Monday, June 18, 2012

Meet your neighbors and create a sense of community with NextDoor

Meet your neighbors and create a sense of community with NextDoor:
NextDoor-screen-1NextDoor is a web site that allows you to build a private web community based on your geographical location, and include others in it as well. It is made to connect neighbors to each other on a remote basis so as to re-create the sense of community that is, perhaps, lost in this digital age.
I’ve been one of the ‘lucky’ ones that have watched the digital age rise in my life time almost from the most significant beginnings. That being the case, I have naturally formed certain opinions in my lifetime through observation of the phenomenon known as “The Interwebs” to some. Many people who lived in times further past than the age of computers can tell you of a sense of community and real neighborhood as a way of behaving and interacting rather than a vague generalization of location on Google maps. People in neighborhoods knew each other and were, on some level, friends. This particular social method seems to some to have gone the way of the mastodon when the computer age introduced and successfully integrated the Internet into daily life. Children in years past would have gone out to play with other children in the neighborhood, making lifetime friends. Children today, in the US particularly, go outside as a form of recreation and habit less and less as video games and television and music and all other forms of digital diversion will keep them indoors, occupied and even in some cases being the better for it (you can learn a lot on the History channel, for example) but they don’t get out doors in the local area. Adults are much the same way, and while there are of course exceptions that are ‘outdoor people’ they are the exception rather than the rule, it seems.

NextDoor Screen 2
So, in this digital age, this age of silicon and separate lives, how can we re-attain that sense of neighborhood, or at least the projected benefits from it? Well, one way that might work is to move the local neighborhood mentality and experience online, since that’s where everything else seems to end up. “All roads lead to the Interwebs,” to paraphrase. NextDoor is a free web site that allows you and your local neighbors to connect and get to know each other on whatever level you choose from there. when you first land on the site you’ll need to type in your address, so if you’re supremely cautious and strict about your address or other info being out there this site is not for you. If you’re ok with it, you’ll then find out if anyone else in your neighborhood has already joined and connections can begin.
NextDoor Screen 3
The site is easy to navigate, without a whole lot of clutter and  you’re not forced to scroll down to get past the ads on every page. It’s all pretty self explanatory as you’re given helpful prompts through the whole process of signing up. The first thing you’ll do Is enter some brief information about your neighborhood. You can name it and define it’s boundaries, and you’re given suggestions to pass out flyers and such to get your neighbors to join up, in case they don’t stumble across the site on their own. You can also invite your neighbors to join by email if you happen to have their addresses. If you don’t have their email addresses, you can enter 0 in the box and the site won’t judge you.  By chance, if you decide you don’t want to go to all that effort but you’d still not mind being part of an online community for your neighborhood, you can have an automatic email notification when someone else starts one, or refer someone yourself by email. See the theme here?
NextDoor Screen 4
Once you’ve started a community, NextDoor will provide a central communication point for all the people who join, and you’ll be able to start the ‘pilot period’ where you will need to get 9 neighbors to join up on the site and agree to the boundaries you have selected. Then you will get to name the neighborhood. Try to come up with a cool sounding name, not just a designation of geography and you’ll probably have better luck getting people to join, they say. You’ll be given a link that you can send to neighbors if they have given you their email address with the neighborhood name in it. Now, here’s the rub. If you are the one starting your neighborhood’s NextDoor page, they are going to ask you to verify your address because people in your neighborhood are going to want to know. It will make them feel better that everything is not ‘shady’ because your address has been verified. They offer two ways to do this. One is by postcard, which they send and you respond. The other is instant, using your credit card, which they charge one cent to verify your address. Obviously, if you don’t feel comfy using your credit card, don’t. If you don’t want to give out your address at all, don’t. However, by verifying your own address, you are making it so that people who join after you won’t have to verify their addresses individually, as a good host should do.
From there, you’ll continue to meet and invite other neighbors, and that sense of community can become not a thing of the past but a sustained social benefit from that thing called The Interwebs. I feel NextDoor is a great idea in theory. I am eager to see if it takes off as a bigger and more widespread event, so of course I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the service it offers.
Check out NextDoor for your neighborhood here.

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