Startup wants to help strengthen neighborhoods 

click to enlarge Lisa Trail's daughters earned $175 from their lemonade stand after promoting it on the web site Nextdoor. - MIKE KOOZMIN/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/Special to The SF Examiner
  • Lisa Trail's daughters earned $175 from their lemonade stand after promoting it on the web site Nextdoor.

Lisa Trail’s twin daughters set up a lemonade stand with a friend last summer to raise money for Japanese earthquake victims. And because their street gets very little traffic, Trail promoted the stand on the neighborhood’s private Nextdoor web site. Over a few hours, it caught the attention of so many neighbors that her daughters earned $175.

“A lot of neighbors came out,” remembers Trail, who lives in Menlo Park’s Stanford Hills neighborhood. “They came specifically because they had read about it.”

While other social networking sites offer the opportunity to stay in touch with far-flung friends and business contacts, Nextdoor aims to help users build relationships with the people who live just down the block.

The San Francisco-based company, which officially launched in October, has planted web sites in 1,100 neighborhoods nationwide and several hundred in the Bay Area.

“These days, whether because they’re busy or because they’re more on technology, people don’t know their neighbors,” said company co-founder Nirav Tolia. “Our mission is to bring back a sense of community to neighborhoods.”

While about two-thirds of online adults use social networking sites, just 29 percent of those polled know at least some of their neighbors, according to separate studies from the Pew Research Center. But people who participate in a neighborhood listserv or community forum were more likely to know and interact with their neighbors, the center also found.

Tolia, who also founded Epinions, said Nextdoor is a technological step up from such forums, offering greater usability and eliminating anonymity. Users must provide their full name and the street they live on to use the free web site, which allows them access after they confirm that they live in the neighborhood.

In addition to learning more about their neighbors, members also can announce a neighborhood block party, discuss crime and traffic issues, find a reliable babysitter or upload pictures. All information is posted in a private setting that search engines won’t find and non-neighbors can’t see, so people will feel more comfortable offering their information.

Nextdoor is seeking out volunteers to help oversee neighborhood sites and reaching out to cities whose leaders hope to use it as a tool to deliver information, although Tolia said they can’t read what’s on the sites. Redwood City — whose former manager, Ed Everett, works for Nextdoor – was the first municipality in the country to use the service and others, including Daly City, are following suit.

Trail said her neighbors, most of whom are connected to the site, are finding Nextdoor easier to use than the Yahoo group she’d been running before. She’s also used it to gather referrals — and to get to know her neighbors a little better.

“I love being able to click on the different homes to see who lives there,” Trail said. “You can call up their profile really easily if don’t know much about them.”

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Michele Ellson

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