Quickly becoming the fastest way to build communities both online and offline, the pioneering platform is front and centre in the push for a more intimate internet.
In the digital age we’ve the world at our fingertips.
With a simple touch we can access anything we desire at any given time. Unless we choose otherwise we are never not connected, whether it be news outlets or social media platforms keeping us clued in on friends and family.
It’s a change to our social lives that has historically been accepted. We’ve mostly jumped into the digital world with little hesitation or regard for our real world time and relationships.
In 2022, however, that sentiment appears to be changing.
In fact, studies have shown that young people are beginning to retreat away from social media, yearning for real, meaningful connections that are more valuable than living entirely through a screen.
Here to meet this need and fuel our burgeoning desire for a more intimate internet is IRL (‘In Real Life’), an app that’s quickly becoming the fastest way to build communities both online and offline.
In doing so, it’s looking to put the ‘social’ (defined here as ‘needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities’) back in social media.
This particularly pertains to Gen Z, a demographic increasingly turning its attention to group platforms such as digital campfires thanks to the pandemic, which transformed our communication tools and video calling services.
‘Groups are a critical area in social networking as people continue to move away from communicating primarily in public feeds and private chats,’ says co-founder, Abraham Shafi, with whom we had the opportunity to speak to.
‘Other social platforms are all about recruiting followers. We believe it’s better, and more sustainable, to cultivate meaningful communities by giving everybody a voice and sense of belonging through the power of building durable communities online and in the real world.’
This is exactly the ethos of IRL, which originally burst onto the scene a couple of years ago but only recently started to gain serious traction in light of the gradually shifting mindsets of tech-dependents.
At its core, it’s seeking to help people find their people, to allow for the full spectrum of human behaviour beyond the limits of what social media is now renowned for: garnering an audience, which as Abe explains, is only good for some things.
‘Groups and communities are a completely different idea, they’re more about equal voices and participation rather than one person shouting through a megaphone,’ he says. ‘They’re where authentic social interaction takes place.’
Of course, given IRL’s rapid growth as of late, the question of how the company is aiming to maintain intimacy – touted as its primary focus – is posed.
Yet Abe assures us of the tireless work he and his team are doing to thread the needle between expansion and a sense of genuine togetherness.
‘Figuring out how to allow for both of those things to exist at the same time is our obsession,’ he explains.
‘For us, in order to be intimate, the platform needs to feel like a safe space. When you’re a product that’s all about getting together, discovering new friendships, and organising events based on shared passions, it needs to be about creating rules that help users feel comfortable engaging.’
Interestingly, the ‘rules’ Abe refers to here aren’t necessarily restrictive as the term suggests.
Because IRL is so community-centric, it’s the users that are in control, they’re the ones with the power to identify if discussions are getting overwhelming and consequently less intimate.
‘We’re always looking for super active members to anoint as an admin, specific groups will require specific things and it’s up to them to decide on what users will need to say or do up front to gain access,’ says Abe.
‘Plus, IRL may look like a messenger, but we’re launching things like ‘threading’ to keep conversations organised and high-quality. Tools that allow for large-scale exchanges to be condensed into more personalised channels.’
One such tool is IRL’s hugely popular polling feature.
Not only is it a ‘great icebreaker’ in that it lets users easily see which interests they are united in, but it can lead to breakout groups, where – based on how you vote – you can enter a chat with a maximum of 50 others and talk exclusively about an opinion you share.