Not too long ago, if you wanted your neighbors to know something, you had to pick up the phone or knock on their door. Talking over the fence or shouting from your front porch was as high-tech as it got. If you miss those days and wonder where the practice of being neighborly has gone, you might be surprised to learn that neighborhoods have gone virtual.
Private/Niche social networks
Billed as social networking on a smaller scale, private social networks are on the rise in cities all over the world. In a world dominated by internet connectivity and smartphone use, social networks make it easier to stay connected to the people in your circle, no matter how large that circle might be. Larger, more encompassing networks such as Facebook allow you to share with everyone from your former first-grade teacher to your cousin in Nantucket. But not everyone wants to share their kid’s birthday party photos or tell the world when they’re leaving on vacation. Private social networks shrink that circle down to a specific group of people who all have something in common, such as their neighborhood.
What is NextDoor.com?
Nextdoor.com is a private social network that has been growing in the past few years, as people seek to connect with smaller groups of people. Nextdoor.com has one purpose: to connect you with your neighbors. It’s the phone-tree, over-the-fence, come-in-for-a-cup-of-coffee network that allows you to post information only to those people who live in the homes and apartments around you.
In my neighborhood we’ve used it to announce various events that are going to cause a parking issue on the street, find lost pets, and share tips on bracing for extreme weather. When we got rid of our old TV, I didn’t want to post to the world that we were getting rid of a 55 inch console TV (I did NOT want 1, 393,000,000 Facebook users saying “Wow! What kind of new TV did the Sullivans get!?”) nor did I want to sit it out on the front porch for the birds to roost in. I posted it up on nextdoor.com.
But is it safe?
Some may find this sort of virtual connection to their neighbors exciting, and some may be leery. Where you fall on that spectrum will have something to do with your attitude towards social media in general and how you get along with your neighbors. If you already give your neighbors a key to let your dog out while you are on vacation, you might not use nextdoor.com as much. On the other hand, the Evansville Police Department uses Nextdoor.com to make announcements that may not go out over other media channels. You can post information to a wider spectrum of your neighbors and hear from more than you might at a monthly neighborhood association meeting.
Nextdoor.com is like any other social media, public or private. It shares what you allow it to share. And not just anyone can join your neighborhood group – Nextdoor.com requires that you use your real name and verify your address, and allows you to choose where your information will be shared. The website is password-protected and encrypted, and the information shared within is not indexed by Google or other search engines. In short, this is a private social network that is designed to stay private. Here is their statement on safety.
As the neighborhood administrator for my own neighborhood, whenever one of my neighbors becomes a new user, I get an email saying “Does John Smith really live in your neighborhood?” and I have to personally verify that he is my neighbor. That right there helps build a strong neighborhood, because before you can talk online, you have to talk face to face.
Once you are set up, you can go right in and edit how detailed your info is by showing only your street, not your house number. Beyond those safety measures, as with all social media, be wise, don’t broadcast things that are too personal, and make your profile picture accurate and appropriate.
Welcome to the virtual neighborhood. Zip up that cardigan, change into your house-shoes, and get to know your neighbors. Won’t you be mine?