Don't judge a book by its cover.
These are wise words but advice that is rarely followed, especially when it comes to how we socialize. Whether on Facebook or Omegle, we are quick to judge others by appearances and how they portray themselves in their About Me sections. So how do we meet-- and really get to know-- new people through the Internet in a protected, nonjudgmental experience? Problem solved by Jon Cheng, the founder of Chatalyst.
Chatalyst operates similarly to Omegle, a chat site that connects users with random individuals around the world. Even in its early stage of development, the site allows users to save the people they've met in order to facilitate future communications while keeping it all anonymous. This feature is key to protecting the site's handful of users, as many don't feel comfortable sharing personal contact information online- especially at first meeting..
Why do we need another chat site? "You don't meet new people through sites like Facebook and Reddit," explains Cheng. "Those sites only tend to reinforce existing social networks, they don't create new ones. I wanted to give my users a way to make it easy and comfortable to meet new people and, hopefully, form lasting bonds."
Cheng, a Harvard graduate, former UX Specialist at Wayfair and front end developer at Runkeeper, created Chatalyst as a solution to a personal challenge: finding ways to meet new people. "I always knew I wanted to develop my own tech company. So when I left Runkeeper it was the perfect time to get started."
Cheng was a TA for Ruby on Rails with our friends at General Assembly in Boston, Mass. After 8-weeks of the course, Cheng created Chatalyst, which, while not the prettiest site we've ever seen, is still in its early stages and is fully functional. Cheng's persistence and motivation will be key in growing his site as time in the coming months. So far he is the only employee and, thus, no stranger to 15-hour+ workdays. But it's clear he is motivated as the site launched several weeks ahead of schedule.
Another neat aspect of the site is the concept of "user reputation." Wanting to create a community with a very strong positive vibe, Cheng implemented a "like" system to incentivize users to treat others well. Members can vote up or down on their experiences with others, thus impacting their reputation scores. To further this vision for community, Cheng also created an internal discussion board where users can easily hang together.
With Chatalyst in its beginning phase, Cheng has plans to add a separate, subscription-based dating site feature to Chatalyst for users looking for romantic connections. Existing sites like Tinder and Match.com are designed to encourage users to judge each other by their pictures and profile before users ever message each other. Sure, dating sites work across multiple platforms to ensure the best match for users, but there's still that element of the initial judgment. With a cyber partition separating users, the platform enables an organic conversation to flow between users, allowing both parties to really get to know each other on a much more meaningful basis before judgment.
"The beauty of this is the anonymity: There's no frame of reference by which to judge others," Cheng mentions in order to underscore a key point of difference for Chatalyst. In a world where personal branding and image are everything, Chatalyst takes us back to the days when we really got to know people by what's on the inside. Cover to cover.