New Tools Help Residents Meet, Organize, Improve Safety, and Prepare for Emergencies
Eight years after pioneering the trend of neighborhood social networks, i-Neighbors wants every neighborhood to have a phone number. i-Neighbors provides a free, private website and email discussion forum to over 9,000 neighborhoods. Now, i-Neighbors is helping communities connect offline. "i-Neighbors is providing new technologies for local engagement and hometown security," said Keith Hampton, PhD., founder and CEO of i-Neighbors, "these new tools allow informal local groups, crime watches, and homeowners associations to connect with local residents when it is important."
i-Neighbors has launched a new EX Service that provides neighborhoods with a local phone number. With the Virtual Phone, community leaders broadcast text alerts to cell phones and send prerecorded voice messages using the i-Neighbors website. "In emergency situations, such as a tornado warning, or after observing crime, residents can immediately keep each other informed," continued Hampton.
Through the i-Neighbors website, community leaders can make and receive phone calls, send and receive faxes, and setup meetings on a private, local line for conference calls. i-Neighbors' Postal Blast allows community leaders to merge address information into customizable letters that are automatically stuffed, stamped and delivered. A solution that i-Neighbors sees as important for engaging with local residents who are not on the Internet, and as a way for homeowners associations and local groups to reduce their existing postage costs.
The EX Service has many features that appeal to formal groups like homeowner associations, such as forming committees within i-Neighbors groups with private discussion forums and the ability for members to route files to committees. The majority of i-Neighbors groups are informal, citizens that have come together to meet neighbors and sometimes address local problems. While leadership of these groups and HOA boards can change, i-Neighbors maintains that group's phone numbers so that members, outside organizations, and vendors never lose contact.
i-Neighbors, a spinoff of a university research project aimed at building local community, recently re-launched as a social enterprise with the goal of strengthening local communities. Hampton, who founded i-neighbors.org while a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent 15 years learning how the Internet can be used to build local communities. Hampton, who is CEO of this new social enterprise, said, "when people use i-Neighbors, they meet new neighbors, they are more supportive of people who live nearby, and communities are safer and better able to react in an emergency. These new technologies are the next step in empowering communities to keep their citizens alert to emergencies and important information."
June 15, 2012