JP gets networked

May 1, 2009
By

David Taber

Local non-profit Neighbors For Neighbors (NFN)—a Jamaica Plain group that since 2005 has been encouraging Jamaica Plain residents to interact with each other—has hitched its horse to the social networking website phenomenon.

Call it Facebook for JP.

Like the popular networking web site, NFN’s new site (www.neighborsforneighbors.org) is driven by user-generated content. Members can post profiles and announcements, and join and start groups and discussions.

These new capabilities are a vast improvement over NFN’s old blog site, NFN founder Joseph Porcelli told the Gazette. “Up until [now] everything had to go through me,” he said. “I wanted to unleash the power and creativity of the community.”

That community focus is the main difference between the NFN site other networking sites. “It’s a tool to harness the organizing the community wants to do,” Porcelli said.

One instance where that focus appears to be successful is a conversation started by the non-profit Community Servings seeking input about plans to host a farmers market in the parking lot at its headquarters on Marbury Terrace. As of April 28, there had been 27 replies to that conversation since it was started March 23, and participants appear to have established that they would like to see the market running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Community Servings director David Waters told the Gazette the non-profit—which provides cooked meals for the disabled—plans to start the market sometime after July 4. Community Servings is also setting up a community supported agriculture program (CSA) where people can pre-pay for weekly boxes of locally grown produce. That will start up in June, he said. [See JP Agenda.]

Colleen Keller, JP coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, told the Gazette she is a fan of the new site. “It’s been really, really helpful for me. It’s an awesome web site,” she said.

Close to 900 people have accounts on the site. Keller said she uses it for things like getting information out about how to apply for special events permits at local parks and to let the community know about city-sponsored events like last month’s Boston Shines neighborhood cleanup. “It catches people who are not involved with neighborhood associations,” she said.

Since it was launched last June, site membership has been growing at a steady clip. When the Gazette interviewed Porcelli in early April, there were 780 registered users. Last week, he reported in an e-mail that there were 890.

But, Porcelli said in the recent e-mail, there are still some problems.

The Neighbors For Neighbors site boasts close to 100 “groups.” The groups are essentially web pages that users can set up to host forums on topics they are interested in. The site has a “JP Volunteers” group for people interested in volunteering; a “JP Free School” group for those interested in setting up an alternative elementary school; and a “Time Trade” group for people interested in offering to trade skilled services, among others. But there is not a lot of activity in most of the groups.

Porcelli said NFN is working to remedy that. Part of the problem, he said, is that the site is chalk-full of communication tools. A user looking to reach out could post an event listing, post to a discussion forum, post an announcement to a group, or write a blog post.

“We are about to commence on an education series of emails instructing members on how to use the features and providing free public classes on how to use the network, and how to use the network as an organizing tool,” Porcelli said, adding that, “The forums, blogs, photos, and events are quite lively, and its fun to read and see what going on.”

One NFN website enthusiast, Dana Ortegon—who has been following the progress of the JP Free School group, said the site was a great way for parents interested in setting up an alternative school in JP to find each other.

“They physically planned a meeting. It does work for that,” Ortegon said.

She said she did not attend that meeting, and has not participated in events organized by another group she is interested in—a neighborhood clean up group called the JP Garbage Brigade—because of the demands on her time as a single mother.

“I love the idea,” she said. “It’s a great idea.”

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