The New Neighborly

Nextdoor.com and other sites are rapidly linking residents

Your dog has escaped from your backyard. You need to borrow a ladder. You’re worried about a suspicious character who keeps showing up on your cul-de-sac.

These issues were once dealt with on a face-to-face basis between neighbors. Now they are increasingly happening on social networking sites with names such as Nextdoor.com, heyneighbor.com and Patch.com, among others.

Most of the sites serve as destinations for building a sense of community, sharing information and accomplishing goals. Launched 16 months ago, Nextdoor.com has distinguished itself in part for its diligence in identifying and verifying users as actual neighbors.

When signing up for the free service, potential Nextdoor users have to prove they live where they say they do by entering their address. Residency is verified through a phone call to a home phone or credit card information, or potential users can wait until the company sends a new-user postcard with a log-in code to their home.

The result is a private social network equivalent of a online community bulletin board. Everyone on the site uses his or her real name. There are no anonymous users and the site does not share user information.

“The goal is to give neighbors a sense of security so that they feel safe sharing things online that they would share offline,” said Nirav Tolia, the 41-year-old founder of Nextdoor.

The San Francisco-based Nextdoor’s popularity has spread quickly. To date there are 29 neighborhoods signed up in Sacramento and 31 in Davis. Nationally, the site has signed up 10,000 neighborhoods.

“Connecting with one’s neighbors is about getting a great recommendation, like asking for help in finding a lost pet,” Tolia said. “This is not creating an entertainment website. This is creating a website that is a real utility – and one you can solve problems with.”

Registered neighbors have used the site to get information on things such as baby sitters, garage sales, dentists and dry cleaners, neighborhood watch groups and what nearby properties have been listed for sale.

The site has been a boon to connecting people in Sacramento’s Upper Land Park neighborhood, said resident Dan Hood, who joined Nextdoor more than a year ago.

“We started it in order to organize the neighborhood and to help the neighborhood with its identity as Upper Land Park,” Hood said. “I use it to help neighbors become aware of the City Hall actions that affect the neighborhood.”

“It was tough getting the first 10 to join … after that it went exponential,” he said.

Nextdoor is gaining momentum in major urban areas on the West Coast. In San Francisco, 90 percent of neighborhoods use the website, according to Tolia. In San Jose, it’s 80 percent. In Seattle, more than 85 percent of neighborhoods have signed up.

Urban areas have more users who may not know their neighbors by name. In some cases, they may not know who their neighbors are at all.

But not everyone sees sites such as Nextdoor, or social media, as the remedy for disconnection among neighbors.

One of the most promising aspects of Nextdoor is community safety. In many locales, users have asked that the site allow interaction with law enforcement. In November, the Ventura Police Department began partnering with Nextdoor on a virtual neighborhood watch program. The department has been keeping users updated on alerts.

“We think it would be valuable for users to have access to police information about reported crime and other things going on,” Tolia said.

He believes hyperlocal connection is a growth business. It’s an idea that many with deep pockets have confidence in. Nextdoor, a for-profit company, recently secured $21.6 million in private-investor funding that will allow the site to go global.

Tolia believes Nextdoor can be financially successful, despite the fact that it’s not yet making money.

“It’s not that we don’t think about making money or that this is a nonprofit,” he said. “If we look at the sites that we use as role models – Google, Twitter and Yahoo! – all of those spent a number of years focusing on one problem, and that problem was how to create the best possible user experience.”

Inevitably, ads, likely from neighborhood-specific businesses, may be part of the site, Tolia said.

“Even with 10,000 neighborhoods we feel like we’re trying to get started,” he said. “Once we make some progress on that we’ll be able to focus 100 percent on how to create a monetization mechanism.”

 

THEY’RE CONNECTED

Nextdoor.com use in the region:

• 29 neighborhoods in Sacramento

• 31 neighborhoods in Davis

 

Top three neighborhood membership sites in Sacramento:

Tahoe Park

• Upper Land Park

• Westlake

 

Top three neighborhood membership sites in Davis:

• North Davis

• Stonegate

• Wildhorse

Source: Sacbee Home and Garden and Nextdoor.com

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