IAC’s Crowded Room: From ‘Check-in’ to ‘Might Go’

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One of the more maddening problems when trying to meet new people is that potential friends (and dating matches) may be right next to you on line at Starbucks, or planning to head to the same movie you want to see — but you’ll probably never meet them unless by chance you decide to strike up a conversation. So we spend a lot of our lives physically rubbing elbows with interesting and compatible people, but often never get the introduction that would eventually result in a great relationship.

This morning Barry Diller’s IAC is announcing the launch of a new location-based app called Crowded Room, which aims to address this issue by connecting like-minded users based on the places they frequent, as well as the places and events that they “might go” to in the near future. As users check in to places and indicate where they’re thinking of going, the app matches them up with others nearby who could be compatible, based on their own location habits and the info on their Facebook profiles.

“Where you go says a lot about who you are, especially in cities,” Crowded Room’s CEO, Michael Kestenbaum told Street Fight. “We look at commonalities of places that you go and show you other people who go to the same places — but also other people that go to the same kinds of places. So, if you go to the gym a lot, we’ll show you people who go to your gym, but also people who go to a gym a lot. To the extent that you like sushi restaurants, it will show you other people who like sushi restaurants. The more people we have, the more data points we have, the better.”

Kestenbaum touts the app’s “might go” function as key, because it allows users to pre-identify (and contact) like-minded people at places that they’re thinking of  going later. So you could strike up a digital conversation as an ice-breaker, and then arrange to meet up when you’re there. It also helps users get a sense of the crowd before they commit to going out, and potentially end up more often at the right parties where they can make the right connections.

Kestenbaum, who was previously VP in charge of strategy and mergers & acquisitions at IAC, says that the app was intentionally created to be separate from other IAC properties like Ask.com and Match.com — and that it wasn’t meant to be a dating app.

“Location-based dating becomes very casual and it doesn’t necessarily resonate with a broad-based brand,” says Kestenbaum. “In big cities especially, your dating life, your socializing life, and your networking life are one of the same. We wanted a product that would be genuinely useful across the spectrum of meeting people as opposed to just one particular area.” Users can indicate if they’re primarily interested in socializing, dating, or networking.

Because it’s a “meeting new people” app, Crowded Room has more restrictive privacy settings than other social check-in services like Foursquare. Every time you check in to a place, you can indicate “show everyone,” “show only others at the exact same place as me” or “show a pre-screened shortlist of people.” And even though users’ Facebook profiles are connected, they are only identified by first name and last initial. Kestenbaum says that the impetus for this was to provide a context where people would be comfortable exposing where they are to strangers.

While location (and places that a user frequents) can clearly provide lots of data points in big cities, we asked Kestenbaum what he thought would happen in smaller markets, where there might be only two or three concert venues and five restaurants. Presumably those data points would indicate less about the people who go there, and make everyone a match.  He said that the radii would likely be changed in smaller cities, and so as to take in a wider swath of place data.