From the time social media apps went mobile and tied social networks to GPS, a lot of us have gotten, well, creeped out. Being able to locate friends and family with radar-like precision on one’s cell phone takes some serious rewiring about our notions of personal space and privacy. For parents, the idea that even non-personalized identity cues could lead a potential predator to your mobile-savvy kid is a high-tech nightmare.
One company in the space, Friendthem, believes it may take a female perspective to get the friend finder genre right. If their name is familiar, that is because the company initially threatened to sue Facebook when the social network implemented a Friend Finder feature that seemed to lift concepts directly from Friendthem. The company decided not to pursue that approach to a platform that, after all, they rely upon for their basic model. The Friendthem app helps users find Facebook connections nearby. But this developer says it felt from the outset that in order for the app to appeal to -- and feel safe to -- the key female demographic, a female perspective was important. Not only does Friendthem have a woman -- VP of Programming and Co-Founder, Liron Fishman Sabbah -- leading the company, along with CEO Charles Sankowich, but they also recruited psychologist Alina Yurkovsky to help them understand how women might approach an app like this differently from men.
I found the idea of a possible "male bias" to social app programming enticing, so I engaged these principals in a series of questions about the role a female perspective might play in designing creepiness out of an app that locates you to strangers nearby.
Q: What is Friendthem and how is it different from other friend finders?
Sabbah: Friendthem is a location-based mobile app, designed to help you make connections with people near you. This application shows you all the people using Friendthem around you and lets you send out a friend request through different social networks in an easy and intuitive way. We have eliminated the search process and given the world a chance to connect 'seamlessly' with interesting people they meet.
Q: What feedback led Friendthem to think that a female perspective was necessary?
Sabbah: The female perspective was Friendthem's main concern from the initial design of the application. In the past I have used applications that have allowed "instant messaging" in addition to other features and within a very short period of time, I was bombarded with IM's, from people I don't know and don't want to meet. It became a bit creepy and weird. The privacy issue is what concerns me and Friendthem the most. This is why we created the Privacy and Safety Department, which is run by Alina Yurkovsky, board certified psychologist, and I.
We want to minimize women’s exposure and maximize their experience. With Friendthem, once someone sends you a friend request, the power is no longer in their hands. The ball is on your side of the court.
A lot of people don't think about the creepiness factor of location-based applications. Everybody wants attention, but they want it on their terms.
Q: Are there general psychological insights about women engaging the privacy issue or even engaging with apps and smartphones differently from men?
Yurkovsky: The single most prevalent issue that I deal with as a psychologist with my female clients is helping them fulfill their need to form relationships and form intimate bonds while still maintaining their emotional safety and boundaries with people who they already know. The online world -- social networking and now, location-based social networking -- presents a whole new arena of possibilities for making new connections that could ultimately lead to intimate social/emotional bonds. The key word for women is “Boundaries” when forming new relationships and with managing existing ones. The elements of good boundaries are “Space” and “Time” to allow a woman to test the safety of a new person little by little as they decide how safe it is to get close to that person.
Friendthem facilitates connection with good boundaries by allowing women the choice and the time to decide if they will add someone to their online social network. They can also regulate how much information a new contact can see about them in their profile. Friendthem works compatibly with FB's privacy settings and controls rather than overriding them and "grabbing" as much info about a woman as possible and dumping that info into the lap of a stranger who may be within 1500 feet of her.
Q: What are some of the ways you avoided the creepy factor in this design?
Sabbah: Friendthem gives you the ability to hide your location, using "Hiding Spots." When you are at a place you feel is private (Home/Work) and you don't want to be seen, you can turn on your "Hiding Spot." Once you turn this feature on, you will no longer be seen by users around you. When you get out of your hiding location you will be seen by users around you once again.
Q: Overall, is there a male bias to app design? Where do we see it most often apart from privacy issues?
Sankowich: There is a male bias to apps when the application is a "social" one. Men are much more comfortable having the ability to reach out and IM others on an impromptu basis. This is exemplified with the tremendous success of a male-oriented application called "grindr".....it went viral and there were a few knock-offs that have also done well and they are solely focused on bringing males together instantaneously......."male biased" apps. It’s not uncomfortable for men to have this openness and availability/accessibility. Friendthem doesn't believe this will translate in 2012 with females. They don't need outlets for men to be able to reach out to them with no safeguards.