By Sylvia Small
Buckhead resident Chandler Powell was in Chicago for a business trip when he received a disturbing phone call from his wife.
“She was walking our Golden Retriever when a drunk man followed her and said some obscene things,” he said. “She pulled out her phone to call the police, and he smacked it down. It was a hopeless feeling to know I was out of town and unable to help.”
Powell said he couldn’t alert all his neighbors to the situation because he only had three of their e-mail addresses.
“That’s when the light bulb went off,” Powell said. “Global social media connections don’t mean anything if I don’t know the people who live within 25 yards of me. That’s when I started writing a very simple neighborhood watch application. I just wanted to get my neighbors connected.”
Powell, who owns a software company, created Home Elephant, a free application that enables neighbors to connect with each other on Facebook. Participants can create and receive neighborhood watch alerts, chat with each other and organize events. The feature is intended to be applicable to the iPad, iPhone and Android at some point.
Launched in late March, Home Elephant has users in nearly 250 communities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, Powell said.
The Home Elephant concept grew legs, moving quickly from the Honour Circle community to Karland Drive to Peachtree Battle Avenue and other neighborhoods.
Based on user feedback, the site now includes chat and events sections. “If people wanted a chat section for dog owners, we’d do something like that in a heartbeat,” Powell said. “We didn’t want to clutter it up at the beginning with 4,000 categories.”
Powell said, “Who knows what it will be in a few months? We’ve seen neighborhoods create a Facebook group, but oftentimes it doesn’t do enough. We’re not trying to compete with Facebook. That’s only about five percent of what we’re trying to do.”
Home Elephant is not a replacement for the 9-1-1 system, Powell said. But if you want your neighbors to know something after that call, he suggests using Home Elephant.
“Our biggest problem now is finding a way to pay bandwidth costs,” Powell said. One option being considered is advertising. But Powell quickly points out that personal information on Home Elephant is secure. “We don’t sell addresses,” he said. “Interruption and intrusion marketing are my pet peeves. When I put my address in somewhere, I trust them. If my inbox gets cluttered with junk mail, I’m a little perturbed.”
Previously, people could sign up for Home Elephant via e-mail. But Powell said people would sometimes use an alias as their name, effectively killing neighborhood transparency. “Nobody wants to post or read an alert if their neighbor’s name is ‘Jane Doe.’ We require a Facebook account because there’s more transparency that way,” he said.
“Our goal right now is to get users on board and to get feedback,” Powell said. “I have no delusions of grandeur or of selling this to (Facebook creator) Mark Zuckerberg. Too many start-ups began with that mindset, and they lost their passion. I’m passionate about Home Elephant. This isn’t my fulltime job. It’s a fun project I do on the side.”