Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bright Neighbor

What's a common mantra of peak oil preparers, climate change activists, and environmentalists? Go local, go local, go local. But until now, there have been few tools to help us do so. We don't know our neighbors. The food and consumer goods in our stores come from thousands of miles away. And the places we live are hard to get around by walking or biking.

So as we try to re-localize, how do we find what we need? How do we collaborate when we don't know who's who? How do we garden when we don't know how? How do we buy local when all we see on the streets are big-box stores? It's kind of a difficult slog sometimes, isn't it?

Help is here! Bright Neighbor is an online tool designed for cities or towns to help their residents weather the peak oil and financial storms currently brewing. It helps citizens connect, share and barter items, rides, and knowledge. By facilitating community involvement and local networking, this tool can help increase the liveability and sustainability of our cities.

Bright Neighbor is the brainchild of Randy White, a key member of the Portland Peak Oil Task Force. As usual, Portland is in the vanguard of sustainability and environmentalism. Part of the Portland peak oil plan is the Portland Bright Neighbor site, where residents can:

  • Find local businesses and resources
  • Meet local people with the same interests
  • Swap and share items, goods, and services
  • Search for and offer rides and car-shares
  • Find community events and news

I first read about this site at Lawns to Gardens, and I contacted Randy White to find out more. He called me back within 5 minutes and gave me a guided online tour of the Portland Bright Neighbor site (available to community members only - otherwise I would link it here). Simply impressive! Although I have only seen the tool for 20 minutes, the potential of this thing is HUGE.

I mean, how many grain mills does a neighborhood need - couldn't we share one? And wouldn't it be great if people knew where the local water wells were in an emergency? And wouldn't it be nice to be able to find the Master Gardeners in your neighborhood to ask about the best plant varieties? To find a local business that sells what you want? Even find a local homebrewing or quilting group?

Bright Neighbor has great interactive maps where you can find all things locally. For example, food. Search on food, and you can see a map of the local farmer's markets, urban gardens, even find the publicly available fruit and nut trees. It also has great lists of people. Click on edible landscaping, and you can find people in your area with the same interest. (Community members use an online alias, with their information hidden, until they chose to "trust" another person and show them their information. )

To put it another way, Bright Neighbor is to going local as Amazon.com is to buying books.

Caveat time. I know I seem a little excited. So please note that I haven't used this tool, I've only seen an online demonstration. It's still in beta, it's still a new technology, and I don't know if Bright Neighbor has "bugs" or issues, and how the people using it like it. But from what I saw, it's very easy to use, safe and secure, and COOL. And if you know me, you know the Hausfrau doesn't get excited over just any old technology. (Just the Global Sun Oven :))

I tell you, it gives me hope. Now, Bright Neighbor has been deployed in 5 locations already, and this company is ready to help your city get started. Randy White, the founder, is on a mission to help this country prepare to live sustainably, city by city, town by town.

The base cost of the Bright Neighbor online tool starts at $5000 (depends on the size of the town or neighborhood and other technical factors - so the price could be higher for your city), which is a drop in the bucket in most city budgets. Think like this: What is the cost of each person preparing for peak oil individually, versus the cost of everyone working together? Working as a community, we can achieve so much more. And this tool, I believe, could be a major key to working together.

If you are interested in getting your community ready for peak oil and living sustainably, this tool should really be a part of your community preparation strategy. So talk to your town and neighborhood leaders and city planners. Tell them about Bright Neighbor. Check it out. It's been designed so that cities and towns can have a city site up and running in a short amount of time, and the tool grows organically as people join and share their knowledge. But remember, like any community tool, it's only as good as the community members who join it.

Say it with me, people! There is help to GO LOCAL. And it's name is Bright Neighbor!

Now if I can just find someone to talk to in Oklahoma City government....


Emily said...

Wow! That's a really interesting resource. My two questions at this point...

a) How is it going to compete against existing free tools like Craig's list and Google Maps?

b) Do I really want to tell the world that I've got a grain mill...would they come and steal it?

Hausfrau said...

Hi Emily -

Good questions!!
a) Craig's List and Google Maps aren't organized the same way, and don't have the same information. Some of these resources would overlap, but would not be as comprehensive and don't have the same focus.
b) Your info won't be published! Only your alias, and maybe your email (not sure about that?? I know there is a way set up for people to securely contact each other). Only people that you specifically choose to "trust" will have access to your phone number, etc.
But it's true that a community has to have trust, and trust has to be built.
This would also be a good question for Randy to answer....

Mark Fitz said...

You have control and can manage your local community with Bright Neighbor.

It is safe and hyper local. Craigslist is great but its a bulletin board with no real security on who is doing what and whether or not they truly are a part of the community.

If you are in Portland, Oregon Randy White has been putting together a few local communities. So all that's required is a community to cover the cost of the software (which is pretty sizable). Then its free for the local community.

So its free to the users with a cost for set up. Much like all cooperative efforts it takes an initial capital cost investment to serve the community.

thedr9wningman said...

BrightNeighbor has functionality to establish trust and rapport with people that Craigslist and eBay lack. Its upcoming features will further enable people to survive in downturns and to go hyperlocal by sharing information with one another. Unlike a global marketplace, you can meet these people face-to-face if you choose, set up safe neighbourhood barbecues or whatever, and interact in a much easier way.

And in response to the grainm ill question: If someone steals it from you, well, you know they're in your neighbourhood! :-)

Full disclosure: I'm on the board of the company and have been in a band with Mr White.

Alison said...

I like the idea. I just wonder, if/when we get to the stage that this kind of information becomes critical will we be able to support the infrastructure of the internet? Handyman Hubby says that Google service centers alone consume something like 3% of our country's electricity needs. He says they've been locating their centers in places where electricity cost is as low as possible because of this. Any comments?

Hausfrau said...

Alison - I am pessimistic about the long term prospects for reliable, cheap electricity, therefore also the internet. But I think this tool could enable people to learn about their local physical environment and reconnect with their community BEFORE that happens...then if Bright Neighbor were no longer available at least we could still have gotten the process started, maybe printed off some of the critical info that had been gathered. Even in a fast crash scenario (I think) the lights will still be on for a while.

Randy White said...

The only reason for immediate "downing" of the Internet would be because the powers in charge of power choose to take it down.

If the monetary system collapses, the electricians operating power plants technically could still go to work and make sure we have power, as can communications companies.

If their WILL to operate the technology dissolves, then we can operate Bright Neighbor, for instance, using bicycle pedal powered servers.

It's about a 1:1 ratio - so one hour of juice per one hour of pedaling.

A community could power wi-fi enabled servers to better connect, barter, and communicate with one another - even if it meant walking to a community terminal.

How cool would that be - real flea-markets with virtual inventories. It is here - it is happening, it is very cool.

Melinda said...

Wow, it sounds fabulous! I look forward to it coming out after Beta testing. Thank you!

Hausfrau said...

Hi Melinda - Thanks for your comment - I am looking forward to checking out the content over on your blog.

Also, Bright Neighbor is "out" in certain communities already! Each version is completely customized to the city/community it is in. Contact Randy if you are interested - he will give you a guided tour.