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, Fabulis.com 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 “we.are.fabulis.com.” 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.
We.are.fabulis.com 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 we.are.fabulis.com 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.)