|New Era of Neighborhood Watch|
|By JOANNA STERN (@joannastern)||Feb 11, 2013, 7:12 PM|
Michael Riggs had heard about a murder at a local pub just a few miles from his house in a suburb of Dallas. He immediately went to his computer to share the news.
No, he didn't post it on Facebook or tweet it. He logged into Nextdoor.com and shared details about the crime and the Dallas Police Department's contact information. His online audience: his neighbors. And not his virtual neighbors. His real-life neighbors.
"I posted it so everyone would be aware," Riggs told ABC News in a phone interview. "Within a few hours there were several responses to the murder post. Many were just blown away that this had happened in our neighborhood." Riggs, 53, is the lead of the Bent Tree West Nextdoor site. The small town has 818 homes; 196 are now on the town's Nextdoor community.
Bent Tree West is just an example of the growing Nextdoor social network, which announced today the newest version of the site -- Nextdoor 2.0 -- and that it has raised $21.6 million in its next round of funding from some of the early backers of Facebook and LinkedIn.
Not a Site for Friendships "There is a social network for friends and family -- that's Facebook. There is a social network for business -- that's LinkedIn," Nirav Tolia, the CEO and founder of Nextdoor, told ABC News in an interview. "But a big part of our social identity is where we live, and where we live isn't captured by those other social networks."
Nextdoor is strictly about connecting with the people who live around you. When you sign up, you must input your real name and address. And you must verify that you live in the neighborhood either via credit card confirmation or by having the company send you a postcard that you can then verify you received.
Tolia created Nextdoor so neighbors could connect more easily with each other, to make asking for the cup of sugar or an extra egg faster.
"People have a latent desire to connect with their desires -- not as friends," Tolia said. It's not 'Wish me happy birthday' or 'Look at my vacation pictures.' It's, 'I lost my dog,' 'My roof is leaking,' 'I need to borrow some skis.'"
Since its launch in 2012, more than 8,000 neighborhoods are using Nextdoor in the U.S, with 40 new neighborhoods being added each day, the company says.
The website, which is being refreshed today with a cleaner design, allows you to start threads to talk to your neighbors. There are threads on everything from ride sharing to good plumbers to reports of wild raccoons. The site also has a Craigslist-like function that allows you to list products that you are selling.
Security and Crime Safety But while Tolia expected to create a network for neighbors to connect over smaller things, the site has made a bigger impact.
"We've noticed that neighbors, when they can easily connect and communicate, band together to create safer neighborhoods," Tolia said. Just as Michael Riggs did with his community, many neighbors are alerting each other about crimes or security issues.
"We believe neighborhoods that use Nextdoor will lower crime rates," Tolia said. "Over the last six months police departments and fire departments have been contacting Nextdoor to be integrated into the service so they can work with neighbors to create safer neighborhoods."
Police departments in Dallas, San Jose, and Orlando have started to use Nextdoor's Virtual Neighborhood Watch to communicate with homeowners. Denver and San Francisco will begin to use the service soon.
In Dallas, the company says 243 neighborhoods are using Nextdoor, the police have trained 300 neighbor police officers and they have mapped local police stations to the Nextdoor communities. The departments even post surveillance videos.
Tolia said that once a week the Silicon Valley-based company hears about a crime being stopped because of communication that went on over the service. Police departments and the community lead can inform neighbors of high-priority alerts or news via text message.
Privacy Awareness But while Nextdoor has begun to fight crime, its hard not to imagine the crimes that could be started by users of the site. The site requires people to input their real name and addresses; that's how people will see them on the service and on neighboorhood maps. In the Internet age, that's something you think twice about before typing in on a social network.
Tolia assured ABC News that nothing on Nextdoor can be indexed by Google and you have to be logged into that specific neighborhood to see anything about users. For instance, if you live in a town near New York City, only people in that town can see you. There is also the option to leave out your numeric house address; you can just put in your street. In addition, Nextdoor has integrated 50 different sex offender databases. People listed on them won't be able to join.
"Privacy is a benefit, not a risk for users," Tolia said. He said 30 percent of the users list their children's names and ages.
Riggs said privacy and personal safety was actually something he had never thought about when using the service. Instead, he sees the service as being a safety shield. "People are able to freely communicate," he said. "And the communication regarding something they see that's security or safety related has been extremely effective."