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Mar 16 2014

Neighborhood social media

There has been much discussion about the benefits and costs of social media. On the one hand, it enables people to form communities and relationships with like-minded people without proximity being a factor. This has been a boon for people in low-density population areas or who have interests shared by just a small fraction of the population. But one downside is that immediate physical communities may suffer as people withdraw into their virtual worlds.

However there can be a happy hybrid. Someone in our neighborhood signed us up for something called Nextdoor, which advertises itself as “The private social network for your neighborhood”. It is basically a listserv that is limited to a fixed local geographical region, with some additional features that enable threaded discussions and sidebar conversations. You have to opt in and knowledge about it is spread by word of mouth with people inviting their neighbors to join.

I joined up and it is pretty good. It enables people to share information about local events, provide assistance, seek and recommend contractors for various household needs, and issue alerts. I already benefited from it by obtaining an office chair from someone two streets away who wanted to get rid of hers just at the time that my own was falling apart. I think it really helps to give people a better sense of their neighbors and their neighborhood.

This local network not only helps in the creation of a sense of community, it also provides insights into people’s habits and behavior.

One thing that I have learned from it is that some people are a lot more casual about their pets than we are. They seem to allow their dogs and cats to roam freely and unsupervised and even without identifying tags on their collars. As a result, a lot of the messages are from people whose pets have gone missing or have seen or taken in dogs and cats and are looking for the owners. We never let Baxter the Wonder Dog out loose. We have an enclosed backyard and even there he is outside only if one of us is with him, and he is never taken for a walk except on a leash. We keep a constant eye on him exactly as we did with our own children when they were little, never letting them out of our sight.

Another thing that surprised me is the number of people who seem to park their cars in the driveway and not in the garages (all the houses have garages) and leave them unlocked and sometimes even with keys in the ignition. This has led to some incidents of petty theft and even the loss of a car that was later recovered. While it is true that the neighborhood is safe in general, I always park our cars overnight in the locked garage and they are always kept locked.

People may not realize that by being so casual about security, they are not only risking their own cars. If word gets around that people in this neighborhood leave their cars and houses unlocked, that will actually attract criminals looking for easy pickings. It is like the anti-vaxxers I wrote about earlier who are not just risking the health of their own children but also other children by breaking down the equivalent of the herd immunity factor.

The catch with all social networks is that they can get too large and lose their intimacy and thus their utility. By restricting the list to a defined local area, it may be able to avoid that. But as far as I know, there is no formal restriction and anyone can join merely by putting in a local address. I am not sure what might happen if someone gets on the list by putting in a fake address and starts pushing products or politicians or an issue and starts spamming everyone. The list has no moderator or anyone in charge as far as I know, so this could be a problem down the road.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    hyphenman

    Good afternoon Mano,

    Sounds like an interesting idea and I started to go through the steps to join until I got to the place where the system needed verification beyond my email address.

    While I understand the purpose, I’m just not interested in giving out credit card, phone number or other information for the purposes of “verification.”

    My experience has been that the simplest and best way to establish a neighborhood is through block parties or joint garage sales.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff

  2. 2
    colnago80

    One thing that I have learned from it is that some people are a lot more casual about their pets than we are. They seem to allow their dogs and cats to roam freely and unsupervised and even without identifying tags on their collars. As a result, a lot of the messages are from people whose pets have gone missing or have seen or taken in dogs and cats and are looking for the owners

    I guess that Prof. Singham’s jurisdiction doesn’t have a leash law.

  3. 3
    Donovan

    While this would work great for a town like mine – a small college town that’s walkable from one end to the other – but what of larger cities? Most larger cities are such that there are several neighborhoods defined by single street borders. So, if I lived at the edge of Pleasant Acres, and Hedonism Heights was across the street, would I be cut off from the coolest of the garage cleaning giveaways? My neighbor might get a flaming skull fondu pot, and I’d just get a Virgin Mary bird bath.

  4. 4
    Mano Singham

    @hyphenman,

    I forgot what I had to do to verify my address when I joined up. I know I did not give my credit card. I suspect that I gave my phone number that must have been used to check on my address.

  5. 5
    Mano Singham

    @Donovan,

    I actually don’t know how the internals of the system works. When I look at the boundaries of my neighborhood in the system, it corresponds to the neighborhood we live in which in turn is defined by the neighborhood elementary school that used to be there.

  6. 6
    Jimmi Kory

    Those local networks are a great thing! My neighborhood uses meetey.com but every platform that brings people together and makes communication easier is blessed :)

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