Introducing CloseKnit: Healthy Community For Neighbours | Hacker Noon

June 11th 2020

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@vivriVictor Ivri

I’m a hedgehog in the fog.

Every good story starts at the beginning. I was five when the train jolted from standstill, slowly carrying my parents and me away from the crumbling USSR. Most of the people who I cared for in life stood outside, waving. In due time, I’ll get to see them all again — but I did not know that back then.

Cut to scene two — I am seventeen, soon to finish high-school and enroll in mandatory military-service. A plane headed to Canada leaves with my parents, my younger sister and myself on-board. Again — the unknown, the new. Another language, another city, another life.

Cut to scene three — I am thirty-three, a father of one and one more on the way. As my wife and I are busy upsizing our life, I open the news to the latest IPCC report, and my life changes forever. A rabbit hole has been uncovered, which was impossible to deny. Much research has ensued, which has shown — time and again — that my children’s generation will most likely not be safe, regardless of where they choose to live on the globe; the whole planet is slowly becoming dangerous to inhabit, and here we are — busy with trinkets and petty politics.

A fire started burning inside, rejecting all outlets.

It took until April of this seemingly accursed year to finally find it an outlet it accepted, and the afterburners ignited of their own accord. CloseKnit was born.

CloseKnit is an odd beast; and yet — nearly everyone I shared it with seems to have had a similar idea recently. I am starting to think that CloseKnit was plucked straight from the zeitgeist, as it was maturing on a branch. Here is the elevator pitch:

CloseKnit is a trusted network of immediate neighbours, which encourages them to share items, help each other out, combine buying power, organize events, and generally increase local trust, sharing and resilience — all while not creating another system that monetizes and spies on its users.

Let’s break this down into sections, and visit them one by one:

  • Where: Trusted network of immediate neighbours.
  • What: Share items, mutual aid, combined buying power, local events, etc.
  • Why: Increase local trust, sharing and resilience.
  • How: Respect your users, stupid!

Where?

Human beings evolved over aeons to belong to small local groups that lived, hunted, ate and huddled together. Then, suddenly — in the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms — we’ve boarded boats, zeppelins, trains and planes, and started to change addresses in a hurry, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

CloseKnit snaps the focus back to our local environment; it pioneers a concept we call the “Circle of Trust”, whereby each user can choose how large of a connection radius to draw around their house, which they’re comfortable to include as their “in-group”. This will typically vary from same street-address (as in the case of high-rises with hundreds of units), to around 150m in a suburban setting, to more in a rural setting.

You will connect to a person if you are both in each other’s Circles of Trust. We feel this will reduce some of the barriers to trust, and by its very nature, foster a healthier environment to live in. Almost, but not quite, back to our biological and historical basics.

What?

Not so long ago, neighbours used to share nearly-everything amongst each other, do things together, shop for one another, help each other in times of need. In many parts of the world, this is still the case. Not so in the disjointed, disconnected neighbourhoods in many a large city, or even suburb.

CloseKnit aims to bring back these kind of communal functions, and introduce new ones. We will support many kinds of interactions via a native interface — that is, it will not be “just chat” in an endless feed, but each kind of interaction will have its own natural, logical, interface. This is another innovation we are bringing to the table.

We are planning to start with a few such interactions, and then expand the repertoire in following releases. These will include:

  • Ask for, and offer help.
  • Share items.
  • Organize local events.
  • Combine shopping carts in a single trip.
  • Ask a question.
  • Post an announcement.
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbours.

These already predispose a certain positive kind of interactions, and minimize a certain kind of other, mostly negative kinds of rants and complaints.

Here is an artistic (and, somewhat comical) render of some of the things possible on the CloseKnit platform. Note how it starts with Mary as the only user in her neighbourhood.

Why?

Hide it as they may, but every vision for a company starts in a very personal place; I have shared most of mine for full-disclosure. Through CloseKnit, we aim to take part in the larger movement, to help create a resilience to communities, so they can weather a crisis such as the one right now, or even the bigger one on the horizon.
However, if the theory is right, CloseKnit should have an immediate positive effects on the well-being of the individuals who get to know, trust and engage with their neighbours through it. Note that CloseKnit promotes face-to-face interactions as much as possible, and does not try to maximize screen-time. More on that later.
There is more to CloseKnit’s philosophy than meets the eye. It is influenced (among others) by the movements of Degrowth — a economical philosophy that states we cannot sustain our species at the current level of consumption, Permaculture — an agrarian philosophy that preaches “Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share,” Solarpunk — a movement focusing on positive and creative solutions to our most pressing issues, and the Circular-Economy — an economic doctrine that explores the full re-use of resources.

We do not preach any such belief, or expect our users to follow it, however it is important to acknowledge our philosophical roots, and be upfront about them.

It is our belief that through CloseKnit, individuals and whole communities will find a narrative of meaning, belonging and resilience, which will positively impact their experience of the world, and in turn — positively impact the broader community, through more conscientious choices made by those individuals and communities.

How?

I’m in the software game for over a decade; I’ve helped develop systems in various industries, and I’ve come into direct contact with (that is, helped develop) several very primitive systems of “tracking.” Let me tell you, the amount of power even a primitive system provides is uncanny.
Surveillance-Capitalism isn’t news, but somehow the headlines on it didn’t make the, well, headlines; somehow, people just accepted it. Let me tell you now — this is a big mistake.
Your data, all of it, is being weaponized against you, today, right now. And according to the Terms of Service and EULAs that you’ve hastily agreed to — your data will continue to drive the revenue of tech companies in increasingly uncanny ways. This is a quiet war that is waged, and slowly won, against our individual Agency — our own will, our ability to independently make decisions that benefit us.
Often, the social-networks that are most guilty don’t have much say about it, either. Imagine a novel social-network on a hockey-stick growth trajectory, with no established revenue model, acquiring free users as fast as they can; they’re hemorrhaging money like there’s no tomorrow, and they need constant investments to provide more and more runway — lest they crash and burn.

They hastily give up large percentages of their shares to investors in successive rounds, trying hard to maximize growth from one investment round to the next. In the end, investors hold the majority of shares, and boy are they impatient to get their money back, with a 10x return! In such a model, there is no longer room to maneuver away from monetizing users’ data. The company that started with stars in their eyes just yesterday, has now become part of the problem.

Ask yourself — is the Friendly Neighbourhood Social-Network you like to use “Free”? If the answer is “yes”, congratulations — you are not their customer, you are their product.

At CloseKnit we looked at this, and said…

We developed a revenue model that rejects this scenario from the very outset, instead offering a very simple, transparent and robust alternative:

We believe that we offer so much value, and so many savings starting from the first borrowed cup of sugar, that we want to strike an honest deal with our users. We will charge a very small fee for using the platform, and in return treat our users as our clients, offering full integrity and transparency. Full stop, end of story.

That’s it, folks.

Sincerely,
Victor of CloseKnit.

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