ACCORDING TO Joel Simkhai, he has the best job in the world. Sitting in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin sipping water, he’s talking about his mission “to connect us all”. In the past two-and-a-half years, his app has accumulated three million members globally, almost exclusively through word of mouth. It helps of course when Stephen Fry mentions you on Top Gear and when stories circulate about George Michael logging on in Australia.
Simkhai’s app is Grindr, a geo-social network that connects gay men. And now, Simkhai is eyeing up the straight world.
Grindr is uncomplicated. Create a profile, upload a photo and see gay men in your area who have done the same. The first profiles to appear on your phone’s screen when you log on are those nearest to you. Then you can send a free message to a person’s profile, exchange more photos and meet up.
Who made Grindr possible? “Steve Jobs,” Simkhai replies. The 35-year-old New Yorker is referring to the second-generation iPhone that contained the technology to allow geolocation-based social networks to happen.
Aside from the technology, the genesis of Grindr was born out of Simkhai’s personal irritations. “Almost every day I’d get frustrated: ‘who’s that guy’, or a smile and nothing happens, or you go on an online dating site and you find people but they’re miles or kilometres away.”
Gay men tend to be particularly early adopters of social media. In 1999, five years before Facebook’s launch was a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, Gaydar.com was operating as a sub-social network. It allowed users to have unique individual profiles, and connect with each other for dates, conversation, friendship and sex.