December 15, 2009

“It’s Complicated” Gets Simple

bbr

We all know social media can be a double-sided sword. As more people get on Twitter and Facebook, including employers and family members, it becomes harder to overshare as freely as we did three or so years ago when it was just a handful of us on there.

Facebook can’t roll out security features fast enough–many people I know have cracked under the pressure of prying eyes, trading self-expression and fun digital socializing for peace and security. Well, not all is lost. A new network is on the scene and they’re committed to letting us overshare our shenanigans as publicly or privately as we deem fit.

Introducing: Blackbox Republic, a site where “It’s complicated” gets simple.

Lowdown

Blackbox Republic takes quality seriously. They’re more interested in fostering a sex-positive environment for people to be themselves and connect than in exploding in users within hours of launching. To fight against creeps and spam, they’ve put in several safeguards in place: for starters, it’s five bucks a month to be a member. Not only that, but you need to get vouched by at least one other member of the community (who gets a limited number of vouches).

The site has launched with privacy settings in place, so you won’t be rushing around after an embarrassing incident trying to make everything private (ahem, Facebook). There are also two types of connections on the site, which work a little like Twitter: followers and friends. Your friends get to see and do a whole lot more than your followers–and just following someone who follows you does not automatically make them a friend. The choice of how to categorize them is entirely up to you.

Also, the founders are aware that people and relationships change, so crushes (called “wishbones”) on other people expire after a certain period of time, completely eliminating the awkwardness of un-wishing someone.

Background

Last week, I sat down for a phone chat with founders Sam Lawrence (@SamLawrence) and April Donato (@aprilblackbox) to talk about how the idea for this ingenious new social network came about.

“It started with 17 hour ride home from Burning Man,” Lawrence told me, chuckling. “April and I were in RV filled with dust and dirt and garbage. Burning is about self-expression, creativity. On the drive back we talked about how the most kick ass thing was people didn’t talk about work or houses or kids. It was a much more intimate conversation. We started asking ourselves why there wasn’t a walled-off place like that, where people don’t judge you and you can really be you.”

So they went online to see if something like this existed.

“We found two things,” Lawrence explained. “There were dating sites, which have a short-term value proposition, and which are splintered by a lot of labels, race, sexual orientation, age–all these classifications. Relationships are messy, the social web is messy and people don’t want the labels. They want to self-organize without the labels.”

The other thing they found were the social networks with which we’re familiar, like Facebook and MySpace.

“Facebook and networks like that don’t guarantee you connect with like-minded people,” Lawrence added. “Everyday in the news we see people dropped from jobs because they were drinking a beer.”

The founders of Blackbox Republic understand that for many of us, life is cleaved in two. We have a public persona, which goes to work and is involved in the community, and a private self, which is vibrant and expressive and rarely fits the mold.

“The problem is this culture, which cannot accept investment in our personal lives,” Lawrence said.

Although not advertised right on the site, Blackbox knows a lot of this divide has to deal with sexuality.

“We tried to communicate the sex-positive part of the message,” Lawrence explained. “Blackbox Republic is about getting people together and once you’re in a safe environment is that things like sex and dates and relationships will happen.”

As far as these relationships go, Blackbox Republic is pretty lax. As any poly friend will tell you, it’s a pain that Facebook doesn’t allow for the listing of more than one partner. The language is pretty standard, too: In A Relationship, Married To, It’s Complicated, etc.

“We allow people to add their own language,” Lawrence told me. Not only can you input whatever label you want on your entanglements, but the other person can pick something totally different. Lawrence’s relationship with Donato is “in love.” Her relationship with him? “Cuddling.”

Also in the spirit of self-expression, instead of favorite movies and songs, users get virtual corkboards, which enables you to upload pictures of things they like. This is mine:

cork

“There are a lot of things that don’t have a home,” says Lawrence. “Stuff like YouTube videos that are funny but inappropriate, for example. This is what we’re working for. That’s why it’s five bucks a month.”

Blackbox Republic also features a well developed events section that allows non-members access, while keeping the more expressive content associated with these events members-only. Currently, they’re working on creating groups. An iPhone app is due out at the beginning of the year.

I’m already there. Are you?

Images from Blackbox Republic. For more information about this exciting new space, visit their FAQ Section.

AV Flox

Your humble editrix-in-command.

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  • Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  • http://www.notionsofidentity.com Lara

    Hi, lady. Are you already “vouched” out or do you have room for more?

  • Anaiis

    Shoot me a message and I’ll vouch you.

    (Note to other readers: as a commitment to the community, I only vouch people I know socially or digitally. I have read Lara’s blog and know her digitally sufficiently to feel comfortable vouching her at BBR. If we do not know one another in cyber or meatspace, and you want to be vouched, please connect with me on Twitter, @avflox, or on my Facebook page, facebook.com/avflox, and engage me before asking. Thanks.)

  • http://maybemaimed.com/ maymay

    I’m having fun exploring Blackbox Republic. It’s obvious that their technical implementation is seriously well-done, at least from what I can see through the browser. I’m also impressed with Sam and April’s attitude and care with regards to user privacy.

    That said, there are some technical and cultural issues that I see with all this that really should not be ignored. For instance, for a company so careful about privacy, why is their login form and the rest of their “internal/confidential” content not encrypted over SSL/TLS? This is a Big Problem, and just because other social networking sites like FetLife or Facebook don’t offer similar protection doesn’t mean Blackbox Republic should be excused from the scrutiny.

    Moreover, many people—including many in the sex-positive community—have concerns about the “members-only club” nature of the site, and I think their concerns over a potential obstacle to inclusive diversity is a very legitimate issue, especially when you consider that many in the alternative sexuality spheres are precisely the ones for whom socioeconomic realities mean they’re less likely to be privileged with the money to afford this service.

    Anyway, I don’t want to take up your entire comment box, so I’ll just mention that I put the rest of my thoughts in my own review on my blog. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

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Sex and the 405 is what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

Here you’ll find news about the latest research being conducted to figure out what drives desire, passion, and other sex habits; reviews of sex toys, porn and other sexy things; coverage of the latest sex-related news that have our mainstream media's panties up in a bunch; human interest pieces about sex and desire; interviews with people who love sex, or hate sex, or work in sex, or work to enable you to have better sex; opinion pieces that relate to sex and society; and the sex-related side of celebrity gossip. More...