If you’re single and looking, now you can go bar-hopping without leaving your desk. A new service called Speeksy combines video chat, instant messaging, and – gasp – Facebook. It’s like Chatroulette, but less disturbing.
Founder Barry Cassidy had tried Match.com eight years ago and quit after a month. It was a “poor social paradigm,” he said, where social sites like Facebook were too closed off for meeting new people and dating sites like Match had too much of a stigma attached.
Cassidy was still working for Adobe when he met his future co-founder Tom Tsatsos in a soccer league. At the time, Tsatsos was at Macromedia, the company that created software like Dreamweaver and Flash before it was acquired by Adobe in 2005.
They set out to make an online experience that was more like hanging out at a bar on a Friday night. Speeksy is kind of like Chatroulette, but instead of a one-on-one session with a stranger chosen at random, people have a chance to check each other out in a group. Once a week the bachelors and bachelorettes can file into a “live venue” for a video chat. (The venues max out at 50 users, so it’s more of a neighborhood bar than a crowded club on New Year’s Eve.) If they see someone they like, they can break off into private, five-minute video chats. There’s no personality test to take, so the focus is on the interaction.
Meeting people face-to-face online can be intimidating, which is why there are a number of features built in to help break the ice. Speeksy connects to SoundCloud, so there’s already music playing when you enter. You can create playlists and give people “props” for their taste in music.
You can also flirt with people by sending them virtual drinks, clicking on a chili pepper that means you think they’re hot, or starting a fake fight to get someone’s attention. My personal favorite was the option to “bust a move” to impress someone. It was less forward than the chili pepper and it made me laugh. Other dating sites have these types of features, but in a live setting, they’re actually really useful if you don’t have a good pick-up line.
Your profile connects through Facebook, so many of your profile details, like your taste in books and movies, are automatically pulled from the social graph. If you don’t have a lot of interests listed on your Facebook profile (which you might not if you hate spam), you can also look at someone else’s interests on Speeksy and add the ones you like to your list. This is another easy way to break the ice. In testing the site I found out that Cassidy and I both liked Radiohead while Tsatsos shared my love for the “The Neverending Story.”
The rest you fill in yourself. It’s got kind of a first-date vibe, so there’s a pull-down menu for you to select whether or not you drink and smoke, but not one for how many kids you want. For that, there’s video and instant messaging.
Although you can use a nickname and hide your exact location, Speesky still posts your real age and will, on occasion, put your activity on your Facebook timeline. So it’s in your best interest to be the same person around Speeksy users that you are with your friends on Facebook.
There’s also kind of social ranking system where people award each other points for good behavior. “Lewd behavior is not in their best interest,” said Cassidy, because people can be blocked by other users or denied access to future events. In the future, people will be able to use their points for additional privileges. For now, this will at least encourage more people to keep their clothes on when they turn on their webcams.
Later on, users will be able to pay for things like access to exclusive events, higher placement in the search results, and virtual goods. But the founders say that the subscription-based service is a little different. One of the complaints Cassidy had about other dating sites was that the free subscribers couldn’t send as many messages, which had the effect of limiting the dating pool.
The founders have only raised about $60,000 in seed money for this venture because they say their costs are relatively low. They use Amazon for hosting, SoundCloud for the music, and Adobe’s streaming service for the audio and video – all of which are inexpensive and easily scalable. “Even five years ago, it would have cost ten times as much” as what they’re paying now, Cassidy said. And with their respective backgrounds, the founders already had the experience with the technology and the necessary equipment to do most of the work themselves.
That, and money can’t buy love. I’ve got 10 Beta invitations to share, so if you want to try it out, use this link.
Image by mayawizard101 via Shutterstock