Jun 14, 2021

Axios Login

Sometimes we like to look back at headlines from past Logins. On this day in 1832, for instance, critics were raving about Samuel Morse's new telegraph.

  • The invention was such a success, AT&T (then just AT) had to cancel its unlimited data program a month in after overworked telegraph operators threatened to quit en masse.

Today's newsletter is 1,321 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Nextdoor, the next big social network

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network, has seen explosive growth over the past two years as home-bound users became more fixated on what was happening on a hyper-local level.

Why it matters: Such rapid growth comes with challenges. What was once a niche social network is now so popular that it's grappling with some of the same thorny problems plaguing larger networks Facebook and Twitter, such as content moderation.

By the numbers: Nextdoor says one in three U.S. households are on Nextdoor, up from one in five a year ago.

  • Last year, the number of daily active users increased 50% year-over-year, the company said.
  • Worldwide app downloads peaked in mid-2019, with more than 3.4 million downloads, per Apptopia. The U.S. makes up nearly 80% of its mobile app market.
  • Nextdoor also operates in Canada and 10 European countries, including the U.K., Sweden, Spain, Germany and France.

The big picture: Engagement on the site grew at a fast clip during the pandemic as the social network became a hub for local information about COVID-19, school closures and vaccinations.

  • Because users must join using their real names and verify their actual addresses, Nextdoor has generally managed to avoid harmful content like rampant misinformation and hate speech.
  • The conversations tended to center around carpenter recommendations, lost dogs and music lesson offerings — more a digital local bulletin board than a heated global debate.

Then the pandemic hit, followed by George Floyd's murder. Nextdoor's neighborhood networks became microcosms of national tensions. Political divisions, racial profiling and criticism of its content moderation practices seeped in.

  • For example, last summer the social network came under fire when some moderators removed Black Lives Matter posts and allowed racist comments to remain on the site.
  • Nextdoor also pulled its controversial "Forward to Police" feature that lets users send posts directly to local police, causing concerns that the tools aided racial profiling.
  • The site pledged to recruit more Black content moderators and provide bias training to all moderators, who are volunteers. There are now 120,000 community reviewers, who volunteer to monitor their neighborhood's discussions.
  • It also immediately removes certain phrases — such as "white lives matter" —that users have flagged as offensive.

Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar says the social network is fundamentally different from Facebook and others because it laid out clear conversation guidelines and has had content moderators from the beginning. Friar said she's also making "tough choices" when it comes to increasing engagement on the platform.

  • "We don't have to go build an army of people who have no context for the conversation. Our army already exists, and it scales as the platform scales," she told Axios.

The diverse nature of neighborhoods means that encountering different views is unavoidable, Friar said.

  • To promote civility, Nextdoor uses machine learning to detect potentially offensive or guideline-violating comments. It sends users a prompt — like a "kindness reminder" or an "anti-bias notification" — to encourage them to reconsider the post.

Particularly in local news deserts, Nextdoor fills a void. In many cities, local officials and agencies deliver information and messages directly to Nextdoor users.

What they're saying: Community members are good at flagging local events or figuring out what's happening on your block in real time, it doesn't replace verified news, said Elia Powers, associate professor of journalism and new media at Towson University.

  • "When it comes to trying to police misinformation and accuracy of content, you still need someone — preferably a paid community member at a local news outlet — who has a background in fact-checking," he said.
  • "A lot of what they're doing seems very much like Facebook circa 2013, using unpaid community moderators," said Powers. "It's a red flag."

Friar says Nextdoor has no intention of taking the place of local journalism but noted the platform can bring together civically minded people.

What's next: The company is trying to find ways to sustain the increased engagement — and revenue — as people emerge from the pandemic and leave their neighborhood bubbles.

  • For example, it is expanding the number of neighborhoods a user can belong to and encouraging participation from local businesses, schools, nonprofits and government agencies.
2. E3 struggles to adapt to online-only format

Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In the wake of COVID, the gaming industry is struggling to adapt its established in-person events to match the current needs — and technology — of the world, as Megan Farokhmanesh reports.

Driving the news: E3 is gaming's biggest event, but its venture this year into an online-only production has been rough.

Why it matters: The head of E3 called the show the industry's "center of gravity," a year after COVID forced organizers to cancel the event.

  • "What we heard last year from fans is that they loved being able to learn more about games, but they also appreciated the opportunity to be able to have these events in a concentrated period of time," ESA CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis said.

Yes, but: A virtual event may not offer the same opportunities to really try out new games, or the other benefits that come from an in-person gathering. But there was still plenty of news.

Among the highlights:

What's next: Next year's event will be a "hybrid" of digital and physical. "We're creating new experiences that we hope will transfer well to a physical E3 as well," Pierre-Louis said.

3. Google expands Workspace to all users

Google said Monday that it is bringing Workspace, its rebranded G Suite, to all users, including consumers and education customers. With Workspace, Google is trying to better integrate its email, chat and productivity apps.

Why it matters: Google has 3 billion users for its collaboration tools, up from 2 billion a year ago. Workspace is designed to compete with both Microsoft Office and a variety of newer upstart productivity tools.

"We’ve been on this journey of bringing these products closer together," Google Workspace chief Javier Soltero said in a briefing with reporters.

As part of the news, Google is also:

  • Evolving the Rooms feature within Google Chat to become Spaces, which Google describes as "a dedicated place for organizing people, topics, and projects."
  • Offering a new paid option for individual users who can keep their Gmail.com address while getting some of the company's enterprise features for $9.99 per month, with a limited-time $7.99 introductory offer.
  • Adding new security capabilities, including for businesses to protect their data using an encryption key that the company — and not Google — controls. An encryption option will also come to Google Meet in the fall.
4. Telecom wins battle over New York broadband law

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Telecom powerhouses won a victory in New York on Friday when a federal court barred the state from enforcing a new affordable broadband program that would require them to provide $15 internet service, Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: The court order sent a signal to other states that they will face an uphill legal battle if they copy New York's first-in-the-nation law.

Driving the news: A federal judge sided with telecom trade groups that sought a preliminary injunction to halt New York's broadband program for low-income households from taking effect June 15.

  • The judge noted the program could reduce annual net income by at least $1 million for some companies, as well as other arguments from the trade groups on their likelihood of success in the underlying litigation.
  • Trade associations USTelecom, CTIA, the New York State Telecommunications Association and other smaller groups sued in April, arguing New York doesn't have the authority to mandate broadband prices.
  • "While well-intended, the state’s law ignored the $50 monthly broadband discount Congress enacted, as well as the many commitments, programs and offerings that broadband providers have made for low-income consumers," the broadband association coalition said in a statement.

The other side: "We always knew big telecom would pull out all the stops to protect their profits at the expense of the New Yorkers who need access to this vital utility the most," Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement.

5. Take Note

On Tap

ICYMI

  • Add former White House counsel Don McGahn's name to the list of government officials and journalists whose smartphone data the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed from Apple. (Axios)
  • The U.S. government should end its practice of demanding user data from tech providers and then forcing them to keep those demands secret, Microsoft president Brad Smith wrote in an op-ed.
  • And speaking of Microsoft, the company really is putting out an Xbox Series X mini fridge. (GeekWire)
6. After you Login

A smiling horse stole the show in this couple's maternity photo session.