‘Best of NextDoor’ account owner Jenn Takahashi on social media during social distancing

Screen Shot 2020 04 12 At 9.27.05 Pm

A good NextDoor post. // Courtesy @bestofnextdoor

Jenn Takahashi found a small self-care hobby. Now she’s famous for it.

“Good things happen when neighbors come together” is the tagline of NextDoor. If you’re unfamiliar with the app, it’s like Facebook but only for people that live in physical proximity to each other. In order to sign up, you have to prove your physical location, and only people in your area can see your posts or contact you.

L9jpkjms.jpg Medium

Jenn runs Best of NextDoor. // Photo courtesy of Jenn Takahashi

In the best of situations, this is a way to let folks around you know that you’re giving away furniture or that your dog has gotten out. In the worst situation, it’s a place for people to rant about how they’re afraid of seeing a stranger walking down their street.

It’s not always great when neighbors come together. But it can be incredibly funny from a safe distance.

The thing that introduced me to NextDoor, and got me to install it, is a viral Twitter account called Best of NextDoor. Folks around the country screenshot the weirdest and wildest posts from their neighborhood, and send them in to be shared. The person who runs that account is Jenn Takahashi. Jenn was just looking for something she could use to connect to her former small town life. Instead, she built something that the world seems to love, to the tune of 400k followers. Today she was even featured in the Wall Street Journal. Wowzers.

Seems like a lot of people have the same questions for her as we do.

We got a hold of Jenn to ask about what a local communication network like this means during quarantine, where suddenly proximity means heightened stakes. Does this make people better or worse? Are people using the app to do good? Or are we all cranky and devolving into stupid, stupid drama?

Only Jenn would know.


What prompted you to start Best of NextDoor?

I live in San Francisco, and I used to live in this super quiet neighborhood called Glen Park. I kind of grew up in a small town, and so Andy Griffith was my favorite show. I love the small-town drama. To this day, I still read Tracy—which is my hometown, just a couple of hours outside of San Francisco—I still read their police blotter. It gives me such peace, just because of the “crimes” being committed in San Francisco—like, one headline was about some woman that said she was scratched by a chicken.

Perfect.

When the police came out to investigate, she started hanging up on them, and then it turns out there wasn’t a chicken. She just made it all up. It’s just stuff like that—

What a thing to file a false police report about.

Yeah, so when I lived in Glen Park, at the time I was working at a stressful PR agency. No matter how stressful of a day I had, I would come home and I had a neighbor that would just complain about her garden gnomes. I guess someone was touching the garden gnomes or moving them around, so she would always be complaining, like at 4 pm on the dot.

She would always list the rest of the members of the garden gnome family that were so offended. It would always kind of remind me to not sweat the small stuff. I really, honestly can’t tell you why it fascinated me so.

I think you just did. Every part of that makes sense.

Good. Have you been to San Francisco before?

Many times.

We have a lot more problems than garden gnomes around here. I started Best of NextDoor for a little bit of levity during my day, but then, being in Soma, it was honestly depressing. My family started sending me submissions from back home in Tracy, in their neighborhoods.

You were nostalgic for smaller crime, for rural crime. You didn’t want big city crime, you wanted farm crime.

Yeah! I don’t want to hear about murders, give me the garden gnomes! Who wants to read about murders? So yeah, it’s funny because I never meant for this to blow up. I created this Twitter to organize all the stuff that my friends and family were sending to me. Also, I started it a couple of days before Halloween. I was procrastinating on this costume, so I never ended up getting a costume or anything because I was procrastinating the whole time, trying to sort through my friend’s and family’s screenshots. That’s kind of how it all started.

Do good things happen when neighbors come together?

Have you read Seahawks Cannon?

No.

[gasps] Brock, it is—oh my god. I want it on my tombstone. It’s probably the best thing to happen to Best of NextDoor. What had happened was, when the Twitter account had only two thousand followers, then I’d search the term NextDoor on Twitter, and that’s how I would find screenshots. This was before we started getting submissions. I remember I came across this one that was like, “NextDoor is so lit. I remember this one thread that actually caused all of my neighbors to go to a library and brawl.”

I’m not kidding you, I missed that entirely.

Okay, so I needed to get my hands on this thread, and again, I only had maybe two thousand followers on Twitter, but I kept tweeting and tweeting for help. Then I saw something that had to do with the Seahawks, so I was like, okay, probably over in Seattle. So, then I started tweeting to my followers, “If you’re in Seattle, please check your neighborhood, I need to read this thread before I die.” Magically, someone actually sent me the thread. It’s crazy. You mentioned all the screenshots and everything—this one, I live-tweeted it, and I think I did sixty screenshots.

 

It starts off with this one neighbor posting a photo of their dog in a bathtub, and they were saying, “We’re kind of upset because someone keeps firing a freaking cannon whenever the Seahawks score a touchdown, and it’s freaking out my dog.”

So then people started chiming in. Some were saying, “Well, what about people with other pets? What about people with PTSD?” Then one neighbor said something like, “You live in a big city, you should be used to dealing with big city problems like loud noises, no parking, immigrants…” then everyone was like, “Immigrants?!” and then it just spiraled from there until this one really sweet neighbor was just like, “You know what you guys, I feel like we should all be able to work this out. In fact, I’ve rented a room at the local library where we can all talk. I’m sure we can come to a conclusion that will make everyone happy.”

These people showed up, decked out in Seahawks gear, and they went into the library just completely ready to fight. So, then the police were called, they had to shut down the library, and then the cannon fired for the rest of the night.

Incredible.

It’s still firing, they still fire it. It’s a loud cannon. A loud cannon. [laughter]

It feels like you need to go take a trip to hear the cannon for yourself.

I do, I really do. I want to go to the library. I want to start a little tour. Like one of those little bus tours.

What have you learned about people? How has your outlook on the world changed, the longer you run this? 

I get submissions from all over the country now, and it’s so interesting to me that no matter how divided we are, there are things that we’re always on the same page about. It just fascinates me how there are these recurring patterns throughout the country. I think it was the reporter from The Atlantic who said something like, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat, no one likes dog poop on their lawn.”

So people have the same antagonists across the country?

I struggled with this in the beginning because some people would send me the worst of NextDoor, and I thought I should be posting this because it deserves a platform, but then again I tried to remember why I keep the account: to bring some levity back to Twitter. So to be honest, whenever I see any of the more dark posts, I just delete them. 

I had to remind myself in my head right now—because you were saying that you post the Best of NextDoor—and in my head, you have a Worst of NextDoor account. I was like, oh yeah, that’s actually the point of it. It’s supposed to be good things. I guess I confuse “bad” with “incredibly odd.”

Honestly, I’m a super-empath—this stuff drains me so much. So, my friend who took the handle for the worst of NextDoor so that people stopped sending it to me. But then he had to stop because he got too depressed [laughter], so now no one is using it.

I always try to keep it light—but there were times when I posted on Twitter, “Stop sending me photos of dead animals, it’s not funny.” You don’t know what you’re opening through these DMs, and especially right now with everything going on, it’s hard because I’ve been getting media inquiries asking if everything is all warm and fuzzy now. It’s not all fuzzy.

What is the pulse of the nation that you take through your viewpoint?

There has been a huge increase in neighbors helping neighbors. I think the first thing I posted—it actually took place in San Francisco—was someone saying that if there were any neighbors willing to go to the grocery store right now, please let me know, we’re young and healthy and we’re happy to help out.

It’s cool because if you look through the comments, you can see that people copied and posted it verbatim onto their own NextDoor, so it’s cool to see that domino effect. People are just being really creative in how they can help. For example, some people are turning little free libraries into little free pantries.

https://twitter.com/bestofnextdoor/status/1240445079048736768

Do you think that NextDoor is a more positive place right now because people can’t interact in the real world?

I have seen an increase in social distance shaming, so I think that that’s a good point. On one side, there’s less interaction in the real world. However, there are more people staying at home, which means the social distance shaming is working. But it’s still NextDoor, there’s still conspiracy theories, weird tips, people trying to lighten the mood with humor, and people helping others. There’s the bad stuff, but it’s just NextDoor amplified in this weird, crazy time.

NextDoor is constructed in such a way that it seems like an important app during COVID-19, since–

I actually don’t use NextDoor personally–

What.

[laughter] The neighborhood I’m in is just depressing.

Sorry, I’m just fixated on the fact that the thing that rocketed you to stardom is a thing that you don’t use.

Every time I try to download it like, “Maybe they’ve changed,” they haven’t. It’s so super depressing. I think that they came out with a help map or something, but I don’t know too much about it because I don’t use NextDoor!

Is one of the weirdest parts about what you read and see out there, how these conspiracy theories can sort of grow in a community in a way that Reddit wouldn’t affect a town?

Yeah. I usually stay away from the conspiracy theories unless it’s a funny exchange in a thread, and the only reason I posted a couple was because they were so ridiculous and I wanted to lighten the mood a little bit. One of the theories I saw was that COVID-19 was actually 5g, and we should be turning off our Wi-Fi at night?

That sounds about right. Aluminum foil hat stuff.

I would compare it to Facebook, but I don’t use Facebook that much either, I’m sorry! 

How do you not use Facebook either? Okay. Wow. Back to conspiracy theories on NextDoor.

We had one locally last year that was a rambling, week long adventure. People were insisting that women were being kidnapped by illegal immigrants in vans and sold into sex slavery. Not all over town, mind you, but just in this area called The Plaza which is literally a country club. It got so bad that local police had to come in and say that they’d had no reports of any of this and that it wasn’t true. That just got NextDoor people angry at the police, because “The police are just covering for the rich!” It was… it was a lot. 

One of my friends, she lives in Alameda, and she shared a similar conspiracy theory. I think this guy was – oh my gosh, this was so long ago—and it ended with a guy who checks water meters being arrested. 

I’ve read that NextDoor aren’t the biggest fan of your account, is that true?

Um…

You have a pinned Tweet about it, so I’ll work from that. It seems odd that they’d be mad at you. You’re not out there dunking on their product, you’re just highlighting how people use it. And in a positive light.

If I were their PR team, I would be thanking me. I would love me!

 

Yeah, you are the reason why I have the app. I wouldn’t have known about it without your excellent work and then wanting to jump into that terrible, great world myself. 

I only post the funny stuff. I’m not posting the racism that we all know is extremely rampant on NextDoor. It’s funny because I actually live [in close proximity] to NextDoor’s office.

Oh my God. You are next door to NextDoor. 

Yeah!

So we can just leave it as “You have a complicated relationship with them.” 

[laughter] Yeah, that works. 

Fitting that NextDoor would leave you having some drama with your neighbors, the actual NextDoor. Extremely meta. To wrap up, do you have any advice to offer to users, something to help them be better on NextDoor?

It’s just a really great time for communities to come together. For people who need help, I think that NextDoor and community boards are a great way to get help from neighbors and to be able to offer help. We should all take care of each other, and if this helps, it helps.

Categories: News