Update: Our KC Neighborhoods

I received a request to publish a current list of neighborhoods in Kansas City that subscribe to eNeighbors.

The list below is for neighborhoods in the Kansas City metro area only (Kansas and Missouri). To see if your neighborhood is online, go to www.eNeighbors.com and search for your neighborhood by zip code. 

Amber Hills Estates
Arlington Park
Autumn Ridge
Bradford Gardens
Briarcliff Community Alliance
Briarcliff West
Brighton’s Landing
Cedar Creek
Cedar Ridge Park
Coffee Creek Crossing
Communities of North Brook
Coves North
Crimson Ridge
Deer Creek
Falcon Valley
Forest View
Grey Oaks
Hampton Place
Highlands Ranch
Hills of Walden
Homestead Woods
Links at LionsGate
Maple Brook Park
Mills Farm
Newberry Commons
Northwood Trails
Nottingham by the Green
Nottingham Forest South
Oak Park Homes Association
Oaks Ridge Meadows
Oxford Pointe
Park Crossing
Parkhill Manor
Ravenwood Place
Regency By The Lake
Riss Lake
River Ridge Farms
Santa Fe Hills
South Hampton
Staley Farms
The Pavilions of Leawood
Tiffany Greens
Tuscany Reserve
Villas at Parkside
Villas of St. Andrews
Wakefield Estates
Western Auto Lofts
Wilshire Farms
Windham Park
Windsor Hills
Woodland Creek
Woodland Reserve

Neighborhood Watch and Social Networking

From TechNewsWorld: Neighborhood Watch 2.0:

City budgets are straining police forces in many cities, and in some cases citizens have seized upon social networking technologies to help guard against crime in their own neighborhoods. It’s unclear whether neighborhood watch efforts actually make people safer, but statistics indicate that neighborhoods with high levels of resident cohesion typically have less crime.

This is another example of how better communication (or cohesion) in a neighborhood can help make it safer.

eNeighbors Traffic Reports vs User Feedback

I monitor the traffic reports for our website (eNeighbors.com) at least once a day and get caught up in the upticks and downturns in traffic. The data that we can track is really helpful like pageviews and visits, which gives me a measure of the health of our site, but it lacks the intangible perspective that you get from user feedback.

In the case of South Village, they have 318 registered users on the website from 287 homes. This is good to know, but what does it mean? Can they communicate with these residents effectively? How can we test this?

One way to test this is to simply ask your users, which is exactly what a communications committee member in South Village did. He simply posted an article to see if “anyone was out there”. (An ingenious and completely tangible way to track usage and response.) I posted a screenshot of the article with the comment string below so you can see. In total, he received 86 comments, which is pretty impressive considering that there are only 318 registered users on the website. Anyone who blogs knows that this is a tremendous response rate.

I think the response was awesome and it gave me a great feeling that their website was so frequented. The comments help to give better insight into our user’s attitude and feelings about eNeighbors that you cannot get from traffic data. The comments also solidify our feelings that our automatic email newsletter and other notifications are working to promote traffic and usage.

Some of my favorite comments include:

  1. I try to log onto eNeighbors at least once a day when I can, because I want to know what my fellow homeowners are discussing. I don’t always respond to postings, as I am just one Board member and don’t represent the views of the Board as a whole. What I do is try to find out what topics are generating high levels of interest among homeowners so that, if necessary, we can include these topics in future meeting agendas.
  2. we read weekly and sometimes more! love this!
  3. We read it regularly. Thanks for taking the time to do it.
  4. Wouldn’t miss it for the world. 🙂
  5. Yup, we read them as soon as something is posted..
  6. We’re tuned in. Thanks.
  7. Hello – I look at this quite a bit – especially since I get the alerts regularly.
  8. I read this site whenever the email informs me of new posting. I set my account to receive email daily from EN.
  9. I look up eneighbors every day when I am home (I was out last two days).
    I do read all the postings and the comments that follow and make notes on them, but usually do not make any comments. (Any comments I make are my own and do not represent the Board’s views). I do believe that all Board Members do read the postings on eneighbors.
  10. I read when I see new things that I want to hear more about. (Get the reminder weekly.)


Is there anyone out there?

Censorship and social media

In April I posted an article about content moderation, a feature of our website that allows a board member to review information posted by residents before it is published on the website. In it, I recommend that board members do not utilize this feature and allow residents to freely communicate, so long as no one is violating the Terms of Use or the law.

As a follow up to that post, I would like to provide board members with an alternative to content moderation in this post.

The video below is titled “How social media can make history” and it is 15 minutes and 48 seconds long. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, scroll forward to 12:27 into the video for the relevant part where Clay Shirky shares a story about MyBo.com, the social networking site that the Obama Campaign established during his campaign and how Barack Obama responded when the registered users of the site were not too happy with him about reversing his decision on the Foreign Intelligence Surveilance Act. He didn’t shut the site down, he didn’t make it harder to register, he didn’t moderate the content. Instead, he simply told them why he decided what he did and let them use the service to talk about it. The speaker in the video concludes with this statement:

“They [the Obama Campaign] had understood that their role with myBo.com was to convene their supporters, but not to control their supporters. And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media.”

The alternative to moderation or censorship is to operate transparently and openly by communicating. Let your residents know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

A partial transcript is provided below between 12:27 and 14:30:

“We saw some of the most imaginative use of social media during the Obama campaign. And I don’t mean most imaginative use in politics. I mean most imaginative use ever. And one of the things Obama did, was they famously, the Obama campaign did, was they famously put up MyBarackObama.com, myBO.com. And millions of citizens rushed in to participate and to try and figure out how to help. An incredible conversation sprung up there. And then, this time last year, Obama announced that he was going to change his vote on FISA, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He had said, in January, that he would not sign a bill that granted telecom immunity for possibly warrantless spying on American persons. By the summer, in the middle of the general campaign, he said, “I’ve thought about the issue more. I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to vote for this bill.” And many of his own supporters on his own site went very publicly berserk. It was Senator Obama when they created it. They changed the name later. Please get FISA right. Within a day so of this group being created it was the fastest growing group on myBO.com. Within weeks of its being created it was the largest group. Obama had to issue a press release. He had to issue a reply. And he said essentially, “I have considered the issue. I understand where you are coming from. But having considered it all, I’m still going to vote the way I’m going to vote. But I wanted to reach out to you and say, I understand that you disagree with me, and I’m going to take my lumps on this one.” This didn’t please anybody. But then a funny thing happened in the conversation. People in that group realized that Obama had never shut them down. Nobody in the Obama campaign had ever tried to hide the group or make it harder to join, to deny its existence, to delete it, to take it off the site. They had understood that their role with myBo.com was to convene their supporters, but not to control their supporters. And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media.”

Please comment with your thoughts below. What are the benefits of moderation? What are the costs? How do you operate your neighborhood website and why?

Content Moderation: An overview and my recommendation

A concern that is shared by nearly all of our HOA boards is that residents will post inappropriate content to their neighborhood website. Board members often struggle with whether or not they should turn on the “content moderation” feature of their website, which allows a board member to review all postings before they are published.

My intention is to address this concern and lay out the benefits and costs of content moderation in this blog post and provide my recommendation for the content moderation setting on your neighborhood website. Please feel free to comment below. I would love the opportunity to hear your thoughts and concerns regarding this topic.

Now, before I dive into this, I want to provide you with a little background.

One integral feature of the eNeighbors website is the ability for every resident in the neighborhood to participate by posting their own news, events, groups, and classifieds. This capability is integral because it promotes participation, communication, activity, and resident interest. It also ensures that the success of the website is not dependent on a single site administrator or board member, but rather, thrives on the participation of each and every resident in a neighborhood.

Without providing the ability for residents to participate, neighborhood websites fail.

By this I mean that they are not used, content becomes stale, and the website is totally worthless as a viable communication channel. (I am not making this statement flippantly, I really mean that neighborhood websites without this ability are 100% worthless.)

So, by providing the ability for residents to actively participate you have established a viable communication channel in your neighborhood, probably for the first time ever. At the very least, you have laid the foundation for one to occur.

But, you have also opened the door for residents to complain and make you (board member) look bad. And therein lies the rub.

On one hand, you want to promote communication and transparency to help your neighborhood flourish. Afterall, communication is the means to all ends in a neighborhood. With communication you can promote social events, organize the neighborhood around community issues, form strong neighborhood watch groups, and so on and so forth.

On the other hand, you know that there are a number of contentious issues facing your neighborhood and that 50% of the neighborhood is on one side of the argument and 50% of the neighborhood is on the other side. If we allow people to communicate online, it’s just going to be a nasty, knock down, drag out fight in an online forum.

So what are you to do?

First, let me validate the concern. You are totally right – there will be postings on your neighborhood website where residents complain, debate, and even argue.

If you don’t believe me, raise dues. In one community, a resident posted a kindly worded news article that totaled 29 words. The title was “Rationale for $60 dues increase”.  The post is below.

“We were not able to attend the annual meeting could someone from the HOA Board please post the rationale for raising HOA dues by $60 to $300/year. Thank you.”

The above post received 98 comments from residents that totalled 10,747 words. (For every word they wrote, they produced 370 words in the comment string.)

I would argue that this type of participation is a good thing if not a great thing. For some board members, you might even fall over in your chair if you could elicit this type of participation in your own community, but for others, this type of dialogue may make you uncomfortable.

We are aware of the propensity for neighborhood discussions to become contentious or hotly debated, but this is not something to be avoided. In fact, this is when it is most important to have a healthy conversation. As a result, we have built in parameters that help maintain a healthy discussion so it can occur without becoming unproductive.

Here are the five things that we do to influence appropriate behavior on a community website:

  1. Residents agree to the Terms of Use when they register for access.
  2. Residents must register and sign-in to participate. No one can hide their identity. It is attached to every posted action. (example: news article or comment)
  3. Every news article has a link that states “Notify us of inappropriate content”. This automatically notifies the board, eNeighbors and the property manager.
  4. The board can suspend any resident violating the terms of use.  It is as easy as a mouse click.
  5. In the rare event it becomes necessary, content moderation can be turned on. This allows a board member to review content before it is published to the website.

Our experience with community content – 12,000 registered users and thousands of posts:

  1. No articles have ever been taken down because of inappropriate content.
  2. The “Notify us of inappropriate content” button has been pressed and submitted once; by accident
  3. No resident in any community has ever been suspended
  4. Only three neighborhoods use “content moderation”.  It has had a negative effect on the community because it discourages participation.

Now that you have an overview of the issue, let’s consider the rest of the story.

What happens if you don’t provide a forum for neighbors to communicate online?– They might create one themselves and you definitely won’t be in control of it. One property manager shared a story with me that their neighborhood board of directors got so sick of the “negative” posts that they shut down the site. Three months later, neighbors had launched their own website, which was public facing. One of the great things about eNeighbors is that everything is behind login, meaning you need a username and password to access the website. We also make sure that only residents are allowed in. This allows the community to have a discussion, contentious or not, without fear of the perception that may be created from the outside looking in. We like to think of ourselves as as online gated community.

Should we, as a board, remove posts that are bad? – Yes and no. Yes, if it is truly bad, as in, it violates the law, the terms of use or is an act of defamation. No, if it just makes you feel bad because the person publishing the comment was “rude” to you or the board. Instead, you should respond as a board member and public official with an even hand. Residents are angry because of how their neighborhood is being run. The only difference is that you are now aware of it because you have an open line of communication with them via the website. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to respond to this type of concern rather than let it stew and grow in the community. Some board members choose not to respond to comments, and this may be an appropriate action given the topic. The website is still serving its purpose by allowing neighbors to voice their concerns.

We don’t want a website that is only used to complain. – Then use it differently. I apologize for my directness, but it’s true. As a board member, you must take an active role in forming the fabric of your community if you want it to be different. Another way to say this is that you don’t want a community that complains all the time. This is not the website’s fault that your community is complaining. If you get rid of the website, the complaining doesn’t go away with it. You just don’t see it anymore, except at your annual meetings. So my suggestion is that as a leader in your community that you help guide the neighborhood towards using the website for suggestions instead of complaints. Discussions instead of debate.

My final recommendation

In conclusion, I strongly recommend that you do NOT turn on content moderation. We have verified that it discourages participation and bottle-necks communication. The purpose of any neighborhood website is to promote communication and by moderating it you are acting as a barrier to the very thing that you want to encourage.

Fatdoor Goes Alpha

fatdoor has launched in alpha mode (SF Bay area only for now).

In a very high-level sense, fatdoor is a new social network focused on localness and aims to have direct ties to the physical community in addition to the online nature of the network.

Per Greg Sterling’s blog, Raj Abhyanker of fatdoor indicates that their goal is to connect neighbors to each other specifically around things like local community, schools and families.

I applaud fatdoor in their efforts. Here at eNeighbors, we are attempting something similar — eNeighbors’ focus is connecting neighbors in their community and offering new ways to more effectively communicate with each other.

The move of social networks to the local level is a great thing to see. Relevance of information and community is starting to grow, and for adults who have little time on their hands to spend online, services like fatdoor will provide a great way to keep in touch with their community.

Neighborhood Search from Google

Last Friday, Google posted on its Lat Long Blog that Google Maps now has neighborhood search capability. To any but the most savvy users, this could be very misleading. Here’s the part that intrigues me:

Recently Google Maps introduced the ability to perform searches by neighborhoods. Neighborhoods tend to be somewhat informally defined but well recognized in certain cities. Neighborhood search is now available in fifty US cities, with more to follow.

The part about “informally defined” seems to be loophole to me. And then there’s the caveat of “only available in 50 US cities” which is the misleading part (since the title of the blog post doesn’t specificy “which” neighborhoods).

All this aside, I played along to see what the results would look like in Kansas City. Granted, KC is not the biggest metro in the country, but it’s respectable. My first search for art galleries on the Plaza gave me only one gallery that was actually on the Plaza (I know of at least 10 more). The other two results were in Kansas as far south as Leawood since Google didn’t know the difference between the Plaza and Hawthorne Plaza out south.

Second, I thought I’d try it on an actual neighborhood. I picked Mission Hills since it’s probably the premiere neighborhood in KC with the likes of Henry Block, George Brett, The Halls family, and The Russell Stover’s mansion being just a few of the well known residents. Looking for coffee around the Mission Hills neighborhood was a little better but not much. Only one of the results would I actually classify as being in Mission Hills.

My point in all this is that true neighborhood search still does not exist. It’s not even close. Google is still simply matching keywords to business listings. An actual framework of neighborhoods just doesn’t exist. Yelp comes close, and Urban Mapping has made some headway, but there still isn’t a true neighborhood level index to search from or serve content to.

Bottom line, it takes a lot of good old fashioned hard work, unique local knowledge, and lot of time to build such a network; and it’s just not economically viable for the large search companies to go down that road.

I want eNeighbors

We’ve had a lot of people tell us that they want eNeighbors in their neighborhood, but don’t know how to go about getting their neighborhood online.

If you’re a resident of a community association and you want eNeighbors, here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Email your board of directors. Email a board member and tell them to visit www.eNeighbors.com/overview/. We’ll be happy to walk them through a demonstration. If you don’t know your board members, their contact information is usually listed in your neighborhood directory or newsletter.
  2. Attend your monthly HOA board meeting. Most boards hold monthly meetings that are open to all neighbors. Be sure to bring our brochure for the board to review.
  3. Call your property manager. If your neighborhood is professionally managed by a property manager, give them a call and tell them that you want eNeighbors.
  4. Tell us to do it!We’d be happy to contact your board or property management company and explain the benefits of eNeighbors. Just send an email to sales [at] eneighbors.com and let us know who to get in touch with.

If you want to learn more about eNeighbors, take a tour.

Amber Alert

I don’t have an insightful industry post today, but I wanted to highlight one of the features of the eNeighbors service — Bulletins.

Bulletins is a great feature that allows an email message to be sent to the entire neighborhood instantly. Bulletins are most effective for an emergency situation where the entire community needs to be contacted immediately. I compare it to a neighorhood-level Amber Alert. In fact, of there was a case where a child was missing, the Bulletin feature would be the quickest way to alert everyone just like the Amber Alert system.

Find out more about the other eNeigbors features.