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Three surfers find a new way to drink -- online

Three U.S. surfing friends whose jobs moved them to different cities have come up with a way to continue their weekly drinking session -- in an online pub that even has happy hours.

The founders of CherryTAP claim to have set up the Internet's first online pub that gives users the nuances of a pub but from the comfort of their home computer or laptop.

"We liked to go after a long day at work to a bar and hang out and have a few drinks," said Bill Lee, 36, a freelance marketer from San Francisco who was one of the three founders.

"When we moved apart we couldn't do that anymore so we wanted to recreate that online."

Lee said CherryTAP, which now has over 700,000 users in the United States and Britain, was different from other social networking sites as you did not need to have a network of friends already. It also did not take advertising.

Instead CherryTAP has just launched "happy hours," where users pay $100 to sponsor an hour-long session, with their name appearing at the top of the site and other users raising their glasses to toast them.

"Users can give each other virtual drinks and this makes people more comfortable to chat to each other," said Lee who set up the site with friends Mike Headlund, 28, a computer consultant, and kiteboard instructor Ryan Riccitelli, 34.

"The person who sponsors happy hour becomes the most popular person on that site and they get 15 minutes of fame."

Instead of a barman, who in a real pub is often used as a sounding board, users can send in questions which are answered by the community and there is a team of volunteer bouncers to ensure people in the online pub behaved.

"You don't have to drink but it can be an icebreaker. You can give people virtual drinks and get chatting," said Lee.

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