‘Nextdoor’ neighbors: App boosts networking across Treasure Valley

Free, private service reports explosive growth on computers and smartphones over past year

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comOctober 21, 2013 

  • MORE ABOUT NEXTDOOR

    How many neighborhoods use Nextdoor?

    - Boise: 79

    - Meridian: 24

    - Nampa: 12

    - Eagle: 7

    - Caldwell: 5

    - Kuna: 4

    - Star: 2

    - Middleton: 2

    What are Idahoans using it for?

    A lot of different things. Here’s a breakdown by category:

    - Civic issues: 32 percent

    - Crime and safety: 20 percent

    - Classifieds: 18 percent

    - Events: 14 percent

    - Recommendations: 11 percent

    - Other: 5 percent

Karyn Stapleton warned neighbors to keep an eye out for suspicious activity after someone tossed a rock through her dining room window.

Doug Miller organized a neighborhood garage sale.

Angie Day helped reunite a wayward pug with its distraught owner.

Nextdoor — an app created specifically for neighborhoods — is bringing Treasure Valley residents together in myriad ways.

“I recognized right away that this is a great tool,” said Idaho Sen. Elliot Werk, who got Boise’s Borah neighborhood engaged in using Nextdoor last year. He said it’s easier than doing an email blast to a large number of people and better than snail mail, which is slower and costs money.

Now 255 people in the Borah neighborhood are linked by the private Web-based network. It functions a bit like an interactive neighborhood bulletin board, where people can post items of interest.

Users can post to one of a half-dozen categories, including crime and safety, classified, lost and found, recommendations and free items.

“My wife and I are new to this whole lawn-owning thing. Can anybody give us some advice on how much we should water?” a Morris Hill resident asked in June. He received numerous replies.

Much of the conversation on Nextdoor is what used to happen over the back fence: Know a good baby sitter? Hear about the free movie in the park? Have a lawnmower I can borrow?

Miller, a software developer, set up the network for Nampa’s Colter Bay neighborhood. He’s got more than 80 people involved.

He said one of the first conversations Colter Bay residents had on Nextdoor was about how to maintain the light posts in front of their homes.

“We had one guy who was an electrician. He said, ‘Check this, this and this.’ Other people said, ‘This is what I found out,’ ” Miller recalled.

The 44-year-old father of four, who served in the U.S. Marines, said he hoped to use the networking service to start a running group.

“I just haven’t had a lot of people interested,” he said.

EXPLOSIVE GROWTH

Based in San Francisco, Nextdoor was founded with venture capital in 2010.

It’s similar to NBC’s now-defunct neighbor network EveryBlock and the Vermont-only Front Porch Forum. Because many Nextdoor users post in its classified section, it’s similar to Yelp and Craigslist.

Nextdoor has received a lot of buzz in the past year, and it’s gaining momentum. A feature on ABC’s “20/20” in September sent so much traffic to the Nextdoor website that it crashed.

In April 2012, just seven neighborhoods in Boise and Nampa were using Nextdoor. Now, there are 79 in Boise alone and another 56 in surrounding cities.

In September, Nextdoor crossed the 20,000 neighborhood mark nationwide, with about 60 neighborhoods coming online each day.

You can sign up online at nextdoor.com, or download the free app to your smart phone.

The boundaries of neighborhoods on Nextdoor may not match traditional boundaries. The resident who sets it up — called a “lead” — works with Nextdoor to draw the boundary, and a minimum of 10 people must sign on to be part of it within 21 days for it to go live.

“We don’t want empty bar syndrome,” Nextdoor spokeswoman Kelsey Grady said.

The average Nextdoor neighborhood has about 750 households participating.

“You’ll get a lot of engagement,” Grady said. “We cap it at 3,000 because then you kind of lose intimacy, and of course privacy becomes an issue.”

So how does it differ from Facebook?

First, just 2 percent of Facebook users’ “friends” are neighbors, according to a Pew Research Center study released in late 2011. One hundred percent of the people you associate with on Nextdoor live nearby.

Nextdoor users must prove they live in the neighborhood network they want to join. That can be done in several ways. Many choose to have a postcard with a code sent to their home; the code is entered online.

There’s no anonymity on Nextdoor. Residents sign in with their real names.

The service doesn’t do background checks, but it does screen out individuals who are registered sex offenders.

“If we do hear anything from our members — if there are concerns about safety — we do look into those situations,” Grady said.

Several Treasure Valley users said postings to Nextdoor aren’t as frequent as what you see on Facebook or Twitter. It might be days between posts.

“It’s like an as-needed type of thing,” said Dave Taylor, who set up Boise’s Promontory Ridge neighborhood on Nextdoor. “It goes in waves. Right now, we’re probably going through a dry spell.”

There’s no spam or advertising on Nextdoor.

Users can set notifications so that they receive a text or email when a neighbor posts something to the network. For some, it’s less a social network than an alert system.

“This application helps me. I have the information delivered to me,” said Karyn Stapleton, a single mother of two who is a secretary in the IT office at St. Luke’s Health System. “I’ve got too much stuff going on.”

SAFER NEIGHBORHOODS

One of the things Nextdoor users talk about the most is vandalism, burglaries and other crime in their neighborhoods.

“It allows people to post openly and communicate between each other,” said Ann Marie Baird, a property manager for Brighton Corp. who set up Nextdoor networks for three homeowners associations in Boise and Meridian. She said more than 600 out of about 1,600 residents are participating.

“They’re more likely to talk to each other if they have a concern — a loud noise or if they see something suspicious,” Baird said.

More than 120 city agencies across the country, including police departments in Houston, San Jose, Denver and San Diego, have partnered with Nextdoor.

“We are currently developing a relationship with Nextdoor,” Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said. She said the department is looking into using Nextdoor as a way to share crime and public safety information at a “very local level.”

“In other cities, it’s been reported to be helpful for both residents and police,” she said. “So we’re looking into how it might work.”

When cities or police departments partner with Nextdoor, they get a page to post important information.

“It does not mean the city gets access to all of the Nextdoor neighborhood websites in their region,” Grady said. “The websites are still kept private for the neighborhood, but the city can post information to the sites and respond to any replies.”

Meridian Crime Prevention Specialist Melissa Delaney is administrator of a Nextdoor account for her neighborhood, city spokeswoman Natalie Podgorski said.

“Even though the Meridian Police Department does not have an active presence on Nextdoor at the moment, we think it is a great tool for the community,” Podgorski said.

MISSING PETS

These postings are common on Nextdoor.

Angie Day, a 36-year-old mother of two who lives in Boise’s Central Rim neighborhood, saw a post this summer from a neighbor who found a dog.

Not long after, a woman knocked on her door to ask if she’d seen the missing pug.

“I said, “Yeah, I can go get you the address,’” she recalled.

She said she also used Nextdoor for preschool. She joined a group of about 30 neighbors in Christmas caroling last year.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” she said, noting that she knew just two of the people in the group before the caroling. She said some were people who lived a couple of doors down but never met.

Taylor said one of his Promontory Ridge neighbors started a casual get-together called Lawn Chair Night, when neighbors grab a beverage and gather to chat.

“It’s been a good avenue for establishing relationships,” Taylor said.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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