LifeAt Aims to Provide Building-Based Social Networking for Residents

Social networking–such as MySpace and Facebook–is a huge trend, of course, but till now it’s been based primarily on shared interests, age, school affiliation and so forth. But a New York City company has been trying to prove that useful services can be provided, and a profit made, through social networks based on the buildings people live in.  LifeAt, founded in March 2007, creates password-protected intranets for buildings that have signed up for its service, after which residents can, for no charge, create personal profiles, find other residents with similar interests, send messages, post pictures, participate in online discussions, rate neighborhood restaurants and other businesses, and post classified ads, among other options.  For building owners and managers, the intranets offer both one more way to provide information about maintenance or special events, and an amenity for residents, according to LifeAt.  The company recently signed up three high-profile residences in Chicago: 600 Lake Shore Drive, 340 on the Park and 565 Quincy. LifeAt is also expanding internationally, into developments in London and Australia, and plans to launch in Dubai in “the very near future,” according to a prepared statement.  CPN caught up with LifeAt CEO Matthew Goldstein earlier today for a quick briefing.  The advantage that LifeAt provides for a building owner or manager, Goldstein (pictured) said, is that the service is genuinely an amenity, providing additional value to residents. “We have some buildings that haven’t even broken ground yet,” Goldstein said, where having the service enables members to meet their future neighbors before anyone even moves into the building. Currently more than 400 buildings or communities belong to LifeAt and more than 16,000 people are members, Goldstetin said. Individual sites range from 42 units to about 12,000. “This can work for any building,” he said. “We are more than willing to tweak our model,” for example by adding or removing a section from the standard template.  LifeAt’s revenue model is based on three sources, Goldstein said: a one-time set-up fee paid by the building’s owner, advertising revenues and a share of the real estate commissions generated through the company’s sites. As an example of the latter, is the site for 15 Broad Street in Manhattan, and it includes a link labeled “I am interested in living at 15 Broad.” If a sale is completed that began on that link, LifeAt will be entitled to a slice of the commission.  Goldstein explained that although each building or community gets its own separate intranet, these sites will in some cases be tied together in the near future. “Each building, whether it’s an apartment building or a suburban community, gets its own site, password protected,” he said, “but we are working to link them together … we are working to expand them regionally.”  For example, he explained, in a large urban area another LifeAt-affiliated building might be only a few blocks away, opening up more possibilities for a resident to find a workout partner or arrange a play date.  LifeAt’s newest frontier is the suburbs, Goldstein said. Although “a few scattered sites in New Jersey” are already signed up, he said that suburban communities in the Chicago area and across Florida are part of the company’s next big push. “The grassroots of it is the same template,” Goldstein said, but the model actually works better in a suburban community, where residents in, say, a 1,700-unit subdivision can be physically fairly distant from each other.  An Oct. 22, 2007, article about LifeAt in the New York Times quoted Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li as saying, “I like the idea a lot. Living in the same building means you tend to share the same socioeconomic background and interests, and giving people information on things like where to eat and where to shop makes it very, very relevant.” Li cautioned, however, that the service’s appeal might be limited to big cities, and that LifeAt could find it difficult to generate much in the way of local advertising revenues, since many local businesses aren’t used to advertising online.