For as long as the internet has been around, companies have been trying (and failing) to get people to behave online, but a new social networking site called Nextdoor isn't discouraged. Lately, a new trend is emerging in hyperlocal social networks quite literally aimed at helping you get to know your neighbors better, and Nextdoor thinks therein lies the solution to keep people kind: Make them show their faces. Nextdoor launches publicly on Wednesday, and it takes the real-name approach to social networking, championed most recently (and unsuccessfully) by Google+, to a new level. Your account is attached not only to your actual identify but also your physical address. This sounds dangerous.
At a glance, Nextdoor sounds like an awesome idea as it's geared towards providing a public service. The site allows people within a certain geographical area to set up private social networking sites that enable you to connect with people that live nearby, set up events and post status updates that your neighbors can comment on. There are also a number of tools that make hyperlocal chores like selling your mountain bike or finding a good lawn guy easier. Imagine a site that fuses together the concepts behind Craigslist, Angie's List and Facebook all at once. However, unlike those first two services, you must use your real identity and also verify your address using one of four methods. You can type in a verification code either from a card mailed to your house or revealed in a phone call to a landline at that address. You can also verify your address through your credit card billing address or from a recommendation by an already verified neighbor. To protect privacy, Nextdoor sites are not indexed by Google.
"We were inspired by the early days of Facebook," co-founder and chief executive Nirav Tolia told GigaOm. "When they launched, they required university-specific email addresses to allow people to access university-specific networks within Facebook. That creates a little friction up front but ultimately it allows people to feel more comfortable."
The up-close and personal approach could backfire. Nick Wingfield at The New York Times points out that other community-oriented sites have trolling problems that might not be solved through a complicated registration process or identity requirements:
I have some personal experience with a cruder version of Nextdoor: an online mailing list for my neighborhood. … Most of the participants on the list made thoughtful contributions about how to keep our neighborhood safe, looking good and friendly.
There were, however, a number of vocal people on it whose intense suspicions about the presence of strangers in the neighborhood bordered on the paranoid, in my opinion. On more than a few occasions, people would vividly describe the violence they intended to visit on anyone who violated their property. I decided I would prefer to know a little bit less about some of my neighbors.
Trolls will be trolls, it seems.