US And Canada Report

Using technology to mobilize a community

Using technology to mobilize a community

An alleged hate crime had taken place in Manhattan Beach, California, a Los Angeles suburb six blocks from his home, and he wanted to do something to help, quick. Pham, the co-founder of Santa Monica based incubator Science, Inc. (Dollar Shave Club, Dog Vacay) was in San Francisco at the time, raising money for one of his startups, and the only tool at his disposal was his Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone.

So he started working it, sending out tweets on Twitter and using the Nextdoor neighborhood website to broadcast to locals. Pham helped organize a weekend candlelight vigil attended by 500 people and has raised over $27,000 as a reward to catch the person who committed the crime, from 268 individual donors. “These are amazing times we live in,” notes Pham. “Being able to do all of this via a cell phone.”

It started early Thursday when a 2:15 a.m. fire erupted at Pham’s neighbors home, an African-American family. Police suspect it was a hate crime. Pham is a heavy user of Nextdoor as a digital neighborhood watch service. In Manhattan Beach, a city of 35,000, some 8,000 locals are on Nextdoor. NextDoor calls itself “the private social network for neighborhoods,” and acts as a replacement for local posters on signposts.

The site suggests being used to get the word out about break-ins, ask for help finding a lost dog or simply ask for recommendations on reliable housepainters or babysitters. It’s Yelp for hyper-local services and events. Pham likes Nextdoor as a way “to get to know my neighbors a little better,” find good local services, and better yet–go beyond police alerts to get neighbors mobilized.

He subscribes to police alerts via the Nixle service, which simply reported the fire and noted dryly that there was something suspicious about it. Pham did some research, and found out what happened. A tire doused with gasoline was thrown on the doorstep in the middle of the night as the family and their three children were sleeping.  “You couldn’t get that in a police alert,” he says. “This is where Nextdoor really helps.”