THERE HAVE BEEN MANY HAPPY BOYS who have found their perfect matches on Grindr, the social network for single gay men, but founder Joel Simkhai has a favorite.
“There was a serviceman in the Air Force, stationed in Baghdad and Kuwait,” Mr. Simkhai said on the phone from Los Angeles, where he lives. “He used Grindr to connect with other gay men in the military—and locals!”
The smartphone application, which debuted in March 2009, employs G.P.S. technology to conjure up the profiles of gay men who are in close proximity to the user. Since its introduction, more than two million men in 192 countries have logged on. Through the social network’s chat channel, users can arrange anything from a friendly coffee date to a random quickie.
And it’s discreet. The soldier stationed in Baghdad didn’t ask, didn’t tell and didn’t care.
“He was just so thankful,” Mr. Simkhai recalled. “It literally brought tears to my eyes, and I thanked him for his service to our country.”
BORN IN TEL AVIV, Mr. Simkhai grew up in Long Island and attended Tufts. After receiving a double major in international relations and economics, he headed to New York, where, despite being young, attractive and out of the closet, Mr. Simkhai found the hook-up scene less than satisfying.
“I’ve always kind of wondered who’s gay around me,” he said. “I’ve always had the situation where I make eye contact and nothing emerges.”
Mr. Simkhai reached out to Dodgeball creator Dennis Crowley and asked if he could develop an add-on for his startup—which was later bought by Google and inspired his next project, Foursquare—for gay men to pinpoint the exact location of other gay men.
When he declined, he decided to create the thing on his own. The second generation iPhone came equipped with G.P.S., so Mr. Simkhai asked a software developer in Denmark to lay the groundwork for a startup that could utilize that technology.
Grindr has been wildly successful, at least among its target audience. Now, two years after its launch, the app is poised to grow its user base to include women and heterosexuals. Code-named Project Amicus, the new arm of the site will debut later this year.
Being straight, I had only recently become familiar with the Grindr app. I was first struck but the name, the racy insinuations of that word, the way the d and the r rub up against one another. Nice branding!
Mr. Simkhai, however, plays coy on the subject of Grindr’s sexual implications. “That’s not what it’s really about,” he said. “We looked at a coffee grinder, a social stew, mixing people up; that was the inspiration for the name.”
We told him the name reminded us of hardcore foreplay.
“Even if you were to grind two people together, that’s not sex,” he said. “It is intimate, and that’s cool. We’re not scared of intimacy.”
In that case, I asked Joel if he thought it would be O.K. if I got a Grindr account of my own.
“I guess you can try it out,” he said. “It’ll be a good test.”
FIVE MINUTES AFTER creating an account on Grindr and uploading a good-looking picture of myself holding a bottle of Chambord—when in Rome, right?—I received a message from a man wearing a button down shirt and flashing a toothy, wholesome smile. He was 32 years old, six feet tall and 400 feet away.
“Very cute,” he chatted me.
“Oh cool,” I chatted him back. “Hey, wanna meet near 321 44th for a smoke?”
“I wanna fuck,” he responded a few seconds later.
“I don’t think I’m ready for that,” I said. “It’s 4:00 in the afternoon?”
“Damn,” he replied. “BJ?”
I’ll give him credit for persistence. “OK, have to be honest,” I said. “I’m a writer for a newspaper, and I’m writing a profile of grindr, so I wanted to try it out.”
“I’d love to play with u : )” he said.
A FEW DAYS AFTER I talked to Mr. Simkhai, I heard back from the military guy he mentioned. He’s a sergeant, first class, works in air traffic control and used Grindr to keep in touch with his boyfriend—they met on a military base in Mississippi—while on duty in Baghdad.
“There were about four or five other men on Grindr at my base,” he said over the phone. “We actually put together a volleyball team, all of the Grindr people. We didn’t name ourselves ‘The Grindrs’ or anything, but we were a team.”
As he moved from one corner of the country to another, the sergeant would fire up his Grindr app to touch base with the homosexual community there.
“You can go anywhere in this world, and you can launch Grindr, and you can find other gay men feet from you,” Mr. Simkhai said. “It tells our user, ‘You’re never alone.’”
That sounded good to me. When Project Amicus launches, a new mass of people will find friends, partners and one-night stands just feet away. Straights may never be as direct about sex as their gay counterparts tend to be, but the new app will at least facilitate the courtship process. All you have to do is whip out your iPhone, that instrument in your pants pocket, and say hello.
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