While tech companies like Facebook are trying to convince us that we’re becoming more and more connected, the reality is that we’re rapidly growing apart — at least in the offline world. The fact that 73 percent of Brits and 57 percent of Americans don’t know their neighbors' names goes to show how little connection we have to people around us. And this isn’t just about not having anyone to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar from. Alienation from our neighbors can lead to community-wide problems such as the loneliness epidemic.
Sarah Leary, the co-founder of Nextdoor, grew up in a small town in Massachusetts where everyone knew each other. As an adult, she witnessed the neighborly spirit slowly disappear from American cities and decided to solve this problem with tech. In 2010, Sarah and the co-founders Nirav Tolia, David Wiesen, and Prakash Janakiraman founded the San Francisco-based social network for neighbors, Nextdoor.
Today Nextdoor operates in eight countries, bringing communities together across the US, the UK, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. Just in the Dutch market alone, 7,000 neighborhoods use the app for everything from borrowing a ladder to neighborhood watch. And — if they’re anything like my neighbors — throwing epic dinner parties.
Every little interaction counts
When I was talking to Tamar van de Paal, Director of New Markets at Nextdoor, he told me about some truly life-changing community initiatives that came from the Nextdoor app. Whether it was the natural disaster relief in California or battling loneliness among the elderly in the UK, it’s clear Nextdoor’s app is a powerful tool.
Tamar, however, didn’t want me to forget about the backbone of every Nextdoor neighborhood: the seemingly trivial everyday interactions. “It’s the little stuff that happens every day that allows you to build deeper connections with others,” he explained. “Without those simple activities like borrowing a hammer or asking your neighbor for their babysitter’s number, you wouldn’t have the network you need in order to tackle more important problems together.”
Without those simple activities like borrowing a hammer or asking your neighbor for their babysitter’s number, you wouldn’t have the network you need to tackle more important problems.
Tamar convinced me that there wasn’t one most important feature in the app. Instead, all the different functionalities play a role in strengthening the neighborhood bond in their own way.
Challenges and opportunities go hand in hand
Nextdoor is a very unique take on a social network — which means it comes with its own set of difficulties. The team behind the app struggled with a serious dilemma: if the idea is to bring together people who don’t know each other, then how will they invite new users to join the platform?
They came up with a brilliantly simple solution. Each Nextdoor user has access to an interactive map of their entire neighborhood which shows them which households are already Nextdoor members (green), which had been invited (orange), and which haven’t (red). If you want to invite more neighbors to the platform, you don’t need to know their email or even their name. You can simply click on a red house and a postcard invite will be automatically dispatched to their mailbox. Neat, right?
Along with peculiar challenges, there are also plenty of brand new functionalities Nextdoor can experiment with. As Tamar described: “The biggest difference between us and other communication platforms is that we have a notion of a neighborhood: we have very detailed geospatial information and we know all individual houses. With that, you can create distinct features such as our popular Treat map which lets households mark themselves with a special icon if they’re giving out candy for Halloween.”
What’s next for Nextdoor?
Nextdoor’s currently working on expanding to more European countries, but according to Tamar “the app can and should work in every country in the world.” So wherever you live, you’ll probably find an invite from Nextdoor in your mailbox sooner or later.
And I don’t know about you, but personally I love keeping the neighborhood spirit alive. It may or may not be because my neighbor knows the best hangover cures…
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