Suite Relations: Neighbours plan events, swap info, and build relationships through Facebook communities

There’s an open invitation available on the web, courtesy of Jack Tsang, and it’s not just for people who live in Liberty Village’s Battery Park Condos. “I let anybody join the group,” he said.

That group, founded by 32-year-old Tsang, a computer software consultant, has become a virtual information centre, public forum, common room and social planner thanks to the participation of Tsang’s neighbours. And that group is on

Most folks by now have heard of Facebook, the social networking website that regularly appears in headline news such as allegations over cheating in the engineering department at Ryerson University. Creating communities of real-life neighbours in cyberspace more closely reflects the generally benign nature of Facebook. And Tsang claims his experience has been positive from the start.

“Our condo had a party for all the owners,” Tsang says. “I met a lot of people at that party and we said, we should stay in touch, so let’s start a Facebook group.’ A lot of people joined the group as a result of the party, and a lot of others joined thanks to word-of-mouth.

“I would run into neighbours and say, Hey, join the group to get information about the building.’.”

Tsang likely didn’t have to explain Facebook to his neighbours. Newspaper reports in mid-2007 called Toronto “the Facebook capital of the world,” with more than 500,000 Torontonians registered.

Seven million Canadians have already joined Facebook, the brainchild of Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, who created the site so he and his friends could connect with fellow students.

Tsang’s method of getting his group going – telling people he was acquainted with – is the opposite of that used by marketing professional Janelle Perilli. The former Bloor West Village resident and her fiancée Cameron Butt planned to move to Tsang’s neighbourhood when they bought a loft in the converted Irwin Toy Factory. The 810 sq ft one-bedroom loft cost the couple about $270,000.

Like many new home buyers, the couple was in for a wait.

“I was in my early 20s when I bought,” Perilli says of her pre-construction purchase. “Now I’m in my late 20s.”

During that wait, Perilli (who moved in in January of this year, three years after buying) read about other Toronto condo purchasers who had started Facebook groups for their condo developments before shovels hit the site. So she broke ground on her own Facebook group.

“I became friends with them virtually before I became friends with them literally,” Perilli says of her neighbours. “You learn everyone has their own information on the project. People will post Did you hear that people are starting to move in?’ People who moved in first posted pictures of what their units looked like.

“You get information that you wouldn’t necessarily know, and you’re sharing information with everybody else.”

Tsang has tracked unit asking prices in his building via and posted them to the condo page.

“This is great for people who are looking to get into our building or looking to sell our building,” he says. “They can look at the history of a similar unit to ballpark the value of their unit.

“I wish I had this information before I bought,” he said of his 770 square-foot, two-bedrom condominium.

Multitudes of Facebook users resemble Facebook’s founder. Many are tech-savvy 20- and 30-somethings who frequently use the Internet. “Facebook is technology that lets them organize their lives,” Alan Saskin explains.

Saskin, the president of residential developer Urbancorp, learned about Facebook from his 20-year-old daughter, who also told him that companies were advertising on it. Intrigued, Saskin soon learned that Facebook’s demographics dovetailed with those of condo buyers in Queen West.

Intent on the experiment of creating a Facebook community around a building project, Urbancorp set up a West Side Lofts condominium page on Facebook that parallels the project’s web page. Thus far, Urbancorp’s results are mixed. Seven or eight purchasers visited the West Side Lofts sales office after making first contact on Facebook. Thousands have downloaded the “Are you a Queen Wester?” quiz, while more than 180 people have registered as “fans.”

“They can’t as yet deliver a crowd down to the sales centre,” said Saskin, noting that the majority of potential buyers learn about Urbancorp projects from site signage and newspaper and TV ads, not online communities.

When Urbancorp started a discussion about a new public park planned for Queen and Abell Sts., people posted pot shots at the developer.

“The community has its own rules,” Saskin shrugs, noting that members discuss matters like whether Starbucks, the Drake and condos help or hurt the area. “These are legitimate questions for people to ask,” Saskin says. “We’ll be part of that dialogue, too.”

Saskin isn’t yet sold on Facebook as a marketing tool in spite of its relatively low cost. What keeps him interested is the “ripple effect.” Quoting an average of 70 friends per person, Saskin feels that the Facebook page can spread more quickly than efforts via other media.

“When you do something on Facebook, all your friends know immediately,” he says.

Saskin might be disappointed to learn that neither Tsang nor Perilli have invited the developers or managers of their condos to their online communities.

“I didn’t want it to be a marketing tool for them,” Perilli says. “I wanted it to be a place for residents and people in the area to talk about the project and the area and not have to deal with the marketing message from the builder.”

“People were venting the frustrations they experienced, whether it was a change in their occupancy date or something that they heard was changed,” Perilli continues. “It’s a way to tell everybody else what you’re experiencing and to hear if anybody else is experiencing the same thing.”

“We have a car wash on the third floor of our parking lot. But a lot of people didn’t even know it was there,” Tsang laughs, “because it’s on the bottom. A lot of people who are on P1 or P2 don’t go down there, and they had no idea before it was posted to the group.”

“We have group members on the board,” Tsang continues. “The rest of us can raise issues with them and they can table issues at meetings.”

“If I didn’t have the Facebook group, I probably would never talk to any of the people on the board.”

Tsang’s friends are dumbstruck when they visit. “I’ll run into neighbours and just say hi’ and my friends are always surprised. They ask, ’How do you know all your neighbours?’”

“My friends live in condos too and they don’t know ANY of their neighbours.”

Neighbourly efforts like these mean bars near new condo developments like Tsang’s and Perilli’s might want to surf for groups like theirs, since members sometimes schedule get-togethers at local pubs via their condo Facebook pages.

As enthusiastic as Perilli is about her group, that’s where her interest ends.

“The only reason I joined Facebook was to start the Toy Factory Lofts group,” she says. “That’s all I was interested in getting out of Facebook – meeting my potential neighbours and finding out about what was going on with our condo and sharing information with other people.

“I don’t really do the personal aspect of it. I’d rather just talk to my friends on the phone or by email.”

This article originally published in The Toronto Star.

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