How does anyone invite people to things now?

Events are back, and they're making me miss Facebook.

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I expect to see all of you at my sketch comedy show on August 9. —Kate

The last Facebook invite to an IRL event that I received (and actually attended) was on March 5, 2020. A former coworker of mine was in town and encouraged 20 or so people to swing by a bar in Brooklyn one evening. Comparing this casual invite to the types I received on Facebook in, say, 2015, it’s clear that even before the coronavirus locked down the entire world, the platform had lost its luster as the premier event-coordinating platform. The days of punny event names and customized cover photos and long descriptions full of witticisms were already gone. For many people, event invites were the only reason to use or check Facebook, so no one was wasting more time than necessary to communicate the basic facts of where, when, and why an event was happening. 

Then the pandemic hit, and Facebook lost whatever grip it still had on my generation. But now events are returning, and nobody knows how to spread the word about them. 

I’ve been alerted to recent happenings and get-togethers via text, DM, email, Google Calendar invite, and Paperless Post. Vice recently wrote about the phenomenon of Instagram Close Friend invites, which I had heard about but not gotten, so, yes, everyone is hanging out without me :) 

But that’s not even the biggest problem. The longer we live with these competing options for inviting people to events, the more people develop their own loyalties to specific methods, and the harder it is to reach everyone you mean to. 

I took an informal poll on my Instagram asking how people get their invites these days, and I got four responses—Paperless Post, Instagram, text, or email—but no clear winner. (Paperless Post and texts tied the lead with 28.6% of the votes, and at 19%, Instagram came last.) In other words: It really is chaos right now. With all four of those options landing in different inboxes, it’s hard to stay on top of it all, and this has real-world consequences.

I reached out to some people in my life who had hosted events recently and asked about their experiences. Every last one of them had complaints.

New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz went the Instagram Close Friends route for a happy hour, but says that’s only as effective as the number of people who see it.

“Some friends who I simply forgot to add to my Close Friends or who didn't happen to see my Story those days thought they weren't invited,” she tells me over email. “It ended up causing conflict because I had two friends reach out and say ‘I heard about your party, why didn't you invite me?’ I had to explain they were invited, I just didn't know how to reach them. But I don't even know if they believed me.” 

There were other downsides, too: On Close Friends, there’s no way for people to RSVP unless they directly respond, and invitees can’t see who else is going.  

Vogue writer Emma Specter recently sent out emails for her upcoming birthday party, and had a different gripe.

“It’s very hard to organically and subtly get a crush’s email,” she tells me in a voice note. “The nice thing about Facebook invites was it suggested people so it could seem like, ‘Oh Facebook suggested you so I invited you!’ Email is just very boomer and very intentional and I do hate it but I can’t think of anything better.”

Plus, our worst habits from years of using Facebook Events still linger. By introducing features like the “maybe attending” option, the platform slowly made it okay to just ... not respond to an event invite. When encouraging friends to come to my sketch comedy team’s first post-quarantine show—the type of thing everyone famously loves to attend—I knew I couldn’t invite too many people, because a large guest list might make people think I wouldn't take note if they didn't respond. (But I would. I did.) 

Most key? Facebook reminds you about the event whether or not you've replied, which means that everyone has simply forgotten how to manually add events to their calendars. My friend Nancy ran into this problem at her own birthday last week. She had sent out a combination of emails and text messages about her gathering in the park, but found herself the day before sending out reminders on the assumption that they had received the invite and then promptly forgotten about it. 

Meanwhile, we've lost the best parts of Facebook Events.

“On Facebook Invites there was also a public feed where people could post, which let people casually connect and build community and make jokes before or after the event,” Lorenz reminisces. “I've had lots of people since my party reach out and be like ‘who was that person again?’ because they can't see any sort of guest list linked to people's social profiles.”

There’s clearly a huge gap in the market right now for an event app or service, but getting a whole bunch of people onto a new platform when I can’t even get them to attend my very funny sketch show seems unlikely. Instead, one of these imperfect current methods needs to lean into their newfound use by picking up where Facebook left off. I’d say Instagram is the frontrunner, but they’d probably make you do it via Reels.

If you’re nostalgic for the simpler era of online event invites, then you’re probably also someone looking to live better online. Our weekly posts for paid subscribers are focused on improving our relationships with social media, and the first one went out on Saturday. It’s just the beginning. Join us!