Amie Carnahan wanted to start a community garden in her Springbrook neighborhood earlier this year, so the first thing she did was walk door-to-door to see who else might be interested.
It didn't go well.
“People were kind of suspicious of me,” Carnahan said. “They thought I was selling something.”
Springbrook, located near 72nd Street and Sorensen Parkway, a couple of miles south of Cunningham Lake, is a new neighborhood, with homes completed as recently as 2009. For whatever reason, the area attracted residents who grew up outside of Omaha, including the 33-year-old Carnahan, who moved here from Minnesota. She has neighbors from Africa and South America. She knows others from Florida and Washington state, and a family from Louisiana who moved to Omaha in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
She knows these neighbors because they've joined her on Nextdoor, a social media website that works like a super-localized Facebook. People sign up, verify they live where they say they do, and then communicate and share information with others in their neighborhood. Garage sales. Crime in the area. Pets lost and found.
When she failed at starting a community garden the old-fashioned, get-to-know-your-neighbor way, Carnahan went virtual and started a Nextdoor site for Springbrook. The company took it from there, sending postcard invitations to 300 households. Carnahan watched as dozens of her neighbors signed up.
The same has happened throughout Omaha, where 116 neighborhoods are using Nextdoor. The social network launched two years ago this month, operates in every state and follows in the footsteps of other social media upstarts in that, so far, it doesn't make money.
But it does address research that says, generally speaking, Americans don't know many of their neighbors. And while conventional wisdom might hold that social media is partly to blame for that, Nextdoor aims to flip that claim on its head.
The company continues to roll out new features, the latest involving Halloween. Nextdoor users can indicate online whether they'll be giving out treats. If so, the neighborhood map will update with candy-corn icons at those addresses.
As areas go, Tim Heller's Hanscom Park neighborhood is probably more connected than most. Neighbors gather for “Front Porch Fridays.” Many are part of Our Lady of Lourdes parish. Residents can find out about happenings at regular neighborhood association meetings. There's a Facebook page and Twitter feed.
But as Heller sees it, Nextdoor creates an opportunity to communicate quickly with many people and cuts through the clutter of other social media.
He found out about a guy giving away some lawn and garden equipment through a Nextdoor post. In fact, Heller grabbed his actual next-door neighbor and took him along to check it out.
He also heard about a suspicious guy in the neighborhood, reportedly trying to light cars on fire. He saw the post not long after a call went out to police.
“This is a good way to keep track of what's going on,” Heller said.
Bebe McCammond started a Nextdoor site for her Dundee neighborhood last year and wishes she'd done it sooner. She likes that it localizes information even more than her neighborhood association, which covers a large area. And she sees its effect almost in real time. Someone posted earlier this year that their planters had been stolen, and “I think half my block moved their pots in,” she said.
Nextdoor users can provide as much or as little information as they'd like, including a profile photo. As her neighborhood's “lead” on Nextdoor, McCammond opts to share more, including her contact information, occupation, interests, pets and family members. She's met neighbors who recognize her from the site, including one not long ago at a garage sale in the neighborhood.
“People know me now,” she said.
Across town in Springbrook, Carnahan feels the same, and the result is a new community garden. As more of her neighbors signed up for Nextdoor, Carnahan posted about the project and scheduled meetings. Now, on what had been an empty lot, there are 18 plots, all full.
Carnahan knew exactly one person in her neighborhood at the beginning of the year. She estimates she's met 50 neighbors since. She knows people who live blocks away and people from around the world. She's learned there are several stay-at-home moms who keep an eye out during the day, when others are away at work, and post to Nextdoor when, for instance, they see a dog on the loose in the neighborhood. She feels like she has a better handle on any crime happening in the area.
She's met Shyrl Nelson, a 68-year-old retired teacher who technically lives one subdivision over from Springbrook, in Woodbridge. Nelson heard about the community garden and wanted to get involved. She's not on Facebook or Twitter, and truth be told, would rather live without Nextdoor, too. But that's where a lot of day-to-day interaction about the garden took place, so she signed up.
It's taken some getting used to. Once, Nelson noticed weeds starting to pop up in the garden and figured she'd send a message to Carnahan so they could get the word out to others. Word spread more quickly than she intended.
“I guess it went to everybody,” she said of the message.
Nelson remains a reluctant user, though she gives Nextdoor credit for one thing.
“It's a way to communicate,” she said, “there's no question about that.”
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The new kid Nextdoor
Interested in joining Nextdoor? The first step is to register at nextdoor.com.
If your neighborhood site is already established, you'll be able to join after verifying your residence through one of various methods. If not, you can initiate the process of adding your neighborhood and recruiting others who live near you.
Nextdoor insists there is no plan to add fees or share user information. Right now, the social network is funded by investment firms, though the company's website suggests advertising — such as a “special offers” section for local businesses — is on the way.