Grindr’s Founder on Politics, Safe Sex & Allowing Users to Specify a Type
Whatever your personal feelings about it, there is no denying Grindr’s influence on the gay community. Ever since the app made its debut nearly four years ago it has tremendously impacted how gay men interact with each other. It’s made it easier than ever for guys to find whatever it is they are looking for, whether it be friends, dates, a quick chat or (most likely) a quickie.
Grindr’s signature yellow grid that displays the nearest men who are on the prowl has made it, as it states on Grindr’s website, "the world’s biggest mobile network of guys." Grindr uses your smart phone’s location-based service to show you the guys closest to you who are also on the app.
According to the company, 4.5 million men in 192 countries have downloaded the app, with nearly 1 million guys signed on at any given time. In a recent interview, Grindr’s founder and chief executive officer Joel Simkhai told EDGE that he is rebuilding the app to accommodate such phenomenal growth and to ensure speed, stability and responsiveness. He promised that the new, improved Grindr would not only be faster but "a lot more fun."
The look and the way it is used will also change, he added. "We are adding communities and filters," Simkhai said. "Now, you can see everyone around you and you can only filter based on age. With new Grindr, you will be allowed to filter users based on ethnicity, body type, height, weight, relationship status and lots of other things."
Allowing Users to Specify the Type of Man
Simkhai said users will be able to search for guys based on one of 12 "communities," including HIV status.
"There are lots of different types of gay men," he said. "There are bears, there are daddies, there are twinks. There are all these sub-communities within our gay community. So we’re going to allow you to select yourself of one of 12 communities, including HIV positive," he continued. "The idea is if you’re looking to meet someone who is HIV positive, you can now do that and search for that person. We are very excited for that and it’s going to make a big, big difference."
Grindr certainly has its critics. Simkhai expects it to be no different when he rolls out the new version. "We are filtering out the community. We are segmenting half the community, even more," he gleefully admitted. "There’s pros and cons to it, unfortunately," he said. "It’s what our users want."
He said he’s only responding to users, who want to meet specific types of guys. "That’s real life," he said. "There are specific types of bars. There’s Latin night, bear night, Asian night, bars that are skewed older, bars that are skewed hipster, bars that are skewed twink. Do I like it? I don’t know how I feel about it but it’s natural and it’s what our users want."
"I very much like the idea that Grindr just shows you everyone around you," he said. "But what we found is that people block a lot. Blocking is one of the most popular features on Grindr. They’re just not interested in meeting them so it’s telling me that they are being selective and choosing. So when the criticism comes that I’m segmenting the community, I’ll probably have to agree with it."
Nor is Simkhai worried that the new features will close guys off from meeting new people or going outside of their comfort zone: "You are lowering your chances of randomly meeting someone. I can’t control that though. I just know what my users want and its my job to give that to them," he said.
Some take particular issue with the way many users flat out declare that they’re "Not into Asians," or "Sorry. No blacks. Just a preference."
Canada’s Globe and Mail, in an article entitled "No Asian. No Indian:’ Picky Dater or Racist Dater?," stated the objection this way: "In an endless parade of shirtless beefcakes, many state racial biases as openly as other turnoffs, like flab."
In an op-ed piece published in Out magazine, Alexander Chee said that men who specifically write that they are not interested in a specific race are not stating a preference but "using the disguise of a semi-socially acceptable way to say you’re a racist and looking to hook up with other racists."
The issue has even inspired a website, "Douchebags of Grindr," that allows users to upload screen caps of other users they find offensive. One of the most recent photos shows a screen cap of a 24-year-old man named "LT" whose profile says, "Bored, so looking to chat. Not interested in black guys."
Looking Back at the Beginning
Simkhai never dreamed how much Grindr would impact on the gay world when he launched it back in March 2009. He claims he created it because he thought, "I want to meet other guys."
"I just thought wouldn’t it be cool if I could see guys nearby based on location and be able to chat with them," he related. "Even to this day, I think about how we have tens of thousands of Japanese users on Grindr. I have no concept of what being gay in Japan is all about."
Simkhai was born in Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv. He moved to New York City with his family when he was three. He always struggled with meeting guys and the different dating sites he used didn’t seem to work for him.
What he really wanted to know was who the other gay guys near him were at any given time. At first he considered a mash-up of Craiglist and Google Maps. Things only clicked when Apple launched its second-generation cell phone, the iPhone 3.
"I immediately knew that this is what I need because it had the technology: it had the GPS, it had the App Store, it had the ability to distribute apps a lot easier," he said. Simkhai found a developer in Denmark and got a friend, Scott Lewallen, to help with the design. After six months of work, the three just "put it out there" with no business plan.