Find some friends and make a tribe

So, if you’re a Chinese Hawaiian Jew living in San Mateo, how exactly do you find other Chinese Hawaiian Jews in your hometown?


Although Friendster — the fastest-growing social networking Web site around — would seem to do the trick, it doesn’t allow users to narrow their networking with others in their geographical area.

That’s one of the perks can offer, says Tribe Networks CEO Mark Pincus, whose site is one of the more popular challengers to Friendster.

Of course, Friendster isn’t the first Web site of its kind. The founders of a site called had the same general idea some years ago, but it never quite took off in the same way. Friendster’s popularity, though, has inevitably spawned a number of copycat sites, which may become more widely used once Friendster starts charging. is being described as “Friendster meets craigslist,” in its ability to use social networking to conduct business transactions. Craigslist, founded by Craig Newmark in 1995 — another Bay Area Jew — continues to be the most widely used way to job search in the Bay Area, though it also lists items for sale, personal ads, apartments for rent and community boards for general chatting and ranting.

Pincus says he isn’t in competition with Friendster.

“It looks like we’re competing with Friendster, but my competition is craigslist or newspapers.” His main competitor, he adds, is probably the classifieds listings on Yahoo. “We’re trying to create a great network for people to share referrals and buy and sell with each other. It’s not focusing on dating.”

Pincus, 37, lives in San Francisco. A veteran of several software companies, he came upon Friendster when he was considering devising a way for people to do business with people they already know. He’s an investor in Friendster, but thought he could improve on what he sees, essentially, as a dating site.

“What we’re trying to do, as opposed to craigslist, is let people create a trusted network, and leverage their friends to get things done.”

On the social front, though, the site has “tribes” grouped by religion, musical taste and other interests. Plus users can find others who share their particular interests in their geographical area. (Announcements posted by users in the same region appear on your home page when you first log on.)

Pincus, who is active at Congregation Emanu-El and with AIPAC, says since launching in April, has about 35,000 users. While at first most tended to live in the Bay Area, people in other urban areas such as Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Toronto are checking it out, too.

And unlike Friendster’s founder, Pincus has no plans to charge users. Eventually, he said, he will charge those placing classified ads, just as craigslist charges to place job listings.

So what do users say?

“Pound for pound, Tribe does everything Friendster does, with more features,” said Ori Neidich, who signed up with some months after he signed up with Friendster.

But as a self-professed computer geek, Neidich believes the ease of Friendster will keep it as the dominant player on the scene. “The simpleness of Friendster attracts people. A community site like Tribe needs more effort, and you have to participate if you want payoff.”

Furthermore, he said, people who already have an established network on Friendster don’t want to duplicate their efforts by having to build a new one on another site.

When Neidich first signed on with Tribe, he saw all kinds of groups — Scientologists and pagans, but none for Jews. He created the Judaism group, which now has about 40 users, and serves as its moderator.

There are also some very specific groups, like the aforementioned Chinese Hawaiian Jew, and Jews for Bacon; Normal, Single & Jewish and Jewish Pagan.

Users can post listings to just these tribes, as well. “We’re trying to build community in the form of affinity groups and interest groups, to give them a home online,” said Pincus.

Interestingly, both Pincus and Jonathan Abrams of Friendster have profiles on each other’s sites, though Abrams’ profile on Tribe is not fully filled out. Meanwhile, among his photos on Friendster, Pincus has one of himself laying tefillin with Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad of S.F.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."