Fark adds friends lists and private messaging

Drew Curtis
Drew Curtis speaking later in the day on a panel at SXSWi

At 10 years old, popular community website Fark.com has some new features on the way. These include friends lists, private messaging and comment voting.

TechRadar caught up with Fark's founder Drew Curtis at the recent South by South West Interactive conference to talk about the new additions to the site.

The features are being implemented to meet "base level" expectations of newer users, says Curtis, who explains that Fark continues to attract users in their early twenties:

"They come out of college and they get to their first boring, horrible job and they're sitting around in the cafeteria going 'god, how do I keep myself sane?' and somebody clues them in on Fark," he explains.

"It's really funny, watching that demographic spike at 22. It's like clockwork. Our biggest months of the year are October and January - we think January because that's when the semesters change and the kids are sitting around talking about their favourite sites.

"But when you're 10 years' old you start looking at how you continue to make sure this happens, how we continue to stay relevant to these guys, and with us it's not really humour but it has more to do with 22-year-olds, and 18-year-olds, have this base level of features that they expect to see when they hit a site and they get a little bit confused when they don't have it."

Curtis said he has been emailed with requests for private messaging, friends lists, and email prompts. "So we're going to put all that stuff in."

Fear of change

We ask how existing Fark users will react to the new features.

Curtis laughs. "I mentioned [the changes] in a local newspaper interview and a bunch of TotalFarkers got all up in arms - they were like 'don't turn Fark into Facebook!' so I said 'we're not going to turn Fark into Facebook, you dumbasses! We're adding some shit and if you don't want to use it, you'll never see it. But if you're expecting it to be there, then you'll find it.'"

(TotalFarkers are the paid subscribers who support the site by paying $5 a month.)

"I believe that about 20% of our audience is anal retentive," jokes Curtis. "They're the guys that if you go to their house and you turn their little miniature cats around backwards they freak the fuck out when they walk into the room.

"Think about what that means when you are designing a site. Even if it's the best idea in the world, those people are still going to wig out because you turned their little cats around backwards.

Tweaking the comment system

As well as what he calls "basic stuff that the kids think should be there", Curtis says there's a subtle redesign of the comments in the works: "If you're average Joe who's never heard of Fark and you landed on one of our comments pages, could you figure out, without anybody telling you what to do, what the hell you're supposed to do?"

Currently the answer is no, he says. "So we're changing it round a bit, just making things a little clearer, so it doesn't significantly impact the layout."

Fark will also see a mechanism whereby users can vote for comments they like (or don't like).

"If you come to the main comments page the comments will still look exactly the same," Curtis reassures anyone who is worried that Fark is about to turn into Facebook or Digg, "but you can vote on all of them. And there will be three tabs out to the right of the main page - we're running three contests all the time - best, funniest, and crap.

"It will not change anything on the main comments page at all - but we're saying here's something else you can do if you guys care, because people really do like to give props when they see something that's hilarious.

"We don't expect people to look at every single comment and vote - that's not the point. If you don't want to participate in that you don't have to because we're not shoving it in your face, but if you do, it's something extra to do."

Curtis says the new features should appear within a month, but he's laid back about deadlines. "It depends, though, since as we're not venture funded we're not really in a hurry. We don't have any quotas to hit! So whenever we get around to it, basically, but I think within the next month."

Global Editor-in-Chief

After watching War Games and Tron more times that is healthy, Paul (Twitter, Google+) took his first steps online via a BBC Micro and acoustic coupler back in 1985, and has been finding excuses to spend the day online ever since. This includes roles editing .net magazine, launching the Official Windows Magazine, and now as Global EiC of TechRadar.