Feeling lonely? A new generation of apps is matching people who are looking for friendship, not romance, with features that wouldn't look out of place on Tinder or OKCupid.
Like dating apps, Hey! VINA, Monarq and Wiith connect people with similar views and lifestyles. While photos still play a role, the focus is more on compatibility than looks.
“We’re a lot more data-driven,” Olivia June Poole, co-founder and CEO of Hey! VINA, told NBC News. “We’re really focused on understanding you holistically as a person, as opposed to it being a game of ‘hot or not.’”
Hey! VINA and Monarq both focus exclusively on women. Users answer questions about their interests, personality and goals, post a photo, and the apps match them up for a coffee date, museum outing or whatever other activity they may be into.
Wiith can be joined by men or women. It lets people create events (for example, brunch or cocktails), invite other users to join, and then accept or reject those who show interest. Another new app, Rendezwho, tries to create long-lasting friendships by matching two random users for life. There is an even an app called Meet My Dog for pet owners and their pooches who are looking for some companionship.
Obviously, there are far more dating apps on the market than friend-finding apps. But in big cities like New York and Los Angeles that are filled with young, transient populations, the idea of using technology to connect with new friends is gaining steam.
Poole moved to San Francisco after college to work in the tech industry. In such a male-dominated field, she found it hard to form new friendships with women. Services like Meetup, which encourage strangers to get together and participate in an activity, weren't as targeted she would like. So she decided to message women on OKCupid to see if anyone was up for a platonic relationship.
Many times, her messages were met with confusion and silence. But she occasionally got lucky.
"Some people were like, 'Oh my god, I have always wanted to do this too!'" Poole said.
She eventually formed one strong friendship with someone from OKCupid, only to watch that person move to another city. After that, she decided to start a networking group called "Ladies Who Vino." It grew and eventually inspired her to create Hey! VINA.
That app matches users based on factors including location, mutual friends and personal traits. Right now it's only available in New York, San Francisco and L.A., and users have to join a waiting list to try it out. But Hey! VINA plans to eventually expand worldwide.
If that sounds too much like online dating, Rendezwho tries to make friendship a game. You sign up and are matched with an anonymous user. The app reveals the distance between the two users (which averages 2,800 miles) ... and that's it.
No photos or biographical information is provided. The users can't even message each other — they communicate by answering irreverent multiple choice questions, sending GIFs, and creating Spotify playlists.
"You lose something when you know everything about a person," Rendezwho co-founder Adil Ansari told NBC News. "The point is to go out and travel and one day meet this person."
Allowing messaging, Ansari pointed out, would lead to people sharing their names and then searching for each other on Google, killing the mystery.
Since its launch two weeks ago, more than 7,000 people located everywhere from Turkey to Hong Kong have signed up. Nobody has found their partner yet, but company co-founder Candy Avila Baca promised "a little surprise" for the first 10 to 20 people who end up doing it.
Why would anyone bother? The app hopes to "digitize the chance encounter" that someone might have while traveling, with none of the filtering for interests or beliefs found in other matchmaking apps.
"You might see friendships that develop that transcend age or gender," Ansari said.
There is no guarantee that users will want to spend that much time and effort looking for a stranger. It's also not clear that other friendship apps will take off, either. For some people, it might seem weird to look for a new pal on their phone.
But consider online dating. Back in 2005, only 44 percent of people said it was a good way to meet people, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. That number jumped to nearly 60 percent in 2013.
And while social networks such as Facebook and Instagram allow users to contact random people, specialized apps, Baca said, make it seem OK to reach out to strangers without it feeling weird. Soon, millennials could be finding friends the same way they find romantic partners — by swiping right.