Why great ideas fail – the story of Nearhood

Nearhood was a platform for hyperlocal journalism. While some scholars and analysts say media consumers are increasingly interested in hyperlocal news, why did Nearhood not become a success story?

During the Immersive Automation project’s second workshop for media partners, senior lecturer John Grönvall from Arcada University of Applied Sciences used a case study as a means to explain why good ideas do not always lead to successful results.
“Nearhood was a research project on the sharing economy in Helsinki, and it combined interesting open data with a multiplatform web service,” Grönvall explains.

By the sharing economy Grönvall refers to underutilised resources and peer-to-peer networks enabled by different platforms. While Uber and Airbnb represent global services built on an idea of a sharing economy, sites such as huuto.fi, events like Saunapäivä, and Facebook-groups such as Haaga kiertoon, are also examples of sharing economies.
“The idea is to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction and transaction, and to shift the communication flow from one-to-may towards many-to-many. The role and power of the middleman is reduced through technology.”

The platform never succeeded in attracting a critical mass, which meant that there were no network effects.

Nearhood aimed to combine hyperlocal social media and news aggregation for neighbourhoods in Helsinki. The application was supposed to work as a bulletin or notice board containing information from local businesses, residents, and municipalities.
“So, when I found an abandoned sofa close to my house, I could post a photo on Nearhood to let people in my area know that there was a piece of furniture up for grabs. While hyperlocal content was still largely unorganised in individual blogs or Facebook groups, everyone agreed that it had a huge potential. Now the metropolitan cities have begun to open up this data,” Grönvall says and mentions the Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI) as an example.

The code and the database still exist, but the platform is no-longer available to the public.

HRI is a web service for open data sources in the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen. The data can be used in research and development activities, decision-making, visualization, data journalism, as well as in the development of apps. Citizens, businesses, research facilities, and other actors can freely use the data at no cost.

Despite the promising starting point, Nearhood did not become a huge success.
“The platform never succeeded in attracting a critical mass, which meant that there were no network effects. It also failed to engage developers due to the mediocre user experiences, and the complexity of the system.”
Like many other similar platforms and apps, the dominance of Facebook was too hefty to compete against.
“The megaplatform, in this case Facebook, was too dominant to compete against.”
The code and the database still exist, but the platform is no-longer available to the public.

Grönvall conducted research interviews with the Nearhood executives. Although Nearhood never became a great success story, it still provided some valuable insights.
“One of the executives urged the developers to focus on one feature and do that well. That simplicity is the key thing. They also recommended focusing on developing an app instead of launching a platform on the web.”

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