Social network for real neighbourhoods launches

Instead of anonymous interaction, Fatdoor lets users communicate directly with local neighbours and businesses, says founder

Fatdoor.com, a website that mirrors the real world to let users to connect with their neighbours, launched this week with a new spin on social networking.

Instead of anonymous interaction, Fatdoor lets users communicate directly with local neighbours and businesses, says Raj Abhyanker, CEO and co-founder of the company. Abhyanker launched the company with Chandu Thota, who was the lead developer for Microsoft 's Virtual Earth mapping and location tool. Bill Harris, the former CEO of PayPal and Intuit, is an investor and chairman of the company.

"We're trying to build something on the internet that mirrors the real world," Harris says. "We call it a local community network. It is a social network that is based around the place you live and the ... people you know. It is not an anonymous activity; this is a social network for adults."

Abhyanker says he came up with the idea while running for the city council of Cupertino, Calif., in 2005. After knocking on 3,000 doors as part of his canvassing, he noticed that most people didn't know their neighbours. He said he began thinking about how to use the web to "enhance neighbourhoods, to give the power to the few who are very active to use for the common benefit of all neighbours."

The first release of Fatdoor is open to residents of Silicon Valley, with later releases expanding the site cities and towns throughout the US.

The site was built using Virtual Earth maps, showing specific house and businesses as icons. The icons can be "claimed" by users to hold their online profiles, which can be viewed by others in the neighbourhood looking for specific services, to start a club or for other purposes, Abhyanker says.

As users add content, their neighbours can learn about local events or business deals, he adds. The goal is to foster a group of active users in the neighbourhood who can self-regulate content using the Wikipedia model. Eventually, Abhyanker says, Fatdoor could be used by community activists or civic groups for various projects, such as producing a neighbourhood newspaper, he adds.

Harris says the business model for Fatdoor calls for the site to eventually be supported by national and local advertisers eager to target users in specific locations. The site will first list all businesses in the local Yellow Pages and then allow each of those companies to personalise the listings, he says. Users can then add reviews and comments about the businesses.

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