Led by Grindr, the mobile meet market (get it?) for gay men, the next wave of social media would appear to be what I call mobile flirtation platforms. This week Skout, a “mobile network for meeting new people,” announced that it has secured $22 million in funding from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which will be used to expand the service.
Currently Skout has “millions of members” and is attracting new members at the rate of a million per month, according to the company; the average user checks in eight to nine time per day, spending an average of 45 minutes chatting, exchanging virtual “gifts,” and posting photos. More than 300 million messages are sent per month.
Importantly, “Unlike many location-based apps, Skout provides general rather than specific location information, empowering each community member to decide if, when and where to meet in person.” The amount of information shared is a crucial factor in the image and success of a location-based service: too general and it’s useless, too specific and it’s creepy.
Indeed, this week also brought the demise of “Girls Around Me,” a mobile app which took mobile check-in data from Facebook and FourSquare to let users see, yes, the girls (or guys) who are around them. While the app merely took publicly available information and presented it in a new way, it triggered a backlash from critics who said it encouraged and enabled stalking behaviors.
I would point out that Girls Around Me is just the latest iteration of a familiar idea. Back in February 2011 I wrote about a mobile app called “Where the Ladies At,” which aggregated location-based data from female Foursquare users to tell amorous young men on the make where the most lady-heavy venues were to be found. Admittedly the app didn’t include specific information about the ladies, affording a degree of anonymity.
More recently, and less controversially, there’s also Blendr, a social network from the good people at Grindr which targets the heterosexual community. Blendr combines mobile location information with information about hobbies and interests to facilitate mobile flirtation; bowing to mainstream sensibilities, Blendr is also less overtly focused on casual sexual hookups (although it can certainly be used that way).