Search Results for: "scale"

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

Posted on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 by 1 comment

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.

VT Benefit Corp Seeking Full-Stack Developer

Posted on Monday, February 10, 2020 by No comments yet

Front Porch Forum is seeking an Intermediate or Senior-level Developer to join our team. The position is full-time and based in Burlington (remote optional). Be part of a world-class team of engineers. Help us fulfill our community-building mission.

Click here for details.

Poll: Two-thirds of Americans want to break up companies like Amazon and Google

Posted on Friday, September 20, 2019 by No comments yet

Interesting article by Vox today.  Some key take-aways…


Fighting Online Bullying

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2019 by No comments yet

From Micah Sifry in Civicist 1st Post today

Katy Steinmetz reports for Time magazine on how Instagram is trying to use AI to reduce how much the platform is used for cyberbullying, but as she notes, “it’s much easier to recognize when someone in a photo is not wearing pants than it is to recognize the broad array of behavior that might be considered bullying.” Oh, and the person in charge of this whole effort, Adam Mosseri, previously was in charge of the development of Facebook NewsFeed, so this should inspire confidence. (How does your AI read sarcasm, he asked.)

One problem with Steinmetz’s article is that she accepts the frame of all the blitzscaled platforms, which is that connecting the entire world online requires massively open platforms, unfortunately creating massive toxic effects. But cyberbullying isn’t, as Steinmetz writes, “a problem that crops up anywhere the people congregate online.” It’s a problem that crops up wherever a platform has been optimized for engagement over any other value, and where there is limited to no human moderation. For example, a user of Front Porch Forum in Vermont, where each instance is centered on a neighborhood of roughly 1000 households and a paid part-time moderator helps keep the conversation civil, does not experience cyberbullying, as a recent study found.

More Neighborly Communities

Posted on Monday, December 10, 2018 by No comments yet

Front Porch Forum members report closer-knit communities.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “˜It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” “• Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

Lynn A. of Montpelier, Vt. says Front Porch Forum: discovering Vermont’s neighborly spirit, one glorious post at a time.”

FPF members report knowing and trusting more of their neighbors than national averages, resulting in closer-knit communities. Neighbors who know each other are more likely to lend a hand in times of need, whether it be loaning a pressure canner, larger-scaled community projects like organizing a foodbank, or emergency efforts.

FPF co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis shares that “when neighbors know each other and offer help or advice among each other, social capital accrues. FPF fosters real connections throughout networks of neighbors, and those ties bring genuine value to a community. Why buy a new ladder when you can borrow one from a neighbor?”

Front Porch Forum is a place where folks can learn their neighbors’ names and share hopes for the community and perspectives on local issues. The forum enables participants to familiarize and become informed online so that they can get out and have face-to-face discussions and take action offline. The result: optimism, unity, trust, and helping one another.

Stephanie Teleen, Neighbors Day VT organizer, uses Front Porch Forum to get the word out. She says “there are a few things you can count on in Vermont: beautiful scenery, ample snow, and Front Porch Forum. When Vermont became the first state in the country to celebrate Neighbor’s Day on June 2, 2018, FPF was the first and only statewide organization to help promote this event. Why? Because FPF knows the value of personal connection and communication within our communities. Neighbors Day happens once a year, but FPF works to connect neighbors every day, all year long. FPF is like a digital potluck with no cooking required! Being neighborly is paid forward in Vermont… to everyone’s benefit..”

*The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded an independent third-party, Network Impact, to design, implement and analyze an online survey of 132,188 Front Porch Forum members in March 2017. 13,086 Vermonters completed this 20-minute survey. With a 99% confidence level, the survey results represent the full FPF membership.

**2015 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation National Survey of Health Attitudes

Sitting Out

Posted on Friday, May 9, 2014 by No comments yet

By Georgia Lewis

As a child in the 1940s, I enjoyed lazy summer days playing on our big breezy front porch, in the downtown immigrant neighborhood of Buffalo where we lived.  In the evening, Mom, Dad and Yiayia, my Greek grandmother, would come out, too. They’d sit on the porch in their white wicker chairs, just like all the other families on our street, visiting back and forth with the neighbors on their porches, all new to the country, sharing gossip and (when we were lucky) sharing wonderful ethnic pastries they’d baked earlier in the day, while the kids played street games. That was when I was a little girl.

In Amherst, the upscale suburb where we moved when I was a teenager, it wasn’t quite the same.  There we sat out on patios in back, in Adirondack-style chairs behind hedges and fences.  There were no sidewalks and passers-by because everyone drove. You issued invitations if you wanted the company of friends.

Later, when I’d grown up and gone away, my parents moved to a second floor flat a bit closer to the city.  In that neighborhood they hauled their folding aluminum chairs out into the driveway and watched the traffic go by.  They got their neighbors to do the same and once again enjoyed the informal, daily banter of friends reviewing the day.  When they eventually rented an apartment back in the city, they’d sit out on their tiny balcony overlooking a parking lot, calling hello to the few passersby they knew.

Mom said that when she was a girl people would sit out on summer evenings around the fountain in a downtown park, which was actually just an island in the street. It was cooler than their crowded upstairs apartments.  On really hot nights, if there was a breeze, they stayed all night and slept there, outside, without fear.

In Potomac, Maryland, the Washington, DC suburb where I lived for 40 years, where my children grew up, houses are air conditioned. People rarely venture outside during the muggy Maryland summers.  When they do, they use backyard patios and decks where it’s quiet and private. Instead of congregating in parks, each family has its own playground equipment in its own yard. Busy and driven, neither the adults nor the children are home much so they don’t really know their neighbors very well. They don’t mingle. They know nothing of street games and porch culture.

Once, when sirens wailed and stopped a few doors down from us it turned out to be a devastating teenage suicide–people discreetly kept their distance. My mother, who was visiting at the time, was incredulous.  She expected everyone on the block to rush over to find out what happened.  To her, it seemed rude not to, as if we didn’t care.  To my neighbors, it would have been rude to intrude on a private tragedy.

I learned where my family’s sitting out custom came from when I went to Greece.  There it’s called “peripate”, which taken literally means the opposite of sitting–“walking around”.  Perhaps it began as walking around to visit in the evening but evolved into more sitting as time went by.  Or maybe the younger folks would promenade as the older ones sat.  At any rate, the purpose is to mingle.

In Greece every town has a square, which may or may not be an actual square-shaped space.  What’s important is not the shape but that it be a space large enough for people to congregate.  In Sparti, a town of perhaps 15,000, it is a real square, bordered by the town hall on one side and various shops, outdoor restaurants and cafenios (coffee houses) on the rest. People of all ages meet and mingle from dusk “˜til midnight.  Children ride bikes and play, teenagers hang out and adults eat at the outdoor cafes. You can take an hour negotiating a meal for the group, family style.  You can sit at the table with a cup of coffee for hours and not feel pressured to move on and let the place make higher profits. The owner might even join you.

In Klada, my grandmother’s birthplace, population 250, the “square” is simply the end of a street that’s been widened a bit.  A few chairs in front of a small taverna define it.  And in Paraloggi, my father’s birthplace, a tiny village at the top of a mountain, a stone wall at the village entrance serves as the square. The night we drove up to Paraloggi at dusk we were greeted by two dozen weathered-looking men and women, some barefoot children, a donkey and two collie dogs gathered at the wall.

Searching for relatives in these villages, we would arrive at dusk when people were sitting out, and ask if there were any Macherases or Kalogereses or Demopouloses left. We’d be invited to sit and have some juice. We’d be asked about the USA, my children, my parents, my visit, if my daughters were married, if I had grandchildren.  We’d learn about their families, too, and any possible connections they had to anyone anyplace in the USA. Our question about my relatives was incidental to the opportunity to visit. You can’t be in a hurry in Greece.

Sitting out is just one of many signs of the communal culture that is Greece. For example, the subway seats face each other, encouraging communication.  Shopping is a social experience.  On entering a shop, you are expected to chat with the clerk and on leaving you exchange polite good wishes. And the huge stone amphitheatres of ancient times are still used for performances, providing another way for people of all ages to congregate.

A favorite shared pastime in Greece, another form of sitting out, is gathering to watch the sun set. This happens everywhere in the cities, in the mountains, by the sea, on the ships.  People congregate in a spot with a good view and chat while they wait for the show.  After the sun sinks, they applaud as if watching the curtain drop on an opera or ballet.

Thinking about these spectacular Mediterranean sunsets and the time it takes to properly enjoy them, I contrast the culture of my origin with the American one, the culture of rugged individualism that tells us we can do anything, be anything, own anything, if we work hard enough and compete fiercely enough. The culture that says we must learn to hurry, multitask, be efficient, get ahead.  The culture that tells us not to just sit around with friends and neighbors and watch the sun set.

It takes time to live a communal life, to connect with other people. It happens in places where people value live conversation during long, leisurely meals.  Where people don’t arrange the furniture to face the TV and watch talk shows, but instead arrange the furniture to face and talk to each other.  Where people have friendly conversations before conducting business. Where people gather to watch the sun set and clap when it sinks slowly into the sea.  Where people think it’s fine to simply sit out together and do nothing at all.

Now that I’m retired I’ve been thinking about these things, about the value of sunsets and front porches. Being mostly American, I didn’t take the time before. The Greek in me seems to be emerging in my later years.  My downtown Bethesda condo faces West and if I sit out on my fourth floor balcony I can often see a lovely, if not spectacular, sunset.