A start-up project in Vermont, FPF creates online communities for each city neighborhood, where residents can get to know each other, post requests for help or information, discuss neighborhood issues, and make announcements.
According to its website, "Front Porch Forum's mission is to help neighbors connect and build community. We do that by hosting regional networks of online neighborhood forums.
"Common sense and a growing body of research tell us that well-connected neighborhoods are friendlier places to live, with less crime, healthier residents, higher property values, and better service from local government and public utilities."
Front Porch Forums have now been set up for dozens of neighborhoods within Vermont cities and towns. Forums are open only to residents living in the neighborhood. Neighborhood residents can visit the Front Porch Forum website and sign up for their neighborhood Forums, at which point they have free access to the service.
Residents receive email newsletters from their neighbors, they can send emails to the neighborhood list, and search message archives posted on the neighborhood homepage. Messages are posted on different bulletin boards, and cover a wide range of topics. An example archive from one forum on a certain day includes messages titled:
The Forum has been successful at making some traditional neighborhood communications more efficient. A traditional phone-tree can be replaced by a single blog post, alerting everyone in the neighborhood. Burlington’s neighborhood forums have used this feature to improve crime watches, announce neighborhood improvement problems, and of course announce the typical tag sales and fundraisers. Part blog, part Craig’s List, part community message board, the Forum may be used differently in each neighborhood. Community managers monitor the Forum for inappropriate posts.
Perhaps the most important use of the Forum, however, is to build and increase neighbors’ familiarity with each other and the place. Residents of many neighborhoods had never spoken to one another prior to joining the Forum, but have now met in the virtual space and gone on to set up in-person meetings. Rather than confining neighborhood interactions to the Forum, the project has facilitated introductions and encouraged neighbors to meet in person and reports that this is the aspect of the Forum that users value most.
FPF is currently limited primarily to Vermont communities, and towns wanting to start a new Forum must raise approximately $2000 to cover the service and online community management, plus commit to helping publicize and encourage use.