Nextdoor.com: New social network brings neighbors together in cyberspace

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Neighbors can be scary, shrill, suffocating things. They listen to country radio, smoke on your shared patio, leave passive-aggressive notes about how you parked your Yaris, and borrow eggs almost as often as they "borrow" your copy of the New York Times. But no matter how often you interact with, mock and attempt to retaliate against them, you probably don't know them. Nextdoor.com is trying to change that.

In late October, the private social network launched with a focus that hits close to home. Although it functions similarly to Facebook, Nextdoor ignores the typical and the trivial (photos, status updates, the tuna salad you ate for lunch) in place of the community-wide practical (barbecues, homeowners association meetings, the desperate need for a last-minute babysitter). Designed to recreate -- and sometimes even just create -- a sense of community between people who live in a specific neighborhood, Nextdoor encourages meeting and interacting online in order to bridge the gap in real life -- a message shared in the following video.

In Colorado, Nextdoor includes fourteen active neighborhood sites, three of which are located in Denver. Its creators are hoping to expand this total -- and quickly.

"Right now, people have Facebook for their friends, LinkedIn for their business, and they can follow people on Twitter who have similar interests," Nextdoor spokesperson Kelsey Grady says. "The neighborhood is a very important community, but somehow, over the last couple decades, we've sort of lost that connection with our neighbors. The site is really here to bring back that sense of community."

The natural question, at this point, is almost overwhelming: Why not just go knock on a few doors, then? According to a 2010 Pew Study, the chances of that ever occurring are pretty slim. When asked whether they could name their neighbors, fewer than 50 percent of people could do so for all or most of those living nearby. This number changes, though, when people are confronted with community issues, at which point 46 percent of those tested said they discussed a local topic with a neighbor in the past year. Community politics and social issues are, among other aspects, a focal point for Nextdoor, Grady says.

"It's not, 'Hey, look at me,'" she says. "It's, 'Hey, let's talk about what's going on in our neighborhood.' People are using the site to talk about crime, about babysitters, about pets, about bringing together neighborhood ordinances and guidelines."

Although its 26-person staff is currently based in San Francisco, the site has expanded to 39 states and Washington D.C., and is home to the online presences of more than 620 active neighborhoods. So far, this is a tiny slice chunk of territory --- Westword's neighborhood, for example, is not represented. Denver's Nextdoor options include a handful of options such as South Park Hill, but many popular neighborhoods aren't yet on its radar.

Creating a new neighborhood is an easy feat once you make it past the site's security tactics. Nextdoor's content isn't indexed on Google, and all users must provide their real names. Neighbors are verified in one of four ways, including a confirmation from a neighbor, and users can flag people they don't recognize or are suspicious of. The site maintains a zero-tolerance policy for false neighbors and illegitimate neighborhoods.

Last month, Grady joined the site herself as a member of San Francisco's Northeast Pacific Heights neighborhood, and her personal benefits have so far been noteworthy. When she joined, her neighborhood had already been set up, and she verified her identity through her credit card records. "I introduced myself and my neighbors to my husband and then immediately started asking my neighbors for painter recommendations for our new place," Grady says. "Within an hour, people wrote back about people they had used before, and they introduced themselves. Now we know our neighbors."

More from our Business archives: "Vlirty, new online dating site by local software geek Adam Norrell, focuses on video chatting."

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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