Helpful Mafias at MIT Dorms

by Yishai Knobel,

One of MIT’s graduate student dorms is a 28-story building at the east most part of MIT. It is called Eastgate.
Not unlike other graduate housing complexes, Eastgate boasts mostly foreign families, and understandably for immigrant students in a new country, they would always have each other’s backs.

So we had several “mafias” in the building: Latin, Chinese, Israeli, Indian, etc. And when a poll would go out to pick the next movie for the communal DVD library, the Israeli mafia would call up its members to make sure their desired genre is selected…

At Eastgate, helping each other was a daily thing. When one would go to Costco, they would ask whether others needed anything; when someone needed to borrow a drill, get a ride somewhere, get some tips in accounting homework, or get a few spare eggs, they would ask the mafia.

But there wasn’t really a good way to do this. In fact, there was only one way: send an email blast. Was it effective? sometimes. Was it pleasant? not really. To be honest, it felt like spam.

A similar behavior is emerging on Facebook and Twitter. In the absence of a better way to find helpers they can trust, people post their needs on their walls or into their Twitter feed. And worse than spamming – many don’t post at all, because they don’t want to bother their friends.

Check out all these people who are looking for chargers and painkillers on Twitter:

It’s our mission at HelpAround to figure out a better way to find helpers, but are there hacks that people use to find the right helper? Are there smarter ways than spamming Facebook?