There is one viral video that makes me tear up every time. “Look Up,” a YouTube video poetically narrated by writer/director Gary Turk, was designed to draw attention to people’s obsession with social media and technology at the expense of real contact with the people around them. With nearly 50 million views since it was published in spring 2014, the video made an impression by showing the offline interaction that people miss out on.
One social network, Nextdoor.com, aims to balance the digital and the unplugged worlds. The idea is that technology can be used as a way to bring back a sense of community to neighborhoods. It proposes that online social interactions can lead to increased interactions in the physical world.
Nextdoor launched to the public in October 2011, and today it has swelled to more than 40,000 neighborhoods across America. Citizens use their private neighborhood network to communicate about topics like safety concerns, local events and other issues.
Co-founder Sarah Leary recently told me in an interview, “When we started Nextdoor, I actually only knew one neighbor on my block and I had lived there for four and a half years. Thanks to Nextdoor, I now know over a dozen people who live on my block.”
A few months ago, Nextdoor for Public Agencies was unveiled. The program allows U.S. cities and public safety entities to tap into the networks created by citizens. Before you start thinking about Big Brother, understand that agencies are not actually able to see the private conversations that happen in the networks. Rather, they are able to communicate with citizens more like an invited guest.
Why is this a big deal? The important buzzword here is: hyper-local. Because participants are verified residents of particular neighborhoods, public entities can send highly targeted messages to specific areas of the community. Emergency alerts and crime warnings are much more helpful when they are sent to people in the actual areas affected.
Just before the launch of Nextdoor for Public Agencies in September, the city of Las Vegas partnered with the company to engage with its citizens.
Public Information Officer Jennifer Davies oversees Las Vegas’ social media program. When I asked about her experience, Davies explained that the biggest value for her is being able to be where the conversation is. “Being part of a site where neighbors are already venting frustrations about city services and trying to make their neighborhoods safer allows us to better serve and assist them.”
Las Vegas maintains a presence of more than a dozen profiles on multiple social networks. But in a city best known for doing things big, the small-scale, highly targeted nature of Nextdoor is welcomed. “Nextdoor also allows us to connect with residents in a more personal way; when specific neighborhoods are impacted by a certain road project, for example,” Davies said. “Nextdoor allows us to scale our message in a way that our other social media channels don’t.”
As we enter 2015, I am particularly interested in the evolution of Nextdoor in the government social media space. The use of hyper-local technology by the public sector is not a new thing. Location-based products such as Nixle, Geofeedia, Ping4 and an array of others have been successfully embraced by a number of agencies.
Still, I find myself rooting for any endgame that encourages interactions with those who live closest to you.