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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 17:20 GMT
Parisian neighbours meet online
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click

Cities may cram people together like sardines in a supermarket, but many of those living an urban life can end up feeling more lonely than on a picnic on Pluto. But one French networking website is trying to change all that.

Peuplade website
Parisians are using the web to meet their neighbours

Just as most Parisians are too cool to visit the Eiffel Tower, most of us ignore the possibilities for friendships immediately outside our front door.

French social networking website Peuplade aims to bridge that small but often insurmountable gap by putting neighbours in touch with each other. It also wants you to meet people different from your usual crowd.

"In life today we get to meet people in a very specific situation and social background. You meet people from your school, from your family or from your work," said Jérémie Chouraqui, a lawyer and one of the founders of Peuplade.

"With Peuplade you will meet people that you will usually not get to meet in cities: people with different ages and social backgrounds, but they all live in the same neighbourhood."

The site is effectively a neighbourhood notice-board which started life in Paris's 17th arrondisement and is now spreading to the rest of the city.

It carries a variety of information on upcoming events, but visitors can also make contact and meet up with people who live within a two-minute walk.

Social experiment

Peuplade aims to change the way we make friends and the sort of people we make friends with - when you sign up you leave your prejudices at the door.

The idea from the start was to create links between people who shouldn't really meet, who don't really have an affinity, who aren't part of the same group or network
Nathan Stern, Peuplade

"We have a profile page in which we ask you a series of questions. We don't ask your age, sex or job because that can lead to discrimination. We encourage you to leave a photo or image that moves you, rather than a photo of yourself," said Stephane Legouffe, a sociologist and one of the co-ordinators of the site.

Log on and enter your details, scan your neighbourhood and there you go: someone to hook up with.

But it is not all one-on-one. Regular small meetings, called Apero de quartier, give the denizens of the cyber world a chance to gather at a neighbourhood watering hole.

Peuplade was born out of a sociological experiment which aimed to turn on its head the way we meet.

Founder Nathan Stern said: "The idea from the start was to create links between people who shouldn't really meet, who don't really have an affinity, who aren't part of the same group or network.

"How do we do that? We go beyond group status and membership and create accidents, chaos. And when you come to these Apero de quartier for a while you develop a familiarity among people who you previously not think of belonging to your world."

Rules of engagement

Apparently there is a science to this sort of social engineering.

One rule is that breaking the ice is often easier on the net. Another is if you are hosting a party of people who have never met, choose a tiny venue.

It seems elbow-to-elbow people are forced to get along.

As a spoon to stir the melting pot Peuplade is admirable, but it has not really caught on in Paris's really rich neighbourhoods, and the Apero de quartier visited by Click was mighty white.

But who said this novel website and pillar of the community has to cure all of society's ills in one night?

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