Barbara Pantuso: [Full interview transcript]

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Living in Manhattan, Barbara Pantuso couldn’t believe how it was that she lived four inches away from the apartment next door, and yet she didn’t know her neighbor. Searching for community, she started Hey Neighbor! social networking and sharing economy platform for getting to know your neighbours. Read Barbara’s full bio here…

Click here to watch Barbara’s full interview, “Meeting the Neighbours.”

Barbara: Hey, Neighbour! is a network for neighbors that allows you to meet neighbors you may know and neighbors you may not necessarily know. It provides a platform for you to exchange all kinds of information and share things with your neighbors and exchange favours and announcements.

So close…and yet, so far away?

Barbara: I thought of Hey, Neighbor! when I was moving from San Francisco to New York, I was really aware of how close everybody lives here in New York. People live on top of each other and yet most people do not even know their next-door neighbors and it struck me as odd that my door can be four inches away from somebody else’s door and I don’t even know who lives behind that door.

I had a real moment, an “ah-ha” moment that was the genesis of the idea for Hey, Neighbor! and it was actually just a utilitarian moment, I was selling my couch on Craigslist. I got the usual Craigslist spammers and lots of meetings where I had to show the couch and having no-shows and finally as I was selling the couch to this woman, she came all the way down from Harlem, she had to rent a truck and we were moving the couch out my door and down the hallway and a neighbor who lived four feet away saw us and said “oh are you moving in?” and I said no, actually I’m just selling this couch, I will be out of your way in a second, and she looked down at the couch an said, “you’re kidding! What a bummer, I was just going to start looking for a couch this weekend and this would have been perfect.” I went home that night and I thought this is crazy. There has got to be a better way for me to just connect with my neighbors for these useful needs as well as social needs.

Ramona: At the end of the day, our human needs have remained the same. We need a roof over our heads, we need food and we need to be appreciated and we need to find love and meaning.

Barbara: Social contact is huge, there have been so many studies done about how our health benefits from it, our safety, security and just our general social mental and physical well being is much improved, the more connected we are.

How do we learn to reconnect?

Ramona: We can’t just say, “Alright, now everyone share,” so what have the challenges been?

Barbara: I sort of underplayed both the emotional barriers and emotional benefits of connecting with your neighbors. So we created a favour exchange. This is a way for neighbors to exchange favours with each other, and we found that people are not willing to do that until they know more about the person they are dealing with, until they can actually form some trust. Now you might say doing those favours might engender that trust but I think there is a step right before that where we have to build in mechanisms and ways for people to build trust.

Ramona: Facilitating trust, that’s a huge undertaking.

Barbara: There is a lot being done in this area in terms of trust systems and some of the older ways like eBay’s rating system has been done for years but I don’t think you can put a score, like a credit score, on trust. We can build in some systems but it is not going to be the only measure of trust. I think what trust ultimately comes down to is you and I having an exchange and whether that is an exchange over email, or a phone conversation, best yet is to meet each other in person.

I don’t think it is a one-size fits all, the system you create for that. I think you have to build in a variety of ways that trust can be evaluated and ultimately it also comes down to individual responsibility.

You start to re-learn how to share and lean on each other. I think that’s the other thing, people are afraid to ask for help and it feels like a sign of weakness but when people start to do it. I’ve had people comment to me saying they can think of twelve new ways to use the site now that they have done it. It just takes a little bit of that getting over reluctance to ask for help and the reluctance of can I trust this? After that, it is like a floodgate opens.

Summary:

  • Hey Neighbour! allows users to meet and connect with the people who live in their building, bringing neighbours together in online and offline
  • Being connected improves our well being and this site facilitates that amongst neighbours
  • The major challenge for a site like this is fostering trust among people who don’t know each other
  • New technology is giving people new ways to share and help each other – people just have to learn to be ok asking for help
  • With these new tools, people need to re-learn how to connect and trust

Follow Barbara on Twitter @barbarapantuso.

 

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