If you live in a densely packed city and don’t own a can-opener, it’s unlikely you’ll descend several flights of stairs and ask someone in the building next door if you can borrow one. You’d probably just ask someone who lives in your own building, which is just one of the many reasons why Alex Norman created MyCoop (pronounced “my-koop,” not “co-op”), a free, private social network for city buildings so residents can barter, swap services, and circulate important updates.
Social platforms like Next Door already cater to neighborhood-specific groups of people, and Craigslist does offer some hyper-local services. There’s also old-school list-serves or Google Groups. But Norman sees individual buildings as an untapped market.
“Particularly in densely populated urban areas, people don’t define themselves by neighborhoods. They define themselves by the building they live in,” Norman says.
The truth of that statement probably varies, but it’s probably fair to say that a couple of yuppies in a luxury condo have different needs and desires than the family in affordable housing down the block.
In theory, MyCoop would allow building tenants (or owners) to take back some power from shady building managers and landlords who don’t make timely repairs. In the event of disaster, intra-building communication is also key. Norman argues that by banding together, building residents can design their own solutions to various problems, too–like in-building childcare services, or pet-sitting. Norman says he was inspired by his own years of living in a co-op in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, in which a kind of hierarchical bureaucracy in the co-op board prevented progress on key building issues. And where co-op boards might circulate news by slips of paper under people’s doors, MyCoop allows residents to upload documents–bylaws, safety regulations, whatever else. The platform facilitates polling, too, so residents can vote on building initiatives.
Norman’s idea seems like a promising one as cities all over the world are built bigger and taller. It recently won an endorsement in New York City’s Big Apps competition, which aims to find technological solutions to common city-wide problems. But it requires treading carefully, as even the most popular social network is making some people flee over privacy and personal data concerns. Plus, building-specific information is sensitive stuff–you might not want news about your kids’ daycare schedule to be leaked through, say, an insecure cloud.
Norman says that privacy is a key concern, but verifying individual users’ addresses with their phone numbers is a good place to start. He adds that MyCoop moderates its boards constantly, and users can flag content, too. Down the line, MyCoop might add more security features, but it hasn’t turned on its revenue engine yet, which Norman says would tailor hyper-local marketing (think neighborhood delis, laundromats, etc.) to building residents. So far, though, MyCoop counts 242 buildings (primarily in New York) as part of its flock.