The lights go out. Damn. Your wine glass spills its contents onto the tablecloth. Damn! You fumble around for a torch in the dark, then remember your phone has light so you grab that. Wondering if the power is out at just your place, you use your 3G to check Nextdoor (your private neighbourhood social network) and see Melissa from number 15 is also sitting in the dark, and so is Brendan from two streets over. Not just you then. Whew.

Nextdoor (currently only available in the US) is a private social network that members can join based on their home address which is checked through an automated phone call to your landline, a postcard to your physical address or other methods. You can communicate with your neighbours on everything from security issues (such as a burglary), to arranging babysitters, borrowing lawnmowers, local cafe recommendations or getting a referral for a good tradesman.

Launched in 2011, there are now 14,000 neighbourhoods established, and more recently the New York City has partnered with the social network for use during disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, fires or snowstorms to allow police and fire departments to post updates (120 other cities have done the same).

This is a great concept – so many of us don’t see our neighbours, and you might not know them very well, or at all. You don’t want to connect with the whole neighbourhood on Facebook, so having a location based private social network is a genius idea. There are times when you need your neighbours – earthquakes and natural disasters are one very topical example for New Zealanders.

Has anyone checked on Mrs Robinson who lives alone at number 39? The local supermarket is running low on stocks of batteries and bottled water. The black and white cat at number 24 hasn’t been seen since the quake, could you please check your garages? I got hold of the power company and they say another 6 hours before restoration for our area…!

This Techcrunch reporter tells her story of how Nextdoor changed her night time running habits after an armed robbery in her area. Nextdoor has recently launched an iOS app, increasing the accessibility of the service, however they removed the option to open a new account using GPS (as this doesn’t verify your actual home address, just your location) for privacy & security reasons. There is also a text message function which allows you to notify your neighbours in an emergency or for urgent communications. PandoDaily reported an incident where this was used.

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The demo site gives a good feel for how the service operates.

What we need in NZ is a software entrepreneur to partner up with the government, NZ Post, NZ Police and the local councils to deliver a service like this.

It’s the modern day equivalent of Neighbourhood Watch.

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