By Beatrice Dupuy | WUFT
The old tradition of getting to know your neighbors has returned with the help of online social network, Nextdoor. The city of Gainesville is promoting the free private social network designed specifically for neighborhoods.
Launched in 2011, Nextdoor is used by about 14 neighborhoods in Gainesville and 1,000 statewide. The website, which is also available as an iPhone and Android app, recently reached 20,000 neighborhoods in the U.S. The website allows residents to keep up with their neighbors and share information with one another.
Neighbors can promote neighborhood events and groups. They can post about almost anything from lost dogs to recommendations for babysitters or asking to borrow a lawn mower.
Users must verify their residency to become a part of the free neighborhood network. Residency is verified by either receiving a postcard in the mail with a unique code, answering a phone call to the listed home address or presenting a credit card billing address.
Nextdoor spokeswoman Jen Harding said privacy is important to Nextdoor.
“We take our verification process very seriously,” Harding said. “We want neighbors to know that they are only talking to the people around them.”
The website is commonly used for neighbors to talk about neighborhood crime. About 20 percent of the conversations on Nextdoor deal with neighborhood crime and safety, according to Nextdoor.
The Gainesville Police Department promotes Nextdoor at neighborhood watch meetings.
GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said although police not post any content to the site or have anyone monitoring the site, the app is promoted through crime prevention efforts.
“It’s more of a neighborhood-driven thing,” he said. “Anything that gets citizens interacting with one another is always a good thing.”
Police departments in Key Biscayne, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Kissimmee are all involved with Nextdoor.
Bob Woods, city of Gainesville spokesman, said city manager Russ Blackburn first presented the idea to the city earlier this year. The city promotes the app on the city website and through social media.
“We have city staff who are taking the opportunity to talk to neighborhoods about it at neighborhood meetings,” Woods said.
In 2012 the Cheney Walk neighborhood was the first Nextdoor neighborhood network to start in Gainesville. According to Nextdoor, Gainesville’s most active neighborhood with the most members is Kirkwood, located near South Main Street. Valwood is the second most active.
Andrew Tatum, 29, launched the Nextdoor network for his Valwood neighborhood six months ago, located near tower Road. Tatum said 61 residents out of his 250 neighbors are using the website.
He said most residents use the app to report crime. Most post on the website when something has been stolen from their property.
“Just to be able to communicate with the people living within a few blocks of your house gives a sense of security,” Tatum said.
The website is being used as a virtual neighborhood watch in Valwood.
“We talk to our members and their perception of safety in their neighborhoods has dramatically increased,” Harding said. “They can recognize when someone is not supposed to be there.”
With Nextdoor’s urgent alert feature, neighbors can send time-sensitive information via email or text to neighbors.
Harding said the website has helped bring back a sense of community to neighborhoods.
A 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that 28 percent of Americans do not know their neighbors by name.
“It allows people to put a face with a name,” Harding said. “People can come together and talk to each other.”
Wood said once Gainesville sees a sizable number of users on Nextdoor, the city will partner with the app to have their own local page.
“We’re keeping an open mind and looking to neighbors to take the reins on this project and let us know how we can assist them,” Woods said.