When The World Already Has Facebook, Does It Need NextDoor?

As regular readers of this column are painfully aware, I’m a student of how, and whether, social networks are being used by the normal people who make up my non-work life. You know who they are. The people who don’t know what Facebook Exchange or Promoted Trends are – and don’t hang on Mark Zuckerberg’s every word – but actually do real-world things, like go for a bike ride or weed the garden.

In other words, people who are very unlike you and me.

So I was curious when a guy who lives a few blocks away asked me in late March to join NextDoor, a social networking start-up that pledges to unite people online based on their geography, in private online communities. Of course, I signed up, not out of any urgency to get to know my neighbors better, but to study it. It has places to post items you’re giving away or selling; a classifieds section; a recommendations section primarily for local businesses; a crime and safety section; and so forth. It’s quite hyperlocal at a time when hyperlocal is all the rage. But my kneejerk reaction to all this – proven out in the near-term, by the lack of activity on NextDoor – is that for all its neat features, it just isn’t necessary.

We have it already – if in a somewhat haphazard fashion – on Facebook. In the town where I live (Pelham, N.Y.), our “NextDoor” is comprised of a series of intertwined Facebook groups. They include Pelham Crimestoppers, Friends of Pelham Schools, and the major domo of Pelham groups, Moms of Pelham, which is most commonly referred to by the abbreviation “MOPS.” (No, I don’t know what the “s” stands for.)

Even if MOPS is the clear leader, at almost 900 members and counting, each of these groups has played a major role in outreach and communication, depending on the news at the time. Crimestoppers was indispensable last year during the months when an armed gunman got in the nasty habit of holding up commuters walking back from the train at night; Friends of Pelham Schools served as the focal point last year when some parents were urging a rethink of the elementary school curriculum; and MOPS reached its apex during Hurricane Sandy, when people shared information on what gas stations had gas, and offered up their spare outlets and generators once power was restored.

MOPS is the best exhibit for why NextDoor just isn’t necessary. Scanning it quickly this morning, I found:

  • A discussion on last night’s edition of “Wife Swap,” which featured a Pelham Mom.
  • A post asking for suggestions on good party favors for a birthday party.
  • Several requests for babysitter recommendations.
  • A query about whether anyone had a used bike.
  • A request for a children’s car seat to help a family whose home burned down in a neighboring town.
  • A shoutout to MOPS for helping several cats get adopted by local families.
  • A reminder from a local ballet studio about registration.

As a social media wonk, I love the diversity of this community, and the fact that it has become the go-to for just about anything local. As an aside, I should point out that it has incredible, and almost completely untapped, marketing opportunities for local businesses.

But what really makes it work isn’t unusual technology, or even the people who started it. Its true success is critical mass – and that’s where the NextDoors of the world fall flat. Even though Facebook is the one-size-fits-all of social networks, it is also surprisingly malleable. Put the whole word in there, and the whole world will find ways to split into groups; which means that if your personal whole world is on Facebook, that’s where you will establish your group.

Facebook, does, of course, have the technology for grouping to happen, but it’s not front-and-center, the way it is for something like NextDoor, or, Google+, which I thought, at one time, could take serious market share from Facebook because it was built from the ground up as a group-driven network.

I was wrong; instead, Facebook’s growth continued chugging along, passing one billion members, in a way that would seem to be the antithesis to grouping. Don’t let that big number fool you. Just as Manhattan seems to be one huge jumble of buildings and people, anyone who has lived there will tell you it’s actually a bunch of surprisingly small micro-neighborhoods. When there’s a dry cleaner only a block away, you wouldn’t think of going to the one four blocks away. And so it is with Facebook; if everyone’s there, why go to that other social network that’s a few clicks away

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7 comments about "When The World Already Has Facebook, Does It Need NextDoor? ".
  1. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion , May 3, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.
    We have a woman in our "next-door" area, only a few fields away, who has created a pages for our county, several local events and networks other posts by other local pages into those which is giving our little town a pretty effective "news-tree."
  2. Walter Sabo from SABO media , May 3, 2013 at 6:47 p.m.
    Did we need Facebook? We had My Space. Did we need FOX NEWS, we had CNN.
  3. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International , May 3, 2013 at 6:47 p.m.
    What a great post Catharine. Succinct and correct in my view. Although I post comments to other social media sites this is by way of automatic direction programs. Where I 'live' to interact is Facebook and I don't need to jump across to other platforms. Not yet anyway.
  4. Michael Shepherd from The Shepherd Group, Inc. , May 4, 2013 at 2 a.m.
    As social networks continue to proliferate (too many solutions addressing fabricated needs), the familiarity of Facebook makes it increasingly magnetic. Kudos to Catharine for shining a light on how difficult it is for other online communities to lure its denizens away.
  5. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , May 4, 2013 at 10:38 a.m.
    One problem with Facebook is that each account only has one personal, but real people have multiple roles. I hate it when people publish too much work stuff on Facebook, or too much family stuff on LinkedIn.
  6. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost , May 6, 2013 at 10:57 a.m.
    Hi all, Good to see a discussion going on here. A couple of comments I want to respond to. The key concept here is critical mass. So while it's true Walter that the world is full of a steady stream of emerging media properties, like, ick, Fox News, most of them don't require all of your friends to come with you for it to be a good experience for you. You can unilaterally decide to switch cable networks and it will have little effect on your enjoyment of it. True, we did all leave Myspace, but let's not forget that at its peak, Myspace was about 1/10th the size that Facebook is now. It wasn't a heavy lift. Bailey, I haven't had any of the problems you describe with the Facebook groups I've described. They are invite-only for one thing, and we're a small town, people respect each other. Also, just because I'm the member of a Facebook group doesn't mean that I'm also Facebook friends with them, so I only hear from them when they are sharing within the group, and that content isn't about what they ate for lunch. Again, it comes down to critical mass. For me to get a lot of Nextdoor requires all of the activity and connections currently found on Facebook to make the shift, and there's no real incentive to do so. Thanks for commenting, everyone! Cathy
  7. Glenn Ross from American Cancer Society, High Plains Div. Inc. , May 7, 2013 at 12:59 p.m.
    So you belong to the segment of people that really wring out Facebook for all its worth. Good for you. However, there are other segments, for example those people who only use Facebook for close friends and families. These people, such as those in my neighborhood are not as Facebook fluent and do prefer to use Nextdoor to keep in touch with the 'hood. Someone introduced Nextdoor to us about a month ago and I'm seeing people sign up who never participated in our Yahoo Newsgroup and who would never friend neighbors they aren't close to on Facebook. @Bailey Tucker is right, they perceive it to be more personal in one sense and more private in another. Just because you don't perceive Nextdoor as offering value doesn't mean that's true of everyone.