Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Getting connected

Steve Rabi doesn’t like fliers.

Stuck in his front door or stuck on his fence, he just doesn’t like them.

“It makes it look like I’m not home,” he said.

But if a neighborhood association is trying to get timely information out to its members, sometimes a flier is the way to do it.

Rabi had another idea: www.quintessence-na-abq.org.

By posting new information on the 2-year-old Web site, “we didn’t have to have people keep running through this large neighborhood to do paper-hanging,” said Rabi, the Quintessence Neighborhood Association’s first and former Web master.

He isn’t alone.

Web sites are a tool that more and more neighborhood associations around the city are using to cut costs, keep their members in touch and keep their neighborhoods strong.

“It’s been a great source of information,” Rabi said. “I really do think it has worked out.”

The association’s Web site, like many others, includes information about coming meetings, by-laws, association members, building covenants and more.

But that’s just the beginning.

Other possible Web site components – such as chat rooms and forums – could help turn the online spaces into more than just data repositories.

By allowing people to respond to and contribute messages to the Web site, they create the opportunity for a neighborhood’s residents to “sit down at their computers for a little while and have a community meeting,” said Leilani McGranahan, president of the Nor Este Neighborhood Association (www.noreste.org).

“Digitally . . . is just a faster way of getting the information out there and letting people access it,” she said. “As times change, we need to keep up with them.”

She said the Web site and e-mail also has the potential to save the association up to $600.

How?

Digital newsletters.

Printing and mailing costs for the information on paper can quickly stack up, she said. Going 100 percent digital could mean more money for other neighborhood needs.

“Ideally, that would be the thing to do,” she said. “Realistically, that will never happen. Not 100 percent of our area is going to have computers.”

It’s a money-saving advantage Jaye Bullington, vice president of the Quintessence Neighborhood Association and its current Web master, recognizes, as well.

With membership in the fledgling association going for $12 a year, she said, every penny counts.

She has plans to revamp Quintessence’s Web site, and she, too, may add forums – areas where people can leave messages for one another centered around a topic.

But she stops short of wanting to add chat rooms – online spaces where people can type messages to one another in real time.

Monitoring such a space would require too much attention, she said, and it’s more than what the site really needs right now.

Its main purpose is to get information out efficiently, she said.

“It’s just another way to communicate,” she said. “It’s so prevalent now. It’s so easy.”

The Web’s speedy and far-reaching power of information distribution became even more apparent when the Quintessence neighborhood had a small emergency: Someone was breaking into mailboxes.

“We could immediately sound out a notice to people,” she said. “It’s very powerful, so much better than handing out fliers or posting signs at the corner that you hope people will see as they pass.”

Even with the advantages of the Web, don’t expect virtual meetings to replace real ones, or paper newsletters to disappear tomorrow, association leaders and Web masters say.

There’s still something about face-to-face interaction that can’t be replaced, they say, and not everyone thinks digits on a screen are better than ink on paper.

“Shaking hands is still a good thing,” said Mary Carter, secretary of the Southeast Heights Neighborhood Association (www.sehna.org). “I still think we need to be face to face sometimes.”

FACT BOX

GETTING ONLINE

Setting up a Web site doesn’t require sophisticated knowledge of obscure computer code. It can, in fact, require nothing more than a few clicks and the filling in of a few blanks.

Here are a few Web sites to get you started – for free – on making your own:

www.neighborhoodlink.com

geocities.yahoo.com

www.bravenet.com (domain registration fee)

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