Nextdoor, a social network I don't hate
Although we'll see what I say in six months
Art: Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Neighborhoods Khvalynsk, 1909
A couple months ago, I got an overly enthusiastic flyer in the mail saying that my town had registered for Nextdoor, and that I should also sign up to make my neighborhood more complete.
I’d already heard second-hand of Nextdoor from accounts like Best of Nextdoor on Twitter, where my impression was that it was racist, alarmist, and most of all, ridiculous, via the Best of Nextdoor account, run by Jenn Takahashi.
But, at least just for me, it’s been a really nice experience, which I didn’t expect for a social network founded by a guy who’s friends with Reid Hoffman (rember Reid from Normcores past?)
Tolia doesn’t have a high profile outside of Silicon Valley like some startup CEOs, but he has established himself as a well-known and well-connected Silicon Valley insider. Tolia is known for hosting exclusive dinner parties for entrepreneurs, many of whom have gone on to become some of the tech industry’s most recognizable figures. The gatherings have included guests like former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Apple’s Jony Ive and Google’s Larry Page.
LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman is another close friend of Tolia’s. Hoffman says the two have been discussing Tolia’s transition for months. That explains why Tolia specifically mentioned Hoffman’s transition from LinkedIn CEO to LinkedIn chairman as an example of what he’d ultimately like to do at Nextdoor.
In theory, Nextdoor can totally go all wrong (and, judging by some of the headlines, it does). Neighbors spying on each other, social networking accounts tied to real addresses, and all manner of social issues dredged up and amplified by the faceless internet.
But what I’ve found, and what I suspect most of the social network is, is what this article describes as “charming cluelesness”, of people completely outside the West/East coast media bubble, and concerned entirely with what’s going on locally:
In our conversation, Steve Wymer brought up Robert Putnam’s 2000 book, Bowling Alone, about the decline of in-person social discourse in America and its consequences for civic life. Putnam criticized the technological individualism encouraged by television and the internet, which had already shown a capacity to promote selfishness. Wymer argued that Nextdoor cuts against that trend: The company boasts dramatic examples of new collaborations the service helped enable—the neighbor who donated an organ to someone 10 doors down, whom she wouldn’t have known were it not for Nextdoor, and the person stranded on a roof by Hurricane Harvey who was able to summon a rescue boat via the service.
But usually life is less dramatic than that. In the most-common Best of Nextdoor submissions, neighbors worry about a weird truck driving by slowly, early in the morning. Ever vigilant, other users respond that they have already reported the suspicious vehicle to police, as law-enforcement representatives on the service encourage. Typically, the offending vehicle turns out to be the newspaper-delivery person, plodding through the suburbs to bring print news to the residents who still read it that way. Eventually, someone explains how newspaper delivery works, and order is restored.
For example, some of the recent headlines in my neighborhood have been:
A thread asking for good Chinese takeout options with over 70 responses, none of were “LMAO YOU EAT CHINESE TAKEOUT?”
Countless asks and immeidate answers recommending good doctors, dentists, and laywers.
Concerns about noises near and around the neighborhood immediately answered by, “Oh, there was a flyover since the Eagles are playing,” or “Oh, this was an accident a couple streets away.” Just super, normal, day-to-day stuff that’s actually relevant to our day-to-day lives.
To be honest, I was poised to read some ridiculous posts so I could write about how terrible the company is, but I have yet to find a single one that’s objectionable - again, in my neighborhood. Questions that on Twitter would have been quote-tweeted and dragged, with snark, are genuinely answered, and helped. Things that on Facebook would devolve into namecalling and squabbles are just not here.
And finally, I saw this post on New Year’s:
I’m sure in six months or so we’ll find out that NextDoor is selling address data to Facebook and Acxiom and monetizing on people’s fears by serving ads for Ring and you’ll get hit with a post called “Nextdoor is bad now.” But one of my founding principles when I started Normcore was,
Alexander Pushkin said in Eugene Onegin, “Быть можно дельным человеком и думать о красе ногтей…” - It’s possible to be a very practical person and still think about your nail polish.”
That it’s possible to hold two wholly different opinions in your mind and still be ok. (Or, a slightly different version of crosshatching.)
So my opinion of Nextdoor is that maybe it’s slightly gross and has the potential to get worse, particularly as they’ve changed CEOs and are looking to grow,
Nextdoor started selling ads for the first time in early 2017, and has been pushing to expand its product internationally, a unique challenge given the local nature of the product.
but overall a wholesome, refreshing net positive. And that’s about as Normcore as you can get.
What I’m reading lately:
This newsletter wrapping up tech twitter. Strong recommend.
CollegeHumor is out of business:
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I’m a data scientist in Philadelphia. Most of my free time is spent wrangling a preschooler and a baby, reading, and writing bad tweets. I also have longer opinions on things. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter.