here. " /> Matt Baume is a writer in San Francisco and has written for NBC Bay Area, SFist, the San Francisco Appeal, and his own Send him Fabulis points here. " /> Matt Baume is a writer in San Francisco and has written for NBC Bay Area, SFist, the San Francisco Appeal, and his own Send him Fabulis points here. ">

Why Fabulis Iz Heer To Stey: The New Kid on the Gay Social Networking Block

Their name’s mispeld, The Awl called them “retrograde,” their dancing-gays video missed the mark, and nobody’s seen their actual product yet. And judging from the results of a sneaky trick that we pulled during its beta launch, is going to be a hit. Fabulis made a name for itself a month ago, when Citibank inadvertently did them the favor of shutting down their business account in a move that seemed suspiciously homophobic. Gay blogs freaked out, Citibank backed down, and Fabulis won a PR coup without even having to reveal what the soon-to-launch site actually does. So what does it do? Er, well, uh, hm. Nobody’s totally sure. Jason, the founder, says, “Fabulis will be the network that connects gay men with great experiences down the block and around the world.” Oh okay! The best educated guesses are that Fabulis will be a sort of hybrid of Facebook meets Yelp plus Grindr: a gay-detector with business reviews, and the ability to make it as cruisy as you want it. You may ask, “Wait, doesn’t that already exist?” Yep, and when we contacted Scott Gatz, CEO of GayCities, he was quick to point out that his gay travel-guide site and iPhone app boasts hundreds of thousands of users. “People really do want to have a place to share their opinions and plans and find the local hotspots, see who’s there and where the crowd is going,” Scott wrote to us, and it’ll be interesting to see if that’s what Fabulis has in mind. It certainly isn’t what we saw this week when Fabulis pulled back the covers on a little side-project called “” It’s basically a self-perpetuating flattery machine: you log in and write four compliments about yourself; then you send compliments to other guys; and you win points (which allow you to write more compliments) by inviting your friends to join, and, presumably, compliment you. Clearly, this is a website that appeals to people who are extremely secure. creates a sort of economy — only instead of using money, the currency is flattery. Warm, delicious, irresistible, addictive flattery. (It also directly imports your Facebook profile and photos, taking care of much of the legwork involved in enticing users to create an account on a new site.) We wrote to one top-ranked user to ask for his thoughts, and he replied, “I’m not sure how it works quite yet but Fabulis is something I will use.” Well, of course. Everyone loves getting praise. You will not be shocked to hear that Prom Queens enjoy attending prom. Users certainly seem to want to believe in Fabulis, with one writing,”Finally we can step away from Grindr and Adam 4 Adam and actually socialize.” Okay, that’s a nice thing to want, except do you actually know what socialization really looks like? Because we are pretty sure it is somewhat more nuanced than button-clicking. The front page of lays out the scheme in stark detail: a ranked popularity contest, with users assigned a score depending on how many other users have complimented them. The gays who are the richest in Fabulis-bucks are, no surprise, also the gays who are popular in real life. Fabulis founder Jason Goldberg holds the No. 1 spot right now; he’s trailed by Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, Logo/MTV Exec Christopher Willey, and director and “arsepart” Bryan Singer. Celebrigays! Also high on the list: Fabulis staffer (and Queerty founding editor) Bradford Shellhammer, Towleroad blogger Andy Towle, political strategist Chad Griffin, Mark Haines (publisher of Mark’s List, a South Florida gay site), Angela Chase’s friend Wilson Cruz, and cat fancier and bear enthusiast Choire Sicha. So what? So this: Humans love celebrities almost as much as they love being flattered. Celebrigays are like our Greek gods, and we will gladly sit in semicircles to gaze at them. The more outrageous they are and the more character flaws they boast, the more we love to stare. This is why, shrewdly, HRC invited attention-grabber Kathy Griffin to speak at a rally rather than Dan Choi. A website where you can do little more than to pay digital fealty to Dustin Lance Black? Sounds crazy — except that so far he’s received over a thousand Fabulis-points from users. Just imagine if Kathy Griffin was on the site. (Of course, in order for that to happen, they’d have to allow women.)

Dan Choi, by the way, is currently ranked (at the time this is written) at Spot #1862 on Fabulis with one single vote. Equality March organizer Kip Williams isn’t on the site at all. Neither is Barney Frank, Joe Solomonese, Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs, John Perez (the first openly gay Speaker of the California Assembly), Cleve Jones, Portland’s gay mayor Sam Adams, or New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson. Probably because they’re all too busy actually getting shit done to flounce around on gay fake-Digg, slathering praise all over each other like baby oil.

But no matter! Nobody’s joining social networking sites so they can befriend the mayor of Portland. (Sorry, Sam.) Internet users are looking for famous names, trusted brands, and sexy pics — and to that end, we decided to try a little experiment.

We created a fake Fabulis profile for a made-up person, using a photo of a random shirtless dude we found on the net. (Sorry to steal your image, dude! We did it for SCIENCE.) We left him with a bare-bones profile — nothing more than a hot torso and a birth date — and started sending complements to other guys.

While our real-life profile languished at a position in the low 2000s (or in other words, over 2000 users were getting more complements than we were), our sock-puppet profile soon attracted clicks: he jumped up to the mid 200s as about a dozen guys sent him their vote.

We decided to take a gamble: we spent our whole bank of Fabulis-bucks on one single guy. And it paid off: he returned the favor, sending us a slew of praise-points all at once and bumping us up to nearly the very top position in our city. Not a bad day’s work for a photo of a nameless muscle hunk!

Of course, this doesn’t prove much: Oh really, gay dudes like to flirt with muscular shirtless men? WE HAD NO IDEA. But it also highlights how successfully the site taps into the primitive parts of our brains. All you need to win this game is a sexy photo and a little batting of the digital eyelashes.

There’s another mechanism pushing Fabulis’ success, something very calculated and shrewd: it combines a phenomenon known as the “viral loop” — penned by Adam Penenberg — with information that marketers call “social graph data.” That’s basically the alchemy of how we’re all connected on our various social networks, a giant sprawling network of nodes and hubs and humans — and, most importantly, demographic data that advertisers would sell their mothers’ graves to have access to. The more people feeding into the viral loop, the larger it grows, and the more useful (in theory) it becomes. See: Twitter, Foursquare, Splash Bar.

Fabulis is smart — VERY smart — about accessing social graph data. Research has shown that Facebook users are far more likely to engage with an advertisement if it’s disguised as an action in their activity stream. Anyone who’s ever been driven nuts by their friends’ updates about Farmville or Mafia Wars can attest to marketers’ eagerness to infiltrate your Wall. And Fabulis has an appetite for activity streams that is positively voracious. Adding a friend? Voting for someone? Setting up your account? Fabulis loves to broadcast the news to everyone you know, and even goes so far as to place ads on your friends’ Walls. (After getting your permission, of course. But it’s so hard to say no to a request from a website.)

So what does all this ad up to? Marketing gold. By triggering our social pecking-order pressure-points with cleverly targeted ads, Fabulis has us gripped by the lapels.

As if to prove the site’s irrationally addictive allure, users admitted to us that they can’t resist competing for top slots, even though most are fully aware that the ranking doesn’t actually mean anything. (Again, that’s why the check-in app FourSquare, which lets you collect meaningless “badges,” grew so quickly.) One top-ranked user whom we contacted for comment wrote back, jokingly, “Oh my goodness! I am clutching my pearls and fluttering my hands in disbelief. I am so undeserving of this honor.”

Another user replied to us that he had high hopes for the site: “Sort of a perfect storm of Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp,” he predicted. So far it’s barely even Hot or Not, but that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s here to stay.

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  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    Good luck with that. Sincerely, Grinder.

  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    Best of luck to you. SIncerely, Gay Chat Roulette.

  • Lady Ga-Gasp

    All the best! With love, Gay Cities.

  • Hunter


    Read more:

  • Chris

    Like gay men don’t have enough issues with self-image? What a shitty concept. An online popularity contest for cocky assholes who are into being worshipped and adored? How many of us gay men were NEVER popular in high school. Do we need to be reminded of that again? How many suicides will this generate? “Oh no, my rating is down! Where are my Xanax?” Do people get voted off if they’re not ‘fabulis’ enough? Barf. Get over yourselves, people.

  • LJ

    Basically a social network marketing, MLM of the social realm.

    As you’ve pointed out, it comes to ego or sex. Their blasting of Manhunt may be quite ironic.

  • gomez

    um, queerty? it’s spelled “compliment”. unless you meant it in the jerry maguire sense.

    this sounds like a webicized gay high-school clique. why not just call it “heathers” or “mean girls”?

    and “fabulous” needs to be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery


  • Riley

    I’ll stick with my Manhunt, thank ya very much

  • David

    Sounds like a perfect site for anyone with an arrested state of maturity.

  • Yossarianette

    COMPLIMENTS are nice things you say. Complement is a completely different term. Please try to get it right so that you don’t make all the grammar nazis’ eyes bleed when they read your site. Thank you!

  • Robbie

    “This is why, shrewdly, HRC invited attention-grabber Kathy Griffin”

    Why do you guys keep knocking some of our biggest allies? I know she isn’t perfect and neither are most of the gay communities allies but they’re defending us and getting the lgbt community more visibility and positive attention, so I think you really need to back off and be more appreciative. They, for the most part, further our causes and get us closer to the equal rights we want. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been nice for Dan Choi to have spoken instead but, that’s no reason to knock Kathy. I think your name-calling and hostility would be better directed at Maggie Gallagher or the Westboro Baptist Church.

  • Tom in Lazybrook

    I’m wondering what happened to the Fabulis versus Manhunt discussion

  • Jason


    We can can NEVER get enoug of our Fabulis selves, can we?!?!

Comments are closed.