Interact, a new geospatial social discovery application, is, first and foremost, about making connections.
To prove it, the application is scheduled to officially launch on Monday and by Thursday Interact found Anthony Coombs, 32, will be giving away an iPad to the most connected college student out of five Philadelphia universities.
But first, he’ll have to convince both students and other Philadelphians to use it.
Interact uses the Facebook platform and geospatial location data to allow you to meet people in your general vicinity who share common interests. Using your Facebook profile and privacy filters, the app allows you to specify whether you are interested in professional, social or romantic interactions and only allows people to contact you who are also interested in the same type of interaction.
If you’re at a meetup, a conference or perhaps even a crowded train station, you can see who nearby has similar likes.
Before the Monday launch, download a free beta version in the app store at ph.ly/interactapp.
The challenge for Interact, Coombs says, is two-fold: first, he must convince potential users that they are in control of their privacy and second, he must distinguish the app from other geospatial social applications on the market.
On the privacy front, the Penn graduate has done his homework.
Based on the assumption that women would be more likely to than men to be concerned about privacy when using an app based on geospatial location technology, he says he talked to more than two dozen women, many of them friends, to see what features would make them feel more comfortable using the app.
“This whole app was built and designed in my mind from a woman’s perspective,” Coombs said.
Features like authentication via Facebook, privacy filtering and gender filtering were all features that directly resulted from his consultations with women.
Coombs says he also left out features like camera access in chat and mapping because the women he spoke to understandably expressed concern that anyone could pinpoint their location.
“When we’re talking about distance in Interact, we’re talking about distance from me,” said Coombs. “I don’t need to have a map pointing to exactly where you are.”
When testing the app at Technically Philly, this reporter found that setting Interact to anonymous browsing felt the most secure, because it was easy to see who was around while remaining in control of what others could see.
Differentiation, Coombs’ second challenge, is a little more abstract. Coombs says that while many similar applications are designed to engineer interaction, or engineer serendipity, they are approaching the uncertainty of human interaction from a technological perspective.
Coombs, who studied sociology in college, says Interact focuses on why people meet, the technology is just a facilitator to make what humans already do a little bit easier.
“People meet because of three things: professionally, socially, and romantically. We also need forms of compatibility or reasons to get together,” Coombs said. “When you can put that in the context of an event or even if you are just at a bar, knowing what we have in common will enable us to foster conversation.”
Coombs predicts that Interact will be most useful in networking and dating situations.
Coombs, who lives in Queens Village and has remained in the city since transferring to Penn halfway through college, says that’s one reason he’s focusing on having success with Interact in the Philadelphia market first. He wants to see how Philadelphians will use it.
As for Philadephia’s college set, The Most Connected Student contest is already underway at Penn, Drexel, St. Joe’s, Villanova, and Temple. The grand prize will be an iPad, but Coombs told Technically Philly that the most connected students at each individual university will also win smaller prizes. Coombs says he views college students as a valuable way to break into the Philadelphia market.
“When you’re in college you tend to be the most connected and you’ll get more out of the app if your friends bring along their friends,” Coombs said.
The application, which was built by Old City-based appRenaissance, is available for free in beta in the Apple store, though you may want to wait for the official launch which Coombs says includes a few bug fixes.
Coombs has been bootstrapping to develop and launch the app so far.
Philly Tech Week marks Coombs’ first major opportunity to prove that Interact can break out in Philadelphia. In addition to demo-ing at Mobile Monday, Coombs will talk about building location-based social networks and Interact. If you want to hear it, you may have to get in line. The Philly Tech Week event is sold out.