I-neighbors.org is still larger than any other U.S. / Canadian neighborhood based web service that I know of, but the number of sites similar to i-neighbors.org continues to grow. Backfence.com is focused on the Washington D.C. area, they currently support only three neighborhoods but intend to expand across the U.S. Their website mentions that they recently received 3 million dollars in start-up funds. Nice website, surprisingly consistent with the features offered at i-neighbors.org, although it appears to focus on a bulletin board type system rather than email lists. eBlock is a similar for-profit initiative. While not yet available for wide spread public use, they are currently running trials on a few \”blocks.\” Blocks are their unit of organizing, limiting each neighborhood group in size to rather small predefined geographic areas. They are still looking for funding before they expand. I\’m still not convinced that there is a for-profit model for this type of site, but I am really interested to see how these sites progress. I am also surprisingly conflicted, i-neighbors.org is a non-profit research project designed both to build neighborhood interactions and to encourage the development of other local social capital Internet initiatives, but I feel a surprising need to compete. If the site is to continue to grow I think it needs to evolve. It will become increasingly difficult to remain competitive with other sites based on my shoe string academic funding, especially when other sites can attract venture capital, but stay tuned for i-neighbors.org v.2.0 some time early next year.

Interesting Wired article that points to a couple of online mental mapping projects. Mental mapping is yet another technique that originated with Stanley Milgram. In these examples, users are asked to report on how they perceive the boundaries of U.S. urban areas, and a slight variation that addresses the \”pop vs soda\” debate. Pop vs Soda is particularly interesting to me. As a Canadian, the carbonated beverages referred to as Coke or Pepsi can only be called a \”pop,\” but when living in Boston I routinely received puzzled looks unless I clarified that I wanted a \”soda\”. Of course, I later learned that any true Bostonian refers to a soda as a \”tonic\”!

The Missouri Department of Transportation is moving forward with a controversial plan to use cell phone data to monitor traffic congestion. Read article. It is unclear from the article if individual subscribers can opt in or out of the program – but it appears not. I expected the adoption of position-aware phones for this purpose, but had always assumed that it would be a private sector initiative with mobile subscribers reimbursed for their data (i.e. free toll road access). I am a little more surprised that a government agency would risk the \’big brother\’ label and overtly use the technology in this way (I expected a bigger backlash). At least location-aware cell phone data has not yet made its way into the hands of car insurance agencies or my local pizza delivery store, as in this video from the ACLU.