Get connected with your neighborhood

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

I like the “Friends” analogy the best.

“Everyone on Facebook is ‘Friends’ age. They’re still in transition, haven’t put any roots down,” said Harrisonburg resident Mike Rodes, who with his cousin, Ronnie Rodes, is launching a next-generation social-networking website, NeighborhoodFriends.com, next week.

But more on that in a minute. Because we’re talking “Friends” here. You remember “Friends.” Joey and Chandler and Ross and Rachel and Monica and Phoebe and New York and the rest. Twentysomethings who didn’t do much other than hang out at a coffee shop and play an ungodly amount of foosball.

“The show ended with Monica and Chandler adopting a kid and moving out to the suburbs and Joey moving out to the coast to get a job. Everybody broke off and started their own lives, and they started to get plugged in to the community. That’s where our site comes in. It’s after you realize, well, now what?” Rodes said of NeighborhoodFriends.com, which goes live on July 1 as “Facebook on steroids,” to use Rodes’ description of what you can expect.

I’ve taken the tour that is offered on the site right now, and it has a familiar feel. I’ve long since advanced beyond the rather juvenile MySpace and become something of a Facebook freak in recent months, and the elements that I like about Facebook – the profile, the events section, the photo album – are all there. What I like isn’t the “Facebook on steroids” aspect as much as the other main selling point that Rodes explained to me.

“The common thing with MySpace and Facebook is people send you a friend request, and that opens them up to everything on your page,” Rodes said. “So you’re into Facebook, and now I’m your friend, and maybe you didn’t consider me a good friend, but I can see all your photos, everything. On our site, you can request to be a friend, or you can request to be somebody’s contact. You have a business relationship with somebody, for example, and you know each other in that respect. It’s just like in the real world. You really do have a tiering of friends and contacts in your life. You have contacts, acquaintances, friends. We try to mirror that on our website.”

The “steroids” come in the form of the features that should make NeighborhoodFriends.com attractive to the post-“Friends” set. A tie-in to Google Maps, for example, allows users to connect with neighbors who have also signed up for the site. And businesses and churches can create what amount to free web pages that advertise specials or serve as a conduit of information for church events or other happenings.

“What we’re trying to do is get communities back together again,” Rodes said. “Basically what we all do now is go home, get out of our cars, close the garage door, and most people, if they’re lucky, know who’s beside them, but they don’t know who’s two houses up. What we’re trying to do is connect people.

“It’s hard to connect with people nowadays, and it shouldn’t be. We’re in the Information Age. We have all these things that connect us with one another, and yet we don’t,” Rodes said.

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