Neighborhood social network Nextdoor launches NYC partnership

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on June 14, 2013

From The News Desk

Thinking about organizing a block party on your street? Want to know why a local business just closed? Why, do you even know who lives on your block or street? (I'll be honest: I don't.) If you replied yes to questions one and two, and want to improve on the third, Neighborhood social network Nextdoor may have the answer, and now it's taking its efforts to New York. 

Today, Nextdoor announced a partnership with New York City, enabling the government to provide neighborhood-specific information, be it news, free events, emergency notifications, etc., directly onto the site. This means the City could contact specific neighborhoods with news relevant to these specific denizens instead of just releasing news or general updates to the entire city as a whole. In addition, Nextdoor and the city will work together to "conduct local outreach and training."

Simply put, Nextdoor is a private social network that links neighbors together. The concept is simple: If you reside in a certain neighborhood, you join the Nextdoor network for it. You must, however, verify your identity and provide proof of address. So it is truly about people who reside close to you and who aren't interested in maintaining a stealth existence. In contrast, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn connect people who are generally geographically distant. With Facebook they are tied together based on previous or present affiliations (high school, college, work, clubs, social circle); in the case of Twitter, interests; and LinkedIn, employment.

Once you've gotten through the sign up process, Nextdoor users can post events happening close-by, talk about neighborhood politics, post items that your selling, provide alert neighbors about security concerns, etc. People in one neighborhood can't see what's going on in another. According to CEO Nirav Tolia it's a "progressive approach to strengthen neighborhoods." Launched in late 2011, Nextdoor has had brisk adoption, claiming networks in 14,000 neighborhoods in all 50 states. Just last month, the site launched a mobile iPhone app.

While many New Yorkers already use the site, this announcement heralds a real push for the City. Its impact will likely stem from its usefulness in mobilizing community safety alerts. There isn't another way for people who live close by to contact others in times of emergencies, save the age-old school phone tree. This partnership brings this use-case to a new level. If an armed robbery occurs down the street and the police want residents to be aware of a criminal at large, officials or law enforcement can notify the neighborhood without alerting the entire city.

Life as a new social network is not easy, but Nextdoor seems to be doing pretty well. It has an enviable reach in the cities in which it's most established. San Francisco, where the company's headquarters reside, claims to 97% of the neighborhoods on the site. For Denver it's 91%. And, according to Tolia, everyday 78 new neighborhoods join.

Tolia told me that successful social networks become proxies for people's everday lives, just think of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and how they've become our everyday norm. He sees Nextdoor as becoming a proxy for neighborhood chitchat.

I do wonder how this platform will be used in some parts in New York, especially those in the early stages of gentrification, where neighborhood tension is on the rise. I asked Tolia and he pointed to the necessity of everyone providing their identity to join. If people comment using real names, and not with some troll-y online moniker à la Reddit, the commentary is generally less aggressive, and more, well, neighborly. In his words, "the kind of discourse that happens is a civil discourse." Of course, that doesn't mean neighbors will necessarily adopt Nextdoor.

Either way, Nextdoor is an innovative idea. Tolia called New York "the most progressive city in the world," and he sees the platform playing a role in that.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a self-proclaimed entrepreneur, has been trying to bring the tech scene in New York forward. His administration launched the Made in NY initiative helping match tech startups with hungry job-seekers. A week ago, 3D printer company MakerBot just opened its latest factory in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, adding another successful startup expansion under Bloomberg's watchful eye.

Now he can add this to his resume: a tech initiative that seeks to foster community.

I can see Nextdoor succeeding here, a city known for its diverse neighborhoods. Because of Twitter and Facebook I often know of events occurring in far-flung places but have no clue what's happening a few blocks a way. I know that one of my Facebook friends likes ballroom dancing while on Twitter one of my tweeps is cooking Ethiopian food.

Now I can find out what my neighbors are up to. I might even have to talk with them face to face. Now that's a revolutionary concept.

[Image via sesameworkshop]