The phenomenal success of a phone application that allows cruising gay men to locate one another instantly using GPS technology has led to plans for the release of a straight version by the end of the year.
The app, Grindr, which promises to help users “Find gay, bi, curious guys for free near you!”, launched in March 2009. It enjoyed a modest uptake in the UK until Stephen Fry showed it to Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, prompting 40,000 men to download the free iPhone app in a week.
There are now more than 700,000 men in 162 countries using it, with 2,000 downloading it every day. A Blackberry-friendly version was launched last month.
Users see a grid displaying photos of men and their proximity to them. If you like the look of someone, you can exchange flirty messages before meeting up immediately. One fan of the app told the Observer: “I’ve probably had as much [sex] in the past eight months of Grinding as I have over the 20 years since I came out.”
Grindr is the brainchild of Joel Simkhai, a 33-year-old American international relations and economics graduate who worked in finance in his twenties. It took him six months and $5,000 to build Grindr, with the help of a Danish app developer and a friend who was an expert in branding, marketing and design. It’s about “finding guys. Being among your peers. Socialising,” he said.
The rapid success of Grindr is prompting Simkhai to launch a straight version. “This notion of: ‘Who is around me? Who is in this room now? Who else is like me?’ – this is not just a gay thing. Gay men don’t have the monopoly on loneliness and isolation.”
He says he gets more requests for this from women than from straight men. “I do think it will be relevant for women,” he said. “We’ll redesign it; we’ll call it something different, market it differently.”
Simkhai said that Grindr was a way of getting round the problems with online dating. “With missed connections and back and forth, and: ‘Oh actually, this week I’m in New York, and you’re in LA…’ Online dating is frustrating! It is a lot of work!”
With Grindr, you see someone’s picture, you meet immediately and you establish whether there is a mutual attraction.
Simkhai said: “Grindr reintroduces the aspect of chemistry. And it’s real. It is not a Second Life. It is not a virtual world. It’s a tool. It enables real life, it doesn’t replace it.”
He added: “It’s a precursor to sex… We think sex is part of life, the basis of life. But Grindr is sexiness rather than sex.”
But some gay men have reservations about the app. Matthew Todd, editor of gay lifestyle magazine Attitude, said: “The commercial gay world – which Grindr is part of – is a very adult, very sexual world. And I worry when I see these young kids coming out on to the gay scene, and everything is about sex. There’s no real concept of relationships.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010