PRINT: Community Members Explore Uses of App ‘Nextdoor’

By Charlie Baker, Staff Writer

// In a world where technology is the mainstream means of communication, the classic interaction of neighbors is slowly eroding. Modern day students, parents, and police are shifting that interaction to be largely through the internet.

   The days of waving to your neighbor from the front porch or knocking on their front door to say “hello” are gone, and an era of social networking has taken over. Familiarity with neighbors is dwindling, and communities are losing a sense of unity.

   Nextdoor, a social networking site launched in 2010, was created to restore the connectivity of neighbors and has provided a place for local community members to communicate with each other.

  While most large social media sites are concerned with self expression, Nextdoor’s creators intended to create a network useful to its users and their communities. One aspect of life largely neglected on the internet is the community’s function.

    “We felt that while technology had done an unbelievable job connecting us to friends far and wide, technology had not done a lot to demystify the people living next door,” Nirav Tolia, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nextdoor, told Blueprint.

   According to Tolia, Nextdoor’s creators wanted to use technology, which has been eroding relationships in neighborhoods, and use it to rebuild that sense of community.

   The point was not to bring back old-fashioned ways, but to create a new way to be a neighbor: using technology to more efficiently spread information.

   “The new way to neighbor is using social media to very quickly make everyone in the neighborhood aware of important things, to ask your neighbors for help in such a way that the message gets delivered to the right person,” said Tolia.

   In Lafayette, Nextdoor is commonly used for finding babysitters, dog walkers, or other simple, local jobs. Local youth, including a number of Acalanes students, use Nextdoor to promote themselves as an option for hire.

   Acalanes sophomore Messina Montgomery says she is quite often contacted about a job through her post on Nextdoor.

   “I’ve gotten most of my babysitting and dog walking from that app,” Montgomery said.

   According to Montgomery, she also uses Nextdoor to sell clothing or to read comments written by parents.

   Junior Bailee Takano also uses Nextdoor to find babysitting or dog walking jobs, or to buy and sell things. According to Takano, she has been contacted many times about jobs for local families. While it typically is not someone she is already acquainted with, they are mostly from the same neighborhood as her.

   “You can choose what general vicinity you want people to contact you from,” Takano said.

   According to Takano, Nextdoor is useful for spreading information around the community and for getting to know your neighbors.

  In Lamorinda, Nextdoor is primarily used by parents. They often sell furniture, comment on what is going on around the neighborhood, or recommend commodities such as dentists, plumbers, or a gardener.

   “I would say the majority of adults in my neighborhood have an account,” Montgomery said

  Nextdoor’s comment section often serves as a breeding ground for arguments among Lafayette parents. Adults sometimes argue with each other for the sake of their opinion. For example, a man on Nextdoor commented on a post about speeding, saying he always tries to drive courteously. He was met with anger and complete disregard for his point of view, scolded for what he said. 

   “Courteous of what? It’s the law,” another user said. “If you can’t comply, go around that area. If you don’t like the law, put the time in to change the law.”

   Some even use Nextdoor as a place to rant. One man wrote a long, angry, explicit rant about people not cleaning up after their dogs on the streets of Lafayette.

   Nextdoor has done a good job of linking community members together, however, it has also become a place for rather unfriendly debate.

   Lafayette community members also use Nextdoor as a sort of virtual neighborhood watch. The site has a section about crime and safety. Here, people post about any crimes they have seen, or any other behavior or sightings they feel are worth mentioning for the safety of their neighbors.

   The Lafayette Police department participates in Nextdoor as well. They use it as a way to channel information regarding crime into the police department.

   “The way we use Nextdoor is we use Nextdoor to tell people, ‘Hey, an event occurred, we need information, and if you have any information, please contact us either through our website or by calling us here at the office,’” Lafayette Police Chief Eric Christensen said.

   The Lafayette Police Department posts both a monthly newsletter and a crime bulletin, on which information relating to crimes is posted.

   Access to Nextdoor is slightly different for government organizations than for regular citizens. Portions of local government can post on Nextdoor for the general public to see, however, they cannot look at what people have posted.

   The Police Department can enable comments on their posts, but usually do not do so because they do not want potential witnesses to be influenced by what they see on the site.

   While the most common uses of Nextdoor are simple things like selling furniture, finding a babysitter, or reporting a crime, it can and has been used in many extraordinary ways. According to Tolia, people have come together to care for the elderly, raise money for the poor, and even find missing children, all by using Nextdoor.

   Most of Nextdoor’s uses were not anticipated by the site’s founders. Kids, parents, and police have been three major factors in designing the way the site functions.

   “I’d say that there’s sort of some obvious things like finding a babysitter, and asking for help to find a lost dog, and reporting a crime, those things we sort of anticipated, but the incredible things that neighbors do for each other is just so touching.” said Tolia.

   Another topic that has become common on Nextdoor is civic engagement: political discussions. One goal the app’s founders had was to make political issues a subset of what neighbors discuss on Nextdoor.

   According to Tolia, one problem he set out to fix was the unawareness citizens had of local politics. Often citizens do not know that there is an election, what they are voting on, or where the local polling place is located.

    On the other end of civic engagement, Nextdoor has even been the chosen platform for some politicians to run their campaigns, and in that way it has helped open the eyes of community members to what is going on around them.

   Nextdoor also has an ability to facilitate change and activism. The site is often used as a way to bring a community together behind a common issue and make changes by taking action such as forming petitions. The changes made are usually not nationwide issues, but pertain to the wellbeing of the local neighborhood.

   For instance, there have been several petitions posted on Nextdoor by Lafayette community members. One such petition is the Safe Paths to School petition. This called for speed limits to be reduced along paths to schools in Lafayette. The petition gained nearly 200 supporters.

   This helps create a better neighborhood, as was intended in creating Nextdoor. While people are not going door to door for their cause, they are still able to connect with their neighbors via Nextdoor; the new way to be a neighbor.

   As the classic interaction of neighbors is eroded by social networking, Nextdoor serves to help rebuild the sense of community in neighborhoods nationwide. The platform has created a space to connect with neighbors, support community members, and take action in one’s own community to better the neighborhood for its residents.

   “It’s a network that I think helps us remember that we’re all in this together, and if we can do our part everyone will benefit, including ourselves,” said Tolia.

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