Ricky Robinett is a software engineer who, in his “down time” from his day job, has given himself the task of launching one project a month in 2011. He’s currently done nine, one of which — we admit, the one that caught our eye — is FakeGirlfriend.co, the purpose of which is pretty self-explanatory. As the site says, “Are you tired of being embarrassed by the fact that you don’t have a girlfriend? Do you wish that you could get interrupted by a loving phone-call during man time? Let me introduce you to FakeGirlfriend.” This is not the first of the many ways technology can make people think you are less lonely than you actually are (here are some great suggestions on how to do that!), but we were intrigued nonetheless. We got in touch with Robinett to find out more.
Why did you decide you wanted to do one project a month in 2011?
At the end of 2010, I looked back at the year, and I realized I’d talked about a lot of ideas I wanted to build but didn’t build anything — maybe I was 70 percent of the way there. I thought, What if in 2011, each month of the year, I put out a new site? FakeGirlfriend is one of the sites. I’ve launched or co-launched nine. The goal is 12 before the year’s over.
It must be tiring!
It takes a lot of perseverance to keep going. At the beginning, it’s like, this isn’t that bad, but then September comes, and I have to do something else. It’s about keeping it simple and finding good platforms. This forces me to say, it’s not perfect, but it works, I’m going to put it out there and it will be okay. I’ll probably do a lot of tweaking on FakeGirlfriend.
Tell me about FakeGirlfriend. Where did the idea come from?
Twilio lets you build things that interact with cell phones, and I wanted to build something fun with it. The things I’ve done over the year, most have a slant of being humorous or novelty. I thought, What can I do with a phone that has that same angle? FakeGirlfriend came to me. Oddly enough, I’m married, and I went to my wife — she designs a lot of the things I release, and I do the code — and asked her to do the voice for it. I got her buy-in, and with her blessing it was easier to do.
Who’s using it?
We don’t have anything about the user other than their phone number. We got 15,000 phone calls in the last week.
How does it work?
They text in, and it texts them back. Sometimes a real girlfriend will text when you’re out, you respond, and then they want to call you. So I have it text twice, and then it calls them.
What does it say?
There are a few different messages, basic scripts, like “Hey, how are you?” or “I missed you.” We leave a moment of silence where the other person could respond and have it not seem weird.
Actual possible texts:
“I miss you, honey. xoxo. (:”,
“When are you going to come see me?!?! I miss you! :0)”,
“I’m lonely 😉 😉 hehehe”,
“Why don’t you leave the boys and come hang out with me?”,
“I wish I was with you!!! (0:”,
“I just need someone to talk to… Call me?”,
“Thanks so much for the pics 😉 I’ll send some soon (:”,
“I <3 you. xoxoxoxo. <3 <3 <3 <3", "Oh hai! (0:", "THANKS FOR THE FLOWERS!!!"
Have you been surprised by how many people are using it?
Initially I was under the belief that this was so stupid no one would ever use it. Now I’ve heard lots of people saying they use it [ed: the site is up to 21,000 users now], for a variety of reasons — to make a girlfriend jealous, or because you’re just out with the guys, and everyone has a girl, and you’re feeling kind of left out.
Do people want more from the site?
I think one of the things that I’ll have to look at is providing more responses, or different personality types. Also, they’d love to see different area codes; it would look a little less suspicious. Right now it’s coming from one 212 number. I’ve heard, “I can’t believe you’re using a 212 number for this; this has to be the biggest waste of a 212 number ever!”
What do you say to that?
I don’t think so! I think if anything New Yorkers like to have fun, and it’s nice to have a reminder to have fun.
Is the site making money?
It’s funny because [the other day was] my birthday, and each call costs me money. It’s gone up as users increase. I was like, “We’re at 13,000 calls,” and my wife said “Happy Birthday, your present is paying for those calls.” Each user interaction costs 4 cents, which includes two texts and a call.
And your wife recorded the messages for the calls? Is that weird?
She did a really exaggerated fake voice, so it doesn’t sound like her at all. It’s not as weird as if it were just her normally talking.
Are you going to do FakeBoyfriend?
I think so. The domain I want is taken! But I want to do a different angle, not quite the same user interaction. The idea I like is that you text and it only gives one word responses, and it only calls every once in a while, one out of 10 times. I think I’ll do it but with a unique spin. I hope people keep having fun with it, and that it gets used but not so much that I go broke from it!