It's truly a digital world with apps connecting a once unconnected and distant world. Android and iOS-friendly apps for food, safety, apps that monitor pregnancy and now community-centric apps seem to have become the new catchphrases.
With increasing accessibility and connectivity, people are looking for ways to consume different kinds of content online. Connectivity with everything and everyone has become important. While WhatsApp makes connectivity with friends and family easier, there's a need for something that makes connection with those who are unknown easier.
The idea of an app connecting people within a community and locality isn't a new one. There are several community-based apps like Yelp that publish reviews on local business, or Foursquare that gives personalised information and recommendations based on an individual's location. So when there is a community-specific app like HereNow, you wonder how different it actually is from the rest.
Comparing the HereNow app with other community-centric apps, Niraj Rajmohan, one of the Co-founder's says, "In most cases, the information moves from being community-centric to people-centric, and one major concern with that model is privacy. HereNow is not just about random posts by everyone with a mashup of everything. With HereNow, you have the option of choosing what news you want to receive or the kind of content you want to consume. Think of it like a public local bulletin board with dynamic content from people around you, where anyone can ask questions or exchange local help and advice without the awkwardness of approaching strangers."
HereNow was started by Niraj Rajmohan, Varun Torka and Abhishek Sharma. While both Abhishek and Varun are alumnus of IIT Delhi; Varun went on to complete his MBA from IIM Kolkata; and Abhishek has been a part of several consultancy firms. Niraj has worked at Yahoo, a startup and NetApp before this venture.
"I started working with Varun about two years back at NetApp. We were working on new product development and we're looking at newer technologies. During this stint, Varun happened to mention the idea of HereNow to me. He said to me, everyone has a smartphone but there needs to be an easier way to connect people. If you have a common issue, you want to ask a question or simply make an announcement, there is no good way to connect unknown people," says Niraj.
Back in college days, there were chat rooms named after a location or a city. "About 10 years ago, I remember an IRC chat room that was called ‘Indiranagar.’ While these things used to be there, they would be hard to access, and very few people knew about its existence. We basically wanted to make it simpler for people to be aware of what's going on around them. If you're looking for something in one locality, you might just ask your friends, but they may or may not know about it. It's awkward to simply walk around in a region and ask people, so the idea is you just post the message and you get the answer for it. The app acts like an interactive notice board for the region," says Niraj.
To the drawing board
Starting with the development, about six months back on the Android platform, the app is functional and gives information on most regions in Bengaluru. The app was launched two months back, and has been going through several refinements and updates. There are about 3,000 people who have downloaded the app with over 300 to 400 people downloading it everyday.
"The good part is people have found the app useful. We ran a pilot in Indiranagar where we spread the word about this app. People started joining and started creating their own communities within the app, like a tennis group, a singers’ group and many other such groups. The number of things people have used it for has been completely mind-blowing. Once, someone put in a message that said,‘ Tomorrow morning I am going to the airport. Does anyone want to share a cab?’ There were responses, and these are people who have never met. And it was when we realised that this is actually working," says Niraj.
In these two months, there have even been fire announcements through the app. "The word got out through the app even before it reached the news channels," says Niraj. Speaking about another incident, Niraj said, "There was someone looking for a blood donor in a hospital. It was put in our app and the word spread out. The information can be spread geographically if you want more people to get to know about it. This particular message reached over 400 people.”
Clearing the clutter
In order to differentiate between those who are genuinely messaging and those who are spamming, the team developed a system. The team developed the system to work better for those who have more likes and responses. "Spammers generally get reported immediately by the users so we push their ranks down. We have algorithms in place for spammers," says Niraj.
The HereNow app also has something like 'Spaces,' which works as location-based communities. So an individual can choose to subscribe or unsubscribe to whichever 'Space' he or she wants. "Sometimes you want to tune in to one aspect or channel.Some other time, you would want to tune in on another one. Spaces ensured that you can subscribe and unsubscribe to any channel whenever you want," says Niraj.
Talking about the initial days of building the app, Niraj says, "We took up the mock-ups and wire frames to the layperson. Because we felt this is where we would get honest feedback. We had some plans in our mind, and we wanted to see the users reaction to those plans. Sometimes people would look at it and their reaction would be different from what we thought. So this simply meant we had to go back to the drawing board," says Niraj.
Elaborating further, Niraj says, "Our location determines a lot of things we do. Whether it is the kind of food we eat, how far we have to travel to reach an airport, which is the nearest laundry, simply everything is determined by our location. HereNow acts as a platform where people within a locality can connect."
Currently, the HereNow app is available only on Android. The team is looking to develop the iOS version as well. "We’re looking at good iOS developers so that we can get that version out as well," says Niraj.
Web url: www.theherenowapp.com
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- Abhishek Sharma
- Niraj Rajmohan
- Varun Torka
- IIM Kolkata
- IIT Delhi