald versions of “local” come to town.

CitySquares is currently looking to expand its hyperlocal approach beyond Boston’s “Route 128” divider. Starting June 16, the company will launch automated versions of communities throughout New England and New York, easily accomplished using its data feed from Localeze and maps from Maponics. Saren acknowledges that the “expansion” won’t be fed with feet in the street and local editorial staff, at least initially. Those will be restricted to Boston. But if Manchester, NH suddenly starts giving us a lot of traffic, he says, “we’ll start a direct marketing campaign and provide prelaunch discounts to advertisers.”

If I had to bet on where they’ll win, I’d pick towns geographically very close to CitySquares early success… and places where they decide to invest real resources. “Build it and they’ll come” won’t cut it.