The holiday season is here, and with it the age-old question: What is the best way to invite people to my party?
Facebook invitations are no longer tenable. People don’t use Facebook anymore, which means they might not see your event unless you expressly tell them to go look for it there—horrible. For a big party, I like to send an email. For a small party, why not just make a calendar event and add your nearest and dearest to it without even asking? And for something really wild, I don’t see what’s wrong with making a flyer and putting it on your Instagram or texting it to everyone you know. (A friend of mine once texted me a photo of Chris Farley and Kenan Thompson playing with ketchup, overlaid with the text “Taste test different and interesting ketchups with your friends!” That was a great invite and a great party.)
But all of the existing options have their failings. Emails can go to spam; flyers can be seen by random, undesired people; paper invites are ridiculous and attention-seeking, like owning a typewriter. Partiful, a newish site, positions itself as the latest and best solution to the party-invitation problem. Popular among young people and a hipper tech crowd, it is “facebook events for hot people,” according to its Instagram bio. That claim is funny—in an email, a Partiful co-founder, Shreya Murthy, called it “a bit of an inside joke with our hosts and guests,” adding, “If you use Partiful, you’re automatically hot”—and it’s also bold. Facebook Events were the party-invite go-to for at least 10 years. For some, myself included, that feature was the last reason they bothered using the site at all. Now its time is over.
hot girls drop their phones, i don’t make the rules— Partiful (@partiful) September 6, 2022
“Facebook events are ugly and lame,” read the description on a mocked-up invitation to a “Funeral for Facebook Events,” shared on Partiful’s Instagram last year. “Partiful is cool and will reign supreme.” The invite’s main image was of a skeleton making a loser sign on its forehead; Murthy commented “rest in passé” with a coffin emoji. A profile of the growing company ran in The New York Times’ Style section in September, under a headline suggesting that Partiful is the “least cringe” option for invitations. “It’s just fun, it’s fresh, and it’s very Gen Z,” one of Partiful’s “hundreds of thousands” of users told the Times. (Another shared the theme of a recent party she’d used Partiful to organize: “Don’t think, just be hot.”)
I had not seen this story when I first deduced, earlier this fall, that Partiful was cool, when a friend used it to invite me to a housewarming party. The header image was a BeReal photo of my friend and her boyfriend. They looked cool. So I typed in my phone number and made an account and used Partiful to send the invitation to my housewarming party. I selected a navy-blue gradient, labored over a title (“dinner in a new apartment,” all lowercase, cool), and uploaded an image of my new bookshelves, zoomed in on its two copies of Infinite Jest (his and hers). Cool?
Functionally, Partiful is not going to shock anyone. It works like Facebook Events in that, when someone RSVPs to a party, they can see a full list of everyone else who is going, displayed near the event details and above a comment section. The noticeable difference is that a host invites people to a party by sending them a link, rather than a notification in the Facebook app. And she reminds them to come to her party via automated text messages, rather than through notifications in the Facebook app. Partiful will remember your event history and number, and it allows access to a “Mutuals” page, which lists “everyone you’ve ever partied with” along with the number of parties you’ve attended with them. It’s a bare-bones social network tied to your phone number.
The true divergence from events-apps past is, obviously, the branding, as is the case with many things. Just as there is now an explicitly right-wing version of everything from YouTube to coffee to soap, there is now an explicitly “hot people” version of everything, from vaccines to tinned fish. Instagram has always been kinder to hot people, but now there are splinter sites: The chat-room app Geneva is basically Discord for hot people; hot people fleeing Twitter are considering Hive. Partiful looks really good, and if you use it to organize your party, you will too.
“Partiful embodies aesthetic as an adjective,” Murthy told me. It deploys gradients, GIFs laid out in grids, and falling white stars to achieve the effect of a glossed-up early webpage. The designer who worked out its brand identity describes the photography style used by the company as “retro, slightly off-beat, festive.” The font is sans serif but playful. The colorful choices for invitation backgrounds—“aurora,” “aquatica,” “galaxy,” “twilight”—evoke, as the market-research firm YPulse puts it, “blurry night luxe vibes.” (“Night luxe,” otherwise known as “going out at night,” is this thing that Gen Z invented—a corrective to the Millennial wellness era’s glorification of “staying in at night.”) In addition to memes and photos of random young people, Partiful uses modern-classic party imagery to set a tone—for example, a photo of a young Kate Moss holding a pair of toy guns and smoking a cigarette.
The site was created during the pandemic and then rode a wave of excitement about the return to social life. “Parties are often dismissed as a frivolity, but they’re actually incredibly important to building social ties,” Murthy told me. “The pandemic made it especially clear how important (and irreplaceable) in-person time is to our well-being.” She wouldn’t name the investors who contributed the company’s $7.4 million of seed funding, but Partiful has since closed a $20 million Series A round, led by the famous venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Partiful is led by several women, including Murthy and her co-founder Joy Tao, who formerly worked at Palantir, the super-secretive data-analytics company co-founded by the far-right billionaire Peter Thiel (a fact that didn’t appear in the New York Times story). When I asked Murthy about this, she said it’s not something she and her team hide, because it appears on their public LinkedIn profiles: “It tends to not be a focus, since enterprise-data-analytics software is pretty far from parties.”
As a reaction to Facebook, Partiful is well timed. The rise of Web3, the tumult at Twitter, and the raw disdain for Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse—paired with other signs of broad disillusionment with the social-media ecosystem of the 2010s—have led to a bubbling-up of optimism about the possibility that people can live, somehow, very differently online than they do currently. On her LinkedIn, Murthy describes Partiful as a service built to serve “your real-life social network” and “your most meaningful relationships,” as opposed to “your thousand followers on IG.” Without fundamentally changing much (your Partiful profile can be linked to Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter; Andreessen Horowitz is hardly the new kid on the block), it suggests something more intimate than an invitation shared via one of Meta’s products, something more modern than email, and something prettier than “awkward group chats, and screenshotted flyers.” Something scrappier and cooler and incrementally more private.
Most importantly, Partiful is part of a broader aesthetic shift, Murthy said. “We don’t want things to feel like the products we were using ten years ago. Everything that’s happening now feels fresh—we want bright dopamine colors, immersive saturated visuals, bold typefaces, irreverent details. I think anyone who’s feeling like they’re sick of the old guard is gravitating towards a very different type of visual language.” Is that a radical departure and an idea very obviously worth $20 million? Maybe not. But it is, certainly, “Facebook events for hot people.”