Eight years in Indirapuram in the suburbs of New Delhi have made Rajiv Kaura, 47, an expert on the area. He can tell you who is a good doctor, where to get a new maid and which shops give better deals and store better goods.
And for the past few months he has been giving such advice to hundreds of people in his neighbourhood, not directly, but on his smartphone -- through a neighbourhood network app.
This genre of apps, which is proliferating of late, help people living in metros who, due to their busy lifestyles, are unable to fraternize with their neighbours and hence get left out on the happenings in their backyards.
Some popular neighbourhood apps in India are NearGroup (Delhi and NCR), Omni (Bengaluru) and Nearcircles (Mumbai).
“Most of the questions come from people who are new to the place”, Kaura says, “The issues range from advice on higher education to civic amenities.”
Shilpa Abhilash, a ward councillor of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) gets more complaints through the smartphone than face-to-face. “It is easy because we don’t have to rely on officials,” she says.
“Most of us are unaware of who lives in our neighbourhood and in times of need, we travel distances,” says Prashant Pitti, founder of NearGroup, which has about 20,000 users in the NCR region.
Pitti ,who is a marathon runner, got the idea of the app after he had trouble finding a partner for his runs. The former HSBC executive based NearGroup on popular neighbourhood app Nextdoor of the US.
Jackson Fernadez, co-founder of Omni, says, “A lot of valuable information lies in the localities. It has now become more like a local Quora.” Launched in November 2015, the application has about 10,000 downloads, mainly from Bengaluru. “Indians generally value a neighbour’s recommendations a lot. There is a very high trust factor,” he said.
Some of these apps are similar to dating app Tinder in that they locate people in the user’s location. Others use the user’s choice of locality and puts her/him in a group registered from the same place.
Suresh Mylavarapu started Nearcircles because he always found it difficult to connect with new neighbours on his overseas stays. Launched in August 2015, the app has attracted more than 10,000 users globally. “It is mostly for discussion on local issues,” he says.
Mylavarapu says the long-term objective is to see these platforms help build offline communities.
Neighbourhood apps don’t always bring happy endings. Says Ashish Jindal of CodeYeti solutions, which developed such an application in 2014: “Users stalk people, mainly women. Many female users started complaining.”
Unable to raise funding and resolve complaints, he stopped further development of his app last year.
Fernadez of Omni agrees that when more people join, it does become a challenge to manage discussions. The app has a “report abuse” option, which is viewed as critical to maintain peace.
NearGroup does multiple verifications -- including that of the user’s Facebook account to eliminate fake profiles --allows anybody to block anybody, and doesn’t allow users to change their locality for at least for three months.Nearcircles also allows community managers in each area to watch over the activities on the group.