Is it Kind Nextdoor?

JC Velten

1 year ago

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.

Nextdoor, a platform that lets you "tap into your neighborhood" just went public. Which means they now have access to the kind of capital required to take their vision of a connected neighborhood everywhere. We recommend taking a deep breath to do some fine-tuning to their app before that happens.

One could say that the company's 'secret' is based on the insight that people do not live online: they live in communities they're proud of, called neighborhoods. This very simple idea somehow went undetected for ten years by the social media giants, who'd rather have us live in their 'metaverse.'

One of a KIND

As they went public, the company placed a huge banner outside the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan which read:

"To cultivate a KINDer world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on."

This vision is further communicated by Nextdoor's choice of their stock ticker symbol: KIND

We're very happy to see a company that celebrates location and affinities grow to be successful, and commit to a happier society. I saw them work relentlessly for ten years to get to the NYSE and can't wait to see how they evolve their product. On this regard, there is very little that a new startup like Swim, founded last year, can teach a company like Nextdoor, founded a decade ago. But here are our two cents:

If you aspire to have a system that cultivates a kinder world, code for it. Some call it gamification, we call it product architecture because we believe it needs to become the DNA of your code... when you're serious about it.

Coding for Happiness

Last week, we wrote an article (Coding for Happiness) explaining some of the design choices we made to ensure Swim enhances the life of our users. After studying the subject of happiness in depth, and in collaboration with our first 1,000 users, we realized that form matters: the design of the app itself can contribute to outcomes such as addiction or freedom, FOMO or belonging, prejudice or inclusion. Furthermore, the happiness experts with whom we talked in the US and Europe confirmed that it's the "little things" that matter. This is why design for happiness - or for kindness, as Nextdoor aspires - needs to be mindful, because unintentional additions or omissions in the product architecture add up and shape the user experience and result in unhappy, unkind, and unfair apps (just ask Facebook).

Coding for Kindness

When Nextdoor chooses 'Kind' as their North Star, you should believe them. The company has their heart in the right place. I know because I know them - one of the founders, Sarah Leary, is my classmate and friend. And their CEO, Sarah Friar, saw first-hand what intolerance leads to when she was growing up in Ireland (check this great New York Times story on her). However, their product needs to catch up to their intentions. Too often, when I go into Nextdoor - or read the subject line of their daily emails - I see the opposite of kindness. I see ranting. I see anger. I see intolerance.

The company reacts quickly to the big issues. In the NYT article I mention above, Sarah Friar tells the story of how they coded changes to combat racial profiling: "We [Nextdoor] use research to slow people down, and we put a lot of anti-racial profiling steps into our product." This is fantastic coding. However, their app looks and feels like the giant social networks, with the same flaws in the 'little things' that result in the opposite of happy and kind, and are causing Gen Zers to abandon them en masse.

Here are some examples of the little things that add up at Nextdoor:

Every post has a like button: this inflates egos for some and creates anxiety for others. Do you really need that? I see ads after every 3 posts: I do not see ads after every 3 homes in the real hood. I see a counter of how many people react to each post: does a popularity contest lead to kindness? Yet I do not see a 'digital kindness well,' or anything like it, while I see a real one in the neighborhood made by the kids at the Alvarado Elementary School. Groups, a fantastic addition to gather people with similar affinities, are nowhere to be seen in the home feed. Why?

All little things that add up. I wonder whether I'd see more kindness and less ranting if their product team was given the mandate to code the company's purpose into the product. I can bet you they would invent amazing new features - they have a fantastic engineering team - that would bring the company's "world where everyone has a neighborhood they can rely on" closer to reality ...and make it attractive to GenZ, who have, arguably, never heard about Nextdoor.

In her NYT interview, Sarah Friar says that, "What I love about a neighborhood is it brings people back together with a collective purpose." Please make Nextdoor more of a tool to facilitate that, and less of a Facebook for places.

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