While you were Facebooking,Mumbai start-up creates social network for strangers

A Mumbai start-up wants you to bump into strangers.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Published: January 5, 2014 4:56 am

If you are the sort of person who is put off by friend requests from strangers,then this story is probably not for you. Launched by a group of 20-somethings in Mumbai,Treetins is a social network for strangers. Put off already? Well,the four founders of the new site think there are many people out there in the real world,who would like to try their luck meeting and getting to know strangers. Their motto? “Making Strangers Social.”

Treetins,an anagram for interest,is a social networking site that connects people by using their common interests. One can begin by liking someone’s photographs,and then “bump” into that person,but without knowing who is on the other side. If that person then wants to carry the conversation forward,the bump is accepted,thus revealing the identities of both parties. On Treetins,all conversations are between two individuals only,there is no chance for a third person chipping in.

Founder Prince Jacob Thomas says that while there are more people using social media today than before,most of the conversations are restricted to family,friends and colleagues. “The number of strangers we could connect with,and thus collaborate with,are immense,” says Thomas,who has worked with Ogilvy and Creativeland Asia,and now handles the product and overall strategy of the new company.

When Thomas had his brainwave last April,he bounced the idea off his friends,Aditya Dhul,Mohit Narwal and Chandy Thomas. It was not an easy idea to sell,but after brainstorming they felt that people were mostly reluctant to meet strangers “either because of the fear of being judged or they find it creepy”. The foursome took their theory offline and tested it at Marine Drive in Mumbai,by trying to meet random strangers. “We realised that we,too,were judging people before we approached anyone,” says Prince. “But then we also realised that we four started out as strangers before we became friends. You never know what it could lead to; the opportunities of collaborating with people are immense.”

On Treetins,everyone is a “person” until you are interested in a post and decide to bump into that person. There is no chance of judging him or her based on a name,race or nationality. Launched last month,the network is already bustling with users. With every topic posted on the site,one can see the number of people who are interested in bumping into the person who posted it. That is a good indicator of the popular topics of discussion. However,the discussions are limited to those on your “bench”,the strangers one has befriended on the site.

Chandy,who has a background in public relations,says college students are quite “stranger- friendly”,so are young professionals. “Ultimately,there is potential for just about anyone who finds it interesting to connect with like-minded strangers,especially because on our site,the networking is based on what you express or how you converse rather than who you are or what you look like,” says Thomas.

In addition to the site,Treetins has a very strong offline strategy. They began their “Making Strangers Social” initiative with a “Share Your Table” concept where people chose to have a meal in a Mumbai restaurant or pub with a complete stranger. In another initiative,they brought the site’s users together to pose for their “Hi Stranger” photography project.

Does the advent of social networks like Treetins mean people are getting tired of social media staples such as Facebook? “Yes,there is a growing social media fatigue,but instead of shrinking ourselves further,we think it would be exciting to meet,interact and collaborate with people outside our existing circles,” says Thomas. The company is currently working on a mobile app.

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