The initial idea (2006) was to provide the combined functionality of Facebook (contacts) and Wikipedia ( information) focused on our two towns; without advertising. Since then we have added more functions.
TTO is the online community center where J & U residents can share information, ask questions, discuss issues and announce events.
A wider aim is to facilitate contacts and help develop the relationships that constitute a community.
The Internet allows to communicate and share information at very little cost. Facebook and Google make a lot of money by exploiting that fact. Wikipedia and Firefox show that it does not have to be that way. In our two towns we can do likewise; we can share knowledge and maintain a social network without making the 1% richer.
A second motive is political. Our current democracy is corrupted by marketing practices; the one with the biggest budget and the best sound bites, has a better chance of winning the election. Maybe, at local level we can have a honest dialogue between people with different opinions. Maybe, at local level an election does not have to be a popularity contest. Maybe, at local level our vote can be based on respectful discussion.
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Towns Online, Inc. is a non-profit organization in which members elect the board. Procedures are specified in the Bylaws.
Access is free while donations cover the costs.
Funding by town taxes seems reasonable. Venues for online communication are comparable to town roads.
TTO’s local focus is its strength and its limitation.
- Focused on our area,
- A range of online communication options.
- A repository of catalogued, permanent, locally relevant information.
- A good place to talk about things we have in common; local laws, local suppliers, our nature, our roads, ... .
- Our demographics favor local online communication.
- Discussions online are more inclusive, more thorough and less time-consuming than discussions in meetings.
- Discussions can be supported by documents and images.
- The size of our community is optimal for a local website. 3000 families is small enough to prevent anonymity and big enough to be worthwhile. When 1% (30) would contribute regularly and 10% (300) occasionally, we would have a very active site.
- Limited to our area
- The range of options might be too large, too complex, too confusing for some.
- Some see participation as a threat to privacy.
- Most expect someone else to take care of content.
- All organizations compete for the support of the limited number of residents available for volunteer work.
- Not enough happens in J&U to fill a news section. Even the BFP can hardly maintain an interesting news section.
Facebook connects to ‘friends’ and shields from different opinions. Some prefer that self-chosen isolation.
- New residents seek local information and local contacts
Joint productions with Mount Mansfield TV do promote both.
Cooperation with the Mountain Gazette would make both more attractive.
Front Porch Forum and Facebook offer venues for promotion.
- Mobile devices allow online communication anytime, anywhere.
- Town issues can be discussed in preparation of discussion and voting at town meeting. However, the possibility for everybody to participate in the debate is both a democratic ideal and a democratic nightmare. Moderation of the dedicated message board might be needed.
- FPF attracts most daily online traffic.
- Businesses, organizations, even individuals, prefer to use their own website or Facebook page.
- Often, information on TTO can be found via Google as well.
- Some TTO services are provided as well by dedicated applications (Craig's list, Angie's list, Freecycle)
- TTO competes for attention with all the information and entertainment available on the worldwide web.
- Participation in online communities of interest leaves no space for participation in a community of place.
- “Nextdoor” (https://nextdoor.com/about_us/ ), a 2013 initiative well funded by venture capitalists, might overtake our volunteer effort.
- Mobile devices favor short, simple communications. TTO might be too complex.
- Use the message boards; especially when the TTO message boards offer options not offered by Front Porch Forum
- Review local businesses.
- Add businesses that are not yet listed.
- Illustrate directory listings with photos (building, owner, products ) .
- Add information and photos to the web pages about Jericho & Underhill
- Describe walking and X-ski trails in the area.
- Add an artist. Send us digital photos of the work and some text. Look at current artist pages for examples.
- Write a column. Like Jerrigan, the cab driver in Seven Days and Sue Kusserow in the Mountain Gazette.
- Assume the role of 'citizen journalist' by occasionally contributing news.
- Ask a MMUHS student to assume TTO tasks as community service
- Coordinate with other local websites (schools, organizations).
- Create a link to TTO on the website you maintain.
- The Mountain Gazette gets police reports. Can TTO get them as well?
- Propose other improvements. Tell us what we should do and not do.
Make business listings look more like some artist pages.
- Launch message boards for organizations and neighborhoods.
- Launch message board for personal announcements; births, marriages, obituaries
- Once there is more traffic, split the "Market Place" message board in categories; like Craigslist .
- Help artists and groups to create their own page on the TTO site.
Find more board members
Get donations. Add thermometer
Coordinate with local groups
Organize an instruction session in the computer classroom in BRMS or MMHS.
Publish an annual report in the Annual reports of both towns.
Build relevant expertise
Browse http://www.techsoupglobal.org/ ?
Questions and answers about TTO; script for a presentation on "Across the Fence", a program on the local TV channel WCAX, broadcasted April 6, 2011