A Fort Lee resident and working parent of children in the Fort Lee school system has launched a website aimed at bringing the concept of “the old neighborhood” to the modern day by providing a way for neighbors to connect with each other, share goods, services and information and provide recommendations on local businesses and experts.
Lingling Zhao, who works on Wall Street as an IT professional, said she started iNeighborCircle because, as a working mom, she was “always running behind the clock.”
“While taking care of work, I also want to know my neighbors and other parents in [Fort Lee School No. 4],” Zhao said. “I need to find for my two girls and my family the right kids’ piano teacher, swimming teacher, nanny, handyman and summer camp. I want to give away to my local friends and neighbors my kids’ out-grown bike, brand new toys and clothes so we can all save [and be] green together. But with my busy schedule, it is really hard for me to do [these things].”
She added, “After four years in Fort Lee, I was still ‘new’ to the neighbors and neighborhood.”
The idea of building a social networking site for her Fort Lee neighbors came to Zhao last summer, when she was packing her children’s Halloween costumes into boxes. Users can now post items they are willing to share with their neighbors or things they might need, but there’s a lot more to the site than that.
“We can bring the old neighborhood concept back using technology,” Zhao said. “Then neighbors like me can get to know other parents and neighbors via this website.”
She said the model is based on “trust” and knowing your neighbors and shared some of what she called iNeighborCircle’s “success stories” to date, including collaborating with School No. 4 to organize a Halloween costume swap and sharing “instant information” during Hurricane Sandy.
One resident, for example, posted a question asking which local gas stations still had gas, and “other residents replied very quickly,” according to Zhao.
Another resident recommended her daughter’s private swimming teacher on the site, and because businesses and experts are listed in the order that users’ “friends” on the site recommend them, the instructor’s name was at the top of the “Best of local business” section.
Now the swimming teacher is fully booked, according to Zhao.
Among other successes was helping another local teacher start a singing and performing class.
“She did not know how to handle the marketing,” Zhao said. “My daughter was very interested in singing so I asked her whether she would offer a discount if I could find five or more students. She agreed; I posted a sharable group purchase listing on the site. Within two weeks we gathered enough interest [six kids], and the teacher's class became a reality.”
Yet another resident organized a group last summer to purchase tickets to a theme park at a discounted rate and then coordinated a carpool. Zhao referred to it as an example of how the website can help neighbors “develop stronger ties.”
Some of the other merits and features of iNeighborCircle include the following, according to Zhao:
- A way for local businesses to grow and for communities to help each other succeed
- A safe and private social networking site for neighbors
- Strengthens community by facilitating interaction among neighbors
- Users are placed into a "neighborhood” after providing their zip code, full name and a profile photo
“Finally you would be able to call the first name of your neighbors on your street,” Zhao said, adding that iNeighborCircle is different from Yelp, for example, because the reviews are provided by people who live in your neighborhood, using their real names and pictures, which makes the information “more trustworthy.”
For more information or to sign up, visit http://www.ineighborcircle.com/.