Mobile

Kicking a dead horse: This social app helps shy people meet strangers nearby (exclusive)

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The whole idea of apps that connect people online to hang out offline is pretty played out at this point, but some startups are still kicking that dead horse.

Catalyst launched its social, local, mobile application today (never seen those three things together before), that seems to do little other than pull concepts from Instagram, Foursquare, Path, Highlight, Tinder, etc. and bundle them into one.

Catalyst“Whether it’s going to work or a night out on the town, there are possible connections that go unnoticed because we fear rejection or are uncertain how to engage an interesting stranger,” cofounder Peter Simmons told VentureBeat. “Catalyst immediately connects you with everyone at your current location, allowing users to feel comfortable anonymously expressing their interest in a potential match, without fear of rejection or concern about social etiquette.”

Catalyst prompts users to take a selfie photo every 24 hours to serve as their user profile. Because more selfies is just what the world needs.

Whenever you check-in to your current location, you get a list of other profiles and statuses nearby. You can anonymously “like” other users, and when two people like each other, they are connected through Catalyst’s chat feature.

Should they decide to meet, it is “exceedingly convenient” because they are already in the same place.

“The reality of our generation is that we are more comfortable existing behind a screen,” Simmons said. “Catalyst is the bridge connecting this virtual comfort zone with our real world social interactions. [Catalyst can] put chemistry at your fingertips. Additionally, by focusing on your check-in location, Catalyst restores the idea of serendipitous connections and dating.”

Try as they might, apps have had a load of trouble engineering serendipity. Furthermore serendipity in Catalyst requires both people to be Catalyst users, which is a fairly limited pool to draw from.

It also seems like a whole lot of rigamarole to meet someone, when the simpler alternative is to bear up, walk over, and introduce yourself.

Catalyst2Yes, rejection sucks, and it is intimidating to go up to strangers, but surely it is not so difficult that you’d prefer signing up for an app, taking a daily selfie, checking in to your location, scrolling though people nearby, liking someone, waiting for them to like you back, chatting, and then finally, at long last, sitting down for a cup of coffee.

Dating apps are going through something of a Renaissance at the moment. There are the old standbys of Match.com, eHarmony, and OKCupid, but a new set of apps such as Tinder, Grouper, HowAboutWe, and CoffeeMeetBagel have emerged to push online daters into the real world faster.

With all of these options out there, Catalyst doesn’t seem to have much that would draw existing users away from other services or encourage them to choose it over the alternatives.

Catalyst isn’t only a dating app, however. It also includes a Friend Feed so you can see where your friends have checked in and make plans accordingly. You know, like Foursquare, Facebook, and Path have been doing for years.

Simmons was inspired to found Catalyst after he met his fiancee. The story goes it was a foggy St. Patrick’s Day four years ago when she approached him in a bar and said “you don’t look like you are from around here.” They began talking, and Simmons said he knew there was a connection, but when she left the bar he only knew her first name so he couldn’t figure out a way to contact her.

Fortunately, at the time, Blackberry’s were a thing, and she had scanned his BBM barcode. They ended up staying in touch and are now engaged.

Catalyst4Simmons wanted to create an iPhone option for the post BBM barcode era that makes it easier to stay in touch with people without divulging too much information and makes it easier to initiate conversation.

The Internet has taken us from the early days of email, chatrooms, and instant messenger through the rise of Facebook and social networking, and now the latest generation of social technology is focused on fostering real world experiences.

Ultimately, I agree with Simmons that people are overly engaged with their digital devices and that it can detract from the quality of real-world interactions. I also agree that the Internet, and specifically smartphones, open up powerful opportunities to bring people together.

But neither I nor Simmons are the first people to realize this, and a lot of bigger, better, stronger, competition is already out there, making this sector, quite frankly, over-disrupted.

Catalyst is based in Durham, North Carolina.

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