The pendulum swings of technology trends have been well chronicled over the years. Such swings suggest the huge popularity of real-time messaging apps should spark an opposite digital movement that — paradoxically — seeks to encourage more face-to-face human interactions with the help of apps. Stranger things, and all that…
One recent example pushing in this direction is U.K. dating app rendeevoo, which aims to ‘fix’ the tedium of Tinder by excising the ability to IM a match before meeting up. The app is just an interface for agreeing or declining prospective dates. Well, here’s another example: called GetReal, this just-launched iOS app wants users to spend more time in each others’ company, and less with messaging apps.
GetReal is not targeting a single use-case, like dating, but has the broad-brush aim of help people meet others in their immediate vicinity for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s general networking, conference-specific networking, wanting to get to know people in the neighborhood, angling for prospective dates, or if you’re traveling or have moved to a new city and are looking to make new friends over coffee. Whatever.
While location-based networking is by no means new, arguably the popularity of dating services like Tinder (and even public social networks like Twitter) have conditioned app users of a certain age (and tech savvy) to be more willing to meet strangers after a little digital small talk. GetReal takes things further by limiting pre-meeting in-app interactions to just a visual assessment of a basic profile (photo, plus a short who/why status paragraph). For a little added context the app also foregrounds whether the two of you have any mutual contacts on other social services (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — if you’ve link those accounts). And that’s it.
When you open GetReal after setting it up, it shows other users in your immediate vicinity who are at least theoretically willing to meet. Once you’ve spotted someone interesting you can send them a meeting request — specifying the location where you want to meet (via an in-app map pin-drop feature), and adding an optional message to the meeting invite — and they then have to decide whether to meet or not. GetReal currently gives users a half an hour window to accept, defer or decline a meeting. The app also maintains a list of how many people you’ve invited to meet, how many are available in your current location, and any you have muted.
Of course, being freshly launched, GetReal’s immediate hurdle is the network effect. The bootstrapping developer behind the startup, Arnaud Meunier — a U.S.-based former engineering manager at Twitter who was acqui-hired in 2010, when Twitter bought his prior startup Twitoaster, leaving in 2014 to work on GetReal — has to spoof his location to mine so I can see how the interface works. When he’s not around there’s no one else near me in London to try to meet.
He says he’s been testing the project for two months with a beta group of around 200 users. The initial focus has been New York City and San Francisco — owing to the obvious pool of “tech industry people, willing and constantly needing to grow their networks”.
“During the beta test, the app has been pretty much exclusively used by tech people. Primary use cases have been recruiting and tech talks,” he says. “My hope is by targeting the tech community, it will expand to other type of communities, still with the same application: two minutes coffee meetings, primarily for a business purpose.”
I feel we simply do not talk anymore. We text. We email. We post on Facebook. We tweet on Twitter. And I believe it’s destroying our ability to effectively communicate.
There is some obvious crossover with a networking app like Networkr (aka ‘Tinder for LinkedIn contacts’). Or Let’s Lunch — which lets you sign up to have a networking lunch with a nearby professional. Albeit GetReal is more pared back than either, with its focus on serendipity and saving time — perhaps filling a 10 minute coffee break between conference sessions with a last-minute chance meet. Or stumbling across someone who looks interesting and happens to also be in your local coffee shop.
Whether GetReal has legs outside the techie hubs it’s focused on now is questionable. Startup folk are arguably the most conditioned humans on earth to meet randoms, and such an unfocused concept does not have immediately obvious mass market appeal (there’s also a risk it could be appropriated by sleazy types seeking hook-ups). But the notion of a digital product that seeks to sell itself with a promise of taking up less of your time, not more is bang on trend. (And yes, GetReal has an Apple Watch app.)
The app in fact started as a social experiment, after Meunier says he got frustrated with how he felt digital social networking was eroding real-life socializing.
“I feel we simply do not talk anymore,” he argues. “We text. We email. We post on Facebook. We tweet on Twitter. And I believe it’s destroying our ability to effectively communicate in our work relationships, in our dating life, and in our relationships with our friends. So I started this as a social experiment six months ago: what if we all stopped texting, and had an actual face-to-face conversation once in a while? For work or for fun, I just find it so much more exciting (and effective!) to drop the emoticons, and get to know each other, in person.”
“I’m not aware of any product taking this approach,” he continues, when I ask about competitors. “No texting + around you + right now. You might think of Highlight on nearby side, Happn on dating side, or Weave on professional networking side. But they all “lock” you in a chat box and over rely on “profiles”, creating a shopping mentality that doesn’t foster in-person interaction.”
“Predicting the likelihood that a relationship will succeed before two people actually meet is not only time consuming, but also extremely difficult. And there’s probably never going to be a substitute for getting that two minutes from another person across a cup of coffee,” he adds.
From here, Meunier says his next step will be to raise money — saying he’s been in talks on that front “for months” but wanted to avoid taking money before the product launched properly. He also wants to get some “solid data points” to validate his idea and get a better sense of the kind of people/demographic who are interested in cutting to the chase and meeting up in person. So, anyone for coffee?