nextdoor & the police, sitting in a tree
May 22, 2020 4:36 PM   Subscribe

 
Inevitable, and I wonder how much of the Nextdoor Becky/Chad trope was juiced by law enforcement members posting and responding only positively to paranoia and snitch posts.

Robbie Turner, a senior city strategist with Nextdoor, wrote to Husted that when expanding Nextdoor’s reach to Canada, the company was using “the same strategy we used when we first launched in the U.S. — recruit the major Police Departments and have them help us grow membership and engagement quickly.”

Holy fucking shit. Nextdoor can now die in a fire.

I used to say they would be a great, no-nonsense and relatively pure community that could easily overtake Facebook, excising the bad stuff due to verified identities, but that was sure some pipe dream of mine. Time to calibrate my cynicism.
posted by rhizome at 5:08 PM on May 22 [23 favorites]


ACAB
posted by entropicamericana at 5:17 PM on May 22 [59 favorites]


"excising the bad stuff due to verified identities"

Sadly, when (some) people are forced out of anonymity, they will still reveal themselves to be toxic assholes. Removing anonymity does however reduce protection for vulnerable populations and oppressed peoples.
posted by el io at 5:23 PM on May 22 [27 favorites]


It wasn't a perfect idea and incomplete at any rate, but my thoughts about the identity thing were mostly about preventing mass registrations for bot accounts and ban evasion.
posted by rhizome at 5:48 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


NIMBYr
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:06 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


Nextdoor booted me when someone apparently reported me for using a not-quite-real-name monicker over the past many years I had that account. When a CS rep said they would reactivate my account if I entered my real name, I realized my life has been better not visiting that site and deleted their invitation.
posted by PhineasGage at 6:06 PM on May 22 [11 favorites]


Nextdoor has had a close relationship with police departments -- and, to a lesser extent, other public agencies -- since nearly the beginning. Their close ties to police departments isn't new or something they've tried to keep under wraps -- in fact, most public agency (including police) partnerships are announced at press conferences with much fanfare. I realize not everyone is aware of that, and I'm glad that more people will be aware of it via this article. I absolutely think it's something folks should be thinking and talking about critically. That said, I felt the article treated this a bit like a big secret that Nextdoor and police departments are trying to keep quiet about, which isn't the case.
posted by treepour at 6:34 PM on May 22 [14 favorites]


I signed up for Nextdoor right as the local police department was deciding to do a regular "Police Blotter" feature on Nextdoor. The PD spokesperson invited discussion of the idea.

I was the only person opposed. I felt the PD should be publishing their carefully curated PR selection of summaries (their editorial hand in this was touted as a feature) on Twitter or a blog, somewhere where readers would have to deliberately subscribe (and could unsubscribe) rather than having authority's official version of some crime stories erupting incontinently into everyone's feed at all times.

Everyone else said "Oh yes, I'd like to stay informed!" The blotter feature began, and I have hardly been back to Nextdoor, because it makes me feel alienated in my own neighborhood.

The people who use Nextdoor do not strike me as average people. They remodel their perfect patios every year, they have tiny precious pets but no kids living at home, they have a story about what your neighbors used to get up to. They're all white, they were all born in the US, even though the flesh-and-blood neighbors I know aren't so much like that.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:05 PM on May 22 [14 favorites]


The people who use Nextdoor do not strike me as average people. They remodel their perfect patios every year, they have tiny precious pets but no kids living at home, they have a story about what your neighbors used to get up to. They're all white, they were all born in the US, even though the flesh-and-blood neighbors I know aren't so much like that.

Almost 80 years later and this piece is sadly and eerily still relevant.
posted by Ouverture at 7:40 PM on May 22 [32 favorites]


74% of Nextdoor users are people who own their house

The homeownership rate in the US is 65%, so that's not too remarkably far from the average.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 7:43 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The homeownership rate in the US is 65%, so that's not too remarkably far from the average.

It depends on where you live, and who you are - in DC, for example, it's nearly spot on for white and Asian households, but black and Latino residents are at less than 50%. I don't think it's coincidental that there is often thinly veiled racism and pro-cop sentiment on Nextdoor here.

It's not as bad as some local community news / discussion outlets, but it's not great, either.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:54 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Nextdoor has also been a hotbed of racial profiling and tattling. Its “crime and safety” pages host unverified speculation about wrongdoers prowling outside (...)

I live in a very white, if somewhat liberal neighborhood, & playing “guess the skin color” on Nextdoor is dreary in its predictability.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:20 PM on May 22 [14 favorites]


I signed up for nextdoor to help neighbors find lost pets. This makes me feel decidedly gross.
posted by Ferreous at 8:30 PM on May 22 [11 favorites]


The homeownership rate in the US is 65%, so that's not too remarkably far from the average.

Huh? No, that’s a pretty statistically significant difference.
posted by Automocar at 8:34 PM on May 22 [13 favorites]


Ferreous, ditto. I haven't checked back in too often, but I keep getting the email summaries. It seems that half of the posts are people freaking out about cars driving slowly through their neighborhood, as if people should never get lost and not know exactly where they're going. Not really drawing me back in.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:37 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Every now and then I get an invitation in the mail to join Nextdoor. Not email, actual physical mail. There’s a code to use and it’s sent with the name of someone in the area inviting you to join.

Fuuuuuuuuck that. But even more so now after seeing this.
posted by azpenguin at 8:45 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]




Idk, I'm nosy and I am addicted to information, so I love Nextdoor. For the good stuff ("my kid is making masks and giving them away for free") and also the problematic stuff, and especially the petty stuff ("grocery store requiring masks so I made a scene!") Good or bad, I want to know what people are thinking and doing in my neighborhood. It may be that my local Nextdoor skews heavily towards wildlife sightings, and I really enjoy those reports, but even if I lived in a different setting I'd want to know which of my neighbors was racist and paranoid.
posted by witchen at 9:07 PM on May 22 [9 favorites]


Would the snitch app really be fixed by proportionate renter representation?
posted by Selena777 at 9:18 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Well, I met and helped a lost pet, (a really skittish pit bull named jelly) the other night, and it didn't require nextdoor. Just neighbors who were willing to drive around looking for the owner, and me, willing to give her food. She wouldn't let me touch her at all, even though she was eating out of my hand. Until her owner showed up, then she was a sweetie...

In other words, fuck nextdoor.
posted by Windopaene at 9:38 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Regarding the home ownership rates on Nextdoor . . . you can definitely see how the site slants heavily towards homeowners and their concerns even here in San Francisco where homeowners make up only like 37% of the population. You'll occasionally see this dynamic manifest in threads where an unsuspecting renter (often a POC, queer person, young person or working class person) will innocently ask for advice on a problem they are having with their landlord. The comments will be overrun (by white people, older gay white men and real estate professionals) who steer the renter towards an "amicable" solution that is clearly not in the renter's total best interest and neglects to outline the renters (very considerable) rights as a tenant in a city where most of the housing stock is under strict rent and eviction controls. It is shameless, imo, how these people, who have no immediate skin in the renter's issue consolidate behind their class interests and do so behind a smile and a friendly demeanor. Nextdoor is garbage and the folks who use it most are usuallythe ones to keep a very close eye.
posted by flamk at 9:46 PM on May 22 [36 favorites]


Are non homeowners somehow discouraged from using nextdoor?

I've never used it. Never even considered it. Frankly, I'm of the strong opinion that things are best when people in my neighborhood, and every neighborhood I've ever lived in, would generally mind their own fucking business. Extremely local forums/platforms tend to draw people who feel very strongly the opposite, and are easily hijacked by such highly motivated assholes.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:04 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


So, if you were going to design a locally-based community web service -- because you genuinely believed that grassroots relationships, community interest and management, and even local politics were extremely important to a functioning society, and you believed that neighbors who live geographically close to each other merit as much time and attention as other online communities -- how would you do it to avoid some of the toxicity people have outlined here?

Because I think about this a lot. And someday I might try it.

Moderators? Trained social workers as moderators? Something to encourage renters' points of view and empathy? Credibility checks for certain kinds of posts (how?)?
posted by amtho at 10:18 PM on May 22 [11 favorites]


Provide and require ongoing DEI training and support for all moderators. Make diversity, equity, and inclusion an integral part of the culture of the service.
posted by aniola at 10:41 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


It's tough. NIMBY is a strong thing. And so is seeing people who "don't belong" in your neighborhood. Have been noticing this in my weekly grocery shopping trips, and how all the people who don't look like the normal clientele are all gig shoppers. It's a weird world we live in..
posted by Windopaene at 10:42 PM on May 22


Moderators? Trained social workers as moderators? Something to encourage renters' points of view and empathy? Credibility checks for certain kinds of posts (how?)?

First, become obscenely wealthy, because Facebook employs moderators and basically psychologically tortures them in the normal course of doing their jobs. I'm not sure what level of compensation would make this okay but I definitely know Facebook is nowhere near it. Second, I guess fix racism and general internet assholery, because even if you accomplish the obscenely wealthy part AND pay moderators well the sheer volume of horribleness out there probably still amounts to psychological torture. Third, clone your unicorn since this is all wishful thinking anyhow.
posted by axiom at 10:46 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


So... axiom... does that mean that you think NextDoor is already doing the best they can?
posted by amtho at 10:53 PM on May 22


LOL definitely not (and I was not trying to snark on you I'm just cynical), they could definitely improve by getting out of bed with the cops and enforcing some kind of conduct policy for example, but what I am saying is that I don't think there's a way to achieve the goals you outline using a social media app.

I think if anything social media gets in the way of a lot of those things like community interest and grassroots relationships, because it lets people think they've done something* to contribute when in fact all they've done is make some kind of online noise that accomplished very little. And that's assuming a baseline of decent-and-well-intentioned. Once you factor in the 40% of the country that approves of Trump, and the gamergate crowd, and the idiots who think a global pandemic doesn't exist, and on and on... well then I think what you're describing is a pretty Sisyphean task. I'm aware of the irony that I'm saying all this on Metafilter, which generally doesn't have those kinds of problems, but I think that's only because it tends to be a leftist echo chamber so it actually has a different set of problems (though it has excellent moderation which thankfully tamps down the worst sort of actors).

* I once got forwarded a text message that was attempting to organize on online "tweetstorm" in support of Gov Whitmer, who I do support, but I also understand what Twitter is and find it insane that actual people are spending their time attempting to organize people to tweet
posted by axiom at 11:25 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Reminder: Nextdoor was cofounded and formerly led by Nirav Tolia, who was charged for a hit-and-run in 2014.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:18 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


Yah, it probably wouldn't be a social media app. Something else.
posted by amtho at 1:04 AM on May 23


So, in your mind, axiom, it would have to not "let people think they've done something* to contribute when in fact all they've done is make some kind of online noise". That's very useful info!

Also, one _would_ have to "...factor in the 40% of the country ..." etc. It would be easy to forget about those in the bliss of designing form layouts - but form layouts aren't where the solutions really lie.

And avoiding the experience of an "echo chamber" is also going on the list.

Just because something hasn't been done before doesn't mean it's impossible. Most of the stuff that's been made or done is pretty similar and comes from pretty similar impulses, and is prey to the same kind of "too hard to do" thinking that we're seeing here.
posted by amtho at 1:09 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


A couple of weeks ago there was this post on nextdoor. The day before I'd heard sirens going off maybe 2pm, I thought Gabriel had blown his trumpet the way it sounded bouncing off the hills. Turns out it was some sort of 8 engine fire truck parade from the local volunteer dept for someone's mom turning 60. So they went by her house.

Then there's a post on nextdoor from this guy wondering who was paying for it.

I watched this guy get harassed and shamed in post after post. It was weird and jingoistic and went on and on, near 100 posts, everyone having seen this guy's real name and questioning if he's american and worse. And all of those posts that went on about how firefighters are 'risking their lives every day' for him and how dare he question when they want to honor someone's mom on mother's day and besides it was her birthday.

And even worse than that, for me, was that it was nextdoor and I did not feel at all comfortable posting and defending the guy whose simple question had sparked so much vitriol. That's my real name on there! Last thing I need is someone looking up where I live and giving me weird looks when they walk their dog by my house. No one defended him at all!

Next week heard the sirens again, a small brushfire it turns out, but I really wanted to go onto that site and ask who's mom is having a birthday this time. But I think it's better to keep your head down over there. You don't want to find out how horrible your neighbors can be.
posted by Catblack at 1:18 AM on May 23 [20 favorites]


in the bliss of designing form layouts

Spoken like someone who has never made a form. Bliss! Oh bless you, and I hope you think better of whatever nascent foolish plan to learn web design has taken hold of you before it gets really nasty.
posted by axiom at 1:56 AM on May 23


Dude, I have made sooooo many forms. You have no idea how long I've been a web developer :)

Also - that way of responding to me is kind of upsetting. Just... take a moment before you do it to the next, probably less experienced and self-assured, person. I don't want them to be too distracted by cynicism to just do what they imagine.

But I do appreciate the meat of your comments.
posted by amtho at 2:00 AM on May 23 [28 favorites]


Yeah I'm really just throwing shade at web design because it turns out we both live in the same place there. Sorry it read the other way but we've mostly just agreed ultimately, I think.
posted by axiom at 2:10 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I signed up on a lark when we moved into our current place (rented) last year in a downtown neighbourhood in Ottawa (incidentally, according to the 2016 census our district is 25% visible minority and 25% immigrants) and there were maybe 3 households on it? Not sure their expansion to Canada is going that well.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:26 AM on May 23


When I am in Sydney I stay in an inner-city block of 120+ apartments. There is a lobby for the lifts and with a coffee and a newspaper on Saturday morning standing in the lobby - I can catch up with pretty much a week's worth of news in the building - even in these social distancing days. The concierge at the front desk can tell you who is away at any time, who's getting new carpet, who is throwing out a TV for the next council pickup.

A friend lived in a complex with the swimming pool, tennis court, gym, the works - and I asked what his neighbours were like. "I've been here four years and I have no idea". Each townhouse had its own entry, so no dropped groceries to start a conversation, or dropping the key around for when the new appliance is to be delivered.

Nextdoor is like one of those complexes - it is supposed to make it easier - but it just reinforces all the behaviours which mean that people stay in their bubble.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:30 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


If you need an app to communicate with your neighbors, maybe you don’t.
posted by snofoam at 4:35 AM on May 23 [10 favorites]


"...but even if I lived in a different setting I'd want to know which of my neighbors was racist and paranoid."

I suspect most of mine are and don't want that confirmed. I was going to make a joke about it, but it's not really a laughing matter. It's about my mental health.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:41 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


I signed up for Nextdoor during Hurricane Harvey, and I found it really helpful. (I’m on the outskirts of Houston.) It was the easiest way to get fast, hyper-local updates on where the flood waters were rising, what streets were still open, etc. People were sharing emergency supplies and there was a real spirit of mutual care.

Then the water receded and I never looked at Nextdoor again. Didn’t have any particular bad experience with it; I just don’t really have any interest in what my entire neighborhood is thinking on an ordinary day. Seems now that’s probably for the best.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:46 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


amtho, perhaps read up on mutual aid networks?
posted by eviemath at 5:01 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I quit it long ago in Chicago after I saw my neighbors enthusiastically encouraging each other to call the police because a black man had the audacity to smoke a cigarette in the alley. Because he "was probably casing a house to break into" and "didn't belong there."
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:31 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]


First it was the racism. “Gang of black kids” that turned out to be a family walking home from school, “Black man in the neighborhood with a clipboard” who was supposedly gathering info for burglaries. He was The last straw, someone asked if anyone minded if they posted some guns for sale. Yes, I minded. I alerted the moderator as that gun sale would be illegal in our state. No response, and then there were several gun ads. I quit Nextdoor. It’s only redeeming value was when I used it to help someone find their lost dog.
posted by coldhotel at 6:18 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


Revolting.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:45 AM on May 23


So it's to non-white people what Mumsnet is to non-cishet people?
posted by acb at 6:49 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]


"All hyper-local media is just a platform for discovering how racist your neighbors are" -- if you're living in a largely white suburb, holy shit, is that ever true.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:54 AM on May 23 [17 favorites]


I signed up to Nextdoor when I moved to my current city, mostly out of curiosity. A few weeks in at&t started doing some sales promotion for their fiber installation, and they were hiring college age kids as a summer job to do door to door sales in our middle class, mostly white (Milwaukee is dramatically segregated, much worse than anywhere else I've lived) neighborhood. A kid came by, young, black, big smile, lanyard, yellow at&t vest, to sell me fiber and I actually signed up and happily have gigabit service now. But there were at least 3 posts on nextdoor that day about a suspicious black man knocking on doors and scaring people. The cops were called! I knew exactly who they were talking about and tried to explain in the comments that the guy was just trying to sell them internet access but the responses were recalcitrant paranoia. It made me want to move and also I haven't been back on there since. Now I can't see my neighbors without wondering which of them would have shot trayvon Martin without shame
posted by dis_integration at 7:02 AM on May 23 [14 favorites]


Nextdoor is mostly innocuous in the set of neighborhoods that I get a feed for (I don't know how that algorithm works); the big drama seems to be in the neighborhood Facebook groups.
posted by octothorpe at 7:06 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


"Verified Identity"? I signed up for that trash site with a pseudonym. I could smell the Craigslisty vibe.

Imagine my surprise when a neighbor "verified" me months later.

Nextdoor just goes one step further to remind me what utter trash 30% of the population is.
posted by sydnius at 7:07 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


I signed up for nextdoor to help neighbors find lost pets.

Well, I met and helped a lost pet

I quit Nextdoor. It’s only redeeming value was when I used it to help someone find their lost dog.

I avoid nextdoor as far as possible, because there's little on it apart from glurge, small-minded pomposity, kitchen-sink racism, trolls and inappropriate advertising. I look in about once every three months. The most recent time happened to be yesterday, only because there happened to be a story developing which I wanted the local angle on.

The centrepiece thread from our neighbourhood : someone posted that they had found a dog and was seeking the owner, along with a picture of the dog. The thread had quickly turned into a discussion about how thin and ill the dog looked, and then degenerated into people piling in to insult and abuse the person who had found the dog for neglecting it. There were also a few trolls who thought it would be really amusing to claim the dog as their own.

I have no idea if the dog ever got claimed. I closed the browser and walked away.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:12 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Nextdoor has been great in my predominantly non-white neighborhood.

One morning months ago, I found a bike and some other strange items in our backyard and I reported it to the police, who took the bike into evidence. Later on, I saw a post from a distant neighbor looking for their stolen bike, and I was able to send them a picture (Was it this one?) and connect them to the police, who reunited them with the stolen bike. Most of the posts I see are about missing dogs and cats, notices about lemonade stands in the summertime, etc., plus the occasional, "Did anyone hear those gunshots?" Maybe our neighborhood is an outlier, but I don't encounter the toxicity that others seem to.
posted by emelenjr at 7:37 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I know my brain does not work like most people's, but I have never understood why proximity alone is supposed to somehow require or foster community. The reason I am friends with certain people is that we share common interests, common beliefs, common experiences, and we have good chemistry together. It's not because we happen to live on the same street.

I go for a walk every morning, and all throughout my neighborhood I see so many Republican campaign signs, and these days, that enough is a hard no for me. I have occasionally received post cards in the mail inviting me to join Nextdoor, and, without fail, [NEIGHBOR'S NAME] that is on the card is someone who I know to be a racist, or a bigot, or a police apologist, or otherwise someone similarly toxic that I have zero desire to engage with. If the source of the invites is representative of the platform, I can't possibly imagine why I would want to join up.
posted by xedrik at 7:41 AM on May 23 [11 favorites]


a suspicious black man knocking on doors and scaring people

smh, I really wish there was a way to make people understand that just because you experience negative emotions, that doesn't mean those negative emotions were caused by the last person you interacted with before you experienced those negative emotions.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:57 AM on May 23 [23 favorites]


It's validating to see that my experience on Nextdoor aligns with so many others. Came for the lost-pet posts, left after days of relentlessly toxic, entitled, racist, NIMBY bullshit.

"WARNING: Black man on the sidewalk, Weds 11:00am."

The worst of it is feeling surrounded by these monsters. And this is in San Francisco.
posted by panglos at 8:24 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]


So, if you were going to design a locally-based community web service -- because you genuinely believed that grassroots relationships, community interest and management, and even local politics were extremely important to a functioning society, and you believed that neighbors who live geographically close to each other merit as much time and attention as other online communities -- how would you do it to avoid some of the toxicity...
I want this, and want to help. Perhaps there's some useful crossover between these groups, mutual aid networks, and tenants' organizations. I rent, always have, and have only been driven to organizing action by truly exceptional circumstances. I share many of the concerns expressed above about not really wanting to find out what terrible people my neighbors are. When I've organized it's been an email group, helping less technical folks bridge the gap if possible, but knowing it's not universally inclusive.

During this pandemic it still took me two months and the action of my neighbors posting handwritten notes outside the elevator to move me to do it for this building. The last time it was a building without electricity for six weeks (neighboring buildings had power) after Hurricane Sandy, and even then my attempts to organize a rent strike or even threaten one fell apart immediately. Nobody who is worried about where their family will sleep tonight has much energy for that kind of thing.

I made a Google group, posted a sign with a short URL to join it and invited anyone to email me directly for an invitation. Effectively, I volunteered to be an email group moderator. About 9 of the 13 units signed up.

It's working well so far and did include a discussion of local "no muffler" street racing that managed to stay clear of any personalizations. But, this discussion makes me very aware that the first time someone decides to be casually racist or spam folks I'll have a moral choice to make. On the other hand, the management company is having a harder time ignoring all of us when we're posting screenshots and sharing promised timelines with one another.
posted by abulafa at 8:46 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]


> I don't think there's a way to achieve the goals you outline using a social media app

Yeah, you could make a good start by, for example, organizing a nice neighborhood block party a couple of times a year. Close down the street for an afternoon or an evening, have a potluck, etc etc etc.

It's actually pretty easy to do and can be a lot of fun. Depending on where in the world you live, it's very possible to have a neighborhood where a bunch of the neighbors don't know each other at all.
posted by flug at 8:49 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


2nd-ing the block party idea. When we moved to our neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs, we knew no one. We tried to say hello to anyone who would say hello back. Finally, my wife called the town, asked how to shut down the street for a block party and we posted signs and put flyers in everyone's mailbox. The big day arrived. What do you know? There was about 80% participation. I sat with people who lived two doors down from each other for 10 years and had never met. My direct neighbor, about 80 yo, had lived there for 30+ years. They had stories to tell. The kids were all running around the street. Coolers of water, soda, juice, and yes, beer were all up and down the block. The local fire truck and police car showed up for the kids to look at and play on. (Not sure who paid for it.)

An app is not going to make you any closer to a neighbor. Actually meeting them face to face will.
posted by AugustWest at 9:37 AM on May 23 [8 favorites]


So, if you were going to design a locally-based community web service [...] how would you do it to avoid some of the toxicity people have outlined here?

Recruit non-toxic moderators who can represent otherwise underrepresented people in the community. Then you and the moderators recruit people you would like to see in your service. Run it like that, invitation-only, until you work the bugs and get a good seed population.

If the local population is 95 percent white and 5 percent black, selectively recruit so the local black population is way overrepresented; you probably don't want to end up with a blacks only service, but you definitely don't want a place where anyone is ever going to complain about a suspiciously black person walking down the sidewalk.

Instead of the police, try to get various social services involved. A local web service should have people who know how to spot and look out for people who need help.
posted by pracowity at 9:47 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


Just because something hasn't been done before doesn't mean it's impossible. Most of the stuff that's been made or done is pretty similar and comes from pretty similar impulses, and is prey to the same kind of "too hard to do" thinking that we're seeing here.

Strongly agree, and often the most interesting and challenging problems are the ones that require some kind of essential frame shift or clever lateral thinking to unknot. I think the challenge of making a better Nextdoor-type app is well worth taking on, because our society simply has to to find some way to reconnect and get to know one another again as real, actual people, who live and work among one another, who are bodies that breathe and have needs and wants and feelings, to know that we are more than the surface of our appearances, or the ideas of us on screens; to be actual persons to one another.

I don't know that any real sense of community can be built without real-world, face-to-face interaction. I think any app that attempts local communication and community-building must start with--and be constantly renewed by--in-person, face-to-face events and meetings. If people in a community know one another as physical human beings, even casually, it becomes so much harder to otherize and scapegoat and generally be hateful and angry toward each other online, not just because you'll have to see that person at the next block party, but also because it's so much easier to hate the idea of a person than an actual person. If we're more effectively real people to our neighbors, we will be better people to our neighbors (most of the time).

On preview, exactly what AugustWest said: "An app is not going to make you any closer to a neighbor. Actually meeting them face to face will."

But with that as a foundation, an app would have much more possibility. So maybe a neighborhood app where you have to physically meet people to sign up and 'friend' them at a neighborhood event? Seems like any truly effective app like this must have a development process that is based in real-world testing, with an eye toward making it work for a specific neighborhood, not all neighborhoods everywhere, and then scale up--as opposed to developing your app in a Santa Clara county office park and then hoping it scales down to neighborhoods everywhere.

Lastly, my sense is that the really invaluable connections a good neighborhood app could offer aren't to law enforcement, but to local government, e.g. city councils and school boards. As a citizen, I've been able to effectively help with local change by meeting and talking in person with our town's elected officials, and that's mostly happened at community social events. (This also helps me to not otherize them, to remember that they're people doing their jobs, mostly trying to help.)

A neighborhood/community app that built upwards from in-person local connections and events would be an excellent starting point for something better than NextDoor, I think. (Après pandemic, of course)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:20 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Instead of the police, try to get various social services involved. A local web service should have people who know how to spot and look out for people who need help.

(On non-preview) also this, this would be great. If you make it easier for people to help one another, we'll help one another more (as in, I don't know what to do about that guy on the corner, asking for money and obviously homeless and cold in the rain, but my neighborhood app could have an 'alert social services' button, that would allow me to send a request for someone who does have expertise and resources to come to that intersection and do a welfare check, especially instead of just doing nothing or calling the police on someone who is already suffering).
posted by LooseFilter at 10:29 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I want to add something here, as a first responder. There have been a few comments in this thread about fire/police interacting with the community in a positive way. If you are served by a municipal fire department, your taxes contribute to our funds, along with grants. If you are served by a volunteer fire department, they are funded by donations, t-shirt/challenge coin etc sales, fundraisers (bbq, Brunswick stew, raffles, festivals, etc), sometimes a 501(c)(3), and maybe a fire tax assessed by the county/parish. Law enforcement is usually required by state law, so it is funded through taxes as well.

No one “pays” outside of taxes or donations for public safety to attend an event; often we are invited by whomever is running the event. It’s an excellent opportunity for people to meet the providers who will be responding in the event of an emergency. I can’t speak for LEO cause I’m not a cop, but there has been a huge shift in the fire service regarding increasing access with our communities. We want people to feel like the fire service is a good use of their tax dollars and/or donations and we want people to understand all of the services that we offer and understand how we function. It’s great to interact with people when they’re eating a burger and the kids are climbing on the truck and not when grandpa had a heart attack or Mrs. Smith’s house is on fire. It’s your fire department; we want you to be a part of it, and we want to be a part of your community. If you want to look at it in a less than charitable manner, you could argue that we’re engaging in marketing our brand, and that’s not inaccurate, but it’s also not the entire picture.

Sorry, but it burns me up when people think we’re getting compensated for this stuff, or that it “costs monies” that haven’t already been allocated. I’m a cynical bastard myself, but there isn’t always a negative to your public servants being available and engaged.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 10:42 AM on May 23 [25 favorites]


Nextdoor is good for me for one thing: giving my stuff away to someone who will love it. I used it to give away a manual sewing machine in a Mission style cabinet, a group of decorative swords, and a binder full of Star Trek trading cards. Other than that it’s mostly good for seeing what people are freaking out about.
posted by Peach at 10:55 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


My understanding is that the Gestapo was chronically short staffed so they relied on denunciations to keep their calendars full. Citizens would report neighbors as anti- party for the most trivial of perceived slights.

So it's marvelous that someone had found a way to both streamline and monetize that process. Marvelous, I say.
posted by klanawa at 10:55 AM on May 23 [9 favorites]


Last year I got one of those letters from a “neighbor” about Nextdoor. I had never heard of them so I did a search. While wading through the obvious BS links I saw enough links to comments quite similar to the ones here, and threw the letter away.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:57 AM on May 23


Yeah, you could make a good start by, for example, organizing a nice neighborhood block party a couple of times a year. Close down the street for an afternoon or an evening, have a potluck, etc etc etc.

We normally do those three times a summer (Memorial, Independence and Labor Days) and have been doing them for generations but not this year for obvious reasons.
posted by octothorpe at 11:33 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I'm a member, have been for a few years. Joined to learn more about this new suburb I'd moved to. My main complaint is how it breaks places up into arbitrary neighborhoods. My house is located down in a corner of one of these, such that the neighbors on the other side of my back fence aren't included in my neighborhood. What good is that? But what I came here to share is this assessment from a certain old-school blogger:
Serving on a jury gave me tremendous respect for the critical thinking skills and rationality of my fellow citizens. Nextdoor has destroyed all that, and more.
posted by Rash at 11:41 AM on May 23 [8 favorites]


Snitchdoor
posted by sjswitzer at 12:54 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


The people who use Nextdoor do not strike me as average people.

they're white people who are literally a single misdelivered package away from fascism at all times.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:35 PM on May 23 [24 favorites]


I have a couple of problems with Nextdoor. On the rare occasion I look at it, it is loaded with fearful comments about someone having the audacity to use a driveway to turn around, or imaginary gunshots. The second problem is, out here on Long Island, we have very segmented geography, with hamlets that don't match school zones, ZIP codes, etc. Nextdoor has decided I should get news from an area of zero interest to me, instead of my town government, school district, shopping etc., because of how it reads a hamlet map. So it's less than useless. And the fact that the cops use it to tell neighborhoods about a crime and not the one contiguous to it defies my understanding. And oh, yeah, racism. Not even subtle.
posted by etaoin at 2:40 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Monetizing neighborliness is not possible.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


I figure there's only two ways it can be used at the moment: to tell people where to get stuff away from Nextdoor, and political organizing. Only one of those can be monetized.

Beyond that, it doesn't have to necessarily be explicit organizing, but bubble construction and maintenance is a thing that will happen naturally these days, and it just may be that Nextdoor is for Beckys what Gab.ai or Stormfront or whatever is for racists. Self-selecting online social groups.

It's kind of too bad, because for a minute there I thought they could be something a little more welcoming for everybody, like neighborhoods themselves should be.
posted by rhizome at 9:56 AM on May 24


Latest post on mine is someone's baby stroller went missing from their front yard, and someone else said they noticed an abandoned stroller a few blocks away. Nobody's calling to track down and punish the fiends that took it, so I'm considering it a net positive interaction at the moment.

I think there could be value in a hyper-local building-level neighbourhood, which if Nextdoor leaned into could bring the ratio more in line, but the demands of capital mean I wouldn't trust Nextdoor to not somehow favour the building owners. Like, building-level discussion could be neighbours who share mutual complaints about the landlord, but then Nextdoor's real-name policy would mean the threat of retaliation from the landlord would loom over this discussion.
posted by RobotHero at 10:29 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


So, if you were going to design a locally-based community web service [...] how would you do it to avoid some of the toxicity people have outlined here?

I live in Vermont. We have Nextdoor and no one uses it. They use a local similar option called Front Porch Forum.I haven't used Nextdor so don't know much about it but FPF basically allows you to sign up (real name and street address required,though you can fudge your address) and also lets people to sign up with "roles" if you want. So I can post as me,your neighbor, or as me, the local lady who is on the Board of Abatement, for example. The mailing list is 100% moderated and comes out only in digest form. Now, this is Vermont, which has a lot of class and political diversity (approximately 30% of my neighbors are Trumpers) but very little racial diversity outside of Chittenden County. You can read more about it here. It mostly works. I'm not sure how much stuff is moderated out--I applied for a job as a moderator and was not hired--and ow much is just because of the homogeneity of our population in some ways.

In our community which is heavily digitally divided, it can be tough to figure out how to reach people in a way that scales. A lot of news, particularly during COVID times, is coming via this channel. It's definitely more like MeFi is, designed to pay for itself, not be a money-maker,and it seems to be mostly doing that.
posted by jessamyn at 10:49 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]


There's nothing at all natural about what people like about suburbs regardless of their wealth or ethnicity: quiet, order, little crime, conversion of mortgage payments into home equity, the ability to invest your tax dollars in services you use. It takes a hell a lot of NIMBYism, parochialism, and blue-noseism to keep it up. Most of the people who complain about Nextdoor and its ilk simply want to feel that they are better people than the people whose efforts/attitudes upon which they are 100% free-riding.
posted by MattD at 11:45 AM on May 24


Most of the people who complain about Nextdoor and its ilk simply want to feel that they are better people than the people whose efforts/attitudes upon which they are 100% free-riding.

MattD, I'm not exactly sure how losing your shit everytime a black guy walks through your neighborhood leads to "quiet, order, and conversion of mortgage payments into home equity." Maybe you can clarify.
posted by panglos at 9:27 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]


Most of the people who complain about Nextdoor and its ilk simply want to feel that they are better people than the people whose efforts/attitudes upon which they are 100% free-riding

What do you mean by "whose efforts/attitudes upon which they are 100% free-riding"?
posted by Ouverture at 10:18 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]


What do you mean by "whose efforts/attitudes upon which they are 100% free-riding"?

I think the idea is that the suburbs are created and sustained by the kind of people who are also posting bad things on nextdoor, and that being upset with them is a kind of contradiction because by choosing to live in the suburbs you are complicit with their actions, which are necessary for the maintenance of the environment that makes suburbs attractive or something?

I dunno, I don't live in the suburbs
posted by dis_integration at 11:22 AM on May 25


In my experience, uptight, code-calling, nosy, thinly-veiled-racist NIMBY neighbors have an over-inflated sense of how important they are to the neighborhood continuing to function in the same way that it has
posted by 23skidoo at 11:39 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]


You say that, but I've been spending a lot of time in the burbs and just like I have noisy neighbors in my apartment in the big city, for the past week and a half the next-door neighbors have been having 9 hour pool parties EVERY DAY. Cranking the top-fortiest of top-40 hits of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond. All day every day (except for today, thankfully): Eagles into Big & Rich into AC/DC into REM into Creed, etc.

If anything it's not the burbs per se, but people with enough money to buy in the burbs (there are precious few rentals out here) have a sense of entitlement, and one that's ingrained in me (see above). I'll accept that it's a form of uptightness, but at the same time I've never heard of neighbors setting up noise schedules.

Complaining about black people walking down the street, that's still unconscionable, and I've been wanting to check my Mom's Nextdoor to see if and how much that happens out here. "Here" is much less diverse than the cities that surround it, and my impression is that "here"'s reputation precedes it among brown people, which may cut down on the opportunities for complaints, if you know what I mean.
posted by rhizome at 12:01 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


I've tried to get friendly with my neighbors, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. I know my neighbors to the left and right of me, behind me, and one couple catty-corner across the street. I have a dog, and that's a great way for people to approach me, she's a sweetheart and we spend time on the porch, and a lot of people are curious. A lot of people just know me as the girl who has the pitbull, and I don't mind that at all. Its a bit difficult because we're a mix of owned housing, rental housing, and off-campus university housing, the latter 2 have a high turnover rate. I joined next door to help find apartments to rent, and haven't been on since. I don't even think I'm in the same neighborhood I signed up for.

For those of you that want to get to know your neighbors but don't know how- here are some suggestions:
Spend time in your front yard/balcony/etc, if you have one. If you only are even seen going from driveway to front door, are you really a part of your neighborhood?
Take walks in your neighborhood. I was up until very recently reliant on public transportation, which meant 2 walks every day that I worked. I started recognizing people, I know which houses kids belong to, pets belong to, etc. Knowing your neighbors builds safety.
Just say hi to people. I live in the south, maybe that has an effect (though the majority of people in my city are transplants) and I've never had a problem just saying "Morning!" to people I see out and about when I'm on my way to work. If someone is walking their dog, I'll compliment the dog. We have a narrow street and I always let other people go before me, with a smile and wave. Just notice people's existence and allow them to notice you.
Does someone have an especially great bush? A perfect bird feeder? Ask them about it!
Do things out in the neighborhood - pick up trash, clear sewer drains, offer to help clear driveways if it snows.
Go to local government meetings. Go to locally owned businesses. Support local schools, donate time or money or energy to youth sports. Go to blood drives. I promise there's so many things out there that really make you feel like you are a part of the place you live in, and it's a great feeling!
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:36 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]


Wr know almost all of our neighbors are are friends with most of them. It's an urban townhouse neighborhood so we're kind of packed in close to each other so neighbors are hard to avoid but everyone knows everyone here. Sometimes it can get a little too Mayberry but I'd never go back to the anonymity of the suburbs.
posted by octothorpe at 5:23 AM on May 27


Nextdoor was a nightmare even in our diverse old neighborhood, so I ignored it. When we moved cities recently I gave it another shot against my better judgement. But this time I decided to block anyone who says something prejudiced or monumentally stupid.

It's a ghost town now. Turns out Nextdoor in my area is 100% prejudice + monumental stupidity.
posted by Tehhund at 9:47 PM on May 27


My kid's in-laws live in a remote country area, where NextDoor is apparently full of people who like to give treats to the bears and who worry when they see a raccoon.

In my diverse neighborhood NextDoor right now is full of threads complaining about people who won't wear masks Sometimes people call out racism, of which there is a good amount. Other times people complain about loud motorcycles or people who steal packages (you better be home in my neighborhood all the time if you want to get your packages). The general ambience on NextDoor is what the people talk about who are afraid to open their front door, people who have spycams outside.

Real neighborhoods are much more complicated than NextDoor. My actual next door neighbor is nice, and we often chat. She cooks on a hot plate because her landlord won't fix her stove. On the other side of me the house has been empty for a couple of years because the landlord can't be bothered, and I just pulled out some weeds in his yard and yanked down the vines covering the back of the house because they were covering the windows. The people across the way have a huge geriatric pitbull which they take for walks by carrying him up and down the front steps. There's a community garden in the vacant lot where the mural is for the baby who got starved to death by her mother. When a guy got shot in our street I went out the next day and took a snapshot of the blood and the bulletholes.

It isn't safe here, but it isn't safe anywhere. I would hate to live in a neighborhood where people give treats to bears, seriously.
posted by Peach at 1:32 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


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