SA website, app bringing neighbourhoods together

Johannesburg - A South African website and app has attracted more than 15 000 users since its launch in May last year, bringing neighbourhoods closer together in the process.

OurHood, founded by Bruce Good and William Mellor, involves users interacting with people living in their vicinity. All users are verified.

Good, the managing director of OurHood, told News24 that while people have been using the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp for neighbourhood communication, both had their limitations. 

"So we took the best of Facebook and WhatsApp and we created OurHood. There are examples of this working elsewhere in the world. It's never been done here and we thought this is the best opportunity to create something for South Africans."

They began building the website in August 2013 and in May 2014 OurHood had its "soft launch" in one neighbourhood in Cape Town to test the concept.

The first version of the app was launched at the end of March this year.

"We are in the process now of building an all-singing, all-dancing app which is going to be really state of the art and very cool," Good said.

Hood said their unique selling point was no one could just join a neighbourhood. They had to be verified first. 

"The way the system works is it feeds off Google. It starts with your physical address, it finds you within that geofence which we've created. Then to actually join, you need to get verified," he said.

A user can request a physical postcard to be sent to their address, "which becomes an issue in South Africa", so a function was added whereby users could upload a picture of their utility bill. While a barrier, it was proving very popular as it meant users in your neighbourhood actually lived there.

Once the utility bill is uploaded, OurHood checks the address and verifies it, with this process taking no longer than 30 minutes from start to finish. The fastest way was to log on to the website, and invite your neighbours. They are pre-verified once they accept the invite.

One of the sections on OurHood specifically deals with crime. In combination with the alerts section, if a user in your neighbourhood posts something, such as being robbed, and presses send, the whole neighbourhood is immediately notified by SMS and e-mail.

"The beauty of that is you can share with people in real time," Good said.

At present, OurHood has around 1 000 neighbourhoods in its database, and is receiving five new neighbourhood requests a day. The requests were not just in South Africa, but come from as far as Kenya and Botswana.

"In terms of actual live neighbourhoods, we've got about another 500 that we are in the process of adding and users have gone [up] probably 400% from March until now," Good said.

The OurHood website was being used by more than 10 000 people, with app usage bringing that figure to more than 15 000 people.

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