Pittsburgh partners with Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods

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Pittsburgh officials announced Thursday that they have entered a partnership with Nextdoor, a social networking site that connects people based on the neighborhood where they live.

The San Francisco-based company has been running sites in Pittsburgh for more than two years. It began in Lawrenceville and has expanded to include at least 66 other neighborhoods, co-founder Sarah Leary said at a morning news conference attended by Mayor Bill Peduto, police Cmdr. RaShall Brackney and others.

The site allows residents who have verified their addresses to post messages about block parties, missing pets, local crimes and other topics in a forum accessible only to others living in their neighborhood.

They can verify their addresses by providing a credit card billing address or the last four digits of their Social Security number, by requesting a reverse check if their phone number is listed in the whitepages, or by asking that a postcard with a pin code be sent to their address.

Entering a partnership with the site gives city officials the ability to post messages to specific neighborhood pages. They will be able to see people's responses to their posts but will not be able to view other conversations the residents are having.

Ms. Leary said the site is free to users, including the city, and that the site makes no revenue, operating partially with money generated by ads.

Cmdr. Brackney welcomed the site, saying officers in her station worked with residents on the site to track down a man accused of eight break-ins on the North Side and others elsewhere.

"I'm not going to suggest that you should don your Sherlock Holmes cap," the commander said. "Criminals, as I say, should no longer count on the citizens of Pittsburgh to fight crime in the traditional ways."

Mr. Peduto said he liked the site and encouraged the partnership because he felt, among other things, it aligned with his goals of incorporating newer technology into more parts of city government.

He equated the site to a "21st-century version of 'Won't you be my neighbor?' " -- a nod to Pittsburgh icon Fred Rogers.

But the site CEO is not without controversy. CEO Nirav Tolia, 42, of San Francisco was charged this week in connection with a hit-and-run crash in California in August.

The other driver in that crash, Patricia Motley, 50, also of San Francisco, filed a suit this week against Mr. Tolia claiming negligence and infliction of emotional distress. Her attorney, Joseph Brent, said she fractured two bones in her hand and has ongoing neck and back injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ms. Leary said the charges against Mr. Tolia have "nothing to do with the day to day at Nextdoor."

Mr. Tolia declined to comment.

Asked whether the mayor was aware of the allegations or had any concerns about them, spokesman Tim McNulty did not answer the questions and instead said: "The mayor's office isn't interested in tabloid headlines, but it is interested in a product this company creates to help make communities safer. This should be a valuable, free tool for Pittsburgh and its neighborhoods."

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published May 15, 2014 1:10 PM

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