If you’re not on Grindr, you’re either straight, married, or lying. Since its inception two years ago, Grindr has become the largest all-male social network, over 2 million worldwide users having downloaded the app that shows you who’s in the vicinity and whether they look approachable.
You can then call on your animalistic instincts and sprint across the street for some hardcore pouncing (or discussions of the national debt, if you prefer) or just keep walking and waiting for something closer and better.
New York is Grindr’s second biggest city (after London), but the whole world seems to be taking to this thing like a lynx in heat, logging back on every time they’re mobile.
Rather than try my luck at it, I went for some behind-the-scenes action, interviewing the network’s founder/CEO. He’s Joel Simkhai, an Israeli-born Tufts grad who launched Grindr on the iPhone, with versions now available for Apple iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices.
And lest you think this is all frivolity-based, Grindr sent messages to its New York users in June, urging them to contact the on-the-fence senators in their nabes and demand that they approve gay marriage. And no, the politicians didn’t tweet back with their crotch shots.
Me: Hi, Joel. Tell me how Grindr works. I swear I’m not sure!
Simkhai: You create a profile. You don’t have to give your name, your email address, anything. You log on and see a grid of photos of other users in order of distance. On the top left is the closest person to you.
You can go through these photos and start chatting and hopefully meet with someone.
Me: How does it know where every-one is?
Simkhai: They’ll log in, they’ll show their location to us, and our servers will do the math to figure out the relative distance. We don’t share your specific location, but your distance. You’ll see that someone is 500 feet away. It could be north, south, east, or west. Then you can talk and give the exact location if you like.
Me: And it’s a big hit, right?
Simkhai: We’re the largest destination for gay men. We have about 500,000 active daily users. Right now, there are 43,000 gays on Grindr as we speak.
Me: And they’re all across the street! What differentiates you from Manhunt?
Simkhai: We don’t allow adult photographs in the profiles. And we’re about location in real-time—it updates as to where you are. Also, with Manhunt, you’re at your house, sitting in front a computer. We’re mobile. You’re on a bus, you’re at Duane Reade….
Me: Or you’re on a bus going to Duane Reade. But do some people use Grindr for things other than sex, or will they need Duane Reade for some rash cream?
Simkhai: It runs the gamut. It’s really what you make of it. We’re a provider of technology.
Me: Do you think most guys that hook up have safe sex?
Simkhai: I don’t have a good sense of that. Twenty years ago, HIV was very, very serious. Now it’s still serious, but maybe not as serious. So maybe that’s changed the mentality, unfortunately. But I think people should always be safe. There’s lots of STDs. The risk is simply not worth it.
Me: Do you use your own product?
Simkhai: Always! I’m on it all the time. I’ve met lots of guys and made some good relationships and dated and had friendships.
Me: So you’ve hooked up from it?
Simkhai: I’ve met all kinds of people and have done all kinds of things.
Me: Hmm. Are you looking for a boyfriend?
Simkhai: I don’t know. Can one look for a boyfriend?
Me: Absolutely. I’ve done it my whole life.
Simkhai: I can’t say I believe in searching for love, or you’ll end up with the wrong situation. Relationships are a lot of work. To make it worth it, you have to find the right person, not force it.
Me: Gosh, you sound so darned grounded. Don’t you have a horrible dark side, like the Facebook co-creator?
Simkhai: I don’t think so.
Me: Do you like being the guy who links all these people?
Simkhai: That’s the best part of the job—essentially being a matchmaker. I meet guys who say, “I met this guy through Grindr, and thank you.” That to me is motivating.
Me: And so is all that cash. Do you make more money from advertising or from the Grindr Xtra (premium service) subscriptions?
Simkhai: Half and half. Grindr Xtra is $2.99 a month.
Me: I always joked that I want to start Troll Grindr, which warns you when someone unattractive is across the street.
Simkhai: I think that’s part of it. You can see who you want to meet and who you don’t want to meet and navigate it. Maybe Troll Grindr should be our next project. [Laughs.]
Me: I want points! Actually, I mentioned that idea to someone and he said, “There already are trolls on Grindr.”
Me: Tell me about your new app, Project Amicus.
Simkhai: It’s a geosocial network that will allow gays, straights, everyone to meet the people around you. It goes beyond social orientation, gender, any of that. You can go on Facebook and talk to all the people you already know, but how do you meet new people? We’ll hopefully launch this summer.
Me: So once again, gays started the trend?
Simkhai: Absolutely. And we were conscious of that with Grindr. Initially, we said, “Let’s see what the gay community thinks. If they don’t like this, nobody’s going to like this.”
Me: And they really, really like it. Gotta go! Gotta update my location!