Post-Patch Hyperlocal Apps: What (If Anything) Works?

AOL’s Patch has been criticized almost to no end as of late, and now the “hunt to own the lucrative local advertising market” is over for AOL. But there are other (smaller, and more efficient) hyper-local apps out there that deserve a closer look.  Businesses, pay attention.

Nextdoor AppNextdoor isn’t a brand new app by modern conceptions of time (site launched in 2011, mobile app in 2012), but it has been well-received by major news outlets. The app’s gradual development as a neighborhood-centric socio-political network is one that AOL had almost certainly envisioned, conceptually, when they planned Patch.

The app is targeted primarily at people who are genuinely putting down roots in whatever neighborhood they reside. Its green-color, minimal design owes less to fun than it does to promoting real neighborhood aspirations like safety and togetherness. Real names and addresses are required to sign up, which makes it hard for neighborhood trolls to stay too long before being shooed out.

bondsy intro screenBondsy (or “eBay for the Instagram era”) is a peer-to-peer marketplace app designed for those frustrated with the shortcomings of craigslist and eBay. Users take advantage of their large, extended social networks of friends, acquaintances, and acquaintances’ acquaintances who are willing to buy their old stuff (or exchange each others’ old stuff). Unlike eBay, the onus of payment collection is on the seller, but with Bondsy (and unlike on craigslist) you are dealing with people you already know — or at the very least, can track down relentlessly until they finally pay up.

Further, Bondsy encourages users to take alternative approaches to selling their used stuff; tell a story about it, offer to take different forms of payment, or create “freeform pricetags” (anyone want to trade me a jar of pickles for a sturdy wooden chair?) It’s a bit like having a garage sale, but on your mobile — and with lots more connections.

Circle appFor the utterly non-paranoid, there’s Circle: touting itself as “the MOST POPULAR local network,” it provides information on news, events, crime, traffic, family, sports and nightlife happenings near you.  The app taps into your social networks, finds out who is located within a certain radius of your location, and even lets you know where they are so you can surprise them.

Needless to say the app has come under fire from numerous anti-stalking organizations, as well as users who probably didn’t read the entirety of Circle’s end-user agreement. One Circle user commented (in November 2013) that Circle compromised a potential client of his by hijacking his phone number to send a promotional text message, on behalf of Circle, to the prospective client and untold others within his networks; another commenter (and non-Circle user) received text messages from a stranger who claimed to have found him on Circle.  These security concerns offer reasons to think twice about using Circle – until they’re addressed – but otherwise the app is promising for those who are looking for local news and nightlife options.

sickweather appSickweather is an illness-monitoring mobile app that mines Twitter and Facebook for any public mention of illness in order to warn users of possible infection sites. It’s a map-centric app, whereby the user selects a specific illness (such as “flu”) and then plugs in an area code to find out where the bug’s at. So far the app won’t allow you to see general sickness, which seems to be a bizarre oversight, but may change in the future. However, you can see where “man flu” is (or isn’t) happening, which is a sure sign that these are user-generated field settings. It’s a work in progress.

The app is also of course dependent on people’s willingness to share data about their illnesses. There are obvious, practical benefits to knowing what’s going around: in your neighborhood, wherever you’re planning to travel, and at your kids’ schools. Or, what about singles looking to find the neighborhood with the healthiest mates (anyone trying Tinder + Sickweather for flu-free winter dating?) Either way, once enough people are using the app, it will provide valuable data for locals and for scientists looking to track the spread of illness.

The “if you build it they will come” mentality behind social apps with great ideas – and sometimes backed by venture capital – may be lost on a lot of people who don’t keep their eyes on Silicon Valley’s activities all day. However, few of the apps above may deserve the attention of the masses; and if they do grow more popular, they will soon command the attention of advertisers and businesses looking to reach local consumers via mobile.