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Neighbourhood network Asim Siddiqui launched WizeNation to give people in neighbourhoods a way to connect with each other based on their location.
KITCHENER — When Asim Siddiqui moved from Mississauga to Waterloo Region to take a job at Research In Motion a couple of years ago, he faced a problem that is familiar to anyone who has moved to a new city.
Making connections and getting to know people is hard to do. “I didn’t know anyone in Kitchener,” Siddiqui says.
In an era where people have dozens or hundreds of virtual friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social networking sites, Siddiqui wondered: “Why isn’t there a social networking web site where you can just connect with people in your neighbourhood?”
Siddiqui, 31, still works at RIM and is now well established in Kitchener, is married and has many more friends than he did when he first moved here. But his experience led him to launch WizeNation, a social networking site that he hopes will help other people, as well as businesses, from any city in North America to connect to one another.
WizeNation is a location-based online bulletin board, something like Kijiji or Craigslist, but with social networking features that are incorporated into a website that is laid out in a crisp, simple format that is easy to navigate and search.
You can use WizeNation for everything from booking a photographer for a wedding or trading some music equipment, to just finding a buddy to play squash with.
WizeNation was just launched, so it doesn’t have a lot of users yet, but Siddiqui is actively marketing the site at university and college campuses in this part of Ontario.
He is also trying to interest users within neighbourhoods, or in communities of interest, such as churches, where people want to share information about events, or about local and personal needs, services and products.
Campuses are his first target because students already have a natural community. “They would be the most hyper-local community users and I expect they would generate a buzz for WizeNation,” Siddiqui says.
But he sees a wide range of possible applications in a world where people don’t just want virtual friends, but also need person-to-person contact.
WizeNation is free to sign up. As the membership grows, Siddiqui hopes to generate revenue through advertising and paid comments that will show up at the top of the list if businesses want to advertise certain services or products to people in their local community.
People sign up with a postal code, which is what enables the local connections. “I define the postal code as the neighbourhood, because that is a small area,” Siddiqui says.
Once people are in the site, there are a number of features that help them connect with others. There is a tab that shows all the information feeds published by people residing in your city and another that shows just the feeds of people in your postal or zip code area, as well as any friends from a distance that you have added to your contact list. There also is a “Biz Wiz” tab that people can click on to show the information feeds from businesses in the community.
The search tool is simple: If you are looking for someone to play squash with, you type “squash” and a list of people with interest in the sport comes up. Eventually, as more businesses sign up, you can use the site to look for auto shops, plumbers, photographers or other services.
Businesses can create their own WizePages and use the comment boxes on that page to offer a particular deal or service.
Siddiqui acknowledges he needs to do a lot of marketing to boost the membership for the site. Right now, he only has a handful of businesses and about 100 members, but he is putting out flyers and business cards wherever he goes to try to get some traction for it.
The site was many months in the making, Siddiqui says.
He spent a lot of time conceptualizing what he wanted the website to do. Then he began looking for a developer. He eventually hooked up with Mad Hatter Technology at the Communitech Hub, the company that developed the site for him.
Siddiqui says that as he gets more users on the site, he hopes to add other features such as instant messaging and video chat.
He believes the site is unique in the way that it combines the placement of online ads with social networking. “Sites like Kijiji or Craigslist can provide local classified ads, but it is not easy to find out if the person will be friends with you or even if they are actually in your neighbourhood,” he says.
Sometimes, a person just wants something simple, such as borrowing a ladder. WizeNation provides an easier way to post such a request, without having to fill out an entire form all over again as you would if you were posting it on a regular classified website, Siddiqui says.
It is also easy to update your location if you move, or happen to be travelling in another city, he adds.
Siddiqui says he will continue to work at RIM as he develops his site. “I just wanted to have something of my own,” he says.
He hopes the site will be successful and will help people everywhere make the face-to-face connections that everyone longs for. “It’s a big challenge to get to know your neighbours,” he says. “I plan to market this city by city, concentrating on local cities first and then spreading out from there.”