Fritz is one the Washington Post's hipsters who is tracking the social scene here in Washington, D.C.  In the Going Out Gurus blog, he reports the closure of the lounge at the Hotel Helix, which has amassed a following since its opening in 2002.  Sigh.  However, according to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the paper will attempt to fill the gap created in the area's social scene by giving Washingtonians another place to meet up:  the Post's new networking section set to launch later this spring (hat tip: Media Bistro's FishbowlDC).

The Post hopes to allow site visitors to "set up their own pages and, eventually, upload their own audio and video, perhaps around themes like the Redskins or the annual cherry blossoms" — kind of like what happened in USA Today's recent redesign

I like the sound of this, but this announcement makes me wonder why it took so long. is one of the most innovative American news sites I've come across.  Not only did it adopt features like social bookmarking buttons, Technorati widgets that track blog posts linking to specific articles, and a myriad of other web specific features like Adrian Holovaty's databases that make searching through items like political attack ads, video game reviews, and former President Clinton's speaker fees from 2001 to 2005 easy along with multimedia special reports like "Being a Black Man" early on, there are many other features that other papers beat it to the punch.  The fact that the paper is interested in reporting like Fritz's from the Going Out Guru's blog proves how forward thinking it is in an at times staid and changing industry.

However, many other papers have turned their sites into quasi-social networks — even before USA Today — by providing places for site visitors to blog, submit pictures, and create profile pages.  Other news outlets see the stickiness potential of these features since they help make members of their audience feel that they are part of operation and can gain more than just knowledge from visiting a news site.  Further, they may tell others about their blog, pictures, audio, or video on the news site or spend time (potentially seeing ads) debating with others on-line. 

While I'm sitting here wondering why it took so long for the Post to turn its site into a quasi-social network, I cannot complain since the company seems unafraid to test relatively untested digital journalism waters that benefit both the paper itself and the industry in general:  other papers who are holding back to see how this strategy fares might be inspired to expand their online programs should the Post's social network succeed.  The Washington Post is definitely a trailblazer in this regard.

I wonder if someone in the not so distant future will post a wedding announcement in the paper that states, "Before I met my fiancé at the bar the Going Out Gurus suggested, we met through our Post profiles since we both clicked on each other's usernames while discussing foreign policy questions at PostGlobal."  It seems more promising to find a special someone through a common interest than meeting randomly at a bar, especially at the Helix Lounge which is closing.