When it comes to casual stranger-to-stranger interaction, communities are moving online. We react to news in the comment section of Reddit, we flirt with neighbors on dating apps, and we idly chatter on Discord. Yet asynchronous social apps have not seen user interface disruption beyond infinity scrolling feeds and reaction-emojis. What if you could reap the benefits of video game design—abstracting 2D content into 3D skeuomorphic objects, scrolling by manipulating the camera perspective, and juicing the mouse or touch interactions—without habit forming loops of a win / loss state? Could there be a way to stop feeling fatigued after a session of social media browsing?

36 min read • Published: July 05, 2022

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1. 🔍 User Experience Research

Aha moment

Common scenarios emerged from interviewing people about the origin stories of their favorite friendships - chance encounter at some public event, introduction by mutual acquaintance, casual group sports, project collaboration through school / work / volunteering, and hitting it off at a private house / dinner party.

Dinner parties in particular stood out:

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Could the dinner party user experience be recreated as an asynchronous private group chat?

Stranger-to-stranger compatibility

First, I had to understand why two people click.

Since friends hit it off regardless of activity, I suspected that shared interests were a weak form of compatibility; confirmed by often-cited failures to hangout following a event.

Diving into best friend relationships revealed three interesting sources of compatibility:

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I eventually stumbled onto a set of questions / prompts to ask throughout a 30-minute interview which could build out someone’s profile along these compatibility attributes.

Trending causes of loneliness

But not everyone who attends public social events is lonely; many really do just want to do a shared activity then go home, which makes it more difficult to identify attendees seeking social support.

Although tough to spot, within public events I began identifying attendees who experienced a significant socially traumatic event:

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I decided to focus on the age demographic of 25 - 35 assuming a) propensity towards trying a new app, b) resistance to becoming a curmudgeon, and c) actively spending time & money to address their isolation.

Shortcomings of online communities

Where do these people hang out?

As someone who identifies with the above demographic, I participate in offline events, as well as online places like community apps (eg. Reddit, Discord, Slack) and dating apps (eg. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge) due to the ease of instantly joining a public community.

As a sporadic active user, I’ve experienced a few shortcomings preventing discussions beyond surface level: