The Jewish Facebook?
Launched in November, Jspace hopes to sign up ‘every Jew in the world’
For something that barely existed a few years ago, the world of social media has gotten pretty crowded. Facebook reigns supreme, but increasing swaths of humanity are choosing — or feeling compelled – to tweet, make professional connections and even look for love online.
Into this packed arena has stepped a new initiative, one with a distinctly Jewish flavor and target membership.
Jspace, which launched in November and is making a concerted push for a worldwide following, marks the latest effort at connecting the Jewish community on the Internet, both on the individual level and among major organizations. With sections devoted to dating, friend-finding and uploading photos and videos, the site offers both a familiar approach to social networking and something new — a way to combine those personal interactions with options for plugging into the wider community.
“Right now, people go to 100 different sites to find out what’s going on — a dating site, organizational sites, and so on,” says Meara Razon, Jspace’s vice president of community outreach. “We’re boiling it down and concentrating it onto one site. You might come for dating and end up in the organization section. You might come for news and end up finding out about events.”
With roughly 4,500 users, the site still has a ways to go before reaching its ultimate goal: “to get every Jew in the world on the site,” Razon says.
But since its official launch at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America last year, Jspace has steadily increased its membership, forging alliances with 150 Jewish organizations and building its profile at communal Hanukka parties across the US. With writers contributing content from 20 cities around the world, the site aspires to become an online hub for residents of each place, as well as for tourists hoping to connect with local communities during their travels.
Based in New York — also home to the majority of the site’s current users — Jspace’s two founders combine its “social” and “media” components quite literally in their professional backgrounds.
Gil Gibli, a nightlife promoter, and Itay Koren, the owner of several Internet businesses, hatched the idea two years ago, after “realizing they never knew what was going on in the Jewish community, and not for lack of wanting to,” Razon says.
The pair, Israeli expats who’ve lived in New York for more than a decade, believed they’d found a hole to be filled online, and decided to merge Gibli’s public relations skills with Koren’s technical expertise. Two years later, Jspace employs an eight-person team of coders and programmers in Chicago — part of an overall staff of 25 — and seeks to provide what Razon calls a “clean” and “original” look that makes the site easy to navigate.
With its simple color scheme and steady stream of updates, it bears a clear resemblance to Facebook and other social media sites, but offers slightly different, sometimes Jewish-inspired versions of terms that have become part of the modern lexicon. (Instead of “liking” a friend’s posting, for example, as is the case on Facebook, Jspace users show their approval with a “mazel.”)
With Jewish-interest websites continuing to pop up — here’s another new one we can think of — Jspace is hardly alone, though its emphasis on social networking arguably presents unique growth potential, as well as distinct challenges.
“Right now, I think people are overwhelmed,” Razon says, referring to the site’s competitors. “On Facebook, nothing’s organized — you don’t know where to go, what to look for. People don’t know how to get involved, and Jspace will provide that.”
‘Our job is not to get people off Facebook — that’s not what we’re trying to do. It’s to use Jspace in conjunction with Facebook, to check everything Jewish’
At the same time, she concedes, “Our job is not to get people off Facebook — that’s not what we’re trying to do. It’s to use Jspace in conjunction with Facebook, to check everything Jewish.”
That in-conjunction-with strategy appears to be the approach of many of the site’s partner organizations, which are using Jspace as a mode of outreach while maintaining their other online activities.
“For us, it’s another useful tool that helps us more easily network and target those we want to reach,” says Alexis Frankel, the director of ACCESS NY, an American Jewish Committee program geared toward young professionals. “There’s a huge amount of social media out there, which can be hard to sift through. Our connections through Jspace are more meaningful because they’re with people who are specifically looking to connect with the Jewish world.”
While Frankel says it’s been “hard to quantify” Jspace’s effect on her own outreach efforts, she notes that the site does seem to have produced an uptick in interest.
“I don’t know that we’ve gotten thousands of people attending our events yet [because of Jspace], but I’m seeing a steadier stream of people liking and attending our events – people who weren’t previously on any of our lists,” she says.
“Jspace is still really expanding its own network and presence,” she continues, “and I’m willing to stick with it.”
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