The Experience Project launched in 2006, having been inspired by an online MS support group. Rather than focus on a single disease, though, the site allows someone in an asthma support group who’s been talking about inhalers with the same 20 people for 20 years, for example, to talk about Kurosawa with film lovers or chicken marinade with at-home chefs–asthma or no. It’s an admirable idea in a culture of labels: to be defined by our experiences and interests rather than our illnesses. But something’s gone wrong here. It may be that the labels are more flattering than our true selves.
Here’s how it works: Users start by telling a “story,” uploading photos and joining Experience groups chosen from 13 categories ranging from Hobbies to LGBT. Within categories there are Groups–exceedingly tiny and genre-specific–but instead of Facebook-style Like buttons, here you join a Group by clicking a button that says “Me Too!” You have to be careful because all the groups are titled in the first-person. So, yeah, maybe it’s true that you’re a breast man, but don’t hit “Me Too!” unless you really, really want to join the Group called “I Find Cleavages Irresistable” [sic].
The Questions initially seem similar in spirit to those on the dating site OkCupid, which are meant to clarify whether you could stand to be in the same room with someone. An OkCupid question might be: “Do you think racist jokes are funny?” If the person you’re scoping on the site answers “yes,” you can cross him/her off the list unless you’re looking for hate-sex.
On the Experience Project, users ask questions the way they would if they wanted a Magic 8 Ball but were too lazy to go to the mall to buy one. A question I saw: “Should I take the hedgehog outside?” A couple of people answered “Yes” without asking for clarification and without providing elaboration. At least no one answered, “Ask Again Later.”
There are all kinds of writing exercises on this site. Confessions differ from Stories which are separate from Experiences which are not Blog Entries. All get separate headlines. Here are four headlines by the same male user:
Story: “favorite dumb blonde joke.”
Confession: “I hate giftgiving at Christmas.”
Blog entry: “Hope doesn’t float, it sucks…”
Experience: “I Live In a Sexless Marriage/Sometimes I Wonder If Its Even Worth Trying.”
I’m so glad I don’t have to teach the genre distinctions.
The biggest problem with the site is the people who use it. I’m very familiar with online morons but the Experience Project’s membership is pathbreaking in its stupidity. It’s as though every philly.com commenter were lobotomized and then chained to Experience Project terminals.
Every now and then, a real human being with real problems seeks help on the site, and it’s heartbreaking. Derek45343 is Lonely and Depressed and gets no input. A girl worries she might be to blame for her sexual assault, and the answer she gets is: Damn right she was! Doesn’t she know how to say no?
There are seven people from Philly on the site, supposedly, but I’m very suspicious of a guy in cowboy regalia. I’ve never seen him, and this is a small enough town that if even one person wears a cowboy hat regularly, it gets noticed. It seems totally plausible that I could say to my friends, “You know that guy in Rittenhouse Square who wears the cowboy hat…?” and everyone would say yes.
Below, some screen grabs with titles I’ve given them, thereby turning the site into art. Images should enlarge when you click them.
My title: YOU’RE JEWISH??!!
My title: CRAPPY + CRAPPY = CRAPPY
My title: HANA HAS MANY FRIENDS IN PHILLY
My title: DO GIRLS WITH FRIZZY HAIR COUNT AS WOLF MATES?
My title: IT’S ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES
My title: NO, BUT REALLY: SHOULD WE FORCE NORTH KOREANS TO EAT STALE FORTUNE COOKIES?
My title: THE ANSWER IS ‘NO’
My title: USER NAME EXPLAINS ALL
Feel free to play the game yourself. Experience the Experience Project right here.