BetaKit took note of San Francisco-based Nextdoor, a private social network for local communities, in a trend article highlighting startups bringing together neighborhoods. In a little over a year, the company has grown to over 6,500 neighborhoods, with a presence in 49 states, adoption by 55 city governments, with an average of 24 new neighborhoods joining a day. The company also raised $18.6 million from Benchmark and Greylock Partners in July to scale its platform.
Co-founder and CEO Nirav Tolia, the former COO of Shopping.com, spoke with BetaKit about some of the research that led to the development of the idea behind the network. “If you think about what happens when you first meet someone at a party or a conference…they way we usually describe ourselves is ‘my name is…we went to…we both work at..and I live in this place,’” said Tolia in an interview. “It was pretty interesting to us that this major part of people’s identity which is where they live, the neighborhoods they reside in, wasn’t covered by existing networks.”
Based on the desire to fill that niche, and equipped with additional research from the likes of Harvard professor Robert Putnam, who wrote in his book Bowling Alone that social networks (in literal terms) led to decreased rates of crime and improve public health and even test scores in neighborhoods in his book, the team set out to build Nextdoor.
According to Tolia, what sets Nextdoor apart from general social networks like Facebook is an emphasis on privacy, adoption and utility. Nextdoor users have to verify their name and address, and nothing on the network is indexed by search engines. Once verified, neighbors invite others in their community via email, flyers, and postcards, with the company now sending out on average of 2,500-5,000 invites every day.
In terms of what users can actually do on the network, Nextdoor lets neighbors post things like events, garage sales, and classifieds, and gives them the ability to discuss civic engagement issues and set up neighborhood watch systems to monitor crime. Tolia says that this focus on local activities, rather than general status updates, is another key differentiator from Facebook.
“Your neighbors are not your friends, in fact the statistic we found from Pew [Research Center] is that fewer than two percent of your Facebook friends typically live in your neighborhood. So this is not about status updates, photo sharing or keeping in touch with your friends at all. This is a social network that keeps you in the know of what’s going on around you,” Tolia added.
Nextdoor now sees an average of 300,000 daily posts and Tolia said it was used extensively during Hurricane Sandy, when people alerted each other with safety tips, and provided updates on electricity and flooding information. In terms of competitors and other options for people looking to create small social networks, private social networks are increasingly on the rise in both who they target and how they function. Users now have the option of using Pair for their significant other, Path and Everyme for their close family and friends, and others like JazLife for just exclusively their apartment building or condominium.
While Nextdoor and other private social networks have a different use case than Facebook, the biggest question remains whether people need additional social networks for every group in their life, and in Nextdoor’s case whether monetizing classifieds will be a viable business model, since it will require a critical mass in order to be profitable. Nextdoor’s growth seems to indicate that the demand is there, and as people look to get their know their neighbors, the number of communities will likely continue to grow.