“Was your flight canceled? Did your Airbnb fall through? Couldn’t secure a spot on that event list?” last year’s event read. “If this is you, put on your loudest outfit, and join the bad-at-planning, misfits for a night of dancing, drinking, and memories that will last a lifetime.”
Like so many of his 20-something friends, this year’s event is again being organized on a rapidly growing app that brands itself as the “sexiest way” to plan parties and tracks just how many events users have attended and hosted.
Its name is Partiful, and ahead of New Year’s Eve, millions of mostly under-30s are using the free app and website that lets people create event pages and send out party-related text reminders to all their guests. It has for many young people dethroned Facebook events, Paperless Post and any other way of organizing casual get-togethers.
“This is where my social calendar exists,” said King, 25. “It’s probably one of the primary ways I’ve built my community since moving a little over a year ago.”
Some young people like King previously used large, unwieldy group texts or Instagram stories to plan events after fleeing Facebook and shunning email-based organizers that felt too formal. But each had its downside.
That’s where Partiful came in, said Shreya Murthy. She co-founded Partiful with Joy Tao, launching business operations in March 2020.
“So we laid low for a while,” she told The Washington Post. They instead got to work creating a text message-based event-planning site with trendy pages that could be customized with GIFs, multicolored gradients and memes.
The idea came from Murthy’s own experience trying to make friends in her 20s. She wanted to plan more group hangouts or parties to help build her community, but it was “totally chaotic,” she said, as people left Facebook and scattered to disparate services.
She thought there was a way to centralize the pros of Facebook — for example, seeing attendee names — but focus it around texts, since everyone was on their phone but didn’t regularly check their emails.
In 2021, as vaccines rolled out and in-person events returned, Murthy and Tao started marketing it publicly to friends and others. That year, she said the number of users was likely in the thousands. By 2022, it was in the hundreds of thousands, and by the end of this year, she said Partiful’s monthly users are in the millions and number of events are in the hundreds of thousands, seven times more than 2022. Most users are in big coastal cities, and a growing number are outside the United States and on college campuses.
“I didn’t realize how hard socializing would be after college,” said Murthy. “And for an entire generation, covid made that uniquely challenging. And if we care about our mental health, if we care about our friendships, we should take socializing seriously.”
Coming out of the pandemic, many young people were stuck inside for the best days of high school, college and young professional life. Partiful user Kristel Black said she and her friends stayed connected online, but were also inundated by TikTok and Instagram and all the insecurities that brought.
For the 26-year-old, Partiful felt like a social media platform whose goal was different: plan things in real life, meet real people.
“Everyone was just getting overwhelmed with too much social media,” said Black, a third-year medical student at the University of North Carolina from Raleigh who started using it for her 24th birthday. “People just want to be in person again, and do so with intention.”
Creating a fun event page, she said, helps bring that intention, and being able to revisit the page weeks or months later helps broaden her social circles.
As people who had been isolated started attending large events again, many wanted to be more deliberate, more creative about how they socialized. That changed the way many hosted, and made people more enthusiastic to do so, according to the International Housewares Association, which tracks how and how much people host home events.
“Now people want themes. People want experiences,” said Dawn Evans, a trends analyst for the IHA.
Partiful, some users say, helped meet that moment. A day of wholesome fun, with a talent show and yearbook photos. A night of reading friends’ creative writing. An “it feels so scary getting old” birthday party.
Black said only a handful of friends use the app in Raleigh, especially compared to D.C. and New York, where she would frequently visit before she moved out of Philadelphia. Many of her Raleigh friends still use large group chats that can make her less excited for the event. But King, in Brooklyn, said it seems like everyone’s on Partiful, and he’s even started organizing smaller hangouts on the app.
While technology can bring people together, it can also make some feel isolated. Roughly 44 million U.S. adults still report concerning levels of loneliness after the pandemic peak. Murthy hopes Partiful might be able to make people feel more connected.
Katie Davis, who has researched the ways young people use social media since 2005, said many have been using the platforms to organize their in-person lives since at least 2007. But, she said, more social media today is overcome with ads, something Partiful so far avoids, and there are many more platforms available.
“Partiful is clearly branding itself for the Gen Z culture,” said Davis, a University of Washington professor who directs its Digital Youth Lab. “It’s tapping into the cultural vibe of this younger generation. It’s using their language. It’s using their aesthetic.”
Under a tab on its site called “party inspo,” short for inspiration, Partiful suggests events called “middle school slay,” “girl dinner” and “dad bodz.”
Davis said Partiful’s success “probably” has something to do with pandemic isolation, in addition to its design.
Partiful is not profitable — its founders say it doesn’t sell user data — but it had raised over $7 million in funding by fall of 2022, and more since, Murthy said. She declined to provide more specifics. To try to monetize the platform, Partiful plans to eventually sell party apparel like disposable cameras and potentially provide party support services.
Giliann Karon, 26, thinks of the site as a social media for real life, and for New Year’s Eve, she’s of course going to a Partiful party. The host used the app to tell her and other guests the event would have karaoke, a balcony and would be shoes off, so plan outfits accordingly.
Most of Karon’s friends really started using Partiful this spring or summer in D.C., she said.
It helped her make what she called “loose friends,” or people she’d enjoy seeing at larger gatherings but might not hang out with one-on-one. When she’d host a party, she could go to past event pages and easily invite people she’d connected with, even if she hadn’t exchanged numbers or followed them on social media.
“People our age want an easier way to be together,” she said. “It’s so easy to get caught up in every other social media app. Partiful is refreshing because it has one purpose, and one purpose only: to bring people together.”