First there were AOL chat rooms, then came forums, and eventually, Friendster. This led to MySpace and Blogger; then came Facebook and Twitter. But there is a new social media network that is inching onto the scene, tracking users’ locations and giving them live maps: an app called Grindr.
Grindr is a smartphone application that helps gay men find partners. The location-based dating app uses GPS technology to locate men in your area, telling you exactly how many feet away they are.
Unlike any other social network sites, Grindr is exclusively mobile. This feature is making the application extremely popular among users. There’s no need to update your status and tell your friends where you are, because Grindr always knows. When you move, the app automatically updates, arranging users profiles according to how close they are to you.
The free application, which was created exclusively for gay men, has been extremely successful, with over a million downloads, 500,000 of which are students.
Eric, a junior biology major at Stony Brook University, says that SBU campus isn’t the easiest place to meet people – especially if you’re gay.. Eric didn’t want to give his last name, afraid that his parents or suite mates would find out his secret. He worries that his suite mates wouldn’t talk to him if they knew, making him even more of an outcast than he already feels he is.
“I haven’t reached that stage in my life where I feel secure enough to come out,” Eric says. “Grindr has helped me meet people on campus who are in the same boat.”
Although the website allows you to upload a picture to your profile, Eric chooses not to.
“I can keep my pictures private,” he says, “I control who sees my identity.”
The Queens native says that Grindr has given him confidence by showing him how many users are from Stony Brook. Eric says that on a Friday night, there are nearly 20 people within 100 feet of him using the application.
“I think that Grindr is a social network breakthrough,” he says, “It may seem creepy, but when its used right, it’s a great tool.”
Some students feel that Grindr has too many negative repercussions. A user that goes by the name of J.C. says he has witnessed those negative effects.
“A lot of straight people think its funny to use the app,” he says, “But when you log in and see someone you didn’t know was gay, then it becomes hurtful.” J.C. says he knows a lot of men who were originally on the site, but since its popularity spread, they decided to delete their accounts.
“We’re scared of people seeing our identities,” said J.C. “Anyone with a phone can log on and see who is using it, even employers.”
J.C. is a freshman at Stony Brook who chooses to remain anonymous because he worries that people will judge him based on his sexuality.
“I want so much to tell people I’m gay and be completely out there on Grindr,” said JC, “but the site is being judged just like gay people are judged. People think it’s a place for gay men to find sex.”
While Grindr says it is not a site that solicits sex, many people are skeptical about its intentions. Creator and CEO Joel Simkhai believes that the application is sometimes misinterpreted.
“I think we created something that helps people,” Simkhai said. “It’s a basic app, you’re just seeing how far people are away. Its amazing what an impact that can have.”
Simkhai says that Grindr is just an application to help gay men meet each other.
“The most important thing is to meet,” he said. “Grindr is meant to help you take the first step. To show you you’re not alone, there are other gay men out there.”
Simkhai launched Grindr in March 2009 after years of being discouraged in the dating field. Being gay himself, he decided that the gay community needed something like Grindr.
In January 2011, Grindr won the award for ‘Best Mobile Dating Site’ at the iDate Awards, the Internet dating industry awards for the best in online dating and matchmaking. In June 2011, Grindr reached 2 million users in 192 countries across the globe with 45,000 users online at any given second.
As Grindr continues to grow, Simkhai says he started getting requests from different kinds of users.
“Straight people,” he said. “I had never imagined Grindr would be attracting the straight market.”
After hundreds of emails, requesting a straight version of Grindr, Simkhai answered with Blendr.
Blendr is a direct copy of Grindr, but intended for straight individuals. Released in March 2011, the application is slowly gaining the same popularity. On a Monday, there were 14 people using Blendr on Stony Brook’s campus.
One of those users was Eric, only this time he had his full name and picture on his profile.
“Its crazy, I know,” he said as he fiddled through the screens on his iPhone. “All my buddies are on Blendr so I signed up. I don’t want them to suspect anything.”
Eric says he switches between the two applications depending on who he is with. He uses Blendr when he is with his friends and Grindr when he is alone.
“I still worry,” he said. “I’m afraid my roommates will go on Grindr one day to mess around and it will register that a user is on who is only a few feet away and they will figure it out. They will know that I’m gay.” For now, the simple-to-use, free iPhone apps remain a safe haven for people like Eric to express who they really are, even if they fear the outside world is not ready.