Before online dating, before MySpace – heck, before the glorious A/S/L days of AOL (which I miss terribly, btw) – there was the now-seemingly foreign concept of “pen pals.”
Whether you were connected via some kind of online group or a snail mail organization, there was a time when it was perfectly common to chat with a complete stranger from a faraway land with entirely platonic intentions.
Truth be told, such correspondences never led to much, but at the time, it just seemed so fascinating to be able to connect with people you would have never done so with otherwise.
Yoann Lopez and Sarah Marga have reinvented this idea with Happenstance, a free online service devoted to assisting “people create real friendships by helping them communicate in a more natural and human way,” Lopez tells skyelyfe.
Lopez, who had an international pen pal as a youth, met Marga at a Quora meetup several months ago. This then led to a professional partnership.
“We were talking about how hard it was for us, as grown-ups, to meet interesting people,” the Paris resident recalls. “We have our own circle and we rarely get out of it. We thought about Facebook and Twitter, of course, but relations are really superficial on these websites. You’re more a consumer of information than a friend. Therefore, we thought about how we could help people create real relationships.”
And so became their product.
“So far, without any PR or any built-in referral program like ‘invite your friends,’ we’ve had an amazing journey,” Lopez says. “More than 3000 people subscribed to the service just by word of mouth. We’re planning on building a new website with a referral program and more features so I’m sure the service will be even more successful. So far we’ve had great feedback from people having exchanged many times with their match. Of course it’s not perfect because it doesn’t always click but when it works, it works well.”
Lopez, who still exchanges emails with a match of his own, recognizes that no new product comes without its kinks.
“The main problem right now is that many people subscribed out of curiosity so they don’t really engage with their match,” he says.
As for vetting out the creeps?
“Our main solution so far is to have a longer than usual form in order to vet out the weirdos and crazies,” Lopez explains. “We’re planning to find new tools to enhance this filter because we know that as the service grows, we will get more of them.”
In an age where we have access to a never-ending supply of fresh faces, the question of why I should give the service a whirl certainly came to mind.
But, hey, as my new pen pal Luis put it when I asked him why he joined: “In order to change the civilization or to cause some good impact on the course of this planet, first you have to understand the members of such species. Any medium that allows that is good for the cause.”