Nextdoor (city link) is a promising alternative web-based communications opportunity for local governments and other agencies with physically localized or contiguous client populations.
Where Facebook taught us to talk to people all over the world who we will never meet, Nextdoor is re-training us to talk to our neighbors.
Nextdoor operates by neighborhoods, and you have to have a physical address in the neighborhood to join and have to use your real name. It functions as a neighborhood bulletin board, message center, photo album , etc. that is visible only to members.
Our town, Melbourne Village, Florida, which is very small, has been a Nextdoor neighborhood for one year this month. In that time about 40% of our 335 households have signed up. We have found it works best for us if the moderators are volunteers, but I understand that in some cities the police departments are setting up the neighborhoods.
People post about yard sales, lost dogs, birds sighted, looking for plumbers and such, community social events, suspicious persons, etc. The Town posts notices of meetings, reminders of watering limits, new ordinances, etc. Frankly, I think the fact that most of the posts are not about government helps us. People actually read it.
One result of it is that many things people often turn to the local government office for are dealt with before we hear about them – lost dogs in particular. Many questions people post get answered by other members – “do I need a building permit for a shed” type stuff. We can step in and clarify if the answer isn’t accurate or complete, but the initial response often comes from a neighbor, not “the office”.
We have had strong resistance from people about giving us e-mail addresses, because under the Public Records law any e-mail list we compiled would be available to any commercial enterprise who asked for it. With Nextdoor we can e-mail any individual member without having to know their e-mail address.
Nextdoor is currently financed by venture capital and I’m not sure where it will go for revenue, but I really hope they come up with a way to make this program financially viable in the long-term.
Opinions expressed here are mine and do not represent the Town of Melbourne Village.
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