Community building comes in lots of guises and while social media surely has its place in promoting the ties that bind, its pitfalls are well known, leaving the community-minded with a conundrum: how to use online forums to strengthen neighbourhoods, towns and so on without falling prey social media’s darker sides?
One new app is taking a decidedly “Web 1.0” approach to the topic. Recently launched on Prince Edward Island is Nuwelcom which aims at empowering newcomers to the province by providing local information -from garbage pickup times to car mechanics near you to government-issued COVID-19 alerts —all delivered in seven languages.
Just don’t expect any free-flowing discussion on the platform.
“We don’t have a space for online debate,” said Duncan McIntosh, Partner at Nuwelcom, speaking to Cantech Letter. “We’re going back to Web 1.0 for safety’s sake. There’s an opportunity for feedback but there’s no place on our platform for people to comment in an unsupervised way. That was a strategic decision to keep all our content curated.”
Nuwelcom came out of a desire to lessen the load on newly-minted Islanders as they try to navigate day-to-day events, with McIntosh saying one meeting his group had early on in development provided a key example of how the app could help keep people connected.
Last fall, Nuwelcom had begun testing in partnership with the town of Stratford, PEI, just when Hurricane Dorian pounded its way through the Maritimes.
“As always happens, there were four newcomer moms with four newcomer kids who turned up at the school at eight o'clock in the morning and found out that school was cancelled. They don't listen to [the radio], they don't listen to the CBC and so they didn't get the information,” McIntosh said.
“What happens is that the mom feels embarrassed and, probably even worse, her child feels a lack of competence. And if that happens often enough, eventually the mom is just going to say, Look, I'll just stay inside and you go out. And if that happens for three or four years, she's eventually going to say, You know, I have a sister-in-law in Toronto, why don’t we just move there?” McIntosh said.
Launched on June 16, Nuwelcom is currently in negotiations with municipalities across PEI to link up their notifications, making the app a one-stop shop for information on government services, relevant non-profits and, more recently, local businesses like plumbing companies, mechanics and such — vital services locals may be aware of but that newcomers might not yet ‘Have a guy’ for.
“We’ve developed this as a kind of digital brother-in-law,” McIntosh said. So far, interest in the app has been strong, with more than 13,000 views per week, often with multiple per-day visits by individuals and, encouragingly, a user base that goes well beyond newcomers.”
“It turns out we’ve had many [settled] Islanders and English-speaking folks using the app, and the reason is practicality,” McIntosh said. “If you get a reminder every week about when your green waste bin is going out, people are going to use that. We’re getting a tremendous response.”
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