Will the Local Social Network of the Future Be More Like Facebook or Twitter?
When you smell smoke or hear sirens and want to know what’s going on, when you need to borrow a ladder, when you wonder why a local store shut down, the people who can help you are right nearby. It’s a matter of finding and reaching them.
Even for a hermit like me, it seems evident that there are local social opportunities beyond deals and check-ins. It’s an area ripe for social Web and app development.
Today, a start-up called Nextdoor launches an authenticated network of social networks for neighborhoods. The service is utilitarian and carefully focused on fostering small private communities.
Nextdoor CEO Nirav Tolia pitched his site to me like this: You have Facebook for your friends and family, LinkedIn for your business network, and Twitter for your interest graph. But what about your local community?
Nextdoor itself is kind of like Facebook, which started out requiring student users to authenticate with their .edu email addresses, and still requires real names. The Nextdoor site is built to be a safe haven for sharing personal information with a small, relevant audience, and it verifies that users actually live in a neighborhood, using postcard codes and phone listings.
But do you really want to share so much of your identity with your neighbors? And do you want to depend on a site like Nextdoor reaching critical mass so that you can talk to people who live down the street?
Another local social start-up, Blockboard, is taking a different approach. It’s more like Twitter, where users can represent themselves however they want. It’s also focused on mobile, and has so far only launched in San Francisco.
Blockboard’s authentication is much simpler than Nextdoor’s. The first time someone uses the Blockboard iPhone app, it validates via GPS that they are located in a particular neighborhood. (Once they’re registered to that community, they don’t have to be physically there to post.) Users usually use pseudonyms.
Blockboard CEO Stephen Hood — whose team comes from the laissez-faire community sites Delicious and Craigslist — said he thinks real identities aren’t that important to communicating local information like event postings, apartment listings, and lost and found.
Plus, keeping local information private is a bit of a red herring, Hood argued. “People aren’t interested in pretending to be in neighborhoods they’re not in, because the content is not relevant,” he said.
Hood thinks a successful local social network must start on mobile devices in order to become a resource when people are out and about in their neighborhoods.
And maybe someday, if all goes well, those local social network users may put down their phones and actually talk to each other.