nextdoorSocial networks are one of the big uses for mobile devices these days, because you can read and post to them from wherever you are. Most social devices are about connecting to people all over the world no matter where you are—but what would you think of a social network expressly for connecting to people near where you are?

It’s hard for people to meet their neighbors sometimes, especially people who, like me, are a bit introverted by nature. Many of us, especially folks who live in apartments downtown, don’t inhabit the kind of setting where people hang out in their back yards and chat over the fence. But a couple of months ago, one of my neighbors sent me an invitation to a social network called Nextdoor, which lets people who live in the same parts of town get together. I’ve been on it for a couple of months, and have to report I’m liking what I see so far. (We briefly mentioned it in a post last year about ways libraries could use e-books to reach into the community.)

When you sign up to Nextdoor, you indicate what neighborhood you live in, and you have the option of making posts visible only to people in that neighborhood or to people in that one plus the couple of dozen closest neighborhoods. You can chime in on discussions on other posts, and other people can chime in on yours. The types of posts I tend to see in mine generally have to do with things like lost or found pets, reports on neighborhood crime, and invitations to local meetings. For Halloween, there’s a neighborhood treat map in which members of the neighborhood can sign up to indicate whether or not they are giving out candy this year. It’s sort of like a place for classified ads that has more personality, combined with a digital neighborhood meeting where people can discuss matters of concern to them. (There was a really long thread about the new BlueIndy cars, for example.)

The other day I attended a meeting of a neighborhood organization in which various long-time members of my community, the Old Northside near downtown Indianapolis, discussed what a wild and wooly place it used to be before they got involved to make it a better place to live. It was fascinating, and I’d never have found out about it, or had the chance to meet so many of my neighbors in person, if I hadn’t seen a note about it on Nextdoor.

It’s not a perfect service, of course. In your profile, you have to indicate at a minimum what street you live on, and other people who live in your community (and optionally the nearby communities) can see that much about you. So if you’re concerned about people being able to find you in real life, you may not want to take part. But then, if you’re in the white pages, anyone who picks up a phone book can find where you live. (Though, granted, phone books aren’t that common anymore.) Also, email notifications for busy threads can sometimes be a little overwhelming.

Still, I think it’s a fascinating idea. Sometimes it can be hard anymore to figure out how to connect with people who live near you, especially if you don’t spend a lot of time outside. The idea of using the Internet to let nearby people get together seems more than a little inspired to me.


  1. I liked Next Door before election season. We have a contentious election issue and people have stopped being “neighborly”. Thi is just a local issue. I may have to turn off messages when the presidential election starts in earnest. Ugh.

  2. Eric, I don’t always click for follow up emails, but something made me click this one. Good thing or I would not have seen your follow up to my comment months later.

    The contentious issue in my original comment was Cityhood elections for Tucker and LaVista Hills in Georgia (Metro Atlanta Suburbs). Tucker won cityhood. LaVista Hills did not. The Nextdoor neighborhoods cross the county line so folks who were not able to vote in or affected by the elections had to read all of the snark and downright nasty emails that came out of the elections.

    I didn’t drop off Nextdoor and often wish I had. As Tucker approaches cityhood, there are more unpleasant email threads.

    Folks also jump to conclusions about the slightest implications of their neighbors especially if they are of a different race, religion or socio-economic class. All without checking to see if said neighbor is on the group and can read the ugly things said about them.

  3. EJC,
    Thank you very much for your response. I will put Tucker and LaVista Hills on the list of municipalities we look at. As always, privacy of users is of utmost importance and we will only use anonymized data. Uninhibited grassroots democracy can a double-edged sword. By understanding more deeply how social networks like Nextdoor lend themselves to different tenors of discussion, we can help their design features to encourage civility instead of antagonism even when people disagree.

    • LaVista Hills lost their cityhood vote and is an artificial entity that does not exist except for the attempt at cityhood. Georgia allows their zip codes to cross citiy and county lines. If you are working with Nextdoor for this research I suggest using the Tucker zip code (30084) which covers much more than Tucker as the starting point. LaVista Hills is in that zip code and 30345. My neighborhood has the Tucker zip code but is in a neighboring county.

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