Student-created app encourages students to pop social bubbles, make new friends

Celesia Smith

Over 50,000 students walk over the bricks of Speedway, whisper under the lights of the PCL and pack lecture halls, but a study conducted by the Foundation of Arts and Healing found that, regardless of university size, over 60% of students still feel lonely.

Management information systems junior Yoon Lee set out to decrease this statistic with an app to curtail loneliness among UT students. Through working with the UT Social Entrepreneurship Learning Lab, Lee created Pop, which utilizes user interests and availability to match students for hour-long periods to meet.

Lee said his motivation for Pop stemmed from his interest in mental health. After spending two years in the South Korean military and experiencing feelings of detachment, Lee said he came back to UT wanting to improve mental health by alleviating loneliness. He said he tested out the idea by creating a lunch-buddy style program that paired students who signed up via a Google form.

“I manually paired people up and then got their feedback,” Lee said. “Some of them told me they loved it, so I created an application that facilitates real-time meetups based on interest, personality and passion matches.”

Plan II and psychology freshman Elita Gao participated in Lee’s market testing. She said she had a great time talking to her lunch buddy, but thinks Pop’s success depends on the type of user.

“(My match) was amazing. We talked for four hours and Yoon only assigned us a one-hour slot, which was insane,” Gao said. “But the results will definitely vary from person to person. If someone’s super arrogant and not a good conversationalist, (Pop) won’t work.”

Gao also said freshmen and transfers would benefit from Pop, but she hopes the app doesn’t become another version of Tinder or Bumble.

“If it becomes large scale, there’s always the risk of it becoming Tinder, where someone wants to meet someone for ulterior motives,” Gao said. “But I think it’d be really cool for freshmen or transfers, especially freshmen who come (to UT) and don’t know anyone.”

Pop’s team works to ensure the app doesn’t become a Tinder duplicate by matching students seeking friends without chatting via the app or seeing photos beforehand. Arts and Entertainment Technologies junior Sarita Hangtagool is working as a UI designer for Pop, creating the interface and supporting the creation of the app wireframe.

“I’m working with our user researcher to see what features people want on (the app),” Hangtagool said. “We want it to be easy and fun for (students) to use.”

To ensure student safety, Lee said his team will use student feedback to ensure threatening individuals are blacklisted. He said Pop will also assign students public places to meet and then require location verification.

Pop will be released publicly in fall 2019 exclusively for UT students. It will use a freemium model where the basic version is free, but users can opt into purchasing extra match criterion. Lee said he hopes students will adopt Pop so that he can expand its reach over time.

“I want to help out UT students first and prove that it works,” Lee said. “Then I want to spread it to other universities and then companies. I hope this to be a new
paradigm of socialization.”