During our grandparents’ generation when kampongs had a common courtyard, that was their community space. In the not too distant past, when our parents bought the HDB apartments which most of us grew up in, that role was given to the void deck.
In recent times though, this common community space has made a home on social media.
Social Media Residents’ Communities
If you have noticed in the past five or so years, there has been an influx of Facebook pages and groups that are set up for new public and private housing developments – this is especially the case for those up and coming BTOs and DBSS estates.
Even as the estate is being constructed, these communities thrived. Interestingly, these groups are almost always not run by the developers, but instead, are initiatives by residents.
Since an increasing amount of homeowners are millennials, the rise of sprawling online communities for residences is entirely expected. With it, community leaders also rose from among its members. Dubbed the ‘Cyber Kampong Chiefs’, these people are well respected by residents.
A Tale Of Two Neighbours
It all began in Trivelis, a DBSS estate in Clementi.
Mark Wang and Damian Sia are two new homeowners, who are also the administrators of the Trivelis Facebook group, and volunteers of their estate’s Residents’ Committee.
Recognising the challenges faced from being ‘Cyber Kampong Chiefs’, they thought of a way to meld social media and the need for a more secure and private means for residents to contact and notify each other.
Also, it is noticed that unlike our parents’ generation, new homeowners tend to not socialise much with their new neighbours.
From the awkward hellos at the lift lobbies, to subtle smiles at nearby shops or facilities, the lack of interaction between people who potentially see each other everyday, is somewhat unhealthy.
Being technopreneurs themselves, Mark and Damien saw a need to be addressed, and soon created a mobile application that is estate based, yet able to fulfil the direct requirements of other estates in the Singapore context.
Suburb: Estate Communities
As Damian puts it simply, Suburb is basically Facebook for you and your neighbourhood.
True enough, the moment you load up the app, the interface immediately reminds you of the social networking app that everyone uses daily. It is a free app available on both iPhone App Store, as well as the Android Play Store, and it ranks at the 21st position in the App Store in Singapore, for social networking apps.
The app wishes to be a self-sufficient ecosystem for neighbourhoods, where residents are able to create relationships both online and off, within the confines of an app.
This means that due to its familiarity, everyone can use it easily from the start. At launch, some 160 communities can be found in the app, with a thousand or so additional user registrations each month – all from organic reach.
Getting an account is easy as well. Simply link your Facebook account, or use your email address to sign in.
After which, search for your estate, or if you can’t find it, create one.
Since everything is segregated into threads that you can follow, subscribe to, and get notifications from, the process of using it is extremely straightforward. Post up an interest group of your favourite hobby – perhaps your next-door neighbour shares the same passion as you do!
Notifications are also real-time. Spotted a summons auntie at the carpark? Give your neighbours a heads up, I’m sure your popularity will soar with that simple gesture.
What About That Security?
The problem with Facebook groups is the lack of security layers when accepting members. Anyone can be made an administrator, so therefore, anyone can be admitted in. This may in turn flood the group with the unwanted presence of people who do not live in that estate, or more annoyingly, vendors.
Currently, Suburb is taking the old school approach. New residents who want to get themselves verified will have to submit a copy of their latest utilities or telephone bill with the address clearly shown. After Suburb has done the necessary checks to verify their authenticity, residents can expect a letter in their mailboxes, and after which, they will be accepted into their estate groups.
At the moment, Suburb is in the middle of testing on-site instant verification, starting with the estate that started it all, Trivelis. It has plans to expand this service to Clementi Ridges and Clementi Gateway. Slowly, they will also try to do away with the painstaking process of manual verification.
The app in itself is definitely an interesting proposition, and we could see it becoming more mainstream in the near future with every new BTO and DBSS developments.
The goal of the app is also a noble one, turning strangers into neighbours, and then, to friends; much like how Damian and Mark, who went from neighbours to good friends, and finally, to business partners.