By STEVEN VALLEY
January 9, 2012
This month marks a year since the Falls Church Times reported on our own Peter Davis and his efforts to bring a new type of community awareness web site to life. Falls Church Common Place is the brainchild of Pete and his partner Max Novendstern and they unveiled it here in Falls Church to considerable acclaim. As of this month www.ourcommonplace.com/fallschurch has over 1,100 members who post news about garage sales, civic events, blood drives, book readings, home rentals… on a daily basis. When we met with Pete a year ago, we told him we’d be impressed if his site got more than 200 registered members, guess we were wrong huh?
When you talk with Pete you can’t help but get the feeling that he deeply cares about connecting families, neighborhoods, and cities. You can tell it’s in his DNA. His father was a local activist and Pete is continuing the family tradition by creating a place based networking site. Before we go any further though we need to be clear, Commonplace (CP) isn’t about social networking on a national or global level, it’s about something more intimate, something we can all understand – Who are the people raking their leaves 2-doors down from me? CPs goal is to make sure that in this hyper connected world we now live in, we don’t become “neighbor blind”. Or, to put it more simply, its aim is to be the front porch… the building stoop… the neighbors lawn that we can congregate at. Once there we can share information about baby sitters, snow shoveling, trust worthy handy men, the need for a new stop sign on the corner of Pine and Lincoln, or info on good deals at local stores.
By now we’re all pretty familiar with how CP works, but for those of you who don’t here is a short explanation from the web site, Social Capital Blog, http://socialcapital.wordpress.com/tag/peter-davis/:
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 announcement that notifies the whole town of some upcoming event. Residents can also be e-mailed a weekly summary of key interesting posts and events.
CP has been written up in several blogs and has been featured on social media industry sites, newspapers have interviewed them, as well as local TV news shows, they’ve had radio interviews, and they’ve promoted themselves to local governments and at community gatherings. All of the press seems to be working for them, as they move into new cities and set-up shop they begin broadcasting their presence and then they get discovered in the cities and states next door.
Burnsville, Minnesota CommonPlace: http://youtu.be/_PZ3rcJ8fv8
Marquette, Michigan CommonPlace: http://youtu.be/6yD_MCgyFBI
I sat down with Pete at Paneras on Broad Street back in August, he told me about what he and his team had been doing to both build and promote CP. He told me that currently there were 5 cities that had adopted CP and that they would consider the effort a success when they had 10 cities under their belt. Well as of November Our Common Place is now in 10 cities and growing:
- Falls Church, VA
- Harrisonburg, VA
- Vienna, VA
- Warwick, NY
- Marquette, MI
- Burnsville, MN
- Golden Valley, MN
- Clarkston, GA
- Owosso, MI
- Chelmsford, MA
I asked Pete if he was having a good time doing this and he answered with an enthusiastic “Yeah!” He went on to tell me about the Memorial Day 2011 training retreat they had for CP student organizers. The meeting was held locally here in Northern Virginia, Pete went on to say “Nine students were flown in from all around the country - Arizona, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, and of course Falls Church. Of the nine, two gave up… kinda, we’ll see if they can get their cities up and running, the others were able to get CP going in their cities.” Pete went on to explain “we consider a city fully adopted and bought into the concept when it has 6 posts per day.” Falls Church City currently has 2-5 posts per day. Pete told me that they had a lot of goals for CP in the next year; expansion, new features, expanded support for current markets, but their main goal will be to make our common place THE PLACE BASED community network sometime in 2012.
As we talked about the mechanisms his team was using to get CP to be that place based community network Pete told me some interesting anecdotes. He related how the Falls Church Garden Club was discovered on CP, a single Moms group was started on it, people connected with yoga clubs through it, and how discussion threads on environmental issues took place in it. He related a funny story about how someone posted a note on the Falls Church Patch, that note failed to get a response from anyone. So, two days later, the poster wrote a reply to their own note that stated; “Thanks, but I got a response on Falls Church Commonplace”.
Commonplace has had many new features added to it in the past few months: a groups feature was added in September to help add clarity to discussions and the directory feature was beefed up in October to allow for easier use, several more enhancements will be coming in late January so stay tuned.
So, ten markets and growing and it all started here in Falls Church. I think it goes without saying that Pete and his partners have really hit on something. It’s great that as a city we were able to help it get off the ground and move into other markets. Pete has a year to go before he graduates form Harvard with a degree in Political Science but we all know what he’ll be doing when that day comes and we couldn’t be prouder of him.