Last time we caught up with OurHood, the Cape Town-based startup that’s building a platform for hyperlocal news and community forums, it was just beginning to expand from its roots in the Cape up to Johannesburg. Just under a year later, some 650 suburbs – from Khayelitsha to Sunninghill – are using it to send out updates from residents associations and local security teams, and to make life easier for all involved OurHood has just released its first mobile app.
The initial launch of the website was based around a responsive mobi site, www.ourhood.co.za. The principle is straightforward, you can only sign up for membership of a particular “hood” or area if you’re vouched for by someone living there. That gives you some guarantee that you can talk about neighbourhood issues in relative privacy, and gives community organisations the power to quickly send out notifications and messages – such as crime warnings, or news from local politicians or campaign groups.
It’s free to use for any community, and the business model is based on targeted local advertising – just like an old fashioned local newspaper, OurHood canvasses ads and deals from nearby shops who can reach their most immediate potential customers.
Bruce Good, founder and CEO of OurHood, says that the app is the result of working with communities already signed up to the system, and the discovery that many of the most active users are in the older age ranges.
“It’s much quicker and a pared down version of the mobi site,” Good says, “We’re acutely aware that our users span generations, with the older segment being new to the world of mobile. So while our desktop version has a feel similar to other social network type platforms, the app is somewhat simplified.”
Good says that there’s a “gaping hole” in the way communities communicate. With so many South Africans living behind walls getting to know your neighbours and be civic minded about the area in which you live can be tough.
“We are ultimately trying to use tech to make stronger, safer and better neighbourhoods,” says Good, “A frustration is that users rely on apps like Whatsapp or Facebook for neighbourhood communication when they have such limited functionality and aren’t designed for their needs. When we talk them through the pain of the invasive Whatsapp alerts and how they can benefit from having an app with all of the features that Facebook and WhatsApp have, with bespoke notification settings and a range of other features, we always see that ever-satisfying lightbulb moment.”
According to Good, about 40% of the suburbs currently signed up to OurHood are actively using the app, and membership for each area can be as high as 500.