Seattle tech investor Rich Barton has another project, which he tested at his home in the Washington Park neighborhood.
Called Nextdoor, it’s a new platform for creating neighborhood Web sites that function as bulletin boards, newsletters and notification systems. Neighborhoods can use Nextdoor sites – which it calls “private social networks” – to do things like post items for sale, look for a babysitter and organize events.
It’s kind of like a neighborhood version of Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration suite.
Barton – a Microsoft veteran who led Expedia, co-founded Zillow and is now a venture capitalist – was prompted to try Nextdoor by its founders in San Francisco. They tried “quietly, but I didn’t get it,” Barton recalled.
Finally Barton and his wife, Sarah, tested the service in Washington Park, Barton was convinced and put his own money into the startup, one of five or six he’s involved with now. Also investing in the company was Benchmark Capital, the Menlo Park, Calif., venture firm where he’s a partner.
“Seeing it is the greatest way to get sucked into it,” Barton said. “It is a truly useful as well as emotionally appealing way to connect with your neighbors.”
In one test, Barton used the site to unload a MacBook Pro that he no longer needed after buying a new one. The site connected him with a neighbor who runs a yoga studio in Madrona. They worked out a deal – a year of yoga for the laptop – and they closed it over a glass of wine at his house.
Nextdoor is free to use. It plans to make money eventually by adding offers to the site, such as referrals to contractors or real estate agents.
It’s among numerous Web ventures pursuing the market for hyperlocal services and advertising – a space that Zillow staked out with its real estate value and mapping services.
“Local, social and mobile are the three big vectors of innovation right now,” Barton said. “Nextdoor really hits the local and the social well. Additionally it’ll be used mobile-y as well but it’s not primarily a mobile application.”
One differentiator is the privacy controls that Nextdoor applies. Information shared on the neighborhood sites isn’t broadcast or shared broadly, as on social networking sites – they’re mini social networks accessible only to participating neighbors.
The privacy of the neighborhood sites is key to acceptance. Eventually they could be connected somehow to outside services such as Facebook or Craigslist.
“We’ve talked about it but there’s no explicit plans for that right now,” Barton said, adding that the company experimented with Facebook Connect but users wanted a separate registration system for their neighborhood sites.
Zillow seems like a natural partner, to add mapping and property information to the sites.
“We’ve certainly chatted with them about it,” Barton said. “There certainly could be some interesting points of intersection going forward.”
Barton said neighborhood penetration so far has been “pretty good” with around 25 to 30 percent of neighbors participating in the 150 or so neighborhoods in 25 states where the service was offered in a pilot program.
Today the service is opening up for anyone to use across the country. To start a neighborhood site, someone needs to become the “founding neighbor” and define the boundary. They need to invite at least 10 neighbors to get the site started.
Nextdoor was started in 2010 by tech startup veterans including Chief Executive Nirav Tolia, a Yahoo veteran who co-founded the epinions.com shopping site. It has about 15 employees in San Francisco and backing from Benchmark, Shasta Ventures and private investors. Barton said it’s likely to seek another round of funding in about a year.
A few more screenshots: