How to use hyperlocal apps to live better in your community

Forget Nextdoor and Citizen — these local apps can actually better you and your neighborhood.

Street of poor neighborhood in the city. Slum. Favela.

Hyperlocal platforms — ones that cater to the needs of a specific location — have an understandably bad rap. They tend to magnify biases and can quickly devolve into chaos. Nextdoor, one of the most popular hyperlocal apps, has all the potential vitriol of Twitter but towards neighbors rather than strangers. Innovation!

The good news is that the relative success of high-profile local apps has opened up the marketplace for more niche offerings. With the right apps downloaded and an open mind, hyperlocal apps can actually be an invaluable tool for building and sustaining community.

Your mileage may vary.

A quick note here — your experience is going to vary with any hyperlocal app based on how it’s used in your location. That’s the beauty and the curse of restricting an app’s user group by physical location. If you’re dead-set on hating your neighbors, using these apps won’t be so helpful to you. And some will just be dead quiet if no one in your area is using them yet.

It’s also worth noting that, for the most part, hyperlocal apps are user-moderated. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t looking over your neighbor’s shoulder while they type up that post dripping with latent racism. Report any unpleasantries, if you’re up to it, and be ready to back out if necessary.

The Apps

Olio has a very specific mission; stop food and product waste by sharing unneeded goods with the community. It’s a simple, free marketplace with huge potential for local impact. Bought too much milk this week? Post it on Olio for a neighbor to use instead of trashing it. Food is definitely the most common offering on Olio, but there are sections for craft supplies and other non-food items, too.

Unlike platforms like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, Olio doesn’t let you buy or sell items. It exists only to reduce waste and remind users to be more mindful of their resources.

Toward meeting this mission, Olio also includes free reading material, like guides to living a greener life, with an in-app reward system for motivation.

Jodel (pronounced yodel) is a free, location-based message board. It’s posited as a do-anything-you-want app, so you can use it to organize a neighborhood event or just say hi to those around you. The app is divided into channels, each of which is dedicated to a specific interest, and you can dive in and out of each as you please. There’s also a “main” channel that acts as a feed for general chatter.

Jodel is semi-anonymous; you can choose to share as much or as little about yourself as you please. If you’re worried this could spell trouble (remember YikYak?), you’re not alone. That’s why the Jodel team created a fairly robust set of community guidelines, with the overall gist being that kindness is key to successful neighborhood interactions. I’ve yet to see any harassment or rudeness in my area, but it is moderated by users, for the most part — so be prepared for anything. There’s a content team at Jodel that you can contact through the app if you see anyone using the app for harm.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking — Reddit, of all places? For community-building? And my answer is absolutely, yes.

The most groundbreaking aspect of Reddit’s social media model has always been that you can create a forum (a Subreddit) for just about anything. Niche topics are just as welcome as popular ones. Location-based subreddits are super popular around the world, and they serve as a great place for posting hyperlocal questions, resources, and organizing. If your area doesn’t have a subreddit yet, the platform also makes it easy to start one up.

Subreddits are also invaluable archives of crowdsourced community knowledge. That question your neighbor asked years ago about local organizations supporting homeless people in the area is likely still pertinent today.

Pro tip: Google search can be even more effective than locating information through Reddit’s search bar.

Ioby is a hyperlocal crowdfunding and community-organizing platform. Anyone can host a project on the platform, and Ioby will list that project for free on its location-based boards. Unlike sites like GoFundMe, Ioby is dedicated to helping you organize and promote your cause.

As a 501(c)(3) organization, Ioby can also provide tax-deductible receipts to anyone who donates to your project. Lots of COVID-19 relief projects are being organized on the platform right now. In the past year, it’s proven useful as a building point for Black Lives Matter projects, too.

At this point, your neighborhood probably has a Facebook group. Though it’s clear that Facebook has a slew of notably problematic policies in general, the OG social network has something really big going for it; just about everyone has one. Even your neighbor who doesn’t own a smartphone has a Facebook account. That reach, combined with Facebook’s wide array of built-in tools, makes it pretty indispensable on a community basis.

Groups are one of the best reasons to even have a Facebook account in 2021. But the Facebook overlords — AI or human — don’t oversee the moderation of groups, which means harassment and general unpleasantries can fly under the radar. Groups are used for all kinds of organizing, including the harmful kind. Your neighborhood group’s administrators are most likely untrained and oversee the group on a volunteer basis — don’t be afraid to use the “report” button to bring issues to their attention.

Meetup gives you basically everything you need to know just in its name. It’s for meeting up with people, first and foremost those in your general area. Now that many traditionally in-person events have moved online, though, Meetup also includes a search option for virtual events. You can also search by keyword or category based on your location, and you can turn those events into semi-regular email digests so you don’t miss newly posted gatherings.

A caveat about Meetup: it spent the first decade-and-a-half of its existence operating on its own, but it was purchased by WeWork in November 2018. WeWork’s acquisition brought in some of the unpleasantries of the WeWork business mentality, with employees reporting more of a tech bro culture than ever before at Meetup.

Better news: Meetup is no longer owned by WeWork. David Siegel, the platform’s CEO, said of the sale that Meetup hoped to use its new capital to focus on “the organizers who make Meetup successful, our passionate members, and our dedicated employees.”

Be kind, stay vigilant.

Hyperlocal apps are not without their faults. They have a way of amplifying your neighbors’ most problematic opinions — especially the racist ones.

Nextdoor, in particular, has found itself the subject of much scrutiny in the last year or so for being detrimental to Black Lives Matter organization. Citizen, a hyperlocal app that asks users to report crime, is often a breeding ground for racism and general hatred, too. Neighbors, which is owned by Amazon’s Ring division, has all the same problems of racial profiling — but with the addition of stoop-mounted cameras all over the place.

These popular offerings miss the best reason to build a hyperlocal app: community-building. In many places, their potential for good is vastly overshadowed by a user base that, far too often, gets away with broadcasting their hateful views to the entire neighborhood.

Here, then, is my recommendation: Use whichever hyperlocal apps you choose with the intention of bettering yourself and your community. And give yourself permission to delete that app if it’s doing more harm for you than good.