Go social, stay private

Yesterday, the term ‘strictly private social network’ piqued my curiosity. I mean, isn’t the whole point of social networks to be less private and go public with every little thing happening in your life? Why else will my Facebook feed resemble personal diaries of my 200+ ‘friends’ documenting mostly boring details – vacations (same faces / same poses with changing backdrops), baby’s first smile / poop / fart and cheesy anniversary declarations of  love for the spouse (the older the marriage, the grander / cheesier the Facebook declaration :-)).

Sure, WhatsApp and SnapChat are comparatively more selective, in the sense that you can restrict different updates for different circles. As of now, I am waiting to find a moment to go by without an irritating forward message (same message, 5 groups, because ‘market me naya aya hai’), when I can post or read a real update for a change.

But I digress.

Overall, it seems that the fatigue of going overly public is now setting in. Many of us are now looking for a social network that is more private, based on specific criteria. Employer-restricted social networks are fairly old news, with big companies launching internal networks and smaller ones going for Chatter, Yammer and the likes. They inherently come with a rider – boss is watching. Still, it’s remarkable that some companies – such as TCS – have made it work and leveraged the social platform well.

Now, neighborhood-based networks like nextdoor in US are trying to connect local community to create a ‘friendly neighborhood’ that is also connected virtually. Yes, it’s much more than a smallish WhatsApp group of a few neighbors you know. The community signs you up only after you provide residential address proof. You have to use your real name and mind your language while posting. The virtual community never shares your information with advertisers (at least as of now). They even have a Neighborly Behavior guideline section. The network is only available in US, but it has seen organic growth, with over 40,000 neighborhoods being registered in past few days.

I believe that in India, we direly need something similar.

The real face-to-face social network is fast disappearing. In Mumbai, if you live in a ‘towers society’ like I do, you will know what I mean. In the ‘community’ of 400 flats that share the same gym, clubhouse and swimming pool, I probably know three families, two of which live on my own floor. With long office hours and longer commute times, no one has time or inclination to visit and spend time with their neighbors.

If you have grown up, at least partially, in the 80s and 90s, chances are you have personally witnessed the time when friendly neighborhood was a reality, not just a qualifier. Everyone knew everyone – and I mean really knew, warts, illnesses, kids grades and all. Children were, happily, public property. Any neighborhood mom spared the right to scold, even gently whack any neighborhood kid, should the latter be caught doing something s/he shouldn’t. Advice and tips were exchanged freely and without fear of judgement. You instantly knew where one could get school supplies cheaply or how one could cure baby’s fever with home remedies. Elders were respected, children were protected, and it all happened without any pretense or detailed planning and assigning of tasks.

I remember we would play outdoors for hours and no one in the family worried about kidnappers, traffic or pedophiles. Usually most parents trusted the friendly neighborhood to intervene on time.

I know much of it is nostalgia and may be it’s impossible to bring back the time, but we can still create a friendly neighborhood, at least virtually. Not only for the sake of safety, but to help the next generation understand the openness, the respect, the understanding that goes with it. May be this online connection would somehow transcend offline. After all, we all live in the same circle of 5-km radius.

Instead of waiting for nextdoor to come to India, I hope one of us takes the lead and starts a neighborhood network here. I, for one, will sign up right away!

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