The Fridge: Private Mini-Facebooks that Put Social Networking in Context

This is the seventh in a series of profiles of companies funded this summer by Mountain View, CA-based startup incubator Y Combinator.

Facebook is so dominant in the social-networking sphere that it’s easy to forget that there is any other model for socializing online. The reigning ethos in Facebook’s one-size-fits-all environment is that everyone should be happy to share his or her latest photos or status updates or location check-ins with everyone else. Of course, you’re welcome to spend time deciphering the site’s privacy settings—but if that’s important to you, then you must have something to hide. Or so Facebook makes its users feel.

Austin Chang and Alex Chung, the co-founders of The Fridge, have a different picture in mind. To them, people should be able to congregate online in the same ways they often do in the real world—in groups that are private, relatively small, short-lived, and focused on some common interest or event.

“What Facebook did—and by no means are we going up against them—is they taught everyone how to socialize online,” says Chang. “But now it’s become the White Pages of the Internet. What they used to have, and have lost, is the specific context of the college group from TheFacebook—the meaningful relationships. In real life, you don’t share your baby pictures with 7,000 ‘friends.'”

The Fridge's new home page, going live todayThe Fridge, at www.frid.ge, is a site where anyone can quickly set up what Chang calls a “lightweight, single-serving social network.” Today, he and Chung plan to roll out a simplified user interface for the site, which first went public in July, just a few weeks before the startup completed the summer term at Y Combinator.

Already, The Fridge has almost 10,000 users, according to Chang, and is growing at a rate of 30 percent per week. Supporting the venture is a group of prominent Bay Area angel investors such as Keith Rabois, Naval Ravikant, and Jeremy Stoppelman, who collectively put about $500,000 in seed funding into the company in late August. The startup is still in fundraising mode, with Polaris Venture Partners as the most recent addition.

Chang hopes The Fridge will eventually become the first place users turn to organize private online groups attached to real-world events or activities. A couple-to-be, for example, could invite wedding guests to a private Fridge community, where they could share logistical information before the wedding and photos, videos, and reminiscences afterwards. Or a group of friends could use the site to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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