CHICAGO — The swiftness with which NBC shut down the popular Web forum EveryBlock in February left a void for many city residents accustomed to discussing neighborhood happenings with other Chicagoans.
So when it closed, locals like Vincent Aguirre went looking for alternatives. In Aguirre’s case, he turned to an emerging site called NextDoor.
“Literally the day EveryBlock went under is the day I jumped on [NextDoor]," said Aguirre, 22, a Bridgeport resident. Aguirre is one of the leaders of the Bridgeport page — one of more than 100 sites in virtually every neighborhood in the city.
NextDoor hosts individual sites for each neighborhood — membership ranges from 50 people in West Lakeview to nearly 200 in Bridgeport, though the company wouldn’t provide specific membership numbers. And here’s the catch: Your address needs to be verified, you can only belong to the NextDoor site in your neighborhood and you have to use your real name.
“I really feel that their mentality of keeping the membership within a community is something that can be very useful, as opposed to EveryBlock, where you could join or look at any neighborhood,” Aguirre said. “In the short time I’ve been using it, I feel like I’ve connected more with people in my neighborhood.”
That’s a refrain heard often by the folks behind NextDoor, which operates more than 10,000 sites around the country, spokeswoman Kelsey Grady said.
“When EveryBlock shut down, we were flooded with requests [for neighborhood sites] because people felt very abandoned,” she said. “They need another source to connect with their communities.”
And while people are using NextDoor to get, for instance, recommendations for contractors or finding a lost dog, Grady said the sites are emerging as online neighborhood watches.
“It’s enabled a lot more people to participate in a neighborhood watch. It gives people an easy way to report suspicious activity to the entire community,” she said, adding the sites can send alerts to users via email and text. “We know of neighborhoods that have used it and stopped crime, and helped police apprehend criminals.”
EveryBlock refugees are still searching for suitable replacements for a site that provided everything from links to news stories to block-by-block tips, information and good old neighborhood gossip. EveryBlock used open-source data, scraping city-run sites to provide information on crime, street-sweeping and more.
A new site called WikiBlock is using the code willed to the public by EveryBlock to perform a similar function, although it appears to be in the beginning phases of operations. Representatives from WikiBlock could not be reached.
Another longtime site, CenterSquare Journal, opened forums on its site for readers to discuss happenings in Lincoln Square, North Center and other North Side neighborhoods. Publisher Mike Fourcher said the site’s events calendar generates lots of engagement between readers.
Even Reddit, the so-called front page of the Internet, has a front page for Northwest Side residents.
But none of the new crop of local networks has generated the type of neighborliness Aguirre has experienced with NextDoor.
“Just today I was messaging back and forth with a guy from Bridgeport [who] was one of the old neighborhood guys, who was telling me about how he grew up,” Aguirre said. “That would have never happened without NextDoor. I would have never met him on the street and talked about that.”