Friends List: Face-to-Face or Virtual?

Information Week has an interesting article up titled “5 Keys To Social Networking Success” by Andrew Conry-Murray.

One of the five keys is that successful social networks should facilitate interaction among a close-knit, pre-existing circle of companions who have existing relationships. In other words, I should be able to find my friends on the site.

But there’s an exception to this rule…

“The exception to the friends characteristic are groups that coalesce around profound experiences, such as pregnancy and childbirth or a cancer diagnosis. These groups form expressly to connect with strangers who are sharing the same experience. However, other characteristics certainly apply.”

What I like about this is that eNeighbors is the perfect example for the exception rule. You probably don’t know every person that lives in your neighborhood, but you still share common interests, goals, and concerns.

The other great thing I like about Andrew’s explanation of the exception is that this common experience connects these previously disparate people. eNeighbors takes it a step further — you can literally connect with these people right outside your front door, face to face.

I know, it’s shocking to think of real, physical interaction with people in this ever-increasing online world. Maybe that’s the defining point of a “highly” successful social network. After all, that’s what MySpace started doing with band concerts.

Freedom Of (Online) Speech

Whenever we talk to a property management company or a neighborhood board of directors about eNeighbors, there is always a concern that comes up:

How do you keep negative comments off the site?

First of all, the eNeighbors application has the ability to screen, moderate and ultimately deny someone from posting unwanted information. But I’m going to challenge this line of thinking and potential course of action.

The neighborhood leaders are always concerned about what people might think of the community if there is nothing more than negative commentary from the residents. Guess what, everyone already knows about it — after all, they live there too.

Here’s the deal, if people are pissed off about their neighbors, neighborhood policies, management, etc., deleting their online posts isn’t going to fix the problem. If anything, I would encourage community leaders to act on the negativity and thus effect some positive change. You’d be amazed at the turnaround in attitude of your neighbors if you show that you actually care enough about them to listen and do something about it.

And another thing… social responsibility.

Most online social networks do an excellent job of policing themselves, and if a rogue user is trying to pick a fight, the community at large usually shuts them down pretty fast (if not, then the admin can always revoke their account privileges). In addition to that, if you have a personal dispute with a neighbor, the online neighborhood website is NOT the appropriate place to resolve that conflict — walk across the street.

Ultimately, only good can come of promoting a healthy discussion between neighborhood residents. If it ends up being a flame war and constant insult trading, then I’d argue there are bigger problems at stake, and at least you can address the specific problems since you now know about them.

With all that said, the majority of our current online communities behave themselves. They post relevant news information and keep an ongoing friendly dialog about current issues and concerns. Giving people the power to act does not always mean they will. It just shows that you trust them, and in turn they respect you for giving them the opportunity and the means.

The freedom of speech is a dangerous and wonderful thing.

eNeighbors & The Knight News Challenge

eNeighbors has applied to the Knight News Challenge in the “New Business Ventures” category. Our goal is to align with a funding resource that shares our vision and focus for neighborhood-level communication in actual geographical communities.

Additionally, we strive to achieve social responsibility in our business model as it directly affects communities and their residents. The Knight Foundation shares much of these same principles and beliefs. We believe in what the Knight Foundation is trying to achieve through this program and would love to be a part of it.

Last year, the Knight Foundation awarded funding to a diverse collection of 25 individuals, private and public entities, ranging from MIT to MTV. The Foundation plans to invest at least $25 million over five years in the search for bold community news experiments.

Visit the Knight Foundation to learn more.

Visit eNeighbors to learn how to get your neighborhood online.

Yahoo! Local Redesign – Did you notice the ‘neighborhood’ info?

Yahoo! recently redesigned their local search portal and made some significant improvements. (I find the user comments on the redesign entertaining. Users are always upset after a redesign – “I can’t find [insert the one thing you used] anymore.”

There are plenty of reviews (here and here) of the new site, so I won’t waste your time simply recapping what they’ve already said. Instead, I want to focus on the integration of “Neighborhood Groups”, which is easy to overlook. If you missed it, you can find this new feature near the bottom of the Yahoo! Local page after entering in your location info.

Neighborhood Groups

After a cursory review, the Neighborhood Groups feature looks to be somewhat of an afterthought (I’ll explain why shortly), but I think that it indicates the direction that they’re likely to take their product as local social networks blossom.

The idea is to get local people talking to each other about local business listings like restaurant reviews, vendor recommendations, etc. For example, one neighbor talking to another about the incredible (or not so incredible) restaurant that they ate at last night.

Why is this cool? Relevance and trust. My neighbor’s review about a restaurant is much more relevant to me than a review from someone I’ve never met. I know and trust my neighbor so when he says that the restaurant was great, I believe him. Or maybe I know that I have different tastes than my neighbor, which is also valuable to me, and I’ll be sure to avoid what he likes. Either way, the review is more valuable to me. And the same goes for my neighbors’ lawn care company, real estate agent, dog sitter, handy man, etc. 

But is this how it works? No, not today. Not yet.

If you visit http://local.yahoo.com/, under “Neighborhood Groups” the site asks, “Need a recommendation? Ask a neighbor in a local group”. So I clicked on “Search for groups near you”, you’ll get a list of groups, not neighborhoods, located in your area. When I did this, I typed in zip code 80027 as my location, and came up with the Louisville Runner’s Club, a group located in Louisville, Colorado.

Even though I didn’t get a list of neighborhoods, I was actually pretty excited at this point. I was expecting to find reviews from members of the Louisville Runner’s Club about the New Balance store nearby that has the cool machine that measures your foot for the perfect fit.

I didn’t find that review, which didn’t really surprise me, but what did surprise me is that I didn’t find any reviews from this group. Even more surprising was that there is no vehicle that allows me to do this.

So when Yahoo! asked me if I needed a recommendation and suggested that I ask a neighbor in a local group, what they’re really saying is, “hey, wouldn’t that be cool if you could do that?” Yes, it would. It would even be better if I could sort reviews by my friends, neighbors, and so on.

I’m pretty sure that Yahoo! has some of the data needed to accomplish this; they’re just not leveraging it yet. But it will be extremely valuable to businesses and consumers alike when this concept is further developed.

Local News and Content Innovations

Yahoo Local redesigns their interface adding all sorts of cool content controls and useful features for discovering local news and events.

By partnering with MenuPages, CitySearch has added extensive menu content to their restaurant profile pages. Awesome! Now I can find out ahead of time if there is a kid’s menu.

Google is now allowing users to comment on stories (that they appear in) on Google News. Still wondering how Google will verify that people are who they say they are…