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Nirav Tolia launches Nextdoor, private social network for neighbors

October 26, 2011 | 12:04 pm

Nextdoor

Do we need a Facebook for neighbors?

Nirav Tolia says we do.

He's the founder and chief executive of Nextdoor, a free private social network for neighborhoods across the country that launched Wednesday.

"Even though social networks are completely ubiquitous, I didn't see a social network for one of the most important communities in our lives: the neighborhood," Tolia said in an interview this week.

Tolia says neighbors have lost touch with each other. He points to a 2010 study from the Pew Research Center that found that 60% of Americans didn't know the people who lived near them.

Tolia says the new service is at the intersection of two major Internet trends: social networking and local. He has been testing the service in 175 neighborhoods in 26 states.

Nextdoor gives neighbors a Facebook-like forum to stay connected. They can get recommendations for plumbers or babysitters, find lost pets, sell or give away stuff, organize block parties or just vent about barking dogs or inconsiderate neighbors who don't pick up dog "waste."

To join, you have to prove you live in the neighborhood and you have to use your real name. Search engines are not permitted to index the information in the neighborhood networks to deter information from leaking onto the Web.

Tolia doesn't want to dish about how Nextdoor will make money but the plan is to run advertising (such as selling businesses access to certain ZIP codes) and connect people to deals with local businesses.

"We are not fans of bombarding people with pop-up ads or banner ads. And we are not going to sell people's information," Tolia said.

Other sites have tried and failed to crack the neighborhood market. People are leery of depending on a site that could disappear along with all of the information on it. They instead depend on e-mail lists or Yahoo groups.

But Tolia says the time has come for a better solution. He says a successful social network for neighbors simply could not exist before Facebook.

Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist at Benchmark Capital, which funded Nextdoor, described Nextdoor as a "pivot." Tolia's team was originally working on an online sports almanac called Fanbase.

Shortly after launching Nextdoor, "we could see latent demand for this type of network," Gurley said.

Venture capital firms Benchmark Capital and Shasta Ventures and private investors including Rich Barton, the co-founder of Expedia and Zillow have invested an undisclosed sum in Nextdoor which is in San Francisco and has 22 employees.

Tolia has some cred in Silicon Valley. He started Epinions during the dot-com boom and contributed to the wave of user-generated content that washed over the Internet. He sold Epinions to Shopping.com in 2003. EBay later bought Shopping.com in 2005.

Tolia has also had his share of controversy. He admitted to getting too creative with his resume. His former co-founders also sued him, alleging they had been cheated out of millions. EBay settled the suit.

Tolia says he has put those episodes behind him.

"That was a long time ago," he said. "I've learned some important lessons."

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-- Jessica Guynn

Image: A screen shot of a video demoing a Nextdoor profile page. Credit: Nextdoor via YouTube

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