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

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.