Getting to know the neighbors
An introduction online can make friends of nodding acquaintances
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BY ELLEN MITCHELL
Ellen Mitchell is a freelance writer.
July 29, 2005
"I probably wouldn't knock on a door here to borrow a cup of sugar," said Diane Campbell, who lives in a large apartment complex in Sunnyside with her fiance, Kevin Kolack.
"People who live in apartment buildings seem to isolate themselves," she said. "I think it's something about the culture."
That's why Campbell, 28, joined MeetTheNeighbors.org, a free Web site designed to introduce strangers who live under the same or nearby urban roofs (or in the same suburban neighborhood) but have never met. Through the site, people first meet online and eventually come face to face - and maybe borrow a cup of sugar.
Although most members are younger singles, the site is not a dating service; the group welcomes people of all ages, singles and families.
Several large apartment buildings have their own internal Web sites, but they are generally open only to residents, and users are sometimes required to remain anonymous.
The Web site, which began in October, has attracted about 2,500 members in 30 states and seven countries. Its greatest popularity is in large cities such as New York, where it originated, Boston and Washington, D.C. But it also boasts a presence in "the furthest reaches of Louisiana," founder Jared Nissim said. And, yes, it's testing the market in Long Island.
Nissim, a 31-year-old bachelor, began his foray into Internet meeting sites by founding TheLunchClub.net, an online service that brings together groups of strangers for lunch, because, as the Web site notes, "eating alone is boring." The LunchClub.net has 6,000 members nationwide, Nissim says.
As a child, Nissim summered on a kibbutz in Israel and loved the congeniality of the communal dining hall. That memory, he said, spawned TheLunch Club.net and subsequently MeetTheNeighbors.org.
In 2002, following the success of his lunch gatherings, Nissim decided to get to know some residents in his East Village apartment complex. He wrote a note to everyone in the building, and 12 of the 20 tenants responded positively to his proposed get-together. Two years later, he launched Meet TheNeighbors.org. "Our Web site is geared specifically to helping people create a communal spark. One person leads the charge, so to speak, and goes and finds the others," Nissim explained.
"It's a great idea," said Yvonne Bridges, 41, and single. She recently moved to a large apartment building near Steinway Street in Astoria. "You move into a new neighborhood, and you don't know anyone. You want good advice on the best cleaners and things like that," Bridges said.
A professed "computer junkie," Bridges regularly surfs the Web looking to meet other people. She is a devotee of Craigs list.org and several Yahoo groups. When she found Meet TheNeighbors.org, she plugged in her information and discovered another member living in her building.
"MeetTheNeighbors is unique in that it pinpoints the buildings," Bridges said. "I hope a lot more people from here join, so we can get together and hang out in the neighborhood. It would be cool to just call someone up and say, 'Let's go wasabi.'"
One recent day, Bridges was anticipating attending a Texas Hold 'em Poker Game sponsored by TheLunchClub.net, which she also joined.
With few large apartment complexes on Long Island, suburban participants are instead issued a code for either their whole community, their neighborhood or a single street.
Erika Montaperto, of Bellmore, 30 and single, recently signed on to MeetTheNeighb ors.org after first attending a Lunch Club scavenger hunt. Montaperto, who joined with a co-worker, Alexandra Jeck, has yet to meet a neighbor in Bellmore through the site, but she remains hopeful.
Eventually, she wants to be able to "put a shout out" to anyone within a mile radius of her home. "I could post something, like, 'Hey, there's karaoke in Bellmore next Wednesday,'" she said.
Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to connect with neighbors
To sign up for MeetThe Neighbors.org, simply log on to the Web site and plug in your ZIP code to determine whether your building or neighborhood is already registered. If not, you can register your own location by address.
There are no fees involved. The site provides suggestions for contacting your neighbors and organizing events. There are communal and private message boards.
Members can message their fellow tenants at 2 a.m. and ask, "Is anyone else still awake?" Or perhaps, you can find a neighbor to share an event, which seems to have prompted one poignant message that read simply, "Happy Birthday to Me."
- ELLEN MITCHELL