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IDEA #43 – Everyone Has Neighbors

Geni is taking off — it allows you to input your family tree, or to the extent that you know. Then other family members can continue — adding to it, which then branches into other families, whom then are alerted, and on and on. You get the picture — the web application is viral as all hell.

I was trying to think if there’s something else that could possibly take-off like this — something where you add to the extent of your knowledge, then those people continue adding to the extent of their knowledge, etc.

Is there a possibility with housing? I still think it’s ridiculous that in most apartment complexes, neighborhoods, etc, people don’t know their neighbors. What if there was a site where you specified where people lived? I’d specify where my family all live and my friends — then hand it over to them; they’d add their family and friends. Eventually, you have this big database / map of where people live — and their degrees of separation.

“Steve, aren’t you talking about the phone book?” Well, yes and no. Yes, addresses of people. But more particularly, how those people all relate to you.

Obviously some privacy issues would need to be worked out: Would I want random strangers to know who I am and where I live? Or, would I be OK with them knowing where I live, but not my name — rather just my MySpace URL? Or maybe random strangers would know that I live within .5, 1, 2, 5 miles from a specific address — maybe, specifically their address (so that they couldn’t test tons of addresses to narrow-down where I actually live).

If you join via someone else adding you to the map, then you may see their friends/family mapped out (likely the “vicinity” idea) — and you can click on them to learn more about them. Everyone can get more detailed on their profiles and then eventually conduct searches to find people in your vicinity that… like to bike ride, or like to roller blade, or like to play Monopoly, or like to drink wine, etc. There’d eventually be virtual “bulletin boards” — where you could post things for sale, garage sales, etc. People that live in a specific apartment community or building, could discuss the community/building — discuss changes they’d like to see, etc.

Monetization: If this was a Google Maps mashup, you could also put various retailers on the map — i.e. Starbucks locations, McDonalds, etc — and charge them for being listed. Advertising could be done on all pages of the site. Also, you’d know a bit about your users (specifically where they live), so you could drive targeted local advertising to them — such as restaurant offers, notifications of upcoming events or conferences, etc.

  • Robert Dewey

    Funny you should bring up this idea… I found a developer for the “Social Map Project” that I’m trying to pursue (as of now, it’s a side project). It’s very similar to what you’re suggesting, but the map isn’t a geographical one — it’s a “map” of user connections.

    Rather than point/click adding like that found on MySpace, you have to know the person’s basic contact information in order to be connected (e-mail, for example). They then might be required to input YOUR basic contact information in order to become “mutually connected”.

    I’m not talking about another MySpace — I’m talking about a pure database of nothing but relationships. The initial application would be an algorithm to determine the trust of a user by analyzing his real-life network. Trust services like Gorb and RapLeaf are nice and all, but they are subject to at least some bias and they require a lot of transactions.

    Other applications that combine the power of human knowledge would follow. Even without the trust algorithm, I think many people would be just as interested in finding out who is *really* connected to them.

  • Chris

    I do dislike the fact that my neighbors barely even say ‘hi’ to me in passing. Could be a good tool for organizing community events, etc.

    You could either let people post however much information they want (name, address, street, myspace profile, age…) or force them to create a username. As I’ve found out, you have to assume that people are dumb and aren’t going to understand things the way you understand them.

  • Graydon

    Interesting idea… but if you want people to know the neighbors, get them outside. Not holed up on the computer entering in information and looking things up.

    Just knowing that some friend’s cousin’s brother’s uncle lives next door doesn’t make it any more likly that they’ll go and say hi.

  • Steve Poland

    Graydon — I think it’d allow you to be like, “Hey George — I’m Steve … Lucy’s cousin” … “Ahh!!! Lucy’s cousin! She’s so great!” … “Yeah, she is. So I see you love basketball — March Madness.. gotta love it!” … “Yeah, we’re having a little party tomorrow for one of the games — you should stop by!” … “Sure!”

  • Eric Nagel

    When I moved into my house, none of my neighbors talked to me so I decided to lookup their names from their addresses and send them all Christmas cards.

    Guess what? That didn’t work… actually, it probably freaked them out a little bit more.

  • rulepark

    Hahaha…a .org project would be ok. Can this idea make a dime?I dun seems to find a business model behind.

  • rulepark

    The fact that when i look an idea, I always think about business model, to check if the idea can get u revenue, so to ensure the outcome of the idea -> workable or not workable.

  • Robert Dewey

    Some ideas don’t need a business model right off the bat… Especially if it’s a service people can’t live without.

  • Rayden

    If it’s a service people can’t live without, chances are that there are already 10,000 sites catering to that idea.

  • Robert Dewey


    You’ve missed my point. If you have a successful service, focus on driving users to the service and worry about monetization later. Why fret over monetization when people won’t even use a free version of your service?

    Just because there are 10,000 other services doing it doesn’t mean they are as good. I would have been willing to pay for Google if they didn’t figured out a monetization strategy. That’s how much value it had to me.

    Could I have lived with the other guy? Yeah. But I would much rather pay Google to keep them alive than switch.

    That’s pure value.

  • Dave Armstrong

    I’m not so sure about this. The most effective way to meet your neighbors is to walk up and say hello. Bake them some cookies or something and drop them off, etc.
    A web site to meet people who live right next to you? Only true web-junkies would partake in that. I think this idea carries the web too far — we need to enhance our life with web tools, not replace it.
    Step outside if you want to meet neighbors.

  • Colin Dowling

    Very cool theory, but I wonder about the implementation. I think that many folks who would venture online to meet their neighbors would be similarly comfortable walking up and saying “hello.” Then again, maybe there is an element that would like the online but avoid the interpersonal.

    A spin-off/addition to this idea for monetization would simply be demographic info for limited areas, i.e. “Hyde Park in Austin currently has 2653 single people who make more then $80k a year, and went to school in state, etc. etc. My marketing and sales position craves such niche demo information but very little of it is available without paying out the nose for a customized study.

  • Andrew Goldberg

    I was about to start a site to do something similar when I found this one –

  • Steve Poland

    @Andrew — that site looks somewhat dead; they haven’t updated their news since Aug 2005.

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  • Steve Poland

    On second thought, I think people are still skeptical about putting their address online — and knowing that online people could show up at their door. I don’t think my friends/family would appreciate me inputting their address into this system.

  • James D Kirk

    I think you may be right Steve. In another part of my life, property management, I had an idea once for buying apartment buildings (well I do that part of it from time to time) and setting up a server on the premises, securing an account for broadband and then enabling each of the units with access to the Internet connection. Part of this “service” to the renters (that would obviously allow me to charge higher rents) would be email services and something not dissimilar to this idea, being able to know who lives in 5C, 10D, etc.

    Then I started working out the technical side of it and while there’s nothing particularly hard, I realized that in addition to being a “Landlord” now I’ve become an ISP of sorts, and would have to take on all of the maintenance and service that might require. Plus, I was going to register a domain for every building so that individual units would have accounts that looked like:

    and an email address would be:

    But, the more I thought about it, the more I came to the same conclusion you just commented on, and that is people “think” they have privacy in this world (though I question the validity of that thought, that’s another story) this would just “blow” where they live out of the water from a privacy perspective.

    So, I pretty much dropped the concept at that point, and haven’t bothered going down that road, though I still think retrofitting apartment buildings to be wired for high speed connections might be a good idea.

    Go Boldly!

  • Reesecaver

    sounds kinda lame, most people do not want to now their neighbors, they enjoy their privacy