Last week I started a series on the importance and future of geolocal (also called geosocial) apps and outlined a few of the roadblocks to success including the lack of widespread adoption of the underlying technology (smart phones), holding the interest of the audience, and the lack of community building inherent in the current options. Today I want to look more into that last problem and how some players are overcoming it.
As I said last week, the big benefit of social media is its ability to build communities through the web. But those communities are, for the most part, virtual. If you are in Facebook or any other platform, you have a large group of people in your network that you have never actually met face to face. Yet, you are in contact with them regularly no matter where they are in the world. you know a lot about them and you have several common interests. However, try to do that on a local level with social media and you run into a problem: you can’t without a lot of effort.
I discovered this over the past two years on some pro bono work I’ve been doing for Sustainable Redwood City. I wanted to use social media to grow the organization but discovered that if I didn’t already have a personal relationship with people in my community, I couldn’t actually get them to connect with me or the organization on any SM platform. I had to meet them first before they would accept the connection.
I also could not use social media to discover people in my community or neighborhood because the platforms did not get that granular. In Facebook, for example, I can choose the Silicon Valley network or the San Francisco network, but not the SF Peninsula, San Mateo County, Redwood City or my own neighborhood, Friendly Acres. I was forced to accept a position in a large geographical context. This isn’t as much of a problem if you live in New York City or San Francisco, but it doesn’t help the 2 million+ people in the Bay Area.
What social media lacks is a local approach and even the entry of Twitter and Facebook into this realm is not helping.
Geolocal/social apps are supposed to help solve that problem by making it possible for local business to reach their local community and expand their business. If you are an ice cream shop or a coffee bar, it’s a great idea because you will succeed if you get a lot of regular customers. If you are a dentist of an auto shop, not so much. If you go back to those guys more than once in six months you have a problem. But the real benefit lies with the vendor, not the customer. You need a way for those customers to come together in a community, without violating personal space or privacy.
And that’s the good news because I have discovered some startups that are doing exactly that.
The one with the biggest name is Yelp. They’ve recently added a geolocal aspect to their reviewing service where you can check in to favorite establishments, but again, they are focused only on commercial outreach and only to whole cities, not neighborhoods, so it is a step in the right direction but not exactly what I think people need.
Next up is a tiny little company called Gogoverde, which is hyper focused on neighborhoods and is currently only available in Palo Alto and Redwood City. But they lack the geolocal tech at present. Mostly what they do is get people who already know each other to join a local network and share information and materials.
But the app I’m really excited about is a company called DeHood. I’ve been using the app for a while, sending some of my activity on it to my Twitter and Facebook pages and even went in to talk to the company leadership, Babak Hedayati and Mike Mertz, to find out more, which lead to a consulting contract with them that started a couple of days ago (so there’s your full disclosure)
But I’ve been using the tech for several weeks now simply because it accomplished what I’ve been looking for: a social media application that can build local and REAL community.
And what DeHood does will be the subject of the next post.