Opinion by Gerald Trumbule
We started our Nextdoor group after the neighborhood's old Yahoo Groups moderator selectively censored posts to suppress opinions that did not serve her political purposes. I responded constructively by launching a neighborhood website and phpBB forum for free speech, but promoted ND instead due to the Nearby Neighborhoods feature and free email service. It's arguably still a great value for that. Unfortunately, I regret choosing ND now.
Leads are NOT overly powerful! We're basically just hosts that can sweep a few turds under the carpet. Also, ND treats us like we're obligated to uphold their fairly conservative social rules - never mind the diversity of our neighbors. ND favors some ideal model of civility over freedom of speech and folks being themselves. Sometimes, we'll write ND for help and receive a scolding instead. Folks at the bottom of this review page claim that Leads can read private messages; not so, at least not since Jan 2014.
Folks should realize discussion forum/email list mods usually have far more power than ND gives Leads. For instance, YG can hold public and private messages for approval by the mod, unlike ND. On ND, posts always go out by email and onto the web page/app before a Lead can stop them. Only the permanent record can be censored, afterwards, and the rules say only for abuse and SPAMing. Leads can't restrict, suspend or terminate members. ND shows anything but interest in providing the basic and standard mod tools we've long been asking for. ND has actually stripped Leads of useful activity statistics. There are no ads now, but they've told me that there will be some sort of accommodation for advertisers early this year. Overall, ND markets itself as being tailored for neighborhoods, but frankly, it's not. It's feature-poor in that respect. You might be better off with any of the available free web forums, a Yahoo Group, or *sigh*, even a Facebook page.
Any social venue is as good or as bad as it's membership plus leadership. It's true that there are bad Leads who make the most of what little power they have, and the method of choosing Leads is problematic. I am a very seasoned moderator (30+ years... remember The Bad Sector BBS circa 1983? I'm SysMouse), but my neighbors vary from timid to ogreish. I make the best of the hand I've been dealt, but I really have no idea how many are active any more, and I've tried some clever ways to find out. The bullies (HOA officers and their friends) have done a good job of shutting open discussion down.
ND has refused my requests to remove any of the troublemakers, but fortunately I seem to have killed them off with kindness for the time being. However, ND were happy to terminate several refugees I had welcomed to the group, at the goading of the bullies from our YG HOA. I can only imagine how they feel now, twice disenfranchised from our community! Fortunately, ND Staff respond very positively to respect, and I have gotten some exemplary help from Bobak, who has been criticized by others in the reviews below.
Leads are invited into a private "National Leads Forum". Theories vary as to what ND wants from the NLF besides a happy, pretty face to show their investors, but you can stick to all the rules and you can still be banned for being "off message" in various ways. I was banned after launching several realistic discussions regarding ND's "privacy and security theater". In a nutshell, anyone can create a fake account and mine the directory and messages for personal information. Many banned Leads have found their way to InsideNextdoor.com, a free-speech forum for us to continue being helpful to each other as Leads. It's open to members, too.
Now comes the really shocking part. I suddenly found my whole account suspended. Hours later I received the most chillingly cheerful email from an ND manager advising me that he would appreciate my cooperation by demonstrating the website's flawed security. For good measure, he'd disabled the other active Lead's account too. she'd never been in the NLF and certainly had never been in any conflict with neighbors or ND Staff. He said I couldn't get my account back unless I complied, but I refused this blackmail order. Since we were in the middle of organizing a neighborhood event, we were reinstated days later as regular members. A little later, we were reinstated as Leads, but with orders not to use ND as a platform to criticize (or expose) ND, and some of our Lead tools were disabled. We were cut off from several categories of messages (our Police and City civic and safety announcements). The restrictions apply to my other Lead and friend, too. She's the sweetest old lady you'll ever meet, and this experience has been a shock to her!
It really galls me that they've gone to the trouble of figuring out all these sneaky ways to hobble uppity Leads and suppress dissent, but they have no resources to improve the website. This control and restriction of free speech is not a side effect of having a shortage of manpower. The mgr described his dream of imposing an even more cloying civil covenant upon rewriting the website's Terms of Service Guidelines. I'm sure this is a social experiment doomed to fail. A social network has to accommodate people as they are, not try to change them or be so selective! I don't know if his personal practices are backed up by official company policies, but if they are, then ND is sick. I pray that he's acting alone and ND can be saved some day.
I may still be closely watched. All ND emails have tracking code in them. They know who opens their mail, when and where, and who forwarded something to who else. I and some of my friends are sent "surveys" from ND that have anonymity-busting malware embedded. I know my messages are being filtered differently from my other neighbors. What they get in their news-feed is not what I get in mine, though ND does not feature 'personalized' feeds like Facebook, etc. During and shortly after my blackmail experience, my emails appeared to be diverted to the mgr so that other ND Staff could not be reached directly. Any of my emails to help@nextdoor is answered by only a couple of people now, probably his private team, unless it's that they're *really* short of staff now! It's kind of futile, since it only shows me what they're afraid I could do. Fortunately for them, I'm a white hat and genuinely dedicated to my neighbors. The greatest irony is that I find myself in a similar Faustian Bargain as I was in a year ago in the old YG. I'm under unfair restrictions, for simply being off-message, and have to carry on with a sword hanging over my head. If I dare to step out of line, they boot me. But if they boot me, I have nothing to lose any more, and am free to do exactly what they're afraid of. Yes, ahem, I assume they will read this review and identify me.
What is Nextdoor ultimately up to? Data mining....? The signup process makes it painfully obvious that they're trying to get all of your private identification. Even if they don't retain it, their "partners" who "verify" it do. I don't think they sell it (yet) because I use a unique email on Nextdoor, and have gotten no 3rd party SPAM whatsoever. Their theory that using "real names" eliminates bad behavior is utter crap. Maybe they hoped to offer themselves up as a testbed for social experiments like Facebook has... all I know is that they're set in their ways unlike most other startups, have some strong goal in mind that makes them forge ahead without changing the things that require fixing, the environment is peppered with weird anomalies, and being the best neighborhood-oriented social venue is just in the title, not the features.
Tip for consumers: I wouldn't say outright "do not use Nextdoor", but you really should know what you're getting into. Avoid contact with Nextdoor Staff if at all possible. You'll have little control over who joins your group, and no control over their disruptive behavior. It's nice to be able to share messages with nearby neighborhoods, and it's wonderful to let ND pay the bill for all the emails.
On FaceBook, see Boycott Nextdoor.com