A New Resident Who Could Cause Big Problems (Or Help Buildings Run Smoothly)

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article about neighborhood-based social networking Web sites and their impact on the rental/multifamily community.

This isn’t a new phenomenon–shortly after moving into my condo building nearly three years ago, I was told we had a message board-based Web site for unit owners, which I promptly joined–but the article got me wondering about the long-term success and potential impact of such sites.

One of the online communities listed in the article–LifeAt–currently only has five Chicago properties on its roster. I don’t live in any of them.

So I checked out another one of the sites mentioned in the article, MeetTheNeighbors.org. My area has added a number of large rental and condo buildings to its roster in the past two years, but I was surprised to find my neighborhood was not only low on members–it didn’t exist.

So I went through the site’s brief registration process, created an entry for the area and waited. Surely, I thought, two days after a mention in a major newspaper, people would–as I had–be flocking to the site to check it out. Right?

Not really. As of today, the neighborhood has just one registered member–me.

In fact, the only residents I could find anywhere close didn’t seem to be interacting as much for general neighborhood betterment but for other purposes. Two posted what looked like online dating ads. One woman’s profile contained little information except for a plug for her sister’s dogwalking service.

Where were the events I was told the site listed? Or the community action it was supposed to incite?

At the end of the day, these sites will live or die based on resident involvement–and it appears no one in my community is aware they even exist.

Which, for our building may be a relief. One thing that struck me as particularly odd about the Times article was how upbeat it was: Most of the sources cited social networking sites’ ability to help managers address problems early and give residents a way to offer painter and insurance recommendations.

But surely (which the article does touch on briefly) many are using such sites as a way to semi-anonymously complain? Or could?

Remember that Web site that I accessed after moving in–the one where I posed questions about our satellite service and others questioned building rules? It disappeared suddenly and has yet to be replaced with anything similar.

Maybe the site was phased out–or maybe it just got too critical for comfort. Who knows? But it sure would be useful now, as the building gears up for a major hallway renovation. They’ve laid out samples in the lobby and on one floor of the building and distributed paper ballots. I can’t help but think a Web site would make the process so much easier.

It would, of course, also give people a chance to complain about the fact the hallways have been so outdated for so long (the ’80s were a great decade, but I really don’t need them to start right outside my doorframe) and ponder what this is going to cost us. And that’s a real risk property managers should consider.

Which brings me to my big question about building-based networking
sites: It’s clear from the Times article that if enough join one, residents love building- and community-based social networking sites.

But do property managers feel that they’re a good idea, or a bad one? What do you think?