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June 9, 2012

Missed Connections, from Craigslist to Public Art

The term “missed connections” refers to ads placed to find someone you’ve met (or exchanged glances with), but whose contact information was either lost or never received. While these ads became popular through newspapers classifieds, and more recently Craigslist, people are getting increasingly innovative in their pursuit of reunion.

Even though the Internet allows us to be hyper-connected, and it’s easier than ever to “meet” a friend-of-a-friend online, people still struggle to meet strangers with whom they share no online connections. Despite having larger social networks than at any other period in history, we can still become intrigued by a stranger and cannot help when a chance encounter leads to a spark with an anonymous someone we just can’t forget.

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Missed connections are not always romantic, however — the occasional post will point to someone seeking a long-lost friend or looking for a way to thank a stranger who lent them a hand — although for the most part these listings are based around love or physical chemistry.

Before newspapers, people seeking a lost connection were forced to create their own ads and post them in public places like bulletin boards. The newspaper classifieds made it much easier for people, yet character count was limited, people had to pay both to read the paper and to submit posts, and only a selection of posts were published. With online classifieds, posts are free to read and publish, and there is less restriction on the content type and length, allowing for more creativity and detail.

When the first “I saw you” posts began popping up in Craigslist Personals sections in 2000, the online classifieds site created a designated category called “Missed Connections.” Today, it’s one of the most popular sections; in NYC, a single day’s posts can take up several pages.

Missed Connections Beyond Craigslist

Craigslist isn’t the only website that lets people rediscover each other. Free missed connections sites have popped up in various cities, including Peeked Interest, which launched in a test phase this spring and will relaunch in September. This spring about 5,000 people a day looked at the website, which allows people to post photos of others they spot rather than writing a description of them. The website was available to students at two universities in British Columbia (UVIC and UBC) and students had the ability to respond to the posted photos or ask to have the photos removed (out of 450 photos posted, only four people asked to have theirs taken down).

“Peeked Interest is just the latest in what appears to be a rapidly-growing market for applications that enable students to meet each other without making an approach in person,” the Globe and Mail explains.

“In the past year, programs coming to UBC have included LikeALittle, which allows students to post anonymous flirty messages to others on campus, and Electric Courage, which has a digital “Flirt Wall” for each campus bar.”

Old-School Missed Connections

With more people obtaining their news online rather than print, it makes sense that online missed connections are flourishing too. But as made evident by a quick scan of Craigslist, it also makes it challenging to stand out among other posts. That’s also assuming the individual will go online to that particular website to check for missed connections in the first place. A better way to ensure success? Maybe it’s going for the old-school approach by putting up posters in public places.

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A recent public art project in Manhattan called I Wish I Said Hello is based on this idea.

“We find there’s something poetic about this desperate hope for the reencounter, but also something very ironic about using the internet as the tool to achieve it,” I Wish I Said Hello explains. “It turns out that in the era of social media, when we’re supposedly connected to anyone in the world, the network of missed connections is one of the most inefficient ones.”

The two founders are hoping to create a project that others around the globe will participate in.

“We try to encapsulate specific encounters into stickers. We combine parts of the original text with graphical elements that resonate with it. We use a common, universal style derived from public signage, as well as shapes and colors that imply the digital origin of the story. Once the illustrations are created, we place them at the exact location where that missed connection happened and we document it on the website.”

If their project goes to plan, they’ll develop an easy way for others to create stickers too, based either on personal missed connections, or based off ads people find intriguing in newspapers, Craigslist or similar websites.

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What are your thoughts on taking missed connections to the next level by posting photos online? What about using the old-school approach and putting up printed materials in public places?