Fatdoor: Social Networking for Real Communities

Fatdoor.com, a Web site that mirrors the real world to let users to connect with their neighbors, launched Tuesday with a new spin on social networking.

Instead of anonymous interaction, Fatdoor lets users communicate directly with local neighbors and businesses, said Raj Abhyanker, CEO and co-founder of the company. Abhyanker launched the company with Chandu Thota, who was the lead developer for Microsoft Corp.'s Virtual Earth mapping and location tool. Bill Harris, the former CEO of PayPal Inc. and Intuit Inc., is an investor and chairman of the company.

"We're trying to build something on the Internet that mirrors the real world," Harris said. "We call it a local community network. It is a social network that is based around the place you live and the ... people you know. It is not an anonymous activity; this is a social network for adults."

Abhyanker said he came up with the idea while running for the city council of Cupertino, Calif., in 2005. After knocking on 3,000 doors as part of his canvassing, he noticed that most people didn't know their neighbors. He said he began thinking about how to use the Web to "enhance neighborhoods, to give the power to the few who are very active to use for the common benefit of all neighbors."

The first release of Fatdoor is open to residents of Silicon Valley, with later releases expanding the site cities and towns throughout the U.S.

The site was built using Virtual Earth maps, showing specific house and businesses as icons. The icons can be "claimed" by users to hold their online profiles, which can be viewed by others in the neighborhood looking for specific services, to start a club or for other purposes, Abhyanker said.

As users add content, their neighbors can learn about local events or business deals, he added. The goal is to foster a group of active users in the neighborhood who can self-regulate content using the Wikipedia model. Eventually, Abhyanker said, Fatdoor could be used by community activists or civic groups for various projects, such as producing a neighborhood newspaper, he added.

Harris said the business model for Fatdoor calls for the site to eventually be supported by national and local advertisers eager to target users in specific locations. The site will first list all businesses in the local Yellow Pages and then allow each of those companies to personalize the listings, he said. Users can then add reviews and comments about the businesses.

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