Internet, but for hot people

The holiday season is here, and with it the age-old question: what’s the best way to invite people to my party?

Facebook invites are no longer valid. People don’t use Facebook anymore, which means they won’t see your event unless you explicitly tell them to look for it there – terrible. I like to send emails for a large party. For a small party, why not just create a calendar event and add your nearest and dearest to it without even asking? And I don’t see what’s wrong with making a flyer for something really wild and posting it on Instagram or texting everyone you know. (A friend once texted me a picture of Chris Farley and Kenan Thompson playing with ketchup with the caption, “Try different and interesting ketchups with your friends!” It was a great invitation and great fun.)

But all the available options have their drawbacks. Emails may end up in spam; flyers can be seen by random, unwanted people; paper invitations are as ridiculous and eye-catching as owning a typewriter. Partiful, a new site, is touting itself as the latest and greatest solution to the party invitation problem. Popular among the young and hipper technology the crowd, it’s “facebook events for hot people,” according to its Instagram bio. The claim is ridiculous — in an email, Partiful co-founder Shreya Murthy called it “a bit of an inside joke with our hosts and guests,” adding, “If you use Partiful, you’re automatically hot,” and bold. Facebook Events has been the party invitation for at least 10 years. For some, myself included, this feature was the last reason they used the site at all. Now his time is up.

“Facebook events are ugly and lame,” read a mock invitation to a “funeral for Facebook events” shared on Partiful’s Instagram last year. “Progress is cool and will reign supreme.” The main image of the invitation was a skeleton with a defeated sign on its forehead; Murthy commented “rest in peace” with a coffin emoji. Profile of growing company entered The New York Times’ in September’s Style section, under a headline that suggested Partiful was the “least confusing” choice for invitations. “It’s just fun, fresh and very Gen Z,” said one of Partiful’s “hundreds of thousands” of users. Time. (Another shared the theme of a recent party she used Partiful to host: “Don’t think, just be warm.”)

I first came across this story earlier this fall when a friend of mine used it to invite me to move house, thinking Partiful was cool. The header photo was a BeReal photo of my friend and her boyfriend. They looked cool. So I entered my phone number and created an account and used Partiful to send the invite my settlement ceremony. I chose a navy blue gradient, worked on a title (“dinner in new apartment”, all lowercase, cool) and uploaded a photo of my new bookshelves, enlarged two copies of it. Endless Joke (his and hers). Great?

Functionally, Partiful isn’t going to shock anyone. It works like Facebook Events, so when someone RSVPs to a party, they can see the full list of everyone going, displayed next to the event details and above the comments section. The noticeable difference is that the host invites people to the party by sending them a link rather than a notification in the Facebook app. And he reminds them to come to his party through automated text messages, not through notifications on the Facebook app. Partiful will remember your event history and number, and it gives you access to a “Meets” page that lists “everyone you’ve ever hung out with” along with the number of parties you’ve attended with them. This is a barebones social network with your phone number.

The real difference from past event-apps, as with many things, is obviously the branding. Just as everything from YouTube to coffee to soap now has an overtly right-wing version, everything from vaccines to canned fish has an overtly “hot people” version. Instagram has always been friendly to hot people, but now there are fragmented sites: the Geneva-based chat room app Discord for hot people; Hot people running away from Twitter think beehive. Partiful looks really good and if you use it to organize your party, you will too.

“It embodies the part aesthetic as an adjective,” Murthy told me. It embeds gradients, gridded GIFs, and falling white stars to achieve the effect of a polished early web page. The designer who developed the brand identity describes the photography style used by the company as “retro, slightly off-beat, festive”. The font is sans serif but playful. Colorful choices for invitation backdrops—aurora, aquatica, galaxy, twilight—evoke “blurry nighttime luxury vibes,” as market research firm YPulse puts it. (Nightcrawler, otherwise known as “night out,” is what Gen Z invented — a Millennial health-era correction to the definition of “night out.”) In addition to random youth memorabilia and photos. people, Partiful uses modern classic party imagery to set the tone – such as a photo of a young Kate Moss holding a pair of toy guns and smoking a cigarette.

The site was created during the pandemic and then experienced a wave of excitement to return to social life. “Parties are often dismissed as frivolous, but they’re actually incredibly important for building social relationships,” Murthy told me. “The pandemic has made it especially clear how important (and indispensable) personal time is to our well-being.” He would not name the investors who contributed to the company’s $7.4 million in seed funding, but Partiful has since closed a $20 million Series A round led by prominent venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Partiful is led by several women, including Murthy and her co-founder, Joy Tao, who previously worked at Palantir, the highly secretive data-analytics company founded by far-right billionaire Peter Thiel (this fact did not appear in New York Times story). When I asked Murthy about this, he said it’s not something he and his team hide because it’s visible on their public LinkedIn profiles: “It’s not in the spotlight because enterprise-data-analytics software is pretty far-fetched. “

Murthy told me that Partiful is “not yet focused” on monetization—an emerging hallmark of VC-funded social apps. The site is free. Partiful’s website provides a normal privacy policy that offers significant assurance and transparency regarding user data, while leaving room for the company to “collect and use your personal information for marketing and advertising purposes.” Murthy told me that Partiful has “no plans” to monetize its business by selling user data or internal analysis of user data, and is only trying to collect the data it needs to power its services. (He noted that Partiful doesn’t ask for full names or birthdays, and doesn’t use any advertising cookies on the site.) It could become a more robust event planning platform—“there’s a huge opportunity to make it easier to buy stuff. and services needed for the event,” said Murthy. (To start, the company has opened a waiting list for Partiful-branded Kodak disposable cameras.)

As a reaction to Facebook, Partiful has good timing. Coupled with other signs of widespread disenchantment with the social media ecosystem of the 2010s, the rise of Web3, the buzz on Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg’s indifference to his vision of the metaverse fueled optimism. the possibility that people could live very differently on the Internet than they do now. Murthy describes Partiful on LinkedIn as a service built to serve “your true social network” and “your most meaningful relationships,” as opposed to “your thousand followers on IG.” Mostly unchanged (your Partiful profile can be linked to Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter; Andreessen Horowitz is hardly the new kid on the block), it offers something more intimate, more contemporary, than an invite shared through one of Meta’s products. something nicer than email and “awkward group chats and screenshot flyers”. Something cooler and cooler and more and more special.

Most importantly, Partiful is part of a broader aesthetic shift, Murthy said. “We don’t want things to feel like products we used ten years ago. Everything that happens now feels fresh – we want bright dopamine colors, immersive saturated visuals, bold fonts, irreverent details. I think anyone who feels tired of the old guard tends to gravitate toward a very different visual language.” Is it a radical departure and an idea worth $20 million? Maybe not. But this is definitely “Facebook events for hot people”.

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