Fatdoor Funding

Some good progress being made over at Fatdoor today. Sounds like they got a new CEO as well as some investment funding. It’s great to see social networking initiatives in the local neighborhood space getting recognition and traction.

This just further proves that the space is viable and relevant. With the never-ending supply of social networking options these days, it’s getting really tough to focus on the right networks and web apps that give a postive return to the user both online and offline.

Greg Sterling and TechCrunch both comment as well.

Graphing Social Patterns

Next week in San Jose, there’s a great social networking conference going on. Graphing Social Patterns: The Business & Technology of Facebook is an event for both business and marketing folks as well as techies.

There is an all-star cast lined up to present too. The likes of Tim O’Reilly, Reid Hoffman, and Michael Arrington will all be there. Additionally, Charlene Li from Forrester will be presenting. Charlene’s white papers on social networking have been some of the best material on the subject this year.

Local Search: The Future of eCommerce

How much do you buy online? Depending on your social situation (single, married, kids, etc.), the amount of actual online purchasing can vary greatly. But how often do you research a purchase online regardless of whether you are planning to purchase online or offline?

When it comes to local search, Greg Sterling has some great comments on SEL today. Greg’s comment in his opening statement are of particular interest to me as it relates to eNeighbors. Since our target audience is homeowners in a managed community, the home services are a perfect fit for us to be able to recommend and advertise to our users, but Greg’s comment about products (which I assume to mean pretty much anything) tell me that every transaction whether on or offline starts at the local level since that’s where we all live.

In other words, we all live in a local community no matter where we are. This local community which houses our friends and family is the largest influence on our buying habits. Our local habitat dictates our entertainment options, our habits, hobbies, etc. You get the idea.

I think the real insight here is this — to sell a product (any product) how much more effective would that sales process be if it were approached from a local level? Obviously, it would be exponetially more effective. It would be like a door-to-door salesman for the entire world. In the past, this approach has not been very cost-effective for obvious reasons, but with the recent adoption of the web’s social networking features, this type of sales approach is now possible.

So, once again I’m advocating the use of a bottom-up approach to local search. In this case, as it directly relates to local commerce. Ironically, the internet may be the vehicle to bring back the feeling of community and localness.

The importance of community and neighborhood to local search

I wish I had said it first… (via Marty Himmelstein)

The fundamental role of a community in local search is to establish an environment of trust so that users can rely on the information they obtain from the system. Businesses exist in a network of customers, suppliers, municipal agencies, local media, hobbyists, and others with either a professional or avocational interest in establishing the trustworthiness of local information. These community members can contribute unique perspectives to create a rich and accurate depiction of the businesses with which they are involved. The group targeted by Google’s new program, college-aged students who want to earn extra spending money, hardly comprise a community as described. But it is a start. One must assume the current program is a precursor to a more disciplined and organized initiative where Google works with organizations that have more substantial relationships of trust in the local community.

Exactly.

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.

To Sale Or Not To Sale

A recent Facebook application launched from Buy.com called Garage Sale. I think it’s self-explanatory — sell your stuff to your friends on Facebook. Theory is that they know and trust you, so it’s like a “garage sale” at your house.

TechCrunch thinks this type of closed system of selling won’t work because in this scenario, sellers don’t have access to a large customer base (like on eBay), or for that matter like on edgeio.com (the TechCrunch-backed classifieds site).

I thought about this for a while especially considering our success with classifieds in the eNeighbors neighborhood sites. For instance, if eNeighbors grew to the point of millions of users, how effective would our inter-community classifieds be? Would we be able to truly replace the newspaper classifieds? Or would someone like eBay ultimately win out?

The offline print classifieds are still successful to this day due to their ability to give you the “local” view of what people are selling. All you have to do is drive over and get it. Additionally, I know that some people (like my mother) love to go hunt for hidden treasures at garage/estate sales. Putting this experience online just wouldn’t translate.

In the end, I think the answer will be whatever website your average “non-techie” internet user knows about will be the one he/she uses. Additionally, that website needs to be easy to use and not intimidating to newbies. We are doing everything we can to make eNeighbors.com be exactly that.

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.