George Parker: Why Suicide Girls is what social networking sites should be all about – nudes and all

George Parker describes a social networking site he approves of – the rather memorable SuicideGirls.

Seven years ago, when Facebook was barely three years old and Twitter was not yet launched, I interviewed ‘Missy Suicide,’ the co-founder with Sean Suhl, of the SuicideGirls website, at a conference in Los Angeles.

I thought then, and still believe now, that it is one of the most interesting, well managed and uber-fucktardily, dramatic demonstrations of what true social networking should be about.

Facebook with its billion members, now being described as heading towards mediocrity, or even worse, destined to become a Digital Levittown, demonstrates the increasing homogenization of many of these sites, which will inevitably cause their audiences to move on to the next big thing. In contrast to this, over its twelve year history, SuicideGirls has gone from strength to strength because it is smart enough to cater to, and be satisfied with a niche market that in return has been incredibly loyal and supportive.

If you believe social networking is about building a platform for people who want to share similar interests and attitudes, particularly in ways that offer them a communication channel which hasn’t been there for them before, then look to SuicideGirls for the very best example of how to do it in spades.

Started in 2001, long before the “digerati” had coined yet another dumb catch phrase for what they envisioned as the next stage in the development of the World Wide Web, SuicideGirls offered a forum for women who wanted to express a non-traditional view of themselves, their fashions and their particular lifestyle.

Sometimes described as “soft porn,” the site is much, much more meaningful than that. As Missy and I discussed in LA, it can be equated with Playboy magazine of the sixties, when people would describe themselves as buying the magazine “for the articles,” rather than the massively retouched art. And, thanks to ‘Heff’s’ editorial policies, there was in fact, a great deal of truth to this claim.

SuicideGirls content ranges from images of the community’s members posing in various degrees of dress or undress, which undoubtedly has an appeal to those trolling the Web in search of titillation. But if that was all SuicideGirls offered, there are far more satisfying sites available to the legions of voyeurs who are seeking it, and SuicideGirls would not have grown so impressively over its twelve year history: to the point where the site is now pulling in more than one million visitors per week.

No, the beauty of SuicideGirls is that it offers a far richer experience to those who commit to becoming part of its family than is offered by the vast majority of existing social networking and collaborative sites.

SuicideGirls is probably one of the better examples of that much abused and ill-understood term “sticky.” By continually adding functionality capable of delivering great content, members are encouraged to make it their number one destination when online. Girls are able to not only add albums of their personal photos; they can also blog and interact with fans and friends. With message boards and groups covering everything from sexaholics to spirituality, chat rooms, podcasts, interviews and news. There’s even a weekly radio show.

SuicideGirls has also moved into many areas not normally associated with social networking sites such as publishing, with books and magazines. Right now, I am enjoying their latest book… Suicide Girls: Beauty Redefined (see above) a stunning collection of photographs in a coffee table-sized volume which you might not want to leave out on the coffee table if your mum is popping round.

No wonder it immediately became a best seller on Amazon. They also produce music and film with CDs and DVDs, the latest of which, Suicide Girls: UK Holiday, has a bunch of Suicide Girls living in a British windmill. It must have been shot on a rare English summer’s day, as they appear to be naked most of the time. (Viewer Discretion Advised, as they say – wisely in this case).

Mel from SuicideGirls: UK Holiday from SuicideGirls on Vimeo.

As a business model, SuicideGirls charges members a simple $4 a month fee, and income is also obviously derived from the ancillary activities mentioned above. The site carries some advertising, but both Missy and Sean are adamant that this will be controlled both in terms of content and frequency, as they are smart enough to avoid falling into the trap so many social networking sites do in their search for income at the expense of exclusivity.

My opinion is that twelve years from now, SuicideGirls will still be firing on all cylinders, while the likes of Facebook, Twitter and all the other generic social networking sites will have bastardized themselves into oblivion. And with a bit of luck, they’ll still be producing all these lovely books and DVD’s.

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About George Parker

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George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.