Think of it as a virtual version of the backyard fence, neighbor chatting with neighbor, neighborhoods using social networking to create a more connected community.
That's the notion behind Nextdoor, a free social networking platform for neighborhoods that launched in Davis last month.
Davis is one of 42 cities whose neighborhoods have linked to the San Francisco-based network since Nextdoor's nationwide launch in 2011. They include Rancho Cordova, which joined the network in January. More than 600 Nextdoor websites are online in Northern California neighborhoods alone.
Neighborhood groups use the Nextdoor platform to create and manage their own websites. Residents sign onto the sites to share community goings-on and city events, organize neighborhood watches as well as pass on safety and other information. Cities can also post information to the websites, but the sites are accessible only to that neighborhood's residents.
Davis residents can learn more about Nextdoor at http://cityofdavis.org/ neighbors/nextdoor.cfm
"It's a tool to bridge people," said Steve Fineberg of Davis' Stonegate neighborhood, an organizer of Davis' annual Neighbors' Night Out events and one of the first group in the city who will launch Nextdoor sites. "Neighbors know they can communicate with each other when and where they want to."
That was on the minds of Nextdoor's founders witnessing the explosion of social networks from Facebook to LinkedIn.
"Those (networks) were all great, but we wanted to use technology to connect with the people with whom we share a community," said Sarah Leary, Nextdoor co-founder and vice president. "Neighborhoods are the original social network. Unfortunately, in America, there's been a decline in connectedness with neighbors."
Leary cited a 2010 Pew Research Center study that found fewer than one in three people knew some of their neighbors, while 28 percent knew none by name.
But those same neighbors "had an extremely high desire to know more of their neighbors," Leary said. "We saw that as a huge opportunity."
Cities can target messages to specific streets and neighborhoods -- from construction updates and road closures to crime and other alerts.
"It's a great advantage for a city," said Kelsey Grady, a Nextdoor spokeswoman. "It could be about a gas leak or a rash of break-ins. It's a great way to communicate. It's more effective than a city page and it's relevant to the people who live there."
In Rancho Cordova, for instance, Nextdoor fit into that city's larger citizen involvement initiative, "Growing Strong Neighborhoods," while its police saw the platform's community policing and neighborhood watch potential, said Rancho Cordova city spokesman Troy Holt.
"We have many ways of pushing information out to people, but Nextdoor actually got people to talk with themselves," Holt said.
Holt is more familiar than most with Nextdoor. He launched a website in his Wildhorse neighborhood in Davis.
Davis, with its civically engaged, wired neighborhoods, also saw an opportunity in the new technology.
Leary and Nextdoor approached Davis in January and began working with the city in earnest about six weeks ago.
That the network is free is also a selling point for today's cash-crunched cities, said Stacey Winton, a community partnership coordinator in the city manager's office.
"We had a good neighborhood network in town and it's no cost to the city or residents," she said.
Today, 33 Davis neighborhoods are set up for the social network, Winton said. Four have websites up and running: Aspen, Old North Davis, Slide Hill Park and Wildhorse.
"When people connect online, they're more likely to get together in the real world," Leary said.
"When neighbors know each other, they look out for each other and build stronger, safer communities."
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