Online Social Networking for Lesbians

On the Showtime series "The L Word," there is a leitmotif of a chart that tracks the relationships of the gay women characters on the show. This idea was the inspiration for Our, a social networking site cofounded by the show's creator, Ilene Chaiken, and Hilary Rosen, a political consultant and lobbyist best known for leading the Recording Industry Association of America (the trade association for the music labels) during the Napster crisis. She's also visible as a talking head on cable news and as a blogger. Our Chart is financially backed by CBS, which owns Showtime and the series; revenue will come from ads. Besides networking, Our Chart has plans for original programming. D.C.-based Rosen, 48, spoke to NEWSWEEK about it by phone on a trip to southern California.

NEWSWEEK: Why build a company around a chart from a TV show?
Rosen: The "L Word" ' s creator Ilene Chaiken thought that the Chart was ultimately a social network on the show. There hadn't been a specific social networking site for lesbians heretofore. Obviously, there are lesbians on MySpace and there are lesbians on Facebook. I hope to steal all their business.

What happens when "The L Word" ends its run?
Our future is not wed at all to the show, because we have original content. After the season ended this past year, our traffic shot through the roof because people had begun to use the chart and the social networking.

On the TV show, the Chart represents who's sleeping with whom. Is that the way it works on your site?
On the show, it does represent the hookups, but so far on our site, it represents networks of friends. Within the next two months, we will add a feature called Friends Plus, where people can designate their hookups and add hookups if they'd like.

Isn't that a privacy concern?
If someone wants to add your name to the chart, you have to consent to that.

Still, it's information that people may be all right with at the moment, but later may have second thoughts about.
We're not worried at all about this. All social networks have some level of public nature and some level of private information. It's entirely under the user's control whether they use their real name, whether they use any real identifying information, what kind of picture they use to identify themselves. So this is not an issue.

What kind of content are you creating?
We've commissioned an original Web series from filmmaker Angela Robinson, called "Girl Trash," which will start with 10 episodes of five minutes or less each. It's a lesbian underworld crime story.

How are your advertising sales going?
We're just starting up. This is a very interesting market for advertisers, and I think in some respects we may be one of the first to create it. Compared to the whole women's market, lesbians have higher disposable income, are more college-educated, and are more into consumer products. We think we have a segment of superconsumers here.

Are large corporations over the concern that they're vulnerable to pressure groups if they sponsor gay-oriented material?
I think so. The few times in recent years that the right wing has tried to push back on companies that have advertised in the gay market or supported the cause, it hasn't been successful. I think corporate America in some respects is where the country is, which is way ahead of where the politics are.

You headed the RIAA when the music industry had an awful time accommodating itself to the reality of the Internet. In retrospect, what happened?
I won't be a George Tenet here, but it's pretty well known that I was impatient with the pace of the industry's embrace of online distribution of music. There's no substitute for speed when times are dire. The record companies had valid reasons for their caution, but that caution let the situation get out of hand.

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