CONCORD -- First, Facebook connected people all across the globe. Next, Craigslist allowed them to share, trade and sell their goods and services.
Then came the exploiters -- cyber criminals who hacked into private information and thieves who set up and robbed responders, spoiling the novel social interactions and causing folks to pull down their Internet shutters.
And the tool intended to knock down walls inadvertently created isolated communities instead of intimacy.
Nextdoor is Concord's response to our increasingly wired-but-disconnected lives.
Aimed at establishing safe, hyperlocal relationships, Nextdoor tries to take users back to a time when neighbors knew each other's kids, pets, travel plans, favorite restaurants and more.
Introduced in the fall by city police department representatives, Concord residents were invited to sign up for the private, neighbor-to-neighbor website.
In an online announcement, Concord police Sgt. Russ Norris said, "There are many advantages to using Nextdoor. It's like a Neighborhood Watch program gone digital."
While an opportunity to fight crime was welcomed by most residents, immediate feedback was mixed, with some expressing concern about potential loss of privacy and others disinterested in creating another online profile.
After the launch, residents shared their experiences.
How it works
To join Nextdoor, residents enter their addresses online and receive an offer to join, or to start a new neighborhood site. Verification of residency in a specific location comes either by allowing a one-cent credit card transaction, responding to a postcard mailing, or by having an existing member vouch for the new member's identity.
Members must use their real names, and the sites are protected by password, not indexed by Google and encrypted by HTTPS.
The initial process is intentionally sticky -- the opposite of most social websites.
In an online interview with TechCrunch TV explaining Nextdoor's purposeful sign-up process, founder Nirav Tolia said, "We are a social network, but we don't see a lot of status updates and photo sharing. It's all about solving the problems that are important to you in your local community."
Concord resident Ben Sloeimanieh, 38, said he visits the site daily and posted an announcement.
"We are just getting started and I would like to see if we will make the neighborhood a tighter group," he said.
Beth Jersey, claiming to be "fairly computer-savvy for an old lady," said she heard from a neighbor or two and found the site easy to use.
"It certainly could be a good tool if more folks become involved," she suggested.
A few members who declined to give their full names, said their usual skepticism about online safety was eliminated because trusted neighbors invited them to sign on.
Learning that Nextdoor was more about functional alliances, not forced friendships, was attractive to a number of responders. One long-term resident claimed to have lived in his house since 1980 without knowing many of the neighbors. He was hoping to experience increased safety, communication and "a sense of belonging."
How it's used
The one-year-old San Francisco-based network company boasts almost 6,000 communities that send more than 300,000 member messages everyday. In neighborhoods with established sites, health scares and crime reporting make up 20 percent of the posts.
Recommendations for businesses top the list at 30 percent; local classifieds are 15 percent; local events are 10 percent, and lost pets, local issues (one community fought off the installation of parking meters on neighborhood streets) and miscellaneous sharing make up the rest.
Melissa Hickok, a Concord mother of 4 1/2-year-old identical twins, was planning to learn about local activities for her sons.
"To be honest, I haven't had much opportunity to use the site, other than browsing the first time I signed up!" she confessed.
Complaints from local residents responding to an email inquiry were few. People without computers were a concern; that group is a dwindling one, but importantly, one populated by seniors or families with limited incomes who might most benefit from Nextdoo.
Most users predicted that excessive advertising or snarky commentary wasn't going to be a problem. Using real names was seen as a bonus, helping foster self-policing and furthering the site's "getting to know you better" intention.
Still to be determined is how the site will pay for itself. Helping neighbors find a great baby sitter, or warning them of impending construction on your garage is terrific, but in the end, Nextdoor will have to generate revenue with local advertising or other means.
For now, funding from Benchmark Capital and Shasta Ventures means the site is free for all.
To sign up, learn more, or start your own neighborhood Nextdoor, visit www.Nextdoor.com.