In a quiet office at the edge of the Galleria area, Amit Mehta runs a business related to the oil industry. But in his spare time, he also runs a social networking site called My Virtual Neighbor.
“My Virtual Neighbor was actually born after I was robbed personally, a couple of months back. I was used to getting notices from property management that’ hey be careful. There was a crime reported. Be careful, there was a robbery.’ So I never really payed attention and those used to go in my garbage cans. But when I got robbed myself, it was a wake-up call.”
Mehta, who lives in a high-rise apartment building on Sage Road, says he started wondering if there was a more effective way he could connect with others in the building.
He searched around and didn’t find what he was looking for, so he developed a website himself. Within a few weeks, 75 people in his building signed up and started sharing information.
“So a good example is, once somebody was robbed and they actually posted a picture of the door — how the people broke in. So everybody got that picture of the door posted on their walls after he found out about it. And then everybody was giving suggestions this is what we should do to protect ourselves next time. And next thing we know the community was really interacting in a big way to stop crime together.”
Since it’s launch earlier this year, the website has grown to about 150 communities here in Houston and across the country.
My Virtual Neighbor feels a lot like Facebook.
You have your own profile and a wall where you can post information. But unlike Facebook, the type of information you’re sharing and receiving is more pertinent.
“Now the difference between this and Facebook is every post you read here, you can tell is meaningful. Whereas on Facebook, all we do is ‘oh, I’m walking my dog,’ ‘LOL I just went to this party.’ That’s all we do. So there’s nothing meaningful we are interacting about.”
Mehta says it’s already making a difference in crime.
Houston Police reports from January and February show an average of five crimes each month on the 3000 block of Sage, where Mehta lives. Reports from April and May, after My Virtual Neighbor took off, show one crime per month.
It’s not much to go on yet, but Mehta says whether you go online to meet your neighbors, or walk the block tomorrow night, Houstonians can do more to build trust in their community.