Last updated on September 15, 2011
In the previous posts in this article, we discussed features like the group message board, sharing of files, pictures and links, and how you can use them. In this post, we look at another interesting feature that can be put to good use.
A Neighborhood Address Book
Any community group would need a roster or an address book that all members can access. Every member can certainly maintain one on their own, but wouldn’t it be nice to have one in the group web site that every one can use? This way everyone would be referring to a single, up-to-date, contact list.
Using The Database Application
The Yahoo Groups offer a simple-to-use and flexible database feature. This really looks like a simple table with rows and columns. To use it, click on the “Database” link in the group home page. There are some predefined templates that include Phone Book, Contact List, etc, and you can use one of the template if you like. It is also very easy to create your own table by using the “custom” option. While creating the table, you can also choose to select who can add entries, who can edit the entries and who can modify the table format. For an NCW group, it is probably the best to let the group members add and edit entries, and allow only the moderators to modify table format. You will find that you can create a customized address book or roster for your group in a couple of minutes. Once your table is ready, you can send out an email to the group to fill in their contact information, or you can do it yourself if you have all the information. Whenever the moderator or any member updates this table, it is a good idea to send out a group email to let everyone know.
For a detailed address book, the recommended items are member’s name, house number/address, home- , cell-, and work-phone numbers, and any additional information that the member wishes to provide (e.g phone number of a guest staying with them).
Once the table is complete, members can print a copy for themselves if they wish. It is a good idea to have a hard copy handy, so that you don’t need to go online in the case of an emergency to find someone’s phone number or other information. You can also export the table into a comma-separated list that can be read into other applications like MS Excel.
Using Google Docs
In my neighborhood watch group, we have used Google Docs very effectively to create and maintain documents such as neighborhood roster, email list, etc (as described here).
Why Not Just Use Word Document And Share It?
Note that you can also use the file-sharing feature and share an address book created with, say, MS Word or Excel. That would generally work well, but if some of the members don’t have those applications on their computers, they would run into problems. You could store it in PDF format, but then, when members want to edit their contact info, they would need to edit the original document such as a Word file. That would mean that would need to have the Word application and the ability to create a PDF file. By using the group database feature, you can completely eliminate all these issues and keep it simple for everyone, as anyone with just a web-browser can access it.
What Else Can We Use The Database For?
There are many interesting ways in which an NCW group can use this feature. For example, suppose there have been some suspicious activities over a few days in the neighborhood, and several members have noticed some interesting things. You can set up a table to log all that information. The items in the table may be things like the name of the member who observed something, what he/she observed, date, time, description of suspicious activity, person(s), car(s), etc. If the member had sent out an email about this, then one of the entries in the table can be the link(s) or number(s) of the message(s) sent out by the member.
Let me use an example to illustrate this. One of you saw two suspicious looking guys driving around the neighborhood in a blue Ford truck. He sent out an email to alert the group. The next day, someone else observed the same guys walking around and looking into people’s backyards. So your NCW is now trying to track this closely. Here is what you could do. First create a table using database. It should have fields like:
Member who observed,
What he/she observed,
Date and Time,
Description of suspicious people, cars, etc
What looked suspicious,
Any emails exchanged regarding this (message numbers or links),
Any action taken (informed police, etc)
Any follow-up plan (who will keep an eye for the next day, etc)
Once you have a table set up this way, it is easy to keep adding to it to record all related incidents. This would be a very valuable record for the police to track if this turns out to be something to investigate.
It is a lot easier to glance at a table like this and get all the information instead of reading tens of emails related to an incident. So members should be encouraged to add their observations to a database table with all the details. Of course, they can also send out an email to alert everyone to if they have seen something that causes concern.
You can use the database in many creative ways. If someone in the group did a cost-analysis of different options to improve safety, say, by using more street lights or security cameras, etc., you could summarize all that information in a table that is easy to read and understand. Or you could keep a list of all captains of nearby NCW groups. As you can see, the possibilities are endless.
[Next post: Conduct Polls.]