Creators of Grindr launch an app for everyone

By Brian Dukerschein

Feeling lonely? There’s an app for that.

The creators of Grindr, a popular location-based mobile social network for gay and bisexual men, have launched Blendr, a version for all genders and sexual orientations.

The free app, which is available for Apple mobile devices and Facebook, allows users to view profiles of those in close proximity and possibly make a connection based on mutual interests.

“As we go about our daily lives, there’s dozens—if not hundreds—of people you don’t interact with, but you’re near them and you might have a lot in common,” said Joel Simkhai, founder and CEO of Blendr and Grindr LLCs. “With Blendr, you can now see who they are, learn a little about them, chat with them and hopefully meet them. The goal here is to bring people together to make the world a little friendlier.”

Simkhai said most social networking sites work at keeping users connected to people they already know rather than enabling them to make new acquaintances.

“It’s amazing to me that no one else has done this,” he said. “Nobody is making a concerted effort to help you connect with the people right around you.”

Unlike Grindr, which allows men to do little more than include a photo and a brief description of themselves or who they’re hoping to meet, Blendr allows users to choose from a list of interests and post these selections in their profile. The app also helps users decide where to go by allowing them to see who has checked in at restaurants, nightclubs and other venues.

Simkhai said the changes were necessary in order to adapt the app for a broader range of users.

“With Blendr, it was important for us to allow users to find people who share these interests and commonalities,” he said. “With the Grindr community, we saw it’s all based on really one commonality, and that’s being gay or bisexual.”

According to Simkhai, Blendr comes with a variety of privacy protection features. While most social networking and dating sites require users to disclose personal information such as their name and email address,Simkhai said Blendr only asks for a date of birth to ensure everyone using it is over 18 years of age. Users can limit who can view their profile by restricting access to other users of a certain gender, sexual oriention or age range. It is also possible to adjust the accuracy with which the app maps your location.

“Privacy was our [biggest] consideration for Blendr,” Simkhai said. “We understand privacy very well.”

Since Grindr’s launch in 2009, the app has approximately three million users in 192 countries, including more than 24,000 users in Chicago, according to Simkhai. He said an average of 600,000 members use the app for 90 minutes daily.

Simkhai said although it was too early to reveal the number of people who have downloaded Blendr since it was released at the beginning of September, the company has seen rapid growth in metropolitan areas including Chicago, London

and Sydney.

It’s no secret that Grindr is sometimes used to arrange quick and convenient sexual encounters, despite having extensive profile guidelines. Ever since the company announced it was working on a more all-inclusive version, there has been speculation as to how heterosexuals—especially women—would use the app.

Karen Krefman, a licensed marriage and family therapist and senior vice president for Strategy and Advancement at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, said she believes most women are less apt to engage in casual sex than men. Unlike some men who are able to compartmentalize sex and emotion, she said, in her experience, many women are unable to separate the two.

Humans are fundamentally social creatures who have a strong desire to connect with others, according to Krefman. She said while social networking media can help create informal connections, she questions their ability to form a serious partnership.

“Because I look at relationships in the fullest sense of the term, I’m cautious about apps and using [them] to start a relationship, even if it is just for a hookup,” Krefman said. “There is no timing, there is no pacing—it’s immediate. It forecloses on any opportunity or chance to meet the person and see who you are dealing with.”

Pamela Popielarz, an associate professor of sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago who specializes in gender studies and social networks, said she could see women being hesitant to use an app like Blendr because of the possible exposure to danger and violence.

Popierlarz and Krefman both expressed uncertainties about the permanence of any connection based on a short list of shared interests.

“It may well lead to a lot of glancing contacts between people who are very different from one another,” Popielarz said. “On the other hand, you can’t get lasting contact without that first contact. It does open the door, but it doesn’t guarantee anything lasting is going to happen.”

Simkhai said what he has accomplished with Grindr has revolutionized how gay men meet, and he’s providing the technology to do the same for the entire world.

“What we’re doing is breaking the barriers,” he said. “We’re breaking these invisible walls between people and allowing you to connect with them. We’ve done it with Grindr, and we’ll do it with Blendr. We bring you a little closer to the people around you.”