Gay Social App Creators Stress Friendship, Give Attention to Health and Social Issues

Nowadays there seems to be a mobile app for everything, including dating.

Long before my last breakup, I deleted Grindr, a smartphone app that is a household name in most gay circles, from my phone. Call me old-fashioned, but I wanted to meet people face-to-face. I found it creepy that the application pinpointed my exact location and told perfect strangers how close I was to them, and there was something seedy about texting headless torsos on my little phone's screen. Even when I was bored, I thought that Grindr simply lacked the kind of fun and sophistication that piqued my interest. Moreover, I had long given up on dating sites such as Adam4Adam, Manhunt and even; they'd started to have the feel of a bathhouse or a seedy bar. I decided that there simply was not a market in online dating for those who wanted to meet decent people to chat with.

Was I the last gay man on Earth who did not want to hook up? I was parched for conversation with other gay men. Sure, I have a sexual appetite, but I do draw a line sometime. And then, like a ray of sunshine, a friend suggested that I look into Hornet. "I only have it because I'm bored, but it is pretty awesome and a little like Facebook," said my friend.

After incredulously scolding my friend for using a what I thought was a gay hookup app while in a relationship, I downloaded it. Incredibly, Hornet was different right off the bat. Not only was the interface user-friendly, but users can literally search the world for someone to talk to and not pay a dime for the service. People were using the app to address social issues like knowing one's HIV status. I was intrigued.

Looking for answers to my questions, I found myself having a candid, in-your-face, fact-filled conversation with Hornet's CEO and co-founder, Sean Howell.

Victor Lopez: What inspired you to create such an application?

Sean Howell: So many things go into the story. Our founders are all serious technologists. The other apps just didn't seem to deliver what we knew was possible from a technology perspective. The future of smart technology is just beginning, so we expect to see a lot of evolution here, and we're in the best position to implement it. Aside from my background as an analyst, I am also an activist and really wanted something different than Grindr.

With Planet Out's collapse came a vacuum of online places for people to talk. Having multiple pictures means people aren't just posting their headless torso and putting their best assets forward, so in addition to the usual activity, we have something that helps people looking for a lot more than just sex, especially with travelers or people who are just moving to a city. The gay community has a lot of sexual energy, but we also have a lot more to us than just that. We built a community that helps that.

Lopez: What purposes does Hornet serve other than hooking up, and why?

Howell: We, the staff at Hornet, are made up of bleeding-heart homos whose backgrounds are [as] VCs, technologists and activists. This gives our community a much different feel. You can see it in the app store reviews and the 200 feedback emails that come in each day. People don't just use us for dating; they're using us for business networking, to get a job, to explore moving, to plan their vacations. That's possible on the [other apps], but I'd argue you'd be interrupting someone's mood to all of a sudden ask them what's the best place for ice cream in Philadelphia or their favorite place to stay when visiting NYC.

Lopez: How do you compare with your competition, like Grindr?

Howel: I didn't know that that was my competition. They're a really different product, and you'll see people who have multiple apps depending on their moods. Hornet is not competing for moods; it offers something different.

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When it comes to dating apps, we haven't seen anything yet. While many will go onto dating sites to hook up, Hornet is starting the revolution in making apps more than hookup tools. Stay tuned.

This blog post is cross-posted from Charlotte's Q Notes.