As of August 16, Facebook has a new competitor at UC Merced – At the Pool. The new social media service seeks to differentiate itself from its rivals by facilitating electronic social interactions differently – instead of sites like Facebook, which developed along a model geared for networking and meeting large numbers of people, At the Pool seeks to promote individual friendships that will last.
The website, founded by Alex Capecelatro, is designed to incorporate successful elements from each of today’s social networking giants: Facebook, Google+, Match.com, and others. While sites like Facebook are designed to promote broad-scale networking, and continuing contact with a vast number of acquaintances, Capecelatro’s website incorporates grouping ideas similar to Google+’s “circles” – allowing users to more easily control who can see what content they post, and to meet people with interests similar to theirs.
However, while Google+ seems to focus on keeping in contact with people you already know, At the Pool takes a leaf from Match.com’s book, and attempts to match you with likely friends, based on shared interests and compatibility.
In fact, At the Pool was designed to provide a similar functionality to Match.com – only with friends, rather than romantic interests. As founder Alex Capecelatro remarked in an interview with online blog The Silicon Angle, “the Internet does a great job at connecting us with our friends and family, but a terrible job at introducing us to new people and getting us offline.”
It is in that spirit that At the Pool’s grouping feature, called “Pools”, rather than Google+ “circles,” join people with similar interests for social interactions in the real world. The website’s name is based on the idea of communal swimming pools – a place reserved for meeting and enjoying time spent with friends, out in the real world, at a time when we increasingly shelter ourselves inside, away from the elements and other people.
In fact, the website asks new users for their zip code, before any other identifying information. This is because the website is so focused on local, social, real-world interactions. Alex Capecelatro has explained that he experienced the impetus to create such a social network when he was looking for friends with similar interests when he lived in upstate New York – and that he only found such a friend when he was about to move to California.
Capecelatro continued his explanation to say that he connected with a number of people near him who shared similar interests, including one of the founding members of Facebook – but learning about, and then meeting those people took weeks and months. He intends for At the Pool to replace that process with a much more efficient, technology-assisted path; to register for the website, declare your interests, and be sent a daily email with a possible friend match.
At the Pool was designed with this daily friend suggestion feature to facilitate expanding networks. One of the problems with websites like Facebook, Capecelatro alludes, is that it is too easy to move to a new location, and keep in touch only with your existing friends in faraway places. It is difficult to use a tool like Facebook to meet new people, especially locally – and it is that hole which At the Pool strives to fill.
Whether the website will meet that goal or flounder and sink remains to be seen. However, it launched for the UC Merced community on August 16. Since the UC doesn’t have a pool, perhaps Capecelatro’s website will still allow students to meet “At the Pool”.