Up Close with NextDoor

Paula LaBrot

A friend of mine just got kicked off Nextdoor for life. A wonderful guy and a super good neighbor. I have been researching the subject of social media censorship, so I thought…where better to start than on the local level with our own Nextdoor Topanga?  Let’s take a look.

HISTORY

In 2004, Facebook was founded as a “local” Harvard social network. It spread like wildfire to other universities and marched on to global domination. Similarly, Nextdoor was launched in 2010 in one upscale neighborhood in Menlo Park, California, and has quickly grown to include more than 150,000 neighborhoods. Nextdoor’s mission statement reads, “We created this company because we believe that the neighborhood is one of the most important and useful communities in a person’s life. We hope that neighbors everywhere will use the Nextdoor platform to build stronger and safer neighborhoods around the world.”  

HOW NEXTDOOR WORKS

Nextdoor is a privately held company. They have rules and guidelines for administrators and users. First, someone maps out a neighborhood. On the upper right corner of your local Nextdoor page, you will see a map of your neighborhood. You also see that 35 other Nextdoor neighborhoods include 16,300 more people connected to our 3,493-person local site. You can click on that and see how those neighborhoods are broken down. Old Topanga Canyon actually split into its own neighborhood.  

Nextdoor neighborhoods are established by the first member of the local website, the Founding Member. For Topanga, that is Bonnie Morgan, who has devoted hours of volunteer time building and administrating Nextdoor Topanga. The Founding Member defines the neighborhood boundary and chooses the neighborhood name and begins inviting people to join, who, in turn, ask others, and soon you have a local network. Sixty percent of Topanga households are verified members. The network is administered by “Leads.”

Founding Members are Leads. Strong “inviters,” people who invite a lot of others onto the network, can, also, be Leads. There is a little icon on the upper right green strip of a head/shoulders/+ sign that shows tools for inviting others and gives a list of the top inviters. This is useful if you are trying to find your “Leads,” because that is very hard to do.

On the left in the gray area are some interesting hot links. “Topanga Canyon” brings up a lot of information on the Canyon and some handy phone numbers. There are sub-groups for interest group representation on the left side, but the General Posting Area is the only one people really read.

Most of the links are self-explanatory, but way, way down at the bottom, in tiny print, there is a link for “guidelines.” I suggest reading it. I never had, and I learned a lot.

THE UP AND DOWN SIDES

There is so much good about a local network, it’s hard to even begin listing the virtues. From local recommendations for tradespeople, disaster information, finding lost pets, scoring free stuff, real-time traffic alerts, publicizing local events, sharing local lore, fighting crime, meeting neighbors…so, so helpful.

Then, there are the “policemen of the world.” My brother and I love to laugh at what we call soap opera threads. People insert themselves into posts, then others ballistically react. You don’t have to react, you know. In the upper right-hand corner of a post is a downward arrow you can click on for choices: Mute, Mute specific people, Share or hide. Some people flag or report posts or replies.

Reported people can be kicked off the platform if they violate guidelines.

I am not a censorship fan. I really am not. As a Jewish kid living in a suburb next-door to Skokie, Illinois, I was so proud of the Jews there. Thirty-eight percent were actual Holocaust survivors, who put the First Amendment before their feelings, when Nazis staged a march there. An indelible experience for me.  

Topanga has a long-established culture of tolerance and individualism. I wonder if the 35 other neighborhoods we are linked with are truly in sync with that.

The Leads try to be as fair as they can while supporting the guidelines. They may contact flagged users and suggest they edit content. Leads do have discretion, an open door to favoritism and censorship, but Topanga has four or five leads who vote on issues raised.

Remember…they all volunteer, and it is hours of work.  

ALGORITHM ALERT!

Nextdoor has built itself up on the backs of these unpaid, dedicated, digital idealists pretty much for free. Currently, Nextdoor is monetizing, like Facebook did. They have introduced advertising. Data is being gathered from Nextdoor posts to see what can be marketed to a “neighborhood.” Yes, you are being watched. As my father always said, nothing in life is free.

All in all, Nextdoor is a wonderful asset to a neighborhood—as usual, use with educated care.

Vamos a ver!

Paula LaBrot
Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace. plabrot@messengermountainnews.com

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