Nextdoor Rodgers Forge

Christine Barker and Dora Jacobs started up the online community social network, Nextdoor Inc., in their Rodgers Forge neighborhood. (Photo by Steve Ruark, Patuxent Publishing / October 7, 2013)

The Rodgers Forge community is among some 7,500 communities nationwide, 75 in Baltimore County, that have embraced the social network, Nextdoor Inc., a website connecting a neighborhood to communicate online -- be it to issue crime alerts, seek recommendations, vent or complain, find lost items, sell or give away things, extend invitations, ask questions and get information on local meetings and issues.

Since May of last year, nearly 1,100 residents of Rodgers Forge have gone Nextdoor to issue crime alerts, seek recommendations, vent or complain, find lost items, sell or give away things, extend invitations, ask questions and get information on local meetings and issues.

They are using a free private social network established for the Rodgers Forge community, through support provided by the San Francisco firm, Nextdoor Inc.

Founded in 2010 and backed by more than $40 million in venture capital, Nextdoor Inc. allows people to create private social networking groups within their own communities free of charge. 

Nextdoor's mission is "to bring back a sense of community to the neighborhood," according to its website. "We believe in the traditional notion of neighbors as people who help and look out for each other."

Some recent posts range from seeing suspicious persons in the neighborhood, to lost dogs, to upcoming events:

"This morning at 6 a.m. I found a man sitting in the passenger side of my car going through the center console. In disbelief of finding him, I locked him in my car for a few seconds before he unlocked and ran out."

"Suspicious yellow van mystery solved: The 'scruffy man,' (as described by his supervisor) in the yellow van who has been parked on Hopkins Road part of the day yesterday and this morning is a county inspector."

"Don't forget Wine Night at my place on Sunday from 7-9 p.m. Bring a bottle of something under $10 and $5 in cash ... and get to meet new neighbors."

"I'm looking for donations for free Halloween decorations. I don't care what it is. I'll take it. The reason I am doing this is I am financially in a tight spot (I'm 14) and have run clean out of money."

"Urgent alert: Missing chihuahua named Taco. Foster dog, very scared. Last seen at Heathfield and Dunkirk."

Thanks to a resident who had seen the post, Taco was home in less than five hours.

The site has also been instrumental in the return of stolen property. 

"Nextdoor has become an indispensable resource," said Stu Sirota, president of the Rodgers Forge Community Association. 

Privacy is part of the deal. Access to postings is password protected and generally only available to residents who have verified their address is within the boundaries of the neighborhood. 

Nextdoor has spawned 7,500 private networks nationwide; of which 75 are in Baltimore County, including 11 in the greater Towson area.

"We have found that most sites hit a tipping point when they reach 50 members," explained Nextdoor Inc. spokesperson  Anne Dreshfield. "That's when conversations really start taking off and when members see the website become even more useful." 

Nextdoor Rodgers Forge, with 800 out of its 1,775 households members, is one the most established, thanks to residents  Christine Barker, who set up and organized the website and network after hearing about Nextdoor at a conference, and Dora Jacobs, who endlessly promoted it, and to Sirota, who made it his mission  to make Nextdoor the go-to resource in the Forge. 

Barker and Jacobs continue to monitor the postings on the network and verify addresses. And Barker has reminded users that lack of anonymity calls for civility. 

"Don't forget this is not a space that you are unknown," posted Barker. "You can be angry, you just can't be mean." 

Nextdoor's maxim is that the system works best "when all your neighbors are members." Jacobs took that seriously when she extended invitations and told every neighbor she met about it.

Since the service is free of charge and Nextdoor currently is generating no revenue, when does the free ride end? It doesn't, according to Dreshfield.

At this point, the $40 million plus funding from in venture capital is allowing Nextdoor Inc. to focus 100 percent  of its efforts on improving the service and introducing it to new neighborhoods.

The long term goal, she said, "is to figure out a way to generate revenue that provides value to our members as well as to Nextdoor Inc., "she said. But "we will never require members to pay to use Nextdoor." 

For further information, visit nextdoor.com/about_us.