Geek Speak: Brad Bollenbach, cofounder of Plenty of Tweeps
Brad Bollenbach wants to help singles on Twitter do much more than follow, at-reply, and direct message each other. The 30-year-old, Winnipeg-born Web developer, blogger, and entrepreneur is the cofounder of Plenty of Tweeps, an on-line dating service that launched on October 1.
Plenty of Tweeps allows Twitter users to search for other singles in their area, “like” and send messages to them, and create extended profiles. According to Bollenbach, about 250 tweeters, most of them in the Vancouver area, have authorized the site to connect with their Twitter accounts. Bollenbach and fellow cofounder Mark Rainer are considering licensing the Plenty of Tweeps software to third parties to generate revenue.
Bollenbach moved to Vancouver in August, after living in Berlin for just three months and deciding he didn’t want to learn German. On his blog, 30 Sleeps, he writes about such topics as courage and fear, relationships, and success. Bollenbach previously lived in Montreal for five years and was the lead developer for the Ubuntu Linux bug tracker.
The Georgia Straight reached Bollenbach on his cellphone at his apartment in Coal Harbour.
What led you to create Plenty of Tweeps?
I’ve been a pretty hardcore Twitter user for quite a while now. You know, it’s a great way to connect with my blogger audience and all that kind of stuff. I noticed, though, that a lot of the people that I follow or that follow me on there or whatever, there’s a lot of beautiful and motivated and wordsmithy workaholics—people who, you know, are ambitious and interesting and inspiring.
There’s just no way, or I found no way, that I could actually communicate with these people or connect with them beyond those 140-character limits. Because Twitter makes that kind of thing fairly awkward, right? So, I thought, “What can I do about this?” So, I thought, “Well, I know there’s obviously the Plentyoffish thing, so why don’t I create a Plenty of Tweeps thing?” That’s kind of where it all started.
What does Plenty of Tweeps add to the social experience of Twitter?
So, basically, it makes it easier for people to connect with each other in a slightly deeper way, because with Twitter, generally speaking, everything you say is in public. Yes, you can direct message people, but only in 140-character snippets. So, Twitter’s a very kind of poor medium for having an extended conversation with somebody and really getting to know them on a deeper level.
So, what we bring with Plenty of Tweeps is a context that is clearly more of an intimate setting. It’s a setting where, look, if you’re single and you use Twitter, this is the place to hang out, right? Whereas on Twitter itself, people might be single, they might be in relationships, they might who knows what, right? So, it gives people that are single and that do use Twitter a specific place to go to meet and see what happens from there.
What technology was involved in setting up the site?
So, the server is Ubuntu Linux. The database is MySQL. The framework is Ruby on Rails. You know, the Web server is Apache. Well, I’m using a MacBook to develop the site. My business partner is on Windows. We use a lot of Ajax in the UI to make a slightly more interactive experience. We have some geolocation stuff in there, where we interact with Google. We’ve got a fairly robust way to kind of set your location, so that it works for everybody around the world. Almost no matter what location you enter into that field, it will figure out where you are and allow you to just jump right in and find people in your area.
Of course, we have a huge interaction with the Twitter API itself. Like, we’re able to reach out into Twitter. What’s kind of neat about the technology is that, even if there was nobody on the site, it can still be very useful for one single person, because we actually reach out into Twitter, see who’s kind of tweeting and stuff nearby, and then you can potentially “like” them or whatever, and we’ll contact them. If they’re single and looking, they can come check out the site, log in, see who it was. So, we’re big on the Twitter API as well, of course.
Your blog, 30 Sleeps, has a bit of self-help theme, with posts called “Overcoming Loneliness” and “How to Meet Women Without Really Trying”. Why is that?
I actually hate self-help, and, like I say, 30 Sleeps is really a blog that is self-help for people who hate self-help. It’s just a guy—me—you know, telling his story, like life, the reality. Or, I guess you could say that I’m somebody who’s very much in the growth mindset. Every moment of every day, I try to make intentional decisions about where I am and where I’m headed, right?
I find that a lot of the books in that realm are very falsely optimistic or overly optimistic and always shiny, happy people and whatever. So, 30 Sleeps is meant to be a much more realistic view of the world, saying like, “Look, if you want to meet women without really trying or whatever, you’re going to get blown out constantly, right?” Like, I have one of the articles, “Embracing Rejection”, right? The point is you are going to get blown out all the time, so keep doing it anyway, right? Quit being so afraid of rejection and just get over it.
Or, like, I try to share my flaws and imperfections with people, in the hopes that it may inspire them. If you look at, for example, the “How to Quit Drinking Alcohol” thing, I have to admit I’m somebody who’s had an up and down relationship with alcohol. I would say right now it’s pretty cool. But there are, you know, 13,000 other people out there right now who are sharing that experience, coming together, and helping each other quit drinking, because, like I say, there are over 13,000 comments on that post right now.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of on-line dating?
So, I actually wrote an article on this on my blog a while ago. At that time, I was very kind of against it. The advantages of the typical on-line dating site are obviously there’s a much lower bar of entry to just contacting somebody. You don’t have to risk getting rejected face to face. You can send out, you know, 50 to 100 “smiles” or “winks”—or whatever the site calls it—and, if people don’t respond, it’s not nearly as big a deal as if you walked up to somebody in a bar or another social setting and just got a bad look or whatever, right? So, that’s a huge advantage to it.
One of the big disadvantages, I think, to on-line dating is it tends to become—at least in my experience—almost a scene of its own, where people sort of get wrapped up in it. You kind of don’t really know what’s going on or whatever. Like, one of the great things, I think, about, like, Plenty of Tweeps, and I would say one of the big advantages of Plenty of Tweeps, is that the demographic that we’re bringing to the on-line dating game is a slightly older crowd, like probably 25 to 35 on average, kind of professional, motivated. A lot of these people are bloggers or professional photographers or graphic designers—really motivated and inspiring people. So, I think we’re going to bring a whole new way to kind of approach this thing.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.