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Steven Clift on City Halls NextDoor decision

From: Tom L.
Sent on: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 11:12 PM
My old friend Steven Clift, the nation's leader on neighborhood level communications, had the following to say about last week's decision by city hall to endorse the NextDoor service.

Tom Lowenhaupt

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [DW] NYC Government Picks NextDoor, Was it a Fair Process?
Date: Tue, 18 Jun[masked]:16:14 -0500
From: Steven Clift <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]

NextDoor in NYC means 1800 private gated online spaces covering on
average 4850 people. (NYC has 8.2 million people)

So clearly not really next door or just your building. I am a big
supporter of closed or private resident-only online spaces for your
block or building, but not when they actually cover thousands of
people in a community. Building mass network of gated communities is
not my vision of community or neighborhood participation in America or
my own neighborhood where I have over 1,000 neighbors already
connected -  - NextDoor does allow you to
create a private resident-only space for your nearest neighbors (say
covering a few blocks) and if that is what NextDoor really did instead
of creating by default exclusionay community spaces covering
thousands, that would be great.

The softball news coverage:,2817,2420503,00.asp

The city press release:

NextDoor's blog post:

As a huge critic of NextDoor's virtual gated community approach (it
divides non-resident community members like small business owners,
local park staff, the bellman, the school principal, etc. from
residents), I am deeply concerned about government's endorsing one
size fits all models. While there is far more momentum (IMHO) with
Facebook Groups in neighborhoods, the fact that other companies or
non-profits were not given an opportunity (that I know of) is quite
concerning. Ultimately, to generate revenue from local advertisers if
NextDoor succeeds with government help in NYC, their local
neighborhood newspapers probably have the most to lose.  While we do
have the City of St. Paul as a partner, we use
to link to ALL the places neighbors are connecting online not just on
our own network.

I've been holding back on this, but as someone steeped in working to
connect neighbors *in public life* for community and civic engagement
across race, income, age, immigrant or native born - -, the approach being baked into
NextDoor feels far more like a gated community than inclusive
community building. It is not that people can't do inclusion within
such tools, but so many constraints are built into how their system
works that I see it dividing communities as the "haves" jump on board
and people who want local change are stuck with spaces that can't be
viewed by elected officials and the government offices we darn well
want to be held accountable through public engagement online.

A number of months ago, Forbes and NextDoor released a list of the
"America's Friendliest Towns." It just didn't feel right as I looked
at the list, so I spent some time comparing those cities with the
demographics of their surrounding county. Long-story short from the
top four, friendly communities are whiter than today's America and if
you have an minority above the county average it is Asian (with one
exception in the top four). See:

Anyway, a government endorsement this large changes the game. If our
governments are going to pick winners among commercial and other
players (and also ignore organic existing neighborhood connecting
online like ), it is time for a far more
serious debate in every city using government resources and
endorsements with niche social media companies seeking to build a
"billion-dollar social network"  I don't know
that NYC consulted the local community on tools they would like to
use, but like this list I did for Seattle - - I certainly hope the local
community web sites ask for city links and endorsements as well. (If
you want to crowdsource a list of where neighbors in NYC are already
connecting, let me know. We can host it.)

Ultimately, I still see Facebook Groups as our main competition our
main market and scratch my head as to how Facebook (or maybe Google+
someday) doesn't eat NextDoor's lunch anyway, but like the .com
politics boom in[masked], the hype will have a very negative impact
on inclusion-based projects seeking to connect neighbors where a
purely market-based approaches can't make a buck. Hopefully this
doesn't seem like sour grapes, but as one the best funded non-profits
in the neighbor/community connecting space who plans to be here
ANOTHER 20 years now is the time to start a debate on whether we want
to give local neighborhoods real choices on how they want to connect
online or accept government intervention in a way that reduces our
options and choices. I do think across the Locals Online space - - we could connect millions more people
across many sites and online groups and even NextDoor can be a winner
with a neutral "Got Neighbors?" campaign, but so can and many others

Steven Clift

P.S. If you want to build next generation *open source* technology
that gives communities alternatives for neighbor connecting online -
including having local and neighborhood media get a piece of the pie -
here is a place to land:

Steven Clift -
  Executive Director -
  Tel/Text: [masked]

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