TL;DR Why it matters
As the internet continues to make so many parts of our lives easier and more connected, our local communities and cultural identities are all too often disappearing. Locally owned businesses often act as the gathering place for these communities, but with the rise of excessive consumerism and large corporations, consumers often never even know about the locally owned businesses around them. Live Local is designed to solve these issues by providing a platform that allows local residents to discover the locally and minority-owned businesses around them, and become a part of a revitalized community.
Roughly 20% of small business fail in their first year, and by their fifth year, the majority of the ones remaining are either on the verge of closing or have closed already. After the first decade, 2/3 of all small businesses have folded permanently. Despite all the benefits that come with buying local, corporations with more marketing budget and more brand power continue to forcing smaller stores out of business, hurting local communities. Additionally, along with all the challenges the pandemic has caused us as individuals, local businesses have had to deal with their own set of difficulties that could cause disastrous outcomes during these troubling times.
A startling 70% of small business owners are concerned about finances due to extended closures, and a majority of them worry about having to close permanently. And this fear is not baseless - a recent survey found that over 7.5 million businesses are at risk of folding as coronavirus cases remain high. In the midst of this, news sources like the Washington Post predict that giant corporations and chains may be the only survivors in the post-pandemic economy.
Many large-scale applications like Yelp give a congested view of the market, with local business having to compete with chain business in many difficult ways that end up suppressing the few. Especially during these tough times, it is necessary for a community to support local businesses. In fact, over 90% of customers do prefer small business over big business, but due to inability to access quality stores quickly and easily, they opt for the latter.
In an effort to not only streamline the process of finding and supporting local business but also amplify the voices of minorities, we built the community-based Live Local.
What it does
Through an innovative social media style user interface, Live Local displays a feed of relevant pictures for the small businesses located in a specific region, which can be specified using the GCP search bar at the top. Users can easily star their favorite locations and access them at any time, even as their feed changes as more businesses are added and the algorithm chooses a different set of businesses to interact with. These starred businesses are stored in groups based on type of business (eg. restaurant, fashion, etc.) and utilize the picture layout as well. If users see a small business that interests them on their feed, they can click on the picture to get a more wholistic view of the business, easily gaining access to relevant information like address, a gallery of pictures posted by the business owner, and specific tags that represent the business. The key indicator of a minority-owned business is a clear difference in color on the feed, and tags give more specific information.
How we built it
Backend: The logic was built as a layered architecture with repository, domain and controller layers for each class (User, Business and Post). REST Endpoints were exposed in order for a frontend to consume data (JSON). The Spring Boot jar executable was deployed to GCP App Engine from a local machine using Cloud SDK commands. The MongoDB database was deployed to a MongoDB Atlas cluster. To be able to connect the two, integration information was included into the application.properties file in the Spring Boot application.
Front end: The front end of Live Local is written in Flutter, Google's new cross-platform native framework. Thus, the app can be cross-compiled for iOS, Android, Web, MacOS, and Windows. It also provided us with a super robust framework for creating the front end such that it meets the Material Design spec. The end result is a front end that is dynamic, and responsive, as well as easy to use, and accessible.
Challenges we ran into
Our time zones were all different and it was hard at times to schedule work or group calls, but we were able to communicate efficiently through periodic calls and goal setting. In terms of the code, we had varying levels of experience going into the project, and it tooks us a while to get going on the back end. By writing it in Java, we all knew what was going on, even if it took a little more overhead.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We're proud we were able to create our ideal MVP and could successfully implement our main features, including filtering and the social media picture home page. We're also proud of being able to differentiate our app from other softwares like Yelp through our social media picture layout, our unique set of business tags, and our solely small business platform.
Our app helps expose truly small and local businesses by limiting their competition to their local area, and by not burying any business, like traditional search and review apps do with new and small businesses.
What we learned
We learned more about GCP and specific functionality offered, and some of our members were exposed to things like Flutter and Dart. With all of us coming from different coding backgrounds, we were able to learn from each other through the code.
What's next for Local Lifestyle
In the future, we plan to
- implement a trip planning feature in which small businesses can get more recognition from tourists
- employ a suggested business algorithm to increase exposure for businesses
- allow user privileges like being able to post a business for those who sign up as business owners
- add CI/CD, deploy from Github
- add authentication
- add third party APIs (Google Maps, Yelp etc)