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May 11th, 2005 Josey Bartlett | News Stories
 

The Latest Mass-ing Link

Portland a hotspot for the Dodgeball.com network.

     
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Cari Carter is one about 500 Portlanders who are plugged into Dodgeball.com.
IMAGE: MATT WONG
Cari Carter obviously knows what's up. The 28-year-old jewelry designer with bright red hair sports a crop of tattoos and loves her burgundy 1978 Vespa decorated with Hello Kitty stickers.

As she sits in the Starbucks at Pioneer Place, her Trio 600-a James Bond-ish camera/phone/personal digital assistant-links her to another yet another hipster lifestyle asset: Dodgeball.com.

In the online networking sweepstakes that gave the world Friendster, MySpace and flash mobs, bookmark Dodgeball.com as the latest entry.

While scrolling the constantly updated list of hangouts frequented by Portland's 500 other Dodgeball users, Carter explains how Dodgeball works instantly to corral social lives.

"If I'm out, I can send a single text message to portland@dodgeball.com, and it instantly sends a text message to all of my friends on the site letting them know where I'm at," Carter says.

Network sites like Friendster allow users to link personalized Web pages to their friends and their friends' friends. Dodgeball puts the same concept to work with users' cell phones, giving those digital connections a real-world immediacy.

A saucier wrinkle: The online profiles of Dodgeballers include pictures and personal details, and if someone strikes your fancy, you can add them to a "crush list." If your crush wanders within 10 blocks of you while you're logged into Dodgeball, he gets a message alerting him you're nearby.

That system, dedicated Dodgeballers say, provides protection against dirty old (wo)men who might cruise the site. Does your crush want to stalk his stalker, or simply run? It's in his hands.

Founded in New York in 2000 by a pair of dot-com exiles, Dodgeball hasn't yet caught pop-culture fire the way Friendster did in 2003 or achieved the success of LiveJournal, the blog site Portland founder Brad Fitzpatrick sold for more than $1 million this January.

"I think it's a bit too early to start charging users, and I want to stay away from pushing ads via text messaging to users," says co-founder Denis Crowley.

Dodgeball fans like Carter are evangelical. On her own initiative, she leaves Dodgeball fliers on bars and countertops.

Beyond making it easier to tell your pals where you are (and providing text directions, if necessary), Dodgeball plugs 21st-century social gaps, says Portland State University sociology professor Randy Blazak.

"It's a Generation Y thing," Blazak says. "We don't have the same neighborhood communities we used to-neighborhood pools, taverns and so on-so we need a new way to communicate."

For Carter, Dodgeball's casual convenience outweighs any big-picture social concerns.

"It's sort of a loose invite," she says. "If I don't want to go, I don't have to."


Portland's users make it the 10th-biggest of the Dodgeball service's 22 markets.
 
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