The Internet, but for Beautiful People

The Internet, but for Beautiful People: With the arrival of the winter holidays comes the age-old query, “How do I best invite guests to my party?”

The use of Facebook invites has outlived its usefulness. Facebook’s declining popularity means fewer people will be alerted to your event unless you specifically direct them there. I like to use email when inviting several people to a gathering. Create a calendar event and automatically invite your closest friends and family to your intimate gathering. Even if it’s illegal, I don’t see any problem with producing a flyer and posting it on Instagram or sending it out through text message to everyone you know to let them know about something extremely crazy. (Someone once sent me a picture of Chris Farley and Kenan Thompson playing with ketchup, with the caption, “Taste test several intriguing kinds of ketchup with your buddies!” That was an awesome invitation to a fun event.

However, every present choice has some drawbacks. Paper invites are silly and attention-seeking, like owning a typewriter, yet emails go to spam and fliers can be seen by random, unwanted persons. A relative newcomer, Partiful promotes itself as the cutting-edge answer to the age-old problem of how to invite people to parties. According to its Instagram bio, it is a “Facebook event for attractive people.” This demographic is typically comprised of young individuals and members of the hipper tech set. A co-founder of Partiful, Shreya Murthy, joked in an email that “if you use Partiful, you’re automatically hot,” a statement that is both humorous and audacious. For at least a decade, Facebook Events was the standard for inviting people to parties. As a former user, I can say that this function was the deciding factor in whether or not I would return to the site. Its time has come to an end.

A parody invitation to a “Funeral for Facebook Events” with the caption “Facebook events are ugly and pathetic” was posted on Instagram by Partiful last year. To paraphrase, “Partiful is hip and will ultimately triumph.” Murthy responded with a coffin emoji and the phrase “rest in passé” to the invitation, which included a skeleton making a loser sign on its forehead. The New York Times Style section featured a story on the expanding business in September with a title calling Partiful the “least cringe” option for invitations. One of Partiful’s “hundreds of thousands” of users told the Times, “It’s simply entertaining, it’s fresh, and it’s very Gen Z.” (Another person divulged that “Don’t think, just be hot” was the theme of a recent party that she had planned with the help of Partiful.)

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Earlier last fall, a buddy invited me to a housewarming party using Partiful, and I immediately knew it was hip. However, I did not know about this tale at the time. My best friend and her partner were the subjects of the BeReal shot that served as the top image. In a word, they were awesome. In order to invite people to my housewarming party, I signed up for an account on Partiful and entered my phone number. I went with a dark blue gradient, gave it some thought for a title (“dinner in a new apartment,” all lowercase, awesome), and then uploaded a picture of my new bookcases, focusing in on the two volumes of Infinite Jest that sit atop them (his and hers). Cool?

In terms of its core functionality, Partiful won’t surprise anyone. Similar to Facebook Events, it allows guests to view a comprehensive guest list when responding to an invitation. This list is presented above the remark box and next to the event information. The host now sends guests a link to the party instead of a notification through the Facebook app. Plus, instead of using Facebook app alerts to invite people to her party, she uses automated text texts. You may view a page called “Mutuals,” which includes a list of “everyone you’ve ever partied with” and the total number of events you’ve attended with them, all thanks to Partiful’s event history and number features. It’s basically a social media platform based just on your phone number.

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As is the case with many things, branding is the true point of differentiation from previous events-apps. There is now a “hot people” version of everything, from vaccines to canned fish, just as there is now an obviously right-wing version of everything, from YouTube to coffee to soap. Although Instagram has traditionally been more accepting of attractive users, there are now alternatives: Geneva, a chat room software, is essentially a more attractive version of Discord, while gorgeous people looking to leave Twitter may want to check out Hive. If you utilize Partiful to plan your party, it will look great and you will too.

The Internet, but for Beautiful People
The Internet, but for Beautiful People

Murthy told me, “Partiful exemplifies aesthetic as an adjective.” With the use of gradients, GIFs arranged in grids, and falling white stars, it mimics the look of a polished early web page. The company uses “vintage, slightly off-beat, celebratory” imagery, as described by the designer who figured out the company’s corporate identity. The sans serif typeface is fun and lighthearted. Market researchers at YPulse have found that words like “aurora,” “aquatic,” “galaxy,” and “Twilight” used as invitation background options evoke “blurry night luxury emotions.” Generation Z came up with the concept of “night luxe,” or “getting out at night,” as a response to the Millennial wellness era’s celebration of “staying in at night.” Modern classic party imagery, such as a photo of a young Kate Moss holding a pair of toy guns and smoking a cigarette, is used to build the mood on Partiful alongside memes and random photos of young people.

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The website was launched in the midst of the pandemic and rode the euphoria around the gradual resumption of normal social activities. “Parties are generally viewed as a frivolity, but they are actually incredibly vital to forging social bonds,” Murthy told me. “The pandemic drove home the value of face-to-face interactions, and the fact that they are irreplaceable, in a profound way.” She declined to reveal the identities of the $7.4 million in initial investment providers, but the company has since concluded a $20 million Series A round sponsored by the renowned venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Murthy and her co-founder Joy Tao both have backgrounds at Palantir, the ultra-secretive data-analytics company co-founded by the far-right billionaire Peter Thiel (a fact that was left out of the New York Times article). Murthy told me that this is not something that she and her team try to hide, as it is visible on their public LinkedIn profiles: “It tends to not be a focus, as enterprise-data-analytics software is very remote from parties.”

Murthy assured me that, like many early-stage VC-funded social apps, Partiful “is not currently focused” on producing money. This website doesn’t cost anything to use. Partiful’s website features a standard privacy policy that provides substantial reassurance and transparency regarding the company’s treatment of user data while giving the mandatory area for the company to “collect and utilize your personal information for marketing and advertising purposes.” Murthy assured me that Partiful collects only the bare minimum of customer data necessary to power its services and has “no plans” to monetize itself by selling user data or its internal analysis of user data. (She emphasized that Partiful does not use advertising cookies and does not require users to provide personal information such as their complete names or dates of birth.) “There’s a great possibility to simplify acquiring the goods and services needed for an event,” Murthy said, suggesting that the platform may evolve into a more full event-planning tool. (Initially, there is a waiting list for Kodak disposable cameras bearing the Partiful logo.)

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We can thank the timing of Partiful as a response to Facebook. Optimism about the possibility that people can live, somehow, very differently online than they do currently have been bubbling up in response to the rise of Web3, the turmoil at Twitter, and the raw disdain for Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse, among other signs of broad disillusionment with the social-media ecosystem of the 2010s. Parsifal is a service that was created by Murthy to cater to “your real-life social network” and “your most meaningful relationships,” as opposed to “your thousand followers on IG,” as she puts it on her LinkedIn profile. Without drastically altering the status quo (your Partiful profile can be linked to Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter; Andreessen Horowitz is hardly the new kid on the block), it hints at a more personal, up-to-date, and visually appealing alternative to sending an email or using one of Meta’s products to send an invitation. Something with greater character, that is also a little more secretive.

Murthy emphasized that Partiful is representative of a larger aesthetic trend. We don’t want anything to resemble the products of 10 years ago. Dopamine-inducing colors, fully immersive images, striking typography, and cheeky touches are all the rage right now. In my opinion, everybody who is tired of the status quo is drawn to a new visual language. Is that an incredibly novel approach and a $20 million idea? Possibly not. However, “Facebook events for hot people” is exactly what they are.

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