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Facebook is working on Neighborhoods, a Nextdoor clone based on local groups

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Using social networks to connect with neighbors and local services has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Facebook — with 2.7 billion users globally — is now looking at how it can tap into that in a more direct way. In the same week that it was reported that Nextdoor is reportedly gearing up to go public, Facebook has started to test a Nextdoor clone, Neighborhoods, which suggests Facebook-generated Neighborhood groups (with a capital N, more on that below) local to you to join to connect with people, activities and things being sold in the area.

“More than ever, people are using Facebook to participate in their local communities. To help make it easier to do this, we are rolling out a limited test of Neighborhoods, a dedicated space within Facebook for people to connect with their neighbors,” said a spokesperson in a written statement provided to TechCrunch.

Facebook said that Neighborhoods currently is live only in Calgary, Canada, where it is being tested before getting rolled out more broadly.

The feature — which appears in the Menu of the main Facebook app, alongside tiles for Marketplace, Groups, Friends, Pages, Events and the rest — was first seen widely via a post on Twitter from social media strategy guy Matt Navarra, who in turn had been tipped off by a social media strategist from Calgary, Leon Grigg from Grigg Digital.

From Grigg’s public screenshots, it appears that Neighborhood groups — that is, local groups that are part of this new Neighborhood feature — are like those on Nextdoor, based on actual geographical areas on a map.

From the looks of it, these Neighborhood groups appear to be triggered to “open” once there are enough people in the area to have joined, just like on Nextdoor. But unlike those on Nextdoor, and unlike Facebook groups, they are not created, built and run by admins, nor do they have “Community Ambassadors” (Nextdoor’s term). They are instead generated by Facebook itself.

Facebook said it will also suggest other local groups, although it’s not clear if these will simply be other Neighborhood groups, or local Groups that already exist on the platform, nor what this would mean for all those neighborhood Groups (small n) were Facebook’s new feature to launch more widely. We’re asking and will update as we hear back.

For now, Neighborhood groups require more permissions from you the user, and seem to be more presented rather than something you would organically find as you might a Group today.

Screenshots from Grigg’s Facebook post also show that after you click on Neighborhoods, you are asked to confirm your location to Facebook (sharing your location data being also a way to provide more data points for the company to profile you for advertising and marketing purposes).

It then suggests a Neighborhood to you to join, and also provides a list of other Neighborhood groups that are nearby, plus some ground rules for good behavior. If a Neighborhood isn’t live yet because not enough people have joined, you can invite more people to join it.

Facebook notes that when you post in a Neighborhood group, people see your specific Neighborhood profile and your posts there, but it doesn’t automatically mean they see your normal Facebook profile. You can change what gets seen in privacy settings.

Facebook then takes you through some suggested posts that you might make for other Neighborhoods, or to populate yours once it is live. (Examples in the screenshots include sharing pictures of carved pumpkins, and offering tips on local places.)

Tapping into an already-huge feature: Groups

Through Neighborhoods, Facebook is doubling down on one of the most popular ways that the social network is already being used — and by an increasing number of people, one of the only ways that it’s being used these days — via Groups, which bypass your own social graph and connect you with other kinds of communities.

Earlier this month during Facebook’s Communities Summit, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that there were more than 1.8 billion people engaging with Groups at least once a month on the social network, with more than 70 million group admins and moderators putting in unpaid hours to manage them (hello, fellow mods and admins).

“We’re going to make communities as central to the FB experience as friends and family,” Zuckerberg said back in 2019 and repeated again this month.

As Sarah pointed out back in 2014, when Groups had a mere 500 million users and communities was not at the core of Facebook’s mission statement, Facebook Groups sometimes feels like you’re on a whole different social network, where you are establishing connections with people outside of your personal “social graph” of friends, family and colleagues, and are more broadly connecting with specific communities, whether they are based on where you live or a specific interest.

That role has only grown in 2020, with many people turning to local groups during the Covid-19 global health pandemic to connect with local resources, mutual aid groups, and simply to check in with each other.

Or, to complain: my own local group that I help admin did all of the above, but also a place for people to virtually hand-wring about the crowded (and illegal) festival atmosphere in the local park, and then to galvanise feedback and support, which helped us as a community present the problem to our local councillors to get the situation (sort of, finally) resolved.

A lot of Groups use is at its best organic, not prompted or productized by Facebook, so with Neighborhoods, it seems the company is now exploring ways to more proactively, inorganically dig into that role.

That may not be a surprise. On one side, consider how many people have decided to stop sharing as much on Facebook as before, and the role that Facebook has been playing in the great misinformation-disguised-as-news heist of the century. On the other, consider how Facebook has been building out its Marketplace and providing more resources for local businesses to spur them to advertise. Building an anchor for all that with Neighborhoods makes complete commercial sense.

Knocking Nextdoor

The timing of the feature is also notable for another reason. While Facebook is vast in size and scope compared to Nextdoor, the latter has found a kind of groove in recent times. The public swing towards looking for more local resources online has meant that Nextdoor, fighting its own bad reputation as a place where people go to confirm their worst fears, make racist comments in the name of public service, and look for lost pets, has found a second life.

Things like building neighborhood assistance programs and taking a public stand on social issues has helped Nextdoor reinvent itself as the good guy. Now covering some 268,000 neighborhoods, the company is riding that wave and reportedly eyeing a public listing via SPAC at a $4 billion – $5 billion valuation.

Yes, maybe that’s just a button compared to the full suit that is Facebook. But given that Facebook already has so many of the threads of a Nextdoor-type product already there on its platform, it’s a no-brainer that it would try to knit them together.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Jio Platforms backs SF-based AR gaming startup Krikey

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Jio Platforms, the biggest telecom operator in India and which has raised over $20 billion from Facebook, Google and other high-profile investors this year, is leading a financing round of a San Francisco-based startup that develops augmented-reality mobile games.

Jio has led the Series A fundraise of Krikey, founded by sisters Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram, the Indian firm said on Wednesday. They did not disclose the size of Krikey’s Series A round, but Jio said Krikey has raised $22 million to date.

Krikey has previously not disclosed any financing rounds, according to their listings on Crunchbase, CBInsights, and Tracxn.

As part of the announcement, Krikey has launched YAATRA, a new AR game that invites users to step in an action-adventure story to defeat a monster army. “Using weapons such as the bow and arrow, chakra, lightning and fire bolts, players can battle through different levels of combat and puzzle games,” Krikey said.

Jio subscribers in India will get exclusive access to a range of features in Krikey, available on Android and iOS, including a 3D avatar, and entry to some game levels and weapons.

“Our vision with Krikey is to bring together inspiration and reality in an immersive way. With augmented reality, we are able to bring fantasy worlds into your home, straight through the window of your mobile phone,” said Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram in a joint statement.

In a statement, Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said, “Krikey will inspire a generation of Indians to embrace Augmented Reality. Our vision is to bring the best experiences from across the world to India and the introduction of Yaatra is a step in that direction. Augmented Reality gaming takes the user into a world of its own, and we invite every Jio and non-Jio user to experience AR through Yaatra.”

We have reached out to Jio and Krikey for more details.

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U.K. Health Workers Could Get A COVID-19 Vaccine As Soon As Next Week

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The United Kingdom has become the first country to approve a thoroughly tested COVID-19 vaccine. A British regulatory agency approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.

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Florida-based logistics provider ShipMonk raises $290 million on the back of rising eCommerce demand

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Jan Bednar started ShipMonk with $70,000 in winnings from a string of student business plan competitions and launched the business that just closed on $290 million in new funding from a small warehouse with no air conditioning in the middle of Florida.

While Bednar’s new offices are still inside the warehouse his company operates, they now have air conditioning… and a $290 million financing round from Summit Partners to grow its business.

The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based ShipMonk provides a slew of shipping and logistics services for small to medium-sized eCommerce businesses and right now — given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic — business is good.

We help SMBs and mid-market direct to consumer companies manage their supply chains. Help get their products from suppliers to facilities and connect with all of their sales channels including B2B … order management, transportation management, reverse logistics,” said Bednar. 

The company’s largest customers can book anywhere from $150 million to $250 million in revenue, but most of ShipMonk’s customers are actually small businesses pulling in between $1 million and $10 million on average.

It’s for these businesses that ShipMonk will fill its warehouses in Pennsylvania, California and Florida with 60,000 stock keeping units — managing around 50 different items for each customer it serves.

Bednar said ShipMonk would use the new cash to continue to upgrade its automation services and increase its staffing while also looking to expand internationally.

Profitable from the outset, ShipMonk just came off one of its best years, taking in upwards of $140 million in revenue. 

Bednar began the business alone, but quickly brought on co-founders Kevin Seitz, who handles marketing for the business, and Bosch Jares, a fellow native of the Czech Republic (like Bednar) who serves as the company’s chief technology officer.

The story of how Jares joined the business is indicative of the type of hustle that’s allowed Bednar to grow a booming tech and logistics business from the Ft. Lauderdale beaches.

It was the Florida weather that sold Jares, a college student from one of the Czech Republic’s top technical institutions, on the move to ShipMonk. Bednar had posted an internship opportunity to work (unpaid, but offering room and board) at his company on a college job board in the middle of January. The applications came pouring in, but it was Jares, a programmer who had been working with computers since age 14 who took the slot.

The rest… is ShipMonk history. Jares built the bulk of the backend for the company’s initial services spending nearly 20 hours a day coding.

 The thriftiness and hard work has won ShipMonk a booming business that has grown from 15,000 square feet of warehousing space into nearly 1 million square feet of storage space and a logistics service that spans the U.S. 

Timing for the new round couldn’t be better, as National Retail Federation estimates are banking on a 20% bump in new online sales — which could reach $202 billion this year. 

Black Friday alone raked in $9 billion in online purchases, according to data from Adobe Analytics provided by the company, and consumer spending is only going to continue to move online as the pandemic continues to threaten the health and safety of American consumers.  

ShipMonk’s technology integrates with shopping cart and marketplace platforms like Shopify to import orders across sales channels, which are then processed at the company’s warehouse locations. Customers can save up to 50% on their operational costs, according to the company.

“We believe ShipMonk truly demonstrates the power of a bootstrapped, durable growth mindset. Jan identified a significant gap in the market and, together with the ShipMonk team, has scaled the business in a deliberate and capital efficient manner to address that need. The results have been impressive,” said Christopher Dean, a Managing Director at Summit Partners who is taking a seat on the company’s board. 

 

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