Nextdoor puts all the benefits of neighborhood watch in an app

| October 16, 2013

If you haven’t heard about Nextdoor yet, chances are, you’ll hear about it soon. The “private social network” for neighborhoods is already being used by over 21,000 neighborhoods, and that number is growing at a rate of 70 per day. Your neighborhood could very well be next.

MySecuritySign talked to Kelsey Grady, director of communications at Nextdoor, about how the Silicon Valley startup has managed to promote community and safety—through technology—across the country.

From Nextdoor.

Example of a Nextdoor neighborhood map. From Nextdoor.

How did Nextdoor start?

The company was co-founded in 2010, and we launched nationwide about two years ago in October 2011. We were in private beta for a year before we launched the product nationally.

When the co-founders were brainstorming different business ideas, they realized that, obviously, social networks have become pretty mainstream. We do Facebook to connect with friends and family, we have LinkedIn for our professional relationships, we have Twitter to follow companies, topics, people that interest us. But there were no social networks for where we live, for our local communities. So the co-founders saw a huge opportunity to create a social network for that space. Fast forward a few years later, we are now being used by over 21,000 neighborhoods in all 50 states.

How does Nextdoor work?

Neighbors set up these sites themselves for their communities. And so the neighbors get their own private website so they can talk to each other about anything that’s going on in the neighborhood, whether that’s exchanging advice and recommendations on local service providers, like a plumber, a contractor, a painter, a babysitter, or talking about local restaurants. People also use the service to talk about more personal things, like a lost pet. And then crime and safety have also really emerged as a huge use. Nextdoor has really started to emerge as a virtual neighborhood watch for neighborhoods. These days it’s really hard for everyone to participate in a traditional neighborhood watch. It can be very time consuming. What Nextdoor enables is for everyone to participate in the conversations around crime and safety.

How many neighborhoods were using Nextdoor when it launched initially?

When we launched nationwide (and we launched actually on October 26, 2011) only 167 neighborhoods were using Nextdoor. Now we’re in over 21,000 neighborhoods, and we’re launching on average 70 new Nextdoor websites a day. We don’t count a neighborhood of one, two, three, anything under ten people as a launched site, so to start a new site, it launches with ten members. We actually require people to verify their addresses before joining  Nextdoor sites. All these Nextdoor sites are private and for people to join.

How much personal information do users have to reveal?

What people reveal on their Nextdoor websites on their profile is their real name and the street that they live on. You can show your full address, and the majority of people do show their full address. I actually was looking at that this week and I think the data shows like 88 percent of our members show their full street address, and the reason why they do this is we’ve created an environment where they trust us, they trust the platform, and because we verify it, they know they’ll only be showing their information to the people that live around them.

Where is Nextdoor most popular?

If you look at a map of the population across the country, you would see we have a large cluster of neighborhoods where there are more people. We’re not as active in the Dakotas, for example, and there’s also not really a lot of people there so it makes sense. But a few regions have really hit a tipping point, and those areas are San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas. So we’re doing very, very well across the country, and we’re pretty pleased by the fact that this is a San Francisco, Silicon Valley tech thing [and] this is definitely working all across the country.

What are some of the success stories you’ve heard?

I heard a story just last week about a neighborhood where there had been a lot of break-ins in Fairfield, California. After the break-ins happened, people started using their Nextdoor website to communicate about the fact that there were multiple break-ins that happened in the neighborhood. One neighbor in particular had a lot of items stolen—laptop, xbox, etc. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of stuff—and so he asked his neighbors on Nextdoor, “Does anyone have surveillance footage of my house or of my neighbors’ houses? Does anyone have something set up?” Long story short, one of his neighbors had a surveillance camera that caught the guys that broke into his house; they caught their vehicle on camera. They shared that with the neighborhood, and said “Let’s be on the lookout for this car. If they come back to the neighborhood, if we see them, we’ll be able to get their license plate, give that information to the police, and catch these guys.”

neighborhood watch

Nextdoor could replace the traditional neighborhood watch in some communities. From Quinn Dombrowski.

A few days later, the suspects actually did come back to the neighborhood, and they were driving the same car. Immediately, a neighbor noticed that this was the car they were looking for and sent out an urgent message to the neighborhood. The guy whose house was broken into happened to be home, he got the urgent alert. He actually got into his car and drove around looking for the vehicle to get the license plate. Simultaneously, he was on the phone with 911. They got the police there. The neighbor followed the car for as long as he could until the police showed up, and then an arrest was made and they were actually able to recover a lot of the neighbor’s items that were stolen.

It’s about the power of being able to share information with your neighbors easily. Nextdoor’s not a replacement for the police. There’s no security camera functionality to Nexdoor. It’s about giving neighbors an easy way to communicate with one another so that you basically have more eyes on the street, and more neighbors looking out for each other and for each other’s homes.

It’s interesting that with Nextdoor, it’s clear that technology is helping people become more connected.

One of the biggest pieces of criticism that we get a lot of times is, why do we need to use technology to get to know the people who live right outside our front door? Why don’t people just go meet their neighbors? And the truth is people just don’t. They’re busy. So we believe that Nextdoor should be an ice breaker to get the conversation going in the neighborhood. Nextdoor absolutely lends itself to bringing people together in real life and helping to create real-world relationships.

Could you tell us a bit about your partnerships?

We have partnered with over 120 different cities across the country. All of these partnerships are a little bit different depending on the makeup of that city, but more often than not we are partnering with the police department in a city. For example, this week, we announced a partnership with the Houston Police Department. When we partner with a police department, what that means is the police get a Nextdoor page and they are able to use Nextdoor as a city-wide communications tool, where they can broadcast information out to the entire city or just on a neighborhood or cluster of neighborhoods basis. So say there was a rash of break-ins on the south side of Houston and the police wanted to get a message out about what the suspect looked like or something like that. They could post on Nextdoor just to the neighborhoods on the south side of Houston. When we partner with police departments it does not mean they get access to all of the Nextdoor sites. They can’t read all the content, etc., but they can post information onto the platform and they can engage with residents who respond to their posts.

If you look at a police department these days, they do use Facebook, they do use Twitter, but those are much more of like a broadcasting platform, whereas Nextdoor enables them just to target messages in a much more hyper local way, and they know when they post on Nextdoor, that their message is for sure reaching the people that live in those areas, because we verify people etc. Where when you post on Twitter it’s going out basically to the world, and then of course everyone that follows their Twitter feed. But it’s a really cool way for them to communicate with residents.

What other cities have you partnered with?

We’ve partnered with Houston, San Jose, Denver, San Diego. New York City—we’re working with Mayor Bloomberg’s office. And so these city partnerships are a great way to get these cities connected with their residents. Our neighbors, or members I should say, have told us they want this, and pretty much all police departments know or understand or believe that with neighbors looking out for each other they create safer neighborhoods. In addition to the fact that these cities can now use Nextdoor and communicate with residents that way, when we partner with them it’s also an opportunity for them to really spread the word about Nextdoor because they just want their residents to use it in general. They want neighborhood watch leaders to use the technology.

Are there any new features in the works?

We launched mobile this summer, so we have the iPhone android and the Android app. We are going to be releasing in the next few days our first ever Nextdoor Halloween Treat Map, which is going to enable neighbors to put a little candy corn on top of their house on their neighborhood map to let neighbors know they’re passing out Halloween cand. We’re also going to do a similar thing with holiday lights. Another piece of news I can share with you is that we plan to go international, so that will be a big move for us.

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Category: Neighborhood Watch, Technology

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