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1stFriday.com Gets “Connected”

If you live in a major city in the U.S. you’ve probably attended a First Friday event. First Friday is an institution, a reliable source of social and business networking for black professionals. From its start in New Jersey in 1988, the monthly event now has active chapters in 35 cities across seven countries.

To further expand its reach, First Friday has embraced the net and created 1stFriday.com. It’s a website that acts as a one stop shop for African Americans searching for local services and information, including travel, childcare, and home improvement. The site sums it up best describing itself as the “Black community’s destination for information for us — by us.”

On January 21, 1stFriday.com launched Connections, a social and professional networking community. Based off the offline First Friday event, Connections purpose is to create viable local online black communities. Part of the inspiration for the idea came from a New York Times article that described the problems professional single black mothers had finding reliable childcare.

At first glance, you might be inclined to write Connections of as another social networking site in the vein of BlackPlanet or Facebook, the focus on building online local communities would place it closer to Craiglist. This is no coincidence. Craig Newmark, creator of Craigslist serves as an informal advisor.

“He’s a big believer in our platform,” says 1stFriday.com CEO Jay Ward. We’ve consulted with him regarding the growth of Craigslist. We’re very much trying to create a Craigslist-type of environment for the African American community.”

While it might have some Craigslist influences, 1stFriday is a unique site. To guard against scams and unsafe behavior, moderation tools are built into the platform as a first line of defense.  Ads promoting or soliciting sexual activity are forbidden and Ward promises that the site will be aggressively moderated so that the same quality expected from an offline First Friday event will continue in the online sphere.

Connections is a relatively to navigate. Creating a profile has the user going through the usual sign up rigmarole. Once the profile is completed, users can take advantage of the people search map, a diagram displaying other users that match your interests. Users can also participate in a myriad of groups including Foodies, Technology Industry, and Single Moms. On the user-generated blog front, I saw a few helpful articles including “The Top Ten Ways to Piss off a Judge”, “Independent Film Production”, and “The Curvy Fashionista”.

To create the Connections platform, 1stFriday.com teamed with Leverage Software, “the only enterprise social networking platform that integrates “people-matching” and “geography-based” features.”

“We’re excited to see our community management technology deployed in such and innovative and meaninful way, especially for a community the size of the U.S. African-American market, said John Stanton CEO of Leverage Software.”

To date, 1stFriday.com and Connections have dedicated communities for the western and southwestern U.S. market including Portland, Dallas, Denver, and San Francisco. However, the platform is open to anyone looking to make a new connection. If the 20-year success of the offline First Friday events are any indication, 1stFriday.com and the Connections community are worth a look.

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