Your dog has escaped from your backyard. You need to borrow a ladder. You're worried about a suspicious character who keeps showing up on your cul-de-sac.
These issues were once dealt with on a face-to-face basis between neighbors. Now they are increasingly happening on social networking sites with names such as Nextdoor.com, heyneighbor.com and Patch.com, among others.
Most of the sites serve as destinations for building a sense of community, sharing information and accomplishing goals. Launched 16 months ago, Nextdoor.com has distinguished itself in part for its diligence in identifying and verifying users as actual neighbors.
When signing up for the free service, potential Nextdoor users have to prove they live where they say they do by entering their address. Residency is verified through a phone call to a home phone or credit card information, or potential users can wait until the company sends a new-user postcard with a log-in code to their home.
The result is a private social network equivalent of a online community bulletin board. Everyone on the site uses his or her real name. There are no anonymous users and the site does not share user information.
"The goal is to give neighbors a sense of security so that they feel safe sharing things online that they would share offline," said Nirav Tolia, the 41-year-old founder of Nextdoor.
The San Francisco-based Nextdoor's popularity has spread quickly. To date there are 29 neighborhoods signed up in Sacramento and 31 in Davis. Nationally, the site has signed up 10,000 neighborhoods.
"Connecting with one's neighbors is about getting a great recommendation, like asking for help in finding a lost pet," Tolia said. "This is not creating an entertainment website. This is creating a website that is a real utility and one you can solve problems with."
Registered neighbors have used the site to get information on things such as baby sitters, garage sales, dentists and dry cleaners, neighborhood watch groups and what nearby properties have been listed for sale.
The site has been a boon to connecting people in Sacramento's Upper Land Park neighborhood, said resident Dan Hood, who joined Nextdoor more than a year ago.
"We started it in order to organize the neighborhood and to help the neighborhood with its identity as Upper Land Park," Hood said. "I use it to help neighbors become aware of the City Hall actions that affect the neighborhood."
The Upper Land Park component on Nextdoor has 235 households as part of the network. Hood initially walked the neighborhood, handing out invitations for the site.
"It was tough getting the first 10 to join after that it went exponential," he said.
Nextdoor is gaining momentum in major urban areas on the West Coast. In San Francisco, 90 percent of neighborhoods use the website, according to Tolia. In San Jose, it's 80 percent. In Seattle, more than 85 percent of neighborhoods have signed up.
Urban areas have more users who may not know their neighbors by name. In some cases, they may not know who their neighbors are at all.
A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center on neighborhoods established that 28 percent of those surveyed did not know any of their neighbors by name.
That fact spurred Tolia who was one of the earliest employees at Yahoo! to start Nextdoor. In developing the site, Tolia said, he wanted to replicate the old-fashioned neighborhood interaction of years past, when most everyone on a street knew each other's names.
That was Tolia's experience growing up in Odessa, Texas.
In addition to members, the site has attracted the attention of those who study how communities interact, such as Robert Sampson, a sociology professor at Harvard University.
"I find Nextdoor intriguing given the paradox that most people attribute to technology, wherein the sense is that the Internet has liberated people from a sense of place," said Sampson, who liked the Nextdoor model so much he's now a member of Nextdoor's advisory board.
According to Sampson, the global nature of the Internet led some to predict that people who use it would become less connected locally. However, in many cases, the opposite has taken hold.
"What was found is that people who are most wired are also the most deeply invested in their local community," Sampson said.
But not everyone sees sites such as Nextdoor, or social media, as the remedy for disconnection among neighbors.
"We tend to radically overestimate the power of new tools of communication such as social media," said Michael McQuarrie, professor of sociology at UC Davis. "They have a role to play, but analysis generally gets ahead of the reality."
McQuarrie said he believes people do not move to neighborhoods because they necessarily share the same interests with other people in that area.
"I highly doubt that social media can create a sense of neighborhood because social media is generally unsuccessful at facilitating connections that bridge lines of difference," McQuarrie said. "So what can social media do? Social media can be a very effective tool of communication among people who already have commitments to one another, or shared values."
One of the most promising aspects of Nextdoor is community safety. In many locales, users have asked that the site allow interaction with law enforcement. In November, the Ventura Police Department began partnering with Nextdoor on a virtual neighborhood watch program. The department has been keeping users updated on alerts.
"We think it would be valuable for users to have access to police information about reported crime and other things going on," Tolia said.
He believes hyperlocal connection is a growth business. It's an idea that many with deep pockets have confidence in. Nextdoor, a for-profit company, recently secured $21.6 million in private-investor funding that will allow the site to go global.
Some of that comes by way of Tolia being seen as a bankable entity; in 1999, he started (and later sold) the website Epinions.
Tolia believes Nextdoor can be financially successful, despite the fact that it's not yet making money.
"It's not that we don't think about making money or that this is a nonprofit," he said. "If we look at the sites that we use as role models Google, Twitter and Yahoo! all of those spent a number of years focusing on one problem, and that problem was how to create the best possible user experience."
Inevitably, ads, likely from neighborhood-specific businesses, may be part of the site, Tolia said.
"Even with 10,000 neighborhoods we feel like we're trying to get started," he said. "Once we make some progress on that we'll be able to focus 100 percent on how to create a monetization mechanism."
Nextdoor.com use in the region:
29 neighborhoods in Sacramento
31 neighborhoods in Davis
Top three neighborhood membership sites in Sacramento:
Upper Land Park
Top three neighborhood membership sites in Davis:
Call The Bee'sEdward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz..