Nextdoor: Turning Neighborhoods into Social Networks

“We were looking for an idea that would change the world,” Nextdoor founder Nirav Tolia told me during a guided tour of the members-only site.  “We started this a year and a half ago when we realized there were no locally-driven social networks that connect neighborhoods – and neighborhoods are the original social networks.”

Following the demo with Tolia, I am convinced that San Francisco-based Nextdoor is the next big thing, because in our increasingly isolated, online world, it is bringing community back to more than 700 neighborhoods around the country – and that number is steadily growing after only 2 months of going live.

Nextdoor basically brings listservs, like Yahoo!Groups, into the social networking age.  Each neighborhood has its own website, which only goes live once 10 people from the neighborhood have signed up.  The website has a “wall” that looks a lot like Facebook – you can ask questions, share tips, sell or donate items, find babysitters, ask for recommendations for plumbers and painters, etc.  “A lot of lost pets are found using Nextdoor,” Tolia added.  “And like listservs, postings are also deliverd by email – we deliver 30-40,000 emails per day.”

Their key differentiator, which really sets them apart from mainstream social networks like Facebook and Twitter, is the complete and total privacy each website enjoys.  You can’t log in unless you’re a member, and you can’t become a member unless you verify your physical address.

“There are no anonymous users,” Tolia explained.  “You must use your real first name and physical address when you sign up – and nothing shows up in search engines; the websites are fully encrypted.”

So, how do addresses get verified?

You can request a postcard be mailed to you with a unique code that you can use to gain access; if your phone number is listed, Nextdoor can do a reverse look up; you can verify with your credit card (there is a $0.01 charge), which will show your billing address matches your home address; or previously verified neighbors can vouch for you.

Each neighborhood website includes a map that shows who is on Nextdoor.  You can access neighbor’s info – their profiles contain as much info as they care to share – and there is a neighborhood directory included.

Like Facebook, there are tabs that organize information, like recommendations – all of which get tagged so you can instantly see what electricians your neighbors recommend – and there is a buy/sell/free tab that serves as the neighborhood’s Craigslist.  You can also create calendar listings for events.

Because most neighbors don’t know each other, you can invite neighbors using more than just email.  You can print and distribute flyers or request that Nextdoor mails postcards (yes, Nextdoor actually prints and mails the postcards).

I got to tour neighborhood websites (including Menlo Park, CA, Hamilton, NY, and Arlington, VA) that gave Nextdoor permission to use them in demos.  For all of you curious to learn more, watch the video below!

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Monika Jansen is a writer and editor who is happiest pounding out blog posts, newsletters, website content, and other materials. Follow her at: @monikacjansen
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