Can you imagine what it would be like to report crimes via Facebook or call for a fire truck through Twitter? It would be pretty convenient, right? None of that scary "Call 911!" business. No ambling down to the precinct to fill out paperwork. No need to leave your living room at all, actually. It would be equivalent to a socially networked Neighborhood Watch.
That's exactly what Nextdoor is hoping to build. The hyper local social network for physical neighborhoods is announcing a major partnership with New York City on Friday. It's major enough to warrant a visit from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will be putting another feather in his digital city cap when he announces this latest partnership, between the nation's largest city and a tech company that can help it continue to grow.
The benefit of such a partnership seems obvious, especially in post-Sandy NYC. In an interview with Gizmodo, the company's founder and chief executive Nirav Tolia explained that the new system would enable New York City institutions to plug directly into Nextdoor's communications infrastructure. If you've never used Nextdoor, just imagine that it's a pared down version of Facebook, except all of your friends are neighbors and they're all definitely real people, thanks to Nextdoor's rigorous verification program.
It's not like New York doesn't already have ways and means to reach citizens. It's just a little old school and not that efficient. When the subways below 14th Street all shut down due to weather, it's not necessarily appropriate to force an emergency government alert to people's smartphones. They might panic! But if you got a text from a friend nearby, you're more likely to adjust your commute and get on with our day. The public's ability to report fires, floods, crime and even nice things like festival announcements and greenway improvements should theoretically become easier now that Nextdoor will be working closely with the mayor's digital team. "Nextdoor ends up being almost like crowdsourcing these issues," Tolia said, explaining how the services good for "all kinds of things, some of which are about staying safer some are about our information."
How does this work on a practical level, though? Well, that's where things get tricky. New York is a massive city that has hundreds of neighborhoods. Nextdoor refuses to discuss the number of active users it has in New York and other cities, though the company did tell us that it's processing over a million messages a day from over 14,000 neighborhoods across all 50 states. Do people really use this service, though? Or do they join up and forget about it?
Based on conversations with Tolia, it sounds like it's a little bit of both. About six months ago, I joined the service and found something like nine other members in my neighborhood. This was not helpful so I stopped logging in—seriously, I'm in enough social networks anyways—and sort of forgot about Nextdoor until news of this NYC partnership drifted my way. Maybe the official government partnership can make this thing really work.
Nextdoor hopes so, and it's making a big commitment by sending eight to 11 staffers to New York, where they'll work with Rachel Haot, the mayor's tech-savvy chief digital officer and founder of GroundReport, a crowdsourced global news platform. That in mind, it's hard to imagine someone with more relevant experience running this project from the city's point of view. That's because Bloomberg's the boss, said Tolia, who's obviously very excited about this huge partnership.
So there you go. New York City will be teaching Silicon Valley a thing or two. "The Bloomberg administration doesn't operate like a government," Tolia added, "it operates like a tech company and that's really inspiring to us." That's all well and good. Positive results are really inspiring to us.