Ladies First at Luluvise: Is there such a thing as too pink?

Imagine a social network that is like one giant sorority: This is what Alexandra Chong has been building over the past 6 months since launching Luluvise. Her platform, defines itself as a space dedicated to “girl time, all the time”, and attempts to re-create the patterns of close female friendship online.

30-year-old Chong says that she came up with the idea for Luluvise when she had a funny Valentine’s day story that she wanted to share with her girlfriends, but got frustrated that there wasn’t one place where she could reach all of them at the same time. Thus was born the site that has been billed as a sort of “Facebook meets Sex and the City”.

This is a niche social network that differentiates itself from Facebook not only by gender exclusivity, but also by having very strict and controllable privacy settings, which mean that what you share goes to a very select group of people, and you don’t have to worry about posting something that you don’t want your family or work colleagues to see. Where Facebook can be a big public park, Luluvise aims to be a pretty, pink, secret walled garden.

When you register you start building your inner circle of friends to share “Scoops” – photos, texts and dating experiences – with. Tags you can use to express your opinion of these include “Love this!” and “OMG!”

And what girl-gossip would be complete without comparing notes on dates? Luluvise has a feature called WikiDate that lets you rate guys you have gone out with. This is an open searchable database that includes any guy with a public Facebook profile. Final scores are public, but juicy details such as performance in the bedroom are only available to people in your inner circle that you choose to send them to. Guys can try to up their ratings by inviting their girlfriends to share their opinion, but of course they cannot register themselves.

We don’t know exactly how many users have registered on the girls-only social network so far, (Luluvise claims to have users from 160 countries, with an average age of 21 – but the company itself attracted $1 Million in funding, which shows that there are plenty of people willing to bet on the female market.

The belief is certainly justified:  Not only do women make up about half of the planet’s population and drive 80% of consumer spending, but they are a significant driving force when it comes to social networking. Industry figures indicate that women generate more than 70% of messaging activity on Facebook and spend on average 35% more time on social networks than men.

So it makes sense to design a social network specifically for girls, but the stereotypical look, scope and wording used on Luluvise does raise the issue of whether it really represents women. Chong says that as a woman she knows what girls want, and from a business perspective, she is certainly a role model for female entrepreneurs in a world still very much dominated by men. She studied law before running Marketing and PR for Upstream. Her company – which she founded in 2010 – is based in London and incorporated in the US, but she comes from a multicultural Chinese/Jamaican/Canadian background, defying any attempt of stereotyping of pigeonholing.

But does the pink-centric approach risk selling a limited view of what women want? Feminists have fought long and hard to earn us equal rights, and battles such as salary equality are far from being won, so could products like Luluvise set women back, or are they just harmless fun? Would love to hear comments from Little Pink Blog readers and from Alexandra Chong herself if she wants to reply.

Alice Bonasio is a Brazilian/American/Italian writer specializing in Digital Cultures. She has been published in Gamestm, Edge, The Escapist and 360. She is soon to publish an article on professional networks in Sage’s New Media and Society journal, where she is also a peer reviewer. Alice has a MA (distinction) in Creative and Media Enterprises from the University of Warwick and a BA Hons in Media Communication and Cultural Studies from Bath Spa University. She lives in England where she works as a PR consultant and is currently writing a book about Social Networks. Contact her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.

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