Bess Batterham Team : Web Operations Tags : Technology

Blendr into a crowd

Bess Batterham Team : Web Operations Tags : Technology

As well as working at Wiliam I’m also studying journalism. The following blog has been altered from an editorial that I wrote for radio.

I recently downloaded a new iPhone application called Blendr, made by the same American guy who released the homosexual version of the app, Grindr in 2009.

The maker, Joel Simkhai, says it’s “to help people make friends based on their mutual interests”.  It also picks up your location so it shows people to chat with who are close by, you can even check into a pub and see if any other users are there.

I downloaded it because a workmate of mine finds much entertainment in Grindr. He’s constantly propositioned for sex and showered with compliments from complete strangers. He’s a 26-year-old blond, tanned, Sydney gay who has a pouting picture of himself on his profile. So there’s no surprises that he’d get a lot of attention for an app that’s known as the app that lets gay guys find people for no-strings-attached sex.

I downloaded the heterosexual version of the app a few weeks after it was released just to see what it was all about.  I put my name as my first initial and my profile picture was an image of my favourite band. The only information I did give was my age, that I was female and of course, the necessary tool: my location.

Logging in and only seeing myself and one other girl out there in a sea of males, immediately I started getting messages from men all over Sydney.

Some have said that Blendr is not as raunchy as its gay sibling Grindr, which currently has 2 million worldwide users and is known to be the most “honest” iPhone application you can get. Expected to grow to 9 million users in the next three to five years Blendr’s creators are expecting 90 million users by the same point. The makers claim that the key word “Friendship, is not a euphemism” for something less innocent and that it can be used from children to grandmothers. Perhaps a grandmother, who is lonely and wants to find someone to play cards with, has a perfect bridge partner living a few blocks away that she has never met.

Although, I just can’t shake that it’s a dating app and after being asked if I wanted to meet up for sex by a number of guys, except in a much more direct and less polite way, I was pretty convinced people were joining for the same reason they join Grindr. On my second day using it a guy even sent me a picture of his penis and then got angry when I refused to repay the gift. I didn’t ask to see his penis and this guy didn’t even know what I looked like, my profile picture is a painting of two male rappers.

Luckily I’m not too fazed by genitalia and it was definitely nothing worth making a big deal out of. But I could have been a young child or someone who would have been offended. In the US one of Boston’s top child advocates, Ed Donnelly, has voiced his concerns that Blendr could be used to pray on teens. He told the Boston Herald “All of these sites are becoming more sophisticated, so there are more bells and whistles to trick kids,” he said.

The Australian government is currently debating whether or not apps should be censored like video games, however, it is unclear how apps that aren’t necessarily games, like Grindr and Blendr, will be classified. A computer game is classified by law as "a computer program and any associated data capable of generating a display on a computer monitor, television screen, liquid crystal display or similar medium that allows the playing of an interactive game".

Blendr self-censors profile images shown publically to all users but also allows for private images to be sent between users. It’s too hard for the app to monitor every image that is sent between users so the only option is to block someone if they send you something offensive.

So what does this mean for the naive person wanting to date or find new friends? You simply have to be prepared for the creeps and perverts out there. After all, anything can be sent through email these days anyway, and you could even end up getting harassed though an innocent game of Words With Friends. The digital world is a big place and just like the real world it’s not all kitty cats and rainbows out there.