Tribe was founded in early 2003 by Paul Martino, Mark Pincus, and Valerie Syme. As of March 2004, the population of Tribe was skewed heavily towards people living in the San Francisco Bay Area, though the geographic distribution is gradually normalizing as people from other places join. As of September 2006 it had over 500,000 members.[dated info]
In a controversial move, on December 20, 2005, tribe.net decided to prohibit sexually explicit content, partially in response to the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act. This move disappointed many users, as Tribe to that point had been notable for a permissive content policy.
On January 19, 2006, tribe.net changed its layout and user interface (UI). The management of tribe.net claimed that they received approximately 40% positive feedback during a small beta phase with 3000 users. A large and outspoken group of current members of tribe have repeatedly expressed that the new design, layout, and overall feel of the new website go against many of their original reasons for joining the site. tribe's original "grassroots" approach to member-based forum monitoring and the focus of many tribe.net participants on alternative lifestyles and the arts was appealing to those who found other sites like MySpace or Friendster to be rather broad-based and commercial.
In April, 2006, most of the employees of Tribe.net were laid off, leaving only a skeleton group to maintain and develop the site.
On August 24, 2006, former CEO Mark Pincus announced that he was "taking back tribe." He did this through a public listing on the site. This happened due to the financial insolvency of the initial company. Mark formed a new corporation, Utah Street Networks, that bought the distressed assets of the original company, Tribe Networks.
Under the previous management, tribe.net had repeatedly stated that they had no intention of reverting to the previous look or interface of the site. However, on September 21, 2006 Tribe posted an announcement on their website that the revised interface (AKA the January 2006 release) was suspended in favor of an easier and more customizable user interface. One of the splash pages showed the website's logo dripping blood, and declared that the employee designers were taking over the site. By September 22, 2006 the site was accessible as usual.
In late 2007, at the request of many members, tribe.net announced that it would offer a premium service to members on a subscription basis, at the rate of US$5.00 per month. Prospective premium members were told that they would be able to view the website in an ad-free format. It also promised free t-shirts to annual members, a benefit that has never fully been disbursed.
In the first week of September 2008, the tribe.net website was offline. A scheduled transition onto more stable servers was delayed by a missing hardware component and a failed SAN, following hardware issues that took tribe's Image server offline for several days in August of the same year.
Pincus reported on his blog that Darren Mckeeman had submitted his resignation and that Tribe.net hoped to hire another system administrator.
A September 24, 2008 article in the San Francisco Weekly quoted Pincus as saying that the site would continue. "I feel a commitment to the community of people who have made the decision to post themselves on Tribe," the Weekly quoted Pincus. "We've kept Tribe going not because we believed it would turn into a phenomenal business success like Bebo or Facebook, but because I think it serves a really valuable role for the community."
Anyone may register as a new tribe user, and may then define his or her immediate network of friends, either by choosing from existing members or by inviting new members to join. Each of these users may in turn define their own network of friends. (This process results in a type of user-driven viral marketing on behalf of tribe.net.) As more and more people and their friends join tribe, it results in an elaborate social network with many thousands of members. tribe users leverage the small world phenomenon as a way to enhance their own immediate social network.
tribe.net features many "tribes", loosely based on the theory of urban tribes propounded by Michel Maffesoli and Ethan Watters. In practice, these tribes are a kind of topical forum. A new tribe may be created by any registered user. When a user creates a new tribe, that user is the moderator of the tribe. Any user may in principle join any tribe, although some tribes are private or require permission from the moderator to join. In addition to threaded messages, members can use tribes to post photos, announce upcoming parties, concerts, or other events easily and reach select audiences. Currently there are thousands of tribes, with more being added daily.
Tribe content falls into several different categories: Topics (discussion threads), photos (uploaded by users), listings (classified ads), events (scheduled happenings), reviews (of websites), requests (more classified ads), and olx (link to OLX, a separate website of classified ads).
In the summer of 2008, after instituting a premium membership option in November 2007, Tribe experienced frequent down time and technical difficulties making it inaccessible to their users, sometimes for periods as long as three or four days. Tribe promised a full redesign of their site which would alleviate these problems, scheduled to launch in August or September 2008.
In Nov. 2008, a group of long-time tribe members formed a partnership called New Systems Associates (NSA) and announced that they would be taking over management of tribe.net as well as provide capital for upgrading the hardware and rewriting the code base.
On Feb. 28th, 2009, NSA made the following announcement on the tribe.net company blog: "After many thwarted attempts the Tribe servers should move to an enhanced colocation facility today. The process has been underway for two months now and only now, finally, does everything seem aligned for an actual move. We apologize for the late notice, but a seemingly endless chain of unexpected events blocked us previously and made us wary of predicting the Great Transition. The move will improve service and at the same time gives us an opportunity to lower costs. It is the most significant step thus far in moving Tribe onto a more secure footing. Please bear with us. This is likely to take most of day." As of August 16, 2009, Tribe was still having stability issues following the move.
Tribe Networks, the original company behind tribe.net, was formerly privately owned, financed largely with venture capital. Tribe has partnered with the Washington Post and Knight Ridder. In 2006, a new company called Utah Street Networks was formed to buy the assets of Tribe Networks and continue operation of the site. This transition was largely transparent to the users of the site, but largely coincides with the "taking back Tribe" message that was posted by Mr. Pincus.
- Blue, Violet (December 20, 2005). "Goodbye, Tribe.net". Wired.
- Blue, Violet (December 20, 2007). "No sex please, we're 2.0". San Francisco Chronicle.
- "A letter to the community from the employees of tribe.net". September 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
- Update on Tribe, markpincus.typepad.com, September 14, 2008
- Tribe.Net Going the Way of Friendster, San Francisco Weekly, September 24, 2008
- New York Times article
- tribe.net website
- tribe listing in which Marc Pincus announces he is "taking back tribe"
- Statement from Brian Lawler (Chief Architect) regarding tribe.net's current stance on mature content, posted September 27, 2006
- CEO Jan Gullet Interview, May '05
- New Systems Associates Announcement