Something worries me about the Neighbourly web site that launched in New Zealand this week.
Neighbourly is a social network for people who live near each other. It is partly a digital version of neighbourhood watch, partly a replacement for the postcards on noticeboards and in shop windows and partly an online version of what used to be called ‘the parish pump’.
I’m not concerned about the service itself, how it operates or its goals. What bothers me is that society is now so inwardly focused that Neighbourly’s organisers realised it is easier to bring people together online than to have them meet up in the physical world.
The sad truth is that while most of us still live in communities, they are not necessarily close geographic communities. We tend to congregate online and in the physical world with people who share common values, ideas and interests. These matter more today than a shared post-code.
I suspect this is particularly true in a city like Auckland where you need to jump in a car to do almost anything.
So starting a local social network to replace chatting over the garden fence or outside the school gate makes sense. Presumably Neighbourly will earn money
Apparently the most common use of the service at the moment is to find babysitters or to borrow water-blasters and similar items.
Will Neighbourly take off? I don’t know the answer to this. Local social networks are a big deal overseas, some work, some don’t.
The big question is what is the business model?
It’s not clear to me how Neighbourly will make money. Commercial online sites are often so heavily plastered with advertising, that they quickly become useless or annoying. I doubt many people would pay Neighbourly a subscription. The other possibility is that the company collects data which it can then sell to marketers.