Do bald people need shampoo? Good question. When Yuchen Long, 14, posted this question on the beta version of a new site called wis.dm on Monday, she got 63 answers in less than three hours, but no clear consensus: while 77% of respondents said no, 23% clicked yes. All those votes made Long's query one of the most popular on this new breed of social networking site that aims to bring people together based not on their school (as in Facebook), sexy pictures (MySpace) or job (LinkedIn), but rather on their own sense of humor and knack for keeping virtual conversations flowing.
Founded by Martin Clifford, a Web 1.0 multimillionaire who's back for round two, wis.dm aims to bring more depth and intelligence to online social networking. Unlike the most popular networking sites, which are more about narcissism (why else would you post 29 pictures of yourself?) and passive voyeurism (guess who your ex is dating now?!) the best way to enjoy wis.dm is to dive in and start asking and answering questions. And unlike Facebook and its ilk, wis.dm is fun to use even if you don't know anyone else on it.
"The world is not based only on who you know, it's also about what you know," says Clifford, who made his first fortune in 2003 when he and a partner sold the dating site udate to Interactive Corp. for $150 million. Clifford spent a year in Barbados before moving to Cambridge, Mass., to launch wis.dm with some $5 million in venture funding. (The "dm" domain name comes from Dominica, where the site is registered.)
Anyone can post queries, which range from the political ("Is ballistic fingerprinting an invasion of privacy?") to matters of taste ("Do you put Parmesan cheese on your pizza?") to pure fluff ("Did you have a tree house when you were little?"). The only catch is that your post must be answerable with either a yes or no sorry wafflers, you're out of luck. The site keeps a public log of every question you ask, answer or post a comment to. It also lets you see who you are most compatible with based on your answers to all those questions. The most inquisitive wis.dm members post hundreds of questions a day, for which they earn points and a chance to make the "leaderboard."
Like the most addictive twitch video game, it's frighteningly easy to get sucked in for hours as you scramble to dream up witty questions, see who has answered them, scan their queries, answer the good ones, then circle back to your own list to see who has posted comments while you were away.
By Monday evening, the day before wis.dm made its official debut, Long was already ranked number seven out of the site's 6306 members. She had asked 1579 questions, posted 718 comments and given 2954 answers to other people's queries. Her breathless pace made my own 30 questions and 486 points seem pretty lame, but I did take a small measure of pride in knowing that my best post Do you ever think about the one who got away? not only got 32 responses but also five comments from people who wanted to explain their answer in more detail. After all, any fool can click a yes or a no, but comments are what really make conversations develop, and, hopefully, real debate and dialogue begin.
Now all I need to do is figure out how to make friends on here. The funny thing is, even after asking so many nosy questions on the site, from whether people like eggs over easy to if they ever kissed someone who they weren't all that attracted to, I'm still a little nervous about asking other wis.dmers to be my friend. So here's a question: Are you often too shy to make the first move, even online?