Monday, December 10, 2007

Social Networking: Pets

"Think of Dogster as Facebook for canines. There, my dogs (along with 346,639 other four-legged members, as of last week) had their own profile pages that listed their likes and dislikes, personal mottoes — Otto’s is “Are you going to finish that?” — and best tricks (“catching seedless grapes in mid-air”).

So what if my dogs could barely type, much less upload photos of themselves wearing Santa hats?

We live in an era where there is a social network to cater to any niche group you can think of, including infants whose parents create Facebook profiles for them and then expect the godparents to pretend to correspond with the babies. Why shouldn’t pets arrange play dates online or blog about their health issues?

Or as Ted Rheingold, the founder of Dogster, put it in a phone interview last week, “It’s not weird at all.”

It was perhaps inevitable that Dogster spawned Catster, which had 145,551 members of its own as of last week. Coming next: horses, birds and fish will get their own sites, too, Mr. Rheingold said.

He said there is a simple explanation for the lure of animal lovers’ sites. “All these people come for the same reason everyone else is on the Internet: they found people who are like-minded,” Mr. Rheingold said. “They were missing what I call a certain kind of social-ality in their lives, and this is the place where they found it. It’s actually quite heartwarming.”

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