Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Leading the gay in social networking

When I was a young teen I was social networking before anyone had heard the words "MySpace" leave alone "Facebook". I was using chatrooms and messaging services at a time when most people my age were still using Encarta to do their homework. Of course back then "Social networking" was called online dating and to my friends it was the domain of geeks and dodgy types. And in all fairness, quite often it was.

The reason I was happy to embrace this new technology was because I had figured out at an early age that I'm gay. At the time I thought I was the only gay in the suburbs. These niche sites helped me to talk to people with similar interests... you know, bums, willies and Steps. With retrospect I could have done without Steps. The important thing for me it was a way to make friends like me, not just finding dates.

When sites like MySpace, Bebo and Facebook came along we slowly saw a shift in people's attitudes to who goes online. It was no longer for nerds and people who like wearing long trench coats, now you could connect with your mates and share your movie and music interests... and eventually you could poke them, tell them you've brushed your teeth, that you've just checked into the gym, that you're outside their window wearing nightvision goggles and touching yourself (whoops, back to the trench coats again!)

The idea of online dating, in the straight market, is becoming less weird. I know a fair few older couples that have gotten together via Friends Reunited and I know a few people who have started using sites like PlentyOfFish to meet and greet online. They are starting to realise that there is nothing dodgy about doing this, or there is but it's probably better than getting trashed in your local and waking up with a whale who's name you never bothered to learn.

But my point is I believe the gays led the way with social networking. Simply because we had to. It was that or cottaging (never done it, never will!) If you're a straight teen you can meet girls up the park, or in your local getting served underaged.

And once again the gays have been leading the way for awhile with social networking/online dating/finding a shag (what ever you decide to use it for) in the mobile market. The most prominent app is Grindr (cleverly promoted by Stephen Fry). A gay networking mobile appthat lets you meet other guys in the area (by geolocation) and start a conversation with them via instant messaging. Originally only available on the iPhone it has recently been released on Android (and the number of lads has doubled...) It's a simple yet clever bit of software that is massively addictive and just does exactly what you need it too. There is no web version at the moment, it's all about meeting people in the palm of your hand (giggles at the inuendo).

Now I'm getting excited by the prospect of a new project from the Grindr team who are moving into the straight market. The project is soon to be launched at SXSW. I think we're going to see the next big trend emerge from Grindr in the form of "Project Amicus" (Spanish for friend).

I don't yet know the specifics of Amicus yet but Grindr's blog says it's "the codename and website for a new location-based mobile app that lets users discover, interact, and meet with nearby people. This app is for everyone – straight, gay, and lesbian."

If it becomes as popular as Grindr, and is indeed "straight Grindr", then I fully believe this is going to be huge. It'll be interesting to see if they stick to a purely mobile based platform or are considering moving into a web-version too. I'm sure there are lots of ways they could expand their offering further, the app is great - but it could be part of a suite of web services... let's wait and see. Either way, I think this is going to be big!

Why not get onto the beta list and sign up here.

Just remember, never let your Lolcat on Grindr or Amicus:


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