Once upon a time, long before many of us can remember—before online social networks, before Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email…before the bison and the whale…before the mammoth, or the mastodon…in the time of the dinosaurs…man communicated in person (lol, j/k, that’s the “Land Before Time” intro). You could say that the tribe was the first social network. This evolved into the local neighborhood, but who talks to their neighbors anymore? One new social network, Nextdoor, is looking to reinvigorate neighborly communication.
The site, which launched Wednesday with funding from Benchmark Capital and Shasta Ventures, is looking to be the first real social network for neighborhoods. As CEO Nirav Tolia explained to me: “People can connect online with people they know (Facebook), people they work with (LinkedIn), and people with similar interests (Twitter), but there hasn’t been a way for people to connect with their own neighbors.”
To illustrate this point, Tolia pointed out that a recent Pew study found that some three-fifths of Americans know only some or none of their neighbors by name.
Of course, the question is, how do you connect with people you don’t really know in a way that’s secure and private? It seems easy enough to create some kind of Craigslist-like online community that anyone can join, but you don’t exactly want to be sharing your phone number and email address—much less information on your home and family—on a network that’s open to anyone.
To this end, Nextdoor has created a platform that actually solves the puzzle of how to connect with people who may be complete strangers while also keeping the network secure. First and foremost, anyone who wants to join has to verify their address, which Nextdoor does by either sending the resident a postcard with a special code on it, calling a home phone registered to that address, making a one-time $0.01 charge to a credit card to confirm the person’s billing address, or through a recommendation by a neighbor who’s already on Nextdoor.
But this is one of those things that doesn’t work unless you get everyone on board—like a work-oriented social network. You can join, but what difference does it make if no one else is on? Nextdoor has solved that problem in the least weird way imaginable. If you know your neighbor’s email address, you can invite them to join via email, but if not, you can print out flyers to distribute to all of your neighbors. Or, if you really want to avoid any weirdness (like when someone opens the front door while you’re putting a flyer in their mailbox…weird), you can actually have Nextdoor send your neighbors a postcard at no cost to you.
The results have been impressive. Nextdoor spent the last year testing out the network before launching nationwide to be sure the system works, and they found that adoption rates are rapid. In one case, a neighborhood in Menlo Park started out with only one user, and within six months, almost the entire neighborhood had joined (all but four holdouts out of a total of some 80 households). Nextdoor is already available in 176 neighborhoods in 26 states.
The network lets neighbors connect over everything from local issues and laws to neighborhood construction, problems with barking dogs, and where to find reliable babysitters. The site was purposely designed to mimic Facebook so that it’s intuitive to use, and users can get posts and updates via email, so it doesn’t require users to check in every day to get updates.
Developing a product that 76 out of 80 households on one block use is a pretty impressive feat, but Tolia says the company isn’t concerning itself too much with monetization right now. At the moment, it’s going the Facebook route and just building up a cool product, but in the long-run, Tolia tells me he imagines the network will partner with local businesses to deliver special offers and deals for local residents.