It's no surprise gay men have been at the forefront of social media, readily adopting new technologies that allow them to connect with each other -- something which can be a bit challenging, considering homosexuals constitute no more than 10% of the general population. The latest development -- a smartphone app called Grindr -- integrates the big gay online social network with mobile, GPS location-based updates to create a real-world version of "gaydar."
Grindr, developed by a company called Nearby Buddy Finder LLC, allows the user to see which Grindr members are within a certain geographic radius of their current location, including the kind of profiles you might find on an online dating site. The free version of the app is supported by banner ads; meanwhile an ad-free deluxe version, Grindr Xtra, displays up to 200 profiles of gay men in the user's immediate vicinity. A subscription to Grindr Xtra costs $2.99 per month.
According to the site, since its launch in March 2009 Grindr has already attracted over 700,000 users in 162 countries around the world, including some not-so-gay-friendly places like Ethiopia, Iraq, and Yemen, and is attracting new members at the rate of about 2,500 a day. The data for user engagement are incredible: roughly 180,000 users log in daily, and the average user spends 1.5 hours per day on the site, logging in an average of nine times.
Grindr is interesting because it encapsulates many of the factors which I think are required for a truly successful mobile-social app. First of all, it serves a group of users who are already concentrated in certain geographic locations, reflecting the tendency of gay men to gravitate to urban areas, which provides a large pool of potential users. By the same token, even in places like New York and San Francisco gays are still in the minority -- and Grindr provides a valuable service by helping users filter the general population.
Obviously, the mobile platform is especially conducive to making spontaneous connections, especially within a sub-population which already patronizes a whole network of dedicated nightlife venues and other businesses.
Of course, every new social medium carries with it certain dangers. On this note, as a gay man I would be remiss if I failed to note that public health officials have expressed concern that online "hookup sites" can lead to increase in HIV and other STDs if members use them to arrange unprotected sexual encounters. However, as I have argued in the past in other contexts, it would be misguided to blame the medium -- a morally neutral technology -- for the decisions made by its users. And in fact sites like Manhunt.com have partnered with public health agencies in the U.S. and U.K., showing that they can be active, effective platforms for public health messages about safe sex.