Noopur Pandey says her widowed 74-year-old mother often comes for prolonged visits with her daughter's family in Menlo Park, and had wondered how to meet some neighbors in her age group who might share some interests.
This being Silicon Valley, Ms. Pandey started a website to help her mother out. The website, Picket Fence, is a social network just for those 50 and older.
Picket Fence aims to foster in-person relationships by helping its members set up group activities such as pet play dates, walks, cooking classes, book clubs and visits to plays, museums, lectures and restaurants.
Ms. Pandey partnered with Chung-Man Tam, a former work colleague from Yahoo who lives in San Francisco. Mr. Tam says he was also inspired to help his parents, who were getting ready to retire and relocate to the Bay Area from Chicago, where they'd lived for 45 years.
"Finding new friends, exploring the passions that they've always had but never had the time to enjoy, and having a great quality of life is something I'd like for them to experience," Mr. Tam said.
The website started in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, but has now spread to include Woodside, Portola Valley and Atherton, plus Stanford, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, San Carlos, Belmont, San Mateo, Saratoga, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino and Santa Clara. A group of San Jose residents are on a wait list for their city to join in.
Residents of each community are only able to see members from their own and adjacent communities on the website.
"Response has been really amazing, especially for the in-person interactions," said Ms. Pandey. "They ask, how do we keep having these events?" she said.
New members join online by entering their date of birth and home zip code. Once the email is verified, they are asked to prove their address by emailing a copy of a utility bill or driver's license.
Ms. Pandey said the website plans to soon also offer an option, for those who don't mind a short delay in signing up, to verify their residence by mailing a postcard with a signup code.
Partners such as local libraries and others that offer events are being invited to join the site and post events as well.
Like other social media sites, users can post a photo and basic information about themselves. They can send messages to other members (or message up to 10 other members at a time), post photos and events and start conversations on any topic.
The site recently offered a number of events for local members including $20 discount tickets to TheatreWorks' production of "Outside Mullingar" at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; a talk about local volunteer opportunities with an executive from Peninsula Volunteers; lunch at a new Palo Alto restaurant, Zareen's; a visit to the Legal Design Lab at Stanford; and a Palo Alto Baylands walk.
For now, the two founders have funded the costs of the website themselves, with Ms. Pandy working fulltime on the site.
They plan to soon expand the reach of the website to more Bay Area locations, including San Francisco.
"Then we'll talk about how to take it more nationally, including funding," Mr. Tam said.
They also will have to eventually figure out how to make money from the website, which could include sponsored events or advertising, they said. They have also considered a membership fee.
Ms. Pandey said some of the current users have said "if we can provide them with a network that's safe, they would be willing to pay a fee for that."
They also are looking for ways to provide information to help members age in place in their own homes.
"If we can help our parents do more of that, that would be something we would really like," Mr. Tam sad.
"I think it's fun to build something so meaningful," Ms. Pandey said.
Note: After we first posted this story Ms. Pandey told us Picket Fence had lowered the age for users from 55 to 50.