I recently heard through the grapevine that a thief made a run through my neighborhood grabbing valuables from cars. He had dumped items he couldn't sell quickly for cash, though, and a local police officer had a stash of these found items in his car. If I’d been a victim of these small crimes, I had only to call this officer and, hopefully, reclaim what I’d lost. The grapevine in my neighborhood has become so efficient these days that I heard this information within hours of the thefts even though I was traveling when it happened. How? My neighborhood recently joined NextDoor.com, a social network that connects people to their own neighborhood.

The technical tools at the site are awesome. With a few clicks and a jotted note, I can let my entire neighborhood – but not strangers outside my neighborhood (or nearby neighborhoods if I choose) -- know if my dog goes missing, if I’m selling a car or renting an apartment, or if I want to invite everyone to an event. I can set up small groups within the neighborhood to start a book or running club. And my kids can just as easily announce that they are willing to babysit or mow lawns or find out about neighbors looking for that kind of  help. And, because the site verifies every member, I don’t have to worry that my daughter will be approached by some creep on Craigslist if she advertises her babysitting services online.

I've been hearing how much people like NextDoor.com for the last year or so. One woman I spoke to recently signed her kids up for summer activities and, after everything was good to go, learned that she couldn't get the time away from work to drive the kids. It was just a few hours a week so not a very appealing job for someone looking for real summer work. But within a few hours of posting her dilemma at her local NextDoor.com page, a neighborhood teen – home from college for the summer – contacted her and the problem was solved.

My neighbors resisted efforts to organize, though, until very recently. An ancient email list was already up and running. And, though it was not nearly as effective and didn't let people create subgroups or post announcements to nearby neighborhoods, it was working well enough to keep people from feeling the need of something else. But suddenly, for reasons that are a mystery to me, our NextDoor site took off. And in that short time, I’ve met (or logged on and discovered names and faces to go with houses) a dozen neighbors I barely knew before. I've learned about rental properties, goods for sale, and that spate of thefts and what to do about it.

In fact, as soon as I’m done writing this, I plan to wake up my perpetually asleep teenager and help him post an announcement offering to mow lawns. He has already asked people we know and gotten nowhere. But I'm sure that if he widens the net to include our immediate neighbors (even those not in our current social circle) and adjoining neighbors, he'll soon be busy. Hopefully that will solve his cash-strapped summer problems without necessitating that he don a hair net and work a deep fryer.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com.

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