Is the thought of knowing who your neighbours are, sharing fruit with them, discussing neighbourhood crime and having a street barbie rather retro? Well, those golden times of safe, strong neighbourhoods could be coming back if new private website, neighbourly.co.nz, has anything to do with it.
Backed by GrabOne founder Shane Bradley and directed by ex-BlackSox player Casey Eden, the site aims to use the internet to revive the original, real-life social network: the people who live close to you.
After a pilot in five Auckland suburbs, the site has now been rolled out around the country. When you create a profile and verify your address you can see who lives nearby and start interacting, talking and sharing online about real-life community events, concerns, notices and just get to know each other. It’s free and private and any information shared on Neighbourly doesn’t come up on search engines.
“We’re seeing members find babysitters, sell sofas, give away fruit, set up groups based on common interests, discuss how to make their safer streets, organise street barbies and recommend good mechanics,” says co-founder Casey Eden. “It’s being used just how we were hoping it would be.”
He acknowledges you may not become besties with your neighbours, but at the very least, in an emergency like the Christchurch Earthquake, you’d know three or four others in the street. Neighbourly also offers an urgent crime and safety text service alerting members to emergency situations in their community.
The site is a first for New Zealand but a similar site in the US, Nextdoor, is hugely popular. At the end of last year Techcrunch reported it being used in one in six neighbourhoods. Jelly, a social search engine started by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, operates a similar model and features the tagline 'Let's help each other'.
“What Nextdoor has proven is if you give them a simple way to make the first connection with a neighbour, hopefully that will lead to more face to face, normal interactions, but for a lot of people that electronic interaction is an easier way to start the ball rolling,” says Eden.
Next steps for growth? Neighbourly head of communications Sarah Moore now wants more community organisations to sign up and use it as a noticeboard.
“We are looking for any organisations that benefit a local community, who are good at what they do but not good at putting messages out. This includes local hospices, churches, schools, local boards, police and the like.”
The team’s also following Nextdoor’s strategy in looking for volunteers to be 'Neighbourly leads' – these people will be the localised Neighbourly manpower, in charge of flagging inappropriate posts, recruiting members, creating neighbourhood ‘about sections’, welcoming new members and explaining how to use the site.
“There’s always at least one person that’s really passionate, and a lot of people have asked if they could help us out in some way. It’s not a paid role, but a way to get more involved,” says Moore.
Moore says the business model for the site is yet to be decided on, but it will be monetised in some way at some stage. She says although Neighbourly will need to eventually make money to “put food on the table”, the project was motivated not by dollar-potential, but by feel-good factor: doing something good with a bit of capital (mostly from Bradley’s GrabOne exit).
“It’s something Shane wanted for his own community, which is why it piloted in his own community of St Heliers first,” says Moore. “We’re very upfront that it needs to be monetised in some way, but we’ll send people running if we don’t do it well. We’re thinking something along the lines of tools for local businesses, but we’re not thinking big banner ads or inundating people with coupons. We’re committed to creating something people will enjoy using."
She says because Bradley and Eden are also investors in Sugar (a Flybuys-like loyalty programme), it’s even possible the two could be integrated – for example, log in to Neighbourly and see what your Sugar points are at your local café. “We eventually want really cool tools that could add to the Neighbourly experience. But whatever the changes, we’d definitely let users know,” says Moore.
Nextdoor also is yet to come up with ideas for monetisation that would fit with its philosophy – it currently generates no revenue, and is funded by venture capital firms. The Nextdoor website says “our goal at Nextdoor is to figure out a way to generate revenue that provides value to our users as well as to Nextdoor. Potential ideas for this kind of win-win approach might include developing ‘group buying’ functionality or creating a ‘special offers’ section of the site that local businesses could publish to.”