Sex, knitting and Ayn Rand: our favourite offbeat social networks

There is a mind-boggling array of social networks out there, from Facebook, the king of them all, and the ailing Myspace, all the way through to the ones you don’t know about, which target niche interests such as a love for auteur cinema and an interest in cheese.

Memeburn roamed the world of social networks and picked out eight choice examples, selected for their surprising user numbers, intriguing content and quirky characters. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Atlasphere

Users: 25 291

What is it? According to the site’s front page: The Atlasphere’s mission is to bring together admirers of Ayn Rand’s novels from around the globe to network both personally and professionally.

Wait, aren’t Ayn Rand’s books largely about being a supreme individual? So shouldn’t anyone who’s a fan of the author hate social networks? Isn’t it paradoxical that the admirers of an author who derided the sheep-like behaviour of crowds should want to be part of a crowd of people, all interested in the same ideology? You would think so, but if you think that any of this matters to an Ayn Rand fan, you’ve clearly never met one.


Users: 873 369

What is it? FetLife is a social network for people who are into bondage, domination and sadomasochism (BDSM). All kinksters are welcome.

There are a raft of adult-only social networking sites out there, most of which promise free and fast sex and nearly all which have misleading pictures (I’m guessing, honestly). What separates FetLife from other x-rated social-networking sites is that it encourages BDSM enthusiasts to, er, bond before they pull on the leathers and whip out the handcuffs. Even the trussed-up lady on the entry page looks like she’s getting genuine rather than masochistic joy out of being there.


Users: 1 397 102

What is it? Ravelry is “a place for knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools, project and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration”.

While you may think this is a site for the more technically minded needle-wielding grandmother, the front page’s combination of lurid pinks and greens suggest a wider, more diverse audience. The site caters for a number of knitting sub-groups, including those who knit with the wool of dogs, rabbits, goats and what looks like a bison. If there are bison-wool knitters on the site, I’m guessing they’re the ones to be wary of.


Users: 1 931 049

What is it? A place where dark and edgy people go to be dark and edgy…

The surprising thing about VampireFreaks is not so much that it exists — it’s how old the website is. The social network dates back to 1999, when no one knew who Stephanie Meyer was, all on-screen vampires either had thick European accents or wore Ray-Bans, and other social-networking sites were still crawling around on their hands and knees. The site includes a dating portal and the ability to rate featured male and female profiles. If you like your eye candy pale, brooding and dressed in black, this may just be the site for you.


Users: 2 884 (The site calls them pets)

What is it? HAMSTERster is a social network where hamster and gerbil owners can post updates about their pets. I am not making this up.

You know that time you bought a hamster, or two, and then thought, “I really wish there was a place where like-minded hamsters lovers could meet and talk about how they all love hamsters?” Or have you ever wanted to talk about how your hamster ran around and then fell asleep in some sawdust? No? Well, the nearly 3 000 users of this site did and HAMSTERster made their wish come true.

Users: Unknown

What is it? IceBear, the site’s owner, claims that “Myrl is a cross-world entertainment platform, bringing virtual worlds and their users together on the web … building a layer on top of each virtual world, linking them up to create an integrated playground with endless possibilities and applications”.

You might think that joining Myrl means your Second Life avatar can now talk about what a great time it had at the mall. You might also think that someone from another virtual world can come back with a comment about how slaying five night elves in a tavern was way more exciting. Not quite.

What it does allow you to do is tell all your Small Worlds avatar’s connections about the really cool Second Life party you are going to. Getting trapped in a virtual world that is in a virtual world trapped in virtual world means it’s even easier for the real world to pass you by. Given a secure enough internet connection and a tough enough basement, a tornado could pass through your town without you even noticing.


Users: 25

What is it? A social-networking site for freegans, dumpster divers and moral squatters – in other words, people who don’t like paying for anything.

According to this site, Freegans are people who use “alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources”. In other words, they’re prepared to dive into a dumpster to look for the spoiled vegetables thrown out by supermarkets and restaurants.

One has to wonder how Freegan members access the site. Surely it would be frowned on if they were getting everything else for free but were paying for bandwidth? Do they have to resuscitate dead laptops from the trash to be considered cool?

By turning their backs on the formal economy, freegans do ultimately have a point about the selfishness of consumerism, especially when you consider that our excess allows freegans to exist in the first place.


Users: 5 334

What is it? MyPhilately is a social network for people who practice philately, or stamp collecting.

The site is a place where enthusiasts can “discuss stamps, upload images and meet other collectors. Set up [their] own or join collecting groups, participate in exchange programs … plus much more”.

I’m a little disappointed this site doesn’t have a dating portal. Two people finding love over a Penny Black beats the heck out of “we hooked up a couple of times in a club and then decided we might as well make a go of this whole relationship thing”.

The site is tastefully maintained with plenty of pictures, and there’s no sign of hyper-competitive bidding over something from a rare, flawed run from 1963.

MyPhilately actively encourages its members to go out and meet each other if they’re nearby and, at the very least, use the site to communicate. They’re doing everything to steer away from the stereotype of the kid who collects stamps being the one to get beaten up behind the bicycle shed every day. I applaud MyPhilately. Philologists of the world unite!



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