This is interesting. And infuriating at the same time.
In as much as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg generally proves himself both likable and capable (you can’t really argue with a billionaire who walked to work along with everyone else on a freezing-cold December morning during the transit strike), he’s not one to opt for multiple vendors performing the same service when he can just choose one and sign it into an exclusive, citywide contract.
Per an article over on Wired, Bloomberg has recently blocked attempts from vendors such as Airbnb, Uber and RelayRides to work inside the city, instead opting for Nextdoor to create what will essentially be a social network for the city and will convey information on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Once complete, Nextdoor’s social network will provide information for the New York area’s 1,800+ individual neighborhoods across all five boroughs. Residents will be connected based on their verified addresses and see themselves “fully integrated with New York government departments, to be used by police, fire, utility and other agencies.” And, like a Parent Teacher Association group e-mail on steroids, the service will update residents as to power outages, construction notices, traffic accidents, inclement/severe weather, and other possible delays.
Not bad for a three-year-old Silicon Valley startup that recently raised US$40 million in venture capital from groups like Benchmark Capital and Greylock Partners, and has forged similar contracts with 120 other cities, including Dallas, Denver, San Diego and San Jose.
Still, there’s room for contention. Not that Nextdoor provides a lackluster service, and users will still have to sign up to be part of this new effort, but there’s plenty to be said for healthy competition in this realm. Other vendors could have brought something extremely interesting to the table, and instead of giving Nextdoor exclusivity, Bloomberg could have presented options that residents could readily sign into for their city information and updates. Granted, Bloomberg’s business instincts will probably always point him toward the most cost-effective vendor for the city, but there’s never been any harm in updates coming from more than one concentrated source.
Where does this leave software developers, especially from the startup or open-source environments? Perhaps in the position of seeing if they can do Nextdoor one better. Yes, Nextdoor will be putting between eight and 11 “field organizers” in New York to build this new social network, but it’d be nothing short of amazing to see a group (or collection of groups) that hail from the Five Boroughs do Nextdoor one better, see where Nextdoor falls short, and offer an even better service from the perspective of people who were born in, raised in and love New York, have figured out a better way to disseminate the information New Yorkers truly need—embedded advertising be damned.
Bloomberg has thrown the gauntlet, and there may be room for something that much better to emerge out of it.
Let’s see what happens.