The Interplay is a special biweekly series exploring the intersections of sex, pop culture, and current events.
The writing is on the wall: we’ve (unsurprisingly) hit peak mobile application. In the early days of powerful mobile computing the idea of there being “an app for that” was radical. Creating virtual communities unbound by space, time, and economic circumstance was game changing for gay men across the world.
As the years have gone on, however, gay social networks that live on servers have flooded the market with variations of the same guy-on-a-grid experience. If Grindr, for example, is for everyone, then Scruff is for everyone with a little bit more body hair. Growlr’s the same, but for bears, and Daddyhunt’s focused primary on connecting strapping men of a certain age. Beneath slightly different coats of paint all of these applications are derivative of one another. It’s time that we demand more of them.
Last week Scruff’s Chief Product Officer Jason Marchant published an op-ed in the Huffington Post describing the steps Scruff has taken to work against the cultural stigma attached to being HIV-positive. Scruff, like an increasing number of mobile networking apps, is emphasizing the use of categorical filters to help its users find the kinds of guys they’re looking for without risk of being ostracized.
“For "Poz" guys uncomfortable disclosing status in their profile, "HIV Status" presents a fraught choice: to answer "Negative" would be dishonest, but any other answer -- including no answer -- is often interpreted by other users as a tacit disclosure. It's also a problem for HIV negative guys searching for the same. Seeing "Negative" presented next to other profile "stats" conveys a false sense of permanence.
Recently applications like Scruff have positioned themselves as valuable assets in efforts to curtail the spread of various STIs. As a part of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to eradicate new HIV infections in the state by 2020, New York City began using Grindr and Scruff to inform gay men about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Blued, a popular Chinese gay networking app, actively encourages its users to seek out HIV tests at its parent company’s office free of charge.
All of these platforms want to be thought of as more than hookup apps, and gradually their platforms are trying to address the gay community’s needs other than sex. Other than public health outreach and offering free advertising space, however, the “social” experience of these networks seems to have plateaued. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...