Eight years in Indirapuram has 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 are better.
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. NearGroup, Omni, NearCircles are some options.
“Most of the questions come from people who are new to the place”, Kaura says, “We also have interesting discussions. The issues range from debates on JNU to advice about higher education to civic amneties and so on.”
Shilpa Abhilash, a ward councillor of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) gets more complaints from her locality through the smartphone application than manually. She also informs the residents about the corporation’s new initiatives. “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 without seeking the help of our neighbours,” says Prashant Pitti, founder of NearGroup, which has about 20,000 users in the NCR region.
Pitti ,who is a marathon runner, says he got the idea of the app from his troubles to find a running mate.
“I thought it is good to build a platform where people can shout out their needs... something that would help in ice-breaking, a tough thing to do physically today,” he says. The former HSBC executive in the US took inspiration from Nextdoor, a US-based app launched in 2011 and which is now a billion dollar app.
Jackson Fernadez, co-founder of Omni, says, “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 Bangalore. “Indians generally value a neighbour’s recommendations a lot. There is a very high trust factor.”
Unlike a WhatsApp group, these platforms do not require the members having to know each other’s mobile numbers. The networks are built based on the location of people, an algorithm similar to dating app Tinder.
Suresh Mylavarapu, founder of Nearcircles, travels to different countries. The difficulty to connect with the new neighbourhoods made him develop an app that he launched in August 2015. It has more than 10,000 users now. In India, Mumbai has the most users. “People even use it to sell things like tiffin services. But mostly it is for discussion on local issues,” he says.
Mylavarapu says the objective is to see these platforms help build offline communities in the real world.
However, Ashish Jindal of CodeYeti solutions, which developed such an application in late 2014 thinks it is extremely difficult to manage such an application in India. “We found that most users were misguided. They used the application to stalk people, mainly women. Many female users started complaining,” he says. Unable to raise funding and solve these complaints, he stopped further development of the application in October last.
Fernadez of Omni agrees when more and more people join it would be a challenge to manage the contents of the discussion. He says the app has a report-abuse option.
NearGroup, meanwhile, does multiple verifications including that of the Facebook account to eliminate fake profiles, allows anybody to block anybody, and doesn’t allow people to change their locality for at least for three months.
Nearcircle also allows community managers in each area to watch over the activities on the group.
“We think these could be mother of all apps in the future,” Pitti says.