Over a decade after founding Grindr, Joel Simkhai wants to start over

When Joel Simkhai left Grindr five years ago, he had a lot of time to think.

Simkhai, a gay man and tech entrepreneur, helped launch the innovative Gay dating and hookup app in 2009. Grindr, which tested geolocation software to show the distance between users, fundamentally changed queer culture.

By adapting gay social and romantic interactions to the digital age, Grindr brought bringing millions of people together in ways that gay bars, the longtime focal points of LGBTQ social scenes, simply could not. But under Simkhai’s watch, it too was exposed, and some say got worsethe physical and racial discrimination that has long plagued the gay community.

Now, more than a decade later, he wants a new version.

Alex Hostetler and Joel Simkhai.
Motto co-founders Alex Hostetler, left, and Joel Simkhai.Gregory Scaffidi / Motto

Simkhai launched a queer dating app this month called Motto, which he says has innovative features to help prevent the “toxicity” and “discrimination” that have cast a shadow over other gay dating apps, including the one he spearheaded, amid of a barrage of controversy for most of the last decade.

By requiring its users to have images of faces instead of “headless torsos” and limiting the time they spend on the app by giving users no more than 10 profiles per day, Motto differs from Grindr, Simkhai said. He also said that Motto provides more profile information and requires a verification process for each user to increase security and protect against stalker bots, which infect many dating apps.

as recently as this year, the average daily time spent on Grindr per user was about an hour, according to The Guardian. The results of an online survey of nearly 100 Grindr users published in 2017 in the peer-reviewed magazine behavioral medicine showed that obese users reported significantly higher feelings of body dissatisfaction. A 2019 study published in another peer-reviewed journal, Body imagereached similar conclusions, finding that specific features of the Grindr app affect body perceptions among men who have sex with men.

Simkhai said that amid accusations in recent years of transphobia, sexual racism and fat shaming, its creation had unintended consequences. He said that he takes responsibility for them.

“At Grindr, I was obviously aware of these issues, and it was difficult to resolve for a number of reasons,” he said. “Leaving Grindr and having a chance to think about these things, I thought ‘what do I want my legacy to be?'”

A gay couple standing under the Motto logo.
Motto is a sexually positive matchmaking app for gay and queer hookups and casual dating.Motto

Simkhai called Motto, which has already launched in New York City, his chance to “correct the course.” the company is keep building your teamand is not yet making its user numbers public, he said.

Meanwhile, Grindr continues to dominate the gay dating app space, with around 11 million monthly active users worldwide last year, according to one company. Press release. also alone brought in a CEO who plans to take the company public soon with an ambitious valuation of $2.1 billion.

“While we will never stop working to offer our users, we are proud of what we have done, particularly in the last two years, to make Grindr a supportive platform where our community can connect freely and comfortably,” Patrick Lenihan said. Grindr’s vice president and head of communications in a statement.

Grindr launched a video campaign this month to clarify”misconceptions” about your user experience and educate people about the security features and content moderation of the app. A Press release The company said users have the ability to mute, block and report “bad actors” to improve their experience, saying those reports are reviewed 24 hours a day by a moderation team that operates on a 99% of precision and has been trained in “LGBTQ”. -specific cultural sensitivities and moderation of gender inclusive content”. The company also noted that Grindr includes audio and video chat features that can help prevent catfishing.

In 2018, the year Simkhai left Grindr, his head of communications at the time said online discrimination had reached “epidemic proportions.” At the time, the company recognized that Grindr was one of several social media apps affected by the trend, and that year it launched an awareness initiative called “Kindr,” which included a revamp of its community guidelines to combat sexual racism. .

But racist, discriminatory and exclusionary tropes, or the euphemisms for them, continue to permeate a number of LGBTQ dating and hookup apps. In many ways, they reflect the racism, discrimination, and exclusion that persist more broadly within gay culture, particularly among cisgender white men. In fact, this was a subject of this summer’s groundbreaking film “Fire Island,” which drew particular attention to a racist line: “no fat, no women, no asians” — which is still ubiquitous on gay dating apps via coded language, despite discrimination and content moderation policies.

Last year, a group of HIV and STD prevention agencies associated with the owners of nine dating websites and apps, including Grindr, to “reduce stigmatizing language” on their platforms that contributes to body shaming, sexism and HIV discrimination. The group surveyed 5,500 people who regularly used at least one of the apps intended for gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. The result was a series of recommendations, including that the app prioritize users most vulnerable to bias, offer incentives for people to complete their profiles, and reconsider having users pay to block more profiles.

“While gay, bisexual and trans people have long been subjected to discrimination, stigma and hate speech from outside our communities, the way we treat each other online can also cause harm,” the report says.

It’s a concept that has informed much of the discussion in recent years about how to reform gay dating apps aimed at LGBTQ people, who, like everyone else, continue to grapple with the complicated role social media plays in the community. , in spite of the shelter can contribute from the heteronormative culture.

“Culture changes, for better and for worse,” Simkhai said.

As for Motto, he said, the platform plans to “put the user first.”

“We think there is a better way.”

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