Gay hookup sites are everywhere; what we really need is a gay social networking site that isn’t about getting laid. Gay youth are coming out younger all the time, and, as witnessed by the rash of bullying and suicides in the last couple of years, these kids could use some positive mentoring. Gay youth, who are often isolated from the larger gay community, gravitate to the Internet and social networking sites, looking for meaningful interactions with like-minded people.
The world needs Fab, but, as it turns out, Fab didn’t need us.
Fab, which launched last year as Fabulis.com, was about sharing common interests and building a sense of community—and it was the first gay social network I liked. Which is why it was particularly disheartening when, in February, Fab “pivoted,” and announced they were becoming a kind of Groupon site for design enthusiasts. Once billed as “The Fun Way to Discover the Gay World,” Fab now offers “daily designs for everyone.”
Fab, co-founded by Jobster and Social Median entrepreneur Jason Goldberg, seemed of our time. Between Goldberg and co-founder Bradford Shellhammer (an early founder of Qweerty) they had plenty of startup experience, an admirable mission, some serendipity, and the money to make the endeavor fly. They had prominent folks on their board of directors (like Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters). They traveled around the country in 2010, meeting members of their community IRL, and were adding new features monthly. The site amassed 200,000 members its first few months.
They also seemed to find their calling with what appeared to be a growing problem: gay teenage suicides—they teamed with the Trevor Project and It Gets Better, and even produced a video of their own; it felt like they were putting together something that could last.
Fab created a unique social networking space that made kids feel safe and supported. I couldn’t count the number of status updates from out kids venting their frustrations about school and home life, kids who sensed, as I did, that Fab was the right site at the right time.
Fab had a video feature where members could access everything from fashion tips to dating advice. Its host, the perennially likable Keith Edwards, made the site homey and comfortable. You felt like you belonged, and it offered a fresh alternative to the lascivious and predatory vibes found on most gay sites. Goldberg talked about the shared experiences of being gay as being a bond like “no other.”
In January, Fab launched their Fab Deal of the Day, offering a gay Groupon-style deal. It was a huge success—maybe too much so. In February, Fab was donating a dollar a day to the Trevor Project for every member who joined. Then, on March 9, Fab announced that there would be changes. In April, Fab pivoted to a more lucrative market, away from the gay community.
Goldberg explained on his blog:
Gay rights progress over the past year had a positive impact on the gay community but a negative impact on the demand for our services. With developments like the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the court victories over California’s Proposition 8 gay marriage ban, the Obama administration’s tacit rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the anti-bullying It Gets Better Project continuing to integrate gays into the mainstream, we saw a diminished need for a gay Facebook or a gay Yelp or a gay Foursquare or a gay Groupon.
From selling daily deals we discovered that the idea of a design site had legs. We found that out when we introduced a Gay Deal of the Day program that sold more than $40,000 of goods in the first 20 days alone. The biggest sellers weren’t gay-focused, nearly half of the buyers were straight, and the response showed that there was a demand for good design available online at affordable prices—sexual orientation notwithstanding.
So now it’s a shopping site for design enthusiasts. I understand the business arguments, but I don’t buy that the advancement of gay causes had much to do with the decision. Goldberg has said,
I do not believe at this point that there is legitimate demand for a non-sexual social network for gay men that would garner more than 1 million members. And if you can’t get to 10 million members, it’s hard to build a significant business in this space. GrindR is the only true success story in new online gay services, and that’s because it’s about a critical need: hookups. But we didn’t want to be another hookup site at fab.
That may be true, but my gut says they just saw an opportunity to be more profitable—to flip the property sooner—and they took it. At any rate, they violated one of the prime directives identified by social media guru Gary Vaynerchuck: in the age of social media, lack of communication with your audience can irreparably hurt your reputation. Many members of the Fab community were upset that their personal investment in the site was gone.
Social networks need to monetize their existence—they aren’t just there to foster communication between gay teens or overthrow totalitarian regimes. But what proved to be so disappointing about Fab is the sense that they didn’t give it the time it needed to flourish.
Members of Fab were upset at the rapid un-announced change. Fab’s response:
“Shhh … big secret. The best gay social network on the planet is: Facebook!”
But a lot of people have been fleeing Facebook—it’s not that cool anymore. Everyone’s looking for the next best thing. I thought Fab was it.