Why Build-It-Yourself Websites Suck

Let’s say you are on the board of directors for your HOA. You’ve been put in charge of the landscaping and groundskeeping for the neighborhood. Naturally, you need to hire a landscape company. Most landscape companies provide the following:

1. Seeding, fertilizing and cutting of grass
2. Planting and care for flowers, shrubs, and trees

Why do you pay a landscape company for these services? They have the right equipment and the expertise to do the job, right? Also, to do all this work takes a lot of time. I’m not just talking about the time it takes to plant a tree, but the ongoing maintenance of watering and caring for any growing, living thing. Oh yeah, and the grass has to be cut about every 4-7 days.

Let’s not forget, you are a volunteer.

Since you have a day job, you would never attempt to do all this work yourself. There’s simply no time to do it, and you aren’t getting paid for it.

You call the landscape company and they tell you that they have a revolutionary new process for taking care of all your needs — you do it yourself.

Stay with me here… let’s say the landscape company then offered to give you a manual and training guides on how to take care of all your own landscaping, AND they want to charge you for it too.

That’s when you hang up on them.

So, why in the world would you accept this type of service for your neighborhood website?

Are you going to pay some company for a website and then do all the work of setting it up yourself? On top of that, you will have to update the site constantly by yourself. I don’t care if the fee is $2.00 a month, you’re still paying “them” and doing all the work on your own.

When we created the eNeighbors web application, this volunteer situation and constant maintenance issue was the central focus of our application development. We do all the work for you (that’s why we get paid). We set up the site for you, we make sure the site stays up, and here’s the best part — the entire community updates the site.

The board is no longer the continual bottleneck for new, fresh, and relevant information in your neighborhood. Every resident in your community has the ability to share news information, host a social event or post a classified ad.

Stop doing all the work yourself, and sign your neighborhood up with eNeighbors today.

National Neighborhood Day

Do you love your neighborhood? Are you the one that always hosts the block party? Do your neighbors constantly help each other out?

Show how much you appreciate your community by celebrating on National Neighborhood Day, September 16, 2007.

The mission of National Neighborhood Day is to inspire, build, and sustain the neighborhood relationships that provide the foundation for civic action and the building of stronger, more caring and effective communities.

Also, be sure to check out the short film contest winners from 2006. The three films are very different from each other, and they give a great insight to the wide spectrum of community that exists across our country. The comments from the contest judges reflect this as well.

Visit the National Neighborhood Day website for more info.

Expanding To New Markets

eNeighbors is looking to expand our sales efforts on some specific local markets across the country. We are currently considering the following cities:

Dallas/Fort Worth

I’d like to ask our readers opinion and hear if they have any insight into these markets and whether or not the homes association market would be primed in these areas for eNeighbors to make some significant headway on getting communities online.

Additionally, if anyone has some other suggestions for where we might have success, I would love to hear what you all have to say.


Local Content: Year 2017

There’s an interesting article from Online Journalism Review about how newspapers need to adapt to survive in the new web-centric news world.

How important is community-based media? Are the days of reading the paper over coffee and toast coming to an end with the aging of my parents’ generation?

Fast-forward ten years… picture this:

My seven year-old son is now seventeen. For breakfast, he pours a bowl of Lucky Charms and flips through his iPhone IMs, checks the weather and browses the programming schedule for the latest episodes in his friend’s local reality show (which is about to be picked up by MySpace Productions).

Next he checks to see which classes are “video-broadcast only” today so he can plan his Xbox gaming time accordingly. He also sees that the high-school football game tonight starts at 7pm, and the opposing team’s record is 6 and 2.

As he walks out the door, he calls back to me, “Dad, I just got a text from eNeighbors that the city council approved the proposal to build the Starbucks on that corner lot. Looks like your coffee addiction is going to be even harder to kick — ha, ha… see ya later.”

So I ask, what does true local content integration look like? It’s not about technology. Web-publishing has been around for over a decade. It’s about the right tools for the right people. And it’s about the right people believing in something bigger. Something new and not based on “what we’ve always done” in the past.

What will the true voice of local content sound/look/feel like?

eNeighbors Stats: 6/18 – 7/17

We keep growing. As I mentioned on Monday, the classifieds feature is showing more and more popularity.

Traffic data:

82,662 page views – 18% increase (over last 30 days)
8,779 visits – 17% increase (over last 30 days)
5 minutes avg visit duration – 0% increase (over last 30 days)

18 neighborhoods online
2,115 registered users at 1999 unique addresses. All of these homes are in the Kansas City area except for one neighborhood in Fort Worth, TX and one in Napa, CA.

With 6,844 potential addresses in the neighborhoods that have signed up so far, we are at 29% adoption rate for our entire resident base.

The newsletter adoption rate is holding true as well with only 16 residents (out of 2,115) opting out of receiving the email newsletter.

That means 2,099 home owners are getting a weekly newsletter from eNeighbors that summarizes the activity in their neighborhood… sit back and think about that for a second.

Total user-generated content since launch (about 4 months):

News posts: 289
Events: 155
Groups: 54
Classifieds: 328

Help us continue to grow. Tell your friends about eNeighbors. And get your neighborhood signed up too.

Backfence: Lessons Learned

Mark Potts, co-founder of Backfence, has shared some of the lessons he learned from his experience at Backfence. It’s a really insightful post and I’m thankful that he posted it. A lot of what his has to say is inline with what we debate at eNeighbors. You can read his thoughts here. He really gets it.

I want to piggy-back off of some of what he said:

  1. “A top-down, “if you build it, they will come” strategy absolutely does not work…”-This is so true. Local is a huge space, but it won’t be won by the standard approaches that the Internet industry has come to understand with national web portals and global audiences. A bottom-up approach is clearly the only way to go in local. Unfortunately, this means slower growth and more leg work up front, but in the long run, it represents a competitive advantage.
  2. “It’s about the community” – Community first. This is probably true with any site, but especially local sites. If you engage the community, the content will create itself. More importantly, your site will be relevant to users regardless of the content.
  3. “Hyperlocal content is really mundane.” – Yep. Unless it’s relevant to the community. If it is, then the conversation that ensues is really interesting.
  4. “Trust the audience.”– I love this one. Everyone one is scared out of their mind to let people post their own content, and as a result, we have installed a ton of controls to influence appropriate behavior. But at the end of the day, it works because people take responsibility for what they say.
  5. “Focus on strong, well-defined communities.”– In my opinion, this is the number one most important thing. I would argue that this is where Backfence failed. They weren’t local enough.

He has a lot more stuff to say. I highly recommend that you read the full post.

The Future of Online Classifieds

Kevin Kelleher wrote an interesting piece last week about eBay’s new Kijiji classifieds service in the U.S. and how it stacks up against Craigslist.

Kevin links to Internet Outsider which has this great comment:

Despite significant online classified efforts, moreover, the classified opportunity remains massive: The dying newspaper industry still rakes in tens of billions of dollars a year for printed classifieds — a less efficient, less informative, less convenient, more wasteful, and more expensive way to buy or sell products. In another few decades, when the current (and last) generation of hard-copy newspaper readers dies out, printed classifieds will seem as archaic as whale oil. The newspaper companies may be able to retain some classifieds business as it moves online, but given the success of Craigslist, Monster, et al (and the seriously weak newspaper efforts thus far), this percentage will likely be small.

So, there’s a $10 billion plus market for classifieds, and the majority of it is not online.

Here’s where I get excited. Of all the news and community content features that eNeighbors offers to the neighborhood residents, classifieds have been the most popular by far. To date (we launched in April), we have had over 300 classifieds posted from only 2000 users in 18 neighborhoods. Keep in mind that most of the neighborhoods have only been using our service for a few weeks.

Additionally, we have already received numerous comments from users that they would like to be able to publish their classifieds to other neighborhoods in their area. This is a site enhancement that we are currently working.

The great thing is that we built the classifieds engine as a “nice to have” feature for residents to use when garage sales were not appropriate never expecting it to be so popular, but our users have begun to see a huge potential for a truly hyper-local type of market square.

I’d like to see eNeighbors follow in Craig Newmark’s footsteps and provide valuable relevant classifieds in an even more hyper-local context.

Never underestimate the power of free.

eNeighbors Testimonials

Last week I posted some of the suggestions that we’ve received from our users.

This week, I thought I’d share some of the testimonials that we’ve received or found. I went looking through some of our neighborhood websites today and found the following testimonials in news articles and comments.

Great Website
“I really like the new website and feel it is very easy to use. I hope everyone will use the site to communicate with their neighbors and help grow a stronger community. We live in a wonderful neighborhood, maybe we should take some time to thank our board of volunteers, they all have full time jobs. It takes from their families to help make our community what it is.”

– Scott & Kursta H. (Communities of Northbrook)

Features work well
“Let me not fail to tell you that some of the most important features on eNeighbors work very well.  When I am composing an editing a news item or an event, these features are a pleasure to deal with.  When I upload a resource, no problem.  As far as I know, members have joined without a hitch.  All in all, this is a valuable tool for our organization.”- Steve W. (Overland Park Homeowners Forum)

 Love to RSVP online
“I’ve already commented about your wonderful Website, and once again I’m so impressed with how well it’s organized, designed, etc. I also was very impressed with the online reservations today as I RSVP’d for the progressive dinner.”- Lisa H. (Nottingham Forest South)

 Best Website
“This site is clearly much better than past ones. Not a knock on the others who put together the previous sites, but this was done by people whose job it is to create sites.”- Matthew P. (Northbrook)

What I found in my closet

I went back to my hometown, Kansas City, for a presentation. I stayed at my parents house and found a book called, “My first book about Basic”. Bill Gates signed the inside of the front cover. My mom tells me that I was in second grade when he signed it. Pretty cool.



Legal concerns with public neighborhood websites

Peters & Freedman, LLP is a legal firm that specializes in Community Association law in California. They have a detailed post on their blog of “do’s” and “don’ts” from a legal perspective when it comes to publishing association documents and other information on your neighborhood website.

I generally agree with what they have to say. Here is a quick summary of their do’s and don’ts:


  1. Require that residents sign in to access private neighborhood documents.
  2. Post CC&Rs, Bylaws, Rules and Regulations, Architectural Guidelines.
  3. Post a strong privacy policy (See our Privacy Policy.)
  4. Publish a disclaimer for any information posted on the website (See our Disclaimer.)
  5. Seek written permission when publishing photos of homes or residents.


  1. Don’t assume that you have met your legal notification requirements when you post information on the website.
  2. Don’t post non-privileged vendor contracts, membership lists, reserve account balances, financial statements, and other specified financial documents.
  3. Don’t provide chat room or discussion forums

#3 in the don’ts list is the only thing that I disagree with. I understand the concern, I just don’t agree with the proposed solution.

The legal concern is that online discussions will become inflammatory or defamatory or contain offensive language, which may have legal implications.

However, the reality of the situation is that residents demand the ability to have online discussion. In fact, they even get upset if we limit this capability. (See my post on suggestions from our users.)

Instead of removing the capability to have an online discussion, I would suggest that the website implement the proper controls that influence appropriate behavior.

For example, in order to post information on an eNeighbors website, you must agree to disclose who you are. You cannot hide behind an avatar or alias that hides you. So, when you post information, your name is attached to it, forcing you to think twice about what you say online. We have also provided other users with the ability to flag content as inappropriate. If you see a post that contains something negative, all you have to do is click a link and we’re immediately notified to remove the post. And finally, you can also review information before it is posted – that way nothing inappropriate ever makes its way on the website.

All in all, I think the best way to put any legal concerns to bed is to simply make your neighborhood website private. Through our registration process, eNeighbors can ensure that only residents are allowed access.