Privacy, identity key to NextDoor’s good neighbors strategy

NextDoor is the new kid on the social network block and I’m betting that they’ve intensely studied existing social networks to pick up what works and throw out what doesn’t so they can hit critical mass quickly and gather up the laggards who have been holding back from getting social on the Internet.

NextDoor hopes to do this by tapping into the power of  “the neighborhood.”

“Neighborhoods are really one of the original social networks,” says Nirav Tolia, CEO. “ It seems like we have lost touch with the neighborhood. NextDoor  is a technology platform where neighbors can come together and create a private and bounded website, an individual website for their neighborhoods.”

NextDoor has incorporated several features into its platform that resemble its social network cohort. But it is designed to populate  itself very differently .

We use Facebook to make friends and connect with family. We use Yelp to rate restaurants and other services. And CraigsList helps us buy and sell, trade, giveaway and connect with opportunities. Of all of them only Everyblock was initially organized around rough geographic area, the almighty zip code.  But in each of these networks, users are filling in the very specific dots of our neighborhood map from the top down.

In NextDoor, neighbors fill in the dots from their addresses up.  So you talk about the restaurant on the corner.  You borrow the screwdriver from the guy two doors down [maybe you never knew his name before.] And you discuss Halloween plans and post photos to folks who live next door. As a social network Nextdoor’s identity emerges from the dots – specifically our addresses and proximity to one another: our neighborhood. And your activity is invisible to search engines and to those who are not your neighbors.

Nextdoor has licensed information that allows them to guess at a neighborhood’s boundary. They’ll provide that as a first draft to users who want to start a neighborhood site. From there neighbors can expand or contract boundaries based on their needs. NextDoor provides help along the way.

The company has found that good size for a neighborhood is between 75 and 2000 households.

“You need to have at least 75 households to feel there are enough people,” Tolia says. “More than 2000 is too big and no longer feels intimate.”

He said a homeowners association, a natural landmark, or a subdivision make an easy start to boundaries.

“When we thought about making the right environment, we felt that online privacy is essential,” Tolia said. “We did not want to have a website where neighbors felt what  they were posting was visible outside their neighborhoods.”

“We did what our users told us,” he said. “They said they did not want their posts searchable in Google.”

People using NextDoor want to be able to share the names and ages of their children and openly share when something does not look right.

Tolia showed me several  pages of existing neighborhoods that had given permission to be shown. It was Halloween, and parents were posting pictures of their kids and houses on their blocks, telling stories, much like you’d see on Facebook.

“The context is fine for that neighborhood,” Tolia said. “But it is not relevant for people outside the neighborhood.”

Every neighbor uses real name and none of it is available on search engines.

Here’s Tolia’s description of how NextDoor verifies name and address.

There are two paths to verification: Nextdoor Verification and neighbor verification.

Nextdoor Verification is how things get started. You cannot join unless you verify in one of the following ways:

1. Request a postcard sent directly to your home address with a unique code

2. Request a phone call to your home phone which must be directory-tied to your home address

3. Enter your credit card which must have a billing address that matches your home address

4. Get a previously verified neighbor to vouch for you directly through a special invitation

None of our 10k+ plus members have “gamed” this system, but in case they did, we would move to Neighbor Verification.

Neighbor Verification is where a neighbor reports a new member that looks suspicious or unknown. Every new member is announced to the community and can be easily found on the map and directory – so if someone entered the community and did not look legit, the other members would notice and report to us asap.

“We have been working on this a year,” Tolia said.  “We wanted to make sure that we had a ton of user feedback, “ Tolia said. “It’s been wonderful to see people tell us they want to take charge of bringing back a sense of neighborhood to the community.”

In the first year beta, 176 neighborhoods in 26 states set up sites on NextDoor.  The company plans to have 1000 neighborhoods signed on by the end of the year.

NextDoor has investors and I’ll bet a solid  revenue plan. Its sustainability is based on very local advertising within a neighborhood. At some point, a mechanism will be developed to share information across neighborhood boundaries.’

“Our members and neighbors want to support local business,” Tolia said.

But Tolia says the team is first concentrating on perfecting user experience.

“We just want to connect neighbors,”  he said.

As to what I see as its most  similar friend, Tolia says Everyblock is about news and information while NextDoor is about connection and community.“Everyblock is a great company,” Tolia said.

The possible government tie-in with a NextDoor is compelling, and in fact, Malcolm Smith, Communications Manager is lighting up all of Redwood City with Next Door.

I’m dreaming that NextDoor could become  a gigantic Kumbaya of a social media mashup. And Tolia talks that way, offering only praise for his brethren including  emerging independent online news publishers as well as other sites that are part of the ecosystem that serves neighborhoods

While Facebook has succeeded in getting nearly everyone online, the strategic intersection of local and social is still a coveted revenue frontier being aggressively pursued by Facebook, Google and other smaller players.

The mad rush into local advertising continues to build. In the past few days, Google street view went live inside businesses this week.  And Google announced that it is now indexing Facebook comments.

But Tolia says NextDoor won’t be rushing into local advertising. “It takes a long long time to get these local businesses  online,” Tolia said. “We will take our time and get it right.”

I’ve been watching for something like NextDoor to come along and integrate all the different players in the local space in a flexible and seamless way. I want to experience my neighborhood online in much the same way as I experience it on my daily walks. It will take a gamechanger to make that happen and we’ll see soon enough whether NextDoor can fit that bill.

As usual, I’d love to hear what you love and what you hate about NextDoor.

View a short video describing Nextdoor.

Here’s the front page of a NextDoor neighborhood page. Note the drop downs at the top.

 

Here’s the classified sharing page that resembles CraigslistFreeCycleOhSoWe.

Here is the directory of neighbors.

 

NextDoors’ initial list of recommended businesses as built by neighbors. 

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • NaijaMusings

    Hmm…stalking on a whole new level

  • CornDogHog

    Nice ad. I mean, article.