Tweet Thy Neighbor

The Nextdoor App Brings Neighbors Together In Helpful And Sometimes Hilarious Ways

By Brent Owen

Images by Emilie Haupt

Did a group of wayward teens egg your house over the weekend? Are you looking to unload some used lawn chair cushions on a presumably cushionless neighbor? Perhaps you’re just compelled to instantly inform your neighbors of such goings-on in the neighborhood. Well, there’s an app for that – and it has your back.

Nextdoor is an app that connects you with, well, people you should already be connecting with: your actual, physical neighbors.

It’s kind of like the tackboard at the old general store mixed with the proverbial watercooler, but on your phone. The app uses your address and then connects you directly with other users who are in your immediate area. You can make the geographical circle it pulls from larger or smaller, depending on how big of an area you want to be connected with.

The Nextdoor app has created an entire network of virtual socialization among neighbors, at least it has for some users. “For me, it’s the opposite,” explains Kelly Anderson. “I know my neighbors on there in real life. I don’t particularly interact with them on the app. I interact with strangers, which has led to conversations with people I may have not otherwise ever talked to.” Anderson follows neighborhoods outside of her few-block Audubon Ridge neighborhood, including Germantown, Audubon Park, Highlands and Douglass Loop.

“I love the Nextdoor app for what it was designed to do,” adds Rosie Cameron, another local user. She uses it to extensively interact with her Falls Creek neighbors. “It’s great to communicate about neighborhood issues, create friendships with people who have common interests, get gardening tips, find childcare or other recommendations that we just wouldn’t be able to get due to time and logistical restraints.”

As you scroll through Nextdoor, the posts can be erratic – from the legitimately helpful posts about lost animals or strangers lurking in the neighborhood to mundane inquiries like, “Is there a good security system without contracts?” And, of course, local real estate agents advertise nearby homes that are on the market as if the app is a digital bus stop bench.

And then there are more, er, interesting posts. For instance, random questions are regular occurrences (i.e. a post with a picture of an antique chair beneath the headline: “What kind of chair?”) or questions of an existential nature about long-gone neighborhood venues (“Where is Austin’s when we need it?”).

Basically, it’s the Wild West in the Nextdoor app, folks. You never know what you might come across.

The relative free-for-all content generated by users raises an obvious question: How does the user-based app keep from getting sucked down the morally devoid Craigslist pit of pornographic posts, catfishing con artists looking for a bite or blatant solicitations for all manner of services? Well, that’s where users in the app’s lexicon – known as “leads” – come in.

Cameron, along with her husband, are both Nextdoor leads. It is the app’s way of self-governing content. When a user’s post is reported for violating the app’s guidelines, the complaint is passed to the leads, who are all people in your neighborhood group. As a group, they vote on whether the post violated the app’s terms of agreement or not and try to handle the issue on that level. If things get nasty beyond the point of internal resolution, the leads ultimately pass the issue to the higher-ups at Nextdoor.

While the leads do a good job of keeping out the riff-raff, there’s not much they can do about the more quirky posts. Enter: Jenn Takahashi. As a Nextdoor user who saw an inordinate number of funny, weird or bizarre posts, she saw a hole that she could fill. And in a moment of quiet genius, the Twitter handle @bestofNextdoor was born. (Takahashi was not available for comment for this story.) The Twitter account she helms is a hilarious little corner of the internet where she scans neighborhood groups across the country and highlights some of the most wonderfully weird posts that pop up.

Some recent highlights culled on @bestofnextdoor include a post selling a “four-year-old painting on canvas of Van Gogh’s Starry Night” for $70. The caption on the post reads, “Not sure of authenticity.” Another post is from a user trying to find a lost cat named Daisy who “answers mostly to the name Nazi, obviously because of the fact she looks like Hitler.” Or one of my personal favorites: “(This) doesn’t have to be weird, but lightly used wood casket for sale.”

Takashi’s wacky Twitter account aside, locally, both Rosie Cameron and Kelly Anderson have seen the app work for its intended purpose, which is to bring communities together. “People who generally wouldn’t be talking to each other are sharing information,” said Cameron. “Kind of like over-the-fence talking, but digitally. Funny as it may seem, I was talking (digitally) to someone and during the conversation we realized he was my new backyard neighbor.”

Anderson furthers Cameron’s point. “People are really good about helping others find lost pets,” she said. “Also, I’ve seen when people have had lawn mowers stolen, neighbors offer to mow their lawns. There are many examples of good neighbors and community.”

Ultimately, one of the drawbacks of the internet age is that while it connects us instantly with the entire world, it has distanced us from the people who are in actuality closest to us – our neighbors.

But Nextdoor is using the internet and social media to fix that and pull communities together, whether through hilarity or helping neighbors in need. VT