Is Facebook the new front porch?

The rise of social networking and virtual connections is changing things around here

Neighbors are communicating through social media and its bringing some closer together.
Facebook is no longer just a silly tool for tracking down old flames or notifying the world that you are enjoying a fine sandwich. Along with other forms of digital interaction, organizations use Facebook to mobilize meetings and movements, reunite lost pets with owners, alert residents to prowlers and track down wanted criminals, to name a few. Social media can forge relationships, improve efficiency, boost business and promote safety within communities.

Of course, like any technology, it comes with a few pitfalls, and not everyone is on board.


What’s a friend and a follow? Click here for a glossary of basic social media terminology you’ll see in this story.
Read about how the Advocate is using social media.
Get ideas about how social media can benefit your neighborhood organization, business or group.


iHistory

This 1970s-era photo is one of many vintage pictures users have posted to the “forest lane” Facebook page, followed by about 80 comments.

Forty years ago, teenagers in Preston Hollow passed the time cruising down Forest Lane. With Led Zeppelin tunes blaring out the windows of their Cameros, they headed east from Marsh, made a U-turn at The Hockaday School and zipped back west. They did this again and again for two to three hours a night.

“That was our social network. We didn’t have texting or the internet,” says Stefanie Brown, who lived in the neighborhood but attended school in Carrollton.

The ritual began in the late 1960s and ended in the 1990s, she says, when police began cracking down on that type of behavior.

About two years ago, on a whim, Brown created a Facebook group titled “forest lane” where cruisers could reminisce.

“It started as a joke, and within two weeks, I had 600 followers. I thought, ‘Wow, I guess I’ll keep it up.’ ”

Today, the group has 1,462 members and counting, and it’s just one of several forums dedicated to the Forest Lane cruisers.

Facebook users start conversations about what music they listened to back then, which restaurants they frequented, senior pranks and whatever happened to their vintage rides. Some followers post detailed descriptions of what the area looked like 20 and 30 years ago.

Discussions kept coming back to the Forest Lane mural, painted in 1976 by W.T. White seniors. The long, colorful image extending from Midway to Rosser has become a neighborhood landmark, although it has been altered over the years.

“I was about 6 or 7 at the time it was painted,” Brown says. “All I saw were people out there painting a wall. I didn’t know the details or the people.”

A handful of W.T. White alumni launched an effort in June to restore the mural to its original state. Brown created a separate Facebook group, “Helping to Paint the Wall on Forest Lane!” to help locate old photographs and original painters. There, she found Mary Alsobrook, an original artist from that 1976 senior class who now lives in Houston.

“When I heard they wanted to repaint the wall, it brought tears to my eyes,” Alsobrook says.

She began digging through her mementos and posting to the Facebook group, locating nearly all the original images from the mural. The page has become the central hub for the restoration project, which is currently in limbo until an agreement is reached with the Glen Meadows Homeowners’ Association, which owns the wall.

Separated in age by more than a decade, Brown and Alsobrook had never met before finding each other on Facebook.

“Mary and I have become good friends,” Brown says. “I’ve learned a lot about what it was like back then.”



iParents

For a neighborhood group of 30-somethings, having a Facebook page is almost mandatory, says Brooke Green, president of the North Dallas Early Childhood PTA, a club for young mothers with children up to 5 years old.

“We have to have a presence on Facebook because it’s expected,” Green says. “It gives us legitimacy in 21st century Dallas. It’s pretty much the norm. Everyone has an iPhone. Moms probably check Facebook more than they’re willing to admit.”

NDECPTA includes about 180 members. The Facebook group has 106 followers who have become part of the Facebook generation where friends chat over a virtual news feed instead of a dining room table. But it’s not just a way for the group to promote itself — it promotes interaction among its members.

“Last year, we saw a big upswing in the amount of casual conversation,” Green says.

Discussion threads include “Where are the best pumpkin patches this year?” and “Does anyone know of any open gym hours nearby?”

The Facebook group also is a place where moms can continue conversations that started during one of the monthly programs. For example, parents can try out a nutritional tip they received and post about how it did or didn’t work.

NDECPTA launched its Facebook group about three years ago, about the same time that the “25 Things About Me” trend circulated with users posting random facts about themselves. It turned out to be a good icebreaker, especially for members who don’t always speak up at meetings.

“It helps the perception that we’re not cliquey. The group is open to anyone.”

However, Green says Facebook isn’t a replacement for good old-fashioned talking to one another — in person.

“It only enhances those face-to-face meetings. You can be on Facebook 24/7, but we encourage people to get off the computer. You have to have face time as a new mom, or life is really lonely.”

iBusiness

The arm of social media has even reached neighborhood businesses, which have adopted Facebook and Twitter as a key form of advertising.

North Haven Gardens started using the tools about two years ago to attract younger gardeners.

“You think of it as a Gen X and younger,” says marketing manager Nikki Rosen, who manages North Haven’s social media.

“I couldn’t say it’s just one age group. I think it’s everybody. It’s across the board.”

The Facebook page has become a place where customers can enter contests, browse inventory and receive gardening advice without walking into the store.

For example, someone posted a picture of a peculiar leaf in his backyard, asking if it was poisonous. North Haven quickly replied, “No, it’s just Virginia Creeper.”

“We’re pretty savvy about that,” Rosen says. “We don’t want a customer doing something wrong because we took two days to get back with them.”

Rosen often walks through the garden center with a digital camera, taking photos of eye-catching plants for a virtual tour on Facebook. It once boosted sales for the sweet olive tree.

“People can see what we have without coming in. We usually get quite a few hits on those.”

However, Rosen says, social media doesn’t keep people from visiting the store altogether. If anything, the regular and colorful updates attract more customers, since North Haven “is not right off the highway like some of the big box alternatives,” Rosen says.

But keeping up with the ever-evolving world of social media isn’t easy, she says, especially for small businesses.

“It’s a time-consuming project. If you’ve got a small business with only a few employees running everything, it’s very difficult to keep up.”

iCrime Fighting

Dallas police department

Dallas Police YouTube channel • youtube.com/ DallasPoliceDept • Dallas Police post surveillance videos of crimes on the DPD YouTube channel. The popular video-sharing site allows police to seek the public’s help in identifying suspects as well as locating missing people and solving various types of cases.
iWatch App • dallaspolice.net • The iWatch app provides three options: Send in a text only, send in a text with a picture, or send an anonymous tip. You can also text a tip by typing DPD plus your tip to 274637, or you can call 214.671.4TIP.

No more waiting until the quarterly crime watch meeting for the latest stats on our neighborhood. The North Central and Northwest substations have embraced Facebook, posting real-time information about neighborhood crime.

“If we have a certain area where sexual assaults are going on, we can post the suspect’s description and that he’s targeting single females between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., and we can put a warning out there,” says Sgt. Israel Herrera, head of the North Central neighborhood policing team.

In early November, police circulated a surveillance video of a man who robbed several Game Stop stores throughout the city, including the Preston-Forest location. A Facebook user commented, “I saw that guy at tha lovers lane train station on sunday when i was coming from that same game stop!!!!!!”

Police have made no arrests in the case yet, but Herrera says that kind of information can only help an investigation, and he encourages more people to call 911 or use the iWatch smartphone application, which allows citizens to send anonymous text messages about suspicious activity.

The police have received at least 1,135 tips citywide through iWatch since January 2011. Last May, one of those tips led police to a marijuana grow house at 7400 Northaven — just a few yards from the Jewish Community Center — where officers seized several pounds of weed.

“It’s a way of getting involved without getting too involved,” Herrera says about both the iWatch and social media tools.

The Facebook page also serves as an alternative source of information for busy parents who can’t always make the 6 p.m. neighborhood meetings.

“I have three children, and they’re in bed by 9 p.m.,” Herrera says. “I don’t always have time to go to meetings. I’d imagine for some people, [Facebook] reaches that avenue.

“The great thing about Facebook is that it’s written communication. So people can’t say ‘I thought I heard this’ or ‘I thought I heard that.’ I think with the younger generation, the face-to-face communication is starting to diminish.”

Dallas Police also use Twitter and Nixle to disseminate information, but have found that Facebook reaches the biggest audience. At least 7,826 people have “liked” the police department page where officers post not only crime updates but also traffic updates and photos from community presentations.

“It shows a positive interaction with adults and children in our area,” Herrera says.

Sparkman Club Estates resident Brooke Green remembers when police shared the video of the “Lively Lane Prowler,” a man who creepily peeped into homes and burglarized some around the Midway Hollow area in October. It created lots of buzz among her friends, and police caught the suspect a few weeks later. Green found out on Facebook.

“That really gave me peace of mind that he was caught,” she says.

Social Media at a table

Five blogs to follow online

DeGolyer Discovery Garden

Watch DeGolyer Elementary students and staff as they build an outdoor classroom that will aid in subjects such as math and science. Photos illustrate how far the project has come — from dead grass to butterfly gardens.

Friends of the Northaven Trail

Stay up to date on the progress of our neighborhood’s new hike and bike trail, stretching from Valleydale to Preston and now under construction. New posts appear about once or twice a month.

Knight Moves

Get free inspiration from Preston Hollow home design expert Kyle Knight. She posts images of creative ideas under random themes, such as blue patterns or various ways to present a wet bar. Her blog actually helped launch her design career.

Etsy Dallas

Find news about local handmade artists specializing in all kinds of creative crafts. That includes Preston Hollow resident Patricia Ivanisevic of Karma Crochet.

Diary of a Crazy Painter

Preston Hollow native Gina Dunn posts her musings about art and life. The Ursuline Academy graduate is a successful painter, owns a private studio and has her work on display at area venues, including the Omni Convention Center Hotel.

iDallas

Four city hall web functions you probably haven’t used (but should)

Dallas Library App1. Check out library books to your mobile device.

dallaslibrary.lib.overdrive.com

Not only does the Dallas Public Library have a thorough and useful app (with the swipe of a finger, search the catalog, place items on hold or renew items checked out) but it also has an extensive selection of eBooks available to borrow. Options range from New York Times bestsellers (John Grisham’s “The Litigators”) to classics (Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”) to popular nonfiction (Michael Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”). We tried it, and in less than 10 minutes, we were reading on our iPhone. A helpful guided tour takes library cardholders through the process.

2. Find out whether your favorite restaurants passed inspection.

Go to page on dallascityhall.com

They wouldn’t be open if they hadn’t, but the section located at this lengthy web address allows you to see whether the places you frequent are receiving high scores or barely making the grade. A quick search by name reveals how a restaurant fared on its most recent inspections.

3. Run into Mark Cuban, Ebby Halliday or the Cowboys cheerleaders.

happytrailsdallas.com

These local celebs are a sampling of the famous names and faces the Dallas Park and Recreation Department recruited to promote its recent trail etiquette campaign. Other than watching the amusing video, website visitors can view an interactive map to find the exact layout of Dallas trails (both current and planned) in relation to streets, rec centers and other local landmarks.

4. Learn which park pavilion beat out Cowboys Stadium as the 2009 “Best of Show” award recipient from the American Institute of Architects Dallas chapter.

dallasparks.org

Dallas Park Pavillions

This little-known fact is touted in the online brochure “The Park Pavilions of Dallas,” which highlights 44 of the city’s shade-giving structures. Thirty-two of them were designed by respected architects who were charged with making the pavilions “contextual within the surrounding community and embraced by the neighborhood,” among other criteria.


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