Internet, but for sexy people

The holiday season has arrived, and with it the age-old question: What’s the best way to invite people to my party?

Facebook invites are no longer tenable. People don’t use Facebook anymore, which means they might not see your event unless you specifically tell them to pick it up there – horrible. For a big party, I like to send an e-mail. For a small party, why not just create a calendar event and add your loved ones to it without even asking? And for something really wild, I don’t see what’s wrong with making a flyer and putting it on your Instagram or texting it to everyone you know. (A friend of mine once sent me a picture of Chris Farley and Kenan Thompson play with ketchup, covered with the text “Taste different and interesting ketchups with your friends!” It was a great invitation and a great party.)

But all the existing options have their flaws. Emails can go to spam; flyers can be seen by random and undesirable people; paper invitations are ridiculous and attention-grabbing, like owning a typewriter. Partiful, a fairly new site, positions itself as the latest and greatest solution to the problem of party invitations. Popular among young people and a hipper technology crowdthese are “facebook events for hot people”, according to her Instagram bio. This claim is funny – in an email, Partiful co-founder Shreya Murthy called it “a bit of a joke with our hosts and guests”, adding: “If you use Partiful, you are automatically hot” – and it’s also bold. Facebook Events have been the go-to for party invitations for at least 10 years. For some, myself included, this feature was the last reason they bothered to use the site. Now his time is over.

“Facebook events are ugly and lame,” read the description on a mock invitation to a “Funeral for Facebook Events,” share on Partiful’s Instagram last year. “Partiful is cool and will reign supreme.” The main image of the invite was of a skeleton making a loser sign on its forehead; Murthy commented “rest in past” with a coffin emoji. A growing company profile ran into The New York Times‘Styles section in September, under a headline suggesting that Partiful is the “less creaky” option for invitations. “It’s just fun, it’s fresh, and it’s very Gen Z,” said one of Partiful’s “hundreds of thousands” of users. Time. (Another shared the theme from a recent party she hosted with Partiful: “Don’t think, just be sexy.”)

I hadn’t seen this story when I first deduced earlier this fall that Partiful was cool, when a friend used it to invite me to a housewarming party. The header image was a BeReal photo of my friend and her boyfriend. They looked cool. So I typed in my phone number, created an account, and used Partiful to send the invite to my house-warming. I selected a navy blue gradient, worked on a title (“dinner in a new apartment”, all lowercase, cool), and uploaded an image of my new shelves, zoomed in on its two copies of Infinite is (his and hers). Cool?

Functionally, Partiful is not going to shock anyone. It works like Facebook events in that when someone replies to a party, they can see a full list of all the other attendees, displayed near the event details and above a comments section . The notable difference is that a host invites people to a party by sending them a link, rather than a notification in the Facebook app. And she reminds them to come to her party via automated text messages, rather than via notifications in the Facebook app. Partiful will remember your event history and number, and it takes you to a ‘Mutuals’ page, which lists ‘everyone you’ve ever partied with’ along with the number of parties you’ve had. assisted with them. It’s a simple social network linked to your phone number.

The real departure from the apps’ past events is, of course, branding, as is the case with many things. Just as there is now a explicitly right-wing version of everything from YouTube to coffee to soap, there’s now an explicitly “hot people” version of everything from vaccines at canned fish. Instagram has always been nicer to hot people, but now there are dissenting sites: the Geneva chat room app is basically Discord for hot people; hot people leaking twitter are considering Hive. Partiful looks really good, and if you use it to host your party, you will too.

“Partial incarnations aesthetic as an adjective,” Murthy told me. It deploys gradients, GIFs arranged in grids, and falling white stars to achieve the effect of a glossed first webpage. The designer who developed his brand identity describe the photographic style used by the company as “retro, slightly quirky, festive”. The font is sans serif yet playful. The colorful choices for invitation backgrounds — “dawn,” “aquatic,” “galaxy,” “dusk”—evoking, as the market research company YPulse puts it, “blurry nighttime luxury vibes.” (“Night luxury”, otherwise known as “going out at night”, is that thing which Generation Z invented—a fix for the age of millennial wellness glorification to “stay home at night”.) In addition to memes and pictures of random young peoplePartiful uses modern classic party imagery to set the tone, for example, 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 surfed on a wave of excitement around the return to social life. “Parties are often seen as a frivolity, but they’re actually incredibly important for bonding,” Murthy told me. “The pandemic has made it particularly clear how important (and irreplaceable) time spent in person is to our well-being.” She did not name the investors who contributed the company’s $7.4 million seed funding, but Partiful has since closed a $20 million investment. Series A tower, led by renowned venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Partiful is run by several women, including Murthy and her co-founder Joy Tao, who previously worked at Palantir, the super-secret data analytics company co-founded by the far-right billionaire Peter Thiel (a fact that did not appear in New York Times story). When I asked Murthy about it, she said it wasn’t something she and her team hid because it appeared on their public LinkedIn profiles: “It’s usually not a goal because enterprise data analysis software is quite far from the parties.”

Murthy told me that Partiful “isn’t yet focused” on making money – a feature of VC-funded social apps in their early days. The site is free. The Partiful website offers a normal privacy policy which provides significant assurances and transparency about its handling of user data while still allowing the company the mandatory ability to “collect and use your personal information for marketing and advertising purposes.” Murthy told me that Partiful has “no intention” of monetizing its business by selling user data or its internal analysis of user data, and tries to collect only the information needed to power its services. (She pointed out that Partiful doesn’t ask for full names or birthdays, and the site doesn’t use advertising cookies.) It could become a more robust event-planning platform — “there’s a great opportunity to facilitate the purchase of goods and services needed for an event,” said Murthy. (For starters, the company opened a waiting list for Kodak disposable cameras with the Partiful brand.)

In reaction to Facebook, Partiful is timely. The rise of Web3, the uproar of Twitter, and raw disdain for Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse – coupled with other signs of general disillusionment with the social media ecosystem of the 2010s – have led to a bubbling optimism that people could somehow live very differently online than they do now. On his LinkedIn, Murthy describes Partiful as a service designed to serve “your actual social network” and “your most meaningful connections”, as opposed to “your thousands of followers on IG”. Without fundamentally changing much (your Partiful profile can be linked to Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter; Andreessen Horowitz isn’t exactly the newcomer), he suggests something more intimate than an invite shared through one of the products. from Meta, something more modern than e-mail, and something prettier than “clunky group chats and screenshot flyers.” Something scrappier and cooler and more and more private.

More importantly, Partiful is part of a larger aesthetic shift, Murthy said. “We don’t want things to look like the products we used ten years ago. Everything now looks fresh – we want bright dopamine colors, immersive saturated visuals, bold fonts, irreverent detail. I think anyone who feels sick of the old guard gravitates towards a very different type of visual language. Is this a radical change and an idea that is obviously worth $20 million? Maybe not. But it’s definitely “Facebook events for sexy people.”

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