Field Research: Meet the Apps
As promised, here’s the first of several reports on my field research about gay hook-up apps. As this research breaks new ground, my focus has been on in-depth personal interviews rather than surveys. Yeah. Serious stuff. My readers deserve the best I can bring to the project. I’m still in the data collection phase, but wanted to lay the groundwork with an introduction to the apps.
There are tons of different hook up apps with new versions coming online every day for different subsets of the gay population. My research focuses on three — Grindr, Scruff, and GROWLr. GROWLr is for bears, cubs, otters, chasers, daddies, and chubs — over-sized and/or hairy men of any age and the men who prefer them. Grindr skews younger and includes a lot of bisexual men of all ages. Scruff is somewhere in the middle.
The apps work more or less the same way, though each has different features and capabilities. I use the free version of all three. Spending money for something that sucks up so much time is a line I’ve so far avoided crossing.
After downloading the app, creating a profile is the first step. In addition to basic info — age, height, weight — space is provided to elaborate on interests and desires. Some guys leave everything blank, while others provide essays about their interests, what they’re looking for, or what they hate about hook-up apps and modern dating.
Photos have to be G-rated. Scruff and Growlr offer the ability to create “private albums” of not-so-G-rated pictures to share with interested individuals. All three apps include the ability to send photos via text messages, either just snapped (see how turned on I am?) or from images stored on the phone. A lot of this is what you might think of as sexting.
All kinds of guys all over the world use these apps. Some are looking for No Strings Attached encounters, right now. Others are interested in a more serious relationship. Quite a few apparently have nothing better to do than chitchat with guys on the other side of the world. My own interest is entirely for research purposes.
GROWLr, Scruff, and Grinder provide views with thumbnail photos, four across, that you can scroll through. The global view on Scruff and Growlr is generated by some kind of algorithm, and the local view by GPS. Grindr is local only, though the paid version might offer more options.
The global views tend to feature some of the hottest men in the world, along with everyday users like yours truly. Tap on a thumbnail and the profile comes up with a box to type in for live chat — assuming they’re online, denoted by the green dot in the left corner of the thumbnail.
The local view on all three apps places the user in the top left corner. So we’re looking at Justin’s phone in the picture above. Popular man, judging from all the guys who want to talk to him. The numbers in red dots indicate unread messages.
Joey, immediately to the right of handsome Jeremy, the last favorite (given the gold star), is the closest to Justin as the crow flies, and Gennaro, in the bottom right corner, the farthest away. With an ever-changing margin of error ranging from 16 feet to 7.4 miles (specified at the bottom of the screen), click on the thumbnail to see how far away the person is — a feature that’s especially fun at sporting events, movie theaters, airports, or wherever people congregate in large groups.
According to the developer of Grindr, which I believe was the first of these apps, the purpose is for people to meet face-to-face more quickly than online dating sites allowed, so they can figure out if they’re right for each other faster. Wink wink.
In future posts I’ll tell you about my first few days on the apps, some of the men I met (live and online), and pictures I’ll never be able to un-see. If I can figure out a way to get his permission, I’ll even post a picture of the most gorgeous man in the world.