The Fridge: Private Mini-Facebooks that Put Social Networking in Context
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plan a bachelor’s party or a ski or scuba vacation. Once the wedding, the party, or the trip is over, the community could disperse, or hang around—nothing is public and nobody has to “friend” anyone else, so there’s no ongoing commitment.
Facebook’s main missing ingredient—which Chang hopes The Fridge can supply—isn’t privacy so much as context. The philosophy Chang shared with me in a recent interview echoes observations published by Paul Adams, a senior user-experience researcher at Google, which is believed to be preparing its own social networking offering, Google Me. In a presentation posted earlier this summer, Adams argued that existing online networks like Facebook “don’t match the social networks we already have offline”; they treat all social connections as if they were permanent, and of equal strength. And they certainly don’t account for groups that may form loose but goal-oriented—or strong but temporary—ties around specific events or causes.
“No one has really cracked the nut of group dynamics,” says Chang. “The way we’re approaching it is, you have your best friends. You have your family. Those are permanent. But for all of these other social events, which are like ‘pop-up’ social networks, that is an excuse to create a Fridge group—a temporary thing that serves as a launching pad.”
Though Chang could easily be mistaken for a college student, he says he’s “a little bit older than the rest of the Y Combinator folks.” He first got interested in social networks at the Parsons School for Design in New York, where he matriculated in 2002 after a post-college, dot-com-era spin at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Sapient. “I was really interested in how birds flock and bees swarm and people form flash mobs—emergence, collective intelligence, and all that stuff,” Chang recounts. “What better way to study it than to build a casual MMO [massively multiplayer online game] as a thesis project.”
The game was called Popularity High, with game mechanics that mimicked all the teasing, gossiping, flirting, and bathroom-wall rumor-mongering that make high school such a joy. Chang formed a company around the game in 2004. Popularity High quickly came to the attention of MTV, which bought the game and hired Chang.
After helping MTV launch its online gaming group, Chang moved on to help with other MTV properties, including The Hills, a reality show following several Los Angeles pseudo-celebrities. “We created this real-time game called BackChannel, which was like a water-cooler experience right during the show, where the funniest, wittiest, or snarkiest comments would bubble up,” says Chang. “The glue, the context in this case, was The Hills. It was a great commercial success—we got incremental ad buys from the sponsors that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
Chang left MTV in 2009. “It was a great experience, moving from gaming all the way up to the entertainment division, but a lot of people were doing their own startups, and I wanted to give it a shot,” he says. “I knew that for these emergent behaviors, Facebook and e-mail don’t cut it. So I wanted to … Next Page »