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Summary:

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know your neighbors all that well — if at all. That’s where a startup called Nextdoor wants to help. Nextdoor lets neighbors create private websites where they can exchange local information while getting to know each other better.

Nextdoor map page

How well do you know your neighbors? If you’re like most people these days, probably not very well. A recent study from Pew Research indicates that more than half of all Americans today know only some of their neighbors by name — and 28 percent say they know none of their neighbors’ names.

As great as the virtual world can be, it’s still important to know the people who surround you in the physical world  — whether you need to find a good babysitter, borrow a cup of sugar, or plan what to do in the event of a major natural disaster.

That’s where Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup Nextdoor comes in. Founded by tech industry veteran Nirav Tolia (of Epinions and Shopping.com fame), Nextdoor lets neighbors within certain regions create private websites where they can exchange local information and events while getting to know each other better. Nextdoor was founded in the fall of 2010 and is officially launching to the public Wednesday.

Inspired by Facebook’s early days

Nextdoor's main page (click to enlarge)

To be a member of Nextdoor, you must register with your real name and real physical address. Nextdoor verifies members addresses in one of four ways: Sending a postcard to the address with a unique code, making a phone call to a listed number at that address, linking the person to a billing address from a credit card they provide, or by providing an invitation from a previously verified neighbor.

“We were inspired by the early days of Facebook; when they launched, they required university-specific email addresses to allow people to access university-specific networks within Facebook. That creates a little friction up front but ultimately it allows people to feel more comfortable,” Tolia said.

Each Nextdoor network’s size is established by the first person to add the region to the site — Nextdoor provides a drawing tool that allows users to define the boundaries of their neighborhoods on top of a Google map. Boundaries can be changed later as the group evolves. The typical Nextdoor network would comprise between 50 to 2,000 households, depending on the geographic region and its density.

Social network meets public utility

Nextdoor region map (click to enlarge)

Why the need for Nextdoor, in a world where it seems like so many different social networks already exist? The company says it’s because neighbors fill a distinct role in our lives: We don’t necessarily want to be Facebook friends with them or add them to a Google+ Circle; we probably don’t know their email addresses, or even their names, to initiate such a relationship.

That’s why in addition to letting people join the site via email, Nextdoor lets users print semi-custom flyers inviting neighbors to join the site, and it will also send personalized postcards to their neighbors for them.

Over the past year, Nextdoor has been testing its site in a pilot program in over 175 neighborhoods across 26 states — from the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee to tech-savvy bedroom communities in the heart of Silicon Valley. Tolia says Nextdoor has generally been enthusiastically adopted in all different types of places. “It’s the same kind of pattern we’re seeing in almost every neighborhood. In a very short period of time, it becomes a public utility for the neighborhood.”

But will it really take off?

Nextdoor is backed with an undisclosed amount of funding from Benchmark Capital and Shasta Ventures; its board of directors includes Rich Barton, the chairman and co-founder of real estate website Zillow. The company currently has 22 employees. Nextdoor currently does not make money; it plans to eventually generate revenue by allowing local merchants to advertise their goods and services on the site.

When I was given a demo of Nextdoor, I immediately recognized its potential value — it’s that very rare website that I could envision my extended family in the Midwest using, just as well as I could imagine using it myself. It’s a mix of a crazy idea (another social network?) with one of the oldest, most practical ideas around (love thy neighbor, of course.) And like any social network, it’s only as good as the people who are on it. Only time can tell if Nextdoor will take off, but it certainly seems worth a try — and what better time than now.

Here’s a video intro to Nextdoor:

  1. I think its a great idea,its looks and sounds great and when you have somebody like Nirav Tolia behind you, you know it could be successful

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    1. Ramon Felciano Friday, October 28, 2011

      Anyone know how this is different / better than EveryBlock.com?

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  2. Looks like frontporchforum.com

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  3. “Why the need for Nextdoor, in a world where it seems like so many different social networks already exist?”

    Oh my head. The correct question is:

    “Why the need for Nextdoor, when you could just walk across the street and introduce yourself?”

    I predict this site going the way of Pets.com.

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    1. Amen DEC, this is a half brained idea at best! I mean hell, you could always just go about your business and not get to know your neighbors, … kinda like we do now!

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      1. That’s the exact situation they are trying to remedy…people not knowing their neighbors. Our neighbors could be one of our most easily accessible resources and yet so much of the population goes without even introducing themselves to their neighbors. A social network promoting relationships amongst neighbors will lead to more face-to-face interaction in a neighborhood GUARANTEED.

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    2. Funny thing about Americans, we all say we want to talk to our neighbors but when we see them it seems to take all our bravery just to smile and say hello. That’s been my experience on the East and West coasts. So I can see interest from timid middle-class folks that want to get to know they’re neighbors but, raised on the Internet, are scared of people IRL. Besides, locally-based sites are one of the biggest web trends of the moment. I’m not saying they’ll succeed, but I see potential based on these two facts.

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  4. Umm… call me paranoid but isnt this kind of like saying like “Hey! This is me, this is what I look like, do, and where I live – come and get me! ”

    Dont get me wrong, I like the idea, it could be a great way to organize and inform locally. I just wonder how this tool could be used by those with less than honorable intentions. Someone could actually go shopping for their next victim.

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    1. This is an excellent point. Initially I thought it was OK since everyone is verified to be “in the neighborhood.” But so what? How many times have you heard, “He/She seemed like such normal guy/gal.” from the neighbors of convicted criminals.Do you really want to be networked with someone you don’t know based solely on geography? Even more reason to walk across the street and actually meet your neighbors.

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  5. Neighborhood Social Network, or completion of the Total Information Awareness program for domestic surveillance? Now Big Brother can get your neighbor to peek out their window to see what you’re up to.

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  6. We have been testing NextDoor for about a month as a potential replacement for the city-provided ListServ. We have about 400 homes plus businesses in our central Seattle neighborhood, so it’s not like you are going to know everyone— but based on the feedback and watching how neighbors are interacting on it, I think the concept has real potential.

    I’d also have to give a shout out to their great customer support as they are trying to build tools for the many variations of how neighborhoods actually work.

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    1. Thanks for weighing in, Knox — cool to hear some firsthand insight.

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  7. Great article. It’s interesting to consider whether Nextdoor will primarily take off in urban areas, where there’s a higher density and greater anonymity (indicating a potentially greater net return for users), or in rural areas, where neighbors are more likely to known, but correspondingly there’s a greater interest in being neighborly.

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    1. Good point, Kevin. In my one-on-one demo with the company I was able to look at versions of the site in a few different beta test areas, and I did see a contrast between rural places and denser regions. But I mostly noticed a difference in the users’ topics and tone, not how frequently they used the site.

      It’ll certainly be good to check back in with Nextdoor a few months after this public launch to see where it’s actually taken off.

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  8. looks like My Virtual Neighbor another social network focused on neighbors i read about last month. Seems niche focused SM gaining momentum or atleast trying to make an impact

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  9. Great idea.

    This could be a more efficient way for neighbors to trade relevant neighborly information. I found out with NeighborPal.com, there is a need in the market. Site’s like NextDoor and NeighborPal have to apply the correct mix of online tools to meet the need.

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  10. This doesn’t seem like a replacement for knowing thy neighbor. It is kind of like a local neighborhood newspaper. Would be cool if you could arrange by topic/time and page through to catch up EOD or week.

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