Version 1.0 - April 2, 2012
The primary goal of the future BeNeighbors.org 2.0 directory website is:
- Help people find neighborhood/community online groups near them
BeNeighbors will make it easy to discover and join such local online groups online NOT just via the typical (yet powerful) word of mouth route. The idea's roots come from the Got Neighbors? discussion on Locals Online.
The secondary goal is to:
- Promote the dramatic spread of neighbor to neighbor networking online by connecting emergent community leaders to the advice, training, inspiration from peers and navigate the many tools they can use to successfully host online neighborhood exchange and engagement online
An estimated 20 million adult American Internet users have joined a neighborhood e-mail list or forum and/or a social network site group connected to community issues (10.5% of adult Internet users total). The long-term goal of this directory website and proposed Got Milk? style awareness campaign is to double the number of neighbors online "joiners" to 40 million.
Starting small, the concept will pilot in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota as part of the Knight Foundation funded Inclusive Community Engagement Online initiative. E-Democracy will take the many links from their start-up directory of expressly two-way local spaces online as a quick start and make it available on a regional comprehensive map with search and geographic hierarchy navigation options. Each local online group will have its own profile and information page.
It will include both neighborhood-wide e-mail lists, local social networking groups, and E-Democracy's many hybrid Neighbors Forums. E-Democracy will identify and then add links to active but more private "electronic block clubs" which are often invite-only block-level online groups on Facebook, YahooGroups, etc. but sometimes simply a bcc: e-mail list run by a block leader .
- Person visits http://beneighbors.org - attracted by many means of outreach
- Geo-location guesstimator will provide local map view of the the local online groups in your area with icon centered on the area covered by a local online group
- A search by postal code (perhaps street address) can bring up a local map as well
- Clicking on an online group map icon will unveil (when known) the area covered by the local online group and other in
- Icons will be coded by a mix of simple colors for type (public, private, etc.) and technology web host (e.g. Facebook Groups, YahooGroups, etc.)
- A general text search of the directory as well as hunt by geographic place name will be made available
- The directory will start with clearly "joinable" online spaces that allow two-way engagement. It may display icon links to Wikipedia pages about places names as well as active very local place blogs at some point.
- Search Beyond - We will have a page with search tips/links on finding existing local online groups on major hosts from older YahooGroups to newer Facebook Groups
- Person visiting http://beneighbors.org doesn't find a local online group for their neighborhood and/or block and wants more information on how to start one
- We provide information and online training on how to start one - effectively (most attempts to start these are viewed as technology challenges and the technology is the easy part leading to ten of thousands of empty local online groups with few members)
- We provide balanced information on the many tools and sites one can choose from to host local online groups
- We connect people doing this work for peer to peer help via the Locals Online community of practice
- Site user may submit information on missing online groups to the site quickly without registration or if they are the owner/host they may create a full profile and add it to the directory
- Phase 2 - We provide special tools and services for hosts (existing and new) to promote their local online groups to their neighbors/community no matter what platform they are hosted on
- Phase 2 - Users may register and request a local online group without agreeing to start one and be contactable by those who do agree to start one in their area
By piloting in the Twin Cities, we are leveraging E-Democracy's 30+ Neighbors Forums and their knowledge of many other neighborhood-wide and often 1 to 3 block specific online "block clubs."
The number one challenge for the concept of a directory in this space is seeding it with a enough information to make it useful to people over a wide area to test its usefulness. The 50 or so known online spaces within the central cities alone already in an existing "flat" directory combined with the funded inclusive "Be Neighbors" outreach campaign provide a strategic opportunity to generate critical mass usage.
The second challenge is that of sustained curation and directory quality. In BeNeighbors.org, each listing will require an owner (likely the host of the online group) and confirmation in six months that the listing is still accurate and then again yearly. A regular, but light-weight relationship between BeNeighbors.org and the online group owner, even a simple monthly update on the visitors to their profile and click-throughs would work.
The now closed technology-oriented attempt by the UK-based GroupNearYou.com site did not inspire updating or regular use by those hosting local online groups. It contained many dormant or never really opened online groups which made the directory not very useful. While crowd-sourcing through volunteers gathering information on many sites sounds cost-effective, it cannot be the core model for gathering such information during the proof of concept phase. E-Democracy will instead provide dedicated resources to further identify and seed the effort in the Twin Cities.
The BeNeighbors.org domain name is already being used on promotional material and will even be on yard signs in St. Paul. We envision a promotional "Meet Your Neighbors Online Week" and other efforts to drive use of the directory via many community partners.
Based on the Twin Cities experience, we envision rolling out this directory to interested Knight communities and other communities with additional funding. We also envision a "producers co-op" style relationship with neighbor connecting networks struggling to gain the visibility required to attract critical mass participation.
E-Democracy.org is interested in leveraging existing open source code or content management systems.
Based on this outline, we are interested in your quick proposals or outlines about what would work best in your view technology-wise. We are also interested in your estimated cost to build a pilot site and maintain it for one year. Feel free to breakout features in terms of complexity/cost. We are interested in models that would/could engage volunteers in our efforts as well.
We have a modest technology and innovation budget within our three year Inclusive Community Engagement Online initiative. Our primary project goal is to dedicate outreach resources to diverse, high immigrant, lower income communities so building out the beneighbors.org directory in a cost-effective way is extremely important or fewer people will be reached through other outreach.
- Code for Neighbors - A hackathon idea for a tool to help a "Community Spark" create a simple print directory of nearest neighbors with an online back-end
- Technical Notes - Explorations with Drupal community on broader proximity connecting - very rough
Contact Steven Clift, Executive Director via firstname.lastname@example.org - Put "BeNeighbors Directory Site" in the subject with your input, questions, or proposals.
To connect with others, join our open source and neighbor connecting online working group.
To get involved with E-Democracy.org as a volunteer, join our general Projects online group.