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Roseville unlocks the mystery of neighbors

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW
  • Star Tribune
  • May 8, 2012 - 11:14 AM

A year ago, Kathy Ramundt didn't know any of her Roseville neighbors by name. Now she's regularly in touch with 35 of them and the number is growing daily.

Ramundt met many of her neighbors through Nextdoor.com, a relatively new private social network that allows people living only within specific geographical boundaries to interact with and meet those who live nearby.

Already residents of more than 100 separate neighborhoods across Minnesota, including 22 in the Twin Cities area, are using the free service to talk electronically to their neighbors about everything from suspicious activity to next week's garage sale.

City officials in Roseville are so impressed with how the network works that last week it became the first municipality in the state to launch it citywide.

"I think this is neat," said City Manager Bill Malinen. "Residents will be able to connect and share information and ask 'did somebody come and try to sell you a whatchamacallit?' That is one of [nextdoor's] great strengths. The tool can help build community and bring neighborhoods together."

Roseville has divided the city into 15 neighborhoods that are based around parks and recreation constellations. Each neighborhood will have its own secure network. Residents can sign up to join their neighborhood network at www.Nextdoor.com.

Officials from the California-based network verify that a person lives within the boundaries of the neighborhood network they are attempting to join by sending a postcard with an activation code or doing a reverse look-up to find a resident's phone number.

Once approved, residents can sign on to pages created by somebody who lives near them. There they can post requests for baby sitters, buy and sell things, make recommendations about businesses and services, announce school happenings, and post photos and event notices. Ramundt said residents in her neighborhood have used Nextdoor to advertise bicycles and refrigerators that are for sale, and to simply introduce themselves.

"It think this is amazing," said Ramundt, who delivered 174 flyers to residents who live near her to tell them about Nextdoor.com and got 35 of them to sign up. "People want to connect, but they just don't know how."

Ramundt was so excited about how the site was working that she brought it to the attention of the city.

Roseville embraced the service because it will give the city another tool to broadcast information to residents, Malinen said.

"This is a tool that we can use to get messages about things such as emergencies, road closings, water-main breaks and car break-ins," Malinen said. It also allows us "to communicate [with residents] in a more informal way," a goal identified in the city's master plan, Imagine Roseville 2025.

So far, more than 200 residents citywide have signed up.

While residents can receive messages from the city, nobody at City Hall will be able to read messages or conversations that neighbors post on their private neighborhood sites, said Sarah Leary, Nextdoor's cofounder and vice president.

"We've invested a lot in the technology to create a trusted environment where people can talk to each other," she said.

Ideally those neighbor-bonding conversations would take place face-to-face, but research indicates that it isn't happening as much as it used to. According to a 2011 Pew Research study, more than 28 percent of Americans don't know the names of their neighbors and 29 percent know the names of only some of their neighbors. Leary said developers created Nextdoor to remedy that and to fill a void left by other forms of social media.

"I use Facebook to connect with friends and family. There is Twitter to get breaking news and LinkedIn for business contacts," Leary said. "If I walk out the front door and look left or right, I don't know people who live next door to me. This uses technology to bring people together in the real world."

Ramundt said it's working in her neighborhood. She said residents are planning a neighborhood block party later this month.

"I love this thing," she said. "It's ideal because everybody is on one platform. Send out a message and this gets to everyone."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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