Review: Fabulis-An Online Gay Community

My friend Nikhil (okay, no pun intended there, that’s really his name!!!) told me about a project that his firm was working on recently and I thought it would be interesting to the Gaysi community. This is Fabulis, a social networking site for gay and gay-friendly people.

Fabulis appears to sit on top of the Facebook framework (it requires a Facebook account to login) and works more like an extended application than a network in itself. I guess this has its advantages since Facebook is an Internet phenomenon now and anybody who is anybody is on it (or is that Twitter, again?).

The site asks you to provide an email address and a location. My first entry threw up the following error message:

“Oops! Please enter a valid city. Please enter text as Boston, MA or Paris, France”

But when I started to type ‘M’ (since that looked closest to Mumbai even if Mumbai doesn’t abbreviate to MA), the drop-down menu of suggestions did list other cities including my home city.

When you sign in, you are asked to identify yourself as either a ‘gay man” or a ‘friend to gay guys’. Barring the obvious oversight in leaving out gay women, it’s a nice enough start. You’re also asked to enter tags to describe yourself and your interest with a default tag of ‘friend to gay guys’. I changed this to ‘friend of gay people’ and happily found that the drop-down menu of suggestions contained various versions of it.

Fabulis pulls the information from your Facebook account (including privacy settings), imports photographs and also shows you which of your friends are already using the application. It also draws up information from your Facebook calendar and posts updates of your public events inviting responses from other users of the community.

Once you’re in, the network works a little less like Facebook and more like Twitter. That is to say, you don’t exactly befriend people. You can follow them and/or be followed by them. The privacy settings allow you to raise the bar on who can follow you.

In addition to the obvious networking features, it also has its own network currency of Fabulis bits. Fabulis bits can be earned by participating in activities. Similar to the Zynga Games model, you can also earn by engaging in side-offers. These are plowed back into the monetary ecosystem as you spend them on answering other people’s questions or helping them along in their contests. You can also use Fabulis bits to buy upgrades and cheat codes for the games and contests. And finally, Fabulis bits are what you spend if you really, really want to follow someone who is ultra-picky about their privacy and has enabled the setting that forces followers to pay for the privelege.

I also tested the account deletion options (after an unsavory experience with ibibo.com which still refuses to let me go and insists on bombarding my mailbox with spammy messages). Happily Fabulis doesn’t believe in clinging on and the detachment process if fairly simple. You just click on ‘Settings’ under your profile name on the top-right which takes you to a list of options. The last of these is ‘Close Account’ with the expected “Are you sure?” message. Do note though, that if you choose to leave the network, you’ll have to go to Facebook and delete the application from having access to your account. If not, your Fabulis account will still be connected a la social networking on life support systems.

The prizes for the contests are apparently available to users in every location and are supposed to be very attractive to the gay community. I can’t confirm this myself since I haven’t participated in any of the events but it sounds like an interesting way to target the community. I guess a social network undergoes a collective learning process. Identifying itself as a network that addresses itself to this community is the first step and it will probably depend on the user group and how they choose to utilize the features that the site offers.

Fabulis is also on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

* Cross-posted on Gaysi and The XX Factor.

Playground Panorama

The open space opposite to my building affords a number of interesting sights. It inspired this story, for one. That was about the ground as a separator. But how about the ground as a space in itself? Here’s what it plays home to.

Yesterday evening, I spotted this man walking his dog in the pouring rain.   Now, I have heard of doggy-sweaters before, in cold places. But this is the first time I’ve seen a dog in a raincoat! What was funnier was that the man himself wasn’t rain-protected. Some people sure love their animals more than life itself!

The summer was full of screaming kids, playing crazily in a way that only children on summer vacations do. In one of those brief lulls, the park looked almost desolate. Except for its lone guest, a solitary bicycle parked right in its midst.

The same thing a few weeks later, right after a particularly rainy night yielded this sight: a log right in the middle of the empty ground, now lush with grass.

The weather hasn’t deterred our young, budding sportsmen.

Any semi-green patch in Mumbai acts like a magnet for all the children of the vicinity. This particular park doesn’t belong to any one housing society and doesn’t have an entrance fee either. So it often plays host to impromptu cricket matches, rainy football games, bat-and-ball toss and sundry other games that appeal to every boy under the age of 12 (and most of them above to, in retrospect). The kids come from the surrounding colonies and also the adjoining slum area. I’d like to say it’s a place where they all mingle but that isn’t really the case. They play in their own groups but at least they all play within close vicinity and I haven’t seen any territory battles happening.

A cricket game had just begun. First, a lone ranger staked out the pitch. Or perhaps he was sentenced to a remote fielding location. Either way, he didn’t look too bothered by it.

I was most intrigued by the batsman, being as he was the same height as the bat he was holding…just about.

They were watched by a cosy duo sitting on a log in a corner. I wondered what these two had to talk about that was so important. *Sigh* The good old days of a bestest friend to share playground secrets with!

In another corner, I spotted a bunch of boys practicing dahi-ka-handi for upcoming Janamashtami (which also kicks off festival season in Mumbai…hooray!).

Childhood is never out of vogue, even in a concrete jungle. It stakes out its own spaces and finds plays to jump and play.

Smile

My smile is like a neon light
Lighting up all around
And drowning out all else
Brilliance in person
It says, “I’m happy!”

Yours is like a candle flame
A single flicker in the darkness
Enveloped in a warm embrace of shadows
Gentleness personified
It says, “I make you happy.”

And you do.

Mumbai Indiblogger Meet: 15Aug @Sea Princess #indimum

Indiblogger hosted a blogger’s meet yesterday at Hotel Sea Princess, Juhu. It was touted as the biggest such event and I think that’s a fair claim. The event actually began a half hour late, at 2:30p.m., by which time the hall was almost completely packed.

Registrations were done online by logging into the Indiblogger site. A display screen at the front of the room picked it up and kept a running tally on who had just walked in, a live feed of tweets tagged #indimum and those that mentioned the event. This feature was a really plus for a blogger meet since it allowed people to connect across the room and ‘interrupt’ or get into discussions just the way they would be able to online. It really kept the conversation, quite literally, running and the mood upbeat.

The first familiar faces I spotted were Arcopol, Chhavi, Mahafreed, Sahil, Payal, Teatattler and Netra. This event had all the hallmarks of a ‘typical’ bloggers meet with old friends catching up, people meeting offline for the first time, new connections being made and URLs/Twitter IDs being exchanged. The past meets have all been more like parties with people making random introductions and conversations. For an event of this magnitude, the Indiblogger team started with a loose agenda, which really worked.

The event kicked off with a ‘few words’ from the organizers and the sponsors. The HP session may actually have been quite interesting but the presentation was really boring and scheduled as it was, right at the beginning, I’m not sure they received much attention. BigRock’s presentation was much better, light and peppered with internet jokes and just enough information to keep listening parties interested in coming back for more.

The next item on the agenda was introductions (of the audience) which took the better part of two hours considering how many people were there. This may have run into boredom but the team worked it well by announcing a contest for the most interesting introduction. So introductions would happen, there would be gasps of recognition (and waving) from various places in the audience and live-tweeting. I spotted Kalyan across the room and a short while later, another person introduced himself by the same name and very similar profile. Normally I’d have had to keep quiet and wait till the end of a long session to connect up, by which time I may have forgotten or even lost interest. But I instantly tweeted him, which came up on screen and he replied. We got into a conversation about another member in the audience who suddenly saw his name pop up on the timeline and joined in too. Fun ?

I had a lovely surprise when I entered the room to find my Punekar friend Poonam, whose visit I had not known of. Later, during the introductions, I was deeply thrilled to hear a sweet-faced lady across the room introduce herself as the writer of Toerag. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and down in my seat and yelling, “Here, here!! Remember me?!” Sangeeta and I have been readers of each other’s blogs for years now, right from back in the day when one visited every single link on the blogroll every day to check if there were new posts. In this day and age of instant updates, feed-readers and link-sharing, those seem like hallmarks of a bygone era. There’s a distinct pleasure in connecting with someone who remembers you from the days of yore.

One of the last introductions was a lady who claimed to have failed her 10th board, run away to Italy, fallen in love with one of the masters, left him to backpack and having run out of interesting things to do, began blogging. She ended by saying, “And I’m a storyteller.” She was the unanimous winner of the most interesting introduction. ?

The chai break that followed was really livened up by a cute little game organized by the team. Every member in the audience was given a chart to hang on their back, equipped with pens and asked to go around ‘leaving comments’ on other people’s charts. A simple enough idea but tremendously useful in bridging the gap between wanting to talk to someone and making the actual connection. I spoke and was spoken to by so many people, that I’d really have lost track if I didn’t have their twitter handles or URLs on my chart.

My Indiblogger meet chart!

The post-break session began with an impromptu quiz (hosted by a truly beautiful lady from BigRock) and prizes being handed out. This lead into a discussion moderated by celebrity participant, Gul Panag. I really have to give it to the lady for being way more than a pretty face. Managing a group of 200-odd people, all with opinions jostling to be heard and ensuring that people stuck to the point, stayed interested and didn’t get into fights – that’s no mean feat and the lady accomplished it with aplomb. We discussed self-censorship, comparisons with traditional media, authenticity of content, new trends, social activism online and citizen journalism. The discussion was carefully kept short enough so it didn’t peter into wasteful arguments.

The last thing on the menu was a select preview of the movie Soch Lo. I’m rather afraid I didn’t understand a thing and it didn’t enthuse me enough to want to watch the full movie whenever it is available. ‘Nuff said.

This is an account of the events as they happened but it doesn’t capture the essence of the fun and energy that marked the full day. So I’m posting some of my tweets, as they were live updates of things that happened (and because Twitter archiving still sucks).

• Indiblogger meet under way. Intros on. #indimum

• Bangalore accents are to Indian women what French accents are to Westerners. Ooh, yummy! #indimum

• Gadzooks! My crush-ey tweet just popped up on screen at Indiblogger meet. Eep.

• Pleasant rush of memories happening. Why did the blogger meets stop? #indimum

• HP talk at #indimum. Fairly interesting talk but blah ppt. Form does matter. Content is invisible if audience loses interest.

• BigRock does 140char intro. Agenda says ‘vision mission blah blah’. :-) Am listening already. #indimum

• Celebrity spotting at #indimum! @Netra just walked in!

• found an envelope under seat saying Collect prize from prettiest girl at reception. Heh, nice. #indimum

• Intros of audience happening at #indimum. Next to me, @arcopolc taking notes.

• Amrish blogs abt mumbai since it is his life. Life, leverage and limits. Cute. #indimum

• Honest admissions at #indimum Ppl blog to up Google rank, earn on ads, bcos friends do it, bcos its the new geek thing to do. :)

@finelychopped Hey, that sounds like you! #indimum

• Keema from Mizoram ‘as in Chicken Keema’ Lol, I like! #indimum

• Really good to see ppl blogging abt whatever comes to mind, stories, pictures etc. Tired of hearing of SEO, Tech etc. #indimum

• Heh, an Arsenal fan intro’d self as that and ended with ‘BOO you!’ to two ManU fans. #indimum

• IT IS TOO COLD HERE! #indimum

• Yay! @Sahilk plays knight in plastic armour & loans me his windcheater. #indimum

• Heard an intro from toerag.blogspot. Iv read her for yrs! Wish id caught her twitter id. #indimum

• SunshineMom is now Freaked-out Mom. #indimum

• Hardik Shah at #indimum wonders why everyone staring at him. :-) @hardik, eh?

• Passing charts with strings and sketchpens. Everyone loves new stationery. Intros getting missed unfortunately. #indimum

• Next item on #indimum agenda: SWITCH OFF THE AC!

• Hot baldie alert at #Indimum. Men should not be allowed hair above the eyebrows.

• #indimum Screen refreshed after 15min. Bcos @gulpanag walked in? Her name still hasnt come up.

• Okay now we get to play with the new stationary. #indimum

• Hot girl in great haircut conducting pop quiz at #indimum

• This quiz in damn tough, ya #mahafreedstyle. #indimum

• All the guys rush to front of room. #indimum

• Ageism at #indimum. Am sulking in the left side. Grmph.

@gulpanag speaking abt why UGC scores over mass media. #indimum

• RT @rati7 And d guy just wont shut up..

• Do bloggers self-moderate? I think the democracy of blogging does that already. #indimum

@shrikant Stop hitting on the pretty lady, Neanderthal! :)

• Are we back on censorship?! #indimum

• If ur content is wrong/offensive/misleading, ull lose readership. Why are we still discussing censorship? #indimum

@shrikant scowling at me for calling him Neanderthal hitting on @gulpanag #indimum

• ‘Good ppl are not visible & visible ones not credible’. Does that mean bloggers are incredible? #indimum

@mahafreed says we are her eyes, her twitter timeline, bloggers. FTW! #INDIMUM

• The Banglore boys leaving! :-( #indimum

• Now @gulpanag gets background score! #indimum

• @_alps and I giggling

• Soch liya, kuch nahin samjha. #indimum

• Much fun was had at #indimum. Old-style blogger hookups (face to DP/handle) in newer settings (live tweeting, posh hotel, freebies, contest)

• @abhinav_hee_haw Ah. Just the live timeline was a party in itself. #indimum

• #indimum made me fall off compulsive-tweeter bandwagon after going clean for weeks! Someone asked if I was the talkative one on the hashtag!

@sahilk is funner in real life than on email. #justsaying

• received a delightful surprise when @_alps turned up at #indimum today. And another on meeting longtime blogger-pal @sangeeta_kini 1st time.

My congratulations and thanks to the Indiblogger team for pulling off a complex and really fantastic event. My only suggestion would be to consider proving WiFi access next time to ensure even more live coverage during the event. I’m looking forward to more from you guys!

Other coverage of the event (will be updated-drop in a link if you find something not featured here):

Mizohican: Chp.314 Indiblogger Meet Mumbai

Magali: The Wonderful Indiblogger Mumbai Meet (#indimum)

Firoze Shakir: Flickr

Anubha Bhat: The Indiblogger Bloggers’ Meet, Facebook Photos

Manav Dhiman: Indiblogger Mumbai Meet #indimum

Naveen Bachwani: Indiblogger Meet 2010

Jaydip: Once upon a time Blogger Met in Mumbai

Kalyan: We don’t need no chutney sandwiches

Juhi: Mumbai’s Indiblogger Meet from my camera

Renieravin: Flickr

Phoenix: Indibloggers Meetup

Shrikant: Deflowered by the sea-princess

Harman: The Indiblogger Meet

Viyoma: Indiblogger Meet: 15th Aug 2010

Ojas Mehta: An eventful Independence Day!

Neha Silam: Anything for a tee

Milee: A Place, Some Bloggers and Fun

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