Google released a global-first hyperlocal QnA app called Neighbourly in Mumbai, towards the end of May. The app, which is currently in beta, has now also expanded to Jaipur and will head to other cities soon. If you are not from Mumbai or Jaipur, you will have to join a waiting list and will be notified eventually when the app launches in your city or town.
Neighbourly is part of Google’s Next Billion Users project which focuses on apps and services which are relevant to India and other countries and which will help onboard the next billion users. The partnership with RailTel to bring free Wi-Fi to 400 railway stations in India, apps such as Datally, Files Go and so on is part of this project.
What is Neighbourly?
It’s a one of a kind Google app where, for once, Google is taking the help of human intelligence over artificial intelligence to have your questions answered. It works on the principle that neighbours have the most up-to-date, relevant and accurate information about their locality, and hence the app makes it easy to find answers that are trustworthy.
Setting it up
The app setup is pretty straight-forward. You log in via your Google ID and your first name will be selected as the username to represent you on Neighbourly.
To ensure privacy, the profile photo is not downloadable and you can’t even zoom into it. Only your first name will be visible, to keep aside any means of finding you online. You can choose not to have your display photo. None of your data will be shared with any other Neighbourly user.
You will first be prompted to approve a 'Neighbourly Promise' which aims to set the right tone before you start using the app. While Google India will not be monitoring the app, any inappropriate content or wrong recommendations can be flagged by users and reported, after which Google can take the relevant action. You are expected to keep a neighbourly promise of respecting neighbours, giving helpful answers and reporting inappropriate posts.
The app works completely on crowdsourced help. In a way, this could be called a hyper-local variant of something like a Yahoo Answers, many Facebook groups or even Quora, to some extent. The questions asked and the answers sought are something which requires more human intelligence than machine intelligence.
The interface is quite simple. You are presented with a bunch of questions in a flash card format. Tapping on a question, opens the card and shows you the answers to it. You swipe left to toggle through the questions, and around 15 questions which are shown to you in one session. If you want to see more questions, you will need to tap on ‘Find New Questions’. You can hit on the star icon to follow a question, respond or ask a question by typing or via voice commands.
Since the app asks you to enter your neighbourhood, the questions shown to you will be from your locality. You can change your neighbourhood a limited number of times. Of course, you can still ask questions which have to do with things outside your locality, but then that is something the app isn't optimised for. You may as well do a Google search if what you are looking for has nothing to do with the neighbourhood you've selected. And that makes sense because if this were a city-wide app for instance, you questions about your locality would’ve been buried somewhere and discoverability would’ve been an issue.
The majority of questions you ask on Neighbourly can usually be answered by a simple search on Google, Zomato, Urban Clap, etc. But putting out a question on the Neighbourly app is like asking your friendly neighbour about certain things in your locality. The advice may not always be reliable, but at least you arrive at a solution sooner in some cases.
For instance, Google will not be able to tell you “Where you will get papad at 11.20 pm in Mazagoan?” (Yes, this is an actual question asked on Neighbourly). These are questions, the answers to which only some human living in Mazagoan will be able to answer.
A friend of mine was pondering learning baking, but she didn’t want to get out of her locality to do it, considering her working hours. A question on Neighbourly about baking classes immediately gave me three or four results within an hour’s time. I searched the same query on Google, and although one or two responses were similar to the search results, I got many different responses on Neighbourly, which helped me shortlist the right one based the popularity.
Voice support in up to eight languages means that you can have your queries shown not just in English but in Hindi, Marathi, Kannada and other languages. This ensures that even those who are not comfortable with English have no issues using this app.
Google has tried to gamify the app, such that you get rewards or medals for certain tasks such as answering questions, getting the most likes on your responses and so on. The medals are named Trusted, Helpful, Curious, Speedy, Popular and Top Neighbour. Based on how helpful you are on the app, you will keep getting points. A neighbourly badge with your name means that you are a trusted local guide in your neighbourhood.
Competition: WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook
There isn’t a dedicated app such as Neighbourly around, which addresses hyperlocal concerns. Of course, you can get all this help by asking around on other social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook as well.
Local Facebook groups are a good place to find answers to your questions. Facebook is definitely a competitor to Neighbourly, even though the QnA aspect can be addressed via specific groups only. The same holds true for Twitter, unless you use the right hashtags or someone from your neighbourhood actually uses Twitter and comes across your query, you are leaving a lot of things to chance. With Neighbourly’s hyperlocal, geo-locked approach, at least that matter is resolved.
Neighbourly is a good app if you are not intricately familiar with your neighbourhood and want some help. Of course, there are nonsensical questions that are asked as well, and you have the option of blocking those users. You can follow questions which may be of interest to you. It basically lets you know your neighbourhood better.
I, for one, see a lot of value in such an app, so long as Google does not use all this data to serve me even more ads (it's an impossible dream, I know). I don’t want to ask a query on Neighbourly app and see ads pertaining to that populating my online experience. That would be the day I would uninstall the app.
In the month that I have used it, I have faced no such issues, and I hope it stays this way.
The whole idea of the app is to let you help out your local community with the questions they have and vice versa. The app is predicated on the community abiding by the ‘Neighbourly Promise’.
If you are in Mumbai, let us know your experience of using the Neighbourly app.