Remember the days when neighbors knew each other by name, shared a cup of sugar or a hammer, discussed issues facing their neighborhood or babysat each other’s children?
This sort of neighborliness may still exist to some extent in some places, which is great. But as more people turn inward into digital lives and real-world connections erode, why not harness the best practices of social networks and apply them toward advancing that neighborhood ideal? Neighborhoods were the original social networks, after all.
That’s what Nirav Tolia, co-founder and CEO of Nextdoor, a social network for the neighborhood, wondered. “Technology has done such an amazing job at making it easier to connect to people we’re distant from,” he muses, during a chat at the Nextdoor offices in San Francisco. “Technology has not done a great job at putting us in contact with people right at our front doors.”
The premise is simple: Nextdoor is a private social network for you and your neighbors. You can post about a chair you want to sell, provide information about a dance recital, look for advice on a good electrician, invite your neighbors over for a cocktail, share coupons -- how you use Nextdoor is really up to you. You can include nearby neighborhoods or "mute" areas or people you don’t care to hear from.
You can think of Nextdoor as part Craigslist, part Angie's List, part early Facebook, part Neighborhood Watch, and part coffee-shop bulletin board.
Why not use Facebook or a listserv to talk to neighbors or rely on Craigslist to get ride of your unwanted bookshelves? Some people don’t believe Facebook will protect personal information, while listservs and Google groups are too general and Craigslist is too anonymous.
Nextdoor is unique in that it’s totally private once you’re in (no SEO). Each potential Nextdoor member must have their real name and address verified (via postcard or credit-card billing statement). A neighborhood must have at least 10 neighbors verified to become official. “You have to nail privacy. People are talking about their homes, their addresses, their children -- they have to feel comfortable sharing," Tolia says.
There's another practical reason that there is a place for Nextdoor: Facebook doesn't always identify who might be living next-door. “Any platform that has what we call a synchronous friending model will not work in neighborhoods," he notes. "If I don’t know my neighbors, how can I connect to them?”
Nextdoor relies on neighbors inviting their neighbors. If residents want to get in touch with someone they don’t know, Nextdoor issues offline invitations like postcards and fliers that can be personalized and mailed.
Tolia is surprised that 40 percent of the initial content on Nextdoor is transactional. Another use that caught him off-guard is the platform’s role in public safety. Some members are creating virtual neighborhood watches, where they discuss crime and then mobilize in the real world. About 100 police departments are integrated into Nextdoor communities. Police cannot see what is posted, but they can share their own PSAs or crime updates.
So far, Tolia's team has raised about $40 million from venture capitalist social experts Greylock and local niche experts Benchmark Capital, and Nextdoor users are trading almost one million messages daily in more than 11,000 neighborhoods in all 50 states. The cash should last for five or so years while the site grows, but Tolia says the team is throwing around ideas about how to collect revenue over the long term.
“The recommendations area is ripe for local advertising,” he explains. “We’re thinking about ways to create a place for those merchants who used to use yellow pages.”
Nextdoor wants to bring people closer, one neighborhood at a time.