Launched a year and a half ago, Instagram account @_personals_ has built up a large following with its old-fashioned personal adverts posted by women.
So successful has it proved that its creator, Kelly Rakowski, is now crowdfunding to launch an app to further its success.
Rakowski, 38, grew up in New York state and has lived in New York City for the past 13 years. She’s a freelance photography director for an architecture and design magazine, but also has a host of side projects.
She first found a following on Instagram with the account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y. The account posts historical images of lesbian and bisexual women.
‘I launched about three and a half years ago. I was finding a lot of interesting images of lesbians from the 1800s to the late 1990s, all these vintage photos, and I felt there wasn’t a place that I could see them all in one location. So I decided to start an Instagram.’
The account proved immediately popular, and led to the @_personals_ offshoot.
‘I found this really great online archive of the lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs,’ says Rakowski.
‘There are full issues available online to go through from the 80s and 90s. And in the back of every issue were personal ads written by lesbians looking for sex or love. They were so funny and smart and sexy … I was enamoured by them.
‘I started posting screenshots of these adverts on @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, and then I decided, why don’t we post our own personals? So I put a call out for submissions and a bunch of people wrote their own adverts that were contemporary. That just became so popular that it was overrunning the herstory account, so I started @_personals_.
The account has established a loyal following and can already claim to have led to long-lasting relationships.
Falling in love and marrying
‘People are meeting and falling in love and moving in together. It’s been so successful. It seems like location doesn’t matter either. People are travelling across oceans to meet.
‘There was a marriage soon after it started. This person was in Los Angeles and this other person was in Sweden, and they met and then eventually got married.
‘I just had my Kickstarter launch party on Wednesday and someone came up to me and told me that they just happened to be in New York but she was from Edinburgh, and she told me she met her partner through _personals_. Her partner was in London but they had met and now she was moving to Edinburgh, and they are – quote – “low-key engaged”.’
Instagram is very much a visual medium and _personals_, in stark contrast, is text-based. Is its old-skool factor part of its charm?
‘Yeah, it’s text based but it’s such a short amount of text, you can read it in a few seconds. It’s like reading a text message or something. I think it’s almost like a visual description of yourself and what you’re looking for.’
Developing an app
The Kickstarter Rakowski mentioned is to turn the @_personals_ Instagram into an app. She says it will stick closely to the same format, allowing women to post their own short, text-based personal ads. They can include a link to their Instagram, if people want to check out photos, but the app itself will remain text-based.
At the moment, she puts out call for personal ad submission to Instagram once a month and always receives a deluge. The app will allow users to post whenever they want. Location filters will also ensure you can check out posters closer to you.
To start, it will be for, ‘lesbians, queer, trans people, gender nonconforming and bi and I think eventually I’d like to open it up to queer, gay men, but I think it’s important for us to establish it ourselves first, as a space.’
Even the most casual observer cannot help but be struck by the difference between apps like Grindr and _personals_. Even Her, another well-known women’s app, is more akin to a social media platform.
‘I know about Grindr. I’ve not been on it but it’s very image based and it’s about hooking up, mostly,’ suggest Rakowski.
‘I guess that’s the men’s app I’m most familiar with, but a lot of queer women I know are on Tinder, too, and again – you don’t really talk about what you’re into – it’s more image-based, just swiping through people. And then there’s OK Cupid, which is almost like too much to read. So I feel that this is like a happy medium.’
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Rakowski won’t be making use of _personals_ herself anytime soon. She’s already happily in a relationship.
Does a text-based dating app interest you? Comment below!