South Africans - and people in many other African countries, too - are turning to modern technology to restore old-fashioned neighbourliness, to fight crime, and to get the most out of the communities in which they live.
Conceived and developed in South Africa by a team led by founder Bruce Good, www.ourhood.co.za aims to connect you with your closest neighbours - the people in your ward or suburb. Your hood.
“It’s designed for sharing information in a simple, user-friendly way instantly and in real time,” said Bruce.
Available as an app for Apple and Android, as a web site, and as a responsive web site (which means that it looks like the app when people who don’t have the app access it on their phones), OurHood encourages conversations by allowing you to report criminal activity; buy, sell, or lend; advise other members about the best service providers in your area (doctors, plumbers, gardeners, etc.); communicate with your ward councillor; report problems to your local authority; buy electricity and basics like milk or eggs online - and organise to have them delivered to your home; share lifts; advertise events; organise activities; take advantage of unique deals; and even advertise your business to a geographically defined market. (The advertising costs, of course - but everything else is free.)
HOW IT WORKS
Two things make OurHood unique: its sign-up system verifies that you live at the address where you say you live; and the system itself feeds you information about your neighbourhood - and nothing more.
“This makes it very attractive to neighbourhood watches, ratepayers associations, community policing forums, and other, similar organisations - and gives it much more sticking power than services like Facebook or Whatsapp,” said Bruce.
While many community organisations have used Facebook and Whatsapp successfully in the past, those apps are losing popularity for various reasons: Facebook has no way of verifying your address, which means that administrators have no real way of controlling membership, while Whatsapp limits the number of people in any group to just one hundred - and neither have any way of categorising the information that members share.
“Once you’ve set up an account on OurHood, you can select which e-mail or SMS notifications you want to receive - so, for example, you can choose just the crime SMSs, which will mean that you won’t be bothered by endless notifications about other things like special offers or reminders about upcoming meetings that aren’t of any interest to you,” said Bruce.
OurHood can be used to set up groups - so, for example, you can create a lift club or a community event (a street braai to celebrate a particular public holiday for example), or you can set up a ‘collaborative consumption’ programme - for sharing things like ladders or power drills.
“You can also use the app to arrange employment for trusted baby sitters or part-time domestic workers, and so ensure both that they have constant work, and that they become part of the community,” said Bruce.
And - perhaps of most immediate interest to many South Africans - you can use the site’s crime section to share information about crime, to alert your neighbours to suspicious individuals, and so on.
What about people who own more than one home? A family, say, who lives in Jozi but has a holiday house in Margate? Can you sign up for multiple hoods?
“The app currently allows you to access information only about the hood associated with your particular email address, so if you have a second home, you’ll need to set up a second profile using a second address - but we are planning to make it possible for you to switch between profiles in the near future,” said Bruce.
“As of today (24 March, 2015), we’ve set up 680 hoods in South Africa - mostly in Gauteng and the Western Cape - and we’re adding more at a rate of about twenty a day,” said Bruce. “And although we haven’t started marketing ourselves aggressively, we’ve already had enquiries - and we’ve already set up hoods - in a number of Sub-Saharan countries, too.
“We had no idea when we started that OurHood would be so popular, or that it would go viral almost immediately.”
And it is popular - even with neighbourhoods that haven’t started using it yet.
“We’re planning to go all out with OurHood, because we think it’s going to be a game changer in our work,” said Declan Nurse of Knysna’s privately-owned Allsound Security.
“It’s going to improve communication enormously - which is key when it comes to making neighbourhoods safer and happier for everyone who lives in them and visits them. And that will definitely lead to improved property prices - so everyone stands to benefit both now and in the long term,” he said.
· Watch Tech Report’s 2014 review of OurHood - with an interview with Bruce Good - on YouTube