On a college campus, run-ins are unexpected and short-lived. Matt Newberg, a 2011 Wharton alumnus, is trying to change this.
Playdope, an app launching today, aims to connect users with “familiar strangers” — people with whom they share a similar background, routine and activities. “It’s people in the same class who you’re not friends with but know by name or by face,” Newberg says.
The app’s name is a play on words, referencing Play-Doh, dopamine, and the double meaning of the word “dope.”
“Maybe it’s about weed,” Newberg admits.
In an age where “technology is one-sided, like stalking people on Facebook or Instagram, [Playdope] allows you to acknowledge these connections and bring them back to the real world,” he explains.
It does this first by analyzing users’ Facebook information, three personal interests and location.
Then, when app opens, it identifies the user’s seven nearest acquaintances — perhaps in the same building — and notifies each of them of the user’s presence. Playdope urges the two users to play a picture trivia game as an icebreaker. “Two [users] could both be in a lecture hall and each get a notification to play each other,” Newberg explains.
The trivia is specific to Penn, with games like “Only at Wawa” or “Baller Alumni,” where users compete to guess the greatest number of famous alumni.
The game also “lets people let their guard down” by quizzing their acquaintance on a mutual interest like hip-hop.
The app encourages the loser of the game to buy the winner a drink and also opens a chat window for 24 hours before the connection closes. “We wanted something competitive and at the same time collaborative,” Newberg says.
Either the two users hit it off and meet in person, or they let the encounter “float away into the ether,” he says. When asked why he set a time limit, Newberg explains, “People need a push and time constraints are a great way to do that.”
Newberg also hopes that the app will help Penn students connect when they are off campus. It gives users the opportunity to be in Center City and see that there’s someone from Penn who they can get to know in the next-door coffee shop, he says.
Newberg will be hosting an event in the Blarney Stone’s pool room Saturday, Jan. 25 at 10 p.m. to show off the app.