Monthly Archives: July 2012

Nextdoor: e-neighborhood networks


Sarah Leary,

I had an interesting conversation with Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor.

Sarah comes from having worked at epinions (with the other Nextdoor co-founder Nirav Tolia) and discovering how one could capture reputation and trustworthiness online (in terms of ratings) and how people thirsted to compete with one another to be helpful in their comments.

Nextdoor is now trying to localize social networks.  [A bit more at the bottom of this earlier blog post.]

Nextdoor’s approach is as follows:

1. Individual social entrepreneurs can apply to launch Nextdoor in a community.

2. The social entrepreneur fills out an application form and if he/she looks like they are serious about this and well integrated in the neighborhoods, they are invited to proceed.

3. The social entrepreneur self-defines their community (using tools that make it easy to incorporate parcels, census blocks, etc.).  Ideally a community is between 50 and 200 households.  And they are not allowed to choose geography that is already part of another active Nextdoor community.  And the social entrepreneur invites his/her friends to join.

4. The Nextdoor community is in a pilot period for 21 days, and if there are not 10 active users by then, the site goes dark and users are told that the site hasn’t achieved sufficient momentum.

4. Anyone joining can see a map of the “neighborhood” and see which houses have or have not already joined. Those on the site have the power to invite others in their neighborhood to join the site (by e-mail, postcard, etc.).  A lot of their growth comes from strong word-of-mouth.

They launched in October 2011 and are already in 2100 communities nationwide.  Surprisingly, they have found that in order for sites to be viable, it is less important that they get to some percentage penetration of the community but to get to a surprisingly small number of active users.

All users are verified (by phone, by postcard, by address from a credit card, or by neighbor confirmation) that they are in the relevant neighborhood.

As one would expect from social capital theory, they find that people do in general behave surprisingly civilly.  [This because participants are highly likely to encounter each other off-line, and those behaving dishonestly are likely to be ostracized or  sanctioned.]

Their original motivation for starting the site was to get individuals involved in civic issues, but they found that much of what people wanted to do was discuss crime, or get recommendations, or find local people to sell something.  But their anecdotal experience is that these exchanges help forge the social networks that can be activated when civic issues arise.  Moreover, they believe that these transactions help reinforce generalized trust of participants in their neighbors.

We’ll look forward to hearing about their lessons and what works well or doesn’t.  Obviously, it would be great if they and others succeed in building stronger neighborhood engagement for all the reasons noted in Bowling Alone: better health, lower crime rates, better performing schools and governments, and happier residents.

It remains to be seen what lessons they learn about how online social connections can be maximally used to spur and reinforce face-to-face connections as well.

Guest Post: Want to bridge? DISRUPT! (UPDATED 6/1/2013)

[Guest post by Patricia Brandes, Executive Director of the Barr Foundation. Brandes talks about the ways Barr has used disruption as a tool to spark bridging across difference among social change leaders – with clear positive effects for the leaders themselves, their organizations, and their city, but first a couple interesting videos about the Barr Foundation Fellows:

The first video discusses the network among  leaders, and the power of disruption (by fellows learning by exploring the less developed southern world) to accelerate relationship and trust building among members of a very diverse group.

The second video talks about the power of connectivity (social capital) – and what happens when it bridges boundaries of race, sector, geography.


Patricia Brandes post: I met Tom Sander in June at the annual meeting of Associated Grantmakers in Boston. The topic was social capital and Tom keynoted. David Crowley of Social Capital Inc. was there too, moderating a panel to which I was a last-minute addition (you can find David’s excellent roundup here on the SCI blog). I was invited after the Barr Foundation appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review  – in a case study on the Barr Fellowship (see “The Currency of Social Change”), which is a story about the remarkable return we are seeing in Boston from an investment in social capital.

In his remarks, Tom reminded us that social capital comes in two types – bonding (i.e., with others like me) and bridging (i.e., across difference). Typically, building bonding ties are easier. Bridging is hard. Yet, bridging is vital. More often than not, new ideas, new approaches, and new solutions to persistent challenges come from leaders able to break out of silos and “groupthink” of homogenous networks.  Bridging is also an essential capacity for urban leaders of the 21st century, who must cross boundaries of race and class to create community. This is what makes the Barr Fellowship so special. It is a tightly woven network of bridging connections. After seven years and four classes of twelve fellows each, the Barr Fellowship network represents a remarkable cross section of Boston. Its members are diverse in age, race, sector, geographic focus, and more. Few even knew each other before being inducted as Fellows. The few exceptions were those who knew each other from being on opposite ends of pitched battles over neighborhood projects, or funding, or politics. Now, they know and trust each other deeply, and Boston is reaping the benefits of their boundary-crossing collaborations. Just to name a few examples, there are Barr Fellows behind the scenes of two exciting new Boston Public Schools opening their doors this fall (the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School and the Margarita Muñiz Academy), and behind the new community garden that opened in the Bromley-Heath Public Housing Project last year.

The secret to forging these powerful, bridging connections? In a word…disruption.

The Barr Fellowship begins with a three-month sabbatical. In itself, this is a beneficial disruption for social change leaders, who typically have never had such an opportunity for personal growth and rejuvenation. As the 2009 report, “Creative Disruption,” noted, sabbaticals turn out to be highly beneficial to leaders’ organizations as well. Yet from the perspective of social capital, it is critical that each class of twelve Fellows spends the first two weeks of their sabbatical traveling together to the global south (for example, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Haiti).  In later, years, members of different Fellows’ classes come together for similar journeys – as this group who traveled together to Haiti in March, 2012:

Fellows Alumni group picture, March 2012, Haiti

Stefan Lanfer, who manages communications for Barr, traveled with an earlier group in January, and documented the trip here.

On these “learning journeys,” Fellows are immersed in experiences that open minds and hearts. They interact with social and environmental activists, who, despite scarce resources and great challenges, provide living examples that stir the imagination, inspire and confirm big aspirations, and bolster confidence for Fellows to achieve what they may never have considered possible. Conversations and connections happen among Fellows in many casual and unplanned ways during these journeys. A facilitator from Interaction Institute for Social Change also joins each group to provide more structured opportunities to debrief, reflect, and imagine together.

Barr has a detailed logic model (which you can see here) outlining our thinking for how this investment in disruption translates into big change for the leaders themselves, their organizations, Boston, and even the world. Here is the idea in brief:

When the boundaries are real and seemingly impenetrable, it takes disruption to get to authentic relationships. It takes authentic relationships to build trust. Only when you have real trust can people bridge across difference. And when you have a network of gifted leaders bridging across all kinds of differences, powerful change starts to emerge. This dynamic is best expressed in the words of one of the Barr Fellows, who shared this reflection on his first Barr Fellows learning journey with our evaluator, Claire Reinelt of the Leadership Learning Community:

We were able to open up to each other and state what we thought, what our fears were personally and professionally, where we thought we were going. That was fantastic! To have someone to whom you can say ‘I’ll call you at three in the morning,’ or ‘I’ll be over at your house,’ or, ‘I need some time to debrief, a mental health break,’ or ‘my spirits are low.’ Those are opportunities that were created. You can overcome any obstacle whatsoever if you have someone to fall back on.


Patricia H. Brandes is Executive Director of the Barr Foundation. To learn more about the Barr Fellowship, visit