Difference Maker

NextDoor could well be the social media app that saves humanity

September 8, 2017
Two women chatting in house backyard, one watering lawn with hose
Sean Justice

I finally found a social media app that restores my faith in humanity 75% of the time. It's as addictive as Facebook, better people-watching than Craigslist, more user-friendly than Reddit, and it can go whine-for-whine with Twitter. It's called NextDoor, and it will save humanity from itself. Sometimes. Here's what NextDoor will do for you. But first, what it did for me.

Three pecan trees hang over my yard and they drop their nuts all over the place. When they hit my roof they sound like gunshots and wake me up. When they hit the ground it's fine, until I go outside, which is like a first-world minefield.

I'm not much of a man's man, but I like to do yard work. It's especially fun and satisfying (don't know why) when I come home around 2 a.m. after a night of drinking. I'll plug in the string lights and grab a rake or some clippers, maybe the edger or the push-reel mower if I'm feeling punchy, and get to work. Pecan gathering, though, sucks and doesn't count. It gets in the way of yard work, but there are so many damn pecans all over the place I can't get around it.

(This is going somewhere.)

In my part of the world, suburban Austin, there's not much use for buckets of pecans. But this year I found out different. This was the year I discovered NextDoor.

If you haven't heard of NextDoor (or its newborn brother, Rooster) imagine Craigslist made love to Facebook. NextDoor delivers a running feed of want ads, job openings, rentals and sublets, alerts to recent break-ins, lost and found items, missing/found pets, eccentric rants, good questions, zoning information, inane questions but hardly any politics, carpool inquiries, curbside etiquette manifestos, volunteer opportunities, peeping tom sightings, days-long arguments over identifying obscure citrus trees, items for sale, Walgreens reviews, complaints about the amount of shade indicated by a freshly published blueprint for a new neighborhood pool, free philodendrons, people looking for friends, upcoming yard sales, and so on.

It's got its pros and cons. But you must check this app out.

I will convince you.

First, though, the pecans. On a selfish note you might not find very convincing at all, NextDoor helped me get rid of the pecans. One morning, after a particularly frustrating night of drunken yard-work, I put up a "free pecans" post, and that afternoon a stooped-over family of six (parents, three kids, and a grandmother) circled my front yard for two hours and picked it clean. They had buckets and bags, big reusable red ones from the Chinese shopping market a few miles north, and one of the kids told me that they gathered pecans on the weekends and sold them to make a little extra money. You can get a good price. They were poor. I felt pretty good about that.

And truly, a few minutes on NextDoor every day can lift your soul and more or less restore your faith in your neighbor. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be confused. You'll visit the "crime and safety" section where you'll realize there are way, way, way too many sex predators in the world, but you'll come away with a new and more visceral understanding of how the streets and buildings and homes around you look and feel to other people, how women feel about being in the same places you are every day.

That sounds corny, I know, but that's the real difference with NextDoor: It feels different. Unlike other social media platforms, it's focused on the world around you, on people and places that are physically close to you and to each other - things that everyone on there sees and knows and shares in a much different way than photos or videos or pithy posts. That sense of physical closeness to other human beings and the stuff you have in common is what keeps this app on the whole a weirdly positive and - yeah, I'm gonna say it - wholesome experience. Granted, they have you do some weird shit when you sign up. You have to verify your address, which you can do by postcard.

But you can also come home after getting screamed at in rush-hour traffic and find out these kinds of people also live near you:

Plus there's the practical stuff. NextDoor allows small pet owners the chance to save their small pets from area hawks, if their small pets happen to be outside while they're on NextDoor and the hawks are flying by at that moment.

And if you're feeling masochistic, you can always hit up the crime section and reassure yourself that yes, there are some real pieces of shit out there.

But the thing that keeps me coming back is the content that you couldn't find anywhere else but NextDoor. Here I give you NextDoor's crowning achievement: A 39-comment argument between neighbors about an unidentified citrus tree.

Loquat to loquat. May the circle be unbroken.

Try it out for a couple hours. Get some weird free shit. Make a quick buck. Find a new place to live. Peep on crazy people. Help someone out. Nothing beats a neighborhood, you guys. You can feel everything there.


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