Peter Davis, Harvard University senior, got motivated to launch OurCommonPlace in 2009 after taking Bob Putnam’s course on social capital. He co-launched OurCommonPlace with Max Novendstern confident that the internet could be utilized to build up American civic life.
CommonPlace is a web-based platform that greatly facilitates local community engagement. It makes it far easier for you to connect with and share information with neighbors and local leaders.
They are now active in 10 cities and towns, are: Falls Church, VA; Harrisonburg, VA; Vienna, VA; Warwick, NY; Marquette, MI; Burnsville, MN; Golden Valley, MN; Clarkston, GA; Owosso, MI; and Chelmsford, MA.
To expand into new cities, they are trying to encourage cities (or local civic sponsors) to invest in the seed costs of launching OurCommonPlace. Those launching costs include sending two young-adult “community organizers” into communities for 2 months knocking on doors and encouraging residents to sign up. Usually by several months they have at least 1000 users and from there word-of-mouth drives interest higher. [They have found that they need about 700 users before there is enough traffic to get to a vibrant critical mass for a site. Note: an alternative, hands-off approach like i-neighbors often finds that they have many sites with only a handful of users and hence the site's potential is severely limited.]
Residents can find out what’s happening locally or post about local happenings, needs (a good roof repair company, or interest in starting a Boomer ultimate frisbee league, for instance). They can
- Ask to borrow a ladder or power drill
- Publicize a tag sale or block party
- Find out how they can take cooking classes
- Ask who has a used loft bed they can have or buy
- Find people and organizations with shared interests or hobbies around them
- Ask how to fix a pot hole
- Find out where their lost cat wandered off to
- Organize a service project
Users can connect one-to-one or one-to-many (to their neighborhood or to their town). These one-to-many posts can either be a neighborhood post (e.g., do you have a lawn edger I can borrow, or offering babysitting services, or need someone to help me with my computers.) or a community announcements that notifies the whole town of some upcoming event. Residents can also be e-mailed a weekly summary of key interesting posts and events.
The founders are confident that the social networks formed from exchanging information, trading services or skills, collaborating with neighbors or participating in local events will increase social capital and bring all the attendant benefits (safer streets, better working government, more effective schools, a more vibrant economy, improved public health and happier neighbors).
They maintain a blog with some examples of interesting connections made. Examples are a Marquette kid who got a “new” bike and wants to pay it forward; residents fighting restrictions and fees on block parties; or neighbors working to help find the owner of a lost parakeet.
Here is an article “A Common Place for the City” from January about their efforts in Falls Church, VA (Peter Davis’ hometown).
And here is Peter Davis describing his vision to the Falls Church City Council.
Read Kate Brunkhurst’s experience with CommonPlace FallsChurch on her blog.
- Our starter site: CommonPlaceUSA.com
- A news story from Marquette: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsTypSRO4rc
- A news story from Raleigh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaW67fAUB4Q
- News story on Warwick’s CommonPlace: http://www.strausnews.com/articles/2011/06/14/warwick_advertiser/news/1.txt
- A news story about Burnsville’s CommonPlace
Another commercial recent entry into this space is Nextdoor (company site here; NY Times article here). Nextdoor was founded by Nirav Tolia (CEO), who formed Epinions in 1999. Video of the Nextdoor service here.
Residents on Nextdoor get a map of their community on the site and can use the site to ask questions, request and share local service recommendations, sell or donate items they no longer need, and help each other in ways that benefit the entire neighborhood, such as, “giving an extra armchair to a neighbor”, getting a recommendation for a new babysitter, organizing a block party, learning about the timing on a construction project. There is no cost for the service.
Nextdoor verifies that people actually live in a neighborhood using one of 4 techniques:
- Phone verification. Nextdoor sends an automated phone call with a unique code to verify a new account.
- Postcards. Nextdoor sends a postcard to a new member’s address with a unique code that a new user must enter to verify an account.
- Credit card billing address. Nextdoor can instantly verify a new member’s home address through a credit card billing address and a $0.01 charge.
- Neighbor invitations. A verified member of a Nextdoor neighborhood can vouch for a neighbor by inviting them by email or postcard.
See Steven Clift’s helpful comment posted below.