Preview – Hooking Up Happier: Design Insight from Grindr

Hooking Up Happier: Design Insight from Grindr
Saturday, March 9 | 5:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Austin Convention Center
Room 10AB

Hooking up and gaming technology: do these subjects have any immediate relation to you? I’ll take a wild guess and say probably not. Jaime Woo aims to solidify that connection at this year’s SXSW Interactive festival.

Woo, a game designer, writer and festival organizer of Gamercamp.ca, has long had an interest in several subjects that relate to the realm of gaming technology.

SXSW Interactive panelist Jaime Woo

SXSW Interactive panelist Jaime Woo

“I’m very big into video games,” Woo said. “I like to focus on technology and games. It’s an evolving medium, an evolving art form that is very interesting to look at. I also focus on the career community beat, because it’s very important to me.”

Woo has been active in the Canadian world of technological media for the past half-decade.

“I’ve been covering the Toronto tech scene for five years now and a lot of what really interested me was the social impact of technology,” Woo said. “Technology rolls out so quickly and people tend to be more interested in the specifics of it. For me, it’s much more important to think about how it changes our day-to-day lives and how people are adjusting to these new technologies. So often, we’re always concentrating on being on the bleeding edge.”

Woo plans to use his panel to home in on the specifics of a popular mobile application used by men seeking men called Grindr, and determine whether the app can inspire new strategies in game design. Grindr uses the GPS capabilities of a smart phone to help users (typically, queer men) find other users nearby.

Woo acknowledged the innovative characteristics of Grindr.

“It came out just a couple of weeks after Foursquare,” Woo said. “When you think about how early this was, in terms of the development cycle of apps and locative services, it was one of the first things to be there.”

Despite its long-standing existence in the developmental app world, Grindr has yet to fully explode onto the scene in the mainstream tech industry.

Grindr, a GPS-based app for queer men

Grindr, a GPS-based app for queer men

“Grindr has 5 million users around the world and it’s been around for four years,” Woo said. “Users are sending billions of messages, yet it’s still below the radar because it’s a queer app and it doesn’t take up the same room or space like an app like FourSquare does. But we’re starting to see that it’s certainly not due to the lack of desire to hook up or use locative services to help mediate hooking up.”

“It isn’t solely something that the queer community wants. One of the things I always hear is, ‘Hey, where’s this for straight people?’ or I have my lesbians friends who ask for a lesbian version of it,” Woo said. “They’re coming. Grindr is one of the first to set some of the ground rules.”

Woo encourages social media and application users to be more aware of how the tools they use ultimately affect them and their interpersonal relationships.

“We can’t just know how to use technology,” Woo said. “We have to really be aware of how it affects us. And that’s what my book is all about. A lot of men get on Grindr with unrealistic expectations. They see the Internet as this Utopian experience. People think new technology is going to resolve the issues we already have. But the sociological issues still exist. It’s not a cure-all. It’s not a panacea. It’s a piece of software.”

“You have to be able to negotiate your relationship with that piece of software so you don’t end up being disappointed by it,” Woo said.

Woo is returning to SXSW this year after a brief hiatus.

“I had a core conversation in 2010,” Woo said. “SXSW often overlaps with the Game Developers Conference, but this year, they moved them separately so this will be my first year back since then.”

Woo had a few pieces of advice for first-timers at SXSW Interactive.

“Arrive early for the presentations you really want to see,” Woo said. “Especially the ones with the big names. Those fill up quite quickly.”

“And don’t forget to take a break,” Woo said. “SXSW can be so crazy and so all-consuming that you can burn out really quickly. Give yourself some time.”