In the age of Facebook and craigslist, Front Porch Forum seems rather quaint and simple. If it were founded a few years later, it may not have survived; however, the niche market of cultivated message boards now serves over 100 Vermont neighborhoods and about 1/3 of Vermont’s nearly 670,000 residents (Soref 2015, US Census Bureau, 2014). Member testimonials cite the content as positive, helpful, and uplifting; “It’s people saying thank you and helping each other out.” Co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis attributes the difference to the level of participation: 50 percent of members are actively contributing, in contrast to the more popular social media environments where “the bulk of the content comes from 1 to 10 percent of the membership, with the vast majority staying silent or just observing.”
The Front Porch Forum was founded in 2000 in Burlington, VT. Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis were surprised that after two years in the area, they felt little personal connection to the neighborhood and wanted to foster a sense of community. They understood that people had shifted away from personal introductions and the ‘welcome wagon’; however, the need for connection, community information, local recommendations, and the “skills of neighborliness” remained. Wood-Lewis decided the internet could help fill these cultural gaps, develop social capital, and increase involvement.
They launched the Forum by distributing 400 flyers inviting neighbors to “share messages about lost cats and block parties” and compiled daily email of announcements for a few neighbors. The service grew steadily to encompass 90 percent of the neighborhood by 2006 (McKibben 2010).
The Forum has evolved to serve as a platform for community organization and action, a tool for local governments to communicate and solicit input from citizens, and a place for people to establish virtual relationships that evolve into personal ones. The Forum fosters community through technology–by enabling a generation to first engage on their platform of choice, then recognize the value of we and opportunities to become more proactive local participants. I see the Forum as a valuable way to encourage personal interactions that sustain community and encourage civic engagement.
Front Porch Forum website. http://frontporchforum.com
Bill McKibben. “Neighbors and Online Networks: Local networks are bringing people together in Vermont.” Yankee Magazine. March 1, 2010. http://frontporchforum.com/media/article05.
David Soref. “There’s a New Way to Meet the Neighbors.” Organic Connections. May 21, 2015. http://frontporchforum.com/media/article32.