Even though they don't have the visibility of MySpace or Facebook, the New York-based Community Connect has developed a series of niche social-networking sites that have managed to generate a significant following within the communities they represent.
AsianAve, the company's first project, launched in June of 1997. The site provides a service aimed at an Asian audience and somewhat resembles MySpace in look and feel. Since then, Community Connect has gone on to release BlackPlanet, MiGente, and Glee. Its most recent initiative, Faithbase, is a hub for Christians to meet and socialize with other Christians.
While Ning allows anyone to create their own social network, Community Connect has chosen to develop its own proprietary software and market five successive networks that each focus on a specific identity. I spoke to Kay Madati, vice president of marketing for the company, about what differentiates their networks from those created on Ning; while he wasn't familiar with Ning he pointed out that Community Connect's sites have more members than any off-the-shelf social networks he is aware of.
Faithbase officially launched in June 2007 but its "overt marketing push began about a month ago." The site currently has 51,000 members and experienced most of its growth over the past few weeks.
Glee, another Community Connect site, is geared toward the LGBT community. I asked Madati if any Christian groups had objected to Faithbase's association with Glee, and he acknowledged that some people had asked, but he reassured me that Faithbase is "a totally independent social network for those types of consumers." He went on to point out how News Corp's recent acquisition of Beliefnet demonstrates that secular companies can get into the faith-based market.
Madati also pointed out that homosexuality and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. I asked him if Faithbase planned to develop a component for LGBT Christians, and he explained that the company is not interested in shaping the conversation so much as it is in supporting user-generated dialogue.
"Would members be prohibited from creating a LGBT group?" I asked.
"No," responded Madati, "Not yet."
Interestingly, Barack Obama has a Faithbase profile (as well as an account at BlackPlanet, MiGente, AsianAve, and Glee) , and both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are working on theirs; however, none of the Republican candidates are on Faithbase. Madati explained that the company has "played Switzerland in this whole thing"; while they have helped the candidates get set up, they have not solicited any politicians to participate.