“Where can I fix my friggin’ bike around here?” So inquires one New Yorker on Enquire, a new app that lets neighbors ask each other anything. Someone else, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, asks for the worst example of local gentrification, while someone in Boerum Hill asks how much you have to earn to afford a home in the neighborhood.
While a few of the questions–like the one about bike repair–might be simple enough to answer via Yelp or even an old-fashioned phone book, most are more complicated. “It’s about getting more human answers when you’re looking for information about your neighborhood,” says Maxime Leroy, CEO and co-founder of Enquire.
Leroy, originally from France, saw the need for the app while he was filming a documentary about the sharing economy last year. “As I traveled around Europe and the U.S., at the end of all the interviews I had, from food coops to Airbnb hosts, what stayed with me was seeing that these local communities did not often have the right tools to interact and get to know each other,” Leroy says.
He decided to leave his agency job, along with his coworker Solène Maître, and start building an app. After months of prototyping, the team landed on a simple question-and-answer format. “As soon as you put people in a group with others from their neighborhood, they start to ask questions, like where your kids go to school, or what’s the best restaurant that’s not too packed on a Friday night,” Leroy says. “These aren’t answers you can find on Google or Yelp or any place-based website . . . You want a human response.”
Eventually, the team hopes that the app will also start to bring more neighbors together in person. “The question is a hook to create a conversation,” Leroy says. In one prototype, the team tested a neighborhood chatroom, but quickly realized that, without some guidance, people didn’t know what to talk about. The question gets them talking, and in at least one case in the pilot tests, led to an in-person meeting at a local cafe.
The app is starting in New York, since that is where the team is currently based, and plans to quickly add other cities as soon as at least 200 people sign up in a particular place. “We want to make sure many people will download the app at the same time, so the community can start right away,” Leroy says.
In some cities, they plan to test different neighborhood boundaries–in Paris, they’re mapping out areas around certain attractions, and in Boston, they’re grouping users by college rather than ZIP code. They also may offer temporary communities based around events like Coachella.
Like any social app, Enquire will only work if enough people sign up. But if the app reaches a critical mass, it could be a way to help build community at a time when most city dwellers don’t even know their neighbors’ names.