Keeping Vermont connected with Front Porch Forum

Software by TWG

Front Porch Forum is the social network that keeps Vermont connected, serving more than 150,000 residents across the state. TWG built Front Porch Forum’s first web application, and over the past eight years we have completed many sprints together to grow this vital service.

  1. About Front Porch Forum
  2. First Project
  3. Ongoing work

1. About Front Porch Forum

Front Porch Forum is a regional network of online neighbourhood forums. Using software co-created with TWG, the service covers the entire state of Vermont and four small towns in upstate New York. It was founded in 2006 by entrepreneurs Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis.

A growing body of research (and common sense) tells us that well-connected neighbourhoods are friendlier places to live, with less crime, healthier residents, higher property values, and better service from local government and public utilities. In Vermont, Front Porch Forum is the social network that facilitates those connections.

How it works: Front Porch Forum members share postings with others in their community. Each forum is limited to a neighbourhood of several hundred homes, and members are clearly identified by their full name and the name of their street. Community moderators help keep the tone civil and constructive. Front Porch Forum also offers an advertising platform for local businesses and nonprofits.

Who uses Front Porch Forum: Everyone from high school students to octogenarians log in daily to check the pulse of their neighbourhood. Member demographics mirror the general Vermont population on race/ethnicity, household income, and having kids under age 18 living at home. FPF members are slightly more likely to be female, more likely to own their own home, and are more likely to be long-time residents (3+ years).

In most towns, at least 75% of residents are signed up. Front Porch Forum’s members report that as a result of membership, they feel more informed about local issues and opportunities for community engagement, and are participating more in civic life.¹

“Front Porch Forum connects me to my community, makes the bond between us stronger, and personal conversations continue due to postings. I look forward to reading it every night. I’m not a Facebook fan but I LOVE Front Porch Forum.”
— User Testimonial

2. First Project

From email community to responsive web application

Front Porch Forum first engaged with TWG in 2010. Its goal was to turn a thriving community email newsletter into a a simple, accessible online community. It was to be a place where people could build bridges with one another by discussing the ebb and flow of neighbourhood life, replicated across multiple neighbourhoods.

We built Front Porch Forum’s first web application using Ruby on Rails, and the service began to roll out across the neighbourhoods of Burlington, Vermont. By 2012, more than 50,000 people were using the platform — with more than half posting and commenting regularly. It was then we took the decision to become not just a technology partner, but also an investor in Front Porch Forum.

The following year, Front Porch Forum and TWG prepared to scale the service with a responsive web rebuild designed to increase user engagement, a new suite of member management tools, and the introduction of advertising products that offered hyperlocal geo-targeting.

“Operating with an incredibly diverse demographic range in the hyperlocal environment means that most of the standard metrics we know from other platforms don’t really hold up. So we listen to feedback and reconcile that with the information we do have to make sense of existing user behaviours. We also established detailed reporting for their advertising system and used the data to inform our work on their ad platform.” — Tom Walsham, VP Product, TWG

3. Ongoing work

Since partnering with TWG, Front Porch Forum has grown from humble beginnings in the city of Burlington to a statewide network of online neighbourhood forums. Of the 260,000 households in Vermont, 150,000 are Front Porch Forum users. The company reached financial sustainability in 2015, and is serving a growing list of needs in Vermont and neighbouring states.

Front Porch Forum continues to collaborate closely with TWG as it grows. Recently, we helped Front Porch Forum take another step towards sustainability by helping them find, interview, hire and train their first in-house developer — a Tech Lead. Today, we continue to guide Front Porch Forum’s product roadmap, supporting this new hire as they take on increasing amounts of ownership.

“To keep Front Porch Forum going, to attract a critical mass of people, to hold their attention, to get them to speak up, to keep it civil and interesting and to have people stick around for years and years is not a trivial matter. The agile process and the particular individual players have been great. Our ability to get a lot of work done in a single sprint is phenomenal.”
— Michael Wood-Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO , Front Porch Forum

Our experiences with Front Porch Forum explicitly demonstrate the value of building partnerships with our clients, says TWG Managing Partner Andrés Aquino. What started as a single web application development project, made possible by a grant from the Knight Foundation, turned into a long-term relationship that helped both our teams learn and grow:

“Our relationship with Front Porch Forum has changed so much since they sent that first email looking for help to rebuild their app. We’ve gone from providing development support to providing strategic product and business advice, and then on to invest in their business. TWG has moved offices twice, and grown from a team of twelve to having more than 120 people across engineering, design, product management and user research. Working with Front Porch Forum helped us hone our agile process and made us better at delivering value consistently, and we’ve helped them to achieve business success through the implementation of software. We’ve grown together.”
— Andrés Aquino, Managing Partner, TWG
  1. Front Porch Forum Evaluation: Member Survey 2017.

Words: ♛ Holly Knowlman ♛
Photography: Kieran Crilly
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