Nextdoor taking slow road to social networking

One of the most interesting startups in Silicon Valley doesn’t seem like an immediate contender for 21st century success. It doesn’t have a mobile app. It appeals to older users who might not have smartphones. It sends updates via email. And one way of joining up involves having the company mail you a postcard. You know, the paper kind with a stamp in the corner.
But Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods, is proving that there’s a large market for location-based information provided by a company that’s serious about online privacy. The company will announce Tuesday that it’s partnering with National Night Out to prevent neighborhood violence as it grows and signs up users across the United States, creating an interesting model for startup success.
The idea behind Nextdoor, which GigaOM wrote about at the company’s October launch, is that you use Facebook(s fb) to connect with friends and relatives, Twitter for news and information and LinkedIn(s lnkd) for career information.  But the company thinks there is room for a social network devoted solely to where you live.
“When I bought a house and got married and had children, all of the sudden the neighborhood is the nucleus around which you’re building your life,” said co-founder and CEO Nirav Tolia.
Nextdoor allows users to join a network dedicated to their specific neighborhood and fill out a profile to connect with neighbors in that same network. Neighbors can create profiles with the names of their family members, information about pets and interests, and photos of their house. They can message each other asking for babysitters, post about household items up for sale, crowd-source issues with public utilities or ask about lost dogs.
Part of what’s especially intriguing about Nextdoor is its exclusivity and commitment to online privacy. With most apps you hear about, it’s easy enough to go online, enter some information about yourself, and get started on the network in seconds. Not so with Nextdoor.
My neighborhood doesn’t have an established Nextdoor community, and if I wanted to start one, I’d need to find nine neighbors and have them all verify their addresses within 21 days. Otherwise, no Nextdoor for me. And to verify those addresses? My neighbors would need to either accept a call from Nextdoor to their a landline phones, verify their local address with a credit card, or have a paper postcard mailed to their address. You can’t exactly sign up in seconds.
“It’s definitely the tortoise versus the hare approach,” Tolia said.
But for a company that’s aggregating incredibly personal information, like the names and faces of your children and photos of where you live, an obsession with privacy and instance on verified information is understandable, and something you could see users appreciating.
“In the short term, it’s very painful,” Tolia said. “But in the long-term, it has been a very powerful platform.”
The slow sign-up process also addresses one of the biggest doubts at Nextdoor’s launch, which was whether people would use it.
So far, the approach seems to be working, with people creating Nextdoor communities in 48 states and 2,800 neighborhoods across the country. The company refused to provide any details about registered or active users, however, saying only that at the moment, around 20 new Nextdoor websites go live each day.
What’s the future for a clever startup that isn’t monetizing its service right now? Certainly partnerships with local governments and intitatives like National Night Out seem like a good fit, and position the company as a good neighbor-type service. But beyond that, there seems like incredible potential for making money off the localized personal data that the company collects. Tolia said he absolutely will not open the service up to political advertising, even though that would seem like a lucrative  and obvious partnership, because of the potentially polarizing affect. But Tolia said the inclusion of Yelp and Twitter-like promoted ads for local businesses is a definite possibility.
So it’s worth keeping Nextdoor on your radar — assuming you can find nine neighbors to help you check it out.
This story was updated Tuesday in two spots to clarify the sign-up process for Nextdoor.