/Nextdoor launches in Canada, promising a more intimate, neighbourly social network

Nextdoor launches in Canada, promising a more intimate, neighbourly social network

A new social media platform that offers a hyper-local alternative to Facebook is coming to Canada this week.

Nextdoor will formally launch on Monday after an early-access beta test that the company says saw tens of thousands of Canadians sign up.

Instead of connecting people with friends, the app groups participants by neighbourhood — users must confirm their addresses, either online using a bill or via a verification code that can be mailed out.

We’re in the business of local

Nextdoor’s chief executive, Sarah Friar

Nextdoor’s chief executive, Sarah Friar, said the platform is looking to provide a more intimate and local alternative to social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

“We’re in the business of local,” Friar said in an interview with the Financial Post. “I don’t actually love the phrase ‘social network’ because I think it brings with it so many negative connotations these days. So we’re much more of a local network.”

Users are identified by their names and addresses and can only post within their own neighbourhoods, something Friar said made for more respectful behaviour.

“When you’re on the platform, your name and your address is very clear,” she said.

“We think that makes people quote-unquote their better selves.”

Friar said that Nextdoor also institutes systems such as “kindness reminders” and other measures to make the tone more neighbourly.

Nextdoor is already active in 11 countries, and while the company won’t disclose the number of users, they say they have 247,000 distinct neighbourhoods.

Within the tech world, there’s plenty of talk about the changing face of social media, and the idea that people have been disillusioned by the toxicity of Twitter and Facebook, or the pressure to be cool and perfect on Instagram.

In response, Facebook, and its subsidiary, Instagram, have enthusiastically embraced formats such as “stories” — posts that disappear after 24 hours — because they’re ephemeral and intimate, and the social media giant is emphasizing private encrypted conversations in a so-called “pivot to privacy.”

The trend toward smaller groups, and fewer mass public posts, is something Nextdoor is hoping to tap into, by limiting the visibility of any given post solely to neighbours.

“There are these massive macro trends in our favour, and it’s now grasping how we lean into them and really build something that has purpose and meaning, at a time in the world, when I think the world is craving it,” Friar said.

“We didn’t have the crazy growth of, say, Facebook, but we’ve had this very slow, steady rise, and at a certain scale it starts to compound itself.”

The social platform hasn’t been entirely free of controversy.

Nextdoor has been forced to build technical systems to combat racial profiling because it found reports of suspicious activity in white neighbourhoods often targeted visible minorities.

There was also an incident in Seattle where neighbours got into an online dispute over a cannon which would make a loud noise and scare dogs in the area every time the Seahawks football team scored a touchdown. The dispute got so heated that one resident booked a room in a local library to air out the grievances, only to see a physical fracas break out.

Friar is eager to emphasize the potential benefits of small, local community networking, though.

For one thing, it has potential for small businesses and public authorities who can target their messages to specific areas, or even individual streets.

It’s also good, Friar said, for making real human connections — the kind of thing that people used to use social media for, before it got big and ungainly.

Such as maybe a couple neighbours getting together to walk their dogs.

“I just saw, actually, an advert for another platform that shall remain nameless, talking about their group around dog walking, and they were really proud that there were 547 people in the dog walking group,” she said. “And I’m like, have you ever walked a freakin’ dog? If you have five of them, you’re screwed. So the idea that you’re going to have 500 dogs on leashes, that would be pandemonium.”

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