2015-19-March-Kickball-Champion.jpgGrowing up in Woodstock, N.Y. the neighborhood came together over kickball. Kids would gather at my house, we’d make teams, then play till the sun went down or our parents called us to dinner -- whichever came first.

Outside of family, your neighborhood is your first exposure to a community. Your parents introduced themselves to your neighbors and before long, you had new friends. And I mean real world friends, not Facebook friends (I'm talking pre-Facebook, pre-Internet, pre-everything days).

But now we have communities springing up in our own backyards. And these online communities may or may not involve kickball.

Nextdoor is a private social network for your neighborhood. More than 53,000 neighborhoods have created online versions of themselves on the site. The folks at Nextdoor must be on to something, as they recently announced a $110 million funding round, which values the company at over $1 billion.

Why Connect with Neighbors Online?

At first, the concept seems strange -- using a computer to meet and connect with new neighbors. Can't I just walk the neighborhood? Organize a block party? But then I joined Nextdoor, via my neighborhood in the Bay Area, California.

And that’s when it all made sense.

We spend almost all of our time online. Whether I’m at work or at home, on a computer or not, I’m online. I take out my phone and I’m there. And it’s true for all of you: whether it’s email, work, Twitter or Facebook, you’re online.

So giving people a tool that fits with their online lifestyle can create new connections and discoveries in their own neighborhoods.

Let’s take a look at how Nextdoor handles online community management within its communities.

'Everybody Sees Everything' News Feed

Similar to Facebook, the Nextdoor user experience centers around the News Feed, which provides a stream of posts from members. Unlike Facebook, Nextdoor has no notion of “friends.” Instead, everybody sees everything. In essence, you’re friends with everyone else.

Having everybody see everything helps facilitate new connections, the discovery of neighborhood events and a feeling that “I know what’s going on.” Jay Beard, fellow member of my neighborhood’s community, says that “Nextdoor is great for community connection.”

By spotting a post in the News Feed, I was clued in to “pick up” soccer games in my neighborhood. I signed up to play on Nextdoor, then showed up at the scheduled game time. I received information about the game online, which is much more efficient than posting printed signs on telephone poles.

Volunteer-Based Community Managers

The site designates certain users as “Nextdoor Leads.” According to the website, Leads perform the following functions:

  • Remove inappropriate messages
  • Adjust neighborhood boundaries
  • Verify unverified members
  • Edit the About section on the neighborhood feed
  • Promote other members to Lead status
  • Take a leadership role in calming neighborhood disputes on Nextdoor

In other words, Nextdoor Leads are community managers. The “founding member” of a Nextdoor community is automatically a Nextdoor Lead. Members who actively invite new neighbors to join can be promoted to Lead status.

And once you’re a Lead, you can designate other users to the same status. This sort of “self-managing” arrangement is smart: conflicts and disputes are addressed by the members of the neighborhood.

Recruiting New Community Members

Member outreach is a key initiative for any online community. On Nextdoor, there’s a finite goal: 100 percent participation from your (physical) neighborhood. It provides members with tools to invite their neighbors to join the community:

  • Send email invitations
  • Send free postcard invitations
  • Print flyers

When I talk to neighbors whom I don’t recall seeing on Nextdoor, I’ll ask, “Are you on Nextdoor?” And if they’re not, I’ll explain the service to them, then follow up by sending them an email invitation.

An Effective Search Function

Nextdoor is to my neighborhood like an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is to my company intranet. A lot of information is shared in each of these systems, so it’s critical that an effective search function can surface previous posts and discussions.

When my daughter was selling Girl Scout cookies, I posted to Nextdoor to let neighbors know. While she’s no longer a Girl Scout, I recently received a private message from my neighbor Vince. Vince wanted to buy Girl Scout cookies, and found my previous post on the site, which lead to his message.

With its capturing of discussions and happenings, Nextdoor has the potential to become the “system of record” for our neighborhoods.

A Few Dissenters

Nextdoor communities aren’t perfect. When I asked my Nextdoor neighborhood about their experiences on the site, a few dissenters contacted me via private message. Some found the posts trivial (e.g. “please curb your dog”), while others saw questions asked “where they could easily get the answer via Google or Yelp.”

While I do notice the patterns reported by the dissenters, I find Nextdoor to be quite useful. Nextdoor helps me meet new neighbors: online first, then face-to-face. And for that I’m grateful.