Social network connects Kiwi neighbours

BLAYNE SLABBERT
Last updated 12:47 27/05/2014
CUP OF WI-FI: Neighbourly is a private social network that only your actual neighbours can sign in to.

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While our society is more connected than ever, we are still digitally distant from those who live closest to us - our neighbours.

Neighbourly, which was launched throughout New Zealand this month, is a social network that aims to change that by connecting people living in the same area.

The website and smartphone app allows you to post a notice, recommend a business or service, ask for help, have a chat or sell an item.

It aims to help satisfy the need people have to be part of a community on a local level in the same way Facebook does on a much bigger scale.

It hopes technology can be more efficient than the local noticeboard at the shop, word of mouth and the neighbourly chat.

Co-founder and managing director Casey Eden said there were a raft of networks to connect people in many aspects of life, but not with those living closest to them.

"In the past couple of years there is a need to be more aware of what is going on locally and having a network there when you need it."

He describes the site as a "news feed that people can contribute to", referring to the stream of information that displays posts.

His team had spent months fine-tuning the site to make it easy for people to connect in several ways and on different levels. You can "thank" (similar to Facebook's "like") a neighbour, chat privately with someone or form a group based on your street or shared interest.

You can also choose how much you engage. If you love to know everything going on in your area, you can sign up to several suburbs and your news feed will flow with lots of information. If you prefer a quieter connection, then you can just be part of a street group with the occasional update.

However, unlike the most popular social networks, Neighbourly is private - only those living in a suburb can join that suburb's group. Neighbourly ensures this by having a vetting procedure which is similar to Trade Me's.

People sign up, but to become vetted you need to wait to get a confirmation letter sent to your home. Eden said having people use their real names helped mitigate issues which could trouble social networks - nastiness and defamation. Also, posts are moderated.

One concern about revealing your goings-on online is a risk to your privacy. Could criminals be lurking on the site ready to pounce after you post that you are going on holiday?

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Eden said the key was to use common sense. "If you wouldn't put it up on a lamppost outside your house, then don't put in on Neighbourly."

Users decide what information is made public. For example, they can opt to hide their street number from their profile and use private messages to convey sensitive information.

Eden said privacy could work both ways, in that by opening up to neighbours online it lets people know who you were so they could keep an eye out for you.

This is something that Eden hopes the site will do if there is ever another disaster such as the Christchurch earthquakes. One feature that can also help in these types of situations is being able to sign up to urgent alerts that are texted to users.

Eden said the most popular sections of the site so far were recommendations for services, especially babysitters.

Another popular feature is the crime and safety section which lets people post concerns or crimes. In one neighbourhood it even led to an arrest after a break- in. This digital version of neighbourhood watch also has the police and fire service as members so they can post advice and alerts.

The site launched in five suburbs in Auckland a few months ago and there are now 35 active neighbourhoods since it was made available nationwide last week.

But do we really need to get more connected to our neighbours? Statistics show we aren't popping over to borrow sugar from our neighbours as much as we think we do.

In its 2008 State of our Neighbourhoods study, Colmar Brunton found less than a third of people had regular communication with their neighbours. Just under half said they had an occasional chat, and 8 per cent admitted to having no idea who their neighbours were.

The figures dropped dramatically for the under-30 age group, who could be enticed by technology to connect.

However, Eden doesn't see Neighbourly competing with other popular social networks sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

"Neighbourly is a utility to use when you need it. It's not an entertainment site."

- The Press

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