Nextdoor (https://nextdoor.com/) is a social networking service that connects users through neighborhood groups and allows them to share information with other users in their neighborhood. Nextdoor was founded in 2010 and now includes more than 125,000 neighborhoods across the country. Users are able to post about a myriad of things including notifying neighbors of break-ins or other crimes in the area, organizing a neighborhood watch group, advertising and recommending services, asking for help finding lost pets, and listing items for sale. Membership is by invitation only and users must verify their addresses and use real names.
In 2014, Nextdoor began offering public agencies the opportunity to connect with neighborhoods for purposes including community engagement, crime prevention, and emergency preparedness. Currently, these partnerships are limited to public safety agencies and local governments. In 2016, Nextdoor added the ability for agencies to conduct neighborhood polls. Today, more than 2,000 public agencies use Nextdoor to communicate with citizens.
Across the Internet, there are numerous success stories of government engaging with citizens through Nextdoor. Neighborhoods across the United States used it to provide assistance to refugees following the recent Travel Ban. In Austin, Texas, a neighborhood used Nextdoor to collect yarn for a cancer patient to crochet hats during her recovery. Towns in California used Nextdoor to communicate with residents about flooding. In San Diego, a neighborhood created an innovative “Supper Club” while Sacramento used Nextdoor to recruit staffers for warming centers during the winter. Nextdoor is also frequently used to report crime and to enhance community policing. Therein, however, lies some of the downside. Nextdoor is seen by critics as a place where racial profiling is common, though this could be said of many social media platforms. There is also the potential for siloing where people tend to self-segregate themselves in neighborhoods among others who look and think like they do. Using Nextdoor to conduct neighborhood polls may still leave a lot of people out of the conversation.
Ultimately, I think Nextdoor, like most other forms of technology and social media, can play a positive role in communities where they draw people out into the world and bring people together, introduce people to new neighbors, and enhance engagement with government programs and services. I think it’s an innovative way to bring people together in an age where many people are turning inward to technology and their devices, and the potential for public agencies to target groups of people with information specifically geared for them, rather than blasting their entire communities with a barrage of information they may not connect with has significant potential to improve community engagement.