Antony Wong is a Good Lab member who started an online platform called Myflat.hk, which aims to become a nexus for community relationships based on real world communities. How does that work? Check out our interview with Antony below to learn more.
GL: Can you tell us a bit about the background of Myflat.hk?
AW: I started two years ago after I quit my job at an investment bank. It was the two of us – my then colleague Matthew and me – and now we are co-founders. We were both a bit frustrated by corporate life, and wanted to do something that’s more meaningful than just sitting in the office and playing with numbers. I would rather sell a jacket to someone who feels cold, so at least I can make that person warmer. During our brainstorming, we talked to many friends and tried to identify problems in our daily life. Interestingly, we found that many issues that people had all points to a root issue – we don’t have relationship with people around us anymore so sometimes we feel helpless. That inspired us to create a network that can connect people who live very close to each other, and finally it became Myflat.hk.
GL: so it caters to the need of residents in the same community?
AW: That’s the basic idea. You know, in many government-subsidized or even private housing complexes, you can find a notice board where you can get some news about the community. And if you are an ordinary folk like me, you will just walk by and not notice those posters.
But there might be some important information on those notices that might affect my life. The problem is, this kind of important information is not presented in a way that is user-friendly. We check our mobile phones for updates every now and then, but very rarely would we check the notice board in our community for updates. So we want to create a way of information sharing that suits our urban lifestyle nowadays.
GL: So what’s your solution? You make it go online?
AW: That’s part of the idea, and actually we have more than that. We created an online network for each residential estate or building in Hong Kong, and we call it a “neighborhood”. You need to be verified to join one of these neighborhoods that you are living in. After joining in, you can see updates of your neighbors and the whole building, you can share anything – items, skill, resources, time, etc. – with your neighbors, and even get to know your neighbors better through sharing.
GL: So I can go to your website and find the building that I lives in, right?
AW: Yes, at this moment, we have around 4700 neighborhoods on our website, with over 1000 sign-ups. The idea is still new to many people, but we are working on some campaigns to make it known.
GL: Can you paint a user case scenario?
AW: Sure. There are many parents living in Tin Shui Wai for example, but they need to work in downtown like Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui or on the Hong Kong Island. They might have young kids left at home alone. It would be great if their neighbors could help looking after those kids, or help cooking meal for those kids – actually just a couple of decades ago, this was quite a common practice. By using our platform, using the skills badge feature we offer, users can easily identify neighbors who are willing to help.
(photo credit: Anne Roberts)
GL: Can I do this using just Whatsapp or similar tools?
AW: At the moment, the main problem is we don’t have a direct contact of most of our neighbors yet. We don’t know their email address, phone numbers, or even names. So, it is not easy to begin the relationship with other tools. However, Myflat.hk will be a platform that can serve as an icebreaker among the neighbors. They can easily post, comment and send private messages to other neighbors in the same neighborhood. And ultimately, we hope our platform can help them build a real interpersonal relationship.
GL: Are you also aware of some other similar platforms in Hong Kong, like some sharing platforms for clothes or furniture?
AW: We know that they exist, and that they are facilitating some very important exchanges in the city. The problem is, you can not easily find your neighbor from those platforms. It is not very practical if you live in Yuen Long and you go a long way to Causeway Bay to exchange stuff with people there.
Meanwhile there are some groups for some specific areas or estate, but there could be some security or privacy issues. Most of these groups are quite publicly accessible, and anyone can easily join into these groups without much verification. Some people might not be comfortable disclosing their private information like where they live or whether they have young children at home in these groups for example. We make huge efforts in making sure that security and privacy is built in our platform – when you sign up, you will be asked to identify which building you are living in, and we will send you a physical confirmation letter printed with a verification code. You have to input the code on that letter to confirm that you are actually living the neighborhood.
GL: Wow, that’s a lot of work on your end. Is the service free?
AW: Yes, the service is free for all residents.
GL: You’ve got any plans for coming months?
AW: We are doing some surveys with people living in Tseung Kwan O to learn about their needs and concerns living in different communities, so that we can do something that is meaningful in helping those communities together. Meanwhile, we are doing some initial planning of a social solution forum. We want to invite everyone in the city who has seen issues in the community, and want to do something to solve the issues. We want to open the forum for discussion on these issues and solutions, and we wish to offer some help to the most needed proposal and make a change.
GL: What would be an optimal scenario in your mind for the future of community relationships?
AW: We wish that one day, there are no more stranger in your neighborhood. Most neighbors are very happy to help each other out. When they have spared or extra resources, they can share with people living around them. This may sound surreal today, but this actually happened not long ago. With everyone taking their first step, it could happen again one day.