Founded by South Africans, Gather Online was launched three months ago after being in incubation for the past couple of years. The original idea came from South African-born David Price, who is the group CEO, and now based in Australia.
Speaking to ITWeb, Mark Bryson, COO of Gather Online in SA, said: "The original idea for a new kind of social discovery and messaging platform came about three years ago after the realisation that there was a huge gap in discovering new contacts and friends through the established social media and networks."
According Bryson, of the roughly seven billion people in the world, 50% are connected to each other through the Internet. However, he said, despite various innovations in social networking, it is difficult to identify and make meaningful new like-minded connections.
"For example, Facebook is very much about connecting you to your existing circle of friends and it is generally frowned upon if you reach out to strangers. LinkedIn and Tinder, on the other hand, offer better channels to discover new contacts. However, LinkedIn is largely focused on business and recruitment, while Tinder is only for ‘romance'."On the other hand, he noted, Gather Online provides a networking tool that can be used to discover business, social or romantic connections.
"Our solution brings all the best parts of direct interaction that everyone misses from the old chat groups of the 90s – the Mxit days – back to life in a much more modern way; it also includes all the new great elements of modern social media and social networks, as well as having some of its own unique innovative features too."
He pointed out that what makes Gather Online different is the fact that each chat room or "gathering" has a limited duration of just a few days, which ensures all conversations remain fresh and current.
Bryson added that gatherings can either be private or public, depending on users' requirements, and people can either discover new groups or be invited by their friends to join by sharing the link via e-mail, Facebook or WhatsApp.
"The time limit makes a dramatic difference compared to other online groups because the urgency pushes people to quickly interact with the connections that they find and promote them into real life, useful engagements before the gathering expires and the opportunity disappears. But it's also much more convenient than old-school chat rooms as people do not necessarily need to be online at the exact same time," he added.
For those that want it, there is a dating angle – but without the awkwardness – in that singles can join Gather Online to discover potential like-minded love connections, said Bryson.
"We have included a feature where users can anonymously indicate interest in each other for romantic purposes in the hope that it is mutual. If they match, identities are revealed through a private chat so users can test the chemistry to see if they would like to progress the discussion to the real world.
"For example, let's say I join a group about mountain biking in Joburg and there is a girl that I like in the group and there is a bit of chemistry being built, I can anonymously like her. If she anonymously likes me back, we will match and a private chat between us is created. We have both already been involved in the group discussion about mountain biking so the conversation will begin far less awkwardly than if we just matched based on pictures. So there is much more potential because we connected based on shared interests."
When asked how the uptake has been, he said besides general users, the platform has seen strong early interest from bloggers, universities, church groups, events companies, market researchers and some celebrities.
"We have also seen it start to pick up popularity in faraway corners of the world from Canada to Bangladesh."
Gather Online is available at www.gatheronline.com and an app will released within the next couple of months.
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